Bluray and DRM

I’ve always had a strenuous relationship with DRM, but up until now it has been a purely ethical loathing of the restrictions placed on technology I’m supposed to own.  Tonight, after buying a BluRay Disc and trying to play it in my computer’s BluRay Drive, my anger at DRM has taken on a technical justification.

Previously, anecdotal evidence had told me that DRM does suffer from technical difficulties – massive ones at that – but I’d never come across anything serious in my own experience.  Occasionally, playing certain formats from certain companies required some tweaking and hacking but nothing has ever been rendered completely unplayable.  Until now.

I have legitimately bought a BluRay Player.  I have legitimately bought a BluRay Disc.  I have legitimately put the BD into the BD-ROM drive.  I have legitimately installed a legitimate operating system on my legitimately owned computer.  I have not broken the law at any stage along the process.  Yet the assumption that I wish to, or already have broken copyright law precludes me from playing this now very-expensive-coaster (although in actuality it wasn’t that much more than I’d expect to pay for a decent coaster as it was preowned from blockbuster during a sale).

Here comes the hugely ironic part.  Due to the simple fact that I want to watch the film now, not after hacking and tweaking and fucking around for four hours to get the fucking thing to play on my legitimate device (did I mention that the device is 100% shop-bought, prefabricated, manufacturer-warrantied, legal shit?) which is legitimate.

Ok, ready for irony?

I’m seriously considering torrenting The Men Who Stare At Goats because of the DRM software on The Men Who Stare At Goats’ BD.

Yup, you read correctly.  The DRM software is actually ENCOURAGING me to pirate the film.  ENCOURAGING.  Its entire purpose of existence is to DISCOURAGE this behaviour, and yet it fails miserably.

Breakdown of reasons:

Pirated BD rips can be played on any device, any OS, anywhere.
BDs can only be played on computers with the right software installed, or official BluRay players.
Pirated BD rips do not need to “load” for 5-10 seconds before they do anything.
BDs have loading screens.  Loading screens for a frigging film.
Pirated BD rips are lower quality so they can be downloaded, but are still much higher quality than DVD rips and even DVD rips are generally acceptable quality.
BDs are very high quality but, due mainly to DRM, the performance overheads are enormous.  Meaning BDs will struggle to maintain smooth playback on low-end hardware.  This isn’t a direct concern for me personally, as my hardware can cope, but I worry for people who can’t afford to upgrade their entire PC just to playback BDs (considering such an upgrade could cost upwards of £500, compared to the £30 I spent buying a BD-ROM drive).

So, there you have it.  Big media companies wonder why we keep pirating their shit, but then make their product technologically limited and generally WORSE than the FREE alternative.  It’s like selling sweets for £30 a time, then arresting people who make similar sweets that taste better and are free, and getting all uppity and self-righteous about it at the same time.  And then you start telling people who buy sweets from you, rather than getting them for free, that they can’t share their sweets with their friends or family, and they can’t give their sweets away or sell them, and then you start watching them eat them so you can be sure.  And all the while wondering, why are my customers breaking the law by going to the copycat sweet makers?


Emma the OS

It’s been a while since my rather heartbroken post in August entitled “Long Time No Post” to which my last comment was proven true (no replies…) I’ve since managed to repair my xbox, but it broke again shortly afterwards and this time I shall have to replace it. It is decidedly irreparable (several unsuccessful attempts have been made).

I have not made any progress on the “finishing what I start” quest, but that’s not really the purpose of this post.

I have started an Operating System project called Emma. So far I’ve only written the bootloader, and it’s a very simplistic bootloader at that. It doesn’t even load a kernel yet. It does, however, go over its 512 byte mark, which means I now have to learn how to make a two-stage loader because it don’t fit in the bootsector of a floppy.

The Makefile I’m very impressed with myself at though. I don’t have to type the usual 5 or 6 commands to recompile and test the OS, all I have to do is type “make” and up pops a virtual machine running Emma 0.0.1! woo!

Here’s some sample output:

Welcome to Emma version 0.0.1.
Detecting RAM… 637KB [OK]
Loading Kernel..[ERR]
Error reading floppy:[A]

It should be noted that the Error in this output is because the kernel doesn’t exist (and I’m pretty sure my loader code is fucked anyway) and the A next to floppy doesn’t mean Drive A:, it’s -supposed- to be a hexadecimal representation of the error code (stored in AH, should be TWO hex bits long) but the routine for printing said code appears to be… well, it obviously doesn’t work.

Hooray for it actually outputting anything though! You wouldn’t believe how excited I was just to get the thing booting yesterday, I’m telling ya! ^_^

Open Letter to three Tewkesbury Candidates (Alistair Cameron, Laurence Robertson and Matthew Sidford)

Dear Tewkesbury Candidates (or at least, the ones who publish their email address),

I’m a constituent living in Tewkesbury, trying to decide who I should vote for on thursday.

I would like to know each of your opinions on the Digital Economy Act. I would like to know your more general opinion of Copyright vs Copyleft, and whether internet censorship is a justifiable enforcement of copyright law.

I would also like to know what operating systems you are each familiar with and to what extent you are familiar with each. After all, if you are passing legislation regarding digital media and the use/abuse thereof, I should hope you are at least aware of a significant range of operating systems, their distribution methods and their compatibility with Digital Rights Management.

The Internet, and legislation surrounding it, affects us all. I would like to be reassured that those who are creating this legislation understand the core principles of it. Concisely, what is the internet for?

Cybercrime and cyberterrorism are also immediate threats to the safety and welfare of United Kingdom residents. What safeguards are being taken to ensure users of the internet are protected against security crackers, malicious software, privacy invasion and internet-based attacks; do you feel the current legislation is sufficient? Does it protect without infringing on civil liberties?

Remote devices – such as smart phones, tablet PCs and laptops – often include Digital Rights Management software to prevent users from infringing copyright. Have you ever been unable to use any device in the way in which you want to due to this software? Do you think the software is justifiably restrictive?

There are many software platforms available on the market today, but the main three are NT (eg Microsoft Windows), BSD (eg Apple Mac OSX) and Linux (eg GNU/Linux). Which of these (or any other) do you use? Which of these (or any other) do you think represents the most accurate analogy for your political party, and why?

I look forward to hearing from you before the general election. I appreciate I may not receive my answers until after I have voted due to the busy nature of yourselves at this time.


Christopher Browne

General updateyness

First of all, let’s introduce my readers to the new FSF campaign.

So basically, they are telling everybody what they already know (Windows sucks) and what they might not already know (there’s an alternative, and it’s FREE!).

As we all know, I’m an Open Source Advocate, and as such I will be participating in the Windows 7 Sins campaign at some point, I just need to figure out how.

My girlfriend, Rachael, who is wonderful, is visiting me tomorrow for three days, so I’m very happy about that…

I’ve replaced my website’s half-dozen links with a single link to my new forum community, which is also the temporary home of a social club founded by myself and my good friend, Bret Ware, Port Manteau.

I’ve started work on Pre-planning Phase 0 of a new project, which is an LMOFPS called “Ossum”.  I take exception to the term “MMO”, which implies that these games are massive, which is of course, totally untrue.  For those who are saying “what? but they’re HUGE!!! How can you say they aren’t massive?!” I will give you a brief physics lesson:  The word “massive” means “consisting of great mass; containing a great amount of matter”.  This is not the only definition, it is accepted colloquially as meaning “large in size or bulky”.  However, since the first meaning exists (and is my preferred meaning for the word), AND there are plenty of other words to describe something that is bulky, large, great, grandiose, enormous, huge, big or gigantic (have I proved my point yet), I see no reason to introduce ambiguity into the expression simply to please some marketing exec somewhere who wanted to press the word “Massive”.

So we’re calling them LMOs from now on, mmmmmkay?  LMO, BMO, GMO, EMO, HMO, I don’t mind which so long as it isn’t MMO!  EMO has a nice ring to it… Enormous Multiplayer Online Game… mmmmm EMO-licious.

Anyway back to updating you.  I’ve also switched from Gnome to KDE, preferring the glassy, classy look and feel of KDE, and the easier development process.

Oh, and I’ve got back into Star Trek in a big way, I’ll be buying a new computer shortly and I may well get Star Trek Online at some point, so if you’re also planning to get it then look out for me in the Alpha quadrant! 😉

Ill :( but I bear good news also!

So I took most of yesterday off with a general health complaint, which seems to have continued into today (I speak in general terms to avoid grossing out my readers), so I am off again today.  Forgive me if the article seems a bit disjointed, you can imagine why my keyboard availability won’t be 100% today.

