Monthly Archives: July 2009


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Intro to my Blog’s [one-liner] Code Block Style Guides


NOTE: This post is to provide background about all my one-liner posts.

I like specific examples, so part of my philosophy when constructing code block examples throughout my blog is to show the gory details. These code blocks are typically verbatim transcripts of what I’ve typed into a shell. Most of these example code blocks will […] Continue reading

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Amanda Palmer Talks About Connecting With Fans: Fans WANT To Support Artists

With our CwF + RtB experiment in full swing, we’ve asked some of the participating artists/authors to provide some guest posts about their own experience with new business models and new promotions. Amanda Palmer, one of the artists involved in our Techdirt Music Club, is someone you’re hopefully familiar with by now. She’s really been at the forefront of experimenting with these sorts of business models and agreed to write a guest post about her experiences.

As part of this, we’re also doing an early announcement of the special promotion that we’ll be running next week only. If you don’t want the entire Techdirt Music Club, you can just order Amanda Palmer’s part: the Who Killed Amanda Palmer book of photographs and short stories — signed by both Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman — and Amanda’s signed CD as well. That’s available now… but only through August 10th until midnight PT.

And here’s Amanda’s post:

i’ve been talking with a lot of folks lately about “why this works”.
the things i find myself saying over and over to people is that
twitter and the new networking technologies are simply new tools for
artists who have been super-connecting with their fans all along.

i started my band in 2000. we didn’t play rock clubs. we played in our
friends houses, in our own houses, in art galleries, in lofts, at
parties. then we gradually brought the party indoors, into clubs that
would book us once they knew we’d bring in 50 drinking/paying bodies.
i treated our email list like gold. i obsessively stayed up all night
and added named after every show. we took the time to meet every
single fan who wanted to meet us after every show (i still do this,
and i know that brian does it in his current punk band, world/inferno). but this wasn’t because i felt it was mandatory….i did
this because we LIKED it.

i got into music-making in the first place because i was so hungry to
to me, the meeting&greeting was part of the reward, not a chore. but
not all bands think like this. we were lucky. we liked it.

i’m still lucky, because i STILL LIKE IT. i actually love sitting down
for an hour or two and bantering back and forth with my fans on
twitter. they’re all intelligent, funny, cool people. very few of them
are mundane or obnoxious. very few of them ask stupid questions.
there’s a huge amount of respect between me and the fans and between
the fans themselves. i feel proud that my music has brought all these
freaks together, and i still like attending the party.

for artists who have NO desire to do this, it’s quite a quandary
nowadays, because many fans have come to expect it.

it’s a slight catch-22: it’s impossible to hide and it’s impossible to

and artists who have huge walls about what they’re willing to share can
end up seeming irritated….and letting someone else tweet for you is
the kiss of death.
the last tweet a fan ever really wants to see is : “hey THE ARTIST’S
fans!! check out THE ARTIST’S new single, available now on itunes!!!”
people hate that shit. not when you know you can go somewhere else and
get: “fucking hell, let me share with you guys i’m feeling…”

re: the connecting to fans, and giving them a reason to buy….

what i’ve found is that once people trust and love you as an artist,
some percentage of them will buy ANYTHING if they know the actual
is to simply put money in the artist’s pocket. case in point: when i
did my hock-weird-shit-from-my-apartment webcast auction a few months
ago, fans wrote in
asking if they could bid on the glasses and wine bottle we were
drinking from. the answer: fuck yes. why not? they sold for a few
hundred dollars each.
the reason? these fans knew that it wasn’t the objects themselves that
were important. they knew that i was raising rent money, and they
wanted to help; wine bottle was pure symbolism.

another fan tweeted in that they’d love to get involved by buying a
signed postcard for $20…would i do that? when i told them that sure,
i’d do it, 70 other fans wrote in and wanted one for themselves….
and most of them KNEW that i have a section of my website that states
clearly that if you simply send me your address, i’ll send you a
signed postcard…FOR FREE!

but they wanted to help. and be involved. and involved them i
did…before ending the webcast i read off a list of all their names.
i knew they’d dig that…and i hadn’t promised anything.
i just knew that being recognized means so much when you’re sitting
randomly alone behind your computer, watching a webcast, feeling only
slightly connected.

connecting with fans, if they LIKE YOUR ART, automatically gives them
a “reason to buy”, even if it’s NOT ART, because they want to SUPPORT

i think we’re going to see more and more of that as fans come to
realize that the music is free but comes with the emotional price-tag
of supporting
the artist in any way the artist puts their proverbial hat out (merch,
mementos, special packages, literal/web-based tip jars…or wine

how much do you think the hardcore fans who buy the $300 vinyl/art-print bundles would simply buy a random pretty book of monochrome
prints by an unknown artist in a bookstore?

my guess: they will look at the bundle book a few times, admire it,
appreciate it, put it on the coffee table or the bookshelf. and they
will listen to the vinyl….probably.
but are most of those people vinyl-philes? art print collectors?
the point is, they will get two other things that are more important:
bragging rights and the knowledge that they were singlehandedly
involved with and supporting an artist’s personal enterprise.
because they love the artist, and they want to support him/her, period.

but the nature of fandom & its responsibilities is going to have to
change to the same extent that the musicians are going to have to look
at their lives & livelihoods (as “working musicians”) more honestly.

as musicians rely more and more on fans/listeners/audience within this
kind of honor system, the fans/listeners/audience will have to ante up
or the system just won’t work.

my hope is that the future culture of music will equate the pleasure of hearing a brand new band in a
teeny club with the moral responsibility to toss them a few bucks to keep
going, instead of just walking into the night, feeling lucky.

p.s. i created this video about a month ago with my fans at the beach
at the tail end of a twittered flash-gig in LA. watch it, it’s awesome.

Thanks Amanda! To get the signed book & CD check out the Amanda Palmer Special, or get the entire Techdirt Music Club for just a little more. Or, if you want to go all out before midnight PT on Monday the 3rd, if you buy both the Techdirt Music Club and the Techdirt Book Club before midnight PT, August 3rd, we’ll throw in a free Techdirt hoodie, or a free lunch with Mike Masnick.

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Apple’s Google Voice Rejection Wakes Up A Dormant FCC; Investigation Begins

We’ve had a bunch of stories about Apple’s rather arbitrary nature in rejecting iPhone apps it doesn’t like — including ones where it claims that they’re not allowed because they compete with Apple. However, Apple’s recent decision to reject Google’s Voice application didn’t just attract general public interest in Apple’s policies, it appears to have awoken the latest crop of FCC bosses. Yes, the FCC has requested more info from Apple, AT&T and Google concerning Apple’s rejection of the Google app. I wonder how the random Apple drone who made that decision is feeling right now?

Either way, this isn’t good for anyone. The FCC’s reasoning is that it:

“has a mission to foster a competitive wireless marketplace, protect and empower consumers, and promote innovation and investment.”

That’s actually a bit of a stretch on the FCC’s actual mandate. And as ridiculous as I think Apple’s actions are here, having the FCC get involved doesn’t seem good for anyone either. The FCC shouldn’t be involved in deciding what applications get put on phones. Apple’s decision has angered a bunch of people, with some swearing off the iPhone because of it. In those cases, those people have other options and other phones to go to. The situation doesn’t require the FCC to get involved. It should just require Apple coming to its senses and getting rid of its silly policy of outright rejections of apps it doesn’t like.

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Copyright Cops Go After Town For Creating Little Mermaid Statue

Dan sends in yet another story about copyright gone wrong. Apparently the small town of Greenville Michigan has a strong Danish heritage, and wanted to show that off with some artifact representing Denmark. It chose the iconic Little Mermaid statue, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, and a similar iconic statue in Denmark. Apparently, however, the family of the artist who created the statue in Denmark is trying to clamp down and is demanding a lump sum payment or that the statue be taken down. The actual artist died in 1959… but thanks to recent extensions in copyright (yippee), copyright now lasts life plus seventy years.

Of course, I’m wondering if the statue even violates the copyright at all. While the town says it was inspired by the one in Denmark, the actual statue is different:

At about 30 inches high, it’s half the size of the original and has a different face and other distinct features, including larger breasts. “We’ve gotten a lot of heat about that too,” he says

Considering that so much of the statue is different, is it even a copyright violation at all? Apparently, this isn’t the only town that’s faced problems over such statues. The article notes, amusingly, that Vancouver, British Columbia — after failing to get permission from the artist’s estate — instead put up a statue entitled “Girl in a Wetsuit” and even added swimming fins and goggles to get the point across. It’s hard to believe that this one artist, whose been dead for fifty years, should have total control over statues of mermaids, but that’s what today’s copyright law gives us. Isn’t it great?

