Creationist... "museum"

Chris Cameron, this one's especially for you -- for those of you that missed it, the NY Times is reporting on a new creationist museum. It's full of dioramas of people and dinosaurs together; it's like a paleontologist/anthropologist's worst nightmare in physical form! By the way, apparently chameleons change color to "talk to" one and another (?!). Yes. I wonder if there are schools that intend on bringing their students on a field trip to this museum... the whole thing is kind of creepy.

The Daily Show on iTunes and saving money over cable

So this past week The Daily Show has had an amazing update schedule. Usually TV shows on iTunes are supposed to show up the day after they air on broadcast TV, but unfortunately this isn't always true. In the past The Daily Show has been updated anywhere from the promised time to several days behind schedule. The TV show Stargate (both of them) had a period of three weeks once where the TV show had not been updated, which was extremely disappointing. However it appears that Apple has taken steps to make that not the case with Stargate anyway. This week though, The Daily Show has been updated the same day that the episode airs -- the e-mail notifications I get show sometime between 10 and 10:30 PM, which happens to be about 30 minutes before the show airs in California, and two hours (I think) after the show has aired on the east coast. This is pretty great, since obviously people subscribing to the TV show on iTunes aren't going to be watching it on broadcast TV anyway. I imagine that since the network both produces and sells the show on iTunes there aren't any issues with taking away anyone else's revenue stream. The interesting thing is that by doing this, they can effectively compete with sources like youTube and bittorrent feeds, neither of which make Comedy Central any money at all. The iTunes shows are 640x480 now, which is the quality I would expect (the previously low res quality was annoyingly insufficient), and being able to watch with the commercials stripped out is nice as well -- an improvement over what I had done before using a DVR (which is obviously bad for Comedy Central). But I imagine now Comedy Central is making more money off of me than they did for my one person watch a commercial ($9.99/16 episodes = about 62 cents an episode).

The nice thing is that I'm actually saving money over cable TV charges. This is because even though I am paying quite a lot per episode, I don't pay any money at all when these channels air reruns and such. I imagine if you watch a whole lot of TV, then cable might be cheaper, but my combination of the two Stargates ($37.99 each), Battlestar Galactica ($38.99) and The Daily Show(119.88/year assuming Jon Stewart broadcasts for 48 weeks) only cost me $234.85/year... this works out to $19.57/month (cable is $30 or so).

The only thing Comedy Central really loses out on is my occasionally watching The Colbert Report afterwards. Now I only watch it if for some reason it sounds like it might be interesting or I hear that there was some interesting segment on -- whereas before it would just get automatically recorded and then I might watch it if I was bored. Comedy Central is still making more money off of me, although I imagine I would probably pay for something like a combined Daily Show/Colbert Report for a discounted price (say, $1.25 or $1.50 for the two), even if I didn't watch The Colbert Report all of the time.

Bitte? Signal Kommt!

For those not in the know, I just got back from Hamburg, Germany -- where I did lots of fun things on the weekends when not at work: I walked all around Hamburg, ate at tasty restaurants, and visited Berlin, all while managing to avoid the giant 50 meter bug eating Germans.

The Hamburg History Museum was quite interesting with lots of cool historical things that had been dug up around the city. They had some neat things like ancient hair combs and medieval swords (a lot more primitive looking than you would expect from watching movies, even the one they had that was made of damascus steel). I also visited the Arts and Crafts Museum, which was neat and had a lot of old keyboards/pianos (including the evolution of the modern piano system along with examples of the hammer action from each evolutionary point), Mediterranean (Egyptian, Greek, etc.) figurines and vase (including a fair number of red and black figure vases).

Hamburg has a large number of fairly nice parks, one of which had some sort of event for children when I was there ("Kinder Kinder"), they are apparently one of the world's largest choices for conventions (I was told by a German colleague that travel guides always try to make a specific destination important by saying that something is or has the "world's..." [insert adjective] [insert noun]), although this fact affected me personally, since it prevented me from staying in one hotel during the entire two week trip. Overall it's a very nice city.

Gas is pretty expensive there ($5.66/gallon -- apparently google can do currency conversions as well?!), most of their gas stations don't take credit cards, although some have automatic bill readers. Surprisingly enough, it appears that their gas stations don't have vapor recovery devices to reduce smog, either.

