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A brand new year

I have only one new year’s resolution, and though it is largely pilfered from a prayer whose origin remains unknown, it is thus: In 2004, I hope to accept the things I cannot change, to find the courage to change the things I can, and to have the wisdom to know the difference.

I dare say that I have, in the past, worried too much about things that are out of my hands and done too little to fix the things that are right in front of me. In my work, in my relationships, in my life, that has been a problem; I used to call it laziness, or apathy, or procrastination… this year I’m going to call it stupidity, and try damn hard to stay away from it.


Plus plus

Though these aren’t exactly what you’d call resolutions, here are a couple of aims I have for 2004; most of which will be achieved during the first three months:

  1. Finally buy Vanilla Sky, Donnie Darko, Amelie and American Beauty on DVD, as they are but a handful of some of my favorite films of all time… and renting them is becoming tiresome. Plus, the video store clerk keeps looking at my rental history and saying “y’know, you’ve rented this before.”
  2. Buy a 12" PowerBook to take to university, since I’ll be studying computer science at UWA this year. Plus, even if I weren’t studying, I’d still want one.
  3. Stick with the whole “university thang” for more than three months, since past attempts at studying a variety of subjects that weren’t computer science didn’t turn out so well. Plus, I need justification for the PowerBook, amongst other things.

Muzak

Slashdot links to an interesting Sydney Morning Herald article on music piracy. The gist? That music piracy in Australia should (by the industry’s logic) have accounted for a drop in sales of between 50% and 100%… that is to say the music industry’s utter destruction.

Guess what? No such drop in sales has occured, the industry chugs away quite happily, and we all go to sleep at night guilt–free.


Kill me now

When you’ve received a $50 gift voucher to JB Hi–Fi for Christmas you really don’t have an option: you have to visit their store. When your Mother (foolishly) informs you that they’re having a sale, you might as well just burn your wallet right then and there. We’ve discussed this ‘JB Madness’ before, but I’ll paint you a picture anyway:

  1. Chris visits his Mother on his day off.
  2. Chris tells his Mother his plans for the day; mostly running errands, but maybe dropping by JB to blow his Christmas gift voucher on some DVDs he wants.
  3. Chris’ Mother tells him they’re having a sale.
  4. Chris’ eyes light up.
  5. Chris flies to the nearest JB Hi–Fi store.
  6. Chris sees wall after wall of DVDs on sale.
  7. Chris is disappointed to find Donnie Darko absent from their collection, but decides to make up for its absence with further purchases. Namely:
    • Vanilla Sky
    • Amelie
    • American Beauty
    • Pay it Forward
    • Minority Report
    • Devil’s Advocate
    • Romeo + Juliet (the Baz Luhrmann version, yes)
    • 54
    • Requiem for a Dream
    • Memento
  8. Chris later feels pangs of regret for waltzing into JB Hi–Fi with a $50 gift voucher and leaving with $200 worth of DVDs.

Thankfully I made myself a little rule forbidding the purchase DVDs that weren’t on sale, else I would’ve left with a few Futurama season box sets and a bunch of other overpriced DVDs. Still need to find Donnie Darko though…


A happy coincidence

Getting home from work just in time to watch the live stream of the MacWorld keynote? I like it. Of course, it’s 1:00 am here… so I won’t be getting a real great night’s sleep tonight, but I think it’s justified.


A few obvious notes on the MWSF keynote


The beginning of the end

I’ve always firmly believed that your content output is inversely proportional to your content input, which is a damned shame because I’m enjoying Red vs Blue and Lore’s Book of Ratings so much that I may never write anything ever again. Ever.

That’s the fantastic thing (yes, the fantastic thing. There can’t be more than one) about finding new and amusing things on the internet: they have such huge back–catalogues that you can spend hours just “catching up” on how great they are. More than one comic (I’m looking at you in particular, Diesel Sweeties and Penny Arcade) has, in the past, occupied me for days with their archives. Days. Wait for page to load, read, laugh, hit “previous”, repeat. I was on dialup for fuck’s sake. Days.

…and now back to the Book of Ratings.


Tolerance

I never knew this until this day, but it turns out the “my computer takes thirty seconds just to go to sleep… it’s like a child who doesn’t want a nap” problem I’ve been experiencing is actually Camino–related. Until now I assumed it was a problem with OS X 10.3 that hadn’t been addressed (or maybe a ‘feature’ …right), and tolerated it.

Amazing what we tolerate when we don’t know any better. Kind of like how I feel about Windows nowadays.


It’s the subtle differences that count

The Orlando Sentinel begs the question with its article “is the iBook too good for its own good?”, to which I must respond “uh… no, chief”. A few obvious comparisons are made between the iBook and its big brother, the PowerBook; things like screen size, keyboard (keyboard?), durability, and processor power are weighed against cost; the journalist makes his points and his counterpoints, then basically says “why fork out for a PowerBook when an iBook is just as good?”

Airball.

I’m not going to start raving on about wanting the more expensive trinket purely because it’s more expensive (though that is clearly a factor, in some peoples’ cases) or because it’s covered in metal, but I will defend the PowerBook and my claim that the iBook can’t and won’t cannibalize PowerBook sales. In my case, I decided almost two months ago that I would buy a 12" PowerBook instead of a 14" iBook and I still believe it to be the right choice. Admittedly, comparing the cheapest PowerBook to the most expensive iBook isn’t the most scientific way to look at things; but I’m doing this as a consumer, not a tech reviewer. Those were my options, I made my choice. Lets move on.

Power
The 12" Combo–drive PowerBook, the cheapest (and smallest) PowerBook on offer, runs a 1GHz G4 processor. 1GHz is a nice number, G4 is a nice initialism, and ‘1GHz G4’ is coincidentally the same configuration as the ‘high–end’ 14" iBook. Well, almost the same configuration: the PowerBook has double the L2 cache. Advantage, PowerBook.
Screen size
There’s not much to argue when you’re looking at one machine with a 12" screen and another with a 14" screen; an extra two inches is the kind of thing that you can’t help but notice. This one goes to the iBook.
Video card
A 32Mb NVIDIA GeForce FX Go 5200 in one, and a 32Mb ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 in the other; meaningless and confusion–inducing model numbers? Or something more sinister? Well, both. Despite its larger screen, the 14" iBook’s display maxes out at a screen resolution of 1024 × 768 pixels. The 12" PowerBook does the same, making the actual, useful, available screen space identical in both computers; but the PowerBook’s video card has screen spanning. Screen. Spanning. Has a nice ring to it. Want more desktop space? Just hook up a second monitor. By comparison, the iBook’s video output is limited to screen mirroring. Not quite as useful.
Wireless
Both systems are Airport Extreme capable, which takes the fun out of pitting them against each other like rabid dogs, but then there is the matter of Bluetooth. Much as I demand normal, functioning genitalia in a sexual partner, I demand Bluetooth in a portable device; the memories of manually syncing my address books and calendars are not ones that I cherish. PowerBooks sport Bluetooth out of the box. For iBooks, it’s a $50 extra.
Hard disk
The iBook tops the PowerBook for the second time with a cool 20Gb extra space at 60Gb… 20Gb that can be added to the PowerBook for $50. This is where the cost of Bluetooth is balanced out.
Software
Both systems come bundled with Mac OS X 10.3 and iLife ‘04; the PowerBook grabs a few sweeteners like QuickBooks, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and GraphicConverter; and the iBook takes Quicken, World Book, Tony Hawk and Deimos Rising. I’ll tell you right now that since I already have World Book and Deimos Rising (bundled with my Mac when I bought it) that they’re nothing special. OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and GraphicConverter may actually see some use though. People have gone so far as to tell me they rock.
Optical drive
Both sport Combo drives. Huzzah. SuperDrive can be had on the PowerBook for an additional $200, but that’s $200 I’d sooner put towards an Airport Extreme base station. Call me crazy. The iBook doesn’t have a SuperDrive option.
RAM
Let’s face it: no matter what you buy, it’s a fact of life that you will add more RAM. If not now, then later. Both systems arrive with 256Mb of DDR266 SDRAM, and both systems allow for expansion, but it is the degree of expansion that sets them apart. The iBook’s RAM is soldered onto the logic board, offering one slot for expansion. Feh. The PowerBook’s RAM is just shoved into one of its two slots, meaning you can ditch that 256Mb at any time and load as much RAM as will fit. This, I like.
and finally…
The PowerBook is smaller and lighter, in addition to being generally cooler.

