Monday, January 23, 2012

The takedown of Megaupload

And more importantly, why a lot of people are thinking of it the wrong way. Unfortunately it seems that most people are making two mistakes. First, they seem to be connecting this takedown to the crazy uprising against SOPA. And as a result they are making this move of taking down Megaupload seem like something terribly wrong.

They are all wrong.

Taking down Megaupload was perfectly legal, but also coincidental with the massive uprising; I don’t believe it has everything to do with said opposition to SOPA. The important thing is that opposing the move to take Megaupload down doesn’t make any sense and it just shows how woefully ignorant most people are of the facts.

Firstly, this isn’t how SOPA is supposed to work. This is exactly how SOPA doesn’t need to work. If SOPA is passed then they don’t need to go on gung ho missions arresting some hick way out in the boondocks just to get a site shut down. They are free to remove the site from the directory of internet addresses inside the USA while granting protection to the ISPs, aka providing indemnification against any and all law cases.

Second, the evidence against the Megaupload CEO and his employees is absolutely solid. And this is by far the most important point. Emails captured shows communication between employees displaying their knowledge of the pirated content on their website and advocating the use of it as well. If that wasn’t bad enough, in their allocation of uploader reward points, inspection of accounts shows that they had knowledge that the uploaders were guilty of uploading a few movies, some porn videos and several key generators/cracks. Yet they still went ahead with the allocation of uploader points and thereby directly supported piracy within their file sharing network. Despite all their publicity stunts of them wanting to take down other file sharing sites saying that Megaupload is the only one that actually respects take down notices, the evidence shows that they were probably amongst the worst offenders themselves.

Third, the evidence being collected against Megaupload has been in the making for two years. That isn’t something that took place just yesterday in time for the uprising against SOPA. The people behind the takedown really waited it out for the right moment to sting and whether or not there were external powers at hand wanting to send a message to the people calling for the death of SOPA the fact remains that there is no direct connection to the taking down of Megaupload. The take down was simply an act of justice and one that is absolutely justifiable.

Finally, I see a lot of people also forgetting the core concept that piracy is not a good thing. Apparently because musicians and movie directors are living on piles of money, its ok to steal their works that they put a lot of time and effort into creating. Granted, the media industry is full of backward folk but that doesn’t give anyone the right to say that piracy is something that shouldn’t be looked at as a bad thing. Piracy is stealing and if you are ok with that then good day to you. Quit supporting the people who are against Megaupload. It hurts us who are trying to stop bills like SOPA going through. It doesn’t work that way. When people oppose things like the Megaupload takedown it just goes to show that the majority of people really don’t know what they are talking about and that’s the reason people in congress and the senate aren’t sure whether or not to take most of this opposition seriously. It seems like every time there’s some bill related to anti piracy, most people call it Armageddon and immediately ask for it to be taken off. It’s not like anyone suggests any viable solutions either. How do you take a bunch of people seriously when all they do is complain about every solution proposed to stop piracy. How do you take them seriously when they never seem to be satisfied and never seem to provide any good solution themselves? How do you take them seriously when they begin complaining even when a completely legitimate takedown such as that done with Megaupload is also opposed. When people fail to make sense and simply sound like a pack of brainless parrots in an echo chamber, the effectiveness of the real message that genuine people are trying to spread gets lost.

Here’s a little something to think about. How many people do you honestly think, who upvoted all those posts about SOPA and PIPA on 9Gag, actually took the time to study the bills and find out what really makes them such a disaster? My bet is very few. If there were really a bunch of people who were serious about this then the posts about Megaupload probably would not have really bubbled to the top. Bottom line. Take some time to think before just opposing everything that comes down the pipeline. I made that mistake and I can guarantee you. When it eventually hits, you really understand how foolish it all is.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Big media, SOPA, and the real solution.

A while ago I recall reading a statement from the CEO of Steam and his opinions on game piracy. I believe the man is a true visionary and it is people like him that ought to be put in charge of drafting anti piracy legislations in congress. That or the media corps ought to take a few lessons from him in how to combat piracy because he is one of the few people who believe the way forward is offensive and not defensive.

This may seem like an odd statement given how offensive the media corps are these days. But the reality is that the media corps just appear to be on the offense with their legislative motions like SOPA and PIPA and goodness knows what will come next down that crap line. These acts are really just acts of defense where the media corps want to huddle up in their traditional business models and traditional media formats while lashing out at people each time they see some site pirating stuff come up on the horizon. This is just plain stupid and it’s the reason that the tech community and so many others are standing up against whatever the media corps do to shut down piracy. People want a way forward. Out with the traditional plastic discs. In with digital. But no. Media corps are scared because the new medium is just so much more transferrable and therefore easier to pirate. So they go on the defense and lash out against the digital medium and decide to hole themselves up with their good old fashioned DVD discs. And then they wonder why people rise up against them. It doesn’t even make sense anymore. To say that DVDs are a good form of protection against piracy because they are less transferable is stupid. I could in two hours rip a DVD and share it with my friends if I wanted to. But of course the laws of ripping will stand in my way right? Again. Defensive action. They try to stop the people from ripping DVDs by saying that they can sue them in court for it. The media corps think that putting some kind of code around that will make the DVD format locked out to others. But I’m sorry. That doesn’t work. People want to go digital. They don’t want to be looking at this mountain of discs when they can instead have one 5 TB external hard disk which contains everything. Even more important, with increasing internet speeds, people don’t want to even have the 5 TB hard disks anymore. They would prefer to just be able to stream everything.

