Monthly Archives: November 2003

Fast track elf

Buddy the elf
At the weekend – while you were translating Artaud or arranging a Bartok quartet for the tuba or whatever you do with your free time – we went to see Elf. We laughed and sobbed like sentimental goons (the kids weren’t so keen). A proper Xmas movie. Anyway, I looked the movie up and learnt that the (very funny) screenplay is written by David Berenbaum, who got his start in Hollywood less than three years ago when Disney took him into their writers in residence programme after they saw his brilliant Shalom Whassup spoof. This says a lot about the way Hollywood renews itself and about the American attitude to new ideas and new people. Could Britfilm provide the same kind of fast track for real talent?

More about Creo’s Tokens

A gorgeous Alfa Romeo merry-go-round rideA beautifully painted fairground sign: 'Britannia'The Duane Eddy dodgem car
I’ve been thinking about Creo’s interesting attempt to improve on P2P file distribution – a product called Tokens (I blogged it here the other day). If you want to try a Tokens transfer yourself, email me and I’ll send you a token. You’ll need to download the free Tokens Redeemer but, once you’ve done so, you’ll be able to snaffle a set (or should I say a ‘limited edition’) of three photographs taken by me at the wonderful Carters Steam Fair when it came to St Albans in August 2003.

The photographs were all taken on 35mm Kodachrome film and scanned at 6MPixels so you’re getting a total of about 7MB of high resolution JPEGs (you can click the small pics above for larger previews to see if you like them).

I’ve published the photographs under a Creative Commons License that allows you to do pretty much what you want with them except modify them or make money from them (like you’ll bother).

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Creo integrated a Creative Commons licence creator with Tokens? That way, creating (or deciding not to create) your CC licence would be part of the Token Creation process and, if Tokens catches on, it could become an automatic step in the distribution of creative works in this machine-to-machine way. Tokens could become the default application for distributing files with embedded rights (but not for ‘DRM’ which is a totally different animal).

Bush = Bartlet?

Neo-con doctrine and tough liberalism collided in George Bush’s positively Bartlet-esque Banqueting House speech last week. Bush said:

“we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.”

A few weeks ago, earlier in the current series of The West Wing, President Bartlet (must keep reminding myself he’s fictional) reversed decades of US foreign policy to intervene in Kuhndu (fictional) because of this exchange with a new speech writer (also fictional):

“Why is a Kuhndunese life worth less to me than an American life?” “I don’t know, Sir, but it is.”

‘Tough liberalism’ is the left’s response to the neo-con bid for the moral high ground in foreign policy. Bartlet is its best ambassador. Expect the further West Wing-isation of Anglo Saxon politics.

Solution seeks problem, finds problem…

Things change at different rates. Bandwidth, for instance, is all over the place. At the net’s core – in the trenches between ISPs and data centres – aggregate bandwidth in the last decade has multiplied by… ooh… a million? Up the path to your house, though, it’s barely doubled. What have you got, right now? 56K? Pathetic. Even ADSL gives you barely twenty times what you got from Demon in 1993. Meanwhile, your hard drive is filling up with bigger and bigger files – 3MB for a 6MPixel JPEG, 50MB per album for MP3s, 4GB for a DVD movie, 60GB for an hour of DV – but the tools we use for moving these enormous files around are as old as the hills and either inadequate (email) or inaccessible (ftp). We need new tools.

So I’m testing Creo’s Tokens – a tool for moving huge files around machine-to-machine without having to set up ftp accounts or worry about email attachment quotas and other annoyances. It works on the Adobe Acrobat model – if you want to create and send big files you buy a product called Token Creator (analagous to the Acrobat authoring tools).

You drag-and-drop your files onto the Creator app which makes a pair of new files: a ‘bundle’ which contains the original data (compressed and mashed into a single file) and a ‘token’ which is a tiny pointer designed to be sent in email. Recipients need to download a free app called Token Redeemer (analagous to the Acrobat Reader but with a slightly more religious name). Once you’ve got the Redeemer installed, double-clicking on a token starts a direct transfer from the Creator’s machine. Bingo. Creators can time-limit their tokens so that storage-eating bundles disappear automatically after a few days or weeks.

