Blowin’ off steam

Chips, shoulders, Sex and the French HADOPI Internet “3-strikes” Law

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The French assembly is about to vote a really dumb “three-strikes” anti “Internet piracy” law. Among many other obscenities, it puts the onus on citizens to protect their Internet connections against people who would use it to download copyrighted materials. And the only way you can prove you are innocent is if you install some piece of government-approved snooping software (which doesn’t yet exist) on your computer. Guilty until proven innocent.

Quite an irony really.

Because normally, traditionally, our aging socialists would have proposed this three-strikes law to protect their buddies, the cool, lefty artists of yesteryear. And the right would have screamed bloody murder, too much state intervention, etc.

You see, our president Sarkozy is really a free-marketeer. He liked Bush. He would have sent French troops into Iraq (although it is important to note that he was elected despite these proclivities).

He’s also very “rive droite”, i.e. from the rich, bourgeois part of the Paris area, where people respect wealth over culture. So was his second wife, Cecelia. Who dumped him.

Soon after that, Sarko married former model Carla Bruni, a typical “rive gauche” bourgeois-bohème of the so-called caviar left, who despite their wealth, consider wealth to be vulgar. Her buddies are really cool philosophers and cool artists (many of whom Carla fucked in the past). The kind of people Sarkozy-style bourgeois have a huge inferiority complex towards.

Can you imagine poor, poor president Sarkozy, who represents everything these people despise, hanging out with them? What could he possibly do to fit in?

Why, this fabulous 3-strikes anti “piracy” law of course! With it, he could impress his dear Carlita and ingratiate himself with her left-bank artist buddies (most of whom are not wired, who think their declining sales are due to piracy (ha!), and who don’t realize they are really being screwed by the record-company lobbyists who cooked up the details of the law). Thankfully, many less clueless, more wired artists, movie-makers, independent labels (and Catherine Deneuve) have come out firmly against the law.

Which also explains why Sarko went absolutely apeshit when the law was defeated in the near-empty assembly a couple of weeks ago because a bunch of socialist representatives who happened to be around to vote on another law voted against this one. It’s back on the docket and will be likely be passed today (or it’s off to political-Guantanamo for the government-party representatives who vote their conscience).

France is even holding a major European telecoms package hostage over this. Despite the fact that the European parliament voted several times overwhelmingly for an amendment that would invalidate the French 3-strikes law. Oh, and we’re supposed to believe Sarko when he claims that next month’s European parliamentary election is of the highest importance. Quel cynisme.

And people like me, who make 100% of their living thanks to/over the Internet, be damned.

But back to sex.

So France is ridiculing itself because of Sarko’s Napoleon complex.

But I predict it won’t go much beyond that.

Because assuming the law is promulgated, and then makes it past national and European legal challenges, it is such a grotesque rube-goldberg machine, and would be so technically complex (some say impossible) and expensive to implement, that I for one will not refrain any time soon from downloading stuff, because as the French Fédération des labels indépendants says, “download to discover, buy to support”.

By the way, you can download my music freely here, here and here, among other places.

Thanks for reading.

29. April 2009 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment

Logorrhea

This post has been brewing for a while…

It’s about a logo.

SFR is the second-largest mobile phone carrier in France. They have stores everywhere, they advertise like crazy, and they are folding other brands under the SFR banner.

Which is probably why they decided to redesign their logo. The decision was probably long overdue.

Consider their old logo:

sfr_old.jpg

It’s pretty damn ugly and old-fashioned. The horrible bezel. The ugly lettering.

This is one of the richest, high-tech corporations in France (ISP, mobile phones etc.). They had to do something.

So they did this:

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

sfr_new.jpg

On the face of it, yes, it looks more modern.

But it sends shivers down my spine. Because it is one of the worst logos I have ever seen in my life.

I won’t comment on the font. Although I certainly could.

Consider the drop shadow behind the letters: Uneven, random depth, thickness and intensity.

Now compare that to the drop shadow behind the big red square: different intensity, different distance.

Now consider the shadow and lighting effects inside the red square. Do you see it? No, not the butt-ugly shiny reflection in the lower right corner.

That’s right, the drop shadows on the letters and the outside of the square suggest a light source coming from the top right

…while the shadows and highlights inside the square suggest a stronger light source coming from the bottom right.

I wasn’t able to find out who designed the logo (I didn’t search that hard), but I hope it wasn’t a professional design firm. Because it is worse than PC/PowerPoint “art”.

It makes me literally ill. It is disturbing not only to the eye, but to my inner ear. It ruins my day, it ruins my faith in humanity, it makes me ashamed to belong to the same species as the person(s) who designed it, and those who chose it as their emblem.

And I just had to get it off my chest.

09. February 2009 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Geekiness, User Interface Design | 3 comments

Ce Insanity, continued (squared)

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Epilogue.

Following the calls from the customer service lady, and then from Davina, the online sales department lady, I got the third call, as promised, from Kaoutar, the regular sales department lady.

She told me that they would exchange the defective LG set by an identically priced Toshiba set, which had the same specs.

We decided to go ahead with the exchange.

The new TV arrived last night.

On the plus side (compared to the previous set):

  • It is better (plainer) looking (although up close, some bits are shlockier)
  • It has audio out jacks
  • The UI is cleaner and better thought out
  • It has an actual off switch

On the minus side:

  • The image quality is worse

Let me qualify that last statement.

Maybe it is in fact better, in that it shows more detail (although it has the same resolution as the previous set). But it is much harsher. I guess it’s a question of software.

At this point, I can’t say there is anything technically wrong with this set. It works as advertised.

I think I might have been slightly disappointed if the old dying Sony CRT TV had been directly replaced by this one. But going from the previous set to this one really hurts.

I’ll try to learn to live with it, because I just don’t want to go through n number of sets until I find one that I like, assuming the reseller would agree to that.

So there you have it. I had found a set I was really happy with. But it had a defect. And they couldn’t replace it by an identical set because that model was “end-of-lifed” by the manufacturer.

I gambled. And I lost. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

But while I figure out what that lesson might be, I know one thing:

I’m cursed I tell you!

17. January 2009 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Geekiness | Leave a comment

CE Insanity, continued, continued

Chapter 3.

So the repairman came to check out the slightly defective new TV set last wednesday.

He said he couldn’t fix it (big surprise) and that they would get back to me.

Which they did, today, saying we had to go into a store to get an exchange.

So far, so good.

Except that:

  • The customer service rep explained that it was pas possible to replace an “Internet exclusive”. All they could do is give me an exchange voucher to pick something else in one of their brick and mortar stores.
  • We bought this model precisely because it had much better specs for the price (or price for the specs) than anything else available.
  • Which is all moot anyway, because the model is out of stock, including at the manufacturer’s.

We decided to do nothing and go home, at which time I frantically started surfing for possible alternatives, before calling them back.

Except that:

  • The customer service lady called me first. She confirmed what the store guy had told us, but that she was going to ask the online sales department to get back to me, to see what they could do.
  • Five minutes later, Davina, the online sales lady called me and said that she was going to get the “regular sales” department to offer me an alternative in the same price range and with equivalent specs.

Which is where things stand as I write this episode of this unfolding saga…

We’ll see if they call and what they propose to do…

In the meantime, I feel like I’m in that Monty Python restaurant sketch, because the fact of the matter is we could perfectly settle for the current set, even with it’s slight imperfection…

I’m cursed, I tell you…

10. January 2009 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Geekiness | Leave a comment

CE Insanity, continued

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So, how does the new HDTV stack up you may wonder, if you somehow made it through this recent post?

Well, it’s pretty great, even though I’m still mourning the loss of my 16+ year-old Sony 20″ CRT TV…

I still haven’t connected anything via HDMI to the new set, but standard (wide-screen) TV, PPV, DVD and downloaded content looks mighty nice.

(And to follow-up on the previous post, the new cable box works fine, and the TV fits nicely in the existing shelves)…

BUT…

I have this paranoid notion that I am cursed.

Because I often seem to to receive defective electronics (remember my iMac and MacBook sagas).

Or because I’m an obsessive-compulsive nitpicker.

Or both.

Because the TV has a slight flaw. There’s a small light spot, like a leaky backlight coming out of the bezel. It’s invisible when the picture fills the screen, but noticeable when watching anything letterboxed.

(I tried to capture the phenomenon with my iPhone; it’s definitely more noticeable IRL…)

Objectively, it’s no big deal. But it’s been bugging the hell out of me anyway.

So yesterday, I caved into my neurosis and called the outfit I bought the TV from, and they instantly and cheerfully offered to send someone around to take a look.

They’ll be showing up tomorrow.

I’ll keep you posted.

Sorry.

06. January 2009 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Geekiness | Leave a comment

CE Insanity

tv_snow.jpg

I bought a TV about 16 years ago. A mono Sony set, with a 20 inch screen. In color mind you.

I got cable about 8 years ago.

I got a combo VHS+DVD player a few years ago.

I got TV (some of it HD) via ADSL for free, without asking for it, as part of my standard Internet plan. (We rarely watch regular TV through that box, but it has a built-in hard disk that I can copy content onto, and VOD).

The first one to go was the DVD player. I bought a cheap one on Amazon a few months ago.

The 8 year old cable box has been acting wonky for a few months, and has become practically unusable (more glitches than glitch-free moments). Also, many channels have started to broadcast in a large-screen format (not HD, just 16:9) and the old cable box doesn’t know how to handle that and just chops off the sides of the picture.

Then the TV started showing signs of imminent death last fall. It takes forever to turn on, displaying a scrambled image for several minutes. When the image stabilises, it has a marked green tinge and displays thin, diagonal green lines.

The kids broke the TV remote ages ago, but the replacement one started failing recently (the left row of buttons is basically dead).

Finally, we got the kids a Wii this christmas. Problem is, I have to turn off the cable box for the Wii to work, and when I turn the cable box back on (which takes many tries), it has lost the network, which I have to reprogram in, and it is glitchier than ever after that.

I was happy when all of this stuff was working. But now, we’re faced with a perfect storm of obsolete, dead or dying consumer-electronics (CE).

So a couple of days ago, I woke up with a bee in my bonnet, went online to look at the prices and specs of TVs.

I don’t know how “normal” (i.e., not too geeky) people do it. To the uninitiated, you have a bunch of flat-screen TVs that all look the same, with prices ranging from 400 to 4000€ for no discenable reason…

What a mess of logos, labels, standards etc. Here in France, we used to have two official HD labels: HD Ready (760p 720p) and Full HD (1080p). What I didn’t know, is that they have just changed the official labeling. Only TVs that include an HD DTV tuner are allowed to be called “HD” now, and there are a few variations on that label, that I had to figure out.

But somehow, after a few minutes of surfing, I stumbled on a 32″ (82 cm) LG set that seemed to have much better specs than anything else in that size, for a significantly lower price. (After snooping around, it turns out that it actually has an 81 centimeter screen. Maybe that’s how they can be cheaper with better specs. Or maybe it’s just crap)… I called around, but nobody had it on display in stores, and after a day of reading (good) reviews, I went ahead and just bought it, sight unseen. Definitely an “impulse buy” for someone like me who doesn’t spend his money on convenience stuff easily.

It is due to arrive tomorrow as I write this (they’ll also be taking the old dying Sony to the CE graveyard)…

I also finally called the cable co and they’ve given me an exchange number to get a new box.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to actually get HD content to show up on the new set.

Here in France, if your house or your apartment building has an antenna, and you get a TV with an HD digital-TV tuner, and you’re not too far from the transmitter, you can get 18 channels of DTV for free, including some programs in HD. If that’s all you want or need, it’s simple enough.

I don’t have a TV antenna and am not ideally placed in relation to the Eiffel Tower (the main transmitter in Paris of course). I may have to try an indoor antenna to see if and how well it works.

