How the Netflix model rescued creativity, and why it needs to drop DRM

If you’re an 80s kid and haven’t heard of Stranger Things, you owe it to yourself to have a look. Now in a recent interview on NPR, Stranger Things creators the Duffer brothers said a few interesting things:

  • They approached Winona Ryder without expecting anything, they weren’t sure she would accept the role. She did, and they adapted the character to her. Complete creative license from Netflix.
  • Netflix didn’t expect any specific success. They appear to be funding several shows, and it’s enough if one or two of them is successful. Stranger Things is wildly successful, and this was unexpected even to the Duffer brothers themselves.
  • Netflix doesn’t need to create any hype. They release the shows whenever they’re released, usually without fanfare. Subscribers need to be subscribers to watch anyway, so Netflix doesn’t care if 100 people watch on the first night of a new show or 1 million.

This is interesting for several reasons:

  • Netflix doesn’t need to suck the cocks and lick the clits of advertisers. Doesn’t need to censor shows when those pesky writers wrote something an advertiser might not agree with.
  • Netflix can give full creative reign to its creators, and whether things flop or become a great success isn’t so important. This probably creates a wonderful atmosphere for  labors of love.

I think this is all no small part of the reason why they manage to hammer out several very highly acclaimed shows every year. Whether it’s completely new stuff like Bo-Jack Horseman or Stranger Things, whether it runs under license like Daredevil or whether it’s a spin-off from a series that came from traditional TV like Better Call Saul doesn’t seem to matter. Success has been had in several categories.

This must be wonderful for creators, and I believe it shows in their work. Meanwhile over at Amazon Video, Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle finally gets a series treatment, and it’s quite a good one as well. Amazon might have a strategy similar to Netflix’.

But! There are a few nasty, nasty buts about these services:

  • They promote the use of DRM on the web and the DRMification of content.
    • This fucks customers in the ass and other orifices.
    • It also gives them muscle to cut exclusive deals with the likes of Microsoft that unfairly put other operating systems at a disadvantage without any technical reason.
  • The streaming video you get is just streaming video. You don’t get to keep anything. No backups. No discs. If the service provider drops your favorite show, you won’t be able to watch any old episodes anymore even if you’re a subscriber.

For the moment, I think the benefits outweigh the cost, but only slightly. I hope the industry will one day realize that DRM is a crutch and that the only thing it reliably does is annoy people and put them at a disadvantage. It doesn’t prevent piracy, it never has.

I’m paying my Netflix tax, I’m very happy with the kind of series this produces, but I also reserve the right to download backups of whatever I want. This is still legal in Switzerland, and I hope it stays that way until the streaming services offer some form of downloadable copies. They could come a year after a show has aired, for example. They could charge a small fee for each download. That way, subscribers can have everything first, and when the show becomes old and perhaps a burden for Netflix to host, customers can take storage and backup into their own hands. And they’d even pay Netflix for the privilege. Both sides would win.

Here’s hoping.

The Dhammapada exploration – part 15: Happiness

So we talked about death earlier, and you know you’re gonna die, you’re already dying right this very minute. A cheerful thing to know. But there you thought Buddhism is all about serenity and happiness. “What use is this Buddhism crap if it doesn’t make me happy?”

An excellent question. The Buddhism crap is useful, but only in order to realize that you produce your own suffering. So stop doing that, and you will be happy. Here’s how:

Continue reading The Dhammapada exploration – part 15: Happiness

The Dhammapada exploration – part 14: The awakened

Whew, it’s been a while since the last Dhammapada exploration, but I relaunch it with a nice one: The awakened, the Buddha. Or you could also spell it “the buddha”. The historical Buddha, Siddharta Gotama, never claimed that he was “the” Buddha. He was a buddha. Just like you can be a buddha, an awakened one.

This isn’t some mad vision-seeing and LSD-trip-like awakening we’re talking about, either. It’s an awakening that lets you see, first-hand, the true nature of things. Nothing more and nothing less. And once you have it, will you be happy? You might, at least one of the living buddhas, Matthieu Ricard, is said to be the happiest man on this planet. Will you be glowing all day long and grinning and smiling just from achieving realization? Probably not.

