The Tales of Beedle the Bard Available for Pre-Order

The Tales of Beedle the BardHoly Hogwart’s, Dumbledore! is now accepting pre-orders for the latest J.K. Rowling yarn, “The Tales of Beedle the Bard”, due out December 4th.

In 2007, Amazon had purchased one of only seven handmade copies created by J.K. Rowling to benefit the Children’s Voice campaign for a whopping £1.95M. I, like many others, worried that I’d never get to read the storybook of the same name mentioned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book of the Harry Potter series.

And now is bringing it to the public in both a standard edition, and a drool-inducing collector’s edition that mimics the look of the original hand-illustrated storybook.

Lest you think this is cashing in on the rampant Harry Potter withdrawal (in play until the new movie comes out in November, and then again until Tales of Beedle the Bard comes out December 4th) to make a quick buck, it should be noted that the net proceeds from these editions will support the Children’s High Level Group, a charity co-founded in 2005 by J.K. Rowling and Emma Nicholson MEP to make life better for vulnerable children.

Top Five Unsexy Things About Yaletown

I came across a ridiculous piece of news via the ever-amusing condohype blog: Yaletown is being dubbed the “sexiest neighbourhood” in Canada. Really? I can think of at least five reasons that this isn’t the case (and yes, I’m channeling Nick Horby’s Rob Gordon here):

  1. Pretentious: Tiny dogs, overpriced restaurants, snotty attitudes, and waiters and hairdressers who seem to think they’re &*%$ing James Bond (where I’m using “&*%$ing” as both an adjective and a verb). Turned on yet?
  2. Costly: Given the cost per square foot of housing in Yaletown, you might end up doing it in the street. But maybe that’s “up your alley”, so to speak.
  3. Smelly: Garbage dumpsters in the street. Mmm. Sexy.
  4. Annoying: 1 way streets, no parking. This has no connection to sex – it’s just a bloody pain in the ass.
  5. Cramped: When all else fails and you can’t get laid, there’s always the Internet. Except your wireless router keeps cutting out due to interference from your eight adjacent neighbours’ own wifi networks. Guess you’ll have to exercise your imagination (and no, that’s not a euphenism).

Have I missed any? Shall we try for a Top Ten? Add yours in the comments.

Now, in the interest of disclosure, I have to say that I lived in Yaletown for three years – not because I was sexy, but rather because I was lazy. The location allowed me at one point to walk across the street to work. I have since recovered, and now live in Cambie Village.

Hedy Fry Opposes C-61

Hedy Fry, MP Vancouver CentreAshley got a letter from Hedy Fry, MP for Vancouver Centre, in response to a petition she signed in opposition to C-61 (note the weird sentence structure & punctuation is verbatim from the letter):

Dear Ms. Richards:

Thank you for your correspondence concerning Bill C-61, An Act to amend the Copyright Act.

As you are aware the previous Liberal government had tabled a Bill on this issue but it did not come to debate because of the election. The current Conservative Bill has been eagerly awaited since they announced their intentions in December 2007.

Canada has signed two World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties, but has not yet ratified them. The last time the Canadian Copyright Act was amended was in 1997 but these amendments did not address the WIPO treaty agreements. In the interim, communications technology has expanded rapidly. Everyone is in agreement that the Copyright Act has to be amended to reflect the impact of digital technology.

Bill C-61 should strike a balance between the right of creators to be reimbursed for their creative, intellectual property and the desire for consumers to have access to these creative works.

Indeed digital technology serves both the creator and the consumer well. It increases the reach and distribution of creative works as never imagined, before; which is precisely what creators need and it gives consumers easy access to creative works that can entertain, enrich, and educate.

This Bill does not serve either consumer or creator well. It prescribes narrow, punitive solutions to a complex problem. In fact the Bill could very well have the effect of curbing the use of digital technology, to the extent that it becomes useless. This would be a pity! As well implementation of the measures in the Bill would be nearly impossible, unless one abandons all privacy rights or imposes locks on the digital technology that severely limits its application. How to monetize digital technology to reward the creator and allow free and open use by the consumer is challenging.

