Monday, April 30, 2007

As promised, I signed up for We7, and downloaded the sample songs being offered. The current offerings are intended as a tech demo, and it would be unfair to judge them from the selection being offered currently. But when the best track available is by Hall and Oats, that's not the best sign. Some nice jazz tunes were available, the best of those being Rick Guard's swinging "The Truth About Love" (though that file sounded a bit muddled to me, at least in the bass). Currently, each file is affixed with a very brief commercial for We7 itself, much like a radio station I.D. spot. Not too annoying, but not particularly interesting. The files have no DRM, as advertised, and as one would imagine, skipping the commercials is quite easy.

I was satisfied enough with this taste of the We7 service that I will be keeping an eye on it, and will put it through its paces when it goes live. I'm highly skeptical of its business model, but I wish them the best. I suppose most people will listen to the ads the first time they play a song, if only to see how long the ad is so they can tell iTunes how far ahead to skip in subsequent playings. So advertisers are paying a dollar or so for every ad impression. Seems high to me, but I suppose the market will decide.

Peter Gabriel has opened We7, an online music store that will give away free music tracks, DRM-free, with ten-second commercials attached. After four weeks, you can re-download the track, but without the commercial. While I'm not wildly crazy about the idea, it's not terrible. If it has a good selection (which I doubt it will), or at least a good interface that helps you find good music amongst the obscure offerings, it might be a nice, free way to discover new artists. I just can't imagine the ad revenue will be substantial enough to make this worth the time of any working musicians. Especially since it would be pretty easy to remove or bypass the commercial from a DRM-free file. Just tell iTunes to start playing the file at the ten-second mark; you don't even need to edit the file. But if the commercial's not obnoxious, and you have a commercial-free file coming in a few weeks, maybe users won't bother to skip it. I'm skeptical this will work out as a viable business, but I'll give it a shot when it goes live.

UPDATE: Apparently, We7 expects to make about $1.20 per download in advertising fees. This number strikes me as absurd, but I don't pretend to be an expert in advertising. I also see that there are some sample songs already available, if you register for the site; when I get home, I'll download me some Coolio or Bananarama and let you know how the experience goes.

A recent Comics Curmudgeon post got me thinking that I, too, should submit an idea to the comic strip 2.0 standards Pluggers and They'll Do It Every Time. While I've not recently encountered any petty annoyances that deserve to be immortalized in newsprint, I did come up with a Pluggers suggestion. Going to the post office the other day, I was walking behind an old man (while the meaning of "Plugger" is unclear, it is generally understood to refer to either an obese individual or the elderly), who stopped suddenly to spastically check the coin return slot on a payphone, sporting the expression I believe I have when I draw to a royal flush on a video poker machine. Which led me to submit the idea, "A plugger's retirement plan involves checking the coin return slots of pay phones." So keep reading Pluggers, and look for my name! (I say keep reading, because if you're not currently reading it, I can't recommend you start, because you'd never forgive me)

Here's a fun fact--well, a fact--about Pluggers: When you search for "Pluggers" on google, the description of the Pluggerville website describes the strip as "almost surreal." Yeah, Salvador Dali and the chief plugger, I'm always getting those two confused. "Almost Jeff Foxworthy" would be a more appropriate description. Besides, how is anything "almost surreal," that's like being "almost unique." It's surreal, except for the part that's a comic strip. Maybe the notion that this strip still runs in newspapers is surreal.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Series of Unfortunate Events is coming out in paperback. The books look pretty nice, but I don't think they're nice enough for me to buy 13 books I already own.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

I heard about this on Wait, wait... the other day, but seeing M.C. Nuts really adds a whole other layer of suckitude.

And while I can't quite say I really liked the Rap Canterbury Tales, it's certainly a more well-conceived and better-executed project, not really on the same plane as M.C. Nuts. Certainly worth a listen.

John Cage on I've Got a Secret.
It turns out that Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias really loves two things: abstinence-only sex education, and whores.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Comics Curmudgeon is always good, but was particularly entertaining today, with an installment of classic comics featuring Professor Chinbeard's first appearance in Mary Worth. Turns out he was an asshole from day one, though tempered with a touch of Foster Brooks. And the site also offers a peek into the backstage world of user-generated comic strip ideas, suggesting that out of touch old kooks are more civil than salt-of-the-earth types.
Boris Yeltsin, dead at 76.
Report: Amazon set to debut online music service next month. If they launch such a service, I'm sure they will only do so in a DRM-free form (rumors swirrled a few weeks ago that Amazon was going to buy eMusic, but nothing came of it). I did think it interesting to read in one report of a rumored Universal/Amazon partnership that Amazon was considering launching a store based on Microsoft's Plays for Sure DRM, but abandoned it when Microsoft announced the Zune. It was widely noted at the time that the Zune was a real slap in the face for anyone who partnered with Microsoft on the DRM front, but this is the first I've heard of any serious ramifications from the whole Zune debacle.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I watched Scoop last night. What a piece of crap that was! Who casts Ian McShane in a movie and then barely lets him do anything?

