Digital is the New CD

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Music distribution has undergone an interesting evolution. After a series of format upgrades ranging from record players to 8-tracks to cassette tapes to CDs (ad nauseam), no one wants to have to cough up more money just to purchase one’s music collection (again!) in the "latest and greatest" format. After all, we been upgrading for the past 50 years!

The solution to the problem is to remove the format all together. The only way to collect music these days is in its pure, digital form. Up until the past couple years, however, a method for legitimately purchasing digital (read format-less) music didn’t exist. Apple was on the right track when they introduced iTunes in 2001. While their concept was sound, their execution was just a little too flawed for many users, especially those who considered the pricing to be too high ($1 per song) and the DRM copy protection a little too strict.

Just when things were looking bleak, out of the frozen tundra of the Russian landscape comes Their humble beginnings showcased a poorly designed website and a small collection of Russian songs. However, due to the popularity of their pricing scheme (2 cents per megabyte; therefore a 6MB song only cost 12 cents) and the ability to download non-DRM music in multiple formats at various encryption rates, interest began to grow. As interest grew, so did their music catalogue, which is now second only to iTunes.

How do they get away with it? By licensing music at "Russian prices", AllofMP3 has been able to pass along that value to its customers. And what a value it is! Thanks to AllofMP3, I haven’t purchased a single CD in the past 2 years.

Unfortunately, there isn’t always a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. If you follow the rainbow in this case, you more likely find a pot of crap, and by crap I talking about the RIAA and the office of the United States Trade Representative. After years of battling over the legality of AllofMP3, it looks like Big Brother has finally won out and is forcing the site to shut down for good.

It’s a shame. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on AllofMP3, resulting in thousands of songs. At least my music collection is in the format and encoding of my choosing, and since it lacks DRM copy protection, I’m free to play the music wherever I want. Boo yah!

Casino Royale: Best. Bond. Ever.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Casino Royale movie poster
I saw Casino Royale today. First let me start that I’m not a huge James Bond fan. I mildly enjoy most Bond films, especially when Roger Moore plays Bond. I kind of lost interest in the most recent campy Bond films (Pierce, you suck as Bond), but the most recent edition to the Ian Fleming franchise makes up for the last three in spades. (That last sentence is a pun; you’ll know what I mean when you watch the film.)

When I saw the posters for the movie this past summer, my first thought was that Daniel Craig (Munich, Road to Perdition) was a stretch playing Bond. Then I saw the movie trailer and became more intrigued. Not only did Craig look good in the previews, but the entire movie had a grittier, edgier look to it.

I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed. The opening action sequence alone makes up for the price of the ticket. That James Bond is ultra smooth. I’d hate to give away anything and spoil the movie for you, so you’re just going to have to watch it for yourself. Just be prepared to sit on your tuckus for 2 ½ hours; it’s a long one.

One thing I did notice is that no one in the movie had a musical ring tone on their mobile phones, and there was a lot of phone usage. This means that if you want to be cool like Bond, get rid of that crappy Nancy ring tone and get a normal one. Trust me, you’ll be doing everyone a favor.

Can The Vision Become a Reality?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Due to the stresses of urban sprawl, the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) is working on plans to allow more high-rise buildings in the city.

According to Amman’s mayor, Omar Maani, the city has no choice but to embrace high-rise construction over the coming years. While I tend to agree with the mayor’s assessment, such a plan must be well orchestrated in order to succeed. Considering the current lack of a master plan and the mediocre state of much of the city, the GAM is really going to have to step it up in order pull this off.

Fortunately, it appears that the GAM has recently been exerting a good amount of thought and effort into the city’s future development. The GAM is drawing up a plan earmarking the areas which can accommodate such buildings and growth. There are also studies underway to determine such expansive successes in other world-wide cities, such as Dubai, Vancouver and San Francisco.

According to the mayor, “Amman does not have a master plan and real estate is guided by regulations that were prepared over 25 years ago…a lot has changed since then.” Wow, there’s a shocker. But the mayor realizes that what is now needed is to modernize land planning and the regulatory regime, coupled with an upgrade in infrastructure to accommodate growth.

According to The Jordan Times:
Maani painted a bleak future if these issues are not addressed, including a loss of heritage, land use conflicts, inadequate infrastructure services, such as water and sewage, and a gridlock of the transportation system. He also referred to an increase in environmental degradation and a further loss of green areas.

The GAM is slated to adopt a new Master Plan in the next couple months with a Interim Growth Strategy in place, which is designed to facilitate controlled development in the mean time. The Master Plan is expected to provide clear direction for sustainable development over the next 20 years.

