August 2004

Alice Cooper: Rock is no place for a street fighting man

Alice Cooper is ranting about how Kerry-supporting rock stars mix their rock-and-roll with politics:

“To me, that’s treason,” Cooper told the Canadian Press. “I call it treason against rock ‘n’ roll because rock is the antithesis of politics. Rock should never be in bed with politics.”

“When I was a kid and my parents started talking about politics, I’d run to my room and put on the Rolling Stones as loud as I could. So when I see all these rock stars up there talking politics, it makes me sick.”

I can only assume when he played the Stones he didn’t listen to the lyrics

(props to The Volokh Conspiracy for the link)

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Number of the Bass

(via engadget): DoCoMo Sentsu (a subsidiary of NTT DoCoMo) and the Fishing Boat and System Engineering Association of Japan are about to test a new system where fish are tagged with a 2D barcode that customers can scan with their cellphones and get everything they’d ever want to know about their dinner, including the fisherman’s name and where and when the fish was caught.

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Good explanation for Apple v. Real

My friend Rawhide just pointed me to an answer to my head-scratchings about Apple v. Real and how it fits with their give-away-the-blades and sell-the-razors strategy. From EFF’s Deeplinks:

So you’re Apple, and you make all your money selling iPods. You invest in the Music Store to make the iPod even more attractive, never intending to make much margin on the 99 cent downloads. But here’s the problem &mdash you really don’t want every other maker of portable digital music players to free-ride on your Music Store investment. After all, the Music Store is supposed to make the iPod more attractive than the competition.

Here’s where FairPlay comes in. It’s a great barrier to entry that keeps the iPod as the exclusive device for the Music Store. Competitors who dare to reverse engineer the protocols or otherwise support interoperability find themselves staring down the barrel of the DMCA.

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Time to change the locks?

Ed Felton has been blogging on the partial “cracks” (collisions) found in the MD5 and SHA-1 hash functions that are being reported at Crypto 2004.

Felton’s brief analysis:

Where does this leave us? MD5 is fatally wounded; its use will be phased out. SHA-1 is still alive but the vultures are circling. A gradual transition away from SHA-1 will now start. The first stage will be a debate about alternatives, leading (I hope) to a consensus among practicing cryptographers about what the substitute will be.

Note to self: design my systems so it’s possible to update crypto algorithms in all my legacy data, should the need arise.

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NPUC 2004 trip report

Every year Dan Russell at IBM Almaden hosts a small one-day workshop for HCI and related researchers to schmooze and talk a particular subject. This year’s topic was near & dear to my heart: what do we do with WAAAY too much information? The first half of the day featured talks from what Dan jokingly described as “people making the problem worse,” the second half dealt with specific methods for trying to understand huge amounts of information.

My trip report is now online for anyone who’s interested. Dan also promised that the conference video will be posted online — I’ll post a link when it’s up.

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From the nice-to-know-they-do-something-for-their-pay port…

Given the post-wardrobe-malfunction furor over at the FCC, it’s nice to see things fall on the side of free speech every now and then:

The November 20, 2001 episode involves a scene depicting Buffy kissing and straddling Spike shortly after fighting with him. Based upon our review of the scene, we did not find that it is sufficiently graphic or explicit to be deemed indecent. Given the non-explicit nature of the scene, we cannot conclude that it was calculated to pander to, titillate or shock the audience. Consequently, we conclude that the material is not patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.

(Props to Declan McCullagh’s Politech mailing list for the link.)

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Comments on Apple v. Real

My friend Nick ‘Rawhide’ Matsakis had some insightful comments on my question about Apple v. Real, and since I’ve somehow broken my comments form (grumblings on MovableType to come later) and he’s a grad-student-with-no-time-for-his-own-blog™ I’m posting them here.

The way I see it, there are three parts to Apple music triumvirate: The iPod, the iTunes Content Store, and the Fairplay format (AAC+DRM). Each of these support the other two in a devilish lock-in scheme. Customers don’t appear to mind this lockin so much since the Apple solutions are all in the top of their class and arguably best of breed.

Despite many competitors, no one else has this kind of seamless experience and there is still no one who can. Sony has crashed and burned (see here) and Microsoft will no doubt have an excellent music store, but the only player they have announced is a $400+ media center thingy that plays movies and shows pictures. Meanwhile, Apple will sell millions of iPods this Christmas, with the $250 Mini leading the charge.

Also, despite claims of being proprietary, Apple has opened up this triumvirate. HP will begin selling iPods in a few weeks, Motorola will begin selling Fairplay-enabled cell phones next year, and has been selling spoken-word content on iTunes for 9 months. So, what is the problem with Real making its content play on the iPod? The iPod is clearly the big moneymaker for Apple, so making it be able to play more content should only be a good thing, right?

On its face, yes, but I think there are two issues here. The first is one of control. Apple has ‘opened’ up its triumvirate, but only a tiny crack and only in ways that 1) are strategic for Apple and 2) maintain the quality of the experience for users (at least Steve Jobs’ vision of a quality experience). Having Real have access to the iPod doesn’t appear to offer either of these.

More iPod content is good, but the engineering effort required to maintain interoperability is better spent working with the likes of HP and Motorola, which will each bring the Apple solution to millions of customers (perpetuating the lock-in, etc.) Likewise, the deals with HP and Audible have maintained Apple’s control over the experience. I’d be surprised if the Motorola phones didn’t have an Apple-designed media player that enforced the Apple brand in its appearance and operation.

Also, more importantly, Real is a real competitor to Quicktime in the online streaming media domain. Apple would probably be very happy if Real disappeared completely, offering them a bigger slice of the cross-platform content-creation platform.

In short, I think this is all about Real, and the results might have been much different if another company had approached Apple trying to license fairplay. Personally, I want to think Apple is being foolish in not trying to get a broader base form MPEG-4/AAC over WMA. However, I think they are adopting the Microsoft battle plan: grab as much land as possible in the beginning then rent it to the rest of the world at a profit. This plan hurts consumers, but I think it is the only way that Apple will be able to hold off the onslaught of Microsoft.

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