Monthly Archives: June 2005

Supreme court OKs personal property seizures

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government can seize property for commercial use under the "eminent domain" clause.

In ages past, the "eminent domain" clause has been used to seize property for public use – such as roads or schools. However, there is a big difference between "Public Use" and "Public Benefit". This ruling makes the two terms synonymous. The dissent, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, was particularly stinging.

In plain English, this means that the local government can raze your house if they think that they can get more "public" income (i.e., taxes) by putting a Wal-Mart there.

This is very disturbing indeed.

Software piracy ‘seen as normal’

 An interesting piece from the BBC. Once again someone has had to pay researchers to reach a conclusion that everyone already knows. Once again the entertainment industry is bleating about lost profits.

One thing that does rankle with me if the repeated description of Software Piracy as "Theft". It is not – for theft there has to be a gain and a loss. Not every pirated copy is a lost sale. Piracy is, however, copyright violation, which is a completely different issue… but I suppose that it does not scan like "Piracy is Theft".

For the record, I do not pirate games. I buy them used or heavily discounted. I am sure that the industry considers me to be part of the part of the problem, but it’s cheap and its legal.

I’ll close with this quote from Wil Wheaton:

Piracy becomes a problem when those studio-released DVDs are copied not by people like me… but by organized crime in Asia. I'm no expert, but it seems like the MPAA would get a much bigger return on their investment if they stopped going after college students and went after the factories that turn out legitimate movies by day, and switch over to pirated material at night.

Downloading? Pay up, or we’ll send your mum to jail

An interesting, and increasingly-common story.Teenager uses internet to download songs onto home computer. Lawyers acting on behalf of the music business send Mum a letter that says "Pay us £4000 (about $7500) or go to jail". Mum says "I can't afford to pay, so I guess I'm going to jail".

Who made the music business Judge, Jury and Executioner? Surely this should be pursued through the civil courts. If it's theft, treat it as theft, and not as an excuse for what looks suspiciously like extortion.

A 14-year-old is old enough to be accountable for their actions. So why is the mother being bought into this? Probably because the lawyers are only interested in people who have money in their pockets.The penalty is, as usual, unrealistically high. 1400 songs is about $1300 (£700) worth of iTunes. However, that presupposes that the teenager would have bought all of the songs if they could not download them… which is a stretch at best.

  • Not every download is copyright violation.
  • Not every Copyright violation is a loss of a sale. If someone downloads, listens, likes and buys the product, has a crime been committed?
  • If Mum goes to jail, who foots the bill? That's right, the taxpayer… and the music business and their lawyers get a free ride at their expense.
  • What's wrong with this picture? Hint: The letters D, M, C and A.

While I support the idea of parental responsibility, I also believe that is not right to punish parents for situations which the child is old enough to be responsible. Extreme example: If a teenager steals money, buys a gun and shoots someone, should the parent go to jail? No. It is also true that a 14-year-old is not old enough to enter into a legally-binding contract.

This is a simple case of the lawyers asking "Show me the money". Once again, the Music business has failed to realize the saddest aspect of the whole debate; that what you sell is entertainment, not art – and much of it is pabulum; elevator music that the rest of the world has already valued at £0.00 ($0.00).

The shrill cry of "Downloading is Stealing!" is not only untrue, but is considered as a joke almost everyone outside of the music business.

And last but not least; screaming "STOP THEM!!!" and suing your future customers is NOT a great way to win friends and influence people.

Still think the Smart Car ain’t safe?

For ages, you’ve heard me going on about the SMART Car.

Popular in Europe, most Americans dismiss it because: “cars that small can’t be safe

So… Smart did a crash test.

Into a concrete barrier.

At seventy miles an hour.

Check out the video here.

The Biter Bit

Scamming the 419 Nigerian Scammers – it can be done.

Opinion: What’s in it for me?

Not long ago, I made some comments in response to an article that I saw on the Internet. The commentary was long, detailed and well-thought-out. I received the following reply a day later (I have removed identifying information).

Thank you for your note in response to our report on [removed].
May we publish it as a letter to the editor in the May issue of [removed] magazine?
If so, please send us:
–your full name. We’d publish this
–city & state where you are based–we’d also publish this
–your title & company name (optional)
–an e-mail address we can print [optional, but preferred]

I sent back a one-line reply.
“What’s in it for me?”
The reply was swift…

You caught me by surprise with that question — that’s the first time I’ve ever been asked that.
What’s in it for you? Your feedback will be shared with 125,000 other [removed] readers.

Well, whoop-de-flamin-doo, I thought to myself. I sent her a long reply, in which I made the following points:

  • I don’t need the ego-boost of seeing “my name in lights”
  • I put a lot of thought and care into my writing.
  • I don’t require large sums of money… but I am not writing for others for nothing.
  • I was once offered a job as a writer – at a 70% pay cut from what I was making.
  • Everyone on the Internet wants something for nothing.
  • Old Jewish Proverb: You pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Sadly, and predictably, there was no reply. Apparently an hour or more of my time was worth absolutely nothing to them.

It seems that everyone wants somthing for nothing. After years of collecting information about purchases and preferences, Amazon changed their terms of service to take ownership of that information, presumably on the grounds that such information was incredibly valuable. To add insult to injury, this change of ownership was retroactive to day one, which means that suddenly all the information they had ever collected about you was theirs. You could opt out, of course… but if you did, you could not do business with them again…

It seems a universal constant that whenever technology provides a cheaper way to do business, business tries to find a way to squeeze a little more money out of it. Some examples include:

  • Compact Disks – which cost less to make than Vinyl, yet cost more to buy.
  • ATMs – banks want to charge customers for using ATMs, while cutting back on staff.
  • Wireless telephone service – charge me a $30 “connection fee” for flipping some bits? No thanks.
  • Paperless Banking/Billing – You save approximately $1/month, I get… nothing.

I am continually getting exhortations to “go paperless”. So many of the businesses I deal with wish to save the cost the hassle and the expense of preparing, printing and posting bills to me. In every case, my question is the same: “What’s in it for me?”

In almost every case, the answer is the same: Nothing.

This may surprise you…

Top Ten Oil Producers

  1. Saudi
  2. US
  3. Russia
  4. Iran
  5. Mexico
  6. China
  7. Norway
  8. Canada
  9. UAE
  10. Venezuela

Top Ten Oil Exporters

  1. Saudi
  2. Russia
  3. Iran
  4. UAE
  5. Venezuela
  6. Kuwait
  7. Nigeria
  8. Mexico
  9. Algeria
  10. Libya

Top Ten Oil Consumers

  1. US
  2. China
  3. Japan
  4. Germany
  5. Russia
  6. India
  7. S Korea
  8. Brazil
  9. France
  10. Mexico


Headline of the week

Zimbabwe's president denies he's dead

We can hardly expect him to confirm it now, can we?

Why e-books never caught on

In the movie Ghostbusters, Dr Egon Spengler (played by Harold Ramis) uttered a phrase that has remained in my head ever since.

"Print is Dead".

He was right, even then.

Here are two excellent pieces on the subject, from e-week magazine.

  1. E-Book Publishing Is Foundering for Good Reason
  2. Excuse Me, Mr. Coursey, But E-Books Rock

In the above articles, two pundits pontificate and disagree over whether or not e-books are succeeding. I agree with Mr Coursey's sentiment, but not with his reasoning.

I have been reading e-books for about ten years on Psion and Palm machines. I believe that the reason that e-books have not caught on has more to do with money than anything else. Like the RIAA, the book publishers believe that they are entitled to the same amount of money per copy that they have traditionally enjoyed, even through their costs with e-publishing will be almost zero.

The consumers, on the other hand, see the lower production costs and expect them to be passed on to them, and are unwilling to pay full price for a book with no spine, pages, shipping, production or retail costs/overhead.

If a Hardback costs $15-$25 and a paperback costs $4-5, an e-book should not cost more than about $2.50. Good luck finding one at that price.

To put it bluntly, e-books have failed to catch on because of the intransigence of the publishers (who want a license to print more money) and the stubbornness of the public (who won't pay more for less). The publishing industry has an annoying tendency to expect the public to pay more for less, while their customers expect just the opposite.

I believe e-books can catch on, and quickly. However, it is unlikely to happen until the publishers do three things:

  1. Agree on a common format. People will want to read their e-books on different devices, ranging from PCs to PDAs to dedicated e-book readers. Ignore this and they will ignore you.
  2. Quit trying to use restrictive DRM to "lock down" their products to individual devices. In the real world, stuff happens – hardware breaks or gets stolen; people upgrade. Do you really think that people will repurchase their entire collection of e-books if that happens? No – they will expect to be able to transfer or assign their purchases to another device at will, without hassle. That's called fair use rights, and the customer will demand them. Unless you have infrastructure to give it to them, don't bother.
  3. Lower the price to half the price of a paperback at most. Your customers know what you pay the Authors, and have a pretty good idea of how much you should make – remember that electronic publishing cuts out all sorts of middlemen and material costs – and what is left is almost pure profit. Those saved costs should be passed onto the customer, and not used to line the pockets of the publishers and their lawyers. Don't make the same mistake as the RIAA.

Until these three things happen, do not expect e-books to be universally accepted.

US Opposes UK Debt Plan

Apparently the British have decided to forgive the debt owed by poor African nations. The US, in the shape of President Bush, has a problem with this.

My first reactions was one of righteous indignation on behalf of the Brits – he last time I looked Britain was not part of the USA. It is sad to see Mr. Bush, a man I respect, throwing his weight around in such an uncivilized manner, as if the US somehow had jurisdiction…

Digging a little deeper, I found that, in fact, they did. The loans were provided not by Britain, but by the World Bank. This body is made up of many countries, and its biggest contributor is… the US, with Britain coming in second. While Britain has the power to forgive their loans, they don't have a right to give away other peoples' money.

I don't see the point in lending money to someone you know cannot afford repay – it is written that "the borrower is slave to the lender" – unless the intention is to enslave them to the interest payments forever.

Otherwise, follow Shakespeare's advice: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be" (Hamlet).

Billions of dollars over of foreign aid more than twenty years has not eradicated poverty in Africa nor solved any problems – and may have caused a few more, such as civil war and Governmental corruption, as officials and soldiers slug it out for a shot at the multimillion-dollar aid pie.

After forgiving the loans, Britain intends to make new loans, which is where I disagree. To forgive may divine, but to repeatedly lend money to a known deadbeat, whether a person or a nation – is sheer insanity.

The US wishes to move away from loans towards grants, which are linked to specific goals, which makes a little more sense. Naturally there are some who will see this as "imperialistic meddling", but they are mostly people who hate the US and are looking for an excuse for their hatred. If you take the king's shilling, you must do the king's budding.

Forgive the debt, by all means… but lend no more.

And stop giving away taxpayer dollars to foreign countries!