October 31, 2003

Programming Language Inventor or Serial Killer?

See if you can tell the difference based on photos in this quiz. I got 8/10.

October 29, 2003

Music Service Roundup

Neil Strauss rounds up the recent developments in the music download arena in today’s New York Times. He comes to the same conclusion I did: subscription-based services are preferable to a la carte services, and Rhapsody is the best currently available subscription service.

October 28, 2003

The Double Moral Hazard of Music Consumption

Bubblegeneration has a really good piece applying principal-agent principles to music consumption. The point (though stated slightly differently) is that music consumption suffers from an information problem. You can’t know if you’ll like the music until you have it, but if you can have it before you pay for it, you’ll never pay for it. (That’s moral hazard #1.) But since you don’t know if the music is any good until you buy it, you have to buy whatever the record companies put out. They act as your agent, going out and finding music you might like then selling it to you. But since you’ll buy whatever they come up with, they may as well shirk and put out mediocre music. (That’s moral hazard #2.)

The solutions proposed in the article focus on the traditional economic response to such uncertainties, which is to purchase insurance. But a better solution, though one with its own agency costs, is subscriptions. Rather than taking a risk on each album, I can pay a fixed fee for access to all albums. In fact, I do. The agency cost here is that the subscription service has a limited incentive to spend money on growing the pool of available albums. The only reason they’d do so is to win customers away from competing subscription services. Happily, now that there’s competition in the subscription market, both subscription services are likely to maintain large and growing catalogs.

Napster 2.0: Streaming Selection

So I’ve had a chance to check out the selection on Napster 2.0. If you purchase tracks a la carte, this is a great choice. If you prefer a monthly-fee-for-all-you-can-stream environment (as I do), Rhapsody is still the best choice by far. Some observations on selection:

  • Most disappointingly, most of the Matador catalog on Napster is “purchase only”; you can stream it on Rhapsody.
  • Recent releases seem to be burn-only on Napster, but are stream-only on Rhapsody. For example, the new Shins album can be streamed but not burned on Rhapsody, but can be burned but not streamed on Napster. This is silly.
  • The classical selection is better on Rhapsody, though only because Rhapsody has the Naxos catalog.

Overall, Rhapsody’s streaming selection seems to be larger than Napster’s, but Napster’s burning selection seems to be larger than Rhapsody’s.

Napster 2.0: The Fatal Flaw

So, I tried out Napster 2.0, which is now open to those who pre-registered. The interface is very good. The selection is great. But it has a fatal flaw.

Songs stream as 96kbps Windows Media Audio. They sound OK, but only OK. Not good enough to listen to on a day-to-day basis. This is only three-quarters the bitrate of the streaming provided on Rhapsody (128kbps WMA), using the same codec. It sounds a little better than a 96kbps MP3 (since WMA is a better codec), but not much. The annoying compression artifacts you can hear in the stream make the bitrate the fatal flaw.

I want FLACs. At any lower quality, $1 a track is too much.

UPDATE: It looks like unlimited 128kbps WMA tethered downloads are available to “premium” subscribers. So, the end result is the same as Rhapsody, but there’s an extra step involved. I’ll try it out.

October 27, 2003

Valenti Out; Tauzin In?

There have been a number of reports that Jack Valenti, chief lobbyist for the movie industry, is to step down from the post he has held since 1966. This New York Post article indicates that Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) may replace him.

In 1982, during a hearing on possible legislative responses to the Betamax decision, Valenti uttered his most famous of many soundbites:

I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.

The film industry survived. It was not killed by the VCR. In fact, the new technology turned out to be a boon, once the studios figured out how to use it to their advantage. The studios now make more money from home video than they do from theatrical exhibition. The music industry needs to see digital distribution as an opportunity, not a threat. With luck, in twenty years, today’s overheated P2P rhetoric will look as silly as Valenti’s famous sound bite.

October 26, 2003

Minneapolis Mob #5 Wrap-Up

Minneapolis Mob #5 took place yesterday. It was part of Global Flash Mob #1 — flash mobs in cities around the world at 2:15 local time. Accordingly, the script went like this:

  • Assemble on the appointed corner in Dinkytown. At the first blow of the whistle, face east and shout, “Thank you, Eastern cities! Now it is our turn to mob.”
  • Fly like airplanes around the block, stopping at each corner to pick up “passengers,” yelling the name of a major city and “All Aboard!”
  • When you reach the starting spot, face west and say, “Central time zone is now done! West, you’re it!”
  • Dissolve.

The turnout was lackluster (probably about 25 people), mostly due, I think, to the cold. Parking was unusually difficult and expensive due to a nearby event, so that may have had something to do with it as well. However, in some respects, we were part of the largest flash mob yet — there were hundreds of mobbers in Sydney, and reports of thousands in Taiwan.

October 24, 2003


During the filming of The Passion of Christ, lightning struck the star once and an assistant director twice. Admittedly, the chances of being struck by lightning when standing on a hill and holding up a metal umbrella are higher than normal. But still … might there be some smiting going on here?

Incidentally, reading that article got me to look at the trailer for the movie. The only dialogue in it is Pilate’s “ecce homo” — pronounced “ET-chay OH-moe” in the trailer, which is modern Church Latin pronounciation, not the way Pilate would have pronounced it in the First Century. That is, if he didn’t say it Greek instead, since he was addressing non-Romans. Ah, well.

(Via Nick.)

October 23, 2003


I just received a spam advertising a site to help me “find a girl that wishes a discrete encounter.”

Why not bring some friends and study combinatorics?


Andrew O’Hagan writes about Eminem in the New York Review of Books.

I’m tempted to make pigs-flying, seventh-seal-opening, hell-freezing-over jokes. But it’s a really good article.

(More Eminem coverage here.)

UPDATE: Jon Mandle has these comments on the article over at Crooked Timber.

Disclaimer Haiku:
West wind seems to say,
"This is not legal advice;
I'm not your lawyer."

(And if you're a client with whom I have a preexisting attorney-client relationship, this still isn't legal advice.)

In case you're wondering, this blog is also not intended as advertising, as a representation of anything but my personal opinion, or as an offer of representation.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.
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