Archive for February, 2010

CUPS Frustration

CUPS Frustration

Following the pouring out of my heart about removal of features for OpenSuSE, I thought, since CUPS has an option for n-up printing maybe I could just add a new printer with n-up always on.

No, that is not possible.  I can specify a thousand different different options that I never use, but not the one that I use every time I print.  There’s not even an open ended “type your option code in here”. So for those <insert expression of annoyance> applications like openoffice which don’t have an n-up print option, I have to go via a pdf export to print.  :-/

for the record, kde4-printer-applet also doesn’t work

nor does

lpoptions -p <dest>  -o number-up=2

as far as I can tell

Hmmm… it seems as if options are determined by the driver/ppd file used….


Thanks O’Reilly

Thanks O’Reilly

Shopping with O’Reilly gives me a nice feeling.  I hadn’t bought anything from them for a year so they offered me 40% off my next purchase.   Just in general I like their attitude.  No DRM on their ebooks – and they’re available in multiple formats.  And who could forget the cute animals they have on the front of their books?  The only dislike is their exorbitant shipping costs to AU.  Ironically, if I ever want an O’Reilly dead tree version I’ll order it from Amazon.

Enemies of the People

Enemies of the People

James Purser has beat me to the punch on a story about copyright ideologues recommending that Indonesia be put on a Special 301 watch list for recommending the use of open source software.  The Guardian is reporting that the following representations were made:

“The Indonesian government’s policy… simply weakens the software industry and undermines its long-term competitiveness by creating an artificial preference for companies offering open source software and related services, even as it denies many legitimate companies access to the government market.

Rather than fostering a system that will allow users to benefit from the best solution available in the market, irrespective of the development model, it encourages a mindset that does not give due consideration to the value to intellectual creations.

As such, it fails to build respect for intellectual property rights and also limits the ability of government or public-sector customers (e.g., State-owned enterprise) to choose the best solutions.

The “special 301” procedure is a mechanism by which (essentially) the US imposes trade sanctions on countries if they think those countries don’t give sufficient monopoly rights to US companies.  In a sense the representation is laughable in that open source licenses are creatures of copyright.  If you don’t have copyright, you don’t have open source.  This is copyright ideology run amok.  Unfortunately, legislative and regulatory frameworks exist in a twilight zone where reality and common sense have no part to play.  Legislators and the executive, need to get the ideology of monopoly out of the heads and return us to the path of free enterprise and democracy – things to which the copyright lobby is implacably opposed.

The obvious observation here is that they clearly don’t respect the copyright owners of open source software, nor how they choose to deal with their rights.

Binary Tie

Binary Tie

While I think of it (as I am putting it on at the moment), the fellow I was sitting next to at OSDC verified that my binary tie does, indeed, code for “Ties Suck”

The Real Story behind Windows 7 Phone Home

The Real Story behind Windows 7 Phone Home

ie: my guesses about it

Lauren Weinstein reports on a new feature of an update to Windows 7 (apparently called KB971033?), which continually checks (once every 90 days) to see whether the installation is authorised/activated/validly licensed.  Some sites have discussed this and made something of the fact that it is voluntary to install, and/or checks to see that the installation is valid even if it has verified the copy as valid and even if the copy has already been authorised.

I tend to think this has not so much to do with piracy per se as solving a couple of Microsoft’s other problems.  The first is the lumpiness of Microsoft’s revenue.  It gets a heap of extra revenue when it releases new versions of whatever.  Microsoft has tried to overcome this by its assurance programs, in which users are asked to sign on to a subscription program.  However, ultimately the subscription programs are dependent upon Microsoft actually releasing new versions from time to time (what a drag!).

The second is the problem of proving losses.  If you make an illegal copy of a Microsoft product and then buy a legitimate copy (or as many legitimate copies as illegal copies you have made), exactly what has Microsoft lost?  Microsoft, for example, gets the same amount of money, it just gets it at a different time.    This is because there is no tying of the license to a particular period of time.   If a person made an illegal copy of Windows98 (say) 10 years ago and buys a legitimate copy today (yes, I know that may not be possible in fact) it is hard to see what Microsoft has actually lost, except the time value of money over the past 10 years (this, unfortunately, might lead to ‘gaming’ of the system, where a person makes illegitimate copies until they are caught, then buys legitimate copies to cover their nefarious activity).   Note: There is nothing specific about Microsoft to this argument, it applies generally to software licenses which are not limited in time.

