The Film Industry's Next Avatar

I mean "avatar" as a pun on the movie title and the word as meaning incarnation. It stems from this article (Marguerite Reardon, CNET) talking about Avatar director James Cameron's take on film piracy.
In a few words: he gets it.
He gets that to actually be successful in the marketplace, one must innovate; profits are not one's birthright. Where was all the fuss about the plethora of tech companies failing early last decade? Yet when filmmakers see their products being pirated, they put ever-more restrictions on the media which are ever-quicker bypassed in a vicious cycle both for the filmmakers and for the purchasers of unpirated copies. They also claim to be "victims", though the vast majority of data (not coming from the MPAA) shows that film companies are making ever-increasing profits through...theater ticket sales. I also talk about this in an earlier post.
Somehow, film companies aren't getting the fact that theater viewing is making a comeback. James Cameron understands that DVD sales are a venue for advertising, while the theater sales are the real deal.
He understands that the way to combat piracy is not to be restrictive, threatening, or litigious; rather, the way to combat piracy (and this is true of any medium - books, music, etc.) is to make acquisition of legitimate copies easier and more compelling than acquisition of pirated copies. Hence, he made the movie Avatar with 3-D graphics, which is only available in theaters; now, to see all the cool effects, people must go to theaters - watching it on DVD or on the computer is only half the experience (because as far as I know, once the effects are removed, the plot itself is a really poorly written soap opera).
A part of me goes against the notion that movies must resort to gimmicks like 3-D viewing as compelling reasons for people to attend cinema showings (as opposed to buying or pirating the DVD) - the movie has got to have substance behind all the show. That said, the movie makers are creative enough to think of some appropriate way to make their movie seem better in the theaters than on DVD (legal or pirated) - otherwise their movies wouldn't do well in terms of sales in the first place.
I understand that it is hard work for people to make a movie, and that this goes to waste when movies are pirated; what this means, though, is that movie makers need to work a little bit harder in terms of finding new ways to make cinema viewings worth people's money. By the time 3-D technology hits mainstream TVs and computers, James Cameron and other directors should be able to think of even more innovative ways to capture people's attention.


Arguments Symptomatic of Occasional Linux Community Dysfunction

This latest argument (Brian Proffitt, IT World) is part of a larger problem within the Linux community: members of the community get too caught up and too angry about the little details - GNOME vs. KDE vs. Xfce, Firefox vs. Konqueror, DEB vs. RPM, GRUB vs. LILO, etc.
This particular argument is even worse in terms of pettiness. It has to do with the fact that while before the window buttons (maximize, minimize, close) were on the right side of the top window bar, now in Ubuntu 10.04 (though (former) Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth insists that the change may not carry over to the production release) the window buttons are moved to the left (à la Mac OS X). It started out as a minor discussion before morphing into a vicious online war of words. Finally, Mark Shuttleworth had to end the argument, but not before saying, "This is not a democracy."
Follow the jump for my take.

They Call Them Heros, We Call Them Trolls

I get it from this (Glyn Moody, ComputerWorld UK) article.
Basically, an ex-Microsoft employee has founded a company that simply buys up all the patents it can and then licenses them at high fees. They don't actually do anything with the patents.
The saddest part (and this is to those who will come in defense of the inventiveness of the company) is that the companies spokespeople themselves have admitted just this.
At least they have the honor to admit that what they are doing might not be on the highest moral grounds. (Mr. Moody, I disagree with your assertion that this is a bad thing. At least they are being upfront about the ethics of their actions.)
Moody's title is "Beware of the King of the Trolls". I think this may merit a little more explanation: on the Internet, people who "yell" and "scream" (using all-caps, bad grammar, and poor spelling) unsubstantiated claims are called trolls. This is exactly what the company is doing - making unsubstantiated claims to would-be inventors about patents just to scare them off.
People on the Internet ostracize trolls and ban them from message boards and such. Would it be so hard to "scale it up"?
And for those people who think I am against patents, while I think that usually individual patents work for the individual and for society, these corporate patents are the things against which I rail.


