The “SMART” Copyright Act is a Pretty Dumb Idea

This week we take a look at a dangerous new bill that will stifle the voices of independent creators under the guise of copyright protection.

We all know how broken automated copyright bots are. But that isn’t stopping Congress from investigating a new law called the “SMART” Copyright Act to have them work across the Internet. If passed a corporation can not only remove content but prevent anyone, anywhere from seeing it by blacklisting them from every ISP in the USA.

It’s SOPA / PIPA all over again.

As any YouTube creator knows, false ContentID copyright claims are a very common occurrence. Sometimes a small piece of music playing in the background will trigger one. Other times big media organizations fail to apply the proper duty of care and automatically claim ownership of public domain footage or other media they don’t own.

Now just imagine all of those issues getting applied to the Internet at large. That’s exactly what this proposed law will do. It will have the Library of Congress deploy an army of copyright bots that will not only pull down content from websites but also require ISPs to block traffic going to those sites. A master blacklist with no recourse for a creator to appeal.

It’ll also stifle speech. Here’s a great example:

YouTube creator PushingUpRoses often does funny commentaries on classic TV shows. Each time she makes a video about “Murder She Wrote” for YouTube it’s immediately flagged and blocked by NBC Universal even before she hits the publish button. She has to file an appeal – essentially asking for permission – to publish a piece that is clearly within fair use.

Now think about this example applied to the rest of the Internet. Want to criticize a big corporate media outlet? You need to ask permission first. And they’ll have the power to effectively take you off the entire Internet – not just YouTube – if they don’t like what you’re saying.

So far the bill hasn’t made much progress but I expect the big money corporate interests behind this to quietly push it along. Big media sees an opportunity to silence independent creators now that big tech companies are not as popular among members of Congress as they were a decade ago during the SOPA/PIPA debate.

Keep up to date on what’s happening with the EFF. This fight is only first beginning.

New Extra’s Video: DJI Mic & External Mics

One of the reasons I set up the Extra’s Channel is to have a place for doing supplementary content that won’t overload subscribers with too much Lon.TV stuff all at once. This weekend I uploaded a snippet from a recent live stream I did on the DJI Mic to demonstrate how external microphones sound through the transmitter.

I left that out of the initial review as the sound quality of the external mic will vary based on the mic being used! While it’s easy to demonstrate the built-in mics as every user will experience the same thing, it’s much harder to give a clear example when there are so many different types of mics that can be plugged in.

But I had a ton of questions about it and many more “thumbs ups” on those questions. Thankfully I had a great livestream the other day where we tested the feature and I was able to pull the video from that.

If YouTube would allow us mere mortals to replace an already posted video I would have totally done that here. But hopefully those looking for a demo will be able to find it on the Extra’s channel.

New Video : DJI Mic Review

DJI is known for their great drones and camera systems but they are venturing into a new area of content creation: audio. This very simple new wireless microphone system has two transmitters with built in mics. It instantly provides dual or single channel audio for interviews to smartphones, cameras, and PCs. Just make sure you don’t lose all of the little parts it comes with.

The system works similar to a pair of Airpods in that the included case also charges the components. The system can operate for about 5 hours on a charge. Unfortunately the batteries are built-in and not swappable or replaceable but USB-C ports on the receiver and transmitters allow for external power or batteries.

The receiver connects to cameras with a 3.5mm line out and to smartphones with included USB-C and lightning adapters. Those are the tiny pieces you don’t want to lose.

The transmitters each have internal storage that can hold about 15 hours of audio. This is a good safety net should something go wrong in the field so you can fix audio issues in post production. There’s also an option to record a -6db safety track to prevent clipping for your louder guests. The units connect to a PC via their USB-C ports and the storage will pop up like a USB thumb drive. But it stores the audio in 30 minute increments. The recordings are seamless but a two hour production will result in four 30 minute files that you’ll have to stitch together.

