Thoughts on Rails

Riding the Train of Thought

The Future of Coffee Machines

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Let us imagine, you have a few thousand Rupees to spare so you go out shopping. Being the hard-working person that you are, you need some caffeine to squeeze that 25th hour out of the day. A good decision – you purchase the brand new Panorama Coffee Maker. It has the capability to download the latest coffee recipes off the Internet and can serve you different styles of coffee from espresso to Mexican mocha.
It also has one nifty feature – suppose you want to make a cup of orange coffee, all you have to do is get a small brown box labelled “ingredients for orange coffee” from the shop and attach it to your Panorama Coffee Maker. From that point onwards, you can enjoy as much orange coffee as you like!

You have been told that you should not try to tinker, or the Panorama Coffee Machine will stop functioning. “That’s fair enough.”, you think to yourself as you slide in your favourite mug for another refreshing dose.

“ERROR! RECIPE PROTECTING CUP NOT FOUND!” The Panorama Coffee Machine screams at you. You are slightly shocked at what you just heard… all you did was use *your favourite* mug instead of the one that came with the Panorama Coffee Machine! You try to press the buttons to coax the machine into pouring some coffee but it plainly refuses to budge.

Smart machine! So you put the recipe protecting cup into the machine and it promptly fills it with sweet caffeine. You take your fave mug in one hand and try to pour the coffee into it – but the smart cup detects the absence of lips on the edge and swiftly blocks the coffee from falling out. Huh?! You try to put in a straw and it gets zapped by invisible lasers. Whoa! That is hi-tech!

Well, it lets you pour out the coffee, but only after the cup removes all the special ingredients – what you get is tasteless brown hot liquid.

You love this coffee maker because it makes you so many varieties of coffee at your convenience… but you can’t stand the smart coffee cup – you cherish the mug your buddies bought you for your birthday. The geek inside you comes to life, you set out looking for a smart cup that might spill some coffee. After long nights working on a hack, you find a way to make the original cup give in and you smile as you pour the coffee into that lovely mug.

The news is out soon, your friends who own such machines want to know how to get *their* coffee in *their* mugs. You tell them how and everybody rejoices.

A few days later, you wake up to get your coffee and the Panorama Coffee Maker barks out “ROGUE CUP! NO COFFEE FOR YOU!”. After a lot of persuading, tinkering, smashing you decide to skip the coffee and turn on the TV. Everybody is complaining that their Panorama Coffee Machines are refusing to work! The world is in chaos!

Panorama Coffee Maker’s manufacturers found out that the smart cup they were supplying was compromised and people were drinking coffee in their own mugs – which meant that people could find out the secret recipes. The people who sold these recipes and the ingredients were very angry that the smart cup was not “robust” enough. So the company decided to revoke the authorization for ALL the stock smart cups!

Now, only people who had already bought smart cups from different vendors and authorized them early are able to have their coffee. Some people tried purchasing a new smart cup but were greeted with a very unfriendly message telling them that they needed to re-register their coffee maker to work with the new cup.

You remember that it was not so a few years back. You could get a recipe for free from the Internet – people loved to share their creations. And that there were actually a few coffee machines like the Panorama Coffee Maker that could use the freely available recipes and needed just plain raw ingredients – no closed brown boxes. But the recipe makers decided that it was time to make more money, The company that made the Panorama Coffee Maker decided that it was time to get the competition out of the way and an alliance was formed.

This alliance declared that nobody is to be trusted – not even the people who pay for the coffee. If their recipes are leaked out, it would mean the end of the world! So instead of the simple, inexpensive coffee machines, the market started seeing a whole new bunch of snazzy looking gadgets that claimed that they could make any type of coffee available on the earth… eager to enjoy, people purchased the new machines and let go of the old ones.

The alliance also declared that the ingredients will be sold in closed boxes that only the Panorama Coffee Maker can open. If anyone tries to sell the ingredients out in the open, they will be persecuted and sale of their product will be stopped immediately, also their license will be revoked. Same applied or the smart cups – if they could not deliver coffee from the machine to the user in a very secure manner – they would lose the permission to do business. If one cup failed, they would have to redesign the future cups and also provide the current cups with a new “patch” to make them more secure. And for the time that these cups are fixed – every person owning the cups will not be allowed to drink coffee from that cup.

And the bad part was – all this security needed a lot of extra gadgetry – and the customers were made to pay for it.

The alliance also declared that the recipe must not be made to perfection – the Panorama Coffee Maker deliberately reduced the taste while pouring into the smart cups so that it would be more difficult to guess the recipe from the flavoured steam that rises from the cup. Then the cup was supposed to amplify the taste as the coffee touches the edge of the cup and passes into the customer’s mouth. This meant that there would always be less quality in the coffee – but it was deemed necessary for the security of the recipes.

To top it off, if a company designed a new secure smart cup, its security was to be tested by none other than the recipe makers. You had to have a written permission from at least three big recipe makers before you could get authorization from the company.

You sink deep into this nightmarish scene… wondering why didn’t you realize this plot in the beginning. You remember people screaming about it in the streets. You remember thinking “this will never happen to me”. You remember the smell of home-brew coffee and your favourite mug!

Suddenly you realize that we are only imagining this scenario…

Welcome back! If you read the whole thing and if you think that this is ridiculous, you should see what Microsoft is planning with Windows Vista. I’ll rather not repeat – Peter Gutmann has done a great job in documenting it all very clearly. Please, take the time to read his words – they are very important

http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~pgut001/pubs/vista_cost.html

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Written by hiway

February 1, 2007 at 2:35 pm

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