Bill Bumgarner


Lego Store!

The valley fair mall (Santa Clara, CA) now has a Lego Store.

Beyond having all of the random sets and other Lego paraphernalia, they have an entire wall covered in little bins. Each bin contains one type of brick in a single color. Not just your normal bricks, but specialty bricks like hinges, various wheels, doors, windows, flat pieces, bricks with the technic holes, and the like.

You grab either a small or a large plastic cup and proceed to stuff as many pieces of whatever variety you want into the cup. As long as the cap fits on top snugly, you can purchase a small cup of parts for $7 and a large cup for $13.

They also have little plastic bags that are totally full of gears, axels and joints, or the other kind of girders with holes for $12 or $9, depending on the bag.

Excellent. As a young Lego builder, I often remember being irritated that I was missing that one last gear or axel or holed piece, whatever, to complete my current masterpiece. A store like that would have likely consumed most of my allowance.

You can see a picture of the bins on this site (found via Google). 3rd picture down on the left. Cute kids, btw. Another accurate write up here. I like the "bins of doom" description.

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World's most annoying P2P (& Suing BitTorrent)

TinyP2P claims to be the world's smallest p2p sharing application. It is implemented as 15 lines of highly obfuscated Python in an attempt to make the point that trying to suppress P2P technologies through lawsuits is futile.

I appreciate their attempt at making a point. Yet, I'm not really that impressed. 15 lines of highly obfuscated Python seems is just another useless geek wank cry for attention.

I would be far more impressed if it were implemented as less than a page of very clearly written Python. Not only would it still be impressively tiny, but it would provide a seed from which many new variants on P2P might arise. Instead of being a finger raised in defiance, it would be an opportunity to teach.

Speaking of futile attempts to squelch P2P technology. The MPAA is now pursuing BitTorrent as the Great Evil That Will Destroy Their Industry. I'm still of the camp that if Hollywood made movies that weren't utter crap, did not bombard us with 30 minutes of ads prior to showing said crap, and didn't charge us $9 for the "privilege" of watching the ads, then the crap, they wouldn't be in such supposed dire straits.

The BitTorrent thing is certainly grabbing headlines.

I find it intensely irritating that BitTorrent is being called a "network" that Hollywood is trying to shut down. It isn't a damned network already! Most articles actually do try-- typically poorly-- to describe the whole tracker concept and that the legal efforts are aimed at the tracker admins/hosts.

I have previously written on the topic of BitTorrent and how the law suits might play out. In that missive, I mentioned that it is impossible to prove that any one BT client uploaded an entire copy of any given piece of IP and it is actually quite provable that any one client could not possibly provide a whole copy of a piece of IP to any one other client. That may or may not work.

Regardless, there is likely something much more important at stake.

In particular, ISPs and the like have long been able to effectively defend themselves against the content passing through their networks, mailing lists, NNTP servers, web servers, proxies and the like by invoking a "common carrier" style defense. That is, the ISP actively chooses not to monitor or censor the content passing through its systems.

The trackers could employ a similar defense. Many trackers will accept any random torrents without censorship or filtration. That combined with the fact that trackers generally never host the content being distributed means that the tracker-- and the tracker's owner-- never has the IP in their possession nor do they require any active awareness of what might be distributed by their site.

Now, in the email world, a mailing list operator that does not moderate content has significantly less liability than one that does. By choosing to moderate content, the operator is taking responsibility for each post that is broadcast to the list. By choosing not to moderate, the list is effectively a common carrier and the individual poster is the one responsible for the contents of their post. This has been used successfully to prevent ISPs from being liable for the many nasty things that pass through NNTP feeds, among other things.

Could this same defense be applied to trackers? It would appear to be a very similar situation. Obviously, those trackers that called themselves 'warez depozt' and made outright claims to have the largest collection of blah-blah-blah-illegal-blah have other problems.

If this kind of defense is successfully applied, then it will be very difficult for the MPAA or anyone else to continue to shut down torrent trackers through legal means.

If it is applied and fails in court, it would set a very ugly precedent. In particular, it would significantly further erode the "common carrier" defense. It could become the foundation for law suits that would effectively require ISPs, NSPs, hosting providers, etc.. to very actively censor the content that passes through and is served from their systems. This would make it prohibitively expensive to publish anything on the Internet and would also cause the cost of simply passing traffic through your system to skyrocket.

Or, to look at it a slightly different way, it would make an ideal environment for corporations with very deep pockets to quite effectively squelch independent content producers while ensuring that their content is widely available on IP in a manner that is thoroughly protected by the courts.

This is exactly the situation that the MPAA, RIAA, and various participating content providers have been gunning for every since they finally realized that the Internet is here to stay. TCP/IP is an incredibly cheap means of content distribution with the distinct advantage that the customer doesn't, by default, receive a copy of your content that can be consumed repeatedly, forever, without pay-per-play. Yet, the current Internet environment, including the laws that protect it, make it extremely difficult to control the content to the degree said organizations would like.

By no means do I think that the legal pursuit of BitTorrent will be the case that makes or breaks the Internet. It is just one small battle in the ongoing war for control of this relatively new IP distribution mechanism we call the Internet.

I will be watching this one closely for two reasons. First, I think it is a very interesting grey area between P2P style services and services that have been protected so far by fairly strong laws. Secondly, I have played an active, albeit very minor, role in the development of BitTorrent and, as a result, have a personal interest in the technology as well as having used said technology to distribute bits as a part of my professional career.

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