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Top 15 Podcasts to prevent Geek Withdrawal

August 12, 2010 5 comments

If it wasn’t clear before just how much of a geek I really am, you’ll be convinced now.  Although I do listen to more music than your average person, I also like to do other things of a slightly more geeky nature such as building my own computers, building speaker enclosures and various other things I could only classify as occasional hobbies. I’m even giving programming a try now(LOL..well..).  Since I’ve been keeping very busy lately, I need a way to keep up with areas of technology and geekdom. My way is by listening to podcasts. Most of them from Leo Laporte’s TWIT network, with areas of interest varying as widely as Law, audio production, general technology and movies/tv shows. Here are my top 15 (yes.. 15.. and I listen to more than 15 a week on the job) podcasts, ending with my favorite so far. So start laughing at me now as I present to you…

My Top 15 Favorite Podcasts, what they cover and why I love them:

15. Tell ’em Steve-Dave – This one keeps getting better and better. Not very geeky, except for the occasional comics talk. But funny.

14. This Week in Google – This isn’t just about Google. It covers “the cloud” and “cloud services/computing”. Great podcast with great, knowledgeable hosts.

13. net@night – Leo Laporte and Amber MacArthur chatting about what’s going on in these Internets we keep hearing about.

12. This Week in Computer Hardware – Yeah, I know. But this is one serious show.  And I like to keep up with what’s going on. It’s important to me. Stop poking me with that stick. Seriously. I’ll tell.

11. Inside Home Recording – Just what it sounds like it’s about. A show about home recording. Hardware reviews, tips, tricks, discussion.

10. This Week In Law (TWIL) – This covers law with an emphasis on law that relates to technology and the Internet. As even Leo has said, it can be hard to have a truly rousing conversation with lawyers because they tend to word their opinions almost TOO carefully. And although this can be a bit dry from time to time, I guarantee you will not find a more entertaining law-related podcast. This is as good and as exciting as it gets.

09. Windows Weekly – The interplay between Leo and host Paul Thurrott can be VERY entertaining, with Leo in a way being an Apple guy and Paul obviously (and I’m saying this very generally) being a Windows/PC guy.

08. NSFW – Yeah, not really a tech show. But it’s funny and it’s ON a tech network. Wish they’d come up with a name that was a little more original(similarly named podcast in the early days of podcasting existed long before them,but the vetting process must have been pretty fast). Still, very funny show with great guests. But Cuba. In spite of the name, it is pretty safe for work. Unless you work in a church.

07. Tummelvision – Not on the TWIT Network anymore, sadly. I’ve written about it previously on this blog, which you can read HERE.

06. Cinefantastique Podcast(s) – The best genre movie podcasts out there. Wonderful geeks with a lot of serious knowledge.

05. Tech News Today – A daily (Mon-Fri) show hosted by Tom Merritt, Becky Worley, Sarah Lane and many guest co-hosts. Short, sweet, to the point and covering the daily tech related news.

04. Smodcast – Ever since Kevin Smith started smoking out, this show has become a weekly source of great comedy entertainment. And not because he’s become stupid or something. Because he’s become more relaxed, funnier and in a lot of ways actually sharper. This is not the common result of a pot habit, kids.

03. Radio Free Burrito – This is writer/actor Wil Wheaton’s podcast. Not reliably monthly, but almost always worth the wait. This guy is the real thing. Real geek.Real writer.Real actor. In that order, in fact. I just wish he’d do it more often. It’s a fantastic podcast full of surprises. Shut up, Wesley(haters)! But really… 3 months without a show? No pressure.. just… bummer.

02. FLOSS Weekly – This podcast focuses on Free and Open Source software. It can get DEEPLY geeky at times, but that’s why I love it. It’s willing to go there.  A great service to the open source community. And a great show.

(midi trigger pad roll please)

01. TWIT – The granddaddy of all tech podcasts. Hosted by Leo Laporte, former host and co-host of The Screen Savers and Call For Help on the old Tech TV. His various guest co-hosts are the who’s who of the tech world and this is a fantastic show with great discussions. Sometimes even heated ones. This show can make me pump my fist in the air in agreement OR make me want to throw my Zune out of the car window. But it’s never boring. At least not for me. But then again you have to consider that I’m The Guy that pumps his fists in the air when listening to a tech podcast. So.. there ya go.

Enjoy. And stop laughing at me, I can’t hear it anyway. 😉

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Persona vs. Accountability (the Facebook* cultural black hole)

July 17, 2010 1 comment

Profile of The Emperor of America (and protector of Mexico)

Emperor of America, Protector of Mexico in profile.

