Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who is supposed to be the dumbest generation?

Today's laugh comes from Lewis Lazare at the Chicago Sun-Times. He posts a quick blurb with his insight about how "The Dumbest Generation", a book from Mark Bauerlein, which decries the Digital Age and warns of the future collapse of society, will affect the world of advertising. I haven't read the book yet, but Lazare's few paragraphs are pure comedy gold. Here's an example:

"...She polled 1,300 students at the University of Illinois-Chicago about their favorite Web destinations. At No. 1 was Facebook (78.1 percent) followed by MySpace (50.7 percent). Only 5 percent of those polled regularly checked a blog or forum on politics, economics, law or policy."

For some reason Lazare believes that this simple poll result contains any information at all, and worse, that the information is relevant to anyone. Notice that the poll asked what their "favorite destinations" are, but the argument used talks about "checking" political or news blogs. If you asked me what my favorite sites are, none of the news or political sites that I read multiple times every day would even be on that list. My "favorites are sites like Wired, Ars, Techdirt, etc. But debunking stupid pools isn't why I'm here. I simply find it laughable that our younger generation is Dumb.

As I mentioned I haven't read the book, but now I'm eager to do so. I think it's ignorant to assume that the under 30 crowd is anything but smarter, faster, and more intelligent than the rest of us. Through his fretting over the advertising industry, Lazare has even given us proof. Advertisers are doing worse and worse, because their targets are getting better, and better at avoiding their content. In short, the advertisers are being outsmarted. Now, which generation is supposed to be "Dumbest?"

Thursday, June 19, 2008

ISPs and the music industry

In this article, Ars takes a stab at point out why an ISP would want to get into bed with a media company.
Of course, it's all about the money. In this case the money comes from one place -- subscribers. The ISPs want to put music on their networks exclusively, and charge through the nose for it. This is one of the things that could destroy the idea of a neutral Internet. For a neutral Internet to happen ISPs have to become dumb pipes. There really is no exception. For true network neutrality, one ISP cannot receive exclusive deals that another does not have similar access to. A similar comparison would be the iPhone's exclusivity on AT&Ts network. If you want an iPhone, you have to go to AT&T, no (legal under the DMCA) exceptions. There's no problem with that, really, it's just circumstance. However the problem that can arise is that to get that iPhone, you have to plan to sacrifice either 2 years or $200 to AT&T. View that through the lens of media and it becomes clear that an exclusive deal between an ISP and a movie or music company could turn out to be more nefarious than an early termination fee, or having your entire DRM'd collection of media suddenly not work.
The big thing with ISPs these days is to try and get into your head so that they can force and replace advertisements on the websites that you visit. Falling revenue streams are forcing ISPs to concern themselves less and less with legalities, privacy, customer concerns and worst of all, the Internet itself. Where then would exclusive media deals lead?
Imagine a world where competing ISPs who have competing media distribution deals are forced to come up with new ways to generate profits. Aside from raising subscription fees, which is easy to imagine, will soon happen every quarter, the only other option is to tighten the reigns on what the users of the ISPs are allowed to do. ISPs, cocooned in the idea that exclusive deals are the way to go will start down the road to the past, forcing themselves to look more and more like the AOL of the early 90's. (Meanwhile, those 'exclusive partnerships' between ISPs and media companies simply become 'branded deals' as the media companies realize ISPs are on a sinking ship.)
It won't take long for ISPs to realize that users are finding ways around the walled garden Internet provided them. The ISPs will suggest, then force, then petition Congress to allow ISPs to deny access to the Internet and their services unless users install software that cripples the Internet to the ISPs will, prevents media piracy, and reports all activity for monitoring, and Ad targeting.
If this sounds like a "Slippery Slope", that's because it is. But this one doesn't suffer from the fallacy of lack of truth. ISPs are gearing up to only allow access to authorized services already (they say that its only packet shaping and bandwidth management, but also hint at piracy prevention). Simply imagine what they would implement when profit motives and losses can't be measured by simple numbers like bandwidth, but instead rely on the notoriously devious "loss" numbers from the likes of the RIAA, MPAA and BSA.
For further proof, here is a link to exactly what I'm talking about. Entire sections of the Internet being blocked by ISPs. Of course, that is being done to "protect the children." How long before the proposed "G-rated" internet becomes law -- to protect the children?
So, here's the deal -- loosely. ISPs should only be able to enter into non-exclusive deals with any media, or advertising company. If one ISP gets a deal, they all get the option to sign up. This could create some complications, but no one ever said business was easy. The "Perfect Storm" is brewing just off the coast of Internet Neutrality, and we need to brace for impact.

Advertising Free Zone could help advertisers? You bet.

I saw this today, and though what a great idea... for everyone! Found on BoingBoing, original is Here.
Mass advertising is restricted. Billboards are categorically banned; advertising in subways, buses, removed. Towns take up "Advertising-Free Zones."
Think about if this actually happened. At first blush it seems like a really bad deal for anyone trying to advertise. However, looking into the future of such a situation, called the long tail on the Internet, It becomes clear that reducing the amount of advertising space available will increase the value of it. This is called scares goods. A long time ago, advertisers had what is revered to as a captive audience. If you were watching television and an ad came on, there wasn't much of an option for avoiding it. Ditto for the first few years of the Internet. Now, the Internet, and your local commute are starting to look like Times Square. There are lots of people who aren't happy about that.
This brings us to the discussion. How can restricting advertisements actually help the advertisers such as the cola companies and car manufacturers? Lets assume that the downtown areas of a large metropolis is an Ad-Free zone. While there is a loss for the advertisers there, that first billboard on the way out of downtown is going to be one of the highest visibility Ads in the city. The shock of leaving the Ad free zone and seeing that first Ad on the way out could certainly boost your awareness of the product. The cost of that single billboard may be higher, but without putting ads on every street downtown the cost may actually be less. So, maybe an Ad free zone would be a good thing. Maybe it's an idea whose time has come.

The FCC and the 400 pound cat
Today seems to be all about communication. Red Lion what?!

Red Lion, as I learned today, is a decision made by the Supreme Court that falls in lock-step with the defunct Fairness Doctrine. You may remember from a few months back that several left-wing groups stated beating the grass, in hopes that they could raise enough ire amongst the people and force the FCC to re-adopt the Fairness Doctrine. Why? The left was desperately afraid of AM radio, which then, as now, was ruled buy the center-to-right wingers.

What's happening in this story, is that there are several "pro-family" groups that want the Supreme Court to leave the Red Lion decision alone. The Supreme Court is discussing how best to address the FCCs Fleeting Explicative rules and as they do so, the Court may come to realize that the way that the FCC has been handing out fines reveals that either the FCC doesn't know how to enforce a policy, or is biased as hell towards some broadcasters.

Red Lion is brought up because these Puritanical Nanny groups are worried that if the Court looks too closely at the powers that the FCC has they'll realize that it is too powerful, and it wields those powers in a manner that's completely disconnected from reality, and out of line with the will of the people. The thing is, these groups are smart enough to realize that as the world moves away from television entertainment, the powers of the FCC should grow smaller and smaller.

They worry that the Supreme Court will see the FCC for the house of cards that it is. For example, the Children's Television Policy (which mandates child friendly or educational programming) is based on the Red Lion case that these groups are so worried about. The Red Lion case was won because, at the time, the Fairness Doctrine was still enforced. These interest groups know exactly how poorly constructed and enforced the FCC's rules are and this amicus brief, that pleads with the Supreme Court to ignore a ruling based on a defunct policy, because it will affect children's television, being filed prior to a case investigating the FCC policy on expletives -- Should raise a hell of a lot of alarms.

Friday, June 6, 2008

On a side note --

This is a little late in coming, but I am NEVER, EVER going to the movie theater again. Those responsible for the Iron Man sound B.S. have themselves to thank for that; and for the $12 that I wrestled back out of the paws of my local theater. Congratulations you backwards-thinking, misguided idiots. I hope that there are millions more who think and act in the way I do.

Paul McGuiness is a moron.

From Wired:
[U2 manager Paul McGuiness is] quoted as saying he does not want to see "artists reduced to the status of employees working for glorified ad agencies."

just a quick note from the peanut gallery here, if you want to see this guy taken apart, follow the links from the story.
If a music company -- A company who promotes, and sells a product (music) isn't an ad agency, then what is? McGuiness is a moron. You -- and I had better pay attention this election season, because this is the type of person who has his hands down the pants of out Presidential candidates. This is the type of person who wants us (through higher rates and taxes on us from our ISPs) to foot the bill for the music industry's inability to market their product correctly, inability to attribute the downfall of music sales to a slow economy, and stratospheric bungling of the first round with Napster. CDs are dead. Once they come to grips with that and lay out flat rate music subscriptions in un-DRMed formats, distributed through an outlet that has not 90% of consumer good will, then we can open a dialogue about why your business is failing.
When no one bought Crystal Pepsi, Pepsi didn't cry to the government that they needed help defending themselves against water. They stopped making that stuff and came up with something better. It's time that someone locked all of these people in a room and keep them there until they've figured that out.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On Viacom and YouTube

[Here is a story from Techdirt]

I knew this Viacom thing was still going on, but I'd bet that I'm in the minority. What the story above says really, is that Viacom is cutting off their own head with this lawsuit against YouTube. If they win, it's not going to be that easy.
Viacom knows that YouTube is a valuable partner, but they simply cannot stand the fact that even a small bit of their unauthorized content would appear on the service. You, as well as I have seen that Viacom properties appear on YouTube in an authorized manner. Viacom is happy as a pig in poop about that, but they don't seem to understand how difficult that it can be to ensure that infringing content is blocked. They want us to believe that all you need to do is put up a few filters and then it's all going to be peachy. Now, do I really think they believe that? Hell no. What I can believe though, is that with the (somewhat unremarkable) success of the sites like that Viacom and the old media companies are wearing rose colored glasses when it comes to managing content on the web. (In truth I'm impressed with Hulu, and I use it a lot. The first time is used it I was most of the way through an episode of Firefly before I realized that I was using Firefox, and that I didn't even give up as much as an email address.)
But, what do I think is at the heart of the matter? I hope you can tell already. Viacom is the point man for war that has been going on in the music arena for more than half a decade. The television and movie companies are laboring under the assumption that if Viacom wins this suit that they'll finally be able to gain some ground on this digital piracy thing. They seem to believe that they won't suffer the same destruction to their business model that music has had to suffer through. They think that somehow, they have found this problem earlier than the music industry did, and that if they take down YouTube, people will flock to their pitiful little offerings, and the war will be over. Their strategies include forcing the hand of other countries -- through the World Trade Organization and other entities, and a promise to injure the growth and prosperity of the country being threatened if they don't comply.
Make no mistake, Viacom believes that it can win this suit if it simply changes its argument enough to suit a sitting judge. Once they do, the storm will come. Their ultimate goal is to have the Safe Harbor provisions of the DMCA scrutinized to the point that the offerings from the RIAA and MPAA will be accepted as law by Congress. The only thing standing in their way are the hugely popular and legitimate companies and business models that have enough money to fight this sort of lawsuit. If YouTube goes down it will all start to fall apart. Yes, there will fallout, and yes, there will rise from the ashes of YouTube any number of sites to take their place, but the rolling juggernaut will crush them one by one and leave new, tailored laws in their place. Then once the industry feels it's going fast enough, and is big enough, it will finally begin to attack and destroy entire protocols like BitTorrent. Within a decade, the Internet will look like the cable TV of today: Tied up in a wickerwork of regulations and FCC restrictions on use, with dwindling funds for local, and amateur access.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gas! Bulls#!t!

