EVTV is an experiment in a publishing concept I originally developed at Boardwatch Magazine. The concept is TOTAL NICHE DOMINANCE and what it means is that you produce a publication so specialized in a specific microindustry and so immerse the publication not only in the journalistic process, but even the industry development process that you become totally niche dominant. In other words, you become so immersed in the industry you cover that wannabe competitors, whatever their other features might be, stay wannabees. They are viewed as outsiders, while you are viewed as part of the industry itself.
This necessarily requires that you eschew the easy work of just interviewing people artfully and avoid acquiring knowledge of the topic itself – the motif of today’s television journalists. You have to learn the industry at the bit banging level.
The whole concept is actually very forgiving of failure. Realistically, whenever you get to a sufficiently specialized area, anyone in the area doesn’t read ONE magazine or ONE news source, they tend to scan ALL sources on their topic of interest – good, bad, frequent, or infrequent. But total niche dominance is kind of the mark that you want to be the 800 lb gorilla in the space. The publication all others are measured by.
I’m kind of pleased with my mailbox these days. We’re up to about 175 e-mails per day. And it occurs to me this day that I should express some gratitude.
You see while I often TRY to put on a positive attitude, much like an ill-fitting coat, I’m actually kind of a saturnine personality. And I’m generally quite negative. Part of this springs from our publishing style. I originally very consciously adopted my favorite computer columnist John C Dvorak’s style. John is known as a “curmudgeon” largely because his way of commenting on the industry is basically to whine about it. Every article is a form of complaint. And that makes it somewhat easy to comment on what should be instead of what is. I fell into the same style so naturally, that for about six or eight of our years publishing Boardwatch, we were actually favored to feature John C. Dvorak in Boardwatch. He didn’t come cheap. But we were thrilled to have him.
So picture the day. I get 175 e-mails, and 168 of them are enormously positive. Three of them simply require fixing some real or imagined slight of a customer who bought something and didn’t get all the screws. Leaving four really negative e-mail messages. Care to guess which messages go through my mind over and over all day long?
In the United States Navy, which I had a brief 74 month encounter with in my youth, we had a saying. “One aw-shit wipes out ten attaboys.” And so I focus on the negative.
Bottom line, I’m a whiner. Some would say a professional whiner.
This week then can only be described as bliss. I am first reminded of the almost embarassing generosity of our viewers. And THEN I get something REALLY big to WHINE about. All in the same week.
In truth, I’m buried in very laudatory e-mails unabashedly thanking me for existing. And indeed UPS literally delivers a dozen boxes a day of t-shirts, ball caps, bottles of wine and beer, bumper stickers, while the e-mails include dozens of photos of builds and smiling builders, videos, links to OTHER people’s videos, etc. It’s like drinking from a firehose.
By way of example, we had two viewers drive EIGHT HOURS to our facility in Cape Girardeau, for the express purpose of repairing my Azure Dynamics built Ford eTransit Connect, which the view of it laying inert on the shopcam apparently offended their sensibilities. And of course, after affecting repairs, they had another eight hour drive home. Gave up their weekend with their family. It’s just impossibly generous. And in this weeks episode, as you will see quite successful.
At the same time, I’m in full enraged rant and rail over the temerity of the existing automobile manufacturers as they come out of the closet and actually publicly proclaim that THEY own the software and information you need to repair or modify your vehicle, and YOU not only do not, but are patently and by blanket endorsement NOT QUALIFIED to work on your own car and should in a right world be BARRED FROM ATTEMPTING it as a matter of law and good public policy. Only THEY are actually competent to make any repair to your vehicle, no matter how minor. It’s hard to speak on camera in between bouts of PROJECTILE VOMIT. But I’ve had a week of reading through smarmingly greasy legalese couched in unctious appeals to the public good and the safety of poor innocents everywhere greasily coating abject unabashed demands for greed and money perpetuating the victim status of the American consumer. That it is obviously badly written by the grossly incompetent is small consolation. I suppose I am relieved to see that it is so unapologetically self serving that I can rely on the native intelligence of government bureaucrats to readily see through it and rule against them.
I am most pleased to be able to note on this April day in 2015, that twenty five years ago we reported in Boardwatch Magazine the formation of a non-profit organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Originally born of the vision of Grateful Dead lyricist and Whole Earth Lectronic Link resident cyberpoet/scribe John Perry Barlowe, this organization was formed to defend our rights on a new “digital frontier”. Barlowe was joined early by Mitch Kapore, a heroically successful for that day entrepreneur and head of Lotus 123, the dominant spreadsheet software program of the time. The third key supporter was John Gilmore, who was Sun Microsystems employee number of five and really at the heart of the very early days of the Internet. So early, his TOAD.COM remains probably among the oldest dozen or so of Internet domains – he still owns it.
We pledged what was for us then a substantial financial contribution in the first weeks of the formation of this group and encouraged our readers to do the same at every opportunity. Indeed, I would make the case today 25 years later that if you place any value on your privacy, your liberty and your rights going into the future, you need to figure out just what that value is and send it in decimal format to EFF.ORG now. Unlike 25 years ago, when we had no idea what EFF.ORG would actually do, we can point now to a 25 year record of able and pointed successes where they have actually had enormous impact on the freedoms you take for granted today.
And they continue to be both relevant and effective. Last fall they filed a proposal for an exemption to the Digital Millinia Copyright Act or DMCA signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1998. And this exemption is SPECIFICALLY to preclude lawsuits and prosecution by automobile manufacturers against individuals who are so daring as to try to repair or modify their own cars. The threat is entirely real. And the exemption is at least partially effective if granted.
DMCA was a very bad law from the beginning. It was so bad that even the people who passed it understood it was bad. To get it passed at all, they defanged almost anyone who might effectively oppose it by granting a sugar candy blanket exemption to all Internet Service Providers and carriers for almost ALL copyright infringement conceivable. This was so tasty, it quieted the room while the dirty deed was done. But it was also so bad that they tried to build in a structure for self repair in the unavoidable event of “unintended consequences.” That is, the Office of Copyright could itself issue “exemptions” to the law to innocents who might be harmed by it. These exemptions could be issued every three years and also reviewed for renewal every three years. Yes, the copyright office can simply make new law at the stroke of a pen, offering relief to anyone that is “harmed” by the law itself.
While that may seem unprecedented, the law itself is as well. It’s not so much that it protects copyrights, it is much much worse. It makes it illegal to ATTEMPT to DEFEAT any protection measures a copyright holder employs to protect their work. Note that this is not to say defeating copy protection to commit copyright infringement is against the law. Attempting to defeat copyright protection ITSELF is against the law.
This was of course intended to protect DRM schemes on CD’s and DVDs. But unscrupulous companies have heroically sought to extend this concept to nearly everything. And automakers have repeatedly threatened individuals and companies with lawsuits based on this premise. There is actually not much case law where they’ve succeeded. But the DMCA is sufficiently broad to cause the THREAT of such suits to cause individuals receiving these threats to scamper for the exits – causing a huge chilling effect on the industry.
Worse, it allows copyright holders to essentially completely gut any legitimate fair use of their copyrgihted works. The central tenet of copyright law is to grant certain rights to “creators” of an original work. But this has always been balanced by a list of exceptions where copyright CAN be infringed for “legitimate” uses. This balance between creative rights and fair use is the backbone of the entire concept. By employing DRM, and relying on the DMCA to enforce it, a creator can essentially make ANY fair use impossible. And almost everyone with any thing that could be deemed a creative work, has found this so attractive a notion, that they simply make up out of whole cloth legal theories as to how DMCA applies to their particular brand of “creation.” Automakers among them. And in general, the DMCA is so badly written, that the threat of legal action is actually generally more effective than the legal action itself.
Indeed, most of these entities don’t actually WANT to actually go to court. That would present an opportunity for a judge to rule AGAINST them on the issue. As long as it is untested, it COULD be true. So it has become an enormous “blue elephant gun” and really a quite effective one. (You don’t see any blue elephants in your area do you?).
There are several bills currently on the table to fix DMCA. The problem is, it doesn’t need fixing. In the years that have gone by, it has become evident that the movies and music it was designed to protect didn’t get protected, and indeed the whole DRMS thing is emerging as an act of gravity defiance. The entire law should be repealed in total.
But in the interim, the EFF application for an exemption for the repair and modification of vehicles, from a law never intended to COVER repair and modification of vehicles, remains idiotically as the most effective step we can take.
At the same time incredibly enough AND predictably enough, if that makes sense, several groups have filed unctious comments AGAINST the exemption, including the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers, the Auto Alliance, Eaton Corporation, General Motors and John Deere. In doing so, they rather publicly admit their plans to threaten individuals and businesses with this law for their own corporate greed. General Motors comments below.
You can of course find all the March 27 comments at http://copyright.gov/1201/2015/comments-032715
The reason for singling out General Motors actually goes to the heart of this week’s episode. We give you two hours of our struggle to troubleshoot and repair the Azure Dynamics Ford eTransit Connect. Described as INCOMPETENT to make such repairs or modifications by General Motors and the other commentors, we don’t have a lot of choice. Azure Dynamics is bankrupt. We can’t get their “IP”. From what I know, it was sold to Smith Electric Truck, which has ITSELF ceased operations and is going through bankruptcy.
Ironically, I hear WEEKLY from Ford Dealers across the land, looking for any information they can find, to be able to repair these vehicles themselves. Yes, they e-mail and call EVTV constantly seeking parts and advice on repairing these vehicles. And I would say over HALF of the 100 or so eGearDrives we’ve sold have gone to Ford dealers. This week, I heard from another EV conversion shop in Oregon who had an Azure Dynamics eTransit Connect that had been DEAD for about two years – since shortly after it was delivered. He was wanting to know if I had ANY info on how the BMS worked. Basically I don’t.