The Emperor of America walks into his favorite local haunt. Wearing his crown and carrying his staff, he approaches the bar and sits down. Carrying no money of course, being Emperor, he asks the bartender for a vodka and soda. The bartender, seeing the mandatory name tag on his shirt that immediately identifies him not as the Emperor but instead as “Joshua” , pours the drink and asks him for 50 cents. The waitress, recognizing the Emperor from a distance across the bar, reminds the bartender of his greater than royal presence. “Nah, that’s just Joshua. I went to the same school as him. Everyone thought he was a nutter back then, too. No money, no drink.”,  he replies and moves on to the next customer before taking the drink from the Emperor’s hand.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Facebook and Google would like to call this “accountability”, but for the most part it’s purely (in my humble opinion****)  and simply  “party-pooperism”. And if you examine it even closer, it begins to take on a very sinister tone. Google in particular has made it fairly clear that it values what it’s calling accountability over anonymity, persona and ultimately privacy. If you go to the 21 minute mark in this ***DiggDialog interview with Marissa Myer (VP of Search and user experience at Google) from July, 2009, you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. She says:

“I think the trend that concerns me most, now, on the Internet, is the concept of anonymity. Right? (Kevin nods and smiles, phht! I mean, I get it man, it’s an interview and you’re doing the ‘right thing’, but ..WOW..it felt out of character for you to not address this properly.. it felt like you dropped the ball ) And I think that it’s, you know, I really feel that, the virtual world follows the physical world. Physical world has been around a lot longer, it’s gotten more of the kinks out, the virtual world is very young. And I think when you look at some of the systems, the closer it sort of parodies and follows that.. the memes that you see in the physical world the better off you are. And there’s very few things you can do anonymously in the physical world and I think that over time on the Internet, there will be less anonymity and I actually think that’s good, I actually think that’s good. I think it creates you know, more accountability, people acting more responsibly. And you know I really, I think that overall we all want the web to be great. Umm, and. Uhh, and I think that that’s something we really need to work on.”  !!??!!

WORK on? The intentions are obviously good, but my experience with reading and hearing the words of corporate representatives and spokespersons has tended to lean toward “carefully worded” and intentional rather than “off the cuff”. Make no mistake. Google may enrich your life like no other company ever has. It may have .. strike that.. it HAS improved the world in ways no-one could have imagined even 7 years ago. But they are not your friend. Their policies will be shaped internally and ultimately serve the largest portion of their user base over the individual. Always. Unless the user base lets them know otherwise. Examples of this can be seen in the now years-long battles on YouTube to silence the atheist community(and others) using the tools made available (and far too easy) to employ by any user with the balance of action leaning heavily toward the users who complain, report and file legal notices, false or otherwise.  In the case of YouTube, it is far easier to remove a user or a video that you want silenced than it is to counter that user’s video or point of view with your own content. (this principle produces another finding, of course.. that when you are unable to counter with a reasonable argument of your own.. file a complaint or a false legal claim and you win, brain power and reason not required) The algorithms in place to automagically deal with complaints have no counter-algorithm in place to protect speech. Of course, this is true in almost all Internet communities. It’s unfair to set apart and criticize Google/YouTube alone for this while the rest of the Internet behaves in mostly the same way. But the one concept I want you to take away from this is “balance of action“, since the Internet is brimming with “action” while most attempts or calls for balance are met with cries of  “it’s just the Internet, get over it” (tell that to the RIAA/MPAA and we’ll talk) and “get used to it, that’s the way it works”. Well, while it’s certainly true in what we like to label the “real world” that fairness is elusive if not a waste of time to pursue, the Internet is one place left in our known universe where the rules are still not entirely written. We have an opportunity, like the forefathers of the American experiment did, to slip a little reason into those rules for once to balance at least some of said rules over to the side of fairness and freedom of speech over comfort and fear. And let’s face it, comfort is truly what most of this boils down to. Internet anti-bullying laws will not prevent bullying any more than anti-murder laws have prevented or even slowed murders of passion or revenge. In the “real world”, laws are created in most cases to sustain a certain level of comfort. And the “justice” system claims to strike a balance between our freedoms and our pursuit of happiness in that comfort. The ability to walk out the door every day and expect not to encounter a neighbor who has decided you will pay with your life for mowing your lawn 4 inches over his property line. The ability to assume the person you love and married will not come to an emotional conclusion that you’re cheating on him or her and kill you in your sleep. These are reasonable expectations even in a state of anarchy. Everything else is nuance, interpretation and “moral authority” (not available in some states, your results may vary, no C.O.D.).

