AM/FM/XM – Dead Man Walking!

If you saw Tom Hanks in “The Green Mile” you know what that phrase means. It’s the condemned killer walking down the long corridor in chains, directly to the waiting room where he will surely be facing his execution.  In the book and in the movie you’d hear a guard exclaim “Dead man walking!” in order to prepare everyone for the process and reality about to occur.

People who understand the various “wireless” technologies would probably agree with the analogy. AM/FM, in its current state, is surely a “Dead Man Walking” to the gallows.  The death of traditional AM/FM/XM radio is as obvious to predict as the coming sunset.  There are folks who don’t see it because they are not as familiar with the basic physics of radio – so hopefully this article will overcome that and offer hope and opportunity for AM/FM stations world-wide.  Uh oh.. I’m hearing a question:  “Wait a minute, is he lumping in (Sirius)XM?”  Answer: “Yep”.  Whoa!  That’s apples and oranges, right?   Answer: “nope”. Granted, Sirius has more time to respond, much more time. Let’s just focus on AM/FM for the moment.

To start out, I’m proposing two over-arching reasons for the rapid and upcoming demise of AM/FM radio:

  • Consumer choice
  • Supplier cost (or Consumer price)

That’s it! I would like to offer the AM/FM industry hope though. First we have to get through this first article. The hope for the industry is in the next few installments.  Be sure to leave a comment during the making of the series and if it adds to the message I will definitely put it in.

Let’s tackle consumer choice first.

It’s no surprise that the demographics of AM/FM stations are changing quickly.  The people who are either technically savvy, or have expendable income are choosing either satellite broadcast or internet streaming services.  So, why are we saying AM/FM is just a “dead man walking?”    Let’s ask this question, be honest:  If you have a choice between listening to half an hour of uninterrupted music instead of 15 minutes of music and 15 minutes of car commercials which would you pick?

Ok, so we’ve just established that if you HAVE a choice we know what the answer is. What then stops the complete dismantling of AM/FM today? Nothing, it’s happening – more and more media budgets are moving to new media wireless and streaming services.

Now let’s talk about supplier cost, which normally translates to the price consumers pay.  How much does it cost to build an AM radio station?  A lot.  How many simultaneous “channels” does an AM radio station transmit?

Am&FMisDead

All of these AM/FM radio towers have a defined area to broadcast. The center tower specializes in country music, and their revenue comes from the commercials, and they can only reach the houses and cars within the “sphere”. It’s just physics.  The tower to the upper right offers political talk and can only reach the houses and cars within its sphere, etc.  I think we would all agree that at minimum, it would be far better that the tower simply transmit whatever people want, right?

Let’s get back to the consumer. If he could push the streaming button as easily as the AM radio button, and considering the earlier question, which button will he pick?  The button with the most choices of course!  So if there is a gap to fill, and there still is, it’s the “simplicity” of making the button available to each consumer at a cost he will pay.

What if he doesn’t want to pay for commercial free programming?  Commercials then? Of course – well, then let’s now compare the cost of providing the stream of content that includes commercials versus the cost of AM broadcast.  We’ve already established AM broadcast is much more expensive to deliver one feed of content than an internet based system with any stream of content you desire.  In other words, if the cost to him is the same (free) then would he still not pick the “radio button” that can provide any type of programming he wants?

Now, here’s the part that will probably be a little tough to swallow. I think Sirius/XM is also in for a big hurt. They are no different from AM/FM in that they have extremely high capital expenses and operational expenses. Their business model is the transmission medium AND the content.  They need to pick one and do that, but not both.  They have a relatively short-term opportunity to convert their infrastructure to on-demand streaming content.  Their “channels” need to be adjusted to deliver whatever is asked.  How can it be done?  Easy, the 4G wireless network could communicate instructions to Sirius/XM as far as WHAT to stream, which means that satellite does not have to be two way to get the competitive streaming. Of course the technical protocol would have to change on the satellite to multiple internet download channels.

The purpose of this first part was to simply establish this fact: It has to be intuitive that AM/FM can’t survive in the same playing field that it does now. The alternative to that medium has incredible velocity and will one day supplant them as fast as Kodak lost its cash cow in film.

