Tuesday, July 27, 2010
The DMCA is the worst law ever enacted by Congress vis a vis tech, creativity and the freedom to do whatever to a device one legally buys from any given manufacturer because...
"It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet. Passed on October 12, 1998 by a unanimous vote in the United States Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998, the DMCA amended Title 17 of the United States Code to extend the reach of copyright, while limiting the liability of the providers of on-line services for copyright infringement by their users."
With a just little bit of analysis, one can see how this "law" not only stifles innovation and dictates what one can do with hardware but it also, in reality, undermines what the DMCA is designed to do, protect copyright because it's against the law to improve the DRM tech of any hardware if the item in question already uses the DMCA law to tell buyers how the hardware is to be used. "This sentence is false." - Liar's Paradox
"But tucked away in the DMCA is the stipulation that every three years, the Librarian of Congress, on behalf of the Library of Congress (which houses the US Copyright Office) will evaluate this infuriating legal bear trap and consider exemptions to the circumvention clause, giving you the right to blast DRM for select uses.
The Librarian has decreed a set of such exemptions, and they are a (relative) doozy. We're here to help you make sense of these dizzying acronyms, legalese, and the consequences it'll have on the way we all use technology.
What exactly is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA, because that's a lot to type out) is an addition to the existing Copyright Act of 1976, intended to deal with the rise of digital media and mass online proliferation. The 1976 act was, of course, never meant to deal with game changing technologies like DVDs, MP3s, and—gee golly!—modems. The ability to make a perfect digital copy of a movie or song and distribute thousands of copies online sent copyright holders (and, unfortunately, lawmakers) into a frenzy, with the DMCA being the reactionary end result. In short, the act makes bypassing DRM for your own personal or educational consumption—things that would normally be legally protected as fair use—illegal.
That sounds kind of excessive. Are there ANY exemptions?
Yes. But they were few, far between, and often not very significant—such as allowing university professors to rip a DRMed DVD to show short clips to students. Not exactly permissive. But, not wanting to be too shortsighted given the unbelievably rapid advance of technology, Congress mandated that the Librarian of Congress review and declare new exemptions to the DMCA's anti-circumvention powers every three years. And this year is one of those years.
So, what are the newest exemptions?
The full text of the six (!) new exemptions to the DMCA can be viewed at the Library of Congress, but we'll give you a quick rundown here.
You can rip your own DVDs, and nobody will stop you.
First, and arguably most importantly, is an exemption for DVDs you legally own, giving everyone (not just film and media studies majors!) the right to break DRM for the purposes of "short" use in both "documentary filmmaking" and original "noncommercial videos." The first is rather specific, of course, but the broadness of the latter is impressive—although for now you can't appropriate the entire film. But as long as you aren't charging money for it or profiting off it, it's noncommercial. So go ahead, rip and remix a scene from Inception so that it actually makes sense.
You can jailbreak your phone.
Second, and another huge one, is an exemption that allows you to jailbreak your phone—100% legally—and run the applications of your choosing. As Ars Technica points out, this is almost certainly a direct shot at Apple and the battle over jailbroken iPhones. Since computer code is classified as a literary work under copyright law, and, as the Library of Congress pointed out, jailbroken firmware alters "fewer than 50 bytes of code out of more than 8 million bytes, or approximately 1/160,000 of the copyrighted work as a whole," Apple's infringement claims have been totally bogus.
The third exemption is for software that would unlock your phone for use on a different network. Again, a loss for Apple and AT&T. As we've commented, this won't stop Apple from continuing to lock jailbreakers out through firmware updates and voided warranties, but the issue was clearly of enough importance to prompt Apple to issue a strongly worded defense of its practices before the federal government.
And The Rest:
The fourth exemption is narrower than the first three, granting the right to crack video or computer game DRM (such as SecuROM) for the purposes of research or "investigation." The language here is broad enough to give a little wiggle room (after all, anyone who's curious can investigate).
The fifth exemption is less exciting still, allowing you to bypass software protected by a hardware dongle that is either broken or no longer manufactured.
DRM on encrypted eBooks to have the text read aloud, even if this function is explicitly prohibited by copy protection. This is great news for the blind and otherwise visually impaired."
Now, the next intelligent step would be to restore copyright back to what the Founding Fathers had in mind: 15 years with an option to extend it 15 more years. After that, the copyright ends and the work can be used by anyone as per the Public Domain.
Monday, July 26, 2010
In this animation, the vertical direction indicates time and the horizontal direction indicates distance, the dashed line is the spacetime trajectory ("world line") of an accelerating observer. The small dots are arbitrary events in spacetime that are stationary relative to each other. The events passing the two diagonal lines in the lower half of the picture (the past light cone of the observer) are those that are visible to the observer.
The slope of the world line (deviation from being vertical) gives the relative velocity to the observer. Note how the view of spacetime changes when the observer accelerates. In particular, absolute time is a concept not applicable in Lorentzian spacetime: events move up-and-down in the figure depending on the acceleration of the observer.
I chose this image, (hopefully it animates) because it graphically shows, in wonderful fashion, how we move through space and time as temporary arrangements of the quantum foam that comprises all of reality. While looking at this, I also cannot help to think about how tech creates an illusion of regularity over the quantum world that defines our existence, something quite astonishing given just how chaotic the multiverse truly is.
