This is supposed to be an improvement? I guess I don't object to the
box-based interface in and of itself — the web site for the
Musée des beaux-arts is similar, and it's attractive enough:
The difference is the selection of colors for those boxes. Who at
Microsoft thought that yellow-green, dark orange, and azure made for a
pleasant palette? And how can anyone with eyes possibly agree?
Now look at the icons. Here's what I click on to get my mail compared to
what Microsoft wants me to click on:
Maybe that's not fair? Thunderbird isn't a Microsoft program, after all.
Okay, let's compare apples to apples. Microsoft Solitaire!
So basically the new style is flat, monochrome, self-consciously primitive
icons. There's a name for this trend. It's called
How long before they bring back Clippy with an ironic mustache?
- I've also read a lot of pieces lately about how the demise of physical
media has been a nightmare for musicians, as Kids These Days all have huge
libraries of MP3s that they didn't pay for. Even those who don't download
illegal torrents of albums have few qualms about paying 99¢ for a
song and then passing along copies to dozens of their closest friends.
The result is that musicians no longer make money off recordings, and
even members of successful bands find that the proceeds from touring and
merchandise aren't enough to live on.
That got me wondering why bands don't just adopt the Kickstarter model.
The one time you still have control over your music is before you've
recorded it in the first place. So decide on an amount you'd be willing
to accept as a fair payment for your latest album — say you
want $50,000 per member of a four-piece band, so $200,000. Whether it's
two million fans paying ten cents each, or twenty thousand paying ten
bucks, or a hundred paying two grand, or most likely some variegated
combination of payments, once your pledges reach $200,000, the payments
become official and you release your album for free, since it will
effectively be free anyway once it goes up on Youtube. If it's a gigantic
hit, maybe you can ask for $4 million next time and you'll all be
It seemed to me that this strategy would be unlikely to work in most
fields of endeavor, but if ever there would be an exception, it would be
for music. I mean, if I could somehow get hold of a fourth Nirvana studio
album, I'd pay $2000 for that, no problem. I'd pay many hundreds for a
new Die Mannequin album every year. But I guess it comes down to a matter
of mindset. The economics class I audited last semester devoted a fair
amount of time to the difference between "perfect competition," in which
commodities are undifferentiated, and "monopolistic competition," in which
each producer's products are unique. An example of perfect competition
would be something like the wheat market — when you buy flour
you don't know or care exactly what farm your wheat came from, because
wheat is wheat. Whereas an example of monopolistic competition would be,
well, music. Yes, there is virtually no end to the number of players in
the music market — hence the "competition" — but
only Nirvana can make a Nirvana record. You can't just pick up a Pearl
Jam record instead and shrug that music is music.
Or can you? I've talked about this before, but I still can't help but
wonder. The young woman whose blog post kicked up this month's Internet
storm said that she had an archive of 11,000 songs. That is preposterous
to me. I don't think I've ever liked more than about four bands that were
active at any given time. So of course I think that a new album by
a band I like is a rare and precious thing. But if you have a hundred
"favorite bands," and one of them says, "We're not putting out our next
album until we get $200,000," do you chip in, or do you just shrug and
say, "All right, I'll just listen to my other 99 favorite bands instead"?
At what point are your tastes so broad that music becomes a commodity like
wheat and you don't much care where it comes from? Because if "making
the art that only I can make" becomes meaningless to the audience, then
artists really are screwed.
- Back in the day I was one of those people who was perplexed that the
various attempts in the U.S. to launch a dollar coin kept fizzling. But
every time I go to Canada I come back more convinced that dollar coins are
a bad idea. Yes, they're unwieldy — they're heavy and don't
fit neatly into a wallet — but of course you could say the same
thing about sub-dollar coins as well. I think the real problem for me is
more conceptual. If I see that something costs, say, $8.28, that divides
up neatly: take $8 from the bill pocket and 28¢ from the coin pouch.
To split that into $5 in bills and $3.28 in coins is just weird.
(Of course, as I think I've mentioned before, I would also do away with
the second decimal place, and kill the penny, nickel, and quarter. That
charge would therefore be $8.3 and you would pay with $8 in bills plus
- Sign of the times: a couple of years ago I
noted that my local post office, in addition to separating mail into
"local" and "out of town," had a bin reserved exclusively for Netflix
That bin is gone now.
- I guess that ultimately any sort of trip from the Bay Area is going
to be a sort of reverse commute where vacations are concerned. I sweltered
for two weeks in Canada and came home to perfect weather. I scoured the
Internet for the best of what Ontario and Quebec had to offer, and with
the exception of croissants at Le Paltoquet and a peach/pistachio number
at Mamie Claufoutis, nothing in Canada even approached my neighborhood
places here in my undistinguished corner of the East Bay: e.g., the
honey curry burrito I got a few blocks away at the Hot Shop upon my return
blew away every vacation dinner. This is the part where I would normally
add some snark about the state of American politics, but when I was in
Ottawa I went to watch the floor debate at the House of Commons, and wound
up sitting through a speech by Shelly
Glover crowing about how the wonders of the Tories' omnibus bill C-38,
which repeals 70+ regulations against pollution so more oil pipelines can
be built, slashes food inspection, ends oversight of Canada's version of
the CIA, and, in Glover's words, "encourage[s] Canadians looking for work"
(by cutting off their unemployment insurance). People made fun of the
teabaggers who said "That's it! I'm moving to Canada!" in the wake of the
Supreme Court's surprise decision to uphold health care reform, but so
long as Stephen Harper has his majority (which is very likely to last
through at least 2015) they might actually prefer the trend up there, if
not the status quo.
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