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Posts from the ‘A series of tubes’ Category

I didn’t speak up when they came for Napster…

Graphic Concept 3

Very interesting day in Ottawa yesterday preparing for the CFTPA presentation to the CRTC today. Lots of involved conversation with extremely intelligent individuals… I’m coming to the startling realization that this “government” of ours actually entails a lot of hard work. Who knew?

Having probably read, spoke, and thought more about the myriad aspects of this net neutrality hearing in the last week than I ever have in my life (and likely, more than is probably healthy) I thought it would be an interesting time to do a little follow up to the series of posts I’ve written following this issue, primarily on why the average end-user, with little interest in public policy should care.

The problem that the Net Neutrality “movement” has is somewhat similar to the issue faced by the ubiquitous WTO protesters – everyone’s in it for a different reason and for completely different politics. For every libertarian who proposes Net Neutrality to guarantee their freedom of net access – another decries any non-market intervention in industry. For every network engineer desperate to keep blanket traffic shaping off their protocols – there’s another that could argue legislation would limit the ability to improve end-user service quality.

I think my viewpoint boils down to this: The majority of these hearings Globally (and the Canadian proceedings specifically) have centered around traffic management of BitTorrent. As a content producer I have a mixed relationship with BitTorrent. I have used it as a legal, valuable, distribution tool – and I have seen it used to pirate works that cost me money (that’s not an abstract “piracy costs the industry billions of dollars” which I still believe is mostly distracting nonsense, that’s a concrete comment at a torrent tracker that was essentially “thanks, I was just about to go buy this on-line”). But BitTorrent is nothing if not a giant red herring. Gopher, Usenet, zero-day websites, kazaa, napster, limewire, WinNY, Tor… all are, essentially, placeholders for “any technology”.

BitTorrent is only particularly interesting in this instance because it has two distinct characteristics:

  • It has certain “P2P” tendencies that make it difficult to manage on a network
  • It is popular

Everything else (for the purpose of Net Neutrality) is distracting chaff.

Well guess what? Pretty much any technology that gets introduced from this point forward will have “P2P tendencies that (will) make it difficult to manage on a network”. World of Warcraft has P2P tendencies now. New VoIP applications have P2P tendencies. Flash (one of the widest technologies in use worldwide) is starting to adopt P2P tendencies. So really the only thing that makes BitTorrent particularly unique at this point in time is that it’s popular. And is that the precedent that we are willing to set? When a technology is widely adopted at a level not conceived of in an original network design the optimum management technique is to strangle it? I heard a great line today (and I haven’t asked for permission so I won’t attribute it) that if we had judged YouTube’s potential on what it was in 2005 (crotch kicks and cat videos) it never would have become such a platform for independent content and political discourse (and, of course, high def crotch kicks, and cats playing piano).

Maybe I, personally, wouldn’t be entirely heartbroken if BitTorrent was throttled out of usefulness… but what about when the next “popular” but “difficult” application is YouTube, or iTunes, or Skype, or my independent video distribution service? How technologies are used change. What technologies we use change. If how we respond to those technologies is to be consistent, we need to make sure they will consistently foster a future we feel is worth working for – not kill that goose before it lays any egg – let alone a golden one.

I can’t see a future of exciting new development opportunities fostered on a network where content judgements of any stripe is allowed ISPs who have their own content interests. That’s not a slight on their character, nor a suggestion of impropriety; Rather it would be improper if they didn’t use that leverage to prioritize their own vision of the future. That’s how the future is built – battling self-interests. But I do think (or hope) that there are more people self-interested in a future with an even playing field that they can build on.

When people ask me why I get so revved up about technology – I generally talk about how I am now able to do things that I couldn’t have imagined when I first logged on to the “Internet” fifteen years ago. Not only things that, literally, would have seemed like magic – but I can tell different stories, to different people, in ways that would have, quite literally, seemed like science fiction. I would like to live in a world where the next fifteen years will be equally as vibrant, creative, and revolutionary to how we – as humanity – tell stories to each other.

Anybody know why Pirate Bay has been so slow today?

Anyone know where this image originated?

Anyone know where this image originated?

I keed, I keed. Seriously unless you haven’t read a computer-related website today you probably know that the notorious BitTorrent index announced they’ve (tentatively) approved a sale to a Swedish technology company.

