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Amazon now offers an SLA for S3

Amazon announced on Monday the launch of an SLA, or Service Level Agreement, for the S3 web service. The lack of an SLA has always been cited as a "shortcoming" of S3, but I don't know exactly how many customers have requested it. Enough for them to offer it I guess:

Basically, we commit to 99.9% uptime, measured on a monthly basis. If an S3 call fails (by returning a ServiceUnavailable or InternalError result) this counts against the uptime. If the resulting uptime is less than 99%, you can apply for a service credit of 25% of your total S3 charges for the month. If the uptime is 99% but less than 99.9%, you can apply for a service credit of 10% of your S3 charges.

The SLA is effective as of October 1st, 2007. Jeff makes it sound like they had planned to have an SLA for a long time, but I'm not so sure that's the case. Doesn't matter now, they have one!

I think SmugMug's Don MacAskill makes a good point:

Everything fails sometimes.

The SLA payment is rarely comparable to the pain and suffering your customers had to deal with.

Very true. From my perspective, the SLA isn't a big deal. I hope it helps Amazon land some more customers though!

Google buys Jaiku - why?

Today microblogging service Jaiku announced that they have been purchased by Google. I came across the news via a barrage of Twitter updates this morning, and it wasn't long before everyone started wondering why Google chose Jaiku over Twitter. It seems that most people feel Jaiku is the superior platform technology-wise, but the community at Twitter is better. I'd more or less agree with that statement. For instance, I chose Jaiku to display "my status" on the right side of my website instead of Twitter because the reliability and performance of Jaiku was just so much better. It still is.

Marc Orchant has a great post on the topic. Scoble thinks that Google made the move for Jaiku because of Facebook. He suggests that Google is gearing up to launch some major competition for Facebook on November 5th. That may be true, but I like what Ross Mayfield had to say better (though he too mentions Facebook):

But perhaps the greatest direction they can go with this is lifestreaming.

With Google's savvy around structuring the unstructured, picture lifestreaming evolving into something that infers permalinks for social activity.  One day your Google homepage may be a stream of your friends and what they are doing, sharing, and adopting.

Yes! Enough of this manually updating my lifestream already, let's make it update automagically. Even better, give everyone a lifestream by default. That idea gets me excited.

A follow-up post from Scoble highlights that Google has built themselves a "very strong position in the RSS ecosystem" as they now own Google Reader, FeedBurner, and Jaiku (which imports/aggregates RSS feeds). Very good point indeed.

Now the question is - who will snap up Twitter?

JihadOnYou: Declare holy war!

I was reading Mashable today, and came across this post on a new website called JihadOnYou. Apparently the site was built over a single weekend - no word on how long it took them to come up with the name. Here's the description from Mashable:

No matter what it is that has made your day a little bit more miserable, simply go to this site, rant about it, and “declare holy war” on it. Whether it be your annoying co-worker, an ex-girlfriend, the loaner car from the dealership, whatever it is, this is your place to rant. Other users then can rate your Jihad to decide if it’s worthy ala-Digg style.

Most of the comments at Mashable discuss the name, which could be described as offensive. To that I say bollocks!

If a word is "politically incorrect" or otherwise offensive, should you avoid it at all costs? My opinion is no. The word "jihad" will continue to carry the connotations it currently does only if we restrict its use. I don't expect JihadOnYou to change the meaning of the word by itself, but every little bit helps. And yes, I realize that jihad is a word with a lot of history.

As for the site itself - it's kinda neat! The about page says "we're here to entertain, not educate" and to that end I think they have succeeded. It's pretty hard to visit the site and not laugh!

Notes for 10/7/2007

Here are my weekly notes:

Thoughts on Capitol v. Thomas

Record labels have filed over 20,000 lawsuits related to file sharing since 2003, and the first one to go to trial received a verdict yesterday in Minnesota. The jury found defendant Jammie Thomas guilty and ordered her to pay the six record companies that sued her $9,250 for each of the 24 songs they decided to focus on.

It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to realize that this is an extremely unfavorable outcome.

