Sunday, April 27, 2008

Coldplay is Back! =O

EDIT: I miscalculated, it will be available at 6:15 AM tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. I thought it was 12:15 AM BST, not 12:15 PM. Sorry ;)

Maybe I'm just really behind, but I heard a while ago that Coldplay was having issues and was taking a break, so I assumed that the band was on the verge of breaking up and was very sad. I was shocked to receive this in my inbox from

We're very pleased to announce that Coldplay's new single, 'Violet Hill', will be available as a free download exclusively from for one week starting tomorrow, Tuesday April 29th, at 12.15pm UK time. This is a full week ahead of the single's conventional paid-for digital release, on Tuesday May 6th.

Then, on Wednesday May 7th, there will be a free limited edition 7-inch vinyl of 'Violet Hill' on the cover of NME magazine, backed by the exclusive B-side, 'A Spell A Rebel Yell'.

That would be 6:15 PM CST, I believe, today (Monday)! I'm stoked! Check out the new album cover:

I saw Harold and Kumar: Escape from Amsterdam and would love to review it and do a post right now, but I have work to do and I'm sick, so I can't waste any more time than I already have. I'm going to try really hard to post on Tuesday. My score for the movie will probably end up being B+ (go see it if you liked the first, but just put aside high expectations of it being another comedy classic and realize it's another stoner comedy).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Truth About Net Neutrality

"Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32

I don't quote the bible much here because this isn't that kind of blog, but I really like that quote. For some reason, every time I read it feels like the first time I've ever read it.

Getting to the point though, we set out in February to create a video about network neutrality. Why? For our grade in Contemporary Issues in CS, mainly, but any of my regular visitors probably see me posting about net neutrality quite a bit so would know how strongly I feel about it. The problem right now, in my opinion, is exposure. If legislators don't think their constituents care about the issue then it's too easy for lobbyists and telcos to fill their heads with whatever benefits the shareholders of these companies. The videos that are out there right now are often either misinformed (even Rocketboom
's take goes past the strict boundaries of what net neutrality means) or completely one-sided (whether for or against it). How likely are you to believe a biased video that only tells you one side of the story? It's like watching Zeitgeist and believing everything it tells you without reproach (for the record, going back to the gold standard is completely absurd and illogical).

So my video aims to present a clear and truthful definition of the issue, and then present the major arguments on both sides with an obvious lean towards net neutrality. We spent well over 50 hours putting it together (at least 20 hours in editing alone), so I hope that it entertains and educates you:

The Truth About Net Neutrality from Eptiger on Vimeo.

If you'd rather see it on YouTube, part 1 is here and part 2 is here. Apparently, I uploaded at a high enough quality for it to be viewable in "higher quality", so YouTube is not a bad option for viewing it. I encourage you to pass it along to friends if you enjoyed it and spread the word on this important issue. I did not distort anyone's interview in this video, nor did I distort the arguments against net neutrality. I really was trying to be as unbiased as possible in putting this together.

I'll try to make a real post this weekend, but I have to get a lot of work done between now and then (code generator, prepare for management exam, final music composition, 3000 words for our net neutrality paper, research stuff). Just one week left!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

TLD Spring Show

For my last semester in Texas Latin Dance I actually participated in a dance company! This means that you create/learn a choreography (though all I personally contributed to the dance I was in was the song selection) and then perform it at TLD's show at the end of that semester as well as events around campus and possibly around Austin. Since I'm graduating I won't get to perform this one again with the group, but it was a lot of fun learning it and something that I always wanted to do (dance on stage). Next hurdle: perform classical guitar on stage. I have performed it in front of medium sized audiences, but not in a recital/concert setting.

Anyway, one of the officers filmed the show on a half-way decent camera so I took it into the DMS lab in the business school for some light editing and encodings that took forever (for the Web and for the DVD). Here's the compressed version of the entire show, for the Web:

Texas Latin Dance 2008 Spring Show from Eptiger on Vimeo.

I think it was one of our best, if not the best, show we've had in the 2 years I've been in TLD! Though my personal favorites were probably Texas Revue, Bachata, and Mezcla.

If you turn to 26:05 you can see the dance I'm in, or you can just watch the even lower quality YouTube cut. I'm the last guy on the front row in the formation.

I'll return on Thursday with the public release of my short film "The Truth About Net Neutrality". Then, I hope to write a full blog post this weekend with a recap of this week's news. I've already been accumulating a pretty decent amount of news so there will be much to talk about.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Yahoo/Microsoft and Net Neutrality Dominate the News

So I know I haven't posted anything in a couple of weeks, but I've been busy. After honors weekend was over I had to bust my ass to work on my parser and then spent the rest of the recovering in my other classes. Since my last post, the limelight has fallen clearly on two issues from what I've been reading: Microsoft's fight to acquire Yahoo and a surge of articles related to net neutrality. Speaking of which, my video "The Truth About Net Neutrality" is ready and will be made public after it is shown in class. So expect a post about this on Tuesday or on Thursday (more likely Thursday). I think that everyone will enjoy it and learn a lot from it. I have a couple of real quick personal things though. I'm performing in a dance tomorrow night, so you should come see it if you're in Austin (Union Ballroom, 8:30 PM). I caved and decided to join Twitter, we'll see how that goes (it's also somewhere on the right side here). Lastly, I got a shiny new laptop and a new mouse. I hate to say it: but HP's mantra of "the computer is personal again" really does apply here for me. It's exactly what I wanted: it's super fast, I can multi-task to an extreme without slowdowns, it's precisely the media powerhouse I want for high-definition video and my music and pictures, it has a built in webcam and bluetooth, and it even has S-video output. Very impressive, HP. Plus, this screen clobbers my old 19" CRT even though it's only 15.4" (it's just a little shorter than the 19"). The mouse is just really precise and the buttons on it are great. Wanna see?

Let's start off with Yahoo's response to Microsoft's ultimatum: give us more money. They claim that they'd be more amicable to the takeover if the offer was larger, which at this point may actually be true because they have to be starting to become afraid of Microsoft taking action by way of a proxy fight. I love the open letter they sent because it was like a verbal bitchslap aimed at Steve Ballmer. Were they being jerks in their diction? I don't think so, because I can see Ballmer being a jerk himself in trying to push this whole thing forward. The last I heard since that letter was sent is that they met earlier this week to open up negotiations again. We have no idea what's happening here behind closed doors (maybe in a year it'll be a made-for-TV movie), but I think we're all hoping that it won't end in a proxy fight. Oh, and a proxy fight does not guarantee anything for Microsoft since stockholders have to be willing to sell their shares so that's a big reason why Ballmer is going to want to negotiate more here. What we do know is that Microsoft hired a lobbyist group to start greasing the wheels in terms of making sure that an acquisition of Microsoft would not be questioned by the suits in the other Washington.

As if that wasn't already enough drama for Redmond (which could be the title of yet another reality show for MTV, I'm sure), analysts are painting a bleak picture for Microsoft unless they rethink how they deal with Windows. I have to say that I agree with them, and it sounds like Microsoft may already be on that path. Last time I blogged, I believe I cited an article saying that Windows looks like it'll become more modular, and so I think the Windows 7 team wants it to be easier to upgrade. Of course, if someone with the hardware to run Vista can't run Windows 7, then they're really hosed because that's unacceptable. Increasing virtualization seems interesting, but I don't personally have much experience in how virtualization works. I wonder if it's at all feasible to remedy their problem of a huge legacy codebase with a virtual machine to run programs that require Vista/XP to run? That way they could start fresh. They're probably not going to do this, it's just something I'm pondering here. Fortunately, Microsoft is actually getting some praise in its improvements to Live Maps, which seem pretty sweet. Even though I regularly use Google Maps, I can appreciate how nice the Bird's Eye viewing angle can be, and these 3-D rendered builds right in your browser are pretty neat. You can see my old place in Seattle here (I lived in the triangular building) and this is where I worked.

Facebook has launched its in-browser chat for select networks and it seems to be pretty neat and an excellent idea. I think that enough people stay logged into Facebook for an extended period time to make this actually useful. It looks to be pretty well integrated with your news feed and easy to deal with as an addition to your normal Facebook browsing experience. What does this mean for traditional IM clients? Are they to go the way of the dodo with the rise of Google Chat and Meebo and now this Facebook chat? Probably not. I think that enterprise users will still value their functionality in helping teams communicate, but we'll see what happens.

I mentioned last time that it's ridiculous that Google would take on Amazon Web Services (AWS), but I guess that their Google Apps Engine heads toward that goal. I have to admit that this is really cool, but it's kind of different from anything AWS does, which is good. It's an entire platform rooted in Python and hosted by Google for launching your own web applications. So it's less flexible but more tightly integrated than the kind of stuff you'd be buying from AWS. I think it's interesting for a niche market, but appeals to a slightly different market than AWS, one that I believe is probably smaller but not negligible. If you want Google Apps Engine, then you're probably a student or a smal player, whereas companies that want to use AWS have a clearer direction and a better understanding of what they need and how they plan to use it. It's definitely interesting and I think it's a great concept. It has its limitations and I don't know if it'll ever grow to be really big (most platforms take a while to catch on anyhow), but it's definitely not a bad idea. I stand by saying that Google can't directly compete with AWS in its segment of the market, which is further confirmed by Jeff Bezos's remarks at Startup School as intimated by my friend, Juan, that include something like this.

Ok, now for the slew of net neutrality articles. Virgin Media's CEO has blasted net neutrality as being bullshit and has already started establishing contracts to deliver the content of certain providers faster than others. The audacity of people like this truly amaze me. I don't understand how people can desire more money at the expense of society and the very definition of what the Internet has always been. Of course, they then turn around and say that we don't really need faster Internet access. Why is an enraged American public not putting he pieces together? They want to charge more money to certain providers to make more money without actually giving you a better Internet experience. They're too lazy to rebuild their networks and wire this country with fiber so they instead go for cheap solutions that don't really make anything better.

Comcast re-did their hearing at Stanford last week for throttling people using BitTorrent since last time they paid people to fill seats so that real people couldn't sit in and be a part of it, and they really want to de-prioritize heavy Internet users. This is not a violation of net neutrality, this is a violation of what most of their clients signed in their terms of service and is ridiculous. Net neutrality specifically deals with neutrality on the content provider side, it's a totally different issue for the consumer side. Providers like Comcast have long forgotten what it means to care about their customers and have turned to self-serving "bills of rights" and slinging mud at any threat to keeping the Internet a communications medium that is driven by and freely available to the people at large. I hope all of you will write to your congressmen and help be a part of the solution.

I'm running late here so let me cover just a few things real quick. Joel Spolsky wrote another article for about the strategy of "Fire and Motion" where you stun your opponents with something big (the "fire") and then move forward so that you're always one step ahead of them. It's a fun read and a great strategy for all you budding entrepreneurs. PS3 users may soon see television and movie content come straight to their PS3s via the Playstation Network. I'm not sure if they'd have ad-supported TV like Hulu or pay-per-view like iTunes/Unbox, but hopefully it'll help the PS3 stand up against its loses to the Xbox 360 and Wii in this generation's console war. Clearly, Sony wants the PS3 to be your one-stop entertainment center. Lastly, if you're a Mac user who doesn't even consider security, you need to read this. I'm currently playing with vulnerabilities in my research that affect Macs, so believe me when I tell you to be careful out there. The Internet is a dangerous place.

Like I said, by Thursday I'll be making another post with my net neutrality documentary, so I hope you'll come visit again very soon!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Roots Rock UT

**UPDATE** The Daily Texan actually has a great article reviewing the concert as well that acts as a nice supplement to what I say below.

NOTE: below the embedded video, you'll see your dosage of tech news to cover the past 2 weeks.

I have to say that Austin has had a pretty fortunate Spring. The weather is still pretty nice outside, despite being April, Barack Obama has come to speak here at least 3 times, we hosted the latest Clinton-Obama debate, Bill Gates visited us, Bill and Hillary Clinton both spoke here, we're home to the current Turing Award winner, and The Roots blasted their incredible fusion of rock and hip hop from Main Mall throughout the lower half of campus.

They were the very definition of indie Austin rock, in my opinion: weird, intense, but always fun. I was disappointed that they didn't acknowledge The Roots at all, but I forgive them. If you looked close enough, you could spot Captain Kirk, Owen Biddle, and I think Tuba Gooding, Jr. Feel free to comment if you can spot more of them (it's like "Where's Waldo"):

I tried to keep track of the songs they played, so here's the best set list I could come up with, in roughly the order they were played:

Unknown song from Game Theory (I think)
Step Into the Realm
Act Too (Love of My Life)
1-minute covers: In a Gadda Da Vida (Iron Butterfly), Jump On It (Sugarhill Gang), Roc Boys (Jay-Z), Get By (Talib Kweli), Just a Friend (Biz Markie), a Wu-Tang song I didn't know, Who Am I (Snoop Dogg), This is Why I'm Hot (Mims), Snap Yo Fingers (Lil Jon and Sean Paul), Sexy Back (Justin Timberlake), Push It (Salt N Peppa)
Extended cover: Masters of War (Bob Dylan)
I Will Not Apologize (off of Rising Down)
You Got Me
Here I Come
cover of Jungle Boogie (Kool & The Gang)
Don't Feel Right
The Next Movement
Encore: The Seed and some song I didn't know (it sounded like the hook was "Men at Work", it was not Thought @ Work)

