Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bad Shepherd, Bad

Today I saw The Good Shepherd, a Robert De Niro film. It lasted two hours and one half, and I regret it. No movie has given me a headache except for this one. The plot is long-winded and shallow, the action unknown, and the characters only somewhat interesting. I never knew that Matt Damon could be so boring. By the end of the film, I was waiting for the moment of truth - the assassination of Damon's character. I literally was waiting for Matt Damon to die. I was waiting for some instance that would validate the two hours I had spent in my seat, but sadly none was offered. I can't even say for sure if the ending was happy or sad. It really doesn't matter.

The whole thing is a bomb. The actors apparently were trying to recreate that atmosphere of The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy - terse, untrustworthy, and delicate - but there was hardly any action at all. For a CIA movie, you'd think there'd be some substance there. Of course, betrayal played a role in the plot, but that's like eating steamed cabbage without any corned beef. It's categorically sludge. The whole thing has the consistency of dried cement - coincidentally where the movie should be buried.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam Hussein meets the Heat (not in Miami)

As of approximately two hours and forty minutes ago, Saddam Hussein is ceased. He has kicked the bucket, flown the coup, abandoned the chase, killed his last second, rolled down his sleeves, closed the book, finished using his body, inhabited Hell's hospital, departed for another world, caught the killing disease. He is scientifically and factually dead.

The bastard is finally dead. A scourge of humanity is snuffed out.

My family and I were watching The Producers on DVD (the original, starring the immortal Gene Wilder) when it is said to have taken place. I had fully expected the execution to take place on December 31st, as has been rumored, but it is appropriately ironic that Hussein died while I watched a comedy about Hitler.

I'm not going to be an armchair general and predict what will happen now that the witch is dead. I don't know, and I don't know enough to infer. The Bush administration is reconsidering their strategy. (At least it came about in a timely manner.) Categorically, right now we're losing the war, and I doubt that Saddam's death will hasten victory or defeat. Both Saddam and Bush lost the war. So who has won? Why, the insurgents have won. The terrorists have won.

But at least the bastard is finally dead.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Free market education

I'm in high school. I don't particularly enjoy it - Who does? But I don't like the way the schools are run, either. There's a fundamental problem that's ruining the schools of America: No choice.

Schools today are more segregated than they were 30 years ago. In an age where desegregation orders are in effect, you would think that people of different skin color, religion, and creed could actually congregate together. But the fact of the matter is that we are segregated. Not by government order or charter - but by our homes. We live where we can afford it. Children go to school based on where they live - the root cause. School districts are ruining schools. By funneling property taxes only into the schools of their respective districts, politicians are segregating our children and dividing us - the rich and the poor, two wholesomely separate groups kept wholesomely separate without any command.

If you were a parent, and the school closet to you was the worst in town, and you had a choice in where you sent your child, would you choose a different school? Of course you would? Would the worst school in town then try to shape up and get better teachers? Of course!

Now, some people will say that the disappearance of school districts would ruin schools. But what if public schools got funding for every child that decked their halls? (Private schools of course would be barred from this benefit.) Suddenly, things would change for the better. Parents would start to shop around. Feeling the pressure, principals and administrators would find the best teachers possible, so that their school would the highest scores on the AP U.S. History test! Facilities would improve, and better materials would be bought - all in the name of competition.

If there's no competition among schools, the losers are the kids. By locking children into government-mandated natural monopolies, the school districts are lazy, bloated, and slow. Breaking these bonds would force schools to improve - or else. The No Child Left Behind Act cannot improve schools by requiring education institutions to meet and beat arbitrary standards. That doesn't accelerate the motivation to improve; goals like that simply change the material taught in the classroom by shifting the focus onto memorization skills and subjects the tests pinpoint. Teaching to the test is not an improvement in education!

So what can we do? Push school districts into the free market. Redistribute property taxes so that the funds are divided according to student population. Survival of the fittest won't kill schools; it will make them leaner, stronger, and healthier.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Physical media

I own 46 CDs. I have reviewed 43 additional albums. I own 0 songs - none from iTunes, none from Yahoo!, none from MSN. That's zero, zip. I may have grown up with the Internet, but I will not give up CDs for files on an operating system. No way, no how. Physical discs have too much value for me to abandon them in the name of technological advancement.

And in an age when I can pick and choose which songs I want to buy, there's just one problem: I wouldn't actually own the songs I would buy. For some reason, I would only have a license to those songs - like I need permission to listen to the music I buy! Who calls me villain? Ha!

I will never buy music with embedded digital rights management (DRM). It's never gonna happen. Not any time in the next century. The music stores would have to give me a damned good reason to do that, and I just can't see it happening. There's one huge problem with DRM: It removes incentive, instead of creating it. In the next few minutes, I could begin downloading music from dozens of sources: Some legal, some infringing copyright in the process, but all quickly available. And when I can download unrestricted music at no monetary cost, there is no good reason to pay for an item of lesser value. I ask: What value does DRM add? Presently, none. DRM allows me no incentive to purchase the files it locks down - DRM says I don't own what I buy; I am buying a license, a permit that can be revoked or denied to me at any motion.

Other consumers will purchase DRM-laden music for one of several reasons: They are not concerned about the limitations; they are not aware of the limitations; it's cheap; they cannot choose an alternative. Any of these reasons are possible. I may be an audiophile, but I am not gullible: I will not degauss my CDs, I will not pay $500 for a wooden volume knob, and I will not pay for a license when I could find music of better resolution for free. I am perfectly aware of programs that will strip the DRM from iTunes files or licensed WMA files, but I still cannot do it - I would be upholding the very statutes I have thoroughly come to loathe.

But of the MP3 stores? Audio Lunchbox or eMusic? Jamendo? I have not used their services, either. I'm just not interested in those stores. I don't support them, because I have no incentive to; I am not out to spite DRM. I simply will not purchase it.

My CDs have the most value to me. They take up space; they are real. They are not a bunch of files in a box. They are discs, with packaging and additional material. I need no license for them. I don't care if the entire world stops buying CDs; any music I purchase will be on a CD.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I tried Ubuntu

On Friday, I tried Ubuntu - "tried" being the key word. I downloaded the v6.10 ISO file, burned it to CD, and booted from it, but each time I tried to use it live I would see nothing but an I/O error message and a line telling me that Disk Error 10 had occurred.

I supposed that the CD hadn't been burned properly, or there was some damage on it, so I burned a new CD today, and I booted from it. This time, great success!

I waited a few minutes as the desktop was loaded from the CD, and upon completion I was gazing upon the maroon-tan-greenish desktop. I noticed that the right edge of the desktop exceeded my LCD monitor, but I was barely concerned. I browsed to the Applications menu and ran through the list of programs available to me - not too shabby! There was even a sizable list of games. I tried solitaire briefly, a bit dissatisfied with the blurry graphics. I realized that the screen resolution was too small!

I navigated to the Preferences/Administration menu and found the Device Manager. Yes, Ubuntu recognized my ATI Radeon card. So I went to the Screen Resolution setting, and lo and behold, the only resolutions available to me were "800 x 600" and "640 x 480". Huh? Well, I'd heard that ATI didn't have the best driver support in Linux, so I opened up Firefox from the top taskbar so I could find the cause of my trouble.

Well, Firefox looked just like it did on Windows (except a bit greener), and I typed "" into the navigation bar, so I could record my exploits on my blog. That was a great time to find out that I wasn't connected to the Internet!

The Device Manager told me that Ubuntu knew the model of my PCI wireless network adapter, so I tried to open up a wireless connection. Unlike Windows, Ubuntu doesn't have any way to search for wireless networks. If I wanted to connect to the network, I needed to know the network name. (Unfortunately, I forgot it.)

At this point, I decided that I would not attempt to use Ubuntu for any prolonged period of time, but instead just see what I could do with the system.

I opened up the Examples folder on my desktop, to see what the Ubuntu team wanted to tell me. I opened up the Ubuntu welcome video, only to discover that I could hear nothing - and I knew my Altec Lansings weren't deaf. I went to the Sound configuration window, but Ubuntu didn't recognize my Creative PCI card - only my Realtek chip that came on the motherboard. using the Volume Manager, I tried switching back and forth between the sound sources available to me (none of which were recognized as being a Creative card) and making sure that nothing was muted, but I could hear nothing, even when playing the sax recording.

I was not pleased wit my first fifteen minutes of Ubuntu. I couldn't change to a higher resolution, Ubuntu couldn't search for nearby wireless networks (which is more a lack of a feature than it is a fault), and Ubuntu wouldn't recognize my Creative sound card. The bright side was that it was all painless. Ubuntu is fast. I mean, faster than the time it takes Donald Trump to sound like a pompous ass. If only Ubuntu were more co-operative with my hardware, I might just be tempted to use it again.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

An Ode to Christmas (shopping season)

Tomorrow, at approximately 6 A.M . (6:30, perhaps, but if it's 7, then you're really pushing it), Christmas shopping season will end. Oh, to which aspects of life, accepted into daily life, will we bid farewell?

Let me say goodbye to...

...The endless traffic. Tucson, Arizona is quite the popular spot for snowbirds. So, not only are the streets - all of which are a lane or two too skinny - packed with the locals, but all the idiot drivers from the Midwest and the East are clogging our roads.

...The lines. Oh, joy. There's nothing like going out to breakfast, seeing a line going out the door, and discovering that the waiting time is half an hour. This is besides the lines in the stores, which are longer than the distance between San Deigo and Los Angeles. Again, this is the fault of the snowbirds - especially the old people. The old people really come out of the woodwork when Father Christmas rears his bearded head. Why don't I just say good bye to them? Yes, I shall.

