Thursday, February 22, 2007

My first time with iTunes

On Monday, I bought from iTunes. I had to. I mean, it was a necessity. You see, I'm in the high school theatre group, and I'm serving as an aid to to the light and sound crew. Now, the play calls for a song called "The Skater's Waltz" by Emile Waldteufel. Carl told me that he couldn't install iTunes because of some Registry errors. (Nice job, Microsoft.)

Since I already had iTunes on my computer, I decided to fire up the iTunes Music Store. I hadn't ever purchased songs from iTunes before, so I had to create an Apple Account. I entered my e-mail address and details into the form (all in iTunes), and after getting my dad's credit card (with his permission, of course), I was ready to make my first purchase. The process was painless and easy.

After that, I found the version of "The Skater's Waltz" that I liked best (and trust me, there were plenty of versions). I clicked the Buy Song button, and a little confirmation window asked me if I was sure that I wanted this song. After confirming the purchase, the M4P file downloaded to my iTunes folder in a matter of seconds. But I wasn't done yet.

Since I had to send the song to Carl for its inclusion on the soundtrack CD that would be played whenever a song or sound effect was required. So I found a program called myFairTunes (0.5.8). myFairTunes automatically detected my purchased music, and converted it to MP3 with the help of iTunes' MP3 converter.

After all of that, I had an MP3 fit for use in the show. And our performance will have the song we need.

If Apple sold MP3s, I would buy them. But since they sell only songs with DRM attached, "The Skater's Waltz" will very likely be the only song I ever buy from iTunes.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What, no flux capacitor?

Today's blog post centers around two images, mainly because I had nothing else to post. My dad gave that e-mail to me after he got it, and I've kept it for five years in a paper preserving environment (i.e. my bulletin board).

I'm pretty sure that you won't get anything if you e-mail, which is why I left the sender's address in. My dad's e-mail is pixelated, so as to preserve his privacy. The guy's "alternate e-mail" is also pixelated for his privacy, but I didn't pixelate the portion for nostalgia's sake.

I'm not sure whether the message was sent by a prankster or a guy who really thought that he could travel back in time. Perhaps he was simply smoking too many "blue moon crystals."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Beta software - oh, how unfinished you are. More refined than alpha, but less stable than gold. Beta software means different things to different people, depending on who you ask. To programmers, beta means "developers only." To Google, beta means a service that is fully functional but unfinished. To gamers, beta is PC games 1.0 - Game developers frequently ship games with flaws that will be ironed out later.

I was playing Warcraft 3 online the other day. There's a cool features for custom maps - single-map campaigns with objectives outside the standard army-building format. The other day, I saw in the menu a beta version of Smash TV. Since I had played Smash TV as it was recreated in Starcraft, I jumped at the opportunity to play this game - even though it was still in beta.

I found an available player slot, where I found several other players and the game developer, who was hosting the map. I discovered a like-minded individual, who had decided that if nobody else would make a Smash TV for Warcraft 3, he would. Unfortunately, when we started the game, the developer noticed that there were no enemies to kill, thereby making victory or defeat impossible, and he realized that the game would need to be revised to fix that. The game ended, and all the players left.

Another time, I found a beta tower defense game. A tower defense game, to all you non-gamers, is a game where the object is to build attacking powers in a maze-like fashion to prevent enemy units from reaching their destination. Anyways, unlike the game of Smash TV, we unsuspecting players found the beta to be an interesting experience. Much of the game was unbalanced in the player's favor, although there were a few instances where the enemy units were too resilient. The game ended 3/4 of the way through, when one of the levels wouldn't start at all. And despite the debug commands the game dev put into the game, there was nothing to do but say good-bye and clear out.

Game developers, I salute you.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sony PlayStation 3 Revisited

If you haven't noticed, I've been subjective about the PS3 before I started writing for this blog. When in May of 2006 Sony announced that the premium (read: only version anyone would ever consider of the ) PS3 would cost $600, I was pissed. The PS2 is a fine console and by now damn cheap, too. Sony has fumbled with the PS# since the beginning, and they've been arrogant about it to boot.

