Open letter to US Representative Timothy Johnson on the eve of the Pro-IP bill’s expected passage by the House.

I fired off the below after reading Corey Doctorow’s recent news post about Wal-Mart’s about face on DRM. It occurred to me shortly afterwards that there may be enough consumers affected by the Yahoo, MSN, and Wal-Mart server shut-downs that we might be able to make noise enough to get a new DMCA exemption for those law-abiding music purchasers. Here’s the text of my letter. Kindly write your own Representative and push for the same sort of change. The bill has already been passed by the Senate, but there’s still a window for opportunity to enact reform that benefits the consumer along with its massive gifts to industry.

———————————————————————–

The 1996 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed a few years before you came into office, did a great deal of damage to the Fair Use rights of consumers in your district. I firmly believe that, as we play host to neither Nashville nor New York City nor Los Angeles, that it did far more harm to your constituents than good. It rendered it a criminal act to bypass the easily-bypassed encryption used in intellectual property management schemes known as “Digital Rights Management” or DRM. This is something that has caused me considerable trouble, given my interest in academic pursuits based around open source development.

More recently, though, the problems that the technical community predicted at the bills passage have come to fruition and begun to affect many voters in your district, including many people without a strong technical background. Yahoo, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart previously “sold” DRM-protected music through their online stores for several years prior to 2008. In 2008, however, they and stores like Amie Street and Amazon.com have led the way in hammering out licensing deals to allow the sale of DRM-free MP3 files with the music of major labels. Competing against the unrestrictive competition from the above, Yahoo and Wal-Mart have switched to selling DRM-free media as well. Microsoft has taken a different tact, ending sales of its older standard, PlaysForSure, through MSN.com in favor of selling a new format to owners of Microsoft-licensed Zune media players.

Unfortunately, but predictably, all three of the vendors listed above have either shut down or announced plans to shut down the servers that end user computers use to authenticate the media purchased from them. This ultimately strips the user of the ability to transfer the media to a new computer, new media player, etc, and leaves the consumer without any meaningful recourse, due largely to the aforementioned 1996 Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Very, very soon the bipartisan Pro-IP bill will come up for a vote in the House. I would like to ask you to add a simple amendment granting an exemption to the DMCA to consumers affected by these issues, allowing them the legal right to remove the DRM protections from their legally purchased media files. This has happened before, with CircuitCity’s DivX program, and it could very well happen again (should Blu-Ray be superseded or otherwise begin to collapse). A broad exemption allowing those who legally purchase this media to legally unlock it would be greatly welcome. The precedent created would not only help consumers: Media producers would also benefit, insofar as this exemption would add another level of disincentive to piracy, eliminating one (of many) common complaints about DRM.

<s>Personal contact information that doesn’t need to be as open as the letter proper</s> The morning business hours in DC and our mutual home coincide with my evening, when I would be happy to speak with you or your staff. Please call me with any questions you may have about the common-sense proposal above.

Thank you for your time,
Sean Crago
Kathmandu, Nepal

———————————————————————–

Update: Went ahead and sent the below off to Rick Boucher of Virginia, too, as a result of this old Ars Technica article. Anyone else want to help?

———————————————————————–

My name is Sean Crago. I’m a member of the EFF and a longtime admirer of your work. <s>Personal job and contact information not intended for the blog</s>, and am unable to fight as strongly as I should to support you as a result. Please accept my apologies.

I’m writing to urge you to step up pressure to append some positive changes to the PRO-IP Act prior to its passage. If you can’t get the entire FAIR USE Act tacked on, would you please try to use the recent outrage over Wal-Mart’s plans to shut down their DRM authentication servers? This will prevent many legal purchases from being retained by their owners, encouraging piracy over DRM when those are the only available options. It would be very much in the best interests of consumers and media producers alike to have a DMCA exemption that allows for users to bypass DRM on files purchased from the now defunct DRM music services at Yahoo, Wal-Mart, and MSN Music rather than lose their purchases when they buy their next computer.

This low-lying fruit should, I hope, provide an easier target for you to hit.

I’ve written to my parents’ Congressman as well on this same subject, for lack of one I can truly call my own:
http://mrzaius.com/blog/?p=108

Thank you for your time,
Sean Crago
Kathmandu

PS: I’d love to answer any questions you may have, but please do not call after 1PM Washington DC time, due to the time difference between there and Nepal.

Gigabyte M912 – To SDHC or not to SDHC?

Click for the wiki article
Click for the wiki article

It’s always (ie for the last 18 months [when I discovered these]) bugged the living hell out of me that there were no tablet netbooks on the market, though it could plainly be done. End user accessible kits even exist for the purpose. ASUS et al hadn’t announced a tablet and noone had shipped one, or an Atom-based machine, before I left the United States for Nepal. As such, I went ahead and bought the ASUS Eee PC900 with Xandros Linux. I’ve got a couple of gripes about the Linux setup, including the lack of adequate and properly protected security updates and a clunky wifi manager, but all in all it works quite well. Amazingly light and easy to use (for my wife as well) and with absolutely incredible boot times, it is hands down the coolest laptop I’ve ever owned. That said, though, the simple addition of a rotating tablet screen or even the OLPC’s cheap but marvelous display would make it far more useful, allowing it to replace my PDA as an ebook reader and do a number of other handy things.

Now, however, it seems to be possible to get a tablet for a netbook’s price through Gigabyte. It seems to lack the software that drives most tablets when you buy it with Windows, but there are promises of a Linux version which, though it would probably be far less useful, would scratch a certain itch of mine – I’ve always been utterly fascinated by projects like Dasher. (Check out their web-based implementation for a demo.) The biggest thing holding me back, of course, is the fact that the Linux build hasn’t shipped and the American retailer Dynamism wants damned near $800 for the Windows version.

The second biggest concern, though, is the incredibly murky picture surrounding its SDHC support, or lack thereof. Its official spec sheet only claims MMC and SD support and, when queried on the subject, their technical support responded that “it does not support SDHC.” Dynamism, however, ran a test for me with some random 16GB card, and it seemed to work just fine:

“I just tried the M912 we have in the office with a Patriot 16GB SDHC card we have (the same ones we offer for the Eee PC’s), and the system did recognize the card and was able to read the full formatted capacity. It very may well be able to read SDHC, but not support some of the faster transfer speeds that the format affords, and it could also depend on the brand as well. With the large number SD/SDHC cards out there it would be difficult to test each and every one available, but it could be possible that the system reads most available ones on the market.”   Dynamism sales support

This seems to be reflected in the drivers offered for the device as well – It ships with drivers for precisely the same series of SD controller that the MSI Wind (which does claim SDHC compatibility) ships with. Weird situation – Can any owners give a little more information on this subject, like an lsusb and lspci output and the boot log in Linux?

*Update http://www.dynamism.com/#Product=gigabyte_m912 – Dynamism’s knocked the price down to $700 for the HDD-laden Windows version, if pre-ordered prior to Oct 1. Still, though, there are some other tradeoffs for not waiting for the Linux build. See the Wikipedia link above.

Shoot…

http://badbarr2008.com/

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080606/0136491330.shtml

The libs aren’t even running a libertarian (small L) this year? So which of these three folk who want to strip away my fair use rights am I supposed to vote for again? Bad year for IP counter-reform. Bad year for privacy rights. Bad year for consumer rights. Bad year for folk who’d like to survive doing business with the police. (By the way, here’s a good free read.)

Now both mainstream candidates want to break out everyone’s favorite dead horse, instead of dealing with timely national issues in which it’s possible to enact real, meaningful change? This when American workers and employers are already struggling to meet increasing demands for stringent privacy policies in the global marketplace?

Bad campaign year all around.

OpenDNS no panacea

The entire technical community needs to be a great deal more careful and cautious about promoting OpenDNS as a cure-all for security concerns in DNS. I used their service in the States for quite some time, and, while there were several major problems, it actually would have been an adequate solution for the security concerns we face today.

