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Thursday, April 28, 2005

I'm back...

... I think. Or rather, I try.

School this year has been pretty crazy, sort of like finally being in "college" but not feeling like it's what you are always told about. I have done lots of things, and not done lots of other things too - including write here in my blog. So I'll be around this summer and I think I'll write a bit. Watch out for new postings every once in a while; hopefully someone out there is reading.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Censorship in the Real World

If you've been following the news recently, you'd know about how Real Networks is running a campaign called "Freedom of Music Choice" to get Apple to open up its FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) system that it uses with the iTunes Music Store. They're putting all of their music on sale for 49¢, as opposed to Apple's $1.

The website for the "Freedom of Music Choice" site is purportedly a "community" site where they post news and people can comment, etc. Part of it is a petition at PetitionOnline (they couldn't write their own petition script on their website?) to get iPod owners to tell Apple that they think that the iPod's digital rights management system should be more open.

Unfortunately it looks like that backfired for Real. Their initial petition, which as of now is still up, bombed out, with the great majority of "the undersigned" putting in comments - for the entire world to see - that were anti-Real and pro-Apple, such as:

*sigh* I was wondering how long it would take before another company stole another successful idea from Apple then profitied off it. Go away, Real.

Get a friggin clue! I can't wait to get home and delete every REAL product from my Macs and PC's. You just lost a subscriber. Not that your products were ever good, I only used them because I DIDN'T HAVE A CHOICE!!!
There were also some comments that were for opening up the iPod's DRM, but they were few and far inbetween.
I've owned Macs since 1984 and I now own my second iPod (a new 40G). I've imported hundreds of CDs and bought over $200 worth of music from iTMS, but I would still like the freedom to use any kind of music on the iPod. Opening the iPod to all formats would be good for everyone.
The unfortunate aspect is the fact that Real has decided, apparently, that the whole open-petition thing wasn't good enough, because people could post comments that weren't in line with their idea of what a "good comment" was. So they have started another petition. Except that this time, people can't add comments that are viewable by the average user.

What happened to being "open"?

This is censorship at its "best". I mean, I don't care if another company makes files that can be used on the iPod - If I have more options of where I can get my music from, it's not a bad thing, even though I currently prefer the iTunes Music Store. I'd be more concerned if they made iTMS files work on other players without licensing - but I'm disgusted at this.

Only slightly.

If they want to show Apple that consumers are behind the idea of opening their DRM standards, they should let the consumers speak for themselves instead of just seeing "177 total signatures."

Oh. I guess letting consumers speak for themselves, when you aren't sure that they'll say what you want them to isn't good enough. This is what's known as "playing dirty."

Monday, August 16, 2004

What is Israel's biggest economic problem?

  • High taxes
  • Socio-economic divide
  • Centralization and cartels
  • None of the above
Results from Ma'ariv

I'm going to have to go with none of the above. I mean, yeah, those are indeed problems, but they asked what's the biggest problem. Let's look at each one of them, and then I'll reveal the big secret: what I think is the real economic factor in Israel that has been slowing or speeding economic development for the past 56+ years.

Disclaimer and little small print: yes, I know that I'm not Israeli so don't start yelling at me for saying things about the Israeli economy without living there, but I've seen it and I know my economics and my history and I know a few things here and there. These are also the ramblings of someone who cares deeply about what's going on over there. So just bear with me for a moment. :)

High taxes (Ma'ariv readers think: 64%)

High taxes are a problem, I guess. Who likes paying high taxes? Taxes in Israel are in fact extremely high, reaching upwards of 50% for incomes of something around 18,000 NIS and up (that's a little less than $4000 as of today). Wow! That's nuts. Considering that I'm not far from making that much money even this summer... hmm, that's pretty high. I'm not in the mood to pay 50% anytime soon.

Do high taxes stop people from making money? No, they just give a higher proportion to the government. Does it give people less to spend? Yes, it does. Is it something that the Israeli economy can do alright with? Yes. I mean, they could do better with lower taxes, but come on - is it the biggest problem? No. There are bigger issues to deal with first before you can approach the most materialistic issue, the amount that's taken out of your pocket yearly.

Socio-economic divide (Ma'ariv readers think: 7%)

The Museum on the Seam is a great place to learn all about this. It's one of Israel's biggest problems - something which will cause Israel to have a major demographics problem within twenty years. Most people will agree that it is indeed an issue when you have Me'ah She'arim, the most famous ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, where they will do all sorts of crazy things.

(By the way, just to get it out of the way, I'm not such a big fan of the Ultra-Orthodox. They're great people, my kibbutz dad, grew up there, but really I can't stand ultra-whatevers. If you're ultra-whatever, you're also ultra-nuts.)

It's something that has to be dealt with, but it's not an economic problem. The chilonim aren't boycotting haredim businesses and vice-versa. It's simply a social problem, and economic growth will help it.

