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Week of 6 March 2006

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Monday, 6 March 2006
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08:42 - I'm shifting into heads-down writing mode a bit earlier than usual for the new astronomy book. Our deadline is at the end of May, and there's a ton of work to get done between now and then. Not just writing, but also observing sessions and field trips to confirm what we're writing about objects that are included in the book but that we've not yet logged. Of the more than 800 deep-sky objects covered in the book, we have about 500 already logged. That leaves us about 300 left to observe.

We have two three-day field trips scheduled between now and deadline. Even assuming perfect weather the whole time, that would require we observe and log 50 objects per night, and many of these are not easy objects. Of course, we needn't observe all of the objects we're covering. We'll depend on others' observing reports for some of them. But still, there's a lot of work left to do, both observing and writing.

That means things might be a little sparse around here, simply because I won't have time to write much. That's always annoying. Invariably, events will occur about which I'd like to write. Alas, that's unlikely to happen.


Tuesday, 7 March 2006
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08:06 - Ruh-roh. Barbara and I are likely to be investigated by Homeland Security, it seems. Until we were married, I never had a credit card. I always paid by cash or, if cash were inconvenient, by check. But Barbara already had credit cards, so when were married she just added my name onto the accounts. In the almost 23 years we've been married, we've paid a grand total of $1.28 in credit card interest. That was the time that Barbara wrote the check to pay off the Visa balance but forgot to mail it. Other than that one mistake, we've paid in full the balance on all of our credit cards every month for the last 23 years. Little did we realize how suspicious such (ir)responsible behavior is.

This article points out the dangers of such fiscal (ir)responsibility, and its links to terrorism.

15:33 - C|Net, always a friend to the copyright pigs, just published another slanted article, entitled "CD-swap network to slip through copyright loophole?" The "loophole" to which the article refers is the First Sale Doctrine, which says that if you buy a CD, you have the right to resell that physical CD to someone without further royalties being due to the copyright owner. Some loophole, huh? And one I'm sure the RIAA would like to eliminate, just as they're trying very hard to eliminate all Fair Use rights.

I wonder why anyone would use this new service, though, unless they're friendless and living on a remote mountaintop. Surely anyone who wants to trade CDs can find a friend to trade with. Circles of friends tend to have similar taste in music. Many of Barbara's friends listen to the same kind of stuff she does. Many of my friends like the same classical and baroque that I prefer, and I'm sure that the teenagers down the street have many friends who also listen to what my mother used to call "rat". "Not rat, mom. Rap," I used to tell her. "I meant what I said," she would reply. Actually, she was right.

So who exactly is the market for this new service, which has apparently gotten $9 million in venture capital? I think they think they'll be the new Netflix, but I think they'll fall flat on their faces.


Wednesday, 8 March 2006
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09:00 - Still grinding away...

11:30 -This C|Net article gave me a giggle. Microsoft has big plans for the Vista roll-out. Bill Gates wants to see customers lining up before the stores open, as they did for Windows 95.

Good luck with that, Bill. Unless you pay people to queue up, there's not a chance it's going to happen. There's nothing new or exciting about Vista, and almost none of the existing PCs can run the Aeroglass graphics. Without that, Vista will look pretty much like XP.

The article also says Microsoft is placing a lot of hope in Office 12 generating excitement. Good luck with that, too. From what I've seen, people are likely to ignore Office 12 in droves. Most people are still happily using Office 2000 or even Office 97, and Office 12 isn't likely to do any better than other recent Office releases.

But that still leaves Microsoft with a cunning plan. Believe it or not, they're counting on Oprah to generate demand for Vista and Office 12. I'm not making this up. See the article.


Thursday, 9 March 2006
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08:40 - Still heads-down writing.


Friday, 10 March 2006
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08:30 - Still heads-down writing.

I see that Amazon is close to finalizing an agreement to distribute movies and television shows that can be downloaded and burned to DVD. I think that's great, but my guess is that they'll price themselves out of the market. Or, more precisely, the MPAA will overcharge Amazon, which will in turn have to overcharge buyers.

TV programs are particularly problematic. After all, you can record them yourself, borrow a disc from a friend, or grab them with Bittorrent. We're talking about a broadcast program that anyone can legally record, which puts a pretty low limit on how much can be charged for the download. I'd say $0.10 to $0.25 might be reasonable price for downloading a copy of a TV program, and that leaves no room for Amazon.com or the MPAA to make any profit at all. So, I suspect downloading TV programs will never be anything more than a very small niche market. They'll probably price them at some ridiculously high level, like $2.00 per episode, and then wonder why almost no one pays to download them.

Movies are different. If they're not yet available on DVD, it might be reasonable to price the download at $5.00 or so. If they are available on DVD, it's a different story. It costs me on average perhaps $1.25 to get a DVD from Netflix. For that matter, many movies, including recent releases, are available at my local library, where I can check out a copy for free.

So, how much would I be willing to pay to download a copy of that movie that I can burn to DVD? Probably not more than $1.00, and certainly not more than $2.00. Once again, that leaves little or no room for Amazon.com or the MPAA to make any profit, so I expect they'll price them much higher and then wonder why no one takes them up on their offer.

As I've said before, the problem is that the economics are far out of whack for movies. As of 2005, the production costs of an average movie are just short of $100 million. That's production costs only, not counting marketing and distribution. And the average gross theater revenues for a new release are, get this, $37 million. That's gross revenue, including the little bit that the MPAA allows the theater owners to keep. What's wrong with that picture?

Someone, I think it was Spielberg or Lucas, said recently that the days of big-budget blockbuster movies are over. No kidding.

And huge production costs are the least of the MPAA's problems. See Eric S. Raymond's recent posts [1] [2] for an analysis of the real problem.


Saturday, 11 March 2006
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Sunday, 12 March 2006
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