Dedication

I read this today on Twitter, and re-tweeting does not give it justice:

"I will not sleep until this night eschews the sun in memory of my mother, who toiled and fought for 24 hours to eject the parasitic boarder she had housed for 9 months. And once freed from the burden of childbirth, rejoiced and devoted her life to mine." – John Larroquette

ShutOff 2000 is almost here

The first thing you’ll notice is the name: ShutOff 2000. I decided that “ITS ShutOff Professional” didn’t roll off the tongue as easily. Plus, there’s so much branding inherent in the original name, that changing it seemed foolish.

I wrote quite extensively on this new .NET version in a recent post, as well as the fun I had with a bug in ShutOff 2000. (I’ve decided on .NET 3.5 as the minimum requirement for this baby. This is to ensure that the new version remains more current than the Visual Basic 6 base of ShutOff 2000.)

Tonight, quite by chance, I opened up the project in Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 and started playing around. As a result, two hours later, the command line version is finalised and in testing, and the GUI version is finalised and in testing. That’s a big win right there.

There are two final pieces I need to put in before it can be released, which are in the core library, plus a bit of polish on the UI.

I’m anticipating something final in the next couple of weeks, if not sooner. I doubt it’ll be sooner, thanks to NaNoWriMo.

Piracy and You

Following on from yesterday’s rant is a much shorter note, which holds for software, music and video piracy.

I’ve just read an article on TechCrunch today about studios delaying the rental of DVDs for 30 days after their release, which is an interesting read in itself.

What jumped out at me is this: If you make it easier for people to get access to software, music and video content (e.g. iTunes, Netflix, Redbox), there is less chance of piracy.

I am not afraid to pay for content, but I have a serious problem with restrictions placed on me – why am I not allowed to buy games for my iPhone in South Africa? Why can I not access already-broadcast television shows on the Internet from South Africa?

That is why people are software, music and video pirates. Not because piracy is free (though that is a substantial reason), but because it’s easy.

Copyright and You

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.)

Do you download software and / or music and / or movies and / or television shows without paying for it?

Do you know what ACTA is, or aims to be?

Do you live in a country where your government wants to check what you’re doing on the Internet?

Let’s start off with ACTA: The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is a proposed trade agreement between a large number of countries (including the USA, EU, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand and Australia), which is aimed at reducing “global trade of counterfeit goods and pirated copyright protected works”.

There are good and bad parts in the proposed text (my argument is based on a leaked document that was released earlier this month). I’m all for reducing the amount of counterfeit goods, for a number of reasons, most of which you will share with me.

My issue is with the principle of being able to suspend a household’s Internet account by an ISP, based on suspicion of “copyright infringement”, without a warrant and without providing evidence of said infringement. What is especially stupid, is that ANYONE is allowed to suspect you of infringing their copyright. So to take it to its logical conclusion, I can suspect you of copying my material, and report you, even if you’re in another country. Your ISP will then disconnect you. What happened to your right to defend yourself? What about your right to access information via your Internet connection? What if your account was compromised? What about international law?

What ACTA wants (in part), is for someone in the USA (the MPAA or RIAA, for example – a group of Mafiosa-like individuals who do not fully represent their industries) to be able to suspend someone’s account in another country, for suspected copyright infringement.

What constitutes “copyright infringement”? According to various sources, it is the unauthorised use of material that is covered by copyright law. For electronic material, that would cover reproduction and distribution.

How does the Internet work? At its very foundation, TCP/IP (the protocol for shifting data) uses packet switching. A source device sends a packet of information to a target, which makes a copy of it. That packet may be sent on to another target, and then another. We don’t have direct connections to everything we want to look at, so we have to rely on ISPs, gateways, routers, proxy servers, and a whole lot more. That’s reproduction right there. So who’s at fault? The ISP that allows the copying of the source data? The source for allowing distribution? The target for making a copy (in, for example, the browser cache) on their local computer? The intermediate routers and gateways?

We’re really no closer to an answer as we were at the start, then. Because, by the time you get your file, there is a large number of (sometimes transient) copies of the file already, all over the Internet. That’s where “unauthorised” comes in.

Copyright is an automatically granted right to the producer of material, that says they have the right to decide how people copy their work. The whole point is right there in the name. It’s not rocket science.

