2007.02.27

Bits and Words

23.15.02 - Mark

While I can appreciate Direct TV wanting to save some bandwidth when customers are requesting interactive menus, I really question the trade off here. Does randomly dropping words and letters from show titles really save that much bandwidth, and does that savings really outweigh the amount of customer frustration it breeds?

Truncated and abbreviated show titles in Direct TV's program guide

Truncated and abbreviated show titles in Direct TV's program guide

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Much ado about nothing

14.38.41 - Mark

The web is making a big deal about the planned dreamhost outage over the weekend, and I'm not quite sure why. I've been hosting at dreamhost for over two years, and in that time I've suffered two significant outages - this weekend's building repairs, and the LA blackout in 2005 and only a handful of short downtimes. Only the LA blackout was a concern to me since it was the only one that I actually noticed. In a year, I'd be pushing it to say that I'm suffering more than 8 hours of downtime. 99.9% uptime is fine with me.

Rogue Amoeba has some good things to say about webhosting, but it's from a business point of view. As a software company, they need to have a site online 24/7, they need it to be fast and secure, otherwise their sales will suffer. However as an individual, with a couple of small projects, or, having recommended Dreamhost to friends and clients I've built sites for, a small business, 100% uptime is not only superfluous, but expensive. The Rogue Amoeba posts says they pay about $1500/year on a hosting solution they feel gives them 100% uptime. At dreamhost, I'm paid up though the end of this year and for three years of service, dreamhost has taken less than $200 of my money, and it averages out to under $5 a month. If the difference between 100% uptime and 99.8% uptime (a maximum of 16 hours of downtime/year) is $100 a month, I can live with my site being down for a few hours a year.

If I felt dreamhost was at fault for any of their downtime, I'd probably seriously look at moving my hosting elsewhere, however I feel confident that Dreamhost isn't at fault, and that they are constantly taking steps to improve their service.

My Dreamhost referral link, if you want to try out dreamhost yourself.

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2007.02.26

Bad Business Plans

16.19.04 - Mark

The Bittorrent store is doomed to fail. Their business model is based on having knowledgeable geeks and power users using crippled software, to pay to have their computers and internet connections used to support the store's network, while renting mainstream content that in addition to being low quality has been wrapped in stringent DRM forcing you to use one computer and forbids you from using portable devices.

Meanwhile their main competition is themselves, by having millions of high quaility, DRM-free files available on the same network at no cost, and which have the added benefit of being playable on any sufficiently modern media device.

Looking at the NYT article, they claim a better user experience, but I can't see myself or my bittorrent aware brother using the official site over TorrentSpy or The Pirate Bay and while I have no problem forking over cash, bandwidth, or even watching advertisements to compensate for my downloads I'm not accepting DRMed files. I commonly download files on a linux box and watch videos on one of a number of other devices, from a video iPod to streaming it across the network and viewing it on a laptop connected to the TV.

I can't help but think that this is nothing but an attempt to keep a perfectly legal tool and its creators from being sued by naive MPAA/RIAA lawyers.

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Oscars

13.08.30 - Mark

In the past, I haven't really cared about the Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammies, and whatever other awards the entertainment industry gives itself. I'd pay attention if it was on but I wasn't seeking it out like a rabid celebrity junkie, but this year I was watching with a piece of paper jotting down movies I want to make sure I add to my Netflix queue.

In that regard I was successful, I jotted down a couple dozen titles to seek out (not all of them made in the last year) but I was pretty bored in the process - the show simply sucked. I'd much rather see more information about the science and technology awards, or see an informative piece about each category than watch Ellen DeGeneres try and get a few laughs from the audience by telling Steven Spielberg what to do with a camera or watch some spliced together clips celebrating America in Film.

Next year I may just grab the nominees lists online and catch the show's highlights on youtube. I should be able to fit in a long movie in its place.

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2007.02.24

Electric Cars (POTUS Edition)

19.43.50 - Mark

President Bush inspecting an electric vehicle on the White House Lawn After watching Who Killed the Electric Car? the other day, and posting about it, seeing this story about President Bush looking at some plug-in hybrid electric vehicles is too funny. When we have production ready electric vehicles from major automotive manufacturers, Bush is citing it as an example of entrepreneurs rushing in to solve our nation's oil addiction while calling on Congress to fund research into alternative energy sources. I especially like how he avoids the questions about whether or not he'll be getting an electric vehicle for his ranch. Classic Bush.

In the past I might have accepted the fact that he is a "busy" man, and that he may not be aware of the feasibility of commercial, market ready, electric vehicles and associated technologies, however Bush has repeatedly proven that he actively ignores science and technology advisers, especially those who don't come from with glowing recommendations from oil industry executives or prominent religious leaders. This is just a dog and pony show, and that's a true shame.

Story and photo via Treehugger

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Weapons of Mass Destruction

11.45.37 - Mark

Do you get the feeling that this country really, really likes having its arsenal of weapons. Our government basically ignored this attempt to ban cluster bombs, we've been ignoring the Ottawa Treaty, an attempt to ban land mines for ten years and we backed out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. We have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons but haven't ratified it.

