Apple now allows you to protect yourself… from yourself

Isn’t it reassuring to see how well the free-market works?

Owners of recent iPods will now be able to set how loud their digital music players can go. Apple Computer Inc., facing complaints and a lawsuit claiming the popular player can cause hearing loss, made the setting available as part of a new software update Wednesday. The free download applies to the iPod Nano and the iPod models with video-playback capabilities.

Hmmm… incentives work? Without government intervention? It even lets parents set the software and lock the setting so kids can’t undo it on their iPods? That’s crazy talk. I don’t believe it. What kind of foolishness is this?

Fairness doesn’t have a dollar limit

This story is ostensibly about Randy Johnson’s daughter from a relationship prior to his current wife and the lawsuit he filed against her mother seeking repayment of daycare funds paid over the last five years for his now-16-year-old daughter. That doesn’t involve me, so I don’t care. I don’t see why anyone else would, either, except that Randy Johnson is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Really, though… so what.

One portion of the “journalism” included in the article reflects a much broader tendency in our society, though, one that guides flawed policies in at least one area (taxation). I think it’s important. It’s definitely more important than the facts, especially as presented in this tabloid fashion. (Sidebar: people in New York read this crappy paper?) Consider:

Observers were befuddled that Johnson would file a lawsuit over what amounts to chump change for the millionaire – all while risking unwanted publicity on an intensely private matter.

How does his financial wealth factor into this lawsuit? Since he’s a millionaire, we should side against him because he can afford it? What if he’s right, as he may be in this case? We shouldn’t rule against him because we’re jealous of his money. It’s the same stupid logic that leads us to progressive taxation. Because the rich can afford it. Nonsense. The rich have as much claim to fairness as the poor in the financial responsibilities associated with child-rearing.

Via: Baseball Musings

Like a President Bush veto threat, only more ridiculous

If Rep. Tom Davis wants to be involved in baseball so badly, he should retire from Congress and apply for a job with Major League Baseball or one of its teams. Instead, we’re stuck with more meddling in affairs that have nothing to do with him or his supposed authority to conduct hearings anywhere on any topic he wants.

The Virginia Republican, the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, spoke to a crowd in front of RFK Stadium, where elected officials from across the region gathered to denounce Comcast’s refusal to carry the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, the regional network created by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Major League Baseball.

Comcast, which currently carries Orioles games on Comcast SportsNet, sued [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos, contending that he improperly terminated the Orioles’ contract with Comcast. A Montgomery County, Md., judge dismissed the lawsuit, but Comcast is appealing.

Davis said his staff would meet with officials from Comcast, Major League Baseball and the Orioles in the coming days to try to resolve the problem. But he warned that congressional hearings might be necessary if informal talks fail.

Why might they be necessary? Explain to me why the House Government Reform Committee feels that a dispute between two television networks and a baseball team falls under its jurisdiction. Show me how this isn’t a power grab or indulging in a fetish. I’m waiting.

I bet they don’t have time-shifting rights, either

I feel better about Justice Scalia’s respect for the Constitution. I just can’t imagine how much better off we’d be had President Bush urged Congress to elevate Scalia to Chief Justice instead of John Roberts. President Bush could’ve pushed it through Congress by threatening another veto. I know it, so I blame him for this horrible injustice.


On the eve of oral argument in a key Supreme Court case on the rights of alleged terrorists, a group of retired U.S. generals and admirals has asked Justice Antonin Scalia to recuse himself, arguing that his recent public comments on the subject make it impossible for him to appear impartial.

Bravo to them, so this is directed elsewhere (*cough*Justice Scalia*cough*): Duh.

Is the free lunch vegan?

Interesting transportation news from Northern Virginia:

The region’s airports authority has reached a deal with Virginia officials to take control of the Dulles Toll Road and use the revenue to move quickly to build a Metrorail line to Dulles International Airport, sources familiar with the agreement said last night.

I hope it succeeds because traffic in the Northern Virginia area is ridiculous. However, the details of the plan aren’t important for my discussion. Instead, I want to focus on an informative statement surrounding the deal. Consider:

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the agreement, which was described to him yesterday, “has promise.” But he said the state has ignored the interests of commuters on the toll road.

“I’ve got constituents who will be paying tolls in perpetuity,” Connolly said. “That’s a long time. My constituents want some assurances that there is going to be some cap on the tolls they will be paying.”

“Lost in the haste to accept a proposal are the interests of the commuters,” Connolly said.

What is Chairman Connolly really saying behind his concern for his constituents? The tolls aren’t going away, but no one’s surprised by that. But, if the local authorities figure out a way to make the tolls suddenly stop, who pays for the roads? Fairfax County constituents are happy, but who pays for the roads? Lady Luck doesn’t wave her magic wand for VDOT, pouring new asphalt out of pixie dust. Someone will still pay for the roads. What Chairman Connolly is saying is that he wants someone else to pay for the roads his constituents use. Better to have some poor schmo in Roanoke pay for a portion of the road than the local (voting) soccer moms.

“We get the benefits, but we all pay for the public good” is a popular, winning stance for politicians. Just ask Sen. Ted Stevens. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong. If the Dulles rail line deal is unwise, he should attack it on its merits. He shouldn’t attack it because he expects something for nothing.

I want to exercise my “Phillies win every World Series” rights.

I understand that this quote is a simplification of copyright “fair use” for clarity, but I found it amusing anyway.

“Consumers have well-established rights to ‘time-shift’ television programming by making copies for personal, in-home viewing,” [Cablevision] says. “This new technology merely enables consumers to exercise their time-shifting rights in the same manner as with traditional DVRs, but at less cost.”

Let’s see them find that in the Constitution. Activist judges cable television providers!

I already spend enough money

In this article about the looming format war between Blu-ray and HD-DVD illustrates how some companies can technologically smart and policy dumb.

… at least one major studio intends to downgrade the picture even more unless consumers hook their players up through a special, pricey cable aimed at preventing piracy.

New software included on both Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases, however, will automatically slash the picture quality in half, unless consumers have a relatively new connector and cable called HDMI to hook up players to their televisions.

Yeah, let me know how that works. Was anyone paying attention to the recent Sony CD fiasco, which didn’t involve degrading the product quality?

Lesson number one in the looming format war should be obvious: I don’t have to do anything. I’m content with the equipment I have. I’m content with my relatively extensive DVD collection. I’m content with Netflix. Obviously the movie studios could mess with the last option, but I suspect Netflix, Blockbuster, and Amazon are more focused with that than I am. It’ll be okay. Since my entertainment budget is non-essential, I can find other ways to spend it. Make it worth my effort financially and I might see the difference in picture quality as worthwhile. Penalizing me for earlier technology upgrades is not the way to encourage me to continue upgrading to newer technology.


Don’t bite the Apple that feeds you

Here’s an interesting critique of the Cato Institute’s new white paper on Digital Rights Management. I haven’t read the white paper, so I’ll confine myself to the Boing Boing critique. First, this:

The Cato Institute, an ultra-libertarian, right-wing think tank, has released a white paper damning the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s ban on breaking the anti-copying systems used to cripple digital media, like DVDs and iTunes songs.

I’m not sure what to make of “ultra-libertarian, right-wing”? Ultra-libertarian sounds good enough to me, both in a utopian view of the world and as a descriptive statement for the Cato Institute. So why the addition of “right-wing”? This context reads as if we the reader should replace “right-wing” with “bad” as we follow along. This is too broad, in what appears to be an attempt to smear the Cato Institute’s normal beliefs. Are they not liberal progressive enough? I don’t know, I could be wrong. The post later describes them as “sharp free-market types”, which I like, so “right-wing” just strikes me as a weird to introduce them for this topic.

Moving on:

I’ve heard for years that the Cato Institute was divided on DRM and copyright, so it’s good to seem them taking a stand now. I think they’ve only scratched the surface, though. Of special interest to free-marketeers should be the way that DRM lets Apple hijack the music companies’ copyright monopoly and turn it into a tax on Apple customers who switch from an iPod to a competing product. You can keep your MP3s if you switch from Windows to Mac, but if you switch from iPod to Creative, kiss your iTunes goodbye. Talk about anti-competitive!

