March 31, 2004
Shared music via networks legal in Canada
"The mere fact of placing a copy on a shared directory in a computer where that copy can be accessed via a P2P service does not amount to distribution," Judge Konrad von Finckenstein wrote. [News.com]Wow. Here's another article with more details.
One last free Pepsi itunes song
The iTunes-Pepsi promotion expires today. Last code I'll give away: G9EFN LSLEC. Usual request: just tell us what you got by adding a comment! :)
A rant on the subjects of Iraq and memes.
Here's Andrews Sullivan quoting The Guardian:
Read this story and get a little worried. The British authorities deserve huge levels of praise for foiling this plot. But here's the worrying and significant part:
Those arrested were all born and brought up in Britain. Security sources played down suggestions of any direct link between the arrested men and al-Qaida. Sources referred to groups of young radicalised Muslims who were "difficult to label" but viciously anti-western. Security sources suggested that the motive of the alleged planned attacks was anti-western but not dictated by anyone in the al-Qaida hierarchy.
We are fixated on Osama bin Laden. But a single individual isn't responsible. And not even an organization is responsible. The responsibility ultimately falls on the individuals carrying out the killing, of course, but even that responsibility is limited. The fact is that their minds are strongly under the influence of the meme-complex which is fundamentalist Islam.
In earlier centuries, certain classes of Christians were just as hateful. It has little to do with Islam, but of the particular strain of the evolving Islamic meme-complex which embraces an absolute literal belief in the "truth" of the Koran and of the words of those who are its teachers, together with a belief that Western society is evil and to blame for the problems faced by people in Islamic societies. Most, if not all, religions are capable of developing such strains. (Even Buddhism.)
If Osama bin Laden was captured tomorrow, people like the British group that was arrested this week would still be doing what they are doing because of the memes in their heads.
Ergo, if we want to change things, we need to change the memes. And it will involve a lot more than the primitive attempts at changing perceptions through "propoganda" which have been tried by humanity so far. And if we want to change things before nuclear or extremely effective biological weapons get into the hands of such people, we'd better succeed at repairing the situation quickly.
Ultimately there is no other answer than to create meme-complexes that are more emotionally compelling than the ones being spread in violently fundamentalist Islam, and that may spread into the minds of those who might otherwise embrace violently fundamentalist Islam. And to somehow promote the propagation of those meme-complexes from mind to mind.
Ultimately, this is a major part of the Bush administration's strategy. If they can create a happy democracy in Iraq, then the meme-complex that is Western-style democracy will have a much easier path than it has ever had to gain a foothold in the minds of young Muslims. (Note that of course Western-style democracy doesn't contradict Islam any more than it contradicts Christianity. It just creates an alternative path to being able to feel hope, compared to living a life of hate-filled fundamentalism. One that has many advantages. In fact, one could argue that the reason we haven't seen Christian equivalents of suicide bombers is because most Christians live in Western-style democracies, where they don't need dreams of reward in heaven in order to have hope; they have it in their day-to-day lives.)
The alternative track to introducing benevolent meme-complexes, in order to obviate the need for meme-complexes that encourage suicide bombing, is to create an alternative meme-complex that is more emotionally attractive, and which is highly resistant to evolving in directions that support violence. I have argued that the huge-scale communication that is made possible by the Internet may make it possible to do that more effectively and more powerfully than was never the case before. This would in effect mean using massive two-way communication as the substrate for the evolution of something that would be, in effect, an alternative religion. This "religion" would undoubtedly have the aim of better enabling people to find satisfaction through spiritual means. That's a very interesting subject in itself and well beyond the scope of the present essay.
But I must admit there are advantages to the approach Bush is taking. A meme-complex of Western-style democracy which gets its strength from actually helping Muslims have better lives than they can in a dictatorship will be deeply empowered by its actual efficacy in helping people improve their lot. On the other hand, of course there are well-known disadvantages to the Bush approach. For one thing, before the "good" meme-complex has had a chance to take hold, fundamentalist Muslims may win out and enable the creation of a fundamentalist Muslim dictatorship in Iraq. Of course that's only one of many dangers.
(Note that the approach of trying to use technology and mass communication to help generate an alternative highly attractive and benevolent meme-complex also has a profound danger. If such a meme-complex did take hold, there might be no way to stop it from mutating into an even more dangerous meme-complex than the worst we are seeing now.)
Whatever we try will be dangerous. But we must do something. The alternative is to believe that violence-promoting religions will disappear if America and other Western-style democracies behave in "kinder, gentler" ways in the world.
That viewpoint says that we are hated for good reasons, not because of irrational meme-complexes. If we are hated for such good reasons, then the way to fix the problem is to stop doing the bad things we are doing. If we are hated because of irrational meme-complexes, then we need to undermine those meme-complexes, as Bush hopes to do by creating a successful democracy in Iraq.
Those are very different ways of seeing the situation, and I think are at the bottom of the profound disagreements Americans have on the issue of Iraq.
Perhaps we can look to the past for guidance; specifically, World War II.
Once Nazism reached critical mass (in the form of a government run by Hitler and a population that largely accepted that rule), "being nice" to Germany was not the best approach. At that point, we had to fight. There was simply no other way. It took a very long time for most people in power to realize that fact (Churchill, of course, was the most notable exception). No, being nice to Germany after the Anschluss was not a good idea. The meme-complex that Germans were racially superior and needed to manifest that superiority by turning Jews and Gypsies into corpses, and citizens of neighboring countries such as Poland into "domestic servants" who would be shipped into the Fatherland against their will to perform that function, had taken hold. It was going to play itself out no matter how nice we were. We did try the approach of being nice, but it really, really didn't work. 40 million people died as a result of that miscalculation, since we could have stopped Hitler very early had we the will to do so.
On the other hand, it is true that Nazism didn't rise in a vacuum. The Germans had a reason to be bitter about their treatment at the hands of the rest of the world. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles had required Germany to pay "reparations" that were far too heavy; cripplingly heavy. It was a kind of revenge, and it caused Germans and Germany to suffer economically at the hands of other nations until the Nazis took over. It is the bitterness caused by those hardships which was the energy that fueled Nazism's rise to critical mass.
There appears to be little doubt that most individuals who live in Muslim nations are economically worse off economically than most individuals living in Europe in America. And there is no doubt that there is bitterness about it. And there is little doubt that that bitterness is part of what is fueling the rise of fundamentalist Islam. But is it like the case of the Treaty of Versailles, where some parties are actively inflicting this disadvantage upon the others? Or does it have to do with something else -- for instance, is it possible that societies where people are free to pursue whatever ideas they want are more conducive to bettering people's lives than fundamentalist dictatorships are?
The bottom line for me is this: I don't know of any evidence that we would obstruct the creation of free states in Muslim lands that would support the promotion of ideas and free expression that would enable them to be economically competitive with us. (In fact, I believe we are doing our best to enable such a state to appear in Iraq.) And when such a state appears, I have no reason to think it will be economically worse off than other freedom-promoting states such as the U.S. and the European democracies. (If you have such a reason, let me know.)
Indeed, not many decades ago, Japan was a dictatorship living under the fundamentalist belief that its ruler was of divine origin. That state was beaten by us in war, and we created a freedom-supporting democracy there, and it is now one of the world's great economic powers. So is Germany in the aftermath of its defeat and our subsequent creation of a freedom-promoting state there.
So, we want Muslims in the mideast to be doing well. We want them to be doing as well as Japan and Germany did after their dictatorships were destroyed. Many assume that we want them at a disadvantage, but I see no evidence of that, least of all in the actions we have undertaken in Iraq.
This is why I am in favor of doing what we are doing in Iraq, even with the knowledge that it may not work -- we may fail at creating the state we want to create. It's a huge danger -- but the alternatives of doing nothing, or believing we can solve the problem by being "nice", are even worse.
