danbricklin.com/log

Starting December 20, 2004
More of why podcasting is good, Audio recordings and transparency, Eric Kriss at MSC about Open Formats and Microsoft, Boomer blog and my lights, NH Inaugural Ball, Open source seminars coming up, Cleaning up my office and why, Panel recording is now on ITConversations, Open Source Panel last week
20Dec04-21Jan05
2004_12_20.htm
Friday, January 21, 2005 
More of why podcasting is good [link]
Following up on my last post about audio recording and transparency, I had some thoughts while listening to a Gillmor Gang podcast on the flight back from California. (Travel this week has given me time to listen to a few hours of podcasts exercising, waiting, flying, etc.) The edition I was listening to was from January 14 with guest Adam Bosworth of Google who is a database expert. I really like this series of "shows" (The Gillmor Gang). During this one it hit me why: It's done as a deep, serious show aimed at a professional in the area covered (in this case the IT world), it's not dumbed down, it's actually "smarted up".

The Eric Kriss announcement saga (as I chronicled it in my post) showed that the news reports, and reports on them, were filtered, transformed, shortened, and simplified, losing a lot and evoking a different response in the listener than if they were exposed to the source. The reporting was by people who weren't practitioners steeped in the fine points and history of the field. They were reporters trained to ask questions and distill out a "story" and put it "in context" outside of the source as an "observer". That's their "product". On Groklaw, Pamela Jones and many of her readers strive to amass all the source documents and further ferret out and sift through as many related facts as possible. It is up to readers to figure out how to use it (who then often feed back that usage, proposing many "stories").

What I like about the ITConversations type of podcasts is the depth, the aiming at a narrow audience who cares about the subject and wants to learn directly from people who know a lot about it. The Gillmor Gang is special in that the "regular" participants are all very knowledgeable in various parts of the field, and in what is going on in it at various companies. They ask probing questions and give opinions and anecdotes that draw out the conversation with the guest(s). Those guests are carefully chosen people who are involved at a high level in topics. They aren't just spokespeople but often the thinkers who know the subject very deeply from experience and who appreciate the opportunity to speak seriously and at a professional level. I feel that I'm learning, and the long format, with rambling into topics through the probing, and the informal nature of it being a "conversation" among topic insiders unafraid to use jargon and others unafraid to ask for clarification, is very engaging.

I feel that if I were a devotee of almost any other topic, just about all of which have depth (from knitting machines to nuclear safety), this format (as podcasting) would work. Regular broadcast "radio" wouldn't work for many reasons on many of these topics. The fact that I can back up my MP3 player and listen to a passage again, or stop for a few minutes or days and then start up again a minute or two before where I stopped to help remember context, lends itself to this sometimes information-dense material. The material is often very technical and you need to hear some things said more than once, the material is also thought provoking so my mind wanders, I listen in places that sometimes have distractions, and finally the shows are long and I sometimes need to break up my listening into chunks. Another thing: With podcasts, you know that almost everybody listens from the start, with no dropping in (unless someone else sent them directly to a section knowing it stood on its own). No need to always have something when they tune the dial to catch them, no fear that you'd lose an audience to another channel since they can fast-forward if a sub-topic is boring. These conditions are killers to a traditional radio program which just streams by without stop, and which by nature of the scarcity of available "airtime" can only go after topics with deep understanding to a wide audience, like sports or politics, or be presented in a way understandable to a more general population. Physical media, like CDs or tapes, are not timely enough and the distribution is too expensive for the wide range of topics and "shows" you'd need to get to that depth. Broadband and downloading don't have those problems.

