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About Leigh BeadonTechdirt Insider

Leigh Beadon, formerly Marcus Carab, now a full-time member of the Techdirt team.

Located in Toronto, Ontario.



Posted on Techdirt - 28 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: November 22nd - 28th

from the thanksgiven dept

Five Years Ago

The parade of horrors from the TSA continued this week, as the world continued reacting to the new enhanced security processes. One man stripped down in an attempt to avoid being groped and ended up under arrest for failing to complete the security process, while a botched pat-down left another passenger covered in urine from a broken urostomy bag. President Obama took a trip with the CEO of the company that makes the naked scanners and soon after defended the scans, while people trying to find out if the TSA had ever successfully stopped a terrorist were rebuffed in the name of national security. It was clear that the rollout of the new scanners was rushed, leaving the whole process limited in its effectiveness, but that didn't stop newspapers from snidely mocking objections to the TSA or the San Diego Airport from saying that recording the groping procedure is an arrestible offence. The TSA was even making people go through the process after their flights, but their demonstration of the groping in congress seemed to backfire, and they couldn't even keep a loaded gun magazine from being left on a plane and found by a child. The TSA's overall failure all stemmed from the same issue: the myth of perfect security.

Ten Years Ago

The fallout from the Sony rootkit fiasco was dying down this week in 2005, but it wasn't over. Texas' attorney general sued the company while the numbers showed that infected Sony CDs took a significant sales hit. One anti-virus firm came out to dispel notions that it might have colluded with Sony by explaining why it was unable to detect the rootkit sooner, and we asked a critical question: can any business based on copy protection survive?

TiVo apparently thought so, as it was expanding its offerings of content on iPods and PSPs at the cost of more robust DRM and content controls. This was a precautionary measure that didn't seem to work, as TV executives almost immediately began threatening to sue. Another new company was simply begging to be sued (though it's a shame that's the case) by selling iPods with preloaded video ripped from simultaneously purchased DVDs.

iTunes also hit an interesting milestone: it surpassed Tower Records in sales.

Fifteen Years Ago

I highlighted that last point because five years earlier, almost to the day, a study predicted that MP3s would replace CDs within five years. Of course there's lots to debate about what exactly iTunes' sales milestone meant, and what "replacing" CDs means, and so on — but it is still delightfully prophetic on the surface.

The ASIMO robot is an ongoing project that is widely known today, but it was this week in 2000 that Honda first unveiled it. Around the same time, the first self-contained bionic hand was completed in the UK. Carmakers were experimenting with driver-assisting cameras and, less glamorously, hotels were using technology to automate and secure their minibars.

Oh, and Amazon got knocked offline on Black Friday, which is some very unlucky timing.

Twenty-Eight Years Ago

Last week, we highlighted a famous authorized (but unfortunate) interruption of a broadcast signal. This week, we've got the anniversary of what is probably the most famous unauthorized intervention on the airwaves. It was on November 22nd, 1987 that a still-unidentified person dressed as Max Headroom hijacked two Chicago television stations for no immediately obvious reasons. To this day, it remains a minor mystery.

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Posted on Innovation - 28 November 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: A New Approach To Smartphone VR

from the portability-maximized dept

Google Cardboard is a wonderful way to make virtual reality more accessible (you can even grab one on sale in the Insider Shop) but it still has its limitations. Today we're looking at a new twist on smartphone-powered VR: the Figment phone case with built-in viewer.

The Good

The main limitation to Cardboard-style VR rigs is that they simply aren't as powerful, immersive or responsive as headgear like the Oculus Rift — but in exchange they are affordable and mobile, with the potential to make VR (and its cousin, augmented reality) a bigger part of everyday life. However, if there's one thing that holds them back from fulfilling that potential, it's that they are bulky and somewhat ugly — portable, but not convenient enough to carry with you everywhere, and not something you can leave permanently attached to your smartphone. The Figment offers a new approach: it foregoes the boxy enclosure and embeds the most critical part — the lenses — directly into an iPhone case. The eyepiece sits flush with the back of the phone until you flip it out, at which point an aluminum arm holds the lenses in place at VR viewing distance, immediately bringing a 360-degree 3D video or an augmented reality layer to life.

Putting the lenses so close at hand unlocks the power of this type of lightweight VR as both a tool and a more common way to consume content. Setting up your Cardboard rig to check out a 3D YouTube video is a bit of a hassle that you'll only commit to on occasion; but flipping an eyepiece out of your phone hardly adds any barrier at all, and suddenly you might find yourself opening up such content on a whim.

The Bad

Obviously, the lack of a full enclosure means the Figment doesn't deliver a fully-immersive experience, and may be more suited to AR than VR on the whole. But that's a sensible sacrifice in service of the goal of portability and convenience — if and when it moves past the other key issue of only currently being available for iPhones, and as the price of full headset rigs comes down, Cardboard may start to look like an unnecessary middle ground: not as convenient as the Figment, not as immersive as the Rift.

The Content

Whether you've got a Rift or a Cardboard, or plan to get a Figment, you'll need content to enjoy. With VR becoming more widespread, a growing number of creators are working to harness its unique capabilities, and there's another Kickstarter project underway that's worth checking out: Blackout, "a virtual glimpse into the lives of strangers". It's an original virtual reality documentary based on the idea of reading the minds of fellow commuters on a stalled subway train, in which you can look around and hear thoughts based on actual interviews with real people from around the world. This sort of experimentation is what makes a new medium like VR truly exciting, so be sure to check it out.

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Posted on Techdirt - 27 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

Coincidentally Just In Time For Black Friday, It's The Techdirt Gear Clearance Sale!

from the insider-shop dept

We never planned to have a Black Friday event, but we have been getting ready to hold big sale for a while now, and it just so happens to have serendipitously coincided with the (in)famous shopping event — so here it is! Starting today, we're clearing out all our existing Techdirt merchandise to make room for new offerings in the future. Until December 13th in the Insider Shop, we're offering huge discounts on all our shirts, hoodies and more in the Techdirt Gear Clearance Sale.

In addition to favorites like the DMCA t-shirt and the Seized t-shirt (both over 40% off), we've dug up some old Techdirt classics from before the Insider Shop: t-shirts featuring the original DMCA design and one of our many inside jokes for only $10 each. We've got extremely limited quantities and size availability in these designs, and some will likely never be offered again, so act quickly if you want to grab one! There's a bunch of Techdirt logo gear with huge discounts too.

We've also got some gear from Techdirt's think-tank, The Copia Institute: a logo t-shirt and keychain, and a ready-to-assemble Copia Cardboard kit for diving into the world of smartphone-powered VR.

The Techdirt Gear Clearance sale runs until December 13th, and all merchandise orders will be processed and shipped together on the 14th and 15th. Check out the sale today!

