Don’t I have a choice?

It’s bad enough that I would be committing a federal crime in Canada if I dare to subscribe to DIRECTV. Today the provincial goverment in Ontario rushed through legislation to stop a U.S.-based for profit health care company from doing business in Canada, regardless of whether Canadians want it or not.

By law, Canadians are forbidden from paying for services that are covered by medicare, regardless of the government’s ability to provide those services. It is also illegal to pay to get an earlier spot in the waiting line.

Perhaps it’s just me, but if someone wants to pay for a service that they could get for free, then why not let them. This should take some strain off of the publicly funded system. The long term worry is that eventually service providers would gravitate to where the money is, but that is unlikely given that the doctor/clinic/hospital system is publicly funded and controlled. Of course to protect health care the government has set up a snitch line so that people can let them know when somebody is doing something wrong. That way we can pit people against each other.

At any rate, in a country that claims to provide personal freedom, why is my right to make choices being taken away little by little? The argument for DIRECTV being illegal is that it might detrimentally affect Canadian culture; in Canada every televison channel must be approved by the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC). They can also stop a television or radio station from broadcasting if they don’t like the content. With health care it is the protection of that great Canadian legacy – socialized medicine.

We need to eliminate some of the bureaucracy and restore the right to make our own choices.

Giving the customers what they want.

Over at the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, my friend David Weinberger laments the destruction of the internet by the entertainment cartel, who with Congress are going to lock up all content in the United States. He thanks G-d for Canada to the north, but the government here clearly sides with big entertainment so it may not always be so.

There is certainly a problem in so far as the media industries seem not to have a clue about what their customers want, and being intent on taking the concept of copyright far beyond anything ever intended. The sad thing about that is that there will likely never be any derivative works. Think for a second about the world without Mickey Mouse or Walt Disney. Mickey’s first movie was Steamboat Wille, a parody of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. Under pending law, Steamboat Willie would have been a violation of copyright unless Disney had ante’d up the cash to pay royalties. Parodies would no longer exist. No Airplane, Hardware Wars, Thumb Wars, Spy Hard, or Scary Movie 1, 2 or 3. Probably no Weird Al Yankovic either.

Maybe this battle is lost. Maybe there will be a chill over existing content. If so we will have lost the ability to use a chunk of history. However, movements like Creative Commons make me believe that there is still some sanity left in the world. Some people realize that the only way to propagate culture and history is to share it, albeit in a reasonable way. There needs to be some way that artists can be compensated for their work. As in my earlier post though, record companies should not be able to treat something like online music sales as a reason to charge double royalties.

There must be at least one smart person at a media company who realizes that some people still want physical items like CDs, while many others love the ability to have more transient media, which they would be happy to pay for once, and then be able to use it on various playback mechanisms. If perhaps the item could be treated like a unique physical item that moves from place to place. People are basically honest, but I believe that they expect the entertainment industry to give them what they want in the way of technological access to media. Yet the media companies just seem more intent upon giving less and less. They are unfortunately fighting a technology fight that they can’t win, and fueling all of the ways to subvert digital rights management (DRM). It would be so much easier to be proactive.

Then again, if I were a company that made my money from the distribution of physical media, I would be pretty concerned too. However, as David points out, they seem to have a lot of marketing value. Perhaps they could concentrate on that. Maybe ask the customer what they really want. And listen.

Does dieting kill brain cells?

I’m trying to be healthy so the other day I went to WeightWatchers.com for some recipes that were good for me. When I went to the site using Mozilla Firefox I encountered the following:

please upgrade your browser
You’re just a few steps away from enjoying the exciting features on our site, including our online Journal, Weight Tracker, and Community Recipe Swap.

To access these features, your browser must be set up to work with some of the special coding on our tools and pages. Below is a step-by-step guide to configuring your browser so it’s compatible with our site.

I do occasionally encounter this so I switched, albeit grudgingly, to Internet Explorer 6.0. I was greeted with the same message. I quickly dashed off a note to Tech Support at WeightWatchers.com including the following information:

I am using Internet Explorer 6.0.2600.0000.xpclient.010817-1148 and Mozilla Firefox 1.0PR.

They responded as follows:

We are sorry to report that the browsers below are incompatible with our website.

I.E. 4.x on PC and MAC
I.E. 5.0 on MAC
Netscape 4.75 and 6.2 on PC and MAC
Safari 1.0 on MAC
Opera (Avant)
Compuserve
Cell Phone and PDA Browsers
Any Version of Mozilla browsers including Firefox and Camino

We recommend that you either switch or upgrade your browser to:

I.E 6.0 and up on PC (including AOL)

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ie/default.asp

Netscape 7.0 and up on PC and MAC

http://channels.netscape.com/ns/browsers/download.jsp

Safari 1.1 and up on MAC

http://www.apple.com/safari

I responded again:

Since you obviously did not read my mail, I will point out again that I am using IE 6.0 and your site did not work.

A few days later I got an email stating:

At this time, we currently support Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Safari browsers. We understand your desire to use Mozilla and other browsers to view our website and we understand that there are ways to configure these browsers which will allow you to do so. However, results may be erratic when using our site with a non-supported browser. Please be aware that we cannot support browsers that are still in the beta phase.

