January 31, 2010

Another four letter word: ACTA

Posted in Digital Freedom, Intellectual Property at 14:48 by frifan

One of the scariest political events of late is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) negotiations being held between the EU, US, Japan and more. These negotiations are kept secret from the people[9][1.3][13]. Luckily the Internet is difficult to silence and much of the discussions has been leaked [1][8][17].
They are claiming that the trade agreement won’t change any local laws, and I certainly hope that is true, but then what are they discussing, really, and why behind closed doors?[10]

The ACTA negotiations are said to be strengthening the intellectual protection already present in the TRIPS agreement [2][3][4], which was called "murder" [5] by Professor Joseph Stiglitz, a 2001 Nobel Laureate in Economics. He also says ACTA stifles science and innovation in the world [6][7].

I wish they would take the agreement public and let people debate the proposals. Especially as the ramifications of this agreement may be felt by everybody. It has the potential to kill the Internet as we know it[11][12][1.4][14].

“IP is often compared to physical property rights but knowledge is fundamentally different.”IP Watch on Professor Joseph Stiglitz

“Patent monopolies are believed to drive innovation but they actually impede the pace of science and innovation, Stiglitz said. The current “patent thicket,” in which anyone who writes a successful software programme is sued for alleged patent infringement, highlights the current IP system’s failure to encourage innovation, he said.”IP Watch on Professor Joseph Stiglitz

Update February 8, 2010
Even though the negotiations in Mexico are concluded, we’re still left wondering what is really going on[18][19][20][21][22].

Update February 21, 2010
There is still some hope for a more balanced ACTA proposal[23][24], as the worst proposals seem be off the table.

Update March 21, 2010
Fortunately opposition is rising in the EU and other countries. New facts are leaking out about circumvention of WTO/WIPO, DMCA-style proposals and DRM. Despite the fact that any DRM scheme is fatally flawed and can never work. Even people in the gaming industry thinks it is bad. Still US President Obama praises ACTA, while Europe trashes it.

Funny remark: In Swedish the word "akta" means beware, note the similarity to ACTA.

References:
[1.1] The ACTA Guide, Part One: The Talks To-Date,
[1.2] The ACTA Guide, Part Two: The Documents (Official and Leaked),
[1.3] ACTA Guide, Part Three: Transparency and ACTA Secrecy,
[1.4] ACTA Guide: Part Four: What Will ACTA Mean To My Domestic Law?,
[1.5] ACTA Guide, Part Five: Speaking Out?
[2] Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
[3] Overview: the TRIPS Agreement
[4] Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
[5] Joseph Stiglitz on Why TRIPS (Patents) is Like Murder
[6] Intellectual Property Regime Stifles Science and Innovation, Nobel Laureates Say
[7] ACTA Murders
[8] Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
[9] ACTA One Step Closer To Being Done; Concerns About Transparency Ignored
[10] Blogging ACTA Across The Globe: FFII’s Ante Wessels on Exporting Europe’s Flaws
[11] The Similarity Between ACTA And Chinese Internet Censorship
[12] But, Wait, Didn’t The Entertainment Industry Insist ACTA Wouldn’t Change US Law?
[13] USTR: A Lot Of Misperception Over ACTA, But We Won’t Clear It Up Or Anything
[14] News.com Prevents Falsely Accused Grandmother Of Getting Kicked Off The Internet By The MPAA
[15] Blogging ACTA Across The Globe: FFII’s Ante Wessels on Exporting Europe’s Flaws
[16] Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure e.V. (FFII ACTA WG) presents an analysis of the planned Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)
[17] The ACTA Internet Chapter: Putting Pieces Together
[18] What Really Happened At the ACTA Talks in Mexico?
[19] ACTA Negotiators Report No Breakthroughs On Transparency
[20] ACTA absurdity continues, may only get worse
[21] ACTA goes on charm offensive sans charm
[22] EU Official caught in ACTA
[23] ACTA Negotiators: Maximal Protection Proposals Unlikely In Final Text
[24] Contradictory Court Rulings, Continuing Tension On Internet Liability In EU

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January 30, 2010

The broken promise of Android

Posted in Digital Freedom, Digital Lifestyle at 00:22 by frifan

Google Android is a free and open source operating system for mobile Internet devices. The promise of Android is freedom over your device, which allows you to use the software and services you want. No longer can the operators, service providers or anyone else decide what you do with your device. Nor can they dictate which services to allow and charge extra for them. You can install the applications you want, even if you made them yourself. The operators only provide the data communication service, which brings me to the subject of net neutrality, but that I leave for another post.

