Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Test of Checks & Balances

As expected, the FCC relaxed media ownership rules, and issued 42 permanent waivers allowing media companies to own newspapers, radio or TV stations in the twenty largest markets.

Congress - and not just the Democrats - is challenging the move, and it is likely to end up in Federal Court, as did the last attempt to relax ownership rules, in 2003.

Add Media Ownership to the long list of issues that are testing the US Constitution (First Amendment, 1789-1791) and the American system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of our government.

Right up there with Free Speech Zones (First Amendment), internal surveillance (Fourth Amendment), the right to a speedy trial (Sixth Amendment), international treaties (Article VI, Clause 2), declarations of war (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11), illegal torture (Third Geneva Convention, 1949, Article 17), and habeas corpus (The Magna Carta, 1215, clauses 36, 38, 39, and 40). I'm sure I'm leaving something out...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

FCC report announced, and it's a whopper

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) releases a major report on video competition approximately once a year. The latest was announced at the end of November, although is not yet posted on the FCC Web site. The FCC press release and summary is available here.

One of the five FCC commissioners, Jonathan Adelstein (** see below), said: "I have been deeply concerned about increasing concentration in the cable industry. I simply can’t see how American consumers benefit when a handful of vertically-integrated media giants have so much control over so much content. This industry structure provides precious little space for the creative genius of independent content producers and artists. And it has led to prices that continue to rise far faster than inflation." Mr Adelstein's full comments are available here.

Another, Michael Copps, said: "Our job of ascertaining the facts was made more difficult because the draft cherry-picked only the data that justified the outcome desired, while suppressing other data. I believe that it is our obligation to ensure that our decisions are objective and based on the facts, not outcomedriven for political expediency. Much like our media ownership studies, which are outcome-driven to support the media consolidation agenda, there was an attempt to cook the books on this report." Mr Copps' full statement is available here.

** The FCC is run by five Commissioners, one of whom is the Chairman. When the US president is a Republican, there are three Republicans on the FCC - as is the case now. Adelstein and Copps are the two Democrats. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was on the Bush-Cheney Transition Team after Bush was confirmed as the winner of the 2000 presidential election by the US Supreme Court. He was confirmed as an FCC Commissioner in 2001 and became Chairman in 2005. The FCC is one of the most political agencies in the US govt. Its rulings have a fundamental impact on American media.

I made several entries about the machinations of the FCC on this Blog in November 07.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Top PC tech innovations?

Tech Republic (CNET) posted a list of "Top 20 PC Technology Innovations." I agree with six of the twenty (below these 6 is my own list)

  • 4) NCSA Mosaic (1993) - The first Web browser that ushered in the graphical World Wide Web.

    • 7) Hayes Smartmodem (1981) - The gateway to the Internet in the pre-broadband era, although the real secret sauce was the Hayes command set

    • 11) MP3 (1991) - The ONLY universally supported music format to date.

    • 12) Mouse (1963) - From Xerox to Apple to the world, it revolutionized usability.

    • 13) 802.11b (1999) - The first successful move to totally wire-free adequate data transmission.

    • ... and I can agree with (1) USB (1996) - "Bought in several concepts such as drawing power, swapping of devices without shutting down PC, and to this day is the killer of port woes." - anybody that spent hours, days, weeks, during the 1980s, on the phone with a co-worker or a friend trying to get the start bits, stop bits and parity bits right will know what we mean. Anyone who doesn't, is fortunate not to know what he or she missed!

    And, although they are not specifically PC related, I would also add TCP/IP, the Web, AltaVista (the first great search engine, from the late great Digital Equipment Corp - pre-Google) and Apple's iPhone because all of them were disruptive. I don't think the next x86 or graphics chips qualify. Nor does the Sound Blaster, since it simply fixes a basic deficiency of early PCs. IMHO.

    But, since we're talking about personal computing, what about:

    1. Apple II (1977) - The Apple II was first consumer/pro-sumer personal computer and used the first consumer floppy disk drives (as opposed to tape) and Apple DOS, its disk operating system.

    2. BASIC (1963) - Although it pre-dates the microprocessor and the personal computer, the Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code made personal computers accessible to applications programmers that didn't want to learn machine language.

    3. CP/M Control Program/Monitor (1974) - First microcomputer operating system. CP/M was the model for MS-DOS and Microsoft's first casualty. The story of CP/M's inventor is sad indeed. But for years, CP/M and its multi-user counterpart MP/M were king.

    4. VisiCalc (1979) - The first electronic spreadsheet, which instantly transformed the personal computer from a hobbyist toy to a powerful business machine and propelled Apple to stardom. VisiCalc spawned an army of imitators, including Microsoft MultiPlan (later, Excel), Lotus 1-2-3 and SuperCalc

    5. Adobe PostScript (1983) - A mathematically-based page description language that made graphical electronic publishing and universal electronic document interchange possible.

    6. Adobe Acrobat (1993) - The standard electronic document interchange format, now used universally, worldwide. Also, "PDF" has become a verb - which is a sure sign that Acrobat has been pretty influential!

    7. Hypertext (1962) - The origin of hyperlinking on the Web, first commercialized in Apple's HyperCard in 1987.

    8. VisiOn (1983) - was the first graphical environment for the IBM PC. It preceded Apple's Lisa by a year, the Mac by two and Windows by nearly three.

    9. PageMaker (1985) - Developed by Aldus Corporation for the Macintosh, PageMaker was the first page layout program for personal computers. Coupled with Apple's LaserWriter and Adobe PostScript, PageMaker was a viable alternative to proprietary workstations costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was the spark that ignited the conversion of the entire publishing business from print-based to electronic and spelled the end of typesetting once and for all.

    10. Apple LaserWriter (1985) - Although H-P introduced the LaserJet a year earlier, the LaserWriter was the first PostScript-based laser printer for personal computers, while the original LaserJet PCL language was essentially a series of escape-code instructions to print text-only.

    11. Compaq Portable (1983) - First portable computer running MS-DOS

    12. WordStar (1978) - WordStar was the first mainstream microcomputer word processing software, designed to run under CP/M)

    13. Adobe Photoshop (1990) - Photoshop has become an entire industry. Like "PDF," "Photoshop" has become a verb.

    14. TeleCompaq (1985) - First personal computer with integrated telephony

    15. Grid Compass (1982) - First portable computer in a form-factor recognizable today as a laptop.


    The list of Great Imitators
    • Apple Macintosh PowerBook (1991) - Although it was preceded by the Mac Portable and the Grid Compass, the PowerBook was the first mass-market laptop.

    • Apple Macintosh computer and MacOS operating system (1984) - First mass market desktop computer integrated with a Graphical User Interface and operating environment. Yes, Apple's Lisa and Xerox' ALTO preceded it, but the Mac remains available today.

    • Microsoft Windows (1985) - From a financial point of view, Windows may be one of the most successful computing products ever, but it was a so-so overlay on top of MS-DOS and even now, 22 years on, it still doesn't work. And why, in 2007, do we need Wizards?

    • The IBM PC, Radio Shack TRS-80 and other desktops post-Apple II.

    • MS-DOS (1981) - Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen were in a battle against Gary Kildall, inventor of CP/M, to be the supplier of the IBM PC's operating system. Microsoft had nothing, so the boys bought QDOS from Seattle Computer Products and underbid Kildall to capture IBM's business.

    OK, the Top 100 list that this Top 10 quoted from did include the Mac, the Compaq Portable and Photoshop. But if they're including games, why did they miss Myst? And what's with DirectX and not OpenGL? Mosaic, and not the Web or Hypertext (and HyperCard)? Oh well...