Saturday, January 21, 2012

I will not let you define everything I am, by the one thing that I don't have

There's a short but important post over on Geekosystem on how broken DMCA is as a law, and how we really don't need SOPA or PIPA (or ACTA, for that matter); what we really need is to analyze DMCA, break it down, figure out what works and what doesn't work, and go forward with that.

I've featured a lot of posts on this blog about DMCA, and I think Mr. Limer is absolutely right here. When people entirely unconnected from the copyrighted product in the first place can file a DMCA takedown--and give no good reasons for doing it--the system is broken. When the burden of proof is not on the accuser, but the accused, the system is broken. When we're trying to force DMCA to do things it was never designed to do, by people who were never supposed to use it in this way...the system is beyond broken, and desperately needs to be fixed. (And let's be honest, the last time even partial revision was considered? It was 2004. Eight years later, the law is still profoundly broken, and subject to more misuse every year. Even though every three years this law is supposed to be re-evaluated, nothing much changes, and even though Congressional Librarian James Billington perused it again for minor changes in 2010, not that much was changed, a, and b, people still claimed misuse and filed cease-and-desist orders even on the material that was altered to fall under fair use.)

(Fun bit while you're on the site, unconnected: the ten scariest doors in geekdom [by that they mean works of speculative fiction, whether movies, television shows or video games] with explanations why for each one. Also well worth a read.)

Adafruit continues to do fun and interesting things with do-it-yourself electronics, but their latest design goes above and beyond just about everything. Called the "Flora" by designers, when it ships, it will ship with project details already designed for it, the specifically Flora-addressable (and chainable) 4000 mcd RGB LED pixels, and premium stainless steel "thread" (for stringing out guiding wires from solder point to LED ends, I'd imagine...or anything else you have in mind).

It features fourteen sewing 'tap pads' for attachment to fabric as well as electrical connections. There's no need to worry about overlapping traces, because of the redundancy factors of interleaved data buses and power and ground pads--cross-wiring is made really difficult by this; you'd almost have to deliberately try to cross-wire it by braiding the stainless thread together from the pads!

If you'd like to get an email when it launches, just sign up here. Nothing simpler. They'll only contact you the once, and only to let you know the Flora's now ready to ship.

(System specs for the technogeeks among us: the Flora comes with built-in USB support, works with Mac, Windows, and Linux; any USB cable works just fine. Equipped with a mini-B connector, USB HID support, so it will emulate a mouse, keyboard, MIDI soundboard--whatever you need to attach directly to your cellphone. They're designing an iPhone/iPad app, with an Android app to follow soon. It has an onboard power switch connected to 2A power FET for safe and efficient battery on/off control.

(Onboard at time of shipping: Bluetooth, GPS, 3-axis accelerometer, compass module, piezo wiring, IR LED, push buttons [including the single-button reset], flex sensors, an embroidered and capacitative keypad, OLED, and they say "and more"--I'm wondering what's left!

(In addition, Miss Fried really thought this through not just from a programmer's perspective, but from a crafter's: they're calling it "fabric friendly", which means it doesn't use FTDI headers [it has built-in USB support, remember], so there are no headers of any kind sticking out to grab and tear fabric. Everything soldered to the Flora plate is micro-electronically set.

(It's compatible with 3.3v modules and sensors, has an onboard polarized 2 JST battery connector for use with external battery packs from 3.5 volts to 16 volts. It can be used with just about any battery on the market today geared to those specs. It also does not have a LiPo charger, and this was by design--this means there is a reduced risk of fire with use on fabric.

(And, above all else, Miss Friend wanted to design something that anyone could use, from the beginner to the electronic engineer--so it's very, very difficult to connect a battery backwards and have it fry the system--it's protected by a series of polarized connector and protection diodes. So, for example, if you lost your mind and connected up a 9 volt battery block to the device--it wouldn't fry, it just wouldn't work.)


So, yesterday, the FBI--in a joint operation with several other countries, coordinated months in advance--shut down MegaUpload, and all its partner sites. It is notable to emphasize here that the parent companies behind MegaUpload were not charged with file sharing and copyright violation; they were charged with embezzling funds, fraud, and money laundering before any copyright violation charges were assessed--and even then, those two charges, when filed, were the last on the list of things that went wrong.

However, since the raid, shutdown, and arrests all happened on January 19th, one day after the SOPA/PIPA protests on January 18th, some impassioned souls figured 2 + 2 did in fact equal 5 in this instance, and banded together to shut down the main FBI website, along with the Department of Justice site, the website for Universal Music Group, and the RIAA and MPAA sites, respectively. It's being called the largest Anonymous action yet, and--while I have never supported Anonymous actions in general--I have to admit this may cause a similar feel-first-think-later response in these organizations: that of, if they take unpopular actions, the internet will go after them.

And--to me, at least--it feels very much like Anonymous wants to play on that image--that of "the internet" as a loose collective of angry, criminal-minded individuals who will batter people with technology failure and coordinated DDoS attacks until the good guys give in and whimper in submission. I'm not comfortable with this, especially since our current Congress (beyond a few notable examples) seems to be comprised of 60-year-olds who still think checking their email requires logging into AOL and donating a pint of blood to the nearest black goat.

But on the other hand, both the Anonymous attacks and the massive protests and coordinated call-ins by concerned citizenry made Senators and Representatives flee for the hills, and...considering what a truly awesomely bad idea passing either SOPA or PIPA would be...isn't that a good thing?

But then, I'm always reminded of the Buddhist theory that beginnings must be clean--if divisive change was achieved by means of terror, is it a good change? Can it ever truly be a good thing when criminal acts were required to help kill the bills?

On the other hand (though I've long since run out of hands), expedience is sometimes key. The end goal is to prevent the bills passing, at all, in any form. Maybe anything that helps with that is a good thing, because above all, those bills cannot pass.

It's a hard ethical tangle to be sure, and not a pleasant one. But--for now--we live in a world without SOPA, when bill supporters as well as large media companies were happily assured it was a slam dunk. I'll take my victories where I can.

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