Hollywood proves it can get more stupider…

According to an LA Times report, a new deal between Netflix and Warner Bros. includes a new rental delay provision:

Under a new deal between the two companies, Netflix users won’t just have to wait 56 days to rent Warner Bros. movies on DVD. They’ll have to wait 28 days to add the movies to their queues.

Marco Arment trots out the proper response:

If I’m adding a movie to my Netflix queue, I’ve already decided not to buy the DVD. I’m adding it because it looks mildly interesting and I’d like to watch it sometime. If I can’t add it to Netflix, I’ll just forget about it and probably never see it.

While there may be some exceptions, I think this is basically true.

Let’s see if the other studios go down this desperate path for more DVD sales.

Nicely played, Warner Bros…

Sites come and gone

The Lovely Bones
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci

This movie, based on the book by the same name by Alice Seybold, begins as the book does, with narration by the protagonist: “My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

Whoa – we’re in for a feel-good movie!

I have not (yet) read the book, but I knew the subject matter and was a little hesitant to pick it up, but whatever. Give it a shot.

I thought it was great. It’s an almost non-linear book, and one told from two points of view: From her perch in (almost) heaven, and from those she has left behind (family, friends and her killer).

Susan Sarandon, who plays Susie’s grandmother, gives a great performance in very little screen time. That said, I didn’t quite get the anguish of her father – Wahlberg – from his performance that reflected his character’s intensity/anguish as Susie’s narration outlined. He was OK, but nothing great.

Tucci, playing a pedophile, was his usual brilliant. Pedophile, hit man (The Pelican Brief), gay fashion designer (The Devil Wears Prada), statesman and solid husband (Julie and Julia) – this guy can act!

It’ll be interesting to see how it compares to the book – the movie, directed by Peter Jackson, has a lot of Lord of the Rings type fantasy sequences. I’m guessing fans of the book will say Jackson went with CGI at the expense of more character interaction – which, who knows, might be true – but the 2-hour+ movie was very satisfying to me, despite the distasteful subject matter.

And the girl – she is only 18 years old this year – who played Susie (Saoirse Ronan) was great. Very believable and vulnerable yet – at the same time – strong and wise beyond her years.

Glad I picked it up.

All movies

The web is, of course, a very fluid arena.

I’ve noticed recently some shifts in sites that I hit – some more, some falling off my radar. Here are some examples, in no particular order:

Reading more often:

  • Readwriteweb.com – Once Flipboard became available for the iPhone, I installed it immediately. One of the media channels was readwriteweb, and this just reminded me about how I’d forgotten to remember to follow this site. Got that? Good stuff for techies.
  • Pandodaily.com – Yeah, dumb name (but for a good reason…). Basically made of a lot of writers who bailed from Techcrunch.com after all the AOL/HuffPo fiascos. A daily must-read.
  • Forbes.com – To be honest, I read this more on Flipboard than on the web, but a good source of tech and business news, usually very well-written and well-sourced.
  • ParisLemon.com – The mad ramblings of Apple fanboy MG Siegler.

Reading less often:

  • Techcrunch – As noted above, PandoDaily.com has filled that void. I only hit Techcrunch a couple of times a week vs. a few times a day in the past. Sad.
  • Huffington Post – This site, while loading up a lot of fresh news daily, has a lot of crap. Fashion, headlines that belong on the National Enquirer, not a legit news site. Again, kind of sad.
  • Kottke.org – Jason Kottke is, to me, the ultimate abstractor of the internet. Much like magazines devoted to providing small abstracts of large scientific articles – so you could scan or elect to read the entire report – Kottke finds what’s interesting on the web and points to same with a small excerpt or description. Useful. Yet a few years ago he (I applaud him) married well, has traveled, and really doesn’t need to blog as much. So he doesn’t. So I don’t go there that often. Still often find good stuff I would never have seen had I not gone there, so keep it up Jason.
  • scripting.com – Dave Winer, the/one of the original bloggers, keeps writing, but I find – for whatever reason – less of it interesting. It might just be me. So I’ll go there occasionally to catch up, but it’s no longer a daily visit, more like once a week or so.

