Category Archives: thoughts

Mesh network in my neighborhood. Not how I had envisioned it.

I got an email from Amazon today. I’m automatically opted-in to “Amazon Sidewalk”, unless I choose to opt out. Amazon Sidewalk allows devices participating their Sidewalk program to connect to the Internet through Amazon devices, like the Amazon Echo.

Amazon Sidewalk – a mesh network for Amazon devices to connect to the Internet:

Not exactly how I’d envisioned a neighborhood mesh, but their “read the fine print to opt out” strategy will probably work better than my asking neighbors to build a network.

Copyright extension and NAFTA

I wrote previously about James Bond entering the public domain in Canada.

I love the idea of work in the public domain – I’ve actually read a number of Ian Flemming’s books since they’ve come out of copyright, I’ve read more of George Orwell, and I’m currently reading a book about the history of rocket fuel.

In Canada, a work enters the public domain 50 years after the author’s death – the MPAA is looking to get this extended to 70 years according to a recent article by Michael Geist:

“The MPAA also wants Canada to extend the term of copyright to life of the author plus 70 years from the current standard found in the Berne Convention of life of the author plus 50 years. It argues that the “extension of the term of protection for copyrighted works has a direct benefit to the creators of these works, as well as consumers.” It does not mention that the creators are long since dead, that consumers face higher prices with term extension, and that the change would lock-down the Canadian public domain for two decades.”

The Government of Canada is soliciting views from Canadians by email at or on the web.

Here’s what I submitted:

I am opposed to extending copyright to life + 70 years.

At 50 years protection is already ample – a creator’s children, and their children, already directly benefit from royalties collected from a copyrighted work.

The public benefits immensely from work entering the public domain:

  • Consider the works of Shakespeare and Moliere, and their derivative works, that make up so much of the language programs in Canadian schools and our pop culture
  • Consider how our culture benefits from derivative works, and how characters like Sherlock Holmes continue to be adapted for modern audiences
  • When my grandmother spoke of reading the works of Thornton Burgess when she was a child to my children (her great-grandchildren), I can load up their e-readers with all his books. At life+70, there is no way my children could do this with the authors of their generation, like J K Rowling, Melanie Watt, or Mo Willems.

Works locked up in copyright, particularly out of print, remain trapped and inaccessible.

Life +70 will not promote the creation of work – if anything, it will delay the creation of derivative works.

Update May 8th, 2023: Canada did extend copyright to 70 years on December 30th, 2022.  See Canada extends copyright protection another 20 years to meet new trade obligation

James Bond enters Public Domain in Canada – for now

I stumbled on an interesting article, Copyright quirk leaves James Bond up for grabs in Canada, in the Globe and Mail the other day.  In Canada, copyright expires 50 years after an author’s death.  Ian Fleming died in 1964, which means his James Bond series of novels have become a part of the public domain in Canada.

However, this might be short lived. Michael Geist, a Canadian academic specializing in intellectual property and technology law issues, writes that Canada will likely accept extending copyright to life plus 70 years in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade negotiations.  It has been life plus 70 years in the United States since 1998.

Copyright is granted to allow content creators to receive compensation for their work, providing an incentive to create original work.  Many (myself included) would argue that 50 years of protection is ample – if I died tomorrow, my children, and their children, would directly benefit from any royalties collected from my work though my estate.

At some point, society receives a greater benefit from having the work enter the public domain, where anyone can read and re-print the text, and re-use the characters and story lines.  I, for one, have enjoyed the BBC’s contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes, made possible by the characters in the public domain.

In Canada, one can now create their own modern take on the James Bond character and novels, without getting permission or paying royalties to the rights holders (note that this does not include the movies).

The Bond books themselves can now be redistributed freely in Canada. Project Gutenberg is an organization that digitizes and distributes public domain texts – the works of Mark Twain, Jane Austen, and Sir Arther Conan Doyle are all available.  The Canadian branch of the site,, has already taken advantage of our life+50 copyright and posted a copy of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger.

