Monday, January 28, 2008

A Fresh SP Emerges

I should really be working on my lexical analyzer for Compilers, but I keep putting off this post because of my work and now there's just too much going on for me to not talk about it. So what is an SP? The Church of Scientology uses that abbreviation for a "Suppressive Person" and is mainly used for antisocial personalities, apparently, whose personalities focus on violence against groups intended for betterment. As you may already know, such a supposed group has emerged call Anonymous, Anon, or Legion. Most of the media prefers Anonymous. They've released 3 videos on YouTube so far, though the second one has been taken down. If you don't know anything about Scientology, I highly recommend this episode of Southpark. It's a surprisingly accurate depiction of what we know about Scientology, minus Kyle being the leader. Anyhow, it's almost pyramid scheme where you have to pay to learn more about the teachings and, because of this, they've gotten testy about people releasing information about the church or their videos not at all afraid to sue and manhandle people into silence.

Well, this hacker group decided that the last straw was when they took down this video from YouTube of Tom Cruise spewing out his nonsense about Scientology. They're pissed about the censorship, they're pissed about all the litigation, and they don't like how they deprive the people they "brainwash" (I put that in quotes because it's not fact, but I believe they do) of certain freedoms and of a lot of money. In fact, there's a lot of people who claim foul play in the death of one of their believers because of signs of undernourishment and physical abuse. In essence, they view the church as an oppressive regime and feel that it must be stopped. I'm fully in support of this, though I've unfortunately had no part in anything they've done. I think it's really ballsy. They're doing what the mass media can't because they can act without identity and get away with what they feel is right.

Does this lead to vigilante justice? Would this degrade our justice system? It's arguable as to how good it is right now. Some people say that the acts they've undertaken are wrong in general. They have committed cybercrimes in staging DoS and DDoS attacks to take down their site and lots of spamming. They have a wiki detailing their goals and such, but I've been trying to give you the synopsis here. These guys are definitely not amateurs though. They're really good at being anonymous and they're even better at Denial of Service; I was really impressed to read how they subverted the church's move to a DoS-safe host (they just filter before forwarding to the real IP of the site) by just finding the real IP and slamming it with requests. Their wiki is a ridiculously detailed explanation on how to do everything: the faxing, the spamming, the prank calls - it's meticulous. These are not a bunch of little kids, they're experienced. I just find it wildly fascinating that this has all come to fruition. Some have commented that they should attack Christianity as well, but I, of course, disagree. Obviously, all organized religions desire money and power, but Christian churches encourage alms giving to the poor and including everyone. I don't need any money to go to church and learn; I do to be scientologist. I was never brainwashed into being a Christian either, it's a choice I made over many years of reflection and learning. And, most importantly, they believe on me seeing a doctor if I'm in physical pain; they don't hang their followers out to dry.

Anyway, that's enough of that topic, I really need to move on. Last week in my Contemporary Issues in CS class we had a guest speaker: Gary Chapman from the 21st Century Project. It was a very interesting talk about how it was started and how it promotes things like using IT to aid in disasters and OLPC and all that stuff. One thing he mentioned that I totally forgot about was that Thursday would be the auction for the 700 Mhz spectrum. That means that we're less than a year from digital transition, where any televisions relying on an antenna for programming (a lot of households, especially lower income households) will have to upgrade or get a converter box to watch TV. Despite it being a leisure, TV has become a pretty big part of our society so this is a pretty big deal because it's really going to happen after years of dilly-dallying from the government. What's more important though is the aftermath. What does winning the spectrum mean? That's still being speculated. The point is to raise over $20 billion (and also keep a small range for emergency services), but now it becomes a game of strategy. AT&T and Verizon want it for longer-range cell phone signals, but Google has their hat in as well. Why? They're trying to force open standards, which would be awesome and is probably in their best interest what with Android and all. Would they physically use it? Would anyone for that matter (they may just not want anyone else to have it)? No one is for certain (except for the big whigs), but Google could trade the spectrum to Sprint (not in the auction) for a piece of the WiMAX pie they have. After all, this spectrum is best for voice, not data. It's kind of an interesting issue and definitely a huge deal. There's going to be a lot about it in the coming months though, so stay tuned for more.

