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October 31, 2006

Funny: Internet Soul Portraits, Rant: Selling musical gear on Craigslist.

Scary: Airport Screeners Still Aren't Any Good, Programming ATMs to Believe $20 Bills Are $5 Bills.

October 30, 2006

Sony exec predicts end of the road for discs. He's probably talking about just the games industry, but I still think he's wrong, because of the trends that affect the entertainment industry as a whole. RAM and flash memory vendors have been predicting the end of the disk drive for decades. I suspect that he's falling prey to a typical futurist mistake: thinking that because there's something new that has unique advantages that make it popular, that proves that it will take over soon. Just draw a graph and extend the trend line until it reaches 100%, and then look down at the time axis to see when it'll happen. We still have disk drives (magentic and optical) because there are things that they do well, and market momentum drives R&D which keeps classic rotating storage media technologies competitive with disruptive technologies like flash memory or broadband.

He even undermines his own argument, explaining how ridiculous it would be to download a 50GB Blu-Ray disc over current consumer broadband connections. But he seems to think that the fastest consumer broadband connections should be the standard by which download times are measured. People still have dialup internet access as their only option in many parts of the country.

He also seems constrained by the game sales model of publisher and customer. But that's not how people get games, at least not in my experience. How many games have you ordered directly from the publisher? How many games have you bought without ever seeing them before, versus the number you've played after playing a rented or borrowed copy? (Note that I didn't say you necessarily even bought it after borrowing it and deciding to play it...)

Okay, so let's say that in five years' time, the vast majority of customers have a broadband connection as fast as my approximately mid-range DSL line: 1.5MBps. Some people will have blazing fast fiber optic or cable modem connectivity, and others won't. That's 150KB/sec download speed. A 4.7GB DVD (using the storage weasel meaning of giga) would take over 8 hours to download, at full speed, totally clogging up the connection. Forget about using that connection for an IP phone or playing your current games or watching internet TV etc. etc.

That's a really, really long time compared to moving a disc across town. Physical media can often beat digital download for bandwidth, and that will still be true in five years. I can pick up a DVD in Oakland and get it home faster than I could download the same data from there. How far is the nearest Blockbuster, or EBGames, or media shelf belonging to a gamer friend of yours?

Physical media also win out in terms of usability, and that's more important to commercial success than technical feasibility (see also: iPod). It's still non-trivial to get a 100MB file from home to work, or from your desktop to your friend's desktop, without sneakernet (in the form of a USB flash drive) being involved. Change that to a 1GB movie or game and attach flaky DRM that has to be installed and configured everywhere you go, that might not even permit you to use it, and it's a ludicrous proposition. Let's be real: friends come over and want to show you this cool new game they've been playing. How long would it take them upload 1GB from their home connection? Of course, that assumes that the game publisher wouldn't force you to buy the game, or rent it for a while. This game is really cool, all you have to do is let the game company install spyware on your computer and grab your credit card info for unknown purposes. Either way, what a pain.

A CD, a DVD, a console game, a videotape, a cassette, an LP, a Nintendo cartridge... a bunch of MP3 or AVIs on a CD-R or DVD-R... pretty much all of these blow away digital distribution + DRM + vendor-supplied root kits / spyware + being tracked in a database by the publisher (who will probably sell your info to their partners). Compare this to "Ya gotta hear this CD", pop it in your friend's player, done. "This game rules", pop it in your friend's console, done. Whichever console (or other closed gaming platform) torments users with 8+ hour game downloads over DSL, spyware, AOL-like credit card account snafus, and nickel-and-dime payment schemes that would make a telco blush, will crater spectacularly.

If digital download dominance is going to come true in 5 years' time for non-game content, the key enabling factor will be either a pervasive DRM monopoly to the point where there's one scheme and every device supports it, or utter DRM failure where there's no scheme and every device can just play the most popular format. The entertainment industry right now is stuck in the "but if our scheme wins, we take over the world" land grab, which is the very thing that makes all of them fail. But they persist in it, which is what makes it impossible for everything to just play a single format.

Of course, I predict something very different, which looks pretty much like the current situation. Some DRM, some unprotected content, some discs, some downloads, some cartridges, a bunch of platforms with varying strengths and weaknesses, and customers voting with their wallets for whatever works well from their point of view.

October 22, 2006

I recorded a demo CD with Leila Motaei a couple of weeks ago. It needs some overdubs but the people who've heard it say they really like it. She's on vacation for another couple of weeks but when she gets back we'll probably have something good enough to publish. Stay tuned!

I'm selling a really nice bass I bought nine years ago: 1984 Alembic Exploiter Bass Guitar For Sale - $1750 o.b.o.

Cool: Tesla Roadster.

Clever: Using TSA rules for firearm handling to protect Expensive Cameras in Checked Luggage.

Scary: A Primeval Tide of Toxins: "Runoff from modern life is feeding an explosion of primitive organisms. This 'rise of slime,' as one scientist calls it, is killing larger species and sickening people." Faulty Data and the Arar Case. Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite? (neither can Congress or the FBI).

Funny: Corsair to cool high-speed DDR 2 DIMMs with clip-on fan; Squid Cartoon; Paris Hilton targeted in CD prank (via jwz); Aha Aha, a comic strip critique of the hijacking of rave culture; J. Hasbien Talent Agency; Iraq Sadr City residents insulted by 'Buddy Jesus' (actually, Buddy Christ).

October 3, 2006

Sky Marshals Name Innocents to Meet Quota. Yikes.

BoingBoing: Only traitors try to make us afraid of terrorists. "Terrorists can be defeated simply by not becomming terrorized - that is, anything that enhances fear effectively gives in to them." My past music project, Axis of Evil, has a song about this: Feeding on Fear.

A bit more about why defending against the last ploy is pointless: Last Week's Terrorism Arrests.

It's interesting to see what happens when someone does evil in a world without laws or real world consequences: Second Life MMOPG Worm Only by tying the virtual world to real-world financial values about cost of server time and cost of subscriptions can you prosecute the real world actors and stop things. As virtual worlds become more important to real world business and society and less playgrounds for the curious and bored, laws and law enforcement will have to continue to cross over like this.

Korgoth is hilarious. It got picked up and will be returning to Adult Swim sometime this fall, I hear.

Burton and Depp are gonna do Sweeney Todd. Sweeeeeet.

Funny: Bush Pilot, Spamusement: All the Sex and the City you can handle, Penny Arcade: I Hope You Like Text.