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By | Guy Kewney 1st December 2006 09:33

Who framed Jessica Rabbit?

One Note on how podcasting doesn't work

Comment Here's a trick question: would you invent the movie camera if there was no such thing as a movie projector? Or, to make the trick more obvious: would you invent the movie camera, and then prevent anybody from building a projector? Would you create a camera which produced movies that only another camera owner could watch?

If it isn't entirely clear what my own thoughts on this might be, let me clarify it right away: I think Adobe was inspired when it launched the PDF file format for data interchange. I don't necessarily think the Acrobat technology is all that brilliant - but I do think that the idea of giving away the Acrobat reader was dead clever.

It meant that an awful lot of people went to Adobe and spent real money buying Acrobat Pro. Because suddenly there was a market for the output of Pro.

Right, enough old fashioned print technology: now let's suppose we move into a new "modern" technology, and look at podcasting. Suppose I could show you a new, smart way of generating a podcast. Podcasting 2.0 we might call it.

This new podcast producer program not only records audio and saves it to disk, but also, it indexes it.

The value of indexing? OK, I can possibly illustrate that: let's suppose you're one of those sad oiks who has heard about Mrs Rabbit.

Roger Rabbit's wife, Jessica, isn't all that bad - it's just the way she's drawn and, sadly, in the movie in which she first starred, some rebel decided to give her pudenda. And in one frame, this fact becomes visibly obvious. It's only one frame! - and I'm informed that the image is neither salacious nor even clear. .. but it is often Googled.

To quote Snopes:

The frames in question are frames 2170-2172 on side 4 of the laserdisc version; in these frames Jessica's pubic region is colored darker than the surrounding flesh-colored areas. Whether this coloration was intended to suggest nudity or was the result of a paint error is unknown. The intention might have been to paint the darker regions a color representative of underwear, but an error in the color markup chart produced some ambiguous images instead.

If you buy "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" with the plan of examining that frame, forget it: Disney owns the source material, and by the time the film appeared on DVD, the frame had been disambiguated, as they say.

But you can, if you like, find that frame without sitting through the whole movie. You can start the movie - not at the beginning, but at the scene which interests you. You use the index!

By contrast, podcasts tend to be monolithic. They start with some self-indulgent nonsense about who the perpetrators are. Then there's typically a five minute waffle session - producing no pancakes, sadly - which may discuss the weather in the city where the studio is based, where the podcaster lives and works. Or it may give you "local colour" about what the 'caster was doing the previous weekend. Finally, it kicks off its show, and (sometimes) gives you a summary of what you can hear.

Chances are, there's only one clip from the whole 30-45-minute podcast that you would ever be interested in. Can you skip to it?

An easy question to answer: "Sure! - all you need is a piece of software called One Note."

One Note started out as a reporter's notepad. John Markoff wanted a notepad which not only held his scribbles, but tied them to the audio. He wanted to be able to put his pen on the word "hacker" and hear the conversation that was going on when he wrote it. And if you have a Tablet PC, you can indeed do just that: scribble on the pad, and record the audio, and they are linked together.

Of course, the main value of this piece of software is that you can sleep through meetings. As you doze, in a Dilbertian trance with your pad on your lap, making pretty random notes, you need not actually pay attention to what people are saying. But if something does actually turn out to be worth repeating, you can make a brief note, and lapse back into dreamland, certain that if you are required to find that clip again, you won't have to sit through the entire sound-track of the meeting from hell again.

OK, here's the bit where I tie the two ideas back together: if you produce a Note, you can read it back, and click on the word "hacker" or "Mrs Rabbit" and replay the relevant sound-track. But you can't send the note to me, because Microsoft has decided that Notes are to be replayable ONLY by people who have One Note - paid for - on their own PCs.

The policy was something I wasn't aware of.

Microsoft does, of course, understand that people with presentations (PowerPoint, ewww!) like to share them around, and that not everybody actually has PowerPoint. So you can get (free) a PowerPoint viewer, downloaded from Microsoft, officially. And spreadsheets? Yes, you can read those, too, without buying Excel.

So I just assumed that, somewhere, there was a One Note Viewer, too. After all, why would there not be? If you count the number of people who actually need a PowerPoint viewer and don't have PowerPoint on their PCs anyway, you just have to be looking at less than 10 per cent of the PC population.

I decided, some months ago, to do a podcast. I decided that in my Spare Time (we've all heard of that) it would be a once-a-week indulgence for my readers, and that I'd do it properly, using One Note.

In my innocence, of course, I failed to twig two important facts.

First, and most important, podcasting is a business, and all businesses are dominated by the distributors. The distribution channel for podcasts is iPod Central, otherwise known as iTunes. If your podcast isn't available through iTunes and an RSS feed, almost nobody will ever listen to it.

Heck (I thought) I can live with that. People will, I reasoned, be so happy to be able to waste only five minutes of their day instead of nearly an hour... all they'll have to do is click on the subject matter that interests them, and skip straight through to that - that they'll honestly prefer my system.

And so I tried to find the One Note Viewer on and found that it wasn't there. So I asked Microsoft's Big Chief One Note where it was. Inevitably, I didn't get the simple answer "There's no such thing" until a couple of months had gone by, because Big Chief One Note was moved on to more important things, and nobody was deputed to read his mail from his old job. But eventually, I found someone who confessed to being a One Note marketing bunny, and asked where it was, and was met with blank incomprehension:

"Why would you want a One Note Viewer?"

For gosh sakes, kids! - it's not like it's a hard job! It's an audio track, with a web page that shows a series of hyperlinks, each going to a particular spot on the sound-track. It's like downloading a movie from YouTube, without the problem of having to download a big video file.

Just do it, OK? Who knows - if there's a market for the viewer, it might even inspire more of us to buy - pay money for! - One Note itself, in the hope of generating indexed podcasts that can be viewed on it. ®

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