Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Piracy and TV programming

It's a sad day today. The world's largest BitTorrent hub, The Pirate Bay has been closed down by the Swedish police. The high-profile site flagrantly thumbed it's nose at the MPAA and other legal threats, hiding behind lax national laws of the country in which the servers were hosted. Cries of victory are emerging from the hulking media conglomerates and cries of anger arise from the tech-savvy younger generation of users that populated the site.

The question arises again: is hosting torrents illegal? The actual bits and bytes of the shared (and predominantly illegal) content isn't actually on the servers that were confiscated. I point my readers at the following pair of articles on piracy and the effect is is having on the television networks:

Part 1 (How Battlestar Galactica Killed Broadcast TV)
Part 2 (The New Laws of Television)

The articles pose some revolutionary solutions to the "problem" of the large number of television shows floating in the digital mire of the BitTorrent networks. Ideas have formed in my mind, and lacking the large amount of financial backing or political influence to put my ideas into action, I instead post them to the same digital mire of cyberspace in hopes that these ideas may find their ways to someone with the influence and cash to make it reality.

Think for a minute, what companies have the biggest pipes to and from the internet? The ISPs. I'm a Cox broadband subscriber. Now imagine them in the distribution picture. If I woke up tomorrow morning and Cox offered me a service for an additional $10 a month to download unlimited television programming from them, I would jump on it without hesitation. No DRM, commercial-free, and no restrictions on quantity (other than the size of my hard drive). The only catch is that you would have to use their front end which delivers banner ads from the sponsors of the show you want to download, the relevant product placement is where the ISPs could make their money for distribution costs. You use the ISP's massive bandwidth to download via BitTorrent-style transfers and watch on your PC, XBox, or burn them to DVD. Add in a five-second splash screen at the beginning of the program ("This program is sponsored by Nike."), that way it is non-intrusive to the program and is quick enough that you don't need to fast-forward through it, but you'll still see the product ad. The producers of the show get their money from the "Sponsored By" splash, the ISPs cover their costs by front-end ads and the $10 unlimited access fee, and the consumers get their programming.


Will your next issue of Rolling Stone come with last week's episode of American Idol on a disc like this?

My second (and probably less-likely-to-succeed idea) is magazines distributed through digital media. Everything is moving towards electronic format--even the big newspapers (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and our local Arizona Republic) are online in some form of digital format. Video game magazines have boosted sales by including discs of game demos bundled in the magazines, but theft at the stores means you find yourself with a discless magazine. Enter the future, place the entire content of the magazine on the disc as a hyperlinked PDF readable on your PC and include programming content playable on your DVD player. Imagine going to the store and buying the new "issue" of a magazine dedicated to the TV series Lost. You pop the disc in your home theater and watch the three latest episodes. When you're done, move the disc to your PC and read the newest rumors, news, and interviews of the series in the magazine content. The ads can be in the PDF just like the pages of a normal magazine, so no advertising revenue would be lost. Add in the fact that you can do some wicked dynamic content with interactive media and this could be the next revolution in distributed media. Even trimming down the disc to one episode alongside the textual content can cut down the retail price and even allow packaging in the mini-DVD format for ultra-portability!

Regardless of what the future methods of programming holds, like the articles above said, the current methods are quickly being obsolesced and a new method needs to be organized. We are still at risk of falling into the greedy clutches of the industry, much like the iTunes downloads are restricted. Ultimately, the consumer holds the power of choice with our wallets, so hopefully digital programming distribution will avoid the same pitfalls. Let the revolution begin!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Ozzy kicked my ass!

I finally broke down and bought myself a copy of Guitar Hero for the PS2 a few weeks back and I have not regretted it one bit. By far, this is one of the most addicting and fun games I have ever played and I would recommend it to anyone else like me with a love for rock music.

The game includes a guitar controller that is slightly smaller-scale than the real Gibson guitar it was modeled after, but it works fantastically from the simple strumming to blistering solos (but it could have used a longer strap for tall, skinny people like me). My only problem is Bark at the Moon by Ozzy, even on normal difficulty level, kicks my ass. There are plenty of famous tracks to try and it's just an amazing feeling to be "playing" some of the classics that I grew up with like Cowboys from Hell (Pantera), Smoke on the Water (Deep Purple), Iron Man (Black Sabbath), Unsung (Helmet), and Spanish Castle Magic (Hendrix). It's also given me a much better appreciation of some artists like Queens of the Stone Age--their track No One Knows seriously kicks my ass on Hard and Expert modes--and even Stevie Ray Vaughn. Yes, anyone who knows my musical taste knows that I'm no fan of Stevie Ray, but this may change my mind because of his amazing technical ability.

All in all, it was well worth every penny as I blissfully whip it out for an hour or two every few days and rock out (after putting my little girl to bed, of course). Thankfully, a sequel has been announced and will be out around the holiday shopping season. If they can make a million different DDR and Karaoke Revolution titles, here's hoping they make a million different Guitar Hero titles too!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Little known fact

Zebra Cakes, one of my favorite treats by Little Debbie, are considered gourmet food by  I didn't even know you could buy them on Amazon!  Screw the fat lady's review on the product page, I think they're yummy.  Mmm, zebra cakes....

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lost - Season 2 Episode 24 ("Live Together, Die Alone" part 2)

And so ends season 2.  It comes as no surprise that more questions were raised than were answered.

  • So this means that Desmond's love knows about the experiments and has had people monitoring for signs of it so she can find him?  Is she working in secret?  Her and her father are obviously linked to the Widmore Industries that is somehow connected to the experiments and/or Dharma.
  • What really happened after the key was turned?  Was it really a massive EMP discharge (like a bomb)?  Maybe even the launch of the "hatch" into the the air or space?  Surely if the hatch can survive some dynamite exploding, it can survive an EMP blast.
  • Since we've see her in contact with both Hurley and Desmond before crashing on the island, is it safe to assume Libby is in on the experiments too?  Seems too coincidental to me, but the actress is apparently signed up for other series this fall so I'm curious how active a role she will have in flashbacks next season to reveal the mystery.
  • Am I the only one thinking that Charlie is acting strangely in the last scene, possibly affected by "the sickness" or maybe the explosions?  Is "the sickness" itself really a ruse?  Danielle claims to have killed her entire crew because of it.  Speaking of which, where has she been lately and what is her connection to things?
  • What awaits Michael and Walt at precisely 325 degrees on the compass?  If The Others know how to get off the island, why haven't they done so already?  Could they have been responsible for bringing Desmond to the island after he blacked out?
  • Was The Pearl just a reverse-psychology experiment by Dharma, or is there more of the story we have yet to learn?  If John, Eko, and Desmond are still alive, will they find out about the pile of notes and read through them to find out more about the history of the island, and more importantly is there anything important buried (pardon the pun) in the notes?
  • The fake "Henry Gale" turns out to be the leader of The Others that is to be feared, the same one that he was referring to during his capture.  What makes The Others think that they are the good guys, and who then are the bad guys?

Eek, I think my head is going to explode.  It's going to be a long summer, and I'm sure I'll be watching both seasons over again at least once to pick up clues.  What a trip.

Lost - Season 2 Episode 23 ("Live Together, Die Alone" part 1)

One word: intense.

Onto the second half now....

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Word 2007 in action

This is a test of Word 2007’s ability to publish blogs. The new Office suite boasts lots of usability improvements and out-of-the-box blogging is one of them. Support for MSN Spaces, Blogger, SharePoint servers (this comes with Office), and Community Server show up in the list of built-in providers. Limited support is available for LiveJournal, TypePad, WordPress, and probably others as well. I’d be interested in seeing the nuts and bolts of this feature to see if a plugin could be written to allow other features like MySpace posting, Technorati’s tagging and autopinging, and use of custom style sheet definitions like I use on my Blogger page. The most important thing of all is the point of this post… to see if it works and how well it does. Here goes nothing!

Update: It looks like it worked. Manual editing to add in my CSS classes after publishing was needed, but otherwise it seems to work fine. I can even open up previous posts to edit them! w00t!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Beta 2!

The day has finally come when the public gets a chance to test out the new Office 2007 suite!  Bill Gates gave a 15-minute speech this morning at the WinHEC conference and, among other things, officially unveiled the bits and bytes of the new suite to the general public.  Having been part of the private beta test since last November, I can say that I've been successfully brainwashed and can wholeheartedly recommend the new productivity suite.  The redesigned and streamlined interface has felt more open and less cluttered with each new build and I'm proud to stand behind Microsoft's new product.  Check the preliminary system requirements and then go download a copy today!  The software, when activated for free over the internet, will be fully functional until February 1st, 2007.  Give the new interface a while to sink in, the change is drastic but well worth it.  I like it so much that I'm not going back to older versions of Office if I can help it.  w00t!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How to make a 'Dan'

How to make a Dan
3 parts intelligence
1 part self-sufficiency
1 part ego
Combine in a tall glass half filled with crushed ice. Add a little cocktail umbrella and a dash of curiosity

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Three weeks later

It's now been three weeks since we had to say goodbye forever to Feydra in the hospital. It's been rough. Every night I lay down to sleep I see her face and my brain can't help but run through the scenarios over and over trying to figure out what could have been done differently to save her. When I wake in the morning, she is the first thing that comes to mind and I have to try and put it aside and remember that I no longer need to go in the nursery to get two little girls out of bed for breakfast, but rather only one now. One car seat is in the back of the car, one stroller sits ready by the door, one set of spare clothes gets packed in the diaper bag, one little hand needs holding when crossing the street, one children's plate gets prepared for dinner... but two little girls still remain in my heart. I still come across her clothes and toys frequently at home, unsure of what to do with them now. I still keep a picture of her at my desk at work, on my profile at MySpace, and around the apartment as well. It's difficult to lose a loved one, even moreso when it's one born of your own flesh and blood that you are solely responsible for. It's been difficult because I know that I need to get back to living a normal life, but I can't--and I don't--want to forget her and that's preventing me from going back to a completely normal life. It's all about the baby steps, taking things one little step at a time, living life one minute to the next, adjusting and finally coming to terms with what has happened, and moving on without leaving her memory behind. Let this strengthen me and make me a better person and a better father, for nothing happens in life by sheer coincidence. I will never forget her, she will forever be my guide in love for my family and my strength in life against insurmountable odds.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sony Pre-E3 press conference


Eek, if I expect to get my gaming fix this winter, I'm going to be one broke-ass mofo. Sony held their big pre-E3 press conference tonight and unveiled more juicy info on their forthcoming powerhouse console, the Playstation 3. The controller shown at last year's show is now gone in favor of the familiar dual-shock style, only now it lacks the rumble feature but gains gyroscopic sensitivity. Huh? It's like the new Nintendo Wii controller, it responds to being tilted. Also new is a PS logo button on the front center and bigger analog shoulder buttons. Black is apparently in style again and last year's silver case is gone for the unit itself. Pricing on the system has been finalized: $499 for the base system with a 20GB hard drive, or about $599 for the system with a 60GB hard drive (apparently retailers can set their own pricing on this enhanced version, so expect lots of gouging). This beast hits American shores just in time for the all-important holiday shopping season on November 17th.

Also showcased were very visually-impressive games, including Tekken 6, Gran Turismo HD (in full 1080p glory!), Metal Gear Solid 4 (supposedly the end of the series), and of course the pair of Final Fantasy XIII titles. All of the games showcased looked spectacular, but only time will tell how well they actually play. An interesting thing to note from the Square Enix camp was how happy the developers were with the PS3 while they were working on last year's tech demo. It sounds like it may actually be easier to work with than was previously expected. All in all, it looks like Sony's new system is packing some serious heat, so watch out Microsoft and Nintendo!

Update: I had a chance to watch a recorded copy of the press conference and clear up a few details. The US pricing of the PS3 will be a firm $599 for the 60GB unit, and both units will be available in silver or black with one standard motion-sensitive wireless controller.

Square Enix @ E3!

Final Fantasy XIII

Sweet juju-beans!! If there's one video game software house that can make me go broke, it's Square Enix. Lots and lots of quality stuff was announced at their pre-E3 conference on Monday. Gobs of portable games were announced, mostly on Nintendo platforms... Dawn of Mana... Final Fantasy 3, 5, and 6... FF7: Dirge of Cerberus... FF7: Crisis Core... Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates. There was the mandatory English trailer for Final Fantasy 12 coming out in October here in the States (sweet, I can't wait!!). A sequel to Valkyrie Profile (an old PS1 game that me and about a dozen other people on the internet liked) was announced. There were a few other games announced that were immediately forgotten when I read about the shockingly big 20-minute closing presentation... not one, not two, but THREE versions of Final Fantasy 13! One portable version, Final Fantasy Agito 13, and two PS3 versions, Final Fantasy 13 directed by Motomu Toriyama (he worked on Final Fantasy X2 and Bahamut Lagoon) and Final Fantasy Versus 13 directed by Tetsuya Nomura (mastermind of the Kingdom Hearts games and the FF7: Advent Children movie). *shaking my fist at Square Enix* Dammit, too much good stuff!! =)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Lost - Season 2 Episode 20 ("Two for the Road")

HOLY $#!*. I just watched last night's episode of Lost and I'm left speechless.  If you haven't seen it yet and still plan on watching it, please be warned of spoiler material in this blog entry.