And again, that doesn't even cover all the songs they actually played, it's just the ones I knew. It made for a great set that covered over 2 hours. They came on stage one-by-one starting off with a song I didn't know, but as always The Roots crew started building up the crowd's energy until the crowd got wild and excited after the Masters of War cover. Speaking of which, you can see a video of it on YouTube from another concert. So picture that but with an insane guitar solo and a longer drum solo. It was seriously worth waiting 2 hours just to see that cover: it was absolutely incredible. The buildup in the show's energy was definitely noticeable though as Black Thought periodically introduced each member of the band giving them a short solo, especially as they went through that long slew of covers that the crowd went crazy over. I don't even like Jungle Boogie and I thought it was amazing when they played it.

What was interesting is that even though The Roots and Common are both hip hop, and have both blazed the stage that is Main Mall, there's something fundamentally different in their music that really fascinates. Common is more reflective, soulful, bare bones hip hop whereas The Roots is this rock-driven hip hop experience that revitalizes ever song they play as well as any covers they play. I had seen them live before back after the release of Phrenology, and so some of the band members have changed since then, but the show stayed true to being really high quality. Hell, they even put up these poles where the flag poles are that did something crazy with the sound echoing at some points. I've never seen so many white people go so nuts over 6 black dudes (+ a white guy) taking a stage; I thought it was interesting. I had no idea how cross-cultural The Roots' pull was. It's not hard to see why though when they put together a live show that you'd think was choreographed to the second with perfect harmonies but remixes of songs that most people there had never heard before. Anyhow, the concert was so mind-blowing that I pre-ordered Rising Down so I can give you guys the full review when I get that at the end of the month. In the meantime, here's a video that I took at the concert of the guys dancing on stage, which was started by F Knuckles:

The Roots Dance on Stage from Eptiger on Vimeo.

Ok, so it's time for some tech news! Amazingly, they flow pretty well into each other, so I'll start on the musical track since we started out talking about The Roots. PC World recently updated its list of top 10 Flash-based mp3 players, and I think the order is debatable but from my experience of shopping for one I'd agree that those are pretty much the top 10 out there right now except for the Cowon D2. My lesser known Clix2 (see yesterday's post) made the #5 spot just below the iPod Touch but above SanDisk or the Zune.

Where do you shop to load up these fine mp3 players though? USA Today had a refreshing article pointing out that Amazon's mp3 download service is now number 2 in digital music sales right behind iTunes. They're also tied for the number 4 spot in top U.S. music retailers with Target behind Best Buy, Wal-mart, and iTunes, which is number 1 now (on both charts). I'd say that given that Amazon MP3 was just a whisper a year ago, it's incredible that it has grown to be so popular and I'm excited to see if its greater selection of DRM-free music than iTunes will allow it to overtake Apple's FairPlay-controlled service. I personally have grown weary of iTunes and have switched to MediaMonkey for organizing my music and Amazon for digital downloads because it's just better overall.

(Note: I have no non-public knowledge of the AWS group,=; I did not work in that group.) Amazon also garnered a bit of negative press that I'm almost afraid to link to because I think it's kind of ridiculous. Basically, GigaOM put up a commentary on a thought from Dave Winer that gained popularity (probably more than the Winer original did). No doubt that both guys are smart and know what they're talking about in general, but I don't think there are enough companies that would want EC2 and S3 and such for free like this. Consumers are cheap and love free stuff, but enterprise-level software is all about support. So there's two ways Google could go about this: supporting it with ads or just hoping that one of the companies they back strike it big and Google can acquire them. For the former, I can't imagine that there are a lot of companies who would want to be forced to have big parts of their infrastructure supported by advertising. For the latter, I don't see how the fruits of this would be good enough to warrant providing these services. It's not like the AWS prices are insane anyway. I'm going to be bold enough to say that Google would be stupid to try to compete with AWS with a free model. AWS does pretty well as it is, and Google's style and past success are based in investing in growing markets without a clear leader.

Of course, a well-established leader is no obstacle to Microsoft who took on Sony in the console wars for the past couple of generations and is still trying to buy Yahoo in its war with Google. They've become so impatient that they're giving Yahoo 3 weeks to surrender before they take the fight directly to the stockholders. This could get real messy real fast. As I've mentioned before, Microsoft really does not want a proxy fight here because Yahoo's talent base is very important to them and a proxy fights typically result in casualties and lowered employee morale, but Ballmer has made it abundantly clear several times before that they will stop at nothing to takeover Yahoo, so I'm still appalled that Yahoo is still fighting this so irresponsibly. My opinion is that they told Microsoft they wanted more money because they wanted to stall for time from their shareholders because they knew that Microsoft wouldn't pay up. Either that, or they're delusional (which I also mentioned before).

I have a friend working on the Windows 7 team so I'm always excited to get news on that front because he's a smart guy and I think that he'll help guide Windows back on the right path. There's already rumors that Windows 7 will be modular, meaning that it'll come out in pieces so that it can be developed monolithically while providing the flexibility of a highly customizable OS (this is a similar idea to people who use Linux so that they can tinker with it). Also, Bill Gates let slip that Windows 7 will be out next year, but he didn't say much other than that. It's likely a beta that will be ready late next year since the release timeline for 2010 hasn't changed, but I hope that they are trying to pick up the pieces of Windows Vista and build something truer to what people really want.

Alas, I have one more piece of news from Redmond: the Microsoft Surface will be in AT&T stores in a few select cities to show off cell phone models by just placing them on the device to help sell the phones. It's an interesting application for the product, though I'm sure quite expensive. I wonder if AT&T bought them outright or if they're on loan? We have no idea whether it'll only work on the demo models or if your own phone could be placed on the Surface to be played around with, but it's launching April 17 so we'll know soon enough. Despite my initial skepticism, I think that the Surface could be really cool in retail stores and bars and restaurants.

The CEO of the Mozilla Foundation is leading the herds of people who are disgruntled that the Apple Software Update application, which PC users typically use to get updates to iTunes but Apple users use for other applications, automatically puts Safari on the list of updates it will provide to you and check the box by default so that if you just click "Install" whenever it bugs you about upgrading you'll have one more browser that you may not want (I certainly wouldn't want it). While I think it shouldn't be checked by default, I think that John Lilly is getting too worked about it. People shouldn't be clicking on things they haven't read or don't understand, anyway, because it could be a virus. That's why people should use ZoneAlarm and SpyBot. I personally think that anything that auto-updates is evil and should always ask you first, but nagging you can also be problematic. Still, it's the lesser of two evils, and so at least Safari doesn't actually install itself without asking you. Of course, what Lilly should keep in mind that if Safari is worse than Firefox (which it is) then he has nothing to worry about. The only helpful feature I ever found in it was the Activity window, which is like Down Them All but not as good. Oh, and Firefox 3 Beta 5 is out for all you hardcore nerds and developers out there.

Azureus, creators of the famed torrent application of the same name, have released a plug-in that will allow you to determine if your ISP is throttling your connection for using torrents. It may sound useless because you'd know if you were being throttled, but it will then send that information to Azureus to help compile a list of such terrible ISPs and I presume help your case in suing them.

Now, I have several high points I'd like to hit real quick because this post is taking way too long and I have other things to attend to. GigaOM put up something more enlightening than what I mentioned above: a guide to what makes a good mobile application great. Having dealt with horrible ones, I can attest to this list's validity. The New York Times had an excellent editorial about how Hillary Clinton is dragging along this battle because she feels like she politically deserves the nomination and will drag the party through the mud to get it. Clinton supporters: don't fight me here, there are field reporters attesting to shady tactics at conventions here in Texas alone. I'd vote for her if Obama loses, but I don't think it will come to that and she needs to start to realize that before we lose people to McCain and the arguably more decisive Republican Party. The SciFi channel put up a really neat recap of the first 3 seasons of Battlestar Galatica for those who want to get into the show but haven't been keeping up. It makes me want to go out and rent these first seasons, but unfortunately it's down momentarily. I'm sure it'll be back soon (it's called 'What the Frak is Going On?'). Lastly, in my hunt for Seattle apartment I came across HousingMaps, a Craigslist/Google Maps mashup that will map out housing ads in various big cities. I love it and am using it constantly so I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new place.

Hopefully I'll have another post up early next week, but until then I have much work ahead of me this week so wish me luck!