Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Men Look at Crotches

A article led me to an interesting study done by Jakob Nielsen. The study delves into how to better present articles to an audience. It concludes many useful things for written articles such as including subheadings, bullets and good white space. More interesting however, was their findings in where different genders focus their attention when viewing images.

Women look almost exclusively at the targets face, while trying to gather information about the subject. Men, however, spend about half their time inspecting the face, and the other half inspecting the genitals. I find this amusing more than anything else.

The research into better formatting of content was interesting, but the section on men’s fixation on genitalia definitely held the most of my attention. I guess that tells us something about formatting data: include more interesting content.


Movie Review: 300

There must be an internal competition in Hollywood for the most dead bodies and/or soldiers in one shot, and 300 is defiantly leading. The movie, with its blood splatter title promises action, blood and… more action. It delivers stunningly. Arthur Millar’s graphic novel sheds the confines of pages and comes to life with a distinct comic book flavour in this action flick.

The movie as not nearly as stylized as predecessors like Sin City, but still makes you feel like you are taking part in a good graphic novel. Each shot is well planned and well staged, like a picture. With the constant slow motion you have plenty of time to appreciate the frame and small details of the shot, as well as marvel at the amount of buffing up the actors had to do for this movie. The action sequences are cleanly shot, full of body and, of course, blood. The filmmakers don’t follow the cheap strategy of shaky camerawork and constant angle changes to represent action, but instead depend on the physical power of their actors, extras and stuntmen. This approach to filming makes for beautiful and rewarding action sequences. The movie’s stylization also makes it more accessible to the viewer who might have found the style of Sin City or Sky Captain too heavy. By weaving between the harsh and noble sides of Sparta, the movie establishes a very dark theme. The opening shot of baby skulls, already sets you on the track for a dark and gloomy story. The storytelling itself captures comic book elements through a overlooking narrator and short, to the point, dialogue.

The overall dialogue in the move is very weak. The constant mismatch between the characters’ personas and words beg for a better writer. Every word uttered is needlessly dramatic, and quickly looses its effect; much like people that overuse powerful quotes, the writers have squandered all the drama inherent in their words. Thankfully, the story is not word driven, but action driven.

The story itself is well known and predictable. You never face surprises, and everything is clear cut and expected. The only thing that can surprise you is how many kick ass moves the choreographers can imagine. It feels like the writers tried to incorporate surprise and shock into the story, but they failed at it. The story is interesting, and hints at history, but in general is lacking.

In the end, you don’t watch this movie for dialogue or story. This movie was created for watching muscular men and women in kick-ass action scenes. The movie achieves everything it promises, but does not excel past this. This is perhaps the only reason it can not rate about a four on my scale. However, all in all this is a wonderful movie, and I recommend it to all action fans.

For a more positive analysis, read Oliver’s review.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

DRM on Independent Content

About a week ago, I read a post by Kumaran on the reasons for DRM on independent content. He goes into some detail of the debate and outlines his stance as that independent music that could be non-DRM should be kept DRM’ed to avoid confusion with the Apple users. His opinion is largely based on small labels and if a major label does switch over to non-DRM music he believes that apple should go ahead and draw the distinction between DRM and non-DRM music to pressure other labels:

“An entire major music label's catalog of music on iTunes in a non-DRM'ed format is a significant enough of chunk of music that I think would cover enough people's music purchases to make it worth it. Of course, people will still probably get frustrated, but such a move would be made moreso to pressure the other labels into following suit.”

Digital Rights Management

In the context of the iTunes Store, DRM means that there are some restrictions on the way music can be used. Basically, the music can be copied to an unlimited number of CDs or iPods, but the digital version must always stay in a proprietary format compatible with iPods. Also, the digital version has some other restrictions on it (like only being playable on 5 computers, etc.). In the end, DRM in general give minor problems to the users, and do nothing against pirates. Pirates are still able to copy music to a CD (thus stripping DRM) and then from a CD to mp3 and distribute. However, DRM can not simply be exterminated, because Big Music backs DRM.

