Thursday, May 24, 2007

Burning my PTO, bitches!

So far in the time since work ended I've done shit I should be blogging about, but I've been too fuckin' lazy until now. There are pictures, and my camera shit is packed, so pictures once I'm set up in Chicago in a week-ish. Patience.

After getting out on Friday I rode up to Alviso Marina to check out the ghost town of Drawbridge. There are some ruins, and some paths. The first train passed and I was pretty well hidden, but when the second train passed through I was out in plain view, and so in the off chance that some authority figure aboard the train would call in that I was there and send some other authority figures after me. Pretty OK place.

Obervation: My ankles are bad-ass. I rolled them a few times on the railroad ties while running out to the island and they didn't even swell up or anything. *Flexes ankles*

Saturday I rode down to Santa Cruz with a backpack full of clothes and stuff. It hurt my back. I took it easy (I know y'all probably don't think I even know how to do that while running or biking, but I really did this time). I tried to get into Holy City but there was a mean-looking fence. Fucking boo. Well, I didn't try very hard... it could probably be gotten into without too much effort. But I just went on to S.C. Went to the beach, just stood out there waist-deep in the water. Little boy screaming at the sea for much longer than you'd think a kid his age should be able to focus on anything. Shared a glance with a knee-deep young lady that didn't look like much of a beach person over that episode. Went, got a wet-suit. Old couple walking down the street, man said disgustedly, "Apparently clothes are optional in this town." Swam around the wharf. I'm not a very good swimmer. I think it's around a mile. It was tiring. Checked in the wetsuit. Put on an orange shirt. Got a compliment on the orangeness of the shirt. Some other people recognized me as the dude they saw swimming around the pier, said they got a picture of me. The picture is probably posted on someone's blog, with a shark-fin photoshopped in behind me. I hope so.

By that point I was hungry and in the mood for beer so I went down to the first brewery. They were about to close (not much of a retail establishment, although they will become one shortly after I leave California) so I tasted their offerings and got a bottle of their IPA for later.

Went down to the hostel, checked in. Some dudes from Italy hanging out there, and a local street musician that is passionately anti-sprawl. He owned, all told, a backpack full of stuff. Seemed reasonably happy with the arrangement. Being a computer geek, runner, cyclist... I don't think I could get it down that far if I tried (running requires lots of clothing and shoes, cycling a bike and more clothes, computing a computer... I had a backpack the same size for my day-trip, mostly filled with clothes).

Walked over to the second brewery, this one with a bar attached. This dude saw me up at the bar trying their barleywine, asked if I'd just biked in. I said yeah, but wasn't sure how he figured that out. It turns out the bar was having a bike night (last week was sort-of bike week in California) where you could get a free beer by biking in, so he figured any random scruffy dude hanging out at the bar alone had probably just coasted in for a free beer. Somehow I hadn't noticed that, and I thought he meant, "Did you just bike into town?", which would have made him a psychic. Anyhow he invited me to go meet his buddies from a UCSC agro-ecology program that had just rolled in for free beer that evening. I had some real dinner and got my free beer (two beers after that much exercise was about all I could handle) and we hung out for a while. Was talking to one of them about moving, and he asked why I didn't just move to Santa Cruz. I said I really wanted to be back with all my friends in Illinois, and he said I had friends in Santa Cruz now too. That was cool. But I miss y'all Illinoisans anyhow. They were going to a little concert and then back to UCSC to party until the livestock local to Santa Cruz came home, but I had to get back to the hostel by 11pm.

Welllll, apparently I didn't *have* to be back at the hostel by 11, because when I woke up there were at least three more people in the room than when I went to sleep. If I'd stayed out with those folk it probably would have been completely out of line, though.

