Saturday, March 24, 2007

The End of Internet Radio?

Thanks to a new ruling from The Copyright Board at the Library of Congress, which was made public on March 6, a new tenfold increase in royalties must now be paid for streaming songs on the internet. And the payments are the same, whether the web site is commercial or non-commercial and is retroactive to 2006 as well.

A filing was made March 19 to make the Library of Congress review the ruling, but if unchanged, it will likely be the end of internet radio for both small and large web sites. In one article via the L.A. City Beat, the new costs are beyond astronomical:

Up until March 6, webcasters figured their royalty payments as an affordable percentage of total revenues. In the case of KCRW, that was a negligible number for [general manager Ruth] Seymour, since the entire NPR network had negotiated a flat fee and it was paid by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Maybe not anymore. Under the new system, which requires that Internet broadcasters pay per performance – meaning each time one person listens to one song – her new bill for 2006 went from essentially zero to about $350,000. And it’s going up. For each of the next four years, the rate goes up at least 30 percent every year."

An additional report was made on the change and the challenge to it via WKRN recently as well.

A company backing the plan, SoundExchange, claims that revenues for internet radio exploded to a level of $500 million dollars last year. Paul Maloney of RAIN - Radio and Internet Newsletter - says that claim is just false and is seeking support to battle the change:

Now, what you hear the SoundExchange people saying is, ‘Oh, studies show that the Internet radio industry made $500 million last year in advertising.’ And I’m here to guarantee you that that’s absolutely not true. It’s not even close to being true,” says Maloney. He also points out there’s no hidden money anywhere, as stations they have to submit their financials to SoundExchange."

I wonder if the merger-masters for the combining of XM and Sirius Satellite radio are endorsing this plan?

Certainly the RIAA, which has been forcing colleges to hand over student email and internet accounts so they can threaten lawsuits to collect a few hundred or perhaps thousand of dollars for trading digital sound files, likes the new law.

The claim is that royalty fees alone from internet radio would hit nearly $3 billion in 2008, more than four times the royalties that would be paid by non-web radio.

And despite claims that all the "royalties" will go to artists are smokescreens to the real issue - performers get pennies to the dollars that record company owners receive.

The fight for the existing and potential audiences is fierce, and this ruling will only insure that fewer and fewer web-casters are allowed to participate.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Camera Obscura - 'The Massacre' Massacre; Beatles v. Zombies

I'm pretty sure I haven't ranted much of late about a really crappy movie. Today will change that. Also ahead today, what happens when the Beatles battle Zombies?

But first, a rant.

Even a most casual reader here will know (and close friends will also vow) that I am a bona-fide fan of horror movies. One movie in particular has always been a favorite, even one or two of the sequels were watchable. The original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" earned it's status on many levels - first on sheer suspense. Made on an ultra-low budget and containing a pure sonic attack on the senses with the blood-curdling sound of a raggedy chainsaw, too many myths of the movie claim how bloody and gory it is. But the fact is - the only time the saw cuts the flesh is when the grim character of Leatherface accidentally touches his thigh with the blade. It's always been the viewer's imagination that filled in the rest. Just watch it and see.

More on the sequels that followed in a moment, but first I have to dismember the worthless and tepid remake recently added to the endless volumes of weekly (weakly?) DVD releases, this one titled "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning."

I was reluctant to even watch it, after the likewise tepid and boring "remake" of the original with Jessica Biel from a few years back. Even that movie, as rancid as rotting flesh, stands as a genius-effort compared to the pure awful crap of "The Beginning."

How about some basics - this "beginning" is set in the year 1969, and yet every character, from vile Saw-family folk to the witless victims to even the sets in the movie are all clothed in the trappings of 2007. I halfway expected someone to dig out a cell phone during the movie.

Also, just who the heck are these Saw-family folk in this movie? Grandpa, from the original, is nowhere to be seen. Likewise Leatherface's brother is absent and his uncle too. Actor R. Lee Ermey, who can scare just about anyone and has one or two mildly funny lines, often looks at the camera as if he is considering taking a chainsaw to the filmmakers. I wish he had and stopped the whole deal.

There's not one moment of suspense in the movie - though the makers hurl tubs of blood and body parts across the characters and sets with the talentless glee of those who have never made or even watched a horror movie. And let me be clear - Main Problem Numero Uno is producer Michael Bay. Unless someone has a smoke-spewing, roaring ten-foot chainsaw at my neck, I will never, ever watch another of his movies.

One 1969-era sub-plot offered up is that two of the victims-to-be are arguing over the Vietnam War (at least for perhaps a half-a-dozen lines). One brother is jonesing to go back and the other is about to dodge the draft and burns his draft card. Here, I thought, is a chance to exploit and/or test his war views. Nope. Nothing is made of it. So it isn't really a sub-plot. It's just more sub-par writing.

The original has a mega-creepy and suspenseful scene of madness with a victim sitting at the "dinner table" with the Saw-crazy kin. This "prequel" does have a scene with a victim at the table and NOTHING happens. And of course, she escapes and runs in the dark to flee the scene (or perhaps hopes to flee the movie) and ol' Leatherface goes in chase. In the original, this was a harrowing chase - here, it amounts to nothing, zip, nada, zilch.

Early in the movie, the victims-to-be, get road-riled by a gang of bikers. Later on, the fleeing character contacts one of the bikers, and for a minute, I thought "here's a great chance for a scene!!" Tougher-than-leather bikers riding en masse to challenge the Saw-folk. Could have been the defining moment of the movie. What happens instead? One lone idiot biker guy walks into the Saw-folk house and basically says, "Hey! Anybody home?" and gets chopped up and, in short, NOTHING happens.

This idiotic mess of a movie is, at best, yet more evidence that filmmakers are replacing suspense, terror, and horror with endless scenes of gory torture whose outcome is as predictable as the eventual Beaver-Gets-A-Lecture-And-Learns-A-Lesson from 1950s tv and is ultimately as boring as that show. The episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" where Howard Sprague gets his own apartment has more terror and suspense than this dreck.

If you wish to see a sequel to the excellent original, the check out "TCM Part 2", which is a very underrated bit of madness, a Saw massacre imagined as a Looney Tunes cartoon. It is both suspenseful and very funny, and that opening scene on the bridge where the tune "No One Lives Forever" by Oingo Boingo is featured will (literally) take off the top of your head. Avoid all other TCM-titled movies.

OK, some movie goodness.

First I loved "300" though I find it endlessly amusing that some critics consider all the he-men dudes in the movie walking around in "man-thongs and red cloaks" is homo-erotic. People - the images were all taken from the drawings of Lynn Varley --- and she's female! So maybe she likes looking at he-men in man-thongs and cloaks.


The not-such-a-secret news was made much of this week that Stephen King's son is Joe Hill, an award-winning writer. His recently published novel, "Heart Shaped Box" is now on sale and film rights have already been purchased. The story concerns a fellow who discovers a ghost is for sale on the internets and he wants to buy it. A link to the novel's website is here. And you can read Joe Hill's bio here. (Great picture, by the way!)


Speaking of biographies, a new look at the life of Bela Lugosi is on sale, which includes information from the files compiled on the actor by the OSS and J.Edgar Hoover and his G-Men. More details here.


Wonder Triplet and fellow blogger Newscoma has a post worth noting, Proof That Vampires Don't Exist. She reports that some scientists use some rather dubious math to prove that if Vamps did exist, they would have long-ago depopulated the planet. All I can say to that notion is - human body farms. But, she also writes that some folks of the vampiric type can sure suck all the fun out of a room and that is indeed one sure way to depopulate a party!


And, as promised at the beginning ... what happens when you mix together The Beatles and Zombies? You get "Hard Day's Night of the Living Dead":

Staking Out My Domain (Name)

Expanding my influence even further into the Interweb Tubes, a new domain has been claimed. Let the whole world know it -- all one needs do is type into yer search bar and you will be brought to this humble and loveable page.

Much thanks are due again, to The Editor, who likewise made the header image now visible atop this page. The Editor whips thru the tech world in ways which I cannot. (Rumor says she has an entire world of tech-created people and neighborhoods who must follow her every whim, though she just calls them Sims.)

Now I do not know if the various aggregators which many readers use to find the latest posts here are yet in fact able to catch the newest posts or not. But if not, that too, dear reader, will be fixed ASAP.

