Musings on DRM

The current MGM vs. Grokster case is rocking the Internet and I wouldn’t be far wrong if I said thousands of people were blogging about this. Basically, the music industry is battling against technologies that enable “sharing” of any sort on grounds that it makes it easy to violate copyright, thus harming their business. Now I’m not going to argue about how devastating it would be if they won, just how absurd their argument is and how useless DRM actually is (and thus how it will harm their sales).

MGM, and the whole music and film industries, would like to make illegal any piece of equipment or software that doesn’t “make a reasonable effort” to prevent people from copying copyrighted materials. Now have a think about the implications of this: your friendly video recorder will be illegal. What about your printer? Your office or school photocopier? Your very own computer? Those, unfortunately, are some of the smaller things that we would be deprived of. The Internet as we know it would become illegal and would have to be completely reworked to build in the restrictions of DRM.
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As some of you may know, I own a Soekris net4801 I affectionately call Piccolo. It runs Linux, and it’s my router, firewall, and does a few other odd jobs on my network. Basically, it governs my connection to the Internet, and if it goes down I’m offline until I get it sorted.

In the last couple of days I decided to no longer run its OS off the small laptop hard disk I installed in it, but instead off a CompactFlash card like one uses in photo cameras. It has a nice slot specially for this purpose, and I even bought a 512MB card to use with Piccolo when I got it many months ago. So I set out to build a version of Debian Sarge (testing) that would run off a read-only filesystem (since CompactFlash only has a limited amount of write cycles), and out of that came PicoDebian, a small version of Debian suitable for use on small systems like the Soekris net4801.


More little nuggets of information:

• The Register has a great article about Apple iTunes and DRM in general. Apple de-socializes iTunes.

• I am working on a very small (not tiny) variant of Debian to run on Piccolo. So far I have it down to a 24MB root filesystem and an 8MB boot partition. More details to follow once I try it out this evening!

• My visiting tutor from Hudds is…er…visiting today, but I haven’t filled in my diaries! Fortunately they don’t count for much, but it’s still not good. I wish I could count stuff I’m doing at home too, since it all sounds more impressive than what I’m doing at work (even though what I’m doing at work is fun, interesting, and not easy).

First impressions

No to The VenueWe went up for Huddersfield this weekend to do some house-hunting for next year. To be brutally honest we really didn’t have much luck but, thanks to Andy’s fiancée Sarah we now have somewhere to live—the house he was in last year. Good choice methinks.

As part of our stay we, of course, had to visit the new Students’ Union building and try out all its new sections: the bar (called The Venue), the café (The Lounge), and the shop (er… The Shop). Now I must admit the shop is the most impressive thing in the new building: it’s much bigger, much better stocked, has more tills, and is generally more aimed towards students (let’s say it sells booze at long last).
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To copy another site, I’m going to start writing these Tidbits posts when I have several small items to comment about, but aren’t worth a whole entry in themselves.

• Today’s front page on the Daily Mirror had me in stitches: “Guess who’s had his ID stolen”. For those of you who don’t have English telly channels, a credit card company is running identity theft adverts claiming that their credit cards are magically protected from this somehow. I think you can guess what it’s all about: the actor in the ad has had his ID stolen. Do you own a Shredder?

• The British Beer and Pub Association (BPPA) is seeking to debunk the apparent myth that beer is the cause of beer bellies! Now I know they’re advertising here, but apparently beer has fewer calories per 100ml than wine, milk, or orange juice. See the El Reg story for more. And don’t you go all holier than thou and point out a pint of beer surely has more calories in it than a glass of wine…

Not too shabby!

Well, the news you were all waiting for: we came 6th out of the 12 teams present in this particular heat. Since this was our first time participating in this event, I’m really pleased with our result. Of course we got to the event slightly late, so we missed the introductions and the coffee (no caffeine!). We called ourselves “Dude, where’s my keyboard?” and, fittingly enough, a guy who called himself “Dude, where’s my compiler?” showed us around… How sad we all are!

Each team gets its own room in the rather nice IBM lab / executive playground, which appears to be a converted mansion, or at least built in that sort of style. We certainly had to drive a hell of a long way through grassland before we got anywhere. Each room was kitted out with a brand new IBM ThinkPad (yuck… but new!) with a big 19″ LCD screen, a titchy little projector, a printer (we had two actually), and the all-important USB pen drive to hand in our work. We were all given 4 problems, and four hours to solve as many as we could in.
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BCS Programming Competition

Last night a small group of IPs from Oracle, including myself and Jess, went out for a few pints in Reading. It was a lovely night which started off in a pub with a remarkable amount of character, right in the middle of Reading in the main pedestrian zone: the Hobgoblin. A lovely pub that is, with great beers, lots of guest ales, and a very cosy atmosphere. This is the sort of place that has a no mobile phones sticker on the door. Lovely! We then moved on to another pub, The Outback (I think), which was perfectly reasonable but nothing too special. All in all a nice night. I really need to get used to going out more often: I had a hangover after just 4 pints!

Tomorrow, Sam, Ben and I are off to IBM in Hursley (near Southampton) to take part in the first heat of the British Computer Society Programming Competition 2005. I’ve spent most of the evening brushing up on things like parsers, compilers, and various data structures and algorithms that I really should know but have forgotten about. We’re also allowed to bring in all sorts of printed matter so I’m printing out whatever I think could come in handy!

So, wish us luck! I wonder if we’ll even get through the first heat, but we can but try.