The Silliness of DRM

I’ve been absent here for a while because of final exams. My penultimate term of 5 long years at college is over. A week of spring break ensues, followed by 13th and final term at Drexel.

About a month ago, the news media was adrift with reports about 1 billion downloads from iTunes. $0.99 Billion of cash spent by consumers in just under 3 years. All this money was spent on music downloads that are encoded in Apples proprietary format with their own DRM. I do not own an iPod. I doubt I ever will. I certainly will never use iTunes as my choice of music provider.

I’ve followed the digital music scene for as long as I can remember. Back in 1998 when one could use services such as MP3.com and AudioGalaxy to freely download music, I was right there. Sure, it was illegal, but honestly I was 16 and didn’t know better. I had rarely ever paid for music before. If I wanted a song, I’d grab the audio cassette (remember those things?!?) from a friend and using the hifi stereo my parents had, I’d copy it onto a blank cassette of my own. Occasionally, my parents might buy me an audio-tape. Birthdays were always eagerly awaited because it probably meant 3-4 different tapes from various family/friends as gifts. As my internet connection and computer were upgraded, I started downloading music. It was painfully slow over a dial-up connection. I now had a CD-ROM drive and this meant I could rip audio-CDs that I borrowed. I built up my MP3 collection in this way. In my 12th grade, I remember making a presentation as part of my senior year graduation requirements. The topic I chose was titled: “MP3 – A Revolution”. But even then, I never quite fathomed the drastic changes that digital audio and video would bring to use as consumers of entertainment. A lot of the changes are for the better – better quality, more portability, and easier availability, just to mention a few. But one of the worst changes is DRM. And the worst proponent of DRM is Apple, with its iTunes + iPod combination.

Recently France passed legislation requiring Apple to open up its iTunes store to be compatible with other music player. Denmark is also thinking of something along the same lines. Go Europe! I think all those who are investing money into iTunes and its proprietary DRM are silly. These people are essentially betting that Apple and its music will be the format of the future. Sure, the way it’s going this may well be so. I’ve seen numbers floating around that 82% of all digital music sales belong to iTunes. But if there is one thing we need to learn from the history of economics, it is that no company lasts forever. What happens when that insane combination of a phone, camera, music and video-player is here? All those idiots who spent the 1 billion dollars on iTunes find themselves in the cold. Or they wait for Apple to release something like that.

Let me set the records straight before I am lambasted by all on sundry for being a pirate. I’m not opposed to DRM in general. There are some implementations that seem better than others. But iTunes is not one of them. The PlayForSure from Microsoft seems a little better in that they are making the effort to support a variety of devices and a variety of digital music stores, but according to the EFF they suck too.

But then that is what record labels are there for. To make you buy the same product over, and over, and over and over. First they sold it to you as a vinyl, then as an audio-cassette, then CDs, DVD-audio was briefly the thing, now digital, who knows what is next? But I’m not about to waste my dollars finding out. And God help you if you happen to lose your collection and are unable to download them again.

Personally, I still collect all my MP3s the good old way. I rip them from a CD into high-bit rate digital files that are crystal clear. I can move these around to how many ever computers I want. I can copy them to whatever digital music player I feel like. I pop them into a remixing software and play around with the beats. I can burn to a CD how many ever times I wish. Metallica be damned. Music is an artistic expression that needs to be shared with the world. Artists are due their royalty for creation once. Not repeatedly.

For those interested in more information, downhillbattle has a great site on the issue.

Sleep, Sweet Sleep

Those of you who know me have almost certainly heard me claim that sleep is overrated. Those of you who know me, also probably know that I love sleep dearly. Those of you who know me also know that I have immense difficulty falling asleep. Those of you who dont know me…? The time is always ripe!

I’ve been reading some news lately that claims a pill that is in development that will allow the body to sleep for 4 hours and wake up, refreshed. I’d trade a couple of teeth to be in the clinical trial for such a drug. I believe I have chronic insomnia, although it is probably something I should get diagnosed by an expert.

I tried to locate some of the same news links where I read about these pills, but like that dream that flitters away in the wee hours of the morning, so too have these sites. Point being — if anyone knows any more about this, please pass on information.

First Tag Ever…

So Kaushik tagged me. What is a tag? I’ll be damned if I know, but apparently I am required to describe 8 qualities of my perfect lover. But there are also some rules of the tag.

1. The tagged victim has to come up with 8 different points of their perfect lover.
2. You need to mention the sex of the target.
3. Tag 8 victims to join this game and leave a comment on their comments saying they’ve been tagged.
4. If tagged the 2nd time, there’s no need to post again.

The 3rd rule probably will not apply to me. I don’t have 8 people who read my rants and will care to be tagged. And I certainly don’t expect to be tagged again, so rule 4 is a moot point as well. Which leaves with only 2 rules, thankfully. I’ve never been good at following
rules.

To read Kaushiks description of his perfect lover, go here.