Both of these problems are solved by tying.  Microsoft began tying a long time ago by tying copies to specific hardware.  This is what the authentication stickers are all about.  Their purpose is not to prevent piracy.  Rather, their purpose is to prevent a legitimate purchaser moving a particular copy from one computer to another.  If they can’t move the copy then, the theory goes, they must buy a new copy.   Moreover, by withdrawing product from the market, Microsoft can force upgrades to new versions of Windows.  If someone could take their legitimate copy of Windows XP from their old computer (and wiping the old computer and loading it with Linux) and load it onto their new computer, would they have bought Vista?

The next form of tying is to time.  The point of having the check being performed once every 90 days is to allow for the prospect of quarterly licensing.  You pay a fee each quarter in order to have continued access to your data.  The 90 day phone home is just the latest piece in the puzzle.  Others are things such as the time limited trial installations of office that OEMs force onto people.   In a year or two you will no doubt see Microsoft offering (initially) optional, low priced time limited licenses, with a view to moving the market over to the new licensing scheme over time.   Time limited licensing may also alleviate (although maybe not solve?) a problem that Microsoft faces with the Netbook form factor – that is, it is too expensive to pay any significant amount for a windows licence on a $300 (or cheaper) machine.  However, if you have a time based license, the first three (or six) months might be given away free or charged at a low amount.  This would allow hardware manufacturers to legitimately sell Windows loaded machines at the same price point as a Linux loaded alternative.

Just follow the bouncing ball…

See also: computerworld article, someone’s blog, someone else’s blog,

CAL Remunerating Itself

CAL Remunerating Itself

Luke Slattery writes in the Australian about CAL Remunerating itself.  See also this analysis of CAL’s 06-07 report.

Jacobsen v Katzer settling?

Jacobsen v Katzer settling?

A birdy tells me this is the case.

Stay tuned.

Hollywood Double Standards: Ethics of Copyright

Hollywood Double Standards: Ethics of Copyright

Russell Coker has a post on Roman Polanski and, incidentally some double standards of Hollywood.  While I don’t quite follow what he’s saying (sorry Russell) he does touch off a couple of things I’ve been thinking of for a while, and this was an opportunity to note some thoughts and sketch some arguments.  These are just sketches and are not concluded views so post corrections or criticisms in the comments.

The main observation is whether, if something is a crime, then one has an ethical obligation to not do it (not forming a lynch mob was Russell’s example).  I don’t think that is the right syllogism.   There is an ethical obligation to do what’s right/not do what’s wrong and that is independent of whether the thing is a crime or not.  So, for example, as I understand it, it was a legal obligation in the former East Germany to denounce people to the Stasi, but it would be wrong to betray your friends/family (well, thirty years ago people would think this, but liberal democracy ain’t what it used to be).  In this case, if the law is contrary to what is right, then the ethical obligation is to disobey the law.   This  is the response to what is called the Nuremburg defence.  At the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals defendants argued that, even though what they were doing was [objectively] heinous, they were following an order/complying with the law of the land at the time, and therefore were not guilty.    This would exclude from punishment any immoral behaviour if the law sanctioned or permitted (or obliged) it.  This principle (I suspect) is at the basis of civil disobedience, where people deliberately disobey a bad law

While (one would hope that) there is a large overlap between what is legal and what is ethical, the two don’t follow each other (ie something can be illegal and moral or immoral and legal).  In theory, this observation threatens to open something of a can of worms in that people might argue (eg) that all laws are bad or that morals are individual (subjectivism/relativism).   Surely, the argument goes, that will just result in a free-for-all as we all disregard the law and ultimately descend into anarchy!   As a matter of practice this seems to not be the case. Civil disobedience, even organised disobedience has not led to the end of society as we know it.

In regards to copyright infringement – copyright infringement is against the law, so, prima facie, you shouldn’t do it.  That said, a strict adherence to copyright law would make modern life impossible/intolerable (do you save or forward email? videotape your children while copyrighted material is playing the background?), so it is hard to believe that infringement of itself would be seen as morally wrong.  If that was the case the whole country would be immoral, and that is counterfactual.   I think this is different in kind to the de minimus nature of the infringement.  I can’t see anyone (maybe copyright ideologues might, but even then) arguing that saving or backing up an email without a licence is morally wrong, but I could envisage people arguing that ripping someone else’s piece of paper (ie criminal damage) would be morally wrong, -ie one “ought not” do it even if no sanction is justified in particular cases.

