It’s dangerous to go alone

January 15, 2002

The Fellowship of the Ring: Too much?

Ever read an article description and think “That is so wrong!” and then read the article itself and find yourself agreeing? That happened to me with this comparison of The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, which argues that the long-ago space opera is the superior movie.

My first reaction was incredulous disbelief, but reading the article I began rethinking my position. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is a great work, but one mustn’t use the book to defend the movie of the same title.

Taken on its own, there’s a lot in Peter Jackson’s film which doesn’t make sense or is poorly explained. It rushes, having hundreds of pages of material to cover, without giving its characters much time to develop personalities or (in extreme cases) make it clear to the audience who they are. Even as important a character as Sam Gamgee barely appears on-screen, which must make the end of the film somewhat perplexing to newcomers. (I was only able to identify him because I knew the story.)

Star Wars, through virtue of its simpler plot and smaller cast, is able to tell its story and develop its characters while still having time left for quiet bits of humor.

Thus: the unthinkable question. Would The Fellowship of the Ring have been a better movie if Mr Jackson had cut more events and combined more characters? Maybe. Or maybe they could have spent less time adding computer-generated trolls and cheesy wizard fights and more time with the characters.

(I mean, come on. The movie was great but that fight between Saruman and Gandalf was just silly.) #

CD copy-protection irritates several

The CD copy-protection thing just keeps adding wrinkles. Around the time I posted the previous entry, Wesley Felter noted an article about a question raised in Congress over whether copy-protection is legal.

The music industry has played the “people will copy music and not pay for it” card before, leading to surcharges on various blank recording media which are given to various entertainment industries to make up for any business lost to illegal copying. What one congressman has noted is that these surcharges are redundant if CDs can’t be copied. I’m not terribly optimistic about whether the inquiry will lead to anything useful for customers, but it’s gratifying to learn that somebody in Washington is paying attention.

(I’m being terribly U.S.-centric, aren’t I? I suppose I should be more obvious about my national context if I want to refer to “the government” and assume people know what I’m talking about.)

Of course, there are other rules to be broken. Kevin Marks notes that these protection schemes may violate the CD specifications, which would prevent companies using them from displaying the compact disk logo. In fact, Philips, co-creator of the CD, has expressed skepticism about the protection schemes, stating that they probably won’t work in the marketplace.

Certainly, it won’t work with customers like Mr Marks. He wrote to Universal, asking why they were making CDs he couldn’t play on his Macintosh, and posted their response with his commentary. One quote that should (but probably won’t) give Universal pause:

When I buy CDs at the moment, I look at the artists name, not the record label. Now I’ll need to check that its not a Universal CD, in case you have “protected” me from listening to it. This is one way of building awareness of the Universal brand, but probably not a useful one.

Meanwhile, forces in different industries (and different segments of the same industries) are working to insinuate copy-protection schemes into wireless networking protocols. (via Doc Searls, Kevin Marks, and Wesley Felter) #

Domain attraction

The original idea behind the domain name system was pretty simple. On most computer networks, machines are given names (often whimsical) so that their human users don’t need to remember their numeric IDs. That works fine with a single, centrally controlled network, but on the Internet there needs to be some way of preventing two machines from both being called “frodo” or else the computers won’t know what their human users are talking about. (That is, more so than usual.)

The idea was to create a hierarchical naming system, where each independent organization gets a defined section of the overall namespace that doesn’t overlap any other organization’s. Within this namespace, it is free to pick any name it chooses without worrying whether it conflicts with a name chosen by a different group.

In fact, the domain name system goes further, putting different types of organizations in disjoint sections of the namespace. These are the top-level domains: “com” for commercial organizations, “org” for non-profits, “edu” for 4-year colleges, “gov” for the United States government, “mil” for the U.S. military, “net” for network service providers, and the hundreds of country-specific domains (“uk”, “jp”, and so forth).

An organization with a second-level domain (like “company.com”) is free to create as many third-level names as it pleases (like “frodo.company.com”). Another company can use the same third-level name without fear of conflict (like “frodo.anothercompany.com”). (There’s no limit to the number of levels one can use, but that isn’t important here.)

This started to become a problem with the popularity of the World Wide Web, because the most common way for people to visit new sites in the “old” days was to type in the address manually. As people started seeing commercial applications for the web, companies scrambled to get “good” domain names that people would be likely to visit. There were lawsuits, speculators, squatters, all kinds of craziness.

There’s a chance that things will change. Dan Gillmor argues that modern search engines are reducing the need for “good” domain names. Now people looking for Bob’s Meats can just query Google rather than try to guess whether to try bobsmeats.com, bobs-meats.com, bob.meat.com, or some other variant. (Those are all intended to be hypothetical, by the way. If they turn out to be real… well, the net is vast.)

Bob Frankston has posted a more complete discussion of this topic, including suggestions on how to make domain names more useful. David Weinberger, meanwhile, looks at the social status which might accrue to those with good domain names. #