April 29, 2006

Canadian Recording Artists Oppose Suing Fans, DRM

The founding of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition, a group representing several Canadian bands and recording artists, was announced last Wednesday in response to World Intellectual Property Day. The group, representing some of the most prominent Canadian recording artists, including the Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, and Sarah McLachlan, was formed in response to the fact that the intellectual property debate has thus far been controlled by recording industry mega-corps who do not have the artists' interests in mind. Contrary to the claims of said mega-corps, CMCC asserts the following:

  1. "Suing Our Fans is Destructive and Hypocritical"

  2. "Digital Locks [i.e. DRM] are Risky and Counterproductive"

  3. "Cultural Policy Should Support Actual Canadian Artists"

Now, you know I'm not in favor of governments having 'cultural policies' (whatever that means), but hurray for artists actual recognizing what is in their best interest and speaking up! The record labels' day has come: if artists realize what technology can do for them, they will realize that they don't even need record labels at all. Then the record labels will be forced to provide new and different services that are actually useful to artists, and stop pushing them around.

(HT: EFF Newsletter)

Posted by kpearce at 01:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 06, 2005

Digital Rights Management Software: Everyone Gets Screwed

The New York Times (see also slashdot) is running an Op-Ed by the lead singer of the band OK Go (which I have never heard of) explaining why Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology, like the stuff Sony BMG got itself in trouble with recently (see Freedom to Tinker, the blog of Princeton computer science professor Ed Felten, for all the technical details. Professor Felten first discussed the security flaws that got Sony in trouble here.) isn't good for anyone. In particular, the author argues, bands who have DRM forced upon them by their record labels end up being heard by fewer people, and ultimately sales of CDs and concert tickets decrease. We knew this, but it's good to see someone in the mainstream media printing it, and it's good to see recording artists, the people hurt most by the record companies' greed, finally understanding the situation.

Posted by kpearce at 02:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 07, 2005

Renewable Energy and the Death of Quantum Mechanics (Wishful Thinking)

From The Guardian via Slashdot: Dr. Randell Mills of Blacklight Technology claims to have invented a new energy source that supposedly works by moving the electrons of hydrogen atoms in ordinary water closer to the nucleus, thus causing a very large release of energy. Dr. Mills calls the new form of hydrogen "hydrino." The (alleged) new technology would reduce energy costs to about 24% of the coal energy, or 20% that of nuclear. There is only one problem: according to quantum mechanics, Dr. Mills's results are impossible.

In standard quantum mechanics, the smallest possible distance between the electron and the nucleus (a single proton) in the hydrogen atom is fixed and cannot be reduced (says The Guardian - it was my understanding that just about anything could happen in quantum mechanics and the electron "shells" were merely regions where the electron's waveform might collapse with high probability, but what do I know? Then again, what does The Guardian know?). Dr. Mills has developed a new theory, which is more closely related to classical physics then is standard quantum theory. This theory was published under the title "Classical Quantum Mechanics" in the December 2003 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Physics Essays. This theory was heavily criticized by Dr. Andreas Rathke of the European Space Agency in a paper entitled "A Critical Analysis of the Hydrino Model" in the May 2005 edition of the New Journal of Physics (abstract available online here). Dr. Rathke claims that Dr. Mills's theory is the result of mathematical mistakes. There have, however, been others who have claimed that it is Rathke's calculations that are mistaken, and Mills's invention would seem to show that these are in the right.

At least two academic scientists have inspected Dr. Mills's research and been convinced that it does in fact work. These are Professor Rick Maas of the University of North Carolina chemistry department, and Professor Randy Booker, a physicist, also from UNC. Professor Maas said that the two of them had "put [their] professional reputations on the line" with the claim that Dr. Mills's data is, at the last, compelling and worthy of further investigation. However, quantum mechanics remains entrenched, and scientists will (rightly) continue to be very skeptical as the possibility is examined further.

Corporations and venture capitalists are somewhat less skeptical. Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in Blacklight Technologies to develop this idea. The first product, they say, will be a household heater, hopefully to be made available within four years. There is also research being done at NASA on using the technology in spacecrafts.

In case you are wondering how this news item came to be on this blog, I am deeply troubled by quantum mechanics and think, philosophically and theologically that it ought not to be true. The real world simply cannot be stochastic (can it?). I don't know if Dr. Mills's theory is actually deterministic, but it gives me hope that the world might be a comprehensible place after all (I never really gave up hoping). Note that the founders of modern science (Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, etc.) would have said almost unanimously that if quantum mechanics was true, science (they would have said "mechanistic natural philosophy") was a failure. I am inclined to agree.

I'll be very disappointed when Dr. Mills's theory is disproven next week.

Posted by kpearce at 11:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 06, 2005

"I'm human. Really, I am!"

It seems that Jason Striegel (HT: slashdot) has fallen into an existential quandary after repeatedly failing the Turing Test in AIM conversations. The Turing test, named for mathematician and proto-computer scientist Dr. Alan Turing, refers to the experiment of interacting with an individual and attempting to determine whether that individual is a human or a computer. Many years of research have gone into the attempt to create artificial intelligences that pass the Turing test, but never before have I heard of a human who failed it. Poor guy. Even Eliza, a psycho-analyst program which was probably the first artificial intelligence (if it can be called that) to be claimed to have passed the Turing test, seems to think he's a bot. Who knows? Maybe he is. After all, the picture on his profile sure looks like a robot to me!

