Friday, April 29, 2011

Technology *is* great (when it works)

I'll part from my usual rants about what essential gadget of mine is broken to write about what happens when gadgets do work.

Every now and then, I get a little reminder that I do live in the future, and sometimes I take it for granted.

Like Star Trek for example, just because it's an easy one.

In Star Trek (from TNG onwards, for the sticklers), you had a little communicator that you could tap, say the name of who you wanted to talk to, and then talk to them. We have that now. Many smartphones, when you press and hold the button on your hands-free headset, will automatically recognize your voice and match it to the name of someone in your address book, and call them. My previous non-smart phone even had a similar option, where I could record up to ten or twenty names to associate with people in my contacts.

In Star Trek, there were doors that open automatically for you. Okay, that's old hat. Supermarkets have had those for a long time.

But they also had fancy ways of turning on lights. Like by yelling "lights!" when you walk into a room. I don't even have to do that. In my office, if I walk into the hallway, a sensor will detect my movement and automatically turn on all the lights in the hall. If I walk into the washroom or kitchenette, I get the same thing, except all the lights were off. I no longer have to remember to turn the light off when I leave a room, and I'm almost at the point where I've overcome the instinct to think about turning the lights on when I enter them. Meanwhile, the building owners save money on electricity.

Those are the ones that I notice most, but laptops and tablet computers also have their Star Trek equivalents. Skype allows video conversations, and YouTube and the internet let people record their own daily log, blog, and vlog. (Qaplog!)

And while it's not quite the same as a replicator, when I walk into Bridgehead, the servers know that what I want is a Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

- RG>

Saturday, April 23, 2011

For a free press, you must abandon your privacy

I tried commenting on the Ottawa Sun's new website, where they use this assheaded "Disqus" platform that tries to be a hell of a lot more than it is.

After typing my comment, I clicked on the "post as" button. Up came a dialog asking me to sign in using my Facebook, Twitter, Google, OpenID, or other account. I tried to sign in with my RealGrouchy google account, and it asked me if I wanted to remember this authentication (i.e. Google account with Disqus) or just do it this one time. It displayed "[name]" and I clicked "OK" expecting it to take me back to the comment form to customize how my name will appear and preview my comment.

Instead, it posted my real name, which was linked to I do not associate my real name with RealGrouchy; it is an alias. I have plenty of other accounts to which I associate my real name, and if I wanted to use my real name I would have used one of them. The Ottawa Sun's "Sun and the City" blog (managed by Sue Sherring and Jon Willing) has posted comments before signed as RealGrouchy and linking to this blog, as has Citizen blogger David Reevely and even Ken Gray. This is because RealGrouchy has a reputation for making cogent (if sometimes aggressive) comments about relevant matters. I can be contacted to defend my comments, just as can those who sign with their real names. Sure it's an alias, but I could just as well have used an alias that looked like a real name and people would be none the wiser (actually, they'd be actively deceived).

Getting back to the Ottawa Sun/Disqus/Google website comments, I couldn't even access "" to change these settings because Google thinks my browser isn't new enough (it uses the same fucking engine as Firefox 4). When I am finally able to log in with Internet Explorer, if I change what name is associated with my account it doesn't change the previous comment. I can't customize any settings for my "google profile" account because it says I have to create a public profile to even access the settings, and I doubt it will help.

I've edited the comment, and sent a message to the Sun through their feedback form. That also doesn't appear to be working right, so I sent an e-mail to a couple people too explaining the situation and the nuances that should be investigated to improve the integrity of the system (I managed to temper it down to what I think was a rather polite message, from an angry "fuck you and your stupid comment system" type of thing, which wouldn't really help to encourage them to help me).

The Sun seems to be opening itself up to liability here, since it is allowing private contact information to be posted on their site without express authorization from the individual. That is in direct contravention to Canada's privacy legislation. Even if Disqus and Google aren't Canadian companies, it's still being published on the Sun's website.

The irony is that they instituted this comment thing to protect themselves from liability. Remember how Ken Gray always harps on about 'not being able to verify the identity of every commenter'? The Citizen also now requires you to log in to comment on their site, so I have ceased contributing to discussions on their site. Had they had a simple form that asked for name, required (but promised not to publish) an e-mail address, and offered the ability to add a URL, I could have commented and attributed my comment precisely as I wanted it to be published.

While I'll give the Sun the benefit of the doubt, since their new website is only a few days old and still in "beta", the way things are moving it seems that the mainstream, corporate media not only wants to store all sorts of information on your computer in the form of cookies (who knows how much information it tracks about you), but it also wants to take what information it does know about you from shared services and publish it against your will.

In essence, you must sell your soul and waive your right to privacy in order to participate in the information economy.

No wonder the comments sections on news sites are filled with posts by fucktards.

- RG>

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why do I even bother not stealing movies?

It turns out my issues with the fucks who decigned Dexter DVDs were grander than I thought.

Microsoft's insidious collaboration with the movie industry has finally hit me. I've kept Microsoft from installing WGA on my computer (I don't need a tool to know that I purchased this copy of Windows XP fair and square, or to keep me from using it once Microsoft's servers stop responding to WGA's requests), and I've stuck with Windows XP because of the DRM inherent to the more recent versions of Windows.

I just rented two DVDs from the video store--you know, instead of simply pirating them which would actually be easier and cheaper--and neither of them would play in Windows Media Player. They wouldn't open in the other program on my laptop, and they crashed my old laptop when I tried any of the three DVD players installed on it.

After over an hour of troubleshooting, my guests and I instead watched TV shows online.

This morning, I called Dell and asked them for help. The guy I spoke with essentially said, "oh yeah, some rental DVDs don't play on computers due to rights somethingorother" (he didn't say "somethingorother" exactly, but he sure didn't know it by name). At least I didn't have to go through dozens of prompts or wait on hold for hours to get this response.

He said the solution is simple: "when I get that problem, I just pop the DVD in to the DVD player and watch it on the TV." Well fuck you. I don't have a DVD player or a TV, and I'm not about to buy one knowing that the industries behind them are out to prevent me from paying for and watching their content.

Of course, the irony is that I specifically rented the videos out of some latent guilt about downloading (thanks to all sorts of fearmongering and propaganda from the movie industry), yet the movie industry itself is behind the restrictions that prevent me from watching these legally-obtained borrowed copies of the films. Not that this is news to anyone, especially me: anyone who follows slashdot has heard all the latest tricks of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), collectively and pejoratively referred to as the MAFIAA.

After my failed tech support call to Dell, I did a quick Google search, which returned VLC Player a free, open-source, cross-platform video player that is a project on, a sister-company to Slashdot that hosts open-source development.

VLC player is able to play my DVDs flawlessly. I wish I'd found it last night when my friends were still here!

Anyway, I've learned my lesson about paying for copyrighted content. I'm going to go download some Bittorrent software and start getting my movies from the pirates, who are more trustworthy than the film industry.

PS: The Conservative party wants to facilitate this process of screwing media consumers and make the punishments stronger--their failed bills would have given Canada one of the most restrictive copyright regimes in the developed world. They scare you by saying the Liberal party will institute an "iPod tax", which is essentially what we already have, and which makes filesharing quasi-legal in Canada. If the Pirate Party has a candidate in your riding in the current federal election, go listen to what they have to say about copyright restrictions. They're not a joke party like the NeoRhino party, they're a serious one-issue party like the Marijuana party.

- RG>