Thursday, May 31, 2007

The cycle of life, or NEVER piss off a water buffalo:
I knew from a late-night software update that DRM-free iTunes downloads were on their way in the morning, but I was still knocked for a loop by news that CBS bought for $280 million. Just Sunday, I renewed my paid subscription to for a month, for $3. I felt pretty good, knowing that my $3 could help keep them from going under. Well, fuck you, I kid. I'm glad they're on sure financial footing now. I do worry that things will change, now, but that could always be for the best. I've read suggestions that CBS will stream their radio offerings through, which is fine with me, as long as it doesn't affect their customized radio options.

There is some debate over whether CBS bought for the community, or just for their technology. I doubt they paid $280 million for the technology. Their recommendation technology doesn't seem that sophisticated; their advantage, like Netflix's, is in the sheer volume of data to which they have access. If you know every song someone has listened to, it's not too hard to figure out something to recommend. Maybe CBS wants the respected brand name of to attach to a new video-based recommendation service, but I don't think the technology behind the service was a major motivator of this purchase.

One major concern I had about this merger was how the recent hike in internet radio fees in the U.S. would affect, when it was owned by American CBS. I was under the impression that was not affected by this recent scandal because it was a British company. Turns out this was half-true, as, under British law, was forced to negotiate directly with record labels, and has deals with several majors, with more deals expected to close soon. So with these deals in place, the internet radio royalties that threaten to destroy other internet radio providers shouldn't be an issue for

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

iTunes launched their DRM-free iTunes Plus service today. A nice milestone on the road leading to the death of DRM, though in actuality it was a little underwhelming. According to Apple's "upgrade to iTunes Plus" page, I actually only bought two albums from EMI: One by Lily Allen (don't you judge me!) and one by the Little Willies (a Norah Jones country side-project). I bought a handful of singles as well. I did go ahead and upgrade what I owned to iTunes Plus, though I was disappointed to see there was not an option to upgrade on a song-by-song basis. The upgrade was actually a good value to me, as I lost a few files from a hard drive crash awhile back, and was able to replace them in the process. And other then the site moving as slow as molasses, I didn't have much trouble upgrading. But I was disappointed to learn that I would have to pay a 30% surcharge to upgrade full albums I'd purchased, even though the DRM-free albums cost the same as the protected albums (an effort to encourage consumers to purchase full albums--a smart move, methinks). But I have a large credit balance at iTunes currently (Best Buy had a "$60 in gift cards for $45" sale recently), so didn't begrudge them the $7.50 or so I spent to upgrade.

One concern that I have about this experiment in DRM-free music is that it might, in fact, lead to a small up-tick in piracy. Much of the reportage about this new development describes the change as involving selling music free from usage restrictions. Not true. Copyright is a usage restriction. Just because a file is free from technological protection from copying doesn't mean that any and all copying of said file is legal. That's one reason why I think the thirty-cent surcharge for DRM-free files is a bad idea; it will confuse consumers, who think they are paying for the privilege to copy a file freely, without regard to copyright law. But I can offer one warning to those planning to share their iTunes Plus songs on P2P networks: Your iTunes account information and e-mail address is encoded within your iTunes-purchased music files. Though, as that article notes, I doubt this information is being used to track down pirates.

Concerned that the end is nigh? Don't worry, in the event of armageddon, nuclear or otherwise, your primary concern has already been addressed: The seeds will be safe.
Via Tofu Hut, some Japanese pro wrestling action:

If Vince McMahon is reading this, I would totally pay to see this in the States. And don't you dare change the Kiss Army makeup (which is somehow more effective with the Iron Maiden T-shirt).

The remarkable reproduction of the Cordyceps Fungus:

I first learned of such things at The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, which has an exhibit on the stink ant of Cameroon. I have been reluctant to say much about the museum here, as ignorance is helpful in fully experiencing the museum, but if you find yourself in L.A., check it out.

Lou Dobbs is the only man around not afraid to tell the truth about the fuckin' Mexicans, with their fuckin' leprosy. Way to not let the facts get in the way, Lou, Colbert would be proud.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Attentive readers of this blog might have deduced that I'm rather fond of The Comics Curmudgeon. My heart always skips a beat when Bloglines shows me that the site has been updated. So it is a great honor to say I have been bestowed one of the greatest honors the site has to bestow: Comment of the Week runner-up. Take a look at the Slylock Fox strip that inspired my comment, and then take in my remarks, pulling up the caboose of the comment also-rans (I'm Flealick).

I do hope my next major achievement in life won't also involve the phrase "getting off on the Junior Jumble". But I am proud that Slylock Fox was involved, as it's actually a very interesting comic with some nice artwork. And a sexy, sexy cat. One could probably spend one's time better than going through the Comic Curmudgeon's archive of Slylock Fox-related posts, but why would you want to?

UPDATE: Perusing the archives, I came across this lovely sketch of Cassandra Cat (scroll down a tad). I can just imagine what artwork this Sunday's installment could inspire. (Actually, I don't have to imagine too hard.)