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Posted on Techdirt - 22 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the bad-reactions dept

Following the attacks in Paris, many things were sadly predictable, including the crowd of encryption haters blaming Edward Snowden for the attacks. Responding to this, one anonymous commenter won most insightful comment of the week with a brief review of the facts:

14 years of ever-increasing surveillance
14 years with trillions of dollars in intelligence spending
14 years with trillions of dollars in military spending
14 years of torture and kidnapping
14 years of drone strikes
14 years of Guantanamo
14 years of crushed civil liberties
14 years of massive profits for defense/security contractors

And yet the western world's intelligence forces were unable to detect and prevent a poorly-planned and ineffective attack carried out by under-equipped amateurs. (If they were professional soldiers, heavily-armed, and better organized, then there would be thousands dead, not hundreds.)

Of course those on whose watch this happened will never, ever, EVER admit that this happened because they failed. Again. Instead they'll redouble their efforts toward the same tactics...never realizing and certainly never wanting to admit that you cannot fight the symptoms of terrorism, you must address its root causes. And in this case, sadly, the root causes trace back to the manipulation of the Middle East by western governments for their own ends. They created this monster and only now are they beginning to understand that it can and will turn on its creators.

At the same time, Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of demands for magical broken encryption that can't be abused, and That One Guy won second place for insightful by pointing out the real "enemy" in their fight:

Wrong enemy

When, to be blunt, idiots and/or liars claim that tech companies are 'refusing to work with police and the government', and that if only they'd stop being so 'antagonistic' towards the calls for breaking encryption a solution could be found that would allow the 'good guys' in, but keep the 'bad guys' out, they reveal that their 'enemy' is not the tech companies, but a much more troublesome foe:


No amount of wishing, no laws or calls for 'co-operation' or threats of 'do it on your own or be forced to do it by law' will change the underlying fact, a fact that they are either dishonestly ignoring, or just too clueless to know:

There is not, and never will be, such thing as secure broken encryption or 'good guys only' security vulnerabilities.

At this point there is absolutely no excuse for anyone in the government or police speaking on the matter not to have done enough research to know this, so I can only assume that they know full well that they are demanding the impossible, and yet continue to lie and claim that it is possible, if only those dastardly tech companies would try harder.

Those that claim that it's possible for a 'golden key' system to be created, that claim that it's possible to weaken security such that only certain individuals can take advantage of the glaring vulnerability are either fools or liars, and need to be called out on it either way.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with a response to the judge who mocked the very idea that being kicked off the internet was a big deal, comparing it to his son's complaints about being forced off the computer. A slightly more in touch anonymous commenter introduced him to the year 2015:

If I lost my internet:
My children could not do their homework because it's in the 'cloud'
I could not do my job where I am responsible for keeping elearning websites online 24/7

This asshole cares about HIS son getting an education and doing his homework but not anyone else.

Close minded, lack of critical thinking jackasses like this should not be allowed to sit on the bench.

In second place, we've got a simple response from jupiterkansas to a common refrain about police body cameras — the idea that the public can't handle the reality of law enforcement:

We know what you do isn't pretty, but we want to make sure what you do is legal.

Over on the funny side, we start with yet another anonymous commenter, who won first place with some thoughts about the ongoing failures of national security agencies in the face of attacks:

The Department of Hindsight Security knows exactly what happened after it happens.

In second place, we've got Almost Anonymous, who caught an error in our coverage of the attempts to retain a copyright on the diary of Anne Frank:

Spelling error in article
It's already somewhat questionable that we extend copyright after death, but to enable an organization to claim that someone else has had a copyright in a work decades after his death when he did nothing during his own life to claim it seems exceptionally questionable.
Mike, you misspelled "bat shit insane" twice.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out with net another stupid response to the Paris attacks, this from from Rep. Joe Barton who wants the FCC (for some reason) to eliminate ISIS from the internet (somehow). Just Another Anonymous Troll proposed a simple way to honor his request:

I'd just cut off Barton's internet and declare victory. He can't see those sites anymore.

Finally, after we noticed a ridiculous rush to patent marijuana in the growing legalized industry, Roger Strong put things in terms of an anti-drug PSA:

"This is your patent system."

"This is your patent system on drugs."


"That's strange, there was supposed to be a difference."

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 21 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: November 15th - 21st

from the standard-procedures dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we really saw things heat up around the TSA and its newly-introduced "backscatter" scanners and "enhanced" patdowns. One man was threatened with a lawsuit by the agency for refusing to be groped, while a woman who shared a similar story on the radio was nitpicked and accused of lying in a TSA blog post. The agency stood by its position when confronted, actively defending the techniques, and it even seemed like the public was okay with the naked scans — but it turned out that was only if you didn't mention the "naked" part. Tests were showing that similar scanners were frequently fooled by clothing, but Time Magazine was standing up for the TSA and saying the backlash was just internet hype, even as the agency was being sued by a pilot over its intrusiveness. Congress, of course, was unconcerned — perhaps because congresspeople who fly commercial get to skip the process.

Meanwhile, the COICA online censorship bill was back up for a vote in the Senate, and the MPAA's interim CEO was out defending it with false claims. Nineteen senators voted to move forward with the bill while one (Ron Wyden) was saying he'd block it.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2005 was all about the fallout from the Sony rootkit fiasco. After a week of being hammered, Sony finally relented and agreed to pull the CDs from stores. This was after the "uninstaller" they released was found to open up a new security hole which, upon examination, turned out to be a really massive and stupid one. Even after Sony's too-little-too-late announcement, people continued scrutinizing the rootkit, and noticed several other things — like the fact that it contained copyright-infringing code, and that this wasn't the first mistake of this nature from Sony. The rootkit appeared to be on track to become the biggest malware of the year, and some wondered why security firms didn't catch it sooner (while others wondered if they could trust any software from Sony). By the end of the week, the company made another act of reluctant contrition, offering DRM-free MP3s to people affected by the rootkit.

Fifteen Years Ago

Back in 2000, like many other observers, Techdirt didn't catch on to just how big mobile devices were going to become. When the CEO of Ericsson suggested they'd become more popular than PCs for accessing the web, we had serious doubts; when United offered wireless flight bookings, we wondered if it was important; when Samsung created a phone that could stream video, we questioned its usefulness. Well, live and learn! It was a different time after all — when the idea of people turning up in naked photos online was new and strange, and there was a console manufacturer called "Sega" mocking its competitor, the Sony PlayStation 2.

Forty-Seven Years Ago

We all know now that standard procedure for a television network when a live sporting event runs long is to keep the cameras rolling and delay whatever else was on the schedule (well, except for a younger generation that probably only has a vague idea of what a "television network" is). But there's a first time for everything, and today's standard procedure was November 17th, 1968's sudden and unexpected disaster: the infamous "Heidi Game", when the dramatic conclusion to a Raiders-Jets game (with the latter scoring two last-minute touchdowns to turn the game around) was cut from the airwaves in favor of Heidi, a made-for-TV movie adaptation of a 19th-century Swiss novel. Fans were unimpressed, and indeed nobody thought this was a good idea, but since nobody had thought about it in advance, the long-running game caused utter chaos, as Wikipedia summarizes:

...[NBC executives Connal and Cline] agreed the game would not end on time. Both supported running the end of the game, but given [NBC President] Goodman's instructions, his permission was required. Connal agreed to call NBC Sports president Lindemann, and that he and Lindemann would then speak to Goodman. After promising Cline a return call, Connal reached Lindemann by telephone. Lindemann agreed that the end of the game should be broadcast, and both men began trying to reach Goodman. Lindemann was successful in reaching Goodman, and asked the network president, "What about the instruction to broadcast operations control that Heidi had to go on at 7:00 ET, no matter what?" Goodman replied, "That's crazy. It's a terrible idea." Lindemann then set up a three-way conversation with himself, Goodman and NBC Television president Don Durgin. After several minutes of discussion, Durgin agreed to delay the start of Heidi until after the game was completed. ...

Cline, watching the clock nervously, attempted to call Connal back, only to find both lines busy. He waited as long as he could, then made one final, unsuccessful attempt. Unknown to Cline, Connal was talking to Goodman, who had agreed to "slide the network", that is, start Heidi as soon as Curt Gowdy signed off from the game. Connal called the game producer, Ellis, in Oakland, to tell him the news, then called the BOC [Broadcast Operations Control] supervisor in Burbank – who, not knowing Connal, refused his order, and insisted on speaking with Goodman directly. As Goodman had disconnected to allow Connal to call Oakland, this could not be done.

Beginning about 6:45, many members of the public began calling NBC network and affiliate switchboards. Some demanded the game be shown to its conclusion; others wanted to know if Heidi would start on time. These calls jammed the switchboards, and even blew repeated fuses in them, preventing the executives from getting through to each other to resolve the situation. NBC protocol required an operations order from Connal, to countermand the midweek written orders, but Cline received no call from the increasingly desperate Connal, who was frustrated by the switchboard issues. Without such an order, and not knowing of Goodman's approval, Cline made the decision that Heidi would start on time.

Today, television networks have what's colloquially known as a "Heidi phone" — a dedicated line for just such situations, to prevent that mess from ever happening again (though I imagine this has been replaced by or supplemented with even more reliable instant communication by now, too).

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Posted on Innovation - 21 November 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Let's Bore The Censors

from the rate-this dept

Film ratings and content warnings seem like a perfectly harmless and sensible idea in theory, but in practice they become a tool of censorship and industry protectionism. The UK has its own issues in this regard that are not unlike the ones we see in the US, and one filmmaker has come up with an amusing idea to fight back: crowdfunding a long and uneventful film of paint drying, to at least bore the censors to tears.

The British Board of Film Classification (formerly known as, yes, the British Board of Film Censors) is the UK equivalent of CARA, the film-rating portion of the MPAA. Both were formed by the industry to avoid government-administered content regulations, but where the MPAA's ratings stranglehold on the industry is based almost entirely on an economic monopoly, the BBFC's is backed up by ratings requirements in UK law. Where the MPAA can't actually ban films (instead forcing them to choose self-censorship or economic suicide), the BBFC can.

But the BBFC has one weakness, of sorts: it has to watch the films, even if it decides not to let anyone else do so. In fact, it seems to be quite proud of its commitment to watching every minute of footage that is submitted for classification. This gave Charlie Lyne, a London filmmaker and critic, an idea for how to take a dig at the BBFC while also sparking conversation around this under-discussed issue: force the censors to watch a very long, very boring, very pointless film of paint drying.

One of the most interesting things that this stunt highlights is the pricing system, whereby filmmakers must pay a per-minute fee for work they submit to the board — a fee that is trivial for a big studio production, but not so much for an indie working with a shoestring budget. Of course, in this case, Kickstarter neatly takes care of that problem: the final film will be scaled in length to the amount raised, with the crowdfunded cash paying the per-minute fee. Lyne has 14 hours of footage ready to go, which he figured would be plenty (it would cost a little over £6000 to get all that reviewed), but he's prepared to shoot more. And it looks like he might have to, since the campaign is past the halfway mark of using up all that drying paint. If it hits 13 hours, it'll snag a record too, becoming the longest film ever reviewed by the board.

A fan has even set up a website where you can track the length of the film based on the money raised so far. With 24 days still to go in the campaign, it looks like the BBFC is going to be staring at that paint for a very long time. Of course, it's easy to wonder if they actually will, but at least they confirmed to Mashable that they do watch every minute of submitted footage — plus, it's always possible someone slipped some objectionable content in at hour 7, right? What choice do they have?

So if you'd like to bore some censors and help spark conversation around the issue of movie ratings — which many people just assume are a system that works reasonably and fairly in the background, rather than a powerful and determining factor in the movie industry — head on over to the Kickstarter page and contribute a minute or two to this groundbreaking crowdfunded film.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 17 November 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 51: Bubbles, Busts & Unicorns

from the that-horn-looks-dangerous dept

Ever since the bubble and bust of the 90s, Silicon Valley observers have been wondering if and when history will repeat. Lately, some have been pointing to the trend of "unicorn" companies as evidence that we might be heading down that road again, while others have made the case that the fear is overhyped. This week, we discuss the elusive unicorn and what it means for the future of the tech industry.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the guess-who dept

It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that this week's top comments were dominated by responses to the Patrick Zarrelli situation. Three out of the four winners by vote were on that post, with the first being GMacGuffin taking most insightful comment of the week with an observation about word choice:

You can tell that Mike is fully gobsmacked by the stupidity of a circumstance when he uses "Dude" as a pronoun more than once in a story.

Second place on the insightful side is the exception, coming instead in response to the leaked Comcast documents that confirmed what everyone expected about data caps. That One Guy unpacked the company's weasel words:

Truth by technicality, the best kind of truth

Don't say: "Data Cap" (This is not a cap. We do not limit a customer's use of the Internet it any way at or above 300 GB)"

In the same way, 'speed limits' don't actually stop you from going over the listed speed, you're just penalized if you do.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with a simple anonymous response to the news that the head of the House Judiciary Committee went for dinner with the head of the MPAA following a Los Angeles copyright hearing:

To a large extent, Silicon valley is about enabling people to do things, while the MPAA is about controlling people. Guess which group politicians feel most at home with, and will therefore listen to?

Next, after a charity started attempting to claim ownership of the recently-invalidated Happy Birthday copyright, another anonymous commenter made a key observation about the lyric side of this copyright battle that's often easy to forget:

The lyrics consist of 6 words (minus the repetition) ! It's got less content than a 1/4 of a tweet. How is that worthy of a copyright monopoly.

Over on the funny side, we return to Patrick Zarrelli's world and remain there for the duration. In first place is an anonymous commenter who may have figured out the nature of the supposed "bar complaints":

He's probably filing bar complaints to his local bartender as he cries in his drink of choice.

In second place, it's techflaws coining a new version of an old term:

This will probably soon become known as the 'Chewbacca offense'.

For the editor's choice, we'll follow up with Mark Wing, the one commenter on that post who expressed some concern:

Are you going to hire Tim back when he gets out of prison?

And finally, since he made a good point (and called my attention to it directly), Roger Strong and Patrick Zarrelli himself can share the final spot based on the former's nomination:

Attn: Leigh

So many comments on this topic have been "deemed funny by the community", all of them were inspired by Patrick Zarrelli's performance art.

