Archive for July 9th, 2007

Software idiocy

I can’t remember if I have already blogged about this, but it happens to me frequently, so I should make sure it stays on record.

Here you have someone with a tech support question on a forum. He claims that this or that feature does not work with the said software program. Apparently, the reason is because the feature does not exist, rather than not working because of a bug.

What pisses me off is when readers reply to that forum post with elaborate hoops of how to make it work. It might be as simple as installing another utility to do the specific work before loading the file again to the main app, or it might involve several new apps or libraries, or it might be as complex as modifying source code, or applying patches and then re-compiling.

This bothers me. I don’t like it when people are suggesting crazy things to Joe Users. I like simplicity, and I like offering simple solutions too. For example, when someone says that “Sony Vegas won’t read my Canon digicam’s MJPEG files”, I simply reply: “Because of a silly reason Vegas won’t do it, so use another video editor”.

However, people won’t reply the same thing. Because they have INVESTED to that software themselves, they take the selfish approach of proving to themselves that their choice was right. And so they reply: “you do this, then you do that, then you re-encode like this, and then you load it to Vegas”. While this might take HOURS to do each time (especially re-encodings), they will persist on suggesting it. They obviously show no respect to the user and his valuable time.

How fucked up this is? I mean, think about it. Instead of telling the poor person to go use the right tool for the job (in this case would be another video app, OR, buying a real camcorder instead of using a digicam to do video), they tell him to go get 5 more tools, glue them together in a specific order, sacrifice a goat, wait a few more hours, and then have it done. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It is beyond my comprehension how far software users will go to defend their own choices.

Same goes for Linux users of course. There was this guy in a forum a few years back who was in need of a professional movie-scripting app, and instead of telling the poor fella “use Mac or Windows, there are such apps there”, they replied to him “Oh, Emacs will do it. Just script it”.

What the fuck?

Regarding Intellectual Property

The editor in chief of InformationWeek wrote an editorial about IP and copyright. He believes that IP is something worth protecting because it generates money and subsequently jobs — especially in USA. Of course, there is the other side of the coin, people who want to see an abolishment of IP, copyright and patents.

I fall right in the middle of the dispute, as usual, with the ancient Greeks’ wisdom guiding my opinion: “pan metron ariston” (translation: “all good things in moderation”).

You see, IP is something that is strong in USA because it’s a product in itself. But it’s not as strong in, let’s say, Greece. Greece produces feta cheese and olive oil. 99% of Greeks don’t give a rat’s ass about Intellectual Property. And this is not because they “don’t get it” or because “they are savages”, but its citizens don’t have an interest in IP because they don’t produce any. In fact, the few that do produce IP (e.g. musicians), don’t actively secure it because it’s not in their mindset. Same goes for 90% of the countries of the world.

USA has created a virtual cash cow with this IP business. It looks to me that in 50 years from now the big business in USA would be to sell virtual islands inside virtual worlds. As stupid that might sound to us today, I am sure that modern IP law would sound the same to an early 20th century person. While ideas can be translated to real products, what it’s actually being secured is the idea, and not the final product (for example, Microsoft won’t sue you for stealing the actual box and CD of MS Office, but the actual software in it). Having said that, writing software is hard. Writing good software is much harder. Creating a good movie is hard. Writing any book is hard. Writing music, not so.

My opinion is that there are too many restrictions currently. I try to abide to IP laws, but there are some restrictions that I really don’t like. For example, if I make a small home movie to put on youtube and used Madonna’s music, I want to be able to do that. Recently, I tried to license some music from Magnatune for my personal video projects, and even their license is not clear enough: they want $5 for all YouTube videos, but they ask for $0 for non-commercial projects. So, where does my non-commercial video that would be hosted on BOTH the commercial YouTube and on my non-commercial web site and linked from an ad-driven video-tech forum falls to? Should I use the YouTube license, or the non-commercial license? And if I use the YouTube license, can I still upload that same video elsewhere, like on an ad-driven forum that I don’t own? It’s just not clear. I emailed Magnatune, and no one knows.

Fuck that. Through a lawyer friend I got in touch with CreativeCommons for using some of their music for my non-commercial videos (videos that would also be hosted to commercial sites though, like YouTube). Their non-derivative license clause says that you can use CC-by-nc-nd licensed music with your videos as long as there is no “synching”. What the hell “synching” is? Is the ‘one-note is for one-frame’ technical explanation, or the artistic explanation of “use a horrific part of music for a horrific moment in your video synchronized to create a specific feeling”? We asked in the list and the official CC lawyer, and guess what: no one knows! (or haven’t replied yet).

Fuck that too. Here’s what I read now: music companies asking protection money from small shops, no matter if they checked that they use copyrighted music or not. Eventually, a law will pass and all shops will require to pay music fees no matter if they use music or not. Like in some countries, you have to pay a monthly TV fee, no matter if you have a TV or not.

*That’s* where I am getting pissed of at. At the fact that the laws about something as BASIC as entertainment or knowledge are so complicated and so restrictive, that they take the “entertainment” out of the whole experience.

I believe that IP must be protected, but not go overboard with it. Laws like the DMCA are nazi-like (”tell me who told you and I will put him to jail too”). Poorer countries must be allowed to have a cheap pass on IP. Simplify the laws, and allow for more freedom on how people can use ideas. For example, for some open source licenses (possibly “public domain” licenses only), allow developers to use patents at their own will. For individuals who just made a home-made video clip, allow to use some copyrighted music in lower quality (e.g. 48kbps). For individuals who would like to include a 30-sec scene from a movie to remix it on YouTube, let them do so.

In other words, it comes down to this: Expand the fair use law and make it clear as day. Why is this so hard to do?

Update: My reply to a similar issue, about IP-likeness.

If I had 20 mil dollars…

* I would help our relatives in Greece and France ($1 mil).
* I would fix the roads/school in my village and buy some new equipment for Preveza’s hospital ($1 mil).
* I would donate to several humanitarian organizations ($5 mil).
* I’d buy a house somewhere in Europe, and an RV ($1 mil).
* I would create an engineering team in (cheaper) Greece to work on Gnome issues for 3 years ($1 mil). That non-profit company would be my hobby. Another $1 mil for JBQ’s hobbies.
* Other stuff that JBQ might want to acquire (?).

I’d put all the rest of the money in the bank and only use the minimum of what we need to live. I have no desire to buy diamonds, clothes, or other expensive crap for my house. When we die, relatives would get 80% of what’s left, and the rest should go to the state and humanitarian organizations.