We had to figure out, using basically stolen diagrams and software, how to repair a TWO YEAR OLD vehicle with 4800 miles on it.
We had to reverse engineer Azure Dynamics “IP” to be able to make effective use of 59 DMOC645 inverters and 165 Siemens motors we rescued from the event.
A unique case? What about CODA? At least 81 individuals paid the $37,500 purchase price for this electric car. The new smell wasn’t out of the upholstery where it had been sprayed on out of the can, before CODA had declared bankruptcy and completely abandoned them. Richard Starr now has SIX of these cars he has acquired. The value of the vehicles has plummeted to NOTHING becauase the owners cannot obtain parts and information on how to repair them. UQM is stuck with $7.5 million in motors and inverters they can’t sell. We had to essentially “hack” the security encryption byte in their CAN bus commands to get the UQM inverter/motor to work. We had to do the same with the Delphi DC-DC converter, and the Lear charger out of the CODA.
ALL of this theoretically illegal under the DMCA, and done by people described in official filings with the U.S. Government Office of Copyright as incompetent to do so and posing an imminent threat of harm to the public. Only the OEM’s are competent to repair or modify these vehicles under their sworn testimony. But there AREN’T any OEM or manufacturers to repair these, and irony of ironies we have Ford Motor Company dealers haranguing US for information on how to do so.
Of course, Coda and Azure Dynamics are not manufacturers of the status of the venerated General Motors. Ahem…. Need I remind you that lacking $80 BILLION dollars of YOUR money, General Motors would have absolutely and without anyone’s exception gone through the bankruptcy process – stranding MILLIONS of vehicle owners of dozens of their models.
IP rights. No. GOOD public policy would be to REQUIRE open source publication of ALL drawings, all circuit diagrams, and ALL source code for any vehicle anyone is PROPOSING to introduce to the U.S. market. Indeed the automakers should be precluded from any ATTEMPT to thwart third party entry into the market with parts, information, or repair or modification services. Anything short of that is supporting the establishment of microMONOPOLIES on each car model.
Meanwhile, you should support Right to Repair laws in your state, much after the fashion of the State of Massachusetts. I’m still dumbfounded that this passed by an 85% majority. That’s the closest thing I’ve ever heard of to a unanimous passage of anything in America at the ballot box. I know of politicians who have run for public office UNOPPOSED who never got near to 70% of the ballot.
And in addition to financially supporting the Electronic Frontier Foundation, I would ask that you go to the trouble of a difficult comment process on the Exemption before May 1 at http://copyright.gov/1201/comment-forms/. This would have the MOST impact – individual messages from those who went to the trouble to conform to the copyright office onerous format.
But my thanks to CHad Oliveiri for contributing the link that I incompetently MISSED. https://act.eff.org/action/fight-for-your-right-to-repair-your-car. This is a very EASY way to add your name to a petition – currently close to 10,000 names supporting the EFF position on this.
OR you COULD do BOTH. Overkill being at all times appropriate.
Finally, I am NOT opposed to the concept of protectable Intellectual Property rights for automakers. I simply think they have lost sight of what that is.
Henry Ford was an innovative and creative guy. He protected for a number of years by trade secret a process he developed to cast a V8 engine block in a single pour – a thing considered IMPOSSIBLE by an entire industry, and leading to a stronger engine block produced much more quickly and at much less expense. It gave him a HUGE advantage over his rivals in the auto industry and I personally applaud that kind of innovation. He SHOULD have profited by it.
But he never did consider it a trade secret that it had 8 cylinders. He didn’t begrudge anyone the information on what the diameter size of those cylinders were. He didn’t deny anyone access to the information as to what size the pistons should be or the rings, or the first oversized rings or the second oversized rings. You needed that information to work on the car.
By way of more recent example, BMW has a significant investment in the technology to produce Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic Panels. And if that gives them a competitive advantage, they should be able to protect it. But if I yank one off and make a panel just like it out of East Indian Brazilwood, it’s kind of my car. They have nothing to say about it. And indeed the measurements and attach points should be public knowledge.
Actually, if I want wings on the back, fuzzy dice on the mirror, and mudders on the wheels, sorry BMW. You’re not entitled to an OPINION on the matter. Once purchased, it is MY car. And yes, unless it can be directly demonstrated that my modification has CAUSED a problem with the car, you should honor your warrantee as well- and be required by law to do so.
Again, my deepest appreciation to Mark Weisheimer and Byron Izenbaard for their heroic efforts to get me back on the road in the wee EVTV van. And indeed for the rarely mentioned but really DEEPLY appreciated largesse of the overwhelming majority of our viewers who share time, treasure, plaudits, and especially the many many tips and links and information we receive regarding the EV industry. I probably got 30 e-mails providing links just on this DCMA thing and you make me look a lot smarter than I quite am.
And for our Ford dealers, I should have a ready stock of WAKE ON CHARGE modules by the middle of this week. Understand I’ll have to jack the price of the modules up about 34% higher than you could get one at an independent repair shop, but you know how it is….