Engadget put up a bulleted clarification of Remote Disc, the add-on for the MacBook Air that promised that having an optical drive was unnecessary. As it turns out though, you can't use it to play commercial DVDs, burn CDs, play music CDs, or rip DVDs among other things. I don't know about you, but that's all I'd really be using an optical drive for anyway. Of course, I don't have a DVD-ROM because this computer is old (but still awesome), but I would rip my DVDs on a laptop to save the power when watching them. Anyway, I think this Remote Disc thing then is totally useless. I don't understand the logic behind it anymore, and the MacBook Air looks even more unattractive from a technical standpoint. Despite the appeal of digital content, it doesn't beat hard copies of stuff for a lot of users. My disappointment has been reflected further in the steep drop in Apple's stock price. It has dipped 30% in just two weeks. That's pretty intense. Steve Jobs alone lost $220 million (unrealized losses, I presume). Will they bounce back? Of course, it's Apple. I'm just shocked at how long this drop is going on for. I guess the market being down is hitting everyone hard and I want to blame that more than just Macworld.

It's getting late, so just a couple of quick, last things. Joel Spolsky put up a great article on reducing your concerns for Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in exchange for just asking the five whys when problems occur to get to the root cause so they don't happen again. It makes a lot more sense than putting your blind faith in ridiculous statistics and backup schemes. IE8 is intending to be the most standards-compliant version of IE to date. The problem that has always plagued IE, however, is backwards compatibility with their old stupidity of horrible standards compliance. It's not that great even today, but it's better than it used to be. This has been a headache for me since I've had to be a site administrator, and a lot of people get so frustrated that they claim their site only works in Firefox, which is not the correct response (though I sorely wish it were). Anyway, their solution back in IE6 was doctype modes: a quirks mode if your site is to be rendered with the old engine and standards for IE6 and IE7 (yeah, it's weird, they're both on the same doctype though they're very different in compliance). Well, now they're doing a meta tag thing. If you have that tag it'll render as an IE8 page, otherwise it'll use an older rendering engine. It's one more pain to deal with, but I prefer it to having to hack things up more and shove IE8 into the standards doctype. It's better than the doctype thing, I think.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Macworld Wrap-up

As usual, the focus has been on Macworld this past week rather than CES. I think that the media and even a lot of geeks have just become disenchanted with CES and have begun to care more about the words of Steve Jobs. Barely anyone really seemed to care that it's Bill Gates last CES keynote ever. By this year's end, Ray Ozzie will be the new CEO of Microsoft. Of course, there is the fact that this video from the keynote of his supposed last day at work spread pretty fast and is pretty funny. I love that he can make fun of himself and that he managed so many great cameos. Oh, and I have a lot to talk about today to make up for not writing this post like two days ago when I should've.

Anyway, back to Macworld. There are a few things I thought were worth mentioning related to that keynote. Game Daily has a great article pointing out that this was another Macworld without any focus at all on video games for Macs. I agree with them in calling this a huge oversight. I have no idea why they don't believe the power of video games. That industry has really exploded in the past 5-10 years and PC games have seen a come back with titles like Half-Life 2, Portal, World of Warcraft, The Sims, and Civilization 3. They're losing the gamer market by forcing them to run these titles on a dual-booted machine or even a VM. They should be making it easier to run them on native hardware and they could be touting the consistency of Mac computers as ensuring that any game developed for Mac could work on potentially all Macs or say right from the get-go which ones work on which. For PCs, the hardware combinations are so diverse that you lose this slight advantage, which really only hurts you when you want to get someone a game as a gift, most likely, and don't know if they can use it. They're clearly not pushing iPod/iPhone games ostensibly, though Sonic has come on board, and I just imagine that there's a bigger market there than Game Daily believes because of how many people play phone games when they're bored. I just can't figure out why Apple has no interest in supporting this market.

Joy of Tech has a pretty great comic
about the MacBook Air that kind of reflects my views also.

This isn't really related to the Apple TV even though you may see articles around with people billing this as a big blow to Apple TV, but Time Warner is trying out a new pricing scheme similar to your power bill. The more you download, the more you pay. This indirectly affects Apple TV because renting/buying those HD movies is not going to be all that attractive rather than buying/renting the hard copy from a store. In any case, the point is that they're trying to penalize you for piracy or using up the "unlimited" Internet access you pay for too much. This is like opening an all-you-can-eat buffet where you see a few fat people and decide that if you're fat then you have to pay more money. It's crazy. Unlike your power bill or your water bill, it doesn't cost them anything extra to serve up more of the Internet to you, in reality. They make so much money with their outdated networks and large base of users that they really just want more money. In some areas you may see a higher quality of service, but the quality of your Internet should be higher because they're re-investing your monthly payments into thicker pipes and not because less people are online. People are not going to like this idea in this society of rising gas prices and other things where you pay a variable cost. They claim it'll only affect 5% of users, but in this increasingly broadband world, it's going to hurt more people than that. It's frustrating, but I'm honestly not sure what can be done. Maybe it'll end up being a tiered plan, which would be slightly better but still irritating since your service won't get any better for paying more money. Somewhere at Time Warner corporate there's a guy in a tall, black leather chair laughing diabolically. Oh, and whether this is a conspiracy against Apple TV so that people buy digital cable rather than watch TV online is a little bit extreme. I honestly do not think that it has anything to do with that. I believe torrents and P2P are hurting them, and they'd rather pass the buck than adapt. They're not smart enough to think ahead to IP TV; put their execs in a room of Neanderthals and you wouldn't know the difference.

I love PicLens. I think it's the best add-on since IE Tab (or the best thing since sliced bread, if you prefer). It works in IE and Safari, too; just not the new feature I'm going to talk about. I casually updated recently only to later realize that they've upgraded the UI. You can see it in the screenshot to the left, but it doesn't do it justice. It's just so ridiculously intuitive. They've made the pictures into a wall of thumbnails rather than a filmstrip at the bottom so that you can use the fullness of your screen to navigate and use your scroll wheel to casually glance at whatever piques your interest. They've also really improved the Facebook functionality. I don't think I've ever browsed pictures so effortlessly before; not even in Picasa. I was so struck that I took the time to actually port several galleries from the NSC site to the PicLens format (really easy with PicLens Publisher tool; you just surround the code it gives you with your layout) and will be using it permanently for the NSC site. It's a great thing to try out if you're running a website where you value viewing images over comments and ratings and descriptions and all that junk, and it even has a Flash-based thing to view the images in a slideshow even if you don't have PicLens. Oh, but word to the wise: look at the CSS I have on my galleries. I had to hack it up for IE6, which doesn't support max-width.

I think I've all but declared the HD-battle over in Blu-ray's favor. Gizmodo feels the same and has shed a little more light on what has been happening in recent weeks. While it's likely true that Sony did pay some of the studios to help them decide to move exclusively to Blu-ray, the fact of the matter is that they money they paid was much less than what they stand to lose/gain in a new HD format. All the studios were pretty eager to end the format war though, and I think Fox caving to Blu-ray caused a domino effect that almost ceded the battle to Sony. I don't think we know yet what motivated Fox to do this, and the exact reasoning for Warner and Toshiba hasn't totally given up yet, but I think it's pretty clear that they're gripping at straws. Only a few loyal studios remain; I mistakenly reported Paramount's switch because they haven't jumped ship yet though they legally can. Universal is bound until 2009 or the bitter end, whichever comes first. New Line, Fox, and Warner aren't small potatoes though, and it may be enough to tempt more studios to take the leap. The battle isn't over, but I think a lot of us want it to be. After all, Blu-ray has done a poor job of future-proofing the format and, not-so-coincidentally, the PS3 is the only Blu-ray player capable of supporting the 2.0 spec because it has an Internet connection and 1GB of local storage. It looks like they're trying to use Blu-ray in 2.0 to help spread gaming to movie enthusiasts from the looks of CES demos with trivia games and the like, but these Blu-ray versions will surely cause confusion (there's a 1.1 that only a few players, including the PS3, support).

