Saturday, November 19, 2011

Our relationship with the police

I recently saw video of Police pepper spraying students sitting at UC Davis, because some of them had tents nearby and wouldn't remove them and, because the crowd of people who had come to watch the confrontation completely dwarfed either group. I wasn't shocked or surprised, and that fact had me deeply dismayed. In the sort of world I want to live in, the public should have the utmost respect, and complete trust, in their Police force and that force, to the extent any human group can, should live up to that respect and trust.

Of course the state of things is not particularly either groups fault. It's a feedback loop between the two. It's hard to see now how the relationship started to break down, maybe it was the place where police were left in the increase post-ww2 economic social stratification, maybe it was that the police were too often put by their superiors on the wrong side of the civil rights movement. At this point it doesn't actually matter, it's been long enough that the original slights were by players who are no longer in play.

So what can we do to change it? The first thing is that we can recognize that there is an economic factor here, and be willing to pay more for the police, current and retired. We can't trust our legislators to represent us in that relationship, so maybe we need to start a charity that just works toward health and death benefits for first responders, hopefully with out the obnoxious fundraisers employed by most F.O.P. and with out the ambiguity of also protecting those police accused of violating the public trust. Another thing that can be done, but not by the lay men is separating the duties of the police so that domain related distrust is limited those cops working in that area, so that most cops can just do their jobs, without the collective distrust people have for all policemen. The other big thing we need to do is stop treating so many laws like we are above them. We should all be embarrassed when hearing about the violence in Mexico, that we are contributing to it. And finally as we normalize things in our relationship with the police, we will need the police to be willing to eject those that are too enamored by their own authority, and to accept that they should be the best and the brightest, and those that aren't don't belong, at least at any higher levels.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Not seeing the forest or the trees, for the leaves.

Apparently the International Energy Agency has warned that if we don't change things, in 5 years we will have irreversible climate change. Personally I'm scared, once the climate change is irreversible how will we ever go back to the jurassic climate required to support cloned Dinosaurs?

The biggest Climate myth is Climate Stasis. Everyone who believes in Dinosaurs and ice ages, believes in Climate change. Even when it seems like the climate is static, it's not, because the length of time in that climate pattern is increasing. The climate is the sum of it's inputs and states, all climate change is irreversible. Every instant of every day for the whole history of the earth irreversible climate change has been going on. 

I wish people would suck it up and admit how little we actually know about the climate. Everything is a player in the climate and maybe now that we've got a decent collection of earth watching satellites we can finally get a grasp of all the inputs, but a system that has cycles that last decades, centuries or maybe even millennia, is not all of a sudden going to be cracked by us, especially cause there's not really a lab to experiment with these things.

The biggest sign that we don't know what we're talking about is that, we are concerned about our impact on the climate, and we want to stop impacting it as much so we want to stop getting energy in ways that impact the composition and instead we want to syphon energy right out of the weather systems. Have you heard of the conservation of energy? Wind energy isn't free, wind energy takes energy from the air currents that move atmospheric water around. But it's not like with the rise of wind energy we've seen an increase in weather systems stalling and causing flooding and draughts? Oh wait, we have.

It's unbelievably frustrating to see the public debate be between people who are willfully ignorant and people that are willfully arrogant. It would be really nice for some people to say, hey we don't really have the best grasp on the big picture, but if thing keep going the way they have been, then whatever the cause it's going to cause problems for us, and maybe we can or can not stop it, but instead of betting the farm on our ability to stop the trend, let's look at things that improve our survivability and maybe will buck the trend.

It seems to me that one area that could really benefit the world are micro-grids and ways to recycle small scale waste into them. That is to say that there is a lot of waste energy that we don't bother collecting because storage and transmission make it cost ineffective. One of the challenges with solar houses is rigging the houses grid to take/store the excess so that you have energy when solar is unproductive, but if you look a little wider you'll see that in addition to excess solar energy there are lots of other sources of waste energy that could be tapped and stored, if that doesn't have to go to far. And if we design home scale electrical systems to take these small inputs, then there will be an incentive to design in energy capturing technologies, into the bigger "waste" producers to reduce the cost of operations. 

Another area is refrigeration and cooling. Yes we could probably design much more efficient refrigerators by understanding that if your refrigerator isn't densely packed then every time you open the door and lose all the cold air you're making it do a lot of work. why we haven't made it to a 3 sections design, with the bottom third being a drawer and greater control on the temperature of each section, with ice disposer in the door, is beyond me. But if we got the base cooling that much more efficient all the better, and if we could better move heat around a house or building then we could do without a lot of the production of cooler or hotter air. 

And my last rant on this whole general area, is that many of the people that I have known that have been very pro, let's do the environment right, have also been very supportive of "historical" districts and building preservation. Historical districts don't often make sense because they freeze in place buildings that had been seeing major renovation every 20 years. If the history of a building is to change, then you're not preserving it but not letting that continue. Beyond that however is the fact that may of these buildings are vastly inefficient and keeping them around and making people use them is contrary to the goals of lessening our impact on the world. 

So in summary, we need to stop being so arrogant and ignorant about where we stand with climate science, and should not ignore basic laws of physics when looking for ways to fix things. While we aren't masters of climate science that should be ok, we're finally in a position to start learning, but it will take a while. It's okay to come up with hypotheses as long as you are open to competing ones and established ones having to be altered or thrown out. Climate science is important. But beyond grand declarations there are problems that can be addressed and solved. Those smaller problems should have as much of our focus as the larger ones.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fair Use a Felony?

There is currently a Senate Bill on the floor of the Senate, Bill S.978, that would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted material for the purpose of "commercial advantage of personal financial gain" a felony.  This is of course ridiculously dumb. Everything is under copyright these days. Copyright is what "designers" use to keep the cheaper products they sold overseas out of the country, to keep their domestic profits high. So pretty much no one can show up in a stream, cause unless they are naked in front of a green screen, there is probably going to be something under copyright in the shot.

But there are some larger issues. They include demarcating who is a journalist and who is not, protecting parody and satire, the wide scale potential for abuse, and just preserving our history.

I've seen many regular video authors who discuss what's going on in the some or all of the world. They frequently do this with the help of clips or snippets of copyrighted materials. Right now these people have not had to stand up and wrap them selves in the formal trappings of being a journalist, but threaten them with losing their right to vote and they will. In this it could really backfire because ultimately uses now that do not get protected as fair use will end up protected under journalistic freedom. Or the digital word of mouth that these people provide will dry up, which will hurt people. And the loss of discourse if one person with something meaningful to say is silenced, is really more of a cost then just about any cost to the copyright holders.

Parody and Satire, are a huge part of our culture. Shows like the Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live and The daily show are institutions in our culture, and they all stream, and they all use clips of copy written material. And in addition to these voices there are many minor sources of satire and parody out there. And not all the the butts of the jokes appreciate it. Right now it's more trouble then it's worth to harass these people, but when the cost of losing the fight goes up for the satirists,  Intimidation becomes a viable tool to silence these voices.

And ultimately this has huge potential for abuse. When most streamed content contains some things that are under copyright, and most politicians stream content. In one fell swoop an authoritarian regime could round up the opposition. As a tool for intimidation this would have a power for those who can afford to use it. It may not be abused at first, but I think it's too dangerous a weapon for abuse to allow to sit.

Finally what happens when someone captures some historic event like a disaster or accident, but has something under copyright, like a song or clothing or something. Do we want to lose these witnesses to our history?

Ultimately copyright is a trade between creators and society, that is intended to benefit both. When one side of equation isn't benefiting from the social contract anymore then contract has no point.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When are you legally an Adult?

So knowing some of history, it's not clear that the age of adulthood is well established and thee is some sign of this in the law. In the Baby-boomers life time the drinking and voting age were lowered to 18. Only to have the drinking age raised again. But the alcohol legislation in Maryland says that an adult in your immediate family may allow you to drink in their private residence. If you're an adult at 18 then this means you can drink at home, once you're 18. I doubt that was the intent. On the other hand at 18 you can sign legally binding contracts, by default get charged as an adult, and your parents are no longer responsible for you. But along those lines, I can't remember the last time I heard of a 17 year old being charged as a juvenile. So what is it? Is it the standard age at which you are a charged as an adult, 18 when you can sign contracts, serve in the military and vote, or 21 when you finally have no privileges withheld? If it is 18, does that mean that age discrimination is legal? Can you be striped of privilege just because of your age? I think the AARP would have something to say about that, but as long as we leave this up in the air they have no reason to get involved.

What do you think? Is this a quagmire or is it clear?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The fall of Official Identity

I think it's funny, I keep hearing about new measures for ID cards, when the system that supports them is dying. There are three things in motion right now that are undermining or system of official identities and that could cause major upheaval if we don't proactively seek to address them. 

