Saturday, 30 March 2002
The dominant cultural motif of the 20th century in America was standardisation of processes, attempting to achieve economies of scale, with a veneer of choice.
This came home to me most clearly when I was sequestered in a basement at Electronic Arts in San Mateo with Maf in 1994, completing the first version of 3D Atlas by working round the clock, with brief breaks for food and sleep. Having flown in from London, we were jet-lagged to start with, and there being 10 testers giving us bug reports to address, our anomie was amplified.
We would emerge at random intervals into the bright California sunlight, and try to find something to eat nearby, a task made harder by the implosion of nearby Fashion Island Mall into the ghost mall so accurately described by Coupland in Microserfs.
We would stagger into Rocking Robin, or Togos or whatever, and then be subjected to the standard fast food quiz by the Turing-test-failing waitroids:
-Olive Oil vinagrette
This is the approach described by the phrase 'Just the way you want it'.
One day, tired and phased, I went through the wrong door into Togos, and somehow ended up in a newly opened Japanese restaurant. At 2.30pm, it was quiet, so I walked up to the sushi bar. The sushi chef bowed to me, said hello, and looked at me carefully. He said 'You need to eat this' and handed me something delicious and wonderful. He was absolutely right. I ate it, and he produced more delightful fishy foods, and served me tea.
One of the the things I ate there that day (and all subsequent lunchtimes while we were there) was Edemame. This simple dish consists of small green beans boiled in their shells, then sprinkled with salt and allowed to cool. You pop them out of the shell into your mouth, the salt on your fingers adding piquancy.
It wasn't until years later that I realised that this delightful dish was made from Soya beans. School dinners in England frequently featured sausages or burgers manufactured from soya protein by the food processing industry. They had somehow decided that what we really wanted was vaguely meat-like food products made out of these beans, with their flavour disguised by adding fat and pepper. The contrast between these fresh, healthy, tasty green vegetables and the slimy, tasteless, beige sausages was so great that they were in no way recognisable as the same thing.
Here on the web we can find the Edamame in the authentic voices of the people we meet, and shun the processed sausages of the content industry.
Thursday, 28 March 2002
The CBDTPA Is Immune to (Conventional) Criticism And so it is with the CBDTPA. The details of enforcement are absurd.
The framers of the bill have some dim sense of this, and they have tried to address it. The CBDTPA includes a few clauses to the effect of "And enforcement of this law shall not be absurd." Imagine a law that says "It shall be illegal to posses the ability to jaywalk, but the rights of the people to move freely shall not be lessened." Well, simply saying that doesn't make it so. You can have the law enforced and absurd, or not enforced (in which case, let's leave it off the books.) Same for the CBDTPA; the law as written has some attempts to wave the absurdity away, but it just doesn't work. It is impossible to salvage the invalid form of the law, no matter how you gussy up the appearence, just as no matter how much you add to an argument based on affirming the consequent, you still have an absurd argument.
Wednesday, 27 March 2002
I think he's right - we need to use digital signatures for ID, but we won't until Mail clients make this automatic.
Tuesday, 26 March 2002
The late, unlamented DivX scheme represented the same idiotic marketing reasoning that the Universal Music Group has implemented. So did the Hollywood studios' original opposition to home video. We live in a time of buzz, when musical reputations are formed below the radar of the accountants of the music industry. The way to launch a new CD is to get it talked about�not to insult potential fans by making it unplayable on their equipment even after they buy it legitimately.
Peter Cohen reports that Universal plans to offer refunds to customers who buy a disc and find they cannot play it. He also observes, "Many retailers employ a no-return policy once the CD's wrapper is off." And wisely so, since it would be the easiest thing in the world to buy a disc, rip it to your computer through your stereo, post it on the Web, and then return the CD for a refund. Did I just say that?
Monday, 25 March 2002
There may be lost plays by Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus, or even the lost dialogues of Aristotle, as well as a host of other Greek writers. A contemporary copy of Lucretius's poem, On the Nature of Things - which has been recovered - suggests that the villa may yield contemporary copies of Virgil's Aeneid, or copies of Horace, or even Catullus (whose poems have only come down to us in the most tenuous form, via one corrupt medieval manuscript, itself now lost). And it must be possible that a family capable of owning such a villa also possessed a copy of Livy's History of Rome, of which more than 100 of the original 142 books are missing.
In short, in the words of the campaigners (and these are cautious academics, remember): "We can expect to find good contemporary copies of known masterpieces and to recover works lost to humanity for two millennia. A treasure of greater cultural importance can scarcely be imagined."