By the end of summer last year I was in the process of buying an Android phone. I call it a process as I try to make a market survey to make the best possible choice for me. All I had heard and read about the Android platform made me believe that it held the most promise for the future. It was already then very flexible and offered a lot of functionality, but the icing on the cake was, for me, that it was open. I believe very strongly in open source, or FOSS, and think it will push proprietary software into niche markets. Since I had already decided on the android operating system, the main focus was on the hardware. It basically boiled down to two choices. Samsung Galaxy or HTC Hero. The former has better hardware specifications, but the latter had a more smooth user interface. As I believed in the future of Android I wanted to see its evolution unmodified. I don’t want anyone to disguise the true Android experience and put a layer on top of it, which would only serve to delay upgrades to newer versions. Therefore I went with the Samsung Galaxy and bought it from Germany where it was a full €150 cheaper than in Sweden.

I really like the phone. Sure there are some quirks and it’s not the fastest. The user interface sometimes lags terribly, but for the most part it works wonderfully. By the end of the year the next version (1.6) of Android appeared, then another just before Christmas (2.0) and now we’re seeing version 2.1 arrive. In the meantime Samsung decided to not upgrade the phone! I refused to believe it for a while, but more and more rumors suggested that Samsung had chosen to not to upgrade their first models and instead bring new ones to the market [1].

I did think of this as a possibility, but as it was open source I feared not. Because open source means that you always have access to the software free of charge. Then I discovered that the promise, that was Android, was a broken one. Sure, the Android operating system was still open, but the problem is the device drivers. The operating system relies on device drivers to talk to the hardware. These are not part of Android itself, but required to access the hardware capabilities of the underlying hardware. Samsung has chosen to use another WiFi chip than other manufacturers and, also, another camera (5 Mega pixel). While most of the other hardware was the same as other manufacturers were using, these two examples were exclusive to the Samsung Galaxy. If you cannot upgrade the operating system, then you cannot use the new features and the new class of applications that use them. Because if the open source nature of Android, it didn’t take long before someone created an upgrade for the cellphone [2][3]. Unfortunately you had to crack the phone to install it. An operation which voids your warranty. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of the manufacturers releasing any device drivers under open source and the newer version of Android requires updates to the device drivers. Much of the hardware is the same as in other phones that have received an upgrade and those updated device drivers can be used by Samsung Galaxy too, but the device drivers for hardware that is exclusive to the phone doesn’t have any updates. It is, in my experience, usually a simple task to update the device drivers, but writing new ones is a huge task. As Samsung won’t release the device drivers as open source, then no-one can help them do the update, and believe me people would help them for free. This all leaves the exclusive parts of your phone inaccessible after the upgrade and that is where the promise of Android breaks down. Also, the bits and pieces of Android that made it into the Linux kernel have now fallen out again[4] and without a good reason to why Google needs a fork[5].

H Online has a nice summary of the issue[6], so far. There are some differences to how Google and the main Linux kernel handle some things[8][9], but I believe most reasons to be historic and that it will work itself out if only Google wishes it to[7].

My advice to you: Buy an Android cellphone! Just NOT from Samsung, because they aren’t serious about Android and won’t upgrade the software. Hey, I’m talking from experience here.

References:
[1] Samsung’s Galaxy stuck in history
[2] Utvecklare tar saken i egna händer – Android 2.0 till Galaxy i7500 (Swedish only)
[3] Samsung I7500 mustymod ROM (Android 2.0), Android 2.0 (Eclair) for Samsung Galaxy
[4] Android code removed from Linux kernel
[5] Android and the Linux Kernel Community
[6] Android versus Linux?
[7] KS2009: How Google uses Linux
[8] Wakelocks and the embedded problem
[9] See, NOW it makes sense…

January 29, 2010

Calling technical support

Posted in Lousy Support at 21:35 by frifan

I guess everybody has an experience like this every once in a while. Well, here is yet another one I had just the other day.