Still, the important news here is that I am continuing, leisurely, to gain a massive media mogul empire. This blog does actually Go Into Space, too, ya know.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Blog 'Rasslin

For the last 24 hours or so I have been locked in mortal combat with Blogger Beta, mainly with the site feed info and the RSS. For some reason, this new version isn't cooperating with various aggregators and so posts aren't showing up.

A shame really, cause the last month has been chock full of darned timely and expertly rendered opinions, stories and must-read links and other vital bits of interweb ephemera.

However today, at least, thanks to the tireless efforts of The Editor, I did get a new masthead installed for the page here, which I think is darn fine new look. And not only is your Cup of Joe "Open All Night", it's a location offering 24-hour respite from the world. And everyone gets a "bottomless cup of joe" for free, no cash transactions needed. It's always fresh and always hot.

And if you too are one of the bloggers who has been forced into the Beta mode, do you have any suggestions on why the site feeds and aggregators are getting fried or how to repair it? All useful info appreciated.

I know many bloggers are migrating to other services and I too am considering it. Thoughts on such migrations are appreciated too.

In the meantime, bask in the glow of the new neon sign, enjoy your free coffee and there's always a booth or a seat at the counter available here for anyone, anytime.

UPDATE: I have tinkered some more with the page and hopefully resolved the problem ... thanks for any and all information and suggestions though!!! Keep 'em coming!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tigger, The ACLU and Ken Starr

With endless accounts that students in America's schools just can't make the cut when it comes to excellence in studies of math or science or reading and writing, the following report indicates our schools are mastering absurdity.

Seems a young student went to school and mocked all authority by wearing a pair of socks that showed the character Tigger from Winnie-The-Pooh. Yes, Tigger. Maybe it's all the bouncing he does or that he likes to have fun, fun, fun. Reports say she was then forced to an in-school suspension program called "Students With Attitude Problems."

Well, to be honest, it wasn't only the socks. She also wore a brown shirt with a pink border and a denim skirt. The school does have a 'dress code' which says the "
policy requires students to wear clothes with solid colors in blue, white, green, yellow, khaki, gray, brown and black. Permitted fabrics are cotton twill, corduroy and chino. No denim is allowed."

Thos darn anti-authoritarian colors are ruining Amurica!!

Florida school is now being sued by the seventh-grader on the basis that the policy is unconstitutionally vague and restrictive. I suppose suing on the grounds that a policy is silly won't hold much weight in court. And yes, a school certainly has the right to create and enforce a dress code. I just can't imagine denim being banned.

Which reveals, of course, that my mind was rotted with filth, degradation and snarky attitude problems as I attended school wearing denim jeans. No cartoon socks, no. But I did have a couple of Mickey Mouse shirts.

I would call this event "Goofy" but that could be misconstrued as a cartoon reference.

Is it any wonder that the United States Supreme Court this week heard a case involving the suspension of a student who carried a silly sign outside school property and was suspended by a principal who saw the sign as a flagrant assault on the "mission of the school"?

Even stranger, groups ranging from Pat Robertson's Law Center and the ACLU are supporting the student's case and the U.S. attorney arguing the case for the government is ... wait for it .. Kenneth Starr.

Money Trumps Traffic Camera Changes

Despite evidence that lengthening the time a traffic light is yellow reduces accidents, the TN legislature has decided to support the tactic of using automatic cameras. So more tickets and more revenue win the day.

The bill from Rep. Joe McCord essentially died in committee Tuesday. Also in the KNS report was this oddity - efforts to exempt some cities from the changes if it were adopted:

The subcommittee session also included moves by several legislators to exempt their home counties from coverage by McCord's bill. Rep. Ben West, D-Nashville, proposed first that Davidson County be exempt.

After the Nashville amendment was adopted, West then proposed to exempt Knox County from coverage by the bill - over objections from McCord that the law needs to be consistent statewide."

And, as mentioned in yesterday's post, the proposed bill would forbid local governments from contracting with private companies to operate the red light camera systems. As I understand it, those companies get the bulk of the revenue and send a portion back to the city. But the entire bill is pretty much dead in the water.

