Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Ten Dollar CDs

Walmart is at it again.


They want the Music cartel to lower their prices so they can move more product and not lose money on the products on the shelves. Normally I have a hard time with some of the high-pressure tactics that big businesses take pushing each other around -- but in this case, I gotta ask a few questions that have rather difficult answers. Maybe I just don't understand.

If I walk into about a half dozen retail shops, I can usually find a decent DVD for 10 bucks or less (no, we're not talking a recent release here -- but we're not talking old Andy Griffith Show re-runs either). In other words, I can find a Movie, on DVD, for 10 bucks easily.

But go for a similar vintage CD and it's going to be 12-14 bucks -- sometimes higher.


  1. A movie arguably has creative staff several orders of magnitude higher from a production stand-point.
  2. The soundtrack -- the derivative work from the Movie for the background noise to accompany the moving pictures, has to take similar effort to the production of most CDs.
  3. The format: DVDs have to have higher production costs. The amount of data from a binary perspective on a DVD is typically 4 gigabytes, versus the theoretical 700 megabytes or so on a typical CD.
  4. The editing: Editing video chapters and movie scenes, the work to create the DVD package and so on for a movie -- all of this from my perspective is a lot harder than the sound divisions found on a typical CD.
So the bottom line from my perspective is clear -- why, if every indicator from my perspective shows that the movie production houses are not losing money shipping a CD at 10 bucks, can the record industry not do something at least at a similar rate? Maybe they need to have a movie produced about every album that an artist puts out, showing live footage as the artist performs the work. Then have the movie houses ship the product and pay the artist similar to movie stars (something I hear isn't really happening these days).

Someone out there has to have some idea why this is all out of kilter -- or, like I said, maybe there's some hidden production cost for a CD or some huge donation facility for the movie houses that's funding their DVDs on the shelf today.

Walmart is arguably the 900 lb gorilla in this game -- but maybe they're on to something with this one. And I do agree with the gist of the article -- Apple makes money with the i-Tunes store because consumers sense value paying a buck a song. The value equation seems really tilted when you compare movies versus CDs. Consumers are pushing back and saying "I don't see 14 bucks a CD as a value."

One thing for sure, though, Walmart, the 900lb Gorilla is shoving another 900lb gorilla around. Look for some serious stomping here in the days to come.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Another voting scandal in Ohio


The people that make voting machines are in my back yard, almost literally. I drive past them every day to work in Canton Ohio (Diebold). As a fervent believer in automation and almost all things technical as progress I have to vote here (and I don't just mean in the elections) -- I have to say I'm completely and totally against Voting machines being used in our elections.

I'm completely serious.

It's time to go back to paper ballots and I'd even go so far as to say we need the U.N. to monitor our elections. Ken Blackwell, the chief of elections for Ohio recently (at least the 04 elections) -- and a republican (he ran as a republican candidate for governor last year, and lost) -- Ken Blackwell was in charge of our voting processes last round. Really sound question here -- how can we trust a voting process in a "two-party" system (some people call it a democracy, but they need to do some research here)? Answer: We can't these days if the machines are as complex as they are, the voting is done with machines made by people with dubious goals, and the people in charge of the voting at the polls don't understand the technology. For these and obvious other reasons, I say it's time we stopped using technology, as there's simply too much at stake, namely our future as a society where we have some choice in our government.

Toss the machines, bring in U.N. Inspectors and then let's architect a system that works -- process and technology -- and one that's transparent, auditable and owned by the people, and not some "party" -- democratic or republican -- the temptation to skew the results is simply too high and near as I can tell it's become something similar to the "re-district" game, whereby some new elected power shift occurs, and the latest party in power tries to move the district boundaries in a state around so that the voting goes more favorably next time. Again, a statistical approach that makes it seam like the real election process is working, but in reality, it's been titled on the board in someone's favor.

Voting machines and new technologies at the booth provide, near as I can tell, an infinite number of new possibilities in this arena. Paper ballots at least would remove the latest round.

The latest scandal involves candidates names dropping off the machine in question (and in many counties from the article). This is compounded by the fact that there's no paper trail on the Diebold machines -- this from a company that makes ATM machines that print a continuous log when you use them. So, let's get this straight -- the cash in an ATM is important enough to audit, but we're going to take away this capability for a process that effectively hands the keys to the world (and the buttons to destroy it as well) over to someone, a process *that* important, it handles *that* and it doesn't log a thing? Oh and we're going to trust a dedicated party member to oversee the usage of such a thing in a non-partisan manner.

Get real -- get rid of this insanity now. We can salvage the technology later if we can come up with a way to make it idiot and fool proof -- for now we have some serious election needs and yes, we probably need the U.N. to watch it all. Sad day...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Elliot Spitzer

The scandal is all over the news. Governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer is a user of prostitutes and he's resigned.

It's always rough to watch something like this in flight. Bill Clinton being caught with an intern, for example, gripped our nation and lots of people made huge news of it (Even talk of impeachment).

I'm caught, though, with mixed feelings here. As bad as his behavior is in this context, the really sad news is that no one is looking back at everything that guy did to fight corruption -- it's all about his cheatin' ways these days.

Elliot Spitzer took on many things -- one of them was Microsoft. He did what a lot of law enforcement people wouldn't do and he did it well.

He's going to get run through the ringer for being a John -- but I will forever remember the crusader that fought for the right thing at the right time. I'm sorry to see this as an end. I hope for his sake that he's able to come to some kind of terms with this and in some way get back to what he used to do. Maybe this is an unrecoverable set-back, in other words, but I hope not.

Elliot Spitzer was and is, for what he did as a crime-fighter, still an admirable person in my eyes. No, I don't think prostitution is admirable or acceptable behavior. His personal problems aside, though, the good he did as an Attorney General was massive good compared to what amounts to a serious character flaw.

Unfortunately for our society we are hell-bent on feeding a media frenzy around things like this. Britney Spears, Anna Nichole-Smith or the latest celebrity train-wreck of the day all take the public eye off of real problems. Real heroes are forgotten in the backwash of mud and flame.

Elliot Spitzer is the latest train-wreck and the media will run this story for all its worth.

He's still a hero in my eyes. Elliot, you'll be in my prayers.