As Liberals we believe that there should have been extensive consultations with legal experts, creators, distributors, and conventional and digital media industries to find the right balance of solutions. It is typical of the Harper government that they do not consult but impose.

Liberals intend to begin these consultations over the course of the summer so that when the Bill comes to the House we can propose appropriate amendments. Moreover we believe that the Bill should be further subject to public scrutiny if it ever gets to committee stage. It could be that after we consult with the expert groups they believe that Bill C-61 is unsalvageable, in which case one would have to vote against the Bill and rewrite a new one.

These are exciting and challenging times in media communications technology that can broaden the consumption of arts and cultural products, in a manner unheard of since the invention of the printing press. The challenges seemed impossible then but solutions were found that led to a Renaissance of art and culture. We are at a similar point in history, now. We must not use a sledge hammer.

Once again, thank you for writing. Please feel free to contact my office if I may be of further assistance.


Hon. Hedy Fry, M.P.

Vancouver Centre

While I’ve never been a big fan of Hedy Fry, it’s encouraging to see that she’s on the right side on this issue.

Have you contacted your MP about why Bill C-61 should be defeated?

Why Piracy Wins: Convenience, Timeliness

I had a nice little chat with the PR representative from TeleToon (the Canadian equivalent of Cartoon Network) the other week. She had contacted me for some help contacting TechVibes, and so I took the opportunity to ask when the new season of The Venture Brothers would be airing in Canada. She stated they were working to get it on the air sometime in the new year.

This is, in a word, suicide.

At this point, Cartoon Network had already broadcast half the season in the US already. I pointed out to the PR representative that because the show’s demographic skews heavily toward the geek-set, many of their viewers know how to obtain the show easily, albeit illegally, online using tools such as Miro and sites like By the time TeleToon airs the show in the new year, no one will care. She acknowledged this was probably true, and that they were trying to turn around shows faster.

I had a similar conversation at the Bridging Media conference when I talked with Gary Marcuse, a programming executive with the CBC. I asked him when the latest season of Doctor Who and Torchwood would be coming to Canada. Again, the latest seasons were already being broadcast in the UK but nowhere to be found in Canada, despite the fact that both shows are co-produced by the CBC and the BBC. Gary didn’t know the details of arrangement with the BBC, but guessed that the delay was likely due to either licensing legalities, or the terms of the co-production deal.

While iTunes has solved the problem of distributing US programming, the same isn’t true for international programming. While British classics such as Peep Show and the IT Crowd have been running for years, they haven’t made it onto iTunes, despite the sales success of other BBC shows distributed there. You can’t even buy the DVDs of these shows in North America. Your only option to get these programs currently is to buy the non-North American DVDs and a region-free DVD player – a solution which will become illegal if C-61 (“the Canadian DMCA”) becomes law.

I can’t believe that this is problem of manpower – after all, how hard is it to upload a file to the iTunes servers? Or outsource pressing of DVDs to a third party? Not very hard at all. In all likelihood the real culprit here is the nuances of licensing and international law. I imagine there’s a lot of guys spending a lot of time in dimly-lit rooms arguing over fine print for each and every country. No wonder they’re not in a hurry to do this. It sounds horrible.

The incremental approach to media distribution is what’s undermining consumers’ patience. This is why people pirate media – because it’s just damn easier and faster than waiting. In the meantime, media companies are leaving a lot of money on the table by not leveraging their assets to the fullest possible extent.

As consumers have altered their media consumption habits over the past decade, Big Media has tried every trick in the book to maintain the status quo: suing their customers into submission, deploying technological countermeasures, and lobbying for legislation to protect and perpetuate their crumbling business model. But they’ve ignored the obvious solution – we’re willing to pay, but we’re not willing to wait.

We want the good stuff, and we want it now.

Sony PRS 505 E-Reader Reviewed

The Sony PRS 505 E-ReadersIt’s been six months or so since I received the Sony PRS 505 E-Reader from my last employer as a generous going away present, and I forgot that I hadn’t posted my thoughts on the device yet. After six months, I can safely say I’ve been relatively pleased with the device.

