Saturday, June 28, 2014

Apocalypse Watch: Remember Max?

"My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called "Max".
— Narrator, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Entertainment Weekly, The Apocalypse Issue cover

If this keeps up, I'm going to have to add a new tag to the list.

Aereo Fallout, Well That Didn't Take Long

"In  Aereo's Wake Fox targets Dish's TV streaming service"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grist for the Post-Apocalypse Mill

Ebola outbreaks and antibiotic resistant disease, wars and revolutions, fear of terrorists... is it any wonder why both super-hero and apocalyptic media is going strong right now? So what makes for a good apocalypse? It's an interesting question pondered in the video below, in between the parts decrying the overuse of zombies. I can't really disagree with that either, but I'm mostly linking it for the thoughts on the end of the world stories. Anyway, here's Dodger with "How To End The World".

The Incremental Approach and Aero

Back in the late 90s when the mp3 format became popular for music listening, I spent some time pondering where the line of illegality was for sharing such files. Before I get into this, please note it was a thought exercise by someone who is very, very not a lawyer.

So me listening to a CD I bought is legal.
Me listening to a CD that I borrowed from a friend is legal.
My friend and I listening to the CD together is legal.
Me ripping a CD onto my computer is legal (there is no data protection on the disk, so it doesn't fall under DMCA protection).
Me listening to a CD I borrowed from my friend after he ripped it is likely not legal, but it's hard to say which one of us would be in violation.
We can presumably play a CD through a computer's speakers and both listen to it. However, if we both listen to an mp3 on, say a networked hard drive, even if we are still in the same room, that somehow becomes illegal.
What if only one of us listens at a time? What if we aren't in the same room? What if we are neighbors listening in different houses? The point is, once you introduce a network connection into the distribution of data, it seems the copyright question goes haywire, even if there are limits on who can access when.

Which brings us back to 2014 and the case of ABC vs. Aereo. Aereo's business was renting an antenna and a DVR to subscribers, one antenna per subscription. Their customers could then access their account to set up when and what channel to record and play back any recordings on their various internet connected devices or watch live. Now it is perfectly legal for me to set up a DVR in my home and record over-the-air broadcasts for later viewing. In 2008 it was established that the so-called "cloud DVR" is also legal. But the Supreme Court has now ruled that Aereo is performing the same function as a cable company and thus subject to the same copyright restrictions as cable companies. And they explicitly state that the differences in how the broadcasts are delivered (e.g. 1 antenna per customer vs. cable's multi-cast to all their customers) do not make a difference.

Aereo was splitting the hair pretty fine in following the letter of the law, and they succeeded all the way up to the high court. But with this reversal, the question now turns to what the effect will be on services that duplicate other kinds of potentially copyrighted data across the internet. What does it mean if one were to put an e-book into Dropbox or a cloud backup service to then access from multiple computers/devices? Is that really different from Aereo's service?

In any case, I have rambled too long here about something better summarized by real journalists (see the article linked above and this further analysis), but it highlights how the rapid rise of networked computers poses a problem to a slowly evolving society. Frameworks like the legal system, the economy, and the government are having to adjust to a more complex and technological reality. And sometimes the answers just aren't going to come easily.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bookworming: Skin Game

Skin Game, Jim Butcher, *****
Hey, a new Dresden Files novel! Standard rules apply: don't start the series here and if the formula has worn thin for you, then don't bother. Speaking of the formula, it is in full force here. Prepare for beat up Harry followed by hurt Harry followed by too tired and hurt to do magic Harry. Even though the basic formula is in play, this one brings back some favorite villains, further illuminates some of Harry's recent changes, and for my tastes is one of the better stories of recent Dresden Files books.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Nothing to be Done

Peter Welch's wonderful Waiting for Doctor Who.

Yes, I know of the reference from which this pattern comes, but I have had conversations not unlike this.
Sometimes even with another person.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Ever-Rising Tide

On a lark, I sat down today and started putting together a small application using a newly downloaded Visual Studio 2013. It has been a couple of years now since I used C# regularly for work, and even then I didn't do much user interface work. After several hours of playing around, I have encountered a new syntax construction or two (lambdas and anonymous functions), a new threading model, and of course a new UI framework. Needless to say I didn't get very far with the actual application.

