#firstworldproblems

Here's the replacement...
Here’s the replacement…

A few weeks ago, on a Thursday night, I was playing XCOM on my Windows box.  Everything was running smoothly, no problems.  On Friday, I got home and turned on the computer to listen to some music and, for some odd reason, the hard drive wasn’t detected.  As in, the hard drive containing the Windows OS wasn’t even there, so far as the system was concerned.

Thankfully, I only stored Windows and some replaceable programs on the drive that failed (an SSD), and my pictures, music, and videos were all stored on a separate hard drive (a traditional HDD).  Typically when one uses an SSD (or “solid state drive”), you only run programs on it as they can take advantage of the speeds afforded by SSD technology, while slower traditional hard drives (“HDD”) are just fine for other stuff.  So really, all I lost in the drive failure were a few programs (that I could re-install) and some game save files (or so I thought…).

Also, thankfully, the drive was still under warranty.  I’ve had it for less than a year, so I contacted the manufacturer, sent the drive in (last Tuesday) and got the replacement (last Saturday), which is a pretty quick turn-around.  On Saturday, I spent my time re-installing the drive and getting some of those programs back on, but this time, I installed Windows 8 rather than Windows 7 (hey, if I’ve got to re-install everything, I may as well try out the new hottness, right?).  Microsoft is trying to get everyone to upgrade, so they’ve had it on sale for $40, which is a pretty good deal compared with the regular price of $120 (which Win8 will return to after January 31st).  I may write more about Windows 8 later but, for now, it’s “alright.”  My mind isn’t blown.  If you’ve got Windows 7, you’re fine sticking with 7, but 8 isn’t horrible (and it boots really fast).

I mentioned that I lost a few game save files, and this was the worst part of the experience.  I’d put about 9 hours of time into XCOM since picking it up months ago, so I wasn’t looking forward to having to repeat the lost time.  Also thankfully, the program I use to manage the game (Steambacked the save files up to “the cloud,” meaning that once I re-installed the program, my save files were also re-downloaded and restored.

In the end, I lost nothing except for a week of using my Windows-based computer.  All in all, not a bad deal.  And we had the Linux box (that this site runs on…) to use in the meantime.

As a side-note, having no Windows PC to use, and thus, no computer to run iTunes, I couldn’t update my iPod for listening to podcasts during that week.  Instead, I relied upon my cell phone (an HTC One X) for downloading new podcasts and music.  To be honest, I kinda don’t want to go back to the iPod.  I’ve gotten used to downloading podcasts and music immediately from work (or wherever), rather than waiting to go home, turn on the Windows PC, download the podcast or music to the computer, then transfer it to the iPod: it’s much easier to just do it directly.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to use my phone in my car, except for relying on the phone’s speakers (which aren’t really loud enough).

Oh well.

#firstworldproblems

Living In The Cloud

I find myself getting less and less patient with having to move data around between devices.  I want to have access to things where I want them, when I want them.  A lot of this has been building up over recent months, but I think the recent death of my old laptop (it’s GPU died…sad, sad day…) has brought it to a head.

Once the laptop died, I transferred some games to a desktop PC, but one I don’t leave on all the time.  This computer used to be my Linux web server, so this 5+ year old system is hardly up to heavy gaming…but that’s another story.  The new Linux server runs all the time, so it provides what we need for internet use, but there are a few key things it won’t do:  card reader functionality and iTunes.  I only have one device that has an SD card reader in it now, and it’s our netbook (Brooke has a USB card reader…somewhere…).  That, and iTunes is Windows and Mac, exclusive, so I can’t use it under Linux.

This means I’m relegated to using the netbook until I get some replacement parts to help speed up what is currently serving as my Windows machine.  And that netbook only has a 10″ screen, making it less than ideal for any kind of photo editing, or messing with an iTunes library.  Sure, it’s fine in a pinch, but netbooks weren’t really designed for heavy use.  Also, this poor netbook apparently won’t run Picasa: it actually “Blue Screens” Windows XP every time I try.  Because of these shenanigans, I haven’t been able to move pictures from our Nikon DSLR from the SD card up to the interwebs because the Picasa program is how I generally do this.

