OK, this amused me enough I had to share. My fraternity brother Nivi just lost his voice, so he went and purchased a nice-sounding text-to-speech voice for his Mac at Cepstral and piped its output into Skype with Soundflower. Voilà — instant TTS phone.
I remember David Ross once told a story about how the Model T Ford (nicknamed the "Tin Lizzy") was adapted to all sorts of things unexpected things, from winching wagons to pumping water. The key was the car's simplicity: it was just a motor on wheels, and it didn't take an expert to that motor for something besides driving. It's a lesson that keeps repeating itself: tools made up of simple, powerful components with straightforward interfaces for linking the pieces together find their own new uses.
Understanding people different from yourself. That's supposed to be on the "Blue State" side of the big stereotype slate that's written in somebody's guidebook, isn't it? (You know, the one that says if I'm in favor of gun control then I have to be anti-Israel, and vice versa?)
Heather Hurlburt at Democracy Arsenal has a nice short post on 10 steps Democrats can take to get back on the map WRT national security. Kevin Drum at Political Animal quotes one particular example:
Step 6. Every progressive takes a personal vow to learn something about our military, how it works, what its ethos is, and how it affects our society at all levels — as well as what it does well and less well in the wider world.
Sounds like good advice. Also reminds me of a great piece that NPR's On The Media did last month about how journalists, in general, just don't understand gun issues or gun owners, and how they really need to start.
In case you missed the OSX homage that Google posted and then quickly removed after Apple threatened lawsuit, a French site has posted either a cached copy or clone of it (I'm not sure which), as well as a Doc-at-the-bottom version. Look quick, this time it's Google that's sending the cease and desist. (Link by way of CoCo.)
I'm curious whether this kind of technology will win out in the long run. It's clear it fills a need — the PDA/cellphone small screen is fine up to a point, but in general we want big screen real estate in a small package, and you just can't get that with today's rigid screens. There are a few competing models though, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Ordered from most personal & on-the-move to most public &apm; in situ:
Of course we might also wind up with several systems and use whatever works best in a given situation, just like we have both laptop and PDAs today. But if one niche winds up being vital (say, everyone needs information while on-the-move so everyone wears an HMD) and if it winds up being good enough for the other niches then that tech will eat the others, just like we're seeing laptops more and more often being used as desktop-replacements today.
Long as I'm posting holiday pictures I may as well catch up on St. Pattie's day...
A couple months ago we had one of those amazing rainstorms where it's raining pretty hard but the sun is shining at the same time. (I know, you Seattle folks won't be impressed, but here in California the fact that it rained is already enough to make us sit up and take notice.)
Anyway, it made for a gorgeous rainbow stretched across the sky. It also caused something I'd never seen before in a "real" rainbow: the end of the rainbow was in sight, just 100 feet or so away. You can see in the picture below, where the end of the rainbow clearly occludes the houses just across the street.
Having never seen such a thing before, I did what any good Irish-heritage boy would do — I ran over and looked for gold, or at least a midget in green telling me to keep my mits off his cereal. Looks like I was too late though — at the end of the rainbow is a water-main access cover. I figure somewhere in Menlo Park is a water works repair employee with a big smile on his face.
Happy Easter all (either a week late or right on time, depending on your persuasion). I'm happy to report this year's experiment was an unqualified success: quail's eggs make great naturally-speckled Easter eggs, with a nice marble look to them.
And the best part is bringing them to work and having people assume they're chocolate since they're the wrong size to be real eggs.
I've often heard (and sometimes said) that there are three possible outcomes to the copyright wars:
OurMedia.org (just released in Alpha) is another step forward towards making the third scenario a reality. It's a new web service that's offering to host any sort of creative media (including audio & video). For free. Forever. You own your own copyright, you choose your own license.
This is similar to what The Internet Archive does, and in fact the IA is providing free storage and bandwidth for OurMedia's media files. OurMedia is focusing much more on the general pro/am community though, and includes a free blog & Wiki (all based on Drupal), community-based rating and comment systems and plans for many more social-network support plans.
(Thanks to Seth Finkelstein at Infothought for the link.)
