Maple Leaf train – NYC to Toronto trip report

There are a number of trip reports for the Maple Leaf train (such as this one for the return trip), but I noticed a few details were often lacking so hopefully I can fill in some gaps here. I’ll be avoiding discussion of scenery and most other qualitative aspects as I think other reports cover these well. Instead I’ll be focusing on the parts of the trip that a person who hasn’t taken this train before would likely want to know (including a few that tripped me up).
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Toward a better world: priorities in free software and privacy projects

Two weeks ago the Free Software Foundation announced a review of their High Priority Projects list in which the FSF is asking for input from the public. Per the request, there are a number of projects that I feel “are important for increasing the adoption and use of free software and free software operating systems“, which I’ll be discussing here. Along with those, there are a number of other projects I’ve been thinking of over the last couple years that don’t fit into the free software category per se, but would be societally beneficial nonetheless.

FSF High Priority logo

As well as providing input for the FSF’s HPP list, the list of projects here serves as a record of items I would work on given enough time. Since I probably won’t be able to work on all of them, it seems best if I just publish the list, both so that people can think about projects new to them or in new ways, and so that others can see reasons to work on important projects and hopefully make some of these dreams a reality.
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iNum SMS/voice support and pricing matrix for various Canadian and US carriers

I’m a big fan of iNum, as it appears to be the best effort so far to integrate SIP-based, location-agnostic voice calls and messaging with the existing telephone network. For something like this to really take off, an iNum needs to be accessible from most major carriers. There are already some pages posted by iNum showing the reach of voice and SMS support among carriers. Here I’ll expand on those with the results of my own testing, including additional info such as what connecting to iNum costs from various carriers, as well as how iNum support works while roaming.

The results, with analysis and methodology below:

Carrier (country) Plan SMS to iNum Voice call to iNum
Google Voice (US) n/a send failure US$0.03/minute
T-Mobile (US) $30/month web/text US$0.10/SMS recorded error
T-Mobile (US) roam on Rogers (CA) US$0.10/SMS recorded error
T-Mobile (US) roam on Mobilicity (CA) US$0.10/SMS recorded error
T-Mobile (US) roam on Wind (CA) US$0.10/SMS unanswerable ring
Wind Mobile (CA) Pay Your Way send failure recorded error
Koodo Mobile (CA) $40/month data C$0.00/SMS recorded error
Telus Mobility (CA) Prepaid Pay Per Use C$0.40/SMS immediate call end *
Rogers Wireless (CA) [unknown] C$?.??/SMS recorded error
Bell Home phone (CA) [unknown] n/a recorded error

Some notes on the above table:
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Video, fragmentation, and Firefox

Yesterday two prominent people at Mozilla announced that Mozilla plans to support H.264 to some extent in future versions of Firefox:

While I understand their reasoning, I hope there is a chance to change that position. In my view, continuing on that path will ultimately hurt the open web, both in the short- and long-term.
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Three years browsing without Flash and why it doesn’t matter (anymore)

Three years browsing without Flash

It was three years ago today that I decided to stop using a Flash player. Since then, I have not installed (or have immediately uninstalled) Flash on all computers I use for more than one hour per year. I define it this way because I want to clarify that I make sure Flash is not on any computer I use regularly (including the computers I use at work owned by my employers), which is more than the computers I own. But I think it would be a bit much to force a friend to uninstall Flash if I’m only using my friend’s computer for a couple minutes to check email.

As a result, browsing for the past three years has been a very pleasant experience. My browser rarely crashes, it doesn’t consume all my computer’s resources for long periods at a time, and I don’t have to worry about whether I’m vulnerable to any of the 166 security flaws discovered in Flash over the past few years.

