Your new HDD will die! Why? Because it's a feature!
The hard drive. It seems like a simple device with a simple purpose - to store your data and read/write it when needed. When you buy one, you look at the storage capacity, interface... and that's pretty much it, right? You don't check if, for example, the drive is designed to shut itself off every 5 seconds while you're using data on it, right? Well... you should!
Strange things happen
Why should you? It's ridiculous! It really is, but it's true and I've had the "pleasure" to experience it first-hand.
I've recently put my PS3 aside and returned to the world of PC gaming. Aside from a small upgrade to my graphics card and some RAM, I also needed a lot of storage space since all my game will be downloadable from Steam so I bought a 1 TB HDD from Seagate. To be exact, it's the ST1000DM003-9YN162 model.
I hook everything up, works like a charm and I happily play my games for a month. The only weird thing I've encountered was in a game called Saints Row: The Third. It's pretty much a Grand Theft Auto mockup, or an over-the-top comedy version of it, but the point is - you can hijack cars there and each time I did, it took about a second or two before I've heard the sound of the car accellerating even though I've already been driving. The sound was also looped so I though the game was broken.
Then, about a month later, I've played Eve Online and the thing with this game is that it's very quiet so I've noticed that every now and then, I've heard a weird click in my PC. Not very loud, but noticeable.
The click of death?
Googling for everything PC and click related I've found a lot of information about the so-called "click of death" that a HDD does as it craps out or is about to... but my drive didn't die.
Then, I've realized what this click was, it was familiar, I knew I've heard it before - when shutting down the PC. It was the click of the drive's head parking. After close inspection I've also heard that the platter was spinning down. But why would it do that?
First thing I've checked were the Windows power settings, but they were set to "Never" - never go to sleep, never turn off the monitor, never shut down hard drives. That's how I like it, I power up my PC in the morning and power down in the evening. In between, it should stay awake. So how come the drive decide to spin down and park the head?
Lean, mean and green
It's a feature! It's a fucking feature! Spinning down the drive is a feature! FUCK! How? Why? Well... as it turns out, something like a "desktop-class HDD" doesn't exist anymore! They're not manufacturing these anymore. The cake is a lie!
It's called ACPI - Advanced Power Management and it causes the drive to wait exactly 5 seconds and if there's no read or write activity within these 5 seconds, it will really spin the platter down and park the head. There's only one reason why a drive would want to do this - power saving and making sure it won't get damaged in transport. And it makes sense in a laptop. You want to save battery power at any opportunity and prevent the head from scrathing the platter when you more around, but I have bought a desktop-class drive! Why would it behave like notebook-class drive?
Well... if it's unclear what it's all about - it's about the money. When the drive "saves power", it's a "green drive" which means some marketing asshole can put a "green" sticker on it and some stupid post-modern hipsters will love it and think "Yay, I haz saved 3 W of powaaa!"... and then a year later the drive dies because it did a thousand load cycles each day.
And that's the second reason - when it dies earlier, you get to buy a new one so the manufacturer gets more of your money and of course the hipster-customer will not think that the energy and resources required to manufacture another drive are a bigger waste than the 3 W he saves, but that's a different story.
If there's something strange, in your PC case, who 'ya gonna call? Seagate!
This "feature" is influencing my gameplay. It all made sense now. The problem in Saints Row: The Third with the glitched sound was caused by the fact that the drive powered down every 5 seconds and then, as the game needed the sound file of the car I just hijacked, it couldn't get it instantly and didn't know what to do.
So I've contacted Seagate about it and here's the response from Seagate's customer service:
"The Barracuda drive that you have is in fact a Desktop drive however, unlike Enterprise drive, it is not advertised to work 24/7. This drive is not suitable for the tasks you are using. The only drive available that supports APM are SCSI but the interface is not compatible with your desktop. (...)"
Source: Seagate Support
WHAT? WTF?! It's a fucking desktop-class drive and it's not suitable for being switched on? Now, I have to give them credit - they did also offer me to send me a replacement enterprise drive, but of course I don't have an SCSI interface so that wouldn't really help me.
Even after that, I still couldn't believe that this is something that is now a standard. I wanted to buy another drive from Western Digital, but this time, just to make sure, I've decided to contact WD before I buy and you will not believe what they've told me:
"All of our drives are equipped with a power management function. The best series for speed would be the Caviar Black.
Unfortunately we do not have information on default spin down times for specific drives however. In order to make absolutely sure, you will need to choose the RED series, which has a spinup utility for customizing that feature at will. (...)"
Source: Western Digital Support
You have got to be kidding me! But as I've said - it's about money because the RED series drives from WD just so happen to be the most expensive ones and created for RAID systems.
There's a solution. There's HDPARM.
So it that it? Will I never be able to buy a modern desktop-class drive that will not spin down every 5 seconds? Unfortunately, that's how it looks like. The two biggest HDD manufacturers both implement ACPI (APM) into their drives and now they have green drives that will die sooner and they get more money off of it.
But there's hope. It's not the perfect solution, but it's the most elegant one and it works for me and allows me to have a harddrive that's on when I want it and, most importantly, when any app wants it.
The solution is called HDPARM and it's a little command line app, originally made for Linux, but usable on Windows. You can DOWNLOAD HDPARM HERE and it will install itself along with some pre-defined commands (in form of .cmd files), but ignore the commands. What they do is - they just run the command to disable APM in your hard drive, but there's a catch - it will only work for the duration of one session. So as long as your PC is on and doesn't enter sleep mode or is powered down, your HDD will have APM disabled.
So the elegant solution ensuring that you will not have to remember running it every time you start your PC is to schedule it as a task using the Windows' own Task Scheduler. If you're on Windows 8, simply search for "schedule" in Settings and you'll find it.
But there's a catch to this too. You can't just schedule it to run HDPARM just like that because it needs a command and you can't schedule the command file to start because HDPARM requires Admin rights to run and if you give Admin rights to the command file, it will want to run hdparm.exe and fail because this one won't have Admin rights. So here's how you do it:
Click on "Create task".
In the "General" tab - name it as you want so you can find it later on, select "Run whether user is logged on or not" and mark the "Run with highest privileges" check box (this will run it "As Administrator").
In the "Triggers" tab - click "New...", select "At log on" from the "Begin the task:" drop-down menu.
In the "Actions" tab - click "New...", select "Start a program" from the "Action:" drop-down menu, under "Program/script" Browse and navigate to hdparm.exe (for example: "C:\Program Files (x86)\hdparm\hdparm.exe") and here's the crucial part - in the "Add arguments" field, type in -B 255 hda. NOTE! hda is your first physical drive. If you have two drives and the affected one is the secondary, type -B 255 hdb, the third would be "hdc" and so on, but this does not count partitions, only physical drives. In "Start in" you can choose the folder where HDPARM is placed (for example: "C:\Program Files (x86)\hdparm\").
In the "Settings" tab - you can check off the "Allow task to be run on demand box"
And that's it! You can now reboot your PC, go back to the scheduler and you should see your task with the status of "Ready" and in the "Last Run Result" you should see "The operation completed successfully. (0x0)"
DISCLAIMER! When you read about HDPARM you may read that it could be harmful to your computer. I can assure you that it's not. The reason why they say that it could be is that this app gives you the power to make changes to the HDD on a level that can affect its Master Boot Record, wipe the HDD clean etc. However, this happens only if you tell it to do so. Therefore, it's important that you only run the -B 255 command as all it does is - it sets the spin-down/power-down delay of the drive to 255 which is "OFF".
You can see for yourself using such app like the SiSoft Sandra. Without using HDPARM, if your drive has ACPI - Advanced Power Management, you will see that it's on. When you run HDPARM, that's the one property that will change to "disabled".
Everyone's insane except for me
So what's the "moral" of this (unfortunately) true story? Well, it's a sad one. Even though it's possible to switch this ridiculous "feature" off and have your modern desktop-class HDD work as it should, the problem is that now I know something that is so disturbing that I'm not sure how to cope with it. Now I know that companies are starting to go so far that they will cripple functionality of products just for marketing and financial purposes.
Now, I'm not that naive, I know that this is happening all the time, they all try to cut costs wherever they can, but until now, the impact it had was that the product might have been of slightly lower quality. It might have been build from bad materials, but it has never been so profound that it changes the most basic and obvious functionality of the product. If someone would put a gun to my head and force me to create the longest list of things that I think may go wrong with a HDD, I would have never included "it may be a desktop drive that will power down after 5 seconds of inactivity as you use it".
I just can't process this information because the bottom line here is not that now I know that desktop-class drives behave exactly as notebook-class drives. The real bottom line is that right now I simply don't know what obvious functionality a company may strip from a product. Will I buy a graphics card that will only show 30 FPS to save energy? Will I buy a fridge that will stop freezing when it notices that I have less than 10 pieces of food in it? It sounds absolutely insane, but that's exactly how a desktop-class HDD powering down every 5 seconds sounds too... and yet that's exactly what you get when you buy a new drive today.
Play One Steamy DRM Box Station
There has been a lot of controversy recently about Microsoft's DRM policies and restrictions in their upcoming Xbox One console. I have never seen so many rants after a reveal of a new console, but yes, when a company introduces a product that has a camera and microphone that must be connected for the product to work, it requires a once every 24h online check for authentications, restricts the option to share, lend, borrow games then sure, it's understandable that people rant about this.
Microsoft has now changed pretty much all these policies, however the Xbox One will still be sold with the mandatory espionage pack, be $100 more expensive than the PlayStation 4 and be slightly inferior to the PS4 hardware-wise. But this change made many people happy. Too many. It's amazing how people suddenly "forgive" a company and act as if everything is OK now and don't even consider that if it was so easy for Microsoft to remove these restrictions it's just as easy to bring them back in the future.
Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write about today. I wanted to try to think WHY did MS chose to put these restrictions in the first place, why they don't even matter on Steam and why Sony is going the same path, too... but we don't notice it because they're doing it right.
The internet was made for and on a PC
Let's start with the "always on" argument. Although the Xbox One didn't had to be truly always on, it had to pass a check once every 24 hours and if it would fail, you couldn't play ANY of your games on it. This sounds horrible and yet... so many people are online that I bet it wouldn't matter for the vast majority of Xbox One users.
But this was a problem for a lot of people so why was it a problem? Well, think about this - the internet itself was built for information exchange between computers. In the past, a computer was the only device capable of browsing websites or, in general, connecting to the internet. This is where the internet was born and having a PC connected to the internet is something obvious. The console, on the other hand, was always an offline device. A "gaming box" that you can pick up, hook up to a TV and stick some cartridge or later a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray disc into it to play anytime anywhere.
If I'm correct, the first console that had a built-in modem was the Sega Dreamcast which came out somewhere around 1999. At this time, the internet was already popular and the consoles were just starting to get online connectivity. In fact, it wasn't until the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 when being online with your console became a standard or rather - something obvious.
So what Microsoft did wasn't revolutionary in general as we're all connected already, but it was a big and sudden step for the console itself which was always slightly behind when it came to connectivity and it's a step that most console gamers don't want to take YET.
Mandatory installation of every game
Another one of the restrictions MS was trying to introduce to the Xbox One was a mandatory installation of every game on the console's hard drive. That is - no game would be able to run directly off the disc even if it would be technically possible for certain games.
Now, why is that a problem? Let me explain. Again, the history of the console is a history of a device that consists of two elements: the console itself and a game which is stored on a physical media. You buy the game on a cartridge or a disc and this cartridge or disc is where the game "is". On the PC, on the other hand, an installation of a game was always something obvious. In fact, as the hardware was slow and a CD-ROM was a single-speed device or a "2x" CD-ROM barely came out and was expensive, having the ability to "dump" the game onto a hard drive was a great advantage because there was basically no loading time.
So once again - the PC had this "option" or "requirement" much earlier than a console had a hard drive. I remember even that I was annoyed by the fact that when I've installed a game on my PC, I still had to insert the disc just so it can check if it's a genuine copy, but it didn't even read anything from it as the entire game was already on the disc so why would I need the disc?
But that wasn't the case on the console - the disc was the game and it still is in many cases so that's another change that Microsoft wanted to make from one day to another on a platform that has a long history of being a "physical media" device rather than a device built for digital-only content.
Steam is pretty much an online store/platform for PC gamers and yes, it has DRM. When I try to run a game bought via Steam, Steam opens up, probably does some online check, when I buy the game I agree to some "subscription service terms" which basically means - I don't exactly own the game in the "classical" meaning, but just purchase the license to play it by myself.
But that's not a problem. Buy why? It looks like all that Microsoft wanted to put on the Xbox One was something that already exists on Steam and people love Steam. Again - Steam runs on a PC, a device that was online before a console even had a modem. It's a device that had mandatory installations because there were advantages to have a game installed on a hard drive and last, but not least - Steam has amazing sales. You can buy full games (not just some very old and very indie games) for $3, $7, $10, and there are timed sales/deal pretty much every day so when I see a game that costs $30 in a box and $10 on Steam, I get it on Steam because although on one hand you don't get a disc or a box, on the other hand, you also don't pay for a disc or a box.
So the bottom line is - the reason why Steam is successful and the same or similar restrictions that it has were not a popular decision when Microsoft introduced them was because for the PC, such digital distribution model was the natural next step and it didn't came from one day to the other, it took time for the PC gamers to get familiar with it. PC gamers were online much longer than console gamers. PC gamers were installing their games on hard drives before consoles even had hard drives. And that's the deciding factor that it takes to let people change their habits - time.
Sony's introduction to digital distribution
People don't even realize that Sony is actually going into the exact same direction as Microsoft. Why? Probably because they do it right.
During the PlayStation 3 generation, Sony has introduced PlayStation+ and what PS+ is, is just an optional subscription service for pretty much $5 a month which gives you instant access to a huge game collection, cloud save game file storage, automatic software updates, price discounts on the PlayStation Store etc.
How does this sound? Free games... to download? Storing save files... on the cloud? Getting games cheaper... online? And there's one more thing - all these "free games" are only available for you to play as long as you're a PS+ member. Does it ring a bell? That's the introduction to digital distribution... on the PlayStation. But it wasn't criticized by anyone? Why? Because it's optional. You didn't have to subscribe. Anyone who wanted to try it out and explore digital distribution could do so if they chose to.
During this year's E3, Sony announced that on the PlayStation 4, you wall have to be a PS+ subscriber to play any game online. Now, somehow not many people talked about this. It kind of got "slipped" through considering that they've announced that they won't block used games, borrowing games, won't require online checks etc. but what does this restriction mean? Well, now more people will be PS+ subscribers (probably pretty much everyone) so now everyone will have the option to get all these "free" games because it's not $5/month just for online play, it's $5/month for ALL the advantages that PS+ already had so you pay to play online and you see that you can download dozens of games right away for no extra cost, you can get discounts for online purchases and so on... so what happens is - you get encouraged to do so, you get even more familiar with the concept of having a gaming library on your hard drive so eventually it won't be a big deal for a console to slowly transition to this business model.
So the bottom line is - digital distribution is the future and Microsoft was right about that. At some point, we will no longer buy games on discs, we'll just get them from an online store and all the DRM checks and stuff will not really be an issue to us, but it takes time and that's what Microsoft failed to realize.
The only reason why it's not a problem on Steam is because PC gamers are already used to all of this, but the console has a different history. When you buy a console you still have a different idea of how the process of buying games and using the device will look like comparing to the PC and it takes time for the console gamer to move away from what they've been used to since decades and MS wanted to make the transition from one day to the other and it had to fail. Sony, on the other hand, does it right - they introduce it as an option, they encourage it through low prices (you get content worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars for this $5 monthly subscription), they give the customer choice and show him what benefits this model has and not try to shove it down his throat all at once.
Eurovision Song Contest 2013
Once a year, European countries participate in the world's biggest social experiment showing the "sheep effect" (how people like to follow other people). If you look at the stock market and see the price of a certain equity reach super-high values, you wouldn't possibly invest there anymore, right? But then, how does the price continue to rise? Because the majority of people will do the exact opposite - it grows so they buy it which makes it grow and who are they buying it from? Those who bought it a long time ago as it was the fraction of the price.
Same happens in the Eurovision Song Contest. When a song of a certain style wins in one year, we will see many other similar songs next year. Even though it's obvious that it's wrong, it still happens. Year after year after year. That said, I was very sceptical of this year's ESC as last year, a relatively "normal" dance song won the contest.
The prophecy has been fulfilled
...and I was right, unfortunately. Many of the songs this year were (as always) similar to the last year's winner which meant - they were just some "typical" dance songs, something I personally am not a fan of, but of course it must have been an awesome contest for the fans of dance music.
Anyway, we've seen an almost identical song to Loreen's the last year's winning "Euphoria" from Germany as Cascada sang "Glorius" which could almost be treated as a remix of "Euphoria". Others followed, too. Even the Romanian contratenor Cezar with "It's My Life" has managed to merge opera-like vocals with... dance music.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Of course even though most sheep come up with a song resembling the last year's winner, there are always some "original ones" - some are original because they're just funny and crazy, some are original because they're simply beautiful. Let's start with the first category.
As I wrote in my review of the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 last year, the award for the most crazy (as in funny and ridiculous) song went clearly to the Russian "Babushkas" singing "Party For Everybody". So did we have something equally crazy this year? Not really, but there was a nice attempt from Greece.
This year, Europe's tax haven Greece has given us an input into the reasons of their financial crisis. The band called Koza Mostra feat. Agathon Iakovidis, which already prepares us for what's coming sang a song called "Alcohol Is Free". This explains a lot incl. what state must they have been when they wrote this song.
The other "weird" performance, but not even close to what would normally be considered as weird, was the Hungarian hipster (yes, it begged for an alliteration) - ByeAlex with the song "Kedvesem" which means... well... it must mean something in Hungarian, but the entire "piece" as a whole was just... interesting. Hence - I'm linking to his Eurovision performance, not the official clip.
For the crazy ones
Now it's time to dig up the diamonds. The compositions which only didn't win for one reason - they were too good for the average listener/viewer. Sometimes these are too complex pieces, sometimes they have a subtle melody that makes the song shine, but mostly - they're too much for this format and that's exactly what I'm looking for in this contest - "for the crazy ones".
This year there were 3 such songs. The first one was from The Netherlands. Anouk has blessed us with this piece yesterday evening. It's called "Birds" and could easily be part of a score of a movie.
The second one was the one that I thought would win. It's actually pretty "mainstream" so it could have the potential and in fact - it ended up on the 4th place, for a good reason. Here's Margaret Berger from Norway with "I Feed You My Love".
Last, but not least, the third great song with a very nice melody line from Moldova - Aliona Moon with "O Mie".
Redesigning = proving yourself wrong
Athletes participate in sport events… to win, obviously. When they win, they get a medal or a trophy and put it on a shelf to show it off. But what does a gamer do if all his trophies are virtual? Well… he needs a virtual trophy gallery. This, I did. Quite a while ago. At that time, it looked quite good to me. I wouldn't have published it if it didn't, but "the times they are a-changin'" as Bob Dylan one sang and the time came now. The time for a redesign.
Redesigning isn't about creation, it's about destruction.
Redesigning is not about creating something new, it's about destroying something old. Proving yourself wrong. Showing how bad your initial idea was and making changes that will make the old design look so bad that you'll wonder how you could have possibly find them good in the past. And yet, it's not about drastic change. The changes could be subtle, but powerful.
Redesigning is also not about adding new things, sometimes it's about removing redundant parts of your initial design. This is what I did on my trophy gallery.
Design – a spiritual activity?
As mankind managed to use tools to do things, we've started to carve stuff into the walls of a cave. The carvings became more sophisticated over time. Our art became more and more complex. Symmetrical patterns with tons of detail as if man wanted to show how much he can do. Nowadays, we see the complete opposite. What's being considered as “elegant" is no longer something that's complex. On the contrary – simplicity is what we now perceive as “beautiful". Less is more, as they say.
It's as if in the past we wanted to project our own complexity, the complexity of our bodies, into art. Now, we're crafting the spirit. A beautiful design is no longer what's there – it's what's not there. David Craib said: "Design should never say, "Look at me." It should always say, "Look at this."". Today's design doesn't craft art, it underlines it. It creates space for it. It's a philosophy – concentrate on what there is and appreciate it. And modern design does just that – removes what's unnecessary and allows what's left to shine.
Long story short
That said, here's a comparison of old vs. new. A look at a couple of pages from the old version of my trophy gallery and the new version.
The OLD home page - the header inspired by PlayStation's own XMB background. Looked good back in 2011. Dark gray background for images, long gray DIVs and a very "busy" statistics overview:
The NEW home page - brand new header, very simple and introducing the main theme of simple lines with the text on a very bright background:
The OLD games list - again, a lot of lines, dark grays, too much information... although I still found the little trophy type backgrounds cool :)
The NEW games list - only relevant information remained, much simpler trophy count presentation:
The OLD single game page - the heart of the gallery, a page displaying all trophies from a selected game. Way too many lines occupying space for no real reason:
The NEW single game page - the new minimalistic theme. All information is still there, but it's presented much better. The headers/sections aren't in the way, you can appreciate the trophy image with no distraction:
The OLD platinum page - there's nothing more rewarding than "a plat" ;) This page was already "special" in the past with its distinguishable light-blue colors symbolizing the platinum trophy color:
The NEW platinum page - even this page was too cluttered back then so removing the full-line headers and implementing a light-clue version of the main theme did the trick:
The Digital Age or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate the Cloud
It wasn’t so long ago that when you would ask someone if they would like to upload all their personal photos, their documents, their full calendar schedule, their music, movies etc. to a server owned by some company, you would either hear laughter, get some weird looks or someone would call the police hinting that you may be up to something. No one with even the tiniest amount of common sense would trust their valuable, sometimes even priceless belongings in the hands of just some company that happens to own a lot of computers.
So why is it that today we even pay for the opportunity to give all our data to someone? Well, first of all, it’s a matter of marketing. "The server" has a bad image. I think even today, if you would ask someone: "Would you like to put your personal files on our servers?" and show them a picture of a row of machines with some cables and blinking lights, they would think you're crazy, but ask them: "Would you like to have access to all your files in the cloud?" and it's a different story. A cloud is nice and... fluffy, it's in the sky, it's always there above you. Meanwhile, it's the exact same thing. Some people may not even realize what they do when they upload everything to "the cloud". The cloud is nothing new, it's just a server or now - a name for a service of basically putting your stuff on someone else's computer.
Now, there isn't anything wrong with it if you choose to have some stuff conveniently accessible across your devices, but right now we're reaching a ridiculous point where this convenience is no longer about having a copy of your important data uploaded in the cloud, but having it all there. Not just a copy - all your stuff at the mercy of the company owning the server. Imagine having your car or even your entire house in some underground facility with tunnels reaching out from the ground "serving" your car and house back when you press a button on a remote control and then think what would you do if the system wouldn't work at some point. So the big question to ask yourself each time you trust your data into the hands of a company is - does the convenience justify the risk?
DLC and ULC
Another ridiculous aspect of the digital age is seen in the gaming industry. When the internet became easily accessible by anyone regardless of their budget or at least affordable for anyone who could afford a game console, the great idea of DLC (Downloadable Content) came up. In its core, it's a very good idea and some game developers such as Rockstar have executed it extremely well. DLC such as "The Lost and Damned" or "The Ballad of Gay Tony" for the Grand Theft Auto IV game were fantastic. Just as great as, what I consider the best DLC ever - "Undead Nightmare", the DLC for Red Dead Redemption. These are complete new stories placed in the familiar environment of their "host" games which sometimes even change the whole world within the game and offer lots of fun.
However, there's of course a "darkside" of this idea. Right now, game developers don't use DLC to give a breath of fresh air to an older game release maybe a year ago. Today, we see "day one DLC" - content that's being release upon release of the full game. So one may ask - if they have this content upon release, why isn't it part of the game? And the answer is simple - if it was, you would pay $60 for a full game. Now, you'll pay $60 for the game and then have additional $40 worth of content that clearly has been developed in time for the full release, but wouldn't allow the devs to "milk" you.
But it gets even more ridiculous. Aside from DLC which at least offers some content that's not available within a game, there's ULC (Unlockable Content). The record in stupidity when it comes to ULC has been broken by a company called Naughty Dog - the developers behind the critically acclaimed Uncharted game series for the PlayStation 3. In this game, as you play, you can occasionally collect some treasures dropped by killed opponents. Sets of these treasures unlock special weapons, skins etc. Some of them are extremely rare so the player who unlocks a very rare skin after many hours of gameplay feels really good about it. They can show it off and it's a fun thing to have in a game to motivate people to play it. What Naughty Dog did is beyond stupid, though. They've put ALL the unlockable content (that includes skins that are unlocked automatically just after playing one multiplayer match) for sale which basically reduced the value of the game by breaking the rewarding mechanics and the whole point of having rare rewards. Now, for only $0.99 you can have any item you want, incl. stuff that's easily accessible for free. So why did they do it? It's simple - because they can.
