I Don't Want To Be A Nerd!

The blog of Nicholas Paul Sheppard
Archive for september 2014

An opportunity to test a theory of copyright infringement

2014-09-28 by Nick S., tagged as commerce, digital media

The Australian this week reported that Village Roadshow would "distribute all major films before, simultaneously or close to the US release" in Australia in an attempt to eliminate copyright infringement attributed to delayed releases of films (Wait times slashed to beat film pirates, 24 September 2014, p. 3). For a moment it was almost like Village Roadshow had read my thoughts on proving claims of greed and gluttony in digital media. Village Roadshow's Graham Burke, however, gives a more likely explanation that the move was prompted by widespread piracy of The Lego Movie, which earned special notoriety for its delayed Australian release despite its being animated in the same country. The ABC adopted a similar strategy for the most recent series of Dr. Who, so that patience-challenged fans could watch the first episode at the same time as BBC watchers in the UK even though this was an absurd time of the morning in Australia and the same episode could be had for free on the same evening at its ordinary time.

Village Roadshow's and the ABC's moves suggest some success for a "civil disobedience" defence of copyright infringement, by which infringers justify their actions as a protest against unreasonable terms being offered by the distributors.

Of course the success of a protest campaign doesn't, in and of itself, prove that the protestors are right. However, the original reason for delayed cinema releases given in The Australian — re-use of physical film reels shipped from the US — is no longer relevant and I'm not aware of any other reason to delay releases. (The Australian makes a vague reference to other reasons including "allowing time for heat from the US to spread" but I don't know why whatever is meant by "heat" should be generated in the US any better than anywhere else.)

So critics of delayed releases have got their wish, at least from Village Roadshow and the ABC. We can now wonder what affect these moves will have on the level of copyright infringement. If infringers' main reason for infringing really is to combat delayed releases, as some commentators claim, we can expect infringement to taper off. Probably not to zero; copyright infringement happens even in the US itself, which infringement apologists seem to take as the gold standard of release dates and pricing. But here we have an opportunity to see whether or not Australians really are willing to pay for digital media when it is released alongside the US.

What if the future of computing power is finite?

2014-09-07 by Nick S., tagged as history

In the Soapbox column of the July 2014 issue of the IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, Craig Hillman suggests "it is thought-provoking to speculate on how the electronics industry will eventually take the form of the automotive industry, a market based on a relatively stagnant technology. Because it will." (Leave No Technology Behind, p. 30). This was prompted by a blog post from Zvi Or-Bach proclaiming the end of Moore's law with an argument that the cost of manufacturing transistors ceased to drop once feature sizes hit 28nm.

That electronics and computer systems will ever reach a plateau from which we can't expect amazing advances in power and price from year to year, I thought, is surely some sort of heresy. Yet physics tells us that there is a lower limit to the physical size of an electronic circuit (the size of a charge carrier), and CPU clock speeds have already plateaued for a decade or so.

I suppose that technological optimists might argue — or at least confidently assert — that we'll find ways around these apparent limits, just as free market economists argue that the market will provide solutions to other apparent limits without any need for said economists to understand or provide any actual solutions. CPU clock speeds may have plateaued, the optimist might say, but multi-core technology allowed computing power to continue to increase.

To which a pessimist might say: none of cars nor aeroplanes nor ships increased infinitely in speed and capacity, so why should electronics be any different? No one doubts that electronics technology is rapidly increasing in power at the present moment — but so did cars and aeroplanes in the first half of the twentieth century, yet they now travel at much the same speed and carry much the same number of people as they did when I was child thirty years ago.

Any end of increases in computing power might seem depressing or unthinkable for those captured by the bigger-better-faster vision. I happened to read just today that "industry experts agree that fifth-generation (5G) cellular technology needs to arrive by the end of this decade" in the September 2014 issue of IEEE Spectrum (Mobile's Millimeter-Wave Makeover, p. 32) — but what happens to such alleged "needs" if and when computer technology reaches the plateau that Hillman and Or-Bach foresee?

The relatively static state of the internal combustion engine and its accoutrements doesn't seem to prevent millions of car enthusiasts slavering over stuff like Top Gear. Mechanical engineers still have employment and many in Australia are bitterly disappointed about the imminent departure of our car factories (not because we don't care about cars anymore, but because it's cheaper to import them from elsewhere). Maybe one day computer enthusiasts and engineers will likewise have to learn to live with a boring old industry.