Wednesday, 27 February 2002
Dawkins has written very well and clearly, and had some very original and powerful ideas. The Blind Watchmaker is great, and I liked the more academic Extended Phenotype too.
However, these days he seems to be writing the same book over and over again, getting more and more vexed that not everyone accepts his meme explanation of religion.
Dave finds Pinker hard, which is odd coming from a Heidigger fan. Pinker also writes very clearly about complex ideas Don't read his academic books (I made that mistake - my head still hurts after reading those parse trees).
Read The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works and Words and Rules.
Also, this book on how writing evolved, and how to teach it that he wrote the foreword for is fascinating.
Tuesday, 26 February 2002
He takes a hard Tinseltown line gainst the professors (the 'nutty' is implied) who beseige the movie industry.
The reason pitifully few films are legitimately available on the Internet is not producer hoarding.
Oh really? Why is Disney running TV ads about Snow White going back in the vault then?
It is that those valuable creative works can't be adequately protected from theft. The analog format (videocassettes) and the digital format (DVDs) are different. Videocassette piracy costs the movie industry worldwide more than $3.5 billion, even though the sixth or seventh copy of analog becomes unwatchable. But the thousandth copy of digital is as pure as the original. Moreover, digital movies on the Internet can be pilfered and hurled at the speed of light to any spot on the planet. This is what gives movie producers so many Maalox moments.
This is true. But DVDs are out there and making lots of money, despite their copyability. The restricted version of DVDs, DIVX, with a player that would phone the MPAA to find if you were allowed to play it today, died an unmourned death 3 years ago.
It's a simple proposition, Jack. A market works two ways. Set the price too high, and no-one buys. Adding restrictions to your DVDs makes them less valuable to purchasers, not more. I explained this to Universal about CDs, and it is just as true for Movies.
What's keeping the movie industry from making its creativity theft-proof? Simply put, in order to transport movies as agreed to by the consumer on a rent, buy or pay-per-view basis with heightened security, computers and video devices must be prepared to react to instructions embedded in the film. Other ingredients are necessary to protect digital content, but it gets too complex to explain in a few sentences. At this moment, that kind of interaction is nowhere to be found in any computer or set-top box. Some security is available, but it is porous. The movie industry is, however, consulting with the finest brains in the digital world to try to find the answer.
This is false. It cannot be made theft-proof, without outlawing computers. Ask Bruce Schneier, who wrote the book on encryption:
All entertainment media on the Internet (like everything else on the Internet) is just bits: ones and zeros. Bits are inherently copyable, easily and repeatedly. If you have a digital file -- text, music, video, or whatever -- you can make as many copies of that file as you want, do whatever you want with the copies. This is a natural law of the digital world, and makes copying on the Internet different from copying Rolex watches or Louis Vuitton luggage.
What the entertainment industry is trying to do is to use technology to contradict that natural law. They want a practical way to make copying hard enough to save their existing business. But they are doomed to fail.
The problem with Hollywood is that they love a good story, a good pitch. The snake-oil salesmen who claim that this is possible are telling them just what they want to hear, and in Hollywood the truth can never get in the way of a good story. Truly smart thinkers like Schneier and Lessig are ignored, in the great Hollywood tradition of the outsider who defeats conventional wisdom, and is free in one bound.
Here's Jack again:
As for the third charge -- that copyrighted movies are destroying digital innovation -- what the critics mean by "innovation" is legalizing the breaking of protection codes, without which there is no protection.
This is ad hominem slander. If Valenti read Schneier and Lessig, he would see that they are trying hard to help the industry develop models that can work with publicly-visible content. They do exist after all, in broadcast television.
Schneier's book 'Secrets and Lies' discusses the issues of how to design an entire system that is not vulnerable to code being cracked.