Sony assumed that people would not care about the exorbitant price tag - relying almost solely on brand name, just like I assumed - and buy the next version of a video game console. Sony's downfall came when they tried to push the PS3 as a media platform as well as a video game console. Here's the golden rule: If it plays video games, people will know it as a video game console. It plays Blu-Ray movies and MP3s? Consumers will still recognize it as a video game console. The Xbox 360? Yeah, it plays media, but if will forever be known as a video game console for consumers.

Sony pissed me off by figuring the cost of a Blu-ray disc player into the PS3, thus raising the price. Not only do I not want to spend $600 on a video game console, but I also have no interest in either of the high-def movie disc formats.

The market actually surprised me. The PS3 craze lasted only a week after the PS3's American launch, and then the whole franchise promptly imploded. When SCEA (Sony Computer Entertainment America) President Jack Tretton promised $1200 to anyone who could find a PS3 on store shelves, the writers of webcomic Penny Arcade found $13200 worth of merchandise in less than an hour. Simply put, PS3s aren't exactly flying off the shelves.

For the best market indicator, we turn to eBay. At the time of this writing, there are 1043 PS3 systems being sold - 98 Used. Two months ago, there ere 10 thousand such auctions. Many Playstation 3 consoles were selling for over $700. At this point, on the other hand, you're hard pressed to find a PS3 selling without a bundle for more than $600 - with games and controllers, $750 at most.

The scalping supply for PS3s is shrinking. Right now, there are 1886 Wii systems for sale on eBay - nine-fifths of the number of PS3s. In a month or two,practically no one will be selling PS3s as they're being sold. We will no longer see the majority of PS3s sold in mint condition. The PS3 seller will turn into a consumer who has finished using his or her console and now wishes to sell it. I'm not going to say that the PlayStation 3 has reached market saturation, but the supply curve is shifting downward; since all PS3s are the same, that means the price is declining, as well.

Sony has managed things very badly. They've completely misjudged the market. Even the future doesn't look bright. You know why? At this very moment, Nintendo Wiis are flying off the shelves. And with those Wiis are games. And when a consumer spends hundreds of dollars on the video game system, the chance of buying an additional console is minuscule - especially when the marginal cost of that second console is over twice what you paid for the first. Couple that with a low penetration of high-def television sets - necessary to fully enjoy the PlayStation 3's capabilities, and you have yourself a quagmire. Sony is taking a hit that will stay with them for years to come.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

User Account Control

A new security feature in Microsoft Windows Vista is User Account Control, a mechanism that confirms actions that affect the operating system. Microsoft has been criticized for the implementation of this feature. I'm laughing on the inside.

you know why the situation is ironic? Normally Microsoft is criticized for implementing too little security. The tables have turned. Now Microsoft is being criticized for implementing too much.

What's the problem with added security, you might ask? (If you are familiar with the situation, you aren't asking this question.) Well, imagine this situation:

I. Put. A. Period. After. Every. Single. Word. In. This. Sentence. And. I. Make. You. Pause. After. Every. Single. One.

You'd want to punch me in the face for writing my blog like that, right? (Fortunately, currently there is no device that allows people to punch me in the face over the Internet, so I feel safe for the time being.) Well, I don't blame you. I'd punch myself in the face, too. (If I fought back, who would be the winner?)

This is like airport security: No liquids! That's too much security you've got there, Mr. Gates. It's not the wrong kind of security: If programs are making changes to the root of your OS, you'd sure as hell want to be notified beforehand! But it's too much.

For a very funny rendering of this situation (and, from various accounts by Vista users, very accurate), click here:

Quicktime video from Apple's Get A Mac marketing campaign

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Man is censoring me, or something (I better get my tin foil hat)

Just a note. I finally discovered that I can change the date and time of my posts. Oh, the things you learn when you actually look for the answers.

On Friday, my English class went to the school computer lab to work on research for a persuasive essay. The computer lab consists of approximately 35 or 40 computers running Windows 2000. But who can blame school districts for saving money?

Before I go on, I'd like to talk fondly about breaking Windows 2000 security features. Windows 2000 is more insecure than you think. Although admins can block access to certain drives and folders in Win2000 Professional, it doesn't work as well as it should. At my high school, the C:\ drive, which stores program info, is blocked. The block can easily be bypassed by creating a shortcut. This enables users to install everything from Mozilla Firefox to MapleStory, instances of which have remained on the network for months. The only limitation is that software installed can be accessed only on the computer on which it was installed.

And so now I will relate to you the wonders of bureaucracy. By the end of the period, I had compiled a list of worthwhile weeks that I needed to save. I went to my favorite online word processor, Google Docs, with the intention of creating a document full of links. To my surprise, I was greeted with the WebSense warning that the website I was attempting to access was deemed inappropriate under the category "Personal File Storage and Backup" or something of the same nature. Harrumph! I tried to outsmart the filter by going to (now transformed into Google Docs); such an effort was held at bay with the same WebSense Enterprise warning.

Frustrated, I did the only thing I could do: Beat the system with irony. And when you're battling WebSense, you need lots and lots of irony. I went to Zoho Writer, another online word processor with whom I had an account, and as expected, this time WebSense was nowhere in sight. Oh, the irony - the delicious, tragicomic irony. I created a new document and saved the links just as the bell rang, and I made it in time for my next class.

A couple periods later, when I again had to use the computer lab for an individual assignment. It was by chance, I suppose, that not only did I get access twice in one day, but both system administrators were in the same room, as well as one of my friends, who had the same problem as I. I approached the admins, having no time restraints on my assignment, and told them that I believed that WebSense was unnecessarily blocking a useful website. I told them about the situation, and my friend chimed in. They checked the site and found the situation I had detailed.

Next, the real kicker came: They couldn't change anything, because the district was in charge of the filter, and the district had chosen to add a bunch of new websites to to the blacklist that very day. You can just imagine me jumping for joy at learning about the tangled web of bureaucrats.

Naturally, I will have no trouble getting around the useless filter by going to a site that does the same thing as Google Docs - until the filter is removed, but there's little chance of the district actually doing anything useful. The irony is that only one online word processor was touched. Just Google Docs. I suppose it must be evil, and everyone is at risk of contagion when people use it. Or something like that. Come to think of it, I can't imagine a situation where the school district has ever proved to be good at much of anything. Did you know that Arizona is next to last when it comes to spending on public education per student? Just one of the nifty things I learned growing up.

Arizona: Come for the warm weather, stay for the... erm... um... warm weather, I guess

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Worst. Hiatus. Ever.

Well, I've decided that I'm going to take baby steps. I've decided that I want to focus on the Internet. (Wow, what a commitment.) I'm going to not mention anything that didn't happen on the Internet or anything that doesn't have to do with the Internet. (Really creative, huh?) Any mentions of real life will be practically unintentional. So that means I'm not going to talk about politics. (Unless it's Internet politics.) I'm going to show you just how much of a nerd I am. (I hope you're not worried.) By the way, you might've noticed that my most recent blog posts have been shorter and less informative. That's because I've had the nasty habit of writing blog posts in fifteen minutes and publishing a short time later, because I was basically forcing myself to write. I'm not going to do that anymore. I will still try to publish at least thrice a week, but I won't be pushing myself to the point where quality suffers.

So, guess what? Muslix64 has cracked both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. Cue the obligatory laugh from Nelson. This sentence is here so that I can quote Wikipedia for the third time in three sentences.

Isn't that funny? AACS is this super-advanced content protection system - two legs up from DVD encryption, which was found to literally be comprised of a few bits, which is pretty weak - and some guy discovers a workaround in eight days. Imagine if it takes you a decade to write this really intricate that's bound to win a Hugo or two, and then some reader discovers this big plot hole in the first chapter of three hundred and you no longer have any credibility. This is only kinda sorta like that. You might be able to fix the hole in later publications (if there are any), but for the present you're screwed. So after bypassing HD-DVD encryption, as an encore Muslix64 went on to bypass Blu-Ray technology.