Which brings me to the point at hand: I love me some cloud computing.  Products like Dropbox (or Ubuntu One) to act as online storage, allowing me to share my files between the netbook, my Linux server, my work computer and my phone on the fly.  Google Music, so I can sync music from the cloud with my phone, and never mess with iTunes again.  Google+, which will automatically upload my photos from my phone to their servers (including Picasa) without me having to do anything.  Google Docs, which is where I’ve been typing countless cover letters and maintaining a spreadsheet of various jobs I’ve applied to, giving me access from anywhere on any device, including my phone.

Case in point: I could have transferred those pictures from the SD card to the netbook, and then in turn to a USB stick, and then to the Windows desktop that’s capable of actually running Picasa (or I could have found the cable to plug the camera directly into the computer…but seriously…who knows where it is…), or I could just transfer those pictures to my Dropbox folder on the netbook, allowing them to “magically appear” on whatever computer I wanted to use.  So much easier, and just as fast.

In short?  I’ve become too lazy for USB sticks and SD cards.  The act of physically connecting one thing to another has become a chore.  I’m in the 21st century and want everything, including my hard drive, to be “wireless.”

I have fully embraced the cloud.

The only thing keeping me from going “all the way” is my iPod Nano.  As our Kia Sportage doesn’t have an auxiliary jack, I can’t plug my phone into the stereo system.  My radio transmitter will only accept iPod-like devices: not my phone.  Thus, in order to listen to 8 GB of music or podcasts in my car, I have to use the iPod, which means I have to use iTunes, which means I have to use a cable to switch things around and update the playlist.

That, or I spend $250+ to get a new car stereo with an auxiliary jack, or $20,000+ on a new car.

I think I’m just spoiled…

Who Needs Another Music Player?

Spotify just launched in the United States this week, yet another music player entering the digital ecosystem. This time, however, we get one that has been around for awhile in Europe, and quite popular.  In short, it’s an audio program that lets you stream millions of songs to your device, and has other functional features including Facebook integration to check out your friend’s playlists.  One of the key features is that it functions much like Apple’s iCloud will, scanning your personal MP3 library and “mirroring” it on their servers, allowing you to stream that same library to any computer without needing to carry the physical media around with you.  It will do the same thing with your mobile phone.  Spotify’s library is substantially larger than many of the others (Pandora has maybe 800,000 songs, while Spotify has 13 million available), and most reviewers simply think it provides the better service for the money.  You get about 20 hrs of listening time per month for free, $5/mo gets you no ads, and $10/mo gets you other features, including the ability to use the service on your mobile phone.

Digitaltrends has a good summary of the pros and cons of a few of the popular options.

Spotify is not alone in this venture, though it’s new to the U.S.  Grooveshark is another, alternative, web-based application with a mobile version, though I question its legality.  Like Spotify, it has a massive library, but it works a bit more like YouTube in that other users have uploaded music that you then stream to your computer or to your mobile device.  While Spotify has high-quality, licensed music, your experience is more “hit or miss” with Grooveshark, as some people may have uploaded high bitrate versions of music (i.e. good sounding) while others uploaded lower bitrate versions (i.e. very, very bad sounding).  Of course, Grooveshark is free, so most people don’t complain when the song selection is that good.  They also charge various amounts for their services above and beyond the base service, but it doesn’t sound like many people do.

Pandora is the main competitor that folks in the United States have at least heard of, if not used.  It’s much more of a radio system in that you select a station and then music will come up almost at random that you can then skip or “Thumbs Up” so that more music like it ends up in your station.  You have no real choice in what the next song played is, though, while you can make your own playlists in Spotify and Grooveshark.  Pandora also has a very nice mobile app and has been integrated into a wealth of home devices, including Bluray players.  Their only paid plan is $36/yr, removes all ads, and grants you higher sound quality.

For now, I’ll give Spotify a quick go-round, though I doubt I’ll get much use out of it.  The only computer in the house with good speakers attached is a Linux box, and as there is no native Linux client available, I can’t use it.  I will probably try their “preview release” for Linux – thankfully, Linux is more popular in Europe, so this company actually has an incentive to make a client.  Obviously, this is where its competitors, Grooveshark, Pandora, Google Music and Amazon MP3 shine, as they are almost completely multi-platform.