Given the above list, you might expect the PowerBook to be significantly costlier than the iBook. But if you take ‘significantly’ and swap it for ‘$100’, then you’d be right. One hundred dollars. One hundred dollars buys you all of the above, and we have a journalist saying that “it’s going to be harder to persuade buyers to spring for a machine that can cost nearly twice as much”. Sure, it’s twice as much if you’re comparing the 14" iBook with the 17" PowerBook, but if you can say “the iBook is now so close to the more expensive, high–end PowerBook” with a straight face when you’re talking about those two models, you’re bordering on insane. Don’t get me started on a comparison chart on those two portables, we’ll be here all night.


Elasticity

Though the idea and the implementation (see also: thief systems) of said idea is solid, I’m a little uncomfortable with ‘elastic’ web design… if only because I feel it is a misnomer. ‘Zoomable’ design, sure. It does with CSS what Opera does right in the browser: it resizes the layout with the text… zooming in and out, but the word ‘elastic’ conveys a property that, well, isn’t that. If I were to use the term ‘elastic’ to describe a web design methodology, I’d sooner use it for this: gratuitous use of the min-width and max-width properties.

Using those two properties to define the width of your layout, it takes a form somewhere between a completely ‘fluid’ layout and a ‘static’ (or, shall we say, immutable) one. It would truly be ‘elastic’; stretching when the browser window stretches (before reaching its elastic limit, of course) and shrinking back to its original size when given the opportunity (but no smaller). Like a rubber band.

Pedantry, there’s nothing like it.


Back in the black

There’s a certain feeling of accomplishment when you’ve finally paid off your credit card; you feel… debt–free.

Of course, in a matter of weeks I’ll be buying a 12" PowerBook and plunging myself back into debt, but this time it won’t be on my credit card. This time it’ll be a student loan… foolish student loan officers.


Summaries and their friends

Scrivs over at 9Rules discusses the pros and cons of providing RSS feeds with summaries (or excerpts) versus full entries; and being the busybody that I am, I figured I’d speak up. In my case, I provide excerpts and full entries over on the subscription page, strictly because it doesn’t cost me an ounce of effort to provide both. From a political point of view, if I were forced to settle on one or the other, I’d go with full entries. Why? Because I prefer full entries when I’m reading in my newsreader. And if politics isn’t 99% about personal preference, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the scenario: I’m running through the 100–300 new news items in any of 94 subscriptions in NetNewsWire on any given day. I don’t have all day to do this, so I have a tendency to skip over anything that doesn’t look interesting. It’s a case of “win my interest, or be dismissed”, and I’ll tell you what: summaries just aren’t interesting. Lets see how my internal crap–filter turns 100–300 blips on my radar into 20–30 interesting reads:

Category
Feeds in my newsreader are grouped by category: ‘Groups’, ‘Individuals’, ‘Linklogs’ and ‘News’. I know that I can safely skip through 100 items in the ‘Linklogs’ category and only find six items of interest… so I’ll really speed through them. Ditto that to the ‘News’ category. It helps me reduce that big, intimidating “new news item” count by as much as 80%… and that’s a good thing. I’m aiming for quality, not quantity, after all.
Title
There are a couple of cases here: if it’s a headline from a news site or a linklog (see above) I’m pretty safe to play “judge a book by its cover” and dismiss any titles that don’t look interesting. If the same title crops up in multiple linklogs, it’s just the latest meme doing the rounds and I’ll probably check it out just to see what all the cool kids are talking about. With weblogs, entry titles aren’t so easy to judge, so I shift down to the next setting on the crap filter.
Author
Face it, some people are going to draw your attention no matter what they write; they’re on that privileged mental list of “authors whose stuff I just gotta read”, so they get preference. Case in point: neither John Gruber nor Jeffrey Zeldman offer full–text feeds of their weblogs/soapboxes, but I’ll follow the link every time. The title of their article could be mind–numbingly dull and the summary might match, and I might even be disappointed by what I see when I follow that link, but I know that 92% of the time I won’t be disappointed. They’ve earned that rank, so I trust them even though they only offer summaries. Moving on…
Article/Entry content
Now that we’re done judging books by their covers, we can get into the meat of the argument. RSS entry content is usually one of three things: an entry summary, an entry excerpt, or the full text of the entry. It depends largely on the CMS, a little on the author, and a little on the geopolitical climate of the period, but the sentiment remains the same: they want you to read their stuff.
Summary
A summary of any weblog entry or news item is likely going to be a one–sentence description of the content. For instance: “Dunstan discovers why some Safari users find browsing his blog such a slooow process” describes Dunstan Orchard’s weblog entry on, well, why some Safari users find browsing his blog such a slow process. There’s really no better way to describe that entry, which is precisely what summaries are supposed to do, but if I had no interest in Safari I’d have skipped that entry without a moment’s thought. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again, and sometimes I’ll miss out on genuinely great content because of it; but there’s nothing that can be done to the crap–filter to allow summary extrapolation.
Excerpt
An excerpt, unless otherwise specified, tends to be the first twenty to fifty words of a weblog entry. The formatting and HTML is stripped, and you end up with something as unattractive as it is uninformative. Excerpts, alongside summaries, are the next easiest things to dismiss when they’re run through that great colander of information; the crap–filter. As with summaries, there have been times where I’ve skipped over a potentially–great read just because the first twenty words didn’t grab me; but such is the nature of the medium.
Full text
Even if you don’t read the whole thing, full entries allow you to at least figure out what the article is all about. You can tell at a glance just how long it is, you can scope the first paragraph in its entirety, and you can see if there are any pretty pictures to accompany. I’ll say it again: even if you don’t read the whole thing, and even if you don’t follow the link, you at least have the opportunity to judge the book by its content; not by its cover (and not by the shitty blurb on the back cover, either). If you read the first paragraph and decide to read on… it’s right there! If you want to read the entry in the context of the author’s site design… just follow the link! If you want to comment (and you are made aware that commenting is open)… just follow the link! It ain’t rocket science.

With all this in mind, you might wonder why anybody would supply anything but full–text RSS feeds; they’re a sure–fire way to get people to read your stuff, if only the first paragraph. But a preference is a preference is a preference, and far be it from me to deny anybody’s personal preference. I will say this, though, if only to assault a few of those commonly–held concerns with providing full–text RSS:

Happy feeding. Oh, and bite the bullet and give us full text.


Changes afoot

As I’ve mentioned several times recently, I’ll be joining the ranks of UWA’s Computer Science department student body this year. Of course, when I said it earlier I was bluffing: I had no way in hell of knowing that I’d get in, just a little voice in my head that said “I am so much cooler than some of those other applicants… I’m sure to score a spot”; even in this, one of the most academically–competitive years in our state’s history. Apparently, entry scores for Western Australian universities are the highest in the country, and UWA’s are the highest in the state, so I feel pretty damned good about myself for getting in.

Oh, and you can bet my personal statement had something to do with it.

You might be thinking “Wow, how the hell does Chris plan to dedicate a goodly portion of his time to study with his already hectic life as a bartender–cum–total–stud… what with all the rent and bills and whores to pay?” and you might be right, but for one thing: I’ve moved back in with my parents.

Sad, I know. Forgoing such a great deal of freedom for the sake of a few bucks and a home–cooked meal is probably the low point of my career (these people get up before midday, for fuck’s sake!) but it’s something that needed to be done. University study demands a little stability in one’s lifestyle, and the ol’ “I’m working sixty hours a week and I’ve lived in five different houses in the last 18 months” thing just doesn’t give me that. It’s nice to have a bit of my future mapped out for me… like one of those obnoxious five–year–plans I hate so much.

Five year plan aside, I’m trying to figure out just what the hell happened to Pogo (my PC) in the move between the ol’ Hamersley house and my parents’ house; he’s stopped booting altogether… and that just ain’t cool. Rabbit (my Mac) and George (my parents’ cretaceous–period PC) are chatting happily, and I know Pogo wants to join the party, but he’s in some kind of coma. I’m of the impression that evil wizards are somehow to blame. In the mean time I’m having fun teaching my parents how to use Mac OS X; the idea of a total lack of viruses and spam that gets deleted before they even see it is almost too much for them to bear… though they like the fast–user–switching animation and the minimize effect.

But then again, how couldn’t you?


Timetablature

Discovering that you’ve been accepted to UWA, via the magic of the internet on a Friday night after work, is one thing. Receiving notice that you’ve been accepted to UWA, via the magic of Australia Post on a Saturday afternoon, is another thing. Being fully and completely prepared to enrol with actual chosen subjects and a clash–free timetable by Tuesday morning is a thing so bewildering that my attempts to convey it here are completely marred by overemphasis!

First, lets remember that I had assumed a kind of “set it and forget it” mentality when applying to study Computer Science at UWA. I applied… then I waited for word of my success or failure. Nowhere had I started making decisions as to what my major might be, or whether I’d be making attempts at a double or triple major before enrollment day. These things just don’t occur to me. Now, upon attending an information evening prior to said enrollment day, I find that I do in fact need to make these decisions; and quickly.

So I did. I’ve spent the last four hours poring over unit details and timetables, over prerequisite this and load balance that. Most people look for simple, funloving electives to pass the time between their core units; I’m looking for electives that might just lead to that elusive and challenging triple–major–with–first–class–honors degree. A little overzealous, I admit, but it’s good that I’m getting this hypercompetitive and excitable already. So what shall I be studying? I’m glad you asked. It’s a Bachelor of Computer Science (in case you hadn’t already noticed) majoring in Computer Science (at the very least) and (in the case of a double–degree, should I take up such an option) Linguistics (which I’ve heard is not only très interesting, but also highly applicable to studies relating to computer programming) and (in the case of a triple–major, which is dubious, but I might just like it enough to go for it) Psychology (which I’ve wanted to study since high school… but never actually wanted to be a Psychologist. Go figure).

Without all the parenthetic statements? A Bachelor of Computer Science majoring in Computer Science, Linguistics, and Psychology. Feel free to mix and match any of those majors… subtracting one or two, you know the drill. Tomorrow (or today, depending on your view of the midnight rule) I enrol. Then, I shop for PowerBooks.


Spenderrific

With the arrival of my 12" PowerBook now officially looming (ETA 14 days), I’ve been weighing up my options to accessorize with the help of the guy Mac Geek down at the university computer store. While the specifics of my 12" haven’t changed, I’ve decided to forget about the Airport Extreme Base Station.

That’s not to say I’m forgetting about wireless networking altogether; heavens no. I’m just forgetting about the base station. Why? Well, with my deskbound eMac wired firmly to the internet, and with Internet Sharing turned on, and with an AirPort card stuck firmly in the slot; I can have all the wireless internet I demand… without the base station. In fact, you might just call it a software base station. This makes me happy. This causes dollar signs to light up my eyes and strange ‘ka–ching!’ sounds to reverberate in my ears… this makes me think “what in the world could I spend that money on; that money I’d planned to spend already, so it wouldn’t hurt to spend on something else?”

An iPod. A 20Gb iPod, if you want to be specific. I’m finally joining the faithful, and I couldn’t be more excited.

God damn me.


RSS is the flavor of the week, clearly

Rewinding the discussion on summaries for a moment, I’d like to point to tha EJB for a moment with regards to his RSS feeds. He doesn’t provide full posts, he doesn’t provide summaries, and he doesn’t provide what is typically referred to as an ‘excerpt’. The amount of text excerpted in his feeds, defined specifically by him, is long enough to attract the reader’s attention… before presenting them with a link and a word count for the full version. In the case of shorter posts, the entire entry is presented. Quite well done, I must say.

I dare say this is why we have ‘excerpt’ fields in MovableType, so we don’t need to rely on machine–generated excerpts. Obviously not a widely–used feature.

Elsewhere, I’m pleased to see some people disagreeing with me (I’m fond of argument, if you hadn’t noticed) over at O’Reilly. An anonymous commenter on Marc Hedlunds’s weblog points out that bandwidth is perhaps as much a concern with full–post RSS as a regular web page, particularly with some news aggregators polling the server every five minutes. There are, of course, solutions to this problem; each useful on their own, or in combination.

  1. Cut down the number of entries your RSS feed houses. I believe MovableType’s default to be the last 15 posts… which might be a little excessive in the case of full–text feeds. Looking at my RSS 2.0 XML files: the full–text feed is 45 kilobytes and the excerpted–text feed is 14. I think it’s fair to say that I could just house the last five entries (hell, why not just the last three? Why not the last one?) without a single subscriber complaining about it… and I’d be saving the subscribers (and myself) a lot of bandwidth.
  2. Gzip your feed (already supported by a goodly number of aggregators).
  3. Ensure your server churns out the 304’s where appropriate (especially relevant to those of us serving dynamically–updated RSS).
  4. Serve a polite request to those on noncompliant aggregators to bug the developers to support conditional GET.
  5. Serve a polite, but firm request to IPs whose polling is a little over the top to slow down.
  6. Stop being such a wuss.

Personally, I like the first three combined with a spoonful of number six. Four and five require a little work, which I might bother to look into later.

Moving through the blogosphere, the big news in RSS this week is XML error handling. Mark, Brent, Dave, and too many others to credit here have weighed in on the situation… and I have to say I’m liking Nick Bradbury’s work on the solution. There are other ways to handle it, of course, but I’ll be interested to see what comes of all this; what other solutions lurk in the hearts of developers everywhere.


Nomenclature

When purchasing new gadgets —gadgets whose warmth and heart will light up your very life— it’s important to name them so they don’t feel left out; so they know they’re important to you.

John and Amy just named their new gadget child, and congratulations are due (congrats, John!), but this is hardly the weblog for that kind of thing. Instead, I’m going to run with an exercise in gadget–naming in the vain hope that I can come up with a name for my PowerBook before I go pick him up next week. Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to name him before his arrival… maybe a name will come to me when I hold him in my arms for the first time. Maybe. That’s how it’s worked in the past, maybe I shouldn’t be messing with a tried–and–true formula.

Looking at the gadgets currently occupying space in my life, there’s no real rhyme or reason in their naming. In fact, you could hardly call it nomenclature at all; a word implying some kind of system, some kind of method. There’s Wiggles, the T68i, whose name was culled from Futurama (he is my first mate, after all); Rabbit, my eMac, named perhaps only for his coloration; Pogo, the XP box; Daintree, the digital camera; and now Bailey, the iPod.

If there’s a pattern there, I don’t know what it is. I shudder to think what my children will be named.


Life–changing? Yeah, sure… whatever

I’m always fond of those moments when you realize a technology has inexplicably altered the way your life works; when some little thing you’re playing with starts to affect all the other things. They aren’t Holy Shit moments, per se, but they’re special nonetheless. Memorable, even. I like ‘em.

A lot of them happen inside–the–box: CSS design and web standards, NetNewsWire and RSS consumption, tabbed browsing, popup blocking, spam filtering, multi–protocol–instant–messaging, desktop blogging; the list goes on. Strangely, although perhaps not surprisingly, most of my recent moments are Mac–related; when iSync was released for general consumption it immediately influenced the purchase of my next mobile phone. Bluetooth was suddenly a had to have item… and the connection was made from inside the box to the outside. With the phone and its syncing came the video camera and its digital editing, then came the digital still camera and its photo management. Then, of course, came the iPod.

Before now, iTunes was king of my musical underworld. It replaced my stereo more than a year ago, and has managed my music quite happily ever since; quite simply, it was the center of my musical universe. Enter the iPod, and iTunes becomes peripheral to this… computer peripheral. The ‘Pod rides in my pocket while I’m on the hoof, then plugs into my car stereo for the ride. Walking into my house, it hops into its dock and continues to blast its merry tunes through the connected amp and speakers. Suddenly, iTunes is just for ripping and creating new Smart Playlists… the listening happens elsewhere.

Saddening, yes. But exciting… moreso.


Interface

To be completely honest, no matter how much I love my iPod, there is no way that browsing a few thousand tracks with a scrollwheel is comparable to type–ahead–find. But, since the iPod lacks a keyboard, it clearly lacks that function.

One might hope that developments in natural language comprehension and voice recognition will one day yield a simple “play me some high–rating Smashing Pumpkins tracks” or “play me something upbeat” interface, but I imagine the impact of such technological developments would be more far–reaching and earth–shattering than navigating my music collection, so I’ll let the fantasy wait.


Scobleizing

Ordinarily, I like Robert Scoble; I like it that he’s excited about the future of Microsoft’s OS, I like it that he’s pumped. Sure, being an evangelist, pumpedness is part of his job… but there’s something to be said for a man who’s always excited about something; just look at Big Kev. Today, though, he kinda lost me. And I have to say it: “Hey, Scoble, that's a lame example”.

