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Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - February 5th, '05
Quotes Of The Week
"Since the Can Spam Act went into effect in January 2004, unsolicited junk e-mail on the Internet has come to total perhaps 80 percent or more of all e-mail sent, according to most measures. That is up from 50 percent to 60 percent of all e-mail before the law went into effect." – Tom Zeller Jr.
"We are reinventing the computer at the molecular scale." - Stan Williams
"It's not anonymous. Anybody can connect to a BitTorrent download and see all the (Internet addresses) of people who are connected. The people using it for illegal purposes - they're really being stupid." – Ethan Alpert
"Like at least eight million other French people, we have also downloaded music online and are thus part of a growing number of 'criminals'. We ask that these absurd lawsuits stop." – Petition in France’s Nouvel Observateur news magazine.
"It appears Dell is going to commit pretty heavily to Trusted Computing." – Roger Kay
"Thank God he's gone, but God help us with what's next." – Howard Stern
"That our government is now both intimidating PBS and awarding public money to pundits to enforce "moral values" agendas demonizing certain families is the ugliest fallout." – Frank Rich
Countdown to Ecstasy
Sooner than one might think the forces of darkness will gather at a court Washington D.C. to petition a handful of ancients to do what no other U.S. court has allowed: Ban File Sharing. The ultimate goal of the media companies and the purveyors of corporate content is to accomplish nothing less. With co-opted artists like Bonnie Riatt, Sheryl Crow, Jimmy Buffet and others at their side, it will prove to be an arresting, eerily glamorous and highly watchable spectacle, guaranteed to generate lots of coverage by the very companies pushing the agenda. This conflict of interest is one of many issues advocates of file sharing battle, and while we have a few important tools on our side, like blogs and P2P itself, the fact remains most of America, and especially her leaders, still gets information from these so very biased sources pitted against us for half a decade.
By its very nature a fight with Big Media leaves one at a gross disadvantage, as much as if one political party, and only one, were given campaign coverage and allowed to advertise its candidates, while the others were banned and vilified. Imagine if your political party couldn’t get its message out to the people, on the people’s own airwaves, because the competing party owned absolutely every single broadcaster and every single newspaper, magazine and most of the conduits into the Internet. Not most of them, or even a lot of them, but every single one of them. And every single story Americans read was either an outright attack on your party, or at the very least a thinly veiled dismissal of its philosophy wrapped in lies. As for responding, you couldn’t, because the owners of the media outlets simply wouldn’t let you, and were backed in this outrage by law. How long would your party last? It’s not a question that requires much in the way of analysis since the world is too full of such stunted societies, so-called one party democracies, where the president and his party get 95 percent of the vote, and the television and newspaper editors know not to give competing candidates much in the way of coverage lest they find themselves jobless or worse, taken away in the middle of the night. How is a society supposed to stay informed under such circumstances? How can it claim to be? The simple answer is it can’t. And that’s where we find ourselves today as we work towards the most important question we as a people must answer for this generation: Will it be us who controls our voice, or will it be stolen, by law, by this corrosive kleptocracy of global politicians working at the behest of these massive international media conglomerates who together swear allegiance to nothing but profit and power?
This spring it ends, for us - or against. The lines are drawn. We will forge a victory or, for some of us, a move underground into twilight, as we watch with dismay our most cherished freedom fail.
In 90 days the U.S. Supreme court sits over us in judgment, in what to one writer is a decision far to grave to leave to nine decaying establishmentarians. It is up to us to tear this power from their cold and withered claws and wrest it back into our own vibrant fold where it can grow and prosper. If we can have even a hope of succeeding we need to pressure our lawmakers and fund the warriors who carry our spears. Call your senators, call your congressmen. Give generously to the EFF. Do not falter. This will be the peoples’ triumph or a cancerous failure. Our opponents have nothing remotely resembling the people on their side. There is no us in them, and if we win it will be because of you and your good efforts. Imagine such a victory made with your participation, and the pride of it, of the story you’ll tell your descendents, of the dragon you faced, and foiled.
French Artists Blast File-Sharing Crackdown
PARIS - Dozens of French musicians, intellectuals and politicians are criticizing what they call a "repressive" crackdown against those who download music illegally over the Internet.
The campaign is believed to be one of the first of its kind in Europe to unite musicians and consumers in a backlash against the music industry's tactic of filing lawsuits against illegal downloaders.
Hundreds of Web surfers across Europe are facing legal action for downloading music files with peer-to- peer, or P2P, sharing networks.
"We denounce this repressive and disproportionate policy, whose victims are just a few scapegoats," said signatories of the campaign, led by weekly Le Nouvel Observateur in its edition published Thursday. "Like at least 8 million other French people, we also have downloaded music online and are also potential criminals," the open letter said. "We demand a stop to these ridiculous legal pursuits."
Well-known artists including Manu Chao, Matthieu Chedid (M) and Yann Tiersen, score composer for the hit French film "Amelie," added their signatures to the campaign entitled "Free up music!"
French Industry Minister Patrick Devedjian said he agreed that "every campaign of blind and brutal repression is not only ineffective, but harms all people concerned."
However, he told TF1 television that "the concept of everything for free is an illusion."
Brian Molko, singer for British rock band Placebo, expressed opposition to the campaign, saying, "Who ever said that we musicians would be the only people in the world who work for free?"
On Wednesday, a criminal court in the Paris suburb of Pontoise fined a teacher about 10,000 euros ($13,000) in damages for counterfeiting after he was found guilty of downloading nearly 10,000 tracks.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, an industry group based in London, and its affiliates have filed thousands of lawsuits against those who allegedly shared music illegally.
In the United States, the recording industry has sued more than 7,000 people over illegal downloads.
Ex-Bush Lawyer On Industry Side In File-Sharing Case
Former Bush administration Supreme Court lawyer Theodore Olson has lined up with Hollywood in a big stakes fight over Internet file sharing.
Olson represented President Bush in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case at the high court and was solicitor general until last summer when he returned to private practice in Washington.
Now he's at the Supreme Court again, this time on the side of artists including Jimmy Buffett, Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks, the Eagles, Reba McEntire, Avril Lavigne and Kenny Rogers.
About 20 briefs were filed this week at the court supporting recording companies and movie studios that are trying to stop online distribution of copyrighted works. Justices hear arguments March 29 in the case that will decide if file-sharing services are responsible when their customers illegally swap songs and movies.
''The world is watching to see whether we really mean what we say when we promise protection to innovation and the creative process,'' Olson, who filed arguments on behalf of the Defenders of Property Rights, said Tuesday at a news conference.
On the other side are civil libertarians and consumer groups who contend that a defeat for Grokster Ltd. and StreamCast Networks Inc. could force technology companies to delay or block innovative products that give consumers more control.
The case is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster, 04-480.
Senate Passes Camcorder Piracy Bill
People who secretly videotape movies when they are shown in theaters could go to prison for up to three years under a bill approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate.
The Senate also voted late on Tuesday to stiffen penalties for hackers and industry insiders who distribute music, movies or other copyrighted works before their official release date.
The bill also shields "family friendly" services like ClearPlay that strip violent or sexually explicit scenes from movies.
That provision is less likely to please Hollywood groups, which say such services violate their copyrighted works by altering them without permission.
The measures were approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives last year, but they did not become law because Congress adjourned without resolving minor differences between the two versions.
Copies of hit movies frequently show up on the Internet while they're still in theaters, allowing skinflint fans to see new releases like "The Incredibles" without buying a ticket.
Pirates sneak camcorders into movie theaters to tape films directly off the screen, while some industry insiders leak copies to tech-savvy hackers before they're officially released.
The U.S. Customs Department has estimated that these distribution groups are responsible for 95 percent of all pirated material available online.
Those found guilty could face up to three years in prison, as well as lawsuits from copyright holders.
Uh oh. "Trusted Computing" fingerprints your files - prevents sharing
Dell Cuts Lead, Beefs Up Security in Business PCs
Dell Inc., the world's largest personal computer maker, on Tuesday unveiled a range of business computers, with some that meet stringent new environmental regulations and others that take steps to prevent network intrusions and theft of intellectual property.
At a news conference in New York, Dell unveiled a range of models and services, including desktop PCs that will help Dell meet tough European Union regulations set for 2006 that require reducing lead and other toxic materials in PCs.
In addition, Dell is offering new security "locking" features on notebooks that take advantage of an industry push by Intel , IBM and other PC makers. Computer files can thus be linked to specific machines to prevent network intrusions or theft of intellectual property.
Roger Kay, a PC industry analyst at market research firm IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts, said other major PC makers are already on board. Dell, as the market leader, will make the computer security technology a market reality, he said.
"It's the same thing with each of these technologies," Kay said. "When Dell moves into a new area, it is ratifying the technology as mainstream."
Dell's new products are aimed at corporate buyers who are looking for machines that they can deploy across their organizations. While many of these technologies were available to early adopters more than a year ago, Dell promises them at lower prices overall than niche PC makers.
The desktops also take advantage of a redesign by Intel of internal computer chassis, which in turn allow PC makers like Dell to radically redesign the size and shape of PCs. Intel's latest BTX chassis allows Dell PCs to run cooler, with less noise and in smaller boxes than prior Intel technology.
Specifically, Dell said it plans to meet specifications for the European Union's (EU) Reduction of Hazardous Substances directive before the July 2006 deadline for eliminating or minimizing several chemical compounds, including lead.
The new Latitude D410 weighs 3.8 pounds and has a starting price of $1,677. A special nine-cell extended life battery, allows the D410 to run for up to 7 hours, or what Dell calls "nearly all-day computing on a single battery charge."
The D410 and two other new notebooks are built around the industry's Trusted Platform Module (TPM) security technology, which can lock digital content to specific PCs. Dell offers a smartcard reader that grants network access only to users with a special credit card embedded with a security microchip.
"It appears Dell is going to commit pretty heavily to Trusted Computing," Kay said. He noted IBM created the technology, but gave it away as an industry standard after realizing it would never be adopted by other PC makers otherwise.
Dell, alone, among major PC makers, has yet to offer a PC built around chips from Intel-rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc., and the PC maker's latest models are no exception.
"So far our direction is to stay the course," Alex Gruzen, the senior vice president of Dell's product group, said in response to a reporter's question.
"All the products we have announced are built around Intel..." Gruzen said. "But that said again, we are always evaluating new technologies and we make our choices generation to generation," he said of the often speculated upon topic.
Shares of Dell fell 14 cents to close at $41.62 on Nasdaq. (Additional reporting by Franklin Paul in New York)
An Effort to Help Free-Software Developers Avoid Suits
Freely distributed open-source software like the Linux operating system has become increasingly popular, but one cloud over its future has been legal risk. So far, most of the lawsuits have involved claims that software code owned by someone else found its way into a cooperative programming project.
A nonprofit legal center opening today, backed by $4 million in initial financing from a corporate consortium, will provide advice from specialists that is intended to minimize the risk that developers and users of free software will be sued.
The Software Freedom Law Center, its founders say, will focus on helping the leaders of open-source software projects organize and manage their work in ways that anticipate and avoid potential legal pitfalls.
A suit against I.B.M., seeking $1 billion, is largely responsible for the legal worries surrounding open-source software. The SCO Group, a small Utah company, has accused I.B.M. of contributing code to Linux that SCO legally controlled. I.B.M. has denied the accusations.
"The SCO suit shows the need to really focus early on how open-source projects are structured and managed," said Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University and a specialist in copyright law and software, who will be chairman of the new center. "That case is mostly a dispute about how software is put together.
"We want to provide open-source projects with the groundwork so they know their projects are legally sound and put together with confidence," Mr. Moglen added.
The center, based in New York, will offer free advice to nonprofit open-source software projects and developers. Private companies use open-source software and their programmers contribute code, but nonprofit groups typically organize projects like Linux, Apache and Debian.
The initial funding for the center comes from the Open Source Development Labs, a consortium that seeks to accelerate the adoption of Linux. Its members include I.B.M., Intel and Hewlett-Packard. Linus Torvalds, who wrote the core of the Linux operating system, is employed by the group.
Last year, the group coordinated a $10 million defense fund to provide support for Mr. Torvalds and any users of Linux that might be sued by SCO.
The corporate champions of Linux say that legal support is needed for the further growth of Linux and the open-source software that will run on it. "This is one more step in the maturing process of open source," said Stuart Cohen, chief executive of the Open Source Development Labs.
The legal center's board consists of a group of lawyers who are specialists on intellectual property and open-source software. Besides Mr. Moglen, it includes Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford University; Diane Peters, general counsel of the open source labs; and Daniel Weitzner, a lawyer and researcher at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Open-source software has been really important to the development of the Internet and the Web as a global communications and information medium," Mr. Weitzner said. "The idea of the center is to provide legal and strategic resources to help open source continue to grow."
The Uni – verse
Music, Movie, And Software File-Sharing Causes Legal Problems For Students
Many students use free file-sharing services to get music for their MP3 players. The services, while popular, are illegal, and colleges and universities are trying to eliminate or reduce their use on campus. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
Two years ago, when file-sharing was at the peak of its popularity, BU students often told Jim Stone about their belief in the right to free music. As the director of consulting services for the Office of Information Technology, Stone is responsible for notifying students that they have been caught sharing copyrighted music, movies, or software. When he informed them that file-sharing was illegal, they frequently protested that they had done nothing wrong.
“Today, it’s very different,” says Stone. “It seems that a great majority are completely aware that it’s illegal, they shouldn’t do it, and they just got caught.”
Five years after the introduction of Napster, the original music-swapping service, the laws of file-sharing are no longer vague — it’s illegal to share copyrighted files, such as music, movies, or software, without permission. But while students are hearing the message, many have trouble taking it seriously. “They know that it’s against the law,” freshman Laura Fahey (CAS’08) says of her friends who use file-sharing services. “But they feel that it shouldn’t be and they’re not going to get caught, so why not?”
Students increasingly do get caught, however — the most recent wave of lawsuits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America included five BU students. As a result, college officials across the country are searching for more effective ways to combat illegal file-sharing on campuses. And both students and administrators say that the entertainment industry needs to participate in these efforts and recognize that the way people get their music and movies has changed for good.
“File-sharing’s an issue for students, in part because they think they should be able to do it,” says Dean of Students Kenn Elmore. His office has dealt with many students accused of copyright violations — up to 100 a year at one point. “If you’re talking about trying to stop this . . . you’re swimming against the tide of a popular culture that doesn’t sanction this as harshly as maybe it should.”
Lawsuits against file-sharers generally target those who allow “uploading” from their own computers, which means that they provide copyrighted material for others to use. But many people who use file-sharing services, such as Kazaa, lack a clear understanding of how this happens, says Michael Krugman, executive director of the Office of Information Technology. By downloading the music that is stored on another user’s computer, a student is usually providing access to the music that is stored on his or her own computer. When another user uploads those files, the student is illegally, if unintentionally, distributing copyrighted material.
“Students see a link that says, ‘Click here to share music,’” Krugman explains. “They understandably do not appreciate what it is they’re actually doing to their machines. And the next thing you know, they’ve converted their PC to a server, and whenever that server is on the network, it is capable of responding to requests for music from other machines, with or without their knowledge.”
First time offenders “should be given the benefit of the doubt,” Krugman says. Therefore, when the Office of Information Technology is notified that a violation has occurred on BU’s network, the University typically warns the user to remove the material and that failure to comply can result in loss or suspension of University computing privileges.
But the RIAA and the Motion Picture Association of America have become increasingly vigilant about policing their intellectual property, and several court decisions have shaped the way these agencies deal with file-sharers. The network providers are not currently liable when violations arise — although the Business Software Association is lobbying Congress to change that — but even without a network provider’s participation, the RIAA can identify violators by date, time, and location and then file a lawsuit even before learning the user’s name. At that point, the matter is out of BU’s — or any university’s — jurisdiction. In the current case, a suit naming the defendants as “John Does 1-5” has already been filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. Crystal Talley, associate counsel in the Office of the General Counsel, says that the University has been served with a subpoena requesting the names of the five students cited.
Consequently, many universities are trying to find creative ways of reducing the illegal activity. Some schools, such as the University of Georgia, have attempted to thwart music- and movie-swappers by limiting the amount of bandwidth a user can transfer on the university’s network. However, Krugman says that such a restriction is antithetical to BU’s academic mission. “It would impinge on student access to the growing wealth of Internet-based information resources and the world of ideas,” he says.
More institutions, including Cornell, Berkeley, and Penn State, have chosen to offer subscription services that give students access to a library of music and movies that can be downloaded or temporarily “borrowed” from the school’s network. At BU, the Student Union briefly explored the idea of working with a program called Ruckus, which would have provided access to 500,000 songs, movies, and television shows. “After meeting with them, it was decided that their technology isn’t as up-to-date as we would like to work with,” says Student Union President Jon Marker (CAS’07). “We are keeping our eyes open to any future ideas.”
At BU, the most successful approach has been combining education about the risks of file-sharing with some form of entertainment — a method where the parties involved can meet each other halfway, Elmore says. A special showing of the movie Miracle, which took place on campus last February, is a good example, he says; the Motion Picture Association of America gave the University permission to show the film on campus while it was still in theaters, and in exchange Elmore asked the 1,300 students in attendance to cut back on illegal file-sharing.
“That is, I hope, a unique and innovative way to do it,” he says, “and it might go a little further than just sledgehammering people with lawsuits.” He has also encouraged students who believe file-sharing should be legal to write to local legislators and “participate as citizens” instead of willfully breaking the law.
But while legal action remains the weapon of choice for the RIAA and the MPAA, the Office of Information Technology continues to handle copyright violations as it always has — by threatening to suspend the violator’s University computing privileges. According to Stone, who sends out violation notices, the prospect of losing access to BU’s network is a very powerful deterrent.
“Repeat offenders are in the minority,” he says. “And ultimately, they stop.”
File-Sharing Program Launched At College
After a delay of almost three months, thefacebook.com launched its affiliate file-sharing program, Wirehog, at Dartmouth last Friday. After a week, the service is still generating a lukewarm response.
Created by Andrew McCollum, Adam D'Angelo and thefacebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, Wirehog offers students a new way to transfer files. The program allows users to access files within their friend groups and is accessible through thefacebook.
Users said they have been frustrated by problems with the software and have even had problems accessing the program at all in some cases. Others said they had trouble sharing the files they wanted.
"Every time I try to log on, it keeps saying, 'You are not connected,'" Alana Bond '07 said.
McCollum, a Harvard junior, acknowledged that there have been complaints but dismissed any thought that Wirehog has serious problems, explaining that a few glitches were inevitable during initial release.
"We're still developing, so most of the technical problems are just to do with learning how to use [the program]," McCollum said.
Originally scheduled for release in November, Wirehog has been delayed due to technical problems. The delay, however, was due to caution rather than any significant flaws in the software, according to McCollum.
"We just want to take it slow, so that the whole site doesn't slow down," McCollum said. "We didn't want to overextend our resources."
Wirehog uses existing friend groups on thefacebook to allow users to share files. Unlike existing peer-to-peer programs, where users search a network of computers, Wirehog allows people to log onto their friends' individual computers and browse files specifically designated for sharing.
"We created [Wirehog] to let you be able to get [files] you cannot find anywhere else, like pictures from a friend's party or music from your friend's band," McCollum said.
Wirehog is meant to be an alternative to mainstream peer-to-peer programs like Napster and Kazaa. McCollum and his co-creators are counting on the more personable design to draw users to the program.
According to McCollum, user are able to download files specifically attuned to their tastes and have the incentive to share their files, as well, since the files will only being accessed by people they know.
Since its release at the College last week, Dartmouth already has the third largest number of users among connected schools. McCollum said the new software, which 50 students downloaded Tuesday alone, has been well received.
But most students seem unenthusiastic. Many have never heard of Wirehog, and few use the new program.
Although Frank Gutierrez '07 had originally downloaded the program enthusiastically, he rarely uses it because no one else was on it.
Other Dartmouth students have found the limited selection on Wirehog to be unappealing.
"I don't use it that much because other people have music I don't like," Noah Hall '07 said
So far Wirehog has been released at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Yale and Dartmouth, but is set be released at many more schools and will eventually be open to the general public.
"We're planning on pretty rapidly expanding," McCollum said. "We'll soon be opening it up to everyone to download, not just schools."
Lawsuits Aim To Stop File Sharing At Elite Universities
Some Yale post office boxes may soon be filled with subpoenas if the University is targeted in the latest wave of anti-file-sharing litigation.
Both the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America announced new rounds of lawsuits against students and other individuals late last week. While Yale information and technology officials said no students have been threatened with legal action for trading bootleg media files online yet, RIAA representatives and industry experts said some media executives intend to prosecute students at prominent universities to discourage file-swapping.
As part of its renewed effort, the music industry has already sued 68 students at 23 institutions nationwide, including Harvard and Georgetown Universities, a RIAA press release said. MPAA representatives declined to release a total of the movie industry's complaints or the focus of the industry's campaign.
RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said the new round of lawsuits are part of a larger effort by the recording industry to enforce copyright protection on college campuses. He declined to comment beyond the association's press release.
"In a world that is becoming more and more connected through the wonders of digital technology, students need to understand that just because someone else's property or creations can be obtained easily and freely without anyone seemingly knowing, there are consequences because it is stealing," RIAA General Counsel Steven Marks said in the release.
Eric Garland, the chief executive officer at BigChampagne, an online media ratings company, said the music and movie industries are targeting students at elite institutions to set an example.
"It's really chilling," Garland said. "They're looking to find examples at all the big schools, the one unlucky kid who gets held up for everyone else to look at."
Garland said student file-sharing is merely an easy scapegoat for media industry conservatives' frustrations with flagging sales.
Yale Chief Information Officer Philip Long said he does not know of any subpoenas of students, although photography professor Timothy Davis was sued during the first wave of RIAA litigation in September 2003. Long said the University, acting as an Internet service provider, deals with file-sharing complaints without publicizing the identities of alleged student infringers. He warned that a student's name might be released if his or her offenses were "particularly egregious."
Information Security Officer Morrow Long said University policies have not changed in light of increased pressure from media industries, but he said they could change with precedent elsewhere.
"We are watching the actions of the industry and our peer institutions intently," Long said.
Most students charged with file-swapping are forced to settle because of legal expenses, said Fred von Lohmann, a senior intellectual property attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which offers legal advice to defendants in cases brought by the media industries. But Lohmann said users who are smart about their file- sharing will likely avoid a subpoena.
"Industries are coming after people who are uploading files," Lohmann said. "If you're just downloading, you're pretty much off the hook. As far as I know, no lawsuits have been brought against people who are purely downloading."
Garland said file-sharing is also a growing concern for television broadcasters, whose advertising revenues suffer when programs are downloaded and watched months or years after they originally air.
NBC Universal spokesperson Shannon Jacobs said television piracy is a growing concern among the networks.
"It's not like people are just going to be making a VHS copy of our shows. Now they can get very high-quality copies of our shows," Jacobs said.
Nothing's Gonna Stop
Editor's note: This is part one in a three part series. The second part will appear on Monday. Names of students have been changed to protect privacy.
In a few short years, the Internet has transformed digital piracy from low-key and hidden to mainstream and second nature. Entertainment industries are just finally starting to mobilize their legions of lawyers, firing salvos of lawsuits every few months. Can anything stop the flow?
Brian, a sophomore living off campus, is just another ordinary college-aged pirate. He has been downloading files since before the rise of Napster and lived through the rise and fall of peer-to-peer (p2p) file-sharing empires. From IRC to Napster to Kazaa to Kazaa Lite to the latest p2p tool BitTorrent, Brian's been downloading pirated software and media since "way back when I was a little kid."
"A lot of movies that are out right now you can get in DVD quality because they are sending out screeners for the Oscars," said Brian, who lived in University housing last year.
Obtaining copyrighted material is nothing new to Brian, and it's easier than ever. According to CacheLogic, a firm based in Cambridge, England, one- third of Internet traffic comes from BitTorrent, and you can bet that a good portion of it is moving pirated goods at alarming speeds and incredible volumes. Movies can easily be found and obtained using Web sites such as torrentspy.com. Search for any of the Best Picture Oscar nominees for the 77th Academy Awards and they are available for download in amazingly clear quality.
Asking Brian if he worried about getting caught, he said casually with a grin, "No, not at all."
Unlike Brian, Robert has been busted before by CITES for file-sharing while on the University network.
"If companies can download from you, then they contact your ISP and let them know," said Robert, a junior who now lives off campus. "Usually, it's just a slap on the wrist, you know, no big deal."
Despite being caught once during his freshman year for using the p2p program eMule to download and upload files, he continues to still download movies and music. Except this time, Robert uses more secure, secretive methods, which has kept him under the radar.
"There's anything and everything you could want. They do movies, music, applications, video games, computer games, Xbox games, e-books, music videos, DVDs. It's just ridiculous," Robert said about the diversity of illegal files available - if you know the right people.
Robert uses a NFO site that lists the latest releases on the piracy scene. NFO sites are private and are often hard to get into. But once you're inside, a wealth of information is at the keyboard. These closed forums post information about private FTP servers that are hosting the latest pirated titles to be premiered on the Internet. The legitimacy of NFO sites is unclear.
"They're not illegal, but they are sort of in the gray area because they aren't hosting illegal material. They're hosting information about illegal material," said Robert. "You can't do any direct downloading, but you can find out what's been released."
These NFO sites, however, are not the apex of the piracy scene but rather a link lower in the distribution chain. At the very pinnacle of the distribution chain are the topsites. They have insider access to the latest movies and are the first to release ripped files from DVDs that originate from screeners sent to film critics or picked up early from an employee at a DVD manufacturer.
After a new movie is obtained by a topsite, it is then ripped and re-encoded with video and audio codes that preserve a surprising amount of quality into file sizes that range from one to three CD-Rs. The information and programs needed to do this are free and openly available on the Internet to anyone with a curious mind.
Finally, these large files are broken down further into 50 smaller 15 MB chunks that are recompiled later to create the full file. This is done to help servers that have pre-installed scripts to error check the files. Then, the movie is ready to be "premiered" and the race is on.
File-Sharing Program Meets The Need For Download Speed
If you're not already familiar with it, remember this word: BitTorrent.
It's a term that hasn't joined the mainstream like iPod or Napster, but it's striking more fear into copyright owners - the makers of music, movies, sports, games, software, you name it - than anything that came before.
It's the fastest way yet to download music, legally or illegally, on the Internet. It can move huge files - not just songs but entire concerts. And it's open to more than just music. Films still in theaters and television shows that aired the night before are a part of the growing BitTorrent landscape.
"BitTorrent is one of the biggest advances in Internet technology since the browser," says Ethan Alpert, the designer and administrator of CoTapers.org, a local Web site devoted to concerts.
So just what has music collectors salivating and the entertainment industry shaking? Consider this small sampling of what's available via the new sites that operate with the BitTorrent technology:
• The latest episodes of Desperate Housewives, Arrested Development and 24 are available in high-definition TV files at sites such as www.tvtorrents.ws. Wired magazine has gone so far as to dub BitTorrent TiVo for the Internet.
• The film Sideways, nominated for a best-picture Oscar Tuesday and still in nationwide release at theaters, this week was the top illegal DVD download at piratebay.org, a Swedish site whose operators believe it is beyond the reach of U.S. copyright laws.
• A concert from the band Gomez - taped with the band's permission at Boulder's Fox Theatre on Monday - was available for download at CoTapers.org the following morning.
Like most technology, BitTorrent can be used for good or evil. Some sites blatantly flout copyright laws, others look for the gray areas they can exploit and a few such as CoTapers.org take pains to make sure everything available is legal.
While the legalities are questionable, the burgeoning force of the BitTorrent scene is not.
It's growing because it's fast. What would once take days to download now takes hours.
Other advances have helped push the movement forward - high- speed Internet access is now more prevalent, and new formats allow users to compress files further without harming the sound quality - but BitTorrent is proving to be the final, integral part of the equation.
And in a paradigm that stands computer logic on its ear, the faster the BitTorrent wave grows, the faster it actually works.
The technology operates by allowing users to take bits of material - be it from a concert, a film or a TV program - not from just one user but from the hundreds if not thousands of users who are hooked up and have the same file. The more people who have that information, the quicker it is to assemble the complete product.
What's more, the products aren't sketchy, inferior reproductions of the original, stitched together one three-minute song or film scene at a time.
It's complete movies in DVD quality. It's entire albums in perfect sound. It's live concerts, available online just hours after the last note is played.
While the television and film industries are still relative newcomers in the battle against Internet piracy, they have the grizzled music veterans to help them in their fight.
The Recording Industry Association of America just this week spearheaded an unprecedented coalition of groups - as diverse as the Motion Picture Association of America and Major League Baseball - and dozens of musicians, artists, photographers and scores more to petition the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling on file-swapping.
A previous ruling by a lower court has helped keep such sites afloat by noting that file-swapping programs can be used for legal purposes, such as distributing a file with the permission of its author.
Conversely, the operators of BitTorrent sites devoted to music have a leg up on those specializing in TV and movies because they have history on their side, having watched legal troubles bring down sites where MP3s were once swapped.
From Longmont, CoTapers.org is quietly running its site, with hundreds of live shows, under guidelines designed to keep it legal and infringement-free.
Alpert - a software engineer with a commercial satellite imagery company - makes sure that only "taper-friendly" bands are represented on the site and goes the extra mile to contact the bands and their management to get permission to distribute their shows that way.
"We are trying to keep it completely noncommercial and follow the wishes of bands. I don't take donations. I try to keep everything on the straight-up," Alpert says. "As a representative of CoTapers.org, I'll often communicate with management of the bands to find out if they have a taping policy and then get the word out."
Unlike many rock stars - The Eagles, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks and Jimmy Buffett are part of the RIAA's new coalition against file- sharing - many touring musicians are grateful to have their music spread far and wide, by whatever means.
"So many people are leaning toward the wave of the future. You get with it or you're left behind," says singer-songwriter Keller Williams, who has become a Colorado favorite largely through word of mouth and lots of live shows. His work is a favorite at CoTapers.org, and he encourages it.
Many bands tape every show and sell them through their own Web sites, but Williams thinks that's a bit of a rip-off, because not every show is perfect.
"I'm not into selling my mistakes," he says. If fans want it, however, he'll give it to them. "I'm totally good with that. You pay for the tickets, you can tape the show. It's a beautiful thing. It's meant to be listened to."
Other artists take a similar stance.
"Many bands, especially ones that are touring and making their dollars by visiting 150 cities a year, see a great advantage in getting their recordings shared," Alpert says. "It gets their names out. Now that CoTapers has a Web presence, people know about us."
Using normal file-transfer protocol technology, Alpert could transfer a full concert from his computer to two users in 24 hours. Using BitTorrent, "we can now do hundreds" in the same time, he says.
There still could be legal problems, but they're fairly minor compared with the wholesale copyright violations many sites commit. For instance, if a band covers a Bob Dylan song in its set and the show ends up on CoTapers.org, there's a technical problem with the publishing rights.
For some fans, BitTorrent has completely changed the way they get music.
"I pretty much have a workstation dedicated to my music," says Tim Scales, a design engineer in Longmont. He's essentially downloading shows "at all times," he says.
"I download shows approximately twice a week unless it is a heavy music month," says Bill Kuntz of Boulder. "The last two weeks I have been downloading all of the shows from Jam Cruise (a recently completed charter cruise featuring jam bands), and my PC has been linked up downloading for the last week."
In one respect, CoTapers.org is merely eliminating footwork. Tapers in the state were keeping in touch with one another via mailing lists and sharing their music freely. But it involved figuring out what was available, physically burning the music to CD and mailing it or dropping it off to other tapers.
Now it's much easier to get the same results by clicking a few keys. And if it turns out to sound bad or have other problems, you merely delete.
"Because of CoTapers.org, I have a copy of almost every show I have attended in the state," Kuntz says. "Prior to BitTorrent, it would take sometimes months to track down a show, especially from a smaller band or venue."
But harsh enforcement of copyright laws is bound to come swiftly.
"It's not anonymous. Anybody can connect to a BitTorrent download and see all the (Internet addresses) of people who are connected," Alpert says. "The people using it for illegal purposes - they're really being stupid."
Turbo Torrent 1.0.7 Download
P2P file-sharing freeware fully compatible with Bittorrent.
Turbo Torrent is a P2P file-sharing freeware fully compatible with Bittorrent, which is one of the most popular P2P protocol designed for high-speed distribution of large files (i.e., 100MB or GB sized files).
Turbo Torrent is a powerful, clean, fast, and easy-to-use Bittorrent client. It supports simultaneous downloads, download queue, selected downloads in torrent package, fast- resume, chatting, disk cache, speed limits, port mapping, proxy, ip-filter and more.
Turbo Torrent is also the most visually appealing as well as feature rich Bittorrent client. It aims to provide a gross amount of statistical and network data in a visually empowered format.
Turbo Torrent is the only Bittorrent client that comes complete with a built-in Web based Torrent Search Engine, so you can search for files without the need to rummage around countless forums and Web sites.
Turbo Torrent is not advertising supported, nor does it require registration, and no information is collected from or about product users. It is very small and easy to use and comes complete with full install and uninstall wizard.
Turbo Torrent Features:
Built-in Torrent Search Engine (Web based).
• Multiple simultaneous downloads, ability to select download files in one torrent and set file priority.
• Queuing and downloading of multiple torrents. (Starting, stopping, pausing, queue up, queue down etc)
• Ability to limit the upload speed as well as download speed.
• Intelligent Connection Optimize, Auto Optimization for different connections, runs well using all default settings.
• Intelligent Rate Control, optimize the upload distribution in order to get the max download rate.
• Intelligent Disk Allocating, no long-time disk allocation, also decrease the disk fragment to almost zero.
• Intelligent Hash Scan, no time-consuming scanning when seeding / resume.
• Ability to block IP temporarily or permanently.
• Support Muti-tracker torrent format, and utf-8 extension, UDP tracker Protocol.
• Real-time list of peer addresses and their statistics. Reverse DNS toggle-able.
• Advanced Progress bar graphically illustrates which pieces of the file have been downloaded.
• A graph to display upload and download rates over time. Each torrent being downloaded has it's own graph record.
• Optional Web Interface for remote adminstration.
• Friends Priority System. Friends IP address can be set to get upload preference if they are downloading the same file.
• Temporary upload priority can be given to peers by right clicking them in the list.
• Peers can be banned by right clicking them in the list.
• Detailed message view for statistics and error reporting.
• System tray icon graphically displays upload download statistics.
• Can be set to use user customizable folders for storing torrent and incoming files.
• User customizable upload choker (the choker determines which peer you upload to):
• User customizable color settings to change look and feel.
• User customizable global upload rate.
• User customizable upload behavior (upload rate / number of uploads)
• User customizable listening ports, ip bindings
• Multi-Tracker support
• Written in Python. Utilizes wxWidgets.
The End User: P2P revisits music roots
A Voice For The Consumer
If online music is going to be big business for the recording industry, and most people get their digital songs for free from file-sharing networks, then doesn't it make sense for the major labels to use those networks to sell their wares?
It's an obvious equation, but easier said than done. Several start-up technology companies are racing to find a solution using so-called peer-to-peer, or P2P, networks that make everyone happy.
There are strong incentives for doing so.
Tens of millions of people, mostly under the age of 25, are quite used to navigating these networks. In December, an average of 7.6 million users were logged on to file-sharing networks around the world at any given time, according to Big Champagne, a research company, and they were trading more than a billion files each month.
Even many of us well over the age of 25, who might not know a Morpheus from a Kazaa, grew up mixing our own dance tapes from records and cassettes. In that sense, said Martin Mills, chairman of the British independent recording label Beggars Group, using P2P networks more closely resembles listening to a radio station than stealing from the music companies.
On the Internet, "peer to peer" derives from the idea that each personal computer on a network is a "peer"; rather than centralize files on one computer server, each peer stores some files and shares them with other peers.
But in another context, one's "peers" also provide a prime way of discovering new music - a recommendation from a friend is a strong endorsement. In this way, P2P is getting back to music's roots, Mills said at a music conference in Cannes this week.
Even Napster, the pioneer of exchanging music over the Internet, hasn't lost sight of its P2P roots, said Christopher Gorog, chief executive of the company, which now is building a business based largely on monthly subscriptions.
"I can definitely see a day when Napster moves back to P2P, simply because it's a cost- efficient way of doing business," Gorog said, noting that Napster still owned some valuable patents in that area.
Meanwhile, Napster's founder, Shawn Fanning, is trying to make a business out of legal, licensed peer-to-peer networks. His company, Snocap, is positioning itself as a go-between for record labels and P2P networks, offering a music registry and technology platform.
Snocap last month signed an agreement with Universal Music Group to provide technology and database services for online distribution of the company's entire catalogue, said Alex Rofman, head of business development for Snocap.
On the other side of the equation, Snocap is working with MashBoxx, a file-sharing network headed by the former president of Grokster, as well as another P2P that wants to "move beyond the litigation," for a commercial start by early April, Rofman said.
It took a year and a half for Snocap to sign Universal Music Group, he said. "We're making great progress with all the other majors," he said. "From our perspective, it's not if but when."
Others on the same quest were more cautious.
"One of the issues that we all face is, what are the business rules," said Dave Jaworski of PassAlong Networks, a music referral service that hopes to start a P2P service commercially this summer.
In other words, who has the rights to a digital recording made by a fan at a concert that is then shared over P2P networks? Who gets paid for it? That is, if the technology in the networks can even identify one concert night's recording from the next night's, Jaworski said.
Here, as in other parts of the music business, complicated "rights" questions are tripping up the system. A track from a single may require different payments than the same track when it is in a compilation, for instance.
Or what about tracks, like those of the Beatles, that have been made digital against the wishes of the rights holders? Or files shared by e-mail? Finally, what about the MP3 of Aunt Edna singing her favorite rendition of "Happy Birthday?" Jaworski asked. Who gets paid for that?
Other companies, like Peer Impact, are also mining this field for possible commercial start sometime this year. The numbers are their biggest lure. As Gorog pointed out, "Only a small fraction of those using P2P networks illegally would need to convert to blow the success of iTunes out of the water."
Breakdown of Richard A. Epstein’s Argument Against P2P
Epstein: Grokster can’t raise even one whiff of the fair use defence that loomed so large in Betamax.
Klein: While I’ve not used Grokster, because I am more interested in distributed file storage versus distributed file sharing, I suspect it uses similar P2P concepts that I am advocating.
Epstein: First, there’s no class of nonobjecting owners of copyrighted material who don’t mind copying.
Klein: If I am interpreting this statement correctly, this means that there is no copyrighted material that can be shared. This is absurd. Ever heard of Linux? Mozilla? GNU and its GPL? It’s called copyleft.
Epstein: Second, there is no advertisements [sic] that can be watched at a different time.
Klein: Why not put advertisments on your site where you link to your content on P2P networks? When your users want to download your content, they go to your site and see your ads.
Better yet, you could embed your advertisments directly in your copyrighted work, though that probably won’t be appealing to your audience.
Epstein: And third, this time the content providers, moreover, are right to assume that this new technology won’t open up new revenue streams given that iTunes has already figured out how to tap this segment of the market.
Klein: Problem is, the iTMS infastructure is expensive, due to vast amounts of bandwidth wasted sending the same media to multiple users. By eliminating the traditional one-to-many distribution chain, you save yourself money. You can then either incur a larger profit from your existing customers or lower your sale price and get more customers.
Epstein: If Grokster has some legitimate use, then it can be reconfigured, perhaps with consultation with the content owners, in ways that allow for the legal sharing of data, a critical function that looms larger each passing day.
Klein: Any programmer will tell you it is practically impossible to create P2P software, or any technology for that matter, that knows the licensing terms for copyrighted works. To the software, everything is 1s and 0s, nothing more.
Epstein: In this case, I believe that shutting down Grokster, and leaving everyone else alone, marks the sensible first approximation to the correct solution.
Klein: Again, I’m not familiar with Grokster’s archicecture, but I don’t know if that’s possible. It isn’t at least with the Gnutella network.
Perhaps the problem is that these P2P vendors are creating proprietary networks and software. I’d like to see the industries go after Bram Cohen or someone who clearly has had no malicious intent at all.
We, P2P developers, are offering the industries technology that provides infinite distribution of their work, at no cost to them. They can take this and either use it to sell their work at a 100% profit or lower their prices and reach an extremely larger audience.
For the industries to reject this technology is absurd. They can use it for their benifit. 100% profits and lower prices for consumers! Why are they trying to kill the technology that they could instead benefit from? This is exactly like the Sony v. Betamax case. It’s just much more extreme.
Pulver Debuts P2P Bellster Network
Digital troublemaker Jeff Pulver is at it again. This time, he's unleashed a way to use the Internet to let anyone use your phone to make a call. And, conversely, you can place calls all over the world--often for free--by "borrowing" someone else's phone.
Bellster, as Pulver's new creation is called, smashes yet another telephone industry tradition. Until Bellster's release about a week ago, it was very difficult--if not impossible--to share a phone line with someone else without the phone company's consent. But now it's happening, thanks to voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, a burgeoning technology that lets Internet connections double as local phone lines. VoIP is the underlying plumbing in Bellster's system, which ultimately lets people call any type of phone.
The system is built on several groundbreaking ideas. There's the notion that people are willing to donate unused technology resources, a la the SETI@home project, which lets people contribute their computers' processing time to the search for extraterrestrials; peer-to-peer networks, through which millions of Internet-enabled devices can swap files at any time; and open-source software. The only expense is for the hardware, which can cost up to $1,000.
The technology is very new, and people in the VoIP industry are still digesting it. One analyst, who asked not to be named, said, "It sounds like a typical Pulver poke in the eye of the phone industry."
Early concerns are the expense, possible law abuses and the limited number of potential users who have the required server savvy. Typically, commentators think highly of the idea but pan the cost and the required technical sophistication. "It is, unfortunately, not for mere mortals," Alec Saunders writes on his Web log. On Slashdot, a reader offers dialogue instead of traditional commentary: "RING. 'Hello?' 'Hi, is your server running?' 'Well, you'd better catch it!'"
Bellster occupies new turf in the VoIP landscape. Among the new providers is the well-known Vonage, which sells unlimited calls from your home phone. Another type is represented by Skype and Pulver's Free World Dialup (FWD), which are free peer-to-peer telephone services. Calls are free when made among computers, but those from your PC to traditional phones cost extra.
Unlike Skype and FWD, Bellster lets users reach the public switched telephone networks anywhere in the world where there is a member gateway.
While serious technical and real-world adoption hurdles remain, the project does mark a step forward for the peer-to-peer networking model. Where most consumer applications previously have focused on sharing or swapping digitized content such as music and videos, Bellster instead shares communications networks.
That raises a threatening notion for telephone companies already struggling with falling profits and tectonic shifts in networking technology: If they lose their role as traffic cops that direct voice and data traffic on their networks, they could find themselves with even more pressure on their bottom lines.
Oh man, is there assembly required?
Like most new technology, Bellster necessitates much assembly of expensive equipment, and the software has so far only managed to attract a few hundred users since its recent release.
The basic ingredients are a local landline or cell phone line, a personal computer loaded with phone software known as a soft phone, and a server storing software from an open-source PBX (private branch exchange) called Asterisk. A PBX is essential to direct phone traffic. Also required is a converter for connecting your phone line to the Internet.
Next, minutes of calling time are needed. Where do all these minutes come from? People donate them, largely from the package of unlimited calling they have. Initially, Bellster users can only make calls if they donate calls.
Once the pieces are in place, Bellster creates what Pulver calls a "telephone cooperative." The call begins on someone's computer using the soft phone. It's broken into bits of data that travel over the Internet to a Bellster member's computer in the vicinity of the call's destination. The call then jumps back onto the traditional phone network using the Bellster member's local or cell phone line, which completes the call.
Pulver says there are already concerns about Bellster, including worries about a stranger using your phone line to make calls for potentially illegal purposes.
But there are also built-in safeguards; for instance, you can block certain numbers from being dialed from your line, and Bellster lets you set limits on how many calls you permit.
"The Bellster challenge for 2005 is to find out whether or not there are still people in the world who would let total strangers place noncommercial phone calls for free in exchange for the ability to do the same thing themselves," Pulver said in an e-mail.
Meet the new boss
Net Telephone Fees Have Users Fuming
John Rolff's latest broadband phone bill contained three words he vowed never to see again: "regulatory recovery fee."
The same charge was the reason he dumped his old phone provider, SBC Communications, in favor of Primus Telecommunications' Lingo, which lets his broadband line double as his phone line. From all appearances, Lingo hadn't been "adding these little nickel and dime charges," he said.
But now, the 38-year-old software engineer--along with 755,000 others--is learning that this had never really been the case. Lingo, Vonage, Time Warner Cable and every other commercial provider of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services have been collecting government fees for years. It's only in recent months that most have been coming clean on their statements--to fend off critics, as the spotlight on Net phone services grows.
Some, notably state governments, have called for broadband telephone services to pay the same regulatory fees that the traditional local phone providers--known as the "Baby Bells"--do. The Federal Communications Commission has so far kept regulators' hands off VoIP.
Hoping to counter calls for direct taxation and regulation, many of the Net phone operators now identify a "regulatory recovery fee" line item of 50 cents to $3 as part of their regular monthly service charges. They say they're highlighting the portion of local phone fees the Bells have always charged them for completing calls on local lines.
"A lot of people were raising this concern that we weren't funding telephone projects like the Bells were," said Jeffrey Citron, CEO of VoIP provider Vonage Holdings. "That's a red herring--I say 'malarkey' to it. We already fund part of it, and we wanted to show our customers and everybody else."
Net phone companies insist that the fees are legitimate, merely offsetting the costs of taxes and regulatory fees passed on to them by the local phone companies for completing Net calls, they say. Nevertheless, some critics say the label is at best misleading--and at worst a misrepresentation with potential for abuse.
The line item attempt to soothe angry state regulators seems instead to have riled VoIP customers, many of whom admire the outsider stance of broadband phone services as well as the cheaper rates. Rolff said he no longer views his operator as a lovable underdog with a hot technology trying to topple the Bell Goliaths.