Why it doesn’t matter (anymore)

Back in 2008, one had to make a conscious decision not to use Flash. Most machines that shipped with Windows also shipped with a Flash player, as did most Apple computers (even System76 preloaded Adobe Flash Player on new Ubuntu machines). Mobile browsing was still in its infancy, as the iPhone had barely been out for a year and Android less than a month.
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“Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda” PDFs in 7z/tar/ZIP archives

From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda is a book written by Canadian copyright scholars, edited by Michael Geist, which discusses ways to improve Bill C-32. The book is available on the Irwin Law web site, but spread across 22 PDF files, each with a click-through agreement, making it quite inconvenient to download. I’ve compiled these 22 PDFs into an archive file so you can download the entire book at once. Here is the archive in several formats:

You can use 7-Zip on Windows to open the 7z file. Modern UNIX-like operating systems, such as Ubuntu, can open the tar.gz and tar.lzma files natively. Any popular OS should be able to open the ZIP file natively, though it’s quite large so I’d recommend using the other options first if possible.

If you’d like to download a particular PDF individually, I’ve made the contents of the archive available at All the PDFs are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Canada license.

Vimeo Downloader 0.3 released

Note: Vimeo Downloader is for those comfortable with the command line (or interested in learning). To download Vimeo videos within your browser, use Free Youtube! (get Firefox, install Greasemonkey, then go to Free Youtube! and click Install). When you visit a Vimeo page after installing Free Youtube!, a Download link will appear under the video. If you need to download password-protected Vimeo videos, you should use Free Youtube! since Vimeo Downloader won’t download them.

Update (2010-11-30): I’ve replaced Vimeo Downloader 0.3.0 with version 0.3.1, which removes the caption from the filename. As pointed out by Mikko, the caption is not guaranteed to contain characters suitable for a filename. I may add the caption option back when I’m confident we have an exhaustive list of suitable filename characters, but for now you can uncomment the FILENAME= line I disabled if you know the caption for your video will work in a filename.

I’ve updated Vimeo Downloader to include Jorge’s changes as well some other minor enhancements:

Here is the complete list of changes:

  • download HD version if available (from Jorge)
  • use caption as part of file name (from Jorge) – disabled for now; see above
  • output the type of video that has been downloaded (from Jorge)
  • accept either a Vimeo URL in addition to the Vimeo ID
  • revert to basic version if perl is unavailable

To download a Vimeo video (ie. with Vimeo Downloader, do the following from a terminal window:


Vimeo Downloader can also use just the ID (this is how the old version worked):

./ 1084537

After downloading, you will probably have to make the Vimeo Downloader script executable before running it:

chmod u+x ./

Vimeo Downloader should work on any POSIX system, including Ubuntu, Mac OS X, or Windows with MSYS. For more details, including how and why I created it, see my original post, Vimeo Downloader 0.1 released.

Thanks to Jorge for the major new features in this release (see Jorge’s comment for the original version).

Will exemption rulemaking work for C-32?

In What C-32 means for jailbreaking, I posted Erik Waddell’s response to my question about whether jailbreaking would be illegal under Bill C-32. Mr. Waddell’s reply stated that ultimately the courts will decide and that the government can make further exemptions to the TPM provisions in C-32 if it finds actions like jailbreaking should be specifically permitted.

I’m highly doubtful that the courts would rule that jailbreaking is legal given the wording in Bill C-32, especially considering the situation in the US. Although there are no US court cases I’m aware of that decide whether or not jailbreaking is illegal under the DMCA (the United States’ implementation of the WIPO Copyright Treaty that Bill C-32 seeks to implement), at least one large company believes that jailbreaking is currently illegal, arguing in the exemption rulemaking proceeding that “The Copyright Office should reject in its entirety the proposed exemption that would permit jailbreaking.”. If history is any indication, Apple has the lawyers to make that belief a reality should the question of the legality of jailbreaking ever go to court.

So if Bill C-32 passes in its current form, we are left to rely on its review process, which says that the Copyright Act will be reviewed every 5 years and that the government can make additional exemptions to the TPM provisions. This is similar to the US exemption rulemaking procedure, which occurs every 3 years and adds exemptions to the DMCA in an effort to mitigate its many unintended consequences.