LinkBack looks pretty sweet:
LinkBack is an open source framework for Mac OS X that helps developers integrate content from other applications into their own. A user can paste content from any LinkBack-enabled application into another and reopen that content later for editing with just a double-click. Changes will automatically appear in the original document again when you save.
Looks like it goes about 90% of the way towards the convenience of editable embedded objects, without all the problems associated with that last 10% of trying to get everything to actually be edited in a window within the embedded document. It's also interesting that this is an open-source project, spearheaded by 3rd-party software developers Nisus, OmniGroup and Blacksmith rather than by Apple itself.
LinkBack is currently being integrated into Nisus Writer Express, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner, ChartSmith, Stone Create, Border and a plug-in has just been released to paste LinkBack data into Keynote 2.
Sounds like President Jacques Chirac has bought into the French National Library president Jean-Noël Jeanneney's call to make huge swaths of European literature available online. A big nudge came from Google's plans to put some 15M English-language books online, leading Jeanneny to write an editorial in the French paper Le Monde warning that such a service would naturally view the knowledge of the world through an Anglo-American lens. If it became the dominant source of knowledge, that perspective would become equally dominant. (You can see the full editorial in this blogger-cached copy or the Google translation).
He is, of course, quite right in assessing the threat. It's nice to see the French respond with a call to counter-attack rather than protectionism — such a contest can only result in a race to the top, delivering the best each of us has to offer to the betterment of all. It's also nice to see yet another example of culture as something to spread rather than something to protect — that sometimes gets lost with all the copyright wars going on.
Jeanneney also hits on something that's not coming out much in the English press: he's not just afraid English-language texts will be over-represented, but also that the organization of the texts will be seen only through that lens. From a March 4th Le Monde Q&A (auto-translated by Google):
Why are you hostile with the Google project?
Hostile? It is not the word right. When Google announced, December 14, its project of digitalization of 15 million volumes drawn from the funds of several large Anglo-Saxon libraries, we did not doubt that among these works would appear a great number of European titles. But their selection, their hierarchisation in the lists will be defined inevitably starting from a singular glance: that of America. The Anglo-Saxon scientific production will be inevitably overestimated. The American mirror will be the single prism. My remark does not raise of any chauvinism, I do not intend to inform any lawsuit with the opening of Google, I restrict itself to note an obviousness. I would like simply that one can have in the future another point of view, marked by another sensitivity - European - of a glance on the world undoubtedly quite as partial and even partial, but different. What I defend, it is a multipolar vision.
It's not clear to me how Google plans to categorize the vast library they're helping put online, or indeed if they plan to do more than add existing (no doubt US/British-centric) library classifications, offer full-text search and then let the emergent organization of the Web take its course. But the problem is a tricky one, and search-engine bias is both subtle and, honestly, inevitable. We would all benefit from multiple experiments, multiple methods and multiple points of view, and at least for a while that's worth a little duplication of work. However, I do hope that all the sides involved come together at least enough to establish some common data formats and, more importantly, agree to share data with each other. No one would be served by multiple little fiefdoms, each hoarding their little corner of culture out of fear the other side would gain an advantage. Let's keep this a race to the top.
"Music," he explained, "is different" from other intellectual property. Not Karl Marx different - this isn't latent communism. But neither is it just "a piece of plastic or a loaf of bread." The artist controls just part of the music-making process; the audience adds the rest. Fans' imagination makes it real. Their participation makes it live. "We are just troubadours," Tweedy told me. "The audience is our collaborator. We should be encouraging their collaboration, not treating them like thieves."
It's similar to something I've been mulling over for a while now about art in general. Art isn't created out of nothing. It's inspired by culture, augmented by technology, given its own voice by the audience, advertised by word of mouth and filtered by fans. The artist steers these forces, but they're created by a cast of millions.
Why do we credit the violinist and the composer of a piece but not the master luthier who made the violin? Did his artistry contribute any less to the beauty of the music?
Accademic journals are funny economic actors, because it's very clear they provide publication, archival and authentication services to an academic community, but not the content. The community that eventually reads the journal also provides the real value in a journal: its authors, reviewers and editors, usually for free or a pittance. While there's no denying that publication and archival services cost money and should be compensated, high subscription prices or other access restrictions are a disservice to the entire author-reader community. As the main provider of value in the process this community has considerable power. It's more pronounced in accademia, but I see a lot of similarity to the growing pains the record industry is feeling, with consumers and artists both realizing the value added by the middleman isn't as valuable as they thought. I suspect these fights in academia contain some good lessons for how the powershifts will other content areas might play out — assuming financial interests in the old way things were done don't manage to put the djinni back in the bottle.
Side note: the two academic societies in my field, IEEE and ACM, both require that an author sign over his or her copyright to them before publication. Both policies have become more open in the past decade, in particular by granting permission for articles to be published on the author's own website, but Lessig's oath would still rule out either society's journals because they don't grant permission to others. ACM lays out its rationale for its copyright program, and concludes: ACM firmly believes that it achieves a balance among divergent goals; that its use of copyright within its publishing program in fact serves the public good by enabling the creation and widespread dissemination of quality works in various formats and media. This may be the case right now, but with media technology changing so quickly I suspect (and hope) author-reader pressure will continue to push these policies towards more openness.
I finally watched/listened to Wizard People, Dear Readers last night, Brad Neely's unauthorized alternative narration to the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone movie. It's synched to the movie — turn the sound on your DVD low (so you still hear the music) and hit play on both at the same time. The style is less MST3K and more like hearing a narration of the movie by an earnest but clueless poet-turned-subtitle-writer. It's also surprisingly funny.
The film/soundtrack has been out for almost a year, but according to Stay Free! Daily Warner Brothers has just recently started strong-arming theaters to cancel screenings, threatening to cut off all ties with venues that show it. Presumably they're threatening boycott instead of copyright suit because, as a parody, WPDR is probably but not certainly legal — and they'd rather keep that uncertainty if possible. Why they're actively trying to stifle something that makes them money though is a little of a mystery — after all, you can't watch WPDR without purchasing the film rights for Harry Potter (in my case, a whopping $14.99 for the DVD just to watch it with the sound turned off!). I've no great insight into the minds of Warner Brothers, but I can imagine three possible reasons they want to crush this movement, ranked in order of likelihood:
|666||6053||Number of the Beast|
|101||3762||Intro class (or Orwell/Matrix reference, or maybe oral sex)|
|123||3325||And I'm working on getting to 4!|
|007||2473||Bond. James Bond.|
|182||2452||Probably Blink 182|
|143||1880||I Love You (1-4-3, get it?)|
|777||1452||Number of God (or perhaps global read/write/execute permission in Unix)|
|911||1026||Emergency, and of course 9/11|
|247||1006||24 hours a day, 7 days a week|
I'd not heard the term "two-factor authentication" before, but it turns out it's just using two passwords, one you make yourself and one you get from somewhere else. The little key-fobs that give you a new password every 60 seconds is an example, as are the less technological printed list of one-use passwords that have been around for years. In the latest Crypto-Gram, Bruce Schneier argues that two-factor authentication "solves the security problems we had ten years ago, not the security problems we have today." In particular, it does nothing to stop phishing (Man-in-the-middle) attacks or trojan horses.
I suppose solving security problems from ten years ago is better than not solving those problems, but at best it should be viewed as a stop-gap (and the cost of rolling out such measures should be weighed with that in mind).
Update 3/18/05: as a commenter pointed out, two-factor authentication isn't really the use of two passwords so much as two authentication methods. I was basically paraphrasing the PC World article, and I should really know better.
"But suppose the move is inevitable. Betsy Newmark thinks subscriber fees would 'put a crimp in political blogging.' Perhaps. But then again, perhaps this could all work out in a way that actually improve political blogging. What if the daily news was subscriber-only, but all the news archives were free and open to internet users everywhere? Blogging, it seems, could certainly benefit from slowing things down a bit and doing more commenting on week-old or month-old political stories. And sure, a few big bloggers and institutions would no doubt still buy subscriptions and do 'insta-updates' with off-the-cuff commentary, but the rest of us would have to do a bit more thoughtful analysis/research/reporting and a bit less hyperactive mouse-clicking and 'breaking' updates. That sounds fine to me!"
I rather like this idea, in part because I'm more a "better a day late than a dollar short" than a "shoot from the hip" kind of thinker. An interesting question is what timescale would be most appropriate — I'm thinking the times could gain by a much shorter premium-content model. If today's newspaper really is tomorrow's fishwrap, perhaps the Times would do best by offering the current day's news news via subscription, micropayment or "watch this longer ad" payment and giving the rest away for "free." Bloggers would be more likely to link to articles because they'd know they would still be around in two weeks, people might read a lot more of the history behind a current news event because the old news is more available, and the Times would get both advertising revenue and a great plug for their premium service by adding sidebar forward-links to today's headlines related to the story being read.
Rejecting California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's argument that California is entitled to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, Kramer said the same explanation was offered for the state's ban on interracial marriage, which was struck down by the state Supreme Court in 1948.
The judge also rejected arguments by opponents of same-sex marriage that the current law promotes procreation and child-rearing by a husband and wife. "One does not have to be married in order to procreate, nor does one have to procreate in order to marry," Kramer said.
Update 3/18/05: updated the title to no longer mean the opposite of what I meant (by adding the word ban).
It looks like Ben Stanfield started a blogstorm this weekend by pointing out a new(?) clause in AOL's AIM terms-of-service that states "In addition, by posting Content on an AIM Product, you grant AOL, its parent, affiliates, subsidiaries, assigns, agents and licensees the irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt and promote this Content in any medium. You waive any right to privacy." AOL has been trying to stamp out the fire, and say the terms aren't meant to apply to person-to-person instant messenger, only to posting in public chat rooms, message boards and other public forums.
Update 3/18/05: I had thought only the Enterprise version of AIM supported encryption (and that may be AOL's intent), but apparently you can just create your own certificate and that'll work too. Thanks to Aleatha for the comment (and also for pointing out that the TOS has, in fact, been around for a year or so in this form).
On a related note, I also notice that iChat 3.0 (shipping with Mac OSX Tiger) will support Jabber as a standard protocol. Yay!
The Menlo Park startup Peerflix has been getting some ink the past couple days. They're like NetFlix, only instead of renting a DVD for an indefinite time you trade DVDs with other members. Peerflix has no inventory, they provide the matchmaking service, mailing labels and points system that works like barter cash, all for a 99-cent per trade fee. You own the DVD you trade for, free and clear — and legal.
It's models like this that bring home for me again why it was so important for the music distribution cartel to crush MP3.com's Beam-It service and, more directly, why they're sure to fight any possible emergence of a used digital-music market.
The Berkeman Center's white paper on iTunes has a good discussion of the Digital First Sale doctrine (starting around page 51), and concludes people probably don't have the right to resell used digital media (just the bits) like they do tangible things like books or CDs. But imagine for a moment that we did, and that things like the DMCA, draconian EULAs, and the RIAA shock troops didn't get in the way. Now imagine a frictionless Peerflix, (or better yet a Peertunes) and that it's hooked into your music player, so when you click on a song it automatically sells the song to you (locking anyone else out from playing it), plays it, and three minutes later it gets sold back to the digital lending library again. A whole town could share a single music collection; the less-popular music could be shared by a whole country. And it'd all be legal.
I can already hear all the usual clamoring from the cartel about how this sort of thing would bring down the music industry, destroy artist incentives, yadda yadda. The funny thing is, I don't think it would — those are the exact same things that copyright owners whined about when faced with the creation of the library, used bookstores and the VCR.
Mitch Kapor has two posts about Microsoft's purchase of Groove Networks. Mitch was founder of Lotus and more recently the Open Source Foundation and was also the first outside investor in Groove, so he has several good insights into the software and how / whether Groove would be as Open Source if it were done today. The quote that got my attention the most was this one though:
With the prospect of open source-based server capabilities of all kinds becoming more like the electrical power and distribution system, universally available on demand in whatever amount is needed, a whole class of objections to client-server architectures such as dependence on non-local, unreliable and inconvenient infrastructure diminishes. Groove's peer-to-peer architecture performs uniquely well in areas where the telecom infrastructure is weak, such as conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East and Asia where both military and humanitarian aid groups have deployed it successfully, but this alone is a niche application.
I like peer-to-peer technology for a whole host of reasons, but I think he's right that the infrastructure arguments for P2P are (and always have been, IMO) weak except in niche applications (bandwidth saving via BitTorrent being the notable exception). But the driver for P2P technology hasn't been about limiting the effects of technical infrastructure failure — it's been about limiting active efforts by an adversary to stop communications. The adversary might be an opposing army, an oppressive government or the RIAA, but the goal is the same — and that's a need hasn't changed in the past 10 years.
It's nice to see that censorware continues to protect public school children from being exposed to things like porn, terrorism, and criticism of the No Child Left Behind Act. Jamie McKenzie (creator of the blocked site and editor of the educational technology webzine From Now On) has the details. Link by way of Seth Finkelstein, who diagrams the all-too-common circle of finger-pointing.
Unbalanced and Half-true News Opinion and Commentary What would people be talking about if you controlled the newsroom teleprompters? Choose a professional talking head to speak for you on a freewheeling moderated panel discussion by accessing our dedicated web connected teleprompters.
I love this sort of remixing art. I wonder if I could make a toolbar that could make their talking heads read all my blognews?
Bruce Schneier links to a paper on refinements to bumping, a lockpicking technique for pin-and-tumbler locks where you insert a specially filed-down key and give it a quick whack to bounce the top pins out of the way. The principle is the same as a lockpick gun, though the authors claim it works better.
I haven't played with lockpicks since my undergrad days, but I'll probably play around with their method and see how well it works. The biggest question I have is how much wear and tear this method causes to the lock vs. other methods — the paper suggests some ways to limit damage to the lock but it still seems like it'd be worse than the lockpick gun since the driving force is side-long (into the lock) rather than straight up. Still, it's got to be better than raking the lock. (I remember back when I was an undergrad at MIT there was one door in particular that needed its locks replaced every couple years due to the number of people raking it — most of the better pickers didn't rake for just that reason.)
This is a cute hack — these guys are able to "fingerprint" a networked device just by looking at how quickly its clock loses or gains time compared to the true time (its clock skew).
Example applications include: computer forensics; tracking, with some probability, a physical device as it connects to the Internet from different public access points; counting the number of devices behind a NAT even when the devices use constant or random IP IDs; remotely probing a block of addresses to determine if the addresses correspond to virtual hosts, e.g., as part of a virtual honeynet; and unanonymizing anonymized network traces.
Link by way of Mitch Kapor, who unlike me isn't so enamored by the elegance of their technique to ignore the obvious security and privacy implications.
Bob Parks over at What's New suggests it is...
So what’s really behind "The Vision"? Why is the administration pushing so hard for a science initiative that scientists scorn, and which won’t take place on Bush’s watch? Ah, but that’s the plan. It will be up to the next administration, stuck with a huge deficit, to decide whether to go ahead with a meaningless but staggeringly expensive program to see if humans can do what robots are already doing. As one well-informed NASA watcher put it, "Moon-Mars is a poison pill. It hangs responsibility for ending the humans-in-space program on the next administration."
Of course, the same could be said of Bush's tax cut on the one hand and all his red-ink on other — it might just be a mixed blessing to the Republicans to not have at least one Democrat majority to blame by the time all the chickens are back home to roost.
The ACLU and Human Rights First are suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, seeking "a court order declaring that Secretary Rumsfeld's actions violated the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes and international law."
"We believed the United States could correct its policy without resort to the courts. In bringing this action today, we reluctantly conclude that we were wrong."
A few months ago I attended a panel discussion about the rule of law in light of recent prisoner abuses a few months ago, sponsored by the Stanford Law School and the International Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. After the legal experts detailed abuse after abuse things looked pretty bleak, so I asked the obvious question: With all the egregious abuses you've listed, is the rule of law dead? I was surprised to hear the three panelists (law professors from the U.S. Naval War College, Santa Clara University and Stanford) all agree the answer was "no." Their assessment was that the President and his administration was clearly abusing the law and Congress had rolled over and played dead, but the Judicial Branch was still doing its job to interpret the law. It's just that the judicial branch is slow, they explained, and so when the other branches abuse their power it takes a while to rectify.
It looks like this, plus the ruling that the government must either charge or release Jose Padilla, are both small steps showing that slow progress at work.