Audio quality is decent out of the built in Mics but they are omnidirectional and as such will pick up a lot of ambient noise. They also sounded bassier and a little muffled as compared to my more expensive Sennheiser lavalier mics. The DJI microphones will not work well in noisy environments like busy streets, convention floors, etc. The transmitters work over the very busy 2.4ghz radio spectrum and will be prone to interference in busier environments like urban offices, etc.

Each transmitter has a 3.5mm audio input for attaching an external microphone. I was able to get my Sennheiser lavalier to connect through the DJI system without issues.

For a first generation product this feels incredible polished. So much so that I am going to hang onto these for when I need something simple for a field production involving my smartphones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsshF6UevU8

New Video: Hoverbar Duo Review

I’m always looking for helpful ways to mount my iPad and other tablet devices in a variety of situations. The HoverBar Duo (affiliate link) appealed to me because it offered the flexibility of a desk stand along with a clamp-on configuration for mounting it on desks, shelves, etc.

But I found the product falls short. It requires tools even for basic adjustments. And most of it has to be disassembled and reassembled each time it’s moved from stand mode to clamp mode. And be sure you don’t lose all the parts when switching it back and forth.

Watch my full review to see where it falls short.

New Video: Unihertz Titan Slim Smartphone

Unihertz is a budget smartphone maker that focuses on two niches: Tiny rugged phones and phones with blackberry style keyboards. Both product families are full featured Android phones. You can see all of my prior Unihertz reviews here.

Their latest phone, now available on Kickstarter for pre-order, is a new keyboard phone that has a more traditional smartphone shape called the Titan Slim. You can watch my full review here.

Their prior keyboard devices had square screens that often had compatibility issues with apps that expected a more square display. This one addresses that problem with a 720p rectangular display. It’s not perfect and runs with budget specs but it may be exactly what fans of physical keyboard phones have been looking for.

I’ve always ben surprised by how well Unihertz phone reviews perform on the channel vs. other budget smartphones. While their appeal has a narrow audience it’s a large enough market to build a successful company focused on specific form factors other manufacturers abandoned.

Live Stream Replay: DJI Mic

DJI is known as a drone manufacturer but they’ve more recently ventured into other areas of video production mostly centered around their camera and gimbal systems. Their new product, DJI Mic, is a wireless audio system for video creators. I purchased a kit for review on the channel.

You can see a replay of my livestream as we unbox and test it here.

I’m really impressed with the build quality on this one but the audio through the microphones is not spectacular. I still have a few more things to test and hope to have my review ready by the weekend. Stay tuned!

Weekly Wrapup: Getting my HAM Radio License and What You Can and Can’t Do on Amateur Radio Bands

So I took my technician test and passed it with only two incorrect answers out of 35. Now I’m waiting for the FCC to process my application and assign me a call sign. I won’t be able to start transmitting on my radio until I show up in the FCC’s database a little later this week or next.

On the Weekly Wrapup this week I talk about a few of the things you can’t do on amateur radio bands:

  1. You can’t encrypt any communications – even when when using digital modes. There is one carve out for sending commands to orbiting amateur radio satellites but that’s it as far as encryption goes.
  2. Anonymous transmissions are prohibited. Amateur operators need to identify themselves with their call signs. And the database of call signs and licenses is public information available to all. I did discover a few good friends of mine locally are licensed operators! I had no idea they were until now.
  3. No swearing or obscene language. This one speaks for itself.
  4. No broadcasting. Amateur radio is typically a 1 to 1 communication between two operators. While you can make more general calls for testing your radio you are prohibited from reporting the news or having a nightly radio show. There are exceptions for emergencies where providing a general broadcast can help save lives and property but that’s the only exception.
  5. Stay in your lane: The FCC has assigned specific radio bands to amateurs where they are allowed to operate. As a holder of a technician license I am limited mostly to local communications. Operating on the longer range high frequency (or HF) bands requires upgrading to the general license. I am allowed to operate in a narrow stretch of bandwidth in the 10 meter space, however.

There will of course be more to come on this topic! Stay tuned!

