it.can 16th annual conference

Does IT form a part of your practice area? If so, then you won’t want to miss IT.Can’s Annual Conference, taking place in Montreal this coming October 29-30.

The conference  offers an array of interesting, cutting edge IT, IP and related topics presented by distinguished speakers. The program will be accredited by the Bar of Quebec, British Columbia and New Brunswick for continuing legal education requirements. Registration is available for either one day or both days at a discount. Highly recommended.

For more information, take a look at the brochure (PDF). Or just go register.

google open sourcing vp8 codec

Interesting but perhaps not surprising news that Google will make the VP8 video codec open source. You can read in more detail by following the link but here’s a quick rundown: Many companies have decided to support H.264 for video streaming, including Google, Apple and Microsoft. Others, like Mozilla (the creator of Firefox), have not, as they are concerned about adopting, as a standard, proprietary technology that may one day require payment of royalties. Instead, they have chosen to support Ogg Theora, an open source codec based on a much earlier version of VP8. Making VP8 open source will remove this divide and will likely encourage the adoption of VP8 as a standard in place of either, as VP8 appears to be technically superior to both H.264 and Ogg Theora (which was developed from a much earlier iteration of VP8) and presumably would be free of potential licensing issues (and fees) associated with proprietary solutions such as H.264.

Perhaps not surprising given Google’s approach in mobile (i.e. the Android open source platform). Though it is worth noting that Google isn’t enchanted with all things open source, as evidenced by the hubbub about it and the Affero GPL a few years ago…

going to china? bringing technology? careful there…

This story in Wired serves as a good reminder that export control laws, particularly U.S. export control laws, do have teeth. In short: a retired US professor was sentenced to four years in jail for sharing his research with graduate students in China. Apparently, the U.S. government felt that the research he shared was restricted technical data, disclosure of which would put U.S. national security at risk.

In this particular case, the U.S. State Department had apparently warned him, but he disregarded the warnings and went ahead anyway. So, for most folks, it’s unlikely to be much of a risk, unless of course the State Department calls you up. That being said, if you are planning to travel to and/or do business in China, Iran, etc., it might be a good idea to think about what you might not want to bring over with you on your laptop, particularly if you will be presenting any of it to citizens of those countries or leaving anything there.

Unfortunately, export controls are not exactly straightforward, particularly those dealing with the type of things you can’t export. In Canada, this is particularly the for the what’s described as “dual-use” group. This group describes things that aren’t necessarily used for sensitive purposes, but could be, hence the “dual-use” moniker.

Just as an example, take a look at Category 5 – Part 2 of the Canadian Export Control List, which deals with cryptographic technology. Not exactly an easy read. Though thankfully over the years they have put in some common sense carve-outs. You’ll find them in the tiny, tiny notes at the beginning and end. Then there’s the U.S. Export Administration Regulations, which makes the Canadian requirements look comparatively straightforward.

premature cuil punditing

I was a bit surprised to read all the hype (or anti-hype, if there is such a thing) on cuil – the new search engine that debuted just a few days ago. I read an article in the paper this morning on it, pronouncing it to be failure. Then this in Time, also declaring it not to live up to Google:

“Anybody who thought [Cuil] was this Google killer can really see now that no, that’s not going to happen today — and the likelihood is that’s not going to happen a year from now,” says Danny Sullivan, internet search guru and editor-in-chief of SearchEngineLand.

Yes, I do understand that things happen faster on all things internet, but c’mon, pronouncing them DOA in less than a week after their launch? Seriously?

Let’s do a bit of a reality check. Sure, the folks behind cuil have some great credentials – previously engineers at Google, developers of AltaVista, etc. etc. But you’re comparing a startup with a few million in VC money with the 800 lb gorilla of the internet. An 800 lb gorilla that has been around for many, many years. And which has been able to grow its revenue into the billions. And which has been able to invest huge chunks of that revenue into its technology and infrastructure.

So when people say cuil, less than a week out of the gate is no Google killer, it seems to be that the appropriate response is “Duh. Of course not.” Where was Google a week after it launched?

Anyway, perhaps it’s more of a knee-jerk reaction to what people have described as the “hype” surrounding the startup – that commentators want to be seen as not buying into it. But making such broad pronouncements so early? A little premature if you ask me.

so much for the paperless revolution

Lexology had an interesting story that serves as a really good reminder that sometimes, despite all the great things about modern technology, plain old paper may sometimes be the best way to go.

