Sunday, October 24, 2004

Podcasting & BitTorrent

A few weeks ago I bought a portable audio player. After doing some amount of research I decided to go with the iRiver iFP-790. It was the only small player I could find that plays Ogg Vorbis files and stacks up well with other small Flash-based players. I had been thinking about getting one of these players for awhile, but wanted to wait long enough so that my purchase wouldn't immediately be obsolete. What finally convinced me to get in the game was the vague idea that I'd use the player to listen to time-shifted content from In the last few weeks I've discovered what's known as the podcasting revolution. If you don't know what this is, you soon will. 'Nuff said. One fairly obvious concern about podcasting is what might happen when it reaches the mainstream. The bandwidth requirements could easily make distribution costs too high for smaller publishers. That environment could quickly turn the podcasting revolution into yet another lame commercial radio system. I propose the following: The podcasting apps should incorprate BitTorrent functionality. It's easy to imagine how it would work. Publishers post their .torrent files, RSS readers download the .torrent, then download the actual audio file and save to the portable player. Since BitTorrent is Free, I'm surprised this hasn't already been done. It seems like a critical piece of non-commerical podcasting.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Television Is Officially Obsolete

A recent study has shown that people are now spending more time on the web than watching TV. You heard that right; TV is officially obsolete. Seth Godin comments on the study:

It took only ten years to topple the most important, most powerful medium of all time. TV elects Presidents, sells cars, introduces products and changes the culture. It also sucks the initiative and creativity of entire generations down the drain. Ten years is a heartbeat. This is an astonishing change in the way we buy and learn and vote and grow our businesses. I don't think it has really sunk in yet. The second? That the consumers who make the biggest difference (the busy ones, the ones who earn a lot, spend a lot, vote, talk a lot and change things) are the ones most likely to be online and least likely to watch TV.

That's the part I find the most interesting. The term "idiot box" may become increasingly accurate as TV continues to spiral into a lower-brow medium. The content on TV will get worse as the intelligence of its supporters (ad watchers) decreases.

Yes, Oprah is still far more powerful than Yahoo. But at the same time, Drudge and Jeff Bezos and Doc Searls are way more influential than their offline cousins.

Indeed. But to me, part of TV's allure can be attributed precisely to its brain-deadness. Sometimes it takes a good hour of useless political rhetoric to unwind before going to bed. But let's face it--all the real information is on the web.

I should clarify that. The big-media channels are on the web too. But that doesn't mean they get the web. There's a big difference.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Google Browser

For awhile, I've been thinking that Google is quite vulnerable by allowing IE be such an important part of their applications (Search, Blogger, GMail, etc). Microsoft is openly going for Google's throat, and IE is probably going to be the weapon of choice. I saw an interesting piece today about the idea of Google partnering with the Mozilla Foundation to create a Google browser. If Google really wants to build the Internet Operating System, they'll eventually need to protect their interests by making sure their platform remains standards-based from end-to-end. In that sense, they should be very interested in helping FireFox a to be a real player. See the article here.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The Open Source Paradigm Shift

Tim O'Reilly has an insightful essay about the open source paradigm shift that's happening. I've been thinking about the idea of the new operating system being the Internet itself. In that view, one can argue that many of the most important features of Microsoft's new operating system releases since Windows 95 have been designed to emulate Internet functionality originally created by open source developers. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Open Source Life