...The old people. You don't know how to drive, you occupy all our restaurants, and the only thing you're good for is pumping cash into our winter tourist destinations until the Gem Show comes to town and really show us the money. Please, buy your grandchildren gifts in our town, but for God's sake don't go outside to do it.

...The transportation department. Honestly, you are the most retarded people to ever walk the face of the Earth, and you all work for the city of Tucson. The traffic lights are badly synchronized, and you obviously have no idea how to handle the high influx of tourists that arrive annually but nevertheless manage to befuddle you every single time.

...The War on Christmas. Bill O'Reilly spared us this year by barely mentioning it (Maybe Billo realized that he'd look more intelligent if he didn't get so angry over such an inconsequential item), but that didn't stop a number of newspaper articles that debated the ultimate fight - Happy Holidays vs. Marry Christmas. Honestly, I'd rather study a fight like Mr. T vs. Chocolate Chip Cookies.

...Christmas stores. Not that they concerned me - They capture my interest just as much as the Halloween stores do. (Try to guess how much that is!)

...Pie. Come tomorrow, all the pies will be gone from stores and bakeries everywhere. Of course, all the pie will come back on Boxing Day, but as we say goodbye to Christmas shopping season, we say goodbye to pie reservations.

...Christmas muzak. I don't care about Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby or Gallagher or whoever sings those Christmas songs. Frankly, as long as the lyrics don't say, "Accept Jesus or burn in Hell," I'm not very concerned.

...Christmas specials on The History Channel. Who cares?

...Doorbusters and whatnot. Congratulations, retail of America, for waking up many of our country's citizens at four or five in the morning to get 90% off deals, or something like that.

...PS3 shortages. This doesn't have much to do with Christmas, however. Many people now believe that the PS3 has reached market saturation. I think it's a bit too early to tell for sure, and I'm sure we'll see PS3 enthusiasts who were trying to avoid the long holiday lines coming out and buying those big black beauties.

...Mall Santas. This is the only time of the year when we've needed them.

...Christmas shopping season. You know, I thought it traditionally started the day after Thanksgiving, but this year I saw Christmas ads popping up as early as Halloween. Does it really take you two months to shop for gifts for your friends and family?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Some Linux users are just too good for me, I suppose

Thanks to Digg, I happened to stumble across this analysis of why Linux is not Windows, at the blog OneAndOneIs2, by Dominic Humphries. By all means, "Linux != Windows", the blog entry I am trying to dispel, is quite long. I didn't attempt this task on a whim, but I believe that "Linux != Windows" was very wrong for several different reasons, and as such I decided that I would use my blog to do what I like to do most when it comes to blogging, speak my mind. This blog entry is divided into sections, according to each "problem" that divides each component of the opinion I am refuting. This essay relies heavily on the original article, so I suggest you read that first. At any rate, I shall proceed.

Point 1. How is it impossible to expect Linux to be better than Windows and have the same features? Isn't that called an upgrade? Doesn't that imply that improvements have been made upon central concepts? Claiming that Linux cannot be like Windows and better than it is like claiming that Windows Vista could not possibly exist, because it's Windows XP, but better. Mr. Humphries is missing the point of Windows users who try Linux. Those users want an upgraded Windows; they're not looking for something exactly the same. If those users wanted an operating system that's exactly the same and Windows, why not choose Windows in the first place?

Firefox succeeded not because it was different, but because Firefox built off of IE and had better, upgraded features. Just look at FF2 and IE7: For the most part, the GUI is the same! You navigate to different websites by typing the URL into the navigation bar and press Enter or click Go; you navigate through your window/tab history by using the Backward and Forward tabs; you save websites by putting their paths in bookmarks. Is the Find function an ability that Firefox devs invented? Of course not! Its presence in the bottom of the browser is (you may disagree) and improvement, an upgrade! It's not superior because it's different; it's superior because it has better functionality! Better != different! Sites like exist because changes to software made the new versions worse! Firefox's features, when IE6 was competing with Firefox, were better than those in IE because they were easier to use and faster to use! If Firefox changed the default language to Swahili, would that make it better than IE? But Mr. Humphries' reason, yes, because it's different. Again, if users were looking for a copy of IE, they would just use IE! I myself switched to Firefox, because I heard that Firefox had better features, not because it was different. Firefox was similar enough in use to IE that I had no trouble adapting to it.

Point 2. This section is quite misleading. It asks whether or not there's really any big difference in the differences in Linux distributions and then compares Linux to a car: If you can drive one car, you can drive them all!

But you see, the difference in choices is more complicated than that. When you want airbags in your car, you don't choose between "Baag," "Baglite," "Big Bag," or "Sfebag" type airbags, all of which do the same thing but conform to standards that ordinary (most) people won't understand. When you have lots of choices in interfaces, file managers, desktops, and even window managers, people who just want to use a computer will be confused when presented with a choice. If you have to explain all of the intricacies of an operating system to someone who just wants to get work done, chances are that person will give up and move to what he or she is used to - Windows XP, which comes in the consumer-friendly name differentiations of "Home" and "Professional." When your operating system has dozens, if not hundreds, of minute differentiations without any clear advantage in any, that is one example of too many choices. When you have so many choices for both underlying and trivial options, you have to do one of two things, or a combination: Differentiate, or consolidate. Give the user reasons to choose, not options; most people just want to get their work done! Give the people the means to the ends, not the means to the endless! The problem is that there are too many choices there they don't need to be.

Ah, and here we come to desktop Linux. Let me admit that I am an experienced Windows user, and I believe that Linux is not ready for the desktop. But remember, correlation does not equal causation. I have considered switching to Linux, as I've mentioned in my last blog entry. (I'm not going to rehash it, for the most part.) Mr. Humphries is ignoring the big reason that Linux is not ready for Dell and blaming the whole thing on Windows junkies. Honestly, if it was only our fault, why is Linux so slow in moving onto the computers of the masses? We're not getting in your way!

Or is it because of the work ethic involved: You might have to adjust Linux to get it working, and if you need help you have to go to some forum. That's just the problem: The masses want to use their computers, not work with them. I worked with MS-DOS and had no trouble using at after I learned the commands. I'm not rigid to one set of controls, and I have no doubt that a beginning computer user who works with Linux will have little trouble learning what buttons to press. But what if something isn't working? What if you can't find something? The average person doesn't even care about what the problem is! People just want to fix it and go - wham bam, thank you, ma'am. That leads me to...

Point 3a. I'm not panning forums. Forums are great. I've used a great many forums!

You're not going to endear many Linux switchers by telling them that they have to get used to tech support from a loose organization of volunteers. When I search 'Windows help' in Google, I get Microsoft's support site; when I search 'Linux help,' I not only get Linux Questions, but LinuxSelfHelp, Linux Online,,, and JustLinux, just to name a few. These websites may be comprised of fine, fine people; I don't know. But what I do know is that with Windows, you know who to ask: The guys that make it. Coincidentally, the guys that made it also have a website for it! Linux is like Windows in that regard, ironically: The guys that made it also have a website for it - and thousands of people made it! The problem is that there is too much choice where there shouldn't be.

And is it just me, or is Mr. Humphries criticizing Windows users because most users only use software after it's stable? Sorry to rain on your parade, but that simply is not going to fly for most people, except for the most hardened Linux veterans or the peopel actually working on the program. Let me give you an example: Songbird. Songbird is at release version 0.2.1. It's barely usable. (I've tried it myself.) But when the media library fails to comprehend my Weird Al library because the metadata has quotation marks (among other random quirks), it's NOT ready for use. Should I apologize for expecting my programs to work when I run them? I run my programs to get something done, and I'm not about to compromise my productivity for "new" software. I have standards: I shouldn't need to fool around with software to get it to work. Only in the world of Linux is that expected!

Furthermore, Mr. Humphries criticizes Linux switchers for expecting their software to be polished to a grade as high as Windows. Remember that they "don't owe you anything?" For God's sake, Linux is competing against Windows! Like it or not, Linux is trying to compete in the same market in which Windows operates. They're trying to convert people to this OS, and they're complaining that people expect it to be good? That's their own damn fault! They shouldn't cry that it's impossible them you to deal with, because those Linux heads got themselves into it! They're trying to compete against an OS with 95% of the market share, and they expect to wow people by not providing comprehensive, easy service and telling users to find the answers for themselves? Some call me a waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahmbulance! I'm crying my eyes out that those poor Linux devs are overworked and paid nothing. Hey, they chose to do what they do; programming is not a task that can be performed by the unskilled, and managing programmers isn't, either. If you have a product to sell, the free market doesn't care about how much work you put into it: Only the quality of its mettle. Root, hog, or die.

Point 3b. It is in fact more elitist to say, "Everybody knows this," than, "Everybody ought to know this." According to Mr. Humphries, everyone who has never used Linux before is a novice. Let me build on that an offer a parable:

Imagine, if you will, a Beginning French class. None of the students before have ever taken French in their lives; they don't even know the alphabet or the diacritic marks. So one of the students raises his hand and asks about the alphabet. The teacher shrugs it off, replies that the alphabet is something everyone knows, and goes on.

In that example, it sure sounds like the teacher telling the student that he ought to know that would be the same thing as saying everybody knows that.

The difference is that telling someone that they ought to know something places emphasis on what is not learned and that it is in fact crucial. That phrases places emphasis on the fact, not the person. Would it be elitist for a French teacher to tell the students what they ought to know in order to prepare for the test?

By contrast, telling someone, "Everybody knows that!" puts the emphasis on the person. Saying that assumes that the person who is hearing it is a Have Not in a world of Haves. Claiming that everybody knows something - and you don't - puts you at a lower level. There's no emphasis on even learning what is unknown. If you don't know it, then you're sunk.

