No-fly zone

Stories like this one are becoming increasingly prevalent of late (via WebWord). Some of them are simply made up, some are exaggerated to make for better propaganda, but some of them are just true. It makes me a little bit worried that with all the anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-Bush stuff I’ve written this last year, I’ll find myself on a no-fly list when Scott and I do our Toad the Wet Sprocket road trip next year.

We’ll see. I do find it encouraging, though, that both right- and left-wing voices (the Lew Rockwell site on which this article appeared bills itself as “the premier anti-state, pro-market site on the net”–not my usual reading matter) in the US are expressing dismay and fear over the policies and practices that could turn the USA into a police state. “Land of the free,” and all that, remember?

And while I’m in the politics/economics zone anyway, Andrew Orlowski in The Register has an interesting article about the beginnings of a backlash against short-termism in investment markets. Well worth reading.

The Dawn Of Amber

To borrow Alex’s favourite phrase: uh-oh.

“Roger Zelazny’s The Dawn Of Amber – The New Amber Novel by John Gregory Betancourt.” I found this in Transreal bookshop this morning, and I cannot help but be afraid…very afraid.

The reviews I’ve found of it (Paul Di Filippo on, and Alma A. Hromic on do nothing to alleviate this anxiety.

I myself have extensively abused the Amber universe and mythology in numerous Amber role-playing sessions, but Zelazny’s canon has always been sacred. Yet here is the first volume in a new trilogy that has been sanctioned by Zelazny’s estate. (Note: not necessarily in accordance with Zelazny’s actual wishes.)

One of the cover quotes is from twice-Hugo-winning Richard A. Lupoff, who says:

“[Betancourt] is the ideal choice to assume Roger Zelazny’s mantle…”

Um. Neil Gaiman or Steven Brust would seem a more obvious choice, but there you go….

I bought the book, but I’m still not sure if I actually want to read it. I’ll let you know what I think if I do.


The other day, I noted that Edinburgh Council had banned filming at school events (such as nativity plays) where not all parents have given their consent. They have now rescinded this ban. Yay!

I would praise this as a victory for common sense, but unfortunately the Council only reversed their decision after parents threatened to take legal action against them. This is pointedly ironic, because the Council put the measure in place specifically to avoid lawsuits from parents (in case photos or films fell into the hands of paedophiles).

In other positive news, the US government has found Iraq’s 12,000-page declaration to be a “mostly accurate” description of their arms capabilities, and declared that they will wait until the weapons inspectors issue their final report before committing more troops and resources to the Gulf region.

Ah, shit, I just made that one up. Predictably, Bush & co. are holding firm to their policy of “Guilty until proven innocent, and even then we won’t believe the verdict.” I find their eagerness to go to war–jumping at any opportunity to pull the trigger–really scary.

With Al Gore ruling himself out of as a candidate for the 2004 presidential elections, political pundits are now giving King George good odds of winning a second term. Now that goes beyond scary and well into actively terrifying. A few months ago, a Channel 4 poll found that more than a third of people in the UK consider Bush a greater threat to world peace than Saddam Hussein.

Iraq has complied with the new UN resolutions, and in doing so has proved itself willing to find a diplomatic resolution to the current crisis. Why can’t we do the same? By continuing the military build-up in the Gulf region, and by talking nothing but the language of war, the West may be just trying to scare Hussein into following through on his promises. Speak loudly, and carry a big stick? This is almost the definition of brinkmanship. It’s a dangerous game, and one I wish we would stop playing.

Peace and goodwill to all men. Except them. And them. Oh, and definitely not them.

We’re livin’ in a mean time, in an aggressive time,
a painful time. A time where cynicism rots the vine,
in a time where violence blocks the summer shine

Michael Franti & SpearheadRock the Nation

These are conservative times. Western society is mean-spirited, small-minded, fearful, and selfish. As if we needed any more examples of this, here is an absolute classic: Edinburgh Council has banned parents from filming, or taking pictures of their children’s nativity play performances, in case the images fall into the hands of paedophiles. (The Guardian, BBC, Scotland on Sunday)

It’s not quite a complete ban. The rule is that the school or nursery must have written consent from each parent whose child is in the performance before anyone can use a camera. School staff are allowed to take pictures regardless, but they must ensure that any child whose parents have not explicitly granted permission is edited out.

This is one of the most blatant, cynical Cover-Your-Ass manoeuvres I have ever seen. It will not protect children, because a potential paedophile can still get into the audience to watch the performance. Or they could buy the school’s tape of the performance. Or they could even be a parent themselves, who is more than happy to provide the school with the appropriate consent form.

The measure is nonsensical on so many levels that it truly beggars belief. The only purpose it can serve is to protect Edinburgh Council from legal liability. If they sufficiently restrict the rights of the majority, then maybe they won’t have to deal with the transgressions of a minority.

It doesn’t work like that. The minority will transgress, and this measure does nothing to deal with what happens then.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who recognizes this. Edinburgh Council sneaked the guidelines under everyone’s radar two months ago. The newspapers have only just now got hold of them, and they’re going mental.