Listening to Halley Suitt interviewing Dan Gillmor and thinking about this topic, I also see how this long, informal format lends itself to getting to know a person. Since airtime isn't scarce, you can do a 30 or 60 minute interview with long answers, not the 10 or 20 minutes (including commercials) common in a TV interview. No need to edit out the personal "fluff" to just present the sensational "news". Isn't that one of the reasons Terry Gross' Fresh Air is so popular, with one person interviewed for 30 to 50 minutes with no breaks? The Fresh Air "about" page explains how it's special by saying: "The show gives interviews as much time as needed..." The "getting to know someone" aspect of podcasting fits in with blogging, and relates to the "objectivity" question. Once you know someone, you don't need to have a "McReporter", each supposedly just as "objective" as the next. You understand more of their biases and tendencies and can put what they say or write in a context.

So, another rant about how special and different podcasting is.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005 
Audio recordings and transparency [link]
Dan Gillmor has an important post about "The End of Objectivity" and how the goal of "being objective" as a journalist should be replaced by "...four other notions that may add up to the same thing. They are pillars of good journalism: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness and transparency." For transparency he suggests providing links to source material. In a later post, he points to David Berlind's latest efforts where David (of ZDNet) includes a link to the full MP3 of an interview with an executive quoted in the article, including the time codes for each quote so you can see if he represented the executive correctly. This is really good stuff.

I've noticed something that happened with the reports about Eric Kriss' announcement last week about Open Formats and Microsoft. (Actually, while Eric made the announcement, I've seen that there were others in government and at Microsoft who worked real hard on this and should also get credit. As a very senior official, though, he should get credit for championing this, too.) The early reports were from news postings by reporters trying to tell a quick story (I know how quick -- I went home to post and some of their stories beat me by quite a bit and they probably went through editors). They didn't have all the background that I did to work with and had to put things in the context of other presentations at the meeting that weren't meant to be juxtaposed but that were. Those early reports got picked up by an article on SourceLicense.com that was then picked up by Slashdot. Reading the responses on Slashdot you can see people were trying to figure things out based on feelings and reactions to reports of the short reports. Most people didn't seem to understand what was really going on. It seems that Eric Kriss himself posted there on Slashdot to ask for a correction of where the article said that Open Formats were replacing Open Standards, not extending them (a correction was made).

I had made a recording of the talk (with my little iRiver iFP-890 flash MP3 player) while sitting on stage (I introduced Eric). I transcribed part of the recording and posted that transcript along with some of my own comments here on my blog. I emailed Pamela Jones over at Groklaw.net and gave her permission to quote me liberally. (Since this was an "informal" announcement, after the talk I asked Secretary Kriss if this was OK and he said yes.) PJ posted my material with lots of links to background material. This resulted in lots of what I think was better understanding in the comments than on Slashdot (though someone on Slashdot did point to PJ's post), but many people still didn't get what was going on nor Eric's sincerity towards openness.

PJ emailed me and Eric Kriss and asked permission to post my entire recording on Groklaw. We both agreed. She then transcribed the rest of it to make a complete transcript and posted that transcript along with the MP3 and a more open Ogg Vorbis sound format copy that she made. Her own comments, having now heard him speak, had greater feeling than her earlier post. Comments posted by others had a lot more heartfelt thanks to Eric than before, even though the written content wasn't that much different. The discussion, I feel, got down to the real issues being discussed and not just a reaction to what it was all generally about and how it related to their personal soapboxes. People responded in the more personal, helpful tone of a friendly give-and-take, not just the discussions of people in the third person often seen with such announcements. Wow, a real "conversation" with a very senior public official. Hearing the voice and "being there" with the recording seemed to open the relationship in a way similar to "knowing" a blogger through reading their blog over time. Things are more human this way. Maybe people will do fewer personal attacks when they feel they know the subject through experiencing the interaction that led to the story being written about (as in David Berlind's piece). Maybe podcasting will make things more personal (I'm getting to "know" the (Steve) Gillmor Gang people better by listening to them so frequently on their podcasts). Knowledgeable, civil discourse is good for our society.

Friday, January 14, 2005 
Eric Kriss at MSC about Open Formats and Microsoft [link]
This morning was a long Massachusetts Software Council meeting. I don't have time to cover it now, but there is one part I want to get out right away.

Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance, Eric Kriss, gave a short speech. I've mentioned him here multiple times, starting October 8, 2003. He is very high in state government (reporting directly to the Governor), but has been in the software industry at one point and reportedly has programmed in PL/1 and Perl. He announced some additions to their Open Standards initiative. They are defining "Open Formats", which include formats that don't need to have a formal standards body and could come from a private entity. And, as a surprise, they seem to be coming to an agreement with Microsoft where Microsoft is going to reduce their restrictions on some Microsoft Office file formats to fit under the definitions.

Side view of Eric Kriss talking into podium mike  View over shoulder of press person of Eric
Eric Kriss speaking, talking to a newspaper reporter
This is important, I believe, because it shows that the State is signaling that centralized bodies aren't needed for creating standards that they will accept, that proprietary software companies' formats may be accepted (or any group's), but that the important thing is the ability to have open access to those data files and be able to get all the data out at any time in the future. When you have a stack of components, it's OK to have proprietary ones, as long as they are legally replaceable without special permission. This means, of course, that it's OK to make any component through nonproprietary software, too. This is another step in Massachusetts' effort to level the playing field so that Open Source can be adopted on its merits when appropriate, but without doing it by locking out proprietary products.

If Microsoft really does this, I think it's a step in the right direction that is good for society (and for Microsoft, too).

The issue stems from the license Microsoft has had for the Office file formats patents (here is a link, though the contents of that page may change when they change the license, I assume). It was not unencumbered enough for many governments (nor most Open Source people), and they have been complaining to Microsoft for some time.

Here is some of what I heard him say (these are my notes, nothing official):

...We're ready to extend the concept of Open Standards to the next step or stage. And I'm making an informal announcement to you. We're looking as always to comments -- feedback -- because it's been terrific. One of the best assets that we have is all of you and the tremendous amount of brainpower that resides in this room and in the greater community, the software industry in Massachusetts. But we are planning to extend the definition of Open Standards to what we are now going to be calling "Open Formats"...

...In our definition, "Open Formats" are specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying Open Standard developed by an open community and affirmed by a standards body or de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty free, and nondiscriminatory terms.
... An example of an Open Format that we have already characterized is TXT text files and PDF document formats.

...It should be reasonably obvious for a lay person who looks at the concept of Public Documents that we've got to keep them independent and free forever because it is an overriding imperative of the American democratic system. That we cannot have our public documents locked up in some kind of proprietary format or locked up in a format that you need to get a proprietary system to use sometime in the future. So, one of the things that we're incredibly focused on is insuring that the public records remain independent of underlying systems and applications insuring their accessibility over very long periods of time. In the IT business a long period of time is about 18 months, in government it's about 300 years, so we have slightly different perspective.

Open Formats insure also that there are minimal restrictions imposed on the use of applications needed to access those records and files. And finally, Open Formats support the integrity of public records when we're going to need to do a file conversion as required probably in the course of normal technological evolution. So that if we have something in the format of 2005 and it's going to need to be converted in 2038 into something that we've never thought of yet we need to be able to do that without losing the integrity in the ... of information...

...The Commonwealth will only certify an Open Format designation when minimal legal restrictions exist on the reading and dissemination of government records...

...What I want to discuss informally today is we've been in a conversation with Microsoft for several months with regard to the patent and the license surrounding their use of XML to specify specifically DOC files in Microsoft Office 2003. They have made representations to us recently they are planning to modify that license, and we believe if they do so in the way that we understand that they have spoken about, we will leave it obviously to them to describe exactly what they are going to do, that it is our expectation that when we do issue the next iteration of the standard that in fact the Microsoft what are proprietary formats will be deemed to be Open Formats because they will no longer have the restrictions on their use that they currently have, that would include potentially, and, again, we need to wait for the final designation of this from Microsoft, it would include Word Processing ML, which is the wrapper around DOC files, Spreadsheet ML, which is the wrapper around XLS files and the form template schemas. Obviously, we are going to be talking to other companies and other entities that may have restrictions around the use of those formats and we hope to either get them removed or have further conversations so that as we all move forward together in this wonderful evolution of technology we are going to insure that at least in the government we will be able to reference something a hundred years from now and it won't get lost forever.

