g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Friday, March 4, 2005
21:30 - Redundancy of the day

(top)
Seen in the checkout line:

"Gambling for Dummies"


15:33 - Quick! Hide your track names!
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6969653/page/2/

(top)
Via Steven Den Beste: MSNBC's Bob Sullivan finds time to take one of the most useful features of digital music, examine it for dirt, and being unable to find any, shovel some up from his own septic tank and then point at it with winks and nudges.

[Gracenote.com] quietly provides an efficient and important service to digital music users.  There's a common misconception that text-based information like song title, length of play, artist name, and the like, is contained on music CDs.  That's rarely the case. Instead, when a CD is loaded into a computer CD tray, software such as Apple's iTunes automatically calls out across the Internet looking for help identifying the music. The questions are posed to Gracenote's CDDB, or CD database.  By recognizing patterns in the data that is included on the CD -- such as the length of each individual track -- Gracenote figures out what the album is. Then, it transmits data, including music genre, composer name, language, year released, and more, back to the user's computer.

Today Gracenote can recognize about 3.5 million CDs.  And it works so well, most music lovers don't even know it's there. 

That near-anonymity raises some concern among privacy advocates. With the booming popularity of Apple's iPod, and its imitators, Gracenote is accumulating massive amounts of data about consumer listening habits.  But some are wondering if the company, and the various music player manufacturers and software makers, have done enough to inform consumers that information on their musical tastes heads to the Emoryville, Calif. company so often.

. . .

No attempt is made to record precisely who is ripping what CDs, she said. The firm's privacy policy also spells this out clearly.

"We do not use IP addresses for direct marketing purposes and we have neither the desire nor the technology to use IP addresses to identify an individual user by name, address or exact location," it says.  "Furthermore, we delete the IP address when it is no longer needed for security or approximate geolocation purposes."

. . .

Without Gracenote, music fans everywhere would be spending endless hours typing in music cataloging entries themselves.  There's no evidence the firm isn't practicing what it preaches. Still, those with an ear towards privacy concerns -- while admitting Gracenote's utility -- wonder if the firm has done enough to make sure consumers know what's happening.

In other words, Gracenote can look up your IP address from their Web server access log, until it rolls over. Just like with any site. They can't tell where you are or who you are with any more fine-grained detail than knowing what city names show up in a traceroute to your host. It's all free and anonymous, so they can't even track you by Web cookies or user IDs. But that's not good enough: Gracenote might be evil. No proof, of course: just vague accusations and FUD, because it makes a nice two-page story, replete with a misleading poll:

"I think people would feel kinda strange," to learn about Gracenote's data, said Richard Smith, of ComputerBytesMan.com.  "Certainly in the (data) collection process, things are not anonymous.  Being up front about all this stuff is always a good idea."

On the other hand, Smith said, consumers clearly like the features Gracenote provides. "There can be two different reactions: 'How dare they,' and 'Who cares?' "

Consumers do care, said Larry Ponemon of the Ponemon Institute, which studies privacy sentiment among consumers.  In a study of 541 iPod owners conducted recently, 39 percent said they agreed with a statement indicating iPod and Apple were committed to protecting their privacy, but 22 percent said they disagreed, and 40 percent said they were unsure.  Fully one-third said they would stop using their iPod if there was just one security or privacy breach that resulted in the leakage of their personal information; and 80 percent said information about their music tastes was "sensitive information" that "very few people should know about."

How many of that 80 percent had it explained to them by this Pokémon Institute that the dire language of the question was completely at odds with Gracenote's technical inability to locate any person beyond tracerouting their IP?

Gracenote has been a necessary "evil" for years. You gotta get those track names; making users type them all in is an anti-feature, especially once any player in the market has established CDDB access. But there's a quandary for any big company making a digital jukebox app: do you use a public database whose policies you don't have control over? Or do you use an in-house database with a much smaller data store? Back in the Win98 days, the built-in "CD Player" app in Windows looked up track names from an internal Microsoft database, but while its information was usually more accurate than CDDB/Gracenote's (because it wasn't user-contributable), there was far less of it (because it wasn't user-contributable). Evidently WMP has switched over to using Gracenote now; this would seem to indicate that Microsoft decided it was too much hassle to maintain the database internally, while there was a fine (and much more extensive) alternative in Gracenote. Hell, it's worked well enough for iTunes, and it's as much an infrastructural public utility by now as Google is. And how much outrage is there over Google "tracking" your searching habits? They have exactly the same propensity to do so as Gracenote does. More, because media players don't accept Web cookies.

I doubt very much that iTunes users really care that much about the potential that someone's watching when they make a query on a CD's track names and can tell what IP they were using. Enterprising Mac users are going out of their way to write shareware that lets people publish their playlists to HTML, embed their currently playing tracks into their blogs, connect with other iTunes users and share song lists and develop recommendations, and so on. Such people certainly outnumber the ones who would be outraged to hear that Gracenote.com has an Apache access log.

For anyone who happens to be so outraged, though, and who don't mind typing all that track info in themselves, well: it's easy enough to turn off the lookup behavior, whether you use iTunes or any other program with Gracenote access built-in. In iTunes, turn off the "Connect to Internet when needed" checkbox in the General preferences. In WMP, turn off the "Update my music files (WMA and MP3 files) by retrieving missing media information from the Internet" checkbox in the "Media Library" tab of the Options. Not that the article sees fit to mention the ability to do this.

I love how Sullivan says "There's no evidence the firm isn't practicing what it preaches. Still, those with an ear towards privacy concerns -- while admitting Gracenote's utility -- wonder if the firm has done enough to make sure consumers know what's happening." The problem, apparently, is that it's just too dang seamless. Anonymity—the very thing preventing Gracenote from locating you beyond knowing where your ISP is—is being made suspect, as part of a reason not to trust Gracenote's word that it's not stalking you to sell your song lists to the RIAA.

There's always something to get all indignant about, isn't there?

Thursday, March 3, 2005
18:08 - Memory Lane

(top)
You know, I just suddenly realized: I haven't heard the term "Information Superhighway" since I was in high school.

Good thing, too...


16:29 - No end in sight
http://www.apple.com/itunes

(top)
The iTunes Music Store just passed 300 million sales. Didn't they just hit 200 million, like, only a couple of months ago? And 100 million back in July?



One of these days that rocket's going to run out of booster stages. Isn't it?

(Graph courtesy of Kris, who pointed out yesterday that the Napster model of music rental actually does appeal to a certain class of music listener—there are people out there who don't care about owning their music, but like the idea of having access to an essentially unlimited music library to just skip around in at will, trying some, putting it back on the shelf, trying some more, without commitment or consequence. That's the kind of people for whom it actually does make sense to pay a $15/month fee and not worry about their music becoming inaccessible if their subscription lapses. The question remains: how many such people are there in the buying public, and how many prefer to own a selection of music tuned to their own tastes?)

UPDATE: Perhaps even more revealing is this graph, the per-day song sales totals that led to the above curve—or, in other words, the rate of change.

Even that appears to be accelerating.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005
11:54 - Keep the dream alive
http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=110006362

(top)
Via Instapundit and transcribed by James Taranto, a fly-on-the-wall moment where the horror of the realization that maybe there might be some good in the world coming of the Bush Doctrine creeps out, manifested through Jon Stewart's ever-increasing cognitive dissonance at seeing everything he's fought so hard against having such positive consequences for the world.
Soderberg: The truth always helps in these things, I have to say. But I think that there is also going on in the Middle East peace process--they may well have a chance to do a historic deal with the Palestinians and the Israelis. These guys could really pull off a whole--

Stewart: This could be unbelievable!

Soderberg:---series of Nobel Peace Prizes here, which--it may well work. I think that, um, it's--

Stewart: [buries head in hands] Oh my God! [audience laughter] He's got, you know, here's--

Soderberg: It's scary for Democrats, I have to say.

Stewart: He's gonna be a great--pretty soon, Republicans are gonna be like, "Reagan was nothing compared to this guy." Like, my kid's gonna go to a high school named after him, I just know it.

Soderberg: Well, there's still Iran and North Korea, don't forget. There's hope for the rest of us.

Stewart: [crossing fingers] Iran and North Korea, that's true, that is true [audience laughter]. No, it's--it is--I absolutely agree with you, this is--this is the most difficult thing for me to--because, I think, I don't care for the tactics, I don't care for this, the weird arrogance, the setting up. But I gotta say, I haven't seen results like this ever in that region.

Soderberg: Well wait. It hasn't actually gotten very far. I mean, we've had--

Stewart: Oh, I'm shallow! I'm very shallow!

Soderberg: There's always hope that this might not work. No, but I think, um, it's--you know, you have changes going on in Egypt; Saudi Arabia finally had a few votes, although women couldn't participate. What's going on here in--you know, Syria's been living in the 1960s since the 1960s--it's, part of this is--

Stewart: You mean free love and that kind of stuff? [audience laughter] Like, free love, drugs?

Soderberg: If you're a terrorist, yeah.

Stewart: They are Baathists, are they--it looks like, I gotta say, it's almost like we're not going to have to invade Iran and Syria. They're gonna invade themselves at a certain point, no? Or is that completely naive?

Soderberg: I think it's moving in the right direction. I'll have to give them credit for that. We'll see.

But there's "always hope that this might not work". Just as some have held that a KFC outlet in Baghdad would be a far worse fate for Iraqis than a lifetime under Saddam, for some people—even aides to President Clinton, such as this Nancy Soderberg—find it far more important to ensure that Bush and the Republicans don't get credit for any positive change in the world than for that change to happen in the first place. Better the Middle East status quo should endure for another eight years than have Iraqis and Lebanese SMS'ing each other "Thank You George W. Bush" messages.

As Soderberg also says: "As a Democrat, you don't want anything nice to happen to the Republicans, and you don't want them to have progress. But as an American, you hope good things would happen." It speaks volumes right there that these two goals, these two identities, should be at odds, doesn't it?

Right now the big thing that MoveOn.org is gearing itself up for is the defense against Bush's Social Security renovation. They're soliciting Flash ads bolstered by talent from John Cusack, Aaron McGruder, and other luminaries, with the goal of preventing Bush's plans for partial Social Security privatization from becoming reality. This is an issue I have no strong opinions on; I stand to be convinced either way. I don't know a whole lot of facts on the subject. But I do know a few bits of trivia that seem to be getting covered up and kept out of the public discourse on the matter:

  • FDR never intended Social Security to be a mandatory federal program for perpetuity; he explicitly stated that he intended it to be privatized over a gradual process (or maybe he didn't—but there's plenty of debate over what he meant Social Security to be);

  • Bush's plan is entirely voluntary—you can continue to put your money into Social Security if you'd rather trust it than the stock and bond markets;

  • Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been direly warning us of the imminent doom of Social Security for decades now; I spent my high school years listening to earnest adults telling me solemnly to make sure to save money in private accounts—just stick $1000 in a savings account at age 18, they said, and let the compound interest accrue—because there would be no money to pay for my retirement if all we relied on was Social Security; and as far as I know, nothing has changed to make that less true in recent years;

  • "Safe until 2038" is not a very reassuring thing for the Democrats to be saying. I don't consider 30 years to be sufficiently long-term for any program that has an effect on my life—it's barely sufficient to hope that UNIX timestamps will be retrofitted by that time.

    So given these pieces of information, what exactly is the genesis of this reluctance to make a few changes in the interest of greater flexibility and freedom with our money? The college kids rallying behind Michael Moore must understand that they'll be retiring at just about the date that Social Security is being projected—by their own statistics—to run out its guarantee of solvency. Can't they see that it's in their interests to do something? It must go against their very nature, too: what college-campus mob ever rallied around banners saying EVERYTHING'S OKAY and KEEP THE STATUS QUO? It's ridiculous. It's like a bumper sticker Principal Skinner would have on his car.

    What it comes down to, apparently, is simply that it's something Bush is in favor of, so automatically it's something that must be opposed. The worst outcome ever, of course, would be if Bush were to fix Social Security—and then get the credit for it. Better to ride a sinking ship down into the deep than to be rescued by a boat with an elephant printed on the side.

    It's all the harder to escape this conclusion when we've got Howard Dean showing his dedication to pluralism by kicking off his stint as head of the DNC saying "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for." Really, Howard? Everything?

    I've seen this kind of reactionaryism in several places before, but nowhere so vividly as in Muslim victims of bombs or earthquakes or tsunamis refusing to be rescued by Israelis.

    That isn't what the Democrats have become, is it?

    UPDATE: Not if people like this are as capable of putting dedication to the greater good above party purity. Guys, nobody's going to laugh at you if you say you were wrong. Here's a little secret: it'll make people respect you more.


  • 09:41 - Yahoo turns ten
    http://advision.webevents.yahoo.com/yahoo_birthday/

    (top)
    It's the big one-oh for the oldest websites out there these days; and Yahoo is celebrating by buying everyone ice cream cones at Baskin-Robbins.

    And look what they used to look like...

    And Flash can be used for good, it seems...

    Monday, February 28, 2005
    00:10 - Being Jim Henson
    http://www.joeytomatoes.com/muppetsovertimeoriginal05.htm

    (top)
    How French does a French student film get?



    About this French.


    16:41 - 9/11 Republicans
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/g/a/2005/02/24/cstillwell.DTL

    (top)
    Via LGF:

    Thoroughly disgusted by the behavior of those on the left, I began to look elsewhere for support. To my astonishment, I found that the only voices that seemed to me to be intellectually and morally honest were on the right. Suddenly, I was listening to conservative talk-show hosts on the radio and reading conservative columnists, and they were making sense. When I actually met conservatives, I discovered that they did not at all embody the stereotypes with which I'd been inculcated as a liberal.

    Although my initial agreement with voices on the right centered on the war on terrorism, I began to find myself in concurrence with other aspects of conservative political philosophy as well. Smaller government, traditional societal structures, respect and reverence for life, the importance of family, personal responsibility, national unity over identity politics and the benefits of living in a meritocracy all became important to me. In truth, it turns out I was already conservative on many of these subjects but had never been willing to admit as much.

    In my search for like-minded individuals, I also gravitated toward the religiously observant. This was somewhat revolutionary, considering my former liberal discomfort with religious folk, but I found myself in agreement on a number of issues. When it came to support for Israel, Orthodox Jews and Christian Zionists were natural allies. As the left rained down vicious attacks on Israel, commentators on the right (with the exception of Pat Buchanan and his ilk) became staunch supporters of the nation. The fact that I'm not a particularly religious person myself had little bearing on this political relationship, for it's entirely possible to be secular and not be antireligious. Unlike the secular fundamentalists who make it their mission in life to destroy all vestiges of America's Judeo-Christian heritage, I have come to value this legacy.

    So I became what's now commonly known as a "9/11 Republican."

    So that's how such a thing might happen!

    Oh yeah. I guess I knew that already.


    And incidentally, what with events having played out this weekend while I was up playing in the snow, it sure seems like such people have a lot to feel vindicated about these days. Mike Hendrix rounds up reactions from many of those whose voices have played significant roles in bringing us to this point.

    Previous Week...


    © Brian Tiemann