is getting ready to leave on a bus tour up to Michigan with her
parents. For the first time, I think I've convinced her to leave her
beloved Pentax 35mm SLR bodies at home and take only digital cameras.
Her primary camera is the Pentax *ist DL with two zoom lenses that
cover a 35mm equivalent of about 27mm to 300mm. As backup, she'll take
the little Concord 5345z point-and-shoot pocket camera, which is only
about the size of a thick deck of cards, but takes surprisingly good
C|Net reprints a New York Times article entitled Someone has to pay for TV--but who?
My first reaction was to wonder why anyone should pay for the crap the
commercial networks run. Barbara watched the penultimate episode
of Left Wing last night. She'll watch the series finale next week, but
that will probably be the last commercial network TV program we watch,
ever. We'll still watch the occasional Masterpiece Theatre or Mystery!
or Nova on PBS, but as far as the commercial TV networks go, we're
Nowadays, we're reading more and what time we do spend watching
television is spent on quality programming, mostly British. We have no
plans to move to digital TV, let alone HDTV. We don't care if Blu-Ray
or HD-DVD wins the format war, because we'll never buy either one of
them. And we'll boycott products sold by the MPAA and RIAA. The Sony
rootkit fiasco was the last straw as far as Barbara was concerned. She
dropped her membership in the record clubs she belonged to, and decided
not to purchase any more music from RIAA companies.
She did mention yesterday that she wanted the latest Mark Knopfler
album, which has just been released in Britain and isn't yet available
in the US. I visited Knopfler's web site yesterday hoping to find
a PayPal "tip jar", but there wasn't one. I wish all musicians would
sell their CDs directly. Failing that, they should all have tip jars on
their web sites, where fans could send them money directly.
- It may not be a cure for cancer, but Wake Forest University researchers have made what appears to be a huge breakthrough.
They injected white blood cells from cancer-resistant mice into
ordinary mice infected with an aggressive cancer, and cured those
I see that Warner has decided to sell downloadable movies via
Bittorrent. I predict they won't sell many. If you download a Warner
movie, you can't burn it to a DVD. You can view it only on the
machine that you downloaded it to. So, let's say Barbara wants a copy
of Good Night, and Good Luck. Here are some of her options:
o Log on to the Warner web site, and buy (rent? lease?) the movie at
its retail price of $28.98. Wait 10 or 12 hours for the movie to
download, and then watch it. Ooops. This isn't really an option,
because Barbara runs Linux, so she couldn't watch the movie on her
computer. Actually, she probably couldn't download it to her computer,
either. Oh, well.
o Order the movie from Amazon.com for $14.96. Receive a DVD that she
can play on her computer, our DVD player, or anywhere else. A DVD that
she can make backup copies of, lend to a friend, or do anything else
she pleases with. A DVD that includes cover notes, special features,
and so on.
o Rent the movie from Netflix at a net cost of perhaps $1 to $1.50.
o Borrow the movie from a friend at a net cost of $0.
Which makes me wonder what the studios are thinking. If they really
want to explore downloadable movies as a business model, I have a
couple of suggestions for them.
First, get rid of the DRM. Although the studios refuse to understand,
people want things their way. They want to be able to play a movie
where they want to, when they want to, as many times as they want to,
and on whatever equipment they want to. They don't want to buy a
locked-up bunch of bits. If you copy-protect your product, people won't
buy it. You point to Apple's success with iTunes as an example of DRM
being accepted by millions of people, but the point is that iTunes DRM
is acceptable only because it doesn't work. People are free to burn
iTunes tracks to a CD, which can then be copied just like any other CD.
You point to DVD-Video discs as an example of people accepting
copy-protection, but again the point is that the only reason DVD-Video
discs have been so successful is that their DRM is ineffective. Plot
the unit-sales curve of DVDs before and after DVD Jon released DeCSS if
you doubt that.
Second, get real about pricing. Just as e-book publishers soon learned
that people aren't willing to pay hardback prices for an e-book, you
need to learn that people aren't willing to pay DVD prices for an
electronic download. Downloadable movies eliminate your packaging,
distribution, and channel costs, so price the damned movies
accordingly. People won't pay $30 for a DRM'd downloadable movie. They
will pay $5 or $8 for an unprotected recent movie they can download and
burn to a DVD, and you can make good money at those prices. Include the
liner notes and graphics so that people can print them out and assemble
their own DVDs. Open up your backlists. Sell old stuff for a couple of
bucks, and you'll soon find you're making more money from your long
tail than from your recent releases.
I also wonder if Warner has any clue about how Bittorrent works. A
Bittorrent client simultaneously downloads and uploads chunks of the
movie. In order for that to work, everyone has to be transferring the
same file. That means you can't encrypt the movie before transmission,
so the only alternative is to encrypt it after someone has received the
entire movie file. If, that is, you want each downloaded copy to be
uniquely encrypted. If you go that route, you'll find that technically
ept people will simply bypass the final encryption and end up with an
unencrypted copy, which will be on general Bittorrent sites the same
day you release the movie. If instead you encrypt the movie before you
transmit it, that means everyone who downloads it ends up with exactly
the same encrypted movie. One key unlocks every copy. Again, that movie
will be posted in unencrypted form the same day you release it. You
can't win, so why bother trying?
Barbara is off on her tour, leaving me and our two Border Collies to
fend for ourselves. It'll be wild women and parties while she's gone,
or it would be if I could stand parties and knew any wild women. I did
tell Duncan and Malcolm that I'd try to find some Border Hussies for
It's going to be pretty boring around here until Barbara returns late Sunday evening.
Barbara has been gone for 24 hours, and so far things haven't fallen
apart. Barbara laid in a stock of frozen TV dinners for me before she
left. I had one for dinner last night. It was labeled "HUNGRY-MAN XXL".
I at first took the final letters to be a strange way of writing
"30" in Roman numerals, but I later realized it was intended to mean
"eXtra eXtra Large". It wasn't.
There was a banner across the front of the package, announcing that it
contained "1 1/2 pounds of food". It was larger than I expected, but
not as large as I wanted. (I usually eat only one meal a day, so I like
lots of food for that meal.) Then, as I was looking for the cooking
instructions, I noticed the nutrition information on the back. They
claimed this thing contained two servings! Yeah, right. Pull the other
At 430 calories per "serving", it's stretching things to define the
whole box as suitable for a "Hungry Man", let alone half of it. When I
was 18, I'd have had to eat three of these things to be satisfied. At
age 52, one sufficed, but only barely. Truth in advertising rules
should require them to call this product "Dieting Super Model".
And I see that the MPAA is now using trained dogs to sniff out DVDs
in FedEx packages. Presumably, the dogs are trained to detect the
various dyes used in burnable DVDs. I find that quite credible. If you
sniff a spindle of burnable DVDs, you'll find it has a distinct and
characteristic odor. It's not surprising that dogs can be trained to
But that raises a couple of questions. First, who exactly do the MPAA
think they are? They're not the police, nor the government. And yet the
MPAA now has customs agents wasting their time looking for burned DVDs
in packages when they could better spend that time looking for other
contraband. Second, and more important, since when has it been illegal
to FedEx a burned DVD to someone?
The only way to determine the contents of a burned DVD is to open the
package and play the DVD. That raises all sorts of privacy questions.
Will these agents get a search warrant for each DVD the dogs detect? If
so, on what probable cause? And what effect will these searches have on
package delivery? I'm sure FedEx delivers many thousands of packages
that contain burned DVDs every day, and the vast majority of those DVDs
do not contain illegally copied movies. Do we really want our packages
being opened by who knows who and our discs being examined?
In other news, I'm hearing persistent rumors that the RIAA and
MPAA plan to merge, with the merged entity to be known as the
Music And Film Industry Association.
- This from Svenson.
From: Jan Swijsen
To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Fri, 12 May 2006 02:38:36 -0800 (06:38 EDT)
Sniffing out DVDs
Even if they get a warrant to
open boxes and check the content there is a problem that when the disk
finally arrives you don't know what they did with it.
Of course the MPAA are nice guys, they would never even consider adding something like a rootkit to the disk. ....
Nope, I wouldn't put a disk from an opened package anywhere near a computer.
Geez, even I'm not that paranoid.
Several people have commented that customs agents are legally entitled
to search packages. Of course they are. The point is that they have
limited resources and their time could be better spent looking for much
more important things than illegally copied DVDs.
Several others have commented that they're probably searching for
pressed discs rather than burned copies, or that they're looking for
only large numbers of burned copies. As to the first, it would be
pretty difficult for dogs to detect pressed copies, which after all
comprise only polycarbonate plastic and aluminum. There's nothing about
pressed DVDs in any quantity that would allow a dog to discriminate
them from any number of other common items. As to customs looking only
for large numbers of burned DVDs, it would be asking a lot of a dog to
ignore one or two burned DVDs but to alert its handlers to a larger
Several people have suggested saving ruined blanks, labeling them
"MI-III" or something similar, and tossing one in each FedEx package.
That's a fine idea, as long as you don't mind having all your packages
opened and examined.
Actually I'd be very surprised if all of this came to anything. FedEx,
after all, has no desire to have the packages it carries delayed. This
looks more to me like a publicity stunt. What's infuriating is that the
MPAA arrogates to itself law enforcement powers by proxy.
The real solution to the copyright pig problem, as I've said before, is
to drive the bastards out of business. Stop buying their products.
Trade music and videos with your friends, rent them, or borrow them
from the library. Don't buy software from Microsoft, or a PC with
bundled Microsoft software. Instead, build your own PCs or buy them
from a local white-box builder, without an OS. Run Linux instead of
Windows and OpenOffice.org instead of Office. Boycott Blu-Ray and
HD-DVD. Cut off their air supply.
10:36 - How to ration vaccine in a flu pandemic
raises some interesting questions about who should have priority for a
scarce resource if an avian flu pandemic occurs. It calls to mind the
change from "women and children first" to "young families first" when
deciding who gets on the lifeboats.
It seems to me that the proposed policy begins rationally enough by
allocating vaccine to medical personnel, police and firemen,
transportation workers, and so on. (Politicians, though, should be at
the bottom of the list, not near the top.) It obviously makes sense to
do your best to protect those whose work is essential. But the policy
doesn't carry this to its logical conclusion.
Scarce vaccine should be rationed according to a person's value, not
his age or state of health. Simply stated, some people are worth a lot
more than others, although I'll probably be accused of being
Politically Incorrect for saying so. Of course, the trick is to come up
with a standard to judge worth. It seems to me that a good first cut
would be to eliminate from eligibility government bureaucrats,
politicians, the long-term unemployed, and anyone who is on public
assistance. These people consume but they produce nothing. Refusing
vaccine to this group would help the supply situation, but would not be
The next group to be eliminated from eligibility should be those who
contribute to society but consume more than they produce. This
group includes illegal aliens, minimum-wage workers, and so
on. At this point, we're down to productive people, their families, and
retired people. If there's still not enough vaccine to go around, we
could filter further using income and assets tests, on the assumption
that those who have higher income and greater assets are of more value
to society. That's not invariably true, of course, but it is a
reasonable rule of thumb.
Barbara is due back late tomorrow night. As is usual when she's gone,
the house has come to look like the Dark Gray Hole of Calcutta, so I
plan to spend some time tomorrow hosing the place down, burying the
dead bodies, and otherwise cleaning up.
I have most of the components either in-hand or promised for at least
the first two or three systems we're building for the new edition of Building the Perfect PC.
The exceptions are things like motherboards and processors for the new
Socket AM2 AMD processors and the Intel Conroe (Core 2) processors. I
expect to get the Socket AM2 stuff in the next 30 days or so, and the
Intel Core 2 stuff in July. That'll be pushing matters somewhat for our
mid-August deadline, but there's nothing to be done to speed things up.
I also need to order a bunch of small stuff--optical drives, floppy
drives, and so on.
Barbara is resigned to having her kitchen table covered in components
from early June through mid-August, but eventually all that stuff will
turn into six new systems. At some point after that, I'll migrate all
our stuff onto the new systems and donate our "old" systems to local
non-profits after we clean them up a bit and tweak them.
I'll strip the hard drives down to bare metal and install Linux on
them. I'd prefer to install Xandros, but their Open Circulation Edition
license specifically prohibits any business use, including by
non-profits. So I'll probably install Ubuntu/Kubuntu, SuSE 10.1, or one
of the other free distros.
11:25 - Barbara is due back tonight. Hurray!
Our friends Mary Chervenak and Paul Jones took me out for dinner last
night. It was a nice break from frozen microwave thingees.
I asked them for their take on the avian flu issue. They're both
scientists whose opinions I respect, although avian flu is well outside
their fields of expertise. Still, they're both skilled
at evaluating the reliability of data, so I wanted to hear what
they had to say. Neither of them seems particularly concerned at this
point. They don't doubt that a pandemic will occur, whether next
year, in ten years, or in a hundred, but point out that no one can
predict when it will occur or which virus will be the big one.
All of which confirmed my own opinion, which is that it is always
sensible to be prepared for the worst, even if it seems unlikely to
happen, but at this point extraordinary steps are not necessary. We
routinely stay prepared for short-term emergencies. The incremental
cost of storing food, water, and other supplies is very small. We keep
enough supplies on hand to make us completely self-sufficient for at
least 30 days in every respect--a kiloliter of water stored in old soft
drink bottles and other containers, canned and dry food, five gallons
of bleach and lots of plastic bags for sanitation, basic medical
supplies, enough wood to heat the downstairs guest suite, and so on.
For urban residents like us, there's little point to being prepared for
emergencies that last longer than 30 days, because the cities
themselves would become untenable. Evacuation would be the only
If something bad happens, we'll be better prepared than most people,
but I'm not really expecting anything bad to happen. When people say
I'm alarmist, I simply respond that I also maintain fire insurance on
our house, even though I don't really expect it to burn down.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Robert Bruce