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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 - 6 October 2015 @ 12:52pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 45: No, You're Not The Product

from the even-if-you're-not-paying dept

There's a common refrain regarding services these days that "if you're not paying for it, you're the product" — but this notion is at best an oversimplification, and at worst outright untrue. This week, we look at the far more complex and diverse reality of how free services relate to their users.

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 - 4 October 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the aka-the-best-of-section-230 dept

This week, there was lots of chatter about Arthur Chu's wrongheaded attack on Section 230 safe harbors, and one defender of his position made the argument that anonymity and lack of responsibility on the internet is a new and problematic thing. Gwiz won most insightful comment of the week by pushing back against this notion:

Essentially, you can say anything on the internet and not be responsible for it. Yet in real life, if you said those things, you would be taken to task for them.

Bullshit. Anonymity has always been an integral part of our society here in the US. From the founding fathers all the way up to the Supreme Court, the importance of anonymity in our society has been reiterated over and over again:
Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. [...] It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation--and their ideas from suppression--at the hand of an intolerant society.
McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n (93-986), 514 U.S. 334 (1995)
You seem to want to remove this very important safeguard just because "it's on the internet". That's stupid and dangerous.

In second place, we've got a double winner, sitting in the number two spot for both insightful and funny. After PETA defended its attempt to claim copyright of the famous monkey selfie on behalf of the monkey, sorrykb couldn't let it slide when a PETA representative told one interviewer that a question was "silly":

Says the man claiming to represent the copyright interests of a monkey.

(It won despite a slight word-replication error, which I've removed here so as not to further taint the excellent point.)

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out with DannyB and his response to the ISP that is blocking Facebook and Google ads in an attempt to extract a toll:

Dear ISP (both landline and mobile):

Google, Netflix, Facebook, etc are not riding your pipes for free.

They pay their bandwidth bill, handsomely, at their end of the connection.

It is YOUR OWN CUSTOMERS who are using your bandwidth. YOUR CUSTOMERS are choosing to go to Google, or to whatever sites that use whatever bandwidth that customer uses. (Note: your customer might not even use Google at all, but still uses your bandwidth.)

If you need to build and develop your network, then it is YOUR CUSTOMERS who pay for that. Not the rest of the world.

(Pay attention Comcast, since you should hear this too.)

Here are a few other things to consider.

What if Google encrypts all communication between YOUR CUSTOMER and Google's servers? You would have no idea what packets are ads, email, video, instant messages, or anything else. You could only block all or nothing.

I suppose you could just block all of Google. Facebook. Netflix. And every other important major internet property.

I'm sure that will make your customers very happy.

Next, since we're talking about the blocking of ads, it seems like time to slip in a reminder that we announced the ability to turn off ads on Techdirt this week. There were lots of great responses, and one from rw actually placed fifth on the insightful leaderboard, so here it is as an editor's choice:

I just wanted to thank you for being courageous enough to do this. I've been an Insider for as long as you have offered it and I still have my "Looooots for shirts" t-shirt. I am more than willing to support you through these types of things, especially if I get to kill the ads. Too bad others don't follow this example.

Over on the funny side, we start out with a reaction to Microsoft's evasive treatment of the major privacy concerns surrounding Windows 10. After one commenter provided a laundry list of complaints about the new OS, Michael won first place for funny by encountering technical difficulties:

I started typing a response agreeing with you, but Cortana interrupted me and explained why you were wrong.

Windows 10 is awesome!

We've already had the second place comment above, so we'll move straight on to the editor's choice, where we start out with jameshogg's response to Amazon's rationale for banning competing streaming video devices:

"Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime," Amazon said in the e-mail. "It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion."

I'm confused.

Finally, we've got another comment from the post about Arthur Chu, where TechDescartes made a truly excellent suggestion:

Website Suggestion

Instead of "Reader Comments," rename this area "Section 230".

That's all for this week, folks!

11 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 3 October 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: September 27th - October 3rd

from the from-gnu-to-coica dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we saw lots of action around COICA, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. Firstly, we took a look at all the past technologies that would have been blocked by the bill and what it might censor in the future, while Tim Berners-Lee himself came out against it. Of course, the RIAA was claiming that failure to pass COICA would put Americans at risk. Just in case the bill didn't pass, the White House was working on a backup internet censorship plan — and then, finally, the bill was shelved. Some people turned their attention to smarter ways of thinking about copyright law, but that's not always easy in a world where the press could barely tell the difference between copyright and patents. Plenty of others were sticking with stupidity, from the garden-variety claim that "copyleft" supporters think music should only be a hobby to the more fiery assertion that file-sharers are going to hell. We tried our best to note that embracing 'free' doesn't mean making no money, and asked whether even uncompensated commercial use of an artist's work is really all that bad. Certainly it's not as bad as a British city council abusing copyright to stop meetings from going up on YouTube.

Ten Years Ago

Five years earlier in 2005, not much was different. We pointed out how stupid most attempts at making new IP laws were, and that the real way to combat piracy is with innovation, not legislation. But one California senator was convinced that laws could put an end to file sharing, while the Canadian recording industry was trying to convince people that file sharing is a gateway to a life of crime. Much better to piss off customers with copy protection then pretend it was a mistake, or attack the developers making your device better, or attempt to wow the world by making flash storage less useful with copy protections). We did see one great idea, though: Ed Felten proposed the "pizzaright" principle, wherein you evaluate arguments for stronger IP protections by imagining them as a monopoly on delivering pizza in certain market.

Fifteen Years Ago

Let's head back five years earlier still, where everything was... pretty similar. Last week, we noted that The Offspring was planning to release its album online in 2000 — and this week, Sony put an end to their innovation. Capital Records tried to pass itself off as embracing file sharing, but the details were disappointing and mostly meaningless. Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that it's not just kids who wanted downloadable music and that respect for intellectual property actually correlated with poor education.

Also this week in 2000: Volvo launched a car that was only advertised online and Fosters (the beer company) was going digital with care and forethought; the convergence of phones and PDAs was still messy but clearly on the horizon, even though mobile internet still had very limited appeal; companies were realizing the dangers of using a phone while driving, it was discovered that (gasp!) some people use public internet kiosks for crime, and Shanghai decided to just start shutting down internet cafes entirely.