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Italian Recording Industry Sues Pirate Bay As Well

Another day, another lawsuit for the Pirate Bay team. This time, it’s taking place in Italy, where the local recording industry associations FIMI (Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana) and FPM (Federation against Musical Piracy) have announced plans to sue three of the individuals believed to be responsible for The Pirate Bay. This isn’t a huge surprise. A year ago, after complaints about The Pirate Bay, a court ordered ISPs to block access to the site, only to have a court overturn that ruling. And, of course, in the end all it really did was bring a lot more attention to The Pirate Bay in Italy. Considering that The Pirate Bay doesn’t appear to have any operations in Italy either, it’s not entirely clear that this lawsuit actually matters. And, also, there’s the issue that the three guys being sued here claim to not have any ownership of The Pirate Bay at all.

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Tenenbaum Dinged $22,500 Per Song; $675,000 Total

After admitting flat out yesterday that he downloaded and distributed songs using file sharing software, and that he lied about it, there wasn’t a question of whether or not Joel Tenenbaum would be found guilty. In fact, the judge even said that the question wasn’t even at issue. The only thing the jury had to work out was how much the damages would be, and they didn’t take long at all, awarding $22,500 per song, or a total of $675,000. While a lot less than what the Jammie Thomas jury awarded, it’s still a hefty chunk of change.

I’ve already expressed my distaste for how this trial was handled by Nesson and “Team Tenenbaum,” but honestly, if he was going to just admit that he did it, it’s unbelievable that he didn’t just settle earlier when he had the chance. The only reason to go through with this is if the entire purpose is to create a later constitutional challenge on the statutory rates — which many assume was Nesson’s plan all along. However, if that’s the case, is this really a good test case for that? Gleefully ignoring the law isn’t the sort of thing that I think many judges/justices will find endearing. If this case does move up the appeals chain, one would hope that a better team of folks will handle Tenenbaum’s appeal, and focus on the real legal issues. Of course, even before the appeal, it appears that Judge Gertner is planning to review whether or not the amount appears to be unconstitutional. It seems that particular ruling will be a lot more important than what the jury had to say.

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Charges Dropped Against Student Who Alerted University To Security Flaws

Last year, we wrote about a student at Carleton University in Canada who was arrested for hacking, after he wrote up a 16-page paper telling the school how poor its computer security was, and had some suggestions on how to fix it. It does sound like, in the process of figuring this out, the guy did hack into some accounts to prove that the vulnerability was there — but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he did anything with the access. And the fact that he wrote up a detailed paper on it and alerted the university certainly suggests his intentions were benevolent. So it was a bit disturbing that he was arrested. However, Allan Lussier-Meek writes in to let us know that charges against the guy were recently dropped after he agreed to go through a community service program. It’s still not entirely clear why he needed to do that. This really does seem like blaming the messenger.

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Google Maps Charged With Unfair Competition In France For Daring To Be Free

Once again, we get to see the entitlement culture at work — this time over in France. JohnForDummies points us to the news that a French company, Bottin Cartographes, is suing Google over its Google Maps offering, because Google lets companies use its web mapping services for free (how dare they!). Bottin Cartographes, on the other hand, offers a similar service that it charges for. Apparently, it seems to think that “competition” itself is “unfair competition.” Why should Google have to charge just because this other company has a bad business model? We’re back to companies declaring felony interference with a business model.

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The Paper Data Storage Option

As programmers, we regularly work with text encodings. But there’s another sort of encoding at work here, one we process so often and so rapidly that it’s invisible to us, and we forget about it. I’m talking about visual encoding — translating the visual glyphs of the alphabet you’re reading right now. The alphabet is no different than any other optical machine readable input, except the machines are us.

But how efficient is the alphabet at encoding information on a page? Consider some of the alternatives — different visual representations of data you could print on a page, or display on a monitor:

5081 punch card
up to 80 alphanumeric characters


up to 93 alphanumeric characters


Data Matrix
up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters


QR Code
up to 4,296 alphanumeric characters


Aztec Code
up to 3,067 alphanumeric characters


High Capacity Color Barcode
varies by # of color and density; up to 3,500 characters per square inch


Printed page
about 10,000 characters per page


Paper the way we typically use it is criminally inefficient. It has a ton of wasted data storage space. That’s where programs like PaperBack come in:

PaperBack is a free application that allows you to back up your precious files on ordinary paper in the form of oversized bitmaps. If you have a good laser printer with the 600 dpi resolution, you can save up to 500,000 bytes of uncompressed data on a single sheet.

