19 February 2009

Raptor visit

Today, as Gin and I were sitting in the living room, lazily watching TV, there was an incredible boom from the window right behind us. We nearly jumped out of our skins. When we looked outside, there was a very dizzy-looking bird hanging upside down from our porch, with wings all spread out and his head on the snow. It was a pretty big bird, a goshawk. No clue what he was trying to do, crashing into our living room window like that, but judging from the impact he would most likely have crashed through the glass had he been going any faster. He looked a bit funny hanging upside down from our porch, obviously quite stunned. Mom was standing on the porch, looking down on him from only about two feet away, but he didn't seem to care much. After about a minute he took off and flew up in a tree, about 5 meters away. He didn't seem to be going anywhere, so I took the opportunity to walk over and take some pictures. He was sitting about 4 meters up so the pictures are a bit from a frog perspective, but he looks like a fairly impressive bird anyway. He was obviously not hurt from the crash, and flew off after spending about half an hour in the tree. I noticed afterwards that he left a bird-shaped impression in the pile of snow next to the porch where he was hanging.

I got the date for surgery now. On march 4th, I'm getting rid of my tonsils. Good riddance, I say. I can't wait to get rid of them.

I caught a cold from my dad, who had it last week, so I've been coughing quite a lot and feeling kinda beat in general. Not that I really need one right now, but it's a good excuse to just sit on the couch and read a book. I don't really have much to do anyway. I'm still waiting for my last paycheck from the job I had in Canada. Apparently there was a "mixup" with the payments, so mine never got sent. I got a letter in the mail a couple of days ago saying that it was sent out on February 7th. But that was 12 days ago, and I still don't have the cheque... Given the level of organization at that place, I can't say I'm too surprised. It was by far the messiest place I ever worked on, and the only place I've worked at where the management seemed to have no interest whatsoever in listening to the ideas of the workers. But obviously, if the dozen or so people in the higher management don't have enough good ideas, the 300 or so "grunts" couldn't possibly have any brains to contribute anything with... The few times that the employees took the initiative to try to come up with suggestions on their own, the effort was greeted with outright hostility from the management. A healthy working environment? Right.

A few weeks before I left, my fiancée and I were offered work with the same company in starting up a new office. But without any raises or promotions, the management wanted us to do exactly what we were already doing (the positions we had already resigned from) and for a salary worth less money. They couldn't possibly offer us anything else, since we would have to show some good results and dedication towards the company first. Obviously, in the three years that we had already worked there (never mind that we had each been promoted twice in that time, and had worked there longer than most others in the localization department), we had done none of that? Sorry, but that's nothing short of insulting.

14 February 2009

Snip snip

Now that I'm back in Sweden again, my stage name seems a bit out of place. I originally picked a stage name because people generally can't pronounce my real name very well. But being in Sweden, I'm most likely going to be doing most of my performances in Sweden, so having a completely anglicized stage name just seems pretentious. So I renamed my MySpace page, and shall from now on be associated with the name "Rainhat" instead whenever I do a show. Not so much a pseudonym for myself personally, but more of a project name for my musical endeavours.

I've written some new music, and my fingers are really itching to record the stuff and put it up online, but unfortunately it seems I can't do that with any satisfactory result at the moment. First of all, I don't have access to the kind of instruments I would need. I bought myself an electric bass that I'm really happy with, but the guitar I have is really not something I want to use for a recording. It works, it's easy to play, but it just sounds bad. There is no life or body in the sound. I pluck a string, and the result is just a vibrating string. There is no resonance of any kind. It sounds... dead. Dead and flat and lifeless, as if I was playing a brick with strings. Of course, I could make do with what I have and use this guitar anyway, but I would do so quite grumpily.