What happened? Well, to make a long story short, the US Federal Trade Commission inadvertently disclosed a large amount of information that was filed with the FTC that should have remained confidential. To wit:

The mistake made by the FTC was basic. In preparing its brief for filing, FTC staff wrongly assumed that the metadata in its word processing file would not migrate upon direct conversion from native format to portable document format (.pdf). In particular, they wrongly assumed that using Microsoft’s “Highlight” (or “Borders and Shading”) tool to black out text actually removed the text from the file’s contents. It does not. It “covers up” the text, but the text itself remains in the file, fully searchable and available for copying. The resulting .pdf appears at first glance to contain only black boxes in place of the redacted content. That content, however, is present in the .pdf file and can be easily revealed either by copying and pasting the blacked-out text into a word-processing file or an e-mail message or by viewing the .pdf file in a reader such as Preview or Xpdf.

Its one of those stories that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. The laughing because its easy enough to think “What kind of idiot would do that?” because the error was (at least for most readers of this blog) rather obvious. The crying because, if you give it some thought, there are instances that this could very well happen to even the most technically sophisticated of you – not just with PDFs, but any number of other forms of digital documents, communications and storage – and in any number of ways. The bottom line is that when things are put into digital form, they are often harder to get rid of. Its something well worth keeping in mind.


This one isn’t quite law related or quite technology rated, though it sort of touches on both. Just wanted to share something quite remarkable I saw this evening.

I was riding home in a cab with my wife and young son, going down Bay St. at about 8 pm this evening. While stopped at the lights, I casually noticed a gentleman, sitting in the car beside us, obviously very preoccupied with something, looking at his Blackberry  with some degree of concentration and furiously typing away with his thumbs It was quite easy to see given the backlight of his BB was very bright.

After a few seconds the light changed, he sped onwards, and so did we. And he continued to type, with some degree of vigour, apparently fully preoccupied with his urgent e-mail.

So, you ask, what is so remarkable about this, you ask? Surely this isn’t the first time I’ve seen someone tapping away on a BB in a cab, right? And the answer to that would be no. Definitely see it all the time. In fact, do it myself sometime. Great time saver.

So what’s the big deal? He was the one driving! Certainly understand perhaps taking a quick peek at your BB when stopped at the lights. But amazingly, this fellow that I saw simply continued to tap away busily while pressing the accelerator and speeding away. Neither of his hands were on the wheel, and it was quite clear to me that his vision was focused on his BB and not the road (though admittedly he did see the light turn green). I couldn’t tell if he perhaps was guiding the wheel with his elbows.

The stretch of Bay St. we were on is fairly straight, so I imagine someone could just take their hands off the wheel for a stretch and continue relatively unscathed. But do so, and at the same time also try to write an e-mail to someone? What sort of e-mail could possibly be so important to worth risking your life (and the lives of those around you)? Moreover, what kind of person would be so pressed for time that the could not let the e-mail wait a few minutes until they pulled over somewhere to compose it? I can’t imagine that he did a very good job at either.

While nothing much happened this time (he managed to make his left a bit later – too out of range to see what happened to his BB (but obviously with at least one hand off of it) I do wish him the best that karma may have in store for him.

david johnston speech – not to be missed

Oddly enough there’s another presentation at the Toronto Board of Trade that isn’t in their events calendar. But that’s OK because you, loyal reader, can read it about it here and use the link above to register. Which I highly recommend, as the person who is speaking is none other than David Johnston, the President and Vice-Chancellor at Waterloo University.

I was trying to find a decent bio of him online but haven’t been able to – the one linked above to the WU site is OK but definitely does not do the man justice (because its too short and doesn’t really identify the relevance of all the roles he has played). In addition to being a brilliant academic, he literally wrote the book on securities regulation in Canada and played a key role in shaping Canada’s approach to the internet by chairing the Information Highway Advisory Council and the Blue Ribbon Panel on Smart Communities. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I had the good fortune of taking a course he instructed while he was teaching at McGill’s Faculty of Law. A remarkably good teacher and, surprisingly, with someone that has so much on his plate, very attentive to his students and always open, accessible and personable.

As you can probably tell from this post, I am extremely biased when it comes to Professor Johnston – I’m a big fan. The man is smart and is worth listening to. As an aside, I also understand that apparently a character in Erich Segal’s Love Story was based on him – a roommate or something if memory serves. Have no idea if true or not – never read the book myself. But there you go. Also have an interesting story about what he wears but will save that for another time.

Here’s the blurb:

Competitive advantage comes by engaging the brightest minds with the latest technology. Join David Johnston, President, University of Waterloo, as he shares ‘what’s in the water at Waterloo’ and illustrates how smart business leaders are successfully partnering with academia to stay on the forefront of the innovation curve.

At the Toronto Board of Trade, Downtown Centre, 1 First Canadian Place. Wednesday, March 28, 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. Go see him.

Thanks to the always excellent Wellington Financial blog, where I noted mention of this event.

Fair Use and the DMCA

An article in Wired News with the dramatic title of “Lawmakers Tout DMCA Killer” describes the most recent attempt to: (a) water down the protections afforded to content owners by the DMCA; (b) ensure the preservation of fair use rights on the part of users. As is usual, each side has its own rhetoric to describe what is happening, so in fairness I took the liberty of offering to readers of this blog the two alternative descriptions above. The nub:

The Boucher and Doolittle bill (.pdf), called the Fair Use Act of 2007, would free consumers to circumvent digital locks on media under six special circumstances.

Librarians would be allowed to bypass DRM technology to update or preserve their collections. Journalists, researchers and educators could do the same in pursuit of their work. Everyday consumers would get to “transmit work over a home or personal network” so long as movies, music and other personal media didn’t find their way on to the internet for distribution.

And then of course on the other side:

“The suggestion that fair use and technological innovation is endangered is ignoring reality,” said MPAA spokeswoman Gayle Osterberg. “This is addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Osterberg pointed to a study the U.S. Copyright Office conducts every three years to determine whether fair use is being adversely affected. “The balance that Congress built into the DMCA is working.” The danger, Osterberg said, is in attempting to “enshrine exemptions” to copyright law.

To suggest that content owners have the right to be paid for their work is, for me, a  no-brainer. That being said, I wonder whether the DMCA and increasingly more complex and invasive DRM schemes will ultimately backfire – sure they protect the content, but they sure as heck are a pain in the ass – just my personal take on it. For example, I’d love to buy digital music, but having experienced the controls that iTunes imposes and suddenly having all my tracks disappear, I just don’t bother with it now. Not to mention the incredible hoops one needs to go through to display, say, Blu-ray on a computer – at least in its original, non-downgraded resolution – why bother with all of that at all?

I wonder whether this is, in a way, history repeating itself in a way. I am old enough to remember the early days of software protection – virtually every high-end game or application used fairly sophisticated techniques (like writing non-standard tracks on floppies in between standard tracks) in attempting to prevent piracy. Granted, these have never gone away altogether, particularly for super high end software that needs dongles and and the like, and of course recently there has been a resurgence in the levels of protection that have been layered on in Windows, but after the initial, almost universal lockdown of software long ago, there came a period where it seemed many (if not most) software developers just stopped using such measures.  At least that’s what seemed to happen. I’m not quite sure why, but I wonder if this same pattern will repeat with content rather than software. I suspect not. But hey, you never know.

In the meantime, off I go, reluctantly, in the cold, cold winter, to the nearest record shop to buy music the old fashioned way…

ALPR is….

short for Automatic License Plate Recognition. Sometimes I find mention of the most interesting things in the most unexpected places. Like this brief article on how police in British Columbia are currently using a system that can easily and quickly scan license plate numbers as they drive along that I saw in bookofjoe. Surprised I didn’t see see it anywhere else, oddly enough, particularly given the implications for privacy, etc. Not necessarily that there are any – after all, license plates are there so that they can be seen by the public at large and police officers. That being said, I find it interesting how the application of new technology (optical recognition) to old technology (license plates), significantly alters the implications of how the old technology is perceived.

Sure, its one thing to have police on the lookout for a particular license plate on a car with a known felon who is escaping, but it seems to be quite another for a police car to scan and process thousands upon thousands of license plates while driving around the city.