The Robb’d That Smiles Steals Something From The Thief

So it would seem I’m still able to choose.  A lot of people, from hackers to silicon valley billionaires, have weighed in on this topic.  I suppose the only reason I’m writing about it is because, in my opinion, I think most seem to have missed the point.  Technically, I’m still able to choose between pirating or buying copyrighted digital content.  Technically, I said, I still have options.  Legally, of course, there is the right way and the wrong way.  The problem, I suppose, is that I pretty consistently choose the wrong way.  I’m not going to sit here and write about why piracy is okay.  I don’t believe it is.

What I will write about, instead, is why I think the MPAA and the RIAA, and their international equivalents, have missed the point.  The problem is pretty clearly understood, but the way they’ve gone about trying to fix it is wrong.  As far as I can tell, governments haven’t been able to fix much of anything lately.  Let me clearly articulate the matter for our friends in Hollywood.  A lot of people like your stuff, but internet pirates offer a distribution model that is somewhat easy, provides many different types of format options,  and of course, is free.  Hollywood doesn’t.

iTunes vs Pirate BaySo what do they do?  As opposed to showing some ingenuity and entrepreneurialism, you know, like the pirates, they run to the authorities to clamp down on the internet.   I guess that’s one way to go about it, but what if those laws passed, and someone claimed their movies contained infringed-upon IP rights?  You’d think the last thing Hollywood would want to do is to mess around with laws that could engender censorship.  Like I said, the pirates are beating them at their mass media game by leveraging technology better than they are.  Here’s a few thoughts:

  1. Make It Cheap: Let me get this right.  With digital content, there’s no costs for raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, labour, shipping, and retail markup, as is the case for CD’s and DVD’s.  Yet, I’m still expected to pay $10.00 for an album or $25 for a movie?  C’mon.  Consumers are dumb, but we’re not that dumb.  Make it $2.00 for an album, and $4.00 for a movie.  Sales will rocket, and piracy plummet.  It’s just good business sense.
  2. Make It Awesome: So once I buy your $4.00 movie, I should be able to select as many different formats as I want, like avi, mp4, mkv, whatever.  Always with the options for mobile, etc.  Same goes for music.  Why do I only get 256 kbps m4a files on iTunes, when I can get 320 kbps or FLAC files on the Pirate Bay or isohunt?  Give me the best quality.  Sales will rocket, and piracy plummet…
  3. Make It Open: Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a problem.  You need it because you haven’t fixed the other two issues above.  I should be able to download as many different types/formats of the content as I want, once I’ve purchased it.  I should be able to make copies to put on mp3 players, tablets, or other computers.  I should be able to give a flash drive to my friend (just like a music CD or DVD) with the files.  If I don’t want to download it, I should be able to stream it to any device with an internet connection anytime / anywhere (iCloud, yes I know, but it should work on non-Apple devices too).  Sales will rocket, and… well, you get the point.

Of course, there’s tons of other things Hollywood could do to make what they provide easier and better than internet piracy sites, but they’re either too ignorant or too greedy.  Likely both.  You can’t blame Apple or the other distributors for the prices either.  The root is the production companies.  I want to support the artists and movies I like, but I also have a fundamental issue with being taken advantage of.  They can try to take away the choice, and it might work for a little while.  Another idea might be instead to show some of that innovation and acumen that made you successful in the first place.  Beat the pirates at their own technology game, and people (who mostly want to do the right thing) will support you.

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Nature Does Require Her Times Of Preservation

I’m never off-grid.  I like it that way, and won’t change for a long time.  The internet is full of laments of how constant connection is wearing thin.  Strange, really, considering that without the internet one would never have that forum for their lamentations.  Look around you for a minute.  The internet’s not the problem (it is the answer, but I’ll get to that in a minute).  The problem is those stacks of paper on your desk; the drawers full of software; boxes in the basement stuffed with old books, pictures and music CD’s; magazines piled on a shelf; and DVD’s and Blu-rays cluttering your family room.  Every Christmas and every birthday, it just gets worse.

No, the problem isn’t about being connected.  The problem lies in the piles of shit we surround ourselves with, so it’s not really any wonder we feel shitty a lot of the time.  I wanted to write a post to get you thinking about your environment (both at a micro and macro level), and how employing technology can actually help it… And your mood.

