Archive for March, 2003


Ok, Cringely’s latest column pissed

Monday, March 31st, 2003

Ok, Cringely’s latest column pissed me off (I know, I write about him too much). I had a brief email exchange with him about my spam tax proposal, and he dismissed it as not fitting his paradigm, which was to find a solution that does not involve legislation, and that’s fine. Being grown-up means you can agree to disagree. But I think I must have stuck in his head, because he makes an off-hand reference to it in this week’s column. His column is about Tivo, and how it promises to wreck television advertising by enabling people to watch their programs when they want to without the advertisements. Cringely rightly suggests that some in the television industry may try to get Tivos outlawed, and then he writes,

Or maybe they will try to pass a tax that will charge DVR (Tivo) purchasers, passing any revenue on to networks and broadcasters as compensation for lost viewer eyeballs. This survivalist approach simply will not work in the end. It is an insult to viewers and comes down to ordering the tide not to turn.

Well no kidding, Einstein. But if that was meant as a rebuff to me, it only shows that he doesn’t read carefully. I never suggested, nor would I ever suggest, that spam taxes be remitted to the person who received a spam email. That would be a recipe for charlatans to seek damages they’re not entitled to (similarly to how they do it with asbestos claims today). The whole point is that spamming is a sort of civil offense, like disturbing the peace. To reiterate, while I have a right to free speech, I have no right to wake you up at 3am with a loudspeaker out on your front lawn. They’re just two different things, and just as it is ludicrious to suggest that the solution for dealing with those who would disturb the peace is to soundproof your home and charge people money to have a conversation with you (which was essentially what Cringely suggested), it is ludicrious not to legislate against the practice. I don’t need to go into all the details of my proposal here, but if you wish to read it, here it is. (I would like to point out parenthetically that charging people money to send you emails was exactly what Cringely first suggested, and he’s right that it amounts to ordering the tide not to turn.)

The difference between spam and television advertising is that one comes as part of the deal, and is concurrent with an acceptable signal to noise ratio – namely the advertisements take up less time than the programming I’m there to watch. While the precise problem with spam is that it drowns out the signal, making the medium useless. And that’s why each requires a different solution. Cringely rightly addresses some solutions in his column, such as more lower cost programming. I would add to the list that more entertaining advertisements would encourage viewers not to forward past through them as much. And also actors simply get paid too much. It is an historical oddity that performers should be paid at the exhorbitant rates that they are, and I think that in a Tivo oriented world where advertisements are hardly viewed and are therefore cheap to buy, million dollar episodes of Friends will, as Cringely points out, be a thing of the past.

I would like state for the record that Cringely is dead wrong in his prediction that PBS will go unaffected because they accept no advertisements. If they can’t raise enough money with all their long, drawn out pledge drives and appeals for donations now, then how much will they really be able to raise in a Tivo outfitted world? :-P Bye bye PBS.

But there’s a larger moral argument here, and I think it’s what gets everyone’s dander up about this issue so much. It’s that the entertainment industry seems hell-bent on turning our country into a police state, a thought-police state to boot, over what amounts to cheap entertainment that most people don’t care much about anyway. You may have seen this article in Wired magazine about how they’re now worried about cell-phone users exchanging copyrighted images with their new picture taking phones. In the future, your Nokia phone may refuse to send images for you, and instead give you the message, “Cannot forward copyrightable content.” Now this is out of hand.

There is one central problem to this whole debate that needs to be addressed, and yes, legislatively. The problem is that there is no relationship in copyright law between the economic life of a piece of content and the length of the copyright legally granted. Publishing seems to be the one medium that gets it, so let’s start there. The economic life of a newspaper is, generally speaking, a day, regardless of the legal copyright. For a magazine, it’s a week, or a month, depending on the magazine. Publishers recognize this, and this don’t get all bent out of shape about individuals sharing their copyrighted content. In fact, publishers encourage companies to place magazines and newspapers in the lobby for anyone to read. And on their own websites, they offer options to help users email articles to their friends and colleagues. There’s a reason why they do this. They do this because they have priced their advertising (and content) under the assumption that not every reader will look at the ads, and that the product will be thrown in the trash in relatively short order. Other mediums have yet to do this (perhaps because of the lack of a clear expiration date on their content), and in fact have grown accustomed to extracting extortionist prices out of their consumers by using the legal monopoly granted by copyright laws to their advantage.

