Kevin Spacey doesn’t like Indian Pirates: But are they really pirates?

“House of Cards is really big in India, I discovered,” Spacey told reporters at the International Indian Film Academy Awards which took place in Tampa, Floria – the first time they’ve been held in America. “Except isn’t it funny that Netflix doesn’t exist there yet. Which means that you’re stealing it.”

Kevin Spacey claims Indians stealing House of Cards

I’m gonna be honest here. Kevin Spacey is one of my all time favorite actors, from his brilliant work in Usual Suspects and American Beauty, to his legendary performance in the House of Cards series–this guy can do no wrong.

Or can he?

I was taken aback by his statement on the popularity of House of Cards in India–something I expected him to be happy about. Instead of thanking the fans for their support, he turns around and called them thieves for ‘stealing’ House of Cards.

But whose to blame for the fact that no one in India can watch House of Cards legally? Is it the Indians who pirate the show—or is it Netflix who choose not to make it legally available to them.

The copyright trolls chime that just because it isn’t available doesn’t mean you can steal it, which is a valid point, except of course that this isn’t stealing.

If you stole my car, I’ve lost something of intrinsic value and something that I could have derived further value from, had you not stolen it–in other words you’ve gained and I’ve lost. That’s the definition of stealing, it’s a process where someone gains and somebody loses.

If you copied a song from my iPod, I’ve not lost anything, my iPod still has the song and you have the song. That’s what makes digital copying so awesome, you’ve merely copied from me, rather than take something from me. You gained–but I haven’t lost anything. That’s why so many people willingly share their digital content, because they don’t lose anything, yet everyone else stands to gain.

The trolls however, argue that sharing digital content, like the House of Cards series is stealing from Netflix, who own the rights to the series. Because instead of buying the content, others can now download it free–thereby losing a potential sale, which is the default defence in these cases.

But nobody would have subscribed to Netflix in India, because Netflix isn’t available there. How can you complain that someone is stealing from you, when you’ve lost nothing–not even the ‘prospect’ of a sale. Indians have gained, but Netflix hasn’t lost. So this isn’t stealing.

However, this could dilute the full value of Netflix when it does launch in India, but the question of course is why haven’t they launched? Netflix could literally launch in India at the flick of a switch, yet they choose not to–partly because the copyright holders want to sustain the higher profit margins of the DVD and theatre sales, partly because they don’t think there’s a market there. Either way, it’s their own fault nobody in India is subscribing to them, and there’s nothing the Indians can do about it, except download the series via the only means made available to them–illegally.

The point is, Netflix chooses not to be in India, and by doing so eliminates any possible way for Indians to watch House of Cards legally–to me, that also removes any right from Netflix (or Kevin Spacey) to complain about Indians stealing the show.

Because they aren’t!

Update: Perhaps Kevin Spacey was a bit too quick with his “stealing” allegations. House of Cards is available on Zee Cafe in India, although not on demand. This means that there is a legal option for those who have access to the channel via cable or satellite

WTF is a bitcoin?

WTF is BitCoin

WTF is a bitcoin? There’s much ado over the digital currency and many people struggle to understand what it is. In fact, even I haven’t fully grasped the fundamental nature of how it works–but then again I don’t know how the banking and fiat currency system work, yet I still use it.

In essence, there’s been a huge amount of really technical literature written about bitcoin, but most of it is long–really long, and unless you’re prepared to spend a few hours and some mind-numbing amount of effort to digest it, I took it upon myself to distil my knowledge of bitcoin so that you have at least a working knowledge of it.

So here’s bitcoin explained.

Don’t think of it as a currency

The first mistake people make is thinking of bitcoin as a currency, the analogy works but not so well. A piece of paper currency has a valued ascribed to it by a central bank. In Malaysia, Bank Negara controls and regulates the Ringgit–and it can restrict foreign outflow (just like we did in 1997) and we can print more ringgit to pay of debt (just like what the British did with the Pound). In essence the value of the ringgit isn’t ‘regulated’ by Bank Negara, it is controlled by Bank Negara, and they have a whole bunch of levers that they can push and pull to raise or lower the price of the Ringgit.

On the other hand we have precious commodities like Gold. Gold isn’t regulated by any one central government or bank. The value of Gold is purely a result of the supply and demand in the marketplace, and just like any other precious commodity, part of that value lies it is rarity. It’s rare, and mining it is complex business, so the supply of Gold into the market is controlled by natural consequences.

Gold is valueable because it has value–a currency is valuable because a government says so.

So the best way to think of bitcoin is to treat it as digital gold rather than digital currency. Continue reading

Internet Censorship is an invasion of privacy

internet censorship

With the on-going debacle about the Kangkung saga dying down, I thought it would be a good opportunity to write specifically about internet censorship and its implications to ordinary Malaysian citizens. As you may well know, many Malaysia Netizens reported of difficulty accessing one particular post of the BBC website that dealt with the Kangkung issues, causing many to cite that Telekom Malaysia was actually censoring the internet–but what does internet censorship actually entail for Malaysia?

Let’s first take a step back, and understand how and Internet Service Provider (ISP) like Telekom Malaysia, Maxis or Digi operate.

How The Internet works

The best analogy of an ISP is that their the postal service. They route messages from one part of the world to another, in much the same way as Pos Malaysia routes letters across the country. Now, if you send a letter from Klang to Taiping, the letter is always within Pos Malaysia’s hands. However, if you send a letter from Klang to California–then our local postal service will route the letter to the US Postal Service, before the letter eventually reaches its destination.

