Yesterday’s Dinner

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Today's dinner, not so interesting. But yesterday, I tried out a homemade seasoning mixture on some mini steaks and cooked artichokes for the first time (served with lemon butter sauce, of course). The seasoning needs work but it all turned out better than I expected. Plus Rachel's Facebook status about it got a bunch of likes.

Yogurt lightsaber

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Okay, so it's advertising one of the worst Star Wars movies. It's hard not to like a yogurt lightsaber though.

Some commentary on the GOP primary from Cuba

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When Marxists are complaining that your party’s candidates are disconnected from today’s global realities, it’s generally not a good sign. But they’re not alone.

There is today an enormous gap between the way many C.E.O.’s in America — not Wall Street-types, but the people who lead premier companies that make things and create real jobs — look at the world and how the average congressmen, senator or president looks at the world. They are literally looking at two different worlds — and this applies to both parties.

Consider the meeting that this paper reported on from last February between President Obama and the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in October. The president, understandably, asked Jobs why almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were made overseas. Obama inquired, couldn’t that work come back home? “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” Jobs replied.

Politicians see the world as blocs of voters living in specific geographies — and they see their job as maximizing the economic benefits for the voters in their geography. Many C.E.O.’s, though, increasingly see the world as a place where their products can be made anywhere through global supply chains (often assembled with nonunion-protected labor) and sold everywhere.

These C.E.O.’s rarely talk about “outsourcing” these days. Their world is now so integrated that there is no “out” and no “in” anymore. In their businesses, every product and many services now are imagined, designed, marketed and built through global supply chains that seek to access the best quality talent at the lowest cost, wherever it exists. They see more and more of their products today as “Made in the World” not “Made in America.” Therein lies the tension. So many of “our” companies actually see themselves now as citizens of the world. But Obama is president of the United States.

Victor Fung, the chairman of Li & Fung, one of Hong Kong’s oldest textile manufacturers, remarked to me last year that for many years his company operated on the rule: “You sourced in Asia, and you sold in America and Europe.” Now, said Fung, the rule is: “ ‘Source everywhere, manufacture everywhere, sell everywhere.’ The whole notion of an ‘export’ is really disappearing.”

Mike Splinter, the C.E.O. of Applied Materials, has put it to me this way: “Outsourcing was 10 years ago, where you’d say, ‘Let’s send some software generation overseas.’ This is not the outsourcing we’re doing today. This is just where I am going to get something done. Now you say, ‘Hey, half my Ph.D.’s in my R-and-D department would rather live in Singapore, Taiwan or China because their hometown is there and they can go there and still work for my company.’ This is the next evolution.” He has many more choices.

Added Michael Dell, founder of Dell Inc.: “I always remind people that 96 percent of our potential new customers today live outside of America.” That’s the rest of the world. And if companies like Dell want to sell to them, he added, it needs to design and manufacture some parts of its products in their countries.

This is the world we are living in. It is not going away. But America can thrive in this world, explained Yossi Sheffi, the M.I.T. logistics expert, if it empowers “as many of our workers as possible to participate” in different links of these global supply chains — either imagining products, designing products, marketing products, orchestrating the supply chain for products, manufacturing high-end products and retailing products. If we get our share, we’ll do fine.

And here’s the good news: We have a huge natural advantage to compete in this kind of world, if we just get our act together.

In a world where the biggest returns go to those who imagine and design a product, there is no higher imagination-enabling society than America. In a world where talent is the most important competitive advantage, there is no country that historically welcomed talented immigrants more than America. In a world in which protection for intellectual property and secure capital markets is highly prized by innovators and investors alike, there is no country safer than America. In a world in which the returns on innovation are staggering, our government funding of bioscience, new technology and clean energy is a great advantage. In a world where logistics will be the source of a huge number of middle-class jobs, we have FedEx and U.P.S.

If only — if only — we could come together on a national strategy to enhance and expand all of our natural advantages: more immigration, most post-secondary education, better infrastructure, more government research, smart incentives for spurring millions of start-ups — and a long-term plan to really fix our long-term debt problems — nobody could touch us. We’re that close.

Fidel Castro, the former president of Cuba, wrote an opinion piece on a Cuban Web site, following a Republican Party presidential candidates’ debate in Florida, in which he argued that the “selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is — and I mean this seriously — the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been.”

Reports of content’s death have been greatly exaggerated

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Excellent infographic from Techdirt on how all of our favorite mediums are continuing to grow in our brave new technological era, despite the caterwauling of those who insist on being left behind.

