* Posts by Long John Silver

43 posts • joined 21 May 2018

Let's see what the sweet, kind, new Microsoft that everyone loves is up to. Ah yes, forcing more Office home users into annual subscriptions

Long John Silver

Re: I feel like such an old git.

Yes but they did kick-start software piracy.

Long John Silver

Re: And they wonder why...

We are in a period of transition from a time when so-called 'intellectual property' (IP) was inextricably linked to particular instances of a substrate (e.g. paper, celluloid, and vinyl) and thus it was natural to identify 'content' with its physical manifestation. Consequently, 'content' could be traded just like other goods. Scarcity, supply, demand, and competition - ingredients of traditional market-economics - would apply and monetary value could be ascribed to each instance of physically embodied 'content'. In theory, there could be 'price discovery'.

From inception of copyright (which by intention applied to entitlement to distribute 'content on physical media) only the distorted market-economics of monopoly could apply. Concepts of ownership and price persisted unhindered. Moreover, well into the 20th century logical distinction between 'content' and substrate (i.e. medium and message) was little mentioned because in practice the qualitative differences were inseparable. Introduction of photocopying and its widespread implementation may have marked general understanding that printed 'content' does not depend for existence on pre-determined physical instances (e.g. books) possessing scarcity. Thereafter, copyright became an increasingly contentious matter, especially in academic libraries. Contention broadened as it became apparent that other cultural artefacts (e.g. sound recordings) were separable (e.g. by home taping) from their initial medium of distribution.

Introduction of digital encoding and ease of replicating sequences of binary digits destroyed ersatz scarcity as defensible means for extracting income from creative endeavour. Thus have arisen 'copyright wars', these increasing in intensity as the futility of 'protecting' digital sequences by corralling them within pay-walls becomes ever more apparent. Obviously, computer software in its various guises (i.e. source code printed on paper, source code in digital format, and fully compiled code) is as prone to escape into the wild as the caterwauling of a 'pop star'.

Although vested interests, primarily distributors rather than creators, would have one believe otherwise, the matter is not one of ownership 'rights' versus 'theft' (a legal concept that can't apply to indefinitely reproducible sequences). Practicability rather than morality is in contention. If a farmer cannot build strong enough fences his livestock will stray and may reproduce of its own accord. The analogy goes further when one considers stray animals mating with strays from elsewhere; that gives rise to possibility of hybrid vigour among offspring; this vigour is counterpart to cultural exuberance consequent upon 'derivation' from extant works in copyright; 'derivation' is almost completely forbidden during copyright terms (up to lifetime of author plus 70 years); long periods of 'protection' represent fallow ground and introduce delay between a work leading to a creative offshoot from another person.

Of course, creators of 'content' which people choose to value (culturally) need encouragement and must be enabled to make a living. Yet, under current conditions their efforts will become increasingly futile. No longer may they assume that their 'product' has arbitrarily determined monetary value and can draw rental (royalties) for long periods. Instead, what they may place into a genuine market is their skill to make 'content' people desire. They, individually and in collectives, must persuade people by a variety of voluntary means (e.g. patronage, subscription, donation, and sale of added value products) to fund their next endeavour. If they have sufficient support to make a full time living, they must set aside some income towards a pension. There being no longer need for 'rights' holding intermediaries will change the market dynamic and usher in cultural renaissance.

In many respects software production and distribution is well down this pathway. The open source movement is benefiting traditional vendors as well as new entrants to software development. The final step is for current vendors like Microsoft to grasp that their digital products have zero direct monetary worth (and will freely be copied as belonging to the Commons) whereas maintenance, support, innovation, and bespoke services will provide income. Perhaps, monoliths like Microsoft have had their day. Maybe, software production and related services are better suited to cottage sized industry. In that context, Microsoft and producers/distributors of other kinds of 'content' are becoming modern Luddites (wielding law rather than iron bars to protect their interests) whilst workers in cottages are the cutting edge of the maturing digital revolution.

Tor pedos torpedoed again, this time Feds torpedo four Tor pedos – and keep how they unmasked dark-web scumbags under wraps

Long John Silver

Re: Is it really an issue ?

You have succinctly stated a view I expressed some time later than your post. It boils down to traditional police investigative techniques, ingenuity, and patience. IT 'magic' has a place but it is subordinate.

Long John Silver

Using limited resources to maximum effect

Images already in circulation are a lesser matter than criminal activity in making them, encouraging their creation, and facilitating their distribution. I rate the FBI operation a considerable success by virtue of cutting off a Gorgon's head. Following where the snakes lead is far less productive in use of resources than hunting down more Gorgons.

Long John Silver

Don't underestimate capabilities of tradtional police investigative techniques

Investigation of crime conducted under cover of obfuscation and encryption obviously must draw upon high level IT forensic skills. Yet the role of these ought be kept in proper perspective. They are akin to forensic scientists called in to examine physical evidence (e.g. tissue samples); they help build a case and may assist in suggesting further avenues of investigation. Police, and concerned citizens, of lesser IT skills (enough to find their way around Tor and its like) may identify sites to target. Perhaps surveillance experts are called in at an early stage to set traps but their success depends upon serendipity: the nature of many actual traps (e.g. flash vulnerabilities mentioned in the article) is widely known and general principles upon which more covert traps might operate have given rise to informed speculation which careful criminals engaged in activities with a long term Internet footprint (e.g. traditional web site and Tor site) would be aware of.

From that viewpoint it becomes plausible to consider human error by criminals as the major factor leading to arrest. We know human error by legitimate operators of web sites is often behind breaches of security so it takes little leap of imagination to believe criminal operators in the same boat.

Some illicit activities on, say, Tor have obvious weaknesses arising from need to interact with the physical world e.g. illegal drugs require paying for and delivering. Even use of Bitcoin leaves more of a trail than when cash is handed over in person to a drug dealer. Tor 'drug busts' appear to arise from careful consideration of delivery mechanisms after police officers set up 'deals'.

Similarly display/trade of illicit images has many points of potential human error leading to successful investigations. The case discussed here involved several individuals engaged in maintaining/running the site on presumably a long term basis. Those are the ones the FBI knows about. There may also have been a number of persistent visitors and/or contributors to site content at risk of identification through human error but not necessarily jeopardising the entire site.

Every criminal activity has vulnerability in some manner dependent upon the the number of regular key players. Vulnerability may increase more than linearly as numbers rise: potential connections between pairs of players from N such, and thus opportunities for error, are determined by the familiar expression ( N! divided by 2!(N-2)! ) where '!' denotes factorial.

Without labouring the point, interactions among people running and/or using a site may have connection to their activities, perhaps ones more open, on conventional web sites (as appears the case for one of the convicted). Gathering evidence of this nature to make links to real identities entails patience and traditional police investigative craft rather than IT derring-do.

Arising from this is a more general matter. The push for massive online surveillance may not be cost-effective because it plays down the role of traditional police/security methods and diverts resources better used elsewhere. Doubtless, empire builders within the FBI, NSA, GCHQ, and Mrs May's plaything the NCA, manage to pull wool over the eyes of political masters. More trust and credit ought be placed in people trained in painstaking search for human error by criminals. IT ought be handmaiden rather than master in this enterprise and its capabilities not exaggerated.

Y'know how everyone hated it when tuition fees went up? Cutting them now could harm science, say UK Lords

Long John Silver

Re: Bah!

There is no need to worry. Come 'no deal' Brexit the UK's entire education system, from top to bottom, will be fully privatised and sold to US interests.

In a generation there will be nobody to notice plummeting literacy, numeracy, reasoning skills, and capacity for independent thought. Not that it shall be difficult to transition to full idiocracy because foundations are well entrenched. Hardly a soul will notice adoption of American broken English speech and kindergarten level spelling.

Our universities, hollow shells of what they were before polytechnics were 'promoted', will be packed with 'snowflakes' too scared to face intellectual challenge. They will become 'safe places' for biding time between childhood and adult servitude. There shall not be a urinal to be found; however multi-'gender' (God alone knows how many by then) 'wash-rooms' will be magnificent.

Long John Silver

Re: Though there is scope for savings

At least one UK university has restyled its vice chancellor as 'President' according US practice.

Not only does that indicate concern over window dressing rather than substance but also it confirms transition to a business model inimical to academic values of yesteryear.

Incidentally, the same institution some while ago declared a policy of hiring Nobel laureates. Its leadership was, and likely remains, clueless about where malaise resides and how to address it; unfortunately the quality of leadership over many years is a major part of the problem.

Dutch cheesed off at Microsoft, call for Rexit from Office Online, Mobile apps over Redmond data slurping

Long John Silver

This is not just about Microsoft

Governments, commerce, other organisations, and individuals, ought bear in mind that (nearly) complete control over confidential information is possible only when all electronic apparatus resides physically with the owner of the data, and software deployed cannot of its own volition make contact with an external body/vendor. For better lock-down there should be no real-time physical connection to the Internet. Even those steps offer no guarantee of an employee or physical intruder bypassing security.

Although encryption enhances security, it too is particularly vulnerable when reliance is placed upon third parties at remote sites to provide it. Depositing in-house encrypted data, perhaps using a preferred algorithm, on an external repository is better but also imperfect for two reasons. First, a determined adversary may consider time and electricity spent on breaking encryption worthwhile; in which case one merely has delayed release of the information and must hope that by the time it's readable elsewhere it has ceased to be of importance. Second, an adversary can learn a lot from merely perusing encrypted files and associated metadata; it may be possible to identify/guess algorithms in use and, if these differ among files in the data trove, to focus upon files, i.e. those most heavily encrypted, most likely to be of interest.

Obviously adherence to all the strictures above would hamper many organisations. Their internal and external information 'transactions' would be slowed down. Yet, that might not be a bad thing given today's frenetic activity which cynics, such as I, suggest has little to do with other than an illusion of productivity.

More practicable is to accept imperfection but tailor measures for protecting data according to consequences likely to flow from breach of particular categories of data. Whether explicitly or implicitly this is what many organisations do. Even so, there are basic precautions all should take.