Let's not forget that while Zarrelli's own submission may have arrived by post, it was still a Reader's Comment to Techdirt. Please do not deny him the Funniest Comment of the Week honors.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: November 8th - 14th

from the long-strange-trip dept

Five Years Ago

Let's start out on the patent front. This week in 2010, the USPTO issued new guidelines that made it harder to reject patents for obviousness, while MIT's tech review disappointingly came out in favor of patent trolls. Microsoft and Motorola got entangled in a full-scale patent war, while patents intersected with actual war when South Korea tried to use them to stop North Korea from copying its uniforms. Facebook also filed its first patent lawsuit — a countersuit against a patent aggressor.

Meanwhile, in the game of piracy whac-a-mole, we saw a bunch of LimeWire replacements start popping up after the shutdown, including new unofficial versions of LimeWire itself — leading to the supremely ironic situation of LimeWire complaining about unauthorized copies. Cooler heads, however, were discussing the bigger picture: the EU Commissioner was telling copyright middlemen to get with the times, musician Phil Elverum (who I've seen live twice — once in a church, and once quite literally in a tree) was urging musicians to let music be free and sell valuable scarcities, and one law professor was using hip-hop as a case study in why copyright laws badly need to be updated.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2005, the world was still in the wake of the Sony rootkit scandal. Despite the PR disaster, the company was still pursuing new copy protection schemes, while we looked towards the class action lawsuit that was in the works. The company's response was feeble and insulting, claiming that rootkits weren't a big deal because most people don't know what they are, and the EFF took a look at Sony's EULA only to discover a clause saying that if you declare bankruptcy, you must delete the music. Unsurprisingly, virus writers started using the widespread rootkit to their advantage and to cover up their work, and by the end of the week Sony had finally agreed to stop making and distributing rootkits... temporarily.

Fifteen Years Ago

Groups like Anonymous have become well known in recent years, but "hacktivism" has roots going all the way back to this week in 2000, when website defacement and DOS attacks were in their infancy and not always very effective. Of course, the best "DDOS" of the time was a natural one: the presidential election generated enough traffic to knock out a bunch of political websites.

We also saw one of the silliest events in the Napster war this week in 2000: the RIAA sent a letter to Napster requesting that they issue a personal apology to Lars Ulrich, as if (as we put it at the time) he was "5 years old and crying in the corner because some other kid took his toys". But perhaps it was foolish to expect anything more mature.

Also in 2000: a lot of things sucked, like mobile phone service and search engines and online banking and voice recognition and many aspects of shopping online. You can decide for yourself how far each of those things has come...

Ninety-Three Years Ago

The BBC is one of the most respected public broadcasters in the world, but what not everyone knows is that before it become the Crown-controlled "British Broadcasting Corporation" it had a brief four-year stint of life as the privately-owned "British Broadcasting Company". It was on November 14th, 1922 that it began mediumwave broadcasts from the Marconi House in London and aired the first BBC newscast, and on November 15th that it launched two additional channels in Manchester and Birmingham.

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Posted on Innovation - 14 November 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Open Source For Your Brain

from the eeg-for-all dept

Last year, a pair of creators crowdfunded OpenBCI — an open source software suite and interface board that made biosensing — taking readings of electricity in the human body, especially the brain — far more affordable and accessible. Now, the same people are back with the pushes this even further with new, even more affordable gear.

The Good

Electroencephalography has been evolving for nearly 150 years, but up until very recently it was exclusively the domain of researchers and doctors with access to the expensive, high-tech equipment and software required. Lately there have been fledgling steps to bring direct brain sensing into consumer technology for various applications, but in today's world of makers and tinkerers, there's exciting potential if the basic technology is made available to all. OpenBCI is all about making that happen: the first iteration focused on open-source software and a more affordable interface, but still required lots of equipment and know-how to set up and make use of a full biosensing rig. Now, they're busting through those remaining barriers.

The new OpenBCI offerings are an even more affordable interface board — "The Ganglion" — and a kit for building customizable 3D-printed headsets. The goal is to make the technology feasible for anyone who's interested — high schools, makers, independent researchers, and anyone operating with a shoestring budget. The Ganglion interface clocks in at a mere $100, and the parts for the headset (including new dry electrodes, eliminating the need for a lengthy and messy application of gel to a subject's head) only $350. The software, as well as the plans for 3D printing a headset, are all fully open source and available for free on Github. All told, for less than five-hundred bucks, anyone can start experimenting with technology that not long ago was almost completely inaccessible.

The Bad

What could be bad about giving people easier access to important tools for cutting edge science and engineering? Not much, really. As with most such things, there's a question as to what people will actually do with it, and how many really have a need for it — but that's thinking backwards. Apart from the obvious learning value if this is brought into schools, there's the fact that much of the untapped or unseen potential of brain-sensing technology stands to be unlocked by getting it into the hands of more people. Direct brain interfaces for computing have been possible for some time now, and many experiments in that area continue to happen, but these cheaper OpenBCI tools could be a major step towards making this exciting technology mainstream and finding new and useful applications for it.

The Open

High-tech Kickstarter projects can be divided into two camps: those focused on establishing a consumer brand, with closed technology and pages riddled with trademark signs and proprietary language, and those that are committed to expanding the world of open source, open hardware, hackable technology and interoperability. It's extremely gratifying that OpenBCI is so firmly in the latter camp. For the time being, a brain-computer interface isn't something average consumers are going to go pick up in a sleek box like a new iPhone — but it is something that developers and engineers are going to want to experiment and play with. If the technology were made affordable in the form of a locked-down consumer product, we'd still see lots of experimentation, but it would rely on a lot of hacking and reverse-engineering. Thanks to OpenBCI's commitment to open source and hardware, people with exciting ideas don't have to jump those hurdles. Thanks, OpenBCI!

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 10 November 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 50: Our Podcast About Podcasts

from the oh-so-meta dept

Fifty episodes! Having skipped just two weeks in the past, this marks one whole year of the Techdirt Podcast! In honor of that, we're taking on a very relevant topic that we haven't yet discussed: the medium of podcasting itself.

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 8 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the harbors-and-takedowns dept

This week, when a law professor wrote a ridiculous attack on Section 230 of the CDA, it garnered a lot of backlash — and our most insightful comment of the week. First place goes to TasMot, who headed over to site where the piece was published and hoped to participate:

Since the author and readers of the Boston University Law Review may not also be readers of TechDirt, I went to their website to post a comment so that they could react to your rebuttal of the author's claims. Funny, no comments allowed. It appears that the Law Review, you know, those lawyer types, don't want to deal with the pesky 1st Amendment problems of dealing with comments. They just want to post random opinions of lawyers, you know the ones that support the laws of the land in court. If they had some experience with comments, maybe they would have their own push back against her very one sided fact free article.

