Archive for February, 2006

Diebold is Evil

Posted in Laws by epictetus on February 27th, 2006

I saw this link to an LA Times story.  Stephen Heller, a word processor who stole copies of internal Diebold documents revealing that they had violated California state law and sold uncertified voting machines, is now facing felony charges for access to computer data and computer burglary.

It’s a sad day in America when Sony can break into hundreds of thousands of computers (including government, military, etc) to illegally spy in order to try to profit, and get a slap on the wrist, while a whisleblower who reveals corrupt voting machine manufacturers and potential voter fraud faces felony charges.

My Thoughts on Google in China

Posted in Laws by epictetus on February 24th, 2006

While I certainly understand where all of the protestors are coming from with the current anti-google movement, I’d like to put forth a conflicting opinion. I, for one, actually buy the excuse that it is worth participating in some censorship just to be able to enter the market. I believe there are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Intelligence. The more information that American companies have about what the Chinese Communist Party is doing, the more we can potentially help those in China who want to end oppression. Google is the world thought-leader on aggressive information collection and data mining; there is so much potential good that could be done with the information they will be collecting there.
  2. Presence. The more progressive companies that are in China, there are more opportunities to subtly influence China in order to help advance freedom.
  3. Conspiracy Theory. I believe google is part of a conspiracy to do good in China, to work as a “secret agent” against the Communist Party’s strangehold in any number of different ways. They are coordinating and networking with other progressives in China and in the end will do a lot of good that they can’t tell us about. Obviously, when you are acting secretly in a totalitarian country, you can’t publish a press release saying “Leave us alone, protestors, we’re actually secret agents of Democracy.”

HD DVD Standard Deliberately Downgrades Picture Quality for Older HDTVs

Posted in Norms,Technology by epictetus on February 24th, 2006

I noticed a link to this SCI FI Tech article; the author points out the under the access control rules just released for the new HD-DVD standard, component output (which is the only HD input featured on quite a number of older/early-adopter HDTVs) will be limited to only 1/4 of full resolution.  Once again this shows the gall and utter disdain of the content industry for their consumers;  they have absolutely NO objection to abusing thousands of their lawful, paying customers in order to place small technological “speedbumps” to piracy (which will NOT prevent piracy, there will be any number of technological means to bypass this).

I was listening to a talk Cory Doctorow gave a little while ago, and he pointed out the funny paradigm that if you purchase a legal copy of a DVD or a copy-protected CD, you get a much lower quality product than if you pirated the same movie or album.  It just seems like a funny business model to punish paying customers by giving them a worse product than people who use peer to peer networks to download it.  In the world of business, it usually makes more sense to reward paying customers than to punish them.  In the case of the Sony rootkit, you are rewarded for your patronage by Sony breaking into your system, spying on you, lying about it, and also compromising your security so that other people can also break in.

China Open to Less Restrictive IP Law

Posted in Laws by epictetus on February 15th, 2006

Here’s a link you probably won’t see anywhere else, an article from China Daily (the state-run periodical, the voice of the Chinese Communist Party in English essentially) mentioning John Howkins’ talk at a chinese business summit.  He talks about how adopting US-style copyright and patent law might have a downside, and emphasizes that future IP law should embrace innovators who want to share their work as well as ones who want to protect it.

I hope they listen to him.  And I hope they abandon their one-party government and adopt a sensible representative democracy, while they’re at it.

Maxwell Dworkin Building

Posted in Money by epictetus on February 14th, 2006

I’m currently taking a class on internet law, control, and governance at Harvard Extension. The class used to be taught by Larry Lessig; both the current professors are from Harvard Law’s Berkman Center.  The reason I am studying this stuff is that my goal in life is to advocate for free software and free culture.

Anyways, this class meets in the Maxwell Dworkin building at Harvard Law school, and today while reading a plaque I realized that the building was donated to the school by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.  I just found it funny that I am studying to learn how to put Microsoft out of business in a building Microsoft paid for.

Heroic System Administrator Fights Communist Oppression

Posted in Technology by epictetus on February 11th, 2006

Businessweek online posted this story about a company called DIT that sells products and services to the Chinese people in order to bypass the Chinese government’s firewalls, filtering, and monitoring.  The company was founded by Bill Xia, a member of the banned Falun Gong religious group.    Xia is hiding his location and information for fear of retribution against him or his family by Communist thugs.  Keep up the good work, Bill!

Modalities of Control

Posted in Laws by epictetus on February 9th, 2006

I have always felt very strongly that technology can serve as a tool of oppression or a tool of liberation.  Perhaps when we have made enough progress in our struggle I will change the name of the site to cyberliberation instead of cyberoppression.

I wanted to take this opportunity to create a quick overview of how those of strong character and good hearts must work to prevent the totalitarian nightmare that technology might lead to, and how to instead work towards creating a better future for our children.

  1. Law — we need to send enlightened students to law schools all over the world, and lots of them.  We need to reach out to lawyers that are already out there on both sides of the issue, particularly lawyers on the wrong side, and campaign to open their eyes to how they are destroying the future for their children.  We need to use the political processes of grass-roots political action to raise awareness of technology-freedom issues, and we need to fight the various corporate and totalitarian influences any way possible.
  2. Technology — we must also reach out to engineers and scientists, not just in America but all over the world.  We need to support free software and progressive software licensing.  We need to work on the technological side to bypass DRM, bypass filtering, bypass wiretapping, bypass spying.   We need to turn the corporate totalitarian ideas of control on their head: instead of the corporations and governments using databases and other technologies to monitor us, WE must use those technologies to monitor THEM.  We need to keep track of who they are, what they are doing, when, how, and why. We must work towards the “opening” of all designs. This effort also needs to reach into other technologies as well, not just electronics. The same strategies must be applied to biotechnology and nanotechnology.
  3. Economics — we must support progressive companies, and develop more progressive business models. We need to patronize musicians that sell directly to the consumer.  We need to patronize software companies that develop GPL’ed software.  We need to reward companies that do the right thing.  We also need to put Microsoft, Cisco, and every single MPAA or RIAA member company out of business.  We need to organize boycotts.
  4. Norms — we must also reach out to the public, and make sure they are aware of all of these issues.  We need to hold protests, send letters, and hold rallies.  We need to reach out to the school systems and make sure that corporate propoganda does not make it to students’ ears.

If we do all of this, we have a chance at a future where everyone in the world has absolutely guaranteed human rights and civil liberties.  We have a chance at a world where the slightest hint of oppression is met instantly by an overwhelming power of people doing good.  We have a chance at a world where everyone has free access to a world-class education, access to study at Harvard or Cambridge or anyplace else.  Access to teachers, mentors, books.  Access to communications.


Posted in Technology by epictetus on February 7th, 2006

Arstechnica has an interesting story on cable cards.  I particularly liked this quote:

In any case, get ready for the brave new world of total end-to-end encryption, which is just about here. You have to give the content providers credit for ingenuity, whatever you think of their plans. With the next generation of digital media products (including Blu-ray, HD DVD, and CableCARDs), the content and consumer electronics industries have joined forces to push mandatory encryption standards. They haven’t done it through legislation, but through licensing—much as the consortium behind the DVD forced manufacturers to follow region encoding rules if they wanted a license to make the players. 

They are trying to design the technology of the television network and DVDs in such a way that it will lock out any do-it-yourselfers, innovators, or any other potential threats to the monopolies of the large media companies that might be posed by any pesky innovation.  I’d like to throw out a Luddite analogy: imagine if the original Luddites had been able to design and universally institute a new type of wool that it was not possible to feed through a steam-powered loom.  We might never have had an industrial revolution.

Home of the Underdogs

Posted in Norms,Technology by epictetus on February 3rd, 2006

While on the topic of abandonwarez, I thought I would also link this site.  The Home of the Underdogs is a repository for primarily DOS software that is no longer on the market and is obsolete, but is still under copyright protection.  The site has a policy of linking to a reseller instead of offering a download for any program that is still available for sale somewhere, and of removing any software at the copyright holder’s request.
If you want to be  able to actually download and play some of these old games, the Dosbox emulator emulates a dos machine on modern Apple OSX, Linux, and Windows computers.  It can take a little tweaking to get some games working but in general it is the best way to play these old games.

Virtual Apple 2 abandonwarez

Posted in Laws,Norms,Technology by epictetus on February 3rd, 2006

This site has a java/browser-based Apple II emulator and an _incredible_ collection of disk images that you can boot.  A little Oregon Trail or Rocky’s Boots or LogoWriter, anyone?

