Monday, October 13, 2008


Yesterday, my good friends Linus Torvalds and Bill Gates and I ate breakfast at Jollibee Philcoa. Linus had a breakfast meal with “free” newspaper and free coffee refill. Bill had a value meal, a burger “bundled” with fries and coke. I had a super meal, the one with everything in it; so that I have a choice. As I was enjoying my meal, this was the conversation they had:

Linus: Bill, how’s Linda?

Bill: The usual, still rich. She’s actually swimming with her amigas right now in my pool of money.

Linus: The wives of Paul O. of Intel and Sam P. of IBM? What are they cooking up this time? An anti-trust blush-on compatible only with one type of foundation? I bet Tessa Prieto is there too.

Bill: There you go again my red comrade. You know, everybody is a capitalist; Linda and I are just damn good ones. Don’t hate the playah, hate the game.

Linus: I have no problemo with capitalism. What I hate is capitalizing on knowledge. Knowledge should be free dude.

Bill: Mwehehe! Funny! Knowledge is property, an intellectual property. I’m just selling my property. Don’t preach man, we both know you didn’t intend to help the world through your lousy kernel, you didn’t even know that what you’re giving away is a big thing. It’s that crazy Stallman who made a big deal out of your kernel.

Linus: Whatever. The point is right now I’m helping others and you’re hoarding the world’s money.

Bill: Hey! How many starving children or cancer patients have you actually helped?! My foundation helps millions. I do help, I just don’t do it by destabilizing the economy.

Linus: Don’t give me that Gloria Macapagal destabilization speech. I give sexless geeks something to do, I let them fiddle my kernel! In return, these geeks enhance technology and human productivity.

Elson: Kakainin mo pa ba yan? (Points at Linus’ leftover)

Linus: Nope, I know when I’m full. (Looks at Bill accusingly)

Bill: Look, not just because your OS is for free means it’s good. My OS is great because I pay the best programmers to develop it. If we do things your way, the “free” way, many inventions would not have existed. Many inventions were made because a capitalist invested lots of money to commission it, you can only pool the best inventors if money is your common goal.

Linus: I know, I know. Bell Laboratories invented the transistor, laser and Unix. Thanks to mucho dineros. But that was the old system. Now it would make us all happier if knowledge is free. Knowledge is a fundamental right you know. Anyone would be happy to receive free knowledge.

Bill: (Murmurs to himself) Happy for you, knowledge thief.

Linus: I heard that, you greedy bast…

Elson: Tard… can you pass the mustard?

Bill: This is ketchup, not mustard.

Elson: Well they should have mustard. We should have a choice.

Linus: Even if it’s the stupid choice? (Looks again at Bill)

Elson: Well, it’s me whose going to eat isn’t it? Stupid or not, it’s for my satisfaction.

Bill: (Yawns, scratches tummy)

Elson: You can never satisfy all needs with a single paradigm. It’s like religion, you can’t ram it down people’s throats, let them choose.

Linus: (Blows nose using a used Jollibee tissue, not listening)

Elson: You (looks at Linus), you ordered the breakfast meal for the free newspaper, right? And you (looks at Bill), you ordered the value meal for the bundled fries right? You don’t want to have each other’s meal; you both want what you personally chose. So, we will all benefit if we have more choices and more paradigms to elevate our progress, right?

At this point, Linus opened his mouth to say something but a different voice came out: “Daddy, gising na, late ka na sa class mo, baka mapagsaraduhan ka nanaman ng pinto.”

It was my son Elo, waking me up.

Elo is a soft circular teddy bear I gave my girlfriend last year’s valentine’s day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Eagle-Eye May Very Well Be Chinky-Eyed

A few days ago I saw Eagle-Eye, a movie reminiscent of Orwell's 1984, where a supercomputer responsible for tracking all human activity decides that the government is no longer fit to run the United States. As a result, it puts into implementation Project Guillotine, a plan designed to execute all officers in the Executive chain of command to give the American people a fresh start. The evil supercomputer, ARIA, does this by tracking and analyzing human behavior through all possible means - via cellphone, street cameras, bank ATM machines,internet behavior, and the like. The creators suggest that this type of event is within the realm of possibility because of society's (particularly American society's) reliance on computers to facilitate almost all transactions. The movie was cool at the beginning, with all the guesswork the audience is made to do, speculating at which terrorists are behind the attacks, but (SPOILER ALERT) when it becomes apparent that a thinking computer is behind everything that has been happening, I was let down, mainly because 1) the concept has already been used in 1984, and 2) I didn't think that even the most sophisticated computer could think the way humans do, calculating in ways that they are never meant to be. Perhaps I am not geeky enough to know if this is in fact possible. But I believe that human motivation is needed - no computer could come to that conclusion alone.

