Monthly Archive for September, 2008

… stashed in the room was a rocketbelt

Mysterious Working Jetpack found on UB

While on a technological survey of the University at Buffalo campus, Kathleen and I discovered one of the earliest working jetpack prototypes stashed in an unassuming room. Naturally I got excited, but I knew little of its origins. I began documenting it through photographs in hope of learning more about it later this evening.

Continue reading ‘… stashed in the room was a rocketbelt’

The Faces of Social Television [backchannels]

faces of social television

The interactive aspect of television runs an entire continuum; from the instinctive changing of channels, to selecting movies on-demand (depending on cable provider), to the more esoteric real-time SMS voting, allowing viewers to affect the program being watched (e.g. American Idol).

Ironically, of all the interactive features a television could have, the conversational aspect of television viewing seems strangely absent. Unless you’re watching a televised event in the same physical commune as your family or friends, the traditional media experience still seems to be a depressingly solitude affair. Just think of the solo enjoyment of reading a book or listening to your iPod; the content genre is not immediately scaled with your like-minded peers.

This week’s U.S. Presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain could have well sparked off a revival of socially driven television. Especially useful for real-time socio-political events, having users share the televised experience through tele-conversation could help the viewer in sense-making new and emerging realities.

Continue reading ‘The Faces of Social Television [backchannels]’

StartupSchwag #12: Do you brightkite?

StartupSchwag #12: It's all brightkite!

This month’s StartupSchwag surprise comes from, a location-based social network. Lovely t-shirt and sticker. You can find me there at

Playing the Wallstreet Bailout Game, by Rep. “Marcy” Kaptur

So you’ve probably heard of the U.S. government’s incredible $700 billion bailout plan…

If not, my buddy Chris Barr pointed out a neat play-by-play of this year’s biggest financial mess. Indeed, this massive bailout has made many of us realize the socialistic impression it signals for America.

While we get lost in the confusion of political bureaucracy, in comes democratic representative “Marcy” Kaptur with an arousing congress address which she dubs as the “Let’s Play Wallstreet Bailout“. While we won’t know for sure if the bailout plan will work, Rep. Marcy effectively deconstructs what makes this $700 billion bailout so wrong, then sets up a step-by-step plan to get it sorted right. And she clocks it all in under five minutes.

It’s people like Marcy who inspire me to help humanize the game of politics (and to do so, passionately). If you dig her style, take a look at her transcript now available online.

Beyond the Govt / Citizen Dichotomy: Our Response to AIMS


UPDATE 1: Now republished on the AIMS blog thanks to Yvonne.

UPDATE 2: Contributor Coleman Yee provides a quick FAQ on our AIMS response.

Free public servants to engage online (TODAY, 20th Sept 2008) UPDATE 3: TODAY newspaper journalist, Alicia Wong, features our e-engagement response paper, after it was kindly mentioned by AIMS chairman Cheong Yip Seng as having “thoughtful, considerate ideas” at a public forum yesterday.

How do we give Political Freedom on the Internet (ZaoBao, 21st Sept 2008) Rules for political films still a hot potato (Straits Times, 20th Sept 2008) UPDATE 4: More media mentions this week, including the Straits Times: “Rules for political films still a hot potato” (20th Sept) and ZaoBao: “How do we give Political Freedom on the Internet” (21st Sept). The latter Chinese news article was kindly (and surprisingly) well-translated by Adri of

I’m both glad and amazed that this is finally out!

A few of us decided to give our response to the recent AIMS Consultation Paper advising the Singaporean government on engaging citizens through new media.

The paper below reflects our shared interest in the development of our government’s e-engagement practices. As a collective response from friends in the civil service, academic as well as creative industry, the paper was wonderfully produced on a wiki over a period of one week.

A unique aspect of this paper is the bi-partisan approach we’ve taken in order to be mindful of the various social agencies possibly involved under the e-engagement policy. Notable research findings and case studies are presented to illustrate the viability of our recommendations. Our full response paper to AIMS is available right after the jump…

Continue reading ‘Beyond the Govt / Citizen Dichotomy: Our Response to AIMS’

DRM hurts the wrong people. Let’s fix it.

Spore DRM War
Click image to enlarge for readability…

We’ve heard this time and time again, but when will publishers and producers learn?