And now I get to talk about the Lego metaphor. It's completely wrong. When you download a distribution of Linux (especially a desktop distribution), you get an environment that is set up for you - just like a Windows installation. That's not like getting a Lego set at all! I honestly don't know of a right metaphor, but this one is completely irrational. If you're comparing Linux to Windows, then the only difference is that the Linux toy car comes with the tools to take it apart, build, find, or purchase extensions, and customize it how you like, while the Windows care comes with a paint set. I absolutely hated this section of "Linux != Windows". Linux doesn't come broken up into many different pieces. Would you really compare downloading programs to a Lego car? If so, then Windows would also be a Lego car! Besides, the focus of Linux should be the focus of any other operating system - providing a platform for getting things done. Emphasizing how much you can take apart only skims the purpose of an operating system's usefulness. What is the worth of Linux if its only purpose is to be taken apart and put back together again?

Just because you use open source software doesn't mean you want to open up the code and spill its guts. Though I may use Mozzila Thunderird, Mozilla Firefox, StepMania, and Foobar2000, I really don't care about how they work. Generally, software being open source is just an added bonus, not an important feature.

Point 4. This is just another attempt to brush off the users who simply want to get things done, by claiming that the software was created for a difference target audience.

Now, obviously there is nothing wrong with designing tools for programmers; I find no faults with developing an efficient IDE, for instance.

But when you don't tell the beginning users what is most efficient for them, that's your fault. Face it; people who just want to get work done just want to know how to do it in the quickest way possible. Even if you have just developed the most powerful text editor on Earth, there's no way you should advertise it to a person with the goal of expediency if it takes a few hours to learn. Chances are, Vi is one of those programs. It may certainly be an excellent program, but give the novices something like OpenOffice if they just want to type a list or two! Don't you think you're missing the mark if you're trying to sell a newbie on a program so complex that it requires special effort to close it?

Point 5. Look, is it too hard to write a program that has both keyboard shortcuts and menus? I definitely see the point here: Different users have different needs. Once you know the shortcuts, any other way is painfully long. So, I have to disagree on this point, but I totally respect where the opinion is coming from. My version of "user-friendly" says, "Programmed to be usable by those familiar with simple commands and by others who can understand non-obvious shortcuts."

Point 5a. While Point 5 is respectable, its folow-up is less so. While Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V are non-intuitive, they are very efficient. All you need to cut and paste are only but a couple keystrokes away, and the only finger you need to shift is your index finger.

So what does d5w offer? That's just as non-intuitive as Ctrl-X or Ctrl-V to the uninformed. But when you get to know either keystroke combination, that combination becomes familiar and efficient. To the uninformed, d5w doesn't look like much at all. But if you've worked with it before, of course you'll know what it is!

Point 5b. I liked reading the first half of this section, and it all goes downhill from there.

Dominic Humphries is complaining that coding menus takes time. Well of course it does. But if you can't compete with the market, that's your own problem.

Secondly, how is MS Word inferior to Vi and Emacs, because the latter are used for coding? Here's a reality check: MS Word wasn't designed for programming. It was designed for word processing! If you want programming, use an IDE! For God's sake, MS Word is not inferior to Vi or Emacs because they're aimed at different audiences! Is there a joke that I missed, due to lacking a sense of humor? If not, then I can hardly believe the nonsense that I just read.

And again comes up the issue of appealing to the masses. Believe it or not, it's more efficient for some people to just click on what they want instead of learning commands. If you're not going to develop frontends for the programs you're putting into Linux, you're going to have lots of users who will find Linux to be a complete waste of time.

Point 6. This whole portion of the article is one great straw man argument. I don't know how anyone in their right mind would believe that Linux is copying Windows for developing a GUI. What is Point 6 trying to prove?

Point 7. It's this last category that makes this article worth debunking. This "problem" demonstrates arrogance to the highest degree possible. To the common user, it's the middle finger. it's like saying, "Screw you and your little dog, too," to everyone not fortune enough to be in the know. Here, let me sum up "problem 7":

We don't care about you or your needs, and if you don't know what we know, then you're not worth our time.

What a callous choice of words for a community so intent on convincing people that Linux is better. I suppose all those people on Digg who relate tales of switching and never looking back are fringe radicals, hm?

What is so supremely ironic is that Humphries claims that the goal of Linux is to create the best operating system ever. But if you don't accept feedback, how is it going to be usable?

This point is the gotcha clause. The excuse clause. It makes Linux sound like a colossal waste of time to the whole world except for a few people. But the truth is that Linux is usable, and if you're listening to Mr. Humphries, then asking whether or not you are good enough for Linux is an excuse for not supporting you.

Asking the users to do everything for themselves will not only frustrate good people but convince the smart but unexposed people that they'd be wasting their effort on such callous people. Let me ask you something, Mr. Humphries: Are you saying that you're developing an operating system and then not expecting people to use it? That proposition is so laughable that it's hard for me to even refute it. It's ridiculous. It doesn't make sense at all. I'm finding difficulty finding the sense in it. You're developing a usable operating system, not expecting anyone to use it, and criticizing people who expect it to work but have trouble? Doesn't that violate the philosophies of the desktop Linux distros, who are trying to convert the common people? Doesn't that even contradict the goals of Firefox, since Firefox is built from user input?

Mr. Humphries, I really hope that you're not naive enough to believe what you're saying. I sincerely hope that you do not reflect a majority of the Linux community, because "problem 7" is your problem. I sincerely believe that Linux is about the people, not the machines, and if you're crazy enough to insist that the computers matter more than the people, you're not doing anything for Linux. The last category in your article will do nothing to advance your cause.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Don't switch to Linux just because you can

Let me sum up the situation: Yes, it's Linux. But there's no reason for me to use it. Yes, it's free, and yes, it's secure, but I don't need it.

I'm not against Linux: I think it's a great OS, certainly, but I'm not going to switch to it. Reading Digg every day exposes me to a slew of articles about why now is the right time to switch to Linux and how "So-And-So moved from Windows to Linux and never looked back!" but I really see no incentive to move to Linux.

You how everyone knows that Microsoft is copying Apple, and everyone is pretty vocal about it? Well, if you think about it, Linux is copying Microsoft, but no one seems to be talking about it. Admit it, Linux developers are trying to copy Microsoft, even going so far as to emulate it (a.k.a. WINE). Why should I switch to Linux when there's still a desire in the community to run Windows programs? Isn't Linux supposed to replace Windows? It would be like switching to a Mac and claiming that OSX is superior to XP, but then installing Parallels and XP on the Mac. If Linux is really so great, why does it need offerings compatible with another operating system? I know it looks like I'm saying that a smaller software library for Linux makes it inferior, but it is inferior to me.

I have considered switching. But every time I've considered it, I've found a reason to not do it. The big reason is that Windows is easy to use. Ignore the stigma that Windows always crashes; I seemly suffer it naught. Windows recognizes any worthwhile device I can throw at it (not advisable), and it's simple. The Linux community as a whole believes that you should only bother with Linux if you're willing to make it work. This attitude even prevails among the community of desktop Linux users. Lost is my ability to count the numerations of the aforementioned comments on Digg stories. Few Linux supporters that I have witnessed actively believe that Linux should be so easy to use that you don't have to tinker it; that for me is enough to drive me away. I have installed MS-DOS, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP on various computers. (I love how you need to install DOS on your computer before you can install Windows 95 on it!) Windows XP is such a cinch to install and use that there's no reason to switch. I'm happy that my computer works just like that. I don't want to use an operating system that needs tinkering to work. You know what I call that? Beta software.

I know I haven't covered security. One word: Router. Now, I'll not be disingenuous. Symantec Antivirus 9 is installed on my computer, although I've never had any viruses on my computer. Simply put, I've never had a security crisis on my computer. If you're smart enough, it won't happen. I'm not advocating Windows to the general public based on my experience, because generally people don't have common sense. (Why on Earth would you click on a pop-up that says, "Click me!"?) Even if Linux does have better security, I don't need it.

Yes, yes, Linux is not all that shabby. But I'm not about to switch to Linux just because it's Linux/it's not Windows. Look, Linux people. You want to hook me in? Here's what I want: Your operating system has to be so easy to use that it will work right out of the box, no tinkering whatsoever; it has to have support from developers that will port all of their Windows software to Linux; it has to have compatibility with every driver Windows can handle; and it must do everything Windows can do, and more. Until then, I'm happy where I am.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Free games (as in beer)

The free multiplayer game scene is really lacking: Sporadic, disunified, and stagnant. With no accounting incentive in the market, the incentives for developing such programs are too implicit for programming teams to find worthwhile.

Everybody wants stuff for free. Admit it, if someone gave you everything on a platter, no strings attached, I guarantee you'd take advantage of it. People love free stuff. (Some proponents of the free programs movement also believe that code should be free.) There are tons of games that have been developed to meet this demand, ranging from Runescape, to GunZ, to War Rock, and beyond. Some of the people behind these games are in it for the money; others, the achievement; others, the community. Whatever the motivation is for writing these games, there seems to be a fair amount of people willing to satisfy the demand for free stuff.

Of course, simple economics become a significant problem simply at the mention of free stuff. Programming a fully 3D, immersive, interactive world is by far an exceedingly complicated task. Programmers work for high salaries because programming is not for everyone. And there it is: What do the developers of free games get in return? Some only work on games in their spare time; others, who would like to participate, can't. The reality of the situation is that performing a difficult task for little compensation isn't feasible. Not only is it hard to support a project with donations, but resources become more scarce when there are competing projects. There are hundreds of free games! Obviously some people have to be excluded from the donation collecting process.

Therein lies a further problem, one that (not coincidentally) plagues the open source scene, as well (but to a much lesser extent): Disunity. There are so many games that it's a challenge to find talent that can do significant work. Programming in a team is like forming a band: If you don't know what to do, it's not like you're going to be able to do a lot after a few weeks of practicing. Learning how to program takes months, and programming promotes a never-ending process of learning. That is the premium that corporations like Apple and Microsoft pay for. How are you going to convince people on the Internet who you don't know to do it for free?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

My game status

Tomorrow, I will go to Best Buy and, once again, for the fifth Sunday in a row, attempt to bring home a Wii. The store opens at eight, I'll be unable to sleep in, grumble grumble, etc. etc. I'll be picking up the console and Twilight Princess. Then, using Google Checkout promotion, I might order Metal Slug Anthology for $35. I love Metal Slug, but I'm still contemplating whether or not it's worth $35. Plus, Twilight Princess will keep me busy for a long time - 70 hours perhaps? It'll probably take me longer, since I'm not particularly skilled. Plus, it'll probably take me a little time to get used to the Wiimote.

Right now, I'm concentrating my game-playing efforts to conquering Viewtiful Joe on Adult mode, which is considerably harder than Kids mode. King Blue is really being a bitch to me, and I'll be happy when I finally kick his ass into an episode of Green Acres! I gotta give kudos to Capcom for such an inventive, refreshing game. Even after three years, the game is still good. There's also an anime version , strangely enough.

With winter break quickly approaching, I'll have time to enjoy the fruits of my investment. Rumor has it that Best Buy has been hoarding consoles for tomorrow, which might explain why Best Buy had no Wiis the last two Sundays I went to the store. I really don't want to be one of the people who has to wait until after Christmas to play the Wii. I've seen Wiis in person, but I haven't actually seen anyone in person use a Wii. From all accounts (except those from Gamespot), using a Wii is easy and fun. Ah, Christmas; the one time of the year we can all relax an act like consumer whores!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Re:Comments relating to "Mac blogs talking about the Zune"

Imagine my surprise on Monday night when, after writing my Tuesday item, I discover that my Sunday entry has comments. My first two comments ever on my blog! My e-penis went over NINE THOUSAND. I'm now an Internet celebrity, even though I could count the number of returning visitors on both hands. (I'm not ashamed of using to track that sort of thing.) To be fair, both comments didn't agree with me, and I wish my first comment would've went something along the lines of, "FATHER MY BABIES!!!!!1ONEONEONE." Granted, I'll take what I can get. Perhaps I can build a readership by pissing off all the Apple fans and becoming the opposite of Daniel Eran. (That would never work out, since there is nothing wrong with Apple.)

Now, of course, I have to deal with the comments. I have to either constructively take heart or disregard them. I knew that decision before I started writing this entry. So, please pardon me while I take two sentences and run with them.

Microsoft didn't set themselves up to compete with the iPod. Microsoft never announced that they intended to compete directly with the iPod. Microsoft has never said that such was their intention. Everyone else has been saying that Microsoft is trying to compete against the iPod. How has Microsoft set themselves up? By entering the market? By simply entering the market, Microsoft was automatically aiming for the neck of the juggernaut? What a load of baloney.

To be fair, though, Microsoft was inadvertently competing with Apple. Let's say a consumer doesn't have an MP3 player, and that consumer wants to buy a fully featured device between $200 and $300 - nothing unusual. So you have Apple, iRiver, Microsoft, Creative, and Sandisk all competing against each other. So, at one point in the process, the consumer has to make a choice between Microsoft and MP3 Player X. So, Microsoft isn't competing directly against the Zune - I'll explain why in the next sentence. Microsoft may be competing with Apple, but they are also competing with at least three other companies, all of whom are viable players. Just because Microsoft is in the market, you can't justify the assertion that Microsoft is trying to kill Apple.

Now, I'll not be disingenuous. Microsoft is definitely trying to get into the consumer markets, and they've been doing so for a decade or so. (Trying is the key word.) The Xbox 360, until the Zune, was the most recent iteration of that. Microsoft is trying to convince you, the consumer, that your living room and ears should be supported by big M. Who stands in their way? Apple, of course. Microsoft would love nothing more than to knock Apple out of the market - Apple, who has an outstanding track record in product quality. Of course, Microsoft is smart enough to know that a goal like that is impossible. However, I am sure that they would like to become the other elephant in the room and become oligopolies. And while Microsoft is a small player in that arena at the moment, nothing would surprise me less than if Microsoft became a major player in the consumer markets in the next 10 to 20 years. That is, if Microsoft doesn't gloriously screw themselves by making stupid firmware.

And then I get to address the second comment. I don't really know what to say to you, Anonymous. I'm trying not to be hypocritical? I'm sorry? Would you come back later and generate more traffic for my blog?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Corporate allegiance

Why is it that consumers who specialize in a certain product tend to treat that product's producer as a patron saint? I'm looking at you, all you Microsoft devotees, you Apple fanboys, you Linux saints. Why is it we are all engaged in OS holy wars? How is it that the competition between Windows, OSX, and Linux became personal? The battle has practically become a war. Inevitably, people on the Internet cannot meet without eventually dividing themselves from each other simply for their choice in operating system. Good Lord, people are disliking each other for no real reason!

It would be impossible to say that any one 'group' started it. Rather, the fight has existed for a decade or two. UNIX and OS/2 used to be a part of the holy wars! So it's impossible to lay the blame solely on specific supporters, since the shift in OS popularity involved separate groups of people. Instead, I'll categorically blame everyone: Everyone for being simple-minded, everyone for being confrontational, everyone for acting like stuffy, arrogant aristocrats.

Right now the major conflict lies between Windows and Mac users, with a touch of Windows vs. Ubuntu on the side. But when you look at the sides that are fighting, you have to ask, what's the big deal? I mean, if you look at Windows XP/Vista and OSX, it's critically apparent that the two are fundamentally the same. It's not like one operating system has a magic program that does everything better; it's not like one is solidly superior. Techies use the tools they choose because those are the tools with which they are most efficient. Just because you like your Mac doesn't make you superior; just because you like your Dell doesn't make you more cost-effective; just because you like Ubuntu doesn't mean that everyone else should.

What aggravates me so much about this issue is how pervasive it is; even I have been drawn into it. The problem of course is that every conversation about operating systems eventually turns into deciding which is better. The answer is that none is clearly supreme. You can cry and kick and moan, but operating systems all have advantages and disadvantages. Ignore, for a minute, the advertising and the branding and the image and the perspective, and in the end there really isn't that much difference. Operating systems simply have different methods of accomplishing the same objective.

Let me give you a little bit of American history. In the debates between the presidential candidates for the election of 1860, between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, both candidates slapped one another with labels and epiphanies: Douglas called Lincoln a Negrophile, and Lincoln called Douglas a slavery lover. However, if you were look at both candidates' true facets, we see a strikingly similar picture: The two are practically identical. Both candidates perceived slavery as a problem with no easy solution; both candidates were comfortable with slavery; both candidates grew up in Illinois. American history does not fail to recognize their similarity, but in 1859, the two candidates seemed radically different.

Windows XP and OSX and Ubuntu and even OpenBSD all have several traits in common: They are all able to get things done; they all have tools for maximizing performance; they all have tools for managing data. Why is there so much fuss? Type on your keyboard and hit the Enter key already. There shouldn't even be an argument here. It's not like one side is right and the other wrong - not by a long shot.

But here's the big picture: Your choice of computer does not matter. History will not recognize your brand of laptop; nobody will scrutinize your distribution of Linux of choice. Computers are like cars - tools for getting things done. I wholly believe that arguing about which kind of computer you use is not only detrimental to your potential contributions to society but also detrimental to your mental health, creating a virtual arena where choices become boxing matches and every option becomes a dual. The real world isn't about fighting; get up from your computer chair and experience the world for what it is - an opportunity to build a better Earth. There is absolutely nothing to gain in getting lost in the details - not even the size of your e-penis is consequential.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mac blogs talking about the Zune

Why is it that Mac blogs are talking about the Zune? I mean, why would a blog about Apple products feature an entry about the latest advertisement for the Zune? now, to be fair, Macenstein has features covering a variety of other tech products. But Macenstein is not alone. Through Digg, I've seen at least five Mac blogs talking about the Zune. Why? The Zune is hardly related to Apple products at all.

I believe that it's anti-Microsoft sentiment. Now, you can tell me, "Duh!" and call me a simpleton for introducing the concept in the second paragraph of this blog entry, but in the famous words of Rob Corddry, "Commmmme ooooooooooon!" Here we have tons of blogs by Apple fans talking about a product that is at this point no more an iPod killer than it is sewing machine. It's just not going to happen. So why talk about it? I mean, doesn't the Zune belong in the museum of failed Microsoft products?

The issue I have is not that people are talking about it, but it's that Apple fans are treating the Zune like a major competitor, when clearly the Zune is about to go cold on the mat. Apple blogs are just beating up on the Zune simply because it was produced by Microsoft. Microsoft's been humble in saying that they're not trying to compete with the iPod, but the Zune's poor sales compared to the other major MP3 players seem to prompt more attention than the sales of Creative's line of MP3 players or the iRver family. We hardly hear anything about the Creatives or iRivers on Mac blogs, but the Zune gets a good amount of attention for being a market failure!

All the attention Mac blogs are giving the Zune does nothing to discourage the stereotype that consumers of Apple products just like to stick it to the Man and like to just go against the crowd. Don't act like it doesn't exist; Apple's commericals even promote this hipster image. All the attention the Apple blogs are giving the Zune seals the deal. There is a message that lies underneath the message put out by Apple blogs, and the question in that is how subtle that message appears. The high level of Zune coverage by Mac sites is nothing short of Apple's fans sticking up their noses at Microsoft.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

How did we get lost in Iraq?

As it turns out, the United States government has systematically underreported violence in Iraq - in a hope to discredit the notion that Iraqis are engaged in a civil war. There is no way that the administration could honestly miss 90% of the attacks that occurred in a single day without either being extremely incompetent or extremely dishonest. Neither situation is desirable.

As it turns out, the Iraq Study Group thinks that there is no simple solution for solving Iraq's problems. So much for staying in the course. Of course, there have always been public figures and individuals that have expressed beliefs that Iraq would be unwinnable. By all the accounts, that is what everyone can agree upon - even Donald Rumsfeld. Even Bush seems to understand what the Study Group's report says.

What disturbs me the most is 2003. While it is absolutely vital that we understand the current situation in Iraq, we most also understand how we got here. How is it that the United States stuck itself into a country and planted roots into a volatile nation now locked in a hopeless imbroglio? We can look back to 2003 for the answer: Arrogance. 2003 was the year of cowboy diplomacy. It was, "Our way or the highway," because we were the United States, and we were determined to root out terrorists and teach them what happens when you threaten America. Some of us even believed the president when he told us that Iraq had WMDs. In fact, most of us believed him. President Bush spoke powerful words after September 11, and we were behind him all the way. Seventy percent of the country supported Bush in 2003.

The only problem was that the Bush administration was wrong the entire time. In fact, the administration was very likely lying to us. In 2001, both Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell made appearances on TV claiming that Iraq didn't have the capabilities to produce weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix and his weapons inspectors found no WMDs in Iraq.

The Bush administration had ulterior motives when they attacked Iraq. Was the aim to depose the man who had tried to attempted to kill H.W. Bush? Or was the mission one for the imperialist quest of establishing a mini-America, a puppet government? A review of the facts reveals to appropriate reason for launching an offensive against a government dangerous to Iraqi citizens. Iraqi citizens now live worse than under Saddam Hussein's regime. And "freeing" Iraqi's from Hussein's oppression was never a goal - just a supposed by-product of our goal. I'm worried that no one will ever know the true reason for invading Iraq, because the possibility is floating around. The only ones who mught really know why we did it are Bush, Cheney, and Rove, but none of them are talking; even if they did talk, who would believe them?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The myth of monopolies

I have oft heard a myth about companies that manufacture consumer products. The myth is that companies with expansive market shares have monopolies in those markets. I will take an objective (as much as I can) look at two controversial companies, Apple and Microsoft, and determine their potential status as monopolies.

First, we must understand the criteria for monopolies. To be a near-monopoly or a monopoly, a firm needs to have close to or all of, respectively, the sales in a specific market. That means, to be a near monopoly, one of three specific things must happen:

  1. A firm controls a resource critical to a market.

  2. A government signs a contract with a firm that makes the firm the only competitor.

  3. A firm can make a product cheaper than anyone else can.

Any of those three things can turn a corporation into a monopoly. For instance: A company patents a specific technology and then sells it; the government contracts a single company to produce trains for a public railway; a firm can launch cheap long-distance telephony service by launching satellites cheaper than anyone else.

Once you are a monopoly, you have the market. There is no one else. You have all the sales. No one can compete with you, since there are no close substitutes. Coke and Pepsi are close substitutes, for instance, so they can't be monopolies. And the best part is that you can keep other companies out of your market by use of technology, legality, or force. That sounds great, doesn't it?

What really makes a company a monopoly is the presence of barriers to entry. If your company can keep other people out of the market, you have exclusivity. You are a monopoly. Now, there are many potential barriers to entry. If you are a large company, you are an incumbent. That means you have a big legal team, loyal customers, patents, research and development, and lots of advertising. Those are all factors that can keep another company out of your market. A new company is building a new operating system? Threaten the little guy with patents and advertise how great you are, and you have successfully kept another firm out of the market, etc.

So is Apple a monopoly in regards to the iPod? Well, the iPod has 75% of the market share. That's hardly limiting anyone else from entering the MP3 market - hey look! There are lots and lots of MP3 players! There are other big competitors in the market, like Creative, Sandisk, and Microsoft. Apple hardly controls the means of productions, since any of the other companies listed above produce MP3 players that can replace the iPod. Apple certainly doesn't have any legal power that prevents anyone else from creating a similar MP3 palyer - hell, apparently Apple can't stop companies from producing identical fake iPods!

Next up is Microsoft. You would probably say that Microsoft is a monopoly. First, are they the only operating system producer in the market? Nope. Say hello to Linux, Macintoshes, BSD, YouOS, and a Windows clone, ReactOS. Microsoft is certainly not alone. And certainly some of those are close substitutes for Microsoft Windows. Apple OS X is an obvious choice, as would be the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. Does Microsoft possess any resources crucial to the market? Maybe. Microsoft, like any large technology corporation has patents on code - in Windows. Microsoft likes to talk about those patents when bringing up the possibility of litigation to keep Linux from competing with Microsoft. That is a barrier to entry if I ever saw one. Threatening a group of volunteers with litigation is taking advantage of your status in the market. While it is possible to build an operating system without violating Microsoft's patents, Microsoft can scare businesses into shying away from Linux by making Linux look illegal.

Microsoft also has deals with hardware manufacturers, like Dell and HP. Windows is bundled with that hardware. That in turn makes life difficult for the other competing operating system developers, since the hardware companies won't bundle anything but Windows. That in turn leads to customer loyalty: Consumers know that Windows comes with every OS they buy, so they feel safe. The hardware companies in turn don't want their customers to feel alienated by bundling different OSes.

I covered iPods and Windows because those are the most frequently discussed brands when it comes to monopoly debates. While there are certainly more monopolies and mistaken monopolies in the wild, such examples are not particularly relevant at this point in time. I know that there are people who will disagree with me and those who will hold me up, but the fact of the matter is that the evidence truly decides. I have not covered all the evidence, to be sure: There are other mentionable examples of Microsoft's status as a monopoly that I deemed insignificant overall. All I can do is hope that I've convinced at least one person of the true status of the iPod and Windows in the market.

Monday, December 04, 2006

R&D v. Advertising

The technology sector is a very interesting area of the economy. It's not like other kinds of products - used by many, understood by few. And unlike most products, technology is dependent not only on public awareness but also on development. Computers are improving at a rate faster than any other product in history. If cars were computers, in the space of less than three minutes you could successfully complete an order for a Mercedes Benz that costs $3.99 and gets 1,000,000 miles per cubic centimeter of compressed air. (Sort of.)

The thing is, consumers hardly care about advanced technology. For most consumers, the most important criteria are, "Does it run fast?" and, "Does it work?" That is the image that technology companies - especially consumer technology firms - try to project. Every company wants to say about their computers, "These computers are so easy, a caveman could use them," and, "There is so much that you can do with our products." Thus, technology companies are faced with two challenges: To appeal to the public, and to build products that are one step ahead of anything a competitor can offer.

If a company builds a computer that is the best in the world - but never tells anyone about it - what good is it? If somebody builds a piece of crap - and then tells every person possible how beautiful it is - what good is it? That is the reason why firms specializing in computer-related products face such a challenge. Unlike the cola market, consumers can evaluate for themselves the quality of the product and make a conscious choice, and their preferences can change.

But once you buy a computer, you're stuck with it; not to mention that most people wouldn't be able to make a choice if they had to choose. I'm not just being arrogant. How did e-mail virii spread so quickly? People opened their e-mail attachments, unaware that it could do something. People just don't know. Many people think of computers as many people think of cars: You can use a car, but you don't know how it works. When it breaks, you take it to someone who can fix it; the same goes for computers.

Thus, firms have to not only stay ahead of the game and be able to tell people that. If a technology firm fails at the first objective, the firm loses market share in industries that purchase and depend on computers, because other firms will know which product is superior. If a technology firm fails at the second objective, the firm loses market share in consumer industries, which are just as important. In both the corporate and consumer markets, if the market finds that there is a better choice, the market will choose the better product. If neither the corporate nor consumer markets know about the product, then there is no point in producing it. Both objectives are important, and firms are continually evaluating which strategy to take: Whether to spend more resources developing a product, or more resources advertising a product.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The end of National Novel Writing Month

At precisely 12:00 A.M. on December 1, National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. November) came to a close. I talked to one of my friends tat had participated in the event, and she was very excited to say that she had made it to 50,000 words. I asked her immediately thereafter whether or not her story made any sense. It didn't, but that's not the point of NaNoWimo, she told me.

Call me a stick-in-the-mud, but what's the point of writing a novel if essentially the entire thing is meaningless. You might as well have written the sequal to Trainspotting, and nobody would notice. Perhaps I value my time more than some other people. If you're going to write a story, you should have at least one of four goals: One, to craft a story that is meaningful or pricessless - one that can be remembered long after you're gone; two, to write a book that can be published for monetary gain; to author a tale from which you may derive enjoyment; or four, to write a parable relating to the current state of society and what the current state of affairs means.

NaNoWriMo would most likely fall under category number three for most participants, but I'm exactly sure where the reason of "Because I can" falls. You see, there are a lot of things we can do but shouldn't. It can take a person anywhere from one hour to three to write 1,500 words. (A steady pace of 1,667 words per day for thirty days can win NanoWriMo.) That's a potential investment of 30 hours to 90 hours in one month. You should really have no better opportunities to write a 50,000 word novel. I dropped out after the tenth day, because I realized that the activity just wasn't worth my time.

