On Hiatus

For those of you who pay attention, there was no new episode.  This is because we are doing some work on switching to a new format.  We haven’t put together a solid plan, but Chuck and I have some interesting ideas for moving forward.  For the coming weeks, we will be testing out some ideas and planning out the improved podcast.  Until we publish the new format, we will not be putting out any new episodes (unless it’s outtake episodes).  We hope you enjoy the new format and stay tuned for new episodes!

Netflix CEO Addresses Customer Response

We’ve been following the plummet of Netflix over the last few months that started with the division of Netflix’s DVD service from it’s streaming service.  Last night Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, sent out an email to those customers who still remain with the service giving a long-delayed and well-deserved explanation about the plans for Netflix services.

Dear Adrian,


I messed up. I owe you an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. Let me explain what we are doing.


For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us). So we moved quickly into streaming, but I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.


So here is what we are doing and why.

Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. DVD is a great option for those who want the huge and comprehensive selection of movies.


I also love our streaming service because it is integrated into my TV, and I can watch anytime I want. The benefits of our streaming service are really quite different from the benefits of DVD by mail. We need to focus on rapid improvement as streaming technology and the market evolves, without maintaining compatibility with our DVD by mail service.


So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are really becoming two different businesses, with very different cost structures, that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently.


It’s hard to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”. We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.


Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, but now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated.


There are no pricing changes (we’re done with that!). If you subscribe to both services you will have two entries on your credit card statement, one for Qwikster and one for Netflix. The total will be the same as your current charges. We will let you know in a few weeks when the Qwikster.com website is up and ready.


For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that lovely red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be similar for many of you.


I want to acknowledge and thank you for sticking with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.


Both the Qwikster and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.


Respectfully yours,


-Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO, Netflix


p.s. I have a slightly longer explanation along with a video posted on our blog, where you can also post comments.

 So what do you guys think?  “Appropriate and heartfelt” or “Too little, too late?”

Libyan Rebels Hijack Cellular Network

We try to avoid talking too much about politics, but one piece of news this week caught my eye.  The Libyan rebels, with the help of some Middle Eastern and Libyan-American friends, were able to hijack Gadhafi’s Libyana cellular network.

In the early days of the rebellion, Gadhafi shut off cell phones and internet to stem the flow of information out of Libya.  Since then the rebels have had to communicate via semaphore, and while flag signals are kind of a bad ass way of communicating, it sucks as a primary communication tool. 

Ousama Abushagar, a Libyan-American telecom executive, got together a few childhood friends and raised funding in order to infiltrate Libyana and pirate their cellular signal.  The United Arab Emirates and Qatar both provided the millions of dollars worth of equipment needed to make this plan work, showing their support of the rebel government.  Etisalat, a UAE cellular service, provided use of one of their satellites for the pirate cell phone network.  Eventually the plan rolled out and Free Libyana was born.  International calls are extremely limited currently, but hey… who can complain when all domestic calls are free.  Beat that AT&T!

Fail of the Week: Police Pepper Spray Unruly 8 Year Old At School

In Lakewood, CO. an 8 year old was pepper sprayed by local police when they were called to the school to handle the unruly boy.

It’s one of those incidents that makes you double take and say “LOL WUT?” and to be honest, after reading the article, I’m not sure who failed worse: the police or the kid.

I know what you’re thinking: The teachers should have been able to handle an unruly kid.  However, the kid was throwing the a tantrum worthy of Dust Head Hall of Fame.  According to reports, the kid was climbing on teacher carts, spitting and cursing at teachers, and ripped molding of the walls and attempted to stake anybody who came near him.  When approached by the officers he brandished a sharpened stick and yelled “get away from me you fuckers!”

Still not convinced this kid is a whack job?  How about if I told you this was the third time the police had been called to the school about his behavior?

The police fail because they had to use pepper spray on a kid, the kid fails because he’s a dust head without the PCP, he experts fail because they’re blaming TV and video game violence, the mom fails because she thinks the cops were being fascist, and the state of Colorado fails for containing all of the above.

