More on the retarded Apple vs. Real

This fight between Apple and Real over who can sell license music for the iPod is absurd. Let’s look at what’s happening, starting off with a quick recap of the story.
Apple sells iPods and sells licenses music through their iTunes Music Store. They make most of their money on iPods, and a little from the store.
Meanwhile, Real makes money by making it really hard to find their free player, and play around with the idea of making money off of music files the way Apple does.
So Real created a way for iPod owners to put the music they downloaded from Real on their iPods. This upset Apple, who makes money when people buy iPods, because it made the iPod more attractive to potential buyers. They vowed to stop Real from making more music available for their iPod.
In response Real, banking on all the customer loyalty they’ve built by hiding their free download, installing all sorts of popup adware and junk desktop icons, thought it would be a good idea to start a grassroots campaign.
What they didn’t count on was the fact that the mac faithful have grown by leaps and bounds thanks to reality distortion field generators embedded in white earbuds. The zealots responded including such biting bon mots as

You people are wrong, wrong, wrong. If we wanted ‘choices’ like yours, they wouldn’t have to be foisted on us. Most of us, given a real choice, would rather see you and your tactics go away. ‘Competition’ doesn’t give you any right to reverse-engineer when you feel like it, but come down on those that hack into your IP rights. It’s theft, pure and simple.

Apparently the author isn’t aware that Real doesn’t actually come to your house and install Harmony on your computer at gunpoint. He is correct in surmising that Real is acting hypocritically which is, you know, unheard of for a large corporation. Luckily Apple is above hypocrisy. OK that was a cheap shot, but how is this different from Apple using the reverse-engineered Samba in OS X?
Real also temporarily dropped the price of their songs to $0.49, which really pissed people off. I don’t know why people who don’t own Apple stock or get an Apple paycheck would be upset at the idea of getting the same product for half price.
This also lead to people saying that Real is losing money by selling songs for less than $0.99. This seems really weird to me, considering the cost of reproduction is nil. I know amateur music collectors who have more than Real’s 200,000 songs archived, I don’t think storage is that expensive. Bandwidth doesn’t cost $0.10/meg in the developed world. I’m not saying that they aren’t a loss leader due to licensing costs, I just think it’s weird to think that something virtual can be a loss leader. It’s not like they have to spend a lot of money mining raw materials.
As we move through closer and closer to sanity, we get people who call for Real to just license mp3s the way eMusic does. What seems to be missing is a call for Apple to do the same, which seems odd. Well not that odd, if you consider that a lot of these people are newly formed Mac fanboys who haven’t learned that Apple can be a bit of a bitch goddess. They’ll fight for Apple no matter what, thanks to the mind control properties of their white earbuds.
The funniest part to me is the fact that none of this should be unexpected. The whole purpose of DRM is to give companies artificial monopolies over their marketplaces. That’s right, that link is important enough for a whole sentence and then some.
Of course all intellectual capital is, is an artificial monopoly framework. DRM just takes that framework and making it more or less impossible to bend the rules.
To pick sides in this battle is absurd, as neither party is in the right. Both are dumb, both want to lock you in, both see you as a potential criminal instead of a potential customer and neither deserve your business. On that subject, does anyone have any complaints (aside from selection size) with eMusic?

iPod question (and an Apple rant for good measure)

[Update: Solution found by Ian – Choose “Manually manage songs and playlists” under iPod Preferences]
I picked up a slightly used iPod off a friend, taking advantage of his need for a 4G clickwheel. and am having a problem. I’ve found a ton of programs that enable me to get music off the iPod, but none that put music on the iPod, except for iTunes. Here’s what I want:
My iPod is “owned” (in both senses) by my computer at home. I then bring it to work and can move the music I’ve ripped at work and add that music to my iPod, in addition to the music I have from home. I don’t want to copy my iTunes library onto my iPod, bring it home, and add it to my home iTunes collection. I just want to put the music on it from whatever computer I happen to be in front of, without losing the music that’s already on the iPod.
But maybe that’s the point. Apple talks about the “digital media hub,” not the digital media network. They want to be at the center of your digital media universe, they don’t want your iPod talking to your Rio talking to your XBox talking to your set-top-box talking to your Linux system. In a digital media network, everything needs to be able to talk to everything, which means Apple loses its place of control.
And don’t think for a second it isn’t about control. Google isn’t finding it for me, but I remember reading a post (probably from Copyfight or The Importance Of…) where the author was told by an Apple rep that even if the music industry hadn’t asked for DRM on the iTunes Music Store they would have insisted on it. That puts them in a place of control, where their store and their player are only interchangeable with each other.
Real recently (and Power Computing before them) did a good job of pointing out Apples need for control by creating a way for the iPod to play music rented from another online music store. You can read this good summery of the silliness of Apple and Real fighting for control, but the bottom line is that Apple will fight tooth and nail for the power that comes with controlling digital music distribution.
Rants about Apple’s power struggle aside, is there any way to add music to my iPod from a computer that isn’t linked to it?

