Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Windows becomes more useless

In case you feel that Microsoft doesn’t have enough control over your computing experience, read this little article.

“Validation will fail if the software detects a substantially different hardware configuration,” the spokesperson said. “At that point, the customer is able to use the one reassignment for the new device. If, after using its one reassignment right, a customer again exceeds the tolerance for updated components, the customer can purchase an additional license or seek remediation through Microsoft’s support services.”

Great. So, you can buy an OS and upgrade your hardware, then buy the OS again. Fan-freakin-tastic.

Ubuntu is a very nice alternative. Just sayin’.

Creative Hates its Customers

Creative is removing features from its Zen MicroPhoto and Zen Vision:M players. If you thought that FM recording feature you bought it with is a good thing, then you should never update its firmware. Creative has followed the Sony PSP approach of deleting features upon addition of new features. You can now use Audible files, but your recorder doesn’t record the radio. I’m sure the RIAA had nothing to do with this.


Everyone who said that they didn’t need to worry about TiVo’s closed architecture, because it did everything they needed, including that nifty TiVoToGo that let you make DVDs on your computer from your TiVo box? Yeah, you got punked.

The new and improved TiVo Series3 boxes, the ones that finally allow you to record HD (something you could do with MythTV for years), have deleted the already-very-limited ability to do what you want with the recording you make on your machine that you pay for. Cheers.

There is no legal reason to do this, by the way. The fair use doctrine and case law (Betamax decision) are on the side of people who want to make personal copies of free over-the-air broadcasts. Aren’t you glad that TiVo is more interested in not offending Hollywood than they are in providing features their customers want?

Media Weasels

Quick followup to my previous post on our new dark ages. I’m continually astounded at the weasel words journalists use, rather than just saying what is objectively true.

Many Democrats opposed the legislation because they said it eliminated rights of defendants considered fundanamental to American values, such as a person’s ability to protest court detention and the use of coerced tesimony as evidence.

Yes, they said that. Of course, a good newspaper would have said, “Which is 100% true.” Don’t just repeat that some say this and some say that; report what the actual law actually says, why don’t you? Yes, they did eventually say these things, but someone who skimmed the article would see a typical “two opposing and equal views” passage, rather than “one side is eviscerating the Constitution” passage.

And now the GOP will try to portray the Democrats as soft on terrorists because a few of them resisted the bill (and not very vocally – filibuster Roberts but not the removal of judicial review, habeas corpus, and the Geneva Conventions?). Of course, the Democrats, if recent years are any indication, will find no coherent voice to retort, “We’re not soft on terrorists. The Republicans, however, are anti-American, as they gut the Constitution and revoke 800 years of legal tradition.”

My elected representatives continue to prove they have no honor.

War on Terror Lost

On September 20, 2001, the President said:

[The terrorists] hate our freedoms — our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

Well, I guess we’ve given in then. Those freedoms are now exclusively available only if the executive branch of the federal government allows you to have them. There is no recourse, there are no checks or balances, there is no transparency in government. Congratulations, Bin Laden, you won.

Sandisk Sansa e260

I noticed that the “review” category has not had much activity, so I’ll remedy that.

In March of 2005, I bought a Rio Karma. This MP3 player was fantastic, with 20 gigs of storage space (enough for about 1/6th of my music collection), a fantastic interface, on-the-fly playlisting and all that jazz. It did not have an FM tuner or voice recorder, and it did depend on proprietary protocols to save music, but the ability to rearrange music and choose popular songs and all that were great. Sadly, the Karma is a delicate beast, with its hard drive not being the most durable they could find. Since it broke and Rio is gone, I was quite happy that I had paid for the 24 month warranty from Buy.

In June of this year, I replaced the Karma with the warranty money, getting a Sandisk Sansa e260 4 gig flash player. At the time, it was a 200 dollar player; it’s now routinely available for 150 or less.

With the most current firmware installed, the Sansa is a wonderful music player, although I do miss the Karma’s interface. The Sansa has two protocols: MTP and MSC (sometimes called UMS). In MTP mode, the player works only with Windows XP; in MSC mode it works with anything that recognizes USB removable media. Playlists are transferred only via MTP, although MSC mode is a faster system for simple transfers.