1. Don't trust external data stores, and their operators, housed beyond local legal jurisdiction. That ought apply to all transnational companies despite promises they will store one's own data only within one's geographical jurisdiction.

2. Don't trust closed source operating systems and closed source software to run on them unless they are maintained wholly in one's own legal jurisdiction. In practice this implies existence of many cottage industry software manufacturers and risks introducing a global 'Tower of Babel'. Better is to stick with open source operating system software and 'office tools' kept under scrutiny by trusted local experts; 'local' in this context could be the EU. Specialised needs are best catered for by commissioning bespoke software.

Recent reports suggest withdrawal of some organisations (e.g. city administrations) from trials of open source software and return to the clammy grasp of proprietary software vendors. Being willing to pay/rent over the odds for cleverly marketed proprietary software is one thing. Sacrificing data security quite another. International proprietary software vendors may at heart be trustworthy but they can be suborned by powerful governmental agencies.

UK's North Midlands hospitals IT outage, day 2: All surgery and appointments cancelled

Long John Silver

This reflects poorly on the Hospital Trust Chairman, the CEO and other members of its board

The University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust has displayed remarkable insouciance with regard to preparation for IT disasters it ought anticipate. Seemingly, the Trust is wholly reliant on an external supplier to keep its Internet and Intranet services running and instantly be able to fill the breach when problems arise.

Harking back to the days of paper records offers clues to how modern IT dependent hospitals can create useful backstops. Although paper records lacked the speed of access and flexibility of current systems they were robust. Fire/water were the worst hazards for records. It was pretty much inconceivable, except in times of warfare, that multiple hospitals would suffer this kind of damage on the same day.

Bear in mind that medical records, and supporting information, fall into two categories. First, those in current active use. Lists for planned admissions, cold surgery, and outpatient attendance would be known in advance, several days and more so. Second, records for people presumed still to be in contact with the hospital but not needed immediately.

From these considerations arise a number of modern technology and 'legacy' based methods for weathering an IT 'outage'. They are not mutually exclusive.

1. All records of people in touch with the hospital during, say, the past calendar year to be kept in an on-site Intranet backup server. Duplicates, along with not-current records would be held by off-site Internet connected services. This offers reasonable limited protection against off-site server/connection failures. Having a second on-site backup as well might be money very well spent if clinical consequences of 'outages' together with adverse publicity and justified criticism of management are to be avoided.

2. On regular basis (perhaps daily) temporarily transmit records, those anticipated to be required soon after, onto devices capable of standing alone should the Intranet fail. Records would be distributed to devices on wards/units associated with a planned admission or outpatient appointment. With this protection in place it makes sense to devolve wards, units, and departments into clusters of local Intranets able to function in absence of the primary network. Thereby, records can be accessed on the usual terminals by staff. As soon as a file keeping emergency ceases, updated records can be transferred back to their central on-site repository and onwards to off-site storage.

3. Automatically create abbreviated paper and/or microfiche records for use the next day (or so). Full records can be very thick paper files, sometimes multiple. Yet, only more recently documented referral letters, hospital contacts, and test result reports need be known for planned admissions and outpatient appointments. Clinicians would be asked to collaborate in setting limits on record content culling. The rest is mainly of interest for comprehensive periodic patient reviews and for medical-legal purposes, neither of which likely demanding urgent access.

The NHS needs to embrace a 'fail safe' ethos. Moreover, total reliance on external agencies asks for trouble.

Dev darling Docker embraces Windows Subsystem for Linux 2

Long John Silver

Baldrick's cunning plan?

The Windows OS is becoming ever more bloated, cumbersome, and difficult to maintain. The last is evinced from reports of delayed roll-out of upgrades and of updates (ordinary and security) leading to new problems. Retention of legacy features, particularly superseded ways of doing things, must be a considerable burden.

Windows is not Microsoft's most precious asset: that rests with associated trademarks and various copyrights fronting the Windows cash-cow. Given that customers are not permitted to peer at Windows' nether regions, the cow could be swapped for a bull and nobody need notice.

Therein lies Baldrick's cunning plan. It is to scrape out space within Windows allowing an implanted alien ovum to flourish. This like in the animal kingdom where some insects lay eggs within other insects' bodies and eventually one or more free standing larvae emerge from the corpse of the host. Sleight of hand will ensure that the thing crawling out of Windows, that being a proprietary incarnation of Linux, is Windows so far as the world is concerned. This is accomplished by the embryo, formed from the ovum, gradually encysting legacy Windows attributes such that their requirements can't hinder innovation of the Linux kernel and of deep level software linking it to hardware and to Microsoft's proprietary layers ending with the user interface.

Thusly, Microsoft need not be distracted from what's become its core business regarding office software, and a combined multimedia and vending platform for so-called 'consumers'. Expansion into advertising/government surveillance together with software copyright policing on behalf of client companies will be straightforward so long as 'security' updates remain mandatory.

Meanwhile, individuals and institutions demanding full control of their devices and wary of intrusion will stick with real Linux.

When it comes to DNS over HTTPS, it's privacy in excess, frets UK child exploitation watchdog

Long John Silver

Barking up the wrong tree?

The matter of Internet-related sexual exploitation of minors is so mired in emotional revulsion that good sense and beneficial use of (inevitably) limited resources is abandoned. It appears to have become a case of something must be seen to be done about it regardless of measurable success.

This is well illustrated when in the UK the Criminal Justice Act 1998 – section 160(1) was formulated, debated, and passed. MPs vied with each other to display (for public consumption) their credentials for decency by adding increasing detail and complexity to the legislation without apparent thought about how the whole cohered and would be applied by authorities charged with implementing it. Doubtless well meaning, and politically expedient too, the result is a dog's breakfast of law ranging from the clearly necessary to wishful thinking.

Confusion reigned upon the Act's implementation. Police were uncertain about where priorities for enforcement action lay. Judiciary strove to display their credentials as tough on Internet child abuse by handing out stiff sentences to people detected seeking and possessing offending images (ones already extant on the Internet rather than newly commissioned 'works'). Need to clarify the seriousness of possessing images ranging from simple nudity through to depictions of horrific nature led to elaborate classification of severity.

The public was equally confused. Museum curators sought advice from police over whether art works of long standing depicting child nudity now contravened law. Presumably, many curators merely placed 'doubtful' works into store. Fortunately it did not reach the point of art previously regarded as utterly inoffensive being burned before a baying crowd. Doubtless, by modern criteria, Dr Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carrol, was a paedophile to be imprisoned and shunned.

The problem with all this rests with loss of sight of what, presumably, was the intent behind the legislation. It was to prevent children being sexually abused. The secondary objective being apprehending and punishing individuals thus engaged. The tertiary objective being to underline disgust at such behaviour by making examples of people to deter others from doing likewise.

The Internet figured largely in these considerations because it facilitated publication and distribution of unacceptable images. Although seeking out and possessing these images is reprehensible the most productive target with respect to child safety must be shutting down operations which, through financial motivation or otherwise, encourage production of fresh images. There is likely a huge collection of images, of varying degrees of acceptability and good taste, dating back to the beginning of photography, circulating, likely unstoppably, on the Internet. Add to that non-photographic images covered by the Act and it's clear that their eradication is pie in the sky.

Thus, the bottom line for protecting children rests with detecting and curtailing organised activities taking place now and, when feasible, investigation of older instances where victims are still alive. In addition to circulating images, old and new, available for mass consumption there are reports of social media being deployed to entrap children into posting images of themselves and into making physical contact.

Law enforcement is expected to cover the whole gamut ranging from near trivial to very serious indeed. Gaining convictions for possession of illegal images is far more easy and less demanding on resources than going after people making the images. In passing it should be noted that the Act has, by logic Lewis Carroll would admire, defined 'making' as the process of downloading and storing images. This results, by intention I don't know, in reported convictions giving suggestion of the offender being directly complicit in the actual making of the images (which would be so if money changed hands or there was conspiracy to produce images by members of a 'club') rather than a voyeur with deviant tastes. This approach is justified by some on the 'common sense' (metaphysic of savages -Russell), but not validated, ground that viewers go on to be producers.

Thus, police would benefit from explicit direction on where to direct their attention to maximise protection of identifiable children under threat rather than mainly curbing aberrant taste in viewing material.

So, how does the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) fit into this?

Motivation of people devoting time to furthering IWF activities is unquestionably good. However, in the broad context outlined above, their effectiveness is likely to be slight. Additionally, there must be reservations over whether selection of sites to block doesn't veer too much toward caution and prohibit viewing materials inhabiting a debatable grey zone.

Perhaps, IWF members' time would better be spent engaging in the 'honey pot' activities of Internet vigilantes, but under police supervision.

Supreme Court says secret UK spy court's judgments can be overruled after all

Long John Silver

The road to Hell is paved with ...

In recent months, to the disgust of the electorate, MPs have demonstrated utter inability to make clear their intentions.

There's little point to a Supreme Court if it cannot vitiate legislation framed in a manner contradicting widely accepted legal principles and hard won 'rights'. Although we have a make it up as you go along non-Constitution, existence of a Supreme Court offers some stability to law by highlighting and correcting parliamentary ineptitude, and by curbing excessively authoritarian legislation which might trample on legitimate entitlements, e.g. those supported by human rights legislation and International agreements, of a minority.

Unfortunately, serious legal rot set in when Blair assumed power and has been perpetuated by succeeding governments. Collective arrogance of the legislature and of many individual members, this coupled with deeply embedded corruption at all levels from ordinary MPs/Lords up to government ministers and with general incompetence in that which the Houses attempt to do honestly, has brought about widespread contempt for the creatures purporting to act on our behalf.

Home Office cops an earful for emergency network feck-ups - £3bn overbudget and 3 years late

Long John Silver

Par for the course?