Thirty-Two Years Ago

The GNU project remains controversial in some circles, and even here at Techdirt we've often pushed back against some of its more extreme proponents, but I don't think there's any denying that it has had a huge and overall very positive impact on the world of computing. It was on September 27th, 1983 that Richard Stallman first announced the GNU Project on the net.unix-wizards and net.usoft newsgroups. A few months later, Stallman quit his job at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (so they couldn't claim any sort of ownership) and began developing free software.

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Posted on Innovation - 3 October 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: A Modular Phone For Makers

from the tiny-and-simple dept

We've talked before about the buzz around the possibly-coming modular phones of the future, but this week we're looking at an entirely different animal: RePhone, an open-source modular phone kit for makers and tinkerers.

The Good

The basic idea of RePhone is that you can build your own mobile phone. At its heart is a core GSM module, to which you can attach a mini touchscreen, basic sensors, an NFC antenna, and other combinations of the various tiny attachment modules. They can be connected easily with FPC cables, attached to a breadboard, or soldered. Then you can take the assembled guts and build them into any kind of case you like, from a fold-up kraft paper shell made using special templates to something fancier like a custom 3D-printed casing.

Once it's built, the RePhone can integrate with IFTTT (as many things do these days) and also has software libraries that hook into Arduino IDE, Lua and Javascript, and a high-level SDK for developing apps for the RePhone itself — all designed with a focus on learning, so novice coders can try their hand as readily as expert developers.

The Bad

While RePhone seems like an absolute treat for makers and hackers, I'm more dubious about the attempts to make it look appealing to average users who want a unique phone. Apart from the ability to print custom designs on the kraft paper casing template, which is neat but hardly a game-changer, I don't think there's much to attract regular people to the RePhone, and it won't be replacing anyone's iPhones or Galaxies anytime soon, nor should that be the expectation. But for those who want to get inside the guts of a smartphone and tinker around, it's perfect.

The Things

But perhaps the most exciting aspect of RePhone is that it by no means has to be all about phones. The tiny, modular kit makes it really easy to give anything else cellular capabilities, and start building your own additions to the internet of things. That's exciting, because as we see the internet of things grow, it's vital that we keep enabling people to build things for it — otherwise it will evolve into nothing more than a network of locked-down, proprietary products from various gadget-makers. The interoperability with Arduino (and also Pebble watches) makes RePhone right at home in the new world of mobile makers, who will help define what the internet looks like as it continues to break free from traditional devices.

5 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 29 September 2015 @ 12:20pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 44: Why The Freedom To Tinker Matters

from the crack-it-open dept

Last week, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens joined us to discuss DMCA anti-circumvention exceptions, but that's just one specific facet of a broader issue: the freedom to repair, modify, reverse-engineer and generally tinker with the technology you own. This week Kyle is back to discuss why the freedom to tinker is a vitally important right — and one that is constantly under threat.

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 - 27 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the word-on-the-blog dept

Hollywood hates it when fans get creative. We were reminded of that this week when a popular re-edit of Mad Max Fury Road was taken down, and That One Guy won most insightful comment of the week with his lack of surprise:

The only allowed creation is authorized creation

Disappointing, but not in the slightest surprising at this point.

A work was built on to create something different, something apparently more true to the director's idea of how it could have been, and it was killed off.

Because it was an act of creativity, and not money, it was removed.

Because it was created on a whim and not after careful negotiations with the expected sales sheets filled in, and the profit 'sharing' contract signed and sealed, it was shut down.

Because it was created not to make a buck, but because of a desire to create, to take an idea and make it real, it was blocked from the public.

More songs, more books, more films and more pieces of art may be being created than ever before in history, but it's not because of the laws in place regarding 'creativity', not because of the permission culture that demands payment for every use, lest it be killed off, but in spite of those things. People are creating because that is what people do, despite the repeated attempts by those that would lock creativity behind a paywall, and prohibit the growth of culture unless every single parasitic middle-man was paid first.

We also got a glimpse beneath Hollywood's surface this week, where all the screwing-over-of-artists happens in contrast to the screwing-over-of-the-public, as it was revealed just how creative the accounting got for Goodfellas. DOlz won second place for insightful by reiterating the key takeaway from this and similar revelations:

MPAA remind me again, who are the pirates that are robbing the hardworking creators, actors, and the support people that make the movies?

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out on our post criticizing Wired Magazine's new exclusive early stories for iOS devices, where a discussion broke out in the comments as to how this differs from Techdirt's own Insider offerings. There were interesting perspectives on both sides, with some focusing primarily on the platform exclusivity aspect as a key differentiator. We certainly feel that our Crystal Ball is a bit different — and I think the best explanation came from nasch:

I don't think it's a matter of "bad" and "good" but a question of how people react. Mike isn't saying this is immoral, he's saying it might not be a good business decision because it pisses people off. If there had been an uproar in the Techdirt community about the crystal ball/insider feature, I'm sure he would have reconsidered it, but we seem to have accepted it just fine.

Next, we head to the bad copyright ruling of the week, where the Batmobile was recognized as a character deserving some sort of protection in the abstract. Larry Zerner, one of the attorneys in the case, supplied some additional thoughts in the comments:

As the (losing) attorney on this case, I just wanted to add a bit of background and give my 2 cents. I'm a big fan of Techdirt and the Techdirt community and appreciate that they understand that not everything is automatically protected by copyright.

First, with regard to the question as to whether DC does license an official Batmobile car, they do. My client began selling replica Batmobiles in 2001. Ten years later, in 2011, DC entered into a deal with another replicator, Mark Racop (www.fiberglassfreaks.com), and gave him a contract to sell officially licensed Batmobiles. Racop then told DC to sue Towle.

Second, and what most people seem to forget, is that the copyright act specifically states that there is no copyright protection for the design of automobiles because they are "useful articles." In fact, if you go to the Copyright Office website you will find a page that states this:
"Copyright in a work that portrays a useful article extends only to the artistic expression of the author of the pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work. It does not extend to the design of the article that is portrayed. For example, a drawing or photograph of an automobile or a dress design may be copyrighted, but that does not give the artist or photographer the exclusive right to make automobiles or dresses of the same design."

So the Copyright Office has made it clear that drawing a car does not give you the exclusive right to the design of those cars.

Third, even if the Batmobile were to qualify as a character, the copyright should only extend to the qualities of the character that are not part of the car's design. This decision absolutely says that Ian Fleming's estate now owns the copyright to the Aston Martin, Disney owns the copyright to the Volkswagen (because of Herbie the Love Bug), and Universal owns the copyright to the Pontiac Trans-Am that played KITT. I believe many of you can see that this makes no sense. These characters exist in movies and TV shows. They don't exist in the real world. If someone sells a Trans-Am and calls it KITT, that may be a trademark issue, but in no way should it violate a copyright.

Anyway, thanks for letting me rant for a bit and get that off of my chest.

Over on the funny side, we start on the story that spurred a lot of rage this week: the drug company that raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill. Mason Wheeler won first place by giving the company a new slogan, borrowed from highwaymen and pirates:

Turing Pharmaceuticals: Your Money or Your Life.

In second place, we've got a response to France's decision that Google must honor right to be forgotten requests across its sites globally. Anonymous Anonymous Coward's original comment included a silly error that was corrected shortly afterwards, and since it still racked up lots of votes, we'll just fix it and pretend it didn't happen:

I can see it now. Some young person opens Google Maps over Europe and see's this black splotch just south of England and west of Germany and says "Mommy, Mommy, what's this black thing?" Of course Mommy will reply "Well honey, that use to be France, but they have a right to be forgotten, so we have."

For editor's choice on the funny side, we're looping back to two earlier stories. First, on the subject of the Mad Max Fury Road edit, some commenters had some carefully worded thoughts on just how "gone" it is:

I can neither confirm, nor deny the allegations that kick ass torrents, or the pirate bay, may harbour links to ways to obtain that masterpiece, but I can definitely say I'm not downloading it and won't be watching it tonight. I'm very excited.

Finally, on the subject of the Batmobile, jupiterkansas took a shot at treating the "character" to some accolades:

And the award for best actor goes to... "The Batmobile" Yes, it brought tears to my eyes when it jumped over that ravine, and who can forget it's hilarious performance trying to find a parking spot in the garage. Hopefully this award will end the ongoing argument over which vehicle portrayed The Batmobile the best.

That's all for this week, folks!

14 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 26 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: September 20th - 26th

from the from-broadsheets-to-broadband dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we saw lots of people trying to manipulate existing laws to their advantage, and lots of others trying to get new laws in place. The ISP Suddenlink rolled out a homegrown three-strikes policy and claimed the DMCA required it, while Intel was threatening to weaponize the DMCA against anyone who used a readily-available HDCP crack. The MPAA was exploring the possibility of using ACTA to get broad censorship powers, while some senators were proposing a bill that would let the Justice Department censor "pirate sites" worldwide, even while one among them was aggressively opposing internet censorship by other countries and President Obama was speaking out against online censorship in general. Amidst this, we took a look at the serious due process concerns with such censorship.

In an early prototype to the Aereo battle, Seattle company ivi was trying out its own broadcast-TV-online service, and facing opposition. Some creators were at least trying to embrace online distribution, with a group of Swedish filmmakers releasing their movie in theaters and on the Pirate Bay at the same time and Richard Dawkins pointing a fan to the Pirate Bay as a source for his new documentary.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2005, people were asking the big perennial digital question: does technology make us smarter? (Short answer: not really.) On the flipside, some were looking at the effects of technology withdrawal. Google was being accused of "dumbing down" its search by making it smarter and easier to use (but was also busy being sued by the Author's Guild over its book scanning project).

Grokster was pretty freaked out by the recent Supreme Court ruling against it and hoping to sell out to a "legit" file sharing service, while Hollywood was gearing up to waste millions of dollars trying to develop better copy protection — which felt a lot like Hollywood calling its own bluff. The IFPI released some malware that deletes file-sharing applications, while at least one judge smartly recognized that the RIAA can't sue parents for stuff their kids do online. But perhaps they could be blamed for buying their kids banned video games and demonstrating to the people of New Zealand how futile such bans are.

Fifteen Years Ago

Of course, by 2005 it should have been obvious that the anti-file-sharing crusade was futile: this same week in 2000 Bill Gurley was underlining how utterly impossible it is to stop sharing, while sharing gets easier and easier and Forrester was reporting on how all these lawsuits are a waste of time. The Rio was fresh off its copyright victory against the RIAA, but that victory was starting to look Pyrrhic.

As for new and emerging technologies, we saw plenty of interesting things: glow-in-the-dark rabbits made with jellyfish DNA, the coming age of robots, and the earliest rumbles of in-flight WiFi. Ray Kurzweil was making some very optimistic predictions about the future, while some non-profit groups were running aggressive anti-technology media campaigns. Overall, we were trying to determine the internet's impact on all sorts of things, from mom and pop shops to economic theory as a whole.

Three-Hundred And Twenty-Five Years Ago

The history of American newspapers starts with single-page broadsheets, but it was on September 25th, 1690 that they took a step towards a major evolution with the release of the first multi-page newspaper published in the Americas. It came out of Boston and had a gloriously dated name: Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick.

It was supposed to be published monthly "or, if any Glut of Occurrences happen, oftener" — but British colonial authorities shut it down only four days later. Or, in their words, they did "hereby manifest and declare their high Resentment and Disallowance of said Pamphlet, and Order that the same be Suppressed and called in; strickly forbidden any person or persons for the future to Set forth any thing in Print without License first obtained from those that are or shall be appointed by the Government to grant the same."

(Yes, even censorship orders sound cooler in 17th-century English.)

2 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Innovation - 26 September 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Everything On One Display

from the watch-it-all dept

It's an age-old symbol of tech dismay: a dozen interconnected devices, a dozen remote controls, all failing to work smoothly with each other. This week, we're looking at a device that aims to sort out some of the mess when it comes to video: Skreens, a robust HDMI input mixer aimed at streamers and heavy media users.

The Good

Juggling multiple video devices is no picnic. Even having multiple windows open on a desktop or laptop is less than ideal, and once you bring in external devices other than general purpose computers, things get even tougher, leaving you with little option but to split your attention between multiple displays. Skreems offers another option: it takes two or four HDMI inputs (depending on the model), and lets you arrange them as you see fit and send them all to a single output. Sports on the left, Twitter feed on the right? No problem. Want to watch a movie, play Xbox, and use Skype all at once? Just drag and drop the three separate screens into your desired configuration and fire it up. It all runs through one compact box and is controlled by a separate app, which can also serve as a universal remote control. Skreens has the potential to be a complete solution to most multiple-media-device woes.

The Bad

Skreens comes in four models: the two-input and the four-input version, each with both a regular and pro model. That makes perfect sense until you take a closer look at the specs, and notice that they've made one very unfriendly choice: the pro models, which come with an extra $100 on the price tag, don't actually include any superior hardware — they just have some extra unlocked capabilities. In other words, it appears the non-pro models are capable of letting you do absolutely everything the pros are, but some of those features are artificially restricted, such as advanced video quality settings and the aforementioned universal remote capabilities. This sort of artificial limitation benefits nobody, and it's just begging to be circumvented — though we'll have to wait and see if the people behind Skreens make an effort to stop people from doing so. It's a shame that half of the models of this otherwise-impressive device have been intentionally hamstrung in order to push people into spending more.

The Performance-Friendly

Of course, part of the reasoning behind this is clearly that the creators see their biggest potential market among online streamers, and are hoping those increasingly-professional ranks will be willing to spend the extra bucks. And it's true that Skreens looks like a pretty exciting tool for people who stream their gaming sessions online, since they are usually either stuck with the limited options provided by a gaming console or various PC apps that add an extra software burden to their gaming rig. Skreens opens up lots of new possibilities for streaming gamers, and I suspect we'll see it being used to widen the possibilities for just what you can stream to Twitch or the new YouTube Gaming, beyond the now-standard "webcam feed in the top corner" configuration. Livestreaming is a rapidly growing entertainment sector with an already-massive audience, and Skreens has a shot at becoming a standard piece of every streaming gamer's setup — even with the unfortunate premium price tag on the pro models.

4 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 22 September 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 43: Why Do We Let An 86 Year Old Librarian Decide Who's Allowed To Innovate?

from the circumventing-anti-circumvention dept

One of the many strange and problematic features of modern copyright law is the DMCA anti-circumvention exception system, wherein the Librarian of Congress makes unilateral decisions about what you can and can't do with software and products that include DRM and other protections. This week we're joined by Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit and a long-time champion of the right to repair and tinker, to discuss the ins and outs of this system, and what is (or isn't) coming in the next round of exemptions.

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 - 20 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the cops-and-comebacks dept

This week, after Larry Lessig weighed in on the DOJ's case against Kim Dotcom, one commenter tried to dismiss it on the basis that he was paid by Dotcom's defense team. While it is always wise to know who's paying in these situations, DB won most insightful comment of the week by explaining why in this case that fact is not immediately damning:

Lessig is a constitutional law attorney, one of the top ones in the country. He wouldn't weigh in, paid or not, unless there was an important point to be made.

He's not like the lawyers advertising on Criagslist for work that will write anything that you pay them to.

For second place, we look at the NYPD union president's snarky argument that the public cannot judge the police. That One Guy offered up a thorough rebuttal:


Like, oh I dunno, cops who assume that if someone looks vaguely similar to a suspect for a totally non-violent crime they need to be tackled to the ground, roughed up, and left handcuffed? That kind of 'jump[ing] to conclusions'?

To all arm-chair judges:

If you have never struggled with someone who is resisting arrest or who pulled a gun or knife on you when you approached them for breaking a law, then you are not qualified to judge the actions of police officers putting themselves in harm's way for the public good.

Yeah, regarding the 'in harms way' bit. Do police put themselves in harm's way, sometimes on a regular basis? Yes, because that's their gorram job. Don't like it, or can't handle it in a reasonable manner? Do everyone a favor: Quit.

Imagine if other dangerous jobs were similarly staffed by cowards.

Firefighter: "Well I know my job is to put out fires, and save people from them, but running into a burning building is dangerous, so I think I'll stay outside, and if people get burned alive, well, better them than me."

Lifeguard: "True, it is technically my job to save people from drowning, but they might flail about too much, and put my life in danger in the process. No, I think I'll sit right here and just watch."

Doctor: "I know I'm supposed to treat people with injuries and illnesses, but some of the things they have are contagious and dangerous. As such, I think it would be much better for everyone, but mostly me, if those that were sick stayed as far away from me as possible."

Soldier: "While theoretically we're only supposed to shoot enemy combatants, it can be pretty difficult to tell at times. As such, I find it much more easy to just shoot everyone I come across, just in case."

Hmm, no, pretty sure the same logic he's arguing, applied elsewhere, would be immediately rejected as cowardly, pathetic, and idiotic.

If someone isn't willing to risk their safety, then they don't get to go into a dangerous line of work and whine about how it's dangerous. Leave, and let the position be filled by those with working spines.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start out on our post about the intelligence community's latest strategy in the battle for encryption backdoors: waiting for another terrorist attack to get everyone nice and scared. Capt ICE Enforcer proposed an alternative:

How about this, if there is another terrorist attack. The intelligence community loses it's budget and they get fired for failing to do their job. Along with gross negligence and government spending fraud.

Next, we head to story of Ahmed Mohamed, which has been dominating the news this week, and give one more nod to That One Guy for teasing out the real message of what happened:

Repeat after me students: 'The Authorities Are Never Wrong'

His 'crime' wasn't building a bomb, which he clearly didn't do, it was making those in charge look like cowardly chumps and refusing to follow along with the narrative that had been pre-determined before they ever saw or talked to him.

I think it's pretty obvious that they had determined before they ever talked to him that he was guilty, and they just wanted to trick and/or coerce him into 'admitting' it so they could use it to justify their actions. He seemed to have refused, and stuck to reality, which naturally just made them even more angry, hence the threat of ludicrous charges and the handcuffs through his school, punishment for not going along with the scenario they had already decided on.

They had decided on his guilt, how dare he contradict them and claim to be his innocent? /s

Over on the funny side, both of our top comments come from our post about police dropping charges against Mohamed, where some commenters decided to have some fun at Texas' expense. Limbodog kicked things off and took first place:

Roll it back to zero

Number of days since Texas was a national embarrassment: 0

Another commenter suggested that Texas had only purchased the zero card when obtaining that imagined sign, leading an anonymous commenter to expand on the idea and take second place for funny:

Texas actually bought thousands of "0"s. When asked why it bought so many, Texas said "well, we still have to change the number every day, right?".

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start by returning to our post about the NYPD union president, where Jeremy Lyman built on our second-place insightful winner with his own set of non-police analogues:

NYPD Firefighter: knocks down buildings that might catch on fire, says they fit the profile.

NYPD Lifeguard: chases people away from beach wearing riot gear; drownings down 5%, concussions up 300%.

