Vantage point

Friday, February 07, 2003

Statuatory Warning - This post may not make much sense to people with a non-Electronics background. It is however, a valuable lesson on how to shoot yourself in the foot, should such a need ever arise.

Today we had an exam on MIS (that's Management Information Systens, for the uninitiated). The paper went very well, or so I thought. I could answer all the theory questions perfectly, and by the time I got to the last question, which was a small caselet with a news article, I was feeling pretty upbeat about getting a good grade in this topic ( at least an A). The article was 2 years old and talked about how Microsoft had come up with a new format for audio called Windows Media 8. Compared to MP3, which is encoded at 128 Kbps and Realplayer audio, encoded at 64 Kbps, this format boasts of a frugal 48 Kbps encoding. It is also supposed to be of the same clarity and fidelity as an MP3. So the question was, is this the death of MP3 and will Microsoft monopolise the digital audio market?

Considering that the article was 2 years old, MP3 is obviously live and kickin'. So based on this I started thinking about why Microsoft which has monopolised the internet browser scene very successfully can not monopolise digital audio. I wrote that it takes a lot of people and resources to write a browser and with Microsoft's resources it is easy to push competitors out of the market, like they did with Netscape Navigator. But it is not so with audio file formats. All you need is an efficient compression algorithm which requires a few smart guys and not as much manpower as you need for a browser. The MP3 format was developed by just one guy for his PhD thesis, with 2 fellows helping him. Hence, I wrote that, so what if Microsoft has a 48 Kbps format? Tomorrow someone will come up with an algorithm for a 32 Kbps or a 16 Kbps format and make the Media 8 obsolete. That is why it can not monopolise.

I wrote a lot of other stuff too, but felt bucked about using a bit of my Engineering knowledge in a "globe" management paper. After I came out of the exam hall, I was discussing this with someone, and I told him about how I used my E&TC gyaan to give additional fundas. He was impressed. Later as I was gloating over it some more, the realisation hit me right in the solar plexus!


A voice inside me yelled.

"How the hell are you going to "faithfully" reproduce sound signals, which have a bandwidth of 20 KHz, using 32 Kbps or 16 Kbps encoding? Nyquist would rise from his grave to express dissent. He would remind you of the Sampling Theorem that says that for faithful reproduction of an analog signal, the sampling frequency should be at least twice of the bandwidth ( s.f(min) = 2B, called the Nyquist Rate). So 40 Kbps is theoretically the least sampling rate, and since it has to be binary, 48 Kbps is the minimum that can be achieved."


See how I shot myself in the foot, ignoring one of the ABC's of digital electronics in a moment of euphoria? I did not really have to write anything technical. I just had to apply the "globe" management fundas. Now if I were a professor who saw a student trying to show off his Digital electronics knowledge where it is not required and make such an elementary mistake, I would give him a zero. I hope that our Prof does not catch the error, and if he does, does not penalise me too heavily for it. I really want an A in this course.

Anyway, Financial Management-2 tomorrow. World Cup tomorrow. Will there be a dramatic turn of events and West Indies beat South Africa in the inaugural game? And will there be a dramatic turn of events and I crack the FinMan2 paper tomorrow?

We shall see. Supporters of Carl Hopper and Gaurav Sabnis, cross your fingers.