Archived News for May 2007

It's only a number


I thought it was legal for me to post this number because I'm a New Zealander. Well, turns out that section 226 of the current Copyright Act (1993?) might ban it. It depends whether the number can, itself, be considered a means of circumvention of a 'technological protection measure', and then it also depends on whether that protection is for copying. If the measure is just for protecting access (which I think this one is), then it may or may not be illegal (but a similar section did apply when it was tested in UK courts).

I was under the impression that we didn't have any stupid laws regarding components used in devices with the intention of circumventing copyright. Of course, there's that bill before Parliament to fix the whole ambiguity, and make it overwhelmingly clear that this number is illegal (with up to a $150,000 penalty, or three years in jail). So, shit.
The line between personal use and commercial use also gets very blurry, very quickly. If personal use can be argued to have commercial implications [or] if one merely communicates information about the structure of encryption codes to others, who then use that for commercial or criminal purposes [then] the chain of liability seems very unclear. Presumably, one cannot be held criminally liable for the end uses of digital information by others.
This insightful speech is the only reason I'm seriously considering voting Green next election. See the tally at the bottom? 113 ayes. The only party to vote against it was the Greens. They're pretentious and scary but, holy crap, at least Nandor (to his credit) knows a stupid idea when he sees one.

Manufacturing Consent

Manufacturing Consent is a 1992 documentary about Noam Chomsky's institutional analysis of the media in the United States. It's available on Google Video albeit with a sound delay for the last hour. The content is interesting enough to bear it though.

His speech is incredibly precise, concise, clear. And that makes it stunningly obvious when someone is trying to twist his words or his argument. When they do, he stays calm and explains again. Many of the interviewers try to change the discourse by setting up faulty premises and trying to get him to agree to them - it's fantastic to see when he doesn't.

I particularly loved his reply to a stupid, ignorant fuck of a frat boy in a Phi Delta Theta shirt. As soon as the kid realises he hasn't got the rise he was hoping for he looks around for support and pretends he doesn't understand. Also good is Chomsky's treatment of an angry protester in the audience bringing up his involvement in the Faurisson affair. Spoiler: he stays after the show to talk reasonably to the guy, and a mob of people.

Apparently Chomsky has mixed opinions of the film because it portrays him as the leader of some sort of movement people should "join up" to. And yeah, I can see that - the last hour or so of the film did remind me a little too much of the credits to An Inconvenient Truth. Anyway, here are two good extracts; one from the end of the speech that bookends the movie, and another from His Right to Say It:
The question is whether privileged elites should dominate mass communication, and should use this power as they tell us they must – namely to impose necessary illusions, to manipulate and deceive the stupid majority and remove them from the public arena. The question in brief is whether democracy and freedom are values to be preserved, or threats to be avoided. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence, democracy and freedom are more than values to be treasured, they may well be essential to survival.

In the Italian left-liberal journal Repubblica, Barbara Spinelli writes that the real scandal in this affair is the fact that even a few people publicly affirm their support of the right to express ideas that are almost universally reviled -- and that happen to be diametrically opposed to their own. My own observation is different. It seems to me something of a scandal that it is even necessary to debate these issues two centuries after Voltaire defended the right of free expression for views he detested. It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.

Magic Number Redux

Slashdot has a nice article continuing the discussion about the HD-DVD key. I had this idea a few days ago too (I swear!).

NZ is party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, so any artistic work automatically falls under copyright. So, create such a work. Then, take a number of your choice. Use an cypher of your choice (see Trav for implementation details, or just use ROTx) to encrypt the work. Then, optionally and to make your case stronger, distribute the encrypted work along with a program to decrypt it in memory, on the fly (see me for implementation details).

The number you used, that, remember, was arbitrary, is now a component of a TPM protecting your work from being copied. Find someone who uses your number and take them to court. Rinse. Repeat if desired.

Now, I posted in the earlier story a number of different representations of the HD-DVD key. The great thing is that there are an uncountable infinity of different isomorphic representations of an number. For instance, you can convert back and forth between a number and a string trivially with a code like ASCII, or just A = 1, B = 2, etc. So, to be really tricky, use one of the isomorphisms of an important string as your key. Your key could be the entire text to the Copyright Act 1994 - so, publishing the law that prohibits publishing components of a TPM circumvention method would be publishing a component of a TPM circumvention method. Got self-reference?

To be really, really tricky we can use the following supposition. It's unproven, but fairly trivial. I also don't know if it has a name. It should. Counter-examples welcome.
For any pieces of information, i and j, there is a bijective (and so, invertible) function such that f(i) = j, regardless of the complexity of i or j, provided there is no limit to the complexity of f.
Convince yourself of this and we'll continue. Seriously. Let it sink in. No trouble, I'll wait.

