Dying.

War & Peace is out in December. Along with The Children's Hour, according to current MGM rumours. I will be taking a lot of DVDs home with me, it seems....
currently playing: Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah

Fitter, happier

While I'm still stuck trying to get the sockets to work, never mind the web server part that I have to build on top, the cheque for $800 that I have in front of me goes someway to reassuring me that I haven't made a terrible mistake. Bribes are always good.

I decided to skip the trip to the mall on the grounds that it didn't have everything I needed to buy, and I wouldn't forgive myself for spending a whole day there (my self-loathing is up there with Matt's), so I shuffled off to the dead mall again to buy some food and something to calm my oh-so-annyoing wisdom teeth. I also managed to pick up a jug, so I can make some Kool-Aid now (regular drinkers will know that the correct measurement of sugar is essential for obtaining something drinkable; too much and it's far too sweet. Too little, and you remember just why the US Navy uses grape flavour to clean pipes in submarines). I think the KitchenWorks shop I got it from is either over-staffed, or having a very quiet time of things; I was followed around, just in case I needed help, and they even offered to hold my ten or so bags whilst I was getting money out of my wallet. Back home, they'd just laugh to themselves as you were getting more and more tangled.

Right, I'm off to make a camera...

currently playing: Idlewild - In Remote Part-Scottish Fiction

Treading Water

Three nasty assignments, a stack of marking, a general feeling of failure, and the week's not over yet. The fact that I'm being paid tomorrow doesn't really cheer me up that much, either.

Typically, the course I'm taking simply to fulfil the requirements for the Master's/Ph.D. programme turns out to be the one I'm enjoying the most. It's probably due to the lecturer, who is one of those great lecturers (there are a few at Manchester, as well) who loves almost every aspect of their work, and they're just dying to tell you all the great things that you can do with what they're teaching you. And today he invited us to a tractor pull. Next week, he intends to explain the Fourier Transform in a way that mere mortals can understand, and I can't help looking forward to it.

Whilst I should probably be working/marking tomorrow, I'm imposing a trip to the Mall; hopefully gazing at the Macs will raise my spirits a little. The Netflix account is for the same purpose. The first DVD arrives on Monday, apparently...

currently playing: Kenickie - Acetone

Nothing to say

I'm gutted that Radio 1 is cancelling the Evening Session. Granted, I haven't listened to it for a over a year, but it was an important show, being one of the few national shows where new acts could get airplay. The news that Peel is going to an after-midnight slot in the next few months just furthers the impression that Radio 1 is sending anything not chart-worthy to the night-time ghetto (Thanks to simon b for providing the news, and also for providing great summaries on his website about the UK music scene, so I don't have to pay extortionate prices over here on imported magazines).
currently playing: Black Box Recorder - Goodnight Kiss

The Tao of Jack McCoy

I shouldn't really like Law & Order. After all, it's a show that has an unrelenting and fixed format, a cast that seems to change from season to season, and 'rips stories from the headlines'. So why is it my favourite crime show? The answer is Jack McCoy, A.D.A of New York, played by the excellent Sam Waterston. He's the complete antithesis of the stereotypical 'good guy lawyer'; this man will stop at nothing to get his conviction. He'll bend every ethics law (and break several), trick defendants into incriminating each other, break witnesses down on the stand, use inadmissable evidence in creative ways; basically he'll go to any length to get a conviction. It's hugely entertaining. I know that he wasn't the original DA (Channel 5 started the show in the UK from the 1997 series), but without him, the show would be just like every other crime show on the television. Okay, so the alcoholic Irish Catholic bit is a little clichéd, but he does it so well...

The Decline of the Music Industry

Today ends in a 'y', so it must be time for the music industry to release another report showing a downturn in music sales, and to start shouting: "See!!! You're killing music! Give us the right to hack into your computer!". They were noticeably quieter last week, when a different report said that music downloading probably hasn't hurt music sales in the way the RIAA claim. Still, music sales are down, and have been declining for several years. If it's not the fault of file sharing, then what is to blame?

  • The recession - There's an economic downturn happening all around us. Americans are not spending as much as they used to, thus they're not buying as many luxury items as before.

  • The End of the Baby Boomer Conversion - From the record labels' point of view, the CD market was a fantastic idea, as it meant that everybody had to go out and re-buy all their albums, replacing the original vinyl versions. This probably helped push CD sales for over a decade, as people slowly worked through their collections. But what happens when practically everybody has done this? The sell-through of back catalogue will go through the floor. This happened in 1996. Strangely, the record companies don't mention this anymore. The downturn started before Napster.

