Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

no free music at microsoft

News.com reports that Microsoft sent an email yesterday warning employees not to use the company's networks for file swapping of any kind. Now, I wonder, was this an internal initiative, or was there some pressure from the record companies and such to make the move, as a sort of "public statement"? The record companies recently had talked about moving against individual users and companies that allow file trading, and given that Microsoft wants to win their favor for their own media formats push, it makes sense, even as a preemtive move. Also, there's the legal effort to make hacking PCs that would make legal to hack machines that engage in file trading, and Microsoft might be reacting just to that.
Maybe in some future trial the emails will come out and we'll get to know what really happened.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 8:44 PM

the hype of open source

This week's Economist has an article on open source and how things in the open source community have changed since its heyday (which one could argue happened around the time Red Hat went public). Many open source firms have gone bust, and others have "gone hybrid" such as Red Hat, which is selling a special high-end version of linux with some proprietary elements. Open source might also have become, maybe, too much of a buzzword for its own good, ready to be twisted by corporations looking for some publicity, among other things, as I mentioned earlier.

Yet the idea behind open source is too powerful to collapse along with the bubble. Open source is usually better, more secure and robust, than proprietary code. And if it can survive Microsoft and its attacks (such as its shared source program) it can survive anything.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 5:28 PM

the US Congress's "crackdown"

The Economist has an article out that does a good job of summarizing what the US Congress has passed to enact "corporate reform." There is also mention of the broader international impact of the bill, in particular regarding the European Union, which every day surprises me for not reacting more strongly to the US's protectionism and insularity (e.g., rejecting Kyoto, rejecting the ICC, giving more protections to farmers and steel, to name just three.)

Congress passed it, true, and some things they did are important. But it is obvious how much they are still beholden to corporate interests. They needed Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, Xerox, and all the others to really pile up before they acted. Maybe, with a few more scandals, they will finish the job.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 5:19 PM

argentina and latin america

Yesterday the government in Argentina released the latest employment and salary statistics.

  • 21.5% unemployed, which only considers those who are actively looking for work.
  • 15% are "sub-employed," meaning that they have part-time jobs or jobs that don't pay enough.
  • Half the population lives below the poverty line.
  • 25% of the population is "indigent," which means that they don't have enough money to buy simply enough food per month to cover the daily calorie requirement.

All of these indicators where at least at half that as recently as 2-3 years ago. This is not unique to Argentina in Latin America, but it's most visible there.

This social turmoil also surfaces in crime statistics. In Buenos Aires, once considered the "Paris of south america", a new wave of criminals specialize in "express kidnappings," targeting the few remaining middle class, not the rich. In Venezuela, the homicide rate has jumped 50% in three years. In Brazil, security has been one of the foremost problems for years.

In the meantime, in Argentina, the rich only care about getting more money into their pockets. The politicians squabble over the ruins. The IMF, the World Bank, the EU, and everybody else, sit back and watch, happily letting the country collapse.

Suddenly there are no new "solutions". In the 70s, the answer of the rich countries was to democratize (never mind that in many cases the US itself had helped install the dictatorship in question). In the 80s, the answer was "market-based reforms" and "improved democracy". In the '90s, Privatizations and further opening of the markets. Now, there are no more answers. It's always important to remember that the cracks in any system always begin in its weakest points. Not that the US is being treated nicely by the financial markets recently...

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 2:11 PM

me and microsoft

Yesterday I was told that this weblog appears to be slightly... umm... anti-Microsoft. I realize that I never expressed exactly what I feel about the People of Redmond, so I'll give it a try now.

For starters, I am not anti-Microsoft. I am not pro-Microsoft either. Microsoft is neither good nor bad. It is ridiculous to assign moral categories to things that don't have it. (Example: that is a bad ant. Doesn't that sound ridiculous?).

Microsoft is a metahuman entity, a creation of the Capitalist system, and it might even be the best corporation ever created. They have (so far) escaped government regulation (although nothing is certain, let's remember how long AT&T's monopoly lasted) while accumulating the biggest cash-hoard in history (38 billion dollars in cash and short-term securities). Microsoft has enough cash to buy AOL-Time Warner at today's prices without needing financing. They have more liquidity than many banks. They have an unchallenged (as yet) monopoly in a market that frequently grows by double-digit percentages. And the list goes on. I'd say, then that Microsoft is a pretty successful corporation by most standards. What they have achieved, they have achieved out of work and cunning, and sometimes bending the rules. But everybody does that. So as a business I think Microsoft is quite impressive.

But then there's the other subject: technology. Microsoft is a technology company. And its technology is has many problems. True, many of them are derived from the fact that they are the most widely used platform in the world. Still, they could do better. They could stop adding features mindlessly and focus on improving what they have. They could stop releasing FUD and vaporware simply to prevent other companies from doing things that might compete with them. They could focus, for once, on usability. They could be much more open, and compete on the basis of the quality of their products instead of helping themselves to more monopoly pie. And this brings me to my last important point.