I also went to Berlin for a day (it was a fairly expensive train ride, but it only took 1.5 hours to get there, compared to four or so by car). This was on the ICE -- the Inter-City Express, which travelled very fast. I walked all around Berlin (and my feet hurt pretty badly by the end of the day, as Berlin turned out to be fairly large). I was able to buy some new Ushankas from a street vendor while visiting Checkpoint Charlie. A day was enough to visit all of the outdoor tourist destinations, but none of the museums.

Anyway, enough for now, pictures to follow in the future...


I got back Monday from a fun-filled week at NAMM, where I looked at much music equipment and listened to lots of demos.

You can jump straight to the photos, or read about my trip below.

My TripCollapse )
  • Current Music
    Revolution - The Veronicas

SeaQuest DSV + Serenity

So at the end of December, the SciFi channel played a SeaQuest DSV marathon, which I conveniently recorded with my EyeTV. I was watching several episodes yesterday, and I noticed on thing in particular in an episode titled "Sympathy For the Deep." In this episode, people on a peace colony go insane. Now this isn't really anything out of the ordinary for a scifi tv show, but the interesting thing is that the peace colony is called Miranda. Now if you'll recall, this happens to also be the name of the planet in Serenity in which the reavers were created. In fact both SeaQuest and Serenity both have some sort of external method of trying to make the population peaceful, a method which ends up causing people to go nuts. Coincidence? Or is Joss Whedon somehow tied to SeaQuest DSV?

Tuesday's Propositions (and additional thoughts)

So here's what I'm voting on Tuesday's propositions. They're holding an election, and the money has been spent already, so I might as well vote -- not that I like the fact that we're wasting all of this extra money voting on issues that could be deferred to future ballots without undue harm:

Prop 73 - waiting period for parental notification: No.
This probably creates more problems than it solves. Reasonable teenagers will talk to their parents anyway. Teenagers afraid of parental repercussions shouldn't be forced through some legal process to get an abortion. And unreasonable teenagers shouldn't be having kids. You might want be interested in reading Freakonomics.

Prop 74 - waiting period for permanent status: No.
Apparently even after a teacher has tenure, this doesn't mean that can't get fired for doing a bad job. According to the voter guide, the initial waiting period is just a time when they can get laid off without any specific reasons. It seems this proposition sidesteps the real issue, which is public school funding and low teacher salaries. While it's true that you can't currently get rid of a teacher who is teaching a subject in a curriculum that the school may no longer want to continue, this proposition doesn't address anything except for trying to get higher quality teachers into schools. Given the fact that teachers can be laid off for poor performance currently, this proposition ignores the real problem -- not enough money to the schools.

Prop 75 - public employee union due restrictions: No.
Businesses don't have the same restrictions (shareholders and/or employees don't have any say in political contributions to their respective business). Apparently most unions allow their members to specify that their dues not be used politically -- this proposition makes it so that members have to choose to make their dues available for politics every year. Plus this proposition isn't being funded by union members fed up with their union -- California law says that no public employees (the employees to which this proposition is being targeted) are required to join the union. What gives?

Prop 76 - State spending and school funding limits: No.
According to the proposition's text in the voter guide, this "permits governor, under specified circumstances, to reduce budget appropriations of Governor's choosing." Too much power in the hands of one person (who is partisan in one way or another) is probably bad. The roads do really suck right now, and presumably this proposition would fix that, but I think that better schools are probably more important than shiny new roads. Even if shiny new roads makes me happier in the short term...

Prop 77 - Redistricting: No.
This one deserves the proverbial Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot. Voters are supposed to vote on this? This just seems totally oddball for a proposition. I'm voting no -- things seem to be fine the way they are.

Prop 78/79 - Discounts on Prescription Drugs/Prescription Drug Discounts (did that confuse you?): No on 78, Yes on 79. You'll have to actually read about these, as the intrigue is quite riveting. 78 is supported by drug companies trying to defend themselves against proposition 79. Proposition 79 essentially strong arms drug companies into providing drugs at deep discounts to low income people. I really have no problem with drug companies making large amounts of money on drugs -- presumably the more they make, then more money they can invest in developing new and better drugs (the whole making money/FDA/Vioxx thing is not a factor in my decision on this proposition -- this is a separate problem). Proposition 79 "prohibits medi-cal contracts with customers not providing medicaid best price." I see no reason why the state of California shouldn't have the additional power to negotiate better contracts. Although I'm fairly certain that voting yes on prop 79 will probably raise my insurance costs as drug companies try to make up for lost revenue. I would consider voting no on prop 79, but the large amount of money ($50 million or some figure like that) given by the drug companies to fund prop 78 bothers me. Drug companies--.