I am reminded by this article I read a couple of days ago about a group of Canadian human-rights activists who discovered a huge surveillance system in China that monitors and archives certain internet text conversations, purportedly those that are antithetical to Chinese policy and government. As of now, conversations on the popular chat forum Skype contain the brunt of the archived conversations, and the data is still being analyzed. While the idea that the Chinese government monitors and filters sensitive date is not new, there has been little concrete proof of that until now, and the extents that they have gone to were never as apparent. Topics deemed as sensitive ranged from the expected such as Falun Gong, Taiwan independence, and the Chinese Communist party, but also topics such as earthquake and milk powder.

The list also serves as a filter to restrict text conversations. The encrypted list of words inside the Tom-Skype software blocks the transmission of those words and a copy of the message is sent to a server. The Chinese servers retained personal information about the customers who sent the messages. They also recorded chat conversations between Tom-Skype users and Skype users outside China. The system recorded text messages and Skype caller identification, but did not record the content of Skype voice calls.

This is a flagrant violation of Chinese individuals' (and their conversation counterparts') privacy. What about Skype's public declaration that they protected conversations facilitated through their program? And if they did so to comply with Chinese directives in order to be able to operate there, who is liable to those conversation counterparts who are not Chinese? And what do we do now? Boycott conversations with people who are from China? There has to be an end to this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scanlation Nation

From Wikipedia: Scanlation (also scanslation) is the scanning, translation, editing and distribution of comics from a foreign language into the language of the distributors. The term is most often used for Japanese (manga), Korean (manhwa), and Chinese (manhua) comics. Scanlations are generally distributed for free via the Internet, either by direct download, BitTorrent or IRC. The word scanlation is a portmanteau of scan and translation (or scan and translation).

From me: Hmmm… Portmanteau, big fancy French word (mental note: use portmanteau at least three times today).

Scanlation is, strictly speaking, illegal for being an unauthorized translation of a published work.  Under the Berne Convention, the author has the right to make or to authorize the translation of his work.  However, while the act of scanlating may be essentially illegal, in practice, it is not as blatantly (in-your-face) lawless and uncontrolled as the act of uploading movies or series for streaming or download.  Interestingly, from observation, the manga scanlation community appears to be an organized effort by several groups with an established code of ethics (if you can call it that), a sort of virtual mafia.  Probably aware of the illegality of the act and its potential commercial damage to the author, scanlators have set limits to what they can translate and how to distribute.

Here are a few observations:

(1)    There are only a few groups of scanlators around and they seem to know or, at least, seem to be aware of one another.

(2)    A manga series is never scanlated twice by two different scanlators.  Two groups of scanlators may coordinate to scanlate a series but they almost never scanlate the same series if another group has already started scanlating.

(3)    Scanlators only scanlate unlicensed manga.  Once the manga gets licensed and officially translated, they remove it from their site.

(4)    They never mean to profit from the scanlations.  Scanlations are free and access to them are not conditioned on a paid membership.  Donations are for site maintenance expenses and for purchasing originals.

(5)    They rarely authorize retranslation probably as a measure of control over the integrity of the translation from the original.

(6)    They rarely authorize hosting of their scanlations in another site.  When they do authorize, the hosting site is subject to certain rules like removing the manga from the site when licensed and prohibiting the distribution of the scans for profit.  Authorization may be a form of control to make sure only unlicensed scanlated mangas get distributed online and that they are not distributed for profit.

