Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tech News Commentary

Slashdot reports that microsoft will be "turning off the DRM servers used to authorize playback of music purchased from the now-defunct MSN Music store." DRM, for those of you who don't know, is Digital Rights Management. It is code embedded into digital content files (music, videos, etc.) that is supposed to keep people from violating copyright. What it mostly does is keep people from utilizing content that they legitimately purchased. Let me give you an example of what we are going to see as a result of this shutdown.

My brother purchased some music in WMA format with DRM from an online service run by a retail giant that advertises with a smiley face. He transferred it to his portable media player and life was good. Fast forward a few months and he is now using a different computer. He gives the media player to his son but wants to keep the music (that he paid for) so he copies it from the media player to the computer. When he tries to play the music (that he paid for), he is told that Windows cannot validate the license and will not play the music (DRM in action). He has the option of re-validating the license but because the service he purchased the music from is no longer active - and neither are the licensing servers - he now has useless data taking up room on his hard drive.

While this example is not specifically about the MSN music service, it does illustrate the difficulties people will eventually have when the DRM servers are taken offline. Luckily, my brother had only invested $20 or so in the music with DESTRUCTIVE Rights Management but take a look at your music collection. How much money have you invested in those music tracks or video files? What if those files were suddenly rendered useless overnight because of a hard drive crash - even if you have a backup - or because you bought a new computer? That's exactly what could happen and that's exactly why DRM doesn't work.

The moral of the story is to only purchase DRM-Free digital entertainment.


Story number two, also from Slashdot is about $1/Gallon Green Gasoline. "NSF-funded researchers at UMass Amherst just completed the first direct conversion from cellulose using a new method of hydrocarbon refining, which they claim can be commercialized within 5-10 years and essentially make fuel out of anything that grows."

There's more to the story and I am sure there are steps that would need to be taken to mitigate any impact on food production and food pricing but this looks very promising. They say the process is running at about 50% efficiency and the $1/gallon figure is based on 100% efficiency. If efficiency is directly related to price, even $2/gallon for a "sustainable liquid transportation fuel" looks attractive. With as much money as I currently spend on fuel to drive 132 miles 5 days per week just for the priviledge of going to work, I would be willing to install a conversion kit in my current vehicle or even consider a different vehicle. Unfortunately, the commercialization of the technology is 5-10 years out.


Speaking of fuel, I heard a report on the news yesterday that our illustrious President has propsed that new cars and trucks will need to meet a fleet average of 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015. A new energy law requires new cars and trucks, taken as a collective average, to meet 35 mpg by 2020. Why was this so long in coming? Where were these efforts three years ago when people raged against $2.60/gallon fuel and urged the government to tap into oil reserves for relief? If they had started then, perhaps we would be seeing the requested improvements five years earlier. But no, they had to hang on to their private interests and lavish in their record profits. If I could find a way to boycott the oil industry I would.


Side note: The truly unfortunate part of this is that I think the solution that will be offered is reduced engine size and horsepower rather than engine efficiency.

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