Jul 17

Slang for the Galaxy

It’s no news to any serious strategy gamer that Race For The Galaxy has rapidly become one of the most popular and frequently played designs of recent years. My gaming group plays it often enough that we’ve developed our own slang terms for certain frequently-occurring tactics and situations. In the hope that other players may find these enjoyable and useful, here they are:

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Jul 07

SPAT: How to Save the Music Industry

I think I know how to save the music business. There’s a dead-simple business model that will funnel money to talent, work with the Internet’s capability for zero-cost distribution rather than fighting it, and allow the record companies a role without “intellectual property” protection or DRM.

I call it SPAT for short. This can have either of two expansions: “Strike Price And Timeout” or “Street Performer And Teaser”.

Here’s how it should work:

1: You front the money to produce a song. Or an album. Or whatever marketable unit of music you think you can sell. (It’s the 21st century. Production equipment is cheap. You can do better sound engineering in a basement today than a million-dollar production outfit could have during most of the 20th century.)

2: You make a teaser clip. If you’re selling a single, maybe it’s 15 seconds out of 3:05. If you’re selling an album, maybe it’s a 3-minute audio montage sampled from the album tracks. Maybe it’s a video. Maybe it has voiceovers by the performers on it.

3: Throw the teaser on the Internet. Within months after this model is generally understood, there will be aggregation sites that do nothing but host teasers. Some will make money by selling advertising to people who want to reach music consumers. Others will be fan/hobbyist suites with a mission. Still others will be run by record companies — see below for discussion.

4: The teaser clip has a pitch at the end. “Free this music! When we get X dollars in the tip jar at the specified URL on our fulfillment site URL, we’ll throw the music on the Internet as a free download. Offer expires at time T.”

5: On the fulfillment site, the pledge jar shows how full it is when you look at it. You can add a pledge to the jar there.

6: The payment system on the fulfilment site has to deal gracefully with three cases:

6(a): The timeout expires before the pledge jar is full (“It busted!”). All pledges are returned. All parties lose.

6(b): The timeout expires after the pledge jar is full (“It boomed!”). The pledge jar is emptied and a free download link to the work appears beside it. Subsequently, anybody can do what they like with it — throwing it on a bunch of BitTorrent trackers will probably be a popular option.

6(c): The payment system must fail safely — that is, if the pledge jar fills, but the work does not ship, consumers don’t lose money.

All three cases are important! A large part of the point of this model is to eliminate from consumers’ thinking any perceived risk that they might throw money down a hole.

8. Assuming 6(b), use your profits to produce the next work. Now you can afford more studio time, better equipment, side players, and maybe some extra marketing. You can probably also set a higher pledge threshold, and/or a longer timeout.

For an artist, the single key business decision is what strike price to set for a given work — career-building will consist of earning a reputation that allows you to set a higher strike price than your previous ones. Because consumers are probably less sensitive to the timeout length tan to price , I’m expecting there will be convergence on a fairly small set of standard timeout periods.

Various interesting reputation games could be attached to SPAT to make the pledge jar fill faster. For example, large pledges might earn buyers perks like their name in lights near the download point for the work, or even a mention in some credits.

Record companies still have a role, if only because somebody has to be trusted to refund the pledges if the jar doesn’t fill and to actually ship the album if it does. Of course, they can continue doing conventional record-company stuff; branding, marketing, A&R, running studios. But there will be three big differences. One is bad: the
upside is bounded (you don’t collect ‘extra’ revenue from an unexpectedly successful work).

On the other hand, the other consequences are good. Distribution expenses go as near zero as makes no difference. There is no requirement in the model for DRM or IP protection of any sort; the record companies get to stop spending lots of money on lawyers and lobbyists and (more importantly) get to stop being hated by the people they most want as customers.

There’s no intrinsic reason SPAT couldn’t work for movies and other content as well as music, but it’s better adapted to media where the money you need to front to produce as saleable work is relatively low.

SPAT is, of course, a variant of the well-known Street Performer protocol (SPP). The key difference is that the teaser operates as both marketing and as a plausible promise that the artist already has a deliverable work, changing consumers’ risk assessments and making them more likely to buy. This addresses the most serious weakness of other forms of SPP, which is that the large information asymmetry between buyer and seller acts as a disincentive to buyers.

SPAT could be substantially improved with one piece of technical infrastructure. That is a pledge instrument which would give the receiver the right to a given chunk of the payer’s money, but only if called after a specified future date. Such an instrument would further reduce buyer risk.

Jun 26

I’m unstealthing

Yes,. there is a good reason that I disappeared for two years. As soon as a certain lawsuit now in court wraps up, I’ll even be able to explain it in detail.

But I’m back to blogging. Starting now.

Apr 10

My Comment Policy

I deleted a coment this morning.

This is not something I normally do, except for comments that are both anonymous and content-free — abuse and invective do not count as ‘content’ for this purpose. The comment I deleted this morning was not anonymous, and it could be argued that there was some content in it.

However, the content (if any) was drowned in a sewer-main’s worth of crude insults hurled by one respondent at another. I will not tolerate this, even when the insult-hurler is nominally on ‘my’ side of an issue.

Armed And Dangerous is not a public square and “free speech” standards do not apply here. If you have nothing to contribute to debate over the things I write about, I can and will cut you off at the knees. This applies to those who broadly agree with me as well as those who disagree. (If anything, I give my opponents a little more leeway than my allies.)

In my own small way, I’m trying to defend civilization here. So keep it civil. Or else.

Sep 13

Help with WordPress

This is a request for help from my readers. I’m trying to find out how to hack WP so that it will never insert <br> tags in my entries. I want it to ignore hard newlines, treating them as soft.

Sep 11

WordPress theme designers annoy the crap out of me

Having discovered that my WordPress 1.5 upgrade broke the CSS and
customized template I had designed for WordPress 1.2, I’ve been
shopping for a new theme at the WRC Theme
Viewer
site. I’m looking for something clean and simple that I
can customize to my taste.

Having browsed through over a hundred and fifty themes, I’m left with one
burning question in my mind: why are 90% of these themes designed by
utter pinheads who don’t understand basic Web concepts like letting the
viewer control the presentation?

I’ve ranted about the drooling idiocy of pixel-sized fonts before.
Many of these themes not only make that mistake (which hoses anyone in
a screen with a DPI different from the designer’s), they cram the
content into boxes or vertical bands that don’t resize when you
widen or narrow the browser
.

There are a handful of honorable exceptions: Clasikue. Anarchy.
Curtains up. Dixie Belle. Elvgren. Flex. Fullwidth. Gentle
Calm. Gila. Greenwood. Ice. The three “Journalized” themes. Man-ja.
Operate. Placidwide. Psycho. Rampart. RohitKumar.org.
Sixties. Steam. But by and large, almost all of the more than 250
themes at this site (and elsewhere I’ve looked) make the same basic,
unforgiveable error. They treat the display like fancy paper under
the control of the theme designer rather than allowing the
user’s preferences to control font sizes and the width of the
display area.

It’s the web, you morons! Stop wasting readers’ screen
space with frames and diapered borders. They have better use for
their pixels than all that frou-frou crap.

Sep 08

Microsoft’s Worst Nightmare?

A commenter writes, in reference to my letter to the Microsoft
recruiter,

BTW, I think abrogating to yourself the status of MS’s worst
nightmare might be seen as presumptious, considering that FLOSS
depends on a big community, and a lot of what FLOSS is about precedes
your 97 work, but far be it from me to try to teach ESR strategy.

Um. You meant “arrogating”, I think. A few words about that…

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Sep 16

CBS and SCO Charge: Bush stole Unix!

OREM, UTAH — In a startling and unexpected joint press conference, CBS
and SCO, Inc. charged today that President George W. Bush had
conspired with IBM to steal Unix code while Linus Torvalds was AWOL
from the Finnish army.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the podium, Dan Rather and Darl McBride
flourished what they said was documentary proof, in the form of source
code listings found in a wastebasket at Texas Air National Guard
offices.

Open-source hackers and bloggers immediately questioned the report. “In
1972 Linus was like, three years old!” one Slashdotter commented. “I could
be wrong, but I don’t think they let toddlers into the Finnish army”. Others
pointed out that the listings were laser-printed on sheet-fed paper
using a technology not available in any form until 1978 and not deployed
by the Texas Air National Guard until after 1984. The Linux operating
system was launched in 1991.

“We at CBS have consulted numerous experts and believe these to be accurate,”
Dan Rather said, “but it doesn’t really matter whether or not they are
authentic. George W. Bush’s role in flouting the intellectual-property laws
of this country must be fully investigated. It’s not the nature of the
evidence, it’s the seriousness of the charges!”

“SCO is seeking additional discovery from IBM,” added Darl McBride.
“We have confidence that if we can just get our hands on every IBM
code listing from the dawn of time and depose every IBM employee
living or dead, we will be able to drag this case out long enough to
swing not just the the 2004 elections but the 2008 ones as well!”

In related news, the Kerry campaign — still struggling to rebut
charges of computer illiteracy raised by the Swift Vets’ searing
expose “Unfit for COMMAND.COM” — is rumored to have received a
donation from Bill Gates that included both a large wad of cash and
all known remaining copies of “Microsoft Bob”. Spokepersons could not
be reached for comment.

Dec 06

Da Big Snow

Yup, the blizzard is big. Here in eastern Pennsylvania we’ve had over a foot of snow and
a lot of drifting today. I shoveled my driveway. I’m going to be stiff tomorrow.

Nov 21

The Prudential interview

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort since 1997 developing effective propaganda tactics for
reaching the business world on behalf of the hacker community — among other things, by
popularizing the term ‘open source’. If you want to grok how this is done, read
my October 15 interview with a bunch of Prudential Securities investors.

Pay attention to style as well as content. This is the language you have to learn to speak
to reach the people who write big checks. It’s not very complicated, if you just bear in mind
that these people are obsessed with two things: risk management and return on investment. As they should be — it’s their job.