The funeral home can’t play MP3′s

Funny, when we got to the funeral home Alberta (my mom's best friend and minister at today's events) was playing music through a boom box at the front of the room. Later she explained to me why she wasn't using the much more sophisticated sound system built into the funeral home: they couldn't play MP3s.

Turns out she had a bunch of my mom's church music on various CDs that were made on computers. Another reason she didn't use it? It was too complex. Later I went back and looked at it. It indeed was far more complex than the boom box.

That reminded me again of two principles software engineers should ask ourselves. 1) Can it do what we need it to do? 2) Is it simple to use? I understand how those two can sometimes be in conflict. It's why a professional camera has a lot more complexity than point-and-shoot cameras. Lately inside Microsoft we've been arguing out some of our decisions on how complex to make interfaces. These aren't easy things to solve. Make something easy and it might not be useful. The problem is that you have to decide what market to go after. If you aim a camera design at the mass market it better be simple, because that's what nine out of 10 photographers want. But, there's 10% that need more features. Leave those features out (like manual shutter speeds and exposure overrides) and you'll lose the pros. Not every product can be as simple as an iPod. Sometimes we forget that, which is why I ask product designers "what's your philosophy?"

I just saw this article over on TechDirt about how complex our cell phones are becoming. Yeah, I've seen people walk into stores and say "I just want a cell phone, no email or Web or anything like that." But, then, I look at my own phone and how much I've come to love its ability to do other things. I would never give that up. It has changed my world and I think that over the next 18 months will provide more technological change than any other device (the Xbox is cool, but if you gave me a choice between a new Xbox or a new cell phone, I would take the cell phone in a second).

The experience at the funeral home reminded me too of just how much our lives had changed due to technology. Would Alberta know what an MP3 file is just a few years ago? I doubt it.

Regarding the services, the day was beautiful and the services were interesting and moving. I found myself thinking that I love living in America where you can practice any religion you want. And my mom and her community sure practices a form of religion I doubt many of you would recognize. Heck, I don't recognize it.

Another funny moment? A cell phone started playing a song in the middle of the ceremonies. If my mom were there that would have earned a dirty look. Instead Maryam gave me a dirty look for giggling (after biting her own lip for starting to giggle herself).

Later she told me how in Iran giggling at a funeral is a big sin. A no-no. I told her that my mom didn't want us to be sad at her funeral, so I found it helpful when that cell phone went off.

When I got back to my mom's house I found I wanted to get back on my computer to get back in touch with the world. There the harsh reality reminded me of what awaits when I get home. 469 emails. Yikes. I haven't been answering email much for two weeks.

One of the first things I did was check in with Dave Winer's blog. He's writing about the O'Reilly Web 2.0 service mark controversy. That led me to Tim O'Reilly, who groused about bloggers' lack of professionalism. I've been thinking about similar things a lot. What are my responsibilities as a blogger? Did I sign up to do the equivilent of the New York Times here? How do I keep true to myself in a world that values (and uses) those who have audiences.

It's why I was depressed a month ago, though. The idea that my blog had become a media property or something I had to do. Or something I had to do a specific way.

I'm glad I went through this personal time after my mom's stroke. It helped me refocus on what's important and what my blog means to me. This blog is mine. It is what I'm thinking about, and what I'm seeing in my life. It isn't a news article. I am not vetted. It isn't done by a committee. I am not being held to any standards.

On the other hand, I don't like the lynch mob. It's going to take a strong blogger to stand up against hundreds of blogs who are urging action one way. But, we need that kind of diversity of ideas if we are going to make this a truly strong media.

It's important for me to say that when the lynch mob isn't aimed at me, either. I might end up at the focus point of such a mob in the future, so hope that someone would stand up for me in such a time.

One last thing before I sign off for the night and start driving with Maryam back to Washington: thank you for putting up with me for the past two weeks. Sorry for not answering my email. Sorry to my coworkers for increasing your workloads as I focused more on my family.

