Internet Pickpackets

Thursday, February 23, 2006

How would you like to pay per email you send? Or have your email program give preferential service to those emails that were paid for, putting them at the top of your email inbox, perhaps delaying other emails that were sent free and clear? You know, for now, until free email is something that we tell our kids about like 8-track tapes and CDs. Well, it's on the way. Yahoo! and AOL are both implementing a scheme that drops the proverbial shoe, under the auspicies of spam prevention. Essentially, they'd charge a cent per email to big companies on an initially voluntary basis. The claim is that it would help them sort spam by only allowing companies that follow guidelines about only sending to those requesting the emails and having unsubscribe links (nevermind that most unsubscribe links unsubscribe you and then add you to other more profitable lists since you've essentially confirmed that you are checking that email account). In this way, they purport to be able to kill spam.

Sounds okay, doesn't it? Big companies isn't you or I, and it's only a cent. Well, first of all, let's look at how it works right now - forget about the future. If you're a legitimate company sending out millions of emails a month, whether it's bank statements or updates that your site visitors have requested, that amounts to thousands of dollars. To give you the same service you have now, except, and this is important, with guaranteed access to the inbox without going through any spam filtering. Essentially, you're being blackmailed to either pay or be filtered. Now let's say you're a spammer. You have no friends, live alone in mustard-stained pyjamas, sending emails about a product you'll never use: viagra. Not that they can get it up, necessarily, just that sex isn't something they're likely to be getting much of. If you're a spammer and I've offended you, good! I'm offended daily, and so are many millions of others. That's why this scheme of Yahoo/AOL's is so brilliant. It plays on that hatred of spam to allow them to get their foot in the door. Because, really, what are we doing here? We're saying to spammers that they can continue as they were, some spam getting past the filter and other stuff not, by continuing to send free email. OR, they can now pay a cent and get guaranteed access to your inbox, past the filters. That service is easily worth the cent to spammers and while Yahoo & AOL say that people would have to follow guidelines, there have been laws for a long time stating the same thing and they, too, have been circumvented. Consider. A cleverly worded spam delivered straight into the inbox, past filters, and 'guaranteed' is bound to be read. Response rate will rise dramatically, say that only one person in 100 responds to a given spam message. But that means that for $1 advertising, you've gained at least one customer. Admittedly, I don't foresee response rates that high, but even a tenth of that and you gain. Which is the conclusion Yahoo and AOL will use to justify their increases over time. But let's leave that future stuff for later on.

With the current system, who benefits? The end user, you, potentially gets just as much spam, not to mention that now someone can pay to place themselves in your inbox. Spammers have a guaranteed way to get past spam filtering or can continue writing spam to get past existing filters for free. If, as they claim, Yahoo & AOL are planning to keep email free for individuals, then that means that the filters will still have to be there and all non-paid emails can't be blocked, so spam can get in the same as it does today. So a blessing for spammers. And of course, a blessing for Yahoo & AOL, who stand to make money of spammers and honest corporate citizens alike. Of course, legitimate corporate clients are the losers in this, essentially being charged for being the good guys rather than trying to stop the bad guys. It's like trying to stop graffiti by taking a toll from everyone who own a painting company. Well, maybe not really like that. But certainly punishing the wrong group.

Even so, all this amounts to little more than a bad idea for the moment, but it will get worse. First of all, since it supposedly is a voluntary pay structure, you have to entice companies to go this route. Guaranteed delivery isn't enough when, in order for their filters to not have false positives, they should continue to get through free anyway. Unless of course, they blackmail companies into a pay-or-else scheme where they block non-paid (which essentially is no longer voluntary). Failing that, you're going to want something out of your return that you wouldn't get sending it for free. Which means that either:

a) Preferential service based on moving other emails down in the inbox.
b) Faster times than regular emails. Given that servers currently use best effort send-now schemes, there is no way they can send faster than that. Which means, my friend, that the only way to make this email faster is to slow other mail down.
c) Eliminate free mail so there is no standard to compare against.

