I just read an article the other day about an interesting conflict between those that speak out for pro-piracy and those fighting for free (as in freedom) software. In Sweden, the political party that is aptly named the “Pirate Party” is lobbying for new copyright laws, specifically that any copyrighted material will become public domain 5 years after first being published, among other things. The free software advocates, however, depend on the current indefinite copyright law in order to keep their licenses, such as the GPL, working to protect free software from being utilized in proprietary software. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, has pointed out that, if this new copyright law was introduced, proprietary software would only have the binaries released to the public domain and not the source code. Not only that, but these software providers could put time bombs in the software making it cease to function after the copyright has expired. Add to that the fact that after 5 years, any open source technology could be utilized by these proprietary software companies without passing on the freedoms to the user, this new law could actually end up doing more harm than good.

Stallman proposes a few solutions to this dilemma. The first option would be to allow an extended copyright for free software, but the Pirate Party accurately argues that this opens the doors to other kinds of exceptions, which could quite quickly defeat the whole expiry proposal. The second option Stallman suggests, which in a perfect world I think would be the best, is that proprietary source code would have to be released to the public domain upon expiry as well as the binaries. I suspect that enforcing this kind of ruling would be quite difficult, however, especially if you consider software providers that have faded away within the copyright period of their software and simply aren’t around to release source code. The final solution, which is likely the most feasible, is to have a variable copyright expiration where the most open/free content would be allowed to retain its copyright the longest. This way they do not have to allow for any special exceptions for different groups. The trick here is to find an accurate way of determining where any content fits on this continuum. Fully open and fully locked down software would be easy to pick out, but the gray area would be a tough call. Even amongst the open source community, licenses such as BSD might not be considered as open as ones such as the GPL as the BSD license allows commercial use, but one could also argue the opposite as the GPL locks out users who want to use the software for commercial use.

Lately I have been quite a big fan of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). In fact, this blog runs purely on FOSS. However, not too long ago I was an advocate for digital piracy and anti-copyright thinking (and I am still not fond of copyright or “intellectual property”). It is interesting how two groups who have quite a number of common sentiments towards copyright law and “the man” can have drastically different demands for the industry as a whole. The fact that a small thing such as copyright expiry which seems beneficial to everyone can end up hurting a a group that is so similar in mindset is quite eye opening. I still fully agree with the Pirate Party that something needs to be done about copyright laws, but if that comes at the expense of FOSS, something needs reconsidering.


ReBoot Redux

So I have recently finished watching all four seasons of ReBoot and loved it just about as much as I did as a kid. I had never watched it all through in sequence like this, so it was very interesting to see how the quality of animation, plot, characters, and overall production of the show steadily improved. There were also a lot of references and parodies that I am sure I did not catch as a kid. I am going to quickly go through a few of the things that I picked up from this most recent run through the series.

One of the biggest changes I noticed across the series was the style of plot that each episode (or season) had. The first season was very much a single-episode story idea, much like the majority of kids’ shows. These first season episodes also seemed to be fairly slow paced. I suspect this was at least partly due to the fairly primitive animation technology of the time (ReBoot was the first ever computer animated television show, after all). The second season started off with a similar, single-episode story, but about half way through the season they started going for the more elaborate story arc concept, though you didn’t really notice it that much for a couple of episodes. The final 3 or 4 episodes of this season were very much an obvious story continuation, which I found made it easier to get into the story (90% of the time I will prefer TV shows that play out more like large, segmented movies).

ReBoot really felt like it had some solid momentum in the final episode of season two with (SPOILER ALERT) Bob being launched into the web, glitch being damaged (aside: I have always loved glitch and every time I have to name a piece of technology such as a computer or router I always want to call it “Glitch” but never feel that it is worthy of the name), Enzo being given some of the guardian protocol before Bob’s departure, and Megabyte and Hexadecimal joining forces to help fight the web creatures, only to turn on the Mainframers in an attempt to take command of the Principal Office. Going into season three, the production quality dramatically improved (this was the first season where the characters regularly had shadows, whereas previously they only did if the mood of the scene required it). I later discovered that ABC had canceled ReBoot for a few years after the second season, which explains this dramatic jump. There also seemed to be a real jump in the expected maturity of the audience as there were some references or suggestive material (ie. grown-up AndrAIa ) that never would have flown in the earlier seasons (the networks at least used to have quite strict rules imposed on ReBoot and the writers often rebelled by making jokes about the censorship).

This third season was definitely a continuing story line, but it was broken out into what felt like 4 mini seasons. I remember always feeling like I had missed a lot of episodes as a kid, but I think that was basically just due to the mini-season feel of season 3 and the tendency of the networks to air reruns of the first two seasons. Despite this broken up feeling, I think that season 3 was my favourite season. It developed the characters quite a bit and brought a more mature feel to the show. It just felt more like I was experiencing a progression in a story rather than a 20 min. show. I think that the majority of my most memorable ReBoot moments were in this season as well, things like traveling through the web in the modified Saucy Mare, Matrix and AndrAIa game hopping to new, strange systems (at least one of which seems to operate in an entirely different way from mainframe, which could be explained by different operating systems or even hardware architecture), and being reunited with web-Bob and his merge with Glitch to become Glitch-Bob.

Season 4 was written as two TV-movies, each four episodes long. These movies didn’t quite live up to the rest of the series, but they weren’t exactly terrible either. One of the things I think I liked the least was the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) Hex became a sprite and lost all her powers (and madness) except for her control over the nulls. She just turned into an annoying Bob-stalker for Dot to compete with. To top it all off, when she finally got her viral powers back, she sacrifices herself in order to save the entire web. Don’t get me wrong, having the virus sacrifice herself was a great plot idea, especially in combination with the revelation that Bob had been trying to make viruses good while at the Academy, but the mechanics of it (her code being spread too thin across the web to survive) was a bit of a stretch (no pun intended). Also, Hex was too cool to be completely removed from the show.

While on the topic of viruses, my next biggest complaint might have to be with Megabyte. In the second movie, he returns to Mainframe disguised as the original Bob. After being launched into the web, he was corrupted and gained Trojan powers. Their explanation for his survival in the web was a bit contrived. Supposedly, when he crushed Glitch, he absorbed a small amount of guardian code. They even managed to pull some footage from season two into a VidWindow to replay in slow motion so that they could witness it happen! In my opinion, if you have to go back to something that has already happened in a story and tweak it to make the new story work, you aren’t doing things right. My other complaint about web Megabyte is his new look. It almost looked like he drank a glass of acid and then the animators took the blur tool to the rest of his body. A newly formatted Megabyte could have had so much more potential to be cool.

I mentioned earlier that there were a bunch of references hidden throughout ReBoot. This post has already grown quite lengthy, so I won’t go on too much about these, but there were a few pop culture and tech references which I think I will briefly mention. First, while the Mainframers are battling again the virals in season 3, Dot is referred to as “Command Dot Com”. Doing a quick search on “the Google”, command.com is the command line program from DOS and WIN9x. I’m not much a fan of MS, but I am a fan of CLIs as they offer a lot of flexibility and power, both things suitable for the new Dot.

A lot of the sayings that everyone uses have tech references in them. Enzo’s sayings are quite good examples of these. “Dot never lets me input anything fun”, “I heard you royally kicked his bitmap”, “I should have copied and pasted the truth from the start”, and the classic “alphanumeric”. This last one is a prime example of why I have not much faith in the new owners of ReBoot: the comic book available from www.reboot.com (you need a free account to read it, but the account signup for reboot.com didn’t work for me, so I had to sign up through the affiliate site) has Enzo saying “beta-numeric” in an attempt to one-up the old catch phrase, but it shows a complete lack of knowledge of the history of the show and reason they did things the way they did. Alphanumeric isn’t just a random mashup of words. It literally is a subset of computer characters that strictly contains only numbers and letters (i.e. no symbols and such). The alpha doesn’t come from the greek alphabet but is an abreviation for the word alphabet. I can concede that alphanumeric has little to no meaning when used as a descriptor in the show, but beta-numeric is just silly and has no basis in anything.

Anyway, I think that this post is probably long enough for now. As I hear more about the new content coming out, I may post another update, but for now, these are my thoughts. Feel free to post your feelings in the comments below and I will try to post replies as much as possible.