An Updated Analysis: Why SOPA & PIPA Are A Bad Idea, Dangerous & Unnecessary | Techdirt

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An Updated Analysis: Why SOPA & PIPA Are A Bad Idea, Dangerous & Unnecessary

from the enough-of-the-bull dept

Okay. A few months back, I wrote up what I called “the definitive” post on why SOPA & PIPA were very bad bills. Some things have changed since then, so I thought it might be useful to do an updated post on the subject. On top of that, one of the key claims by supporters of these bills is that those of us opposed have been spewing false claims to increase the hysteria. While it’s true that there is some misinformation making the rounds, I’ve seen no evidence that it’s limited to the anti-SOPA/PIPA crowd. In fact, it appears to be worse on the part of supporters. While some anti-SOPA/PIPA folks may be misinformed about the specifics, they are at least speaking honestly. The pro-SOPA/PIPA forces appear to be deliberately misstating the facts.

So, let’s look at the facts. PIPA & SOPA are (now) very similar bills, both with significant problems. In fact, the remaining “differences” in the bills each have serious problems, which is why neither bill is a “better” bill, since both are terrible. The claimed purpose behind these bills is to give both law enforcement and private individuals/companies tools to go after “foreign” websites that are offering infringing (either copyright or trademark) content. The bills offer two ways to do this: via the Attorney General taking action against the sites, or via a “private right of action,” in which copyright or trademark holders take direct action themselves against a site they believe is dedicated to infringement.

The bill does require a half-hearted attempt to “contact” the operators of the sites being accused, but if the AG or rightsholders feel they can’t reach the owners, they can then go directly after “the site” itself (an “in rem” process, rather than an “in personam”). Following a (literally) one-sided court hearing, a judge can then put the accused site on what is effectively a blacklist. If it’s the AG bringing the action, it means that search engines or (under PIPA) “information location tools” — a broad term that covers an awful lot of the internet — have to magically figure out ways to block any and all links to the site in question. If it’s either the AG or private rightsholders, then payment processors and ad networks would be forced to stop doing business with the sites on the blacklist.

Under both bills, the definitions of what is a “site dedicated” to “infringement” or “theft of US property” are pretty broad and open to abuse. While supporters of the bills love to insist they’re narrowly tailored, a simple look at PIPA shows that’s wrong. It notes that you can be dedicated to infringement if the key service you offer facilitates infringement. Think about that for a second. Pretty much every user generated content site or communication tool… or… computer, can “facilitate” infringement. Now, supporters of the bill insist that most sites are safe because the bill says that there’s “no significant use other than… enabling or facilitating” infringement. But, again, note they’re not saying that it has no significant use other than infringement. It says no significant use other than enabling or facilitating infringement. That’s pretty much the entire internet there. A site may only rarely be used to infringe, but its primary function can still ‘facilitate’ infringement.

In addition, SOPA has an anti-circumvention rule, which makes it incredibly risky to provide any kind of service that that accidentally gets you around the blacklist. (VPN provider? Too bad!) Even worse, the anti-circumvention provision is not limited to foreign sites.

The “only impacts foreign sites” claim is also a red herring. It’s a favorite of the pro-PIPA/SOPA folks, but it’s a lie. While the current bill targets foreign sites, all of the remedies and enforcement require compliance by domestic sites. That’s costly. I recognize that policy analysts, lawyers, lobbyists and politicians who have never actually run a business think this stuff is simple, but for those of us who actually run companies, this is terrifying. We now have to worry about staying in compliance with a broad law that’s almost impossible to comply with in any realistic manner. In our debate yesterday, the US Chamber of Commerce’s Steve Tepp insisted that there was “no liability” for any domestic site. This is ridiculous. What he meant was no direct monetary liability. Leave it to an out of touch policy guy to think that it’s only a liability if there’s the potential to cost you money in court. The liability is in the possibility of being dragged to court over this. It’s in the possibility of facing additional punishment/sanctions for failing to obey an impossible-to-obey court order to cut off certain users. That is a tremendous liability.

There are additional provisions that are troubling, including SOPA’s inclusion of “felony streaming” provisions, that could lead to jail time for those who lip synch over songs and put that up in a YouTube video, or those who embed infringing YouTube videos on their own site. PIPA does not have that directly, but there is a companion bill in the Senate that has similar things.