In the next installment I’d like to offer-up an idea that the FCC could help promote and allow the current AM/FM broadcast industry a fighting chance to survive.

Patrick Bouldin

http://www.RunThisProject.com

 

Can DFW SIM provide legislative comments on the Communications Act of 1996 update?

Good morning, DFW-SIM members. This morning a house subcommittee began the review and probable major rework of the Communications Act of 1934 (rewrite 1996). It is ironic this effort began on the heels of the recent judicial decision on net neutrality and the role of the FCC on many of these matters.

The subcommittee and the FCC have requested comments from ALL interested parties. I think that every single SIM member has quite a lot at stake in how the modified Communications ACT will look. I hope we all agree that we must that ensure competition, consumer protection and fostering innovation should be the most important components in ANY rewrite of the Communications ACT. Folks, there are major broadband industries who will want to influence this update to their advantage.  Many of these goals would absolutely be counter to the goals and interests of the consuming public, including private enterprise. We must not let that happen.

SIM Dallas should provide a letter with rational comments. We don’t have to make it ridiculously exhaustive, but of all people, WE should be heard.  Agree?  Would anyone like to join me in writing an opinion and getting our local body to get behind it?  PS: I noted Joe Barton is on this subcommittee, maybe we could have a direct connection into this process and be sure we’re heard.

http://www.c-span.org/?gclid=CLaHwNfKgLwCFe3m7AodWgYAnA

http://energycommerce.house.gov/press-release/upton-and-walden-announce-plans-update-communications-act

healthcare.gov – It’s NOT about “Fixing the Web Site”

Many of us in Information Technology would love a crack at a CNN camera when it comes to the healthcare.gov debacle. I’m confident that we would make comments in areas around infrastructure, project planning, lack of proper QA, etc. However, the real culprit is not any of those things – sure, all that stuff may exist but the problem starts with lack of good requirements (read user stories), business process modeling and scope creep.

It’s interesting to hear that it’s all about “fixing the web site”.  Most of the time even conservatives seem to be repeating that. Some of the critics are starting to get it though.  It’s the ever-changing and confusing requirements. Let’s take a simple example with one narrow user story:

Applicant chooses “financial assistance requested”. Well, the level of financial assistance is tied to his particular situation right?  All of us involved in business process modeling know how complex that is – imagine the calculations changing while you’re building the project! Admit you scrum folks, you’ve “been there, done that”!

It’s kind of like asking a robotics engineer at Chevrolet to code an assembly for a new style of car without anyone ever manually putting the car together first. Let’s face it, they’ve not had time to do that – not three years, not even a few months. It’s said that business “administrative rules” were changing as little as a few weeks ago.

All this to say, “fixing the web site” is an infrastructure issue and that doesn’t address the real problem of knowing how the site should behave.

What should have happened?

Apply the “must have” rule. Goal #1 should be “streamlined reservation with minimal exception cases”.  Goal # 2 – send out generic categories of pricing for people as a start and then direct them to an entirely different resource for calculating assistance.  That would have made things highly less complex because all the registration and simple pricing could avoid all the logic associated with financial assistance.

They could simply get this answer “your insurance pool cost will be $92 per month, and your financial assistance will vary between $10 to $46 per month. Sign up now and your assistance will be calculated on a different day – or if you’d like to find out before signing up then click here to begin that process.” That link would take them on an entirely different infrastructure and set of business processes. Think about it – they never belonged together anyway (insurance pool quotes and calculating financial assistance).

Had they kept to the basics, they could have kept it simple and things would have been fine. They probably thought ‘we have three years so we can do it’ – but if the requirements don’t come until 27 months later than they fail from the start.

At this point I’d recommend doing major functional bifurcating and delivering the basics.  Actually I’m in the camp to kill the whole thing, to be honest – but if we’re stuck with it these would be my thoughts.  I actually have another health care plan that I think would be a great “offer and compromise” for both parties and I’ll write about that next – it’s actually very short, shorter than this!

-Patrick

It’s up to us to set the record straight!

This post will sound a partisan, but that’s not my intent. I’m sure you, my fellow Information Technology friends would agree, that if you listened to any of the testimony this morning by Sec. Kathleen Sebelius you were truly frustrated.  Why? Because you are in I.T. and you know better.  You know that at minimum, the honorable Sec. Sebelius was subverting the truth. How unfortunate, frustrating and demoralizing to a country starving for honesty.

blame

Representative Doris Matsui of California stated during the hearing:  “The fact that the hired private contractors could not build the ready web site in three years is inexcusable and after it’s fixed I hope the Administration will hold those at fault accountable.”  I agree, who is the CEO in this case?

How long have the contractors been involved? When were the user stories completed? When was the architecture available? It’s going to be far, far less than three years. Maybe I’m a typical geek type who is bothered with a Washington bureaucrat blaming a technical team for their own failure. My guess is that the CEO (President Obama) instructed the COO (Sec. Sebelius) to get the project moving three years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if the General Contractor wasn’t hired for a year – and I wouldn’t be surprised if diligent user-story creation began as little as 18 months ago. Then, when did the coding start? 12 months ago?  Based on the timeline, would any of us be surprised if there was no end to end QA?  To all of you in application development and QA – did you know that the teams are still getting user story updates because not all of the Market Plans were introduced as late as September. You know that means by default there could not have been extensive QA testing prior to launch.  This, for a system that is to serve millions of citizens?  Scary concept! Unfortunately the general public will not know enough about application development to realize that they are not getting all the facts. The HHS secretary either doesn’t know the facts or she is leading us astray. It would not be likely she doesn’t know the facts about QA, security and basic load testing the application prior to launch.

They asked about a performance bond. I doubt any contractor would have signed a performance bond that wasn’t loaded with caveats, such as “user stories must be completed within…” etc.  No, something tells me that the CEO and COO are most culpable.  Most of us running our own business are very passionate about the idea of a free market.  No private company would spend over $150 million dollars and not end up bankrupt after a failure like that. But, if you are in an organization that actually can print your money and have no real financial risk in failure then you get failure. And, this latest anecdotal evidence is exactly and precisely why Government should NOT run ANYTHING that can be run in the private sector. If we MUST have socialized health insurance then we should have at LEAST made the management and assets of the program competitive and in the private sector, with the contract terms renewable based on performance.  Either this is so incredibly obvious or maybe there’s my naivety again.  Help me understand how this happens!

Hot patches are the name of the game right now in the frantic effort to get the “web site” stabilized.  Yours truly is not in a big group plan, and since my private Blue Cross plan is younger than 2010 I’ll likely get shoved out. With this in mind I went ahead and tried to get pricing.  While there was plenty of latency issues, it is clear to me there are FAR more problems with the code than infrastructure, based on the errors I witnessed.  Unfortunately Sec. Sebilius mostly blamed Verizon. I realize she used a lot of weasel words to imply there were other problems, but no mention of inappropriate time to prepare and execute. Remember this comment recently:  “we didn’t know there would be so many users..”?  Well, to you and me that means: No end to end QA, no load testing and most importantly, probably no written goal for load testing!  Is that the contractor’s fault?  Nope!  You know it and I know it.  In other words, for any project to be a success it has to set the team up FOR success.  Who is responsible for that?  It’s not the technical team, its management.  As an I.T. professional do not be afraid to set the record straight.  I would be disingenuous if I tried to imply I’m not upset about having another Government mandated program, but BOTH sides of the aisle need to start being truthful to us, on every issue.  It’s up to the people who have insider knowledge to keep them honest. In this case, that’s you and me.

Your wrist watch is doomed, finally and for good!

Do you agree?

Question: Why do you wear a wrist watch, if you do?

Answer: Fashion.   Admit it. You haven’t needed to strap a watch on your wrist for years, but you still do even though time is told everywhere else. Well, the day is coming soon where you will feel you HAVE to have much more than a clock on your wrist. watch

The traditional time pieces have been making a comeback for years, record profits have been in the books quarter over quarter – because fashion is very important to people.  However……   I am convinced as before that the human wrist is the next San Diego shoreline in terms of market value. More miniaturization will finally make it feasible to eliminate carrying the bulky smartphone combo such as the iPhone in your hand. Once true comparable functionality exists in a smart “watch” then the value of having that on your wrist will surpass the allure of the watch as a fashion accessory. Maybe not to all, but to enough that unless Fashion watchmakers are playing in the game they are going to see major erosion. I think we are two years or more away from that – but they need to get on this, yesterday.

