February 13, 2009
Search or Discover?
Based on my previous track record, I think my credibility would be damaged even more than it already is if I were to apologize for my lack of activity here and promise to do better going forward; so I won't. I won't offer any excuses like, I've been really busy, or all the blog comment spam was driving me crazy. I simply didn't have much to say that I thought would be worthy to compete for all the things fighting for one's attention in a day. And I'm not sure that this post is particularly worthy, I'm rusty but I just felt compelled to write (or ramble as the case may be).
I've been doing a lot of learning; and thinking about what I've been learning over the last six months. I've also become fascinated with social networks and Facebook in particular (don't think I'm ready to be an active Twitterer though).
I've also been spending more time watching video online and less time watching TV (not that I ever watched a lot of TV - other than embarrassed to admit - reality TV shows - but that's because it feeds my fascination with "people watching"). Even my Netflix DVD consumption is on the decline as I watch more and more Netflix content on demand.
The question on my mind lately is of the 68 minutes I allocate per day to watching video online - how do I decide what to watch? Google/YouTube searches aren't that rewarding or productive for me. Yesterday I tried using Truveo and stumbled upon Joaquin Phoenix's appearance on Letterman. And that was the "A ha" moment for me, I didn't search for it. I had no idea Phoenix was on the show or that the interview was so bizarrely funny. I simply discovered it.
I was about to add a link to the video on my Facebook page, when I discovered my Facebook buddy Megan Cunningham had beat me to it. I realized that most of the 68 minutes of content I watch each day come from recommendations from others, whether it is in hallway conversations, Facebook conversations, friends sharing links via email or random stumbling I do around the web.
I very rarely search for video. What I am learning is that I am not alone. Video search (and search in general - anyone else notice getting the best result on the first try with Google is not as good as say a few years ago?) especially as video on the Web grows in leaps in bounds, provides less than fulfilling results. And while discovering video through my social network or my own stumblings provides a better experience in terms of finding content that holds my attention for more than 30 seconds, it feels like it could be better.
How can we make the videos I am interested in more discoverable? After I watched the Letterman excerpt, I wanted to see other interviews with Phoenix, just to see if he was for real or even a better actor than I already thought he was. But Truveo let me down. There were lots of other Phoenix clips, but they were either redundant or not relevant, and so I gave up and went on to other activities.
Keyword search as we know it today will become less and less effective at helping to connect us to what we are interested in. There has to be a better way to discover what I like. And that is what I'm spending my time thinking about.
July 22, 2008
Data Into Meaning
While its not necessarily my ideal self-image, (still working on image of myself as cheese-making blues guitar playing sommelier) I wouldn't disagree if a sociologist classified me as a knowledge worker living in the tail end of the Information Age (I'll save the rationale behind the tail end comment for another day). Just like I couldn't argue with my college sociology professor who classified me as an only-child (wonder how my sister would feel about that?).
My seventeen year old daughter thinks my job consists of talking, surfing the web, sitting (in meetings and on planes), and answering email. I guess that is mostly true other than her characterization is devoid of my value add to Adobe: thinking, making decisions, and hopefully contributing in some small way to Adobe being a fun place to work.
Being a successful product manager (I'll take liberty and assume my lengthy tenure at Adobe is in part due to being good at what I do) requires an assortment of talents and skills. Decision making as a skill is looking at data and making a decision based on the data. Decision making as a talent is about the meaning you make from the data. Really hard decisions fall into two categories: 1) making decisions when you have little available data, and 2) making decisions when you have too much data. The ability to turn data into something more than a percentage or some type of numerical output is where the real value lies in making decisions and understanding what lies beneath the data.
At the moment I'm spending quite a bit of time talking to individuals and companies about some product concepts we are exploring. These are in-depth conversations about workflows, product needs and challenges, and a range of other topics. We diligently capture these conversations and then try to make sense of the data and turn it into meaning that can help guide the decisions we need to make. As we talk to people, patterns emerge; some obvious but most more subtle. The subtle ones are sometimes the most interesting ones and would be lost if all we did was send these user a link to complete an online survey (because surveys tend to be quantitative and thus only provide data). Its the conversation and collection of data from that conversation that facilitates the transformation of the data into meaning.
Another example comes to mind. While enjoying Sunday brunch at our favorite local breakfast cafe, my nine year old daughter Sara told me about a National Geographic Kids photography contest she wanted to enter. She took lots of photos on our recent trip to Kauai and wanted to send one in. I asked her how she would decide which one to submit. She didn't have a specific set of criteria other than choosing one that she liked a lot. We talked about choosing one that was technically appropriate (focus, exposure, framing) but then started talking about qualitative criteria. I suggested she look at choosing a picture not strictly based on the technical merits of the image (data), but select a picture that evokes emotion and/or tells a story (meaning). I think she got it.
