You know what really bugs me? DVD players who think they know
better than me. You know what I’m talking about. You put in a
movie, you sit down, you press PLAY. Do you get your movie?
No: you get long seconds, maybe minutes, of swirling menu
graphics and copyright warnings. When you try to skip through this,
up flashes up a little red circle with a cross through
it, or the words “Operation Not Permitted,” or something similar.
“Not permitted”? Who is my DVD player to tell me what’s permitted?
It’s my player, isn’t it? When I say “Skip,” it should say, “How far?”
I mean, I’m not trying to break the law here. If I was, I could
understand my DVD player having some moral qualms. But I
just want to watch my movie.
(It’s the copyright notices that really annoy me. First, there’s something
nuts about a legally purchased movie forcing you to sit
through stern copyright lectures every single time you watch it,
while a pirated version helpfully jumps straight to the action.
Some DVDs even display copyright warnings in about two dozen
different languages, giving you ample time to digest the,
say, Swahili version, before leisurely moving on to Romanian. But
even the full-motion copyright notices are bad. Australia has one
with a pumping soundtrack and some crazy MTV-inspired camerawork—you
know, so the kids will pay attention—while on-screen some naughty
teenagers download movies. It takes them about four and a half seconds.
I tell you what, if it took four seconds, I’d be
doing it all the time. Especially if someone played a cool
song while I did it.)
Apparently we are rushing toward a future in which control of
technology is not handed over to us when we buy it, but retained by
the companies that originally made it. Your DVD player, your computer, and your
high-definition television seem to be on your
side, but they’re really sleeper agents, with secret loyalties
to their corporate masters.
There’s something called High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection
(HDCP) sneaking in everywhere, and the plan is this:
at first, it does nothing. But once it’s in enough homes,
along come movies and television broadcasts that only play on
HDCP-enabled equipment. Because that old non-HDCP television set
can’t be trusted, you see—it might be doing what you want,
instead of what the industry wants.
There seems to be no point at which an anti-piracy measure is deemed
to cause more trouble to legitimate customers than it’s worth. For
example, Australian commercial TV almost always run late, often
by as much as ten or fifteen minutes, and the reason, according to
one of the networks, is:
start times would allow people to burn DVDs of our programs
like crazy and push them out over the internet.”
So millions of people are inconvenienced every day in order to make
it slightly harder for eight guys with beards to burn copies of
I don’t have a DVD player any more. At least, not a typical one. I
built a computer with MythTV
and a DVD drive and hooked it up to my television. When I tell this puppy to
skip, it skips. Loyalty. That’s the thing.
As of last Monday,
Jen is back at work two days a week. One of those days, my mother
looks after Fin. The other day, I do.
Of course, since I have the kind of job that permits me to loll around
the house unshaven and wearing nothing but boxer shorts (although
not now, it’s winter; I’m not crazy), I already get to
spend more time with my daughter than most Dads. (Heh. “Dad.” Still
cool.) But I have discovered that when it’s just me and Fin, it’s
different; special in a way that’s almost magical.
This is how it works: I get up at 6:30am, make myself a coffee,
and start work. I have about 90 minutes to pound out some words
before Fin wakes. (Which isn’t that long. So I am writing Sunday
mornings, too, to make up for it.) Then that’s it: the rest of the day is just the two of us.
So far we have caught the train into
the city to look at comic books, walked along the river, visited
a mall, and stopped off at an aquarium to inspect some fish.
But where we go isn’t the point; the amazing part is just
having this incredible little girl all to myself.
I know I am probably about the ten billionth
person in history to feel like this, but it really is beautiful. It
feels like an honor.
Well, you must have heard the big news. The story, essentially,
is this: three people, one a Coca-Cola employee,
tried to sell Pepsi some of Coke’s secret recipes.
Pepsi called the Feds, and, because spreading a
person’s secrets is bad manners but spreading a corporation’s secrets
is illegal, those three people are now probably going to prison.
I have a couple of thoughts about this.
First, if I was Pepsi, I’d be a little insulted. I mean, what’s
the implication: that the only reason my cola tastes like that is
because I don’t know how to make it more like Coke? The hell with
that! If you ask me, Coke should be trying to buy
my secret recipes! I’ll tell you something for free,
mister: we here at Pepsi already know how to make Coke. Coke, that’s what we
scrape off the bottom of our vats and give away to pig farmers
and the homeless.
Second, if I was Coke, I’d be insulted, too. These guys were
offering up Coke’s newest product, which hasn’t even been
released yet, and for that they wanted $75,000. I bet that’s less than you
can win if you look under the right bottle cap of that
product, when it comes out. And not only that, but Pepsi wasn’t
interested. That’s got to be deflating. Those Coke developers
probably spent months, maybe years, creeping around and looking
over their shoulders for Pepsi spies. Then the recipe gets out,
Pepsi takes a look, and says, “Nah, we’re good, thanks.” How
is Coke meant to market that now? It could come up with the most
brilliant campaign in advertising history, and
all Pepsi needs to do is say, “Yeah, we got offered
that. Didn’t want it.”
The only good for either company is that it encourages
people to believe that colas are the result of secret, mystical
recipes, and not cough syrup plus sugar. (I mean, come on. What’s
all that advertising for? Because you’ve never heard of Coke or
Pepsi? I get very suspicious about products that need
to teach people why they like them. And food is the worst;
we already know that what we think of as “taste”
only bears a tenuous relationship to the chemical composition
of what we put in our mouths. Taste is mostly marketing. All you
need to do to prove that is try to feed a three-year-old.)
I recently discovered
Pandora, a web
site that acts like a radio station, only you’re calling in
all the time and saying whether you like or hate what they’re playing,
and the sweaty, desperate-to-please DJs rush to change
their playlist to keep you satisfied. I think you’ll agree
that the world would be a better place if more of it operated
on this kind of basis.
I’ve started using this while I’m writing: I fire up my web
browser, point it at Pandora, and let the tunes roll.
only is it very good at serving up my kind of music,
but it also tells me what
kind of music that is: apparently I am big on synth bass
riffs, a highly synthetic sonority, repetitive song structure,
a tight kick sound, and prevalent use of groove. I don’t
even know that that means. But I like it.
Once you’ve trained up those sweaty virtual DJs, you can share
their work with other people. And that’s why I mention
it here: if you want to hear what I’m listening to while
writing, tune in here:
(If you’re reading this via e-mail and see nothing to click,
you probably need to
go via my site: start with