Readers who have knocked around a bit know this is no isolated incident of IT related management incompetence in the public sector and that neither is the private sector immune. Under the watch of UK governments there have been decades of overspent, under performing, and abandoned IT projects.These are revealed through accountability to the National Audit Office and other watchdogs including cross-party committees in Parliament. The private sector is relatively unscathed; this is not a consequence of the neo-liberal much vaunted myth of enterprise inevitably being more efficient in delivering services to society (remnants thereof because 'society' is an invalid concept) than the public sector, but rather through lack of independent scrutiny; non-executive board members and share holders seemingly are unable, incapable, or unwilling to intervene unless disaster noticeably hits the bottom line.

In the public sector large scale cock-ups almost inevitably are documented. One is led to ask what the point is of record keeping and bodies such as the National Audit Office given that lessons do not appear to be learned. Projects repetitively grossly overspent, failing to deliver everything promised, or abandoned, should not be put down to happenstance (repeated bad luck) or to serial incompetence by individuals participating in R&D and implementation. The problem runs more deeply and is remediable.

Two particular factors impeding efficient delivery are as follows.

1. Inappropriate involvement of people after an initial consultation process is complete.

2. Deficiencies in the tightly regulated process of putting work out to tender in the private sector.

Wide consultation among those to be affected is wholly justified at the initial stages of defining aims and objectives, and acceptable technological approaches. This is integral to effective change-management. Thereafter, specific individuals/groups may be consulted on a needs basis. Yet, after initial stages projects must be managed by one individual capable of grasping the broad picture and of questioning subject specialists with well directed enquiries and ability to recognise bullshit.

The persons commissioning the project e.g. a minister and senior civil servants, must resist temptation to set up a plethora of advisory, monitoring, and oversight committees. Apart from a tiny number of non-specialists, possibly including MPs, given oversight of financial probity and with clout to assist the project manager bat away interference by unwanted parties, all matters concerning instituting committees, work groups, and advisory consultations should rest wholly with the project manager.

Whereas committees tend to produce ungainly camels, projects directed by visionary single individuals have prospect of creating elegant unicorns.

The matter of tendering process needs addressing too. In attempting to guarantee fair access to public service contracting and to stifle corrupt practices it actually places undue restriction on choices made by people commissioning work from the private sector. Coupled with the overall aim of inviting tenders in order to get a product or service at advantageous price the end result can be far inferior to that anticipated.

So far as I know, the principles of inviting and deciding among tenders are uniform in the public sector. Perhaps these should differ according to circumstance. An important consideration is the cost and other consequences of wrong, despite following the rules, decisions when offering contracts. For instance, contracting after tender for supply of paper for office printers has fewer adverse consequences, and these less likely to be irremediable, if the suppler doesn't come up to the mark than if complicated equipment and services are sought.

Also, the current tendering process is no guarantee against corruption at any level in public services; indeed instances of extremely dodgy decisions at ministerial level have been documented over the years; doubtless, these are the ineptly handled and thus observable cases of graft among centuries old tradition.

This is summed up in a remark (likely wrongly attributed to Einstein): The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Essex named sexiest British accent followed closely by, um, Glaswegian

Long John Silver

An eternal truth?

... humanity does have the unfortunate tendency to find intelligence unattractive.

A great turn of phrase.

The Year Of Linux On The Desktop – at last! Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 brings the Linux kernel into Windows

Long John Silver

Windows on Linux is the better way around

Although enchanted by Windows when the first stable version appeared I no longer use Windows through choice. I migrated to openSUSE in two steps: dual boot and later complete removal of Windows. Nowadays I have very little use for facilities provided by MS Windows and, on principle, distrust the built in surveillance capacity.

However, there remain a couple of occasional requirements for Windows, neither of these functions properly work in WINE. These are met well by running a Windows copy in a virtual machine. The only hassle is the constant reminder to verify the product and occasional dire warnings about my computer being taken over by malevolent forces (that's other than Microsoft itself).

Brit spy chief: We need trust or we won't have a 'licence to operate in cyberspace'

Long John Silver

He would say that, wouldn't he?

I start from the assumption that Fleming and his staff basically are decent people. That applies also to MI5, MI6, and the plethora of other security/police agencies operating within or beyond the public gaze. Many such people are competent too.

That said, I don't trust GCHQ or any other UK-linked security/surveillance agency one jot more than absolutely necessary i.e. very little at all. It's no so much existence of these agencies that offends me but rather the creatures within whose purview the agencies fall i.e. their political masters. Politics never has greatly attracted people of intellect, broad education, taste, wisdom, and unbending probity. The quality of personnel in the British legislature's two chambers declined markedly when Blair took office and continues at a level of incompetence and peculation more fitting to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Observe how these non-entities assiduously proclaim their importance, dignity, and entitlements despite the fact of few possessing merit and those holding executive government posts barely capable of running a whelk stall in Brighton. Watch them in their chambers, particularly the lower one, mired in anachronistic customs and practices, and stuck with speeches, so-called oratory, as means of communication within their Houses.

That's not to say there weren't in recent times figures of stature. Churchill, Bevan, MacMillan, Wilson, Powell, and Wedgwood-Benn come immediately to mind. Doubtless some genuine talent coupled with personal integrity persists, though unlikely to be found in the Cabinet.

At one time, people appointed to senior ministerial positions usually had sharp enquiring minds. Ministers, in general, were not placed in charge of departments on the basis of subject matter knowledge and skills; indeed to do so risks blinkered vision and attitudes. It was, perhaps still is, if anyone bothers to think on it, customary to put generalists rather than specialists in charge. Thus, a minister is expected to quickly come up to speed on policy issues. He is not required to master fine detail and associated technologies. Yet, when allocating budgets and preparing legislation he must be fully aware of the consequences of his choices. Only a fool would rely upon receiving accurate and unbiased advice from civil servants and brought-in expertise. Underlings likely are reliable and honest but a minister should give as much due diligence to disbursing public funds as he would when buying a house for himself. Thus, a sharp interrogative mind is required. One able to ask penetrating questions and recognise bullshit when proffered it. By making pertinent enquiry a mind trained in any rigorous discipline is capable of fathoming the most complicated of matters sufficiently to make informed decisions.

Present day reality departs widely from the ideal. Would-be career politicians are a curse on society. They do the 'right things' such as the almost worthless Oxford PPE (designed to enable dim sons of monied gentlefolk to make contacts in Oxford's social milieu). They proceed to suitable 'stepping stone' employment (if on the 'Right' something in the City, if on the 'Left' office in a trade union, deadbeat lawyers abound too).

Imagine the likes of these interacting with Jeremy Fleming or the heads of other agencies. With reference to GCHQ there is high likelihood of its overmaster politician at any point in time being a proud mathematical illiterate (read English literature and nothing more) and incapable of grasping the concept of encryption/obfuscation beyond simple letter substitution. Fleming, and colleagues elsewhere, doubtless put forth plans and schemes with sincere intent; regardless of that, there cannot be proper governance unless the minister is capable of formulating penetrating questions.

The UK is, in effect, ruled on all matters truly important to the 'establishment' by an inner cabal of the Privy Council. This arrogates responsibility for foreign relations, defence, and security. It serves the wishes of its true 'deep state' masters (e.g. political party donors, conglomerate tax avoiders, financiers, and defence equipment manufacturers) using instruments known as royal prerogatives left over from the Act of Settlement. So the position is of ministerial monkeys representing de facto departmental organ grinders on the one body in the land with sufficient power to cock matters up royally.

GCHQ and similar can earn trust in two ways. First people from government being indisputably capable of policy direction and prudent budget allocation to the agency. Second, considerably lifting unnecessary shrouds of secrecy to enable informed opinion to judge whether agencies deliver that requested of them in cost-effective manner, and don't depart from their remit.

Sophos antivirus tools. Working Windows box. Latest Patch Tuesday fixes. Pick two: 'Puters knackered by bad combo

Long John Silver

Software becoming too convoluted for reliable maintenance?

It was an exciting time when electronic computation began its transition from being exclusively a task for mainframe and mini-computers into a utility, almost as vital as electricity itself, and present in nearly every home and office. Microsoft was among many small companies springing up at that time. It turned out to be one of several winners emerging from market competition; most outright business failures (hardware and software vending) resulted not so much from technological deficiencies of products on offer as them arising in the wrong place and time. Numerous small companies didn't collapse but lost their identity through being gobbled up by others keen to develop nascent technology. The result of all this being fewer major market players and some becoming monolithic. In traditional production of goods and services greater size may be accompanied by economies of scale. This seems not so in the case of software development. In fact, two types of 'bigness' need distinguishing between: company size, and software complexity. Interaction between the two may lead to adverse effects rather than synergy.

Microsoft would be a suitable case-study for someone wishing to develop with rigour this thesis. Understanding how huge corporate size and complexity can lead to deleterious effects is the province of management theorists; however, little trust is owed to management school academics proclaiming the sole intent of good management is profit maximisation. Complexity of software relates not only to increasing ambition for what it can do but also to how Microsoft Windows, its office suites and similar large packages from other vendors, accrete rather than being redesigned each time innovation is added: a 'legacy' of now avoidable inefficiencies, and outmoded ways of doing things, must make fitting in each additional feature ever more difficult, possibly perilous to company reputation and well being.

Studying the combined effects of corporate size/reach and complexity of software products being developed may give scholars many happy hours. Yet, perhaps others should plough fresh ground by adopting a minimalist approach to operating systems and office suites. A move toward robust fail-safe components with optional add-in features rather than 'all-singing and all-dancing' behemoths; after all, that is consistent with structures offered by modern programming languages.

New UK counter-terror laws come into force today – watch those clicks, people. You see, terrorist propag... NOOO! Alexa ignore us!

Long John Silver

Damnable presumption of little people giving orders to their betters

I shall not bend to the will of upstarts claiming entitlement to tell me what I may, and may not, read; this regardless of whether material is sourced from the Internet or elsewhere.

If people are intent upon causing harm to the UK I wish to know about it: from their direct utterances rather than a pre-digested account issued by the government to compliant MSM.

