July 2004

Another cross-industry DRM effort

From PRNewswire:

LOS ANGELES, July 14 (PRNewswire) — IBM, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Panasonic (Matsushita Electric), Sony, Toshiba, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Studios today announced the formation of Advanced Access Content System License Administrator (AACS LA), a cross-industry effort that develops, promotes and licenses technology designed to enhance digital entertainment experiences. This technology will facilitate the ability to enjoy exciting, new, flexible entertainment experiences for consumers in stand-alone, networked home and portable devices.

By “enhance digital entertainment experiences,” of course, they mean “have enough DRM that we’re willing to release our content at all, preferably without alienating all our legitimate customers.” Not clear how they intend to achieve this DRM equivalent of the Philosopher’s Stone, but they’ve got a lot of heavy-hitters involved…

More details are promised in coming days at http://www.aacsla.com/.

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How to Make a Guerrilla Documentary

The New York Times Magazine’s How to Make a Guerrilla Documentary article about the production of Outfoxed has everything you could ask for in a story about Internet-era guerrilla media: footage gathered by recording Fox News 24/7 for six months straight, volunteer watchdogs identifying and categorizing clips via email, simultaneous editing by five different editors coordinated over a secure Web site, even the risk of being sued for Copyright infringement as a way of silencing the work. Throw in Web distribution, coast-to-coast kick-off house parties organized by MoveOn.org, and commentary clips available for download over BitTorrent and what do you get? A hard-hitting political documentary, produced in only four and a half months for only $300,000.

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Our oh-so-on-top-of-things president

What does it say about our president that, the day before the Senate votes on an historic amendment to the US Constitution that, after being pushed through as a vital campaign wedge issue without allowing even debate in committee, the president’s email system doesn’t even list the issue as an acceptable subject for discussion in his menu of valid email subjects for dissenting views?

I submitted my letter under “Hate Crimes.” That seems the most appropriate given the nature of the bill.

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Taking a stand against equality in our name

Dear President Bush, Senator Feinstein, Senator Boxer, and Representative Eshoo:

We are a young nation, full of idealism and zeal and well-deserved pride. As is always true of the young, we have made many mistakes in our brief 228 years. In the end we must all reflect on the moments we were at our worst with the clarity of hindsight, and like a growing boy we pray we will be judged by future generations not by our missteps, but by how much we learned from them.

Our Constitution is our record of that growth. The nation our fathers brought forth in 1787 was a remarkable experiment, conceived in the radical notion that all men are created equal. But that nation still denied women and Negroes the vote, enshrined slavery as an inalienable right, and accepted a nation that, while lacking an aristocracy, still promoted a system strongly divided by class. If the morality of such institutions seems clear and obvious today, it is only because previous generations struggled to clear the fog of ignorance and prejudice that passed for common wisdom in their own time. To read the amendments to our Constitution is to read the record of how we struggle to face our human weaknesses and, on seeing them for what they are, how we then have the courage to put things right.

You, our representatives, are now debating whether by banning gay marriage our generation should take a stand to reverse this slow and steady march towards tolerance, respect, and equal protection under the law for all men and women. A decision to change course after so many years should not be made lightly, nor for political gain. Regardless of the outcome of individual votes, our future children and grandchildren will study this moment in school just as today’s children study our progress from the dark days of slavery to emancipation, integration of the Army and the Civil Rights Act. I trust you will give them every reason to be proud.


Dr. Bradley Rhodes
275 Hawthorne Ave. #106
Palo Alto, CA 94301

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Eat your children

HP’s Multi-user 411 Desktop computer is a cute idea: one Linux box with four monitors and four keyboards, sold to cash-strapped schools. It’s a perfect match really — the typical school computer lab is lots of seats close together, with low CPU needs but a tight budget. Currently they’re only selling them in South Africa, though there’s certainly interest elsewhere.

The strange part is all the nay-saying industry analysts in the Reuters article, with quotes like “As interest in the machine grows, the limited supply has turned a well-intentioned product into a source of confusion among educators and a point of debate among industry analysts, who question whether a major computer maker has an interest in bringing a low-cost alternative to a wider mass market.” Out here in Silicon Valley, that’s the kind of quote we like to put on the gravestones of large companies who refuse to eat their young.

The hardware is nothing special — it’s just a regular Intel box running Mandrake, with 4 NVIDIA Qdro4 100NVS 64MB DH cards (one AGP, three PCI), one PS/2 keyboard and three US keyboards, one audio card and three Telex P-500 USB Digital Audio Converters. Sounds like they’ve done a little bit of software coding to make it all smooth and there’s clearly value in buying from a brand-name company like HP, but if they decide it’s too risky I bet someone else could be producing near-identical machines within a week. Heck, make it a school project and kill two birds with one stone!

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I was at the Marin County Fair yesterday, and chatted with the woman at the John Kerry campaign booth for a while. As I donated a dollar and donned a button I noticed her life-sized Howard Dean cardboard cut-out in the back, and with pride she talked about how she’d never been political before in her life till nine months ago she quit her job and started working for the Dean campaign. In my case, I both voted for Dean in the primary and made my first campaign contribution ever to him — both after he’d already dropped out of the race. Unlike what you always hear on the news it wasn’t his anti-war rhetoric; as anyone who’s read here for a while knows I actually supported the idea of war with Iraq (though not the way it was implemented). It was his plain-talk pragmatism and his willingness to stand up for the American people, but most of all it was his message that we the American people can and should also stand up next to him and help carry our own burdens. This woman was a tribute to that message.

As I wore my Kerry button yesterday I mused about what I felt the campaign was missing. Kerry is competent and experienced, something I miss the most in the current administration, but doesn’t connect with me the way Edwards or Dean does. I still wore the button with pride, and I’ve even given a pretty sizable donation to the Kerry campaign already, but at least in part it was because Kerry isn’t Bush.

As of this morning, I’m feeling a lot better about the Democratic team. The Kerry/Edwards ticket fills in the message and human touch Kerry alone lacks, as well as the practical populism I’ve been missing. As for the message that we should stand up on our own, we don’t need that message to come from our candidates directly (that’s the whole point, no?). Dean continues to empower Americans through his new Democracy For America, large organizations like MoveOn.org and smaller communities like OB4 give another focal point, and here in California Schwarzenegger has been doing a good job breathing life back into the idea that government is of, by and for the people.

I’ll be wearing my new Kerry/Edwards button with pride. More importantly, I’m once again inspired to hold their feet to the fire when it comes to the issues important to me.

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Fahrenheit 9/11

I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 last Sunday, and to my surprise I wasn’t all that impressed. It was still good, but I didn’t like it nearly as much as I liked Roger & Me or Bowling for Columbine.

To some extent I think it’s that I had already heard most of this story already. I’ve been following the play-by-play through the various Congressional hearings, 9/11 commissions, and tell-all books so the only big surprises was in seeing all the video Moore dug up. But the big problem was that the movie lacked the solid focus that Roger and Columbine had.

Roger & Me tells the “simple” story of a city’s economic decline and the distant decision-makers who cause it. Columbine wanders around more, but every turn still asks the same question: why are our children dying? Perhaps it’s because the story kept shifting as he was making the film, but Fahrenheit 9/11 feels more like a montage. It starts with the story of an incompetent president used to getting whatever he wants from his Daddy’s connections, turning to the deep connections between the Bushes and the House of Saud (and for that matter, the Bin Ladens), shifting again to talk about how the rich reap the spoils of wars fought with the blood of the poor, and ending with an Orwellian moral that the only way the haves can keep the have-nots from demanding equality and justice is to keep them frightened by war eternal. These are all solid themes and the movie follows them all reasonably well (though sometimes it got a little too sophomoric for my taste) but when the lights came up I didn’t feel like he’d tied them together.

I’ll probably see it again before it leaves the theaters and see if I feel the same way the second time. Anyone else feel the same way after seeing it?

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