More here, here and how they managed to read them here
We have a great industry and we all know that. We're here because we know it, we love it. It's a solid and healthy industry, but even though it is, I really believe it's going to be important in the years to come to make sure we embrace the risks as well as the sure things. To make sure the freedom of artistic expression is nurtured and kept alive. Because I believe that in keeping diversity alive, it will help keep our industry alive.
As we can see of late, the world around us is in a seachange. It is just simply not the same world anymore. As we all struggle to find our way with it, to get a grip, to make sense out of the chaos and the destruction and the tragedy, one word that emerges is the word "freedom." Its importance, its rarity and how fortunate we are to have it. To be able to be part of a freedom of expression that allows us as artists to tell our stories in our own way about the human condition, the complexities of life, the world around us, is a gift. And not one to be taken lightly. And I think the glory of art is that it cannot only survive change, it can lead it.
I hope Valenti and Hollings were listening.
Friday, 22 March 2002
Economist.com | Hollywood
The lesson from the music business is that, however hard they try, the studios will not be able to stop copies of movies from being downloaded from the Internet. What Hollywood has to do is find a reasonable balance between protecting revenues and keeping consumers happy. Striking that balance will not be easy. Movie makers do not want to encourage illegal copying on a massive scale by supplying unprotected digital copies themselves. And yet the more restrictive they try to be over what people can do with the movies they pay to download, the more the studios� own Internet services will be a second-rate alternative to piracy.
Thursday, 21 March 2002
This is the one that will outlaw Turing machines (see below).
I could argue with every line, but I'll pick out a few:
But any device that can legitimately play, copy, or electronically transmit one or more categories of media also can be misused for illegal copyright infringement, unless special protection technologies are incorporated into such a device. Unfortunately, as technology has advanced, copy protection schemes have not kept pace, fostering a set of consumer expectations that at times actually promote illegal activity on the Internet. For example, according to a Jupiter Media Matrix report, over 7 million Americans use technology on the Internet to swap music and other digital media files. More recent news reports place this number at over 11 million. While some of this activity is legal, much of it is not.
You cannot prevent copies being made. Get used to it. You can't prevent people receiving broadcast TV signals either, but there seem to be some viable business models there.
Every week a major magazine or newspaper reports on the thousands of illegal pirated works that are available for copying and redistribution online. Academy award winning motion pictures, platinum records, and Emmy award winning television shows � all for free, all illegal. Piracy is growing exponentially on college campuses and among tech savvy consumers. Such lawlessness contributes to the studios and record labels� reluctance to place their digital content on the Internet or over the airwaves.
Another non sequiter. They could reduce their distribution costs by a couple of ordes of magnitude, but they refuse to.
Now for the lies:
Although, it is technologically feasible to provide such a protected environment, the solution has not been forthcoming through voluntary private sector negotiations involving the industries with stakes in this matter.
It is provably impossible to provide this kind of protection.
Although marketplace negotiations have not provided such an assurance, a solution is at hand. Leaders in the consumer electronics, information technology, and content industries are some of America�s best and brightest. They can solve this problem. The consumer electronics and high tech industries claim they are ready to do just that. America�s top high-tech executives sent me a letter three weeks ago to that effect. While, I want to believe them, industry negotiations have been lagging. Both sides share some blame in this area. But the blame games need to end. Its time for results, not recriminations.
Don't believe them. They are knaves and fools if they promise you the impossible. But you are a bigger fool to try and legislate for the impossible.
Over the air broadcast digital signals cannot be encrypted because the millions of Americans who receive their signal via antennas cannot decrypt the signal. As a result, digital broadcast signals are delivered in unprotected format and are subject to illegal copying or redistribution over the Internet upon transmission. The technology exists today to solve this problem. It has been referred to as a "broadcast flag" which would instruct digital devices to prevent illegal copying and Internet retransmission of digital broadcast television.
As protected digital programming (usually delivered over satellite or cable, but also available on the Internet) is decrypted for viewing by consumers on legacy analog devices � most frequently on television sets � the programming is temporarily "in the clear." At this point, pirates have the opportunity to take advantage of an "Analog hole" by copying the content into a digital format (i.e. re-digitizing it) and then illegally copying and/or retransmitting the content. The technology to solve this problem either exists today, or will be available shortly. Regardless, the solution is technologically feasible. As with the "broadcast flag" the solution to the "Analog hole" will require a government mandate to ensure its ubiquitous adoption across consumer devices.
If it can be watched, it can be copied. This is clearly bogus.
The final problem poses the greatest threat. Literally millions of digital files of music and videos are illegally copied, downloaded, and transmitted over the Internet on a regular basis. Current digital rights management solutions are insufficient to rectify this problem. Some consumers resorting to illegal behavior do so unknowingly. Many others do so willingly. Regardless, consumers desire high-quality digital content on the Internet, and it is not being provided in any widespread, legal fashion. Fortunately, a solution to this problem is also technologically feasible. It, too, will require government action, including a mandate to ensure its swift and universal adoption.
It is not just technologically infeasible, it is mathematically impossible.
What must rank as today�s most useful index � covering 2,073,418,204 pages on the worldwide web and accessible through the Google search engine � is compiled entirely by computers. Google�s superiority over rivals like Hotbot is due to the capacity of its software to catalogue entries according to a crude hierarchy of relevance. But as this charming anthology illustrates, a good index amounts to far more than a catalogue.
Andro misses Google's subtlety here. While it is compiled by computers, it is based on the links between web pages made by humans, who are doing exactly the kind of indexing he praises.
Google's relevance hierarchy is far from crude; it works on the assumption that pages that are linked to by many other pages are more useful, and it takes into account not only the words on the linked-to page, but the words within the links pointing to it. It then takes this idea one stage further, but giving greater weight to links from pages it has already found to be important.
This interesting mixture of democracy and elitism is what gives Google its remarkable ability to list the most useful pages first - it is harnessing the collective indexing decisions of all the people individually publishing web pages that link to each other.
I just searched for 'Andro Linklater indexers' and got no results, because no-one has linked to the article yet. I am going to link to it from my own webpage so that by the time the Spectator publishes this letter, readers will find that search succeeding.
Saturday, 16 March 2002
Friday, 15 March 2002
Google ranks webpages on how many pages link to them. It then repeats this process, weighting the links from highly linked-to pages higher. In effect, some pages have a higher reputation than others through an emergent mechanism created by all those individual links.
One can argue whether this is elitist or democratic endlessly, but it is certainly based on a Hayekian spontaneous order.
For example, I posted Two Kinds of Order by John Marks on March 11th, and mentioned this to some colleagues who might be interested. I linked to it from a Weblog or two, and Doc Searls did too.
Today it is number 1 on a search for 'two kinds of order' out of over 2 million, and a search for John Marks brings the page up in 5th position, despite there being lots of other John Marks's on the net.
Cory explains this in more detail, and how a centralised effort can never match this.
Thursday, 14 March 2002
Mr. Eisner said in an interview that it was "easy to encourage us to overlook the pirates when you're making the sword."
So, the obvious solution is to pass a law requiring all swords to carry an automatic device to read the nametags on the person being stabbed, and magically make the blade disappear if they are not wearing an approved 'stab me' nametag?
"If someone figured out how to unlock the gas in the gas station, people would be outraged," Mr. Eisner added. "They wouldn't say to the oil industry, `You need a different business model.' "
If someone worked out how to make gas from water using a chemical reaction, you would expect the oil industry to adopt it instead of passing a law against it so they can continue to spend millions drilling holes in the ground and storing highly explosive chemicals every 10 blocks in our cities.
But Mr. Chernin of the News Corporation suggested that matters might be different if the tables were turned. "Let's say I decide to broadcast on my network the code for how to make Intel chips or Microsoft software," he said. "I think they'd find a way to stop it."
Yes, they'd sue you. They wouldn't lobby for a law making TV illegal.
After all, the code for the Linux Kernel is being broadcast on the radio...
Wednesday, 13 March 2002
Google and Blogdex and Daypop are beginning to find other ways to think about them.
The most literal spatial view of the web was Apple's long forgotten Project X which displayed sites and the links between them in a 3D space you flew through. It didn't really work, because the dimensions didn't mean anything.
I remember back when I was building CD-ROM UI with Maf, Nikki and Chris, the number of times we fought aginst the plodding page at a time model that was put together largely because it could be laid out as a storyboard or slide presentation, but broke down as soon as you tried to build it. We always took the view that you should be able to get to anywhere from anywhere, and built products on that basis.
The most successful of these was 3D Atlas, which despite selling over 2 million copies has almost vanished from the web. The best I can find is this review and this old Windows demo, plus the fact it was banned in Morocco.
This really was a spatial interface, using the earth as its space. As you zoomed in, you could find countries and be presented with spatially relevant suggestions. I always wanted to make this a UI for the web, but the various companies involved fell apart in the CD-ROM market collapse of 1996-7, and I did other things instead.
Still, it did nudge Graham into creating the great website that is flags.net which, being a labour of love, has outlasted all the companies involved in publishing 3D Atlas. And to think it all started with the innocent question 'Graham, could you make us some flag icons for the lists...'
Tuesday, 12 March 2002
Google's near-magical ordering of the Internet is built around the notion that computers are good at doing repetitive, uncreative things -- fetishistically counting things, for example -- and rotten at understanding why they're being asked to do these boring tasks. By contrast, human beings are great at understanding why they're doing something, but they're woefully deficient in the do-the-same-thing-perfectly-and-forever department.
They give a clear introduction to the reasons when the net, markets, science and education work, and build things too complex to be planned.
Sunday, 10 March 2002
The dominant paradigm in software and computation is that of control: absolute control of the machine, of the process being modeled, of the environment, and of communications. [...] Despite the fact that this idea underlies all of our efforts in computing, it is dangerously wrong. To have any hope of forward progress, software creators must repent from this orthodoxy, and abandon these lies: that a computer and the world in which it operates are deterministic; that an environment can be completely described; and that software infallibility is achievable or even desirable.
I can see what this is driving at, but the last thing we need is more excuses for flaky software. Maf & I wrote 'How to tell your personality from your code' about this kind of thing four years ago.
Friday, 8 March 2002
Personally, its not the fees but the terms and conditions I find offensive - they seem designed to make sure you can't do anything interesting and new with online music, just emulate how broadcast radio works, btu pay far more for the privilege.
Tuesday, 5 March 2002
Jack, in your sneering Washington Post piece about copy protection, you refer to professors for whom ‘"innovation" is legalizing the breaking of protection codes’. Michael, in your testimony to congress you badgered an Intel exec until he told you that file copying can't be prevented, then told him he must prevent it anyway.
As you are evidently impervious to logical discussion, let me tell you a story.
This is the story of a rebel, a war hero, a persecuted homosexual, and a deep thinker. His life reads like the plot of a far-fetched movie, but if anyone fits your bogeyman image of professors who break code, it is Alan Turing.
In 1936 Turing published a paper on theoretical mathematics, in which he described the Universal Turing machine. It was a simple mechanism that could read symbols from a tape, and write back different symbols or change the tape's direction. He showed that with this general purpose machine, you could simulate any special purpose computing machine. He had invented the idea of the programmable computer.
Between 1938 and 1945, Turing worked in great secrecy on computing machines that broke codes. These were the first real computers ever made, and the codes they broke were those used by the German Wehrmacht. Without his work, it is very likely that Britain would have lost the War in Europe before Pearl Harbour.
After the war, in 1950 Turing published other famous papers that laid the foundation for modern computing, and hence all the digital gadgetry that you would like to outlaw for us (though presumably you'd keep the computers you use to edit and create effects for your movies). Turing died in 1954 by biting into an apple he had previously poisoned.
What does this story have to do with you?
Turing's Universal Machine means that you cannot have a software or hardware protection scheme that is secure. Whatever scheme you come up with can be simulated by another computer. The computer industry are not opposing your bill because they want to encourage copying, or because they are bloody-minded, they are not opposing you because of your self serving rhetoric about rewarding artists (remember Peggy Lee, Michael?), they are opposing you because what you want is provably impossible. You can only succeed by making all Turing machines illegal.
If Alan Turing had made an animated film involving a poisoned apple in 1936, it would still have copyright protection. He chose a different path, and gave the world the idea of the digital computer. I know whom I respect more.
Saturday, 2 March 2002
That very special connection between the fan and the artist is an historically important partnership, one which enriches and entertains the public, motivating and sustaining the creator. In recent years, industry consolidation combined with the unbridled advance of the Internet has created a disturbing disconnect in our relationship
These are 2 different disconnects. The consolidation separates the artists from producers and promoters who know and care about them. The Internet disconnects the record companies from being in between the artist and the fan. No wonder he's worried. Look at that Rip,Mix,Burn ad again - artists and fan, talking one on one. George Clinton saying 'It's your music'.
Later on Greene said Songwriters, singers, musicians, labels, publishers - the entire music food chain is at serious risk.
Food Chain? maybe he couldn't say 'value chain' with a straight face, but look at that sentence, and look who is the krill and who the Whale...