Has HD DVD’s AACS Protection Been Cracked Already?

Caught this on Gizmodo this morning:

They told us it was bullet-proof, unbreakable. Yet in a mere eight days, a hacker by the name of Muslix64 has managed to single-handedly break the Advanced Access Content System (AACS), the standard that Disney, Intel, Microsoft, Sony, and others developed to protect HD DVD and Blu-ray discs. Or has he? The BackupHDDVD software Muslix64 posted on a Doom 9 forum thread lets you decrypt Full Metal Jacket, Van Helsing, and a few other popular HD DVD titles, but there’s still no way of telling how he managed to get a hold of the decryption keys. Only time will tell if Muslix64 is the DVD Jon of the next-gen optical discs. – Louis Ramirez

If true, this is extremely interesting for a number of reasons.  The music industry is still in denial about what their customers want and will allow them to monetize, after years of digital music.  To date, most digital music is still acquired through a purchased CD and ripped to the MP3 format, which is compatible with all players.

It seems obvious, by default, that video will follow the same path.  That the preferred method of acquisition will be a lawfully purchased DVD (now less than $5.99 in some places), ripped easily to the MP4 format, with no digital rights management to deal with.

Wouldn’t it be ironic, if, in all the fury over the HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray formats, if one of them is cracked and the other isn’t?  The movie industry might swing to the “safe” format, while consumers might quickly gravitate to the one that allows them to more easily use the content (the “open” format).

Of course, both of these formats will be cracked in relatively short order.  It seems inevitable given the complexity involved in protecting content for delivery, and the literally millions of young hackers out there trying to become the next DVD Jon.

We’ll see if this one pans out.  It might be just a one-off crack for a few titles.

Red State vs. Blue State vs. Purple America

Sorry, a lot of politics tonight. I guess it’s all the news about President Ford.

Still, I had to share this. I don’t know how I missed it, but in all the debate about what it means to live in a “red state” vs. a “blue state”, I found an interesting graphic when browsing Wikipedia.

It all started with the link to the 1976 Election page.

I immediately noticed that this chart had the Democrats in Red, the Republicans in Blue – the opposite of the current color scheme in use. In fact, I then found this very interesting piece on the origins of the entire color scheme here.

Prior to the 2000 presidential election, there was no universally recognized color scheme to represent the parties. The practice of using colors to represent parties on electoral maps dates back at least as far as the 1950s, when such a format was employed within the Hammond series of historical atlases. Color-based schemes became more widespread with the adoption of color television in the 1960s and nearly ubiquitous with the advent of color in newspapers. Early on, the most common—though again, not universal—color scheme was to use red for Democrats and blue for Republicans. This was the color scheme employed by NBC—David Brinkley famously referred to the 1984 map showing Reagan’s 49-state landslide as a “sea of blue”, but this color scheme was also employed by most news magazines. CBS during this same period, however, used the opposite scheme—blue for Democrats, red for Republicans. ABC was less consistent than its elder network brothers; in at least two presidential elections during this time before the emergence of cable new outlets, ABC used yellow for one major party and blue for the other. As late as 1996, there was still no universal association of one color with one party.[2]; if anything, the majority of outlets in 1996 were using blue for the GOP and red for the Democrats.

But in 2000, for the first time, all major media outlets used the same colors for each party: Red for Republicans, blue for Democrats. Partly as a result of this first-time universal color-coding, the terms Red States and Blue States entered popular usage in the weeks following the 2000 presidential election. Additionally, the closeness of the disputed election kept the colored maps in the public view for longer than usual, and red and blue thus became fixed in the media and in many people’s minds.[3] Journalists began to routinely refer to “blue states” and “red states” even before the 2000 election was settled, such as The Atlantic’s cover story by David Brooks in the December 2001 issue entitled, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible.” Thus red and blue became fixed in the media and in many people’s minds [4] despite the fact that no “official” color choices had been made by the parties.

Fascinating.  So we owe the current “red state”, “blue state” terminology to:

  1. The invention of color TV
  2. The standardization of treatment in 2000 by the networks
  3. The decision to use the opposite treatment for liberal vs. conservative that the rest of the world uses (typical)

Probably the most interesting picture I found here was the link to Purple America:

As someone who has only participated in elections in either the SF Bay Area or Boston, it was nice to see that the nation as a whole, even now, is far more balanced than you might think.  People seem to quickly forget how shockingly close all of the last 4 elections have been.  Amnesia seems to be tied to your party squeaking out the win.

Anyway, just an intellectual tidbit for this evening.  I’ll be back to personal finance topics soon – those do seem to be the aggregate favorite for this blog.

A Brief Note for President Gerald Ford (1913-2006) & My Historical Blind Spot

I’ve been reading a lot of the coverage this week about President Ford.  It has been extremely educational for me, since Gerald Ford falls into what I call my historical blind spot.

Almost everyone is familiar with the blind spot you suffer when you drive a car.  Off to the right, and down to the back, there is a triangle that seems like it should be visible in your mirror – but it isn’t.  Trucks & vans often have a worse blind spot than cars.  It’s a fascinating thing – so obvious when you look at it on paper, but so hard to recognize when you are actually driving.

I think the same thing happens to people around history.  Most people learn their history in two places: in primary & secondary school, and then throughout life as they are living it.  For example, my most in depth course work in history was in high school when I took AP US History in the 11th grade (1990).  Incredible depth and memorization of names, treaties, bills and events in the 18th & 19th centuries, all the way through about 1965.  Once we got past Kennedy & Martin Luther King, all of a sudden, the textbooks turned to mush.  A few days here and there of miniscule coverage of Vietnam, Watergate, and a couple of oil crises for good measure.  Stagflation.  Voodoo economics.

High school is also the time when I began following current events in some detail.  I participated in policy debate on topics ranging from retirement savings, prison reform, nuclear proliferation and space exploration.  I read several newspapers daily.

I’ve noticed since then, however, that I have a historical blind spot that dates from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s.  Sorry, no memory of Ford or Carter, although technically I was alive at the time.  I have some memory of the early 1980s, which has made it easier to fill in detail about the decade over time.  (My favorite, of course, was re-watching the televised Reagan-Carter debate in 1980 on PBS.   Although it was a landslide for Reagan, both in the debate and election, both seemed so much more coherent and direct than any modern debate I recall watching.)

Is this common?  Do most people have a historical blind spot between the time that their in-school history material ran out, and before their personal experience began?  As I read more about Gerald Ford’s Presidency, it feels strange that I know more about the 1930s than the 1970s.

Let me be clear, I certainly knew about Nixon’s pardon.  But not the rich color around it.  Not the detail I’ve been seeing the recent newspaper coverage.  Actually, Wikipedia has been wonderful here as well.  Their section on Gerald Ford is great, and the detail about the 1976 election is also great.  I think I was missing a significant part of history here.

Anyway, I’m going to augment my reading list for 2007 with some more material on the 1970s.  I think my approach to it has been too segmented (space policy, energy policy, monetary policy, etc) rather than a holistic view.  I’ll likely start with some of the biographies that will be hitting the presses momentarily.

The 2007 First Spouse 24K Gold Coin Program (Companion to the Presidential $1 Dollar Coin Program)

Some new detail is now available on the US Mint website about the companion program to the new Presidential $1 Dollar Coin Program launching in 2007.

In case you missed it, I’ve written a couple of posts about the program, and they have both been fairly popular over time:

Some interesting detail about the program:

The United States is honoring our Nation’s First Spouses by issuing one-half ounce $10 gold coins featuring their images, in the order that they served as first spouse, beginning in 2007 with Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, (Thomas Jefferson’s Liberty) and Dolley Madison. The obverse of these coins will feature portraits of the Nation’s First Spouses, their names, the dates and order of their term as first spouse, as well as the year of minting or issuance, “In God We Trust” and “Liberty.” The United States Mint will mint and issue First Spouse Gold Coins on the same schedule as the Presidential $1 Coins issued honoring the Presidents. Each coin will have a unique reverse design featuring an image emblematic of that spouse’s life and work, as well as “The United States of America,” “E Pluribus Unum,” “$10,” “1/2 oz.” and “.9999 Fine Gold.”

When a President served without a First Spouse, such as Thomas Jefferson, a gold coin will be issued bearing an obverse image emblematic of Liberty as depicted on a circulating coin of that era, and bearing a reverse image emblematic of themes of that President.

The United States Mint will also produce and make available to the public bronze medal duplicates of the First Spouse Gold Coins.

A few key points stand out to me here, as a collector:

  1. These coins will be expensive. These look like they will be the second series of coins in US history to be a full 24K gold (99.99% pure). The first, of course, was the new 2006 American Buffalo, and at one ounce the proof version of this coin sold for $800. Given that the price of gold is not likely to decrease much in the near term, it’s likely that each of these coins will retail at between $400-$500 in proof form, making this a $2,000-a-year habit for the collector. Compare this to the US State Quarter program, where a 90% silver version of each year’s coins would only cost you $20-$40, depending on whether you bought the quarters alone, or the full year silver proof set.
  2. No detail on bundled sets, yet. It stands to reason that the US Mint will produce some form of collectible proof set of the matching gold coin and presidential dollar… but what form will be the favorite? Would you rather have a single set of all the coins for the year? Or each President, paired with their first spouse? Does it really make sense to have a manganese-brass coin for the President, and 24K solid gold for the first spouse? I’m a little afraid the US Mint is going to be over-eager here, and produce too many versions of these coins to be anything but frustrating to collectors.
  3. Trivial Pursuit, First Spouse Edition. Martha Washington, most people know. There will definitely be some fun in identifying which Presidents actually served without spouses, or which Presidents served with two. (You can find the answers to these questions already in the US Mint schedule, available on their site.) I will admit, when I think of Dolley Madison, I think of baked goods, not gold coin #4. Is anyone, beyond speculators, really going to jump at purchasing these coins?

As a collector, I guess this comes down to one question: will there be enough demand for these coins to generate a good long term return. Unlike the dollars, these will not be in general circulation. Will they be treated like bullion coins (fantastic long term returns to collectors) or like special-edition commeratives, which tend not to appreciate over time?

When I first heard about the program, I thought that it was too expensive, but there might be real long term demand for “popular” spouses – Martha Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacquiline Kennedy… Now, I’m not so sure.

Recently, I’ve been shocked by the sky-rocketing price for the new, uncirculated silver eagle from the US Mint. As a new issue in 2006, this was not a proof coin, just a new, uncirculated silver eagle in a nice case for $17 from the US Mint. The price on eBay is now over $50, largely because it turns out that this was the only way to get the “W” mint-mark coin, and relatively few people acquired it. Right now, this version is worth almost double what the much prettier, proof-version of the silver eagle is worth.

Will the pattern be the same for these coins? Will Dolley Madison end up selling poorly in 2007, resulting in a sky-rocketing price in 2015 when everyone realizes they need Dolly Madison to complete the set? Will anyone be trying to complete this set, at an aggregate cost of over $16,000 at today’s prices?

If you are a coin collector out there, I’d love to hear from you.

Update (6/19/2007): I’ve just posted a new article on the launch of the coins, today, at the US Mint website. $429.95 for the proof coin, $410.95 for the uncirculated coin. Shipping will start on July 4th. Total mintage: 40,000 coin limit per first spouse, regardless of type of coin.

Update (6/21/2007):  The first spouse coins sold out in approximately 2 hours!  Unbelievable.  Check out this post for more information, and a link to current prices on eBay.