Sunday, February 24, 2008

I'm ditching iTunes

I've complained here several times in the past about DRM on purchased downloaded music. When Apple release iTunes Plus several months ago, which offered higher-quality recordings of songs and no DRM, I applauded the move and bought a number of songs to show my support. While I'm still happy with iTunes Plus, the selection is too weak, there's no way to specifically browse iTunes Plus songs, and the songs are still in the Apple proprietary AAC format.

Since then, Amazon launched it's MP3 download service, and I have to say I love it. Most songs are $0.89, the rest $0.99 (and albums can bring the per-song cost below that). All songs are MP3, with no DRM, so I don't have to worry about accidentally downloading something that won't play. Amazon automatically inserts the files into my iTunes library, so it seamlessly makes its way onto my iPod. And it is a far better experience to use than iTunes. I find myself buying several songs a week, as I hear them on the radio or remember a song I like - at less than a dollar a track, it's a perfect impulse purchase. And since it doesn't have DRM, I'm not locked in to anybody's proprietary platform - not Apple's, not Microsoft's, not Amazon's. I actually am comfortable that I'll still be able to play these tracks in 20 years.

So I decided to make a clean break. I burned all of my DRM-protected AAC songs to a CD, and then re-ripped them back into my iTunes library as un-protected MP3. (This appears to be kosher to do, since burning to a CD is allowed, and ripping CDs is allowed). I've also converted my iTunes Plus AAC songs to MP3 as well. My entire library is now 100% un-protected MP3. I can listen to songs on my iPod, or any computer in the house, or through my XBox.

I've paid for the songs and don't share them - isn't that precisely what the record companies want their customers to do? So why should I suffer the strait-jacket of DRM? I will never again willingly or knowingly buy a DRM-protected song.

A goofy law

I assume that I'm no different from many people in that I maintain both a savings account and a checking account. Both pay pitiful interest right now, but the savings account is a bit less pitiful than the checking account, so we keep the bulk of our cash in the savings account and transfer money to checking to cover the checks we write. This obviously maximizes what little interest we get.

Last night, I discovered, that my bank had assessed a $10 "excess activity fee" for too many transfers over the past month. Huh? Upon a bit more research, I discovered that the bank is not just trying to hit me with a gotcha fee (although it sure feels like a gotcha because there was no warning when I did the transfers that I might incur this fee) - they're actually required to do this by the government! Yep, it's something called "Regulation D" that requires that they limit the number of electronic transfers I perform each month to 6. In fact, if I ever exceed the monthly limit a 3rd time, they have to close my account! So I now have one strike against me for the "crime" of trying to cover my checks.

The rationale for this actually does make a bit of sense. A bank needs to keep cash on hand to cover checks in a checking account, but they get a break on the reserves required for savings accounts because of these limits. I think the theory is that if the money is not fully accessible to customers, then the bank doesn't need to keep it on hand - i.e., they can lend it out and make money with it. Hence the need to actually draw a formal distinction between checking and savings accounts: it lets the bank more optimally figure out its required reserves, and maximize the amount of money available for lending.

While this may have made sense in the 1930s (when I believe these regulations were adopted), it has become a silly fiction today. There are two huge loopholes here. The first is that the limit only applies to telephone or internet exchanges. If I were to drag myself to an ATM or to a bank office, I can do a thousand transfers a day with no penalty. The second loophole, of course, is that there is no limit on the amount I can transfer at a time, so I can still write checks for a lot more than is in my checking account and do a big transfer to cover them, meaning that the checking account balance is actually a poor proxy for the amount of cash they need to keep in reserve.

It's the first loophole, though, that annoys me. The only difference I can see between an in-person or ATM transfer and an Internet or telephone transfer is convenience, so it seems to me that the regulations have the net effect of simply punishing convenience. What possible reason is there for that?

These regulations should be re-evaluated and reworked to address the risks and issues in the modern world. I'm not proposing looser regulations around monetary reserves, but it isn't the 1930s anymore, and the 1930s style solutions appear to be showing their age.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Parker the chef

Tonight I made a chicken pot pie out of chicken leftovers. Parker asked if he could help and I let him. He put on his apron, I my chef's coat. I did all the chopping of vegetables, but I let him stir them while they sauteed: he pulled up his little step stool to the stove and did a great job stirring, being very careful not to touch the pot. He also helped me roll out the dough for the crust.

It turned out delicious.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Primary season

Just a quick rant: why on earth do we need to be doing this so early? We still have 9 months to the general election, heck 6 months before the conventions. Why don't the states all make a deal: Iowa and New Hampshire can keep their "first" status (as illogical as it is to do so, but it seems to give them a sense of purpose that they otherwise lack) but everybody shift their primaries/caucuses to May or June.