Not here, though: I, and probably most people in the third world, now have no choice but to use my ISP’s DNS servers for the bulk of my DNS requests, due to NATing and, more importantly, transparent proxies hardwired to keep DNS requests local. Even if I were able to use it, though, I’d be caught by parental filters that have configured so aggressively by other customers that it would prevent me from hitting many legitimate sites (this includes multiple news sites). OpenDNS authenticates users and saves preferences by IP address (often dynamically updated via ddclient or something of the sort), making it very, very easy for one ignorant sumbitch on a network like this to greatly limit the network’s utility to all users.

In other words, even without the proxy/even if we could reliably use 3rd party DNS servers for the bulk of our DNS requests, it still wouldn’t do the user much good on a small NAT’d ISP like this one.

As long as they’re secure, we’re probably much better off supporting the use of publicly accessible DNS servers like 4.2.2.2 and 4.2.2.3, as long as they remain as such and reasonably secure, or going straight to the root with secure, locally hosted DNS. That said, this is still only an option for users that aren’t trapped in this very, very common predicament. This hits numerous coffee shops, universities, 3rd world ISPs, 1st world free ISPs, anyone using ISP-side “accelerators” (ie caching proxies – can’t believe some ISPs have the gaul to make you pay for this), etc.

Death to the transparent proxy!

Running with the first draft, eh?

Just a quick note – I just saw the much anticipated Hillary Clinton speech, and I must say, that was the most unprofessional, poorly written mess of a speech I’ve seen in a long time. Everyone’s hero Mike Gravel could have done better.

Did anyone else notice how it turned from a concession speech to a self-serving 2012 campaign rally after the first 5 minutes? Did anyone else notice the frequency with which she strayed off topic? Did anyone else notice how she was bringing up tiny little tidbits about a fellow who died in Alabama without any real context, expecting everyone to be fully versed in Alabamian party maneuvering?

With the frequent topic changes and the incoherent language (how did the incoherent “No way, no how, No McCain” get a standing ovation?), this speech was structured in a way that one must imagine only an intern’s first draft of a State of the Union can best.

Transcript: NYTimes

Update: Saw the second half of the speech again, and, though the language was still rather jilted and infantile, it was a great deal more focused than the introduction. Guess I oughta make a partial redaction.

Biden’s anti-privacy, anti-personal rights stance on technology getting some press

Joe Biden’s pro-RIAA, pro-FBI tech voting record

I’ll be shocked if this news breaks outside of technical circles, but at least there’s some vibrant discussion on CNet, /., et al about this man’s frequent attempts to do substantial damage to our basic fundamental human right to privacy. Any chance at all that the Republicans might do less damage?

Speaking of Seattle’s hip hop scene

http://lightintheattic.net/mingleforfree/

I’m not normally a huge hip-hop person, but I was introduced to a new scene with several creative, original lyricists that are well worth your attention. What did the trick was having the track “45” by The Saturday Knights, bundled on an old 512MB RCA MP3 player w/free eMusic subscription. That track and several others are free on this release of their new full-length album Mingle. Considering the price, this is well, well worth a quick download. Every track on their self-titled EP appears to be present here as well.

Related link:
Indie Study: The Saturday Knights’ hip-hop – MSNBC

Big, big problems a-comin’ (Aka Rick Boucher for President)

Obama’s choice of veep is far from comforting. An active opponent of our basic fair use priveleges, Senator Joe Biden introduced and actively promoted legislation that would have criminalized far more than the already-rather-wretched Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1996. The “bill would [have? – is it dead?] make it a federal felony to try and trick certain types of devices into playing your music or running your computer program. Breaking this law–even if it’s to share music by your own garage band–could land you in prison for up to five years. And that’s not counting the civil penalties of up to $25,000 per offense.” Aren’t Democrats supposed to be gung-ho for consumer rights? May this man’s vision never be implemented – The last thing any knowledgeable consumer wants is crippled hardware that, to hack/fix would be a criminal act.

