Revival of patronage

It’s now clear to me that with our capacity to distribute large works of art, such as books, music, and films, to global audiences of millions, and many computer programmers’ opposition to paying for digital goods (resulting in quick breaking of any digital rights management system yet deployed), that we will have a re-emergence of patrons who will support artists for recording albums, writing books, and making films. It is also possible that these patrons will be corporate bodies rather than individual persons, especially in the early days of this cultural trend. Once audiences have become fully accustomed to TV and online ads, such sponsorship will be the best way to reach audiences disenfranchised from traditional media, whose advertising already communicates little about the product and services portrayed, and instead tries to appeal to emotions, which can be seen as deceptive. Additionally, it is clear that many corporations are wealthy enough to pay for high quality works of art and may prefer this opportunity to not be limited to the typical duration of a TV ad. Agencies that put corporations in touch with promising artists stand to make good margins, and will be a desirable employer. Most of the actual trade will be carried out online. As an example of this trend, I would cite the TED conference.

Addendum, same day: I also think it’s likely that this will raise the quality of pop culture, as patrons with economic interests won’t want to be associated with mediocre contributions. More education and genuinely witty entertainment, less l’art pour l’art.

Apple for seamless backup

Bear with me for a few seconds more. I’m the first person to see shortcomings in the MacBook Air, and I was disappointed with Apple’s MacWorld announcements in general, BUT their backup concept is beautiful, and finally coming together. Time Machine was included in Mac OS X Leopard, and initially looked like a bit of a gimmick. The 3D representation for time going backwards is of course well known and established in many academic fields. Nothing new there. However, further research reveals (and their marketing material won’t satisfy here) that backup is incremental, that is, it focuses on the files that have actually changed. And now it seems you can use your laptop anywhere in your home and send files to the imo very reasonably priced $299 or $499 Time Capsule (essentially a network drive). The maximum data rate based on the 802.11n specification used, would seem to be 31MB/s, with a range of about 70m through walls (using SI units, m=metres). It remains to be seen exactly how seamlessly Time Capsule integrates with Time Machine and multiple user accounts on multiple computers. It also remains to be seen whether connecting a 1TB drive externally is seamless and, once connected, invisible to the Time Machine user. I have a suspicion that although using hubs, you can in principle connect up to 128 (iirc) devices through a single USB port, Time Capsule may not support this at the data rate one would hope for. On the other hand, I would be quite upset having to buy multiple Time Capsules and not know which one holds the data I want. Certainly, a recent software update re-enabled Time Machine backups to USB drives connected to an Airport Extreme or Time Capsule. It’s not clear what market Apple envisages for the device, because 1TB is not enough for people who seriously work with video, so the eligibility of Time Capsule for that market will crucially depend on whether several devices can be connected by USB, and whether the device keeps performing well under such conditions.

Speech to text vs. keyboards: Will any computer languages die?

I recently witnessed discussions of new keyboards that provide no tactile feedback, and are potentially rough on the finger joints. Keyboards of this kind have been proposed, and in some cases, manufactured, for some time, but there is no doubt that even Apple with its former focus on usability, is now succumbing to making the slimmest devices they can, no matter the cost to ergonomics. In essence, the keyboard is slowly walking out the door, in spite of previous predictions that most input into computers would remain keyboard-driven for the next ten to fifteen years. What are the alternatives?

The obvious answer is, speech to text, but while add-on packages for medical terms or for various other industries are available for some speech to text systems, I’ve yet to see programs being written by STT. My main gripe here is that many computer languages contain characters that are difficult to dictate because their pronunciation is not unique, and one or two words need to be said to dictate just one character (e.g. “semi-colon” or “open parentheses”). Granted, verbal shortcuts could be used in some cases, e.g. “O P” for “open parentheses”.

Nonetheless, I am left wondering whether among the myriad programming languages, many of whom are very similar to each other, those that do not require characters other than alphabetic and numerical ones (except for containing strings, which may be a harder problem otherwise) will fare better than those that have copious amounts, such as Perl, where every variable name is prefixed with a punctuation character of some sort, or sometimes two, and every instruction needs to be followed with a semi-colon (usually at the end of a line). Being “white-space agnostic” comes at a price.

There are other areas where STT may have difficulty making inroads, including customer service, where the ability of the human operator to speak to the customer is more important than obsoleting the keyboard. It’s possible to imagine a STT enabled software that listens in to the conversation and takes down customer data autonomously. Such a system would need to have a tiny error rate, however.

And it’s still unclear to me whether:

  1. people could be equally productive using STT as they can using keyboards, especially programmers;
  2. you could use your voice as continuously through the day as you can with a keyboard; and
  3. people who have been using keyboards for a long time can be retrained to now use STT.

So I think there’s a lot of work remaining to be done before STT can be widely used, and I’ll personally be using proper, ergonomic keyboards for some time yet.