That said, the Spotify client under Windows is silky smooth, unlike iTunes.  It’s nice to see iTunes finally getting some viable competition (and no, Windows Media Player is not “competition”…).  It navigates similarly to iTunes, so if you’re familiar with its style of getting around your library and making playlists, you should feel right at home.

In the end, I’m glad there are plenty of options out there for your digital music needs.  Gone are the days where you would walk down to the record store and thumb through various discs until you found something interesting, then bought it for $20.  Now you can get your music in the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go, and it’s great that there are countless ways to do it effectively.

And legally.

Tough Choice

There have been various announcements over the past few months that got me excited about both options.  They both have some great benefits and the implementations are very functional, if not even downright awesome.  To some degree, it isn’t really a “tough choice” at all, as I already know which option I’m going to go with.

Of course, I’m talking about Google Music vs Amazon Cloud Player.

To be fair, as of this writing, I haven’t actually tried the Google Music Beta, though I signed up for an invite as soon as I found out that this thing exists at all.  I’ve been using the Amazon Cloud Player, though, and like it quite a bit.

I guess I should describe the pros and cons.  The Amazon Cloud Player was launched in late March, providing users with 5 GB of free storage space for their files.  MP3s, documents, pictures, videos, etc.  Any MP3s stored on this virtual drive, however, can be streamed over the internet through your web browser or smart phone (i.e. Android and iOS),  through what they call the Cloud Player.  If you buy any digital album from Amazon MP3, then your 5 GB of storage is increased to 20 GB – you can purchase additional space thereafter.  The service has worked well, from my perspective, and it’s nice to be able to pull up any of my albums and play them from practically anywhere, especially as I’m not carrying my laptop around with me 24/7 like I used to.

Amazon kinda shocked the world when they released this, however.  It was long expected that Apple or Google would go there first, but they were dealing with the legal rights to stream music over the internet.  The question, from a legal standpoint, is whether it is legal to purchase music, upload it to a different location, and then stream it like a radio station.  Does that violate the license that you agree to when you purchase an MP3?  No clear answer was given, so Google and Apple were trying to get things finalized before going ahead with their respective plans.

Amazon basically just said “oh well” and did it anyway.  And so far, to my knowledge, no one has sued them.

Therefore, it was expected that Google would make an announcement during their now annual I/O developer’s conference.  And as expected, Google announced their long-awaited solution: Google Music.  Since Amazon took the lead, they had to come forward with something to show their burgeoning community.  And show they did.

The Google Music Beta, rolling out piecemeal by invitation only (much like Gmail did), allows you to upload 20,000 songs to their cloud service, and then you can stream it to your Android devices or the web.  In that way, it’s very similar to the Amazon Cloud Player.  The catch is that Google Music should be capable of providing better sound quality, even over a relatively slow 3G wireless connection.  Right now, however, you cannot actually purchase music through the Google Music interface like you can from the Amazon system.  Therefore, for digital music, you still need Amazon MP3 or iTunes.

The kicker for me, however, is offline play.

With Google Music, you can “pin” a song, album, or playlist that will synchronize that music on your various devices.  It will automatically synchronize your “recently played” music, as well.  So, for example, if I want to “pin” Under The Table And Dreaming (and I will…), Google Music will download the album to my phone, allowing me to play that music even when my phone isn’t on an internet connection.  And this is extremely important for people like us that don’t have unlimited data plans, or that tend to drive long distances through areas that don’t have the best cellular coverage.  I can rely on streaming, but I don’t have to.

With a single, software-based approach, Google provided me with a good reason to abandon my iPod Nano.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my iPod.  The thing is light, gets good battery life, and is tiny.  Or “nano,” if you will.  But, I have to physically connect it to my laptop to transfer podcasts and music.  This isn’t that huge of a deal breaker for me, to tell you the truth, but I’ve got its cute little 8 GB hard drive maxed out, so I’m constantly selecting which podcasts need to go on the hard drive and when.  And sometimes, new editions of my podcasts are released while I’m at work, preventing me from being able to actually add them to my iPod, because my iPod is only linked with my laptop.

