Crack Dem Locked Down iTunes

Jhymn-Logo

I’m normally pretty respectful of the usage rights accorded the media I purchase. But I’ve about had enough of Apple’s silly game of locking iTunes-purchased tracks to Apple hardware.

I wanna listen to my music on my X360, my PSP, and my Treo. I wanna buy a third party stereo unit that’ll wirelessly connect up with iTunes on my Mac so I can hear the music on my bad-ass stereo. (C’mon, Apple, license FairPlay, already!)

So it’s with some glee that I stumbled upon the Hymn Project today. It’s basically an open source project that has cracked the DRM on iTunes tracks. No doubt it’s completely illegal in Canada, but, hey, so is leaving over an inch of snow on the sidewalk in front of your house.

The Hymn Project’s software is a free download. You can use it to strip all DRM management from files that have been purchased on the iTunes music store and then listen to the music you own however and wherever you like. There are versions for Mac, Windows and *nix.

Take the music back!

[Update: JHymn don’t work with iTunes 6.x. Drag! I’m starting to think that Apple has an evil gnome in its basement that works to ruin everybody’s fun. What’s a little rights-use infringement here and there, Apple?)

The Ultimate iPod

flickr iPod RumourI remember when the first iPod came out (I ordered one the day it was announced. What I liked about it was the severe lack of physical interface coupled with a simple, intuitive software interface.

This image is a rumoured representation of Apple’s next generation iPod, which will focus on video capabilities. (I posted it here directly, but the original is available on flickr) Of course, the image could be a hoax, as well. There’s tons of discussion over on MacRumors. Rumour has it that this new iPod will be announced next Tuesday (February 28) at Apple HQ.

I’d like to believe this is the next iPod. There’s been talk for ages about how Apple is completely removing all physical interface and using the entire surface of the device for HD video display. Interface will be presented contextually via software when requested by finger gestures on or over the screen.

I love the concept of zero static interface in a device, especially a media player, where you really only need to engage the unit for moments at a time. It mainly just sits there, playing stuff.

There’s been a lot more of a dynamic interface feel to Apple’s software products lately (iPhoto 6 has a fair amount of it), seemingly based on “just what you need, when you need it”. This would be the opposite approach to, say, Microsoft Word, which offers you a zillion little pictographic buttons all at once, when you really only use 2 or 3 of them. (Personally, I never used any; I just shut all the menu bars down, they were so annoying, and learned the keyboard equivalents.)

But I wonder about the roll that tactility plays in a physical device. After all, the iPod’s main control is a “click” wheel. I’m sure it could have been a “touch” wheel, but there’s something reassuring from a usability perspective about receiving physical feedback from a device. (In fact, there was a model with a wheel that didn’t click, I now recall, and Apple learned that it presented usability problems and went back to the clickwheel.)

I’m no Mac rumour monger (okay, I am) but I just had to post my thoughts on this one here.

All You Need is Web

Mammoth proprietary operating systems like Windows, Linux and Mac OS are so old school. It’s time to toss them into the dustbin of obscure defunct technology.

In the future, your files and favourite software will be available for you to use at whatever computer, smart phone, handheld video game or iPod you happen to be looking at, thanks to the new web.

Pretty much the same as the old web, “Web 2.0” is a popular new approach that focuses on how people use the medium, rather than how companies want us to use it. Web 2.0 embraces the concept of open standards. This means the web operates on a system of community, rather than corporate, principles.

One of the primary tenets of Web 2.0 is the concept that the web is a service-based, rather than commodity-based, environment. This represents a shift from the old-web consumer model, to a much more interactive and capable one that sees people actually using the web to contribute and be productive.

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Apple, Please Don’t Do It

There’s a report in Friday’s Hindustan Times that suggests Apple Computer may be setting up a tech support call centre in Karnataka, India:

Apple Computer is planning to set up a technical support centre in Karnataka on the lines of the one which Dell has in India.