For example, the economic life of a movie is about three years. By that I mean that 99.9% of all movies made have made 99.9% of the profits they will ever make inside of three years of their original release. This was not always so. Technology has helped to speed up the life-cycle of films. From television advertising of the film, to pay-per-view cable television, to VCR rentals, films recoup all of their profits relatively quickly. They can get the word out quickly about the film, no longer have to wait for re-release to make more money, or to get picked up by a broadcast station. Now, it’s all over in less than three years. So why is the copyright 90 years? Ditto for music, where albums make all of their money in the weeks in which an album is released. Even a major hit sees the vast preponderance of its sales in the first year after the album comes out. So why should a consumer who maybe only half cared about it anyway pay full price when the label has already made all of its money and his die-hard fan friends are willing to share it with him for free? Derivative works aside, a copyright that extends past the normal economic life of the product only serves to pit content creators and consumers against each other.

So now you have the spectacle of broadcasters complaining that viewers aren’t watching the ads. When the economic life of any show is only during the hour it’s aired. And you have the Cartoon Network harassing cell phone users for exchanging pictures of Tom & Jerry. As Charlie Brown would say, “Good Grief!” I need a break.


Word. Turns out Saddam Hussein

Monday, March 31st, 2003


Turns out Saddam Hussein has his own blog (guess he’s not dead yet), as well as Kim Jong Il and the real Osama bin Laden (as opposed to Osma Blog Laden). Funny, they all write in fluent english. Who knew that was the preferred tongue of maniacal evildoers? And to top it off, Kim Jong Il appears to converse with Bush regularly on AIM! Funny stuff, go check it out.


Just follow the nose, it

Monday, March 31st, 2003

Just follow the nose, it always knows


You’ve probably heard about that

Monday, March 31st, 2003

You’ve probably heard about that idiot Columbia University professor who wished “a million Mogadishus” on our troops over the weekend. You may want to read David Horowitz’s take on it. Horowitz was a radical leftist during the sixties, but later woke up and became a conservative. But as a former anti-war protester during the sixties, he offers a unique prespective on the minds of protestors and the thinking that drives them.


I present… THE NEW DIXIE

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

I present…


Savor the flavor…


Seriously, folks, seriously. (flash files

Sunday, March 30th, 2003

Seriously, folks, seriously.

(flash files with sound)


Now THIS is wicked cool.

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

Now THIS is wicked cool. It’s a graphic showing all the different insignia of the US military. Fun stuff.


It would seem as if

Saturday, March 29th, 2003

It would seem as if some of my readers are upset at my making light of the news story of a nun who was decapitated and had her hands and feet cut off by a psycho killer. I believe that my lighthearted attitude towards such a seemingly grotesque crime requires explanation. See, I went to a Catholic high school, and so I am very familiar with this beast which you may call a nun, and which I call a penguin. And in all my years of having attended Catholic high school, I can say I learned one thing with absolute certainty:


How, might you ask, do I come to this conclusion? Allow me to elucidate. Nuns and terrorists are unique in the world in that they use their fanatical devotion to their religion to justify tormenting and yes, terrorizing, those who have no power to avoid their wrath or fight back against it. Nuns are only slightly less evil than terrorists because they only immolate the emotional well being of the children who stray within their grasp, scarring them for life, while terrorists actually kill their victims.

For those of you who are still in doubt, I bring you the following photo compilation of nuns, culled from the nether regions of the Internet. The portraits, I dare say, speak for themselves:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


The Onion posts today a

Friday, March 28th, 2003

The Onion posts today a short blurb about the war in Iraq with a screenshot of the old Atari game Missile Command. Seeing it got me itching to play the game, so I hunted around a bit and found this version, which is reasonably good. Enjoy.


For those of you who

Friday, March 28th, 2003

For those of you who have been left with the strange feeling that the BBC has been acting like Al Jazeera lately, comes this admission from BBC editors. Seems they think they’re acting more like Fox News, which incidentally, the Arabs hate (listen at 1:42)… Bon Appetit!