eBay to sell digital music

Not to milk my 15 seconds of fame too much, but I’m gonna put on my egoist hat for this post. eBay will be doing a trial wherein pre-approved sellers (AKA rights holders) will be able to auction off digital music (via Engadget). They very specifically note “a buyer of downloadable media through eBay cannot re-list or resell the media on eBay.” This must be how the person who forced Windex to put “Do not drink” on their labels feels.
USA Today has the story, including a quote from me about the aforementioned auction as well as reference to how I “fumed about it ever since on his Internet blog.”

24 hours of iTMS

I’ve been tracking the number of songs distributed from iTunes Music Store for the past 2472 hours, using the numbers on Apple’s homepage since noon on July 6. In 24 hours Apple distributed 483,091 songs, going from 96,995,792 to 97,478,883, averaging 20,128 songs/hour. At the current rate, my Excel spreadsheet (my first!) says that 100 million songs contest will end at 5:14 PM 12:55 PM EDT on July 12th. This is almost certainly wrong as sales will speed up as the number approaches 100 million, but this just gives a general idea of how many songs Apple distributes.
You can download the raw data or my Excel file if you like. I’ll try to update this post and the Excel file at least every 24 hours until Apple stops posting the numbers. Also, there’s no purchase necessary, you can enter the 100 million songs contest for free.
The contest ended at 1:21 AM EDT July 12, but they kept updating the numbers for another 13 hours. I’ve posted the final data and spreadsheet, which goes from noon on July 6th (96,995,792 downloads) to 2:30 PM on July 12th (100,192,509 downloads). If you need iTunes Music Store statistics, this provides a pretty granular view, although it’s most likely distorted due to the contest. Fin. [Last updated: July, 14 @ 9:00 AM]

Independent 100?

I was talking to Ben from the RIAA Radar and Mixmatcher about independent music and he pointed out that Apple has posted an "Independant 100 Playlist" to their music store that claims to celebrate independent music, like Hillary Duff. He says that of the 100 albums 47 are from truly independent labels.
I’ll take his word for it because I’m not about to do a hand recount, but I thought that was pretty odd. Apple doesn’t seem to be doing much better with their user created iMixes either.

HOWTO: How and Why You Would Want To Get Ogg Vorbis on iTunes

OGG? OGG? WTF is OGG? I’ll get to that in a moment, and then after I’ve gotten to that I’ll get to two methods for getting Ogg Vorbis files to play in iTunes. One method is insanely easy but will take a while, the second method is much quicker and somewhat harder. Now, I get to the getting to that.
Ogg Vorbis is a free competitor to MP3. “But wait,” you say on cue, “MP3s are, err, free-ish. I don’t have to pay anything to legally encode my legally purchased CDs on a computer that I certainly didn’t win in a bar bet in Tijuana.” That’s right, you don’t have to pay anything, but someone does.
A company called Faunhofer owns several patents that are used with MP3s, and so every time you download an MP3 playing program the maker has to spend money. If you still hate Apple after all they’ve done for you you could download iTunes several billion times and drive them into a much-predicted bankruptcy. (Probably not)
If you or one of your geeky friends wanted to make your own MP3 player you’d have to pay Fraunhofer, even if you gave it away for free. Sure that seems unlikely – considering the free mp3 players available for download – but my girlfriend seems to insist on cooking from scratch when there’s perfectly good meals available in my supermarket’s frozen foods and cereal aisles. My point is that people make all sorts of crazy things from scratch, except she doesn’t have to pay royalties on her excellent pasta salad.
(Aside: MP3 is short for MPEG Audio Layer 3, and MPEG is an acronym for Motion Picture Experts Group. Does that mean that MP3 expands to “Motion Picture 3,” even though it’s an audio format? What’s the matter, did I just blow your mind?)
Am I against giving Fraunhofer their due? Not really, but I’m not champing at the bit to give them money for something the Vorbis people are able to do for free. Should you get rid of all your MP3s and re-encode all your albums as Ogg Vorbis? If you’ve got that much time on your hands, I guess, but I’m not doing it.
What should you do with Ogg Vorbis? If you’re part of the 83% of musicians that provides music online consider putting up Ogg files. When you rip your new music, rip it as Ogg Vorbis. Or you can just listen to LiveJournal Phone Posts and make fun of people for all their drama.
More importantly, why should you use Ogg Vorbis? Well it sounds better. Also, copyright protections are eroding our rights and by using an open format you know that it won’t track users. If you don’t think that file formats are that important, Larry Lessig puts forward an excellent case in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace for how computer code is creating laws that no citizen can protest.
So now that the advocacy for Ogg Vorbis is out of the way, continue reading for how to get it going in iTunes.

Continue reading “HOWTO: How and Why You Would Want To Get Ogg Vorbis on iTunes”

iTunes 4.5 Good and Bad

iTunes 4.5 has been out for a couple days, and it’s certainly a big refinement of 4.0. Of the new features, I think iMix is the most interesting, because it acknowledges one of the driving forces behind SongBuddy — that people who listen to music can drive the market. I would like to see them rewarding people who post iMixes in the same way Amazon rewards people who drive sales through recommendations, but I doubt their razor-thin margins would support a referral program.

The other big thing is that iTunes 4.5 reduces the use of music that you’ve spent money on (notice I didn’t use the word bought). As Jim Heid explains: You can now burn a playlist containing purchased music up to seven times (down from ten). And the old workaround of simply changing the playlist slightly does not work. LawGeek picks up on what this means: So after one year and 70 million songs, $0.99 now buys you less rather than more — seven hard burns instead of ten soft ones. What will Apple “allow” us to do with the music we “buy” next year? three burns? one? zero? If you don’t like the new rules, can you return your song to Apple to get your money back?

The problem with DRM is that you don’t own anything it protects. You’re renting, and the contract can change at any time. As a general rule, owning something is a far better choice than renting, but what happens when that isn’t available? Where can I buy a copy of the iTunes Exclusive Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out? By supporting this market, people are supporting the erosion of their rights as consumers.

So what can be done? Well personally I’m boycotting the iTunes Music Store until they start selling music until renting it. I’m not spending a lot of time (outside of this post, I guess) advocating that other people boycott it, I simply realized that the store is a bad deal financially and politically. However, if you do enjoy shopping there, you would do well to consider what changes Apple might make to the terms of use in the future, and what your options are if those changes affect you negatively. If you don’t want to lose more rights, be sure to let them know what you think before they change the terms of the deal again.

Generic Anti-Camera Phone Form

Here’s something I wrote last night after being inspired by the generic spam solution response form.
Did Slashdot just post another story about camera phones? Quick you’ve got to comment about how worthless they are! But it’s so hard to form a coherent argument while wiping all that foam from your mouth, what to do? The solution is in front of you! I’ve used science to create a form that lets you express everything that’s wrong with camera phones, just by checking off the appropriate lines. Just put an X next to the statements you agree with and post away. Score: 5 (Insightful) was never easier!
( ) Now I’m not a luddite, but
Camera phones are stupid because they are:
( ) over-hyped
( ) inferior to digital cameras
( ) inferior to landline phones
( ) inferior to wireless neural communication
( ) stupid
I don’t need a phone with a camera in it, I just need a normal cell phone that:
( ) makes calls
( ) receives calls
( ) send and receive text messages
( ) lets me have a Kraftwerk ring tone
( ) has videogames
( ) syncs with my computer
( ) stores my calendar
( ) has a speakerphone
( ) has push-to-talk
( ) looks good
( ) has voice dialing
( ) stores phone numbers
( ) reminds me of birthdays
( ) is open source
( ) makes coffee
( ) suggests attractive members of the appropriate gender to hit on
( ) has GPS to direct paramedics to my car crash caused by me making a call on my “normal” cell phone
Why can’t they just give me the exact features I want, nothing more and nothing less?
I don’t even understand why you would want a camera in your cell phone because:
( ) I always carry my digital camera with me
( ) I usually don’t have my cell phone with me
( ) I only see interesting things that I have pre-scheduled
( ) My friends and family have all been blinded in a horrible accident
It’s not just that they are (over-hyped/stupid/inferior to digital cameras/inferior to landline phones/inferior to wireless neural communication), they are a threat because
( ) I am very attractive and someone may take a picture of me changing in a locker room, which is not possible with a regular camera
( ) I am very ugly and someone may take a picture of me changing in a locker room, which is not possible with a regular camera
( ) Someone may take pictures of every page of a magazine (at camera phone resolutions) instead of buying the magazine, which is not possible with a regular camera
( ) My company depends on the secrecy of a specific document which we leave lying around. Someone may take a picture of this with a camera phone, which is not possible with a regular camera
( ) I am a criminal and people may take pictures of me at “work”, which is not possible with a regular camera
( ) People may take pictures while driving, which would distract them from the road, which is not possible with a regular camera
My solution to this problem is:
( ) Promoting legislation to have any device that transmits aural and visual communications banned
( ) Yelling at anyone I see carrying a camera phone, not accepting spare change when offered by people mistaking me for a homeless person
( ) Staying inside for the rest of my life so that my soul isn’t stolen when They take my image
( ) Not buying one and shutting up about it [Note: this will reduce your Slashdot comment’s score by 4]
In conclusion,
( ) I am a far better judge of what your phone should do than you
( ) I harken back to the Good Old Days™, the simpler time of our forefathers when you could be in touch with your friends and loved ones anywhere with a cell phone that did not take pictures
( ) Free Kevin/Dimitri/Darl McBride

