Thursday, August 20, 2009

The long tail of the Credit Card B.S.

A short one today, because I find it tiring to examine stupidity:
Back in April the President decided that it was a horrible, horrible thing that the Credit Card Companies could Possibly have high rates and fees for different types of customers. $35 for a late fee! That's NOT FAIR!!! Well in May, the Senate, hoping that they could distract the public from real news, passed a bill restricting the kinds, and amounts of fees that the Credit Card companies could charge.
Everyone outside the Beltway, and/or in possession of more than two brain cells to rub together, warned of the "long tail" of that action and the fallout that it would cause; and urged The People to tell as many friends and family, as well as the Senate to vote NO! Well, one of the biggest stories in today's news -- If your rates haven't increased yet, they're about to. Sometimes I just wish people would pay some freaking attention. Also, not letting Senators serve past the age of 65, not letting them leave D.C., and keeping them away from mainstream media and lobbyists would help. Because when Senator Dodd is allowed to say something like:
"This is a victory for every American consumer who has ever suffered at the hands of a credit card company,"
you have to worry. Suffered At The Hands...? If a credit card company forced people to use their services, sure, I may fall for that crap. Besides, if anyone bothered to Read The Freaking Contract that they signed, they would know from the beginning that credit card companies are evil.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A response to Alex Jones, author of "Losing the News".

I just listened to "Fresh Air" from yesterday, August 18, 2009. In that episode Alex Jones, a small newspaper owner and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter is featured. He was on the show to promote his new book "Losing the News." The idea behind his book is that within the next few years, unless something drastic is done, The News as we know it will cease to exist. It will be replaced by a field of opinion-based commentary, with no objectivity in sight. My question: "What's wrong with that?"
Many commentators and industry pundits these days are fretting over the loss of the "News Industry" and laying the blame at the feet of the Internet. These people believe that the Internet has 'taken' their paying customers away. That's simply not true. After all, no new market can form where the old one is doing its job. No, the internet simply presented the opportunity for the new market to provide what the old media refused to (or didn't want to) for decades. What, then did the internet provide? Why is the internet taking over the business of distributing news?
I'd like to start somewhere besides the old and tired argument of it's FREE, but since that's almost impossible, I'll just debunk that argument as I address three examples -- much like Mr. Jones does in his book. Let's take a look at "The Wall Street Journal", a reporter and investigator of financial news; "The Huffington Post", an aggregator of already reported news with commentary (who recently added an investigative branch); and "The Onion", a creator and aggregator of original fictitious news, with commentary. Each of these outlets represent one of Mr. Jones arguments, and their success belies any argument. To be fair, he admits that Pay Walls are not the answer. He uses the already tired cliche of "The genie is out of the bottle on that one." And he freely admits that he doesn't know how to prevent the dismal future of news which so many see on the horizon. Well, and here's my chance to dredge up a bad cliche, far be it from me to assume that I can out think a news paper owner, and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, but I know exactly what the News Industry needs to stay solvent. I think that Mr. Jones may too, but doesn't want to admit it. As Shunryu Suzuki put it: “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." So What is the answer? A few quick examples will point us right to it.
First the rise and fall, and rise? of the blog. In the mid 1990's the blog was hands-down the most popular way to get information on the web. Blogs first began to eat away at the mainstream media from day one. From political and lifestyle blogs to classified ads, every form of media was under attack by this new form of news aggregation. They became popular because they were everything that the talking heads on TV weren't. They were politically polarized, opinionated and approachable. No one ever really met or talked to the bloggers at "Drudge" or "KOS", so really, they could be your neighbors. Once comments became the norm, the traditional news media seemed to be old and stodgy, handing out the only acceptable truth from on-high, never to be questioned. But the blog began to fail... (But, Jason you said it was coming back!) Trust me, I'm going somewhere with this, and if you follow, I think you see the same answer I did, in the same way.
We'll come back to the internet in just a moment, but it is very important to note that while the bloggers were fully ignoring the mainstream media, (All of it remember -- from music and movies, to TV and news declined in the past decade) the mainstream media noticed something was amiss. Panic set in. Hirings, firings, re-hirings! Then, amidst all the panic, the idea that news needed to be masked in objectivity began to fall away. News networks began to take sides, slowly at first, and later, without regard to the consequences. Ratings began to soar again. People wanted to see their reporters red-faced with anger over the same issues they held dear. It was (*sigh*) The Beginning Of The End.
Meanwhile back at the Internet: The popularity of the blog has fallen to an all-time low. The early bloggers who chided the Live Journal users were now themselves the target of ridicule. "Oh! You've got a blog? So what's your cat's name?" But those days are coming to an end. Blogs lost popularity to the social web because people could spend less time reading other's opinion and more time telling everyone about their own. Blogs became passe because most people realized that no one cared what they had to say. The social web, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter led people to believe that that all of those followers and friends were actually reading what you write. -- Sorry kid, Calacanis really doesn't care that you have ten iBook 12-inchers ready to go in case of emergency. And out of the fringes of the tech world, the weekly blog post is starting to take hold once again. Any douche with an iPhone a G1 can use twitteroid and have the appearance of being connected to their fans, but more and more the demand of attention is swaying back towards waiting for that one glowing post from 'your friend' that fills in the blanks left by: "OK, am back with organic tomato. I'll have to burn this shirt. also, what is best detergent for smell of burnt flesh?"
OK, so what's the moral of this story? I promised you an answer -- Here it is. What has been the failure of all successful ventures since the dawn of man? Moderation. A happy medium. Mr. Jones, remember him, seems to be on the right track. He has seen the success of Hyper-Local. Those ultimate news geeks who act as the CSPAN for Hackensack New Jersey. But he dismisses the likes of O'Reilly and Olberman who take the facts they like and use them to beat the opposition over the head. The happy medium, and the answer, is the type of thing you get with Colbert and Stewart. They are funny, adhere to a strict form of integrity and are immensely entertaining. Every state could have a Colbert or Stewart, (or some actually-right-leaning-ne'er-do-well) every city an Onion -- with a boring "Actual News" section. Or vice/versa if you prefer. We are given a perfect example from this week's politics on health care reform:
I can scream at the top of my lungs all day that the White House and Congress haven't passed a reform bill, and no one will listen. But if I say that they haven't passed a bill, and it's Rush Limbuagh's fault, It'll open a can of angry bees.
I'll finish with what I think is the most expansive and soul-searching statement that the News Industry could ever hear, and I'm proud to say that its uttered here first. It comes down to this: Information is free. Objectivity is overpriced. The Business of the News is no longer just to present us with the information, it is to entertain us with the facts.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Senators and Congressmen are better than you.