I can see why the changes have been made. Anonymous functions are a quicker way to work with simple functions and function composition. The new threading model (in theory) simplifies how multiple execution paths are handled. And Windows Presentation Foundation brings a new method of creating user interfaces that is (again, in theory) simpler and provides wider platform support than WinForms. And yet, had I used the older ways, which are still available, I would have gotten much farther along the path of actually creating something that worked.

Of course, that wasn't really the point. My real purpose in diving into the new libraries was to uncover exactly the kinds of things I found. Keeping up with the ideas in programming is possible, but the ideas do not get you anywhere. Just like with products, it's the implementation that counts. Microsoft had tablet computers for years before Apple created an iPad, for example. And yet, there is no best implementation, one has to experiment to find out what works and what does not. Every attempt gives you more information, informing the next attempt, even those that lead off into the weeds.

But boy can the process be wearying. Every language has it's own way of doing things. Every library its own interface. Every code base its conventions. And they are always changing. And yet, those changes bring new viewpoints, new functionality, and new ideas with them. Without that there would not have been the amazing rate of change in the actual things the technology enables. As a programmer, I struggle to keep up with even the big picture of the constantly accruing knowledge in the field. I wonder what it will mean for my career as the years roll on. I question whether it is even worth all the bother and stress. But as someone who wants to see technology improve all our futures, I know the pace of change is the price that must be paid to continue the remarkable improvements in what software is capable of.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Quote of the Moment

"In effect, financial markets are pushing companies to run a marathon... by having them sprint every lap."
"High frequency trading is a different phenomenon from the increasing focus on short term returns by human investors. But they're borne from a similar mindset: one in which financial returns are the priority, independent of whether they're associated with something innovative or useful in the real world."
"The final destination? It will enter a world entirely of its own — a world in which it is fighting to capture value that is completely independent of whether any is created in the first place."
– James Allworth, "High Frequency Trading and Finance's Race to Irrelevance", Harvard Business Review

Yes, I've been harping on the idea that "the market" optimizes for the wrong thing for a while now.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Culture, Counter Culture, Pop Culture

We start off tonight with the sad news of another amazing part of the World War II story passing completely into history. Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo Code Talkers has died. The tale of the "unbreakable" code and the people who enabled it remains a fascinating one. Given the climate of jingoism and racism that dominated at the time, it highlights just how important other cultures can be, and that speaking another language does not mean one isn't a patriot.

Meanwhile, some in Thailand are raising the ire of the military rulers by quietly raising the sign used in the Hunger Games movies. In addition to this, some are protesting by reading 1984 in public places. Naturally there has been criticism in the media over it, one story in particular which I will not grace with a link belittles the use of a symbol from a movie and book marketed to teenagers. As for me, I think one finds symbology where one needs to. And if The Hunger Games's fictional rallying cry for freedom has enough visibility to be used in the real world for the same message, I don't see a problem with that.

And finally more sad news, as two girls use the internet horror creation Slenderman as justification for a murder attempt. There may be nothing more here than a lesson in the need to supervise and teach children. Then again Slendy may become the next poster-thing in the perpetual comics/television/video games/internet scapegoating crusade to oversimplify the real issues of violence in the US. In either case, it is an illustration of just how very public the public consciousness has become in the networked age.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bookworming: The Color of Magic

The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett, ***
First in the now expansive Diskworld series, The Color of Magic is a parody of the fantasy genre, and your reaction to it will probably depend on how much you are familiar with the tropes of sword and sorcery and how much you like the dry humor the book leans on. For me at least, this was not a laugh-out-loud kind of book, rather more of a wry grin. In some sense, I was a bit let down in that I was expecting funny rather than witty. That said, it wasn't the humor that impressed me about the book. The world-building in The Color of Magic has a hefty amount of verisimilitude, and parody though it is, it is also a magnificent example of the fantasy milieu form. Comparisons to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are not misplaced. It even shares Hitchhiker's greatest weakness: there is no story here. It is an almost random tromp through an imaginary world, and nothing deeper than that. Thankfully the imaginary world is bursting with personality, and that is the real reason I enjoyed the book. As for the parody, yes it is good. Even the ending is a send-up of the classic cliffhanger. It misses the four-star mark by a bit for me, but I suspect I will continue with the series at some point.