New Video: Blackmagic Cloud Pod Review

Blackmagic makes great production gear that works well in low budget operations like mine but also at the professional broadcast level. I use a lot of their stuff for my day-to-day operations.

One of their newest products is this oddity called the “Cloud Pod” (compensated affiliate link) and is the subject of my latest video.

The Cloud Pod is a very simple network attached storage device (NAS) that allows for two USB-C portable SSDs to be connected and turned into network accessible drives.

It uses a 10 gig network connection (see my multigigabit coverage here) but it also appears to step down to slower speeds including 2.5 gig connections. It’s hindered by the slower USB Gen 1 speeds that max out at 5 gigabits per second. Most portable SSDs these days use faster Gen 2 connections that can achieve 10 gigabits per second. The result is that your drive on the Cloud Pod will perform at half the speed it does when directly connected to a computer. That said the USB ports don’t share a bus so each can deliver its full performance simultaneously (about 400 megabytes per second each).

The Cloud Pod has no security – no usernames, no passwords, nada. So devices on the same network that have SMB support (like everything) can access the Cloud Pod and read and write data from it. You can limit the device to read-only but it applies that rule to both drives.

It has a really cool status screen that it outputs through an HDMI output on the back to a display. Oddly there is no web control panel to monitor the device – you’ll only see status if you plug a monitor into it. The HDMI is an output only for the status screen – it doesn’t support ingest.

I was able to edit a 2 camera 4k 60 multicam project over a 10 gig connection with about the same performance I get when directly connected to the SSDs. But I was maxing out the connection with original media so a third camera angle would have created issues unless I switched to lower res proxy files. It supports syncing to Dropbox which might be useful for sending proxies to remote users. It says it supported Google Drive on the box but the software doesn’t yet support it.

The target market for this one is quite limited but I can see it being useful for a small production team. Just be super careful who has access to your local network because there is no way to restrict who can read, write, and change files on the drive.

New Video: Removing the Ticking Time Bomb from my Apple IIgs

In today’s video we’ll be taking apart my Apple IIgs and doing a little preventative maintenance. A video LGR posted on his channel this morning of his Apple II collection reminded me that I had to snip out a ticking time bomb inside my machine.

Many old computers have batteries that power volatile RAM for keeping time, saving system settings, etc. Over time those batteries tend to explode and leak their contents which often results in damage to the computer’s motherboard.

I was afraid of what I might find in my Apple IIgs when I cracked it open today. Thankfully my battery was a newer version that was more robust than some of the earlier IIgs batteries. But I snipped it out anyhow for good measure. My system won’t retain any settings until I come up with a replacement strategy but it is no longer at risk.

My IIgs is currently out of operation because of another widespread issue – exploding RIFA capacitors! Mine blew out when I was recording a video about my IIgs back in 2016. One of these days I’ll get it repaired and make another video about this beloved classic computer.

The Sensibo Air Makes Dumb AC’s Smart

I got in the Sensibo Air (compensated affiliate link) a little while back for review free of charge from the company and finally got around to setting it up. This will integrate most dumb AC units or ductless split systems into your home automation system. It supports the trifecta: Amazon Alex, Google Home, and Apple Homekit. Check out my full review on Amazon.

I tested it with my LG split system that I use for heat and AC down in the basement studio. I haven’t touched my LG’s remote since. It’s super simple to set up – in my case I just needed to point my LG remote at it and hit the power button. After that I had full control from my phone.

They have a lower cost version called the “Sensibo Sky” (affiliate link) that has many of the same features. The Air adds homekit compatibility, a faster processor (presumably for future feature releases), person sensing when paired with one of their room sensors, and it can be placed flat on a table. The Sky needs to be vertically mounted.

Both Sensibos have a built in thermometer and humidity sensor that can be used like a thermostat. It can turn your AC on and off based on temperature, humidity or a combination of the two.

It’s a little expensive for what amounts to be an IR blaster but its simplicity of operation will have you very quickly configuring your AC to consume a lot less power. I’m quite pleased with this one. Just be sure to check their compatibility page to ensure it’ll work with your unit.

