Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Conficker Drags On

New Guitar Excitement

Before I start on the post, I'm pretty excited about my new guitar so I feel compelled to share, first. You can skip this portion if you don't care.

I went to 4 shops around Seattle: Rosewood Guitar, Dusty Strings, Northwest Guitar, and A Sharp Music Co. They're all cool shops for different things, and Rosewood Guitar had the best selection of classical guitars, but I ended up getting an Orpheus Valley Fiesta F65CW guitar from Northwest Guitar, which was my favorite stop so I'm glad they had what I liked best. The Spanish luthiers are always the most famous, but I was definitely impressed by what the Bulgarians at Orpheus Valley can produce. It's got an awesome solid Red Cedar top, Indian Rosewood back, sides, and fretboard, and a Honduras Cedar neck. I took a close-up of the tuning pegs because I really love how they look.

I was pretty impressed when I started strumming on it by the dynamic and loud sounds I was able to produce, and I really fell in love with it when I plugged it into an amp at the store and it sounded perfect. I was worried that you would be able to hear my nails scratching on the strings, but the sound was ridiculously clean, so I'm really excited about the pickup and hopefully playing at the young adult mass at church soon. I wanted to get an electric to play with effects, but I'm still not a fan of nails on steel strings and I've been tinkering with a multi effects processor to see how it does with my brand new electric acoustic. It's really incredible how the right tool can totally change your perspective on things. Like getting new boxing gloves made me more excited to participate in an activity that was previously consistently hurting my hands (which went away with the new gloves), and getting a really good guitar makes me so much more excited about playing and being proud of the sound I can produce from it. Just something to think about if you have a hobby you want to delve deeper in - do you have the tools you really need to become passionate about it?

Oh, and if you find yourself shopping for an electric acoustic I know that I found this article helpful. Though if you don't know anything about acoustics, I'd start here.

Conficker, Botnets, and Hacker Want Ads

A number of outlets over-covered the Conficker story with nonsense and are now pulling back, but the issue is still an issue despite the fact that the world didn't end. Outbreaks happen all the time, they just aren't all publicized so much because the scope isn't as big. That doesn't mean that they're not dangerous, they just don't have as terrible a potential as something that Conficker does being the most widespread infection in over 6 years. It's really important to not confuse dormancy with being benign. Drawing a pretty far-fetched analogy (hey, it's late): if a country in a volatile political climate has weapons of mass destruction that they haven't used yet, that doesn't mean they don't intend to.

Anyway, some are estimating a bill of over $9 billion in terms of wasted time of governments, security companies, and other miscellaneous resources in getting patched and trying to contain the worm. It has already starting making money for its owners though by way of what I had initially guessed: a botnet for spam. Thousands of machines have already started sending out spam and downloading spyware unbeknown to their owners. It's actually a pretty smart strategy: silent but terrible. The aggressive worms unite the world against them, but, now that the initial concern has died down, Conficker is in a prime position to make its creators a lot of money over an extended period of time.

Conficker is just one part of a bigger threat though: the rise of botnets. Why are they so hard to fight? After all, weeks after we first caught wind of Conficker it's still considered a huge problem by security experts. The main problems are that they operate under the radar and often in programs and often outside of the control of most IT departments, they're getting stronger protection (like communicating only via encrypted messages), and social networking has becoming the next e-mail in terms of attack vector. It used to be that people were only warned to not open attachments in strange e-mails, but now people have to monitor even the links they're sent from known friends on social networks. You can imagine how much harder something like that is to contain. In some ways, it reflects why organized crime still exists: it's an arms race. The good guys will never win because the bad guys are getting smarter and smarter, but better user education can cut into their profits enough to make these things less appealing to them. That really is our only solid defense.

Cyber security has become such a big problem that the Department of Homeland Security is now even looking specifically for IT people who can "think like the bad guy" to help protect the country from cyber attacks. Personally, I think that a class on network security should become part of the core curriculum in Computer Science programs across the country to help facilitate the coding practices that help minimize the likelihood of vulnerabilities for attack in the software that keeps our country and our lives running every day. As far as immediate action though, the government definitely could be doing a lot more to protect itself, so it's good to see this.

