Of Piracy and Liberty

For more than a decade,  Wikipedia (the free, web-based, collaborative, multilingual encyclopedia project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation.) has spent millions of hours painstakingly building what has to be the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, Congress is considering legislation that could all but kill free and open Internet.

The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in December, and the powers of the Internet—web based companies that innovate and users who populate internet—joined forces to defend the idea of a free and open ’net. Some websites have even joined in blacking out in response to SOPA and PIPA. Because of all the controversy (more than 700,000 tweets and a million emails…give or take), there may no longer be the legislative desire in the House to pass it, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the bill’s most vocal opponents.

Despite that fact, bills often come in pairs, and SOPA’s twin in the Senate is the Protect IP Act, or PIPA as it is commonly referred to. Both bills threaten to rip apart the very fabric of the Internet, compromise the world’s digital security and open the doors for censorship the likes of which have been most recently seen in China. While SOPA may be damaged, PIPA has yet to attract the same levels of negative attention. It’s scheduled for a Senate floor vote on Jan. 24 and could easily weasel its way through, under the radar. It’s quite clear that PIPA is the new SOPA, making it the next logical target.

It’s understandable that the entertainment industry is sick of sitting by while its films, records and software are being stolen by large-scale online file-sharing operations based overseas, known as “rogue sites.” But, in the name of “intellectual-property rights”, media companies have enlisted a bipartisan chunk of Congress to pass anti-piracy legislation weighted irrationally and unfairly in their favor. Copyright holders want to give themselves and the U.S. Department of Justice the power to block any and all websites accused of “infringement”. They seem to want to force Internet service providers to create a wall between their customers and these websites. To force banks and payment services like PayPal to cut off these websites’ money. They want the websites removed from search results and to ban people from linking to them. And all of that, without any kind of formal hearing.

That won’t stop people from infringing on copyrights. So long as there are people out there, information’ll find a way around the walls the entertainment industry wants built. That’s just the nature of information.

An alternative bill for possible consideration is  the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN, which like SOPA, also has a twin in the Senate, introduced by Senators Ron Wyden, Jerry Moran and Maria Cantwell. OPEN would place rogue sites under the purview of the International Trade Commission, which already oversees patent infringement. The ITC would be given the authority to block the flow of all money and advertising to these sites, but nothing more.

I’m not sure about you, but to me that seems ridiculous. If anything, PIPA might just cause a surge in pirating information. Tell someone they can’t do something and that’s as good a reason as any for them to do just that. And get enough people who aren’t allowed to do something and you’ve got the same thing that happened during the prohibition. Sure, I realize there’s a difference between pirating information and bootlegging information… it’s a small difference, but the comparison stands valid.

This blog post has been spawned from an amalgamation of online information. If a bill such as PIPA were to pass, who’s to say I would have been able to gather the information I’ve posted.?. Who’s to say I would have been able to post it.?.

Gadget Corner

Whenever I come across tech things, I feel the unwavering need to share them with the masses…or at least as many of the masses as will read this.

1. The Smallest Live-Streaming Video Solution- Contour announced a partnership with Japan-based Cerevo to unveil the world smallest and least expensive live-streaming video solution. Contour is a hands-free video camera maker and in 2011 they released the Contour+ and ContourROAM cameras.  The Contour+ works seamlessly with the Cerevo LiveShellfor live streaming video solution.

The Contour+ weights only 5.3 oz and has a 170° wide angle lens. It delivers HD video up to 1080p at 25/30 fps or 720p at 50/60 fps. With the new Contour Connect App any iPhone and soon Android can be used to stop and start and recordings. Contours exclusive Bluetooth technology allows Contour Connect to turn the users cellphone into a wireless viewfinder, so the user can adjust shots in realtime. There are multiple mounts available allowing the camera to be attached to almost anything. What the Contour+ was missing was the ability to stream directly to the Internet.

That is what Cerevo adds to the equation the Cerevo LiveShell. The Cerevo LiveShell attaches to the Contour+ by HDMI cable and then it can send out a live stream either by wired LAN or 802.11 b,g and n compatible wireless LAN. The Cerevo LiveShell can run for 2 hours on batteries. You can control the LiveShell thru a Web-based application on a smart phone or computer. The LiveShell has a maximum resolution of 480p. It is the first device that was given the “Ustream Compatible” seal of approval by Ustream. It does come with a power adapter allowing for 24/7 stable broadcasting. If you want to see an example, the Cerevo LiveShell is currently running in Akihabara, a section of Tokyo, Japan. The Cerevo LiveShell works not only with Contour products but a multiple number of video cameras, including cameras with analog inputs.

The vision for Contour began in 2003 out of the University of Washington business plan competition when two undergraduate students and avid skiers, Marc Barros and Jason Green, devised a simple helmet camera to record their exploits. The two wanted to share video of the thrills and spills of their downhill skiing adventures with their friends and family, but they couldn’t. The frozen mountaintop was a grueling and unforgiving environment for video camcorders. Besides, when you’re zooming downhill, crashing through trees with ski poles in your hands, holding onto a camera is the last thing on your mind.

After winning third place in the competition and enough money to afford the rent on a chilly warehouse, the two friends began building and selling the Twenty20 Helmet Camera. Over the years Contour has introduced a series of innovations to make storytelling easier for outdoor enthusiasts.

Cerevo is a Tokyo, Japan based company started in 2007 they specialize in live streaming. The Contour Connect is currently available in the iTunes store and should be coming to Android 2.2.1 and above in April. The app is free. The Cerevo LiveShell was launched in Japan in November 2011 and will be available through the Contour Web site starting February 1, 2012. If you want to stream your adventures live to Ustream than you need to take a look at both the Contour+ and their new partner Cerevo LiveShell.

2. Griffin’s Gadgets on the Go- Griffin has one of the best  ranges of accessories for smartphones of all kinds, as well as MP3 players and tablets, so it’s no surprise that they’ve got a few additions to their product range. This year they’re announcing  two in-car mounts, some power solutions and a mount for air travelers.

First up, if you have a car that has an aux port (3.5 mm socket), then the WindowsSeat 3 Handsfree is the windshield or dashboard mount for whatever your drive. It comes with a combined aux cable and microphone that that can be used to make handsfree phone calls and stream music/navigation commands through the car speakers. WindowSeat’s mounting cradle holds iPods or iPhones in most shell- or skin-type cases, as well as a similar sized MP3 players and smartphones, including some popular models from BlackBerry, HTC, Motorola, and Samsung.

If you don’t have  an aux jack, the AirCurve Window Mount is the alternative. This windshield mount is designed as an acoustic amplifier which can raise the volume by as much as 25 dB without any batteries or cables. Designed for the iPhone 4 / 4S, simply put the smartphone in speakerphone mode and chat away.

Griffin’s PowerBlock range has been updated with new models –  PowerBlock Reserve, a wall charger for iPod and iPhone that can be plugged into any AC wall outlet to provide a quick boost of power that also has a built-in rechargeable 2,000 mAh lithium-ion battery pack for charging on the go. The PowerBlock Reserve Universal, is the same concept but quickly charges any USB device. Both models charge their own batteries at the same time they’re charging connected devices, which is often not the case with competing models. A row of LEDs serve as a power gauge, indicating how much charge is left.

Finally, Griffin is bringing a new product to the market in Q2 of 2012 with a Tray Table Latch Mount. Specifically for the air and rail traveller, the mount is designed to be compatible with 90% of the world’s airline and commuter rail tray table latches and holds your eReader, tablet or smartphone at eye level for comfortable viewing. Very handy.

3. Blue Mic’s New Microphones- If you are a Podcaster you are familiar with Blue Mic. Founded in 1995 they sought to improve the front-end of audio recording by utilizing the increased bandwidth benefits enabled by digital technology. Advances in digital processing (e.g. extended frequency response, dynamic range, project recording capability) have fundamentally changed the recording process as well as the potential for the performance of microphones. Basing many of their concepts, designs, and technology on knowledge gleaned from years of repairing and improving classic microphones from a wide variety of manufacturers, but by simultaneously integrating new technologies, materials and a first-hand knowledge of today’s recording process, Blue began to pioneer the perfect analog input devices for the digital age.

They are the maker of the Yeti and Snowball mics. This year at CES 2012 they introduced three new mics, the Spark Digital, the Mikey Digital and the Tiki.

The Spark Digital is a studio grade condenser mic. It allows for high fidelity recording. There is an onboard control for volume, gain and instant mute.  There is a headphone jack for realtime monitoring.  It connects to both the iPad and a USB device easily. It is plug and play and has LED meter which provides visual feedback. It comes with an adjustable stand.

The Mikey Digital is made for the iPod touch 4th generation, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPad 1 and iPad 2. It allows for automatic or manual gain control. There is a three gain setting. It is set up to allow for stereo recording. It has a 230 degree rotating design and comes with a built-in USB charging port.

The Tiki is an intelligent ultra-compact USB microphone. It has voice isolation and noise cancellation. It can eliminate constant background noise by the use of intelligent muting. It is optimized for podcast and music recording. It improves voice clarity for Skype and iChat.

All three microphones work with most recording software including Garageband and should be available soon. If you are a fan of USB mics, I’d suggest taking a look at these three.  Blue Mic provides quality at a reasonable price.

A Geek Peek at 2012

Even if the Mayans, doomsday prophesiers , soothsayers and televangelists are right and 2012 is the end of history as we know it or the end of mankind; it’s going to be one heck of a year for geeks and nerds alike. This year’s going to see the return of favorites such as Doctor Who and Fringe, as well as a slew of new video games and Hollywood blockbusters. Whatever may come of this year, it’s certain to be the year of the geek. That all being said, I’ve taken it upon myself to compile a list (in no particular order) of some of the more noteworthy things to look forward to this year.

15. The Hunger Games Comes to Film

I’ve heard a lot of buzz going on about this one. The Hunger Games takes place in an unidentified future time period after the destruction of North America, in a nation known as Panem. Panem consists of a wealthy Capitol and thirteen surrounding, poorer districts. District 12, where the book begins, is located in the coal-rich region that was formerly Appalachia. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol, every year, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by lottery and forced to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised event in which the participants, or “tributes,” must fight to the death in a dangerous, outdoor arena, controlled by the Capitol, until only one remains. The story follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a girl from District 12, who volunteers for the 74th Games in place of her younger sister, Primrose. Also participating from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son whom Katniss knows from school and who once gave her bread when her family was starving. I haven’t read the book, but that doesn’t stop me from looking forward to the film.

14. The Avengers Movie

Now I’m a huge fan of comics, mostly the Marvel franchise (not that I don’t like DC), and as such, I’m a fan of The Avengers. From what I hear, this year will see “earths mightiest heroes” grouped together on the big screen. It’s about time. I’ve seen all the separate movies that have led up to this point and I’ve liked all but one of them.  This year we’ll all have a chance to see Thor! Captain America! Iron Man! The Hulk! Nick Fury! And the rest in action on the silver screen. It’s something definitely worth waiting for, though the question of how they plan on giving each Avenger the proper amount of time on the screen as they go up against Loki and from what I’ve read(spoiler alert)… possibly the Scrulls. This film will either be worthy of comic book fan movie of the year, or it’ll be a huge bomb. Here’s hoping it’s not the later of the two. For anyone of you unfamiliar with the Avengers should check out their Wikipedia page by clicking here (Avengers)

13. iPhone 5

I’m one of the many fans out there of Apple products; namely the iPod touch, iPad, and of course iPhone, so it’s no wonder the iPhone 5 managed to find its way onto my little…not soo little list. A lot of folk seemed disappointed at the release of the iPhone 4S, but those who didn’t buy one will have their day in the sun as it were in the late summer or fall of 2012 with the release of the iPhone 5 which is a complete redesign of the iconic device. It’s also said that the new iPhone 5 will be sporting a larger screen as well as a sleeker body design. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to try it out.

12. Zombie Apocalypse

Now i’m sure you’re probably confused as to how the Zombie Apocalypse made its way onto my auspicious list of things to look forward to this year, right.?. But if you put into consideration the growing social unease regarding the state the world is currently in, irreversible damage to the earth, and dwindling natural resources, maybe a good push of the big red reset button is just what the doctor ordered. And what better way to usher in that restart than with a Zombie Apocalypse? Sure, some of your friends and neighbors might become flesh eating ghouls, but that’s the price of progress. And look on the bright side, some of your least favorite people might end up zombies.. and you know what that means. Time to grab your shotguns, shovels, swords and the like and get some undead revenge.

11. PS Vita and the Wii U

They’re not necessarily games in of themselves, but on one hand you have a handheld device that can mimic/replicate PS3 experiences on a smaller screen, and on the other, we have a sequel to a console that has pretty much helped to bring gaming to the masses as; it’s definitely a good time to be a gamer, regardless of what particular console you prefer. Sony’s PS Vita will attempt to take some of the handheld gaming market back from Nintendo thanks largely to the device’s use of Augmented Reality — a technology that utilizes a built in camera to juxtapose gaming action with real world environments. The Vita promises to translate all our favourite home console experiences onto it, and the Wii U promises better third party support, along with a range of top tier first party games that we’ve come to expect from Nintendo. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

10. Avengers vs. X-Men

Marvel is billing Avengers vs. X-Men as “the biggest comic book event in history.” Who knows if the 12-issue miniseries will even remotely come close to impacting the comic book  industry as much as DC’s recent New 52 initiative. Here’s a video that’ll tell you a lot more about it than I’ve managed to.

9. Apple TV

Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson that he “cracked” the TV in his biography. Will we see a TV from the company, complete with some sort of Siri-based voice controls? One can only hope. The Apple TV is a small form factor network appliance designed to play digital content originating from the iTunes Store, Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, MobileMe, MLB.tv, NBA League Pass, NHL GameCenter or any Mac OS X or Windows computer running iTunes onto an enhanced-definition or high-definition widescreen television.

8. iPad 3

Given the product cycle Apple adheres to, you can also expect an upgrade to the iconic tablet in March (as was the case in 2011) It’s expected that the new iPad 3 will come with major upgrading. Some of the rumored specs of the device are that it may come equipped with an enhanced retina display feature to its 10-inch screen. It may also come with a 2048A1536 resolution display. It may also become “modestly thicker” (0.7 mm) to accommodate the twin light bar system needed for its higher-resolution display. Next thing you know, all TV’s will be replaced by iPads hanging on walls. Who’s got two thumbs and is looking forward to that? This guy.

7. Tron: Uprising

This 10-part animated series will bridge the gap between Tron and Tron: Legacy by telling the story of a young program’s revolution against the tyrannical Clu 2. Despite having a new character in a leading role, the series will feature familiar faces like Kevin Flynn and Tron himself. The show takes its visual cues from the sequel film as opposed to the retro-like look of the original Tron film. Not that that’s a bad thing. The animation in the series will be a mixture of 2-D and 3-D  and is said to be stunning. Even better is the fact that the show’s voices are provided by Elijah Wood, Lance Henriksen and Bruce Boxleitner. Even though this is conceived as a limited run series, any further exploration of the Tron world is a good thing in my book. Let’s hope this is better than the Animatrix was.

6. Doctor Who: Season 7

From what I’ve heard, the Ponds may be leaving the company of the Doctor and there’s only one more year until the 50th anniversary?! Since the skilled hands of Stephen Moffat took over the beloved science fiction/fantasy series it has been a nonstop thrill ride through the big bowl of wibbly wobbly timey wimey… stuff with the Eleventh incarnation of the Doctor portrayed by Matt Smith.  Now he is promising to not only get rid of beloved companions, Amy and Rory Pond but there will be no two parters on a show known for its cliffhangers. How will this effect the show?? Will there be more new villainous villains more villainous than the Silence and the Weeping Angels??

5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I’ve talked quite a few times about The Hobbit in a previous blog or two, but that’s because I’m purely excited about the film. Any chance to see Ian McKellen back on the big screen as Gandalf is worth the wait and watch. Even if he’s coming back as Gandalf the Grey as opposed to Gandalf the White. If you don’t know, The Hobbit is the latest Tolkien based film by Peter Jackson to take place in the world of Middle Earth. Though you won’t see Gimli, Legolas, Aragornor Boromir, there’s sure to be a slew of likable characters in their stead.. and far more dwarves. If the world’s going to end this year, at least I’ll get to see this film before it happens.

4. The Woman In Black

It’s going to be good to see Daniel Radcliffe back on the big screen, even if it’s not as Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name, which was also adapted into a long-running stage play, The Woman in Black is about a young lawyer who encounters a malevolent ghost in a small British town. From what little I’ve seen of the preview or trailer for the film, I’m excited. How’s Mr. Radcliffe going to deal with this malevolent specter of a woman without his trusty wand in hand? I can’t wait to find out. This post-Potter film promises to be a winner. Hollywood needs more good old-fashioned ghost stories like this one.

3. Playstation 4

Sony Playstation is well into the development of its next generation console. Both Sony and Microsoft have publicly gone on record that their current consoles will have life cycles of 10 years, the PS3 was released in 2006. But that doesn’t mean they’re likely to wait until the very end of that shelf life. As for rumours about the PS4: Blu-Ray for certain, portable gaming data, a redesign of the PSN, more power (up to ten times more than the PS3 according to some estimates) and key for fans with shelves full of older titles: backwards compatibility, and who doesn’t love backwards compatibility? I know I do.

2. Video Games

Tomb Raider: 2012 sees a re-boot of one of the defining games of a generation as Lara Croft is due to return in Tomb Raider. With a trailer first unveiled at E3 last summer this new version of the game serves as a prequel to the original. Developed by Crystal Dynamics it has high hopes for this latest edition in the hugely successful series which sees the heroine stranded on a mysterious island and fighting for survival. Who doesn’t like a good survival game.?.

Grand Theft Auto V: One of the most controversial game series over the last decade 2012 could see a new edition to the Grand Theft Auto franchise. The trailer alone made shock waves around the gaming community when it was released in early November. Set back in San Andreas it left more questions than answers for the game’s fans. Who is the middle aged man featured in the trailer? Will it be as violent as previous titles? Will it prove big enough to break Call of Duty’s strangle hold on the video game market? Whatever the answers are,  if it does make it onto the shelves next year Rockstar North will surely have the biggest selling game of 2012 on its hands.

Mass Effect 3: This is one game that does have a release date confirmed for 2012 (March 9th if you’re wondering). You play Commander Shepherd taking on ancient alien race The Reapers. Following their all out invasion Earth has been captured and the Galaxy is on the verge of annihilation. And you’re the only thing standing in their way. So far so standard for fans of the sci-fi genre. But what makes this series’ different is it wide ranging game play. It boasts multiple endings which play out depending on the decisions you make during the game and the type of fighting you do it’s likely to earn another sure fire hit for developer Bioware (Reminiscent of the “choose your own adventure” books, I’d say.)

1. Windows 8 Tablet

From what I understand, Samsung and HP will be the first makers of any Windows 8 tablets which will use the “Metro” interface on tablet that is presently used in Windows 7 Phone .  These tablets are going to be thin and light with lots of supports, Apps, an App store, and it will run on ARM, Intel and AMD chips. The price of these tablets will be similar to Android tablets. Though I’m a huge fan of Apple and all its many fine products, I’m still a PC user, so while I look forward to Apples new products, I can’t help but find myself intrigued by the Windows 8 Tablet. Will it be enough to steal me away from Apples iPad 3? Only time can tell.

One heck of a year for geeks and nerds alike indeed…