I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of people do not see copyright infringement as a moral or an ethical issue.  To them it is purely a legal one (like, perhaps the road rules, which individuals seem to consider themselves free to disobey from time to time).  Until such time as the general populace do, infringement will remain widespread.  While copyright ideologues have been arguing (and engaging in extensive propaganda campaigns) the morality of copyright for some time now, the public don’t seem to buy it.   Ideologues throughout history have found, that the law does not lead morality (- eg  apartheid laws, for example, did not lead morality in South Africa after their passage in 1948).   Rather, it is the other way around.  If a law is sufficiently out of touch with morality it will lead either to the law being ignored and unenforced (anti-abortion or blasphemy laws have gone this way in a lot of places before being repealed) or to being enforced to no good effect.  This, in turn leads to enforcement with increasing harshness –  still to no good effect.  This lack of effect creates a feedback loop towards harshness in enforcement until such time as the whole of society gets fed up with wasting the lives of those prosecuted and the public resources involved in that prosecution and gives up on the idea (eg: prohibition in the US –  Lessig has recently been using prohibition as an example in his public lectures), although they may replace the idea by something more in touch (eg minimum drinking ages).  As an aside, being out of touch is not the same as being contrary to what is right.

The evolution of copyright law will be an interesting one to watch.  Assuming that copyright law is, as a matter of fact, disconnected from people’s real morality it is different to the examples given.  The examples above are largely moral (abortion, blasphemy) or political issues (or both – apartheid), rather than commercial ones (although there are laws driven by commercial considerations which have not survived, such as trading concessions granted to the British East India Company etc) .   As such, the support for those laws was not driven by profit.  It also means that in general copyright laws are unlikely to be contrary to what is right (although particular aspects might).  The profit motive inherent in copyright law may be its saving grace.  Time will tell.

Missing Features – Feeling Brian Proffitt’s Pain

Missing Features – Feeling Brian Proffitt’s Pain

Brian Proffitt has written a story about how he laments missing features in a recent version of openSuSE.  This is an article in sympathy, as my own experiences have been similar, although I’ve been reluctant to blog about them in case they’re not really missing and I just don’t know where to look.

My first, and greatest, lament is the absence of kprinter.  Kprinter is (was) one of my favourite ‘office’ applications.  I knew I could simply send everything off to kprinter and it would print things the way I liked them and, on occasion, allow me to make one off changes to how things print.  Now, with kprinter gone every time I print something I need to navigate the interface of the particular program and set my requirements.  Unlike kprinter, most programs don’t store them, so every time I print I have an extra 5 or 10 mouse clicks/navigations to do just to get something to print.  Some of the applications don’t even have all of the options I want in the print dialog  (eg 2-up printing (hello OOo)).   To overcome these I need to either print twice as much paper or route it via a pdf and print from Okular.  Moreover, I need to remember the idiosyncracies of each program – eg application x continually defaults to letter when it should be A4.   From what I can tell kprinter may return someday, but as it is I can’t find it :(

My second lament is the KDE 3.5 weather applet for the panel.  It used to give me everything I wanted to know and could be configured to show weather from multiple sites.  There are two available in KDE4 – the LCD Weather station and Weather Forecast, both of which are front ends to the same code – and which apparently only allows weather reports for the UK, Canada and the USA. Useful not.

[oops: this got dropped somehow:]

My third lament is Kcharselect – which I used to use often.  It allowed me to select some often used characters and display them in the panel.  To paste them into a document all I needed to do was double click it to put it in the clipboard, then paste away.  Now it’s not directly clickable from the panel,  I need to actively start the app, and open it in order to access characters.  It only remembers the last character selected rather than a chosen list of frequently used ones.

Liam Lynch: DRM enforced 6 years of Silence

Liam Lynch: DRM-enforced 6 years of Silence

In 2003 someone gave me a CD by Liam Lynch called “fake songs”.  The next day, I popped it in the CD player of my car.  It didn’t play.  On the back: “This disc incorporates Copy Control Technology”.   I cursed and threw it in a pile, where it lay for about 6 years.  Until today, when I saw it and decided to try it on another CD player.  It was inspired enough to listen to.  Such a shame I couldn’t do this 6 years ago.  Maybe I would have “gotten into” him more?  What a hurtful a technology.   Yet our legislators see it as a road to some sort of monopolistic nirvana.


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