- 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
- 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
article points out the dangers of such fiscal (ir)responsibility,
and its links to terrorism.
- 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.
- Still grinding away...
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.
- Still heads-down writing.
- 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
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 
 for an analysis of the
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce