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Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - September 16th, '06
"I couldn't leave the set. I didn't want to take my false ass off. There was an emotional attachment. I was a disaster for two months. I was unbearable" – Penelope Cruz
"My cellmates were totally chill and had my back. The fact I only got an hour of fresh air a day was frustrating, but you deal." – Josh Wolf
"Will I be happier with a hit record or a great copyright that lasts forever? I’ll take the copyright." – Lionel Richie
"If I had paid for this, I would demand my money back." – Stephen Greenblatt
"It suggests to me that news and entertainment are getting dangerously intertwined, and I do not think that is good for the country, because an event of this consequence is very hard to understand. To distort it, or not to present it factually in this kind of [TV movie] presentation does not serve the country well." – Lee H. Hamilton, vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission
"Universities should devote themselves to pedagogy and scholarship, not promoting the business model of the sinking dinosaurs of last year's entertainment companies. Today's record executives were the pirates against whom Sousa railed in 1908. Hollywood's studios were founded by people looking to rip off Thomas Edison's patents. Yesterday's pirates turn into today's entertainment execs in the blink of an eye. The university should study this phenomenon, criticize it and analyze it. To take sides in this issue is ridiculous." – Cory Doctorow
"A tech-savvy home could easily generate 5 terabytes of cumulative data from 2002 to 2010. About half of that would be personal content and half of that would be commercial content. I'm projecting that by the next decade, as consumers become creators of content--a camera on your cell phone is just the beginning--the demand for storage will mushroom, and the line between what's commercial and what's personal will be blurred. Personal content will significantly overwhelm commercial content for the people who are comfortable with the technology--especially the younger generation." – Tom Coughlin
"In 2005, for a three-platter drive, 500GB was standard. By 2009, that will be a 2TB drive. And if we continue for 2013, using Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording technology, we'll have 8TB drives." – Dave Wickersham
"Why would we put Wi-Fi in a place where what they need is food and clean water?" – Dr. Larry Brilliant
"This summer the MisShapes officially became a corporation." – Cathy Horyn
"It seems kind of duplicitous. Even casual fans know that Dylan has a history of doing this and it’s part of what makes him great, but this is different. This is one poet who’s used over and over and over again." – Chris Dineen
"The P2P monitoring company Big Champagne reports that the average time-lapse between a iTunes-exclusive song being offered by Apple and that same song being offered on P2P networks is 180 seconds." – Cory Doctorow
Deny. Restrict. Manipulate.
They say It’s the Little Things that Getcha and we need no more proof of that than the actions of the small groups of DRM crackers now going up against both Apple and Microsoft. These leviathans of corporate computing must be fuming over their inability to provide workable systems that aren’t vulnerable to the rude pipsqueaks whose bedroom hacks gleefully skewer the codes that imprison the iPod 100.
Savvy Week in Review regulars already know that DRM is inherently unstable and unsound, and that for every system developed by armies of high-priced PHDs there exists a kid or three only too happy to exploit it and post the results. With the 200th issue of the WiR now up for perusal what’s become apparent is that DRM is not just unworkable but unnecessary as well, even for businesses that believe their bottom lines depend on it.
At Apple the situation is clear: 1.5 billion downloads weren’t sold because DRM kept the songs locked up. The mark was hit because many people simply like buying songs at iTunes - even though they know they can get them all for free elsewhere. Maybe it’s the convenience, maybe the perceived safety, perhaps even the community of peers and other social functions built into the network, but whatever it is you can be sure it’s not because the songs aren’t already free. When even exclusive offerings are available on file-sharing networks often within mere minutes of their posting on iTunes, it’s a safe bet these leaky digital restrictions aren’t boosting the RIAA’s bottom line. Apple could turn off and throw away their DRM tomorrow without so much as registering a downward blip in sales - because their customers have bought into the iTunes model completely. Like the old bottled water vs. tap argument, entrepreneurs can figure out how to profit even if a product is freely available, and they’re going gangbusters doing it in Cupertino right now.
Of course this doesn’t help the larger culture much if unencumbered files are slowly replaced by Digitally Restricted Media, especially when future generations are locked out of their own past, and so far at any rate none of the DRM workarounds have actually cracked the encryption that locked them up in the first place. They work instead by replacing the old analog stream-capture routine with a slightly more sophisticated digital dance that eliminates transcoding – but only after the file has already been properly decrypted - and if that may not seem like an important distinction to a purchaser who simply wants a better sounding file, it is no thin triviality to archivists and those worried about future access to our cultural records and history.
DRM may be powerless in preventing Johnny from ripping his songs to his cell, but when his parent machine and its keys are long gone the digitally restricting manipulations of today can sure keep those old and cherished files from bringing much joy to his descendents, silenced and frozen and just out of reach forever. Until the cranky leviathans get with the program we’ll just have to keep spreading the unrestricted varieties. Our offspring will thank us.
September 16th, '06
Firm Behind eDonkey to Pay $30 Million
The firm behind popular online file-sharing software eDonkey has agreed to pay $30 million to avoid potential copyright infringement lawsuits from the recording industry, according to court documents filed Tuesday.
New York-based MetaMachine Inc. was one of seven technology companies to receive letters from the recording industry last fall warning them to shut down or prepare to face lawsuits.
Since then, the operators of BearShare, i2Hub, WinMX, and Grokster have reached similar agreements.
"With this new settlement, another domino falls, and we have further strengthened the footing of the legal marketplace," Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, said in a statement.
Under terms of the latest agreement, MetaMachine and its top executives, Sam Yagan and Jed McCaleb, agreed to immediately cease distributing eDonkey, eDonkey 2000, Overnet and other software versions.
The company also agreed to take measures to prevent file-sharing by people using previously downloaded versions of the eDonkey software.
A federal judge must still give final approval to the terms of the settlement.
A call to eDonkey CEO Sam Yagan was not immediately returned.
The eDonkey Web site on Tuesday featured a message from the company telling visitors that the eDonkey2000 Network was no longer available, and a warning that people who steal music or movies are breaking the law.
The message concluded with "Goodbye Everyone."
Several file-sharing services have yet to reach settlements with the recording industry, including Warez P2P, Limewire and Soulseek.
In August, the recording companies filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the firm behind LimeWire. That case is pending.
Web Site Owner Gets 7 Years For Piracy
The owner of one of the nation's largest Internet software piracy Web sites has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison.
Nathan Peterson, 27, of Los Angeles, sold products copyrighted by companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. at a huge discount on his site, iBackups.net, prosecutors said. The site began operating in 2003 and was shut down by the FBI in February 2005.
In addition to Friday's 87-month sentence, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered Peterson to pay restitution of more than $5.4 million and to forfeit the proceeds of his scheme, which included homes, cars and a boat.
Peterson pleaded guilty in December in Alexandria to two counts of copyright infringement.
Justice Department and industry officials called the case one of the largest involving Internet software piracy ever prosecuted.
Last month, Ellis sentenced a Florida man to six years in prison for selling illegal copies of computer programs on another site, BuysUSA.com.
Major CD, DVD Pirate Outfit Uncovered
In what music and movie industry leaders say is a significant blow to the nation's piracy market, police on Thursday raided an office and a garage, confiscating 208 CD and DVD burners and about 40,000 bootlegged discs.
What they uncovered was the second-largest CD burning lab in the United States and one of the largest movie pirating labs in the country, said the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, whose staffs helped local police.
Among the films being illegally reproduced were some not yet officially released on DVD, including "Snakes on a Plane" and "World Trade Center." The music ranged from Latin to gospel.
The first warrant was executed Thursday morning at a Bronx garage, where police found 23 duplicator towers, containing the burners. The second search warrant was served hours later at a Manhattan office. At that location, investigators found the 40,000 discs, about 40 percent of which were DVDs, the MPAA said.
Only one person had been arrested in connection to the group that ran the copying outlets, which the RIAA's staff investigators said they began uncovering in March. The suspect, 19-year-old Abdouraitamance Diallo, of the Bronx, faces a charge of trademark counterfeiting, police said. Diallo is a major player in the group, the RIAA said. A phone listing for Diallo could not be found Thursday night.
The group, which did not have a formal name, essentially acted as a wholesaler, capable of producing more than 6,000 CDs an hour and selling the discs to people who would then peddle them in flea markets. It frequently changed its production locations and distribution centers, authorities said.
"The more we can minimize the availability of pirate product, the more we help protect artists, record labels and everyone else involved in making music and ensure a positive, high-quality experience for fans," said Brad Buckles, executive vice president overseeing RIAA anti-piracy efforts.
The biggest bust of a CD burning lab occurred recently in Atlanta, RIAA officials said.
The director of U.S. anti-piracy operations for the MPAA, Mike Robinson, said in a phone interview that the CD pirates thrive because consumers are willing to purchase their bootleg products.
"For us to eliminate this activity we really need to convince the public and cause them to think about what they're doing when they make those purchases," he said.
New York is considered a hub for music and film pirating, a phenomenon the industries say costs them billions of dollars a year. RIAA and MPAA officials said they worked with the New York Police Department's Trademark Infringement Unit to gather enough information and evidence for search warrants.
New Law Cracks Down Harder On Bootleg Music
New York is further cracking down on bootleg music recordings often sold at open-air markets with a new law aimed at protecting artists and recording industry workers nationwide.
The music piracy law signed into law Friday by Gov. George Pataki makes a Class E felony of selling 100 of the illegal recordings. That's lowered from the threshold of 1,000, which allowed illicit sellers to maintain adequate inventories without risking a felony charge.
"When pirated CDs are sold on street-side tables, at flea markets, or in retail outlets, the works of many talented and hard-working individuals are stolen," said Mitch Bainwol of the Recording Industry Association of America. "New York is an important creative hub for the music industry. This law ensures that thieves threatening the livelihoods of those in our community will face much greater risk of being prosecuted and appropriately punished."
New York City is one of 12 "hot spots" nationwide for the illegal sales, according to the association. The New York City Comptroller's Office estimated the illegal trade cost the city $1 billion in lost tax revenue.
Bainwol said that more than 1.1 million pirated music CDs were seized in 1,000 arrests in New York state in 2005 alone. Most recordings were of "urban genre music," according to the association.
Pataki signed the bill into law among others that authorize the state to conduct criminal background checks on prospective foster parents or adoptive parents and for workers and volunteers who serve the mentally ill and disabled. Those laws allow fingerprints to be processed in the FBI's national criminal data base.
Another law authorizes the state to have a monument built honoring New Yorkers who won the Medal of Honor, which is awarded by Congress for heroics in battle. The monument will be installed in the Empire State Plaza, adjacent to the Capitol in Albany, where monuments now honor police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty, Vietnam and World War II veterans and other New Yorkers.
In other bills signed into law:
-State and local disaster preparedness plans will have to include the needs of people with pets and service animals after a disaster.
-"Modem hijacking" will be subject to civil penalties and fines. In the practice, computer spyware can control a personal computer to make international calls at the expense of the unwitting computer owner.
-A commission will be created to find ways to increase the share of minorities in the state work force. The commission will make recommendations to the Legislature. The Legislature's black and Hispanic caucus has said minorities are under represented in the state work force when compared to racial breakdowns in the state population.
Piracy: All It Takes Is a Garage
Piracy—it's not just for the high seas anymore. In fact, according to the MPAA, 44 percent of their piracy losses in the US come from college students. This claim can only be made with a straight face, of course, if you believe that college students would otherwise be purchasing retail copies of every film that they download (we've discussed the problems with these numbers before).
Fortunately, the MPAA and its sibling, the RIAA, also pursue real pirates, and their actions are increasingly international. The motion picture industry, for instance, has just filed civil suits against two pirate outlets in Beijing's central business district. Though it can be more difficult to enforce intellectual property rights in China than in the US or Europe, the movie industry has a fairly good track record. In 2002-2003 (the last year for which they provide numbers), the industry filed 10 civil cases against commercial piracy operations in China, and it won all 10.
Two weeks ago in Fiji, police there raided a shop in Suva that was allegedly selling pirated DVDs and have stepped up enforcement efforts against suspected copyright violators.
And here in the US, police in Brooklyn just announced a raid on a large-scale CD and DVD copying business that will, apparently, be "a significant blow to the nation's piracy market." This claim needs to be taken with a grain of salt—this was a business operated from a garage, after all, and the only person arrested was a 19-year-old named Abdouraitamance Diallo. If owning 23 duplicator towers and a garage is all that it takes to become a major piracy operation, then the bar isn't set real high.
Police did seize more than 40,000 discs, including copies of "Snakes on a Plane." What—you thought that pirates only copied movies people want to watch?
Image courtesy NATO
The industry estimates that more than 90 percent of these bootlegs come from camcorder sources, which explains the movie business's continued crackdown on taping in the theater. The National Association of Theatre Owners even has a bounty program for theatre employees who catch or turn in the tapers.
Because it's impossible to say how many commercial piracy operations exist, it can be hard to know if progress against them is being made. The MPAA points out that its enforcement efforts are increasingly successful. 81 million optical discs were seized in 2005, an 8 percent jump from the previous year They also seized 30,000 illicit burners in 2005, up 113 percent from 2004. These numbers can be used to tell two stories. In the first story, pirates are being shut down, investigations are growing more fruitful, and, generally speaking, everything is getting better and better in every possible way.
On the other hand, the large year-to-year increases in seizures of burning equipment and discs could just as easily indicate that the piracy business is booming. Knowing how many units of anything were seized only tells us something interesting when we know what percentage this is of the whole. Without knowing that, it's difficult to say whether enforcement actions are now less, more, or just as effective as they were five years ago.
A final point to consider: piracy has moved online. By the MPAA's own stab-in-the-dark estimate, one third of all piracy in the US is done via the Internet, and this number could well grow in the coming years. If that's the case, it means that raids against DVD-stamping operations will become less important over time, and trumpeting the latest seizure of "x number of discs" will be less significant than shutting down file-swapping services.
BitTorrent User Pleads Guilty
Scott McCausland pleaded guilty today to “conspiracy to commit copyright infringement” and “criminal copyright infringement”. McCausland was a vivid member of the “private” BitTorrent tracker Elitetorrents, that was taken down by the FBI, May 2005.
This case is the first BitTorrent related criminal enforcement in the US. 24 year old McCAusland could be sent to prison for a maximum of five years.
The plea was announced by Attorney General Fisher of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Buchanan of the Western District of Pennsylvania earlier today. In a response to this case U.S. Attorney Buchanan stated:
“This groundbreaking case demonstrates the commitment of the Department of Justice to prosecute individuals who use new technologies to undermine the copyright laws. It also serves as an example to those who believe that there is anonymity in cyberspace.”
When Elitetorrents was taken down May last year, the frontpage was replaced by this FBI takehome message.
FBI’s Operation D-Elite resulted in the permanent shutdown of the Elitetorrents community. The irony of this case is that it concerns a so called “private tracker” that is believed to be “more anonymous” than public trackers. Strange enough, there is no “we told you so” press release from the MPAA yet, but I bet it wont take long.
McCausland is scheduled to be sentenced on December 12, 2006.
Germany: Crackdown on TOR-Node Operators
The public prosecutor’s office of Konstanz raided computing centres of seven providers in Germany, seizing ten servers because of the proliferation of child pornography. Nothing new, things like that happen all the time, the juicy detail is that some of the servers were merely running a copy of the TOR, a software to anonymize the usage of the internet to protect your privacy.
Those servers were most probably configured to be TOR Exit-Nodes, so their IP-addresses might have shown up in the server logfiles of the child-porn servers in question. One could argue that this is an attempt to frigthen german TOR-node operators, but I’d just keep calm for the moment. I guess that the attorney of state is just after logfiles, they knew that those servers were operating as TOR-nodes. If you IP-address pops up in a child-porn case surely your IP looks interesting to the police.
However, this situation is disturbing, really disturbing. I run a TOR-server myself (wormhole.ynfonatic.de) and the last thing I want to experience is the police kicking down my door, seizing my computer. (despite the fact that my server is rented and in Leipzig i don’t want them to raid my appartment. Child-porn, you know, the last reason. You could possibly justify everything with it.)
One operator whose server was seized as well wrote a letter to all the TOR-operators in Germany he was aware of, reaching me as well; he wrote that he is not aware of any charges pressed against him at the moment and that his provider, whose server-room was raided, was not avilable for a real comment on the weekend.
We just have to wait what’s going on, which charges are pressed - if at all, i somehow doubt that - and when the state will give that servers back. This is really something horrible for the TOR-operator - especially if you take into account that there will be no evidences at all to find on the harddrive. It’s just a hassle, stress which is put upon you.
But i guess we have to go through it. There was no lawsuit about TOR in Germany yet - i hope it’s not going into the direction of “supporting proliferation of child-pornography“. This would be the end of anonymizing services in Germany and probably everywhere in the EU.
I run TOR to get a certain level of privacy. Staying anonymous is no crime. I want my privacy.
Please morally support us, the TOR-operators.
Fellow Blogger rabenhorst also wrote a bit about it.
Update: Subscribing to the tor-talk list helps… There’s also a thread in english about the Razzia.
Media Ownership Study Ordered Destroyed
FCC draft suggested fewer owners would hurt local TV coverage
The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says.
The report, written in 2004, came to light during the Senate confirmation hearing for FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. received a copy of the report "indirectly from someone within the FCC who believed the information should be made public," according to Boxer spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz.
(Note: In June of 2006, the FCC announced the start of a new review of media ownership, including a "series of public hearings on media ownership issues at diverse locations across the nation". That review is still ongoing.)
'Every last piece' destroyed
Adam Candeub, now a law professor at Michigan State University, said senior managers at the agency ordered that "every last piece" of the report be destroyed. "The whole project was just stopped - end of discussion," he said. Candeub was a lawyer in the FCC's Media Bureau at the time the report was written and communicated frequently with its authors, he said.
In a letter sent to Martin Wednesday, Boxer said she was "dismayed that this report, which was done at taxpayer expense more than two years ago, and which concluded that localism is beneficial to the public, was shoved in a drawer."
Martin said he was not aware of the existence of the report, nor was his staff. His office indicated it had not received Boxer's letter as of midafternoon Thursday.
Local ownership benefits
In the letter, Boxer asked whether any other commissioners "past or present" knew of the report's existence and why it was never made public. She also asked whether it was "shelved because the outcome was not to the liking of some of the commissioners and/or any outside powerful interests?"
The report, written by two economists in the FCC's Media Bureau, analyzed a database of 4,078 individual news stories broadcast in 1998. The broadcasts were obtained from Danilo Yanich, a professor and researcher at the University of Delaware, and were originally gathered by the Pew Foundation's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The analysis showed local ownership of television stations adds almost five and one-half minutes of total news to broadcasts and more than three minutes of "on-location" news. The conclusion is at odds with FCC arguments made when it voted in 2003 to increase the number of television stations a company could own in a single market. It was part of a broader decision liberalizing ownership rules.
At that time, the agency pointed to evidence that "commonly owned television stations are more likely to carry local news than other stations."
When considering whether to loosen rules on media ownership, the agency is required to examine the impact on localism, competition and diversity. The FCC generally defines localism as the level of responsiveness of a station to the needs of its community.
The 2003 action sparked a backlash among the public and within Congress. In June 2004, a federal appeals court rejected the agency's reasoning on most of the rules and ordered it to try again. The debate has since been reopened, and the FCC has scheduled a public hearing on the matter in Los Angeles on Oct. 3.
The report was begun after then-Chairman Michael Powell ordered the creation of a task force to study localism in broadcasting in August of 2003. Powell stepped down from the commission and was replaced by Martin in March 2005. Powell did not return a call seeking comment.
The authors of the report, Keith Brown and Peter Alexander, both declined to comment. Brown has left public service while Alexander is still at the FCC. Yanich confirmed the two men were the authors. Both have written extensively on media and telecommunications policy.
Yanich said the report was "extremely well done. It should have helped to inform policy."
Boxer's office said if she does not receive adequate answers to her questions, she will push for an investigation by the FCC inspector general.
Sony Program Woes Linger for AOL Users
The much-maligned copy protection program that Sony BMG Music Entertainment put on CDs last year is still posing a threat to computer users running certain versions of AOL or PestPatrol anti-spyware software.
The glitch may cause a computer's CD-ROM drive to be disabled, according to the Texas attorney general's office, which said Wednesday that the problem was discovered by officials who have been testing the XCP copy-protection technology as part of the state's lawsuit against Sony BMG.
State investigators found that if a CD with XCP technology is loaded on a computer running AOL's Safety and Security Center software, the program's anti-spyware feature will attempt to delete the XCP components, but often while also disabling the CD-ROM's configuration in the PC's operating system.
The same glitch surfaced on computers running CA Inc.'s PestPatrol separately from AOL, the state said.
"We believe there are many consumers out there who might have had this happen to them, but they weren't able to make the connection between running certain versions of AOL or the stand-alone (anti-spyware) software and having in some previous point in time entered CDs with XCP files into that same PC," said Paco Felici, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott.
CA, formerly known as Computer Associates, and AOL were informed of the glitch last month and have made a software patch available that fixes it.
"We don't believe this issue currently affects or has affected a significant number of users," said Andrew Weinstein, an AOL spokesman.
In a statement, Sony BMG said it worked with AOL and CA to resolve the issues with their software and noted it has made a software patch and uninstaller program for XCP available on its Web site.
Texas' lawsuit against the record company claims the XCP software that prevents unauthorized copying of music violated antispyware and consumer protection laws because it monitored users' activities without their knowledge. Several class-action lawsuits against Sony BMG have been settled.
On the Net:
List of XCP CDs released by Sony BMG: http://cp.sonybmg.com/xcp/english/titles.html
Sony Delays Japan Launch of New Walkman
Sony Corp. said Tuesday it will postpone the Japan launch of its new digital Walkman by one week over delays caused by a part malfunction.
