Archive for August, 2008

links for 2008-08-30


On mind-mapping Cory’s talk


My last post was gleaned from these here notes. I don’t always do mind-maps but I do tend to for the talks attended, meetings joined, books read, etc that I think will produce lots of ideas I want to capture. I learnt the technique a long time ago in a very unlikely setting. When I finished my maths degree I wanted to work for charities. At a charity careers fair I attended at my University (York) one speaker said “we don’t need good intentions, we need rare skills like secretaries and accountants”. So I decided to become an accountant. Readers who know me will realise instantly what a mistake that was – I’m not cut out to make a good accountant, but I did spend a year with some very fun people at Clark Whitehill in Haywards Heath. On top of the day job helping audit local firms there was tons of study in the evenings so Clark Whitehill sent all its new recruits on a week long starter where one of the things we learnt was study skills. I wish I could remember the name of the guy teaching it, he was inspirational, and he taught us all how to mind-map. That was back in 1988 and I’ve been using it ever since. Not for everything – it’s awful for things that are inherently linear (e.g. the mathematical proofs in my doctorate), not good for sparse notes, etc. But for other things it’s great – not least because everyone who sees you taking notes this way assumes that you are very creative!

There are aspects of my mind-mapping that I’m dissatisfied with. Mine are too uniform, I don’t use enough pictures etc but I am a fan of the technique.

Cory’s talk gave me a few insights into mind-mapping. 

Firstly I was struck by how few people were taking notes. Why is this? How do people plan to remember and reflect if they don’t distill their responses immediately? As far as I could see I was the only person scribbling notes. And this wasn’t an illiterate audience of hoodlums, this was Cambridge!

Secondly it was very hard to mind-map. This was because of Cory’s style. When you draw a mind-map you need to decide which are the key themes, and their relative weight because, unlike linear note taking, you cannot expand an item indefinitely since the branch that lead to it will also, to some extent, prescribe how much of the page you have to work with for sub-items. Cory had a very engaging and entertaining style, and one facet of this was that when he gave an anecdote you were not sure if he was using it to illustrate a point, to close a section, to bridge between sections, or as the foundation of a new section. The style added drama to the talk but boy it made mind-mapping hard. It reminds me of a Motörhead concert Kate attended (and I’ll be in so much trouble if she finds out I’ve let that secret out of the bag) where each song was so loud and thrashed that she couldn’t tell when they changed song until they got to the chorus!

I’ll need to coalesce all these mind-mapping insights into some revision to the way I take notes, but for the moment I’ve at least experienced a talking style that pushed my mind-mapping beyond braking and made me think.

Cory Doctorow’s inaugural Cambridge Business Lectures talk


“Pirate Riley. Aaarrhh Me Hearties!”
by Paul Sapiano

Ken and I have been thinking a lot about Digital Rights Management (DRM) recently. When we did the zCast project about IP datacasting over digital broadcast networks we were forever being asked about DRM, and we’d reply that it wasn’t our area of expertise. Eventually though we heard the message, and we’ve started to think how one might contrast the various models people have of digital rights: technical models, commercial models, economic models, legal models, and (most lacking) models of user’s expectations. So I was excited to find that Cory Doctorow was speaking locally on “Life in the Information Economy”. The first two sentences of the abstract were particularly intriguing: “We made a bet, some decades ago, that the information economy would be based on buying and selling (and hence restricting copying of) information. We were totally, 100 percent wrong, and now the world’s in turmoil because of it.”

So off I went to here the first lecture in the Cambridge Business Lectures series.

Cory’s Preamble

We got a great taste of Cory’s style from the first two sections of the talk, the preamble. He started by reading a paragraph of boilerplate legalese that relinquished all his rights over the talk into the public domain. Then he recited another piece of legalese starting: “By listening to these words, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all non-negotiated agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, …”. Very funny.


Cory started the body of the talk by pointing out that PCs and the internet combined are the perfect copying machines. He went on to point out three approaches used by the commercial content industry to ameliorate (or subvert, or ignore) this fact.

Firstly Cory trashed DRM. Again this was a very humorous dismissal. Cory gave a very brief history of cryptography starting with a simple model enumerating the three parties involved: the sender, the receiver, and the attacker. Before the war the sender and the receiver shared a cipher which the attacker didn’t know, and as long as the attacker couldn’t work it out then encrypted messages stayed secret. But experiences at Bletchley during the war taught us that you can only protect a cipher if you are cleverer than the attacker, and that’s hard to guarantee. So instead we now do our cryptography out in the open. We enlist the minds of the cleverest security experts we can find to publicly discuss (and hence fix) our encryption systems and then use public keys systems. But (claimed Cory) DRM turns this all on its head. In the model we become the attackers, and the key is secret, though it is stored with the content in our living room. Put like that it does sound a bit daft! Cory went on to tell the tale of the young hacker who having broken one industry standard was asked to overcome BluRay encryption. He didn’t have a player and so asked for a dump of the bytes at a moment of playing. Then by simply going through the bytes and looking for the correct length key he eventually (i.e. in a few hours) broke the encryption. This story is almost too simple to be true but it served Cory’s purpose – if BluRay can be broken by a smart youngster called Muesli64, what hope has any DRM system ever?

Secondly Cory rubbished filtering. This was dispatched swiftly. If we cannot filter email for SPAM, a commercially important problem perplexing armies of brainy people, how on earth could content sites filter their content for illegal breaches of copyright?

Thirdly Cory got quite cross about takedown notices. This ‘idea’ crops up repeatedly but involves persistent offenders having their internet connection severed. Cory felt this was just mad – akin to trying to remove a few drops of food colouring from a swimming pool. Luckily his anger did lead to another humorous suggestion. How about making the current three strikes rule (three notifications of copyright breaches and your internet connection is cut) symmetric? I.e. if a content company make three false accusations then we turn up at their head office with huge wire cutters and cut through their internet connection.

Social Potential

This last point – Cory’s incredulity about the proposal of takedown notices – turned out to be the centrepiece of the whole talk. Cory’s real conclusion was that connection to the internet is much much more important than content consumption. He made the point (as so many of us have made so many times before) that the internet is about people not content. Some of this put me strongly in mind of Clay Shirky’s recent book. Cory felt that the real power of the internet was “nuking the cost of getting people together to do stuff”.

Cory and Clay have a real gift for distilling the wisdom many of us have gleaned about internet use into a wonderfully insightful and thought provoking aphorisms. Cory quoted a few in his talk (for example Tim O’Reily’s “the problem isn’t piracy it’s obscurity”) and finished this part with one of my favourites asides when he joked “if you make people choose between the internet and re-runs of Police Academy they will”.

Copy Native

Cory did touch on what it might be like to build a living as a copy native artist. He gave a brief history of the recorded music industry starting with performers who were reluctant to give over their direct relationship with their audience by moving into the studio through to the industry formed primadonnas who are reluctant to go on stage at all. Cory actually saw Madonna as an example of someone who gets it. The importance she places in her touring contract reflects the realisation that every time a song of hers is pirated the value associated with seeing her live increases.


Cory was a brilliant speaker and I’d go out of my way to hear him again. Don’t read these notes as a high fidelity synopsis of his talk; they are the distillation from my notes. The talk is available online – both as a video and a transcript. I haven’t covered what he said about the distribution of internet use across the world (“the internet doesn’t disappear, the latency just gets bigger”) or about tagging (“a collaborative game without rules”) but I’d like to finish with my favourite analogy of the whole evening. While reflecting on the movie industry view that piracy could kill the blockbuster movie Cory asked a question. The reformation killed the European programme of cathedral building, but did it kill religion?

links for 2008-08-26


links for 2008-08-20

  • Just picked this up from Catherine’s livejournal. “Live to your door” may freak out the family but otherwise YUM
    (tags: food)

links for 2008-08-18