Back from Vacation and Into the Fire

I’m back.  Have been for days.  But as is usually the case, so very many things piled up while I was gone.  I spent the weekend catching up with my lady, the first and most important task.  There was a lot of binge TV watching.  Wow.

I dove back into the novel on Sunday after a week writing absolutely nothing, so again, wow.

I have some 20 odd TV shows I’d like to catch up on which are at present on the back burner, turning black.

Though the office was close during the vacation, I returned to plenty of work.  Surprising how that happens.  Yesterday was jam packed but pretty manageable.  I felt productive, but the work continues.

I would like to come back and give at least a cursory run-through of my trip to the Rocky Mountain state, a place I would absolutely love to call home, and the fantastic people that call it home, but it will have to wait for now.  Suffice it to say, the vacation did everything it was supposed to.

One last note, more to the regular point of the blog.  Yesterday I finished a chapter I left half done before the trip and this morning I dove right into a very enjoyable action and contemplation sequence.  Fun to write and, if I can presume, fun to read as well.

Back real soon…

You may notice that I’ve posted (okay, maybe reposted) something every day this week.  I’m on vacation next week and unlike Spring Break ‘13, I may not write at all while I’m away.

On to the point:

In the last week, the story about Keurig working on the next iteration of their coffeemaker has made the rounds.  If you haven’t hear, here’s CNET’s story and I’ll condense it real quick as well.

Keurig makes pod coffee makers that use K-cup, which they also sell.  They are far from the first pod coffee maker, but they are undoubtedly the biggest and best know.  You start with this:

Drop it into this:

And get this:

Not a great cup of coffee, but it could definitely be worse.  It has no place in my kitchen, but at the office…?

So this thing took off and of course it did.  Why not?  Then, a bunch of companies started making competing K-cups.  A little different in form and vastly different packaging.  Keurig no like, so now they are working on getting DRM into the cups so that only their’s will work.  You know how your HP printer whines when you use someone else’s ink?  It’s like that, but it won’t work at all.  So really, it’s more like trying to play your Audible audiobook on a “non-standard” device.  No worky.

My immediate reaction was revulsion.  There are so many efforts in so many places trying to close the ecosystem.  You use Company X’s platform, and you get only their content.  Unless you work continually to get around it, which I do, but not everyone knows how.

Especially not the people most devoted to these machines.  As at boingboing pointed out, people paying a premium for the convenience of a Keurig are quite likely to go back to shelling out more for official K-Cups because they others won’t work.

But that pisses me off.  Part of me wants to say if they won’t put in the work, screw ‘em.  But the more mature part of me says that we work together to make this suck less and I told my lady, upon hearing the news, that I would likely buy a Keurig 2.0.

I don’t want one.  I don’t even want the one that doesn’t try to screw the buyer.  But I want to make it work.  I want to reverse engineer it and make it work like it ought to.  I have no engineering background, but I’m good at troubleshooting and I’ve hacked enough hardware to think I’ll do a good job.  Then, when I’m done, instructions go up online and I sell the bastard contraption and go about with my life.

It rather amuses me that a coffeemaker I don’t even want is the first device about which I feel so motivated.

Of course, the other thing I thought of first when I read about this was Cory Doctorow's response.  Cory is a go to on all things DRM and always has something good to say.  This was no exception:

As I’ve written recently, there’s not a lot of case-law on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law that prohibits “circumventing…effective means of access control” to copyrighted works. In the past, we’ve seen printer companies and garage door opener manufacturers claim that the software in their devices was a “copyrighted work” and that anyone who made a spare part for their products was thus violating 1201. But that was 10 years ago, and it’s been a while since there was someone stupid and greedy enough to try that defense.

I think Keurig might just be that stupid, greedy company.

Cory found the positive in the charlie foxtrot to come.  I’m inclined to agree that this may be just the “awful stupidity we need.”  I hope that works out for the best.

I think I’m still gonna hack Keurig’s stupidity out of the first gen of 2.0.



Anyways, enjoy the week.  For those of you who have it off, drink some proper coffee and kiss a loved one often.  For those who have to work, maybe drink a cup of Keurig with a resounding hatred, courtesy of your old pal simsian.

On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (via feeling-natures-glow)

[Is it not Towel Day yet?]

(via wordpainting)

The Sky was Falling … The Sky had Always Been Falling

I have to take exception to pieces like this, in large part because they start from a good point but wear blinders and fail to see the more obvious flaws in their arguments and, thus, conclusions.

Yes, I know, damn near every argument made since the beginning of time.  But this seems pernicious in the omission.