I'm in one corner with the gas prices. Dvorak's blog had this and it got me riled up. Both Apple Computer and Shell Oil are reporting about the same earnings increase for Q1. I really do wonder if it is China, India, and oil speculators that are driving the prices up. No, I don't wonder. I'm pretty sure it is. So -- why isn't the former First Lady hitting up Apple for their profits?! Why isn't she going after Toyota, Cisco or Google? They have all had record breaking profits. Why target the oil companies? Because, she is a socialist. She wants to tax those companies, but the public doesn't care right now. The public is angry, and rather then tell them that the system which the so conveniently place themselves in control of is broken, she'll try to make herself look like a hero. A Robin Hood. Sorry chicka, Robin Hood didn't have an ulterior motive. And frankly, none of his merry men drove a car.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thinking about a non-smug way to talk about a MAC switch.

I'm high on coffee. I think I like it. I miss it, I believe. Somehow though, I'm fighting something. I keep visualizing spirals and circles.

I'm slowly realizing that an Apple computer is really worth it. The MAC Book Pro that I have is really kicking it for me. The software, and things that I have are coming down, and I'm finding exactly what I need. I'm finding exactly what I want. At first I was worried that I wouldn't be able to find enough software to support exactly what I had done on my Windows box. Images, video, all of the things that I did on a daily basis, would I be able to do them on a Mac? I knew that there were plenty of things that were media-centric on the Mac, but what about the FLAC, MKV and other strange file formats that people love to post on the Internet?

Well, much like Windows, the MAC comes with some basic apps that allow you do things that are perfectly O.K. But if you want to do some things that are just great, you have to sniff around. I was worried before my main computer became a MAC because I hadn't seen any of the things that I used on the MAC. I was soon to find that I simply wasn't looking for them. Let's go down this road systematically. From acquisition to execution.

Finding files, for me, was mostly done on Usenet. With Windows I used XNews. It is a great program. It enables you to search, find and get exactly what you are looking for. I used it and was happy. Once I jumped over I looked for a Usenet program, and found Unison. I had to pay for it but, holy crap, did I ever get what I paid for! As I started to use it, I found that like XNews it was easy and really put every thing together. But with Unison, it was so much easier. The program segregated file types and made finding everything so much easier. It worked exactly the way I worked. Intuitive, graceful and beautiful. In many ways it was the single best piece of software that I had ever used. I'll have to digress to get to my next point and I hope you'll forgive me.

The digression I promised is this: once I have the files from Usenet, I have to compile and extract them. On Windows I was using a few different programs to do this. Quick Par put all of the files together in whatever format the poster chose to compress them in and from that, I needed to extract. I needed two, sometimes three programs to do that. Here, on the Mac, I found a single solution. There may well be a single solution on Windows but I haven't found it. After being mired in simply finding a solution to extracting rar files on Windows without having to pirate or pay I was done looking for things. On the Mac, it took less time to find what needed than it did to download it. Now, with one program that could handle everything I could possible throw at it I was ready to rock.

So, back to the main conversation. I had an easy solution, and things were good. Then something happened. From within Unison I started to see a new type of file that it recognized. The NZB. I'd never seen (or paid attention) to the mighty NZB. I did a quick search in Unison's help file for it and discovered what amounted to the holy Grail of Usenet. Things were about to get real easy. So now, because I had been able to relax when using the program, because it had been so easy to find what I was looking for, I had found an even easier way to get what I was looking for. I didn't even need to open the Newsgroups file any more. I could find or create an NZB, click on it, and Unison did the rest. MACPAR then took the files from Usenet and performed every single operation needed to translate them into something I could use. It was at this point that I began looking at my ISPs download caps.

The next part was the one that I was most worried about. Once I had all of these files, and including all of the files that I already had, would I be able to use them. I'd messed with open source video viewers, image viewers and whatnot, but I was worried. Would there be a dry river bed on the Mac where there had been a steady flow of software on Windows? (Even if wading through it could sometimes be toxic.) Aside from a true, excellent replacement for AcdSee, the answer was a resounding YES! VLC took care of the video and works just as well on the Mac as it does on Windows; stripped down versions of the crap-ware Quicktime and Realplayer were readily available and plug in to VLC perfectly. And even though I haven't broken free of the chains completely, I am playing with some really good alternatives to iTunes.