The portable digital music player NW-S203F, which was slated to hit Japanese stores Friday, will instead go on sale on Sept. 23, according to Sony official Takashi Uehara.
The delay was due to the malfunction of a part used in the Walkmans, Uehara said, but refused to specify the part, the nature of the malfunction, or the number of units affected.
The move came after Sony said last week it would push back the European launch of its PlayStation 3 video game console by four months due to production delays.
Apple Unveils Movie Downloads, Player
Company to offer Disney films through iTunes, updates line of MP3 players, sets debut for new iTV player.
Apple Computer Inc. unveiled its new movie download service Tuesday, becoming the latest company trying to secure a toehold in what could be a rapidly expanding entertainment market.
The company also updated its entire line of popular iPod MP3 players.
Under the new movie service, consumers will be able to choose from over 75 movies from Miramax and Walt Disney Co. (Charts) studios - Disney, Pixar and Touchstone - to download from the company's popular iTunes store.
New releases will cost $12.99 when intially and $14.99 later, while older films titles will be $9.99, Apple said.
The movies will include "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," "Shakespeare in Love" and "The Incredibles." Consumers will be able to download the films to watch on their computers and iPods.
"In less than one year we've grown from offering just five TV shows to offering over 220 TV shows, and we hope to do the same with movies," Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. "iTunes is selling over one million videos a week, and we hope to match this with movies in less than a year."
Apple's iTunes store has become wildly popular among consumers since its launch, having sold 1.5 billion songs to date, according to the company.
Apple also said users will soon be able to watch the movies on TV with the upcoming release of a new product dubbed the iTV player.
"We believe the iTV concept could make AAPL (Apple) a bigger player in the digital home," UBS analyst Ben Reitzes wrote in a research note after Apple's announcement.
Apple is also updating its iPod line, rolling out a new 30-gigabyte version priced at $249 and a new 80-gig model for $349, which will hold up to 20,000 songs or 100 hours of video.
The company also said it will offer a new, thinner iPod Nano that will feature a 24-hour battery life and more storage capacity, as well as a 1-gig iPod shuffle.
Reitzes also wrote that the new iPod products could help drive Apple sales higher for the rest of the year.
Apple also announced that highlights from NFL regular season games this year will be available for purchase through its iTunes store for $1.99 a game. And it's offering video games, including Pac-Man and Tetris, also through iTunes, that can be played on the new full-sized iPod.
The new movie service, which was widely anticipated prior to its announcement by Jobs in San Francisco, comes on the heels of several similar announcements made recently.
Last week, Amazon launched its new Unbox movie download service service, while wireless phone company Sprint Nextel announced a deal to offer movie downloads of movies onto cell phones.
Two closely held firms, MovieLink and CinemaNow, also offer their own movie download service.
While Apple might not have a lot of backing by studios, Shannon Cross, an analyst with Soleil-Cross Research, said new partnerships between Apple and other studios could be forthcoming.
"Assuming they show success in these relationships, and I think they will, they will get other studios signing on," says Cross. "At the end of day it's revenue for the studios."
Apple shares rose about 0.5 percent in heavy trading on Nasdaq Tuesday.
Shares of Microsoft, which is fighting back with its own music player against Apple, also closed slightly higher.
Warning to Jobs: Taming Hollywood Not Easy
The king of digital music surprised no one with its new movie download strategy. Now comes the hard part.
There were plenty of the usual "oohs" and "aahs" to go around when Apple Computer took the wraps off its movie download strategy Tuesday, but the iPod maker might have a harder time dominating digital movies than it has ruling digital music.
In a presentation that opened with a new lineup of iPods for the holidays, CEO Steve Jobs unveiled Apple's iTunes movie download service. First-run movies will cost $12.99, and $14.99 thereafter. Older movies will cost $9.99.
Jobs also offered a sneak peek at the company's plan to use a sleek silver box to wirelessly connect the PC to the living room TV. The box, temporarily called "iTV," will cost $299, and will be available before April 2007, Jobs said. But the company did not detail how iTV will work.
Flawless execution is key
Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with Jupiter Research, said iTV is impressive, but warned that Apple has little room for error. The technology has to work seamlessly in the home from the get-go.
"That's going to be (Apple's) challenge," said Gartenberg. "This thing better work out of the box. This is the kind of thing that needs to work the first time."
What's more, it's clear that even as Apple hopes to make it big in movies, it's got to play by Hollywood's rules.
Apple's movie launch is quite different from its original iTunes Music Store launch more than three years ago. When Apple unveiled its paid music downloads, it bet that millions of Internet users would pay 99 cents a song to legally download music - an idea many considered far-fetched, since savvy Web surfers had grown accustomed to grabbing free downloads from services like Napster and Kazaa.
But Apple's gamble paid off.
Its head start in paid downloads has allowed it to dominate the market, with a huge lead over rivals like Microsoft, and mostly dictate its terms to the music industry.
And though music titans have openly pushed Apple to let them charge more for hit songs, Jobs has resisted, saying it's imperative that Apple keep the digital download system simple. And since Apple's iTunes commands three quarters of the download market, according to estimates by industry analysts, Jobs gets his way.
Hollywood's pricing power
This time around, Apple's video offerings join an already crowded field of Internet video services, and Hollywood is determined to keep Jobs from wielding as much influence over video downloads as he does over music.
Case in point: iTunes movies will have variable pricing. It seems that strategy was important to Disney, the first Hollywood player to allow TV shows and movies on iTunes.
Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook, who was at the Apple presentation, said variable pricing makes a lot of sense in movies - first-run flicks should cost more, while "You take an older title like 'Old Yeller' - something like this gives it new life," even at $9.99. It's the same argument the record labels made, but to no avail.
Cook also offered this: It's important, he said, that the digital download business be "revenue neutral" for Disney, meaning that Disney plans to make as much money from downloads as it does from DVDs after packaging and other costs are factored in.
Disney CEO Bob Iger said the movie industry knows it's essential to embrace technology. "The sense I get across the movie industry is the movie industry is well aware of the advantages of digital media," he said. "Everyone's looking for opportunity these days."
And, apparently, leverage.
QTFairUse6 Updated Hours After iTunes7 Release
"Mere hours after iTunes 7's release, QTFairUse6 has received an update which enables it to continue stripping iTunes songs of their 'FairPlay' DRM. Some features are experimental but at least it's proof that the concept still works."
iTunes 7 Ate All My Purchased Music. Awesome.
iTunes 7 is out, and it looks great. It also shared two facts with me that I could have lived without knowing: Nelly Furtado is apparently a promiscuous girl, and not only was sexy missing, but it's been left to Justin Timberlake to bring it back. Great.
Also, the new features in iTunes 7 are really cool . . . if only they fucking worked. I connected my iPod to my laptop just now (with manual management turned on, so it doesn't automatically change my settings or music), and suddenly all of my iTunes Music Store purchases vanished. I can't even synch it to the machine I used to buy those songs, because it's in for service. It also tells me, when I try to authorize the damn machine, that I've authorized five of five machines, even though I deauthoried my old laptops when they were sent back for upgrades. Of course, I don't have access to those machines any longer, so I can't confirm that the deauthorization actually happened, or try to deauthorize them again. So. Totally. Awesome. GregN pointed me to this Apple Help document that shows how to deauthorize all your computers with one click presumably for instances exactly like this one. Thanks, GregN! So. Totally. Awesome!
I love my iPod, and I love all of my Macs, but I've grown to absolutely detest Apple's DRM, and I don't think I'll buy songs from the iTMS in the future, because even though I've given them a dump truck of money in the last year or so, I currently have nothing to show for it except frustration and several empty playlists. E-mails to Apple's iTunes Music Store customer support have never been answered in the past (they still owe me a song from an album I bought last year that didn't download,) so I currently have little recourse or opportunity to get my problems addressed. Great job, Apple! You're taking fantastic care of your customers.
Speaking of music, everyone in the world knows Soft Cell's Tainted Love and Sex Dwarf, but how come we never hear Mug's Game anymore? That's the first Soft Cell song I heard, and remains my all-time favorite.
Oh! Bonus! iTunes is trying to work its way back into my good graces and just decided to play Love Will Tear Us Apart, which brings up another point I've been meaning to make: Interpol and She Wants Revenge should just embrace it, and do some Joy Division covers. We all know what's going on anyway, guys, and it would rule. I'll buy one of your CDs when you do it, but not from the bullshit iTunes Music Store, that's for sure.
Update: Yes, I should backup all of my music, and I have (except for recent purchases) and it's entirely my fault for not making some directory-wide backup. That doesn't make the annoyance of not having access to music I paid for less annoying, because if this is a bug, it's a pretty big one that certainly should have been caught before iTunes 7 was made available to download.
Though the company was unresponsive last time I contacted them about an iTunes Music Store purchase issue, I've sent e-mail to support on this issue, too. However, I'd like to point out that I'm mostly venting here about an instance where DRM created a problem for me, and don't expect Apple to treat me any differently than they'd treat any other customer. It also looks like this made the front page at Digg. Hi Digg. I'm a Digger, too. Welcome. This is, uh, a little more attention than I wanted.
Oh, and for anyone who was wondering, I tried to reverse the polarity on my iPod, as well as modify the navigational deflector on my Powerbook, without any success. I can't find the isolinear optical chips, so I haven't been able to mess with them, yet.
Zune’s Big Innovation: Viral DRM
Now that Microsoft has released some hard facts about Zune we can finally begin to sort out how much of an impact the product might have on the digital music market. For weeks we’ve been hearing rumors about how Zune’s wireless capabilities will be used to enable new types of music sharing and discovery. It’s the one feature that could potentially set Zune apart from the iPod.
Unfortunately Zune’s wireless music sharing is turning out to be one of those features that seemed better when it was just a rumor. While Zune users will be able share music with friends, there’s a catch (isn’t there always). As Jim noted earlier, recipients of shared songs will only be able to listen to them three times or for three days, whichever comes first. It sort of sounds like a really bad tire warranty.
Zune accomplishes this amazingly stupid feat by wrapping shared music in a proprietary layer of DRM, regardless of what format the original content may be in. If Microsoft’s claims are to be believed, this on-the-fly DRM will be seamless and automatic - which must be some kind of first for Microsoft.
What Microsoft has created is a new form of viral DRM. Zune will intentionally infect your music with the DRM virus before passing it along to one of your friends. After three listens the poor song dies a horrible DRM enabled death. Talk about innovation.
Microsoft will undoubtedly claim this limitation is designed to support artists and prevent piracy. There’s just one problem. Not all artists want their music protected by DRM. Furthermore, not all artists benefit from having their music protected by DRM.
While it may come as a surprise to Microsoft and the major labels, independent musicians frequently promote their music by posting unencrypted mp3 files on their websites in hopes of finding an audience. If Zune is really all about community, as Microsoft claims it is, then it would allow music to spread virally, instead of DRM.
Meanwhile, if you’re a musician who is more concerned with building your audience than you are with restricting access to your creative works, you might consider adopting an appropriate Creative Commons license. Based on the item below it appears that Zune’s viral approach to DRM is in violation of all of Creative Commons licenses. It’ll be interesting to see how long it takes before someone actually challenges Microsoft on this.
Microsoft's Zune Won't Play Protected Windows Media
In yesterday's announcement of the new Zune media player and Zune Marketplace. Microsoft (and many press reports) glossed over a remarkable misfeature that should demonstrate once and for all how DRM and the DMCA harm legitimate customers.
Microsoft's Zune will not play protected Windows Media Audio and Video purchased or "rented" from Napster 2.0, Rhapsody, Yahoo! Unlimited, Movielink, Cinemanow, or any other online media service. That's right -- the media that Microsoft promised would Play For Sure doesn't even play on Microsoft's own device. Buried in footnote 4 of its press release, Microsoft clearly states that "Zune software can import audio files in unprotected WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in WMV, MPEG-4, H.264" -- protected WMA and WMV (not to mention iTunes DRMed AAC) are conspicuously absent.
This is a stark example of DRM under the DMCA giving customers a raw deal. Buying DRMed media means you're locked into the limited array of devices that vendors say you can use. You have to rebuy your preexisting DRMed media collection if you want to use it on the Zune. And you'll have to do that over and over again whenever a new, incompatible device with innovative features blows existing players out of the water. Access to MP3s and non-DRMed formats creates the only bridge between these isolated islands of limited devices.
The real culprit here is the DMCA -- but for that bad law, customers could legally convert DRMed files into whatever format they want, and tech creators would be free to reverse engineer the DRM to create compatible devices. Even though those acts have traditionally been and still are non-infringing, the DMCA makes them illegal and stifles fair use, innovation, and competition.
May this be a lesson to those who mistakenly laud certain DRM as "open" and offering customers "freedom of choice" simply because it is widely-licensed. With DRM under the DMCA, nothing truly plays for sure, regardless of whether you're purchasing from Apple, Microsoft, or anyone else.
[Postscript: In an interview with Engadget, Microsoft Zune architect J Allard pointed out that Zune has sufficient video format support, in part because there's "Lots of DVD ripping software out there that encodes to those formats, so the most popular formats out there, whether it's MPEG-4 or H.264, we'll support those." Gee, he isn't suggesting that his business model benefits from customers using tools like DeCSS or Handbrake to evade the DRM on DVDs, right? Especially since Microsoft is furiously trying to squash the FairUse4WM tool, that would seem rather hypocritical.]
More Crackpot DRM Ideas
I spoke last night at an entertaining meeting of the British Literary and Artistic Copyright Association. Tanya Aplin (Kings College, London), Florian Koempel (British Music Rights), Brigitte Lindner (Registered European Lawyer, Searle Court), Ted Shapiro (Vice President, Motion Pictures Association) and I all spoke about Technological Protection Measures (aka DRMs). You can probably guess that I was not too complimentary about the technology.
What I found interesting was that (a) a room full of copyright lawyers had very little idea of the very many technical problems with TPMs and (b) those that did were busy thinking up new crackpot schemes to "protect" their clients' 20th-century business models.
The current favourite seems to be that ISPs should be forced to monitor all exchanges of data and charge customers when a copyright work is spotted. When I asked how the spread of encryption could possibly be compatible with this scheme, they airily replied that only paedophiles use that technology and we would all be better off if it was banned. They obviously don't know that the US government already tried extremely hard to do this over about 25 years, and failed.
Given the ever-increasing focus on securing critical national infrastructures, anyone who hopes that governments will go down that road again are living in fantasy land. To think that companies are being charged several hundred pounds an hour for this type of advice…
New Laws Target Modchip Users
Users of modchipped gaming consoles could face fines of thousands of dollars when new copyright protection laws are introduced this year by the Federal Government.
The new laws, which were released in draft form last week, are being introduced to honour Australia's free trade agreement obligations with the US, and will effectively prohibit the use of devices and services designed to circumvent copy control technological protection measures (TPMs).
Until now, it has only been illegal to distribute or sell services or devices seeking to disable or override copy control technologies, but now users of such tools will also fall foul of the law once the legislation is introduced later this year.
Technological protection measures are broadly defined as software locks or password controls created specifically to prevent copyright infringement, said Caroline Dalton, special council for copyright and Communications at law firm Minter Ellison.
"The Australia United States Free Trade Agreement requires Australia to prohibit the use of devices and services to circumvent TPMs. Currently Australia does not prohibit the use of devices and services to circumvent TPMs but does prohibit activities in relation to circumvention devices (such as manufacture or sale)," Minter Ellison said in a recent statement.
These would include digital rights management (DRM) systems used by the film, gaming and music industries as well as any applied to the recent generation of gaming consoles.
Anyone found to have used technology to circumvent copy control TPMs will face fines of up to $6600, while those guilty of distributing enabling devices and services to others through a variety of means face imprisonment for up to five years and possible fines of $60,500.
Although the legislation is still in draft form, Ms Dalton said Australia had an obligation to the US to implement the laws before January 1 next year.
However some exceptions will apply to educational institutions and libraries, where an access control TPM damages a product or is obsolete, lost or damaged, and will not apply to region code controls, according to Minter Ellison.
The legislation is expected to harmonise with the broader copyright measures being introduced by Attorney-General Philip Ruddock to give Australians the right to tape television programs and copy tracks from CDs on to their MP3 players where copy control technologies allow.
Sky Hit by Windows Media DRM Crack
British TV network BSkyB has suspended its broadband movie download service, after a Microsoft security patch on Windows Media's digital rights management was cracked.
A notice on the Sky by Broadband service's home page reads: "In order to make an essential update to the Sky by broadband security system, we are sorry that access to all movies and some sports content has been temporarily suspended."
The patch had been rushed out by Microsoft after the appearance of a utility, called "FairUse4WM," designed to circumvent the media player's DRM. As DRM aims to prevent unauthorized copying of content, such circumvention could have jeopardized the business models of several subscription services that rely on the technology.
Days later, the creator of FairUse4WM released a new version that cracked Microsoft's patch. However, while this version allowed individual files to be stripped of DRM, it did not enable people to download and strip subscription services' entire catalogs.
Microsoft's response has been to assure its Windows Media licencees via memo that it has teams "working around the clock" to beat FairUse4WM, according to Engadget, which originally reported the story.
"The issue is a Microsoft issue, obviously. At the end of the day, we're using Windows Media as the application, and therefore we need Microsoft to ensure that the service is secure," a representative for BSkyB said Monday.
"The responsible way is to take it down or suspend it until we've secured the new patch," the representative added. A statement made by BSkyB last week apologized to the service's users for the interruption, but claimed the suspension would "support the continuing development of legal services that will meet customers' needs in the long term."
The debate over DRM technology is becoming increasingly heated, with the Free Software Foundation backing an "Anti-DRM day," scheduled for Oct. 3. Many in the content creation industry argue the technology is necessary to protect intellectual property and stimulate creativity, while some in the opposite camp view it as a cynical attempt by media companies to gain greater control over customers' usage of their products.
"As we did with the initial circumvention, Microsoft will use the built-in renewability features of Windows Media DRM to deploy an update to address this circumvention," Microsoft senior product manager Marcus Matthias said in a statement. "We are working on an update and have alerted our content provider customers. When ready, we will work with our content partners to deploy this solution."
FX Channel Tries Commercial to Combat Ad-Skipping
Niche men's channel FX plans to show what it calls the first UK advert specially designed to combat viewers using digital recorders to avoid commercials.
The advert for its new drama "Brotherhood" will show a single image on the screen for the entire 30-second slot, and therefore retain its "sales message" when viewed even at the 12-times speeds enabled by Sky+ and other digital recorders, also known as personal video recorders, or PVRs.
Advertisers have been racing to find ways to get messages through as higher numbers of consumers watch TV programs when they want using such recorders, often skipping the commercials.
"There are a whole host of issues that broadcasters and advertisers are currently facing and about to face that are going to irrevocably change the business," said Jason Thorp, senior vice president and deputy managing director of Fox International Channels UK, a division of News Corp.
"A creative response will be the only solution to all of them," he added in a statement issued on Friday.
FX said when it showed its drama series "Sleeper Cell" in April, one-third of the ratings for the pilot episode were from viewers watching a digitally recorded version.
The PVR-aimed ad will be test run September 22.
About 13 percent of homes with satellite service from BSkyB have Sky+
TiVo Unveils Its 1st High-Definition DVR
Playing a bit of catch-up to rival offerings, TiVo Inc. will unveil Tuesday a new high-end digital video recorder that will be the company's first to support high-definition programming.
The long-awaited product will be $800 and available in mid-September, the company said. Subscription fees for the TiVo service are separate.
The TiVo Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder has a 250-gigabyte hard drive - enough to store about 32 hours of high-definition programming or up to 300 hours of standard programming. It also sports two tuners, which will allow subscribers to record two different shows in HD at the same time while watching a third pre-recorded show.
High-definition television, which offers super-sharp images, is growing in popularity, and other rival DVRs by cable operators and satellite TV providers that have dual tuners and high-definition support are on the market already, some dating as far back as two years ago.
TiVo, which pioneered digital video recording technology, first announced in 2005 they were working on an HD model with dual tuners and showed off a working prototype last January.
Its competition has only grown since then, with cable operators offering standard DVRs or high-definition models, many charging about $10 a month for the DVR service but leasing the DVR itself for free to customers. Satellite TV provider EchoStar Communication Corp.'s dual-tuner high-definition DVR costs $499 and comes with additional monthly service fees.
So-called media center computers that include digital video recording features and support high-definition recording could also be purchased for as low as $500.
TiVo officials attributed its long development time in part to waiting for certain technologies to mature and the lengthy process of getting industry-related approvals, such as for the set-top-box's two built-in CableCARD slots. CableCARD slots allow users to access digital programming from a cable TV provider without the need for a separate receiver.
The Series3 HD box also represents TiVo's first major product upgrade since it released its networked Series2 DVR in 2002.
"This is a whole new platform for us," said Jim Denney, TiVo's vice president of product marketing. "Our objective was to build a best-in-class DVR. It's reflected in the price and also in the make of the product."
TiVo said the Series3 is the first-ever DVR to be "THX certified" by THX Ltd., forcing the product to adopt high-quality audio and video components and output levels.
The Series3 is also designed to support upcoming TiVo features, including more advanced video downloads and other Internet-delivered content.
Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo, which reported in August it had 4.4 million subscribers, still reaps high marks from analysts and loyal fans for its user-friendly design and features. But lower-cost options from rival DVR providers have only deepened TiVo's challenge to become profitable.
The premium Series3 product could add a much-needed boost to TiVo sales.
