Friday Night Hardware Hacking

Last night I fixed a Vista laptop (It wouldn’t finish booting into Windows normally because I’d installed another hard drive, and ran ClamAV which possibly changed a file it was depending on after I removed the other hard drive. I ran startup repair, and then the system restore option, and that fixed it, easily.)
Declawing CueCat
This evening I noticed an old barcode scanner that Dad got in some online deal, and it never worked. It had DRM built into it, and wouldn’t read barcodes as plain text as they should be. Instead it encrypted the text and relied upon decryption software from a spyware server to give useful output. I learned this (again) tonight, trying to find out if plugging the USB device into Ubuntu would just work, since it’s the future, 2013. I had the hardest time figuring out the proper name for the scanner, but the Cat. No. 68-1966 on the bottom finally helped. It’s a CueCat. The branding on the side was useless.

CueCats can be bought on eBay still for about $10.

Declawing CueCat

Then I found some really great information about how easy it is to modify the pins of an IC, to eliminate the encryption[PDF] of the plain text barcode! Lots of hackers have done it.

This hacking project is about 8 years behind cutting edge, but now Dad has a working bar-code scanner for his desktop computer. And defeating DRM is a good way to pass the time.

Declawing CueCat


I’m not a fanatical comic book movie watcher. I did go to see “Batman The Dark Knight Rises” [10/10] Tuesday though, and it was great. It would have helped to have recently viewed the previous movie which is mentioned to some degree, but the story can stand on its own. If you trust your comic instincts, you’ll figure out a few things in the plot too. The only gripe I had was one I have with many action movies, and that’s the music soundtrack, as dramatic as it is, is too LOUD. Batman’s witty retorts are almost inaudible at times, and keep in mind I was watching in an IMAX theatre which should have the best sound mixing. On a home theatre, or ordinary TV, good luck catching the dialogue without blasting out the neighbours with background music and explosions.


Copyright isn’t a fun topic. Why do I talk about it so much then? Because of crap like this. People need to stand up to unjust laws like DMCA, SOPA, and the clones yet to come. A professional writer, who claims that copyright is the reason she can make a living, should know better how it works, right? Of course she should. The problem isn’t that she didn’t know, it’s the copyright (in the States and here) is broken, unfair, and doesn’t respect technological advances. There are ethical questions about using others’ photographs without credit, and I’d never use one and mark it as one of my own, but it should not be a crime to cause a digital copy of a work to appear on your own website. The authors’ advice in points 2, 3, and 5 are sound, but leave the rest behind, and do like the masses and SHARE with pirate impunity.

Copyright Win for the People of Canada

There were some not-so-small victories in the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling Thursday on copyright and fair dealing. Americans have “fair use”, and Canadians have “fair dealing”. There is so much common sense in the court ruling, I can’t help but feel that the justices must have taken leave of their old-people senses! They’ve justified the standard operating procedures of students and teachers in the country.

Copyright expert Michael Geist has this summary: “[…] The clear takeaway is that the court has delivered an undisputed win for fair dealing that has positive implications for education and innovation, while striking a serious blow to copyright collectives such as Access Copyright.”

Next time you have an event at a rented hall like the Turvey Centre in Regina, perhaps you won’t be made to pay a ridiculous SOCAN fee for playing pre-recorded music. My, how that got my goat when I saw the fee in the contract for my wedding reception last year.

Now teachers won’t feel threatened by Access Copyright for simply photocopying a book their library or school has legally purchased from the publisher. The court ruled that the act of studying can take place anywhere, and it’s the studying that is protected, not the public location of the copyrighted material being studied which needs less protection. That actually makes sense! Why would the right to study duplicates of copyrighted material only exist in private, at home, and not in a classroom or library?

Schools as a result of this ruling, may have millions of dollars more a year, across the country. Access Copyright in recent years lost a lot of universities as “customers”, when photocopy licensing fees increased many times over. When some universities, like the University of Regina, balked at paying the higher fees, they made an effort to educate staff on ways to legally disseminate information to students. One solution was making greater use of online library resources, through online classroom systems like Moodle. Libraries pay a lot of money for access to full-text databases of journals, newspapers, and other copyrighted primary research material. It’s unclear to me what sort of impacts the current Supreme Court ruling may have on Access Copyright’s negotiations with universities, but I’d guess their position is greatly weakened.