New Video: Taking Back Ownership of my Content

Taking back and decentralizing my content is the subject of this week’s Weekly Wrapup video – this is number 400 in the series! The piece is largely about this blog and my plans for it. 

One of the founding fathers of blogging, Dave Winer, said:

Twitter grew out of the blogging world and the people of blogs and the norms of blogging moved here. That’s why Twitter is what it is. 

To a large degree a lot of people who used to blog a lot (myself included) found Twitter to be much more convenient with far greater reach. The reason is that it centralized the conversation and provided a feed with zero friction. Click the follow button and you were done. 

But what happened is that we turned over our content to the Twitter corporation. They made lots of money off that content and returned very little money to creators. And apparently it’s valued at $44 billion.

Given these developments I decided I needed a home base for written content that I owned and controlled. Hence this blog. And now everything that I post elsewhere will originate here! 

WordPress really impresses me. I used it extensively on a media startup I was working on about a decade ago and was very pleased with how many improvements they’ve made. You can pay them to host it or download the open source version and host it yourself. The cool thing is that WordPress federates content across all WordPress sites no matter where they are hosted and aggregates it into a mobile app feed that also has a useful content discovery engine. 

Its use of RSS allows that federation to go beyond WordPress’ platform. I’m using it to put together my morning and weekly email newsletters and sending them out with an excellent (and super inexpensive) email blasting tool called Sendy (affiliate ink). 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUxbSECUu0Y

New Video: Anker Nebula Cosmos Laser 4k Review

Buy one on Amazon: (compensated affiliate link) – Anker’s new Cosmos Laser projectors look great but are very pricey. There is, however, a narrow use case that this projector will work well for which is why I bought it.

I ended up getting a great deal on it. I preordered the 1080p version on their Kickstarter page a few months ago following its announcement at CES. When it showed up about two weeks ago they accidentally sent me the 4k version! Whoops!

Why I bought it: I always find myself in need of a projector for presentations & video playback for some of the things I volunteer with locally. I’m also the guy people call when they need a projector for whatever it is they are doing.

I have been using an old Acer that runs with a halogen lamp. It’s as bright as this laser projector but it runs at a low resolution and its halogen lamp is probably not long for this world.

So for my purposes this is an excellent replacement. It works great in a fully lit room, has an awesome set of speakers, and is relatively portable and easy to set up. The Android TV experience is the best I’ve seen on a projector to date. It better be for its price!

See the review here and find all of my projector reviews here.

New Video: Unboxing and First Impressions of the Nebula Cosmos Laser Projector

I preordered the Anker Nebula Cosmos Laser Projector when they rolled it out on Kickstarter. I ordered the less expensive 1080p version but it looks like they mistakenly sent me the 4k version! Here’s a link to the video.

My current projector that I use for presentations is almost 11 years old and was only 720p so I wanted something with comparable brightness that offered higher resolutions.

I am putting together a full review but in the meantime you can watch an unboxing and first impressions on the Extra’s channel. The visual quality is remarkable but it’s very pricey.

New Video: Review of the Airthings Wave Plus Radon Detector

See the review here. 

Buy one on Amazon (compensated affiliate link) – Radon is a dangerous radioactive gas that is the second leading source of lung cancer in the United States. The Airthings Wave Plus can detect Radon levels in a home over long periods of time and measures other air quality metrics.

What was interesting when we did the livestream unboxing the other day was how many people were not aware of the dangers of radon gas in their home. I had to put in a mitigation system when I bought my home to bring the numbers down.

See more smart home videos – http://lon.tv/iot

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DLmB4FxWxM

7 Ideas for Elon Musk’s Twitter

Twitter may be under new ownership soon if a mammoth $44 billion purchase by Elon Musk goes through. For this week’s Weekly Wrapup video I offer 7 ideas that I think would help make Twitter work better and perhaps even address how free speech can work on social platforms.