TiVo reported Aug. 30 that it lost $6.45 million on revenue of $59.2 million in the quarter ending July 31. And in the current quarter, TiVo said it expects to lose $12 million to $17 million on revenue of $54 million to $56 million as the company increases marketing expenses to entice new customers.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month, TiVo said it planned to sell more than 8 million of its shares to raise about $65 million. The company has pegged accumulated losses of about $704.8 million as of April 30, TiVo stated.
Consumers Not Impressed With DVD Formats
First, there was the war between eight-track tapes and cassettes. Then there was Betamax versus VHS. Now a new battle for the future of home entertainment is once again forcing consumers to choose.
High-definition DVDs are supposed to provide sharp, wide-screen images to fill the more than 30 million HD television sets that have been sold. They are also meant to replace standard definition DVDs, providing studios with a new source of profits. But after much anticipation, the two competing formats have debuted to a big yawn.
Retailers report slow sales of the expensive machines required to play the new discs as gun-shy consumers wait for one of the formats to prevail. And studios have held back issuing high-def versions of their most desired titles because so few players exist.
"I'm not jumping on this bandwagon yet," said John Scally, a 39-year-old in Elizabeth, N.J., who has already spent thousands of dollars on a high-def TV set and subscribes to HD channels through his satellite TV provider.
"They probably would tempt me if it wasn't for the two formats," Scally said. "I'm a semi-early adopter, but I'll wait at least a year, maybe two, for this to play out."
Complicating the choice is the increasing availability of movies and TV shows for download online, bypassing the need for a physical disc format.
Apple Computer Inc. just launched its long-awaited movie download store as well as a slim device, called iTV, designed to wirelessly stream movies from a computer or other storage device to a TV set.
Web-based services, however, do not yet offer high-definition versions of films, because the size of the files would be enormous, requiring hours for a download.
Consumers unwilling to wait for high-definition movies at home must choose between discs and players in the Blu-ray format, backed primarily by Sony Corp., and HD DVD, championed by Toshiba Corp.
Both formats deliver high-definition pictures and sound, but are incompatible - just as Betamax and VHS were when video cassettes were introduced in the 1980s.
High-def DVDs can't be played on current DVD players, and new players range from $500 to $1,000. And if one format ends up winning the war, consumers could be saddled with useless equipment, although the new players do play current, standard-definition DVDs.
"Both the record and movie industry have trained us every time there is a format change to go out and replace our current content," said Kurt Scherf, vice president and principal analyst at Parks Associates, a technology research firm. "Consumers are sick of upgrading."
Studios need the format to succeed. Entertainment companies already earn more from DVD sales than from box office receipts. But home video sales have leveled off and studios need to replace that income.
The new discs can hold far more data than current DVDs, allowing studios to pack them full of interactive features, including games and menus that can be perused without stopping the film.
But there appears to be less pent-up demand than anticipated for high-def content that can play on new digital wide-screen TV sets.
Retailers report disappointing sales since Toshiba released its $499 HD DVD player in March and Samsung began selling its $1,000 Blu-ray player in June.
Brian Solis of Redwood City, Calif., scared off by both the cost of the new machines and the possibility of betting on the wrong format, bought an inexpensive DVD player that can play his existing DVDs at something close to high-definition quality.
"I am going to upgrade everything, but not until the prices come down," Solis said.
One reason for the slack sales is that studios are not releasing their most desirable titles until more players are sold. Most of the films that have been released lack the special interactive features that backers touted.
Other retailers report glitches in some of the new players and dissatisfaction with the picture quality delivered by some high-def discs.
Most observers believe the new format will take off once one of the two formats prevails. So far, HD DVD players have outsold Blu-ray, but that trend could reverse once the Sony Playstation 3 video-game console, which will include a Blu-ray DVD drive, goes on sale in November.
The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that about 1 million standalone high-def DVD players will be sold in 2007. And studios have said they will release more titles later this year.
"This is going to be something great, it's just probably not going to be something great this year," said Gary Yacoubian, president of MyerEmco, which operates 10 specialty electronics stores in the Washington, D.C., area.
But the Playstation 3 launch may make less of a dent that Blu-ray backers had hoped.
Sony recently said only 400,000 game machines would be available in the U.S. at launch because of a problem producing a key component.
Sony also said it would delay the launch of the console in Europe, but still hopes to ship 6 million machines in Japan and the U.S. by March 2007.
Microsoft is expected to offer an external HD DVD drive for its Xbox game machine sometime next year.
The biggest challenge to high-def DVDs may ultimately come from the delivery of films over the Internet. While the online market for films has been slow to take off - studios have only just begun to allow consumers to buy permanent copies of films - that may soon change.
Online movie stores have been launched recently by Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. Wal-Mart also is developing a movie download service.
Still, some analysts believe that market will have its limits.
"Consumer habits just don't change that quickly," said analyst Tom Adams of Adams Media Research. "People like to own physical things."
Curt Marvis, chief executive of the online film marketplace CinemaNow, suggests the digital download business won't eclipse traditional home video for at least a decade, giving the new high-def format a reasonable lifespan.
The two even could complement each other, he says. While retail shelves offer the latest films and TV shows on high-def discs, the thousands of older titles studios don't want to spend millions of dollars to upgrade to high definition could fine a new home online.
Review: Toshiba HD DVD Needs Fine-Tuning
Consumers looking to upgrade their home theaters can now choose between two types of high-definition DVD players - the confusing result of a long-running format war involving Hollywood studios and technology companies.
Both HD DVD and Blu-ray promise clear pictures on high-definition TVs and extra bonus features. But discs in one format won't work in players designed for the other, and consumers who buy gear now run the risk of ending up with a high-def version of a Betamax VCR.
The limited number of high-definition DVD titles available now - lots of warmed over action flicks - also could temper the immediate acceptance of the technology. The movies aren't cheap either. The HD DVD version of "Backdraft," a 15-year-old movie starring Kurt Russell, lists for $30.
I took Toshiba Corp.'s HD-A1 player ($499) for a spin. I also attempted to get a Blu-ray unit to review, but Samsung - maker of the BD-P1000 Blu-ray Disc Player - declined to provide one for a head-to-head test.
The Toshiba - the first high-def DVD player to hit the market - is a beast. It was twice as tall and heavy as my trusty Panasonic 5-disc DVD player.
And right off the bat, it had some mechanical problems. Each time I put a disc in the machine, the speakers emitted a high-pitched whine for about five seconds before the intro and menu screens kicked in. It was so loud it sent me scrambling for the remote control to turn down the volume.
Speaking of the remote, it's a brushed-silver brute. It's too long for comfort, and the thin metallic buttons took me back at least a decade in the technology time machine. Someone at Toshiba didn't get the memo that rubberized buttons are comfortable and cool.
The unit's startup time is woefully slow. It takes a full minute from a cold start to when the tray opens to accept a disc. And once the disc is inserted and the tray closes, it's nearly another minute before the machine is able to display the introduction.
But it gets better. The picture clarity is great. With HD DVD, you'll see nose hairs, folds in clothing and other details that weren't visible with standard DVDs.
On the HD DVD version of "Training Day," Denzel Washington's police cruiser gleams. On "Million Dollar Baby," the sweat on Hilary Swank's forehead glistens.
Here's how it's done: Single-layer high definition DVDs can hold 15 gigabytes of data, compared with the 4.7 gigabytes on a standard single-layer DVD. That's enough to support the resolution of today's high-definition televisions.
I borrowed a Panasonic 42-inch plasma television for this test, and it handled the Toshiba high-def output wonderfully for most HD DVD titles.
Oddly, I did not notice any improvement in the image quality for the HD DVD disc "The Perfect Storm." It varied little from the standard DVD version, so the re-mastering process for HD DVD appears to improve some titles more than others.
HD DVD also offers improved chapter searching (right down to the second), more room for those making-of-the-film extras and cast interviews, and the ability to network the player to an Internet connection and access online movie trailers from a participating site. None of the discs I tried had that last feature, so it went untested.
With HD DVD you can access the menu options (scene selection, for instance) at the bottom portion of the screen while the movie is still playing. It functioned nicely, but I never quite figured what edge that gave me over the old-fashioned menu access option.
Still, Toshiba's HD DVD player needs some fine-tuning. It's too slow, too noisy and too big to be worthy of space on my entertainment rack, and the number of available titles needs to increase. But based on the image quality alone, the format shows promise.
Samsung to Fix Blue-Ray Image Problem
Samsung Electronics Co. moved Thursday to address image quality concerns noted by some reviewers of its high-definition Blu-ray disc player, the first on the market, saying it would make production changes.
A review in this month's issue of Sound & Vision magazine noted that movies played back on Samsung's BD-P1000 player had inconsistent image quality, possibly due to a noise reduction circuit.
In an e-mailed statement, Samsung said it would modify the settings of the circuit in the production process to provide a "slightly sharper picture." It would also provide owners of existing players with free upgrade discs to fix the problem.
Samsung started selling the player in June for around $1,000.
The Blu-ray disc format, developed by Sony Corp., is vying with the HD DVD, developed by Toshiba Corp., to be the high-definition replacement for the DVD.
Early glitches may not be decisive in the fight, which could take years for the market to resolve. Early response from consumers has been tepid.
Reviews by The Associated Press and Sound & Vision have said Toshiba's $500 HD DVD player has excellent image quality but is clunky and slow in operation.
Europe Gets Glimpse of HD Future
Japanese scientists have shown Ultra High Definition TV for the first time in Europe.
The system has 16 times the resolution of current HDTV.
However, it is unlikely to be available to the public for at least 25 years.
The demonstration comes less than six months after cable firm Telewest launched Britain's first high-definition TV service.
Consumers are still getting to grips with the technology needed to watch its
super-sharp pictures but researchers from Japanese state broadcaster NHK have already developed its successor.
Ultra High Definition TV was on display for the first time in Europe at the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam.
U-HDTV has a screen resolution of 7680 x 4320 pixels - approximately sixteen times that of normal HDTV.
Dr. Masaru Kanazawa, one of NHK's senior research engineers, helped develop the technology.
He told the BBC News website: "When we designed HDTV 40 years ago our target was to make people feel like they were watching the real object. Our target now is to make people feel that they are in the scene."
As well as the higher picture resolution, the Ultra HD standard incorporates an advanced version of surround sound that uses 24 loudspeakers.
Londoner Mark Pascoe was among those who attended the demonstration in Amsterdam.
"I thought it was fantastic," he said. "Pin sharp, extremely lifelike, vibrant colours and fantastic sounding too. It makes regular High Definition look fairly untidy"
Although the system is ultimately designed for television, current technology means it can only be shown on a cinema screen using a state of the art projector.
There is no LCD or plasma screen in the world with a high enough resolution to display its pictures.
Additionally, no existing TV broadcast system could cope with the massive amount of data which needs to be sent to create an Ultra HD picture.
NHK has successfully sent video using its own high bandwidth optical link.
The designers of Ultra HD TV said it might be 25 years before the technology was available to consumers.
But Dr Kanazawa is hopeful the system can be put to use before then.
"We want to look for other applications," he said. "Cinema is one target. The other might be archives. Museums need very high resolution video for archiving and our system can be used in that area."
The lack of current uses for Ultra HD has led some broadcast experts to brand it a novelty.
Technology consultant John Ive watched the demonstration and said critics were being short sighted.
"When NHK first introduced High Definition many years ago, people said they were crazy, we don't need it.
"Today everybody is talking about it. You may think Ultra HD is a technological curiosity but maybe we'll see it differently in 10 years time."
Software Streams Music With PC Off
Music lovers can sample songs over the Internet without turning on a personal computer in a first-of-a-kind offering that could help popularize the concept of streaming music.
Unlike digital music files that are bought and downloaded for portable playback, tunes offered through subscription services are typically streamed and require live Internet connections.
In the past, that has meant turning on a computer and running software. The maker of the Sonos Digital Music System, a multi-room home audio setup, now has a way to bypass that.
Sonos' ZonePlayer devices already are connected to a home computer network, but new software for the boxes will now let people access a music service directly without the need for a PC.
The Rhapsody music service from RealNetworks Inc. is the first to adopt the technology, which is being offered as a free software upgrade, but Sonos Inc. expects others to join.
Users would still need a high-speed Internet connection to act as the delivery mechanism for the music streams, but eliminating the always-on PC hassle is a smart move, especially because subscription services want to attract all kinds of music lovers and not just techies, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research.
"This is an important milestone for music subscription services," Gartenberg said. "As other folks get into this space, I think it'll become a standard feature."
Subscription services offer access to millions of songs to users for a monthly fee. Subscribers can listen through a live Web stream or download the digital files to their own devices, though the downloads are only "rented" and disappear if the subscription ends.
The fledgling subscription format, from companies such as Napster Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, has yet to catch on broadly with consumers and struggles for attention against the faster-growing a la carte download model promoted by Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store and others.
Santa Barbara-based Sonos, which has sold more than 70,000 of its wireless home audio system since launching it two years ago, says it wants to tap the vast number of consumers who don't have the time to convert their CDs into digital files but still want the conveniences that digital music products and subscription services have to offer.
"We want the digital music market to explode and I think this will help," said Thomas Cullen, Sonos' vice president of sales and marketing.
Sonos' computer-less Rhapsody offering, which includes a 30-day free trial to the music service, is one of several new features being introduced Thursday as part of its software upgrade.
Can Slingbox Users Bring Down the Network?
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — While mobile operators are still figuring out how best to deliver mobile TV via wireless networks or a mobile TV broadcast networks like DVB-H, they've already found another new wrinkle: the emergence of Sling Media.
When Slingbox users view TV programming on mobile handsets —IP video streamed from their living-room TV—the fear is that they will not only hog an already limited wireless bandwidth but might eventually bring down the network.
At the IBC conference here, Blake Krikorian, Sling Media's cofounder and CEO, called the warning "stupid." With the mobile industry upgrading to 3G to increase network capacity and offer consumers high-speed service, an application like Slingbox on a mobile phone is "a high-class problem," and it's "a good problem to have," Krikorian claimed.
He argued that mobile operators should welcome more applications, such as his company's, to increase traffic.
Sling Media has designed certain smarts into its software — dynamically allocating bit rates, changing frame rates and optimizing resolutions in rendering video — to accommodate the network situation and end-user devices. Its target devices include PCs, MAC's, PDAs, personal media players and smart phones.
While Sling Media's goal is to give its users as much smooth video as possible, the actual number of bits consumed by each user for one hour, for example, is never constant. But in theory, if a Slingbox user streamed at 200 kilobits per second an hour-long TV program from his home to his mobile, he could consume as much as 90Megabytes per hour, Krikorian estimated.
While "bit torrents" could result if someone stayed connected to an IP network streaming TV for 24 hours a day, no one has actually done that yet, according to Krikorian.
Asked if an application like Slingbox threatened the mobile-TV business, Olivier Hascoat, director of multimedia services, at Orange Group, said, "We view it [Slingbox] as intriguing." He added, "Our job as a mobile operator is to focus on mobile propositions, not on home living-room programming."
But on the IBC show floor, some attendees posed the possibility that Internet Service Providers in the future may either have to revise the current "all you can eat" usage policy for subscribers, or find ways to track down and block usage by profligate Slingbox abusers. Otherwise, "the rest of the subscribers — whose bit usages may be only a fraction of that consumed by Slingbox users — would end up paying for the network," said one observer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Sling Media's Krikorian begged to differ. "Ask cable operators like Comcast", which regularly upgrades its cable network system to the newest version of the DOCSIS spec. "They would tell you to bring it on."
Scare story about applications like Slingbox tend to be worst-case scenarios, said Krikorian, dreamed up by "a network manager whose job is watching the network, and who sees any traffic [in his network] as a threat."
AT&T Launches Live Broadband TV Service
AT&T Inc. is launching an Internet TV service where subscribers can watch live cable channels such as Fox News on any computer with a broadband connection for $20 per month.
The AT&T Broadband TV service announced Tuesday features about 20 channels of live and made-for-broadband content. The channel lineup includes the History Channel, the Weather Channel, the Food Network, Bloomberg and Oxygen. Additional channels will be added soon, the company said without elaborating.
The content is being provided by MobiTV Inc., a company that has specialized in delivering live cable channels to cell phones through wireless carriers such as Sprint Nextel Corp. and Cingular Wireless, which is majority owned by AT&T.
As compared with many Internet-based video services, where the viewing window is considerably smaller than most computer monitors, the new AT&T offering will allow users to expand the picture to full screen. The service requires Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Player for playback.
Viewers will see whatever commercials are being shown on the live broadcast, but no advertisements are planned for the browser window and control panel that frame the TV picture.
AT&T Broadband TV will be available to customers of rival Internet services such as cable broadband in addition to the company's DSL subscriber base of 7.8 millioon accounts. It will also be accessible over Wi-Fi wireless services offered at retail locations.
While live TV feeds over the Internet are relatively uncommon so far, online downloading of video clips and TV programs have hit the mainstream over the past year.
A recent AP-AOL Video poll found that more than half of Internet users have watched or downloaded video. News clips were the most popular, seen by 72 percent of online video viewers, followed by short movie and TV clips, music videos, sports highlights and user-generated videos like those on YouTube Inc.'s popular Web site.
Apple Computer Inc., which helped jumpstart the trend by adding TV episodes to its iTunes music store, said in June it had sold more than 30 million videos and was selling videos at a rate of roughly 1 million a week.
Murdoch Goes Deeper Into Digital
Andrew Ross Sorkin
He may be 75 years old, but Rupert Murdoch, head of the media giant News Corporation, is hardly stodgy about the world of digital media. Consider Tuesday’s announcement that the company will pay $188 million for a controlling stake in Jamba, a maker of content for mobile phones whose cackling “Crazy Frog” ringtone was one of the industry’s biggest hits.
News Corporation’s president, Peter Chernin, said in a news release on Tuesday that the Jamba deal “is an important step in News Corp.’s strategy of becoming the world’s leading digital media company,” adding that “wireless technology gives us an enormous opportunity to reach billions of mobile phone users with our content.”
The transaction comes as the “Crazy Frog” phenomenon, a cash cow for Jamba, has clearly peaked. But Mr. Murdoch has shown a knack for good timing when it comes to digital deals.
His company’s decision last year to buy the operator of MySpace.com for $649 million has become a landmark transaction for the media and Internet industries. When Viacom got rid of its chief executive, Tom Freston, last week, it suggested that one of his most serious shortcomings was allowing MySpace to fall into the hands of a rival company.
The audience for MySpace, an online hangout popular with teenagers, young adults and music fans, has ballooned since it came into the News Corporation fold. And last month, Google agreed to provide search and advertising services on MySpace in an agreement that promises to pay News Corporation a minimum of $900 million over three and half years.
The Google deal has quieted many of the critics who claimed that News Corporation would never recoup its investment in MySpace, whose business model, at least until recently, was unclear.
Still, some skeptics continue to question the MySpace juggernaut. The most recent of these was freelance writer Trent Lapinski, who writes about MySpace’s origins on the Valleywag blog. He contends that, despite its portrayal as a largely organic, network-based phenomenon, MySpace has its roots in a culture of spam and aggressive marketing.
In its latest deal, News Corporation will pay $188 million for a 51 percent stake in Jamba, whose current parent company is software maker Verisign, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. That implies a value of nearly $370 million for the entire company, which Verisign acquired in 2004 for $266 million.
Though the Jamba stake and MySpace will be housed in two separate subsidiaries of News Corporation, the two will be working closely with each other. The company said Tuesday that it would use Jamba’s technology to allow MySpace’s users to download “ringtones, graphics and animations from top music and media companies.”
Amazon Spends Over A Year Developing Movie Download Service Then Shackles It With Absurd Restrictions
Amazon launched it’s new Unbox Video service yesterday. After reportedly over a year of development, the new service allows movies to be permanently downloaded for the same price as purchasing the physical DVDs from Amazon or rented for 24 hours for $3.99. Unfortunately, Unbox is has so many restrictions that it is unlikely to make very many people happy and it’s license agreement breaks new ground in absurdity.
Amazon had the chance to do something revolutionary. If they released a service that let customers immediately download movies and watch them on their DVD players, they would have a serious shot at some of Netflix’s record profits and 5.169 million subscribers. Instead, they gave into movie industry demands and spent a year and untold dollars developing an over-priced service plagued with unreasonable restrictions:
You can’t play Unbox movies on your DVD player
Even though downloaded movies cost just as much as regular dvds, Amazon won’t let you watch the movies on your DVD player. Unbox allows you to back-up downloaded movies on blank DVDs, but the backups are encypted to prevent you from doing anything useful with them. Amazon has taken what was potentially the most compelling feature of Unbox and removed it from the service. This is classic uninnovation.
And how does Amazon want you to watch your expensive downloaded movies on your new HDTV? Amazon’s only suggestion is to buy a clumsy Windows Media Center PC and use an antequated s-video cable to connect it to your television. Welcome to picture quality circa 1995.
You can’t let your friends borrow your Unbox movies
Movies are a social experience. Part of the fun of having a DVD collection is sharing it with friends and family. Movies downloaded from Unbox cost just as much as normal DVDs, but will only play on the computer where they were downloaded or one other alternate computer you own. You can’t lend your movies to friends, take them with you to watch at a friend’s house, or let your kids watch them with your new in-car lcd movie system.
You must give Amazon an absurd amount of control over your computer
In what must be the scariest license agreement in years, Amazon is requiring an amazing amount of control over your computer if you want to use Unbox. According to the license agreement:
• You must install any software patch Amazon releases or you can no longer watch movies you have already purchased. Imagine if you couldn’t watch DVDs anymore unless you agreed to let Sony poke around inside your DVD player anytime it wanted.
• You must agree to let Unbox report what movies you watch back to Amazon without notice.
