30 October 2007

THAT movie is SCARY? …Ye-ep.

Time labels Bambi one of their “Top 25 Horror Movies,” which may seem incongruous, but really isn’t.

I feel that way because of my own experience, and I have a secret:

The thought of watching E.T. makes me heebed and nightmare-y.

That unfortunate fact is down to an even more unfortunate congruity in my own childhood.

Background: an offer made

In Spring 1981 I was a first grader and an enormous discipline problem in school. My soon-to-be-divorced, brazenly alcoholic mother was made an offer by her then-best-friend: the latter would agree (along with her husband) to be my guardian so that Mom could dry out, on the condition that Mom and Dad made $200 a month in support payments for the duration of the arrangement.

I was never asked for my opinion, presumably because all participants knew that I would scream bloody murder.

Dad agreed to the transfer of guardianship, on the condition that Mom make the near-term support payments on her own, and permanently waive her right to demand child support from him.

[She would break that verbal contract ten years later, at the very instant she learned from me that Dad had secured a tenure-track teaching job… but that’s a different story.]

When the music stopped playing on the evening of 7 June, I was living with the Fergusons in San Antonio… and if you know both San Antonio and Portland well, you probably have difficulty imagining two cities in the United States that could have been any more different at the time.

That dissimilarity, plus two thousand miles’ distance, plus finally the disruption of submitting to the (much stricter) discipline of two people whom I cared about but had a difficult time accepting as authority figures, made me absolutely miserable and lonely.

I’ve felt worse misery and loneliness from time to time in the years since, but not often, and in all cases because I’d been badly let down.

I look back on that time as a character-building exercise, if only because I was forbidden more than one hour of television a day, plus occasional ballgames … a rule which was enforced with some latitude, but not much.

Enter film

Deprived the anesthesia of television, I was encouraged to read books and newspapers at length, and during the two years my library cards got a lot of mileage. I was also taken to the movies frequently. I may have been miserable and lonely, but I can’t fault the Fergusons for trying to keep my mind and imagination fired up.

Most of the films I’ve forgotten, with the exception of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan… and E.T., which scared me practically to death.

Yeah, I know.

If you think it through, it should be pretty easy to figure out: a kindhearted young boy stuck thousands of miles from home watches a film about a kindhearted alien stuck billions of miles from home, and all hell breaks loose for the poor alien.

I walked out of that theatre knowing that a Speak & Spell wouldn’t do me a damned a bit of good, choking back tears, scared shitless, and beside myself with a really unpleasant flavor of empathy for that giraffe-necked fictional character.

I had nightmares of abandonment for weeks afterward. Not even Threads sends me into a headspace nearly as bad.

To this day, I still cannot bring myself to watch that film… and I default to Crankypants Mode until I become genuinely familiar with a new place.

whois on the s--t list?

Privacy advocates dislike the openness of whois databases.

That an article like this could be written offends me for two reasons:

  1. There are manifold mechanisms for private individiuals on whois records to protect their privacy. This means that in practice, lockdown of whois info would give even more negotiating strength to domain name speculators than they already possess.
  2. Why is any privacy advocate on life obsessing on this issue when they should be bugging Big Telco about warrantless wiretaps? Jeez.

My personal take on the issue is somewhat informed; when I registered my domains in 2004, I put them into a whois proxy, unaware that Sunflower had screwed the pooch and listed my telephone number against my express wishes. Oddly, however, neither disaster nor hilarity ensued.

…Just sayin’.

Web 2.0, traditional IT, and Chicken Little ledes

LOLWebDevCap image

From InfoWeek by way of Slashdot, there's word that Web 2.0 technologies threaten the control IT has traditionally had over info management in the enterprise. The content’s solid, though the editorial slant’s annoying,

27 October 2007

Preemptive tulips, anyone?

Microsoft has handed 240 million dollars to Facebook in return for an exclusive relationship, and I am mystified as to why. If Facebook has their act together, that sum of money makes Croesus out to be a piker.

[I have long been of the opinion that given clear objectives, five tightly focussed people, and half a million dollars, any site or application that needs building can in fact be built in less than a year. So why on Earth would Facebook need nearly five hundred times that much money, unless their hosting bills are higher by orders of magnitude than I suppose?]

