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August 30, 2001

Do media and entertainment companies realize that right now, their interests and the interests of the computer hardware industry are directly opposed? Specifically:

  • Processing: You may have noticed about 5 years ago that your computer was fast enough to keep up with you as you use a word processor, spreadsheet, or email program. If you're a graphic designer you probably noticed this same phenomenon around three years ago. New applications such as web browsers and instant messaging clients aren't making anyone throw away their PowerPC G3 or Pentium II machine due to lack of CPU horsepower. Lately, the only reasons to upgrade are to develop software (a niche), to play high-end computer games, or to capture, edit, or play back digital entertainment media with better quality. In short, the mainstream reason to buy high-end desktop machines is to play games, rip MP3s, play back DiVX ;-) movies, etc. The most compelling reason is to rip (decrypt and decompress) DVD's and compress them as DiVX ;-) movies. That really challenges the CPU. Note how MPEG-4 encoding (which is used by DiVX ;-)) is used as a major benchmark in a high-profile Intel Pentium 4 vs. AMD Athlon comparison by Tom's Hardware. Games don't have to be pirated to sell CPUs, but they do to sell CD-Rs, and if somebody plays a game because they got it for free, that might sell another CPU.

  • Fixed Storage: Hardly anybody needs a 20GB hard disk on their desktop for productivity reasons, but the cheapest home machines from Dell, Compaq, and HP all come with one which is at least that big. Some really big games come on a CD or two which means a gig or two of disk space, but those games can be uninstalled when you get sick of them. So what about the other 15+GB that's available on those big drives? Those gigs are going to MP3s and movies and you know it.

  • Removable Storage: Know anybody who still uses a Zip drive? Probably not, because the CD-R and CD-RW have taken over the removable storage market. Perhaps this is because software doesn't come on Zip, it comes on CD's. Therefore, if you can make a new CD yourself, you can copy software (including games which need lots of CPU horsepower) and you can also create new CD images with your own data on them. Where is everybody getting all this data that they need to burn onto CD? Backups of important personal files? Yeah OK, one CD-RW, or one Zip cartridge even. Digital camera pictures? OK, another couple of CD-R's, if you take a lot of pictures. I've got over 700 high-quality pictures (from a high quality 2-megapixel digital camera) that I decided to keep long-term, and they only take up about 300MB (which is less than half of one CD, or three Zip cartridges). What about the rest of those 25 pack (~17GB) or 100 pack (~68 GB) CD-R spindles sold in retail stores; what are those being used for? Also, what are people so eager to copy that they need to copy a CD in three minutes? I'll tell ya what: MP3s, movies, and warez.

  • High-Speed Networks: Chat and IM don't need fast connections. Surfing and e-commerce is fine over a 128Kbps connection. What's left? File sharing (warez, pr0n, mp3s, and movies), which eats up all the bandwidth you have and still isn't fast enough.

  • Portable MP3 Players: This category didn't even exist. They are better than CD players in that there are no moving parts (unless the MP3s are on a CD-R such as in the Rio Volt) so they won't skip, and the batteries last much longer because there is no motor.

Right now, we're at a point where audio (not just music, but comedy and other audio entertainment as well) is trivial to capture digitally, encode, store, and trade with others. Movies are still so large compared to the resources a PC has that they're a pain to encode, store and trade. Of course, people are still doing it, just as people traded software by hand on 140K floppy disks in warez group meetings back in the early 80's. Wait until people get slightly faster PC's and have serious upstream bandwidth, and pirated movies will become nearly as commonplace as pirated songs (if only because you can't watch movies at work all day).

I think it's very interesting that the success of the PC industry, which depends upon continuing to sell computers with faster and faster CPUs and more memory and hard disk storage, requires a major increase in movie piracy and gaming (especially pirated games since those need just as much CPU but also involve a CD-R drive). Or else we all need to become software developers.

If I were Intel, AMD, Quantum, Toshiba, Cisco, Sonicblue, or any other computer hardware vendor, I'd be lobbying against the DMCA and against the movie and record industries as though my life depended on it, because at the moment it does.

August 29, 2001

I went to LinuxWorld Conference & Expo today (I got a free pass so I didn't have to pay the $25 registration fee, and it's local, so it was a no-brainer to go, although my expectations were low). Guess what? It was a real yawner. Bo-ring. There were lots of big companies exhibiting their stuff, but I didn't see anything that I didn't already know about. When I went to JavaOne 2001, there were all sorts of product releases that these companies had either been saving for the conference, or been hurrying in order to complete by the start of the conference. When I went to LinuxWorld back in 1999 in San Jose, it was really exciting because suddenly all these big companies were taking Linux seriously, and were pledging support - most notably, Oracle and IBM. I saw VMWare for the first time there. This time there was nothing that I didn't already know about, and certainly nothing exciting and innovative that made me say "wow I can't wait to play with that!" Just some Linux distributions (from Red Hat, SuSE, etc.) some big hardware companies, a small number of tool vendors, and some Linux services companies. I wonder if this was just a small-fry conference that vendors didn't take seriously, or if this is a combination of a recession in the IT industry combined with a creative lull in the Linux community? I skipped the keynote speeches so maybe I missed the really interesting stuff...?

