Wednesday, December 31, 2003
For the last week I have been racking my brain for visions of users accessing enterprise data through mobile devices, so I can submit them as candidates for mobile WebServices implementations. But what the hell do I know, I am a software weenie: all I need from my enterprise is my meetings, email, person look-up, and calendar. Hardly interesting. I needed to ask people who do not do what I do.
Go Ask The User.
So who inside this software shop here in Burlington really needs or uses enterprise data? Well, HR for one -- all our files and profiles and stock options and histories are logged on our global intranet. I went downstairs to talk to the people in HR; I saw that today I had gotten email from one of them so she was in. I am on really good terms with them all, so when I asked Lauren "Could you report to me those moments that you are away from your desk and you think 'Geez, I wish I could get to this page on our intranet because...'" not only did she come up with a good one on the spot -- people ask her about their salary and time-off accounts all the time while she walks through the building, when she can least answer them -- she also offered to pass my request along during the staff meeting Thursday. This should lead to some really usable and practical proposals for implementations. HR would already be a fabulous one because of the security and routing implications.
Then during that discussion we found out I need to "find" 16 hours of vacation that I "didn't report" during the last year, or I will be penalized for being too much of a workaholic and lose a large chunk of my vacation balance.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
Well, my phone is now on the KPN mobile network, and this still works. For about 2000 bytes. Then somehow no packets come through to the computer anymore. That is it. Since T-Mobile (the former VoiceStream) has been locking down its data access points, I can't help thinking they are responsible for us losing that facility. I asked my father for his settings and am now using my mobile phone as a straight modem over Bluetooth. Except that you can't do good data over GSM. Incredibly slow rate. Feels like 9k6. I don't even want to think about the connection charges. But I have to check my work e-mail.
Saturday, December 06, 2003
...have a utility that "listens" to your MP3s to fill in the BPMs, where it thinks it stands a chance? Would be very handy since it has a BPM autoplay list?
...not have a good analysis feature to suggest purchases based on your library, especially which songs got a high rating?
[cloned from my Slashdot blog]
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Yet when I browse the iTunes Music Store, I end up clicking 'Buy Now' again and again.
I listened to the Britney album too, and I liked one song so much I bought it. It was both chic and sexy and that's why I love it. I am constantly playing it. Here's the thing: I am elated I could purchase the one song of an album that I liked.
But still. I bought a Britney song for a buck. And the SF Gate review is right, she really does not sound human at all.
Monday, November 24, 2003
Which ties into a phone-call I got over the weekend. Max called being very distressed over Arnold predicament, and how out of the loop she was. "Read it on soc.motss" people said to her, but the first thing her newsreader asks is "There are 4500 articles waiting -- download now? (y/n)". Yeah right.
So I told her to go to Google.com.
"Ok, now hit the tab 'groups'. Ok, see the entry field below that? Type in 'Max Vasilatos.'"
-- "Oh nonononono, I can't do that..." she keeps laughing.
"Shut up and type in 'Max V....'. Ok, hit enter..."
And shrieks come in over the phone. "Oooooooh, it is all there...."
"From 1984 onwards, baby, all of it. There you are. Hey did you know Nelson works for Google now?"
-- "Everyone I know does these days. What happened to the monkey.com thing?..." and off we went into the next meander while I showed her the advanced form to restrict searches of Usenet to the last week. It felt strange that random user me was showing the Retired Godess of Networking how to work this webpage. I am so used to her thoughts and knowledge being far ahead of mine.
Then I showed her LJ, which means she actually might be reading this. (Hi Max!)
Joan Crawford's TiVo, now there's a concept... It would be a fun little exercise for some magazine to call celebrities and ask them what's on their TiVo. Does everyone know Betty White actually likes science fiction? It says so in that book of hers, "Here We Go Again". What's on Robert Wagner's? Joan Collins'? What season passes does Dan Cortez have? If TiVo had a Negative Season Pass feature, would Anne Heche be on Ellen's? You know, asking that would make such a perfect Graham Norton segment.
Friday, November 21, 2003
Thursday, November 20, 2003
Have the fare be fucking yanked and be told it is no longer available.
Fuck you, airline booking industry. I guess I am better off with a travel agent. I wish I knew one that would work over e-mail. Or some sort of lendingtree.com site where I enter in plain text when I want to travel, and a bunch of them get back to me with itineraries that make sense. Not priceline.com, I refuse to use priceline.com when you realize that damn computer has no problems giving you itineraries that could have you be stuck on a lay-over for five hours -- and you don't even know till you have already paid.
I will go to the consulate tomorrow to extend my passport. But I hate this.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Saturday, October 25, 2003
The premiere issue of Queue, the new magazine launched by the Association of Computing Machinery, most articles were devoted to WebServices, including interview with the guys that came up with the idea. They looked at the great revolution of the Web amd wondered whether it couldn't be generalized further. The Web is very successful as a catlog and a communications medium with very simple tools: as a client you have to understand (meaning that you have to have a program that can make sense of) the HTML that marks up pages into pieces like "this is a headline and this is a button and this is a paragraph", and then you have a human brain to read the information in the HTML messages and make decisions. For a company, makingt this connection on the supplier end was cheap: put up a server, connect it to the database. Now, what if these big pages were made with a generalized from of HTML language that allowed you mark up other things than pages called XML and other languages that defined per industry what was in that XML message ("this is a catalog, this is the thickness of that screw, this is the amount of your interest rate") ? Suddenly this succesful paradigm could be used for far more, like computers talking to computers. And we get re-use all the tools that worked for the Web to connect all this stuff.
Now we have a bandwagon and WebServices is the buzzowrd of the year. Now there have been many attempts at connecting computers to swhare data and compute together in generalized ways, but they all used very fine messages. The dialogs were like "Hi."
"What time is it?"
-- "Who wants to know?"
-- "Ok, it is 12.34 PM"
"And the date?"
-- "Who wants to know?"
"That other guy using me. He's military."
-- "Oh, he gets to know more. It is exactly ten days since the last secret mission. Also known as October 12th 2003."