Make no mistakes, soon this is the beginning of the war for the internet, which pits the group trying to maintain the philosophy of a shared/distributed network that founded the internet and built its popularity against the group that is looking for any way to grab money from users. It is a calculated and conniving move, designed to work on the average user's apathy for big companies in order to slowly introduce the concept of paid email to a currently free medium. There are other companies, telcos primarily, that are already deep into the fight, trying to get content providers and end users to pay a second time for something we're already paying for: bandwidth. Jeff Chester, president of Digital Democracy, has an article talking about what I like to call the Pickpacketing that's well worth the read.

So what to do? In the case of cable companies and telcos, you can write your MP/member of congress, but who has the time? Hopefully some people do, but supporting the companies that are fighting the good fight is a start. As for the email frauds, don't use them. Write them, and tell them you want your email account closed, or at least let them know you are against this policy and will be leaving them. Closing the account is better, because Yahoo will still make money off emails going to your inbox that you don't see, presumably. Just make sure you tell the three people emailing you at that address that AREN'T spam to switch to your new address. Which could be at many other sites, I recommend Google of course, but even Hotmail is better than supporting Yahoo/AOL. And for the love of hickory, if you're using AOL as a service provider, get the heck off! Why people still use that crummy service is beyond me. Whatever case, stand up, do something to make a difference. Once we go down this road, there will be no going back, and nothing will happen if nothing DOES happen to oppose it. Good luck!

Enhanced Podcasts, MP3s, and Laughter!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

FrankBlack.Net Podcast Logo (for now)
On Valentine's Day, many people were out with their significant others, dallying through some fine dining, a movie, and perhaps creating their own home movies after. Aside from working at the restaurant that evening, I actually kicked off my first foray into the podcasting world: The Frank Black.Net Podcast. It's been pretty succesful so far, over 800 downloads at the time of writing, not even a week later. We had some an exclusive premiere of a heretofore unreleased Frank Black track from his next CD, Fastman Raiderman, which definitely helped. Anyway, today I'm debuting my own personal podcast as well, and that has me wanting to do it right. So it was with some dissatisfaction that I discovered the enhanced podcasts that enable you to skip sections and have graphics and URLs associated with them, can not even be created on my Windows XP PC. I resolved to do something about this. WARNING: It may get geeky. Read on at your own peril.

As it stands right now, there are two types of enhanced podcasts. There is the ubiquitous Apple variety, which can ONLY be created on an Apple and must be either M4A or M4B file format. You need software that will encode the audio in those formats (instead of MP3) and then software that will create 'chapters'. Again, both of which are Apple only. There is also a Windows enhanced podcast, but it likewise requires the use of WMA files which can't be used on iPods and, to be honest, are a pain to make even if you wanted to. So, to offer broad support, I would need my podcast in both of those formats, plus MP3, that's THREE files for the same exact podcast. If I could just create an MP3 enhanced podcast, I thought to myself, life would be good and one file would be fine.

So I did some looking around., it turns out, just released an update to their specification for the ID3 tags that give MP3s the ability to display artists, song titles, and so on. ID3 tags now support chapters! That means there is already a defacto standard for encoding the MP3 with chapter information, the standards people are on the ball. That's one less thing to do. There are two other things that must be done. The first is to get publishers of popular music software, such as WinAmp, iTunes, MusicMatch, et al, to recognize and handle these new features. This should not be a difficult update for any of the parties involved, but there must be demand for it. Currently, there is no software out there for creating enhanced MP3 podcasts. Which means that nobody out there is developing them, which means no demand, which means that it might be difficult to persuade mp3 player producers to incorporate those features.

So what the world needs now is a way to create those MP3 Enhanced Podcasts. Badly. A command line application shouldn't take long for someone in the know and with the correct tools. I even attempted it myself briefly, but the tools I have aren't quite up to the task. I downloaded the ID3 library to find out it was C++ and intended for use with Visual Studio, which I don't have. As well, I'm pretty sure the library doesn't support these new chapter/contents frames yet, so I'd have to wait for them to update or else, and more likely, go and write the new frames in myself. But I am extremely interested in seeing this come to light, so I've not given up all hope yet. I just need some time and a better grasp of how the ID3 tag is set up. Most of that information is laid out on the site. But not all. So what I'm asking is that anyone interested in such a tool let me know so I know that it's not just for me, and if there are developers out there working on it or interested in doing so, definitely, let me know about that too. Let's get these MP3 enhanced podcasts out there.