So you'd expect HD-DVD movie rips to spread across the BitTorrent trackers like wildfire, right? Well, no. For one thing, a high def movie file can be as large as 20 GB. Considering that most hard drives are 200 to 300 GB, no one will be downloading very many HD movie rips. Then there's the fact that most people have Internet connections that don't exceed 11 Mbps - Megabits per second, equivalent to ~1.4 Megabytes per second. Consider that one Gigabyte is 1024 Megabytes. If you were to download a 20 GB - 20,480 Megabytes - file without interruption at 11 Mbps - a speed that few consumers ever experience - it would take you at least five hours (under optimal conditions). And would the quality really be that much better than a 700MB DVD rip? Not enough.

While the AACS bypass won't matter much now, look to the future, let's say five years, in 2012. Imagine that Blu-Ray is, or HD-DVD is, or both are, the dominant high-def video disc formats. One in two Americans has a high def movie player in his or her home. Internet Service Providers - don't forget the Internet - are now offering cheap service packages that are commonly 20 Mbps or even 40 Mbps. (I really think that kind of service will come to America, when in Japan consumers can have packages as fast as 100 Mbps.) At 40 Mbps, or 5 MBps, it'll take you less than three hours (again, under optimal conditions) to download 20 GB. You know what will happen then? The movie industry will, once again, be very concerned about piracy.

In the end, the movie industry will not trounce movie pirates. The Motion Picture Association of America has failed miserably at fighting movie piracy. Content producers will again and again try to combat piracy, but to no avail. There is no perfect defense. Devoted pirates will only find the weak points harder to find, but eventually they will be found. That is a matter of fact. It has been proven through the failure of DVD encryption and AACS encryption. It should be noted that a fix to the current AACS problem is eventual - I should be surprised if it does not come. But that fix will, in the end, be bypassed as well.

Content producers are trying to fight an unwinnable battle against smarter foes. The only way to defeat piracy is to make it impractical. The content producers - the movie studios - will have to compete. The market will change, or the movie studios will lose out. As consumer Internet access becomes faster and home computers become more accessible and monitors show better picture, a market will emerge for watching high definition content. And when your choices for watching that content are using expensive video discs and hardware that requires complex encryption verification or a speedy download that requires only your time, the choice will be clear.

Of course, ask someone more knowledgeable than me. (I may be wrong.)

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blog entry #48

I originally started this blog with the philosophy that a person with something to say should say it. Take that last sentence, for example: I didn't beat around the bush or use a more subtle topic sentence; I came out and said it. Within this past week I have been lax about updating my blog. I won't make excuses for it. It wasn't because I didn't want to write or because I didn't feel like it. My silence stems (not from sibilance but) from a lack of motivation. Simply put, I didn't have anything to say.

I read Digg every day: Thanks to the persistence of bloggers and news junkies who share my interests, Digg has become my primary news site. (I'm not referring, of course, to the blatant FUD articles, the fanboy speculation, and the conspiracy whispers.) But let's face facts; most of the news that people hear about everyday is worthless in a week, and the more important issues are covered by bloggers more well versed, researched, and articulate than I. And then there are the lesser known bloggers, and then the lesser still. I must be a 20th tier blogger. I thank my returning visitors, a few whom I have, according to Blogging is like the music industry, in a way: Some work for decades and never get famous. Others get lucky and achieve fame and sometimes fortune. (Of course, then there are the astroturf bloggers who no one will take seriously in a few months, but like pop stars they don't count.) So I'm basically publishing in a field populated by professionals and veterans, and I doubt the CSS theme I designed myself will put me over them. To use a 4chan idiom, I'm pissing in an ocean of piss.

So I'm at a crossroads. I can struggle to write about topics in general, I can specialize in a certain topic, or I can stop blogging entirely. I'm not blogging about my personal life, because that is even more insignificant than my opinions, since I'm not a celebrity (and let's face it, when you're a movie star or other celebrity no one takes your opinions seriously). Is my blog the new Knights of Labor: Failing because I'm trying to accomplish too much? It's difficult for me, because I have no clear path to follow. Maintaining three to four posts a week is difficult when you have nothing to write about, and there's nothing I hate more than filler. I hate writing filler. You can't read Jules Verne without skipping the inanely boring paragraphs.