I thought it was interesting that MySpace is still dominating Facebook in traffic. If you have any insight into this, I'd love to hear it because I have to say that I'm more than a little surprised. 72% of social networking traffic goes to MySpace compared to 16% for Facebook. This is more than a small disparity. I guess I live in a bubble where only a minority of the people I know have MySpace accounts, including the adults I know who are on Facebook. To be fair, Facebook's grew 50% over last year whereas News Corp's bastard child lost 8% of its prior market share. The hype machine would make it seem like Facebook is taking over the world. Hell, I kid you not, my own mother called me last week to tell me about Facebook and this guy who started the site in college and made all this money. She thought that I should do something like that someday. I'm suddenly glad that I didn't take the Facebook interview. It's not that I believe they're failing, I just think they're in this huge bubble. I don't know if it'll pop or not, but I also don't know how stable it is. In any case, my theory is that a lot of minors are loving MySpace whereas adults and many college students who do social networking use Facbook. There's also an overlap of college students who still check their MySpace but don't actively use it. That's just my theory, and I guess that it would mean that the Facebook audience is more valuable than the MySpace audience. Anyhow, I think it's even more interesting given that MySpace has been getting bad press over privacy issues. I mean when people can see private photos of 14 year-old boys/girls, that's creepy.

I have a few quick things to lump together here. AOL (AIM/ICQ) has finally caved and moved its protocol to XMPP, more popularly known as Jabber, which is what Google Chat runs on. I can't say anything about this other than that it's ostensible very cool since XMPP is open source. If you're uninitiated into the dark art of MySQL, this is an awesome primer. Woot has put up their always funny Wootable Awards from CES of random things including Most Racist Display and Best Alien Detector. I liked the new trailer for Baby Mama and so I thought I'd share. Tina Fey wants a surrogate mother because she can't conceive and so she turns to a childlike character(Amy Poehler). I thought it was quirky and funny. And last, but not least, my first upload to YouTube from going to Copa on Friday night:

Just because I miss it, how about some Unconscious Mutterings:

I say ... and you think ... ?

  1. President :: Clinton (Bill ;)

  2. Stare :: Glaze

  3. Embrace :: Hug

  4. Movie :: Theater

  5. Everything :: On sale

  6. Profile :: Facebook

  7. Satire :: Comedy

  8. Erratic :: Errata

  9. Costume :: Party

  10. Secretary :: of State

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Air Just Got Pricier

I was talking to my brother earlier about this morning's Mac World keynote and he was really impressed. After keeping up with this stuff for over 4 years now, I know better. This keynote was underwhelming, and the investors seemed to agree. I guess the MacBook Air wasn't enough for them. If you want to read all the hairy details of the keynote, there's the Engadget live blog. If you have 90 minutes to spare, you can watch the whole thing. I'll give you the gist of it though and some of my thoughts. The big deal was this thing to the left here: the MacBook Air. You can see the details here and specs here. At it's thickest it's less than 0.8 inches thick and at its thinnest it's less than 0.2 inches thick. It's absolutely ridiculous. Not necessarily bad ridiculous, it just is. You can even see a video of it here. You can count the ports it has on one hand (includes headphone jack, DVI, MagSafe power, and USB) and it doesn't come with an optical drive of any sort, it costs $100 if you really want it (Steve thinks you're done with CDs). It has a great 13.3-inch screen, it comes with an 80 GB HD, it has one of the lower speed Core 2 Duos, it's 802.11n wireless and comes with Bluetooth, it has a backlit screen and keyboard, and it's fairly environmentally friendly. This can all be yours for the low low price of one arm and half your leg: just $1800. The trackpad also supports multi-touch, like on the iPhone, for pictures and I'm not sure what else.

There are a number of issues with this device. Anything Jobs presents, including this laptop, looks like gold on stage. The reality is a number of things. The battery isn't replaceable, and if you've owned a laptop then you know what a horrible relationship people have with their laptop batteries. It doesn't have a CD-ROM drive, so you have to already have a computer in your household (Mac or PC) on a network so you can connect to it to install remote disk, which allows you to install software you have on that remote computer. When it comes down to it, this is a really expensive, really thin, stripped-down laptop. For the form factor, you need to sacrifice things, and so I can accept that, but I just don't see the need for a super-thin laptop. Do people really want this? I'm not saying they don't, but besides the glamor of being so thin, what do you really get out of this? So you can carry around a manila envelope instead of a laptop case? I was impressed initially, but not so much anymore. It's a good laptop, but not better than the old MacBook or MacBook Pro lines.

The next biggest announcement, in my mind, was the Apple TV Take 2, which is a free software upgrade for the Apple TV that allows you to rent movies and download iTunes content directly to your Apple TV without the middle man of your Mac. Oh, yeah, renting movies is new, too, but it was leaked a while ago. You have 30 days to watch it, and 24 hours once you start watching it to watch it. Pretty standard pricing: $3 for old, $4 for new, and a buck more for each for HD-quality. Anyway, back to the Apple TV: they're dropping the price to $229 with this new software as well included. So this is a big step in the right direction, because you can see photos on it as well and browse Flickr from it and all that good stuff. However, it's not enough. Apple could dominate if they come out this summer with a fully featured home media Mac. It needs all the stuff it already has, plus DVR -like features and possibly another version with a Blu-ray player built-in as well. I feel like they're still not bringing the living room entirely together, but I do like the price drop. They may be able to save the Apple TV yet. There is a catch: if you rent movies on your Apple TV then you can't watch it later on your Mac or iPod, but the reverse is true (if you buy on your Mac you can watch it anywhere). Oh, and the HD-quality video is for the Apple TV only, and it doesn't come with Dolby 5.1. Plus, the Apple TV hardware isn't changing so you're limited to 1280x720 resolution. Ouch.

The last big thing is the iPhone/iPod Touch updates: you can customize your home screen (in a cute way, too), you get simulated GPS in Google Maps to find your location (triangulation from WiFi and cell phone towers), Google Maps now has hybrid view, you can SMS multiple people at once, movie rentals are supported, lyrics are supported, you can change the movie's language (if it has another language track), and you can save web clips to your home screen. Oh, and the SDK is still on track for release next month, it appears. What's lame is that the updates will cost you $20 on the iPod Touch, except that you get mail, weather, stocks, and maps now as well (though I don't think you get the SMS). Also, I don't think the GPS locator thing means that you can get driving directions in real-time, which would've been cool. So these are nice things, yes, but not as impressive as he was trying to make them out to be. It's nothing terribly innovative or exciting: the map stuff isn't new nor is the SMS thing. Only rentals and lyrics are new, as far as I know, for phones/mp3 players in general. Google improved a number of things for the iPhone as well though: faster Gmail, iGoogle gadgets, a quicker calendar, and more.

Was Mac World really that underwhelming? I suppose I exaggerated that point a bit for dramatic effect. In reality, everyone expected too much. I kept my hype meter largely at bay, but I still thought we'd see something cooler today. In my opinion, the biggest deal was movie rentals and the Apple TV stuff. Though Amazon is kind of competing with rentals since Unbox can rent to your Tivo and Amazon is posing a new threat to iTunes, which Job obviously didn't want to discuss. Anyway, in most people's mind: the biggest deal was probably the new laptop. I have no idea what'll be more profitable to them. Or maybe they'll just sell more iPhones now because of the new updates (not likely, they've already sold 4 million so they're doing pretty damn well). Fortunately, I don't have to keep droning on about Apple so let me cover a couple of other things real quick before I hit the sack.

Netflix subscribers rejoice: you can now see Netflix flicks online as much as you want. Well, if you're on their cheap plan you have a limit, but the higher tiers get the all-you-can-eat plan. It's pretty awesome, I think. I don't know if this will hurt Netflix's business or help it, but I imagine that it will help people rationalize a subscription even though they won't use it a whole lot and so Netflix will just continue to do well.

A rumor has been substantiated that Facebook is planning on buying Plaxo
. Plaxo gives you kind of an easily shareable online business card and card holder because it links you with all your e-mail addresses and social sites (AIM and such) to have a huge database of contacts with birthdays and e-mails and all that stuff. I'm really interested to see what Facebook does with this, but I imagine this goes along with the very loose idea of an online desktop whereby Facebook will empower you to share and communicate with anyone you talk to on any other service straight from Facebook.

Why did Warner go Blu-ray? It turns out that it may be because Sony paid them and others off to do so. I personally feel like this is a kind of dirty technique, but I don't think this is illegal or uncommon for other consumer products. Retailers often get a rebate for giving items more shelf space or promotion. What amazes me is that Sony has all this money to give out. They keep creating failing products like rootkit-loaded CDs, a console that is not doing terribly well in sales, the minidisc, and a ridiculous competitor to the mp3, and yet they have vast amounts of money to throw around for Blu-ray support. Anyway, it's not over for HD-DVD yet, but given that everyone is writing them off they may lose support from everyone soon enough if they don't act quick.