I felt let down at the beginning of the season because the story felt rather lost and meandering compared to the tense romp through last season, but the last few episodes have definitely redeemed the series for me.  I can feel something intensely huge building up for the season finale later this month and tonight's episode will probably be the catalyst for it all.  The shocking twist of Ana Lucia's death ("cause that's what they do"), the two bullet wounds in Libby (I don't think she's really dead--see that blanket obscuring the truth?), and the self-induced shot in the arm of Michael will set the survivors of Oceanic 815 ablaze with vengeance.  "Henry Gale" will be blamed and hunted.  Michael is being blackmailed, has joined with "The Others," or possibly is being affected by the sickness that Danielle and Desmond were talking about.  Mike will lead the survivors to the location he claims to have seen, but what will they really find?  Only three more episodes left... some questions will bring answers, but it's a guarantee that even more questions will be raised before this season is over.

Monday, May 01, 2006



Eek, in all the commotion today trying to get things back on track in real life, I nearly forgot about the Beltane sabbat. The obligatory educational link to more info on this pagan holiday is here. Since the day is pretty much done and I'm here at work right now, it looks like no maypoles, bonfires, or courting rituals for me this year. Considering all that's been going on lately, I doubt I'd have much energy left for it anyway. Regardless of whether or not you celebrated, I wish a blessed Beltane to everyone!

Tool - 10,000 Days

Ever since the release of Lateralus in 2001, the rabid fans of Tool have been anxiously awaiting for their next fix. Musical maestro Maynard James Keenan has, among other things, managed to release more material through his other projects A Perfect Circle and Puscifier but Tool has been quietly waiting in the background all the while. The year is now 2006 and amidst a flurry of excitement, rumors, and speculation, the fifth album from Tool hits the streets on May 2nd, entitled 10,000 Days. A few tracks, including the title, are an homage to Maynard's mother, partially paralyzed as the result of a stroke for roughly the last 10,000 days of her life. So was it worth the five-year wait for this new volume? With such a complex work, it's difficult to make a firm conclusion so soon, but my initial impressions of the album are mostly positive.

The album opens up with the now-familiar track Vicarious—red hot on the request lists of radio stations nationwide for the past two weeks—and the hard, energetic romp doesn't let up with the second track Jambi either. The tempo slows down for Wings for Marie, which takes over two minutes before those wings pick up speed and blossoms into a hauntingly ethereal melody before slowing down for a landing at six minutes. Track four is the title track, clocking in at over eleven minutes and continuing the drawn-out otherworldly atmosphere. An amazing thing happens about three-and-a-half minutes in when cracks of thunder usher in subtle Celtic rhythms and influences that work beautifully with everything else going on. Things build to a delicate and well-tended crescendo until things quiet down after the nine minute mark for a somber and peaceful "goodbye" verse (see lyrics in the sidebar). The Pot follows next, jarringly out of place at first with Maynard's a cappella intro and then swiftly moving into what will probably end up as the next radio cut with it's more easily-accessible style for the masses, not to mention the obvious drug references. Segue into Lipan Conjuring, a minute-long track of Native American chanting with a few guitar sound effects thrown in here and there. As if in another far away world, Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann) opens up with an undulating whining sound against a simple and slow guitar riff for about two and a half minutes before a doctor and a nurse start talking, presumably about the listener after a drug overdose (as a reference to Dr. Hofmann, creator of LSD). Seamlessly transitioning into distorted vocals backed with guitars, Rosetta Stoned has grown to be my favorite track on the whole album so far musically. This is Tool at their best, in my opinion. Intricate sounds layered on top of each other, grinding guitars, constantly shifting tempos, and even a few spots infused with modified guitar riffs from Aenima, all in eleven-plus minutes of top-notch Tool goodness. Track nine, Intension, was a slow track that seemed to just pass in one of my ears and then out the other without stopping. Right in Two has it's ups and downs accented with fantastic drums and pulls a few modified riffs from the band's back catalog like Rosetta Stoned did, only this time from Lateralus. Finally, Viginti Tres quietly closes the album with a few sound effects and a severe lack of fanfare, leaving me feeling a bit let down after Aenima's stellar closing of Third Eye and the uniquely quirky Faaip De Oiad on Lateralus.

All in all, there are quite a few awesome tracks to be found and I don't mind having waited five years for them because of their sheer length and quality. There are nods to previous albums sprinkled here and there so as not to sound completely foreign and alien from the rest of their albums yet avoiding sounding like a cheap rehash. Unfortunately, even after a few listens, the lulls amidst the chaos still haven't fit fully into place yet for me in the bigger scheme of this album. Admittedly, Tool albums aren't very easy to digest—it took me many months before fully appreciating Lateralus and now it's one of my favorite albums of all time—so given some more quiet time to relax and really experience it all on a good sound system in one continuous sitting, the album may finally reveal it's bigger picture to me (hopefully in much less than 10,000 days).

Currently listening to:
10,000 Days
By Tool
Release date: 02 May, 2006