Admin/meta: Changes ahead

I haven’t made very many of these type of post here, but this one really deserves it. I have alluded to some of these things in prior posts but to make sure nobody misses them, I’m posting them here.

Major career and personal changes are happening in my life over the next few months. The current format of this blog will be incompatible to the success of those changes. I may need to put it on complete hiatus for a time with virtually no notice. I have slowed down a lot with the posting, and I’ve noticed my readers have slowed down a lot to check for new posts.

I’m not yet declaring this blog dead by any means. I’ve enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, this blog while I keep it active. The way I wanted to end it, by making a flurry of final posts in its final few weeks, may simply not happen. It may well be better for my personal brand (which has taken a fair number of hits over the time this blog has been up) for me to make a clean break.

This is my de facto personal blog for the moment. With Iced Tea and Ramen closed to new entries, it’s this blog here, Quinn’s Big City, and my personal site. I am not completely comfortable with this arrangement and while I don’t regret moving this blog to its own domain to free up my personal site, I definitely have missed having a true standalone personal blog.

I don’t want to just up and delete the archives here. I have too much good stuff and too many old posts getting hits to do that, for now. At some point, the bare minimum I feel necessary will be to call attention to the dates, possibly adding a plugin that adds a disclaimer “this post is more than six months old and may not reflect the current views of the author.”

Yes, I’ve ranted a lot against certain companies, probably more than I should for someone wanting to get into marketing and PR. I know I hold many minority viewpoints and have not been shy about them. I’m not shy about certain legal and justice issues, either. The unanswered question, so far, is the influence on the body of my posts here on my personal brand. I’d like to think it’s neutral to slightly positive. Some will agree; others will disagree in varying strengths and degrees of politeness.

It does get monotonous, even for me, to hit the same targets over and over again. I try looking for something new now and again. If the topic of this blog has to be limited to topics such as censorship, civil liberties, the more flagrant police/judicial abuse instances, and maybe an occasional sports/light news rant, then that’s what I may do to keep it afloat. I’m sorry if any of you feel it’s no longer Rant Roulette anymore if I’m not slamming Apple, Google, Microsoft, Walmart, AT&T, or some other megacorporation at least once a month. I’ve not decided this yet, but I’m considering the possibility of  some posts where I mention misdeeds of a megacorp, but the bar will be raised significantly; garden variety misdeeds won’t be eligible anymore, it will have to be something quite egregious.

I pledge to keep my remaining readers in the loop. Thanks for your support.

Engadget editor shows us the “restrictions” in Digital Restrictions Management

I know, two stories from the same source. But this one hit one of my hot buttons a bit too hard to just skip.

Paul Miller, senior associate editor for Engadget recently posted about a nasty surprise that his Apple iPad had waiting for him. Instead of quoting the entire story I’ll do my best to summarize in bullet-point format:

  • Paul gets stuck in an airport with his iPad and buys a movie for $15 to pass the time (since his laptop battery is dead, the iPad was his only choice).
  • The download only gets 2/3 of the way completed before Paul has to board his flight.
  • Luckily his flight has in-flight WiFi. Unluckily for him, the port iTunes needs to access to download the movie is blocked (I have no idea how iTunes works so I’m just using the same terminology Paul did).
  • Paul finishes downloading the movie at home, and decides the iPad’s small screen is too small to truly enjoy the film. So Paul connects his iPad to his TV.

And… bam! The “Restrictions” part of Digital Restrictions Management kick in, and the iPad throws up “Cannot Play Movie / The connected display is not authorized to play protected movies.” Not surprisingly, Paul’s next move is to fire up a BitTorrent client and download an unrestricted copy of the same movie, which I would assume works fine.

The unfortunate part of Paul’s post is that he has bought into the misleading and loaded usage of terms such as “steal” and “theft” for copyright infringement. Unfortunately, that’s a much bigger problem and it’s not going to be solved overnight, or probably even this year. But that’s another rant for another day. That, and the fact he gets bitten by DRM on a device built entirely around DRM, that is a brick until it’s connected once to a copy of iTunes on Windows or MacOS, is an unfortunate non-surprise to the readers of this blog. (Oh, yes, you read that right! The iPad will not work without being hooked to a computer with iTunes at least once! More on that in a future entry, maybe.)

The reality is that the MPAA is overdue to “get it” like the RIAA did. The RIAA finally figured out that it made more sense to sell unprotected music files via Amazon and even iTunes than it did to keep using digital locks to try to keep the honest people honest. It’s a step in the right direction, of course those are still MP3 and most record companies still aren’t embracing WAV/FLAC downloads (which I could understand being a little more expensive per track, but which I would actually buy).

But the MPAA has held onto “lock it down with more DRM” like a stubborn mule. Why, I don’t know. Movie producers and studios are finally grasping the concept of digital cinema, but a good many productions still originate on 35mm film. The new age is the digital age, an age of non-scarcity, where we can have as many copies as we want. DRM is a failure. Shame on you, MPAA; it’s time to let your obsession with DRM go.