Now, using my phone, I can stream all of my music (~15 GB?) over the internet, and save the ones I want on my phone’s mini-SD card.  Moreover, as my phone has WiFi on it and a wealth of apps, I can access most if not all of those podcasts without having to download them to whatever device I’m using.

So in the end, I think I’ll be using the Google Music offering.  At least, once I get an invite.  For the time-being, I’ll settle for the Amazon Cloud Player.  It’ll be interesting to see what Amazon does to compete here, as Apple will be announcing their own “iCloud” service sometime in the relatively near future, and if Amazon wants to compete, they’ll have to do some drastic things.  iCloud will be built into every iOS device, and Google Music will be built into every Android device.  And the legal drama certainly isn’t over, as the record labels are unhappy with Google’s plan, and likely won’t be all that happy with Apple’s, either.

Where does Amazon go?

A View From The Top

While I was sitting at my parents house over Easter talking with my Dad, it suddenly dawned on me that Linux had finally gained supremacy over Windows and Apple, something that I never thought I’d see.  However, it wasn’t able to pull off the feat using a traditional PC: instead, it used mobile devices via Android OS.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a new idea.  The thought has been broadcast across the interwebs over the past few years, though only recently did Android actually surpass iOS in adoption across the phone and tablet markets.  Seeing the range of new products coming out on the horizon, this trend will only continue upwards as multiple companies release products using the Android OS as the backbone for their software.

What some forget, however, is that the core of Android is, in fact, the Linux kernel.  My HTC Inspire 4G, running Android 2.2.1, is using Linux kernel 2.6.32.  My Linux box at home runs Linux kernel 2.6.35, a slightly newer version.  I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of differences in kernels (nor do I care…), but let’s just say that there has been some disagreement between Google and the maintainers of the Linux kernel as to whether Android OS technically counts as “Linux,” though I believe most would say that it absolutely does.

I guess I just find it fascinating that this “Little Operating System That Could” finally found an audience and most people don’t even know it.  Dad introduced me to computers when DOS and Windows 3.1 were king.  However, once our family started having multiple computers, he toyed with other operating systems, including OS/2 Warp and Red Hat Linux 5.2.  While he purchased a copy of OS/2, he frequently picked up copies of Linux from the Public Library, installing different flavors of Linux for free on his system(s).  As I was curious about these different systems, I learned more about it and once I went to college, grabbed an old Gateway 2000 computer and put Red Hat 6.1 on it, followed by various other iterations of Linux.  Over the past decade, it’s been my desktop operating system of choice, always getting better and better.

But few people know how good Linux has gotten.  It’s an excellent operating system, as it has been for years.  Sure, it still doesn’t run Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office, or a multitude of Windows- or Mac-only video games, but it does do one thing remarkably well:

Web-browsing.

And if you want to make a device that is constantly connected to the internet, and don’t want to pay high development costs or licensing fees to Microsoft or Apple, which operating system makes the most sense for you to use?

Linux.

As we all move further toward cloud-based computing, and companies like Google keep focusing on Linux as their technology of choice (as it’s behind Android OS and Chrome OS, which will power netbooks and tablets beginning this year), further adoption of Linux will take place in populations that never thought they’d ever use it.  Part of this is because the Linux kernel has always had a remarkable “efficiency” to it that Windows has never been able to re-create.  You always needed newer hardware to run the most modern Windows systems, while you could run a modern Linux system on practically nothing.  Mobile phones, especially, use relatively slow processors when compared to the quad-core monstrosities powering many desktops today.  Heck, it was just revealed that an early version of Windows 8 will be the first one to run on an ARM processor, the technology powering practically every mobile phone sold today.  Up until now, Windows hasn’t even been capable of running on anything like that, unless it’s the feature-poor Windows CE.  Windows will ultimately make it to tablets, but not before Android and iOS have a massive foot-hold on the market, as they already do on phones.

It’s just fascinating to consider how far Linux has come and what ended up actually pushing it “over the top.”  We all thought Dell offering Linux on laptops would do it, or the multitude of governments, schools and companies across the world that switched from Windows (or Unix) to Linux would do it.