The second obstacle, and the one that really stops me, is my throat. I've been having problems with my throat lately. I have always had large tonsils, ever since I was a kid. The doctors kept saying that it was perfectly normal, and that they would shrink as I got older. Well, I'm 28 now, and they haven't. In fact, they have only gotten larger and larger, and quite rapidly as of late. Now they are large enough to make it difficult for me to breathe when I sleep. I have apneas and wake up at night with a pulse of 180, gasping for air. They are literally the size of eggs. That also causes some problems with my voice. I can't articulate properly and I sound nasal and stuffy, kind of as if someone was constantly trying to choke me. Try it. Grab your throat just under your jaw. Now squeeze and press upwards at the same time. That's how I sound. I don't want to record any vocals as long as I sound like this. My throat also feels incredibly unpleasant. I'd do anything to get rid of this feeling right now.

I went to see a doctor at the local clinic when I started having trouble breathing. He sent me to the hospital with a rush order, so I went there and met an ear nose throat specialist. He was quite impressed with the size of my tonsils and decided that they need to be removed quite soon. I didn't get a set date for the surgery yet, so I'm waiting for more news on that.
Having your tonsils removed is a pretty minor surgery, but I've heard that it's incredibly painful. Gin's aunt said it was like swallowing needles every time she drank something for about a week and a half after the surgery. Oh, well. I'd rather swallow needles for a week or two than have a throat like this for the rest of my life.

09 February 2009

Downloading music

Did you know that if a musician gets signed with a major record label, he's basically signing himself into poverty unless he happens to hit it really big? Like Maroon5 or James Blunt big, at the very least. Prices vary depending on where you buy a CD, but let's say a regular CD is around $15.

A record company pays for the time spent in the studio to record a CD. This alone can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. All the costs involved in creating a finished CD are recoupable. This means that the record company will take that money back from the musician out of his royalties on the CD. An average level royalty for a beginning musician is somewhere around 12%.

Now, 12% out of $15 is $1,80. So if you sell 10000 CDs, the musician gets $18000, right? Nope. When vinyl records were sold, before the CD was invented, the record labels had to count on a part of the records breaking, thereby not getting them any income. So they would calculate royalties on only 90% of the total amount of CDs, regardless of how many were actually sold. They still do. Even though CDs and mp3s don't break. There is no justification for keeping this method, but they do anyway because they make more money with it. So 10000 CDs actually only gets the musician $16200.

Record companies have also decided that while it's ok to pay royalties to the musician for each CD, they don't want to pay royalties on the packaging. So a 25% packaging deduction is taken off the price of the CD before the royalties are calculated. So out of $15, the royalties are calculated on only 75% of the price, that is $11,25. So now, for 10000 CDs sold, the musician gets only $12150 for the royalties of 90% of the sales.

If the musician doesn't produce the record himself, but has an independent producer do that instead, (or even worse, a producer from the record company) he has to pay the producer out of his royalties, generally around 25% of his royalties. So then the musician only gets a 9% royalty instead of 12%. That means $9112,5 for 10000 CDs sold.

The record companies also have a 25% deduction called the R&D deduction. This is a research and development deduction that the companies take off, because it costs them money to research and develop new technologies for publishing the music. Like when the cassette tape was invented. Or the CD, or the minidisc, blue-ray, mp3, etc. Nevermind that most record labels never spent a penny on researching or developing any of these. Anyway, what remains is now $6834,375.

So, around $6834 for 10000 CDs sold is a pretty welcome income, isn't it? Selling 10000 CDs can't be that hard, and it's a start, right? Nope. Remember that all the costs involved in creating the CD are recoupable. What if the production costs added up to $150000? That means that when 10000 CDs have been sold, the record company has already earned $132000, but the musician is still 143166 dollars in debt to the record company. The musician gets about 68 cents in royalties per CD. So he has to sell enough CDs to cover the $150000. If we use this example, he has to sell 219491 CDs before he ever gets a single penny in profit. How many musicians sell 220000 copies of their first album? Not many.

And yet, this is all a bit simplified. In reality, the musician may get way less than shown in this example. The cost of recording the CD is not the only cost. How about another $150000 for a promotional video? How about mp3s? The royalty rate is often the same, even though there is zero breakage and zero packaging. So how can the artist afford a manager and a lawyer? Pfff...

