What if we just made VIDEO CONFERENCING Work?

Posted on May 1, 2017 by TheSaint in Things that NEED to be said

So I’m sitting in a hotel room 6520 miles from home in the heart of Silicon Valley getting caught up on my tech news.  Outside the Stanford Mall they’re doing demos of the new Tesla flapping it’s gull-wing doors like a bird while flashing it’s lights and rocking out…

I can’t make this stuff up.  Cool right?  Would you believe that this is Silicon Valley’s idea of “green tech”?

I haven’t been to a Safeway grocery store in over a year.  You walk in and it’s like a Disney theme-park for food.  Balloons over the checkout counters, Starbucks, aisle upon aisle of plastic wrapped, shoplifter proof, Technicolor packaging, perfectly processed and market optimized food.  When you finally get to the checkout counter with your huge basket full of plastic wrapped foods… there are no longer plastic bags to put the food in!  Apparently California decided that just THOSE plastic bags are intolerable threats to the environment so it’s back to fragile paper bags that fall apart as you try to load them in the car.  I remember back when the environmental scandal was that evil tree killing paper-bags were being used for groceries and the plastic ones were first introduced to address that environmental outrage… you know back when coconut oil was BAD for you and they banned putting it on movie theater popcorn.  These days it’s a nutrition supplement.  I wanted to ask the checkout lady if I could just pop one of the Mylar Finding Nemo balloons over my head and use it for a grocery bag.

Everybody here is very concerned about appearing to be helping the environment, which is pretty ironic when you’ve just arrived from a place where most people still grow their own food and get eggs from their own chickens.  Can you imagine the outrage that would occur in Palo Alto California if anybody presumed to keep chickens in their back yards?  Whooo… they’d get the electric chair for abusing birds and disturbing their neighbors.  Did you know they don’t refrigerate eggs in other countries?  They stock them on shelves right next to the canned goods in the grocery stores at room temperature.  Apparently eggs are naturally covered with an antibiotic film to protect them but we insist on washing our eggs so they have to be refrigerated at great expense to preserve them.  Chalk that one up to things farmers know;

https://www.mypetchicken.com/backyard-chickens/chicken-help/What-is-the-best-way-to-wash-and-store-my-eggs-H62.aspx

Where am I going with this?  I’m just establishing a frame of mind when I find myself sitting in a hotel room, on a two week business trip that cost thousands of dollars and involved blowing over 100 tonnes of jet-fuel through a jet turbine into the atmosphere to get here in order to make it to a few dozen meetings with other human beings IN PERSON.  Why?  Because Skype sucks… Google Hangouts is an improvement…  but not much… Facetime?  Fine for two people, but again, useless for meetings. There is nothing more arduous than trying to conduct a productive business conference call with more than one other participant using the best most advanced video conferencing technology available to us today.  (Yes, I know it’s not Skype, that’s kind of the point).  Fortunately the leading visionary minds at tech giants like Facebook, Microsoft and Google are focused on solving the REALLY vexing problems of humanity… Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality!

In this context let’s consider some headlines from each of these technology leaders… who can’t make VIDEO CONFERENCING work well, telling us all about their revolutionary achievements in VR technology…

https://hololens.reality.news/news/classic-90s-game-lemmings-comes-hololens-0177031/

“For example, lead your lemmings through the perils of the living room sofa, or help them avoid the ledge of the kitchen table.  The lemmings can be given roles with your voice, and you can build bridges, block to the left, block to the right, or even construct a set of stairs to help them find their way around your room.”

The geniuses can make THIS work… but their video conferencing solutions suck?  How much money do people still spend on business travel annually?

“U.S. Business Travel Spending Projected to Top $310 Billion in 2015. Alexandria, VA (January 13, 2015) – U.S. business travel ended 2014 on a high note, with record spending expected to reach $292.2 billion.”

Okay how about this one;

https://hololens.reality.news/news/thyssenkrupp-claims-up-4x-faster-workflow-with-hololens-0177209/

The announcement video shows off the HoloLens workflow for thyssenkrupp’s stairlifts to help those with mobility and accessibility problems up and down household staircases so that people can be “mobile in the own environment.”

Are you f***ing kidding me?  But you can’t make video conferencing work… that’s too hard, but installing elevators on stairs you can manage with AR?