What happens when a bio-cracker unleashes a plant virus on all the wheat in North America, and the genetic code to "Wheat 2.0" is closed-source, patented code owned by a corporation? Should life be Open Source?
Lately there's been a lot of debate about the virtues and perils of genetically modified life. A few weeks ago, Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser lost an epic David vs. Goliath- legal battle against Monsanto, the maker of seeds with a patented gene. The court narrowly sided with Monsanto, which sued Schmeiser in 1997 after company agents found a patented gene in canola plants Schmeiser's farm. The farmer argued that the seed had blown into his field from a neighboring farm. One of the central issues to this case is whether a corporation (or other person) has the right to patent the blueprints to life. It's a highly controversial issue, and it ultimately touches on the meaning of life and the course of humanity through the centuries. I'm not a lawyer or biologist, but it may be interesting to compare this issue to what's going on in the software industry. There are some clear similarities between genetic code (the blueprint for lifeforms) and software code (the instructions that define a computer program). The Economist recently published an article on the subject. One could argue that the biggest difference between genetic code and software code is that one is biologically based and the other is based on logic. A few years ago, that argument might have held up, but the biotech and nanotech industries have really blurred the lines. Something could be both a computer and a life form. Perhaps the greatest remaining difference between genetic code and software code is the history of its ownership. Software code is a 20th century invention, while genetic code has surrounded us long before we knew it existed. Software code was freely shared between people until the late 1970's, when corporations discovered they could make money with a proprietary model. In that model, customers can purchase or license a binary product, but not the actual source code. Today, the balance of power is moving to "Open Source", an ownership system where people are forced to share in exchange for the benefits of higher quality software, and more freedom in general. More and more people are discovering that sharing just makes sense, especially when you get into issues of security and reliability. Genetic code has never really been owned. Or has it? Most people believe the universe didn't just pop out of nowhere; that there was/is some form of creator at a higher level or dimension. I happen to believe in God, but my point here is that something other than life created life; We did not create ourselves. Therefore, if genetic code is owned, we are not the owners. We didn't create the prior art. But it goes beyond strictly the ownership. It's clear that the genetic code to, say, an apple tree, has been explicitly shared with me and everyone on the planet. I can plant an apple tree, but it's unfair for me to restrict my neighbor from taking advantage of the same genetic code if a seed falls on his land. If I sell my apples, my customers are free to plant the seeds contained within each apple. I don't own the invention itself, but I'm free to make as many instances (trees) as I want, and I can't prevent others from doing the same. It's a lot like software's GPL license. So what happens when somebody takes that publically-owned (or God-owned, depending on your point of view) invention and patents it? Well, you can't do that in the software industry (not with GPL'd code, anyway). But isn't that exactly what the biotech companies are doing? They start off with publically-owned code, and use it as the basis for a proprietary product. In the early eighties, Richard Stallman started the Free Software Foundation, with the goal of preserving people's rights to use public software. The resulting licensing models were an improvement over the old "public domain" system, which didn't protect code from becoming locked up. If software licenses could be applied to life, I would argue that genetic code was really Open Source all along, not public domain. It originated (or originates) with a creation process, and that higher power explicitly wants the code to be shared among itself. Humans can use life to build proprietary objects, such as a wooden house, but we can't (or shouldn't be able to) build proprietary life itself. We don't own that kind of license. This isn't an argument for or against genetic modification. I'm simply suggesting that genetic modifications shouldn't bypass centuries-old freedoms. In the case of canola, farmers have been improving their seeds for centuries. Farmers always had the expectation that their improvements would remain free. They didn't have a framework for protecting that freedom, because they didn't need it. Today, their work continues to be "improved" upon, but the most important ingredient is missing: Freedom. There are some practical reasons why locking up genetic code can (and probably will) have disasterous consequences. To begin, consider the quality difference between open vs. closed source software. When you've got hundreds or thousands of programmers worldwide who have access to the source code, it tends to get better quickly. Bugs are noticed quickly and the repairs are made available to everyone, without reliance on a profit-motivated entity. Eric Raymond, a leading Open Source advocate, has outlined this phenomenon in his paper, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. When you think about all the computer viruses, worms, and the world's increasing reliance on computers, we should be happy (and, frankly, surprised) that none of these epidemics have done any real damage -- like deleting millions of users' data, shutting down the supply chain, or worse. Terrorists use the Internet too. In software, the silly thing is that practically all of humanity is relying on a single profit-driven corporation to fix their security holes. Should we really be putting global security in the hands of any software company? That's why Free/Open Source is better: Every single user is allowed and encouraged to improve the product, and everyone benefits from the improvements. The question becomes much scarier when applied to life: What happens when a bio-cracker unleashes a plant virus on all the wheat in North America, and the genetic code to "Wheat 2.0" is closed-source, patented code controlled by a corporation? When you think about genetic code as software, it's hard to understand why farmers would willingly subject themselves to the kind of vendor lock-in and licensing that has squelched innovation in the software industry for the past two decades. Maybe they're still in the honeymoon phase of this relationship, or maybe economic factors give them little choice. But the bigger issue is moral. I don't really care that half the software on my computer is proprietary. But for someone to lock up the genetic code to life is, in my opinion, crossing some kind of moral line. Can life be owned, copyrighted, or patented? Should it be Open Source? Maybe we should think about that.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