After my limited experience with Dell’s sales team and Air Canada’s web site support team in India I can only say that this is a bad idea, mainly for the following reasons:

  1. Language Fluency; tech support is difficult enough in one’s mother tongue. It’s almost impossible to do in a second language, especially with a heavy accent. The Indian people I spoke to on my calls were pretty much incomprehensible, both from their accent and from the unusual speed with which they spoke, not to mention the unusual sentence structures they employed.
  2. Quality of Telecommunications; every time I’ve spoken to someone in an Indian call centre the quality of the connection has been total crap. I mean, Skype beats the connections into India.
  3. Quality of Service; when I spoke to Indian support reps in regards to a particular problem, not only did they lack the training to ascertain the correct symptoms and qualities of the issue, but they were clearly reading from a script as they worked through the problem with me. A web site would have been a better solution, as soon as things got off-script, the call agents were lost.

Apple has a reputation for superior quality of customer care. I pay extra for this and it’s the main reason why I recently bought a new Power Mac instead of a Dell Media Centre PC, even though I paid a lot more (yes, I’m willing to pay more for all-around better quality). It would be a terrible mistake to sacrifice the interests of customers just to save some dough on support services.

Obviously Apple’s going for market share with the new Intel boxes, as the feature-for-feature price comparisons with Dell machines are pretty much on par. Fair enough, I guess, but if added market share comes at the cost of quality of service and overall customer satisfaction, then it’s a bad plan. Like I said, I’d rather pay more for a better product that I get better service for.

Please, Apple — don’t do it.

I Wanna Work for Playboy

The Original Playboy Bunny

Not for the obvious reasons, so get your mind out of the gutter.

There’s an interview with Christie Hefner over at Baseline, where she discusses how Playboy manages their huge archive of content in relationship to DRM and modern delivery methodologies. I’m surprised by how much she knows what she’s talking about:

…one of our goals is to have a flexible architecture so that as what’s available to us advances and our own understanding of what the consumer wants advances, we don’t have to scrap what we’ve already done.

I dunno. The last company I was at, the CEO would fall asleep at the first mention of IT architecture. (One of the directors slept through a presentation I gave about my web architecture strategy.) I get the feeling Ms. Hefner is rare in her IT interest as a CEO…?

Then she goes on to describe how Playboy took an early initiative to internally develop a digital multimedia workflow:

We took an official skunk works approach [in the 1980s]. There was one person in the art department and one person in administrative rights who were interested and tech savvy. And so, in effect, I funded them. I let them buy computers and experiment with different kinds of software that were being developed to help change the way the whole editing process was being designed for publishing.

Nice! Talk about a dream job! She also describes how Playboy was one of the early developers and adopters of video content for iPod. I mean, I always knew porn was an early implementor of new technologies, but she makes it sound like a total geek adventure. Hire me!

Money Ain’t Worth the Trouble

Canadian Five Dollar Bill

Money is yucky. It’s dirty and smells funny. It rips (in the hands of children). As you move from country to country, you’re required to trade it in. And no matter where you are, a lot of it’s fake.

Consider the last time I was in Vancouver and stopped to buy a slice of pizza in some little hole-in-the-wall. It was one of those rare times I had cash in my pocket. As I handed the guy a fiver he gave me a dirty look. He held the bill daintily between his thumb and forefinger like it was toxic waste and tossed it under a special UV light to verify it was real money.

My change was a handful of coins sticky with the sweaty palms of a thousand people. The moment after he closed the till the clerk thoroughly washed his hands with hot water and soap. I suddenly regretted buying a handheld snack.

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GMail Remains a Threat to Privacy

An article by Simon Garfinkel on the Technology Review web site highlights some of the privacy risks that GMail and similar web-based services inherently impose on users.

Google’s Gmail raises important questions about the security and privacy of our personal information — questions that should matter not just to users of the free Web-based e-mail system but to everyone who exchanges e-mail with Gmail users.

I’ve also raised similar concerns in a past column, The Americans Want Your Information.

Garfinkel focuses on the risks imposed by Google’s lack of data backup and secure deletion function in GMail, and its customized ad service. Plus, he makes the excellent point that, due to Google’s ad-driven revenue stream, users are not Google’s customers, they are the product.

My column focussed more on the fact that by using any web application that uses data storage service offered by a US-based company, one exposes oneself to US legislation, in particular the paranoid US Patriot Act. Under this act, the US government can seize data without even a court order and the service provider must never inform the user of such seizure. This applies to internationally-based subsidiaries of American companies equally.

Personally, I make sure that all of my email and sensitive data storage remains on computers owned and operated by a fully Canadian-owned company, such as webnames.ca. This ensures that I am subject to the laws only of the land in which I reside, not to those of any overly-paranoid foreign government.