More Evidence Against the MPAA and RIAA

This article (Andres Guadamuz, TechnoLlama) is pretty detailed and has pretty good analysis on why the RIAA and MPAA's repeated cries of industry-ruining piracy are wrong.
Let me simply say that as more legal digital sales occur, piracy drops. Also, there is a wave of renewed interest in actually going to movie theaters and music concerts (as opposed to buying albums or film DVDs). However, neither the RIAA nor the MPAA wants anyone to believe this.


Reflection: SGA Spring Project

Our school's SGA spring project this year was about awareness of pollution, environmental damage, and global warming.'
(If you find any factual issues with this post, please post a comment!)
Their intentions were admirable...

[Day 1 (2010 March 16) - The Future:
The SGA decided to illustrate its vision of the future (literally). To demonstrate the effects of future energy and water shortages, the vast majority of lights were turned off, while all but 2 bathrooms and water fountains were closed down. Furthermore, teachers were not allowed to use the copy machines or the interactive display boards (though this rule was not strictly enforced).
In addition to this, the date was set as Tuesday, 2060 March 16 (which happens to be an actual date). Rather than announcing pertinent news on after-school activities and such, the anchors decided to simulate a newscast on the disastrous effects of global warming by reporting the deaths of animals at the zoo and the deaths of polar bears in the Arctic Circle.
My problem with this, of course, is that environmentalism is not environmental alarmism. People shouldn't have to speculate and raise wild doomsday predictions; the environment is bad enough now as it is. Alarmism only turns people off from the cause of conservation; I think even Al Gore gets that now, as most presentations on environmental conservation have turned away from the Al Gore-style predictions of an environmental apocalypse many years in the future.
Closing the bathrooms and water fountains? Really? Was the school asking for a lawsuit?
The choice of reporting on animal deaths was also bad; if the environment gets that bad in 2060, humans will have a lot more to worry about [themselves] than animals at the zoo.
Essentially, the main problem was that the message on Tuesday was raw emotion combined with dystopian speculation. That won't work to convince people to actually take part in environmental conservation; to the contrary, that just makes people pessimistic and unwilling to actually change anything. What's necessary are moral and logical (solid data) appeals regarding the environment as it stands right now. This means that any and all (positive and negative) developments should be taken into account, stressing that while the positive achievements are great, the problem is far from solved.

Day 2 - The Problems Right Now:
Well, that was nice. The SGA really did read my mind and went for a fact-based approach, detailing all the problems our school alone has with trash and energy waste. It was good because it showed what's wrong right now in terms that are easy to relate to and understand. I also thought the water bottle tower and trash bag pile were really cool; this is the kind of simple but effective method that should have also been used the previous day. (I was disappointed to learn that the trash bags and the newspapers filling them are not going to be recycled. Can anyone support/refute this?)

