MaxBarry.com
weird ideas since 1973

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 28
Jul
2006

Can you trust your toaster?

What Max Reckons You know what really bugs me? DVD players who think they know better than me. You know what I’m talking about. You put in a movie, you sit down, you press PLAY. Do you get your movie? No: you get long seconds, maybe minutes, of swirling menu graphics and copyright warnings. When you try to skip through this, up flashes up a little red circle with a cross through it, or the words “Operation Not Permitted,” or something similar.

“Not permitted”? Who is my DVD player to tell me what’s permitted? It’s my player, isn’t it? When I say “Skip,” it should say, “How far?” I mean, I’m not trying to break the law here. If I was, I could understand my DVD player having some moral qualms. But I just want to watch my movie.

(It’s the copyright notices that really annoy me. First, there’s something nuts about a legally purchased movie forcing you to sit through stern copyright lectures every single time you watch it, while a pirated version helpfully jumps straight to the action. Some DVDs even display copyright warnings in about two dozen different languages, giving you ample time to digest the, say, Swahili version, before leisurely moving on to Romanian. But even the full-motion copyright notices are bad. Australia has one with a pumping soundtrack and some crazy MTV-inspired camerawork—you know, so the kids will pay attention—while on-screen some naughty teenagers download movies. It takes them about four and a half seconds. I tell you what, if it took four seconds, I’d be doing it all the time. Especially if someone played a cool song while I did it.)

Apparently we are rushing toward a future in which control of technology is not handed over to us when we buy it, but retained by the companies that originally made it. Your DVD player, your computer, and your high-definition television seem to be on your side, but they’re really sleeper agents, with secret loyalties to their corporate masters.

There’s something called High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) sneaking in everywhere, and the plan is this: at first, it does nothing. But once it’s in enough homes, along come movies and television broadcasts that only play on HDCP-enabled equipment. Because that old non-HDCP television set can’t be trusted, you see—it might be doing what you want, instead of what the industry wants.

There seems to be no point at which an anti-piracy measure is deemed to cause more trouble to legitimate customers than it’s worth. For example, Australian commercial TV almost always run late, often by as much as ten or fifteen minutes, and the reason, according to one of the networks, is:

“Precise start times would allow people to burn DVDs of our programs like crazy and push them out over the internet.”

So millions of people are inconvenienced every day in order to make it slightly harder for eight guys with beards to burn copies of Battlestar Galactica.

I don’t have a DVD player any more. At least, not a typical one. I built a computer with MythTV and a DVD drive and hooked it up to my television. When I tell this puppy to skip, it skips. Loyalty. That’s the thing.

Comments

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Tim Ashwood (#595)

Location: Sydney
Posted: 4829 days ago

Because of my region-free encoded DVD player, I happliy purchased NTCS DVDs from the US and play em locally. And Max, that MTV-playin' Mercedes-stealin', handbag-grabbin' thieving 30-second spot? American.

Phill Sacre (#1822)

Location: London, UK
Quote: "Computers are like air conditioners. Both stop working, if you open windows."
Posted: 4829 days ago

Max, I agree with you 100%. I also find it incredibly annoying that I have to watch a whole "Don't Pirate DVDs" thing on my legally bought DVDs... when the people who pirate them probably wouldn't care! Is there anything more patronising?

I really need to get a PVR setup, I've looked at Myth TV and also Freevo. When I get a bit of money I'm going to get a proper setup with a digital TV tuner etc!

When are companies going to learn that they really, really don't want to piss off their customers?

Mincetro (#584)

Quote: "This isn't skiing"
Posted: 4829 days ago

Every DVD I buy, I seal the originals in plastic and compile all of them (movie trilogies and TV shows) onto single H.264 encoded discs for convenient viewing, and my original discs have no chance of breaking or scratching, so they stay in mint condition.
This VERY recently became legal, so now I don't need to hide my "Watching" collection from people anymore ;)

Erin (#1481)

Location: Seattle
Quote: "Living is easy with eyes closed"
Posted: 4829 days ago

I'm glad that you share the same opinion as me on this topic. Especially about how companies are inconveniencing everyone in order to stop a minority - and they're not really that successful at it. So they continually put more things in their hands and, little by little, take away the very things that we're paying for. It's just irritating.

Corporations nowadays, huh?

And thanks a bunch for the MythTV link.

Zoomy (#1546)

Location: Outside Glasgow
Posted: 4829 days ago

It always did bug me how anti-piracy measures do nothing more than annoy legitamate consumers whilst doing nothing to stop the pirates. Good post.

Greg Karber (#1568)

Location: gregkarber.com
Posted: 4829 days ago

Very scary, sometimes when you think about it. Ten to fifteen minutes late? That's just ridiculous, and their explanation even moreso.

Kalle (#1278)

Quote: "Sex is herital. If your parents never had it, chanses are you'll never have it either."
Posted: 4829 days ago

You're sooo right about that MTV-movie. It's the same here in Sweden. I alway jelaously look at that "DOWNLOADING" window where the red bar moves like it's downloading a text file or something.

Michael (#6)

Location: North Carolina
Posted: 4829 days ago

Hey Max, you have inspired me a bit. I was wondering what you got in your 'PC PVR' rig, what parts did you go with and if you have pics. Also any links to other sites that you did research for when building yours. Did you build yours??

Lapse (#86)

Location: Brisbane Australia
Quote: "You're adopted and we hate you."
Posted: 4829 days ago

Well, max, atleast the chick from the anti-piracy thing is kinda hot... and her internet is really really fast... She is doable... (Just don't let Jen see this <_<)

---

Lapse was drunk whilst writing this message... please forward any complaints to Bundaberg Rum corporation...

MJ Watson (#1929)

Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Quote: "One day I will write my novel."
Posted: 4829 days ago

The "MTV" copyright irritating ad thing has been playing in UK cinemas (and on DVDs) for a while, I believe, and certainly in South African cinemas for at least two years, so I thought it was ours (SA). I always laugh because in SA we <i>would</i> steal your cellphone and your TV and your car and your handbag and pretty much everything else not welded to the planet.

As for avoiding the junk on consumer DVDs, I watch my discs via my PlayStation and just hit the triangle button, which immediately skips right past anything rubbish, straight to the main DVD menu.

Andrew (#1279)

Location: Texas
Posted: 4829 days ago

I smell a new book that has to do something with this :).

James Heath (#1846)

Location: Nottingham, England
Quote: ""I've done it before and I'll do it again - I'll F***ing Kill Google!" - Steve Ballmer"
Posted: 4829 days ago

Chalk me up for "I totally agree with you, your ideas intrigue me and I wish to sign up to your newsletter and/or join a religion that worships you in your divine form". No, really. If I press a button, I want it do what I want it to do and not say “No, you can’t do that because if you don’t watch this silly waste of time you’ll download something illegally and become a communist or something.”

The "ZOMG! Downloading teh Movies and Musics is teh naughtiness!" advert for England shows a montage of shots of some one stealing a car, handpage and wallet, saying these thefts are the same thing as downloading Pirates of the Caribbean 2 onto my computer. Oh noes! I've stolen what pretty much amounts to something like $0.00034 directly out of Orlando Bloom's pocket! And then it goes on to patronise me saying that not downloading music/movies is "cool". I swear it uses the word "cool", like I give a damn about some form of primitive “street credit” used by a bunch of rap-music-obsessed pre-teens. Just for that, I should download every movie that this advert comes on before it’s shown, just to spite the people who made it, even with movies that I ended up not liking. (Like X-Men 3.)
Also, the “illegal downloader” in the advert is a girl. Is there nothing that these business-types will apply the “sex-sells” nigh-universal rule to?
I just can’t get over how they represented the website and the download in the advert. Download a movie in about 5 seconds. Jeeze.

I’m also looking into this thing about making a DVD player that’ll do what YOU want it to do, and not a bunch of sods who think that downloading a movie is as easy as downloading a friggin’ text file.

Robert D. (#2559)

Location: Long Island, NY, USA
Quote: "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."
Posted: 4829 days ago

I don't think I'd have any problem not being able to skip the copyright notices the first time I pop in a DVD, but for it to lock that EVERY TIME is ridiculous.

I've noticed that my "Doctor Who" (the Ninth Doctor series) and "Red Dwarf" DVDs allow me to skip past both the Warner Bros. and BBC logos and I don't even think they keep you from skipping past the copyright.

My "Mystery Science Theater 3000" DVDs, on the other hand (have I made it clear that I like cult shows yet?) have a strange copyright warning. It, too, is unskippable, but they swoosh in the letters "FBI" above the warning. In the bottom-right corner is the FBI seal and a picture of J. Edgar Hoover. As a bit of music plays, goofy glasses, a goatee and weird hair is "drawn" on Mr. Hoover. I don't mind this one as much, because at least they're not takingthemselves 100% seriously. It's almost like someone at Rhino Video decided that if people couldn't skip the copyright warning, he could at least give them a chuckle.

Machine Man subscriber Roger (#1653)

Posted: 4829 days ago

Max, seriously, you are my hero.

Steve (#2499)

Location: Michigan
Quote: "Max Barry's writing rocks. And he didn't even pay me to write that."
Posted: 4829 days ago

That's funny -- I always thought it was how the DVD was programmed, and didn't realize certain players would be able to skip that nonsense.

Max, you'll like this, what with the new little gal in the family and all. I try playing "Dinotopia" for my two-year-old boy and it won't let you skip the PREVIEWS!!!

The only way to get through them quickly is to fast forward, which still takes far too long for a legally owned or rented disc.

Of course if you've got high-speed Internet, there are services like Cinema Now and, the one I like now, Vongo. You can stream right to your TV if you want.

By the way ... this thing of making things a pain in the ass for all the legit people and still not much trouble for people who want to break the law is certainly not just a corporate model, but the obvious government model too.

Finally, just finished Jennifer Government (so, tell us about that major character you dropped based on someone's advice) and am reading Syrup now. Love them both, but Syrup's even more up my alley. Keep it up!

apt142 (#2526)

Location: North Carolina, USA
Quote: "And the geek shall inherit the Earth."
Posted: 4829 days ago

Our culture (and our economy to an extent) has not caught up with our technology. So, we end up with non-sense like this.

Where is the world going with this? Are we just taking technology away and saying, "You know what, we made a mistake, all this convience technology has made, it's just too... Convient. We can't be having that."

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 4829 days ago

I agree with you Max. I don't care about the movies coming ouot in eight months that I probably won't want to see. When I hit the menu button, I want to go to the menu. I don't want to sit there with my DVD player saying, shut up. You'll get there when I want you to.

People that make these systems are evil geniuses. They purposely do that to waste ouor time. Stupid evil geniuses.

David (#1848)

Location: Texas
Quote: "Delighted!"
Posted: 4829 days ago

I would gush more, but Roger sums it up nicely. So, no pre-rant rave this time, although it'll be tough on me.

It all goes back to the days when gas station bathroom keys were chained to an old steering wheel that you had to carry with you: some people steal stuff, so everyone gets treated like a thief. Or, more accurately, lots of people would steal stuff if it was easy to do so.

And it is getting pretty darn easy, isn't it? I remember wondering why anyone would go to the trouble of sitting through a new release, with a hidden video camera stuck in their coat, just to "distribute" the video for fun and profit. The simple reason, of course, is that there is a market for stuff like that.

I don't believe, though, that this market is growing so fast because we are suddenly more in touch with our inner pirate. Yes, it's easy, and yes, the technological aspect attracts all kinds of hacker-types with their hacker panty-raid mindsets, but I suspect that our "justification gene" helps some people conclude that they are just helping themselves to something that (a) no one will miss, and (b) they shouldn't have to pay for anyway. Most folks just don't walk around knowing that television programming is only (generally) free because someone else is paying for it. So the point goes begging: why should I pay for something that is usually free. I just don't believe that everyone wants to stick it to the movie-mogul-man, or to rock bands, particularly: we just want our MTV.

What REALLY frosts me is when I go to the movies, pay for my ticket, allow myself to get gouged on the popcorn and soda, and I STILL have to sit through a frickin' car or coke commercial. That's just wrong. Wrong in the same way that it doesn't cost less to use the "self checkout" aisle at the grocery store. They're messing with the "value" of my transaction, which I don't dig.

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 4829 days ago

Yes, it's so stupid that if it hadn't been reality it would have been a good for one of your books; a method of stopping piracy by making people endure something they wouldn't need to go through if they downloaded movies illegally.
Sort of like putting a harmful substance in Pepsi in the hope that it will make people stop buying Coke.

David B Wiseman (#2560)

Location: Metroplex City, Texas
Quote: ""Sum id quod sum et id totum est quod sum.""
Posted: 4829 days ago


Here in the US, the Federal Communications Commission was pushing to get HDCP set as a part of our newly adopted digital broadcast standard, so that people who watched digital television *over the air*... WITH AN ANTENNA... would not be able to record tv without an HDCP compatible television and recorder. Fortunately, Congress not allowing that to happen was one of the few sensible things they've done recently.

Right now, there is some concern about how HDCP's Image Constraint Token technology supported by the new high-definition media formats HD-DVD and Blu-Ray could effectively cripple one's home theater (specifically, if your HDTV is not HDCP, your player will recognise this and down-res all the HD content to the same resolution as standard DVD).

The aspect of this people really need be worrying is in regards to their computers.

Rather than type out my own slant on it, I'll just give a link: http://www.pcworld.com/article/122738-1/article.html


The part that bothers me the most is how retailers are handling it. I was terminated from Best Buy for consistently letting customers know what to expect in regards to all this, because management's position was "Don't warn them, they won't buy anything now. When it happens, they'll find out and be in here buying new monitors to replace the incompatible ones".

Tony Quin (#1310)

Location: Plymouth -urgh
Quote: "Yoga is NAILS"
Posted: 4829 days ago

Hmm. Can you build me one? I agree though. Very annoying.

Eric (#1761)

Location: "The seat of Capitalist Power
Posted: 4829 days ago

i should remind everyone that these FBI warnings, (or i hope the FBI isn't bothering those in Australia)were part of VHSs' too, its just now Universal studios and Columbia have the technology to enfore that, so we can imagin that in the future it'll get worse. but i don't think its that farfetched, that they force that anti-piracy thing to play, i mean, they don't give you a choice between Product placement and non product placement version either.

lab brat (#2561)

Location: Blue Mountains
Posted: 4828 days ago

I can understand needing to view a copyright message -once-, but when you watch the same dvd several times it's a bit ridiculous.

“Precise start times would allow people to burn DVDs of our programs like crazy and push them out over the internet.”

Considering that a lot of programs we see here (the ones worth burning anyway) are US or UK shows that are out on the internet sometimes months before we get to see them here, that seems like a weak argument to me.

Besides, surely people have to manually click a record button to grab a show from tv? So they press record eight minutes later. How has running the show later prevented them from recording it?

Yenzo (#829)

Location: Secret underwater pyramid base in the Pacific
Quote: "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe (Carl Sagan)"
Posted: 4827 days ago

There used to be the most ridiculous ad in Germany with a guy not getting sex from his girlfriend because he spends too much time downloading and burning. wtf? Most girls I know are like "Oh, do you get the first season of Sex and the City from that page, too?".

What's the message there, anyway? Nerds don't get sex? We already know that, don't we? Thanks for pointing it out to us.

What shocked me was when I rented Man on Fire from a video store in Germany: Apparently, to enforce regional use of the DVD, they just deleted the original english language track so you *have* to watch the German version. Does it get any more obnoxious than that? That's like saying "Thanks for your interest in the songs of Robbie Williams. Unfortunately, in the part of the world you happen to live in, you are required to listen to his songs in Russian."

maceq (#2471)

Location: Cracow, Poland
Quote: "Me v.1.21b (beta)"
Posted: 4827 days ago

Souds like a greate idea fora a novel :)

Travis (#2565)

Location: Melbourne
Quote: ""Smoking Kills! And if you get killed you're losing a big part of your life!" Brooke Shields"
Posted: 4825 days ago

Hi Max, I am wondering if you enjoyed Thankyou For Smoking on Saturday night? I thought it was hilarious!

Dan (#579)

Location: Shanghai, China
Quote: ""Scio me nihil scire.""
Posted: 4824 days ago

Hey Max, if you don't mind could you email me at cannarysw@yahoo.com in response to my question? I tried to email you a while back but your inbox was full. Anyhow, I was wondering why you didn't put the actual fukk idea to work? The obvious reason would be that you didn't think it would work, but cokes doing it now with blac. Uh..? And really how hopeful should one be on actually pitching an idea and getting rich offa it. As a former advertising man your response would be invaluable to me as I am considering a career in Marketing.

Michael (#1299)

Location: Northern California
Quote: "Chugachugachoochoo"
Posted: 4822 days ago

You know, I have to be honest. I was seriously thinking about going into the dvd pirating business and making oodles of cash. The idea seemed pure genius.

But then I saw it. The spot that changed my life forever.

*Bum dunununun Bum dunununu* "you wouldn't steal a CAR, would you??" Um, only if I was trying to rush someone to the emergency room.

Bum dununununu Bum dununununu* "you wouldn't steal a PURSE, would you??" I don't think so... though I have always though of starting a male-purse fashion trend...

And then it hit me... I was a BAD BAD person to even <i>think</i> of pirating DVDs.

Changed my life, Max. I kid you not. Well, maybe slightly.

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