I am pleased that my state is taking a lead here in making things happen, and it's nice to have it without litigation. It seems that governments are using their buying leverage to help vendors make their products more interoperable with other software. I see that the government is focusing on their own needs, and that may be a little too narrow for some other parties (after all, they are arguing for access to public records). They shouldn't be the only ones, though, pushing for what is needed, so don't fault them for not carrying everything on their shoulders.

It looks like I'm going to be on an Information Technology Advisory Board for the State, so I might be able to follow this more closely in the future. Feedback, though, should not go to me. Secretary Kriss has asked for it himself. Discuss this if you want on web sites like Groklaw and send him a pointer. As he says, this is all an evolution, and our feedback is part of that evolution. I'm glad to see that Microsoft has chosen to be part of it, too.

Monday, January 10, 2005 
Boomer blog and my lights [link]
I've been helping a friend with her new business. She's an "old media" person who is moving into "new media". She was very impressed by the success of the grassroots part of the Dean campaign and wanted to learn more about podcasting, blogging, etc. She and her cofounders are looking to address us baby boomers and the changes in our lives and help us get through them together. I encouraged her to start a blog, and last Friday I helped get her set up with Blogger. It's going to be interesting to watch them try to figure out how best to apply the new media and "many-to-many" elements of community yet still get a business off the ground, all while they instinctively reach for old tools (like "Let's sell a video series to TV stations" or something).

The blog is "Boomer Blog". Nancy would love to get feedback.

As part of thanks for my help, she and a partner have been helping me get my video stuff set up, giving me lists of expensive equipment to buy and then positioning all the lights, etc., so I look good. It's not as easy as it looks. Here's a sample shot from the setup as it stands now (thank you Bill!):

Dan smiling with bookcase in background  Camera, light in hood with reflector, monitor  Black thing with slits in front of light clamped to shelf
Video capture of Dan with lights on, the setup in front of me, and the light that makes the background look that way
I'll explain how this all works when I start using it more. Right now I just tape practice sessions of my speeches, like the seminar I'm giving tomorrow, so I can critique myself. Of course, if I need to do any iChat video conferences now I'll look nice and professional!

Sunday, January 9, 2005 
NH Inaugural Ball [link]
I attended last night's New Hampshire Governor's Inaugural Ball. My sectionmate from Harvard Business School, John Lynch, is the new governor. Several classmates came from all over the country to attend and I drove up from Massachusetts in the sleet and snow. It was a big black-tie affair, with tickets $150 a person:

Lots of tables with people in black tie and gowns standing around
The ballroom where we sat
A bigger room with more people standing around - left side as seen from the back Right side
The main room
Lights on a stage with people lined up
Introducing the Governor and family
Here I am in my tux (that's twice in three months):

Dan smiling
Black-tie Dan
Governor Lynch only gave a short speech -- most of the time was for talking with friends. (There was also some music and some people danced.) The talking and seeing classmates and their spouses was great, even though the last reunion was recent.

We waited as a group in the long receiving line to shake John's hand and posed for a picture:

A group shot with 16 or so people
The group shot with the Governor
It's fun to watch a warm, very friendly politician work (though he spent a lot of his life as a business person) as person after person came up to him:

A blur of people
The receiving line, with Governor Lynch the second person from the left
After most of it was over we were talking in a sitting area near the desert and fireplace when John walked over to talk with us for a while. It was like old times discussing a case together, but this time it was real: What should a new governor do who inherits a $300 million deficit? I don't envy him his task, but he's a real nice guy and I hope he succeeds in helping his state.

A small table with several people sitting around and a few standing looking at John
The new governor (center) talks with his old classmates
It is really something when someone you went to school with and sat in a class with every day for more than a year makes it big, especially a normal nice guy like John. It's just such a proud feeling, and a "small world" feeling.

Friday, January 7, 2005 
Open source seminars coming up [link]
I'm speaking at some seminars over the next several days. They are sponsored by Black Duck Software, a producer of intellectual property management tools for software development. The topic of the seminars is "Outlook and Issues for Open Source in the Enterprise in 2005". I'll be talking about the compelling case for the use of open source software in software development and the new disciplines that will become a necessary part of the development process as open source achieves its full potential in the enterprise. (That's from the "official" notice, but I helped write it, so I don't mind quoting it.) The other speaker is Black Duck EVP and lawyer Karen Copenhaver getting into the nitty gritty of accounting and legal issues, especially with respect to Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. There is also an additional section (after a break) demonstrating the tools and services they sell (I'm not involved in doing that). The seminars are in Boston on January 11th, New York City on January 13th, and Santa Clara, California, on January 18th. From the list of people who have already signed up it seems like this is a very hot topic among big business. Open Source and other forms of sharing are an important part of software development and we all have to learn how to make it work smoothly.

It seems more and more of what I do is involving open source and various ways of sharing and community among "content" producers and users. The ubiquity of the Internet in everyone's life is really driving this in a wonderful way.

Tuesday, January 4, 2005 
Cleaning up my office and why [link]
Happy New Year!

For those of you who have visited my office, either at Trellix or at Software Garden, you know that it's normally pretty cluttered (that's being charitable). Well, for various work reasons I needed to get it all straightened up. I spent the last week or so working on it. Here are some "before" pictures:

 
Left side of room with piles of papers on boxes full of papers, old Comdex handouts, and bank statements; right side of the room with more of the same
Here is the "after", so far:

 
Clean parts of the room corresponding to the pictures above (no shown: two piles still needing work)
For me, the big thing is the huge amount of floor space I have back. No more tiptoeing avoiding piles or boxes. I also have lots of clear desk space to work with -- I felt very cramped working on ListGarden with barely enough room to move my mouse. [I go into great detail here to document this for myself and for those readers who have worked with me and know how momentous this is, having put up with my clutter over the years...]

Here's some of what I threw out (over 6 garbage cans full):

   
Boxes, garbage and paper bags filled with paper; old product boxes (I kept some of the contents); a few of the many Avery boxes of labels
I had dozens and dozens of boxes of Avery labels from my old PageGarden development days (it's a laser printer utility for DOS from the late 1980's). They've all yellowed and the adhesive is no longer very good. It really hurt to throw out stuff that costs hundreds and hundreds of dollars to replace if I bought them now (they were samples provided by Avery to help me do my development).

I also had a large box or two taking up the bottom of the closet filled with cables, mostly RS232 serial cables and parallel printer cables as well as lots of power cords and VGA cord extenders. I kept a few of the serial cables "just in case" and have the rest in a box ready to go in the trash next week. I couldn't believe how many different LapLink cables I've bought from Traveling Software, each coming with updated software for the latest operating system. Here's a small section of the old cables and the rack of bins I replaced my boxes full of still-useful cables and paraphernalia with:

 
Box of serial cables and some old Ethernet coax; the new drawers to hold my cables and adapters
What drove me to finally clean this all up? I want to do some simple videotaping in my office for some upcoming projects. I want it to look "professional" and am working with a professional video person to set up lights, etc., that I can use whenever I want. He's coming over tomorrow and he'll need space to set up light stands, etc., and he also asked for a clean, uncluttered background. That was the excuse that pushed me over to finally do a pretty complete cleanup job, rather than my normal "make enough room for the incoming box" job.

Scott Kirsner leaked that I'm "...experimenting with digital video..." in The Boston Globe last week. Well, actually I'm learning Final Cut Express on my Powerbook so that I can edit a demo tape of me speaking (the CRN keynote) and whatever I record with my new setup. That's the "digital" part. The rest has been lights, cameras, and sound equipment. He kindly made what I told him off the record obscure enough.