Interesting…  So, scanlators are not cutthroat criminals.  Their means may be illegal but their intentions are pure, kind of like a Robinhood for the foreign otakus (Japanese term for manga and anime geeks).  In the eyes of the law, their violation is clear-cut.  From a socio-cultural point of view, particularly the manga-reading non-Japanese speaking/reading community, scanlating is an acceptable practice for it contributes to the cultural and artistic experience of said community specially when it appears that a manga will never get licensed because it does not appeal to mainstream America.  There is also some cultural and artistic value in the preservation of the integrity of the text of foreign comic books which scanlators often achieve but is almost always lost in official translations since the latter are designed to appeal to a foreign audience and are “westernized” for that purpose (i.e. names are altered, characters speak American slang).  A gray area, therefore, seems to lie between the law and the socio-cultural contributions of scanlation.  So, is Robinhood good or bad?  Depends on whose side you’re on.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


When we think about problems regarding “Intellectual Property” and copyright, usually our thoughts about this topic mostly relate to the issues troubling the entertainment industry. As we know however, the problems extend to other creations and are much broader than some would expect. A study, published by non-profit group ‘The Innovation Group’, doesn’t pull many punches about IP. Right at the start, it addresses the cause of the problem as many see it, from biotechnology to the music industry.

The current era of intellectual property is waning. It has been based on two faulty assumptions made nearly three decades ago: that since some intellectual property (IP) is good, more must be better; and that IP is about controlling knowledge rather than sharing it. These assumptions are as inaccurate in biotechnology, the field of science covered by this report, as they are in other fields from music to software.

The study focuses on how this “Age-Old IP” system harms innovation and consumers. When it comes to biotechnology, (i.e. medication, treatments, equipment), withholding information or purposefully restricting it will lead to deaths. One example the paper makes on this topic is the lawsuits 39 pharmaceutical companies brought against the South Africa government, for trying to act effectively to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis there. Such restrictions have undoubtedly hastened the deaths of thousands if not millions.

Another instance of the detrimental aspect of the old IP system is the insatiable drive for profit of these pharmaceutical companies. According to a report in Business Daily Africa, Kenyan medicine-men have revealed that they have kept their traditional practices to themselves, because of the fear of patents. With the high costs, and excessive paperwork, filing patents on the techniques is not feasible to them. They are worried that companies that find the patent process trivial will patent their techniques, and prevent them from being used.

This shows yet again how Big Pharmacy practices are robbing people of their medicine; only now, they have managed to silence the critical word-of-mouth distribution of indigenous knowledge, through fear of monopolization of traditional medicine. It is high time for the patent system in general and pharmacy patents in particular, to be exposed and abolished. It is unfortunate that the formerly noble intent of copyright and patents – to promote progress, has ceased to be true.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Necessity of Including a subject on Social Issues in Computing in Computer Science Academic Curriculums

Since it is the end of semester, I will share my “formula” writing serious articles. My articles start with an assertion, then I justify such assertion through its necessity or importance, then I give arguments followed by boring explanations of my arguments. This is a “reserve” article I wrote in case tamarin ako mag-blog sa isang given week, I wrote titles for each part to mark the invisible boundaries I put in my articles:

The Necessity of Including a subject on Social Issues in Computing in Computer Science Academic Curriculums

There is a need to equip student with proper decision-making faculties in the practice of computer science.

Necessity of Proposal:
Computing affects all facets of living and society. Computer scientists are the gatekeepers holding the specialized knowledge to the information age. They should be aware of the responsibilities in the practice of their profession or at least be aware of the impacts of wielding their powerful knowledge to create and shape technology.

Main Argument:
Computing education is incomplete, if not useless, without guiding principles or virtues on how to exercise computing in everyday life and as a profession.

Main Argument Discussion:
For computer scientists to help society, technical expertise alone is insufficient. One can create intellectually superior programs but such programs will not necessarily benefit the society. For example, a skilled student can create an expertly-made virus; such is a credit to his education. But the effects of his creation do the society more harm than benefit.

Educating students without at least informing them that all their actions fall under either social “good” or “bad” creates unprincipled unwise robots – able to process information but not make wise decisions.

This is not to impose what is correct or not to students, merely the awareness of their actions do have effects and should be pondered upon first and the sense of what is the society’s “general will.”

First Supporting Argument:
Installing an ethical facet of computing will promote the science of computing to a formally recognized and respected profession.

First Supporting Argument Discussion:
A profession is a practice of a specialized body of knowledge that requires State regulation due to the social effects of the proper or improper practice thereof. For example, the legal profession is the practice of the specialized knowledge in the law. The State regulates the practice of this profession by allowing only those who pass the bar exam to become authorized practitioners. This is because lives and rights are at stake in the practice of this profession and unqualified individuals should, as public policy, not be allowed to affect the lives or rights of people.

All professions have ethical rules to regulate them. This is the backbone of the State regulation. Those authorized to practice the specialized body of knowledge must only conform to a code of conduct to ensure that the profession is practiced properly for the benefit of society. For example, Doctors have an ethical rule which prohibits them to diagnose illnesses outside the field of their specialization.

There is a need for computer science to be a regulated profession. All aspects of living are now affected by computing. Computer scientists greatly affect individual lives and the society as a whole.

One of the first steps to advocate the ripeness of computer science as a profession is to prove to the world that it has a body of ethical rules to regulate it. The body of ethical rules cannot be borne out of the computing industry – it must come from the academe where there is unbiased and scientific approach in formulating rules.

The very first step in jumpstarting the academe to forge a body of ethical rules is to include a socio-ethical course in its curriculum, to start and plant the trend of social awareness and sense in the minds of computer scientists.

Schools should be mandated by the government to include a socio-ethical course in computing in their curriculums. Computing largely affects the society, an approach to practice computing without social awareness or the mere fact that it affects lives is blind and would open floodgates to dangerous and detrimental means of computing. Technology is created to benefit mankind, its purpose would be defeated if computer scientists create programs without social benefits in mind.

The government and computer schools should be informed of the importance of social awareness in computing. The inclusion of a socio-ethical course in computing should be advocated. Start by communicating to government agencies concerned and key individuals in the academe the necessity of including a subject on social issues in computing in computer science academic curriculums.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Facsimile Transaction Outputs are “not” Electronic Documents, says SC

Just last October 17, 2007, Justice Nachura [or maybe his law clerk] interpreted “Electronic Documents” of Section 5 (f) of RA 8792 (Electronic Commerce Act of 2000) to exclude original data print-out of telefax machines. He held that since the phrase “but not limited to, electronic data interchange (EDI), electronic mail, telegram, telex or telecopy” was deleted from Section 6 (e) from the IRR of RA 8792, there is a need to resort to the mode of interpretation required by the E-Commerce Act enunciated in Section 37 and deliberation records to determine legislative intent.

(Though Section 6 (e) of the IRR refers to “Electronic Data Message” and Section 5 (f) of the Act refers to “Electronic Documents,” the technical working group of the Bicameral Conference Committee adopted both terms and intended them to be the equivalent of each one.)

Section 37 of the Act states that “Unless otherwise expressly provided for, the interpretation of this Act shall give due regard to its international origin and the need to promote uniformity in its application and the observance of good faith in international trade relations…”

The question is whether the legislative deliberation records are included as “provided for” in the Act or not. The section seems to give precedence to the interpretation of the Act’s international origin (which is the UNCITRAL Model Law) than to the deliberation records of the legislature. For the sake of uniformity of application.

If not, how outrageous. The sovereign authority’s own interpretation is disregarded in interpreting the Act it created by virtue of its sovereignty in applying the Act in its territory.

But then again, the result is equally outrageous. Justice Nachura [or his clerk] interpreted telefax transmissions as out of the scope of electronic documents in the case of MCC Industrial Sales Corporation v Ssangyong Corporation. It held that during the deliberations of the Senate, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on April 3, 2000 proposed to insert an amendment of the term “Electronic Data Message” which [as drafted] would not apply to telexes or faxes, except computer-generated faxes, unlike the United Nations model law. Sen Defensor-Santiago acquired the definition of the term from the 1998 Canadian E-Commerce Law. Her amendment was approved. It held that this interpretation is in harmony with the Canadian Law’s focus on “paperless” communications and the functional equivalent approach. It further held that the deliberations of the Legislature are replete with discussions on paperless and digital transactions, and that facsimile transactions are paper-based.

The decision disregarded many things.

