Archive for category Rant

Forget SOPA/PIPA – This is the root of the problem

It is rare that a single short Reddit comment so perfectly defines the problem, but this says it about as good as I have ever heard anyone put it.

“As much as I hate the role that the entertainment industry played in the creation of SOPA and PIPA, they are simply taking advantage of a much deeper problem. As long as corporations are allowed to buy politicians, bills like SOPA and PIPA will continue to be written, for the benefit of all sorts of industries.

Those bills may have been more blatant than most, but that is likely due to the fact that the film, television, and music publishers are extraordinarily desperate at this point, as the internet is threatening to make their entire business model obsolete, and we have seen equally harmful government policy adopted for the benefit of the telecommunications industry, the financial sector, oil companies, defense contractors…”

I really fear the US is about at the end of its time being an innovator in the world. There is a perfect storm of supremely corrupt politicians more than willing to sell their vote for a dollar and several large conglomerates interested in doing everything possible to maintain the current status quo including buying politicians to make it illegal for their business model to never not be profitable, or to prevent competition. We see it today with industries such as Pharmaceutical, Telecommunications, and Entertainment who outwardly pretend to bemoan government interference. In reality depend on the FDA, FTC, and their pet congresspeople to design regulations that keep barriers to entry in their fields to prevent new competition and maintain their monopolies or oligopolies.

Look around, we might become a static civilization here. The last several decades of rapidly advancing technologies could continue forward into the future we all dream of, but today any new technology, any new major advancement or breakthrough in any field poses a direct threat to existing corporate interests and will be actively fought with near unlimited money. Money that now purchases congress and the whitehouse to introduce, vote for, and sign laws that will prevent anything from happening that could risk the current earnings. The US as effectively stopped R&D on a mass scale and now we want everything to remain exactly as it is. When we look around and wonder how the rest of the world passed us up so thoroughly in physics, information technology, space exploration, biology, medicine, etc. we should know that it was because we consciously decided to stop and focus our efforts on keeping things exactly the way they are.

As an example, look to the pharmaceutical industry. Significantly more money is spent on marketing and lobbying than on actual R&D. A conscious decision was made to focus on increasing the profitability of existing medicines through research and development in complex legal ways of extending patents and locking out generics rather than research and development into new medicines. The lack of new drugs on the market is not because of an over reaching or draconian FDA (the pharmaceutical conglomerates effectively own them anyway), it is because that is more risky and less profitable than just purchasing government protection for your business model and existing products.

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SOPA/PIPA: Showdown Between Hollywood and Silicon Valley

I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of what SOPA/PIPA is and why it is a horribly written piece of legislation, developed by people who have no understanding of how the internet and computers actually work and supported by congressman who are little better than cheap whores of the entertainment industry. You could just type “sopa pipa” into google and find a lot of explanations (as well some good spanish soup recipes, yum). Or you could just follow this helpful graphical explanation.

But there is an aspect of this debate beyond the technical that intrigues me. Proponents of the bill who even admit to a lack of understanding of the implications still point out that if there is some collateral damage to the internet as a whole or significant hampering of our technical industries that is ok because we have to protect the media companies. But aren’t we over coddling them at this point as it is? The small handful of media conglomerates who own the majority of media companies (news, music, movies, etc) are already practically a protected class in politics, second maybe only to investment banking in the preferential treatment they are able to get from their pet Congressmen. They have had several poorly written (and heavily abused) laws written specifically to protect their outdated and approaching-obsolete business model (DMCA comes to mind) and they are able to treat local and federal law enforcement as their own private army (they are having a UK student extradited because he put up a website with LINKS to other websites where copyright infringement was taking place).

What is more head scratching, they have been able to bully congress into extending the copyright law effectively indefinitely, completely destroying its original purpose to allow content creators to financially gain from their creative works then allow the works to become public domain. The largest media company of them all (Disney) has effectively made the argument that it would be disastrous for their copyright on Mickey Mouse to enter the public domain and so every time the copyright comes up for expiration on that silly mouse, congress cashes their bribes campaign donation checks and extends copyright law to prevent that from happening. In doing so we are actually destroying much of our creative heritage as many of the copyright owners of the music, movies, and books from that era have died and their works entered into a limbo where they cannot be copied or digitized owing to copyright law. They will instead eventually vanish forever as film, tape, and such degrade. Make no mistake, the movies, music, and books that our media conglomerates make all of their money from have value solely because the government says they do and gives the copyright holder a legal monopoly to distribute and sell these works. Without that government enforcement, the works would be free to copy and suddenly have no economic value. The extension of this government granted monopoly (that is now leading a legislative effort that would be disastrous for out tech sector) is tied to the age of a cartoon mouse. It is hard to take this seriously sometimes.

But copyright infringement (or piracy, if you feel the need to equate copying of media created since Walt Disney created Steamboat Willy with murder and theft of physical goods on the high seas) is a real concern from an economic sense. Hollywood and the music companies (MPAA and RIAA) will argue that our country’s economic interests are threatened by copyright infringement overseas and work very heavily behind the scenes to combat this. Normally the usual process is to pass a draconian law in one country, then work to establish a “treaty” with other countries to bring their copyright laws into parity. This is convenient because it allows for laws to be created while bypassing that complicated process of actually going through the legislative process. This time though they are launching a frontal assault, and they might have bought enough congressmen who care more about campaign dollars and promises of cushy jobs in the private sector than representing their constituents (spoiler alert: that is about all of them).

