The Technical Exorcist

January 27th, 2007

The Perils of Net Neutrality Legislation

Posted by exorcist in Mail

This letter was not specifically addressed to me, but to a newsgroup that Brer Licky reads.

I’ve just become aware of the Net Neutrality debate going on. I’m
wondering what you all know about and think about this issue as users
of the internet. I can’t explain the issue as well the people who are
behind the movement to preserve Net Neutrality. There is information
about it at (at least regarding USA) and (regarding Europe).

I’m really curious to find out if you have heard about this and what
you think about it.

~Ed Provencher

First off, I should point out that the links Ed provided are simple propaganda sites, and don’t even make an effort to be unbiased. A far better starting point for someone who is new to the Net Neutrality debate would be this article on the Washington Post. Jeffrey Birnbaum doesn’t take a stance on what the government should rule on this matter, but he does a pretty decent job explaining the issues, and why neither side is in the right.

But as Mr. Birnbaum also pointed out, the government must take a stance one way or the other—either allowing the cable companies to carry out their plans, or stepping in to preserve Net Neutrality. So what should be done?

My take is that as long as they aren’t violating any consumer rights, the thing to do is let capitalism take it’s course. If they provide inferior service, people will switch to a better one. If they do create a monopoly and start to abuse people, the courts can break it up.

If people want the Internet to remain free and open to new ideas, they need to let companies experiment with ideas like this. All the laws that are necessary to protect competition are already in place. Allowing the government to make laws how it’s citizens charge for and carry out their data transfer services will only result in more trouble later as the technology changes and the laws become outdated.

January 17th, 2007

A universal remote that works?

Posted by exorcist in Cool Toys

It looks like logitech may have just come out with a universal remote that might be worth buying. Check out this review from the Inquirer. It seems to deal nicely with the common flaws of universal remotes, such as unrecognised devices, complex programming procedures, and bulk. Now if only I had the toys to justify buying one. . .

January 15th, 2007

A Case Study on Why DRM is Bad News

Posted by exorcist in Mail

You’ve probably heard a million rants against DRM (Digtial Rights Management) protected music, software, and hardware. You may have wondered if people were making a big deal out of nothing. Well, they aren’t. This letter I received a few weeks ago is a good example of what could very possibly happen to you if you continue to buy DRM infected files.

M–wants to download music from Wal-Mart. In fact she has downloaded an installer and paid for some songs, and downloaded some songs. When she tries to play the songs, WMP 9 says “Windows Media Player has encountered an unknown error.”

Upgrading Windows Media Player did not help. In fact, following all the suggestions listed here
did not help.

The posts give a good description of what I’ve encountered.

One note: it appears that not all of the Windows updates that I’ve downloaded have been installed, and I can’t try that now because M— has stuff running. By tomorrow morning you can probably assume I have installed all the updates without better success.

To clarify: currently when I go to the web page to upgrade DRM support for pre-11 WMP, the button is grayed out (using the latest greatest IE).


And here’s my reply.

Unfortunately, M has got her first taste of why DRM is unacceptable. Even after you buy songs, and have used them for months, your music files are still under their control, and they can and will accidentally (when they aren’t doing it on purpose) screw you over. Since you have all the components they require of you, (Windows is updated, WMP is updated, etc.) the fault lies squarely with them, and there isn’t much you can do besides continue to harass them for swindling you, and make sure they realize how unacceptable this is. You can try to contact their customer support like they suggested (—maybe they can manually validate your licences. Unfortunately, even after they get them working for you, you are still entirely vulnerable. All they have to do is make a mistake in their databases and your music won’t play anymore. Also, the latest version of WMP (I can’t remember if they’ve released it yet,) won’t allow you to back up your licences, so if you have to do a re-format, or otherwise lose your files, you’ve lost all the money you paid.

The only practical solution I’ve managed to come up with is to demand your money back, and buy elsewhere.

Here are some respectable non-DRM stores. They’re selections are somewhat limited, but at least they should work.

You can get a very small amount of free non-DRM music from Amazon as well.

Rumors are flying like mad that Amazon is looking to provide a DRM-free music store with a variable pricing scheme, but Amazon has thought about getting into the music download selling business for a while, and hasn’t done it yet, so I guess I’m not holding my breath.

Good luck

The Technical Exorcist

Do you see the problem? Companies who implement DRM give themselves the right and power to renege on a sale. Instead of a contract between peers, your rights are considered subordinate to theirs. This is reprehensible both ethically and practically. Take this story as a warning. Examine the the service agreements on ITunes, Napster, MSN Music, or any other store, and see if you dare buy from them again.

January 14th, 2007

Internet Explorer Issues

Posted by exorcist in Website Updates

Today it was reported to me that Internet Explorer wasn’t displaying the Troll Cave or the Ape Man’s romping grounds correctly. The Troll cave only displayed one screen’s worth of text, and the way she likes to go on, I knew that they wouldn’t let me let it slide. After banging my head against it for a while, I figured out that she’d copied her post from Open Office, and it contained some non-standard code that threw IE off. The W3C Markup Validation Service was big help figuring that one out.

The Ape Man had lost his sidebar at the bottom of the screen, and that turned out to be a bigger pain. When I ran his code through the W3’s validator, it couldn’t even begin to validate because it said there was a character on line 190 that wasn’t part of the UTF-8 character set. I quickly located it and deleted it, but when I told it to recheck the site, it still claimed the character was there. I figured it was probably lying, so I saved the source code for Ape Man’s site to my hard drive and then had the W3’s validator check that. It shouldn’t have made any difference, but since it actually was lying, the validator didn’t choke on it. Instead, it found over 100 problems. Ape Man has a post that is really messed up, and he’s planning on fixing it soon. I didn’t feel like fixing it for him, so I gave up on getting his site to validate for the moment and decide to pursue other avenues.

A Google search turned up a lot of clues. Most of them said that IE was idiotic about margins, padding, sizes, percentages, and anything else you might think of. They all said you had to use a kind of a hack to get things working. They got me all off track investigating the “Holly Hack”, “Star Hack”, and a couple of other different names for basically the same thing. Problem is, those hacks really only seem to help IE 5 and below, and I was having problems with IE 6, which was ignoring the hack code.

In the end, I just made the sidebar float on the right side of the screen, and gave it a -100px left margin. It sounds like the kind of trick that would goober everything up, but it actually made all the browsers happy, and preserved the intended look of the site.

January 13th, 2007

Finally Up and Running

Posted by exorcist in Website Updates

It’s been almost a month since the other inhabitants of the Ethereal Land and I set up a private server to test our little project out on, and now we’re finally up and running in public webspace. It’s taken a lot of work on my part setting up back-end stuff, and helping the other’s get their spaces set up the way they wanted, but I’m pretty happy with our start. There are a lot of things that aren’t anywhere near how we eventually want them, but we’ve made a good start.

In the future we should have the site tied together better, and a lot of design flaws should be worked out. I’ll try to let everyone know about the bigger changes I make here as time goes on. You can also expect to see my takes on some computer/science articles here.