Police Pepper Spray Unruly 8 Year Old At School from The Consumerist

April Fools Day 2011 Wrap Up

If you’re like me, you have a love/hate relationship with April Fools Day.  Every April 1st, the internet is abuzz with new products, news, and speculation.  Some of these are funny, so are a little too serious, and some of them you can’t tell whether they’re joking or not.  Sometimes, a poor company just happens to make a press release on April 1st about something serious and nobody takes it seriously.  This year showed us some doozies:

  • Youtube’s 1911 Mode – Youtube made on option available to its users on April first where you could watch all their content in black and white with no sound… like a classic silent film from 1911.
  • Gmail Motion – A concept that follows in the footsteps of the Kinect, users can now control they’re inbox using body motions.
  • Grooveshark’s 3D Shark theme – Grooveshark introduced a new theme for their site, hopping on the 3D bandwagon.  Now (assuming you have so old school one-red-lense-one-blue-lense 3D glasses) Grooveshark will now pop out of your screen at you while you listen to your favorite tunes.
  • Friday or Die – Funny or Die changed their site to be Rebecca-Black-centric, flooding the site with videos pertaining to the pop star everyone wishes they’d never heard of.
  • Apple Store Playset – Every year, Thinkgeek showcases a handful of “new” products.  This years highlight was the Apple Store playset (minifigs included!)
  • RFC-5984 – Every year people submit RFCs to the IETF, my favorite this year was RFC-5984: Increasing Throughput in IP Networks with ESP-Based Forwarding which basically outlines a protocol using Extra Sensory Perception to create a zero latency network.

Old Media vs. New Media – A Fight Neither Side Can Win

I think the best way to explain it would be to say that Old Media is aristocratic, while New Media is democratic.

I think the best way to explain it would be to say that Old Media is aristocratic, while New Media is democratic. Old Media is about people who are trained in finding, filtering, and delivering something to the general public.  For example, a newspaper reporter has to hunt for a story, find it, determine whether it is truely newsworthy, then write it up, and submit it to an editor.  Then the editor has to review it, edit it (duh), and decide if it will get published.  These people are not experts (arguably) in what they are reporting on; instead they are experts on reporting.  There is a huge distinction here.  A reporter might not know the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground, but they know how to tell whether that difference is something worth telling other people about.  New Media is grass-roots.  People create their own content, then put it somewhere where other people can find it and decide for themselves if it is worthy.  Using the same example of a news story, if a person writes about something that is happening, they can put it on twitter, or digg.com and if enough people retweet it or digg it, then it has been voted on to be relevant for more people to see.  Are these people experts?  Maybe, but not necessarily.  A youtube clip might get 100,000 views even though it is some dude that happened to have a camera with him when something funny happened.  Or, it might be people who worked in television, then created their own network of internet videos to post on their website (Revision3).

Old Media vs New Media is not about where the media is delivered.  For example, a news article on CNN.com is still Old Media, and a TV show on public access is still New Media.  The one is just diguised in the form that traditionally belongs to the other.  I love Hulu.com, but it is Old Media.  iTunes has sold millions of songs, but it is still Old Media music created for a record label in a fancy music studio.  Find a song on MySpace that was recorded in some guy’s basement, who doesn’t have a record contract of any kind, and you are getting to this fancy New Media stuff.

But then, by that definition, a lot of old (chronologically) media could be considered New Media.  Well, I would say yes.  Which is why I say that Old Media vs New Media doesn’t really matter.  New Media isn’t new, its just easier to find now than it used to be.  At the end of the day, I would probably rather watch a movie that was made by a movie studio than by a guy in his back yard.  Of course, there are exceptions, like Film Riot.  I would rather listen to an album that sounds professionally produced than an album that sounds like it was recorded in the lead singer’s garage.  But I am ever-thankful that the band has the ability to put that poorly recorded album up where people can find it, then tell their friends about it.  With enough word of mouth, they can get gigs where they can make some money to spend more time on their next record so they can book more gigs and get more word of mouth, and eventually, if they are good enough, they will be able to remaster that first raw album into something that you can actually listen to without your ears bleeding from the technical mistakes.

We are told that New Media is the next big thing, but that stuff was always there, it was just harder to find.  Of course, the fact that there are more New Media success stories means that other normal people are realizing that they can make stuff, too, which means that the number of New people creating Media is getting bigger and bigger.  Proponents of New Media are starting this Old Media New Media war so that they can draw more attention to it, because attention is what they don’t have.  Old Media has already established a consumer base, so attention is something they already have plenty of.  It doesn’t benefit them to draw attention to the fight.

