Archive for June, 2010

Backup Copy (Bad Eula, Bad Eula! Down! Down!)

Backup Copy

From Adobe reader (for Android)’s end user license agreement:

3.3 Backup Copy.  You may make one backup copy of the Software, provided your backup copy is not installed or used other than for archival purposes.

Which leads one to inquire what, if any, point is served by a “backup” copy which can only be “installed… for archival purposes“.

7.2 Updating.  If your Device is connected to the Internet, the Software may, without additional notice, check for Updates, … that are available for automatic download and installation to your Device and let Adobe know the Software is successfully installed. [my emph]

You’re kidding, right?  Perhaps this is just bad grammar?

9.5 Indemnity.  You agree to hold Adobe and any applicable Certification Authority (except as expressly provided in its terms and conditions) harmless from any and all liabilities [etc] arising out of or relating to any use of, or any reliance on, any service of such authority…

Which leads one to wonder what, if any, point is served by using a service of a Certification Authority – which presumably is supposed to certify something – if you indemnify them when they stuff up.

I think I will click “Disagree”.  It hasn’t got good ratings anyway.

Bilski (on sware patents in the US) is out

Bilski (on sware patents in the US) is out

After weeks of “still no Bilski decision today again” stories in the press, they’ve handed down judgment and apparently software patents aren’t in as bad shape as they might have been.  Although from a look at secondary sources, they aren’t necessarily in good shape either with the Court pretty much avoiding the real question.




Luis Villa

Heavens! A Female PM?

Heavens! A Female PM?

ABC News is reporting that Julia Gillard is making a leadership move on Kevin Rudd on Thursday.  By the end of the next 24 hours (give or take swearing in time) we may have a new PM, female to boot. How quaint it will be to have a Julia-Tony faceoff for the election.

Helping the Little Kiddies (Kuddies)? [Microsoft moves on EHRs in NZ via NGO]

Helping the Little Kiddies (Kuddies)?

Reports from NZ that Microsoft is giving a heap of software free to Plunket, NZ’s “largest provider of support services for the development, health and wellbeing of children under the age of 5.”

So the question is, is this move more likely because:

(a) Microsoft has come over all altruistic and wants to take this opportunity to help those poor little darlings; or

(b) Plunket has announed that it will be creating an electronic health record for every child in its care, and is looking to appoint a provider of an electronic health record platform by the end of the year, thus effectively establishing the electronic health record of choice for most NZ children which will probably stay with them throughout their lives  and why not take this opportunity to get on Plunket’s good side?

If by some vague chance it happens to be the latter, it would be a prime example of the exceedingly poor policy outcomes that copyright ideology leads to.  The long run result of the NZ public extending copyright to cover software is that they are in effect subsidising Microsoft in its efforts to lock the whole of the country[1] into its electronic health record format, and through that associated closed source tools.  No discount that Plunket is getting will balance the additional extra costs everyone in the country will have to pay over the coming decades.  Ta rar chaps!


[1] The Computerworld article reports that Plunket would be making EHRs for 250,000 children – or over one quarter of the under 14s in NZ according to the CIA factbook (and presumably growing year on year, so when the current cohort are 14, about 20% of the population will be covered).  It will be a major EHR implementation within the country and in order for anyone else to be interoperable they will need to support the Plunket-chosen format.  As successive implementations are likely to be smaller in volume, as they accrete they will be overwhelmed by the mass of the Plunket implementation.  As an early mover I expect Plunket will have a very significant impact on the long term implementation of EHRs in NZ.

Release of IFOSSLR Vol 2, Issue 1

Release of IFOSSLR Vol 2, Issue 1

The next edition of the International Free and Open Source Software Law Review is out [disclosure, I’m on the editorial committee] and it’s a great read.  I can wholeheartedly recommend the articles in this edition.  I wasn’t a reviewer of any of them for this edition so the first time I saw them was when I downloaded this edition.  They’re good.  It’s pretty rare I pick up a legal journal and add pretty much every article to my ‘to read’ list.

Moreover, even if you’re not a lawyer, this edition has some things which will be of practical interest to you.

Get it here.

Slattery, Bradley, Coker and CAL

Slattery, Bradley, Coker and CAL

Russell Coker has written an article some time ago criticising James Bradley’s response to Luke Slattery’s article on CAL paying itself more than authors.

The Bradley response focusses on what a good thing CAL is for authors (which is not the point of Mr Slattery’s article).  It is certainly undeniable that CAL takes money from people, and gives it to CAL’s members (after taking a sizeable percentage off for its costs/admin etc).  So, the argument goes, CAL gives you something for nothing, so if you’re an author you’re better off having CAL existing than having it not exist.  This is true even if CAL returns only $0.01 to you over your lifetime.[1]

This logic has a certain appeal to it, but ignores some things.  First and foremost, CAL distributions are a mug’s game.  The average return *per author member* from CAL in a year is about $1650.  Clearly, no one is going to be making a living off this.  For anyone to make a living the distributions need to be skewed – seriously skewed.  For each author who makes a living off this, a large number of authors need to get nothing, or next to nothing.   Or they need to make a living off honest work such as writing, rather than as a rentier.  That is the nub – this is not a question about whether or not authors ought to get paid for their work.  It is a question about when and how they should be paid.  At the moment, they are (in effect) required to take on a lot of risk when writing a book on the off chance that it will be successful.  Most books aren’t.

This leads us back to our author who gets their $0.01 back from CAL and counts their lucky stars that CAL exists.  Well, not even they should be grateful to CAL, or to the system.  For them to have gotten their $0.01 something of theirs had to have been copied.  That, in turn, means that they had to have written something.  This is where the true cruelty of the copyright system comes into play.   It creates the impression that copyright will reward authorial endeavour.  It does in some cases, and in some cases it does so handsomely, but the odds are it won’t.   So, in order to get the $0.01 they’ve had to expend more of their time than it’s worth.  Rather than writing, they would have been better off digging trenches for the local council or serving at a fast food restaurant.   The cruelty is that authors are by and large encouraged into wasting a large amount of their time for little reward.[2,3]  If this were happening to labourers in a third world country there would be an outcry.  Here we mark it as some sort of achievement.

Mr Bradley suggests that to argue against CAL is to not value the written word.  I do not think this is correct.  These payments (roughly $100 million in 06-07) are like interest payments.  It is not like a mortgage on a house, where, by continually paying, eventually you own the house. No, under the CAL system it doesn’t matter how often our education sector pays, at the end of the day we, the taxpayers, have nothing to show for it.  In fact, the CAL system presupposes this.  As a way of spending taxpayers’ money it leaves a lot to be desired. Taxpayer money would be better spent on commissioning works which can be reused without the need to pay ongoing licence fees.  I am fairly sure that $100 million *per year* spent on developing open content text books would, in the comparatively short term, produce a corpus of works which would satisfy most content needs of most schools most of the time.   Thereafter, the money could be substantially reduced (although continued to pay for maintenance of the existing works and commission new ones as the need arises).

But wait! There’s more.  As authors have been Stokholm Syndromed into the Licence-Fees-are-a-Pathway-to-Nirvana view of the world a vast amount of copyright material goes unused.  Because of the possibility of one day finishing and selling an author’s work, intermediate parts of the work are held back.  If a work is not finished, it is simply lost (eg if 4 chapters of an 8 chapter book are completed, they will be lost if the full 8 chapters aren’t finished).  These works which never make it to market are lost simply because of the possibility in the future of their being licensed.  Those works which do make it to the market are also, in effect, held back to a greater or lesser degree (the first chapter which is completed is withheld until the final chapter is completed).  Moreover, many educational institutions already pay for a great wad of educational content to be created, used a couple of times and then be discarded – if it were reused effectively, the $100 million per year would go much, much further.

Mr Bradely states: “Obviously, without some mechanism to guarantee rights-holders are compensated for such use we remove all incentive for investment in developing new content. After all, why go to the expense of creating a textbook (or some form of digital course materials) if you are going to sell only a half-dozen copies to state education departments?

The alternative which Mr Bradley does not avert to is that educational institutions commission works from authors.  Those works are then licensed openly.  Creative commons, for example, is not simply for altruistic authors, it is also for authors who don’t want to lose 20% of their income to CAL’s administration.   A commission system removes risk for authors.   Authors get certainty of payment and a clearer statement of required outcomes.  If the payment is not enough, they don’t do the work.  No more will they be encouraged to produce the break even products that keep publishing houses ticking over (and thereby subsidising their publisher).   In such a world however, the point of CAL’s existence would be moot, so it is somewhat unlikely that CAL would advocate for it.   If CAL’s distributions are any indication, they exist primarily for publishers and foreign collecting societies (followed by their own administration, and then their author members).

Mr Bradley states: “And, more significantly, Australia’s success in the digital environment depends on our success in meeting this challenge.

More likely, our success will be dependent upon repudiating it.


On CAL’s sampling: CAL collects fees from the educational sector and returns it to members based not on actual usage, but on sampling.  That is, they choose certain institutions at certain times and ensure that good records are kept of actual copying.  These records are then used to extrapolate to usage across the board.   So, of course, any bias in the sampling method will be reflected in the distributions which occur.

[1] CAL contacted me once to pay me about $100 for an article I wrote – and which I never asked them to collect.  They left a voice mail on my phone a day or two before Christmas one year, while I was driving to go on holidays.  They didn’t try again.  So, they’ve taken $120 (ish) off some poor unsuspecting people which I didn’t want them to take, they’ve put about $20 in their pocket and offered me the rest.  An anomaly which once existed – and I understand has since been corrected – was where the Government held copyright in the work.  In that case government schools would pay to copy the material, CAL would take out $20 in every $100 – and then give the rest back to the government again.  Nice work if you can get it!

[2] I wrote a chapter of a book for a legal publisher once – they never sent me any royalties, nor even accounted to me on sales.  What I got was five copies of the book (woohoo) and, from memory, two paperback titles from their list.  Monetarily, it would have been more rewarding picking up rubbish.  I declined writing an entire loose leaf service for them…

[3] Publishing works by publishing a comparatively large number of works which break even.  These works cover the fixed costs of running the publishing house.  They provide a subsistence living to the author who will likely get nothing beyond their advance.  These authors may as well be sewing cross trainers in the Philippines.  In addition, a publishing house will also count on having a couple of titles which sell very well.   It is these titles which give it its profit.



Apparently android.utils.log supports a log message of the kind ‘wtf’.  According to the API docs it means “What a Terrible Failure.”

Someone at least has a sense of humor.[sic]

Hating KDE4… Again, if only fleetingly

Hating KDE4… Again, if only fleetingly

Having just sent 100 pages to the printer and have it print out duplex 1-up, with the second side turned the wrong way I am again upset with KDE4.  Not KDE4 per se, but the fact that when I moved to it, stuff got lost, including kprinter (one of the most valuable apps in the history of human endeavour).  This means that printing options are localised in each application and none of the apps remember defaults.  The 50ish wasted pages that I will now have to consign to the wastebin were because I didn’t reset firefox defaults after having just printed something else in firefox with the changes made.  The lack of kprinter really makes printing tedious and when things like this happens, substantially lessens my KDE experience.

I hear tell that kprinter manages to live on in Kubuntu.  Maybe I should move come the next desktop update (due six months after end of life of this OpenSuSE version)?

Blame the Government

Blame the Government

Heard on an NPR report about the oil spill (varying an existing quote googlable in the googliverse):

“When you have the law on your side, you argue the law.  When you have the facts on your side, you argue the facts.  When you have neither, blame the government.”

Useless Win7 Parental Controls

Useless Win7 Parental Controls

Empirical results in ongoing (but opportunistic) study of time controls in Win 7 vs Linux:

Linux (OpenSuSE) machine parental controls:

-time until bypassed by kids (under 10 years of age) : currently 18 months and counting

Win7 machine parental controls:

-time until bypassed by kids (under 10 years of age): 7 days.

Not to mention Win7 only allows controls in 1 hour increments vs minute resolution in Linux.

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