PermaLink Black holes, black intentions, and Buckaroo Banzai09/10/2008 10:32 AM
I have a whole collection of odd things to talk about today, so don't look for much of a theme.

I had an exchange with a Sphereian on Twitter last night about digital rights management. I was sort of puzzled by his, "this is how it is" approach to DRM on games and media, since normally he's fairly conservative and doesn't seem to want people intruding on the things he wants to do. But I did think about it for a while, and here's what I came up with.

Why DRM is evil

DRM is, at its core, evil, because it attempts to assert that information is somehow fundamentally different in digital form than it is (or was) in analog form, even as the laws and customs that are needed to support that assertion either don't exist or are heavily flawed.

My idea is, in the analog world, I was completely free to do what I needed to do with media. I could buy a book and read it any time, anywhere, lend it to someone else, sell it, give it away, or leave it in the bus station, and whoever came into possession of it next was equally free to do the exact same things. If I had an LP, I was perfectly free to listen to it, make a tape of it so I could listen to it in the car or play it at parties where LPs would be in harm's way, sell it or lend it to someone else to listen to, or take it over to a friend's house and listen to it on their stereo.

For some reason, people think that just because the information has been converted to digital media, that I should not have these rights. Well, I do. And anything that interferes with those rights is therefore diminishing the value of the information to me, meaning I am in effect either paying more for the same information, or paying the same and getting less utility from it. Hence, DRM is evil and I avoid it.

I generally see as evil any construct, law or regulation that tries to restrict what I can do based on what a minority of stupid or evil people might do. So the idea that "well, we need to make it a pain in the ass for you to view a BlueRay disc on a Vista machine just in case some dude in Singapore might try to illegally duplicate the content" is just wrong on its face. DRM is no obstacle to those people intent on illegally profiting from duplication of media, and in the overall economy, it represents an enormous collective pain in the ass to the vast majority of the people who just wanna watch the damn movie. The "cost" of DRM is buried in those little pains in the ass multiplied millions of times. The "benefit" of DRM is nonexistent to those millions, and it's irrelevant to professional pirates, who will simply bypass it anyway.

The issue of platforms also came up. I don't want to hear "well, you can only watch this movie on a Windows machine, not because there's anything magical about Windows, but because that's the only platform our DRM scheme supports." Fuck off. If my machine is physically capable of playing the information stream, but you've locked it in a box that allows you, the content seller, to tell me, the consumer, how, where and when I may deign to view your opus, you have pretty much guaranteed I'm not gonna buy your shit. And then you will complain to Congress about how "piracy" has caused your sales to fall off, when in fact it's your attempt to treat me like a criminal rather than as a customer that caused me not to buy your stuff.

Well, that, and producing shitty movies and music I don't want to experience is probably part of the situation, too.

Think back to the 1950s. Late in the 1950s, there were four major formats for recorded discs: 33, 45, 78, and 16. While Columbia did, in fact, in the early days, produce phonographs to play their 33s, but these machines also had the ability to play the older 78s as well as the 45-rpm discs produced by their rival, RCA. They sold a lot of those Columbia "360" phonographs. RCA's player, on the other hand, played only their 45-rpm large-spindle records, and even though it sold for less than 1/8th the cost of a "360," it failed. And for another 30 years, the typical playback device for discs was publisher-and-content-agnostic, the multispeed turntable.

(By the way, 78s went out of production in 1960, and 16s were incredibly rare, being used among other things in in-car hi-fi systems in Chryslers).

How far do you think the music industry would have gotten if Columbia (or anybody else) had said, "we will prevent you from playing our LPs on any turntable we don't make, and prevent you from playing any other records on our turntables? And what's more, we will only permit you to listen to the records after you call us and get a special authorization number allowing you to play the records, and then, you can only listen to the records in your living room, not your bedroom or the garage or a bar?"


