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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

How Do I Expand A Virtual Box Drive?

I just wanted to give a quick thanks to Seppe vanden Broucke whose blog post on how to expand a virtual drive saved me a whole bunch of time.  When I do Java development I typically use a virtual machine to host the environment.  I find it useful because you can quickly replicate/archive the environment.  I set up a Xubuntu environment that ran out of disk space and caused all sorts of trouble for me.  Thanks to Seppe I was up an running within an hour with a newly expanded virtual drive.

Follow Up: Amica Is Watching You

In an earlier post I described how my auto insurance company noticed something I had said about them on Twitter and tweeted back.  Today I got a phone call from an Amica representative who answered a few of the questions I posed in my blog.  Lisa assured me that if I had complained about something they would have attempted to contact me in an effort to help.  First, they'll try to reverse engineer the customer's name from their online id and call them.  If they can't figure out who the person really is, they'll attempt to contact them on-line.  The technology used to monitor on-line conversations about the company is surprisingly simple.  A few people in the office use RSS feeds and Google to identify conversations they should be aware of.  I figured some complex system or entire company was behind it but I guess simple is works just as well.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Will 3D save the movie theater?

Recently, the whole family went out to see Avatar and we really enjoyed it.  As I stood in line to get into the theater, I started thinking to myself "why am I here"?  We all know that the internet removes the middleman from many transactions.  I don't need a travel agent because I can book a flight on Travelocity.  I don't need to drive into Blockbuster because Netflix sends my movies to the house.  Why am I standing in line to see this movie?  It isn't the overpriced food.  It isn't the teenager two seats over giggling as she texts back and forth with her friend  -- probably my daughter sitting right next to me.  It is the technology -- specifically 3D.  More and more people can afford to have a reasonable home theater setup.  Heck, in a few years I fully expect people to have major issues deciding where to stick the brand new 90 inch TV they just picked up from Best Buy -- walls are so small these days.  What I can't do, at least not yet, is replicate a 3D + IMAX setup in my home.  That is why I pony up $13 a head to escape reality for 2 hours or so.  A "standard" movie gives me less incentive to jump into the car and drop $50 to take the family to a movie.  In order for me to do that, the movie better have a good story and it better give me some experience that I can't get at home.  If others feel the way I do, will movies producers have to do something extra to get us out of the house and into the movie theaters?  Given the social nature of the internet, good movies generate their own buzz and bad ones just fade away.  Is Avatar the new model for movie makers?

Amica Is Watching You

A few days ago I posted the following on Twitter:
"Amica rules. Gotta huge crack in my windshield but it took only 10 minutes on the phone to get it all worked out. Nice."  
I tweeted it not because the event was particularly interesting but because I figured somebody might want an additional data point the next time they were researching auto insurance.  To my surprise, I got the following tweet:
"Thanks for your tweet about Amica. We're glad you're happy with us."
That little bit of text lets me know that Amica might be a company that actually "gets it".  Perhaps they realize that conversations about Amica are taking place all of the time and that they might as well get involved in them?  Very 21st century.  I almost wished I had posted something negative just to see what their response would be.  Would they take steps to try and make me happy?  Would it just be a canned "we're sorry" type of response?  Would they remain silent?  If they are a company that not only participates in the conversation but actually takes action when feasible then I'm probably going to be a customer for a long time.  Faceless corporations just don't cut it for me anymore.

I'm curious about the technology being used.  Amica is both an insurance company and an opera.  It might even be a word in another language.  How do you sift through all the conversations and only pull in the ones about Amica the insurance company?  How do you monitor all conversations on the internet?  How do you watch Twitter, Facebook, blog posts and YouTube comments to find out what people are saying about your company?  I'm guessing somebody has built a company around that notion and I'd be curious to understand how they did it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

What can be done about DRM?

Recently, I decided to give Audible a whirl and picked up a copy of What Would Google Do and A Christmas Carol.  The quality of the books was excellent and I really enjoyed the convenience of "reading" while doing other things.  Two aspects of the service, however, caused me to close my account.  The first was the subscription nature of the service.  For a monthly fee you accrue credits which can be used to redeem audio books.  I'm one of the lucky ones and do not have a long commute to work so I don't really need to get 20 hours of books each month.  Currently, the most affordable plan is $15 a month for one credit, which typically equates to one book.  Given my short commute, I can't justify $180 a year for audio books.  If there was another plan, perhaps 1/2 credit for $7 a month, I might consider being a member.

The second, and most important, factor in my decision to cancel my account was DRM.  Although the software used to download and install the books into my iTouch iPod worked as advertised I still had reservations about my ability to access my content.  Audible plainly says that the books are DRMed and tied to a device.  Much like my music files, I really do not want my content to be locked to a particular device.  I paid for it so I should be able to use it as I choose.  If Audible goes away, I'm likely to lose access to my content.  How can I "switch" my DRMed audio book to my new 6th generation GPhone if Audible isn't around to help me?  My Sony eBook Reader can play MP3 files but it isn't possible for me to slap an Audible book onto it for use on a long trip.  In short, I hate the fact that I don't have complete control over the content that I have purchased.  Is there a better way?

Maybe. I love ebooks which are typically encumbered with DRM  and have the same control issues.  Luckily, there a few providers that use a model that makes sense to me.  For certain subjects, I will purchase books from The Pragmatic Bookshelf.  When I buy content from them, they remember what I've bought and allow me access to my content in a variety of DRM-free forms.  If I'm on a computer, I can read my content as a PDF.  If I've got my Sony eBook Reader handy, then I read my content in epub.  If I had a Kindle, I could get it in mobi format.  My choice.  I like that.  The content that I purchase has a tiny watermark that says that this file belongs and that it should only be read by myself.  Makes sense to me.  I like to think that I'm an honest guy so until I upload my files to some torrent site then I should be given the benefit of the doubt and allowed fair use of my purchased content. I don't doubt that Audible would love to go the way Apple has gone with music and the Pragmatic folks have gone with ebooks and open up the use of their content, but until they do, I'm taking my business elsewhere.  I won't risk losing my investment in a media that can't be used even after the originating company goes away.  It just doesn't make sense to me.  I try to "vote with my wallet" where I can and purchase open content whenever I can find it.  At some point, some forward thinking rights holder is going to figure out that they can make more money but getting their content onto more devices instead of restricting access because somebody might steal it.

How about this for a scenario: I write a nice little action adventure novel and decide not to give the rights out to one of typical publishing houses.  What if I license the material in such a way that anybody can create an audio form of the book as long as I get credit for the original work and a slight royalty on any sold copies?  I can picture some small theater houses with some voice talent and recording set up creating their own version of the material.  Since I only get paid when they get paid, there really isn't a risk on their part.  If the product is good, we both win.  If multiple parties create versions of the material, it becomes a business opportunity for somebody to manage the abundance of material and provide some insight into the quality of each production.  When I buy music I rely on the ecosystem that has formed around digital music that makes it easier to discover songs that I'm likely to like and to purchase them.  Can't we figure out a way to do that with digital books?   So many devices have so many capabilities these days.  It seems like a missed opportunity to restrict what device can play what content.