Of course, the Daily KOS doesn't talk about Senator Kennedy's section of the plan allowing Congress and the Senate to Opt out of the National Health Plan. The KOS just points out the things that the Liberals can wrap themselves in like a warm blanket -- the things that promise to punish the rich for being successful by taking their money and giving it to those poor, poor people who are being exploited by "The MAN" One-Hundred and ten thousand dollars for a family of four?! Really? Sixteen-thousand in Medicaid for every person -plus- paying the doctor's Medicaid fees directly; With a 10% premium!

This is why we all want transparency. This is why we all wanted bills posted for review five days before the president signed them. It's why a campaigning Obama promised his administration would do so. We simply don't need more spending, we need more cutting. Maybe letting Senators and Congressmen Opt out of the Government plan is how they plan to cut spending? After all, most of those men and women are old, some are feeble, and paying for their final years of life, and their death, could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars! I think I'm starting to get it. Good show Senator Kennedy! Now that's how you look out for the little guy.

Then again, Senator Kennedy does plan to tax insurance benefits as a tax. So there's some extra cash flow for the plan. But Don't count on the Unions helping out. Now with the health care plan anyway. They won't pay any tax on their health benefits because all of their money already goes to the author(s) of this plan in the form of campaign contributions.

This is it people. This is exactly what no one wants. Hopefully the Kennedy version of this will die. Its only provision to actually cut costs seems to be in creating a new oversight board to investigate waste. I guess their first investigation would lead to themselves?

Kennedy's *AHEM* Senator Kennedy's outline can be seen here.

Dow Jones' digital distribution

From Crain's New York, Via Boing Boing:
Wall Street Journal Dow Jones Calls Google 'Digital Vampire'
First, Please note, that even though The Wall Street Journal was mentioned in this article, it is the Chief Executive of Dow Jones who is making these statements.

