08 December 2006

Friday Technology/Media Rant

Christmas music is everywhere! It is driving me batty.

Why do ordinary non-computer geeks like me have to figure out the mysteries of virus protection? I should have gotten a Mac. Maybe next time I will.

What genius decided that laptop power cords should have two wires that must be connected, instead of one?

Radio always used to be an easy to understand medium. You could get AM, FM and if you were really inspired, shortwave that mostly consided of the BBC and odd channels that sounded like morse code. Now, there is HD Radio and there are two kinds of satellite radio. All are far more expensive than regular radios even though you know that they cost no more to build and will fall to $20 in a year or two.

Two of the options require a monthly subscription fee too. And, your satellite radio plan might be useless soon, because there are always rumors of one or the other going bankrupt or merging.

But, to be honest, at least satellite radio, which sells vast numbers of channel choices and the ability to listen to the same thing anywhere in the nation on long trips through radio wastelands in flyover territory make a certain amount of sense. It is like satellite TV or cable for the radio dial. But, what is the deal with HD radio?

And, who ever decided that CD quality sound was so great? I can't ever remember having thought to myself -- gee, my FM radio would be so much better if it had CD quality sound. I've certainly thought to myself, gee, wouldn't it be great if I had more radio choices, because stations that my wife or I like seem to have a high propensity to change formats and station IDs without a moment's notice. But, if they could just banish some of those waste of space oldies and country channels to the AM dial where they belong, that wouldn't be a problem.

Besides, how can HD radio stations make it on advertising alone, when they have to be at least somewhat more expensive to run, and there isn't enough of a market in Denver for the music I'd like to keep stations trying anything different on the air as it is with old style cheap radio technology? Is it really that expensive to run a dance music or reggatone station? Why is it so much more economic to run modified versions of stations that already exist on frequencies that only 1% or less of the listening audience is capable of hearing? Are the broadcasters getting kickbacks from the radio sales or something? (Not that this is such a horrible thing, it is a standard part of the radio business model in the UK, New Zealand and Japan, to name a few).

Anyone want to take bets on how long it will take before there is a subscription only alternative to the Internet which is spam, virus, malware and spyware free, makes it easy to keep your kids from finding genuine smut, screens e-commerce participants for fraud, and doesn't allow people to do business from shell corporations set up in the Cayman Islands or Panama City? Hell, most people have to pay a few hundred dollars a year for a high speed internet connection anyway. Would you pay $15 a month more for a premium system like that? Believe it or not, this is what CompuServ and AOL and places like that made their money trying to sell before everyone went back to basics and communicated directly with the internet via Internet Explorer and a bare bones DSL connection. Will it take one year? Three? Is there anything fundamentally hopeless about the concept? Big businesses and government agencies already have intranets that serve this role.

They say about 90% of e-mail is spam. Regular mail has a high junk to good stuff ratio, of course. But, we're used to it, and at least regular junk mail doesn't have quite so high a proportion of out and out fraud. Honestly, I don't see why it is so hard to bust fraudulent come ons. Yes, there is the first amendment and all, but you know that 90% of spammers and at least a third of regular junk mail offerings violate some sort of law. There aren't actually that many of those operations out there. Supposedly, the vast majority of spam is run by just half a dozen operations.

The federal government maintains an official list of all subprime mortgage lenders in the country, for example, and there are only a couple hundred of them. I have to think that it would be cost effective to have a couple hundred regulators busting their butts all year long, every day, to prevent the crap they get into in advance rather than picking up their pieces after the fact (good riddance to the subprime lender with 50 employees in Denver which went under this week).

One of my favorite ideas for consumer protection reform would be to simply eliminate preferrential rates for bulk mailings. If they had to pay 39 cents a pop for every ad, the junk mail would become a lot more scarce. Likewise, I would totally be willing to pay a little bit, at least 1 cent per e-mail, maybe even a nickle or a dime each, in order to control junk e-mail. I doubt that I send 1000 e-mails a year. So, maybe it would cost me $100.

Even better, you could have a friends and family list, who would exchange free e-mail, and people would pay only to send to non-pre-approved addresses. Thus, most of the time, you'd only have to pay once to communicate to someone you didn't know. I probably communicate with no more than one or two new addressees a week. So, it would cost me, at ten cents a pop, $5 a year. But, a spammer that wanted to send a million pieces of spam would have to pay $100,000 for the privilege. This could fund staff to investigate spammers, and would simply by virtue of cost alone, dramatically cut down on the most fraudulent and flaky material. I know I wouldn't constantly get ads for investment opportunities, fake Rolex watches, Viagra, male enhancements and Nigerian businessman scams if those kinds of costs were in place.

By the way, does anyone still connect on dial up connections anymore? I didn't think so, but then I turned on the TV in a vain attempt to see the shuttle take off that the kids wanted to see, and lo and behold, there was a 30 second ad selling dial up connections at cut rate prices. Worse yet, you know who will buy them? Grandma and Grandpa in communities that have free WiFi service citywide (something that the Western suburbs of Denver are working on as we speak). The 16th Street Mall and Cherry Creek North already have this, but they have a notable shortage of vulnerable, computer illiteral grandparents.

And, why do we still not have customized newspapers? Why can't I subscribe to a version of the Denver Post that has advertisements only for things that I actually want and no sports pages or classified ads?


Dave Barnes said...

Andrew wrote: "I should have gotten a Mac. Maybe next time I will."

Why didn't get one in the first place?

Cheaper than a Dell.
Better operating system than Microsoft Windows.
Sexier than an HP.
iLife is great.

Call me when you are ready to buy your next computer and I will be glad to help make the Apple decision.

890 South Josephine

Anonymous said...

HD Radio/IBOC is a fraud and a joke - very few HD radios have been sold. HD Radio causes adjacent-channel interference and has only 60% the coverage of analog. HD Radio's HD channels are just more of the same repetitive terrestrial radio, and will eventually have commercials. HD radios require the mounting of external dipole antennas, that only "radio geeks" would be willing to do.