Music and Piracy Redux

One note on my previous entry — about the whole IP debate — before I continue.

The music industry (part of the content industry) blames Napster etc. for the drop in CD sales.

OK, that’s one conclusion.

How about another conclusion: When your buying audience is mainly younger, and younger people have less discretionary income, $18 for a mediocre CD is not going to cut it.

And what recently has been worth paying even $5 for? Where is the new Layla, the equivalent of Begger’s Banquet, the new U2 or REM?

Think about it.

Well, I have recently gone over to the “Dark Side.”

Yes, I have been coding in Microsoft technologies.

I had a job interview earlier this week — for a Cold Fusion position — and the head developer there mentioned that the company was not necessarily planning on staying with CF forever: It was, at least, examining the whole .Net framework.

When asked for my experience with ASP pages and other MS technologies, I had to say that my only experience with ASP pages was modifying and building some templates for IntelliChoice. I had done some VB that was actually used at work, though no one at work knew it (widgits). No C++, but a lot of MS SQL Server.

But the SQL Server was the most of it.

So I got the bug to learn ASP (after which I’ll delve into the .Net framework).

Installed IIS 5 on both my Win2000 boxes and began coding.

Some initial notes:

  • I’m already way up on the curve for ASP coding. I went to the library to pick up a couple of ASP books, and one was “ASP for Dummies” (I like these books for intros; “SQL for Dummies” is the best SQL intro I’ve ever seen). With the little I was able to glean from the installation examples, some Web cruising and my background, I’ve basically covered about 250-300 pages of the ~350-page book. Hey, the first thing I did is hook it up to a database, output results, get result count and make the results list sortable. That’s my idea of a “hello world” file…
  • While I’m “up on the curve,” I’m certain I missed a lot of stuff, such as the objects ASP supplies and all that. I’m not an expert, that’s for damn sure. But ramped up quickly, yes.
  • ASP is more like PHP than Cold Fusion, at least to me. Cold Fusion’s biggest deal (to me) is the way it makes it SOOOO easy to connect to a database and output results. PHP and ASP are similar in the database connectivity fashion; not easy but not hard, either. Just have to learn the syntax (CF is too easy….CFQUERY then CFOUTPUT….whoo-hoo!)
  • There is some clumsiness in ASP — as in other languages — that make one yearn for CF. For example, the whole concept of “current row” is absent in ASP (as far as I can tell); the “recordCount” feature is an extra step as part of the query, and none too intuitive.
  • There are a lot of features that I’ve already run across in ASP that I just don’t see the real need for, though it’s always nice to have (cursors and so on). I have to delve more into the not-quite-stateless nature of ASP HTML.
  • The markup is very similar to PHP. The text-manipulation tools don’t seem to be as robust, but I’m just learning now…
  • One big question I have with ASP is what scripting language to use with it (for the conditionals, etc — you use a scripting language, not native “ASP code” as you do with CF). I assume that VBScript is the one that should be used (it’s the default, most like VB etc). But I’m more familiar with Javascript. And — and here is the interesting part — C# is touted as the new main language for .Net. And it’s a Java clone. So JS would make more sense….aughhhhhhhh! Ah well, I’ll survive.
  • One of the things I still don’t understand is the lack of information about how to hook up to a MS SQL Server. Yes, ODBC and all that, but there is default user that is added as part of the IIS installation. THAT user has to be added to whatever database is used as, basically, a DBO. Took several hours to get this. The Access connection took about 3 seconds. Like UNIX, it all comes down to permissions….interesting
  • ASP — like CF — has some sort of built-in database update/insert types of functionalities. As with CF, I’m going to avoid them like the plague: Use standard HTML and SQL. But what do other ASP programmers use? I just don’t know.

Music and Piracy

OK, there have been a lot of articles recently about the Internet and copyright law etc. This probably was prompted (in the mainstream press; geeks sites have been following this for some time) by the Supreme Court’s decison to let stay the Sono Bono Copyright Extension Act (Ashcroft vs. Eldred, I believe).

I’m still trying to makes heads or tails of all of this — both what was, what is now, and what the future will/could/should hold.

With the emphasis on looking down the road, obviously. Bear with me as I attempt to write my way through this; maybe I’ll have an epiphany.