It’s difficult for a lot of folks to visualize that kind of functionality built into a “watch”. But, clear ways to do it exist today. For one, instead of building the iPhone in a watch, it makes more sense just to carry the radio or cell phone and computer part of it in your pocket. Basically the watch would be a controller of sorts, commanding the mother ship in your pocket to route information to different places.  Example – push a button on your watch that allows the phone in your pocket to answer the phone call and route the mouth and earpiece to the Bluetooth headset.  Or, the wrist watch commanding the mother ship to accept keyboard input from any Bluetooth keyboard, or possibly even paint a laser keyboard. The watch can also be a remote display, from things going on in the mother ship. But, it’s not necessarily showing everything the mother ship can display – there will have to be “watch display” enabled apps that work on the mother ship. Or conversely the watch will command the display to hook into a full sized, Bluetooth enabled monitor.

Is all of this brand new news? Nope, Samsung started developing this concept a few years ago, and even in 2010 started talking about it:  http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/04/is-this-the-return-of-the-wristwatch/?_r=0 .   I also see a “mate” for the smaller brick in your pocket that is permanently installed in every car on the planet. The mate in the car won’t be visible, yet it will communicate with the watch and/or the brick in your pocket.  It may take awhile, but seamless coupling should take place immediately when in range of a normal “mate”. Music is available, streaming from your pocket brick over the Bluetooth. The directions you’re getting won’t stop when the car stops because your watch will take over when you’re on foot.   I can see this so plainly. To me it’s not if, but when. It can happen in other ways but what I’m saying is that the human wrist is extremely valuable market share that will give way to functionality over fashion if the allure is too great….

By the way, I don’t see the computer and radio in your pocket for long. Eventually the smartphone will disappear and the computer part of it will be a virtual profile on a cloud or SaaS computer somewhere.  Meaning, your apps will run in the cloud and the cloud will send all the audio and video to your small radio, either in your pocket or perhaps at that point in your watch.

 

Oh, and yes, a Fashion watchmaker CAN still build fashion into the smart watch controller (SWC), just not the other way around. It’s a culture thing you know. Your company has to have fashion people making and creating the fashion eye candy.   Major traditional tick tock watchmakers should be making serious partner agreements with the smart phone makers and working up important advances.  THEY should drive this market because they currently own the real estate (for now). My hope is that these traditional companies act soon or perhaps in the future you might find them for sale only next to film cameras. Do you agree? Do you have other visions? I’m anxious to hear!   -       Patrick Bouldin -       http://www.RunThisProject.com

I wish I got paid by the acronym….

As a consultant that old quip is used often in my daily vernacular.  Or, “I wish I got paid by the number of pages I produce!”

As a CIO, CTO or Director of I.T. you’ve joked about the same – you’ve known for a long time now that part of your job is actually to lessen the over-use of acronyms with your executive staff.  Let’s be honest, we’re human and we’re proud of what we do, our deep knowledge of systems and how to make them work for us.  It’s only natural that SaaS flows off of our tongue “as smooth as silk” flows at home.

As an independent consultant for the last several years I guess I’ve really always known that over use of technical language has side effects – they  include:

  • Confusion
  • Loss of the central point
  • An “abstract of perceived separation” between I.T. and the core of what makes the business tick

Did you like the last one?  It was a good one if I do say so myself – I should get paid for it!  What I meant was, the more techno mumbo jumbo we deliver to the business the more likely we are to be perceived as caught up in our weeds and not so much in understanding how the business makes money.

Whether you are a W2 CIO or a 1099 consultant, we will always provide much more value to the business by translating our technical jungle openly to the business as a process, without the acronyms.  We should be communicating our inputs, our general process flow and our outputs – or, our VALUE to the business.  If we’re not doing that it’s only a matter of time that the business will become frustrated, even if you know in your heart that your group is doing a bang-up job.

I encourage you all to think about how you can start drawing rectangles around your functions and turn them into processes that can readily attributed to supporting the revenue.  Don’t forget the metrics!!  Did I say, don’t forget the metrics?  Laurie Grace interviewed me about that subject.  Check out the two videos in a four part series at http://www.RunThisProject.com .