Tag Archive for 'General'

If Photography is a crime…

Colbert Report: Photography = Terrorism

While authoritarian pressure against public photography isn’t exactly new, this latest story does remind us how the conflict between freedom and security remains a contentious one.

Last night’s Colbert Report featured the story of professional photographer Duane Kerzic, who was arrested for trespassing at NYC’s Penn Station. According to journalist Carlos Miller, Duane was simply taking photographs of Amtrak trains for a contest, hosted by none other than Amtrak (hat tip K Peachey for the link).

If the basic right of public photography is treated as a crime, then in essence, terrorists win.

When Thomas Jefferson said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”, he spoke for the rest of human history as the milieu remains as one of our greatest dilemmas. Indeed, even as I write my dissertation about Internet Censorship in China.

Panorama: Flint Loop @ UB [entirely processed on the iPhone]

Nice day at UB (panorama)
Click image to enlarge…

Only after my third or fourth try did I manage to finally manage to capture a full panorama on the iPhone without crashing. I’ve been exploring alternative modes of capturing the moment, and panoramas are still pretty neat to me.

What’s even neater is how this entire panorama was shot and automatically stitched with “Panorama” by the iFone guys.

Amazing how much processing power we have in our pockets nowadays.

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 Amazon.com, 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.

Photos + Videos // DEFCON: Adventures in Hackerdom

DEFCON16 mosaic
Click to see entire DEFCON photo set: Skip Day 0 and head to Day 1 and 2!

Here’s the complete leak of photos and videos I’ve shot from DEFCON 16 in Las Vegas over the weekend.

Firstly, you won’t even begin to imagine what I had to go through to take these. Chased by DEFCON goons twice, and nearly kicked out once, I’ve to say that the only reason why I could do this was because of the mutual respect I had for the DEFCON goons. Flea, one of the bigger security honchos at DEFCON, told me about the “rules of engagement” and advised me to get a Press Badge. It’s really to play fair with attendees, some of whom may prefer to participate quietly. In truth I would love to simply sign on as Press, but for the past three days I was there, I couldn’t locate the person in charge. Since then, I would ask for permission from anyone before taking their picture, most of whom obliged.

As a safety measure, I’ve liquified faces and removed photos with sensitive information (like the Hacker CTF competition). After all, this is the real deal with hackers coming in from all over the world. Criminals, researchers, government agents, it doesn’t matter; Anonymity is king in DEFCON, unless you’re pwned on one of the world’s most hostile networks… then all your base are belong to us.

Rather than embargo my media until I write elaborately about my incredible experience there (in an upcoming blog post), I’ll just share whatever I’ve got first while they’re fresh. I’ll dive into the details over the next few blog posts as there’s just way too much to cover in one swift motion.

Think of this as watching the DVD extras before watching the actual DVD feature; an alternative way of sense-making the actual story. The Youtube video widget below is an interactive playlist, just let it play continuously, or roll your mouse over the video to pick a clip.

Blog hacked. Partly restored. Migration done.

theory.isthereason mothership is down

Hello dear readers, an unfortunate event has happened. My blog was hacked with index pages replaced. You may still be able to read this from my RSS feed.

This was all the hacker left behind:

r00ted by nEt^DeViL .. Peace .. Damn Israel .. Just t3sting my t00ls .. net_devil@hackermail.com

Unfortunately my WordPress 1.5.3 install was hosed, so I was forced to make the scary update to WP 2.3.3. Turns out the update was painless, but my personalized blog theme would no longer work. Argh.

While I migrate to a new web host, keep in touch with me via twitter, netvibes or friendfeed.

Update: I’ve got full functionality back. I’ll be migrating web host soon. Migration to BlueHost.com was a success!

Shoutouts: John Larkin for being the first person to alert me to the hack (even sent a screenshot!). Alex Halavais, Peter, Shady, Ben Koe and Lucian for sharing advice on recovering my blog. vantan, Siva, Kenneth, for blogging about it. SimplyJean wrote about it too, which later appeared up there on Ping.sg. Finally, thanks to folks like the RamblingLibrarian, Brian Koh, MrBig and Bernard Leong for checking in on me. Most of you are now featured on my coveted revolving blogroll (see blog sidebar).

No excuse not to own NetNewsWire now…

Brent Simmons’ NewNewsWire Mug

If you’re a Mac user and you want to get serious about reading your RSS feeds, you have no excuse now. You can buy NetNewsWire for $19.95 from right now until NetNewsWire 2.1 ships (in a few weeks).

It take RSS newsreading beyond the norm by giving you a ton of useful features, inlcuding: searching, browsing, persistence, smart lists, flagged items, tag subscriptions, widescreen view, scriptability, HTML differences, podcast downloading, and, well, more.

I’m currently using NetNewsWire 2.1 beta and its not only faster, but has interesting sorting mechanisms. There’s “sort by attention” which tracks your clicks and ranks your latest articles by the likelihood of you reading it (predictive-like). Since I also love Pukka, it also integrates with Pukka for super-fast del.icio.us posting!

GetNetNewsWire for just $19.95

Educational Gaming Conference: Live @ UB today!

Educational Gaming: LIVE @ University at Buffalo

As mentioned here before, the educational gaming mini-conference is on TODAY at 120 Clemens Hall, University at Buffalo. The UB DEVO unit has been recording the event and should be putting it the entire conference up as a real video stream (stay tuned for the link). In the mean time, I’ve got Alex Chisholm’s presentation shot with my new Sony M2, but I’ll need some time to put it up as a compressed video (which format do you prefer?).

As a reminder, here’s the program for the event. Note that the focus is on the technical and pedagogical context of educational gaming. Guest speakers present on the intersect of cognitive theory and online game environments:

11:00 – 12:30 Cognition/Culture in MMOG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Games)
Constance Steinkuehler (homepage)
University of Wisconsin-Madison

2:00 – 3:15 Education Arcade: Games-to-Teach
Alex Chisholm (homepage)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

3:30 – 5:00 Real-Life Examples of Educational Gaming (using Civilizations 3 & 4)
Kurt Squire (homepage)
University of Wisconsin-Madison

What did you get from Macworld?

Macworld Expo Swag

Here’s the swag I’ve collected from Macworld Expo 2006. You can click to see larger version with notes. Some of the best stuff I’ve gotten include Maxtor’s lighted firewire 800 cable (Most valuable swag) and STM’s excellent sling bag (Most clever swag). If you went to the expo, did you get any other cool freebies?

Happy New Year from Canada!

We’re thirteen hours behind Singapore time so we have one more hour

before 2006. Penny and I currently on the road traveling around Ontario

making progress on our personal food expedition. Living in Buffalo,

we’ve been deprived of Singaporean delights and Canada is just chockful

of places to eat. Photos to come when we’re back in Buffalo. In the mean

time, have a Happy New Year!

Weblogs Awards 2005: For the rest of us not so popular ones…

Weblog Awards 2005 (Asian category)

I will never be nominated because 1) I am not a hottie, 2) I have no cute baby photos, 3) I don’t have gift for the gab. What I do have is my thoughts on the rest of us who aren’t popular enough for the Weblog Awards. Consider this a “feel-good” movie for the average Joe…

Somewhere in the blogosphere…
The above chart shows the votes made on the Weblog Awards 2005 (Asian category) as of this morning at 9am (Eastern Standard Time). Even before the popularity contest is over, you can tell who’s taken the lead. Are we doomed as netizens of Singapore? Should we break open the champagne and sing “Long Live the Infantile!” for Christmas? Fret not… at least not just yet.

Blogging is for everyone, yet there will be the bulk of us who would feel alienated from the rest of the blogosphere and might even start to lose sight of why we started blogging in the first place. While such blog awards help us recognize the most popular bloggers on the Internet, these sort of awards technically perpetuate the popularity of the select bloggers (See Power Laws). Turning to the ongoing Weblog Awards 2005 (Asian category), we see more or less the same clique of popular bloggers with the highest number of votes (no doubt due to their ardent fans). While there are 14 blogs to choose from, even this represents just a small slice of the Asian pie. Many more blogs are worthy of mention in this category (like Mr Wang), but sadly they do not appear here. I checked out the award organizer’s FAQ which explained that finalists were determined in three main ways:
– Public nominations
– Regionalized blogrolls (on some of the nominees blogs)
– TTLB ecosystem snapshot (for ecosystem based categories).

As you can see, having a good number of fans would definitely help one’s award standing, but what does this mean for the rest of us who have fewer blog friends? Does this mean that our blogs don’t mean squat? Indeed, there will be moments where bloggers may get tired and even stop blogging entirely.

Each of us probably holds different ideas of what blogging should be about. By this I mean that some do it for popularity (nothing wrong there), some for self-improvement, some for personal venting, and the list goes on. The beauty of blogs lie in its diversity, some of which may never be popular, but will always have a necessary place in society.

long tailA term which could best describes this case is Chris Anderson’s definition of “The Long Tail“. Chris argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters. Applying this to our blogosphere, it’s taking the power law and looking at the collective value of the bloggers with less linkages. A popular site that takes advantage of this is tomorrow.sg, which derives value by featuring the collective intelligence of lesser known bloggers (the more eccentric, the more extreme tail end).

In summary, every blog has it’s intrinsic value… where one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Thus, if you feel disheartened, try to take this awards in good fun and don’t lose sight that you are ultimately blogging for yourself.

Adding to this, when Mr Brown mentioned how Myrick of AsiaPundit was so depressed that his votes were less than the number of contributors to his group blog (he was joking of course!), I left the following comment: “Don’t let popularity contests detract you from publishing meaningful work. Popularity is only a quantitative metric of a blog’s worth. It’s more valuable to have quality content, which you can observe in kind by the thoughtful comments your readers leave for you.”

Oh, lest we forget, Xiaxue’s a fun read but if you want to see more variety, head over to the Weblog Awards and vote the other guys. Even if they don’t win Best Asian Blog, at least they’ll know we love them too!

UPDATE on 10th Dec 2005: More people seem to be aware of the need for their votes and as a result, Mr Brown (12584) now takes a major leads over Xiaxue (8512).

UPDATE on 11th Dec 2005 Looks like Xiaxue and MrBrown readers are in competition. Here’s a decent observation from a Xiaxue fan on demographics and its effect on the polls.

UPDATE on 12th Dec 2005 Xiaxue was sharp and honest to report on someone messing around with the polls. MrBrown wrote about the possibility of an international booboo if voters continue to cheat the system. It’s great that our two celebrity bloggers are really quite socially responsible.