  • The Music Industry is rotten - due to sweeping changes in regulation, one company owns most of America's radio stations. The majority of independent labels are nothing of the sort; they're vanity labels for corporations who want to present a 'Gen-X' front. The major labels are resorting to vapid talent shows to make a few quick hits, a big-selling album, and a fast slide into obscurity. So far, they seem to be doing okay with this strategy, but each time they do it again (as in the difference between PopStars and Pop Idol sales), their returns get smaller and smaller.

  • Finally, CDs are too expensive. The RIAA can whine about how CDs are cheaper than they've ever been in real terms, and that it's naive to say that a CD only costs 10c to produce. True enough, but consider this: as far as I know, the most expensive pop album ever produced is Michael Jackson's Invincible, at a cost of $30 million dollars. The list price is $18.98. If we look at a film with a similar budget, say Austin Powers 2, and look at the DVD of the film, we can see that, for a dollar more, we get commentaries, a whole film, deleted scenes, interviews, music videos, and more besides. On the CD, we have a maximum of 74 minutes of audio. You can see why the DVD market is skyrocketing, whilst CD sales plummet.
What can the record companies do? Well, they could reduce the price of CDs, try and re-introduce some excitement back into the industry by allowing small record labels to flourish (and not buy them out when they look profitable), and making the CD package more enticing, e.g. by including DVD discs of the album/single's videos (they don't cost much to press, and they're already paying for the production of the videos already, so why not make use of them?) Will they do this? No. Instead, they want to pass laws that will allow them access to anybody's computer that they suspect is being used for file-sharing, and take measures to stop them. They want to lock up their customers, preventing them from doing things with their music that they've done for years. They'd love to force a new format upon us, to get the Boomer Effect back; but their efforts so far have failed miserably, as people are still feeling the pain from the vinyl-to-CD transfer. It's not their fault. Oh no. It's our fault. We should be grateful we can pay $20 for the new teen-pop sensation, coming straight from the baiting-pit of the smash hit TV show on Fox. We should be grateful that the watchful eyes of the RIAA are upon us, waiting to strike if we commit the sin of copying a music track to our computer, and we should be grateful that the RIAA, and its friend the MPAA, will make the computer safe for us nice little consumers.
currently playing: - something by Bob Dylan. Curse Ogg for changing their comment format.

Office Spaces

They're still in our office. Which meant that it was a little cramped this morning, but then only one person came to see me anyway, so it wasn't too bad. From the crawling pace of the Facilities trolley across the lower floor today, everyone should be in their proper places by Friday. Just in time for the holiday weekend...

Finally disposed of my traveller's cheques today. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure that they'll end up in my bank account; the staff weren't especially helpful, and I used filled in the account number on the basis that one number filled all the spaces on the deposit form, and the other one didn't. And yes, it is a wonder I manage to get through the day without causing myself any serious injury due to my incompetence.

Today, I finally visited Lenoir Hall; those of you reading this from Manchester will recognise this as an amazing achievement; in the entire three years of being enrolled at the university, I never once set foot inside the Refectory. I only managed to last two weeks here. My big fear here was that, although I read the Dining web site thoroughly to understand what I could and couldn't do, I have all these horrible, TV-implanted memories of American students coming up against the evils of the dreaded "Meal Plan". But, aside from asking for a 6-foot sandwich (ho ho), it wasn't nearly as scary as my memories suggested it would be. Also, unlike the Refectory, it actually looks well-kept, clean, and a place where you'd like to sit and eat. Plus it's a wireless hotspot. Look, I promise I will make a post which doesn't mention it eventually. Give a week or so to get it out of my system.

I think I promised pictures at some point before I left. I have a groovy small camera, the Sipix Blink, which takes reasonable 640x480 pictures, which I was planning on carrying around for taking pictures. However, it doesn't work in Linux. This is not for the lack of trying; myself and others have puzzled long and hard about how to make the camera work. We've managed to decipher the USB protocol that it uses, and we take dump image data from the camera onto disk. This is where we get stuck. The data it spits out is completely unrecognisable. It's stumped the gphoto-devel list, who are much better as this sort of thing than the rest of us. Sipix refuse to answer our questions about the camera, so we're left with a useless collection of bytes on the computer. And as I can't run Windows at the moment, there's no point in taking any pictures if there's no way of viewing them. Hopefully, my office machine will have a USB port, and I can get some pictures taken then.

