Aardvark Daily

New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

Content copyright © 1995 - 2018 to Bruce Simpson (aka Aardvark), the logo was kindly created for Aardvark Daily by the folks at

Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

That ownership thing again

12 September 2017

Over the years I have written several columns discussing the issue of whether you really own the stuff you buy -- at least the hi-tech stuff.

Unfortunately, it's time to write one of those columns again.

To recap however, it seems that increasingly that when you buy a piece of hi-tech equipment, the manufacturer treats you as if you were just "borrowing" that device. If you buy a hammer, a saw or a piece of timber, you can do whatever the hell you want with those things. You can set fire to the hammer, bend the saw in half to the point that it breaks and you can eat the wood if you feel so inclined.

In essence, once you've paid your money, the product is yours -- to do with as you please.

Not so much of our new technology-based products.

Of course I have to make mention of drones here (just for a moment) but the thrust of today's column isn't about drones -- never the less, if you buy a DJI drone then it is DJI, not you, who decides where you are allowed to fly today. Try to take-off at a location that DJI has decided is in a no-go area and your expensive flying camera becomes "just a camera".

But now on to other things...

I was reading this BBC story this morning because, as long-time readers will recall, many, many years ago I mooted the concept of allowing mobile phones to operate on a peer-to-peer basis so as to provide service during major infrastructure outages.

When I first saw this story I thought maybe it was an implementation of this idea -- perhaps providing VOIP over WiFi. It would have been extremely interesting to see how this actually worked during hurricane Irma. Sadly, the Zello app still requires either a mobile data or Wifi service to work... why?

Following this disappointment, I continued reading down the page until I came across an even more interesting bit of news.

Apparently, Tesla "unlocked" the extra capacity of batteries in its Model S and X 60/60D vehicles -- providing they were in Florida at the time of the hurricane.

The Teslas are like so much electronic test gear and software that you buy today insomuch as they come "fully decked out" but with some of the functionality or features disabled until you pay extra money.

Over the years I've had a heap of oscilloscopes, logic analysers and other gear which is one of a "family" of devices. The cheapest one might be (say) a 50MHz oscilloscope and cost $300. The top-end might be a 120MHz unit and cost $500. The reality is that they are *exactly* the same bit of hardware and the only difference is that the software on the cheap unit artificially limits it to a 50MHz bandwidth. To upgrade from the 50 to the 120 requires only the payment of money and the entering of an "upgrade" key to change the behaviour of the software.

Now it might sound like a bit of a rort that one customer pays $200 more than another, even though they're buying exactly the same system and that the cheap one has been deliberately ankle-tapped -- but it's business.

The real problem occurs when someone decides to hack one of these things and publish the details of that hack to the Net -- so that everyone can get a free $200 upgrade.

At that stage, threats of legal action and (in the USA) the DMCA usually start being invoked in an attempt to prevent this valuable information being freely disseminated.

But surely, since you have purchased both the hardware and the firmware, you can do whatever the hell you want with your expensive tech product -- can't you? Even after the hack, your device is still the same device and the same firmware remains installed, it's just that bits which were previously inactive are now active (or v/v). You've stolen nothing -- have you?

Also, what happens when someone starts hacking the Teslas?

Right now there's not really a problem because there are so few of the damned things, they're pretty expensive and most are still under warranty. However, I expect that once warranties expire and the risk of bricking your ride reduces somewhat, we'll see Tesla hacks online so that people can effectively upgrade their own car to one with greater range.

And would this really be anything different to when you stuck twin-carbs and a lumpy cam on that old 105E Anglia back when you were 17 years old?

Here in NZ, I wonder if "hacking" your car will be considered the equivalent of lowering it or fitting a boy-racer exhaust? Will you need to get a special certification in the event that you tinker with the brains of your EV so as to unlock expensive optional features for free? Will the WOF inspector be checking the actual configuration of the vehicle versus the configuration on the VIN?

Ah... first-world problems eh?

Please visit the sponsor!
Please visit the sponsor!

Have your say in the Aardvark Forums.

PERMALINK to this column

Rank This Aardvark Page


Change Font

Sci-Tech headlines



Beware The Alternative Energy Scammers

The Great "Run Your Car On Water" Scam


Recent Columns

What is wrong with Elon Musk?
Everyone knows of Elon Musk...

Are we being LED astray?
LED lights are the future... right?...

Court: Kodi streams OK, caching not
Some time ago, SkyTV took a case to court claiming that preloaded Kodi boxes were illegal and breached copyright...

Proof that politicians are idiots
I've written several columns on this whole issue of the "Amazon Tax" and in each one I have suggested that the government is dreaming if it thinks overseas companies will play ball...

DIY tech projects... still a thing?
At present I'm scoping several tech projects for featuring in my YouTube channels and I'm hoping that the spirit of tech-DIY is still alive and well...

Blurring the line
One advantage of being a bit under the weather is that it has given me time to get more familiar with the new editing and compositing software I'm recently purchased...

A matter of taste
One of the least-mentioned but most annoying aspects of having Parkinson's is that you lose your sense of smell...

Dotcom, a victim of our justice system?
The Court of Appeals has thrown out an attempt by Kim Dotcom to overturn a lower-court decision that he be available for extradition to the USA on charges of copyright infringement, fraud and such...

What did I miss?
Woohoo... I finally got a proper night's sleep! ...

First! (again)
I had to laugh this week when I read a news story claiming that the first ever trans-Atlantic drone flight was about to take place...

Has Google just bricked its devices worldwide?
Do you have one of those new-fangled "Google Home" speaker things (like Alexa) or a Google Chromecast?...