Japanese Court: Bitcoin Cannot be Owned

Responding to this nugget from Engadget:

Tokyo District CourtTokyo’s district court has ruled that it’s not possible for people to own bitcoin, and therefore they cannot sue for compensation in the wake of Mt. Gox’s collapse.

The ruling comes days after the head of the world’s largest bitcoin exchange was arrested on charges of fraud. Judge Masumi Kurachi felt that bitcoins do not possess “tangible qualities” to constitute owned property. Mt. Gox held thousands of individual accounts, and so there’s plenty of angry customers looking for compensation.

 

A Wild Duck Response to the Tokyo court…

A personal stake in Bitcoin is every bit as real (and a bit more tangible) than a personal stake in Yen, Dollars or Euros. Fiat currency is backed by the knowledge that your national government will demand tax payments in kind. But is it tangible? Like any invention of humans, that’s a matter of perception.

a) Dollars / Yen / Euros

Dollar_closeOver the long term, national currency is likely to be debased by debt, social welfare, war, political ambition, and a desire to redistribute fruits of labor, typically to assuage political ambitions. A built in mechanism of inflation forces a hidden tax and enables legislators to spend beyond the consent of their constituents.

b) Bitcoin

Bitcoin_BlueBitcoin on the other hand is backed by math. It is an asset without the potential for inflation or manipulation. It is a pure supply-demand currency and a pure 2-sided network—completely unfettered by the chaff that comes with central banks and national treasuries.

A stake in Bitcoin rises over the long haul, because the total quantity of currency is capped. As it is adopted for payments and commerce, a fixed pie is sliced thinner and thinner. This results in increased value per unit. Result: A deflationary economy without the baggage of sluggish economic.

Japan has made a foolish pronouncement; one that will ultimately embarrass their courts. Declaring Bitcoin ethereal is laughable when you consider that paper money is no more tangible than an unfulfilled promise. Likewise, declaring the theft or mismanagement of Bitcoin unworthy of recovery or restitution is no different than declaring the theft of art unworthy of restitution. Consider that each Mt. Gox account holder has proof of a real dollar investment position and an appreciation that is reported and tracked by exchanges all over the world.

Wake up Japan. You have so much more to offer the world than a distorted interpretation of a new technology.

Ellery Davies is Co-Chair of CRYPSA,
Cryptocurrency Standards Association

Who Runs the HEVC/H.265 Patent Pool?

Manufacturers of high-def Blu-ray players, 4K TVs, video streaming devices, cloud media vendors, software developers, and virtually all mobile gadgets are receiving an invoice, and it is a shocker. It’s not just the amount of the bill that is staggering, it’s what is demanded of them—facts and calculations that could be almost as costly to compile.

The question asked in the title is rhetorical, of course. Lawyers run HEVC Advance, which is the licensing consortium for the H.265 patent pool. But according to one industry analyst, the lawyers have not consulted with streaming services, and their licensing model is completely unworkable. I agree.

h_265_hevcH.265 is a new international standard for high-efficiency video compression. Backed by two major standards bodies and a plenitude of brand-name tech companies, the technology also goes by the name x265 or HEVC (high efficiency video encoding). Compared to H.264 (the standard for DVDs and streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube,[1] it reduces file size and mobile bandwidth by 35~50% depending on content. Adherents claim that this the coding efficiency will have a floor of at least 50% once the full feature set is baked into codecs.

H.265 is open source, but it is not free. It is the product of slew of inventors and other intellectual talent. Therefore, software developers and gadget manufacturers (especially companies that make TVs and video streaming devices) have been awaiting word on the royalty fee and licensing terms.

HEVC-EncodeThere are four recognized players in the market to supersede H.264, but most of manufacturers are backing either HEVC or a free encoder from Google called VP9. Ever since HEVC Advance published their licensing requirements last week, VP9 is looking a lot more attractive.

This past week, HEVC Advance published the royalty structure for anyone that wants to bake the growing market for HEVC into their products and services. The problem is that instead of sending their bill to the device manufacturer, they want a piece of every single film, game, video or graphic that is sold. They want 0.5%, and they want this royalty backdated to the first use of a standard that was ratified 2 years ago.

0.5% may not sound like much, but here’s the rub: They want it on content rather than technology.

First, it is a staggering amount when you consider that the market is set to explode—even more than it did for the previous standard H.264. That’s because few people plan to purchase video on DVDs. They want it streamed, much of it wireless, and with the very smallest bandwidth possible. The market is measured in the billions of dollars, even within the US alone.

But the structure of their licensing demands is worse than the land grab. Rather than attach to the device or user application, they seek to tax content hosts, forcing them to determine the fraction of video sales, rental or streaming services that use the new encoding technology. And they want a share of every video that is processed or streamed with a consumer standard. They fail to realize that taxing the flow rather than the vendor or pipe layer is not the way to ignite the adoption of a universally accepted consumer standard. In fact, it is stifling.

Dan Rayburn at streamingmedia.com discusses the nuances and futility of imposing an attorney-crafted bureaucracy on a burgeoning pivot point for consumer technology. His damning observations are clear and articulate. But ultimately, it boils down to a simple children’s story. If you kill a goose that lays golden eggs, you cannot harvest eggs. Lawyers fill a vital role. I am not against lawyers. But they are incapable of thinking in simple terms.                                               [continue below image]…

hevc-sIf the HEVC licensing authority holds its position, it will be a pity for everyone: artists & content owners, streamers & other content providers, hardware manufacturers and consumers. H.265 is a great standard backed by an outstanding collaborative effort. Just a week ago, there was terrific potential for market unification, bandwidth reduction, storage savings, and an array of high-quality video services. BD-BR measurements give HEVC the edge in coding efficiency and the playback load is very light.

Although I could live with a half-percent delivery tax (or consumption tax, depending upon your view), it would result in a fragmented market. It hints at a bureaucracy that rivals the IRS. Ultimately the inventors will collect a tiny fraction of the potential. But the deal stopper is the effort to collect with a requisite fractional-calculation of the sales, rental and share-allocated revenue.

The market for next-generation video encoding is just starting to approach that critical adoption knee in which a 2-sided network floats all boats. We are on the precipice of a multi-billion dollar market. But now, Google—the visionary in this gambit—has the upper hand. If I could talk with lawyers at HEVC Advance, I would help them to navigate deployment dynamics and fundamental network economics…

But like Dan Rayburn, I would prefer a conversation directly with the technology stakeholders. They stand to enjoy a stunning return with a more reasonable model (reasonable on the Laffer curve and reasonable in implementation architecture). My suggestion: Take a royalty from the sales of hardware and application codecs, but not content volume. A fair model that rewards innovation while freeing explosive growth would be crafted like this:

Wild Duck Royalty Proposal

• 0.1% of software codecs within revenue-software applications or processes
• 0.15% of playback codecs built into hardware devices, [2]
• $2 or 0.15% for each encoding process or hardware device, whichever is higher [3]
(#2 and #3 are additive, for any device that encodes)

• 0.1% of paid apps that are extensible (those that support plug-ins or open source codecs) [4]

• Free – Personal reference app (published by patent consortium). It supports stand-alone video playback
Passport-s-T• Free – Hosting or distribution Content encoded with H.265

I challenge HEVC Advance to run the numbers for any believable growth curve. This formula is not only more palatable, auditable, enforceable, and reasonable, it also delivers higher lifetime revenue to patent stakeholders. More importantly, it makes them the good guys.

Hey, HEVC Advance! I want you to succeed. Reach out to me. Use the contact link at the top of this page.

[Ellery Davies is editor of AWildDuck.com. He is also CEO &
Co-Chair of CRYPSA, a recognized standards organization]


[1] Until recently, most YouTube content was encoded in FLV. Currently, YouTube plans to support it’s own open-source VP9, but is leaving open the possibility of supporting H.265 which is licensed by HEVC Advance.

[2] The proposed royalty applies to any hardware device or app that advises or suggests the download of HEVC plug-in or compatible routine.

[3] $2 or 0.15% of sales, whichever is higher, but the fixed fee is reduced to no more than 6% of the hardware value. Up to 16 cores in a single gadget, PC, or device less than 1 cu feet not including external display.

This stacks on top of playback royalty. So, for example, if an video player application can open an x264 video and save as x265, it would pay a royalty of 0.1 or 0.15% (for the playback codec) and $2 or 0.15% for the encoding feature, whichever is more.

[4] For apps that do not include HEVC, it would be difficult to collect a royalty, of course. But developers of x265 plug-ins and helper apps would be liable.

Planned Parenthood: Undercover Video Kicks Up Firestorm

When I started this Blog, I committed to publish clear and blunt Wild Duck opinions on even the most controversial issues. But I also made a promise to myself to refrain from commenting on a few things, simply because I didn’t want to use my Blog for these issues, nor defend my belief system:

  • Personal vendettas against vendors, no matter how egregious the practice
  • Religious beliefs of any public figure
  • gagThe abortion debate

Two Down; One to Go

Despite pure intentions, the gag rule had to go. I have already violiated the first two prohibitions…

a) Personal Vendettas

First, there was my interminable frustration over a ludicrous string of billing errors by Verizon (it was resolved only after 3 years, 150 phone calls and 120 statement credits). Incompetence and disrespect for customers of this magnitude begs to be shared.

Rent-a-Terstappen desk-s2Then, there was the unforgivable lies, deceipt and theft by Rent a Terstappen—the Dollar / Thrifty car rental franchise at the Frankfurt airport. If they tried these tricks in the US or anywhere else in Europe, the franchise owners would be in jail and the corporate office would be decimated by a class action suit.

Finally, Keurig/Green Mountain has finally removed restrictions from their Keurig 2.0 brewer,due, in part, to this scathing review of their haughty business practices.

b) Religious Beliefs

Religion keeps popping up, just like Whack-A-Mole. I have finally come to realize that it was an unrealistic and unnecessary editorial restriction. I don’t really care to debate your faith or my background—I just don’t feel that any reasonable and representative government should recognize, support, defend or lie in bed with any religions, period.

First, there was the town that wanted to balance the display of a public Christmas tree with a public Hanukkah menorah (Editor’s Tip: Get rid of both. Neither belong on public property). Then, there was the US congressman who believes that the universe is 6,000 years old and the New Testament is his working job manual. He is a member of the Space Sciences committee and makes decisions that affect NASA.

Finally, I wrote a popular piece that justifies an agnostic belief (or is it a lack of belief?). And, of course, I have frequently published stories about Islamic extremism and Daesh (aka ISIS OR ISIL). Anyone who participates, contributes or sympathizes with the so-called Islamic Caliphate SO-oo-o needs to be dragged out and shot.

…And so, now there is but one frontier to cross. That is, my self-imposed prohibition on treading into the topic of abortion and public policy.

c) Abortion

Looking over the first three years of this Blog, I find that abortion has rarely been mentioned; only referenced in two political articles.

The problem isn’t that abortion is a contentious issue. A Wild Duck thrives on contention. In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to justify my opinions. fetusBut, the ethics and legal recourse are difficult to debate, because the Pro-Life camp believes that abortion is murder. If one party to a debate believes that the other side is engaged in unjustifiable homicide, the two will forever be locked in a stalemate. Sure, abortions will go on. But, depending upon prevailing winds—religion, ethics & politics—they will either be legal or illegal.

FWIW: Wild Duck is Pro-Choice

I am staunchly Pro-Choice. There! I have said it. But, beyond the next few paragraphs, I don’t care to justify my opinion on the issue. It could not possibly serve any point.

A women’s right to choose the disposition of her body, her womb and her unborn baby (or ‘fetal parts’, depending on your ilk) should be supreme and inviolate—until a child is born and is breathing apart from the mother. Pro-choice is not a nihilistic philosophy. Advocates do not set out to end the life of a fetus. We simply believe that incredibly difficult and personal medical decisions belong with family and physicians rather than government.

Pro-choice advocates believe in family and their capacity to make tough personal choices. We don’t survey the ethics and religious doctrine of neighbors and we don’t bring a community of pundits, analysts, and our neighbor’s clergy into the bedroom or our doctor’s office. Callout-abortionThere must be a clear delineation between an individual’s medical and ethical decisions and the rights granted to a new life—even if a fetus could survive apart from the mother. I feel strongly that government should stay uninvolved. The dividing line (the point at which society should forcibly intervene or punish) should be the birth of a child.

Sure, a fetus is viable and every bit as human just before birth, but a mother doesn’t abort at a late stage with callous recklessness. It is a very tough choice. One must ask if this difficult choice should be made by family with their doctor, or by a government, reigid rules and popular consent. The decision demarcation cannot be conception or anytime before birth.

I have often hoped that, someday, a simple, easily obtained medication (like Plan B) would make this entire debate moot. But nothing is that easy. Abortion options that are too quick, too simple and too easily concealed raise other serious questions… Has the family weighed all options? What if someone slips an abortion pill into a woman’s drink? I will not address these questions. This article is about a current news event.

Planned Parenthood: Signs of Trouble

One issue that is squarely in the spotlight this week is the sale of fetal body parts. When there is a potential for money to exchange hands, the incentive can drive the decision to abort or even influence a doctor’s methods and practices. For this reason, federal law prohibits the sale of human body parts. But it allows for the the donation of tissue and organs and it allows for the use of human tissue in medical research.

This video, released two days ago, has sparked a firestorm. It has also sparked the fury of Republican presidential candidates, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They promise congressional investigations and a push to defund Planned Parenthood.

In the video, Deborah Nucatola, a senior director of medical services for planned parenthood, casually discusses abortion procedures and organ harvesting with an undercover investigator for a right wing group. Clearly, the investigator is after a smoking gun and he wants to generate media hysteria and a congressional backlash. He succeeds in spades. But what exactly does the smoke point to?

One day after the story broke, defenders of Planned Parenthood argued that although the discussion was in a shockingly cavalier, nothing illegal was offered or discussed. Dr. Nucatola mentioned a paltry $30 or $100 dollars to cover the added cost of having the doctor save and preserve specimens. Although details are gruesome, the fee clearly does not constitute “selling body parts” including some that may be illegal. Yesterday, The New York Times, defended Planned Parenthood in this article. Factcheck.org (admittedly, a democratic web project) makes the same point here.

But Is The Video Damning? You Bet.

I support Planned Parenthood. For nearly 100 years, they have been a beacon of truthful information, respect and victim empowerment. They balance fanatic zealots who seek to undermine a woman’s natural right to have providence over her own body.

The tangible issue raised by the undercover video is whether the incentive to sell or even donate fetal tissue and organs influences the choices made by pregnant women or the methods employed by abortion providers. And, of course, whether it influences the motives and actions of Planned Parenthood. But no one is selling body parts. This was not the 600 pound gorilla—the intangible issue hit home by the video. It is the tone with which life-terminating procedures are discussed. It comes across as cavalier and disrespectful…

I stand with Planned Parenthood, but I do not stand with supporters who feel that the video is anything less than destructive. Callout-Planned_ParenthoodIt points to a problem with attitude, ethos and consistent signaling. The video reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood and their mission.

Likewise, another undercover video from Inhuman, captures Planned Parenthood CEO, Cecile Richards, in a wink-and-nod at the very end of the video. This, too, reflects poorly on Planned Parenthood. While it is likely that Ms. Richards was simply patronizing a visitor that she wanted to get rid of, it doesn’t reflect well on the organization or it’s mission.

Perception & Reputation

The survival of every organization—even churches, governments and non-profits—relies, in part, on a marketing component. I am less concerned with how the enemies of Planned Parent spin this video than I am with how it perceived by it’s supporters.

The bottom line is that the brand has been tarnished. Recovery will be arduous and, perhaps, long in coming. It is not a forgone conclusion that Planned Parenthood will recover. But it is also a fact that Planned Parenthood stands for freedom, privacy, woman’s rights, and the sanctity of family. Even if the organization is damaged or destroyed, we must never forget the noble mission for which they stand.

Related

Apple Ecosystem: Simple, elegant, safe & arrogant

Until recently, I lived in a primarily Windows Universe. For the most part, my family, friends and colleagues used Windows PCs and gadgets that played nicely with Windows applications. Some of my friends had proprietary gadgets with an interface by Blackberry or a particular wireless carrier like Verizon, but these devices rarely interfaced with a PC except to send or receive media content.

apple_logo (tight)Of course, everyone knows that Apple is a powerhouse of ergonomics and industrial design. The MAC, iPod iPhone, and iPad have successively broken new ground and raised the bar for what a device can be. They are each marvels of engineering.

I don’t expect Apple to cave to Microsoft and adapt or debase their user experience because of Microsoft’s dominance in the desktop market. I certainly don’t wish to discourage Apple’s innovation, quirky marketing or their cultivation of an ardently devoted user base.

But not every single component of the Apple world is invented within and built just for Apple. Their products use many standard, off-the-shelf technologies and components. For example, Apple PCs and gadgets interface with local networks using standard WiFi. They use standard RAM memory and disk drives in their their PCs. Although Apple uses a proprietary interface cable for charge, data transfer and video output, the charge port voltage, keyboard interface and monitor scan specs are universal standards.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that whenever a Windows or Linux user tries to help an Apple user with even the smallest thing, they are thwarted by a culture of paternalistic design arrogance that goes beyond the things that benefit Apple users. Typically this type of design arrogance dissipates as a company begins to dominate one of more market sectors. But in the case of Apple, their design lead is significant and the market sectors that they dominate were first cracked by them. And so, they are able to cling to this arrogance a bit longer than I would prefer.

To explain and illustrate this point, I am posting an exchange that I had with two other iPhone users within an authorized Apple support forum. In the exchange below, ‘Kiwi’ poses a simple question: How can one quickly transfer a few music files between a PC and an iPhone? I am first to reply. Attempting to help a child with an iPhone perform the same task, I identify with the user and await an answer from a full-fledged Apple user.

I find myself in a philosophical debate with two other respondents. Of course, they point to the obvious answer: Do it Apple’s preferred way: Simply sync the phone with a PC that is running Apple iTunes software. But this is not always what the user or the PC owner wants.

Let’s dig a little deeper. In the following exchange, I give a Wild Duck perspective on market leadership –vs– design arrogance…
_______________________________________

Kiwi asks a question:

I want to transfer music from my iPhone 5s to my PC. With pictures, it’s very simple.  I can easily access the DCIM folder through internal storage and transfer picture files to/from my iPhone and PC with ease.

It seems to be a very different story with transferring music from my iPhone to my PC.  I can’t find the music folder. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any way of accessing MP3 files stored on my iPhone even when I have the show hidden items option checked.

Because I’m constantly adding and deleting songs from my iPhone, it’s very important that I’m able to easily transfer what music I have back onto my PC for when I eventually upgrade to a newer device. According to Apple tech support there is no way of doing this unless it’s with music purchased through iTunes or stored with iCloud (I don’t do either).

I am aware there are some third-party programs that are able to do this but I was hoping to be able to do it just through Windows Explorer if possible. If I end up having to use a third-party program, which is the best? I’m aware of Copytrans, Phonetrans, TouchCopy, and iExplorer.
_______________________________________

Ellery replies:

I want to do the same thing, but in the other direction. I wish to transfer music from a Windows 8 PC to an iPhone 5s.

In a separate thread, Lawrence Finch and other Apple devotees insist that one should simply sync to iTunes. These individuals are indoctrinated with the proprietary world of Apple, and they just don’t get it…

This is not my iPhone. The owner doesn’t want my music, she wants the music from a few CDs and thumb drives. I know how to RIP these few tracks into MP3, AAC or any other audio format. But I don’t want to risk syncing her phone with my iTunes libarary. In fact, I don’t want the whole iTunes library hierarchy and associated mishigas!

Why can’t I locate and browse the music, video and system folders when attaching an iPhone by USB or Bluetooth? How is it that Apple users feel it is simpler to force a proprietary App and hide their music folders and files?

These loony restrictions have corporate arrogance written all over it. Some Apple users feel that their ecosystem is friendly, safe and simple. Friendly? Perhaps to a very unexperienced user. I acknowledge that they may be more comfortable in an Apple ecosystem. Safe? Perhaps. Simple? Far from it! Apple thwarts simplicity by dumbing things down to the very lowest level while thumbing their nose at any semblance of standards and practices.

Steve Jobs pointin-s

Look into my eyes. Do exactly as I say.

Hey Siri. I would like to load a few songs onto my iPhone. Can I do that?

“I am sorry…I only know how to play and sync with iTunes.
I am sorry…I don’t now where the music is stored.
I am sorry…You can only access videos with the native tools that Mr. Jobs deems worthy.
I am sorry. This phone is not intended for an experienced user.
I am sorry…This phone is not compatible with open standards.
I am sorry…Utilities to browse your own content are not permitted!
I am sorry…The Bluetooth feature is limited to audio output.”
_______________________________________

Gnome replies:
Ellery asked “Why can’t I locate and browse the music, video and system folders when attaching an iPhone by USB or Bluetooth?”

Because his is not a feature of the iPhone.

The only way to add music to an iPhone is by syncing with iTunes or by purchasing the songs from iTunes.

This is how the device works.
_______________________________________

I accept and appreciate your answer. I hold Apple in high esteem — especially the legacy of Steve Jobs. They have mastered the art of product engineering and especially the ability to imbue gadgets across their product lines with an exhilarating user interface.

But I am both surprised and disappointed. Typically, by the time that a company demonstrates market leadership and by the time that they grow to dominate several consumer fields, there are forced to reconcile certain market pressures and crack just a bit of their ecosystem open to ether public or popular standards. Sure, Apple has given a nod to USB, Wi-Fi and they use off the shelf drive memory technology within their products. But thy have also managed to stave off the most basic and consumer friendly standards.

I would point to the sealed battery and lack of SD card expansion in their phones as an example of over-parenting and arrogance. But, I acknowledge that this may also be driven by design trade-offs. After all, the new Samsung Galaxy S6 has both of these limitations. But the inability of most iPhones to use standard monitors and USB cords (even after all other companies capitulated) represents a systemic problem in the ranks of top management. Of course, Apple is not holding a gun to consumers and forcing them to buy their products. They shine for other reasons, and they are unquestionably popular.

But, I think that it is reasonable to raise a flag and warn consumers that this brilliant design company thwarts users with picky and sophomoric traps, not just to ensure profit, but more specifically to control their long term experience. Some of this is unnecessary and profoundly damaging to the user experience.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this arrogance, is that it prevents many geeks from helping friends and family, because the design decisions are so terribly mis-cued and antithetical to popular standards.

At the very least, Apple should offer a diagnostic mode that allows a user or technical consultant to directly access any file or folder. If they feel that this creates the potential for chaos, they can simply set a flag that demonstrates a user has accessed a non-warranty, non-support mode.
_______________________________________

AppleFan replies:

» I would point to the sealed battery and lack of SD card expansion in their phones as an example of over-parenting and arrogance.

I prefer to think of it as Security and consideration for users.  There’s really no reason you should ever need to replace a battery yourself. If there is something wrong with the battery, Apple offers services to replace them.  When under warranty, they do so for free.

As to the SD card, We are not allowed to speculate on Apple’s decisions in these forums. suffice it to say, in 8 years, they have not seen the need to include an SD card reader in any device.

» But the inability of most iPhones to use standard monitors and USB cords (even after all other companies capitulated) represents a systemic problem in the ranks of top management.

Why?  There are an abundance of connectors for the apple devices out there. The Micro USB standard is dated, and slow for todays requirements. why would Apple use an outdated port, when the Lighting port is faster and better in every way.

»  Perhaps the biggest problem with this arrogance, is that it prevents many geeks from helping friends and family, because the design decisions are so terribly mis-cued and antithetical to popular standards.

No it doesn’t.  I can help my friends just fine with their Apple devices. One just needs to know what one is doing.  And yes, I have used every kind of mobile device under the sun. I used a windows Phione, moved to an android phone, and finally to an iPhone 5 3 years ago. Its the best move I have ever made. And I find it easier to help friends with iPhones then I do friends with Android devices.

» At the very least, Apple should offer a diagnostic mode that allows a user or technical consultant to DIRECTLY access any file or folder. If they feel that this creates the potential for chaos, they can simply set a flag that demonstrates a user has accessed a non-warranty, non-support mode.

iOS devices do not have a filesystem to access. There’s nothing for you to directly access at all. All files are stored within Apps. There’s no reason to have this. There would be nothing to be gained by this.

Going back to the Music query, to add music you use iTunes. There’s no reason people should  to be adding music from a computer they do not sync with.

If they have music they want to add to the device, they can import it to iTunes on their own computer and sync the phone to it.

Adding such liberties would not only allow for rampant piracy of media, but would also open the device up to vulnerabilities.

There’s a reason Apple devices work like they do. And that is for security, privacy, and piracy prevention.  I would wager that Apple knows what the are doing, and their sales figures support that.
_______________________________________

Ellery replies:

Phil, I understand your first two points statements and address all 3…

» Adding such liberties would not only allow for rampant piracy of media, but would also open the device up to vulnerabilities

» … There’s a reason Apple devices work like they do. And that is for security, privacy, and piracy prevention.

I concede that Apple makes design decisions for these reasons, and they are all valid. Perhaps more compelling reasons are to unify the entire user experience, and to reduce the support headache. That is, if users are restricted to certain methods of interaction, then a support technician has fewer branches to parse when diagnosing and correcting a problem.

But this does not change my surprise and disappointment. As I pointed out above, there typically comes a time when successful companies must begin complying with popular standards. I suspect that Apple is so wildly successful at device ergonomics, music services, and the general mobile market that it can postpone the day of reckoning. My disappointment stems from a belief that doing so will not thwart their unique style, their cult following or their panache for design excellence. These things are not incompatible nor threatened by making things a bit easier for res-of-world integration.

» The Micro USB standard is dated, and slow for todays requirements. why would Apple use an outdated port, when the Lighting port is faster and better in every way.

This is really a matter of technology market timing rather than best technology. Sony’s memory stick was used on thousands of cameras, but they were still forced to kill it, because it was non-standard, and had not sparked massive licensing by competitors. Apple PCs have a larger overall user base than Sony cameras, so they can hang in longer and buck the trend. But users lose out, due to higher pricing and fewer competitive offerings.

The lightning Port valiant effort. I had one on my JVC mini-DV camcorder. But I am quite gladdened that for the next iteration, Apple has chosen the newest USB connector that is also being adopted by PCs and mobile devices.

The same goes for monitors. Sure, Apple leads the introduction of many consumer technologies. But this, too, is not about better technology. Apple forced users into a unique interface. Why? To make it more difficult to use any old monitor at a hotel, conference or friend’s home. If Apple played by the rules (rules that do not crimp its design and marketing edge), it would have adopted a standard DVI or HDMI connector and at least USB 3.0.

» There’s no reason people should  to be adding music from a computer they do not sync with.

» [Additionally], there’s no reason you should ever need to replace a battery.

Now, this are points we really disagree upon! They are black-&-white statements for which I do not respect your opinion… My gut reaction: Are you serious?!

I find it difficult to even craft a response, because I don’t know your frame of reference for making such a reckless  statement. I can’t figure out where to begin. Are you my mother? Do you honestly believe that I “should not” replace a battery or be adding music from any computer that I do not sync with?

Forget, for a moment, your thoughts on the battery. That position defies any rational explanation. Here are four scenarios that illustrate why I should be allowed to put music on a music device. (Just a few reasons that come to mind as I write this reply). You may find ways to accommodate one or two of these scenarios, but won’t you acknowledge that your statement is reckless? Don’t you feel that it is a tad paternalistic to tell me that I should not be adding music to a phone that I own? Seriously, Phil!…

  1. The user’s PC owned by a school or employer. The user cannot install executable software, but can upload, download and transfer files. —OR—
  2. The PC already has iTunes, but it is for a different user, and it is directly tied to an online music-matching service that analyzes music and makes recommendations based on any tracks that are added. The primary user does not wish to pollute or risk “syncing” with a child’s iPhone. Additionally, the child does not want to be tied to the parent’s iTunes account. —OR—
  3. The user is at a recording studio and has just recorded a TV commercial for a client. The studio gives the user a USB drive with the new audio file. The user wants the audio track on her iPhone, but the studio does not have a PC on which they can install Apple software. —OR—
  4. The PC user has Panda Antivirus 13.xx installed. It can scan a thumb drive and media files, but it warns the user that it cannot scan the attached iPhone. It warns that running software that accesses the phone directly exposes the local network to unknown risks.

[End of support thread]

In the next few days, I will summarize this Wild Duck post and probably end with some über-pithy observation. But first, tell me what you think? I would like to solicit input from friends, readers and colleagues before force-feeding the final word on this issue.

Is Apple the bully that I perceive them to be? Do you believe that they can get away with an incompatible and paternalistic user interface forever?

Major bank admits bitcoin could destroy banks, brokers & exchanges

July 9 update:
3 days after posting, Visa acknowledged that Bitcoin has a future in payments. This is an understatement, of course. The bank described below goes a step further by acknowledging that the entire financial infrastructure may cave to cryptocurrencies.

burning-cashFrench bank BNP Paribas warned customers and investors that the technology behind bitcoin might one day overtake conventional, account-based financial institutions, thus rendering existing companies redundant (that’s British for “obsolete”).* It’s a tectonic acknowledgement from one of the world’s biggest banks.

Analyst Johann Palychata writes in the company’s magazine Quintessence that Bitcoin’s blockchain, the underlying architecture that allows cryptocurrency to function, “should be considered as an invention like the steam or combustion engine,” that has the potential to transform the world of finance and beyond.

Check out the full story by Oscar Williams-Grut at Business Insider.

* Although Bitcoin will obsolete the current service mix of financial institutions, it is my opinion that for savvy governments and established businesses, it represents a long term opportunity rather than a threat.

__________
The author is Co-Chair of The Cryptocurrency Standards
Association [crypsa.org] and chief editor at AWildDuck.com

Chicago taxes Netflix—Why not!

Service taxChicago is my birthplace and my favorite place to visit family. Unfortunately, it is also a city guided by morons.

Chicago politicians think that they can tax cloud and streaming services that sell to their residents, including Netflix, Spotify, Pandora, XBox Live—and even premium email services.

They can enact a cloud tax, of course. But can it be applied fairly? Can it be enforced? —At what cost? It certainly can’t be enforced at a cost that is less than many times the anticipated revenue. But who cares? This is Chicago!

More likely, any attempt to enforce such a screwy tax would simply move the providers further away from Chicago jurisdiction. If the entire country is compelled to honor and collect taxes on behalf of every other municipality, then the service will simply be moved to another country. After all, we are talking about virtual services, aren’t we?!

Can you imagine the Chutzpah? As if there is something local about internet content.

  • The broadband service itself?
    Sure. It fits within a framework of municipal services. These can be taxed as telecommunication services—at least if they have a fixed delivery address.
  • internet-tax-increaseBut a service that originates out of town and is designed for users on the go? Not a chance!

Can Chicago tax at the source? Good luck. Can they tax at the consumption point? (i.e. tax anyone using a service within their jurisdiction). Let’s think it through. The dim bulbs who enacted this tax, haven’t tried thinking, so we will pose the easy questions…

Will they tax tourists passing through airports and checking email or watching Netflix in the waiting area? What about a Chicago resident who watches TV primarily at his child’s home in the suburbs? Does he pay the tax to Chicago? Perhaps the city will create a bureaucracy of exemptions for tourists and residents who consume entertainment while traveling. Why not? Whatever tax is ultimately collected could be used to employ more Internet Savvy politicians! Then it becomes a jobs bill!

Here’s another good scenario: What about an XBox account that was purchased as a gift by an out of state Grandpa. He used his own address so that he can pay the bills. Is Grandpa now an illegal tax delinquent? chicagoWill there be a warrant for his arrest when he visits little Billy? Or will Chicago perform deep-packet inspection to ensure that Billy is lawfully using the Internet and is not using an out of town XBox account?

Perhaps, the tax is simply levied on a subscriber’s billing address. That would be real smart, Mr. legislator! What about a Chicago residence who is traveling far from home? I occasionally use a VPN relay to get around Netflix geographic restrictions. Does a Chicago resident traveling or living in Germany pay a tax to Chicago for viewing Netflix?

This is not a minor land grab. It is a serious attempt to tax the flow of bits.

wing_nuts

Chicago City Council meeting

It is doomed to failure, of course. Perhaps city council overlooked the fact that the state recently struck down the Amazon tax. Florida even backed down from taxing real-world services such as dental cleaning, Federal Express, fitness membership and private school tuition. If they found it difficult to tax these businesses with Florida addresses and direct customer contact, just how far do they think a tax on cloud services will fly?

Wild Ducks know that I am given to sarcasm. I promised a few readers that I would tone it down just a scooch. But when wing nuts enact wacky legislation in the name of helping constituents (or in the name of religious freedom), avoiding sarcasm is an unreasonable expectation. Their actions beg to be put into perspective. Not one of these idiots sat down to consider whether a cloud tax is reasonable, fair or enforceable.

Ellery responds. Speak your opinion here.

Lily is not a Drone—She’s a Flying Selfie

Please don’t call Lily a “drone”. That’s the pitch from Lily Robotics, maker of an an aerial selfie-camera. Rather than a flying toy for hobbyists, they market it to outdoor sports enthusiasts, as a competitor to the GoPro wearable camera.

Lily is different than other drones, because she has no remote control, manual control or Smartphone app to guide it. Instead, it operates differently…

  • It simply follows and films the user. (It can also film from the front or side).
  • There is no flight control. Simply throw it into the area (in an open space). The propellers automatically unfold and it begins following a waterproof tracker in a user’s pocket or on his wrist.
  • The microphone is not on the drone. Instead, it is located in the tracking device carried by the user. In fact, the tracker has several functions:
    • It guides the drone to follow and film the user
    • The user can tell Lili take hi-res snapshots
    • The user can change video mode: Follow, lead, or fly along side
    • The user can recall Lily to land on an outstretched hand

Coolest feature that is not immediately obvious

Lily is waterproof. She can be thrown into a pool or lake. In the crowd funding video below, it films a whitewater kyack adventure both from behind and even from the front.

Limitations

  • Lily has a 20 minute flight time (far more than less expensive, recreational ‘toy’ drones).
  • Lily cannot sense trees, buildings, power lines or obstacles. It can be used only in wide open areas. For this reason, it is useful for outdoor open-area sports only, such as skiing, soccer or rafting. It’s a safe bet that the makers will eventually address this shortcoming and introduce a version that can navigate around obstacles and film in tight quarters.

This slick video makes the benefits and fun of Lily very clear

For details and an interesting perspective of the design philosophy, see this interview with an officer of the start up that makes Lily.

Crowd funding started in May 2015. Participants can purchase Lily for $499. The company plans to introduce it in February 2016 for $999.

Website: lily.camera (that’s the full URL: “.camera” is a top level domain)

From time to time, AWildDuck offers previews or reviews of new products and services. Ellery and AWildDuck received no money or consideration for this article—and has had no contact with the company as of the publishing date. We have not tested this product, which had not been released as of the publishing date.