"Lingo was like this outsider trying to take on the big, bad phone industry," he said Tuesday. "But now, they act just like them. Here I thought I'd found the answer, but it seems like they were just pretending all along. All of a sudden, SBC doesn't look that bad."
And that kind of harsh assessment is bad for an upstart industry in which the smallest operators, in particular, rely on word-of-mouth recommendations and "buzz" in lieu of large marketing budgets or longtime name recognition.
Follow the money—vaguely
VoIP providers say they have identified the longstanding fees in recent months without raising the cost of their services--no harm, no foul. But since it is unclear how, or even whether, the fees make their way to government coffers, the line items aren't sitting well with some consumers.
"The money is first handed to any of the four major phone companies, who then hand it to the government," said Janee Briesemeister, a senior policy analyst for the Consumers Union advocacy group.
How these sums are set and what's done with them aren't clear. "These charges, in the hands of the major phone companies, really amount to nothing--they're for whatever. That means everybody should be worried about something called a regulatory recovery fee," she said.
The billing controversy dates to September, when Vonage began breaking out the regulatory charges on its billing statements, a practice soon taken up by rivals, including Vonage, Lingo and BroadVoice. Net phone providers insist that their billing practices are legitimate because the charges directly offset fees passed on to them from the local phone companies, with nothing extra going into their own pockets.
Less than 2 percent of a typical Time Warner Cable bill for its Digital Phone offering contributes to a fund for rural telephone expansion and to a location-aware 911 service informally known as E911. Keith Cocozza, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable, said his company must contribute to those funds, despite the lack of government fees imposed directly onto VoIP firms.
"There really is an E911 service fee," he said. "We really do contribute to universal service."
True or not, listing the charges has struck a raw nerve among some customers and engendered new feelings of distrust.
"I would guess that the regulatory fee most people are seeing is related to the federal universal service," opined one contributor to a Broadband Reports forum critical of the fees. "However, I would NOT be surprised if the providers were slipping in something extra there."
FCC Lets SBC Dial Direct To Get Net Phone Numbers
By Ben Charny
The nation's top utility regulator has made it easier and cheaper for SBC Communications and other Internet phone service providers to get 10-digit phone numbers--another federal boost for the mushrooming broadband phone industry.
In essence, the Federal Communications Commission gave SBC permission to get telephone numbers directly from their official source--a privately run, quasi-government agency known as the North American Numbering Plan Administration. It's a much cheaper alternative.
Before the FCC's action, only those Net phone providers certified by states could approach the agency directly. The SBC division selling Net phone services argued that it wasn't fair; the calls actually use the Internet and are therefore off-limits to any regulation. Also, requiring certification multiplies the already onerous amount of expensive state and federal telephone regulation.
"The waiver is in the public interest," FCC commissioners wrote in a decision released this week. "It will help expedite the implementation of (Internet-enabled) services."
Other Internet phone providers are sure to win such an exemption, the FCC notes in its 27-page order. The rules exemption for SBC is in effect for another few months, as commissioners finish drafting rules for Net phone providers.
With its decision, the FCC continues to demonstrate a hands-off approach toward voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)--software that lets a broadband connection double as a phone line.
The technology is cheaper for consumers because it avoids the heavily taxed and regulated traditional local phone networks built and controlled by the Baby Bells--the four regional operating companies, including SBC, that remain in the wake of the breakup of AT&T.
While other cable companies and a host of upstarts such as Vonage Holdings have been selling VoIP since 2002, cable operators are considered the most daunting for the Bells because of their size, financial backing and political muscle.
From a historical perspective, the FCC notes that its decision is similar in importance to when cell phone operators first approached local phone operators to strike interconnection agreements that would let their customers call each other. Craig McCaw and the other cell phone pioneers were also seeking a "more efficient" and less expensive means.
An SBC spokesman on Wednesday thanked the FCC for continuing to keep Internet services "largely free of onerous regulations." He adds that it won't affect the timing of a commercial Internet phone service that SBC intends to introduce in the near future.
Critics are already stirring, though not yet commenting, as they digest the ruling. A telephone industry trade group, the Association of Local Telecommunications Services, has in the past claimed that SBC has a "strategy to impose access charges unlawfully."
Telephone services provider WilTel Communications is asking the FCC's enforcement bureau to investigate whether SBC is violating any longstanding communications laws.
When? When? WHEN?????
While the date still being given for the premiere by most sources is still late March, some recent information from various sources cold put the premiere as late as April or even May. There have been no indications that the potential delays have anything to do with any sort of production problems but sources at the BBC have indicated that the delay may have something to do with overseas sales. Some of the executives at BBC would prefer to have all of the major markets tied up before launching in the UK. Part of the reason is because of the rise of peer-to-peer file sharing. BBC is afraid that the core audience will have already seen the series before it premieres in the US or Australia, which could impact future sales if the series produces a follow-up series, which is currently expected.
Steal This Show
Lorne Manly and John Markoff
Most Shared Shows: Number of files shared during the week ending Jan. 16. Source: Big Champagne
ISAAC RICHARDS didn't think of himself as a rebel, or a shock to the well-lubricated system of the television industry. He was merely unhappy with the cable box provided by his local operator.
Dismayed by the sluggish channel-changing capability and the sparsely informative program guide, he decided to build a better cable box from scratch. Today, nearly three years since Mr. Richards, a 26-year-old computer software programmer in Willoughby, Ohio, embarked on his quest, hundreds of thousands of do-it-yourself television viewers are using the free software program he wrote, MythTV, to turn desktop personal computers into customized cable boxes, complete with the ability to record shows, surf the Web and strip out unwanted commercials.
The members of the MythTV community, who now do not have to pay monthly fees to rent set-top boxes or digital video recorders, have plenty of more mischievous company in trying to outwit the television industry. Millions of viewers are now watching illegal copies of television programs - even full seasons copied from popular DVD's - that are flitting about the Internet, thanks to other new programs that allow users to upload and download the large files quickly. And entrepreneurial souls are busily concocting even newer applications, including one that searches the Internet for illegal copies of any television shows you may desire and automatically downloads them to your computer.
These high-tech tricks address desires that have become standard in an age of instant media gratification: the desire to watch what you want, when and how you want it. And they're turning television - traditionally beamed into homes at the convenience of the broadcast and cable networks - into something more flexible, highly portable and commercial free.
Not surprisingly, the repercussions - particularly the rapidly growing number of shows available for the plucking online - terrify industry executives, who remember only too well what Napster and other file-sharing programs did to the music industry. They fret that if unchecked, rampant trading of files will threaten the riches of the relatively new and surprisingly lucrative television DVD business. It could endanger sales of television shows to international markets and into syndication. And it could further endanger what for the past 50 years has been television's economic linchpin: the 30-second commercial.
Hollywood has gotten a lot of headlines in recent months for fighting the online traffic in feature films. But behind the scenes, the studios and networks are just as focused on the proliferation of television shows being downloaded. Even more quietly, the conglomerates that produce the vast majority of television shows are scrambling to beat the downloaders by offering viewers a slew of attractive new gewgaws, from video-on-demand offerings that could let viewers order up an episode of "CSI" any time they like to a device that allows viewers who tune into the middle of a live TV broadcast to restart the program instantly.
"We have to try as an industry to get ahead of this and give the audience an attractive model before the illegal file-sharer providers meet their needs," said David F. Poltrack, CBS Television's executive vice president for research and planning.
"The clock is ticking on this," he added.
It all started with the digital video recorder. First popularized by TiVo and ReplayTV about five years ago, the DVR gave consumers a new degree of control: instead of being at the mercy of the broadcast schedule or VCR's, they could now be their own television programmers, scheduling shows at their convenience, pausing live television and skipping easily past commercials. Smith Barney estimates that though only a little more than 6 million Americans now use DVR's, by 2010 nearly half of American television households, or 58 million homes, will have them.
Meanwhile, the file-sharing networks that are the scourge of the music industry began to have their way with television. Two factors slowed the spread: television isn't as expensive as recorded music, and its digitized files are significantly larger and harder to maneuver than their music equivalents. But hacking the cable box or stealing pay- cable channels like HBO is a longstanding tradition. "There is a sense of entitlement that once it hits the airwaves it's free," said Brandon Burgess, NBC Universal's executive vice president for digital media, international channels and business development.
Until recently, it was hard for average viewers to act on that sense. But these days all it takes is a broadband connection and a program like BitTorrent.
Created by Bram Cohen, a 29-year-old programmer in Bellevue, Wash., BitTorrent breaks files hundreds or thousands of times bigger than a song file into small pieces to speed its path to the Internet and then to your computer. On the kind of peer-to-peer site that gave the music industry night sweats, an episode of "Desperate Housewives" that some fan copied and posted on the Internet can take hours to download; on BitTorrent, it arrives in minutes. BitTorrent may sound like some obscure techno-trickery, but more than 20 million people have already downloaded the application. Each week dozens of shows are shared by hundreds of thousands of people. "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and "Friends" top the most-popular list, but even "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Trading Spaces" and "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" landed in the Top 20 for the week ending Jan. 16, according to Big Champagne, which measures file-sharing activity.
And the technology is getting easier to use by the day. Sajeeth Cherian, a 20-year-old communications engineering senior at Carleton University in Ottawa, decided there must be a better way to find BitTorrent files on the Web after listening to the constant gripes of his roommate about how much time he was spending searching for Japanese anime. Videora was his response. Plug in what shows you want to find, and it does all the work. He's charging $22.95 for the software.
"I thought this was a big idea, a bigger idea than trying to shut my roommate up," Mr. Cherian said.
Although it can be used for piracy, Videora is legal, he said: "I've considered this. I wouldn't want to get my pants sued off, and this has many legitimate uses."
However, Videora's illegitimate uses threaten one of the most welcome bonanzas for the television industry in recent years. Television DVD's, an afterthought in the DVD market just three years ago, were an estimated $2.3 billion-dollar business last year, according to a recent Merrill Lynch research report. They now represent nearly 15 percent of total DVD revenue, with profit margins between 40 and 50 percent.
Recent hit shows like "The Simpsons" can make a profit of $15 million - a season. And those are exactly the shows traded most online, according to Big Champagne. Although older shows are not quite as lucrative, the better ones can still bring in $1 million in profit for each season, the Merrill Lynch report found. So it's no surprise that the studios and networks are emptying their vaults; "The Bob Newhart Show," "Dynasty," "The A-Team," "Moonlighting" and "Remington Steele" are just a few of the DVD's planned for release this spring.
Executives at the entertainment conglomerates and the Motion Picture Association of America argue that the industry and the government have to move - fast - to establish rules by which copyrighted television programming "cannot be moved around willy-nilly," as Rick Cotton, executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal, puts it.
Otherwise, television executives say, the very creation of television programming is placed in jeopardy. "It's very expensive to produce and market, and people will be very reluctant to provide that content if it can't be adequately secured," said John Malcolm, the senior vice president and director of worldwide antipiracy operations for the M.P.A.A.
One way to protect such content, according to the industry, is through the introduction of something called the broadcast flag. The Federal Communications Commission announced in the fall of 2003 that any digitally broadcast show must include an invisible antipiracy device.
This has not gone over well with viewers. Last October, nine nonprofit groups petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the action oversteps the F.C.C.'s authority, making life more complicated for law-abiding home viewers while being "entirely ineffective at stopping any pirate."
At the grass roots, the response has been more direct: a rush to buy and even build television sets and DVD recorders that sidestep the ruling. Home consumer devices, from digital televisions to DVD recorders, sold before July 1 do not have to recognize the broadcast flag. So the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties organization (and one of the nine petitioners), has decided to set up what it is calling the Television Digital Liberation Front. Starting last July 29, it began holding the first of a planned series of nationwide "buildathons" to help novices build home-brew digital televisions and DVR's based on systems like the perfectly legal MythTV software.
Those systems are still pretty clunky to assemble, requiring technical skills beyond the grasp of most couch potatoes, not to mention bulky, fan-noise-spewing P.C.'s. But television tinkerers are trying to smooth these experiences - for profit or not.
Cecil Watson, a 32-year-old software expert in Fontana, Calif., created KnoppMyth to make the installation of MythTV as simple as possible. The MythTV movement is "picking up steam," Mr. Watson said, because it satisfies the way he wants to watch television today - and he doesn't have to pay rental fees for a cable box or a DVR if he chooses not to. "It records the shows I want to watch and I now have the choice to spend the time the way I want," he said.
The build-your-own-TV advocates say they're not looking to steal content; they're just looking for a reasonable amount of flexibility to watch the same recorded program in different rooms, or on the train to work; to lend friends a TV recording the way they used to lend videotapes; to bring the same set of recordings from their city home to their vacation house.
Playing the same show on different screens around the house seems reasonable, said Mr. Cotton of NBC Universal. But he added that expanding the circle much beyond that, the way future versions of the recently released TiVoToGo offering might allow one to send recorded programs over the Internet to nine other devices, including P.C.'s and laptops, was dangerously excessive. "Once you allow that much, is the technology really secure?" Mr. Cotton asked.
A spokeswoman for TiVo said that the current analog version does not allow transferring files outside a home network, but that the F.C.C. has nonetheless approved the company's security measures if it rolls out a robust digital version.
Ultimately, whether the television industry can avoid the disruptive fury that sideswiped the music industry - and even find lucrative ways to benefit from a digital, broadband, interconnected and portable entertainment world - will depend on how fast and flexible the conglomerates are in meeting viewers' changing desires.
It will also depend on understanding the motivation behind this flurry of new activity. It's not just the thrill of the illicit, like lighting up behind a Kroger's in high school. That is "woefully inadequate to describe why millions of people steal," said Mr. Garland of Big Champagne, the online media measurement company. "People aren't essentially lawless. It takes far more motivation than that."
The industry has begun experimenting, rethinking the rules by which television is disseminated. Some of the proposals, which center on video on demand, are fairly radical, going beyond the movies, news programs and N.F.L. highlights that make up today's most ambitious offerings.
Mr. Poltrack of CBS said that according to his network's research, a large number of viewers would welcome the chance to pay $1 to watch each television show, if they could do it on their own schedule and with the ability to skip commercials. With commercials, they'd be willing to pay 50 cents. And because the average viewer sees only half of a show's episodes, he said, this on-demand viewing won't hurt the regular showing.
A further CBS study gave viewers the chance to build their own night of television, where they could choose among a select group of pay-per-view shows in addition to the regular schedule of free programming that night. More than half of the 211 respondents chose to pay extra for at least one show. "This is the way people want television delivered," Mr. Poltrack said.
Before this video-on-demand vision materializes, a bewildering thicket of contract and revenue-sharing issues among the producers, programmers and distributors of television must be overcome.
Nonetheless, executives understand that they have little alternative but to push ahead. Chasing after the people trafficking in television programming can do only so much good.
"You'll make more money and suffer far less from the black market if you simply create the opportunity to access content freely," said Mr. Garland of Big Champagne. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/30/ar...on/30manl.html
Tool for Thought
One often hears from younger writers that they can't imagine how anyone managed to compose an article, much less an entire book, with a typewriter. Kerouac banging away at his Underwood portable? Hemingway perched over his Remington? They might as well be monastic scribes or cave painters.
But if the modern word processor has become a near-universal tool for today's writers, its impact has been less revolutionary than you might think. Word processors let us create sentences without the unwieldy cross-outs and erasures of paper, and despite the occasional catastrophic failure, our hard drives are better suited for storing and retrieving documents than file cabinets. But writers don't normally rely on the computer for the more subtle arts of inspiration and association. We use the computer to process words, but the ideas that animate those words originate somewhere else, away from the screen. The word processor has changed the way we write, but it hasn't yet changed the way we think.
Changing the way we think, of course, was the cardinal objective of many early computer visionaries: Vannevar Bush's seminal 1945 essay that envisioned the modern, hypertext-driven information machine was called ''As We May Think''; Howard Rheingold's wonderful account of computing's pioneers was called ''Tools for Thought.'' Most of these gurus would be disappointed to find that, decades later, the most sophisticated form of artificial intelligence in our writing tools lies in our grammar checkers.
But 2005 may be the year when tools for thought become a reality for people who manipulate words for a living, thanks to the release of nearly a dozen new programs all aiming to do for your personal information what Google has done for the Internet. These programs all work in slightly different ways, but they share two remarkable properties: the ability to interpret the meaning of text documents; and the ability to filter through thousands of documents in the time it takes to have a sip of coffee. Put those two elements together and you have a tool that will have as significant an impact on the way writers work as the original word processors did.
For the past three years, I've been using tools comparable to the new ones hitting the market, so I have extensive firsthand experience with the way the software changes the creative process. (I have used a custom-designed application, created by the programmer Maciej Ceglowski at the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education, and now use an off-the-shelf program called DEVONthink.) The raw material the software relies on is an archive of my writings and notes, plus a few thousand choice quotes from books I have read over the past decade: an archive, in other words, of all my old ideas, and the ideas that have influenced me.
Having all this information available at my fingerprints does more than help me find my notes faster. Yes, when I'm trying to track down an article I wrote many years ago, it's now much easier to retrieve. But the qualitative change lies elsewhere: in finding documents I've forgotten about altogether, documents that I didn't know I was looking for.
What does this mean in practice? Consider how I used the tool in writing my last book, which revolved around the latest developments in brain science. I would write a paragraph that addressed the human brain's remarkable facility for interpreting facial expressions. I'd then plug that paragraph into the software, and ask it to find other, similar passages in my archive. Instantly, a list of quotes would be returned: some on the neural architecture that triggers facial expressions, others on the evolutionary history of the smile, still others that dealt with the expressiveness of our near relatives, the chimpanzees. Invariably, one or two of these would trigger a new association in my head -- I'd forgotten about the chimpanzee connection -- and I'd select that quote, and ask the software to find a new batch of documents similar to it. Before long a larger idea had taken shape in my head, built out of the trail of associations the machine had assembled for me.
Compare that to the traditional way of exploring your files, where the computer is like a dutiful, but dumb, butler: ''Find me that document about the chimpanzees!'' That's searching. The other feels different, so different that we don't quite have a verb for it: it's riffing, or brainstorming, or exploring. There are false starts and red herrings, to be sure, but there are just as many happy accidents and unexpected discoveries. Indeed, the fuzziness of the results is part of what makes the software so powerful.
These tools are smart enough to get around the classic search engine failing of excessive specificity: searching for ''dog'' and missing all the articles that have only ''canine'' in them. Modern indexing software learns associations between individual words, by tracking the frequency with which words appear near each other. This can create almost lyrical connections between ideas. I'm now working on a project that involves the history of the London sewers. The other day I ran a search that included the word ''sewage'' several times. Because the software knows the word ''waste'' is often used alongside ''sewage'' it directed me to a quote that explained the way bones evolved in vertebrate bodies: by repurposing the calcium waste products created by the metabolism of cells.
That might seem like an errant result, but it sent me off on a long and fruitful tangent into the way complex systems -- whether cities or bodies -- find productive uses for the waste they create. It's still early, but I may well get an entire chapter out of that little spark of an idea.
Now, strictly speaking, who is responsible for that initial idea? Was it me or the software? It sounds like a facetious question, but I mean it seriously. Obviously, the computer wasn't conscious of the idea taking shape, and I supplied the conceptual glue that linked the London sewers to cell metabolism. But I'm not at all confident I would have made the initial connection without the help of the software. The idea was a true collaboration, two very different kinds of intelligence playing off each other, one carbon-based, the other silicon.
IF these tools do get adopted, will they affect the kinds of books and essays people write? I suspect they might, because they are not as helpful to narratives or linear arguments; they're associative tools ultimately. They don't do cause-and-effect as well as they do ''x reminds me of y.'' So they're ideally suited for books organized around ideas rather than single narrative threads: more ''Lives of a Cell'' and ''The Tipping Point'' than ''Seabiscuit.''
No doubt some will say that these tools remind them of the way they use Google already, and the comparison is apt. (One of the new applications that came out last year was Google Desktop -- using the search engine's tools to filter through your personal files.) But there's a fundamental difference between searching a universe of documents created by strangers and searching your own personal library. When you're freewheeling through ideas that you yourself have collated -- particularly when you'd long ago forgotten about them -- there's something about the experience that seems uncannily like freewheeling through the corridors of your own memory. It feels like thinking.
A most excellent article
Our naturalist of the mind
Alexander Shulgin, Sasha to his friends, lives with his wife, Ann, 30 minutes inland from the San Francisco Bay on a hillside dotted with valley oak, Monterey pine and hallucinogenic cactus. At 79, he stoops a little, but he is still well over six feet tall, with a mane of white hair, a matching beard and a wardrobe that runs toward sandals, slacks and short-sleeved shirts with vaguely ethnic patterns. He lives modestly, drawing income from a small stock portfolio supplemented by his Social Security and the rent that two phone companies pay him to put cell towers on his land. In many respects he might pass for a typical Contra Costa County retiree.
It was an acquaintance of Shulgin's named Humphry Osmond, a British psychiatrist and researcher into the effects of mescaline and LSD, who coined the word ''psychedelic'' in the late 1950's for a class of drugs that significantly alter one's perception of reality. Derived from Greek, the term translates as ''mind manifesting'' and is preferred by those who believe in the curative power of such chemicals. Skeptics tend to call them hallucinogens.
Shulgin is in the former camp. There's a story he likes to tell about the past 100 years: ''At the beginning of the 20th century, there were only two psychedelic compounds known to Western science: cannabis and mescaline. A little over 50 years later -- with LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, TMA, several compounds based on DMT and various other isomers -- the number was up to almost 20. By 2000, there were well over 200. So you see, the growth is exponential.'' When I asked him whether that meant that by 2050 we'll be up to 2,000, he smiled and said, ''The way it's building up now, we may have well over that number.''
The point is clear enough: the continuing explosion in options for chemical mind-manifestation is as natural as the passage of time. But what Shulgin's narrative leaves out is the fact that most of this supposedly inexorable diversification took place in a lab in his backyard. For 40 years, working in plain sight of the law and publishing his results, Shulgin has been a one-man psychopharmacological research sector. (Timothy Leary called him one of the century's most important scientists.) By Shulgin's own count, he has created nearly 200 psychedelic compounds, among them stimulants, depressants, aphrodisiacs, ''empathogens,'' convulsants, drugs that alter hearing, drugs that slow one's sense of time, drugs that speed it up, drugs that trigger violent outbursts, drugs that deaden emotion -- in short, a veritable lexicon of tactile and emotional experience. And in 1976, Shulgin fished an obscure chemical called MDMA out of the depths of the chemical literature and introduced it to the wider world, where it came to be known as Ecstasy.
In the small subculture that truly believes in better living through chemistry, Shulgin's oeuvre has made him an icon and a hero: part pioneer, part holy man, part connoisseur. As his supporters point out, his work places him in an old, and in many cultures venerable, tradition. Whether it's West African iboga ceremonies or Navajo peyote rituals, 60's LSD culture or the age-old cultivation of cannabis nearly everywhere on the planet it can grow, the pursuit and celebration of chemically-induced alternate realms of consciousness goes back beyond the dawn of recorded history and has proved impossible to fully suppress. Shulgin sees nothing strange about devoting his life to it. What's strange to him is that so few others see fit to do the same thing.
