Thursday, February 22, 2007

My first time with iTunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What, no flux capacitor?

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


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

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

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

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

Game developers, I salute you.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sony PlayStation 3 Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

User Account Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quicktime video from Apple's Get A Mac marketing campaign

Saturday, February 03, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Worst. Hiatus. Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blog entry #48

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The operating system holy wars are getting ridiculous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 21, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 19, 2007

With great celerity, Sony and Universal shoot themselves in the foot

I was ready to write an article about the PS3. I wrote half of it last night with the intention of publishing it this afternoon, but I got derailed. I had an essay ready about how Sony dropped the ball. Perhaps I'll complete it Saturday or Sunday. But for now, I'm going to rag on Microsoft and the Zune - or, more specifically, the companies behind the Zune.

Engadget has confirmed that the songs of roughly half the artists featured in the Zune Marketplace are nontransferable between Zunes - one of the MP3 player's biggest draws, already limited by the three-play/three-day limitation. Which artists? Musicians signed to Sony BMG and Universal Music Group. Remember that Microsoft is already paying $1 to Universal per Zuen sold? Well, this is what we get in return. Thanks a lot.

So what am I going to do about this? I won't buy any new CDs from artists signed to those labels. Used CDs are just fine. If I decide I want a copy of Good News for People Who Love Bad News by Modest Mouse, I can get it used from one of over a hundred Amazon users. Modest Mouse is, of course, signed to Epic Records, a subsidiary of Sony BMG.

This is no longer a matter of knowing that the Zune will die - I want the Zune to die. Between suing a few dozen thousand suspected file-sharers and trying to pass broadcast flag legislation and trying to even make CD ripping illegal, I've decided that I'm fed up. I will not buy new music from the big labels. Used music is just fine - Not only is it cheaper, but I also won't be contributing to record labels in buying used. Stick it to the Man!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The states are full of people

We have a republic? That's a question it is suddenly appropriate to ask. Bush has decided that, no matter why Congress does, Bush will escalate the Iraqi War. At one point, Bush even says, "I made my decision, and we're going forward."

Should I be surprised? Am I so naive to think that our president wants what's best for the country?At this point, the only thing Bush cares about is the context of his name in the history books. Bush seems to suffer from the delusion that history books will glorify his bloodied name. Bush fails to recognize, however, that history is written by historians - actual people. Only the die hard neocon historians (if there will be any left in the next half century) will claim that Bush acted in the best interests of the country - because in reality, Bush is not doing that at all. Bush gave the United States of America that proverbial "screw you" of politics.

Roughly 70% of the public doesn't want a surge, and the majority of Congressmen also are opposed to an escalation of the war - and it has been reported in the media that such a facet is true. Bush's approval ratings hover around 30%. He's been chastised by Gerald Ford. Even Tony Blair is not happy with the president.

But none of that matters to George W. Bush. Why, he's the Decider! He's never been to a Waffle House in his life! George W. Bush has stated to 60 Minutes that he's the only guy in the United States that matters - never mind the 200 million Americans that disagree with his war plan. Has Bush ever seen 200 million people all at once, in person? No one has. The difference between Bush and everyone else is that Bush doesn't care. He doesn't care if the ship is sinking or of millions of his subjects want to head out of the dangerous waters - by golly, it's his ship!

Some time between now and the next two years, Bush will have to learn to share his toys with some random group of people called "the citizens of the United States of America," or else Bush will be responsible for blindsiding reform and blocking important legislature. He can't stonewall the Constitution for ever.

Of course, when it comes time to take the blame, Bush will blame it on some other guy - maybe Bill Clinton. But by the time we evacuate the troops from Iraq, nobody will actually believe the whole mess is Bill Clinton's fault. But I bet the neocons will try.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Still no Wii

I guess I'm not the only one who wants a Wii. Right now there are 11,000 Wiis for sale on eBay. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's been almost two months since Nintendo released the Wii, and Nintendo still hasn't been able to meet the demand. Good Lord, Nintendo should have had the whole thing in the bag by January 1st - 4 million units sold, as promised? But Nintendo didn't deliver on shipping 4 million Wiis. They're giving waiting consumers like me time to rethink their decisions. If you're a company with the hottest game console in the world, you don't leave your consumers hanging for several months! That gives the hype time to die down, and you can't have that!