So there I was. My main media worries were abated. Five Nines across the board. Video, audio, image etc. The things on my hard drive, old CDs, DVDs -- it all worked. Next, I had to find native tools to work with text and web pages, editing and creating. Finding those tools was a bit more difficult.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Two Shots Across the Bow of Telecom Giants.

Stupid, stupid. All of this talk, all of this wireless access is at
least 10 months away, and in reality, much much further down the road. Some people are even worried that the Gov't won't even turn off the analog signal in Feb '09. I'm not too worried about that, unless there is some caveat in the FCC auction that says it won't be liable to those who bought the spectrum if they open up access on time. What I'm really getting tired of seeing though, is the type of garbage in this story. First someone is trying to roll out a half and half (half free, half pay) internet -- at 384Kbps and 3Mbps. I don't know what the hell they're thinking, because no one will even take free access at 384. I won't even address the idea that they could block pornographic content. Second, I am sick and damn tired of groups like the CTIA bitching that any offering of free internet access will destroy the world and subvert the competition in the tele/cable arena. I'd love to see a free or low cost internet service provider stick it to the incumbents, but it's not going to happen this decade. Verizon and AT&T have most of the 700Mhz spectrum, so the hope for any competition, fair pricing, or new services has been destroyed. M2Z, the House of Representatives, and Congress are absolutely clueless about the state of the internet, competition in the space and the public and private sector's ability to wrestle control from the few companies that own the access to it.

This quote says it all. "Analyst Daniel Beringer argued in a 2006 article that network maintenance and upgrade expenditures are a lower priority for AT&T than attaining monopoly control of the market through acquisitions. "The Bells only invest in more monopoly which usually means buying each other. The track record shows steadily lower spending on networks to increase free cash flow for acquisitions. The $140 billion SBC spent acquiring Ameritech, PacBell, SNET, AT&T Wireless, and AT&T lifted the company's market cap by only $40 billion," wrote Beringer. "SBC missed an opportunity as $140 billion happens to be about what it would cost to run fiber to every home in America."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Long Tail -- Politics

I'm only going to post one link, here. You can find all the links you need from that story.
What it's all about this morning is the "debate" last night. All I have to say is this. The Long Tail is catching up to Politics as we know it. Candidates have never been fond of addressing the issues that matter to the people in a direct manner. That's old news. To a politician, addressing an issue frankly would mean that they may not get everyone in the country to vote for them. Sometimes I think that is exactly what they believe: That if they somehow said or didn't say the right thing, that everyone would come out of their fog and vote for a single party -- a single candidate.
But, as we've seen over the past few years the people are starting to get pissed. And they finally have a voice. As I mentioned in an earlier post everyone has a voice on the internet, and more and more people are using it. They are using it to say that they are tired of politics as usual. There are growing numbers of people who simply don't want to see or hear a bobble head presidential candidate. The general populace's eyes have been opened to the political games that are really being played, and they are growing sick of it.
So, The Long Tail of politics comes into play, and the net effect is the reaction to last night's debate. Political mud-slinging is having less and less of a long term effect. Avoiding the issues is having more and more of a long term effect. The Long Tail of 'playing politics' is that after such a long battle to get to this point, none of the candidates have said a single damn thing that has had any real impact. Yes, Yes, everyone knows that both of the Dems want to pull out of Iraq, and that McCain wants to keep pushing forward for some time. The same blah blah goes for the environment, taxes, health care... We've heard the three of them time and time again on these same stinking issues, and we, collectively, are sick of it.
No matter what issue has come up, the three candidates have said crap, and have refused to raise issues of their own. How about the case that the supreme court is currently overseeing that involves a gun ban in D.C.? What if it passes or is overturned? How about the current crisis that is building over the cost and use of corn to fuel cars? How can the playing field be leveled to ensure that our cars aren't literally eating our lunch? How about Nuclear power? Will someone please address the facts and fiction that has been spread about the safety and efficiency of reactors and waste? The list goes on and on and on.
So. The reality of the Long Tail is that the traditional cat and mouse game that these three Senators have been playing with the issues is no longer effective in garnering votes. Few swing voters, and a growing number of party established voters are going to be satisfied with Politics-as-Usual. It's a mindset that have been growing for some time, and it is now starting to manifest itself in greater numbers of jaded voters, pissed off bloggers, and disaffected party members. If the GOP and Dems aren't more careful in the future, one of those *crazy* Independents may pull the carpet out from under them. I for one would love to see it happen.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Teens like to see other teens naked (GASP)