Amman planners have a vision to “develop Amman into a green and pedestrian city, a desert oasis…a modern and smart city.” Sounds like a fantastic vision; I couldn’t agree more. It’s time to get started, as there is a lot of work that needs to be done before this vision becomes a reality.

[source: The Jordan Times, November 10]

Amman Bombings: One Year Later

Friday, November 10, 2006

One year after the ignominious and tragic hotel bombings in Amman, the quality of Jordanian citizens and their leader, King Abdullah, has been revealed.

I remember the variety of emotions that I felt in the aftermath of World Trade Center attacks in 2001. I can sympathize with the feelings of hurt, anguish, confusion and betrayal felt by Jordanians after hearing that their country and their people had been attacked. It is during these times of turbulent emotion where a man’s mettle is measured, for better or for worse. Jordanians have proved to be courageous and determined people who will stand together against injustice, not repaying a wrong with another wrong, but willing to make things right against pressure to perform otherwise.

I commend King Abdullah for his steadfast leadership in the wake of the tragedy. The King reiterated his pride in Jordan’s citizens, and I hold his statements in high regard.
Jordanians are great people, who, in the courageous stand, demonstrated coherence and utter keenness on the country’s security and stability. [The bombings] strengthened Jordanian solidarity and will to fight all forms of terror. The challenges facing us, regardless of their magnitude, will never send us off-course. [source: The Jordan Times, November 10]

Pirated Movie Crackdown

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pirated. Bootlegs. Unauthorized versions. There are more than a few names for illegal copies of movies these days. And with the insane price of new DVDs in the Kingdom, it’s no wonder the pirated movie industry is thriving.

I found it slightly ironic when the king’s bright yellow anti-piracy posters began cropping up all over Amman last fall. After all, you could still walk down to Shmesani and purchase any number of pirated movies directly off the street. At the time, it looked like the government was putting up an honorable public front and yet turning a blind eye to the real problem. Lately, however, it seems that the authorities are cracking down on illegal movie sales.

A friend of mine visited her local “movie dealer” the other day only to find that their stock of bootleg movies had been confiscated by the authorities. Many “movie dealers” have been relegated to under-the-table sales. But considering the average cost of a new DVD is around 20JD (over $28), it’s no wonder that most people are willing to purchase a lower quality version for 1JD.

Compare the cost of a DVD in Jordan to the average cost of a new DVD in the United States: about $15. Even specialized titles such as director’s cuts or extended versions rarely cost more than $20. And if you don’t mind waiting for a couple months after the DVD is released, you might be able to get the movie for around $10 or find it in Wal-Mart’s “bargain bin” for as low as $5.

I believe that the high cost is only part—although a large part—of the problem. Movie availability and late release dates are other contributors. When a movie doesn’t show up in theaters for months after it debuts in other countries—if at all—people will find alternative ways of viewing the film.

I personally don’t care for the low quality screeners and camera versions of pirated movies. I hate watching a movie where the sound is extremely poor, where people stand up in front of the camera in the middle of a movie to use the bathroom, or where the studio screener disclaimer is scrolling across the bottom. I go to great lengths to purchase legitimate versions of movies. Most of the time, that requires that I purchase cheaper versions from the United States and have them mailed over. Most people don’t have this capability, however, and so are left with the option of low cost, low quality, pirated versions as opposed to over-inflated official movies.

If the government wants to cut down on movie piracy, they’re going to have to pressure movie theaters into releasing a wider variety of films on time, as well as convince retailers to reduce the pricing of legitimate DVDs. That’s easier said than done, of course, as there are many middle factors that need to be considered. My point is, the government is going to have to do more than randomly confiscate some movies from local vendors in order to take care of the problem of movie piracy.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An Arab friend and I were having a conversation today and I’m not quite sure how it happened, but we ended up on the topic of communication, specifically when it relates to different genders and cultures. I told him the following humorous anecdote:

A woman looks into her closet and claims that she has nothing to wear. Translation: she needs to go shopping for new clothes. A man looks into his closet and claims he has nothing to wear. Translation: all of his clothes are dirty and need to be washed.

In this case, both people are verbally saying the same thing, but the implied meanings differ completely. I then shared with my friend the following story of when my wife and I were first married. During our first year of marriage, we had several arguments about the lack of communication in our marriage. It wasn’t that we weren’t talking; on the contrary, the problem was that we just weren’t “speaking the same language”.

