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January 29, 2009

Just As Batty As Last Year

So about an hour ago, I'm in our backyard picking up the dogs' bowls for dinner when something chitters at me. I try and see what made the noise but can't locate it.

Vickie, who's also out there, asks me what I'm looking at. I tell her that I think a gecko was in Ziggy's bowl and is having a go at me for upsetting it from its pozzie. I'm about to take the bowls inside when I spot something very small moving in a very un-lizardlike fashion on the concrete. "It can't be," I say. "Can it?"

Vickie moves toward it and it chitters again. Sure enough, the creature crawling across our entertainment area is a tiny bat, just like the one that popped in to visit us in very similar circumstances just one day more than an exact year ago. Word must've got out among the bat community that if you have to ditch, we're a good place to do so.

I take the bowls in and make sure the dogs can't get out, then whip off my T-shirt and pick the tidgy wotsit from Vickie's foot (it must have mistaken her foot for the root of a climbable tree; vickie reckons it dashed straight for her when she got close). We then go out to the Hills hoist and peg my T-shirt up so the little one can fly off at its leisure - and after feeding the dogs I decide I'm buggered if I'm going to let this one get away without taking a few photos.

Unfortunately they didn't come out as well as I hoped they would - my Fuji digital doesn't seem too good at close-in work - but I'm glad our guest tolerated the flash going off at it. Here are the results:

The Closeline

Here's a shot of my t-shirt hanging off the clothesline so you can get an idea of just how small our visitor was. Click on the picture to see the image full size.

Bruce close up

A rather fuzzy shot of the little one, but hopefully enough to confirm that it's a bat.

Bruce from the Front

And here's the last one, from the front. It's a shame the clothes peg in the background was in better focus than the bat in the foreground, but it again shows how small our visitor was.

I'm starting to hope we get one of these little visitors this time every year!

January 26, 2009

He's Not A Pirate, He's A Very Naughty Boy

A little while ago, I read that in an effort to combat the huge volume of dodgy-quality clips of their shows and movies being uploaded to YouTube, the lads of Monty Python decided to upload high-quality clips of the selfsame material from their archives, along with a request to viewers that they actually buy some Python on DVD.

Which brings me to today, when I spotted a recently posted article on Slashdot about a massive increase in sales of Python DVDs as a result of their YouTube efforts. The article confessed to being anecdotal, so I thought I'd head over to the official Monty Python website to see whether they were saying anything about it. They weren't, but instead they'd linked to an article written by an editor of the myteevee.com website right there on the front page (true, I had to scroll down a little, but still), chronicling an apparent “16,280% increase in DVD sales” as of November 20, 2008.

The article states:

The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset climbed 740 places and now ranks at No. 5 in Amazon’s Movies & TV category... The nearest sales competitors include two DVD packages of perennially-popular TV series 24, the new release of Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work, and one of the most popular films of the year, The Dark Knight. Monty Python, on the other hand, hasn’t released any new material since 1983.

I'm sure many who know me personally could tell you about my rather anal stance on copyrighted works (Tony Mac, if you're reading this you're probably nodding your head); I prefer to buy stuff rather than copy it. I avoid accepting copies (a policy I wish I'd not excepted The Adventures of Ford Fairlane from; I'd prefer to have that particular hour and a half of my life excised from my memory if it weren't for the likelihood that I'd get curious about it again – but I will say I'm glad I didn't pay for the privilege of watching it) and I don't like loaning stuff I've paid for to people if I think they're going to rip it. At the very least, I look at it as a way of making sure I don't have a plethora of temptations to procrastinate.

But lately, I've been reading the scarily well-reasoned articles of Cory Doctorow, who's done a lot of thinking and writing about copyright (and the related topic of censorship) in the digital age. One fact which seems obvious in hindsight but which I never really thought about until he mentioned it is that with individual computers and the overall Internet improving by Moore's law at regular intervals, the copying and distribution of information isn't going to get any harder, no matter how fervently the Recording Industry Association of America might wish it would.

A corollary to the increase in processing power of computers is that any copy protection or digital rights management scheme can and, sooner or later, will be cracked; the people most often punished by DRM are those who actually do, in theory, the right thing and pay for protected product. Speaking personally, I know I was stopped from playing a paid-for copy of Star Wars: Empire at War by the game's DRM program; after a fruitless correspondence with LucasArts technical support I took the game back to EB and got a refund. It's not just computer games either; reports are rife on the Internet of online or storefront music download businesses (including companies who would seem to have the clout for the long haul, like Microsoft and Yahoo!) closing, effectively leaving their customers unable to move or back up their music (or, in a few instances, unable to play it) because the DRM authentication servers are no longer available.

Still, it's tempting to occasionally consider that DRM, however flawed, prevents the broad mass of consumers (well, you know, other consumers), unwashed, morally-bereft pirates that they are, from taking money out of the wallets of publishers – er, I mean, hard working artists. But that brings me to another of Doctorow's points: Anonymity is more damaging to the sales of creative works (or, let's face it, almost any information-based works) than piracy.

Doctorow naturally cites his own works, all of which can be downloaded from his website as un-DRMed PDFs and freely distributed as long as they adhere to the Creative Commons license under which they're published (give out out, quote and remix all you like, just don't charge for it and make sure you cite Doctorow as the source of anything you crib), as examples. All of his published work is also available as actual,dead-tree books from which he draws his income, and everything he's put out is still selling very well, thank you. Doctorow holds that offering his work for free in ebook format has actually helped sell dead-tree copies because they're the best kind of word-of-mouth advertising possible; "Here's this book I like; read it, you'll enjoy it."

I'll let him explain it better in his book Content, which you can of course download and read for free. But it's nice to be able to offer supporting evidence, especially evidence as strong as the success of Monty Python's YouTube effort. It's gratifying to see that human nature isn't as bad as some who hold and enforce copyright (you know who I'm talking about, probably better than I do) would have consumers believe. Further gratification about the Python situation comes from another paragraph in the MyTeeVee article:

Despite the troupe’s stated attempts to combat user uploads, many user-uploaded Python vids are still available on YouTube. Many of these vids are just as watchable as the official versions...

Okay, that doesn't exactly read like great news for the Pythons - until that fact is compared with the upward swing in sales of Python DVDs. Even though the "official" uploads still have competition, people are still watching the legitimate stuff and then going out and buying it. The object lesson here seems to be this: The most effective way to combat piracy is to treat people as though they're not pirates. In return, they'll start treating you like someone worth their money. And as said above, all those rotten pirates uploading those clips illegally are still giving the Pythons free advertising.

Anyway, where does that leave me and my stand on piracy? Well, let's face it; I've watched copyrighted material uploaded to YouTube on more than one occasion, including some vintage Top Gear from the nineties and eighties so I could show people what the program used to be like before the utter revamp at the beginning of the current decade (and how little Jeremy Clarkson has changed in the past couple of decades). The only DRM I have is Valve's software distributon service, Steam, and the unavoidable CCS protection scheme on each and every DVD. Still, I don't download cracked programs, the vast majority of CDs I've ripped are my own (I've made a natty ringtone for my new MotoRAZR2 phone out of my War of the Worlds CDs) and given the choice between spending Christmas or birthday money on big DVD boxed sets or getting them now by copying someone else's, I prefer to count the months. Finally, I'm still putting off ripping my Doctor Who boxed sets for Chookie per her request under the pretense of needing to buy some blank DVDs (yes, I'm too big a wuss to simply say "You have more disposable income than I; buy your own.")

In the end, I'd prefer to simply not buy a DRM-protected product than buy it and break it in some pathetic attempt to stick it to The Man; I figure that if someone thinks so little of me without even meeting me that he doesn't want me to have his product that badly, why should I trust his word that his product is of any quality?

January 14, 2009

Rise of the Bile

Okay, I'm personally aware of:

Does anyone know of any others?

* I didn't think I'd ever see a justification thinner than "autonomous robotic organisms", but apparently the movie script attempts to explain "G.I. Joe" by making it an acronym for "Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity" (they're a U.N. special unit now, apparently). I wonder: Can anyone define what F.O.R. F.U.C.K.S. S.A.K.E. stands for?

January 01, 2009

Happy New Year 2009!

Hi everyone! Welcome to 2009! To those of you who stayed up: Did you have a good night/morning? To those who didn't: Did you get some quality sleep? And to those of you who are still up: Matress... Pillows...

I was just reading Wil Wheaton's web log and he's gone and done one of those retrospective thingies wherein he highlights some of his posts from last year. I was struck with two things: One, the thought of doing something retrospective-y and resolution-y for my own log, and two, how coherent thought-destroyingly hot and humid it is in Cairns today.

So bugger it. I'm going to lounge about the house, maybe watch some more of my Doctor Who Series 3 & 4 DVDs (thanks, Dad, Karl, Jodie, Deena and David), maybe play some more Burnout Paradise (full Burnout License and 80 more Gamerscore last night / this morning! Woo!), get Vickie tea/coffee/water on demand and enjoy my bleeding day off. I humbly suggest you all do similar. Or sleep.

Happy New Year, all!