In the digital world we live in today where the explosion of data bombards and overloads us (whether it is images or information) making meaning not only helps us manage and make sense of the data, but it personalizes it and makes for a more interesting story whether we tell that story with pictures, words, or heaven forbid PowerPoint.
July 21, 2008
Recovering From Laryngitis
As a reader of my blog pointed out to me not too long ago (and I have to agree) my blog of late if anything is the antithesis of "Dynamic".
Not to make an excuse, but when I lost my product, I temporarily lost my voice as well. At the same time, I am a strong believer that I should not write just to say something, but only when I have something to say.
Thanks to a good friend, I've got my mojo back, have found my voice again, and have given myself permission to expand the boundaries of how this blog will serve as a forum for me to express my thoughts and hopefully provide some morsels of value (entertain, stimulate contemplation, inform, etc...) to those of you who choose to allocate some chunk of your time to following my journey. With that said, let the next leg of my (our) journey begin...
P.S. Does anyone else find humor that the word 'blog' is flagged as misspelled by Contribute's spell checker?
May 24, 2007
HD4ME Part 2
I received a comment about my last entry indicating that the 1366x768 resolution of my TV wasn't fully HD. My first thought, was bummer I bought an "Almost HD Really" set. But recalling the mantra of the "satisficer" I quickly thought, oh well this is a whole lot better than before and "good enough" for me.
I then decided to re-educate myself a bit (getting too hard to keep all these specs straight in my head) and consulted my first (and hopefully only) stop for HD info on Wikipedia. To complicate the HD choice dilemma more than I outlined in my last entry, there are at 3 flavors of HD (more when you let frame rates enter the discussion), 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The horizontal resolution of 720p is 1280 pixels, which would appear to be supported by the Toshiba I purchased. But alas, I'm losing 536 pixels when I watch 1080i programming. It will be interesting to see if I enjoy ABC & FOX 720p broadcasts any better than PBS, NBC or CBS' 1080i. When I think about viewing distance, room lighting, and quality of my eyes, my guess is that I won't be able to tell the difference and as the commenter congratulated me, I've entered the 21st century.
Since my set doesn't support 1080p (not an issue until a life changing moment causes me to buy a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD player, or become a gamer, and I must say the Wii is tempting as an entertainment and exercise device) this didn't really factor in for me.
The rub for me is that, while not an early adopter of technology, I do have the aptitude to understand technology. I can't imagine how some of my less tech savvy family and friends handle wading through the mass of confusing specs and contradicting opinions. Its no wonder that based on relatively sluggish adoption of HD televisions that many people are the overwhelmed by the choices/decisions and choose to stand-by on the sidelines avoiding the decision as long as possible. Thus the paradox of choice and a case where less might be more.
Here is a good source for antenna info (a basic UHF antenna works fine if you live in Seattle/Bellevue area).
May 23, 2007
At work I'm surrounded by the latest computer hardware and software technology, and at times feel like I'm living on the bleeding edge.
At home, I'm a technology luddite (well maybe laggard is more accurate). Typically it takes life changing events to cause me to adopt new technologies (my iPod being one notable exception). No Blackberry's or Treo's for me (witness my paper schedule at NAB). It took becoming a parent to make me realize the benefits of a microwave oven and answering machine (my attitude was, hey, if they want to reach me, they'll call back). And much to the frustration of my sister in-law(who apparently has busy signal issues) I don't have call waiting, caller id, or caller anything for that matter.
My television consumption until now was limited to the half dozen semi-snowy channels the rabbit ears on my 15 year old 14" Sanyo television in my bedroom picked up (7 channels if I was willing to mess with the rabbit ears). This hasn't been much of an issue because I don't watch that much TV (I'm a DVD kinda guy) and have been spending more of my limited media leisure time online anyway for the last 10 years or so.
Well a life changing event put me in the market for a new television and DVD player. I got to become a living example of the Paradox of choice (video), or article. First decision was SD CRT (which would have been easy way out) or Wide screen which led me into the world of "HD Ready" HD Almost Ready" and "HD Really". This was before I even reached the, LCD vs Plasma decision, and semi-related "What size screen?" decision and then the various brand choices.
I had just finished reading the "Paradox of Choice" and was determined to not be a "maximizer". Given I don't replace my TVs very often, I decided to go "HD Really" and made sure I bought a set with an ATSC NTSC & QAM (not sure what QAM means) Tuner. Didn't know what this all meant other than if would receive HD off-air signals. Screen size and budget (no TV is worth more than $500) led me to LCD and I was leaning towards a Samsung (even willing to spend more than $500) until I discovered that there was no standardization on how manufacturers report their contrast ratio and that brand X's 14,000:1 wasn't necessarily better than brand Y's 7,000:1. There was one additional spec that got factored in. I didn't know exactly what an HDMI port was, but instinctively knew I needed/wanted at least one (even though I didn't have anything to plug into it).
Anyway to make a short story long, when I saw the Toshiba Regza 32LV67 with a built-in upconverting (sounded like it was and important feature) DVD player (meaning I'd be spared the agony of choosing from the sea of DVD players and I'm not ready to make a Beta/VHS decision on HD DVD formats), I was almost sold (it was still more than $500 sans the $150 I allocated as the DVD player porition). When the sales person offered to discount it by the sales tax (note to self: always look indecisive and enter the store 10 minutes before closing on the last Sunday of the month), I whipped out the credit card (too bad I didn't ask him to throw in the pair of rabbit ears).
Anyway, I got it home, plugged it in and all I can say is WoW. The off-air digital reception is amazing. I don't know why, but I assumed that the quality of the signal would be the same as what I was getting today (after all, I'm not any closer to the transmitter), but its crystal clear SD or HD. Also, once I saw some programming in HD, I must admit it made me want to watch television more than before. The interesting thing I've noticed after two weeks is how few commercials are being produced in HD (I'm assuming HD production costs are still being billed at a premium and are hard to justify).
With only 636 days left until the conversion to digital is officially here in the U.S. (here is a link to converter box coupon program for those of you like me who are laggards in adopting new TVs or accidentally bought an "Almost HD Ready" TV recently), I expect that we are getting close to HD production costs becoming commoditized).
Now please don't disturb me while I watch the finale of American Idol (in HD?) tonight :-) I hear both finalists are from the Seattle area!
June 23, 2006
Its been an interesting week. This will be my last post for a few months as I am about to embark on a 9 week sabbatical to stop thinking about compositing software and to enjoy several of my favorite pastimes, travel, wine, reading, and being a kid with my kids (much to my wife's chagrin). So this week I was busy making sure everyone new what I was working on and trying to wrap up as many loose ends as possible before taking off. Luckily the AE team is a well-olied machine and doesn't need me around to get things done.
Then on Tuesday, like everyone else I saw Apple's announcement about Shake repricing and end-of-life. My initial reaction was: "what took them so long?" Even Discreet realized there isn't a large opportunity for $5K desktop compositing software (initial price of effect). It will be interesting to see how Digital Fusion reacts (if at all).
My second reaction was: "$499 is a pretty aggressive price, but the low cost doesn't address the fundamental issue with Shake. In my opinion it is really hard to learn and use, and if you need to do animate anything it becomes even harder to use.
I am not trying to knock Shake. Clearly if you look at the track record of films its been used on it certainly is a more than capable product for film visual effects experts, but Apple's press release positioned it as a "plug-in" for Final Cut Studio. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
What does it all mean for After Effects? It means we need to keep improving the product, adding innovative new features (in addition to enhancements users have asked for) and keep doing the things that have helped us create a very large community of passionate users.
I'll be back in September.
May 19, 2006
Hands of Time - The Sequel
The question I posed before NAB was: Besides Japanese camera/VTR manufacturers which video equipment exhibitors had the 10 largest booths at NAB in 1987? To be more specific mfgs. of video post production equipment (VTRs, switchers, edit controllers, cgs, still stores, dves, paint/fx).
Sadly, I never heard back from the research folks at NAB yet, but I speculated that Ampex & Grass Valley Group occupied 2 of the slots. I'll speculate further that Chyron and Quantel occupied 2 additional slots in the top 10. Its probably a safe bet that CMX (not the Finnish band) was somewhere in the mix as well.
Even if they weren't in the "Top 10", they all had a sizable presence at NAB in the mid 80's and were major players in the post production side of the biz [as an aside Abekas joined the big booth club sometime in the late 80's early 90's because I remember the only location where we could get a big enough booth was in the audio equipment section, which actually worked out well as we became an "anchor" booth in tradeshow lingo].
Notice the trend... All are either gone, or at least in terms of square footage at NAB, have downsized. The question that comes to mind is why aren't these companies as prominent/dominant (in my opinion) in their respective categories today? The CMX and Quantel stories are two in particular that intrigue me quite a bit. SGI is another interesting story, but they are part of the 90's wave of companies that dominated NAB only to have seen their star falllen. We'll leave the discussion of the 90's rise and falls for another day.
I bring this up not to stir controversy, but because I am fascinated with the evolution of the industry and any lessons that can be learned on how to avoid becoming less relevant to our industry. At NAB I decided to test my theories about why the companies mentioned above were not able to sustain their position over the long run. I stirred the pot by "socializing" this idea with a few industry veterans and journalists to get their reactions and perspectives.
The reactions were mixed. Some didn't agree with my assertion that Quantel is not the company it once was. Another reacted strongly to my postulation that there is an "A" company out there that might be on the same path that CMX followed and could find itself a shadow of itself before the end of the decade. A few agreed with me.
If we exclude poor management or operational problems as causes, to me it seems like all of these companies were victims of the Innovator's Dilemma (a must read if you have even a mild interest in business subject matter). Since I worked there for 6 years, I can speak from some experience where Abekas went astray and it looks like a classic case of the innovator's dilemma.
I remember walking an Abekas exec (note: Quantel was a sister company of Abkeas, both owned by Carlton Communications at the time) around MacWorld in the early 90's and watching a Photoshop demo. I was amazed by what I saw. His reaction was "look how slow that airbrush is compared to the PaintBox". Oh well...
March 17, 2006
The Hands of Time - Episode 1
I was telling Steve how it seems like there are 4 types of blogs people like me (not me, but people like me) create: 1) Seinfeld blogs - you know the ones that ramble on about nothing in particular or relevant, like what I had for breakfast today; 2) Marketing disguised as a blog; 3) Blogs with enough trinkets of information that ramblings like this are tolerated and; 4) Thought provoking blogs.
Steve was very polite and reassured me that my blog fell into category 3. I was telling him that I struggle because I really aspire to be creating a thought provoking blog, but the provoked thoughts might be controversial and misconstrued. Given my position as a representative of Adobe and After Effects this could have unintentional repercussions yadda yadda yadda.
This year is my 20th NAB. The first 2 I worked for Cubicomp, the next 7 I was at Abekas, and the have been with Adobe ever since. As you can imagine or experienced there have been lots of changes over the years. I'm a firm believer that a) history repeats itself, and b) if 'a' is true, then history is a good predictor of the future. Unfortunately, most history takes longer than a human lifetime to repeat, so we can't capitalize easily on knowledge of the past. I don't believe this is the case with NAB. NAB history has repeated itself several times since my first one and I believe it is about to repeat itself again. Hopefully what I'm babbling about will become clearer in this post or a follow-up.
OK here we go. Pop Quiz (BTW I don't know the answer with 100% certainty, but I have an email in to the research staff at NAB):
Q: Besides Japanese camera/VTR manufacturers which video equipment exhibitors had the 10 largest booths at NAB in 1987?
I'm pretty confident that Ampex was in the top 10. And Grass Valley Group (can't remember if they shared a booth with Tektronix or not that year) is probably another safe bet. Rather than speculate right now on the remaining 8 (I have a pretty good idea on at least 3-4 more), Hopefully the good folks at NAB will get reply to my request and I can share my history hypothesis based on facts and not speculation.
Stay tuned for Episode 2...
January 27, 2006
What you want; when and where you want it
A colleague here forwarded a link to an article about how web sites delivering video are now beginning to offer 3 flavors Windows/Mac (which in of itself has multiple flavors), iPod and Sony PSP. While that tidbit is an interesting leading indicator of how we consume video, what I felt was as interesting was the reference about Steven Soderbergh's new film Bubble. The film will be simultaneously released on film, HD, and DVD. I can't recall that ever happening before. I'm still digesting what it all means, but the first question that popped into my head was "what if books were released in print, film, TV, and DVD simultaneously?" Maybe even a chapter at a time?
January 26, 2006
A Template Tale
As some of you may have noticed, my blog and several others kinda of exploded for a day and lost all sense of style and formatting (although it was easy reading on my aging eyes). If you bear with me, I think its worth sharing part of the behind the scenes story of what happened.
This blog is my first foray into Web publishing. Before starting this blog, all I new about HTML was what the acronym stood for, and I never even heard of CSS. After 1 week, I now know 2 things: how to embed urls, and how to use the "strong" tag. So essentially I still know nothing. There are great web tutorials, but who has time to read them and remember what they show you how to do.
When I started my blog, I noticed that several other Adobe blogs had different and what I thought was better formatting. I wanted to have a Blogroll (another new term for me) of links on the right side of my blog and wouldn't it be cool if readers to my blog could easily see a list of recent comments?
[Please don't stop reading yet. There is a relationship to After Effects in a few paragraphs down, or skip ahead and cut to the chase if you are thinking blah blah blah...]
Problem was, I had no idea how to modify/format my blog to look like John Nack's blog for example. What I needed was a template and sure enough a template existed, and other than the exploding font size glitch, I was able to achieve the desired formatting w/o having to learn how to create it from scratch. Which leads me to the new presets and templates that ship with After Effects 7.0
For many new or occasional users, having prebuilt presets allows them to get up and running quickly an easily. When we introduced the text presets in AE 6.5 we thought experienced users would not utilize them, but we were pleasantly surprised to hear from longtime AE users how presets were useful as building blocks, examples to deconstruct, or in some case quick ways to satisfy clients on a shoestring budget.
In After Effects 7.0 we expanded the presets that ship with the application to go beyond text animations and included a variety of animated backgrounds, elements, animations, and behaviors (expression-based presets). We also included project based templates to be used for motion menus in conjunction with Encore DVD, and a sampling of other templates that while not intended to be used as is, are designed to be able to be customized to meet various user needs.
While there is still room for improvement, our goal is to provide high quality content that users can incorporate into their work but are also fully customizable. With After Effects 7.0 I believe we have taken a good first step at letting non AE zenmasters tap into the power of After Effects.
January 24, 2006
As I'm creating this entry, I am second guessing my decision to create a category called "Deep Thoughts". How presumptive of me to assume that entries I make here are deep. Maybe "Sometimes Deep Thoughts" would be better until someone equates my prose with the musings of George Gilder, Paul Saffo, or maybe Hunter S. Thompson, which is highly unlikely.
But back to the subject at hand. Last week on the plane to MGLA (more specifically sitting on the tarmac waiting several hours for Alaska Airlines maintenance to verify the delamination of a cockpit window was within tolerance; it was not), I was reading the latest issue of RES and to my pleasant surprise I noticed a spread ad for the Adobe Production Studio.
Over the years, I've seen a few Adobe ads for our video products, and this one was the best one so far. But as much as I liked it, I couldn't help but notice that it violated one of David Ogilvy's "golden rules"; reverse type is too hard to read. It made me reflect on other "rules" I had imprinted in my brain such as never wear a striped shirt with plaid pants. In fact never wear plaid pants at all unless you are on a golf course or maybe a gathering of the clans in which case you'd probably be wearing a kilt.
But I digress (and now you might see why I regret calling this category deep thoughts). Closer to home, I remember being told in college never edit a video with a jumpcut (thanks to Herbert Zettl). I agonized over projects I had to edit where I didn't have b-roll to cover a jumpcut (now there is a solid rule: you can never have too much b-roll), only to see the no jumpcut rule go out the window by people who hadn't been indoctrinated in the rules of Professor Zettl, who happened to have authored the textbook used in his class.
From that day on, I realized that rules are meant to be broken and some of the most interesting motion graphics today are done by artists redefining the rules.
Speaking of rules, I welcome comments and believe it is important to share both kudos and constructive criticism, but the one rule I have is that if you submit a comment, please use your real name (or handle if you must), but you need to include a valid email address. Commenting in anonymity goes against the spirit of this blog.
Have you broken a golden rule of motion graphics or vfx? Or do you have a golden rule that has served you well (keep it on topic please). Share your thoughts here and inspire others to follow your lead.
January 20, 2006
I am a voracious reader, especially when it comes to trade magazines related to this industry. 10 years ago trade pubs were my primary source of information to keep tabs on competitors, but also as a source of info to educate myself about the latest technologies and trends.
I don't profess to know much about the magazine publishing industry, but I can't help but notice three trends that must be having some sort of impact. First, similar to mainstream magazines, as our industry matures, the trade magazines have fragmented with magazines dedicated to a wide range of special interests (digital cinema and extreme sports to name just two).
At the same time, because of the immediacy of the Web, monthly magazines are challenged to be able to provide news in a timely fashion. As an example, Creative COW and Digital Media NET both had reviews of After Effects 7.0 within hours after the official Adobe announcement.
The last trend is a little more ominous. Unlike general magazines, trade pubs do not derive much revenue from subscriptions. Maybe it is just me, but it seems like each month many of the magazines I enjoy reading are getting thinner and thinner. This is not a complete surprise given the general industry trend that is shifting advertising dollars from print to the Web.
So where am I going with this? Today I received the latest issue of one of the magazines that I have been reading for over 15 years; Film & Video. The letter from the editor informed readers that this would be the last issue in print and that they would be "moving online" http://www.studiodaily.com/filmandvideo/ While many magzines have an online presence; I am intrigued and admire Film & Video's decision to let go of their print legacy and focus on taking advantage of the immediacy, personalization, and richness (video reports) that the Web offers.
Is this a sign of the times?