P2P Is a RESPONSE to a Problem

There's a new article (Jacqui Cheng, Ars Technica) basically summing up a truth about illegal file sharing, with evidence for this as well.
All of the big music stores are now DRM-free. Yet the RIAA has feared massive copyright violations with use of P2P software.
What has this led to? People are legitimately buying DRM-free music and using them appropriately and not illegally downloading them on P2P networks. One reason for this is that P2P networks are meant for large files; music files are small enough to be bought and downloaded off of regular sites.
The bigger reason is that people will legitimately buy content online [I don't know how to make "super-italics" for super-emphasis] IF IT IS EASIER TO DO THAT than to illegally download music. Often, DRM-ed music from P2P sites are of poor quality and may not be the full song, whereas legal music is of great quality and is of full length. Now that legitimate music is DRM-free (while music on P2P sites have cracked DRM), people would rather pay for music than get trashy quality for free.
On the other hand, movies have not gone DRM-free as music has. This means that it is easier to get a lower-quality but unrestricted free copy from a P2P network than it is to get a heavily-restricted, very expensive normal quality copy from another (legitimate) source. The movie industry needs to keep up with the times; given that soon files the size of movies will become very small compared to P2P network capacities (like how music is small compared to current capacities), it would be in the industry's best interests to remove DRM from movies and start selling these movies online.
DRM is a solution to a nonexistent problem, and is in the end a bigger problem than the "problem" it "solves".
Sadly, the RIAA and MPAA will never understand this.


