iTunes' $10 movie

There’ve been a couple of reports that Apple wants to start selling feature length movies on iTunes for (US) $9.99. And that Hollywood is resisting the idea to have a flat rate. Let's disregard the problem of how this whole thing is tied to iTunes, which should only be used for music.

(As a side note, it would be ideal if buying an online film through iTunes was independent of file quality, but I’m certain that won’t be the case. I’d expect 640 by 480 resolution at most due to file size problems, but I also expect they’ll want us to pay up again when the resolutions are eventually bumped up to HD. That’d be getting something for nothing, otherwise, and there’s no business sense in that, unfortunately.)

Having been a somewhat avid DVD buyer for a few years (I’ve since — mostly — given up, as the number of movies I really want to own doesn’t increase very often), I’m totally keen on the idea of a flat rate. As a consumer, it’s incredibly galling to buy a movie for, say $15 only to find it a couple of months later for $10. The feeling is that there’s no real cost involved with selling the product and that the price is set fairly arbitrarily.

The biggest attraction to owning a DVD is that the huge volume of cinema means that if you really want to see an obscure title, chances are fairly slim it’ll be in your local video store. You’re literally paying for the privilege of being able to find it again, sometimes. Supplementary attractions to DVD ownership are those interminable special features, which always sound so good at the time but more often than not provide little of interest.

We buy movies to watch them. But we also pay money to see movies at the cinema for a flat rate. Not even a different charge (with the small exception of gold class cinemas) for different sized screens or for comfier seats or for movies that have been playing for weeks. So sure, charge more online for extra special features or what have you. But if I just want to watch a film, it’s obnoxious or greedy or both to make the consumer pay more depending on when they want to buy. The new release blockbusters will make up the profits on volume, anyway.


Apple's openness: my data in 10 years?

This post centres around openness — what happens in 10 years when I want to access my stuff on my proprietry computer?

Let’s open it up with a quote that sums up where I stand. Concluding his followup article on Apple’s seeming non-openness of its x86 Darwin OS on which Mac OS X is built, Tom Yager said

The Mac platform is an overflowing basket of raw materials for innovators and creators of all stripes. It’s what Steve Jobs would fantasize about if he still worked out of his garage, and you can bet that he’d be livid to find that the vendor locked some portion of his chosen platform behind a gate without a word of notice or explanation.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think those would be good odds. “I could bet” SJ wants an open Apple? It’s the one question I’d love to know answered, but one I’m certain I’ll never know for sure. There’s no indication either way that Apple, and by personification, Steve Jobs, does care that much about locking up my data behind a gate, even if that gate doesn’t slam shut for another 10 years.

Mark Pilgrim started it all when he decided to switch away from Apple to Linux. John Gruber then wrote exhaustingly on the topic. Both make good points. Mark feels too locked in by Mac OS X (and Apple’s associated software), with the horrible thought that at some stage, his work or his life will be unable to be retrieved due to some poorly thought out software decision. The short of it: Apple only cares that software works now, not that what you produce with it will be useful in the far future.

John agrees that it’s a good point, going off for a while (justifiably, given his audience) on a big tangent how it’s a valid point to have. Data openness overrides any aesthetic considerations of Apple’s hardware or software. (And even then we all know Apple’s software can be pretty hideous at times.) John isn’t sure that Mark’s reaction is entirely the right decision:

…if Apple’s lack of openness were a disaster in the making, it (the disaster) would have occurred already.

But I disagree with this point. Only in the last half-dozen years has digital input and storage increased to such an extent that it’s not unreasonable to consider storing hundreds of thousands of photos on a computer in easily browsable form. Let alone self-edited home movies. The ease with which it is possible facilitates a much greater creative output than when we stored video on VHS and photos in shoeboxes.

People concerned with keeping their digitally written documents in a long-term storable form forsook Microsoft Word years ago, flocking to more stable formats such as SGML and LaTeX.

A larger (in my eyes) can of worms opens up when you consider digital music. This isn’t stuff you create yourself any more; now we’re talking about cash being transferred for media that you seemingly own. I’m scared to buy music from iTunes, for two reasons: it’s so god-damn easy, it’s addictive. But that’s a trivial reason. The second is more serious: what happens if all that lovely copy-protected music is rendered unreadable for one of a variety of reasons?

(The same argument holds for DVDs, one of the reasons I’ve stopped buying them. What the hell do I do with a whole collection of movies that will only play in Australian DVD players if I move to another country?)

And I’m talking about legal options here. If iTunes DRM is easy to crack now, then adjust my argument for something more hole-proof, such as Windows Media.

These issues literally make me scared of using computers, because it’s conceivable — to me — that I might wind up in a spiral of doom in which I end up with the choice of either abandoning my stuff or using the exact same system (same hardware, same software) in perpetuity. This later case clearly isn’t tenable.

So, what to do? The solution for music is to buy MP3s from emusic.com, or buy unprotected CDs from which to rip. This situation might not last forever, but I hope it does. Larger problems loom for movies.

The solution for software isn’t so clear. Software companies, in the ideal case, would acknowledge that they’re not omnipotent and won’t be around forever; the formats they use to store their information should be totally transparent. In the short term, that requires careful choice of software to use: I guess, then, that it’d be advisable to ditch iLife, et al., until Apple as a company starts supporting these issues. But then you lose iTunes, and that means trouble getting an iPod to work…so for now I just suck it up.

In the end, you’ve just got to have enough faith that someone, somewhere, sometime will code up an exporter for any data that’s been irrevocably locked away in some terrible future.


MacBook FireWire port


Quarter Life Crisis: “In the iBooks the FireWire port was the wrong way round. Not only did it feel unnatural to insert the FireWire cable with its ‘edgy’ side pointing towards rather than away from you. When using the iPod cable, you’d always see the Apple logo rather than the FireWire logo on the plug. Which means the orientation was just the opposite from what it usually is. And this has been fixed in the MacBook. “

I reported this as a bug years ago and received a “behaves correctly” reply. Good to see that someone was listening :)


Living in a feedback loop

I’m afraid I’ve been a little busy in the last couple of weeks trying to make more time for myself. Funny, huh? My scheme was to wake up at 7am every morning and get to uni at 8am (or close to). Eight or nine hours “working” and then I’d be able to go to the gym or go running at five, leaving the late evening for cooking, cleaning, reading, writing, typesetting, or whatever.

Well, did it work? A couple of weeks went pretty well, but this week messed up somehow. Instead of leaving home at 7:30 after a quick shower and eats, I, well, didn’t. And I’m not sure exactly why, but suddenly it’s the end of the week and I’m going to have to start all over next week.

The advantage of the current arrangement is that I’ve been leaving uni at fairly consistent times, so if I don’t get in early enough, I simply don’t do much work that day. Which is bad, obviously, but it means that I’m aware of my transgression directly, which allows me to act on what caused the problem.

If my life is a dynamic, periodic system, disturbances cause error, and this error is perceived by me as irregularities in my schedule. I can compensate for this fairly easily if I’m aware of them, and so I’m hoping that a strict leaving work time will force the feedback loop I’m living in (acting on my awareness of my schedule is the feedback) to be stable. That is, errors such as spending too much time doing not work will be cancelled out because I realise them.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of variable sleep cycles (we don’t naturally have a 24 hour sleeping cycle — monophasically — unless at least four hours are spent asleep at the same time each night; see Stampi’s book “Why We Nap”, somewhere) and I find that I will generally be happy to go with the flow, since I’ve no strict times every day at which I need to work.

I don’t know if what I’ve written makes any sense, but I’m supposed to be writing regularly to practise fleshing out thoughts at short notice coherently. I’d like to expound on this topic in more detail in the future. I’m particularly intrigued by our repetitive behaviour (or perhaps more disorganised schedules) and the analogy that can be made with control systems. I do feel like constant feedback with the brain (revisiting yesterday’s writings, yesterday’s work, …) helps me, at least, be more directed in what I’m trying to do. I’d like to say “self-aware”, but that might sound too pretentious. That’s the sort of term I mean, but on a more subconscious level.

Ah, it all just rambling.