EU Governments aware of the machine rise

This article is mostly about what the BT (British Telecom) manager said about the importance of women in the future. But there's this interresting quote :

"The government is aware of this trend," he insists. "The EU is looking into it, not just in terms of machine intelligence, but as a problem of globalisation and machine intelligence leading to a surplus of men. It doesn't want large numbers of unemployed men standing around on street corners. We will see lots of demonstrations"

It surely is the biggest challenge of the coming decade. A whole new/different society to build, based on new values (or just the good old money...).


Big Brother is the future (and vice versa)

A nice article about Vernon Vinge's views on the future. And especially about security and privacy. It's clear that people will want more privacy, but technology will also allow to monitor people more efficiently on whatever they do. It's hard to know where the thin limit will be, and nobody has really started to work on that among politicians...

An interresting quote too about the real economic power :
The leaders of most powerful countries are coming to realise that the most important natural resources are not factories or the size of armies. Economic power is in the size of the population that is well-educated, creative and generally happy enough to be optimistic enough to want to do something creative.


France is the enemy

I usually like the NYT articles since they are usually well informed and give a good overview on a subject. But this article got me wondering...

Apart from the doubtful humour about a foreign country and their citizens (What has possessed the French?) the article is just a plead for Apple's cause, no less. Apparently the author considers that Apple is the only online music retail store worth considering. And that it needs to be protected as such. If that's not a defense for a de-facto monopoly I don't know what it is.

The author completely ignores the fact that worry most people about the iTMS and DRM in general: locking content in a proprietary solution. When you buy on the iTMS you can only use the content on your computer or your iPod. The iPod doesn't support any other form of DRM and the Apple DRM is not available to license. So if you have $200 worth of content from Apple and for some reason your computer crashes you lose all of it. And if you want to listen to your music on a device on another device you can't. And that's precisely what the french law proposes to get rid of. Make sure that the user has control on the content he bought, not the companies that make hardware and softwares.

penalize companies that harm consumers, not the ones that succeed by building better products.

Better products doesn't mean they don't harm consumers. In the long run locking yourself in a technology and having no technical means to get rid of it (legitimately as the law puts it) is a hidden suicide... I'm still waiting for a class action against Apple by users pissed that they can't use their content elsewhere than the Apple world. Then we'll see who is harming consumers (with a monopoly enforced by digital lockers).

Apple largely created the online market for legal music.

I think there were many other DRM solutions before Apple presented theirs.

Second, iTunes has lots of music. Largely because of the innovative iTunes FairPlay copy protection and digital rights management software, Apple persuaded major record labels to let them sell much of their best content online. The combination of simplicity and variety proved a huge winner.

There have been reports about the recent attemps by record labels wanting to change the price policy of the iTMS. The idea was to have new content more expensive and older content cheaper. That sounds totally fair. But Steve Jobs and its marketing decided that the unique price was better. It's funny that the technology provider (because of its market position) think they can impose how content owner should sell their stuff... The result is that there won't be a deal renewal, but the content will remain on the iTMS. The difference is that content owner could pull out their catalog at any time, turning the iTMS into a useless technology and the iPod owners in despair. The huge success of the iTMS will turn into a catastrophy... So in short I don't think the picture of labels being happy with an all in one solution (where they have no voice) is a realistic picture.

If the French gave away the codes, Apple would lose much of its rationale for improving iTunes. Right now, after the royalty payment to the label (around 65 cents) and the processing fee to the credit card company (as high as 23 cents), not to mention other costs, Apple's margin on 99-cent music is thin. Yet it continues to add free features to iTunes because it helps sell iPods.

At least it's clear to everyone what the FairPlay is about: sell iPods. That's the very reason why Apple make their best not to open it to any partner (just look at the flop of the iTunes phones).

Now would opening (doesn't mean breaking) Fairplay would boost the iTMS: yes. Would it boost music sells: yes. Would it boost iPod sales: likely if you can convert WMA DRM to Fairplay. So what is wrong about opening it ?

Apple argues that sharing the codes could make the pirates' job easy enough to wipe out the legal market.

That's considering licensing technology is a public publishing. AFAIK Microsoft Janus (DRM) is licensed to many companies and there's no tool online to crack it. This argument is just FUD created by Apple and spread by "journalists".