March 30, 2004
P2P not hurting album sales?
"Consumption of music increases dramatically with the introduction of file-sharing, but not everybody who likes to listen to music was a music customer before, so it's very important to separate the two," said Felix Oberholzer-Gee, an associate professor at Harvard Business School and one of the authors of the study.
"While some people seemed to buy less after file-sharing, more people seemed to buy more," Sinnreich said. "It was more likely to increase somebody's purchasing habits [Washington Post]
The RIAA counters:
"Countless well-respected groups and analysts, including Edison Research, Forrester, the University of Texas, among others, have all determined that illegal file-sharing has adversely impacted the sales of CDs," RIAA spokeswoman Amy Weiss said. [same source]
It's extremely difficult to discern what the truth is here. Since we have no reliable way of knowing the number of CD's that would have been sold if P2P didn't exist, we can't compare that number with the number that are actually being sold. Any study of the matter must therefore ultimately rest on assumptions that may or may not be true. There is simply no way around that; research results in this area simply cannot be reliable.
The random nature of the assumptions that must be made to make it possible to do "research" in this area means that different studies will inevitably come to contradictory conclusions. Ultimately, this is a case where people will probably mostly believe what they want to believe, and be able to find research supporting their beliefs.
March 29, 2004
iPod patent application
Steve Jobs is listed as one of the three inventors on the iPod patent application. Claim 1 is for:
A method of assisting user interaction with a multimedia asset player by way of a hierarchically ordered user interface, comprising: displaying a first order user interface having a first list of user selectable items; receiving a user selection of one of the user selectable items; and automatically transitioning to and displaying a second order user interface based upon the user selection.
Was there really no mp3 player with a hierarchical user interface, or even a publication envisioning one, before this patent was filed on October 28, 2002? I find that hard to believe.
It seems that the brilliant idea (not) here is to take the functionality of a hierarchical menu, as has appeared in all Windows and Macintosh computers for many years, and make the top level of the menu the main interface of a music player. I suspect that the fact that the iPod uses the exact same font as Mac OS 9's hierarchical menus will make it easier for lawyers challenging the patent to connect the dots.
Perhaps, since the patent application has been published prior to being granted, competitors will find a way to help the PTO understand how obvious it is. And/or supply examples of prior art.
Why was this patent application published prior to publication? That's now the default practice of the PTO. One can request non-publication but, according to my patent lawyer:
...the effective "cost" of requesting nonpublication is that the requester fails to
get the benefit of the "provisional rights" that are accorded to a "publisher," namely
that after the patent application is published, he has the right to notify an infringer
that pending claims are being infringed, and then when and if the infringed claim(s)
actually issue, he can sue the infringer and get damages retroactively to the date of
Perhaps more importantly from Apple's perspective, one cannot request nonpublication and file that patent application internationally. In the words of the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure:
...an application shall not be published if an applicant submits at the time of filing of the application a request for nonpublication, certifying that the invention disclosed in the U.S. application has not and will not be the subject of an application filed in another country...
Methane find on Mars may be sign of life
A strong signal of life on Mars has been detected by scientists at the US National Aeronautics and Space Admin- istration (Nasa) and the European Space Agency.
The detection of methane has been the holy grail of scientists studying the Martian atmosphere, as its presence could provide unequivocal proof that there is life beyond Earth.
Neither Nasa nor the European Space Agency (ESA) has publicly announced the findings, but specialists who have seen the data believe the discovery is genuine - although they are unsure what it means in terms of confirming the presence of life. [Independent]
The story goes on to mention a possible "subterranean source of methane which is pumping out the gas, either due to some residual geological activity or because of the presence of living organisms producing it as a waste gas." The italic on the use of the present tense is mine, because I think that is pretty darned interesting.
