Over the weekend, my ten-year-old son and I had just finished eating supper at a diner near our house. The multiple TVs in the diner were all showing cable news coverage of the Ferguson situation....
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A cable cutter tries to watch the national team's World Cup opener: in the background, an unused television and home theater setup, and in the foreground, a 7 inch tablet broadcast in Spanish. Thanks Univision, and "thanks" ESPN.
Also, Clint Dempsey FTW!
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Dear Jim (my NSA angel),
My cable company is attempting to buy their closest competitor. I know you and Comcast are bros on the DL, but your love is quite transparent to the public. Anyways, was this your idea? Vertical integration of data harvesting, now covering 37 of the top 40 markets in America. Solid strategy. I try to avoid conspiracy theories, but a surveillance state combined with this sounds like some Illuminati1 shit.
Speaking of TV, how have you liked the new season of House of Cards so far2? Some solid digital espionage going on in the first few episodes, but through the FBI/Secret Service? Come on, we both know who the real 1337 h4XX0rs are.
So, listen, if any packages come to the house, could you put them inside the screen door for me? I don't get home until the evening, and I would prefer they weren't covered in snow. Also, weather machine? Is that a thing yet? Please get someone on that ASAP.
Who is head of the Illuminati these days? Is it Beyonce? It is, isn't it? Your secret is safe with me. Ooh, is it Tupac? ↩
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How are the Olympics going? I am one of these new fangled "cable cutters"2 that NBC apparently hates, so I have to get all my Olympic news second hand. Has anyone skiied over a dog yet? Did Putin win any medals yet - biathlon, figure skating, dressage, etc.? Is Bob Costas going to leave Sochi with some kind of super power, a la Cyclops?
I have to say that the Colbert Report has had my favorite3 coverage of the games so far, with the From Russia with Love - But No Gay Stuff segments. Also, how is the brightness and contrast on my TV? Can you see it OK?
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I am stuck in the second half of my 2 year phone contract. The first half is when the phone is all new and shiny and the manufacturer keeps it up to date with current software. The second half is when all those benefits fade and you are still on the hook for another year. For whatever reason the a one year contract tier is now a thing of the past. Locked down or contract-free are the only options left.
On top of that, my contract is with Big V (for “Voldemort”, but worse). Verizon has built a great network, but it is horrible for tech enthusiasts (I have no experience with AT&T, which is probably just as awful, but in different ways). I don’t have a landline (and who could afford one with the price of a smartphone plan?), so sticking with solid service seems to make sense. But I also don’t make many calls, so my gigantic cell phone plan is mainly for data. That’s not so bad, because it is unlimited. At least, until Verizon caps my data when I renew my contract.
Other random VZW problems:
- Can’t use their phones anywhere outside the US without paying out the nose. This is a Sprint problem too, because neither use GSM technology, but I’m not sure that Sprint requires you to hack THEIR OWN global phones to get them to work correctly
- They instated this fee two weeks before my last official upgrade (mostly just personal bitterness there)
- They don’t fight for users’ privacy rights. Even Comcast and AT&T pretend like they care.
Clearly, they are an easy target for user ire. Rightfully so, because of how much of my time and my income is spent on them and their phones. But this brings up another major problem. Demanding the highest quality devices from the company with the highest quality wireless service should not be the leap in logic that the market is making it out to be. New flagship phones are coming to VZW late or not at all, and I believe the reason is the Galaxy Nexus Saga.
In October 2011, Google unveiled Android 4.0 and its flagship device, the Galaxy Nexus, exclusive to Verizon in the US. Presumed to be the ideal phone on the ideal carrier, it would receive timely updates from Google because it ran stock Android (the specific reason I bought it!) while running on the fast VZW LTE network. But then the phone was delayed for a month while Verizon disallowed Google from putting its own Wallet software on the phone. After release, each new Android iteration would update international and unlocked GNex units, leaving VZW customers months behind. The phone is finally up to date as of March, over a year after its release. I have heard it called the Fallacy Nexus (by nerds), and I am inclined to agree.
The problem with mobile computing is this carrier influence. Even five years ago, the hardware and software used for personal computing was controlled by (surprise!!) the hardware and software companies selling the computers. Now that most personal computing is done on phones, the phone companies have changed that dynamic. They push the innovators into conservative design decisions, market only the devices that kowtow to their demands, and preach “pay no attention to the duopoly in the corner.” Until they function like a (mostly) dumb pipe like cable internet, this is the way the world will be.
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Since the advent of broadband internet, and even a bit before, “piracy” has been a problem. I use quotes because there is probably a better term that evokes illicit copying rather than Captain Hook. It is one of those problems that is supposed to get the same reaction from anyone. Asking a congressman to justify almost anything they do yields the response “because ______.” Only one of the following reasons is acceptable to fill in that blank:
Why is our defense budget so high? Because terrorists. Why do we need to take away all the guns/arm all the teachers? Because the children. Why can’t we unlock our cell phones? Because Nazis… I mean, because piracy.
No one is learning how wrong-headed that is right now more than EA. They bought and resurrected one of the most beloved and storied game franchises of all time, Sim City. It released this week, and was purported to be fantastic. The majority of the people who bought it, though, apparently would not know. EA designed this game to require a constant connection to their servers, even though it is essentially a single player experience. They claim it is for a social aspect, so people can share cities or something, but let’s be honest: it is for piracy. EA wants your $50-60, and wants to make damn sure that you can’t play if you didn’t pay. (Also hilarious: they are not offering refunds.)
In an ironic twist, many who did pay still can’t play. EA has been working on adding servers all week to support demand, to no avail. Rather than updating the game to remove the requirement of connectivity, they have decided to save their precious game-breaking DRM by disabling the actual game features that require the internet, like leaderboards. Kotaku has billed this fiasco “Sim City Disaster Watch.” Polygon, who initally gave the game a review score of 9.5/10, has lowered its score to a 4. I can’t say it better than Chris Kluwe:
Next question @simcity: How many lost sales do you predict from word of mouth versus general piracy rates? What does the maff say?
— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) March 7, 2013
The other end of the spectrum is Game of Thrones (or it is a different spectrum, not sure). HBO could care less that it is the most pirated TV show for a couple years running, because it gets people talking about Game of Thrones. However, in their case, it is more about necessity than stealing. They offer no other avenues of purchase besides subscribing to their network (on top of a cable subscription, in the age of cable cutting).
Really, there has to be some middle ground here somewhere. A way for a company to take my money in exchange for a good product. Capitalism, maybe?
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I am getting sick of driving. I have to commute for an hour at the beginning and end of each work day. That means, if you don't live on the eastern seaboard or in a major metropolis, a lot of time behind the wheel. I realize there are ways to avoid this. Carpooling is always an option, or I could move or switch jobs. But, because I am lazy and introverted, I tried to imagine other ways to get to work, like public transportation. Northern Indiana is not quite a bastion of public anything, which makes this strictly imaginary. But why is this still imaginary?
Countries in Europe and Asia benefit greatly from high speed rail. According to the NYT (via Gawker), "in many countries with good public transportation, driving is a pleasure rather than a necessity." The cynic in me thinks it hasn't caught on here because of our automotive industry (which there is plenty of in north central Indiana). How can they sell cars if there are other viable transport options? Competition should force these car companies to produce better cars, in theory. Of course, it also means change, which is scary.
I was a little bewildered to find out that the idea had been proposed and soundly rejected. This rejection was probably for all the wrong reasons, but I don't want to try to sort out the politics of it. California has recently decided to fund its own high speed rail, after several rejections of its own. So it is catching on somewhere, but it is not catching on fast enough, for all the wrong reasons (as mentioned above).
Monopolies, from the automobile in America (it's a stretch, but not much) down to local cable companies, have a horrible effect on innovation. From a consumer standpoint, they are like an economic cancer to the development of new ideas. However, from a business standpoint (which is pretty much its own religion in this country), profit is your endgame. Building a monopoly should bring on a zen-like state of enlightenment. It is a place where the goals of capitalism fall out of sync with those of the common person, and having the free market try to overthrow a monopoly is a task of Herculean proportions.
The inspiration for this line of thought was this Verge piece about wireless carriers. I didn't want to write another post about phones, but it makes a fantastic point. Apple completely reinvented the concept of a phone, and it still was not enough to disrupt the amount of sway US carriers have over device manufacturers. This would be like, instead of purchasing an SUV to drive on steep mountain roads, the road saying it only accepts Jeep™ vehicles.
In the meantime, I will keep paying exorbitant prices for fuel, and keep passing the SUVs with a single passenger on my 2-lane-highway commute, and think about moving to California.