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No Sales Are Final

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For the last few months I have been tempted by the Amazon Kindle. First by the Kindle 2, which is a neat, relatively small, portable device that can hold within in it more books than I would ever need to carry around at once, and instantly download, just about anywhere, any books that I might need. The release of that Kindle DX, a larger device with a bigger screen, seemed even more attractive, since I am rapidly going blind in one eye.

All of that ended today when I discovered that Amazon had, at the request of a publisher, went out to all the Kindles in the world and deleted a bunch of books, ironically including George Orwell's 1984, because the publisher decided that they should made a mistake in offering a digital version. So Amazon, using technology they had not fully disclosed to the purchaser, went out and zapped those books, and gave the purchasers a a refund (I assume in store credit) for the purchase. Imagine if Barnes and Noble had decided to break into your house, take a couple of books off your shelves and leave a gift card on the nightstand. Same thing, for all intents and purposes.

It was already bad enough that Amazon was using the DMCA to take away your right of first sale (the ability to sell something that you have purchased to someone else). They have now made it quite, quite clear that you don't own anything even for your own use.

This is, as I have said before, the biggest threat of digital goods. While in their raw, un-administered, un-DRMed form digital goods are generally vastly superior in utility to their physical equivalents (searchable, portable, scalable in resolution, etc) the restrictions that are put in place by the people doing the "selling" are making them useless and unreliable. Music that has DRM generally only works so long as the company that sold it to you is in business - once the DRM servers go off line the music becomes unplayable. Media purchased for one system cannot be used for another. As President Obama learned a DVD purchased in in the US cannot be played in a DVD player purchased somewhere else in the world. Now we find that Amazon can decide to "unsell" you a book without your consent just because they feel like it. Apparently they have said they won't do this again, but there is no reason to take them at their word, since they didn't say they would do it in the first place, and the technology to do so remains in place.

Consumers need to begin resisting this move away from ownership and towards "licensing". "Licensing" is presented to the consumer as a sale, however the terms are always mush less favorable, seldom fully disclosed,and what is disclosed in generally disclosed in a EULA that consists of several pages of dense legalese that the consumer by-passes since the transaction is presented as a sale and they think they know their rights in such a transaction.

Personally, I did not use the iTunes music store until it went DRM free. Instead I purchased CDs and ripped them, or when it came out, used the Amazon MP3 store. While both of these still have ridiculous licensing agreements that attempt to deny me all manner of rights that I have as a consumer, at least since they are not DRMed they do not fall under the DCMA and if I choose to violate the EULA by exercising my rights as a buyer (say by selling a song I purchased and deleting all of my copies, something that the right of First Sale clearly allows) I have a leg to stand on in court. If it was DRMed I would be violating the "no circumvention" clause of the DCMA and would certainly lose, pay fines and maybe go to jail, even though I clearly have the right to re-sell something I have purchased.

While some might call these restrictions, and Amazon's recent intrusion into private citizen's personal devices to remove material they found unsuitable "Orwellian", I have to disagree. "Orwellian" is really tied up in associations with government oppression and control of the population, while what we are experiencing is an attempt by corporations to use the law to take away the rights of consumers.

So, in honor of this latest, and most vulgar attack on the rights of consumers, I would like to propose a new phrase, one to specifically apply to these cases of corporate overreach in an attempt stamp out the rights of consumers - "Bezosian", in honor of Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.

Hopefully, having this word coined will casue him to stop and rethink his position, just as Dan Savage's popularization of the new noun "Santorum" caused former Senator Rick Santorum to abandon his homophobic hatred and lead a better life.

Update - An boingboing post with comments I am posting more stuff into.

Making your PS3 (Slightly) Less Useless

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First off, let's be clear - there is no reason for a sane person to own a PS3 today*. There are no games good enough to justify the expense, and Sony's decision not to include a 10¢ IR receiver means that you can't easily integrate the PS3 into your home theater set up as a Blu-Ray Player, since your can't use your existing universal remote with it.

While there is nothing to be done about the lack of games, other than waiting, there is something that can be done about the lack of home theater integration. Once again, it's Nyko to the rescue, this time with their Blu-Wave IR remote for the PS3. For $19.99 you get a 10¢ IR reciever and an IR remote that you can add to the growing pile of remotes you keep in the closet. If you are using a Logitech Harmony remote you can automatically set up the Harmony to work with the Nyko Blu-Wave - just select it in the setup utility instead of the PS3 (which can't be controlled by the Harmony anyway). You will also need to change the default mapping for the device and for any activities you set up to map the PS3 "X" button to the Harmony's "OK" button. Once that is done plug in the IR receiver and your PS3 suddenly works as well as your PS2 used to. If you don't have a Harmony remote, you can use the Blu-Wave remote to teach whatever universal remote you use the Blu-Wave commands. Really though, you should go out and buy a Harmony, since even the cheapest Harmony is a hundred times better than any other remote you are using.

The only thing that the IR remote cannot do is turn the PS3 on and off, which is a little irritating, but if you leave your machine on all the time working for Folding@Home anyway it's not really much of a problem.

I think that I am getting gadget crush on Nyko. Their stuff is cheap, well made and it works.

* Do not attempt to convince me that Resistance or anything else on the PS3 is so awesome that I must play it. I've looked at everything that is out for the PS3 right now and there is really nothing that interests me. I bought one now just because I had the money to pick up a used 60gb with full backwards compatibility to replace my PS2 and get blu-ray thrown in. There are PS3 games I am looking forward to - LittleBigPlanet, Singstar PS3 out six months from now that's really it.

(Not Quite) Bone Rattling Sound

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I recently picked up an interesting gadget - a pair of Vonia EZ-4200P Bone Conduction Headphones. These look like a set of over-the-ear headphones, except that instead of being completely covered by a foam pad, the center of each headphone is a hard plastic pad. Instead of wearing them over your ears, you actually place them a bit forward so that the plastic pads are resting above your cheekbones. The sound is then transmitted through the bone into your head, rather than blasting directly into your eardrum. Supposedly this will give you good sound, while at the same time reducing the possibility of hearing loss.

Since I am rapidly becoming deaf as a post and I listen to music quite a bit during the day to block out the noises of my fellow cube dwellers while I focus on the tedious minutia that is the life blood of the auditing work that I do, trying these things out seemed like a pretty good idea.

There is very little information about bone conduction music headphones. Nothing really about where to buy them in the US, and no reviews to speak of. Even more discouraging, the only product line I was able to find any information about was Vonia, which is manufactured by Thanko, a company better known for a wide variety of USB powered devices covering the full range from seat warmers and warming slippers to a USB hub shaped like a gold bar. My confidence was not inspired..

However, theirs was the only product that I could find for sale in English. Unfortunately only their lowest end product was available, but I figured if it worked at all it was probably worth $90.

After using the headphones for several days I have mixed feelings about them. The headphones definitely have their problems - The sound quality is not perfect; it's a little distorted and "bathroom-echo-y" and it looses a lot of the low end. The headphones themselves press pretty tightly against your face, which becomes a little uncomfortable after a while.

That said they show a lot of promise. The sound is not awful, by any means, and I can certainly tell the difference at the end of a day from not having my eardrums battered all day. Also, because they don't cover your ears you actually are more aware of what is going on around you - if say, someone comes into your cubicle - while still over powering just about all environmental sounds and distractions.

Overall it's enough to make me want to keep using them at work and to look forward to seeing future iterations of the technology. I would definitely consider paying a few hundred dollars for a really good set of bone conducting headphones based on this experiment, though I would like to be able to actually try them before buying.

(I should also mention that according to the instructions you can wear the headphones over your ears, if you want to. I tried it and it does improve the range and quality of the sound, but it also defeats my goal of sparing my ear drums (though it's probably still better than shoving in ear buds)).

(I also wonder whether or not these things sound heavy on the high end because the bone conduction is overcoming the fact that I have lost a lot of hearing at the higher range over the years...)

Why I (Heart) Logitech

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About 16 months ago I decided that I was tired of having dozens of remotes to control my extremely robust (overly complicated) AV center. After doing a little research, I came to the conclusion that the Logitech Harmony 880 remote was the ideal solution. It's a universal remote with a programmable color screen. You hook it up to your computer, tell it what equipment you have, how they are connected and what you would like o to with them and it automatically programs the remote so you can, for example, press a button (virtually) labeled "Play Xbox" and the remote will send out all the commands to all the components that are needed to make that happen. It remember the state of you equipment too, so if while in "Play Xbox" mode I press "Watch TV" it knows the TV and the receiver are already on, so it doesn't mess with their power, it just switches the inputs, and turns off the Xbox.

This has worked brilliantly. Flawlessly, with a wide variety of hardware.

Until about 6 months ago.

One of the neat things about the remote is that it comes with a built-in, rechargeable battery and a charging cradle. Pop the remote into the cradle, and you never need to worry about changing the batteries.

So, when the charging cradle began to act flaky, it was a bit of a problem. It started out with just needing to jiggle the remote to get it to sit right, this it required putting a book on the remote to get it to make proper contact. Finally it just stopped charging.