So why, specifically, are these two bills so bad:

  1. They will not do anything to solve the problem. This is the biggest point. In the past 35 years, dating back to the 1976 Copyright Act, the legacy content industries have gone back to Congress an astounding sixteen times and gotten them to expand copyright law in some form or another to deal with their own inability to adapt. That’s just about every two years. And what has any of it done to reduce the amount of infringement? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But now this is suddenly the magic bullet?

    More to the point, multiple studies have shown that “piracy” is almost always a “service” issue — in that people resort to infringing options when no good options exist. A detailed four-year study on this issue around the globe found, consistently, that infringement was never an “enforcement” issue — but exclusively a business model issue. Provide services that give people what they want, and watch piracy decline. Lots of people have shown the industry how this works, and they still ignore it. A perfect example is how Valve Software saw lots of piracy in Russia — a hotbed of infringement — and used that as free market research to establish a presence in Russia, which is now a huge moneymaker for them. Not by “enforcing” against infringers, but by offering a better legitimate service.

  2. Putting massive liability and compliance costs on startups will hinder the most necessary innovation and jobs. As described above, these bills work by making tech companies responsible for creating/policing the blacklist. That’s expensive and daunting. Many startups won’t even bother to work on innovative services because the legal fees will just be too high. Others will simply start elsewhere. At a time when startups are the only net creator of jobs these days, do we really want to burden them all with significant new compliance costs and liability? These bills are jobs and innovation killers.

  3. These bills go against American principles of freedom of speech. Over 100 law professors — including one of the most respected Constitutional scholars, Laurence Tribe — have made this point repeatedly. Creating a blacklist is not where the US should be going — and it specifically goes against our messaging to other countries on the importance of an open internet and basic internet freedoms. Sure, supporters of the bills will point out that censoring “political speech” is different than censoring sites that have some infringing content, but that ignores reality. We’ve seen oppressive regimes abuse copyright law to oppress dissidents. SOPA & PIPA give those regimes the perfect cover story for doing more of that: just claim they violated copyright law, and the US says it’s just dandy to censor and suppress speech.

  4. The immunity provisions in the bill sneak through broad powers by pretending they’re “voluntary.” Supporters insist that these bills will only be used against the worst of the worst. But they’re purposely ignoring the broad immunity provisions in the bill — and the history of similar immunity provisions. The immunity provisions basically say that, if you become aware of a site that may be infringing, you will get full immunity if you take the actions prescribed in the bill (i.e., cutting them off). As we’ve seen with the DMCA, such a grant of immunity means that if you hear of a site that is accused, you are very, very likely to cut them off, just to make sure you retain that immunity. Why risk it otherwise? Only a few sites may stand up to the worst abuses. The rest will want to make sure they don’t have any future legal fight and will quickly cut the site off — at which point there’s no real recourse.

  5. These bills will be abused. Just like every copyright law that’s been passed. It’s common knowledge that the DMCA is widely abused to take down content that is not infringing. But, at least with the DMCA it’s targeted at specific content. With SOPA, entire sites will be taken down. Supporters insist that a “court reviews” these, and so there’s no worry there. Tell that to, the blog that was incorrectly seized and censored for over a year with no due process under existing law (something we should definitely be revisiting). How can we say the new law won’t be abused when the old law is already regularly abused?

This is not a “theoretical” problem. This is not a “hypothetical” issue. These are not exaggerations. This is what’s in the bill today. And it’s all a huge problem.

Yes, the DNS blocking provisions of the original bills made these even worse, but delaying (not removing) these provisions doesn’t fix all of those other problems.

As for some of the misinformation — including the claims that SOPA would be used to take down US sites — well, that’s the supporters’ own damn fault. They pushed to make SOPA so bad that that absolutely was the case with the original bill, and only changed after massive pushback from the online community. If they hadn’t pushed to include that in the first place, perhaps this wouldn’t be an issue. But, really, worrying about the takedown of American sites is an issue that’s separate from SOPA/PIPA… in that it’s already allowed under US law. Just witness the Dajaz1 case we mentioned above… and worry about the fact that we didn’t have this day of protest before the ProIP Act was approved, which sneakily allowed that to happen.

These bills do not solve the problem, because they’re targeting the wrong problem. And, to make matters worse, they do so in a way that creates tremendous collateral damage. This is no way to regulate.

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If you want to understand why we’re all so upset about these bills, read this. The concerns are not hyperbole.

HTPC: XBMC on Ubuntu Minimal

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I wrote this article up a while back, and since then, I’ve switched to OpenELEC, which really is the way to go for an XBMC-only computer setup. However, in case it helps anybody, here’s what I was doing last fall.