Here’s what I think Elon should do:

Eliminate “Blue Check” Elitism
Twitter has two classes of citizens: ones with a blue check and ones without. Blue checks are reserved mostly for people who belong to major media organizations or have enormous followings. They can upload much longer videos, filter out those of us without the checkmarks, and get other privileges. It’s time to level the playing field so every user has a chance.

Balance Political Content Recommendations
Social platforms have algorithms that could very easily provide viewers with multiple perspectives on hot button issues. But because they value attention and engagement more than responsible discourse they tend to only put things in front of viewers that they already agree with.

For nearly a century broadcast media has been required to follow an “equal time” rule. The way it works is that if I as a candidate for public office get interviewed for a news story, the broadcast station has to offer the same opportunity (and air time) to my opponent. The same rules apply to purchasing advertising – my opponent gets the same deal and time that I was offered. And a candidate’s advertisement cannot be censored – a political candidate can say anything they want in an advertisement.

There also used to be a “fairness doctrine” in the United States that required broadcasters to cover controversial topics and offer ample opportunities for opposing viewpoints.

So how would the algorithm determine what to recommend? Perhaps instead of topics they should look at behavior.

Moderate on Behavior – Not Topics
As the chairman of my local board of education one of my responsibilities is to ensure the public has an opportunity to be heard. We have an “audience of citizens” at our regular meetings where any citizen can come and address the board and share whatever they wish.

But there are limits to speech – and those limits typically involve the behavior of the speaker. For example shouting obscenities, inciting violence, and other behaviors that disturb the peace or regular order of a meeting could result in that person being asked to leave. Unfortunately modern social platforms tend to amplify and even promote bad behavior – rewarding conduct that does not contribute to constructive dialog.

Connecticut’s constitution has an interesting perspective on speech:

Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

Every right has responsibilities. If social platforms focus on both the RIGHT and the RESPONSIBILITY moderation could be done much more effectively – especially if it focuses on the behaviors of speakers vs. what it is they are trying to say.

There’s a great Twitter thread from Yishan Wong, the former CEO of Reddit, on this topic. It’s a great read that unpacks where Elon Musk is coming from related to free speech and how challenging it is to create a true online public square when everyone acts like imbeciles.

One place social platforms could look is how computer bulletin board systems (BBS) governed themselves. FidoNet, one of the largest international BBS networks in the 80’s and 90’s, spent a lot of time focusing on this problem. Their moderation rules focused almost entirely on the conduct & actions of users – not the messages they were trying to convey. There’s some wisdom in that.

Require Verification But Allow Anonymous Speech
Musk wants to “authenticate all real humans” in an effort to cut down on bots. But at the same time he should look at protecting anonymous speech – an important protected right here in the United States. This would also protect parody accounts which add a lot of value to discourse.

Twitter Blue Should Get Rid of Ads
Twitter Blue is a $3 monthly subscription plan that offers some additional features to the Twitter app. While it does offer some news content ad free, most of Twitter still includes advertising both as in-line tweets and as pre-roll videos.

I think Twitter Blue should work more like YouTube Premium and offer an ad free experience.

Yes, We Need an Edit Button
It’s a running joke at this point that Twitter does not allow users to edit a tweet after publishing. While Twitter Blue does have a “recall” function for a few minutes after posting generally the only way to edit a tweet is to delete it and do it again.

There are some legitimate concerns that editable tweets would allow someone to accumulate a ton of RT’s and Likes and then change the content to something different (and possibly offensive). But that could be easily mitigated by clearing them. In most cases the only time I want to edit a tweet is shortly after I post it.

Open Source Twitter’s Software & Federate Content
Finally I think Elon should go a step further than just open sourcing the algorithm. He should open source the entire codebase and give users the option to install their own self hosted Twitter application. Those self installs should be able to federate content with Twitter.com and other self-hosted users. This would be something similar to how WordPress makes their software available for free at WordPress.org but hosted at WordPress.com.

There’s definitely a lot to unpack here. Head over to the video and let me know what you think!