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Avoiding or preventing the next big thing.

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Dismantled Mp3 Player

Dismantled, an object's natural state.

The minute the thing everyone wants to do requires circumvention or any kind of subversion, if a circumvention and subversion-free option is not made available promptly by the mainstream, the circumvention wins.

This has remained true since the dawn of.. well… actually before the dawn of the public Internet. And I believe in the absence of absolute authoritarian control, it will remain true. Many companies and individuals have spent money, power, reputation and most of all precious time trying to convince the public, legislators and their business partners otherwise. None of these actions will change this truth. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple continually fail to realize the power they wield and consistently cower before these backward-looking control-freaks. And as brave as standing up to China is, it’s too little too late as far as I’m concerned. Credit due or not.

These days, Apple has more in common with a place like China than it does with its own history and roots. The walled city of iTunes and the app store claims to be protecting it’s users when all that’s really happening is protection of old media.(with the exception of the Flash issue, which I think Jobs is right about) Combine that with a lack of respect for users and especially content creators not associated with existing major media creators and distributors.

Google’s recent changes to YouTube further convict them of similar crimes against the commons. This so-called upgrade is anti-conversational and anti-user-created-content. Try having a conversation using the new comment system. Best of luck to you. It’s been a mess since the last time it was “upgraded”, and this latest change makes it even worse. Try holding the attention of your subscribers with the subscriptions home page module now removed. When I noticed some users had their subscriptions module removed, I noticed my own, while still there for now, was unusable. It became impossible to remove videos I wanted to skip and videos I had already watched kept popping back up.  It’s only a matter of time before it’s gone completely as it is for others. What possible reason was used to remove that module? Too many people were using it? Was it cutting into the profits of partners by spreading the money/eyeballs around too much? I want to assume the best, but I’ve run out of logical reasons and I am left only with sinister ones. And Google should know better, considering its homely origin. So how could Google/YouTube benefit from preventing users from easily finding content newly released by channels/people they’ve subscribed to? Well, if you sit there and watch videos like “World of Warcraft Account Hacked” (who is actually a partner) and ignore things like VEVO, YouTube and it’s real , big partners will not make as much money. What we are given as a replacement for a module that lets us know when someone we subscribe to posts a new video is a new module called “The Feed”, which instead of doing what you want it to.. also displays any video your friends or people you subscribe to FAVORITE. My subscriptions module was already cramped, with a very conservative number of subscriptions. Now it’ll be nearly unusable and more filled with content I’m not interested in. This, like the last new channel design “upgrade” takes things away and adds nothing useful. We already had an activity module. It worked. Fine.

But as usual, I digress. Let’s just focus on music for now. Try to recall or read about certain moments in culture’s history. Certain moments when movements took hold or either threatened or right-out replaced the mainstream. The 60s is a good example of a time when this was successful beyond any previous attempts for the culture to be driven by artists and audiences rather than self-appointed, controlling and limiting filters in the form of large companies or organizations of companies. Again in the 90s, and now with indie, Internet-specific and DIY culture. The reasons for these moments of change vary from the companies being asleep at the wheel for too long to temporary lack of control over the ways people hear or consume music. Things like radio DJs being given freedom to play what they want or in some cases taking that freedom by force or when no-one was paying attention. In each of these periods, you can point directly to another moment toward the end, a moment when control was seized from people and handed over to other people whose primary interest was to continue their winning streak as long as possible and to continue to maintain a bottom line. In each case this was the moment of death. The moment of staleness, blandness and same-old-same-old. The comfort zone. The risk-free zone. Part of it can be blamed of course on the audiences themselves, embracing nostalgia at earlier and earlier stages in their lives as the years progressed, in larger numbers. You know the type, the ones whose best years were in high school, defining their maturity based on how little they continue to feel passionate about. As if maturity were impossible without completely turning off passion and a sense of risk or adventure.  They move quickly through the years they have left, never noticing that the happiest people they see and look up to have acted in precisely the opposite ways they’ve chosen to. Embracing mediocrity as if it were impossible to conduct a decent life without doing so. “THESE ARE THE RULES! Follow them and you are a good person, living a clean and decent, productive life. And when it’s all over, there will be rewards! Trust us!”

Well, at least for those of you willing to listen and buy into it. Regardless of the logic or reason this way of looking at life consistently lacks.

These cultural movements all share a similar trait. That of encouraging a sense that the audience is a participant on at least some level. Whether it’s as an audience member at a show, the “cool kid” spreading the word and living the lifestyle in spite of how it affects his or her ability to “fit in”, or the ones that realize they too can tap into the creative revolution and make the next great album, the next creative leap forward. But mainstream media has even found a way to tap into this effect with the usual dead-eyed but criminally genius techniques they are famous for. Yes, you too can be famous for 15 minutes. The difference now is that you can be mediocre as long as you’re willing to not be boring, no matter the cost. If you cannot be creative, at least you can be aggressive or unreasonable and stir conflict. Watch any reality TV show. Hell, it all started on MTV with “The Real World”, where it replaced alternative culture almost immediately after it took root. Did it seem calculated to you? If you smelled smoke, chances are…

Then we have now. Look around big culture for a moment. Is there ANYONE other than Lady Gaga that is even remotely interesting right now? In mainstream, big money music culture? I would argue no, there isn’t. Not one. Everything else even remotely interesting, original or groundbreaking is back in the once-again severely marginalized underground. But that stranglehold on big culture is weakening. So what is the response? A direct attack on the way in which we seek out, find and consume indie and underground artists. They will tell you they don’t care that we’re downloading the latest Phoenix or Dirty Projectors album, it’s their own artists they’re worried about. But the fact remains, the big artists don’t need our way of doing things to succeed. They actually don’t give a crap if you download the latest Coldplay or U2 album. What they want is to stop the competition which has created several means by which new and great artists can be discovered and consumed. Free or otherwise. If they can stop that, they win. Three strikes laws are being implemented in certain places in the world where it is easily allowed by government through pay-offs, back-room deals and other forms of corruption. It’s only a matter of time before they get their grubby little paws on enough of our representatives (or yours) to make laws such as these happen here (by here, I mean the US. Apologies to the rest of the world. I TRY not to be just another arrogant, center of the universe American).  And we also have the anti-net-neutrality gang, convinced by some of their smarter but still ill-informed, imaginary-pie-in-the-sky-pollyanna-free-market peers that if we would allow our government to ensure net neutrality, censorship and government control of the Internet is the next logical step. (in spite of the fact that the FCC is not the only means by which we can have limited, logical regulation) This way of thinking, if applied to all of society, would imply that allowing the USDA to oversee the safety of meat would logically lead to farmers being enslaved by the government and chained to tractors without pay.  Or that rent control logically leads to 100% government housing. These people need to find a way to get back in touch with a sense of ownership. And a tad bit of reality.

Anyone remember long distance charges and how we just accepted them as if they made sense? Distance equals cost, extra effort..money. ..Right? The idea that a phone call 100 miles away costs significantly more than a phone call 25 miles away. Poppycock. Once the lines are in place and you make allowances even for maintenance, repair and operation.. even upgrades, the cost should be evenly spread. By metering, something the major telcos and isps once again want to do with literal metering or less obviously with tiering, they convinced us of a false value. Simply by saying so, we accepted it as a reality. Are we smarter than that this time out? It remains to be seen, as even some of the sharpest people I’ve ever followed in the area of technology, the Internet, Internet policy and law seem to be convinced that net neutrality is worse than letting corporations start shaping traffic to suit their personal needs and the death-knell fears of media companies.  Believe me, I understand this libertarian way of looking at it all. But these people must take a moment and put it all in context. “Let the free market solve the problem through competition”. Right? Well, for the most part it worked in the early days of the web and widespread tcp/ip,  non-shell-account Internet access adoption. AOL and others were either implementing some kind of metered access OR considering it. The competition realized people were going to want to “surf the web” without constantly worrying about that 300 dollar Internet bill in the mail as a little surprise at the end of the month. And they also realized people didn’t quite know just yet how many hours they would be using the net every month. It turns out they quickly realized it was a lot more than they imagined and that AOL and others were going to be attempting to rip them off with “shock and awe” Internet charges. I guess maybe they hoped everyone else would do the same. Turns out the ISPs who offered unlimited access, no matter the price (usually cheap), were getting a LOT of ex-AOL users. AOL (and to be fair, others) quickly changed policy and offered unlimited accounts. Go.Figure. So it should work out that way this time around, right?

Wrong. See, the landscape has changed dramatically. No-one is satisfied with dialup, not even your grandma. High speed Internet is widespread now and there’s no turning back. However, in many parts of the country, there’s only one game in town. Or in some cases 1 and a half games in the form of whatever cable provider you have and satellite, which is an absolute nightmare in my humble opinion(and the not-so-humble opinions of many, many others). Ever try Skype on satellite? Don’t. Pointless. These are what I call “soft monopolies”. Sure, some people close enough to the CO can get fast DSL, but the rest cannot. Cable companies are not forced to open up and share their infrastructure with potential competitors as phone companies are. Forced? What you say? Is this Soviet Russia? Well, no. See, that ground the cable is laid in? You own it or it’s laid in ground taken by force. In most cases “their” infrastructure was built using tax dollars and tax dollar subsidies. Same as the phone companies, with only that one big difference. They don’t have to share. But the important thing to remember here is that for the most part, that infrastructure that “they” keep claiming to own is in fact YOURS. Yet, if they are allowed to, they would like to slow down your Skype calls if THEY offer a competing PAY service like Skype. Don’t think they want to? Wrong again. They’ve been doing it and are STILL doing it in Canada and other places. Comcast had their wrist slapped for trying the same thing but with bittorrent traffic. They sued the FCC and WON. Although they say they have now stopped throttling customers, I firmly believe that’s a temporary state. They know that in many parts of the nation, they do have that soft monopoly. And don’t think for a minute that they will not take advantage of that position whenever and where-ever they can if it means they will make more money or if not doing so means they will lose money. As I’ve said elsewhere, these companies are not your friends and they never will be. EVERY decision will be made considering first and foremost their financial bottom line. If at any time it SEEMS as though they’ve done something that is “not evil”, you can bet it was in their best interest. Companies simply do not do things that are good for the consumer and bad for the company anymore. The corporate environment has assured us that those days are over. Much like the phone companies and apartment management companies know almost precisely how much money they can take every month without causing the average customer enough financial distress to be forced to stop paying for their services, the big ISPs know exactly how far they can go without causing a customer revolt.  And they WILL test you. I believe they’ve already started. They also know that your representatives, in some cases, are cheaper than the ultimate cost of being forced to compete with TRUE competitors.

(since writing this article almost to completion a few weeks ago, it has come to my attention that Australia’s government has made a power grab for the country’s Internet backbone, disguised as an “upgrade”. You thought censorship was bad before, wait until the government runs the backbone. You “aint seen nothin’ yet”.)

Once again, sure, I’m presenting you with a criticism without a solution. Consider it a heads-up. I do believe we should be FOR Net Neutrality. And not because I’m against the free market or for censorship. Just as I don’t believe we can ever have a society free of crime without significant loss of freedoms. Unacceptable losses. In that same way I do not believe we can have a truly free market, without unacceptable abuses. Both of those scenarios are pipe dreams.  We are in a do nothing and lose situation. And the FCC is not the only solution. Net Neutrality could be.  Regulation with limits is possible. Even in a situation where the FCC suddenly thought it was their job to regulate content on the Internet, I believe the Internet would deal with it as it always has, by essentially routing around it as damage.

I recall a few years ago, when I was running a web server (and a file server through an IRC bot) out of my house, back when it was still somewhat possible to do so.  I was using Earthlink as my ISP. At the time their slogan (trademarked, by the way) was “It’s YOUR Internet”. Turned out it was actually more theirs. Turned out I needed to turn off my servers since according to their rules, I was running a business. And that was a no-no. The only thing was… I was NOT running a business. But they told me in no uncertain terms that I was, in spite of the reality that I was not. Turn off the servers, or we turn you off. Instead, I chose to move to another ISP whose policy did not prevent me from running any kind of server I wanted, with the exception of course being spam. Just a few years ago, this was an immediate and obvious option for me. At this point, not so much. Most ISPs will force you into a business level account to do such things, business or no business. And that’s fine for now. I don’t currently have the need to run bandwidth or processor intensive servers. But I pay for the ability to do so if I should feel the need or desire. Not everyone can do this. And that’s sad. Because it truly IS YOUR Internet. Your taxes paid for it’s development, your land and taxes paid for at least a large portion of its infrastructure. It’s time that more people remember this. So although I may not have any big solutions, I can remind as many people as I can that they have a say. Even if you disagree with me and others on how to proceed. I’ll shut up now and give you some basic resources.

Save The Internet

EFF – Electronic Frontier Foundation (read its concerns about Net Neutrality carefully… they love it, but voice some valid concerns over how it’s implemented)

There are hundreds of sites out there against Net Neutrality, most of them of dubious origin. Some of them are based on genuine concerns over regulation and an even larger number simply have never been exposed to the information they would need to come to an informed conclusion. People who makes “stands” without being informed deserve the scorn they receive. And I’ll be damned if I’ll take part in exposing people to their misinformation.

Photo Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilt/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Apple, Comcast and the slow death of the push-pull Internet

May 16, 2010 3 comments

Balancing

Finding a balance.