ISIS produced a series of online English magazines. These were made to a technically high standard visually and in terms of English language usage. Clearly, they were aimed at dissident Muslims (presumably the Wahhabi cult) but also meant to be of some interest to other readers.

The propagandising parts, doubtless meant as 'educational', bore all the hallmarks of fanatical belief in a cause. Setting aside the strong religious angle these were in keeping with fringe political tracts from both ends of the supposed Left/Right spectrum. One feature common to all 'true believers' in anything, particularly converts, is tedious repetition of their faith lest their readers doubt it. Thus, in this instance, the Prophet Mohammed receives mention scattered liberally throughout the text.

The interesting part was exhortation to action and recommended means by which an amateur terrorist could participate. This consisted mainly of methods of sabotage, e.g. derailing trains, and basic instruction in explosives manufacture and use. Presumably ricin manufacture (simple to do) and anthrax spore production (definitely tricky in a domestic setting) were regarded as 'advanced level' and not discussed. Also, given the ease with which mass panic is induced these days there was surprising absence of mention of simple techniques a bright amateur terrorist could deploy; I won't spell these out but any imaginative person could devise some.

The irony is that the Internet is awash with guides for anarchists and suchlike. Much of this is either the original documents, or reworking thereof, promulgated to civilians by the US military when threat of Japanese invasion was plausible. Much of it remains sound advice for would-be trouble makers.

Doubtless, individuals and small groups can use easily come by information to do mischief. Yet, their actions are localised. Of course, they get great mention in the media. However, acts attributed to terrorism are small beer compared to death and injury from mundane, yet reducible causes, such as road traffic accidents.

Obviously, security agencies must follow up every suspected threat but amateur terrorists offer pinpricks compared to what dedicated professionals can accomplish. Moreover, professionals almost invariable act in or are backed by teams. Their behaviour is a conspiracy. All large conspiracies are vulnerable. Mistakes may be made and individuals may be suborned. That, seemingly, is where security work and general surveillance is best directed.

Cynics, perhaps with good reason, suggest that governments thrive upon supposed terrorist threats. Fear is easily instilled, this with connivance of MSM. Fear is a vehicle for justifying draconian measures allowing tighter general control over citizenry for matters unconnected with terrorism. Perhaps 'thought crime' is on the agenda.

I shall ignore this legislation. GCHQ knows where I can be found. Their masters would be unwise to tangle with such as I.

The completely rational take you need on Europe approving Article 13: An ill-defined copyright regime to tame US tech

Long John Silver

Re: EFF, Wikipedia, Google...

The most egregious consequence of copyright is restriction on publication of 'derived' works.

There is an interesting oddity in the manner of expectation of 'protection' provided by copyright. In academia, the 'content' of publications is intended to be discussed openly and derived from. Attribution is the currency of reputation. Publishers seek to monopolise distribution. They also make claim to the presentation of works (e.g. layout and fonts). Publisher middlemen are no longer necessary for dissemination of knowledge, opinion, and discussion. They are leeches to be dismissed. Disobedience to anachronistic restrictions brought about by copyright is unstoppable.

For the remainder of culture, copyright acts differently. Both the 'content' and its distribution remain under monopoly ownership by holders of so-called 'rights'. Woe betide anyone seeking without permission to 'derive' from an extant work still in copyright. Conglomerate production units and distributors have sewn up the pseudo-market between them. In addition to monopoly power, distributors exercise monopsony: they set the rate for access to their distribution channels by independent producers of 'content'. Moreover, within 'popular' culture they are major determinants of who shall be allowed to make a living; the problem with that being, new (alleged) 'talent' for marketing to passive 'consumers' must conform to expectations imposed by the industry; the industry is risk averse and has 'values', especially for TV, dictated by the advertising industry. Indeed, made for TV material, even in context of editorial independence, per force is built around advertising 'breaks'; drama often has cliff-hangers engineered just before anticipated 'breaks' in order to retain the audience.

The three most sickeningly avaricious exploiters of copyright reside in academic publishing, stock photographs, and the recorded music industry. The last has taken exploitation and price gouging to breathtaking levels. For instance, a barber shop must pay the UK Performing Rights Society subscription to cover 'royalty' due on 'content' viewed/heard on radio/TV by customers waiting for service in the shop: ludicrous second bite at the cherry given that the broadcaster will already have paid a licence fee to copyright holders.

The recorded music industry has an even greater sense of entitlement leading it to demand royalty for snippets of extant works occurring, sometimes accidentally in the background, within new works which offer no competition to that of rights' holders. Recorded music also highlights the rentier mentality of demanding royalties for decades despite no further effort by so-called artists.

Copyright dependent concerns purport to protect artists from loss of income through copyright infringement. Only by having immense sums of money chucked at them are artists capable of creative activity. Setting that lie aside, there remains the fact that the lion's share of income generated from supposedly creative endeavour goes to a plethora of rights holding middlemen.

Worse still, 'rights' are traded in a monopoly based pseudo-market as if tangible physical goods. Digital sequences lack scarcity. Hence, even in absence of monopoly, 'price discovery' is meaningless. The cod-market in digital rights is nonsense pulled over the eyes of the population at large. Prices are arbitrary, markedly so since the 'product', regardless of cost of manufacture, is worthless in monetary terms.

Eventual, inevitable, collapse of copyright will promote cultural renaissance. Independent producers are already catching on to being able to dispense with distribution middlemen and deal directly with those admiring their work. Attractive work is rewarded with reputation. If people want more then there are several ways to solicit money from admirers without charging an arbitrary and, supposedly, enforceable 'price'. The cultural value of digital artefacts does not map onto monetary value (by definition fixed at zero plus transmission/storage costs).

In so far as money can be attached to digital cultural artefacts, it is solely in the eye of the beholder. The admirer alone must decide how much, if any, of his disposable income ought go as patronage. Some will be generous, some free-load, and others unable to afford contribution nevertheless not be excluded from cultural activities.


Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international license.

Long John Silver

This EU move on copyright is positive but not in the way people think

The Internet was designed as self-repairing. Unless very extreme measures are put in place to control individual access to the Internet and monitor use attributable to named individuals, workarounds to this legislation shall soon be widely published. Early adopters will be the computer savvy and young people at schools and colleges.

In many respects this will promote cultural renaissance within Europe. For instance, 'Undernet' YouTube alternatives will attract people concerned with their art (and fun) rather than with drawing advertisement derived income. They can build reputation. They can receive (presumably via alt-coin) voluntary donations encouraging them to produce more work. Individuals and teams (e.g. independent music producers) may use reputation to found careers; I have discussed sources of income elsewhere. The point being they will not depend on the good offices of commercial publishers.

Similarly, amateur film makers, student film makers, and professional film makers can hawk their wares, receive feedback, and move toward earning income. Book publishing too: anyone thinking others might be interested in what they have to say can offer up to the Undernet work in progress and finished works. People willing to listen may reciprocate through monetary contribution. In all these contexts people genuinely shall earn money, if of sufficient talent, rather than current expectation of a published author, musician, film maker etc. receiving arbitrarily determined payment for works 'sight unseen' and lifetime income for no further effort.

European economies will have more cash sloshing around as consequence of household disposable incomes not being 'taxed' exorbitantly by rentier mentality parasites on culture.

If technologically minded people respond sensibly to the EU copyright challenge then the entire world will benefit from a slew of non-commercial Internet innovation. Sensible response entails pooling skills to bring together extant (prototype) Undernet technologies into a coherent whole with a common public interface that any Android and Windows user can cope with. Technologies deployed within the coherent Undernet would be chosen for their particular strengths e.g. archiving, file retrieval, sharing, streaming, and capacity to support familiar WWW-like sites responding to users in real time.

Some current Undernet technology may be discarded for good reason, other enhanced, and fresh ideas arise. Although the 'Tor' way of doing things (traditional server based) is likely to retain a role, the long-term most productive way forward is distributed encrypted peer to peer wherein each user contributes such storage capacity, bandwidth, and duration of connection as he is comfortable with.

Short sighted and corrupted individuals in higher EU echelons have given welcome impetus to the sharing movement (including open source software) and to recognition of an alternative economic model underlying production, distribution, and drawing income from 'content'.

Bring it on.

Copyright is THEFT of opportunity to innovate.


Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international license.

'We don't want a camera in everyone's living room' says bloke selling cameras in living rooms. Zuckerberg, you moron

Long John Silver

Facebook shall be sidelined and collapse

Facebook's business model is fragile. It is built on straw. Facebook sells advertising linked to a 'free' service for its subscribers. Its 'product' is an intangible just like so-called 'intellectual property'. Valuation of the company is more faith-based than grounded in sound accountancy; unlike a maker of physical widgets there is little to show of identifiable assets to be sold off when insolvency hits. Facebook's assets rest primarily with some software patents and with 'goodwill'; its buildings are most likely mainly rented and its computer hardware, perhaps not all owned outright, would be scrap upon company failure,

'Goodwill' (aka desirable brand name), which would figure hugely as an asset if Facebook were to become target of business takeover, is no more stable than mist. Unless constantly worked at it dissipates as quickly as mist. At present, Facebook's owners appear set on actions generating a breeze. A light breeze is sufficient to dispel mist and, once gone, it cannot be conjured back.

Facebook's 'intellectual property' assets are of negligible worth too in the world beyond the USA. Software patents, rightly, are not universally recognised; most 'protect' trivia and those that don't ought be ignored (worked around in the USA) because to do otherwise impedes technological development.

In fact there is little stopping competitors possessing integrity from starting up, especially beyond the USA. These need not be commercial, this evident from the ease with which peer to peer distributed networks independent of standard Internet protocols are arising. Collapse of Facebook, to be followed later by Twitter, Google, Apple, and Microsoft (the last mentioned two through inertia leading to premature senility) is on the cards.