Fifty and two hundred dollars is no small price to pay. You can't spend that amount on an impulse buy. Tell consumers that they can buy a Wii and then not let them, and after a while they'll find some other use for that quarter of a thousand bucks. If you let people know that they can live without your product for an extended period of time, they will learn to live without you. I have never seen a Wiimote in person. I have never seen the console in action in person. I'm really frustrated about how badly Nintendo is going about this. Bitter? Yes. Nintendo should be doing a better job than this.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Give Bush another chance?

So President Bush made a speech on January 10: "Give me another chance!" Bush said that the fault for the path of the war rested with him and proceeded to ask for another chance. And 20,000 more troops.


Really, huh? How stupid does this man think the American people are (or at least me)? C'mon, we gave him three years - almost four - to win this war. But now the soldier body count has exceeded the casualty toll from the September 11th attacks. We are engaged in a war that will likely cost the United States a trillion dollars. That's not mentioning the body count of Iraqi citizens - who have died in greater numbers than the soldiers.

Bush, you got the United States into a dangerous war with no strategy, no Plan B, and no understanding of the Muslim world - No one in the administration knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, or that a difference even existed. The administration actually thought that we would be treated as heroes. Oh yes, and roses would be thrown at Marines' feet.

But what really gets me is Afghanistan. We went and bombed the hell out of those terrorist training camps and drove out the Taliban and searched for that bastard that started the whole disaster, Osama bin Laden. President Bush promised the world that we would neither eat nor sleep until Osama bin Laden was found, dead or alive. But we have slept and eaten, and we don't know where Osama bin Laden is, or if he is even alive or dead.

Mr. Bush has no business asking for another chance. He's had six years to fight the war on terror, and he has bungled it badly. Twenty thousand more soldiers won't wrap it up shortly. We can't afford to fall for it again.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What does music say about a person?

I've always thought that music in the social concept is an interesting topic: How does our taste in sound define us? People are social creatures, and music is inherently social. Some musicians perform for the fans, others for the experience, and others to try to reach stardom. What's so peculiar about music is how much of it relies on other people: If you sing the most beautiful song in the world and no one hears it, is it worth anything? If no one ever knows that you were singing, then the only benefit is your enjoyment - the base incentive to perform. Beyond personal enjoyment, all other benefits rely on the people who experience the performance. Many musicians are pleased if fans enjoy their work. Some musicians release their recordings on the Internet for free, in order to attract listeners. Every musical artist has asked: How do I draw fans?

And it's the fans that drive the music off-stage. It's the fans that have driven everything that happens beyond the musicians: What people think about them, which music CDs people buy, what merchandise to buy. The people who don't make the music spread it. The market for music exists because people are different, and the buyers all have their auditory senses intact (or, mostly).

And the subcultures all have their own music. Whether the subculture defines the music or the music defines the subculture is a possibility to consider. Would the goth movement exist without death metal? Would the emo subculture exist without Bright Eyes? Or do 50 Cent and Aesop Rock define hip-hop and underground urban hip-hop? Do The Shins define indie rock? Simply, no, I don't think so. People are hard to categorize by genres, just as their music is. How could a person who appreciates multiple genres be limited to one respective subculture? Is it a crime for a goth to like TV on the Radio? If music defined the subculture, there would be a million subcultures, one for each unique identity. And what about the people who just like music? The people who generally belong to a culture and not a subculture? People with diverse tastes would be unclassifiable if music really summed up a person. Each man or woman has an identity that no one can duplicate.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Macworld 2007 doesn't mean anything to me

So, Macworld San Francisco saw Steve Jobs' keynote address. Breakdown of the subjects:

  • Apple TV

  • iPhone, with Cingular partnership

  • New and improved iPod

  • Apple Computer, Inc. is now Apple, Inc.

I can't say that I would want the Apple TV. I don't intend to ever buy content from the iTunes store, so paying $300 for a box to stream iTunes media to a TV is obviously a bad idea.

The iPhone, on the other hand, looks sweet. Oh my God, what a beauty. I was skeptical that Apple would actually produce a cell phone, but wow. Take a look at the current series of phones, and the iPhone looks so much better. Bu I would never spend $500+ on any cell phone, and I definitely wouldn't want to sign a two-year contract with Cingular. Even if the iPhone has some sweet features (no plastic buttons!), it's economically too expensive - both in explicit costs and implicit costs. Not only would I be spending a far-fetched amount of cash on a cell phone that I wouldn't use all that much (even with the MP3 player built into it), But I already have hundreds of cheap minutes on my Tracfone that has no monthly fee attached.

