Random Thoughts – Randocity!

State of Emergency: California Aqueduct vs Drought

Posted in california, drought, water shortage by commorancy on February 28, 2009

So, Arnold Schwarzenegger has now declared a state of emergency for California with regards to the ‘3 year drought’.   So, apparently, California’s (specifically Northern California) water supplies are severely low.   The rain we’ve had recently has helped, yes.  Apparently, the amount of rainfall hasn’t been substantial enough to raise the resevoirs by any substantial amount.  So, counties and other municipalities want to enact water rationing. Ok, so that’s the problem.

Plug up the drain already!

On the other hand, California decided to be neighborly and build the California Aqueduct to pump water from Northern California to Southern California.  Ok, so does this make any sense?  Northern California is in a state of emergency and under water rationing.  All the while, the California Aqueduct continues to pump Northern California’s water supply down to Los Angeles.  My question is.. why?   If we need the water up here, cut the LA basin off.  They didn’t have the water before the aqueduct was built, they can live without it until Northern California’s water supplies have recovered.

Why do we continue to pump at all under drought conditions?

Under a drought situation, why does Northern California continue to pump water down to Southern California from Northern California reserves (even with restrictive limits)?  This setup makes no sense.  Yes, perhaps the water supplies are just as low in LA.  Yes, perhaps LA has no other water supplies to tap for LA use easily.  Oh well.  Northern California has its own drought to deal with and under these situations, the drain to LA needs to be plugged until further notice.

On the other hand, San Diego is apparently fed water from the Rocky Mountain runoff (which in 2008/2009 winter has been especially heavy).  So, why doesn’t LA set up their own pumping system and pump water up from San Diego instead of taking it away from Northern California?  Duh, San Diego is a heck of a lot closer to LA than Sacramento!  Worse, who knows just how much water evaporates before it makes its hundreds of miles trek from Sacramento to LA?  This Aqueduct is not efficient at all.

Los Angeles, find another supply.  Sacramento, stop the water siphoning!

LA needs to find another water source.. like, for example, getting it from San Diego’s Colorado River run off.  This situation is such that Northern California does not need to be pumping and redistributing its stored water to other parts of the state.  This water needs to stay in Northern California where it originated.  Who cares how much the Aqueduct cost or how many people it took to build it?  Under drought conditions, the water siphoning to LA needs to stop and that water needs to feed Northern California resevoirs.

If the Aqueduct stopped flowing, Northern California could replenish its own resevoirs and get rid of this ridiculous drought that appears to be mostly manmade.

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Ticketmaster: Master of nothing, king of fees

Posted in concerts, scam, scams, tickets by commorancy on February 16, 2009

If you’ve ever purchased tickets to a music concert, chances are you’ve had to deal with Ticketmaster.  You know, the ticket printing company that claims to help you obtain tickets to your favorite concert or event.  In reality, this company is nothing but one big scam.  Having sold tickets for Ticketmaster in the 80s, I’m well aware of their practices and how they choose to do business.

Scam or Scalper?

The only reason Ticketmaster exists is for convenience of the artists/promoters, not the concert goer.  If you’ve ever had to stand in line waiting for tickets at a venue, you can at least count the number of people ahead of you and know about what tickets you will receive.  Enter Ticketmaster with their near global presence.  Now, you stand in line at a Ticketmaster outlet and you have no idea how many other people are ahead of you or how many tickets they may purchase.  Combine this with Ticketmaster’s scam of holding back tickets for later release, random selection of tickets and you get the recipe for failure.  Even if you’re the first person in line at an outlet, you may walk away with upper promenade tickets simply because that’s ‘best available’.

Best Available

This notion is Ticketmaster’s way of searching their database and giving you whatever they deem is the ‘best available.  Note, however, that most outlets won’t let you specifically search or ask for tickets in other sections even if it doesn’t show to ‘Best Available’.  Yet, they may be available.  For example, I’ve specifically searched for seats in lower prom sections and found tickets there even when ‘Best Available’ shows to be upper prom.  So, whatever algorithm that Ticketmaster has written is completely flawed and doesn’t work (or is intentionally designed to NOT give you best available).

