Thursday, April 07, 2011

What would constitute a "jaw-dropper" in Final Cut Pro?

This is based on complete speculation, but gathering the "Who's Who of leaders in the post-production community" would be important if you were going to turn that switch that Alex Lindsay has been advocating over at MacBreak Weekly. If FCP had a "Publish for Sale on iTunes" button, you would want to get post-production gurus on board. And more than any other change in how video is edited, this would be worthy of dropping your jaw. After all, direct access to a marketplace of that size by independent content producers would put the industry on its head.... which is the best reason why it's not what is happening.

Read about it here:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Independent Filmmakers Join the Club

According to the Los Angeles Times Business Section today, Independent Filmmakers do not "get it" any more than big studios. Richard Verrier interviewed two film creators who believe that people watching their films is bad... OK, that's not exactly what they said, but the irony is clear.

Gary Carter, the creator of Gangland Love Story, believes that he lost $100,000 from people watching copies of his small film online. Unfortunately, he makes no mention of how many viewers he thinks would have chosen to purchase the video, selling for $18 on

But the true ridiculousness comes later in the article. As support for the proposition that internet viewing is harming independent films, the article cites The Hurt Locker, which won six Oscar awards despite making only $16.4 million in box office. The article states that more persons saw the film without paying than actually paid for it, yet nobody mentions that this volume of viewers might have been necessary to generate the level of attention necessary to be considered for an Oscar. It is assumed by everyone involved with the article that without internet views the movie would have made more money, but the more realistic reality is that without internet views, the movie would probably never have risen to the cultural radar at all.

While LA Times states that independent filmmakers are unable to deal with "internet piracy", it leaves out the fact that independent filmmakers are also least able to independently generate buzz about a film. For artists who make their work with the hope of people watching it, the position is odd. Let's hope that independent filmmakers catch on quickly that the Internet is the friend of the small film, not the enemy that this article seems bent on painting.

Yes, the market as it exists changes the way that people make money on content, but by embracing this reality, the great ideas of independent filmmakers stand a better chance than ever of being judged on the merits, maybe even judged by the Oscar voters.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remote Access is Easy (sometimes)

The New York Times just posted an answer to a question regarding remote access for helping someone troubleshoot their computer. I have to admit that a few years ago I tried using Windows Remote Desktop and VNC. I never had good results with these solutions. The setup is too difficult, even for someone reasonably tech savvy. The worst part was getting everything configured properly on the remote computer, then having the settings change by the time I wanted to use it. I do not log into my mother's computer regularly, only when she is having an issue and I am not visiting soon.

But recently I found a better solution, and it was almost by accident. One function I do use regularly is automatic syncing for backup in the background. I was very impressed with what Microsoft Live Sync did and it actually worked on Mac OSX Tiger before they broke it. However, when it left Beta and stopped working on Tiger, I heard about Microsoft Live Mesh. I do not think anybody understands why Live Sync and Live Mesh are separate products, but the point is that Live Mesh accomplishes the same syncing features plus some more. I switched over to Mesh in order to take advantage of the Online Backup feature. Up to 2 gigs can be sync'ed between computers AND a copy is stored on the web. Very useful! And you cannot beat the price (that would be zero dollars and zero cents!)

However, Live Mesh also has a Device Connect feature that is absolutely worth trying. What it does is basically take away all of the setup hassles. If the computer is turned on and connected to the internet, you click the Connect button and wait while it makes sure nobody is actively working on the computer at the moment. Next thing you know you are looking at the screen as though you were sitting in front of that computer. That in itself would be enough to make this worthwhile. However, Microsoft added a few nice touches that I have not seen elsewhere (though I am not an expert, this might be standard in remote utilities today). First, you can hide the display on the local computer. This is great because I used this feature to log into a computer for the purpose of updating billing records. Even when I feel pretty confident that nobody is standing at the location looking at the screen, this is still a perfect check. Second, you can literally copy a file on the remote computer, switch to a local window and paste and the file copies over the internet. Obviously programs have offered FTP like interfaces for copying files, but removing all of the overhead by making it look like a standard copy paste is brilliant.

What is the catch? Well, it only works if the remote computer is a Windows PC, no love for Macs at this point. Second, it only works when the browser used to connect is Internet Explorer (because it uses ActiveX to do the magic). So basically, it only works from a Windows machine to a Windows machine. However, it works between versions of Windows. So my XP machine can connect to a Vista and vice-versa. Although I would love to bring my MacMini back into this party, there is still enough to like that I use it despite that restriction.

So in closing, I tend to be reluctant to give Microsoft much praise, but here is a place where they are doing great work. Now we just have to get the word out, because New York Times recommending people use programs with heavy configuration needed instead is creating work.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Worry, Don't Rush Them

I was lucky to get to participate in the UCLA Williams Moot Court Competition as part of a team of three students from University of La Verne, College of Law this year. We just turned in our brief earlier this week and oral arguments are coming in late February.

When I first found out that our school was assigned to write a brief in support of the Navy's position, I thought I was in big trouble. On one hand, writing an argument that is opposite of your own point of view is always a useful intellectual exercise. But how on earth was I going to be able to justify a policy that is so clearly discriminatory?

With everything going on around California Proposition 8, I think this is a really important time to have this discussion. Homosexual equality is almost certainly going to be the major civil rights issue of my lifetime. So participating in an event structured around this topic is really important, but since most people that sign up to participate in this event are sensitive to the importance of equality for homosexuals, how can half of them write a brief in support of discrimination? The answer revealed two important revelations, one about the law and one about issues of equality.

The first thing I realized is that the law is sometimes blind to morality. Just because it's wrong to discriminate against a certain class of people, does NOT mean that a law doing so will be held unconstitutional. The law moves slowly and haltingly. Sometimes it is out in front of public trends and sometimes it lags far behind them, but it does so on its own terms. To assume that because something is "right" or "wrong" has any impact on the legal status of the issue is to miss a greater truth about the law itself. This is probably the biggest lesson I could possibly glean from an experience like this one. Regardless of what type of law I practice I will try to remember to separate my moral judgments from my legal conclusions.

The second thing that I realized is that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is really on borrowed time, but not for reasons of law. The courts have shown very little desire to challenge the military on their policy. The concept of military deference has amazing power to stop a constitutional challenge (be it due process, equal protection, or free speech) in its tracks. But the reason that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" won't survive is because it's a bad policy for the military. At a time when the military is in desperate need of recruits, the policy is discharging large numbers of perfectly capable men and women based solely on their sexual orientation in connection with some conduct or declaration based on it. Apparently the education requirements have been lowered to increase recruitment as well as lowering the standards for a relatively clean criminal record. Eventually some person high up in the chain of command is going to look at this situation and say enough is enough. Every day two forces of greater need for soldiers and greater acceptance of homosexuals is going to move the discussion towards reversing the policy from the inside. Once this happens, there will be no need to challenge it from the outside.

One final tangential thought is that President George W. Bush created a lot of this demand for soldiers by extending the "War on Terror" from Afghanistan to Iraq, which requires a much larger force. Ironic that Bush might have accomplished what Clinton was unable to do, end the ban on homosexuals in the military!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Optomism Magnetism

Yesterday in my first meeting of Appellate Advocacy all students were asked to tell the class why we are in law school and what you want to do with our legal education. I was very thankful that Andrea has been encouraging me to think through this question for other reasons, because I felt somewhat prepared.

I spoke about my background in Software Engineering and my desire to pursue ideas over details. I talked about the natural pull of patent law and my passion for new media. I kept it short, but mentioned that I would someday like to work with the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). This is were I left off in class.

As I was driving home I started thinking about what else I might have said to the class. Another student mentioned her extreme liberalism regarding Constitutional law. I might have described myself as extremely liberal regarding intellectual property law. At this point I generally regard copyright law in the United States as either (a) fundamentally broken or (b) unfortunately outdated. I might have mentioned that the fear of allowing Mickey Mouse to slip into the public domain has created an enormous orphan works problem. I also might have talked about my desire to help little companies fight off big companies with more lawyers than they have employees! I could have pointed out that Appellate Advocacy will be a very important skill if I am lucky enough to practice in the way I would like to. This is because I'll constantly be on the wrong side of the "law". I'll be appealing cases and trying to persuade judges to break from precedent and make "new law". Of course this is, by design, a slow process. The law intentionally moves at a galacial pace. As I pulled onto my street I was fired up to take on the world but also pessimistic about the state of affairs.

I started working on another project, but it hit me pretty suddenly that what I had thought of on the ride home was really only half the story. One of the reasons that I'm interested in Economics is because I do think that the market works. Legally you can hold on to outdated business models and sue copyright infringers until the cows come home, and this will create a lot of friction in the system that somebody needs to stand in court and point out, but ultimately there's a practical downside to suing your own customers. Eventually the market catches up and rewards the good ideas and punishes those that are sitting around trying to get the free lunch. So eventually I see my career moving into advising companies on how to keep their noses clean, prevent the letters from the big companies from coming, and add value to the system. That's really the key to the whole thing. If you keep putting value into the system, even if somebody steals some of the benefit from you, you still have a lot more by having the ability to add value then the other guy. So I'm also a conservative, a true conservative that wants everybody to let the market run it's course.

All these ideas were swirling in my head today as I thought more about the bailout. I really wish one of the candidates had questioned why the bailout was a foregone conclusion. I wish we had a national debate about taking the big hit now to fix the broken parts of our economy (like automakers that are so incredibly topheavy from pension obligations). If Obama is as serious about alternative energy as he claims he could have let the market decide if the US automakers would fail, and their resources be bought up cheap by more economically efficient and environmentally friendly automakers, or if they'd fight their way out of the hole they dug themselves. Ultimately I would have rather given 5% of that money to Tesla and let them run with it. But I digress (more than usual I mean).

And then today I finally read a blog post from a few days ago by Doc Searls commenting on people applying the Cluetrain Manifesto's principles to real scenarios. He talked about how the book was written before distribution, podcasting, and social media were even around to support it. The internet revolution is really in infancy. That's why I want tobe a lawyer, so I can have a say in guiding that progress both in courtrooms and meeting rooms. That's where I want to add value to the system with my ideas and hard work. Now I've just gotta finish law school...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Connect the dots... but do not assume

So I finally had some time to consider (and write down my thoughts on) the implications of Apple claiming they "most likely would not continue to operate (the iTunes store) if it were no longer possible to do so profitably." (see Forbes story towards the bottom).

Let me say that I highly respect and admire the contributors to MacBreak Weekly, but here they (as well as TWIT that week) made a big jump. Not operating iTunes store at a loss does NOT mean they must shut down the store. There are alternative ways to run the store for a small profit.

Alex Lindsay has discussed on MacBreak Weekly the relationship between creators (musicians, filmmakers, etc) and Apple products. Take the example of iMovie's menu option, "Export to YouTube". Now make a paid version in Garage Band (or Soundtrack Pro) that says "Include in iTunes store". Then after the music revolution is running on all cylinders, Final Cut Pro gets the same type of option to sell movies or shows in the iTunes Store (do we call it Television when it looses all connection to classic television?).

OK, maybe you're thinking "That's a nice theory, but it's just a thought experiment". After all, Apple could have done this at any time, even before signing with the labels originally. Yes and no, Apple actually could not have done this type of deal before they settled their long running legal negotiations with Apple Corps, but they could have initiated a direct music service any time after Februrary 2007. Besides, Apple doesn't want to handle all the billing and accounting issues surrounding millions of content creators with a small number of sales, right?

If only there was a recent example of Apple cutting out layers of publishers and going straight to the creators... Maybe a store that sold little widgets or games that ran on Apple hardware. Wait, I think I've got it! The App Store. Rather than recruit a few big companies to develop applications for the App Store, Apple created a pipeline. They released the tools, published the enrollment process, and handled all of the fees, and standardized the rates for their share and the creators share.

And what would musicians get out of the deal. How many musicians would like to keep 70% of the proceeds of their creation and still have a shot at Apple's front page. All of them (except maybe the 3 or 4 who already have that kind of deal after decades in the industry, think NIN).

Why does Apple want to do this? Because even if they do not, somebody else will. They have the opportunity to have a big splashy announcement that takes everyone by surprise, or Steve Jobs can try to paint an "us too" announcement as revolutionary (which he's very good at doing, but why not just be first). No other company could do it with the kind of earth-shattering effect of Apple, but that does not mean it could not succeed. Amazon has the best chance to create the big marketplace version of it, but it will lack the style of an Apple offering.

Why did Apple start the ball rolling with the App Store? The software industry is already much more diversified than the Music and Movie/TV industry. Independent software developers have been swimming with the big boys before Apple brought their model to the App Store. It's a perfect way to work the kinks out of the pipeline. Once they add music submissions, they'll already know how to handle the billing issues, the application process, etc.

Now there is just one problem: old media. As I said at the top, I have no idea what kind of contract the music companies have made with Apple. What I do believe is that they all think Apple needs them more than they need Apple. The hole in the boat that may have alerted them to their folly was NBC walking away from Apple, only to walk right back the next year. But hopefully (for consumers) the big media companies will keep pushing Apple, keeping giving DRM-free music to Amazon instead of iTunes, keep pushing to raise the prices on the iTunes store. When one of the Record Companies declines to renew its contract with Apple, all the analysts will say this is a huge blow to Apple, not realizing that this is a huge win for Apple. Then when all the cards are turned over and Apple ends up transforming the industry, analysts will wonder if this was strategy or making lemonade from lemons.

And I will wonder to. If something remotely like this happens I will be able to pretend that I am prescient rather than lucky. But I will know (and admit) that I only connected the dots that others pointed out. And I will know that the best part of the whole thing is getting to be a consumer in that new age of consumption.

Which brings me to my final point. Did the financial crisis ruin the opportunity? Actually it might have made this scenario more plausible. After all, Apple does not make its money off of iTunes, it just does not want to lose a lot of money to it either. Ultimately, Apple makes money on iPods. With disposable income declining for the time being, the best way to stave off losses is to offer something fresh and interesting. Also, if it uses the next few years to position itself properly, it will be ready to blast through new heights when the next cycle starts to lift. Then again, it might be easier to just release some new shiny MacBooks!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Horrible is Wonderful

If you haven't heard about Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, don't question it, just go now and watch it. It's funny, it's free, it's forward thinking. What more could you ask for? Watch it before July 20th!