Tech Update: HTC One X


I haven’t been writing all that much recently, and as I’ve picked up a few “toys” in the last 6 months, I thought it would be useful to write a bit about my experiences with each one.  I’ll separate all these out into different posts, so you’ve got more to look forward to (hah!).

Brooke and I were both up for new cell phones last November and we had a few options available, but as we both had HTC phones previously and were generally happy with them, the HTC One X was the device of choice for both of us (Brooke got the black one, I got the white one).  Compared to my 2+ year old HTC Inspire 4G, this thing is a revelation, though compared with Brooke’s HTC Aria, it’s surely unbelievable.  I was used to a semi-large screen size, jumping from 4.3″ on my Inspire to 4.7″ on the One X, but Brooke’s jump from 3.2″ to 4.7″ was a bigger adjustment.

The screen’s unbelievable.  Seriously, there are times where I’d rather look at pictures on the phone than on a computer screen.  The rest of the hardware is pretty nice too, including the speakers and the camera.  One problem both our phones had was with the SIM card slot, where the device would conveniently forget it had a SIM card installed and wouldn’t let you make a call until you restarted the phone.  Thankfully, the phone reboots very quickly, as compared with our own phones, but it was still a pain.  It started happening a month or two into owning them, but once we got the cards replaced at a local AT&T store, we didn’t have the issue anymore.

Another complaint from my perspective (that is to say, Brooke didn’t care about this…) is more on the AT&T side than the HTC side.  The phone shipped with Android 4.0 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”), which was a newer version than my older phone (Android 2.3, or “Gingerbread”).  In some ways, this was like the difference between Windows 95 and Windows XP: a noticeable jump to a very stable, better operating system for a mobile device.  At the time we got the phones in November, we knew that Android 4.1 (“Jelly Bean”) was coming out for the HTC One X in the near future (as in, like, a week later).  However, just because HTC released the update didn’t mean AT&T would actually deliver the update to our phones in a timely manner.  We finally got the update on March 7th, a full 3 months after it was made available, and at least 2 months after other carriers made it available for the same device.  Very frustrating.  This update was akin to the jump between Windows XP and Windows 7: Android ICS worked well, but Android JB was available  faster, more efficient, and with additional features, like Google Now (Google’s “Siri” competitor).  Believe you me, the update was worth it: Jelly Bean is great.

In the end, I think we’re both very happy with the phones.  Any niggling issues we have probably wouldn’t be solved by other devices and, to be honest, the features announced on the newest phones for this year (the HTC One and the Samsung Galaxy S4) don’t appear to be that drastic of an improvement.  This is good, though, so I’m not as ancy for a new phone once I see the new hottness floating around in other hands.

Because of the update issue I had with AT&T, there’s a strong possibility I’ll go with something like the Nexus 4 next time I get a new phone.  Google sells “Nexus phones” directly through their site and they work with AT&T and T-Mobile networks.  They are usually around $300 (so, more expensive than the “on-contract” phones from AT&T, yet cheaper in the long run as you can jump carriers without paying penalties), but they get Android updates on-time and are not pre-installed with software from AT&T or other carriers.  Much more “free and open” and easier to work with, depending on what you want to do.  By the time I’m ready to upgrade my One X, there’ll be a new Nexus phone out (perhaps two iterations by then…a new one is to be announced in May…) and I’ll give it a serious look.

Still, the HTC One X is a good phone.  I wish more people would use HTC devices, as they’re well designed and a pleasure to use (when the SIM card functions…).  Samsung shouldn’t have a monopoly on Android phones, but their marketing is clearly working.  Hopefully HTC survives another year and can keep making good stuff.  If they do, I’ll give ’em a look next time around.


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.


A Few Changes

WordPress released updated software today, so in setting it up, I opted to mess with the new default theme and new image features.  Specifically, the ability to add galleries like…well…this one!