It's all over the news today this week. It's a story that I'm not at all surprised to see. It would appear that teenagers are sending pictures of themselves to each other using their cellphones, and most likely IM applications. The issue that has raised the ire of -- well, almost everyone, is that these are NAKED pictures -- and videos. I'd imagine, as the article here suggests, that a pictures or video is quickly sent around a group of friends and will eventually make it out into the wild. It may have already happened, and there may be places on the Internet to find these explicit videos. I certainly hope there isn't.
There is one thing that I find ridiculous though. The story I linked to states that the principal of one school where the students are participating in this trend doesn't get it. "They don't see any thing wrong with it, it leaves me speechless."
It should be a bit of a surprise, but to be left speechless, to be utterly dumbfounded by this turn of events only shows how out of touch adults are with the lives and times of the teenagers of this Internet age. It's simply preposterous to think that teenagers will have at their disposal the tools that allow them to communicate with voice, images and video and not use it to transfer sexually explicit content. Using themselves as the subject is simply a natural progression. A teenager in the world today is bombarded with sex, and is caught up in his or her own sexual awakening. To them it's natural, and in someways may be healthy. The danger of course, I alluded to earlier. These images and videos will find their way onto the internet at large, and their explicit nature will begin a political king-of-the-hill battle to see who can pass the most laws the fastest. It has already begun with the bullying and beating of teenagers videos that have made their way onto YouTube. It's simply a retelling of the bum fight videos and every other type of offensive content to be discovered on the internet. It's a good thing that these media types seem to never have heard of 'tubgirl' or the other rick-rolling images and videos that seem to pop up every few weeks... We might not have an Internet at all if they did.
I'm going to read more about this story, and see which way the winds are blowing but I predict that any historical evidence of this happening with traditional media (magazines, video tapes, etc) will be ignored or glossed over and the 'absolute insanity' 'danger to the health and well-being' of our teenagers will be glossed over because this 'Has Never Happened Before And The Scale And Ability To Access This Type Of Thing Has Been Expanded Into Infinity Thanks To Devices Like Cell Phones And The Internet!' So, the answer you and I will be hearing over the next week or so will be that children need more protection from the government, and the way to do that is to 1)Ban all cellphones in schools 2)force YouTube to filter content and remove/punish anyone who posts anything 3)Tack on some arbitrary official-looking data from some researcher that positively proves that anyone under the age of 18 who ever sees a nipple will be scarred for life and become a sex-pervert, run away from home and pick up where Jack-The-Ripper left off.
Update: In this article a member of the FBI Cyber Crime in Ohio seems to think that the teens doing this sort of thing are laboring under a belief that
"You name it, they will do it at their home under this perceived anonymity."
If I may use the internet meme -- LOL! I'd like to interview a few of the guys and girls doing this and ask them how far they think, or hope, that these pics and vids will go. I'd bet that most of them have no reservations that their recordings will make the rounds in their school, and perhaps, even to the internet at large. (if they're not posting directly to the internet themselves that is.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An up and down of writing

Writing -- producing a collection of published words, is once again becoming sacrosanct. The first shock came with the invention of the printing press. Shortly after it was invented, almost anyone could publish their ideas for anyone to read. The next shock came with the explosion and expansion of the Internet. Today, literally anyone can find a place for their voice to be heard. In both cases there came a backlash from established and recognized authors who felt threatened by the ability of anyone to publish their beliefs. Between those two times, the art of authorship has risen and fell as opinion of its creators changed.
Shortly after the invention of the printing press, those in power, mostly the clergy -- but some young governments as well, scrambled to keep control over the new invention. Approval was needed before a work was published and due to the process of approval, printing of little more than bibles was approved. But as the technology progressed, and became more widely available, works of individuals found their way into the hands of the people. Criticism of those in power and social and scientific exploration were next to be printed. The exact things that those in power sought to stop.
But today's story isn't about those things. They have been covered elsewhere. Today's story concerns those who later managed to grasp and hold the technology of printing hostage. The 1920s saw the build up of monolithic empires founded on the power of words. It was an exclusive group funded vicariously by the pockets of the people, but filtered through the government, and those in power. Words had so much power then that a career in creating them was seen as a powerful goal. Therefore, functional literacy in developing nations began to rise. Individual freedoms were partly express with the ability to read and write. Slowly, inextricably, the opinions of those who were not in power began to be heard.
Fast forward 50 years. In the U.S. of the 1970s and 80s a glut of opinion was available. Authorship, something that almost anyone could do, was looked down upon unless the author was already famous. Millions of books lined the shelves of huge bookstores, hundreds of newspapers were available daily in large metro areas. Authorship, at this point, even though widely available, was segregated. There were those who did it, and those who did it well. The stigma attached with bad authorship began to have an effect on the populace. Functional literacy began to decline. The line of authors waiting for an agent, or those who were taken in and broken by publishing companies seemed insurmountable to many whose books or newsletters would be printed -- if only self-publication was cheaper.
Fast forward twenty years. The Internet boom had come and gone by the late nineties. The survivors of the crash, left to sort through the ashes, discovered something particular. The expansion had been fueled the most by social interaction like email and instant messaging, personal web pages with opinionated statements of the day and pages plastered with the creators artistic displays. Those in position to foster the growth of this new communications medium started work on Web 2 point Oh.
And now here we are. Literally anyone who can get access to a computer connected to the Internet has a voice. Bloggers create more pages and content in one day than was produced in the first hundred years after the invention of the printing press. Individuals are clamoring to find a voice and learning to read an write to do so. It is 2008, functional literacy is starting to increase, the middle class is standing up more often and voicing their opinions to those in charge. And the backlash has begun anew.
Once more the highest paid producers are looking down upon those who are using their voice to spread dissent, expose falsehoods or challenge the old guard on their own territory. Backlash towards bloggers and hobbyist authors has increased and laws have been proposed, or even passed, to try and limit their voice. Those in charge are searching for loopholes in current law to try and revoke the rights of press from the amateurs and return it fully to the hands of those paid by lobbyists to tell a better version of the truth.
Those actions have began to change the opinion of the public and will result in the same correction seen only a few decades ago. The people will be told that only the established sources should be trusted. That these bloggers are neither right, nor should they be trusted. They don't have the sources, or the integrity needed to carry the torch of authorship and reporting. The forcing down has already begun. And it will continue until either the bloggers give up, or the establishment is forced to change. Those who have been attacked include: Wikipedia, Craigslist, Mac Rumors, and almost every website that tells the story of a consumer being given the shaft, and more whistle blower websites than anyone could count.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Best paragraph ever: ARS FTW