Now you could use those old methods, called RPC and CORBA and COM and what not to make coarse queries ("Hey it is me I need the time and the date and the temperature.") but the plumbing of these standards was all defined on very small methods, little things you'd want to do. WebServices, according to inventor guy, was supposed to be just like webpages: you don't go to a page and type everything just to get a minute update, but you exchange these big pieces of data. "Hi, I want the time and the date and widget seven in red and you should sent it here but route it through there and I'll pay for it this way."
-- "Well it is on its way but it will take 12 days and here's the time and the date."
I am a UI guy. And I am trying to let people interface with WebServices. From a phone. That's my current project. And I am just not seeing the big difference between CORBA and WebServices, once the nuts hit the bolts. Because in the end, I will probably have to offer the results to people. And people like to tweak. They like to explore, they like to change little things to make up their minds. Do they have the item in red? In stock? How much does it cost then? How about blue? What if we took that other route? Can we go through a town?
So if I want to stay close to the WebServices ideal, I keep uploading big chunks of catalogs and maps and whatnot, and that's expensive. People still pay by the packet. And it gets even stupider for the project I am doing now: a distributed game. Players end up sending single moves as thse stateless pages that the programs on each end have to stay synchronized on. Next idea was doing IM on WebServices. IM! Single lines of text only useable for humans.
So basically for my purposes, I am not seeing the difference between WebServices and CORBA tunneled over port 80. In fact, WebServices for now will be more complicated since the XML and associated languages (SOAP, WSDL) are not human-readable but not particularly program-readable either, you have to write plumbing to hook up the SOAP and XML messages to your database and clients and what not. Same with CORBA, but there what plumbing to build was defined directly by the CORBA syste, no guesswork. Fortunatly my project is using an experimental toolkit (IBM AlphaWorks WSTKMD) that makes all that work go away, much like CORBA. So why am I trying so hard with these new WebServices again?
Because CORBA didn't look right at the wrong place at the wrong time. CORBA made it look hard, WebServices makes it look easy: you just exchange generalized webpages -- doesn't everyone understand how simple it is to exchange webpages?
WebServices is good if you already know what you want, but bad to find out. People may know exactly what they want, but that is before the real world hits and comes up with all these choices. And for that WebServices offers no compelling advantage over other protocols -- in fact, its messages really have quite the amount of overhead when they get small.
It's funny: studying UIs you find out that people are most comfortable in exploratory environments where they can make little tweaks, with instant feedback, no commitment, no stress they are "breaking the computer" or doing something irrevocable. UIs where everything they can do is visible, in paradigms they quickly understand, tailored to the task, simple building blocks that can be collapsed into powerful tools for advanced users. Yet the plumbing we are working on, the revolutions around us, all end up being about bigger and bigger messages, whole pages of changes being transported around to interact with, catalogs in a medium that make it hard to flip the pages and compare the goods. That very simple universal paradigm of browsing actually makes it very hard to do something complex with. And now it is supposed to start running everything.
OK UIers, just make it work now!
[Cloned from my Slashdot journal]
Now that I am a researcher and am supposed to have opinions, I am considering putting a link from my personal Intranet page to that journal. So innocent people can be exposed to it too.
Friday, October 17, 2003
And this completly ignores the smaller labels I buy at CDBaby.com and other places. iTMS is not going to give me my Echo !mage or Apoptygma Berzerk fix. But I knew that, and I guess I will keep buying those mail-order. In fact, what I saw myself do on that music store is indulge in brainless crap candy. The kind of one-hit-wonder'ism of perfect little synthoid electro dance popsongs that fit my braincells for the month in which they are hot and I end up listening to
In fact, it was the kind of stuff I downloaded from Napster. If I wanted a CD of music I though I would actually listen to often, I'd buy it from Amazon, with predictable shipping, complete tracks, and an unsurprising bitrate. Napster was to get those one-offs that pollute my harddrive (U96, Fire Inc., Stacey Q, that single specific Enya track) that makes all my pretense, held up by the MP3 collection of ripped CDs, of having some kind of non-mainstream quirky developed taste be moot. You know, those tracks that make you cringe when they scroll by on the TiVo screen for all your guests to see while you are trying to find a playlist to show off your erudition. ("I have the complete collaborations between Riyuchi Sakamoto and David Sylvian!" "That's great FJ!!, but was that 'Theme to Mortal Kombat' going by there?")
So the iTMS is helping me keep up my hubris by not allowing me to buy the songs that I think they could make absolute killings on. But, now that I have confessed my sins -- and yes, I will die maintaining that "You Spin Me Right Round (Like A Record)" is one of the top 5 most brillian Hi-NRG tracks ever, ever, EVER -- right now I'd rather be having Debbie Harry telling me how Good Boys Never Win.
Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Kid growing up, Mom loved Dad, Dad loved Mom. He works hard in the mill, knew when to have a beer, life was sheltered. Mill packs up to south of the border. Dad starts to slide, odd jobs in fast food and retail, even if he keeps a stiff upper lip.
But you know you won't be like that. You won't be powerless, you will take care of your family, you'll be smart so you won't make six bucka an hour, you won't be just like dad.
Family starts to make do with hand-me-downs, Mom seems to have been here before from her past. Dad's sliding, drinking with his equally jobless buddies. Kid sees the waste, decides he will get out, busts his ass in school and odd jobs and volunteering, eventhough everyone tells him to take it easy and he ain't better than them.
With no money out of high-school he joins the marines for the school loan. Pounds the deserts and the sand the first time round, but really kills himself over the books when he gets to college back home. Learns the computers, gets himself an entry job. He's getting out of this place. Last he heard Mom's got a job greeting at Wal-Mart for five bucks an hour, Dad's lost.
He starts a little family, he pays for a small house. He lives within his means, he drives an old car, he hates traffic. He keeps working to get promoted, he studies a bit more. One day boss tells him his job's going to India, his replacement's coming over for two months of training by him, no use in getting angry, cause that is the score.
Chorus. Repeat. Work in line in third chorus repeat that a new Wal-Mart just opened, may need greeters. Fade.
Monday, October 13, 2003
Today, I come home to find the TiVo has recorded three hours of CNN Headline News as a suggestion.
(While this is a silly TiVo moment, one TiVo trick is to make a special wishlist entry that contains part of the name of your favorite news show, narrow its category to 'News", and set it to only keep one show. This means the TiVo will always have the latest news broadcast from that show waiting for you.)
Sunday, September 28, 2003
I, as many know, am all for that.
Been re-ripping my CDs with LAME (through CDex), but this time after every CD done, I take out the booklet, throw the jewelcase away, and put the booklet and CD in this CD binder. I saw my houseguest Gadi travel with all his CDs that way, and one day, looking at my living room, it made sense. This huge rack of media is dissappearing from view. It feels strange to throw all these jewelboxes in the trash.
So I also wanted to clean a little electronically, and one so I looked at one of the stupid little domains I own. I actually have http://www.craigshergold.com (currently not resolving for some reason) as the version of ironic domain-name squatting of Gadi and me. (Ok, we cooked the idea up together and I did the rest.) Never got any hits. Then I linked it to my homepage so searchengines would pick it up, and now it's like the sixth entry on Google for Craig Shergold.
Today I checked the access logs for the first time in 3 years. It's now getting 5 hits a day. Now suddenly I have doubts: should I apply for a google text ad account and make hundreds of millions of dollars? Or just get rid of it?
Thursday, September 25, 2003
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
3. Symbian C++ programming is a nightmare, and the examples are no help at all. I am so stressed I skipped my workout just to keep working and making some kind of progress.
4. Sean not having anyone to play with reminds me to write, for future refernce, that I am enjoying playing Pandemonium on the N-Gage. I was just allotted that game and Sonic The Hedgehog to just play around with. I should try if playing against another tester over Bluetooth networking works.
I am liking it a bit too much. See point 3. Today I reached for it around 4, when I couldn't take this wall of lousy documentation and impenetrable examples of constrained GUI programming anymore. I should have gone for the iron instead of the game deck.
I had a conceptual breakthrough at the end of the day, but it was already 7.35 PM and I had to be home by 8. I had a cat to inject.
Thursday, September 04, 2003
So my title has been settled: my new business cards will state I am a 'Senior Research Engineer'. I think it sounds cool.
My current research gig is taking over a project from the person whose position in the group I am filling. Its current shape is a collaboration with an IBM Alphaworks project from a group in Austin TX. I want to do a site-visit, but can't find an angle to make it necessary, yet.
The project is about a system that makes it easy for programmers to make programs that communicate between mobile devices and back-end servers at fixed locations. My end is to make the programs that can run on Series 60 phones -- these programs are called "clients" -- in various languages to show off how easy it is for programmers to use their system to do this, co-ordinating server and client objects.
First demo client was coded by my predecessor, it is going to be shown off at some mobile conference. I took a look at it. I have been in a demo-driven lab before, at CHIP, I have even stood on a demo floor at a trade-show for three days, showing off some medical-system prototypes to disinterested CFOs, CIOs, CEOs, journalists, doctors, and other clinical personnel shopping for systems, in a booth sponsored by SUN that was trying to generate medical buzz for their new-fangled JAVA language. I know what a demo needs to have to be credible. This thing was close, but not close enough. I sent a memo in email.
There was some consternation among my manager and my predecessor who would make the demo better, since I have to work on the next client, in C++. They were stopping in my cube to tell me I should ask some of the other researchers in my group for help, because I might be overloaded. I smiled and nodded and fired up Eclipse, configured Antenna, spent half a week learning my way around J2ME, and made the changes. JAVA is my native tongue now, people. J2ME only makes it smaller, which makes it even easier. The demo is good now. The person organizing the collaboration, managing getting it to the conference, and a source of future funding, likes it, likes the touches I added. That's what I do, baby, get used to it.
The next client is not in the confines and simplicity of J2ME, it is in C++. Symbian's version of C++. A fucked up version of C++, no exceptions, no polymorphism, and tons of traps and macros and double-stage constructions, all designed to deal as resource-starved as possible with the possibility that somewhere, in some call, the phone will say "fuck you and your program, I ain't got the free memory / connection / screen" and yet still be able to run for years uninterrupted. It is a nightmare for the novice of resource files, utilities to change one type of descriptive file into another, packagers, linkers, more linkers. I have spent a week now just acquainting myself with the tools and the strange organization of programs. The OS practically enforces a Model-View-Controller separation, and everything is a also a library. Oh, and don't use standard C++ types. Ever. Only Symbian derived-variable types, please.
I am having the worst case of Empty-Project syndrome, I can't get myself to start. The only way this is going to work is by pilfering one of the many, many example programming projects supplied and reworking it. I must start tomorrow.
On the other hand, even though I haven't coded a single line, I feel how powerful this system is I am working in. I have access to all the systems on the device, going through the endless APIs I even found the calls to use the voice-commands sub-system. JAVA shields you from the computer, gives you a neat little sandbox, but also shields you from the raw power, the real windowing system (which is why all JAVA programs look slightly out of place), the real sound system, the real libraries of other programs. I got used to it over the last, oh, 6 years, and coded around it, always making approximations, little wanna-be's. Now I am back suffering the pain of touching the real OS and the fucked up memory- and resource models, but there is also the reward of the power, all the possibilities. Pity I won't I have to time to explore it.
 Jargon: the communication-protocol is SOAP, a protocol for marshaling and unmarshaling objects, so that to a client it looks like the objects on the server, the ones with all the data, look like they are running locally. Offering objects over SOAP like that is called "WebServices". IBM's WebServices for Mobile Devices Toolkit is supposed to make generating the client- and server-stubs very easy. Austin sends me the library of client-stubs, I code a little program around them.
