Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 19/1/2006One of the biggest problems in IT is measuring stuff. Many an expensive system has been sold on the basis that it will improve productivity or cut down delays, without any real way proposed or implemented to check whether this is in fact what will happen.

Thursday 19/1/2006

One of the biggest problems in IT is measuring stuff. Many an expensive system has been sold on the basis that it will improve productivity or cut down delays, without any real way proposed or implemented to check whether this is in fact what will happen. In an extreme case, a problem can be identified, a solution proposed and a huge amount of time and money expended without anyone ever showing any connection with reality.

That goes for us journos too. We're far too eager to pin labels on without quantifying what we mean. That especially goes for evil. We need a scale, one that's triggered by events. Let's take our cub reporter Tom Espiner's experiences with EMI and Macrovision over the business of digital rights management — or digital restriction management, which is a more accurate expansion of the abbreviation. Just how evil is DRM? Over to Tom, who's kicked Charles out of the newsroom.

"I just had a conference phone interview with Stephen Stapleton, Director, Microsoft Worldwide Media & Entertainment and Andrew Hickey, chief technology officer, EMI, regarding EMI buying MS back office equipment to replace its IBM stuff. That went fine, until I decided to move on to DRM. When I started to ask some slightly tougher questions about consumer DRM and rootkits they told me it wasn't in their remit to answer. Almost simultaneously, the line became noisier and noisier, until the words were virtually inaudible. It was as though they'd put a delay pedal effect on it — everybody's voices were bouncing around like crazy."

Right. DRM causes mysterious and inexplicable chaotic effects if you dare ask about it. Psychic phenomena: five points.

"Later, I called Macrovision UK, as its their DRM that EMI use. The receptionist told me I couldn't talk to anyone as 'they are all out of the country'. What, everyone? Everyone. So I tried emailing the PR using the address on their Web site. It bounced. I tried some obvious variations, none of them worked. I phoned back . "No, we don't give out email addresses." So how do you suggest I contact her? "I'll put you through to her voicemail." And the line went dead. I called back again. "Tell you what," I said. "Just put a Post-It note on her monitor." The receptionist agreed, but we'll have to wait for everyone to come back from abroad before I find out whether it worked."

DRM makes everyone involved nervous and unwilling to discuss it. In extreme cases, they'll flee the country, disconnect their phones and scramble their email. That's another three points of evil. In total — DRM is eight on the Goodwins Scale. And that's very evil indeed.

Time to invent an evilometer to automatically detect the twitches of mischief in new technology. Calibrating it will be fun...

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