But in effect, that's what the movie industry and the game software industry does. No, you may not view our HD movie on a Mac, not because it's not technically capable of it, but because our nanny scheme isn't set up to permit you to do it. No, you may not listen to iTunes music on a Zune, not because it's not technically capable of doing it, but because we don't want you to.

Make life easier and cheaper for the world at large: don't do business with businesses that treat you like an idiot. Don't buy DRMed products.

Black holes

Well, the world didn't implode overnight, and I didn't wake up to find myself floating in space, so I guess the Large Hadron Collider's first shot was just fine. Yay. I like it when money is spent on learning new stuff instead of shooting at old stuff. Imagine the research into all sorts of useful things we could have done if we hadn't been spending all that money shooting the shit out of Iraq.

Something that bugs me

Ever see Buckaroo Banzai? Something that I realized bugged me about that movie is that if you're going to come up with a way by which one object (say, a movie star) can pass through solid matter, that they would not, in fact, be able to walk through walls? Know why? Because if your molecules or whatever were suddenly phased in such a way that you could pass through a solid wall, before you even took a step to begin to walk through the wall, you will begin accelerating directly toward the center of the Earth at 9.8m/sec2 and you'd never make it to that wall. When an effect like that occurs, it bugs me. Think about that scene from Terminator 2 where the cop-bot oozes through the bars of the gate at the mental hospital... why didn't he instantly end up a puddle on the floor? The physics just don't make sense.

Random observations

Google may be everyone's go-to search engine on the web, but it's an enormous pain in the ass when you have to actually build internal systems around it. It's quite spectacular in the simple things it can't do.

Sarah Palin looks like the first frame in some sort of sexy-businesswoman Russian porn site. You know, she takes the glasses off, lets the hair down, and by the bottom of the page she's doing something interesting with vegetables. And she has a voice like a Wal-Mart cashier.

I am now another year older. And today, my father would have been 72.

I think we should have Billy Mays as the guest speaker at the Lotusphere 2009 Opening General Session. "Hi, folks, Billy Mays here for Lotus Foundations! You don't NEED a whole closet full of servers!"

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1. John Smart09/30/2008 11:00:30 AM

Holy crap!!! So that means that if you phase shifted, then you could fall straight through the center of the earth and end up at the other side in a jiffy!!! Not accounting for friction, that would take... hmm... radius = 0.5at^2 to fall to the center, so approximately 15 days, times two to keep falling 'up' to the other side....

... ok, so maybe that's not such a good mode of transportation.

2. Bob Balaban09/10/2008 08:35:33 PM

You're criticizing BUCKAROO BANZAI!??? What are you, a member of Hanoi Shan's World Crime League?

Come on! Of course he's not going to accelerate towards the center of the earth. The way-cool race car projected the over-thruster beam ONTO the mountain before he drove through it! The phase-shift occurred in FRONT of him, not BELOW him.

That is definitely one of my all time fave movies. New audience cheer proposal for Lotusphere09: "Where are we going?" "8.5!"
"When?" "REAL SOON!"

3. Chris Toohey09/10/2008 01:14:55 PM

re: Something that bugs me
I absolutely agree with you... up until your T2 example. See, the T2 "oozed" through the bars, maintaining control of it's matter, but simply manipulating itself. It's the same principal behind its ability to make long pointy sticks out of its arms and not having them simply drip off or go limp like spaghetti- it's the robots ability to manipulate it's matter at the sub-atomic level and still maintain control that allows it to pour itself through the cracked helicopter window.

But back to the actual point - yeah, it's a plot device that's almost always overlooked in fiction: if you suddenly phase-shift to the point where you can pass through solid matter, the solid matter that's keeping you exactly where you are at the given moment would logically fall to the same laws as the matter you're attempting to pass through.

If you suddenly had the ability to maintain your "vertical" in that phase, I'm certain that you would also have issue with the rotation of the earth... which would basically be horizontally thrusted at near 1000 mph.

Y'know... perhaps people HAVE evolved this ability, but the die so horribly and quickly that we just don't have record of it!

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