Summary of exemption rulemakings so far

In my opinion, the US exemption rulemaking procedure does not have a stellar track record. To show this, I’ll go through some examples:
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What C-32 means for jailbreaking

Last week I received a response from the Minister of Industry’s office to another one of my questions about Bill C-32 (previous response: What C-32 means for DVDs). Here is my question:

Is it legal to jailbreak an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch under Bill C-32? By jailbreaking, I mean what is described at , not merely SIM unlocking. If jailbreaking is legal, which exception to the anti-circumvention laws makes it legal?


And the response:

Under the Copyright Act, there is no prohibition against “jailbreaking” an iPad or similar device.

Whether a particular technology, such as one used to prevent the running of non-approved applications on an iPad or similar device, would be captured by the TPM provisions would depend on whether it meets the definition of TPM in the Bill. This would be up to Canadian courts to interpret.

Bill C-32 also includes regulatory powers that enable the government to set out exceptions to the TPM provisions, for instance if it considers that the provisions would unduly restrict competition in an aftermarket sector. In the United States, which has a similar mechanism for introducing exceptions to its TPM prohibitions, an exemption has been proposed in relation to jailbreaking smart phones, like the iPhone.

Erik Waddell
Director of Communications
Office of the Honourable Tony Clement

Background on response’s points

By “regulatory powers that enable the government to set out exceptions to the TPM provisions”, I believe that Mr. Waddell is referring to the proposed Section 41.21 in Bill C-32, which begins “The Governor in Council may make regulations excluding from the application of section 41.1 any technological protection measure…if the Governor in Council considers that the application of that section to the technological protection measure…would unduly restrict competition in the aftermarket sector in which the technological protection measure is used.”.

The United States’ “similar mechanism for introducing exceptions to its TPM prohibitions” likely means the process spelled out in 17 U.S.C. 1201(a)(1)(C), which says “during each succeeding 3-year period, the Librarian of Congress…shall make the determination in a rulemaking proceeding…of whether persons who are users of a copyrighted work are…adversely affected by the prohibition under subparagraph (A) [‘No person shall circumvent a technological measure’] in their ability to make noninfringing uses…of a particular class of copyrighted works”. Bill C-32 also describes a periodic review process in Section 58 of the bill, which will replace Section 92 of the Copyright Act: “at the end of each…period of five years, a committee…is to be designated or established for the purpose of reviewing this Act.”.

The exemption that “has been proposed in relation to jailbreaking smart phones” in the United States probably refers to the first of Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s three proposals in the 2009 rulemaking proceeding to exempt “Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute lawfully obtained software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications with computer programs on the telephone handset.”.

Additional notes

To be clear, my question was meant to broadly refer to all situations where a hardware and/or software vendor artificially restricts what software can be run on top of its products. I used the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch as a specific example because it’s currently the most visible example of such a situation.

I will be posting another article discussing the US exemption rulemaking procedure shortly. It will further expand on the material in this article to examine how effective such a procedure would be in Canada. Update: I’ve posted the article: Will exemption rulemaking work for C-32?.

Encoding Pioneer One in WebM and Theora

I recently watched the first episode of Pioneer One, an excellent Creative Commons BY-NC-SA-licensed series. It’s from VODO, an indie film distributor that really gets it (the whole “free distribution is good for you, not evil” thing). After suggesting that a WebM or Theora version should exist, the VODO people challenged me to make it. So I did. And here are the links:

The Theora/Vorbis version will work in Google Chrome/Chromium or Firefox while the WebM version works primarily with pre-release browsers. You may need to use this wrapper page to view the WebM version in-browser.

Transcoding steps

Since not many people are familiar with the process of transcoding (converting from one set of codecs to another), I thought it would be helpful to share the methods I used for converting Pioneer One into Theora/Vorbis and WebM. It’s really not as hard as it sounds and it’s gotten a lot easier recently with pretty graphical tools.
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