Lessig

On Thursday night I attended a great lecture by Lawrence Lessig, founder of the Free Culture movement. His lectures edge into the realm of spoken-word performance. The recording, if you’d like to see it, is here. Flumotion did a great job with the live stream, although they didn’t quite seem to have enough bandwidth for the number of viewers they got, and they used a Theora encoder from four years ago.

The talk’s central theme, I think, is easy enough to describe: video (and multimedia) is moving into a position in our culture comparable to writing, and so we need to treat movies the way we treat text. Of course, that’s only the smallest fraction of the wide range of topics covered, from the dangers of a hazy Fair Use exemption (“Fair Use is the right to hire a lawyer”) to a plug for Lessig’s anticorruption work at Fix Congress First!.

Rabbit

I did my first animal experiment today, on a rabbit. This is a bit of an overstatement, in two ways. First, I never touched the rabbit. One of the lab technicians is the designated animal handler, and he was in charge of the sedated rabbit.

It’s also an overstatement because the experiment plan was essentially: “look at a rabbit”. Specifically, we looked at it in ultrasound at about 5 MHz. We made about 1.7 GB of data, which I’m still copying over so I can start analyzing it. I’m trying to see what the breathing motion looks like in ultrasound, and whether we can see something that looks like liver motion.

It was an odd experience. Also, rabbits are big.

Roundup

At the bus stop today, a gray-haired policeman rolled up in his Crown Vic and started talking politely to tall thin homeless man. The man sounded a bit deranged, or maybe just intoxicated, but calm. The officer seemed to know him, and I heard exchanges like

Officer: Do you want to go to the hospital? I can get you a ride to the hospital. Why don’t I do that. [pulls out police radio and calls in a wagon]
Man: I don’t… umm…

and

Man: [obscenities]
Officer: Hey. Didn’t you used to have some self-respect? Back when you were in the Navy, didn’t you used to have some self-respect? Not like now.
Man: The Coast Guard.
Officer: OK, the Coast Guard.
Man: [obscenities]

After a few minutes the paddywagon arrived, along with two more officers, and the man was pushed in. He did not seem eager to go, but he went.

There was another homeless person at the bus stop, and the first officer walked up to him and asked him his name, then relayed it to the others.

Others: Should we pick him up?
Officer: Naw, he’s just sleepin’

Lazy

Today I stayed in my pajamas and did nothing. I wrote a few hundred lines of C to do something complicated and not terribly important. I ate my roommate’s chocolate chip pancakes for lunch.

February is a good month for this.

Pres.

This town takes Presidents’ Day way more seriously than I remembered. I biked to work in the middle of rush hour, and yet the roads were completely unclogged. The bike racks were empty at work, and I’m virtually the only one in the lab.

My Monday morning meeting was canceled, which is kind of too bad, since I was all psyched to announce that I have my first complete prototype of my motion correction system. Of course, completion is not so sharply defined, but I have now demonstrated using one MRI+US dataset to correlate ultrasound echo patterns with geometrical distortion information, reducing this to a simple lookup table, and then using that table to correct the motion of a second MRI data set. The process might even be fast enough to work in real time.

It’s more proof of concept than prototype, but it’s working.

Towed, mark 4

For the fourth time in four years, my car got towed. The first time it was because I was parked in a (incorrectly marked) permit-only zone. They eventually determined that they were at fault, and rescinded the fine, but not the towing fee. The second and third time, it was because of street cleaning.

There’s no street cleaning in February, and though there was a “snow emergency” on Wednesday I was sure I was safely parked in a non-snow-emergency zone. Unfortunately, after I parked, someone put up a sign marking the spot as a temporary loading zone. Cambridge law allows you to put up such a sign with 24 hours notice indicating that you intend to park a moving van there. My car was towed, and ticketed, for being parked in a temporary loading zone. It will cost me $130 in total.