The Chief of Dow Jones still believes that news outlets are in competition with Google.

On the surface this seems simply like another swipe at the search giant. And Google is just that: a Search Giant. Sure, they have added features that drive their users to the ads, (which is the real business of any search giant,) but the news publishers really don't seem to grasp, or don't want to grasp, that linking to their news stories is simply one of those added features. Newspapers are failing not because of competition from Google, but also the competition from bloggers, Craigslist, podcasts, AM radio, e-mail, water cooler conversations etc. etc. At least Google always links to the source. Google is simply not the enemy. In fact quite the opposite is true, Google should be the newspaper's best friend.

And so when we look at the best thing to come out of this story:

"Dow Jones is just at the end of developing a new platform from which to conduct business on the Web. Imagine this future: the Journal is one of the many newspapers you might buy in one place and with one payment… Watch for it.

There, friends, is the real news story. The Dow Jones is going to fight Google by createing a... a NEWS STAND! (probably digital)

Many news outlets are going to gloss over the juiciest statement of the news clip. That statement could be plumbed for speculative fiction for months. What is Dow Jones doing? Who is involved? What do they hope to accomplish?

Well, Mr. Hinton is hinting, (groan) that Dow Jones is working to create a unified method of collection and distribution for the content that Dow Jones produces. Here's the rub, if they are trying to create an entirely new service they are fools, and it will fail. No ifs, ands or buts. If they try to compete with Google, Craigslist, Twitter, Kindle and other RSS based technologies they have no hope. However, if they unite with those business to harness that technology they just may have some success.

"The News" is the new MP3. For a long time the only way you could get news was the paper, TV and Radio. Music was the same, except where there was paper, there were CDs. Then, along came the internet: it all went digital. It became easy to get that same content without having to buy a paper, or wrestle with newsprint in your cubicle. It was easier and more convenient.

And it's that convenience that's killing the news business as a whole. If it was ever more convenient and worth the cost to pay an official outlet for news you would have. But Just like the music industry, instead spending time and money to cash in on digital information, they just ignored it until it started eating their profits.
So here is the million dollar question: If Dow Jones is building a digital news stand, how will they do it? Will they partner with Amazon and the Kindle; with Google, Yahoo and Bing? Will they try to put every newspaper website in the nation behind a pay-wall? Will they attempt to charge search engines to link to their content? If so, how will they respond? Do search engines need the content of the Dow Jones partners? (That Link will take you to Dow Jone's partnership page. Take a moment to look at all of the content that Dow Jones owns.)

With all of the content that Dow Jones either directly or indirectly controls they have a lot of leverage. If they choose to bypass the established digital distribution methods and search engines it could get nasty.

Speaking of security...

Speaking of security, if you are wandering the web with Internet Explorer Six Please, for the health of the entire internet, stop using it, and upgrade to one of the following:

The current version of Internet Explorer;
-- Using your new version of IE

-- Firefox switcher's guide

-- Chrome switcher's guide

Thanks from me, and the rest of the internet.

More U.S. sensitive data found on hard disks in African junk shops

Hard disks found with sensitive U.S. Gov Contractor data... Again.

What is it with the repeat stories today?

Found via Boing Boing, hard disks with sensitive data turned up in Ghanain junk-markets. The data belonged to Northrup Grumman, a U.S. Government contractor.

I'll make this one short and sweet. OS X, Vista, Windows 7 and Linux all include Whole Disk Encryption technology. It's time to make it mandatory.

I'm not one to force people into behaving in a certain way, but this issue stretches far, far beyond simple security. If every modern disk was encrypted and could only be un-encrypted and read through the use of a token on your thumb drive or smart card worms, viruses, email hoaxes, money scams and most every other type of garbage that we all deal with on a daily basis would, if not simply disappear, become so expensive to create that we would hardly ever encounter it. So what are we waiting for?

Hate Crimes again?!

Holder Urges Hate Crime bill.

