Monthly Archives: December 2012

Military spending

Look, I realize this is obvious, but US military spending makes no sense. There is no adversary and no threat.

You could argue that military adventurism serves American business and thus the American economy. But I’ve never seen credible evidence of this. Do you know anybody who got a job off the Iraq war? There were patronage jobs aplenty for Republican party careerists. There were jobs for soldiers, obviously, but with a death and severe injury rate that makes it a pretty terrible job, even in comparison to the service industry.

You could argue that the military advances policy goals, but those goals can also be pursued with diplomacy or economic pressure. The military is more expensive.

The money spent on the military is corruption. It’s payoffs on behalf of politicians in exchange for help with their careers. They get to look masculine by being pro-war, they reap campaign donations and votes from defense contractors, they please local voters who make money off military bases, they stroke their egos by supporting the idea of American exceptionalism.

Military spending was 20% of the federal budget in 2010. We don’t need to spend any more on military than other first world powers. We spend 10X more than our peers, so we could cut 90% of spending without making in dent in our actual ability to defend ourselves.

The military budget *doubled* under W Bush. So that 20% of our budget could drop to 10% by cutting his increase. Why aren’t we doing that? Because the corruption maw grew once again.

Ok, whatever. We all knew it already. No new info here. I had a momentary feeling that the obvious needs to be stated every once in a while, so that we don’t lose track of the ground truth. It will pass.

Compass sense

Northpaw compass anklet

North Paw compass anklet is a transhumanist hack to augment your sense of direction.

A North Paw is an anklet that tells the wearer which way is North. The anklet holds eight cellphone vibrator motors around your ankle. A control unit senses magnetic north and turns on and off the motors. At any given time only one motor is on and this motor is the closest to North. The skin senses the vibration, and the wearer’s brain learns to associate the vibration with direction, giving the wearer an intuitive sense of which way is North. Most people “get it” mere seconds after putting it on, and can then reliably point north when asked.

What makes it way more awesome than a regular compass? Persistence. With a regular compass the owner only knows the direction when he or she checks it. With this compass, the information enters the wearer’s brain at a subconscious level, giving the wearer a true feeling of absolute direction, rather than an intellectual knowledge as with a regular compass.

Because of the plasticity of the brain, it has been shown that most wearers gain a new sense of absolute direction, giving them a superhuman ability to navigate their surroundings. The original idea for North Paw comes from research done at University of Osnabrück in Germany. In this study, rather than an anklet, the researchers used a belt. They wore the belt non-stop for six weeks, and reported successive stages of integration.

I can imagine this being squeezed into a discrete little anklet on the order of a rubber band.

As a Google Glass app this would still be useful, but not as much. As the blurb says, it would be “an intellectual knowledge as with a regular compass.”

The difference is in the very unusual form factor – a band around your ankle whose only output channel is where on your body it is vibrating. As you rotate in one direction the location of the vibration rotates in the opposite direction. You’d stop paying conscious attention to this pretty quickly, leaving you with a strange new “compass” sense.

Compass sense already exists in nature – it is called biomagnetism. This works by having cell-sized chains of magnetite, the stuff that makes compasses work. Magnetite has also been found in animals that navigate by compass direction, such as bees, birds, and fish.

magnetite chains in the brain
Single Magnetite Crystal
in the Human Brain

We should (but don’t) have this sense already, because humans have magnetite chains as well:

Magnetite has also been found in animals that navigate by compass direction, such as bees, birds, and fish, but scientists do not know why the magnetite is present in humans, only that it is there.

It’s not just birds, bees, and fish, but also ancient Martians.

2013

Sonos’ MacFarlane on near-term issues for streaming music services:

9.99 is not a mass market price point, somehow (bundling, discounts, pricing innovation, partnerships etc) that price must come down to drive wider adoption. Also the value chain must work out a transparency solution that can work within the restrictions set by commercial relationships. Artists may never get the full picture, but it is in the interest of all parties that they get as much of it as is possible to help them make informed opinions. Finally, the elephant in the room remains YouTube. More catalogue than any of the other services, video (of course), great functionality, on every smartphone and tablet, and all for absolutely nothing. That creates a playing field that is anything but level for the rest.

Let’s break that down.

He thinks the $10/month price point is too much for most people. I believe that only about 20% only ever bought CDs regularly, meaning that these are the folks for whom $10/month is a natural investment. This price point would only make sense for 1/5 of the market.

On the other hand, I don’t think the $10 is a show stopper for people beyond the hardcore 20%. I think the friction to maintain a paid account is the problem. The 80/20 rule says that only about 20% of people can be bothered to log in. It’s not coughing up $120/year that’s the problem, it’s all the little hassles.

He thinks musicians need to get real actual numbers on what they stand to make from Spotify et al. Right now these payment deals are secrets between the labels and services. I can’t see this happening. The best that players will get is to start seeing decent paychecks.

Finally, YouTube YouTube YouTube.

He’s right. And not only for the reasons he gives, but because you don’t have to log in. The $10/month vendors are all competing for the 20% who can be bothered. YouTube wants the 80%.

Counterpoint

Is Creative Commons marketing pixie dust? Does it really do anything for musicians?

On big centralized content repositories, it does have concrete value. Publishers who need non-infringing music will go to trusted distribution points like Soundcloud, Freesound, Jamendo, CC Mixter, and Free Music Archive. These sites have standardized license terms, so that potential users don’t have to read a new contract for each potential item.

Those publishers were sophisticated enough to understand CC terms. They weren’t going to do a general web search for any old flotsam in proximity to a CC license, though – it’s important that Flickr and Soundcloud are centralized.

Psy

1709blog has a breakdown of Psy’s revenues from Gangnam Style, which they fisk to disprove TechDirt’s point that copyright is unnecessary for exploiting global successes like Gangnam Style.

They break it down to about $4.6 million that doesn’t depend on copyright, $3.5 million that does. Clearly the part that does depend on copyright is enough to care about, but if you had to choose one or the other, it would be the no-copyright part.

But then again, do you really have to choose? Psy’s approach to copyright was similar to CC-NC. He didn’t grant anybody anything, he just took a laissez-faire approach to unauthorized distribution. If there was a chance to reap he took it, and otherwise he let things grow wild.

Private individuals infringe freely, without a second thought. Companies which are sue-able avoid content that they wouldn’t be able to defend in court. Together they are an engine for creating and monetizing demand. Psy just went with it.


Bemuso has a thoughtful piece against Creative Commons, entitled Creative Commons isn’t magic:

I’m not pro- or anti-Creative Commons, I just don’t see a use for it.

CC is not an alternative to copyright and it is not anti-copyright, although many people think it is. Creators (authors, writers, composers, performers, etc.) who oppose copyright should simply make their work public domain. Creative Commons is not for them.

CC is a set of boilerplate copyright licenses (no different in principle to other blanket copyright licenses) and it does only one thing the rights holder in the street cannot do—it provides legal wording for certain fixed licensing circumstances.

For creators like me, the cottage industry if you like, legalese is something of a shrug. I can read licenses and contracts, and I have successfully advised artists against record labels, but I don’t use any technical wording myself. I have never needed it. Independent artists I know online exploit their copyrights the same way (including sharing) without legalese and without Creative Commons.

Plain English is easy and copyright law is not hard to understand.

I don’t think it’s true that a musician who is reasonably skilled in copyright can write their own license.

But it hardly matters because humans are either going to use the music without asking, infringing or not, or they are going to ask, license or not. Sites that I upload to give me an unreadably long onerous one-sided contract, take it or leave it. I take it, whatever it might be, and then I choose the least restrictive licensing terms available.

For Creative Commons to reach its potential, there need to be commercial services adding value. For example, I don’t want to have to upload my MP3s to every single possible destination, and this would not be a problem if those destinations simply spidered and mirrored anything on the web under a CC license.

These services don’t exist. Music in the wild is probably infringing. Music under a Creative Commons license is usually under a non-commercial license, so there isn’t enough available to make a commercial service useful. It’s not feasible to auto-validate licenses on audio files.

Bemuso has an interesting observation on a decentralized, CC-free, algorithm for change:

What I see happening at grass roots level is that musicians retain their rights and implement the change they want to see in the way they work. I don’t know a single artist working on the Internet who doesn’t encourage sharing for example. At the liberal extreme they apply no rules at all.

The key bit is elegantly simple: musicians implement the change they want to see in the way they work. Like Psy.

Google’s operational ability to process DMCA takedown notices is a business advantage. As far as I know it has no competition. Nobody does it as well, at anywhere near the same scale.

Google couples that with a licensing business that enables copyright owners to monetize unauthorized distribution. Again, it has no competition.

Licensing is the flip side of processing DMCA notices. They belong together. Together they create a unified content catalog that is greater than the sum of its parts.

No licensed music service can compete on catalog depth. Every licensed service is blown out of the water.

When this comes up in conversations with people in the music business, they don’t get that the music which is only on YouTube and not in any licensed service has value next to prime commercial product. They think it’s band practice in the garage, out of tune teens warbling in the bedroom, elementary school talent shows. Actually what it is is internet scale. It’s k-pop in the American market, Indian pop for emigres living in Mauritius, and an endless number of other genres that are only fringe if you’re not the target market.

Among licensed music services, only Google is operating at internet scale, with billions or trillions or items. Processing DMCA notices is the difference between it and the competition.

Recovering attorney’s fees

If you get a takedown notice you have little to gain and much to lose by filing a takedown notice. It’s unlikely that the copyright owner will sue (source: private communication) but if they do then you will end up in a world of pain, because your legal bills will be crushing whether you win or not. Winning does not enable the user/uploader to recover legal fees.

So here is a spot fix to the DMCA that would make a big difference: if an uploader posts a counter notice, the copyright owner sues, and the uploader wins in court, the copyright owner should pay the legal bills.

If this happened, lawyers would take some cases on contingency, and filing a takedown notice would come with risks.

Passwords on backups

Stop Lengthening your Passwords. It’s futile:

You can increase the number of characters in your password all you want; some guy is just going to … crack it next week.

The solution is multifactor authentication. But then what about backups?

Encrypting files with a password that’s long enough NOW doesn’t prevent them from being decrypted off a backup LATER, when the password isn’t long enough any more.

You have to re-encrypt your backups whenever your old password ages out. No way. The only solution is to not make backups of encrypted things. But that’s also not practical.

So then the only option is to not have long-lived secrets: assume not that everything is public now, including things like your passwords, but that everything will be public soon enough.