Posted by kpearce at 03:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 12, 2005

New York Times Columnist John Tierney: No Undestanding of Computer Security

The Times is running a very tongue-in-cheek (I hope) editorial today about fitting punishment for "hackers." I won't bother spending time complaining about the media's terrible abuse of that term (which I believe the New York Times started about 25 years ago). For correct usage see the The Jargon File, s.v., and also the entry in the more "official" RFC 1983 (RFC stands for "Request For Comments;" RFCs are official documents describing Internet (and ARPANET before it) standards dating from as early as 1969. RFC 1983 is "The Internet User's Glossary" and was written in August 1996. Some RFCs are normative, and some, like this one, are merely informative).

Leaving that aside, when Tierney says that "the social costs of hacking are estimated to be ... $50 billion per year" he displays limitless ignorance of the state of computer security. "Most ['hackers']," he notes, "are teenage boys." Doesn't this tell you anything? Tierney mentions Sven Jaschan, the author of the Sasser worm. Jaschan was arrested by German police for this offense a matter of weeks after his 18th birthday, and Jaschan's age is about average for virus writers. Upward of 99% of all computer worms/viruses affect only Microsoft products. Microsoft employs thousands of people with M.S. and Ph.D degrees at an inestimable cost per year and their software security is routinely broken by a bunch of kids! Maybe it's time to stop marvelling at the intelligence of the kids and start marvelling at the stupidity of the adults. Kids who don't even know any real programming languages, and couldn't write a useful program to accomplish a real purpose teach themselves, in the course of a few months, to write viruses in MS Visual Basic that subsequently cost millions of dollars in lost productivity and limitless frustration to computer users everywhere. The kids do it on purpose, so I suppose we can punish them, but seriously, isn't Microsoft the more culpable party? Or maybe we should blame the millions of consumers who buy their products. There are no viruses on this scale for non-Microsoft operating systems. Macintosh viruses typically have to masquerade as some kind of program and convince the user to install them. Linux/Unix viruses tend to affect only a very small percentage of systems configured in a very specific way and tend only to open up some security hole or something along these lines, rather than actually damaging the system. This types of viruses, in additon to having little or no effect, are extremely rare and tend not to be written by dysfunctional teenagers (who wouldn't know how to begin cracking a Unix box).

In the end, Tierney does make some passing comments about spammers, to which his analysis may in fact apply, as emal filtering is expensive in terms of processor cycles, bandwidth, and manpower and these do translate directly into money, but his comments about so-called "hackers" are just plain ridiculous - even if they are intended somewhat humorously. When it's this easy to write viruses, there will always be another kid who feels like doing some damage and thinks he can get away with it, no matter how harshly we punish offenders. We have to put the cookie jar out of reach, so to speak. If it took years of study to learn to write viruses, kids wouldn't do it - and there are operating systems already in existence for which this is the case. What we need is for consumers in the desktop market to take other platforms seriously enough to force Microsoft to compete, as is already happening in the server market. Microsoft has begun making strides in the realm of security, but they have a LONG way to go to catch up with Unix-type operating sytems (including Mac OS X), and then when they've conquered security, they've still got stability issues. Tierney's complaints are valid, but misplaced. Microsoft's general sloppiness in software design and consumer apathy in the operating system market are the real culprits here.

Posted by kpearce at 06:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2004

Download Music and ... the Government Will Steal Your Computer?

Also on slashdot today, a pointer to a Reuters story about a justice department raid on the homes of peope accused of the vicious crime of ... file sharing? Four raids took place, computers were confiscated but not arrests were made. John Ashcroft reportedly made idiotic and generally fascist statements to the affect that it would be "inappropriate" for the justice department to "stand by while such theft is taking place." Give me a break! Allow me to let you in on a little secret: If I can take it from you, without depriving you of it ... It's NOT STEALING! Don't believe me? Let's ask Mr. Webster:

Theft \Theft\, n. [OE. thefte, AS. [thorn]i['e]f[eth]e,
[thorn][=y]f[eth]e, [thorn]e['o]f[eth]e. See Thief.]
1. (Law) The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious
taking and removing of personal property, with an intent
to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.

Note: To constitute theft there must be a taking without the
owner's consent, and it must be unlawful or felonious;
every part of the property stolen must be removed,
however slightly, from its former position; and it must
be, at least momentarily, in the complete possession of
the thief. See Larceny, and the Note under Robbery.

Note that in order to qualify as "theft", according to Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) I have to physically remove something with intent to deprive it's owner of it!

Calling file sharing "theft" or "piracy" is utterly ridiculous - as is treating it as a criminal offense! To whatever degree copyright infringement (which is what we are dealing with here - not theft, or piracy, but copyright infringement) is a real crime which is actually to the detriment of society as a whole, and not just big record execs and movie distributors (which is not to a very large degree), it is definitely the place of a civil suit to resolve the disagreement. There is no reason why tax payers should be paying to prosecute what really amounts to breech of contract (read the Constitution - Article I Section 8 Clause 8 clearly indicates that intellectual property law is a contract Congress creates between content creators and the people at large).

John Ashcroft is a fascist. Under his eye, we have had the Dimitry Sklyarov affair, the Patriot Act, all kinds of ridiculous "war on filesharing" crap, and now this. Any president who would appoint John Ashcroft as attorney general is not fit to govern - whether it be through idiocy or actual evil (and who knows which it is with our friend George W.). Vote Ashcroft out! Vote Michael Badnarik and tell the establishment politicians you won't take any more of their crap.

PS if you think John Kerry will be any better on this stuff you are either among the most optimistic people living in this country, or else you are on crack.

Posted by kpearce at 10:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack