The Null Device


Nefarious Malaysian software pirates sell Microsoft's Longhorn, with adventurous consumers snapping it up. Longhorn, the next iteration of the Windows hegemony, will introduce Microsoft's Trusted Computing Platform Architecture, to make sure that you pay for each and every piece of intellectual property you consume, and will come with a new, k3wl-looking interface. I guess there's a good market for shiny, fancy-looking shackles. I wonder whether, if Microsoft started selling home-detention bracelets, like those put on low-risk prisoners, only fashioned out of titanium by a leading industrial-design firm and playing rights-managed Windows Media content from the major entertainment conglomerate of your choice, customers would flock to buy those as well.

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Rockbox, the open-source Archos Jukebox Recorder firmware that wipes the floor with Archos' official firmware, is now able to be flashed into ROM. This makes it quicker to start (no loading from hard disk); but it also completely eliminates the need for Archos' firmware, the last proprietary component of the Jukebox.

I was thinking a few days ago that the Jukebox Recorder hardware appears to be made entirely from commodity parts; it basically consists of a laptop hard disk, a USB-IDE interface chip, a MP3 decoder chip, a display, some buttons, and an off-the-shelf Hitachi RISC CPU to control everything, with no custom chips anywhere. Even the batteries are commodity AA-size NiMH cells (unlike Apple's 18-month, non-removable iPod battery). Now that there is complete open-source firmware that runs on the hardware, how long until third-party manufacturers start cobbling together Archos-like MP3 players running Rockbox, or possibly improved hardware running hacked versions of Rockbox? Imagine dozens of small south-east-Asian tech firms making their own 20-60Gb MP3 players and selling them at the cutthroat discounts that Flash-based MP3 players have come down to (the most basic 128Mb ones can be had for just over A$100, with ones with displays and recording starting at A$125), and Rockbox becoming the Linux of HD-based music player firmware (Linux was once bound to one hardware platform; the IBM 386 PC architecture).

So we'll have MP3 players which anybody can build from off-the-shelf parts given the right equipment (you could possibly do so at home, if you really wanted to), which is not controlled by any one company, and whose firmware is entirely hackable. Which sounds very good to me.

(Of course, the Archos Jukebox hardware is rather inflexible; for instance, it has only one MP3 decoder chip wired directly to the headphone socket, which immediately rules out things such as crossfading or playing non-MP3 audio. But that's not to say that third-party variations on the theme wouldn't remedy this.)

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Next time you buy the mandatory diamond ring for your beloved, spare a thought for the child soldiers who valiantly fought to get it for you, or the civilians in Sierra Leone whose limbs they hacked off:

Over the course of the decade-long war, the rebels have mutilated some 20,000 people, hacking off their arms, legs, lips, and ears with machetes and axes. This campaign was the RUF's grotesquely ironic response to Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah's 1996 plea for citizens to "join hands for peace." Another 50,000 to 75,000 have been killed. The RUF's goal was to terrorize the population and enjoy uncontested dominion over the diamond fields.

The Powers That Be assure us they're reforming the process to ensure eliminate the perception of such inequity; however, without much success.

Unfortunately, neither action is halting the lucrative trade: "Efforts to end the trade in conflict diamonds ran into a major obstacle in the Bush administration, which has been reluctant to impede business in any way or have its hands tied by any international agreements, even when the U.S. diamond industry has called for it," says Akwei.

(Does that mean that Halliburton, the Carlyle Group or some other band of highly-connected kleptocrats have a stake in the diamond trade, or are the Bush administration just being recalcitrant out of principle?) (via Adbusting)

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Pioneering weblogger Jorn "Robot Wisdom" Barger is missing, and hasn't posted for months. Perhaps he's in hiding from Israeli death squads or something? (via bOING bOING)

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