Intel’s silicon shenanigans

As reported by Engadget, Intel is experimenting with a somewhat novel CPU upgrade scheme. They want to charge you to unlock features of your CPU that are already there.

Now, it’s not unheard of for CPUs to have cores or cache memory disabled at the factory. It’s acceptable, perhaps even expected, that a chip manufacturer would disable a defective portion of a chip before shipping it out. This is in fact how maximum clock speeds are determined: a chip that cannot run reliably at, say, 2.0 GHz is tested again at 1.9 GHz, then 1.8 GHz, etc. down to a minimum acceptable speed for the class of CPU until the highest speed is found at which that particular CPU chip will function. It’s similar with cache and cores: quad-core chips with two defective cores will have two of the cores disabled and become dual-core chips instead, and a chip with a defect in part of the L2 cache will have that portion disabled.

The difference is that Intel is shipping out fully working CPUs and using a DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) scheme to lock them down, holding the full functionality for ransom. This is not how responsible companies operate. A few of the comments on the Engadget blog entry already indicate that Intel has lost goodwill with this rather cowardly move.

What to do? I personally recommend avoiding the purchase of the DRM-crippled CPU chips in question. It may not be practical to buy your next PC without a single Intel chip in it, but I certainly won’t blame you if you do. Intel’s “just testing it out… in a few select markets for now.” Let’s all grade this test a big fat F.

Why burn the Quran?

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, among others, a minister in Florida is only a couple of days away from burning copies of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, on the ninth anniversary of the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This plan by the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center (DWOC) in Gainesville, Florida, has drawn outrage and criticism from many people, including President Obama and those in charge of our military. Indeed, the US government is considering contacting the pastor to attempt to change his mind (VOA).

It is understandable that many are outraged, some going as far as to say it would endanger our troops overseas in countries such as Afghanistan. I’m not a fan of the Quran burning or the viewpoint behind it either. I’m not sure what exactly it will accomplish besides further anger an already irritated Muslim population, both inside the US borders and outside. But neither am I a fan of censorship, which is what would effectively be happening were the pastor of DWOC prohibited or threatened with arrest for his expression. According to the second story linked above, Rackspace has already taken the DWOC website offline. I’m not really a fan of this either, but it’s certainly understandable that they chose to call the site “hate speech” given the circumstances.

The DWOC’s pastor has the right to his point of view. It is equally our right, however, to express ourselves and put distance between ourselves and those with such radical views. Burning the US flag is protected free speech; as objectionable and politically dangerous as it may be, I see no reason the Quran should be treated differently. However, I believe the DWOC pastor’s pyrophilic protest it is patently devoid of any sense of good taste and it is our duty as Americans–actually, as human beings, whether in the US and abroad–to let our opposing view be known, to condemn this act and others like it, as tasteless, senseless, vile, and putrid. The majority expressing their tolerance and respect for each other will easily drown out a minority expressing hate and disgust, especially in such an ill-advised fashion.

I believe the majority of Muslims are peace-loving people, as I am. It is just as wrong to judge all Muslims based on the actions of the September 11 terrorists as it is to judge all Christians based on the actions of David Koresh and the Branch Davidian cult. And nobody sane would dare try that one.

Redefining “work for hire”

A recent post to the ThinSkull Blog at highlights a case in Canada which takes the concept of “work for hire” as it relates to copyright and quite literally turns it upside down.

From the post:

John Hawley was sentenced to ten years in prison for armed robberies committed in his mid-twenties. After he was released on parole, John started a “successful commercial art and design studio in Toronto” (Hawley v. Canada, [1990] F.C.J. No. 337). When he served a part of his sentence in Frontenac Institution, a minimum security prison, he created a large painting entitled “Mount Whymper.” This work of art became the subject of a lawsuit he brought against the federal government claiming copyright in “Mount Whymper.”

The Federal Court denied his claim. It found that John was an employee of the Crown at all material times…

According to the court, if you’re in prison, you are [a federal employee], at least for the purposes of IP ownership. It ultimately doesn’t matter that your employment is forced and that your spare time is artificially limited and controlled.

Prison has two separate and distinct roles: punishment and rehabilitation. Unless a defendant is serving a sentence of life without parole or a sentence which will not expire until after the defendant does, rehabilitation cannot be ignored. Yet that is exactly what has happened here.

I find the notion that John was considered “an employee of the Crown” (what they call the government in Canada) ludicrous. The money John made from selling that painting would certainly help his rehabilitation quite a bit. It would also teach him a valuable lesson about making money in the world of honest people and decent society, a lesson that I wish more ex-felons were eager to learn.

Instead, the Canadian government has chosen to stunt John’s rehabilitation using a quite elastic interpretation of “work for hire” as it relates to copyright. The chilling effects here will be obvious: prisoners will simply resort to concealing their artistic works while serving their sentences and will be more clandestine about pocketing the profits. In short, the Crown is encouraging known criminals to keep acting like criminals, a dangerous and short-sighted move.

Shame on you, government of Canada. This galactically stupid leap of “logic” is due to set criminal justice back decades if not over a century.