Well, from this it follows that literally every piece of information is a component of a TPM circumvention method. Well, even more strongly, any piece of information is a component of any (information using) TPM circumvention method. The only thing that changes between different pairs (i,j) is the component's triviality. The situation is isomorphic (ha.) to capacitors and transistors: they're not TPM circumvention components, even if they are used to break Macrovision. But mod-chip ICs? Not trivial/general enough, so they are TPM circumvention components.

That's damn fucked up.


I've spent the last half hour playing around with /dev/audio, the audio device in Linux. Because Linux is based on Unix, it treats some pretty complex things as normal files. The audio device is an example. You can write to it like any other file, but instead of storing the information on disk, it interprets each byte you send it as an amplitude (from 0x00 to 0xff, I guess).

You can then use the `cat` command to pipe other system devices its way. For instance, `cat /dev/urandom > /dev/audio` produces completely random noise. That's not too interesting though. What's better is catting the raw contents of a hard drive (something like `cat /dev/hda1 > /dev/audio`. You hear the data structures pass through in audio form. Different filesystems apparently have their own characteristic sounds.

Also interesting, and probably more useful, is `sudo tcpdump > /dev/audio`. It gives a low growl whenever a packet is sent or received. And you can listen to the system's RAM - `cat /dev/mem > /dev/audio`. Some people have heard that pass through audio files in memory and actually play the songs. ASCII text can be identified because it only uses the last 7 bits of each byte (so the audio is quiet).

If you're lucky enough to have a /dev/mouse (I don't know what my one is), you can try that. Also, super-highly recommended is creating a new bitmap in Gimp, saving it somewhere and then doing:
while true; do cat whatever.bmp > /dev/audio; done
as you edit it. The size of the bitmap will determine the length of the sample you create. The colours work as you might expect - lots of contrast gives interesting tones. A primary (RGB) colour will give a high pitched tone, and the stronger the colour the stronger the tone. Splitting the image in half horizontally is like working on half the time of the sample. Bands vertically can provide tone. A messy textured image produces a messy, staticish sound. Loads of fun.

MetaWeblog API

I've been working on implementing the MetaWeblog API for Something Emporium. You can see the automatically generated API documentation here - that's also the location to XML-RPC to for the API. This means you can use standard blogging tools (like ScribeFire) and your regular username and password, to post to SE. Like I just did!


I believe digg also supports this API. So, if you've got an account over there, you can can blog from I don't know why you'd want to, but you can.

/dev/audio Example

For those of you not lucky enough to be using Linux, here's an example of what /dev/audio sounds like. It's one of the better sounds I found while playing around — a .wav file, as it is stored on the disk. It's a 300kB mp3. It's a little more clear in its original form; I don't think mp3 is that great for encoding this sort of sound. The ending is still great though.

Property and exclusion

I've posted before about my dislike of the term 'Intellectual Property'. In particular, I've discussed scarcity - the lack of it in the use of intellectual output. I was reading a few things ("A Great Idea Lives Forever. Shouldn't Its Copyright?", and a reply) recently when I realised that there's another way to look at where copyright comes from, and why property rights should not be applied to creative works. It involves the economic exclusion principle (note: different from the exclusion principle and the Pauli exclusion principle).

Exclusion is the fact that ownership of a piece of property excludes others from owning that same property. Imagine you own a Model T car. Other people can own cars that look just like yours but, crucially, they can't own your one. Ownership is exclusive because physical use is (mostly) exclusive; if I take your car, you no longer have one. Exclusion is where, ultimately, many types of scarcity come from. Some scarcity can be attributed to a lack of natural resources, sure. For secondary goods, however, it can be attributed simply to the fact that one of everything is not enough because one of anything is only enough for one person.

You might see where this leads next, but it's worth emphasising. Non-physical property is different to physical property because of its ease of reproduction. An idea is the simplest example: it is copied instantly in the moment it is taught or conveyed. But we do this point an injustice to stop there. Consider the fact that every person on Earth can have their own copy of every movie, song and book ever produced for a cost that is not out of reach even today; a cost that is inexorably falling. Exclusion does not hold for non-physical property - information can be duplicated without substantial cost. This is what, ultimately, Jefferson meant by those quotes you might read (most notably "he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me"). He wasn't talking about copyright at all, just about the fundamental attributes of creative works.

Flight of the Conchords

Excuse the MySpace embed. This is the full pilot for the new Flight of the Conchords TV series. By the looks of this it's going to be awesome. So many bonus moments for New Zealanders - the New Zealand tourism poster, the chick saying "I think I actually want an Australian. Maybe you guys know somebody." Just cool.

By the way, their official site is also hilarious, and well worth a read.

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