I'm looking forward to getting back and thinking more about the technology business again. My experiences these two weeks demonstrate that what we do is important. Even in a funeral home.

69 thoughts on “The funeral home can’t play MP3′s

  1. But, an iPod would have been just what was needed at the funeral home in this kind of scenario. It would have allowed the music to be played, or a photographic slideshow of the decedent’s life and interests or even a video about the decedent. All that would have been required is an iPod, speakers and a monitor. Simple, but thorough.

  2. But, an iPod would have been just what was needed at the funeral home in this kind of scenario. It would have allowed the music to be played, or a photographic slideshow of the decedent’s life and interests or even a video about the decedent. All that would have been required is an iPod, speakers and a monitor. Simple, but thorough.

  3. The question is: Did they answer the cell phone? Where I live people answer cell phones during funeral services and chat away. Church services, first communion, baptisms, you name it. People here just don’t get it. I am really thinking of getting my own cell phone jammer.

  4. The question is: Did they answer the cell phone? Where I live people answer cell phones during funeral services and chat away. Church services, first communion, baptisms, you name it. People here just don’t get it. I am really thinking of getting my own cell phone jammer.

  5. @18. Airplane manufacturers don’t sell to the masses, they sell to pilots. Correct me if I’m wrong but MS still wants more people using computers with MS software installed, right? So, they want to sell to more than the expert computer user or geek. I don’t think airplane manufacturers want everyone to be a pilot. They’ll do just fine targeting pilots.

    Same with AutoCad. It’s a cottage industry. They’ll do just fine selling to engineers, designers and the like.

    MS however will not grow or make more money simply selling to geeks. The software has to be easy to user and thought of as almost transparent as far as being a tool to get things done, not software in and of itself. Again, the iPod works because it does want people want it to do, very easily. After a while people don’t even really think about HOW is does it or worry if it will continue to do it the next time. That can’t be said for Windows.

    I just finished setting a friend’s laptop and wireless network. She’s uses her laptop as a tool in her real estate business. She really doesn’t care that it runs Windows as long as she can use it to get the infomation she needs. After 30 minutes of getting it set up (amazing, it took only 10 minutes to do the same with my MAC) and I was getting ready to leave, she asked if she could call me tomorrow if she had any problems connecting. Why would she even have to CONSIDER that? Shouldn’t she be able to forget HOW the connections work and simply EXPECT it to work? I don’t worry if I’m going to have a dial tone when I pick up my telephone (notice I didn’t say my cell phone). I don’t worry if the lights are going to turn on when I go into a room. Why should I have to worry if my computer running Windows is going to get a wireless connection today?

  6. @18. Airplane manufacturers don’t sell to the masses, they sell to pilots. Correct me if I’m wrong but MS still wants more people using computers with MS software installed, right? So, they want to sell to more than the expert computer user or geek. I don’t think airplane manufacturers want everyone to be a pilot. They’ll do just fine targeting pilots.

    Same with AutoCad. It’s a cottage industry. They’ll do just fine selling to engineers, designers and the like.

    MS however will not grow or make more money simply selling to geeks. The software has to be easy to user and thought of as almost transparent as far as being a tool to get things done, not software in and of itself. Again, the iPod works because it does want people want it to do, very easily. After a while people don’t even really think about HOW is does it or worry if it will continue to do it the next time. That can’t be said for Windows.

    I just finished setting a friend’s laptop and wireless network. She’s uses her laptop as a tool in her real estate business. She really doesn’t care that it runs Windows as long as she can use it to get the infomation she needs. After 30 minutes of getting it set up (amazing, it took only 10 minutes to do the same with my MAC) and I was getting ready to leave, she asked if she could call me tomorrow if she had any problems connecting. Why would she even have to CONSIDER that? Shouldn’t she be able to forget HOW the connections work and simply EXPECT it to work? I don’t worry if I’m going to have a dial tone when I pick up my telephone (notice I didn’t say my cell phone). I don’t worry if the lights are going to turn on when I go into a room. Why should I have to worry if my computer running Windows is going to get a wireless connection today?

  7. Considering my siblings wanted to play “Stairway to Heaven” and “Dust in the Wind” sounds like you came through fine. I had the same issue with my mom’s funeral getting the music together, as they did not have a mp3 player and it was midnight and I didn’t want to be the sound engineer reworking their PA system. What we did do was get cd’s and a montage of mp3′s together and burned a cd. We also added some amplification and echo effect to make the music sound more “heavenly”. We got quite a few compliments and was asked by the owner of the Funeral Home how we did it.. So it gave a good feeling of providing a professional sound to the service.

  8. Considering my siblings wanted to play “Stairway to Heaven” and “Dust in the Wind” sounds like you came through fine. I had the same issue with my mom’s funeral getting the music together, as they did not have a mp3 player and it was midnight and I didn’t want to be the sound engineer reworking their PA system. What we did do was get cd’s and a montage of mp3′s together and burned a cd. We also added some amplification and echo effect to make the music sound more “heavenly”. We got quite a few compliments and was asked by the owner of the Funeral Home how we did it.. So it gave a good feeling of providing a professional sound to the service.

  9. Rob,

    First, our thoughts are with you and yours during this difficult time.

    As someone in the public sector, I am becoming more and more concerned with the tenor of Mr. Ballmer’s comments re: MSFT stock price. Rule number one of business on Wall Street is that you listen to the street. If they are telling you that you should be more concerned with the stock price, listen up.

    Here is the crux of the issue: Does Ballmer want to be right or does he want to solve the problem? Given his response this week, it looks like he wants to be right. If that is the case, the firms on the Street will continue to reduce their MS holding and the ongoing sell off with drive the stock price down lower. The trip to NYC should not have been one to defend his current strategy but to listen to learning from those who have misgivings and seeing how these learning might be employed in a strategic way.

    On the horizon is a potentially bigger issue: Ballmer’s credibility on the Street. If his desire to be right continues (and the best predictor of past behavior is future behavior) then he may be writing his own ticket out of a CEO job. His credibility is already seriously damaged with the r&d billions that took everyone by surprise on the earnings call. A strong argument could be made that there is a need for a new face on the MSFT stock in the near future.

    For five years Ballmer has played the “this is our way” card with the Street. And after five years, the stock price is nowhere, the Street is unhappy and employees are holding shares that are underwater. The next 6-12 months are going to be critical to the future of the company. It may be time for a new direction.

  10. Rob,

    First, our thoughts are with you and yours during this difficult time.

    As someone in the public sector, I am becoming more and more concerned with the tenor of Mr. Ballmer’s comments re: MSFT stock price. Rule number one of business on Wall Street is that you listen to the street. If they are telling you that you should be more concerned with the stock price, listen up.

    Here is the crux of the issue: Does Ballmer want to be right or does he want to solve the problem? Given his response this week, it looks like he wants to be right. If that is the case, the firms on the Street will continue to reduce their MS holding and the ongoing sell off with drive the stock price down lower. The trip to NYC should not have been one to defend his current strategy but to listen to learning from those who have misgivings and seeing how these learning might be employed in a strategic way.

    On the horizon is a potentially bigger issue: Ballmer’s credibility on the Street. If his desire to be right continues (and the best predictor of past behavior is future behavior) then he may be writing his own ticket out of a CEO job. His credibility is already seriously damaged with the r&d billions that took everyone by surprise on the earnings call. A strong argument could be made that there is a need for a new face on the MSFT stock in the near future.

    For five years Ballmer has played the “this is our way” card with the Street. And after five years, the stock price is nowhere, the Street is unhappy and employees are holding shares that are underwater. The next 6-12 months are going to be critical to the future of the company. It may be time for a new direction.

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