For those that haven’t seen or played with the device, the Sony PRS 505 is an electronic book, one of the first commercial application of “electronic ink”, a passive display technology from E Ink Corporation. Unlike a traditional LCD screen, such as those in laptops and computer monitors, electronic ink is a passive diaply technology. It uses no power to display the image, and does not feature a backlight to illuminate the screen. Instead, the display uses reflected light just like a regular book. The result is a remarkably crisp display that is easy on the eyes, and uses miniscule amounts of power to “turn the page”.

At first, I was a bit sceptical about the Sony device. When it first appeared, the device was well over $300 and was a bit bulky. The PRS 505 is the second generation of the device, and features a slimmer design and similarly slimmer cost (on the order of $280). Yet despite the lower price, I’m not sure I would have bought this device on my own; it was something I wanted, but not so badly that I was about to lay out cash for it.

In retrospect, that was a mistake that I’m grateful was corrected when I received the device as a gift.

The device itself is on par with the weight of a medium-sized hardback book. The battery is only required when turning the page, a feature which easily allows the user to read a handful of books between recharges. The ergonomic design of the device is quite clever – the circular button at the bottom left moves the book between pages, and sits naturally under the thumb when resting the book in your hand with the cover (not shown) held open by your thumb. Similarly, the two navigation buttons on the right side mimic the place where you might normally place your thumb when flipping through a normal paperback book.

Reading is fairly natural, although the time the screen takes to change between “pages” is noticeable and can sometimes interrupt the action on the page. You can scale up the text, a feature that’s sure to be appreciated by older readers with failing eyesite – in fact, this device may eventually find a good following with older readers for this feature alone (doubly true if you believe Steve Jobs’ assertion that nobody reads anymore really just applies to the Millennials).

The one major failing of the device, sadly, is Sony’s eBook Store and the associates client software used to purchase books from the store and place them on the device. Sony’s software is notoriously poor (I speak from experience), and the PRS 505 client software is no expection. It’s slow to load the application, slow to access the store, offers incomprehensible representations of what books are on the device currently versus what books are on your computer locally, and takes an inexplicable amount of time to move a book onto the device. In the end, I’ve found it easier and faster to simply download the electronic books from the store to my hard drive, mount the device as a USB drive, and copy the files over myself manually.

That said, the selection of the store is pretty decent. Besides the latest best-sellers, there’s a fairly extension library of the classics. When I received the device, I also received a voucher for $50 worth of electronic books, plus 100 credits to use on purchasing any of the Sony Classics (likely pulled down from Project Gutenberg). I have yet to purchase any more books beyond these amounts (still working my way through the pile).

The device also handles text, RTF, and PDF files, allowing you to use the device to read any existing documents you may in those formats. In reality, the rendering of these formats on the device leaves something to be desired: page breaks are often inconsistent, rendering the reading experience somewhat degraded. There are, however, many freely available resources for downloading appropriately formatted versions of Project Gutenberg books, such as

Many will wonder how this device compares to the Amazon Kindle device, which I was lucky enough to try out while in California (one of my friends at work bought one). The devices uses the same screen technology as the Sony PRS 505, and shares many similarities. The two major feature differences are the industrial design of the Kindle, which I found to be far less elegant than the Sony device, and the wireless capabilities of the Kindle. The Kindle features a built-in wireless modem that allows the user to download books from directly. There is no cost for this feature, as this device effectively enables to sell books anywhere. The Kindle is a fair bit more expensive, however, costing about $350.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the Sony device and continue to use it. It’s especially useful when I’m travelling to tote a couple books in my backpack without crippling myself. However, at $280 the device is still too expensive for most users, in my opinion. This device is something to stick on the Christmas or birthday list and hope someone’s feeling generous.

Rogers iPhone 3G Pricing: Lube Not Included

Rogers has unveiled its pricing structure for the iPhone 3G in Canada, and it can be summarized in one syllable. Unfortunately, this is a family-oriented website, so I’ll have to use a different syllable:


First off: there’s absolutely no unlimited data plan. Rogers may claim they have tried to make the plans slightly less ridiculous, but they failed bigtime – it’s business as usual, continuing the time-honoured tradition of having Canadians pay through the nose for meager amounts of mobile data. The cost of data plans range from $60 for 400MB of data transfer to $115 for 2GB of data transfer. This stands in stark contrast to the simple, affordable AT&T iPhone plans in the US, which feature unlimited data, Visual Voicemail, 200 SMS text messages, roll-over minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling for every plan – and the cheapest plan is $59.99.

The differences are staggering. The cheapest Rogers plan only include 75 text messages, versus 200 for the AT&T plan. To match the capabilities of the AT&T plan, you’d have to spring for the $100 a month plan with Rogers. For $60 with Rogers, you get 150 minutes of talk time, versus the 450 minutes you get with AT&T for $59.99. That’s right – 3 times the talk time, and it’s 1 cent cheaper.

But wait! There’s less!

Rogers “Value Packs” are required for things like Caller Display, additional text messages, and Call Forwarding (which appears to be billed on a per minute basis, which strikes me is really odd). All of these “Value Packs” are noted with “Wireless Essentials Included” – really? I have no idea what that means, but if they’re included, why the hell are they an extra charge on top of the main plans?

By all appearances, the Rogers iPhone 3G  plans are optimized for complexity and designed to milk the consumer dry. Way to go Rogers, you’ve exceeded my expectations, but not in a good way.

Viewing Multi-Citizenship as an Asset

Boing Boing pointed me to Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno’s “Unthinkable Futures” list, which included a disaster scenario that fired some neurons (it’s Saturday morning before ten, this is unusual):

People begin leaving the U.S. Many arrivals to the US keep resident status but choose not to adopt citizenship. The world sees more people without allegiance.

Whenever people ask me “where are you from?” I’ve always had difficulty answering the question. I was born in Australia, grew up in Canada, and hold Irish citizenship and US Permanent Residence status. Technically, I’m from somewhere around 30 countries.

I’ve always viewed multi-citizenship as an imperitive in an increasingly interconnected world. The ability to easily move and work in another country has always struck me as a logical complement to my highly transportable skill set as an engineer. While international treaties, such as NAFTA, typically simplify the process of moving between countries for highly-skilled workers, citizenship reduces the complexity even further.

In fact, one might even view citizenship as a new asset class. Not only is it an easily transportable asset, but it also can be passed on to descendants in most cases. When Ashley and I have kids, they could have as many as four citizenships: Canadian, Irish, Australian, and US.

That said, I, as many others, are wary of US citizenship. The primary reason for this fear is the draconian US tax law, which demands its citizens file taxes on their world income regardless of whether they are in the country or not. The US always wants its share in exchange for the benefit of citizenship. Other countries, in contrast, generally don’t require you to file taxes unless you’re actually in the country for a significant portion of the year.

I could see this becoming a liability for the US, leading to the outcome that Kevin Kelly and Brian Eno predict. US citizenship is only an asset so long as the US is a highly desirable labour market, and supports a high quality of life. In the absence of those attributes, the asset of citizenship is outweighed by the liability of onerous over-taxation.

Of course, in the long-term this hopefully becomes a non-issue as international borders and nation-states become increasingly irrelevant. Maybe.

Talking Points to Defeat Bill C-61

With the tabling of Bill C-61 in the Canadian Parliament, I’ve become concerned with the lack of a concise set of “talking points” that summarizes the ramifications of the bill in plain language. This post attempts to capture such a set of talking points for review by the copyfighter community at large. Keep in mind that this document must provide a rational argument against C-61, as a fact-based, non-emotional debate is key to our success in defeating C-61. If you have additional points or comments, please add them in the comments and I’ll integrate them as appropriate.

This document is designed to provide you with a concise set of talking points to use when educating your friends and informing your Member of Parliament of the wide-reaching ramifications of Bill C-61 on consumers’ rights.

What is C-61?

Bill C-61 is a federal bill that has been introduced in the Canadian House of Parliament by Minister of Industry Jim Prentice and Canadian Heritage Minister Josée Verner to reform the Canadian Copyright Act. It is designed to, among other things, “update the rights and protections of copyright owners to better address the Internet, in line with international standards”, “permit certain uses for educational and research purposes of Internet and other digital technologies to facilitate technology-enhanced learning, inter-library loans, the delivery of educational material and access to publicly available material on the Internet”, and “permit certain uses of copyright material for private purposes”.

Why is C-61 bad for Canadians?

The bill faces criticism for several reasons, including the lack of public consultation on the matter by the government, as well as the appearance that the bill is the result of heavy lobbying by the US media industries to replicate the United States’ Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In particular, the bill replicates provisions making it illegal to circumvent digital rights management (DRM) technologies used to protect copyrighted materials.

The bill is bad for Canadians for a number of reasons:

  1. It reduces your rights: Consumers will continue to be able to use copyrighted materials for research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting, but will no longer have the means to exercise those rights when the copyrighted materials are protected by DRM.
  2. It reduces the usefulness of your media: Consumers will no longer have the right to take commonly purchased physical media, such as DVDs, or downloaded DRM-protected files, such as digital music, and make copies for their personal use.
  3. It forces you to buy media you’ve already purchased: Consumers will be unable to unlock media they’ve legally purchased in the past for use on new devices, and hence will be forced to buy the same content again and again.
  4. It makes your devices less useful: Consumers will be able to do less, not more, with new devices they purchase, as many of these device may, at any time, limit the user’s access to media they have a legal right to view, modify, or redistribute.
  5. It reduces competition and innovation: Consumers will be unable to influence the market by finding new uses for their existing media and copyrighted materials, limiting the application of ingenuity that can lead to the creation of new applications and markets for Canadians and the world.
  6. It makes the public domain works inaccessible: Consumers will have the right to re-use works in the public domain, but in cases where those public domain works are protected by DRM consumers will not have the means to exercise those rights and hence lose access to their own heritage.

What won’t I be able to do under C-61?

The following is a short list of the potential ramifications of C-61 on your rights to use your legally purchased media. Under C-61, you will not have the right to:

  • Make backups of your DVDs: Let’s say you’re a parent – don’t you want to be able to make a copy of the DVDs you purchase for your kids so you have a way to easily replace the movie when they get their peanut butter-covered hands all over them? Doing so would require you to break the copyright protection software on those DVDs. Under C-61, it will be illegal to do this – instead, you’ll have to buy a whole new DVD.
  • Move your media to other devices: Let’s say you’ve purchased a shiny new digital media gadget for your home entertainment center – wouldn’t you like to be able to fill it with content you already own, such as DVDs, CDs, or music you’ve legally purchased from online services? If that media is protected by DRM, C-61 makes it illegal for you to copy this data – you will only be able to use your media on devices that support the media’s DRM format. If your new device doesn’t support some (or all) of your existing content’s DRM technology, you’ll have to purchase it again.
  • Use your media in perpetuity: Let’s say you purchased a movie or a song from an online service – don’t you expect to be able to keep using that movie or song forever, even if the online service goes out of business? If your media is protected by DRM that contacts a server to authorize your access and the service goes out of business, you will no longer be able to access media you legally purchased. Under C-61, it will be illegal for you to break the DRM to access the media you legally purchased.
  • Exercise your rights to fair dealing: Let’s say you’re a student doing a documentary and want to use some video in your documentary which falls under Canada’s fair dealing doctrine allowing use of copyrighted materials for research, private study, criticism, review or news reporting. Under C-61, you will not be able to exercise your rights to include the video in your film if the video is protected by DRM. In essence, you have the right use the video, but no way to do so without breaking the law.
  • Re-mix DRM-ed public domain materials: Let’s say you’re working on some cool photo montage that takes photos from the public domain and re-uses them in some new and interesting way. If the photos are stored in a DRMed format, you can’t access them without breaking the law under C-61. Again, you have the rights to use the photos, and in fact they’re a part of the public domain and belong to humankind as a whole – you just can’t exercise your rights.
  • Unlock your phone: Let’s say you’ve been lusting after a new phone, but it’s only available for another carrier. If that carrier has “locked” the phone to restrict it to their network, you will not have the right to unlock the phone to work with your current carrier. While this is not specifically forbidden under C-61, a carrier could argue that unlocking a phone circumvents of a copyright control, which would be illegal under C-61.
  • Use all of your phone’s features: Let’s say you realize your phone has some really cool features that the carrier decided to disable. If you employ software tools to re-enable these features, it could be argued that you are circumventing a copyright control, which would be illegal under C-61. You paid for the device and all its features, you just aren’t allowed to use them.
  • Remove DRM software: Let’s say you’ve purchased a CD that has DRM on it and you decide to play it on your computer – isn’t it fair to assume that you have the right to uninstall any software the CD installs on your system? Under C-61, disabling or uninstalling this software may be illegal. Your computer is no longer yours to control.