Skype Revenue Up 20 Percent To $860M In 2010; Paid Users Up 19 Percent

I can’t hold a 10 minute international call on Skype without horrible echoes, call dropping and half-duplex audio problems but Microsoft CAN solve this valuable problem…

http://aviationweek.com/aviation-maintenance-and-support-software/bots-and-hololens-make-aircraft-maintenance-easier

“Presenting a use case for HoloLens, Ramco has demonstrated an application for training and supporting aviation techs. It enables trainees to enter a virtual classroom and interact with a holograph of a complex and expensive part (for example, an aircraft engine), manipulating it and learning, all without the expense or time required to work on the physical equipment. A technician in the field can collaborate with a remote expert, each sharing the same information, images and augmented reality, to engage in troubleshooting complex maintenance challenges.”

This is some kind of deep existential joke right?  The people who can’t make Skype work reliably are going to make AR collaboration over aircraft maintenance and training successful?  Why do I need an aircraft at all?  Oh that’s right… BECAUSE SKYPE DOESN’T WORK!!!!!  Why would I want people who can’t make Skype work fixing my airplane?  Basic video conferencing with a little audio and a dumb camera are barely functional in the year 2017 and the clowns responsible for it are getting wall-to-wall press coverage about the fairy-tale technology they are contriving to solve tiny irrelevant problems, INSTEAD of making their own multi-billion dollar telecommunications platform work reliably so that I can ACTUALLY stay in my own home instead of having to constantly spend thousands of dollars traveling on businesses.

Now let’s hear from Microsoft’s Chief Environment Strategist about how concerned and transformative Microsoft technologies are going to be at saving the planet from imminent climate disaster;

Four Green Tech Predictions for 2017

“At Microsoft, we put forth our own goal to source 50% of our datacenter electricity from wind, solar and hydropower. “

Hey… here’s a green idea for you Microsoft!

What if… and this is a big hypothetical suggestion… what if you invested the $179 MILLION DOLLARS you spend a year on corporate travel… inventing video conferencing technology that didn’t suck as badly as SKYPE DOES?  What if… you just made video conferencing so reliable that you put hotels, rental cars and the airlines completely out of business?  Do you think anybody would miss United at this point?  Maybe… maybe I would have time to sit around my living room in my underwear playing Hololens Lemmings all day if Hololens VIDEO CONFERENCING worked first!  How are you doing at cutting back on the number of barrels of jet fuel you burn flying around meeting with companies to tell them how AMAZING your AR technology is?   Has it occurred to your “Chief Environmental Strategist” that developing video conferencing technology that actually worked might cut back on the 600,000 metric tons of jet fuel burned in the atmosphere per day?

Hey Microsoft… here’s an amphitheater full of people who wouldn’t have to be physically sitting there watching a VR demo… if SKYPE F***ING WORKED!

But enough about Microsoft, let’s talk about Google’s idiotic eco-posturing.  Let’s just  look at these brilliant strategic investments side by side for a second;

  1. Google Self-driving cars
  2. Google hangouts

http://www.androidpolice.com/2017/04/27/replying-messages-android-auto-broken-hangouts-isnt-installed-google-case/

“According to several frustrated posters on Google’s product forums, the hands-free reply function built into Android Auto is broken.”

Okay who wants to trust their lives to a self-driving car made by people who can’t make Google hangouts work properly?  What are you going to do in your self-driving car if telecommuting doesn’t work?  Why would you need to go anywhere in a self-driving car at all if telecommuting worked?  Hey is that Google over there on the list of top 20 companies that spend the most money in the world on business travel?  $170 MILLION DOLLARS a year wasted on rental cars, hotels and jet fuel because GOOGLE doesn’t invest in just making telecommuting work great… Why would we need to own cars at all if Google were smart enough to invent TELECOMMUTING that worked instead of SELF DRIVING CARS?  Apparently Google thinks AI CARS are an easier problem to solve.

Here’s that link to Google’s Eco-pocracy page.

https://environment.google/

You won’t find any mention of reducing fossil fuel consumption by eliminating the need completely for cars because they’re going to make TELECOMMUTING actually work for us, so don’t bother looking!  At least Google had the good sense to bail out on the whole AR debacle after the Google Glass disaster.

http://fortune.com/2015/12/09/google-backed-magic-leap-raising-827-million/

Whoop!  Spoke to soon, actually they doubled down on it!

