DRM … Shackling Your Media

April 23, 2008

Shackling your media

I am fed up of buying things, only to have to buy them again a couple of years down the line. Specifically media, be it music or video.

In some cases it has been sensible, i.e. moving from video to DVD and the whole Vinyl to Tape to CD thing. I understand that to some extent, these things were unavoidable, and the increase in quality made it worth the effort. But it really annoys me that I have bought 3 copies of Thriller, 2 of which I now have no way of playing, but how else would I get Michael’s squeaky goodness?

Now it would seem that the age of the CD has past, MP3 players are the new black. Everyone is well aware that you throw your CD into the computer and it “rips” the music to your computer, and it magically appears on your iPod (or equivalent).

The legality of this is a gray area, depending on where you live. In the US they have, what is called “Fair Use”, and although the record companies are asserting that ripping is not fair use, I don’t believe they are getting anywhere. Here in the UK I know of no such specific law stating that this practice is OK. There is always talk of “copying for personal use” and “non-commercial” etc … but this is all anecdotal. I believe that everyone assumes that it is OK because nobody has heard of anyone being prosecuted. I also don’t imagine that the record companies will be looking to prosecute people, because if they lost the case it would be incredibly damaging, exposing themselves as the petty mercenaries that they are, but just because it is de-facto legal, doesn’t make it actually legal.

Along came the solution in the form of the iTunes store, to re-sell you all the tracks you already had and more. The problem is that for a long time all the music bought from iTunes was encoded with DRM.

Many people think of DRM, if they give it any attention at all, as “Copy Protection”. It makes sense right? If you have a product, that people can make an identical copy of for free, with very little effort, what is to stop them making a copy of their friend’s downloads.

DRM however is far more than copy protection, it stands for “Digital Rights Management”, which roughly translates as, “Although you have bought this music, we will control how you may use it”. Unsurprisingly one of the restrictions that was included with the iTunes DRM is that it would only play on an iPod, or computer running iTunes. Further than that you are restricted to 4 devices.

Now the industry is quick to point out that very few people complain about this. It fits their needs. This is because while digital music players are niche devices, and the iPod is seen as the only option, 4 devices are plenty, and as long as their only digital music player (iPod) works fine all is well. However when these devices become ubiquitous, it starts becoming a little more restrictive. Think about it as if you bought a CD and were told that you could use it in your portable CD player and the player in the kitchen, and Maybe in the kids CD players. But what if you want to hear it in the car, or on your computer, or when you are on holiday.

Digital Players are everywhere now, phones, DVD players, games consoles … why should I not play MY music on one of these other devices? And the answer is right there. Although I have bought the music it would appear that it is not actually mine.

iTunes has a DRM-free selection now, but it is far from the complete collection (because the record industry are trying to play hard ball with apple, but that is another topic), and Amazon have launched an MP3 download service which is DRM free, but alas this is not available in the UK.

And what is far more important to me is Video. The same situation exists, it is possible but not exactly legal to rip your DVD for use on your iPod etc (via Handbrake or some such program), and iTunes have recently started selling TV shows etc, but there seems to be no plans for DRM-Free video. I don’t want to watch TV on my computer!

And what these companies don’t get, when they are holding back from being DRM-free on iTunes, is that it is all easily available via bit torrent DRM free and often higher quality!

Is it any wonder that the music industry is struggling when people who are trying to do the right thing by buying the music that they want, frequently have to choose between paying for low quality music with DRM and piracy?

DRM, iTunes, media, Fair Use, technology


Witches Abroad

April 18, 2008

A while back the geek in felt ashamed that I had never read any of the Terry Pratchett, Discworld books. I remember mocking one of my close friends at school for reading them as I saw them as an extension of the whole Dungeons and Dragons thing … which was seriously uncool … and these things matter to a teenager.

I was wrong, and although I don’t expect that he reads my blog, I would like to go on the record and say “Sorry David”.

The OCD in me insisted that I start with the first and go through them in order. I have not come across one that has disappointed me yet.

Witches AbroadMy latest adventure through the Discworld was Witches Abroad .

For the unindoctrinated although the Discworld books are all based around the goings on on the Discworld, the books are based on a number of themes. The themes I have encountered so far seem to have been Rincewind and The Wizards, The Witches, The Guards and Death. Unsurprisingly Witches Abroad is all about the witches (with brief appearances from Death).

Many of the books have specific themes, and Witches Abroad’s theme is Fairy Tales. The basic plot is that people do not influence stories, stories happen to people. The story starts when the Desiderata, the Fairy Godmother, dies and in a characteristic twist on the old story, passes the responsibility to Magrat, a “wet hen” of a witch, to stop the Beautiful “Ember-ella” from marrying the prince. so accompanied by Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, she travels to Genua to right the wrongs that have occurred due to stories.

The book twists and retells many children’s favourites including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel … in fresh and incredibly amusing ways. The trick Pratchett pulls off is that it never seems to feel forced, it is as if these stories that have been around for years were specifically written to be used later in this book.

After the Drivel of Ian Sansom’s The Case of the Missing Books it is such a relief to be able to whole heartedly recommend this book, but to be honest it is a bit of an all or nothing type of arrangement… if you are going to read them start with The Colour of Magic and make your way through in sequence.

Don’t Panic … I’m Back

April 15, 2008

OK, So I went off to Spain and forgot to tell you. Did the internet seem empty without me?

I am assuming that I have so far not been blocked by China as although I have not received the anticipated number of comments (I am currently around 2 Billion short on my last count) it appears it is because I have got people so worked up they have chosen direct action. Granted it may just be a coincidence, but what are the chances of that? Ban me you swine! If you can ban reincarnation without a license you can ban my blog!

So where have I been? Ah yes.

A long time back in the mists of time, my father-in-law stated that when he retired he would like to take us (his children, and their families) on holiday, his treat! Well as much as we may have smiled and made nice words, I am not sure that any of us actually expected it to happen, but happen it did, and it took place last week.

Mrs Geek, the children and I, were accompanied by her 2 sisters, brother-in-law, 2 nephews and mum and dad. Off to sunny Spain!


The location was Nerja, on the Costa del Sol. The Coast of the Sun? Not for the first 4 days. Sure we left the UK in a blanket of snow, but it was an awful long way just to upgrade snow to rain.

Now it may not work quite so well for Eliza Doolittle, but I have decided to update the famous phrase to read…

The rain in Spain falls mainly on … Mr Geek!

My Son was determined that being the first time he had ever had his own pool, he was going to use it regardless of the weather, and to be honest everyone pitched in and made the best of what we had. We had a number of lovely meals from some of the local restaurants, Donkey Sanctuarywent to the local Donkey Sanctuary which was great, we walked along the beach, which while not exactly being golden sands was still fun for the kids. Also it had numerous little parks for the kids to play in, where I proved myself to be King Of The Monkeybars. I also got to watch the Mighty Reds defeat the Evil Gunners in what was one of the best matches I have seen since the 2005 final.

However after four days of rain, in what were admittedly very luxurious accommodation, nerves were beginning to fray. Good company or not, 11 people, including 4 under 8s, hiding from the rain on what everyone had anticipated being an oasis of relaxation, the irony begins to wear a bit thin. People seemed to be a little fed up of looking at the “Bright Side”, and my quite hilarious comment about how much money they were all saving on sun cream seemed to get lost in translation as I don’t think anyone fully appreciated my genius for lightening the tone.

But then the clouds parted, the sky brightened and the sun came out! And it came out with a vengeance! It was as if it were trying to make up for lost time. Cue the sun beds, cue the ice-cream, cue the pool, OK so that was still a bit cold. Everything was good again as the Sol had returned to the Costa del Sol.

So on the Sunday when our time was up, it was with a heavy heart that we left our temporary home in Nerja to return to the cold air of Manchester. On reflection I have to admit it was both a memorable and actually genuinely rather enjoyable week.

The Case of the Missing Books

April 14, 2008

(Oops … I wrote this last week before going away (more later) and forgot to press Publish)

The Case of the Missing Books by Ian SansomGaaarrhhh!!!

I have just finished this book, and all I have to say is Gaaarrhhh!!!

As a rule I always try to finish any book that I start, but this one would have defeated me if it were not for the fact that it was the designated book for the month in the reading group I am in. It was frustrating from beginning to end. To begin with the whole story is set up on a rather far fetched scenario in that the Protagonist, Israel Armstrong, turns up outside a library in Tumdrum, a fictional small town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, only to find it closed down. He is then cajoled into taking on a role as the Librarian of the Mobile Library that the council has set up to replace it. This for me was a push in terms of believability, but he then stumbles from one implausible mishap to another, meeting a series of Irish people that are so cringingly and almost offensively stereo-typically Irish they appear to have been dragged from an episode of Father Ted.

Israel, is a guardian reading Jewish librarian who was undoubtedly set up to be the bumbling but well meaning type that stumbles onto the answer through his own amusing ineptitude. He actually comes across as an almost unlikeable character with very little in the way of redeeming features. He is a self absorbed, self pitying and quite frankly pathetic individual who is apparently well read but without any outward sign of intelligence.

The story is basically a series of anecdotes and stereo types cobbled together by a weak and unconvincing plot. In what I can only assume is an attempt by the author to convince us that he is as well read as his fictional librarian, we get many references to and derogatory remarks about other books, in what feels like a bout of Literary name dropping. Books that quite frankly are far superior to this one.

To top it off, it would appear that the author finally got bored with the story too, as he could not bring himself to write an ending. If this is meant as a detective story Sansom really should try taking note a little better of the likes of Hercule Poirot, to whom Israel likens himself. The detective story should slowly unravel itself giving subtle clues to the reader which, whilst not being enough to give the game away, on reflection do indicate the eventual perpetrator. In this case however the mystery is solved out of the blue, not by our would-be sleuth, or even by his trusty sidekick, but by a confession by up until then a bit part character. This is all squeezed into the last few pages with very little in the way of explanation.

To top it off with no real explanation for his monumental change of mind, in the last part we are led to believe that Israel decided to stay on in Tumdrum to run the mobile library leaving troubling possibility of another instalment.

The one redeeming feature of this book is that it is short. It is however a few hours of my life that I will regretfully not be getting back. Really, if you are looking for a book to read, skip this one and buy any of the books that it mocks, from memory (I would look but I can’t bring myself to reopen the book) are

Brick Lane – Monica Ali

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J.K. Rowling

Bravo Two Zero – Andy McNab

Free Tibet!

April 4, 2008

You may or may not be aware that I regularly enjoy reading I forgot where I was going with this, and if you don’t read it, you should. It is very funny and also has a great community spirit amongst its commentators.

Well, a couple of days back her husband went on a business trip to china she joked about getting him put in jail. Well after that almost all of the comments were signed of with the line … Free Tibet!

As a result, it would appear that she is now blocked by The Great Firewall of China. Now paint me green with jealousy, but that really is something to be really proud of. The feeling that you have annoyed someone within such an authoritarian organisation as the CPC Alas it is probably an automatic thing, but one can dream. I would also like to find a way to get blocked by Zimbabwe in the vain hope that it would tick off Mugabe, but this looks like it might be getting solved.

So back to the matter in hand. I can’t tell you how much I want to get blocked by China!

Block me you people hating, oppressive, communist murderers!

Alas, not living in China, I can not check whether my Campaign has been successful. However I have a fool proof means of testing it … If you live in china leave a comment below, otherwise I will assume that you obviously could not read the post as it has been blocked. Unless I receive 1 Billion comments (give or take a few to account for the language difference and internet availability). I see no holes in that plan.

Free Tibet!!!

Please note that I have no dislike for the people of China, just the CPC.

Memoirs of a Geisha

April 2, 2008

Memoirs of a Geisha

I’ll start out with the standard line that exposes me as typical westerner and illustrates my ignorance of other cultures in that before reading this book, if someone said the word Geisha I heard Prostitute. The two things were indistinguishable to me. Now the exact connotations of what being a Geisha entails is beyond a simple blog entry, suffice to say it is far from simply summed up quite so easily.

Chiyo is a young girl from in a small fishing village called Yoroido in Japan. The book takes us through Chiyo’s life from just before she and her sister are orphaned, to being sold as little more than a slave, to becoming Sayuri, one of Japan’s most renowned Geisha.

It is a beautifully crafted story that immerses the reader in the detail and the pageantry of life as a Geisha, and bizarrely I enjoyed this book for many of the same things that I disliked Engleby. It takes it’s time in the describing Sayuri’s routines, her plans and her misfortunes but because it is based in a culture that is so alien to it’s intended reader it doesn’t feel forced. On the contrary, it would have achieved far less impact by being more direct.

I will own up to the fact that there were times during the book where I forgot that it was fiction and genuinely believed that it must be based on a true story. I even took the time to google for the “Famous Painting” of Sayuri, only to find a page quite rudely telling me “It’s fiction, get a life”. Harsh … but maybe fair.

Bad Blogger

April 2, 2008

OK I have slapped myself on the wrists for a rather lack-luster effort at blogging of late. This is due to a combination of factors of late, mostly due to the rare event that I have had to actually get some work done whilst attending the place I call work, usually out of no other reason than convention.

I have however read Memoirs of a Geisha, for which I will post my opinions on once I get an opportunity to write it up.

For now, I will leave it at that.