Anyway, as usual when I do silly things like this, I’ll probably change a few things around aesthetically before I settle on something I’m happy with.  For now, this is what you get.  So far, I’m pretty happy with all the options within the default theme (being used currently) and am pretty impressed with now nice images look within the galleries.  Also, the site should work pretty well on cell phones and tablets now.

Neat stuff!

The Walking Dead

I usually reserve the month of October to partake in some “scary movies,” but this month has been a bit busier than usual with me being out of town for a conference and the Cardinals being in the playoffs.  As they so spectacularly collapsed at the end of the NLCS, I’ve got a bit more time to catch up on movies I’ve been waiting to watch…

However, I did find the time to watch the second season of “The Walking Dead,” as it appeared on Netflix a few weeks ago.  The third season has just started on AMC.

The reason I find this concept so fascinating is perfectly encapsulated in the tagline to the third season: “Fight the dead.  Fear the living.”  The story of The Walking Dead is essentially the same one that’s been told for decades in other zombie movies: an unexplained infection causes the dead to start walking, eating the flesh of the living, leaving a limited number of survivors to fend for themselves.  The distinction with this particular story is that much of the focus is on the survivors, not on the zombies.  Indeed, there are lengthy portions of the show (as in, 40 out of 50 minutes) that don’t involve zombies at all: the story focuses on whether the survivors can work together, whether they support each other, or whether they are willing to sacrifice another human in order to save themselves from “the walkers.”

“The Walking Dead” actually began as a comic book in 2003, written by Robert Kirkman.  I have never read the comic, though it continues to this day with over 100 issues.  It seems like many transitions from comics to other mediums, be it video games or movies, suffer because the interpretation by the new producer does not translate the original intentions of the author.  It took decades before Marvel and DC took a long, hard look at how their material was being portrayed in other mediums and actually put the effort into ensuring their properties were represented in the spirit they originally intended (think the difference between Adam West’sBatman” series versus Christopher Nolan’sBatman Begins“).

In “The Walking Dead,” Robert Kirkman is an Executive Producer, giving him some say in how the story is portrayed and how the feel of the comic is translated into a television format.  The series was developed by Frank Darabont, best known for his work directing “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” both of which also set in the deep south, much like “The Walking Dead” (which is filmed in Georgia).

Alongside the TV series, I have been playing “The Walking Dead” adventure game.  An “adventure game” is a bit different from many other traditional games in that it’s more focused on story and less on action.  There’s absolutely “action” at points, and “quick response”-kinds of reactions, but much of the game is like the TV show: conversations with other characters where you choose what to say and who to say it to.  In some instances, you can make a friend or make an enemy, and the words you choose, or the people you choose to save (you are frequently given a choice between one survivor and another: you can’t always save both) affects the course of the story.

This game is released “episodically,” so each episode is released every month or two and lasts about 3 hours.  Four episodes have been released so far, with the fifth and final episode releasing next month.  This story is completely new, not coming from the comics or TV show, but is still set in the same world with the same themes.  In that way, it’s nice because it doesn’t try to re-tell a story you already know (thus affecting your decisions as you play the game), but also introducing new characters and new problems in the same world.  The critical reception has been pretty spectacular.

So that’s “The Walking Dead.”  It’s a fascinating world to interact with, though definitely gruesome and violent.  But if you go into it wanting to experience the relationships between survivors that just happen to be fighting a zombie apocalypse, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had.  The first season is 6 episodes long and the second season has 13 episodes, both of which are available via Netflix Instant.

Empiricism vs Rationalism

As part of the grant I’m on at work, I am expected to attend “continuing ethics training” each year.  Last Wednesday was the first of two sessions, each a little over an hour long, and I ended up presenting a case study to the other folks in the room regarding the way science is conducted and how it is perceived by the general public.  This past Wednesday, however, we had a guest speaker in the form of Stephen Lefrak, a pulmonary physician that also has research interests in medical ethics.