  1. The record labels will take this victory as "a validation of its "sue our fans" strategy, rather than realizing it's finally time to try a different model." (Techdirt)
  2. This case will have absolutely no effect on file sharing. "According to BigChampagne, an online measuring service, the number of peer-to-peer users unlawfully trading goods has nearly tripled since 2003, when the RIAA began legal onslaught targeting individuals." (Wired)
  3. The record industry needs to stop fighting the inevitable. "Eventually, unless governments are willing to take drastic measures to protect the industry (such as a mandatory music tax), economic theory will win out and the price of music will fall towards zero." (TechCrunch)

The case has potentially set a number of legal precedents favoring the record industry, such as "making available", described by Declan McCullagh in his excellent analysis:

Jury Instruction 15 is more important. It says that the RIAA doesn't need to offer any evidence that rapacious Kazaa users actually downloaded songs from Thomas' computer. All they need to do is claim that Thomas left the songs in a publicly accessible directory where they could have been downloaded. Big difference.

Wired has more:

In proving liability, the industry did not have to demonstrate that the defendant's computer had a file-sharing program installed at the time that they inspected her hard drive. And the RIAA did not have to show that the defendant was at the keyboard when RIAA investigators accessed Thomas' share folder.

Also, the judge in the case ruled that jurors may find copyright infringement liability against somebody solely for sharing files on the internet. The RIAA did not have to prove that others downloaded the files. That was a big bone of contention that U.S. District Judge Michael Davis settled in favor of the industry.

That's just wrong. Is it illegal to leave a music CD out in the open? Of course not, but anyone could come along and steal it or copy it. How is leaving music files out in the open any different? Copying media for personal use is considered Fair Use (though the RIAA is doing everything they can to change that). As I understand it, combining your Fair Use rights with an open Wi-Fi connection (the default setting on virtually all wireless routers) would then make you liable for copyright infringement, if the precedent set by this case holds.

I'm not sure the precedent will be upheld, however. Last December the judge in UMG v. Lindor ruled that the record labels would have to show that Lindor actually shared the files. Demonstrating that she made the files available for download was not enough. Actually, I'm not sure why that earlier decision was not used in this case against Thomas.

Another problem is the fine amount. I think $9,250 per song very clearly conflicts with the Eighth Amendment, which states: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." The songs in question are available in the marketplace for less than $1. Furthermore, wholesale pricing has been confirmed by record label executives as being close to 70 cents per track. From that perspective, the fine levied against Thomas is almost surely excessive.

These lawsuits are very clearly about money, not about protecting artists. I look forward to the day when record labels as we currently know them cease to exist. It's only a matter of time.

There is a ton of commentary on this story at Techmeme. That's how I found Michael Geist's post, in which he explains the Canadian context. Definitely worth a read.

Bungie splits from Microsoft

bungie

Today Microsoft announced that Bungie Studios, the developer of the Halo games, will once again become an independent company. Microsoft will still own part of Bungie, and will continue the long-standing publishing agreement between the two for games developed by Bungie. From the Inside Bungie blog:

Bungie has long been built on creativity, originality and the freedom to pursue ideas. Microsoft agreed, and rather than stifle our imagination, they decided it was in both our best interests to unleash it. We’ll continue to make Xbox 360 games, and we’ll continue to make amazing games for MGS. In that regard, nothing has changed.

It sounds like everyone is happy with this arrangement. Both MS and Bungie seem pretty adamant that nothing will change, and I don't see much reason to doubt them. I would assume that Microsoft will make slightly less money on future Bungie games, but I think they can live with that as long as the studio continues to pump out winners.

This quote from the Bungie press release made me laugh:

“Working with Microsoft was great for us, it allowed us to grow as a team and make the ambitious, blockbuster games we all wanted to work on. And they will continue to be a great partner. But Bungie is like a shark.  We have to keep moving to survive. We have to continually test ourselves, or we might as well be dolphins. Or manatees,” said Jason Jones, Bungie founder and partner.

Heh, well we can't have them turning into manatees!

Mary Jo Foley has a good post up with five reasons why the split is a smart move for Microsoft. Her fifth point is the most important, I think:

5. Quasi-independent subsidiaries come up with more interesting ideas. As it has done with Xbox and Zune, Microsoft no longer believes innovation only happens when a unit is physically and psychically locked inside the Redmond headquarters.

I hope that shift in thinking really is happening inside Microsoft. For instance, I'm sure the new Vancouver dev centre will do some great things if they aren't forced to go through Redmond for everything.

For lots more on this story, check out Techmeme.