I didn't have time to cover CES, and it has lost its luster in the past couple of years anyhow, but here's a good round-up of what we missed. The two things I like most on that list: 150-inch TV and Optimus keyboard (I need to eventually get me one of those). The shadiest item on that list is hands-down the FryeTV thing though. I Will people really buy that and leave it in their living room?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Macworld Approaches

We're only a couple of days from the annual nerd convention known as Macworld. Even though the only piece of Apple hardware I own is a busted up 1st gen Shuffle (to be fair, I'm going to buy a Nano in May), even I can appreciate this convention. I always keep my eyes glued on it because Steve Jobs historically makes pretty big announcements there. After all, last year he unveiled the iPhone in his Macworld keynote.

I don't know if it's prudent for me to be using Gizmodo as a source for Macworld rumors since they played a dumb prank at CES where they turned off TVs on the show floor and got one reporter banned, but they have a more comprehensive and accurate list than some other places. The one thing I think they are guilty of here is expecting too much out of this keynote. It'll probably only be 60-90 minutes long, and at least a quarter of that will be hashing sales and stuff we already know (movie rentals and DVDs ready-to-rip to Apple TV and iPods/iPhones). Supposedly, a lot of people are saying that there will be an entirely new product announced, though I don't know what it would be really. Some are saying that they'll save WiMax with a super-thin laptop, but that would probably just replace a MacBook. An Apple Tablet is probably just a pipe-dream. We can problem expect new Mactel machines of some sort, maybe even MacBook Pros. It would make sense for them to re-design their computers again after staying with the current one for so long. I don't think we'll see a new iPhone or any new iPods, but I hope we'll have a date for the iPhone SDK and maybe more software updates for the iPhone. I wouldn't be too surprised if we saw a better Apple TV, but I wouldn't count on it (though a price drop would be nice). It should be an interesting keynote, to say the least.

Bad news for net neutrality: AT&T is giving much more serious thought to filtering the Internet now for their customers to strip it of copyrighted content (with the avid support of NBC-Universal) and torrents. What's scary is that they're not alone. No decisions have been made yet, but companies are already surfacing with filtering services. I don't know why these guys think some kid in high school who wants his fix won't find a way around their filtering. I still don't understand how anyone can filter encrypted packets (ala torrents), but I'm sure they all think they have a brilliant plan.

Blu-ray is inching closer to victory with Paramount going Blu-ray only, Universal's HD-DVD exclusivity contract expiring, and New Line following Paramount and Warner to Blu-ray. As if that wasn't enough, a couple of the big players in pornography have decided to sell a few Blu-ray titles as well. So much for their early support of HD-DVD. It's funny that despite several reports of HD-DVD having better quality video, Blu-ray is starting to jump ahead really quickly. I'm sure there's more to this whole thing than meets the eye. After all, Blu-ray does have a higher capacity and its high cost may provide higher margins of profit later when the technology becomes cheaper from economies of scale. In any case, I wouldn't pick up an HD-DVD player, even if it is on sale.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has released a new service called WebStore. It basically just makes it extremely easy to set up your own e-Commerce site at a relatively inexpensive price of $60 a month. The site you set up gives your customers a lot of the same benefits of including related products, fraud protection, etc. What's really cool is that if you're already an Amazon customer then you can shop on any WebStore, which gives any of these guys a built-in customer base. I think this is seriously pretty cool because the layout and everything is very customizable. I know that sounded like an advertisement, but I honestly do think it's pretty cool. I wouldn't mention it if I didn't.

One more thing in technology: how do you recognize a good programmer? I love this article with several high points of what to look for. I think it's entirely true and definitely a must-read for those looking for jobs in tech to understand what qualities about yourself you need to sell and for recruiters/interviewers.