Saturday, August 09, 2003
So I have my little profile, my first friend who invited me (thanks Sherman!) was confirmed, and immediately I was part of the Electronic Bear Nexus. Then I started hunting around for a way to add new friends. In order to not allow you to spam people, you have to either enter their e-mail address or first and last name. I used a custom spam-catcher e-mail as my starting e-mail, so no one will know that. First name & last name. Geeez, I barely know my last name myself. Its starting structure makes people who do not know Germanic languages capitalize it wrong, and inside the Netherlands the most common variant has an 'n' tacked on the end. The only non-Dutch person who ever asked me about spelling the first part of it correctly was an editor for Popular Science who dealt overwhelmingly with international scientists. My first name I can't write like I want to because this damn thing wont allow '!'. How is anyone supposed to find me?
And the 'add a friend' webpage says: Continue only if you really are friends with Beth.
Well. Now there's an existential crisis to ponder before you hit the button.
Monday, July 28, 2003
Note these terms. These terms are the new world of Digital Rights Management [DRM] in the mobile phone world. And remember, as much as people bellyache about Palladium and computers locking your data in, there are more mobile phones in use than actual PCs.
These three terms, specified by OMA, govern what you can do with stuff you get on your mobile phone. Right now phones can get ringtones, screensavers, text messages -- and it is a huge industry. The money spent by consumers to download Robbie William's latest hit as a ringtone is very significant compared to what consumers spent on buying his latest single, if my sources are to be believed. Very significant.
But if you download it to the phone, you can get it off, exchange it, send it forward, and content owners hate that. So there mobile phone makers specified a new datatype, the DRM datatype, which is basically about taking content -- a JAVA midlet, an image, a ringtone -- and encrypting it, wrapping it up. And you can only decrypt it if you have the rights to go with it, which contains the key to decrypt the content.
In the case of Forward Lock the little envelope around the content doesn't contain a key. Fortunately, the content is also, in this special case, not encrypted. However, your phone sees the little envelope and says 'aha, this content is forward locked', and then your phone will not let you forward your image or ringtone to anyone or anything. You can install it, use it, play it, delete it -- but it don't go off the phone to another CPU, nuh-uh, never.
In Combined Delivery, the little envelope around your content will actually encrypt your content, but also ship with the key right in the envelope. But this key is a special key, it can contain all kinds of directives to the phone like 'hey phone, only play this twice' or 'hey phone, only let the user see this image for a year' or 'hey phone, let the user forward this only to two other people, and the people forwarded to can't forward it at all'.
The most sophisticated one is Separate Delivery. It is like Combined Delivery, but the key can be shipped separately. So say you get your video, your MP3, your program, you download it from somewhere on to your phone, or it is pushed -- and you won't be able to do anything with it. It'll be encrypted. All it will say is 'Purchase Rights Now?' with some icons and info of what it is, and if you say yes, it'll take you to a WAP website where you can enter your credit card. And then the owner of the content can send you a key, and that key can have the same restrictions like in Combined Delivery. So you can all share and download the same cool content, but each phone will have to purchase its own key and rights.
So notice who is enforcing this? Yup, the phones. The phones have to be good boys and girls and not let the nasty user do nasty things with the content like save it to a computer, forward it to a friend, watch or listen to it more often than the content owner says you have paid for.
Remind you of anything? Region-coded DVDs. DVD players are supposed to have a region code, Region 1 is the US, region 2 is for EU, etc, etc, and a region 2 DVD is not supposed to play on a region 1 player, and such. Well, why do I have a South-Korean -- or is Sampo Chinese? -- DVD player that plays every region? Because someone decided consumers would pay more not to deal with silly restrictions. In fact, I heard that in the EU, region coded DVD players are on their way out since it may legally not be enforceable from a consumer-rights POV.
How long before one rogue Chinese manufacturer makes a DRM-capable phone that is not compliant? It will download the little envelopes just fine, and decrypt the content just fine, but it won't be all mean and not allow you to forward. Or maybe it will ignore the key directives and let you play as often and as long as you want, and beam the content to all your friends. It will happen.
Or maybe it will happen by accident. These DRM OMA specs are convoluted and difficult to implement. A mistake may creep in, and suddenly Nokia or Sony-Ericsson will release a model that don't play content cop right, if you press the right keys and look at it sideways just so. The model will be recalled, fixed, amended the moment this becomes known, but baby, will it sell on eBay.
So one of the guys on High School bought the superbad Chinese DRM-capable-but-DRM-less phone. Or that 'buggy' Motorola. Guess what: he's now the most popular kid in school, who will take the pooled cash and buy the MP3s and videos legally -- and then beam them to everyone who payed the pool.
I swear, this whole mobile/handy DRM thing can't last. There are just too many phone-makers, and not all of them play nice. China is big on making its own phones, being independent. They'd love to stick it to those overbearing big mobile companies trying to invade their turf -- and free content will be the ticket.
[Cloned from my Slashdot blog]
Saturday, July 26, 2003
That's what you get for being a careless bunch of assholes in the business world. You screw up bigtime and it catches up with you. Except in this case, it is a crank-hopping not-quite-there sleazeball who brings you down.
Here's an interesting thought: what would you do if tomorrow he gave you the domain name "sex.com"? Remember, every newbie who types 'sex' in their browser will end up at your site. I'd probably have a hard time resisting the money of owning it as a link/ad sponsored gateway portal, or just making it an innocuous personal domain site for a fictional 10 year old boy, just to teach the newbies to never trust the Internet.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Backup is on for emergency lighting and the key-card doors, so everyone can get around. All unsaved work on desktop computers was lost mid-keystrokes. Everyone with a laptop (me) can still do local work.
Before the outage, everyone was working silently, and the environment felt "quiet". Now that the air-conditioning and all the fluorescent lights and all desktop computers are out, the building is really quiet, even with people talking.
(I am posting this over my personal cellular/mobile wireless modem. I suspect network is out too.)
Sunday, July 06, 2003
This is making me think about the future of music. The reason Dino is ripping his CDs is so he can stream them to our stereo using the TiVo. That he is willing to go through this with all his discs shows how ubiquitous home MP3s of your own collection end up being really nice. Listen to everything wherever. iPods et. al only make it more compelling. We listen to music more often now that the whole collection is available with a simple remote control, instead of trying to find a CD among your stacks and stacks on stuff.