Again, I'm all for protecting people from violence. But that's why we pay police, arm our citizens, teach self-defence, etc. Protecting people has nothing to do with passing so-called hate crimes bills and their enforcement doesn't reduce those types of crimes. Meanwhile these "Hate Crimes" are decreasing -- and will continue to decline as baby-boomers die and the Thirty-Something crowd takes their place. The same goes for bigotry and intolerance for the disabled. Why? Because this is as close to an "ignore it and it'll go away" situation (there is no such thing, really) as we'll ever have. Children are not taught tolerance, they are taught intolerance when adults behave like, and enforce stereotypes. We simply need to teach our children that some people can't help the way they are -- we accept that people are different; and also that some people can help the way they are -- we accept that some people are just assholes.

Creating and supporting hate crime bills only serves to return us to a time of Separate but Equal.

And that's just stupid.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Boing Boing pointed to a response from Howard Knopf to Richard Pofhl, who wrote a response to a piece that Geist wrote on the 8th of this month. *whew* You can read the whole exchange: follow the links.. My insight is below.
Michael Geist June 8
Richard Pofhl June 12
Howard Knopf June 17
– Compared to the rest of the world, Canada’s file sharing has decreased as its broadband ranking has decreased. In other words, other parts of the world are getting faster speeds and are using those faster speeds to download.
This is the perfect corollary as to why ISPs in the U.S. refuse to – or even admit the need for – upgrade their networks. “Upgrading isn’t the problem” they say. “Traffic is the problem.” That’s a classic cop-out. Instead of upgrading their service, they buy their competitors so that no one can offer better service. All of this is done for one specific reason.
Anyone who says that the ISPs can’t see the future is blind. They know where all of this is going. Eventually, every form of media will be served across TCP/IP (the internet). They are biding their time. If they don’t upgrade their networks, and continue threatening to cut off people’s access, they hope to wait until the media companies are prepared to distribute across their pipes. Then they’ll cut exclusive deals and collude with the biggest ISPs to transform the internet into the technologies it replaced – television and radio.
That is why the ISPs continue to focus on traffic, piracy and bandwidth caps rather than network capacity and transfer speeds. They are not going to build a fast network until they can fully control the traffic that travels across it. And perhaps not even then.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why Michael Moore is a Moron (today)

Michael Moore, June 1 2009.

Micheal Moore declared Monday that he is glad that GM has failed. (This may feel familiar to Limbaugh fans.) While he does stress and, I imagine sincerely, wish that GM would have changed the way they do business, he doesn’t go out of his way to acknowledge the great things they did for this country – and I don’t disagree. Like the scientific and mathematic contributions of the Muslim world, most of GM’s contributions are memories of a bygone era. But, like all Michael Moore pieces, once he sets up the premise, he goes wildly off track, pretending that we all live in the type of imaginary socialist commune that only a Liberal could dream up.

In his dream world, the oil companies are fleecing us, and don’t care that they are literally burning through the last reserves of fossil fuel available on the planet. This half truth is one of the few connections to the real world Moore makes on his journey. While they may or may not be ‘fleecing’ us, it is not them, but us, who are burning through the world’s oil. And why shouldn’t we? The faster it’s used the faster we get clean energy! People won’t go out of their way to replace something that is already available. And don’t make the mistake of believing that people could harm the earth beyond repair. It’s a common fallacy for the Liberal to assume that ‘Mother Nature’ needs our help. In reality, it’s the opposite. That reality, in fact, is why I find it hard to agree with most of the suggestions Moore presents in this piece.

His first ‘suggestion’ -- he calls them suggestions; in reality they are actually regurgitated Liberal straw man talking points -- I've touched on already, and his second I agree with. The U.S. cannot survive with a service industry economy alone. We need people making things, putting objects into the economy that will encourage our people to work and spend. That’s the basic tenant of a functioning economy. But, ignoring the basic tenants of everything, i.e. common sense, seems to be Moore’s strong point, and the evidence lies in the rest of his post.