I went to Apple Trailers and watched a lot of trailers. I thought I'd link you guys to some of the best ones I found. I thought the trailer for Speed Racer was interesting, but I worry that it has itself confused between a cartoon and a live action movie. I was a fan of the series as a kid so I naturally hope for the best, and it does have a pretty good cast including Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Matthew Fox, Susan Sarandon, and Roger Allam. You should watch the trailer and judge for yourself. I don't know what to think about the Mamma Mia trailer. It also has a pretty good cast (Pierce Brosnan, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth), but I'm usually not a fan of musicals. Still, this is a pretty big musical and the trailer didn't look bad so I think it could be good. I was sold, however, on the trailer for Cassandra's Dream, though. It's the next Woody Allen flick featuring Colin Farrell and Ewan Mcgregor as brothers who get involved in some bad stuff. I know, that's a pretty bad synopsis, but the trailer really is intriguing. Plus, I haven't seen enough Woody Allen movies The last trailer I liked was for Wanted, which includes James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Common, and Morgan Freeman. It's based on the Mark Millar graphic novel of the same title and is about a dude who inherits the legacy of being part of this brotherhood of assassins that kills other, bad assassins. This plot line sounds familiar but I cannot think of what it is I'm trying to remember (please comment if you know what I'm thinking of). Anyhow, the trailer is fun and worth a glance.

Back to the Saturday 9:

1. Do you have a former lover who you feel is “the one who got away”?

Well I have one who I feel did get away, and I do miss her, but I don't think I'd quite give her that title yet.

2. Do you have a nickname? If yes, do you like it?

Not really, though I've acquired a few random ones: E, Easy E, Tiger, Eptiger, Shawn...

3. Did you go to theater, museums, or art galleries growing up?

Just museums. I probably only went to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts only a handful of times (usually during museum week), but I worked at the Houston Museum of Natural Science for a few summers so I got pretty familiar with that (plus I got in the exhibits for free so I liked that).

4. What shoes are you wearing right at this moment?

I'm barefoot =O

5. What do people who know you think is your best feature?

Do I really have a best feature? I don't know, but I kinda hope it'd be my passion for stuff. I think it's hard to stick around in this industry without passion.

6. What do you like on your pizza?

Pepperoni, mushrooms, BBQ chicken, feta cheese, or pineapple. Those are what come to mind right now (of course not all together though).

7. Do you believe people who curse generally do so because of a lack of vocabulary?

Not really. I curse (not excessively, but when I'm really mad about something I do) and I have a pretty decent vocabulary. I think when I read when I was a kid I would just really absorb words for some reason so I became pretty good at spelling.

8. How well do you sing?

On a scale from 1 to 10, probably a 4. I'm not unbearable, but I wouldn't sing except at church or with my guitar accompanying me. I can be coerced into doing karaoke on occasion.

9. How well do you get along with your family?

Fairly well. We're not extremely close (I'm closer to my brother and sister-in-law than my parents), but we don't have any inherent problems, just the standard oddities of being a family.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Victory for Digital Music

A belated 'Happy New Year' is in order! I would've posted sooner except that I've had a fever since Wednesday evening and I'm only now starting to recover from it. It did give me a chance to pop open my Veronica Mars Season 2 DVDs though. I think my recent posts have been on the attacking or cynical side, but I think it's amazing news that Sony has caved and so now all the major music labels have switched to DRM-free music downloads. I cannot emphasize how big of a deal this is. After years of issues with mp3 players only playing certain mp3s and rootkits and breaking DRM schemes and all that jazz, the big guys have finally admitted that DRM-free is the way to go. Why? It's not altruism. Rather, they're scared of Apple. Amazon made a bold move when they decided that they only digital music they'd offer would be DRM-free. Some probably thought it was stupid for a nascent service to be so greedy. Funny how in less than half a year they brought around every major record label, huh? I don't know how many of the labels (besides EMI) is selling DRM-free through iTunes, but some have been selling to others as well (e.g. Rhapsody and Wal-mart, whose pompous site insists you use IE). Somehow, Amazon mp3 has been the common denominator. I really want to meet that team when I get back to Seattle to find out how this all came to be.

The point is, this was a huge risk for these labels. They're making a huge statement in saying that they'd rather risk feeding piracy with DRM-free music offerings than let iTunes remain the #1 digital music source with no close competitors. Think about that for a second. It seems a little paranoid, doesn't it? There's probably more to it than that, but I'm really curious as to what was going on behind closed doors for Apple to piss these guys off so much. It may very well be true that the labels saw the error in their ways in sticking with DRM for so long (especially the bad PR that geeks like me spared no time in propagating). It may even be true that they crunched numbers and thought that selling DRM-free may make them more money. Or maybe they did surveys or something. It's tough to say. There's no doubt in my mind that at least one factor in their decisions was to diversify who receives their content, and the fact that Amazon Mp3 now has claim over a library formidable to Apple means that my prediction from way back when may be true: Amazon can give iTunes a run for its money. They're finally proving that Apple is not invincible, something that companies like RealNetworks and Napster never accomplished. We just have to wait and see what the numbers say at time progresses. Amazon can still blow it, no doubt (though I've only seen the UI get better). But the fact that they've made it this far is a pretty big deal, in my opinion. One more thing: if this DRM-free thing works out for music than we can hope to see it spread to movies and television shows as we see mirroring trends in putting content online.

Of course, not all is well in online music. Napster has raised its monthly rate by $3 to $12.95. Mashable likes to be melo-dramatic and claim that this signals their downfall, but I think that's a premature statement. I think they still have a chance, but I do think it'll be hard for them to attract more subscribers with a higher rate. Also, Apple is being sued, again, for having a monopoly in digital music and mp3 players. Given that there are some sizable competitors though that are doing decently well (not gangbusters, but not bad either), I can't see this lawsuit going far.

Warner Brothers has decided that it will not sell HD-DVD discs, only for Blu-ray. Why? Well, Blu-ray sales were apparently strong in Q4 last year and they claim that the numbers are not in HD-DVD's favor. Could this be the start of a Blu-ray victory? Over the past year there was never really a clear winner, as there isn't still, but rather one would just inch in front of the other. If what Warner claims is true though, then maybe HD-DVD won't exist this time next year. We'll have to wait and see.

I have some bad news: Intel has decided to put an end to their involvement with the One Laptop Per Child program. Sounds kind of weird, right? I don't know if Intel is fully to blame here as the OLPC project asked them to not work on any other platforms but OLPC. Anyway, they've had issues working together for a while and Intel has its own low-cost laptop platform called the Classmate PC. It's not a total loss, but the impasse is still mildly tragic.

Seth MacFarlane made a speech at one of the WGA rallies and I thought it was interesting enough to share with you all:

It just gives a very real viewpoint from their side as to why the strike makes sense and why it's not about being greedy. Plus, he does his Stewie voice at the end.

I have a couple of quick things. There's a new torrent site called YouTorrent that searches the torrent search engines for the good stuff. It's pretty good and worth giving a shot. The other thing is that Google has had a couple of high-profile defections including their UI designer for Gmail. These probably don't mean anything because it's not unusual for young talent in the tech industry to move around, but it just shows that Google isn't a paradise for everyone, despite popular belief.

To compensate for not posting in a while I figure that I'd share a video I took on New Year's Eve after we finished setting up my brother's house for the New Year's party. The featured drinks aren't out yet (mojitos and pomegranate martinis), but it still looks nice:

Shawn and Selina's New Year's Eve Tour from Eptiger on Vimeo.

Lastly, I haven't played in a meme in a while, which is kind of a shame. I thought I'd give newcomer Saturday 9 a try:

1. Do you have a dishwasher?
I do, but I never use it.

2. What noise do you hear?
The TV behind me. I swear cable is the devil.

3. Next concert you hope to go to?
I don't have one in mind, but I still need to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

4. When was the last time you said I love you and meant it?
To be honest, I'm not sure. Maybe a week ago? I used to say daily, and I usually say it to my mom on the phone, but since I'm here in Houston I don't talk to her on the phone.

5. If all of your friends were going on a road trip, who would be most likely to over pack?
Me, I'm sure.

6. Who is the youngest in your family?
I guess my cousin Sherylann's son, who is not even two months old now.

7. Do you know anyone with the same name as you?
Kind of. I know this guy is out there. ;) If you just mean by first name: I know there's Elton John, but I don't know anyone personally.

8. How many shoes do you own?
Probably 6 pairs.

9. Do you mind flat soda?
I don't drink soda period, except with alcohol. Even then, I don't think I'd mind terribly.