Agitators might claim that this is the very goal of the French bill: why else would it also reduce the maximum fine for consumers caught illegally downloading music from 300,000 euros (about $371,000) to just 38 euros (less than $47)?

It's funny how the journalist considers paying 300,000€ for downloading a track online is OK. The 38€ fine is per download. Only when a law is fair it can be respected.

Usually, rich countries don't meddle with others' intellectual property because they fear retaliation. So why don't the French fear retaliation now?

Retaliation against France. Now we have big words to defend Apple against France (one of its biggest market in Europe)... In short the author is saying: don't mess with a USAn company or we'll retaliate on other markets. I guess he/she must have a lot of Apple stocks to go so bold on an industrial (and actually a cultural) choice.

One reason may be that they have concluded France will never really compete. If the Internet will always have an American accent, why not go after it? Sometimes, the red flag of revolution is surprisingly hard to distinguish from the white flag of surrender.

There were 2 options in the law: global license which would be a tax on download or DRM interoperrability. Both are considered good routes to make the digital economy fair and flourish. So I see innovation possibilities where the author see surrender to a monopoly.

Before declaring pre-emptive war on iTunes, however, perhaps the French would do best to remember a lesson from 1789. Sometimes the very people calling for revolution are the ones who end up losing their heads.

So far I haven't heard any voice in France against the proposed law to defend iPod. All the voices are crying that there will be less space for private copy. So the author is just fantasazing and maybe he thinks Bush will attack the french (once more) to defend Apple. That will make the french even more proud...


Lilly Is Here

As any other father I want to tell the world that my baby Lilly was born yesterday (2006-04-26) at 21:35 in Hawaii. She weighs 3.9 kg (8.6 pounds) and measures 53cm (21 inches). She has dark hair and blue eyes.

It's both a wonderful and happy moment as much as a sad one. Unfortunately I couldn't be there for legal reasons. But Cecilia and the baby are doing fine so that's just enough to be happy. We'll be together in Europe around june.

Welcome to the world Lilly!


1366x768 & 750Go

In the modern world advertising for false information can be punished. Yet tech companies have found legal ways to cheat on their product specifications.

My LCD TV claimed to do 1366x768 pixels, as many (most) of them do. But when I plugged it to my computer only 1280x720 (720p) were available. I thought there might be something wrong in my setup even though I didn't notice any resizing effect typical for LCD (blurry when not in native). I only found out the trick with an HDBeat article. The TV does only have 1280x720 real pixels. They only pretend to have more due to the overscan found on analog TVs (analog TVs cut the borders of an image). So there will never be 1366x768 physical or displayed pixels. This number is just imaginary.

Seagate also announced a 750 GB harddisk drive a few days ago. But don't expect your OS to report 750 GB when you plug it. HDD manufacturers have decided a long time ago that 1 GB = 1,000,000 bytes and not 1,024x1,024 bytes. It didn't make such a difference for small disks. But now the difference is 34.75 GB (real bytes). If they keep the same trend, a 1 TB disk will actually contain 953GB (70GB or 5% less).


DRM myths

I don't want to become a DRM advocate, but when I read articles like this I feel like a more balanced view should be expressed.

Both Lessig and Stallman are smart people. But it turns out they are very idealistic, and unrealistic, in their opinion on DRM and freedom in general.

The values of the Free Software Movement are the freedom to cooperate, and the freedom to have control over your own life. You should be free to control the software in your computer, and you should be free to share it.

The GPL that Stallman wrote (or was the main driving force) doesn't give you the freedom to share. It is an obligation. You replace a freedom with a constraint. It really feels like someone is deciding for you what kind of freedom is good for you. So it's always surprising to see him attack other Open Source licenses (that sometimes give you all rights) in the name of freedom.

Now about DRM, the freedom given to people (restricted rights) is exactly what they paid for. If they want more rights they should pay more money, and if they agree on less rights, they should pay less. That's the very basic reason why renting a DVD is cheaper than buying it. And the market, in other words the consumers, will decide what kind of rights they want. It's just unfortunate that the whole content market is ruled by oligopolies (on movies and on music) and therefore the DRM offers/choices are very scarce. But this has nothing to do with why DRM is good or bad.

the whole point of DRM is to deny your freedom and prevent you from having control over the software you use to access certain data.