Some of you may already have your iPads. You may have pre-ordered early enough to have it in your hands. You may have already had a chance to play with it and marvel at its unique interface. Perhaps less unique if you’ve seen a sci-fi film in the last 20 years, but still unique and elegant to most(and to me). I wouldn’t want to (or suggest that I have the power) to take anything away from your happiness. But any apology I provide will not change the reality we now face as these commonly-called “walled gardens” starting to become the norm rather than the exception. Apple, Comcast and many of their ilk are slowly, quietly destroying the foundation of computing and the Internet. Some are even going as far as allowing no access to file systems or even the hardware itself. (hmm. who could that be?)

“Oh, we don’t want to complicate your experience with things like dirty old file systems, and if you open it up it gets your fingers all ewwwey and dirty anyway. That would ookey. Here. Watch this, it’s shiny!”

In other words, “hey, 10 to 30 percent of our users, go f^(k yourselves” followed by that laugh we all know. The laugh you hear from someone who just said something awful to you and gets away with it because they “didn’t really mean it at all”, right? Something like…

“hahaha.. yeah, I’m not sure anyone is going to read a blog post written by YOU that goes on THAT long..hahahahah! Silly.. so silly.. you’re so funny..isn’t he the funniest? that’s kinda refreshing, that kind of hopeless,charming faith in the patience of readers…hahahaha.. how long have you been doing this blogging thing now? yeah.. that’s a LONG time, huh? oh.. gosh.. so serious.. hahaha.. oh you know I’m just teasing you.. jeeze.. hahahaha”

And then you have to go to a shrink to have him help you build and discover the “internal tools” necessary to prevent you from waiting outside such people’s houses at night to inject them with a sedative so that you can tie them up in your basement, skin them alive and pour rubbing alcohol on their exposed musculatures. Or.. something.**

See, from the beginning of those tcp/ip stack early days of dial-up, there has been a sort of sense that someone, somewhere, would like to take the open, free Internet and turn it into TV.  A magical land where mysterious, hidden and magically powered creators toil away in the dark and produce the images, stories and places you’ve always wanted to see.  A place where only a select few, who knew the right people, went to the right parties and graduated from the right southern California universities were allowed to create these images.  Because to let just anyone have potential access to millions of other human beings at a moment’s notice, on the same level as these vaunted few, would be a travesty. While we sat in our comfy chairs and grumbled about the onset of the “spam” problem and the “commercialization” of the Internet, something far more sinister than over-zealous small business was happening slowly. An awareness grew. The moment a user did anything beyond downloading, chatting and surfing (say, like a server of some kind), even back then, ISPs were quick to fire off an e-mail to you explaining that you either had to shut down or pay a higher fee for what was clearly “business-level” access. In other words, even if you were clearly NOT a business, if they noticed that you were serving more traffic than you were consuming, regardless of the strain or lack of strain on their infrastructure, you got shut down. These problems sometimes resolved themselves through competition, but not always. Back then, it all depended on how much competition was in your region. Usually, in most places in the US, not much.

Luckily for the Internet so far, it’s taken many, many years for the people in charge of old media to take us seriously. I think the moment when it all became interesting to them was the moment the news media started talking about how all these “Internet” people (said using the same tone they would use to describe your common aol chatroom trolling  kiddie fiddler of old) were getting all these songs and eventually movies for free. Oh sure, there were dot-coms.  We even had a boom and bust. But it was fear that really got their attention. Up until, say, the threat to and eventual murder of Napster, we were not taken seriously. Only when we became a credible threat to their bottom line did they finally truly notice exactly what was going on behind the curtain. We were dismantling their empire while they were busy trying to create “marketing buzz”, “tie-ins” and “viral campaigns”. Right.Under.Their.Noses. Oh, I may hate nostalgia, but part of me misses the late 90’s underground optimism. Your (print) BoingBoings and Mondo2000s, that sort.