.NET Framework Shared Source

Microsoft announced today that they will be making the source code for the .NET Framework 3.5 available when the framework ships along with Visual Studio 2008 later this year. From Scott Guthrie:

Having source code access and debugger integration of the .NET Framework libraries is going to be really valuable for .NET developers.  Being able to step through and review the source should provide much better insight into how the .NET Framework libraries are implemented, and in turn enable developers to build better applications and make even better use of them.

This is pretty cool news. I think it's great for .NET itself too, as I suspect Microsoft will receive a ton of really useful feedback after developers have had a chance to get their hands dirty. There's literally dozens of ways that this will positively impact the .NET community.

Of course, not everyone is impressed. Already the news has been called a "poison pill" by some, and simply a bad idea by others. Well, you can't please everyone. And when it comes to Microsoft, there never seems to be a shortage of conspiracy theorists.

For more thoughts, be sure to check out TechMeme and also this post from Miguel de Icaza of the Mono project.

Tracking Tweets at Twitter

Twitter launched a killer new feature last week, the very aptly named "Track." Sometimes when I am thinking about something, I wonder how many other people are thinking about that something at the same time. With Twitter and the new Track feature, there's a way to find out:

You can follow friends on your phone through Twitter, but what about concepts? What if you wanted an update anytime anyone mentioned your name, your favorite band, "NYC," "earthquake," or "Steve Jobs?" In real-time? What if you were attending an event and wanted to know who else was there?

That's what Track lets you do. It's dead simple to setup - just send "track mastermaq" to Twitter, and you'll start receiving all messages that mention my nickname. This is really powerful stuff. In addition to the usual ego-tracking, I am also tracking edmonton and podcasting. It's like a whole new world has opened up!

If you've been holding off on trying Twitter, I strongly encourage you to do so now. Especially if you're in the marketing industry. Where else can you get notifications every time someone mentions your product or service? This is the future, today.

Now if only Twitter was more reliable...

Radiohead shows us the music industry of the future

radiohead

What if you could set the price for an album you wanted to purchase? Wouldn't it be great to have the ability to spend $5 to check out a new band, and $25 for a band you absolutely love? It might happen sooner than you think, with Radiohead leading the charge:

As expected, Radiohead has gone an unusual route for distribution of its seventh studio album, "In Rainbows." The set will be available for digital download from the band's Web site beginning Oct. 10, but with a twist -- fans can name their own price for the purchase. "It's up to you," reads a disclaimer on the checkout screen.

Make no mistake, this is a big deal. Radiohead is obviously a very successful band with a huge fan base which allows them to experiment like this, but dammit someone has to. It might as well be Radiohead. I've written about making the music free before, and I'm glad to now see some action.

Techdirt notes that there is more to the story, in that Radiohead is also offering a "discbox" for $80 USD that contains the album on CD and vinyl, along with an additional CD with seven tracks, plus photos, artwork, and lyrics.

In this case, Radiohead isn't really selling the "music." After all, you can get that for free. They're selling the full collection of stuff that comes with the music. Funny how it's the musicians, and not the record labels, who seem to realize that adding value and getting people to pay for it is a business model that beats suing fans.

This is really cool. Music fans everywhere should be extremely happy about this giant leap forward! There's more great stuff on the story at Boing Boing.

Why teach cursive handwriting? A response

Back in April I wondered why we still teach cursive handwriting in elementary school. The post generated lots of discussion at the time, and it definitely gave me much to think about. On Friday, I started thinking about it again after receiving a response via email from a reader known only as "The Bluebell Wood." It's obvious a lot of thought was put into it, so I asked for permission to publish the response and received it. Here it is:

Being able to write a legible and pleasant longhand is an essential part of rational life. “Word Processing” (an abominable phrase) is no substitute. Marshall McLuhan wrote The Medium is the Message and there is a lot of truth in that. The flow of a pen in the hand over paper while composing sentences is a completely different experience from keyboarding and looking at a screen; physically, and in the tools used, and in the mind as well. There is an effect on the content of what is written; in the same way that seasoned craftsmen in the guilds of Renaissance Italy would say, “It is the trade entering his body” when an apprentice bruised his thumb or some such hurt while learning the use of his tools. Writing with ink on paper is an act by which our peerless English language enters us – through hand, eye, posture, and senses, into our thoughts, affecting the sentence structure and choice of words. Forming well-made letters with the hand while forming thoughts in the mind is not the same as tapping little plastic squares while mechanical fonts appear on a screen and the cursor blinks like a tap that won’t stop dripping.

