March 2006

Battery cost of DRM has the skinny on battery life for portable music players, with this little gem on how much decoding the DRM on purchased music costs you:

Take, for instance, the critically acclaimed Creative Zen Vision:M, with a rated battery life of up to 14 hours for audio and 4 hours for video. CNET tested it at nearly 16 hours, with MP3s–impressive indeed. Upon playing back only WMA subscription tracks, the Vision:M scored at just more than 12 hours. That’s a loss of almost 4 hours, and you haven’t even turned the backlight on yet.

We found similar discrepancies with other PlaysForSure players. The Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder maxed out at 11 hours, but with DRM tracks, it played for less than 9 hours. The iRiver U10, with an astounding life of about 32 hours, came in at about 27 hours playing subscription tracks. Even the iPod, playing back only FairPlay AAC tracks, underperformed MP3s by about 8 percent.

In other words, you pay between 8 and 25% of your battery life for the privilege of not being able to listen to your music where ever you want… now that’s customer service!

(Thanks to Nerfduck for the link!)

Update 3/23/06: Some folks are pointing out that comparing WMA or AAC format with DRM to MP3 isn’t a fair test since it conflates the effect of DRM with the effect of the format itself (a fair test would be to compare WMA with DRM to the same files without DRM). And Ed Felten at Freedom to Tinker comments that regardless of whether the test compares apples to oranges, wouldn’t it be nice if we could choose which fruit we wanted to eat?

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Educational comic on copyright and fair use

Check out Bound By Law: Tales from the public domain, a comic about fair use and copyright in documentary filmmaking written by a cartoonist, a columnist and a filmmaker, all of whom also happen to be law professors specializing in intellectual property. Available for free download or paper-book purchase, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

(Link via Dr. Wex at Copyfight.)

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Great moments in design


So if you were designing the label for a night-time cold medicine, where would you put the instructions and proper dosage amounts?

If you answered “put it underneath the label, so the customer needs to peel it back to read it” then you might have a bright future in product-packaging!

I don’t know what kind of FDA-regulation constraints these designers are up against, but really — couldn’t they do better than this?

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Face-to-face & cellphone same for driving?

We all know that talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is dangerous (OK, except for that guy in the SUV that cut you off this morning). Cognitive Daily has nice summaries of a couple recent studies suggesting that talking on hands-free cellphones while driving is also dangerous due to the higher cognitive load, and furthermore that talking to a passenger sitting in the car may be no better.

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USACM policy statement on Digital Rights Management

Ed Felton has just posted a new policy statement on DRM from the U.S. public policy committee of the ACM, the main professional society for computer science. (The ACM has also posted the policy in PDF form.) Looks like a good set of recommendations — the highlights are that no specific DRM should be legally mandated and that DRM should be used to enforce existing copyrights, to assert new legal rights or to interfere with consumer behavior that’s unrelated to the copyrighted items being managed. Though not named specifically, those two points sound like a pretty clear condemnation of the Broadcast Flag and the anti-circumvention clauses of the DMCA.

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Frist pulling out all the stops to avoid Senate oversight of NSA wiretaping

Wow. Glenn Greenwald has the skinny on how Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is so determined to make sure the Intelligence Committee doesn’t look into Bush’s secret domestic wiretapping program (the vote was already delayed once by the Committee Chair after it became apparent that three Republican committee members were going to vote to hold hearings) that he’s threatening to end the special bipartisan power-sharing arrangement the intelligence committee has had since it was created 30 years ago. Sounds like a smaller version of the so-called Nuclear Option the Republicans were threatening over filibuster.

“If I can’t have my way, I’m just going to take my Democracy and go home…”

(Thanks to Judith for the link.)

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Depression, stress, and growing new brain cells

There’s a fascinating article in this month’s Seed Magazine called The Reinvention of the Self, describing the latest studies showing that we aren’t actually born with all the brain cells we’ll ever have, how stress and depression seem to keep new neurons from growing, and how antidepressants seem to encourage the growth of new neurons.

While not the main thrust of the article, it highlights what I think is a pretty basic philosophical issue for our age:

Gould’s research inevitably conjures up comparisons to societal problems. And while Gould, like all rigorous bench scientists, prefers to focus on the strictly scientific aspects of her data—she is wary of having it twisted for political purposes—she is also acutely aware of the potential implications of her research.

“Poverty is stress,” she says, with more than a little passion in her voice. “One thing that always strikes me is that when you ask Americans why the poor are poor, they always say it’s because they don’t work hard enough, or don’t want to do better. They act like poverty is a character issue.”

Gould’s work implies that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. Because neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not to rise above them, the monotonous stress of living in a slum literally limits the brain.

The more we peel back the curtains that hide how the mind works, the more we’re forced to face age-old questions about what free will and responsibility mean when you can see the clockworks ticking towards their inevitable action.

(Thanks to XThread for the link!)

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