Free as in beer…

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Remember when people would copy a tape or even CD (illegally) and give a copy to their friends? Well the way things seem to be headed, the transition of this seems to be for people to transfer AVI/MKV/MOV/WMV/MP3/add-your-format-here files to USB keys or upload/download via the internet.

They of course do this for free, free as in beer.

To explain what ‘free as in beer’ means, you have to consider that neither beer, nor the internet is free. Somebody has to pay for it, but a beer that is bought for you, is free to you… right? Right! With that in mind, the internet is a free market where free speech (Which is a different concept entirely) is also prevalent, as well as free beer. People rip, upload, download, trade, comment, rate and otherwise break the law for things that are free… But they’re not free, because somebody paid to produce that movie that was uploaded and subsequently downloaded for ‘free’ over the internet.

If you think about it, its the same as making a mix tape. The problem years ago with mix tapes and nowadays with downloading videos or MP3s from the internet (In a very similar effect, if not method) is that it is illegal. Somebody paid to produce that content, and by ripping it the law is broken because the appropriate loyalties are not paid to those due. This is where DRM (Digital Rights Management) come in to control the illegal copying and distribution of digital media. Unfortunately, the only effect this has is to slow things down by adding an extra hurdle, and make everybody’s life more difficult to do what people have done since media was first distributed to the masses. I image that even when books were first printed, there were people who would take the time to copy paragraphs or maybe even whole chapters from books which would be breaking whatever agreement, law or moral boundary was in place at the time to prevent this.

The problem I see with DRM, and also maybe why it is ALWAYS circumvented before long, is that it is an inherently human production.
It’s unreasonable for a DRM programmer to expect their copy-protection or media management ‘solution’ to be unbreakable, and I’d hope that they don’t expect that it wont be broken.

Take a look at the current holy grails of DRM protection, which of course are Blu-Ray copy protection, HDCP stream encoding, and the Playstation 3’s security system. All of these have recently been cracked which will allow people to run their own software and/or decrypt the data stored behind these ‘restrictions’. This is the work of various groups, most of which with the idealistic view that things should be free to everybody and that people should share everything. Obviously, this is not in-line with how contemporary consumer society works, but still it can be a noble cause when observed from the right angle.

There are of course seemingly obvious good and bad examples to this, like for example the developers behind XBMC (Software which forms the basis of Boxee, which I’m very fond of, so please fogive my bias). I encountered this software originally by aquiring non-official builds of XBMC to run on my (original) ‘chipped’ xbox, essentially extending the life and use of my games console. This even encouraged me to buy an xbox360, which I have even now recently bought the updated ‘slim’ incarnation. For technical reasons XBMC will not run on the xbox360 and the developers have stayed true to their x86 roots by producing XBMC for windows , mac and Linux as binaries, but still… The project started off in a less than official capacity.

So why are these groups labelled as criminals and sued to high heaven by the ‘evil’ corporations that own these circumvented solutions?

Because they break the law, sometimes to do the good work of some groups like the XBMC team, but other times to circumvent systems for no apparent reason other than to facilitate piracy. I won’t wade into if this is strictly right or wrong, as it’s just my opinion expressed here, but I do wish to highlight it.

If anything I wish people to be aware of the humble and somewhat shady background of an epic software project (Which has spawned other abitious projects including Boxee) but also that without this we would not have benefitted from great matured applications like this.

The other important thing is that this kind of development and developer maturity isn’t as easy to spot as people may like to think. For example the XBMC development team could have have gone down the route of producing software to promote piracy, rather than giving people a choice of quality software.

Personally, I’m glad they were not stopped, but in my opinion the same cannot be said for other software developments which have circumvented protected systems to give people a free alternative.

Long live XBMC and Boxee!

About Media Centers and Boxee

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As some of my friends may know, I’ve been a vocal advocate of Boxee and I’ve lead by example building my own Media Center experience using Boxee and Windows Media Center. As a result, I don’t watch terrestrial ‘over-the-air’ TV when at home and have not missed it.
For the uninitiated, Boxee is a piece of software that you can install on your PC, Mac or Linux system that converts any computer running those Operating Systems to work as a ‘Media Center’.

“What is a Media Center?” I often hear asked. The best way to explain a Media Center is to show someone. Failing that, probably to compare it to a set top box or other contemporary cable/satellite box, but mixed in with a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray player, also able to record your analogue and digital broadcasts and on top of that the vast majority of Media Centers also pride themselves on being able to play the vast and varied amount of digital media files that are becoming so common. This is where the key part of this is lost to the content producers; the internet is free. Free as in beer. But I’m getting off-track.*** A PC can do all of this, yes, but Media Centers do all of this from a sitting on the sofa distance, which bears so many functionality conundrums into account like font size, ease of controls, menu systems, etc… This all works differently when you’re not sat at a desk with a mouse and full sized keyboard in front of you.

Please remember that this is about functionality, not form factor. The set top box is the established form factor of the home electronics world. People can recognise a DVD player or satellite box by its form, shape and size the same way that a games consoles are naturally made this way to be expected to slot under/next to your TV along with all the other freeview boxes and DVD players etc.

Its like comparing playing games on a PC to playing on an Xbox or Playstation.
Its also, in this case, about the difference between analogue and digital media.

Its all about DIGITAL media. What’s wrong with analogue media? Well, in my opinion, is the future of television and also how we will eventually come to assimilate and use DIGITAL media. Boxee and other Media Centers like WMC (Windows Media Center), XBMC (Originally named XBox Media Center, but no longer on the Xbox), Media Portal and other efforts are leading the way in this digital revolution. Traditionally, analogue media works in a stream and can be cut and played from different segments like videotapes. Digital media is different in that you can instantly ‘seek’ to a point in a movie or music file. An example of this would be DVD players that remember the exact point of the movie you were watching last when you stopped it, or an iPod that resumes your track from the same spot even though you may have done something else with the device. This is profound in that it allows us to watch what we want, when we want. Stop and start it. Pause and resume. Not the same as a video tape.

Boxee have taken this a step futher by using the open sourced software code base from the XBMC team and adding functionality which allows even more media to be streamed from online. This is another profound step forward because it adds sources such as YouTube, Google Video and ‘Internet TV’ channels such as BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Revision3 and Vimeo to the sofa experience. You could argue that BBC iPlayer and 4OD are accessible via ‘normal’ TV, but you cant pick and choose what you want to watch, when you want to watch it. This is the big difference; Online access to content, which means no swapping DVDs and no requirement to be sitting on the sofa at 7.30pm EXACTLY to watch Eastenders.

All the benefits of iPlayer and all other digital formats like a PC, but on the sofa.
That’s what appears to me is the future of Media Centers and digital media.

More to come.

***As a matter of fact, I went so off-track as to make enough extra text to make another whole post, which I will post later, explaining how it appears to me where things are going and where to content producers have got things somewhat wrong.

Orks go WAAAGH!!!

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Well as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Warhammer 40k player, and I wouldn’t claim to be a particularly great one at that… But I do it for the fun of it… And because I love my army: Orks! Space Orks to be exact.

Orks are a great army to play in 40k, not least because they have so much character as a race, but also because they’re great for stompin’ those pesky ‘umies!
I built my Orkish horde relatively quickly through a couple of purchases from eBay (SHOCK! HORROR! I BOUGHT models!) and a donation of old-skool Orks from a very old and good friend of mine who used to collect Orks many many years ago when I was first dipping my toes into the 40k hobby.
Back then I played for about a year, never really got the hang of the rules, didn’t really know anyone who played and eventually gave up because it turned out to be quite a solitary endeavour for me. Still, it always stayed with me and since then I would always wander into any Games Workshop store that was within eyeshot to umm and arr about collecting again. As a substitute, I got heavily into reading the wide range of 40k novels released by the Black Library, which I readily recommend.

It wasn’t until quite recently I took the plunge and actually went for it (again), purchasing the Assault on Black Reach starter set, a bunch of paints and started, encouraged by my friends who play 40k.

Since then I’ve played a handful of games, bought a few units from eBay with what I believe is a good reason: 40k can be REALLY expensive and time consuming! I worked the numbers and determined that it would be cheaper and faster if I purchased some badly painted models that I could finish/repaint, it would both speed up my army building by giving me something to immediately play with (I don’t like playing with unpainted models) and saving some cash as opposed to buying everything new.

I have bought about half of my army new, assembled and painted them myself but I do think it would have taken a long time to get to where I am now. Considering that, I wasn’t afraid that I’d lose interest… More that I wanted to PLAY sooner rather than later. I’ll get there eventually, and even now I have about 20 boyz, 20-odd nobz, 3 warbikes, 3 deffkoptas and a trukk that I have yet to assemble and/or paint. I have a lot more that I’ve painted myself and some others that I’ve bought and finished.

So, there it is, my Orks and how I got into it.
I’ll be adding photos soon of some of my units.

For more information, check out Games Workshop’s site.

The new site cometh!

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Well, I finally did it after much umming and arring…
The FollowKMan.com site is live!

Now what… well…

This site is primarily for myself to have a place to upload comments and useful tips, links and info for myself and anyone else who may be interested in my random finds, ramblings, travels and anything else that comes to my mind or that I stumble into.
I’ve often wanted to have a place where I could keep together links and info from articles and things that I’ve spent ages trawling the net for, and thought about having a fully fledged site, but eventually decided that the blog format would be more effective… So we’ll see how it goes, I suppose.

So check back and there might be something cool, geeky, techy or just plain odd here.

Stick with me and we’ll do fine. 🙂