NYPD Doctor: gives random people on street chemotherapy, blames them for looking like cancer patients.

Finally, we head to our post about the crazy permission-asking scrum that falls on anyone who posts a news-worthy photo on Twitter. One anonymous commenter was clearly taken by our coverage:

Smart article, Mike, as usual, and funny too. Do you mind if I...?

That's all for this week, folks!

5 Comments | Leave a Comment..

Posted on Techdirt - 19 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: September 13th - 19th

from the long-road dept

Five Years Ago

There was lots of back-and-forth in the copyright debate this week in 2010. Vandals bass player Joe Escalante attacked the public domain as "communism" that will destroy classical music (perhaps he didn't know how many wonderful works the public was missing out on), while John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls was admitting to using LimeWire and preferring a fan-made music video for one of their songs to the official one. Filmmaker Bevin Carnes went on an anti-free-culture rant and insisted that only creators who rely on copyright are qualified to talk about it, so conveniently the famous director Jean-Luc Godard was at the same time saying he doesn't believe in intellectual property, and donating to an MP3 downloader's defense. A spokesperson for the Canadian music industry was claiming user generated content supports piracy, while Rep. Darrell Issa was worrying that stricter copyright laws are restricting innovation. Amidst all this, we looked at some bigger ideas: why it's so important not to call infringement "theft", and how realizing that copyright restricts free speech opens your eyes to all sorts of problems. One good example happened in Russia, where officials were abusing copyright law to intimidate critics with the help of Microsoft, who rapidly backed down after being called out.

Ten Years Ago

In 2005, Napster was desperately trying to convince people its legal service was awesome (while music-losing iTunes crashes were making users wonder about that service too), the RIAA was over-touting its incomplete victory in the Grokster case, and Taiwan was sending file-sharing execs to jail.

Dell was trying (futilely) to compete with the iPod while ABC was partnering with a VoIP provider to offer an almost comically unappealing newscast service. Mobile content was still a tough game in 2005, with even the content creators doing very little consuming, and most consumers not being sure what things like 3G and VoIP actually are (though we wondered why they really should). The usage data that did exist was teaching us some rather obvious things, like the fact that people prefer breaking news on their phones, rather than old news.

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2000, we saw some of the earliest examples of big artists drifting away from their labels and towards the web: the Smashing Pumpkins released their latest album exclusively online as a free MP3 download, and The Offspring was doing the same (minus the exclusive part) while experimenting with reason-to-buy perks for big fans. Meanwhile, Courtney Love was suing Universal for a cut of its award in the MP3.com case, to test the claims that it was all about helping out musicians.

We also saw the first glimmers of lots of new technologies, some of which have become ubiquitous since while others still struggle. Long before Siri, Palm was looking into bringing speech recognition to PDAs — but in the form of remote interaction by phone. The idea of wireless location services was new and exciting, but with a lot of potential for early overhype. Beyond voice, people were also experimenting with gesture recognition and of course direct brain interfaces. Then there were the folks who, way back in 2000, were already trying to let you hail a cab with the press of a button on your phone.

Thirty Years Ago

On September 13th, 1985, before Techdirt began (and just less than a month after I began, incidentally) a legend was born: Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. for the Family Computer/FAMICOM in Japan. Later that year it would come to America, and three decades later the company would finally release a level building tool.

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Posted on Innovation - 19 September 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Everything Is Still A Remix

from the always-has-been,-always-will-be dept

Over the past few years, we've made many references to Kirby Ferguson's excellent online documentary Everything Is A Remix, which makes a clear case for the fact that the acts of copying and remixing are at the very heart of human creativity, and no creative work exists in a vacuum. This month, Everything Is A Remix is using Kickstarter to celebrate its fifth anniversary.

The Good

If you're a fan of Techdirt, there's a good chance you're a fan of Everything Is A Remix. It was originally released in four parts, but for the anniversary is now available as a combined video remastered in HD. If you haven't seen the documentary, now's the time to watch it — and if you have, now's the time to watch it again (it's embedded above, in place of a pitch video.)

Then, whether you're a new or an old fan, you can celebrate that fandom by backing the Kickstarter and picking up one of the new t-shirts, posters or both. In addition to a bold, simple "Everything Is A Remix" design, there's the option of a shirt or a poster sporting a very nice new design showing off the elements of creativity:

There are some high-roller options for megafans with cash to spare, too, including bringing Kirby's live presentation version of the documentary to your event.

The Bad

When I first saw this Kickstarter, I got excited about what I thought was going to be a sequel to EIAR, following up on all the developments of the past five years and all the new, incredible examples of remix art (and the conflicts over it). Alas, that is not the case, and the primary purpose of this Kickstarter is to celebrate the anniversary and promote the new HD edition. But all is not lost, as the creator has something else interesting for us to see...

The New

Kirby Ferguson's new project is another documentary series on a whole new topic, and everyone who backs this Kickstarter also gets a full subscription to that. This Is Not A Conspiracy Theory, the first episode of which is free on YouTube, is shaping up to be a fascinating and unique approach to the topic of conspiracy theories. Starting with an exploration of their history since the assassination of JFK, the series makes the case that conspiracy theories are a reaction to (and a distraction from) the more nebulous forces that really control us: systems and technologies that we built, which have no motives and are neither benevolent or malevolent, but which can push us in different directions by the very nature of their design. The first episode is dedicated to laying out this premise and is definitely worth a watch, and the second and third are available DRM-free with a one-time subscription fee or by backing the EIAR anniversary Kickstarter. There's no fixed schedule for the remaining episodes, but the series will clock in at 80 minutes once it's complete.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 15 September 2015 @ 12:45pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 42: Adblocking Wouldn't Be A Problem If Ads Didn't Suck So Much

from the doesn't-ad-up dept

Lots of publishers freak out about the existence of adblockers. Some seek ways to get around them, others simply complain. This might seem like a situation where the desires of publishers and the desires of readers are irreconcilably opposed — but is that truly the case? This week, we discuss the popular reactions to adblocking and look at the real problem with online advertising: the quality of the ads themselves.

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 - 13 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the the-final-frontier dept

This week, we took a look at an interesting question: should the police be able to take control of self-driving cars? One anonymous commenter won most insightful comment of the week by pointing out one of the key problems with this idea:

The problem is that if the police have the ability to take remote control of a car, then the bad guys will also have that capability, along with secret services, therefore the car should normally avoid collisons with anything, and obey hand signals and visible signal lights..

More Important is giving the occupants the ability to override the automatic system, so that for example they can force the car to drive away from, or even through a hostile crowd. Without that options, it becomes easy for gangs to hijack vehicles, spread out across the road to force the car to stop, and then move in behind the car.

In second place, we've got the result of an exchange on our post about an incoherent anti-Netflix editorial in the Wall Street Journal. The writer's bizarre comparison to the airline industry prompted one commenter to wonder what point he thought he was making, spurring Michael to offer up an interpretation:

I think he is trying to argue that the airline industry - which is clearly failing, hated by most of it's customers, being propped up by the government, and showing little or no signs of change is a shining example of a good way to run a business.

Oh, I guess that's what the cable industry actually DOES think.

For editor's choice, we start out on our post about the EPA's wrongheaded support of using copyright law to prevent people from tinkering with their cars' software. Ninja expanded on the point that potential dangers are not a reason to prevent modification:

This cannot be emphasized enough. Thinkering with mechanical parts can do a whole world more damage to the environment than anything else. Many people here remove pollution control mechanisms from their trucks because it decreases the consumption by 3-4%. You stop it by having vehicles undergo obligatory auditing or something but not by preventing people to mess with what they own. This is specially true when you are dealing with agriculture equipment where a lot of farmers do their own maintenance and need access to the software because they wouldn't have the funds to pay for maintenance from the company itself.

Next, after we wondered if Danny Rodriguez's Supreme Court win would help prevent any unauthorized searches, That One Guy made a solid case for why it won't because of a fundamental flaw in the system:

No, it won't, and in fact it won't even slow such searches down. All a cop has to do is claim that they were unaware of the SC ruling, and they'll get to search cars to their heart's content.

So long as police can rely on the 'Good faith exception', they don't have to pay the slightest bit of lip service to what the law actually says, so long as they think they're within the law when they do something(or are willing to lie and claim as such). If anything, the 'good faith exception' provides incentives for cops not knowing the law, as the less they know, the more they can get away with.

For cops, 'Ignorance of the law' is not only a valid excuse in court, it's a desired state.

Over on the funny side, first place goes to a response to Apple's refusal of a court order to decrypt messages for the DOJ. Ben suggested a rephrasing of the reply:

Apple should respond to the DOJ:
No messages were found responsive to your request
(to paraphrase the DOJ's seemingly favorite response to a FOIA request)
... and since they don't have any decrypted iMessages, it would actually be true.

For second place, we head to our post about Getty Images and its disastrous anti-penguin copyright crusade. One commenter suggested we dub the meme-penguin's successor "Getty Streisand" in honor of the debacle, but an anonymous reply provided an even better moniker:

I prefer Petty Images.

For editor's choice on the funny side, just for fun, we've got a double-serving of Star Trek references of varying obscurity thrown out by our commenters this week. First, after someone invoked a paradox on our post about confidential informants, one anonymous commenter harkened back to the original series episode I, Mudd:

Every cop in Tampa is now standing still, head listing to the left, repeatedly muttering 'Norman, coordinate'.

Next, on a DailyDirt post about the many challenges involved in space elevators, another anonymous commenter showed off his even more encyclopaedic Trek knowledge with an obscure reference to the Voyager episode Rise:

yeah, like spending time with Neelix in a enclosed space for hours. No thanks, I would rather listen to Harry's latest recital.

That's all for this week, folks!

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Posted on Techdirt - 12 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: September 6th - 12th

from the bug-or-feature dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we got another look at ACTA when the latest draft leaked and, as expected, it was mostly bad news. So bad, in fact, that a majority of EU Parliament members signed a declaration against it, though it wasn't clear at the time if that would make any difference. At the same time, emails released under a FOIA request gave us a closer look at just how much the USTR pushed to keep ACTA as secret as possible.

Craigslist was under attack, and caved this week by shutting down its Adult Services section (and replacing it with a black bar that read "censored"). Some people, at least, were beginning to stand up and point out that forcing Craigslist to do this actually helps the criminals it's supposed to stop, but the anti-Craigslist "public interest" groups kept up their ongoing media attacks. Of course the real source of the attacks was Attorneys General, especially Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal who, it turned out, didn't even have jurisdiction over prostitution.

Ten Years Ago

This week in 2005, still two years away from the first iPhone, Motorola released its much-hyped "iTunes Phone" — and it sucked. At this time, the market for smartphones still hadn't been carved out by the well-designed iPhone, and most people simply didn't want phones with lots of features (or just didn't know it yet), nor were they sure why they really needed a mobile data plan, and the future of mobile music downloads looked bleak. Of course all this renewed conversation and speculation around the possibility of a real Apple-made "iPhone", while the company was releasing its iPod Nano (and being weakly answered by Sony's revamped Walkman.

There were plenty of other emerging technologies to wonder about, too. People didn't seem all too interested in interactive television, and business travellers apparently had no desire to make use of wi-fi hotspots (one of those things would rapidly change). New technologies meant to stop identity theft seemed like they might actually be making it easier. Companies were slowly coming to grips with the fact that personal work surfing can't be stopped (and isn't bad anyway). And in news that shocked absolutely nobody, it turned out young men like shiny new gadgets more than older women.

Fifteen Years Ago

Speaking of interactive television, Microsoft tried it back in this week of the year 2000 as well (and nobody thought it'd work then either). And speaking of gadgets, how about a Casio wrist camera? (Apparently it was pretty cool.) Robotic pets and conversational online bots were on the way, as were human-implantable tracking chips... Some people were debating who should receive the dubious title of Most Downloaded Woman.

Microsoft seemed like it might be (slowly) starting to change, and so for that matter did Bill Gates. In the younger dot-com world, we unsurprisingly discovered that the majority of internet advertising is bought by dot-coms, while some preferred to just bankrupt themselves with Superbowl ads (perhaps because being young and rich doesn't always make you happy).

Sixty-Eight Years Ago

The word "bug" as a term for an engineering problem predates computers, but there's a folk etymology for use of the term in the computing world that is based on a true story (though the details are often presented wrongly). On September 9, 1947, an error in the Harvard Mark II (an electromechanical computer) was traced to a literal bug: a moth that had gotten trapped inside a relay. The moth was attached to the log book with the note "first actual case of bug being found", and now resides in the Smithsonian.

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Posted on Innovation - 12 September 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Great Desk Toy, Or Greatest Desk Toy?

from the magnetism! dept

Move over Newton's Cradle, there's a new physics-based desk toy in town: Ferroflow, the automatic ferrofluid sculpture.

The Good

A few years ago, ferrofluid became a brief online sensation when a video of Sachiko Kodama's synchronized sculptures went viral. It was one of those "I could stare at this for hours" moments, with the shapes and movements of the ferrofluid in a shifting magnetic field proving utterly beautiful and captivating. Magnetism is unique as a feature of the physical world that we encounter daily in plenty of mundane situations and yet which still produces effects that are un-intuitive to our brains on a basic level — and the seemingly-unnatural shapes that ferrofluid takes bring that fact to the forefront.

In short: ferrofluid is cool, and the Ferroflow brings it to your house or office in all its glory. The device produces its own ever-shifting magnetic field to keep the fluid in constant, lava-lamp-like motion, and also lets you take control via a single adjustment knob. Beyond that, it's nothing fancy, because it doesn't need to be: good desk toys, from the iconic Newton's Cradle to the various once-popular displays of oil and water, are less about elaborate mechanisms and more about teasing out curious and entertaining aspects of nature in the simplest way possible.

The Bad

Okay, so this isn't going to change the world — in fact, it's quite the indulgence, given the cost of the unit: $240 at full price, with just a handful of slightly discounted early-bird deals still available. If you (quite sensibly) think that's far too much to spend on a toy like this, there is an alternative: the Mini Ferroflow, that strips the concept down to even barer bones. There's no automatic mode and no control knob: it's just a sealed vial of ferrofluid and a couple of loose magnets to manipulate it with. The resulting shapes and splashes are no less fascinating, though, and $35 is a far less balk-worthy price.

The Safe, Presumably

This is a bit of an aside, but if we're talking about magnetic toys, let's take a moment to remember the death of Buckyballs. For the unfamiliar, these were a super-popular toy consisting of nothing but a bunch of powerful spherical magnets and all the amazing shapes they could form. They were fun and satisfying to manipulate. They also, unfortunately, led to a lot of genuine horror stories about internal injuries caused to children who swallowed them, which set off an ongoing dispute between the manufacturer and the government. It got pretty ugly, and though it seems like Buckyballs should still be available for older kids and adults, they aren't — the toy was recalled and removed from the market last year. The Ferroflow probably won't be lining the shelves of toy stores and thus is unlikely to face any similar conflict — but I bring it up because the whole saga is an interesting study in safety regulation, personal responsibility, and choosing how to react when your toy starts injuring children.

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Posted on Techdirt Podcast - 8 September 2015 @ 12:40pm

Techdirt Podcast Episode 41: Privacy Policies Have Nothing To Do With Privacy

from the let's-get-rid-of-them dept

Privacy policies are ubiquitous online, and often required by law, but what are they really for? People don't read them, and when they do, they have a tendency to misunderstand them -- such as with the recent flare-up over poorly-contextualized changes to Spotify's policy. Plus, there's a built-in incentive for companies to write their policies as broadly as possible to avoid accidentally violating them, further stripping them of all purpose. This week, we discuss a simple question: are privacy policies an altogether stupid idea?

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 - 6 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the northern-neighboUrs dept

It's rare for news about Canada to make the top spot on these lists, but the fact that it happened this week is a testament to how much people dislike Prime Minister Stephen Harper. After he muzzled a government scientist for releasing a song on YouTube that called him out for his muzzling of scientists and general iron-fisted micromanagement, crade won most insightful comment of the week by picking apart the allegations of misconduct:

Amazingly, it is actually possible to carry out your duties in a non partisan manner and also have an opinion, protest, vote, etc. Who'd ave thunk.

Since singing youtube songs, voting and such are not part of his duties as government scientists, they shouldn't have to be done in a non-partisan manner. Harper is just being an ass and abusing his power as usual

For second place, we head to the absurd situation in which two teens have been charged with sexual exploitation of a minor for sending explicit photos to each other within a consensual relationship. It's hard to sum up the many ways in which this is insane, but Ninja made a good, thorough attempt:

So we have two lives destroyed in their teens by a monolithic, police state that couldn't care less. But beyond that there are a few things that deserve some focus.

First, regardless of the absurdity, why is the girl receiving a much less harsh treatment? I mean, technically both of them did the exact same thing so why aren't the charges equal? Somehow being male makes the guy more rape-y and pedophile-y?

Secondly, and I'm emphasizing what the article pointed out:

If any discipline was needed for these actions, it's well within the remand of their respective legal guardians, not the state that has decided people of a certain age aren't allowed to own any part of themselves until the government says its OK.

Why is the fcking government trying to force itself where there is no problem at all? This is just one more example of how much freedom people are losing. And it isn't exclusive to the US either which is why it deserves emphasis.

Along with it, none of the parents decided to pursue a case against one of the offending parties when the pictures were discovered. So why is the Govt so eager in moving ahead and destroying innocent lives in the process?

Finally and most importantly there's the fact that the cops went and scrutinized their phones. Where's the warrant for that? If there isn't a warrant for that then the 'evidence' (used very, very loosely here) should be tossed out. And ironically 2 innocents would be saved from the righteous police fury because law enforcement can't be bothered to respect basic rights.

For editor's choice on the insightful side, we start with a response to Facebook's announcement of a new ContentID-like system, where one anonymous commenter pointed out how likely this move is to backfire:

So Facebook, who built their empire on people sharing stuff, is now implementing something to prevent people from sharing stuff.

Seems like a great idea. You go, Facebook.

Similarly, after game studios claimed the Witcher 3 needs DRM, another anonymous commenter explained how they are barking up the wrong tree:

It's all about the magic formula.

Give people what they want, when they want it, for the right price, and people will happily throw their money at you.

Valve learned this lesson a long time ago. Netflix learned it.

Over on the funny side, our winners take the form of two short quips. First, after we were caught for a punctuation error in a headline, one anonymous commenter went full tinfoil hat:

I think it's because Masnick is in the pocket of Big Apostrophe.

Next, in response to the news that Vice News employees were charged with terrorism in Turkey because they used encryption, one commenter rightly pointed out that this is like charging them with using math, or, as Baron von Robber put it:

Members of Al-Gebra using weapons of math instruction!