• If you try to uninstall Amazon’s Unbox player for any reason, Amazon has the right to automatically delete all of your movies without notice to you.
• You have to agree to let Amazon spam your computer with “promotional downloads” that appear unsolicted in your Unbox player. You also have to agree to let Amazon delete these promotional downloads from your computer without notice.
• Amazon can discontinue the Unbox service at any time without liability. What happens to all the movies you bought then?
• Amazon can change the terms of the agreement at any time and you must agree to the changes or you lose the right to continue watching all of the movies you bought.
Yes, you read that right. You have to pay just as much money to build an Unbox video library as it would cost to build a DVD library, but you can lose the whole library at Amazon’s whim with no recourse.
Somehow I don’t think this is going to be the hit service Amazon that hopes it will be.
NBC Launches Venture for Online Video
Hoping to reclaim some ground won by Internet sites, NBC Universal launched a venture with its affiliated TV stations on Tuesday aimed at providing a legal and profitable way to distribute video online.
The venture, which was originally announced in April, will also include video clips from third parties such as CSTV Networks Inc., The History Channel and others.
Based loosely on the model of the hugely popular YouTube site, members of the venture will be able to add video to the system and also select which clips to play on their own site.
Advertisers will be able to buy ads by programming category but not by specific video clip, a measure that NBC hopes will eliminate any potential conflict with the ad sales efforts of its own affiliates and other parties that contribute content to the system.
And unlike YouTube, which has won a wide following with homemade video clips that any Internet user may post, NBC officials said their venture will have tight controls over which parties can become participants in the network. Clips will also be reviewed to ensure objectionable material isn't shown, they said.
The venture between NBC and its affiliated stations, which will own about 30 percent of the company, seems aimed at easing frictions between networks and their affiliates over how to share the spoils from new ways of distributing video online.
Many network-affiliated TV stations were angered after being left out when networks started selling hit prime time shows - the lifeblood of TV ratings - through outlets such as Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iTunes service.
NBC officials say the network will focus on short clips that will retain high quality standards. At the same time, NBC clearly wants tap into the thriving video-sharing activities that have made sites like YouTube so popular. One early partner in the venture is Break.com, which features user-generated video clips.
"We know that video should be shared organically," Brian Buchwald, the general manager of the venture, said at a news conference at NBC's headquarters in New York. NBC Universal is 80 percent owned by General Electric Co. and 20 percent by Vivendi, the French media and telecommunications conglomerate.
The new venture will be called the National Broadband Company or "nbbc" - a play on NBC's original name, the National Broadcasting Co. But the name is not likely to be widely seen by consumers because the venture will simply supply the video and ads to participating sites, such as NBC's New York affiliate WNBC.
NBC got a taste of the power of online video distribution several months ago when "Lazy Sunday," a satirical rap video that had aired on "Saturday Night Live," became a huge hit online, but initially through YouTube and other video-sharing sites.
"In the future, when you have a 'Lazy Sunday' kind of clip, it will end up here and we'll make a lot of money from it," said Randy Falco, chief operating officer of the NBC Universal Television Group.
A number of parties are participating in the network at its launch, including some owned by other media outlets: CBS Corp.'s CSTV; News Corp.'s IGN Entertainment; A&E and The History Channel, which are co-owned by NBC, Hearst Corp. and The Walt Disney Co.; and About.com, which is owned by The New York Times Co.
Mike Steib, who will run the venture, said that nbbc would be a "completely agnostic marketplace," and open to anyone interested in joining, including YouTube. A YouTube representative didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. NBC has already said it would provide promotional clips to YouTube for its fall television lineup.
Steib said the venture would focus initially on short video clips of a few minutes in length, but would be open to showing longer shows if there is a demand for it.
"This is a little bit of launch and learn," Falco said. "We're going to find out in the next couple of months what the market is looking for."
Walmart Preparing to Offer Movie Downloads
Reports are coming out that Walmart is gearing up to offer movie downloads in the coming months. The impact of the move on pricing could be big; Walmart sells almost half of the physical DVDs bought in the US and the company could be a major player in the increasingly crowded movies-on-demand space. Walmart’s movie rental service was discontinued last spring and the company entered a partnership with Netflix to provide rentals to Walmart customers and promote purchase of DVDs from Walmart.
The Financial Times writes that a job posting from Walmart seeks a business manager for digital video who will define “pricing strategies to maximize market share.” Walmart is well known for using its market power to get the lowest prices of almost every other commodity on earth; whether it is able to budge the movie studios to lower their prices will be the biggest question.
CNN Money is reporting that the downloads may come in part through in store kiosks, which would be a very different service from the other major players like Amazon, iTunes and AOL. Movie downloads brought to market so far have not hit the low price that many consumers were hoping for and that’s presumably because customers are expected to pay for the convenience of downloads. That stay at home convenience wouldn’t be a selling point to consumers when it comes to in store kiosks. Walmart may also offer one download as back up for customers who buy physical DVDs from the company. I don’t expect anything terribly exciting here, but I’d love to be surprised.
Hacker Discovers Adobe PDF Back Doors
A British security researcher has figured out a way to manipulate legitimate features in Adobe PDF files to open back doors for computer attacks.
David Kierznowski, a penetration testing expert specializing in Web application testing, has released proof-of-concept code and rigged PDF files to demonstrate how the Adobe Reader program could be used to launch attacks without any user action.
"I do not really consider these attacks as vulnerabilities within Adobe. It is more exploiting features supported by the product that were never designed for this," Kierznowski said in an e-mail interview with eWEEK.
The first back door, which eWEEK confirmed on a fully patched version of Adobe Reader, involves adding a malicious link to a PDF file. Once the document is opened, the target's browser is automatically launched and loads the embedded link.
"At this point, it is obvious that any malicious code [can] be launched," Kierznowski said.
The use of Web-based exploits to launch drive-by malware downloads is a well-known tactic and the discovery of PDF back doors is further confirmation that desktop programs have become lucrative targets for corporate espionage and other targeted attacks.
A second back door demo (PDF) presents an attack scenario that uses Adobe Systems' ADBC (Adobe Database Connectivity) and Web Services support. Kierznowski said the back door can be used to exploit a fully patched version of Adobe Professional.
For advice on how to secure your network and applications, as well as the latest security news, visit Ziff Davis Internet's Security IT Hub.
"The second attack accesses the Windows ODBC (on localhost), enumerates available databases and then sends this information to 'localhost' via the Web service. This attack could be expanded to perform actual database queries. Imagine attackers accessing your internal databases via a user's Web browser," he said.
Kierznowski claims there are at least seven more points in PDF files where an attacker can launch malicious code. "[With] a bit more creativity, even simpler and/or more advanced attacks could be put together," he said, noting that Adobe Acrobat supports the use of "HTML forms" and "File system access."
A spokesperson from Adobe's product security incident response team said the company is aware of Kierznowski's discovery and is "actively investigating" the issue.
"If Adobe confirms that a vulnerability might affect one of our products, details of the security vulnerability and an appropriate solution [will be] documented and published," the company, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., said in a statement sent to eWEEK.
Kierznowski said his interest in auditing PDF files for back doors comes from a fascination with the concept of "passive hacking."
"Active exploitation techniques such as buffer overflows are becoming more and more difficult to find and exploit ... The future of exploitation lies in Web technologies," he said, noting that internal users are often in a "relationship of trust" with the surrounding network.
Confirming a trend that sees Microsoft Office applications—Word, Excel, PowerPoint—used in zero-day attacks, Kierznowski sees a future of client-side hacking that expands the functionality of a service.
"This form of hacking merely manipulates the user's client to perform a certain function, effectively using the user's circle of trust," he said.
Chase Discards Tapes With Data on 2.6M Circuit City Customers
An investigation found the tapes were mistakenly buried in a landfill
Todd R. Weiss
About 2.6 million current and former Circuit City credit card account holders are being notified by credit card vendor Chase Card Services that five computer data tapes containing their personal information were mistakenly identified as trash and thrown away by Chase personnel in July.
In a statement yesterday, Chase said that no misuse of the credit card information has been reported and that the tapes are believed to have been destroyed in processing.
"Working closely with federal and local law enforcement, Chase conducted a thorough investigation and believes that the tapes, contained within a locked box, were compacted, destroyed and are buried in a landfill where the trash was taken," the company said.
"We deeply regret that this has occurred and apologize to those impacted," said Rich Srednicki, CEO of Chase Card Services, which issues co-branded and private-label credit cards for Circuit City, in a statement. "We have found no evidence that the tapes or their contents have been accessed or misused. The privacy of our customers' personal information is of utmost importance to us, and we take the responsibility to safeguard this information very seriously."
To prevent similar incidents, Chase said it is strengthening its security procedures and is conducting a review of all data storage and protection processes.
Chase began notifying the affected customers about the incident yesterday and said the process is expected to take two to three weeks. The company is offering one year of free credit monitoring to people whose Social Security numbers were on the tapes.
"We take responsibility for this and are making every effort to let affected card members know what we are doing and what we suggest they do to protect themselves," Srednicki said. "We want our customers to have the support they need to monitor their credit and know how to respond should they identify any problems."
Paul Hartwick, senior vice president of business affairs for Wilmington, Del.-based Chase Card Services, said the tapes were accidentally thrown away due to "human error."
"We have strict procedures on how tapes are processed and handled," Hartwick said. "In this case, it came down to someone not following those specific procedures."
The company is now reviewing its training procedures with employees in response to the error, Hartwick said.
The tape disposal incident occurred in July and was discovered through a scheduled security systems audit, he said. Law enforcement authorities were then contacted, and the company replicated the data on the tapes that were thrown away to determine whether customer account information was on the tapes. Chase then began monitoring the affected accounts for suspicious activity, Hartwick said.
He said the company would not publicly comment about whether the data on the tapes was encrypted, nor would he reveal where the incident occurred.
Chase Card Services is a division of New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co.
State Agency Faces Federal Lawsuit Over Phone Records
The U.S. Department of Justice is suing a Connecticut state agency, saying it cannot force two telecommunications companies to answer questions about whether they provided customer records to the federal government.
The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, says the state Department of Public Utility Control overstepped its authority when it ordered AT&T and Verizon to answer questions from the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU petitioned the state DPUC to investigate whether the telecommunications providers disclosed customer phone records to the federal government without a court order, warrant or subpoena since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The ACLU has called the disclosures illegal government spying, and launched a nationwide campaign in May in an attempt to determine which companies complied with government requests for the records.
The ACLU submitted questions to AT&T and Verizon on Aug. 10, but the companies declined to respond. At the ACLU's request, the DPUC issued a ruling on Aug. 23 ordering them to answer by Thursday, Sept. 7.
The federal government's lawsuit, filed within 24 hours before the state agency's deadline to the telecommunications company, says the DPUC does not have the authority to force the phone companies to answer the ACLU's questions.
It also claims a response by the companies could cause "exceptionally grave harm to national security."
In a letter Thursday from Verizon to the DPUC, phone company officials said that until the federal lawsuit is resolved, they cannot respond to the questions.
Walt Sharp, an AT&T spokesman, said in an e-mail Friday that the company does not comment on national security matters and is "fully committed to protecting our customers' privacy," The Hartford Courant reported.
The DPUC, which regulates telecommunication companies in the state, agreed to cooperate with the ACLU to find out if it has the authority to order the telecommunications companies to release information, said Beryl Lyons, the department's spokeswoman.
"It's never come up before," she said. "Do we have jurisdiction to make this ruling? We don't know. We decided to open the case and see what information came forth."
Court Panel Denies Blogger's Appeal
In a case closely watched by First Amendment advocates, a federal court panel has rejected an appeal by a freelance journalist and blogger who has refused to appear before a grand jury or turn over video he shot of a violent protest last summer.
The decision, filed Friday by a three-member panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, reaffirmed a contempt charge against the journalist, Josh Wolf, who was sent to prison on Aug. 1 by a lower court for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into an anticapitalism protest here in July 2005.
At the protest, timed to coincide with the Group of Eight Summit of world economic leaders in Scotland, a police officer was injured and an explosive device, a smoke bomb or a firework, was put under a police car.
Wolf sold some of his film to local television stations and posted parts on his Web site, www.joshwolf.net. Earlier this year, the government subpoenaed Wolf to testify and to turn over the remaining video, which prosecutors wanted to use to gather evidence for potential arson charges. Wolf has refused, and in an interview on Monday, he remained defiant. "Nothing the government can do," he said, "will coerce me into submitting to their demands. I intend to appeal this through every measure possible."
Wolf remained free on Monday, and it was not clear if the decision would result in his returning to jail immediately. His lawyer, Jose Luis Fuentes, said he would ask for a rehearing before the entire court.
Luke Macaulay, a spokesman for the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California, said his office was awaiting an order from the Ninth Circuit "clarifying Wolf's custodial status."
Wolf, who has continued to post online updates about his case, said he was not fazed by the prospect of more prison time.
"My cellmates were totally chill and had my back," he said of his recent incarceration. "The fact I only got an hour of fresh air a day was frustrating, but you deal."
Microsoft to Unveil New Search Engine
Microsoft Corp. plans Tuesday to officially launch its updated and renamed Internet search engine, the latest step in a massive effort to make headway against market leaders Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc.
Live Search had previously been available in test form and is the successor to MSN Search, Microsoft's current search engine. It ranks a distant third in U.S. popularity after Yahoo and Google, according to the most recent data from Nielsen/Net Ratings.
The release also is part of the Redmond software company's push to offer a number of free, Web-based services under its new "Live" brand name. The approach has been aimed at helping the company establish a fresh, separate Internet brand for those services, but it also has confused some users more familiar with the company's traditional MSN Internet branding strategy.
"In general, I don't think a lot of consumers outside of computer enthusiasts ... are aware of Windows Live or know what it is," said Matt Rosoff, independent researcher with Directions on Microsoft.
Microsoft plans to use Live Search on its MSN portal, and it also planning to promote Live Search later this fall. But Rosoff said the company needs to do more - whether it's a massive marketing push or some sort of broader tie-in with other products - to tell uses what Live is, and persuade them to switch from Google and others.
"In the end, users need easy access to Microsoft's search engine," Rosoff said.
Among other changes, Live Search will include improved ways to refine a search engine query so a user can better differentiate whether they are searching, for, say, the jaguar animal, car or Apple Computer Inc. operating system, said Christopher Payne, corporate vice president for Microsoft's Live Search effort.
It also has improved how people can search for and view images, Payne said.
Microsoft on Tuesday also plans to officially launch Live Local Search in the United States and the United Kingdom. The search offering, which has long been available in test form, shows detailed photographic images of some parts of the country based on searches for addresses and places of interest.
Three's a Charm for MS06-042?
It's patch Tuesday again, and Microsoft's hoping three's a charm for its wayward Cumulative IE patch, MS06-042.
The company quietly re-released (actually re-re-released) 042 today to fix yet another security hole introduced by the software update. MS06-042 wasn't listed among the new fixes in the September patch release, but the company pushed out an update fixing the new hole, according to the company's Web page.
Meet the new patch. Same as the old patch.
According to Microsoft's security bulletin, the IE patch was updated September 12 to fix another remote code execution vulnerability in IE's handling of long URLs from Websites using HTTP 1.1 protocol and compression. That's almost identical to the problem introduced in the original version of the patch, then discovered by security researchers at eEye Digital Security.
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Stevie T.
Microsoft's inability to nail down the Long URL problem raises questions about the performance of the MSRC, which had gained a solid reputation for patch testing and distribution in recent years. With Vista nearing completion, the ranks are shifting within Microsoft's security Technology Unit (STU). Long time STU VP Mike Nash went on sabbatical in June after four years at the helm. More recently, MSRC program manager Stephen Toulouse announced that he was shifting his energies from security response to Vista's security features.
"There seems to have been a lot of management execution problems at Microsoft over this Internet Explorer MS06-042 patch," said Marc Maiffret, the Chief Hacking Officer at eEYE. "They have now re-released it a second time and again only because indepdent third party researchers told them about it. Hopefully this is not a sign of some downswing, lack of focus, on their Trustworthy Computing initiative."
IT Wrestles with Microsoft Monoculture Myopia
When Microsoft announced in March 2006 that it would add code-scrambling diversity to make Windows Vista more resilient to virus and worm attacks, you could almost visualize a wry smile from Dan Geer.
Geer, a computer security guru with a doctorate in biostatistics from Harvard University, lost his job as chief technology officer of consulting company @Stake in 2003 after co-authoring a report that blamed Microsoft's operating system monopoly and complex code base for the frailty of the Internet.
Exactly three years later this month, Geer insists that the risks associated with Microsoft's virtual monoculture remain the same, but a quick glance at the future direction of the world's largest software maker gives Geer a sense of "total vindication."
Indeed, three years ago on Sept. 24, Geer penned "CyberInsecurity: The Cost of Monopoly," a 25-page report he co-authored with a who's who of computer security experts, including celebrated cryptographer Bruce Schneier and intrusion detection systems specialist Rebecca Bace.
The crux of the report was that software diversity was core to securing the Internet.
The group cautioned that the only way to prevent "massive, cascading failures" was to avoid the Windows monoculture.
"Because Microsoft's near-monopoly status itself magnifies security risk, it is essential that society become less dependent on a single operating system from a single vendor," the report said.
In many ways, Geer's report was prescient, as Microsoft has become a huge target for hackers. Meanwhile, Microsoft has adopted some of the tactics recommended to diversify code.
"In just under three years, the idea went from something you can get fired for to a research priority for [the U.S. government] and a product plan at Microsoft," Geer, of Cambridge, Mass., said in an interview with eWeek.
"You look at what they're doing with randomizing Vista and all the signs around virtualization, [and] it's real vindication for us."
He was referring to the addition of ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) to Windows Vista, a security feature that randomly arranges the positions of key data areas to prevent malicious hackers from predicting target addresses.
The technique, known as memory-space randomization, will block the majority of buffer overflow tricks used in about two-thirds of all worm attacks and, even more importantly, will effectively create software diversity within a single operating system.
Despite wide recognition that software diversity is important, progress is slower than expected.
Ten days after the Geer report garnered publicity, the U.S. House of Repre-sentatives held a hearing that included an interrogation of the Department of Homeland Security on the subject of monoculture, and the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency, pumped $750,000 into a study on cyber-diversity for computer systems as a way to fend off malicious viruses, worms and other cyber-attacks.
The result? Despite all that talk, the DHS remains a Windows shop and Microsoft's flagship operating system still commands a whopping 97 percent share of the desktop security market. Businesses dabble with alternatives such as Linux but remain tethered to Windows. Why?
Despite the initial hubbub over the report, businesses are betting that the costs associated with diversification are greater than the returns from implementing technology that could be more secure yet potentially harder to manage.
"We haven't changed much. I'd argue that we're at even more risk today than we were in 2003," said Schneier, chief technology officer and founder of Counterpane Internet Security, in Mountain View, Calif. "We have a culture of ignoring serious warnings until it's way too late."
Schneier, who did stints at the Department of Defense and Bell Labs, said the monoculture risk exists beyond the desktop. "Windows has pushed into mobile devices, into embedded systems, into noncomputer CPUs. The threat of that cascading failure is even truer today," he said.
Even though the argument made in the report remains as valid as ever, diversity has been elusive because, as Schneier put it, "monoculture is attractive because it is cheaper."
"It's hard and it's expensive [to diversify]. Yes, it's less secure, but you only have to support one thing when you embrace monoculture. It always boils down to economics," he said.
Geer said there are two options available to government and enterprise security systems: Embrace monoculture and get consistent risk management because everything is the same, or run from monoculture in the name of survivability.
"Today, we're relying on picking up the pieces," Geer said, adding that it's much cheaper for a CEO to invest in anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and patch management solutions.
"We've committed all our eggs to a basket named 'patch management,' or we're looking to virtualization to help wipe and reinstall after [malware] infection," he said.
For Andre Gold, director of information security at Continental Airlines, monoculture and security became a hot topic in 2003 after the SQL Slammer worm disrupted operations at the Houston air carrier.
Vista RC1 tests show that the migration path may be rocky. Click here to read more.
"From a pure-play security perspective, we had to answer that question. Do we want to diversify to keep things running when another attack came along or stay with the monoculture and invest in securing it," Gold said in an interview with eWeek.
"It came down to economics. It's not easy to click your fingers and say, 'Windows is a liability; let's just switch.' You soon realize you have to spend even more to get specialized staff for each computing environment," Gold said.
Several CISOs (chief information security officers) interviewed by eWeek echoed Gold's sentiments, stressing that budgeting considerations always play into security decision making.
"I can't spend my entire budget trying to diversify and not have resources to secure them all. That's not practical," said one security executive affiliated with a high-profile financial institution.
Gold's situation rings true for John Pescatore, an analyst at Gartner, in Stamford, Conn. "The cost of ownership skyrockets because of diversity," Pescatore said. "The economics says to standardize, standardize, standardize."
It's getting cheaper to deal with a single platform.
Pescatore said that the debilitating network worm attacks of 2003 and 2004—Slammer, Blaster and Sasser—forced businesses to think seriously about the monoculture risk but that the combination of Microsoft security improvements, a predictable update release cycle and patch management tools makes it "much cheaper to deal with a single platform."
Richard Stiennon, founder and chief research analyst at IT-Harvest, of Birmingham, Mich., said the monoculture issue remains a front-burner topic in his discussions with clients. "I always recommend different platforms for different purposes, even with all the economic considerations associated with that," Stiennon said.
"We have not done much to heed [Geer's] warning other than spend a lot of money to protect the monoculture," he said.
However, there are signs of progress. Even today, beyond the desktop operating system, Gartner's Pescatore said that there is more heterogeneity in Internet-facing applications.