I'm not typing this simply because I'm jealous of the people that won National Novel Writing Month. I mean that our time on Earth is short. Spending a great deal of it on an activity that undertaken simply because it can be done is useless. There is no point in acting on impulse when rational thought can compensate tenfold. I learned that the hard way. After sinking 15 hours into NaNoWriMo, I decided that the novel wasn't worth my time, and I pursued other activities, enterprises that I appreciated more than the novel I stopped writing.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

How to screw up a perfectly good product: Just ask Microsoft

Microsoft has a real dud on their hands. The ill-conceived Zune is not performing in the market as Microsoft has hoped. While it may certainly be listed in Amazon's bestseller list for electronics (though not as high on the list as a position that would indicate categorical success), the media's attention to the Zune has been passing. It appeared on the Today show, only to be compared to the iPod; the iPod continues to dominate the market.

In the months before the Zune was to be released, the reports about it that I read made the Zune look like a great product. Of course, only Microsoft could screw up a product like this:

  • 30 GB hard drive

  • Customizable background

  • Smart playlisting

  • Song and photo sharing

  • Spontaneous video encoding for viewing video in any popular format

  • Slick interface

  • Based off a previously successful MP3 player (Toshiba Gigabeat)

  • A big screen

Of course, Microsoft proceeded to do stuff wrong:

  • Limiting song sharing to 3 plays/days

  • Not integrating the Zune marketplace with Windows Media Player

  • Disallowing the use of the Zune as portable storage

  • Strange, limited marketing (I never saw a single advertisement for a Zune)

  • Forcing consumers to buy points before they could buy Zune songs: 1 point is not equal to a penny

  • Paying money to Universal for every Zune sold

  • Abandoning PlaysForSure DRM and not allowing songs bought from MSN Music to be downloaded for free from the Zune Marketplace

Microsoft got the technical specs right, but the execs proved that they do not know anything about consumers or actually selling products. Making services hard to use and arbitrarily destroying possible community interaction in favor of business is no way to sell a gadget. Microsoft needs to get rid of any old thinking (read: moronic executives) and embrace the new marketplace, or else the Xbox brand may very well by Microsoft's only successful consumer product. Lesson to learn: When creating consumer products, think about satisfying your users, not your partners.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

How does the PS3 market add up?

Namco believes that a developer must sell 500,000 copies of a game to make money. UBS believes that 30 PS3 games must be sold per PS3 for Sony to break even.

In mathematical terms, what does that mean?

Playstation 3 (60 GB) = $600 + tax
30 PS3 games = $1,800* + tax
Total = $2,400

* Assuming that each game costs $60

Sony earns $10 per PS3 game sold. That's $300 in revenue for 30 games. That almost covers losses from the 60 GB PS3, according to my oft-cited Ars Technica article.

Of course, GameStop has reported that PS3s sell with an average of 1.5 games per console.
Rounding up, Sony gets only $20 from the average PS3 user.

Here's the math for the market buying enough games to recoup a developer's costs:
Number of copies of a game needed to sell in order to break even: 500,000
Minimum amount of money the market will spend to recoup a developer's costs: $330,000,000 *
Sony's subsequent minimum costs to make that sale happen: $400,000,000
Revenue Sony receives from the sale of 500,000 consoles: $300,000,000
Revenue accumulated by Sony from the sale of 500,000 games: $5,000,000
Sony's profits from the money consumers will spend at minimum to recoup a developer's costs: $-95,000,000

* Assuming each consumer buys one 60 GB PS3 and one game for $60

Here's the math for the market buying enough games to recoup a developer's costs and Sony's costs:
Number of copies of a game needed to sell in order to break even: 15,000,000 *
Minimum amount of money the market will spend to recoup everyone's costs: $1,200,000,000 **
Sony's subsequent minimum costs to make that sale happen: $400,000,000
Revenue Sony receives from the sale of 500,000 consoles: $300,000,000
Revenue accumulated by Sony from the sale of 15,000,000 games: $150,000,000
Sony's profits from the money consumers will spend at minimum to recoup everyone's costs: $50,000,000

* Assuming 500,000 consumers buy 30 games
** Assuming each consumer spends $2,400 for a 60 GB PS3 and 30 games

Bear in mind that the number of PS3s sold is at most 300,000. We're looking at perhaps January 2007 before 500,000 PS3s become available. The time and money that must be spent by the consumers, the developers, and Sony to reach equilibrium is enormous. At the moment, Sony's success in the market seems unfathomable. In contrast, Nintendo has already shipped over 400,000 Wiis. Considering that buying a competing console decreases a consumer's buying power, Sony's ability to reach PS3 fans decreases with every Wii sold. The question is transforming from one of how Sony will succeed to one of how Sony will recuperate its PS3 launches in its other product lines.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Digg: Four things you can put in story descriptions besides, "Title says it all."

When I visit news aggregator Digg, there is a multitude of stories that have titles but no descriptions. Increasingly, users are submiting stories with nothing in the description field but, "Title says it all."

No. Really, no, the title doesn't say it all. Here are eight kinds of descriptinos you could add to give your story depth and a reason for visitors to actualy read your stories:

  1. Personal insight. How does the story relate to your life? What does the story mean to you? Have you had an experience that relates to what you're submitting? Does the link talk about an ordeal that everyone can relate to? If you're truly a human, surely you have an opinion about what you're submitting and a reason for why you're submitting it. God forbid you're linking to your blog and can't be bothered to say why your blog entry deserves to be Dugg. While there's nothing wrong with submitting one of your blog entries, you shouldn't expect to draw traffic to your unknown corner of the woods if the traffic has no incentive to come.

  2. A witty comment. Are you good at telling jokes? Do any obvious puns come to mind? Perhaps you can think of a play on words. Even if it's just a one-liner, readers will appreciate a good laugh. Remember to use humor for stories that are light-hearted or oddball or YouTube links. You wouldn't laugh at a funeral, would you?

  3. Summary of the story. What's the gist of the story? Think back to the fundamentals of writing essays in high school: Who, what, when, where, why, and possibly how. People will want to know the specifics once they know what's happening. Why is the story relevant to anyone? How does the story relate to other stories? What's the backstory? All or some of these can be answered by a concise summary.

  4. Highlights. What if you don't want to write a summary? What if you don't like summaries? If you're linking to an article or thesis, nobody will mind if you cut and paste a section of text from the source that best exemplifies what the story is about.

Let's sum up:You get 75 characters in the title and 350 in the description. You have over quadruple the room for a reason for people to click the link. Why are you submitting to Digg if you don't really have much to say about the story? People will - possibly justifiably - think your story is spam or the dreaded blogspam. The people who read Digg regularly aren't idiots. Write a description that says you aren't one. People's brains won't break if they read a few more words.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

No love for Sony

As a fan of Digg, it's been quite obvious to me that in the past few weeks and even months that the dislike of Sony is intense. If Digg was the entire market, Sony would fail to sell more than a few PS3s. Now, I'm not claiming that there is only antipathy for Sony at Digg; Digg is representative of many gamers. I can't say that I know exactly how many gamers are angry at Sony, but there are a few reasons that I can find for this:

  • Price. Sony didn't make many friends by making the 60 GB Playstation 3 a full $600. You want to alienate your fans? Charge them through the nose. This isn't disposable income, here. And increased development costs leading to $60 games don't help either. But what's even worse about pricing your product badly is when it's accompanied by

  • Arrogance. The Sony execs seemed to assume that everybody would love the PS3, no matter what, simply because the first two consoles were great - and let's not forget the PS2. The PS2 is an awesome console. It was simply better than the Xbox and Gamecube, and still is a good platform, with its cheap price, large library of games available for it, and large fan base. Of course, Sony couldn't help but ride on the PS2's coattails for as long as possible; unfortunately, when it came time to develop the PS3, the execs believed so much in the brand that they forgot about

  • Innovation. Seriously, what's new about the PS3? A hard drive, some shinier graphics, Blu-Ray, and a motion-sensitive controller. Oh yeah, Sony got the idea for their controller from Nintendo, and the new controller has no rumble feature. The hard drive? Sony produced a hard drive attachment for the PS2. Sony chose for the next generation to simply include one. Shinier graphics? Shouldn't we expect the graphics to be improved from the last generation? Check. For $600 per unit, I would expect the graphical capabilities of the PS3 to be better than those of the competition. No check.

    So it seems like the most innovation Sony has done with the PS3 is the introduction of a Blu-Ray drive. The thing is, most Americans don't have HD-compatible televisions. Microsoft kept the price of the Xbox 360 low by selling the HD-DVD drive as a separate component. Sony wants all or nothing: You get the Blu-Ray drive, or you don't buy the console. Since the BR drive costs $125 per unit, many fans are unhappy about the prospect of buying a Blu-Ray drive they don't want.

But all is not lost! Theyre might just be something Sony can do to win back disenfranchised gamers:
  • Lower the price. This one won't happen for a while - not until manufacturing costs and component costs drop. Right now, with Sony losing hundreds of dollars on each PS3 sold, Sony can't afford to drop the price without a damn good reason.

  • Wait. I'm serious. Sony has either made a big mistake in the inclusion of the Blu-Ray drive, or Sony is in fact ahead of the curve. By that, I'm talking about the prospect of consumers buying HDTVs. It's possible that in a year or two, consumers might like the included BR drive, which will enhance gameplay a lot. Of course, that's still a long shot: What if Sony had taken Microsoft's route and instead opted later to release a cheaper Blu-Ray add-on? Time will tell.

