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Podcast

My podcast is a regular feed in which I read from one of my stories for a few minutes at least once a week, from whatever friend's house, airport, hotel, conference, treaty negotiation or what-have-you that I'm currently at. You can get the Podcast through iTunes. Alternatively:

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Podcast files an Oggs, streams, and different bitrate MP3s


Podcast: How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage

Here's a reading (MP3) of my latest Guardian column, How Amazon is holding Hachette hostage, which examines how Hachette's insistence on DRM for their ebooks has taken away all their negotiating leverage with Amazon, resulting in Amazon pulling Hachette's books from its catalog in the course of a dispute over discounting:

Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon's DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you're Amazon. So while it's technical child's play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple's Ibooks or Google's Play Store, such a move is illegal.

It is an own-goal masterstroke. It is precisely because Hachette has been so successful in selling its ebooks through Amazon that it can't afford to walk away from the retailer. By allowing Amazon to put a lock on its products whose key only Amazon possessed, Hachette has allowed Amazon to utterly usurp its relationship with its customers. The law of DRM means that neither the writer who created a book, nor the publisher who invested in it, gets to control its digital destiny: the lion's share of copyright control goes to the ebook retailer whose sole contribution to the book was running it through a formatting script that locked it up with Amazon's DRM.

The more books Hachette sold with Amazon DRM, the more its customers would have to give up to follow it to a competing store.

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Podcast: News from the future for Wired UK


Here's a reading (MP3) of a short story I wrote for the July, 2014 issue of Wired UK in the form of a news dispatch from the year 2024 -- specifically, a parliamentary sketch from a raucous Prime Minister's Question Time where a desperate issue of computer security rears its head:

Quick: what do all of these have in common: your gran's cochlear implant, the Whatsapp stack, the Zipcar by your flat, the Co-Op's 3D printing kiosk, a Boots dispensary, your Virgin thermostat, a set of Tata artificial legs, and cheap heads-up goggles that come free with a Mister Men game?

If you're stumped, you're not alone. But Prime Minister Lane Fox had no trouble drawing a line around them today during PMQs in a moment that blindsided the Lab-Con coalition leader Jon Cruddas, who'd asked about the Princess Sophia hacking affair. Seasoned Whitehall watchers might reasonably have expected the PM to be defensive, after a group of still-anonymous hackers captured video, audio and sensitive personal communications by hijacking the Princess's home network. The fingerpointing from GCHQ and MI6 has been good for headlines, and no one would have been surprised to hear the PM give the security services a bollocking, in Westminster's age-old tradition of blame-passing.

Nothing of the sort. Though the PM leaned heavily on her cane as she rose, she seemed to double in stature as she spoke, eyes glinting and her free hand thumping the Dispatch Box: "The Princess Sophia affair is the latest installment in a decades-old policy failure that weakened the security of computer users to the benefit of powerful corporations and our security services. This policy, the so-called 'anti-circumvention' rules, have no place in an information society.

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Audio from today’s keynote on digital publishing

This morning, I gave the keynote speech the 2014 conference of The Literary Consultancy in London, about the future of publishing. They got the audio up with lightning speed (I'm in the auditorium, listening to the follow-on panel).

MP3 Link


Podcast: ‘Cybersecurity’ begins with integrity, not surveillance


Here's a reading (MP3) of a recent Guardian column, 'Cybersecurity' begins with integrity, not surveillance, in which I suggest that the reason to oppose mass surveillance is independent of whether it "works" or not -- the reason to oppose mass surveillance is that mass surveillance is an inherently immoral act:

The Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman and I presented an introductory session at SXSW before Edward Snowden's appearance, and he made a thought-provoking comparison between surveillance and torture. Some of the opponents of torture argue against it on the ground that torture produces low-quality intelligence. If you torture someone long enough, you can probably get him to admit to anything, but that's exactly why evidence from torture isn't useful.

But Gellman pointed out that there are circumstances in which torture almost certainly would work. If you have a locked safe – or a locked phone – and you want to get the combination out of someone, all you need is some wire-cutters, a branding iron, some pliers, and a howling void where your conscience should be.

The "instrumental" argument against torture – that it doesn't work – invites the conclusion that on those occasions where torture would work, there's nothing wrong with using it. But the primary reason not to torture isn't its efficacy or lack thereof: it's that torture is barbaric. It is immoral. It is wrong. It rots societies from the inside out.

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Podcast: How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance


Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Locus column, How to Talk to Your Children About Mass Surveillance, in which I describe the way that I've explained the Snowden affair to my six-year-old:

So I explained to my daughter that there was a man who was a spy, who discovered that the spies he worked for were breaking the law and spying on everyone, capturing all their e-mails and texts and video-chats and web-clicks. My daughter has figured out how to use a laptop, phone, or tablet to peck out a message to her grandparents (autocomplete and spell-check actually make typing into an educational experience for kids, who can choose their words from drop-down lists that get better as they key in letters); she’s also used to videoconferencing with relatives around the world. So when I told her that the spies were spying on everything, she had some context for it.

Right away, we were off to the races. ‘‘How can they listen to everyone at once?’’ ‘‘How can they read all those messages?’’ ‘‘How many spies are there?’’ I told her about submarine fiber-optic taps, prismatic beam-splitters, and mass databases. Again, she had a surprising amount of context for this, having encountered digital devices whose capacity was full – as when we couldn’t load more videos onto a tablet – and whose capacities could be expanded with additional storage.

Then I talked about not reading everything in realtime, and using text-search to pick potentially significant messages out of the stream. When I explained the spies were looking for ‘‘bad words’’ in the flow, she wanted to know if I meant swear words (she’s very interested in this subject). No, I said, I mean words like ‘‘bank robbery’’ (we haven’t really talked about terrorism yet – maybe next time

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

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Talking with APM’s Marketplace about the Disneyland prospectus

I was on American Public Media’s Marketplace yesterday talking (MP3) about our posting of a rarer-than-rare Disney treasure, the never-before-seen original prospectus for Disneyland, scanned before it was sold to noted jerkface Glenn Beck, who has squirreled it away in his private Scrooge McDuck vault.


Podcast (FIXED): Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart

Note: This is a fixed version of this week's podcast; I accidentally uploaded an older podcast under this headline.

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Guardian column, Firefox's adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart, a close analysis of the terrible news that Mozilla has opted to add closed source DRM to its flagship Firefox browser:

The decision to produce systems that treat internet users as untrusted adversaries to be controlled by their computers was clearly taken out of a sense of desperation and inevitability.

It’s clear that Mozilla plans to do everything it can to mitigate the harms from its DRM strategy and to attempt to reverse the trend that brought it to this pass.

Like many of Mozilla’s longtime supporters, I hold it to a high standard. It is not a for-profit. It’s a social enterprise with a mission to empower and free its users.

I understand that Apple, Microsoft and Google are for-profit entities that have demonstrated repeatedly that their profitability trumps their customers’ rights, and I fault them for this. But it’s not unreasonable to hold mission-driven nonprofits to a higher standard than their commercial counterparts.

Mozilla says it’s doing everything it can to reduce the harm from what it sees as an inevitable decision. As a Mozilla supporter, contributor and user, I want it to do more.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

MP3


Podcast: Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Guardian column, Firefox's adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart, a close analysis of the terrible news that Mozilla has opted to add closed source DRM to its flagship Firefox browser:

The decision to produce systems that treat internet users as untrusted adversaries to be controlled by their computers was clearly taken out of a sense of desperation and inevitability.

It’s clear that Mozilla plans to do everything it can to mitigate the harms from its DRM strategy and to attempt to reverse the trend that brought it to this pass.

Like many of Mozilla’s longtime supporters, I hold it to a high standard. It is not a for-profit. It’s a social enterprise with a mission to empower and free its users.

I understand that Apple, Microsoft and Google are for-profit entities that have demonstrated repeatedly that their profitability trumps their customers’ rights, and I fault them for this. But it’s not unreasonable to hold mission-driven nonprofits to a higher standard than their commercial counterparts.

Mozilla says it’s doing everything it can to reduce the harm from what it sees as an inevitable decision. As a Mozilla supporter, contributor and user, I want it to do more.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

MP3


Podcast: Why it is not possible to regulate robots

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my recent Guardian column, Why it is not possible to regulate robots, which discusses where and how robots can be regulated, and whether there is any sensible ground for "robot law" as distinct from "computer law."

One thing that is glaringly absent from both the Heinleinian and Asimovian brain is the idea of software as an immaterial, infinitely reproducible nugget at the core of the system. Here, in the second decade of the 21st century, it seems to me that the most important fact about a robot – whether it is self-aware or merely autonomous – is the operating system, configuration, and code running on it.

If you accept that robots are just machines – no different in principle from sewing machines, cars, or shotguns – and that the thing that makes them "robot" is the software that runs on a general-purpose computer that controls them, then all the legislative and regulatory and normative problems of robots start to become a subset of the problems of networks and computers.

If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I believe two things about computers: first, that they are the most significant functional element of most modern artifacts, from cars to houses to hearing aids; and second, that we have dramatically failed to come to grips with this fact. We keep talking about whether 3D printers should be "allowed" to print guns, or whether computers should be "allowed" to make infringing copies, or whether your iPhone should be "allowed" to run software that Apple hasn't approved and put in its App Store.

Practically speaking, though, these all amount to the same question: how do we keep computers from executing certain instructions, even if the people who own those computers want to execute them? And the practical answer is, we can't.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

MP3


Podcast: Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom

Here's a reading (MP3) of a my latest Guardian column, Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom, which tries to make sense of the disastrous news that the Federal Communications Commission is contemplating rules to allow ISPs to demand bribes from publishers in exchange for letting you see the webpages you ask for.

There's a useful analogy to the phone company that I've written about here before: you pay for your phone service every month. The pizza place on the corner also pays for its phone service every month. When you want to order a pizza from Joe's Corner Pizzeria, you call their number. If their phone isn't engaged, it rings and you get to place your order. If they get more orders than they can handle on one line, they buy a second line, a third, even 10 lines to take their orders. Provided one of those lines is free, your call goes through to someone when you ring.

But what if your phone company decided that the way to bring in higher profits was to go around to all the pizza places and shake them down for "premium" access to "their" customers? If Joe's Corner Pizzeria turned them down, your call to Joe's might get a busy signal, even if there were plenty of free lines at Joe's place. Meanwhile, an order to the monied, tasteless sultan of global cardboard pizza-ite, that is, the company who has plenty of money for "premium" access – is easy to reach, because your phone company has promised them that every call will be put through.

The thing is, Joe's is paying for its lines. You're paying for your line. The phone company exists solely to connect people to the numbers they dial. But because there are "natural monopolies" in phone service (because there are only so many mobile frequencies and underground cable space), they can abuse their position to extort additional payments from the services you want to talk to. And the more popular a service is, the better it is, the more the ISP stands to profit from this racket.

Mastering by John Taylor Williams: wryneckstudio@gmail.com

John Taylor Williams is a audiovisual and multimedia producer based in Washington, DC and the co-host of the Living Proof Brew Cast. Hear him wax poetic over a pint or two of beer by visiting livingproofbrewcast.com. In his free time he makes "Beer Jewelry" and "Odd Musical Furniture." He often "meditates while reading cookbooks."

MP3


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