Okay, now lets talk about the real pioneers in VR technology, the true leaders in connecting us all with superior communications technology, the makers of Facetime and of course employers of the legendary 3D gaming technology pioneer, none other than, John Carmack!

Virtual chatroom from circa 2010 There.com

WildTangent WinAmp AI Xmas Dancer 2001

Above we have the Occulus Connect 3 keynote and VR 3D character animation circa 2017.  On the left we have 2010 bad There.com 3D character animation contrasted with the 2001 WildTangent Xmas Dancer on the right, and we see a vivid depiction of the steady and apparently intractable decline in online character animation technology over the past 20 years of online VR innovation.  If this staggering pace of devolving innovation keeps up, the singularity will converge on two polygons floating in empty space texting one another sometime in 2020.

It would almost be redundant to point out the irony of the HUGE audience of people who physically traveled from all over the world to attend that conference to sit in the audience to WATCH that VR demo… Was there something wrong with Facetime that made it unsuitable for hosting a conference like that WITHOUT requiring everyone to spend millions on travel?  Would it be rude of me to observe that maybe the reason several thousand people had to fly and stay in hotels to attend your conference in person to witness a crappy 3D VR demo is because Silicon Valley has become really delusional and detached from solving tangible real world problems?

Just for a little perspective, this is what state-of-the-art 3D character animation looks like today, and yes it can be accomplished in real-time with a modern video card;

*Was somebody at Facebook too proud to buy an Unreal License?

I wouldn’t need an electric car that can flap it’s doors like a seagull if I could use the solar panels (Imported from China via Diesel powered cargo ship) on my roof to power a decent TELECONFERENCING solution from my own home!  I’ve got news for all of you monkeys!  Google if you can’t figure out how to deliver a superior video conferencing solution, you’re not in any danger of making cars that can think or unleashing Skynet on the world… I’m sure Ray Kurzweil is very bright but I’m going to put TELECOMMUTING WORKS GREAT somewhere on the singularity timeline between Google Hangouts sucks and people trust their lives to self-driving cars made by a company that can’t make TELECOMMUTING WORK GREAT, culminating in the self-aware cars realizing that their existence has no purpose when people no longer need them to commute to work because TELECOMMUTING WORKS GREAT causing them to drive themselves en mass off cliffs.

A Google self driving car achieves sentience and optimizes itself for minimum ecological impact

Microsoft, I would buy a lot more productivity software from you and spend a lot more time sitting at home on my ass trying to figure out how to get my Xbox One to work if you devoted all that “innovative” energy you’re investing in a worse version of Google Glass, to making Skype suck a lot less.  As long as Skype sucks, it’s pretty clear to everyone that Microsoft is in no danger of pioneering any revolutionary new UI paradigms when you have yet to master getting any of the old ones right yet.

Facebook, it’s 2017 and you’re still filling auditoriums with real people for your TECHNOLOGY conferences?  Aren’t you guys, like… the world’s largest SOCIAL networking platform?  Is your next generation messaging service going to feature sending friends letters via the US Postal service with Polaroid pictures in them?  Do you see any irony at all in not being able to provide a social platform that enables people to collaborate on large scales without needing to ship 200lbs or so of their bodily meat to your headquarters at great expense and discomfort?

Solve a useful problem people, you’re wasting scarce IQ resources on idiotic ideas.

Finally a revolutionary vision of the future from 1995…

 

Comments

comments

20 Comments

  1. Perfect, thank you. I’ve been meaning to write a rant on this subject for 20 years. It’s good to know that I’m not alone after all.

  2. Alex, would you actually stop going to the conferences if teleconferencing tools become more reliable?

    • I’m already not going to avoid travel, but I would attend them from home if I could

      • “I’m already not going to avoid travel” – I struggle to parse that.
        It sounds like “I’m already going to travel” which is kind of meaningless, considering that better teleconferencing tools should make you stop traveling.

        “attend them from home if I could” – do you mean that “attend from home == travel”?