So before I cracked one-third of my laptop's LCD screen into oblivion, I was actually wondering if I could allocate the funds to buy a 500 buck old apple laptop and an iPod so I could buy iTunes. The Apple iTunes store is not just getting great reviews, it is getting great downloads. People like having music choices, not being stuck to the structure of CDs, being able to impulse buys for one, ten, fifty songs, after they have been able to decide they like them, on the spot. I would like to be able to find a lot more new stuff.
On the blogs I follow there are many people who recommend all kinds of tracks they are listening to. I'd love to be able to click a link when they write it and then get my iTunes or Rhapsody 30 second pre-listen and then know whether I like it or not. Download, store, transfer to iPod, have. Perhaps a special link isn't necessary, a mozilla or safari plugin that will look terms up in iTunes (Mac or Windows, when the latter comes out) and then take you there. Read a friend rave about music, right-click, find it.
It is total materialism, but at only one dollar a pop, and actually not at such egregious terms for the actual artists as CD sales. They get 12 cents. Why is this good? Because the big labels don't subtract all kinds of shady deductions like 'breakage', an old holdover from when vinyl and wax rolls and other product actually broke. Artists on big labels get a small fixed percentage of breakage deducted from their royalties since that product was assumed to have broken and thus unsold. It is still being deducted now that artists have music shipped on the non- or way less- breaking format of CDs. Behold the corporate masters, they will recoup from artists even what they didn't advance or charge.
Now take CD Baby. Their model is to be some kind of Internet store for indie artists, but they structure themselves as a record label. Unlike the big record companies hey don't advance money for an artist to record, they won't promote an artist, they won't fork money to get the artist played on radio, nor ship their CDs to stores, of which they own none themselves anyway. What they will do is pure order fulfillment, and give most of the cash to the copyright holders who partner with them to sell their stuff on the label. Greg reports that his partner, who sells some CDs through CD Baby, actually gets real checks.
Apple has said they only want to deal with aggregate entities like record labels, they do not want the hassle of being like mp3.com and have to deal with all these copyright holders individually. But CD Baby has been offered by Apple to join the iTunes online music store. CD Baby has said that they want to, and not only that, they will allow anyone with music to offer it on the music store through them, for a very small cut, thus allowing independent artists access to the iTunes virtual store shelves while Apple gets to keep not having to deal with masses of independent artists and tiny labels. Everyone gets what they want.
Now take a look at this and this These are articles and questions about how recording actually getting cheaper, to the point that you can make something very decent by yourself at home. Ok, so people whose music depends on acoustic recordings will always have to fork big-ish money for mics and soundbooths to do great recording, but electronic music is already at the stage where it is born on a harddisk and never need leave there. Mixing can then all be done on a good modern PC with ProTools -- no need for a huge expensive mixing console. Making Pop quality music is coming to the masses.
So, distribution electronically is kinda taken care of, you no longer need a huge advance to make a record -- just gamble on your maxed out credit-cards... so what exactly can BMI or Sony Music with their leeching contracts do for an artist? Well, only they can create phenomenons the size of Britney and Madonna. Only they have that promotional muscle. But suppose you don't want to take the craps shoot when you sign to a big label to be the one of the 100 they sign who gets backing, suppose you want to retain all creative and copyright control, suppose you don't want to be molded, suppose you aren't as radio friendly as Madonna and Britney, and suppose now that all you want is to make a living, or a side-gig, and not be the biggest act in the world. Suppose you only want to get heard. What do Sony and Bertelsmann have for you now? Nothing. They aren't interested in small fry. Their business model is structured around that one who makes it really big compensating for all the advances and promotions they never recoup from the 99 failures.
But you still need some form of promotion. People need to know you are making stuff (Dino is telling me to say 'Hi!' to my livejournal because he actually thinks I am chatting) before they will flock to iTunes to buy it. How do you do that? Read a couple of paragraphs upstream: I wanted to try all this music that other people were mentioning. (In marketing/business speak, what I am saying is that Sean and A. are 'opinion leaders and taste-shapers' for me. Perhaps for many others in our interconnected communities too.)
Hmmm. So I am seeing a new direction for independent labels, that doesn't involve trying desperately not to go out of business dealing with the distribution channels of the big labels -- no matter how indie they are as labels, they end up needing those channels, and all kinds of licensing and rights-management hilarity always ensues. One that is a simple extension of what small labels already do. Get your related bands together, sign reasonable contracts for artists whose music works with each other. Make their webpages, help them manage their merchandise through the volume contracts you as a label can get, offer the artists music on iTunes and other electronic stores, do the CD fulfillment when people want CDS, take all the minor promotional things off the artists hands. But also, identify the people who are opinion leaders in their groups: Djs, clubbers, programmers of background music in bars and stores, the cool kids, etc, etc. Get them product, they'll tell others.
Do this on a small scale, no need to create a Britney or Justin. Keep contracts with your small roster of local or perhaps geographically very dispersed talent simple. Organize their electronic presences together so people finding one artist find others in your group. Take your cut from the sales. Nobody gets exploited. Everyone makes a small living. Shift away from having to deal with RIAAs and payola and ClearChannel, but go whole hog on mainly electronic distribution and promotion, tapping the interconnected networks that arise around any taste, any sensation, any social trend. The web groups everything together. Eschew billboards and MTV, go for bloggers, journalers. Don't spam, though. Never spam.
Hell, if a mainly electronically organized label actually makes enough money, they could perhaps advance money for studios, organize tours, the works. And we consumers get our friends to tell us what is good.
The only real problem left? What to do when our harddisks crash now that all our music has been acquired in non-physical form. I foresee a market for very easy, very cheap backup solutions.
Thursday, July 03, 2003
Why do I have a tiny laptop with a GPRS wireless connection? So I can read all my email and LJ and Plastic without touching the corporate network. With the way certain companies monitor either every packet or every keystroke just to be able to fire you with cause for being human and having a life, I see this as necessary for sustaining my connected life.
Friday, June 27, 2003
First Verizon drops its 2.5G Express Network (144kbps burst, usually sustained 80kbps) from $99 unlimited to $79, for a two year contract. This is because Sprint, using the exact same network technology on their network, had already dropped to the same price for a one year contract. T-Mobile has unlimited data rates around 30 bucks, but only when used on their phones and tiny devices, and they get pissy if they find out you are using it on a laptop, mainly, or all day long
I refuse to use our corporate Intranet for my private email and stuff. I bring my tiny laptop to work and am on Verizon's CDPD, a very old bursty technology on the old unused network, which manages 9k6 on a good day. Yes, 9600bps. Not sustained, I can forget about telnet. I have not upgraded because it is good enough for the price of around 50 bucks a month. Yes, it is an expensive toy.
T-Mobile fired its salvo: 30 bucks unlimited for 56kbps, 1 year contract. I have no reason to stay with CDPD now, even though I'd lose national data roaming, which I never use. I should call Verizon and ask what they are gonna give me to stay with them. 56k is still an excellent speed, better than any US landline.
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
I mention this because, in certain aspects, I am the same way. Except not in e-mail. I am terrible at burning bridges in person, telling people I don't like why I want to stay the fuck away from them. I'll tell people what I don't like about them when I like them, but really the only venue where I have said negative things to people personally would be on soc.motss, and, even though I hold the Most Judgmental Person Emeritus title there, in the last two years I didn't even attack people personally, but just decried their statements or reported actions as "not so smart", "ill informed", "stupid", "seemingly homohating". Never the people themselves.
(Of course, nobody really noticed. I kept waiting before anyone noticed I hadn't written a sentence like "You are stupid | an idiot | a homohater" in quite some time. Instead people kept reacting as if I was saying really nasty things about their personality. 'Frothing at the mouth'. There is a lesson for me there somewhere, but I am still not sure what.)
I'm a horrid gossiper, though. If you cheese me off, I'll tell everyone else why I am cheesed off. But I will not burn a bridge. When I was at Children's and we all saw that I needed to switch jobs soon, my boss suggested I work for someone who was leading some company in our sphere of connection. I told him it was impossible since I could not go to work for someone I didn't respect. All the person in question ever got from me to hir face were some negative vibes, if that. I never told hir what a conceited misogynist jack-ass I thought s/he was.
There's a person whom I once worked with for whom I had -- and still have when I think back to the time -- utter contempt. He is still one of the worst professionals I have ever met. He put my hubris to shame. I would come in and find his feet -- in street shoes -- resting on my chair. He was a crap programmer whose projects were always in trouble, and his UIs, untrained as he was to make them, were nightmares, for which he would take no advice. He had a bunch of personal habits that set my teeth on edge. I still Google for him to make sure I know where he works so I can avoid him. And I never let him know. I complained to my boss, who transferred him out. But to the person I remained civil and smiling. I later heard he had loud screaming matches with another developer at his new place, and I was so jealous of that other developer. I'd be great at loud screaming matches if I had the gumption.
The best I do is walk out of a meeting when I truly can't stand it. I have taken my personal investment out of any project I am involved in, no matter how hard I have worked on it. I react to any egregious change that makes me hurl to any of my designs with a "I wouldn't recommend that, and that's because..." They can take any of my projects away from me right now, I have divested myself, and I think I will be smart enough to never invest myself personally in any work again. Caring too much about group-efforts leads nowhere. You need to be able to deal with the fact you don't really have control.
The reason this all comes up is because today's Slashdot -- no I am not linking to it -- had a story about another Slahsdot story about a arsDigita. And all the reactions that were negative towards the people who had created aD were all posted anonymously. Because nobody wanted to burn bridges in industry. Are they cowards? Are they smart? Is it bad to be Googleable as saying Phil G., one of the founders, took the settlement and ran, leaving his co-founders holding nothing -- if that's your opinion? I can't say whether it is true, I have no idea who got any of what settlement, but it was a good enough settlement for people to drop lawsuits and for Phil, quite the outspoken man, to remove his blog-like story of what happened at aD. How awful is it as an ex-aD'er to mention the personality conflicts that happen when you have strong personalities? Will you never work in this town again? I mean, seriously?
Eve A., an ex-VP of aD and Phil G.'s girlfriend, laments that Richard B. was a bad manager because he was unable to inspire his underlings to work more than 40 hours a week. Gawd. All the ways to dissect that statement leave me speechless. But will a proper dissection of it here, in ways that expose exactly what I, as an ex-60-hour-a-week worker (and I didn't even have shares at the place where I worked so hard) think about that statement, stop me from getting new employment? I won't know until I do, now will I?
Thing is, being outspoken gets you fabulous initial name-recognition. People think they know where they stand with you. If you have the opinions that make people feel good, they will take note and like you. In some cases, they will give you money and have you lead a company. Or, for example, the open source world is littered with people who will react in the most caustic terms to people and contributions they deem bullshit -- yet stay maintainers of their projects.
At such a consensus-driven company as Nokia it would have the impact of a small nuclear bomb, even in this American branch, if I ever said during a meeting "I want you to know that I think your contributions on my area so stupid and worthless that I have essentially stopped listening to you. I could tell you why, but I think it a complete waste of my time. I suggest you stick to your own area, which you barely seem competent in anyway." Instead I make soothing noises about taking that suggestion into consideration when all I think is "Shut up. Just shut up."
Does blandness actually get your farther? I think it may get you stuck in that worker - middle manager sphere, where everyone swallows mission-statements and listens to H.R. telling us to always keep your personality out of the work. Do the business-bland actually ever get catapulted into the stratosphere of visibility, or even richess? Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, Bill Gates, Theo de Raadt, Linus Torvalds, ESR, RMS -- none of them are nice. Why am I wasting my energy being nice?
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Just a smattering of back-end server jobs for large non-IT related companies.
Monday, June 09, 2003
Of course, I had to do it twice, because I entered the "wrong" last name. I had forgotten that the RMV decide to fucking hyphenate my last name when they entered it. FABIAN J. VAN-WIN...etc.