Let’s begin with a few, let’s say, a basic postulate before we attempt to construct a forward-looking theorem:

Agree or disagree with what is going on with copyright and the Internet right now, realize that the whole issue of copyright and the Internet is really not that big a deal. It’s not as important as privacy issues, government control of Internet or content, freedom (of access, to content, whatever) and so on.

That said, understand that the copyright/Internet issue is huge simply because it is the first real test of the following two points:

  • The limits that will/will not be put on the Internet, as well as what form those limits may take (monetary, oversight, technological, combination of any of the preceding and so on)
  • How traditional business models (here, the content providers: RIAA, movie studios) will co-exist — if at all — on the Internet, and what form this co-existence may take

In other words, this could be — and to some degree probably will be — precedent setting. It will affect future litigation and technology.

Don’t get me wrong: Yes, there have been plenty of collisions between the pre-Internet world and the Internet in the past, as well as others that continue to take place: e-mail snooping; pornography; ISP’s culpability for users/sites hosted with them; hackers/virusus/encryption wars and so on.

But this is the first one that has really boiled over in a wide-ranging, orderly fashion that will have significant repercussions for a wide range of people/entities.

In other words, going after Kevin Mitnick was a big deal, took government work and court cases and so on, but how did it really affect the Average Joe?

Not at all. Some precedent was set; Kevin didn’t like it … but ask Average Joe about this, and Joe won’t know about it.

But the outcome of the copyright duels may well affect the Average Joe: He’ll for example, stick a CD that he purchased into his CD player and all will be well. He’ll stick the same CD in his computer in his home office, and it won’t play because of the protection built in (one scenario).

Suddenly, Joe understands something is happening.

And before I go any further, full disclosure:

  • For my entire adult working life, I have been working in what could be considered intellectual property (IP) or content positions: Photographer, editor/writer; coder. Three careers, and no real physical objects that are unique (yes, my slides are unique, but posted slides can be swiped and I still have them, as well). It’s not like I build custom furniture for a living, where if someone steals a couch…it’s gone. I guess I should have some bias toward the content-providers concerns, but I don’t think I do. But worth disclosing.
  • My bias is still on the side of the U.S. Constitution as envisioned by the creators of same — limited government monopoly for IP; then it’s public domain. And fair use is always permitted.

OK — as I’ve noted, I’m just trying to get a handle on this right now. I read so much vitriolic about this issue — from all sides (*sign* fanatics are necessary, but they are annoying at times…) — that’s it’s hard to really sit back and decide what seems right/wrong/sensible.

Because everyone is out for their own vested interest, which is the American Way, I guess.

Note: The government’s interest is difficult to divine: Should be to uphold the Constitution; the recent actions of the Supreme Court — which should not be biased by lobbying groups, let’s say — seems very non-constitutionally oriented in this area, but that may be my bias.

Let’s get some facts and so on down here and see if some insights can be drawn as I go along:

  • The increasing sophistication of digital content makes perfect copies of existing material increasingly easier, cheaper and more accessible to more who want to make copies, legit or otherwise.
  • The current Internet does make it simplier to distribute content, if for no other reason than it’s less steps: Rip/post or whatever. Don’t need floppy disks, sneaker net, Post Office and so on.
  • One issue I have not seen mentioned in any copyright issue article I’ve read is the shadow of Internet2: With its unbelievably (today) fat pipes, a movie can be downloaded in the same amount of time it takes to download a single MP3 today (assuming high-bandwidth connection on each backbone). Today, downloading a pirated movie is totally possible, but time-consuming even with a broadband connection (cable, DSL, T-1). Again, the Average Joe Factor. I assume this future shock scares the shit out of the content industry. It should.
  • People will always pirate material: photocopies, pictures of artwork, digital copies of movies/song and so on. Get over it. It will always happen. And often this “pirating” will actually be fair use (MP3’s for my computer off CD I purchased).
  • Insight — Unless the content companies are total idiots (I doubt this, but some of their actions…..), their concern is not the Average Joe, but the “pirate shops” with stacks of burners that copy and sell “101 Dalmations” for $4.99 or post same for free. They are just trying to patch the holes in the dam before they get too big. I can appreciate that.
  • At the same time, look at some the content companies’ actions — it does go to hurt the end user (CDs that can be used in CD player but not your computer’s CD player [huh? — both CD players…], regional DVDs etc — that hurts Average Joe)
  • There is no system/series of systems that will completely halt piracy. While I firmly believe this, I don’t think the content providers do. They want to keep sticking layer after layer (software/hardware/key registration etc) of protection; someone is going to get through. Get over it. I don’t think they get this yet.
  • Insight: Content companies should, at worst, attempt to curb piracy, not stamp it out. Doing the latter will trapple Average Joe (unintentionally or otherwise); why is that a good thing for the bottom line?
  • The voice of the content providers — the artists, musicians and so on — are not either out there or not really being heard. Yes, Janis Ian has been vocal on the issue, but there are not a lot of photographers, writers and so on that you hear about. Is it because they agree with the content industry, or that they aren’t heard? Or are they simply not speaking, for one reason or another?
  • This is not really a battle of IP, it is a battle for the money associated with IP. Big difference, but don’t lose sight of it.
  • The content industry has overreacted to every new technology that posed a potential threat to their bottom line: VCRs, cassette tapes and so on. So this rant againt the Internet and file-swapping could be dimissed as more of the same. However, I happen to agree with the content providers on this point: I think the Internet, file-swapping — the whole digital stew — does pose a very real threat to the established content industry. Whether or not that threat will upset their apple cart remains to be seen, but I’m sure it’s going to change things. I just don’t agree with the method the content industry is taking to preserve their business model. They are, simply, attempting to preserve their business model. Dude, welcome to the 21st Century…