There’s a server app for people who intend to distribute lots of files and if a firewall gets in the way of a smooth transfer Creo’s own server cuts in and relays the file via http (a service Creators pay for).

I like the product and I certainly have a use for it (mostly swapping Laurel & Hardy MP3s with my friend Paul). I can also imagine lots of cool new uses once it becomes more widespread. I’m worried about the business model, though. Creators pay $49 to play which doesn’t seem unreasonable until you examine the product’s likely uses. If it’s strictly a business product then charging to create is fine, but if, as I suspect, there’s a ready audience among consumers swapping those big media files it’s hard to imagine it taking off.

The model already has three tiers: Redeemer (free), Creator ($49) and Server ($395). Adding a free Creator (perhaps limited to n transfers per month or with the relay service switched off) would jump start the creation of tokens and that might be enough to get the product onto the web adoption curve properly. With creation choked off, though, getting to critical mass is going to be take a long time and cost a lot of money.

Like my new look?

Handsome, huh? I used Firda Beka’s excellent Firdamatic to generate the stylesheet and basic templates and Paul drew the picture of me. I’ve got to finish detailing the stylesheet, reinstate some odds and ends (like search) and figure out why the new stylesheet seems to kill off my en-dashes – making lots of my entries totally incoherent (I mean more incoherent than usual) – but otherwise I’m pleased with it. Comments please.

Davis is wrong about the death penalty

David Davis thinks he’s got his finger on the pulse. He thinks the opinion polls support his enthusiasm for the judicial execution of serial killers (how do you qualify, by the way? Two killings? Ten?). He’s wrong. He’s wrong not because the pollsters are lying or mistaken when they report that 62% of those surveyed would support the death penalty for child killers but because when it comes to it – when it comes to the actual decision – we won’t go through with it.

We won’t go through with it because we have no stomach for the series of secondary decisions we’re going to have to make after we’ve made the big one. Will we put a death row in every gaol? Or have a single, national one? How will we kill the killers? Lethal injection (this is how Davis would like to do it) or electrocution? Hanging even? Will we fast-track the condemned through the system or permit them their constitutional right to appeal after appeal, prolonging this most dispiriting public process for decades? Will judges who object to State killing be permitted to bow out of capital trials? How about jurors, barristers, court officials? (the legal process alone will yield dozens of equally tough questions).

Will we televise the executions, permit relatives and journalists to watch or will they be conducted in secret? What will we do about the statistically inevitable mistakes? Posthumous pardons? Compensation? Perhaps hardest of all, who will do it? Will we advertise for an executioner (and will the successful applicant be allowed a column in The Daily Mail)? Should we elect a fresh executioner for each killing (it could be like jury service)? Or maybe we could empanel a networked firing squad and do it via the web (’1 thousand clicks are required to confirm execution. One randomly-selected click will deliver the lethal dose’).

When the time comes – if it comes – for us to decide one way or the other, the task of opponents of the death penalty is to remind us continually that these decisions are ours to make and that they will have real, lethal consequences for decades into the future.

I’m pretty sure we don’t have it in us to make these profoundly unpalatable choices – we’ll back off and we won’t join the shrinking club of nations that kill offenders. I’m also hopeful that none of us could really bear to turn Britain into an inevitably darker and uglier place just to promote the shoddy ambitions of a wannabe Prime Minister.

She blogs. She blogs…

…(paraphrasing Ricky Martin). Juliet, who is my wife (and – some of you will remember – the author of the near-legendary proto-blog ‘bird’ back in about 1996), is blogging – and she has a lovely template and stylesheet courtesy of the estimable Firda. Expect sarcastic commentary on media, parenthood, home life, George Bush and… life in general. Go on. Read it.