Many of the almost 24,000 technical standards maintained by the International Standards Organization (ISO) are subject to copyright restrictions and are not freely available.
Two weeks ago, Jon Sneyers, senior image researcher at Cloudinary and co-chair of the JPEG XL (ISO/IEC 18181) adhoc group, invited fellow technical experts to collaborate on an open letter urging the ISO to set its standards free.
In an email to The Register, Sneyers explained that paywalled, copyrighted standards inhibit education and innovation.
“Specifically for JPEG XL (or codecs in general), a free spec makes it a lot easier for external enthusiasts to make an alternative implementation,” he said “Often this would be done as a free-and-open-source software hobby project, not necessarily with the goal to make a better implementation, but just as a personal learning project. With a free spec, there might be a few of such attempts, some failing, some succeeding.”
The value of alternative implementations, he contends, is that they help verify the correctness of the spec. He notes that libjxl, the reference implementation of the JPEG XL spec, is the only such library at the moment, which makes it less likely discrepancies between the spec and the implementation will be found and more likely that libjxl, compliant or not, will become the de facto standard, thereby diluting the authority of the ISO spec.
“With a paywalled spec, there will likely be no such attempts, because a hobbyist is unlikely to pay a big fee up front just to read the spec (which is something you’d do before you even decide to have a go at it and try to implement it),” he said.
Via Twitter, Ian Graham, senior lecturer in operations management at the University of Edinburgh, explained the problem with paywalled specifications succinctly. “It is very difficult to teach about ISO standards when the students can’t access them,” he said.
The collaborative open letter notes that in 2019 the Switzerland-based ISO, which through its national affiliates brought in 6.6m CHF ($7.28m) from publications sales and 12.9m CHF ($14.23m) in royalties from publication sales by national affiliates, earned almost as much in spec fees as the organization collected in membership fees that year (21.2m CHF or $23.39m USD).
And it claims that the ISO Central Secretariat has “begun strictly and narrowly enforcing the criteria for Publicly Available Standards (PAS)” by paywalling new editions of standards that were formerly free, redefining Technical Reports so they can no longer be free under any circumstances, and “pressuring other standard organizations with which it collaborates and that have a policy of publicly available standards (e.g. ITU-T), to change their policy towards making joint documents non-publicly available.”
Sneyers believes the ISO should be moving in the opposite direction by tearing down its paywall.
“I think international standards are great for worldwide interoperability and as a way to do knowledge transfer: collecting best practices and international expertise and condensing it into a standard,” he said. “I see a paywall as a significant obstacle to that.”
A handful of other technical experts have already signaled their agreement as co-signatories, including:
Luca Versari, ISO/IEC JTC 1 / SC 29 / WG 1, editor of ISO/IEC 18181 (JPEG XL)
Leonard Rosenthol, Chair of ISO TC 171/SC 2, member of various TC’s including ISO/IEC JTC 1 / SC 29 / WG 1 and project leader for over a dozen different standards.
Jeff Hammond, ISO/IEC JTC 1 / SC22 / WG5 (Fortran) and WG21 (C++) contributor
JF Bastien, SC22 / WG21 (C++) EWG Chair
Eric Portis, W3C WICG & WHATWG participant
Patrick H. Lauke, W3C PEWG chair, W3C AGWG member
The letter cites numerous arguments for a policy change. Among them: resentment from technical experts who write standards without compensation only to see the ISO charge for their free labor; the risk of irrelevancy if experts choose to pursue standardization through other organizations that don’t charge; and the possibility that the ISO’s reputation for neutrality will be tarnished if it’s perceived as a for-profit entity.
The ISO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sneyers’s campaign echoes similar paywall demolition initiatives, such as the ongoing effort to make US court document service Pacer available at no charge, as well the late Aaron Schwartz‘s attempt to open up JSTOR, and, of course, Sci-Hub.
Carl Malamud, a public domain advocate and president of public.resource.org, lauded Sneyer’s effort to change the ISO.
“Standards that are not freely available lose their very reason for being,” said Malamud, who has spent years working to make US government documents freely available. “Standards required by law that are not freely available are a violation of a key principle of the rule of law: that the law must be promulgated to be valid. This is particularly true for public safety standards. ISO will lose relevance in our modern world if they do not change their approach to this important issue. They are on the wrong side of justice with their current stance.”
“This effort by so many senior ISO participants to make sure their important work remains relevant is very commendable,” he added. “I hope they will have some impact on the organization.”
Sneyers said he has no immediate plans to present this letter, which he hopes will spur discussion of reform within the national standardization bodies. He said he has been reaching out to other ISO members who share his view about the need to make standards freely available, but he is considering opening the movement up to the public and policymakers.
“The national bodies (ANSI, DIN, etc) are where this discussion will have to be had first, because they are the only ones that can really influence ISO,” he said. “I am mostly just trying to give ammunition to those who want to start that discussion.” ®
The data integration business growing its EMEA HQ in Dublin is set for further expansion following a $5.6bn valuation and key acquisition.
Silicon Valley-headquartered Fivetran has announced $565m in Series D funding alongside a deal to acquire HVR.
This latest funding round sees the automated data integration provider’s value reach $5.6bn just over a year after it first reached unicorn status.
The funding round from new and existing investors included General Catalyst, CEAS Investments and Matrix Partners. Andreessen Horowitz led the round, which also brought in new investors Iconiq Capital, D1 Capital Partners and YC Continuity.
In total, Fivetran has raised $730m to date. And in tandem with its Series D funding round, the company also announced a $700m cash and stock deal to acquire data replication business HVR.
‘Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure’ – MARTIN CASADO, A16Z
For Fivetran’s mission to help businesses make use of the data they have, in a way that is quicker and requires fewer resources, HVR brings database replication performance along with enterprise-grade security.
“HVR is a recognised leader for enterprise database replication and shares our same vision – to make access to data as simple and reliable as electricity,” said Fivetran CEO George Fraser. “Their product is the perfect complement to our automated data integration technology and will be instrumental for us to help enterprise organisations that want to improve their analytics with a modern data stack.”
Fraser added that the latest injection of funding from investors will enable the company to expand its capabilities and accelerate its global growth.
Fivetran established its EMEA HQ in Dublin in 2018. The following year, fresh investment saw the company plan to double its Irish workforce. Last summer, a $100m funding round saw these expansion plans furthered.
In terms of market opportunity, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado says Fivetran is a “critical component” of the modern data stack, which represents “a paradigm shift for global enterprises, with billions of dollars of revenue at stake”.
“Without an always-on, accurate and reliable way to centralise data, global organisations aren’t maximising the use of data or data infrastructure,” said Casado.
The acquisition deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to close in early October, subject to regular approvals.
Customers from both companies are expected to benefit from each of the business offerings. On the side of Fivetran, this client list includes Autodesk, DocuSign, Forever 21, Lionsgate and Square, while HVR services dozens of Fortune 500 brands.
“Combining HVR and Fivetran will enable a next-generation solution that will better inform business decisions by providing the freshest data available,” said HVR CEO Anthony Brooks-Williams.
“We’re thrilled to be joining forces with Fivetran and look forward to what this incredible opportunity will provide for our growing team, partners and customers.”
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The latest iteration of Amazon’s battery-powered Ring doorbell adds a new feature to capture the early details of events most competitors would miss without needing to be plugged in.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and can be installed in any home with wifi. It tops Ring’s battery-powered range, which starts at £89.
The look and basic function of the Doorbell 4 is very similar to Ring’s older models. It has a camera with night vision, motion sensors and a large doorbell button.
When someone pushes the button Ring’s signature chime plays and an alert is sent to your phone. You can view a live feed and speak through the doorbell using the app from anywhere with internet. If you don’t answer, the new “quick replies” feature is like an answering machine for your door, recording caller’s messages. And it works as a motion-activated security camera too.
Four seconds of pre-roll
Most battery-powered doorbells sleep until motion is detected to save power, which means they typically only capture the second half of an event as it takes time for the camera to wake up and start recording.
Ring’s “pre-roll” system fills in the gap before the motion sensor is tripped. It takes a clip from a looping four-second lower-resolution colour recording that can be operated all the time without draining the battery too much.
It is a gamechanger for battery doorbells, giving you a much better idea of what has happened before the main camera fires up.
Video, motion and replay
The main 1080p HD video is clear and sharp enough to discern faces and name tags, and recorded HDR (high dynamic range) to better handle the sun shining straight at your door. The infrared night vision is bright and clear, too.
You can adjust the motion sensitivity and define areas you want monitored so that you only get notifications when something happens in the chosen zone, which is particularly useful for avoiding notification overload if your doorbell faces the street.
While standard motion and doorbell notifications, live view and pre-roll are free, you need to subscribe to Ring Protect to get the most out of the doorbell. A free 30-day trial is included so you can see what it does, and plans start at £2.50 a month, but it is essentially cloud recording for your videos as they are not stored locally.
You get up to 30-day event history, messages recorded by visitors from the quick replies feature and still snapshots taken every 14 minutes to fill in the gaps between events.
Ring Protect also enables smart motion alerts, to differentiate between people and other things such as cars, and rich notifications, which show an image of the motion or person within the alert on your phone.
Set up and battery life
Setting up the doorbell is very easy. It comes with screws and wall plugs, plus a bracket for angling the camera towards your door if needed and cables for attaching it to an existing doorbell wire and chime if you have one.
Once it is mounted you just slot the battery in the bottom, open up the Ring app on your smartphone and scan the QR code on the side of the bell. The app will run through the rest of the setup in about five minutes.
If you don’t have a traditional chime you can buy the wireless £29 Ring Chime or use any existing Amazon Alexa devices in your home to ring instead.
Battery life varies depending on how many features such as snapshot and pre-roll you have on and the number of motion events and live views. With everything active and capturing roughly 45 events a day, the battery lasts about a month. I would buy a second £20 battery as it takes at least five hours to fully charge the battery via microUSB.
You can block the recording of certain parts of the camera’s view such as your neighbour’s drive using privacy zones. Ring has recently added options to limit how long recorded videos are stored on a camera-by-camera basis, strengthened account security with two-factor authentication and, in addition to standard encryption, has enabled the activation of end-to-end encryption (E2EE) for videos.
E2EE offers the strongest protection and means only the mobile devices you select can decrypt and watch captured videos. No one else can see the video, not even Ring. But with E2EE turned on some more advanced features such as pre-roll, snapshots, the event timeline, rich notifications and Alexa integration for watching a live feed from an Echo Show cannot be used.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is generally repairable and a range of spare parts, including the rechargeable battery, are available at reasonable cost. Most parts are also interchangeable with older models. The company will support its devices with software updates for least four years from the point it stops selling the device on its site, and continues to support all of the devices it has sold so far.
The response time to live view requests through the app is shorter than previous Ring models, but it can still take a few seconds to answer the door, so Ring has a separate stripped-down Rapid Ring app that is faster to load, which can be used for answering rings alongside the main Ring app.
Alexa smart displays can show a live feed on demand or automatically when the doorbell rings.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 costs £179 ($199.99/$A329) and Ring Protect costs from £2.50 a month.
For comparison, the Ring Video Doorbell (2nd gen) costs £89, the Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2 costs £219, the Google Nest Doorbell costs £179.99 and the Arlo Video Doorbell Wire-Free costs £179.
The Ring Video Doorbell 4 is yet another great battery-powered smart doorbell from Amazon.
It intentionally doesn’t look any different from previous versions, so that parts are interchangeable and the older models don’t look dated. But it wakes up faster, the colour pre-roll captures much more of each event and its night vision is really good.
It can be installed almost anywhere but it needs good wifi so you might need a booster. You’ll probably need the extra £29 Chime too, which brings the real cost to £189 as a bundle, plus the £2.50 a month subscription to really make the most out of it as it doesn’t have local video storage.
Note the Ring Android app has an extremely annoying hard-coded pattern of four strong and long vibrations for every motion alert. It cannot be changed, which forced me to disable motion alerts entirely and lost the Doorbell 4 a star. Ring said it is working to fix the problem by the end of the year. This issue does not exist for the Ring iPhone app, however.
Pros: easy to install, clear video, great colour pre-roll, lots of accessories, solid iPhone app, faster, quick replies, snapshots, Alexa device integration, great as a regular doorbell replacement, end-to-end encryption available.
Cons: no local storage means you need Protect subscription for event review, no constant video recording, fairly wide for some door frames, battery needs charging once a month, Chime likely needed.
Linus Torvalds has revealed that winding back the decision to default to -Werror – and therefore make all warnings into errors – has made for another messy week of work on the Linux kernel.
“So I’ve spent a fair amount of this week trying to sort out all the odd warnings, and I want to particularly thank Guenter Roeck for his work on tracking where the build failures due to -Werror come from,” Torvalds wrote in his weekly missive about the state of kernel development.
“Is it done?” he asked rhetorically. “No. But on the whole I’m feeling fairly good about this all, even if it has meant that I’ve been looking at some really odd and grotty code. Who knew I’d still worry about some odd EISA driver on alpha, after all these years? A slight change of pace ;)”
Torvalds expressed his annoyance that his efforts have seen him enter “fix one odd corner case, three others rear their ugly heads” territory.
But he’s willing to wear the pain. “I remain convinced that it’s all for a good cause, and that we really do want to have a clean build even for the crazy odd cases,” he wrote.
And if he must handle this sort of thing in any week of the kernel production cycle, it might as well be the week of rc2.
“I hope this release will turn more normal soon – but the rc2 week tends to be fairly quiet for me, so the fact that I then ended up looking at reports of odd warnings-turned-errors this week wasn’t too bad,” he wrote.
Late last week, Torvalds also took some time to share what he described as “the true 30th anniversary date” of Linux.
On September 17th he wrote “a random note to let people know that today is actually one of the core 30-year anniversary dates: 0.01 was uploaded Sept 17, 1991.
“Now, that 0.01 release was never publicly announced, and I only emailed a handful of people in private about the upload (and I don’t have old emails from those days), so there’s no real record of that,” he wrote. “The only record of the date is in the Linux-0.01 tar-file itself, I suspect.
“Just thought I’d mention it, since while unannounced, in many ways this is the true 30th anniversary date of the actual code.”
So The Register though it worthy of mention, too. ®