Well — fortunately for anyone foolish enough to be reading this — I’m logging off for now.

I guess what this all comes down to is the fight between business (content industry) and creativity (the actual content creators, as well as the tech-heads).

It’s not going to be pretty, especially with the conservative govenment in power right now. Thank some deity that music is not (yet) construed as part of “national security” — lockdown would be immediate…..

Apple iLife

Note regarding 1/12/2003 entry about Apple’s iLife logo suspiciously like Microsoft’s Office’s: Dan Gillmor wrote back to me and said:

No mystery. Jobs said Apple was doing with the iApps what MS does with


I saw the demo on the Web; he was there. Mystery de-mystified….

One interesting note, however — and I’m sure it’s reading too much into something that does not need that much scrutiny: Microsoft’s puzzle piece are interlocking; Apple’s are outer tabbed (more coming, or will interlock/interface with other products).

Yes, over-analysis…but still….

Apple – dig deeper

Let’s discuss Apple.

In light of the recent MacWorld introductions — as well as the ill-timed(?) recommondation to “sell” Apple (Merrill Lynch, I think) — now is as good a time as any.

Let look at some facts:

  • Apple recently introduced some new products; nothing revolutionary (like the iPod or iMac), but worth discussing.
  • Apple was recently downgraded to “sell” by a major brokerage firm.
  • Apple currently holds about 2-3% of the desktop market; this number is probably way lower in the server market.
  • Apple may lose it’s No. 2 ranking this year for the desktop market, falling behind Linux.
  • Apple continues to draw both attention (of tech in general) and high praise (from many respected tech individuals). It also is still “the cult of Mac” — it has the strongest (or most vocal) community of any tech product/area that I can think of.

All of this — to me — would usually point to a company that is either doomed or doomed to fade away to the fringes at best. Maybe it’s really cool, really ahead of the curve or what have you, but it doesn’t have a sustainable business model.

Yet I could have said the same thing last year, the year before and so on.

Probably could say it again next year.

Yet Apple keeps on chugging away. Not doing well, not really moving forward (business wise), but remainig a touchstone for innovation, fanaticism and portents of what may come in the rest of the market.

What — to me — was interesting about Reality Distortion Field Job’s keynote addess were the following:

  • Hardware introductions: The smaller PowerBook was nice, but the big one — as sexy as it is — just doesn’t work for me. Too big for travel (“uh, can I borrow part of your [airline] seat tray to put my computer on??”), and if you’re at work, the iMac still works. But there is something compelling about Job’s statement that the desktop is going away, notebooks are going to take over. With the increasing capabilities of notebooks, this may soon come to pass. Two comments, however: 1) Does Mac have a docking station/port replicator? Sorry, big keyboard and monitor are essential for many, especially at the office. 2) Notebooks are a lot easier to rip off than desktops (especially the ones with CRTs). No mention of this phenomenon.
  • Logos: Did you see the logo for the iLife product (suite of tools for movies, tunes etc)? Interlocking puzzle pieces….like the interlocking puzzle pieces in Microsoft’s Office suite? Apple is beginning an almost direct attack on MS. The intersting part — to me — is that while tech writers/bloggers have picked up on the “Apple is distancing itself from MS” concept, I’ve read no mention of the logos. This is very subtle but … telling. To me. Discuss.