If you're anything like me, you've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of DRM-free tracks at iTunes, which we were told would arrive in May, which will soon be over. But fear not, as sources say the May deadline will be met. No assurances the infrastructure will be in place for new-music Tuesday, but I suppose waiting another 48 hours or so won't kill me. Besides, it's not like there's a ton of EMI artists I've been dying to purchase, it's more the symbolism of the moment.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Major San Diego-based casino scam busted. Apparently, the managed to put slugs of cards in play, and bribed dealers to false-shuffle. There's talk of using software, which suggests they detected slugs that formed in the normal course of play. But the article notes that at one time, the slug was 376 cards long. That's 7.23 decks, and I believe Barona uses eight decks at baccarat. So that would suggest they essentially switched out the entire shoe. In any event, it sounds like it was quite the lucrative scam while it lasted.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

WFMU's Beware of the Blog takes a look at Bill "Droopy" Thompson's career. Apparently, the complete Droopy just came out on DVD, and can be picked up for less than $20. I'd pay that and more just for "The Shooting of Dan McGoo."
Johnny Cash in Five Minutes to Live. Just ordered it from CD Universe for $9 or so after shipping. Looks thrilling.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Should an amputee sprinter be allowed in the Olympics? There was a profile of him recently in Wired, and I thought the topic raised interesting issues about ethics and sports and technology, which deserve careful consideration. And apparently Elio Locatelli of the I.A.A.F, which is opposed to Oscar Pistorius' presence at the Olympics, also gave the matter serious though:
“With all due respect, we cannot accept something that provides advantages,” said Elio Locatelli of Italy, the director of development for the I.A.A.F., urging Pistorius to concentrate on the Paralympics that will follow the Olympics in Beijing. “It affects the purity of sport. Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back.”
Of course, it seems so simple now: If we allow someone who doesn't have legs to use something to stand in for said legs, it's exactly the same as strapping on jet packs and heading straight for the high jump. Exactly. I remember, awhile back, the Paralympic Games were on T.V., and for the longest time I thought they were showing that movie, Rocketman.

I should be thankful for Locatelli's bone-headed comment, as it just goes to highlight the error of the slippery slope fallacy. Yes, we can allow Pistorius to compete in the Olympics without fear of healthy athletes cutting off their legs for a competitive "advantage" (ignoring for the moment the evidence showing that Pistorius is clearly at a disadvantage to naturally bipedal opponents). Because we're humans, with brains and judgment and stuff, and can understand the difference between adapting to a disability and self-mutilation.

There's a fair amount of work to be done, to study the biomechanics of an amputee runner and develop standards for prosthetics in competition, but it looks like I.A.A.F. is unwilling to explore the matter seriously (which is odd, considering the power of such a feel-good story to bring up sagging Olympic ratings). Here's hoping Oscar Pistorius makes it to Beijing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Alberto Gonzales keeps sinking lower and lower in my estimation. When people tell damning stories about you that cast John Ashcroft in an almost heroic light, relatively, that does not say much for your character.
Jerry Falwell, dead at 73. In an effort to continue the brilliant legacy of this kind-hearted man, I am going to follow his example, and blame the Queers for this tragic news.

As I am wont to do when such news breaks, I will again quote Randy Newman (speaking about the death of Lestor Maddox): It just goes to show, only the good die young.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Pipettes are coming to San Diego June 10th. $10 at the Casbah. What a bargain. And Robbie Fulks is coming to L.A.. Last time, I heard he was in California after the fact, so I'm excited to be able to see him this time.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Congress acts decisively against the Mooninite threat with the Terrorist Hoax Improvements Act of 2007. Thank you, Congress, for acting to improve our terrorist hoaxes.
UCSD investigates cancer cluster in Literature building. Ditching class just may have saved my life. Actually, I've had exactly one class in that building in my many, many years at the university, and frankly, eight cancer cases in 16 years, while certainly unfortunate, doesn't really strike me as cause for panic. Glad they're looking into the situation, though.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I'm a hoarder. For most of my life, it was books. I am quite certain, when I one day shuffle off this mortal coil, the majority of books in my library will be unread, at least by me. But this is hardly uncommon. And quite affordable; a good chunk of my library was purchased used, and with the exception of a few handsome volumes, none were very expensive.

My attention shifted, a bit, with the advent of DVD. I suppose I could be considered an early adopter of DVD, if you consider anyone who owned a DVD player pre-PS2 to be an early adopter. But the idea of special features and audio commentaries intrigued me, and I took the plunge on what was still a fairly pricey player. But the sticker shock was softened by the fact that the internet boom was in full swing, and internet merchants were more then willing to drastically cut prices on DVDs to try to move some players. I remember ordering lots of DVDs from (now owned by Circuit City, apparently) at well under $10 each, free shipping, and often getting microwave popcorn or Red Vines thrown into the package as a nice bonus. So, forming a video library wasn't too expensive, either. In fact, I used to argue to myself that it was cheaper than renting, because I could keep it as long as I wanted, watch it, and sell it on to recoup a reasonable part of my investment.