But what about innovation? Sony is screwed here. Buying a video game console isn't like buying an iPod. You don't buy second or third generations of your video game console. (If you do, you're a consumer whore.) Sony is screwed on the hardware. Sony is stuck with the hardware they got. Sony would just anger everyone more if they released "Platstation 3.1 - Now with more innovation!" Sony has failed to offer a new experience with the PS3, and there's no firmware patch that can upgrade components. Right now, what Sony really needs is a patch to fix their relationship with the gaming community at large.

Friday, November 24, 2006

My quest for the Wii

Since last Sunday, I've been aiming to get a Wii. So far I have thus been fuitless, since it seems that to score one of these mythical consoles I have to undertake drastic measures. The closest I got a Wii was earlier this morning, when I stood only five feet from one of those boxed beauties.

I admit that I haven't made the most intelligent choices regarding time. In my quest for the Wii, time is key. Depending on the steps that I take, I can stand in line for a while or wait until the demand for the Wii has been sated such that I can walk into any electronic entertainment retailer and purchase one right off the shelf.

I didn't pre-order the Wii, which immediately put me into a difficult position. I hadn't decided that I truly wanted a Wii until a few days before, and after that I was too late. I comforted myself with the belief that demand for the Wii would be less than the demand for the other two consoles, since the Gamecube has and has had such a small market share in the five years that it has been on the shelf.

Boy, was I wrong.

On Sunday, I went round to K-Mart, Target, GameStop, and Sears, starting at about 10:30 A.M. Sure enough, all four stores were out of Wiis and unsure of when the consoles would be restocked.

On Tuesday I checked out Target and GameStop again, since it was doubtful a new shipment would be in on Monday, and I had read on Digg that you could walk right into a GameStop and buy a Wii. Once again, they were all out of stock. I knew at that point that there would be no point in looking for a Wii on Wednesday or Thursday, since the retailers would be saving them for Black Friday.

On Thanksgiving, I decided that waiting in line for an hour would not be worth it, so I would not try going to Best Buy at 5 A.M. or Target at 6 in the hope that so few people would be looking for Wiis that I would get one. I still have no intention of waiting in a line for more than fifteen minutes. There are so many other things I could be doing (like blogging) that just standing around would be pointless. Sooner or later, I will be able to buy a Wii. Perhaps in a month, perhaps sooner, or perhaps even later I will be contentedly shaking the Wii like a can of spray paint, for lack of a better simile.

So at 6:25 A.M. today, I got up, and at 6:50 I went to the GameStop, since I live close to one. I would have gone earlier, but I knew that it wouldn't be worth my time to stand in line for a while, so I wouldn't mind if I was too far back in the line. When I got to the store at roughly 2 minutes 'til, there was a line of 20 people. Even as I joined the line, men and women of all ages - even soccer mothers and plaid jacket fathers - stood, all talking about the Wii and how their sons or daughters wanted one. I talked briefly with the grandmother in front of me about the violence surrounding the PS3. I knew that everybody there wanted a Wii, since I had heard no reports of PS3 units being restocked in stores.

Big time, was I wrong.

At seven minutes past 7, the door was opened, and the line progressed into the store. My place in line was right next to the Xbox 360 display unit. I attempted to play a demo game while I waited, but the display unit only had videos to watch. Trust me, video games are a lot more fun when you actually get to play them, so I chose not to watch.

the line was very cordial. I walked out of line to grab a copy of Red Steel for some guy who asked after I checked to see if Twilight Princess was on the shelf, and when I got back to my place no one made a fuss. Ten minutes later, the Wiis were all sold out, and GameStop wasn't selling vouchers for them. So I left, glad that I didn't wait around longer to not get one.

So I am still waiting for a Wii. I mean waiting, not searching, since Christmas shopping season will mean stuffed parking lots, cramped stores, long check-out lines, and heavy traffic. I figure that my best bet in finding a Wii is the Internet (or more specifically, Amazon), but even then it looks like the rest of the world wants a Wii, too.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sony Playstation 3 units see price drops on eBay

The price and quantity of PS3s on the free market (eBay) have both dropped since the Friday launch. Though the Kotaku story doesn't mention quantity, rest assured that fewer and fewer PS3 units are for sale on eBay at any given time. On Sunday, there were over 19,000 units for sale. By Monday, that number dropped to 12,000. The average sale price has also dropped by $800-500 to an average $1,200 or so per unit. I predicted on Sunday that PS3 fans that didn't want to pay a fortune for their coveted consoles would have to wait a month or two to find a PS3 at the retail price. Boy, I was foolishly wrong. By the end of the next week, you will see PS3s selling at $600 or an amount slightly higher. A few sellers will try to compensate by upping the shipping costs to ridiculous amounts to trick would-be buyers who aren't careful enough.

The biggest enemy of the PS3 sellers is the next restock date. No one knows for sure when that date is, but rest assured the marketplace for PS3s will change, for two reasons:

  1. Decrease in market price. As the buyers who are willing to purchase Playstation 3 bundles on eBay for high prices exit the market, there's less incentive to wait in line for 14 hours and sell what you buy: There are fewer buyers competing for the same product, so there are fewer bids on PS3s. During the weekend, you could have easily seen 50 bids on one Playstation 3. On Monday, a more common number of bids was 30. Expect that number to drop in the next few days. The number of bids per system will drop slowly, as new buyers who wish to take advantage of the decreasing market price enter the market.

  2. Another source for Playstation 3 units. Since the market price on eBay is dropping, many potential sellers will stay home and not enter the market. The marginal revenue of the market is slowly decreasing, meaning that each additional PS3 sold nets on average less revenue than the last one sold. Now that the market price is dipping below $1,200, some people will decide that the effort spent is not worth the money.

    Because second-hand sellers aren't entering the market, actual PS3 fans will have greater access to stores stocking PS3s. There is an obvious difference between spending $600 and spending $1,200. As soon as consumers become aware that PS3s are obtainable in retail chains for same-day pickup, second-hand sellers will have to drastically lower prices to compete. Eventually, the profit from selling a PS3 on eBay will reach zero. The eBay sellers will actually see losses: They not only made no profit but spent hours waiting in line and additional time shipping PS3s.

The market is gradually drying up for those who want to make a profit on eBay, but what if Sony sold PS3s for $1,200 apiece? For one thing, the demand for PS3s would be much, much lower. People looking to make a profit on eBay would have to sell for at least $2,000 to make the effort to get one worthwhile. Some consumers would just give up. Sony wouldn't be able to justify a price at $1,200. The market price only exists at that point because of the second-hand market. If twelve hundred dollars was the retail price, there would be no PS3 fans. Not only would consumers not want to pay for a console that expensive, but no video game developer would want to produce games for a platform that risky.

So it's tough luck for Sony, and it's soon going to be tough luck for the people who waited in line overnight to get their hands on a precious console. As people become aware that cheaper PS3 systems exist, consumers will flock to Target and company instead of eBay.

What does this leave for Sony? Low sales. Beyond the PS3 fans, of which there are admittedly a few, the brand name is really the only thing that's going to carry the PS3. Even then, it's going to be tough for parents to think about buying a $600 game console this Christmas. The Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii are cheaper alternatives to what will otherwise be a not-so-subtle attempt at pushing Blu-Ray on consumers - consumers who probably aren't ready for high-def television and movie discs that cost $25 a pop. (Seriously, who would pay $25 to buy a Blu-Ray movie that would otherwise cost $15 on a DVD?) If Sony decided not to include a Blu-Ray drive, there is no doubt in my mind that demand for the Wii would drop substantially, and the Xbox 360 and PS3 would be locked in a battle for control of the market. The reviews are in, and the advantages of owning a PS3 to an Xbox have yet to emerge. In the meantime, expect the for-profit PS3 market on eBay to evaporate.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Nintendo to take advantage of Sony's limited supply?

The week before the Playstation 3 even launched, over 3,000 PS3 units (pre-orders) sold for prices near $2,000 on auction site eBay. Each 60 GB PS3 nets Sony a profit of $-240. That must suck, but Sony's not the first manufacturer to produce at a loss to gain marketshare. The only problem is that most of the people buying the PS3s have no interest in keeping them: Their only intention is to auction them off on eBay for twice the MSRP. The PS3 has experienced so much hype simply because there aren't a lot of them. Real PS3 fans either have to buy now or wait a month or two. They face a large reduction in their buying power or a very frustrating wait.

I know what you're thinking: Next I am about to tell you why Nintendo will muscle in with the Wii and steal customers from Sony. I'm not going to do that. The suggestion is unreasonable.

There's a fundamental reason that Nintendo will not pick up PS3 fans with the Wii. The two target markets are much, much different. The PS3 boasts gorgeous graphics, a new wireless controller, the possibility for huge games stored on Blu-Ray disks, and a legion of developers who know that the target audience is a group of enthusiastic adults who appreciate good action.

What about the Wii? Take a look at this Wii commercial produced by Nintendo. Notice how the actors using the Wii look like ordinary people who are really getting into the game and having a great time. The Wii is about being accessible to every body. Everybody can use their arms to produce the movements previously choreographed by button pushes. These aren't people with high definition televisions or expensive sound setups; these are people have a good time. While Sony introduced motion sensing as an added capability, Nintendo has made it so much more.

Nintendo has a big advantage over Sony in inventory. Most Target stores, for instance, received 30 to 50 apiece. Nintendo not only shipped more units than Sony to each store on their respective launch dates, but they also shipped to more stores than Sony. Nintendo will also restock stores faster than Sony. Nintendo already is shipping more Wii units for sale on Monday, November 20, only one day after launch. Nintendo clearly has more inventory to move. Nintendo could easily pick up the fans that Sony dropped. The question is whether or not that will happen, since the goals of each system are completely different.

