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Archives for : politics

Buggy Whip Manufacturer Calls on Apple to Add Buggy Whip App to CarPlay

From MacRumors, National Association of Broadcasters Again Urges Apple to Add FM Radio to iPhones:

Following Apple’s clarification that iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips or antennas designed to support FM signals, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has expressed some doubt about Apple’s statement and has called on the company to add FM functionality to its future iPhones.

[…]

In its blog post, the NAB appeals to Apple CEO Tim Cook, highlighting the number of hurricanes experienced in Mobile, Alabama, Cook’s hometown, since 1969, and calling on the company to introduce FM support as a way for customers to get news alerts during disasters.

If your concern is access to news during disasters, may I suggest concerned families simply buy a dedicated portable AM/FM radio? Among its advantages:

  • Such radios start at under US$10, and the product line as a whole is 1 to 3 degrees of magnitude less expensive than iPhones.
  • AM/FM radios last longer on a fresh set of batteries than iPhones do on a charge, and can be recharged indefinitely during a power outage, so long as more batteries are available.

It’s a sad scene between this and the FCC Chairman cluelessly calling on Apple to magically activate FM features that either aren’t physically connected or don’t exist at all.

It also speaks volumes that the NAB needs to rely on either national disasters or Federal bullying to get broadcast radio devices into the hands of consumers. Usually when consumers are forced to buy something, it’s a pretty good sign that what’s being sold is crap. Try listening to US terrestrial radio — dominated by ClearChannel bots playing the same songs over and over, and asshole blowhards going on hours-long conservative rants — and it’s little surprise that fewer Americans have any interest in the technology anymore.

No wonder the NAB wants to ride piggy-back on Apple’s popularity and the hundreds of millions of iPhones out there. But I think they ought to get their own house in order first, before they start talking crap about Apple.

AV WWDC, part 2: Fair Is Pretty Foul

Next up on our tour of WWDC 2015 media sessions is the innocently-titled Content Protection for HTTP Live Streaming. Sounds harmless, but I think there’s reason for worry.

For content protections, HLS has always had a story: transport segments get a one-time AES encryption, and can be served from a dumb http server (at CocoaConf a few years back, I demo’ed serving HLS from Dropbox, before it was https:-always). You’re responsible for guarding the keys and delivering them only to authenticated users. AV Foundation can get the keys, decrypt the segments, and play them with no client-side effort beyond handling the authentication. It’s a neat system, because it’s easy to deploy on content delivery networks, as you’re largely just dropping off a bunch of flat files, and the part you protect on your own server is tiny.

So what’s “FairPlay Streaming”, then?

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Girly Stuff

So, I see from Janie Clayton-Hasz’s blog that That Conference managed to deliver a ham-handed and offensive keynote, detailed in blow-by-blow fashion by her tweets (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9), the most egregious of which is the seeming equating of Gray’s Anatomy with “girly stuff”, and the unstated but strongly implied premise that “girly stuff is bad”.

FFS, why do we still put up with this?

Actually, it kind of reminds me of a Twitter or App.net exchange that Janie and I had some months back, in which I argued that we really ought to stop using “dude in a dress” as a comedy trope, not just out of fairness to LGBTQs, but out of fairness to women. The premise that men in drag is funny is based on feminine things being weak or inferior, and male things being strong and superior. So a man choosing female traits — whether clothing or Grey’s Anatomy — is therefore ridiculous.

IMO, women who laugh at men in drag are putting themselves down.

Since Janie mentions my love of anime in her blog, I’ll mention here that this is perfectly captured in an anime called Wandering Son, a fairly realistic series about young teenage transgenders, a boy who wants to be a girl and his close friend, a girl who wants to be a boy. The anime series is quite short at 11 episodes, and assumes you know the characters from the manga, as it hops right into a pivotal plotline involving a female upperclassman who gets praised for showing up to school in a boy’s uniform, but when Nitorin wears a girls’ uniform in public, he’s ridiculed so mercilessly he can no longer attend class and has to spend every day in hiding in the school infirmary.

Wandering Son, ep 9 - Nitori attends school in girls uniform

This is because, of course, masculine stuff is good, and feminine stuff is bad. As if the ideas and experiences of half the human race are inherently inferior.

FFS, when do we get to be over this crap?

Just last week, we were at CocoaConf Columbus, where keynoter Mark Dalrymple encouraged attendees to pursue and make the most of their passions and pursuits. This led Janie to an interesting blog about her cross-stitching and a wry metaphor in her Open GL / GPUImage / Metal session that she’s been a human vertex shader for the last 25 years, and that cross-stitching actually makes for a pretty nice, concrete explanation of how to do computer graphics.

One that we wouldn’t have gotten if CocoaConf attendees had a problem with “girly stuff”.

Weaponizing TV Everywhere

One of my grad school professors, the late Dr. Thomas Muth, told us that he was far less interested in analysis, whereby you grind ideas down to a smaller form, than synthesis, in which you combine parts of different ideas together to build something new. I’m bringing this up because the whole Comcast / Time Warner Cable merger has me thinking about the antitrust law I learned from another grad school prof, Dr. Barry Litman, and I’m smashing a few of those ideas together.

Actually, this starts with my previous blog post, where I mentioned in passing that Microsoft used to be very active in video codec development, getting WMV9 adopted as part of the Blu-Ray spec. You know what else Microsoft used to be? A convicted monopolist. It’s almost forgotten today, but the initial ruling in United States v. Microsoft was that the company had illegally used its market power and should be broken up. This was later partially overturned on appeal, and the DOJ effectively walked away from the case under the Bush administration.

Still, it’s remarkable to think that in barely over a decade, we’ve gone from contemplating the break-up of Microsoft, to the widely-held perception that the Comcast / Time Warner Cable merger will easily win approval. Regulatory capture, FTL.

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2012: Three Things

I usually don’t have much use for year-ender type pieces — not sure if I’ve ever done one on this blog — but I’ve got an accumulated bunch of thoughts that I might as well just work out in one big brain-dump. With luck, some of it will actually tie together.

Gonna talk about three things:

  1. No politics
  2. iOS Development
  3. Anime

It’s about 4,000 words. Grab a pop/coffee/beer if you need to.

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Thing Is, APIs *Should* Be Copyrightable

A bunch of my friends, particularly on the F/OSS and Android side, are issuing a new call to the barricades to make the case that APIs should not be copyrightable. In particular, the EFF wants developers to send in stories of how they’ve reimplemented APIs for reasons of competition, interoperability, innovation, etc. The issue is heating up again because a three-judge Federal Circuit panel is going to revisit Judge Aslip’s ruling in Oracle v. Google, where the jury found that Google willfully infringed Oracle’s copyright on the Java APIs, but the Judge found that APIs aren’t copyrightable in the first place, rendering the jury decision moot.

This isn’t the slam dunk some people think it is. During the trial, Florian Mueller pulled up relevant case law to show that copyright has traditionally considered the design of computer code (and, implicitly, its public interfaces) to be protected.

Furthermore, the case against copyrightability of APIs strikes me as quite weak. If software deserves copyright at all — and there are good arguments against it, but that’s not what we’re talking about here — then drawing the line at published interfaces doesn’t hold up.

There are basically two arguments I’ve heard against API copyrightability. Here’s why I think they’re bunk:

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Warming up the Invalidstream

So, that networking problem I was asking about on Tuesday had an easy enough fix: a thread on the Tom’s Hardware forums had a straightforward recipe for converting a wifi router into a second wifi access point on an existing wired network, which is exactly what I needed.

And what I needed it for was to get a strong enough wifi signal to consistently stream an AirPlay stream from my iPad to my Mac, so that I can then screen capture the iPad stream and livestream it.

Last night — in part as a tech test, as well as part of my vow to completely disengage from politics this year (and thus timed precisely to coincide with Mitt Romney’s speech to the Republican National Convention) — I did a two-hour livestream in which I played through all 12 tables in the Pinball Arcade for iPad, with narration, critical analysis, bald blather, or whatever else you’d care to call my beer-powered, pinball-distracted speaking.

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Bittersweet Ending

Somewhere between the Happily Ever After and the Downer Ending, the Bittersweet Ending happens when victory came at a harsh price, when, for whatever reason, the heroes cannot fully enjoy the reward of their actions, when some irrevocable loss has happened during the course of the events, and nothing will ever be the same again.

So, Apple wins big in their patent case against Samsung, and reactions are pretty much not what you’d expect. While the Fandroids console themselves with a straw-man claim that “Apple patented rounded rectangles”, writers in iOS circles are hardly delighted. Pre-verdict, Matt Drance wrote “However the verdict falls, I feel like there are no winners here in the long term — certainly not us.” And a day after the verdict, John Gruber’s Daring Fireball hasn’t even mentioned the outcome.

Matt’s concern is giving Apple too much power to control the market, and the verdict likely does that. Following along with The Verge’s liveblog, I noticed that a few devices were found as non-infringing. That’s got to be even worse news for Samsung and Google, because the jury is effectively saying that it is possible to make smartphones without copying Apple, and Samsung largely (and willfully) chose not to. Combine this with the speed at which they reached their conclusions and it’s utterly damning.