One thing is certain. Upon its collapse major shareholders in Facebook will walk away unscathed with their fortunes; this assuming they have taken the precaution of surreptitiously diverting their holdings into other more stable assets. Facebook shall have served a useful purpose. It will bring home a truth as yet unrecognised by people lauding the virtues of Internet behemoths founded upon 'intellectual property' and other intangibles: what they do can be done better by 'cottage industries' formed from independent communication networks. In essence, culture (to which Facebook and Twitter loosely belong) is better served by citizen publishers sharing their skills than by division of humanity into owners and passive 'consumers'.

One click and you're out: UK makes it an offence to view terrorist propaganda even once

Long John Silver

How does this legislation impact upon actions by people we really ought to worry about?

Terrorist incidents in the UK fall into two categories with a big divide between rather than a nuanced range. The vast majority of reported incidents are minor in impact; that is, the scale of atrocity is small and localised. Indeed, some such cause panic, injury, and death yet, placed in perspective of the totality of all other risks faced on a daily basis this risk is rare in manifesting and of numerically trivial impact despite horrors endured by victims of attack. This kind of attack bears little evidence of co-ordinating master minds. The Internet is awash with advice on how to cause disruption and death. Much of this information is based on legally obtainable (in US jurisdiction) materials published to aid citizens resist Japanese invasion and on subsequently released military manuals.

During the intervening period technologies underlying home brewed explosives and noxious substances have changed little. It makes interesting reading but it appears that would-be independent terrorists have better chance of success wielding blades than engaging in manufacture of explosives and other substances with considerable risk to themselves of being the only victims. 'Guidance' issued by ISIS and similar appears to recognise the likely ineptness of today's ill-educated population and gives careful instruction on 'health and safety' in the terrorist workplace.

People capable and intending to cause major disruption and casualties are few in number and need work in concert to make an impact. Perhaps these do have masterminds, maybe located abroad, guiding their hands. The point is that talented amateur terrorists working with guidance from professional terrorists are most unlikely to fall foul of this legislation. They know how to cover their tracks in the physical world and on the Internet. Despite government hype over great dangers faced by people in the mainland UK from terrorist acts of non-trivial scale, very few have occurred since the various factions of the IRA grasped that their goal of a united Ireland will happen regardless of their input, this in part because of demographic shift towards a population the majority of which is nominally Roman Catholic.

This legislative tweak to burden of proof and penalties ensuing from isolated individuals having accessed 'forbidden' knowledge will accomplish nothing noticeable. It may distract police attention from a host of more serious non-terrorist criminality.

Yet, passing another piece of legislation gives myopic individuals in our government a warm glow of satisfaction of having done something to tackle symptoms arising from problems caused by the political class since the beginning of the Blair era. Stirring up the Middle East was analogous to poking a stick into a hornets' nest. Instead of regime change a policy of regime stabilisation and reparation for damage done might take the sting out of well founded hatreds and resentments.

Windows Defender update: So secure, it wouldn't let Secure-Boot Windows PCs, er, boot

Long John Silver

Symptoms of deeper Microsoft malaise?

Microsoft was founded during a time of great excitement. Personal computing devices were moving from the realm of hobbyists into that of business. There was no standardisation of hardware or software. New choices popped up whilst older ones departed into oblivion or fond memory. Hence the word 'micro' inserted into the new company's name.

Microsoft was founded by curiosity driven entrepreneurs. Their prior creation of Z80 coded software for a functional version of BASIC might be called proof of concept that small devices can do useful things. It's notable that the initiators of Microsoft did not come from business school backgrounds.

Microsoft started out as the right company at the right time and entering a virgin market. Its founders' brilliance and foresight made the company a magnet for employment by other talented people. The Microsoft of today is literally a globe-straddling behemoth. Therein, lies what could turn out to be the seeds of its destruction.

Microsoft grew rapidly and developed a quasi-ethical marketing strategy that's led to near monopoly control over 'consumer' desktop and laptop operating systems together with that of business workstations. Only in the realm of server technology has Microsoft not achieved dominance. Also, forays into the burgeoning mobile smart phone software market haven't got far because Google and Apple had blazed a trail.

Obviously, in terms of its 'bottom line' Microsoft continues to do very well indeed. It began to look unchallengeable. Yet, as with so many huge corporate entities it long since lost the drive of its hunger motivated entrepreneurial founders. Microsoft is directed by people trained in business schools rather than knocks acquired during attempts at entrepreneurialism. Business school graduates fast-track on pathways leading to CEO positions and in the course of a career may ascend, as CEO, a ladder of increasingly large companies and conglomerates. Modern CEOs, other than the self-made, need know or care little about the nature of products and services offered by their companies. Their vaunted expertise lies in change-management for their company. Size and seemingly guaranteed income through near monopoly powers gives little incentive for change. Risk-aversion sets in.

The other concomitant of size is constipation in decision-taking consequent upon lengthy chains of command, division into quasi-autonomous sub-units, and geographical separation. These are inimical to creative activity. A paper clip manufacturer can be staffed by dullards with little ill-consequence; so long as clips continue to be required there is not much to think about; it can coast along until the world leaves it behind.

Microsoft shows signs of bloat (in management and reflected in its code), complacency, and dependence on particular product lines, the key one upon which their other products rely being Windows. That recent incarnations of Windows, particularly '10', offer little additional demanded functionality, and with this at expense of increasing complexity/mishaps impinging on end-users, bodes ill. Windows for 'consumers' is moving from being a general purpose computational platform into some kind of advertising surveillance (perhaps more), 'trusted partner' vending outlet, and entertainment centre.

Then there is motivation for external 'developers' to consider. Anyone need have dabbled little over the years to grasp the sheer complexity of coding for Windows and how this increases with each edition. The early means of creating and writing into a window was cumbersome and inelegant. In essence that has been maintained but partially obscured by slightly more friendly front-ends such as Microsoft Foundation Classes. A market developed for independent compiler vendors offering supposedly easy means for engaging with a window. Microsoft's latest Visual Studio is a wonder to behold: nightmare or boon according to taste. Adding further complexity is the impenetrable nature of huge swathes of Microsoft code accessible through APIs. That leaves the question of what chunks of code Microsoft has reserved for use only by itself and by 'trusted' software development partners.

Windows 10 is a disaster. It's a natural consequence of how the business developed. Perhaps it would have been possible to rewrite Windows from the ground upwards whilst its founders still took interest in its daily affairs. It's too late now. Microsoft is moribund despite coasting along in profit. There is no remedy available from business school professors; this because they haven't thought out how a business based on creative activities can retain its intellectual edge when reaching a certain size. Hollywood, its distributors, and similar outlets for supposed 'intellectual property' are in the same bind as Microsoft.

Raspberry Pi Foundation says its final farewells to 40nm with release of Compute Module 3+

Long John Silver

Pi great for running Kodi

More recent models of Pi make excellent media boxes.

Australia's 'snoop minister' wants crypto-busting law probe wound up, proposals back into parliament

Long John Silver

Evolutionary backwater

The continent of Australia is an evolutionary backwater: hence marsupials. Add to that displacement of its native human population by many of the worst England had to offer and a pattern emerges. An island continent truly habitable only around its seaboard. An imported population with a trophy opera house but really only interested in surfing, team sports, beer consumption, and 'shielas' (sic), in that order; a nation infested by acquired cane toads, the dumbest animals on earth (koala bears have a head start on human citizens), a plethora of nasty spiders one of which is a bum-biter for people foolish enough to defaecate sitting down, and little more need be said about why encryption is a mystery to Australia's inhabitants.

Using a free VPN? Why not skip the middleman and just send your data to President Xi?

Long John Silver

Fitness for purpose

Indeed, 'free' VPN services encompass a range from well meaning to scam. Distinguishing among them may nigh be impossible. Also, as noted elsewhere, commercially available VPN services must be taken on trust too; in this regard, the guiding principle is reputation and no known affiliation with 'Five Eyes', NATO, or Russian Federation nations, and no association with China and its like.

It's the use to which VPN is put that matters when considering security. I suggest most private users are seeking to avoid copyright trolls when BitTorrenting, to bypass blocks set by their home nation, and to persuade Netflix into thinking they reside elsewhere. In these instances it really wouldn't matter who else is aware of one's activities. The feed could go directly to GCHQ, the NSA, or the FSS, on it's way elsewhere, and nobody in those agencies would give a damn about it. Even if Hollywood's MPAA were to set up a honey pot VPN service it wouldn't be able to use information gathered for prosecuting individuals.

Commercial VPN of good standing suffices for contact with banks when using free WiFi but HTTPS alone ought be enough in an ideal world.

It's in areas of criminality of interest to state authorities, and decent citizens too, that VPN, Tor, and other obfuscation methods become less trustworthy. Even mixing modalities of obfuscation offers no guarantee of anonymity. Yet, it should be borne in mind that money launderers, sellers and buyers of illicit substances, terrorists, and similar evil operators are generally caught through traditional policing/security investigative methods with IT surveillance merely a sometimes helpful addition; people are caught through careless release of information and when their nefarious activities impinge on the physical world as through use of postal services.

Microsoft slips ads into Windows 10 Mail client – then U-turns so hard, it warps fabric of reality

Long John Silver

Domestic Windows - entertainment centre, marketing platform, and surveillance agent?

Windows comes in versions tailored for category of user. That bundled in with PCs is intended for household users. It is the least configurable version. Apart from game players, these more likely anyway to opt for a more 'advanced' version, domestic users tend not persistently to deploy highly complicated and resource demanding software. Their desktops are communications centres, entertainment vectors, and devices for shopping. These users are what might disparagingly be called passive 'consumers' of 'content' and services sold or foisted upon them by others.

These days the neo-liberal mantra demands monetising every possible thing: it's a matter of principle conveniently feeding avarice. The vast bulk of the population has disposable income, sometimes not much, and collectively this amounts to a considerable sum for exploitation by others. Ill-education among the 'consuming' class coupled with, on average, quite modest per person resource to tap into, determine the nature of attempts, honest and otherwise, to part them from their money.