Still, not all of the ruling makes sense. “Downloading” and “streaming” don’t really differ from a technological server/client perspective, except that streamed downloads are typically not saved by the player, although they can be saved. Is that stream then a download, and ineligible for SOCAN demonetization? Seems like an easy loophole. Perhaps digging into the ruling further, we’ll figure that out.

What will copyrighted content creators think of this ruling? I can easily guess that many are displeased, while others are cheering the move that lets their work be shared more openly with more people. The information economy feeds on information, and the Supreme Court has potentially opened the flood gates in a few important ways.

Digital Restrictions Management: Do You Own That DVD You “Bought”

Originally posted on Back of the Book

Imagine buying a house, and being locked out of the basement. That’s what digital locks do too. If you’ve been following Canadian politics, particularly the new Copyright Act (Canada’s DMCA) Bill C-11, you’ve heard of “digital locks”. A digital lock, or Digital Rights/Restrictions Management (DRM), is a technology added onto a product you purchase, which keeps you from using the product how you would expect to be able to as an owner. Media sold to you with DRM, is more accurately described as ‘rented’, because it has limited access to important digital capabilities you get with media you create or media that is not digitally locked. You need to contact the landlord of the media in order to make full use of your purchase.

So, why would people buy this crippled product? Consumers haven’t had a lot of choice for one thing (if they buy music, rather than pirate it illegally). iTunes included DRM with purchased music, but removed it for music in 2009. At the outset of MP3 music downloading via file sharing sites like Napster, MP3s were DRM free for pirates. It was literally a more versatile product for free, than you could get from iTunes by paying. Do people wonder why file sharing/piracy became the norm in the early years of the last decade? In the free market, the majority of people don’t choose to pay for a less desirable product, even under threat of punishment.

Now the Conservatives are set to quickly pass Bill C-11, and force through a new Copyright Act after previous governments (including many iterations of their own) failed to do it. I was starting to think that the Copyright Act would doom whichever government tried to pass a new version, but now it seems it would take a miracle to stop it this time. There are going to be harsh penalties for anyone who tries to back up a movie DVD they’ve purchased. DVD movies contain digital locks you see, we’ve just forgotten they are there because the pirates’ circumvention software is so practical and useful in our legal daily use of our home entertainment purchases.

Michael Geist writes, “As for claims that no locks will wipe out the industry, note that Canadian digital music sales have now grown faster than U.S. sales for the past six consecutive years, all without digital lock legislation.

The reality is that the digital lock rules were overwhelmingly opposed as part of the 2009 national copyright consultation and generated strong opposition from opposition political parties, business groups, creator associations, consumer groups, and education representatives.”

There is also ample evidence that Conservative Ministers are meeting only with pro-copyright extremists in the lead-up to passing C-11. The government isn’t looking out for Canadian voters, they’re singing to a different tune. That tune is protected by digital locks, and copyright, so don’t try copying it.

Eye of Scheer over Peace Tower of Sauron #LordOfTheBills

What’s going on inside the House of Commons today is no laughing matter. In fact, Minister Tony Clement told me that if I don’t like his joking about the step back from democratic debate in Canada, I shouldn’t read his tweets. Seriously.

Artists are hitting back.
Here’s a good one I found on a facebook page. It inspired the following adaptation of Lord of the Rings. Stephen Harper is now Lord Of The Bills.

In the Land of Ottawa where the Shadows lie.

See Stephen Harper rise against an Omnibus budget with arguments Elizabeth May put again to the Speaker?
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Ten Years Blogging

I may have marked this milestone in February, but Google doesn’t tell me I did, and I don’t remember. Old bloggers also repeat themselves. My blogging is ten years old this year, making me a veritable Tyrannosaurus Rex of Open Data. I started posting photos and tales of my voyages in Ottawa while doing top secret national security work there during university. Obviously my work didn’t figure into my blog then, at all, and still doesn’t for the most part. I only mention it now because a decade later I’d not be of much interest anymore to hostile governments, being years out of the national security loop. That, and it’s a part of my life history I’m proud of.

I’m also proud of the fact that I have a decade of my thoughts, and life events available for instant recall and research online. Cynical media tacticians will say that politicians must scrub blogs, and distance themselves from their past, and that’s certainly an easy approach, but I believe in doing things the harder, right way. Other candidates who will be running against me in the upcoming civic election in Regina’s Ward 1 don’t have their last decade of political thought online to prove the sincerity of their pending platforms.

More Design Regina results

Maybe I qualify as an “Open Scholar”? Dr. Alec Couros, has in this presentation a quote:

“The Open Scholar is someone who makes their intellectual processes digital visible and who invites and encourages ongoing criticism of their work and secondary uses of any or all parts of it — at any stage of its development.” (Burton, G., 2009)

If my generation, and those who come after don’t find a way to step into politics, after having our lives cataloged on blogs, Facebook, and what comes next, then we’ll literally run out of honest, and open politicians. We’re already F.U.C.T.


Small Time Video

Gormley was critical of the bad language in Gunderson’s videos. I don’t care for foul language in most music either, but at least Gormley has a valid excuse for acting like a crotchety old man; I don’t know what my problem is.

I do love Dirty Spaceman, however.

And I wish UMG would screw off and accept a parody that uses some of their video, but has different lyrics and music is not copyright infringement. It’s 2012, not the stone age. Oh, wait, scratch that, C-11 is passing.

Don’t let Gotye kick your monkey, or anywhere near your goat. He’s a Wookie snatcher, and he’ll eat your pie.

Who Owns Creations

One of my most popular videos is one of Richard Stallman answering my questions about the proprietary nature and danger of iPads and cell phones. YouTube linked me to this other interesting video where an early Radio Shack laptop is visible.

It ran on AA batteries, and I used it a few times during my childhood, although mostly my Dad used it. He still has it, and it still works, from what I recall. Imagine a modern iPad working as conveniently, or working 30 years from now — good luck changing the battery.

The point in the video that Stallman makes is a good one. Buying proprietary software to which you don’t have access to the source code, is like buying a house with a locked basement. If you try to make repairs or improvements, you need the help of the person with the key. If they are unwilling (or unable) to give you help, then you are stuck and have to move or live within their constraints.

The objector in the video who claims their artwork would be changed if someone painted over a spot, is wrong. The original is not painted over, a digital copy is modified. It’s not the same as buying the Mona Lisa, and painting a mustache on it. It’d be like buying the Mona Lisa, photographing it and printing another, then modifying that one.

RoboCoke: Fun Contest to Celebrate Dying Democracy

I dislike both Coke and iTunes, thinking the world would be a better place without either of them. I hate RoboCon a lot more though, because our country would be a lot better off without cynical and illegal attempts to subvert our democratic elections. So I’m combining all of these things I detest, into one fun contest for my readers. I have a swath of Coke bottle caps that contain free iTunes songs. Musicians get some moola if you use these caps to “buy” their songs. You can support whatever independent artists you want, if they exist on iTunes, and make Coke pay for indie music. Yes, I feel bad mentioning Coke and iTunes, giving them free brain and screen space, but it’s the price to pay for having a little bit of fun.

Here’s how the contest works:
Guess who Pierre Poutine is!
Leave the name of who you suspect Poutine/Jones is in the comments section, and if you’re right, your name will be entered into a random draw with the other correct guessers. One winner from that pool will win not just one, but TWO free songs on iTunes. The codes expire at the end of May, so if charges are not laid and known by April 30th, 2012, I’ll pick two names at random from those who place a guess, and award one song each. Of course the correct guessers also will get perpetual bragging rights for having figured out who the most wanted man in Canada was (or for being a darn lucky guesser).

RoboCon, The Robocalls scandal in Canada, March 2012

If you’d like to make your guess in private, so as to not tip off the other guessers, email me or Direct Message me on Twitter @saskboy.
Oh so fine print follows the cut…
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