Boy In The Bubble
Now we're getting to the "why I hate Apple" part. Steve Jobs was the man behind NeXT - a visionary project that eventually became an inspirational building block for the internet as we know it today. So one may think that whatever this man would do, will help people be connected, help remove the geographical boundaries and allow us to be truly interconnected. Well... in a sense, he did contribute a lot to making technology accessible, easy to use and for that I have a great respect for him, but this wouldn't be my little rant blog if there wasn't something to rant about, right? ;)
I recently got an iPod Touch - an awesome device, I love it and there's nothing wrong with the device itself, but there's one issue which I hate and it's an issue with the Apple Store. When I browse through apps, music, movies or basically any content in the store, I often see "no ratings", "0 reviews" and I've been wondering... how come? It's not just some very rare alternative music or an independent movie that no one really knows about. And then there's another thing that made me thing that something's wrong here - if there are reviews, they're all in my local language and not in English.
My suspicion was confirmed when I visited the iTunes website and checked out the same apps that have no ratings and reviews in the store on my iPod. There are tons of ratings and reviews for them, but... not visible to me because they're all locked regionally. So basically, the work of the man who wanted to connect the world came down to placing everyone within the bubble of their country to the point where I can't even read what someone from a different country may think about an app or an album. I understand that there may be legal reasons why some content may not be available in some local stores. I hate that, but I can understand why it happens, but why would Apple want to lock user's ratings and reviews is beyond me. I doubt anyone would have a problem allowing Apple to show their feedback in a different country.
You don't own what you have
The last example of my worries about the digital age is also Apple-related. A short while ago, I bought some Blu-ray movies that also contained a "digital copy" on a DVD. Now, keep that in mind - I purchased a movie where there is a Blu-ray disc and a DVD in the box and on this DVD there is data - the digital copy of the movie which I can transfer to a mobile device. So that's exactly what I've tried to do. Since I have an iPod which happens to have a very nice Retina display, I wanted to see how a hi-res movie would look on it. That's when the problems began.
On paper, it's a very easy thing - insert the disc into your drive, iTunes will open (it did) and just type the code in the box to transfer the movie to iTunes. I type in the code, I'm sure it's correct and I get an error: "This code is only valid for customers of the United Kingdom or Ireland Store". At this point it's worth mentioning that I buy ALL media from the UK. I don't like localized dubbed versions of anything so UK is my place to buy stuff. Already seeing this message is ridiculous because I don't actually want to buy something from the store, just confirm the code so I can transfer the damn movie to the iPod, but OK... it's only valid in the UK version of the store - fine, I'll change my region to UK. It turns out that I must have a credit card issued in the UK to fully use the UK store. i don't so I just changed the region without validating a card. Now, when trying to transfer the movie I get a message saying that my Apple ID is not valid in the UK store and I can only purchase music (?) from my local store.
WHAT?! Again, I am NOT trying to buy anything. I bought a movie on a disc, I have the physical media in my hand (or my drive, for that matter) which contains the movie I already paid for and I just want to transfer it to my iPod as that's the whole point of having a digital copy, right? I understand that there may be a code they need to ping some server to validate that it's not a pirated copy or something, but it's not - it's an original movie, not used, in a box and I've paid for it so... I own it, right? Well... no. I don't. I can't have it... even though I do have it...?
So what did I learn from all that? I'm opening a business. I will sell cloud-suitcases. If you buy a CloudCase™, you can plug it in via USB to transfer all your data (and I really mean ALL, there will be multiple terabyte drives in it) and you can also conveniently pack your stuff... papers, clothes, whatever you need during travel within the CloudCase™. There's one catch, though. You can only access your data or open the case to get your stuff... if the GPS within it detects that you're physically within the country in which you bought the case. It will be a service so you won't have to buy the CloudCase™, just sign a 25-year contract for only $999 per year and you can use anytime you want :)