Unfortunately, groups like the MPAA and RIAA, based in USA and having no legal bearing on my computer in my house in South Africa, want to tell me how to use the stuff I buy. I’m not even talking about pirated materials here.

Again, let’s use an example: I go to the shop and I buy the latest book by Stephen King. Mr King is the copyright holder of the work. He has given his publisher non-exclusive rights (it has to be non-exclusive if he wants to retain copyright) to distribute the work to me. His publisher pays Mr King royalties on every sale, which are an acknowledgement of that non-exclusive right, usually in the form of monetary compensation. He is one of the highest earning authors in the world, after all.

Now I own the book. It is mine, to do with what I please, provided I do not infringe on Mr King’s rights. I am not allowed to make copies of the book and sell or give away the copies. I am not allowed to write the same or a similar work and call it my own. I am allowed to give the book away. I am allowed to critique the work and use excerpts from it in my critique (under fair use). I am allowed to sell the book to someone else. It is a commodity, and as long as Mr King’s name is on the work, and I don’t infringe his rights, the physical book is mine, and I can do what I want with it.

Music works in the same a different way. I go to the shop and I buy the latest CD by Green Day. Green Day is the copyright holder of that music. They have given their publisher non-exclusive rights to distribute the work to me. The publisher pays Green Day royalties on every sale. You get the picture. Except music does not work the same way as books. You do not own the CD. If you open the plastic wrap in which the CD is sold, you automatically lose any rights to redistribute the work. What you bought was a licence to listen to it. Huh? Because music can be broadcast, and there are rules around what constitutes a public broadcast, it is not a commodity. Did you know that you are not allowed to play your music, which you bought, in a public place without permission? That’s why radio stations play the same stuff over and over again. The record companies tell them who to promote, and the radio stations pay royalties to the record company, who then pays the artist a percentage of that royalty. It’s a mess.

Let’s talk a bit more about economics. Green Day writes and produces music because they enjoy creating it, and they sign a deal with a recording house so that the general public can participate in this music. The recording house manages the distribution of the music, organises deals with radio stations, CD and DVD production and distribution, concerts, and so on.

If Green Day wants to make money out of this creation of music, they must sell merchandise. A lot of merchandise. CDs, DVDs, MP3s (through iTunes and Amazon), t-shirts, bumper stickers, bobble-head dolls, tie-ins with films and other merchandising, and so on.

So, let’s say that a CD costs $10 to buy. The artist will receive a percentage of this, in the form of royalties. It’s a very low percentage. Some megastars, like Michael Jackson, might have gotten as much as 20% per album. Maybe. The recording house uses the rest of that money to pay for marketing, production and distribution of the merchandise. The rest is profit for the recording house.

So for an artist to make it big financially, they have to sell millions of albums, and do concerts. The Rolling Stones and Madonna are respectively the biggest earning group and female artist, because they tour. If Madonna stuck to studio albums and music videos, she would be earning very little by comparison.

So what about those album sales? Gold, platinum, multi-platinum, diamond? The RIAA says an album goes gold when it sells 500 000 units. Platinum is 1 million, multi-platinum is 2 million, and diamond is 10 million. There’s a page on Wikipedia giving a list of sales, and considering the amount of artists out there, it’s not a very long list.

But how many of those artists, who sold that many albums, did not tour? How many of those album sales were a direct result of touring? Those are questions I can’t answer. One thing I am certain of, though, is that to be really successful, you don’t rely on album sales. The Rolling Stones and Madonna prove that. Album sales are only a small percentage of potential income.

Enter software. Software is intangible. I cannot touch it, I cannot pick it up. It exists as a series of 1s and 0s on my hard drive. It exists as a series of 1s and 0s on the media which I bought it on, but I need a computer to be able to view it. Even plain text files are a series of 1s and 0s. All software needs hardware to view it.

This is where it gets interesting. The very nature of viewing a file means that the hardware will create a copy in memory, to display on the screen, or in the case of music, play through some speakers or headphones. But the hardware has made a copy in the memory of the device, to permit me to make use of the software. So I’m never actually using the source, but a copy of it.

That’s important. Whereas a Stephen King book is a physical commodity that I can buy, read, sell or give away without making a copy, I am forced by the very nature of software to make a copy before I can actually use it.