They send you a confirmation e-mail. Which states "Your duplicate will be mailed to you. You cannot legally operate a vehicle until you receive your duplicate license, unless you print and carry this e-mail with you. The bearer of this e-mail has successfully requested a duplicate Massachusetts license. The license is in good standing and is not currently expired, suspended, or revoked. Federal privacy laws prohibit the RMV from printing the name, the driver's license number, or the social security number of the licensee in question on this receipt. "
My driver's license is a print of some ASCII.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
It's a bit rubbing it in, I'd say.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Recently Opera has released a version of its browsers for phones and other boxes with very small screens. To solve the problem of showing big pages on small screens, Opera did not decide to interpret only a limited set of tags, like iMode did, or throw HTML out alltogether and start over, like WAP. Opera worked on stacking the page: taking the layout of the page and, through smart guesses, turn a page into one long column suitable for viewing on a phone or PDA -- with much scrolling. Here is an example of stacking with News.com.
Opera recently released a version of this browser for Series 60 phones. I happen to have two of them right now, so I downloaded it and did some testing on pages I thought might be interesting.
CNN's front page in stacked view.
However, you can also set the browser to a more normal mode, where it doesn't stack the page. You then have to also scroll from left to right besides from top to bottom, to see a whole page.
So you get the idea.
Detail of CNN's front page in normal view.
Next I tried it with LJ.
http://www.livejournal.com/~fj in stacked view.
Ok, so I lose all the little comments-posting icons. However, the whole page is there, with all menus and options, and quite useable, apart from the very cumbersome text-entry. In fact, I have already replied to a comment this way.
Comments posting page in LiveJournal in stacked view.
I then switched the browser to normal mode, in which a page is displayed without the stacking algorithm. Since a normal page is so big and a phone screen is so small, you do have to scroll from left to right a lot to see the whole page. Here's that same comments page:
The Comments posting form in normal view. First image is the top left of the page, second is an area on the form close to the main text-entry area.
My LJ Friends page in normal mode.
Opera isn't free, but it isn't expensive, and if you buy a phone that can handle it you are enough of a gadgeteer you'll shell out the money just to never be bored in a queue, waiting room, ticket line, ever again. I'd like to point out that, in my opinion, the Nokia screens seem optimized for rendering beautiful skin tones -- not surprising for camera phones which were expected to take many snapshots of humans having fun. (In fact, I have set up a POP3 mailbox on the phone exclusively to read the mail from, uh, certain Yahoo groups I am subsrcibed to. I always have something new to download during boring meetings, and GPRS is no slouch.)
Now WAP is more than just browsing tiny pages these days, there are many push and messaging media types part of the standard. However, as far as browsing goes, this is where it will go. And phone manufactureres have two choices: license Opera, or match the functionality.
Monday, April 28, 2003
I am now on unit III. Strangely enough, I wasn't kicked out of the program. The lab manager says that I helped uncover all kinds of errors in the updating procedure.
I installed the first real game: Doom by id software. First time I ever played a first-person shooter. The old classic. Turns out I am really bad at being a special ops, running around shooting things and staying out of harm's way. Who knew?
It is a straght-up port, no massaging for this small but very colorful and fast screen, which means that there are some problems. The most important one is that I cannot read any of the written text, like how I am being scored or what the things I pick up are or what I am supposed to be able to do with them. I just try, flailing, finishing levels and shooting things and staying healthy until I take too many hits.
It is quite compelling, especially when the stereo headset blocks out meatspace surroundings: I am enthralled by how fast I seem to run, the scenery changing like I am on superspeed. I can't run in real life, not fast, not long, and suddenly I glide over the terrian naturally as if I always could. I can see the attraction of this game: you get to kick ass, be fearless, wade through poison, need only grunt, solve very basic challenges, and take 0 shit. Be strong and in control over your own destiny and something and someone you can never be. Get engrossed enough and you can swear you can feel your new mighty pecs heaving, your now deep-set eyes squinting beneath your unibrow, chomping on your cigar while grinning as you shoot your elephant gun at another inconsequential opponent. No worries, no lies, no system, no memory. Ersatz life. Fits in your pocket.
After I played it the first time, every time I closed my eyes my brain would generate the same images. I'd see the first person view of hurtling through fuzzy red & gray tunnels, taking junctions, careening into this new maze, visible all the way into my peripheral vision. No effort, just my brain using this new context to interpret the random red & black patterns formed by light hitting the blood-vessles of my eyelids.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Turns out I am now the owner of the room. Which means I can kick people out (instant ban when I do). Then there's an extra tab next to the user list to remove people from bans. I can close the room too.
And I thought "What are they thinking?" They're inviting all the IRC politics with robots, bans, take-overs, ops, giving ops, name-servers, feuds, and vicious, vicious scripting wars. Then I notice something interesting about how the UI is shaping this experience: ownership is non-transferable. When the owner leaves, he just leaves.
Think about that. Completly changes it. And encourages people to be logged on as channel owners over their broadband forever.
Thursday, March 13, 2003
Which means we developers now have access to professionals for peripheral development tasks like getting the artwork for splash screens and icons and such. We are a Real Nokia Product, so we get Nokia's contract design house to work for us too. I want 16 document icons? Done. I send 8 of them back for being too messy? Two days later they are back, redone and sharp and clear, without a peep except "How do you like these then?" I ask for them in three sizes and four color depths to be complete, next day they are there, all formats carefully packaged in .ico files with hints on which media types to best associate them with.
I have started incorporating the artwork into our latest codebase. It all really helps up the slick-quotient. But no longer will all the people downloading the app look at the application icon I made in desperation three releases ago in a single afternoon with Photoshop. No longer do we have an e-vote over which stock photograph of an Attractive Person Looking At A Nokia Phone we will use for a startup screen. I am not sure how I feel about that. I always say I am an interaction designer, I do not do graphics. But meanwhile my work was being seen by hundreds of thousands of downloaders over the years, and it was kind of cool. Now that's gone.
(BTW, Nokia has thousands, I repeat, thousands, of stock pictures of Attractive People Looking At A Nokia Phone, and new ones are added like every second with all the product announcements we do. Every tonality of image, every saturation, every occasion, every severity, and every phone model. They are on the intranet and on CD-ROMS, ready to be included by any project that needs it.