Released Tickets

Granted, some promotors do hold back sections of seats for their own use.  Some may be reserved for other purposes and some may be reserved for the venue to sell directly.  When these seats aren’t sold, given away or whatever, they are then released to Ticketmaster.  These seats (some front row seats) can appear even just hours before the event!  I have found front row seating for several events the day of the concert simply just poking around looking for tickets in Ticketmaster’s computer.    Granted, when you find them, you have to be willing to purchase them immediately because any of the other thousands of outlets could also be looking for them too.   For example, I had found front row seats for Neil Diamond (back during his heyday) and front row lower prom for Stevie Nicks (back in her heyday) within one or two days of the event.

Fees and more fees 

Ticketmaster now charges $12-$20 per ticket convenience charge.  Ticketmaster might as well be considered scalpers. In 1979, tickets to concerts COST $15.00.  The cost of Ticketmaster’s convenience charge is now close to or more than the event ticket cost in 1979!  For example, with Britney Spear’s 2009 tour tickets, why would you give Ticketmaster $18.75 for you to go to the web, search for ‘Best Available’ and then issue and print your  own tickets?  It doesn’t cost $18.75 to print two paper tickets and mail them.  The cost for that process is perhaps no more than $2.  $1 total for the ticket paper, ink and envelope and $1 for postage.  Ok, so there might be a small fee incurred in hand carrying the envlope to the post… So maybe $3.  Paying $18.75 for $3 worth of materials is outrageous.  If you choose to print your own tickets from your printer, they STILL charge you!  Yet, you paid for the paper and ink.

Online Ticketmaster

Now that Ticketmaster has moved to the web, their searching process has not changed.  But now, you have no control over what they find for you and you have no idea how many other people are out there doing the same thing.  They also do not give you the ability to actually search for tickets in specific seactions.  You take what they find for you even if they aren’t the best.  Worse, Ticketmaster still charges you the $18.75 convenience fee for you to do the work.  Other than their print and mail process, which is probably automated anyway, this fee is now completely outrageous and unnecessary.

No Ticketmaster concerts for me

Ticketmaster is part of the problem.  For the reasons above (price, fees, bad business practices), I do not trust Ticketmaster.  As a result of that lack of trust combined with outrageous ticket prices by the artists, I do not go to concerts.  When concerts cost no more than $20 to get in, I’m game.  When they get to $80, that’s when it’s no longer worth it.   After combining Ticketmaster’s outrageous and unnecessary fees with the cost of the event and the venue fees, I don’t understand why anyone continues to use Ticketmaster for purchase of tickets. You’re just paying to ensure Ticketmaster’s continued existence. Sure, it’s convenient, but it’s also a complete rip-off.  Insist on buying your tickets directly from the venue directly without the need for Ticketmaster.  If the venue sells you a ticket with a convenience fee, insist on not paying it as there is no such thing when you’re purchasing it directly from the venue.

Unless concert promoters wake-up realize that Ticketmaster is not the answer for selling tickets, they are likely excluding a lot of people, like myself, who would go to more events but simply will not use Ticketmaster, but still want a web based ticket purchase.  Promoters: Ticketmaster is not helping you fill the arena.

Competition is healthy

Visit your artist’s web sites and let them know that you don’t want to pay Ticketmaster’s gouging fees to obtain tickets to their event and encourage them to use other ticket distributors such as BandsInTown.  We desperately need competition in the ticket selling space to force Ticketmaster to rethink their outrageous fees.

Note that buying your tickets from a scalper is not the answer. nor is that competition.  Not only are you now paying Ticketmaster’s fees, you’re paying the scalper’s outrageous upcharge.  Again, scalpers are not competition to Ticketmaster, they are just there to mark up Ticketmaster’s already scalped prices.

The continuing failure of Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Posted in computers, drm, windows by commorancy on February 6, 2009

When are companies going to learn their lessons about using Digital Rights Management (DRM) to protect content?  It seems that just as one company learns a lesson another also has to go through these same pains.

What is DRM?

DRM is simply a piece of software that is designed to limit use of or prevent unauthorized use over a piece of software or content (such as music, videos, video games or productivity software).  DRM software is usually run on start-up of the actual software or content to-be-protected to determine if the user running it has a legitimate license.

How does it work?

DRM comes in many forms and there are many different implementations of DRM.  The most obvious example of DRM is Microsoft’s activation server system.  This system requires that Windows ‘check-in’ with Microsoft’s servers to determine if the copy of Windows you are running is ‘Genuine’ or ‘Counterfeit’.  I’m not sure how exactly they determine what’s what, but apparently they have some methodology.