Will Old Media always exist? Yes. Will New Media always exist? Yes. It will get easier to find New Media, and it will get harder to justify the costs of Old Media because of it, but neither will ever really win.

Open Source FTW!

I feel pretty strongly about copyright. For me it started because of “free” software. I’m cheap and I don’t like to pay for things if I don’t have to and I was always happy to try out a free piece of software (and open to figuring out how to use a not-so-free piece of software too). This lead me to find open source software, which at first just meant “open source = free” to me. As my understanding of the open source movement grew, so did my opinion on copyright.

I feel pretty strongly about copyright. For me it started because of “free” software. I’m cheap and I don’t like to pay for things if I don’t have to and I was always happy to try out a free piece of software (and open to figuring out how to use a not-so-free piece of software too). This lead me to find open source software, which at first just meant “open source = free” to me. As my understanding of the open source movement grew, so did my opinion on copyright.

Copyright and patent laws in this country are outdated, outmoded, and generally ludicrous. The fact that Microsoft can patent some of the most basic algorithms in computer science for the sole purpose of suing someone for copyright infringement if they don’t like that product is absurd to me. Copyrighting what can be considered common knowledge or fundamental knowledge in the field is just plain stupid to me and I feel like its a travesty that there are all these worthless patents and copyrights out there miring people in the terrible legality of things. This kind of thing stunts innovation and hurts the industry.

While the open source movement is relatively young and still developing, look at how much innovation has come from that sector: projects like Open Office (an office application suite), Apache (what most web servers run to host web sites), Linux (operating system), GIMP (image editing software) all open source and all very well developed projects.

Each project has a community that builds up around it, drawing more people as it becomes more popular. People report bugs, people fix bugs, the project becomes better, more people start to use it, rinse and repeat. The most insignificant person in the world has a say in the project and anybody with the know-how is capable of patching bugs. If the project wasn’t open source, would things remain this way? Look at the way Microsoft handles things with their products. Most of the time a bug is found its treated the way most of corporate America operates and that is, hush the person that found it, stick your head in the sand, and hope it goes away. There was recently a security flaw discovered in Windows that reaches back to 1993 and every operating system released by Microsoft since then up to and including Windows 7. A 17 year old vulnerability that Microsoft just pretended wasn’t there until somebody made it public. I’m not saying that every piece of closed source software is maintained in the same way, I’m just saying its harder to find and patch bugs when only your people can look at the code.

At this point I’ve made it pretty clear that I like free software and that I don’t want to have to pay for things. How then, in my Utopian world where all software is free, does a developer or company make money enough to justify creating the software in the first place? I honestly don’t know, but I think the Red Hat folks are on the right path. Red Hat creates the Red Hat Linux distribution under an open source license, so its free to use and free to be tinkered with. The way they make money is by charging enterprises for support, and a nominal fee for CD/DVDs (this isn’t required, you can download a copy for free from their site). With a support contract, you can call them up when you have a problem you can’t solve yourself and they’ll have someone help you solve it to the best of their ability. If other companies can come up with similar ways to make money and just let us poor folks have our free software, the world would be a better place.

The Internet and Its Impact On My Concentration

One of the interesting points made in the Stanford study is that switching tasks has a ‘startup cost.’  This is the amount of time it takes your brain to stop thinking about those TPS reports, and start focusing on reading the ‘LOL’ reply to your super-witty ‘Dear inanimate object…’ tweet you posted earlier.  By turning off the notifications, I went from checking Twitter as soon as there was a new update, to checking it when I wasn’t already thinking about something else.

One other thing I discovered about myself that I thought was interesting was that I intentionally interrupt myself when working, simply because I don’t like the work I am doing.  The more I disliked what I had to do, the easier it was for me to hop into the Google Reader tab I keep open, in order to check RSS feeds, so that they can keep me from whatever unpleasant task I had in store.  I found that this happened almost exclusively when I was switching from one task to another.  For example, if I resolved a case, I would update the ticket system, then dispite knowing the other task I had was time sensitive, I would still hop from the ticket system tab to the Google Reader tab.