To understand the first big threat, it helps to have ever had to establish yourself independently with a state ID authority (normally the DMV or MVA). In addition to providing documentation establishing who you are, you have to establish where you live. They normally have people do this by bringing official mail, bills, bank statements, etc. The problem with this is that most people have started to interact with the people who generate that mail online, and most of them want to help you "Go Green" (and save them money), by stopping to send you such mail. No longer receiving that official mail. Good luck proving that you live where you do, especially if you're living with a friend or somewhere where you don't have a lease. Oops!

The second threat is tied to the first. That's the impending collapse of the US Postal Service. Not only will it accelerate the first problem, just as the first problem accelerates it, but it prevents new interesting problems for the future. The USPS are generally the one of the main agents for officially recognizing addressing change. If you're still getting bills Fed-Ex'ed to you, what happen when you move to a new community or building that Fed-Ex doesn't understand yet, cause the database of valid addresses isn't being updated anymore? As long as your identity is established with mail, you need the USPS.

The third threat, and this is the big one, is what happens when people become long term nomads? Let me explain because this one is a little more complicated. Why do we maintain private residences? To hold our stuff, For recreations that require infrastructure, for a place to sleep, a place to be a family, and as a place with a Bathroom. So let's take a time to look at these motivations and see what's on the horizon.  

As my posts on media have probably let on, I'm a bit of a major consumer. But over the last few years, less and less of my spending results in the physical accumulation of more stuff. Most of the media I buy is bought digitally and with new cloud initiatives, I'm less likely to have to house infrastructure to make sure that I don't lose it. When my stuff other then furniture is just my clothes and the devices that I carry around all the time anyway there's a lot less of a motivation to invest in a location. And the seeming universal migration that everyone makes to college is going to have the younger generations realizing this sooner.  

The idea of having a hobby room or a media room appeals to a lot of people, but often this is what loses the space wars. In addition to that preferences in media consumption tend to make people want to be where they can consume the media they want. Well as the media goes digital and cable services start letting you view your content anywhere. You can view your media anywhere especially as technology to take what you've got in your pocket and put it on a big screen improve. Just like fitness rooms and laundry rooms, I could easily see dorms and apartment buildings of the future containing reservable media rooms, that are posh enough that they make up for the lack of space, which in addition to the media rooms, let them fit more people in that space. And eventually Hobby retailers will figure it out too. Someone will eventually setup a place as a perpetual con. They will have a store where you can by hobby paraphernalia setting where you can partake in your hobby, better then you could in your cramped  home, and even some storage space that you can rent to store your stuff. Plus while you're their they'll also sell you things for peripheral needs like food and/or for the late sessions a place to crash. And the best part is that these places help you connect with people with similar interests to you. 

As for the biological needs of sleeping and the bathroom. As people's use of their home becomes more and more dorm like, because they don't need space for stuff or hobby supplies, then there's not reason for there not to be a shift. Some people like Google already have fitness rooms and nap rooms at some of their locations, how long before employees that are at a remote site for a night or a month just crash there, even if the employees doesn't think of and provision for it first. So now you have people moving from college Dorms to corporate Dorms. When will these people ever change their permanent address to be anything other then their Parent's home?

Which finally brings us to having a family. So you've people who still list their home as their parents home, who have all the stuff they own that won't fit in a duffel bag and messenger bag at their parents home, and who will probably need help when it comes to day care anyway. Where are they going to go? If it's close enough they will probably just go to their Parents home. Which isn't so far fetched a thing, for a lot of our history there have been familial homes. And if we're spending most of our adult lives as vagabonds, why not? The only problem is that some familial homes will be inconvenient. And the answer to that is new ones being established. Or maybe your aunt, uncle, or childless older friend will invite you in as family. 

And the problem with being a long term nomad who spends decades of their life are marginally tied to any one residence isn't establishing official identity, it's with what happens when your official identity doesn't match your actual one. What happens when you're a "resident" of New York, spending all your professional time in California? Who get's to tax you? Who do you get to vote for?  and how is a jurisdiction supposed to afford the infrastructure it's residents need if none of them officially live there?

So we are heading towards a world where it is getting hard to establish official identity and one in which it easier to maintain one that isn't an actual reflection of reality. We're approaching a world in which it's easier for people to be transient, but in which our funding of infrastructure, governmental representation, and maintaining official identity is based on not being inherently transient. And what happens when a person finds themselves untethered, with a place to sleep and job, but no real home and no way to establish an identity? A lot of the assumptions that have built modern America were reflective of the time but not really the past, or perhaps the future. So do we work to preserve those assumptions or try to fin a better set?

And the most important question, as is the question with all inevitable change is will we act now when we can be thoughtful and have time to innovate, or will we wait until we are at the moment of crisis?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Used Media

So of course after an extended period of having nothing pop into my head to talk about here, I thought of two things in relatively short order. But I'm gonna only talk about one of them now. Cause I'm a punk like that.

This is mostly applicable to the game industry but is kind of there for all media and that is MSRP and Used media. In the game industry, used games sales are a "big problem". A 10 hour game that costs 50 dollars and has no reply value is a big problem. That it's developer can't profitably produce that game, if not everyone who plays it paid $50 for the privilege isn't a problem.

I may not sound at all conflicted about this issue, but I am. Having standard prives for games that very greatly in quality and value to the consumer is unfair. I'm unsympathetic to an industry that has pretty much participated in price fixing when that bites them in the ass. However I understand that there are some amazing games that are only 10 hour games, and in an ideal world the reward to their creators for their work would far exceed what some people get for horrible games, because the used game market is so active. Of course when companies start to take draconian measures to make games not re-sellable, it's again hard to be sympathetic.

To reward artists in the long term I think the middle men are going to have to be taken out of the equation. If your involved in bulk upfront sales to retailers then at some point you are going to sell at a fixed price, and not be able to reap the rewards of any supply/demand mechanisms that are put in place. This I think is coming as evidenced by steam, the apple app stores, and on console purchases.

In the short term I think the games industry would be more successful if they cut down the initial price of games. New Console games normally cost around $50, which is twice the initial cost of then next tier of entertainment products which are Hardback books and new movies. If you reduce the initial price you take a lot of the steam out the used game market. And if you reduce the initial expectation of income from a game and budget accordingly then what used sales there aren't won't be as big an impact. If you are worried you won't be able to cover salaries, then just look at the successful mobile game market and see that people will pay for cheap games, so the way to retain top talent isn't with high salaries that are hard to meet, it's with a percentage of profit.

And this of course is just another case of entrenched business models causing problems. When will they learn that as your industry, consumers and your product change your business model must too.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Disposable Media

Sorry for the long pause. I've been trying to write this post for a long time but it keeps getting away from me before I even get to the meat of what I want to talk about. But hopefully this time I'll pull it off.

In Radio and TV, the main draw for an audience that is counted on is novelty. That's why it's no longer the case that half the year you get a new shows and the other half you get repeats. Instead you get new shows most of the year except for those periods where the audience is expected to be minimal at best. The effect of this is that most media is created as disposable media.

There are a few problems with this. The first is that the plug gets pulled way to easily. We've seen this with shows like Family Guy and Futurama. The second is that when a show gets thrown away without repeats to drive sales, that last season may not see a DVD release. The third is that Gimmick shows abound, because they can string people along for a season, and get good enough ratings. Another is that shows that have managed to stick get kept around way to long, rather then being allowed to go out on a high note, and they get imitated past the point of saturation.

Media should be made to be high quality and original. As a kid I watched so much TV from before I was born, I doubt today's kids will, or will even get the chance. The powers that be will never see the value of some of the media out there, and they will never give it the chance to demonstrate that for itself. Was the return of Futurama and Family Guy a fluke?

I think ultimately it will be the ad agencies themselves, if anyone, who breaks us out from this cycle. They've already learned to go harvest from independents for their Ad music, they'll even give away (sometimes) the music they made as an exercise in building brand loyalty. How long before they do the same with TV type content.

In an ideal world we would have something like the BBC, who take chances see what people really like and go with it. Oh and if they show only produces 6 episodes a year, whatever. I'm not sure if the BBC is profitable, or if they are that that model would ever really fly as a model for the world. The one thing that is certain is that, in the age of new media, the TV and Radio stations are no longer the guardians of what people can find. independent media is out there. go find some, and if you find something you like, PLEASE, spread the word.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The end of the Library

Despite the fact that, I don't have a library card, and haven't been in one for years, I'm a huge fan of Libraries. The notion that a group of people can collectively invest in and have more media available to collectively then any individual would be able to amass. It's great. But the age of the library is coming to an end.

The very purpose of the Library is counter to the media industries'. Libraries reduce the number of copies of a piece of media that need to be bought for a collection of people to al enjoy that media, and the media industries' purpose is to make money through the sales of copies of media. But up until now, there has been struck a delicate balance, the consumption of media is apt to whet the appetite for the consumption of media. Libraries are not as fickle in their purchasing as consumers can be, and large number of libraries provide a healthy base line for consumption, that makes publishing less of a risk. Libraries also frequently buy more durable (and expensive) hard back editions of books. Plus, if something IS really popular the library will never buy enough copies to slake the demand so individuals will buy copies of their own. Plus the physical overhead of moving around physical media limits a libraries ability to fulfill media demand.