There are other forms of DRM, some more innocuous than others.  Sony, for example, got beaten down hard for its use of a rootkit based DRM system on some of its BMG CD releases.  This DRM system installed software unknown to the user and, as a result of its installation, left Windows open to attacks and software compromises (from viruses and trojans).  This is an extreme example from a, then, well-respected company.

Other forms include dongles (USB keys), having physical media present, requiring license servers to be run, etc etc.  Regardless of what form it takes, it will interfere with your ability to use the software in the way you want to use it.

What DRM doesn’t do!

DRM doesn’t actually target the people whom it should target.  The intent of DRM is to prevent piracy or unauthorized use.  The problem with DRM is that it basically only affects legitimate users and non-technical pirates.  It doesn’t affect technically inclined pirates and software crackers… the exact people they need to target.  

Because many of these software systems install software onto Windows, these installed softwares can interfere with Windows or other applications in Windows… especially if two different softwares require two different versions of the same protection system loaded on the system simultaneously.  These are instances where one app can interfere with another or even interfere with itself.

So, DRM inconveniences the paying user and not really the pirates, which is not the intent of DRM.  For example, ZBrush (a 3D object sculpting package) uses an arcane software protection system that doesn’t work on many installations of Vista 64 (and possibly even Vista 32).  Pixologic (the developers of Zbrush), have basically thrown their hands up on the issue.  They have no idea why it happens.  Also, because they have licensed their protection system from a third party vendor, they can’t even fix the issue.  So, Vista users who may legitimately want to purchase and use their software cannot do so.

EA’s Spore is another prime example.  Spore’s arcane DRM system prevented installation and use of this game on multiple computers due to the way it ‘registered’ with EA’s servers.  This DRM even prevented use by different users on the same computer.  EA was very slow to respond about this issue and, as a result, hundreds of reviews for Spore on Amazon ended up 1 star. 

Crackers 

The Crackers of the world, many of them, are actually very good at what they do.  They can get into hex code and/or disassembled (assembly) code and rework (remove the sections) that do the DRM checks.  By disabling the DRM checking in the application, the application will then launch without the need for the DRM checks.

Note that these people are so adept at doing this, they can probably do it in their sleep.  This means that no matter what protection scheme is devised by someone, the crackers can reverse engineer it and remove the protection system in time.  Sometimes, they aren’t fully successful at removing it, but they don’t need to be.  Instead, they can work with the DRM by producing softwares that mimic the things the DRM software needs to function.  Either way, it gets around the necessary things that the DRM needs.

For this reason, DRM fails to target the people whom they want to target and fails to adequately protect the content they so desperately want to protect.

Fed Up!

Users are tired of DRM systems that prevent them from legitimately using software they purchase.  The companies do have the right to protect their ‘assets’, yes.  But, is it right for them to do so at the expense of their userbase?  Making people jump through hoops just to run a piece of software is not the way software is supposed to work.  DRM systems get in the way of the software and user experience rather than helping the company protect their assets.

Wake up companies

For software companies that are considering or are now using DRM to ‘protect’ (and I use that term very loosely) their software, you need to rethink your strategy, especially if you are seeing complaints from your userbase about the protection system preventing proper usage of your software.  If the DRM is getting in the way of your paying user’s ability to use the software, then you need to get rid of the DRM.  DRM is intended to be transparent to the user… but in many cases it is not.  Which means, the DRM system failed.

Should companies do away with DRM?  At this point, yes.  It doesn’t serve your company by inconveniencing the very people who pay you money.  It also doesn’t give you any points with customer satisfaction.  As more and more people wake up to DRM and dislike it more and more, companies may find that their userbase is dwindling because people won’t agree to install DRM-based software on their computer.  Software without DRM is more likely to function properly than DRM protected software.  There are way too many software competitors on the market to keep DRM in your software when your competitors don’t use DRM in their products.

So, yes, companies should seriously consider the removal of DRM systems from their software.  Also, because DRM fails to adequately target the people whom it should target, adding DRM only serves to damage your company’s reputation and negatively impact your paying userbase.

Have you found a piece of software controlled by DRM that you wouldn’t buy or that you did buy but couldn’t use?  If so, please comment here.  I’d like to see just how widespread this issue is.

Say no to DRM.

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