Notably missing from the keynote was a mention of Mac OSX Leopard. The Mac fanboys, what with Windows Vista's imminent arrival January 30, have been itching to pick a fight with the new kid on the block. Apparently announcing the arrival of new consumer electronics was more important than bolstering the reputation of the Macintosh operating system.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Microsoft as a corporation

Are corporations really evil? Do "the corporations" want to brainwash you, control the media, and make themselves rich?

Do you really believe that?

As a student of economics, hearing people say stuff like, "Linux is better because it's not controlled by a corporation, and Microsoft sucks," makes me want to cry. Let me explain why.

There re four main types of businesses in the United States: Sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, and limited liability companies. The difference between partnerships (and proprietorships) and corporations is that corporations are not dissolved when the owners depart, corporations have to file more information with the government, and corporations are treated like people in court. Limited liability companies are small businesses (possibly with only one member) that - as the name implies - have less liability than proprietorships. Creditors can claim the property or assets of the owners of proprietorships and partnerships if the businesses owned by them collapse, but LLCs are not vulnerable to this.

So what exactly makes corporations evil? That's a serious question I'm asking. What's wrong with corporations?

The purpose of businesses, excluding non-profit organizations, is to make money; let us not delude ourselves. Companies don't exist to make the world a better place or provide children with flowers. Proprietors, partners, corporations, and companies all want to make money. So how do you make money? Thornton Wilder wrote it most plainly:

"A million is made by producing something that everybody needs every day."
--Horace Vandergelder, The Matchmaker

These are examples of useful things: Computers, breakfast cereal, paper, clothes. Not coincidentally, all those things are manufactured and sold by corporations.

Let's talk about computers. A while back, I claimed that Microsoft had a monopoly on the desktop OS market for two reasons: Microsoft has patents with which it can threaten other companies, and Microsoft has deals with major PC manufacturers. However, I'm going to correct myself. Microsoft does not have a monopoly on the desktop OS market.

Patents are not necessarily an indicator of a monopoly. Microsoft may have patents on code inside Windows, but other companies have patents on software (IBM, NTP, etcetera.). Microsoft's patents haven't threatened the development of Linux, Apple OS, or other operating systems. That makes it apparent that having patents does not automatically make a company a monopoly.

Microsoft's deals with Dell, HP, and other companies also don't make Microsoft the only game in town. Nothing prevents a person from dual-booting Ubuntu or FreeBSD, and Microsoft sure as hell isn't going to stop Apple from bundling Apple OS with its computers. Also bear in mind that it's possible to get a refund from PC sellers if you can prove that you chose not to accept Microsoft's terms of use when Windows' license agreement was presented to you. If Microsoft persuades PC manufacturers from bundling copies of Linux, that is Microsoft abusing its position as an oligopolist, not a monopolist. A small number of operating systems dominates the market: Microsoft Windows, Apple OS, Ubuntu Linux, and a few others. Microsoft is not the only game in town. They are not preventing other organizations from building their own operating systems.

So the crucial question remains: Is Windows a bad product if Microsoft is a bad corporation? But is Microsoft a bad corporation? No. The simple truth is that Microsoft intends to reduce its costs to a point where they can no longer spend any less - Just like ever other business, Microsoft strives for its efficient point. The people who run Microsoft will do whatever they think will make them the most money for the least cost. To Microsoft, this means the addition of restrictions and exclusivity - all in the name of profit. Microsoft isn't out to hurt the consumer and sing praises to the RIAA. Rather, I blame this on stupidity. Microsoft is afraid of lawyers. Just look at the Zune: If Microsoft enabled song sharing, the Zune would be technologically superior to the iPod, and it would have launched with a bang. But afraid of the RIAA and its member organizations, one of the most powerful companies in the world folded to a media distribution company, Universal.

It sounds like Microsoft doesn't care about the users, right? As long as management signs the OEM deals, nothing else matters, right? Wrong. Like every other software company, Microsoft has to convince you that Microsoft software is the best. There are two reasons for this: First, Microsoft knows that if it doesn't update its operating system, customers can and will move to one that does. Second, Microsoft, like every other software company, makes money when its product sells. Updating the product is an incentive to buy new versions.

I'm not excusing Microsoft for it's "embrace, extend, and extinguish" policy, nor for its shady influence on other companies. Microsoft is only as honest as the people that run it; a downside of corporations is that they give unscrupulous people a shield, since corporations are regarded as persons in the eyes of United States law.

I'm not going to get into whether or not Linux is actually better than a commercial product due to its non-commercial nature. I wrote this essay, because arguing that corporations are evil is just silly. I recognize the consumerist attitude that makes up modern America, but it's not inherently evil. Most Americans (and citizens of much of the rest of the world) want to make a lot of money, and for some people, that means running a business. Corporations don't love you, but they don't hate you either. It's important to remember that corporations are made up of people.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The next-gen disk format fight is hardly over

Blu-Ray and HD DVD - the two biggest contenders in what will soon be the battle for 2007 and the following years in the home entertainment market. Some folks have declared that the battle is handily won, thanks to the introduction of the HD DVD decryption program for the PC, BackupHDDVD by a user named muslix64 on the Doom9 forum website. Some people will surely think that the ability to copy HD DVDs means that people will attract more consumers to the brand.

However, Sony isn't about to give up so easily. The Blu-Ray brand has a larger following in Japan than in the United States, for one thing. As crazy it might sound, also consider the PS3: Those who have brought PS3s have also bought built-in Blu-Ray players. Sony has sold around a million units, whether consumers know about Blu-Ray or not. Sony's willing to bet that they've got their foot in the door and can keep it there.

So what does the HD DVD brand have? It has "DVD" in the name. That's a sort of advertising you can't get from anywhere else. Consumers see DVDs and see HD DVDs, and the two connect - just like that. Though Blu-Ray may have greater storage capacity, people won't know what the hell a Blu-Ray is, but a HD DVD - Why, that must be an advanced DVD! HD DVD also has Microsoft, the richest corporation in the world, singing the praises of the HD DVD. With 80% of the PC market share, you can bet your donkey that Microsoft is going to have the last say in this fight.

Warner Bros. announced two days ago that they're going to produce a disc called Total HD, a disc comprised of a HD DVD disc and a Blu-Ray disc. That will no doubt further the length of the battle. Don't know which format to pick? Why not both?

So who's the real loser in this fight? Everybody. A likely outcome will be that both types survive. This whole thing will be a big headache for everyone for the next five years. There will be Blu-Ray and HD DVD apologists, separately. It'll be an extension of the ol' Windows vs. Apple OS holy wars. Both HD DVDs and Blu-Rays will occupy space on the high definition disc shelf at your local Best Buy or Circuit City - just like DVD-, DVD+, and DVD-RAM, except worse.

Everybody's going to suffer, because neither company was willing to back down - a classic outcome completely along the lines of game theory. Game theory is applied to economics when talking about oligopolies - a few companies that control most of the market share for specific markets. Sony and Toshiba are oligopolies in the HD disc industry, responsible for Blu-Ray and HD DVD respectively. Note the prisoner's dilemma. According to this version of game theory, there are two options for each player - aggressive and passive. When Toshiba and Sony are aggressive, both trying to push formats on consumers, they both profit, but by very little. When both companies are passive, co-operating with each other (and in this case allowing Warner Bros. to step in and develop both formats on a single disc), their profits will be higher than if they both try to win; allowing both formats to work with each other will give customers leeway and encourage them to choose either type. Now, what if Toshiba chooses to exit the HD DVD market, and Sony wins the day? Or vice versa? One company would then take the prize and leave the other guy with nothing; this is a very unlikely conclusion, as both companies know that there is profit to be had - But when both giants are trying to wrestle for it, the profits for each contestant won't be so impressive.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Digg needs a section for blogs

Digg is, of course, the popular news site - stories chosen by the masses ad promoted by the masses. The site has been lauded and hated alike, and Diggers are vocal participants in the phenomena known as Web 2.0. Digg is the most democratic of news aggregators, and Keven Rose and company have been covered by periodicals such as Time and The New York Times. The most important news is daily brought to the front page by the people who matter the most: The users.

But increasingly, Digg's democracy has discovered entropy: Bugs in the system, glitches in reality. Occasionally, Digg doesn't work the way it's supposed to. More and more, people are submitting stories about blog entries - Gasp! The horror! Digg is being invaded by blogs!

Seriously, many blogs don't constitute news. The problem with the Digg website is that there's no section for blogs: News blogs have to go in the Political Opinion section, and Linux blogs have to go in the Linux section - even though neither are categorically newsworthy. Then there are the rumor blogs - you know, the ones that say, "G.W.Bush executed Saddam Hussein so Hussein couldn't testify to Bush's plot to take revenge for his father," or, "The Linux kernel was written by Steve Wozniak, not Linus Torvalds!"