But that balance is coming to an end. Netflix started the revolution by demonstrating that with small enough physical media you can get away with a lot fewer libraries (distribution centers), at the cost of some latency, between selection and enjoyment. But when you have a connected world and digital media, why do you need more then one library. And that library would of course be hyper efficient so one "copy" of a movie could be watched several times in the same day, so it would be easier for a library to meet everyone's demand for popular media, and the number of copies of less desired works that the library would have to buy would be minimal.

How do you get around the fact that a single digital library could replace all other media consumption outlets? Right now most libraries pay consumer or near consumer prices for media, and library equivalents like rental stores paid premiums, but usually got some premium like early access in return. If you try to not sell to the library, or charge it so much per copy that it has to charge exorbitant memberships, then individuals will just go about replacing it with consumer copies of media, or you'll create have-nots that will replace your media industries with ones of their own, that will eventually repeat the cycle.

When you look at the realism that it does take money to produce media, and that someone who is wildly successful at their career should be able to make enough at it to live off of for their whole adult lives, then we can't allow the eventual inevitable collapse of the library concept into a single global digital library.

The media industries of course being single minded, push for the two obvious solutions to the problem. Unsharable media, and a blanket tax on everyone to support the production of the media that everyone is consuming. The real problem here is that both of those solutions remove market factors from media. The benefit low quality media should be able to reap should be limited, but a blanket tax, would probably be blind to this, and with unsharable media you don't have used copies of the media coming onto the market quickly and undercutting the initial high price of media that's not worth it.

So how do you balance the values of fair compensation for work, sharing, fair pricing, and ownership? You start by enumerating those values, and realizing that while your interests may not immediately be best served immediately by embracing them all that in the long term you have to consider every one that is part of the media ecosystem and value them too. The other thing that you have to do is look for the technologies that have been disruptive to help solve the problem. Some ideas include distributed patronage where lots of people pay a little upfront to fund something so that it doesn't have to make money on the tail end, which with the internet actually starts to become feasible. Using technology to improve media consumption, helping people fill the portions of their life that are ripe to be filled with media consumption but have been too awkward, help people find new media better [personally i'm tired of having stuff recommended to me because I like one things I'd prefer recommendations based on the whole picture of who I am]. I think you also have to recognize the problem now and scale back some of the media industries' excesses, the more out of whack the compensation of the people at the top is with reality, the faster we move towards the breaking point, and conversely consumers need to do more to value the media they consume so that the media companies feel less defensive.

Of course there are other factors in play in all of this, that deserve posts of their own. If this was a simple topic it wouldn't merit all this discussion.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Technology Giveth, Technology Taketh away.

There would be no mass media without technology. So talking about one of the major technology issues facing the content industries seems like a logical place to start.

Technology is predictable, for just about any technology there is a progression. Technology makes the impossible possible. Perhaps at first not very well or very safe, but possible and almost inevitably very expensive at least to begin with. Then technology steadily improves, doing things better and safer. It also makes them cheaper, sometimes not until a threshold of cheap enough and safe enough have been reached, but eventually.

And that technology progression almost always lead to problems with business. When some technology is new it's expensive and some one has to shell out a lot for the equipment and has to make it back in time to replace it. And because the technology started so expensive and the initial investment was so high, It's not unreasonable that the people who fronted the money for the equipment might make a lot of money off of it. But technology is going to improve and the need for a middle man that owns the necessary equipment is going to go away. But it seems like as often as not the middle men that have been making a lot of money for a long time aren't prepared and fight tooth and nail in order to remain middle men. That's not saying that they should go out of business, but they should be looking for new ways to be a middle man that continue to grow the content.

The example of this that comes best to mind is the record companies. In the past month I've bought Indy band albums that were produced independently, advertised on youtube and I found through some combination of being picked up for ads, and people linking to them from facebook. Increasingly the record companies are being cut out of the loop of my music buying, not because of some stance of mine, but because as technology has made them irrelevant at their traditional roles, they have failed to evolve into new ones.

The lesson is that if you are in a content industry, and your stake in the business is that you own the expensive equipment, then you should have an exit strategy or a transition strategy. Because odds are that at some point the equipment will start getting cheaper.

And before I go to save a largely redundant post, the same trends in technology impact the makers of content consumption devices. Unit costs will go down, so even at steady margins profit per unit will go down, and eventually units will go down. Worse then that, there will be periodic technology plateaus where next improved type of player isn't obvious and if you're not spending R&D to find the next thing to make, when some one else does you'll be left in the dust. Case in point Sony losing it's music player dominance to Apple.