Streaming Audio/Video Slow-down Performance Improvement

Audio and video players such as RealPlayer use read-ahead buffering on the client when streaming across networks to accommodate for temporary slow-downs or delays in network traffic. Most of them also use a form of pre-buffering, in which a certain amount of data is read before playback starts (or when the buffer runs out). Some - such as RealPlayer - will also dynamically alter the bitrate being requested, if network performance drops for a period of time. This noticeably affects the quality of the audio/video.

There is a possible complement to the bitrate method - if minor network delays are suspected, and the buffer is moderately full, slow down the audio or video by a small amount (perhaps 3-15%). This would be mostly unnoticeable, as it’s possible to dynamically ‘correct’ the pitch in real time, but would slow down the rate at which the buffer is emptying, and reduce the likelihood of skips or pauses whilst the buffer is pre-filled again. It would probably have to be combined with the bitrate method, as that would have a more drastic effect on the data rate.

I’m not aware of any player currently available that does this (WinDVD can slow down/speed up DVD playback, with pitch correction, but as far as I know, this only applies to ‘local’ DVDs). I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on the theory or a possible implementation.

How to Approach Overcoming Procrastination

I am a bit weak when it comes to putting off tasks. If I don’t feel like doing something right now, I will often find a way to delay it. As such, one of my current self-improvement tasks is to work at overcoming my problems with procrastination (I considered not writing this blog entry for at least 3 minutes, after it popped into my head, until I considered how ironic it would be not to write it). I am having a healthy amount of success so far.

Firstly, I agree with this article: ‘Procrastination is not a problem of time management’. On days when I’ve been feeling motivated and productive, I’ve realised that I typically waste so much time with procrastinating that I wouldn’t have much less time to spend if I just did the things I’m procrastinating over. So fancy diaries, to-do lists, and other schemes may solve problems with time management, but not procrastination. To me, not procrastinating is a habit that I’m having to learn, by seeing the benefits that follow from it when I do get on with things.

In my research on this issue, I’ve come up with a few tricks, with some advice and adaptation from other sources, which are definitely helping push things in the right direction:

  • When faced with a task, establish if it can be completed now. If it can’t, do whatever can be done, then move it to later on your to-do list. Then forget about it.

  • If you come up against a task that can be done quickly (e.g. an email that only needs a quick reply), do it now. This typically applies to tasks less than 5 minutes long. This makes your life less cluttered and makes the bigger picture easier to manage. If you know from experience that the task is nonessential, you’re probably not going to do it at all, and you’ll eventually discard it, discard it now. Don’t keep it hanging around, weighing you down.

  • Force yourself to complete something by making commitments to third parties. If, like me, you feel bad when you let others down, let them know that you will complete the thing you are procrastinating about to a deadline - book meetings to discuss the results, promise to send them a copy by a certain time, etc. If they are relying on it, all the better, but even if not, this will encourage you to complete it on time. Don’t be over-optimistic with your challenge, but don’t be too easy on yourself either - otherwise you are just giving yourself an excuse for more procrastination.

I’d be interested in hearing your comments.

Do our American Colleagues have a Greater Passion for Work?

I was listening to an IBM internal Podcast this morning, produced by some of my American colleagues. It was introduced with fanfare and a lot of casual banter. There was a lot of excitement and phrases such as ‘let’s kick butt’. It got me to thinking - do our American friends have a greater passion for their work? Not just a more lively personality - they actually care more about their work and want to make cool stuff happen? As a rule, I hate generalisations. But it seems this might be true.

Cashback

Just watched a short film called Cashback - about in a guy working in Sainsbury’s on the night shift, who narrates us through his life there. His sleepy, semi-dream-like state is both monotonous and joyful at the same time. The film is a piece of two halves - the first a series of surreal and humourous situations backed with some great comedic acting, ending with a crescendo of flamenco music in the background. The second half is slow, sexy, and beautiful, as the hero opines on the beauty of women. The film is superbly crafted and well scripted, although it’s amazing that Sainsbury’s (presumably) co-operated with the making of the film. It has been nominated for an Oscar.

Get hold of a copy if you can (apparently iTunes sells it, and for the time being you can also view it at the CBC). A feature film is also being made from it, although goodness only knows how (it’s just the right length).

Google News Source Diversity

Google News is a fascinating tool. After hearing on a BBC Podcast about the FBI arresting seven people for an alleged terrorist plot against the Sears Tower, I was curious (I visited it with Lizzie only a year back). Google News makes it easy to track down different versions of the same story. It’s striking the tone adopted by different news sources:

I read a lot of my news through Google’s portal these days, precisely in an attempt to get some balance (and even then I don’t know how well I actually do).

Incidentally, although this might seem like a contradiction from my previous statement, it’s also striking how samey the news is from sources with similar biases and backgrounds - I have begun to understand just how much inter-source plaigarism goes on, and how many sources rely on news wires.

As with many other things, it appears that when it comes to news, caveat emptor.

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