The Sansa also has a cool feature few players do these days: expansion. You can plug in a tiny little memory card, the microSD, to add up to 2 gigs of memory in theory (so far I can only find 1 gig cards at most). The expansion card can’t hold subscription content, and it’s not visible in MTP mode on the computer, but for music you want to keep on the player, or if you use MSC mode anyway, it’s another drive letter in Explorer.

That covers connections, but what about features? It has an FM tuner (and recorder), a voice recorder, and can manage videos (through a converter), photos, and either MP3 or WMA audio files. It supports the PlaysForSure stores, including subscription content, but I’m told does not support Audible files.

Playback is from a rather straight-forward interface, using a wheel and six buttons. Playlists from the computer are visible and usable, as well as one on-the-fly playlist on the player. I can’t tell you how well PlaysForSure works, as I refuse to participate in DRM. Thankfully, I can tell you that it works wonderfully with MediaMonkey in MTP mode. I don’t try to sync in MSC mode, so I’m not sure how well that works with MM; MSC mode is useful for clearing out old content you decide you don’t want to listen to, and it’s mandatory for firmware updates.

Photos are bright and sharp, although there is no zoom and a 1.5 inch screen is not exactly usable for a photo album.

You can play all your music, an artist, an album, a playlist, a genre, or a single track. In any of these, you can have shuffle engaged or not. There are several equalizer settings, and a custom equalizer (with latest firmware). Album art is displayed when you are playing a track, and you can cycle through a fairly useless spectrum analyzer, a larger view of the album art, and the next song in the queue. I rarely can tell what the next song will be before the player switches back to the default view, though. You have about three seconds to see it before it changes away, but it scrolls slowly through artist/album/track so if you have an artist and album with too many characters, you’re out of luck.

So, other things I dislike about the player? You can’t delete content on the player. The voice recorder button can’t be disabled without locking all controls; you will end up recording yourself without meaning to. You can’t edit playlists, except the “Go List” on the player. I really miss the “songs of the 80s” type playlists that the Karma had. Of course, with only 4 gigs of space, some of those modes are less useful than they were with 20. The videos are pretty pointless; not only is the screen only 1.5 inches, the videos are converted to an incredibly inefficient codec to play: the MJPEG format in Quicktime.

My son is able to navigate his playlist without any hassle, the radio works pretty well, and overall it’s a great and reliable player. Highly recommended for anyone who hasn’t already paid too much for DRM-infected files from iTunes Music Store.

No Fast Forward, ever!

The FX channel in the UK has decided to start displaying still images for 30 seconds during some of their ad slots. Apparently Sky+ PVRs don’t jump 30 seconds, they play at 12 times the normal speed when you want to skip commercials. ABC recently said they want to disable fast-forward on DVRs, as if that’s remotely possible from the non-hardware side of things.

In case you are unaware, there are PVRs that will let you jump forward, not just go faster. There are PVRs that will automatically mark commercials for skipping them without any interaction from the viewer at all. You just can’t buy these PVRs any longer. The one that was on the market was ReplayTV, which is gone. The good news is that you can still get the functionality, but you need to build it yourself. Look into MythTV – one of your geek friends can build it for ya for about 400 bucks; ABC and FX and everyone else will then have no control over what you can do with your own recorder, and you’ll at least have the same ability with your new machine that we had with VCRs in the 80s.

Microsoft’s Music Plans, Version 3

I find it amazing that MS has still not figured out how to avoid punking their customers and partners. The wonderful DRM embedded in earlier versions of Windows Media Player is bad enough. Then came PlaysForSure, which many people say is more like “PlaysForShit.” There are many instances of the PlaysForSure files not transferring, or requiring multiple updates of software on the PC and firmware on the player. Plays For Sure as a slogan implies that your music will Just Work, but that is obviously not the case, based on how many complaints you can find online with mere seconds of research.

So, MS decided that the whole integrated solution thing Apple has going is a good idea. They partnered up with iRiver and MTV to produce the Clix and Urge. The device and service were designed together, to ensure that things actually would Play For Sure.  So far so good, even if it did effectively snub all the previous MS partners who had signed on for the Janus DRM train (anyone think it’s interesting that Janus had two faces?), as well as the hardware partners whose machines hadn’t been tested and certified for the MTV Urge service. They’ll probably work, but if it’s not marketed together, many people will assume incompatibility.