As we found new ways to manipulate and mash-up their “properties”, perhaps making a subconscious, collective statement, they fought back with the DMCA, the RIAA and the MPAA.  Instead of competing and winning back lost customers, they lashed out. Instead of taking responsibility and fixing what was broken, acknowledging missed opportunities and moving forward, they pointed fingers and manipulated numbers to gain sympathy. They “re-educated” young people into believing that making a copy was the same as physical theft. In much the same way as the new right has spent countless years and money perpetuating the myth of the “liberal media”, pushing the already conservative at the core for broad appeal media even further right, garnering sympathy from those of us less informed or educated about the history of such things. Now you can’t watch the news without .0002 percent of an ill-informed, barely-veiled racist and borderline-fascist-while-calling-everyone-else-fascists minority screaming its manufactured, impotent outrage while getting 28% of the media coverage. Using some of these same methods, they have nearly convinced a new generation that they need a mandatory middle-man between them and their culture. And it’s a powerful, angry, jealous middle-man. One who is prone to temper-tantrums and random financial violence toward old ladies and children. Do not tempt the righteous fury of this corporate-man-beast-god. It will devour your parent’s college savings like a pack of hyenas on the rotting carrion of a lost kill. See, they never really tapped that hippie thing, so it’s a little personal. And don’t think for a second that the people behind these two successful, sleeper-cell like causes are not one and the same.  The very same people who buy up radio and TV stations/networks while funding new laws to make it easier to do so are also the people who own 80% or more of what you watch, read and listen to. And they DO want to control the methods of distribution, the most important of which is the Internet. As you see partnerships grow in places like, say, YouTube, ask yourself if the changes you see happening make it easier or harder for you to be exposed to new media being produced by PEOPLE rather than corporations. And how easy do you think it would be to accuse, say, Universal Music Group of violating a rule or copyright as opposed to them accusing little old you of the same? Are you in “good standing”? Are they? Chances are, they’ve spent millions of man-hours removing content created by fans of their artist’s(the ones they OWN) work. Usually to fill a void they’ve abandoned or ignored in their catalog. Or in some cases, tributes to long dead artists. Even songs playing in the background at parties or in a (shudder) criminal act of accidental ambiance. So who, in reality, is truly in “good standing”? Not UMG, not by any standard other than the one required by the YouTube legal department. You know the one. The department that makes the real decisions. The department that calls the shots at Google.* (all while small towns across America are doing everything short of public sex acts to make Google their new ISP)

All while raking in record profits and sobbing in public about their “losses”.

And let’s examine the role of ISPs a little closer. Recently, Comcast won a court battle with the FCC in DC Circuit Court. The battle was over whether or not the FCC had the power to prevent Comcast from throttling users based on what protocol they were using. Comcast claims it was simply a matter of traffic shaping to deal with high demand and certain users “hogging” bandwidth to the extreme and had nothing to do with the protocol at all. In spite of the fact that bittorrent was the protocol in question. What people quickly forget is that bittorrent is not the only protocol ISPs have been blocking and interfering with. It’s well-known, common knowledge that in Canada, for instance, ISPs throttle Skype calls. You can count on it like clockwork. After a certain number of minutes, you’ll have to re-connect or will be unable to establish a stable connection again for some time. That’s not about bandwidth hogging, it’s about trying to make your competition look bad. It’s pure and simple anti-competitive behavior. And if it were happening in any context outside the Internet, people would either lose huge amounts of money over it or in some extreme cases, go to jail.

and.they.won.

See, it may not seem like a big deal. Especially if you’ve never created anything and tried to distribute it over the Internet. There are a lot of free “services” that will host your content. Most of them will want to wrap your content with ads for other content*** or make users jump through hoops to get at it in various ways. Then you have the paid services. And if you suddenly find out an audience larger than your family and friends  actually wants what you’ve made, watch the hell out. Here come the bandwidth bills and mandatory account upgrades. Essentially, most likely without fully realizing it, what this circuit court judge has done is make it easy and legal for Comcast to shut down the little guy (or the medium guy in the case of Skype). Sure, most of the time bittorrent is used for downloading content backed by large media owners and distributors, against their wishes. But it’s not the only use for bittorrent. Period. There’s no getting past this point and truth. It’s essentially like making mom and pop CD stores illegal because MOST of them illegally re-sell promo CDs that were never meant to be sold.  It’s not just unfair, it’s illegal. You cannot do that in most countries. And in the ones you CAN do it in, you can just as easily pay the local police enough cash to burn your competitor’s store down or shoot and kill him in his driveway as he arrives home from work. Some would want you to believe this has something to do with suppression of the free market and over-regulation. But this just simply is not the case. Anti-competitive behavior and it’s prevention through regulation is the absolute foundation of a truly free and fair market. And the keyword here is not fair, it’s free. As the proponents of what they call a free market will claim from time to time, free speech has limits. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, right? Well, anti-competitive behavior is the “yell fire” of the free market. If it is not prevented, a truly free market cannot survive. Everyone must play by the same set of rules, period. Right now, you have the people who you should be most wary of doing their damndest to be the ones re-writing the rules. (following the lead of Banks perhaps?) They would love it if it were illegal to have a marketplace that essentially doesn’t charge to rent a metaphorical table space to sell or promote your goods or services. What the rest of the reasoning world would call a FREE MARKET. And that IS what bittorrent is. It’s like a virtual free table space. Or close to it. Beyond the act of initially “seeding” a torrent, as long as there is demand for what you have on display, the downloaders take care of the rest of the bandwidth needs. No excessive bandwidth overage charges, no inquiring calls from your ISP, no hosting account, no “business account” (another term for what is commonly known as a protection scheme).

