Saturday, December 10, 2011

Short takes

During my blog absence, I've been studying, designing, and implementing a style of programming I call temporal programming. It is useful for, among other things, implementing smart contracts. Meanwhile, I encourage readers interested in programming to check out Node.js. Temporal programming starts with event-oriented programming and takes it further. Temporal programming will give us control over when our instructions get executed: the plodding do this, then that, then the other, as if machine activities are only supposed to happen in one big long sequence and merely output some big long tape, will be relegated to secondary status. More to come.


Is Netflix management really stupid? To summarize Megan McCardle, no: under copyright law, DVDs are covered by the first sale rule -- once you buy a DVD, you can't make a copy, but you can sell, rent or give away the DVD itself. Streaming, on the other hand, essentially involves making a copy, and you can't do it legally without the copyright owner's permission. So to stream the most demanded content, you usually need the permission of owners, and thus have to pay what they demand.

It thus makes complete sense that Netflix has to charge high prices for streaming -- because for the kind of content they want to stream (i.e. the copyrights that are so valuable that their owners bother to prevent the content from being distributed on YouTube), content owners are demanding revenues similar to what they are accustomed to via cable.

I'd add that the first sale rule also explains why Netflix, contrary to its name, originally succeeded in out-competing a gaggle of Internet video streaming companies by the stone-age method of shipping DVDs by mail. The main thing Netflix may have done wrong was, after succeeding in pivoting from Internet streaming to mailing DVDs, going back to their original goal in a way that set false expectations about prices (i.e. that streaming prices would be closer to DVD rental prices than to cable TV). Probably what happened is that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings thought he could use his mail-order rental business as leverage to negotiate lower prices with copyright owners, but this strategy did not succeed.

It also makes sense that Netflix (and their streaming competitors) lack licensed content due to copyright owners' long-standing aversion to Internet streaming. All this was happening to Netflix's video-streaming competitors long before Netflix's much more recent emphasis on that business. Netflix apparently hasn't, after all, solved the institutional problem that their DVD-shipping model worked around.


Bit gold and I make brief appearances in Wired's Bitcoin article.


Water remains fun. Digital fountains show how precisely drops can be located and timed:

This one is a bit different, drops fall with uniform regularity but are used to display light: