Sorry for skewing technical…

…but I am a computer programmer after all. I promise, there’s some funny slice-of-life stuff coming soon. Promise.

By the way, this Sunday marks the end of the first quarter of 2002, which means it’ll be time for the AccordionGuy Quarterly Report, complete with point-form presentations and charts, but still more fun that most quarterly reports!

American Techniban


We live in what the Japanese call a joho shakai — an information society. In such a place, technology and politics are bound to interesect; when they do, you can read all about it in Declan McCullagh’s Politech site. Declan, who lives in Washington, DC and is the Washington bureau chief for Wired News, covering the stories where the Beltway meets the Valley. He’s also a renowned photographer whose work has appeared in several magazines (and on his site).

Operation Enduring Valenti

In a recent posting to Politech, Declan points to a great essay by Richard Forno called Operation Enduring Valenti. The name of the essay refers to Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), the guy who fought against VCRs, claiming that they were to the movie industry as the Hillside Strangler was to women. The latest “Hillside Strangler” against which Valenti is railing is digital technology. I’ll let Forno sum up what Valenti’s up to:

Under the guise of ‘preserving America’s intellectual capital’ and supported by the funding of the entertainment industry cartels, they seek to sustain the entertainment industry’s Industrial Age business model (and monopolies) in the modern Information Age – where such models are rendered obsolete by emerging technology. By doing so, these elected puppets of Hollywood will continue earning campaign contributions and ensure their job security.

Perhaps we should call this group of Emmy-Award winners the “American Techniban” movement, given their fanatical views on technology, evolution, and society.

Valenti’s MPAA, along with their buddies the RIAA (who not only hate stuff like Napster, they don’t even like it when you make your own mix tapes or CDs) backed an evil law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which makes it illegal to even discuss the inner workings of copy protection, and instead of protecting copyrights has been used as a club against free speech online. Now they’re pushing the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), which will make it illegal to make or sell hardware or software that doesn’t have “government-approved” (and remember, many goverment officals are in Hollywood’s pocket) copy protection. In his essay, Forno points out something very important about the CBDTPA:

It should also be noted that with the exception of one executive from Intel, every person invited to testify on the proposed CBDTPA was from the entertainment industry….there were no artists, musicians, producers, or consumers invited. So much for this being a ‘consumer-friendly’ bill.

In other words, the entertainment industry just wants you to keep your mouth shut and your wallet open.


Accidental Genius

Etymology time! The root of the word “decide” come from a word meaning “to kill”. Every time you make a choice, you kill off other possibilities. This is the problem with letting the government and the entertainment industry decide what kind of technologies are legal: by simply declaring a piece of technology illegal because it could be used to infringe on copyright, what other uses for the technology are you killing? If the entertainment industry could go back in time about eight years, they’d have lobbied to make the home computer either illegal or at least legislate it into a retarded box that you’d use for only for typing and viewing ads for movies and albums.

Back in the early 1980’s Apple Records (the Beatles’ record company) and Apple Computer came to an agreement that Apple Computer could keep their name as long as they stayed out of the music industry. At the time, no one forsaw home computers and music intersecting outside of the soundtrack for video games. However, with the invention of MIDI (Music Instrument Digital Interface) in 1983, it didn’t take long for computers to be used as composition devices and as backup musicians. Apple Records could’ve taken the bastard route and tied Apple Computer up in lengthy legal proceedings, but instead chose to — ahem — Let It Be. And a wise decision too: Macintosh computers were the muscians’ computer of choice in the ’80’s, and more so in the ’90’s with the advent of hard disk recording, which allowed for more versatile, higher-quality digital recording gear that took up considerably less space than bulky tape machines (just try and find a decent recording studio without a Mac these days). This not only made life easier for big artists in their studios, but opened the door for many musicians who got their start making recordings on home computers in their bedrooms or small studios.

The computer is but one of many devices that had a life beyond the original intention. The transistor, a much smaller replacement for bulky vaccuum tubes, was originally designed for smaller computing devices for the military. A U.S. manufacturer used the transistor to make smaller hearing aids. However, in the 1960’s, a clever but small Japanese company really got its potential and starting manufacturing radios small enough for you to carry around, creating the portable music device industry. That company? Sony. Check out their long but fascinating history here; the Walkman story is here.

(Lightning would strike again with Sony several times, most notably with the Walkman. Sony was in dire financial straits at the time, and the board of directors was telling its president, Akio Morita, to concentrate on profession video products. They nearly killed the Walkman: Akio, baby, what’s with the tiny tape player that can’t even record? And no speakers? Are you crazy?)

Wired has a good story on how inventions grew past their original intentions. Among them: how the phonograph was originally meant to play back telephone messages, the mechanical clock was for regulating the prayers of monks and how Viagra was originally for stopping chest pain instead of delivering boners aplenty.

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