August 25, 2001

Want a list of popular languages being used to build so-called "web services"? Check out the XML-RPC implementations list. XML-RPC isn't as sophisticateed as SOAP and doesn't do all the stuff that the .NET Common Language Runtime and class library will, but XML-RPC is real, while SOAP and .NET are still in the pre-release stage. Interestingly, .NET is nowhere to be found (neither C# nor VB.NET are listed) although there is a pre-.NET Microsoft technology listed (COM).

August 24, 2001

There's a new show on Comedy Central called Insomniac with Dave Atell. Dave is a very funny comedian who Kim and I saw at the Punch Line a while back - I think it was for Hans's birthday party. Anyway, he's hilarious. If you dig around on the Comedy Central site for the show you can find video clips from Insomniac as well as a few clips from his prior work (go to his Bio section). This week the show was about San Francisco (my hometown) - very cool.

August 23, 2001

I learned a bit about fancy shell scripting with bash in order to make SQL*Plus do what I wanted.

I was one of several people interviewed for an article in today's San Francisco Chronicle about the computers which Viant auctioned through Dovebid which made it into buyers' hands with the data still on them. The article includes at least one error: I was not laid off from Viant; I quit in mid-November. [Note: the reporter has corrected the error at my request.]

August 21, 2001

Last night we watched The Dinner Game, a French movie about a recurring dinner party in which the organizers each invite an unsuspecting idiot to compare whose is the most idiotic. I thought it would be a bunch of cruel humor at the expense of the idiot but it turned out to be deeper than that and I really liked it. It reminds me very much of a good one-act play. I highly recommend it. (If you get the Cinemax channel called "More Max East" it's on at 8:15am tomorrow, Wednesday 8/22).

My stepbrother Bourke is in a movie called Hearts in Atlantis, which should be out on September 28th. It looks interesting. If he's in the trailer I sure can't figure out which one he is, and I looked at pretty much every frame of it. Oh well.

August 20, 2001

Today is Kim's first day at her new job. I hope it works out.

Kim's sister Lori and her fiancee Steve were visiting through the middle of last week. My parents were also just here for the later half of last week and over the weekend, visiting and wrapping up their west coast vacation. I'm glad I'm not working now because we got to go all over SF and some of the surrounding areas doing typical tourist stuff, and I got to spend a lot of time with people I don't usually get to see for more than a couple of days since they all live on the east coast. We managed to cram a bunch of activities into a short period of time, including (of all things) two trips to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA. We have soooo many jellybeans now, it's going to take forever to eat them all. :P

August 7, 2001

Today is Kim's birthday. We went to Blazing Saddles and rented bikes to go on the Mount Tamalpais route, which is the hardest one. I overestimated our athleticism and so we ended up only going to the base of the mountain (where the brown dashed line becomes a brown solid line) before deciding it was too much and that we needed to turn back. Still, there were some tough hills and we biked about 23 miles. We ate lunch in Tiburon and took the ferry back to S.F. We also went to the Millennium Restaurant for dinner.

DoveBid called me tonight to ask about the stuff I bought at the Viant auction. The woman who called asked about whether there was data on it, whether I erased it, and whether it was password protected when I got it. Note: password protection doesn't work when you have physical access to the machine and can boot it from a disk of your choice.

This story (about the ASN.1 protocol) breaks a pretty basic rule of web publishing: if you're going to write a story about something, particularly an organization with a totally obvious web site URL, you must provide a link with the story! Preferrably more than just one. This is a real pet peeve of mine. (If it's a print story adapted to the web, you should have included the link with the print article anyway, so figure out a way to put it at the end of the story.)

August 3, 2001

Seen this story (about Viant client data getting sold at the equipment auction) yet? Note the Viant home page blurb:

Intellectual assets are your company's greatest source of competitive advantage. With our industry insight and technology understanding, Viant can help you leverage these assets — human capital, content, and process competency — for better business performance.

I'm sure Viant has the "technology understanding" to erase a hard disk, but an auction company wasn't the best company to trust with this responsibility. OK, so let's say DoveBid promised to erase the hard drives and then didn't... is Viant really absolved of all responsibility for client data confidentiality? I wonder if Viant-client contracts included a section about this, and what to what extent Viant was required to go. There was a "confidential shredding" trash bin in the office, with a lock, and a label on it promising that a bonded driver would take the bin to a secure location where the contents would be thoroughly shredded. I don't think DoveBid merits the same degree of trust with confidential data. Bob's gonna get some really ugly calls on Monday morning.

I spoke to a former Viant SF IT employee (the office has been closed so there aren't any current Viant SF IT employees) about this tonight, and he said that Viant paid Dovebid to erase them, and had talked to them about the reports coming back that the hard drives hadn't been erased. I guess in matters of security it pays to take care of things personally.

It's definitely true that the hard disks weren't erased; the four laptops I got at that auction all had Viant data still on them - personal email, a business plan for an internal project, and more. Of course I told the appropriate folks at Viant about it, and reformatted and reinstalled 'em before selling them. Note that Compaq and Lucent are referenced in the AP story, so if you look at the Compaq or Lucent pages on Yahoo Finance, the Viant story shows up... it's much more visible than if it just showed on the Viant page. D'oh!