Why Johnny Can’t Code Redux

David Brin  David Brin

A long time ago (BK – Before Kids) I was lucky enough to meet David Brin at Ad Astra, the Toronto Science Fiction convention. It’s easy to meet people who have opinions. It isn’t often that you meet someone smart enough to explain to you exactly why the opinion is right. David Brin is one of the few I’ve met who are that smart.

A long time ago in Internet Time (2006) David wrong an article for Salon called Why Johnny Can’t Code. It’s a great article, and I recommend everyone read it, and share it.

Got reminded about the article when Michael (our oldest – he’s 28 now) and I were out yesterday picking up plumbing parts – the downstairs bath tub faucet was leaking hot water.

While he was driving (I wasn’t in shape to drive yesterday – heck, I barely managed to get into the car) we were talking about games. Michael is good at games. Really good. And he reminded me of one of the reasons why.

Apparently (I’d forgotten) a long time ago I’d taught Michael how to use a hex editor to view (and change) save game files. We’d done a lot of fooling around with the old Gold Box AD&D game Pool of Radiance, making things like a ‘Shield of Fireballs +5’…

Why does this all hang together?

Because it is getting harder for kids to learn how to code as David Brin pointed out, and it is getting harder for kids to learn how to use a hex editor too. I’m serious. The big growth area for games is phones and tablets. Have you ever seen a hex editor for IOS or Android? How about for any of the Playstation or XBox game consoles?

So we are moving further into a culture where people use things that they don’t understand, can’t play with to understand, and where it is often illegal to play with stuff in that matter (read up on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – it makes it illegal to modify ‘copyrighted works’ without the consent of the ‘owner’ and yes, this does include save game files).

Which is sad. Really sad.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Tuesday June 2, 2015

 

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Web Hosting

Me & Kleopatra
Me & Kleopatra

I’ve been talking to a variety of companies about web hosting. My needs are a bit odd, because in effect I want to become my own web hosting company.

Seriously. I’ve got friends who’ve been screwed over by the big boys, who don’t understand the specific needs of writers and musicians. I do. I also will not be hosting in the United States, so I can avoid the joke called the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Instead of Notice and Takedown, Canada operates on a Notice and Notice regime. You think there’s a copyright infringement, you send a notice. I pass it on to the specific account, they check, and if they disagree, they send a notice back to you.

This cuts out such silliness as Microsoft getting a copy of Open Office pulled as Copyright Infringement. Yes, it happened. Microsoft reversed course as soon as they realized a mistake had been made, but it happened. Then there’s the case where a major record label decided that it owned the copyright to bird song…

There are also privacy concerns involved when hosting in the United States. Canadian privacy laws are stronger. So, I’ve pulled the trigger, made the payment, and some sites will be coming online early next week.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Friday May 10, 2013

Copyright Wars Volumes 1 & 2

The Author and his Deceased Editor
The Author and his Deceased Editor

Greetings and salutations! On September 1, 2011 I had the great pleasure of publishing the first two volumes of my Copyright Wars series. They are up on both Amazon and Smashwords, and should be available on the Kobo, IBook, Diesel, and Sony Reader platforms in a few days. I published them under my imprint. Yes, I’m legally a Canadian publisher, you can find me listed on Collections Canada.

Continue reading “Copyright Wars Volumes 1 & 2”

The Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Enemy Or Why VP8 Is Important Even If It Came From Google

Microsoft. Google. Apple. And on and on. Large corporations dedicated to profit.

There’s nothing wrong with making a profit. The issue is how you make it. That’s why Microsoft underwent an anti-trust trial, which cost the company dearly. There are legal requirements that businesses act ethically. These requirements aren’t always enforced evenly by the regulatory agencies, but they do exist. And companies continue to breach the regulations. In some cases it’s more profitable to do so and pay the fines. In some cases they are able to hide the breaches, and no one outside of the company learns about them (which is why some jurisdictions have Whistleblower laws which protect employees who report corporate wrongdoing).

I know a fair bit about how companies can work near the edge of legality, and over it. While I’ve never worked for a company that did this sort of thing, I’ve seen a lot of companies playing games with the law. One thing that I can state categorically, is that any company which does not work ethically  is not acting in the best interests of their customers, or their owners. It is possible to increase short-term profits by unethical actions, but there will always be long-term damage from these actions to the corporation, which will drive down shareholder value, ruin the corporate brand, and kill customer loyalty.

The Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America are a good example of how not to treat your customers. In a recent joint letter addressed to Victoria Espinel, the United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, the MPAA and the RIAA argued that all computers be required to scan themselves for ‘infringing content’ and remove any found. They don’t mention what they would do if something went wrong, and the scanning system deleted all of your pictures and home movies. They don’t care.

They also don’t mention that this would make running any operating system other than those supplied by Microsoft and Apple illegal. They don’t mention that it would need a more powerful processor, or that it would use more electrical power. No. They just want to treat all of their customers as criminals. This is not ethical behavior.

Then we have Google. If you use Google, it tracks you. It is possible to limit Google’s tracking ability by taking certain actions by setting your browser to remove all cookies when it closes, but this has major disadvantages.

Google follows you. Everywhere. It doesn’t matter what you are looking for. Google will find it for you, and keep records. Google claims the records are anonymized, however since we don’t know how Google does this, we don’t know that they are doing it properly. There was a case several years ago where AOL posted some supposedly anonymized information, and it was proven that the information wasn’t anonymized enough, and that it was possible to back track from the information to find the person who made the search. Bing, Microsoft’s ‘Decision Engine’ does the same thing.

And this is why the ‘Enemy Of My Enemy Is My Enemy’.

We, the consumers, are in a war. A war we didn’t want. A war over us. All of the companies named make the proper noises about how the customer comes first. In some cases (Apple for instance) they’ve built a reputation for serving the customer, while at the same time knifing the customer in the back (read your ITunes agreement – carefully – you’ll freak).

There are times though when the war does the consumer some good. Consider Adobe’s Flash – yes it works – kind of. Quite frankly it’s a terrible piece of junk in many ways, but it does allow you to watch video online. And then there’s Microsoft’s Silverlight. It’s worse than Flash. The consumer has the choice between bad and worse. This isn’t what capitalism and competition are about. Which is why HTML5 and the Google VP8 codec are so important, even though the codec comes from Google. Since Google has open sourced the code behind the VP8 codec, this means that anyone can make improvements. While there have been complaints about Google’s code quality, it will improve rapidly, giving the world a vastly improved video experience online.

This does not make Google our friend. Google didn’t do this for the consumer. Google did this for Google. The largest user of Flash video is this small site called YouTube, which Google owns. That Google’s actions will do the consumers good is a byproduct of Google trying to make money. Google doesn’t really care about the consumer, it only cares about Google.

There’s been a lot of articles about VP8, from a variety of publishers. You can find them here, here, here, etc. Some of the most important ones Dr. Roy at Techrights wrote. Dr. Roy has my utmost thanks for all the research time he saved me.

But everyone is missing something. What if VP8 becomes the de facto standard? Remember that VP8 is an open standard. Totally open. This means that adding DRM to it will be difficult, if not impossible. So VP8 kills off Windows Media Video (WMV) and Quicktime as a video standards, just like MP3 killed off Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Quicktime as audio standards. Remember that one of the reasons that Microsoft and Apple fought MP3 was because MP3 weren’t compatible with DRM, and the Frauhoffer Institute controlled the specification. Now we have the same situation with VP8, and we already know that Steve Jobs is panicking. You have to ask yourself why…

Simple – VP8 will destroy the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ACTA, the new Canadian Copyright Act, the WIPO copyright treaties, and every other law which attempts to protect DRM. The ripping noise you hear is Hollywood tearing its hair out in clumps.

And now you know why the patent trolls at MPEG.LA are trying to sidetrack VP8 adoption. Which still doesn’t make Google our friend. Remember that.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Friday May 28, 2010

What Are The Fiduciary Duties Of Heritage Minister James Moore?

I’ve traded comments with Andrei Mincov on one of my earlier posts. Andrei has some definite views, which I partially agree with, and partially disagree with. Like Andrei, I’m for freedom. Unlike Andrei, I recognize that freedom stems from regulation. Without regulations criminals would rule the streets. Without regulations, we would all be serfs.

Consider the Magna Carta Libertatum. Originally it was an agreement (enforced at sword point) between King John of England and his vassals, the Barons. To quote from Wikipedia:

Magna Carta required King John of England to proclaim certain rights (pertaining to freemen), respect certain legal procedures, and accept that his will could be bound by the law. It explicitly protected certain rights of the King’s subjects, whether free or fettered — and implicitly supported what became the writ of habeas corpus, allowing appeal against unlawful imprisonment.

Technically this abridgment of King John’s freedom, secured the freedom of his subjects. It limited the actions that the King could take, by binding him to the law (previously the law did not apply to the King).

It is recognized in human society that various sorts of limitations are necessary for human civilization to function. When those limits do not exist (for example in Josef Stalin‘s Soviet Union) society breaks down. In places where those limits are shaky, like in the United States, society suffers.

Andrei commented:

Government has no right to deprive someone of the right to fail at someone else’s expense.

My response was

So I should be able to sell you a car that is improperly designed, and make a profit, even if it kills you. That’s an interesting concept.

There is a fine line between over regulation and the public good. Too much regulation, and you have a situation where nothing can happen (I’ll refer to the later Soviet Union, where bureaucracy paralyzed the state, except for the armed forces, which the bureaucracy was designed to support). Too little regulation and you have a situation where criminals control society – the Barons that King John faced were some of the worst sociopaths in the country. They had to be to retain their baronial seats against the king, and against their peers.

At this point I’d like to segue to the Gulf of Mexico – should BP be allowed to cause damage to it’s neighbors? Think about it. The fisherman in Louisiana may loose their livelihoods because of the oil spill. Does BP have a responsibility to repair the damage caused by the oil spill? Because it is the same issue. Andrei also made a claim that

That’s what the monstrosity about social justice is all about. It requires that in order to give the unearned to the undeserving, the government use force to extort value from people of achievement.

You could read Andrei’s statement as saying that the money that the people of Louisiana could earn from having a sound ecosystem is unearned, and that they are undeserving of government protection. Or legal protection if you wish. Executive. Legislature. Judiciary. These are the three legs of government. The courts, or judiciary, are the third leg of the government stool. All three parts of the government have a fiduciary duty to the citizenry. When part of the government fails to act on a situation for which it is responsible, the damage can be profound.

While any government has a fiduciary duty to its citizens it is most notable in a democracy. Admittedly Canadian Democracy was originally designed to allow a small group of cognoscenti to maintain control of the country, much like the system in our mother country, England. Again much like England, there has been many shifts in power since Wolfe‘s soldiers beat Montcalm‘s soldiers on the Plains of Abraham in September of 1759 AD. The Canadian and English systems are flexible enough to allow for these transferals of power, unlike the American system, which appears to have been based on one of the wonderfully crazy cartoon machines drawn by legendary cartoonist Rube Goldberg.

Regardless which government has been in power in Canada, that fiduciary duty exists. In some cases it may force the government to act against the wishes of the citizenry, a good example being the Canadian declaration of war against Germany in 1939, which was very unpopular in Quebec, or the legalization of same sex marriage, which is still a contentious issue in many circles. In both of these cases, it could be argued that the best interests of the people, did not coincide with public opinion.

Social Justice often involves the government taking action that the citizenry may not appreciate. Consider seat belt laws. By enacting seat belt laws the government is saying that it knows what is better for you than you do. I can remember my father’s fury about the seat belt law when it came into effect in Ontario. He swore that there was no damned way he was ever going to wear a seat belt. Ever. No matter how may lives seat belt laws have saved, Andrei and those like him (and my father) would argue that these laws are an infringement on our freedoms. It doesn’t matter that there are thousands of children who have parents who are still alive to love them because they were wearing seat belts, the government made a law which infringes on the freedom of adults to make their own choices.

Social Justice is aimed at those in society who are unable to protect themselves, children, adults with disabilities, people who work in fields where there is an imbalance of power, that would not allow the average person to negotiate from a position of equality. Take the CRIA and the RIAA. Both are suffering at present due to the internet, which has given their customers and their suppliers (the artists) a position of equality for the first time in years. This horrifies the CRIA/RIAA. This is why the rumor on the street is that Canada will shortly have a new copyright law, based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the United States. The recording industry organizations have been begging for a piece of legislation that would give them back the control they used to have, when music was delivered on phonograph records, cassette tapes, and compact discs. That this would hurt the artists, who the industry claims to serve, is not their concern. They believe that the recording industry is more important than the artists. If the artists get hurt, that’s just too bad. What matters is that the recording industry maintain control, so that they can continue to profit, even if it is at the expense of the artists.

Which brings us to Heritage Minister James Moore. Rumor is that there was a political battle between James Moore, the Canadian Heritage Minister, and Tony Clement, the Canadian Industry Minister, about the direction of copyright reform in Canada, which James Moore won, and the result will be ‘DMCA Canada‘. But James Moore is not responsible to the CRIA or the RIAA. He’s responsible to the Canadian public. He has a fiduciary duty to the citizens of Canada, which is represented by the oath of office that he swore. And as Heritage Minister, he is also responsible to Canadian artists and other creators of Canadian culture. To quote from Wikipedia:

In a fiduciary relation one person, in a position of vulnerability, justifiably reposes confidence, good faith, reliance and trust in another whose aid, advice or protection is sought in some matter. In such a relation good conscience requires one to act at all times for the sole benefit and interests of another, with loyalty to those interests.

Will Heritage Minister Moore act for the sole benefit of the Canadian public, or will he act for the benefit of foreign corporations?

We should know this week.

Regards

Wayne Borean

Sunday May 23, 2010

rtmpdump

I’ve just nominated rtmpdump for a community choice award on Source Forge. The reason I’ve done this, is Adobe Systems got Source Forge to remove the project by using a DMCA notice. I don’t agree with the DMCA, and when it was suggested that we all do this, well, I couldn’t resist. I recommend that everyone do this – maybe the message will get through.

Let’s see if we can get rtmpdump reinstated.