MS Windows for 'consumers' is, by virtue of prevalence, ideally suited to furthering several neo-liberal aims: monetisation, surveillance (by corporate entities and government), censorship and shaping opinion/behaviour, and 'crime' prevention as in curbing supposed 'theft' of so-called 'intellectual property'. So, in addition to being a tacky platform for marketing, MS Windows is well placed to attract custom from other corporate entities and government for services repressing supposedly antisocial Internet use.

Windows 10 is a qualitative change from what went before. The pre-configured default desktop makes clear the transition from general purpose operating system to entertainment centre, marketing platform, and so on. In essence, neo-liberal and other controlling agendas shall be well served by Windows 10 and later versions. All that remains is getting Apple and Google on-side. It's doubtful either would resist.

This peaceful transition to controlling the masses and ensuring such disposable income they are permitted is used 'wisely' requires no legislation. Given joint market dominance of three operating systems all alternatives can be forgotten about; this aided by gradually censoring mention of them on devices used by plebeians. There's no need to go after 'dissident' voices, these shall be able to speak only one to another. No attempt to forbid private use of VPN is necessary. Apparatus for site blocking and similar efforts to corral 'intellectual property' can be dismantled because three operating systems, with their compulsory updates, will suffice; left over nefarious activity simply isn't worth the bother of stifling.

Google swallows up DeepMind Health and abolishes 'independent board'

Long John Silver

Put and end to expansion by acquisition

The global economy is infested by ever expanding corporate conglomerates. Conglomerates, per se, are inimical to market-capitalism as it was once understood. Conglomeration diminishes competition and leads toward monopoly and/or monopsony powers.

Expansion by managed growth of market share is fine so long as it's not permitted to go too far. Similarly, branching out into another market closely related to that from which a business started (i.e. from a core of expertise, motivation, and experience) need not be detrimental to an overall competitive market. However, expansion by acquisition of solvent companies which in other circumstances could be competitors is wholly against the spirit of market-capitalism.

Apart from the Google instance mentioned here another recent example was Coca Cola acquiring the successful UK Costa Coffee chain. Setting aside aesthetic considerations and worries over whether the Coca Cola Corporation is fit to vend any sort of beverage, that take-over leaves a nasty taste.

Google's starting point was Internet advertising and required developing considerable expertise in computer technology. Google's main business modality remains thus and has been enhanced, from Google's point of view, by widespread take-up of Google's pseudo-open-source Linux variant by phone manufacturers. Google's implementation of Android is a privacy-sapping marketing tool sitting on devices that happen also to enable phone calls.

Google, seemingly, wants to expand into the health information business. That may or may not make sense from Google's point of view. Yet, societal interest is firmly that Google must do so by legitimate competitive expansion rather than acquisition.

Conglomeration and/or global near-monopoly are evils in their own right. They are evident in the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. Moreover, distributors of broader cultural output in news, film, TV shows, and music, increasingly are conglomerates of erstwhile production and distribution companies. In the field of physical products, Bayer, now proud owner of the can of legal worms once known as Monsanto, is a conglomerate of monstrous, and dangerously so, proportions.

The root motivator for all this is Ayn Rand compatible neo-liberalism. Consequent globalisation has enabled multinational corporate interests to, in effect, dictate their own terms to nation states. Bribes and promises via lobbyists to members of legislatures and governments aid this continuing process. Little do the corrupted, those accepting such boons, realise their true position as inconsequential nobodies in the grand schemes of others; neither they nor their families shall have a special place within neo-feudalism.

Google's position in the UK NHS may have been promoted, at least welcomed, by dark interests in, or associated with, government, these intent on furthering neo-liberal intentions of privatisation now made more likely by Brexit.

Michael Howard: Embrace of open source is destroying 'artificial definitions' of legacy vendors

Long John Silver

Open source: prelude to wholly unshackled culture?

Success of open source underpinning to commercial provision of goods and services has wide ramifications.

It underscores the futility of argument to the effect that ideas can be property to be traded as if physical artefacts subject to scarcity. The 'property' concept underlying copyright and patents arose purportedly as means to protect creative individuals from being ripped-off by commercial entities engaged in plagiarism. Incidentally, trademarks are an entirely distinct concept based upon pragmatic justification; these despite being subject to abuse, which ought be curbed, are a sensible arrangement.

Running with copyright in this discussion, it's clear that what may have been a good intention had seeds for many ills to come. Publishers arose offering an almost essential service in the days when the culture of ideas (e.g. academic literature, general literature, and musical scores) was propagated primarily through print. Publishers acquired 'rights' of their own to the layout and fonts of works they distributed. They began buying exclusive or partial 'rights' from the original copyright holding person(s); no longer were they merely agents for distribution: they became players in a market for 'rights'.

Introduction of parallel technologies for recording sounds, for recording still and moving images, together with immense effort to curb other technologies promoting 'infringement' (e.g. photocopiers and home tape recording) led to huge rafts of law of increasingly Byzantine complexity. It became way beyond the understanding of ordinary individuals and most businessmen.

The immovable fly in the ointment for those doing very nicely from trading distribution rights was introduction of digital representation for a huge swathe of culture. Gradually, it dawned that messages and media, i.e. ideas and the physical substrate upon which they are inscribed, are separable. Not only that but digitally represented ideas may indefinitely be reproduced without degradation and at negligible cost, Physical media are subject to the economics of scarcity and markets. The 'message' definitely is not. The Internet underlines that fact.

Digits cannot be corralled. Once loose, sequences cannot be kept behind gates and made accessible only by paying a fee to the gatekeeper. That is a fact. It has nothing to do with sentiment over protecting creative people (generally hypocritical nonsense from distributors leeching away the lion's share of income generated) or with demand for respect for the law; law never has been immutable nor wholly congruent with prevalent moral precepts. Ever more absurd technological and propaganda attempts linked with draconian measures are made to protect the interests of traders in and distributors of specious 'rights'. Add to that increasing awareness by ordinary folk (so-called 'consumers') that popular culture is distributed in restrictive and price-gouging manner leading to mass disobedience of copyright, facilitated by opportunist alternative providers, and you have almost the entire spectrum of culture from academia to fans of caterwauling youth beginning to make common cause.

The most egregious effect of monetising culture through fantasy economics inapplicable to digital sequences lies not with sapping a nation's disposable income and thus denying it better use within an economy but rather in stultifying the creative process itself, the very thing copyright sought to protect, through, in effect, prohibiting 'derivation' which is the cornerstone of creativity. As an aside, impediment to academia takes place through a different mechanism.

Business engaged in producing and/or using open source software (distributed under a Creative Commons licence or similar) unleashes creativity, some from unexpected quarters. The US independent software industry is cursed by copyright and by patents being applicable to code. Copyright, as in force elsewhere, is bad enough.

Perforce, copyright across the range of culture, and some patent restrictions within and without the realm of software, will eventually be abandoned as both a legal and a moral concept. It will be replaced by entitlement to attribution wherein the greatest sin is plagiarism and the only crime is misrepresentation so as financially to feed off the reputation of another.

Whether this shall happen before, and thus abort, or after the next anticipated round of Luddite endeavour is moot. I refer to 3D printing. Recipes for printing are digital in nature and thus cannot for long be corralled. Powerful interests will call for curbs on access and restrictions on use; photocopiers, home music taping, domestic video recorders, US DMCA type restrictions on breaking DRM, and so forth, will reincarnate in new context. Lessons won't have been learned. Successful creative people and business entrepreneurs will work with the new tools at their disposal; by eschewing monopoly founded on nonsense and embracing opportunities offered by unbridled freedom to innovate, they shall thrive. Meanwhile, a host of unwanted middlemen trading rights and controlling distribution of digital artefacts shall dwindle to nothing.


Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international license.

Solid state of fear: Euro boffins bust open SSD, Bitlocker encryption (it's really, really dumb)

Long John Silver

Degrees of trust?

Presumably hardware mediated encryption offers simplicity of setup and speedier on-the-fly processing than software equivalents. For most people and for most purposes that sits well despite concerns over security; at very least hardware implementations keep out casual intruders. Someone opting for hardware encryption retains capacity to implement additional software encryption for highly confidential material.

Speed advantages of hardware based encryption may be not noticeable by most users. They choose operating system controlled encryption and/or independent software like VeraCrypt. If using an open-source operating system (or software add-on) they belong within a community containing people with high level security skills and thus will be alerted to problems.

It all boils down to trust. Trust at two levels: that the provider of hardware/software does their best without malicious intent and errors are infrequent, or that trust in integrity itself cannot be guaranteed. Individual decisions weigh these factors in the light of tightness of security required; this in realisation that it (seemingly) can never be absolute; moreover, beyond the minimum, enhancing security comes at a cost (e.g. that of multiple layers of encryption consuming resources); diminishing returns set in.

Which scientist should be on the new £50 note? El Reg weighs in – and you should vote, too

Long John Silver

Charles Babbage - gentleman innovator

Charles Babbage appeals because he typifies the 19th century gentleman savant. Rayleigh is another example.

Babbage's distaste for plebeians and their culture shows powers of discrimination (a virtue) sadly nowadays lacking among the supposedly educated.

Maybe 'scientist' is misnomer for Babbage and some others on the list (e.g. John Logie Baird). However it fits his era because 'science' and 'scientist' were terms used differently from now. At one time theology was 'the queen of sciences'. The mantle passed to mathematics but neither is science in the sense explained below.

Followers of Popper would exclude from 'science' activities not entailing devising testable theories to which may be applied the inverse logic of falsification. General usage of the term these days is somewhat lax but not as much as in pre-Popper times.

What the named persons on the list have in common is brilliant insight which later proved fundamental to present day technology. For instance the chain of reasoning/action leading from Babbage to present day computers is shorter than that leading from the scientist Becquerel to nuclear power. Put another way, Babbage had a realisable goal in mind whereas Becquerel was curiosity driven. Each motivation is of tremendous value in its own way.

US Republicans bash UK for tech tax plan

Long John Silver

The bleedin' obvious

They would say that, wouldn't they?