I used to like Scarlett Johansson, but after watching this, and The Black Dahlia the other night, I think she just got lucky, working with some strong material early in her career. She really doesn't seem to be much of an actress. What little bit of her appearance last night on Saturday Night Live hardly changed my opinion.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I've been ill, and haven't had much energy to do much of anything lately, which is why I never wrote about my trip to Vegas two weekends ago. Nothing too exciting to report there, the Pinball Hall of Fame was fun, and I saw Louie Anderson perform at the Excalibur, the food at the Hilton was bad (the buffet had really gone downhill) and I was out of money by Saturday night.

I was also too ill to mention the passing of Johnny Hart last week. Decided I'd let that was slip by (if you don't have anything nice to say...), but I'll mention it now, in light of the news that Brant Parker, Hart's collaborator, is dead at 86.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, dead at 84. I wrote my college entrance essay on the lessons learned from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Vonnegut is probably the reason I chose to be a literature major; I won't hold it against him.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Some comics-related things to share with you good people:

Cartoonist Carol Lay was recently made to answer for casting aspersions on the librarian profession. I meant to mention it at the time, but was recently reminded of it when, in this week's installment of the "Classic Peanuts" strips currently running in syndication, Linus got his library card, and struggled to come to terms with this awesome responsibility. I generally sympathize with Charlie Brown, but I think there's a lot of Linus in me, too.

This talk of libraries led me to the Unshelved website, to see if any recent strips warranted notice (this installment of the Unshelved Book Club led me to purchase the book, so it probably deserves a mention), and there I learned that the recent strips about coffee cup lids are actually part of a Library Cartoonist Cage Match between Unshelved and Sheldon. So there you go. I'm not picking a winner.

The Comics Curmudgeon recently offered up some choice goodies, my favorite being the the adventures of the Comic Strip Superfriends: Watch your hateful tongue, Garfield!

As rumored, the Apple/EMI press conference was to announce that EMI was dropping DRM on iTunes. Good news. Higher-fidelity, DRM-free songs for an extra $0.30/song. I dislike having to pay extra to not receive a crippled product, but the enhanced sound eases the pain a bit (not that I've ever had a problem with the sound quality from the iTunes store). And in an effort to move consumers away from just purchasing singles, the wholesale price of albums will not change; I mostly buy full albums on iTunes, so this means I'll get improved sound quality and no DRM, and it will only cost me $0.30 on the infrequent occasions when I just download select tracks. I'd say this qualifies as good news, and hopefully the other major record labels will follow suit.

I do hope that the move away from DRM doesn't bring the majors to eMusic. I imagine the presence of major studios would drive the cost per song up quite a bit.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

WTO upholds decision against U.S. on gambling ban. I thought this ruling might be an empty gesture, as how badly could trade sanctions from Antigua harm the American economy, but I found this interesting:
Antigua and Barbuda may seek sanctions in the form of withdrawing protection for U.S. trademarks or copyrights. Known as "cross-retaliation," such sanctions are legal under WTO rules when a nation can't afford to impose higher duties on imported goods.
So, if tomorrow's announcement turns out not to have anything to do with DRM, don't despair, as you might be able to download cheap songs from Barbudan servers soon (like a truly legal version of
EMI and Apple plan to make a major announcement tomorrow. The early rumor was the arrival of the Beatles catalog on iTunes, which would be pretty sweet. But the Wall Street Journal reports (apparently, I got home from work before I heard this, and no longer have access to the Journal archives) that the real announcement is DRM-free music downloads from iTunes. Which makes more sense, considering the promise of a live musical performance at the press conference. Good news, in any case.
My Wii has started gathering dust, with the Nintendo DS release of Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, a game which finally answered all of our prayers, and combined a Bejeweled-esque puzzle game with a wizards-and-orcs style roleplaying game. While the game is available for the DS and PSP, you can play a demo version on your PC. It's really one of those things you have to try to truly understand just how compelling the seemingly bizarre concept really is in execution. The game is one of the most addictive things I've played for some time, even if the somewhat tiny DS display makes it easy to make mistakes with the stylus.

I had noticed that the computer A.I. is remarkably lucky in setting up chains, and I see that the internet rumors that the computer cheats are flying fast and furious. Which is why DS Fanboy's report that the cheating could be deactivated certainly raised my interest. It wasn't until I looked closely at the picture, and noticed the bit about the nude characters and secret cow level, that I remembered today was April 1st. And I should note, what I first took for DS Fanboy's April Fools prank actually originated with the game developers themselves.

Oh, and as for the cheating allegation, I think it just appears that way because the gems tend to clump together, and aren't particularly random.

UPDATE: I thought the odd method of entering the "cheat code" was to make it more difficult to tell it was a joke when the code didn't work, but it has been pointed out that the code is actually morse code for "I am a NOOB."