2010 January 28: iPads, Legos, McDonalds, and Toyotas

There are a few things I wanted to touch on today, so I will do so.
Many of you have doubtless heard of Apple's new tablet PC (Mac?), the iPad. As far as I've read, reaction has been lukewarm; the OS is the iPhone OS (not a full Mac OS X), and the thing can't even render certain (many) sites (i.e. those with Adobe Flash) properly; Apple thinks it can get away with it by offering a stand as an accessory. Hah!
More disturbingly (Linux Today), though, it seems like the iPad is chock-full of DRM. I am an opponent of DRM; if DRM existed in the 1980s, when desktop computers were in their infancy, we would be far behind where we are today in terms of computers. Apple is not allowing anyone to install "unauthorized" (i.e. not from the Apple Store) software, calling it a criminal offense even when no copyright laws are broken. This just goes to show that as a computing culture, Apple is even more closed than Microsoft; variety and quality are no doubt hurt by this. Not only is this applied to consumers - even producers can't opt out of this lock-in, especially free software producers who want to maintain their works' licenses like the GPL. Basically, the only person who benefits from this lock-in is Apple, as now, no outside developers can profit at all from this new machine. The Slashdot article on this also mentions that this may portend bad things for Mac OS X's future in terms of openness; surely, it will, given how much more tightly Apple has been clenching its brushed aluminum fist recently.
I want to switch gears now (no pun intended) to talk about Legos. I'm a huge fan of Legos; I happen to be the president of my school's Robotics Club, which uses Lego Mindstorm kits to build and program robots for in-house competitions (and hopefully BotBall in the future) (I talked about this club's raffle fundraiser in a post from 2009 October). The beauty of these things is that they can be put together in virtually any combination; to be sure, 6 bricks of size 2x4 can be put together in over 100 million ways. Here we are, building robots! The possibilities are endless. But I digress...
I watch Tom and Jerry. It comes on Cartoon Network. It is awesome (and I am not ashamed at all to say that). But I digress yet again...
More to the point, on Cartoon Network I see (between Tom and Jerry shorts) a lot of ads, mainly for kids. Many of these ads are for Lego kits, in the forms of Toy Story, Star Wars, etc.
I am saddened to see the proliferation of these assembly-by-instruction-manual kits. For some of the newer kits, there seem to be only a few large pieces that fit together easily, making the thing worse. I am saddened to see this because the whole point of Lego toys was to be able to create anything from one's imagination using the starter parts (and in the case of robots, an RCX and maybe a few motors and wheels (and maybe not even wheels), but nothing else). That is the point of the Lego set; it allows the imagination to proliferate through reality. Here, with these kits, manufacturers have done the imagination; it's just up to the kids to assemble the pieces as they are. This has also been a gradual process; the early kits had only a few more special pieces to make the action figures or whatever, while the current kits seem to have only specialized pieces that can only fit together to make the figure in question. If I need to get gifts for kids (who are old enough to not swallow small parts), I will be getting them Legos - real Legos.
Also on Cartoon Network, I have been seeing a lot of McDonald's ads. I'm not sure why they still need to advertise, but whatever, it's all good. Except, it's not.
The first questionable ad I saw aired around a year ago (maybe it was a little more recent). The ad shows an elementary-school-age soccer match; the winning team is made of trim, athletic kids, while the losing team is slightly more pudgy on the whole. The winning team gets a trophy and rubs it in the losing team's faces, until one of the losing team member's parents get that team McDonald's food to cheer them up. Then, the pudgy kids start rubbing the fact that they have McDonald's (and the winners don't) into the winners' faces, and the winners actually seem to care more about not having McDonald's (than winning).
It's obvious that according to McDonald's, eating McDonald's food and not staying in too good shape is more important than actually winning sports tournaments (or doing more useful things of a similar vein). That is not a good message to send to growing kids. Then again, maybe it's kind of obvious why the team that lost did so. Maybe?
The second ad is still on the air. It shows a bunch of kids looking through a telescope with Ronald McDonald, saying that they can't see anything. Ronald throws a giant handful of magic through the telescope into the sky, displaying a sparkly sky full of stars, nebulae, and fireworks; in the middle of it all is the McDonald's logo.
I initially nitpicked by saying that the kids were able to see the stars before, so they didn't need Ronald, and I was going to extend this into a rant about how poor basic education is these days, but I'm not. The more worrisome thing is the logo in the center of the sky. The message? McDonald's is the center of the universe.
Maybe I should be like Morgan Spurlock: smack a kid every time we drive by McDonald's to make them hate going (or even going by) there.
The last thing I wanted to talk about is the ongoing Toyota recall. Toyota, since the time of my last writing [about this subject], has recalled a few more million vehicles. Yes, you read that right: a few more million. Also, I did not know this before, but Lexus and Scion models are supposed to not be affected as the cars are all built with the Denso accelerators (good), not the CTS (no relation to Cadillac CTS) accelerators (bad) (Denso and CTS are suppliers of accelerator pedals, with, I believe, Denso being Japanese and CTS being American). In any case, do not buy a Toyota, and when buying a Lexus or Scion, consider all of the other alternatives (yes, there are a lot out there, but it's worth researching), and if that becomes the decided vehicle to purchase, exercise extreme caution before purchasing (i.e. take a test drive (or two), thoroughly inspect the vehicle (especially that driver's footwell) for issues, etc.).
There, I'm done.


Toyota's Issues

I was going to post another article relating to Linux, but I decided to switch gears (no pun intended).
As many of you know, Toyota has been having a problem with its vehicles; it has recalled millions of them to fix a problem with the accelerator, which can fail to decompress when one's foot is lifted, causing "unintended acceleration".
That is not news.
However, this is something that a few (but not too many) news outlets have reported, as far as I know.
Toyota's official investigation has shown that the vast majority of these situations have occurred due to misplaced floor mats and can be easily fixed by reinstalling the mats; only a few of these vehicles have problems with the actual accelerator pedal [mechanism] itself. The truth is the opposite; the floor mat issue is mostly coincidental and is only to blame for a few vehicles, while the majority of the cases are due to faulty pedals themselves.
In short, don't buy a Toyota. Their reputation for quality and dependability is done. Almost all of Toyota's current vehicles (except for maybe the Land Cruiser) are affected and have thus stopped sales; I can now only tell people to stay away from Toyota like they stayed away from GM and Ford for so long (and can no longer rightfully do so, as GM and Ford have really stepped up the quality and reliability game).
These are my recommended car marques: Ford, Lincoln, Honda, Acura, Infiniti, Hyundai, Mazda, Buick, and Cadillac.


An Open Example for Other Schools

I refer to this (Angus Kidman, CIO Online) article about how a New Zealand high school has completely switched to open-source software, despite a national contract with Microsoft regarding computers for education.
This is a great move, not least because of the great software involved: Ubuntu for the front-end, Mandriva for the servers, and OpenOffice.org and Google Docs for productivity, among others. The biggest benefit has been...wait for it...
a reduction of server requirements by a factor of 50 (!) for its main servers (now it only uses 4 main servers).
The other thing the administrators were happy about was the openness of it all: no longer did the school have to pay full fees for separate limited licenses for specialized Microsoft software, and the source code for those programs is now freely available to all schools for viewing, distribution, and modification.
I think this is a model that could work for all schools; the only thing hindering this sort of thing for MCPS would be the Promethean board program, whose boards would need to somehow be reengineered with software rereleased for Linux compatibility. Other than that, it could definitely work. And for those that say that kids today would be unprepared for a Windows world, that Windows world may no longer be a Windows world when the employers see all the kids coming out of school trained on Linux.


Of Tefillin and Terrorists

A lot of news outlets today have reported on a bomb scare involving a teenage Orthodox Jewish boy and his religious paraphernalia on a plane flight. The item in question is called a tefillin (sp?); his fellow plane passengers mistook it for a bomb. He was released without arrest after being questioned after landing.
My question is, are we going to start searching all teenage Jewish boys?
Oh, wait.
I am not in any way trying to imply displeasure at the inability to search teenage Jewish boys. Quite the opposite - I am expressing my disgust at the people who have seriously suggested strip-searching all young Muslim adult passengers in the wake of the failed Christmas Day bombing. They suggest that, yet they won't say anything about this kid. What hypocrisy.
I similarly don't like Franklin Roosevelt as much as some other liberals (I like him, but I don't love him) because of the internment of Japanese citizens following the Pearl Harbor bombing. I certainly do not condone that sort of thing, but relative to the failed Christmas Day bombing and its aftermath among the talking heads here, the internment had a tiny modicum of validity: the attack was by the Japanese government, and many Japanese families here had relatives still in Japan. Compare that to the fact that the Christmas Day bomber was part of an extremist group that is not part of a government operation (though some governments allow/accept/promote its existence in those countries).
People, let's stop discriminating against a race/ethnicity after one person commits a terrible crime (or comes really, really close). I would much rather see British security here, as they look for suspicious activity without racial profiling and without taking all things like toothpaste tubes and water bottles from people (as far as I know). That's how the planned hijackings from London in 2005 were averted before the planes could get off the ground; I remember news analysis saying that British Airways was so displeased with the US intelligence failure that it was about to implement its own standards in US airports to which it flew.


Abuse of Copyright - US and Costa Rica

This article's (Mike Masnick, TechDirt) summary and analysis is good enough that I don't feel the need to add too much more. I'll leave it at the fact that copyright needs to be abolished or dramatically reduced in term and scope in order to prevent these horrible economic actions from occurring.
On a semi-related note, both France and Germany are recommending users to move away from all versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. I fully support this decision; it will be less painful to users surfing the web and developers creating webpages.


FOLLOW-UP: Windows 7 Was NOT My Idea

It's not so much that I've learned anything new as I've had a slightly changed perspective on this.
The ads are of people saying that they had the idea of making Windows more stable, user friendly, fast, etc. They conclude with the people saying, "I'm a PC, and Windows 7 was my idea."
I felt like my previous post on this didn't make the connection as clear, so I intend to fix that.
Yes, Windows is proprietary software. As my dad said, if Windows really was those people's ideas, then why aren't those people getting Windows for free and why aren't they allowed to further contribute to and improve the OS?
That's what really shows how disingenuous the campaign is.
But you may say, "But what you're saying is ridiculous! After all, Microsoft still does harness the development and should have the full control over it in the end. They should still be allowed to charge full price to the users and close the source to all others."
First of all, the reason why Microsoft is trying to promote this image of listening to the users is because it knew that, to an extent, if it didn't address the previous complaints (from users) about Vista, it would lose the OS wars.
Second of all, there are, as you regular readers (whoever you may be) surely know by now, OSs that really do offer open development (and usually distribute the OSs free of charge to all) and don't just pay lip service to it. The most prominent examples are Linux, BSD, and OpenSolaris. (Ironically, the most proprietary OS I have seen is Apple's Mac OS, despite being based on one of the most free (from restrictions) OSs - BSD.)
I leave you with this: may the source be with you.

Science Bowl a Learning Experience? Not Anymore

Our school's team (of which I am a member) lost the regional competition in the semifinals yesterday.
Yeah, yeah. I can accept that.
What saddens me though is that after having done this for 3 years, I will never be able to do it again; I can never redeem myself.
But the thing I'm hearing from my parents and others is that it's all a "learning experience".
It is. But that's not all it is. To say that it is all a "learning experience" is to totally miss the point.
If I wanted a learning experience, I could have done problems from a book, signed up for a class, or attended a super-special seminar.
I have a bit of a competitive streak (though definitely not as much as some people I know). I wanted to win, especially after last year's similar defeat in the regional semifinals.
Hence, I did Science Bowl. Quantum ElectroDynamics (QED).
Furthermore, Science Bowl requires one to learn a bunch of trivia that isn't really useful (until much higher-level applications) outside of Science Bowl itself. While I won't say that all that I have learned has suddenly become for nought, it saddens me that I don't get another chance at this.
I lost. If it was a learning experience, I could use the lessons of my failures in the competition the next time around.
Except, for me, there is no next time around. This means that Science Bowl can no longer be a learning experience for me.
So, the people who call it just a "learning experience" (to console me or whatever) are being willfully blind to the other half of the competition - the competition.
That said, I would like to see our future teams do well. I plan to talk to (and maybe even coach a little, given our actual coach's frequent absences) the 2 team members (both in 10th grade) who will be on the team next year on what to do then.
Hopefully, that will work out.


Microsoft Office Word is Screwy

I know that JH on his Linux in Exile blog (which I follow) has mentioned this before, but I wanted to try it as I thought I had never experienced it before.
When MS Office Word (2007) opens a document and I tell it to print the document, it does so. Then, when I close it, it asks, "Do you want to save your changes?"
What changes? All I did was print it!
It's even worse with read-only files. If I view and then close (without making any modifications to) a read-only file, it asks the same thing.
What changes? Does MS Office Word not know what "read-only" means?
It's astounding how inanely MS Office Word seems to work. When I had a printer hooked up to my computer and used OpenOffice.org on Windows (at that time, it was OO.o 1.X, and later, OO.o 2.0), it never gave me such an issue. That was then. Even now, it gives me no troubles when printing.
It is 2010, and Microsoft Office seemingly doesn't know when it is appropriate (and when it is not) to ask the user to save/not save an opened file?


Stuff I'd Like to See in a Future Linux Live CD

It should fit onto a Live CD.
I'm gonna start with the Linux Mint 7 defaults, and add/remove from there.
I'd like to see the default GNOME games included.
I want to see KolourPaint replace GIMP, as it is much closer to MS Paint (for new users), while GIMP's complexity can be a turn-off.
Instead of Eye of GNOME, use Okular and GwenView.
Instead of Nautilus, use Dolphin.
Add either Amarok or Songbird in the default installation.
Finally, add Wine.
I've tried making my own custom spin, but it hasn't worked. If anyone knows of a distribution like this or close to this, I'd love to know.


Since When Was Admitting a Problem "Coming Clean"?

This stems from the news from a variety of outlets reporting that Mark McGwire has publicly admitted and apologized for his steroid use.
This, after lying to these same news outlets (and Congress, no less) only a few years ago that he didn't use steroids and that this persistent questioning wouldn't help.
Are our expectations of celebrities (from all fields) really this low?
When I was a little kid, I learned that to "come clean" was to do something great to make up for a certain failing in the past. Admitting wrongdoing is the first step, apologizing the second, and coming clean (by making up for it) the third.
Is it too much to ask McGwire to really come clean (and not just "come clean" as the media describes just admitting his steroid use)? Perhaps he could do community service and stuff like that, as Zinedine Zidane did after the World Cup (he announced his retirement after that series before the series started) final match where he headbutted Marco Materazzi in response to a provocation from the latter still unclear today.


See? Authors DO Hate Corporate Copyrights

It's come with Marvel's lawsuit to keep (Associated Press) the copyrights on Spiderman and X-Men from expiring. It has sued the cartoon creator's family.
This just goes to show that companies that keep artistic copyrights near indefinitely aren't doing the public or the artists any favors, in terms of monetary or social benefit. In fact, the artist's family has said so explicitly itself.
Michele Boldrin and David Levine were on to something when they said that when companies like Disney (of which, incidentally, Marvel is a subsidiary) try to maintain their strangleholds on works through copyright, they don't ever give the original artists any benefits, and when it's not a famous work like Mickey Mouse or Spiderman (but is artistically no less stunning), it dies because it can't be released to the public due to the...overbearing copyright restrictions meant to "protect" such works.


Another Reason NOT to Shop at Wal-Mart

If you agree with Wal-Mart's actions, you don't really have a heart or a brain. H&M is guilty of this too.
Both retail giants, instead of donating unsold clothing to the poor (especially in the areas around the stores which are poorer), are not only trashing them to prevent resale but are also physically slashing and cutting through the clothes to ensure that even if someone finds these clothes, they are unwearable.
It is standard practice in the clothing business to donate unsold inventory to the poor, as this gives those people clothing they wouldn't otherwise have and would be a great way to otherwise free up space for new inventory. Furthermore, these companies will often get tax breaks for these donations.
How greedy and stupid are these companies, really?


Ubuntu IS Easy to Install

On my school network ID, I have Mozilla Firefox Portable installed (so I don't have to deal with IE7). As I often check email, my Google search history is also available there, including my multiple searches (done at home) for Ubuntu/Linux Mint stuff.
Of course, the network is Microsoft's Windows XP for servers.
What's weird is that I have in Firefox's "Awesome Bar" a site I have never searched: a site on some forum for Windows Vista titled "I thought Ubuntu was Easy to Install".
I have never visited this site until investigating this odd occurrence. It turns out the web page is dead.
Is this the sneaky manipulation of Microsoft?


Political Police in Eastern Europe

The title, of course, doesn't really say anything new, until one reads this (BBC News).
It seems like Slovakian police planted explosives in an innocent traveler's bags on purpose; he got arrested (but was later released) upon landing in Ireland.
What puzzles me most is why the police would do something like that. There is a sentence somewhere in the article about the Slovakian police wanting to test airport security, but even this is not clear at all in the rest of the article.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I...guess it's a fine thing to test airport security by trying to bring in these explosives, but wouldn't it be better for those same policepeople to go in themselves undercover with the explosives?
Why unnecessarily hassle (in the most extreme sense of the word) an innocent passenger? They never signed up to be a guinea pig to security testing.
Color me suspicious. I figure ulterior motives are at work (e.g. the Slovakian government has some sort of grudge against this guy and wants to arrest him any way possible).


2010 January 3: National Security and Book Piracy

The first thing I would like to talk about is national security - specifically the recent failed bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit and the aftermath.
I think the way President Obama handled the issue showed that with respect to national security, he is as out of touch as George W. Bush was. Obama was vacationing in Hawaii when this happened and didn't even make an official response until 72 hours later.
More seriously, the government just couldn't connect the dots with respect to this terrorist. I have chastised Bush for not connecting the obvious dots before 9/11, and I am chastising Obama even more for not connecting the even more obvious dots.
For goodness sake, the terrorist's dad, after the terrorist dissolved ties with his family, went to the US Embassy to warn the ambassadors/other officials of his son's radicalization and to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
Appropriate action, anyone?
Umm, can anyone say oops?
To make matters worse, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that regarding how the terrorist managed to slip through standard security, "the system worked".
The system worked?
I don't even want to know what it would be like if it didn't work. Apocalypse now, anyone (pun definitely intended)?
Then, Napolitano clarified her previous statement, saying that "in this case, the system didn't work".
That didn't do her any favors (in my eyes).
Then, finally, Obama comes on the scene.
I definitely agree with Newsweek's analysis that his acknowledgement of the heroism of the passengers who subdued the terrorist was lacking, and that he should have been more full-on in the praise. To turn this into action, he should have increased the Citizen Corps's (the volunteer body designed for citizens to fight terrorism like this) budget and not the DHS's.
Furthermore, he said he would [and I'm paraphrasing here] "work with the Yemeni government". (The terrorist received training in Arabic and bombmaking in Yemen.)
His "no-drama" approach has reached its physical limit. He really needs to take a hard stand against this sort of action. What could possibly happen through negotiation with the Yemeni government?
Obama has really dropped the ball on national security. He had better pick it up soon.

The second thing I want to talk about is book piracy - specifically, Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie's take on it.
Basically, he believes it is bad, which I agree with. However, he goes on to say that the open-source culture is fostering this, and that the whole culture is bad. He has also said that e-book readers are "elitist", on the grounds that poor rural people will not be able to buy them.
I think that last statement alone throws out his credibility on talking about new technologies and how they will shape the way we read.
Seriously? "Elitist"?
It's of course not going to be as expensive when it becomes more widespread. Furthermore, a lot of people even now don't have the money to purchase physical books, let alone e-books. That's why they go to the library to read/borrow their books. I foresee a similar thing happening in the future, at which point the readers themselves will be cheap enough for the people referred to by Alexie to publish.
I'm not going to pick on Alexie's misrepresentation of open-source culture, as it was a mix-up of terminology. That would just be mean and unfair of me.
I won't focus on Alexie anymore, as it pretty clear that he is pretty out of touch on the benefits and power such new technologies bestow. Of course, he also believes in going in person around the country to promote his book, especially in small towns; this is admirable, so I will leave him alone (his works seem to be pretty good on their own (i.e. discounting his views on technology)).
The larger point is about the future of reading, writing, and publishing.
With the very low prices of computers and word processing programs (heck, OpenOffice.org is free, as is AbiWord), it is very easy to physically type a book. The problem comes with then distributing it, ensuring that the author derives a fair return for this distribution. Now, it is very easy and cheap (though not totally free) to scan a published paper book and upload it to the Internet.
While reading through the comments on said article in Slashdot, I came across an idea which I thought was genius and should define future publishing; ironically, the basic concept is actually very old.
Charles Dickens used to publish his books in magazines in parts: basically, he would publish chapter 1 in one week's publication of the magazine, chapter 2 in the next week's publication, etc. He made huge profits from this, after which he published the entire book as a whole.
Stephen King has employed a similar system online; he can capitalize on his already-earned fame as a writer to do this. For some of his books, he has published chapter 1 online and would only publish the next chapter if he gets a certain number of legitimate sales for chapter 1 (or the current chapter). The vast majority of readers are willing to pay for the books and would rather acquire the book legally and not illegally, meaning that he has earned record profits from this model. After each chapter's sales target is met, the book is then published as a whole.
I think it's a model that can work for everyone, and it's a great model for its total reliance on the free market to determine whether the author floats or sinks, while creating an (not legally-binding) artificial scarcity that can only be circumvented through further purchase.
Granted, Stephen King can do this due to his already-earned fame, but other authors can and are doing it too. I see a new model in which the first 1 or 2 books by an author are distributed online for free (while donations are accepted), and if a sufficiently large fanbase is gathered, the aforementioned model can be employed.
Libraries could still operate; they could buy the fully-published physical book once it does become published.
Publishers and the WGA, your modus operandi is horribly outdated. People have been complaining about the current system, but until now, no suitable alternative has been proposed. Here it is.
I know there are probably a lot of flaws I haven't thought through. Please post those and any other suggestions/thoughts in the comments!

Movie Review: The Organization

Two nights ago, I saw the movie "The Organization". It's basically about a detective trying to find the murderers of a man who was robbed earlier.
I slept halfway through, but from what I did see, it seemed rather boring. Cocaine is involved, but only enough to fill a backpack.
These days, tons and tons of cocaine trafficked are the norm. Hence, the movie was not very interesting and showed its age a lot.