On a far less disgusting topic, I found a brilliant little niche business yesterday which I am extremely glad to pledge a large portion of my recent paycheque to in return for nothing less than -exactly- what I wanted.  I’ve yet to receive the netbook, but based on the description and reviews I am confident that I will be singing its praises once it arrives.  Even if I’m not, though, they have a 30 day money-back policy which would see an almost 100% refund (they charge a nominal restocking fee).  I can’t see myself returning it; let’s go over the spec together:

  • 2GB of RAM, which is more than my desktop so quite extraordinarily healthy
  • choice of black or mocha (ubuntu coloured) case, I chose black
  • Intel Atom 1.6GHz processor
  • 10.2″ 1024×600 screen.  For those who don’t know this is towards the top end of netbook screen sizes, which are normally between 7 and 11 inches.
  • Draft-N WiFi, which is good because I don’t plan to get a mobile broadband connection for it.
  • 3 USB ports, unbelievably, that’s more than I’ve seen on most laptops!  I don’t know what netbooks are like for USB support but I thought it’d only be 1 or maybe 2 tops; well, there’s no CD drive so I suppose they have to make up for that but still…
  • 640×480 webcam (not the best in the market but definitely good enough as far as I’m concerned)
  • 3.5 hours battery life

And by far the best bit, the “windows” key (technically the Super Key, but everyone calls it the Windows key) has an option of either the Ubuntu or Tux (Linux penguin) logo emblazoned for all to see!  And the attention to detail doesn’t end there!  The Made For Windows sticker has been replaced by a Ubuntu sticker, and according to one review they replaced the Windows Product Key with a Ubuntu Product Key.  Note that Ubuntu does not need a Product Key like Windows does, and will not nag you to activate your copy of Ubuntu within 30 days after you’ve already put in the damn key 15 times (and that was on XP, not their newer, more bug-ridden versions of Windows!).

Apparently, the warranty is an Open Hardware Warranty as well, which basically means rather than “DO NOT OPEN THIS CASE” the warranty actually states (paraphrased) “PLEASE OPEN THIS CASE!”, which is brilliant because it means I can tinker without losing peace of mind.  I ordered it with a 16GB SSD with a view to upgrading the SSD when the prices for SSD come down, and that hardware warranty will make that job a darnsight easier.  Not just the warranty being far more flexible but the fact that the manufacturer has created it with tinkering in mind.

I’m sure you’re all dying to know just where you can find a linux laptop/desktop/netbook/server with all this and a techsupport email address which replied to my first query within 10 minutes, so with no further ado let me disappoint you by revealing the catch:

The company, ZaReason is based in Berkeley, California.  I’ve had to import the netbook which will put delays and extra price considerations into the deal.  However, I have had the idea that I shall get the first netbook, test it, trial it, make sure it’s worthy and then invest some money in importing a joblot for sale in the UK.  In other words, I may start reselling ZaReason gear from a UK outlet (if I can raise the funds necessary).  I shall enter into negotiations with ZaReason regarding this in the coming months.  They do ship to the UK and they will ship with UK power cords if you ask them to, but in the interests of faster build-to-reception times, I would like to stock some in the UK on behalf of ZaReason and sell them on for price of unit + shipping + import, with maybe a shred of profit for prospective growth of ZaReasonUK.  Let’s see how I like my netbook first, though, and leave the international trade negotiations for my next blog post! 😉

Oh, and before I forget, they helpfully answered my question about a/v chat with an exciting piece of news which I think I heard drifting around the net a few months back but which now has been more or less confirmed (Alpha 5 of Karmic’s release notes include this gem).

Ubuntu Karmic Alpha 5 includes the latest GNOME 2.27.91 development release.

Empathy has replaced Pidgin as the default instant messaging client, introducing the Telepathy framework.

The gdm 2.27.91 login manager is a complete rewrite compared to the version in earlier Ubuntu releases.

Exciting or what, eh?  And no, I’m not talking about the version number of Gnome being an americanised 27th of February 1991, because that is a rather insignificant date to me.  I refer to Empathy, which supports webcam!  Unlike Pidgin, who has lacked this support since it changed its name from GAIM (and yes, I am just about old enough to remember that).  The other thing to note is the new login manager, which according to the plans I read back when 9.04 had just been released (that’s April this year), should prove to be far more fun and exciting than the current login manager.  And yes, I am mostly excited because I will be talking to people using Telepathy and that just sounds too cool to pass up.

Ttfn, people, and watch this space closely for updates!


I started my new job about three weeks ago.  The pay isn’t great but the work is hard…

In all seriousness, it is possibly the dullest, most frustrating, most tedious job I’ve ever had.  My job is to:

  1. receive an email
  2. save the Excel (or occasionally .pdf) attachments
  3. open up an access database whose frontend has been coded by the three worst UI designers on the face of the planet (and I’m comparing them to whoever came up with the original Xbox dashboard! [note to younger readers: that’s the -original- xbox, not the original xbox 360 dashboard])
  4. copy/paste and in some cases re-type the information in the attachment into the database

Considering I could (and may well do just to prove this point) design a system that does the same job in a quarter of the time with a quarter of the clunkiness and umpteen times the user-friendliness; I’m really quite frustrated!

So my job sucks, but whose doesn’t these days?  I guess I’ll have to live with it for the time being, but there’s not much chance I’ll take a permanent in that place unless…

I had this idea the other day, that could prove to be quite ingenius (or could just become yet another abandoned idea); basically, I want to head up a new bespoke IT unit called the Alternative Operating Systems Unit, whose remit would be to:

  • Promote and support the use of non-Microsoft operating systems within the civil service
  • Provide services for the more technical users, such as IRC servers, forums, internal blogging, etc. [optional]
  • Create and maintain bespoke software designed to integrate alternative operating systems into the (currently primarily if not wholly Microsoft) network
  • Offer training to all users of computer systems for technical challenges such as basic programming, scripting and system administration.

I haven’t worked out figures yet, but since a hell of a lot of it would actually be simpler to manage than standard FLITS work, I don’t imagine it would cost money (in fact it may well save a lot of money in licensing fees and so on).

I shall post more on this topic later, including a link to a website that I shall start work on soon.  Watch this space!

[EDIT: I didn’t finish that sentence about figures… oops!]

DReaM on…

Yup, lame pun.  And yup, this article is about Dangerously Restrictive Media.  Also known as Digital “Rights” Management.  Why anybody needs their rights to be managed, goodness only knows.  The context of the word “management” in Digital Rights Management seems to be similar to that of “Risk Management”.  In other words, it means “calculated reduction”.

So why do the Media companies impose this kind of restriction on Joe Public?  And why does Joe Public care about his Digital Rights?  Well, the Media companies are imposing this kind of restriction because they lack faith in the ability of The Law to prosecute thieves.  I find this particular lack of faith disconcerting, and it leads me to a similar mistrust of The Law, who seem to agree with The Media that prosecuting thieves isn’t enough – they should be allowed to prevent the theft in the first place.

Now, ok,  putting a lock on your door and locking it when you go to bed at night is a sensible thing to do to prevent theft.  But would you really want to keep the door locked -all the time-?  You wouldn’t be able to get out, and your friends wouldn’t be able to get in!  Sure, your stuff is safe, but the user (ie you) is under house arrest!

This is what DRM does, effectively.  It isn’t a reasonable precaution against piracy, it’s overkill.  It’s a way of saying “you aren’t trusted to leave the house or take visitors, so we’re locking your door.  Permanently.  It’s for your own good, though!”

Great.  The reason I’m complaining, by the way, is because there is much in my house which is DRM’d, and I’m sick and tired of hacking it to get it to play/run/install on the “wrong” hardware, or even just a second device!  It’s stupid!  When I legitimately purchase something, I want to be able to use it however I like, I want to be able to study it, I want to be able to modify it for my own [devious or otherwise] ends and I want to be able to give/sell/lend it to my friends/family if I no longer have a use for it.

This model is true of toasters, TVs, cars, boilers, sofas, beds, houses, kettles, washing machines, microwave ovens… thousands upon thousands of physical products.  What it is not true of is software and media (songs, movies, etc.).  Now, I grant you that software and media are “intellectual property”, which is replicatable by anybody; but, surely, if I could replicate my toaster, maybe even improving it on the way – would it be fair of me to keep the replicated toaster to myself?

And surely if I could replicate my toaster and improve it and sell it on, the original manufacturer could replicate -my- toaster, add its own improvements, and release it all over again!  Surely this promotes The Healthy Kind of competition?  In fact, surely this -defines- The Healthy Kind of competition!

So, in fact, is it not fantastic that Software is so easily replicatable?  From a software-participant*’s point of view, anyway. Well, any software-participant who cares more about Good Software than they do about making a quick buck, anyway.

*software-participant: Someone who participates in the creation, use, modification, study or improvement of software.