The alternative is of course to do and finance everything yourself, to do it the indie way. But man, that takes some serious money. Overall the music industry is in many ways a disgusting business, and in severe need of transformation. And who wants to pay up to $30 for a CD, as you often would in Sweden? No wonder people are filesharing like mad. The record companies get mad and claim to be losing millions of dollars and compensate by raising the record prices even more, making them even harder to sell, making people download even more.

Business has always been based on the simple principle of demand and supply. The people want something, so you sell it to them. The people want something else, so you adapt to what they want and sell that instead. The record companies seem to be kind of stuck, trying to bully everyone into buying their CDs by any means necessary, even though people don't want to. People download copyrighted stuff. That's not going to change, no matter what you do and what laws you make. And trying to bully laws into place, like the EU parliament seems to be doing with the Medina report, is just nothing short of disgusting.

The big trial against the guys from The Pirate Bay is starting on February 16th. The EU parliament has this thing called the Medina report, which is basically a long wish list from the copyright people. It is a list of things that they suggest that the EU parliament make into law, applicable in all of Europe. Check out points 30 through 33. Does anyone other than me find this a bit insane? They are basically asking the EU parliament to DECIDE that the court of law should convict the Pirate Bay guys and find them guilty! What the hell kind of justice is that? Innocent until proven otherwise, my ass...

I'm a musician myself, and of course I want to make money off my music and be able to make a living with it, but not like this. Filesharing is here to stay, so we need to find a way that lets the musicians make money off of their music through filesharing. Not by letting multi-billion dollar companies violate all reason and justice, while basically robbing the musicians and making insane amounts of profit on the very expense of the musicians.

In Sweden alone there are somewhere between 600 000 and 1,2 million people who engage in filesharing. Rather than making up one stupid law after the other to try to criminalize these people, something else needs to be done. I mean, seriously... It just doesn't make sense to try to turn over 10% of your population into criminals! What are you going to do? Put them in jail? All 1,2 million of them? Come on...

According a recent study that I read about today, done in the Netherlands, about 25% of the Dutch population downloads stuff illegally. But at the same time, those same people make up 45% of the people buying the same stuff legally. By downloading stuff you get access to a million times more stuff than you ever would if you had to buy it all first. So you find more stuff that you like, and then you go buy that.

Record companies lose millions because of file sharing? Sorry, but I honestly don't believe that for a second. What better way is there for a band to get heard? A band lives off the fact that they are known. They spend hundreds of thousands on promotion and advertizing. There are bands that have based their entire success on getting the word out over the internet. The more people hear your music, the more people are going to buy your CD, buy tickets to your tour, buy your t-shirt, etc.

But copying something that is copyrighted is illegal, according to the law. The very same law that promotes libraries, where anyone can go and borrow a book and read it for free completely legally. If I go to the library, I can read Harry Potter, and J. K. Rowling doesn't get a penny. If I download the book online and read it, I am a criminal and J.K. Rowling could file a lawsuit against me.

What exactly is the difference, I wonder? Seems very fishy to me...

1984 again? 25 years later?

I moved from Sweden to Canada in June 2006 to work, and during my stay there I didn't really keep much track of what was happening in Sweden. Now that I'm back, I've found many disturbing things on disturbing levels. "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark", as good ol' Bill put it. Very apt, except for the Denmark part. The thing that really bugs me is this:

Effective from January 1st this year, 2009, a department of the Swedish military can monitor and listen to or read all public and private communication that crosses the Swedish borders.

Since pretty much every signal from every kind of communication passes the Swedish borders at some point, (because the email servers are abroad, for example), this means that if a person in Sweden calls his buddy in Sweden or abroad on a cell phone, chats online, sends an email or a text message to someone, uses any kind of IP phone, or just a regular phone, the government can read or listen to every word unhindered. They do not need any suspicion of crime or just cause, they can listen in on all of it at any time they want. This law is called the FRA-law.
Sweden - kiss privacy good bye. It does not exist any more when it comes to communication.

