Steven Shankland from CNET sent OSI some questions yesterday about the Microsoft patent lawsuit against TomTom involving the use of Linux in their GPS devices. Here’s what I told him by email:
I’m the lead of the GPSD project, a service daemon that monitors GPS receivers on serial or USB ports and provides TPV (time-position-velocity) reports in a simple format on on a well-known Internet port. GPSD makes this job looks easy. But it’s not — oh, it’s decidedly not — and thereby hangs an entertaining tale of hacker ingenuity versus multiple layers of suck.
God Wants You Dead is an entertaining and subversive little book that reminded me of a well-known controversy in the translation of the Judeo-Christian Bible. Most educated people probably know that in Isaiah 7:14 it is prophesied that the Messiah will be born of an ‘almah’ of the House of David — and thereby hangs an ambiguity over which much ink and blood have been spilled.
Reading this, I was reminded of something most people don’t know — that a similar translation problem lurks even nearer the root of Christian theology…
From “200 Laptops Break a Business Model” in the pages of the New York Times:
So whoâ€™s up, whoâ€™s down and whoâ€™s out this time around? Microsoftâ€™s valuable Windows franchise appears vulnerable after two decades of dominance. Revenue for the companyâ€™s Windows operating system fell for the first time in history in the last quarter of 2008. The popularity of Linux, a free operating system installed on many netbooks instead of Windows, forced Microsoft to lower the prices on its operating system to compete.
Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin!
Some commenters have asked me to express a position on the war in Gaza.
There’s a classic Warner Brothers cartoon from
1951 1948 in which Bugs Bunny takes on a huge, evil bruiser of a fighter called the Crusher. One of the funniest bits is a scene where Bugs is grunting and straining in an attempt to shift one of the Crusher’s legs. The viewpoint pans back and we se the Crusher completely ignoring this feeble effort, playing solitaire on the wrestling mat.
There was a novice who learned much at the Master’s feet, but felt something to be missing. After meditating on his doubts for some time, he found the courage to approach Master Foo about his problem.
â€œMaster Foo,â€ he asked â€œwhy do Unix users not employ antivirus programs? And defragmentors? And malware cleaners?â€
Master Foo smiled, and said â€œWhen your house is well constructed, there is no need to add pillars to keep the roof in place.â€
The novice replied â€œWould it not be better to use these things anyway, just to be certain?â€
Master Foo reached for a nearby ball of string, and began wrapping it around the novice’s feet.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ the novice asked in surprise.
Master Foo replied simply: â€œTying your shoes.â€
Upon hearing this, the novice was enlightened.
(Other koans here.)
One of many hats I wear is that of a lexicographer. In 1990 I began maintaining the Jargon File, still available on my website and released as three paper editions in 1991, 1993, and 1996. At the time, I was a bit nervous about what I might learn if a “real” lexicographer ever showed up to critique the work. Would I be told that my efforts were amateurish, shoddy, and marred by methodological error?
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DRM is a disaster for everyone involved with it, because it cannot do what it claims but imposes large costs in the process of failing. The people who have sold DRM technologies to Big Media are frauds playing on the ignorance of media executives, and both the media companies and the consumer have suffered greatly and unnecessarily as a result.
DRM cannot do what it claims for at least three reasons. First, pirates readily bypass it by duplicating physical media. Second, DRM algorithms cannot “see” any data that the host device does not present to them; thus, they can always be spoofed by a computer emulating an environment in which the DRM algorithm thinks release is authorized. Third, for humans to view or hear the content it must at some point exit the digital realm of DRM to a screen and speakers; re-capturing the data stream at that point bypasses any possible protections.
DRM can make casual copying difficult, but cannot thwart any determined attack. Piracy operations operating on a scale sufficient to affect the revenue streams of media companies laugh at DRM. They know it is sucker bait, injuring ordinary consumers but impeding piracy not one bit.
In the process of failing, the DRM fraud imposes large costs. DRM makes consumer electronics substantially more expensive, failure-prone, and subject to interoperability failures than it would otherwise be. It makes media content less valuable to honest consumers by making that content difficult to back up, time-shift, or play on “unauthorized” devices. All too commonly, technical failures somewhere in a chain of DRM-equipped hardware lock consumers out of access to content they have paid for even in the manner the vendor originally intended to support.
But the worst effect of the DRM fraud is that it generates pressure to cripple general-purpose computers in an attempt to foil emulation attacks. As a society, we can live with silly restrictions on device-shifting the latest blockbuster movie, but we cannot tolerate (for example) attempts to prevent PCs from running software not certified in advance by a consortium of Big Media companies. Yet that – and even more draconian restrictions – is where the logic of the DRM fraud inexorably leads. Such measures have already been advocated under the misleading banner “trusted computing”, and half-attempts at them routinely injure today’s computer users.
I would not ask the FCC to ban DRM, even if that were within its remit. Markets will teach the media companies that DRM is folly, just as markets taught software companies that “copy protection” was a losing game back in the 1980s. What the federal government can and should do is decline to prop up the DRM fraud with laws or mandates.
Specifically, if the “broadcast flag” or any other similar measure is again proposed, the FCC should reject it. To the extent that FCC regulatory or administrative action can mitigate the damage and chilling effects caused by the DMCA’s so-called “anti-circumvention” provisions, that should be attempted. Most generally, the FCC should make policy with the understanding that when media companies claim that DRM is useful and effective, they are not only misleading the FCC but deluding themselves.
There’s been a major breakthrough in the understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. Every face-to-face friend I’ve told about this has found it fascinating, and one of my regulars has rightly suggested I should blog it. It seems many cases of Alzheimer’s may be due to brain infection by the herpes simplex Type I virus — the one that gives you cold sores. Researchers at the University of Manchester have found herpes-simplex DNA in the abnormal beta-amyloid plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The implications are huge.
I am not sure when or where I first encountered it, but the theory that the Arthurian cycle of legends might be rooted in the mythology of Scythia and the Sarmathians instantly struck me as not only plausible but almost certainly correct. The Sarmatians (and the closely-related or identical tribe of Alans) introduced armored heavy cavalry using the shock charge with lance to Europe: the Sarmatian hypothesis would neatly explain several otherwise very peculiar features of the Arthurian material, including the fact that even very early versions insistently describe a style of war gear and knightly combat with slashing swords on horseback that would not become actually typical in Europe until the later Middle Ages.
A commenter writes, replying to my previous post on Eric and the Quantum Experts:
>Eric, you may still have a chance to revolutionize physics, since decoherence by itself may not completely solve the problem.
Alas, I am probably too old now. There is a way outside chance I could do it, yes, but,…hmm…how to explain this…
On my favorite mailing list, it was written:
> Anyway, if you think someone who lives and breathes some field is missing > some obvious point, they're probably right and you're probably wrong.
Generally I think this is true. However, I hereby submit the story of Eric and the Quantum Experts as a cautionary tale for all bright children.
A commenter wrote:
Think about it: guys like Leo Dicaprio or Owen Wilson for example.
These guys are not exactly manly men but seem more like teen boys.
There’s no need to invoke exotic theories like endocrine disruptors; they’re just reflecting the zeitgeist. I just turned 51, and a disturbingly large percentage of men in their twenties and thirties seem like spoiled narcissistic man-children to me. I thought for a while that this might mean I was turning into the sort of crusty old fart I laughed at when I was twenty-five, until I noticed that the percentage of man-children varied a great deal depending on my social context.
Scary news stories are beginning to make the rounds of the blogosphere about endocrine disruptors – synthetic chemical pollutents that mimic the effects of estrogen and have supposedly already created a generation of feminized young men and boys with shrunken genitals and preferences shifted towards girls’ toys.
In Open Source: The Model Is Broken, Stuart Cohen complains that the business model based on selling support and services around open-source software is “not meeting the expectations of investors”. In related news, the sky is failing to meet my expectations by not raining tasty soup.