Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What's in a Word?

The BBC News Magazine brings a story of "The Meaning Of Tingo," a book that explores words from around the world, many of which have no English equivalent. (Amazon Link)

Meanwhile, Wired News talks about "Snarge," which according to the article is ..."bird ick," for lack of a better term. Turns out that this lovely biological Rorschach test that ends up on civilian and military aircraft isn't always derived from avian carriers.

Also consider: m-w.com's word of the day, Wiktionary's Random Page (sometimes quite random, indeed), or dictionary.com's word of the day.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bananas in Mortal Peril!

Popular Science dares to ask "Can This Fruit Be Saved?"

The Terror Alert Banana suggested the use of antimicrobial fabric for new pyjamas to better protect his fellow fruit. Dole, Chiquita, and Carmen Miranda were all unavailable for comment; Gwen Stefani simply refused to Hollaback.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm..."

Priceless quote of the week (courtesy of Reuters):
"I've got one revenue stream that a proctologist would have a hard time analyzing. It's not pretty."
- Andrew Lack, CEO of Sony BMG music
I truly can't tell if this is meant to imply that:
A.) He has money coming out of his respective area of interest to the field of proctology or
B) The way that his company treats the customer is nearly as conceptually pleasant as flexible sigmoidoscopy

Regardless, this affords the opportunity for a short rant on the music industry, copy-proctected compact discs, and the whole concept of "DRM" and why it is a complete misnomer. During this discussion, keep in mind that Sony BMG is one of the supporters of a version of CD Audio copy protection that attempts to "bundle" a DRM-encumbered WMA-formatted file for each song on the "CD." I put CD in quotes because these discs do not qualify for the "Compact Disc - Digital Audio" logo that is granted to discs that comply with the original Sony-Philips Redbook standard.

Because no alternative is offered, I actually own a couple of these discs from various manufacturers. Although they tend to work on most audio-only devices and despite the fact that the protection is fairly easily circumvented, it is technically a violation of the US Digtial Millenium Copyright Act to perform the circumvention. The fact that said circumvention would merely restore the expectations of fair use* (a.k.a. consumer copying) that have accompanied Compact Disc - Digital Audio media since the inception of the standard has no bearing in the intrepretation of the statute. In fact, although the statute draws distinctions between "access" restrictions and "rights" restrictions (with greater tolerance for fair use given to non-infringing circumvention of rights restrictions), current case law has held that a DRM scheme that performs both functions is subject to both anticircumvention clauses -- resulting in a "least privilege" model for the purchaser. To further add to the rich tapestry of Sony-centric irony (the Betamax decision didn't favor the copyright holder), the provided WMA files are not compatible with the "Network Walkman" line of portable music players. In my mind, this type of incompatibility is only the most trivial of several problems that apply to all current and prospective DRM systems.

In order to further expand on this rant, let me first provide my definition for DRM, namely Digital Restrictions Management. I object to the use of the word "Rights" in this context because it can only properly be applied to the supplier -- and not to the purchaser. No current or publicly-proposed DRM technique is based on an open standard. So, even if the initial terms of the restrictions are accepted, there remains no guarantee that the DRM'ed file will remain useful to the purchaser in perpetuity. To me, this is every bit as troubling as the fact that current DRM technologies inherently eliminate the portability that has always been an intrinsic part of the media-purchasing experience.

When you purchase the forms of mass-market media that have been made available for the past several decades (VHS video cassette, audio cassette, CD-DA, and to a lesser extent DVD), you can rest assured that your purchase is compatible with any of a class of compatible consumer electronics and/or personal computing devices. You can play your tape or disc in a friend's player, and can buy a new player decades later that still supports the media. With tapes and CD-DA discs, you can make legal personal backup copies, and have access to the content for other non-commercial re-use purposes that have historically been protected. DVD added encryption and regionalization to the mix. These techniques limited the ability to re-use the content, and restricted the portability to pre-defined geographical regions.

DRM further limits media portabilty to a single device or a set number of devices. Thus, if you want to let your friend hear the new song that you "bought," they have to listen on your playback device or your computer. Be sure to ask your DRM vendor how to recover your "rights" in the event that your playback device and/or computer is lost, stolen, or otherwise rendered unusable. At the same time, ask yourself if you will be able to procure or "authorize" a compatible playback device in the future. Another good rhetorical question: What happens to the file format if the vendor exits the media-distribution business, whether intentionally or otherwise?

I could continue almost indefinitely, but will instead point you to that little EFF link on the right, and suggest that you look at their DRM info. Opinions vary, but I prefer to get what I pay for...
(I'm still waiting for the Sony Consumer Electronics vs. Sony BMG Music lawsuit -- with the obligitory amicus briefs filed by Sony Online in support of the plaintiff and Sony/Columbia Pictures in support of the defendant. Oops, that's the beginning of a completely different rant about content creation, content distribution, and media ownership in general. Stay tuned...)

*: Audio from Raymond Ku's presentation at the Berkeley DRM conference, Feb. 27 - Mar. 1, 2003.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

More Primarily-European Sports News

Former U.S. Postal leiutenant and current Liberty Seguros leader Roberto Heras won his fourth Vuelta a España. The accomplished climber is the first rider to achieve four victories in this grand cycling tour. In older Liberty Seguros news, Alexandre Vinokourov joined the team after the conclusion of the Tour de France.

In the World Rally Championship, Markko Martin's co-driver Michael Park died as a result of a collision with a tree during the Wales Rally GB. If you don't know what a co-driver is, you have much to learn about the ways of rally racing. Peugeot driver Marcus Gronholm and current-leader Sébastien Loeb showed their respect in a way that many Americans would consider unusual -- refusing to win.

Manchester United stayed unbeaten (0-0 draw with Liverpool), but unfortunately Chelsea racked up their sixth Premiereship victory this weekend. In other footie-related news, the US national team and Mexico have secured two of CONCACAF's berths in the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Other teams that have already qualified include the host, Germany, as well as Japan, Iran, the Republic of (South) Korea, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Brazil, and the Ukraine.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Shocking News!

According to Reuters, a Sydney man was packing a 40,000 volt static charge that set fire to a carpet and melted the plastic in his car. Luckily for him, it's the current that kills, and not the voltage...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Bob Dole Likes University Patents with Federal Funds

Fortune.com has an extensive article entitled"The Law of Unintended Consequences" that explores the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 (codified: 35 USC § 200-212; implemented: 37 CFR 401 "RIGHTS TO INVENTIONS MADE BY NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS AND SMALL BUSINESS FIRMS UNDER GOVERNMENT GRANTS, CONTRACTS, AND COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS") and it's role in the birth of the biotech industry, the profitability of Universities and their research staff, and the decline of many aspects of truely novel innovation. This act allows universities, small businesses, and non-profits to retain title to inventions that arise in the course of federally-funded research.

Sounds noble, right? In practice, however, this has led to a focus on revenue as the motivation for "technology transfer" from the "scientific community" to "industry," and eventually to the general public. Patent portfolios, license fees, and IP litigation are now staples of the University research diet -- even when your tax dollars are used to pay for a significant portion of the research. "Publish or perish" has practically turned into "Patent or perish" in many fields -- try not to puke on your shoes while you think about the implications and consequences...

Gates: Do Evil???

Some quotes are just priceless, especially if they're just a smidge out of context:
(C|Net News.com.com.com.com.com.com... interview with Bill Gates)
So that would be the philosophical difference between Microsoft and what Google is up to at this point?

Gates: Well, we don't know everything they are up to, but we do know their slogan and we disagree with that.
This statement can be all-too-easily twisted into a direct rebuttal of Google's widely-publicised "do no evil" doctrine (Hence the title of this post). That doctrine has evolved a bit (see #6). Besides, it's nowhere near as fun to note that the quote was actually referring to the current Google corporate mission statement: "
Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

"do no evil" searches: MSN, Yahoo, ask.com, answers.com, Google

Friday, September 09, 2005

Football season

Regardless of where on Earth you are, it is officially football season.

Personally, I'll be rooting for
Manchester United, and the University of Texas Longhorns. If you're not an "official site" kind of person, BBC Sport and ESPN have team-specific pages, too.

Sunday, 09/11/2005 - Not a bad weekend for either squad:
ManU secured one point after allowing Manchester City to come back and tie things up in the 2nd half. They remain unbeaten, and will stay among the top ranks for a bit longer.
Texas beat Ohio State in a gut-wrencher in which the 'Horns managed to pull it off in spectacular fashion, including the rather rare safety (NCAA Rule Book).

Fast Fertility, Wicked Strong Brew, and Supermanhood

The Register is reporting the story of a woman whose pregnancy is said to have been influenced by a rollercoaster ride.

Reuters has picked up the unrelated news, also from Germany, that there is a new world's strongest beer.

From the bigger-isn't-always-better department, there is speculation about Superman's schlong and just how super it shall be in the upcoming "Superman Returns."

The internet shall remain vast and mysterious...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Yeah, right...

While the world waits for Apple's amazing announcement, the Register takes a moment to report on this (cough) amazing product (cough). Yes, folks, the "World of Nanomicrons and Beyond!" is here. I should probably try to aviod any reference to "bovoid fecal material revelation devices," and whether this U.S. patent could be used as a calibration mechanism therefor.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Automotive insanity

Yikes! Be sure to bring your deck chairs for some of these front spoilers.

Gratuitous Bling (Oh, the humanity)

Nominations for the most ridiculous "bling" I've seen recently:

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Bicycle Stuff

"Ride your bike." -- Eddy Merckx (regarding how to train)

Get a bicycle -- you have to start somewhere:
It doesn't matter if you get a Giant (Makers of my road bike), a Specialized (Makers of my mountain bike), make like Lance and ride a Trek, go American with a Cannondale, try Diamondback (Had one of their BMX/freestyle bikes when I was a kid), or GT, or Haro, or even Schwinn. Remember those banana-seat bikes? Yes? Good. You're old, too.

There are, of course, too many other manufacturers to list, so you can always Google search (for "bicycle").

Get stuff:
Supergo, Bike Nashbar, and Colorado Cyclist all have big online stores. REI has stores in many states, and carries a good selection of bike stuff. If you happen to be in the Austin area, check out Bicycle Sport Shop and Buck's Bikes, among others.

Get a rack (for those times that you have to start your ride somewhere else):
Yakima and Thule have racks for
most vehicles, but not mine.
Bird Automotive has racks for some sports cars, like the Boxster, 350Z, TT, and G35.

I am participating in the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) Ride for the Roses for my 2nd consecutive year. Last year, I rode 26 miles on my mountain bike -- this year (October 23rd) I will be riding 44 miles on my road bike. The LAF supports cancer research and cancer survivors. You can contribute via my "Peloton Project" page -- the LAF is trying to raise $7 million before September 16th. Here's a write-up from the Austin Chronicle during last year's ride.

Find out about safe routes, bicycle advocacy groups, etc.

Most Importantly - Ride
Stop reading and go ride! It's nice out