  • Keynote software: Looks slicker than PowerPoint, but….what’s the point? I’m sure all Mac users will begin to use this, but…do I really care about a slicker version of PowerPoint? No. PP is for getting a point across. I don’t care….BUT this is another example of Apple going after MS (other was logo).
  • Browser/Safari: Actually, this one — while making no sense — makes sense. Huh? Browsers are bloated, and while I’m not a Mac user now, I’ve heard not good things about IE on the Mac. Why not have a new browser? Will not make Apple a fortune, but it will very quickly become the predominate Mac browser. Trust me. And it will, in a very indirect way, force MS to improve both its Mac and PC browsers, to get them faster and more standards compliant. The one thing I really like about Safari is that it runs like I have my IE customized: No fluff, few buttons, as much screen as possible. I wonder if this type of customization is available on the Mac version of IE; I would guess so… Also, what did this cost Apple? Very litte. Built on KHTML, some engineers/programmers and that’s it. New browser. EXCEPT for the lack of tabbed browsing (appaling for new browser intro, like debutting a word-processor without spell check), very promising. And — giving Apple’s tradition of improving/extending the UI intelligently, it bears watching. NOTE: The QuickTime interface, to me, is a nightmare (see askTog, it’s not just me) — I hope they don’t go this way with Safari. I doubt they will, but….

Perl goodness

For no particular reason, I’ve been drawn to Perl recently.

It seems that if I have a task that is not explicitly set for Cold Fusion, PHP or what have you….Perl is just faster and easier.


Open- vs. closed-source jobs

One of the things I’ve been noticing in the classified ads — for Web developer/programmer etc jobs — is the virtual absence of any open source positions.

Yes, there are listings out there for some open source type products — often a job (web admin, say) will need Apache experience, there are rare Perl jobs (usually consulting gigs), and Linux always welcomed — but despite the so-called revolution of open source, the positions are not there.

For example, here’s what I’ve found for the following (in general):

  • MS ASP/ .Net: Quite a few positions
  • C/C++: Quite a few
  • Cold Fusion: Not many, but they do crop up from time to time
  • Perl: As mentioned, out there occassionally, but usually consultant gigs
  • Java/servlets: A
  • lot of positions. J2EE pops up as often as anything else

  • PHP: Nada. Nothing. Hardly ever
  • JSP: Not too often by itself, but usually as part of some other job — Java or CF/ASP whatever. Hybrid/multiple systems
  • Oracle: All the time; highest ranking database need out there
  • MS SQL Server: Frequently listed there, usually with either the ASP/.Net or C/C++ positions
  • mSQL/mySQL/PostgreSQL: Virtually never.

Also appearing quite a bit — especially with either JSP or CF jobs — are Dreamweaver and the general call for Unix or NT administration, as part of a Web development job.

OK — what does this all mean?

Look at the list — you can call Java “open source” sorta, but I don’t consider it such: Beyond need for users familiar with Apache or Linux (again, in a peripheral manner usually), there is no call for use of open source software (OSS).

Does this mean OSS is dead?


It just means that:

  1. It doesn’t pay (literally!)
  2. New development — the meat-and-potatoes kind, not in-house use — is virtually divorced from OSS with Apache/Linux excepted.

Does this mean that OSS deployments have stopped?


It just means that the OSS deployments that are happening are happening in one of two ways:

  1. In-house use — such as an intranet — built on OSS (cheap) by existing programmers, the ones hired for C++ development etc.
  2. Used by consulting companies etc that are already staffed — and probably in trouble — and this is what they recommend.

For an example of the former, consider my sojourn at SOS: We needed an intranet, I had to build it. I wanted it dynamic. All we had was a spare (shared — file server, essentially) Linux box with PHP and PostgreSQL (could have done mySQL, too, but admin wanted PostgreSQL. I’m glad). So it was built in that. And to the outside user, what’s the difference? None. Spits out HTML in the end; who cares what happens under the hood. AND — I was never hired for these (PHP/PostgreSQL) skills. I just learned them because those were the tools I was given. I bet a lot of intranets are built this way.