The Digg team has recently introduced new categories to the website: Podcasts and Videos. Wouldn't it make sense to then add a Blogs section, as well? Many blogs simply aren't about news, as the News category might suggest. Separate the wheat from the chaff, and everyone will be happy; the blogosphere won't bother the news junkies, and vice versa. The Blogs section could even mirror the News section and all its categories, to satisfy the news blog junkies.

This would eliminate complaints about the presences of blogs on the front page of the News section. The new Videos section has worked very well thus far: There have been virtually no videos submitted to the News section since, and everyone is satisfied. Why can't the same be done for blogs?

Monday, January 01, 2007

One Apple fanboy in particular

As a devoted Digger through and through, as I have been for some time now, I am fascinated by one particular character from a cast crazier than Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, and Richard Pryor all put together: Daniel Eran Dilger. The man seems to hate Microsoft for no apparent reason, other than that it's more successful than Apple - the jewel in Dilger's eye.

I first heard of Dilger when hundreds of Diggers in September Dugg a story about how recently announced iTV would change television. My first reaction was, Huh? Would a box with mysterious features really conquer the tube, which we all know to be the gospel? I wasn't very impressed by his article - no more so than I was with Mr. Dilger, who goes by Daniel Eran on his blog. (Eran is his middle name.) For some reason, one guy was calling himself a magazine. (Does that mean I'm a magazine, too? I have a blog!)

What astounded me was Dilger's absolute awe in able Apple's apposition. To Mr. Dilger, Apple is the gospel, the ultimate revelation. Dilger's series of essays on the iTV were speculative at best and unfounded at worst. To be fair, plenty of his other essays have some semblance of fact or solid base, but I did not see anything decent in my first impression. Practically every one of his entries mentions Microsoft - usually in ridicule. While the company undoubtedly deserves a number of lashes, Mr. Dilger seems to attack Microsoft for doing anything at all. It's sort of like beating a dead cow. He's even criticized Microsoft for building the Zune with a screen bigger than the iPod's. Mr. Dilger is at war with Microsoft, or so it seems.

One of his more questionable claims is that success of the Xbox 360 is a myth - an illusion of football players, guns, magic, and sorcery. Apparently selling 8 million units in one year is disappointing. The PS2 sold more units: Three million more! But Dilger doesn't quite seem to understand the console market: Note that last year, Sony sold 20 million PS2 units worldwide. (I'm using his source, from PC vs. Console.) With the arrival of the PS3, is has all but looked like the end of the PS2's life cycle: The Xbox 360 has been on the market for one year, and the PS2 six. The PS2 is an established brand with tons of games. The Xbox 360? One year, definitely not as many games. The reputation of a six-year-old console will bulldoze a newbie. In 2007, we'll see a lot more sales of the Xbox 360, with the arrival of Xbox 360 exclusives and other big wig games. Year two will be big for the Xbox 360, and the next three years will see plenty of Xbox 360 sales. Video game consoles have life cycles of five to six years: The PS2 came out in 2000, and the PS3 2006; the Xbox came out in 2001, and the Xbox 360 2005 (an unusually short lifespan of four years). Also, is it just me, or did Dilger compare a game console to a portable music player? That really doesn't make much sense at all.

But aside from the content, I tend to view Dilger negatively, because it seems someone has been gaming Digg. A Digger even compiled a list of likely fake users, controlled by a real person to artificially inflate the Digg count for Dilger articles. Furthermore, at some point in late November or early December, the Digg team blocked stories originating from Dilger cried foul and for a short time appended each of his blog entries with a short, sordid tale of special interest groups like Microsoft paying Digg to censor Mr. Dilger. Excuse me if a claim like that doesn't raise his credibility. (All those appendices are gone, but they were amusing for a week or two.) Daniel Eran then moved to He subsequently started reviewing his own essays, giving them favorable ratings without fail. Integrity, shmegrity. That sure puts to rest any doubts that at one point or another, Dilger was indeed Digging his own stories under different pseudonyms.

I don't like Daniel Dilger. I'm not fond of any fanboys, but Dilger takes the cake as the biggest Apple fanboy with the least amount of integrity. To my knowledge, Dilger has never admitted to Digging his own stories, but it seems pretty certain that he did it.