So as soon as you break the shrink-wrap on music or software, the licence agreement (which you are forced into accepting by opening the wrapping) states that you no longer have the right to give it away, sell it, or get a refund. (If the physical media is damaged, you’re allowed to replace it free of charge or at cost within a certain time period). But it’s a licence agreement, not an ownership agreement. You never own that material.

So why are we talking about music and software at the same time? And who exactly is the RIAA anyway? Well, as the name says, it is the Recording Industry Association of America. So basically, a group of recording houses got together and formed an association. In the USA. They can’t make laws. They are not the government. But remember the 80%+ they’re getting from album sales? They can, however (and do) claim to represent their artists. Which is technically true.

So, claiming this representation (and using their massive profits), they lobby the US government (by way of legal bribes – that whole lobbying thing is a mess as well) to create (or change) laws to protect their artists. They are the main drivers behind ACTA. Yes, really. Along with the Motion Picture Association of America, themselves an association of movie production companies (in the USA), they are trying to change international intellectual property laws. In an ideal world, they would be crushed in a few seconds.

Unfortunately, government lobbying is effective. Money talks. Every man has his price. US politicians, who in a number of cases do not understand copyright law, are pushing through changes that will empower the RIAA and MPAA to accuse anyone who has a trade agreement with the USA, to force their ISPs to disconnect someone, without evidence, of copyright infringement. The trade agreement allows them to bypass local copyright laws, because politically speaking, most countries don’t want to lose their trade with the USA. Stupid money.

Back to me on my computer. Here’s a scenario: I run my business from home. I use the Internet extensively to pay bills, check payments, and communicate with my customers. I use VoIP because there aren’t any copper cables in the area for the telephone company to install a phone. I literally rely on the Internet to do my job and earn a living.

My mother, who lives with me, owns a number of vinyl LPs. Her turntable is broken. She cannot listen to her music. So at night, she hops onto the Internet with Vuze or Limewire, and downloads a song from one of the albums she really wants to listen to.

The RIAA, in another country, has put some software on Limewire (which is illegal in my country) to scan my IP address. They write a letter to my ISP, telling them that they suspect me of piracy. My ISP disconnects me from the Internet. My business fails. I kill my mother and then myself, because I have no more money and the creditors will take everything. Yes, that makes perfect sense.

Stop the stupidity and fight back. Law is about the “reasonable man” argument. No reasonable man would allow a trade agreement between two countries dictate what he can do in his own home with his computer. And as for ISPs, they need to fight as well. To ask them to police the network is as futile as it is expensive. Encryption and tunnelling protocols already subvert deep packet inspection. The Dark Net bypasses normal traffic with a peer-to-peer network via the Internet. ACTA will not stop people from using the Internet to copy, because there is no way to tell the difference between a legal bit and an illegal bit. The evil 1s and 0s look exactly the same as good 1s and 0s. Innocent people will get hurt. This is shoot to kill in another form, and we know how well that’s going.

And another thing …

Far be it from me to dictate who you should pick as your invisible friend in the sky, but there is an insidious movement in the world that is taking away the rights of people to live their lives in a free and open society.

And for that group of people, do you *really* think Zombie Jesus will save you?

See, I was under the (mistaken) impression, that the point of tolerance, love for one another, forgiveness, and all those other good things in that really thick book everyone seems to have copies of, is to not pass judgement on others. Surely?

So then, if I don’t subscribe to your belief system, which includes the fanciful idea of a zombie who will save you from beyond the grave, while you eat human flesh and drink human blood, why do you feel it necessary to judge me? Seriously, why?

As for overturning same-sex marriage, what’s up with that? What sanctity are you protecting? Seriously, what?

I want honest, clearly thought out answers, because I sure as hell don’t understand it.

Religion is an excuse to not take responsibility for one’s actions. It doesn’t get simpler than that. If you can justify religion in the 21st century, in a clear and concise argument, please go ahead.

Celebrittle

I’m annoyed. But some background first.

South Africa has “celebrities”, because there really isn’t an A-list and B-list differentiator. You qualify as a celebrity if:

  • You act in a soapie (Egoli, 7de Laan, Villa Rosa)
  • You have your photo taken at a rave (Cassie Booyse, a.k.a. Vernon Koekemoer)
  • You release a CD
  • You host a children’s TV show
  • You sing Neil Diamond songs
  • You play rugby / cricket
  • You sleep with a celebrity*

(* see qualifications above)

Robbie Klay, who is apparently an Afrikaans singer (and therefore a celebrity), is presently involved in a court case accusing Jurie Els, an older Afrikaans singer (and therefore a celebrity), of molesting him when he was under 18.