I switched telephone service provider for my home IP-phone. The reason was simplicity. Now I would have the same service provider as for the broadband and I less box to configure. The price of the subscription would also drop, but at the expense of slightly more expensive calls. Nowadays, I and my wife, most use the cellphones anyway.

The problem I had was a dead phone since the switch. Utter silence when you pick up the receiver. This story starts with the third call because the two prior calls were before the switch where they told me that they are working on it and a fix would be in place before the switch. Luckily the queue to the technical support of the service provide wasn’t that long.

“Welcome to <censored> technical support, how may I help you?”, a guy says in Swedish.

“Hi! My name is Stefan and my phone isn’t working. I don’t get a dial tone when I lift the receiver.”, I say.

“Ok, give my your account number and I’ll have a look.”, the guy says.

I gave him the account number and he starts typeing away on his keyboard until he finds the remotre connection to my modem, which was provided by them. He glances over the settings and hums a little. To be fair, he might have asked me a question or two, at this point, but nothing that I felt were helping to narrow down the problem. I can be quite forgetful when it comes to stuff that I don’t think is important, so I honestly don’t remember any questions. Finally he tells me that he can see that the modem is working and therefore my phone must be broken.

Astonished, I say: “No my phone is working. Why would it break when switching service provider?”.

“Well the modem is working, I can see that here, so it has to be your phone.”, he says.

“How can you conclude that? The modem detects when I pick up the receiver, so it must be a problem with the modem.”, I say.

“It says here on my screen that the modem is working. Your phone is broken and you have to try another one.”, he says with a hint of irritation.

“I don’t have another phone and I don’t believe that is the problem. Do you know what is supposed to happen when I pick up the receiver? The phone is basically dumb and has no real intelligence. It just plays whatever comes from the modem”, I say with clear irritation in my voice.

“Your phone is dead. It must be replaced.”, he chirps.

I’m starting to become angry and continue to pursue reason. ” What I see, is that the modem doesn’t play the dial tone and we need to investigate why. The phone has got nothing to do with that. It just plays whatever is sent from the modem. There is no intelligence in the phone. It doesn’t understand that we convert the communication into packets of data. There isn’t much in the phone that can break down and it was working fine before the switch. The problem must be elsewhere.”.

I guess my voice showed my frustration, because he tells me: “This isn’t leading anywhere. I cannot help you anymore.”.

“I can tell that you don’t want to find the problem at all and are trying to shift the blame. You clearly don’t understand what is going on and don’t even want to learn.”, I respond.

“I can forward you to someone else, because we’re not getting anywhere.”, he cuts me off as he realizes that I’m quite upset.

“Please do! So that we can find the fault.”, I start before getting shifted back to the switch board.

Some people would probably trust him and get another phone, luckily I’m not one of them. I persevered and got real help from the next support guy. He experimented a little and managed to find a work-around for the problem. It turned out that the modem was faulty and a replacement was sent to me. The work-around, he found, keeps me going until the replacement is installed.

The morale of the story is to listen to reason. Think for yourself a bit. Don’t trust anyone blindly without evaluating their reasoning. At least let them explain what is going on before you decide to believe them. In this case I guess I knew more about VoIP (Voice over IP), and the phone system in general, than he did.

January 20, 2010

First post

Posted in Digital Lifestyle at 18:06 by frifan

I’ve become quite mobile. It’s a new lifestyle. Very addictive. Always online. Always accessible, for good and bad.
Everything changed when I bought my android phone. I’ve got an unlimited data subscription, which is a necessity for a phone like this. Now, I cannot imagine going back to an old phone anymore.
There are some irritations and quirks still. Both in the phone, android and the subscription.
My service provider exists in all the Scandinavian countries, but they still don’t have subscriptions that crosses the borders, because they make too much money on roaming charges. 25 kr/MB (€2.47/MB) for data when you move across the border. Outrageous! But then what incentive do they have to fix it?
My phone is, unfortunately, a Samsung Galaxy. Don’t buy one! More on that later and some problems with android. I’m approaching home and need to get ready.

/FriFan, signing of from the train home.

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