It disregarded the ordinary meaning of electronic documents as the representation of data which is received, transmitted, processed, retrieved or produced electronically. Fax machines, as the court admits, compose an image into grids or dots, which dots are electronically represented by a bit with a value of either 1 or 0. The image is transmitted like a normal computer data, and the receiving machine translates the 0s and 1s back into dots and reprints the picture. Facsimile transactions then, commonsensically, fall within the definition of electronic documents. They are digital images that are produced, processed, transmitted, retrieved and received electronically, even though the medium is paper. It is a document, it is electronically digitally processed, though it is read on paper. VoIP and facsimile transactions should be placed on equal footing. They both use packets, though VOIP uses Digital Packet Switch Network and facsimile transactions use Public Switched Telephone Network.

It disregarded the goal of Section 37 – to achieve uniformity of interpretation. The UNCITRAL Model Law holds that electronic documents are “not limited to EDI, electronic mail, telegram, telex or telecopy. This means products of facsimile transactions may be considered electronic documents, assuming they are similar to telex or telecopy.” The Act does not include this phrase, but the IRR does. But since the international origin of the Act is the UNCITRAL Model Law itself, it should have been considered as part of the act.

One might say then that Senator Defensor-Santiago’s amendment should be disregarded. Well, my take is that if the goal is to widen the sanction over the different modes of doing business brought about by information and communications technology, then by all means facsimile transactions should be included. It is one of the vital modes of doing business today, because it is very convenient. It had been in place even before the emergence of VOIP, which as a mode might replace facsimile transactions. Facsimile transaction outputs do not clearly come within the scope of Rule 130 Section 4 [Original of a Document] because they are electronically-processed, and the 1997 revision of the Revised Rules on Evidence of the Rules of Court is silent on electronically-processed documents. This is one of situations the E-Commerce Act, in conjunction with the Rules on Electronic Evidence promulgated by the Supreme Court, seeks to remedy. To take them outside the scope of the Act would be turning a blind eye over the fact that it is a convenient and prevalent mode of transacting business.

It disregarded the guide to the enactment of the UNCITRAL Model Law. The guide states that Model law’s functional equivalent approach is “based on the recognition that [present] legal requirements prescribing the use of traditional paper-based documentation constitute the main obstacle to the development of the modern means of communication…[and that a way to deal with such obstacle is to] extend the scope of such notions of ‘writing,’ ‘signature’ and ‘original’ with a view to encompassing computer techniques.”

The extension of the protection from paper to electronic documents does not mean ignoring in-between, neither-here-nor-there situations such as facsimile transactions that are also electronically-processed but later ends on paper. The fact that the final output ends on paper does not obliterate its mode of processing – still electronic. Obliterating this prevalent way of doing business outside the scope of electronic documents keeps it outside the protection, and thus regulation, of the law. And because it is not at all sanctioned by the law, it becomes a useless mode. Its convenience is diluted not because it is easy to use but because it is illegally feasible from lawful acknowledgement, thus protection. Those who are currently using this as a mode are greatly inconvenienced and I’m sure, frustrated. Anyway, the case still affirmed the existence of obligation by looking at the totality of the documents adduced which mainly consisted of exchange of letters. Still, it could have been easier for the claiming creditor, and faster.

It disregarded the policy of the Act to “help realize the need to create an information-friendly environment which supports and ensures the availability, diversity and affordability of ICT products and services.” The court’s interpretation will achieve the opposite: it will drive the technology of facsimile transactions into obsolescence, because the products of such transactions do not hold any probative value in the eyes of the law in proving rights and obligations. Instead, from facsimile transactions, resort should be had to letter-writing. How romantic.

It disregarded the policy of the Act of “its obligation to…ensure network…connectivity and neutrality of technology for the national benefit.” The court discouraged network connectivity by disallowing products of facsimile transactions within the scope of protection of electronic documents. It disregarded the benefits of its convenience to the nation.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Amorality of Piracy

A good friend just downloaded and burned a computer game for me. Illegally, of course. Do I feel bad? Heck no, I’m excited to try out the game. Why doesn’t my conscience bother me? Because unlike real stealing which is morally wrong and mala in se, piracy is mallum prohibitum and is not immoral at all. I know no one will go to hell just because of software piracy. Piracy, contrary to the popularized slogan, is not stealing – technically and common sensically.

But why is it depicted as evil? So that others may earn money. Let us analyze the numbers: those usually protected by anti-piracy laws are those with capability to mass produce their software – hence they already have money. On the other hand, those who buy pirated software are those who cannot afford originals – hence they do not have money. This clearly leads to the conclusion that anti-piracy laws are fashioned to protect those with money against those who don’t.

Let’s go a leap deeper. The rationale of anti-piracy laws is to promote and encourage human knowledge. Inventors allegedly invent for money. This is a stupid rhetoric. Humans have been inventing since time immemorial not because of money but either because of necessity or passion. No one would stop creating what he thinks is a good idea just because he won’t profit from it. In poor third world countries, a paradigm that allows those with useful intellectual property deprive others from it unless they are paid would amass wealth to a few at the expense of the entire consuming society. It would benefit more people if the few who have specialized intellectual properties such as software are not given powers to hoard something that would benefit or make the society happy.

So, if asked which is more wrong: not allowing few inventors to profit OR not allowing the entire world access to existing inventions, I would answer the former. May it be wrong in the realm of social policy or morality. So please, do not try to appeal to my conscience by showing a commercial saying “you wouldn’t steal a car, you wouldn’t steal a purse… piracy is stealing.” Because it is not stealing and paying for originals at the expense of my meager salary (instead of giving my salary to the poor, hehe!) bothers my conscience more.

My point: do not mix morality in arguments against software piracy. Or at the very least, such arguments should be amoral.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Will Bill Give You Silver Candlesticks?

Les Misérables is about the story of Jean Valjean.  He was a poor man imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread.  After his release from prison, he found it difficult to find accommodation because of his prior conviction.  Eventually, he came upon a bishop who provided him with food and board for the night.  Valjean didn’t stay through the night though but stole the bishop’s silverware and silver plates.  He was apprehended by the police the next day and was brought back to the bishop to verify the ownership of the stolen goods.  The bishop claimed the goods were given as gifts to Valjean and gave him, in addition, silver candlesticks which the former claimed Valjean forgot to bring along with him.  The bishop hoped the silverware, silver plates and silver candlesticks would help Valjean forge a better and honest life.


Mr. Valjean was hungry for food.  We, the poor people from the developing world, are hungry for technology (and this is a pathetic attempt at parallelism).  So, like Valjean, we steal the software by purchasing the bootleg version.  Well that is how the authorities and media would like us to think, anyway.  Let’s skip the debate on whether the third world deserves cheaper software because this blog is about FOSS or Free and Open Source Software.   The development of FOSS makes it possible for needy citizens of a developing country to revel in the beauty of free software legally.  Yes, FOSS makes a mockery of software commercialism.  FOSS screws around with Bill Gates’ mind.   But more importantly, FOSS might pull back the ordinarily law-abiding man from the hell that is piracy and put him back on the straight and narrow path of moral and legal uprightness (I am now officially channeling the bishop from Les Misérables).  Simply put, it is a legal alternative to software piracy.  The concept is already working for hardware.   Instead of faking brand names, CD-R King has line of cheap peripherals instead.  Why not promote a free software that works as well as or even better than Windows Office?  If you can’t afford it, just FOSS it.  It just might save you a trip to jail.  Because in the real world, when you are caught using an unauthorized copy of Microsoft Windows and you are brought before Bill Gates for reckoning (okay, this may just be a little too much), he will not give you silver candlesticks (or free software).  He will probably slap you with a lawsuit or brandish you before the world as a sinner.


To repeat what my fellow bloggers are saying, perhaps it is equally proper and practical to promote a pro-FOSS program alongside an anti-piracy program – for software at least.  Entertainment is another matter.   But it would be interesting (but impossible) to develop Free and Open Source Entertainment (FOSE).  Then I could cast Poppa Pitt and Johnny Depp in every movie (perhaps not as Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, that would just be plain creepy) or just make them pop up randomly on the screen for eye candy.   Or the Japanese could recreate Thirteen Ghosts because Hollywood totally wasted its scare potential.  And maybe I could get a better singer to sing Paris Hilton’s songs.  Celebrities are overpaid and this blog just officially veered away from its main topic.