So using the Postal analogy, imagine you live in Malaysia and your mother lives in California–and your only way to communicate with your mother is via snail-mail. Also, your mother (being the loving women that she is) ALWAYS replies to every letter she gets–100% of the time.

So initially you write a couple letters to your mom, the first letter says, the weather in Malaysia is great–and she responds accordingly, the second letter tells your mother you just ate the most delicious assam laksa in Penang–and she responds again. Finally you send a letter to your mom, making fun of Najib and his Kangkung–to which you receive no response—strange!

So you send the same letter again, and once again–no response.

Was it a general fault or Internet Censorship

Then you think of a ingenious test, you’ll send two letters to your mom, one to tell you about your first day at work, and another to discuss the kangkung saga. To which your mom only responds and ask you about your day at work without referring to the Kangkung issue at all.

Finally you decide to spruce things up, instead of saying kangkung, you’ll refer to it as ‘Dads favorite vegetable from the longkang’, and finally your mom responds saying how hilarious she’s found the whole issue.

Now in keeping with the Postal analogy, you need to figure out what happened to the Kangkung letters, and you’re left with 3 possible explanations.

1. Coincidence. Yes, it’s possible that only the Kangkung letters were lost (these things happen), but quite unlikely. You’re unconvinced that this was mere coincidence.

2. A general failure of the Post Service: This is impossible, as a general failure at the Post office would not result in just specific letters to your mom getting lost, rather it should result in all letters to your mom getting lost.

3. Postal censorship: The only real logical explanation is that someone from the post-office was peeping into your letter to determine if you were talking about kangkung–and then censoring it accordingly. Not only is this illegal, but it is a gross invasion of privacy.

But that’s exactly how internet censorship on the internet works.

ISPs utilize a method called deep packet inspection, that looks into the contents of the data it’s routing and censors accordingly. That’s why the day the BBC was censored, other post on the website were accessible with the exception of that one specific post about kangkung–‘some’ Malaysian ISPs had to determine which page you were visiting, and take appropriate action (appropriate being a loosely used word here), and the only way they could take this action is if they looked at the detailed information of the digital envelopes that were travelling on its network bound for the BBC website.

Internet Censorship is a invasion of privacy

So if we don’t stand for someone at the Post Office opening each envelope to peer inside its contents–why do we stand idly by and allow an ISP to do the same with our internet traffic–which is nothing more than digital envelopes.

The bottom line then is that Internet Censorship for the most part–is nothing more than a gross invasion of privacy. For the only way the government or an ISP can censor you, is by looking into your digital envelopes to determine the content of your communications.

Now I wonder how Dr. M thinks about someone reading his private correspondence–and whether he’ll support that as much as he supports internet censorship.

Study shows Malaysian students can’t solve problems

PISA Results

The latest PISA 2012 results are out, and it comes with a twist. Instead of testing the usual ‘knowledge’ of the students, PISA crafted a new exam meant to test the creative problem solving skills of students in various countries. further explains:

The assessment, which was the subject of an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD) report released Tuesday, defined creative problem-solving as the ability to “understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious.” Worldwide, a representative sample of 85,000 students took the exam, including 1,273 U.S. students in 162 schools.

The OECD introduced the exam based on the belief that today’s high school students will enter an economy in which on-the-job problem solving has gotten progressively more complex because computers have replaced many of the human employees whose jobs once consisted of completing simple tasks.

“In modern societies, all of life is problem solving,” states the report “PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem-Solving: Students’ Skills in Tackling Real-life Problems,” the fifth of six OECD reports on the 2012 assessment, which also tested math, reading, and science and collected information on students’ communities, lives, and schools. “Complex problem-solving skills are particularly in demand in fast-growing, highly skilled managerial, professional, and technical occupations.”

Now we all know how badly Malaysians are doing in Science in Maths, this new test would further refine that view to see if students could actual apply the knowledge they had in real world situations–such as calculating the cheapest route from point A to point B via various train tickets. PISA feels these more accurately reflect the ability needed in the real-world, and I agree.

The bad news however, is as imminent as Haze in June. Malaysia students perform ridiculously poorly in this test, averaging a very low 422–far away from the OECD average of 500, and astronomically distant from our  Neighbour Singapore where the average score was 562. Basically the ability for our students to solve problem is missing, not surprising since problem solving isn’t really something our education system is geared towards.

Looking into the finer details leads us to an even more startling discovery, under 2% of Malaysian students were top performers in all 4 domains (Problem Solving, Reading, Mathematics and Writing) compared to nearly 46% in Singapore. Meaning the top cream of the crop in Malaysia, is almost average in Singapore. It gets worse when we compare ourselves in Shanghai–because nearly 57% of students in Shanghai manage to be top performers in all domains.

The perspective is this, if you threw a stone randomly at students in Shanghai, you’re likely to hit a student who would be in the top 1% of Malaysian students–in other words you’d get an ‘elite student’ in Malaysia by  just randomly selecting from a group of Chinese students in Shanghai.

Of course, PISA isn’t the full way we should benchmark our education system, but we must at least acknowledge our ridiculous failures, a lot of well to do Malaysians are voting with their feet and leaving Malaysia so that they could at least provide their children a decent education in Singapore, Australia or even the UK and US. Malaysia it seems has no future, and what makes it worse is that we seem oblivious to it.