Can’t get it down
Beijing’s Blog Problem
China’s blog monitoring is pervasive, but largely ineffective.
Readers of Yan Sham-Shackleton’s blog know her as “gluttergirl.” But until a week ago, her regular readers in China couldn’t access her blog. The Chinese government had banned it for more than a year. Her pro-democracy writings might have had something to do with this.
The Chinese government is notorious for its aggressive censorship of dissent and obscenity on the Internet. Human Rights Watch produced a report on the country’s Internet surveillance activities in August 2001. Besides China, countries that monitor web surfers’ reading habits include Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam. But China is the most persistent, says Nart Villeneuve, director of technical research at the OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration of three academic groups that analyzes Internet filtering and surveillance.
For the past year, the Chinese government has been filtering blogs. Censors have filters at all levels, from Internet service providers to Internet cafés. The OpenNet Initiative recently released a study detailing how three Chinese blog providers— blogdriver.com, blogbus.com, and blogcn.com–have filtering mechanisms to control the content of the blogs they host.
“It’s extremely targeted,” says Mr. Villeneuve. “[The Chinese government] implements filtering and information control at various levels that overlap with each other. That forms a matrix.”
The matrix catches words and information that the Chinese government doesn’t want its citizens, or foreign residents, to read or talk about. They could be words as innocent as “making” and “naïve.” “Sex,” of course, is a bad word. So are more obvious offenders like “falun” and “Tibettalk.”
Last year, the Chinese government shut down two blogging services, Blogbus and Blogcn, but reopened them soon after. “Most governments don’t want to stop everything on the web. Most governments do want the economic benefits of an open Internet,” says John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, which is part of the OpenNet Initiative. The other two groups that make up the Initiative are the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab and the University of Cambridge’s Advanced Network Research Group.
The reopened services still filter content, but ineffectively, according to the report. Blogbus only caught 18 of the 987 keywords that are on a blacklist discovered in an instant messaging application, while Blogcn filtered 19. Even Blogdriver, the most effective, only filtered 350.
John Morris, director of the Internet Standards, Technology and Policy Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, says filtering based on keywords usually would be ineffective, because people can get around keywords by playing with spelling and using acronyms. Maybe the filters aren’t there to filter anything of consequence, though. Some observers say they’re meant to send a message to the Chinese people that everything they publish on the web is under surveillance.
If the Chinese government wants to monitor blogs, it will have to keep up with the frenetic pace at which technology evolves. Business does not rest. Last week, BlogChina.com bought Blogdriver.com. The cat-and-mouse game looks like it’ll continue.
The hundred-buck PC
MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte Pushes A Cheap PC For The Rest Of The World
The founder and chairman of the MIT Media Lab wants to create a $100 portable computer for the developing world. Nicholas Negroponte, author of Being Digital and the Wiesner Professor of Media Technology at MIT, says he has obtained promises of support from a number of major companies, including Advanced Micro Devices, Google, Motorola, Samsung, and News Corp.
The low-cost computer will have a 14-inch color screen, AMD chips, and will run Linux software, Mr. Negroponte said during an interview Friday with Red Herring at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. AMD is separately working on a cheap desktop computer for emerging markets. It will be sold to governments for wide distribution.
Mr. Negroponte and his supporters are planning to create a company that would manufacture and market the new portable PCs, with MIT as one of the stakeholders. It is unclear precisely what role the other four companies will play, although Mr. Negroponte hopes News Corp. will help with satellite capacity.
An engineering prototype is nearly ready, with alpha units expected by year’s end and real production around 18 months from now, he said. The portable PCs will be shipped directly to education ministries, with China first on the list. Only orders of 1 million or more units will be accepted.
Mr. Negroponte’s idea is to develop educational software and have the portable personal computer replace textbooks in schools in much the same way that France’s Minitel videotext terminal, which was developed by France Telecom in the 1980s, became a substitute for phone books.
Mr. Negroponte has been interested in developing computing in the developing world for some time. He and his wife have funded three schools in rural Cambodia, helping outfit them with regular laptops and broadband connections.
Major companies from Hewlett-Packard to Microsoft to Dupont, facing saturated markets in the richest industrial countries, have shown an interest in developing less expensive products to sell in low-income countries in south Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Interview - McKenzie Wark
To the Vector the Spoils
When one ventures into territories without proper maps, McKenzie Wark is the kind of guy one wants to have around. His intuition in such cases is the beacon to the next viable vantage point.
Wark's intuition has shown up in his books, Virtual Geography, The Virtual Republic, Celebrities, Culture and Cyberspace, and Dispositions, among others. He was a co-editor of the Nettime anthology Readme! and with Brad Miller co-produced the multimedia work Planet of Noise. In addition, he has written for such publications as the late Australian cyberculture magazine 21C, the rabble-rousing, subversive web site Disinformation , the recent CTRL [SPACE] anthology (MIT Press, 2002) and countless other cracks and crevaces of print and cyberspace. He is also a professor at the State University of New York.
Regardless of where you find his work, McKenzie Wark will direct you to that next place from which to see.
frontwheeldrive: Let's get our terms aligned first: How do you define the term 'hacker'? Do you include artsists, software developers and other so-called 'knowledge workers'?
McKenzie Wark: I think everyone who actually creates 'intellectual property' could consider themselves part of the same class -- the hacker class -- and as having convergent interests. So, yes, that could include programmers, musicians, writers, and also engineers, chemists -- all sorts of people who are culturally distinct. What we have in common is that we have to sell the products of our intellectual labor to corporations who have a monopoly on realizing its value. We invent the idea, but they control the means of production. The laws that used to protect us -- copyright and patent -- have been subtly changing over the course of the last few decades to protect corporate owners of existing 'intellectual property', not individual creators of new ideas. And so I wrote 'A Hacker Manifesto', to dramatize this emergent conflict.
I like the idea that information's world doesn't have an equivalent to physical world's second law of thermodynamics and that this idea represents true freedom. Is there a danger of this auspicious outlook failing?
The commodity economy runs on scarcity. It's all about making the wealth produced by labor the exclusive, private property of the few. At the moment its hard to argue for the socialization of wealth. Some part of it needs to be social, or things just won't function at all. Every civilized society recognizes the need for socialized health and pensions.
But when we come to information, there's no need for it to be privatized. Economists call information a 'non-rivalrous resource'. Which is an oxymoron. Basically it is an admission that information need not be subject to the laws of scarcity at all. My possession of some information does not deprive you of it. The cost of making a copy is being reduced all the time.
So the one place where we can still entertain the idea of a release from scarcity is the world of information. It could have a quite different economy, or a non-economy. It is by legal artifice, the repressive force of the police and cultural re- engineering that we are being persuaded of the necessity of a purely private economy of information, where Mickey Mouse is somebody's fiefdom in perpetuity, where nothing ever comes back to the public domain. I think we have to fight that.
But where Lawrence Lessig and others see this as a fight to get the law to recognize the common sense of a public domain, I think it is much more than that. We are up against a new and powerful class interest, which profits by the commodification of information rather than the manufacture of things. We have to resist this new interest with technical and cultural means as well as through legal challenges.
The idea of education as slavery seems to be becoming more and more prevalent in intellectual circles. What do you think should be done about the education problem?
So-called critical theory in the universities becomes merely hypocritical theory if it doesn't deal with the fact that education is now part of the problem, not part of the solution. Education is about creating scarcity. Here in the United States we have the least democratic, most aristocratic education system in the (over)developed world. It is all about rationing prestige. It has nothing to do with seeking knowledge.
Knowledge too has to be released from scarcity and hierarchy. Forcing people to submit to 20 years of mental enslavement -- all their childhood and young adult life -- just to secure a reasonable standard of living is a status quo that needs to be challenged.
With information as commodity and media/ communication as architecture, where should the hacker seek to gain/maintain power and/or control?
Firstly, its a question of realizing that all intellectual creators are 'hackers'. It is about realizing a common interest that has nothing to do with choices of identity, culture or taste. A class interest, in short.
Secondly, its about realizing that our class interest confronts another, what I call the vectoralist class. The vectoralist class controls the means of realizing the value of what we create. They control the vectors along which new information moves. A broadcasting network is a vector, but so too is a drug company. New information could be in the form of a digital file or a little pink pill. The form doesn't matter. What does is that the class interest of the vectoralists lies in making ideas a form of exclusive, perpetual and global private property.
Thirdly, it's a matter of tactics. One can mount legal challenges to the enclosure of information in ever more restrictive intellectual property law. One can mount political challenges, in uniting the various branches of the hacker class. Or one can mount a cultural challenge, by showing that the interests of the public are not served by the exclusive control of information by a handful of corporations. And of course there is the technological strategy, of creating new tools for sharing information freely. But really, its a question of getting all of these tactics to work together, to create a strategy, perhaps edven an alternative logistics in which information is free.
While reading Virtual Geography, I couldn't help but feel a weird sense of amnesia. I remembered all of the media events therein, but only as vague blips on the radar. How do we interject the idea of memory into the mediasphere?
As Guy Debord used to argue, the triumph of the spectacle is in the defeat of history and the installation of 'spectacular time' which is purely cyclical. We no longer have history we have fashion. Of course history always crashes the party, but it appears as something inexplicable. The nightmare of 9/11 video footage on endless replay, defying explanation
The temptation in media criticism, especially in America, is to claim a higher access to truth. All media is false, but one's personal experience of identity is somehow authentic. Politics is atomized into subjective feeling and turned into a species of moral judgement. This creates that peculiarly American pseudo-leftist language that is really about moral authority, a kind of weird mutant puritanism.
An alternative is to take the great events that cross the media vector, and to freeze the frame. Look closely at the decisive images. Wind tha tape backwards, looking for patterns. Play the whole thing in fast forward to look at the rhythm of the edits. In other words, we can discover history within the media image, without making claims to an external, superior grasp on truth. Through the classic Burroughsian techniques of cut up, play back, repetition, we can produce our own knowledge of media as history, history as mediation.
Is there anything else on which you're working that you'd like to bring up here?
I'm increasingly interested in the dual character of the vectoral empire. It has its engines of privatized information, but it also has its engine of vectoralizing military power. We are truly in the age of infowar. Of course real people die, killed by real bombs, but information over where those people, are, how to target them with bombs -- that's the new face of warfare. IThe new warfare is a suspected terrorist in Yemen being assassinated by a remote controlled drone. It's the infrastructure of Serbia being jammed with strategically placed bombing that shuts down all command and control.
Now, the two faces of empire are closely linked in that they both run on the same vectoral technologies. There is a military- entertainment complex that turns civilian and military space alike into a gamespace for the calculation of moves, governed by arbitrary but nevertheless effective rules. We are in the middle of a great game, the goal of which is subordinate history to reason. Not to Hegel's historical reason, but the logic of the game. And anyone who won't play by the rules is to be contained (Kim Jong Il) or eliminated (Saddam).
To the vector the spoils...
Don’t buy it
J. K. Rowling Warns Fans
J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter adventures, has warned fans of the boy wizard to beware of an Internet scheme intended to separate them from their identities, Reuters reported. In an incident of so-called phishing, Potter devotees were asked to surrender bank and credit card information to pay for an electronic copy of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," above, scheduled for publication on July 16. She said, "Please, please protect yourselves, your computers and your credit cards and do not fall for these scams." Neil Blair, Ms. Rowling’s copyright lawyer, pointed out that she had never granted licenses for electronic versions of her books. Her lawyers succeeded in closing down the Web site.
First OverSi raises $700,000 from Stage 1
First OverSi develops traffic control and proxy servers designed to slash bandwidth expenses for ISPs.
Israeli start-up First OverSi announced today the completion of a $700,000 financing round from StageOne Ventures and its investment arm, Lab-One.
First OverSi develops traffic control and proxy servers designed to slash lighten traffic loads stemming from end customers uses of P2P (peer-to-peer) software. The company’s system is aimed primarily at Internet Service Providers (ISPs). First OverSi says that Israeli ISPs are already considering its system.
CEO Ofer Wald, a founder of Surfree, and director Eitan Efron, and founder of KereniX, founded First OverSi. Both Surfree and KereniX have closed down.
First OverSi addresses one of the biggest problems of communications network operators and ISPs bottlenecks and high traffic costs stemming from increasing use of file sharing. Figures from ISPs indicate that file sharing currently accounts for 70-90% of all Internet traffic.
First OverSi’s system enables ISPs to control P2P traffic, while substantially reducing the loan on the network and services costs, and improving performance for the end-customer. The company is currently preparing to test its first system with ISPs in Israel.
StageOne Ventures managing partner Adoram Gaash said today, “First OverSi provides a solution for one of the most painful problems for ISPs in the era of broadband and file sharing. The company expects to improve service quality for ISPs and slash their broadband costs to a fraction. It’s no wonder that First OverSi is arousing enormous interest among communications providers in Israel and around the world.”
First OverSi plans to use the money raised to increase accelerate its development, and to being marketing. Based in Lab-One’s offices, the company has six employees.
SBC Agrees to Acquire AT&T for $16 Billion
SBC Communications this morning concluded a $16 billion deal for its former parent, AT&T, that would lead to the virtual disappearance of one of America's best known corporate icons and set off what promises to be a new round of competition between the Baby Bells, executives close to the negotiations said.
SBC's board approved the deal while AT&T executives met far into the night trying to reach an agreement. In buying AT&T, its national network and three million corporate customers, SBC can aggressively expand into the turf of its regional Bell siblings, who themselves are grappling for ways to move beyond their borders.
AT&T, the former monopoly, has been undone by cheaper Internet technology, growth in a cellphone industry where it has no role, and regulatory changes that squeezed it out of the local phone market.
The AT&T brand and operations are likely to survive inside SBC, which has its roots in the Southwest. But it will disappear as an independent company that for generations provided reliable phone service to the masses and steady returns to shareholders, and at its height employed more than one million workers.
"AT&T was America's answer to Communism, serving everyone's needs," said James E. Katz, a telecommunications historian. "But neither Communism nor AT&T is suited to capitalism in the 21st century. Like other once-dominant players, when the technology changed, it couldn't survive."
Consumers would be largely unaffected by SBC's purchase. AT&T, based in Bedminster, N.J., has stopped marketing its traditional local and long-distance services and prices for these products have been falling steeply regardless.
In expanding nationally, SBC hopes to create a company that largely resembles but does not equal the monopoly popularly known as Ma Bell that was broken up in 1984. The acquisition would vault SBC past Verizon Communications, which itself became the nation's biggest telecommunications company when Bell Atlantic bought GTE in 2000.
SBC is expected to pay $15 billion in stock and $1 billion in cash, an amount based on AT&T's closing price of $19.71 on Friday, the executives said. The new company will have combined annual sales of $70 billion and 212,000 employees, and it could well retain the AT&T name.
The companies expect to generate about $15 billion in cost savings and new revenue, executives close to the negotiations said. The companies have not decided how many jobs they plan to eliminate. But industry analysts expect SBC to lay off large numbers of workers in AT&T's shrinking consumer division.
AT&T as it was known will become a footnote. The company has roots stretching back to 1876, three years before Thomas A. Edison introduced his incandescent lamp.
From 1913 to 1984, AT&T ran a government-sanctioned monopoly that had a mandate to provide universal service. On Wall Street, it was also one of the most widely held stocks; legions of brokers recommended it to "widows and orphans" because of its reputed stability.
But in the last few years, AT&T had become a shell of itself, exhausted from years of competition, mistaken strategies and new technologies that eroded its reason for being. The company is still the largest long-distance provider, but now has just 23 percent of the market, down from 85 percent in 1984.
SBC and Verizon are now the second- and third-largest long-distance carriers with 12.8 percent of the market each, shares they accumulated only since they were allowed to enter the market in the late 1990's.
Ma Bell's stature fell further in 2003 when Verizon replaced AT&T in the Dow Jones industrial average, the ultimate status symbol among American companies.
What High-Definition Will Do To DVDs
By Jo Twist
First it was the humble home video, then it was the DVD, and now Hollywood is preparing for the next revolution in home entertainment - high-definition.
High-definition gives incredible, 3D-like pictures and surround sound.
The DVD disks and the gear to play them will not be out for another year or so, and there at are still a number of issues to be sorted out.
But when high-definition films do come out on the new format DVDs, it will profoundly change home entertainment.
For Rick Dean, director of business development for digital content company THX, a high-definition future is an exciting prospect.
He has worked on the Star Wars DVD trilogy, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Indiana Jones.
"There was a time not so long ago when the film world and the video world were two completely separate worlds," he told the BBC News website.
I would love to be able to show people what projects that we worked on really look like in the high-def world and I find it very exciting
Rick Dean, THX
"The technology we are dealing with now means they are very much conjoined.
"The film that we see in theatres is coming from the same digital file that we take the home video master," he says.
But currently, putting a master feature film onto DVD requires severe compression because current DVD technology cannot hold as much as high- definition films demand.
"As much as you compress the picture data rate wise, you also take qualities away from the picture that we fight so hard to keep in the master," he explains.
"I would love to be able to show people what projects that we worked on really look like in the high-def world and I find it very exciting."
More to a disk
High-definition DVDs can hold up to six times more data than the DVDs we are used to.
It will take time though to persuade people who spent money on DVD players to buy the different players and displays required to watch high- definition DVDs in 18 months' time.
Mr Dean is confident though: "I think if they see real HD [high-definition], not some heavily compressed version of it, there is such a remarkable difference.
"I have heard comments from people who say the images pop off the screen."
High-definition will mean some changes for those working behind the scenes too.
On the whole, producing films for high-definition DVDs will be easier in some ways because less compression is needed.
Equally, it may mean Hollywood studios ask for more to be put onto the average DVD.
"When we master movies right now, our data rates are running at about 1.2 gigabits per second," says Mr Dean.
"Our DVDs that we put out today have to be squashed down to about five or six megabits per second.
"That's a huge amount of compression that has to be applied - about 98%. So if you have anything that allows more space, you don't have to compress so hard."
Studios could fit a lot more marketing material, games, and features, onto high-capacity DVDs.
Currently, an entire DVD project can take up to three months, says Mr Dean.
Although the step of down-converting will be bypassed, this will realistically only save a day's work, says Mr Dean.
One of the most time consuming elements is building DVD navigation and menu systems.
On the fairly complex Star Wars disks, making sure the menu buttons worked took 45 human hours alone.
If studios want to cash in on the extra space, it could mean extra human hours, for which someone has to pay.
"If the decision on the studio side is that they are going to put a lot more on these disks, it could be more expensive because of all the extra navigation that is required."
And if studios do focus on delivering more "added value content", thinks Mr Dean, ultimately it could mean that they will want more money for it.
Those costs could filter down to the price ticket on a high-definition DVD. But if the consumer is not willing to pay a premium price, studios will listen, thinks Mr Dean.
Death Star filing cabinets
High-definition throws up other challenge to film makers and DVD production alike.
More clarity on screen means film makers have to make doubly sure that attention to detail is meticulous.
"When we did the first HD version of Star Wars Episode I, everybody was very sun-tanned, but that was make-up.
"In the HD version of Episode I, all these make-up lines showed up," explains Mr Dean.
The restoration of the older Star Wars episodes revealed some interesting items too.
"There are scans of a corridor [on the Death Star] and fairly plainly in one of those shots, there is a file cabinet stuck behind one of the doorways.
"You never used to be able to see it because things are just blurred enough during the pan that you just didn't see it."
What high-definition revolution ultimately means is that the line between home entertainment and cinema worlds will blur.
With home theatre systems turning living rooms into cinemas, this line blurs even further.
It could also mean that how we get films, and in what format, will widen.
"In the future we are going to look towards file delivery over IP [internet protocol - broadband], giving a DVD-like experience from the set-top box to the hard drive," says Mr Dean.
But that is some time off for most, and for now, people still like to show off something physical in their bookshelves.
Sure, You Can Watch the Oscars, but Can You See All the Nominated Movies?
Jane Stanton stood in line under the marquee of the Michigan Theater on Sunday night, waiting to buy tickets for "Hotel Rwanda," her third movie full of Oscar contenders in four days.
Ms. Stanton, 54, wasn't only trying to see them before the Academy Awards are handed out on Feb. 27; she was also trying to see them while she could.
"Hotel Rwanda" and "Million Dollar Baby," another of her selections, just opened here on Friday, even though both were in theaters before Christmas on the East and West Coasts.
That is an all-too-typical wait for Ms. Stanton, a research associate at the University of Michigan. "Often, it's a few months before these movies make it here," she said. "And when they do finally get here, they're gone in a week."
That is, if they arrive at all. The lobby walls across from the ticket booth tantalizingly sport posters for "Vera Drake," whose star, Imelda Staunton, has been nominated for best actress, and "The Sea Inside," which is up for two awards, including best foreign film.
But "Vera Drake," first released more than three months ago, will not play Ann Arbor until Friday, said a spokeswoman for Fine Line Features, which is distributing the film. And "The Sea Inside," also from Fine Line, is not currently scheduled to play here, though it has been in a small number of theaters elsewhere across the country since December.
Studios say the answer is simple economics. Film companies have increasingly chosen to let their Oscar prospects trickle into the marketplace, letting the awards hoopla build before they risk advertising dollars on a wider market - as Warner Brothers did with "Million Dollar Baby," which was seen on a few screens seven weeks ago, and reached most of the country only last weekend.
"It's a money-driven situation," said Marian Koltai-Levine, executive vice president for marketing at Fine Line. "We're able to distribute the pictures where we can get box office."
But the inability of moviegoers beyond both coasts to see this year's nominated films has been a thorny issue for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, sponsor of the Academy Awards, and never more so than this year.
Ratings for another awards program, the Golden Globes, dropped nearly 40 percent in January, even though the show was heavily promoted by NBC, and its red-carpet arrivals were also covered by two cable networks. The Hollywood Reporter, an industry trade publication, attributed the drop to the absence from theaters of a spate of low-profile films.
Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director, said moviegoers' difficulty in finding this year's Oscar-nominated films was "a terrific concern."
"The whole Oscar exercise is to identify the work that people ought to be seeing," he said in a telephone interview last week. If the movies aren't widely available beyond the East and West Coasts, "what's the point of telling people about that?" he asked.
Still, the academy does not feel comfortable acting on its worries, Mr. Davis said. He explained that the academy "very carefully keeps a membrane" between itself and distributors and studios, which ultimately decide on movies' availability. "It isn't our place to say, 'rerelease them, strike some more prints and get them around' " to theaters, Mr. Davis said.
Last year, the academy's ratings for its awards show jumped by 17 percent, perhaps partly because "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which won 11 awards, including best picture, was a crowd-pleaser that had been seen by tens of millions. According to Mr. Davis, the ratings might also have been helped by the show's broadcast shift from late March to late February, the end of the networks' winter sweeps period.
When the telecast took place in March, "very few pictures were left in theaters," Mr. Davis said. "At least in February, the movies are fresher," he added.
Ms. Koltai-Levine said the Golden Globes did not have low ratings because viewers were unable to see the movies: the problem lay with their less familiar nominees. "More independent films were nominated, and people didn't know the talent," she said. "It all depends on who's on the cover of The Star and Us Weekly."