We sometimes wonder if the Finnish Fashion Academy has classes named "My Life Is Better Thank To My Nokia Phone 101" just so people know how to throw the right look. Sometimes when we see the latest batch we all go try our own Person Looking At A Nokia Phone pose.)
Monday, March 03, 2003
Finally I can step through my shared libraries again like I couldn't in JBuilder 7, and Eclipse understands that sometimes sources live far away from their libraries. It understands the dependencies between projects, integrates with javadoc beautifully, and all options to set up what needs to be set up are where I expect them to be.
It has refactoring tools built in, not as 3d party for-pay extensions. While very basic, they are aslo straightforward and understandable, and allowed me to very quickly extract the commonality between classes.
I am addicted to CTRL+M for automatic inclusion of imports of classes you just type in the body of the code, and if the system can't resolve the import, it asks you explicitly. It reformats code when asked, sorts class members after a template you can set, does inline parse warnings, but without being stupid, and generally feels rock solid.
I am about to dump JBuilder off my system.
Thursday, January 23, 2003
So I fired up AOL and told it to discover new modems. Now, the Bluetooth software on the computer sets up virtual COM ports, modem/serial/fax ports that are fake but look like real ports to other software. Every time the COM ports on my computer are probed by software, the Bluetooth manager goes "Eeep! Where's the phone on the other end that has to send these packets!" and when that hits the phone, the phone goes "Eeep! This thing wants to talk to me! Should I let it?"
So with all the boxes and beeps I get to see exactly how that idiot-proof software of AOL probes the computer to find a modem, and hide all the details from the user. It is very through, it probed the fake serial port, the fake fax port, the fake modem port, and then tried to dial the number '5' just to make sure it exists.
It works. My computer is on the Internet through AOL, dialing through the phone, and the two are connected wirelessly. No line-of-sight necessary. And with the way AOL shares IP, browsers and mailers now work too. It is extremely slow, but very reliable, the packets and connections do not get dropped.
If Hilary Rosen did not want to be identified with the positions the RIAA was spouting, she shouldn't have spouted them. This idiotic idea that a person is no longer responsible for what they do as long as they get paid to do it is one of the causes behind how every institution in society is turning into one giant machine that eats people up and spits them out, a set of machines in which real humans have no option anymore than to divorce themselves from meaning and passion and only have irony and cynicism left as tools to deal with. No, fucking no, take back your humanity, our humanity, by dealing with humans as humans, and not as cardboard representatives and paid shills, marionets who get paid. Refuse to buy the line that "they're just paid to do this, so you can't blame them".
If Hilary Rosen didn't want to say what she said, she could have goddamn quit. Hilary Rosen was not a peon without a choice. Hilary Rosen was there because she wanted to be, and for me to be told that I am to divorce Hilary Rosen from what Hilary Rosen says because Hilary Rosen takes her orders on what to say from her lobbying group, is asking me to deny Hilary Rosen her agency in her own life, and her humanity, it is asking me to view Hilary Rosen as a persona instead of a person. It would be demeaning to Hilary Rosen for me to do so, and worse, it removes all humans from corporations and lobbys and end up pitting me against abstractions, legal constructs with no humans at the wheel because "we all just work here". It dehumanizes me by making me fight an invisible machine by asking me to dehumanize people.
No, no, no, no. Hilary Rosen is responsible for what Hilary Rosen says, even as president of the RIAA. Everybody in that business who wants me to give her a free pass because she got paid needs to grow a fucking spine already.
Monday, January 20, 2003
The idea of the site is that all these advanced exercise scientists automated their knowledge to give you as many benefits of a personal weight trainer as possible. Supposedly there isn't that much tailoring that needs to be for most people that it couldn't be automated. The site also lets you enter your workouts so you can track your progress -- something that too many people do not do, and thus don't know whether they are advancing or not -- and the system will rotate exercises to keep you from boredom, and suggest the amount of weight to use based on how the previous workout went. There are also animated gifs and complete descriptions of the exercises so you keep good form, the other thing a personal trainer should do. All for around 7 bucks a month, way cheaper than a live human. You'd get everything but the guy breathing down your neck in the gym, and with the sorry state of personal trainer certification, it would be better than many people are getting at 60 bucks an hour.
After inputting some stats like height, weight, inches left and right, etc., you get to choose from a couple of workout tracks. Their main track has all the tracking and rotating. You enter how many days you have to work out, whether you want to focus on getting lean or strong (those are the choices) and how much you currently lift in some areas, and it starts making a workout for you. Unfortunatly, you do not really get to choose the actual exercises, so in my example it selected some things my gym does not have the machines for. When you enter the results of a workout, you can say that you did a different exercise than the one listed, but this change is not remembered for the next workout, it expects you to do the originally selected one again. So it won't suggest what weights to use, and it won't keep track of the cycling, and you have little idea whether your substitutions works well within the schedule. You can select to do schedules only with dumbells or barbells, but if you do have access to some machines, that would be a waste.
You can start a track that is completly customized, but it is customized by yourself, so you loose all the knowledge about personal training this system was supposed to give you. The custom track will also not suggest new weights, nor suggest rotations. You do still get the graphs, the places to store the results from your weigh-ins and measurements, the stuff people should be keeping track of to see if what they are doing is working, but usually don't.
It is a bit of a bait-n-switch to have it be branded as a Men's Health magazine site, because it actually does not follow Men's Health latest ideas of training, and you can't easily select a track that would be a version of their latest workout scheduling notions or exercises. It would have been great if there had been the track for the current year long plan (they start a new one every year) and their strength coaches knowledge would have been automated and included so that a guy wouldn't have to fill in the blanks the magazine didn't, thus enhancing the relationship between the magazine and the website. It seems like such a simple step, instead you get the feeling that somebody outsourced without really thinking through how it would reflect on the original brand.
So in the end, I wanted the easily communicated knowledge of a personal trainer, but what I ended up with was something inappropriate for me, or an expensive electronic worldwidewebbed log. I did not finish the free trial.