It was the telephone all along.

F2P – Part II

In “F2P – Part I,” I discussed the two primary forms of making money on media in today’s day and age: advertising and microtransactions.  In “Part II,” I look more into how this all applies to other media and where I see things going.  Of course, as I am no expert in any of this, you should take anything I say with a grain of salt.

Where’s It Going

Long-story-short?  Who knows.  The beauty of the internet is that everyone’s trying different things.  I think there are interesting trends, however, that are worth considering.

The New York Times, for example, instituted their “pay wall” recently.  According to them, most people only look at maybe 20 articles on the site in a given month, so they are preserving that service for those people.  For everyone else (that doesn’t have a subscription to their newspaper), they will make you pay for the service after you have hit your 20 article limit.  The idea is very similar to the microtransaction: the relative few that use the service the most are subsidizing those that use the service the least.  There are other newspapers looking at doing something similar – my hometown newspaper, the Columbia Daily Tribune, has already implemented similar plans.

I think television media is the more difficult anomaly.  Hulu, for example, pulls quite a bit of its content from NBC and FOX, and has a good deal of “back catalog” viewing.  In some cases, you will get commercials that show up during the breaks, typically either one or two.  Sometimes, you’ll get a choice at the beginning of an “extended commercial” that may be 2 min long, and then you won’t get any more commercials for the rest of the show.

Their Hulu Plus service, however, is a crazy hybrid that was released in 2010.  The licensing behind these television shows is set such that you can watch them on a computer, or you can watch them on your television through your cable provider (or your antenna), but legally setting up a system so you can watch these shows over the internet and then display them on your television is much more murky.  They invented Hulu Plus as a way around this, where you have a subscription service that then allows you to watch some Hulu content on your television, including some current-run shows (i.e. you can watch all of this season’s “30 Rock” over the service).  However, there are other shows on Hulu that you can’t watch through your television, including practically all USA Network shows and SyFy shows, to name a few.  That means you not only don’t get access to their current-run shows, but you also don’t get access to the same shows that are running on Hulu through your computer.

Let alone the fact that you are paying the $8/mo to get this content on your television, yet you still get commercials to help subsidize the licensing.

Needless to say, the New York Times and Hulu are two separate examples of different ways media are trying to figure out how to get viewers and users over the internet, and make money doing so.  In my opinion, the New York Times has a much better strategy for it than Hulu does, yet Hulu is constrained by the “Old Media” way of licensing their content, written when there was no such thing as an “Internet.”

Now For Some Speculation

As I said before, no clue, but it still fascinates me, especially as companies try to find new ways to make money using the internet.  I think they all see the writing on the wall and they are doing their best to stave it off as long as they can.

In a relatively short amount of time, there will be no phone lines or cable lines: it will all be fiber optic (or wireless) and we will not only communicate through it like a telephone, but we will also get information and entertainment from it like a television.  Your news content will no longer come on paper to your doorstep unless you pay a lot for it.  The Internet represents a complete merge of all “Old Media” into something new, and it’s been happening very slowly for the past 15 years.  Very soon, however, new houses won’t be built with copper lines or coaxial cables: they will have a single fiber optic line that serves the purpose of both.  And old houses will be retrofitted with the same technology.  The house we currently live in has that fiber optic line running right up to it, and we live in the middle of nowhere in Iowa.  There’s a good chance your houses are next.

And while all that is happening, the companies that make the content will have to merge along with it, and deal with the other companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft that have been in the game and have figured out how to make money on the Internet.  Google made a great search engine, but they made their money on advertising.  Advertising, I might add, that you barely notice as you browse their various web sites.  To the point where they can afford to provide you with web-based office software, Google Earth, Picasa image editing software, Chrome web browser, and even whole operating systems in the form of Android and Chrome OS – for free.  They figured out what they needed to do to get you to use their search technology, and they did it with advertising and made a lot of money doing it.

Effectively, whether they like it or not, cable companies aren’t going to have cable going into houses much longer.  They need to get their content on the internet, and soon.  Personally, I’d rather see this happen along the lines of the New York Times: allow a certain amount of programming for free per month over your web browser or an internet-ready TV, and then charge individuals on a per-channel basis.  This should have been done years ago (a so-called a la carte plan) by the cable companies, but they chose to create larger and larger cable packages instead.  Now it’s coming back to bite them.

Wrap-Up

How the “Old Media” guard will end up surviving, only time will tell.  But there are plenty of companies out there providing free content, subsidized by a fraction of their users.  Zynga and Turbine are developers making high-class games and making millions doing it.  And they do it using a model that provides services for free to the masses, making money on volume.

Once the “Old Media” groups figure out that they can’t continue doing what they’ve been doing for the last few decades and survive on the Internet, they’ll be better off.  Until then, they will continue to lose customers and money.

And the rest of us will simply move on.

F2P – Part I

I’ve been toying with thoughts on the “Free 2 Play” movement (“F2P”) for a few weeks now, as I find the whole thing to be fascinating.

In short, F2P is exactly as it sounds: you get a game, a program, or a web-based service for free, and then your free use of it is subsidized in some way.  In some cases, it can be through advertisements.  In other cases, it’s in the form of “micro-transactions.”  I’ll hit both of those separately, as I think they both contribute in different ways to how the internet is changing, or has already changed, e-commerce.

It should be noted that most people would look at “F2P” as applying solely to the realm of online video games, yet I think its trends extend into other media and have for a long time.

Advertising

The ad-supported model is probably the oldest form of these changes, as we’ve all been exposed to it for generations now.  Very few of us could pay for all the programming on any given television channel, yet the advertisements and marketing that go into each program help subsidize it to make each program cost practically nothing to us.  In the early days of the internet, when web sites like Yahoo! and AOL were trying to figure out how to make money from consumers and not rely as much on investors, we started getting ads displayed on pages.  They started out being banner ads at the top of the screen, and were mostly un-obtrusive.  Then, our good friends Adobe established Flash as the go-to web media platform, allowing for moving advertisements.  Combined with other web-based technologies like Javascript, the dreaded “Pop-Up” ad gained popularity.

Most large web sites will tell you that their advertisements don’t make a large enough dent in their revenues to fully cover their services.  We have come to understand this primarily in the “old media” sense, including magazines, television networks, and newspapers (more on the latter in a few days).  In the case of television networks, while Hulu still displays ads during commercial breaks on their programming, the revenue they make from those advertisements barely puts a dent in the costs of production and marketing of a TV show.  Quite a few people use the service, but it isn’t exactly paying for new shows.

Enough people got annoyed with pop-up ads (and installed pop-up blocking software in their browsers…) that their development has slowed down, however advertisements still subsidize quite a few web sites, and now, mobile phone applications.  You can buy Angry Birds for $1, or you can download a version for free that has small ads on the bottom.  Amazon recently announced that they’ll knock off $25 from your purchase of a Kindle e-reader if you get an ad-supported version that displays advertisements on the home screen and screen saver (thankfully, not between pages of your book).

Microtransactions

This is the new way of making money.  And it makes quite a bit of money.  Mostly, microtransactions have shown up in “the game space,” including free-to-play MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online or Free Realms, and free-to-play games on Facebook, including FarmVille.  In general, these games are all free, so you can usually play the majority of the content of the game simply by downloading it, or loading it up in your web browser.  However, there are some portions of the game that you can pay a small amount for.

In Lord of the Rings Online, for example, you can “die” and resurrect yourself where you died once per session – after that, you can only resurrect at the nearest town, requiring you to run back to where you were, potentially taking from a few minutes up to an hour.  Or, you can pay a small amount, like $0.50, to resurrect yourself again in that location.  To many players, that $0.50 is well worth the cost to not have to spend the extra time running back to that location.

In FarmVille, you are growing your crops and getting your friends to do things for you.  You need to water your crops in order to earn in-game currency, and this must be done within specific time restrictions.  Having your friends visit your farm for you, however, can help take some of the load off your tasks.  Of course, you can also visit your friend’s farms and carry out tasks for them, as well.  If you don’t want to wait for your friends to do things for your farm, you can pay a small amount to have it done sooner so you don’t have to wait.