Social Darwinism will have its way with me, and that's all there is to it. I love writing, but if there's nothing to write then I'll have to move on. I don't know how this is going to end. In the meanwhile, please don't expect much productivity from me within the next few days while I weight my options. Will blog entry #48 by my last? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The operating system holy wars are getting ridiculous

Why does there have to be mudslinging in the world of computers? I mean, computers are basically tools. Your hammer and nails don't determine your identity, so why should your computer? Your brand of hammer in the long run is irrelevant. But when you get into operating systems, it's off to the world of religious wars!

"You use Windows? You're dumb/unenlightened/very patient."

"You use a Macintosh? You're a simpleton/enlightened/snobby."

"You use Linux? You're a genius/square/weirdo."

Seriously, am I the only one that believes that an argument like that is reserved for elementary school kids or children under ten? You are not your computer. You know why tech evangelists get on my nerves? Because the underlying message subtly says that the evangelist is right, and if you don't agree, you're not. Never mind if you have chosen your computer platform based on merit - such as usability and features. To the evangelist, it all comes down to whether or not you agree.

It goes back and forth on Digg. One day is ruled by the Linux evangelists, the next the Mac people, and the day after that the Windows disciples. Obviously the evangelists don't represent the majority of each user group. If that were true, I would opt not to read the Apple and Linux sections.

It boggles my mind how people can stay obsessed about this stuff. Each OS has its own advantages. Can't we at least establish that? You know what? I'm rambling. I have no idea where I'm going. But let me leave you with this: If you can't accept other people's opinions, get off the Internet.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I'm giving up on the Wii (for now)

Today I checked out Best Buy and Circuit City, to see if any Nintendo consoles were in stock, yet again. A few minutes before 10 A.M., I got to the big blue box store to find a line of 50 people - a line of kids, teens, adults, and elders that was, to my chagrin, still growing. I could tell from the demographics of the line that I would have virtually no chance of getting my hands on a Wii.

Circuit City was down the street, but the store had none - that is, for anyone to pick up and buy. If you wanted a Wii, you had to be there at 9 o'clock to get a voucher! I talked to a parent, who told me that to get a voucher you had to be in line by eight.

I briefly considered eBay. This standalone Wii sold for $353.53 + $29.99 shipping, for a grand total of $383.52. I could almost buy an Xbox 360 with that amount of money, and I could walk into any store for one, too. I just watched that auction end, too. (It's 11 A.M. here.)

There's not enough incentive for me to continually search for a Wii. There are only two games that appeal to me (Twilight Princess and Metal Slug Anthology), and neither of them have piqued my interest like, for instance, Assassin's Creed, and I won't need to pay $300 to play it when it comes out.

In fact, there are plenty of things I could buy with $300. I could buy an iPod, a Zune, a CD rack, 25 CDs from Amazon (I could get a special edition disc of Gulag Orkestar by Beirut for $18!), a new graphics tablet (My $30 pad works great), a new copy of SONAR 6 by Cakewalk (I could sure use AudioSnap for my music), a full year's subscription to World of Warcraft (not likely), a new cheap PC from Dell or HP (no chance of buying that), or even an external hard disk (I sure like parentheses). I could order any one of the above right now and have it in my hands a week or less from now. I don't even know when the next Wii restock will be, and who knows when I'll actually be able to go into a store and just buy one? I'm not the only one who's apparently having this trouble.

So you know what, Nintendo? Screw you. You should be doing a better job than this. Sony had a good excuse. Sony had screwed up everything else about the PS3 that it was natural that they would screw up hardware production. (In the Circuit City I was in, I found a demo PS3 that wouldn't respond to the controller. The background animation was still running, but nothing worked.) But, Nintendo, you were supposed to deliver four million units by January 1st, and you had the demand to sell that many - and yet you couldn't produce enough! I'm sick of having wasted a dozen hours or so driving around town and looking up rumors on forums.

It shouldn't be that hard to find a Wii!