In second place, we've got a response to the MPAAs recent "victory" in shutting down some movie sharing sites. That One Guy reminded everyone of the real motivations:

It's never been about the money. It's about the competition and control. Could they adapt, learn from sites and services like the ones listed and offer something similar? Sure, but that would require them to offer their movies on the terms that the public wants, rather than the terms they're so used to dictating. If people with essentially zero funding can throw together wildly popular services for movies, Hollywood, with it's billions, could easily craft a superior service, and make an absolute killing doing so. And if all they cared about what the money, you can be sure that they would. So why haven't they? Because doing so would require them to give up the control that they cherish, even more so than the money they love so much. No more geo-blocking or release windows, no more DRM infections locking down movies to be watched only on certain devices and in certain ways, no more lucrative licensing deals for 'exclusive access'. If they could decimate piracy rates such that the overwhelming majority of people were willing to sign up for the 'official' offering(and make no mistake, done right a service like that absolutely would, like Netflix on steroids) then there would be no justification for restrictive laws to 'protect' them, no massive burdens on everyone else to play unpaid copyright-cop. That services like Popcorn Time exist shows what the *AA's could do, but chose not to, so of course they do everything they can to kill them off. It's easy to convince people that bread and water is a great meal if that's all they know, but after they've experienced what real food tastes like, selling that bread and water becomes a lot more difficult.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we head back to our response to the attack on the CDA, since that garnered a lot of our most insightful comments this week. First, after one commenter suggested that getting rid of Section 230 would be fine because sites could just moderate their comments, cpt kangarooski explained why this is completely backwards with a brief history lesson about the CDA:

Nope! Without section 230, the safe road is to not allow users to post anything at all; the second best choice is not to edit it at all. The last thing anyone would do would be to moderate comments; that would be a litigation minefield.

Section 230 was enacted in order to encourage ISPs and sites to engage in moderation. Under the pre-CDA rules, the traditional approach for this sort of litigation applied online was that of newspapers and other periodicals, in which anything that appears is the responsibility of the publisher as well as the actual author. Some courts were looking at a model that treated online services more like a piece of equipment; the owner of a xerox machine will not be liable for libelous matter that is copied using the machine, at least provided that the owner doesn't know what's going on.

This led Congress to pass section 230 as part of the Communications Decency Act, which was aimed at encouraging, empowering, and requiring the removal of a lot of smut online. Without it, an ISP that dared to allow user posting would never edit anything since it would guarantee total liability; the CDA was meant to protect ISPs from that liability so that they would feel safe to engage in censorship.

Turns out, much of the CDA was unconstitutional and ISPs are lazy and don't want to spend money censoring things if they can avoid it. So while there were a lot of protests against the CDA (blacking out pages and posting blue ribbon gifs) it turned out to be a massive reversal that has been quite good for free speech online.

tl;dr -- The troll has it completely backwards -- no one would ever moderate comments without the protection of the CDA

Next, we've got Tice with a J responding specifically to the idea that Section 230 safe harbors should be replaced with a DMCA-like notice-and-takedown model:

Here's the thing about using the DMCA model for anything besides copyright: it would remove all the sanity checks still contained within the DMCA.

As long as the notice-and-takedown system is confined to copyright, anyone wanting to take something down has to connect the targeted information to some specific copyrighted information. This isn't a very good sanity check, hence all the abuses of the DMCA, but it ensures that, at least some of the time, takedowns have to be justified by their connection to some very specific piece of information.

But what if you apply this to true threats? Or libel claims? Or invasions of privacy? Or the nebulous category of "hate speech"? The limit is gone. "Take down this information because it looks too much like that information" has been replaced with "take down this information because it hurts my feelings". The monster has broken free of its last chain, and is now set to devour everything. The new ContentID would have to programmed to destroy all content, just in case.

Of course, that wouldn't really happen. What would happen, after the huge initial surge of takedowns, is that the major players - the ones with money and connection - would have unchecked power to destroy anything they didn't like. Think of the recent showdown between Mother Jones and VanderSloot, but imagine Mother Jones being completely censored during the three years of litigation. Could Mother Jones even survive three years of silence? I think not.

I suspect that this is what Ann Bartow wants. And maybe Arthur Chu wants it, too.

Over on the funny side, we start out on our post about the latest turn in the Redskins trademark battle, which plastered a variety of vulgar trademarks across the web this week. But one anonymous coward was concerned that the lines had been crossed somewhere:

I think you are mistaken

Those weren't approved applications, they were mistakenly leaked NSA program codenames.

In second place, we've got a response to a guest post this week which was admittedly a little longer than the average Techdirt post. 024601 couldn't resist an amusing comment to that effect:

Is there a long form version of this article available?

For editor's choice on the funny side, we loop back to our post about the MPAA, where DannyB gave their ongoing war the epic overture it deserves:

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away . . .

There was a single music sharing program called Napster.

Once that was shut down, no other successors* emerged to share music, and then eventually also movies.

* the long list of successors you might be thinking of are a figment of your imagination. Hollywood Accounting whittles that number of successors down to zero.

Finally, after the "Copyright Arbitration Board of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office" attempted to define "snippets" strictly as seven words or less, ChurchHatesTucker found the perfect way to demonstrate how ludicrously short that is:

The Copyright Arbitration Board of the

Sorry, that's all I can afford.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 7 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: November 1st - 7th

from the things-change dept

Five Years Ago

First, one of the most notable events of this week in 2010: a proposal started making the rounds in the EU, calling for a newly conceived right to be forgotten. What ever happened with that?

Meanwhile, we saw plenty of copyright clashes: a reality show was sued for copying its premise from another show (shocking!), a YouTube star was silenced because apparently parody isn't fair use, and online radio was being stymied across the board by the DMCA. At least it was nice to see the librarians of Brazil state that copyright is a fear-based reaction to open knowledge, while Lawrence Lessig was pointing out to the WIPO that copyright was not designed for an age when every use is a copy.

In the world of patents, we were surprised to see the DOJ come out against isolated gene patents (which did not make the USPTO very happy at all). But there was still plenty of room for patent abuse, what with the chief CAFC judge ignoring the negative side of patents and Colgate trying to patent a traditional tooth-cleaning powder that was thousands of years old.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2005 was when the tech world was rocked by the Sony rootkit scandal. First, the nefarious copy protection scheme on Sony CDs was discovered, sparking off a firestorm of reaction. Then it became clear that the rootkit opened up a huge security hole that others could piggyback on. Then some people noticed that other companies were doing similar things. Sony promised to "fix" the problem, but not by actually letting you uninstall the "copy protection", and then people noticed that the patch contained a bunch of other questionable stuff, and sometimes crashed Windows. Nobody was impressed, and the fallout plagues Sony to this day, deservedly so. You'd think this might put a damper on the entertainment industry's enthusiasm for DRM, but of course this was the same week Hollywood started seeking to plug the "analog hole" (though thankfully Congress didn't seem very interested).

Fifteen Years Ago

There was plenty of the usual 2000 stuff this week: dot-coms may or may not have been failing, tech incubators were struggling, spam was everywhere, much like tech conferences, and so on... But the most interesting tidbit is one that reminds us of something it's often easy to forget: copyright was not always a central topic of Techdirt, and the blog was not an ongoing participant in that debate. Thus, when the Copyright Office announced its support of a law to prevent the circumvention of copy protection, Mike noted that "I don't follow this stuff as closely as many people do" and made only a simple comment about how anti-circumvention seems nonsensical from a security point of view. Oh how things have changed!

Forty-Seven Years Ago

Around here, we mostly talk about the MPAA for its ongoing Sisyphean war against piracy — but to most people, it's best known for the voluntary rating system on movies (which has its own host of problems). Well, it was on November 1st, 1968 that the voluntary ratings came into effect, replacing the Hays Code (which also had its own host of other problems, but that's another story).

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Posted on Innovation - 7 November 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: The Final Piece Of The VR Puzzle?

from the lean-don't-walk dept

We've talked before about how the booming field of virtual reality may start with better VR headsets and displays, but requires additional pieces of tech to truly meet its full potential. This week, we're looking at one such piece of tech that tackles the most critical VR challenge of all: the VRGO chair for controlling movement in a virtual world.

The Good

There's one fundamental challenge that has plagued the world of VR from its inception: how do you move about the virtual world? Of course, you can just do so with a joystick or directional pad like any other game, but that's extremely immersion-breaking in most cases, reminding you at every turn of the one thing VR is supposed to make you forget — that you're playing a game. At the other end of the spectrum, some have built multi-directional treadmill rigs that allow you to walk and run in place, but these have their own list of problems, such as the fact that they are very big and very expensive. Plus, it's not always appealing to exert the same amount of physical energy to play a game as you would if you were actually the superhuman action hero you control.

The VRGO offers a new solution. It's a sleek, compact chair that is carefully calibrated to detect your leaning and turning, and translate these movements into game controls. It offers the sort of direct, intuitive control that VR needs without requiring a dedicated room for all your gear or a budget of thousands (it clocks in at around $300 USD, which is hardly eyewatering) and while keeping your hands free. It's wireless and portable, and works not only with PC/Mac but with mobile devices (where a lot of VR experimentation is now happening). Plus, you get to sit down. All told, it may be the single best solution to the problem of movement in VR, especially if price is a factor in that determination.

The Bad

Videos of the VRGO in action tell us it looks good, appears to be responsive and makes users smile — but as with any such device, the ultimate test will be using it yourself to find out how it feels. Does your brain embrace the immersion and forget about the chair, or are you permanently aware that you're rocking back and forth on a plastic egg? And how quickly does this transition happen? Questions like these are why it might be tough to shell out money for the first model, unseen and untried, rather than waiting for some testimonials and hopefully a shot at trying it out somewhere. Still, if the VRGO lives up to its apparent potential, it (and the inevitable imitators, some of which may even improve the design) could become the go-to standard for VR gaming rigs.

The Combinable

While it might actually be fun to try the VRGO out all by itself for certain kinds of normal, non-VR games, obviously the real point of this device is to combine it with, at minimum, a VR display like the Oculus Rift or a smartphone in a Google Cardboard headset. Then there's a rapidly growing world of additional components: Wii-style handheld motion controllers, Kinect-style cameras, tactile feedback gloves, 3D audio systems... And this raises what might be the key challenge for VR as the technological kinks are ironed out, the price comes down, and it becomes mainstream: getting everything to work properly in concert and deliver an overall satisfying experience. In time there will surely be some companies selling comprehensive VR rigs with everything included, but for most gamers (PC gamers especially) their rig will be assembled from multiple different devices. Even assuming there are no strict hardware compatibility issues, there's an interesting question of calibration and optimization — will all these devices feel good together? Will the sensitivity and responsiveness of your VRGO harmonize with that of your motion control camera, or will it create a looming sense of physical dissonance? This isn't just a hardware challenge, but a software one too, and we'll see lots of action on this front as more developers build games with VR in mind as a (or the) primary use case. As the technology for VR comes into its own and the games proliferate, we'll have to move beyond answering each individual question of how to interact with the virtual world, and start focusing on marrying all these aspects into a harmonious, fully-immersive experience.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 4 November 2015 @ 11:45am

Techdirt Podcast Episode 49: A Whirlwind Tour Of Current Policy Issues In Tech

from the crosscast dept

Today, we've got something a little different: a crossover podcast with the folks from a16z. Last week, Mike joined Julie Samuels from Engine on the a16z Podcast hosted by Sonal Chokshi to discuss a long list of important policy issues related to technology and innovation, and for those of you who aren't already following that podcast, we're cross-posting the episode here as part of the Techdirt Podcast as well. Enjoy!

Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 November 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the last-week-tonight dept

Once in a while, when a thread stays heavily active, our top comments of the week actually come from the previous week's post — and this is one of those occasions. Two of our winners (one on each side) come in response to our post about Nina Paley's talk on copyright as a form of brain damage. Naturally this drew come kickback and vitriol, and Karl won first place for insightful by responding at length to one of the detractors:

I think that Nina Paley sort of is on par with Larry Leesig [sic], two people who have convinced themselves of a truly extreme viewpoint on copyright.

First of all: the viewpoints of Nina Paley and Larry Lessig are not the same at all. Lessig is not a copyright abolitionist (no matter what copyright maximalists would have you believe).

Second of all: Paley, at least, is convinced of her view, because copyright has directly interfered with her creation of artistic works. She didn't "convince herself," she was convinced because working within the copyright system convinced her that it was wrong. It was the copyright system itself that convinced her.

Does copyright stop the flow of information? Generally no, because we still discuss what is copyright anyway (did you see the blahblach movie or did you real the new so-and-so book?).

Copyright law absolutely interferes with people who are trying to utilize copyrighted works for their own creation, and/or people who are trying to utilize copyrighted works for the purpose of general dissemination to the public. And since this sort of "collective conversation" is much of which drives culture, yes, it does stop the flow of information (or at the very least, the flow of expression).

It doesn't stop ordinary humans from talking about the works, that is true; it does stop ordinary humans from using the actual expressive works (by e.g. sharing a sample on YouTube). Or it would, if anyone cared whether they were infringing or not.

Except in exceptional cases, nobody wants to use copyright to stop distribution, they want to use it as a legal basis under which distribution can occur.

Plenty of people want to use copyright to stop distribution. There are plenty of copyright holders who outright state, often by writing Congress, that they should have the right to stop distribution for content-based reasons. Here's just one example:

Artists can, and should continue to be able to, deny a use that they do not agree with. For one, an artist should be able to turn down uses in connection with messages that the artist finds objectionable. [...]

For example, Melissa Etheridge is a known lesbian and animal rights activist. A compulsory license would allow someone to remix or sample her music into a new work filled with homophobic epithets, and she could not say "no". In the same way, a compulsory license would allow someone to remix or sample music by Ted Nugent, noted gun ownership advocate, for a song promoting stricter gun control without Nugent's pelmission.
- LaPolt Law, P.C. and Steven Tyler comment to the USPTO

Were this done directly by the government, this would be called "content-based censorship."

Also, the mere fact that copyright can only be licensed by those who can afford the license (however much it may be) means that copyright stops distribution. It doesn't stop all distribution, of course - but it does limit distribution to those with enough money to enter into deals with corporate rights holders.

It would be incredibly difficult (if not impossible) for artists to be able to get compensation for their works if they had no legal standing.

