You Bought It, but Do You Own It?

January 26th, 2012

On February 10th, I’m sending a letter to the Library of Congress in support of granting exemptions to the DMCA for jailbreaking your own devices. If you believe that you should be able to run whatever programs you want on your own hardware, please sign my letter to show support; anyone from anywhere in the world can sign. You can also submit your own letter to the Library of Congress, if you feel so inclined or disagree with my opinions.

In 2002, I intercepted a key on the original Xbox that allowed me to encrypt and run my own software on the device. Even though that Xbox had a Pentium processor on the inside — the same CPU found in my desktop PC — without that key, I could only run the limited selection of software provided to me by Microsoft.

When I was informed about the DMCA, which became law in 1998, it was a bucket of cold water thrown at my face; I felt deeply disenfranchised. You see, I was a graduate student at MIT at the time, and up until that point the freedom to create, explore, and overcome barriers was encouraged, even celebrated. It was bewildering that running linux on this PC with the green X is illegal, yet running linux on this architecturally identical beige box next to it was legal. A chill descended upon the situation; MIT sent letters to me officially repudiating involvement in my activities, fearing the worst. Fortunately, brave souls at the MIT AI lab stood up for me in defiance of the campus counsel, and provided me with resources and the connections to the EFF to negotiate with Microsoft and see a positive ending to the whole situation.

I’m lucky. Not everyone has the encouragement, wisdom and strength of a team of MIT faculty and EFF counsel behind them. Without further exemptions to the DMCA enabling jailbreaking, freedom to innovate and tinker withers. Since then, many lawsuits have been filed under the DMCA, creating a tone of fear. Research projects are abandoned, business plans are scrapped; and the stalwart operators left with the will to research jailbreaks work in shadow, a constant fear of lawsuit haunting them for the mere practice of attempting to load their own software onto hardware that they legally own. Entrepreneurs and innovators should not be so burdened, especially at a time when we need their valuable contributions to bootstrap new businesses.

I believe if you buy hardware, you should own it; and ownership means nothing less of full rights to do with it as you wish. If you believe in this too, please sign my letter to the Library of Congress in support of extended exemptions to the DMCA, enabling jailbreaks for more platforms.

A special thanks to the EFF for preparing the website and helping me with the letter!

When in Doubt…

January 23rd, 2012

Name that Ware January 2012

January 23rd, 2012

The Ware for January 2012 is shown below. Click on the image for a much larger version.

Ok, let’s get the obvious bit out of the way with — it’s a speakerphone of some type, as evident from the gross construction. The question is what make and what model?

I wanted to highlight in this ware a couple of interesting construction points. A speakerphone needs to have excellent echo cancellation, otherwise you get feedback from the speaker to the mic. This speakerphone does a great job in the physical construction to create as much isolation as possible. First, the speaker is isolated from the rest of the body on an “island” of plastic. The housing itself uses a rubber gasket with an air-tight (hot-glue filled) through-hole providing a quality acoustic suspension speaker enclosure.

Then, the microphone is basically in a cradle of rubber. There’s a rubber gasket to isolate the microphone enclosure from the case, and then the microphone itself is suspended in yet another rubber holder. The hole for the microphone to the outside world is generously sized to eliminate the resonant filtering effects of going through a tube, and then the whole assembly is angled with respect to the table to mitigate reflections from the housing to the table.

Even though there is a substantial amount of DSP in the box doing echo-cancellation, there’s nothing like good and simple mechanical design principals to make a product even better.

Winner, Name that Ware December 2011

January 23rd, 2012

The Ware for December 2011 was a Nichia NDV4313, or a fake of it. The NDV4313 is a 120mW, 405nm laser diode. However, there is another part running around China that seems nearly identical in spec and construction to the NDV4313, but the cost is over two orders of magnitude cheaper. I thought this was an interesting differential in pricing, so I bought some samples to investigate.

When I looked at the ware under a microscope, I was struck by its magnificent construction. If you notice from the photo, the very top chip on the stack has a clear substrate. That’s a near-perfect crystal of sapphire, onto which a thin layer of Gallium Nitride is deposited. The sapphire crystal is cleaved and polished so that the ends form the mirrors for the laser cavity. The laser itself is bonded to the monitor photodiode, which I’m guessing is made out of silicon, and then that is mounted to a gold slug which serves as the ultimate heat sink. It’s quite a work of art.

I’m guessing that no Chinese manufacture is actually “faking” a process this intricate, so most likely these diodes came from a Nichia fab, but are either rejects, relabels, or excess quantities of a legitimate, high-volume product washed through the gray market onto the shores of my lab bench.

Picking a winner was difficult as usual. A lot of correct answers; plum33 was first (and also last month’s winner), but f4eru actually mentioned Nichia in his response. Exercising fully arbitrary judgement authority, I’ll say f4eru is the winner. Congrats, email me to claim your prize!

…and We’re Back

January 19th, 2012

Site’s been restored after a blackout in solidarity with the anti-SOPA protests around the internet. Looks like a few congressmen got the message!