Movie producers are eager to populate the Net with movies in a consumer-friendly format. There is a way to achieve adequate security for high-value movies on the Net. Computer and video-device companies need to sit at the table with the movie industry. Together, in good-faith talks, they must agree on the ingredients for creating strong protection for copyrighted films and then swiftly implement that agreement to make it an Internet reality.
This protection racket isn't going to happen. The computer industry is not going to indemnify the Movie backers against the inevitable copying. Which brings us to the next item in the master plan (at this point Valenti switches roles, and gets out a white cat and a swivel chair)
Without concord, one option is left: Congress must step in to protect valuable creative works on the Net and thereby benefit consumers by giving them another choice for movie viewing.
This is the tail wagging the dog. The computer and communications industry generates far more revenue and value than the entertainment one. Ask Andrew Odlyzko. But then, he is a professor, who argues from logic, not a professional manipulator of emotions...
A suggested modification to his copyright terms. Twenty years free registration. A dollar for the 21st year. Double this every year thereafter. This would allow Disney to keep paying to keep Mickey out of the public domain, but instead of backroom deals with legislators, it would cost it more and more in copyright fees to do so. To get to 50 years would cost $230, or about $500 Million; to get to 55 years it would be $17 billion. Most works would drop out sooner, but the blockbusters could keep paying for exclusive rights.
Wednesday, 20 February 2002
TV engineers' problem is locking a picture to another picture to allow them to be cut without glitches. This requires timing video signal one to another very accurately. If the signals are not timed within a vertical frame, you see a roll on a cut.This requires an accuracy of one vertical line, about 1 part in 600. To prevent a horizontal shift on a cut, you need a lot finer accuracy, about 1 part in 250,000. Doing this with valve technology in the 40s was impressive work, but it did require devoting over a third of the video bandwidth to synchronisation pulses.
To prevent a colour shift in composite video, you need to preserve colour phase, which means you need to be locked to a fraction of the 4.3 MHz colour signal. To do this, every playback device in the professional broadcast world is locked to 'station sync' which is driven from a very tightly-locked crystal signal.
When I worked at the BBC, I saw the Rubidium clock at TV Centre that drove the station sync pulse generator, and hence every camera and video tape machine in the building, and on out to the microwave towers and transmission masts, and through the ether to the millions of TV sets across the British Isles, all of their electron guns sweeping across the phosphor dots together as one, beating in time with this central heartbeat.
How could they give up all that order for the chaos of the net?
This is a broad discussion of the issues that recommends compulsory licensing.
Compulsory licensing is a possible solution, but a messy one, and still doesn't address the payment problem.
Monday, 18 February 2002
Constance Rosenblum lost all her email:
But I was still baffled by the intensity of the psychological aftershocks, and even more than I wanted my old messages, I wanted someone to bring clarity to my feelings. Sherry Turkle turned out to be that person.
"People experience the computer as an extension of the self," Dr. Turkle pointed out. "It's an intimate machine, a mind machine. In a sense, you are your computer.
"We experience the data in the computer as durable, almost tangible. But when you lose your data, as you did, you realize that it is no more than where a bit, an electron, is sitting for a moment in time. And as a result of the loss, your own sense of fragility is enhanced."
Yet, Constance felt a sense of release at the loss, unfettered from others' chain letters, like Milosz.
Thomas Nagel writes on Nietszche , charting his struggle to disentangle and clarify the opposing Apollonian and Dionysian voices in his head. He needed to free his inner RageBoy.
To take oneself and one's world as given, and move forward intellectually and practically from that starting point, was in his view a betrayal of the extraordinary freedom that we possess as reflective beings. Nietzsche recognized that, like all human beings, he had reached consciousness with a sense of himself and a system of values that was produced by a tangled human history together with biological sources of which he was largely unaware. To take real possession of himself, to discover who he was and to decide who he wanted to be, required a bringing-to-consciousness of everything that lay beneath and behind the socially developed and educated human being--the constructed individual who handles the world with concepts, values, and methods of thought whose sources and true meanings he does not understand. It required a radical self-transformation.