Prince opens his own music store
If I'm reading this NY Times article correctly, you pay $25 for a lifetime membership, and then pay the same prices as the iTunes Music Store for individual tracks and albums. And I don't see that you can buy music made by anybody but Prince there. I'm not sure I'm grokking the advantage of this concept to consumers. Although I'm sure Prince likes the fact that he is in charge of how the profits are divvied up. If people actually bother registering at his site and paying the membership fee. I suppose fanatic Prince fans will, since it offers material not available elsewhere.
March 26, 2004
HyperCard apparently passed away this week.
Tim notes that it was released "over the resistance of John-Louis Gassée and others who saw it as 'competing with our developers'." I recall reading that Bill Atkinson basically had to threaten to release it on his own in order to get Apple to ship it. I wonder if it would have been open source and what would have become of it had that happened.
It had the potential to have become what HTML ultimately became. In fact, I've read that it was one of the inspirations behind HTML. But HyperCard, despite the fact that the first Mac was probably the earliest machine to include built-in user-friendly networking capabilities, had no network awareness itself. A missed opportunity of mammoth proportions.
John Sculley recently said that he and others at Apple hadn't had "the context" to see that potential directly. But frankly, the guys at CERN didn't have any more "context" than Apple had to see that kind of thing. CERN, which is where the Web was born, wasn't even in the software or computing business for Chrissake. What was needed was vision. Vision was sorely lacking at Apple in the Years Without Steve Jobs.
(And don't tell me Newton was visionary. There are no signs that Sculley had an idea to get into the PDA business before meeting with founders of GO Corp., which was then in the process of embarking on the creation of PenPoint. That story is told in StartUp, written by Jerry Kaplan, formerly CEO of GO.)
March 24, 2004
Should Apple license FairPlay?
By allowing competitors to leverage the already popular AAC/FairPlay combo, Apple would give them a strong alternative to WMA. Apple might lose out a bit in the short run. But it would be far more likely to prevail over the long haul if it allowed these natural allies into the fold. If Apple truly believes it can make the most innovative music players and software, then it has little to worry about from competition. Standards barriers that ghettoize Apple's music efforts pose a far greater long-term risk. [BusinessWeek]That's like Microsoft saying to itself, "If we truly believe we can make the most innovative Office software, then we have little to worry about from competition. So let's stop all this monopolistic stuff and just focus on writing great software. "
But that will never happen because in fact Microsoft does need to make full use of its monopoly power to be as big as it is, and it knows it. (Read Breaking Windows for scenes of Bill Gates becoming near-apoplectic when it is suggested that they just ride on their software development expertise.) If they relied on their expertise alone, they would quickly shrink to a fraction of their current size, IMHO.
Still, Apple may have no better choice than to open up its music software.
March 23, 2004
On the subject of Hamas
Hamas has vowed to retaliate for the killing of Yassin, who was killed in an Israeli air strike Monday as he left a mosque in his wheelchair. [CNN]On the other hand...
In the early months of the intifada, this macho pretense was sustained by the Israeli government's tacit decision not to target terrorist ringleaders, for fear such attacks would inspire massive retaliation. Yassin and his closest associates considered themselves immune from Israeli reprisals and operated in the open. What followed was the bloodiest terrorist onslaught in Israeli history, climaxing in a massacre at Netanya in March 2002. After that, Israel invaded the West Bank and began to target terrorist leaders more aggressively.
The results, in terms of lives saved, were dramatic. In 2003, the number of Israeli terrorist fatalities declined by more than 50% from the previous year, to 213 from 451. The overall number of attacks also declined, to 3,823 in 2003 from 5,301 in 2002, a drop of 30%. In the spring of 2003, Israel stepped up its campaign of targeted assassinations, including a failed attempt on Yassin's deputy, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Wise heads said Israel had done nothing except incite the Palestinians to greater violence. Instead, Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups agreed unilaterally to a cease-fire.[Bret Stephens, editor in chief of the Jerusalem Post, writing in the WSJ]
I don't think anybody knows for sure what it ultimately true here, and Mr. Stephens is clearly on one side rather than the other, but the above still seems to be worth thinking about.