Other cities are debating this use (or abuse) of raising revenues based on tickets issued with no chance for the accused to confront their accuser. In Georgia, the legislature has passed a law demanding the monies raised would go (for the most part) ito the state and not to cities:

"Under House Bill 77, which passed 110-60, 75 percent of the profits cities and counties would otherwise make off the cameras would go to the state. The money would go to the general fund "with the intent" that it be used to improve trauma care in the state, the bill states.

"There's no guarantee that it will go to the trauma network," state Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, D-Atlanta, said in arguing against the bill.

But state legislators, and even the governor, have been looking for new funding sources for trauma care - the catch-all name for emergency room care for the most serious injuries. State officials say the trauma system needs major upgrades.

The red light bill also contains other provisions. It states that local governments can't tinker with the timing of a red light to decrease the yellow time before installing a camera. It requires a traffic engineering study before a camera is installed. It states that a motorist can't get a ticket from a police officer, then get another one because of the camera.

House Bill 77's initial intent was to outlaw red light cameras. Some legislators believe the rewritten bill will accomplish a similar goal, since cities and counties will be less likely to install them if they can't keep most of the profits."

I would imagine future changes (if any) will depend on the outcomes of Supreme Court cases in other states. But again, for now, the claim that cameras are all about saving lives pales when the discussion turns so quickly on who gets the money from these tickets, which cannot be appealed short of lawsuits.

The Redflex company, which pockets a percentage of all fines issued, says this is just all part of the modern world, where we are watched in ubiquitous fashion. In a USA Today story from 2006, the company explains they plan to expand their surveillance to roads as well as intersections. There are some key detractors to these camera programs according to the USA Today story:

"Perhaps the toughest critic of the cameras is the National Motorists Association. It's a driver advocacy group bent on keeping traffic flowing. It says that re-timing yellow lights — for one extra second — is more effective than installing traffic cameras.

"Putting up a camera only rewards a city for poor engineering," spokesman Eric Skrum says.

[Redflex CEO Karen] Finley is unmoved. "People who obey the law never have to deal with us," she says.

Soon, Redflex may seek more serious lawbreakers than those who run red lights. The company has just begun to look into potential for growth in the homeland security business, Finley says.

Redflex and its competitors are frequently criticized as invading personal privacy. Such criticism may get more vocal as the industry looks to expand the uses of its technology.

"If you take it to its logical extreme," says Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, an advocacy group, "we could become a society where automated systems are enforcing the law — a system of ubiquitous monitoring."

But Finley points out that cameras already "watch" people at ATMs. And at many convenience stores. And in offices all over the country. And in transit stations, airports and many other public spaces.

Security cameras are part of our culture, she says. Besides, she says, "When you use a public roadway, you give up your right to privacy."

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Failure of Traffic Cameras

Driving under watchful camera eyes has provided government with endless supplies of cash and those ticketed have little ability to challenge the charge. And that is bringing lawsuits and challenges that due process is being ignored.

Ohio and Minnesota are just two states whose court's are reviewing the use of such cameras. Claims are often made that the presence of the camera is enough to warrant their use. But what of the right of one accused to face their accuser in court? And once courts hold the tickets issued via camera technology illegal, how will they refund the money seized from fines?

I had read recently of several studies which showed that a much greater effectiveness of reducing accidents at intersections is achieved with two simple acts: clearer markings at intersections and longer times for a yellow light. A Popular Mechanics article by Glenn Reynolds mentions those studies:

But if the emphasis is on safety--rather than on revenue--there are better ways of dealing with the problem. A recent study done by the University of Central Florida for the Florida Department of Transportation found that improving intersection markings in a driving simulator reduced red-light running by 74 percent without increasing the number of rear-end collisions. Likewise, a Texas Transportation Institute study found that lengthening yellow-light times cut down dramatically on red-light running. It also found that most traffic-camera violations occurred within the first second after the light turned red (the average was just one-half second after the light change), while most T-bone collisions occurred 5 or more seconds after the light change. If there's a problem, cameras aren't really addressing it."

BUt it seems evident that given the option of simple engineering changes or of just taking money, it's all about the money.

UPDATE: There was a massive response to the issue of cameras and traffic lights at KnoxViews which is well worth the read. Just wish I had read if before I posted my views about cameras and traffic lights today.