November 2005 Archives

TiVo: a brief day in the sun

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PVRBlog notes NBC is griping about TiVoToGo syncing recorded shows over to a video iPod. As they note, NBC doesn't have a leg to stand on. What should be noted here is that this is why companies like NBC are so into the idea of a mandatory broadcast flag. That guide is worth reading.

I wrote my Congressman a while back - John Carter of the 31st district of Texas, about this issue. I got back a fairly standard "thanks for writing" response. However, I'd like to excerpt a bit of his reply:

[...] It is important to find a balance between protecting intellectual property rights while also maintaining high quality distribution

As you may know, a boradcast flag is a sequence of digital bits embedded in a television program that signals that the program must be protected from unauthorized redistribution. This signal does not distort the viewed picture in any way. Implementation of this broadcast flag will permit digital TV stations to obtain high value content and assure consumers a continued source of attractive, free, over-the-air programming without limiting the consumer's ability to make personal copies. This issue has received growing attention over the last year because of the December 31, 2006 deadline that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has placed on the transfer from analog to digital broadcast.

He goes on to note that a court ruled the FCC doesn't have the authority to set that deadline, and says the house is considering legislation to GRANT that authority to the FCC.

You can see the tilt apparent in the letter. Whether this is misinformation that has been fed to my Congressman, and he actually believes that, or whether he is simply a victim of media company propaganda, I don't know. But I do know that it is self-evident that "assuring consumers a continued source of attractive, free, over-the-air programming" doesn't require a Broadcast flag, and that it will be used to limit their ability to make personal copies.

It is ironic, of course, that the content industry has fought tooth and nail against every innovation, despite the fact that they have universally just expanded the market. Can you imagine a world without VCRs or DVD players? (Let alone TiVo) That's the world the MPAA wanted. They failed, but in the Broadcast Flag, they may yet succeed. After all, what good will your VCR (or TiVo) be if it has to obey a Broadcast Flag and simply not record things?

As EFF says, "In short, the Broadcast Flag is about the movie studios demanding unprecedented veto power over digital technology because they believe they can see into the future and have the right to knee-cap technological innovation, free competition, and consumer rights in order to prop up aging business models."

The NYT reports that the Iraqi government claims some "resistance leaders" wish to join the political process. The timing is interesting; we are asked to withdraw, they begin to join the process. Whatever the catalyst, this is good. The more people included in politics, the less have to express themselves in more violent ways. Plus, anything that helps us withdraw sooner without leaving the Iraqi government to the wolves is good.

So there's some market research released by Nielsen about gamers.

Xbox 360 vs. PS3: While most are taking the wait and see approach, those that own and prefer Xbox are more likely to buy Xbox 360 than those that own and prefer PS2 are to buy the PS3

Ars Technica comments on this, saying:

Is this showing doubt on the part of the PlayStation faithful, or is this merely what we should except given the fact that so much more is certain about the Xbox 360 right now? My bet is on the latter.

My immediate reaction was: I bet you're right. I liked my PS2. I've never really liked Microsoft. The only reason I run Windows, at all, is because I want to play games, and I think trying to get my SLI setup running under Linux (where I spend more net time) would be a herculean task at best.

Then I realized: I don't like Sony any more either. How do I dislike thee, Sony? Let me count the ways:

  • You released the PSP with code signing and no open API, meaning I have to rely on a buffer overflow to use all the cool code out there. (This is why I do not own a PSP)
  • You demoted Ken Kutaragi, who called Sony's content controls "overly restrictive", in favor of promoting Howard Stringer, who headed the content divison and, unsurpisingly, supported DRM, leading to...
  • You started rootkitting people's boxes

BB notes what a fiasco this has become.

That, and you missed the boat as the industry swung away from tube TVs. You had the glorious Trinitron, and it didn't matter because of the sea change of LCD/Plasma/DLP. You've lost it.

Meanwhile, the temptation of the XBox is strong. I've lamented that I was never able to play Jade Empire because it was XBox only. Next up, they're going to XBox-only Mass Effect, damn them.

It's not that Microsoft has gotten any better, but you can almost sense them being eaten alive by the churning froth of web applications springing up all over the place. Soon, gaming will be the only thing keeping anyone on Windows. Hell, if we see Linux permeate some foreign market - say, China - we may well see Linux simultaneous release become mandatory. You want millions of Chinese people to play your MMO? Better make it for Linux. In a sense, it's one reason I've always hoped Microsoft successfully clamped down on privacy. I think 100% legal, authorized copies of Windows would make Linux a market leader in a matter of a year and change.