It can be tough when you’re trying to get something working under a specific set of conditions, each with little idiosyncrasies that don’t quite fit with the rest of the forum posts you’re able to google up. Such was the case with me over the summer. Now that I’ve more or less figured it out, I’d like to collect what I was able to find that worked in the hopes that the next person will have a slightly easier time.

I’ve loved XBMC since I first heard about it a few years ago, and I’m constantly trying to improve and optimize my HTPC setup. Over the past year the computer serving as HTPC has changed faces (and housings), but it has always been a Windows 7 Pro PC playing media from internal hard drives that boots to XBMC instead of the Windows desktop*.

A while back, that computer, Tess, had a bit of a conniption fit and the Windows installation got knocked out of alignment. The ATI driver wasn’t loading properly, and for some reason it needs to be active to “overscan” the video output by 15% so it fills the whole TV screen (this is not the case with nVidia card/driver pairs, in my experience). This situation gave me the impetus to further develop my HTPC setup: Splitting functions into a computer running FreeNAS for file storage, and a computer running XBMC Live for media playback.

The FreeNAS installation went surprisingly well, but unfortunately, the current XBMC Live CD doesn’t support hardware acceleration on my ATI video card (Radeon HD 5450). At first, playing any sort of video file caused XBMC to crash and restart. Changing to “basic shaders” in the setting fixed the crashing, but the computer still had a hard time playing 1080p video, with huge numbers of dropped frames and playback so choppy the audio got out of sync. Under Windows 7 with the exact same setup, the videos would play fine.

I still wanted a computer that ran a minimal, XBMC-centric OS, so I decided to try getting it to work on a minimal Ubuntu install. I try not to be a Linux noob, but I am a Linux newb, so I began by following this guide. I kept running into trouble getting xserver to work and launch XBMC, and after a number of unsuccessful attempts, was able to get things working by following the steps outlined in this post, starting with an Ubuntu minimal install instead of Ubuntu server (as is used in the post).

In my case, I had to run sudo startx, and in the resulting terminal window, sudo amdcccle to bring up the Catalyst control center and enable the 15% overscan. I noticed that the command startx didn’t work to launch XBMC in this setup, but xinit did. I used this startup script and substituted startx for xinit xbmc, and now XBMC loads just fine as soon as the computer boots.

I’m currently running an in-development version of XBMC, but I am successfully playing smooth 1080p video from a FreeNAS server to an XBMC-only box connected to my TV. So far so good; hopefully it won’t be too much of a pain to switch over to the next final XBMC release when the time comes.

*Windows users: This is a relatively easy tweak to make if you’re on Win7 Pro, using the Group Policy Editor to replace the explorer.exe shell with xbmc.exe as described in this guide. From there, you can hit Ctl+Shift+Esc and manually launch explorer.exe from Task Manager if you need access to the “regular” Windows environment. It’s pretty elegant if you don’t want to work with Linux or Live CDs, or have Windows software you want to use on the computer.

Excellent poster featuring Lamar Smith and SOPA

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This is great – note how everybody on every side opposes it, making you wonder who exactly ol’ Lamar is representing.

Heretofore Undiscovered Frequencies

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Over Christmas I acquired some excellent new headphones, Audio Technica’s HM50. I picked these out thanks to a recommendation by Thomas Frank of College Info Geek. These days I spend a lot more time listening to headphones than my speaker system, so I wanted to move away from the “stock earbuds” and get some nice cans that would deliver a good sound while helping isolate me from ambient distractions.

So far, the difference has been incredible. I’ve suddenly been transported to my own microcosm of sound and concentration. Whole frequency ranges have been opened to me! I didn’t realize just how much I’ve been missing out – this makes me want to upgrade all of my mp3 files to FLAC.

One downside of nice headphones, however, is that I look kind of dorky wearing them. It’s a small price to pay for the benefits they provide.

Working from Home

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I've been relatively quiet of late due to the looming deadline of the paper I'm writing for my lab. I've spent a number of afternoons working form home, where I find myself utilizing a comical amount of different tools simultaneously, from duel-wielding Windows and OS X systems to handwritten notes.

For no particular reason, I'm including a picture of a BSOD I saw on a payment terminal at the grocery store a while back. It's not often something as simple as a keypad with a magnetic strip reader throws an error like that.

Soda fountain of the future

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Wow, Five Guys has the soda fountain we have been collectively imagining for generations. Dial up one of dozens of choices with the touchscreen and push the button to dispense. Yes!