I have to paraphrase something I read perhaps from Brad Warner, but it might also go back to Dōgen: Before you get enlightenment, you think it is a thing of pure gold that shines with wonderful radiance to bathe everything in glory. Once you have it, you see it’s no more than a clump of shit.

Continue reading The Dhammapada exploration – part 14: The awakened

Diary of a year of not buying video games (or books): July 2016

This month I was thinking about a new trick. Once I’m done with all this, I’ll start buying games again. So far, so good. But I also told you that when I was a kid, games cost so much more, and that made it more satisfying and much rarer to be able to buy a game. To sort of get this feeling back, I’ve decided that for every game I buy, I’ll donate 5 times the game’s price to a decent charity (as identified by GiveWell or other effective altruism organisations). I also vow to simply buy whichever game strikes my fancy at the time with no regard for sale or not sale. If there’s one thing I found out by going through my old games, it’s that appetites for certain genres don’t last long for me, so I’d have to act on the spot. That could mean 20 bucks for the game and 100 for charity.

Continue reading Diary of a year of not buying video games (or books): July 2016

Dear Microsoft, help me like you

The years after Ballmer’s exit from Microsoft brought big changes, and many of them.

  • .NET’s core became open source under a widely known permissive license. Previous FOSS efforts from Microsoft didn’t do so well in picking licenses. But now it’s all on GitHub, not on some marginal platform, but on everybody’s darling.
  • MS absorbed Xamarin, perhaps making mobile .NET development less of a pain. I don’t know if it had been painful at all, I hear Xamarin’s tools were pretty good on their own, but with Microsoft’s gloved and lubed hand deep inside the monkey, Xamarin may extract more joy from it.
  • Docker now (or soon) runs on Windows, natively using Hyper-V.
  • Node.js runs on Windows, natively.
  • Chakra (the JavaScript engine) has become open source and cross-platform. It will soon be available inside Node.js.
  • ASP.NET is open source.
  • F# is open source.
  • TypeScript is open source.
  • PowerShell is quite probably going open source.
  • Visual Studio Code came out, and is open source.
  • Canonical has ported their Ubuntu userland to the Win32 API.
  • Microsoft is going into containers and small footprint servers with Nano Server.
  • Microsoft absorbed Mojang and thus Minecraft. Perhaps to lure the younger generation towards Microsoft products, perhaps also because they can make cool toys like Hololens and stack them on something that already has an established community.
  • MS dropped XNA instead of open sourcing it, but Monogame came to the rescue, and now that we’re all part of the touchy-feely FOSS crowd, we’ll forgive them that move.

But there have been some dark chapters as well:

Continue reading Dear Microsoft, help me like you

Microsoft’s Cortana spies on everyone except school children

It appears that Microsoft decided that its voice-controlled assistant can no longer be disabled in Windows 10 after the upcoming Anniversary Update. So is listening in on everything someone says in a household something perhaps slightly immoral? From this action, you’d think that Microsoft doesn’t think so. But then you discover that Microsoft also decided that school children will not be spied on (that would be immoral?) so the Education Edition of Windows 10 will not contain Cortana at all.

Maybe physically removing the microphones from your computer will prevent being spied on, because just disabling the devices via software is not guaranteed to switch them off, since you don’t have the source code to the drivers or the kernel.

Microsoft is not alone in wanting to listen in on you having clumsy sex, Google also sneakily placed a recording system on all computers running an up-to-date version of Chrome. They even managed to infiltrate the free software base of Chrome, Chromium. So do Chrome users on Windows 10 now have two spies in their bedroom?

Applied Buddhism: The mechanics of judging

Many things can be judged, and I’d wager you’ve judged both people and actions in the past.

That man over there, why is he so fat? Oh, I don’t like how he’s so fat. He probably overeats and indulges, he just doesn’t know when to stop. I’m much better than that fat man. And look at her! That woman dresses like a slut. You can almost see her labia from the other side of the street! I bet she has cheap sex every weekend and doesn’t even feel guilty.

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Usually judgements are a good idea, a way of assessing a situation based on the evidence that you have. But the judgements I described are not really productive. They are prejudices  and they can do nothing to further your mind’s development.

Continue reading Applied Buddhism: The mechanics of judging