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

This is how it is, then?

I see that Google is determined to make sure I don’t forget the entire incident. How very kind of them…

RIP Windows.

I can no longer use Windows. This isn’t a ‘I’m so happy with Linux I’ll never go back’ statement. Windows no longer boots. It gets to the start-up screen, and locks up. I’ve managed to pinpoint the fault down to my new Radeon 8500DV card. If I put my old Radeon card inside the machine, Windows is quite happy to load. This should be aeasy, right? Just select Standard VGA as a Display Card type, shutdown, and swap the cards over.


For some reason, my installation of Windows 2000 does not have the ‘Standard display types’ selection in the Hardware list. So I can’t install a Generic VGA card. Leaving me rather stuck. I really don’t want to have to go through the hassle of re-installing everything again, but it looks as if I have no other option. If anybody has any ideas, I’m open to suggestions…

Hi, Steve. Gee, your house looks nicer than Bill’s.

UPDATE: This gets better. My Windows 2000 install CD does the same thing. So I can’t even re-install. Yay for Microsoft!

currently playing: Doves - Pounding

Scott of the Antarctic

Today’s taste sensation: Mountain Dew: Code Red, or as non-marketing types call it, cherryade. Not a particularly nice one, either. Today’s journey took us along the F Line all the way to University Mall. Well, almost, as I got off with somebody else to prevent getting lost, only to end up that way a few minutes later. The decision to walk in a random direction eventually paid off, and I discovered University Mall. The name is a bit of a delusion - it’s nowhere near the Unviersity, and it falls on the very small side of the mall spectrum. However, it does have a supermarket, and I should be able to walk there once the temperature becomes somewhat sane, so it’s good enough for me. Besides, I can go to the Southpoint Mall if I need to visit the bigger stores.

The weather shows no signs of changing. Last night, I went to the first meeting of The Promethan group (it’s a poetry/arts thing. They mentioned film, okay? It appears that UNC-CH has no film society, so this was as good as I was going to get). We were getting together to watch Donnie Darko, starting at 8:30pm. Like Matt, I don’t really like shorts, so I thought that I’d wear a pair of jeans. After all, the sun has gone down, night is approaching - it has got to get colder, right? I arrvied at Hinton James North, not dripping, but drowning in sweat. It was still warm at 11pm when I went back to Carmichael. They tell me it gets better. Getting below 30oC would be a start.

But what about the film? Well, it was okay. It had a few too many obvious plot-points, overly-arty camera angles and effects, plus it kept telling us that a certain character was incredibly important, but never actually gave us any detail or explanation whatsoever. Mind you, a six-foot demonic rabbit absolves the film of many sins.

Some things have been floating around my mind recently. Anyone who’s been to a multi-level building in America and Britain will know that American floors start at 1, whilst British buildings start with a ground floor. Is there a reason for this? Has this always been the case, or did one country make an explicit change at some point in history? Secondly, when did timezones become important? I’m assuming that due to the scientific knowledge we had amassed before the invention of radio, we knew that the time would be different depending on where you were located on the planet, but when did we start to care? I presume it was soon after radio was first discovered, but it’d be interesting to find out about what changes it made in the Industrial World.

Yes, I probably do need to get out more.

My favourite song so far from the new Sleater-Kinney album:

currently playing: Sleater-Kinney - Lions and Tigers


If they ask you whether you want chips with your sandwich, it’s not what you think. It’s the equivalent of them opening three packets of Walkers Crisps and throwing them over your plate. This may be the desired effect, but it’s a good thing to remember for future reference. I’m avoiding the sweet tea on principle; where I come from, tea that arrives cold is inherently suspicious and Not To Be Trusted.

Undergraduate days may be coming back quicker than I thought - today I had the familiar experience of turning up to a lecture having done the assignment, only to discover I didn’t need to have done it at all. Still, it was probably a good way of getting me back into the programming mindset.

As I may have mentioned, tomorrow is my exploring day. I was planning on going crazy and heading out over to the Southpoint Mall as well, but I think that I’ll wait until next week unless everything goes really well tomorrow morning. This means that I won’t be able to drool at the iBooks for a week or so. This is probably a good thing, as I have recently come into some tax refund money, and I am Weak. I would dearly love one of these machines (plus an iPod, if anyone’s feeling really generous), but I don’t need it. Sure, I’d love to have a tiny, wireless-enable computer that runs a cool BSD-based OS, plus built in FireWire/USB ports that Just Work, and…and…rushes to get VISA card

Ahem. What I meant to say is that I may get one eventually, but only after I’ve sorted out my major bills of the semester. Like housing. And the plane ticket back home for Christmas. Also, given the release of Jaguar, it may be prudent to wait until Apple release a revision of the iBook that can handle the upgrade…

Scary moment of the day: walking towards Franklin Street, I pass a talking on her mobile phone. She sounds exactly, exactly like Emily Proctor. I’m afraid…and now I’m even more afraid. Her imdb profile says she comes from Raleigh, NC. Oh God. Shoot me now. And she also played Lana Lang in The New Adventures of Superman. That’s quite funny.

currently playing: Various - Sinead O’connor - Ode To Billy