The practice of handwriting also infuses many desirable character qualities. Regard for the reader in the striving for maximum legibility is foremost; the training and development of the aesthetic sense in the letters, spacing, and overall texture; discrimination in avoiding poor proportions; rectitude in avoiding excessive flourishes; in general the application of what Edward Johnston called “sweet reason” in his classic Writing, Illuminating & Lettering of 1906.

This applies to the slant as well, which ideally is not more than about ten degrees from the vertical.

The clarity and precision needed for good legibility schools us in our thoughts and the sentences which incarnate them.

Why would anyone use cursive handwriting in this digital age? The answers are many: pleasure; rational and aesthetic maturity; participation in a historical stream reaching far, to the very dawn of man; its warmth in personal letters; to improve our thinking; and, as one of your own respondents has commented, “Just because everything can be done by computer doesn’t mean that it should be.” (shermie, May 2/07) (Emphasis added). It is premature to call this a digital “age”; it is barely three decades old, and the common use of fonts and p.c.s has been with us for less than one on hundredths of the ages in which cursive writing has been used, in various alphabets and languages.

The very typeset from which the font in which the question was posed is founded on the Humanist Bookhand and its Italic derivatives, which has been in continuous use for six hundred years, and is still vigorous. It is not possible to participate in the “Great Conversation” without learning cursive handwriting and using it well. In postulating that it no longer be taught, one finds oneself in the position of the man sawing off the limb of the great oak on which he himself resides. It is of the utmost importance to retain this skill. We owe it to children and youth to pass on this priceless heritage.

IT IS NOT OURS TO WITHOLD.

A cursive script was used 3,500 years ago in Egypt, where the priests had a hieratic script with the same relationship to hieroglyphics as our longhand has to printing. Cursive Hebrew dates back to Moses (c. 1400 B.C.) and there are also examples from the times of Jeremiah and Jeroboam II (c. 760 – 570 B.C.).

The pleasure of handwriting has always been with us and it is not going to go away. It represents the distillation of human effort to record images of the mind and heart.

It's a very good response, I think. The font-face I use on this blog is Lucida Sans Unicode, in case anyone was wondering.

Notes for 9/30/2007

Here are my weekly notes:

  • Megan's parents took us out for dinner tonight, to celebrate our entering the workforce. We're now contributing to their pensions :) Heh, very nice of them, and dinner was excellent.
  • Ever wonder what the world would be like without Google Maps? We'd have more swastika-shaped buildings, that's for sure.
  • After a bit of a hiatus, I had two articles published at last100 this week. The first was on Halo 3 and Microsoft's strategy beyond gaming, and the second was on the potentially doomed Zune.
  • In a post that received lots of attention, Scott Karp outlined five reasons why he feels the mobile web sucks. He then wrote a follow-up post responding to some of the hostile comments left by readers of the first one. Both are worth a read.
  • Here's what I like about Wired magazine: I can purchase the relatively inexpensive physical version, read it without requiring access to an electronic device, and then go online to bookmark my favorite articles later because they are all available at the website for free.
  • I downloaded and quickly watched the first episode of the new CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, solely because Kaley Cuoco (from 8 Simple Rules) is in the show. All I can say is I am glad I didn't have to pay for it.
  • The new Smallville which aired Thursday was excellent! They must have spent a fortune on the special effects. I was impressed that they had a nice mix of both subtle (Clark's skin healing in the sunlight) and over-the-top (Clark vaporizing a river of water) effects. The new girl, Canada's own Laura Vandervoort, didn't have much screen time in the premiere. I'm sure we'll see much more of her though!

A 75th Birthday Tribute to John Williams

johnwilliamsTonight I went to the wonderful Winspear Centre along with Dickson and Sharon to enjoy the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra performing some of the more famous works by John Williams. It was the first night of the ESO Robbins Pops, and it was a great show. Conductor Bruce Hangen from the Boston Conservatory was on hand for the evening, and he shared some short video clips before most pieces of him talking with John about the music. It's really quite amazing how much John Williams has accomplished in his career. From Wikipedia:

In a career that spans six decades, Williams has composed many of the most famous film scores in history, including those for Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, and Harry Potter. In addition, he has composed theme music for four Olympic Games, numerous television series and concert pieces.

Sadly, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park were not performed, but the rest of those themes were, along with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Amistad, Catch Me If You Can, and Saving Private Ryan. With four of the fourteen pieces they performed coming from Star Wars, you might say that was the theme for the evening, and it was complete with storm troopers, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader. Yes, they actually had people in Star Wars costumes! (UPDATE: Here are some photos.)

Another neat thing about the evening was that Bruce got the audience to sing happy birthday to John on camera! As a thank you for allowing ESO to perform his music (some which hasn't been published, like Jaws) and for allowing the interview clips to be shown, John will get a copy of our birthday song.

During the interview clip for Schindler's List, John said he looked at the film and was deeply moved. When he went to talk to Steven Spielberg about the music, the conversation went something like this:

John: This film is incredibly moving, you truly need a better composer than me.
Steven: I know, but they are all dead!

I really enjoyed the show, and hearing the music definitely makes me want to watch the movies again. I had forgotten how perfectly frightening the music for Jaws is! And when they started to play E.T. I couldn't help but smile - it was like I was transported back in time! E.T. was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid, and it still is. The music just gets me every time I hear it.

Happy Birthday to you John Williams! I hope you continue doing your thing for years to come.

Yahoo! Podcasts is dead

I've seen a few blog posts on this now, and I wanted to add my own thoughts. Some time in the last couple days Yahoo added a message to the top of their forever-in-beta podcast directory site that reads "Yahoo! apologizes deeply, but we will be closing down the Podcasts site on Oct. 31, 2007." Not really a surprise as far as I'm concerned. Most people in the podcasting community would be able to tell you that Yahoo has ignored the site for months.

Here is what I said about the site when it launched almost two years ago:

Yahoo's Podcasts directory is put together very nicely, I think. The layout and organization make intuitive sense, and the search functionality seems to work quite well also.

I'm not sure how many podcast directories we need, but I'd have to say that Yahoo's is a welcome addition to the bunch.

Unfortunately, that didn't stay true for very long.

Both Read/WriteWeb and TechCrunch invoke the magic word - video - when suggesting reasons for the site's demise. I'm not so sure the rise of YouTube and the clones had any impact whatsoever on Yahoo Podcasts. As a matter of fact, the site lists both audio and video podcasts.

I think Yahoo chose to kill the site in part because it contains the word "podcast" in its name. I've written about this before, as have many others. It's not the process or idea that's bad, just the name.

I suspect the main reason Yahoo shut down the site is a renewed focus for the company, as speculated in the comments on TechCrunch. Just as well I guess.

Happy Birthday Podcast Spot!

The big news today of course is the launch of Halo 3, but it's also important to me for another reason. It's kind of hard to believe, but it was on this day a year ago that we launched Podcast Spot. We had no idea what to expect for our first year, but I think we can call it a success. Not a massive success, but a success nonetheless. Here's what I wrote back in 2006:

That said, it's just the first step, and there's still a long way to go. We're eager and excited to continue improving the podcasting experience, with Podcast Spot and other products too.

I'd say that still holds for today. We're going to spend some time going through what we've learned over the last year, and combined with our ideas and plans, we look forward to making our second year even better.

As I said on the Paramagnus blog, thanks to everyone who has supported us and especially to the podcasters who call Podcast Spot home. It's still pretty cool to me that people are using something I've built.

Paramagnus in Edmontonians Magazine

The September 2007 issue of Edmontonians magazine contains an article about Dickson and I. Quite simply, I think the article is terrible. Not only is it factually inaccurate and unnecessarily negative, I feel it is an extremely unfair introduction to both Dickson and myself as individuals. Every friend or family member who has read the article thus far has said the same thing: "that doesn't sound like you guys!"

The worst part is that there is supposed to be a follow-up article. Will it be better, or just as bad? Does it even matter? I don't know. We'll find out soon enough I guess, and I'll definitely be writing about it here.

In any case, I wanted to write down my concerns with the first article, so that I can look back on the experience and hopefully take something positive away from it. If you've got some spare time on your hands, you can read my very long entry here. If you do read what I've written, I'd love to know whether you think my concerns are legitimate or if instead you think I'm bat-shit crazy.

Also - have you seen Edmontonians anywhere around town? The circulation page makes it seem like the magazine is really easy to find, but I've had a heck of a time finding any copies. Seems the only reliable location is the airport. I guess that's just as well :)

Copyright ©2007 Mack D. Male.  Content is licensed under a Creative Commons License.