The justification for all this is that the law gives the Swedish government a way to "detect and trace external threats". Well. If there was an external threat that was in any way interested in doing something to insignificant little Sweden, THEY WOULD NOT DISCUSS IT OVER THE PHONE! What kind of idiot terrorist would discuss his plans using Hotmail or a cell phone? Especially since this law is public knowledge, and any terrorist with half a brain would KNOW that someone is monitoring the call!

How many people and their phone calls would you have to listen to randomly before you stumble across a suspicious call? Way the hell too many!

The law as a deterrent? Does anyone actually believe that a person bent on carrying out some kind of bombing or whatever would just go "Oh, I guess we can't communicate secretly now. Better go home again..." because of this law? Seriously... I sure as hell don't.

This law is an atrocity and there is no valid reason to rob the Swedish population of their privacy in this way. I for one demand that it be revoked. If I call a friend, it's none of the Swedish government's damn business what we talk about.

I can't BELIEVE that this kind of law actually got passed. I simply cannot understand how anyone would want to be in favor of giving up their privacy this way? A common argument in favor seems to be the ever-so-popular "But if you have nothing to hide it doesn't matter if someone listens." or the variation "You are only against this because you have something to hide." It doesn't matter, eh? Let me tell you. If you had a person following you around all the time, listening to every word you said, not letting you make one single phone call in privacy, it would start bugging you really damn fast, whether you have something to hide or not! So what difference does it make if that person is there next to you, or listening through headphones somewhere else? It's the same damn thing.

In Sweden, a mailman can be fired or even go to jail for opening a letter addressed to someone else and reading it. But according to the law, the Swedish government can do that with any mail they want. Does this seem sensible? Hell no!

If you say something suspicious over the phone, you become a suspect and a potential threat to national security. If you do a search on the keyword "communism" or "al-qaida" on google, you are researching suspicious things and therefore suspicious yourself.

Has anyone read the book 1984? This is starting to sound freakishly much like the thought police. How much further can this be allowed to go?

During WW 2, the image and concept of the Swedish Tiger was created as a symbol for the vigilance campaign. The word "tiger" means "stays silent" in Swedish, and the idea was that all Swedish citizens should stay silent about anything that could be potentially harmful to a neutral Sweden, which at that time was surrounded by countries either at war or occupied by military troops. This concept seems to remain in a twisted way to this day. Swedes stay silent about everything. Sweden is the most taxed country in the world, and we're not really getting anything more for that tax money compared to other countries with lower taxes. Unemployment is rising, pensions are dropping, alarming numbers of cases are handed over to the bailiff because of unpaid debts.

Measured as a percentage of the GNP and compared to other countries within OECD, Sweden had a clear lead with 51,1% in 2005. As a comparison, the UK stood as number 12 with 37,2% the same year. Canada was number 17 with 33,5% and the US was number 22 with 26,8%.

Sweden has free health care. The US does not. Sure, our healthcare is free, but only if we pay 150 kr for the privilege of getting to see any kind of medical personnel in the first place.

So we are taxed out of our asses and our privacy is gradually stripped away in something that more and more resembles a big brother-state. How do the Swedish people respond to this? With silence. A big, fat, overwhelming lack of doing anything whatsoever. People whine about it at home, but nobody does anything to work against it. The Swedish silence prevails. On January 13th this year, a demonstration was arranged in Gothenburg agaist the FRA-law, the IPRED laws, the data storage directive and ACTA. The demonstration was arranged by 7 political parties and youth parties, as well as a network against the FRA-law. Gothenburg is the second biggest city in Sweden with over half a million people living in the city area. So how did the demonstration go? A whopping 200 people showed up. If that is the extent of people's commitment to actually want to do something about things, I think Sweden is really screwed.

We need to do something! We need to get off our asses and get involved! Join a political party and work against this, or at least vote for a party that is against this nonsense! Hand out flyers, write blog posts, send a letter to your government representative.

But! Remember to do it the right way. Violence and throwing rocks at politicians you don't like is never the right way. On the contrary, it'll just work against your idea.