Archive for the 'World issues' Category

Apple investigation: tackling the wrong problem

Earlier this week, the New York Post reported that the DoJ and FTC are deciding who will investigate Apple for its developer agreement changes, which mandate that “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript”. Despite my previous interest in App Store approvals, this particular piece of news did not interest me at all. I’ll tell you why: While this antitrust investigation may seem like a great way to increase competition in the mobile app space, it does nothing to solve the root of the problem — that anti-circumvention laws effectively allow Apple to control which applications are legally allowed to run on the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, blocking applications it believes will compete with Apple’s or its partner’s products.

Never before has such a highly-visible platform denied software developers the right to provide their software to the platform’s users. Windows and Mac OS do not prevent users from running the software of their choice, though they may warn the user that the software is not trusted. Ultimately, the choice remains in the user’s hands, unlike it is with the App Store, where the choice remains mostly in Apple’s hands. With the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, users are not even permitted to obtain software from sources outside the App Store. Running applications of the user’s choice is called jailbreaking and is effectively illegal in countries with anti-circumvention laws (like the US DMCA’s Section 103) because running such applications requires the user to disable Apple’s (weak) restriction mechanisms.

The best way for governments to legislate against the anti-competitive practices of Apple and other monopolistic gatekeepers is to remove the defective legislation that allowed it in the first place. Only when circumvention is permitted, allowing users to install the applications on their choice and not just the ones Apple says they can, will true competition be possible. I’ve encouraged Canada to do so and I hope other governments will follow suit.

Copyright term extension: What’s the point?

The European Commission’s adoption of a copyright term extension proposal yesterday (covered by Ars Technica, Slashdot, and Digital Copyright Canada) provides an eerie reminder that, despite a plethora of evidence that such extensions are a bad idea, governing bodies continue to actively extend copyright terms. To determine why they are a bad idea, it is important to separate the two ways that copyright terms can be extended: by extending the terms of existing works (retroactive term extension) and by extending the terms of works that have yet to be made. Note that the EC’s copyright term extension includes both.

The purpose of copyright is to promote the creation of literary and artistic works. Because a retroactive term extension applies to works that have already been created, it cannot possibly promote the creation of new works. Furthermore, it reduces the number of works in the public domain, impeding the ability of new authors to build on the past. Not only is a retroactive term extension not helpful, it in fact hurts society.

Extending the copyright term for future works may provide some additional incentive to create new works. However, because copyright terms are already quite long (life of the author plus 50+ years in most jurisdictions), the net present value of the copyright term extension (the additional years for which the author holds exclusive rights) is very low. This is clearly laid out by a group of economists in their argument against copyright term extensions to the Supreme Court of the United States. Appendix B (page 23) shows that the net present value of copyright term extension is less than 2% of the existing net present value without term extensions, even assuming a low interest rate. And as with a retroactive term extension, extending the term for future works would impede creators’ ability to build on past works by reducing the number of works in the public domain. This detriment to the public domain far outweighs the negligible increase in creators’ revenue from a copyright term extension on future works.

Given all this, why would anyone implement a copyright term extension? Primarily it is a way for governing bodies to pacify creators by claiming that they will earn more money while economists have shown that such increases are negligible. It is my view that governing bodies that implement a copyright term extension have not adequately considered the negative impacts of such legislation.

XO Giving: helping children in developing nations

Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the One Laptop per Child project, has announced that you will be able to buy pairs of XO laptops (the laptops they are selling to developing nations), one for you and one for a child in a developing nation, starting November 12 for “a brief window of time”. You can find out more at I would highly recommend supporting the project through this. The OLPC project looks like a really good way to get education to children. For some background information on the project, check out Negroponte’s talk at TED.

I will definitely be getting one. Hopefully others in the area will get them as well so we can try out the interesting wireless meshing capabilities and sharing features that the laptops have.

It is important to note that an XO laptop is not designed for everyday use by the average adult. The web site suggests that you give your XO laptop to an interested child you know. I’m interested in seeing just how much of my usual computing I can do on this device, but probably not everyone would be interested in taking the time required to figure out how to do the things they normally do on it. For those that are considering using the XO laptop for everyday tasks, it appears that the XO laptop will come with a standard set of desktop applications, including a word processor, web browser, and basic graphics editor (see the application list for more details).

For the technically-inclined people out there, I think the XO laptop would be a very interesting piece of hardware to have for tinkering. It’s got a 433 MHz x86 processor, 512 MB RAM, and 1 GB flash (its only non-volatile storage). For more, see the full specs.

The announcement was also covered by Slashdot and the Associated Press.

Working conditions in a Taiwan factory

In my usual perusing of tech news sites, I found this article with a slide show of pictures from a tour of a motherboard factory in Taiwan. There were several things that stuck out to me. The first was how the article’s author was amazed by how much manual (non-automated) work went into building motherboards, which he describes in the first couple paragraphs.

The second was the sign shown on this page of the slide show. For those who don’t like clicking on links, the sign has the following four lines: “Be more responsible”, “Complain less”, “Be more attentive”, “Make lesser mistakes”.

The third was how monotonous some of the tasks were. One of the pages says “Workers here add the same one or two components to every board that comes by, all day long.” It seems to me like some of this should be automated.

Lastly, I was struck by how focused on their task the workers were. Another page says “Each worker sat next to another. There was no talking, no interactivity.”

I suspect that a factory like this in North America would have trouble finding employees. I’m not sure exactly why it’s easier in Taiwan, maybe a combination of different culture and more relaxed laws.

In any case, I think the slide show is good food for thought. I would suggest you view the entire slide show so you have a more rounded view of the topic than the points I’ve specifically picked out here.

Immigration, global warming, and capitalism

I recently rented the Children of Men DVD, which contains a 27-minute extra called The Possibility of Hope. I highly recommend watching this extra. It brings to the surface many problems with the way industries and governments are moving forward, which we tend to ignore or never discuss.

The Possibility of Hope is available in 5 parts on YouTube (1 2 3 4 5) or in 1 part on Yahoo! Video. I’m not sure if the publisher of The Possibility of Hope approves of these distribution methods so if you’re concerned about that, definitely rent the Children of Men DVD.