Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why Does Hollywood Hate Their Customers?

Just before Christmas I was looking for some stocking stuffers and I came across a movie my wife and I had missed when it was in theaters: the remake of Total Recall. I went ahead and picked it up and placed it in her Christmas stocking. We planned to watch it on the 26th, after attending Jack Reacher in the theater and getting some dinner.


We had a lot of trouble simply watching Total Recall. I’ll detail it below. First though let me cover a couple of things:

  • We’ve never pirated movies. We actually like big budget Hollywood movies and think the people working on the films should be compensated and that folks should not be violating copyright.
  • The current copyright term lengths are absolutely ridiculous and get more ludicrous every time that Steamboat Willie gets close to going public domain. Copyright is definitely no longer what it was intended to be and is now a tax on society instead of a boon.

OK, that said, on to why Hollywood seems to hate us.

We open the box so we can watch the movie. Inside are two disks. This box is supposed to contain both the “Director’s Cut” and the “Theatrical Version”. At first glance, we can’t figure out which disk to put in.


One says just “Original Film” and “Unrated”. The other says all of this: “Original Film”, “Theatrical Version”, “PG-13”, “Extended Director’s Cut”, and “Unrated”. I make what I thought was a solid guess and go for the second one with all the words on it since neither disk says anything like “bonus content” or “behind the scenes” or “gag reel”. I put it in and it defaults to “Theatrical Version”. There doesn’t appear to be a way to change the little “dot” that tells you which one is selected. The “Director’s Cut” seems to be a different color, and although we can change the color back and forth, the “dot” won’t move. We give up and try the other disk. Nope, bogus bonus content that nobody wants.

Back to the original disk. I change the color again with the right arrow and press enter. Only THEN does the dot move over to show the selection changed. That’s right: it moves when you actually tell it to play – and of course only shows for a half second. It is very hard to tell which version you have selected.

We thought we were home free. We were enjoying the movie up until it got to 1:45:03. At that point the picture froze for about 5 seconds and the Blu-Ray player rebooted. What the heck? How can a disk be so defective right out of the box that it reboots the damn player? So, we fire it up again and get as close as we can to 1:45:03 by using the scene select. We start it up and sure enough, the player reboots at the same place. Boy these devices with an operating system and DRM are crazy. I never had this happen with old DVDs. If you got a problem one, you fast forwarded through any bad spots. But this one reboots reliably right at this same point. By the way, we had one outstanding software update on the player so we ran that and got up to date. Same problem. We ended up having to go past the area with scene select that back up until 1:46:00 so we could watch the rest of the movie.

All in all, between getting the right disk in there, getting the Director’s Cut selected properly, having the player reboot multiple times and having to get everything back to the right place we wasted about 30 minutes just trying to watch the damn movie.

Wait, what? Yes, 30 minutes wasted due to just stupid stuff like:

  • Improperly labeled disks
  • Poor implementation of DVD Menu
  • Section on the disk capable of rebooting Blu-Ray players (probably something with the DRM scheme; who knows)

Now – how about the pirated version? From what I hear, you just search for it, download it and play it. No stupid unskippable region calling me a pirate and trying to claim that copyright violation is equivalent to theft (per the law, it isn’t). No preview trailers that I have to fast forward, no reboots, no problems.

Why does Hollywood insist on delivering a product that is inferior to that delivered by the folks pirating Hollywood videos? My only conclusion is that they hate their customers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My “Three Screen” problem

I admit it: I have a first world problem. If you are reading this, you probably have some too. My first world problem is one of “too many screens”. I’ve got a notebook computer, a Nexus 7 (7 inch Android tablet), and an absolutely awful phone – a Motorola Droid 3 stuck forever running Android 2.3 even though 4.0 came out only 3 months after the release of this extremely lousy phone. In fact, Motorola wants to offer me a $100 rebate to buy one of their current phones since they screwed up so badly on the Droid 3 and their lack of commitment to updates. My three screen problem comes into play when I want to sit on the couch. Yes, the couch.

You see, I may have mentioned that I have three screens. And I need all of them there with me. I don’t want to have them all there. I’d prefer to have just the Nexus 7. But what if my phone rings? What if I want to edit my Google Docs Spreadsheet? I almost always end up carrying all three of these devices around the house because they just can’t seem to pickup each other’s tasks. For instance the phone. Why in the heck can’t I leave it on the charger and have it send the calls over to my Nexus 7? They are both Android and they are both on the same WiFi network. I mean I do Google+ hangouts (video calls) on the tablet all the time so I know it has acceptable hardware to handle a voice call. Get with it Google – set this up so that calls can show up on the most convenient device.

Next, I come in from running and showering and sit down. I browse the web a bit on the tablet and then want to enter my stats into my Google Docs Spreadsheet. Can I do that on the tablet? Well, sort of. It will come up. But it has an “Edit” button on each row that you have to hit to edit that row and then a submit button you have to click to save the row. It is a major pain to edit this way, so I grab the notebook and do it. Honestly Google – fix this. You’ve been saying you would for months. Please ship the update that allows normal editing on a tablet.

Three screens. This sucks. Google, you can fix this for me so that I only need to keep one of these with me when I am in the house. Please, please do so.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Apparently it’s bloat week for Verizon and Motorola

So, not only did Verizon and Motorola completely ignore this (and the multitude of other people telling them similar things), they seem to have decided that this is the week to piss off people by sending them an extra copy of the bloat. That’s right, not only the copy that we can’t delete from our own phones, but an “update” so that now there will be two copies taking up room on the phone. Here’s what greeted me this morning:


Yes, “My Verizon”, “NFL Mobile”, “V CAST Tones” (do they really believe people still think they have to pay for ringtones?), “VZ Navigator”, “Blockbuster”, “GoToMeeting”, “Slacker Radio”, and “Verizon Video”. None of these have ever been started even once on my phone. In fact, I use Launcher Plus and have the icons for these hidden so that I can’t launch them by fat-fingering.

I want this absolute rubbish off of my phone. I don’t want updates to it.

Once CyanogenMod 9 gets everything working for the Droid 3, that will be going on my phone for sure. This foistware is just ridiculous.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Have you “bought” into the e-Book model?

Do you buy e-Books on say an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes and Noble Nook or other e-reader?

If you answered “yes”, you are wrong – and you’ve likely been fooled. You’ve actually only “Licensed” the book. Here’s what Amazon has to say about it from here:

Upon your download of Digital Content and payment of any applicable fees (including applicable taxes), the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

They go on to say:

…you may not sell, rent, lease, distribute, broadcast, sublicense, or otherwise assign any rights to the Digital Content or any portion of it to any third party…

As you can see it is a license. Are you beginning to see that you didn’t actually buy any books from these stores? Of course, it might look like you bought them.


It does clearly say “Buy” on that button. Confusing, right? In fact, at some later time, a court may need to decide whether this is deceptive or not. After all, there are plenty of more descriptive words that could be used here such as “License” or perhaps even “Rent” or “Lease” instead of “Buy”.

I had personally stayed well clear of the e-Book market for some time due to my concerns over permanence and use rights. However, I recently had a birthday (darn it) and received a Kindle Fire. It’s a very nice device I must say. I did go ahead and license a couple of books and also download a couple of free (out of copyright) books as well. Now, normally I keep my books on a bookshelf. Well, to be fair – several bookshelves. In fact, they are all over the house. I keep most of them and read them over and over. I have several that I acquired from library sales when I was a kid – some of these are 50 years old and still in decent condition. Because I bought (or was given) all these paper books, I have first sale rights to them. The doctrine of first sale basically holds that once a copyright owner has sold you a copy they have no further interest in that copy and cannot restrict the trade of it. So I can bequeath them to my kids, sell them at a used book store, ship some via the postal service to a friend in another state as a gift, donate them to a charity, etc. Pretty much all of the things a license prevents me from doing. With the paper books I buy today I may read them, then hand them to my wife, daughter, or son to read. They end up back on the bookshelf afterwards. With a license, I cannot let them read it. They have their own Kindle with their own account and transfers aren’t allowed.

In fact, that bookshelf is a good analogy for what Amazon calls their cloud storage. A place to keep the book where you can go get it again when you want to read it later. However, with the paper books I can buy a new bookshelf and the books can move to it. I can buy a new house and the books come with me (damn they are heavy!). With the license model though I can’t take my books to a new bookshelf. Let’s say that in a couple of years it is time for a new device. Perhaps the battery no longer holds much charge or there is a much better shiny new one available now. What if it happens to be a Barnes and Noble device? Or a Google one? My books don’t go to the new bookshelf (the new cloud). In fact, as we’ve established, they aren’t my books. They are just licensed. So, I now can’t really access them anymore. At least not from my nice shiny new device. Oh, sure there is a reader for the computer and one for a phone but that just isn’t the same thing.

So, if I can’t gift them, loan them, take them with me (to a new cloud), or sell my rights to them they must be licensed at a much lower price than what the paper books which do come with those rights are sold, right? Wrong! Many or most are the same price. Here’s a sample:


Wow, they are the same price! Now, the convenience of being able to have them on your Kindle and not have to carry around the (heavy) paper books is worth something. But, the fact that there is no printing, binding, shipping, inventory management, destroyed copy accounting (where stores get credit for unsold copies by tearing the covers off and throwing the book in trash), etc. seems like it is much more of a convenience for the publishers and purveyors of these digital works than it is for the consumer. I know most reasonable people I’ve talked to are quite sure that e-Books should be less expensive than paper books. The only real question is by how much.

How should this market look?

First, we should indeed be buying a copy and not licensing it. That would immediately open up the protections of the first sale doctrine. Next, we should have the ability to transfer these e-Books just like ordinary paper books. I can even see companies like Amazon and Barnes and Noble getting recompense for the transfer since they would have to facilitate it and develop and maintain the software to enable it. It should not be a percentage of the book price; it should be a fixed fee – something on the order of 25 cents – to transfer the book to another. So, if I wanted to gift a book I’d read to a friend it would cost me a small amount just like it would if I had to send a paper book through the postal service. There should be a used book store on these services where I can sell my book back for some small amount and then others could buy it from there. If I decide to leave one cloud service and go to another, all that content should be removed from the first cloud and moved to the new one with no loss of “my books”.

Of course, the publishers don’t want this. They, like the movie industry, seem to prefer that we purchase the same content over and over. Want my daughter to read it? Buy another license. Done with it and want to send it to a friend? Another license. Not cool. And – the bottom line – it has to be reducing the market for e-Books. I was chatting with a coworker about this the other day and we came to the conclusion that we two could not be the only ones who would buy far more e-Books if we were sure we could keep them between cloud providers, transfer them to others, etc. Far more.