mehack and RSS advertising

mehack is a blog about taking what you’ve got and pushing it further. Recent posts include installing Linux on your mp3 player, extracting the drive from your mp3 player and free car diagnostic software (which probably doesn’t play mp3s). So it’s kind of fitting that they’ve hacked advertising into their RSS feed.

One of the big complaints about RSS from content providers is “how do we make money?” There are a couple schools of thought on this, the first using RSS to drive traffic to their site. Sites like Slashdot, Wired News and the like don’t give you the entire text of an update in RSS. Instead, they provide teasers that force you to visit the site for the full story.

By contrast, what mehack does is displays ads as RSS items, displayed just like any other story. What’s really impressive is that they use Google ads to provide advertising based on whatever they’ve posted. You can see what it looks like in Bloglines to get a better idea. The ads are clearly labeled, so you don’t confuse them for site content.

I’d like to see mehack document their technique and experience with this. It could provide incentive for other sites to provide RSS feeds, or it could just get really annoying. Hopefully it won’t make RSS stand for Rudely Syndicated Spam.

There’s an interesting side effect of using Google text ads with RSS. mehack posted about an open source an ODB II reader over a week ago. Since it’s still on the front page and appears to be the most popular text ad term, they keep posting ads for ODB II stuff even though it has nothing to do with whatever new item shows up in Bloglines. Maybe they should tweak their code to pull the text ad for their permalink entry instead of their frontpage.

I just received an email from r, the person who runs mehack, about his or her RSS ad system. I’ve reprinted it below with permission. Direct any questions to

i absolutely hate sites which do not provide full RSS and i find excerpts to be completely annoying. i hate how slashdot’s rss feed does not have the full content — i want all my information to be in one place and i don’t want to be having to switching between netnewswire and safari just to see a story (for many sites that i read very often, i have a python script that screen scrapes the site and produces rss that i can read in my reader.

but, as you mentioned, if i provide the full text content in my rss feed (which i actually do not. there have been stories that have a “more” link on them on my front page, and those render the same way into rss), then there is barely any incentive for people to go to my site. i don’t mind, actually. my design isn’t that great, and i don’t even allow comment posts (for now). the only way for the adwords to “work” were either for me to always write really long posts with “more” on the bottom (to do that honestly, and not have it seem that i’m posting an excerpt on the front page means that i have to take even -more- time to write a simple post, and i don’t have that time to spare), or for me to include adwords into my rss feed.

there are lots of technical difficulties in getting the adwords into the rss feed. google urls change often (even for the same ad), there is no documentation on how to do it properly (so i have to every once in a while painstakingly reverse the whole process), and its questionable whether this is even within their terms of service. i’m personally giving the blosxom plugin to people who want to use it with the restriction that they do not distribute it, and if they receive questions about it, to direct it to me. i want to stay under google’s radar until i know they won’t pull the plug on the only way i can pay for site hosting.