Archive for the ‘issues’ Category

allies until God do us part

March 8th, 2007

I found an amusing website today:

You probably have an idea of what's happening in God Bless America (thank you for that superb pun, the Guardian). Christian radicalism is going strong, everything in Washington is done in the name of God and as an extension of Him. In a country founded (among other things) on religious freedom, atheists are downright persecuted. The recent election notwithstanding, Bush is still in office and certain groups have begun a countdown to 2008, which should be well into the Iran war (have you noticed how everyone is taking that as a foregone conclusion?).

Anyway, as one of the few backers of GBA's legendary "alliance", we sent troops to Iraq. A move out of pure self interest (as all political decisions always are), in order to improve the economy, elicit GBA investment in Poland and build a tighter trade relationship. However, it's not just on the foreign arena that we've aligned ourselves, we also have our share of religious nuts, most infamously in the presidential palace (which hasn't exactly done much for our public image in the civilized world), offering statements on "family values", and in support of homophobia and xenophobia. As such, this website, entitled "We're ashamed", is an expression of protest against the political leadership, in a similar countdown to 2010.

MPAA stealing intellectual property

February 18th, 2007

As if the MPAA's (Motion Picture Association of America) credibility wasn't eroding quickly enough, in a recent stunt reported on reddit, they were busted cold for taking free blogging software, deliberately removing all references to its origin, thereby violating its user license.

iTunes illegal in Norway

January 26th, 2007


Apple was dealt a blow in Europe on Wednesday when Norway’s powerful consumer ombudsman ruled that its iTunes online music store was illegal because it did not allow downloaded songs to be played on rival technology companies’ devices.

The decision is the first time any jurisdiction has concluded iTunes breaks its consumer protection laws and could prompt other European countries to review the situation.

The ombudsman has set a deadline of October 1 for the Apple to make its codes available to other technology companies so that it abides by Norwegian law. If it fails to do so, it will be taken to court, fined and eventually closed down.

So says the Financial Times. I am greatly amused by this, because it's no surprise at all. The issue was raised a long time ago, and there has been a lot of back and forth with the authorities. Apple would not budge and so it was bound to come to this eventually. It's poetic that Apple's strong arm tactics have failed completely.

Technology pundits are saying the writing is on the wall for DRM, I'm not so sure myself. But this is a nice and clear sign that some actually do take offense to consumer rights being trampled on. Countries where the government isn't in the pocket of the industry perhaps (or at least not to that extent)?

Bring it on, Europe!

welcome to DRM

November 29th, 2006

It's all over. Russia apparently caved into US pressure over trade deals and agreed to shut down That means the last site that sells non-DRM mainstream music is now gone. So if you want that latest Moby cd (and who doesn't ), you have two options.. a) buy the cd or b) buy it from a DRM store.

If you buy the overpriced cd, paying for 18 tracks while you'd only pay for 2 if you could cause the rest stink, you can rip the cd and put the mp3s on your mp3 player. Media companies have tried various things to cripple cds so you can't rip them, but none of the methods have gained a foothold cause they've all sucked so far.

If you buy the album (or selected tracks) online, you might get it cheaper, but the media is crippled. If you buy through iTunes and you want to put the music on your iRiver, Apple's message is fuck you for not buying our iPod. You could burn the music to a cd and then rip it, but again iTunes decides if you can (which can change at any time), how many tracks you can burn per month etc etc. Not to mention that it's a complete hassle.

To put a new spin on things, Microsoft released their Zune mp3 player and it has some exciting new features. First of all, it's not compatible with Windows Media Player, so all the music you have there you can throw away, you're not gonna use it on the Zune. Secondly, obviously it's not compatible with anything like iTunes, so if you use iTunes and you have a collection of music bought through iTunes, and you want this music on your Zune, you can re-buy it. Isn't it convenient?

Before file sharing took off, the only way to get music was to buy cds. Almost ten years later, with the giant stir that file sharing has caused, the only real way to buy music is to buy cds. Apparently the technological revolution is blazing fast, but the ability of the music industry to leverage the internet to its advantage (that is, without completely alienating its customers) is zero.

Lots of people don't realize why DRM is bad. Yet. But once Zunes become popular and the inability to combine iTunes with Zune becomes a real practical problem, we should hear a bit more noise about it.

why software patents are idiotic

November 23rd, 2006

If there ever was a case that illustrated why software patents are idiotic, it is a story from today's slashdot. In a bold move, a company has filed a patent claim for linked lists.

Just to recap for a moment - patents are meant to protect new inventions, so that when you make a brilliant new discovery, like say, the light bulb, and someone wants to take that idea and get rich you can say "hang on, I was first, if you want to use the idea you'll have to license it from me".

Linked lists are as old as computer science itself, however. No, scratch that, they're a fundamental principle, in fact. They are what the Pythagorean theorem is to mathematics. The patent claim in this case is not for linked lists in general, it's for lists linked in more than one direction, which is just a common variant of linked lists. But here's the kicker, the patent was granted. That means the data structure I was taught in college (and which every comp sci student is taught) is now to be considered hands off. So if I write an application using linked lists, I am liable for patent infringement. It's a good thing patents are not backwards enforcable, or my old assignments in college would come into question.

Software patents, of course, are only applicable in the one country crazy enough to accept them, the United States. The idea was rejected by the EU some time ago, but another round of lobbying over patents in Europe is on the cards.

The point of a patent is to protect innovation. In this case, the holder of the patent is able to sue any company or individual for using linked lists, but that kind of case would be completely useless, because of the prior art principle. If a patent is granted and it is then proven that someone has used the idea before the patent was issued, then the patent is invalidated.

Other ideas already patented are Adobe's tabbed window panes (as used in Photoshop) and Amazon's one-click shopping.

Unlike DRM, patents are not such a big consumer problem, they apply more to developers. But it means that if a company is granted a patent for "lossy compressed music files" (mp3), and uses this idea in a program (Windows Media Player), then anyone else wanting to play back these mp3s can't, in any way, make this happen. Because the limitation isn't on the format itself, it's on the idea that such a format can exist. So noone can even come up with a different format for music files, the whole thing is restricted. This is not a good example, because a) there's lots of prior art for music compression and b) I took this from thin air, so it may not be that realistic or representative. Nevertheless, this is how the mechanism works and so for open source software, which often strives to provide alternatives for common commercial software, software patents is a minefield.