the Dusty Trail

this and that from here and there

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Solution in Search of a Problem

If you don't work for Sony, you might be surprised to learn that people aren't interested in buying overpriced movie discs that can only be played on a single device which actually have less content and lower quality video than their DVD counterparts. I guess that only Sony thought that they could convince people to do this.

I have to offer some Full Disclosure type information before I continue. I am a mostly satisfied owner of a Sony PSP, who was finally convinced to buy one after seeing one playing one of my favorite movies, Spiderman 2. I think that my exact quote was "kewl!." That being said, I don't exactly see the appeal of buying UMD movies which were relatively expensive, and seemed to be released almost as an afterthought. When more and more studios started to expand into UMD releases, I seriously wondered if I was missing something. After seeing several articles about this today, though, I have come to the conclusion that UMD movies are a solution in search of a problem.

I think that the concept of UMDs in general is a great hybrid of CD and cartridge based video game technologies. You get the storage benefits of a CD, but the stability, durability, and ease of use that cartridges provide. However, with the prices of portable DVD players coming down to sub $100, I can't justify the extra money to buy both a DVD and a UMD of a given movie, even if it is a favorite of mine, such as Spider-Man, Mystery Men, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Those movies benefit from being able to watch them with friends together around a TV, instead of jostling around on a PSP screen. The PSP experience with a movie turns it into a potentially solitary one, which is not what movies are about.

Now that real games are starting to come out for the PSP, such as Maverick Hunter X, Exit, and the great and mighty Lumines, I think that sales for UMD movies will continue to decline. It was a solution to a problem that only existed in Sony's minds.

UMDs not selling all that well

Illegal iPods?

One of my best purchases ever was back in 2004, when I finally got myself an iPod. It completely changed the way that I related to my music collection, and re-acquainted me with some good stuff that I had acquired, but fell off my radar. It also inspired me to get back in touch with albums that I had let go before, such as Soul Asylum, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and Matthew Sweet.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that I was violating copyright law when I ripped the audio off of the discs that I had gone to a lot of trouble over the years to acquire, and in some cases re-acquire.

Of course, it's simply a money grab by Big Music to encourage people to get roped into the legal music services, such as iTunes, Napster, or even Rhapsody. This isn't to say that these services don't have their place. But I fail to see why I should have to buy crippled copies of songs that I like just to have them on my iPod, when I make a copy of them with my PC, which is a time honored tradition (at least since 1992, when the Home Recording Act was passed, which gives Big Music a cut of all blank media sales, specifically to subsidize losses due to piracy. It also allows customers to make copies of music for personal, non-infringing uses, which copying to an iPod certainly is).

This is not even the most offensive part of the linked article. The Big Music exec quoted shows just how out of touch he is with regular folks, by stating that its not that expensive to re-acquire legal online versions of songs and albums that people like. This may be true, but only if you own 1 or 2 albums. Many of Big Music's best customers own hundreds (some even thousands) of CDs, and even albums before that. These are the people who will scoff at this kind of thing. It's no big deal to re-acquire one or two albums at $10 a piece. Try 500 CDs, and I think I've made my point. Not everyone has that kind of money laying around, and most people have better ideas of what could be done with that money.

iPod uploading NOT Fair Use?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

It seems that HE would know...

It's something about the defeatist tone of this article that really bothers me. It seems that the CEO of ExxonMobil doesn't think America will ever kick it's addiction to foreign oil. I suppose that the fact that he is CEO of ExxonMobil means that he would know this better than anyone else. Doncha think?

Considering the source, I think that most people will take this with a grain of salt, as well they should. America's history is certainly one of innovation, spunk, and creativity that bodes well for meeting this challenge. Of course, it will be a monumental challenge, like none that America has faced in its recent history. Are we up to it? I think that as the world situation develops, both in terms of the amount of oil in the world, and where its coming from, we may not have a choice.

It will probably be painful, it will be probably be inconvenient, but at some point, we will have all have to say "Our name is America, and we are an oiloholic." At that point, the candle be lit, and we can stop cursing the darkness because our head is in the sand.

MSNBC: America will always need foreign oil

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rewarding X and Wanting Y

Quite a lot has been made about a wierd confluence of events in the video game industry, much of it exemplified by the complete and utter failure of a fun little game called Psychonauts. Eventually, this has been blamed for the near collapse (at least as of this writing) of publisher Majesco, who brought this game into the market. Unfortunatley, only about two people bought it (I was one of them).

I was excited when I discovered that Psychonauts was going to ported over to the Playstation2. I was intrigued by the story, partly because I've always been fascinated by psychology, and Psychonauts was going to represent a journey into the minds of some unique characters.