You may have noticed that the right sidebar has a few extra bits showing. I'm using the MTAmazon plugin to show what I'm currently reading, and then below that is a link to my Amazon Wish List, just in case anyone is feeling really generous...

currently playing: Spiritualized - Come Together

Would Like To Meet

I'd love to meet the designer of the American traffic system. He (I'm guessing it was a He) was a rather odd sort, by all accounts. Back in sensible Britain, when you press the button on the Pelican Crossing (see? We even have a cute name for it), you expect two things to happen. One, cars will honour the red light and stop before they enter the crossing space. Two, you will eventually see the little green man telling you that it's safe to walk across the road. Obviously, over here, these two events are mutually exclusive. This leaves the pedestrian with a dilemma; should they risk life and limb by crossing whilst the red hand is present, or should they wait for five minutes, give up, and then risk being run over by the typical American's idea of a family car?

From that, you'd be right to deduce that I did some walking today; in fact I walked to a different city. Sounds impressive, but it's only a mile away from the centre of Chapel Hill. The temperature dropped to a level at which I felt I could make it there and back without needing to stop and die on the way, and I felt it was probably a good idea to get a feel for the area, considering I have to walk there and back for the upcoming Sleater-Kinney concert. Of course, when I get back to my hall, I remember that I meant to deposit my traveller's cheques into the bank today, so I'd been walking around with $1,500 all day. I will get rid of them tomorrow, promise...

People asked me questions today. And I could answer them. Which perked me up a bit, as after spending the weekend locked in my room (strangely, I can't seem to find hermit costume sellers on-line), I was feeling a little down. Being able to do something useful cheers me up somewhat. We still don't have an office; the people who are there are waiting to move into another room, and the people there are waiting on somebody else, and so on. Strange really; I didn't think situations like this ever arose outside of bad Frasier episodes.

I'm a bad person; I keep going back to this page, and finding something exciting each time I visit. You can connect one to an ethernet socket and use it as a base station! Give wireless to all your friends! Somebody take it away before I do bad things with my credit cards!

I spent a lot of the weekend trying (and failing) to get TV capturing to work successfully on my shiny new 8500DV (it has already killed Windows; Linux so far is resisiting), so I've been watching a little more television. Transformers: Armada premiered on Friday with an hour-and-a-half movie. The most impressive thing about it was just how little happened in that ninety minutes; three kids find some Transformers; other Transformers arrive and try to take them back. We don't even see any robots until around the twenty-two minute mark, which defeats the point of a show that contains BigGiantDeathRobots. The return to cel-based animation hasn't brought any big improvements - the drawings are less detailed than the orignal 1984 series, and action scenes are laughable, as they try to create an impression of movement by dragging a background across the screen, just like in Pokemon. The overall impression is of a show that was completed in a hurry, and it suffers greatly. There's a few interesting ideas (Prime's rather vague statment about the Autobots' treatment of the Mini-Cons suggests that there's more ambiguity here than in the original series, but we'll have to wait to see if anything is done with this), but it's not a great start.

Tomorrow - the RIAA, why I like Law & Order, and why you haven't seen any pictures yet..

currently playing: Carole King - Really Rosie

Fun and Games with the MPAA

If the MPAA/RIAA get the nuclear option that will require every electronic device to have DRM technology built-in, does that mean that these people will not be able to watch any TV or movie? I'd love to see how they'd spin that story...

Operating at 3,000 miles

Obviously, Bonnie's computer decided join in with my computer's ritual suicide, so today I've been re-installing Bonnie's laptop by showing her how to do it via MSN and GnomeMeeting. Hopefully, this isn't going to a recurring problem, as it takes a lot out of Bonnie and myself. At the same time, I managed to come up with an answer for Comp 142's first homework (and Java's new regex classes make the solution much easier...). I've had a brief look at the BSD sockets; they look quite nice in Python, and unbelievably ugly in C. And guess what language I have to use? That's one of the nasty problems in teaching CS - most of the time, your students are going to have more problems getting their low-level code working than actually working on the problem you've given them. I don't really want to spend my time trying to hunt down a obscure malloc bug when I could be working on something more interesting...
currently playing: Manic Street Preachers - (4)Motorcycle Emptiness