What I beg to understand is, why? What’s in it for Microsoft? I see benefits, but not 240 million dollars’ worth of benefits.

The more I struggle to spin golden knowledge from the straw of this purchase, the more lost I become.

The environment feels altogether too much like that of late 1998, but at least the attendant false hopes are confined to a much smaller place in the public consciousness.

Well, so much for that.

I give up. The music business is going to change, that transition is going to be slow and painful for everybody, there is no silver bullet, and that’s just the way it is.

Or I could be wrong, but in any case my attempts to discuss it have done a terrific job of making me sound like I’m too big for my britches. Go me!

26 October 2007

What will the future sound like?

In my previous post, I defined three constituencies in the music business. None of these seem likely to leave it, since two are requisite and the third — the middle-man, of course — can do things well that content creators typically cannot.

I’ve assigned myself the task of speculating on what those three players in the game can do to maximize their benefit, so...

The consumer gets what he wants through recommendations and listening opportunities. The musician gets what he wants through hard work, good luck, patience, and probably too often a dash of bootlicking.

The record companies get what they want through savvy decisions and an inordinately fortunate position of control over the full smash, to which they are desperately clinging.

As it stands the consumer is in the best position over the long term. The production values of newly available music may fall, but not so precipitously as to make it unpalatable.

Musicians need access to, or possession of, marketing expertise in inversely proportional measure to their attractiveness to listeners — expertise they currently gain from their association with recording labels.

Traditional recording companies need to set up Internet-compatible methods of distribution, or die.

One solution capable of preserving the status quo has been screaming in my face...

Use the full capabilities of the network

It is feasible, if not entirely easy, to accurately meter filesharing traffic. It’s no less feasible to work out who got downloaded, with a workable degree of accuracy.

Ultimately, telcos and ISP’s are the ones best suited to figuring out the winners of the game, passing on the fair cost to their customers, and managing the payouts accordingly, but I am mystified as to the excuses for not having tried.

Encryption and spoofing exist as easily implemented methods for zarking the numbers, and widespread attempts to break the system would create a tragedy of the commons. At the same time, the motivations for such an outcome would result only if listeners:

  • Genuinely felt entitled to get their music for free, or
  • Considered themselves unconscionably abused by the recording industry.

Cogitate on those, kids, because they’re instructive in understanding the current music marketplace.

If the current distro model shatters, whence comes the money?

First, let's not forget that the Compact Disc (or at least optical media) will not go away. Files get clobbered, common formats tend to deliver poor quality even when played through the best amplifiers and speakers, and these days, at least, low-volume pressings are hard to find online.

In addition to this, if we assume that services and tangibles are all that can be obtained at fair value, what can musicians sell from those categories of goods?


This is a no-brainer, folks, even if it's a total forward-to-the-past item.

High quality collateral items (e.g., liner notes, posters)

For all the advances in consumer-grade printing technologies, few listeners will happily invest in fancy offset printing or screenprinting hardware, but given sufficient capital, musicians can contract someone who has. Of course, this only works if listeners are keen on identifying themselves as afficionadoes of a given artist or ensemble... but judging by the t-shirts I see, this happens pretty often.


Superstars everywhere get sponsorships that are often worth more than they make at their day jobs. Can’t this scale?

I suppose that in a world of consumer-friendly, recording-industry-hostile distribution channels a premium would be put on the average contribution to these revenue streams that is far greater than what we see today, but I’m not convinced it’s not feasible.

Another thought that occurs to me is that casual CD purchases may well drop in long run as a matter of course, for the same reasons that photography as a profession has taken a beating: background music will become flatly common, leaving the listeners who really care to fund more and better musicians, instead of swallowing recording industry pablum that allows the mediocre-yet-marketable to become superstars.

...And the record companies?

Middlemen are middlemen, so I don’t worry about how they will keep food on the table. The sharp ones will cut through the marketplace, and the dull ones will be ground down to nothing, end of story.

What happens if the recording industry gets the market protections it’s demanding?