"Firefox continues to gain market share, and the Apache Web server has higher market [share] than [Microsoft's] IIS," Pescatore said, arguing that the threat landscape has changed significantly from the days when malicious attackers were launching disruptive network worms.
As network administrators ponder the end of the worm era, for-profit malware attacks have grown dramatically. According to information culled from Microsoft's MSRT (Malicious Software Removal Tool), the biggest threat on the desktop comes from bots and Trojans that hijack computers for use in botnets.
David Cole, a senior director in Symantec's security response unit, in Santa Monica, Calif., said his unit's virus hunters are seeing about 800 botnet command-and-controls daily, each commandeering as many as 25,000 infected machines. "The order of magnitude of the botnet problem is immeasurable," Cole said in an interview.
Microsoft's Fathi: Vista security is becoming a reality. Click here to read more.
Using Symantec's numbers, Geer estimated that more than 15 percent of all desktop computers are controlled by malicious hackers.
"You can look at it two ways. We're not seeing worms because the protections are getting better. Or, the people who were writing worms have figured out they can own the machine forever and make money from it," Geer said. "I think the botnet operators already have all they can eat."
Given that businesses have been slow to diversify, security fully rests with Microsoft's ability to secure Vista, and the early signs are promising.
As part of an ambitious mission to make Vista the "most secure operating system ever," Microsoft made a series of significant tweaks to help thwart the spread of malware.
The most important change, called UAC (User Account Control), is a default setting that separates standard user privileges and activities from those that require administrator access, making it nearly impossible for virus writers to execute harmful code in sensitive parts of the operating system.
Microsoft also summoned the crème de la crème of the hacking community to its Redmond, Wash., campus to launch simulated attacks against Vista and implemented a new strategy called Windows Service Hardening that aims to reduce the risk of wormable flaws through improved testing and development processes.
Independent security researchers—including some of Microsoft's harshest critics—have given Vista's security makeover a big thumbs up. "There's no doubt that Microsoft is trying to step up to the plate," said Rick Fleming, chief technology officer at San Antonio-based security company Digital Defense.
"They made huge strides with [Windows XP] SP2, and I think Vista will push the envelope even more."
Dave Aitel, a staunch open-source advocate and vulnerability researcher at penetration-testing company Immunity, of Miami, said he believes the most vital security upgrades will come from advancements in computer hardware.
Aitel cited the NX (No eXecute) technology being built into chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices that will effectively prevent code execution within data pages such as default heaps, stacks and memory pools.
John Quarterman, a risk management expert at InternetPerils who co-wrote the report with Geer in 2003, was dismissive of any suggestion that the Internet has become safer because of Microsoft's software security improvements.
"We have criminal entrepreneurs doing big, big business on the Internet, using computers that are not secure. This is not rocket science; this is an effect of the monoculture," said Quarterman in Austin, Texas.
Rebecca Bace, another co-author of the monoculture warning, said she sees Microsoft's aggressive push into virtualization technology and gets the feeling that the company "is coming around."
Citing a recent Gartner report that predicted Vista will be the final version of Windows in the current, monolithic form, Bace said it's clear that Microsoft understands that virtualization can help to break the monoculture.
"They're now saying, 'Perhaps this is a way we can defend ourselves,'" said Bace in Scotts Valley, Calif.
Cyber-insecurity: Then and now
Three years ago, a report, "CyberInsecurity: The Cost of Monopoly," was released. Here's a look at what the report concluded and what has changed since.
• Then "Most of the world's computers run Microsoft's operating systems, thus most of the world's computers are vulnerable to the same viruses and worms at the same time."
• Status No progress. The world still runs Microsoft, and the malware keeps coming.
• Then "Because Microsoft's near-monopoly status itself magnifies security risk, it is essential that society become less dependent on a single operating system from a single vendor if our critical infrastructure is not to be disrupted in a single blow. The goal must be to break the monoculture."
• Status Slow going. Technology executives are dabbling with Linux, but the monoculture is here to stay.
• Then "A monoculture of networked computers is a convenient and susceptible reservoir of platforms from which to launch attacks."
• Status Status quo. That convenience of one platform means less management expense. So far, companies are going with lower costs over susceptibility.
• Then "Governments must set an example with their own internal policies and with the regulations they impose on industries critical to their societies. They must confront the security effects of monopoly."
• Status Little progress. Capitol Hill hearings and studies into "cyber-diversity" haven't prodded the government to change its reliance on Windows.
The Final Tally from The Drake
Sam Bulte was briefly back in the political news recently as the Ignatieff campaign announced that they had received her endorsement. The release brought to mind the last election and the fundraising controversy generated by the fundraiser at the Drake Hotel. One of the most important aspects of election accountability and transparency are the Elections Act requirements for filing finance returns: candidates for national elections are required to submit a campaign finance return within 120 days of an election campaign and riding associations are required to submit annual reports by June 30th of the following calendar year.
For those interested in the numbers from The Drake, the information has been a long time in coming. Days before the May 23rd deadline for the election campaign return, Bulte's official agent requested a three-month extension citing lost data and claiming that both the campaign and its bank had lost the records which needed to be reconstructed from microfiche. Bulte's official agent filed the election campaign return days before the extension deadline and it has just been posted online. The Parkdale High Park Liberal riding association 2005 annual return has still not been posted. The riding association was granted a one-month extension in late June after it claimed computer problems. The association has still not filed that information in violation of the Elections Act and could face possible de-certification.
The election return does provide some insight into Bulte's backers, which is relevant both to close the book on the election controversy and to gauge who is willing to provide financial support to MPs that favour DMCA-style copyright reform.
During the election campaign, Bulte received donations of more than $200 from nine corporations including HMV, Socan, Sony BMG Music, Universal Music, Warner Music, and Breakthrough Films and Television.
The return does not provide a full accounting of the fundraiser. Perhaps that will be found in the 2006 riding association return that is not due until June 2007, however, the non-contribution portion of the fundraiser (which presumably covered the actual costs at the Drake) lists the likely attendees (or at least those who paid the $250 per person ticket price). Fifty-one tickets were sold, six of which were purchased by Stan Tyminski, a longtime Bulte supporter. Of the remaining 45 tickets, purchasers included:
• the hosts (CMPDA, Entertainment Software Association, Jacqueline Husion (listed twice)
• the lobbyists and marketers (David Dyer of Capitol Hill Group, Sussex Strategy Group, Partners and Edell, Wellington Strategy Group)
• the collectives (Canadian Music Publishers (listed twice))
• the lawyers (McCarthys, Cassels Brock, Goodman & Carr, Heenan Blaikie)
• the record industry (Warner Music (four tickets), Sony BMG (three tickets), Universal Music (two tickets), True North Records, Maplecore, HMV)
• publishing interests (Kim McArthur, Christopher Moore)
Certainly an impressive list of friends, though relatively few actual artists seemingly among them. Incidentally, the campaign paid the Drake nearly $3000 to host the event and Bulte personally provided $420 worth of wine, for which she was not repaid. There is no indication of the cost for the private Margo Timmins performance - perhaps that will appear in a riding association return since failure to declare either the cost or the in-kind value would likely constitute a violation of the Elections Act. Excluding that cost, the fundraiser appears to have netted just under $10,000.
For the overall campaign, Bulte took in $58,000, of which $8339 was her own unpaid contribution, $5,000 was a donation from her husband, and $8,500 came from the central Liberal party. Of the remaining $36,000, a best guess based on the data would be that nearly 50 percent was financed by the copyright lobby and the Drake fundraiser.
Oh the pain
Surfing Anonymously Has Its Drawbacks
It makes some of us nervous that Google and other Web companies are building huge collections of data about our surfing habits. But doing something about it means dealing with a lot more inconvenience than most of us are willing to abide by. That is what I learned in my week of trying to be invisible, at least online.
There are several ways of surfing anonymously; the most common involves going "stealth." The idea is to surf as you normally would, but mask the information that could be used to discern your identity. This means cloaking your Internet protocol address, a unique number identifying a computer on the Web. That way, companies can't tell your PC searched on "avoiding taxes."
Last month, after AOL leaked Web-search data from 650,000 customers, infuriating privacy advocates, I decided to go anonymous via a program called Anonymous Surfing. There are other anonymizing programs, such as Tor. Their users include, besides privacy-conscious surfers, undercover detectives and corporate whistleblowers.
These programs keep Web sites from seeing your IP address by routing your traffic through other IP addresses. It should be noted that in the AOL incident, such services wouldn't have done any good. Two AOL customers were publicly identified because they had typed their names and part or all of their addresses into the search box, something the anonymizing software wouldn't have disguised.
In my quest for anonymity, each time I was done surfing I also deleted my "cookies," which are small text files that Web sites use to identify returning visitors. So on my subsequent visits to those sites, I looked like a newcomer.
As a result of everything I did, Web surfing got a lot more difficult. It took a few seconds longer for pages to load, and I received error messages from certain sites, which apparently balked at my not having cookies.
I also had to re-enter a login name and password when I returned to sites requiring registration, like The Wall Street Journal Online. On Amazon.com, I couldn't immediately see book recommendations based on past purchases _ something I enjoy.
Plus, my wife was a bit perturbed. "What's this Anonymizer?" she asked. After I explained, she said, "Oh, I thought you were trying to keep me from seeing what you were looking at on the Internet." (More on that later.)
So how exactly was my privacy protected? For one thing, news sites weren't able to show me ads based on what I'd read previously. And since my IP address changed frequently, e-commerce sites and search engines couldn't correlate my many searches with a single IP address.
That was the upside. All the drawbacks, though, gnawed at me. I'm a big fan of convenience, and I don't mind a little personalization, which by definition means a Web site needs to know it's me.
What's more, no software can guarantee anonymity in the event you're accused of a crime. A prosecutor with a search warrant, or even the other side in a civil case, can get access to your computer and try to retrace your steps. To be sure, anonymizing services can make it much tougher for authorities to trace you, a reason we ought to worry about the appeal of this software to criminals.
AOL was roundly flogged for its data release. But if my experience is any indication, few Internet users will change their online behavior as a result. We like convenience too much.
Plus, we give up personal information offline all the time and hardly think about it. We sign up for grocery-discount cards that can track our purchasing habits for years. Cellphone companies know our locations and record whom we've talked to and for how long.
Privacy concerns in most households have more to do with what my wife alluded to, keeping your spouse or your parents from knowing what you're doing online. Another big one: keeping messy divorce filings and other negative stuff out of search engines.
While anonymizing programs report lots of customers, they also say that for most Web surfers, online privacy is all talk, no action.
"People will say they are concerned about Internet privacy," says Shava Nerad, executive director of Tor, a nonprofit project. "But if you say, 'Why don't you use this toolset,' they often just won't do it."
There are other privacy options in the works, such as software that slightly scrambles personal information, such as telling a video site you like comedies, but not divulging the specific funny titles you've rented.
That's more middle of the road than the drastic steps I was taking. But that's probably OK with most PC users. Indeed, when asked to consider both personalization and privacy, Web users indicate they want some of each, says Ramnath Chellappa, a business professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
"It's not that they don't want to share any information, it's that they want control over what they share and how it is used," he says. If they were "really that paranoid, then they ought to be like Ted Kaczynski, living in Montana someplace."
Equal-Opportunity Offender Plays Anti-Semitism for Laughs
Fall is traditionally when Hollywood turns to more serious films, and the Toronto International Film Festival is where they are frequently shown. But a new movie that seems certain to raise hackles and induce squirming is a raucous comedy that makes its points by seeming to embrace sexism, racism, homophobia and that most risky of social toxins: anti-Semitism.
Screening at midnight on Thursday in Toronto, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” stars the chameleonlike comedian Sacha Baron Cohen as he impersonates a Kazakh reporter touring the United States, bringing his version of Kazakh culture to real-life Americans.
In one scene Borat insists on driving to California rather than flying, “in case the Jews repeat their attack of 9/11.” As he tours the South, he becomes terrified when he learns that an elderly couple who run an inn are Jewish. When cockroaches crawl under the door of his room, he becomes convinced the innkeepers have transformed themselves into bugs, and throws money at them.
In another scene Borat returns to his home village and participates in an annual ritual, “The Running of the Jews,” complete with giant Jew puppets that the villagers beat with clubs.
This anti-anti-Semitic humor is mixed in with other outrageous behavior, including slurs against Gypsies and gays, and a nude wrestling match. But in a world in which resurgent anti-Semitism has become — sometimes literally — an explosive topic, the movie may well hit a particular nerve, especially in Europe.
The British-born Mr. Baron Cohen, who calls himself an observant Jew, has performed this same high-wire comedy act for his HBO series, “Da Ali G Show,” in which he plays three characters, including Borat, each hilariously offensive in its own right.
The title character of the show, Ali G, is a vaguely Muslim British idiot with a hip-hop persona, who was the subject of a rather tame, and unsuccessful, film in 2002, “Ali G Indahouse,” released straight to video in the United States.
With “Borat,” Mr. Baron Cohen — who shares screenplay credit with several others — decided to head straight for the most sensitive areas of politically incorrect global culture, and for the first time will be doing so for a mass audience, far beyond the sophisticated niche of HBO. The film is to be released by 20th Century Fox on Nov. 3 on more than 2,000 screens nationwide.
(Borat is not explicitly Muslim, but Kazakhstan has a large Sunni Muslim population along with a sizable contingent of Orthodox Christians.)
Mr. Baron Cohen, who is appearing in Toronto as Borat, declined to be interviewed for this article and will be conducting interviews ahead of the film only in character.
20th Century Fox also declined to comment for this article or otherwise participate. Executives at the studio said that they were concerned about overemphasizing the political aspects of the humor, or otherwise labeling the movie, which they said they hoped would have broad appeal to a young audience.
The film is experimental and highly unusual for Hollywood, in some ways reminiscent of the guerrilla humor of Andy Kaufman, who baited members of the unsuspecting public with his characters, or the buffoonery of Charlie Chaplin as a Hitler-esque tyrant in “The Great Dictator” in 1940.
Film historians said that Hollywood was usually reluctant to take on controversy in general and had particularly avoided treating anti-Semitism in the past.
“Hollywood has a history of avoiding controversial topics, and notably did so at the end of the 1930’s, with the rise of Nazism and anti-Semitism,” said Jonathan Kuntz, who teaches American film history at the University of California, Los Angeles. Studios “were afraid of offending audiences, and of limiting their popularity in the European market,” he added. “And because so many moguls were Jewish, they were afraid this would be used to attack Hollywood as anti-Nazi.”
Today too Hollywood is often reluctant openly to discuss anti-Semitism, as was evidenced by the careful debate over Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster, “The Passion of the Christ.” Only when Mr. Gibson was heard making anti-Jewish slurs this summer during a drunken-driving arrest did a few Hollywood veterans speak out against him.
“Borat” was to some extent made outside the Hollywood system. Fox kept the film off its production list and created a separate company, One America, to be the nominal producer. Mr. Baron Cohen also ran into creative differences with his first director, Todd Phillips, who left the production last year, while the film shut down for five months. The veteran comedy director Larry Charles eventually completed the film.
A spokesman for Mr. Baron Cohen said that Mr. Phillips’s departure was “a mutual decision.”
During the shoot Fox ignored numerous protests from the Kazakh Embassy in Washington, whose officials were concerned about the depiction of their country as prejudiced.
Early indications are that the film will be a hit. It rocked audiences with laughter at the Cannes Film Festival, where Mr. Baron Cohen was photographed on the beach wearing a neon-green kind of thong, and won an audience award at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan this summer.
Still, “I can almost guarantee you that not everyone will get the joke,” said Richard B. Jewell, a professor of film history at the University of Southern California. But he added: “In my opinion it’s a very healthy thing. Some of best films that have been made in the last 50 years have been black comedies.” He cited “Dr. Strangelove,” which poked fun at nuclear holocaust.
“What can be more serious?” he asked. “It makes people think about these things in ways they don’t when there are more straightforward, serious, sober films.”
Jigsaw Data Not a Company that Follows Standards
It's full steam ahead for rebel CEO Fowler
With his perfectly shaved head, Jim Fowler looks like Mr. Clean. But don't be fooled. The CEO of San Mateo's Jigsaw Data Corp. prefers to liken himself to another famous cue ball: Dr. Evil.
In taking on the identity of Austin Powers' archenemy, Fowler is riffing on the reputation he's gaining online as a man willing to knock down established social mores, while showing what critics say is an utter disregard for people's privacy.
The furor is over Jigsaw's system of encouraging people to enter business contacts into an easily accessible Web database. Sign up at the site, www.jigsaw.com, and you can get points for entering the contents of your Rolodex. You can even sell those points for money.
Since it started operations on Jan. 1, 2004, Jigsaw has amassed a database of 3 million contacts at 150,000 companies, and the company expects that to grow to 5 million by year's end. Only 131 of its 105,000 members sell points, Fowler said. "Almost all trade data to get data."
Michael Arrington, who writes the TechCrunch blog, fingered Jigsaw as "evil," calling it a "really, really bad idea." Rafe Needleman, who writes for the influential tech publication Release 1.0, said that it was "clever but creepy" and that it breaks the social contract.
Annalee Newitz, vice president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, an international organization based in San Francisco, called Jigsaw a "stalkers' paradise," as well as a breeding ground for identity thieves and spammers.
David Batstone, a professor of ethics at the University of San Francisco, said that if someone took his information off of his business card or from the signature attached to an e-mail he sent -- two common methods that Fowler encourages -- then he would feel "like there had been a real violation of ethical expectations that we have with each other."
"Most of us want to reserve the right, that if we decide to give one individual or group of people our information, there's still some kind of privacy around that," Batstone said. "He's making all of our personal lives a fishbowl in a way that we don't want to."
Fowler says Jigsaw simply exemplifies the principles of Web 2.0, the emerging Internet trend toward making users active participants in creating content rather than passive consumers. Jigsaw, he said, uses personalization and user-generated information to build a better database of business contacts. He added that people should have no expectation of privacy when it comes to their business information.
"I actually put a lot of moral thought into this," Fowler said. "I knew Jigsaw was going to be controversial.
"It amazes me the number of people who e-mail us with their signature file in the e-mail, and say, 'I'm appalled that you have my information on your system,' " Fowler said. "If I send something out into the world, then I expect it's going to be used by the world. ... Jigsaw might be the only data company that thinks about this stuff."
Fowler, a career salesman who started Jigsaw to solve the classic salesperson's dilemma of how to find new contacts, makes several other points to justify his company's practices:
-- Lots of companies have this data. "You buy a home, it goes on a list that's publicly accessible," Fowler said. "You give money to a nonprofit, it goes on a list. You go to a data company and ask them to remove it, and they say that they own it."
-- Jigsaw wants only business information. The company won't take home addresses, cell phone numbers or e-mail addresses from Gmail, AOL, Yahoo or other domains that are not identifiable business e-mails. "Jigsaw doesn't touch non-business information with a 10-foot pole," he said.
-- Anyone, even nonmembers, can go to the site to see if they're listed. If they are, they can set parameters for how they wish to be contacted. A person could even say: "Never contact me." Fowler's own guidelines tell people never to call his mobile phone, keep e-mails short and not pitch wealth management or other financial services.
-- Jigsaw will remove any contacts that have been entered inappropriately, in violation of employment agreements or nondisclosure agreements, or that could give the whereabouts of someone who has a protective court order.
A year ago, Fowler said, AT&T contacted Jigsaw, saying an employee had inappropriately entered data about other AT&T employees. Jigsaw removed all of that person's contacts, nearly 3,000 people, almost half the AT&T employees on the site. "We have no desire at all to get sideways with companies like AT&T, who'll end up being our biggest customers," Fowler said.
Jigsaw has 54 employees and has raised $18 million from venture capital firms El Dorado Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners and Austin Ventures.
Here's how Jigsaw works: You can pay a subscription of $25 per month to access the database or you can enter 25 contacts per month. Members get two contacts back for each one they enter. All information is entered anonymously.
Using the modern technological rubric of "crowdsourcing," Jigsaw gives its members points for fixing bad information in the database.
Jigsaw plans to use its system not only to give information about business people, but also about the businesses themselves. That would put Jigsaw into a field with more than just Internet competitors. Web-based firms include Silicon Valley's Plaxo and LinkedIn, plus TrueAdvantage, Generate and Zoom Information in the Boston area. In addition, two well-established business information giants are InfoUSA, an Omaha company that has annual revenue of $200 million, and Hoover's, a unit of Dun and Bradstreet Corp. with revenue of $70 million.
All told, the market for business information totals $3.5 billion, according to Outsell Inc. a Burlingame research firm that analyzes the industry.
"We're trying to do to (those big companies) what Wikipedia is doing to Encyclopedia Britannica," Fowler said of the site where anyone can post or edit an entry. "We're a classic disruptive technology."
Sure, said Chuck Richard, vice president and lead analyst of Outsell. "And my son has the potential to be president, too."
"I'm skeptical about their massive growth opportunities," Richard said. Salespeople are not likely to give up good contact information, so the site could get cluttered with useless information. "It's hard for me to think it has really long, strong legs," Richard said.
Richard also scoffs at Fowler's assertion that Jigsaw will update its information more quickly than the big guys. Companies like InfoUSA and Hoover's have large staffs dedicated to updating the information. By contrast, he said, Jigsaw doesn't have anyone assigned to the task, instead relying on its users.
It may also be that because of the disruptive and inexpensive means Jigsaw has of making its data available, it's more of a target for privacy advocates than larger sites such as Lexis Nexis, which offer more personal data but at high prices.
"Generally, the only people who have access are working at corporations that have paid for the access," said Newitz of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. "Those other kinds of data banks are also a problem. The only reason why we're not hearing about it is because the barrier to entry is higher. The difference is access."
