moving time!

I’ve recently invested in a new domain, and also benefited from the awesome sale that dreamhost had on the 5th of May. It makes sense, therefore, for me to move this blog over there. This will give me more control over it, and allow me to do more.

The new address for this blog is http://gerard.ryan.lt/blog. See you there!

Say No to DRM.

DBD_Eliminate_DRMToday, being Day Against DRM, I thought I would write a little bit about it, and the reasons why I think it is severely flawed, both in reasoning and implementation. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, but as the campaign at DefectiveByDesign.org points out, a more apt description would be ‘Digital Restrictions Management.’ Digital content providers (e.g. Amazon, Sony, Apple)  use DRM to limit the ways you can use the stuff you buy from them (e.g. Music, eBooks, DVD/BluRay). This is why we say that it is defective by design. A decision is made to encumber the content or device with restrictions.

The first thing to note about DRM, is that DRM is not the same as copyright law. Granted, it is often used to ‘protect’ copyrighted works, but it does not respect the rights of you, the person purchasing the works. I believe Karen Coyle puts it best: Where copyright law is an expression of “everything that is not forbidden is permitted,” DRM takes the approach of “everything that is not permitted is forbidden.” This means that you have very little control over how you use what you are spending your money on. Imagine if you went to a pet shop and bought a goldfish, and the seller tells you that you can’t put the goldfish in any other bowl than this bowl, and you can’t give it away when you are bored of it (not that you could possibly get bored of a goldfish!). Now I’m not saying that the bowl the petshop owner provided you with isn’t suitable for the goldfish, but maybe it doesn’t look nice in your living room. Or maybe you move house, and your new abode is furnished with one of those huge tanks built into the wall! DRM doesn’t take into account what may happen in the future, it locks you into specific devices: who says you won’t want to move on from your current Amazon Kindle ebook reader, when a fancier equivalent comes along in the future? DRM will prevent you from transferring the goldfish ebooks you already own on to it.

This is an unacceptable restriction. Digital technology has opened so many new possibilities that are obvious for all to see, but media providers want to restrict it as much as possible, so that they are in control and can take as much of your money as possible. You buy a physical book, you read it, you enjoy it, you add it to your bookshelf. At any point in the future, you can come back and indulge yourself in the wonder that it brought you when you first read it. You own and are in control of this book. You can donate the book to a library, share it with your friends, give it away, even resell it! The information will never die, the knowledge will be passed on for future generations to enjoy. We are still marvelling at books written thousands of years ago! Now, look at your huge archive of DVDs or BluRay discs, or all of your ebooks that you have purchased from Amazon.com. What will happen in 10 years when optical media devices are unheard of, or your Amazon Kindle dies? What will happen to your digital media? If it is restricted with DRM, it will be unusable. This is detrimental to a free society and free culture! Such a situation could be compared with the burning of the Ancient Library of Alexandria!

Speaking of society and culture, aren’t we all taught at a very young age to share with our friends and neighbours? Sharing is one of the fundamental aspects of community! DRM forbids us from sharing our stuff with the people around us. Content providers (who generally have lots and lots of money), are afraid that people will mass distribute their content to lots of people, and they won’t get any of the money. This is an obvious case of you’re doing it wrong. First of all,I think that’s what copyright law is there for. Secondly, by putting DRM on content, it makes it less appealing to potential buyers; who will try to find an alternative, either in the form of a competitor or even piracy. Yes, I believe DRM promotes piracy. If I can buy from you, and get bundled with DRM-ridden stuff, that I can only play on a certain device; or download illegaly the same album or movie or whatever, without DRM, that I can convert into any other format and play on any given computer; only one of these is appealing. Not only does this inconvenience me, and tempt me to break the law, but you don’t benefit at all. At least if people share files illegally, I suppose DRM indirectly (and unintentionally) promotes sharing!

How can we stop DRM? It’s not going to be easy. I think the main way to stop it, is to make a decision not to use it, not to use any content or device which is bundled with DRM. I realise in some rare situations, it might be necessary to buy something with DRM; but just remember that every time you use it, you are promoting it. When we stop using it, and buy from competitors, then eventually the major players will realise that it’s not such a good idea after all. Another way to aid in its decline is to spread awareness, and that is what I’m attempting to do here. Of course, all of the views expressed here are my own opinions. If you want to find out more about DRM, and find alternative content providers that have more respect for users, check out http://www.defectivebydesign.org/

Please comment!

frustrations with netflix and DRM

Today I signed up for that 30 day free trial period that netflix have going on. I was quite excited about it, and it was really one of those moments where I thought ‘I hope this works well, if so, then I’d be happy to pay after the free trial!’ – this isn’t a mindset I’m often in, admittedly.

The signup process was going swimmingly, until it asked for the payment details. I was presented with 2 choices: Credit card or paypal. I chose paypal, since I my credit card will expire soon, and I won’t be renewing it, since the account is in Ireland, and I currently live in Canada. Unfortunately, clicking on the paypal option wasn’t very helpful, since netflix turns out to be one of those silly companies that requires all paypal accounts to be set up with credit cards. This is something that really annoys me, let’s rewind a little to see why more clearly. So, remember I was provided with 2 payment options, credit card or paypal? That seemed reasonable at first glance: not everyone is eligible for a credit card, but you can have a paypal account with just a bank account, eliminating the need for a credit card for online payments (this is the most advantageous reason for providing paypal as a payment option, in my opinion). Requiring paypal accounts to be linked to a credit card, isn’t providing any option at all really, since now you must have a credit card to use netflix.

After a slight hesitation, I caved. I entered the details for the paypal account which is linked to my irish credit card (as opposed to the other one which is linked to my canadian bank account). I figured that even though my canadian bank won’t issue me a credit card, I might be able to find something that will work, if I end up liking the service provided by netflix.

After signing up, I was asked some questions and I ticked some boxes. I assume this was to provide me with more personalised recommendations. After that, I was brought to (what I assume was) the main netflix interface. I spent about a minute or two rating stuff I had already seen, and clicking ‘not interested’ in other stuff that I hope never to subject my senses to.
Eventually I saw something that I wanted to watch, a movie that I hadn’t seen in years, but which recently came up in conversation, and I had planned on watching in the near future. Clicking ‘play’ brought me to a nightmarish screen, one that I had hoped I wouldn’t be seeing. It was a message informing me that netflix requires either Microsoft Windows or Mac OS to play. This was the end of the road for me, so I quickly cancelled my account and moved on in frustration.

A little digging afterwards, told me that the reason netflix doesn’t have a GNU/Linux compatible client, is because of DRM. Of course, if I had known this in advance, I would have steered well clear. Most importantly because I think DRM is just wrong and unnecessary, but also because, as everyone knows, DRM doesn’t work.

happy earth day! (and why distributed computing is awesome).

When I think of the Earth as a whole, my first thoughts are usually just of a pretty blue and green beachball spinning around up there in space; but for a more comprehensive picture of it, I believe a breakdown of what’s inside is necessary. It’s a one of a kind beachball planet, and it’s the only one we know of that we can live on. The earth is all of the land, all of the water, all of the air, and (most importantly) all of the life inside the spinning sphere. We, as the the most intelligent species living here, have a huge effect on the planet. Of course, the effect we have could be a lot worse, but there is a lot we could do to make our effect severe.

So, on a day where we celebrate our home world, I would like to talk a little about how we can help make it better, with very little effort, by participating in what are known as distributed computing projects. Oh boy, doesn’t that sound scary and difficult! A distributed computing project gives you a piece of software to install on your computer one time, and then tells that to use your computer to help scientists to do their work faster. Once you have the software running on your computer, your job is done, your computers processor does the rest! It will be sent calculations that it will do, and it will return the results to the people who need them (usually scientists/researchers). ‘But don’t those scientists/researchers have access to far better computers than mine?’ I hear you ask (or imagine you ask, at least…). Well, yes; but the whole point of this distributed computing thing, is that dividing the work into smaller parts for less powerful computers to do, is more efficient and faster than leaving it to a handful of ‘supercomputers.’

If you do run a distributed computing project, you will probably notice that your computer might be a little hotter than normal, and your fan is running a lot more frequently, or even constantly. This may worry you at first, as you think your computer is too slow, or that by using the software, you think your computer will become less responsive for your own personal work. This should not pose a problem, as most projects will just use the processor power that is idle, i.e. what you don’t need. If you suddenly need your processor for something, the software will notice this fact instantly, and back off. Usually,  most people use only a small amount of their processing power, unless they are playing some high-intensity games or watching HD video or something like that. This is a way to make use of all of the rest of that power while you are getting on with your work.

Choosing a project to participate in

For someone who is new to distributed computing, the first thing you need to know is that there are many different projects to choose from, depending on your own interests. A lot of these projects use the same software on your computer to delegate the work, which can be found here: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/. Once you have downloaded and installed the software on your computer, you need to choose a project (or a few projects), from this list: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/projects.php. Personally, I’m participating in World Community Grid and SETI@home. The former is really a collection of several sub-projects, which you can choose from in their preferences (I choose all), and the latter is a more specific project.