To be honest, I don’t see that outcome having much shelf life even if it does arrive, for the same two reasons listeners already have for ripping them off. Technology will escalate; in the worst case the entire Internet population will be composed of petty criminals and their household-mates. How do you sue them all and get away with it?

Have I offered any sure solutions here?


In the process I’ve confirmed the basis of Matt’s prediction, if not its particulars — I believe that the futures of live performance and niche recording have a much broader and more interesting scope than that offered by public-domain chamber music alone. However, that broadness can only come to life if the middlemen stop trying to shove the lowest common denominator down the throats of their entire market.

What does the present sound like?

Matt Haughey wrote today-ish about his “half-assed” take on The Future of the Music Business, and after reading it I realized that the matter could stand more thought.

While I do not approach this subject as a musician aspiring to stardom, I have a number of friends — some of whom I’ve rejected as prospective clients by advising them to start out on MySpace — who are so aspiring. One or two of them have actually come tantalizingly close to notoriety, if not actual fame. (Only in Lawrence, folks.)

I care, and consider myself entitled to share my opinion, because:

  • I like music, to the point of its near-omnipresence in my life; and
  • I may well be one of the professional cohort who help bring about the form into which modern music marketing morphs.

[Say that last one fast ten times.]

What today looks like, from my perspective

You have these BigCorp entertainment companies who find the most marketable musicians, put them into straitjackets also known as “contracts,” and proceed to leverage the hell out of those same properties by recording, advertising, and distributing their creative product in the ways that maximize their return on investment.

[My choice of language is deliberately sterile here, especially when you consider that I haven’t yet mentioned the unfortunate consumers of this music.]

The end result is that traditional record companies — including indies — have the entire market for traditionally marketed music, between them occupying a vast but slowly shrinking majority of the sales graphs.

When I stop to game this out, I see three constituencies with entirely different (but not mutually exclusive) goals:

  • Record companies want to make the greatest possible profit at the smallest possible level of risk.
  • Musicians want to make a good living doing something they love, for wildly varying values of “good” and “love.”
  • Listeners want to get the greatest possible amount of enjoyable music possible per dollar of expenditure.

The way the system works now, most listeners buy Compact Discs with anywhere between six and twenty-plus tracks on each, amounting to a maximum of seventy four minutes of audio recordings. Of these, it’s typical that only half of them are good.

Musicians often wind up playing what they’re told to, of which half is typically crap they can’t stand.

Record companies, meanwhile, operate in a web of legal and political intricacies, which if navigated well result in receipt of the whole profits.

At least, that's what Steve Albini thinks, and he has no good reason to lie about it.

Meanwhile our three constituencies have devolved in parts to the following:

  • “Pirates” sit in one virtual corner, all of them merrily downloading stuff they only pay for as part of their Internet service bills, no portion of which go to the recording industry.
  • The recording industry sits in another corner, raising barriers of entry to music broadcasting in order to maintain control over their most important promotional medium apart from word of mouth. Simultaneously they make grossly negative examples of loyal listeners, forcing Internet service providers to spend on discovery what could just as easily have been handed over to the record companies without a ruckus.
  • Musicians run the gamut. Some whine and others innovate or experiment. Most just sit tight silently and do what they’re told while they wait for the dust to settle.

From all of this the writing on the wall is clear: the music industry as a whole must adapt to rapidly altering modes of distribution, and until it does, revenues will continue to drop.

In the next entry, I’ll discuss where things might go from here. Some of them might even put the lion’s share of the money where it belongs: in the hands of musicians and writers.

25 October 2007

More about what you can expect to find here

As follows, my priorities:

  1. This space is for clients, too.
  2. These posts will be moved over to henick.net and circumscribed.net painstakingly and on a case-by-case basis, once my Mother of All Publishing Platforms (well, that’s what it will feel like to me) is ready to push.
  3. Some of the spelling, grammar, and syntax conventions I follow are anachronistic and/or technically correct yet borrowed from the conventions of languages that aren’t American English. Deal with it.
  4. I’m not a fan of feeling sorry for people. I keep a paper journal for pity and soopa-deep introspection, but I don’t often write in it, because I prefer to work those thoughts out aloud.
  5. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to handle code examples, but I’m sure they’ll crop up eventually.
  6. If I go somewhere to do something, it’ll go on Twitter. If I need to discuss the journey and/or event in some kind of detail, it’ll go here, too.