He covered a range of subjects, but he specifically highlighted a series of studies he was involved with over 10 years ago, studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, among other high profile journals.  Studies funded by the NIH and carried out by the National Emphysema Treatment Trial Research Group (NETT).  These studies involved a surgical procedure for patients with emphysema, where portions of the lung with damaged tissue would be removed, and the rest of the lung (presumably healthy tissue) would be restructured to form a better-functioning respiratory organ.  Lefrak and his colleague here at Wash U were involved early on with the trial, but left after they had serious ethical concerns, one of which centered on the idea of a “randomized controlled trial (RCT).”

For the sake of simplicity, an RCT is essentially the idea that you apply one of two (or more) potential treatments to a given individual, and that individual is selected at random from a given group.  In this case, the treatment was the surgical removal of lung tissue (presumably damaged) in order to refashion a healthier lung, and the group was emphysema patients.  However, and importantly, it was known at the time that you can’t just do this to someone that has lung damage spread throughout the lung: it only works if there is healthy tissue still in there to salvage.

Lefrak knew it wouldn’t work if the trials were carried out at random (i.e. paying no attention to the quality of the patients lungs, or whether they had healthy lung tissue remaining, or whether they had a “homogeneous” mix of damaged and undamaged tissue).  However, when this concern was raised in the pages of NEJM, he was essentially told that he couldn’t “know” it because an RCT had not been done to prove it.

As a result, almost 50% of the patients it was tried on ended up dying, for the very reason Lefrak and colleagues warned them about.

Which brings us to the title of this post: empiricism vs rationalism.  “Empiricism” is what drives the belief that an RCT is essential to making the claim that this kind of lung surgery is “dangerous” to a subset of individuals.  “Rationalism” is behind the idea that we actually know things about how the body works and can make an informed inference as to what the outcome would be without having to do the RCT to “prove” it.

The example Lefrak gave is that an RCT to prove that you need a parachute to jump out of a plane would be silly.  We already know the answer.

As Lefrak talked about his experience, it got me thinking about where our knowledge comes from and how we build upon it.  Whether I concern myself, personally, with “evidence” more than I should, without thinking rationally about a particular subject in order to come to a conclusion.  I’d consider myself to be a “rational” person, but perhaps not.  Then again, as he described what the surgery was seeking to do, my physiology training assured me that I would have been on his side from the beginning, rather than advocating the continuation of the NETT work.

It’s just something we, as scientists, ought to consider more often than we typically do, I guess.

To SSD, or not to SSD?

Last year, my laptop died.  Rather than replace it, I opted for upgrading my desktop PC to make it gaming-capable, among other things, as it tends to be far cheaper and is much, much easier to upgrade when components go on sale.  At the time, I did the bulk of the upgrades, but I didn’t get new hard drives, as they were still functional and I didn’t think they were as important to spend extra cash on when I could put that money into a new processor or RAM.  So, since that time, I’ve been using a previous-generation hard drive on my next-generation motherboard.

The drive I was using was 160 GB, so not exactly a large capacity to work with.  As lots of stuff is moving toward cloud-based storage, and as we have a 400 GB external hard drive, 160 GB was still enough to do most things, though it felt “cramped” at times.  Hard drives are relatively cheap things to upgrade, where you can get a 1 terabyte hard drive (that’s 1000 GB) for about $100, and frequently cheaper.  However, that upgrade would give me all kinds of capacity, but not a huge jump in “speed.”

There are a variety of reasons for this, but part of it is that traditional hard drives actually have spinning parts, much like a record player.  As an illustration, in the image above, you can see the compact disc-looking thing, and what also looks like a needle.  Obviously, the drive’s operation is far more complicated than “it’s just like a compact disc,” but in many ways, that’s really all it’s doing.  Bigger and faster, but the same basic concept (well, and without lasers…).

Enter the “solid state drive,” or “SSD.”  Unlike a regular hard drive, this one has no moving parts.  In fact, it works much more similarly to the SD card you put in your camera.  For this reason, these guys tend to be fast in comparison with a traditional drive.  However, the cost is also far higher when in a “price per gigabyte” paradigm.  The highest volume SSD I can find sits at 960 GB, and is running $3,150 right now.

In order to run Windows and an array of programs (comfortably), you need over 100 GB, and then a second drive to store your pictures, videos, music, documents, and so on.  Thus, when this 120 GB drive from Mushkin hit $100, I was ready to take the plunge.  $100 for 120 GB was my “benchmark” price for such a thing, when it would be worth it to spend the cash on a low-capacity device when I could get 1 TB in a traditional drive for the same money.

After some hiccups concerning the cable I was using, I finally got the thing installed this past Sunday, up and running with Windows 7 Ultimate, a variety of games and “useful” programs, and a formatted 160 GB traditional hard drive (my old one) to be used exclusively for media storage.  In running a Windows-based test on my various components, where the old hard drive was definitely limiting in my overall performance, now my drive is the fastest thing in there, and my processor is what’s lagging (though not my much).  The computer boots up and is ready to use in about 20 sec, which is far faster than the minutes it used to take.

Overall, I’m a believer.  Where people used to say “add some RAM to ‘pep up’ that old computer,” the SSD is, increasingly, what people are going to suggest.  For $100, you can improve your computer’s speed to a ridiculous degree, turning it into the speed demon it once was when you first bought it.



Upcoming Movies

The last two years have yielded something of a famine with regards to summer movies I’m excited to see.  To be fair, the last two years have also encompassed this little thing called “fatherhood,” so I haven’t exactly had the time or money to go see as many movies as I used to.  That, and living in Iowa away from my usual movie buddy made it difficult to get to see the flicks I wanted to check out.

To be fair, last year especially didn’t really have much I was excited to see.  Within the realm of comic book features, movies like Thor, Captain America and Green Lantern didn’t really entice me to find someone to go to the theater with.  I caught most of these movies, and others, through Netflix rentals in the Fall and Spring and I don’t really think I missed all that much.

That said, now that we’ve made our triumphant return to St. Louis, I thought it best to outline the movies I’m excited to go see this Summer, provided The Wife (…and Josh’s wife…) will allow such things…  🙂

  • The Avengers (May 4, 2012) – This one is gonna rake in tons of cash, if only for the slate of actors they’ve got lined up.  Just about everyone is in this movie and it promises to blow up everything in sight.  Definitely a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season.
  • Men In Black III (May 25, 2012) – To be honest, I don’t like the idea of effectively replacing Tommy Lee Jones with Josh Brolin. Then again, if you wanted a young looking Tommy Lee Jones, you could do worse than Josh Brolin.  I loved the first movie, but didn’t particularly care for the second one.  We’ll see how this one turns out, I guess, but I’ll probably end up seeing it.
  • Prometheus (June 1, 2012) – Billed as a loose prequel to the Alien franchise, Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi horror after a long absence.  This one probably won’t bring in the bucks as the others on this list, but I expect it’ll still be pretty awesome.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3, 2012) – I like me some Spider-man, and this re-boot takes the story back to the beginning with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.  When I heard those two names announced, I was a bit apprehensive, but Stone’s good in just about anything she’s in and Garfield was good in The Social Network, so I’ll cut him some slack.  That, and at least in the clips I’ve seen, he seems to pull off the “wit” of the character a bit more convincingly than Tobey Maguire did.  Call me “optimistic” on this one.
  • The Dark Knight Rises (July 20, 2012) – Uh.  I don’t need to write anything here really.  While Batman Begins was a great movie, The Dark Knight practically redefined what a “comic book movie” could be.  I will be shocked if this movie is anything less than stellar.
  • Total Recall (August 3, 2012) – To be honest, I haven’t seen the Schwarzenegger version in quite awhile, but the trailer for this one, this time with Colin Farrell, could be good.  The effects look pretty sweet and it’s got a good slate of actors.  My only concern is that Len Wiseman is directing it, mostly known for the Underworld franchise, so while I’m hopeful this movie turns out to be good, I won’t be too surprised if it’s “middling,” at best.
  • The Bourne Legacy (August 3, 2012) – So, as I was compiling this list, I saw this movie coming up.  I’d heard they were continuing the franchise without Matt Damon, but didn’t realize it was coming up already.  Jeremy Renner will be carrying on as a new character, though some old favorites from the previous movies will show up, too (Renner is also in The Avengers, earlier in the summer, so he’s packing quite a payday this year).  It’s a strong series of movies, so as long as they stick with the fiction, it’ll probably be alright.  There’s a bit of concern, though, as Paul Greengrass isn’t directing these (he did the previous three), but it is being directed by the guy that was involved with writing the earlier movies, so at least there’s some pedigree there.  Again, I’m hopeful for this one.


Primer: Electrophysiology

These posts, tagged “Primer,” are posted for two reasons: 1). to help me get better at teaching non-scientists about science-related topics; and 2). to help non-scientists learn more about things they otherwise would not.  So, while I realize most people won’t read these, I’m going to write them anyway, partially for my own benefit, but mostly for yours.

It’s been awhile since I posted one of these, but as I’m working on radically different science than I have in years past, and people ask me “what I do,” I figured I should take the time to explain, to some degree.

Wikipedia defines “electrophysiology” in the following way:

Electrophysiology (from Greek ἥλεκτρον, ēlektron, “amber” [see the etymology of “electron”]; φύσις, physis, “nature, origin”; and -λογία, -logia) is the study of the electrical properties of biological cells and tissues. It involves measurements of voltage change or electric current on a wide variety of scales from single ion channel proteins to whole organs like the heart. In neuroscience, it includes measurements of the electrical activity of neurons, and particularly action potential activity.

So, in the most general sense, I’m “listening to neurons talk to each other,” and occasionally, “interrupting their ‘conversations'” in various ways.  When I talk about “conversations,” I’m referring to the act of neurotransmission, whereby one neuron sends a chemical signal across a synapse to another neuron, resulting in the propagation of that signal (an action potential), or sometimes the inhibition of another signal.

As I talked about in a previous primer, in order for an action potential to occur, various ion channels in the membrane of a neuron must open, allowing sodium (Na+) from outside the cell to come in, and potassium (K+) to go out.  Other ions will play roles as well, including chloride (Cl-) and calcium (Ca2+).

Using electrophysiology, it is possible to measure the movement of these ions across a cell membrane using relatively simple principles of physics.  Specifically, [V=IR], or [voltage = current X resistance].  If you hold two of the terms of this equation constant, it is possible to determine the third term.  Effectively, we do this using a “patch pipette,” a small, sharp, glass tube that has a wire electrode running through it.  If you know the resistance of the pipette, and you hold the electrode at a constant voltage, you can measure the current across the membrane of a cell (i.e. the flow of ions).

In short, this diagram describes the actual process of making this measurement, using a technique called “patch clamp“:

Looking through a microscope (like the one pictured above), you move one of these glass electrode pipettes to be just touching the membrane of a cell.  You have to be very careful so you don’t puncture the cell, thus damaging the cell membrane to the point where you can’t make accurate measurements.  You then apply a small amount of suction using a syringe to actually suck some of the cell membrane inside the pipette.  Once you have a strong seal formed (typically termed a “gigaseal”), you can apply a brief, large amount of suction with your syringe to rupture the membrane of the cell, where now, the inside of the cell is being exchanged with whatever you put on the inside of the pipette.  The internal solution of a pipette is usually something like potassium, basically trying to recreate what the inside of a cell would be, aside from all the organelles, however you can add compounds or drugs to manipulate the actions of channels you are trying to study.  Typically, though, you apply drugs to the outside of the cell, as well.

So, a real-world example of how this technique is used would be in my study of NMDA channels.  The NMDA receptor is a sodium channel and is very important in neurotransmission, but especially in memory.  When I have a cell “patched” like in the diagram above, I can apply the drug, NMDA, to the cell and see a large sodium current on my computer screen, kinda like this one.

So, over time, when a drug like NMDA or this “Blocker” is applied, you can see a change in the current (measured in “picoamps”) across the membrane of the cell.  In this case, we would read these data such that NMDA opens its channel and sodium ions flood inward, then that current is reduced by the “Blocker” that was applied for a few seconds, and then once the application of the “Blocker” was stopped and NMDA alone was applied to the cell, the inward sodium current increased again.

These traces allow you to get information about how channels are opening, what ions are flowing in what direction, and to what degree drugs like this “Blocker” are affecting channels.  It is work like this, for example, that led to characterization of benzodiazepines and barbiturates, drugs that interact with the GABA receptor, a chloride channel.  Without these techniques, it is difficult to know how a drug is affecting a channel at the cellular level.  Just about every cell in your body has channels of some kind, as they are very important for maintaining the function of that cell.  Neurons are just highly specialized to require ions more than some other cells do, though heart cells are also studied in this way, among others.

Effectively, these techniques allow you to determine how a cell works.


"Hello. My name is 'Google Reader.'"

I’m fully aware that many believe I sit in front of a computer all day and stare at Facebook, posting articles and comments and shirking actual “work.”  In actuality, I’d argue that I only have “” on my web browser 15 min per day, on average.  On a “busy” day, when I’m in the middle of a conversation/argument, more like 30 min.

How is this possible, you ask?  Why, it’s the power of RSS readers!

“RSS” stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and the idea for it goes back as far as 1995, though the first official version was integrated into Netscape in 1999.  In many ways, RSS is what gives blogs the power they have today: the ability for the headline and a brief description of an article or posting to be “aggregated” for easy digestion by the reader.

Note: This very blog has and has always had an RSS function.  That’s what the cute little orange icon in the upper-right corner that pops up does.

So here’s the secret:  I’ve got 45 different blogs aggregated into my Google Reader account.  This means that my phone, my Kindle Fire, my Chrome web browser, and the Reader website itself all tie into a single repository that collects new posts from each of these sites almost immediately after a new article is posted.  I’ll wake up in the morning and have 75+ articles to wade through, to see if there’s anything interesting, and I can do this easily on my phone, swiping with my finger to scroll through the list.

Any articles I think may be interesting (based on the title, usually, but sometimes after checking the description), I will press to add a “Star,” effectively bookmarking it for later reading.  Then, I can just click “Mark All Read” and my list is cleared out, ready for re-population.  Once I sit down at a computer somewhere, or with the tablet, I will then skim the articles I found to be most interesting.  And sometimes, I’ll share relevant articles on Google+ or Facebook.

So, quite rapidly, I can skim through articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Columbia Daily Tribune without ever having to actually visit the sites themselves, thus avoiding ads and thus saving me time.

And furthermore, you can share articles to Facebook or Google+ directly from most of these blogs, as this is how they generate their traffic.  You just have to click “Share” from the page in question, or from within Google Reader.  A little box shows up and you write what you want to post, along with the link.  And you never have to actually go to to do this.

So yeah, a little “protip:” use an RSS reader of some kind to make your blog reading more efficient.  You are more than capable of getting information throughout the day without getting bogged down in Facebook or on blogs themselves.  You can, in fact, get work done and still provide useful information on subjects that interest you.  It really isn’t that hard…

Pirates on the High Seas (of the Internet)

I read a pretty spectacular article from today about how the MPAA and RIAA are fighting a losing battle against piracy.  The article echoes statements I’ve made in the past, though not on this blog (…that I can find, anyway…).

The author is blunt and to the point: the movie industry is being dragged kicking and screaming to a future that practically all their customers want, and they’re losing revenue in doing so.  They could make their money back on volume by making their movies a). easier to access, and b). cheaper.

The primary problem movie studios have to realize is that everything they charge for is massively overpriced. The fact that movie ticket prices keep going up is astonishing. How can they possibly think charging $10-15 per ticket for a new feature is going to increase the amount of people coming to theaters rather than renting the movie later or downloading it online for free? Rather than lower prices, they double down, saying that gimmicks like 3D and IMAX are worth adding another $5 to your ticket.

They have failed to realize that people want things to be easy. Physically going to the movies is hard enough without paying way too much for the privilege. Going to a store and buying a DVD instead of renting or downloading is generally an impractical thing to do unless you A) really love a particular movie or B) are an avid film buff or collector.

Here’s the part I’ve been most concerned by: rising ticket prices.  Why go to a movie theater to spend $10-$15 on a ticket, plus an additional $10+ on “food?”  Granted, I have a toddler so my movie viewing in theaters has decreased tremendously in the past few years anyway, but with the advent of Netflix, I have all kinds of things to watch, and now I have the will to wait until a movie comes out on DVD.  Especially when the summer blockbusters are looking more and more like that “Battleship” ad you saw during the Super Bowl.  Now, if I could see a non-IMAX, non-DTS movie in the theater and get a medium-sized non-refillable soda for $10?  I’d do that.  No question.

Finally, the author suggests a solution to this problem: the movie industry needs their equivalent of the gaming industry’s digital distribution platforms (e.g. Steam). Heck, they need Apple’s iTunes.  Make buying the product so stupid simple that it takes less effort to buy it than it does to steal it.  As he points out, it takes 7 steps to download a movie illegally, and depending on your internet connection, you could have an HD-quality movie in a half hour.  If the movie industry would just get behind an Apple or Amazon model of 1). find movie, and 2). click “buy” (for a reasonable price).

Let us recall music piracy of the late-90s/early-2000s for a moment.  Back then, you could go on Napster or Kazaa and search to find music you wanted, but you’d easily find tens or hundreds of the same track, each one with different sound qualities.  You could easily download a track you thought was good, but after downloading, you’d find actually had multiple “hiccups” in the file.  iTunes streamlined the process.  Search to download one song that you knew was of relatively high quality and was consistent with the rest of your iTunes library.  Moreover, you’d see that you could get a song for $1, but the entire album for $10, undercutting what was easily $15 at most brick-and-mortar retailers.  So in many respects, at least with iTunes, there was a chance you’d “up sell” your customer on getting the whole album, rather than just a single song.

iTunes made it easy and people flocked to it.  Does music piracy still happen?  Absolutely, but now, people have a reasonable, viable alternative that I’d argue most people consider before pirating albums.

Steam did the same thing for the gaming industry, making it stupid simple to download a digital copy of a computer game without having to search through seedy sectors of the internet looking for a pirated copy (that could include viruses or other malware).  They can even upgrade your graphics drivers and more for you when you install the game, streamlining the process further to make life for the consumer that much better.  Many PC games are released day and date with their “physical media” counterparts.  In many cases, you can actually have the game downloaded and then get it “unlocked” at midnight on its release day.  For PC games, you can’t get much more convenient.  You don’t even have to get out of your pajamas…

If piracy has taught us anything it’s that the movie industry thinks that an audience watching their movies on a computer or TV screen, while that same movie is still out in theaters, is important.  If this is really the case, the movie industry should do the smart thing and release movies online day and date with their release in theaters.  Charge $10 to rent it, making the cost comparable with a ticket to the theater (though that $10 is then divided up among the number of people watching the movie in your living room).

Obviously, some people don’t care if the movie is in IMAX or has super-duper Dolby Digital Sound or smell-o-vision: they just want to watch the damned movie.  They don’t want to deal with crappy popcorn prices.  They don’t want to deal with screaming kids or people talking through the whole thing.  They don’t want to fight for a decent seat in a packed theater.  They don’t want to drive their car and park in a lot.  They don’t want to pay upwards of $30 to see a movie on a Saturday afternoon.  There are any number of reasons folks don’t want to go to a movie theater, while others still like going.  There’s no reason the movie industry can’t cater to both demographics and make money doing it.

So, take heed, Movie and TV Industry. You’re being surpassed by other content purveyors.  Make it easy to access your content and I assure you, people will return to you and buy more of your stuff.

And stop taking your anger out on Netflix…that isn’t helping anything…