This is the idea of the microtransaction.  You spend very small amounts of money, or you don’t spend any at all.  Statistically, this ends up working quite well for the company.  Zynga is the company that makes FarmVille, and more recently, CityVille.  The latter had 61 million monthly users last December, helping contribute to the company’s $850 million revenue in 2010.  For Lord of the Rings Online, their developer, Turbine, released statements saying that their revenues tripled since going free-to-play.  Where players were once spending $15/mo to use the service, they increased the number of people playing the game and actually made more money, having the users spend less.

Effectively, this is the idea of “selling on volume:” get more people to use the product by making it free, and you actually make more money doing it.  When interviewed, Turbine will tell you that almost 50% of the users for Lord of the Rings Online pay absolutely nothing, with only a small subset paying a little…and a smaller minority paying a lot.  The extreme minority ends up paying for the extreme majority’s fun.

Stay tuned for F2P – Part II, appearing on Friday.  I’ll try to apply these two models to media in general, including newspapers, television, and so on.  Then again, I’m no expert in these matters, so…take it as you will…

The Other Reason(s) For Smartphones

As most people I know, I’m a fan of technological “toys.”  Smartphones are one of those things, however, that I was a bit slower in getting, mostly due to the costs involved.  The phones themselves tend to be more expensive, and you frequently have to have a data plan attached for at least $15/mo with many carriers.

There are obvious reasons that a smartphone can make your life easier, and most of these reasons involve internet access.  Alternatively, they can also make your life more complicated, especially if you detest the feeling of constant connectedness (which I don’t).  I’ve decided, however, to compile a list of reasons that are a bit less obvious to consider a smartphone.

  1. Customization – In many cases, people will get a new phone with a contract renewal and are then stuck with that phone for 2 years until the contract is up.  You can always buy a new phone, but you won’t get the subsidized version, thereby making what was a $100 more like $500 (the price of a reasonable laptop…).  Over the course of 2 years, I tend to get tired of the interface, especially as I’m seeing new phones coming out to supersede mine.  It makes the phone feel old, even though it works perfectly fine.  Smartphones radically change this dynamic.  Phones that run the Android OS, especially, have “themes” that can be installed to completely change the interface, much like you can change the wallpaper, icons, and color schemes on your computer.  In the case of many Android phones, you can even get OS upgrades that provide many new features.  And you can install applications.  In total, it’s like getting a new phone every time you change the theme or upgrade the OS, much as getting a new version of Windows or Linux is like getting a whole new computer.
  2. WiFi – This could seem like an “obvious” or a “less obvious” depending on how you look at it,  I would argue that most people would look to the 3G or 4G radios as being the most useful feature of these phones, yet I find that I hardly use that particular technology.  With AT&T, for $15/mo, you get 200 MB of data to download.  Right now, about 3/4 through the billing cycle, I’ve used about 36% of my allotment, and I’ve actually been using it more heavily than I normally do this month.  This fact will change depending on where you work, but in my case, I typically work around WiFi, and I have WiFi at home.  So for me, the WiFi is a much more useful feature in the phone.  Sure, it’s nice to have 3G available, but living in the Midwest as we do, traveling between Iowa and Missouri, I find that we rarely have 3G access for the whole trip anyway.
  3. Camera – My phone, the HTC Inspire 4G, has an 8 MP camera and an LED flash.  It isn’t the greatest camera in the world, but it’s “good enough” for snapshots.  I don’t use it as a camera replacement, however I find that I’m much more likely to take a picture and upload it to Facebook for all to see, as it’s thoroughly convenient.  As simple as: take picture; click button; select “Facebook;” and then upload.  In the past, I had to grab the camera, take the picture, remove the SD card to transfer the picture to the computer, open the browser, resize the picture, then upload it.  Much more cumbersome, especially for something as “inconsequential” as a random picture of Meg eating her lunch.  Having a reasonably decent camera on me at all times has made me take more pictures of Meg for the sole purpose of posting it online.

Of course, there are countless other reasons to have a smartphone.  I just figure that these are a few that one may not consider as they’re shopping around.  At least, these are the things I find myself most impressed by and using more often than I thought I would (with the exception of the Wifi…I knew I’d use it all the time…).

Upgrade Paths, Part 1

Thanks to our relatively hefty tax return, we have a bit of extra cash on hand for me to run an upgrade or two on the computers, upgrades that have been sorely needed for a bit now (though Brooke would probably dispute that…).  For the last few years, I’ve been using laptops as my primary Windows gaming machines, and then a dedicated Linux desktop to act as the server hosting this website.  This has worked out pretty well, however I’m getting to the point (and the age…) where a gaming-capable laptop is less and less necessary, while a gaming-capable desktop is more attractive.  A desktop can be upgraded, while a laptop really can’t to any reasonable degree.  Therefore, I can run reasonable upgrades more often if I have a gaming desktop, rather than a laptop.

My current server uses a dual-core Athlon 64 X2 3800+ with 2 GB of RAM.  The system has worked just fine for the past 5 years since I built it, and has been running almost non-stop since that point.  It’s honestly pretty impressive how well it has held up, considering how long it sits there running without any huge problems.

However, I’m going to use that box and put a different motherboard and processor in it, and will start to use it for gaming.  My laptop (a Core 2 Duo system with a 256 MB GeForce 8600 video card) is well out of warranty and is only barely able to play anything modern, so it’s about time I did something else.  That, however, will be “Part 2″ of this particular upgrade.

Since I will use my current desktop computer case, I decided to go with a completely separate system for the new server.  Something smaller and low-wattage was ideal, as the computer doesn’t need to be that powerful to run a web site (as this site doesn’t generate 1000s of hits per day or anything…), and since it runs almost non-stop, something that doesn’t take much power is also a big plus.  The Intel Atom D525 processor fits the bill, as this is the processor found in many netbooks, amongst other devides.  It’s a dual-core 1.8 GHz system, so it will more than do the job, and this particular processor and chipset can utilize DDR3 memory (the current standard).  The box itself, pictured above, is somewhat tiny, only maybe 5″ tall, and will fit snugly wherever I want to stash it.  I’m also going to go ahead and max out its memory with 4 GB of RAM, mostly because they’re having a good sale ($40) on it right now.

In total, this upgrade is under $170.  I’m going to use one of my existing hard drives, and I’m not putting a disc drive in this particular system, so I’m saving some money there.  I am grabbing a new keyboard, however, because Brooke spilled soda in my 10-year-old wireless keyboard…so we may finally get rid of it…  But yeah, $170 for a new system ain’t bad, in my opinion, especially for a system that should be more than capable of running a website for the next 5+ years.

I’ll take care of Part 2 in the coming months.  This upgrade had to happen first, however, to move the website off of the existing computer so I can do other things to it (like…you know…turn it off…).

So hopefully the upgrade will be relatively painless.  If, however, this website is down for a few days, you can turn your ear toward Iowa and probably hear some faint grumbling…

It’s so true…

Wow, two posts in a day…after a drought of a few weeks… What’s the world coming to?

Penny Arcade

Penny Arcade had a nice comic up today, referencing Spore, a new game from the creator of Sim City, Will Wright, to be released later this year. I remember Stu bringing this game up a few years ago when its development was in infancy, but it’s finally coming together.

The idea is pretty straightforward: you design/create your own organism (and environment?) and watch it evolve through the millenia. As in, you can start it from the single-cell stage and watch it grow into an intergalactic powerhouse. It will be Windows and OS X compatible, but I thought I heard it would be coming to the Wii/360/PS3 in some form or fashion – just might be later than the projected early-September release date for computers…

The neat thing is that the game is fully adaptable and unscripted, so if I start up a single-cell organism the same way for two different games, it could end up evolving into two separate beings with two separate “views” on the world…which is crazy to think about, especially for people like Stu that think about the programming involved in having everything generated on-the-fly, rather than having it lined out on the DVD it comes on.

The “creature creator” piece was released a few days ago and the internet is abuzz about it, although I haven’t tried it yet. Perhaps this weekend…

Either way, I found the comic amusing… 😛