Microsoft behaves as if it was a tiny company, and they are not. They defend every inch of territory fiercely. They destroy competitors using every tactic available. This, standard capitalist behavior, might be fine for a small company, but on a company their size, with such a set of monopolies (Windows, Office) it seems to do more harm than good. They stop innovation in certain areas (try and get a VC to fund a word processing software company). They lock customers in. They maintain prices artificially high with the excuse that they keep the price stable but add more features (the problem, of course, is that the new "features" are frequently useless). (A similar argument, by the way, can be made of the power of the US, but that's a topic for another time).

Then again, it's hard to blame an ant for being an ant, and similarly it's hard to blame Microsoft for trying to hold on to their space and growing. It's what companies do. It's the essence of capitalism. But at least, in terms of technology, they can be criticized. They can be pushed to do better things, perhaps simply by introducing better products than them and forcing them to catch up.

One thing is for certain: because they have interests seemingly everywhere in software, and because they are so big, it's natural that they will be a common topic, just like the US and its policies will be a common topic in any political discussion, simply because of its power and its reach.

Memories of Douglas Coupland's Microserfs...

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 11:27 AM

Mulholland Dr.

Yesterday I watched Mulholland Drive, which, apart from being an excellent, excellent movie, is a good example of what I was mentioning before about structure in art.

In Mulholland Dr., however, Lynch uses our expectation for structure in reverse. We go into the film with a certain idea of how things should happen in a movie, and when they don't turn out that way we are confused. Then it's a great experience to unravel the puzzle, only to see that it wasn't a puzzle at all. The puzzle was in our own views of how the story should have been told (or how we are used to being told stories, specially through movies).

The other notable thing about Mulholland Dr. is how good it is cinematically: It's one of those movies that is a movie, and would never work well as, say, a novel, as much as Ulysses is a book. When an artform is being used to its limits, it stands on its own and it can't be replaced.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 10:25 AM

death by overload

Salon today has an interview with Esther Dyson defending ICANN, sort of. Sort of, because she doesn't really defend it, she keeps talking about "changing it from within, blahblahblah" which if I'm not mistaken means that there is something that should be changed. This follows another article some time back where John Gilmore argued that ICANN should be dissolved (which, incidentally, is quite interesting for what it says about the mechanics of the deals that went on between the US government, Network Solutions, and others).

All of this discussion, simply for the matter of names. Sometimes I think that for all the talk of corporations killing the Internet, Microsoft killing the Internet, or governments regulating the Internet to death, what's really going to kill the Internet is not any of those things: it's bureaucracy. Commitees having endless meetings about issues that nobody cares about, long after technology has left them behind. Similarly, access to information will not be controlled: we will simply be so overloaded with information that it won't matter anymore. Call it Death by overload.

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 12:32 AM

structure and interpretation in art

Today I was at a presentation/discussion related to how interpretation and structure affect literature (and art in general, music was also mentioned). In particular the discussion centered about a piece of prose published by Beckett in 1969 (in French, then published in English one year later, with the translation made Beckett himself).

The piece in question is Variations on Lessness. It is composed of of 24 paragraphs and 120 sentences. The whole of the work is divided into two parts, and each sentence occurs twice: once in the first half and once in the second. Beckett later explained to a friend that he had determined the order in which the sentences appear by randomly drawing little slips of paper out of a hat. The work is very dense, rhytmical. It is apparent that there is some structure, but it feels elusive. I couldn't read it all while in the meeting, but later I did. It creates a strange feeling.

Apparently there has been some discussion as to whether Beckett really did put the sentences together purely randomly or not: sometimes sentences seem to have more meaning than randomness would imply. This is, however, beyond the point. Whether it is completely random or random/modified, the piece stands as a great example of how most of what we do, and our perception of art in general (and literature in particular) is interpretation. As much as something feels meaningless, we still want to find some underlying order in it, and Variations... provides enough "hooks" for our brain to keep trying to find a meaning all the way. It keeps you engaged, right until the end.

This discussion led to talking about the structure/underlying patterns of works in general and how much of the structure a work of art (specially the ones that can have strong sense of time and space such as literature and music) can be manipulated, and whether that manipulation can actually convey something more, such as the idea that, rather than the "medium is the message," it's more as if "the viewer creates the message." Interpretation is not just an assignment of categories.

I think that the manipulation of the underlying structure or style has to be done for a very good reason, or not at all, such as the evolution of the use of language and narrative in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where they are synchronized with the evolution of the character itself (in a rather astonishing fashion, by the way).

One thing I was reminded of today, though: that the structular/stylistical manipulation of the work does not have to be explicit, and sometimes it works better when it isn't. Some people (few, granted) will appreciate those things, but for most it will be much more enjoyable or preferrable for the underlying ideas to filter through unconsciously, letting the reader or listener enjoy it without being aware of it, just like we enjoy similar patterns in nature without seeing what they are: let the unconscious appreciate and recognize the pattern and whisper: I know this.

Categories: personal
Posted by diego on July 26, 2002 at 12:21 AM

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