A part of me wants to buy Fleming’s books, scan them, and post them on a Canadian web site while I still can – unfortunately, this site is hosted in the US, so you won’t see them here.

The Power Of One

Here is a story that is unusual in that it illustrates both the importance of traditional media as well as the ability of the Internet to empower an individual.

Our federal government is a massive institution – our 2010 budget had the Canadian government spending 280 billion dollars despite only pulling in 230 billion dollars from its 33.5 million residents (source).  There are many opinions on deficit spending, but I’m sure for most of us, we just kind of accept what our elected representatives put on the table.  We might complain amongst our peers,  45% of us vote, some write our local newspapers or directly to their MPs.

An IT professional in Nova Scotia by the name of Drew McPherson has decided to take a more active role by highlighting the decisions being made about how our money is being spent.  He’s working to improve the transparency of a politically visible component of the federal budget: travel and hospitality expenses.  The federal government is obliged to disclose this information, but not in a useful or easy to analyze format.  Mr. McPherson uses his IT skills to collect and aggregate all expense information across various sites, and place it on his own, in a useful format.

Drew McPherson’s site can be found here:

A site like this isn’t something you’re likely to stumble on, unless you happen to be researching government expenses yourself, which is where I have to thank Macleans magazine for drawing my attention to his work:

Greater transparency of the system should lead to better spending by our representatives.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Its always fun to talk about what’s around the corner.  In large part, it’s what I like to do here, playing armchair quarterback, pretending that I get to make the decisions that shape my world.  The best part about writing it down is looking back on it and checking your track record.

Growing up in the 1980s, with the rapid evolution of personal computers in the home, was a lot of fun.  It was so neat to play games as they evolved on the Vic-20, Commodore 64, Amigas, PCs.  Where would it end?  If you had asked me then what my next computer would be like, I would have said it will have better sound, better graphics, and would capable of more elaborate games.  One of these days, I’ll post papers that I wrote (in WordPerfect!) for various classes to illustrate what I was thinking at the time.  Like most, I could only think of Harder/Better/Faster/Stronger versions of what I had already.

Of course, PCs got faster, but those changes were almost inconsequential compared to other changes that were taking place.  The Internet, for one, grew to be so much more than I ever thought it would be.  Even in the mid-90s, I’d never thought it would grow to be used much beyond my peer group.  I certainly never thought of:
– grandparents viewing and posting pictures of their grandchildren on social networking sites
– collaborative projects like Wikipedia or Open Street Maps
– its potential for media streaming and distribution – completely shaking up the music and print industries, and certainly making its presence felt in the world of TV/movies

Knowing how hard it is to forecast, its kind of neat to look at a real futurist that happened to get some things right.

I present to you a local Torontonian, Steve Mann, as one of these futurists.


In the early 1980s, he obviously looks out of place, but certainly by the late 1990s, a lot of ideas he espoused were gaining traction.  By 2010, every smartphone wielding person was essentially practicing his vision of wearable computing, personal vision/sousveillance, connectivity, social broadcasting/”tweeting”, etc…  Its almost hard to think back to a time when this was really weird – but it was.

So, while it might be fun to think of what Apple will stuff into their iPhone 5 (Thinner! 5 cameras! 30 megapixels each! 3D! HD! Super-Duper-Fast Data!), a real exercise in contemplating tech would be to take a stab at guessing what the next leap might be.

Who else took a really good guess at what 2010 would hold?  Who out there is making bold predictions for 2040?

Steve Mann’s body of work:

How the selection of your next phone got easy –

Not in a good way, or the way you might expect.

Rambling inspired by a recent article on CNN – What makes Apple so sticky

Not too long ago, when you bought a phone or a portable CD player, you would decide what functionality you wanted and bought the coolest looking device that fit your budget.  You were likely re-keying every phone number into your mobile’s address book no matter which one you bought.  So its 2004 and the battery in your Nokia phone no longer holds a charge – you go out and buy a Motorola Razr.

Now its 2010 and you’ve broken your second iPhone – are you going to go out and buy a Nexus One?  This time, its different.  You’ve got 10 puzzle games, that noise making app, and hundreds of dollars of music and video from the iTunes store.  You can’t throw that away.

Its starting to look like the 1980s again.  You buy a PC running MS-DOS to run Lotus.  And then you buy WordPerfect.  And then you can’t switch, because you’ve got so much invested in the PC platform, that you just buy a newer, faster one.  And before you know it, Bill Gates becomes the richest man on earth selling operating system licenses.

Perhaps its still early enough in the mobile platform game that Google can make a run at it with Android, or if everyone at Nokia and Intel crosses their fingers at the same time, perhaps they’ll pull it off with MeeGo.  If I were behind these two efforts, I’d take a look at what Palm attempted to do with WebOS, and attempt to get my system to work with iTunes.  Take a look at this fun column written by Joel Spolsky on how to take on an established competitor.

iAd. A big deal.

Reading these Apple announcements last week….

Apple blows me away.  Everyone’s talking about iPad, and to a lesser extent, iPhone OS4 multi-tasking.

But its iAd that seems like the huge deal to me.

If you’d me asked two weeks ago, I would have said that Google pretty much owns the future of advertising.  People just don’t watch TV or read paper media like they once did, and Google seemed to be the only one that had figured out how to make ad money.

And then Apple comes along, and I suspect will deliver a really great solution for mobile, presumably context aware (these devices have location, person, and time ) ads.  A side note here: I don’t actually know that iAds are context aware – but if they are not now, I suspect they will be.

I can see this kind of working like iTunes.  iPods initially came with a firewire jack and worked with iTunes for Mac folk –  now they’re everywhere.

So if Google can make tons of money from the time people spend in front of their PCs, imagine how much money Apple can make from the time people spend with their phones.  And if Google can charge a premium for placing ads in context with the content on a loaded web page – imagine what Apple can do with your “life” context (its 9 AM and you’re within a 3 minute walk of a Starbucks – what ad do you think you’ll see on your phone when you’re checking the mail before walking into the office).

And, once they have an established advertising network, why wouldn’t Apple port this to Windows Mobile, Android, Meego…  whatever?

Also cool – by sharing revenue with iPhone developers, they’re not even having to come up with ways to draw eyeballs to the platform – iPhone developers will take care of that.

If Apple doesn’t get this formula right with iAd, it will be interesting to see who does.  Because I think it will happen.

Crowdsourcing and Open Street Maps

I think Open Street Map is going to become a really big thing.  Wikipedia-like.

What Wikipedia is to Britannica, Open Street Maps is to Teleatlas (provider for Google Maps).  Open Street Maps are end-user created maps.  Street or park missing in your new subdivision?  Just go and add it yourself – no need to wait for Google to map out your neighbourhood.

From what I’ve seen in the last 18 months, I think it will soon be the best, most current map of anywhere.  When I first checked my Toronto address, maybe 18 months ago, the street was mapped, but the street name was incorrect.  By about a year ago, my street was properly labelled, but the Ottawa neighbourhood I grew up in was not.  Now, not only do I see Ottawa suburbs completely mapped, but I see gravel roads in cottage country properly mapped and labeled.  Incredible progress in very little time.

Here’s a neat talk on information becoming accessible:
(shows how Haiti, which had no commercial maps at all, was completely mapped by volunteers following the earthquake).

Now, the Open Street Map map of my neighbourhood is far better than Google’s.  See how the walking trails are mapped near Yonge and Lawrence in the Open Street Map:


The map data is there, but the open tools aren’t quite there yet.  You can download the raw maps, but the software to view them is still pretty simple.  Also, easy to use routing / directions just isn’t there yet…