live, mobile, video broadcast to the web

An interesting project has come online over at Justin Kan is wearing a camera attached to a hat and carrying some gear in a backpack that allows him to broadcast video onto the web. The camera is always live, streaming over EVDO to the servers and out to the world in near real-time. Eventually the guys at plan to enable others to set up their own lifecasting platform, but for now they’re scaling the site to cope with the rapid growth since launch.

Really interesting for me so far has been watching a Y Combinator dinner and Dexter walking, live. But what Justin is doing at any given moment isn’t so captivating as the new dynamic that springs from the intersection of the web and live video. The best example of this is as Justin is doing whatever he’s doing and he’s text messaged. (His phone number was on the site for the first few days.) You see Justin look at his phone, laugh, make a comment, or even bring it up in a conversation he’s having. He might respond to you by just talking or messaging you back. There’s something new about that. Sure, the same sort of thing can happen in a video conference (I’m sure it has), but this is mobile. It’s approximately the opposite of a business meeting where everyone is making face; it’s interactive.

Ah, yes, but what of privacy? There were pizzas ordered and 911 calls made. Because the web sees where Justin is at all times it’s easier to pull these sorts of things. Maybe an access list could be implemented so that only viewers granted permission could watch. Maybe a video and audio on/off switch could be implemented for those not interested in being live all the time. There’s a “suggestions” topic in their forum for these sorts of things.

The concept is neat. Developing the hardware and a lifecast hosting service where users can set up a live stream and archives could be a big hit. While not everyone is interested in broadcasting every moment from their perspective, it could be useful to not have to worry with a satellite truck. Citizen journalism, anyone?

being “smart” is hard work

As an undergrad I had a Physics and Computer Science professor that made complex problems seem incredibly easy to solve when he explained how to work through them. You had to pay attention, but his explanations were always dead-on. Later, though, when I “[tried] to get to work” I would find that it wasn’t so easy on my own. For the longest time I thought it was hopeless. I struggled along, but thought I’d never “be able to really understand something like Physics.” You had to be “smart” to understand these things, you see; my professor was just “smart” and “smart” people just get away with this shit.

One day he asked the class to come up with a solution to a problem he had just talked about for half an hour (or something like that). When there was no response from the class he said something like “come on guys: this stuff wasn’t obvious to me when I was learning it either.” Simple as it seems, this has stuck with me for years now.

At that point I realized that he didn’t start out knowing how to do “this stuff” any more than anyone else. I started to wonder if maybe he worked out a few problems working as a Physicist at a particle accelerator after working his ass off for years getting a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics. Now it’s obvious to me that he worked hard for a long time to come to his understanding of what he teaches, but at the time it just wasn’t obvious.

No kidding, right?

And so how do you become an expert at anything? How do things become so damned easy for you that it makes others want to throw things?

You practice!

Once I realized this I started sticking with Physics. I reread those pages until it made sense and wrote out the problems even when they didn’t. I sat down, shut up, and worked through it. Amazingly enough, I learned how to do some Physics and more importantly, I learned how to focus for longer than three minutes. As a bonus I learned that when your head hurts from banging it on the wall you should stop banging your head on the wall. Someone has likely banged their head on that wall. Maybe you should talk to them. At a bare minimum you could find someone to bang heads on the wall with.

Hugh MacLoud says something similar about practicing and his “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards.” He says that if you want to go and make better cartoons on the back of business cards, go ahead. The idea isn’t valuable. He makes clear that what is valuable is that he’s drawn thousands (tens of thousands?) of those suckers. You wish you could draw like that? Why don’t you go draw on some business cards for a decade and see if it might “come natural” to you.

If you want to be able to do something so well that it seems trivial you’ve got to crank through the work. You’re not done yet. You probably haven’t even started. Get to work: it’s the most enjoyable part.