These are just a few, off the top of my head. Some of the changes have to do with changes to the sites; others are due to changes in me – my interests/priorities have shifted. As has my reading…

SOPA fail

Thankfully, there are signs of sanity in Congress: It looks like the protests yesterday has pretty much made SOPA/PIPA, well, DOA.

MG Siegler, over at the new PandoDaily.com, has a good take on why it failed. Think buggy-whips and horses vs. cars…..

But [MPAA’s CEO] Dodd’s bigger problem — one that has plagued the entire MPAA for decades — is that they fundamentally don’t understand technology. And so they turn to fear-mongering. Television was going to kill movies. Videotapes were going to kill movies. DVDs were going to kill movies. Etc, etc, etc.

[…]Remember when VHS tapes were upwards of $100 to buy? Then they started making some priced-to-own and guess what? People started buying them. DVDs were priced to own from the start, but as their prices fell, guess what happened? More and more were sold. In fact, it became the bread and butter of the industry.

The iTunes model for music has proven that people will pay for content. You just have to make it as accessible as possible. That means both price and distribution points.

Instead, Hollywood has lost its collective mind. And its way. They want legislation that will puncture the fabric of the web. It’s insane.

Let’s say that both SOPA and PIPA are passed — does piracy stop? Of course not. It will find a way. No matter what happens, it will always find a way.

The best way to combat piracy is to remove barriers, not to put up new ones.

Update: It looks like the bills are – in their current form – dead.

Google – and others – protest SOPA

Wikipedia has gone dark, and Google – with its huge megaphone – has protested, as well.


Good for them. Hopefully it’ll raise awareness of how this potentially damaging legislation could harm the internet as a whole, just to protect some rights of a minority (copyright holders).

Yes, piracy is a problem – and is wrong. Agreed.

But this is not, in my mind, the answer. To be fair, however, some of the more onerous provisions of the original bill (DNS redirects [blocks?] and so on) have been stripped out. But still, a chilling bill.

Proponents say it’ll be effective, just like the DMCA – but that has been a mess in many ways, as well. For example, reverse engineering can be a felony. So it makes it illegal to – for example – make cheaper laser cartridges that can interact with HP printers. Helps HP, but not the consumer.

Update: Tim Bray – a Canadian – has, as always, a clear-eyed view of this issue.

We Can’t Make It Here Anymore

James McMurtry’s “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” popped up on my iTunes shuffle.

Damn. Spot on.

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof, won’t pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can’t make it here anymore

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I’m in
Should I hate ’em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They’ve never known want, they’ll never know need
Their shit don’t stink and their kids won’t bleed
Their kids won’t bleed in the dad’s little war
And we can’t make it here anymore

And “we can’t make it here anymore” cuts two ways – one, we’re not manufacturing here anymore, and two, we can’t make our economic ends meet.

Delivered by McMurtry in his flat, matter-of-fact monotone, it resonates even more.

This song is about a decade old, I’d guess, but it could have been recorded today.

Google goodness

A few days after the Iowa caucuses (Jan. 3), I was browsing MediaGazer (sort of a TechMeme-like site, except for articles about media, not technology), and I ran across this curious article:

How Google beat AP with Iowa caucus results (and why it matters).

The article details how the free data and tools offered by Google allowed some coder at a local news site to easily update polling data and present them in a map format. Interesting in itself, but what struck me was that the station used Google Fusion Tables, that I had never heard of.

Basically, a Fusion table is new document type in Google Docs – and is still in beta.

It allows you to upload – from desktop, Google Docs or whatever – a CSV file and, if you geocode the entries, it’ll allow you to create a map, generate a link that’s an iFrame (pointing to Google) that displays the map.

This is potentially very powerful. One could, for example take a weekend trip to somewhere and then build out a map showing all the places you’ve been in a very easy fashion.

I decided to try this out – I live in the Chicago area, so I generated a CSV file of random pictures from the Chicago area from my gallery database and created a Fusion Table.

The hard part was geocoding the dozen or so pics (I can’t wait for cameras that will do this by default moving forward). But once that was done, I created the map and it’s embedded here.

The Google tutorial was a little muddled, but if you know what you’re doing it’s pretty intuitive. I’m still looking for an API guide for this; nothing so far, but I haven’t tried that hard.

And interesting tool – I just wonder if Google will maintain support for this. The company is famous for putting stuff out there and then, sometimes years later (after some have been sold on the tool), dropping support. And example is the SOAP search (so one could fetch data from Google via SOAP and display results on one’s own site. I remember playing with it (using Perl), and it was a good exercise. I never used it for anything except to play with it, but what if I had and it just “went away”?

Anyway, Fusion Tables are an interesting approach to mapping, and I’m sorta surprised that I ran across it not on a tech blog but on a web story about media.

Go figure!

They call me the seeker




I just finished reading Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Seekers – The Story of Man’s Continuing Quest to Understand His World. Man’s attempt to answer the “why are we here?”, “what does it all mean?” questions.

This book is the third in an unofficial trilogy of Boorstin’s works attempting to tell the story of man’s search for new lands, new arts and new ways to understand the world in which we live. The first, The Discoverers, focused on man expanding his realm, both physically – Magellan and other explorers – and intellectually (science and technology), from the invention of clocks through Galileo to splitting the atom. The second, The Creators, is about man’s creations: art, music, literature and other works of the imagination.

I liked The Seekers greatly – Boorstin can’t seem to write a bad book – but I didn’t like it as much as the earlier two books in the trilogy.

I get the sense that, in writing The Seekers, Boorstin had run out of energy or enthusiasm for the concept he began in The Discoverers. For example, the first two books clocked in at 700+ pages; this one was only about 250.

All three of Boorstin’s books kind of seemed the same to me in that he spent the bulk of the story in the ancient times – the time of Greece and Rome, for example – but once he hit the industrial revolution he kind of rushed to the end. At least that’s my impression. It could be that Boorstin just is more familiar/enamored with ancient times than modern times. Or it could be that my perception is out of whack, simply because I’m more familiar with modern history. Whatever.

But whether it’s just my perception that Boorstin, in general, peters out at the end of the books, I do have some evidence that The Seekers wasn’t as full an effort as the two earlier books.

The Seekers is about man’s search to understand the world: Myths, religions, the battle between religion and the rise of science, philosophy and so on. Yet there is no mention – at all – of Lenin, Freud or Jung. Yet all three helped shape the 20th Century, for better or for worse.

And while Existentialism is touched on, it’s mainly about Godot, with Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche and other existential giants mentioned only in passing.

Nihilism isn’t even mentioned, yet Swedenborg is (in passing, but at least twice, I think).

Complaints aside, an overall great book. Reading Boorstin is humbling: I don’t know if he’s that smart or just a good researcher, but the vast amount of data he presents – and ties to earlier/upcoming sections of the book – is just amazing. And he ended the book with section on Einstein, and how the physicist changed the way we look at space and time. I’m a big Einstein fan, so the book went out on an up note to me!

Makes you feel enlightened, but overall, pretty stupid compared to him.

My favorite of the three books is easily The Discoverers: It’s one of my all-time favorite books. Yep, it’s a door-stopper of a book, but you’ll be glad to took the time to wade through it or just poke around in it. Trust me…

Hope we leave the hate behind

Wrigley Field
Could 2012 be the year??

Well, 2011 was quite the year on many levels, but the most striking characteristic of the year for me was the blatant vitriol, the self-consuming hatred that we saw in so many ways this past year.

In part, this lack of human empathy was a continued reaction to the wars in the Middle East, the 9/11 tragedy (yes, a decade old but not going away quickly) and the election – in 2008 – of the first African-American president.

Yet it was also fueled by culture moves – primarily in the arena of gays rights – and the ever-earlier race to replace the current president. The first Republican presidential caucus isn’t for another two days, but Mitt Romney has been running for pretty much the last three or four years, and we’ve had a half-dozen or so televised Republican presidential debates already. Yowza! That’s a lot of airtime for a lot of crazy talk, and most stepped up and gave it his/her best shot.

What follows, in an absolutely random order, are some examples of the Year of Hate that I hope we’ve left behind.