In other happy news, the US has now endorsed assassination as valid foreign policy, so long as the targets are classified as “combatants of war”. So the US is responding to attacks by suicide bombers with state-sanctioned assassinations. Hang on a moment. That sounds really familiar. Where have I seen that before…? Oh yes–Israel!

It’s good to see that the Bush administration has learned from one of the countries at the heart of the explosive tension that exists in the world today. In the last few years Israel has quite conclusively shown that you don’t need international approval, or weapons inspectors, or peace processes. Because attacking terrorism by killing your opponent’s leaders doesn’t create martyrs. It doesn’t lead to a vicious spiral of increasingly bloody retribution, either. So long as you have righteous indignation on your side, it’ll all work out just fine.

Publishing and Piracy

The last year or so has seen an almost endless stream of discussions on the subject of file sharing, peer-to-peer, music piracy, copy protection, and digital rights management. Unfortunately, most of these discussions involve only the technologists who understand the possibilities the internet brings. The publishers and money men seem to be lagging several years behind.

Napster opened in the middle of 1999. It lasted until mid 2001. That means it has been shut down for a year and a half now. And have the music publishers come up with a viable alternative? Er, no. They’ve been busy putting more extensive copy protection on their CDs so that customers (or, as they prefer, “consumers”) can’t put them up on Napster-like services in the first place.

Sigh. This is what us technologists find most frustrating. We are used to things happening in “internet time.” A new technique or standard is suggested one day, and a week later the first applications emerge. Stability is arived at in a matter of months; maturity comes within a year–two at most.

Two most interesting articles last week came from Robert X Cringely (who has been looking at these issues for the last few weeks) and Tim O’Reilly.

O’Reilly says:

“The music and film industries like to suggest that file sharing networks will destroy their industries.

Those who make this argument completely fail to understand the nature of publishing. Publishing is not a role that will be undone by any new technology, since its existence is mandated by mathematics. Millions of buyers and millions of sellers cannot find one another without one or more middlemen who, like a kind of step-down transformer, segment the market into more manageable pieces. In fact, there is usually a rich ecology of middlemen. Publishers aggregate authors for retailers. Retailers aggregate customers for publishers. Wholesalers aggregate small publishers for retailers and small retailers for publishers. Specialty distributors find ways into non-standard channels.”

Cringley says:

“The music recording industry is clinging to old habits. The world is changing, as is the way they COULD do business. Consumers are adapting, but the suppliers are not. Economics is like a seismic force. You can flow with the process or resist and cause the pressure to build. When it blows, it blows, and what could have been a process of logical evolution becomes a revolution and all the players change.”

Basically, the people who know what they’re talking about are getting sick and tired of all the heel-dragging that’s going on in the music publishing industry. (The book publishing industry is safe for a few years yet, because screen technology isn’t good enough to replace books.)

Here’s what I want out of a digital music service:

  • I want to type in the name of a song–any song–and get it. This was the original power of Napster. “Peer-to-peer” was just a distraction.
  • I want to be able to listen to songs on whatever device I like. If I download the song at home, I don’t want to have to pay again to listen to it at work, or on my minidisc player. Right now, the program that Sony provides with my minidisc player only allows me to place a single song on three different discs. I want to mix the music I’ve bought in any way I like.
  • I also want to be able to give a copy of a CDs or a minidisc to family or friends, to show them what I’m listening to, or to introduce them to cool new bands.
  • I want the digital format to be an open standard, so that–in principle–it can be played on any platform that chooses to support it. A proprietary format that only works on Windows isn’t going to cut it. Next year, I might decide to stick with Linux 🙂
  • I want to pay a fixed monthly fee for this service. I don’t want to have to think–let alone worry–about how much I’m spending when I listen to music. Having to watch the clock is a pain in the butt. Flat-fee, always-on, makes using the Internet just so much more pleasant. Going back to a per-minute or per-song system would seem like too much of a backwards step.
  • I want to pay for my music. I want to see the artists rewarded for their work. I want to see the publishers rewarded for their part in bringing the music to me.

Why is this so difficult? The technology to do this has been around for years.

I understand the concept of copyright, and I’m happy with it. I produce content (text, photos), and I don’t want people ripping it off. But there’s a difference between mass copying, and copying on a personal scale. One is piracy, and the other is free publicity. A system that does all the things I’ve outlined above would inhibit the former, while encouraging the latter.

I wish the music publishers would stop concentrating on copy protection, and start thinking about convenience. It’s just common sense.

The Even Quieter PC

While I had my PC’s guts hanging out anyway, I decided to go ahead with yet Quiet PC modification: a silent video card heatsink. I have an ATI Radeon 7200, which comes with an on-board heatsink and fan. The new heatsink is a huge thing of copper and aluminium that replaces both of these. Without a fan, it is obviously going to be quieter than the old cooling solution.

I had thought my PC was quiet before…. Wow.