  • Go Digital – For everything… Period.  Buy (or steal) all your music and movies online.  Pretty obvious, I know, but here’s a few others you need to consider.  First is digitized magazines.  There’s the popular Apple Newsstand, but you can always subscribe via coverleaf as well.  You get access to the pdf the moment it’s off the press, and can download a copy and store them right on your computer.  Secondly, don’t develop any more pictures.  Ever.  Keep them digital.  Digital albums are easier to search; take a fraction of the storage space and cost, and with digital frames, portable to anywhere in the house.
  • Mobility & Tablets –  When I first got my iPad, I actually had trouble incorporating it into my daily routine, but now I find it’s with me all the time (that I’m not in front of my PC).  If you don’t have a tablet, just go get one.  Blogging about iPad’s and Android’s has been done to death.  There’s a reason we’re moving into the post-PC era…  If you’re going to really go digital, you need a tablet.
  • Cloud Storage – You can get to your content anytime and anywhere you’re connected.  You either need to subscribe to a cloud service, like iCloud; or buy a NAS device that allows you to setup your own cloud service.  I’ve done both, so I’m pretty much set, although I use my own NAS much more heavily than iCloud.  Bottom-line: digitally storing your media is cheaper; easier to index and search; and doesn’t even take up any physical space.

Digitizing media is far greener than manfacturing, shipping/distributing and storing physical copies.  I used to think that to own something, it needed to be physical.  Over time, I’ve opened my eyes, and actually enjoy the freedom that comes with digitial content much more than stacks of CD’s, etc.  It’s the new year.  Think about a simple change or two to help your environment.  Maybe switch all your bills to e-post, or buy an e-reader, or rip all your CD’s and move them to the cloud (then sell them).  For me, all those stacks of paper are gone from my desk now, and the boxes and shelves slowly getting emptier.  It feels amazing.

Suspicion Always Haunts The Guilty Mind

Just Google it.  Google’s a verb now.  It’s the Oracle at Delphi for the modern day.  Search, and you shall find.  I suppose, however, Google is a hell of a lot more than a search engine.  It’s the cloud: Gmail, Google Maps (with Streetview).  They’ve launched a crappy browser and OS (Chrome), and a pretty decent mobile OS (Android); albeit a tad lax on the security.  Who cares though?  The point is Google is an increasingly essential service in many of our lives, and that’s exactly what makes them one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t say the biggest, or the one with the highest profit or revenue.  Cash isn’t king anymore… Anyone in business today knows data is.  That gives Google diety-like stature among their counterparts.  Google knows.  They know what you like; where you are (ie. live, work, travel); who you talk to; the stuff you tend to buy; and the services you tend to consume.  When you search for that jerk chicken recipe, they probably have a good idea of what you’re having for supper tonight.  I suppose that’s bad, right?  I dunno.  I mean, in the longrun it could mean that we get nice tailored experiences when we’re online.  Just like the post I wrote below, right?  Let’s face it, if Google can finding people and things I want to find way easier, and save me time and money doing it, there’s some sort of payoff in the scary prospect of the company knowing so much about us.

The main problem with that is that Google decides.  They may claim to be basing their decisions on my past habits or purchases, but it’s still them deciding.  They’ll decide what services to expose to you, what products to hi-lite, and news you get to read.  Sure, you can spread the wealth.  Use Bing to search.  Use MSN to get your news.  Or Windows Phone 7 on your mobile… Oh yeah… then Microsoft wins.  Wait, there’s the iPhone, iTunes, Apple TV… So, you get the point.

The fact is, you’re gonna need to get in bed with one of these megaliths soon enough.  You’re not going to just unplug, and go off-grid.  I guess the only real question is whether these guys know what they’re doing, and whether they can be trusted.

I Will Buy With You, Sell With You, Talk With You

Imagine walking into a mall.  Awful, I know, but imagine something different for a moment.  A mall made by you and for you.  A mall with all your favourite stores; all your friends and family are usually there; your favourite movies are at the cinemas and playing on-demand; and any personal business you need to conduct is right there in front of you.  Now, that might be a pretty decent place to have around… But it would be even better if you could take that mall with you wherever you went, and entered it whenever you wanted.  Of course, this sort of a mall could only exist virtually.

The world is still mired in our Web 2.0 framework, and it’s a safe bet we’ll be here for a good long while.  That’s not a bad thing.  Web 2.0 brought online consumerism to the forefront with sites and services like Amazon, eBay and even iTunes.  We all have the sites we like to buy from.  Social media changed the way we connect with each other.  LinkedIn for professionals, Facebook for friends, and Twitter for realtime messaging.  TV, music, movies and most other forms of entertainment that can be digitized are available for purchase or theft, and only a few clicks away.  For most of us now, our work is online; our games are online; and for bloggers, our thoughts are online.

But what comes next.  I’m no soothsayer, but I believe we have a glimpse of what’s to come already.  Look at the technology as it exists today.  You have all your frequented sites tagged as favourites; sites like Amazon already remember your buying habits and showcase the items that may interest you; your internet is now on TV with your Apple TV or your PS3, allowing you to watch or rent on demand; and UI’s are getting sleeker and more interative daily – just look at iPad and Android tablets.  Put it all together.  What do you get?  The mall I wrote about above.  The way you’ll navigate (surf) may be like you’re controlling an avatar.  The stores that will appear will be all based on where you’ve shopped before, and they’ll know exactly what you want to see in the windows.  The people there will be your friends.  It’s hard to explain, but imagine (if you’re familiar with it) the entire internet in the mall in Playstation Home, but tailored for you.  Like I said, this is nothing that I can really predict with any degree of accuracy, but I’m writing it down now.  Who knows what will come to pass?