But of course the media corps continue to ignore these signs and prefer to stay holed up in their little closed up worlds. As Steve Jobs quite rightly put it, “You guys have got your heads up your asses”. Now what did the CEO of Steam say that clearly showed that he had the right idea? On piracy, all he had to say is that it isn’t about just the game anymore. It’s about the service provided with the game. If a person finds that ordering a game DVD doubles or triples the cost due to shipping costs to his/her country and has a waiting time added to that, then piracy becomes a natural option to turn to. After all, the pirates are providing a better service than the game company themselves. But in the case of Steam, the CEO believes that the Steam platform provides a better service to gamers. Whether this is true or not is debatable but whatever said and done, the man has the right idea. After all, now through Steam I have so much more enabled. I can no download the games like I would a torrent and I can get the game for free. All patches and future updates and expansions become just as easily and readily available. Online gaming with other people becomes easy, leaderboards with friends is automatic and even buying a game level by level becomes possible.

Imagine this with the media corps. What if they put all the effort they are putting into foolish bills like SOPA into making a media platform greater than any other. What if they made a platform where all movies could be streamed with ads or without ads depending on how you wanted to pay for it. Imagine a platform where people from anywhere in the world can no get a movie without having to worry about shipping costs and other unnecessary details like having to deal with storage of physical goods. And imagine a platform where users are automatically connected to fan pages and merchandise, and where buying a movie gets them inside access to behind the scenes and other constantly updated media such as director’s and artist’s notes. When it comes to advertising, people can even start offering advertisements to make the program seem more local. Now when I watch the tv series/movies for free via this new platform I won’t have ads from geico but instead ads from my own country which makes more sense.

This is the kind of stuff people should be thinking about. Not how to stop people from downloading the movies off torrent sites. Media corps need to instead answer the question, “why do people even want to pirate something???” There really aren’t that many thieves in the world. People just want access to something with ease and if the media corps aren’t going to provide that access then they might as well turn towards someone who does. And in this case that someone is, the pirates.

A good example of how media corps can be so stupid comes from CBS and the big bang theory. Today I went online just to check what episodes they have, and it turns out that they have one episode from season 3, 12 and 13. I mean really? And there’s no way I can even pay to watch those online. So what have I got to do? Either buy it from Amazon, or take a trip down to a DVD store and buy a bunch of physical discs I neither want, nor need. Even if I really don’t want to pirate, I all of a sudden don’t care. The pirates provide me with a better service so why should I go to CBS? Defiance sets in. And I give the finger to CBS and go ahead and switch on the torrents to get my episodes from season 1. Good move CBS. Really well played.

‘Nuff said. Get your act together media corps. You’ve shown the world just how much influence and power you have. The world is seeing an unprecedented growth in people wanting to develop stuff to make media more readily available around the world. Use your money and power to grab those developers and set them free to develop a platform like no other. One that enables the world, to become one.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I feel like a dork

Biggest mistake ever. The other day I was doing a Facebook engineering puzzle using C++, and the puzzle description warned about performance and how important it would be to go through a large amount of data real fast. Before I go any further into that, let’s talk about Project MADA. The now defunct ho ha of mine.

When I was doing the project back into university, I had to look up bi grams within a large amount of text. Essentially I had to keep running tab of all possible combinations of two letters {aa,ab,ac,ad….zw,zx,zy,zz}. That’s 2^26 combinations.

My solution to this problem turned out to be, a list, where I would store each bi gram along with its corresponding count as a tuple. Thus, for each bi gram I read into the system, I would go through the list to see if I had a mach. If yes, I would increment the count by 1 and if not, I’d add the new bi gram along with a corresponding count of 1.

Back to the Facebook problem, which is liar liar. There’s a forum of users and you have a list of people who have come frward to name the others as liars or truthful. From this knowledge, you have to derive who is truly truthful and who is just a big fat liar. The logic for this is a no brainer. The implementation however requires keeping a track of number of accusations corresponding to a name. Now I could have used by bi gram method, but for some reason, just because I was doing a Facebook puzzle, all that was in my head was efficiency. And my first thought was, hash table (Map in C++) where the key would be the person’s name.

Two days later I was thinking of my FYP, and I just realized how stupid I must have sounded coming up with my method to insert stuff into a list and keep track of it when the hash table was there along for me to use. Instead I had an implementation which was utterly inefficient, (nested for loop, traversing through list each time to find element. Talk about a worst case) and what’s worse, I feel like a dork because I stood in front of my lecturers proudly showing off my implementation as it was the best thing since peanut butter and jelly. I can’t even believe the hash table didn’t occur to me.

I can’t help but wonder, if they thought I was a bit of a dud for not using a hash table. Sigh.

On a side note, it truly is amazing just how differently I thought simply because the thought of Facebook efficiency was in my head the whole time.