Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Punk Music and the Software Industry

I used to fancy myself something of a punk.

Back when I was 14 or 15, I tried desperately to get into the Denny's eating, green hair, 7-inch listening counter culture that was the punk scene for me. I went to shows headlined by relatively unknown bands, with names like "Plow United" and "The Orphans". I even went to some shows at the local VFW, impaling myself in the mosh pit on that one jerk who always thought it was a good idea to bash into people while wearing a leather jacket covered in metal spikes.

It never really took though, mostly because of the concept of the "sellout" that is so important to punk identity. I'll admit I'm no expert, but it seemed to me that all one needed to do to be labeled a "sellout" was to actually make enough money to be financially secure for more than the next 3 hours.

For this reason, sometimes great bands would become anathema to the "punk" scene the second they signed a record label and were able to eat more than once a day.

The whole "sellout" concept comes from the punk notion that you must be suspicious of all things corporate. Corporations, it is believed, will try to make a band's sound and message have more mainstream appeal, and once something has mainstream appeal, it effectively ceases to be punk. For this reason, "Green Day" is one of the most hated bands on earth for "real punks". Why? Because Green Day, like most bands, started out as a small time operation, releasing a couple of albums that not that many people purchased. Their popularity spread by word of mouth, the way the God of Punk intended.

And then came the album "Dookie", and it was officially all over. They had signed a big record deal, were on MTV and the radio, and were no longer "punk" in any meaningful way. Trust me: as soon as Rolling Stone magazine declares that you are "revolutionizing punk", you have officially lost all street cred you may have once had with the real punk scene.

What does this have to do with the software industry, you ask? For one, there are parallels between the "hacker" community and the punk community:

1) Distrust of government.
2) Distrust of the corporate universe.
3) Distrust of capitalism in general.
4) An idea of a "sellout" which, when identified, must be reviled and mocked.

Microsoft is like Green Day. People forget that Bill Gates was once a young, Harvard dropout, who got his first job by hacking a corporate computer system. But now, Bill has "sold out" almost completely. Microsoft is seen as the enemy of everything from the open source movement to the average user.

Already, whispers are starting to spread about how Google has started down the path of becoming the next Microsoft. There is even a website, called Google Watch, that monitors "Google's monopoly, algorithm, and privacy practices."

What has changed between then and now? As near as I can tell, Green Day pretty much sounds the same now as they did before (heck, they only average 2 or 3 notes per song anyway). As for Google, they still do some pretty cool stuff (like Gmail) and some stuff that seems a ripoff of already available products (like Google Talk).

The only thing that has really changed for Green Day is the size of their fan base and their wallets. The same is true for Google.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New Kids

Disclaimer: This is not about the New Kids on the Block.

Congratulations are in order for Dan (author of Cross Thoughts) and his wife, who had their first child.

Congratulations are also in order for my long time friend Gary, who had welcomed his second child last week.

I've blogged before about kids, sometimes a little critically and sometimes reflectively. My stance on kids for my personal life has not changed one iota... they are about as far off my radar as they could possibly be.

But it is very cool to hear about the new lives coming into the world, and the hope they represent. During the last couple months of 2005, a few of my friends suffered personal losses, many of them losing a parent or another close family member.

So it is nice, at the beginning of 2006, to celebrate birth.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Wasting Money

With bonus time coming up at work, a lot of talk has revolved around just what toys we'll be wasting our money on.

Since I don't plan on making any "major purchases" (like a new car or something of that magnitude) with my bonus money, I've basically narrowed it down to three things that I don't need, but would be cool to have. I list them now in order of desire:

3) Alienware PC - Absurdly overpriced and overrated, but I've wanted one of these for years. These computers are more than just gaming machines tweaked with largely pointless features and hardware with a huge markup... they are status symbols. I want one of these for the same reason people who like motorcycles want a Harley. You could do quite well buying something else for the amount of money you'll pay, but it won't be the same.

2) Playstation 2 and a host of old games - I made a massive blunder when I purchased an XBox. There's nothing particularly WRONG with the XBox. For the most part I've enjoyed the games I bought. But PS2 would have been an infinitely superior choice for me because of the kinds of games I like to play: RPGs. XBox, even now, has an absolutely anemic RPG library. I've missed out on a bunch of great games in the past several years because I chose to buy an XBox, and now I could snatch them all up for a couple hundred bucks.

1) Mac - For months now I've been saying that the next computer I buy is going to be a Mac. However, I'm not 100% sure I want to pull the trigger on this until the new Intel Macs come out. And then if I'm going to wait that long, maybe I want to wait until the 2nd generation of Intel Macs, when they're sure to have the kinks out... and then if I'm going to wait THAT long, I should just get something else on the list.

Admittedly, trying to make this decision is a nice "problem" to have. If anyone has any ideas, feel free to let me know.