      • > I would attend them from home if I could

        You can already virtually attend conferences by watching their presentations on YouTube.
        Sometimes these presentations are pushed out there live.
        You can also connect with conferences participants and talk with them on forums, emails and in Skype.

        What, specifically, is missing on telecommute collaboration?

        • The interesting answer is; Everything that requires me to get on a plane to do business.

          There’s a lot of intangible communication value to being physically present in a room with other meeting participants. For reasons that are worth writing a blog about on another occasion, we connect better with others in person. People want to do business with people they feel like they know and like, it’s very hard to establish that kind of relationship efficiently with an individual or an audience remotely. Eating together is important to connecting with people, eye contact is important, contact is often important. We can all agree that a StarTrek Holodeck would do the job and that Skype does not. The question is what interesting solutions are in-between that capture substantially more of the value of physical presence? It’s the one possibly useful application of VR technology that nobody seems to focus on.

          • Alex,

            If you do not even know what exactly is the important component of physical communication and is only guessing – then how could possibly Microsoft or Google implement that for you?

            My guess is that the reason for physical meeting being valuable is not that there is something special happening during physical meeting. But it is the “entry filter” that physical meeting represents: you have to pay for your airline ticket and conference ticket in order to enter that conference.
            That means that only more or less serious people would be in that conference.
            How these people would communicate after passing that filter – is not really important.

            Modern blogs, forums, email, phone and Skype seem to be good enough for remote communications.

          • Yes Dennis some people are best met remotely

          • Alex,

            In terms of business, would you trust your money to someone who you are not seeing with your own eyes, or worse, seeing through an image which could have been carefully adulterated in order to send you the wrong signs about the interlocutor’s personality?

            I would *love* better tools that would allow me to work with my team, but I wouldn’t go as far as conduct a business contact through VR. It would add a complexity layer that would come with huge trust issues.

            M.

          • Two points… good liars don’t need VR to be better at it… and I agree current VR tech and ideas suck, I have trouble imagining them giving rise to a very useful Video conference experience. Inversely, I would tolerate quite a bit to avoid planes and hotels. The fact that I still feel compelled to get on planes and stay at hotels is a measure of how inexcusably useless modern Video Conferencing solutions still are.

  3. http://www.starleaf.com – simple to set up and use for HD video calling – including screen sharing. Free sign up and unlimited invitations!

  4. Hololens is a glorified Google Glass. At least google stopped working on the Glass when they realized nobody wants one. Microsoft was dumb enough to push Kinect on two of their systems so it pretty obvious that they won’t pull the plug on the hololens for a while.

    Microsoft has company-wide mantra of “if it ain’t broke, break it”, so they’re the last people I’d expect a good conference call tool from

  5. As a user of Skype now for several years I feel your pain, I use it fairly extensively for video from the U.S to Australia.
    The problems I have encountered with it though I had always ascribed to telecommunications issues such as lag and packet loss. Shouldn’t the failure of these programs be pointed at the ISP’s of the world?

    • That would be the easy source to blame… but… there’s a rumor that the NSA had a chat with MSFT and forced them to pump all SKYPE communications through their servers which had a severely adverse impact on what was formerly a pretty reliable distributed infrastructure.

      https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/11/microsoft-nsa-collaboration-user-data

      If the ISP’s were entirely to blame then alternatives to Skype such as google hangouts wouldn’t work consistently better for the same calls. Sure bad ISP’s make it harder but there appears to be plenty of room for smarter engineers as well… a trivial problem for anybody “brilliant” enough to design VR communities for example… if they weren’t wasting time playing with bad game ideas.

  6. @theSaint — Cisco Systems sells pretty good video conferencing technology. Most of it is geared towards smaller meetings but they have WebEx video conferencing for larger audiences. It’s way better than Skype and your argument using expensive travel budgets is EXACTLY how it is sold to customers, and most do save money and / increase productivity.

    • They do. It all breaks down horribly when one moron dials into the call via their cellphone however. It would be interesting to attempt to quantify what elements of in-person interpersonal interactions make up the justification for traveling to do business. For example how important is EATING together to doing a deal? How important is shaking hands? How important are the “impromptu” conversations you have in private outside the formal context of the conference call? If these things are really important, what can Cisco’s approach do to address them? Not much, it seems to call for a real application of VR technology to address right?

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