I called Logitech and after a short time they determined that my cradle was probably defective and they offered to replace i for free, which was VERY nice, since I am 6 months out of warranty. Then again, after doing some reading on the internet it appears that this is a pretty common problem that they admit to, so I was not too surprised.

No, what surprised me was that today I got an email from Logitech apologizing that the cradle had been on backorder for two weeks (they told me that it would be back ordered on the phone, so no surprise) and that instead of making me wait, they are just going to send me an complete replacement, brand new cradle and a brand new remote. A BRAND NEW REMOTE. To someone that is out of warranty.

So, if you ever need a super expensive remote to tame you AV center, I would have to say I can really recommend the Logitech Harmony remotes. That's it, just felt like sharing.

Awesome Vista Feature #347

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If you have a folder window open, you can't delete the folder. Example, I have an empty folder on my desktop called, let's say, "New Folder".

"What", I ask, "is in this folder? I do not recall, so I shall open it and see."

Opening the folder I discover that it is, in fact, empty.

"This empty folder clutters my desktop, which is not desirable", I say to myself as I drop the offending folder into the trash. Immediately, Vista springs to my aid, warning me that I am deleting a folder, despite my having long ago turned off the "Display delete confirmation dialog" check box. I cannot seem to find the "Display 'you are trying to drop an empty folder into the trash" dialog' check box.

"Fine!" I say, clicking the "Ok" button.

Vista helpfully tells me that I need permission to perform this action.

"I am logged on as an Administrator", I remind Vista, clicking the "Try Again" button.

"You need permission to perform this action", counters Vista.

"But, I am logged on as an Administrator!", I plead, clicking the "Try Again" button.

"Administrator? What is this 'Administrator' you speak of?" asks Vista. "You seem to be under the impression that I work for you, meatbag"

This happens three times before it occurs to me to try something monumentally stupid. I close the open window displaying the non-existent contents of "New Folder", and drag the folder into the trash again. Without a complaint, Vista drops it into the trash and allows me to empty it. No problems, no complaints; just a like a real file management shell, say Norton Navigator from 1989.

Now, I realize that Vista probably has it's panties in a bunch because there is some stupid hidden file (like desktop.ini, or something) inside the folder I want to delete that it has open when the window is open, but you know what?

I don't care. It should work as if it was designed in the later part of the twentieth century.

The Inevitable Windows Vista Post

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For the last 3 months or so I have really needed to backup everything on my hard disk, wipe the whole thing, and reinstall everythign from the ground up. However, since Vista was coming out sooner of later, I held off on doing it figuring that I would simply kill two birds with one stone. Well, that time has come and those birds are dead.

Yesterday I picked up the Vista Home Premium Upgrade edition, which give you almost, but not all the features available in VIsta. Basically you don't get file/disk encryption, file journaling (the ability to fall back to an older version of a file if you screw something up) and Texas Holdem; baiscally stuff that's not worth the extra hundred bucks for the Ultimate version.

Installation went pretty smooth, and actually took less time than installing XP used to. The downside is that apparetnly, because I have the upgrade version, if I ever have a problem that causes me to wipe and reinstall, I will have to first install XP, then install Vista over that. This is, needless to say, irritating and stupid.

Now that it's installed though, what is it like? Is it a giant leap forward as Microsoft has stated? Is it the single most significant advance in computing in the history of man?

Not so much.

Here then are the thins I like and the things I hate about Windows Vista. If there is anything here that I am off-base about a setting that I am missing or soemthng that will fix what I hate, please let me know so I can fix it.

Things I like:
Um...thinking. There must be something...Nope, not really. There is nothing, as near as I can tell, that is that great about WIndows Vista. Building in media center is okay, but reall would not have mattered to me at all if they had not crippled support for Divx on the Xbox 360 to begin with. So, nothing that I like about it.

Things I don't like:
I use FireFox and Thunderbird and it actually seems like Vista tends to ignore my preference for Firefox (set as the default browser) and fire up Explorer all the time. XP managed this just fine.

I don't own a Mac for a good reason.Several years ago Apple went nuts and forgot all the interface design lessons they had ever learned and replaced their "get the job done and stay out of your way" interface with a colorful, flashy stupid thing that interferes with your ability to judge color, concentrate for more that two minutes and takes up half the screen space with pointless design elements. Windows has now caught up. There is no reason on earth for color-gradient window frames and transparent title bars. Mac users will no doubt disagree. They are, however, retarded. I say this a someone who gave up on the Mac around OS 9 as too gaudy.