"Legal standing" does not mean "copyright." There are plenty of ways for artists to get compensated without holding the copyright to their works. Obviously, crowdfunding is one example, but even historically, the vast majority of artists did not hold the copyright to their works - think people who are work-for-hire, like graphic designers, actors, studio artists, etc. In fact, most artists have always been paid more if they were work-for-hire than if they signed away their copyrights for a commission (a.k.a. royalties).

The idea that copyright gives creators a legal right to leverage against publishers is a good one, in theory, but in practice it's not as significant as people think. For one thing, even without copyright, artists would always have "first publication" rights, and those can be (and usually are) more important than their post-publication monopoly rights.

For another thing, the fact that publishers (including labels, studios, etc.) are assigned the copyrights to thousands or millions of works, mean that they tend to have collective monopolies over entire markets. Aside from being destructive to artistic markets in general, this significantly reduces the bargaining power of creators within those markets.

So, while copyright may give creators rights, in order to bargain with copyright assignees, it eventually makes those barganing rights nearly inconsequential.

The result is what you see in the modern piracy economy, the only artists thriving are those who are willing to forego the creation process and instead work on the cult of celebrity, which pays far more. It's a stupid system where people pay more for a "personal appearance" of celebutards like a Kardashian than they do for a musician or writer.

This is exactly what has been happening since celberety existed. It has zero to do with a "modern piracy economy," whatever that is supposed to be.

Nina's problem I think is that she has never been on the other side with a product people widely pirate

Nina has, and does, encourage people to pirate her product. And they do - widely.

If there's anyone who has "been on the other side," it's her.

If all that effort went instead into artistic creation... opportunity costs, right?

Ironically, you're making her point for her. She - like many, many artists (especially professional creators) - spent far too much time considering if her use of a work is allowed under copyright law. The self-censorship, plus the multi-year legal wrangling with copyright holders, the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to license songs from the 20's and 30's, etc... all of these created "opportunity costs" that she didn't choose.

It was only by completely ignoring copyright law that she was able to put that effort into artistic creation.

She went over this later in the video, especially the part before she showed "This Land Is Mine." I suppose you didn't make it that far.

For second place, we head to our post about the DOJ's latest tactics for forcing Apple to decrypt iPhones, which included the "how could one iPhone be such a big deal?" argument. That One Guy took second place by addressing that argument:

One phone on it's own may not do much, but the ripple effects could be enormous, as the damage to Apple's reputation in protecting their customers' privacy would be significant. If people know that the encryption set up by a company can be compromised any time the government comes asking the company, then anyone interested in security that actually works is liable to start looking elsewhere.

And it's not like the government doesn't know what one action, or one person can do to the reputation of a large company, or government. Just see their mad scramble for damage control when a whistleblower leaks some of their actions, and the resulting blow to their reputation and credibility.
Even if Feng knew the passcode, attempting to compel him to unlock the Target Phone would not provide an adequate alternative to an order directed to Apple. Compelled decryption raises significant Fifth Amendment issues and creates risk that the fruits of the compelled decryption could be suppressed. See, e.g., In re Grand Jury Subp. Duces Tecum Dated March 25, 2011, 670 F.3d 1335, 1349 (11th Cir. 2012) (holding that the Fifth Amendment protects a defendant’s refusal to decrypt electronic storage media). The government should not be required to pursue a path for obtaining evidence that might lead to suppression.
This? This is all sorts of nasty, in large part because of what it reveals about the ones making the argument. They know that if they were actually doing what they should be doing, that is serving the warrant to the owner of the device, there would be a good chance that any resulting evidence from compelling the owner to decrypt the device would be tossed out as having violated the person's Fifth Amendment rights.

They flat out admit this.

And yet, despite admitting that forced decryption would likely be treated as a fifth amendment violation, they instead choose to completely ignore the fifth amendment, and force someone else to do the decryption, so that they can use the resulting evidence, hands squeaky clean.

They're not even pretending to respect the constitutional rights of the public, they're flat out admitting that they see those 'rights' as obstacles to be worked around when they can't be ignored outright.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out on our post about James Comey's endorsement of the so-called Ferguson Effect and the "War on Cops" narrative. One anonymous commenter neatly explained that this supposed war doesn't exist, and they know that:

We don't have a War on Cops. We have War on Police Corruption. That's what really scares them.

Next, after a problematic Australian right-to-be-forgotten ruling that deemed Google to be a publisher, several commenters tried applying the ruling's logic to other situations, with DB supplying one of the most salient comparisons:

I would hate to be delivering newspapers in the modern age. Under this theory, I could be sued over any story. I was an essential part in delivering it, even if I couldn't possibly evaluate the legal standing of what countless other people wrote.

But over on the funny side, we kick things with an even more amusing example of that contradiction, from Torrey Hoffman who takes first place for funny:

Now the Australian Court is guilty too...

Oops! They just published a judgement which contained all the defamatory information!

Now they're guilty too!

For second place, we return to last week's post about Nina Paley, where one detractor put forth the "very simple basis" of copyright as "I MADE IT, IT'S MINE" — prompting one anonymous commenter to relent and agree:

You nailed it: the very simple basis of copyright is childishness.

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on our post about UK Prime Minister David Cameron, where another anonymous commenter noted a detail with potentially wide-ranging implications:

You missed the newsworthy bit: David Cameron read the Daily Mail, this explains so much...

And finally we've got an editor's choice from one of our Daily Dirt posts, discussing the likely future of genetically modified dogs. Yet another anonymous commenter had an idea about where to set our sights on that front:

Genetically engineered, customized dogs? I say we give 'em all thumbs so they can finally play poker for real.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 31 October 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: October 25th - 31st

from the happy-halloween! dept

Five Years Ago

Since we're talking about history, let's start with the end of an era: it was this week in 2010 that Sony officially stopped making the cassette Walkman, which was surprising news since most people didn't realize it was still making them.

In the world of ACTA, the US more or less said that it would ignore anything it doesn't like, while a group of prominent law professors urging the president to halt his endorsement of the agreement and the government in India was asking questions about how it effects other trade agreements. Some countries were barrelling ahead with their own IP plans: France's HADOPI was sending out 25,000 first strike notices every day, Korea was kicking people offline under its recent new copyright regime, and Denmark was secretly working on a three strikes plan of its own.

And again on the subject of history, we saw some preservation efforts after another recent end-of-an-era moment: a huge archive of sites from the recently-closed Geocities was released as a 1TB torrent for anyone to download.

Ten Years Ago

Not that much has changed, but back in 2005 it was still trendy to bash the internet for all sorts of silly reasons. This week, we saw Forbes publish an article bashing blogs for not being real journalism, and our old friend Nicholas Carr took up the mantle of attacking and belittling all the amateur content to be found online, with a flimsy focus on Wikipedia. TV networks, at least, were starting to hesitantly embrace the need for change (though as often as not, they screwed it up).

Meanwhile, the internet was bracing itself further for the ever-growing onslaught of spam, while some were getting creative in spamming themselves, like the company that mass-emailed its competitors clients after the competitor accidentally revealed their emails, or the UK government's plan to spam the people with direct marketing messages, or the apparent trend of recruiting college kids to spam their friends in person.