In conclusion, I pose to you this question: can you think of any good reasons not to participate in such efforts? Happy Earth Day, Earthlings!

life in korea

My brother from a different mother, Kieran Gardiner (you can call him Professor Awesome, now that he’s a teacher!), has gone to South Korea to teach English in an elementary school. He’s blogging about his experiences here. Go check it out. Let’s hope it gets updated more than this blog!

how to make twitter lists useful (and keep your timeline clean)

For those of you who don’t know, twitter lists are like custom timelines away from your main timeline. Lists contain a selection of twitter users that (usually) have something in common. For example, I have a list called ‘Musics’ which contains artists and bands I’m interested in. Grouping these twitter users in a list, rather than following them in the traditional sense, means that I can still keep tabs on them, without having my main timeline spammed with stuff that I’m not bothered about 100% of the time. The problem I have, is that I rarely think to check my lists for any updates that do pertain to me. For quite a while I wondered if it was possible to export lists to read in my feed reader (RSS/atom). I figured it wasn’t possible, or wasn’t easy at least, since clicking on the feeds button in firefox gives 3 options to subscribe to: my main timeline, my mentions, and my favourites. Also, none of the microblogging clients that I have used (most recently: pino, gwibber, choqok) have a lists feature. I’m unsure if applications on other platforms support lists, let me know if they do!

Anyway, while poking around with the twitter API for a while today, I just noticed that ‘lists’ can be called externally as an atom feed. <- Click on that linked text for all available parameters, etc. Basically, as long as a list is public, it can be seen by anyone. Feed URLs are in the following format for atom feed readers:

https://api.twitter.com/1/:user/lists/:id/statuses.atom

where :user is replaced with the ‘curator’ of the list, and :id with the list name. For example, the list I mentioned earlier called ‘Musics’ which was created by me, has the following feed URL: https://api.twitter.com/1/twitz0r/lists/musics/statuses.atom.

If a list is private, it can’t be viewed by anyone except the twitter user who created it, and so can’t be viewed by any regular feed readers. I’m sure that if you have some super cool feed reader that authenticates you with twitter then that’s not a problem. It isn’t a problem for me, since private lists are boring anyway. I hope this post will be useful to anyone who has the same pining to use lists as they should be used! Good day.

homelessness and things and stuff

Could you survive without a home? Without a place to go to recharge your biological batteries after a tough day? These are questions I have never really thought of asking, but after reading an account of a man who chose to be homeless, I wonder if there are many people who could live in a situation similar to this. I realise that a lot of people who are homeless, did not have much of a choice in the matter: there are obviously certain circumstances that force homelessness on people. On the other hand, if homelessness is a life choice, does that make it easier? Does it make sense in some situations to become homeless, even if you can afford to live in a decent house?

I don’t know if I could do it, I certainly have no desire to do it any time soon at any rate. To try to figure out why people would make such a decision, I asked myself: why do the majority of us live in houses anyway? The answer to this seems pretty straightforward: security, privacy, peace of mind, hygiene, status in society, a place to keep our stuff, a place to take care of our children; are all valid reasons. If a person doesn’t have children, then the other main reason for living in a house is ‘things and stuff,’ and isn’t as big a deal to some as it might be to others. Security: my things and stuff are all safe. Privacy: My things and stuff are away from prying eyes. Peace of mind: Wow, I don’t know what I would do without all my things and stuff. Status in society: Hey, look everyone, look at all the things and stuff I have!

Don’t get me wrong, I think things and stuff are great. I love all my things and all my stuff, but maybe living in fixed abodes all the time makes us addicted to all of these things and stuff. I think a slight shift in the way we think and the way we live, could lead to more people deciding to make themselves homeless for periods of time. Certain people of course, need homes more than others, such as couples with children, or people who live in regions where there is harsh weather, or older people. For the people who it suits better, I think it wouldn’t do us any harm at all to become homeless for a while every now and then. We would probably learn a lot from such an experience. In some cases it could have advantages; for example, the man in the gizmodo article I mentioned earlier (here), is a writer, I’m sure this different living environment must have an effect on his creativity/imagination. He is seeing the world from a different point of view. Another article from time.com this week (here), questions the reasoning behind paying a mortgage for a house that is worth less than what is owed on the mortgage. If one lives in such a house, the sanest business move could often be to hit the road, Jack, and don’t come back. If public washing facilities and safe storage/locker centres were more commonplace, then it might not be so bad!

 

Anyway, enough with this ramble, I have things and stuff to attend to.

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