Saturday, August 13, 2005

the day television died

The premiere of the new Battlestar Galactica series on October 18th, 2004, was supposed to be a straightforward affair. British satellite broadcaster SkyOne had collaborated with the SciFi Channel in the US to share production costs. SkyOne premiered the series in their markets in October 2004, but SciFi Channel programmers decided that January 2005 would be a better time to air the series in their market.

It didn’t quite go as they planned. The market for a TV series like Battlestar Galactica is decidedly geeky, and within hours of the SkyOne broadcast, the premiere episode was available to the world via the Internet. Television episodes have been distributed via the Internet before, to be sure, but the impact of this alternate distribution channel may not have been felt so keenly by traditional broadcasters. I can only imagine their horror when contemplating a world in which the time and place television shows are watched are controlled by the viewer. Doesn’t that kinda, I don’t know, destroy their existing advertising revenue model?

In his article “Piracy is Good?” (part I and part II) Mark Pesce examines the impact distribution mechanisms like BitTorrent may have on traditional television distribution models, and proposes alternatives that may work in a world where television content becomes more easily accesible via the Internet. One interesting thought proposed by Mr. Pesce is that not everyone in the existing television value chain would see a new distribution model as a bad thing:

Today the broadcaster aggregates audiences, aggregates advertisers, puts commercials into the program breaks, and makes a lot of money doing this. But — and here is the central point I’m making today — wouldn’t it be economically more efficient for the advertiser to work directly with the program’s producer to distribute television programming directly to the audience, using hyperdistribution?

This all hit home for me when the kids and I became hooked on the new Doctor Who series the BBC put together. The CBC began broadcasting episodes shortly after the BBC began broadcasting, but they were always about a week behind the BBC. We would watch some on CBC, but would sometimes miss the broadcast at 8pm on Tuesdays. I thought about setting up my VCR to capture Doctor Who episodes, but had forgotten that it can no longer be programmed to record shows. Then it hit me: perhaps the Internet could be my VCR?

So I downloaded an episode. Then two. We quickly became impatient with the time skew between the BBC broadcast and CBC broadcast; we wanted to see new episodes as soon as they were available. The episodes on the Internet were made all the more tempting because they were captured in HD quality, with all traces of commercials smoothly (almost lovingly) edited out. There is something extremely compelling about being able to sit down with the kids and watch a show when it fits your schedule.

Season 2 of the new Doctor Who series starts broadcasting on the BBC early next year. I can’t bear to think about watching it the old fashioned way.

Piracy is Good? Part I Part II [Mindjack]

Friday, August 12, 2005

windows xp confession

Forgive me, Tux, for I have sinned: I’m using Windows XP as my desktop OS of choice at home, and I’m liking it. This may not be a big deal for many folks, but as a Tux-huggin’ console-sluggin’ wannabe, this affection for XP is distressing, and tastes of blasphemy.

It is not as though I’ve given up Linux completely - this blog (and several other applications) are hosted in my home office on a tired old PII server running Gentoo Linux. I’ve been running Linux on my home server for several years now, and extremely happy with it. So when we decided to replace our ancient family PC with a new notebook earlier this year, I was convinced I’d replace the pre-installed Windows XP with the latest Gentoo Linux release. Tux would have free rein in our home at last!

But from the moment I unpacked the notebook PC and turned it on, Windows XP began to seduce me. Fast user switching. USB and the built-in SD card reader, all working seamlessly. Heck, the internal wireless card works flawlessly, and I don’t even know which chipset it is using! The deal clincher, though, had to be the operational power management and suspend/resume. Support for all of these features can be accomplished under Linux, of course - you just need extensive knowledge and the patience of a saint.

Perhaps I’m becoming less adventurous in my old age - or simply increasingly lazy. But I find that the combination of Windows XP on client PCs supported by a home server running Linux hits a sweet spot that just works for me. I hope Tux will forgive me; my spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

what business can learn from open source

This marvelous essay from Paul Graham hits home on several levels, and expertly weaves humour throughout. A must-read for geeks that feel they are trapped in a Dilbert world!

Here are some of my favourite gems from this essay:

Business still reflects an older model, exemplified by the French word for working: travailler. It has an English cousin, travail, and what it means is torture.

The New York Times front page is a list of articles written by people who work for the New York Times. Delicious is a list of articles that are interesting. And it’s only now that you can see the two side by side that you notice how little overlap there is.

The atmosphere of the average workplace is to productivity what flames painted on the side of a car are to speed.

To me the most demoralizing aspect of the traditional office is that you’re supposed to be there at certain times […] the basic idea behind office hours is that if you can’t make people work, you can at least prevent them from having fun.

What Business Can Learn From Open Source [Paul Graham]