Gruber’s Solution

In a blog post, John Gruber proposes that iTunes could label DRM and non-DRM music much like it does with explicit and non-explicit music. By introducing a simple tag to the left of a song title, the confusion between the two rights could easily be avoided. Kumaran counters with:

“Yes, such a point is valid, however, the difference between DRM'ed and non-DRM'ed content is far more significant than the difference between Explicit and Clean content. Explicit and Clean content can pretty much be used in much the same way. That situation just isn't possible with DRM'ed and non-DRM'ed content being sold at the same location.”

DRM’ed and non-DRM’ed music can also be used in the same way… listened to. DRM or non-DRM does not change how a normal user (non-pirate) uses music. Either way, they get their song, put it on their iPod and enjoy listening to it. The only thing that is affected is the subtleties of sharing. Most users already deal with these differences due to the fact that they don’t buy all their music from iTunes but download some from limewire or indie sites like . From Steve Jobs’ thoughts on Music:

“under 3% of the music on the average iPod, is purchased from the iTunes store and protected with a DRM.”

This slight sharing difference is much simpler than some more significant music differences users’ deal with. Some of their music is in mp3, some in wav, some in Apple’s aac, some in other formats (ogg anyone?). Some music is 8bit, some 16bit, and myriad other differences. I think it is naïve to think that iPod users will be confused or frustrated by the presence of non-DRM music in the iTunes Store.

To add extra motivation for supporting the difference between DRM and non-DRM music one has to consider the pressure of DRM labeling and artists opinions. Some artists pride themselves on the fact that their music is not part of the corporate system of mainstream music. Some bands enjoy their music being non-DRM and would like to see it that way on iTunes, so their fans can get their songs and share them any way they like. Also, by introducing a distinction between DRM and non-DRM music Apple can collect data and what music users prefer. Then they can turn to the big companies and start talking in their language of money but simply bringing up stats and saying: “look small label X made twice the money as equivalent small label Y by selling non-DRM music”. Maybe then Big Music would listen.

I think the reason Apple is really continuing to sell all their music as DRM is to hold on to their proprietary rights. Regardless of what Steve Jobs publishes as “his opinions” on DRM music, Apple is still a heartless capitalist corporation. By sticking to DRM, they make sure people can only easily listen to the music on their iPods and not competitors. This way iTunes Store and iPod become a bundle and exclusive “cool” society that other more open MP3 users can’t join.

Other Solution

The easiest way for users to easily see the difference between DRM music and non-DRM music is to just offer them in two different, popular formats. Continue to offer DRM’ed music in aac and offer non-DRM in the more common mp3 format. However, Apple would never do that… how would that continue their obscene profit margins? This might actually be civil.


DRM is independent content is wrong. If the independent content wants to be DRM free, then let them be. For the end user everything is the same, but the provider of content can sleep a little better at night, knowing they are not part of Big Music’s capitalist machine.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

The Short Human History

Today, at Daily KOS I came across a very thought provoking article on how to think about the scale of human history. The article discusses human history in increments of a single human lifespan. It illustrates just how short human history is:

“Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., one the United States' great historians, is less than two lifetimes removed from a world where the United States did not exist. Through Mr. Schlesinger, you're no more than three away yourself. That's how short the history of our nation really is.

Not impressed? It's only two more life spans to William Shakespeare. Two more beyond that, and the only Europeans to see America are those who sailed from Greenland. You're ten lifetimes from the occupation of Damietta during the fifth crusade. Twenty from the founding of Great Zimbabwe and the Visigoth sack of Rome. Make it forty, and Theseus, king of Athens, is held captive on Crete by King Minos, the Olmecs are building the first cities in Mexico, and the New Kingdom collapses in Egypt.

Sixty life times ago, a man named Abram left Ur of the Chaldees and took his family into Canaan. Abram is claimed as the founder of three great religions. A few lifetimes before that, and you've come out the bottom of that dime. You're that close to it.”

In your lifetime alone you will add one more percent to the length of the human experience, a whole 25% to American history and more than double the length of the computer age. This really makes one lifetime seem a lot more important on the face of human history (as long as you don’t consider the vast number of people in one age category).