  • Presidential candidates endorse racial profiling: At a nationally televised presidential debate, Rick Santorum says one of the ways to keep the country safer would be to racially profile airline passengers – to more easily identify those who may want to cause us harm. He is seconded by Herman Cain, still a candidate at this time (Cain termed it “targeted identification”). First of all, racial profiling tramples all over the civil liberties Santorum and others – me included – hold so dear. Second, when’s the last time you heard an African-American male – Cain – support racial profiling? It’s an unfortunate reality that there are still instances of young male drivers being pulled over for, basically, “driving while black/Hispanic.” It’s not right; it happens; we should deplore such. Not encourage same.
  • Herman Cain says banning mosques is an American right: His rationale?

    Herman Cain [again, speaking as a Republican presidential candidate in July, 2011] said Sunday that Americans should be able to ban Muslims from building mosques in their communities.

    “Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state,” Cain said in an interview with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “Islam combines church and state.”

    Yes, in some countries Islam is both church and state, but here in the US, we still have our constitutional state, and a mosque doesn’t break that.

    And every religion has a “state” of sorts, laws that reach beyond the faith itself. Why not allow the ban of Catholic churches, which have Papal Law?

  • Immigrants are evil: Laws in states such as Arizona and Alabama have had chilling effects on these states. The basic premise is to arrest a foreign/illegal-looking individual (how does one ascertain that??) who does not have papers on them proving they are actually citizens. I couldn’t do that, and I’m a second-generation American. Not too worried about this personally, but what if my last name was Rodriquez?

    These laws can also have unintended consequences, such as when a Mercedes-Benz executive was arrested in Alabama. The German executive, in the state to visit a plant it has in the state, couldn’t prove he wasn’t there illegally. So much for fostering an open trade partnership. Oops.

    Now, I’m not meaning to ignore or minimize the huge issue of illegal immigration in the US. It’s a very serious problem that has no easy answers. I’m just pointing out that some of the solutions offered thus far appear to be willing to trample on citizens’ rights, and that’s not going to help anyone in the long run.

  • Gay-bashing is still in style: With the threat of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) for the military, there were cries from conservatives that it would basically implode the military. Now that DADT is officially off the books – and the military keeps doing what the military does, are there any apologies? Nah.

    And Rick Santorum has been saying (I can’t find a link) that, as president, he’d reinstate DADT because “homosexuality is a sin.” For the sake of argument, let’s say it is a sin, at least as in defined in the bible. How does DADT make that homosexual soldier less of a sinner? Basically, DADT asks homosexual soldiers to pretty much lie about their sexual preference. Isn’t lying a sin, as well?

  • Gay bashing, part deux – gays can’t marry: Michele Bachmann, running as a Republican presidential candidate, answered a question about gay marriage by saying gays can marry – but only to people of the opposite sex. Okey-dokey!

    And Texas Governor Rick Perry has – again, as a Republican presidential candidate – signed a pledge to support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and others have signed the pledge, as well. Here are my questions:

    1. I thought Republicans were for limited federal government. Doesn’t this proposed amendment seem to be a federal overreach?
    2. I thought most conservatives consider marriage a “sacred” (i.e. faith-endorsed) endeavor. If some faith denies a church marriage to a gay couple, I don’t agree with them, but that’s the church’s business. But if you have to get the legal document – a marriage license – from the state, not allowing gays to marry (with a justice of the peace, for example) seems to be discriminatory.
  • Yes, we have an African-American president: Let the slurs begin. To be fair, the slurs and racist pictures/cartoons sprung up once Obama (the candidate) first gained traction in the 2008 election, but it’s still going on. I’m not going to point to any of them, but a recent Facebook post by a sick individual called for the assassination of the president and his family, and worded in a very racist manner. Unsavory stuff.

    Come on people – we’re a century beyond the Civil War, almost 50 years beyond the Civil Rights Act and 60+ years beyond Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut.

That’s just a small sampling of the hate I heard/read/saw this year. I think the normal reasons are behind it:

  • The proliferation of 24-hour news, blogs and so on demands the beast be fed at an ever-increasing rate. Measured thought is sometimes not an option/used.
  • We still have a disturbing number of bigoted/narrow-minded individuals in America.

Here’s to hoping we turn down the volume on the hate in 2012.