For an example of the latter, extend the intranet metaphor to the consulting company. They can deploy a fast, C H E A P site using PHP/mySQL/Perl whatever, and so that’s what they will propose (it’ll beat any “MS SQL Server/Advanced Server…” quote). And the folks who get the site? They don’t know the difference, either, just like the intranet users.

Now, you could make the arguement that there are still companies building sites for folks, but I don’t think that market is too big now. You can use (yech!) FrontPage or whatever and get a static Web site that will, in all fairness, work well for just about most small businesses.

Could it be built better dynamically? Probably, but the cost and the complexity factor is just not worth it to most small businesses.

Big businesses?

They have learned. They/friends/competitors have been burned. There must be a business case before deployment, and few business cases will — by defintion — support OSS: It doesn’t fit any business model. No cost, no support (news groups/community? how can a business plan define/support that?).

So they go with MS or Oracle/J2EE.

I’m not pointing fingers here — it’s really nobody’s fault. It’s just the way things are; get over it!

But it’s interesting.

And depressing.

Right now — as much as it was before the “OSS revolution” — the world of Web devlopment is split into two camps:

  • MS-centric: C#, C++, .Net, MS SQL Server, Advanced server and so on
  • Non MS-centric: J2EE, servlets, JSP, Oracle, Apache/Netscape (server use depends on business size; Netscape for bigger sites). Usually on Unix, but could be on NT

And yes yes yes, there is that third, hidden area of OSS deployment outlined above, but … it’s small and — with the exception of Apache, Linux and Perl — diminishing in relative use.

I also think the Cold Fusion is in real trouble, but that’s fodder for an entirely different entry (basically, with MX, Macromedia is taking the first step into Java, and it recently released “hooks” into several different J2EE app servers.) By the time the next release rolls around, it will be even more tightly integrated into Java, to the detriment of NT use.

Unless MS buys Macromedia — which is rumored, but I doubt — Cold Fusion is basically going to go away, be a pretty front end for scary Java. (Takeover rumors are based on MS wanting Flash, to undermine Java on desktop. Valid and of interest, but as XML and one component — SVG — come out, it doesn’t make that much sense, especially now that the CF rewrite [entire app] is in Java, which MS just loves….but that’s my take. I’m a business idiot).

The very interesting part to this return to two camps — to me — the coming revolution in Web services.

Yes, Web services have been overhyped, but I think they will happen (but maybe not necessarily as the experts have prognosticated).

OK, assume Web services are coming (they are).

Assume they will — slowly — become huge (they will).

Believe that as far as actually delivering products, OSS has done a much better job that the “two camps” (MS/non-MS), at least in general (I’m sure MSCE have some very good code samples etc.)

The “camps” are concerned — correctly — with getting it right before putting it out there (if I’m spending $10,000 on a .Net server license, it had better be correct…).

So there have been a lot of delays, a lot of false starts, a lot of vaporware.

OSS keeps cranking out, if nothing else, examples of how it should work (PHP & Perl use of SOAP on Amazon and Google and so on).

And it’s free, which is good for a technology one just wants to check into — no need to download the beta of this or that Web-services enabled server. Just get a SOAP module for Apache.

But once the big guys get it right — learning from the code put out there in OSS land, believe me — it will be a different story.

It will be back to the two camps again, each with slick Web-services capabilities.

Will the circle be unbroken???

CSS tip – .htaccess

Oh, the CSS problem I was having on Turns out that the solution is to drop an .htaccess file in the Web root, specifying that MIME type.

While not elegant, this did solve the problem. Still can’t believe that CSS is not set as a global MIME type, but whatever.

The note to me from XO did not really spell out the issue; fortunately I know what an .htaccess file is and to put it in the root (rather than in the /css directory) to make it global. Again, what if I were a newbie?

2003 Prognostications

OK, this is a little late — should be done right before or right after the year switch, but whatever.

Here are some issues that I see as issues for this coming year, and what they will be. I have this information on no reliable authority….

  • Sun Microsystems: Boy, this is going to be a tough year for Sun. They are the Apple of Unices — make their own boxes, which contain their own chips, which run their own OS… (Yes, Motorola makes the PowerPC for Apple, I know…). While Sun boxes are still the heavy hitters — the best bang out there — they are not the best bang for your buck. IBM, with Linux, is really eroding the “need Sun for heavy lifting” mentality. And Compaq (oops…H/P [Hewlett Packard] ) is desperate for UNIX revenue, as well, and they are doing a Linux play, too. Nowadays MS isn’t even on Sun’s radar screen — Linux is. Sun has to do something, and I think that “something” is Java: This is the year that Sun will figure out (for better or worse) just what to do with Java. Essentially, how to make money off it. Because the server business is looking grim for them.
  • Apple: Speaking of Apple, it seems like every year is a good time to trot out the “Apple will finally die this year” type of talk. And every year, this death is greatly exaggerated. I don’t know, I think this will be a relatively uneventful year for Apple (MacExpo opens tomorrow; I could be proved way wrong very quickly). I think they will keep goosing existing products, stabilizing and enhancing them. I don’t see any large inroads being made by the company. While they are capable of making a killer tablet PC, there is no real demand for these products beyond the whiz-bang effect. And the tablets that have thus far come out are more expensive than notebooks; Apple, with it’s tradition of more expensive than PCs for same type of product (ignore the quality factor), would be foolish to follow this lead. But what do I know?
  • Microsoft: It will continue to take flack for continuing security lapses, Passport will somehow develop/display a serious issue that needs attention, it will delay Longhorn and Yukon again (actually, a good thing — release when ready, not to fit a schedule), it will continue to take fire for questionable business practices, it will actually listen to the customer and revamp some of its licensing agreements (actually listening to the bottom line), it will continue to make gobs of money…but at a slightly slackened pace. Also: By year’s end, the .Net Web services architecture will be still pretty much in the prototype stage. No common use (I could be wrong on this one) [Edit: Just read on a few minutes after I wrote this that MSN messenger has gone dark for many — and this has a .Net backend component. Ha!]
  • Privacy: While a couple of recent court rulings hold some hope for the notion of personal freedom and privacy, as long as John Ashcroft is Attorney General, things will be grim for the freedom types. Why no outcry over this continual trampling of civil rights, from ignoring the Freedom of Information Act when it’s convenient to detaining Americans (“…home of the free….”) without any due process? Two numbers: 9 & 11. Yeah. But he keeps pushing things, and I think there will be a backlash at some point. This year? I don’t think so, and the following year is an election year, so he’ll probably tread more softly then. * sigh *
  • Computers: As with the last couple of years, sales will remain soft, and there really won’t be much incentive to get a new computer. Sure, a tad faster, larger hard drive…but minor differences, really. For example, my 1Ghz machine has an 80G drive. Plenty fast enough, and I probably have about 50G free. Would I like a newer, faster computer? Sure! Do I need a newer, faster computer? Hell no. And I think a lot of folks are in this boat. And with the economy in the dumpster, why shell out still substantial bucks (for a decent system) for something that is not a need?
  • Speaking of the economy… How should I know? I had to guess, I would say that it won’t get worse, but if there is an uptick this year, it will be moderate. And that damn spectre of war hangs over all like the Sword of Damecles(sp?).
  • Wireless: By this I mean Wi-Fi, not cell phones/blackberries etc. This will be huge this year, and the introduction of the 802.11g standand will effectively end the short appearance of 802.11a (fast, but G is compatible with the slow but omnipresent 802.11b standard; same frequency, 2.4 Ghz). More and more business and — especially — homes will make this an almost de-facto standard for PCs and other such stuff. What of Bluetooth? Damn good question. I still can’t believe it hasn’t make inroads. Hell, I have a spaghetti bowl of wires around my computer table, as I’m sure we all do. Anyway… Wi-Fi will help tremendously with home and business networking, and the 54Mps speed means that even the boxes I have hard wired (both to save buying a Wi-Fi card and because the T-Base100 is faster than 11Mps from 802.11b) might eventually become unteathered. NOTE: Wi-Fi vendors are going to have to do something about security, the WEP is a joke (but better than nothing). This may be an issue in the coming year with wider deployments. Think the government will allow free use of more — better — bandlwidths in the coming year? This is a definite possibility, but may not be addressed (especially if there is more of this stupid war stuff).