The world has always been getting worse.  It was always once a better place and tomorrow is dimmer, further away from the all-knowing, all-loving source of the life-light.  Except it isn’t.  In any measurable sense, so many things are better than they used to be.  I’ve touched on this before, but in a quick list: lower infant mortality, reduction in deaths from preventable disease, higher literacy, greater access to education, etc.

Now that is not to say that new is better.  Far from it.  I make no appeal to novelty.  Plenty of new things are garbage and will go the way of the Tamagotchi.  But an argument that the sky is falling because it always is amounts to crying wolf.

The phrase “Gresham’s Law” had been bouncing around in my head, but I knew that wasn’t quite the right concept. Gresham’s Law is about currency circulation, where everyone knows that two currencies that have the same official value may differ on other value dimensions (e.g., gold coins and base-metal coins that have the same value when used as currency). But the book market seemed to me to be an asymmetric information situation.*

The result of the two processes is the same: the bad product drives the good product out of the market.

This claim, that possibly bad books are or might drive the good from the market is based, in part, on the proliferation of bad reviews on Amazon.  Sunita points to the percentage of favorable reviews for a single—though admitted very popular—self-published work, Wool by Hugh Howey compared with several NY published works.  Her figures:

Wool (Omnibus): 93.6%
Harry Potter #1: 94.4%
Neuromancer: 71.7%
Cryptonomicon: 77.6%
Ender’s Game: 90.1%
Ready Player One: 89.4%

Let’s ignore the implication here that Wool is “bad,” because it’s neither here nor there and she has the right to that view.  Not one of these works is objectively good or bad.  The only thing they all have in common is a substantial readership.

Now Supita points out that only Harry Potter manages to beat out Wool for favorable reviews.  She also points out that HP is in a class of it’s own.  Both points are true.  She further says that reviews on Amazon are product reviews.

It is on this final point that she fails to follow through.  She is perfectly right that these are product reviews, but that is more significant than she makes it.  Reviews on Amazon are, and should be, for the the product rather than the art.  So were start with two problems.  How do we/should we differentiate between work as product and work as art?  For some works, the answer seems clear, but across the board I have to say no.  Second, when evaluating the significance of reviews of products, how must we differentiate between those products with a physical presence and those that are purely digital?

Neither of these problems has an easy answer and I have no wish to propose one.  To be honest, that would likely be a task I’d still be chugging away at come Christmas.  What is should say is that, given these large question, we need to be discerning in how we weight reviews.  Supita makes a good point that the less motivated readers might burn out on high review works at middle prices that fail to live up.  They might be sent off to other media.  We, the voracious readers, might not give up but what of the children?  Perhaps that is the more important question.

When I want reviews of a product (coffee maker, dog toy, physical book) Amazon can be a great resource.  Of course, you have to take everything with a grain on salt.  The worry that a review might have been paid or else the review might have an axe to grind is very real and thus even the market leader for a said product is likely to have both fans and detractors.  Browse with caution.

When I want reviews of media (books, tv, movies, music), I would rather ask my coffee maker for recommendations that go to the product reviews on Amazon.  A quick glance at the classics will show dozens of jilted students taking out their classroom frustration on an easy target.  Readers pissed at a previous installment of a series will damn the following volume before publication.  There will be some useful reviews in there, good and bad, and good on the readers who publish them.  But Amazon is not the place for the reviews.

So where do you go?  Well, Amazon purchased one of the best places just a year or so ago: Goodreads.  A community of booklovers—e and otherwise—who participate without compensation to cultivate a reader’s paradise.  Like with any social media exercise, there are controversies, but it’s an overall positive place.

For more critical reviews, there are a hundred different outlets and between them dozen upon dozens of aggregators.  For film, a million review can be found on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes.  For the written word, reviews are often more difficult to boil down and aggregators are further between but there are untold resources for finding reviews, good and bad.

Are bad books driving out good?  That remains to be seen.  Have the Big 5 created a pricing market that hurts them in the long run?  That seems more likely.  Are we in a period of transition for the entire publishing industry?  God yes.

What we should be worry about is not a few bad product reviews burning the casual reader.  We have a system growing that can revitalize the written word and brings millions back into the avidly literate.  That does not happen by accident.  We need to cultivate happy readers and teach web and world literacy so that they know the difference between a 3.5 star average based off of bias and one based on middling reviews.

The issue here is not: Is the Sky Falling (Like Always)? but what is my role is making sure that the next generation appreciates that gorgeous sky I already see?

##The Day We Fight Back code ##/The Day We Fight Back code