Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wed Lunch Presentation by Ira Flatow

Wed Lunch Presentation by Ira Flatow Host and Executive Producer Talk of the Nation: Science Friday.

Wow, the week is going by fast-- so many restaurants, so little time.  But I will give up an excursion into the world of Las Vegas cuisine to trek to the LV Hilton Barron Room for the Technology Lunch.  The keynote is being given by Science Friday's Ira Flatow and this is another don't miss NAB08 event for me.

I work from home so when I am not on the phone I am listening to radio about 12 hours/day and I don't ever miss this show.  Not only do I enjoy the content but as a guest on the show in '98, it gave me by one and only on-air radio Andy Warhol famous for 30 second opportunity (notice I did not get invited back).  Check it out from the NPR archives, it is the show guest hosted by Paul Raeburn starts about Vampires but keep listening.

     Abstract at
     Real Audio Archive at

The fact that this audio is still online since 1998 is a story in itself, but back to the Wed Lunch.  I had a nice discussion with others I met for the first time at my table.  We talked about the chicken and egg  problem in getting HD Radio to take off.  The problem- people can not hear it it they don't have an HD radio and if there is no ability to sample the content, it is difficult to generate demand to purchase.  I learned that stations are doing some promotion on their main channel and in some cases directing people to web streaming of the HD content.  Of course down the road, auto OEMs will include HD in the radios and that will drive awareness and then demand.  I was surprised to discover that stations do not provide program guide of the HD channels on RDS since so many FM receivers can not display RDS text.

Samsung was the sponsor of the lunch so in the pre-IRA remarks we got a short list of new technologies to remind us we were at the Technology Luncheon:  HD Radio, the DTV Transistion, and A-VSB.  It was not lost on us that the last item was called A-VSB instead of mobile video-- but hey!-- Samsung paid for the venue.  I do have prediction however:  from a commercial success point of view it will not matter much it the anointed mobile video standard becomes Samsung's A-VSB or LG's MPH or some other variant.  If history serves, the real money will be made on licensing of patents that you can bet both sides have in progress that you will need from multiple parties to go to market.

Finally time for Ira.  He introduced himself as the guy who runs a Friday NPR show with the goal of making science and technology a topic for ordinary dinner conversation.  His address was titled: "Funny You Don't Look Like an Avatar".  He got a good back to the future laugh by putting a photo of a 1946 RCA TV with a tiny noisy low res picture followed quickly by a widescreen video iPOD.  He made the point that now that Broadcasting has progressed to HD, we are about to move back to the stage of tiny low res screens with low frame rates and uncertain coverage.

The focus of Ira's talk however was on virtual reality worlds such as 2nd Life.  It was a wake up call to remind us that the minute we think we understand where media is going, something new comes along that can we a threat if you ignore it or an opportunity if you embrace it and take control.

Although Science Friday already augments the radio show with a website and has videos, consistent with someone following the the leading edge of technology, he wanted to consider what might be beyond web based augmentation of the show.  So Science Friday is experimenting with an Ira avatar in the 2nd Life that is active during the broadcast of his live radio show.  The other listeners who are online during the show arrive in the 2nd Life Science Friday theater during the show and interact by texting messages real time to the show producers who filter them for Ira.  He is trying an additional experiment where to encourage the members of his 2nd Life audience to also interact by audio with mixed success.  It seems they really want to get their 2nd Life private and not take a chance their voice will give away their real identity.

Science Friday is in good company on 2nd Life, his neighborhood includes NASA and a university among other serious institutions.  It seems they all want to experiment with new media encounters.  A clue as to what might be driving interest by institutions is a realization that they need to grab the attention of the next generation by appealing to today's kids and teens if they want to hold onto them when they become adults.

In addition to Ira's overview of 2nd Life, he mentioned initiatives by Disney with "Club Penguin" and activities by Nickelodeon in a VR world.  I don't recall the source of a forecast but he mentioned an expectation that by 2011 half of all teens will have experience with VR world participation.

Ira closed with some food for thought-- he posed the question what will happen to those kids who live an increasing large proportion of the life in a VR world and perhaps this 2nd life  is more important to them then real life.  When they grow up and find they need to shift to real life to support themselves and walk in the streets of the physical world, will they be able to handle it?

I have part of the answer and it goes back to Ira's funny two slides of the 1946 TV and iPhone.  And my contribution to predicting the future is:  they will take the VR world with them and it will be available via wireless broadband on the next generation of portable personal multimedia device.  By the way, some people are making real money selling services and goods in VR world, so perhaps they will also find ways to use the 2nd life for financial gain as well.


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