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Comment Re:quite the news flash... (Score 5, Informative) 118

There were basically three types of ringtone companies back in the heyday:

1. Subscription: These were companies who convinced people to sign up for a recurring $9.99/mo charge on their mobile phone bill to receive some number of monthly "credits" for download;
2. A la carte: Companies who provided the implementation of the carrier "decks" that sold ringtones for $1.99-$2.99 a pop;
3. User Generated: services that allowed users to upload content that would be made available for download by other people.

The fundamental problem with the Subscription services was that they could only possibly make money by breakage - that is, if people who signed up for the service failed to download all of the content they were entitled to in a given month. Or, better yet, the subscriber forgot (or never knew in the first place) that they had signed up for the service, and therefore kept paying until Daddy noticed the charge on the phone bill and called the carrier to complain. The royalties they were paying (together with the carrier transaction charges) forced them into this unhealthy operating model that was clearly unsustainable. There were several US companies that reached revenues in excess of $100M without ever turning a profit. Venture capital pumped money into them on the way up, lured by the top-line growth. Crazy.

The a la carte providers didn't fare much better. There is really no possibility of negotiating realistic licensing with the music labels, because there are only four (three now?) of them, and they all refuse to do any licensing deal that doesn't have a "most favored nation" (MFN) clause. Essentially what this says is that if the licensee does a subsequent deal with another record label, and that subsequent deal has better terms than what was negotiated with the first label, then the first label automatically gets those terms. In practice, this means that the company would do a deal first with the smallest and most hungry label (cough, EMI, cough) at terms that seemed viable - making the company think they had a real business -- but then the deals with Warner, Sony, and UMG would progressively make the economics worse to the point where there was no real way to make money. And because the deals are heavy on upfront payments, and annual guarantees, the labels are making money even when the retailer never really hits escape velocity.

The user generated sites, which were attempting to cut out the unnecessary middlemen, allowing artists to connect directly with their fans, were mercilessly sued by the labels. Untold millions of dollars were transferred from venture capitalists who had funded these companies to the labels that sued the companies - along with their directors, their investors, their managers - in settlements and coerced licensing deals specifically designed to ensure that the money going to the labels would stay in their own coffers and would not have to be shared with artists.

The economics of MP3 and streaming sites are not much different. One day I expect it will be taken for granted that a service can operate profitably by providing a useful service that allows artists to sell (or share for free) content with their fans without fear of litigation by major labels. But that's not today.

Ultimately, I still believe that the copyright and legal systems will come to understand that protecting the rights of artists is different than protecting the legacy music labels. I've been amazed and enthralled over the past few years by the incredible amount of beautiful new music being released - no label required.

Comment quite the news flash... (Score 5, Insightful) 118

I was the CEO of a company that sold ringtones and MP3s a la carte for mobile devices. When you added up (1) the licenses paid to record labels, (2) the fees paid to mobile operators for payment processing, and (3) publishing royalties, it was something like 120% of the retail price for the content. So, umm, not a really scalable business model[1].

We eventually built out an ad-supported streaming model, under the compulsory licensing model for "internet radio" (a la Pandora), and I actually believed there was a viable business there, even without premium (ad-free) subscriptions. But I'm not so sure now. The music industry, which for so long made money by controlling marketing and distribution, is now too accustomed to making money through venture capital. Not directly, of course -- they extract it via a never-ending stream of venture-backed music startups, who either pay licenses in advance that they'll never be able to recoup with sales, or pay with legal settlements when they try to do something innovative that doesn't fit into the existing (untenable) licensing models.

I do believe that ultimately we will get to more of a free market that escapes the cartel of the legacy music industry, but it's certainly taking longer than I had expected. There are a lot of powerful entrenched interests.

Comment Re:You have no idea... (Score 1) 425

> There seems no reason to think that if GM disappeared that demand for cars would also vanish too.
> More realistically the slack would just be picked up by the other auto manufacturers who'd see a
> drastic increase in demand as they filled the void.

That's probably right.

I suspect, though, that the politicians and their economists expected that the demand would have been filled disproportionately by manufacturers (at all tiers) from outside of the US. So it's protectionism for the country - which is seen as a good thing by many - that has the unfortunate (and inevitable) side effect of weakening the competitiveness of the domestic car manufacturers in the long term.

Comment Re:So Proud of Gun Ownership (Score 1) 1232

So, you follow the NRA line that we should arm all the teachers and students so they can defend themselves against Obama's stormtroopers? How long do you think they'd last?

Longer than they would if they were unarmed.


There's no way to win a conversation like this, but I would expect (and request) that a bunch of nerds who obviously feel strongly about a topic like this would take it upon themselves to become familiar with the large volume of research, both empirical and theoretical, related to the strategy of protecting oneself against violent crime by means of maintaining firearms. And then form a reasoned opinion on the topic that is orthogonal to however you may feel about your 2nd amendment rights.

I'm not too lazy to look up and cite sources for you, I just know that whatever I cite will immediately be considered biased by a large majority of people and ignored outright. Try "are homes with guns safer?" or "do concealed weapons deter crime?" and ignore the mass media crap.

Comment Re:So Proud of Gun Ownership (Score 1) 1232

I know, next thing you now people will be publishing information about where I live, how much I paid for my house, and who I have my mortgage with.

