Free Your... Appliances?

Update: James Huston Ewing's latest antics have apparently prompted someone to set up Sveasoftsucks.com. If Ewing really did what the site claims, he's an even bigger slimeball than I already knew him to be based on the events described on the second page of this article.

It all started out as a way to save some money by avoiding purchasing a second PlayStation 2. My wife wanted to buy an imported PS2 from Japan so she could play the sequel to Kingdom Hearts, which was only available for Japanese consoles at that time. Rather than drop $250 for an imported console whose only difference from my existing console was that it would allow me to play games I legally purchased that the game company happened to think should only be available in Japan, I said "Why don't we just get a mod chip?"

A friend of mine who is the source of pretty much everything I know about mod chips suggested Divineo, so a few days later the mod chip showed up and I left it sitting on my wife's desk. She managed to install it herself (it's solderless) with only one screw left over, and now she can play her Japanese game on our American console. Yay! Of course, to this day that's the only game we have that requires the mod chip, because we're pretty off and on when it comes to console games.

This wasn't really our first experience with "Tim Tayloring" an appliance. I'd played around a little with making a satellite receiver receive transmissions without needing permission from the people responsible for irradiating my house with them, but that was more trouble than it was worth because I don't really watch TV all that much. Tim says I've "overclocked" my WRX just because I installed less crippled software on it and fixed a major design flaw in the exhaust system.

By far my most useful "freed" appliances are my Xbox and two Linksys WRT54Gs. After a few experiments using software flaws to get the Xbox to do what I wanted (which required burning DVDs - yuck!), Divineo came to the rescue again. I replaced the meager 10GiB hard drive with a 120GiB drive I wasn't using and now I can play games from my hard drive without having to get off my butt to put the DVD in and without risking damaging the original DVDs! On top of that, Xbox Media Center is far better than any off-the-shelf networked media player you can buy, and it doesn't require Windows, which is good because I'm not going to waste a perfectly good machine by putting Windows on it!

As for the WRT54Gs, these are just MIPS single board computers with four megs of that have onboard wireless with two external antennas, two serial ports, five ethernet ports four of which can be configured as a four port switch, four megs of flash, and sixteen megs of RAM. These boxes run Linux prior to version 5 (which also has half the flash and RAM). The stock OS doesn't have a lot of features, partially because Cisco doesn't want these boxes competing with their much more expensive gear. However, that's easily remedied by installing OpenWRT!

OpenWRT is not for anyone without a bit of Linux experience and/or an adventuresome spirit. You *will* need to use the command line even though the latest release candidate has the start of a web interface. However, it has ssh and most other things you'd want to use it as a wireless router already installed (except Broadcom's nas utility which is not open source but can be installed with a single command). It uses ipkg for package management, the same as Familiar Linux for the iPAQ and OpenZaurus.

If you want a more user-friendly third party firmware you could use HyperWRT or Alchemy. These are modified versions of the stock Linksys firmware with a few extra bells and whistles added like the ability to turn up the transmit power and be a bad neighbor (and burn out your WRT early). These do not have a package manager and again any major tweaking will require use of the command line, in which case you might as well run OpenWRT.

I'll finish up with a warning: don't bother plopping down $20 for Sveasoft's (the maker of Alchemy) Talisman firmware. I tried it because they claimed to have great QoS support, but while I got QoS working well in 1.0.5, the router would crash once a day and have to be powercycled, and attempting to use WPA would crash it immediately when certain wireless clients connected. Upgrading to 1.10 fixed the crashing problem but broke QoS, and the 1.11 development snapshots weren't even better.

I use my second WRT54G as a wireless bridge because my desktop machine kept crashing when using a Linksys WUSB54G with WPA. Unfortunately, the Sveasoft people were not smart enough to get layer 2 bridging working in Talisman. Instead they use something called "proxy ARP" which they did not set up properly, so nothing on the wireless network could connect to anything on the ethernet side of the bridge. I did figure it out on my own (command line again - the GUI was completely broken in this respect), but it works "out of the box" with OpenWRT even through their limited web interface. Yay!

If you care what happened when I suggested that Sveasoft refund my $20 for figuring out layer 2 bridging for them, see the next page. If not, consider this the end of the article :)

My post to Sveasoft's forum:

I finally got 1.11.devsnap.20051114 to work as a true bridge.

I started out by setting the web interface as "client-routed" which set wl_mode and wl0_mode to wet. For some reason I had to *change* wl_mode to wet_br0 and leave wl0_mode as wet, otherwise it would not associate. Then I had to ssh into the client wrt and do a "brctl addif br0 eth1" and everything started working. I can now see the correct MAC addresses of devices on both sides of the bridge, exactly as I expect, and TCP connections work both directions.

Now, the remaining questions are:

1. How do I get the "brctl addif br0 eth1" to stick?
2. Why isn't this the way client-bridged works already???

[b]Edit: never mind #1, I just added it to rc_startup. However, I'm quite curious about #2. It makes me think I should get my $20 back for having figured this out for the Sveasoft guys.[b]

Sveasoft deleted the last sentence from that post and sent me the following private message:

Quote:
It makes me think I should get my $20 back for having figured this out for the Sveasoft guys.

Be happy to refund your $20 and permanently ban all of your IPs and email addresses for attempting to spark a flame thread. This is a violation of our posting policies as described in the FAQ.

Let us know how you want to proceed.

I replied that if that's how they treated their customers then definitely refund my money and ban whatever they wanted. They disabled my subscription immediately, so I can no longer get to their support forums or the Talisman firmware I paid $20 for. That was two weeks ago. After a week I wrote and asked about the refund they'd offered. I haven't heard a peep from them. Can you imagine if a real company had that sort of policy on their support forums and went around simply cancelling people's subscriptions without refunding their money, just because they said something that could be construed as critical of the company?

Sveasoft already had a pretty bad reputation among the people I'd talked to that were into the third party WRT54G firmware thing. I should have listened.

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You're my hero Sean; I only

You're my hero Sean; I only got as far modding the PS2.

You'd like Make

You'd like Make Magazine

http://www.makezine.com

Joel - I read lifehacker,

Joel - I read lifehacker, which links to Make a lot. In general, when something of sufficient quality and functionality exists that is less expensive than the parts+labor of hacking something (and I value my labor highly), I buy it. I do enjoy hacking for hacking's sake, but there are other things I enjoy at least as much, so there's a limit on what I'll build myself. In the case of the Xbox, there is still no commercial networked media player that's as good as XBMC at any price. The WRT54Gs would have required devices that were 2-10x the price. In the case of the car, I saved a good deal of money over buying a car that started out with the level of performance I have and at the same time I get better fuel economy. In the case of the PS2 the mod chip was much cheaper, provides more functionality than a second PS2 would, takes up zero space, and required minimal labor to install. (I think that last sentence made a parallel structure error, but parallel structure will probably soon go the way of split infinitives and dangling prepositions if it hasn't already.)

The one thing I've done lately that violates this rule is to buy a 10MHz WWV receiver as a kit. I bought it to practive my soldering and because I wanted to set up a stratum 1 NTP server. All of the hacking I've been doing has actually significantly reduced my "hacking threshold."

If you're going to violate

If you're going to violate the terms under which the PS2 was originally sold to you then why not just pirate any IP when it saves you money?

If you’re going to violate

If you’re going to violate the terms under which the PS2 was originally sold to you then why not just pirate any IP when it saves you money?

That is one possibility; another is that different rules apply to transactions involving definite goods and those which do not. In this case, I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue that Sean doesn't legitimately own his PS2; who else could have a claim on it? The President of Sony? It's board of directors? The store he purchased it from? The manager of the employee who physically handed the PS2 to him?

Libertarianism just doesn't permit A to sell an item X to B with arbitrary conditions on how B uses X; it's not really a "sale" in such a case. If A still retains ownership over X, then A is engaging in fraud by pretending to sell it to B. There may be some high-flown moral obligation to follow whatever arbitrary rules the seller places on your behavior, but it can't really violate any rights.

I didn't agree to any terms

I didn't agree to any terms when I purchased my PS2. I gave them the money and they gave me a box and I took it home and played with it. Once the transaction is done, there is no further agreement they can bind me to. That applies to software as well.

It's hard for me to imagine any free market court enforcing a contract that one of the parties "agreed" to by failing to take an action such as returning a product to the store.

On the other hand, if I had to sign something to purchase the PS2 in the first place that included terms about how I could use it, I probably would not have purchased it, and I suspect a lot of people would think twice about doing so.

On the other hand, if I had

On the other hand, if I had to sign something to purchase the PS2 in the first place that included terms about how I could use it, I probably would not have purchased it, and I suspect a lot of people would think twice about doing so.

I think this case is what Kennedy implicitly has in mind. Even here I don't see that you necessarily have to follow whatever their rules are. What would you say to a grocer who sold bananas on the condition that you don't eat them? Or to a piano-seller who sells on the condition that you never play Brahms? The whole point of engaging in the transaction in the first place is to bring a definite material object under your control through a transfer of some kind. If you carry the underlying assumption here to its logical conclusion then nobody can ever "really" sell something, since everytime property changed hands the new owner would have to obey every restriction of a long chain of restrictions that previous owners had set on the property. That doesn't seem to be how the real-world, nor a free-market system, works.

Stefan: Libertarianism just

Stefan:
Libertarianism just doesn’t permit A to sell an item X to B with arbitrary conditions on how B uses X; it’s not really a “sale” in such a case. If A still retains ownership over X, then A is engaging in fraud by pretending to sell it to B.

By the same logic, if A places arbitrary conditions on how B uses X, and A makes those conditions clear to B, then A isn't really pretending to sell anything to B, is he?

You can say that it's fraud if the conditions aren't made clear up front and run counter to reasonable expectations B might have, but I don't buy the argument that this sort of agreement is inherent fraudulent or illegitimate. That said, enforcement by the government should, as with all laws, be subject to cost-benefit analysis.

What would you say to a grocer who sold bananas on the condition that you don’t eat them? Or to a piano-seller who sells on the condition that you never play Brahms?

"No thanks." Unless he gave me a good deal and I happened not to like Brahms. Then I'd be okay with it.

By the same logic, if A

By the same logic, if A places arbitrary conditions on how B uses X, and A makes those conditions clear to B, then A isn’t really pretending to sell anything to B, is he?

I'm not sure what you mean; I suppose in that sense that, yes, A would not be pretending to sell it, it would be more like leasing it. But I don't think anyone believes Sean is leasing his PS2 from Sony and that if he violates their lease agreement that means Sony can come take it back. But in any case, it seems common-sensical to me to say that Sean, in fact, bought the PS2, and now owns it.

That said, enforcement by the government should, as with all laws, be subject to cost-benefit analysis.

And how would you choose to measure those costs, exactly? Even assuming this makes sense, it merely strengthens my case, since monitoring every customer who ever buys any product and verifying they use that product in the "approved" manner is absurd on its face.

Sean, I must concede I don't

Sean,

I must concede I don't know under what, if any, conditions the PS2 was offered for sale to you.

If there were conditons listed on the packaging would you be obliged to respect them?

If there were conditons

If there were conditons listed on the packaging would you be obliged to respect them?

I think it will make the discussion more productive if we turn this question around and ask: What conditions should be legally obligatory upon purchasing a product? Obviously arbitrary conditions wouldn't be obligatory; the product could specify that the buyer agree to a contradiction, or that the buyer only wear pink the rest of his/her life. What about conditions conducive to the economic well-being of the seller? For example, consider a scenario where it deprives Sony of revenue if you open it up, figure out how to mod it so it plays normal DVDs, and tell the whole world, who then never ever buy a game again. Have you violated Sony's property in such a case? It's hard to see how, without claiming that Sony still owns the PS2 that they supposedly sold to you.

Suppose I sign a contract

Suppose I sign a contract saying that I will perform a service in exchange for payment in advance. Then I take the money and don't perform the service. Have I violated the other person's property rights in such a case? Is it hard to see how, without supposing that that other person owns me?

Stefan, Obviously arbitrary

Stefan,

Obviously arbitrary conditions wouldn’t be obligatory; the product could specify that the buyer agree to a contradiction, or that the buyer only wear pink the rest of his/her life.

I don't see why you can't contract to wear pink the rest of your life. I don't see why someone can't freely contract with you to do so on a candy bar wrapper. He wouldn't be entitled to specific performance but he'd be entitled to recover a candy bar if you showed up in chartreuse.

And if someone offers you an item in return for the impossible then I'd say you are not justified in taking possession of that item.

Have I violated the other

Have I violated the other person’s property rights in such a case? Is it hard to see how, without supposing that that other person owns me?

That's a pretty silly objection; obviously what you've done is to steal the money. Maids, plumbers, and singers don't become slaves when they show up for work. For more on the specifics of this debate Stephen Kinsella has a paper defending the view I have outlined here so briefly:

http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/17_2/17_2_2.pdf

but he’d be entitled to

but he’d be entitled to recover a candy bar if you showed up in chartreuse.

Under this scenario then you're suggesting Sean would be legally bound to return the PS2 (or it's monetary equivalent) once he had modified it in a way contrary to the original conditions. Yet still it seems to me you have to assume Sony owned the PS2 all along for this to work. If I understand what Sean and the sales clerk were doing when money changed hands, then it was more like shopping for food in a supermarket than leasing a rental car. However I will admit it's possible to rent PS2's; you can do that from many video stores. But I think Sean would say he wasn't in a rental-store when he purchased it.

That’s a pretty silly

That’s a pretty silly objection; obviously what you’ve done is to steal the money.

Likewise, if Sony gives you a game console in exchange for a combination of money and a promise to use it only in specific ways, and you renege on that promise, then you've stolen the game console, and Sony is entitled to seek damages. If you don't want to comply with the agreement, then you don't have to buy the console.

Again, this is a hypothetical situation in which the agreement is made explicit up front; I make no claims about Sony's actual practices or their effect on the enforceability of the PS2 EULA.

Likewise, if Sony gives you

Likewise, if Sony gives you a game console in exchange for a combination of money and a promise to use it only in specific ways

The flaw in the analogy is that a stipulation not to, say, dissassemble the console is not really a stipulation of a "service" to Sony, whereas the stipulation to appear for your singing performance would qualify as a service. To go into more detail in title-transfer language, the money is conditional on you rendering the performance, and becomes rightfully yours once the performance is rendered. Likewise, based on what I understand Sean is doing in this hypothetical example, the ownership of the PS2 is conditional on him paying money to the store clerk, and upon so doing it becomes Sean's property. Once the condition of a conditional transfer has been met, then the transfer "takes".

If it's something Sony wants

If it's something Sony wants you to do, or not to do, then doing it or not doing it is a service to Sony. And if you agree to perform that service, then you'd better be ready to perform it or pay damages for failing to do so.

It all comes down to one question: Do you support freedom of contract, or do you think that the government should refuse to enforce certain types of contracts that you don't like?

It all comes down to one

It all comes down to one question: Do you support freedom of contract, or do you think that the government should refuse to enforce certain types of contracts that you don’t like?

Well it's the limits of freedom of contract that are under discussion in the first place. If you want to phrase it in such simplistic terms, then for that matter, why not allow government to enforce voluntary slave contracts, death contracts, etc. Vive la chattel slavery!

If there were conditons

If there were conditons listed on the packaging would you be obliged to respect them?

John, unless agreeing to them were an explicit precondition to the transaction, I am not sure what libertarian court would enforce such a "contract." If there were some sort of customary precedent, perhaps. However, in fact the custom seems to go the other way, regardless of what the corporate-owned legislators try to do. Under contract law it is still necessary to have a signature or a verbal agreement with witnesses and even then there are still several defenses in breach of contract cases.

I'm in Japan right now, which is why I took so long to reply, so don't expect a response from me right away if you respond again :)