Monthly Archives: March 2007

Counting Crap

Came across this article from Charlie Gillingham of the band “Counting Crows. Unlike most musicians, Charlie has a background in the software business. Unfortunately, his commentary, while well-written, only tells half the story, and seems to be a diatribe aimed primarily at Microsoft and the Personal Computing Industry. Since his article did not allow comments, I have posted my rebuttal here…

People spend less on recorded music than they used to. The average person spends only $22.53 on CDs or records or iTunes out of every $10,000.00 they spend. Back in 1994 they spent $37.21. That’s a drop of almost forty percent. The difference comes to around eight billion dollars a year.

Ten years ago, the home entertainment system consisted of Cable TV, VCR and music. Since then, other options have appeared and Cable TV has gone up massively in price. Oh, and the average household income has not gone up by much. Bottom line, we’re spending a lot more, not less, on entertainment, but it’s spread more thinly. You’re competing against Pay-Per-View, DVD, DVR, Computer/Console/Handheld gaming, cellphones. Simply put, music is simply not as important as it once was (when is the last time you just sat and listened to music?).

There has been heavy consolidation and downsizing in the music business since the middle 90s. Historic labels like Def Jam and Motown have been shut down. A huge number of people were laid off as label after label disappeared. Retail record stores have been steadily closing their doors for the last ten years, culminating with the demise of Tower Records this last summer.

Hands up all those industries that have not been affected by downsizing and offshoring? Cry me a bleedin’ river…

In fact, the only place where no one is stealing music is from the iTunes Store. iTunes has excellent top-to-bottom DRM (digital rights management). You can’t steal music from it.

Who told you that? Repeat after me: “If someone wants to steal music badly enough, they will.” Paradoxically, DRM may actually be preventing people from using iTunes. I have personal experience of this; my wife has an iPod. It was given to her, and she loves it. And yet she uses it exclusively for playing MP3s – we have never purchased anything from iTunes, and have no plans to do so. Why? DRM. Your point again, Charlie?

Maybe we could talk Steve Jobs into giving away iPods for free so that we could sell more music, rather than Steve Jobs trying to talk us into giving music away for free so that he can sell more iPods.

For most people, virtual goods have little or no value. An iPod is tangible; music is ephemeral. And let us not forget that your friends in the music industry take between 85% and 95% (they won’t say how much) of iTunes sales, so Mr. Jobs may actually be losing money on the music – and you want him to give the hardware away as well?

There is a conflict of interest between computer/software industry and the recording industry. They want to make computers indispensable to everyone and music is part of that.

But a very small part. The personal Computer industry was getting along quite nicely before music came along; Playing music is very much a secondary function of computers. They can survive without the music industry quite nicely.

I don’t think it’s right to cast the music business as the bad guy here. It’s a little more like David and Goliath — the recording industry is worth a little over 12 billion, whereas the combined personal computing industries are probably worth trillions.

I disagree. On the one hand you talk about how computer hardware has fallen in price, but fail to point out that the music industry kicks screams and wails at any attempt to cut the price of music, in spite of offshoring, virtualizing and economies of scale. I contest that the Computer Industry really doesn’t need the music industry as much as the music industry needs them.

Microsoft wants to make money selling you Windows Media Player so you can listen to free music. I want to make money selling you August and Everything After. Consumers would rather keep their money and have everything for free. Are you starting to get it? It’s really all about the money. That’s it. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Absolute Rubbish. Most grown-ups are not interested in “free music”. And if they were, certain Russian sites selling cut-price music would not be able to survive. I do not mind paying for music, but as long as the Recording Industry insists on keeping the price high and wrapping it in DRM I simply will not buy.

I’ll say it again: it’s about the money. Everyone wants the money — the record business, the computer business and yes even you, the consumers. I don’t think the record executives are even the greediest people in the game, despite what most people think. We’re accustomed to thinking of them as vipers and confidence men, but I don’t think that’s really fair. The ones I have met are mostly just people who love music and want to be close to it.

Yeah, but who is suing tomorrow’s customers? Game, set and match.

Now Reading: More than Enough, by Dave Ramsey

Chocolate is good for your brain!

Good news –  Cocoa Flavanols, found in chocolate, causes increased blood flow to the brain…

…except “Flavanols are not only found in chocolate with a high cocoa content“, which rules out most of the American Variety, which is mostly sugar (yes, folks, there is a difference between Chocolate and Candy).

…and that “the level of cocoa flavanol used in the study is not available commercially“, which means that you cannot buy a chocolate strong enough to make a difference.

The headline giveth, the small print taketh away. Sigh.

Movie Review – Amazing Grace

It’s been a long time since I have written a movie review; but then, it is a long time since I have seen a movie. The last movie I watched in the theater was the Chronicles of Narnia. This means that, purely by coincidence, I did not watch a single movie at the theater in 2006.

If you asked someone to guess the subject of this film based solely upon the title, you would probably be informed that this is an account of the life and times of John Newton, the slave-trader who, following an epiphany, gave up the slave trade, wrote the timeless hymn “Amazing Grace”, and lived happily ever after. Or something like that.

This explanation would be entirely reasonable. And it would be almost entirely wrong. The movie is actually about the life and times of one William Wilberforce.

William who?

Wilberforce was the driving force behind the Abolitionist movement in England in the 18th and 19th centuries. His name is known to every English schoolboy – or at least, should be, if they still teach history back in the Old Country. On the other side of the pond, however, it sometimes seems that History begins with the Mayflower and ends at the National boundaries. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but not by much; most Americans these days seem to learn Geography through the unhappy expedient of war…

…but I digress. Returning to the movie, I found it highly enjoyable on several levels. First, it was a good story well told. It is amazing how many plotless movies manage to make it all the way to the big screen.

Secondly, the quality of the acting was superlative. Most of the actors were faces that I had not seen before. Yet without exception they all did a thoroughly excellent job.

The only qualm that I had was with the pacing – at times it seemed that we were jumping forward and backwards through time without much explanation. However, this must be balanced against the large amount of ground to cover in the two hours alloted to the movie.

I also thought that the horrors of the slavery aspect were not really explored as well as they might, but the end result was a story that could be told to all ages. I would have no problem taking a ten-year-old to see this movie, as served well by its PG rating.

So why the title? In the story, Wilberforce had a friendship with the aforementioned John Newton, and went to him several times for advice. This allowed the producers the luxury of sneaking in the classic hymn a few times – one rendition of which is particularly well done and moving. It also allowed the marketers to give the movie a name that was wholly undeserved and, to my mind, slightly disingenuous, as it had little to do with the film.

There were times, particularly during the first hour, that it seemed like a beautifully-shot documentary, but as it builds to its finale, a human story unfolds that will have you wanting to applaud at the end. You’ll know which scene I am talking about when you get there.

One of the reasons that I have stopped going to the theater was the dearth of good stories, well told. In light of this movie, I may have to re-think that sentiment.

To quote Larry the Cucumber, “I laughed, I cried, It moved me“. Highly Recommended.

Now Reading: The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Ron Paul for President!

Some years ago, my good friend the CodeWarrior told me about a chap named Ron Paul. A former Libertarian, He has been in and out of Congress since 1978. Ron got more votes than anyone in the 1988 Presidential Election… except George Bush and Michael Dukakis. He then ran for Congress as a Republican, won in 1999, and has held his seat ever since. In the 2004 election, the Democrats did not even bother fielding a candidate to run against him. Two years later he won with 60% of the vote.

What is so special about this guy?

Start by looking at his voting record. Whever a bill comes up for a vote, he looks in the Constitution to see if it is in keeping with that fundamental law. Given the fact that that most are not, and his medical background, he has become nicknamed “Doctor No”.

So what can we expect if he is elected?

He has just put together a committee to explore the possibility for a presidential run in 2008.

The Democrats offer more of the same – higher taxes, socialized healthcare (without answering the question: “Who pays for this?”), withdrawal from Iraq (a no-brainer, at this point). In spite of the promises that will be made, there is no real change here.

The Republicans have got nothing. Their reputations as “The War and imperialism party” (ill-deserved), and “the Corporations’ Friends” (somewhat less ill-deserved) have left them shattered and divided. Part of the reason is that the GOP have lost touch with their original vision of small government, low taxes, states’ rights and constitutional rule. In my opinion, only a return to their roots will capture the vision of the voters.

I have no illusions that his chances are slim, but I hope that he wins.