On the ride back, unlike when I did this round-trip in one day, I was able to make the whole stretch on Mountain Charlie Road only stopping once, and that stop only to take a really awesome picture. There are several really awesome pictures to take along the road, but I was really feeling awesome and didn't want to stop. So I just picked my favorite view and snapped a few pictures there. It's not that I'm in better shape than then (I'm actually in far worse shape), it's just that that stretch of road is much more feasible with 10 miles behind you instead of 50.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Local Business

A while ago I put in a reservation to rent a moving truck from Budget, which has a pick-up/drop-off location in a gas station that's across the driveway from my apartment. I made the reservation online because I was doing price comparisons. When John found out that he could take all my furniture, I had to cancel the reservation. So I walked over to the gas station and asked the attendant about it. She told me to call Budget's national number. The call was quick and went smoothly.

So if I'd just called the number instead of going over to the station in the first place I could have made and canceled a transaction with a business located not 40 feet from where I'm sitting right now without actually interacting with anyone there.

I guess the real, fundamental question underlying this whole experience is: is this type of thing even interesting to normal people?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Apple and DRM, Corporate Trust

Quite a while ago now Apple began to offer some tracks from EMI at the iTunes Music Store sans-DRM, and since then there has been quite a range of responses from anti-DRM folk around the Internet. Steve Jobs has also taken a few jabs at DRM in public. What's going on? A company that once clung to DRM as part of the magic glue holding together its vertical stack of the iTunes music store, iTunes and the iPod, now wishing it dead? Is Steve Jobs now some kind of consumer hero? Not really, but it doesn't change the fact that in the end the smart thing for people to do is to buy Apple's digital music wares (or at least not to buy Microsoft's).

There are a few things that some people get really worked up about regarding this deal. One of them is pricing. The DRM-free tracks cost more, and this means that suddenly not every song in the iTunes music store costs 99¢ anymore. Count me among those that don't give a shit. Apple is offering people something better with these songs; not only do they come without DRM, aiding interoperability, allowing people to avoid iPod lock-in, allowing trading among friends. This last one is important to me, even if it's illegal by the books. When my friends live in another state we can't listen to CDs together to share music we enjoy. With DRM we're being trusted to respect the spirit of copyright law, and hopefully we do. Also the DRM-free tracks have higher sound quality, not as a result of their not having DRM, but just as an additional distinguishing feature. Some people get really passionate about the idea of all songs costing the same in the iTunes Music Store, particularly because Steve Jobs himself has fought the record companies to keep it that way. But those people shouldn't be angry about this; Apple still isn't letting the companies charge differently for different songs. Furthermore, Steve Jobs doesn't care about keeping all songs the same price because he thinks it's good for consumers, he's doing it because he thinks it's good for his business. In online music right now what's good for his business and what's good for consumers overlaps (in general, regardless of whether one-price-fits-all is actually good for consumers). Even though Apple has a strong position already, there are many more people that don't use an online music service than there are that use one, and Apple has to continually win those new users in order to maintain their strong position. I actually think that the pricing of online music tracks is often silly. Buying all the tracks on an album is less expensive than the CD for bands that have albums with fewer and longer songs, and more expensive for bands with albums with more and shorter songs. The Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime and Radiohead's Kid A both cost me around $13 on CD (Kid A may have been a bit more); if all those tracks were available on iTunes for 99¢ a pop I would have paid $9.90 for Kid A ($10.89 if you count the "hidden" stuff at the end as a track) and $42.57 for Double Nickels. Would I really pay 99¢ for Take 5, D.? Probably not, but it brings a smile to my face when I hear it. There is currently no better deal on the consumer side of music than the compact disc, and even with Apple's new online offerings I still buy CDs if they want an album and recommend that others do the same. But if the market will sustain Apple's wacky pricing model, and they think it's good for them overall (surely most of their customers aren't buying full hardcore albums from the iTMS) then I say they can do whatever the hell they want.

There's also the issue with European governments trying to force Apple to license their DRM to other companies at a reasonable rate. People think that this move will convince those governments not to do that. I don't see how it should have any effect, since they'll still overwhelmingly sell tracks with DRM, but Laws Are Weird. Apple's DRM, as I understand it, isn't really built to be licensed to other companies the way Microsoft's is, and actually would stand a better chance of being broken if they licensed it. If Apple can refuse to license their DRM they can keep the people that already have lots of DRM-laden iTMS songs locked to the iPod, even as they sell them new songs that don't themselves lock their users in. I haven't been paying attention to Apple's legal negotiations in Europe, but if they manage to get the governments off their back, good for them. I don't really care if other companies have the FairPlay spec, I'd rather consumers get a hold of it ;-).

I don't think that this whole thing is about the European courts, though. Why would Jobs take jabs at DRM if that was the case? Why would Apple invite other record labels to offer their songs DRM-free? I think there's more at stake. Apple makes its money on the iPod. The iTMS is a lock-in vehicle for the iPod, and also a way to prevent them from getting sued by record companies for supporting piracy. Apple's Goal #1 is to protect and grow iPod sales. The problem is that to keep up their vertical market they need to sell two things: the iPod and FairPlay DRM. Specifically they're selling the iPod to consumers and FairPlay to record labels. If consumers reject the iPod, or if the labels reject FairPlay, they're in trouble. Apple is one of the best companies in the world these days at selling to consumers. But Microsoft is probably the best company in the world at selling to corporations. Microsoft is Apple's top competitor in the DRM business, and Microsoft has shown a willingness over the last few years to do lots of work to support the DRM that media companies want. Even as Apple is putting lots of computers and iPods in our hands, they're scrambling to match Microsoft's Protected Video Path to satisfy corporate content holders. The battle to get content on the platform by having the strongest DRM system is being won by Microsoft. Apple's best chance is to play to consumers. If consumers reject DRM then Apple doesn't have to fight that battle. And consumers should reject DRM, because our digital rights don't need any management! So Microsoft happens to be pushing against consumers right now and Apple happens to be pushing for them.

EDIT: Apparently I'm way behind the times and Apple does sell albums on iTunes now. Which renders the last half of the paragraph on pricing irrelevant. It doesn't really change the main point of this post... actually, that stuff had nothing to do with my main point, so I shouldn't have even put it in here. Now I still wouldn't buy stuff from the iTMS with DRM (which includes most of the iTMS' offerings), and I can't really buy anything from the iTMS unless they support Linux. That last problem is pretty much specific to me, so for most people, especially people wanting to buy single songs, the iTMS non-DRM stuff might be worth a look.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

I was going to use the phrase "unrelated news" in this blog post, which made me think of a database structure with a table for news-item relations

... and clearly these two news items would not be expressed as a pair in this table.

I've had a few dreams lately in which I was in college, living in the dorms, and just got a cat to live with me and my roomies. But this cat, he is pure evil. You can see it in the little bastard's eyes. The second you fall asleep he's going to eat you. Then he's going to look up your grandma in your address book, hitch a ride to her place, and eat her.

Also in these dreams I have the ability to drink a 16-ounce glass of straight gin and still go to class, just a little bit impaired.

It's a very good thing I don't really have that ability.

In un-related news...

My "moongazing plugin" for gaim is almost finished! All I have to do is set up the callbacks for periodic updates (this is easy, I know how to do it) and then apply the logic I'm using for profiles to status messages. Well, then I have to rewrite the moon-positioning code because my current source for that code is xearth and xearth, while open-source, has a non-GPL compatible license (specifically, it appears to prohibit distribution for commercial use) and gaim (which my program is also a derivative work of) uses the GPL. Obviously I can comply with both licenses uness I distribute the work. It should be an interesting problem to hack at, given Wikipedia as documentation. And maybe I'll need a more precise source for the parameters of the moon's rotation.

But, like the Rolling Stones playing a cover of some band whose name I don't remember, I ain't too proud to beg: if any of you can tell me how to find the location on the surface of the Earth (... how shall I specify this accurately ...) through which passes a displacement vector from the center of the earth to the center of the moon, I'm dying to know.

But yeah, I'm doing the C coding, which I know I can hack out, first.

Oh, and gaim is now "Pidgin". So s/gaim/Pidgin/g, k?