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War on "piracy" makes Sudafed-from-meth a reality

Sunday 26 February 2012, 14:17

There's a very amusing article making the rounds that purports to be a scientific paper on the subject of how to make Sudafed from crystal meth. The idea is that because of the War on Drugs and the fact that the popular cold medication pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can be used to synthesize methamphetamine, it has become really difficult and annoying to buy pseudoephedrine when you just want to use it to treat your cold. So, the authors claim, instead of buying Sudafed it is easier to buy crystal meth and do a bit of lab work to convert it to Sudafed. Using safe, readily available household chemicals, like chromium carbonyl.

I'm sure the article was meant as a comment on drug prohibition, but it occurs to me that it's pretty much exactly the same thing we see in real life with video "piracy." Efforts to prevent "piracy" have created so much inconvenience for non-pirate buyers, and have had so little effect on the availability of "pirated" video, that people end up choosing the "pirated" versions just because the non-"pirated" ones have become basically impossible to obtain and are getting steadily worse, while the "pirated" choices are getting easier and better. It's much the same point The Oatmeal made recently.

SOPA/PIPA protest disappointments

Wednesday 18 January 2012, 13:40

As you probably know by now if you live under a rock and get all your news through the Net, several popular sites are protesting current US proposed Net censorship laws. I'm glad to see that happen, and I'm glad that a lot of people are paying attention, and I don't want to understate how glad I am of those things. But I'm also disappointed by a lot of what I'm seeing, too.

Manitoba Writers' Guild opposes fair dealing

Thursday 17 November 2011, 16:42

I just got a message on the Manitoba Writers' Guild mailing list that disappointed me; it was forwarded from the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers, and opposed Bill C-11's expansions to fair dealing. Here's the original message (I think that's a publicly available posting, but if not, let me know and I'll post a mirror); my response is below. I don't know that anyone over there will read it - I'm not sure who reads the mailbox that is the "From:" on these mailing list messages - but maybe readers here would like to see it.

Another thought on the Astrolabe copyright thing

Friday 7 October 2011, 08:54

It may have been inevitable that this or something like it would happen, because the astrological community has a long history of making extralegal claims on factual information. Many algorithms have been published in books with copyright notices claiming that if you implement the algorithms, then you can only use the resulting software for non-profit purposes. That's a transparent attempt to claim software patent protection (inherently questionable already) without having a patent at all, using copyright law as the basis instead, so as to get the much longer term and lack of review applicable to copyrights instead of patents.

Astrolabe announces change in business: was astrology, now copyright trolling

Thursday 6 October 2011, 22:13

The Unix time-zone database - necessary to the operation of Linux-based computers and many other systems around the world as well - has been withdrawn from distribution because of a lawsuit filed by Astrolabe Inc. I'm really saddened to hear of this, because I liked Astrolabe. They've been in the business of selling astrological software for a long time, and they make many popular products, some of which I have used and recommended. But now I can't give them any more money nor can I recommend that others do so, because they have attacked the basic infrastructure of global computing. The word "terrorism" is so overused now as to be practically worthless, but attacks on infrastructure are often mentioned when people try to define it. Shame on you, Astrolabe.

News on the astrological front

Wednesday 29 September 2010, 11:57

When I switched to the new computer I found that a lot of my trickier LaTeX code - including, for instance, the files I use to produce my Japanese-language flash cards - no longer worked with the TeX/LaTeX installation that came with the new Slackware, and I was faced with a choice of going forward (converting all my code to work with some new installation, whether that or another), or going back (and restoring the entire TeX/LaTeX installation from the old machine). I decided to go forward. As a result I've spent a fair bit of time in the last few days tweaking different pieces of software. The astrological chart service is probably still down, though I'm getting closer to having it work again; I couldn't get CJK and its associated packages to work at all in the amount of time I was willing to spend, so I ended up taking "grendelkhan"'s suggestion and switching to XeTeX for my Asian-language typesetting. I ended up also switching the book manuscript to XeTeX for other reasons, and that was an adventure because of compatibility between XeTeX, the sffms class, and the commercial font I wanted to use.

The news, however, is this: I just got mail from Anthony Owen, the designer of the Starfont astrological fonts, and he confirms that he has released them to the public domain. Yay! There had formerly been some uncertainty and people were hesitant to use or distribute the fonts for that reason. So it's now on my list to put together a new version of the LaTeX package I wrote - but of course I also want to go in and add all the updates and fixes that have come up in the years since I last updated it, so there'll be some nontrivial work involved beyond just changing the licensing notes.

Gerard Kennedy on copyright, other issues

Thursday 24 June 2010, 10:42

Last night I attended a meeting called the "Community Council on Federal Issues," hosted by Gerard Kennedy, Liberal Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park and my Federal elected representative. I didn't vote for him; never mind whether I would have, I was living in a different city at the time of the last election. Apparently he holds these meetings periodically as a way of keeping in touch with constituents; this one in particular was advertised as having a focus issue of "Locked out? New Federal copyright laws and you," which was what drew my interest. I didn't take notes and don't plan to report on the entire meeting, but will cover a few points of interest to me.

Colour, social beings, and undecidability

Monday 9 August 2004, 12:01

Okay, it's been about two months since I posted my piece about colourful bits, and I really should have posted a follow-up before now, but better late than never.  First of all, here are ten other places that carried the story, in no particular order:

What Colour are your bits?

Thursday 10 June 2004, 11:54

There's a classic adventure game called Paranoia which is set in an extremely repressive Utopian futuristic world run by The Computer, who is Your Friend.  Looking at a recent LawMeme posting and related discussion, it occurred to me that the concept of colour-coded security clearances in Paranoia provides a good metaphor for a lot of copyright and intellectual freedom issues, and it may illuminate why we sometimes have difficulty communicating and understanding the ideologies in these areas.

An article based on this one and its follow-ups, by me, Brett Bonfield, and Mary Fran Torpey, appeared in the 15 February 2008 issue of LJ, Library Journal.

Madonna, Bourdin, and Robin

Thursday 1 April 2010, 08:44

In May 2004, pop star Madonna paid an undisclosed amount to settle a lawsuit with the estate of French erotic photographer Guy Bourdin. The Smoking Gun archived some court papers and a side-by-side comparison of stills from Madonna and Bourdin videos. The similarities are pretty significant; it looks like plagiarism.

The interesting part from my point of view is that Madonna seems to have been the victim of similar plagiarism herself in the matter of the 90-second opening sequence to the 2002 anime series Witch Hunter Robin. The Livejournal posting that everybody linked to when this story first came out, lost its image hosting after a few years and by now has also become locked. But I archived the images, and you can see them below. These are stills from the opening of WHR, stacked up next to stills from a Madonna video called "Take a bow." They're about as close as those other Madonna screenshots were to the Bourdin photos, so if that situation was plagiarism, this one should be as well. To my knowledge, however, there's been no court case here, and it's been enough years now that there probably never will be one.

Edited to clarify: as far as I know, there's been no suggestion that the video "Take a bow" in particular was one of the ones involved in the Madonna/Bourdin case. The claim is not that the WHR opening came from Bourdin by way of Madonna, but only that Madonna's general body of work seems to have suffered the same fate as Bourdin's. The stills at the Smoking Gun link, from videos in the Madonna/Bourdin case, are from other videos and don't much resemble images from WHR.