As designer, I depend on straight lines to create art, a notion totally alien to how reality actually works as straight lines don't really exist as seen through the lens of Thermodynamics, Relativity, Chaos & Quantum Theory. In a very perceptive article written by Dimitri Orlov, the concept of straight lines is but a fiction, intended to give us a sense of false security in attempting to understand the mysterious world in which we live.
"This is good enough for most of us, and so we have come to regard straight lines as natural. In fact, in our world there are just two types of natural phenomena that give rise to straight lines: objects drop or hang down in straight vertical lines, and light beams travel in straight lines; beyond plumb lines and lines of sight everything is either a curve or a squiggle. But since most of our environment is artificial—and crammed full of straight lines and flat horizontal and vertical surfaces—we hardly ever have to confront this fact. Of course, the more scientifically astute among us know that straight lines are but a convenient fiction. We start with a conceptual framework of space that consists of x, y and z axes, and proceed to coerce our observations to fit this framework until the mismatch becomes too obvious to ignore, as with objects dropped from orbit, or with light from far-away galaxies that’s so warped by nearby galaxies that the image looks like a smear."
Interestingly enough, the digital tools that give us straight lines also give rise to Chaos Theory, a means to model the real world using recursion, feedback and computation, constructs able to discern how deep aspects of reality function, without the use of straight lines. :)
Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, physics, economics and philosophy studying the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions. This sensitivity is popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. Small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.
- This happens even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behaviour is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved.
- In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable.
"I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer"— Douglas Adams
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Structural Balance Theory is an 80 year old psychological theory that suggests some networks of relationships are more stable than others in a society. Specifically, the theory deals with positive and negative links between three individuals, where 'the friend of my enemy is my enemy' is more stable (and therefore more common) than 'the friend of my friend is my enemy'.
It's so interesting to see how complex actions can be modeled using, in this instance, Pardus, an online massively multi player game, to show how social interactions work from a mathematical perceptive. In Conway's Game of Life, complexity issues forth when simple rules are combined with recursion, thus creating evolving processes remarkably similar to how life operates on planet earth.
Chaos, magic happens.
"If we define a religion to be a system of thought that contains unprovable statements, so it contains an element of faith, then Gödel has taught us that not only is mathematics a religion but it is the only religion able to prove itself to be one." - John Barrow, Pi in the Sky, 1992
Quebec, in the summertime, rocks and the Mont Tremblant Blues Festival is at the center of the action but this post, as usual, is not about the blues, unfortunately, but rather about Connections with a Capital C and how it relates to Quantum Mechanics and non-locality. According to QT, everything's connected and one experiences this at any smoking concert, both in the band as well as with the audience as seen in the embedded video shown above. This empathy, non verbal in essence, extends to virtually everything we do because of the weird nature of super position coupled with the fact reality is comprised largely of empty space filled with fields interacting with one another in chaotic and non deterministic ways.
Addendum: The atomic nucleus is a tiny massive entity at the center of an atom. Occupying a volume whose radius is 1/100,000 the size of the atom, the nucleus contains most (99.9%) of the mass of the atom.
Addendum II: The wonderful Thomas Young double slit experiment demonstrates the inseparability of the wave and particle natures of light and other quantum particles or, in other words, a single photon, the carrier of the electromagnetic force, can go through two openings at the same time.
To a musician, this is a no brainer, especially in Jazz, Blues or Rock as improv dictates how a composition will be played and all the participants must be in synch if the tune is to take off. As a former musician who played with skill and passion, I know just how powerful this connectedness is, a feeling that stays with you forever.
“Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” - Miles Davis
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
On his way to India to help a friend distribute hearing aids to deaf children, Larry Fitzgerald was warned how overwhelming it was to witness people hearing their own voice for the first time.Little did Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals’ star receiver, realize what awaited him.
Once he saw the expression of joy and wonder on the child’s face for the first time, it rendered immaterial anything he had ever accomplished on a football field.
“To be able to see that smile was really moving,” Fitzgerald said. “To be able to do something like that really humbled you and brought you down to earth and makes you appreciate what you have, and making a difference in that child’s life. I know that child couldn’t care less of what I did. All they cared about is that they were able to hear.”
Makes one think about how we are conducting business on planet earth doesn't it?
Saturday, July 03, 2010
Hardware is dead, long live hardware...
"Boutique devices like Apple's iPad may command high prices today - but tech hardware itself is on the way to becoming intrinsically worthless, according to MIT professor and tech industry guru Michael Cusumano.
The foundations have already been laid: laptops and high-end smartphones, for example, were once big ticket purchases. Today, however, these previously costly items are given away free with monthly mobile contracts.
It's a trend that will accelerate as time goes on: one day, the biggest profits will not lie in selling gadgets themselves but in controlling the services they allow us to access, Cusumano believes. In the future, tech hardware's primary purpose will be to hook people and organisations into signing up for lucrative network service contracts, making purchases from online application and content stores and using software as a service (SaaS) offerings.
"It's shifting the business model to the service side, and the product becomes a platform on which to deliver these services," he told silicon.com, a process he dubs "servitisation".
I agree with this analysis and one who came up with the same notion many years before this 2010 article was David Brin in Earth where he discussed how hardware would be a throwaway way back in 1990, prescient to say the least but then again, Earth is a prescient novel describing what we are seeing today, among other things, 3D movies, smartphones, ubiquitous communications and global warming. It's a book anyone interested in tech should read. Note: The book takes place in 2038
The worst mistake of first contact, made throughout history by individuals on both sides of every new encounter, has been the unfortunate habit of making assumptions. It often proved fatal. - David Brin