With sufficient diligence, one can avoid street cleaning fines by moving one’s car twice a month, but the only sure way to avoid being towed from a temporary loading zone is to check my parking space every single day. For car commuters this isn’t an issue, but I routinely leave my car parked for weeks at a time because I commute by bicycle. The system favors those who cause traffic and pollution. There ain’t no justice.

So basically, the only way to avoid the expense and inconvenience of towing is to add another item to my morning routine. That’s what I intend to do, even though it’s going to cost me either sleep or time at work.

One day, maybe I will have a parking space to call my own.

Inertial

Not much changing in my life this week. Rehearsal tonight was nice; we sang some new songs that are going to be fun. We’re singing at some Valentine’s Day thing at Faneuil Hall on Saturday at noon.

Otherwise not much to report.

Strange Days

Yesterday, I was woken up at 6:30 AM by severe nausea. I must have caught a norovirus from my roommate, who’d been sick last week, so I knew what I was in for.

Since I was already awake, I checked my e-mail… and found that my internet access was incredibly slow. Eventually, I figured out why. Someone had put my last night’s post up on reddit, and thousands of people were trying to read it. It somehow ended up on Y-Combinator News too.

Anyway, I hadn’t been expecting this. I still don’t know who publicized the article. My webserver was not prepared for it, and was absolutely failing to keep up. I couldn’t even ssh in. Thankfully, the machine is in my living room, so I walked over, got a root console, and killed the httpd. Then I restarted, and, before load could spike again, installed WP-Super-Cache. That seemed to do the trick.

Then I started to feel really sick again, and crawled back into bed.

In the end, I didn’t manage to eat anything except for a slice of toast, near midnight, nor drink more than a glass of water. While I was shivering feverishly, my post acquired 550 comments (over the three sites) and some unknown huge number of views.

It was a bewildering day.

No, you can’t do that with H.264

A lot of commercial software comes with H.264 encoders and decoders, and some computers arrive with this software preinstalled. This leads a lot of people to believe that they can legally view and create H.264 videos for whatever purpose they like. Unfortunately for them, it ain’t so.

Maybe the best example comes from the Final Cut Pro license:

To the extent that the Apple Software contains AVC encoding and/or decoding functionality, commercial use of H.264/AVC requires additional licensing and the following provision applies: THE AVC FUNCTIONALITY IN THIS PRODUCT IS LICENSED HEREIN ONLY FOR THE PERSONAL AND NON-COMMERCIAL USE OF A CONSUMER TO (i) ENCODE VIDEO IN COMPLIANCE WITH THE AVC STANDARD (“AVC VIDEO”) AND/OR (ii) DECODE AVC VIDEO THAT WAS ENCODED BY A CONSUMER ENGAGED IN A PERSONAL AND NON-COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY AND/OR AVC VIDEO THAT WAS OBTAINED FROM A VIDEO PROVIDER LICENSED TO PROVIDE AVC VIDEO. INFORMATION REGARDING OTHER USES AND LICENSES MAY BE OBTAINED FROM MPEG LA L.L.C. SEE HTTP://WWW.MPEGLA.COM.

The text could hardly be clearer: you do not have a license for commercial use of H.264. Call it “Final Cut Pro Hobbyist”. Do you post videos on your website that has Google Adwords? Do you edit video on a consulting basis? Do you want to include a video in a package sent to your customers? Do your clients send you video clips as part of your business? Then you’re using the encoder or decoder for commercial purposes, in violation of the license.

Now, you might think “but I’m sticking with MPEG-4, or MPEG-2, so it’s not a problem for me”. No. It’s just as bad. Here’s the relevant section of the license:

13. MPEG-2 Notice. To the extent that the Apple Software contains MPEG-2 functionality, the following provision applies: ANY USE OF THIS PRODUCT OTHER THAN CONSUMER PERSONAL USE IN ANY MANNER THAT COMPLIES WITH THE MPEG-2 STANDARD FOR ENCODING VIDEO INFORMATION FOR PACKAGED MEDIA IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED WITHOUT A LICENSE UNDER APPLICABLE PATENTS IN THE MPEG-2 PATENT PORTFOLIO, WHICH LICENSE IS AVAILABLE FROM MPEG LA, L.L.C., 250 STEELE STREET, SUITE 300, DENVER, COLORADO 80206.
14. MPEG-4 Notice. This product is licensed under the MPEG-4 Systems Patent Portfolio License for encoding in compliance with the MPEG-4 Systems Standard, except that an additional license and payment of royalties are necessary for encoding in connection with (i) data stored or replicated in physical media which is paid for on a title by title basis and/or (ii) data which is paid for on a title by title basis and is transmitted to an end user for permanent storage and/or use. Such additional license may be obtained from MPEG LA, LLC. See http://www.mpegla.com for additional details. This product is licensed under the MPEG-4 Visual Patent Portfolio License for the personal and non-commercial use of a consumer for (i) encoding video in compliance with the MPEG-4 Visual Standard (“MPEG-4 Video”) and/or (ii) decoding MPEG-4 video that was encoded by a consumer engaged in a personal and non-commercial activity and/or was obtained from a video provider licensed by MPEG LA to provide MPEG-4 video. No license is granted or shall be implied for any other use. Additional information including that relating to promotional, internal and commercial uses and licensing may be obtained from MPEG LA, LLC.

Noticing a pattern? You have a license to use their software, provided you don’t make any money, your friends are also all correctly licensed, and you only produce content that complies with the MPEG standard. Using video for a commercial purpose? Producing video that isn’t within MPEG’s parameters? Have friends who use unlicensed encoders like x264, ffmpeg, or xvid? Too bad.

This last thing is actually a particularly interesting point. If you encode a video using one of these (open-source) unlicensed encoders, you’re practicing patents without a license, and you can be sued. But hey, maybe you’re just a scofflaw. After all, it’s not like you’re making trouble for anyone else, right? Wrong. If you send a video to a friend who uses a licensed decoder, and they watch it, you’ve caused them to violate their own software license, so they can be sued too.

Oh, and in case you thought this was specific to Apple, here’s the matching piece from the Windows 7 Ultimate License:

18. NOTICE ABOUT THE H.264/AVC VISUAL STANDARD, THE VC-1 VIDEO STANDARD, THE MPEG-4 VISUAL STANDARD AND THE MPEG-2 VIDEO STANDARD. This software includes H.264/AVC, VC-1, MPEG-4 Part 2, and MPEG-2 visual compression technology. MPEG LA, L.L.C. requires this notice:
THIS PRODUCT IS LICENSED UNDER THE AVC, THE VC-1, THE MPEG-4 PART 2 VISUAL, AND THE MPEG-2 VIDEO PATENT PORTFOLIO LICENSES FOR THE PERSONAL AND NON-COMMERCIAL USE OF A CONSUMER TO (i) ENCODE VIDEO IN COMPLIANCE WITH THE ABOVE STANDARDS (“VIDEO STANDARDS”) AND/OR (ii) DECODE AVC, VC-1, MPEG-4 PART 2 AND MPEG-2 VIDEO THAT WAS ENCODED BY A CONSUMER ENGAGED IN A PERSONAL AND NON-COMMERCIAL ACTIVITY OR WAS OBTAINED FROM A VIDEO PROVIDER LICENSED TO PROVIDE SUCH VIDEO. NONE OF THE LICENSES EXTEND TO ANY OTHER PRODUCT REGARDLESS OF WHETHER SUCH PRODUCT IS INCLUDED WITH THIS PRODUCT IN A SINGLE ARTICLE. NO LICENSE IS GRANTED OR SHALL BE IMPLIED FOR ANY OTHER USE. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM MPEG LA, L.L.C. SEE WWW.MPEGLA.COM.

Doesn’t seem so Ultimate to me.

My advice: use a codec that doesn’t need a license:

Q. What is the license for Theora?
Theora (and all associated technologies released by the Xiph.org Foundation) is released to the public via a BSD-style license. It is completely free for commercial or noncommercial use. That means that commercial developers may independently write Theora software which is compatible with the specification for no charge and without restrictions of any kind.