Points three thru six are the same pie in the sky disproven ideas of the type that Liberals love to talk up to rally their supporters. This one in particular, mass transit, is a once and future failure. Time and time again, advocates of bullet trains and mass transit serve up the example of Japan and Europe as a success story for the U.S. to emulate. Never mind the fact that no one will choose a 17 hour train ride over a four hour flight. Moore only makes a passing remark to address the fact that no one wants to use public transportation in his 6th suggestion with this gem: “It will take a few years for people to get used to the new way to transport ourselves…” Mr. Moore, people have had the option of public transportation for more than “a few years,” and it is certainly not “new.” Trains and buses have been available for as long as the car. Again and again, people vote with their dollars for the car. Even in large metro areas like New York, people vote for cars every time they hail a taxi. If you really cared about this nation, and had any understanding of technology, you would realize that the future isn’t mass transit, but individual transit. Autonomous vehicles, powered by the highway grid they travel, which gets its energy from wind, water, solar and nuclear sources. In other words, if you are going to dream; dream forward, not in reverse.

His 7th suggestion is forward, convert those unused factories, and new government workers into a green-energy production workforce. Well, sort of forward. At least it’s an idea – and idea the new owners of GM should seriously consider. And with that, there is no more forward thinking for Mr. Moore, and no insight used to parrot his last two points: Create a tax, and give the proceeds to those willing to do as their told. His example, a two-dollar tax on gasoline. Collect and give that tax revenue to people who retrofit their houses to be more energy efficient. I can’t help but laugh at this idea when I see where our fuel tax ends up in California, or the Social Security tax ends up nationally. And retrofitting? It’s cheaper to bulldoze a house and rebuild it from the ground up with the right technology than it is to retrofit it. But really, with his party in power, why should Mr. Moore base his ideas in reality?

Because reality is what the Democrat party hopes to destroy. For example, what happens if every home in the country goes ‘off-the-grid’? (Which isn’t possible, by the way.) If it were possible, and it did happen, the party of Mr. Moore would be called upon to bail out the energy companies. Can you imagine what would happen in that scenario? Don’t worry, you won’t have to, this is reality, right?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kindle, Free Economy, and how they are connected.

It may be old news now, but because I was looking for "thirtysomething" on DVD, I've been exposed to Amazon's capitulation to the publishers by removing "text to speech" from some books that have already been purchased. While I imagine that this is covered in some obscure "License Agreement" I still thing it's crap.
[Texas: EULA -PDF File-] Here, a Texas court decided that when you click "I accept" in a terms of service that you should have to click "I accept" again if changes are made to that service.
For example: If your ISP decides that they are going to start selling your data to third parties, the fact that the original EULA says "You consent to any changes" is complete crap.
I wonder if Amazon's EULA for the Kindle would hold up to this kind of scrutiny?
But, that's only part of the story. In the end it comes down to the fear of the free economy.
When the publishers complained to Amazon about the Text-To-Speech function of the Kindle, it opened up a huge can of bees.
1. Amazon had to decided if they were going to fight the suggestion that having an inanimate object speak words in a poor imitation of a human voice was going to provide them with a win. If Amazon had fought, they surely would have won, but at what cost?
2. While fighting, Amazon could have been subject to fines, or sanctions that forced them to disable the Text-to-speech in every one of their books. (As it stands, publishers can opt-out. And it seems that many, many of them are.)
3. While fighting, many publishers would refuse to offer their books in Kindle format, citing the short-sighted and obtuse objection that having a robot read a book is piracy.
In the end, even if Amazon won the legal battle the publishers would come to see Amazon's Kindle as an aggressor, and move to products such as Sony's reader.
As far as that goes, I can see the boardroom where this decision was made. Presented with the option of losing publishers, and a huge amount of revenue, or not really loosing any revenue to people who have already bought a Kindle... Well, I think we could all see where that choice would naturally go, I'm sad to say.
How does this apply to the Free Market? Kindle owners are rabid, jealous, cutting-edge, techno-nerds. They are the ones that will sell this product to the mainstream. And if the mainstream catches wind of something like this and interprets it in the wrong way, the Kindle will fall apart as simply another product and company that has no other interest in mind but its own. And we already have enough of those.

Monday, April 6, 2009

more to come...

My last post was in June of 2008. That was shortly before I left for Iraq. I have returned to a new president, old promises, and plenty of the same Faking Normality that has plauged United States politcs in the past. I'm looking forward to reving this blog back up to speed. Actually, I'm looking forward to converting it into a media empire! Fingers crossed. If you're reading this, you will have a unique view from the ground up.

About Faking Normality

My photo
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.