You may ask – why? Why, for heaven’s sake, do I need to make paper backups, if there are so many alternative possibilities like CD-R’s, DVD±R’s, memory sticks, flash cards, hard disks, streaming tapes, ZIP drives, network storage, magneto-optical cartridges, and even 8-inch double-sided floppy disks formatted for DEC PDP-11? The answer is simple: you don’t. However, by looking on CD or magnetic tape, you are not able to tell whether your data is readable or not. You must insert your medium into the drive, if you even have one, and try to read it.

Paper is different. Do you remember punched cards? For years, cards were the main storage medium for the source code. I agree that 100K+ programs were… inconvenient, but hey, only real programmers dared to write applications that large. And used cards were good as notepads, too. Punched tapes were also common. And even the most weird encodings, like CDC or EBCDIC, were readable by humans (I mean, by real programmers).

Of course, bitmaps produced by PaperBack are also human-readable (with the small help of any decent microscope). I’m joking. What you need is a scanner attached to your PC.

PaperBack, like many of the other visual encodings listed above, includes provisions for:

  • compression — to increase the amount of data stored in a given area.
  • redundancy — in case part of the image becomes damaged or is otherwise unreadable.
  • encryption — to prevent the image from being readable by anyone except the intended recipient.


Sure, it’s still paper, but the digital “alphabet” you’re putting on that paper is a far more sophisticated way to store the underlying data than traditional ASCII text.

This may all seem a bit fanciful, since the alphabet is about all us poor human machines can reasonably deal with, at least not without the assistance of a computer and scanner. But there is at least one legitimate use for this stuff, the trusted paper key. There’s even software for this purpose, PaperKey:

The goal with paper is not secure storage. There are countless ways to store something securely. A paper backup also isn’t a replacement for the usual machine readable (tape, CD-R, DVD-R, etc) backups, but rather as an if-all-else-fails method of restoring a key. Most of the storage media in use today do not have particularly good long-term (measured in years to decades) retention of data. If and when the CD-R and/or tape cassette and/or USB key and/or hard drive the secret key is stored on becomes unusable, the paper copy can be used to restore the secret key.

For paper, on the other hand, to claim it will last for 100 years is not even vaguely impressive. High-quality paper with good ink regularly lasts many hundreds of years even under less than optimal conditions.

Another bonus is that ink on paper is readable by humans. Not all backup methods will be readable 50 years later, so even if you have the backup, you can’t easily buy a drive to read it. I doubt this will happen anytime soon with CD-R as there are just so many of them out there, but the storage industry is littered with old now-dead ways of storing data.

Computer encoding formats and data storage schemes come and go. This is why so much archival material survives best in the simplest possible formats, like unadorned ASCII. Depending on what your goals are, a combination of simple digital encoding and the good old boring, reliable, really really old school technology of physical paper can still make sense.

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MySpace Mail: Not bad, but not a killer app

(Credit: MySpace)

MySpace unveiled its new messaging system late on Thursday night–which now lets members use the formerly internal service to e-mail others from an account–and the reactions have been pretty positive. Since it’s slowing rolling out in beta over the next few weeks, hands-on reviews are hard to come by, but the design looks pretty good and people seem to agree that it may help reverse some of the site’s well-publicized traffic stagnation.

Here are the numbers: MySpace says that nearly a fifth of its traffic is related to the messaging platform, and it has 130 million users worldwide. MySpace Mail can therefore enter the market as the fourth largest e-mail provider in the world and the second biggest in the U.S. It also gives the News Corp.-owned social network a leg up on Facebook, which has eclipsed it in traffic but still has a pretty rudimentary messaging system. (That’s apparently going to change, from what everyone’s been saying.)

MySpace Mail, in tune with its media-savvy young audience, has made it easier than other e-mail clients to attach music, video, and picture files. Additionally, if you’re contacting another MySpace member, an activity feed of that member’s recent MySpace goings-on will appear in the right sidebar. Those are features that I wouldn’t be surprised to see other e-mail clients start integrating in the future.

But will MySpace Mail shake up the industry? I don’t think so.

The question for MySpace is uptake. The majority of its users likely already have other e-mail addresses that they already use, and switching over may be a complicated matter: the hassle of changing address books, not to mention updating e-mail list and account subscriptions, means that people just don’t change their addresses very often. And it doesn’t have the invite-only allure or the power of a name like Google behind it that Gmail had when it launched in 2004.

Security’s also an issue, given how well-publicized MySpace spam and worms have been over the years. The company says it is using “leading anti-spam technology and virus scanning” in the overhauled messaging client.

Originally posted at The Social

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