November 2015

Products vs Protocols

I was thinking today about the tech industry and its trends. More and more, I see attempts to make a ‘vertical market’, which I’m certain is recommended in management and marketing school. Unfortunately, vertical markets are incredibly profitable – Apple/iOS, Facebook, Oracle…If you can make everyone dependent on exclusively your product, your company makes more money than the other companies doing the same.

The problem is that these things only last as long as they are profitable. There was no meaningful way of accessing Myspace messages aside from Myspace, so any messages sent on that platform are probably gone now. If you had any music that used PlaysForSure or got stuck with a Sony music player that used SonicStage, I’m guessing that you too had a pretty bad day a few years ago; my apologies for drudging up the bad memories. The stories that sound like this go on and on, in a near cyclical format, throughout computer history.

Protocols, on the other hand, are a different matter altogether. They’re generally not terribly profitable for anyone who makes them (unless there’s some sort of licensing system in place), but protocols tend to stand the test of time much better. The roots of HTTP go back to 1991 – HTTP is the protocol that allows you to be reading this blog right now. Also happily powering this blog, though not a protocol in the strictest sense, is SQL, which is the database language standard that powers the back end of this site. SSH allows me to do some back end management, and was first released in 1995. SMTP, the protocol that allows e-mail to work, hit the streets in 1982, and no matter how much Google tries to kill it with fire, Gmail still ultimately uses the 30 year old protocol. MIDI, the protocol that allows some of my DJ gear to work, and a number of live musicians to change their keyboard sounds in real-time using their laptop, was first standardized in 1983. If you’ve been to a theatrical performance with any lights that moved, you’ve seen the result of DMX512, the protocol that allows the lighting guy to control the lights, and introduced to the world in 1990. 802.11 has been through a few revisions (b, a, g, a few flavors of ‘n’, and a few flavors of ‘ac’), but that protocol is better known by its common name of “Wi-Fi”, that allows your Netgear router to talk to your Apple iPhone, your Dell laptop, and your Samsung TV.

Designing a protocol isn’t terribly sexy, and isn’t terribly profitable, but without protocols being developed, we see the problems of incompatibility between vertical market vendors prevent users from using the products that meet their requirements best. It’s not in the user’s best interest. Unfortunately though, we live in a world where ‘facilitating end users to do what they need to do” is a solid secondary-at-best consideration in comparison to the need for the customer to be locked into the products.

And this is why all the nice things are results of the 80’s and 90’s.

What is liberty worth?

One of these days, I do hope to write a full-fledged article on the topic. Until then, I must simply pose the question in a very concise manner.

From my perspective, it looks like the world we live in values three things above all else: safety, convenience, and celebrity. Between “safe” and “rewarding”, we usually choose ‘safe’. Between “convenient” and “controllable”, we usually choose ‘convenient’. Between “famous” and “altruistic”, we follow the famous.

Is there no value in having full control over what we purchase? If we were, Volkswagen would have been able to fudge the numbers on their emissions tests. Chrysler vehicles wouldn’t have needed a recall over a software hack that would enable the vehicle to be remotely commandeered. Our phones wouldn’t receive ads based on the products we’re standing next to. We wouldn’t be worried about FitBit devices losing data or selling it. Smart TVs wouldn’t require tracking of viewing habits in order for the Netflix and Youtube clients to work.

Presently, my blog has about five readers, if that (aside from the Russian bots who attempt to turn this blog into a malware-serving zombie). None of them have rooted phones, and only one has a rooted tablet (and she hasn’t the foggiest idea how to leverage it). Some argue that giving users complete, low level access to their devices is asking for trouble, and 30+ years of computer viruses are certainly highly compelling evidence to support that claim. Here is my counterargument: Every computing device – every smartphone, every tablet, every laptop, every desktop, every server – every one of them has a root password. Every one of them has a set of credentials that the device will recognize as the signal to unquestioningly obey every command given to that device. Someone, somewhere, has those credentials. If the owner has those credentials, they not only have the ability to use them personally, but to allow a known, trusted person to do so. When a device owner doesn’t have those keys, and somebody else does (be it Google, LG, Apple, Verizon, Chrysler, or whoever else), then it is up to that person, not the device owner, who can and cannot access the device’s software and information. Then again, some argue that the person who has root access is the real owner of the device…and I can’t say I disagree.

I posed the question regarding what liberty is worth. Famously, Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale believed that liberty was more important than life itself. Would we, as a society, be willing to make a choice to avoid devices to which we cannot acquire complete access and ownership? Is liberty worth that? Is liberty worth having to spend a little time ensuring that data lives only on one’s own devices? Is it worth reading privacy policies? Is it worth convenience, or perhaps paying a bit more for our groceries? Is it worth a warranty on your phone? Is it worth an afternoon researching these matters instead of what the Kardashians are up to?

Some days, I feel that I am alone in my concern for these matters.

VMTurbo: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

Saw an ad for VMTurbo, which promised monitoring for Virtual Machines in an environment. I missed the fine print that indicated that it required vCenter, so it doesn’t work on ESXi.

“Free VM Monitoring” is prominently displayed on the front page. “Doesn’t work with ESXi” is on a forum post that requires a Google search.

If I’m spending money on the virtual environment I’m building, I’m spending it on Veeam.

Dance Music: it ain’t what it used to be…

“Music sucks these days”…my dad used to say that growing up. When he was younger, the quality of music was directly related to the skills of the musician. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the musical talent of many of the rock artists of the 60’s and 70’s. I’m not precisely a fan of the genres, but I will certainly never argue that those musicians were talented. I grew up on late-90’s-early-00’s pop – the point when Lou Pearlman was pumping out teen pop stars like Coke from a vending machine, computer-based recording studios were only just starting to leave the minority, Autotune wasn’t quite yet a thing, and dance music was still pressed on vinyl.
This gem of a song was released in 2003, and I’d argue, amongst the best remakes of a song ever done. The synergy here between Phil Collins, Deborah Cox, and Valentin is something that’s rare form. I’m fortunate enough to have this track on vinyl, though I’m not a purist – I won’t argue that my pressed vinyl sounds better than the CD. Either way, between this, Airwave, and Silence, you’ve got three pillars of dance music of the era that manage to evoke emotion in the process of giving a soundtrack to a dance floor. Honorable mention to Peter Luts’s take on Castles in the Sky.

My previous post on “Outside” is about as good as it gets in recent years, and as much as EDM is mainstream now, it seems much more clearly “template based” than earlier tracks. Sure, quantized, four-to-the-floor rhythms made digitally aren’t quite a drumming pattern that would showcase Ringo Starr’s talent, but the blend with the synths is much more symbiotic than today. Many “remixes” I hear today are basically the album edits with the 16-bar instrumental section in the post-chorus changed out.

There was a scene in a recent episode of Minority Report where the protagonist’s mother commented about how there was more human interaction in the good ol’ days of Tinder than in the present day of the series (the 2050’s, I believe), where people in clubs tap bracelets and get a “green light” or a “red light” before ever exchanging words.

My dad waxes nostalgic of the glory days of actual guitar playing. I wax nostalgic of the glory days of air synths that involved a modicum of composition prowess. I cringe at what my niece and nephew will consider to be the ‘good ol’ days’. Then again, my dad probably feels the same way.

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