But I never did sell them. And I probably only watched three or four movies a month, along with a few TV shows on DVD. And as my interests tended to run towards TV show boxed sets and Criterion Collection releases of classic foreign films, this became a rather expensive hoarding. So I gradually put the breaks on my DVD spending. And I suppose, all this time, I was also assembling what seemed, for the most part, a ridiculous CD library, as well. But like books, this is hardly uncommon, nor terribly expensive. And while most of these CDs were rarely listened to for most of my life, the advent of the iPod and iTunes means that the vast majority of this library (I have yet to finish digitizing all my CDs) is available anytime, anywhere, and as a result, this lifetime's accumulation of music is actually being used to something close to its full potential.

Like I said, I consider myself a hoarder. I'm not a collector, really, because I have no object in what I purchase; I'm not trying to get rare books or CDs or DVDs, necessarily. And since I never actually use a large percentage of what I obtain, I can't really say I'm an enthusiast. I think my purchases relate to my gambling; if I ever stop to think I might be wasting money, I just remind myself how much I lost on one hand of blackjack on a recent occasion, and then I feel ridiculous for ever questioning the expenditure.

Anyway, I tell you this to explain my most recent purchase. Ever since I slowed down my DVD purchases extensively, I've found myself purchasing quite a few electronic devices. I'm on my third iPod, I've purchased several upgrades for my computer (which I have been forced to admit were, due to the fundamental limitations of my antiquated system, pretty much useless), a Wii and Nintendo DS Lite, an HDTV, a PDR (which now sits mostly unused as I'm also renting one from the cable company), an upscaling DVD player to complement the new HDTV, among others. Now, for the most part, I'm getting quite a bit of use out of these products. But I really had to question my desire to supplement the Nintendo products, and my old PS2 (I'm currently on my second) and my now obsolete Gamecube, with an Xbox 360. Yet in what can only be described as a bizarre compulsion, compounded by the siren-call of Viva Pinata and Settlers of Catan, I purchased an Xbox 360 on Thursday.

If this weekend is any indication, the Xbox 360 will not be one of these products that simply contributes to the quantity of stuff I own, but will be something I actually use. The games look fantastic (especially Viva Pinata), and I've had a lot of fun growing my garden in that game. But the main reason I wanted an Xbox was to access the Xbox Live Arcade, and play some of the games there. This week's release of Settlers of Catan was one of the reasons I finally took the plunge and got the system, but so far, I've just stuck with the games that came with Xbox Arcade Unplugged, a collection of a few of the more popular games for the service. Geometry Wars is okay, as are most of the other games I've tried. I've played a fair amount of Backgammon, though I've had trouble finding opponents online (I thought it might not be a popular game, but I think it may be the result of technical difficulties). But, degenerate gambler that I am, I've clocked the most hours playing Texas Hold 'em. It's actually pretty well-implemented, for a fake-money poker game. Playing in tournament mode, you only have a limited amount of money to pay the entry fees. In many games, if you run out of money, they just refresh your bankroll. In this game, if you lose your money, you have to grind out a new bankroll playing free tournaments for limited prize money. As a result, people seem to play a bit more reasonably than they do in other free poker games. And while I worried the voice support would mean dealing with a lot of assholes, for the most part its just friendly banter, and there's always the option to mute an annoying player.

Of course, all that sidesteps the larger issue, which is, did I just lay down a significant amount of money to play poker and backgammon on my TV? And the answer, really, is yes. I've enjoyed Viva Pinata and look forward to playing Crackdown and Dead Rising and Oblivion and other games that fully utilize the impressive hardware I just purchased. But I think, at heart, I lean more towards what the market classifies a "casual gamer." So I'm comfortable playing Bejewelled on my HDTV, even if it a bit like driving a porshe to the market. And I think, in the long run, I'll spend some quality time with some of the more intensive games for the system (though my aversion to first-person shooters rules out some of its most popular games).

I'll discuss Viva Pinata later, along with my feelings on any other games I might want to mention. For now, I've rambled on long enough. Just wanted to let you know I'm now a member of the Wii60 demographic. And I think I'll try to curb my electronic purchases a bit. Though now that I have an Xbox 360, I could really use a new computer with Vista's Media Center capabilities. And my car seems rather empty without GPS capabilities. And a new car stereo could really maximize the potential of my iPod. UPDATE: I forgot to mention one thing: I've used the Xbox 360 for about three days, and it has frozen up on me twice. My Wii has never frozen. My Nintendo DS has never frozen. My PS2 has frozen maybe two times. My original Nintendo Entertainment System used to freeze, very rarely, late in its life cycle. And again, my Xbox 360 has frozen twice in my first weekend of ownership. You can really tell it's a Microsoft product.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Big Rock Candy Mountain is counting down the top 100 drinking songs. Here's hoping that the Meat Purveyor's "Thinking About Drinking" and Robbie Fulk's "Each Night I Try" get the placement they deserve. I was taken aback that "The King is Gone (And So Are You)" is languishing in 87th place.

Not sure what horse I'm backing for first place. Lots of good drinking songs out there. But no matter; to paraphrase the great man, when you participate in top 100 lists, it's not whether you win or lose, it's how drunk you get.