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Where the hell did they go?

April 3, 2017

Last night I was watching Sam Dunn’s excellent TV Series “Metal Evolution”and enjoying it greatly.  Seeing crowds of teenagers when teenagers went to see bands actually play instruments thrashing around and getting out all of their tensions at a metal show, made me quite nostalgic. My high school was about half full of these people and in hindsight, I quite miss them. These were the guys who were just muscular by default, wore faded clothes with no logos on them, threatened to beat you for fun, didn’t give a shit about much at all, worked on cars a lot (and drove one with just primer on it), and planned to get a factory job the day after high school ended and party on the weekends.  In Kitchener, Ontario, where I grew up these guys would (literally) pull up behind you with the lights off on their cars and jump out and threaten you (or occasionally actually hit you).  The weird thing is that when we got big enough that they didn’t threaten us anymore, we actually kind of missed them. It happened in one specific incident: my friend Terry and I were standing at the strip mall doing nothing, and a guy in Nova pulled up and drove to within inches of our legs. We were supposed to run in terror at that point, but instead Terry just threw his half finished chocolate milk onto the hood of the guys car and we stood there waiting for something to happen.  Much to our astonishment, he just backed up and drove away.  I was sad … it was the end of an era.

But the point of this:  where did these guys go? There were thousands of them when I was in high school, swarming all of the “tech hall”, growing hair down their backs, and getting stoned at school. I kind of feel like there should be “tough guys” somewhere, but where are they? Those guys must have gone off with their girlfriends and had kids (like, immediately) … did their kids become hip hop fans and drive Hondas with exhaust amplifiers? That must have been horrible for them.   And, now we’re stuck with this generation of people who listen to what?  I really don’t know.  What I do know is that it makes me sad to think of an entire generation of young people with excess energy who don’t have any aggressive music to listen to to get all of the tension out, and don’t go to concerts where they can get all sweaty and just be totally out of control for a couple of hours.  I guess that today’s tough guys sit in their bedrooms with their game console and curse their opponents in first person shooters … that’s really a step down from the legacy of their forefathers. I want them to have scary, aggressive, loud music again. They need it.

My son is into Metal. I’m really glad about that because I think that young people should have music with “balls” … it’s an outlet, a way to pump oneself up or harmlessly experience some rage, and it is also an “outsiders’ club”.  He is one of very few at his school, however. You and the other folks who feel alienated can unite around something, wear an insignia, and draw pictures of their logos on your binder (or jean jacket) to show that you belong to something. The Metal musicians were the same people as the kids listening to the music.  You were all part of the same club. A young person listening to Kanye West, or Drake, or whatever, is idolizing a person that lives in another universe, and you can hardly aspire to be Jay Z … that ain’t happening. You can’t become Lady Gaga … all of these people live in multi-million dollar mansions in Malibu, make music that a person like that would make (i.e. – definitely lacking in “balls”) … you can only worship that person from afar, not feel like you’re all in the same club.

Anyway, while I had a great nostalgic time watching Metal Evolution, there was a certain feeling of sadness knowing that this monster, aggressive, communal letting-go is no longer a thing.  Most metal shows now are licensed, so I can’t even take my 16 year old, and he can not experience that draining of anger and aggression that is really good for a person.  I went to see Slayer in September and thought: “man, I wish my son could be here to see that there is a community of people that are like him, and to witness people letting go and being crazy for a couple of hours … not to mention just experiencing the power of loud live music.”  (there was this great thing that in this really huge mob of crazed metal heads, at random moments someone would just yell “SLAYER!!!!” and then everyone would started yelling and thrashing around … I loved that). There’s an epidemic of anxiety among young people these days, and I can’t help but wonder if it might help even a little bit for them to be able to get out and let it all out once in a while … just scream in a crowd of equally angry and frustrated young people … hell, I still do it, and I’m 53 years old.  It feels good.

But once again … where did the tough guys go?  Where are they hiding?

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Bell makes me an (incoherent) offer.

July 21, 2016

An unlucky Bell rep actually got me to pick up the phone last night. Once in a while I’m in the mood to have a chat with these people and attempt to leave them in a heap on the floor.  Cruel, yes, but in reality, they call me.  Once you decide that you should be able to prattle on at me in my living room during the dinner hour … you get whatever I feel like dishing out.