The code signing stuff is pretty irrititatng as well. I use several programs regularly that are not code-signed (winRAR, for example) and everytime I use them I need to grant them permission to run. EVERY TIME. Not once and it remembers; Every. Freaking. Time. I know that I could turn off the user account controls and it would stop doing this, but I would also lose the advantages of having it warn me in cases where I DO want to the opportunity to decide whether or not to permit unsigned code to run. They really need something in-between all or nothing protection.

Those are the things that are bugging me today. I may post more later. The quick rundown though is, as expected, there is no reason to upgrade to Vista today, or any time in the near future. All of the main feature are available elsewhere, typically as a free download for XP (IE 7, XP Powertoys, etc).

New and Improved DEET for Robots

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I've just put up a new version of Bad Robot! that includes an IP white list and a user agent black list pre-populated with known evil robots. Listen carefully and you can hear the metallic tintinnabulation of robots around the world quaking in fear!

Foolish Human

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I have re-activated the link for Bad Robot! It turns out that Bad Robot! was right, I had performed a bad robot like behavior from that IP address while doing some of the research that led up to writing Bad Robot!. So, it does work correctly, and I need to implement a white list feature.

The Robots Win This Round

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I've temporariily taken down the links to Bad Robot! - it looks like whatever I am using to identify bad behavior for MT-trackbacks has a flaw in it, since it is coming back with my work IP address as a probably Bad Robot. My home address did not get flagged though, which seems wierd since I hardly to anything from home. I'll pour over logs tonight and figure out what it's doing...

My geek-fu is weak today.

Defend Yourself!

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As you know, it's not a matter of if the Robot Uprising will come, it a matter of when.

I know - I have been under constant robotic assualt for years, and I am finally starting to get sick of it.

If you have a weblog you know that there are teeming millions of webbots taht go around and try to put fake comments and track backs into weblogs. This leads to all of the nonsense comments that you sometimes see about viagra and online poker. Now, most of the junk comments and trackbacks get caught by the filtering software built into modern blogging software, so they don't actually show up on webpages. However the bots and the people who run them are too stupid to give up, so these visits to post this junk still shows up in my logs, and screws with my stats. I am also forced to moderate a bunch of the comments and trackbacks, which is irritating.

No more.

Today a new day begins as I rise up against the automated hordes. Okay, as I make the first step towards rising up. If you are on an apache webserver...and using a windows or Mac OSX desktop...and the only problem you have is tons of junk trackbacks...and you are tired of seeing them in your logs. Within those parameters I have the weapon that you can use to fight back.

Oh, also, you have to not mind blocking huge swaths of IP addresses.

I give you...Bad Robot! *stunned silence*

Bad robot is an application that analyzes your (apache) webserver logs and looks for signs that point to a Bad Robot, then spits out a report onscreen that you can review. You can then choose on an IP address by IP address basis whether ofr not to block that address from ever seeing your website again.

At the moment the only thing that bad robot really does is looks for anything that tries to post a track back to a movable type weblog. In the entire life of my weblog I have only had 2 external trackbacks, so for this initial version I am comfortable assuming that anyone trying to post a trackback is probably a Bad Robot. You might actually be a popular kid who get's trackbacks. In that case you will need to excercise some caution when blocking track back posters, so as not to block real people. Bad Robot! gives you some sorting options that can be helpful.

The neat thing is that now that I have put together the basic engine for examining logs it's really, really easy for me to add more rules to the program. Soon Bad Robot! will be able to distinguish between things are certainly bad robots, and things that might be people - and tell you! It will also be able to automatically figure out if a robot is obeying your robots.txt file. The goal here is to create a single tool that will handle misbehaving spiders, spam-bots, email harvesters, etc. in one fell swoop, then block them permanently.

Download the latest release and use them as you see fit. Tell me what you like about it, tell me what you hate about it, tell me what else you want it to analyze for, and tell me your stories of how you have struck out against the robot uprising.

I'm especially interested in hearing from mac users - the Mac version has never been tested in any way, since I don't have a Mac, so I am putting all my faith into the development environment's automated Mac version spitting out abilities. Can you people even open ZIP files?

I'll post new versions as make changes. Various Linux flavors may appear if there is any interest at all.

At this point you need to have the log file to analyze available locally, un-gzipped, and the output is a text file of the banned IPs that you have to manually add to the .htacess file on your webserver. So, it's still not for the faint of heart - messing with .htaccess can screw up your websever, so don't play with it if you don't know what it is.

You can still play with Bad Robot! though - at this point it can't possibly do anything bad. In the next version, where I plan to add auto-fetching of logs through FTP and automated updates to your .htaccess file (also via FTP) that could be dangerous. Really really dangerous. I will also create cute icons and stuff.

I wonder if JJ Abrams will sue me over the name...I hope so.

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