Centralization and Cartels (Ma'ariv readers think: 25%)

This is a real economic issue, as opposed to the socio-economic divide. Companies like Bezeq and El Al were goverment-controlled monopolies, and right now they are currently being broken up. By "broken up", I mean rather that they are being sold off to the public. This is a Good Thing™, I suppose. Though El Al might not offer such cheap flights for olim chadashim...

However, Israel is such a small country with such a small population, with more companies competing against each other, will each have such a small customer-base that nobody will have economies of scale, and so it will be more expensive? I don't know right now, but five years from now it should be apparent.

I think the real cartel that is an economic problem is none other than the histadrut (the national labor union). Think: If your workforce is going on strike twice a year, it'll cause economic problems, right? The histadrut itself isn't a problem, the workers have a right to represent themselves in labor unions. I'm a big fan of the unions usually, except when they can bring the economy to a halt whenever they want, and so have complete control over it if they want. I remember last year when I went to Rome, and my friends had visa problems because the histadrut was on strike, and they couldn't get their visas renewed.

When people are trying to import or export and can't get through customs because the histadrut is on strike, well, it's a problem. When people can't get visas, it's a problem. This is a major problem for the economy. Who would want to do business with Israel if they can't get in and out of the country?

None of the Above (Ma'ariv readers think: 5%)

Well this one is very broad. I can't really say how this isn't an economic problem because it just doesn't explain itself so well.

I tend to agree that Israel's biggest economic problem is indeed none of the above. I think that it happens to be one thing: the lack of peace in the region. I'm not even talking about the whole Israeli-Palestinian thing, though that's certainly a part of it, rather it's simple economics.

Business flourishes best in peaceful and uneventful times. When people can be assured that tomorrow, war isn't going to break out, when they aren't going to have to leave their job for a month every year until they're fifty for miluim (reserve duty), when people are assured that their state has a future no matter what, people will be more apt to invest in Israeli ventures and to start out on their own rather than just take the job at the office park. That's what really drives economies - people who aren't happy with their desk job and start their own businesses, and grow them. But a desk job is more reliable, easier, and in times when the future isn't certain they're probably going to keep the steady job rather than set out and blaze a new path into the sunset.

Now I'm not going to suggest how to get peace in the region. That's been gone over just a few too many times. I just think that it happens to be the biggest economic problem. In times when Israel's future seemed bright - like after the Six-Day War - business boomed. Other times it didn't seem so good, it got worse. It's the major economic factor for Israel.

Israel just wants to be left alone so that Israelis can live their lives and have a grand old time. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that there are certain neighbors who wouldn't put up with that.

Israeli Olympics Coverage

Israeli olympic person

Watching the olympics here in America on NBC, and also on CBC (the Canadian channel) is pretty nuts. These guys are totally crazy! I mean, they are amazing... last night I was over at my friends' house and we were watching the gymnists. Whoa! They can do some pretty awesome stuff. And the commentators were talking about how they made mistakes. Well, I'd love to see them try to do as well!

In any case there doesn't seem to be any sort of rhyme or reason to the choice of which countries to showcase. That is, which countries besides the USA (on NBC) and Canada (on CBC). I think that it might have to do with which demographics they think they are catering to - i.e. they show Chinese for the Chinese American people, Japanese for the Japanese American people, Kenyans for the African American people, etc. because people will want to watch the people from the country to which they are ethnically and/or nationally tied.

But I've been searching in vain for coverage of the Israeli competitors at the olympics. Nothing so far on TV... or in the papers. I guess there just aren't enough Jews watching the olympics to merit showing Israelis. Or perhaps they are afraid to show Israel too much, or at all, afraid that they will be boycotted by anti-Israel (anti-semites) people?

Although Ha'aretz are doing lots of coverage over on their websites. YES! Well, I mean, who would have guessed that the Israeli media would be covering their own athletes?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Firefox with AdSense

Jesse Ruderman writes:
The adbar extension displays Google ads related to pages you view.
Now while this seems interesting, finding relevant related pages based on Google ads, isn't it going to be a bit biased based on who pays for ads? It's not like Google is just finding generally relevant related pages, it's generally relevant related pages that have paid for ads. I mean, if someone wants to find new websites, they can also use something like StumbleUpon, which isn't biased based on who pays the mulah.

Also, the ads are run in 'test' mode which means that basically, nobody pays for them and nobody gets paid.

Theoretically, if the Mozilla Foundation got an Adsense account, and viewing and clicking these ads were to donate money to the Mozilla Foundation, that would be particularly cool. I mean, hey, a lot of people would donate the screenspace if they could make a few $$ for the Foundation.

Unfortunately for that plan, the Google Adsense Program Policies state:

Client Software

A site or third party cannot display our ads, search box, or search results as a result of the actions of any software application such as a toolbar. No Google ad or search box code may be pasted into any software application. We may not accept sites that are associated with some types of client-side software or offer these types of client-side software.

(emphasis mine)

Alright, that kind of shoots that down. But perhaps Google would make an exception for the Mozilla Foundation because

  1. We're non-for-profit
  2. It's an optional toolbar that people can download; it's not forced onto people like it is with Opera
I think it's worth a shot, the worst thing they can say is no.