The.Way.It.Should.Be. Many would like to take this thing we call bandwidth and convince us all that it needs to be watched like a hawk, treated and charged as if it were at a premium and regulated so the “pipes don’t clog”.

These people know that the word is spreading. Artists left and right are jumping the middle-man ship and going it alone or with partners that serve them primarily or only them. This new DIY spirit is spreading amongst big, established acts now as much and as often as it is with new, younger, indie acts. The early signs of it happening in film are there as well, with big name directors as well as small, experimenting with new ways of funding and distributing/monetizing their films. If you don’t think this scares the steaming crap out of stale, middle-man curators of old, you’re… well.. wrong. Knowing this and coupling it with the fact that there is NO larger, better-known and used protocol that virtually removes the cost of mass distribution than bittorrent, you can see the big picture start to come into focus. Of course they want to block or slow it. Sure, they’ll tell you it’s piracy they want to stop. SURE.. sure. Suresuresure. They also know that it costs FAR less to bribe politicians and use money to influence lawmakers than it does to actually try to compete with the larger, hard-to-tap-into emerging culture. And unfortunately for them, it’s a “free culture”.

Now that I’ve written all this, it really feels like I could have summed it up with just a few simple ideas. Don’t believe the hype and educate others. Spread the word. Contact congresscritters. When you hear people talk about the “free market” right out of college after reading Atlas Shrugged 30 minutes before your conversation, put what they say in context. Nudge them toward the concept of taking those ideas out of the “similar to the liberal pollyanna utopian vision” realm and into the real world, where it counts. Isms are always great (and seductive) living in a conceptual bubble. They tend to deconstruct themselves predictably in potentially disastrous ways when applied without reasonable adjustments. Like rock star boyfriends. It’s all fun and games until you’re pregnant and the rent is due.

And MOST of all, get out there and PUSH. If you create things, USE the Internet in smart ways to distribute. Because if we don’t in greater numbers real fast, we’ll look insignificant and the control goes right back where it was before, to the people with the most money to pay for unneccessary services and middlemen. Remember, you already pay for the Internet. And last time I checked, it was 2-way by design.

*Fair? Probably not on a certain level. But do you think it’s possible for one of the world’s largest corporations to take a stand once in a while against what can only be described as a dying business community in order to fight for what they know is right, once and for all? Does anyone honestly believe that with the right set of brains and the money to get the job done, Google could LOSE in a fight for say, fair use? If they became the aggressor for once instead of reacting against threats only, maybe they’d have a fighting chance. We’ve certainly done our part to turn Google from a garage project into what it is today. And if you think it was the seed money, investments or “good bidness sense” that did it, do us all a favor and just find a new cave to live in. Because without its users, Google was and IS nothing. Period. No matter how fancy, how perfect or how improved it’s been over the years, nothing any one or two people did in that company made as much of a difference as DEMAND did. We needed Google back then, and they were there giving us what we demanded. No demand, no users, no Google.  Part of what made them into what they are today was right place, right time. And you need look no further than the practical admission of this in their motto.. “don’t be evil”. That’s not the motto of someone who thinks they ONLY worked for what they have(keyword:only). It’s the motto of a young Arthur who just pulled Excalibur out of a f^(#|4g stone!!!

**Never actually happened. Honest.And I wouldn’t even know how to start when it comes to skinning people. I wouldn’t know, for instance not to corkscrew the legs or start up the middle of the leg. Or to skin UP to the head and Grab the lumps where the ears are, underneath and separate them carefully by cutting them off as close to the skull as possible. Nope. No idea.

***Torrent sites display ads just as much if not more than the so-called free distributors. But would they ALL if they didn’t always have to feel like they were taking such a HUGE risk? Think drug war for a second.  The moment the risk factor is removed, free, open torrent sites that are ad-free or ad-light would pop up in the hundreds. In the first week. Of course people always want to make money, but there are also ALWAYS people who want to do something else.

Image Credit – http://www.flickr.com/photos/cyanocorax/2207816424/

Creative Commons – Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

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