Kindle books and academic research = needless pain

I’ve probably purchased 300 books in the last year for research purposes, not to mention all the fiction my wife gets (and so do I, if it costs $3 or less).  For the newer ones , buying them as eBooks is generally an option. But the state of software, DRM, and copy protection for Kindle books is a mess. Kindle’s software (like iBooks) is deliberately crippled – no copying into another document, no printing, and especially no way to copy diagrams. I’m running Kindle’s software on my Mac and on an iPad, rather than using a Kindle tablet, but that barely helps.

Librarians against DRM

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State of hacking: you need a password manager.

(I wrote this primarily for friends and colleagues. I’m posting it on my blog for efficiency/discussion/amendment.) My IT manager recently sent around a warning about phishing attacks. (And I just attended a scary CSE seminar on spear-phishing — but that is another story.) Among his advice was:

You should use a strong password on all UCSD accounts and you should never use the same password on any other account you have,

That’s perennial advice that is both good and impossible. It’s good because many (most?) web sites keep making security mistakes that lead to massive breaches, exposing millions of passwords at a time. (The recent+ 100 million account breach at Target, for example.) It’s impossible because we have a decade or more of experience, research, and discussion that says using unique passwords for each login is completely impractical, and nobody actually does it. Continue reading

How did the Ukranian govt. know who was demonstrating against it?

[edits Jan. 31] A poli sci friend recently blogged about the Ukranian government’s “text that changed the world,” a mass text message thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Kiev. She asked 1) How did the government know who was in the main square of Kiev that day? (Cell phone location) and 2) How did it send the same message to everyone at once? (Mass SMS)

Demonstrators in Kiev. From CNN 

The second question is easy: phone companies routinely provide mass-SMS services to large customers. For example, I’m on the “emergency alert” texting service of UC San Diego’s campus police. It was designed for earthquakes, but it has been used for other kinds of messages “between earthquakes.” The same message goes out to every phone number on their list.

What to do to avoid tracking? Short version: Leave your phone at home. Second best is to shut it off or switch to airplane mode, but those work only if the government is not making an effort to target you.

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The Capture of International Intellectual Property Law through the U.S. Trade Regime by Margot E. Kaminski :: SSRN

This paper finds that the IP law in recent U.S. free trade agreements differs subtly but significantly from U.S. IP law. These differences are not the result of deliberate government choices, but of private capture of the U.S. trade regime. 

US trade negotiations on IP have always seemed heavily biased to me. For a while, it appeared that the bias reflected Congressional bias in favor of  “strong IP.” The extreme example of that bias was Congress being taken completely by surprise – dumbfounded, even – by the outcry over  the SOPA and PIPA bills. To most of Congress, these bills were common sense. To much of America, they were horrible. See e.g.

But this paper seems to say that US trade negotiators on the TPP treaty are going beyond the US law.  The Capture of International Intellectual Property Law through the U.S. Trade Regime by Margot E. Kaminski :: SSRN.

Of course the big news on TPP negotiation is the leaked draft of the TPP treaty, leaked by Wikileaks.  Unfortunately this article is not updated with insights from that draft, but it contains a variety of detailed examples in existing treaties. Another quote:


The USTR’s paraphrasing changes domestic rules into international standards; codifies domestic judicial interpretations as international rules; and omits parts of domestic law that balance IP protection against other values. These distortions shift the cost of lawmaking so that the advising industries bear fewer costs in obtaining the kind of law they want in implementing countries. 

The Decline of Wikipedia: Even As More People Than Ever Rely on It, Fewer People Create It | MIT Technology Review

The Decline of Wikipedia: Even As More People Than Ever Rely on It, Fewer People Create It | MIT Technology Review.

Have any political scientists tried to model /improve governance of Wikipedia? LOTS of interesting questions there, and seemingly a way for an ambitious young academic to stake out new territory that will be increasingly important.  Here’s the author’s view of the cause of problems:

The loose collective running the site today, estimated to be 90 percent male, operates a crushing bureaucracy with an often abrasive atmosphere that deters newcomers who might increase participation in Wikipedia and broaden its coverage.

a few more quotes:

The page explaining a policy called Neutral Point of View, one of “five pillars” fundamental to Wikipedia, is almost 5,000 words long. “That is the real barrier: policy creep,” he says. But whatever role that plays in Wikipedia’s travails, any effort to prune its bureaucracy is hard to imagine. It would have to be led by Wikipedians, and the most active volunteers have come to rely on bureaucratic incantations. 


Yet it may be unable to get much closer to its lofty goal of compiling all human knowledge. Wikipedia’s community built a system and resource unique in the history of civilization. It proved a worthy, perhaps fatal, match for conventional ways of building encyclopedias. But that community also constructed barriers that deter the newcomers needed to finish the job. Perhaps it was too much to expect that a crowd of Internet strangers would truly democratize knowledge. Today’s Wikipedia, even with its middling quality and poor representation of the world’s diversity, could be the best encyclopedia we will get.

How Hollywood Can Stop Suing Downloaders and Capitalize on Piracy | MIT Technology Review

How Hollywood Can Stop Suing Downloaders and Capitalize on Piracy | MIT Technology Review.

Another article refuting Hollywood scare tactics. Apparently even Hollywood studios are coming to recognize that piracy provides valuable free PR, though they won’t admit it publicly.

I fear that ongoing trade treaty negotiations are being used as a backdoor for misguided new restrictions on IP. Because these are being negotiated “in secret” (except from large companies), there won’t be time to hold hearings or have a rational discussion of these provisions when the treaty is presented to the Senate for confirmation.