Makes you wonder why we were so obsessed with Iraq's WMD stockpiles.

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2007.02.23

First Blood

17.07.00 - Mark

I don't like the fact that the 2008 presidential race started in November 2006, but it did. Now, months before the first presidential primaries, the first candidate has dropped out. Tom Vilsack the second candidate to enter the race back in November has dropped out

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2007.02.22

Electric Cars

12.26.08 - Mark

Who Killed the Electric Car? is a pretty strong documentary about the appearance of commercial electric vehicles in the mid 1990s from GM, Ford, and others, and explores why these vehicles were quickly and quietly phased out. It also makes me wish I had the money and mechanical aptitude to do an electric conversion.

The main documentary (there's a second documentary in the DVD's special features) focuses entirely on the life and death of General Motor's EV1 It takes a fair look at the various complaints about electric vehicles, such as the lack of consumer acceptance, the interests of Oil manufacturers, the shortcomings of battery technologies, competing technologies, and various government mandates that affected electric vehicles. While the movie tends to sway off into tangential topics most of the time the subject remains interesting, and only starts to feel long in one or two places.

One of the things that can bother me with, for lack of a better term, activist documentaries like WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price (that post) or An Inconvenient Truth is that they're great on starting conversations, and exposing facts, but can easily come up short on solid suggestions for creating change. Who Killed the Electric Car, almost fails here. The last few minutes of the film make comments about plug-in hybrid electric vehicles as well as DIY conversions, but there's very little about these in the actual movie, and I think that detracts from it a little.

They recover a little ground by adding a 15 minute piece in the special features that explore several potential actions people can take to encourage the industry to start producing more electric vehicles, but when the main film has a running time of around 90 minutes, I don't think it would have hurt them to add the extra footage.

Still, its a solid film, and it makes me wish I had the money to attempt an electric conversion. The technology and infrastructure is here today, there's no reason we don't have commercially available plugin electric vehicles.

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Stupid Schemes

00.26.42 - Mark

You should give blood. Specifically you own blood, and preferably for free. That's the gist of every post I make after attempting to give the American Red Cross some of my own blood. I usually either compliment them for making it a more or less pleasant experience or thrash them for making it damned near impossible to contribute to the betterment of society (with the kinder posts coming after they leach off a pint or two)

Regardless of how messed up the donation process can be, you can't deny that they have good intentions. However, they've got the most ass backwards methods of getting people to take action. I've probably received 3 or 4 different donor cards (so far) and it seems like every month I get the same tacky form letter (the lead in is "S me things are just n t the same with ut it." - Guess what blood type I am) not to mention the plethora of postcards and phone calls I get letting me know of nearly every blood drive within 50 miles the moment they think I can drop another unit. It's pretty insane, especially when you consider that they have some excessively stringent donor requirements.

So when you see chapters of the American Red Cross turning to fear mongering to cajole citizens into action, it's a bit twisted. Fear Mongering Billboard

To be fair, the Red Cross does a lot more than run blood banks. The campaign itself is focusing on disaster preparedness (planning and training) rather than blood donation, but really, how effective is fear mongering? It's barely worked for the Bush administration, and it clearly doesn't work for very long. If anything, I think the Red Cross would be better off appealing directly to people's self-preservation instincts. Something like "Millions of people are affected by disasters every year. They thought they were ready. Are you? (catchy domain name here)"

In the end however, I think the Red Cross and its various chapters would be much better off if they better allocated their resources. When they have my email address, do they really need to send me a small pile of snail mail every year? Is it better to design silly ad campaigns or get volunteers out into schools and churches? Obviously the Red Cross has a ton of resources at its disposal, and it does do a whole lot of good, but I really wish they would find a better way of spreading their messages.

Terrorizing Billboard story via BoingBoing

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2007.02.20

Six steps to a better DVD

20.11.47 - Mark

Having been watching a bunch of movies recently, most of them on DVD, I'm finding myself annoyed by the same few "features" of the DVD's I've been watching.

1) Kill off the cheesy anti-piracy propaganda
First off, I really don't want to be reminded that piracy is illegal, when I've legally acquired the DVD I'm viewing it on. You really have to wonder what the MPAA's logic is in including their anti-piracy videos on legal media. You never see them pirated material, so they're beating honest customers over the head with propaganda.

2) I've been warned, can I watch my film now?
To be fair, the FBI and Interpol copyright warnings are somewhat excusable, in that by forcing everyone to view them for 10 to 20 seconds takes out any reasonable claim of ignorance. However, do you really need to force me to view them every single time I put the DVD in? Either make it something I can skip, or put it somewhere where it doesn't feel like I'm getting browbeaten with it.

3) Intrusive Marketing. Part One
Then there is the various branding and trailers that used to plague VHS tapes. I think its fine if you want to include some in the special features, however sticking in half a dozen trailers - often on top of the various piracy warnings - is pretty damned annoying. More so in a few months (or years) when I come back wanting to watch a movie and am forced to watch trailers for movies where I've long since forgotten and had no interest in to begin with.

4) Intrusive Marketing. Part Two
Don't feel obligated to loudly pronounce who you are before showing me the film either. I honestly don't care is the DVD I'm watching came from United Artists, Fox, Paramount, or the struggling artist down the street. I just want to see the movie

5) More than a movie
There's only one real reason I buy movies, rather than watch them on TV or add them to my Netflix queue, and that's special features. It should be a crime to release a DVD without any special features, and yet they keep doing it. By far the worst offender I've seen has been the DVD release of eXistenZ which is a spiritual brother to Dark City and The Matrix (the first one) in that the movie totally fucks with your mind by questioning how we perceive reality. It's one of the few movies where I have really, really wanted to watch it again with some form of commentary, but for some bizarre reason the DVD has a total lack of special features. (Just for reference, Dark City, The Matrix, and eXistenZ were all released in 1999. Dark City - despite its relative obscurity - and The Matrix both had feature packed DVD releases)

6) More does not mean "anything"
While I really want to see special features on any DVD I pick up, that does not mean I want to see steaming piles of crap. Short documentaries, production sketches, commentary (director's, actor's, or even a critic's or a fan's) all add to a film. However, some things should be left to die. Many deleted and alternate scenes were left on the cutting room floor for a reason, usually good ones. Simply adding them back in to flesh out a special features menu can be a waste of space (and almost always a bad idea if the deleted scenes don't come with commentary), and anyone who so much as proposes putting cast and crew biographies into the special features should have their eyes pried open and forced to moderate flame wars on IMDB

Compared to actually making a movie, putting together a decent DVD release should not be that hard. For the cost of a few beers you can get fans to create audio commentary (look at what podcasting has done already) and a little common sence should make it easy to create clean intuitive DVD interfaces that don't bombard viewers with MPAA/RIAA propaganda and other Hollywood marketing BS, or at least you would think.

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2007.02.17

New-ish features

15.33.16 - Mark

While part of the reason I haven't posted a lot recently is a crappy interweb connection, the other part is that I've been paying more attention to the non-content side of this blog. Tweaking code and database schemes and adding new features. Among other things I've added sidebar features and dedicated pages for books and movies I've recently consumed, and I'm fleshing out a link blog feature (again with a sidebar block as well as it's own page)

I'll probably try unifying all of this stuff next week. Boredom has done a lot to spawn feature creep.

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2007.02.15

Four Years

11.55.09 - Mark

This blog has come a long way in four years. Back on February 15th, 2003 I signed up with a blogger account and I've come a long way since - nearly 1600 posts, hundreds of comments, developing my own blogging engine and adding all sorts of features I never would have dreamed of four years ago.

I've been online far longer than four years however, I had a couple of static pages hosted online going as far back as late 2000 or early 2001. Long enough that I've since forgotten, but I still have some pages online going back to June 2002. Thankfully my taste and writing have both improved since I first started those sites.

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2007.02.10

Mmmmm Pizza....

16.30.08 - Mark

I think the Italians have it right, good pizza should be protected by law. I think you can even take it a step further and suggest that the horrible things that are produced in fast food restaurants and sold out of freezers should be considered sacrilegious. OK, both of those are a little extreme. While Pizza may be directly related to the flying spaghetti monster, sharing the tomato sauces that feed their wheat based bodies, the Italian pizza laws are far too narrow minded. They are absolutely correct however that pizza is an Art, and should be appreciated as one.

Pizza is easily one of my favorite foods. It's cheap - simple homemade pizzas rarely cost more than $5, amazingly versatile - I regularly use them to clear stray foodstuffs from the fridge, and when done properly delicious.

In the last 5 days I've made as many pizzas, from a vegetarian caramelized onion and mushroom pizza to a meat (and pickle) packed cheeseburger pizza. Even classics like pepperoni or pepperoni and sausage to new classics like ham and pineapple.

I mean if you have a dough ball and a some cheese, you can probably find some decent combination of toppings for a homemade pizza. It really isn't rocket surgery.

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2007.02.09

Paying Less and Getting More

01.05.54 - Mark

Telco companies are a necessary evil, at least in the US. My internet has been inexcusably slow over the last week, and absolutely intolerable the last two days. This isn't all that uncommon for my connection, and there are no practical alternatives where I live so I usually just grin and bear it (a local RSS reader helps)

This latest slowdown however has been exceedingly painful. When I tried to load a couple of online speed tests, I had one system fail to load the launch page - let alone run the test.

So after checking things on my end, and running a marginally helpful firmware update to my router, I couldn't place the blame anywhere except Sprint.

Well, turns out Sprint (or whatever name they're operating under) doesn't even sell my level of service (512K upstream), anymore! I have no idea when they changed pricing, but the monthly bill is not only being lowered, the bandwidth is going up.

Totally fucking insane! When a business drops or upgrades a low end offering, they should be compelled to offer existing users of that service to a comparable service. Hell I would have settled for notification.

Anyways, all I have to do is wait for the new modem to arrive. I'm not thrilled by the prospect of installing and configuring a new modem when the one I have connected seems to be working fine, but whatever - I like bandwidth.

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