This paragraph:
The 2006 anti-porn initiative was rendered impotent when 16-year-old Tom Wood penetrated the filter system's blocking mechanism. Despite previous failure, the government is now thrusting deep into the public coffers in order to erect a new $89 million ISP-level version that lawmakers hope will include technical safeguards that are impossible to penetrate.

is in This story. All of you should read it.

Arguing about Free

Lately, it seems that the buzz words to use when you want to start a fight are Free, Feemium or Freeconomics, (not to be confused with Steven Levitt.) Once you start talking about free, everyone seems to have an idea about what the perfect solution is, or what the perfect soultion isn't. The two links above are stories that spotlight this phenomenon and the interest it can create.

Earlier, I wrote about how Anime is the U.S. is in trouble because of free. The internet has been driving down the cost of everything for a decade. you can shop for deals, trade things with strangers, or even find *gasp* free things. In my mind, free means absolutely free. No payment, no adverts. Then you have ad-supported, then Freemium (free service with added premium pay services), then pay services. The point of contention demonstrated by the two articles above is a warning.

The Wired article supposes that eventually, things will be supported by complementary products. Movie tickets, it states would be free but supported and paid for by popcorn and candy. (The first rebuttal: what about those who don't want to buy popcorn and candy?) It's a nice looking future. But it's based on the razor/razor blade system. The fault with that is not everyone shaves, and not everyone buys disposable razors.

The Read Write Web article argues on two points. One is transactions, the other is the imagined enemy of all businesses everywhere -- Monopolies. Its three monopoly points are Google, DVRs, and unfunded startups. Unfunded startups, I won't even get in to because of the complexities. Sarbanes-Oxley is still a sore spot to many VCs, and until that has been shuffled around, fixed, or removed, all startups are going to suffer.

The next point, DVRs, are worthy of an entire discussion on their own. Their history has been shaped by getting around the business model that allows network television to remain free. The Read Write article seems to ignore the real reason we love DVRs, and so, compares them to the cell phone model of "give the phone away and charge for the service." I think this misses the mark. A cable company provided DVR is simply a concession of defeat from the service provider. TiVo (and Replay TV before it was murdered by the Industry), as well as computer based DVR platforms are becoming as popular as DVD players. The last thing that a cable company wants to be is a dumb-pipe, and by forcing you to use their box they are trying to maintain that presence and control. (The only way around a service-provided DVR or cable box is a Cable Card enabled device... sometimes.) It is true though, that remotes, esp. those provided by cable and satellite companies, are absolute rubbish.

Read Write Web also speaks of complex transactions. The post presents the middle man pretty much the way we all see it: The middle man is a necessary evil. Micro transaction managers, ad revenue providers, virtual shop operators. They are all middle men, and they all want their cut. Growing under the wing of a middle man could allow one to eventually break free and set up shop on their own, but without business savvy, or a business manager (another middle man,) setting up shop outside of a middle man seems less and less likely.

Another complex transaction? The transaction itself. Read Write only mentioned the add-on services in this respect, using Wired's twenty-dollar plane ticket as an example. They assume that the model the airline has is complicated or complex for both the passenger and the airline. Different streams of revenue may be harder for the airline to track, but to the passenger, its mostly transparent. Buy a ticket: "Want priority boarding? click this box, pay $5." Want a drink while underway? Swipe your card, get your drink. Again the fear, this time for complex transactions, is for the business, not the consumer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Vodaphone's CEO only somewhat delusional

[The story]
Vodafone's CEO spoke a lot about interface. He seems to have fallen into the same delusion that the greatest thing, the most successful thing is the iPhone's interface. The rest of his comments, the ones about the OSes in the space, are only there to prop up his argument that every phone doesn't look like the iPhone, and that his company would have made the iPhone first if it weren't for All Of Those Damn OSes! -- As a bonus, he doesn't think that "...we can't sit back and become bit [read: dumb] pipes." Too bad Mr. Sarin, that's exactly what the people want.

If the European markets are anything like the U.S., there is more than just OS choices that are slowing the market. the strategies of the mobile phone companies have as much to do with the slowing of innovation in the space as anything else.

Each mobile operator offers a set group of phones that do exactly what the operator wants to to do. Almost every phone sold in the world is locked down in some way. More and more people are looking to phones that allow them more freedoms. The problem with the market isn't that there are too many OSes to allow that, but too few freedoms on the OSes that are present. Have you ever bought a Windows Mobile phone with the idea that you would put your favorite app on it, only to find out that your mobile carrier had locked your phone from adding/removing/modifying/etc. anything on your phone? Take a look at some of the more popular mobile phone sites. The problems range from the standard (inability to install certain apps), to the outright stupid (preinstalled images and ringtones that can't be removed.)

All of that says one thing to mobile programmers. "Stay Away!" It's simple, really. If you are a mobile programmer you have to look at the pros and cons of making your program. The pros are that you may sell a few programs and get some recognition. The cons are infinite. What OS do you use is only the first question. Will end users be able to install the program? Will they have to hack the phone to do so? Should I write/include the software to allow the hack? What about network/bluetooth support? Who's version of the phone will it be installed on? How many people will think that my application is broke because of a locked-out phone? etc. etc.

In the end, Mr. Sarin is correct in his thinking that the mobile phone market is messed up, and being threatened. The business model has been dealt several blows in the past few years with open source, mobile wi-fi, and the iPhone. The mobile industry is scrambling to find a way to force its customers to follow a masterplan that includes false hope (Rokr, anyone?), false plans (AT&T's actual MMS rates), multi-year lock-is and phones that are still locked by carrier software restrictions, all the while refusing to believe that this 'open thing' will ever be to their benefit. To them I say, it's good that you're afraid of the iPhone. But its not the interface alone that makes it a top tier product. It represents the future. A future where movies, music, text, interface, and (some) openness come together in a package that people want. It represents a future where the mobile carriers are blind, headless, dumb-pipes to voice and IP connections, whose fascist, cold-war style contracts and plans are but wispy memories, and camp fire horror stories.

Friday, February 8, 2008

cable cuts. what the hell do we know?

I'd like to take a moment to go on record and say this about the underwater cables in the news recently:
I'm not totally convinced there is anything nefarious going on, but it's not for the same reasons that a lot of the commenters I've read think. I've seen a great number of people saying that the 'terrorists' wouldn't cut off there own communications, but only a few rebut that with such a statement as "the terrorists don't care about the internet; would rather not have it coming in anyway..." etc. Without a doubt the terrorists who would be behind this do not like the fact that the internet brings such a global presence to their countries. That is an influence that over the past few years has been growing at an alarming rate. For the terrorists this is a scary proposition. More knowledge means more power. Once people begin to look at, and talk about, the outside world, they'll be less likely to care about their parent's religion. All over the world secularism is on the rise. Greater numbers of young people (and old too,) are looking less to God to solve their problems an more to their friends, family, and professionals outside of the clergy. This is definitely a trend that the Islamofacists need to stop to succeed in their mission. Cutting those cables is just one way to buy some time, and do some research on the outcome.
Now, do I think that scenario is the one playing out? I'm not sure. That's a cop-out way of saying I don't have enough information. Cable breaks have happened before, they'll happen again. Murphy's Law dictates that. Are these cable breaks close enough together not to rule out natural phenomenon? It seems that there is enough distance between them that a natural occurrence would register on someone's seismic or volcanic equipment. Almost certainly there would be some facility with warning bells and whistles going off in the region. Hells, we were able to detect an earthquake thousands of miles out, and hundreds of meters below the nearest coast. twice that distance from and modern monitoring equipment. So, no, I'm not too sure that this is 100 per cent natural.
As for the theory of Isral or the U.S. attempting to tap the lines, or deliberately breaking them to disrupt communications? Who knows? Both sides of this conflict know that the first weakness to create against an enemy is to destroy his ability to communicate effectively. And if that option is as simple as cutting a few underwater cables... Then by all means, it sure is a hell of a cost effective way to get the job done.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


This Techdirt entry opened a thought up to me. The article's last lines ask why the RIAA keeps suing company after company that is clearly protected by safe harbor laws within the DCMA. An it brought to mind the 'War on Drugs.' Both the RIAA and the U.S. government love to draw as much attention to themselves each time they make a minor movement forward in their own little personal war. In both situations, nothing ever changes. Drugs and ripped music continue to be freely available. The personal vendettas that the DEA and the RIAA have against their perceived threat serves only to hurt the people they claim to protect, and continue to highlight the continued existance of the items that they are trying to abolish. In either case the only result is a waste of time, manpower, and money. *sigh*

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On anime and the industry part 2.

For the anime industry, the Internet changed everything. It was truly a golden ticket for fans and the industry alike. It took not time at all for fans of anime to begin setting up websites and begin talking to each other about their favorite hobby. Soon the internet was awash in sites devoted to specific programs, specific characters, theme music, magazines, toys, voice actors and more. The fans were hungry for anything they could get from Japan, and eager to share what they had. This was the early to mid 90's. The boom was tremendous. A few anime companies had been around for quite some time, and they were reaping the benefits of the communities growing interest and heightened awareness to their products. Many new companies jumped into the space to offer their unique-from-Japan-products. Meanwhile, in the background, the groups who were subtitling their own copies of their favorite programs, the fansubbers, began broadcasting their works on the web.
For anime fans there was no need for a software tool such as Napster to popularize their sharing. Fansubbers had discovered Usenet, FTP, and simple posting of files to webpages. Also unlike Napster, there was no swift and relentless backlash from the industry. Technology was also blooming that allowed the fansubbers to obtain and subtitle very clean-looking source programs. The quality of these rivaled the quality of the products coming out form the major studios. The majors didn't take notice at first because the fansubbers generally stayed away from the shows that the majors were bringing to the states. Eventually, however, the hunger of the fansubbers took over the the ability, or desire, of the industry to provide for them. In the end, the fansubbers simply stood up and left the table.
Today, there are tools like bittorrent; websites like Youtube, and other places on the internet where almost every anime serives is available. The anime industry has began to recognize the threat, but it's almost too late. Already a few companies have collapsed, and more are to follow. Some have compared the situation to what is happening to the music industry, but again, there is a large difference. If the music industry collapsed a band would have to find a way to get its music played on radio stations, release CDs and promote their shows. There are already artists doing this, and doing it successfully. Imagine though, if they all had to do that. If there was less than a year between the beginning and the end of the collapse of that industry? The same could happen to the anime industry in the U.S. but there would be no effect to the fansubbers. There would be only a small effect to even the mainstreme consumer.
The problem with the industry in the U.S. is that it is entirely dependant on Japan. The down side to the situation is that the industry and the fansubbers have access to the same material. The industry and the fansubbers are in the same business. The difference is that the fansubbers have almost no overhead. They are giving away the same thing that the anime industry is selling. High quality, English translated Japanese animation. If the final nail is put in the coffin of the U.S. anime industry the fansubbers, unlike music traders, won't need to skip a beat. They won't have to wait for a group of artists to recover and start producing again. Anime may disappear from TV and stores, but it will stay on the internet as long as the Japanese keep making it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

On Anime, pt 1

In thinking about the recent posts discussing the situation of anime in the U.S. I wanted to say something. but what would I say? the economics has been analyzed, and the argument had reach the stalemate familiar to movie studios in Hollywood and pirates. The argument had been boiled and distilled down to the simple statement of "When the anime producers and consumers find a happy medium, everyone will be happy (generally), get what they want, and thrive." But I've thought more about the response from the anime company, Bandai. Bandai's response reflects what I mentioned above. That eventually, U.S. anime producers and consumers will agree on something and find a happy medium. But now, as I've thought about it, I realize that is simply not so.
The producers of anime in the U.S. are no longer doing so for the market segment that spawned their business. In the beginning, these companies sprung up to serve a need in the marketplace. Great programs were coming out of Japan in the 80's and the fans of the 60's and 70's had done a great job of inspiring new fans of the medium. The tweens and teens of the time were getting Voltron and Robotech on television, and in rare cases a few VHS tapes and laser discs at the local rental shop or niche import store. The market and the consumers began to mature. As the 80's broke into the 90's stores like Suncoast and FYE began to offer a place where anime could be found regularly. As interest grew so did the selection, and in many towns across the U.S. the local mall, or comic book shop, became the only place to find Japanese cartoons. The amine market would continue to grow in the 90's, translating great shows, toys, comic books (manga), and preparing itself to inject anime into the American mainstream. The injection they were preparing should have included a vaccine against the Internet.
Everyone knew it was coming, because they knew it was already happening. For as long as there had been video recording devices there were video tapes of Japanese programs in the U.S. The fans in the 80's were adept at finding and translating Japanese cartoons in to English. Sometimes was simply a group of notes passed around with the tapes, but with increasing commonality the tapes themselves were being subtitled into English buy groups who would come to be known as fansubbers. Seen as no big threat in the 80's and early 90's they passed under the radar of legitimate production houses. After all, the fansubbers could neither hope to produce a show of such quality, nor reach as many people as the national corporations. So the fansubbers were left alone like weeds in a garden. A threat for sure, "but," the big studios seemed to say, "If we flood the garden with enough great flowers, the weeds will be killed off by them." perhaps they were really thinking about flowers and gardens, because they seemed to miss the economics of a situation that was fast approaching.
The economics have been discussed elsewhere. It's long and boring, and makes for dry research. So I think a very quick summary will do. Anime studios produce content that is mostly made for Japanese TV. That equals about 26 episodes for a regular show, and 2 or 3 times as many for a popular show. For an anime studio to stay in business they have to consider how many episodes to release on a single DVD (or VHS a few years back). They have to consider how far apart each DVD should come out. They have to consider how much to charge for each DVD. Then they have to worry about how much shelf space a store will give them. Add to that the fact that a company can't simply survive by releasing only the popular shows. Just like regular TV there are shows that are good, and ones that stink. The money that comes in from the ones that stink help pay the bills, but you still have to find space for that show and sell it. Finally, one of the biggest problems facing the U.S. anime industry was the difference in time between the TV broadcast and DVD release of the shows in Japan, and the DVD release in the U.S. Generally, that time was closer to years than it was to months, and never was it weeks or days. That time lag was only being suffered by the studios that had to deal with Japan. Fansubbers, through their network of 'friends in Japan', K-band satellite and other means, were recording and distributing the Japanese shows faster and with better quality than they ever had before. They were pushing the limits of the technology available simply to get what they wanted, and they were about to be granted a golden ticket with the advent of a technology that would forever change the landscape of what it meant to be a fansubber.
--part two coming asap: the internet, the anime, the otaku, and why fans aren't too worried about U.S. companies going belly up. should they be?

About Faking Normality

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Faking Normality. The one place we don't do it. All is not well. The world is not coming to an end. Don't fake normality, achieve it.