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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

HDMI and 21 Metric Tons of Cocaine

There are some interesting new computers becoming available very soon.

One is the Raspberry Pi.  This is a $35.00 USD computer that has "... RCA and HDMI outputs that allow them to be plugged into a television. Input devices, such as mouse and keyboard, can be plugged in via a USB port" according to this at Ars Technica.

Another is the Cotton Candy from cstick.  According to the cstick site "The size, raw horsepower and combined HDMI, USB and MicroUSB connectivity bring unprecedented flexibility to the portable market. ... Cotton Candy is the world’s first any screen cloud computer, weighing only 21 grams. It’s unique architecture will allow the device to serve as an ideal companion to smartphones, tablets, notebook PCs and Macs as well as will add smart capabilities to existing displays, set top boxes and game consoles."

So people are starting to create very small, cheap USB computers with HDMI ports on them.

Not only are their HDMI ports but also supports for video codecs.  Video codecs are software modules that are used decode video feeds.

The Raspberry computer is basically "open source" which means that the designs are public - all the software and circuit diagrams.  So anybody anywhere in the world with this info can build this processor.

(There is also the Arduino - which is similar but larger and supports other functions as well - but also open source.  We are using this over at Synthodeon for some work we are doing.)

What does this mean?

I think its a world-wide world-class piracy effort.

One that the congress, RIAA, and everyone else doesn't have clue is coming their way.

These devices are designed to run video to large screen displays via HDMI and to plug into computers and smartphones.  Basically a smart USB to HDMI adapter.

And because its a computer it can interact easily with whatever you plug it into.  The Cotton Candy also supports WiFi - so I can plug my TV via HDMI into my Cotton Candy and potentially stream video (or music) directly via my WiFi to it (the Cotton Candy just needs to be plugged into a powered USB hub near the TV set).

Pirating music or video isn't a problem on a computer as long as you like to watch/listen to it there.  But having music and video on the big screen at a party is much better.  So why not build a device that makes this easy to do.

Of course these web sites don't specifically talk about illegitimate uses for these computers - on the legitimate ones - like education and so on.

But don't be fooled - why else would you include HDMI output?

The Raspberry Pi device was so popular the day it came out that the website went down because of all the efforts of those interested in purchasing it.

Both devices will run Linux - an operating system that's free and one which supports a lot of free video technology as well.  So once convenient apps are developed using these devices will be as simple as downloading and installing some software packages with a few clicks of the mouse.

There is, I think, a lot of interesting irony here - perhaps to the point of "irony poisoning" for the traditional content providers.

Over the last at least decade we have endeavored to teach our children about "sharing" in a big way.  No need for war, no need for boundaries, help out your fellow man, share what you have, etc.

As these kids have wound their way through places like engineering school they have taken this to heart and have started to build technological products to support this.  After all, they probably grew up sharing pirated video and music on the Lime Wire and Napster. 

Why not take their college-provided skills and use them to actually take this form of sharing to the next level by building a perfectly legal "sharing" infrastructure?

Sadly, the old geezers at places like the RIAA, the US Congress, or Capitol Records probably don't view the world this way.  Unfortunately for them, though, all that money they spent sending their kids to college to learn how to be "better, kinder, sharing citizens" is probably going to come back to bite them.

Because that's exactly what they are going to do with content: share it.

And because these same kids were taught that there are no national borders and so on they will happily share that content with folks in parts of the world where there is little if any concern for the rights of copyright holders.

While the US government might feel they are making a dent in all this by taking down MegaUpload in reality they are probably about at the same point where the US DEA was when, years ago, they destroyed 21 metric tons of pure cocaine in South America.

Ah - they thought - at least that will sting (they looked for a blip in street-level cocaine prices).

In fact, it didn't - so much cocaine flowed into the US at that time that destroying 21 metric tons had no impact - more probably flows today.

The same will be true for these kids and their $25 computers.  No laws will stop them.

Beyond this I would be concerned if I were a cellphone provider.  These same $25 computers hold all the non-phone "smarts" of most smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone).

TV Screens and Android software will run off the Cotton Candy.  So today I can probably build a portable Skype phone with it (displays are cheap and easily interfaced too).

Tomorrow someone will figure out (if they haven't already) how to access cellphone networks with "home brew" technology.  They will publish "shareware" designs for chips.  These designs will find their way to China for cheap manufacture and show up as USB sticks.

Then there will be lawsuits and eventually, after a visit to the US Supreme court, the "private" networks of the cellphone companies will have to "open up" to allow properly formed "home brew" phones.  (As was the fate of the old "Bell Network" of phones: The government said "your service is ubiquitous and therefore must be opened up to allow other things to connect.  Soon after the "Bell Network" simply vanished...)

The kiddies will install their first freeware cell tower in a big city (after suing the US government for access to private network bands held by "greedy" companies that don't want to share.

Good by Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

Meanwhile, grandma, who lives off the stock she was left in these companies will be thrown out into the street as their value (like that of the record companies) plummets.

Isn't sharing fun?

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