Prop 80 - Electric service providers regulation: Yes.
A competitive market presumably means lower prices. Unfortunately, when the product is exactly the same (or when the product is competing on exactly the same things -- see the airline industry), companies are forced to compete strictly on pricing. Of course for an electric company, you can make your product cheaper by not building more power plants. And with no new power plants and increasing demand, the price of the product goes up, and you make more money. Then with this more money you build more power plants, and all is supposedly well and good. Unfortunately this sort of system provides no incentive for uninterrupted power. Why spend more money building power plants now, and having to raise rates (in which case the consumer will switch to another cheaper provider) if the rest of your competitors are instead keeping low rates? This means power plants might not get built until after they are needed. Given the long construction time on power plants, regulation of this market seems necessary in order to allow power companies to both grow and build plants at a steady rate, and to provide for power reliability. As I mentioned earlier, the airline industry is facing a similar problem after deregulation. Sure, flights are a lot cheaper now (tickets perhaps half the price compared to before), but service has gone down (no more real, hot meals on continental US flights), and many more flights get cancelled due to insufficient booking. Everything in our life depends on electricity -- so while it's debatable whether deregulating the airline industry is good or bad (some would say that the market has chosen), I would choose stability for electricity over price.

All in all, because I don't like the fact that this extra election is being held, what the governor supports and doesn't support played a small factor in my initial approach towards these propositions. I'm beginning to think more and more that really a lot of these issues should probably not be handled by the voters themselves (specialists exist for a reason -- obviously people with more domain knowledge can make better decisions about a respective subject than a mass of uninformed voters). While yes, there seem to be a lot of corrupt politicians, there are also ones that aren't corrupt. And the fact is, all of these politicians spent their entire day thinking about these different bills that get written. The public should make more of a concerted effort to get rid of corruption, and then let the (resultant uncorrupted) legislature do its job.

Music Licensing and China

So Chinese music is now available on the iTunes music store as of this past week. I write about this not as some sort of blatant advertisement for Apple, but rather the fact that music from another nationality is available for purchase in the US store. For those of you that don't know, music licensing is a very complex issue – there are different recording company divisions on different parts of the world, and for the most part music released in another country cannot be sold directly here in the US (or in any other country for that matter) unless it is sold by the US version of that recording company. What this means is that if the market for certain music (e.g., Russian Rock) is too small in the United States, it's just not available unless it's an imported CD. This is the primary reason that a lot of music from other country is not available on the iTunes music store (so you can't get your German techno, even if it's being sold in the German iTunes music store).

What makes this interesting is the fact that it appears as if China's music licensing works somewhat differently. Perhaps its communist state central bureaucracy has some advantage – they are able to uniquely tap into foreign markets without going through all of the normal channels (such as having Sony China music relicensed through US operations). This is obviously advantageous for Chinese music artists, as it represents a larger audience for their music, an audience that normal US record companies wouldn't take their chances on due to the small number of people interested in this music. Hopefully this is only a first step in what will be many in being able to unify the world music market. I sure would like to be able to purchase Russian music through the iTunes music store. This probably won't happen ever in the near future though, due to Russian music licensing issues/mass piracy in Russian (the people there do earn very small wages)/sites like

Trade Shows / 2006

Two journals is hard, because sometimes I'm not sure which one to post in. I should resolve this dilemma at some point...

So it looks like I'll be attending three trade shows in 2006. NAMM (National Association of Music Makers), Jan 19-22. This should be very exciting, as the general public is not admitted, and they usually have quite the array of famous musicians. WWDC (Apple's WorldWide Developer Conference), Jun 11-16. I'm just assuming I'll be going to most of this show, as it's great fun and not too far away from where I work/live. SIGGRAPH (ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics Conference), July 30 - Aug 3. Siggraph always has shiny stuff, and it's come to my attention that computer graphics is far more exciting than I originally anticipated.

I'd like to attend OOPSLA sometime, given the fact that there are some really good speakers there. Unfortunately I missed the Ralph Johnson year (he's apparently organizing OOPSLA this year), which would have made things more exciting – he's a pretty exciting lecturer; I took a class from him at UIUC. Although at that point, he had actually stopped giving a lot of the real lectures, and just played a video of him giving the lecture from some number of years past. That was a little annoying...

If anyone I know is attending any of these conferences, drop me line at robertchin at mac dot com, and we can meet up!
  • Current Mood