The MacOS App Store: starting down the slippery slope

As recently reported by Crunchgear, Apple likes the entire App Store concept so much it’s now rolling it out in the next version of MacOS X. It’s hardly an unsurprising move, however, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous from a software freedom standpoint.

While it appears for now that Apple will continue to allow software to be installed on MacOS X as before, I suspect it will only be a matter of time before this quietly disappears and MacOS becomes just like iOS (the iPhone/iPod/iPad operating system), where everything must be approved by Apple, and truly free software (as in freedom) is impossible. This is one more step down the slippery slope which started with the App Store in the iPhone.

Until and unless Apple proves by words and actions it is committed to the freedom of its users to use its products in ways not arbitrarily limited by Apple itself, I still maintain that Apple is the biggest threat to the future of computing freedom. The specific actions I am referring to would include the following, at minimum:

  1. Apple offers alternatives to the App Store on its “non-computer” products (iPod, iPhone, iPad) where such alternatives do not currently exist, without the requirement of “jailbreaking” those devices.
  2. Evidence of “jailbreaking” is no longer considered by Apple for the purpose of warranty validity while it is still necessary to run non-Apple-approved applications.
  3. The license for future versions of the iOS SDK is made friendlier to the free software development model. (I will clarify this in a later post when I get a full copy of the license agreement.) Ideally, Apple would release enough documentation to let anyone write an iOS replacement and load it onto any device which ships with iOS, and make the license changes retroactive.

Were Apple to do these things, I believe the world would be a better place for freedom. The fact that Apple will probably refuse to do any of this, speaks volumes about the true motives of Apple as a company and the character of such people as Steve Jobs. With this latest attack on software freedom by Apple, there has never been a worse time to buy Apple products.

A digital wrong?

A recent post by Geoff Livingston to his blog touched off a firestorm of controversy recently. Photographers take the stance that regardless of where the photo is posted, the photographer retains absolute copyright, even to the point of–somewhat tastelessly–insisting on the use of a watermarked photo for such uses as a  profile (as blogged by Mr. Livingston). The heading of what is legally permissible does not include everything under the heading of what is in good taste.

However, the real story here is how Mr. Livingston uses the loaded and confusing terms such as “digital rights” and “intellectual property” in clear ignorance of the viewpoint those terms assume. Indeed, the FSF has warned about such terms for some time. Despite the prevalence of the misleading, confusing, and biased term “intellectual property” the intelligent reader should note that copyrights, patents, and trademarks are not property rights and are not treated this way at all in the actual laws that set aside government-created exclusivity over artistic works, inventions, or logos and names used in trade. Copyrights and patents are time-limited, and are privileges which only exist because of the governments enacting laws which impose the restrictions on others.

I’m going to try to explain how nonsensical it really is to lump copyright, patent, trademark, and whatever else under one umbrella term. Imagine, for a moment, the confusion that would result over lumping laws governing motor vehicles, railroads, airplanes, and nautical vessels under “transportation law.” In particular, a yellow signal light means something completely different to a train than a motor vehicle, and the concept of right-of-way is completely different for watercraft (boats) than for land-based motor vehicles (for boats, right-of-way is actually the responsibility to maintain course and speed). These differences, and many more that don’t immediately come to my mind, are not unlike the differences between copyright, patent, and trademark law (and whatever else comes under the umbrella of “intellectual property” as even the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is surprisingly vague).

While Mr. Livingston refers freely to social wrongs in his post, I believe it to be an equal social wrong to feed the ever-growing misconception that copyrights are property rights by use of terminology clearly intended to help promote confusion between the two. Indeed, I have to wonder if the widespread term “intellectual property” itself led Moshe Zusman, the photographer with whom Mr. Livingston had the original dispute, to greedily assert copyright as if it were a property right.

That sinking failed publicity stunt feeling

The Dot Earth blog recently featured an interesting piece on the scuttling of a boat called the Ady Gil, featured in a television program called “Whale Wars” shown on Animal Planet. “Whale Wars” is about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and their ongoing harassment and confrontations of Japanese whaling vessels. If you watch the show (I don’t, and in fact I had not heard of it until now) you already knew of the confrontation which resulted in the destruction of the Ady Gil. It is what happened after this incident, however, that is the focus here. From the post:

The news doesn’t relate to the collision, but the aftermath. Pete Bethune, who was the skipper of the destroyed speedboat, the Ady Gil, resigned this week from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, claiming that the boat, donated by Ady Gil, the millionaire it was named for, was unnecessarily scuttled to generate better publicity. There’s quite a bit of coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald.

In the New Zealand Herald, Gil is quoted as saying that he believes Bethune. Watson denies the allegations. (Shortly after the first boat was damaged, Gil started raising money for a replacement.)

In a later post to the Dot Earth blog, Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherd campaign’s leader, responds to this allegation:

On camera, I say, “it’s Pete’s boat, it’s Pete’ call.”

On camera, Pete Bethune says that the boat cannot be salvaged and that his decision was to abandon it.

Abandoning it would have left it as a navigational hazard. It was Pete who went to the vessel to attempt to scuttle it and Maritime Safety Australia was made aware of this. I am not criticizing Pete’s decision. It was the correct decision to make. What I am saying is that neither Captain Chuck Swift nor I ordered Pete to scuttle the vessel.