That’s too simplistic, I think. It’s too easy to lump DRM and the corporations that use it into the bad category and customers into the good category. I spent a long time not using Apple’s products (iPod and iTunes) because of the DRM issues and the potential choice problems later. Ultimately, my subjective conclusion of Apple’s superiority convinced me.

Apple’s behavior can be seen as anti-competitive, since it’s a closed source process. Boo-hiss, and all that. But I also have a choice. I didn’t have to convert to Apple products. I weighed the factors (cost, options, future conversion efforts) and decided that the deal is sufficient. The free market is functioning.

The flaw in the excerpted passage lies with an incorrect assumption that the free market means the solution comes up roses for the customer every time. The best solution doesn’t have to involve sticking it to The Man. Customers may make irrational decisions that benefit one company more than another. That doesn’t make it wrong. More than anti-competitive dreck surrounding the DRM, the real issue might be whether or not legal digital music would’ve happened without Apple. I have no idea. But the free-market decided that this is good enough for now.

The US Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s ban is absurd, of course, but there’s a difference between a corporate decision to implement licensing requirements DRM and government regulation. With Apple’s scheme, customers have a choice. With the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, customer’s have no choice, aside from whether or not to abide by the law. It’s even more glaring considering how intentionally skewed the DMCA is to content owners. Hitting Apple for its business practices because they correspond with government regulation is too intellectually soft.

Safety is voluntary?

How does this work, from a story about a child who died of lead poisoning, allegedly from a promotional piece of jewelry given away by Reebok?

Since 2003, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced 13 recalls of metal jewelry, involving nearly 162 million pieces, citing the risk of lead poisoning. Three of those recalls, including Reebok’s, were announced yesterday.

More are likely as the agency continues to enforce its voluntary guidelines, issued a year ago, limiting lead in children’s jewelry to no more than 600 parts per million in any component. “This isn’t the last lead jewelry recall you will see,” said CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese.

I have no opinion on the guidelines. I haven’t read them, so I couldn’t begin to be insightful. But how does an agency begin to enforce voluntary guidelines? Do this or we’ll be really angry? Don’t do that or we’ll wave our fingers in your general direction? Seriously, I don’t get it. I’m sure it works something like the FCC’s system of fines. Offenders don’t have to pay, but there’s always the chance that the next broadcast license renewal might not go so well. This is effective? There has to be a better way.

College is not about collecting notes

It’s reassuring, I guess, that whining is universal across industries. A professor at the University of Memphis banned laptops from her class.

On March 6, Professor June Entman warned her first-year law students by e-mail to bring pens and paper to take notes in class.

“My main concern was they were focusing on trying to transcribe every word that was I saying, rather than thinking and analyzing,” Entman said Monday. “The computers interfere with making eye contact. You’ve got this picket fence between you and the students.”

What’s the issue? The law isn’t about rote memorization, to my knowledge. I’d rather my attorney be able to tell me what precedents and facts mean than I care when a case was decided and in whose favor. Having been a graduate (MBA) student, I’m aware of the lack of understanding from trying too hard to capture every word. My style of learning may or may not be common, but I learned the most in classes where I paid attention. Strange, I know, but it might work for Professor Entman’s students, too. Considering Professor Entman’s students filed a complaint with the American Bar Association that was dismissed might indicate that she knows more than they do about the law.

Of further note is this tidbit:

“If we continue without laptops, I’m out of here. I’m gone; I won’t be able to keep up,” said student Cory Winsett, who said his hand-written notes are incomplete and less organized.

At some point in the 20th century, someone invented the tape recorder. Later in the 20th century, someone invented the digital voice recorder. Is it possible that Mr. Winsett and his fellow classmates could transcribe the class discussion during their post-class studies? Maybe they could take turns or request that Professor Entman offer her class as a podcast.

Of course, if I was in Professor Entman’s position, I might not institute a ban on laptops since that punishes the students who use them responsibly. Instead, I might just make class participation more important in each student’s grade. If the student can’t keep up because of poor note-taking strategy, he or she will adapt or fail. That seems like a reasonable early test for future lawyers.

I make that suggestion with full acceptance that I don’t know how much participation she requires. I assume it’s greater than nothing, but I could be wrong as to the practicality of my suggestion.