Or, people will be publishing my social graph, showing all the people I'm friends with and communicate with on a regular basis.

Or, every time someone takes a picture with me in it it will be automatically entered into a database showing where I was and when.

Or, every product I purchase, every ad I click on, every web search I do, will be aggregated and used for various nefarious purposes.

Seriously, you have much more to fear from corporations exploiting you via the information you share with them (willingly or incidentally) than you do from a democratic government. The motives of the corporation are profit, pure and simple. I.M.H.O.

Comment Calculus and linear algebra are very usefu (Score 1) 1086

Despite working in the relatively mundane programming environments of enterprise and system software and consumer internet over 15 or so years, I've been amazed at how often calculus and linear algebra have simplified solutions and/or revealed solutions I wouldn't otherwise have found. This despite the fact that early in my career, after graduating with a computer engineering degree with a math-heavy curriculum, I was much more skeptical like you.

Most recently, I've found calc and lin algebra valuable in applying machine learning techniques (neural nets and clustering analysis with big data) and earlier in my career in understanding adaptive audio/video networking protocols. I don't think I've ever 'implemented' calculus in software directly, but it was necessary in formulating the solutions that were eventually coded up.

Obviously, some domains (game programming, genetics work, etc) are naturally more math intensive, and I've been doing spare-time work related to space and rocketry, and found I've had to go back and study my old math materials (and even learn some new stuff) to even begin to make progress in the field.

A lot of programmers I know who are content to just build web sites, intranets, etc. have very little use for anything over algebra, honestly. But that's a different kind of job than I think most people graduating with cs or ce degrees are interested in.

Comment Judging Organizations by Patent Applications (Score 1) 182

My invention is a system and method for the Automated Analysis of Patent Filings to determine which companies are submitting things that are obvious, anticompetitive, practically worthless, and/or generally inclined to stifle rather than spur innovation. These factors will be used to produce a "conclusion report" that compares a company to others in the field to help job-seekers 'avoid wasting time with trolls and bloated relics from days gone by.'

Submission + - World's largest optical telescope created (

erice writes: Astronomers in Chile linked four telescopes together to form a single virtual mirror 130 meters in diameter. Previous efforts had linked two telescopes but this is the first time that all four had been linked.

Submission + - Satellite phone encryption cracked (

The Mister Purple writes: It appears that a team of German researchers has cracked the GMR-1 and GMR-2 encryption algorithms used by many (though not all) satellite phones, as described by this article in The Telegraph. Anyone fancy putting a cluster together for a listening party?

Mr Driessen told The Telegraph that the equipment and software needed to intercept and decrypt satellite phone calls from hundreds of thousands of users would cost as little as $2,000. His demonstration system takes up to half an hour to decipher a call, but a more powerful computer would allow eavesdropping in real time, he said.

Submission + - Will Hands-Free Texting Lead to Fewer Car Accidents? (

jdoornink writes: Nearly 3,000 people were killed and another 900,000 were involved in car accidents last year resulting from distracted driving. Currently, distracted driving is a factor in one out of four vehicle crashes in Minnesota, according to Minnesota State Police. In 2008, a ban on texting and Internet use while driving became law. Is hands-free technology the key?

Comment Re:Must everything in education be an overreaction (Score 1) 134

I always find the "zero tolerance" thing (which seems most prevalent in education) to be annoying.

Im afraid that there's a lot of sampling bias going here. The only time a decision (whether in education or anything else) shows up in a discussion in major media (or slashdot) is when it is perceived as extreme. So while this may look like an extreme reaction of the sort we're "always" seeing, the fact is that there are hundreds and thousands of other potential stories that we're not seeing, precisely because they are more moderate.

Discussions of this type - exploring the extremes - are very useful for teasing out the important issues to be considered. Are we letting technology actually decrease the effectiveness of education? Is it the technology itself that is problematic, or have we failed to properly understand how we should be using it? Or are we failing to control how we use it, in the same way so many people struggle with how to control their eating habits?

Comment Re:Blogger only - it seems (Score 3, Interesting) 250

Despite American arrogance, all companies are required to abide by the laws of the customer's nation if they do business there.

You can't blame Google for following the rules! Sorry, but that's just the FACTS OF LIFE.

I think what you call arrogance is what a lot of people would see as idealism, or at least, being consistent with the ideals of an open internet. I, for one, don't understand why Blogger has any obligation whatsoever to any foreign government. I am probably unrealistically naive, but i still believe in an internet that transcends nationality, and I'm afraid I don't see the exchange of services or information over the Internet as the necessary equivalent of 'doing business' in any traditional sense.

Some governments may choose to try to block access to Blogger if they don't like the content, which is sad and has undoubtedly already happened. The response of Blogger and the rest of the Internet community should be to work to restore that access. I don't pretend it's an easy problem, but this action to move to ccTLDs looks like a dangerous compromise.

We're all very familiar around here with the history of the Internet and the important role governments have played in its development, but it just seems to be going backwards to start drawing political boundaries over this beautiful mess we've created. We have something here that can bring us to a better world than we've been able to achieve by carving up the planet into geopolitical territories; we shouldn't be selling it short to placate entrenched interests.

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