Sock Puppets, Codecs and Bluetooth LE Audio

One of the perks of working in technology standards groups is that you get to go to meetings in nice places around the world.  A more minor perk is that the standards group tends to provide gifts for the participants.  They’re not generally much more than a T-shirt saying you’ve been there, or a packet of the local equivalent of popcorn or haggis, but they’re something to remember it by.

Last year, Covid put an end to international travel and we’ve been having to make do with virtual conferences.  As every standards group is discovering, they’re OK, but they don’t really work as well.  It’s far more difficult to have a good argument when you’re not face to face and there’s no substitute for a fight for the whiteboard markers or the reconciliations and wild flights of fancy that take place over a beer or a coffee.  For most standards, the even greater casualty is in testing, where prototype implementations normally come together to check that the specifications actually work.  Few companies are happy to let their prototypes out of their sight and running tests remotely, especially for wireless standards, is incredibly difficult.  Every standards group is suffering from that at the moment, with the result that we’re seeing release dates pushed back and features cut down.

The other people feeling the pain of going virtual are those who arrange the conferences and give out gifts.  During our virtual face to face meetings we’re now being sent small packages to remind us of what we’re missing.  Last year, at one of our virtual meetings, it included a pair of one-size, polyester, Bluetooth branded socks. 

I’ve always thought it no coincidence that polyester rhymes with fester; wearing them in public would probably have got me locked up, even if we hadn’t been locked down.  But I felt that they had a destiny beyond mere foot covering or a life at the back of a drawer.  As Christmas became family-less, I finally found time to revisit them and wonder what their real purpose was?

Earlier in the year, despite the loss of F2F meetings, we’d managed to complete the specification for the new LC3 codec, which will be a key part of future Bluetooth audio products.  What better fate for the socks than to help explain how a codec works?  A combined effort at the sewing machine and in the workshop showed there was potential. 

One observation from lockdown is that the much-vaunted potential of online learning has not lived up to its promises, failing to deliver the learning experience that millions of children and adults need.  I don’t think we have a clear idea of the reasons for that failing, but it may be that we’re all taking it too seriously.  So, I’m now proud to suggest a new approach and present an introduction to the highly complex world of audio codecs using sock puppets.

I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed making it.