AI can predict the structure of chemical compounds thousands of times faster than quantum chemistry

Long John Silver

Never look a 'black box' in the mouth

I understand pragmatic justification for using machine learning. Yet, it's disturbing should too much trust be placed in a technique the inner workings of which, for each instance of use, are occult.

In essence, machine learning is atheoretical. With analogy to the statistical technique of multiple linear regression, it might be said to discover 'adjusted' correlations and use these for prediction outside the context of its derivation. The analogy breaks down when the roles of statistician and, in this instance, chemist are compared.

The statistician has complete understanding of how multiple regression is performed and is able to mess around with combinations of independent variables, assess the stability of his model according to changes, and explore interactions among variables. Although there are circumstances in which regression models may be deployed to make predictions beyond the original set of data this requires great caution. Statistical modelling techniques in general are better suited to exploring relationships under guidance from external theoretical considerations.

The chemist is confronted by a 'black box'. There doesn't seem to be scope for fiddling about with assumptions as within the statistician's domain. It's unclear whether the result can be tuned to be more informative in the light of broad knowledge of chemistry's theoretical underpinning.

As always, caveat emptor.

Memo to Mark Sedwill: Here's how to reboot government IT

Long John Silver

That's far too sensible

Good sense doesn't go far with British governments. They prefer 'common sense' or, as Russell put it, the metaphysic of savages.

Grumbling about wobbly Windows 10? Microsoft can't hear you over the clanging cash register

Long John Silver

MS, please stop futile pestering

I gave up on Windows a long time ago. However, there is a couple of residual tasks for which Windows remains useful. Therefore, I retain a copy of Windows 7 professional to run in a virtual machine on Linux. Needless to say, my copy of Windows 7 is unofficial. I also keep a copy of Windows 10, upgraded from unofficial Windows 7, merely to check from time to time on how this consumerism orientated spyware monster is progressing.

To start with, I took the trouble to use tools purporting to 'activate' Windows but these didn't provide a long term fix. Now I ignore the mildly irritating pop-ups begging for activation and the occasional dire warning that my copy of Windows is malware; the latter offers Hobson's choice: stick with honest malware or move over to Microsoft malware. It was obvious years ago that Microsoft would never go further than offering irritation because attempts to wholly disable an unregistered copy would go badly awry should software error wrongly identify a legitimate copy as unregistered: think in terms of litigation by a corporate user to recover consequential damages.

So, given that as always Microsoft is awash with money, now more so than usual, why continue irritating people who clearly have no intention of spending money on bloated software they only occasionally use? Indeed, why charge anyone for copies of desktop Windows? The Microsoft business model has gravitated toward providing cloud-based subscription services and vending products from 'trusted partners'. In which case, the base operating system is little more than a marketing platform and enabler for running acquired software. Not only can Microsoft vend its own services but also it can charge 'rent' to other providers of services. Additionally, thereby a source of anger to legitimate users can be removed: the registration process makes fresh installation overly complicated and is source of frustration to users needing to re-install on devices shipped with a copy of Windows.

Microsoft has already gone down that path with respect to Visual Studio. Sensibly, a complete version is available free of charge to individual users; most of these outside corporate environments would have been using unofficial copies anyway unless they desperately needed subscription to additional resources for developers. Now Microsoft vends only two versions these with facilities easing collaboration among small and very large teams respectively.

Indeed, that is an inevitable route for all personal computer software and for digitally encoded culture in general. Copyright can no longer protect would-be monopoly interests. Digital sequences can be copied perfectly and distributed at negligible cost. It follows that such 'products', no matter their cost of creation, have zero intrinsic monetary value because there can be no scarcity. Ubiquity means there cannot be market price-discovery. Digital goods continue to be sold as luxury items within a fantasy market where price is whatever one can gull people into paying. Even this supposed market lacks price-discovery because monopoly powers intervene.

Response to this fact of modern life is ever more complicated futile attempts to plug holes enabling so-called 'infringement'. The draft EU copyright amending legislation is a mare's nest of nonsense predicated upon the false assumption that 'content', of itself, holds monetary value in the same manner as physical goods.

It should be borne in mind that all this has nothing to do with protecting earnings of creative individuals. The intent is to prop-up the income of price-gouging intermediaries between creators and people admiring/using their output. Middleman distributors take the lions' share, and more, of income generated.

Genuinely creative people, and production teams, would better be served in absence of both copyright and the plethora of middlemen. The Internet enables direct contact, with relatively little overhead, between creators and those enjoying their works. Instead of attempting to sell that which cannot, other than by twisted logic, be sold, creative output would be distributed on the basis that if one wants more one ought contribute to the upkeep of its creator. 'Price' is replaced by invitation to contribute. Means of contribution include crowd-funding, patronage, subscription, one-off donation, provision of bespoke added-value for a fee, and sale of associated goods and services.

Note that in a sense, Netflix's offer of 'all you can eat' from its stock for a modest subscription is in essence solely the added-value of a curated catalogue together with reliable digital distribution; with a time and effort everything in Netflix's catalogue could be obtained free of charge from unofficial sources.

Demise of copyright by substitution of 'entitlement to attribution' would benefit truly creative people immensely. 'Derivation' is the engine of creativity, yet copyright forbids it until a long time has passed. Vibrant culture demands immediacy of unrestricted derivation (but with attribution).

Microsoft yanks the document-destroying Windows 10 October 2018 Update

Long John Silver

These 'entrepreneurs' are to be found closer to home too.

Long John Silver

Re: Dear Microsoft

Also, it should be borne in mind that the objections were aimed toward the user interface alone. With Windows the interface, seemingly, is inseparable from the code for computing applications. No so with Linux wherein there is free choice among interfaces ranging from the command line, through simple graphical display, and up to 'all-singing all-dancing' displays convergent with Windows.

Long John Silver

Microsoft could inadvertently bring commerce to a standstill

Mess-ups like that reported here may be inevitable regardless of how well Microsoft manages development of its products. In particular, Windows 10 code nowadays measured in gigabytes offers many opportunities for unintended consequences when developers make 'enhancements' or merely attempt to correct known bugs. Even when components of the whole are modular their interactions with other modules can trigger occult faults elsewhere. Perhaps the probability of such failure increases with size of code nearer to geometrically than linearly?

The problem is compounded by the code being known only to Microsoft and some trusted outsiders. Users encountering problems not of their own making are in weak position to devise workarounds. Maybe, in particular instances, the community of expert users and enthusiasts can devise interim fixes; however, these take time to be verified and propagate via backchannels to Microsoft's official communication with users and there is the matter of trust.

Hence, it's ceased to be idle speculation when pointing out the potential for an operating system which dominates the market for PC and laptop installation to bring about chaos in the commercial world and beyond when a fault emerges. These days, all activity appears to be (mindlessly) frenetic. That means even outages of an hour or so can be catastrophic. Add to that national and global interconnectedness provided by the Internet and the possibility of knock-on effects from a software fault cascading outwards, perhaps at geometric rate, leaves the realm of fiction.

Accepting that Microsoft is an honest vendor (with reservations about how it captures the market) shouldn't deter conspiracy theorists speculating on what might be in the future. There's little preventing a bad actor from forcing Microsoft to target a specially malformed 'update' at devices within a particular nation or branch of commerce. Implicit deniability would arise from the malware being embedded in an 'update' and from the rapidly being established fact that, despite all good intent, Windows updates and security fixes bring hazard, albeit small.

The considerations above provide ample reason for preferring open source software for critical applications. Not only that but also, code unrestricted by copyright encourages 'derivation' from which can emerge exciting possibilities unlikely to arise from a silo containing developers dedicated to a particular business plan.

Windows 10 1809: Now arriving on a desktop near you (if you want it)

Long John Silver

Fond memories

I recollect the early days of personal computing being exiting. Adherents to the Microsoft way of doing things were assailed by notable improvements to Windows and to products running on it. Major Windows updates were eagerly anticipated. I recall NT as a milestone in reliability. Fascinating developments, many spurred by advances in networking technologies, continued, albeit with less haste, up to Windows 7. Up to that point I, and doubtless many others, both professional and enthusiast, would eagerly await news and pre-release reviews in specialist printed magazines. For me that ended with the advent of easy (relatively to before) to install Linux distributions configurable to work happily with a wide range of hardware.

However, emanations from Microsoft continue to fascinate by titillating a morbid sense of humour. I retain 'evaluation' versions, encapsulated in virtual machines, of Windows 7 and 10 merely because there very occasionally is software requiring full Windows rather than Wine. Indeed, hardly ever nowadays is Windows/Wine of any use to me. Yet, watching the antics of the 'upgrade' from Windows 7+ to 10 and subsequent bug fixes and 'improvements' to 10, is source of amusement.

I conclude that Windows 10's evolutionary steps, which can be delayed but not halted, no longer enthral either IT professionals or humble users. They look to have become a burden and offer rapidly diminishing returns of functionality. Perhaps that is a transient stage before long term stability takes hold.

What's also clear is how all this coincides with a shift of Microsoft marketing towards software rental and to retaining control of its 'intellectual property' by pretence of requirement for regularly 'calling home' offering enhanced services to customers. Moreover, at ordinary 'consumer' level, desktop/laptop Windows is becoming centred upon home entertainment and shopping. Fair enough if that's what people want. However, at this level, Windows 10 seemingly is becoming ever less configurable according to user whim; large elements of its offered functionality and of its hidden functionality are beyond user control. Nevertheless, savvy users can still more or less make Windows dance to their tune.

That said, things to come bode ill for people who regard their computing devices their own absolute fiefdom. Microsoft, with its huge footprint in personal computing, is now well placed to offer its services as protector of so-called 'intellectual property rights'. For instance, 'Windows Defender' cannot be entirely switched off; it's a simple step to make it seek out and destroy copyright infringing material of any nature. Already compulsory regular 'security updates' would enable installing hashes of known infringing 'content' to be placed on user devices; specific 'calling home' cannot be ruled out either. Additionally, Defender, or similar, could root around within installed software to seek embedded authorisation code. Another step is to implement (on regional basis) site-blocks on behalf of governments; even if VPN is used (or allowed) the operating system should be able to ascertain site addresses and block access. Also, it could locate and nullify code supporting 'unauthorised' alternatives to the conventional WWW.