For the first time in three years, I’m actually blogging under my own banner.

Maybe I’m being impulsive, but what the hell.

It's time for me to start writing again without delay... mostly about Web-related topics, but there are others on my mind, too.

The item at the bottom of my to-do list for the past three years has been a publishing platform far more sophisticated than the one I built for my Illuminati Online site from back in the day (disable JavaScript before going to the actual content, if you’re really that curious), and my intent has been to write it before going back into regular blogging.

Meanwhile, life is — as they say — what happens when you’re not paying attention.

The good news is that I now have a client willing to finance that work in part (I think). The bad news is that my urge to bloviate has overtaken the march of time.

...So here I am.

Where is that, exactly?

First, some background

There was a stretch of about eighteen months where I had my heart ripped out of my chest repeatedly if only proverbially, most significantly by the unexpected death of my mother from cancer.

Nearer to the end of this spell I moved from Portland to the much different (if not necessarily greener) pastures of Lawrence, Kansas, encouraged by a few now-erstwhile friends.

A move away from Portland was something I was already planning when Mom fell ill, though how ill she’d become wasn’t at all understood until a week before she died.

In Portland, memories would be redolent on the air at every turn.

I have a good enough memory that I do not need to be reminded of the stretches of the lower Valley where I spent the years of my childhood that passed before interacting with my mother became an exercise in supreme patience. All I need to do is close my eyes and concentrate. The sights and sounds of memory will return on demand, vividly enough to make me cry.

No less difficult is recall of the sights and sounds of the afternoon during which I travelled to the hospital, trudged up to the ICU, told Mom — by that time so immersed in pain and the drugs meant to manage it that she could no longer see — that I would be okay and that she could let go, and then only moments later watched her do exactly that.

[...And the conversations I had with my grandparents that afternoon were even more poignant. Let’s not go there.]

That I would willfully choose to remove myself to the oh-so-cosmopolitan place known as Kansas was a mystery to practically everyone with an opinion. Everybody asked what my deal was, so to speak, and my response to everyone was if it was good enough for William S. Burroughs to die in, it’s good enough for me to live in for a while.

Apart from the previously mentioned encouragement and personal considerations too private to lay out in detail, there was the fact that at the time of my decision, I had an outside hope of obtaining a job with the online division of the local paper.

Northeast Kansas had (and still has) the virtues of being 1500 miles from my mother’s family, which became far less dysfunctional after her death but still has more issues than I want to deal with.

[...And lest you wonder, yes, I would move back with dispatch — and some ambivalence — if asked to do so.]

I had attended both high school and college in Columbia, Missouri (during and after my father’s graduate study in American history at the latter institution), which gave me insight about the values and virtues of the area. I knew Lawrence quite well by reputation.

To me, the choice seemed like it had possibilities.

The whole point was to get over myself already in a place where I would be able to steer clear of drama.

...And now?

After more than three years, I know I need to gear up and move on. As years go, 2007 has been full of questions and fears in full measure: is this all there is to life? For the sake of my own health, the answer to that question needs to be a resounding NO! If I stay in Lawrence too long, however, that's not the answer I’ll get in practice.

Having an apartment that I can stand to live in by myself has proven to me how far into my proverbial shell I can go, and at the heart of the matter I am neither young nor parochial enough to get the most out of Lawrence.

I need badly to raise my bill rate (or so I’m told). I need to go legit on software and paperwork. I need a car. But most importantly I need to start connecting with people around me, and starting a new blog is part and parcel of that task.

Beyond the demands of maintaining my own good mental health, I am forced to concede that so much has changed in the past three years. RSS and social networking have come into their own, which makes resource collection fractionally as difficult as before. The maturation of production processes for latest-gen browsers has begotten a lot of conversation in which I’d like to take part, and the evolution of Wikipedia has reduced the hassle of link research. All of these things together mean that blogging is a lot more fun and productive than when I was last into it.

So... "Hello, World!"