Deanologue: What Am I Up To?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Our new IPA cans
Perhaps unsurpsingly, I see that thanks to the long delay since my last post, I actually have things to talk about. Perhaps too many. So I'm going to break this week's post into several smaller posts, and trickle them out this week, presuming that they don't get even more out of date than they are already, having been typed a week ago. In this post, I think I'll live up to the title of this blog and tell you what's new with me in this last while. It's been a busy few weeks, despite the fact that I spent one of them pretty much comatose in my bed. But don't worry, I won't spend much time on that particular week. After all, I'd rather tell you about those beautiful cans that we've started making on the left there.

I suppose the least logical way to do this is to go reverse chronologically. No, that's not true. Random would be the way to do it. I'll do my best. This weekend, not much to report, aside from Steph & Adam's engagement party (which was delightful). Last weekend though, I had my first taste of poker, specifically, Texas Hold 'Em. I'm not a huge card player, and I never got much into it even in Engineering where EVERYONE plays Kaiser. Certainly, my luck in such things is not, shall we say, legendary, and while true poker enthusiasts would probably tell you it's all skill, I conveniently disagree. At least until I start winning. Because on Friday night, a lack of decent cards wasn't my problem. A lack of skill was the culprit. John invited me over to play with Adam & Clint, and I was going to go out with Jonathan that night but invited him along instead. For some reason, I always think that John lives on the same road as me, but, you know, 15 km away. So, once again, with poor Jonathan on my tail and probably scared to death of these unmarked Saskatchewan grid roads on that dark and foggy night, I took a wrong turn. Of course, I've taken that wrong turn so many times that it's part of the route for me now, but he doesn't know that.

I would've learned much faster from her!
So, anyway, playing the game, I was happily reading the flop, taking solid positions, and taking tricks. Well, maybe not that last part - that must have been my problem. Or maybe it was the fact that my solid positions weren't necessarily sound positions. Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting at the table watching the other three play. But it was still fun, it is a social game after all. Plus I probably learned as much watching as playing. The next day, the three of us, that is, John, Jon, and myself, went out for dinner and a few drinks at Bacchus. The power was out for close to an hour, which really wasn't too bad although combined with the pasta and over-priced martinis, it wasn't exactly a recipe for energy. Then we went off to Amigos, there was a CFCR CD Release this weekend, and No Birds were playing as well as Maybe Smith were playing. I'd been meaning to see Colin/Maybe Smith for some time, and I always enjoy No Birds, so that was a done deal. Smokekiller, an acoustic guy who was actually quite good started, but I'm against mixing acoustic acts with full bands. If I want to hear some guy playing a guitar and singing, I'll go to a coffee house or open mic night. You basically destroy the vibe of a rock show by mellowing things out first, especially starting at 11:30, however good. That said, Maybe Smith was well worth seeing, Colin's got a great voice and I think he'd do really well to have an actual band, and of course I love No Birds. Mehta was wild and funky on base, and I think the girl playing French Horn, who I found myself watching almost exclusively, (I love French horn, plus she) was fearing for her life on that small stage. Hilarious facial expressions. As for Mehta, he may have been on something, but at least he was into it. Be sure to pop by NewMusicCanada or Teargas and hear some of their stuff - I recommend Heavy Metal Will Never Die to start.

Shoveling the snow
We were supposed to meet some girls after, but it wound up being only Jon's current lass and another girl I'd met before, and they were drunk and silly and passed out at Jon's within a half hour. Which freed the three of us to go upstairs, eat cabbage rolls, and play some more Texas Hold 'Em until almost 7 AM. We each had won a round, with me never being the first one out, and then we played a tie breaker in which I WAS the first out and John wound up being the winner. The night went quickly and was a lot of fun, possibly thanks to the drink de soir, Mike's IPA. Yes, we've started canning our beer now - you did see the picture up there, didn't you? My dad was in Seattle with my mom a couple weeks ago making sure the labels were just right (they look great) and we now have the canning equipment and everything. We're hoping they're a little bit more appealing than the 2L bottles we had before, certainly they're easier to drink in one sitting. While they were away, as always, it snowed, probably the first big snowfall of the year. Larissa & I went to pick up my dad's truck from the airport, which is on the opposite side of the city from us, and got all the way there realizing that neither of us had taken the keys from the table, each assuming the other had. So, with the roads bad as they were, Larissa opted to do some shovelling at one of the properties in the city while I rushed home to get the keys. By the time I got back, there was still another half hour of shovelling to take care of, and then we got the truck, went home, and I shovelled the driveway and walks. That was a good four hours or so all said. Of course, it snowed again the next day, not much, but enough that I had to go and shovel in the city after work, which meant that the snow had been compacted by foot traffic and it was a task. Luckily, I had my iPod full of CBC Radio 3 podcasts and actually managed to catch up on the backlog and get up to date.

Speaking of podcasts, I've mentioned before that I'm working on one that could serve as a sort of intro to indie for those looking for something else or just getting started in the indie scene. I am still waiting on a few sources to make sure that I have the artists' blessings. However, last night, I recorded another one that should be going ahead soon - a Frank Black podcast. I'm hosting the podcast with Brian, a friend and fellow moderator at, which is an interesting experience when I live in Saskatoon and he lives in Manhattan's shadow (AKA New Jersey). How did we accomplish this? Well, it was amazingly easy. We actually both have Google Talk accounts, and both have microphones for our computer, so all I did was click the little phone beside his name and we were having a conversation, easy as that. And cheap as free, too! Anyone with Google Talk can talk free as long as the other party has it too, which I think will come in quite handy for my next trip.

A photo Juaquin took hiking through the mountains in New Zealand
I heard from Joaquin, a guy I met on Contiki, the other day. He's having a blast in New Zealand right now, which has gotten me excited about travelling again. On his trip, he says, "When I started out on the first week of the trip I had a sense that there was no way they could keep up the pace, one day I would wake up to do something absolutely amazing that I had never done before, and then the next day it would be repeated with some other activity..." and then goes on to talk about hiking/kayaking through a park to a secluded and perfect beach on the edge of a rainforest, camping in there, going swimming and having hundreds of dolphins in the area playing with you, rope courses, rock climbing, hiking through mountains, and it goes on. He's with a company called Pacific Challenge which sounds great but I'm not sure about the 6-week duration. I don't think I want to be stuck in a group that long. Even so, there are lots of tour companies and I AM thinking about this one as a way to kick off my year down under, I'll see what Joaquin has to say about it when it's all over with. I also finished Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country as I lay up in bed, which only served to make the task of travelling around a place so vast and empty as Australia all the more daunting.

Ah yes, the laying in bed thing. Well, I had the flu. It kept coming and going and coming back worse. I call it the demoralizing flu - just when you get your hopes up that you're getting better, it comes back at you even worse than ever. I was sickest on the very last day and I think I said something like, "I don't think I'm going to get better" to my mom. I had to miss three days of work and was too sick to do much on the other two days for a grand total of 5 days, plus a sore throat/cough for a few more days after that.

The MGM Grand
Nicole & I are going to Las Vegas in March with mom, dad, and Shawn (our bar manager) for a Food & Beverage Show. Larissa & Mariah won't be there, but they're in Mexico on vacation as I write this, so I think they'll be okay. I've never been to Vegas so I'm quite excited to see the sites/sights and even the show itself. It's not exactly a hammock on the beach, but I think it'll be a good time. But I should probably go. I've been playing lots of X-COM: Terror From the Deep lately and am hopelessly hooked. I'll have those other posts up soon if they're still relevant, and a link to the podcast assuming it's approved, as well as a feature on buying a new PC coming up next week, so I hope to see you back soon.