Stale Thoughts and Broken Links

Old posts from my weblog.

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So, you've been following the Napster story, right?

If you've been living in a cave, Napster is a peer-to-peer program that lets you "swap" songs with 21 million other music lovers all over the country. For free.

All right, so maybe technically it's thievery. More on that in a minute. First, the technical stuff:

When you run Napster, you can copy MP3's directly from other PC's and workstations running Napster software. Of course, this means Napster also turns *your* computer into a server that anyone else can access, so before you run it, you may want to sit back and ponder the security implications of *that* ...

O.k., that's enough.

When you run the software, you login to one of Napster's servers; as part of the login procedure, I guess your local Napster client tells the server your IP address and what MP3's are available on your computer. Then you run a search for whatever song you want to "swap," and -- woo-hoo! -- it's just a double click away.

Oh yeah. There also a "chat" feature so you can talk to other users if you're some kind of weirdo.

The story this week is that a Federal judge ordered Napster to shut down their servers by midnight Friday, effectively killing the whole thing. As a result, there's been a crazy Napster marathon going night and day. (I had this program on my machine for a few weeks. When I heard it's going away, suddenly I need to stay up to 2:00 copying Judy Garland - Somewhere Over The Rainbow.) But yesterday afternoon two appeals judges granted a stay, so it looks like Napster is still alive, for now.

Now for the legality/morality stuff: Yes, it's stealing.

Of course, having one's stuff pirated can be good. I think Microsoft understands this:

    In the late 80's, Wordperfect was still the standard, but I wrote my grad school thesis with a pirated version of MS Word. And in later years, when I could afford to pay for software, I stuck with Microsoft products -- not out of any loyalty, but because by then I had invested hundreds of hours working with the MS products, and I knew all the in's and out's of the software.

    Today, Microsoft's products are standards not just in developed countries, but also in developing countries where people would rather pirate stuff than pay $500 a pop. But I think Microsoft only puts up a feeble protest about this. If MS could prevent developing countries from pirating their software, the end result would be that they would stop using it. In the long run, it will be much more profitable for Microsoft if its pirated software takes over a new market. The day will come when that market outgrows its pirate mentality and starts paying for Office just like everyone else in the world.

For me, the end result of my Napster dabblings will be that I'll buy more CDs (particularly The Rolling Stones), and then I'll make a cassette tape for my car. But I'm not trying to make some lame justification for pirating. If it looked like this Napster thing was going to go on forever, I'd probably buy some software and a CD burner and learn how to make my own CDs. Or even better, figure out a way to jack a MP3 player into my car stereo.

After that, I'd stop buying *any* CDs.

So the record companies have a legitimate worry. But it's hard to feel sorry for them, when they did so much to put themselves in this situation. The record companies should have put their entire catalogs online as MP3's three years ago, and started selling them for a reasonable price. (A quarter a song is reasonable, but I guess I could live with a dollar.)

Instead, they spent the last three years whining and crying about how, if they put music online, people would be able to pirate it. And they did nothing else.

You can't stop the future. Now the people who should have been customers have put the music online, because the record companies wouldn't! If the record companies had done what they should have, Napster wouldn't exist today -- at least, not as mainstream software on millions of PC's.

Sure there would be some pirating -- there always is. But the vast majority of people are surprisingly honest. If you give them a legitimate way to get what they want, they won't screw around with pirating. (Software is the most easily pirated product in the world, but look at how many copies of Office Microsoft sells each year.)

And, man, talk about missing the big picture. Online music is an incredible opportunity to sell _a_lot_more_music_! If I owned stock in a record company, I'd be really pissed about them screwing up so badly. During the big internet bubble, they could have all had .com valuations!

If you want to see what the future should look like, check out the Emusic site. But hold off on the $9.99 subscription until they get a lot more music online.

If you want to keep up-to-date on this Napster thing, the Weblogs domain has a pretty active Napster Weblog. I think Dave Winer, the Scripting News guy, is writing it. The weblog has a definite pro-Napster bias, but is honest enough to admit that the Napster experience needs to be "legitimized." Incidentally, Winer has a great analogy right here that explains the appeal of downloading music over the Internet.

BTW, I'm running the Mac client version, Macster, on my computer. It's really simple to install and operate. Go ahead, give it a try. It won't be around much longer. :-)


We all have embarrassing episodes in our past. Admit it -- you used to know someone who might be working here.

[via Naked Mole Rat.]



Happy birth-day to meeeeeeee!


This is a really kinky twist on the same-sex marriage issue: Why a Woman in Missouri Is a Man in Kansas, and Why It Matters.

"Eleven months after marrying J'Noel Ball, Marshall Gardiner died, leaving an estate worth $2.5 million and no will; then Mr. Gardiner's son found out J'Noel had had a sex change. Thus began a unique, precedent-setting legal battle."

I'll tell you what: it's timely investigative reports like this that make the Wall Street Journal well worth the price of a subscription.


Oh, man, I am so bummed! Addicted To Noise is calling it quits!

For the past five years, ATN has been my primary source for tuning in to new music.

The farewell editorial claims that ATN will survive as a feature in SonicNet, but I dunno. I've noticed that ever since Viacom bought them out last year, they've been progressively watering down the reviews.

I'll be bitter about this for the next 10 years if they don't continue the yearly top 100 writer's poll.


It's about time! Vermont women become first legally united same-sex couple in U.S.

The Vermont law falls short of actually labeling this a "marriage". I think that's a compromise that gay rights advocates can live with, since it seems to be a meaningless distinction. In any case, you've got to start somewhere.

My understanding of the law is that it gives homosexuals the same inheritance and state-tax rights as married couples. (Of course, they still won't be able to file joint federal tax returns.)

More importantly, gay "divorces" will be settled in the same court as heterosexual divorces. This solves what I consider a real "catch-22" problem with benefits, particularly work benefits. Benefits such as health insurance coverage are usually limited to married partners, not live-ins. And rightly so; if *you* aren't in a legally binding contractual relationship with your partner, then why should your employer be in one?

But laws against same-sex marriage make it impossible for gays to have the same level of legal commitment to their partners that straights have. Same-sex marriages are illegal in 49 states, usually in the name of "protecting the institution of marriage."

What b.s.! The state shouldn't be involved in legislating who you can marry. But here we are using governmental authority to define the institution, and even the purpose, of marriage. (I thought the Catholic Church had dibs on that job.)

As a legal institution, marriage and divorce are important instruments for creating and dissolving intimate partnerships between two individuals. You know, things like joint ownership rights and legal responsibilities with regard to personal property. I can't think of any valid reason for the government not allowing two gays to establish a similarly binding partnership with an equivalent legal status.


Nice holiday. Last night we had a picnic on the hillside at the Pavilion while we watched the Houston Symphony play traditional 4th of July music. Tonight we watched fireworks at The Woodlands Mall.

We planned to watch a parade this morning. As we were walking to the parade route after parking our car, however, we passed the movie theater, where they were giving free passes to Chicken Run. So all four of us watched a movie together in a movie theater. It was like a religious miracle.

(Also, everyone was very well behaved. The movie kept Christopher's attention. And Cindy gave Kenneth a bottle before the movie started, after which he slept through it all.)

Happy 4th of July, everybody!

Walter Kessinger

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