I also noticed that my behaviour towards reading websites has changed dramatically.  Before, I would read something until something else distracted me, and then I would move on to something else, and never look back.  If it was something I found genuinley interesting, I found that I would go back and try to pick up where I left off, but abandon the page quickly.  Now that all those alerts are turned off, I have instead continued reading the article; either to completion or until I was no longer genuinley interested, at which point I would move on to something else.  One interesting side note: I think this has as much to do with the fact that I hate my job as it does with my concentration.  Before I stopped caring, I would often click away from what I was reading because someone I work with would walk behind my cube, and I was worried about someone seeing me wasting time.  Now that I care much less about losing my job, I am more willing to put my full attention into what I am doing.  Both because I don’t stop in the middle of what I am doing, and because I am not spending energy trying to detect incoming coworkers who can see me wasting time.

There were two tests on the article the New York Times posted with their article.  Test Your Focus & Test How Fast You Juggle Tasks I took them both and have posted my results below.  I hope to take them again in a few weeks, to see if my results improve.

Also, I mentioned AJ Jacob’s book The Year of Living Biblically in the podcast, but I didn’t remember the name.  Since I don’t expect it to be in the shownotes, here is a linkalt.

Test Your Focus ResultsTest How Fast You Juggle Tasks Results

The Case for Tablet Computing

The problems I have with the iPhone are all minor things that most cosumers probably don’t give a crap about:

  • * Only syncing with iTunes
  • * App DRM problems
  • * No access to file system
  • * No DIVX support
  • * No Multitasking (and don’t tell me about the new OS, because that doesn’t count – it isn’t full multitasking)

Rather than go into a long winded article about my assumptions about a device I have never used, I thought I would talk about the platform.  I won’t attack or defend Apple and the iPad here, so if that is what you are looking for, move on.  What I want to talk about is tablet computing.  Like I said, I didn’t see a need for it.  But it occurred to me after reading blog posts on TheModernDayPirates.com and Wil Wheaton’s blog that there might be something to the platform after all.  Tablet computing started out as just a laptop with a screen that folded backwards.  No one used them, because the touch screens were resistive, which meant they were unresponsive, so they weren’t good as touch input devices, and when you tried to use the thing as a normal laptop, the touch film required got in the way, so it wasn’t a useful laptop either.  It was the worst of both worlds.  Add to that the fact that it was still a full blown PC, which meant slow boot times, and heat and battery issues, and it’s no wonder that doctors and professors were the only people who used them.

As much as I dislike the iPhone, it did a lot for computing on small hardware.  With a capacitive touch screen, and a well thought out design, it was possible to use fingers effortlessly to drive input on the device.  It also meant more screen real-estate since there was no keyboard, and it was crystal clear because either there is no touch film, or it is not nearly as intrusive as a resistive screen.  (I am not a touch-screen expert, obviously.)

As much crap as I give the iPhone, it does do a lot right.  Getting so many developers on board is a colossal reason for the device’s success.  Even people using BlackBerrys and Android phones have Apple to thank for making developing for mobile devices a possibility.  It existed before, but not in such a major way.  Apple did what they always do, and brought some niche thing mainstream.

I would argue that that is exactly what they did for tablet computing with the iPad.  It is a movie screen, board game, ebook, photo viewer and much much more, I am sure.  Sure, all of those things can be done on the iPhone (or other phones), but the point is that the screen is too small to do most of them well.  The iPhone put a decent computer in remote control sized hardware.  The iPad is a coffee table book.  And that is where I see it excelling.  It isn’t enough of a computer to be a realistic laptop replacement, although some people would disagree, but it is perfect for sitting on the couch and checking IMDb for some actor on screen, or ordering a pizza while the game is on.  Then at the end of the day, it is a backlit ebook reader.

I have tried to do all of those things with my laptop (it is netbook sized, but old enough that it I had it long before the term netbook was around), and it works, but it isn’t quite the right tool for the job.  Much like I had a BlackBerry Pearl, and it was a good smartphone, but not quite there yet.  Much like I have a Nook, and it is a great ebook reader, but it just isn’t quite there yet.

I don’t like using Apple products.  The longer I have and use the iPhone, the more convinced I am of that.  But they are pushing boundries and making normal people accept these new gadgets.  Old school tablet computers, ebook readers, portable DVD players, and netbooks are all goofy one shot solutions that can be answered with the iPad.  I am very excited not about the iPad, but about its competitors that are surely only a few more miles down the road.  Apple has finally convined me, and most of the American public, that tablet computing can work, and now I want one.  Just not theirs.