Honestly I’m not sure what I think about this – this is not exactly a day with time for thoughtful, considered, reflection – but some points for future woolgathering:

  • I have no knowledge of any of the players in this drama at all, but I notice I’m not the first online person who immediately wondered if this wasn’t a new hi-tech variant of the ol’ pump-and-dump
  • It’s jaw-dropping how fast a large segment of TBP users have turned on the sites founders – from worshipping them as folk heroes to demonizing them as abject villains. I’ve got a gut feeling that there’s a compelling argument there that this is somehow indicative of the service being provided by TPB being more important than the ideology… but that’s admittedly a very half-baked musing at the moment
  • In a similar vein, there sure are a lot of people who, to date, have claimed absolute certainty that nothing they have ever done is against the spirit, nor the letter of the law – who have further claimed that stands must be taken, liberties defended, and battles fought to the bitter end – who are now clamouring for the creation of a user-deletion tool).
  • If I was a betting man, my money would be with those who suspect that a post-sale TBP will be radically different in both form and function

As a pragmatist, this is probably a good thing for paid content distribution initiatives. While it’s true that these “digital ecosystem collapses” (if this is indeed is a harbinger of Napster-esque change) tend to trigger technological innovation and spur migration to new services (Usenet begat Napster begat Oink begat BitTorrent begat…) the tendency of users to follow “the path of least resistance” is always a boon for nascent paid services. Napster flourished in part because there was no legal distribution option, and it’s collapse (in part) cemented iTunes hegemony. By the same token, new paid (and ad supported) video distribution services now exist which certainly didn’t at the dawn of the “torrent era” and are those that are there will now each try to capitalize on some portion of a disenfranchised/orphaned userbase – specifically the ones most interested in finding whatever mechanism works with the least fuss.

Frankly, I don’t think video distribution is in as good a position as it would be a year or two from now (Non-US legal video download options are pitiful by comparison) but it’s certainly better than, say, two years ago.

There are two actual content functions that I, personally, found TPB invaluable for that I will miss if this is “the end times” – but that’s food for another post.

Net Neutrality – The “Build Out” Argument


[Update – Excellent executive summary via a friend I was just talking to on the phone who is not terribly interested/versed in technology: “I get it, it makes more sense to just throw more tubes on the pile than paying engineers to constantly crawl through each one trying to figure out what’s in there.”]

I’ll be going off to Ottawa at the end of next week to offer the CFTPA whatever help I can for their “Net Neutrality” presentation to the CRTC on the 8th (incidentally it’s nice to see that the CFTPA’s position on throttling and neutrality is actually getting some appreciative notice from sectors that, incorrectly, seem to automatically assume that content producers are “the enemy”).

One of the major arguments of the CFTPA’s initial filing to the CRTC is that if solving network congestion is truly the primary concern of ISP’s, increasing network capacity is the only way to do so without stifling consumer choice, competition, and tying an anchor to the creative sector. As I’ve said many times before – the moment that ISP’s get the green light to *evaluate* content (instead of just transporting it) you will make them the sole gatekeepers of how (and what) content will be transported to their end-users. Even if they didn’t misuse that power (and given that both Rogers and Bell have significant digital content-delivery interests – I’m not sure how they could, in good faith to their shareholders, not push the envelope as far as possible) content creators, distributors, and the public would never again know where they stand, and the viability of an entire future of independent content distribution would be lost (or at the very least imperilled).

Aside from that gigantic point, I’m becoming increasingly aware of an equally compelling argument that over-provisioning (increasing network capacity beyond immediate demand) is the more cost-effective solution to network capacity issues as well. David Isenberg has written a very nice post on the “cost” of Net Neutrality which does all of the heavy lifting for this line of thought – I’ll just update it with a couple of numbers for an example.

If we take the Sandvine Internet Traffic Trends Report from October at face value (and I’d point out that as a manufacturer of “traffic optimization” technology they have an extremely large dog in the hunt) up to 22% of current global Internet traffic is due to P2P applications (I’m ignoring their claim about “upstream” traffic – as the differentiation is a sticky wicket for a future day – especially when network traffic is so asynchronous. Given that upstream for end users (who are where Sandvines numbers come from) is usually ~1/5-1/20 that of downstream – a weighted *total* composition of P2P traffic would still be, at maximum, ~20-25%).

So let’s correlate the Sandvine report with CISCO’s 2008-2013 Networking Forecast – which projects that Global IP traffic will quintuple in the next five years. This gives us an interesting forecast.

Presuming that the ISP’s are truly concerned and that their networks are at capacity, with P2P traffic threatening to “tip the balance” as it were, QoS/throttling/deep packet inspection actually would have no impact at all on the eventual outcome. Even if QoS technology could reduce the impact of P2P on the network to ZERO – you would still have at least 300-400% of current demand in the next five years (or an amount equal to 12-16x the entire current amount of P2P traffic). So increasing network capacity is inevitable, regardless.

Now if we go back to David Isenberg’s post, and take into account his very clear arguments on why increasing capacity is actually cheaper than QoS approaches (the brush strokes is that the cost of engineer time to implement the latter (as well as inevitable error, adjustment, monitoring, upgrade) is constant – while additional capacity costs decrease with volume.

So even if you could make an argument that QoS is a more cost-effective approach than increasing capcity at this frozen minute in time – ISP’s are faced with the reality of having to increase capacity by as much as a factor of four to maintain current service levels anyway over the next five years. The question then becomes is it a more logical approach to mix the more-expensive QoS monitoring with the capacity that is going to be otherwise required – or just tack on some additional over-provisioning?

It’s outside of my area of expertise, but I’d be very curious for a projection of how QoS approach costs scale with throughput growth.

So if the effect of P2P traffic on the reality of the short-term Internet is, at best, nominal to the broader issue of global traffic growth (and the CISCO report has some great projections about the volume of video content set to start to use the ‘net as a transport mechanisim which dwarf the current impact of, say, BitTorrent) then what benefit does throttling give ISP’s? Well, other than a very expensive “foot in the door” for when the next “threat to network capacity” comes along. Say, iTunes. Or Skype.

Raising the Dead – Netherlands Style

Pictured: The Future of Internet News

Pictured: The Future of Internet News

So as much debate as there was in this country about whether ISP’s should have to support development of new media initiatives, I think everyone on both sides of that debate can agree that at least we’re not tariffing ISP’s to support failing newspapers.

On the other hand a videogame tarrif to support the Phonograph cylinder industry? I’d be totally behind that.

Alternate end bon mot: Well that certainly gives new meaning to “clogging” progress!

[Update – No okay, I can’t leave this on a flippant note. Seriously there’s a quote from the report over at Slashdot:

news and the gathering of news stories is not free, and the public must be made aware of that.

This quite possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve heard this year. On the Internet. Think about that for a second.

Traditional newspapers (more importantly the journalists they employ) are an integral part of the media universe and serve several key functions. I suspect many pro-new-media types would be suprised at the amount of on-line reportage that still originates with ink-stained wretches, and how much poorer the Blogosphere would immediately become should they all cease to publish overnight (and not transition to some more monatizeble configuration, as many of us “newspaper fans” hope they will).

However, follow me on this radical thought, “Newspapers” are not THE ENTIRETY OF NEWS.

Seriously, a joke I play with my brother when I’m calling him at work is to demand to speak with “The CEO of the Economy”, or “The President of Television”, or the like. But that’s a far-flipping-cry from any quasi-official governmental body deciding that the welfare of an abstract concept is inextricably tied up with an inefficient delivery mechanism. ]

You’ve come a long way baby…


One of the editing suites I’ve been working in lately has a great poster on the wall – it’s a photocopy of a flyer for a local computer store sale around 1992 or so. It’s always great to remind yourself how far technology has come in price alone (A handheld Logitec Scan-Man 256 shade greyscale scanner for $500? What a STEAL). It’s the same reason I keep a couple of carefully selected copies from my old subscriptions to Compute! and PC Gaming & CD-ROM Review around (I love that it split into two magazines so as not to taunt those without CD-ROM drives).

Every once in a while though you get a real tangible example of how far computing has come, and how quickly (I had a realization last year that three or four old-ass pentiums I had kept around for various server grunt-work at home could be collectively replaced (and improved substantially) with one $50 five year old used HP desktop off-lease office system… that also used only a fraction of the electricity of it’s predecessors).

This is all just set up to link to this fun piece from Technologizer, where Harry McCracken compares the venerable Commodore 64 with the new iPhone 3GS. Not a lot of deep insight to be gained – but a couple of good “gee-whiz” moments when looking at specs and a nice trip down technology memory lane.

Lots of network neutrality thoughts likely to come up this week with the big CRTC hearings set to begin July 6th.

Please stop e-mailing me about Archie #600

No. <br />


Dear Internet,

I know you mean well, but you can really stop pummeling me with coverage about “Archie #600”. Even if the developments therein weren’t being covered by every single newspaper in the city… let alone all media , now known or hereinafter devised – I’ve been “Hangin’ with the Riverdale” crew for over twenty years now. I have three different re-prints and collections containing Pep Comics #22, I own the crossover with the Punisher, heck I own Dan DeCarlo’s spicy pin-up collection (not the really spicy one… just the “kind of unnervingly saucy” one). I remember January McAndrews, Jughead’s Diner, and the amazing year-long advertisement that was “Archie’s R/C Racers“. I can generally narrow re-prints down to decade based on the backup features (Katy Keene, Frankie and Me, Lil Jinx, Josie and the Pussycats). I know the name of Sabrina’s uncle. I can’t find a good link to Sabrina’s uncle… but I guess he was on the 90s live-action sit-com as well as the 00’s manga reimaginings… so that’s not as obscure as I’d hoped. Listen Internet I don’t need any lip from you… do you remember when “The New Archies” turned Dilton Doiley into an African-American kid named Eugene and gave him a superfluous sister? No? I do.

My point?

If two decades of a weird hybrid of fandom and “scholarship” have taught me *anything* it’s imaginary stories about “how the love triangle between Archie, Betty, and Veroinca is going to work out” are always…. always really disappointing.

Except when 40-something Jughead does bad late 80s “rap”:

Update: Robot 6 points out that the Archie characters have their own blogs where they post about plot developments… and that Betty’s weekly post is just about the saddest thing on the Internet.

Just in case you’ve been in a cave

What, too subtle?

What, too subtle?

The big IP story in Canada this week has been the Conference Board of Canada publishing a report on the “Digital Economy” which read a lot like propaganda (from the US lobbyist “International Intellectual Property Alliance”, specifically). A little legwork by Michael Geist turned up the fact that it not only looked identical to US lobbyist propaganda, but ill-informed US lobbyist propaganda at that. It also turns out it’s ill-informed US lobbyist propaganda that the Canadian government paid top-dollar for. Lo and behold, it was indeed plagiarized ill-informed, US lobbyist propaganda.

Really this whole thing has been the Michael Geist show… so skip the middle man and enjoy the glorious shadenfreude directly. I don’t always agree with Mr. Geist, but I’ll toast a glass to his efforts tonight.

Snake ‘n Bacon. Snake ‘n Bacon! SNAKE ‘N BACON!

One's tasty crumbled in a salad. The other's a snake. <br /> © Michael Kuppenberg

One's tasty crumbled in a salad. The other's a snake.
© Michael Kuppenberg

Attention U.S. based followers of this blog. Immediately stop what you’re doing and go on over to the AdultSwim website where you can now view the pilot for Snake ‘n Bacon adapted from the many works featuring Michael Kupperman’s celebrity duo.

“But Brad” you ask, “as a Canadian who is blocked from receiving AdultSwim programming, or even the very website you’ve linked to, how can you recommend said pilot sight unseen?” This is a reasonable question. Feel free to assume I am either extremely irresponsible with my reccomendations… or I have… “sources”.

Seriously, while I was a little unsure off the top (I’m one of those purists who doesn’t normally care for Williams Street’s house style when it comes to live-action) the pilot soon barrels headlong into familiar “Tales Designed to Thrizzle” territory with some great sequences and some old Kuppenberg friends come to life. It’s worth the (non existant) price of admission for the stylistic approach to the “Fruit of the Month Club… man” alone.

Unlike most animation adaptations, some aspects of Kupperberg’s style are even vastly improved by the transition to animation, and addition of voicework. While that’s normally a stumbling block for many animation adaptations – segments like “The Head”, or “Bullfrog” are significantly more vibrant with the spot-on vocalizations. Plus, Kupperman appears to have drawn all the animation segments himself – so it never feels like it’s not his work or “off reference”.

Why are you even still reading this? It’s short, great fun, and I can almost guarantee there’s one segment in it you’ll laugh at. You should be over there, clicking “rate this 10” and pressuring AdultSwim to turn this into a series that’s available on DVD so I can legally purchase it.

Come ON it’s got Snake AND Bacon in it. That’s like the “Oceans 11” of zoology and pork!