I once again responded that I had been using a browser they claimed to support, but I felt that I had wasted far too much time in what I thought was an effort to help them.

I went back to the site again with IE and just for fun copied the working page link from IE and pasted it into Firefox. It worked just fine. Unfortunately rather that let me decide that for myself they had decided to deny me the opportunity to use their page in my choice of browser. I guess the customer isn’t always right.

I’ve decided that I can probably find other ways to stay healthy. Perhaps another health conscious site would like to have me as a customer?

Who’s making money on music downloads?

According to The Independent, record companies take a substantial cut of royalties from online music. This is making the online sale of music unprofitable for many sites, and will force some out of business.

According to the article, US figures show that iTunes gets 4 cents from each 99 cent track sale, music publishers get about 8 cents, while “mechanical copyright” holders – generally the record labels – take 62 cents or more. Copyright owners have doubled their share of royalties, even though most manufacturing costs have been eliminated.

This should embarrass the record companies. Instead of trying to encourage legal downoading of music, they see it as yet another cash cow, where they can make twice as much as they did before, without the bother of manufacturing or distribution costs.

It is unfortunate that there is currently no model for artist direct music sales, eliminating the record companies from equation. This would also create a new market for music marketing companies which could do the PR job that the record companies are now doing for much less money.

As for finding new talent, I’m not so sure that the record companies are all that great at that anyway. Perhaps we are reaching the point where word of mouth (or blog or web) is more efficient.

Queue Jumping in Canada

An item from Marginal Revolution talks about a person in Canada, Bill Binfet, who needs a knee replacement and has offered to buy an earlier spot from someone ahead of him in the queue. The government of course says it is unethical for a doctor to do this, but Binfet doesn’t want the doctor to do it; he wants to buy the spot from the person who has it.

The Canadian health care system is a mess. There is single tier health care, and by law you cannot pay for private service, unless of course you are a politician or hockey player. So there are tremendously long waiting lines for things like MRIs. Not everyone has a family physician, and waiting times in emergency rooms cam run up to 9 hours. Many claim that health care is free as Canada has socialized medicine, but many things are not covered and must be paid out of pocket. And recently the province of Ontario instituted a health care premium of up to $900 annually, in addition to a Fair Share Health Levy paid along with provincial income taxes.

Even if you are able to pay for service, and wish to do so, you cannot. And it may indeed be unethical to let someone buy their position in the queue, but is it reasonable that a person’s treatment depends entirely on when they got in line? Is there any objective way to assess who needs treatment more?

A friend of mine is in the hospital awaiting cardiac bypass surgery, which he is getting quite fast I must point out. However, he is still in a waiting line, albeit short, and he must go to a hospital an hour from home to get the surgery. He just happened to go into hospital with chest pains. If someone has a massive heart attack today, they will be behind him in the queue. Is that reasonable?

It isn’t clear to me how to allocate these scarce resources, but until a way is found to do so, health care in Canada continues to deteriorate.

It’s who you know.

Seth Godin expounds on Number 10 in his list of Lies to protect the status quo, suggesting that:

“In a world where things are viral, you’re more likely to succeed with passive networking (strangers recommending you) than the old school active kind”

This is true in a closely connected world like VCs or the blogosphere, but may not be so true on a regional level where connections are not so close. The big guys (McKinsey, Steven King, General Foods) Seth mentions always manage to win probably are able to do so because they are big, and have a strong connection network. They don’t have to be viral because they can easily win by sheer weight.

When you are starting something, which I am also currently going through, you have to find a way to infect people so that the virus catches hold and spreads. To be successful, you still have to infect a “sneezer”, to use Seth’s vernacular. A sneezer is a person so well connected that when he or she sneezes, everyone catches a cold, so to speak. And the message, or virus itself, has to be a sticky one. That means that it still depends on who you know, or how closely you are connected to a sneezer.

Copyright and your garage door.

It may seem odd, but Chamberlain Group sued Skylink Technologies under the anti-circumvention provision of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), alleging that Skylink’s universal garage door opener remote illegally accessed the software in the Chamberlain openers. In what is described as a landmark decision regarding technological innovation and interoperability, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals said it was okay to sell garage door remotes that worked with any brand of garage door.

Having owned several garage door openers over the years, I used the same Skylink remote with most of them, saving me the hassle of buying new remotes for each house. I’m not sure who would have foreseen the DMCA being used to prevent me from doing this, but it certainly would have been detrimental for me. I guess we’re extremely lucky that none of the home audio/video vendors saw fit to sue the makers of universal remotes, which I also use in abundance.

This seems quite a stretch for copyright law, which seems only to stifle competition and customer choice. It is not clear whether of not Chamberlain was willing to license the technology.

Are we destroying the internet?

Apparently the internet has will has experienced the equivalent of a population explosion, with the number of online users surpassing one billion by 2005. And Intel predicts the end of the World Wide Web.

In just a few short years we seems to have replicated all of the faults of the world onto the internet. We have overpopulation, viruses, internet terrorism, the desire for control and who knows what else. The internet is a phonemonal tool for communication, as proven by the blogosphere. It is a spectacular way to share information, available to all people equally.

Let’s hope that it can stay that way.