April 11, 2007

DRM and Apple

DRM stands for Digital Rights Management and is a means by which content owners and distributors restrict the use of their digital content. DRM however isn't a new concept and has been used to protect software installations for many years. When you enter your serial number to activate Windows for instance you are using a form of DRM.

The issue of protecting content is now the subject of a heated debate between content creators, publishers and distributors and is coming to a head thanks mainly to the market dominance of Apple's iTunes music stores, by far the largest distributor of DRM'd content.

Presently many different distributors use different DRM systems, most of which are incompatible with others. For example, if you buy a song from iTunes it will only work in iTunes and on the iPod and if you buy a song through a Windows based music store it won't work on the Mac or the iPod, or many other digital music players like Microsoft's newly released Zune.

DRM is confusing for consumers and is being blamed for the slow growth of digital content sales. In an effort to grow the industry Apple, in partnership with EMI have announced they will begin selling DRM free music beginning in May. The new DRM free music will be 30% more expensive however will be encoded at a higher bit rate, providing consumers with higher quality downloads.

Other content publishers however take comfort in DRM as it lets them control who listens to their music. In practice however media piracy is so prevalent that DRM hasn't decreased it, in fact some believe it has had the opposite effect. Additionally, the anti-DRM lobby makes the point that CD's don't have copy protection, so why should digital music.

As a consumer it's fascinating to watch this debate from the side lines. It's also interesting to watch the shift in power from the incumbent content publishers to the new age distributors who deal directly with their customers.

April 4, 2007

MySpace for Comedy

You might have heard about MySpace from your kids. It is one of the most popular social networking websites and attracts millions of visitors every day. MySpace is a place where users 'hang out' and post information about themselves, what they do and meet new people. Traditionally MySpace attracted lots of musicians, keen to promote their music but now MySpace is attracting a new and funnier section of the community - comedians.

If you log on to MySpace and click on the 'Comedy' link in the top menu bar you'll get to Comedy homepage where you can find information about your favourite acts. In Australia popular comedians like Adam Hill, Dave Hughes and Wil Anderson all have their own pages while lesser known acts like Alison Bice, Amelia Jane Hunter and Justin Hamilton also have a MySpace presence.

Like musicians before them MySpace helps comedians stay in touch with their fans by providing a central place to host information about upcoming gigs and events, and even host videos and audio recordings of their acts. Adam Hill for example chats with his MySpace audience between his shows and has even begun to incorporate the trials and tribulations of his MySpace followers' stories into his shows. Similarly, Dave Hughes (who currently has over 36000 friends) put up pictures of his recent wedding on his MySpace homepage.

With over 760 comedians on MySpace you are sure to find your favourite act. And if your favourite comedian doesn't have a MySpace page make sure you heckle them at the next performance.

A Scanner Sam I Am

About once a week I have nightmares. Not about monsters in the cupboard or falling off a cliff but about filing all the paper that lives on my desk. I've got paper bills, paper notes, dockets, sticky notes - you name it, if it exists on paper then it is on my desk. That's why when I heard about Fujitsu's new ScanSnap range of desktop scanners I got excited.

Paper is public enemy number 1 for me. There is always too much of it in my life. Think about this; My average mobile phone bill is 10 pages long. I get one invoice a month, and I have to keep the invoices for 7 years (as per government regulations). An A0 sheet of paper weighs about 80 grams (80gsm) and there are 16 A4 size sheets per A0 sheet. So each A4 sheet of paper weighs about 5 grams. That's 840 pages or close to 5kgs of paper! I know that sort of analysis is purely analytical but for me there is also the question of filing. Does the telephone invoice go under "T" for telephone, "P" for phone or "V" for Vodafone. I don't know and I never will.

With the ScanSnap S500M (or fi-5110C for Windows XP) on my desk all of these worries are behind me. The ScanSnap is the first fully functional desktop scanner that literally changes the way you manage your documents. The ScanSnap is compact with a tiny footprint (29x16x16cm) and runs over a USB connection.

When you have a document to scan you simply place it in the document feeder, press the button marked 'Scan' and within 20 seconds a PDF with your document pops up on your computer. That's it. No cropping, scaling or working out the resolution - it's all automatic. Was that invoice double-sided? Don't worry, the ScanSnap is duplex. It scans the front and the back at the same time. The S500M is capable of scanning 18 duplex full colour pages per minute. That's fast, very fast. The only thing you'll need to do is give your file a relevant name like 'ANZ Statement Dec 06' and file it in the correct folder.

Out of sheer excitement I created my own script that launches each time I scan a document and forces me to file it correctly. With Mac OS X (and now Windows Vista) you also have the option of adding meta-data to the file. Meta-data is information you can attach to the file that isn't included in the file name. It might be the bank account number, the date you paid the bill and the receipt number. The benefit of adding this information to the file is it can make it easier to find in the future.

Fujitsu have also added some other great features to the ScanSnap like auto size and blank page detection. If you scan a business card for example the PDF ScanSnap produces will only be as large as necessary. Likewise, if you scan a bank statement and one page is blank ScanSnap excludes the blank page when creating the PDF. ScanSnap can also differentiate between colour and black and white documents. As a sweetener Fujitsu bundles the full version of Adobe Acrobat 7 with the ScanSnap however I still prefer to use Preview, Apple's built in PDF software as I think it is faster and more efficient.

In my testing the ScanSnap performed admirably. I experimented with mixed scan jobs, from a small receipt to an A4 sheet in one scan session and the ScanSnap figured it out every time. I even tried scanning photos with great success. On occasion the ScanSnap hit a snag and jammed. After some practice I worked out this occurred for two reasons; the paper wasn't 'flat' enough or I had placed it in without setting the guides correctly. When a jam does occur the software politely pops up and asks you to either correct the problem (a simple task of lifting the lid and removing the jam) or cancel the scan. When the ScanSnap did scan a document crooked the built-in corrected the rotation almost perfectly every time.

At $899 for the fi-5110C and $1199 for the S500M document scanners aren't cheap. However, if you have an urge to purge your home of paper then the ScanSnap is for you. You'll get a reliable, fast and small desktop scanner that will give you extra desk space and less clutter. And isn't that what everyone wants?