Archive for February, 2007

Nerd neanderthalism

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Tim Lee on geek protectionism:

I have to say that as a guy with a CS degree myself, I find it unseemly when computer geeks whine about unfair competition from foreigners who have the nerve to be willing to do their jobs for less pay than them. If there’s anything “unfair” about the world labor market, it’s the fact that there are millions of competent engineers who, due to the accident of birth and Western countries’ restrictive immigration policies, are not able to utilize their engineering talents to the fullest. It’s far more “unfair” to an Indian engineer to force him to stay in India, where programming jobs are few and far between, then it is to allow him into the United States and “force” an American engineer to compete with him on a level playing field.

Read the entire post, which makes lots of other good points.

Gratis unencumbered MP3 download is not news

Monday, February 26th, 2007

, a moderately successful band with one top 40 hit in 1997, has released their latest (2005) album as an unencumbered MP3 download with an essay explaining “why we’re releasing our latest album for free on the Internet,” covered by Cory Doctorow, Tim O’Reilly and many others.

Big deal. In 2007 re-releasing an old album as a DRM-free gratis download with no explicit rights granted to share or remix, should not be news, unless a major label is involved.

Jamendo is my current favorite example of 2,500 reasons (albums) why this is not news, but there are thousands of others.

If you need an essay to go with your music, teleport back to 1998 or earlier (I recall reading a version of Ram Samudrala’s essay in 1995).

Update 20070227: The Harvey Danger album has been available for download since September 2005 (when Doctorow wrote about it in Boing Boing, link above). It shouldn’t have been newsworthy then either, but I’m a fool for not noticing that now it is old non-news. A commenter at Techdirt pointed this out.

Perils of a too cool name

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

I’ve seen lots of confusion about microformats, but Jon Udell takes the cake in describing XMP:

It’s a bit of a mish-mash, to say the least. There’s RDF (Resource Description Framework) syntax, Adobe-style metadata syntax, and Microsoft-style metadata syntax. But it works. And when I look at this it strikes me that here, finally, is a microformat that has a shot at reaching critical mass.

How someone as massively clued-in as Jon Udell could be so misled as to describe XMP as a microformat is beyond me.

, which is basically a constrained RDF/XML serialization following super-ugly conventions that may be embedded in a number of file formats (most prominently PDF and JPEG, but potentially almost anything), is about as far from a as one could possibly get. Off the top:

  • XMP is RDF/XML and as such is arbitrarily extensible; each microformat covers a specific use case and goes through great lengths to favor interoperability among publishers of each microformat (sometime I will write about how microformat and RDF people mean completely different things by “interoperability”) at the expense of extensibility.
  • XMP is embedded in a binary file, completely opaque to nearly all users; microformats put a premium on (practically require) colocation of metadata with human-visible HTML.
  • XMP would be extremely painful to write by hand and there are very few tools that support publishing it; microformats, to a fault, put a premium on publisher ease–anyone with a passing familiarity with HTML could be writing microformats.

I don’t agree with everything the microformats folk have done, but they do have a pretty self-consistent approach, if one bothers to try to understand it. XMP ain’t it.

XMP is by far the most promising embedded metadata format for “media” files — which is mostly a testament to how terribly useless to non-existent the alternatives are (by some definitions there are none).

Addendum: I’m really only picking on one word from Udell’s post, the remainder of which is recommended. It is to learn that “There’s also good support in .NET Framework 3.0 for reading and writing XMP metadata.”

Update 20070215: Udell explains:

Now there is, as Mike points out, a big philosophical difference between XMP, which aims for arbitrary extensibility, and fixed-function microformats that target specific things like calendar events. But in practice, from the programmer’s perspective, here’s what I observe.

Hand me an HTML document containing a microformat instance and I will cast about in search of tools to parse it, find a variety of ones that sort of work, and then wrestle with the details.

Hand me an image file containing an XMP fragment and, lo and behold, it’s the same story!

Yes, for 99% of the .01% of the world that cares at all, microformats and XMP are the same: metadata, embedded data, or even just data. That’s what I was hinting at in the title of this post — in the minds of 99% of the .01%, microformats are becoming synonymous with metadata, i.e., genericized. This is either a marketing and naming coup or disaster, depending on one’s perspective (I don’t particularly care).

I considered this headline: If XMP is a microformat, RDFa sure the heck is a microformat.

Commercial use outrage!

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Seth Godin and those who worry about republishing of (freely licensed) bloggy material, please watch this video by Lucas Gonze.

Republishers, if they add only noise or worse (in the case of sploggers) are primarily a problem for aggregators (Amazon can be thought of one, as can search engines), not creators.

That said, if Godin really hates the idea of a republisher using the license granted by Godin, that license does allow the licensor to request the removal of attribution from derivative or collective works. If this was requested eventually one couldn’t find the commercial outrage version of Godin’s book by searching for Godin’s name on Amazon. (But I have no idea if that provision could apply in this case, am not a lawyer, generally don’t know what I’m talking about, etc.).


Monday, February 12th, 2007

Ross Mayfield on how to destroy the Silicon Valley:

But if you want to destroy the advantage of the the Valley, work in the collaboration industry.

That’s “destruction” in the best sense — enabling other locales to be just as good.

But I’d go further — if you want freedom, work in the remote collaboration industry (writ large), which is slightly different from the entire collaboration industry. The more remote collaboration is effective, the more location, and jurisdictions, can be treated as subjects of arbitrage rather than held in esteem by bound subjects.

Far more promising than going to sea or buying an island.

I’m also saving Mayfield’s very next post on entrepreneur hindsight — generally excellent, but for this:

Maybe because in hindsight all risks are clear, but I always find myself regretting not taking bigger risks earlier. For example, open sourcing the Socialtext code was something we waited on until the company had strong footing. Partially because we thought there would be cannibalization, partially because we were understaffed to really engage with the community. But I believe if we bought this bullet earlier in the history of the company we would be reaping better rewards. As a planning exercise, now I always try to ask two questions: “How could we take more risk?” and “What risk can we take that creates the greatest amount of options?” I find there is always a way to do a little more, in particular by getting past instinct to control prevalent in so many entrepreneurs.

Another item to cite the n’th time someone has tired reasons for not opening their source.

Open source can of course be thought of as a remote collaboration technology.

Say’s law and bandwidth

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Ed Felten asks How Much Bandwidth is Enough? (emphasis added):

It is a matter of faith among infotech experts that (1) the supply of computing and communications will increase rapidly according to Moore’s Law, and (2) the demand for that capacity will grow roughly as fast. This mutual escalation of supply and demand causes the rapid change we see in the industry.

Funny how that seems to happen.

Thus far, whenever more capacity comes along, new applications are invented (or made practical) to use it. But will this go on forever, or is there a point of diminishing returns where more capacity doesn’t improve the user’s happiness?

There’s always a point at which purchasing more bandwidth doesn’t make sense given the price of bandwidth and other goods. But will there ever be a point at which more bandwidth, even at zero price, has no utility? I doubt it.

There is a plausible argument that a limit exists. The human sensory system has limited (though very high) bandwidth, so it doesn’t make sense to direct more than a certain number of bits per second at the user. At some point, your 3-D immersive stereo video has such high resolution that nobody will notice any improvement. The other senses have similar limits, so at some point you have enough bandwidth to saturate the senses of everybody in the home. You might want to send information to devices in the home; but how far can that grow?

Human sensory system? The home? By the time there is enough bandwidth to max out the human sensory system and auxiliary devices humans will not be important on the scene.

Mal engineering awareness

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

appeared on the wiki a couple weeks ago. It closes with very brief calls for capability security and agoric computing, unsurpsingly, considering the source.

But I wanted to point out the article’s proposal for mitigating social engineering:

The best place to defeat the hoax is in the mind of the intended victim. How? With educational tools shipped on the OLPC itself. Suppose the computer had a training course that taught each student-owner how to run the hoax himself.

This strikes a chord with me because I already think “we” (artists, bloggers, programmers, preachers, friends — see friends don’t let friends click spam) should promote not engaging spammers and scammers and because I’m annoyed by the practice of computer vendors (HP/Compaq anyway) pre-loading consumer Windows machines with scads of “special offer” programs that are annoyances at best and would fairly be considered malware if they didn’t come preinstalled.

Instead of bombarding a new user with vendor-approved spam the first time a computer is turned on an enlightened consumer PC vendor (I include OLPC here) would show a brief safe computing video. Support costs may even be reduced through such a move.

On the technical side OLPC posted a summary of their security platform. While much is left to the imagination at this point (there’s an annoying lack of references or even buzzwords in the specification), it sounds like OLPC programs could get a whole lot less authority than those on any mass platform so far.

Disingenuous Rhetorical Manipulation

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

Copyright (DRM in particular) turns us into technology idots and makes us disingenuous too. Consider Leonardo Chiariglione’s reply (“A simple way to skin the DRM cat”) to Steve Jobs’ DRM bashing.

Chiariglione goes out of his way to muddy the waters by

  • Including rights expression or rights description (including Creative Commons) under the rubric of DRM. This is not what anyone, including Jobs, is talking about when they dismiss DRM.
  • Conflating standards generally and standards with security components in particular, with DRM.
  • Pretending there is a non-zero chance of any “interoperable DRM” (where we’re talking about , not mere description or expression) scheme gaining any traction.

Clue: a skinned cat is dead.

Via Slashdot.

Addendum: Some never learn, see Chiariglione’s , spawned late 1998, dead since early 2001.

Digital Rights Managements

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Even I have to admit Steve Jobs’ DRM-bashing letter is pretty good:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

But what’s up with DRMs?

Via Tim Lee.

Addendum: Lots of people want to sell their music DRM-free at the iTunes store.

Free Kareem and Keith

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

is an Egyptian blogger jailed for pathetically moderate reformist writings. Check out his blog (Arabic), and sign the petitions for his release.

Via Tom Palmer.

Anti- activist is in custody again and subject to scientology death threats. Vist Operating Thetan (Keith Henson News) and Digg the story.