Oracle Buys Sun

The CEO of Sun sent out what I thought was an honest and heartfelt e-mail to his employees last Monday telling them that he had sold the company to Oracle. To be honest though, this isn't a bad move at all for either side. Oracle lives and breathes Java, databases, and enterprise servers. I'd imagine that they're not going to try to cut a whole lot of staff from Sun because I'm pretty sure they're going to treasure some of Sun's big products (like Java and Solaris). I know I'm hoping to see more frequent updates to Java since the release date of 1.7 is still indeterminate.

Amazon Video on Demand Goes HD

I was pretty stoked when I read that Amazon VOD now offers TV shows and movies in high definition. The one problem I had with the service on my TiVo box was that the video quality was just barely on par with DVD (though definitely better than standard definition TV), but seeing a format more on par with over-the-air HD content at typically just $1 more is pretty awesome. The way I see it (and this is a popular sentiment, mind you) is that the future of movie rentals and watching television is digital distribution. There's a reason why cable companies are losing customers for cable television and Blockbuster has been a sinking ship: the writing is on the wall. The selection is pretty decent to start out with, although the movies are not available in HD on the computer - only on TiVo, Roku boxes, Sony Bravias, and Panasonic VIERA Cast TVs. I don't know why that is (honestly, I don't), but my guess would be licensing issues.

Meanwhile, Netflix customers have to pay 20% more for Blu-ray discs. Granted, this is a difference of only $1-$9 depending on how insane your plan is, but it is sad because it's definitely going to discourage people from upgrading to Blu-ray. I love the way things look in Blu-ray and I want to see the format flourish so that prices go down, but Netflix can't offer lower prices until that point. A part of me really wants to blame the studios because they have the power to lower prices on Blu-rays and make them much more successful, but ridiculous licensing fees and high prices in a down economy are hurting the format bad.

Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo Financials

Amazon had a strong first quarter (considering the economic climate, that is) and I'm pretty proud that we're still able to hold strong past the holiday season. I think it's a testament to awesome customers and our commitment to a better customer experience.

Unfortunately, on the other side of Lake Washington, Microsoft saw sales dip 6% - the first ever year-over-year decline. They expect the situation to stay weak at least through the next quarter, so I'm sure that the pressure is really on to get Windows 7 out the door by the end of year.

Yahoo saw revenues fall 13% prompting them to lay off nearly 700 employees (about 5% of its workforce). It looks like CEO Carol Bartz is focusing in on cutting middle management, which probably isn't the worst thing since I imagine Yahoo teams are largely self-managing.

Time Warner is Anti-competitive

I know, you're all in shock. It's not like millions of people have thought about that before, but now we have some more concrete things to back that with. Time Warner is lobbying the North Carolina state government to outlaw community-owned broadband services because they claim that they can't make a profit competing with a community-run organization selling basically at cost. I didn't make that up, that's seriously their argument. They can't handle capitalism, so they want government backing for their local monopoly. Make no mistake, Comcast and Time Warner are not one of these corporations being bullied by the masses due to biased media or anything like that, they're definitely doing the bullying.

Quick Notes

Ok, I'm fading fast but I want to play with my guitar so I'm going to really breeze through these.

Apple pulled an iPhone application that let users shake a crying baby to death to stop its incessant crying. It did end with the message to not shake babies, but it's still disgusting and it just shows that Apple is in no position to effectively police the app store if trash like this is getting through. I don't know why they insist on doing it.

YouTube has been toying around with adding social networking features to its UI, and TechCrunch got to take a look. This is, in fact, what a lot of experts thought online television should be like, but I think I have to see first hand to believe that it'll work.

Oh, and if you're a power YouTuber then you'll really like these URL tricks.

Laptop logic has 64 things every geek should know and it's awesome. It's worth scrolling through all 64 things - believe me.

I forgot to talk about this last week, but if you appreciate Daft Punk at all then you'll really love this online Daft Punk keyboard as a really cool toy.

Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The State of Internet Piracy

The Pirate Bay Ruling

I think that this whole hearing with The Pirate Bay has created the most buzz about online piracy since back when Napster got busted. It's considered by many people the largest site to get illegal torrents in terms of number of visitors. They probably have some legitimate content but let's not kid ourselves: it's a haven for illegal content. You can make all the arguments in the world about how they're only hosting the torrent files, the fact of the matter is that they host a ridiculous amount of torrents for copyrighted material.

In Sweden, copyright laws have typically been laxed, but under pressure the government eventually had to go after the Pirate Bay, and the founders were sentenced to a year in jail $3.6 million in damages. The Pirate Bay has been pretty cocky about turning down takedown notices for years now (and to the entertainment of everyone), so you can imagine that this news was probably shocking to a lot of people. The site is still up though and the founders are still adamant that what they're doing isn't illegal. The Pirate Bay is living in a gray area if I ever saw one. Google readily links to sites that host illegal content and we think nothing of it, so why not shut down Google? You could say that Google doesn't specialize in illegal content, but theoretically neither does The Pirate Bay (you have to forget their title entirely to truly believe this). People can post whatever torrents they want and having to police them would be as hard a burden on them as it would be on Google. I have to admit that the site has grown a lot since I first encountered it one fine day in high school and provides recommendations and all kinds of supplemental content with the torrents. This could either help or hurt their case. They're refusing to pay the fine and are planning to drag this on for years in appeals courts while they continue to replicate the site across the globe so that getting rid of it will be harder than quelling a fruit fly infestation.

What's really interesting is that the Pirate Party (yes, they seriously have one of those) in Sweden has swelled with supporters in the wake of the ruling. There's even been a major demonstration in Stockholm. You have to love the irony that in signing this sentence the court has essentially given rise to a movement that is far bigger than just piracy. It's not quite that these people all support piracy, but rather that they don't think their government has any clout to stand up to other nations in the interests of its people and that this could lead to a slippery slope of sites getting shut down with tons of perfectly legitimate content but a certain amount of copyrighted content that they don't own and can't afford to police. YouTube has been trying really hard to police itself and yet they're never going to succeed because there are more people uploading copyrighted content than YouTube police.

I have no idea how this is going to play out, but I can't help but be fascinated by what this means for the future of piracy and torrents. I mean there are even ISPs out there now that are trying to optimize themselves to speed up torrent downloads! Things like this would've seemed unthinkable a couple of years ago. It has brought these issues to the forefront of the attention of a much larger audience than it had been before, and that's what changes things.

The Wolverine Leak

I'm sure you've heard by now that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was leaked on the Internet recently, over a month before its theatrical release. As such, it's an unfinished cut of the film, but it's causing a lot of mixed reactions. Some are just excited to see it early while others are condemning the like and there was even a reporter who got fired for blogging his review and that he saw it illegally. What's really crazy is that there are more people condemning it than anything else. Popular blogs are agreeing with the MPAA's campaign that this costs the jobs of the crew members who aren't filthy rich and really need the money they get from these films. This is one of the biggest movie leaks ever in terms of how far in advance of the release it is and how high profile the movie is. What a crazy time to be an online pirate - some Swedish guys just got arrested and people don't want to see a leaked movie.

To add to all this: Miramax is apparently keeping an eye on Twitter and offering free movie tickets to people who are considering pirating a movie and end up not doing it. I don't think that this will accomplish anything other than boosting their PR though - though I do think it's a smart PR move if more people notice it.

Time Warner Backs Down

If you don't know about Time Warner's plan to tier their services based on bandwidth usage in select cities then just pick a post I've made in the past month and start reading it. It's kind of been a big deal.

Time Warner has received a lot of heat about it from angry customers, impassioned bloggers, and even the press at large. It got to the point that a New York congressman wanted to ban download caps entirely. Then things really came to a head when Time Warner asked the FCC to stop talking about net neutrality because (I kid you not) "now is not the time." They just wanted the government to hand them money as part of Obama's recovery plan before they're antagonized by the FCC in an issue that could choke online innovation in this country and possibly have a worse ripple effect on the rest of the world. As far as I understand what Time Warner intended to tell the FCC: they're concerned with the definition of "non-discrimination" in the FCC's advisory.

Anyway, Time Warner decided to finally put a halt to these tiering plans, at least for now. They think that the public is mis-informed about this issue, and I'm sure many are, but their prices for their caps is still unfair and needs to be tweaked. To be honest, if I could get 250 GB of bandwidth for $60 a month with a fast speed (like no less than 6 megabits per second, at its worst), I'd be fine with it, but $75 for 100 GB is really pushing it. What they probably ideally want is for everyone to meter their usage and see how little they may be using right now, but that's not going to happen because people aren't going to put forth the effort just to prove Time Warner right (potentially). In areas where Time Warner is the only game in town, this tiering is a huge issue and I hope that Time Warner reconsiders it carefully and actually improves their plan.

I don't know what they thought was going to happen though when they quietly announced the expansion of the bandwidth cap program. For an Internet Service Provider, they don't know the Internet at all.

Final Notes

Ok, it's past my bedtime and I'm exhausted. Let's wrap this up, shall we?

ReadWriteWeb has a little article with links to videos and more information about Ubiquity - a Firefox project to try to re-think how we browse the web. The demo actually kind of blew me away in how simple it was and conformed to how we actually use the Internet.

Popular Mechanics has a great article about how to cut your cable bill without giving up television. In the end, the tradeoff (as is often the case in life) is price versus the convenience of always-on TV and DVRs.

YouTube has started hosting full-length movies including Fast Food Nation, Carrie, and even Heri Pheri. Yep, it has Bollywood films, old films, and movies that people never saw, but there are some gems hidden in there. The movies seem to be in High Quality but not High Def, and they automatically start out in a big size.

Apple has bought a bunch of 16 GB NAND Flash memory chips from its main iPhone supplier indicating that they could be preparing for a 32 GB iPhone. It's a pretty strong likelihood at this point.

Function has an incredible article on how to spot good web design. It's a total joy to read and I highly recommend it for people who appreciate good visual design.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire on Blu-ray

Slumdog Millionaire

I promised last week that I'd review the Slumdog Millionaire Blu-ray I got and now that I've watched it and gone through the special features and everything I feel like it'll be a more fair evaluation.

I don't want to talk too much about the movie itself since I already wrote a review of it. At this point, the hype for it is way more than it was before, but I want to say that even if it wasn't necessarily the best movie that came out last year it's still a very good movie. It's not the best movie ever, but I felt like it broke the mold in a lot of ways and was a really creative suspense and love story. It's the kind of love story I like to watch rather than what a lot of romance movies are nowadays. It really keeps you engaged for its two hour running time and the acting all around is definitely better than you'd expect from no-name actors and actresses. They did the three stages in the lives of the three main characters surprisingly well and it made the movie feel very cohesive as you flashback into the lives of these slumdogs and how one of them ends up going very high in the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Let me start of with a couple of things that I didn't like about the Blu-ray presentation. I was really pissed when I put in the disk and after the usual long Blu-ray load time was forced to watch 4 trailers about movies I don't care about. You can skip through them, granted, but you shouldn't have to. If it was a lesser movie I probably would've returned it. It's just appalling after paying $26 for something to have to watch ads like that. Anyway, the other concern I had may not be a concern for everyone. I felt like in the theater the visuals were incredible and the color really jumped out at me, but I didn't feel that way watching it on Blu-ray. It could've been that I just remembered incorrectly. The movie definitely doesn't look bad on Blu-ray, but I felt like the colors were sometimes washed out and I didn't have the sharpness I hoped for. It's definitely my worst looking Blu-ray. However, it still looks great. People who hate the vivid colors in high definition because they feel it's so real that it seems fake will really like this. One thing you definitely get is the dirt in the air in Mumbai - I thought that was kind of cool. There was definitely no fuzziness around edges though, and the picture was definitely quite clear. It's on par with Blu-ray, it's just nothing that'll blow you away. I've heard that the DVD video transfer isn't bad so you could try out DVD, but some of the special features were in standard definition and if they're any indication of the DVD quality then Blu-ray is really the way to go.

Audio sounds great. Definitely no complaints there. The soundtrack sounds just as wonderful as it did in theaters, but it wasn't really a movie with heavy sound mixing or effects like The Dark Knight was. As far as special features, there were a handful of things: several deleted scenes, two commentary tracks, a 20-minute behind the scenes documentary, a short look at how they did the scene at the outhouses, a compilation of scenes set to "Jai Ho", a compilation of scenes set to "Liquid Dance", and the European and American trailers. All of them were in terrible video quality except for the "Jai Ho" video and the American trailer, which were in high definition. Still, I thought it was a respectable set of special features. I think some people were expecting a lot of stuff and think they're going to double dip, but it felt like they gave us all they had. The deleted scenes aren't bad and include a 10th question that was cut. Some of the deleted scenes do make sense of scenes that made the final cut but where it felt like the transition was odd, but it's obvious that they were cut for time. The commentary track that has Danny Boyle and Dev Patel was really cool, I thought. It was fun to listen to and you get a lot of random facts from it, like that the chase in the train station was filmed in the middle of the day while the station was in operation, so the people actually at the station thought they were crazy and kept offering Frieda Pinto help. Oh, and you also get a digital copy, which is a nice touch. Granted, it's a single download and it'll probably expire if you don't use it in a year or some period of time, but I don't think it really added to the cost of the Blu-ray.

Overall, I'm definitely pleased with the Blu-ray edition. I'm not as impressed as I hoped I'd be, but there's no doubt that it looks nice and I actually thought the pop-up menu was really cool. It feels very fluid and simple and, unlike for my other movies, doesn't shrink the running movie for the sake of showing you the menu. If you have a Blu-ray player and you loved this film, I'd say go for the Blu-ray. If you liked it and just want to see it again, it doesn't hurt to get it on DVD. The gain from DVD probably isn't as big as with some other films, but it's only a few bucks more.

Time Warner Still Sucks

Time Warner is still suffering the fallout from the revelation that a few cities will soon have tiered broadband services ending at a ridiculous 40 GB for $50. A lot of articles came out last week about it and the New York Times had one mentioning that the fastest broadband provider in the world only had to invest $20 per home in its network to upgrade to 160 megabits-per-second. Granted, Japan is more densely populated than we are, but it certainly doesn't sound like upgrading their networks would cost what Time Warner is trying to charge some of its customers. Verizon spends something like $800 per home for FiOs, but even that's no terrible for 50 megabits-per-second Internet when amortized over the long run. The problem with the cable providers jumping in on this is that it cannibalizes their antiquated cable television market, which they're hanging on to for dear life even though it's clearly not sustainable in the face of the Internet and online video. It's ridiculous for any of them to think they can honestly stop it.

Ars Technica did some math and found out that most people with Comcast who have to deal with their 250 GB cap pay about $0.17 per GB of bandwidth, whereas Time Warner is proposing to charge people $1.38 per GB, which is literally 8 times as much for the exact same service. They pretend this is necessary to cover the costs of upgrading their network to DOCSIS 3.0, but this is simply not true - they're price gouging.

Time Warner is fighting back by saying that the press is telling the story wrong, but they can't dispute the fact that their operating costs for their network went down last year while revenues went up. They claim that Internet usage will outpace capacity, which is a theory that has never been substantiated. They should just be honest: they're trying to squeeze money out of people in a bad economy to help promote cable television and discourage online innovation since that doesn't really drive more money to them it just gives more power and more jobs to hardworking citizens. It's one thing to think like a corporation, and a totally different thing to become an evil monopoly. I really hope they don't get away with all this garbage.

YouTube Dabbles In Ads

Well, YouTube has technically been dabbling in ads for a while now, but they've recently started testing out pre- and post-rolls. This has not gone well. As you can imagine, having to watch a 30-second ad before a 3 minute video of a guy falling off his skateboard isn't a great user experience. It's ok on Hulu because watching 10 minutes of a TV show usually comes with ads on TV anyway, but it hinders browsing the shortform video you see on YouTube if they're polluted with this kind of advertising. In my opinion, these kinds of ads should only be on longform content and it should be clear when it's going to happen like it is on YouTube. The lower 1/3s they do are already kind of annoying, but having ads to the left of shorter videos I think works better. It'll be interesting to see how far they go with pre-rolls and post-rolls before they realize how many people get pissed off by it.

CompUSA Returns

CompUSA probably isn't a store you've heard about in quite a while since they went bankrupt not too long ago, but they're now trying to make a comeback. So if they failed before why wouldn't they fail now? They're trying to embrace the Internet by connecting each screen in the store to it so that they can use online sources to help them make informed buying decisions live in the store. They claim the access is unrestricted, but I somehow doubt that. They've also re-organized their stores to provide a better customer experience. It's an interesting concept overall, but I think the big flaw is that people will probably test our products in the store, look at them online from these Internet-enabled machines at competitor stores, and then just go elsewhere or order them online. In fact, in this age of smartphones it's likely that people are doing this already. What they need to focus on is the organizational aspects they've already discovered is an issue and providing live quality customer service. It's the only possible advantage they can have over online retailers.

Securing Your Computer

I like to promote good practices for using your computer securely as much as I can, so I was glad to see this article from TechRadar with 10 ways to boost your online security. I think the most valuable pieces of advice are to check out the websites with in-browser features before you go to them and to not click on everything you get in your inbox.

While we're on security, a 17 year-old twerp created a Twitter worm that's basically a glorified XSS exploit. It's nothing fancy, it just did what we knew Twitter could be used for and I find it repulsive. Just because you can exploit something doesn't mean you should.

The Other Stuff

There's a lot of pretty quick news so let me just breeze through them so I can get to bed.

Coding Horror has a fun post about the 8 Levels of Programmers based on a concept you may remember from PSY 301. I'd like to think that I'm the Working Programmer.

iTunes started variable pricing, which means that some of their top selling MP3s are now $1.29 whereas they're $1 or less on Amazon.com. I knew that Apple would cave eventually.

Intel has started providing star ratings for their chips, which I think is just their way to get people out of the megahertz stigma. It's actually not a terrible idea if they handle it right.

You now insert images directly in your GMail e-mails!

Google's App Engine now supports Java applications, which I think is a pretty big step forward since Java has become almost an industry standard now whereas Python is often a hobby language or for writing quick scripts where efficiency isn't an issue.

The newspaper industry is still not happy with sites like Google News showing snippets from their articles, which is a sign that they're still not up with the times. This is another industry (like cable television) on the brink of extinction because they're stuck to the old ways of the thinking. Blaming Google isn't going to help them.

I hope everyone had a great Easter and has a good week!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Weather is Nice Outside

Summer Came Early?

Winter hasn't really ended yet in Seattle - evident in that it was snowing last Thursday. I'm going to use today's incredible weather as my excuse for not reviewing the Slumdog Millionaire Blu-ray. I do have it though (Amazon's magical ways somehow got it to me the day after release). For now, I'll say that I was disappointed with the Blu-ray but I'm still happy with it overall. I just don't have to time right now to go into details so you'll have to come back next week to learn more!

The time I would've spent going through all the special features and writing the review went instead to walking around outside today and putting together this short video from it, which is half just huge flowers and half cityscape (please click on the 'HD' in the lower right corner once it starts playing to see it in HD, or just click through to the YouTube page and watch it in HD there):

It was shocking how perfect the weather was. I used to consider T-shirt and shorts weather to be weather where you'd sweat too much wearing pants and shoes, but it didn't feel too warm at all out. It's funny how not only was the market packed but there were even more cars than usual going through Belltown. Not to get too religious here and divert from my typical tech focus, but it's really humbling to be one person witnessing such beauty from a higher being. I didn't think I'd enjoy it so much since I couldn't find anyone else free to go with me to the BBQ competition in the market, but it was nice and relaxing. I'm not even usually a big flower guy but when you see so many huge, colorful flowers it's hard to not stop and notice them.

Time Warner Screws 4 More Cities

Most of the nation already has a well-developed hatred for Comcast, and the rest turn their anger towards Time Warner Cable - the other massive cable monopoly. A while ago they tried out a tiered Internet program that charged customers by how much bandwidth they used, and now they're rolling it out to Austin (*tear*), San Antonio, Rochester, and Greensboro. I suppose this is better than it going out to all their markets, but it's not a good sign if they're pleased enough to expand this trainwreck. Having to pay $55 a month for 40 GB of bandwidth is an enormous price jump, especially in a place like Austin or San Antonio where salaries aren't as high as other parts of the nation to cover such a price gouge and may have people turning to DSL instead. I can see it doing one or more of a few things. People could cut out cable TV to get a beefier Internet plan, especially families with teenage kids and tech geeks. People could use the Internet less and less for rich content ending in a big lose for online on demand video services, Netflix streaming, YouTube and Hulu, and any other beefy sites. People may look into alternatives like WiMax (or, as I mentioned earlier, DSL).

People are definitely getting pissed about it whom are soon to be affected. If enough people get through to local government and complain to Time Warner, it's possible that they can nip this in the bud. It's sad that we have to encourage grassroots movements to get companies that provide major utilities to not spit in the faces of their customers. I don't know what's more reviling to me, their discouragement of the expansion of the Internet in our homes or the fact that they're trying to profit off the naivete of the average person who has no clue that Internet infrastructure costs are only going down with time and extra bandwidth doesn't really cost them extra money. If they want to start their lowest bandwidth plan for $30 at 100 GB and then charge $50 for like 250 GB, that I can understand. The rates they're intending to charge though are basically highway robbery. If you're going to be affected by these changes, please fight back. You're not just fighting back for yourself, but the other cities they may expand to if you accept it willingly.

YouTube's Upcoming Re-design

I don't like to usually talk about features and re-designs that haven't happened yet, but I just found it interesting that YouTube is planning on changing its navigation to focus on "Movies, Music, Shows, and Videos". What does this mean? It looks like they're feeling the pinch of not having had a lot of success with monetizing their content. While one side of that coin is keeping their number of unique visitors strong and engaged the other side is attracting advertisers to trust them and to display their advertisement with the desired brand image. With the first three tabs clearly delineated as premium outside content, advertisers may feel more secure not being mixed in with people hurting themselves and strange clips from other countries.

In my opinion, this is an extremely risky move for YouTube. I don't see it ending well, but it's really hard to predict how it'll turn out. I don't want to say it's a stupid movie because Hulu being locked up (to the point of the HTML being encrypted) has really painted them in a corner. Their PR has been really terrible since they denied Boxee the ability to stream their content, and plus there's the fact that they only have the last few episodes of any given shows. I don't know if YouTube can strike up much better deals than Hulu since Hulu is backed by NBC Universal, but they may be able to differentiate enough from Hulu while keeping a good reputation with advertisers to attract more content, money, and happy customers. I think this is the right time for YouTube to give it a try, but I definitely worry for them. They were built on user-generated content, and branching out in the online world is never as easy as it looks.

Microsoft's Brand Image

Typically, I'm not a fan of John C. Dvorak's columns. I feel like he often says crazy stuff just to get people talking about something. I guess that's not so bad, but I feel like I can't believe him half the time. Anyway, I still think he's a smart guy and occasionally agree with him, like regarding his article about Microsoft's brand image getting worse. When Songsmith came out, everyone was railing on how stupid it was. If it was some Silicon Valley startup though, you know everyone would be praising its creativity. Let's take a bad Microsoft product: Internet Explorer. If Safari was the same thing as Internet Explorer, Mac users would still claim that it's the best browser out there because they think it came from Apple. It's amazing how many ridiculous features Apple releases for the iPod and iPhone that no one uses and yet everyone seems to love. Who really uses cover flow? Come on.

I feel bad for Microsoft. They're really trying hard to improve their image, and I think Windows 7 is a big step in the right direction. I never thought before about how much the company who makes a product matters in its reception and popularity. I guess it's always existed in things like cereal and detergent and products like that, but I never thought about it really in software.

Ton of Quickies

Ok, I'm seriously about to cough up a lung here, so I need to wrap this up and get to bed.

Wikileaks put up some fun facts about Western countries that are censoring their people, like that Norway, Denmark, and Finland have an unregulated censorship agreement with their ISPs.

PC World has a really great article about old pieces of technology that used to be very popular but are now almost never heard of. A lot of them are actually still available, it turns out. Like did you know that MiniDisc got upgraded to Hi-MD? Or that Iomega still sells Zip disks? I thought it was funny that Circuit City made their list.

Palm Pre demos have been fed to us to keep us interested in the device with no release date yet, but some of the 3rd party developers are clearly taking advantage of the background processing ability that Apple refuses to put into the iPhone API. Taking a stance on development opposite of Apple is what's going to save Palm, if they handle it properly.

What are the 10 skills developers need in the next 5 years? The list is debatable, but I think soft skills, web development, and "development hygiene" will definitely be key.

Digg launched the Digg Bar. It never works for me in Firefox because my Firefox seems to have a huge bug where it can't load Digg at all, but I'm sure the Digg Bar is peachy. It gives you short URLs with a little toolbar to make sharing easier - no special add-ons necessary.

Conficker didn't destroy the world yet, but it has create an enormous botnet. Fun fun.

Samsung announced the world's first WiMax mobile Internet device: Mondi. WiMax will get you faster speeds than 3G (probably on par with DSL, I'd imagine) and probably better rates than normal phone data plans, but WiMax isn't available everywhere.

A friend of mine released a really cool add-on for Firefox last week that lets you check movie ratings from Rotten Tomatoes really easily. Check it out! More cool add-ons here.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 could give the president the power to nearly shut down the Internet. Basically, he would be able to designate some private networks as "critical" and order the limitation of traffic to these networks in an emergency situation. The bottom line is that it's too broad and needs better language to keep from giving up too much power.