So here goes my 8, in no particular order of importance:

1) She must have a killer smile
2) She must love music with a passion. Common tastes will be nice, but not required
3) She must be willing to try new things, and push me to try new things too
4) She must not be reluctant to having me spend money on her
5) She must be honest, open and willing to talk. It really annoys me when there is obviously something amiss, and a person continues to say “Nothing is wrong”, even when they are asked repeatedly
6) She must enjoy sports and outdoor activities
7) She must be easy to joke with (and about)
8) She must (at least pretend!) be able to hold an intellectually stimulating conversation
9) She must want to be punctual. An honest effort at being on time is appreciated
10) She must understand when something is bothering me and offer to talk about it. If I don’t open up right away, she must understand it is not that I don’t want to talk, it is just that I need a little coaxing
11) She must have an infinite capacity for cuddling
12) She must like pets
13) She must want to have fun every now and then – the kind that I enjoy! Dancing, drinking, and partying!

Okay, okay, so I know I was supposed to stop at 8, but hey, when one is writing such things and using perfection as guide, it is that much easier to find perfect traits, right?

I love you, Revathi.

The Origin of AIDS

“There was no AIDS in America until the exact year the government began experimenting with gay men.” I think a better way to word this is that there was no known case of AIDS in America until the government began to experiment with yada, yada, yada.

To read the full article, go here. The article is slightly scientific, but it is mighty interesting, but maybe somewhat of a conspiracy theory. I don’t know, and I don’t know enough to know. Some digging might yield interesting answers.

But does it really matter where it originated from? Or is it just a matter of curiosity and something that will allow for finger pointing? Or maybe it will allow for the right method for vaccine development.

Safety in West Philly

I’ve lived in West Philadelphia for slightly over 4 years now. Before I arrived here, I heard innumerable stories about the West Philly Ghetto, the increase in crime as one moves westwards, and the general need to be safe. I have consistently moved westwards in Philly, to my current location. I’ve driven through West Philly many times. I’ve never really come face to face with any of the horrendous activities that I read in the news. A friend had their bike stolen. Another was mugged, but got away safe. A third had money stolen outside of an ATM. But the worst yet is this news article.

A graduate student of Drexel was beaten up by 4 high school students from University City high school. It wasn’t a drunken brawl, where a couple of punches were thrown. He was nearly beaten to death. The worst part? I was in the middle of the afternoon, when school was let off early. What is scary is that it happened somewhere around 36th and Spring Garden Street. I used to live a few blocks away on 36th and Powelton. University City High School, the school that the students were from, is on 36th, between Market and Lancaster. I have walked past it many times — mornings, afternoons and nights. I’ve seen students sitting around there looking like they were doing nothing. I’ve walked past students in the middle of the afternoon when the get out of school. A lot of them look like they could beat me down without effort. And I’m talking about the girls.

This morning, I was working an event where students from the very same high school were present, and were being recruited to Drexel when they graduate. It got me thinking, about inner city schools in general. These students looked very, very normal. So why do some kids suddenly get such urges? Peer pressure is an incredibly strong force.

Another statistic that I just heard – from the beginning of January until the 22nd, there were 19 reported murders in Philadelphia. That is almost one a day. Pretty scary, huh? Anyway, rant time over. Just got to be more careful and encourage others to do so as well.

So much for that…

Yesterday I went ga-ga over Google. I gave them props for saying no to phone companies posing as extortionists. I also predicted that Yahoo, and other companies will follow suite. There was other news circulating at the same time that Google said “Hell, no!” to the US DoJ when they were subpoenaed to provide search results relating to pornography. I hoped that Yahoo et al. would follow suite here too and protect the civil liberties of the search-engine using public. But according to this Slashdot article, AOL, MSN and Yahoo! have all complied. To what extent though, is still unknown.

My view is probably biased, and it’s not because I have a particular affinity for pornography (or certainly not one that I will accept!). From a sociology class that I’ve been taking (Sex, Crime and Violence on the Internet), I’ve learnt that all the hoo-haa surrounding the online porn business is largely propaganda and has little credence. But it is just a wait and watch now. I wonder if Google will surrender. They do, after all, get about 46% of all search traffic, and have recently contracted with AOL to provide their search results as well.

A New Sexuality Overtaking India?

Or maybe the title of this post should read “An Old Sexuality Returning to India?”

I read a few months ago that the popular “wings-and winks” chain was planning to enter the Indian market. A recent web search for articles relating to such news yielded this. The news article on MSNBC was published in August 2004. I’ve not been able to find anything more recent confirming intent on part of the restaurant to bring their food, beer and skimpily clothed girls to the bustling Indian metros.

What does the world’s quintessential men’s magazine do when they find that their publishing sales in their premier western markets are declining? They turn to the new world economies of course. Playboy magazine has said that they are seeking to enter the Indian market, according to this IHT article. The magazine will not be called Playboy and will not feature nudity, according to the article. The article makes some interesting generalizations regarding the emergence of sexuality into the mainstream in India. The author claims that the India of the 21st century is much like the America of the 1950s, sexually speaking of course. This should mean that in approximately 20 years, we can expect to see women marching in the streets, burning their underclothes and long haired hippie males impregnating everything in site. It is hard for me not to become judgmental about the angle that the author is taking. I see him as an Indian, born (or brought up) in the west, and making assumptions about a country that he knows only through infrequent visits to his grandparents. “Sex is bubbling”, he says, “one-quarter of urban, unmarried women have sex, one-third read erotic literature and half go on dates.”  No doubt the Indian youth in urban metros are increasingly westernized by what they see in the mainstream media. However, the power of the Indian family should not be underestimated, nor the power of religion in a country that is all consumed by it. We should not forget too, that the majority of the Indian population is still rural. But the real kicker about this article is that the author states right at the beginning that the magazine will not feature the Playboy name nor the famous Playboy bunnies. So where is the need for a 26 year old living with his parents to “hide his stash?” The author compares our famous cave paintings, sculptures and the Kama Sutra to this new revolution that he claims is about to hit India.

The introduction of a men’s magazine published by Playboy enterprise is not going to impact Indian sexuality in any major way. But maybe Maxim, the magazine that my roommate claims to subscribe to for the articles, might bring about this revolution? Maxim has ventured into the Indian market as well. Priyanka Chopra is on the cover of the first issue that apparently hit newsstands in the New Year. The author, published on the Guardian, claims that, “this is not the typical coy, sari-clad Bollywood pose, rather a scantily clad woman who looks directly at the camera.” Obviously he is unaware of the current state of Bollywood. I don’t remember the last time I saw a Bollywood actress under the age of 45 wearing a sari on screen. Comparing the two articles, one wonders if the authors are talking about the same India. “Indian men never touch a woman in public, unless she is elderly or sick” and “smoking and drinking are symbols of moral laxity among Indians” are direct quotes from the articles. I’ve walked along many streets in India holding my girlfriend’s hand. I’ve bought beer and had a drink with friends. No one judges me or my morals. India is not an archaic land that is ruled by iron-fisted rulers where women were required to be covered from head to toe. The Indian girls that I know I are as fashion conscious, as beautiful, as talented, as motivated and as free-thinking as girls in the USA (the only other country I’ve lived in). It would be refreshing for once to see an article that accurately depicted the social changes occurring in urban India as it integrates itself into the world economy.

There is one and only one reason that companies like Hooter, Maxim and Playboy are so eagerly eyeing the Indian market – money. With a GDP growing at 7% annually and an ever increasing purchasing power of the middle class, there can be no other reason. It is certainly not because these companies are hatching a super secret pan to change the Indian sexual scene, as the authors of these articles seem to be implying. Wrestling over sexuality will happen as a natural progression of society, civilization, and culture, without or without these magazines. Spirituality need not be exclusive of sexuality, as one Maxim India employee claims.

The continued westernization of India is inevitable. The magazines and restaurant are certain to cause a stir in some section of the population. But in the land of the Kama Sutra, where sex is revered (the author wasn’t kidding when he claimed seeing murals of orgies in temples!) what is needed more urgently than anything else, is good, clear education about sex. Instead of treating it as an immoral, taboo and dirty act that is reserved for the bedroom only, the youth of India need to be sent the correct message. Sex is natural and feeling sexual urges is normal. Give them the opportunity to find and discover it themselves. They will not go wrong. I guarantee you.

I hate those mices to pieces

Web-rant time: So ever since I’ve moved in to this apartment, we’ve had a mouse problem. With the weather finally reaching what it should be in the middle of January, the problem has just become worse. While earlier we’d only see them scampering from behind the refrigerator to behind the dishwasher, they seem to have gotten bolder and smarter. 6 loaves of bread had to be discarded this past weekend. Cleaning up rat droppings on the counter-top is a daily task. And only one has been caught using a trap, when it dragged the trap and its broken leg into my room early one morning. I did catch another, using two tupperware containers in the wee hours of the morning when it was tormenting my roommate and his girlfriend. A third was found by me, dead and stuck to a glue trap. The four other “men” in our apartment are yet to open their scores. I don’t want to waste any more food to the mice, and more importantly I want to know that the food I am eating is safe and clean. Since we’ve had no luck in trapping them, the next step is to create a routine where no food is ever left open and accessible. Now trying to get 5 college guys to follow routine is the bigger challenge. Just stick me with the mice instead.

Random Reflection

Reflecting on the progress of technology (although this may be extremely obvious) it seems to be that every major step forward has been to make things more instantaneous. Communication now, information now, now, now, now…With our broadband, Google, cell-phones, and the like, we want everything now.

Transportation and movement of goods, although improved my leaps and bounds in the last 200 years, is still a major hinderence because of its slowness. When I can talk to someone on the other end of the planet, almost on a whim, to me it is unacceptable that it take me 24+ hours to travel there.

Research into teleportation is growing and God Bless physicists who are working on this. It can’t happen soon enough.