What Psychonauts turned out to be was an average platforming game with an above average story, with a very unique sense of humor. Clearly, this was not a game for your average, casual video game enthusiast. Instead, it was intended for someone like me; someone who boldly looks for new experiences, and isn't afraid of going off the beaten trail.

However, it is not my intention to review this game in this space. For now, I'll leave this to Gamespot. Instead, my purpose here is to point out these events, offer perspective and say that I wish things could have gone differently.

Personally, I think Majesco banked too heavily on a game that was clearly not going to appeal to those whose video game experiences are limited to Madden Football, Halo, or your generic WWII First Person shooter of the month. Video game journalists and those who have been playing these games for a long time will tell you that they wish game companies would release more innovative products (that they want Y). However, these people do not make up the majority of the market for video games. The vast majority are those who game infrequently or are satisfied with Halo (who reward X, to put it another way).

I believe in my heart that if you asked most video game developers (and even some publishers), they would love the opportunity to do more innovation, to take video games into bold new directions. However, the realities of the business world being what they are, game companies must continue to publish sure hits with minimal cost and risk to stay afloat, which limits the amount of innovation that can be done. Will this paradox ever work itself it out? I think that there's always hope. Remember that at one time, even games like Madden football and Halo were unproven innovations as well. They just happened to have the right amount of familiarity and sameness to counteract the new things that they did so that the casual gamers could grasp them, and eventually grow to love them.

See the following articles from

The folly of rewarding A while wishing for B.

More on Majesco's Fall from Grace

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A Year of New Possibilities

Reading about a book called the Year of Yes on MSNBC the other day sort of hit me on a gut level. You see, I'm actively trying to bring more "adventure" into my life, and this seemed like an interesting adventure.

While I won't rehash the entire article here, its about a gal who lives in New York City who was fed up with the state of her dating life, so she decides to spend a year accepting (nearly) every date who asked her out. This was to counteract her own pickiness, which was leading to her unhappiness. I won't spoil the outcome here, but you can find out from the Newsweek link.

This jumped out at me, once again, because of the sense of adventure that it represented. It's something that I feel is going downhill in this country. To many are more concerned about defending their own little garden, sometimes to the overall detriment of that garden. In my own case, I pictured myself feeling like I had missed out on something. Since I'm at an age where I can do something about that, I decided that I should. I won't change the world, but at least I'll have some stories to tell.

The Year of Yes on Newsweek/MSNBC

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rootgate Continues

If you're into digital music as I am, you watched with the Sony Rootkit (hiply referred to as Rootgate) fiasco with a sick sense of curiosity. I know I certainly did.

In case you haven't kept up with with saga, I'll summarize: For years now, the recorded music industry has been under seige from an aging business model, a falloff in radio listenership caused by bland music and stations that are more commercials than music, boy band after insipid boy-band, an increasing reluctance to take risks, changing consumer tastes towards DVD movies and videogames, and (during 2000 - 2003) a shaky national economy. To correct all of these problems, the recording industry decided to attack all of these problems at their source. Those pesky people who share music over the Internet. If only they can be stopped, all of these other problems will take care of themselves.

Enter a little software package called XCP, which Sony began to include on some CD releases from some of their most popular artists. At first, XCP appeared to fit the bill quite nicely. I know from my own personal experience that it prevented any music protected with it from being copied onto my PC. Of course, that is because I refuse to buy any CD that is copy protected, as that usually means that I won't be able to copy it onto my iPod. But that's Splitting Hairs.

For others who actually did buy the protected CDs, and allowed the rootkit to be installed, it opened a whole host of potential computer problems, mostly surrounding the possibility of receiving virus infections that utilized XCP's ability to hide itself, and be darn near impossible to remove. Even the United States Department of Homeland Security slapped Sony for that little move.

Skipping all of the boring class-action lawsuit nonsense that soon arose, which was soon settled, Sony indicated that all protected CDs would be replaced with non-protected ones. It was unclear if those unprotected CDs would eventually hit stores, or just be sent to those who had bought the album in its prior form. (In effect, making all of the protected albums "lost" albums).

Of course, I doubted my own stance and harsh refusal to buy any CD protected album, especially when the new Switchfoot album was one of the protected albums. However, I feel rewarded for the faith, as unprotected albums have begun to hit the market. I will continue to boycott protected albums, but now that unprotected albums are out, I want to reward Sony for doing the right thing (although they did have to dragged kicking and screaming into doing it).

I feel that a general boycott against Sony is a simplistic response to this that is doomed to send the wrong message. I witnessed many web sites and web forums that called for such a thing. The error is that Sony, like any other business entity, is driven by the botttom line. A general boycott is likely to send the wrong message, that is "All of your products are crap." A better message is instead "I don't like what you are doing with these copy-protected CDs, but I won't have any hesitation about buying an unprotected CD with your name on it." When the sales numbers are reviewed for those particular titles, someone's got to be astute enough to note what was behavior was rewarded and what behavior wasn't.

Is my own thinking naive? Possibly. I choose to view it instead as an expression of my power as a consumer who thinks for himself. As big a fan of Switchfoot or Our Lady Peace that I might be, noone's holding a gun to my head forcing me to buy their new albums, which have new onerous conditions that their previous albums did not. As a consumer, it is still my right to choose or not choose to buy these albums.

Rootgate Isn't over Yet...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Got Futurama?

It seems Futurama might end up coming back, just like Family Guy. It's a wonder how a little consistent scheduling and faith in your audience will pay you back.

Of course, all networks are guilty of this, but Fox seems to be especially guilty of pulling the trigger on the wrong shows at the wrong time. I'm amazed that with both how often it was moved in the schedule, or just plain pre-empted that it was able to find any audience at all. Of course, those who did often became dedicated fans, and made an attempt to follow it, but even our best efforts sometimes fell short.

When Family Guy finally came back to the air, it led off with a joke about all the "quality shows" that Fox just had to get on the schedule ahead of Family Guy. Of course, the joke was that all of the shows named had also been cancelled, some of them unfairly (e.g. the Tick, Greg the Bunny, and Wonderfalls) as well. I especially remember the reviews of Wonderfalls when it first came on the air. Many said "Watch it now, because Fox has a habit of canceling good shows like this."

Of course, I mention this to give Fox a lot of credit for recognizing their mistake, and having the courage to admit they were wrong. Perhaps UPN could go this route as well, and bring back Jake 2.0. Wishful thinking, maybe, but thanks to Family Guy and possibly Futurama, the precedent is forming.

Back to the Futurama?

Thursday, October 21, 2004

A Glimpse of our Present - Katamari Damacy

You might not have heard of this freaky little game for your Playstation 2. If you have, and you're wondering if its for you, I can't answer that for you; that is not a role that I designed this little social commentary blog for. Instead, I want to highlight a bit of social commentary that seems to be happening in this game. The plot here is as bizarre as can be; the king of the cosmos gets drunk one night, and destroys all of the stars in the sky. After getting a little bit of the hair of the dog what bit him, he charges his son, the prince, the duty of re-creating the stars.

The method of re-creating the stars is where the social commentary arises. The prince is given a special ball called a katamari that has the ability to cause stuff it rolls over to stick to it. As more and more stuff sticks to the katamari, bigger items can be grabbed, until it is finally the appropriate size to transform into a star. It takes a lot of individual items to get the katamari to the proper size. Where in the Universe can enough stuff be found to re-populate the entire sky?

If you've guessed our humble little planet, Earth, you've obviously been following along. It's no secret that we live in a "disposable" society, that generates a lot of trash. We also have gathered a lot of stuff that we don't throw it out. Items such as paper clips, strawberries, cans of sardines, chairs, game systems, cars, safety buoys, and earth moving cranes all become raw material for new stars.

I know that I myself am certainly guilty of having pack rat tendancies. However, I'm not sure what kind of statement Katamari Damacy is trying to make. Is it condemning our consumer society, or simply acknowledging it as a fact or life in our society? Some condemn our society for being wasteful. Some say it is a natural result of the rising affluence around the world. What does it all mean?

I don't pretend to have the answers. Sometimes, its just enough to put the questions out there for the smart people (i.e. those who ponder the direction of society all day) to answer.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Mending a Fractured World

I don't think that there's anyone who will dispute that these are dangerous times that we live in. Some choose to respond by waving a big stick around, knocking down anyone silly enough to get in range; some respond by sticking their head in the sand, and asking those around to let them know "when the scary part is over."

Others respond by trying to get out in the world, mixing with peoples of other places, trying to show the human side of America; that no matter how they feel about what happens in Washington, most Americans are decent people who aren't all that much different from them.

It is my belief that focusing on our similarities is a key to getting along in the world. Sure people are different, but I believe that everyone wants basically the same things: 1) Safety, 2) Food, 3) a sense of Belonging, and 4) something fun to do on Saturday night. If we get hung up on our differences, that when disagreements happens. By focusing on our similarities, friendships arise. - Travel can help mend a fractured world