Copyright Reform: Updated

I sent my European Parliament members an email this morning about the EU extending copyright from the current term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 years to 95 years. The vote on this issue is going to be this Thursday.

Anyhow within today I got an email from both of my Liberal Democrat MEP’s today as well as from UKIP, all of whom agree with my position on the EU Copyright laws. From this I will definitely be voting Liberal Democrat in the next election.

The other amusing thing was that one of my Liberal Democrat MEP’s is a Baroness and she replied within minutes, I find it very interesting to see “establishment” figures like a Baroness agreeing with me politically here. Its actually like the Economist being pro-drugs legalisation. Now I agree about drugs legalisation for the same reasons that the Economist brings up, but regardless on your position it is definitely a liberal position to hold.

Amusingly if you read a more downmarket news source that the “common man” reads like the Daily Mail and the Sun they will be anti-drugs legalisation and much more right wing.

Anyhow I found out about this vote from Arstechnica, which led me to the following website. I personally thought the sample email given there is rubbish, so here is what I wrote instead:

I have heard that this week the European parliament is voting to extend
copyright terms for sound recordings. Personally I think this is a bad
idea as the terms are currently long enough.

I think this because independent studies including the UK governments
Gower report (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/gowers_review_index.htm)
are opposed to this move. This information is covered on pages 49 to 57
of the report. The University of Cambridge has also collected a list of
other independent studies and their conclusions which is available at
the following link:
http://www.cipil.law.cam.ac.uk/File/Studies+Signatories.pdf

According to the Gower Report the life of the vast majority of creative
works is very short – only 3% of record company income comes from works
released before 1966. Additionally when the US considered extending the
copyright term beyond 50 years, 17 economists including 5 Nobel prize
winners estimated that extending copyright beyond 50 years would have
no affect on investment decisions on new works as the income was to be
received so far into the future.

The flaws in this bill especially apply to retrospective copyright as
in those cases the works in question have already been made under the
current rules, extending those copyrights isn’t going to make more
works magically appear in the past as that is impossible, all that is
going to be done is that a few already very rich artists and record
labels will be made even richer while providing no net benefit to the
average citizen as according to the Gower report less music would be
available to the consumer.

Updated: I have to also credit the Green party representatives for getting back to me within just over 24 hours.

Software for the Mac

I personally am a Mac user, and have been for a few years now but one thing I notice is that lots of people will come and criticise my choice of computer based on lack of software support for the platform.

However while it is true that there are certain professional applications without Mac support to this day, such as AutoCAD* (a 3D design/engineering program) the truth is the situation is much less limited than people think.

Today, I wanted to download some photos from Flickr so I could show them to my family without an internet connection. So I picked up that there was a program called Downloadr to download them. Unfortunately this program is only available for Windows.

Although I have Windows installed on my MacBook (and I will probably get Windows 7 when it comes out later this year.) I prefer to use Mac OS X instead so I asked a question on MacRumors to see if I could find an equivalent Mac application. This didn’t come up with any promising answers so I set down to just use the Windows program. After getting it installed and creating a manual desktop shortcut and creating the folder in Program files (via 2 UAC prompts) for the program I loaded it up – unfortunately the program crashed straight away and so was essentially useless so I reported this to the developer and got on with my day.

Then later that evening I went back to the website to see whether the developer had had time to follow up my report (I admit I’m being impatient here :p) and found that they hadn’t but they had linked to a piece of software called Flickery which I clicked on to see what it was – and guess what. Its a Mac application.

Now actually this is only the third time that I have had a problem finding software for the Mac since I switched to the Mac back in 2004. The first time was for watching channel 4 TV shows on the computer, though actually now that has got a Mac version these days.

The second time was actually a little more important as the version of Microsoft Office for Mac is a bit weak on the Mac compared to the Windows version as it doesn’t come with all the bits like Access that the Windows version has.

The moral of the story is that while Macs may be expensive, you probably aren’t going to be short of software unless you are a high-end professional user or you need lots of advanced features out of Microsoft Office – one of the weaker Mac applications.

* = Though actually AutoCAD are talking about making a version for the Mac again at the moment. I hear there is some high-end mapping software that is Windows only, but I’m not sure what exactly that is.

