Monday, December 22, 2003

Well, a little over a week ago the Copyright Board of Canada decided to freeze existing private copying levies at their current levels. In addition, they introduced new private copying levies on the non-removable memory in devices like MP3 players.

I think everyone realizes that these levies are a compromise. There's no silver bullet with "music piracy" engraved on it. And with that in mind, I was happy with the board's decision. By distinguishing between CD-Rs and those bizarre audio CD-Rs - to the tune of 51¢ per disc - they are acknowledging that people do use CD-Rs for legitimate purposes. Denying the Canadian Private Copying Collective's request to establish a levy on removable memory cards is another good example of how the board recognized the utility of these technologies. Again, the decision isn't perfect: apparently there are different minidisc formats, for example, some of which can store any type of data. It isn't clear whether this was considered in the decision to charge a 72¢ levy on all minidiscs. In all fairness, it sounds like few people are using data minidiscs.
In his latest Crypto-Gram, Bruce Schneier talks about the value of quantum cryptography:
I don't have any hope for this sort of [quantum-cryptographic] product. I don't have any hope for the commercialization of quantum cryptography in general; I don't believe it solves any security problem that needs solving. I don't believe that it's worth paying for, and I can't imagine anyone but a few technophiles buying and deploying it.

While I see his point, my understanding of the value of quantum cryptography - based almost solely on Simon Singh's The Code Book - is that it's yet to be seen. Secure communications that can only be broken today by an infeasible number of calculations will be broken in the time it takes to perform one such calculation in the age of quantum computing. This will be a new security problem that quantum cryptography can solve.

Update: 8:12:00 PM: Bruce responded to my message:
My point is that software and network security are so lousy that breaking communications never comes down to the calculations, feasible or otherwise. It makes no sense to put a third lock on your front door if your windows are wide open.

Friday, December 19, 2003

It's a pretty amazing time we're living in. I often find myself taking it for granted; at no time is this clearer than in conversations with older generations. I'll be talking with my mom about a movie, and she'll wonder whether a particular actor was in a particular movie. Immediately I'm thinking about the Internet Movie Database, and if I'm on the portable, I'll be there in a flash, spitting out the answer with nary a second thought. This, of course, still floors my mother. She doesn't own a computer, so beyond the growing tendency of a brief punch of information, with more available - to many, but not her - on the World Wide Web, she's oblivious to the potential of the Internet.

But that's just the tip of its utility. If I hear an expression, if someone refers to a historic moment, if I have any sort of question, my knee-jerk reaction is to bring up my browser and start searching for more information. If I live to see the day of ubiquitous, wearable, Internet-connected technology, it could very well be the end of me. I can see it now:

Man Perishes on Park Bench: Forgets to Eat During Three-day Search for Atlantis

I bring all this up because I'm amazed at how much the Encyclopedia of Arda is enhancing my reading of The Lord of the Rings. I've just started Book II - the Council of Elrond is met - and I'm sure I've already spent two hours reading encyclopedia entries, following the hyperlinks through the ages of Middle-earth and lands beyond. It's truly a wonder! For example, as soon as Merry mentioned the men of Carn Dûm (in his daze after being rescued from the Barrow-wight), I looked up their entry in the encyclopedia.

In reading the book(s) for the third time, my plan is to continue through the appendices to The Silmarillion, The Book of Lost Tales and the other volumes in the history of Middle-earth. With the Encyclopedia of Arda just a few keystrokes away, I'm sure to save many hours of hunting through books for references that I can't quite remember. And since all the entries are dated, you always have an idea about which book(s) contain the original material.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

In Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content, Clay Shirky references the idea of mental transaction costs, and their role in the failure of micropayment systems. While I understand his rationale, I find myself hoping that time will prove him wrong.

I know that I don't mind paying for content; I gladly coughed up some change for Scott McCloud's The Right Number, for example. I would like to think that there are other, equally-frustrated readers who would pay for the diamonds in the rough, so to speak, or even for help in finding them. Shirky claims that "the good stuff is becoming easier to find as the size of the system grows" and I find myself shaking my head. Google is an amazing tool, but it's no substitute for a good recommendation.

To use another example, I would make micropayments for issues of First Monday. I can't imagine trying to find essays of that calibre using Google, but even if I could, there are many topics that I've only developed an interest in after reading that journal. My respect for their editors makes that time investment less of a gamble. And really, this is all about using my time wisely (to quote one of my high-school teachers). I could troll the ocean of amateur blogs, or I could pay someone else to.