The law could have conceivably outlawed or prevented development of any number of unendorsed/unsigned applications for a number of different devices:

  • Rockbox – Open Source Jukebox – Firmware replacement for iPods et al
  • All the iPhone/iPod Touch jailbreaks
  • Ports of Linux to myriad architectures – Xboxes, Dreamcasts, Gamecubes, Wiis, etc, etc (to say nothing of XBMC)

Actively undermining consumer rights, creative fair use, and open source development sure as hell ain’t change I can believe in.

Now if only the Republicans were any better. *le sigh* – I guess I might just end up throwing my vote away on a third party candidate again – Biden’s worse than Bush, Kerry, and Gore combined in this respect. (Update: Lawrence Lessig might not write off McCain too quickly.)

Related articles:

Donating to the Republicans or Democrats? Offset the damage done by donating an equal amount to the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Driving in Nepal


Retailers have apparently been rationing gas for a year or two, as a result of the Nepalese supplier’s inability to break free of government regulation & fear of civil unrest to price their product properly, enabling them to pay their own bills.  It’s a bit of a mess – What little they do get is delivered into 4,000 litre tankers (compared to 7,000 gallon trailers used in the states) and then split up between at least two gas stations. Fuel lines then form more or less spontaneously, and two-three cars deep (or 5-6 motorcycles deep), generally completely blocking the roads. Unfortunately we live north of one of the busier ones, and one of the worst-located, given the current environment. Located at a turn in the road that is more than roomy enough for two cars and a couple of pedestrians, it is often completely stopped when the gas lines appear.

At lunch today it reached its worst point yet in my two months here and week of driving. Traffic was completely stopped on both ends by the fuel line and the inability of the one policeman on scene to properly flag traffic through in the single “open” lane, where both north and south-bound traffic met. Poor fellow was doing his best, but to move the equivalent of two small city blocks in the west/to move 10-20 car lengths took a good 20 minutes. One small benefit, though – After breaking through the lines I managed to break my daytime speed record, hitting a whopping 37 miles an hour.Going back from lunch, the cops had done something pretty nice – They’d roped off the existing fuel line to prevent its expansion and had reserved the one open lane for northbound traffic. Unfortunately for me, work is south of home. They directed traffic off onto a hither-too-unexplored road that leads to the ring-road around the city (an unpainted four car, two-cow wide road that has only one or two traffic lights but no less than 10 major intersections – the highway goes almost as slow as the rest of the city, as a result). In this lucky instance following the advice of Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently (follow someone who looks like they know where they’re going) worked just fine – Survived the unmarked detour 3-4 km west of where I wanted to be, and arrived back at work just 10-20 minutes late.

We read numerous reports about the cows, cyclists, myriad pedestrians, and bicycle rickshaws (most of which are actually cargo-carrying, outside of the most touristy region in the city), and we were a fair bit freaked out about it ourselves, when we first arrived. After having gotten behind the wheel, though, and dodged cows and bikers on my own, I can attest that it really isn’t that bad here. After riding around and developing some familiarity with the roads, naval-style right of way, and traffic flow, and getting some pointers on how the Nepalese use their turn signals (Hint: Parked cars on the left with their right turn signals are trying to say “go around me”), it’s really been quite easy. There are many, many more distractions and potential problems on the road here than in the west, but considering that I moved here from Seven Corners, VA, I’d say this really isn’t that bad. I feel safer here than I did there, although the grossly inadequate insurance and the apparent lack of any western supplemental policies do have me concerned about potential legal liabilities, should, say, two oblivious pedestrians weave around traffic in front of me in both directions, leaving me with no way to dodge them both.

PS: I haven’t been able to take any time off to really do anything with it, but I received my first big sea-carried shipment from the states yesterday. Got the TV hooked up, but haven’t had time (or money – paid cash for the car, which felt nice but still hurt) to pick up functional UPSes to hook my computer up to, yet.

First post!

I’m here in Nepal. A month after arrival I’m still living off of the loaner stuff that was in the house before I moved in and the ~500 pounds of stuff we shipped in via air freight and carried on our backs, and bought here. That said, though, it’s turning out pretty nicely. All the shops in Kathmandu outside of the most touristy area (Thamel) are pretty straight-forward and inexpensive. Picked up a newish car here, too – More to follow.