Smart cards

I’ve got some smart cards left over for Tokyo, Singapore and Shanghai and the latter two even have some credit on them so if you’re going to any of those cities and would like a smartcard then drop me an email. Note that the one for Tokyo is less useful as if you dont have a railpass you get a “free” one with the narita express into central Tokyo.

Summary of the trip: Overall – new content

Note, I haven’t dealt with my photos yet, I’ll post when I’ve got them onto Flickr from the final part of my trip.

I do have a few extra awards that only make sense on an overall position looking at the whole trip, these are below:

Best country

China, overall I think my favourite country on the trip was China as it had good and surprisingly good museums as well as a lot of great sites. New Zealand, Peru and Japan also stood out.

Most difficult country to manage with only English

Japan and China, well neither of them uses roman script and although China is slightly harder to get around, the Chinese museums and sites mostly had excellent English translations. Whereas Japan was easier to get around, but the sites had poorer English translations. All-in-all I’m calling it a draw between the two.

Most useful material possession

iPod Touch for letting me write these blog posts when on buses and public transport and having lots of other useful information on it, from exchange rates to games. It looks like Apple will get all the features that everyone had over them as well.

Just because sometimes you book too much and sometimes too little I’m giving the next couple of awards:

Most overbooking

The flight from New York to Washington DC. given that the public bus was probably superior in every way the main reason was that I met a really cool girl called Sophie the night before who I didn’t get to know as well as I’d have like to. If you’re reading drop me an email (don’t worry if it takes a while to notice this).

Most underbooking

As I stray towards overbooking this didn’t happen very much – though hostels in China often gave a much better deal online than if you just turned up.

Summary of the trip: Overall

This is the overall awards for the trip as a whole – the winners are taken from the best of the previous winners. There is also a post on a few extra awards categories I have these are here.

Best site

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil it was great from so many angles, up close and far away. I think ultimately this has to be the overall best site winner.

Best museum

The Holocaust Museum, Washington DC, it tried so hard to just give the facts. I learnt a lot about the recent history of the Jews and that reflects heavily on the middle east today. Well worth a visit.

Honourable Mention

The Hermitage, St Petersburg, although I do think the impact from the Holocaust museum was stronger, this is definitely one of the best museums in the world, on a very short list with the Met (which should have got an honourable mention for the US awards) and the British Museum.

Best tour company

Oz Trails, Sydney for managing to organise and excellent and full one day tour of the Blue Mountains in Australia for a reasonable price as well.

Best city

St Petersburg, Russia, overall its beautiful and has lots and lots to do in every category.

Best non-Family accommodation

Te’ora, Easter Island, this award has been practically guaranteed since Easter Island, but Te’ora was amazing and I would definitely go back for the accommodation, unfortunately Easter Island is really the sort of place you only go once, I recommend it to all levels of traveller.

Best food for under US$25

The winner is Steak in Buenos Aires at a small restaurant at Defensa and Independencia which was above and beyond anything I’d had before, or since.

The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger

Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.

Burger Hut at Le Petit Village, Mooera for being absolutely delicious and a bargain for Tahiti.

Best nightlife

Chicago, USA, for its great nightlife in every category. I had a lot of fun there.

Best Activity

Acrobatics at the Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was breathtaking and kept my attention for the full 90 minutes of the performance, getting better and better to the climax.

Friendliest People

The Russians, the Russians always seemed to be friendly and went the extra mile to help pretty damn frequently, given their limited resources it was great to see.

Best Transportation Company

Japan Rail, Japan, any train company which can make you forget to photograph something as cool as the Shinkansen because it “just works” so well is incredible, every train has been virtually on time in the entire country and the transportation system here in Japan is nothing short of incredible. Japanese trains are how it should work everywhere.

Best bargain

The free temples in Japan for often being as good as some of those you have to pay to enter. I’m not obsessing about my Chinese clothes anymore anyway :p.

Biggest rip-off

Postada la bonita for accommodation worth a generous US$10/night costing US$100/night.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

The winner is Dan in Real Life for being the only romantic comedy I have ever seen that didn’t disappoint its genre by being a) funny and b) about real love.

Summary of the trip: Mainland Euroasia

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip and this is the award for the final third of the trip. As well as this I will follow this post with some overall awards which will include some additional awards as well. That post will follow this evening UK time.

Best site

The Great Wall, China, the Great wall was stunning, especially seeing it snaking off into the mountains – apparently 20% of the entire Chinese population worked on it at one point, meaning it probably wasn’t the great military success it was supposed to be.

Honourable Mention

Taj Mahal, Agra Although Agra and frankly the rest of northern India isn’t exactly the nicest part of the world to travel in, the Taj itself is absolutely stunning. Angkor Wat was pretty damn cool as well too.

Best museum

Hermitage, St Petersburg, although some of the artwork wasn’t amazing a large proportion of the artwork spread over 400 rooms was stunning, the rooms it was kept in were pretty good to look at as well.

Honourable Mention

Shaanxi Museum, Xian, this museum gave an excellent overview of Chinese history – excellent.

Best tour company

No Winner, all of the tours I have been on in this part of the trip have been significantly flawed though I have to admit I haven’t been on very many.

Best city

St Petersburg, Russia, St Petersburg is absolutely stunning to look at and it is great to see a European city that hasn’t been ruined by plate glass like Oxford has for example. The European style buildings that exist throughout the centre are stunning and the streets are wide enough as well.

Honourable Mentions

I thought that Singapore was going to win the best city award as there was enough to keep me busy for the 8 days while I was there, that was until I got to Beijing, which was frankly better as it has two world class sites within its city limits. It was then pipped to the prize itself by St Petersburg. This is undoubtedly the top 3 however.

Best non-Family accommodation

Etour hostel, Shanghai, I was going to give it to the Beijing Novotel but they offered a dodgy tour to the Great Wall so I’m not granting it to them, but Etour hostel was well located behind the JW Marriott on People’s Square. It also had a great lounge with good food and drink – and excellent staff and th

Best food for under US$25

Food court, apm, Beijing, after eating far too much Western food in China it was good to get some Chinese food for a change, and the apm food court in central Beijing was excellent.

Honourable mention

Singapore and Malaysia’s foodcourts for being consistently strong and cheap too.

The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger

Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.

Rice Burger @ MOS Burger, Singapore, this was gorgeous, disappointing I had to wait until Singapore before I could understand the menu enough to get to try a rice burger. The burger was delicious too – can we have a branch in Oxford please.

Best nightlife

St Petersburg, Russia, because clubs in half finished buildings are cool and the ballet was pretty solid as well.

Best Activity

The acrobatics, Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was absolutely awesome and kept me riveted to my seat for 90 minutes.

Friendliest People

The Russians the Russians always seemed to be friendly and went the extra mile to help pretty damn frequently, given their limited resources it was great to see.

Best Transportation Company

No Winner, nothing particularly stood out, but China rail, the metros in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and the buses in Xi’An were all pretty damn good.

Best bargain

“Russian” coat from Giordano, ¥299 for a coat that would probably be the better part of £100 in the UK was a great deal.

Biggest rip-off

The tour to the great wall for costing probably 3x as much as just doing it yourself on public transport with the Chinese and then taking us to a dodgy medicine centre on the way back.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

The winner is Milk, a great film on American gay rights – and given the “great” state of America at the moment, maybe it has wider importance to all the other issues in the country.

Saint Petersburg: part 2

I will also be having some awards for the last 1/3 of my trip as well as some overall awards – these will follow this post tomorrow.

The second day I was in Saint Petersburg I headed over to Peterhof by train, this train worked OK, but it did have the worlds dirtiest windows as it probably hadn’t had them cleaned since it was built or something! Anyhow after getting to Peterhof station I caught the bus to the castle itself and had a look around. It wasn’t busy at all when I was there (it was a Friday after all!) and the gardens and canal to the sea were snow covered – and so OK, but not amazing to look at. The fountains were also not working. What was incredible was the palace itself, which was absolutely gorgeous and sickeningly decadent with every room having more gold leaf and over the top decoration than the last – the house even has a full sized theatre!

Afterwards I tried to find some lunch onsite, but being Russia there didn’t seem to be any options so I made my way back to St Petersburg via a mothering bus conductor and an hour long wait for the train (as one train was cancelled) while my feet slowly froze. Then after getting back to St Petersburg I managed to quickly locate a McDonalds so I could blow my RDA of fat and sodium and protein by ordering a large McTasty, I got some ketchup with it, though unfortunately they decided I wanted two and I felt this was getting a little OTT. So I reduced the number to one as you had to pay for the ketchup. Clearly the Russians like getting the best possible value as the ketchup isn’t free. McDonalds isn’t the only one though. Pizza Hut also did it with the Garlic bread which you could practically order by the slice.

After this I then headed to St Isaac’s cathedral as I just had time to fit that in. St Issac’s cathedral is the main cathedral in St Petersburg and is absolutely massive and very beautiful – jaw-dropping at every opportunity. I also took in the great view from the rooftop of the surrounding city which was well worth seeing. After that I returned to the hostel to sleep. Fortunately the Russian smoker had left, unfortunately some French who wanted to stay up all night arrived. They weren’t that bad, but they did talk all night which given the paper walls in the hostel was pretty annoying.

The next day I was woken up bright and early by the French and so I got out and headed to the Hermitage, it wasn’t yet open so I went to a nearby branch of McDonalds to have some Blinis (traditional Russian breakfast) and use their free WiFi (the Russians seem to love the stuff) before the museum opened.

At 10:20 I then headed back to the museum. There was a queue and there also appeared to be lots of people standing around at the end of the queue with large gaps between them and the queue itself. So I “pushed” past them and joined the queue into the museum itself. Inside the museum I also picked up another photo taking ticket (£4 – though I’m sure you can get away without paying it if you aren’t too bothered about taking photos.) and the audio guide (£6). The audio guide was excellent however.

The museum itself was amazing and kept me entertained from 10:30am until 4:30pm, the building itself is also stunning in many places. Highlights included Rembrant, Monet, Picasso, a couple of Da Vinci’s and more. Obviously though as the museum was absolutely massive – having 400 rooms – not everything inside was amazing. The Hermitage also owns a few other buildings with art in them around town – including the General Staff building opposite the main museum which is housed in the Winter Palace. I didn’t have time to see this though.

After this I went to have an early pizza supper before briefly returning to my hostel to drop off my bag. At this point I only had 50 minutes before the ballet performance I’d booked to see at out the Mariinsky theatre. So I tried to catch a bus to the theatre. Unfortunately the first bus I saw with the right number didn’t seem to be going there and I couldn’t see one for a while so I ran down into the metro system and got a metro train for one stop. Unfortunately at that point I came up a different exit from before so I was a little lost until I asked at a stall where it was. So I then ran off through the streets to the ballet (as I didn’t trust the taxis) and arrived with about 1 minute to spare. After arriving I left my coat and got some opera glasses (crap – a waste of money unless your eyesight is really bad) and settled into my seat high above the action in a decently priced seat. Unfortunately I’d picked my seat too well – it was right in the centre but there was some theatre decoration straight in front of me, so I stood up before it started which amused the people behind me who *really* had to stand to see. Its a learnt lesson that generally you have to sit a little away from the centre if you’re sitting in bad seats in case there is some moulding right in the middle!

Then I sat down and the ballet started. The ballet itself was really good and was the first performance I’ve ever seen as well as being the first performance in the 9th international ballet festival at the theatre. There was a break in the middle and I got a cup of tea, surprisingly this was reasonably priced and I needed it as I hadn’t slept much. After this I saw the second half. As its ballet there is no spoken content but I could still understand a definite story – here is a link to the synopsis (I have to admit I didn’t pick up all of the plot though :p).

After this I returned to the hostel and on the way in I met up with some other people from the hostel and we went to my favourite restaurant again, followed by a pub for a “cheap beer” and followed by a Russian club inside a half finished building near the hostel – it was a really cool club inside however.

More on the Trans Siberian

I will also be having some awards for the last 1/3 of my trip as well as some overall awards – these will follow the second St Petersburg post.

First I want to talk about some details I missed about the Trans Siberian. One thing that seemed to happen every night is that snow blew from the track inside the carriages which was very amusing as you don’t often get to see snow inside and it was a strange site to see.

The other thing I missed was that the carriages are heated by coal so that they are still heated even when the wheels are being changed as you go from China to Mongolia (as the Russians/Mongolians use slightly wider track, this was done so the Germans couldn’t invade along the railway line from Europe which is the same width as Chinese track. This also helps when the engine is being changed as happens fairly regularly along the line.