Even with it being a real economic concern, do we want to decimate the tech sector to protect a failing business model? The media industry has a long and distinguished history of fighting technology (even technology that turned out to be beneficial to them) like a horse and buggy trade group struggling to outlaw the automobile. Between a hyperbole filled campaign to attempt to outlaw the VCR in the 80s (“‘I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” President of the MPAA), and the endless onslaught against the internet for the last 20 years you would think Hollywood would be happy if the tech industry just vanished. Today Media Mogul/Illegal Wiretapper Rupert Murdock weighed in like a befuddled senile old man ranting against that magic voice box receiving AM stations and destroying vaudeville with this these gems. His ignorance of how any of this stuff works is amusing if he didn’t command so much influence.

At the end of the day, all things being equal if the government has to step in and decide who it will legislatively favor, I’m hoping it is the tech industry. America is and for a long time has been losing its place in the world. We cannot compete with third world manufacturing, we have deliberately sacrificed our spot as a scientific leader by diverting funds away from a physics supercollider (The Large Hadron Collider in Europe is where future breakthroughs will occur while we now watch on the sidelines), we have given up NASA and future space exploration will be spearheaded by China and India, and we are dumbing down our science, math, and literacy education while the rest of the world ups their game.

America, we basically have two things left, we are leaders in information technology, and leaders in making Lady Gaga CDs and Chipmunk movie sequels. Which do you believe is doing to be the best industry to foster a friendly environment for to maintain the relevance of America in the world?  The media industry exists on the whim of the US government and other governments going along with our endless copyright extensions. Should they decide to stop, there is no value in what they create. Media can be copied for free, there is no scarcity of resources in the distribution, the basic rules of economics don’t work here.

I’m not suggesting that the whole concept of intellectual property is null and void. It has its failings and certainly the way copyright is being handled is despicable (I also feel software patents are insane and detrimental to the information technology industry). But I do know that if this is to be a showdown between two industries, I want the one to win that actually produces something of economic, societal, and tangible value. If Hollywood and the music industry are simply incompatible with technology, then I think we can do without the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, but I don’t think we can do without the next Google, Microsoft, or IBM. Do we want to be a country of technical leaders advancing civilization along, or do we want to be the court jesters, a diversion for the Chinese and other emerging technologies to get some cheap laughs from while they surpass us in all other areas?

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Coming War on General Computation

Everyone should watch this, Cory lays out very clearly the dangers facing computing by incompetent lawmakers owned by media conglomerates bent on controlling every aspect of computing to bring about a “pay per view” world.

I met Cory at the 2003 Digital ID World convention and played pool with him and the then-head of Microsoft’s Palladium (trusted computing) initiative. Listening to them debate the issues around the newly emerging trusted computing field got me very interested in this and I’ve followed it ever since. At the time I had no idea Cory was a famous blogger, author, and expert who speaks around the world, which probably worked out in my favor since I would have probably been a bit intimidated otherwise.

In layman’s terms, the concept is that your computer (or any hardware really) would only allow cryptographically signed operating systems to run on it, which in turn only allow cryptographically signed programs to run and (in the extreme case) remote attestation would mean that servers would only communicate with your computer if the above cases were true. This would turn general purpose computers into glorified iPhones (which only allow you to install apps which Apple has approved). The media companies love this idea because then it allows them to insist hardware be “locked down” becoming nothing more than media boxes. The danger here is that computing has primarily advanced over the decades by hobbyists and small companies pushing the envelope and innovating (think Linux for example, which in a DRM/Trusted Computing world could not exist). By taking control over what can and cannot run on your computer away from the owner, and giving it to the manufacturers and media companies, computers as we know them could no longer exist.

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Charitable organization are abusing phone privileges

I have a home phone line. It isn’t my preference because I’m happy with my smartphone but I have kids who are too young for their own smartphones (Jen doesn’t think a 4 year old needs an Android for some reason). The downside to having a landline is telemarketers, a scourge I had forgotten about during the decade I didn’t have a landline. The do not call list is easy enough to get onto, which only leaves two problems. Charitable organizations who do not need to respect the do not call list and political pollsters who also do not.

The latter I actually enjoy, because I derive a little bit of pleasure in making up increasingly oddball opinions to mess with their data. Also they do not call that often (almost never since I instituted my policy of creating insane opinions to give them).

But charitable organizations, now this is getting out of hand. We donate to several causes sporadically throughout the year. Probably not as much as we should, but enough to have gotten on a call list of some sort. I’m not making this up, the number of calls easily hits 20-30 a day, and for charitable organizations they can be quite belligerent. The calls are coming later and later at night (we’ve had a few past 9pm) and almost always during dinner and on weekends.

So I didn’t want to do this, but I kind of have to. From now on, if you call ONCE after I ask to be removed from the list, you are off the donation rotation. I don’t give out money over the phone anyway, if it is a group we regularly donate to, we get the mailings and respond that way. If it is some group I have never heard of, I’m going to research it heavily anyway and not take the bored-teenager-on-the-phone’s word that it is legit. If you want $20 then guilt me into it by sending return address stickers I never ordered like everyone else does.

One exception, the breast cancer foundation who called once and said “we are raising money for breast awareness”. She realized her word omission when I enthusiastically said “just tell me where to send the check” and was so charmingly embarrassed during the rest of the call that they get a pass on this policy.

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