My cable plan doesn’t include HD. I would have to pay extra for an HD cable box and extra for (crap) HD content.

My Internet ADSL TV box can pipe HD content, IF my phone line is up to the task. Also, it connects to the main ADSL modem via a special kind of redundant WiFi called MiMo, and I don’t know if the throughput between the 2 boxes will be good enough. Investigating the issue, I also found out that my particular ADSL TV box model has a tendency to short out and die when you connect it via HDMI to a TV. More recent models (which I’m not eligible for at this point) have abandoned WiFi in favor of HomePlug AV (Ethernet over power lines).

I’m NOT going to buy a Blu-ray player, for many reasons (that I will spare you. For now).

So, if you buy an HD TV, and plug the set-top boxes you already own the way you always have, via Péritel (or SCART) which is the standard in France, then as far as I can tell, you can’t get HD.

You need to know about the HDMI standard, and buy HDMI cables. You need to know how to debug ADSL lines and WiFi interference, and/or buy HomePlug AV adapters. Or in the case of cable and satellite, you need to pay A LOT more to get minimal HD programming (that is free over the air).

Total scam. No wonder some people, ahem, download stuff over the Inter… What? I’m sorry? Er, nothing.

I guess people are happy with a larger, wider screen, that doesn’t chop shit off. And I guess that is a definite plus.

I’ll let you know how things evolve.

But in the meantime, I may have to rearrange my entire living room to fit this sucker in. I actually got a 32″ because in theory, it might fit in my bookshelves, so at the very least, I’ll have to rearrange them.

And I feel like somewhat of a dick for having caved to the marketing hoopla, despite the perfect CE-shitstorm that pushed me over the edge…

28. December 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Geekiness | Leave a comment

Pyramids

pyramid_of_capitalist_system.jpg

In the early nineties, in my late twenties, I worked for Symantec, a large American software company (of Norton fame).

It was only my second serious job, so I was still very wet behind the ears.

One day, we got an email from the big boss, explaining that we were entering some kind of shitstorm and were in for a rough ride.

In those days, the PC industry was booming. So what was the big deal? Well, Symantec was going to fall slightly short of the 15% growth that it had enjoyed in recent years. By a few tenths of a point.

I was totally incredulous and baffled. I couldn’t believe the company was that profitable, and I couldn’t see how missing the mark by a few tenths of a percent could possibly be anything but a non-event…

So that’s when I discovered that capitalism was severely fucked-up.

Fast forward about 10 years. At the time, I was working for the largest “Web Agency” in France. Our clients were the biggest corporations in France.

And they were spending tens of thousands of dollars to build insipid Web sites with no added value for anyone (except the Web Agency’s bottom line).

And companies like Netscape had a bigger valuation than GM.

There were idiots around me who actually believed what they were doing had some kind of intrinsic worth, but most of us didn’t. The techy nerds and the graphic designers thought the Web sucked, because it was so constraining compared to say, PC software or print. Top management thought their clients were insane, but cynically gave them what they wanted.

So when the Internet bubble burst, most of us were only surprised that it had taken so long to happen.

Most people I know have known that the system is totally insane for a long time.

The ultra-free market EU has been a zealous defender of the system. Modern socialists in Europe have accepted the system, settling for managing collateral damage as their raison d’être, which is why they are as naked as the right.

Pyramid schemes are illegal in France. Yet the global pyramid scheme wasn’t called into question until it collapsed and imperiled the “real economy,” or what’s left of it after years of being beat into a pulp by the system.

I’m glad it has collapsed. It means there’s an opportunity to screw our heads on right. But I’m not holding my breath…

12. December 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam | Leave a comment

The Geeks In Love go to the Senate

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I’ve been waiting for Pamela to do the heavy blogging about our election night for the Public Sénat TV station, live from the French Senate, lazy coward that I am.

Backstage (see photos), things were a bit of a mess, what with technical problems, and a largely uneventful blogosphere and twittersphere (which we were there to report on) as the whole world held its breath.

But Caroline Deschamps and the rest of the Public Sénat station staff and management were very gracious and seemed happy with our brief appearances.

As you may recall, I was given an extra (mystery) assignment. Well, you can see how my live cartoon blogging on TV turned out on Geeks In Love.

It sums up quite nicely how events unfolded for us.

08. November 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Making Geeks In Love | 1 comment

O

It took me such a long time to come to terms with the demise of the USA. I went through the usual stages of anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Acceptance that there was nothing left to expect or to hope for from an increasingly dumbed-down, obscurantist, fascist-leaning superpower, except possibly endless war to secure the natural ressources around the planet that it consumes so disproportionately.

But since last night, I have no choice but to take the risk of reopening a closed wound.

I could dwell on the fact that only 62% 64% of eligible voters bothered to vote. That 55 million people voted for a possible Palin presidency. That the Wall Street meltdown and McCain’s panicky reaction arrived just in time to turn the tide of the election.

But if I look beyond my personal tumultuous relationship with my second country and think simply of my children, then all I can feel is wonder, and chills, and goose bumps, and even joy, that they were old enough to grasp the symbolic importance of what happened.

As my 15 year old texted me, “Forza Obama!!!”

05. November 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam | 2 comments

The Sarah Palin Debate Flowchart

Priceless…

04. October 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam | Leave a comment

My US Election Post

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Not so long ago, I would have written about the US election, at length, repeatedly, foaming at the mouth.

These days, I just flag a few things that I run across in my Google Shared Items.

I feel vindicated in everything I’ve thought about the US, when I lived there in the 80′s and since then.

It isn’t worse, it isn’t better. It’s just that the crazy, ignorant, reality-allergic, creationist, fundamentalist, racist, obscurantist, hateful, fascist side of America used to be more discreet.

What’s changed, is that they can now speak openly, in the mainstream media, and not be laughed off the set.

If Obama is elected, I feel it will give coastal Americans (and 80% of the rest of the world, according to various polls) the illusion that the Bush years were an unfortunate aberration.

If McCain is elected, despite his repugnant running-mate and ignorant and selfish party base (and assuming the abstention rate is more or less what it always is), it will just go to show, once more, that:

  • a quarter of Americans are fascists, plain and simple,
  • a quarter of Americans are slightly to the left of Mussolini or Franco, because, well, you know, sometimes, those guys do go slightly overboard (although they do look dashing in that uniform),
  • and half of Americans are too busy jerking off to porn on the Internet or getting boob jobs or trying not to die, knee-deep in shit (while dreaming of the day they’ll be rich and famous), to care either way.

I’m not saying I’m neutral on the matter.

Obama will probably think twice before he nukes anyone, just in case it isn’t what Jesus would do.

06. September 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment

USSSBBL

lemmings.jpg

I know this blog has quieted down quite a bit since I stopped ranting about the downward spiral of the US.

I haven’t been compelled to comment, except through my Google shared items. And there’s always frogblog.

But you have to wonder. Rep. Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment against George Bush yesterday.

I would say that’s news, even if you think its a commie-pinko-atheist-terrorist plot.

It’s all over the blogosphere. And Le Monde seems to think its (front-page) news.

But if its anywhere on the New York Times website, or on any other American mainstream media site (CNN, WSJ, USA Today…), it has escaped my vigilance (OK, just found the info, buried on the WaPo site, but still…). I guess it doesn’t sell. “Too boring”. “Too depressing”.

In fact, that Le Monde article only quotes US blogs…

Obama’s nomination has wowed the world. I’m tickled. But the fact that McCain even has a chance is the real story. The fact that Bush has gotten this far, or that the MSM don’t bother to report impeachment proceedings against presidents (unless they involve blow jobs, wet cigars and jizz stains) is the real story.

So despite Obama, I’m not getting my hopes up. Not one bit. The United States of Self-Centered Selfish Backwards Brain-Dead Lemmings has a bright future.

11. June 2008 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | 2 comments

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