So, this time around:

Bell guy: “We have a great deal for you sir!”

Me: (thinking, “do I dive in or just hang up?”)  I dive in.  “Okay, tell me all about your amazing deal”.

Bell guy: “Let me just calculate your deal for you, sir”

Me: “Seriously, don’t you phone people all day?   You have to calculate the amazing deal every time? What the hell are you doing over there”.

Bell guy:  “I can offer you the usual $212 service for TV, phone and internet, for only $150 … sounds great, huh?”

Me: “I currently pay, say, $50 (maybe $60) per month for all of that … have high-speed internet, calling to anywhere in the world without long distance charges, and every feature ever invented, plus I watch whatever I want in HD”.

Bell guy: “Who is your provider, sir?”

Me: “Teksavvy”.

Bell guy: “hmmmmm, I cannot match those prices, sir.  I can offer you all of this for $150, though, sir”.

Me: “Why would I pay 3 times as much?”

Bell guy: “You would get a dedicated Fibre line, sir”

Me: “What would that get me for the extra $100?”

Bell guy: “You would have guaranteed high-speed, sir”.

Me: “I already have enough bandwidth for 4 people to constantly stream everything they want in HD, while also using the phone … why do I need more?”

Bell: “You would have a dedicated line, sir. You would have the best HD quality, sir”

Me: “Are you suggesting that there are varying qualities of digital HD? I watch everything in 1080p … what is the resolution of this amazing HD you speak of?”

Bell: “You would have a dedicated line, sir”.

Me: “Let me explain digital to you.  It’s either on or off by its very nature.  You either get HD or you don’t.  There isn’t really nice HD, and just okay HD. It’s all HD. If it gets to your screen, it doesn’t matter what kind of wire it came over”

Bell: “Okay sir”

Me: “So, I need you to say to me that Bell can not offer me a better deal than I already have. Can you do that?”

Bell: “No sir, Bell has the best solution in the industry”.

Me: “Well, then. I guess we’re all done here.”

 

 

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Response to a “journalist”

June 18, 2016

He wrote about clickbait but what happened next will stun you

This article strikes me as remarkably immature. Regardless of what you call it, or who is to blame, there has been a massive change in the content and spirit of the news. Yes, the internet and the 24 hour news cycle have required changes, but how those have been adopted is entirely up to the profession providing the news. Many of the news outlets (close to all of them) have chosen to trivialize what they do, and transform themselves into one giant National Enquirer. They did that, not their readers, not their medium. Previously, had you offered Walter Cronkite or Dan Rather the “amazing” story that someone fell out of their wedding dress, or a really cute cat picture, they would have been insulted that you even thought that story had anything to do with their work. In the pre-internet days there would be one “human interest” story at the end of the news and it would be identified as such … now, pretty much every story is presented at that level. That was the choice of those who present the news, not the medium, not the audience. Now, many journalists fall all over each other to report complete BS if it gets some attention. And “attention” is the word that matters. It is now ALL about attention, and not at all about covering what might be important, but won’t gain readers.

The news media is now on the exact same level as Justin Bieber. Justin says endlessly, “look at me”, and there is nothing beyond that. No content, just something to glance at. No challenge, no message, no content … just an image. The media has chosen to do the same: say “hey, look over here”, and when you look, there’s no “there there”. All you get is a titillating image. They have chosen that. Their message is entirely of their choosing, and they have sold any importance they had to the highest bidder. Where was the media during the rise of Trump? I saw very little ever examining his message, trying to grasp his policy, or questioning whether he was even suited to doing the job. This wasn’t political. Nobody was forcing anyone to stay hands-off with Trump … not even the GOP likes him! The media CHOSE to report the Trump story as a circus, and an attention-grabbing headline. They said, “hey, look over here”, but when we looked they just said “wow, that’s really something, huh? … more pics tomorrow!” People looked, but they learned nothing, and that was the media’s choice. The medium changed, the news cycle changed, but you chose how to respond, and you sold your profession to this system of generating trivial pablum to morons. You chose that, and now you’re a joke.

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Cars … I don’t get it.

May 13, 2016

I was coming out of a store yesterday and a white Mercedes was pulling out of a parking space.  A fellow walked up and said “nice car!” to the driver.  Now, this probably happens constantly but I never let anything just be simple and thought “what the hell does that even mean?”

Here’s why I would even think such a thing (and feel free to walk away at any point).  I really doubt that this guy was just admiring fine engineering, or attractive design, or whatever.  I mean, why would you compliment the driver of the car for the design of the car he’s in?  He didn’t design it, he may not even know that much about it. Currently, he can’t even see it, since he’s inside it, and the admirer is outside of it. He most likely had no role in build quality, and was not sitting around the table when the various components were decided on.   In fact, he likely had absolutely nothing to do with how nice the car is.  He’s probably exactly the same as the guy complimenting the car … he saw it, thought it had something about it that appealed to him, and he bought it.

So, is this guy actually congratulating this fellow on managing to identify such a nice car?  Really?  That’s an achievement worthy of stopping him in the parking lot and making sure that he realizes the immensity of what he’s done? In reality, it’s a shiny white Mercedes … every person that sees it probably thinks to some degree “oh, that’s pretty”.  That’s hardly a remarkable feat of aesthetic judgement.  Does this guy stop everyone, everywhere, and tell them how amazing they are for realizing that a shiny white Mercedes is nice-looking car? That’s really close to saying “water is wet”or “that airplane really flies through the air” or some such thing.

Let’s rule out that these two are having a moment because they both think that Mercedes are “nice”.  In fact, I’m sure that’s not what they’re doing, since they didn’t continue their conversation with discussions of other equally obvious things that they share. One of them didn’t yell “thanks, and hey, deer sure are graceful creatures, huh?”  Nope, it began and ended with cars.  So, does this guy just feel really strongly that people who are inside of certain models of automobile are worthy of being congratulated for having got in such a nice vehicle?  Does he hang out in his spare time at the Mercedes dealership just waiting for someone to get in a “nice one” and the congratulate them on their choice? That seems unlikely as well. But, if he doesn’t just feel that people should be congratulated for managing to get inside of a Mercedes, what the hell is he doing?

I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t looking for confirmation that the car is “nice”.  He seemed pretty sure of that, and I don’t think that he would even be able to imagine the guy in the car responding “no, this thing is a piece of shit”, although I would really enjoy driving around in that car and saying just that (to watch the faces as I said it). No, this is a case of two people who already know that they will be in agreement, saying something that has pretty much no significance and an indeterminate meaning.

The most simple explanation is that this fellow is congratulating the other fellow on successfully purchasing a “nice car”.  This seems really unnecessary.  Anyone can do that with pretty much no effort.  Walk onto the lot, find a car that looks like your favourite Hot Wheel, and sign some papers.  There’s not a lot else to it.  You don’t have to have the money, and the dealer will never say “I’m sorry, but I can only sell these to people who are  real Mercedes customers”.  You can become a “Mercedes person” just by walking on the lot and going into debt.  The bar for entry to this club may be lower than virtually any other club you could join. You could even be so hopeless that you need someone else to tell you which car is nice, and then just buy the one you’re told to. Nope, I realized when I was a kid that any asshole can buy a car, and assholes with really poor judgement are even better at buying really expensive models. So, the complimenting guy doesn’t even know who the driver is, and may be complimenting him for a purchase that means that his family can’t buy groceries. I don’t think that’s what’s going on either.

So, what the hell is this guy doing? This may just be my warped, paranoid view of the world, but I think these guys are doing the aural equivalent of a secret handshake. It’s a nod and a wink, a “we know “nice” … you and me, we’re alike”.  That is based on the equally bizarre (to me) concept that somehow your choice of a car not only indicates what type of person you are, but actually makes you the “type of person who buys a Mercedes”. I suppose that by definition you have become “the type of person who buys a Mercedes”, but I don’t buy into the idea that “Mercedes buyers” are a type of person.  Adolf Hitler was a pretty devoted Mercedes man (as were pretty much all of the Nuremberg war criminals), as is Mario Andretti, Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, and Sylvester Stallone.  Are they all a type? Do Britney and Sly stop in the parking lot and talk about how they and Hermann Goering are like peas in a pod? Seems unlikely.

So, (again) I’m thinking that what is really happening here is that this fellow yells “nice car”, but what he’s really doing (entirely without knowing it) is saying “you and me, buddy … we share the illusion that the act of choosing a car and paying for it, while being a totally mundane activity, has changed the very nature of our beings … we are both members of the exclusive fraternity that knows that a Mercedes is “nice” (even though everyone else knows that too).  We are “Mercedes people” and that makes us … uh, special?  The thing is, once the high-five for super judgement is complete, there is nothing else. They are two people who, for a fleeting moment, share a feeling that they are part of a special club, the members of which can tell that a car is nice that everyone else also knows is nice, and at least one of them can perform the completely unexceptional task of going to a dealer and signing papers.  He then successfully gets in the car, and drives it to the store, where he is congratulated for his achievements (I think). In short, this was a really meaningless exchange.

That’s what I think about when I walk home … weird, huh?

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Everyone, just calm down now.

April 15, 2016

Yep, that’s what I think.  Everybody just needs to calm down.

Americans get excited about money from oil, and invade other countries.  Other countries get excited about being invaded and retaliate.  Americans get more excited about security and start taking any measures they can think of to protect themselves.  Republicans get excited because the President has a relatively dark colour to his skin and start a very excited movement for everyone to be ignorant and paranoid.  Donald Trump excitedly yells, and excited people yell back ignorantly about making things “great again”.  Extremists blow things up.  Putin gets excited and starts invading things, and has some of his planes buzz an American destroyer. The excitement starts catching and other people get excited as well.

It seems that frantic, excited reaction to events breeds more excited frantic reaction, and its really hard to turn that around. Once excitement reaches a certain level it turns into fear and paranoia … and then violence. It takes a lot for Buddhist monks to get excited (actually I know almost nothing about them, but I make things up), but if they do, things really get crazy.  Most of the time, though, they’re really calm so you never hear about them doing stupid things on the news. The news is about excited people, but you might notice that a lot of the time their excitement is just a precursor to someone getting hurt. In fact, people get excited about the prospect of other people being hurt while they watch.  People get excited by football and there is no way to imagine football without brain-damaging collisions … pretty exciting. People get excited about other people doing dangerous things because other people might get hurt. They get excited about stock car racing because there might be a crash and someone might get hurt.

It’s pretty hard to be violent when you’re relaxed unless you’re a complete psycho.  So, I’d like everyone to just calm down and take some deep breaths.  ISIS should have, like, a picnic with the CIA and nobody should get excited. Maybe they could all go and get a massage and one of those hot stone treatments. The only way that could turn out poorly is if someone gets excited, and that will be against the rules. So … calm down … take some deep breaths, look around you.

Just don’t get so excited.

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Just better.

April 6, 2016

The other day I bought a lovely used 1963 release by Shelly Manne on Impulse! records.  Impulse! had a beautiful design for all of the releases that is just unmistakable.  Not many labels make all of their records uniform in design, but Impulse! always did a simple black white and orange design that looks great. (RogueArt is a great example of this now … I can easily spot my RogueArt release on the shelf.)

Anyway, I was sitting and staring at this record and admiring what is truly a message from another universe. On the cover is a picture of Manne, looking thoughtful and smoking … that’s it.  What I realized is that this is a far better mode of communication than anything that has come since.  I see Manne, I get a message of what this thing is and some atmosphere, and that’s about it.  Thing is, that is all that you need.  The music will speak for itself, and liner notes will give a bit of background, and you’re set. I don’t know what he had for lunch, I don’t know who he’s dating, there is no product placement stamped on his forehead, there aren’t a series of articles describing Manne’s misbehaviour on the weekend, or pictures of him pushing a baby stroller fresh from waking up.

If I did have all of that extra, uh, stuff, I wouldn’t be even remotely better off.  In fact, for me, having all of that information would actually put me at a disadvantage.  I am speaking of what it is like now, with the Internet providing a torrent of information to me pretty much constantly, and almost all of it is nothing but noise.  Would it be better for me to see pictures of Mann’s lunch, see pics of him wasted on the couch with his buddies on the weekend, or know about some shoes that covets?  I realize that humans have this unquenchable voyeuristic tendency, but does the satisfaction of that desire to see into private lives actually enhance … anything? At one point I thought that it was pretty cool to be able to know more about previously private lives of people that I was interested in. I’m not so sure anymore.

This is all pretty difficult to describe, but there is a real beauty to me in an object like the record I was holding in my hands.  In that one 12″ square of cardboard with a circle of vinyl inside, is the entire expression of how Shelly Manne wanted to portray himself to the world.  There is a carefully chosen photo that gives a definite impression of how Manne wanted to be seen, there are liner notes that have to tell me everything I need to be told in a limited space, and there is music that has been carefully chosen and sequenced to communicate something to me in the limited space of a vinyl recording.  Of course, people are going to object to the “limits” that are imposed in every step of that process and I am going to respond that the limits are actually what make the record jacket meaningful, rich, and a lean, calculated message. It gets to the point because it must, and every element is there for a reason, because there’s no room for waste. This is not unlike painting, which must get the communication job done inside of a limited frame, and every brush stroke is there for a reason, or it is not there.  When I view a painting by Jean Michel Basquiat everything on that canvas (or whatever he painted on) is there for a reason.  He didn’t just add a line because there was some space, his painting is tremendous because it is perfect. When I stand in front of a Basquiat painting I can  appreciate the perfection of every line and admire the fact that it is there.  I have never seen one of those paintings and said “well, there is that one line that seems to be there for no reason”.

Now, we have Justin Bieber (to shoot fish in a barrel).  Sure, there have been shallow purveyors of fluff for a very long time, but Bieber came up in discussion recently and I thought that he was an interesting case. I don’t know a single line of one of his songs and I’ve likely heard some of them.  The thing is, Bieber (or his handlers) don’t have any of that sense of economy.  They throw every stinking thing at you that they can possible find in a torrent of info that makes it impossible to not know things about Bieber. Fact is, I know way more about what Justin is wearing, who he makes the mistake of hanging around with, what his current hair configuration is, and the fact that he seems to have thrown eggs at his neighbour’s house. This info is extremely effective at keeping him in the public eye, but I’m not sure what value it brings … to anything. Of course, this is happening from multiple sources all-day every day so that I know about the Jenners, the Kardashians, what that idiot Kanye West is doing, etc etc etc.  The vast majority of this is NOISE.  Although it serves the purpose of maintaining attention, that seems to be its sole value. It’s not what people know, it’s just that they’re paying attention. I find myself pretty much constantly working to turn down the flow of garbage coming out of the internet nozzle.  The force of attention is very very strong and it is far from easy to quiet down the din. Thing is, while everyone is trying to shout the loudest, all that they are shouting is “look … Look … LOOK!!!”  I actually get this pretty much every waking hour, as I have some young folks in my house and they are forever hearing “LOOK!” and then coming to me essentially saying “we’re supposed to LOOK at this” … “LOOK at it … LOOK at it!!!”.  I look, and at this point instantly realize that I quite simply am looking at empty images with nothing except shock value, pathetic behaviour, or just about anything that someone can come up with to get some attention … whatever that takes”.

I was told that Justin Bieber has recently had a resurgence in popularity.  When I asked why, it seemed that it was pretty much entirely based on his new haircut.  While people have survived on haircuts for quite a while now, it seems that the haircut is now the entire package … there is nothing else.  His haircut has garnered attention, but his new music just melds right into all of the other stuff being played loudly at the clothing stores at the mall. His new haircut is where it begins and ends. There’s nothing there there. While Shelly Manne was sending a message and it seems rich and clear, Bieber is saying absolutely nothing except “look at me”.  I look, and that I say “what?”  “What do you want to tell me Justin?”  I’m met, however, with nothing … he is two-dimensional, flat, a pretty picture. He says nothing.  His image changes, not to send a message, but to recharge the attention machine. We are barraged with the image, and nothing else … nothing at all.

I recently was writing something and summed up the early history of the internet as a ton of promise and hope for an information network, that exploded when everyone saw William Shatner singing and expanded so fast that none of the hopeful bits could keep up.  As it turns out, it’s never gone beyond Shatner singing. Media has lost its depth … there’s nothing beneath the surface and process of content creation has just become picking up as much crap as possible and throwing it at me. I have to keep turning away to look at things with depth and meaning, and it gets harder and harder to hear something real above the 2D din.

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Time to catch up, people.

April 4, 2016

On Saturday, I began my annual attempt to watch the NCAA Final Four (the basketball tournament).  I’ve been watching it since 1983, and it’s always been an interesting measure of where tech is at. At first, it was all TV and you’d be able to see one game at a time (there are often several going on at once).  Then, the audio of games started to be broadcast on the Internet, and I’d watch one game while listening to another.  Then, they started streaming games, and I’d watch one on TV while streaming others, and there’d be screens all over the place.  Then, I got rid of TV and started watching it only on the Internet and that improved.  Then, I still didn’t have TV and the people streaming the games started getting dumber and it became harder and harder to watch the games.  Then, CBS started streaming the games themselves and for a few years I could watch games streaming high quality.  Then, CBS started farming off games to other networks, and I could watch some streaming from their site, but others required that I prove that I subscribed to the network before I could watch them on the web.  That year, clearly, we started moving backwards.

In my usual way, I thought a lot about this and cursed a fair bit in the process.  I now was watching the games that CBS streamed in high quality and loved that.  Then, a game would be streaming in high-quality but I was forbidden to watch it because I didn’t subscribe through conventional TV systems to that network.  So, I’d go to a “streaming site” where other naughty people were streaming the games.  The absolutely insane part of this is that the bad people were just re-streaming exactly the stream that I would have seen should I be allowed to on CBS, but in lower quality.  So, I was watching the same commercials but giving money to someone else, and CBS (or others) couldn’t count me as a viewer because I was getting the stream from elsewhere since I had been driven there by weird limitations.

If you think too much about it (like I do), it is clear that the limitations are extremely weird.  Essentially, my ability to watch the games in any reasonable way on the Internet is being governed by the model of TV in which I subscribe to a third-party who runs a wire into my house and controls what I watch and when. The weird part is that TV hasn’t worked like that for me in a very long time, but for some reason I can’t shake that model even  when I don’t own a TV or have an appropriate cable coming into my house. Even weirder, I know very well that I can watch other smaller events like surfing contests, professional skateboarding, or rugby through really great systems that work perfectly and don’t have ridiculous walls placed in your path.  It seems really odd to me that small events broadcast really well (and massively increase their exposure) while bigger events try to limit who can watch them, and make it ever more difficult to actually see the darn things. I think that it’s safe to say that CBS spends way more time and effort trying to keep people from watching events than they do trying to allow people to watch, which has totally reversed their business model.

Fact is, there is a lot of money to be made by actually making use of the Internet instead of hobbling your viewers by trying to make the new technology fit the limitations of the old.  This lesson has already been painfully learned by the music and film industries who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into making vast amounts of money in new modes like Netflix and iTunes. (and many other platforms)  For Pete’s sake CBS, would you stream the damn games in a watchable way, put in all of the ads and bill advertisers for that, and even charge me if you wish for the use of this service (I WANT to pay!)  Ditch all of the ridiculous  license agreements that cause you to make the Internet not work, and collect money like there’s no tomorrow.  Is that an unreasonable request?  Apparently.

For, you see, this is not about allowing viewers to view events.  It is about preserving revenue streams that were invented in very different days.  The business is about limiting access, and the viewers are just trying to view.  And the limits aren’t working. CBS is very slowly shooting itself in the foot to save its old ways.  Give them what they want, get the old models out of the damn way, and monetize it.  You don’t even need to invent this … others have already showed how it’s done.  (look to surfing … they went from having events in far off inaccessible places where nobody could watch to having 50,000 viewers watch entire events on YouTube in glorious high-definition for free … their only problem is dealing with a massive rise in popularity and ad revenue that they never used to have).

Oh, I should mention (for all two of my readers) that this all begins with having to pretend to not be Canadian.  Yes, the first step in this insane process is to fire up a VPN and hope that this year it works.  This is because in addition to all of the other ludicrous limitations put in my way, the providers of this event also pretend that there are borders on the Internet.  Of course, there aren’t any borders, just artificial obstacles played in the way to pretend that it is still 1978and to make sure that everything isn’t quite convenient.

Can we get over this soon?  Just charge me, please, and don’t make me jump through these hoops.  Soon, you will completely lose me to the people who can actually figure this stuff out, and you can horde your media all to yourself while repeating over and over that one day everything will be just like it was in the “old days”.