Nintendo is about simplicity; Sony is about possibilities. Both routes have their advantages and disadvantages; for Nintendo, it's the lack of crisp graphics; for Sony, it's the price tag. The customers of each console have specific need in mind. Some people are buying both consoles, because neither system has everything. While Nintendo is striking out in an entirely new direction, Sony is continuing down the same path and improving on an already established formula; the only change in Sony's formula is the amount of money being demanded from consumers.

So, no. Nintendo isn't taking advantage of Sony's limited supply. Very few PS3 fans will be so discouraged by their situation that they will just bail on Sony. While I expect that a PS3 fans might just buy the Wii and play until retailers can carry the new Playstations for more than an a few minutes without selling out completely. The fanbase is too distinct and too established to simply jump ship.

What is still questionable to me is what will happen to the people who buy PS3s on eBay. What percentage is the buyers who have incomes that aren't impacted harshly by the amount they're spending on one console? What percentage is comprised of average guys? As the news changes, I'm left wondering more and more what the outcome of Sony's gamble will be.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

PLAYSTATION 3: Brand success, or economic failure?

By all means, Sony's Playstation 3 has undergone a rocky start. Sony sold 88 thousand of the promised 100 thousand Japanese PS3 units on Sunday, November 11, when the unit went on sale. It is no coincidence that, a short time later, many very expensive Playstation 3 units appeared on eBay.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Sony launch without technical problems and issues. There is the occasional high definition picture issue, reports that some games already available on the XBox 360 have bugs and issues that make the PS3 versions slightly inferior, and some claims that backwards compatibility with PS1 and PS2 games is somewhat glitchy.

Of course, Sony will be low on supply of units meant for the American launch, games will be more expensive, a high definition television is needed to grasp the true PS3 experience, there's an extremely high cost of ownership that decreases buying power and reduces the number of PS3 games that will be sold, and the PS3 is being used as the platform for a new media format. These are fundamental issues at the heart of the question of whether Sony will succeed in its PS3 endeavor.

There are clashing theories of whether the PS3 will whip the market or succumb to competing forces within PS3 production.

Ultimately, the PS3 will succeed. It will dominate the market in 2007 and 2008, but Christmas 2006 is doubtful. This is not based on analysis of the traits of the Playstation 3 or of Sony's marketing prowess or of the fanbase of the PS3. Simply put, the Playstation 3 will dominate the market because it's a Playstation.

The truth is, possibly the most some consumers know about the Playstation 3 is that it is a Playstation. That enough evokes the association with a strong brand name; Sony has historically provided excellent console systems to the market. Nintendo doesn't have that power; they are constantly referred to as a company that manufactures video games for children.

Ask an uninformed person which is cooler - Nintendo or the Playstation - and the Playstation will win, hands down. Gamers, geeks, and nerds just don't represent the market as much as parents buying games to their kids. Think about it; most gamers are reasonably intelligent and are aware of what goes on in the gaming industry. Would there really be a Hot Coffee scandal if gamers constituted the majority of the market? No. Otherwise, Rockstar Games would shrug their shoulders and say, "Our profits are secure."

And here we have competing factors. Based on brand name, it is extremely conceivable that the PS3 will save the day for Sony. But there are a number of economic factors that might hinder the Playstation's success.

The mainstream video game consumers will be in for a shock when they go to check out that sweet new Playstation, only to find out that it costs six hundred greenbacks. What will really be a measure of Sony's success is whether or not the consumer will still accept the Playstation - even if it's the priciest net-gen console - based solely on the Playstation's reputation as the hip system that has the best games.

Chances are, even if that consumer buys the Playstation 3, Sony still loses. After you shell out $600, ow much money do you have left for games? The 60GB Playstation 3 costs twice as much as the Playstation 2 at the PS2's debut. Some consumers, clueless as to the PS3's considerably greater functionality, will accept the 20GB model as a more affordable substitute. Even then, disposable income allocated to games will be much smaller than the income allotted to games for any other next-gen console.

Sony is betting that the Playstation's image will save the PS3. The ultimate test of the PS3 is whether or not the Playstation has an image worth $500 or $600. Add to that the cost of additional games and accessories in the lifetime of the PS3, and the PS3 could cost anywhere from $700 to $1,500.

But there is one crucial piece to this puzzle that I have not talked about. What of people trying to buy the PS3 now, or the people who will try to buy it in the days following Nov 17? Consumers have a month to find out that trying to get ahold of one of these mythical consoles will cost possibly $1,000 to $2,000, or even more. That reduces buying power even more, leaving game developers out in the cold if they want to make PS3 games. The average consumer just can't shell out $2,500 for the lifetime of his her video game console. Many potential buyers will resist buying a PS3 until the price comes down.

But when PS3s are available in stores finally, the PS3 will see the ultimate test to the Playstation brand. How much is it really worth?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Doubts about the Zune

As the Zune sees its release into the wild, numerous doubts and issues have arisen. These range from hardware to software problems and quirks, and leave the Zune's usability in doubt.

For one, there is the problem with the software that connects a Zune to a computer. The software is of course for Windows, but strangely there is no integration with Windows Media Player. Microsoft has spent a great deal of money developing Windows Media Player, but they don't even integrate their flagship music device into it? It sounds like it would be a lot easier to simply integrate Zune support into WMP11.

Then of course Microsoft has the Zune Marketplace. Again, where is the integration with WMP11?

Speaking of the Zune Marketplace, consumers are sure to be confused as they buy "points" to spend on Zune songs. But why is it that $1 = 80 points? Shouldn't it be more like $.01 = 1 point? People aren't good at math, so the latter idea sounds like a no-brainer.

It seems to me that the problems with the Zune stem from Microsoft's attitude toward consumer products. Namely, Microsoft has a vendor-based attitude instead of a consumer-based attitude. This is a product that's supposed to be big this Christmas, so why try to please the vendors so much? Microsoft is paying a fee to Universal Music Group, it probably isn't integrating the Zune Marketplace with WMP11 because of the Urge service, and it requires an entirely new program to be installed. People don't like how that sounds. Apple does integration perfectly for the iPod: One program, one store, prices in actual money.

On the plus side, the Zune has lots and lots of features. It's big on features, unlike the iPod - which does a few things and does them well. Microsoft definitely wants to out-feature the competition. They also want to convert you from the iPod camp (not likely) by offering free WMA versions of songs you bought from iTunes.

But in between use (listening) and functionality (the computer) comes the interface (the software). The software is definitely the weak point in Microsoft's launch, a lesson that needs to be learned as soon as possible.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New American racism

America now boasts 300 million citizens, a quarter of the number of legal residents in China. Whether you see that as a positive achievement or a detestable one is not relevant to the matter at hand. My focus is on out status as Americans.

What does it mean to be American? 20 years ago, 50, or even 80 years ago, anyone would tell you that America is a mixing pot of different races and cultures, barring the anti-immigrant sentiment that was present a century ago. But despite all our different ethnicities, America isn't really like a melting pot; America is like a fruitcake. It's comprised of many different chunks, each quadrant featuring a unique mix of individual flavors with little in the way of blending.

But now there is a new fear, a fear of Spanish. Bluntly, America is losing its whiteness. I'm pro-diversity, don't get me wrong. It is in recent years that good, honest Americans, especially Americans in Arizona; New Mexico; Texas; and California have begun to show anti-Mexican tendencies. Groups that support making English the official language of Arizona and border protection groups like the Minutemen are clearly examples of this. Some might see the Minutemen as nothing more than border patrols, but there is an underlying racism present; if there was no social issue with Mexicans entering the country illegally, would the Minutemen exist? There is a real and present dislike and distrust of Mexicans, legal or not, by the white majority.

Now that the population has reached 200 million, I've begun to hear this joke being told in one form or another:

"Congratulations! You are the 500 millionth American!"

There is a genuine fear that illegal immigration will cause a culture shift. There is a whisper in the wind that whites are on the way out. There is a general, subtle fear of it - and why not? Why wouldn't the dominant race fear its supplantation? Indeed, who wouldn't be afraid of waking up to find their language no longer in use and their culture frowned upon? The status quo is continuously arming itself against anything that isn't the status quo.

But is there anything to fear? Besides the fear of irrelevancy, is there a reason to fear the new immigrants? Remember United States history; a long time ago Americans were immigrants. A long time ago Protestants were suspicious of their Catholic neighbors. A shorter time ago NINA. A short time ago America was whites-only. Fear and loathing of Spanish-speaking immigrants is the new wave of immigrants to see marginalization. I predict that there is actually no need to fear the growing minority. Some will argue that the primary difference between Mexican immigrants and the Ellis Island immigrants is the fact that many Mexican immigrants aren't assimilating. But of course! When immigrants in the 1920s came to America, they didn't assimilate either - Their kids did. That's why there's no cause for alarm; if history repeats itself, the children of the Mexican immigrants will learn English and be Americans, separated only by skin color.

Seventy percent of Arizona voted in favor of a bill that would make English the official language of Arizona on election day 2006. Arizona voters also passed, among others, a proposition that barred illegal immigrants from seeking compensation if they or their property were damaged in Arizona. Voters apparently failed to realize the harmful implications of such propositions. Those propositions will do absolutely nothing to keep Mexicans from crossing the border illegally. Instead, they will end up being demeaned and dehumanized as a result. The worst conditions in the United States are better than what the Mexican poor will see in Mexico. These new laws threaten to make illegal immigrants less than human beings. They are already strangers in a strange land; shouldn't they at least have some dignity?