Off the Wall

Well, I guess we're done watching movies at the IMAX theater... [Updated]

It used to be that our policy for seeing movies at the theater was "IMAX or nothing!" But then they had to go be jerks by threatening Ars Technica for quoting someone using the word "IMAX" in an interview.

Really? Is this the way they are going to defend their trademark -- by preventing anyone from mentioning it ever again?

So, instead of excitedly waiting for them to roll out Laser projectors at our local theater, I'm looking for alternative large-screen venues. Very annoying.

Update: IMAX changed their mind. I don't know that I have, though.

I can't swear off completely...

...but I can do something.

Marco Arment puts the dilemma succinctly: Amazon are being dicks in their negotiations with publishers and studios, but it isn't like we can just swear them off and switch to a better alternative for everything they do.

On the other hand, where there are alternatives that don't suck... I am going to take them. For example, I think that iTunes is going to be getting all of my TV show purchases this year. The price difference with Amazon streaming video isn't significant enough to make up for my irritation. So, no, I can't swear them off completely, but I can vote with my wallet in other ways.


Did we see the same movie?

Come Oscar night, I was quite interested to see that Zero Dark Thirty had become such a toxic movie -- the movie that shall not be named, virtually... While the things depicted in the movie are clearly awful, I thought that it was a really good film. Then I read this piece by Glenn Greenwald and I wonder if we even saw the same movie?

Obviously, he's not alone in his opinion... But I just don't agree with them -- what I saw was the story of the moral journey the nation went on after 9/11 as personified by the character of Maya. The awfulness, the torture, even the willingness to undermine things as vital as polio vaccinations in the third world in the quest to catch one man are presented as events that happened (they did -- maybe not exactly the way depicted, of course). It would be a lie to pretend they didn't and it would be a lie to say that they didn't in some way yield results... That doesn't make them any less wrong. It doesn't make the underlying question less valid: did the ends justify the means?

Much like the underlying uncomfortable and unanswered question, the rest of the film is unconventional in its reluctance to telephone ahead how the viewer should feel -- the twists and turns, including the violent setbacks come as shocking surprises. There are so few movies that do that these days. The willingness to let the viewer experience the events without being told what they should feel is the brilliance of the storytelling and why it should be seen. Hiding the movie under a rock because it doesn't have a moral commentary layered over it is myopic: the reaction to the story should be yours.


Mr. Market is... a finance guy

Seeing this post by Jesse Felder linked by John Gruber, I think that one thing needs saying: the market is populated by finance, not product, people. A company that relies on superior execution and products to continue succeeding is the worst kind of company for finance guys. You can't measure "being good" with a stick. That's why movies are terrible investments, that's why Apple is only ever going to be tolerated as an investment only because it makes so damn much money.

The best kind of company (for finance guys, at leat) is one that doesn't have to be good, that extracts rent from all consumers whether they like it or not. You know, like Microsoft 15 years ago... Good times!

Update: To clarify, Microsoft about 15 years ago -- because virtually every PC sold in the Western world came with Windows (and most business PCs also came with Office) -- was basically an index fund on a then-booming market. The difference between then and now is that the market Microsoft still utterly dominates (PCs) is receding and the growing markets (e.g., mobile) generate comparatively little revenue for them (token license fees earned from Android handset makers are a far cry from the licensing fees on PCs).

In praise of sidekicks

We've been watching a fair amount of TV shows recently (a nice side effect of holiday vacation time) and I couldn't help notice how some shows really benefit from well-written sidekick characters. In some cases (e.g., Sherlock), the sidekick is a necessary exposition aide but there are a good number of shows where the sidekick is uniquely qualified in some way and his/her relationship with the hero is central to the enjoyment of the show.

Of course, the classic example is Doctor Who: the companions, at least in the rebooted version, are integral to the show. It isn't just that the companions are a necessity to drive the storytelling exposition, they are fully-fledged characters that we, the viewer, care about. While they are supposed to represent an everyman viewpoint, they are the best-of-humanity that we wish for. They are the people that see something weird and unexplainable and go to investigate instead of running away screaming.

"Not run away screaming" is exactly how a lot of these characters are introduced, too: like Wendy Watson in The Middleman or Kenzi in Lost Girl, they get thrown into the deep end and swim. Whether they are the recipient of the hero's knowledge and exposition (The Middleman) or as clued-in as the hero (Lost Girl), they take the crazy world of the show in stride and run with it.

That's not to say that every TV show should be structured like this (and toying with the question of who is the hero and who is the sidekick -- like in Castle or Chuck -- is really entertaining), but I just have to admit that I've been enjoying some of these characters of late.

Hulu Plus: You know who I am...

So, can you please stop showing me ads for crap I will *never* buy?

For what is supposed to be the TV industry's attempt to reinvent themselves for the Internet age, this reeks of old-media thinking. The advertising seems entirely tailored to the kind of show being watched, not who is watching it. I know that the account holder may not be the exact person watching, but it should be a pretty good hint as to what family behavior is and who they are marketing to... That is the big difference between Hulu and Hulu Plus (well, that and $8 a month) -- the customer isn't anonymous any more. Apparently, the fine folks at Hulu didn't get the clue.

Alliance of the Frustrated

While the kerfuffle about SOPA and friends has died down for a while, I think that it is worth noting that the politician's syllogism is alive and kicking mightily: while popular depiction of the fight is couched in terms of Hollywood versus the world, looking at a list of SOPA supporters (I won't bother linking to one since they seem to change daily -- nobody wants to admit supporting something unpopular), there are a lot of disparate individuals, companies and organizations that were desperate for somebody to address one or both of the bill's bogeymen: copyright infringement and "rogue" foreign sites. Basically, the fact that somebody tried to pass a crazy law does not mean that there isn't a problem.

Again, PIPA, SOPA and the future semi-secret awfulness that Hollywood will try to pass as law (and eventually will succeed -- let's face it: they are an incredibly powerful lobby) are dreadful attempts to restore a time that has long passed. Clay Shirky summarizes the situation quite well in his recent TED talk (not entirely free of bias, of course). There is an inherent tension between the Internet and business models that rely on scarcity of (virtual) goods. I think that people realize this in the case of media companies but fail to see how many other domains have variations of the same challenge.

The example I find interesting is that of professional photographers: lay people don't understand the traditional pricing model of the retail photography business -- so much of it used to be hidden behind the simple fact that the high-end photographic process was very scarce prior to the digital eral -- so we have painful explosions like this recent one that made the rounds recently. When you get down to it, it used to be really easy to tie pricing to physical goods (prints) because they were scarce to the customer when that wasn't really the what they were paying for (the photographer's skill and equipment). Business photography pricing has likewise been decimated by near-infinite supply of cheap stock photography. We're in a time of plenty -- at least when you want something common. Add to this the fact that Copyright infringement is trivially easy in today's connected age and you have a lot of very frustrated photographers...

So, it is understandable that the professional photography industry is looking for remedies that align with what the movie and music industries want... Or think they want: if there is a common thread to the industries that monetize on intellectual property, it is that they value their own over that of others... By a long shot. Sometimes this results in a humorous role reversal, but the apocryphal version is that programmers steal music, musicians steal movies, moviemakers steal photographs, photographers steal the code for their website and the cycle continues ad nauseam. People just think they are the most special of them all -- if doing the "right thing" is even possible, as with small-scale licensing of popular music. That's just the way it is. And when somebody comes by with something that sounds like a solution, they just latch on to it -- even when it is embarrassingly lopsided and damaging to society as a whole.

But, back to the point: don't for a minute think that it is "Hollywood vs. the World" -- there are a lot of people out there that covertly support SOPA-like laws and pray that they will cure their business ills. They are frustrated, they are bleeding and they want somebody to save them. The fact that only a handful of professional photographers spoke out in support for SOPA does not mean that there aren't many more out there quietly thinking the same. Repeat across the other industries suffering due to the myriad of changes brought on by the 'net and you have a lot of people. Individually, not Luddities but an angry, frustrated, mob nonetheless. They want change and they will eventually get it... Chances are, they won't like it, either.