MS Innovation

Seattle Weekly has an interesting article about the innovation at Microsoft. I guess a lot of companies face similar issues once they reach a certain size.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Can I Help to Render Shrek 3?

Like many people, I enjoy donating my spare CPU cycles to volunteer projects like SETI@Home,, Folding@Home, and others. As satisfying as it is to watch radio signals being analyzed on my screensaver, I often wonder why nobody is doing commercial, consumer-oriented distributed computing. The idea really struck me this week as Shrek 2 was released. The amount of computing power required to render a movie like that is staggering. They've got rooms full of CPU's, and it takes hours to render a tiny clip of the film. But why spend all that time and money on rendering farms when there are millions of fans who'd jump at the opportunity to help render a real movie? All we'd be asking the movie studios for is a free movie pass once in awhile, and we'll give you 24/7 access to a mostly unused high-performance processor. Multiply that by millions of computers, and just imagine the rendering opportunities for Shrek 3! If that isn't a sweet enough deal, the movie companies could use the screensaver for advertising upcoming movies. If I happen to be rendering Shrek, I might actually see the detail being drawn in on my screensaver. Of course, I'd still be motivated to see the whole film, because my computer alone would only be able to render a few seconds at a time.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Finding Focus

After having ignored my blog for several days, I've been thinking about how to make it better. I've decided that I want my blog(s) to be genuinely useful to people who don't know me. In other words, this isn't going to be a chronology of my life; it's going to be a source of news and opinion on a topic (or topics) that happen to interest me. Eventually, there might be enough traffic on my blog to make it worthwhile to set up Google AdWords ads.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Web in Times of War

During the previous war in Iraq, the WWW was just a cool experiment on Tim Berners Lee's desk. If you wanted to know about the Gulf War, you were pretty much limited to whatever the mass media was saying about it. Today, as I browse websites like and I began to wonder: has the WWW made any difference to the way people form their opinions about major conflicts? Is propaganda reduced because of the Web's ability to spread information at a grassroots level? Is the Web really a force for peace and democracy, or were we all kidding ourselves?

Monday, May 10, 2004

Metallica Sermon

My wife and I attend New Hope Church, just a few blocks from our house. The notion of "attending" church makes me cringe, as does using the word "church" to describe a place or building. Anyway, that's what I did yesterday morning. In a slight departure from a typical Sunday morning, the band started off by playing a few Metallica songs (quite well, I might add) -- Enter Sandman, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Nothing Else Matters, and one more. After the music, pastor John Van Sloten talked about heavy metal, anger, and how it relates to the world around us. Here's the sermon in streaming MP3: broadband dialup

First Post

I've decided to get into blogging. Welcome to my blog -- Download Aborted. I chose Google's Blogger because Google has proven time and again that they really "get" the web. PageRank, Blogger, GMail, Orkut, Local, AdWords/Sense -- what these services have in common is that they're truly networked applications. Eventually, I expect the combination of the new-gen network technologies to become much more than the sum of their parts. Google is one of the few companies that seems to really understand what the web is all about -- networks of people. My one concern at this point is, "who is my audience?" Surely my audience should affect what I write, or how I write. It's not a journal, because it isn't private. It's not a letter to family, because my colleagues might read it. Whatever it is, I'm going to give it a try. Now, on with blogging!