When smart people start using stereotypes that means there's something fishy going on. After all the whole GPL relies on copyright laws. And Stallman, as such, is a strong defender of copy rights (copyleft as they call it) and intellectual property. But apparently electronic ways to ensure the rights are always respected are not good. He probably considers that doing this in court is preferrable, even for people who earn no money on what they create (like most GPL devs do).


Second-Hand Digital Content ?

As the market for DRM is slowly maturing into a digital economy, it's interresting to think about how it's going to evolve. Namely what will happen to the content you paid (for a premium price given the real cost of the medium) after you don't want it anymore ?

So far you could sell your old vynils, CDs or DVDs to a second hand shop. And that created a real economy where people would purchase something they would keep for a few months and then get rid of it. But I think this possibility might soon become the past.

Consider the Managed Copy system introduced in future DRMs or the interroperability law in France. It allows you to go from one DRM format to another. But it's just a copy, the original is still intact. So if you sell the copy, you still have the original. You become a distributor and not a second hand seller, especially since you have the digital ability to make thousands of copies to sell. I don't think any content creator, major label or studio will ever let you do that.

And it's too bad, because given the digital possibility one could buy a DRMed movie (as in ownership, not renting) watch it, and then sell it for (almost) the same price. It would be fair to the buyer since the copy he would buy would be like brand new. Then this buyer could watch it and sell it after for (almost) the same price. etc. And if you put a website in the middle that acts as the middle man to find buyers/sellers for a content, it can be instantaneous. That means, the content you buy would be just as valuable as the price you paid, minus the price you resell it. It could be 0 in some case.

It could even make you earn money if the content is in high demand and there's no offer to sell it (the rule of offer vs demand). As in the analold world some content could be produced at a limited amount of items (DRMed copies) and the collectors would rush to buy one and maybe sell it for twice the price or even more. They could also sell a rare copy 10 years later for an expensive price (if all other copies have been destroyed).

Too bad the current DRMs won't let you do that...


The Cure for Information Overload

I just saw this link on Kurzweil's website. Apparently it's on to something The Cure for Information Overload. Maybe a way to crash google's search engine.


America: No More

I haven't updated this blog because I've been busy and haven't read many impressive articles lately. But what happened to me on this sunday (26-03-2006) deserves a bit of sharing.

I was on my way to Hawaii from France to join Cecilia that is going to have our baby very soon (Lani Amour, a girl, is due for 22-04-2006). But when I entered the USAn territory in Seattle I was refused the entrance. They considered I was an illegal worker even though I'm just running my company based in France while I'm away. I was not in the USA to look for a job. I was just going there because that's where Cecilia is, because I wanted to be there for the birth of my first baby !

When I arrived at the first desk, the guy saw that I was in the USA recently for twice 2 months, and the explanation that I was coming to see my girlfriend and our baby didn't convince him. He sent me with a red card to another desk, hidden from all the other passengers.

On this second desk they quickly sent me to another room even more separate to be asked a few questions. They asked me what I was going to do there, what was my job, what was I doing from december to march in Hawaii and from may to august in Los Angeles. I was trying to be clear enough that in each case I was not working illegally. In Los Angeles I was just there for a job proposal and I was only compensated for being there (I actually lost a lot of money being there waiting for something to happen). I never signed a contract and decided to leave when I realised they could never get me a visa, and so I could stay in the USA to live with Cecilia.

Before I went back to France I managed to get a job interview at DivX and they were very positive. So positive that they engaged me to work from France, as I couldn't get a visa easily (the USA have put very strong restrictions lately on the quotas of foreign worker). So I created my independant company in Paris, and I work as a contractor for DivX, paying my taxes in France.

Given the nature of my job (programmer), I can work from everywhere as long as I have a connection to the internet. That's what I was doing when I was in Hawaii for 3 months. I went back to France to clear my 90 days visa waiver and be able to come back for the birth of my child. But the authorities decided otherwise.

First they thought I was just finding an excuse (the baby) to enter the USA. They could have called Cecilia to see if my (supposedly) alibi was true. But they didn't for a long time. Then they thought I was working illegally for DivX. But it's not the case as I work for myself, from France. Being on the road doesn't change much. I wasn't on a business trip, because I was just there for family purposes. So, after they realised that it was a tricky case, they decided that they would make me pay for my stay in Los Angeles last summer. Even though I was not the one who requested to move there, even though I was promised a visa, even though they paid for the trip and (most of) the hotels. For me it was more a job evaluation than a job. I even spent 3 weeks during that time with Cecilia, one week in Hawaii not having any contact with Los Angeles.

Now that's the story, and I probably have a lot of wrongs on my side. I didn't even deny anything. I explained calmly, for 7 hours in a very hot room, my situation and that I had no intention to look for a job there because I already have one in France ! But my fault was to work for a USA based company, that was too many coincidences. That and the fact that the first time they called Cecilia noone answered and that the address we use in Hawaii in the address of her mom's store (because there is no postal service up in the mountain, where they live), or the fact that I'm renting my apartment in Paris while I'm away, or the fact that I was travelling with no luggage other than my carry-on full of baby clothes and typical french food. That was too many strange facts put together to sound true. Even though it was the plain and simple truth. The truth is that our stay in the USA was temporary anyway, we were planning to move to Europe when the baby is born. Now we even have a solid reason to do it!

After 6 hours they finally managed to reach Cecilia on the phone. They didn't tell her anything at all, just that they were holding me in Seattle. You can imagine the shock, for her and the baby. And it was a schock for me too when they announced me they will put me in the first plane to France. I realised I won't be there to support Cecilia when she will give birth. I realised I will not see my baby for a long time (every day will seem like a year). I cried a few times... I wouldn't normally cry, but I was up for about 26h with almost no sleep in the plane (to be on the Hawaiian time when I arrive). I had a nervous breakdown. The officer (a woman) didn't even give a shit about it... She told me she had Cecilia on the phone but that she didn't say anything. I was very suprised, not only because I know Cecilia would have tried to know more (the officer told her she didn't know much, and she couldn't tell more), but also because during the second hour, as I realised I missed my flight, I asked if I could call Cecilia to tell her not to go to the airport and they said I could call her later. They never let me call her at all.

They asked me questions over questions for a long time. Even though most of the time I was waiting for them to make their computer work or decide who was going to ask me the questions. I was supposed to answer yes or no to questions that would require a lot more explanation, given the complexity of the situation. As an example I told them I'm a software engineer, and I also told them I'm a programmer. But they have no idea what it's about and they were wondering if I was cheating or something.

They asked me a lot of questions. And they only kept the ones that were against me. For example they didn't note the date of the baby's due birth, which is exactly in the middle of my trip. They didn't note that I run my own company in France and that's the contract I have with DivX. (they went online to check if DivX is a real company, none of them ever heard about it). They didn't keep the fact that when I was in Los Angeles I was promised a job and the required visa, and that I decided to leave because they wouldn't work on any of these and I was losing money being in LA without a job. That I wouldn't go back and forth in France before the 90 days limit if all I wanted was to be an illegal alien.

That's a very strange way to make justice when the people against you is also the judge. I had no lawyer to help me, to tell me I was way too tired to answer all those questions. Way too tired to sign a paper all against me. And the other incredible part about this kind of justice is that you are not even allowed to appeal.

I guess I was refused because the situation was too complex for them to believe it. But I didn't play with them, I said all the truth (apart from the fact, at the beginning, that I was still in contract with DivX, in case they would think I was just going to San Diego to work). But I paid for my past year of being in planes and trying to be somewhere where we can stay for a while with Cecilia. I was just for my past in the country of the 2nd chance. The country of personal liberty. I didn't get any of these. They were only kind not to put me in jail at night and allow me to go to a hotel while they were holding my passport. In the morning the main officer led me through the airport to the gate of my flight. I was treated like a criminal.

Everybody who knows me knows that I value justice and balance and truth among anything else. So it was even more a shock to be treated this way, to put me in such an unfair situation. Just because they don't want any foreigner to steal their precious jobs (I already have a contract to steal such a job from a USAn, so it's even more stupid).

Now my baby is going to start her life without me. Cecilia will have to dream of me holding her hand while she's giving birth. The country of freedom won't let me do that.