So why has Pete Bethune decided to make such an accusation to the media and the public that I ordered him to sink the Ady Gil?

The answer is obvious. I fired him the day before for providing false testimony to the Japanese police. He threatened to make this allegation to me if I did not reinstate him. I refused. In fact I sent the threats to the media before he released them.

So what is this story about?

To put it bluntly it was the seizing of an opportunity to make a scandal out of nothing, based on the words of a man who had been fired from Sea Shepherd the day before.

The abandonment of the vessel and the failed attempt to scuttle it was a responsible decision and made known to the proper authorities at the time. What was not justified is the deliberate destruction of the vessel by the Japanese ship Shonan Maru #2.

Now, I admire a good publicity stunt just like most other marketing and public relations counselors/consultants out there. If true, the accusation that a boat was intentionally wrecked and then scuttled (intentionally sank) simply for publicity is pretty damning. However, instead this appears to be more of a case of a skipper fired from his organization for lying to the Japanese police, attempting to extort his way back to his job. It didn’t work.

It does put a huge black mark on the Japanese whalers collectively that the crew of the Shonan Maru #2 intentionally rammed the Ady Gil, an act which was reckless and patently devoid of scruples. However, Pete Bethune, the skipper of the Ady Gil,  deserves the same black mark for a pathetic attempt at extortion, and lying about events that were well documented on video for future use in a television program.

We can all learn from Mr. Bethune’s actions as an example of what not to do. Shame on you, Pete Bethune, and good luck finding a new job. You’re going to need it.

Pencil sharpeners are dangerous? Really?

The UK’s Daily Mail reports on one of the most bizarre examples of weapons control run amok. Charlotte Howard went to go buy pencils like any other 11-year-old schoolgirl who had exhausted her existing supply of writing utensils (or art utensils, as it appears from one of the pictures these may be colored art pencils).

But Charlotte was stopped cold by the cashier, who refused to complete the sale because the pack contained a pencil sharpener, which is classed as a “dangerous object.” It gets even better, though. Her mother, Allison Howard, was also refused the sale because she might give the pencils and sharpener to her daughter!

Thankfully, another store in the area completed the sale. However, to me, this is the truly shocking part (quoting the article):

…The 99p Store chain’s commercial director Hussein Lalani said he was ‘proud that our processes restricting the sale of certain items to under-18s have been proved to work’.

But he added: ‘We will look into the way this particular product is classified.’ Last year, the company made headlines after a 15-year- old boy was stopped from buying wine gums in case they contained alcohol.

Sure, the process works. There’s a saying from the early days of computer programming that applies here: Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO). It would appear Mr. Lalani or one of the workers under his command (or maybe even elsewhere in the company) apparently programmed the cash register/point of sale systems with the garbage classifying a pencil sharpener as dangerous, and not surprisingly, that garbage came back out again.

Rather than celebrate that with a “hey, the computer is stupid and did what it was told” it would be more appropriate for Mr. Lalani to eat a double helping of humble pie, apologize profusely to the Howard family, and make sure this doesn’t happen again. This is a disgrace to civilized, intelligent society and deserves nothing short of absolute condemnation.

It’s a police badge, not a license to shoot defenseless dogs

This video was recorded in 2010 February in Columbia, Missouri, documenting what happens during the execution of a search warrant on the home of Jonathan and Brittany Whitworth. It may (in fact, it almost certainly will) be upsetting to dog lovers, or for that matter, any human being who places at least some value in life, whether it be human, canine, or otherwise. It’s not graphic, but the audio track clearly records the very disturbing thing that happens to this owner’s two loyal dogs at the cold, brutal hands of these police officers serving the city of Columbia, Missouri:

There’s also a blog entry on about this case.

The worst part of this is that the raid was supposedly for a small amount of marijuana, one of the least dangerous drugs that in fact stands the best chances of having its prohibition ended during my lifetime. And they shot the dogs with a child present in the house.

I can’t imagine what these cops could possibly have been thinking to do something this mean and cruel. Frankly, I don’t care if the guy was a wanted fugitive with an arrest warrants for multiple murder charges; that is no excuse to kill defenseless animals like this. One was a pit bull, which has a bit of a reputation as a violent breed of dog. But the other dog, the one that it sounds like they shot three times? It was a Corgi. Yes, a Corgi!

Not surprisingly, the family has filed a lawsuit against the city of Columbia for this despicable, inexcusable, and unprofessional act. Thankfully someone was recording video of this, so there may be no mistake about what happened.

I’ve ranted before on what I think of drug prohibition in general. This is the best example yet on why the madness needs to end, and end now. Maybe it’s too much for this society to realize that drug prohibition in general is a failed policy, but certainly the case for legalizing marijuana is not that hard to make.

And it would seem others agree. From Russ Belville’s Huffington Post article in May:

P.P.S. Paul Armentano reminds me that in 2004, seven in ten Columbia, Missouri residents voted for the end of the “arrest, prosecution, punishment, or sanction” citizens for their medical use of marijuana, and six in ten voted for the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use.  So the dog was murdered and the family terrorized over something only 30%-40% of residents believe is a crime.

So much for rule by the majority. It is my sincere hope that justice is served for the Whitworth family by a judgment in their favor and that other citizens fed up with such blatant violations of the public trust file suit as well.