For editor's choice on the funny side, we start out on a post where one commenter showed up with a lengthy argument for why Linux "always be completely unstable and never useful for business". Various counterarguments were presented, but NotBuyingIt offered the most amusing rebuttal of all:

Nice try Microsoft.

Finally, since we started out with a comment about Stephen Harper, we'll end with one as well. Mattshow saw our post about Canada's Prime Minister, and volunteered some free editing skills:

Techdirt has been following for a while the Canadian government's unabashed attempts to muzzle scientists and librarians who work for the state, as it tries to deny them the right to express their views if those happen to disagree with the His Excellency, Prime Minister for Life, Superior Person, Great Leader of our Party and Nation, Guiding Star of the 21st Centry, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas Stephen Harper's political agenda.
Fixed it for you.

That's all for this week, folks! We're off for Labor Day on Monday, but will be back in full swing on Tuesday...

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Posted on Techdirt - 5 September 2015 @ 12:00pm

This Week In Techdirt History: August 30th - September 5th

from the and-prehistory dept

Five Years Ago

The last few weeks have been very focused on copyright news, but this week in 2010 there was more happening on the patent front. Microsoft showed some hypocrisy in seeking help against a patent holder, despite its strong pro-patent stance, while people were pointing out that the company's patent on fast shutdowns actually illustrates why Windows shuts down so slowly. Some were wondering if Paul Allen's patent trolling was actually meant to demonstrate how bad the patent system is, while all of us were wondering just why Steve Wozniak came out in favour of patent trolls, and tried to figure out whether patent marking lawsuits were patent trolling or anti-trolling. We also took a look at how the patent office outsourced its job to non-experts and how companies were not too keen on accelerated review of green patents, while the Public Patent Foundation was challenging the validity of eight HIV/AIDS treatment patents.

Ten Years Ago

Five years earlier, Microsoft was seeking a patent on a pay-to-spam scheme that would net them money from both the senders and recipients of spam. A judge upheld a huge patent fee for prepaid mobile services, while a would-be iPod competitor was using bluffed patent threats as a form of publicity. Oh, and it turned out that ringtones were patented, apparently. We saw some nutty stuff outside the patent realm too: Indian movie producers got an open warrant to search all of New Delhi for unauthorized movie copies, and architects were stepping up as the latest group to whine about copyright infringement. At least sanity reared its head in a few cases, such as a judge catching on to the RIAA's bullying tactics, and Disney actually considering un-windowed movie releases.

Fifteen Years Ago

This week in 2000, still in the midst of turmoil, Silicon Valley at least got a dark chuckle out of a list of 25 signs your dot com is going out of business. There were plenty of more serious examples to look at, too: the horror story of VitaminShoppe.com, the shaky business models of popular content producers, and the typical house-of-cards collapse of CollegeClub.com. Even Saudi Princes were losing money in the Valley.

Silly patents were already off to a good start all this time ago, with the latest being a patent on making international transactions via computers. Many people were looking to the future, trying to predict what the internet would look like in 2004 and beyond, and prepare for the rise of robots. This was a time when Deep Blue was more famous than many celebrities but CD sales were still going up. And new trends were appearing, or at least being noticed: things like the internet's impact on religion, and the big business of translation. Change was rapid, so perhaps it's unsurprising that your opinion of Napster was primarily dependent on your age.

Half A Billion Years Ago

Okay, obviously I don't have anything dated to this week in the Cambrian era. But it was over a century ago on August 30th, 1909 that Charles Walcott began studying the 508-million-year-old Burgess Shale, a fossil field in the Canadian Rockies which has been critical to our understanding of the evolution of life on earth. It's still teaching us things today — just two years ago, a newly-discovered outcrop of the shale yielded 50 new species of animals in just two weeks of study.

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Posted on Innovation - 5 September 2015 @ 9:00am

Awesome Stuff: Sleep Hacking

from the sleep-sweet dept

The potential for technology to improve health and wellness by simply facilitating better, smarter living is huge. Athletes are ahead of the game, already making use of tools like Fitbit and Nike Fit to monitor their activities, but this week we're looking at the OURA ring, which could bring tech-assisted living to a much wider user base.

The Good

The core function of the OURA ring — which, by the way, looks very nice for a piece of wearable tech — is sleep tracking. It monitors your pulse, body temperature and movements, and uses those to derive detailed information about your sleep cycles and habits. Where it truly shines is in presenting that information: it doesn't just dump a bunch of data on you, but compiles well-designed and easy-to-read graphs and charts into an ongoing sleep log. It also doesn't expect you to figure out what to do with the data all by yourself: the OURA pulls key observations and crafts recommendations, letting you know when you're well rested and ready for activity or when you should take it easy for a day, and informs you of patterns it notices, such as what level of physical activity during the day combined with what bedtime leads to you getting the soundest sleep. If it works well, it could unlock a host of life improvements for the average person, since very few of us consistently get a good night's sleep or pay much attention to the factors that affect us. Collecting this data is one thing, but making it friendly and accessible is a game-changer.

The Bad

The OURA only reads a few core physical metrics: your pulse waveform, body temperature, and motion level, all of which are then fed through its proprietary algorithm to derive sleep stages. The creators claim that the results match those produced by a proper monitored sleep study, but I do have to wonder just how much room for error there is when making those complex determinations based on just a few indicators, since it seems like a number of individual factors could throw off the algorithm. In that sense, it puts me in mind of bathroom scales that claim to measure body fat based on electrical resistance — leading to wildly inconsistent and inaccurate readings. However, the OURA does appear considerably more sophisticated than that, and it will be interesting to see how it fares when adopted in bigger numbers by a wider variety of people.

The Private

Of course, there's a bigger conversation to be had around devices like the OURA, and one that was a workshop subject at the Copia Institute's Inaugural Summit this year: privacy and ethics. As more people begin gathering more and more data about their health — by using devices like this and by leveraging technology to take greater control of their medical history and records — it's even more important than usual that we give consideration to how that data is handled. On the one hand, people have a right to control this sort of information about themselves; on the other hand, there is huge potential for data-based medical advancement if scientists are able to look at that information in aggregate. The OURA is collaborating with an online platform dedicated to personal data management and sharing to give users control over their sleep data and the ability to contribute some or all of it to anonymized data sets — but there also isn't a tremendous amount of information about privacy on the OURA's project page. I think many potential users would like to know more on that front before putting a monitor on their finger and pressing record.

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