This sounds alarmist – aren’t you over-reacting?

The outcome of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States over the past ten years, coupled with the actions of media corporations, has illustrated the ramifications of overly restrictive copyright law on the rights of consumers. Here are some examples of the egregious behavior that has resulted from the DMCA and the industry’s insistence on the use of DRM technology:

  • Consumers unable to access media they purchased legally: A number of online music services have closed up shop, leaving consumers without the right or the means to access they legally purchased. Examples include the closure of the MSN Music store, the closure of the Sony Connect Music service, and the closure of Google’s Video Store. In all cases, the user’s were unable to access their media as-is; in the case of Sony, users had to undertake a number of cumbersome manual steps to maintain access to their music, and in the case of Google, users were refunded their money only after a public outcry.
  • Consumers unable to use their devices as intended: Some popular digital video recorders include a “broadcast flag” technology desire to allow the manufacturer to limit how long a user may access programs they record, or prevent them from even recording some programs at all. Most recently, NBC accidentally enabled this technology, preventing users of Microsoft’s Home Media Center from recording an episode of American Gladiators.
  • Consumers’ privacy and security risked by faulty DRM solutions: In an effort to prevent users from copying CDs onto their computers, some manufacturers have embedded software that is automatically installed on the user’s computer when they insert the CD. This software not only uses up the user’s computing resources, but also reports on the user’s activities to the manufacturer. The most noteworthy example of this is Sony’s use of a DRM system that illicitly installs software on the user’s machine, is very difficult to remove, and sends information to a third-party about the user’s activities.

What can I do to stop C-61?

  1. Contact your Member of Parliament: Use this document to guide you in outlining your concerns to your local MP. Not sure who your local MP is? Find your MP here.
  2. Join the Facebook group: Facebook has already been used successfully to thwart anti-consumer bills like this in Canada. Join the Fair Copyright for Canada group.
  3. Educate yourself, educate your friends: The only way to defeat this is if a large number of Canadians take action to alert ordinary consumers of the threat to their rights. Michael Geist has written a number of good articles on the topic.

How Rogers Should Have Marketed the iPhone

It is with a certain amount of cynicism that the geek hordes sized up Rogers‘ newly unveiled teaser campaign for the forthcoming iPhone 3G. Nothing like a teaser for a product that was just announced to the world at the Apple WWDC on Tuesday.

How tragic. True, Rogers is being handed an effective monopoly (i.e. more than usual) for the world’s hottest mobile device, and has even announced what’s going to be released. But that’s no reason to half-ass the marketing. Jobs must be having an aneurysm.

This is what they should have done instead:
How Rogers Should Have Marketed the iPhone


Jobs’ Keynote as a Greek Chorus

BoingBoing arranged to capture the running commentary on His Jobness’ WWDC 2008 Keynote on the #boingboing IRC channel. As a greek chorus. The results are hilarious – I even make a couple of appearances (writing as “Rogan”):

JOBS: In extra-dimensional realms beyond your fleshy ken, the gods mellifluously speak through crystalline conches–a far cry from your ‘blogs,’ monkey men. (Contemptuously) Blogs. A strange sheep-like bleating. A bovine cut-and-paste. Oh, I will give you your blogs, filth beasts. I will give you them! BEHOLD! Birthed of my seed in the belly of my own daughter, TYPEPAD… FOR BLOGGING ON THE GO!

CHORUS (Rogan): TypePad on iPhone: Now you can have people ignore posts you write anywhere!