In SA, we don’t have a specific law for criminal male on male penetration (anymore), so they call it indecent assault. If it were me, I’d call it either paedophilia or rape, but it’s not my court case.

I’m upset, though. I’m upset because Klay can’t get his story straight, as it were. Els has denied all charges (because admitting rape would be stupid), but he has a good lawyer.

I’m upset, because for all we know, this is a ploy to sell more CDs, in much the same way that Joost is selling books because he admitted to adultery and possession of an illegal substance (cocaine), which was of course caught on video.

I’m upset because this shit being dragged across our media is improving the celebrity profile of these subhuman cretins who shouldn’t deserve the time of day.

We as a country are lapping it up, like a real life soap opera.

Which brings me to that self-confessed kiddie fiddler, Roman Polanski. He must face a judge and go to jail. I don’t CARE if he makes good movies. He’s a damn paedophile, no matter how you swing it. Laws to protect children (however misguided in implementation) are there for a reason. If you have money and talent and Oscars, you’re still a damn paedophile. And don’t get me started on Michael Jackson. Yes, arguably the most talented musician in living history, but he was also a self-confessed kiddie fiddler.

And that’s why I’m upset. I know a number of gifted, talented, hard-working artists in their respective fields (TV, film, music, drama), who will never get anything close to the recognition they deserve, because we’re too engrossed in whether some half-wit mullet-wearing “singer” can remember the “facts” through therapy.

My father died in 1994. I remember it vividly. So does my brother. Klay can’t remember a sexual assault? Please.

I’m sorry for giving them more attention than they deserve, but I need to write it down to get it off my chest.

Oh, and I suggest that if you want to support REAL talent, help the SA Guild of Artists get recognised as a labour union, so that the hard-working, underpaid lifeblood of our cultural heritage can protect their interests. Look them up on Facebook.

I got my money back!

“THIS IS A SYSTEM GENERATED EMAIL. PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO IT

To whom it may concern

This is a confirmation that Branded Internet Discovery Mail has released a payment for your account. We have enclosed the details below.

Date : 2009/11/06
Description on Statement : RANDOLPH POTTER
Payment : R 352.00

If you have any queries in this regard please do not hesitate to contact us.
Telephone (0861) 435 733

Kind regards
Branded Internet Discovery Mail”

Branded Internet and Vitality Broadband stole from me

This is an email I have just written to discovery [AT] tip-offs.com, when I discovered a fraudulent withdrawal of funds from my bank account yesterday, three days after my account was cancelled (and confirmed in writing).

“To whom it may concern.

I am a long-time Discovery Health and Discovery Life member. I was until very recently also a customer of Vitality Broadband.

However, when I asked them in July 2009, and then again in August 2009 (due to lack of response), to upgrade my account from three separate ADSL accounts, totalling 8GB monthly cap, to a single 10GB monthly cap, they did not upgrade me. This was despite several telephone calls and emails confirming my request.

I became extremely dissatisfied with this lack of service, that I decided in September 2009 to cancel my account. On 1 October 2009 I telephoned again to confirm my cancellation, which I confirmed in writing, only to be informed that the cancellation would take place on 31 October 2009.

All three of my ADSL accounts were terminated during the course of the morning of 31 October 2009, despite my being under the assumption that “end of the month” meant I would have another few hours of service at least. This is my first complaint of fraud by Vitality Broadband. I wrote an email to the support address to complain about this. I have not heard anything yet.

My second complaint, which you can confirm from the attached document, is the debit order from my bank account which was deducted without my permission by Vitality Broadband yesterday, 3 November 2009, for an amount of R352, despite not having ANY ADSL accounts with Vitality Broadband as of 1 November 2009. I logged into my account to verify this, which is how I came upon this proof fraudulent withdrawal of funds (over and above proof as seen on my bank statement).

I have notified the accounts department and support desk of Vitality Broadband that I will sue them in the small claims court if I do not receive an immediate refund. However, I have taken this opportunity to inform you of this fraudulent activity, because they have a knack of not responding appropriately.

I will be lodging a complaint on HelloPeter.com as well as posting a notice on my personal website of this fraud.

Regards

Randolph Potter”