Thus, for a modest fee, Microsoft can put itself forth as the most effective preventative of copyright infringement (digital), at least for the huge swathe of the world's population locked into Microsoft products. Given Microsoft's immense proselytisation of itself via free/cheap versions of its software for use in schools and universities (doubtless linked to a financial 'donation') its position is pretty much ensured. That, at least until its effective monopoly is challenged. It's not to the personal interests of legislators to do that. Not just for the sake of bribes from discrete Microsoft agents but also because copyright cartels have many legislators firmly in their pockets.

So, excitement at forthcoming Windows security and feature updates shall continue but of different tenor. Knowledgable people will await with trepidation the next restriction imposed on use of their devices and access to the Internet. An additional frisson shall come through speculation over whether Microsoft is slipping something in without fanfare.

Spies still super upset they can't get at your encrypted comms data

Long John Silver

Re: governments can always legislate

That is a legal provision to be used only sparingly. If applied beyond the realm of universally acknowledged criminality there would be vocal challenge about what should be construed as an entitlement to total privacy of digital sequences parallel to that of thoughts in one's head. We know now that even the latter is not sacrosanct given introduction of 'enhanced interrogation' as a supposedly legal investigative tool.

The best opportunity to smash this legislation would arise if a large number of a relatively harmless protest group (e.g. concerning environmental damage or animal welfare) members were rounded up and told to divulge passwords. If all refused, the prospect of jailing a large number of people would be politically sensitive.

As matters stand, digital technologies, means of storing data, and the Internet, have changed considerably since the UK government introduced the measure. There's no need to be in physical possession of a device holding encrypted data. There are many hideaways accessible anonymously via the Internet. These are just as good for dodgy businessmen hiding their true financial accounts as for terrorists. Also, there may be increased awareness of deniable encryption methods.

Long John Silver

A broader consideration too

The PPE should be rated a general degree consisting of three topics each followed to the level attainable by a first year undergraduate.

A couple of years ago I quizzed a recent Oxford PPE graduate. He was bright and not intent on a career in politics. I wanted to understand the 'added value' of pursuing three intellectual strands, two of which intertwine, the remaining one (philosophy) only indirectly connecting with the others. Surely, I thought, it must be fine training for the mind by integrating the components into a coherent whole, all this under direction from the best thinkers in their fields. Not so, there is little attempt by lecturers and tutors to cross-fertilise from their disciplines. That's an obvious reality now that the days of the polymath have gone.

So, I conclude the PPE to give a broad smattering of knowledge at fairly superficial level and training in reasoning and critical appraisal at most only so far as a first year undergraduate in any rigorous discipline.

Perhaps the PPE was introduced for a different purpose. A major role of the ancient universities is enabling undergraduates to make influential and lasting social contacts. In order to fulfil this function, at some time past, a decision was made to offer the PPE to the less bright, or not academically inclined, sons of nobility, gentlefolk, and vulgarian wealthy. Thereby, sources of endowments were not excluded.

The young gentlemen could spend a happy three years socialising, engaging in sport, and honing political skills in mendacity and back-stabbing through seeking office in the debating 'Union'. Oxford has the additional attraction of offering thoroughly disreputable 'exclusive' clubs, not least of which is the Bullingdon Club which appears to have particular attraction to porcinophiliacs.

Top Euro court: No, you can't steal images from other websites (too bad a school had to be sued to confirm this little fact)

Long John Silver

Dying embers of copyright

Anyone standing back and looking over the broad sweep of copyright 'infringement' and enforcement during the decades following WW2 will notice that the former is hotting up apace and the latter is almost in a state of panic.

Prior to widespread adoption of digital representation, cheap digital storage, and, nowadays, digital transmission, copyright was mostly an arcane topic arising in disputes among book publishers, film makers, best-selling authors, popular music composers, and like minded persons with money to spare to enrich lawyers. Copyright, just like libel, was a rich man's hobby. The general public was occasionally entertained by newspaper accounts of court proceedings wherein two (alleged) composers of popular ditties came head to head before a jury with one claiming that a snatch of notes in a (usually) unmeritorious piece was purloined by the other; these events were displays of arrogance and entitlement, this generally arising from the plaintiff.

Copyright began impinging directly on the public mind only after technological advance increased opportunity for casual 'infringement' and drove demands by rights' holders for the technology to be restricted. Thus, home taping, crude at first, followed by home video recording technologies came on the scene. Photocopier use in educational establishments became a bugbear of, ever cash hungry, print publishers. In UK universities elaborate arrangements came into being whereby each photocopy (within rigorous definition of permitted number of pages and so forth) was to be accompanied by filling in a form detailing the work and pages copied. Librarians were obliged to oversee this nonsense because otherwise their institutions would be vulnerable to litigation. Nevertheless, beyond the gaze of librarians few people bothered with form filling and university authorities wisely didn't peer under stones.

Advent of personal computers opened fresh pastures for 'infringement'. CDs, DVDs, and then the ubiquitous Internet, spilled all the worms out of the can.

What's learned from this big picture is the inevitability of copyright's demise (and replacement by entitlement to attribution). The pace of 'infringement' is not matched by the rate of increase of effective remedies to prevent, deter, and punish 'infringement' among the general public. Efforts to persuade people otherwise, such as the foolish mantra 'copying is theft', are yielding little if anything. Unless the Internet is clamped down upon to such an extent that even legislators, in the pockets of copyright cartels, find it objectionable, no number of fingers in holes in dykes ('dams' in case of misunderstanding) can avert copyright Armageddon.

Two factors contribute to the death of copyright. First, copyright nowadays is bad law in the sense of not being easily enforced (at the level of individuals) and with respect to widespread disobedience as a rational solution to coughing up ever more disposable income to price-gouging entities.

The second, reason is the consequence of digital representation revealing, to those who would look, innate irremediable flaws in the concept of copyright. Digital representation draws attention to the fact that digital sequences are not dependent on particular instances of a physical substrate. That is, the information contained has distinctly separate existence to any physical object fitting the definition of 'property'. This is reinforced by the fact that digital sequences can endlessly be reproduced with no loss of 'content' and at negligible cost. Attempts to produce artificial scarcity of ephemeral sequences of digits must fail. Thus, market-economics depending on scarcity and on supply and demand, are meaningless. There can be no such thing as 'intellectual property' unless its kept within it's creator's head or sequestered under lock and key on a physical medium.

Additionally the notion of copyright protecting creative activities doesn't wash either. In fact, copyright stifles imagination by seeking to control or limit 'derivative works'; reality is that no work arises ab initio i.e. without context.

There is more to be said against the "chilling effect" of copyright, but not now. Suffice to say that means exist for (genuinely rather than 'manufactured') creative people to thrive from their work; these don't entail making claim of ownership (as in physical property) of created 'content' or need for elaborate middleman distribution chains acting as monopoly providers at any price they can squeeze out of the masses.

US Congress mulls expanding copyright yet again – to 144 years

Long John Silver

'Intellectual property' is illusory

Arrival of the digital era makes plain a truth hitherto obscured. Previously, information (e.g. cultural artefacts) was conveyed on physical media (e.g. paper and vinyl disks). 'Medium' and 'message' were inseparable; the medium, being physical, could be traded according to conventional market-economics based on scarcity and price discovery. It was 'obvious' the message was being traded because it was inseparable from the medium. Moreover, law was introduced enabling distribution of 'messages' to be a (time period limited) monopoly.

Digital representation of cultural artefacts breaks the tie between one instance of the message and one particular instance of the substrate conveying it (medium). Thereby, 'scarcity' is abolished.

Digital sequences are capable of being copied and transmitted without degradation; this not being so for analogue representation. Moreover, copying entails negligible expense, and transmission likewise. The upshot is that digital sequences are incapable of being 'owned' in the manner of physical objects. Sequences cannot be stolen because the alleged 'owner' has not been deprived of anything. Also, once loose, they cannot be corralled; this despite efforts to apply anachronistic law and technical obstacles (e.g. Digital Rights Management). The act of creation may be likened to discovery of a particularly interesting sequence in the Platonic Heaven containing all conceivable sequences of given lengths.

So, regardless of objection raised by people stuck in nineteenth century modes of thought, copyright cannot be enforced. That is a pragmatic rather than moral or legal statement. Disobedience to copyright abounds and increases. Mainly this results from restrictive practices and price gouging by so-called rights' holders. Nevertheless, there is compelling reason supporting the contention that 'intellectual property' (here we concentrate on copyright) cannot exist and the specious notion of copyright impairs rather than promotes creative activity.

Limitations to copyright's reach (e.g. 'fair use') were considered at its inception but have proven ineffective at providing safe ground for truly creative activity. This arises from severe restriction on production of 'derivative' works. The simple fact is all works are derivative else they would lack context and their cultural worth would be ignored. The greatest among creative historical figures acknowledged debt (certainly not the monetary kind) to their intellectual forebears. Sometimes, composers would openly base a work on variations on a theme from somebody else's works and make proper attribution/homage. These days, woe betide anyone daring to produce 'Variations on the theme of the Beatles' "It's a hard days night"; mercifully, nobody has bothered.

There is more to say, but not now. The argument proceeds by looking at how 'entitlement to attribution" replaces copyright. It is shown that truly creative people are able to raise income, by various means, from those admiring their works. These days, via the Internet, creative individuals can interact directly with their 'audience' without need of rights' holding intermediaries. Members of the audience, instead of being passive 'consumers' can participate in creative dialogue and mess around with derivative ideas (how about writing an alternative ending to a 'Harry Potter' story?). The grand losers in all this shall be copyright cartels and middlemen with distribution 'rights'. Expression of creative thought shall benefit, and in absence of price-gouging cartels, the public shall have disposable income available to promote activity by those they admire.

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