And yet, on the other hand, what we’re discussing is patents like “slide to unlock”, which many/most of us think is unworthy of patentability in the first place. And that’s what makes this so uncomfortable: Android’s and particularly Samsung’s copying of Apple was egregious and shameless, but since that itself is not illegal (and how could you even codify that as law?), then does settling for a victory over stuff that probably shouldn’t even be patentable count as a victory at all? Making things worse, the jury had the option of invalidating patents on both sides, and declined to do so on every count.

Then again, what do I know? I thought ripping off the Java programming language and practically the entire API of Java SE was a lot worse, but the court said that was OK. So I guess stealing is bad, except when it’s not.

Yay?

Apple Should Get Out of the Manga Piracy Business

Sorry for another anime/manga-related post, but a thread on Twitter reminded me of some Apple misdeeds that need rectifying. It started with a pair of tweets, first from Zac Bertschy of Anime News Network:

I’m sure this has been asked a million times, but why are there so many goddamn bootleg manga apps on the iOS store?

And then a follow-up from social-media expert and publisher Erica Friedman of Yuricon:

@ANNZac I’ve tried to write Apple/Google about the links to bootleg sites. Neither has a reasonable way for reasonable people to complain

So let me back up a second… what we’re talking about are dedicated apps that read “scanlations”, which are comics (usually Japanese manga) that have been scanned, translated by fans into English, and posted for free to various websites or made available through channels like BitTorrent.

Zac righly calls this “bootlegging” because there is no question that copyright violation is involved. Entire works are being digitally redistributed with zero compensation to the original authors or publishers. What can make this a gray area is a question of whether or not any actual harm is done: if the work is unavailable in English, nor likely to ever be, then how can a scanlation eliminate a sale that could never be made? This is a fairly bogus defense because (as we’ll see), the untranslated works are just a minor part of the story. Moreover, we could apply the established tests of “Fair Use” under US copyright law, such as:

  • Is the new work “transformative”? In other words, are we using the original to create a fundamentally different thing?
  • How much of the original is being used?
  • Does the copying impede future sale of the original work? Does it harm the creator?
  • etc.

Guidelines like this permit use like, say, presenting few pages of a comic in the context of a critical review or an academic paper: fundamentally new work, small amount of copying, doesn’t replace the original (and might actually drive new interest and sales). And obviously, a scanlation fails every one of these tests: it’s a full-on copy that changes only the language, and fully replaces a translation the original publisher might provide. It’s also been pointed out that scanlations are harming the development of a legal digital manga industry in the US. Scanlations would have zero chance of surviving a legal challenge.

So why the hell is Apple in the business of distributing them on iOS?

Search for manga on the App Store and you’ll get dozens of hits. Most of them are apps for downloading and reading scanlations on your iPad or iPhone. For the purpose of this blog, I tried the free versions of:

Note: these are not affiliate links. I wouldn’t want a cut of their sales, since I consider them illegal and illicit.

Most of these apps get their contents from three scanlation websites: MangaFox, Mangareader.net, and MangaEden. Some of these sites play at supporting the source of their titles by slapping in pseudo-legal disclaimers and vague admonishments to somehow support artists as seen on this page of The Rose of Versailles:

Manga Storm page from Rose of Versailles, with disclaimer caption

This image is hosted at mangafox.com. We take no credit for the creation or editing of this image. All rights belong tot he original publisher and mangaka. While we hosted this for free at mangafox.com, please don’t forget to support the mangaka in any way that you can once his/her work becomes available for retail sale in your region!

Some of these sites also adhere to an ethic that they don’t host scanlations of titles that have been licensed in the US. In this screenshot, Manga BDR (which awkwardly makes you browse MangaFox rather than scraping its index) shows an notice that Fullmetal Alchemist is unavailable from MangaFox because it has been licensed in the US:

Manga BDR showing MangaFox notice that Fullmetal Alchemist is unavailable

Does this mean there’s honor among thieves? Hardly. The sites are still violating the original Japanese copyright of the titles they do offer. And they’re not living up to the implicit promise to make obscure titles available to a wider audience — the Rose of Versailles manga cited above has not been completely translated, despite being more than 30 years old. And wherever Manga Rock gets its data from, it has no compunction about offering up titles that have US publishers. Here’s Manga Rock 2 offering Fullmetal Alchemist in its entirety:

Fullmetal Alchemist manga on Manga Rock 2

Not only is this stuff illicit bootlegs, these apps are popular because they allow access to pirated manga. Every single one of these apps advertises itself on the App Store with screenshots of browsing popular titles that have US publishers: Manga Storm shows Fairy Tail, Manga Rock shows Fairy Tail, Air Gear, and Negima!, and Komik Connect shows Bleach and Naruto. And the users use these apps precisely because of their illegal nature: the one-star reviews on Manga Storm don’t complain about it ripping off artists, but because it lacks US-licensed titles (due to its dependence on MangaFox and friends), and because it’s a paid app.

And speaking of the paid versions…

Apple gets a 30% cut of every sale of the full versions of these apps. That makes Apple a direct beneficiary of copyright piracy.

Everyone who stood up to say Apple does more to support creators than Google and its cavalier attitude towards IP rights, you can sit down now. So long as these apps are available on the App Store, Apple is complicit in piracy.

It’s fair game to criticize Apple for these, when the company has such a stringent review process. When it’s so careful to consider what it will and won’t sell, approval of an app has to be considered an explicit endorsement, particularly considering Apple gets a cut of the sales.

And that’s what makes it all the more galling:

The last of these may be the most galling. Erica Friedman again:

I went on a rant about why is it okay with the those of you who like shiny things that Apple just told DMP to take their BL off the iPad app? WHY?!? If the TV hardware manufacturers told you what TV stations you could receive, you’d be enraged. When your work blocks sites, you find ways around it. So why the hell is it okay will all you Apple fans that Apple censors content? I cannot understand why you are not screaming at all, much less loudly? APPLE CENSORS CONTENT. Especially LGBTQ content. Why are you still giving money to a company like that? People boycott BP and Chik-Fil-A and Target…but are absolute sheep about Apple’s censorship of content. ARGGGGGHHHH.

It’s as if Apple is saying “we won’t let anyone sell you gay manga for your iPad, but we will sell you tools to help you steal the stuff.”

This has to stop.

If nothing else, these apps are in obvious violation of section 22.4 of the iOS App Store Review Guidelines:

22.4 Apps that enable illegal file sharing will be rejected

Apple apparently won’t listen to third-party criticism (people have been calling attention to these bootlegging apps since at least 2010: 1, 2, 3), but there are channels that aggrieved parties can use. Viz and Yen Press have legitimate iOS apps for their manga titles. Since Manga Rock 2 makes bootlegs of those titles available (I saw Viz’s Fullmetal Alchemist and Yen’s High School of the Dead), these companies could use Apple’s dispute policies to at least have Manga Rock 2 taken down.

Beyond this, it’s hard to see what will work. Via Twitter, Erica noted yesterday that most US manga publishers are too small and operating on margins too thin to follow up with DMCA takedowns, and Apple may be technically in the clear on DMCA because they’re not themselves hosting the offending content.

However, since Apple’s making money off the sale of the apps used to pirate this content — in clear and obvious violation of their own policy — another option is that the Japanese publishers might want to sue Apple directly. They would presumably have more legal resources to stick with a lawsuit, and with Apple deaf to criticism, maybe it would take a few subpoenas to call their attention to the fact that making money off piracy is an awfully dirty business for one of the world’s largest and most prestigious companies to be involved in.

For the sake of Apple and the creative community, these apps need to disappear forever.

Point and Laugh: The End of WebM

As hinted last week, Mozilla has finally seen the writing on the wall and decided to support H.264 in the <video> tag in Firefox. Probably inevitable given that

  1. Mozilla is making a new push into mobile
  2. The default standard for web video has become H.264 <video> for mobile and Flash for the desktop
  3. Adobe is abandoning Flash for mobile

Taken together, these three points mean that continuing to reject H.264 <video> (and implicitly depend on Flash to support the video content that actually exists in the wild) might well leave mobile Firefox unable to play any meaningful amount of video at all. And certainly somebody somewhere must have realized that H.264 is the most popular encoding format within Flash movies, meaning that Mozilla’s attempt to push developers into other codecs simply wasn’t working.

Not that <video> is a cure-all; Streaming Media’s Jan Ozer makes the case that it’s not there, and probably never will be, at least not for non-trivial uses.

But as Streaming Media’s Troy Dreier points out in today’s article, at least this will rid us of the distraction of WebM: “This move drives a major nail in the WebM coffin, making WebM only slightly more relevant than Ogg Theora.”

Google fans among my Tweeps and +1’ers argue that WebM only failed because Google didn’t push it hard enough, but I think they’re wrong: WebM was always a dumb idea, one whose only advantage was political correctness among a holier-than-thou group of developers, few of whom had particularly deep knowledge of digital media beyond patent and licensing politics. Looking back at my earlier anti-WebM screed, my only regret is not slamming it even harder than I did.

Guess it’s just as well that I never created an webm category on the blog… turns out I wouldn’t ever need it.