It’s interesting because though this site is almost certainly _technically_ in violation of copyright, these are programs with absolutely no commercial potention and that are no longer being sold or manufactured.  In many cases, the companies that originally produced them are out of business.  There is very little threat that those running the site will be sued for copyright violation.  To me, this brings up an interesting point: that the current indefinite copyright period (every 20 years the industry pumps a few million into lobbyists in order to get Congress to retroactively extend it another 20 years, so at the rate copyright for 20th century works will never expire) is completely out of line with the pace of the software industry.

Posted in Norms by epictetus on February 3rd, 2006

I just wanted to mention this site,, which contains an incredible collection of Dinosaur Jr., J. Mascis, and Sebadoh bootleg mp3s, flac files, and show videos going back to the 1980s. It is also a fan community site that allows fans to upload their bootlegs. These are some of my favorite musicians and I find it heartwarming that they see the positive side of online music sharing; there is a movement in similar bands these days.

A friend of mine who was long the manager for an enourmously-successful folk-rock musician told me that they made very, very little money from CD sales. For them, it was primarily a way to promote themselves for concert appearances, where the real money was. It’s clear that artists bypassing the record industry completely to distribute mp3s or other digital media straight to their fans can in the end see a huge financial advantage; it’s also clear that the record industry will fight in as dirty and underhanded a way as possible to prevent artists from realizing this.

Again, we have a multibillion-dollar industry that technological advances (the ability to instantly, at little or no cost, distribute music to the entire world) has made obsolete. The industry’s only (and even somewhat understandable) response is to try to bully everyone into giving them a “right to profit” despite the fact that they produce nothing of value.

The name is also a cute play on the other fsf, the free software foundation.

Recording Industry vs. The People

Posted in Laws,Norms by epictetus on February 3rd, 2006

I noticed a link to this site from Slashdot. Ty Rogers and Ray Beckerman, two lawyers in NYC, have created this site to compile information that might help assist people defending themselves against RIAA lawsuits. Slashdot mentioned that they are defending a woman the RIAA sued for music piracy who actually has never owned a computer in her life. It’s nice to know there are men of strong conscience out there, fighting the good fight.

Microsoft DRM to “lock out hobbyists”

Posted in Technology by epictetus on February 2nd, 2006

Cory Doctorow posted this peice to boingboing talking about how Microsoft’s video DRM technology has a licensing scheme that is intended specifically to lock out hobbyists. I think this is a case of Microsoft “whoops, I wasn’t supposed to say that.”

Again, I find this to be an excellent example of the way corporations are trying to use technology to create/enforce monopolies and limit competition or innovation. We see this kind of story all the time; the only bright point is that the opposite can also be true. We can design technologies that empower individuals and lock out, limit, and monitor large corporations or governments; just as there are legal, ethical, and economic battles being fought over the future of freedom, engineers and inventors need to fight a technological battle the same way.

Newspaper publishers attack news aggregators

Posted in Laws,Money by epictetus on February 1st, 2006

I saw a link to this reuters story on Arstechnica:

The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, whose members include dozens of national newspaper trade bodies, said it is exploring ways to “challenge the exploitation of content by search engines without fair compensation to copyright owners.”

This is very typical of the content industry’s response to innovation. Google is bringing their sites more traffic and interest. I find their approach to be hypocrisy in the extreme; they claim Google is trying to profit from their works without fair compensation, when in fact Google is providing a valuable service. It’s the newspaper industry themselves who no longer provide the same valuable and necessary service they once did; the ability of the internet to instantly distribute content from writers to readers at little or no cost has made much of the service provided by publishers (who once served as a middleman between content and consumer) obsolete. An industry faced with the prospect of obsolescence, instead of finding ways to change their business model so that they can continue to provide a valuable middle-man service (like google is doing), are concentrating on trying to legislate a permanent monopoly, a “right to profit” in order to preserve their relevance.

Free Culture activist fired from intellectual property law firm

Posted in Money,Norms by epictetus on February 1st, 2006

This story was posted on slashdot about a legal clerk who worked for a New York City intellectual property law firm, who was fired after she was quoted in The Village Voice where she advocated against DRM, and talked about her involvement in the Free Culture movement.
I find this to be perfectly understandable but unfortunate on the part of the law firm; having an employee that is ideologically opposed to the laws underlying their business is understandably disturbing; I can see how it would be hard to trust such an employee to always do a good job. On the other hand, the firm might have been able to bring themselves some positive publicity by embracing instead of rejecting this dissenting view. Certainly they are within their rights to fire her.