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2000, we saw the first baby steps of Google's metamorphosis into an advertising juggernaut as the company starting selling keyword-based search ads. Similarly, we took a peek at the early clues suggesting Linux's future dominance — not as a desktop replacement, but as an OS filling all sorts of ubiquitous computing niches. (Little did we know Android would come along and connect these two things closely — at the time, Nokia was the king of wireless).

In these innocent early days of the internet, people were still struggling with questions like "is it email or e-mail?" and "should I rearrange my home for my computer?" (though that last one was a little unclear...) The still-raging battle about whether the internet isolates people was in full force, and perhaps the only thing anyone could say with certainty is that predictions are difficult (and a lot of futurists are kind of silly).

Forty-Two Years Ago

Not all technical achievements are digital, and this week we mark one that was decidedly old-fashioned — in fact, it's something that has been dreamed of for 2500 years, since Darius I of Persia achieved a prototypical version by stringing a bunch of boats together. Since those days of antiquity, rulers have wished they could bridge the Bosphorous Strait in modern-day Turkey, the great and only link between Europe and Asia (unless you have a lot of seafaring vessels or feel like marching through Russia over the Caucusus). It was on October 30th, 1973 that this feat was first truly achieved with the completion of the Bosphorous Bridge, which at the time of its construction was the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest outside the United States. It's since been joined by a second bridge across the historic strait, with a third set to open soon. Alexios Komnenos would be jealous.

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Posted on Innovation - 31 October 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: The Internet... Who Needs It?

from the good-ol-radio dept

As a growing number of web users have become more security-conscious, there's been an explosion of VPNs and encryption tools and other security services for the internet. But what about a device that lets you bypass the internet entirely? That's the goal of RATS, the Radio Transceiver System, an open source communication tool for the security-obsessed and/or the internet-bereft.

The Good

The RATS is simple: it's a small antenna that connects to computers by USB and lets them send encrypted messages and file transfers directly, via radio transmission. There are two obvious advantages to this: firstly, it doesn't rely on any network being up or even the power staying on — as long as your laptop has some batteries, you can send and receive — and secondly, it's a level of security and privacy that trumps most of what you can do online. Apart from being entirely separated from the internet, it employs AES-256 encryption with a randomized salt so even the same message sent repeatedly will produce completely different encrypted data every time.

The range of the RATS antenna is about a kilometer in a city, but it can also be connected to superior antennas and, in areas with no obstacles, achieve ranges above 5km. Obviously this means it isn't suited to everything, but alongside the internet it could be extremely powerful for certain local applications in urban neighborhoods, workplaces, and other situations where we normally use the robust global internet just to send short messages to people within walking distance. But perhaps more than anything it could be a boon for people living under governments that censor and monitor online communications, allowing local groups to coordinate without so much as touching the compromised networks.

The Bad

As noted, the RATS obviously isn't for everyone or every situation, and the Kickstarter project page certainly lines up with the fact that this isn't a regular consumer product. If anything, it feels a little more like a hobby project, with the pitch video seemingly incomplete and the fundraising target extremely low. This could raise a few red flags for cautious Kickstarter backers, though in truth it feels more like a labor of love by the Swedish creator, and is somewhat refreshing in a sea of crowdfunded technology with overproduced pitch videos and product pages full of PR speak.

One other concern with the RATS is the legality of the radio transmissions themselves. The software includes a system for downloading XML-based lists of available frequencies and selecting the appropriate transmitter power, but since this allocation differs from country to country, it will be up to the end user to make sure they aren't breaking any broadcast laws.

The Open

One of the first things early backers asked about RATS was why its software wasn't open source. The creator responded, saying that if that's what people want then it's what they'll get, and has now pledged to open-source the software as soon as its complete and the device is shipped. It would have been even cooler to see it go through a full open source development process and be accessible from the start, but it's great to see a creator rapidly and positively respond to these requests (especially since open source software makes especially good sense for a device like this, as it's certainly not the kind of thing that should rely on security-by-obscurity).

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 27 October 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 48: Our Hacking Laws Are A Mess

from the abused-act dept

If you're a Techdirt regular, you probably know that there are some serious problems with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Drafted in 1986 with extremely broad language, the CFAA has grown into an easily abused law that lets prosecutors go after people for minor activities that don't meet any reasonable definition of hacking or computer fraud. This week, we discuss the utter mess that our hacking laws have become, and look into ways they might be fixed.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 October 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the broadband-comedy dept

This week the UK went, as we put it, "full Orwell" with a plan to remove children from homes that it suspects might radicalize them. Plenty of people struggled to put their reaction to this into words, but That One Guy got there first and won the top spot for insightful with his response:

"I know, let's give them even /more/ reasons to hate us!"

So taking away children, without having to present any real evidence or anything beyond suspicion of what might happen...

Well, I'm sure any parents who've had their children taken away will respond to the matter in a calm and collected manner, understanding that Big Brother really does know best, and would in no way make for a perfect target for any terrorist recruiters looking for people who might have a very real reason to hate the UK government and nothing left to lose, having already lost that which was most precious to them.

Meanwhile this week, Congress was pushing a car "safety" bill that we dubbed "a big gift to the automakers." JustShutUpAndObey won second place for insightful by correcting this choice of phrase:

It's not a gift when it's bought and paid for...

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we've got two comments from the world of broadband. First, after Slate published an article in favor of unnecessary broadband caps, sorrykb found an explanation in the details:

Per the Slate article, Eli Dourado is a research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of its technology policy program.

How could the a person in such a position be so misinformed?

"The Mercatus Center was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations."

Oh. Never mind.

Next, TheResidentSkeptic shared a personal tale of broadband woe:

I watched with glee as Verizon installed fiber - not only in my neighborhood, but right through my property. Their repeater was on the pole in MY yard.

So, I called to order. "Not available in your area".

Over on the funny side, we start out on our post about the sketchy legal threats by a company that claimed to have made a food-scanner, but whose video showed some very curious timestamp anomalies. Sorrykb is back with a first place win for a possible explanation:

I don't see why everyone keeps going on about the impossibility of TellSpec's food scanner technology when the big story is that they've invented a time machine.

For second place, we're back to the world of broadband, this time on the net neutrality front in Canada, where Rogers Cable was mid-flip-flop after becoming a victim of traffic discrimination. David pointed out that this "unexpected" behavior is... expected behavior:

Since when are corporations incapable of simultaneously wanting their cake, eating it too, and suing it for breach of intergastric property rights?

Speaking of the cable industry, our first editor's choice for funny comes in response to another bizarre stance, this time the notion that millennials will stop cord-cutting once they have kids. Angel swiftly summed up the stupidity of this idea:

Yes because nothing says "Let's Add yet another bill to our expenses" like having a few babies

Finally, after the CIA director's personal email was hacked and found to contain official documents, one anonymous commenter couldn't help thinking about a relevant bill (give or take a vestigial P):

If only we had CISPA, this never would have happened...

That's all for this week, folks!

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