The first cities to get most independent films are New York and Los Angeles, said Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, which was built in 1928 and shows independent films in its vast auditorium and in an intimate screening room. Next comes a ring of big cities like Chicago, Dallas and Seattle, he said - an assertion confirmed by the distributors. The third tier includes smaller cities and college towns with sizable moviegoing populations, like Ann Arbor. The fourth tier, he said, receives movies long after they open or perhaps not at all, forcing avid filmgoers to buy or rent DVD's and videos.
When many of these movies finally reach theaters, Mr. Davis noted, "they explode for a couple of weeks and then go away."
An exception this year seems to be "Sideways," nominated for five Oscars, including best picture. That film, from Fox Searchlight, began playing in Ann Arbor only a couple of weeks after opening in October, and was in almost 1,700 theaters nationwide by last weekend, according to Boxofficemojo.com, a Web site that tracks film performance.
"Sideways," which has earned $41 million in domestic ticket sales since its release, is still playing here at two multiplexes and at the State Theater, a sister to the Michigan that often inherits movies shown there.
Mr. Collins compares "Sideways" to "Amélie," a quirky French film that was a hit in 2001, or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which became a blockbuster in 2002. " 'Sideways' is one of those films that caught a buzz and did very well," he said.
By contrast, "Being Julia," which earned a best-actress nomination for Annette Bening, played for just one week here last fall to tiny audiences, Mr. Collins said.
That unpredictability frustrates Sarah Evilsizor, 26, a ticket taker at the Michigan who recently moved here from Paterson, N.J. While living there, she said she often went to the Angelika Film Center in SoHo the day that films opened.
Now, Ms. Evilsizor said, she avoids talking about movies with friends back East, so they won't spoil the endings of ones she hasn't seen.
"It's kind of silly to even read any of the reviews that come out," Ms. Evilsizor said, "because it doesn't pertain to your life in this small part of the world."
But Matthew D. Price, 32, an associate professor of art at the University of Michigan, said the wait did not bother him. "There are probably a lot of Midwestern cities that don't get these movies at all," he said.
Referring to the state's northernmost wilds, Mr. Price asked, "What if I lived in the Upper Peninsula or something?"
Price Tag Added To Online Music Videos
After years of reluctantly treating music videos as free promotional tools, record label Universal Music Group is planning to charge Internet and satellite companies whenever they play.
The change, which is likely to be followed by other record labels, marks a potentially substantial shift in the economics of the online-entertainment world. Some of the most popular entertainment services, such as Yahoo's Launch and the AOL Music service, are built around streaming millions of free videos a month to customers.
Label executives have long bemoaned their initial precedent-setting decision to provide MTV with virtually free access to music videos in the early 1980s. Universal's decision marks an attempt to ensure that the label profits from an on-demand medium that is quickly becoming the modern version of MTV.
A Universal spokesman declined to comment on the decision, which has not been publicly announced. Some Internet companies said they had been notified of the policy earlier in the week.
Sources familiar with the deal said Microsoft was approached earlier and had already agreed to pay Universal for use of videos, however.
"The digital music and video market is still in its infancy, and the business models are continuing to evolve," Rob Bennett, senior director of MSN Entertainment, said in a statement. "As an industry we are all figuring this out together, and it's our job at MSN Music to provide a great platform to bring content owners together with consumers."
According to people close to the label, the policy is aimed at Internet, satellite and cable TV operations that are providing on- demand access to videos. The policy also will cover live performances by Universal artists.
Artist Web sites and one-time deals with specific consumer brand sites will be excluded. Retailers, radio stations and other promotional sites will be allowed to stream 30-second clips.
As an inducement to sign up, Universal plans to stop buying advertising on any site that does not strike a deal under the new policy.
On-demand videos have become a key part of major labels' promotional campaigns in the last year. Label executives now say marketing campaigns on Yahoo's Launch or the AOL Music service can be as important as major broadcast radio play.
AOL Music recently said that it attracts up to 4 million viewers per week to its on-demand AOL Sessions service online, and that the versions of those videos shown on Time Warner Cable's on-demand programming were watched nearly 8 million times per month.
Creators of Spoof VW Bomber Advert Come Clean
The creators of a http://ad-rag.com/117074.php ]hoax advertisement[/url] for Volkswagen AG's Polo car that has circulated on the Internet have apologized and promised not to repeat it, Europe's biggest carmaker said on Monday.
The so-called viral ad -- unauthorized by Volkswagen or its advertising agencies -- shows a suicide bomber detonating his explosives in a Polo parked outside a busy cafe, only to have the car absorb the blast.
The 20-second advert ends with the Volkswagen logo and the Polo's actual advertising motto: Small but Tough.
Volkswagen said in a statement it had received sworn statements from the two creators -- Dan Brooks and Lee Ford -- acknowledging that they made the ad but had not intended for it to be distributed.
"The creators regret the distribution of the film, will not publicize it further and apologize unreservedly for the damage caused to Volkswagen," it said, adding that the company would now drop legal action against the pair.
Volkswagen had lodged a criminal complaint last week over the ad, which it called "an attack on Volkswagen's good name."
Baby gonna shut you down
Nepal Pulls The Plug On The Internet
THE DECISION by the king-god of largely Hindu state Nepala to dismiss his government yesterday has meant a clampdown on a number of formerly informative web sites, with little news trickling out of the country because the phones were cut off as well.
King Gyanendra suspended the government of Nepal yesterday and imposed martial law on the country. Normally cheerful Nepalese newspapers, according to reports, carried news dictated by the King, who faces a rebellion by "Maoist" guerillas which has already killed thousands of people.
The King has imposed a virtual news blackout across the state.
It was all a little reminiscent of 1956, when the UK government attempted to impose a news blackout on the Suez crisis, but some brave editors just decided to carry empty white space where stories had been censored.
Indian newspaper The Hindu reported that the country has also cut telephone lines, and suspended a number of elements of the Nepalese constitution, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
The UK and the Indian government both expressed concern at the news.
Mind you, we wonder if it's just a coincidence that Nepal has borders with both China and India. Chairman Mao wasn't particularly noted for allowing freedom of the press or speech. What's for sure is that India is not going to sit idly by if Nepal becomes dangerously unstable. There's too much riding on it. µ
|03-02-05, 09:39 PM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Anxious Times In The Cartoon Underground
In early December, a bombshell dropped onto one of the fastest-growing file-swapping communities online, where Nikolai Nolan has made his home for the last several years.
Nolan, a 22-year-old student at the University of Michigan, is one of the leaders of Anime-Faith, one of hundreds of groups that take Japanese cartoons, translate and subtitle them in English, and release them freely on the Net.
For years this "fansubbing" community has believed that Japanese animation studios tacitly condoned their online activities, at least as long as the shows hadn't yet been released in the United States. But in early December, a studio called Media Factory began sending letters to a handful of big anime fan sites ordering them to stop distributing or linking to copies of its works online. News.context
News of the letters helped splinter Anime-Faith and triggered an impassioned debate across the broader community. Some people wanted to stop translating and distributing Media Factory's works immediately, respecting the studio's request. Others argued that the studio hadn't sought out the actual groups doing the translating, and so might still turn a blind eye to their work.
"We decided we should still promote the series," said Nolan, whose group is continuing its translations. "If we receive a letter ourselves, then we'll stop."
With echoes of Hollywood's recent attack on mainstream film-swapping, the Media Factory episode has shaken the complacency of the fast-growing anime file-swapping community. But the event is also triggering broader discussions over the role of the Internet fan communities that have become such a critical factor in the success of some media companies and a thorn in the sides of others.
Hard numbers are always hard to come by. But on one of the most widely used hubs for swapping, which uses the BitTorrent file-distribution technology, more than 120,000 anime cartoon episodes are downloaded a day using the site's tools alone. That amounts to more than 90 terabytes of data a day, the site's statistics show. (For comparison purposes, that's the equivalent of about 22 million MP3 songs.)
But as the Anime-Faith debate showed, this is a very different kind of file-swapping community than the average group downloading the latest Usher song.
Fans of anime--Japanese cartoons that range from the simplicity of Speed Racer to the complex art and storytelling of the more recent film-length "Spirited Away"--are notoriously passionate about their hobby. The borrowed Japanese word "otaku" describes the kindof obsessive fan who can describe in detail the plot threads of series that last for dozens or hundreds of episodes, and can discuss animators' resumes like baseball fans do batting averages.
The culture has its roots in the early 1980s, when few anime series were available in the United States and small groups would meet in college dormitories to watch much- copied videotapes of shows impossible to see any other way. The Internet, and particularly the powerful BitTorrent file-trading software, has now allowed those little fan groups to expand exponentially, giving them access to thousands of episodes at the click of a mouse.
"There's no gray area...It is technically illegal." --David Williams, producer
Anime-Faith is a good example of how one of these modern groups works. It has translators, editors, typesetters for the subtitles, encoders who digitize the video, quality checkers and more, with a product flow as efficient as a professional operation.
Most groups like this fervently believe they are supporting the cause of anime by allowing fans to see otherwise unavailable titles, and building awareness of shows that would otherwise be unknown before their U.S. release. Most take their "fansubs" out of circulation when an American company licenses a title for distribution in the United States.
The only problem is that it's not technically legal.
Fan base growing, but sales flat
"There's no gray area," said David Williams, a producer at ADV Films, one of the largest distributors of Japanese animation DVDs and merchandise in the United States. "It is technically illegal. When we announce a title, if there is a site that is distributing fansubs, then we contract them and ask them to remove it."
ADV is one of the most adamant of the U.S. distributors. Other smaller houses privately say they recognize the promotional value of the online distribution, which can help boost sales for top titles. But there's also a potential downside.
One executive who asked not to be named said the last two years have seen a significant shift in sales patterns. Top titles still sell well, but the middle categories that used to sell respectable numbers of copies are "being forgotten," he said.
In part, this may be because distribution of anime has exploded alongside its online fan base. Many more titles are now being licensed and distributed every year. Anime is widely shown on the CartoonNetwork, and even has its own Anime Network on cable TV.
But even with this new interest, sales of DVDs--which amount to about 5.7 million copies a year, according to internal industry estimates--are holding steady or dropping. Companies worry that the easy prerelease availability of fansub versions means that the otaku class has already seen their products, and no longer need to buy anything but the must-haves.
The result has been growing anxiety in the industry, although little in the way of direct action. Anime distributors don't have the financial resources for protracted copyright lawsuits, and for the most part, the fan communities are diligent about pulling down titles once they are licensed for distribution, leaving American companies diminished ground for legal action.
"I think there are some Japanese companies that really appreciate fansubbing." --Nikolai Nolan, student, University of Michigan
"We certainly haven't prosecuted anybody doing the file sharing," said Chad Kime, director of marketing for Geneon Entertainment, another prominent distributor. "Officially, we don't condone the activity. We do admire their enthusiasm and love for our products, and we're grateful when 90 percent of the fansubbers, once they know titles are licensed, do pull them from the Internet."
That leaves the ball in the original Japanese studios' court, and except for Media Factory, it's not obvious what they think of their English-speaking online fans. Nolan said the directors are well aware that their titles are being translated and distributed here, however.
He pointed to the recent final episode of a series called "Battle Programmer Shirase," in which the director included an apology for having to end the series, addressed to "those who enjoy the show on TV, and to those outside the broadcast area who took special measures to watch the show on their PC monitors, and to everyone who watched it subtitled overseas without permission."
"Nobody expected the Media Factory to send the letter to everybody, but I think things will go on pretty normally," Nolan said. "I think there are some Japanese companies that really appreciate fansubbing."
Skype Creeps Under Phone Giants' Radar
At a time when major U.S. telephone operators are spending billions of dollars to expand, telephone software maker Skype on Tuesday says it's building a global phone network virtually for free.
New renditions of Skype software for Linux and Macintosh operating systems are expected to become available on Tuesday. The new releases are a significant expansion for 17-month-old Skype. Since its debut, Skype's free software only worked on Microsoft devices, though test versions of the Linux and Macintosh software have been available since last year.
Skype's latest software arrives at a time when many elite U.S. phone companies are consolidating with others in multibillion dollar deals that let the communications giants expand into new markets and territories. Using the merger-mania as a backdrop, Skype's new software releases should put even more fright into traditional telecom executives.
The number of new Skype users is increasing at rates not seen since the early days of instant messaging, and at no cost to Skype other than hosting a Web site to make the software available, and "making software tweaks," Skype CEO Niklas Zennstrom said in a recent interview. More than 140,000 new users register each day.
It would cost phone companies still using traditional means untold billions in construction, marketing or merger costs to come close to matching Skype's growth rate. And they are running out of companies to buy. Recently, SBC said it plans to spend $16 billion to buy AT&T; while Sprint finds $31 billion to pay for Nextel Communications. Cingular Wireless vaulted to the top of the U.S. carrier heap last year when it bought AT&T Wireless.
Much of Skype's explosive growth has to do with voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), the software that lets a broadband line double as a phone line. By virtue of its mechanics, VoIP software doesn't anchor a provider like Skype to certain geographic areas, as traditional telephony does. Rather, VoIP is tied to wherever broadband is available.
Once downloaded, Skype users can talk for free with any of the 22 million other Skypers located on every continent. An Internet connection is required and calls to the traditional phone network costs extra.
A recent report by Evalueserve said traditional local phone operators could lose up to 30 percent of their revenues from people who are replacing them with Skype software.
"We are a software provider," Zennstrom said. "So it's very easy to grow a user base."
HP Says Hits Milestone in Transistor Successor
Hewlett-Packard Co. said on Tuesday that its researchers have proven that a technology they invented could eventually replace the transistor, a fundamental building block of computers.
In a paper published in Tuesday's Journal of Applied Physics, HP said three members of its Quantum Science Research group propose and demonstrate a "crossbar latch," which provides the signal restoration and inversion required for general computing without the need for transistors.
HP said in a statement that the technology could result in computers that are thousands of times more powerful than those that exist today.
"We are reinventing the computer at the molecular scale," said Stan Williams, one of the authors of the paper, in a statement. "The crossbar latch provides a key element needed for building a computer using nanometer-sized devices that are relatively inexpensive and easy to build."
Phil Kuekes, another one of the paper's authors, said in a statement that transistors would continue to be used for years to come with conventional silicon circuits.
But, he added: "This could someday replace transistors in computers, just as transistors replaced vacuum tubes and vacuum tubes replaced electromagnetic relays before them."
Microsoft Unveils Full Release of Search Engine
Microsoft Corp. unveiled the full-release version of its search engine on Monday, turning up the heat on Web search leader Google Inc.
The world's largest software maker also revamped its MSN.com Web portal www.msn.com to make its search engine more prominent and also tweaked the site's content and
advertising to remove clutter, said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft's vice president in charge of content and services at the MSN Internet division.
At stake are advertising dollars as well as bragging rights in one of the technology industry's more interesting growth areas.
"We really are about answers and not about links," Mehdi told Reuters, taking a swipe at MSN Search's nearest competitors, who also include Yahoo Inc.
"There's a huge amount of room for improvement" in online searches, Mehdi said.
To make answers to factual questions more relevant, Mehdi said MSN Search would include the full range of information contained in Microsoft Encarta, Microsoft's electronic encyclopedia.
Users will be able to get definitions, calculations, geographical and historical information, and other information, and also view encyclopedia articles and content for any two-hour session via MSN Search.
"We aim to have an answer for every query," Mehdi said.
Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft decided nearly two years ago to build its own search engine after seeing Google take the lead and profit from the billions that advertisers pay to have their own ads displayed alongside search results.
Since then, Google has gone public and Yahoo has beefed up its own search offerings as both company's face the prospect of competing against Microsoft and its deep pockets and army of software engineers.
The launch of MSN Search comes three months after the release of an initial beta, or test version. Microsoft had been using Yahoo unit Inktomi to power its search services, but will no longer do so with the full release of its search engine, which uses Microsoft's own technology to sift through the Web.
Microsoft's new search engine will be culling results from a database index of more than 5 billion Web documents and pages. Google's index database is more than 8 billion pages.
Microsoft has also integrated results that link directly into its MSN Music service, which was launched in September of last year.
One new capability that Microsoft will be introducing with Monday's launch is the ability to create RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, feeds that allows users to track search results through an incoming data feed on their personal computers.
Mehdi also said that Microsoft would market its search engine through a marketing campaign directed at online users as well as television viewers. He did not disclose any projections for advertising spending.
Time Warner Cable to Offer Free AOL
Time Warner Cable plans to offer its high-speed Internet customers free access to America Online service, in a deal that could potentially add 3 million more high-speed subscribers at the cable division, Time Warner executives said on Monday.
Current AOL dial-up subscribers who live in regions served by Time Warner Cable will be asked to trade up to Time Warner Cable's Road Runner high-speed service, which will now include AOL.
Since the merger of AOL and Time Warner in 2001, one of the thornier issues has been competition between America Online and its corporate cousin Time Warner Cable's Road Runner high-speed service, which were trying to lure subscribers to their respective Internet services.
AOL had been losing subscribers over the last few years to cheaper dial-up services such as Juno and Earthlink and high speed services such as Road Runner and services from other cable and telephone companies.
But with a resurgence in the online advertising market, AOL has become a more attractive property.
"When I came in 2002, we weren't doing so well in advertising," AOL CEO Jonathan Miller told reporters, who said the business model needed to evolve before such a deal could be struck.
AOL is expected to generate about $1 billion in advertising revenue in 2004.
"If we had tried to do that back then, we wouldn't be here today," Miller added.
Now, Time Warner Cable is betting that by offering AOL's menu of exclusive programing, such as music and videos, as a free add-on to its high-speed offering, it will entice AOL dial- up subscribers to remain a Time Warner customer.
Currently, high-speed Internet subscribers pay an additional $14.95 for AOL's broadband programing on top of the monthly fee charged by the cable or telephone company.
AOL, for its part, will bolster its presence in the high- speed market at a time when its dial-up subscribers are dwindling and provide more eyeballs for its advertising.
Executives said AOL is in talks with other cable operators to strike similar deals.
The pricing of high-speed service for AOL dial-up subscribers has not been set, but it is expected to be somewhere between the $23.90 AOL charges premium dial-up customers and the $44.95 that Time Warner Cable charges high speed data subscribers.
Glen Britt, CEO of Time Warner Cable, said it will also help it tap a new line of revenue from online advertising. AOL will begin selling ads on the Road Runner.com site.
The deal could potentially add more than 3 million new cable high speed Internet customers to Time Warner's cable division, the executives said.
AOL currently serves about 23 million subscribers and about 3 million of these customers fall within a cable territory run by Time Warner.
"A majority of customers within two years we'd like to see as Time Warner Cable customers," Jonathan Miller, CEO of AOL told reporters.
Four years after the rocky union of AOL and Time Warner, the deal signifies its units are seeking more ways to work together. In 2003, AOL struck a landmark deal to help sell more Time Inc. magazines through its service.
A video-on-demand music channel launched last year that offers free music videos at the click of the remote has also become one of Time Warner Cable's most popular free on- demand channels, one Time Warner source said.
Apple Edges Google as Top Brand
Arabic media channel Al Jazeera has been voted the world's fifth most influential brand in a poll of branding professionals that gave the top slot to U.S. iPod and computer icon Apple.
In the survey of almost 2,000 ad executives, brand managers and academics by online magazine Brandchannel, Apple ousted search engine Google from last year's top spot, but the surprise to many will be Al Jazeera's entry into the top five.
"With all the news from Iraq and Afghanistan and the 'war on terror', a lot of people are really tuned into the news, and the major news sources have a western bias," Brandchannel Editor Robin Rusch said.
"I think people are tuning in to Al Jazeera and looking at its Web Site because it does offer another viewpoint. For the global community, it's one of the few points of access we have to news from the region with a different perspective."
The annual survey asks respondents to rate the impact of a particular brand on people's lives, and does not attempt to quantify its financial value.
Coca-Cola, the U.S. soft drinks behemoth that regularly tops polls of brand equity value, is nowhere to be found in this year's global or regional top five lists.
Rusch recognizes the professional nature of the magazine's sample can affect the results of the survey, but nonetheless the Al Jazeera brand now ranks in terms of impact alongside giants such as Nokia and Starbucks.
Apple, whose iPod has replaced Sony's Walkman as the personal media player to be seen with, topped both the global and North American rankings in the poll, displacing Google despite the splash caused by the search engine's $1.7 billion auction-style initial public offering last year.
Apple, which launched the iPod three years ago, has sold 10 million of them, but the fact that almost half of these were moved in the final quarter of 2004 suggests an avalanche in demand.
"Apple's just done an extraordinary job with innovation, technology and design. The iPod is what has put Apple in the lead this year," Rusch said.
"Sony has had less luck tying together its products as a lifestyle. From a branding perspective, they haven't caught up with Apple's design and ability to capture the imagination."
Swedish furniture chain Ikea, whose global network now extends to 35 countries, takes third place in the global ranking, while ubiquitous coffee chain Starbucks just shades Al Jazeera in the brand-impact stakes.
Ikea's high ranking reflects its gradual global expansion -- people who have in the past only been able to read about the flat-pack furnisher can now experience the joy of cheap home- assembled wardrobes for themselves.
An interesting entry into the Asia-Pacific regional list is Australian guidebook publisher Lonely Planet, which comes in at number five. But Rusch said it could have a trying time this year as it scrambles to rewrite the Asian regional and country guides on which it built its reputation.
GLOBAL AND REGIONAL TOP FIVE LISTS (1,984 respondents to the question "which brands had the most impact on your life in 2004?")
5. Al Jazeera
CENTRAL & LATIN AMERICA
5. Vina Concha y Toro
5. Lonely Planet
EUROPE & AFRICA
5. Al Jazeera
The results are in - U.S. Congressional Internet Regulation at work:
Law Barring Junk E-Mail Allows a Flood Instead
Tom Zeller Jr.
A year after a sweeping federal antispam law went into effect, there is more junk e-mail on the Internet than ever, and Levon Gillespie, according to Microsoft, is one reason.
Lawyers for the company seemed well on the way to shutting down Mr. Gillespie last September after he agreed to meet them at a Starbucks in Los Angeles near the University of Southern California. There they served him a court summons and a lawsuit accusing him, his Web site and 50 unnamed customers of violating state and federal law - including the year-old federal Can Spam Act - by flooding Microsoft's internal and customer e-mail networks with illegal spam, among other charges.
But that was the last the company saw of the young entrepreneur.
Mr. Gillespie, who operated a service that gives bulk advertisers off-shore shelter from the antispam crusade, did not show up last month for a court hearing in King County, Wash. The judge issued a default judgment against him in the amount of $1.4 million.
In a telephone interview yesterday from his home in Los Angeles, Mr. Gillespie, 21, said he was unaware of the judgment and that no one from Microsoft or the court had yet followed up. But he insisted that he had done nothing wrong and vowed that lawsuits would not stop him - nor any of the other players in the lucrative spam chain.
"There's way too much money involved," Mr. Gillespie said, noting that his service, which is currently down, provided him with a six-figure income at its peak. "And if there's money to be made, people are going to go out and get it."