Day 3 - The Simple Solutions:
Following up with the posters of all the problems we had, the SGA also put up posters of simple solutions that students can practice in trying to reduce waste of resources. This includes stuff like putting a computer to sleep when not in use, turning the monitor off, not running the water when brushing one's teeth, and unplugging device chargers when not in use, among other things. These things really do make sense and are easy practices to put into effect. The SGA came by with 2 videos and a presentation; one of the videos humorously illustrated these "Do's and Don't's".
Sadly, the other SGA video was not so good. The SGA used the size of a Chipotle burrito to help us relate to the effects of climate change on the food supply. It basically shows a current burrito get smaller in the future.
The problem with the video is that as the shot of the burrito is taken head-on, the "smaller" burrito is actually just the same size and is just farther back from the camera than the current-sized burrito. Even a 3-year old could do that trick.
On a side note, wouldn't it be better if burritos got smaller? (Then I could actually eat one! [Just kidding.]) But on a more serious note, isn't the larger size of everything at restaurants a partial contributor to today's obesity crisis, which has paralleled the rise in global temperatures? If we had smaller burritos, the strain on the food supply would be less, the burritos would be cheaper, and Americans in general would be skinnier (though probably not by a whole lot). The current system is basically a self-feeding destructive cycle which would need to be broken at some point either because of food shortages or because of obesity one day becoming even less in control than today.
The SGA members who came to our English class also talked about the "Do's and Don't's" of environmental conservation along with throwing around some numbers about pollution and global temperatures.
There were some problems with this too, however. Somehow, the SGA representatives for our class confused the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole, conflating the rise in carbon dioxide emissions with the widening of the ozone hole. In actuality, however, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are the cause of the ozone hole. Since their banning in the 1970s and subsequent decline in use (though they are still being used in many air conditioning units), the ozone hole has shrunk considerably, and in the very near future we could potentially see a closing of the hole altogether. This was not the only problem, however: there were a few other minor mistakes, but also a major misleading statement.
The statement says that as global temperatures rise, the incidences of heart attacks and strokes will rise.
I can understand strokes, but heart attacks? Might that not just be because the rise in global temperatures is occurring at the same time as the rise in waistlines? There may actually be a causative effect, but right now this is just a classic case of correlation-versus-causation. Just like the example of how height and vocabulary generally increase with age (but learning new words does not automatically make one taller - otherwise, if I say so myself, I would be rather colossal in stature), the 2 are linked to time but not necessarily to each other (though they are also linked to increased populations and consumption habits). Despite the SGA's best efforts to shake off this notions, everything they said to achieve this only reinforced the view that global warming causes heart attacks.

Day 4 - The Presentation:
Today was the final day of the project (as done by the SGA - after this, it's up to us to save the environment), so the SGA made their final presentation to the entire school (split into 2 groups to ease seating in the auditorium, given the large school population).
The presentation wasn't too bad. Then again, everything the SGA did after Day 1 wasn't so bad compared to Day 1. But really, the presentation wasn't that bad.
The SGA spoke about all these efforts and had a guest speaker (who worked for Michelle Obama during the 2008 Presidential Election campaign) talk about more national efforts along these lines. I like the fact that he really emphasized jobs and energy independence (i.e. national security) as driving reasons behind going green. However, he culled a few slides from Al Gore's presentation, including the graph of global temperatures. It shows the changes in global temperatures over time. The temperature stays relatively constant over time until the very end, at which point the temperature dramatically shoots up.
However, if one looks at the time scale used, it is on the order of magnitude of many thousands of years.
Well, duh.
It becomes plainly obvious why the spike is there; the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution is a very short period of time compared to the time scale used. It's a prime example of using misleading scales to mislead the audience (even if the data itself is correct). What would be much more correct would be to graph the trend in global temperatures from the mid-1800s till now. For all that, humans did not settle down in agricultural communities until 12000 years ago.
There is one more egregious error that I felt so strongly about that I went up to some SGA members immediately after the presentation and corrected them on this; thankfully, they have said that they will let the others know, though I don't know if this will actually happen. As someone who is working (at NIST) on something that Energy Secretary Steven Chu has mandated (with respect to climate change and energy savings) and having attended a lecture based on his past (Nobel Prize-winning) work on lasers and supercooling, I do not appreciate hearing a manipulated biography.
The guest speaker claimed that [20 minutes prior to the start of his speech] he learned that Steven Chu graduated from our school.
That's not even possible, considering he was born in 1948. Assuming he was 18 when he graduated, he would have graduated 4 years before the construction of our school was complete.
Repeat after me: Steven Chu did not graduate from Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School. He was born and grew up in the Midwest.
The person they were thinking of was Chris Lu, who spoke at last year's graduation ceremony. He graduated in 1984. He is now Cabinet Secretary for the Obama Adminstration. Though it may be easy to confuse 2 Chinese gentlemen working for the Administration, they work in completely different fields. Anyway, Chris Lu is the only member of the Administration who graduated from this school.]

...but the execution was bad beyond belief. The SGA seems to have gotten so many facts wrong and makes such emotionally charged claims (without caring to look at the current developments, like the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs and the increasing use of domestic natural gas, etc.) that I'm not sure whether conserving the SGA way is really a good thing.
I'm for environmental conservation, but not for emotional reasons.
Put a different way, I think Arctic ice melting is a problem for humans, but not because of polar bears dying (though I like polar bears).
This project was definitely worse-executed than the Internet Safety project (2007) and the Every 20 Minutes project (2009), and probably just as bad as the Rock The Vote project (2008).


Review: CrunchBang ("#!") Linux 9.04.01

A friend of mine (you know who you are) mentioned that his computer has been slowing down. I've recommended trying out Linux; after hearing the specs (less than 256 MB RAM), I searched for a suitable light distribution and settled on CrunchBang (hereafter called "#!") version 9.04.01.
The version may give a hint as to its origins: #! is Ubuntu under the hood but has an elegant Openbox (as opposed to GNOME) front-end (and compatibility with all the GTK+-based applications). #! thus also has access to Ubuntu's excellent repositories, and anything applicable to Ubuntu is applicable to #! (unless the issue pertains to the desktop environment/window manager).

(UPDATE: Follow the jump to see the full review and pictures.)


100th Post + College Acceptances!

Happy 100th post U-Blog!
Many of you also know of my recent college acceptances.
Those 2 colleges are not the only two from which I will be choosing. There are other factors that will bring other colleges into the mix as well.
These are exciting (and stressful) times!


I'm With Republicans on Intellectual Monopolies

I say this in response to this (Thom Holwerda, OSNews) article on Obama's support for the RIAA, MPAA, and other lobbies on the topic of intellectual monopolies.
He has claimed that "Our single greatest asset is the innovation and the ingenuity and creativity of the American people".
Yes. That's true. Go on.
"It is essential to our prosperity and it will only become more so in this century. But it's only a competitive advantage if our companies know that someone else can't just steal that idea and duplicate it with cheaper inputs and labor."
Wait, what?
Isn't the whole point of a competitive advantage to be able to produce the same good/service at a lower cost, benefiting everyone (consumers AND producers) in the economy? Come on, that's Economics 101/AP Economics!
Or, is he seriously suggesting that higher costs just to maintain monopolies is OK?
I don't know how we are going to move forward as an economy with that kind of thinking - not when somehow ensuring that the "original inventor" gets all the revenue (to the detriment of all else).
Thankfully, as stated in the article, the EU Parliament has shot down the ACTA. Good for Europeans - sadly, the American people are not informed enough to ask representatives and senators to do the same (right) thing.
The title? Usually it's Democratic politicians who are proactive about introducing new restrictions on digital rights and enforcing new, longer-lasting intellectual monopolies. This mainly derives from Hollywood's influence on the Democratic party. Republicans do not have this connection, so they are a little more reserved about introducing such new intrusive laws (in line with their beliefs in small government); sadly, they rarely have the guts to oppose "protection of 'intellectual property'" (and this is one time where I want the Republicans to be more proactive in this regard). That's why I'm with the Republicans on this one.


Media Finally Catch On to Ill Effects of DRM

The title is pretty self explanatory, coming from this (Mike Smith, Yahoo! Games) short article.
To sum up, the first two restrictions (single-use codes and multiplayer restrictions) require an additional fee if there is a new owner, while the last two restrictions (digital games and install limitations) have no (legal) workaround at all (i.e. the game is useless after first sale).
It seems like some people in the (non-open-source, non-technical-legal) media finally get why DRM is bad for content like books, music, and video games.
Historically, publishers have only had control over the first sale (and nothing afterwards). These same companies would make quite good profits with this.
However, it seems like many video game companies are becoming especially greedy and intent on taking away consumers' rights to do whatever they please with their purchased property. Now, video game makers not only have control over first sale but over every other transaction afterwards (of that game).
This will kill the highly lucrative used video game and video game rental industries, which have to fork over huge chunks of their revenue just to continue operating (or face the possibility of not being able to operate under any circumstance).
It's the same reason why DRM on music will kill the used music industry (similarly, eBooks with DRM).
Stop the madness now. DRM may increase short-term revenues of companies, but in the long-term, there will be fewer purchases of video games (due to these ill effects) and as a result the industry as a whole will shrink.


Microsoft's Gall

A few different news outlets are reporting Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing [which is anything but] VP's proposal to tax all computer users for malware that has spread to a large number of computers.
This post is going to be short because I have few (but strong) responses to this - the most important being raw disgust.
I mean, what?
Microsoft is making everyone pay to clean up their mess?
That takes a lot of gall to suggest.
The solution, of course, is to get people to move to Linux, BSD, [Open]Solaris, and maybe Mac OS X in the short term, and to get the employees at Microsoft to produce a decent version of Windows (is that really so hard?) in the long term.
No one would have to pay a tax, and productivity would shoot up like a rocket!
In the meantime, if this tax was actually to be instituted, considering that I will (in the very near future) become a tax-paying citizen, will I get a tax break for running Linux? I sure hope so.


In Praise of Senioritis

Almost all fellow high-school seniors are "afflicted" with "senioritis" in the second semester of senior year.
Jay Matthews, the education columnist for the Washington Post, has written this piece in support of senioritis. I basically agree with his assertions and want to go further using my own experiences as a high-school student.
The standard warning against slacking off in 2nd semester is that colleges revoke admissions. Yet year after year, college admissions officials assure students and parents that such revocations have only occurred a few times in the last few decades, if at all.
I understand that a lot of students are very high-achieving and have demanding parents; I am one of those students.
That said, at some point, one cannot help but think that once the warning of revocation of admissions is removed from the picture, there is no logical reason to warn against slacking off - that is, the warning exists for its own sake.
Thankfully, despite taking "hard" classes, my senior year has been my most relaxed year in high school since 9th grade (which was pretty darn relaxed, so that's saying something). I've participated in (and generally succeeded in - yay!) all the competitions I have wanted to do this year, while my classes have been quite light on homework (with few occasional exceptions).
Given this, I still feel the drive to work hard. Maybe that's just my personality, or maybe it's just not something that can easily be changed after 12.5 years of this sort of training (well, maybe not that many, what with the early years of elementary school). I still do all of my homework and come to class every day (though given my situation, how could I skip without my parents knowing?).
What are your thoughts on senior year and senioritis?


Reflection: XXI Winter Olympics - Vancouver 2010

As the games wrapped up yesterday night with the closing ceremonies, I thought it would be good to reflect on the games.
I really enjoyed watching the sports themselves: my favorites were hockey, curling, ski jumping, and aerial skiing.
That said, the games overall were kind of bad.
It started off on a depressing note with the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili. The IOC has claimed that investigation into his death is not their responsibility.
But then they feel that it is perfectly appropriate to condemn the Canadian women's hockey team for celebrating their victory by bringing champagne and cigars onto the rink.
Wait, what?
So basically, the IOC would rather exercise jurisdiction over the stupid little things and shirk from the hard issues facing it.
What's worse is that the IOC president and his team don't even fully know what their responsibilities are, as said to a journalist who asked this.
Wow. Bra-vo, Monsieur Rogue (yes, that was an intentional misspelling).
Next, the opening ceremonies were boring. That's not the worst, though - when it came time to light the torch, the mechanisms malfunctioned, so only 3 out of the 4 supporting pillars for the cauldron moved into the right place.
During the course of the games, one of the rinks where speed skating was being held had some bad ice and needed to be re-iced. Somehow, all of the ice-surfacing machines broke down.
This, in Canada.
That is truly pathetic; for this, the races were delayed by over an hour.
Later on during the games, in one day of one of the bobsled races, almost every team crashed.
That's not something wrong with the teams; that's something wrong with the venue/track.
While I congratulate the Canadian team for getting the most gold medals, all in all, these were quite poor games in terms of execution by the organizers (the athletes themselves are blameless in this regard).