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Making electronics less attractive 13 December 2004 Edition
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Modern consumer electronics and computer equipment is a favourite target for burglars and thieves -- how do I know? Well my house was broken into on Saturday and much of what little I own was spirited away by a person or persons unknown.

Although Christmas was always going to be a bit of a struggle this year, it has now turned into a complete disaster -- we won't even be able to enjoy the most modest of creature-comforts such as watching a DVD or listening to some of my favourite music, since amongst the stuff taken by these villains was our collection of discs, our DVD player and everything else they could lay their hands on.

Fortunately the PC I use to write Aardvark is a system in a large and crusty Tower case that probably looked too old, slow and useless to be worth pinching -- so I'm still able to bring you your daily commentary.

Of course, given my circumstances, nothing was insured and the cops say there's probably no chance that the offenders will be caught or that the stolen property will be recovered.

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I'd already asked the landlord on several occasions to fix the decidedly weak window latches which ultimately turned out to be the entry vector for the thieves -- but he'd not done anything about it -- ah, the life of a tenant :-(

This experience has left me wondering whether it's about time that computer and electronics manufacturers came up with some useful features that would make such items far less attractive to thieves.

One only has to look at the way most modern car stereo systems are theft-proofed by way of a key-code lockout system to realise that it's something which can be done very simply and effectively.

Why not provide the same kind of functionality in TV sets, DVD players, stereos, camcorders, games consoles, PCs and the like?

In its simplest form, it would require the user to enter an activation code whenever the device was unplugged from the mains for more than (say) 30 seconds. Without that code, the device would not operate -- making it useless to any would-be thief.

While it's true that many PCs have various password setups that can be configured to make it difficult for unauthorised people to use them, I suspect very few people bother with these facilities -- besides which, things such as the OS logon are useless if the "new owner" is going to reformat the drive anyway.

After my experience this weekend, I'd certainly put a security code facility high on the list of bullet-points I'd be looking for when I can afford to replace the stuff that was stolen.

This also raises the issue of copyright and licensing.

I gather, according to the police, that CDs and DVDs are favourite targets for burglars and, since backing up such disks is illegal in NZ, this often means a total loss for the hapless victim.

It's a shame we can't register our legally purchased copies of music recordings and movies in the same way we do with software. That way, if our collection gets stolen, we could replace it for simply the cost of the media. I guess these industries are more interested in maximising profits than ensuring their customers interests are fairly protected though.

Oh well, I guess things can only get better -- although I see to recall saying that when things were not quite so bad.

Have your say on today's column

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