Gamecrush.com – The Men & Women Merely Players

Most tech bloggers have prattled off over the last month or so about the iPad, Google vs. China, Windows Phone 7, SxSW, or some other well-tweeted topic that need not be discussed here.  Let’s get to something really new, and really nerdy.  Gamecrush.com.  This is perhaps the most humorous web service I’ve read about in, well, I don’t know.  It could damn-well be the funniest.  Many of you reading this post probably have played an online game at some time or another.  But how many of you have really wanted to play online games with nerdly girls, and pay them in the process?  What’s that?  You have?  Well, let’s chat about Gamecrush then, my friend.

Today marks the launch of a service where XBox Live “Players” can pick out “PlayDates” on Gamecrush, and pay a tidy $8.25 for 10 minutes of one-on-one game time with their date.  The starting games include Modern Warfare 2, Gears Of War 2, Halo 3, and GTA IV.  You can also get video chat for about 6 minutes, and play an online game of checkers or battleship.  Over 1,200 young ladies responded to a Craigslist ad, asking for women interested in playing games and getting paid.  The “PlayDates” keep 60% of the money from the Gamecrush service.  Anyhow, you get the idea.

Gamecrush - Moments After Its Launch

So, I said it was funny, but I didn’t say it’s stupid.  When I first read about the site on Kotaku, I was mildly disturbed, bemused, and thought a little condescendingly about what kind of an idiot would want to use that sort of a service.  I probably play online with all sorts of women all the time and don’t even know it, so why would I need to pay for it?  But then, I think that might only be a pretty narrow view.  Just because I probably won’t use it, especially since it’s not on Playstation yet (PSN and Wii are in the works though), doesn’t mean it won’t be successful.  Let’s face it, eHarmony, Lavalife, and PerfectMatch are all widely used, but one of their main issues is ensuring they match the right people.  At least with Gamecrush, you know you ostensibly have one thing in common, video games.

This may be worth watching…  After all, many of my posts are about social media or gaming.  I wonder if this is simply a manifestation of pent-up demand on both fronts?  Then again, maybe it is the stupidest thing ever.  Regardless, it’s exactly the sort of thing that keeps me blogging.

Hail Mary, And Megan

Tell the truth.  You’re a nerd, and you watched the Super Bowl because of the commercials.  It’s okay.  Apparently, you’re not alone.  Tech advertisers were pretty well-represented yesteday, and I just wanted to share a few hi-lites for those of you who may have missed the commercials… I mean, er, game.

There were more tech commercials, of course.  Google, E-TradeIntel and even Dante’s Inferno all had purchased spots for the most-watched television event in history.  At $3 Million USD for a 30-second spot, you better believe tech is where the money’s at… Although, apparently chips and beer companies do okay for themselves.  Let’s face it, that Dorito’s commercial is hilarious!!

Talent And Technology

Everyone knows that technology is meant to make our lives easier.  Arthur Clarke (English physicist and sci-fi author) wrote back in 1961 that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  A pretty insightful comment for its time, and one that continues to get more relevant as technology advances.  I might also add, however, that the most advanced technology is one that everyone can use.  Its power (and magic) lies in its simplicity.

I’ve mentioned before that I work in IT.  Often, I get a twang of jealousy when I see the sort of wonders truly talented people can develop and create using technology.  Back in early December, I took a Visual Studio and .NET framework course, so I could better understand some of the day-to-day tools the developers I work with employ.  Perhaps the most valuable learning from that course is that development not only requires skill and knowledge, the best developers are gifted with talent.  The software, language (VB or C#), and programming .concepts are all relatively easily trained.  Applying those tools and concepts to automate tasks, integrate systems and improve productivity comes not only with experience, but with an inherant ability to think in a certain way.  Skills gained from experience can account for a lot… but the best have talent.

So where does that leave the rest of us?  Writing simple ‘select’ queries in SQL?  Nah…  While developing applications and building their frameworks require a certain talent, they pale in comparitive importance to the innovative ways people like you and me use those applications and frameworks.  The whole point of Web 2.0 is about the online community.  The more people who use the tool the better.  People employ Twitter, for example, in ways I’m sure their developers never even dreamed about.  The same can be said of Facebook, LinkedIn, and just about any of the most advanced technology out there.  Their power lies in simplicity, and the users and community that take what the development teams provide, and turn it into something bigger and better.

The Tremendously Simple Twitter UI