He’s been talking about portable digital music devices (PDMD: there’s a horrible acronym waiting to happen); specifically, the iPod versus the myriad devices compatible with Microsoft’s WMA format. Being a Mac geek and new iPod owner, I don’t expect you to believe my writings to be unbiased, but hey: that’s why they call them opinions. The gist of the complaint is that the market is already soaking in WMA support, and the iPod (quite intentionally) doesn’t; opting instead for Apple’s own particular blend of audio encoding and DRM — the AAC/FairPlay combo. There are arguments against DRM altogether, and I have to say I’m on that boat already, but Scoble and the rest of the industry are sold on restrictiveness… so we’ll place those complaints to one side for a moment.

Right next to those complaints, we’ll put aside old arguments about the relative quality–to–file–size ratios of WMA versus AAC (and MP3, and OGG, if you really want), along with the repeated use of the word ‘Fairtunes’ in place of FairPlay. Let the dust settle, and you’ll notice we’re really just seeing the words “WMA is in over 500 devices. AAC/FairPlay is in one” bleated over and over again, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph. Windows’ market–winning strategy was ubiquity —come to think of it, anything at all associated with Microsoft is about ubiquity— so it’s fair to say that Microsoft’s strategy with WMA is (you guessed it) ubiquity. They produce something soft and/or firm (we’re talking about –wares here), and use their considerable muscle (lets not forget Bill Gates’ remarkable business acumen) to license the hell out of it to anyone who produces something hard (again… –wares). What does that spell? Microsoft is everywhere, and you’ll end up using it whether you like it or not. The interesting thing about DRM’d music being that there’s not really an interface to it; so you might just never know your music was encoded with industrial–strength Microsoft gobbledegook… you might’ve thought you were just buying your music from Napster and listening to it on your Nomad, and never thought that Microsoft was making a dime.

And that’s where the dimes are made: ubiquity. Five hundred dimes made on five hundred devices is a lot more than one dollar made on one device, and even when four hundred and ninety devices prove dismal market failures, they still have their dime. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality. Profitable omnipresence, not customer service. And that’s where Apple and Microsoft’s paths seem to diverge all too often.

The ‘consumer choice’ line amuses me, like saying the consumer has a whole lot of choice when they buy a PC. Sure, they can customize their hardware down to the ground; but at the end of the day, if they’re still running the same OS, doesn’t it make Joe Bloggs’ PC functionally identical to Joe Blow’s PC?


Furthermore

Still on the Scoble/iPod topic… what’s wrong with this paragraph?

As to marketing, this is another Microsoft weakness. We probably aren’t going to buy billboard ads telling you how cool the Dell or Panasonic devices are. Why? Because we're not making hundreds of dollars per device off of them (look at Apple’s profits per device and you’ll realize you're paying a LOT to buy into Apple’s system). Look at the devices themselves. They don’t have any Microsoft branding on them. We don’t spend money making sure that rap stars use our devices in their videos. We don’t buy back–page ads in the New Yorker. We don’t buy billboards in San Francisco advertising Windows Media. Guess who pays for those marketing devices? You do.

You’re damn right the consumer pays for those marketing devices, and they’ll pay whether they buy an Apple iPod or a Creative Nomad Zen. It’s Creative’s job to market their product, just as it’s Apple’s job to market theirs, and if the iPod supported WMA you’d still be paying for the marketing.

No, Microsoft doesn’t take out billboard space to advertise WMA. Why would they? The shepherd doesn’t pay for K–Mart’s winter catalog, no matter how much those fleecy cardigans are going to profit him.


Grave–robbing fun

I’ve just spent far, far, far too long playing with ol’ Pogo to find out why he won’t boot; and to no avail. Such that my pride is that I believe that if I can’t fix him, nobody can, and I have decreed that he is broken. Dead. Deceased. Long live Pogo.

So… what do we do with dead PCs? We rob their graves for the betterment of others! Making the best of a bad situation, I’ve tried to give George —my parents’ 333MHz Celeron— a new lease of life. He’s the proud recipient of a memory–tripling RAM injection, video card, a second NIC, a CD–burner, ZIP drive, larger hard drive, new keyboard, and (perhaps most important of all) a new name: Pogenstein. If it weren’t for the painfully slow processor and the unbecoming case, I might almost believe this new creature is Pogo. Alas.

Pogo was a good three years younger than George, which makes his demise just that little bit more disappointing, so I guess we’ll wait and see how long Pogenstein can hold up. After all, if it weren’t for browser testing and my Father’s strange addiction to Space Cadet Pinball, I’d have outlawed Wintel boxes in this house long ago.