Friday, June 29, 2012

European trade committee voted to reject ACTA

Members of the European Parliament voted to reject the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) by 19 votes to 12. ACTA is a trade agreement, negotiated in secret between Canada, the USA, China, Japan and the EU. If approved, ACTA would allow major corporations and politicians to censor parts of the internet.

Under ACTA, the only forms of communications allowed on the internet would be those government bureaucrats approve.

From its inception, ACTA has been shrouded in secrecy. In the USA, ACTA was signed by president Obama on October 1 2011, despite serious Constitutional concerns. The White House circumvented the necessity to have the treaty confirmed by lawmakers by presenting it an as "executive agreement," although legal scholars have highlighted the dubious nature of this characterization. In the EU, EU Commissioner Karel De Gucht explained on television that the details of what was being suggested by the corporations, that lobbied for ACTA, could not be made public because it would be damaging to the reputations of those corporations.

The supporters of ACTA may have lost this battle, but we must remain vigilant. The idea is not dead, only the specific wording of ACTA. However, as we have seen when in several European countries, the people voted against the Lisbon Treaty, the EU simply changed some of the wording and packaging and later pushed it through anyway. If they manage to do the same thing with ACTA, consumers, small business owners and anyone with an opinion the current government does not like, will wish they had done something to stop ACTA when they still had the chance.

If you have a Twitter account, take a second and use the hashtag #StopACTA to voice your opposition.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Apple wins U.S. sales injunction against Samsung Galaxy Tab

Apple, unable to compete based on the quality of its products, has won a preliminary injunction barring U.S. sales of Samsung's iPad rival, the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

Samsung will likely appeal the ruling, though a spokesperson was unavailable for comment at the time of writing to confirm the company's next move.

A Samsung statement said:

Should Apple continue to make legal claims based on such a generic design patent, design innovation and progress in the industry could be restricted.

Apple has a long history of using extremely broad patents to undermine its competitors and hinder innovation. No wonder the #BoycottApple hashtag is winning ground on Twitter.

Is Your Printer Spying On You?

MIT's Media Lab has started a website that helps consumers contact the manufacturer of their printer so they can request that "tracking dots" be eliminated from their machines.

The dots hold information about the serial number, make and model of your printer and were placed there at the behest of the Secret Service -supposedly to help locate counterfeiters. Seeing Yellow, a project by MIT's Media Lab, claims that after contacting the printer manufacturer about how to disable the tracking dots, the Secret Service showed up at one consumer's door asking questions.

Most color laser printers made and sold today intentionally add invisible information to make it easier to determine where (and when) a particular document was printed. This seems to have been done as part of a secret deal between the United States Secret Service and the individual manufacturers. Some of the manufacturers have mentioned the existence of the tracking information in their documentation, and others haven't. None of them have explained exactly how it works or what information is conveyed. No law requires printer companies to help track printer users this way, and no law prevents them from stopping this practice or giving customers a solution to avoid being tracked.

This information is most famously known to be coded by patterns of yellow dots that the printers add to the background of all the pages they print. The yellow dots are hard to see with the naked eye, but can be seen under bright blue light or with a microscope. Their arrangement reveals which printer was used to print a particular document, and sometimes also shows when it was printed. Some of the codes have been understood while others are still mysterious, but none of the printer manufacturers has denied that the dots are intended to help track a particular document to a particular printer (or that they can actually be used for this purpose). This is a direct attack on the privacy of the owners and users of printers, and in particular, on their right to free, anonymous speech.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Microsoft Surface Keynote

Looks like Microsoft is heading for another Epic Fail, but on the upside: more competition in the tablet market will force the other players to keep innovating.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

MacBook Pro with Retina Display is the least repairable laptop

The guys at iFixit took apart a new Macbook pro with Retina display. Their conclusion: it's the least repairable laptop ever.

  • Proprietary Pentalobe screws prevent folks from accessing the machine's internals. That means you need a special screwdriver just to remove the bottom cover.
  • The RAM is soldered to the logic board. Max out at 16GB now, or forever hold your peace—you can't upgrade.
  • The proprietary SSD isn't upgradeable.
  • The lithium-polymer battery is glued rather than screwed into the case, which increases the chances that it'll break during dis-assembly. The battery also covers the trackpad cable, which tremendously increases the chance that a user will shear the cable in the battery removal process.
  • The display assembly is completely fused, and there's no glass protecting it. If anything ever fails inside the display, you will need to replace the entire assembly.

Every Apple fan I know has had at least one massive failure of some kind that has needed serious overhaul or replacement. If they buy the new Macbook Pro, I hope that whatever problem they might one day run into will be covered by Apple Care. Otherwise, it looks like they'll be out of luck... and out of one very expensive laptop.