Michael Weiss was, and still is, one of my heroes. His company was among the first sued but the last to surrender. He, in fact, was the only browncoat to fight on post Grokster. I pulled for him at every hearing but alas victory was not to be. StreamCast filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
Michael and I got together in California on several occasions after our first meeting. He was always very generous with his time, wisdom, and contacts. He now runs a new startup based out of Tyler Texas. I owe him a call.
“Are you really thinking about releasing this?…
…be very, very careful!”
It was the consistent, disheartening reply I got whenever I told a browncoat about OFF. There’s an irony to war. Those who sit out a lost battle think, “I wish I’d been there fighting.” Those who barely survive never say, “Wish you’d been with me.”
We were living in a post Grokster world. That single battle completely reversed the tide of war. Few of us civilians had any clue.
June 22 2006
They teach kids about the war in Elementary School now. Radios, TV, and movies mention it constantly. Yet it’s still remains a guerrilla war. An insidious war whose propaganda teaches no clue of the other side.
I’d been reading about the war for thirty years. Now, Charles had me face to face swapping stories with a bona fide war hero!
Every boy remembers his first magic trick. I bought mine from Astroworld’s magic shop back while in junior high. It was a gag called “The Money Maker”. Just a couple of pinch rollers in an open frame. You rolled a blank sheet of paper through and it magically printed a genuine U.S. Dollar! It was a brilliant effect. So good, it lit up the imaginations of even my most skeptical friends.
June 22-23, 2006
“Who are you and what do you need?”
It was a rather jarring way to start the morning. This obviously wasn’t the quiet pirate lair of my youth. All I had wanted was a danish and quiet cup of coffee before the conference got officially underway. Karen Kaplowitz, however, would have none of that. She headed DCIA’s member relations and took her job very seriously!
“You didn’t come all this way to eat donuts with your coworkers,” she said insistently. “What do you do? Who do you want to meet?”
“I’m Bob Way and this is Clay Price. We’re from HackBack Media. We registered yesterday over the phone.”
“Ah! The hacker guys! I’ve been waiting to meet you…”
<— Thar be Pirates
When you’re over 40, a 26 year old seems so young. It was hard to take him seriously when he said, “That sounds awesome! I’d really like to help!” I’d been babbling on to him for more than 45 minutes now. An endless disjointed series of thoughts about copyright, the war, peer-to-peer applications, new business models, and destroying the status quo. All because he had the audacity to query socially, “What have you been up to?”
“Help?” I thought, more than a bit condescendingly, “How on earth could he help?” I’d been working on some of the most intricate ideas of my life. Recursive bits of coding theory that most folks without a computer science degree couldn’t… Well… Hum?… Let’s just say that maybe… just maybe… I was a little too impressed with my own technical prowess. And let’s also say that Clay, well, he wasn’t a tech guy at all…
All I wanted was to fight for a nobel cause…
But is was naive to think that, knowing the other side is evil, was enough to make us good.
It was mid February and Napster had just lost their appeal. As a side effect, we were all being pilloried in public. Headlines and editorials screamed:
- “Information superhighway robbery!”
- “Save the poor artists!”
- “Fight evil pirates!”
- “Stop child pornography!”
- “Hackers commune with underworld demons!”
The truth is, I thought it mattered—I thought that music mattered. But does it?
Bollocks! The RIAA had us pissing our nights away.
The funny thing was I hadn’t been thinking about the war at all. I didn’t want to pick a fight. I didn’t want to save the world. I only wanted to grasp the future. The next monster internet application—That was all I was thinking about. I was no different from anyone else during the tech bubble. I just wanted to get filthy rich building something awesome.
But there is was plain as day…
As network speeds tend toward the infinite, the number of necessary copies tends toward one.
Copyright was dead.
<— The Eternal Question
… infinite bandwidth, storage and processing…
…TV on-demand? HAL-9000? no, lame clichés…
…it’s simpler than that. What am I missing?…
Back in 1999 I had the honor of playing chess against the world champion. I lost.
It was an epic battle. A genius and a collective genius battling it out in public. Each move openly considered, debated and reconsidered in complete candid clarity. The process was mesmerizing.
In the end, the game was lost deliberatively. There was not a single oversight or accidental material sacrifice. Yet no matter how deeply analyzed or anticipated, each move arrived with the impact of a revelation.
By contrast, it made the banality of the copyright combatants all the more irritating.
<— Fear and Loathing…
Chris sat quietly with his back to me. I knew he could feel my tension. You don’t become a teenager without mastering the ability to detect each parent’s annoyance if only from the cadence of their breath. He tried to pretend he didn’t notice but a hasty rash of searches gave him away. If only he could find the song before I broke into a rant…
…Click, click, click…
“OK Chris, I want to tell you something important.”
…Click, click… “Crap. Too late,” he thought as he turned to look at me with a half broken smile.
Continue with the operation. You may fire when ready.
You’re far too trusting. Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration. But don’t worry. We will deal with your Rebel friends soon enough.
I could see the recriminations coming. It didn’t matter. You could rat them out all you wanted. The old bases had long been abandoned. The rebel core had dumped their BBSs and moved deep into cyberspace. Back in their bedrooms a young militia sat impatiently waiting for their next instructions.
This was going to be a disaster.
It had been a summer of musical love. The moon was in the seventh house and Napster had appeared in June. Peace ruled the planet and love steered the stars. Millions of tie dyed adolescents, flowers in their hair, came together in harmony and understanding. They spent their golden days of summer, ripping mystic CD revelations, toward the mind’s true liberation.
It was the dawning of the age…
You would prefer another target? A military target? Then name the system!
Dantooine. They’re on Dantooine.
There. You see Lord Vader, she can be reasonable.
I’d never thought of myself as a hacker in the WarGames sense. I was just a programmer trying to master my craft. I swore off dial-up boards after ’85. Paranoia initially, but really I was just moving on. Boredom had nearly failed me out of High School. Now, suddenly I was recognized for motivation and academic success. I was as shocked as anyone.
No! Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons. You can’t possibly…
“Can you hook me up?” I would hear in quiet whisper.
People thought of pirates and hackers as having epic security complemented by measures of extreme secrecy. They always spoke as if they were trying to find a new drug dealer.
We all played it up. “Shhh! Not here… Have you heard the new Bowie album?… Quiet, let’s take it outside… Fewer ears…”
I wish the truth had been so dramatic, but reality has a subtlety to it. We didn’t have secrecy so much as we had inherent privacy.
My heart pounded as I watched over Chris’s shoulder. He misspelled every word of a search but still managed to launch a download before I could offer even a single correction. I stood trembling, steadying myself using the back of his chair. Visions of the war raced through my mind blurring all attempts at clarity. Shit, shit, shit!
“Wha, what are you looking for?” I addled the only question he’d already answered.
“Heard… radio… angry… it’s name… my music… can’t find… stomach ache… our generation… argument…”
Mental static jumbled his answer. But I remember in perfect clarity his unblinking intensity. A cool determination that used the phrase “my music” as if I couldn’t possibly understand. I knew with certainty that he was right. He was having an emotional experience I would never share. Just as he’d never experience my goosebumps during “American Pie.” Or I’d never feel Dad’s invincibility as Sinatra sang “My Way”.
The best thing about a big house was that my wife and I could keep all our toys downstairs. That left us blissfully ignorant of the mess a constant flow of teenagers created upstairs. But it was getting close to the holidays and it fell to me to make that long climb to assess the damage.
I found Chris in the game room on the PC. He was surrounded by the usual assortment of plates and glasses, but on the whole the room and its assorted tech gadgets were faring pretty well. In the midst of giving him a hug I noticed a curious screen on the PC.
“What are you up to?” I queried.
“Nothing much. Searching for a song on Napster. I know how it goes but I don’t know the name. It’s frustrating,” he replied.
Out loud I said, “Gee, I’ve heard of Napster but I’ve never used it. Can you show me what your doing?”
But inside my fire roared, “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, FUCK!!!” I’d let my son wander into a mind field not even knowing there was a fucking war!!!
Shortly before the dot com crash I went to a random technology seminar. I don’t remember anything about the gathering except the clarity of a single question:
Take as a given Moore’s law. Processing power doubles every 18 months. More recently, hard disk technology has been doubling every 12 months. Now, networking technology is poised to start making the same kinds of gains.
So consider the future. Compared to our current technology, the future will have infinite processing, infinite storage and infinite bandwidth. What does that mean? What would you do with it?
Whatever that is… *IS* the future.
I kept the kids deliberately oblivious to the war. I never told them of my trials and tribulations. To them it would just be ancient history. And there never seemed to be any point.
In the suburbs, you don’t take needless chances with your children. You don’t brag about skipping school or going drinking with your friends. You don’t wax poetic about marijuana or promiscuity. And you certainly don’t drone on about pirates, war dialing entire phone exchanges or using WATS lines and PBXs to obfuscate exploration into random computer systems with lax security. You just keep your mouth shut and act like a responsible dad.
My kids had unlimited access to computers from before they could walk. I made sure of it. If there was an educational program I bought it. If I found an interesting game I taught them to play it with their friends. When they started school Janet and I took every opportunity to work the computer into their education.
All three enjoyed computers but I don’t think they ever saw them as anything magical. They were children of software engineers. Computers, scanners, printers and modems lay strewn about the house like any other tool or toy. I imagine a carpenter’s children feel the same way about power saws, air-hammers and drill presses. They could fire up the computer, TV, stereo, or microwave with equal facility when appropriate. I held on to my old computers and disks for years thinking one day I’d teach them my history and they’d feel all the magic and wonder that I did.
There was only one person I cared to share my epiphany with. I’d have waited, but I couldn’t sit still. I had to babble on with someone who’d understand. He was the only one.
I folded the two revealing pages and stuck them haphazardly into my pocket as I headed for the car. I ran the hill between the car and the CS building. The halls seemed curiously quiet as I tried the handle. It was locked. I knocked but there was no answer. I circled the terminal lab but no one interesting was there. It’s frustrating to have a story that wants to be told but no one to tell it to!