And now the latest change to Microsoft’s music roadmap – Zune. Not only does this get Microsoft involved in the hardware market for media players, effectively telling all the manufacturers who thought they were partners to piss off, it also introduces a new Zune-only store. That’s right, the Janus DRM-encumbered music you thought you owned from Rhapsody or Napster or whereever won’t play on Zune. You’ll have to buy it all again, if you want to play it on that new slick MS-branded player.

Might I suggest never buying any DRM-encumbered media? The result of ever buying any music or video from a service that puts DRM on it is that you don’t control your own property. You may think you own the latest Beyonce album, but if you bought it from Napster or iTunes, you don’t own a damned thing. You have a right to listen to it only on the device you bought it for and any new technology is likely to render your music collection so much junk.

Just for an added stab in the back of their customers, the Zune’s vaunted wifi sharing system will add DRM to any file, including public domain and Creative Commons files. For the public domain files, that’s just evil. For the CC files, that’s actually a violation of the CC license, which states unequivocally that no encryption can be applied to the file by anyone.

To recap, DRM is evil, Microsoft hates their customers, Microsoft can be trusted only to betray their business partners, and DRM is evil.

Eminent Domain for EVERYTHING

I’m sure this story will resonate with several people on my LJ friends list.  A town in Florida, in preparation for hurricane season, passed a law allowing them to seize any property from any resident for the duration of any emergency.  They acknowledge that this sort of law is ripe for abuse, but promise that they are benevolent dictators.

So, your incentive to be prepared for an emergency to protect your own property and family is what?

(Thanks, Diane)

RIAA vs Dead Guy

Just to prove what lovely and thoughtful human beings they are, the RIAA has introduced a motion in one of their extortion filesharing cases. The defendent has died, so they’re allowing the family sixty days to grieve before they sue the children. Anyone still think the RIAA is a reasonable group of people?

London gibberish

It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America. We’ve taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we still aren’t completely safe.

Well, gee. Perfect safety hasn’t been achieved? Let’s give up a few more of our ideals and rip up the last few shreds of the Constitution. What’s amazing to me is that the President isn’t pointing out how the system worked. This is a success for the British security services, an event which shows that law enforcement and good investigation skills actually function as you would hope. The plot was thwarted, all is right with the world. The US and UK should be celebrating this accomplishment, and instead we’re taking people’s water bottles away and making flying just a little more irritating yet again.
Of course, the President is perhaps not crowing about this successful investigation and series of arrests because the British did it using the systems and methods that don’t actually violate their citizens’ rights. Yep, they actually used policemen doing their jobs, not random wiretaps of every phone call and email. They didn’t need to lock people up for years without charges, finding extraordinary means of avoiding domestic and international legal challenges. They did things in ways that violated no law of the land, completely without controversy. Maybe we don’t want to talk about that.

Pooh Problems

This case illustrates much that is incredibly wrong with the current de facto permanent copyright nonsense. A.A. Milne’s granddaughter is trying to wrest control of her dear grandpa’s “intellectual property” from the House of Mouse.

Clare Milne, who was not born when her grandfather died, sought to use a 1976 copyright law to terminate the prior licensing agreement and recapture ownership of the copyright.

So, exactly how does Clare’s assumption of her grandfather’s copyright in any way create an incentive for dear dead Mr. Milne to create more Pooh stories? Those darned zombie authors sure are busy.

Kick out the flags

Yet another attempt to get broadcast flags enshrined in law is coming up this week. Take action to stop them, please.

What is the problem with the broadcast flag and audio flag, you ask?  Simple – they don’t do anything worthwhile and are an obstruction to technological progress. If you’re a Republican, do you believe in more governmental regulation or do you believe in letting the market decide?  Well, broadcast flag legislation protects one business model to the exlusion of letting the market decide.  If you’re a Democrat, do you believe in the government bowing to the orders of large corporations?  Well, the broadcast flag legislation exists only because of the efforts of the entertainment industry, not due to any grassroots campaign from actual individual citizens.

All these flags and the PERFORM Act do is stop innovation. They make it so that the United States will remain the technology ghetto of the world.  We keep our recording devices at the same technological level as analog cassette tape in the 21st Century.  What the hell?  Read Engadget sometime – every day there is some new piece of audio or video gadgetry that will never arrive in the United States, because the Asians don’t have retarded laws protecting the RIAA and MPAA from competition.  It’s like we went back in time and killed the Ford automobile because buggy whip makers were pissed off.  Absurd now, isn’t it? Yet you know that the buggy whip makers were campaigning for just such a thing at the time. Why let the RIAA and MPAA tell you that you can’t record what you want on your stereo or television? Why let the recording industry control your electronics? Do your elected representatives represent you or Hollywood?

The Corruptibles

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has launched a new approach to consumer activism: The Corruptibles. The cartoon is pretty cool, and gives a reasonably simple overview of what the entertainment industry would like to have Congress give them. So far, the congresscritters have given them pretty much everything the industry has paid for wanted, so there’s a great deal of confidence that they’ll get everything else they’ve bought asked for as well.

I’m sure some people don’t care that their iPod only works with music they buy from Apple, and that Sony enjoys building virus-like rootkit hacking tools into music CDs, and the industry wanting to halt all technology at the level of analog cassette tapes, but maybe some of you realize that giving one business model special protection is a bad thing.

Only we can stop…The Corruptibles!


The recording industry mafia have gotten a new one – they are suing a family for filesharing when the family doesn’t even own a computer. I believe it is quite difficult to infringe copyrights (not steal any darned thing) the way the RIAA accuses them of without at least some kind of computer to use.

So, the morons have shaken down little old ladies, small children, dead people, families without computers…how many cases has the RIAA won? Not a single one. That’s right; no matter how much they bully people, not a single case has been decided in their favor. Of course, almost no cases have been decided at all. The strongarm tactics and extortion that the cartel has used are effective. People know they have no reasonable chance of fighting the RIAA in court because the RIAA can afford better lawyers, and in the modern judicial system money talks. So, when the mob boss industry lawyer offers people a way out of the multi-million dollar suit, they tend to take it. Unsurprisingly, the amount of money the RIAA settles for varies from case to case – it is generally defined as, “what do you have?” One college student was told to max out his student loans to maximize the industry profit. Think this will encourage that student to buy more CDs next year? Yeah, me neither.

Data Retention, it’s for the children!

The gummint sure does think they can get anything approved if they just claim it’s to stop child pr0n. Of course, any decent criminal will just use Tor or some other system to avoid their data being collected. The rest of us get to pay for a series of massive data warehouses holding every chat log and email we send. Go, Big Brother! Won’t someone think about the children?

Google Print kills sick children

If you haven’t been following the Google Print controversy, here’s the pinnacle of absurdity so far. A children’s hospital in England has a completely unique and unprecedented perpetual copyright (in the UK) on the sales and performance of Peter Pan in the UK. They are claiming that Google Print’s service will rob them of millions of pounds of income every year. Think of the children!

I wonder why they haven’t previously gone after the public domain work? You did know that the book is actually in the public domain everywhere but the United Kingdom, didn’t you? So, exactly what does the American site Google do that the American site Gutenberg Project doesn’t already do? Is it just a question of convenience?

(Via BoingBoing)

Dueling Rallies

A pro-war rally got less than a thousand participants, days after the 100,000 anti-war rally nearby. That’s gotta hurt. There seems to be a real lack of logic on the part of many people, though. This woman, for instance:

“Our troops are over there fighting for our rights, and if she was in one of those countries she would not be able to do that,” Vigna said.

Yeah, exactly why it’s ok for Cindy Sheehan to be able to say any damned thing she wants to. She can claim to be the reincarnation of Frank Sinatra – it doesn’t matter. The fantastic thing about our country is that people are allowed to be stupid or controversial or anything they want.

I don’t agree with everything that Cindy Sheehan says, but I spent 12 years in the Army defending her right to say whatever pops into her head. Good for her. And good for Rush Limbaugh the drug user, and good for G Gordon Liddy the convicted felon. Good for Dr Laura, the therapist with no credentials in psychiatry. Good for Mike Moore, who conflates opinions and facts and hopes nobody notices. Good for Jonny Depp for bashing the country that pays his salary.

Good for all of them – they can all be as stupid as they want to, and that is what makes America great. To tell any one of those Americans that they shouldn’t say what they are saying is the treasonous thing. That attitude of restricting speech with which you don’t agree is Unamerican. If you don’t like it, stop listening!