Since the Can Spam Act went into effect in January 2004, unsolicited junk e-mail on the Internet has come to total perhaps 80 percent or more of all e-mail sent, according to most measures. That is up from 50 percent to 60 percent of all e-mail before the law went into effect.
To some antispam crusaders, the surge comes as no surprise. They had long argued that the law would make the spam problem worse by effectively giving bulk advertisers permission to send junk e-mail as long as they followed certain rules.
"Can Spam legalized spamming itself," said Steve Linford, the founder of the Spamhaus Project, a London organization that is one of the leading groups intent on eliminating junk e-mail. And in making spam legal, he said, the new rules also invited flouting by those intent on being outlaws.
Hey kids, your buddy Jack Spratts says "You can swap all you want when you build your own secret fiber-optic network!"
Dark Fiber: Businesses See The Light
When Ford Motor Co. decided to upgrade its corporate network in Dearborn, Mich., it sent in the backhoes.
The automotive giant sells cars, not telecommunications services. But, in a move that experts say increasingly makes sense for bandwidth-intensive business operations, Ford found that it would cost less to lay its own optical fiber lines than to subscribe to a service from the local phone company.
"I think it's a strategy that companies need to look at," said George Surdu, director of infrastructure at Ford. "They need to work through the business case themselves. But I don't believe we are the first ones to think of doing this, and I'm sure we won't be the last."
He's right. Bank of America, Bausch ' Lomb and Gannett Co., the publisher of USA Today and dozens of other newspapers across the country, are some of the big names that have built out their own fiber optic infrastructure in the past few years. Google is also supposedly looking for fiber to build its own network.
Analysts say that most companies still find it easier and cheaper to simply rent "lit," activated fiber--and all the networking equipment behind it--from carriers. But falling prices on unlit or dark fiber and newer, cheaper optical equipment mean even many midsize companies can afford to take out long-term leases on dark fiber and buy the equipment to run their own network on it.
The excess of "dark fiber"--fiber-optic cables deployed underground but not put into use--makes it possible. During the 1990s, everyone and his brother laid fiber optic lines. Local phone companies, electric companies, municipalities and water utilities dug up city streets to put fiber in cities and towns. And because they never wanted to dig up the ground again, they jammed the conduits with thousands more strands of fiber than were needed.
When the drunken spending of the dot-com era screeched to a halt in 2000, the telecom industry couldn't find a market for all the fiber it had spent billions of dollars placing.
Oversupply sent prices plummeting. Some industries, such as investment banking, built their own fiber networks even when costs were high because they needed them for stock trading. But the falling fiber prices have made building a fiber network cheap enough even for cost-conscious fields such as education and health care.
"Analysts have long said it's too expensive and requires specially trained optics engineers to build and run these networks," said Gary Gunnerson, IT architect at Gannett, which has already built metro fiber networks in three cities where it has newspapers. "I've found just the opposite to be true. The fiber and the equipment are so cheap now, and anyone who is familiar with IP networking gear can handle a short-distance optical network. I could teach them how in half a day."
Flexing bandwidth muscle
Companies that build their own networks are likely to be technology innovators. Their need to jack up bandwidth is a direct result of ambitious technology initiatives that include converging voice, data, and video onto an Internet protocol backbone, expanding storage area networks or consolidating data centers.
Ford's George Surdu said his company knew it needed a flexible, high-capacity network as it started to move its network toward IP convergence.
"We are definitely saving money by doing it ourselves," he said. "But owning the fiber ourselves also fits in well with our overall telecom strategy. We needed more bandwidth, but we also wanted to be able to deliver additional capacity on demand for whatever new technology initiatives came up in the future."
After Bank of America merged with Nations Bank in the late 1990s, the company started thinking about building a high-speed storage area network and consolidating its data centers. But to accomplish its goals, it needed more capacity. At the time the company was operating an OC-3, or 155 Mbps, asynchronous transfer mode network.
"We can turn up new services in a matter of hours or days instead of waiting months for a carrier to do it." --Bank of America's Larry Schaeffer says flexibility is a key virtue to owning your own network
"We could have gone to a local service provider to lease an OC48 (2.5 Gbps) ATM or a Gigabit Ethernet service," said Larry Schaeffer, senior vice president of network services at Bank of America. "But we would have gotten less bandwidth for more money. And the infrastructure would have been shared with the provider's other customers. It made more sense to build it ourselves."
The new network, completed in 2002, gave Bank of America a lot more flexibility to adapt to industry changes. When the federal government enacted stricture data storage and replication requirements following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bank of America was ready to meet the new demands.
Schaeffer said that relying on a carrier would have been difficult, especially since many of them were laying off staff and cutting budgets at the time.
"Probably the most beneficial aspect of owning the network ourselves is the flexibility we have," he said. "We can turn up new services in a matter of hours or days instead of waiting months for a carrier to do it. All we have to do to add more capacity is change out the electronics."
Counter to what IT executives at Ford, Bank of America and Gannett have said, Sterling Perrin, an analyst at IDC said he sees more companies turning to local service providers for a fully managed service rather than building their own optical networks.
"There will always be a few who choose to do it themselves," he said. "But it won't be a big migration. I think the ones building their own networks will really be limited to very large companies. Most companies don't even need that kind of bandwidth."
How low can prices go?
The decision to build a network from scratch or lease a service from a carrier comes down to price. Gunnerson said companies that spend between $7,000 and $10,000 per month on telecommunication services should consider building their own fiber networks. He estimates that his company saves at least 30 percent on its total network costs.
Equipment companies that make the gear that lights this fiber say the argument for building a fiber network has gotten more realistic in recent years.
"Five years ago, it wouldn't have been feasible for most companies to lease fiber and build their own networks," said Gary Southwell, vice president of segment marketing for optical-equipment maker Ciena. "But prices have come down so dramatically that it really makes sense. It's not a huge market for us, but we see it growing."
"Managed bandwidth services can be expensive," noted Bruce Miller, vice president of Alcatel's optical networks division. "And if a company has enough traffic, then they really have to look at the trade-off between the reoccurring costs of a service and the upfront cost of the equipment and fiber."
Miller gave an example of one customer that had been leasing five DS3 (44.736 Mbps) circuits for its voice and data traffic. These five circuits, which had an aggregate capacity of 223.65 Mbps, cost $2,500 per circuit per month for a total cost of $12,500.
The company was able to negotiate a long-term lease on dark fiber for $7,000 per month. With $50,000 worth of optical equipment, the company built its own gigabit network, increasing capacity over the DS3 service at least 20 fold. The company began seeing savings over the DS3 service in about 10 months.
Building a fiber network is not for everyone. Much of the cost comes down to fiber accessibility. Ford Motor, which actually had to dig the trenches to lay new lines, is more the exception than the rule.
Most companies would not find it cost-effective to undertake such a huge fiber construction project. Companies usually save money when they get a great deal on a 10- or 20-year lease on unused fiber already deployed by someone else. Considering that some experts estimate that roughly 70 percent of fiber-optic lines already in the ground is unused, this should not be a difficult task for companies in urban areas, Gunnerson said.
There's little question that cheap prices on dark fiber have encouraged build-it-yourself networking, but an equally important piece of the puzzle is the equipment used to light the fiber. Prices on optical equipment have also fallen in the past five years. Dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) equipment, used to split light transmitted over a fiber into different wavelengths so that each strand can carry more data, is now in its fourth generation. A new, cheaper class of such products has also come on the scene.
Coarse wave division multiplexing or CWDM, a technology first introduced in the 1980s, works like DWDM. The difference is that CWDM allows for a smaller number of channels--typically eight to 16--as compared to DWDM, but at a 40 percent cost reduction. It also runs at shorter distances. DWDM provides a higher number of channels--usually 16 to 32--but at a higher cost. It is also able to run longer distances.
Because CWDM splits the light into wider channels, it doesn't require lasers as precise as ones used in DWDM gear. As a result, products are cheaper. They also consume less power, which means products are also smaller and can be deployed just about anywhere by almost anyone.
All of this adds up to favorable pricing on equipment for companies that want to build their own fiber networks.
"It's definitely gotten easier and cheaper for companies to deploy and operate their own fiber networks," Southwell said. "We're starting to see a trend, but it's still very early days."
Employees To Be Billed For Personal Internet Use?
Employees could receive a bill each month for the cost of ‘stolen’ bandwidth and wasted time if Australian-based Exinda Networks' URL Bandwidth monitoring system takes off.
Exinda Networks claims to have developed a unique system that allows a company to monitor exactly which Web sites are visited by each individual employee and how much bandwidth has been used -- in terms of a cash loss to the employer.
Con Nikolouzakis, director of Exinda Networks, said the URL and bandwidth monitoring system was designed to ensure employees can be held responsible for the cost of misused bandwidth and time.
"If you use your office computer for internet banking and booking theatre tickets, you're fine. If you choose to use it to download illegal software, research personal interests or other non-business uses then you could be issued with a ‘please explain’ and a bill for the costs of the bandwidth and time you wasted," said Nikolouzakis.
According to Nikolouzakis, bandwidth-abusers can have access to certain sites blocked or their bandwidth could be throttled, which would significantly slow that individual's access to the undesirable Web site. Additionally, the employee could be presented with a bill.
"Theoretically individual employees could be charged a fee for non-business related internet usage on a monthly basis if an employer wanted to get tough on staff abusing their Web access but didn't want to block them altogether," said Nikolouzakis.
However, not everyone agrees that charging employees for ‘personal’ bandwidth is a good idea.
James Turner, industry analyst for security & services at Frost & Sullivan, said that charging employees for personal bandwidth usage would stir up a hornet's nest because bandwidth is relatively cheap and employees get a "morale boost" from having some freedom to surf at work.
"Most employees sign an Acceptable Internet Usage policy when they join a new company. After that, there is a level of trust between employer and employee. Companies like Computer Associates already have software that can measure an individual's bandwidth usage, so the technology isn't new and across the market there is not a huge demand," said Turner.
However, Turner did agree that there is a need for employers to spot the employees that regularly abuse the system.
"The tiny minority of bandwidth abusers are most likely downloading illegal material (such as pirated movies) and their employers need to be able to detect and stop this for anti-piracy reasons. No company wants to be involved in trafficking stolen goods and storing illegal digital material is an extension of this," said Turner.
Pay Radio Becomes Personal
THE First Rule of Techno-Pop: Any popular, free medium will eventually be ruined by ads, repetition and lowest-common-denominator junk. It happened to network TV, it happened to the Web and it certainly happened to radio.
The Second Rule: Any free medium that has been ruined by ads will eventually encounter competition from a not-free alternative. It happened with cable TV and, more recently, satellite radio.
It may blow your mind to think that over four million people are now paying $10 or $13 a month just to listen to the radio. (Those are the fees for XM and Sirius Satellite Radio. Discounts are available if you pay in advance, own more than one radio and so on.)
Truth is, though, that what they're getting isn't very much like radio at all. They're getting 65 music channels, free of commercials and endless teenybopper-top-10 repetition, and 40 to 50 talk channels. (The talk channels have some ads, but nowhere near the average of 20 minutes per hour that you'll hear on AM radio.)
Because they don't have to appeal to a mainstream audience to attract advertisers, the expert-fanatic channel hosts can "narrowcast" tightly targeted musical styles (like pop, acoustic, hip-hop, country, movie soundtracks, classical) and nichey talk topics (like comedy, sports, advice, old-time radio dramas, audio books, religion and children).
Satellite radio subscribers can also glance at the radio itself to see the name of the current song, performer and channel name. The sound is better than FM radio, though not as good as a CD or an iPod. And because the signal emanates from space, you don't lose the station as you drive from city to city. (The exception: the signal fades whenever the radio can't see the sky for more than five seconds, like in a long tunnel. The exception to the exception: in big cities, ground-based repeater antennas keep the signal going even in the concrete canyons.)
Until recently, you could buy satellite receivers in several sizes and shapes, like car dashboard installations, stereo components and boomboxes. But now there's a self-contained, hand-held format that offers a whole new set of possibilities.
The first pocket-size satellite radio, available for XM radio only, is called the Delphi MyFi. (It will be joined later this year by additional models for XM and Sirius. That's good, because the rivals offer different services. XM has Major League Baseball and 24-hour traffic and weather reports for 21 major cities; Sirius has the National Football League, some National Public Radio, traffic and weather for 10 cities and, coming soon, Howard Stern.)
Imagine having a gadget the size of an iPod, but with 120 thematic playlists that draw from every song ever recorded. Imagine the freedom of listening in your car, at home or just walking along the street. Imagine having a five-hour radio recorder built in, so that you can listen even indoors without an antenna.
Now keep on imagining; the Delphi MyFi isn't all that.
For starters, it's not the size of an iPod. It's larger and heavier, closer to half a sandwich than to a deck of cards. (On the plus side, that size accommodates a huge, black-and-white screen filled with legible, useful readouts.)
The MyFi is nowhere near as simple and self-contained as an iPod, either. It has 22 brightly illuminated buttons (including 10 numeric keys) and a thumb wheel on the side. Its box contains so many attachments and parts, you feel like you're opening the Sopwith Camel biplane model kit you got for your 10th birthday.
Those 20 accessories include three antennas. One is for use indoors next to a window. One is tiny and magnetic, for use on the roof of your car. The third, if you can believe it, clips to your body so that you can keep the MyFi in your pocket when you're out hiking, mountain climbing or shoveling snow. (You don't always need this human-clipped antenna. The radio's internal built-in antenna is often sufficient, especially if you keep the MyFi upright and exposed to the sky - attached to your belt with the included clip, for example.)
The scuttlebutt online is that a number of people bought the MyFi and then returned it. Their comments make clear, though, that they were primarily unhappy with its reception. Clearly, many didn't understand that the radio doesn't work unless it can see the satellite, meaning that there's generally no reception indoors unless you trail the long antenna wire to a window. MyFi may be billed as a hand-held portable radio, but it still relies on a direct line of sight to the sky.
The accessory cornucopia also includes three ways to attach the MyFi to your car's dashboard, and two ways to play it through your car's sound system: a built-in FM transmitter, which is supposed to send the sound to an unused frequency on your car's radio, and a tape-player cassette adapter. FM transmitters are notoriously iffy - in my case, the MyFi's built-in one never did work - but, although the sound quality may not please the most discerning audiophiles, the cassette-adapter approach works 100 percent of the time.
The MyFi's biggest breakthrough is its built-in recorder, which works something like a TiVo for radio. When you hear a song or a talk show you like, you can tap a button to record it; you can also program the radio to record shows unattended on a timer (maximum: two recordings). The memory holds about five hours of music or six hours of talk, which you can play back later when you're indoors, underground or underwater.
It's a brilliant idea, but it could stand improvement. When you record, say, two hours of music, the radio lists the parade of songs by name, so you can jump directly to your favorites. But there's no rewind or fast-forward, so you can't start anywhere but at the beginning of a tune. You can't delete just one of your recordings, either; erasing the radio's memory is all or nothing. And there's a lag of several seconds after you touch the Record button, so it's virtually impossible to capture a song from the beginning.
Those rough edges are especially peculiar considering how completely Delphi otherwise thought things through. For example, the five-hour rechargeable battery is removable and replaceable. You can opt to have sports scores or stock prices scroll across the bottom of the screen (your choice of teams and companies). The radio doubles as a clock and an alarm, and you can program it to alert you when a favorite song or band is playing on another channel. You even get a remote control, for use when the player is hooked up to your stereo or, presumably, when you've got a finicky back-seat D.J. in the car.
It would be nice if the MyFi were smaller and sleeker. The menus and controls are designed logically enough, but it would be nice if you didn't need the manual at all. It would certainly be nice if you could transfer your recordings to, say, a computer or a CD. (Yeah, I know - over the recording industry's dead body.)
Above all, it would be very, very nice if the MyFi didn't cost so much: about $300 when bought online, plus $10 a month for the service. For best results, explain it to your spouse as a $200 radio with a $100 superdeluxe accessory kit.
What ultimately saves the MyFi from winding up at the back of your gadget drawer, though, is the amazing entertainment that comes out of it. XM's programming is so rich, so constantly surprising, so far removed from the homogenized glop of broadcast radio, that you can overlook a whole host of hardware hitches. At one point, I actually walked twice around the block in the freezing cold just so I could hear the end of a radio drama on Channel 163.
All of which is just another way of stating the Third Rule of Techno-Pop: In radio, at least, you get what you pay for.
Rivals Hope to Sink iPod With Rented Music
Is music something you own or something you rent?
How music fans answer that question in coming months will help determine the viability of a new slate of online music services that offer to fill portable music players with an unlimited number of songs for a monthly fee.
While the music subscription approach has grown in recent years, far more music fans have opted to buy songs by the track, a business model popularized by Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store and its hugely successful iPod portable player.
But the release late last year of new copy-protection software from Microsoft Corp. may begin to change that. The software frees subscribers to move their rented tracks from their computers to certain portable music players.
The system works by essentially putting a timer on the tracks loaded on the player. Every time the user connects the player to the PC and the music service, the player automatically checks whether the user's subscription is still in effect. Songs stop playing if the subscription has lapsed. If the user doesn't regularly synch up the player with the service, the songs go dead as well.
"This is potentially the first serious challenge that the iPod is going to face," said Phil Leigh, president of Tampa, Fla.-based Inside Digital Media. "What these devices are going to be able to do is attack iPod where it's weak."
Several online music purveyors see portability as selling point that can lure consumers to their subscription services. Forrester Research projects music subscription revenues will more than double this year to $240 million, largely because of portability.
RealNetworks, MusicNow and MusicNet, which distributes its service through brands like America Online and Cdigix, all have plans to launch portable subscription services this year or early 2006 at the latest.
Napster LLC and F.Y.E., another MusicNet distributor, began offering portable subscriptions late last year through the Windows Media Player software, code named Janus.
Napster plans to turn up the heat on Apple with a $30 million advertising campaign debuting during Sunday's Super Bowl to promote a relaunch of its portable subscription service, dubbed Napster To Go.
"This is really the first subscription service supporting Janus that's going out in a big way," said Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Napster is charging a lot harder than the rest of them."
Napster's service is $14.95 a month - about $5 more than a non-portable subscription. F.Y.E's service is also $14.95.
Chris Gorog, Napster's chairman and chief executive, said the new service should boost its subscriber numbers, which stood at 270,000 as of December.
Marketing will be crucial to persuading consumers accustomed to buying CDs or owning digital music tracks purchased online to switch to paying a monthly fee for music, like they might do for cable television programming.
"There's going to have to be some education in the marketplace," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director for Jupiter Research in New York. "There's some stuff that consumers watch over the air and on cable but don't actually own and some DVDs consumers actually go out and buy. There's going to be some coexistence here as well."
Alan McGlade, president and chief executive of MusicNet, said consumers will see the value in being able to rent music.
"When you think about it, you can log on Tuesday when the new records are in the stores and download whatever new albums are out," McGlade said. "If you have to pay a la carte, then you have to make a buying decision."
Not everyone is convinced.
Apple has said it has no plans to offer a music subscription service. The iPod players don't support the Janus format.
Microsoft's own music service, MSN Music, has yet to offer any services beyond pay- per-track downloads.
Doubts also linger over whether consumers will be happy with the crop of portable music players that can support portable subscription services.
So far only a handful of players - including ones from Creative, Dell and iRiver - are on the market, although analysts say their number should increase this year.
And then there's the iPod factor.
"The problem is that in the current state of the market, vendors at best have been offering technical equivalents of the iPod, and the iPod itself has transcended from a consumer electronics item to cultural icon," Gartenberg said.
Portable music subscriptions may be a milestone, Gartenberg said, "but it's not something that is likely to displace Apple in the short-term."
The Open-Source Patent Conundrum
The latest tactic in the software-patenting battle is the granting of patent rights to open-source developers. But are the grants really the equivalent of wolves in sheep's clothing?
That's not the only movement on the patent front. The possible approval of a software-patenting measure in Europe this Wednesday could bring a barrage of lawsuits on both sides of the Atlantic, affecting proprietary software as well as the open-source community.
Let's take a closer look.
Sun Microsystems recently made software patents available for use by open-source developers. But its patent grant came with strings attached: The 1,600-some patents may only be used under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License, which is incompatible with the General Public License used on Linux.
So while claiming to make the patents available to open-source developers, Sun can sue folks who work on Linux rather than Solaris. The irony here is that Sun's open-source license is derived from the same license used for Mozilla.
But Mozilla's developers have made most of their software available under the GPL, as well as under terms of their own license. If Sun wants to be a partner in the open-source community, then shutting out the Linux developers isn't a good start.
Contrast that with IBM's recent patent grant. Big Blue made available patents for use under any of the more than 50 open-source licenses that were recognized by the Open-Source Initiative as of Jan. 11.
The timing is no coincidence. IBM is one of the major forces lobbying for software patenting in Europe. It's possible that IBM's action may help convince European legislators that open source and software patenting are compatible. But IBM's 500 patent grant is tiny next to the 1,500 software patents the company files each year, the 30,000 software patents already granted by the European Patent Office and the hundreds of thousands that annually arise in the United States.
According to the American Intellectual Property Law Association, software patent lawsuits come with a defense cost of about $3 million. Even before the case could be fully heard, a single patent suit would bankrupt a typical small or medium-size applications developer, let alone an open- source developer.
IBM proposed the creation of a patent commons for open-source, which would probably be operated by Open Source Development Labs, an industry organization that has already dedicated a multimillion-dollar legal defense fund for open-source developers. But that sum could be eaten up by one or two patent lawsuits.
OSDL's board and officer roster is dominated by the world's largest software patent holders, including the likes of IBM, Intel and Hewlett-Packard. Although those deep pockets can mitigate some of the financial burden that might arise, it's unreasonable to believe that the OSDL would work against software patenting in the interests of the broader open-source developer community.
The most poorly represented party is not open source at all, but the community of small and medium-size proprietary software developers and e-businesses. Every significant software program and business Web site today infringes on one or more software patents granted in the United States. These businesses are just beginning to realize how much they have to lose.
Meanwhile, European businesses are being lulled into the belief that theirs is a less litigious society and that the patent suits won't arise. They wrongly assume that their patent office will hold to a much higher standard than the one that prevails in the United States. But the software patents already granted in Europe track the text of the U.S. versions, and the same litigious companies file patents on both sides of the Atlantic.
Earlier this month, 61 members of the European Parliament filed a resolution asking to restart the software patent debate because, they said, the process had been tainted by politics. But appointed bureaucrats attempted an end- run around the elected representatives, twice scheduling motions that would enable software patent approval without a vote by the representatives. So far, Polish representatives have delayed the item, but final approval could come at a Feb. 2 meeting of JURI, the European Parliament's committee on legal affairs.
Many holders of software patents have been holding back on lawsuits until the European software-patenting measure is approved, lest they provide examples against the very legislation they desire. If the legislation passes, expect a rash of lawsuits in both the United States and Europe.
Europeans are starting to realize that the software patent battle can't be caricatured as a battle between open source and the rest of the world. They should support the members of the European Parliament in restarting the patent debate. And this time, they should make sure that they are involved.
At least the Europeans get to have a debate. In the United States, software and business method patenting is the result of two court decisions. And Americans have yet to get started on legislation to solve the problem.
Microsoft Offering Gov'ts Early Warnings
Microsoft Corp. offered Wednesday to begin alerting the world's governments early to cyberthreats and security flaws in its attack-prone software.
Microsoft also wants to work with governments to help prevent and mitigate the damage from hacker attacks, said Giorgio Vanzini, the director of Microsoft's government engagement team.
The announcement, in Prague on Wednesday by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, coincides with a mounting threat to the company's global dominance from "open source" software alternatives such as the Linux operating system.
Proponents say open-source software is cheaper to run and less vulnerable to security threats because the underlying code is freely shared and government agencies and municipalities from China and Japan to Germany and France are embracing or investing in developing it.
Microsoft already provides the U.S. government with early warnings. Vanzini said extending the program aims to protect critical infrastructure given that major Internet attacks can affect national security, economic stability and public safety.
The new program intends to complement Microsoft's existing Government Security Program, in which governments and agencies may review Microsoft's proprietary source code for Windows operating systems and Office business software and evaluate for themselves the software's security and ability to withstand attacks.
It supplements the advance but often vague warnings that Microsoft gives the general public on the severity of threats and which particular products are affected.
Governments, for instance, will be able to get information about publicly known vulnerabilities that Microsoft is investigating, he said.
The public warnings, by contrast, are short on details and often don't come until after Microsoft spends weeks or months developing and testing software fixes.
The government program will also provide data on security incidents and foster collaboration such as joint response in emergencies, Microsoft said.
Eligible participants, who must sign confidentiality agreements, include government agencies and ministries responsible for computer incident response, protection of critical infrastructure and public safety, Microsoft said.
So far three countries, Canada, Chile and Norway, as well as the U.S. state of Delaware, have been engaged in the new project, Vanzini said.
"Prevention of cyberdisruptions and improving our capacity to respond to incidents are critical to securing both our economy and public safety," Anne McLellan, Canada's Minister of Public Security and Emergency Preparedness, said in a statement.
Microsoft said it is currently in discussions with a number of countries about their possible participation in the program.
Governments currently under a trade embargo with the United States are not eligible to sign up to the program, which is provided free of charge.
Digital evidence: today's fingerprints
Electronic World Increasingly Being Used To Solve Crimes
Police and prosecutors are fashioning a new weapon in their arsenal against criminals: digital evidence. The sight of hard drives, Internet files and e- mails as courtroom evidence is increasingly common.
"Digital evidence is becoming a feature of most criminal cases," said Susan Brenner, professor of law and technology at the University of Dayton School of Law, in an e-mail response for this article. "Everything is moving in this direction."
Digital evidence may play a significant role in the trial of pop superstar Michael Jackson on charges of child molestation.
Computers were among the items authorities in California seized during their search of Jackson's Neverland Ranch in November 2003. Once the territory of child pornography and computer fraud, digital evidence figures into every crime that can leave an electronic trail.
The changing world of technology is challenging courts to keep pace with new laws addressing potential evidence and preserving privacy, legal analysts say.
Police officials say that the U.S. war on terrorism may create a shortage of digital analysts at the local law enforcement level.
In the wired world, almost every crime intersects with the digital realm at one time or another.
"Digital evidence is simply a number of rows of ones and zeros ... whenever a computer is used to facilitate a crime," said Fred Demma, an expert on computer crime at the U.S. Air Force's computer research laboratory in Rome, New York.
Laptops, digital cameras, phones and hard drives provide mountains of raw data for experts to sift through, part of the expanding field of computer forensics.
A single file, credit card purchase or stray e-mail message can provide the proof that clinches a case.
"It's incredibly important," said Jeffrey Toobin, senior legal analyst for CNN. "Data such as e-mail has become indispensable, particularly in the prosecution of white- collar crime."
Law enforcement officials hope to become as technologically savvy as the criminals they pursue.
"In modern day era of crime ... what you're going to find is a room full of computers, telephone lines and a network address and that's about it," Demma said. "In many cases, that's what you start with."
That may be enough, some investigators say.
The NYPD's computer crime squad, founded in 1995, has taken on a wide range of criminal activity -- from pedophilia to corporate espionage -- using a team of technicians and specially trained detectives.
Every year, it has put more and more people behind bars, said John Otero, the squad's commanding officer.
"If I were to tell you we are 100 percent caught up to the bad guys, I'd be lying," said. Otero. "We're always in a catch-up situation. The key is to be so close to their tail they don't have the chance to breathe ."
One section of Otero's 32-member squad scours the Internet for potential child molesters, drug dealers and others who may engage in illegal activities.
Another investigates suspicious activity by setting up electronic wiretaps and sifting through data logs that detectives can investigate within hours -- the shelf life for many electronic clues.
In one recent case, the NYPD seized a computer of a child pornographer, assumed his identity and continued the ruse to launch 43 spinoff investigations and arrests across Europe and North America.
"Ultimately, it's still an investigation and it comes down to good police work," Otero said. "All NYPD is using are the tools available to us to keep up with these guys."
Law governing digital evidence still lags behind the reality of cyber-crime. There are few legal precedents to guide judges who often have little experience in the mercurial world of digital technology.
"It makes life difficult ... because law changes very slowly," said the University of Dayton's Brenner. "We have judges who did not grow up with computers and so many do not understand the technology and issues it raises."
There is also a bottleneck of highly trained personnel to comb through evidence. Police report an acute shortage of detectives and lawyers trained in electronic police work.
"Part of the biggest obstacles we've had to overcome is having to get savvy lawyers and judges to understand what we do," Otero said.
The fight against terrorism means people with these skills will remain at a premium, potentially depriving smaller police departments of such personnel.
The demand is only likely to increase as the volume of cases with digital evidence increases, according to the Department of Justice.
"Cyber-crime is obviously something that is a national priority," said Steve Bunnell, chief of the criminal division at the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., which recently established a cyber-crime division.
"Computer crimes are something that crosses borders. ...There is really a premium on getting the right and left hand working together," Bunnell said.
Courtrooms and universities are welcoming more lawyers specializing in electronic crime. They are setting the stage for the evolution of "cyber-law" as the debate over digital evidence -- and what limits may be put on it -- is raging among legal scholars and law enforcement, Brenner said.
"Our search and seizure laws evolved in a bricks and mortar era and therefore are not well suited for a digital environment," she said.
Police must now re-evaluate how they obtain evidence. Information obtained in an electronic search can be thrown out if it violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
But how far does protection extend on a computer hard drive? What about e-mails and files sent over the Internet?
Some judges at the state and federal level have restricted the conduct of electronic searches by law enforcement, insisting officers follow certain procedures or methodologies. Police and prosecutors disagree, arguing that a judge can only issue warrants, not dictate its terms.
"This is a new issue," Brenner said. "In the real world, police go execute a warrant to find stolen tires ... and bring them back, end of story.
"In digital searches, police search for a computer, find the computer, bring it back and then subject the data on it to various kinds of searches."
The thorny questions about privacy and the sanctity of personal data loom as digital technology is inextricably linked to our daily lives.
Brenner predicts we will need to revisit the laws designed during an earlier, simpler age.
"I'm not sure you can say we 'choose' to use technology today," she said. "And I think the situation will only become that much worse."
Robert Corn-Revere clearly remembers the day he became the first person to tell the world about the FBI surveillance system once known as Carnivore.
In late 1999, Corn-Revere, a partner at the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, had been fighting on EarthLink's behalf to keep a government surveillance device off the company's network. A short while later, though, a federal magistrate judge sided with the FBI against the Atlanta-based Internet provider.
Worried about the privacy impact, Corn-Revere revealed the existence of Carnivore in testimony before a House of Representatives subcommittee on April 6, 2000. "They were using a technology called Etherpeek, which was off the shelf," Corn-Revere told me last Friday. "When we challenged it, they said, 'We're not using that. That would be wrong. We have our own software developed. It's called Carnivore.'" (Etherpeek is a Windows surveillance utility from WildPackets that can decode protocols used with e-mail, Web browsing and instant messaging.)
Now history is repeating itself. A flurry of press reports this month noted that the FBI has ceased using Carnivore, which had been renamed DCS1000. But not all of them mentioned that the government is hardly calling a halt to Internet wiretaps--instead, it's simply buying its surveillance tools from private companies again.
A review of the government's self-reported wiretap statistics from 2000 to 2003, the most recent data available, shows that the total number of "electronic" wiretaps has stayed between 4 percent and 8 percent of all reported wiretaps each year. (In 2003, for instance, there were 1,442 reported non-terrorism wiretaps in total that intercepted 4.3 million communications or conversations.)
That figure, though, is an underestimate. First, it doesn't cover terrorism-related wiretaps, which spiked after Sept. 11, 2001, and last year surpassed the general category for the first time. Second, it doesn't count illegal wiretaps, such as the hundreds unlawfully performed by the Los Angeles Police Department starting in 1985.
Third, those numbers don't include "pen register" and "trap and trace" devices, which tend to be about five to six times as popular as traditional wiretaps. Those awkward names, which hail from the days of analog phone taps, refer to capturing only the addresses of Web sites visited and the IDs of e-mail and instant-messaging correspondents rather than the complete content of the communication.
Translated: The concept of Carnivore isn't going away. If anything, police surveillance of the Internet is increasing over time.
The good ole days?
Whatever its flaws, Carnivore offered one undeniable benefit: It had been the subject of intense scrutiny.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, for instance, carefully monitored how the Justice Department was using it. "I respectfully ask that you consider the serious constitutional questions Carnivore has raised and respond with how you intend to address them," Armey wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft in June 2001. "This is an issue of great importance to the online public."
At one point, political pressure had grown so great that Attorney General Janet Reno reluctantly ordered an outside review of how Carnivore had been used. The review concluded that Carnivore didn't snatch more from networks than it should, but that it had "no auditing" and "significant deficiencies in protection for the integrity of the information it collects."
A group of well-known technologists, including Steven Bellovin of AT&T Labs and Peter Neumann of SRI International, reviewed that report, prepared by IIT Research Institute. Their own conclusions: "Serious technical questions remain about the ability of Carnivore to satisfy its requirements for security, safety and soundness."
The public and the press also were more interested a few years ago. CNET News.com published dozens of articles. A Nexis search turned up 1,334 matches for FBI and Carnivore or DCS1000 between July 2000 and July 2001. But the same search for between July 2003 and July 2004 reported only 45 articles.
Unfortunately, the public knows virtually nothing about how the FBI is conducting Internet eavesdropping today. We don't know the name of its interception technology. We don't know if it vacuums up far more conversations than it should when attached to a network. We don't know if it creates a security risk by permitting secure portions of an Internet provider's network to be accessed from afar. We don't know if it has benefited from any of the outside technical review that Carnivore did.
"The need for oversight these days is much greater than when the FBI picked particularly bad names for its surveillance projects," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "There's a lot of money slushing around the federal government's dark budgets."
He's right. Congress should demand more public accountability from the Bush administration. Otherwise, we might end up fondly reminiscing about the good ole days of Carnivore.
Anti-Piracy Software from MPAA Draws Mixed Reviews
John P. Mello Jr.
"In making enemies with every P2P service out there, the only method of piracy prevention that remains is parents," said Edward Webber, operator of Loki Torrent. "There are many [ways] peer-to-peer technology could be adapted to aid in the sale of MPAA title works; all they have to do is stop making new enemies long enough to listen to their rapidly shrinking consumer base."
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A free software program to help parents police illegal movie and music files on their household computers is garnering mixed reviews.
The application, called Parent File Scan, was unveiled last week by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) -- alongside an announcement of the organization's intent to file more lawsuits against people who illegally trade copies of movies over the Internet.
"We cannot allow people to steal our motion pictures and other products online, and we will use all the options we have available to encourage people to obey the law," MPAA President and CEO Dan Glickman said in a statement.
"We had to resort to lawsuits as one option to help make that happen," he continued. "But at the same time, we are making a new tool, 'Parent File Scan,' widely available to parents and other consumers."
"This free and widely available program may be of particular use to parents, who may be unaware that their children have been using their computers to illegally download copyrighted material, exposing the family to lawsuits and other negative consequences," Glickman added.
According to the licensing agreement for the software, which is made by DtecNet Software, of Copenhagen, Denmark, the application searches a computer for well-known file-sharing programs and files in the most popular music and film formats. That doesn't mean, the agreement cautions, that the program will find all file sharing applications or music and film files on a computer.
"You must determine yourself whether music or video files on your computer were acquired legally or illegally," the agreement reads. "The SOFTWARE does not verify or report the source of files found. You must clarify this question yourself by discussing with the persons who have used the computer where the music and video files are found."
Moreover, using the software doesn't create a security blanket for parents worried about process servers knocking on their doors. "You are responsible for anything illegal taking place or stored on your computer," the agreement cautions. "Using the SOFTWARE may provide you an overview of how your computer is being used, but this does not imply any exemption of liability on your part."
Praise for the software came from an unusual quarter. "Parental oversight is a critical part of any young person's use of computers," Adam Eisgrau, executive director of P2P United, a Washington, D.C.-based group representing members of the file-sharing industry, told TechNewsWorld. "Any product that assists parents in defining the kind of computer use they'd like to find in their own homes can only be a good thing.
"The makers of peer-to-peer software have been criticized for somehow surreptitiously subjecting people to liability," he said. "Nothing could be further for from the truth.
"What the MPAA is doing," he continued, "represents a marketplace solution to a concern expressed by some that needs to be dealt with at the level of the individual household and consumer."
However, some critics cast doubt on the usefulness of the program to parents. Mike Sauter, in his Mike's Minutiae blog, wrote sarcastically: "[T]he program, called Parent File Scan, returns ALL media files -- including Windows' own event sounds -- as potentially illegal. This will be extremely helpful to parents (or 'rents,' as the kids say)."
What's more, another detractor noted, if a parent is really concerned about what their kids are stashing on their computers, there are more effective programs in the market than the MPAA offering.
"(I)t appears that the MPAA is trying to reinvent the horse," Jarad Carleton, an IT industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan in Palo Alto, California, told TechNewsWorld via e-mail. "Why use MPAA software if you are really concerned about what your children are downloading and viewing on the Internet. Why not use a more robust piece of software such as Cyber Patrol?"
Appeal to Last Allies
By releasing Parent File Scan, the MPAA is making an appeal to the only ally it has left in the marketplace, asserted Edward Webber, operator of Loki Torrent, one of several Bit Torrent hubs being sued by the movie industry.
"In making enemies with every P2P service out there, the only method of piracy prevention that remains is parents," he told TechNewsWorld via e-mail. "There are many [ways] peer-to-peer technology could be adapted to aid in the sale of MPAA title works; all they have to do is stop making new enemies long enough to listen to their rapidly shrinking consumer base."
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File Sharing Thwarts Govt Attempts To Control Porn Sites
Government attempts to close down pornographic websites are virtually useless, with young people simply turning to file sharing as a means of distributing pornographic pictures, members of the Senate Committee on Women, Children and the Elderly heard today.
Speaking to an audience of over 100 students and committee members for a seminar on youth and pornography this morning, popular television presenter Mr. Sama Kamonsing noted that young people were taking advantage of high-speed Internet connections at their places of study to download pornographic files, which they could then share with friends.
This file-sharing technology had rendered government attempts to shut down pornographic sites completely useless, he said.
But he also accused the government of inadvertently encouraging access to pornographic materials, and of promoting images which portrayed young people in sexual ways.
"The government has policies to ensure that all homes have computers, but no measures to protect young people from pornographic websites", he said.
"Moreover, pornographic images are on the covers of newspapers every Sunday, while news on rape is reported in details as if it were a sex story".
He also noted that scantily-clad women were used to promote motor shows as a means of attracting customers, while fashion shows and cheer leading contests also encouraged women to wear provocative clothing.
At the same time, the fashion for web cams was leading to a phenomenon in which young women were being secretly videoed in the nude or while having sexual intercourse, and these pictures were then published on the Internet or copied for distribution at large computer outlets such as Panthip Plaza.
Another emerging trend was the sale of used women's underwear, in line with similar trends in Japan, he added.
Young people attending today's seminar warned of the ease of procuring pornographic videos, saying that they could be found cheaply and without trouble at large city centre stores.
They also blamed newspapers for the way in which they sensationalized stories involving sex and pornography.
Big Music's Ambitions
Jane and John Doe would gladly pay any reasonable amount for online music they could play on their mobiles or in their cars. But the labels are interested in marketing only heavily compressed, low-fidelity MP3 copies of original CD tracks. These are worth only a few cents, not the $1 per download being charged.
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Last Thursday the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) boasted it had launched another 717 lawsuits against people who share music online, bringing the total number of those victimized to a shocking 8,423. By the weekend, however, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) had indexed a only a handful of links on the story, which didn't even rate a headline on the main news page.
Is it that no one cares that Big Music is raging through America in a hopeless effort to sue people into buying "product," as it correctly tags the formulaic tunes it churns out by the millions?
The RIAA is wholly owned by the Big Four record labels, who controlled what the world heard and bought -- until the Net came along, bringing freedom of choice and reintroducing the archaic notion that the customer is always right.
Big Music Bullies
The cartel is nailing university students, school kids, moms, pops and grandparents in America, but of the big four labels only Warner is American. The others are from Japan and Germany (Sony BMG), France (UMG) and Britain (EMI).
Big Music tries to claim that a download equals a lost sale and that file sharing is theft. But MP3s aren't exchanged for money, and it's never been vaguely demonstrated, let alone proven, that a download represents one or 10 or 1,000 lost sales.
Britain's The Economist has lambasted the music industry for failing to acknowledge the new, digital era in which the old business models based on physical sales don't work. Academic studies in the U.S. and Canada have made it plain that Big Music's "sue 'em all" campaign just isn't happening.
Of the 8,423 file sharers pilloried so far, not one has been proven guilty of anything. Nor has it been shown in a court of law that sharing music online is a crime. That's because those held up by the music industry as hardened criminals are in fact ordinary people who can't afford to stand up to the industry's teams of highly paid lawyers.
The labels always make its victims an offer: Settle out of court and we'll go away. And the victims always settle. They can't do otherwise, and this suits the labels. The RIAA can imply it's successfully sued close to 8,500 people for the crime of violating copyrights.
In fact, it's not a crime. "Infringe," not "violate," is the accurate term, and "infringe" doesn't convey the sense of criminality.
Jane and John Doe would gladly pay any reasonable amount for online music they could play on their mobiles or in their cars. But the labels are interested in marketing only heavily compressed, low-fidelity MP3 copies of original CD tracks. These are worth only a few cents, not the $1 per download being charged.
The record labels were once in complete control. But not anymore.
P2P is here to stay. The sooner the people who run the companies accept that, the better for them, the better for their shareholders and the better for consumers, who will return to the fold as soon as the cartel acts on the reality that this is the digital 21st century and not the physical 1970s.
Plenty of Power
They'll have lost the control they once had, but given their enormous political and financial resources, they'll still be at the top of the corporate ant hill.
They've succeeded in turning a substantial number of American universities into sales and marketing divisions with senior staff acting as willing and unpaid assistants.
Police forces and other law enforcement agencies around the world now routinely put aside matters of national importance to look after Big Music's interests.
Politicians accept money to act for it. School teachers are scammed into "educating" even the youngest children according to the labels' desires.
Surely that's enough?
BitTorrent Remains Powerhouse Network
The month of December 2004 was an ill-fated month for BitTorrent. First, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) began a worldwide campaign to eradicate BitTorrent and eDonke2000 indexing and listing sites. On the surface, the effort seemed successful as Youceff Torrent (BitTorrent), ShareConnector (ED2K) and many others were forced off line.
The second blow came on December 19, 2004, when Sloncek announced that SuprNova.org would discontinue its existence as a BitTorrent listing site. Many feared this would spell the end of BitTorrent and the exchange of large files. The MPAA's plan is and was to eliminate or seriously damage the trading of movie files over the BitTorrent network.
After the initial success of placing fear into BitTorrent tracker operators and forcing several sites offline, the mainstream media heralded these events as a great victory for the MPAA and impending doom for file-sharing.
However, after a month and half since the fall of SuprNova.org and the MPAA's anti- piracy campaign, the BitTorrent network not only remains fully intact, it still is by far the largest file-sharing network.
While such an inference is clearly supported by examining the number of Torrent sites available, Slyck decided to speak with CacheLogic's founder and CTO, Andrew Parker. CacheLogic's comparison and analysis of the BitTorrent network from December 2004 to present yielded no appreciable change in the size of the network, despite the loss of SuprNova. Andrew explains this phenomenal occurrence.
"I believe the situation is quite simple. There is a lot of demand from subscribers to access content via P2P. The MPAA took a decision to pursue the weak point in the BitTorrent architecture (i.e. pursuing the most popular trackers) and the developers and user community resisted by looking for methods to work around that - i.e. tracker search sites, eXeem etc. Every time a weak point in architecture has been exploited by the RIAA/MPAA a technical solution to work around it has been created. I don't see this trend changing."
"I believe that the MPAA needs to consider P2P as an opportunity rather than a threat. I think that we need to learn from the past. The introduction of the photocopier didn't result in people trying to photocopy entire books, VCR's didn't result in the death of the cinema or home rental market."
"By taking advantage of the enormous savings possible in their distribution costs the MPAA should treat P2P distribution as an additional step in the Cinema -> Pay Per View -> DVD Rental -> DVD Purchase - > Broadcast TV lifecycle."
"iTunes (and similar offerings) hasn't eradicated the distribution of MP3 via underground channels but it has given users the choice of how they obtain content and a way for the music industry to harness online distribution, its now time they looked at something similar for video as the consumer electronics industry has already started making portable video playback devices which will only drive people's desire to get video content."
While CacheLogic demonstrated consistence regarding BitTorrent's fortitude, BigChampagne's CEO Eric Garland suggests that BitTorrent has actually grown since December 2004. BigChampagne is an online media-tracking firm that monitors the trends of major file-sharing networks.
"Lokitorrent.com, Torrentbits.org, and Torrentz.com are all on the rise. Donations to sites are up. Even SuprNova has active mirrors up (Bi-Torrent)....I think it is not unreasonable to conclude at this point that given all of the attention in the media, there is now greater access to media via BitTorrent than before the campaign.
This is the unintended consequence of very high profile anti-piracy campaigns, and we have seen the same effect time and time again, starting with the original Napster lawsuit."
The interaction from the copyright industry has done more to promote file-sharing rather than destroy it. When the RIAA caused Napster to implode, P2P rebounded to heights never thought possible. Now, the MPAA is learning a similar lesson, as BitTorrent continues to reign supreme.
Strangling P2P, con’t
Cable strategists seek fatter, smarter pipes
Cable Engineers & Tech Vendors Aim to Make Up To 1 Gbps Available
Seeking to counter the ambitious fiber-network construction plans of the Baby Bells and the powerful next-generation satellites of satellite TV providers, cable engineers and tech vendors are plotting ways to make cable's fat broadband hybrid-fiber coax (HFC) pipes faster, smarter and more efficient.
Speaking at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers' (SCTE) annual Emerging Technologies (ET) conference in Huntington Beach, CA last month, cable strategists proposed several ambitious ideas to make better use of the industry's vast untapped HFC bandwidth. Among other things, they outlined plans to create new tech protocols, bond together multiple DOCSIS channels, apply service control software, use switched broadcasting and share QAM channels to make more bandwidth available to customers and use the same bandwidth for different purposes.
John Chapman, a distinguished engineer at Cisco Systems Inc., made the biggest splash with a presentation near the end of the three-day conference. As part of a session called "Smart Pipe/Dumb Pipe," Chapman called on cable operators to set a five-year goal of providing 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) per fiber node for downstream use by broadband subscribers. He also challenged his fellow cable engineers to make 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) per fiber node of upstream capacity available to high-speed data subscribers by 2010.
"This is all about increasing the amount of bandwidth on the plant or taking advantage [of what's there] and using it better," said Chapman, who has co- authored several key cable broadband specs. "The plant we have is very, very bandwidth-rich. It's bandwidth there for the taking."
Sensing a promising opportunity for the industry, Chapman and other Cisco executives urged cable executives to adopt a new "wideband protocol" for DOCSIS to achieve this goal. In briefings and demonstrations throughout the show, they argued that their wideband solution would enable cable operators to deliver up to 640 Mbps of bandwidth per subscriber by bonding 16 or more 6 MHz channels using 256-QAM modulation, a strategy that does not require any changes to the existing HFC infrastructure. That would provide plenty of bandwidth for multiple standard-definition digital and HDTV channels, IP telephony offerings and more than 100 Mbps of high-speed data traffic, among other things.
"At first blush, that seems like a lot of data," Chapman said. "But I actually think it's conservative. I think we'll need more bandwidth five years from now."
Cisco officials also argued that a wideband protocol, which is under evaluation for inclusion in the pending DOCSIS 3.0 specification, would allow cable operators to make the leap to IP video faster and cheaper than the phone companies by bundling multiple downstream channels. The strategy would allow cable operators to add downstream channels independently of upstream channels, leveraging previously deployed DOCSIS CMTS (cable modem termination system) devices and taking advantage of declining prices for external Edge QAM devices.
"This is a way to one-up fiber to the home," said John Mattson, director of Cisco's cable product business unit, in a briefing for reporters and analysts at the start of the show. "The cost model is a lot better than fiber-to-the- home."
Along similar lines, Thomas Quigley, a senior director of Broadcom Corp., advanced the idea of "bonding multiple DOCSIS channels" to deliver data to cable homes at far faster rates than today's broadband speeds. With channel bonding, cable systems would spread data packets across four or more separate 6-MHz channels and then recombine the packets once they reached their destination. The bonded channels wouldn't even have to be contiguous within the spectrum.
To make the system work, Quigley said, cable operators would have to install new modulators in their headends and new cable modems in their customers' homes. But, he said, relatively little other equipment and few other changes would be necessary.
"Technically, it's a solvable problem," he said. "There's no new science here. It's really the nuts and bolts of making it happen."
Quigley contended that the channel bonding concept offers several advantages over a "wide-channel" approach, which has also been proposed. Among other things, he said, channel bonding would provide higher throughput rates to individual cable modems, use existing 6-MHz channels and be compatible with older equipment. He also noted that the approach could be used for upstream packets as well as downstream packets.
In questioning from the audience, Chapman and Quigley fended off a complaint that vendors are trying to impose hefty new silicon and equipment costs on cable operators by proposing expensive "bandaids" for DOCSIS. "I think we can scale DOCSIS to get the cost down considerably," Chapman said.
Other SCTE ET show panelists recommended using PacketCable Multimedia specs, service control software and other increasingly sophisticated bandwidth tools to shape, steer and manage the growing data traffic on cable HFC networks, especially the increasingly heavy peer-to- peer (P2P) traffic. They also called for breaking down the separate "silos" of video, data and voice channels so that cable systems could use the same equipment, software and tech standards to offer converged services over a single IP-based network.
"Things are starting to converge at the networks," said Susie Kim Riley, founder and CTO of Camiant Inc., a PacketCable Multimedia software vendor. "Applications are converging as well... Quality-of-service is not a nice-to-have, it's a must-have."
Addressing the purely video side of the business, two speakers promoted the notion of using "switched broadcast" service to deliver different types of digital programming over the same bandwidth, rather than broadcasting the same shows continuously. This bandwidth-saving idea calls for sending scores of programs to different homes over the same 6-MHz cable channels by transmitting the shows only when subscribers ask for them.
Ran Oz, CTO of BigBand Networks, and Nishith Sinha, an ITV systems engineer for Cox Communications, said two MSO trials of the system last year showed that the technology can be quite efficient, particularly with programming that's not very popular. In fact, they said, the tests by Cox and Time Warner Cable showed that the technology's efficiency rises with the number of switched programs.
"The stats actually were pretty good," Sinha said. "We observed no blocking in either trial. They never came close to not having enough streams."
FBI Recovers Folk Singer Yarrow's Missing Guitar
When folk singer Peter Yarrow's hand-built Larrivee acoustic guitar turned up for sale on eBay last week, no one was more surprised than Peter Yarrow.
He had been looking for it since it vanished during a flight from Washington to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2000 while he traveled with bandmates Noel "Paul" Stookey and Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary on their 40th anniversary tour.
The loss was widely publicized at the time and Yarrow had offered a $500 reward for its return.
When the ad went up on Friday, a friend alerted Yarrow, who had a deputy sheriff friend contact the FBI. Knowledgeable bidders tipped the on-line auction company that the guitar may have been stolen, and it pulled the ad the same day, with bidding at $2,600, FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela said on Tuesday.
The FBI traced the ad to a Sunrise, Florida, musician who surrendered it to the agency.
The unidentified man told the FBI he was selling it as a favor for a friend and had no idea it may have been stolen, even though it was advertised as Yarrow's and was still in the original case with Yarrow's name on it.
"It was so blatant, it's obviously naivete," said Yarrow, who is not pursuing charges. "My only interest was to get the guitar back ... I don't want anybody in handcuffs."
Yarrow said he was never sure if the airline lost the guitar or if somebody stole it off a baggage carousel. He had played it in every concert and on all 11 albums the group released between the guitar's creation in 1973 and the day it vanished.
"It's an extraordinary guitar and I love it a lot," Yarrow told Reuters. "A musical instrument becomes so much a part of your body when you're very involved with it over a period of years."
Peter, Paul & Mary, best known for performances such as "If I Had a Hammer," "Puff (The Magic Dragon)" and "Leaving On A Jet Plane," hope to resume touring soon, when Travers is fully recovered from treatment for leukemia, Yarrow said.
"Mary is in remission," he said.
Big Fine For P2P Teacher
A SCHOOLTEACHER has been fined €10,200 ($17,000) for uploading and downloading music on the internet in France's first big case designed to deter other peer-to-peer (P2P) pirates.
The 28-year-old teacher was ordered by a court in the Paris suburb of Pontoise to pay the money to copyright companies after being found guilty of illegally transferring 30GB of music files - the equivalent of around 10,000 songs, or 614 albums.
The fine was less than half the €28,400 the companies had demanded.
The teacher also had his computer confiscated and was ordered to take out advertisements in two newspapers to publicise the verdict.
Prosecutors said the teacher had been arrested because he had been one of the biggest uploaders of music online in France.
The judgement came the eve of an appeal by 70 musicians, academics and politicians calling for an end to legal action against individuals who download for their own use.
"Like at least eight million other French people, we have also downloaded music online and are thus part of a growing number of 'criminals'. We ask that these absurd lawsuits stop," said the petition due to be published in the Nouvel Observateur news magazine.
It suggested the Government, music companies, artists and consumer groups get together to strengthen copyright on musical works and work out "fair" ways to adapt the changes wrought by internet.
France's music industry has since last year adopted the tactics of their US counterparts in going after downloaders and making an example of them.
Those caught risk up to three years in jail and a €300,000 fine.
Graduate Cryptographers Unlock Code of 'Thiefproof' Car Key
Matthew Green starts his 2005 Ford Escape with a duplicate key he had made at Lowe's. Nothing unusual about that, except that the automobile industry has spent millions of dollars to keep him from being able to do it.
Mr. Green, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, is part of a team that plans to announce on Jan. 29 that it has cracked the security behind "immobilizer" systems from Texas Instruments Inc. The systems reduce car theft, because vehicles will not start unless the system recognizes a tiny chip in the authorized key. They are used in millions of Fords, Toyotas and Nissans.
All that would be required to steal a car, the researchers said, is a moment next to the car owner to extract data from the key, less than an hour of computing, and a few minutes to break in, feed the key code to the car and hot-wire it.
An executive with the Texas Instruments division that makes the systems did not dispute that the Hopkins team had cracked its code, but said there was much more to stealing a car than that. The devices, said the executive, Tony Sabetti, "have been fraud-free and are likely to remain fraud-free."
The implications of the Hopkins finding go beyond stealing cars.
Variations on the technology used in the chips, known as RFID for radio frequency identification, are widely used. Similar systems deduct highway tolls from drivers' accounts and restrict access to workplaces.
Wal-Mart is using the technology to track inventory, the Food and Drug Administration is considering it to foil drug counterfeiting, and the medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles, plans to implant chips in cadavers to curtail unauthorized sale of body parts.
The Johns Hopkins researchers say that if other radio frequency ID systems are vulnerable, the new field could offer far less security than its proponents promise.
The computer scientists are not doing R.&D. for the Mafia. Aviel D. Rubin, a professor of computer science who led the team, said his three graduate students did what security experts often do: showed the lack of robust security in important devices that people use every day.
"What we find time and time again is the security is overlooked and not done right," said Dr. Rubin, who has exposed flaws in electronic voting systems and wireless computer networks.
David Wagner, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, who reviewed a draft of a paper by the Hopkins team, called it "great research," adding, "I see it as an early warning" for all radio frequency ID systems.
The "immobilizer" technology used in the keys has been an enormous success. Texas Instruments alone has its chips in an estimated 150 million keys. Replacing the key on newer cars can cost hundreds of dollars, but the technology is credited with greatly reducing auto theft. - Early versions of in-key chips were relatively easy to clone, but the Texas Instruments chips are considered to be among the best. Still, the amount of computing the chip can do is restricted by the fact that it has no power of its own; it builds a slight charge from an electromagnetic field from the car's transmitter.
Marty Katz for The New York Times
From left, Prof. Aviel D. Rubin, Adam Stubblefield, Matthew Green and Stephen Bono working with cards programmed
to conduct an assault on a car-key chip.
Cracking the system took the graduate students three months, Dr. Rubin said. "There was a lot of trial and error work with, every once in a while, a little 'Aha!' "
The Hopkins researchers got unexpected help from Texas Instruments itself. They were able to buy a tag reader directly from the company, which sells kits for $280 on its Web site. They also found a general diagram on the Internet, from a technical presentation by the company's German division. The researchers wrote in the paper describing their work that the diagram provided "a useful foothold" into the system. (The Hopkins paper, which is online at www.rfidanalysis.org, does not provide information that might allow its work to be duplicated.
The researchers discovered a critically important fact: the encryption algorithm used by the chip to scramble the challenge uses a relatively short code, known as a key. The longer the code key, which is measured in bits, the harder it is to crack any encryption system.
"If you were to tell a cryptographer that this system uses 40-bit keys, you'd immediately conclude that the system is weak and that you'd be able to break it," said Ari Juels, a scientist with the research arm of RSA Security, which financed the team and collaborated with it.
The team wrote software that mimics the system, which works through a pattern of challenge and response. The researchers took each chip they were trying to clone and fed it challenges, and then tried to duplicate the response by testing all 1,099,511,627,776 possible encryption keys. Once they had the right key, they could answer future challenges correctly.
Mr. Sabetti of Texas Instruments argues that grabbing the code from a key would be very difficult, because the chips have a very short broadcast range. The greatest distance that his company's engineers have managed in the laboratory is 12 inches, and then only with large antennas that require a power source.
Dr. Rubin acknowledged that his team had been able to read the keys just a few inches from a reader, but said many situations could put an attacker and a target in close proximity, including crowded elevators.
The researchers used several thousand dollars of off-the-shelf computer equipment to crack the code, and had to fill a back seat of Mr. Green's S.U.V. with computers and other equipment to successfully imitate a key. But the cost of equipment could be brought down to several hundred dollars, Dr. Rubin said, and Adam Stubblefield, one of the Hopkins graduate students, said, "We think the entire attack could be done with a device the size of an iPod."
The Texas Instruments chips are also used in millions of the Speedpass tags that drivers use to buy gasoline at ExxonMobil stations without pulling out a credit card, and the researchers have shown that they can buy gas with a cracked code. A spokeswoman for ExxonMobil, Prem Nair, said the company used additional antifraud measures, including restrictions that only allow two gas purchases per day.
"We strongly believe that the Speedpass devices and the checks that we have in place are much more secure than those using credit cards with magnetic stripes," she said.
The team discussed its research with Texas Instruments before making the paper public. Matthew Buckley, a spokesman for RSA Security, said his company, which offers security consulting services and is developing radio frequency ID tags that resist unauthorized eavesdropping, had offered to work with Texas Instruments free of charge to address the security issues.
Dr. Wagner said that what graduate students could do, organized crime could also do. "The white hats don't have a monopoly on cryptographic expertise," he said.
Dr. Rubin said that if criminals did eventually duplicate his students' work, people could block eavesdroppers by keeping the key or Speedpass token in a tinfoil sheath when not in use. But Mr. Sabetti, the Texas Instruments executive, said such precautions were unnecessary. "It's a solution to a problem that doesn't exist," he said.
Dan Bedore, a spokesman for Ford, said the company had confidence in the technology. "No security device is foolproof," he said, but "it's a very, very effective deterrent" to drive-away theft. "Flatbed trucks are a bigger threat," he said, "and a lot lower tech."
Group to Distribute Earplugs at Concerts
The motto of the Norwegian Rock 'n' roll Federation could well be "Turn it up!" but the group fears increasing numbers of members might respond to that request with an uncomprehending "What?"
The group plans to distribute 100,000 earplugs at rock concerts, so fans can enjoy the loud music and still hear what's said after the show.
"We can state, with great concern, that an increasing number of young Norwegians suffer from hearing damage," the group said Thursday. "This project will put the spotlight on the noise damage sustained by young people in their free time, and encourage concert audiences to take responsibility for their own hearing."
It said about 500,000 people in this country of 4.6 million people periodically suffer from tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, including 20,000 chronic sufferers.
The campaign, called "Rock against Ringing," is being organized by the rock federation in cooperation with the national association of the hearing impaired, HLF, and has sought government support.
The Year of Living Indecently
LET us be grateful that Janet Jackson did not bare both breasts.
On the first anniversary of the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction that shook the world, it's clear that just one was big enough to wreak havoc. The ensuing Washington indecency crusade has unleashed a wave of self-censorship on American television unrivaled since the McCarthy era, with everyone from the dying D-Day heroes in "Saving Private Ryan" to cuddly animated animals on daytime television getting the ax. Even NBC's presentation of the Olympics last summer, in which actors donned body suits to simulate "nude" ancient Greek statues, is currently under federal investigation.
Public television is now so fearful of crossing its government patrons that it is flirting with self-immolation. Having disowned lesbians in the children's show "Postcards From Buster" and stripped suspect language from "Prime Suspect" on "Masterpiece Theater," PBS is editing its Feb. 23 broadcast of "Dirty War," the HBO-BBC film about a terrorist attack, to remove a glimpse of female nudity in a scene depicting nuclear detoxification. Next thing you know they'll be snipping lascivious flesh out of a documentary about Auschwitz.
This repressive cultural environment was officially ratified on Nov. 2, when Ms. Jackson's breast pulled off its greatest coup of all: the re- election of President Bush. Or so it was decreed by the media horde that retroactively declared "moral values" the campaign's decisive issue and the Super Bowl the blue states' Waterloo. The political bosses of "family" organizations, well aware that TV's collective wisdom becomes reality whether true or not, have been emboldened ever since. They are spending their political capital like drunken sailors, redoubling their demands that the Bush administration marginalize gay people, stamp out sex education and turn pop culture into a continuous loop of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm."
With Sunday's Super Bowl, their crusade has scored a touchdown. MTV has been replaced as halftime producer by Don Mischer, the go-to guy for a guaranteed snoozefest; his credits include the Tony Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors and the 2004 Democratic National Convention at which the balloons failed to drop. (His subsequent cursing was heard on CNN, but escaped government sanction because no Republicans were watching.) Fox Sports Net has changed the title of its signature program "Best Damn Sports Show Period" to "Best Darn Super Bowl Road Show Period." The commercials, too, will "be careful" and in "good taste," according to the head of marketing for Anheuser-Busch. Fox, which recently pixilated the bottom of a cartoon toddler in a rerun of the series "Family Guy," now has someone on full-time rear-end alert: it rejected a comic spot for Airborne, a cold remedy, showing the backside of the 84-year-old Mickey Rooney as he leaves a sauna.
This might all be laughable were the government not expanding its role as cultural cop. But it is. The departures of Michael Powell, the Savonarola of the Federal Communications Commission, and John Ashcroft, whose parallel right-breast fixation was stimulated by a statue in the Justice Department, are red herrings. "Thank God he's gone, but God help us with what's next," said Howard Stern upon learning of Mr. Powell's imminent exit. He's right. After all, L. Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council condemned Mr. Powell for "four years of failed leadership" in fighting indecency. (Mr. Powell's commission had the temerity to actually reject some Parents Television Council jeremiads, which are distinguished by their inordinate obsession with the penis.) Mr. Bozell, whose organization has been second to none in increasing the number of annual indecency complaints from 111 in 2000 to a million-plus last year, is angling for a tougher successor and may well get one.
His wish has in effect been granted even before Mr. Powell's chair is filled. The second Bush term began with the installation of a powerful new government censor in another big job, Secretary of Education. Margaret Spellings hadn't even been officially sworn into the cabinet when she took on "Postcards From Buster," threatening PBS with decreased financing because one episode had the show's eponymous animated rabbit hobnobbing with actual lesbian moms while visiting Vermont to learn how maple syrup is made. Though Buster had in previous installments visited Muslims, Mormons, Orthodox Jews and Pentecostal Christians, gay couples (even when not identified as such on camera) are verboten to our new Secretary of Education. "Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode," Ms. Spellings wrote in her threatening letter to Pat Mitchell, the C.E.O. of PBS.
The letter, as it happened, was unnecessary: Public broadcasting says that it had decreed on its own only a few hours earlier that it would not distribute the offending show - the most alarming example yet of just how cowardly it has become and how chilling the Janet Jackson effect has been. (Since then, some two dozen member stations out of a total of 349 have rebeled and decided to broadcast the episode anyway.) But the story won't end with this one incident. Ms. Spellings' threats against PBS are only the latest chapter in a continuing saga at an education department that increasingly resembles an authoritarian government's ministry of information.
A month before the election, The Los Angeles Times reported on its front page that the department had quietly destroyed more than 300,000 copies of "a booklet designed for parents to help their children learn history" after Lynne Cheney, who has no official government role, complained about its contents. The booklet burning occurred under the watch of Rod Paige, the education secretary who, we would later learn, was simultaneously complicit in another sub rosa exercise in heavy-handed government information management: the payment of $240,000 in taxpayers' funds to Armstrong Williams, a talking head and columnist, to plug Bush administration policies on radio and TV.
Mr. Paige fled his post last month without adequately explaining what he knew about these scandals. Enter Ms. Spellings, previously a White House aide who by some accounts had been a shadow administrator of the education department during Mr. Paige's out-to-lunch tenure. With all the other troubles in public education, why would she focus on a single episode of a single children's program on her second day in the job? We don't yet know. But her act was nothing if not ideologically synergistic with still another freshly uncovered Bush propaganda effort. Just as Ms. Spellings busted Buster, two more syndicated columnists copped to receiving taxpayers' dollars, this time siphoned through the Department of Health and Human Services, to help craft propaganda for a Bush "healthy marriage initiative" that disdains same-sex couples as fervently as Ms. Spellings did in her letter to PBS.
What makes this story more insidious still is the glaring reality that the most prominent Republican lesbians in America are Mary Cheney, a former gay and lesbian marketing liaison for Coors beer, and her partner, Heather Poe, who appeared as a couple in public and on TV during the presidential campaign. That Ms. Spellings would gratuitously go after this specific "lifestyle" right after taking office is so provocative it smells like payback specifically pitched at those "pro-family" watchdogs who snarled at the mention of Ms. Cheney's sexual orientation during the campaign whether it was by John Kerry or anyone else. Surely Ms. Spellings doesn't believe in discrimination against nontraditional families: by her own account, she was a single mother who had to park her 13-year-old and 8-year-old children in Austin when she first went to work at the White House. Then again, President Bush went on record last month as saying that "studies have shown that the ideal is where a child is being raised by a man and a woman" (even though, as The New York Times reported, "there is no scientific evidence that children raised by gay couples do any worse").
That our government is now both intimidating PBS and awarding public money to pundits to enforce "moral values" agendas demonizing certain families is the ugliest fallout of the campaign against indecency. That campaign cannot really banish salaciousness from pop culture, a rank impossibility in a market economy where red and blue customers are united in their infatuation with "Desperate Housewives." But it can create public policy that discriminates against anyone on the hit list of moral values zealots. Inane as it may seem that Ms. Spellings is conducting a witch hunt against Buster or that James Dobson has taken aim at SpongeBob SquarePants, there's a method to their seeming idiocy: the cartoon surrogates are deliberately chosen to camouflage the harshness of their assault on nonanimated, flesh-and-blood people.
This, too, has its antecedent in the McCarthy era. In his novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay," Michael Chabon was extrapolating from actual history when one of his heroes, a gay comic book artist, is hauled before Congress to testify about pairing up "strapping young fellows in tight trousers" as superheroes. A Senate committee of the time did investigate the comics. Its guiding force was the psychiatrist Fredric Wertham's fear-mongering 1954 tome "Seduction of the Innocent," which posited that Batman and Robin could corrupt children by inducing a "wish dream of two homosexuals living together." The decency cops of that day, exemplified by closeted gay right-wingers like J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn, escalated a culture war into one with human costs by conflating homosexuality with the criminality of treason.
One big difference between that America and ours is that the culture industry, public broadcasting not included, has gained much more power since then. Should Sunday's Super Bowl falter in the ratings, its creators will lure that missing audience back next year with wardrobe malfunctions that haven't even been invented yet.
But gay parents whose "lifestyle" is vilified by a cabinet officer don't have that power. They're vulnerable even in a state like Vermont that respects their civil rights. "I feel sick about it," Karen Pike of Hinesburg, Vt., told The Burlington Free Press, after learning that PBS had orphaned the "Buster" episode showing her, her partner and their three children. "I understand they get public funding, but they should be the one station we feel confident in, in knowing that what we see there represents our country."
No one had told her that some stories are no longer welcome. You have to wonder if anyone has told Mary Cheney: Focus on the Family could not have been pleased to read last week's New York Post report that she has hired Bill Clinton's high-powered literary dealmaker to peddle her own story as a book.
Until next week,
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