Planet Chooses Blu-ray, Beats Us Why!

I find it fascinating the way everybody just decided, almost literally overnight, in an amazing demonstration of human flock behaviour, that HD-DVD is dead. Sometime after the birth of 2008, when Warner Bros. decided to support Blu-ray exclusively, a chain reaction started that has resulted not only in HD-DVD market share being decimated, but in almost everybody I know — via Bell Telephone, Gmail, Facebook Posted Item, and Personal Face-to-Face Audio Exchange — relaying to me the same message: 'Blu-ray wins.'

I've heard this message before. Back in August of last year, when, conversely, Paramount decided to support HD-DVD exclusively, every HD-DVD owner was saying, of course ... 'HD-DVD wins!'

This time was different. This time, every tech-savvy individual I know, whatever their former allegiance (except Toshiba itself), was towing the same line. The war was over. Happy about it or not, Blu-ray shall reign. But here's the weird part. If you ask them, they've all got different reasons, and yet they all seem to have made the decision at the same time.

For some it was the Warner Bros. defection. For others, the change in sales figures (which followed immediately upon news of the defection). Later on, even better reasons became available, like Netflix and Wal-Mart dropping HD-DVD (which followed upon the sales figures). Finally, the widespread rumours of Toshiba's throwing in the towel have come swooping in to pick over the retail-ravaged bones.

For no particularly great technological reason, seemingly inconclusive evidence (let's call it The Warner Event) has sent a whole lot of free individuals all careening in the same direction, largely as a result of cues they gave each other. And this virally replicated speculation of where the centre of gravity should be, became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe Reuters captured it best with their short synopsis of the Netflix reasoning:

Four out of six major Hollywood studios have recently decided to publish high-definition DVDs only using Blu-ray. Netflix said that with such a clear signal from the industry, it will only buy Blu-ray discs going forward and will phase out stock of HD DVD by about the end of the year.
Four out of six. A 'clear signal'. Flock much?
  • UPDATE 08/02/19: Toshiba has confirmed the rumours: they are abandoning their own format. I consider this a side issue to this article, which is not about whether HD-DVD will die, but about why.

Pogue Declares Leopard Ready as of 10.5.2

It is now, in his words, "the sharp and snappy cat it should have been all along". However, there are some issues with the update itself. This is to be expected. The first update addresses mostly bugs that were known at the time the product was released; the second is actually the first to fix the bulk of issues discovered by actual end users; the third (and maybe a 'security' update in between) catches any troubles created by the first two massive updates themselves. This is why I normally recommend waiting until version x.3 of any new major operating system release from Apple before taking taking the leap onboard.

Copyright Pharoahs Lobby For Immortality

I have to say I don't understand this 95 year music monopoly proposed by EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy. Fifty years was bad enough. But judging by the length of the standard human reproductive cycle, 95 years will see the coming of age of five generations of new artists, all of whom will be denied the right to directly reimagine or reuse today's work without fear of retribution. Am I the only mind boggled by this?

Am I the only one who perceives, common-sense-wise — you do have that on this planet, I've been told — that artists only have a valid claim to preventing 'ripoffs' or the too-close-for-comfort homage among their contemporaries, and that unfettered quoting of their work among the very next generation (not to mention their great-great-great-grandchildren), is not only ethical, but healthy and necessary for the culture itself to continue to vitally reproduce?

Hopefully, in Canada at least, the answer is no, although there is still a significant gap between the stance outlined by the 'Business Coalition for Balanced Copyright' — consumer-friendly as it may seem in this new dynasty we have built of authorial pharaohs aspiring to legal immortality — and the most obvious reasonable course for a society of media-enriched brains. That is, if we are to avoid accidentally enslaving those brains by putting their entire store of cultural memory under lock and key.

[Published originally at The Laroquod Experiment.]

Who Accounts For the iPod touch Accountants?

The story goes that Apple has to charge for its recent software upgrade (1.1.3) for the iPod touch, despite the same upgrade (1.1.3) being free for all iPhone users, because the iPhone is accounted for on a subscription basis whereas the iPod touch is not, and according to accounting requirements in the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, without accounting for hardware products on a subscription basis, Apple can't upgrade them with new features unless it charges something for that upgrade.

Despite being complete bunk, this logic seems to have been largely accepted, even by its yes-but detractors, like Dan Moren of MacUser, who argued recently, 'Yes, but why did Apple have to charge a whole $20?' Or the Macalope, who, having disarmed the critics with his customary aplomb, set hoof on looser ground by arbitrarily deciding that "it all devolves into communism" — at exactly the moment the word 'iPod' is encountered.

But joking aside, precisely somewhere along the slippery slope of Apple's chiclet-coloured electronic devices, lies the answer to the real question raised by all of this regulatory handwaving. Where in its product line does Apple place the dividing line between 'subscribed' upgrades and pay-as-you-go, and why? I've read the thoughtless lumping in of the touch with the 'iPods', but common sense tells you when you look at this device that it is a gelded iPhone more than anything else. So, 'because it's an iPod' won't fly — and neither will, 'because of AT&T's subscription plan': the Apple TV, with no subscription plans but subscribed accounting, stands inconveniently in the way of that escape. (And it has nearly the same media sources and capabilities as the touch, to boot.)

There is just no contemplating these choices without perceiving how arbitrary they are. The question isn't, why did Apple comply with Sarbanes-Oxley? The question is why didn't they comply with it the same way they did the last two times (with the iPhone and the Apple TV)? Apple chose to charge us $20 because they chose to charge us $20. Because they clearly already knew what the implications of their accounting would be. Because they had already altered it in the past to avoid this very situation. And yet, here we are. Why?

  • UPDATE 08/02/14: Apparently, Apple is not comfortable giving some of its users the same arbitrary choice of whether to accept or refuse the upgrade. (Thought you weren't tied to a subscription plan with the iPod touch? Behold the the nag screen and think again.) Hopefully, these tales of woe are just unintentional glitches, because if they aren't; well, the word 'extortion' comes to mind.

Nine Ways Yahoo! Has Already Eviscerated Itself Better Than Microsoft Ever Could

1. Previewing a next generation beta mail interface that looks and moves like 300 lb. ass. Google walked an artful line with its first iteration of Gmail, introducing responsive AJAX code without sacrificing too much time in preload. It's a line that Yahoo! blundered right over as if it were never even there. Google saw what Yahoo! didn't — just because new tools give us the ability to recreate a desktop application within a browser, doesn't necessarily mean we should. There is a way to make smart choices about how much widgetry the web page loading experience can withstand. And then there's the Yahoo! way, which is more like backing up a dump truck to Outlook's output tray.

2. Allowing persistent lapses of server performance in a time of unprecedented competition. For the final couple of years I was a regular Yahoo! webmail user, successfully viewing my inbox was always a gamble, with failure annoyingly resistant to the repeated refresh. I have had other Yahoo! users complain to me about the same thing on different operating systems and ISPs, often when everything else on the web was working fine for them. Yahoo!'s one advantage over Gmail, at least in pre-beta form, was that it used to load more quickly and more reliably than Gmail — an efficiency gap that has since been thoughtlessly squandered ... in pursuit of what?

3. Sticking to the bloated old-school landing page. And not just sticking to it, but pushing it to improbable new weights, despite the obvious success of contrary trends...







4. Punting ad quality control. First, there was a flirtation with spyware pop-ups, which one could argue might be overlooked at any large advertiser, were it not for the inconvenient example of Google, where such things don't seem to happen. Then I hear from a client that he can't click new messages anymore in his Yahoo! mail. I tell him to try a different browser, to no avail. I have to turn off my ad-blocker to discover the annoying Rogers ad that drop-animates a mobile phone down over your browser window, and then disappears, leaving a large unclickable slab right over the top half of your incoming mail. Yahoo's advertising had rendered its own service inaccessible. Cue comical sound effect.

5. Hiding key features behind a subscription wall. Especially when the competition offers those same features for free. Gmail For Your Domain gives away what you as a small business need to set up a complete personalised email address and contact-sharing environment, something you'll pay a minimum of $35 a year to achieve with Yahoo. And then there are all the Google Apps to play with that come along for the ride — also free. Instead of taking these market-shifting challenges seriously, Yahoo! just attempted to worry more meat from its pre-existing userbase.

6. Retracting previously free features. Since the days of its very first 'look' (the look before the look that Yahoo! is now calling 'Classic'), Yahoo! Mail has offered free POP3 access (so that you can download your email with Outlook or Apple Mail, for example). That is, it has until the last few years, when they've been phasing it out behind the paywall. But only in some countries. Not in others. At best, it's confusing, and the marketplace routes around confusion. At worst, it's just insulting and unfair.

7. Ratting out Chinese dissidents. Twice.

8. Breaking Jumpcut. Jumpcut was a great video sharing site. It still looks great. The design is very clean and tasteful, in contrast to the standard YouTube-inspired 'Computer Shopper' vibe. It has interesting remix features implemented in surprisingly snappy Flash. It also has a good creative community, and at the time I chose my video host (things appear to have changed since), it allowed more reposting freedom (such as on a blog) than YouTube. Then Yahoo! came along and bigfished Jumpcut. Their first executive decision was to immediately force my Yahoo! and Jumpcut IDs into a shotgun marriage. And now some of my movies that previously played, don't anymore — on any browser, Mac or PC, and I find myself contemplating the even-biggerfishing that may be to come, and mentally adding up the time it will take me to move my whole library of videos to another service.

9. Exhibiting general cluelessness. It's not just that Yahoo! stumbles, it's the way they stumble. Except for their early fortuitous (but as it turned out, not sufficiently deep) concentration on search, they have consistently played follow-up and missed the point of new trends in such a way that they often bob left when they should be weaving right. It's an excruciating thought-process to watch: They want Web 2.0, do they? We'll give 'em Web 2.0! We'll give 'em whatever they want! I don't wanna hear about throwing more resources after speed and efficiency on the old system, cuz 2.0's where it's at! Okay wait, revenue's down? Just add more link spam to the home page. We need to be cross-promoting these assholes up the yin-yang. And if they want the good shit, let 'em pay. And get more ad revenue, too, I don't care what you have to do. We got a hole in the budget a mile wide from all the AJAX programmers we're burning through. What do you mean China's on the phone? We're running a business here! Just give 'em whatever they want!