Speaking of Scott Kirsner (he writes a weekly column in The Boston Globe, does the MITX Fireside Chat interviews I sometimes cover, and is one of the hosts of the Nantucket and Future Forward conferences, among other things), I saw his name mentioned in the Sunday Boston Globe this week, on the "Special Occasions" page: Scott was recently married. Congratulations Scott!

Thursday, December 23, 2004 
Panel recording is now on ITConversations [link]
A recording of the Open Source panel is now up on ITConversations. It's long: an hour and 28 minutes, 40.7MB. The part about experiences with acquisitions is at about an hour and 8 minutes into the recording.

See "Open Source Code: Managing the Opportunity" on ITConversations for links to the recordings. Thank you Doug Kaye at ITConversations for making this possible.

Monday, December 20, 2004 
Open Source Panel last week [link]
I participated in the  "Open Source Code: Managing the Opportunity" panel last Thursday. It was sponsored by Goulston & Storrs, a law firm with a major office in Boston, and the Mass High Tech publication. The event was taped and that tape is now in the able hands of Doug Kaye of ITConversations. Within the next few days (after I get him some pictures and other material) the recording should show up there so that you can listen to it. I like being able to say that you can hear the whole thing, so I don't have to be complete in my write-ups here. The whole thing was almost an hour and a half long.

The panel mainly focused on the corporate view of Open Source. Can you, and should you, avoid it? (Answer: No.) Will it have an effect on financial concerns of the company? (Answer: Yes, sometimes positive, sometimes negative.) What should you do? (Answer: Learn about it, work with developers, document what you are doing, and learn to manage the process to get the most out of Open Source without running into financial stumbling blocks.)

The most eye-opening parts of the give-and-take (among panelists and with the audience) were at least two people in the audience who related experiences involving Open Source during company acquisition negotiations. In one case, a major, rich, computer company kept a large very long-term holdback of the purchase price as a reserve against Open Source issues, much like they'd hold back money for questionable long-term receivables. In another case, simple, reasonable Open Source questions (like "Do you have any documentation of which Open Source code you are using and the licenses covering it?") resulted in a multi-month delay of due diligence on a lucrative deal that then lost momentum and eventually died hurting the company trying to sell badly. The issues here are real and dear to the pocketbooks of investors and shareholders (including employees).

Sides of peoples heads
My view of the other panelists and moderator
Here is a summary of the "Do you have anything to leave people with at the end?" answers from each of the panelists:

Ben Howe (investment banker): We are so early in understanding the legal trail on Open Source and making it more routine, so it will be bumpy. Big buyers (of companies) are catching on that they need to do due diligence here, and there is no normal procedure that we've gone through many times to fall back upon. You need a great degree of preparation.

Paul Cormier (executive VP of engineering at Red Hat): If you are going to work in the OSS area, participate in the community of the products you are using.

Karen Copenhaver (executive VP and General Counsel of Black Duck Software and IP lawyer): There needs to be a facilitated conversation between lawyers, business people, and developers. Lawyers and business people can't understand this from a distance. Investors will eventually get comfortable with this. It is just another business process that they need to manage intelligently from the beginning rather than scurrying around at the end justifying what they did in the past.

Dan Bricklin (president of software and consulting firm): You can't put your head in the sand and say "we won't use Open Source." The question for developers is not just how to be involved in an Open Source development project, but also how do you be a part of a normal, for-profit business and deal with the Open Source issues. You have to learn that your lawyer is your friend, that the lawyer is a part of the development team the same way that the Quality Assurance person or the Usability person is part of the team. The same way your compiler gives you warning messages about syntax, you are going to get warning messages from your lawyer and you are going to need to say "let us figure out together how to interface these two products without violating the licenses". This is a new part of development and developers need to be trained about this.

Dozens of people in a theater arrangement at a nice conference center
Part of the audience
I'll post when the recording becomes available.

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