Don’t ever let fans who buy legally get more hurt, than those who don’t.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) only serves to incentivize piracy, unless it is brought a reasonable point of convenience for the user.

The most recent case involved the long awaited video game by creator Will Wright, called Spore. Thanks to the protectionism of game publisher Electronic Arts (EA), The Register reported that “Spore’s DRM limits customers to only three activations after the game is installed. That number isn’t restored even if the game is uninstalled. Three is what you get unless you call up Electronic Arts customer support and give them your sob story.”

Fans of Spore are expectantly unhappy.

In online communes such as, upset fans have collectively given EA’s Spore an extremely low product rating of between 1 to 2 stars, due to this anti-feature. Interestingly, another camp of Will Wright supporters have started fighting back by saying “rate the game, not the DRM”, then rating it five stars. As Fred Benenson explains, “[t]he moment concentrated actions like protests lead to dis-organized collective action and rebellion en masse is very exciting”. This is the smartmob in action.

That’s a shame for the state of DRM.

DRM, while designed to limit infringing actions of users, suffers from a larger socio-structural vulnerability: The Smart Cow Problem. As stated by Seth Schoen from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF), “[i]t only takes one smart cow to open the latch of the gate, and then all the other cows follow.” Due to the viral aspect of the Internet, it only takes one individual’s defeat of a DRM scheme to render the method obsolete.

True to nature, Spore had already been leaked, then cracked and torrented just four days before the game even came out in North America. As of publishing, one particular torrent variant has already been downloaded by about 27,000 users via PirateBay.

So how can DRM be fixed?

While piracy affects the entire media industry, cases like these serve to polarize the means of ownership even more severely. However, as hinted earlier, the only time I’ve seen DRM viable is when it gives enough incentive back to the end-user. This includes the ease of downloading from legal sources over illegal ones, as well as giving more liberties to the paying crowd, such as increasing the limits of installs and offering of free easy-to-install updates.

Apple’s iTunes makes this point a reality, by making it “one-click” to purchase music easily (torrenting involves more work), allowing users more freedom in media playback (sometimes even offering DRM-free albums, or letting users workaround DRM by burning music CDs), and offering completeness and longevity such as proper music meta-data, album art, free update for iPhone apps, etc (where illegal downloads require more work).

Perhaps to take this point even further, DRM designers could do better by developing reputation systems among legitimate users in order to grant greater liberties as rewards for responsible use. In the iTunes scenario, a simple quantifier could be to track the number of music purchases in one’s entire collection. If it’s of a certain percentage, perhaps Apple could improve the owner’s investment by increasing the limits of computers and iPods able to playback the media, or to simply offer access to DRM-free versions of the songs since the user might be deemed as trustworthy. While privacy issues would be of concern, this could be an opt-in opportunity should the reward mechanisms be made attractive enough.

What do you think?
I’m all for a DRM-free future, but I wouldn’t mind it as much if both producers and users are able to balance our collective needs. I want to play fair, but I just don’t wish to be jibbed in the process.

BTW: While I dropped the torrent link above, you can purchase to download Spore legally here. That’s one instance of convenience publishers actually got right.

UPDATE: TorrentFreak, a blog covering the bittorrent and p2p scne, reports that Spore has become the “Most Pirated Game Ever Thanks to DRM“. TechCrunch writer, Erick Schonfeld, adds that Electronic Arts missed out on the online components of Spore, which could have served as a more reasonable authentication system than the clandestine DRM approach.

UPDATE 2: Kotaku’s Brian Crecentre interviewed Valve’s Doug Lombardi yesterday to ask how they’ve managed to smooth out the wrinkles of DRM with Steam and how their copy protection compares to Spore’s.

Interview with ex-Singabloodypore writer: Jonathan Chong

One of the most compelling reasons why I blog is so that I get to meet interesting people like Jonathan Chong. While in Buffalo for a mutual friend’s wedding, we met up over dinner where I forced had him share his experience as an ex-writer for the infamous Singapore socio-political (or dissident) blog, Singabloodypore.

Lots of interesting stories from the blogging hey-days were traded, including the tale of how Steven McDermott’s “infantile bloggers” meme came about. Thanks to Qik live viewer Alphoso for asking about Obama, where Jon shared that he actually sat next to him on his recent Newark flight in the plane next to Obama’s on the same runway (Ed: Erm yeah…).

Off video, I talked to Jon on my view that despite healthy political discussions and the liberalization of online political content in Singapore, I still worry for our younger generation’s political apathy:

Will it take another generation before Singaporeans can fully come to terms with engaging our government freely without fear?

As you’ll see from these student responses, I do believe that this “fear” is really turning into a chief excuse (or mental reflex) for many not to participate in active citizenry. Perhaps it’s the price, the spillover effect if you must, of a mono-party government and its highly efficient political control after all these years.

Magnetosphere: Like a universe unfolding…

Magnetosphere revisited (audio by Tosca) from flight404 on Vimeo.

This September 9th, Apple is rumored to announce a redesigned iPod nano, iTunes 8.0 and iPhone firmware 2.1.

While plenty of new features are expected for iTunes, one of the neatest things to look out for is a “stunning new music visualizer,” which TUAW contributors believe to be Robert Hodgins’ Magnetosphere (as seen above).

If you can’t wait till then, the Magnetosphere visualizer is apparently floating around the Inter-tubes…

Dailylinks: Why send money to people trying to kill you?

Why send money to people trying to kill you?
A not-so-subtle reminder of why the war is fought, from your friendly neighborhood Sunoco Gas Station.




  • EFF to ISPs and Content Owners: Do Your Part to Protect Political Speech | Electronic Frontier Foundation – Here are examples of free political speech being block in the U.S. As the country enters the most "wired" election season to date, EFF and the ACLU of Northern California strongly encourage online service providers (OSPs) and content owners to take special care to safeguard free speech. Copyright claims, trademark claims, and alleged terms of use violations can be misused to silence critics and stifle political dialogue online. Even temporary takedowns can harm open debate, as political speech depends on the spirit of the moment and the rapidly evolving arguments of the participants.
  • EFF: Veoh Decision Could Save Muxtape and Friends | Listening Post from – When a Northern California judge Howard R. Lloyd handed down a decision on Wednesday in favor of the video sharing site Veoh, after it had been accused by IO Group of hosting ten of that company's pornographic movies without permission, he may have provided mix sharing sites like Muxtape with a blueprint for legality.
  • The Creative Commons and Copyright Protection in the Digital Era: Uses
    of Creative Commons Licenses
    – This study explores whether Creative Commons (CC) licenses are a viable solution for copyright protection in the digital era. Through a mixed-methods approach involving a web-based survey of CC licensors, a content analysis of CC-licensed works, and interviews, the study characterizes CC licensors, the ways that CC licensors produce creative works, the private interests that CC licenses serve, and the public interests that CC licenses serve.


  • Unmanned-On-Unmanned Vehicular Combat In Iraq – Unmanned systems destroying other unmanned systems is now a reality following the destruction by an MQ-9 Reaper of a remotely controlled car carrying an explosive device in southeast Iraq. This is the next stage of war.
  • Camerahead Project has its “Eyes” on surveillance – The Camerahead Project is presented through the eyes of 10 Camerahead agents, and the images they record. The project not only raises the questions of who is watching who, and who is watching the watchers, but also asks questions of why we are being watched at all.
  • Features of the new SAF combat uniform – Camouflage is an important element in military tactics. With today’s advanced surveillance equipment and weapon optics, soldiers face a greater risk of detection in combat. Recognising this, the Army and the Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) have jointly developed a new SAF combat uniform with an enhanced camouflage pattern to reduce detection – based on the science of human visual performance and visual biophysics. Besides an enhanced camouflage pattern, the new SAF combat uniform also consists of better quality fabric and an ergonomic functional design.

theorycast.47 :: “Not My Problem” & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas

theorycast.47 :: "Not My Problem" & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas

Here are my thoughts on the government’s New Media engagement and the qualities of the disaffected Singaporean netizen.

This discussion refers to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent National Day Rally Speech, with particular emphasis on the newly formed “Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society” (AIMS) and their consultation paper on liberalizing Internet regulations in Singapore.

I focus solely on the e-engagement chapter of this paper, exploring how Singaporeans interact via the Internet, the inequalities that are inherent in most online communities, as well as measures that could be taken to encourage constructive societal discussion online. Continue reading ‘theorycast.47 :: “Not My Problem” & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas’