Interstate Highway System Turns 50

Today, the U.S. Interstate Highway System turns golden – 50 years old. (Newsweek)

While pushed by President Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower and the legislative lead was Al Gore’s dad (Al Sr.), the man in charge of the whole project was Frank Turner, an unassuming engineer whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for an article discussing the 40th anniversary of the same project.

For a man who had spearheaded the construction of one of the most important construction projects in history, Turner was remarkably plain-spoken and came across as just another guy. (A very smart guy, mind you.)

My article captured only a small slice of Frank Turner; the phone interview lasted over two hours.

Here’s to you, Frank!

Below, Frank Turner – second from the left – at the Oval Office ceremony where Eisenhower was shown the national interstate plan.

Turner Oval Office

DRM and the Future of Your Data

This will not be a short entry, and I’ll probably edit it several times post-posting because this entry covers subjects I’ve thought long and hard about, yet – once actually putting them in print – may well seem moronic. You’ve been warned.

The title of the post is “DRM and the Future of Your Data,” and it’s a misleading title. I will be talking about DRM, and I will be talking about the future of your (digital) data. The weird thing is, I will not necessarily be talking about both at the same time.

DRM is tied to the future of our data (and vise-versa), but I won’t be concentrating solely on this connection. This is more of a big-picture entry.

Again, you’ve been warned.

Before I plunge off the edge of the cliff, I think it’s important to understand my background and current position:

  • I’ve worked most of my post-college working life in creative jobs: Writing and photography. I’m a content creator. And I’ve had stuff ripped off.
  • I’ve authored this blog for over five years; again, content creation. Again, stuff ripped off.
  • When I was a photographer, my contracts always contained a GPL-like clause (no, I had not heard of the GPL; this was my invention). Basically, when I did shooting for people, they had unlimited uses rights – brochure, annual report, commercial and so on – at no cost, but I retained the copyright. So I could resell the pics; they couldn’t. (As long as the pics were not of their stuff – but why should they own the 400 pics of the American flag I shot for this/or/that campaign, especially when they didn’t use any of the 400? – They still has usage rights to all, recall).
  • I currently work for a company that works with companies that have DRM issues. I’m not going to blog about work, but understand that these issues are not just my weekend project.

My DRM take-away?

DRM should go away.

Yes, it’s that simple.

Why? Three main reasons:

  • Any DRM put out there will be broken
  • DRM = Lock-In
  • Lock-In Means Your Data is at Risk

Let’s examine each point individually:

Any DRM put out there will be broken

If you don’t believe this one stop reading and go back to the Disney Channel.

To paraphrase an old chestnut, security is a journey, not a destination. As security improves, so do the hackers and so on.

And who are these hackers? Your great aunt who paid for and downloaded the Golden Girls marathon? Uh, not – the same folks who film first-run movies and hawk them on street corners. Want a really unfair yet somewhat accurate parallel? Consider DRM = Prohibition. Did your great aunt drink more during Prohibition (nah); did Prohibition open up job opportunities to a lot of bad guys? (yep – Prohibition actually helped establish/entrench Organized Crime)

A DRM-less society will – for most people – have virtually no impact because the great mass of folks use downloads etc for fair-use purposes.

I do see a great increase in sharing/swapping of downloads by the digiteri, such as during the (original) Napster days. Is this a problem or an opportunity for the content producers?


Content producers are going to have to get over the illusion that they have absolute control over the distribution of their content. That era, for better or for worse, is over. It’s a different business model; work with it – not against it. Example: How is a clip of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on YouTube not free advertising (hell, I should watch this show!)?

At the same time, it’s probably NOT fair use, so copyright infringement. So?

The rules have changed; work to monitize this New World of content.

DRM = Lock-In

John Gruber – who is much smarter (and – damn! – a better writer than I) – had an absolutely brilliant article titled Interoperability and DRM Are Mutually Exclusive that finally put the fire under my ass to put down some thoughts about the same subjects.

You should read the whole article, but here are the take-aways (and I’m greatly simplifying):

  • Music industry is upset at Apple’s iMusic’s store dominance.
  • Music industry refuses to sell to any site without DRM.
  • Music industry wants Apple to support other formats – but only with DRM
  • Apple will never support any DRM if it has to buy a license from (Microsoft or anyone). No upside for them.
  • Apple won’t sell its DRM – why erode iPod sales?

Two very important issues here, which I’ll quickly sum:

Apple’s – or anyone’s – DRM = a proprietary format (Gruber’s conclusion, which I cannot disagree with). I have a buttload of iTunes downloads; a better (in my mind) player than iPod comes along…I’m screwed.

If Apple goes out of business and takes FairPlay DRM to the grave with them…all my music is dead.

OK, this seems bad, but one point Gruber – nor anyone else seems to have addressed – is this: the DRM today, for the most part, is handled by the middleman (Apple, Microsoft et al). DRM owners are NOT the content providers. I see issues; do you?

At the same time, if the content providers (Universal, Sony, NBC etc…) did the DRM, this would not only be a nightmare – multiple DRMs would need support by a single middleman, as well as the tool (players) that receive this content.

Doesn’t this all cry out for a universal, SSL-like standard at the very least?

Lock-In Means Your Data is at Risk

DRM = Lock-In.

You have to agree with this or bail.

DRM = You can only do this or that with this stuff you’ve purchased.

If iTunes changes its DRM, you could potentially be hosed.

Ditto for any other software. If Microsoft Word v111 is not backward compatible with Microsoft Word v110 or v6; again; you’re screwed. This was Pilgrim’s big complaint:

I’m creating things now that I want to be able to read, hear, watch, search, and filter 50 years from now. Despite all their emphasis on content creators, Apple has made it clear that they do not share this goal. Openness is not a cargo cult. Some get it, some don’t. Apple doesn’t.

— Mark Pilgrim, When the bough breaks

He’s right, but this issue is not at all unique to Apple. Let’s take the current (moronic) format war – HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray. One will probably win, a al VHS vs. BetaMax. If I start backing up stuff on Format A and Format B wins, at some point my backups are worthless.

Not a good thing.

I worry about this on sites like Flickr and so on, as well. Hell, they could go out of business tomorrow, and … all you digital memories are gone.

Note: I use Blogger to post this site, but the posts go to MY domain, in HTML. It’s all there; it’d just be an ugly parsing exercise to get it all back. But if I used WordPress or similar service, I could be in trouble at some point. Which is why I use my own gallery tool.

Bottom Line

We are now entering a digital age, where we don’t use atoms, we use bits.

If we can’t have fidelity – longevity – with our bits as we have for the past millenium with our atoms (papers, parchment, pictures…), well, Houston, we have a problem.

I exchanged e-mails with Robert Scoble about a (somewhat) related topic last week, and his response was spot-on:

No one will care until it’s too late and they realize that their photos are locked into a siloed service…

– Rober Scoble (email)

This is the problem we must consider. I’ve probably explained this badly, but read the Gruber and Pilgrim entries and it’ll seem more clear.

This is not a trivial issue.

Our personal history – notes, pictures, videos, music – is at risk.

And I don’t think I’m being melodramatic.


Wanted to make a site-wide change to my blog.

Fixed two templates; republished…and all is good.

NOTE: It took a bit of hunting on my system to find template (room for improvement).

But – overall – YES! Update X years of stuff with a few changes!

Happy Summer

OK – in honor of the summer solstice – I’ve finally coded a Summer theme for the blog. (Had a placeholder, just a copy of the spring theme….)

Not perfect, but OK and … done.

Happy summer.

Remember Next Time You Pull the Lever

…House lawmakers Tuesday accepted a $3,300 pay raise that will increase their salaries to $168,500.

The 2 percent cost-of-living raise would be the seventh straight for members of the House and Senate.

Associated Press, June 14, 2006

A bid to boost the U.S. minimum wage failed Tuesday as Republicans in the House of Representatives pushed back an effort by Democrats to force a vote on the measure.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, said last week that he wanted to hold off on debating minimum wage legislation until possibly after the November elections. House Majority Leader John Boehner also said he probably wouldn’t allow the legislation to reach the House floor this week.

Bloomberg News, June 20, 2006

Remember, you elected these officials. Those representaives who – a week after their seventh straight raise – declined to debate if their minimum wage constituents deserve a raise after about a decade. Hey, it’s not like the cost of essentials, such as housing or gas, has risen over the last 10 years. What’s the rush? I’ve gotten my raise…

And don’t get me started on the whole “…until possibly after the November elections…” quotation. Too many things wrong – yet painfully realistic – about that comment to comment.

And people wonder why I don’t vote…

UPDATE: After I read this over, I think there might be an impression that I object to the salaries given to our representatives. This is not the case – for the most part, it seems low. Most are lawyers and so on who could (and, after leaving Congress) do better in the private sector. And they know this.

My issue is that these reps keep getting raises (less than COLA, really, so not out of line), but refusing to discuss those who really need – at least – that COLA raise.

And the sequence this year – yes, we’ll take a raise…[week passes]…let’s not discuss that minimum raise issue – is troubling.

Who are these representaives representing?

*sigh* Yes, this is a rhetorical question.

Some Sane Posts About the OS Wars!

Stop the presses! – sane talk about a normally flame-war topic (I recommend reading both articles in full):

  • Mark Pilgrim talks about his disenchantment with Mac (and ultimately moving to Linux). And Pilgrim is a long-time Mac user. Yet he is not dinging the product as much as he is questioning Apple’s less-than-open architecture/DRM etc. Perfectly legit complaint.
  • Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber – another Mac hardcore – analyzes Pilgrim’s switch and comes out so logical that it’s scary. There’s no room for anything but blind support of the OS of your choice.

Gruber’s main point is telling, basically, anyone upset with Pilgrim’s decision to stick a sock in it.

Gruber says people value things differently; Pilgrim likes openness so much he’s willing to take a UI hit to get that. That’s his (Pilgrim’s) choice, not a blow against the empire. It doesn’t make a Mac worse or Linux better or marginalize Windows.

However, my favorite part of Gruber’s article was the following, which spells out a hard truth:

I’m deeply suspicious of Mac users who claim to be perfectly happy with MacOS X. Real Mac users, to me, are people with much higher standards, impossibly high standards, and who use Macs not because they’re great, but because they suck less than everything else. Pilgrim, to me, is a quintessential Mac user in that regard; and what he’s doing is wondering if maybe things might suck less somewhere else.

— John Gruber, And Oranges

Yes, all OSs have deep flaws depending on their use: Linux’s UI is still weak; Windows is a security nightmare, Macs are not open (and the PowerPC to Intel port is still messy).

Operating Systems are hard; they are incredibly complicated. Witness Microsoft – the world’s largest software company – struggling with their new Vista OS.

Gruber then adds the following, which – again – is a no-no for an OS fan:

“Better” for Mark Pilgrim doesn’t mean better for you, and nowhere has Pilgrim implied that it does.

An OS choice is – as Gruber mentions – like a vehicle choice. There are trade-offs: Do you want high MPG or the ability to haul a lot of crap? Can’t – currently – have both.

Calm, logical and rational talk. Very impressive; very well written.

Note: Pigrim respond’s to Gruber’s article here.

Gates Shows Himself the Door

Bill Gates announced today announced today that he will – in two years – remove himself from day-to-day operations of the company he cofounded, Microsoft. He’ll then spend more time at the foundation he formed with his wife.

Not a surprise to me, and I’m glad to see Ray Ozzie named as new Chief Software Architect. I don’t know if Ozzie has the management chops necessary to reverse the direction of the USS Titanic Microsoft, but he seems to have he visionary chops required to remake the company.

But what the hell do I know?

And – as always – kudos to Gates (and wife) for his foundation and all that it’s trying to do. Important stuff. Third world health care and other good causes.


Here we go again: Bush makes surprise visit to Iraq.

I’ve mentioned this many times before, I understand the reasons for the secrecy and the need for the visits to be surprises, but what does it say about how well things are going over in Iraq when – three years after “shock and awe,” Saddam captured and on trial, a new Iraqi government formed – that leaders of the US still have to come into the country through the back door?

Doesn’t say much good, I’m afraid.

I mean, when’s the last time you saw a headline that read “[VIP US official] Makes Surprise Visit to Aukland, New Zealand”? Pick your destination. Guess which ones will have to be “surprises.”

Scoble Outta Microsoft

Robert Scoble, who is as responsible as anyone for making his current employer, Microsoft, seem more of a gentle giant (vs. monopolistic evil), is leaving the company.

Interesting, and a blow for MS, to me. He didn’t really drink the Kool-Aid, but – at the same time – was a staunch defender of MS.

Also said what was better elsewhere.

This was a good voice.

Sad to see this voice leaving MS, but best of luck to Scoble!