[...]plunging beneath your own inner surface through both psychological and historical investigation is essential. But knowledge is not the main point. The point is to achieve a different kind of existence: to live one's life in the full complexity of what one is, which is something much darker, more contradictory, more of a maelstrom of impulses and passions, of cruelty, ecstasy, and madness, than is apparent to the civilized being who glides on the surface and fits smoothly into the world. Because we are not animals, we are in a position to take conscious possession of ourselves in this way; but because we are socialized human beings, we tend instead to accept the superficial identities and the orderly system of beliefs that civilization has assigned to us.
For myself, I found an interesting echo of Marcus Aurelius in the advice I was given by a company lawyer after the Microsoft trial revealed the venal, vulgar and violent voices routinely used by that company's executives in internal email.
Never say anything in email you wouldn't want you mother to read on the front page of the newspaper.
I cherish the ambiguity there. Truly a rule to live by.
Sunday, 17 February 2002
This misses the point. Value is established by what people are willing to pay. Making them put up with something is going to exact a cost.
By hampering their works with restrictions on copying, they are reducing their value to those they expect to purchase them. DRM schemes are value destruction mechanisms, as I pointed out to Universal.
What they should be thinking about is how to add value for their purchasers. In Universal's case, the answer is to adopt the Enhanced CD format (adding extra material for computer users) that is ubiquitous on CDs sold in the UK.
Friday, 15 February 2002
This is the exact opposite of the collective wisdom of the networking industry, as I collected here.
Powell today reiterated his opinion that all broadband platforms - cable, wireless, satellite and DSL - should be considered when crafting broadband policy.
"It's important to conceptualize broadband broadly," Powell told reporters following today's meeting.
It is indeed - but rather than prop up a series of monopoly rights, providing an opportunity for Howard Jonas to acheive his stated aim:
"Sure I want to be the biggest telecom company in the world, but it's just a commodity. I want to be able to form opinion. By controlling the pipe, you can eventually get control of the content."
Powell should be considering how to enable maximum flexibility by separating the commodity business of transferring packets from the open applications that define what the packets mean. This is how to maximise the value of the net for everyone, not for a few local monopolists - a fine job for a regulator.
Tuesday, 12 February 2002
...just as sharing makes us civilized, it's sharing that makes civilization. It lets us build a great collective work from the exchange of stories, myths, songs, poems, facts, jokes, beliefs, scientific discoveries, elegant engineering hacks, and all of the other products of human thought and discourse.
But someone's trying to put a stop to this...
Monday, 11 February 2002
Friday, 8 February 2002
You can implement the entire thing from the other end.
In your Mail client, filter all unsigned mail to the trash.
Mark all mail that contains a paypal 'you've got cash' signature to rise to the top.
Now all we need to do is make mail clients do this automatically , and sign and paypal 5 cents on outgoing mail we want read.
Wednesday, 6 February 2002
The thing that makes blogs different from email is citation. I can paste URLs into email, but they are cumbersome, and launch the browser. With a tool like blogger you can read something on the web, add a comment and link to it in your blog straightaway. It is much easier than putting it in an email, especially for the reader, and it keeps a permanant record for you (or others) online. Once you get into it, you find that you read other people's blogs, and comment on them, and link to them as well. One interesting thing is that these make them very Google-friendly, so that increasingly if you search for a hot topic, a blog will have made it to the top because of these mutually-reinforcing links. (eg searching for 'trustworthy computing' gives you someone's blog). It is fulfilling the original concept of hyperlinked text on the web.
A blog is also great place to keep your �sprit d'escalier bon mots while waiting for an occasion to reuse them.
Tuesday, 5 February 2002
Sounds like a phone company effort.
802.11 speeds (3 orders of magnitude faster) should be enough for the Cringely effect to kick in.
Maybe Mesh networks can pull it off.