For instance, if I were watching television and I happened to notice my wife washing the dishes, I would stop and say, “Would you like me to do the dishes for you?” What I really meant was, “Would you like me to do the dishes for you?” Her reply was generally, “No, go ahead and keep doing what you are doing.” What she really meant was, “If you love me, you’d figure out that I need help and come and wash these dishes, even though I told you not to worry about it.” The problem was that because I made a straight-up, honest offer (which I wouldn’t have made unless I was willing to go through with it), I would in turn accept her reply at face value, assuming that she meant what she said. Then I would continue watching television.

This went on for a while until it blew up in the form of a heated argument. According to my wife, I wasn’t “listening” well enough, which was a surprise to me since my hearing was perfect and I seemed to remember most of our prior conversations. What she meant by “listening” was that I wasn’t thinking intuitively, something that generally doesn’t come naturally to men. Rather I was thinking rationally, assuming that the words that were coming out of her mouth were what she actually meant. We were talking, but not communicating.

In the end, we came to an agreement. We decided that it would be easier for her to say what she meant than it would be for me to read her mind and translate her phraseology (which could potentially change from day to day). This has since led to 11 years of solid, honest communication in our marriage.

Upon hearing this story, my friend ventured to say that this may be the same problem affecting communications among cultures. Having lived abroad for a period of time, my friend noticed a more honest dialogue among people in Western society, since the issue of honor is less important than the issue of honesty. In an Eastern culture, however, the aspect of honoring another person can become more important than being honest with them. In my friend’s opinion, he felt like he was constantly forced to interpret the difference between what people say and what they actually mean.

Sometimes I wonder if this is a problem that plagues this blog? Could it be that some readers are prone to misinterpreting some issues and opinions simply because they have been conditioned to “read between the lines”?

It wouldn’t be too difficult to prove such a theory. If I made a statement along the lines of, “I don’t really like modern Arabic music”, I would most likely to receive a variety of replies ranging from civil responses to hot headed retorts and rebukes. Some responses would most likely be completely out of context, possibly along the lines of “Oh, so you don’t like anything Arab now? Are you a racist? You Americans think that you are all high and mighty and that only American music is good enough for the rest of the world!” In essence, all I am simply saying is that modern Arabic music is not to my taste. Neither is country music, for that matter. It’s just a simple statement concerning personal musical taste, not a political or arrogant statement.

There is a definite difference between talking and communicating. Sometimes I wonder if our cultures are simply conversing under the guise of communication and we’re actually just falling short of the issues completely.

For Those Who Are About To Rock, I Salute You

Monday, November 06, 2006

Like Joan Jett, I too love rock and roll. I'm always looking for good, new music, which is harder than it seems these days. Many recent artists tend to have duplicate sounds or implement cliché elements in their music.

One of the fresh "new" bands that have caught my eye ear these days is AFI. A couple of their well-produced videos caught my attention and led me to explore their music further.

Here are a couple of their videos off of their newest album, Decemberunderground.

Love Like Winter...

Miss Murder...

Abdoun: One Big Detour

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I feel sorry for anyone living in Abdoun right now. I believe that the Greater Amman Authority (or whoever is in charge of infrastructure and road construction) got a little slap happy with the detour signs and decided to put one on nearly every road. It’s really frustrating trying to navigate through Abdoun right now. And I’m sure it’s even more frustrating for the businesses and shop owners in the area, although the increased traffic when the construction is finished will probably be worth the hassle.

Readability Test Results

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I'm really not sure what this is supposed to accomplish, but since Roba tossed out the challenge, I figured I'd answer the call and test this blog to determine the readability of the content.

Turns out that I score a 9.10 in the Gunning-Fog Index. What does that mean? Apparently my blog's readability is somewhere higher than Reader's Digest or most novels, and slightly under Time or Newsweek magazines. According to the website, the Gunning-Fog Index measures "how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. The lower the number, the more understandable the content will be to your visitors".

Fog IndexResources
6TV guides, The Bible, Mark Twain
8Reader's Digest
8 - 10Most popular novels
10Time, Newsweek
11Wall Street Journal
14The Times, The Guardian
15 - 20Academic papers
Over 20Only government sites can get away with this, because you can't ignore them
Over 30The government is covering something up

It's not a bad score, I suppose. I'll consider it complimentary that I scored lower than Wall Street Journal, as anything above it (including the Journal itself) tends to be boring geek drivel that can reduce a reader to babbling madness.

I am a little more encouraged by my Flesch Reading Ease score, which is a 69.74. According to the website, "the higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. Authors are encouraged to aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70". Bingo.