So even if you liked the PS2 - and I did - has Sony crossed the line? Honestly, how wants to buy a game system from the losers who slipped a buggy rootkit onto millions of CDs without a word? And Sony doesn't think they did anything wrong, and have said as much through their RIAA mouthpiece.

So, Sony, you unabashed, unapologetic, out of touch giant - here's to your recklessness... and my XBox?

Iraqi leaders have called for a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. This is viewed as a gesture from the dominant Shiites to the minority Sunnis, who coincidentally lack oil in the regions they are a majority in.

I think the United States needs to meet that demand. I don't see how, failing to do as asked, the Sunnis, who are stoked to suspicion if not violence by their extremist factions, will see the US as anything but an unwanted oppressor. I think ideally, we can hopefully hedge our bets a bit with some comments about how our withdrawal dates will be "if the government of Iraq confirms it has met its goals for the readiness of its security forces". We won't want to pull out and leave the Iraqi government unable to maintain order. It's clear that the extremist Sunnis are still very unhappy about not being in absolute control and the process to have even a remotely secular government will not be an easy road to travel. However, given the pressure to pull out here at home, I think the Bush administration has no choice but to respond affirmatively to the request.

I also think that this will be good for Bush's poll numbers. It may sound too petty to compare, but I think the psychology is the same, so I'm going to contrast Bush's policy decisions with customer service. Customers who call up a customer service line with a problem are happier with their call when they are immediately told that they will be helped. This is why many good customer service departments will respond to a query they are equipped to handle with, "Okay, I can help you with that," as the first sentence in their response. Why? Because people like progress. It doesn't matter how bad things are; if you feel like you're headed in the right direction, you feel good. A pullout from Iraq has been discussed since before we went in, but endless repetition of, "When the job is done" does not provide any comfort to Americans. We need a timetable. We need a goal. Even if the dates are not absolute, rock-solid, drop-dead dates, we need some dates, and we need the contingencies to be spelled out. "One hundred thousand trained security force members, and we withdraw 50% of our troops over eight weeks, starting April 1st, 2006" - that's a real goal. (And yes, I know.)

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said American-led foreign forces should be able to leave Iraq by the end of next year, noting that the one-year extension of the mandate for multinational force in Iraq by the United Nations Security Council earlier this month could be the last.

"By mid next year, we will be 75 percent done in building our forces and by the end of next year it will be fully ready," he told Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab broadcast news channel and Web service.

Good. I think that while the majority of Americans want to see us out - and I count myself among that number - we also want to see things work out. Somewhere between the vehement anti-war rhetoric that has grown stronger as the support for the war has eroded, and the right-wing "dishonor the sacrafice of the fallen" rhetoric, is the reality: this war is painful, it was started under false pretenses by an administration dead set on going to war, but to allow the country to fall into the hands of extremists when we are close to being able to ensure a balanced secular government remains in power would be tragic. The fear, of course, is that no amount of money and sacrafice can help us win. If I believed that were true, I'd be in favor of an immediate pullout. I think the war has far-reaching negative consequences, but I do think that there are enough people in Iraq who want to see their fledgling government survive that they can do it, if we help. But we have nearly nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing to a withdrawal timetable, especially since so long as that deadline remains in the future and relatively near, it may block the effectiveness of any sort of "rebel against the oppressor" line taken by extremists who strike without any apparent distinction at both Iraqi and American people.

TiVo to iPod/PSP coming

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Via PVRBlog I discovered that TiVo will allow you to move TiVoToGo video to your iPod and PSP. I have several observations about this.

It's a smart move, in that it helps differentiate from Set-Top offerings. One of the most dangerous things for TiVo will be set top DVR offerings. While I use TiVo at home, my wife selected Time Warner's DVR "service" for her office. It's laggy and generally inferior, in my opinion, but it doesn't require any sort of purchase and it's set up for you. Anything that differentiates TiVo from those set top boxes is good.

It gives you real value for your TiVo fee. As Ars Technica pointed out, being able to cheaply populate your iPod (or PSP) with video which might otherwise cost you $2 goes a long way to "soften the blow" of their monthly fee. Ars Technica also astutely points out that this is exactly why media companies want a Broadcast Flag. It isn't piracy, not while the "flag" is merely an instruction to consumer electronics that naughty devices could ignore. It's because they want to charge you many times for the same media.

This is likely to encourage content providers to get their shows up. Whether they do it via the iTMS or via something like TW/AOL's free In2TV service, they're going to want to get them up to compete with "free time shifting".

As usual, the question I ask myself is: if I'm a media exec, why am I not leading the charge? When Apple announced a video iPod, I'd have been the first one to want to slap my media library up for download. Can a 320x240 resolution show really cannibalize DVD sales? I think not. This is really about convenience. But frankly, networks could offer their own media player that forced you to sit through some commercials, and do distribution via p2p to cut their bandwidth costs, and essentially just expand their audience without any downside. Hell, if they put the stuff on a PC, they could even reserve some screen space for text or banner ads if they didn't interfere with the show. Hello, captive audience. But they won't think of that until there's another paradigm dominating the market - and it won't be long now.

Low tech theft at BB

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Cory Doctorow posted at BB about a 75 yr old jewel thief. My father has a jewelry store, and one of the first rules of helping customers was "one piece at a time". You never, ever took more than one thing out of the case. You kept your eye on it. If people wanted to "compare", then you apologized, but the line was "insurance requires us to have only one piece out of the case at a time". Not sure if that was true, but it made good sense. This woman was clearly exactly what he was worried about. Fast paced switching that ends with her walking out with something. Prevention? Simple. Just only take one thing out. A reasonable person doesn't object to a reasonable security precaution like that. My father even said that those who objected were as likely to be out to game you as not.

Incidentally, those looking for a quality diamond at excellent prices can give him a call. He has a (currently poorly maintained due to a busy B&M store) website at, but you can call the 800 number there and get a great deal.

I think it was slightly tongue in cheek when late bloomer referred to herself as a socialist. But I actually enjoy the exercise of comparative political philosophy, and so I'm going to go ahead and comment on her quiz.

Via Michelle Malkin to this post is the story of USHR condemnation of the ruling in Fields v Palmdale School District. I don't much like the public school system, and I'll admit it. First, most public schools have class sizes that are way too large, when small class sizes are much better. Then there's the bizarre stories of schools and how they react to innocent mistakes by innocent kids who do things like making small coding errors or, worse yet, bring butter knives to school! But the commentary on this, USHR condemnation or not is off.

Why? I did something naughty and actually read the ruling in the case. And I quote:

Prior to administering the survey, Seymour mailed a letter to the parents of the children to be surveyed informing them of the questionnaire's nature and purpose, and requesting their consent to its administration.

And also:

The letter did not explicitly state that some questions involved sexual topics, although it did specify that the survey questions were about "early trauma (for exam- ple, violence)" and there was a warning that "answering ques- tions may make [the] child feel uncomfortable."

This is not to say the parents should not have a right to control what their children get asked in such a survey; I think if a parent wants to exclude a 7 yr-old from a sexual questionnaire, that's reasonable. But these parents did, in fact, have a chance to do so. When I've fully digested the ruling, I'll report back on what sort of relief they were seeking, since it seems like an "opt out" would be a reasonable request, and they already had it.

Hyperthreading Sucks

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ZDNet is reporting that hyperthreading degrades server performance. And of course, that's for "heavily threaded" apps. Imagine when you sell an HT-enabled PC to an average user and they run a more or less single-threaded CPU-bound app (say, for example, a game). Pay the performance price, get no gain. Sounds like a great deal.

I'll stick with AMD.

Long have I awaited the coming of that which was foretold... George RR Martin's Feast For Crows. Yes, it's the 4th book in the series, and it is like crack. I want that book. But UPS lost it. It shows as "Front Door"; I've never had anything stolen before. But it isn't here. I'm going to have to report it missing and wait for a replacement. I was so busy coding and setting up certificate authorities and such that I didn't have time to even check that it had arrived... and when I did, I discovered it had gone missing. Grrrr.

The upshot of all this is that I make this blog post, because if you haven't read GRRM's masterwork, you're missing out. If you are interested, start with book one, Game of Thrones, and proceed from there. It takes about 200 pages of Game of Thrones to get into the groove, and then there's no stopping it.

United States For Sale

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Ok, not really. But if we're up to our ass in debt, we'll be in trouble. I lot of people won't like that I said, "Good for them" for Republicans cutting social programs. Would that be my first choice? No. But if you need to cut $100/mo to stay solvent and your significant other won't give up their uber MMO rental account that you consider fluff, you may have to cut out the lattes or even the good books. Does that make it the wrong choice? No. If you have to take a bullet, take it in a non-lethal zone. That doesn't mean we don't look for another way, but it does mean we sure as hell don't just spend spend spend. Democrats should actually see this as a chance to show fiscal leadership. Look for nonessential programs to cut and FORCE Republicans to cut some of their pet crap too if you can.

Solipsism at its best

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In a display of solipsism at its best, I've started 2 blogs in 2 days. Here's the other. But that's ok. I have a lot to say, usually.

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