Ultimately, as people become more aware of how much of their personal data is available, social changes could be in the offing.
"People are going to start putting on their business cards a copyright or a privacy statement -- 'I explicitly copyrighted this information'," said Batstone, the ethics professor. "It could very well be that we head in that direction."
Xinhua issues Measures for Administering the Release of News and Information in China by Foreign News Agencies
BEIJING, Sept. 10 (Xinhua) -- Xinhua News Agency on Sunday promulgated a set of measures to regulate the release of news and information in China by foreign news agencies and the subscription of such news and information by users in China and to promote the dissemination of news and information in a sound and orderly manner.
Xinhua News Agency formulated the Measures for Administering the Release of News and Information in China by Foreign News Agencies in accordance with national laws, administrative regulations and the relevant regulations of the State Council.
With 22 articles, the Measures go into effect as of the date of promulgation.
Xinhua News Agency, as China's state news agency, is the legally authorized institution to exercise unified administration over the release of news and information in China by foreign news agencies.
According to the Decision of the State Council on Establishment of Administrative Licenses for Items Subject to Administrative Examination and Approval That Need to Be Retained, foreign news agencies shall be subject to approval by Xinhua News Agency for releasing their news and information in China, and shall have entities designated by Xinhua News Agency act as their agents. Foreign news agencies shall not directly solicit subscription of their news and information services in China.
The Measures state that news and information released in China by foreign news agencies shall not contain any of the following that serves to:
-- violate the basic principles enshrined in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China;
-- undermine China's national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity;
-- endanger China's national security, reputation and interests;
-- violate China's religious policies or preach evil cults or superstition;
-- incite hatred and discrimination among ethnic groups, undermine their unity, infringe upon their customs and habits, or hurt their feelings;
-- spread false information, disrupt China's economic and social order, or undermine China's social stability;
-- propagate obscenity and violence, or abet crimes;
-- humiliate or slander another person, or infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of another person;
-- undermine social ethics or the fine cultural traditions of the Chinese nation;
-- include other content banned by Chinese laws and administrative regulations.
The Measures say Xinhua News Agency has the right to select the news and information released by foreign news agencies in China and shall delete any materials mentioned in the items above.
"To subscribe to news and information services of foreign news agencies, a user in China shall sign a subscription agreement with a designated entity and shall not, by any means, directly subscribe to, translate, edit or publish the news and information released by a foreign news agency," according to the Measures.
In using news and information from a foreign news agency, the user in China shall clearly indicate the sources and shall not transfer them to another party in any form, the Measures say.
The Measures make detailed regulations on a foreign news agency's legal credentials in its home country or region, the requirements of releasing news and information in China, release application procedures, and on the distribution of foreign news and information undertaken by designated entities in China.
The Measures also specify penalties for violations in the releasing, distributing or using of news and information from a foreign news agency in China.
If a foreign news agency violates the Measures, for example, Xinhua News Agency shall give it a warning, demand rectification within a prescribed time limit, suspend its release of specified content, suspend or cancel its qualifications for releasing news and information in China.
Xinhua News Agency shall impose disciplinary penalty on violations by a staff member who, for example, fails to perform his duties of supervision and administration, or abuses his powers.
These Measures shall be applied mutatis mutandis to release of news and information on the mainland by news agencies and other news and information releasing entities of the nature of a news agency in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macao Special Administrative Region and Taiwan.
The Methods for the Exercise of Administration over Publication in China of Economic Information by Foreign News Agencies and Their Information Subsidiaries, promulgated by Xinhua News Agency on April 15, 1996, are repealed simultaneously.
Popular Christian Books Spawn Video Game
The streets of New York have never looked so barren.
An occasional taxi or bus motors down a boulevard as people wander aimlessly among eerily vacant buildings. Soon, black helicopters loom overhead and armed soldiers close ranks on the streets below.
This isn't your run-of-the-mill video game: "Left Behind: Eternal Forces" is based on the best-selling "Left Behind" book series about the apocalypse. But it's the apocalypse without dismemberment or graphic bloodshed, though the game has an element of violence that some Christians argue is counter to teachings of the Bible.
The game's creators say they hope to wriggle into the multibillion-dollar mainstream video game market by offering a real-time strategy option for serious gamers. Yet, they believe the faith-based theme is important, too.
"What we've decided to do is embed our message in a game so that it's not overt but it is in the game," Left Behind Games President Jeffrey Frichner said. "We're not ashamed of it. There are Scriptures in the game and we're faithful to those Scriptures."
The overall video game software market, including consoles and portables, was $6.1 billion in 2005, based on U.S. sales, according to The NPD Group research company in Port Washington, N.Y. It does not track sales for Christian video games, which is a tiny niche.
Analyst Michael Pachter, who follows the industry for Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc., has played "Eternal Forces" and said it probably will be well-received.
He estimated it would sell between 250,000 and 1 million units, likely far more than any other Christian video game, because of its high quality.
"They did a nice job," Pachter said. "In order for the game to hit the higher end of that range, I think they have to attract mainstream consumers who just want to play the game because it is a good game.
"The question is, will the game be perceived as too preachy for the mainstream and I just don't know. We'll see."
Set in New York, the game begins with smoldering landscapes, the eerie streets and wandering nonbelievers and evildoers. The object is to convert nonbelievers and ultimately prevent evil forces from taking over the world.
Left Behind marketing manager Greg Bauman won't be specific about how to achieve victory because the game won't be officially released until later this year; however, a demo of the game available free of charge on the company's Web site provides some clues.
Players, as commanders of the forces of good, need to make sure their people are housed and fed, nurtured with prayer and armed to defend themselves for eventual battle.
Players recruit people to battle evil forces while taking control of buildings for medical clinics and housing. They can send people into battle but lose points by killing evil soldiers or by failing to meet the spiritual needs of the troops. Want to ward off evil? Hit the prayer button.
Every person depicted has a name and a history, which emphasizes the human cost of battle, Frichner said.
Along the way, players find clues to Bible mysteries and other information. Christian rock groups provide background music.
In the single-player mode, the player battles evil forces. In the multiplayer mode, players may choose to represent evil or good. Gamers also can play each other online.
The PC-only game cost between $3 million and $5 million to produce. It will sell for $49.99.
The current market for Christian video games is essentially nonexistent, Pachter said, but there is opportunity given the growing popularity of Christian products and the fact parents want nonviolent fare for their children.
"Eternal Forces" is the first effort from Left Behind Games Inc. of Murrieta, Calif., which has a license to develop games based on the "Left Behind" novels by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye that have sold more than 63 million copies.
The company's mission is to produce products that promote faith-based values but also appeal to the general population. The books and the game are built around those left on Earth after millions of Christian believers ascend to heaven during the Rapture as defined in Christian theology.
Since it was previewed in May at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, "Eternal Forces" has drawn opposition on Internet sites, in some newspapers and on television from those who contend the violence goes against the Bible.
"It's reprehensible," said Florida attorney Jack Thompson, a critic of video game violence. "They're basically using the phrase - Christian game - to disarm parents into thinking it's going to be OK for our kids."
Left Behind Games co-founder Troy Lyndon has posted a statement on the company's Web site calling the game a classic battle of good and evil. Frichner said it depicts choices people must make when faced with threats.
"Do we just lay down and allow aggressors to kill us, or maim us or pillage us?" Frichner said. "I think most Americans would answer no. We defend ourselves. To remain faithful to the 'Left Behind' series, we couldn't make a game that didn't have that element in it."
Ralph Bagley, chief executive officer of video game maker N'Lightning Software Development, believes there is a market for Christian video games waiting to be tapped, particularly for technically accurate products such as "Eternal Forces."
He's been in the business since 1999, when Christian game developers consisted of a handful of people who made a video game with about $10,000 while top game developers were spending $2 million to $3 million.
"We couldn't stand up to it," Bagley said.
He invested about $800,000 in the design and production of "Catechumen," a nonviolent adventure game that has sold 80,000 copies - a top seller in the Christian video market.
Bagley's other game, "Ominous Horizons, a Paladin's Calling," is set in Germany in the 1400s when Satan steals the first printed Bible and hides pieces of it throughout the world. The player solves puzzles devised by ancient societies to track down the missing pieces. Bagley spent about $1.2 million to develop it.
He predicted demand for Christian video products would continue to grow.
"Even the youth pastor that runs the youth group, when he comes home and wants to play a game he really doesn't want another Bible lesson thrown at him," said Bagley, who is also a spokesman for the Christian Game Developers Foundation. "He just wants to play a game."
Army Adds Real Soldiers to Video Game
Move over, G.I. Joe. The Army has found some recruits in its latest effort to enlist soldiers. In a campaign targeting teenagers, the Army announced on Thursday a new version of its "America's Army" video game, incorporating digital likenesses of eight actual soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We're trying to put a face on soldiers so that kids can relate to them," said Col. Casey Wardynski, director of the America's Army project. "It's hard to relate to a big green machine. This is a chance to get to know some of them who have done really outstanding things."
The "America's Army Real Heroes" program will also include a series of $10 action figures, based on the same real soldiers, in store shelves by Christmas, Wardynski said.
The program comes after the Army fell short on recruiting last year, the first time since 1999. As of last month, the active-duty Army had signed up 72,997 new soldiers, nearly 3,000 above its year-to-date target. The Army National Guard was about 200 below its target of 63,240, while the Army Reserve was almost 2,000 below its year-to-date target of 33,124.
Wardynski said the Army spends about $2.5 million annually on the free PC game, a first-person shooter in which players go through a simulated boot camp or team up with other real players online in three-dimensional battles.
About 27 million copies of the taxpayer-funded game have been distributed since its July 4, 2002, debut, and there are about 7.5 million registered users.
Gamers can get "America's Army" from recruiters or by downloading it from various video game Web sites, Wardynski said. The game is often included with computer systems from Dell Inc. and other hardware manufacturers such as video card maker Nvidia Corp.
The latest version, "America's Army: Special Forces," is the first to include actual soldiers, instead of using only generic warriors. The eight were picked based on such factors as awards they received and their availability.
Among them is Sgt. Tommy Rieman, 26, who earned a Silver Star for leading a convoy of eight soldiers to safety after they were injured in an ambush outside of Baghdad in December 2003.
Rieman, of Independence, Ky., said he grew up with G.I. Joe action figures and always considered his three uncles in the Army as idols. He enlisted in the Army a month after graduating from high school and served in Kosovo and Iraq.
He said he was honored at being digitized into a video game, even though he isn't paid for the appearance.
"It's pretty amazing," he said of his video game persona, which was created by taking his digital photograph and essentially wrapping it around a three-dimensional model of a soldier. "It's such an honor to be immortalized forever."
The other soldiers are Major Jason Amerine of Honolulu, Hawaii, Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Wolford, of Roseburg, Ore., Sgt. Matthew Zedwick, of Corvallis, Ore., Sgt. Leigh Hester, of Bowling Green, Ky., Spc. Jason Mike, of Radcliff, Ky., Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, of Clarksville, Ind., and Master Sgt. Scott Neil, of St. Cloud, Fla.
None will be fighting or dying on these virtual battlefields, however.
Wardynski said the idea is to provide an educational experience in which gamers can meet the soldiers in a virtual recruiting office, ask questions about their various experiences and awards and get a better sense of Army life.
"The real heroes are in there wandering around, you can talk to them, get a little hint of the story," he said. "We didn't want to go down the road of reenactment but we wanted to give you that touchpoint, there'd be somebody there who could tell you about it."
Rieman said he hopes the game gives teens role models beside celebrities or athletes.
"We look up to celebrities every day, but what really do they do? They entertain us," Rieman said. "Soldiers have a real purpose: They serve, they protect and I think it's time they're recognized for what they do."
At $9.95 a Page, You Expected Poetry?
THE Web site for an outfit called Term Paper Relief features a picture of a young college student chewing her lip.
“Damn!” a little comic-strip balloon says. “I’ll have to cancel my Saturday night date to finish my term paper before the Monday deadline.”
Well, no, she won’t — not if she’s enterprising enough to enlist Term Paper Relief to write it for her. For $9.95 a page she can obtain an “A-grade” paper that is fashioned to order and “completely non-plagiarized.” This last detail is important. Thanks to search engines like Google, college instructors have become adept at spotting those shop-worn, downloadable papers that circulate freely on the Web, and can even finger passages that have been ripped off from standard texts and reference works.
A grade-conscious student these days seems to need a custom job, and to judge from the number of services on the Internet, there must be virtual mills somewhere employing armies of diligent scholars who grind away so that credit-card-equipped undergrads can enjoy more carefree time together.
How good are the results? With first semester just getting under way at most colleges, bringing with it the certain prospect of both academic and social pressure, The Times decided to undertake an experiment in quality control of the current offerings. Using her own name and her personal e-mail address, an editor ordered three English literature papers from three different sites on standard, often-assigned topics: one comparing and contrasting Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984”; one discussing the nature of Ophelia’s madness in “Hamlet”; and one exploring the theme of colonialism in Conrad’s “Lord Jim.”
A small sample, perhaps, but one sufficient, upon perusal, to suggest that papers written to order are just like the ones students write for themselves, only more so — they’re poorly organized, awkwardly phrased, thin on substance, but masterly in the ancient arts of padding and stating and restating the obvious.
If they’re delivered, that is. The “Lord Jim” essay, ordered from SuperiorPapers.com, never arrived, despite repeated entreaties, and the excuse finally offered was a high-tech variant of “The dog ate my homework.” The writer assigned to the task, No. 3323, was “obviously facing some technical difficulties,” an e-mail message explained, “and cannot upload your paper.” The message went on to ask for a 24-hour extension, the wheeziest stratagem in the procrastinator’s arsenal, invented long before the electronic age.
The two other papers came in on time, and each grappled, more or less, with the assigned topic. The Orwell/Huxley essay, prepared by Term Paper Relief and a relative bargain at $49.75 for five pages, begins: “Although many similarities exist between Aldous Huxley’s ‘A Brave New World’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984,’ the works books [sic] though they deal with similar topics, are more dissimilar than alike.” That’s certainly a relief, because we couldn’t have an essay if they weren’t.
Elsewhere the author proves highly adept with the “on the one hand/on the other” formula, one of the most valuable tools for a writer concerned with attaining his assigned word count, and says, for example, of “Brave New World”: “Many people consider this Huxley’s most important work: many others think it is his only work. This novel has been praised and condemned, vilified and glorified, a source of controversy, a subject for sermons, and required reading for many high school students and college undergraduates. This novel has had twenty-seven printings in the United States alone and will probably have twenty-seven more.”
The obvious point of comparison between the two novels is that where Orwell’s world is an authoritarian, police-state nightmare, Huxley’s dystopia is ostensibly a paradise, with drugs and sex available on demand. A clever student might even pick up some extra credit by pointing out that while Orwell meant his book as a kind of predictive warning, it is Huxley’s world, much more far-fetched at the time of writing, that now more nearly resembles our own.
The essay never exactly makes these points, though it gets close a couple of times, declaring at one point that “the two works vary greatly.” It also manages to remind us that Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair and that both he and his book “are misunderstood to this day.”
The paper does makes a number of embarrassing spelling errors (“dissention,” “anti-semetic”) but William H. Pritchard, an English professor at Amherst, who read the paper at The Times’s request, shrewdly suggested that, in this day of spell check, they may have been included deliberately, to throw suspicious teachers off the track. If confronted with such a paper from one of his own students, he wrote in an e-mail message, he probably wouldn’t grade it at all but would instead say “come see me” (shuddering at the prospect).
The Hamlet essay was a trick assignment, or perhaps a poorly worded one. Ophelia’s genuine madness, as opposed to Hamlet’s feigned craziness, has become a touchstone in Shakespeare studies, especially among feminist and gender studies scholars who read in Ophelia’s songs and fragmentary utterances a coded response to the irrationality and sexual repression of the Elizabethan patriarchy.
The author of the four-page paper, supplied by Go-Essays for $127.96, approaches the question more literally and concludes, not incorrectly, that Ophelia is literally driven crazy by her father, brother and lover — or as the essay puts it: “Thus, in critical review of the play, Ophelia mentally suffers from the scars of unwanted love and exploitation rather than any singular or isolated cause.”
The paper goes on to repeat this point with so much plot summary and quotation from the text that it soars right to the assigned length. It’s also written in language so stilted and often ungrammatical (“Hamlet is obviously hurt by Ophelia’s lack of affection to his vows of love”) that it suggests the author may not be a native speaker of English, and even makes you suspect that some of these made-to-order term papers are written by the very same people who pick up the phone when you call to complain about your credit card bill.
Stephen Greenblatt, a Shakespeare scholar at Harvard and a confessed “soft touch,” said the grade he would give this paper “would depend, at least to some extent, on whether I thought I was reading the work of a green freshman — in which case I would probably give it a D+ and refer the student to the writing lab for counseling — or an English major, in which case I would simply fail it.”
He added: “If I had paid for this, I would demand my money back.”
As it happens, a refund is just what Superior Papers offered, along with a 10 percent discount on a new paper. Term paper writing is an arduous business, we need to remember, and we shouldn’t expect too much. As the author of the Orwell/Huxley essay says: “It is so often that one wants something and in wanting romanticizes it, thus bringing disappointment when the end is finally obtained. They serve as a reminder that it is necessary to have pain to compare with joy, defeat to compare with victory, and problems in order to have solutions.”
When Information Becomes T.M.I.
Warren St. John
IF there is a single quality that separates those in their late teens and early 20’s from previous generations of young people, it is a willingness bordering on compulsion to broadcast the details of their private lives to the general public.
Through MySpace, personal blogs, YouTube and the like, this generation has seemed to view the notion of personal privacy as a quaint anachronism. Details that those of less enlightened generations might have viewed as embarrassing — who you slept with last night, how many drinks you had before getting sick in your friend’s car, the petty reason you had dropped a friend or been fired from a job — are instead signature elements of one’s personal brand. To reveal, it has seemed, is to be.
But alas, it turns out that even among the MySpace generation, there is such a thing as too much information.
That threshold was reached, unexpectedly, earlier this week when the social networking site Facebook unveiled what was to be its killer app. In the past, to keep up with the doings of friends, Facebook members had to make some sort of effort — by visiting the friend’s Web page from time to time, or actually sending an e-mail or instant message to ask how things were going.
Facebook’s new feature, a news “feed,” does that heavy lifting for you. The program monitors the activity on its members’ pages — a change in one’s relationship status, the addition of a new person to one’s friends list, the listing of a new favorite song or interest — and sends that information to everyone in your circle in a constantly updating news ticker. Imagine a device that monitors the social marketplace the way a blinking Bloomberg terminal tracks incremental changes in the bond market and you’ll get the idea.
But within hours of the new feature’s debut, thousands of Facebook members had organized behind a desperate, angry plea: Make it stop.
“You pretty much are being tracked with every movement you make on Facebook,” said Emily Bean, a pharmacy major and Facebook user at Ohio Northern University who signed an anti-Facebook petition on Tuesday, when the new feature made its debut. “It’s like someone peeking in on my conversations. People now know exactly when you became friends with somebody. When you hook up with somebody is now documented. Before it took some extra effort.”
While much of the anger was directed specifically at Facebook and its chief executive and co-founder, the 22-year-old Harvard graduate Mark Zuckerberg, some of the site’s users saw the episode in a broader context.
“Because our generation has been so obsessed with putting themselves up on the Internet and obsessed with celebrity, we didn’t realize how much of our personal information we were putting out there,” said Tim Mullowney, a 22-year-old aspiring actor in Brooklyn and a Facebook user. “This really shows you how much is out there. You don’t see it until you get it served on a platter to you.”
Mr. Mullowney said the Facebook episode had opened his eyes to a surprising conclusion: “I don’t need to know every little detail of everyone’s life.”
Mr. Zuckerberg could be forgiven for not anticipating the limits of his users’ desire for transparency. Since founding Facebook two and a half years ago, he has watched the site grow to more than nine million users, most in high school and college, on its power to help its users stay in contact with their friends.
Those who study social networking sites say that users’ comfort with revealing intimate details about themselves comes in part from a perception that in the din of life online, there is a kind of privacy through anonymity.
Similarly, a couple might feel comfortable having an intimate conversation at a crowded restaurant, for example, on the assumption that even though strangers could potentially tune in, none would care to. The new Facebook feature, though, was the equivalent of broadcasting that conversation over the public address system.
“The issue isn’t transparency but scope,” said Clay Shirky, who teaches in the interactive telecommunications program at New York University. “People are willing to be transparent to friends, as long as they are in control. Facebook violated both of those conditions.”
One perhaps unintended consequence of the Facebook feeds was that it allowed users to see when their friends were joining the rapidly growing anti-Facebook movement. In less than a day, the protest movement had fully galvanized, and had migrated offline as well. Marah Paley, a 17-year-old first-year student at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, was in the middle of sorority bid week when the news hit.
“That’s all anyone talks about on campus actually,” she said. “My day was totally messed up because of the new Facebook.”
It hasn’t taken very long for Mr. Zuckerberg to respond. Only a day after the feature was launched and he was inundated by protests, he acknowledged the outcry on his Facebook blog.
He wrote: “Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.”
“A lot of this was a lot of confusion,” Mr. Zuckerberg said Friday. “We did a pretty bad job of communicating what we were actually doing with the information. In the absence of information a lot of times people assume bad things.”
Mr. Zuckerberg and his programmers spent two days working on a fix, and stayed up until 5 a.m. Friday on the project. At 2:48 a.m., Mr. Zuckerberg published a contrite “open letter” on his blog, which he sent to all Facebook users.
“We really messed this one up,” he began.
“This may sound silly, but I want to thank all of you who have written in and created groups and protested,” he added. “Even though I wish I hadn’t made so many of you angry, I am glad we got to hear you. And I am also glad that News Feed highlighted all these groups so people could find them and share their opinions with each other as well.”
The solution was a page of privacy options that allow Facebook members to opt out of the feed feature, or to shield specific bits of their lives from public broadcast.
“In general the more control you can give people the better,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “If you give people control over everything they do, you’ll never put them in a situation that’s uncomfortable.”
The options were made available to users on Friday morning, and time will tell if they placate the mob. But in the meantime, Ms. Paley said she and her friends had come to a realization about their online lives.
“Translucent is good,” she said. “Not transparent.”
Facebook to Open to all Internet Users
Facebook, an online community now restricted mostly to high school and college students, will soon throw its doors wide open and welcome millions of Internet users currently left standing at the gates.
The move will allow existing users to invite their now-ineligible friends, but it also risks changing the tone of a community where trust and privacy are key. Just last week, users revolted when Facebook introduced a feature that allows easier tracking of changes their friends make to personal profile pages.
The change in eligibility will come soon, although Facebook officials were still deciding exactly when.
To join Facebook, a user now must prove membership in an existing network using an e-mail address from a college, a high school or selected companies and organizations. That has largely limited membership to students, along with some faculty and alumni.
As a result, Facebook has fewer than 10 million registered users, compared with some 109 million at News Corp.'s MySpace, which has an open-door policy.
With the change, a user can simply join a regional network - such as one for their country, state, metropolitan area or city. No authentication will be performed.
But unlike the case with MySpace and other open community sites, users will be restricted in how much they can learn about others - the way Harvard students can't automatically view a Stanford user's full profile page, which may include photos, contact information and other personal details.
Users will have to agree to grant access, and they may give some users the ability to view only portions of their profiles.
Started by three Harvard sophomores in February 2004 as an online directory for college campuses, Facebook expanded to high schools last September and to selected companies and organizations earlier this year. Those users have been eligible to join regional networks as well when they graduate or move, and it is those networks that will be expanding soon.
Chris Hughes, co-founder of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, said everyone around the world will be covered by one of some 500 regional networks, although some regions may cover one or more countries. U.S. regions, he said, are likely to be geographically smaller.
Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said users will be restricted in how often they can switch to discourage impostures and pranksters.
Earlier this month, Facebook introduced what they termed a time-saving feature. Users who log on might instantly find out that someone they know has joined a new social group, posted more photos or begun dating their best friend.
All of the information presented had been available before, but a person had to visit a friend's profile page and make note of any changes - for example, noticing that the friend now has 103 friends instead of 102, and identifying which one got added.
Users equated the feature to stalking and threatened protests and boycotts until Facebook, three days later, apologized and agreed to let users turn off the feature so that others can't easily see what they do.
News From The North
The TankGirl Diaries
Only Six Days to the Election
The Swedish parliamentary election is getting real, real close. Next Sunday, only six days from now, the Swedish voters - including over 400.000 first time voters - will have their saying on who will sit in country's parliament for the next four years - and whether the Pirates will be among them. On the election evening itself the election officials can promise to give results only for the seven parties currently in the parliament - the 'small parties' will have to wait for their own results at least till Monday. The reason for this is the limitations in the computer system of the election officials.
Optimism in the Pirate Camp
As the election day draws closer there is cautious optimism in the pirate camp based on various polls that keep popping up at accelerated rate. Synovate Temo, one of the established polling institutions, is now suddenly showing 1.5 % support for Pirate party where in earlier polls party did not show up at all. These 'official' polls are likely to underestimate the real support for the pirates as they are mostly modern technology users who have long since switched to using mobile telephones, and the polling institutions still keep ignoring mobile telephone users in their polls. Various online polls and different school and special group 'test elections' have been indicating support figures in the range 10-20 %. Despite being a fresh party, the pirates have got their election machine working fairly well towards the end of the race, so the Swedes have become conscious of the pirates as a serious alternative. The membership keeps growing with dozens of new members every day. The membership-vote ratio in previous elections have been around 30. If the ratio would hold for the pirates too, with its present 9081 members Pirate party would get some 272.000 votes - this would be enough to take them to the parliament. So the chances for the victory and political breakthrough are definitely there. As the polls at the same time indicate a tight balance between traditional left-right blocks, getting into the parliament would also be likely to give the pirates just what they have been looking for from the beginning: a balance of power position where they could negotiate a good deal with either of the main blocks to drive through their agenda.
What if Pirate Party does not reach the 4 % vote thresold? Anything from 1 % upwards would still be valuable for them as a party. In the next election they would get their ballot papers printed and distributed by the state instead of having to pay and distribute them themselves as they have done now. Depending on the result they might also be able to employ some full time party workers at state's expense for the next 4 year parliamentary period.
C’est like, bon
French Royalty as Seen by Hollywood Royalty
IT was Monday at the Chateau de Versailles, the gates closed to tourists, and Sofia Coppola was camped out in a quiet corner of the grounds, resurrecting Marie Antoinette. A cold spring afternoon had been transformed into dawn with a spotlight that mimicked the rising sun. Wildflowers from an adjacent field had been replanted in the tall grass. Ms. Coppola arranged strands of a foot-high hairdo on the actress Kirsten Dunst, then stepped back and took a photo. Then the cameras started rolling, and the young queen sat on the edge of a reflecting pool, tipsily sipping the last of her Champagne with some hangers-on, her royal husband tucked away in bed.
So this was what it must have been like for Marie Antoinette to have the place all to herself.
Versailles administrators granted Ms. Coppola, the 35-year-old writer-director, unprecedented access to the chateau and its grounds, allowing her to film scenes for “Marie Antoinette” over 12 weeks in the spring of 2005. Based on a best-selling book by Lady Antonia Fraser, this stylized, impressionistic portrait of the controversial French queen had its premiere this year at the Cannes Film Festival to mixed reviews; even the two critics for The New York Times who saw the movie there came down on opposite sides of the fence. Since then, it has attracted more than a million moviegoers in France. It is set to open in the United States on Oct. 20.
“I’m so glad we weren’t in Budapest or whatever, like, trying to fake it,” Ms. Coppola said a few weeks after wrapping, upstairs at that Right Bank institution the Café de Flore. Once favored by Jean-Paul Sartre and now the canteen of choice for American expatriates in the St.-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, it is next door to the apartment she rented while making the movie. “It’s so cool to be in the real places. There’s something that just gets you into the mood. They let us shoot in places people weren’t allowed to normally, like Marie Antoinette’s private theater. They were like, ‘This is your home.’ ”
The queenly welcome had to do with the fact that Ms. Coppola is something of a cult figure in France. The French admire her talent: she won a best-foreign-film César, the French Academy Award, in 2005 for her last film, “Lost in Translation,” about a young American who spends most of a trip to Tokyo holed up in the Park Hyatt. But they also esteem her much-photographed, tastefully chic personal style. And her status as Hollywood royalty doesn’t hurt: her father, the director Francis Ford Coppola, is a demigod in France.
So her decision to make Marie Antoinette the star of her latest film has resulted in a grand comeback for the much-maligned queen. Along with director and star, Marie Antoinette herself now ranks as a fashion icon. Magazines have devoted special issues to her, featuring her portrait on the cover. French luxury houses have issued Marie Antoinette merchandise. Several books have appeared, tied not to the 250th anniversary of her birth last year but to the opening of the film, filling many an hour on both high- and lowbrow talk shows. It is as if the French needed the hype of a Hollywood movie to get them excited about their own history.
But Ms. Coppola said she was more interested in the emotional life of her young heroine. “I wanted to make a personal story and not a big epic historical biopic,” she said, adding that she wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a 14-year-old Austrian girl who is shipped off to France in 1770 to marry the future King Louis XVI, who is 16.
She used Lady Antonia’s dense, anecdotal book as her primary source. “I would get bored when it would get sort of too detailed,” she said of the book. “I didn’t want to get bogged down with history, but to focus on the personal relations between these people. Louis wouldn’t sleep with her, so she wanted to go out and party — like someone in a bad marriage going shopping. It just seemed like the same old story.”
This Marie Antoinette is a party girl with a gay hairdresser and a shoe fetish. She drowns her sorrows in bonbons and Champagne while, beyond the castle walls, the people starve. As for her famous response when told that the masses had no bread — “Let them eat cake” — both Lady Antonia and Ms. Coppola dismiss it as gossip. (In the film, Marie Antoinette herself laughs it off.) Speculation that she had a passionate affair with the Swedish count Axel Fersen is portrayed as fact. Ms. Coppola’s film takes other liberties: she eschews the often stately colors used in portraits of the French court for pastels inspired by the famous macaroons of the Parisian pastry house Ladurée. She relied on the costume department to vet dress styles or advise on the appropriate size of a bow — but only to a point.
“I want it to be believable, so that it doesn’t take you out of the story,” Ms. Coppola said, “but I’d rather pick a heel that is more appealing to me that maybe was invented 50 years later. I’m not a fetishist about historical accuracy. I’m just, like, making it my thing.”
Anyway, as she points out, “they didn’t speak English in Versailles, either.”
The actors speak in their own mostly American voices. “I was trying to make it sound normal,” she said, “although I’m a little afraid of it ever sounding a little too much California Valley Girl. I’m trying to get them to say ‘all right’ instead of ‘O.K.,’ to make it a little more formal than we would be, but not to feel like you were in a stiff period movie.”
For several days in April 2005, the production moved into the Hôtel de Soubise, a city palace that is now part of the National Archives in Paris. Hairdressers carrying 18th-century powdered wigs on plastic heads walked the narrow streets of the Marais district, on their way to and from the set. The actor Jason Schwartzman, who is Ms. Coppola’s cousin, was coming out of his trailer dressed as Louis XVI when a teenager in oversize shorts dropped to the sidewalk and began to bow in mock homage to the king, crying, “Le roi! Le roi!” Girls in long gowns, powdered wigs and sunglasses smoked cigarettes and talked on their cellphones between takes. In an ornate 18th-century salon, Ms. Coppola huddled by a monitor in wordless conference with her brother, Roman, who is also a filmmaker, and who was on the set shooting secondary scenes.
“I don’t have to say anything; he can go shoot something and he’ll get exactly what I want,” Ms. Coppola said. “It’s like having another brain.” Ms. Coppola said she was just following in her father’s footsteps by hiring family members; her mother, Eleanor, who filmed the “Marie Antoinette” making-of documentary, did the same job on Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” And he acted as executive producer for his daughter on this film.
Before a party scene in which Marie Antoinette plays cards, drinks Champagne and gossips the night away with her entourage, Ms. Coppola — who had not yet settled on the movie’s soundtrack, which includes music from Bow Wow Wow, Gang of Four, Air, New Order, the Cure and Phoenix — blasted music before calling “Action!” “I want it to be kind of irreverent, kind of how they were at the time,” she said. “I mean, they’re just doing what they want. They sort of have a little bit of a bratty attitude.”
Mr. Schwartzman said he appreciated the mood on the set. “One thing that’s really nice about Sofia is, like, you don’t realize you’re working,” he said. “And she talks to you about your character in a modern context, which you almost need. Because they were people — they’re not just facts and dates and that kind of stuff — so she gives you something you can relate to.”
Ms. Coppola said she wrote the lead roles for Mr. Schwartzman and Ms. Dunst (who starred in her directorial debut, “The Virgin Suicides,” in 1999).
“Kirsten to me has just, like, a fun, bubbly, effervescent quality, and that’s how I think of Marie Antoinette,” she said. “And she also has a depth. And she’s German, so I thought she had the coloring and the features.”
Ms. Dunst, who has been acting in films since she was 7, said that she empathized with the young queen. “She was a girl surrounded by grown-ups who wanted things from her and judged her, and she didn’t exactly know what people expected from her,” Ms. Dunst said during a lunch break, in sweats and her pink-cheeked Marie Antoinette makeup and giant hair. “I could relate to that kind of loneliness.”
By the time the film opened at Cannes, Marie Antoinette mania had reached such a fevered pitch that the French news media — which had helped to generate it — seemed stunned that the movie itself might not live up to the hype. “I was a little bit disappointed,” the normally gushy Cannes veteran Laurent Weill said apologetically during one of his nightly television reports from the Croisette. After some of the Cannes audience booed the film, another national newscaster told her audience, with a dash of understatement, “Sometimes the most anticipated films are not the most appreciated.” For her part, Ms. Coppola calmly repeated in every interview that a strong reaction — good or bad, anything but indifference — was what she hoped for.
Many critics and observers saw the film as a comment on modern celebrity youth culture, with Marie Antoinette as an 18th-century Paris Hilton. Others wondered aloud if Ms. Coppola’s sympathetic portrait of her heroine as a poor little rich girl had more to do with her own experience as a child of Hollywood and privilege. Why, they asked, did Ms. Coppola focus on the queen’s frivolous lifestyle and teenage psyche, ending the movie well before she meets her destiny at the guillotine?
All her films have dealt with child-women during painful, alienated moments in their young lives. “I see them like a trilogy, and this is the final chapter,” she said at the Café de Flore. “It’s a continuation of the other two films — sort of about a lonely girl in a big hotel or palace or whatever, kind of wandering around, trying to grow up. But in the other ones, you know, they’re always sort of on the verge. This is a story about a girl becoming a woman. And in this, I feel like she does.”
Cruz Gets Attached to the Bottom Line
Jacqueline Maley & Alexa Moses
Getting ugly for the sake of a role is a proud thespian tradition. Nicole Kidman won an Oscar for donning a big nose and frizzy hair for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours, and Charlize Theron got fat and wore nasty prosthetic teeth when she played the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster.
Now Penelope Cruz, the favourite muse of the Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, has sported a big bottom for a role. But instead of going on a bottom-enlarging diet (we could give you a few pointers on that regimen, Pen), Cruz wore a prosthetic derriere for Almodovar's new film, Volver.
Almodovar told reporters at the Toronto Film Festival that the booty was integral to Cruz's role.
"The arse is very important," he said. "I wanted a fake bottom like Dustin Hoffman had in Tootsie ... Having a generous ass made her look close to the ground. These are important decisions to make because once you have the physical part, you can work on the spiritual part."
In a surprise twist, Cruz said she got so attached to the character and to her ample backside that she almost had a nervous breakdown when filming finished and she had to return to her normal, scrawny-assed self.
"I couldn't leave the set," she said. "I didn't want to take my false ass off. There was an emotional attachment. I was a disaster for two months. I was unbearable."
The bottom was not just for spiritual purposes, however. Almodovar said he wanted her character to resemble an Italian film heroine from the 1950s.
Taking a Vacation With Harry, Captain Jack or Frodo
LOVE the movie? The chances are that there is a vacation for you in it.
Themed tours, often based on books, movies and historical events, are on the rise, as tour operators hope to meet demand from American travelers bored with passive vacations. Many people are no longer satisfied to stop, stand and stare while they travel. They’re looking to go behind the scenes — and to learn, said Hank Phillips, president of the National Tour Association, which represents 620 tour companies.
“People want to be much more engaged with the places they visit,” Mr. Phillips said.
The trips, some of which come complete with costumed characters, can cost $38 for a couple of hours to visit famous locations from a television show to $9,000 for a couple of weeks on a ship to Antarctica, retracing explorers’ paths and staying in the master suite with sweeping views. If travelers can’t find a themed trip that matches their interests, a tour company may well be able to design one for them — for a price.
Rick Paul, an insurance agent from Albuquerque, has made themed travel a habit. In the summer of 2005, he and his 13-year-old daughter, Shelby, flew to Miami and then sailed in the Caribbean for a tour based on the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”
Shelby, who loves the movie so much that she watches it four times a month, found the trip online. For $1,500 each, not including air fare, they spent five days touring old pirate hideaways in Jamaica, reading 17th-century transcripts of trials of pirates and listening to lectures from costumed experts on what it was like to be a pirate.
Mr. Paul and his daughter do not limit themselves to pirates. They have also taken two Harry Potter tours in England, where they visited castles and rode the train that was used in the movies as the Hogwarts Express. Their cost was $1,800 a person per trip. “It was a lot of fun, but we also learned a lot,” Mr. Paul said. A themed tour is more fun for his daughter, who would be bored in museums and traditional tourist spots, he said. Next up is a “Lord of the Rings” tour in New Zealand.
Such trips have paid off for some tour operators, including Jeannie Barresi, co-owner of Beyond Boundaries Travel, which put together Mr. Paul’s vacations.
Ms. Barresi started organizing movie vacation packages in 2003 as an extension of her love for planning elaborate themed parties for her children’s birthdays and schools. Today, specialty tours make up about 25 percent of the estimated $3.5 million in annual sales at her company, which is based in Colorado Springs.
Ms. Barresi is now planning a scavenger-hunt-style trip to France based on “The Da Vinci Code” (like many “Da Vinci Code” tours already available to vacationers) and a tour of England based on “Pride and Prejudice” (the book as well as the most recent movie version).
The behind-the-scenes draw has helped tourism in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area, where vacationers have been taking part in “Sideways” tours, which hit the wineries seen in the movie. In New York, 1,000 people a week pay $38 for a “Sex and the City” tour offered by On Location Tours, highlighting restaurants, bars and shops seen on the former series on HBO.
Themed travel is not just about television and movies. As many as 5,000 people have hopped on motorcycles for road trips — some with themes — organized by EagleRider, a Los Angeles company that equips travelers with motorcycles, itineraries and hotels. One of its offerings is an eight-day $2,400 Gold Rush tour of California’s old gold mines and ghost towns.
In Iowa, more than 1,000 travelers have paid $300 to $800 each this year for farm tours ranging from three to eight days. They visited ranches and dairy operations to bottle-feed calves, pick apples or watch border collies herd sheep, said H. Peter Jorgensen, group travel manager of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, a nonprofit group in Decorah, Iowa, that organizes the trips for tour operators.
“People are loving this stuff,” Mr. Jorgensen said, and business is up 50 percent this year. Most of the people hopping on the tours are baby boomers who want to know where their food comes from, he said.
Shebby Lee, owner of Shebby Lee Tours, a company in Rapid City, S.D., that organizes historical trips across the West, said: “Group tours have gotten a bad rap in the past because people think of old people sitting on the bus looking out the window. People want to do things.”
Participants in any of Ms. Lee’s 30 tours might climb into dugout canoes, ride in wagons, watch saddles being made, learn the etiquette of a Native American dance or go backstage at a rodeo to talk to the cowboys. Her trips cost $800 to $4,000 a person.
THE REV. CLYDE BEDENBAUGH, a retired Lutheran minister from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and his wife, Nell, spent 16 days with Ms. Lee, tracing the route taken 200 years ago by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, up the Missouri River from St. Louis and on to the Pacific Ocean. The trip, which cost them $2,800 each, included old-fashioned fish fries, visits from a dozen historical impersonators, demonstrations on firing a flintlock rifle and a ride in a keelboat. Guides organized Lewis and Clark trivia games on the bus, with winners receiving Lewis and Clark trading cards, cookbooks and hats.
“It was the most intensive and extensive tour that we have ever taken,” Mr. Bedenbaugh said. “You read the books, but you don’t experience it.”
Tom Taplin and Cory Freyer, who live in Santa Monica, Calif., went on vacation last year with the same mind-set — about Antarctica. For 18 days, they traced the route taken by Ernest H. Shackleton, the explorer, on a journey that began in 1914. His ship became trapped and was later crushed by ice; he and his crew lived for five months on drifting ice packs.
Mr. Taplin, a photographer, and Ms. Freyer, a wilderness-skills instructor, read “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” by Alfred Lansing, then plunked down $7,000 each to join 100 other vacationers to see at first hand where the story took place.
They took a 230-foot boat from the tip of South America to Antarctica; listened to lectures by specialists on penguins, whales and birds; visited Shackleton’s grave; took boats to sites where his crew stayed; and hiked on the small island where Shackleton and his crew were ultimately rescued.
“It’s the most dramatic survival story in history,” said Ms. Freyer, 54. “It gave the trip a raison d’être, rather than just scenery.”
Fathom Expeditions, the Toronto company that organized the trip, also books tours tracing the routes of explorers who tried to reach the North Pole. Fathom plays host to about 575 tourists a year, who pay $5,000 to $9,000 each for the adventures, said the company’s owner, David German.
“People learn about the history and say, ‘Wow, I’m here.’ ”
If you’re not reading this on a screen, if you don’t have a blog, if your phone is still leashed to a wall, if time has cruelly removed you from the 25-to-34-year-old age bracket beloved by advertisers, you probably missed the book party at the TriBeCa Cinemas in July. The author of the hour was Chris Anderson, who after the drinks entertained the crowd with a simulcast PowerPoint lecture on the topic of his new best seller, “The Long Tail,” which describes how the chokehold of mass culture is being loosened by the new Internet-enabled economics of niche culture and niche commerce.
The party was sponsored in part by a small SoHo-based new-media company called Flavorpill, which produces free e-mail magazines and weekly event guides for New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and London. (Soon to come are editions for Austin, Miami, Seattle and Boston.) Flavorpill’s number of subscribers has been doubling annually since the company started in New York six years ago, and now its family of 10 digital publications has 355,000 readers and projected revenues of $3.5 million this year. Such is Flavorpill’s trend-setting street cred that in some quarters its seal of approval is considered the equivalent of a papal blessing.
“We’ve been called the Condé Nast of e-mail,” says Sascha Lewis, a co-founder.
To whisk up the mood after Anderson’s economics seminar, Flavorpill brought in dance-punk disk jockeys, and from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. there was live music from bands your mother has never heard of, unless her iPod is unaccountably stuffed with booty rap by Spank Rock. Flavorpill also put together a “Tap the Tail” promotional CD of cutting-edge tunes, which staff members were handing out at the door — a far cry from the early days when the company’s brand-extension missionaries used to chalk the logo on the sidewalks of Union Square.
More than 1,300 people showed up at TriBeCa Cinemas; because the event had been “Flavorpilled” — that is, listed in Flavorpill’s New York City e-mail issue No. 318 — a lot of them were what Lewis and his partner, Mark Mangan, call “urban influencers.”
Anderson is such a creature himself — a regular reader of Flavorpill San Francisco, the city where he lives and works as the editor in chief of Wired magazine.
“It resonates with me,” he said when I asked why he likes it. “Why does anybody read anything?”
On one hand it makes perfect sense that Flavorpill would want to fete a book focused on a component of the company’s success. The efficiency with which information can be assembled and distributed on the Internet is the foundation of every digital-content company. Flavorpill created an audience by deftly exploiting a new medium. “In many ways,” Mark Mangan says, “what we’re doing with the events we list is the same as what Time Out New York, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice and other publications are doing. But if you can’t click to a map of where the event is, if you can’t forward it to your friends, if you can’t send it to your cellphone, is it really that useful?”
On the other hand, part of Anderson’s Long Tail thesis is that the Internet is removing bottlenecks between supply and demand and establishing a market where “everything becomes available to everyone.” Unlike with archetypal Long Tail businesses like iTunes or eBay, the success of Flavorpill’s weekly e-mails has less to do with new digital efficiencies than with the classic distinctions of sensibility. Despite the founders’ professed desire not to cater just to a “clique of hipsters,” Flavorpill’s subscriber traffic, ad trade and growing cultural influence depend on the “cultural filtering” of staff members who would not have to change much if they wanted to attend Flavorpill’s ultracool Halloween party dressed as a clique of hipsters. The success of Flavorpill in defining what’s cool raises the question: How cool can anything really be if everyone knows about it?
It’s hard to think of things that are less dynamic than the production of a digital city-events guide, which is why Mark Mangan came to work one day with a hand-held Chinese gong. The editorial process at Flavorpill starts quietly each Wednesday morning, and stays quiet as the week unfolds, until Monday evening, when a series of ear-shattering gong strikes ceremoniously marks the moment each city’s week of “filtered cultural stimuli” is released to the tech leprechauns who then push the stuff onto the Net for subscribers to open on Tuesday afternoon.
The managing editors of each city edition live in the cities they cover, but Mangan and Lewis, the sales staff, the techies and the production editors who format and copy-edit the cultural stimuli are all based in New York. Headquarters is a 2,500-square-foot loft on Broadway, next door to the New York institute of Alfred Adler, the famous Freudian apostate whose cultural profile is sorely lagging Spank Rock’s, to judge from the 20-somethings at Flavorpill who had never heard of him. The office has the shoestring-chic of a college newspaper. There’s always music going — evidently nothing facilitates cultural filtration like minimalist German techno. Four clocks mind the time in Flavorpill cities. There is a bicycle by the fire exit, a conference room designed around a garage door and dozens of desks glowing with the flat-screen fire of Macs and PC’s. As for the Aeron chairs that were once de rigueur at digital media companies before the Internet bubble burst in 2000, there are just two, reserved for the head guys.
The week after the Long Tail party I followed the preparations for Flavorpill N.Y.C. No. 319. It was being edited, or “curated,” as they like to say, by the New York managing editor, Jake Lancaster, a tall 30-year-old Boston University graduate who got his start at Flavorpill a few years ago when, for joy not money, he reviewed the Brooklyn hip-hop artist Beans. Eventually he landed a gig as one of Flavorpill’s 12 full-time employees.
When he got to his desk that Wednesday, his e-mail in-box was swollen with potential listings, all of them tagged and routed by a proprietary content-management system built by Flavorpill and known, somewhat ominously, as the Tool. About half of the final cut of 25 items for the coming week would be gleaned from suggestions submitted by regular Flavorpill contributors, nearly all of whom were also writing for the joy of it, or — if they were young and aspiring journalists — for clips and contacts.
One possible No. 319 item caught Lancaster’s eye right away: an anniversary performance of “Asssscat” by the improv comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade. It was sent in by longtime Flavorpill contributor Mindy Bond, who has a double life not atypical of Flavorpill contributors. At night she trolls obscure cultural tributaries; during the day she works in the main channel of the mainstream, in the speech-writing department of Time Warner. (“I look for events that are quirky or weird,” she told me later. “Or things that are going to catch on but haven’t quite. I steer away from things that are listed in The New Yorker. If something has the Flavorpill stamp, you know it is cool or interesting or funny or ahead of the curve and will attract people that have the same interests you do.”) Good comedy listings were hard to come by, and Lancaster quickly made Asssscat a finalist; it was knocked out at the last minute for technical reasons (Flavorpill e-mails don’t list shows that sell out before publication).
Done with the submissions in the Tool, Lancaster turned to sift through a long queue of e-mailed press releases and his massive list of venue Web sites. “We try to keep the issue a light read,” he said. “No one wants a novel in their e-mail.”
“What would never make the final cut?”
“Anything really really expensive,” Lancaster said.
“Anything at Madison Square Garden,” said Leah Taylor, the 22-year-old New York production editor who was sitting at the next computer, reading a British music Web site called This Is Fake DIY.
“Anything exceedingly banal,” Lancaster added. “There’s no point to listing a classic rock band that’s been around for 40 years, like the Allman Brothers. But an old lounge act we might list for the kitsch factor. Occasionally some venues will really surprise you. Like B.B. King’s. They’ll have a lot of incredibly cheesy stuff — Beatles brunches and terrible cover bands — and then they’ll have some crazy death-metal band. The tough thing is keeping track of nontraditional venues.”
In the course of the week I made a point of asking anyone I could what characterized the sensibility behind each week’s batch of filtered cultural stimuli. It proved a surprisingly hard needle to thread: a set of ineffable intuitions and aesthetic standards that seemed as nebulous as they were exacting. Possibly Flavorpill’s influence has less to do with what is on its menu than with the fact that the menu isn’t overstuffed with entrees. Flavorpill doesn’t take the Greek coffee shop approach and paralyze readers with a surfeit of options.
“I would say the primary focus is on emerging culture of all kinds,” said Jocelyn Glei, the 29-year-old group managing editor who oversees all five city guides, as well as the specialized magazines. “There aren’t really any parameters, the only overriding factor is that we really believe in the artist or the production — we really think something is great.” As an example of how Flavorpill draws from mainstream sources as well as cultural backwaters, Glei cited New York Flavorpill issues that listed both the conventional production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and a production at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg of “The Kung Fu Importance of Being Earnest,” which hilariously stitched martial arts scenes into Wilde’s classic drawing-room comedy.
“I would say the aesthetic we uphold is always about our own canon,” said Lisa Rosman, a longtime contributor. “Either very new cultural trends or older ones that are vital to the ones that prevail at the moment. An example would be that we always highlight Gil Scott-Heron, even though he was a 60’s-70’s dude, since he pretty much helped launch hip-hop. Our aesthetic is mainstream indie, though we don’t admit it. It’s under the wire, but just. And the minute we report on it, its under-the-wire status is absolutely blown.”
As Flavorpill’s film editor, Rosman contributes to all the city publications, and she has developed a feel for the subtle regional differences. “Chicago has its own kind of hard-core R.&B.-inspired scene and an art scene inspired by both the Art Institute of Chicago and cheaper rents. L.A. has a refracted neon palm tree glam, which is a reaction to all that Hollywood veneer that wends its way into visual art especially, but also into music and all the retro-movie houses. London, well those kids have a jaunty charm I’ve yet to pin down.”
Every list item seems to entail a complex aesthetic calibration and raises the possibility that staff members who imagine themselves consummate indie hipsters may actually have an uncomfortable amount in common with mainstream dorks. Rosman told me that a few editors had a big debate about whether to list a Justin Timberlake concert. “The feeling was we couldn’t, because Justin Timberlake is not cool,” she said. “But everyone at Flavorpill secretly loves Justin Timberlake.”
Flavorpill’s founders, Mark Mangan, 35, and Sascha Lewis, 36, are both veterans of the first Internet boom. Mangan grew up in a Main Line Philadelphia suburb, the second of four kids. Having read “The Aeneid” in Latin at the Episcopal Academy, he thought he would be a scholar or a writer. But he showed an early knack for business, selling taffy out of his locker to his fellow fourth graders and turning the family basement into a profitable silk-screen T-shirt factory during high school.
“My mom is an accountant; she explained C.O.G.S. to me — cost of goods sold,” Mangan recalled one day over lunch at Barmarché in NoLIta. He was casually dressed, dark-haired, with friendly brown eyes and a delicate starfish of a scar on his forehead, a result of a car crash in the family Volvo when he was 5.
At the University of Vermont, Mangan studied English and French; he spent a year in Paris reading philosophy and literature at the Sorbonne and bartending in the Paris branch of Cactus Charly.
Back home after graduation, he took the LSAT but decided not to follow his father and his older brother, Mike, into a law career. A friend had given him a 1993 report on the growth and future of the Internet. He was inspired to dig out his dad’s I.B.M. desktop computer and start poking around online.
In 1995 he landed a job as a Web consultant, and a year later, with Jonathan Wallace, he wrote a well-received book, “Sex, Laws and Cyberspace.” In 1998, as the frenzy of the Internet land rush was cresting, he set out to stake a claim with his own lifestyle e-commerce business. He was looking for capital when he bumped into Lewis, whom he had known through a mutual friend since college.
Lewis, unlike Mangan, had no itch to homestead in cyberspace. He grew up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with an older sister. His mother worked as a child therapist; his father founded the New York-based Touchstone Center for Children. Lewis was 11 when they divorced. He played baseball and basketball at the Walden School in New York. During the winter of his senior year, he worked as the ball boy for the New York Knicks. He occasionally got to shoot around on the floor of Madison Square Garden with visiting gym rats like Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas.
Today, with his hair gone, his athletic competitiveness tempered by age, a regular yoga practice and possibly the pacifying effects of a vegetarian diet, he still seems driven — ready to dive for a loose ball. Two fixtures of his wardrobe are his white Royal Elastics sneakers and a colored terry cloth wristband.
After graduating from Union College in 1992, Lewis worked at a club called Mr. Fuji’s. “I loved night life,” he says. “I was always the guy in the group who takes charge of where we should go.”
A year later, he got into real estate and in 1995 started his own company, but the unutterable bliss of finding apartments for supermodels like Linda Evangelista wasn’t what he had in mind when he recalled his boyhood desire to change the world. Neither was e-commerce. He didn’t own a computer; he knew virtually nothing about the Internet. But anything was better than haggling with landlords, and when he heard Mark Mangan’s pitch, he agreed to put up $10,000 and join the team.
Netsetgoods.com opened in December 1998. The e-shelves were stocked with pashminas from India, watches from Japan, one-strap messenger bags from France. Within 18 months the company had customers from all 50 states and 15 countries and notices from all the major style magazines. Revenues peaked at $300,000 a year.
Then, in March 2000, the Internet bubble burst.
“We just never got the bird off the ground,” says Mark’s brother, Mike Mangan, who was the company’s lawyer.
In the final months before Netset folded in October 2000, the would-be e-commerce moguls sent out e-mail messages to New York Netset customers and people on party lists from the first dot-com boom, when there was an event nearly every night for digital workers eager to relax after a hard day burning venture capital.
The first e-mail message was dispatched on July 11, 2000. With four plain-text items separated by asterisks, the visual presentation was on a par with the wire-service telexes that rattled out the news of Nixon’s resignation in 1974. But the reception was good. So they did one the next week, and another the week after that. When they stopped moving merchandise, Mangan and Lewis thought they might make a go moving cultural advisories instead.
“We had no capital,” Mangan recalls. “No business plan, no model. But we had a growing publication that people were digging, so we said to each other, ‘Let’s just push forward, see how far we can take this.”’
Needing a name, they came up with Flavorpill after three days of brainstorming, convinced that the image of a mouthwatering capsule of culture outweighed the unwanted drug connotations. They registered the domain name that September.
“I wrote the first six months of Flavorpill New York in my kitchen and then e-mailed it to Mark,” Lewis told me. “For three and a half years I don’t think I went to bed once before 2 a.m. on Monday night. Our parents were like: ‘What are you guys doing? You’re college graduates and you’re sending out e-mails?’ My girlfriend at the time would ask for rent, and I would say, ‘Sweetie, it’s just around the corner.”’
Lewis put the $200 monthly Web hosting bill on his Visa card, and took work D.J.-ing at clubs. Mangan scraped by doing Web consulting. Will Keh, a friend they had in common, lavished them with leftovers from his catering company.
In April 2001 they sent out the first issue of Flavorpill that contained graphics. Cover art — original paintings and graphics offered by artists eager to publicize their work — would eventually become a Flavorpill trademark, as would the clean color-shot layout. And then in January 2002 they were able to replace the line of asterisks that delineated the days of the week in their very first e-mail with banner ads from an advertiser. Bloomberg, the news and financial information company founded by the new mayor of New York, bought five weeks of ads for $4,000 per week. Over the next three years Flavorpill would maintain the practice of selling each issue exclusively to one advertiser — companies like Nokia, BMW, Anheuser-Busch — but the rates would rise to $18,000 per issue, about 7 to 10 times the cost of an ad on a mainstream portal like Yahoo. Signs that they had some traction with their audience were springing up everywhere.
“We had club owners starting to call us up and ask, ‘Can you not list us?”’ Mangan told me.
A striking example of Flavorpill’s influence was the company’s collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum. Last year the museum began throwing a D.J. party in the Guggenheim rotunda on the first Friday of the month. The idea was to get a younger crowd of potential new members into the museum after hours. An e-mail press release from the Guggenheim arrived at Flavorpill.
“I had never heard any of their D.J.’s,” Lewis says. “I offered to help. I thought what we would get out of it would be media content, branding and a level of respect with the artistic community.”
“They brought in Diplo,” recalls Julia Brown, the museum’s manager of membership. “We had no idea this guy was the biggest thing since sliced bread.” The museum had been averaging 1,500 people; Diplo turned out nearly twice that number.
In retrospect, that primitive e-mail message Lewis and Mangan first sent out in July 2000 was an uncanny template of the future. It lacked the elegant Flavorpill graphics and the embedded hypertext links that now make each e-mail magazine a springboard to the fathomless esoterica of the Web. But the essential form was there from the start: the brief, superpositive event descriptions with the accent on why readers had to go; the ticket giveaways for added inspiration; the when-and-where info; the scope of venues that included New York’s outer boroughs; the viral marketing and community building embedded in the opportunity to “add a friend” to the e-mail list. Most important, Lewis and Mangan’s initial effort contained an appeal to readers to submit items of what they thought was must-see culture. Soliciting help was hardly an original idea — Tom Sawyer used the same tactic to get his fence painted — but it worked like a dream, providing fresh proof that if you get people excited about a job, they might well do it free.
When Monday arrived, one of the important cultural filterers was missing. “Leah’s home with pinkeye,” said Jake Lancaster. “But she’s working remotely.”
Lancaster was writing the introductory summary of the week. Each Flavorpill issue has a loose theme — Breezy Flavor, Profligate Flavor, Fecund Flavor — and with the Middle East exploding, the one he came up with for No. 319 was Discordant Flavor.
Leah Taylor being off-site meant that her boss, Jon Schultz, the 29-year-old group production editor, would have to pick up the slack. At the moment he was putting in some special coding so that spam filters would not reject a Flavorpill issue containing a word that would make your mother blush. Profanity is generally discouraged, but when writers are working free, you indulge them when you can.
When the San Francisco edition was done, Gerry Mak, the production editor, picked up the Chinese gong and whaled on it with a mallet.
“Woo-hoo!” said Jocelyn Glei, knocking fists with Mak. She turned back to proofreading, finding a space that needed to be closed up between a word and an ellipsis.
One by one, as London, L.A. and Chicago were wrapped, city production editors rose and trooped to the gong. Whether they whacked it once or twice, or apologetically, or vigorously, or with a demented zeal, the crescendo of sound cut through the minimalist German techno like Patton’s Third Army, lending texture and drama to the invisible rush of bytes.
Finally Schultz stood up. New York No. 319 was done. “Bring me the mallet!” he said.
Two days later I stopped by Mark Mangan’s apartment in the East Village, a 15-minute walk from his office. He brought some beer up to the roof, where there were a couple of chairs and a view.
Somehow time had carried him beyond the demographic center of his audience, more than half of whom were between 25 and 34. And he was looking in from the outside in other ways, being in the business of telling people where they could go but hardly ever getting out himself.
“It’s a little bit the story of the cobbler’s son — you know, he’s the one who doesn’t have any shoes,” he said.
Work was always on his mind. New cities beckoned, potential Flavorpills for Berlin, Tokyo, São Paulo, Toronto. It was possible that in a few years they could have three million readers. Every day he scanned a hundred Web sites, he read 200 to 300 e-mail messages. Six years on, the company was finally hitting its stride; they had turned down buyout offers.
“Now is when then fun begins,” he said.
More than once both Mangan and Lewis told me that their ambition was “to raise the water level of good culture,” as if buried in Flavorpill’s consumerist approach — in the trivial hedonism of any list of things to do — was a reformer’s agenda. Set aside that cultures are defined as much by what people detest as what they love. Week after week Flavorpill finds things to praise in the seemingly quixotic hope that the heavy lifting of cultural improvement might be accomplished through the rigor of a rosy focus.
The sun was long gone when we climbed down the stairs from the roof. It was a blistering night in the East Village. Mangan flipped open his cellphone. On the screen were the Flavorpill suggestions for that Thursday, fed to his phone by Dodgeball.com. He scrolled down the list. There was an Okkervil River concert at Castle Clinton. Missed that. At the Prospect Park Bandshell Yo La Tengo was performing their original score for eight documentary short films by the “surrealist aquanaut Jean Painlevé.” Missed that too. The Canada Gallery was featuring a group show led by Jim Drain, who was known for his “patchwork totem-sculptures that exude alien cool.” Too late again. The Great Villains in Cinema at Brooklyn Academy of Music? Not tonight. He shrugged. No matter. There was a feast out there, and something with his name on it was sure to turn up soon.
Samsung Develops New Memory Chip
Samsung Electronics Co. on Monday unveiled a new type of memory chip that it said will allow digital devices to work faster by saving new data more quickly.
The phase-change random access memory, or PRAM, chip is nonvolatile, meaning it will retain data even when an electronic device is turned off, and is about 30 times faster than conventional flash memory, Samsung said.
It is expected to be available in 2008, Samsung said. A 512-megabit prototype PRAM device was unveiled at a news conference in Seoul on Monday.
Currently, two types of nonvolatile flash memory chips - NOR and NAND - are widely used in electronic devices.
NOR chips are suitable for running software directly, but are slower and are more expensive to manufacture, while NAND chips are easier to make in larger capacities but are more suitable for large data files, such as MP3 music.
Samsung said the PRAM chips use vertical diodes and a three-dimensional transistor structure to create a small cell size. Unlike NOR and NAND chips, they don't need to first erase any old data in a separate step before storing any new data, it said.
Samsung also unveiled on Monday a 32-gigabit NAND flash memory chip based on finer 40-nanometer process technology - the size of the smallest circuit elements on the chip. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter.
Currently, the bulk of Samsung's flash memory chips are produced using 70-nanometer process technology.
Using finer process technology allows more to be fit on a semiconductor chip and reduces power requirements.
Flash memory chips are used extensively in digital music devices, digital cameras and mobile phones.
Samsung is the world's largest memory chip maker and a top producer of consumer electronics, including flat-screen televisions, mobile phones, MP3 players and laptop computers.
The company, based in Suwon, South Korea, recorded a net profit of 7.64 trillion won ($8 billion) on sales of 57.46 trillion won ($60 billion) in 2005.
Cell Phone Makers Fight Resales
People moving state to state, armed with cash and tricks to avoid scrutiny, are buying cheap prepaid mobile phones by the thousands with plans to sell them in Latin America and Hong Kong.
Cell phone companies say the practice is costing them millions of dollars, and some have hired private investigators to document what they say is illegal tampering with their phones. Wal-Mart, Radio Shack and other retailers are limiting how many phones they will sell at one time.
The buying has raised concerns the phones might be used to aid terrorism, though those in the trade say it's nothing but capitalism at its best - no different than reselling stock for more than you paid.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security issued nationwide bulletins earlier this year warning police to be on the lookout for bulk purchases of cell phones. Authorities are worried that profits from the trade could end up financing terrorism or that the phones could be used as detonators in attacks.
The practice - at the center of court cases in Florida, Ohio and Michigan - appears widespread and in no danger of subsiding soon. Participants in the trade don't appear very bashful.
"Don't leave a phone behind. To make real money buy them all," urged an e-mail by Larry Riedeman of Larry's Cell in Altamonte Springs, Fla., that was included in a lawsuit against that entity by TracFone Wireless Inc. "Thousands a day if you can!"
Riedeman and other small companies are considered the middlemen in a system that starts with buyers snapping up phones at retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and ends with resale of the phones overseas.
In Ohio, two men acknowledged last month to authorities that they had delivered 600 TracFones to a middleman over three months.
Also in August, three Dallas men briefly charged in Michigan with trafficking counterfeited goods told the FBI that several businesses in Texas buy telephones "from hundreds of people like themselves," according to an FBI filing in that case. The phones are then sold to middlemen in California, New York or Miami.
Another buyer, Bilal Mustafa, 22, of Minneapolis, told The Associated Press he travels around the Midwest a week at a time in search of phones. He and a buddy will buy four to six at once at small-town department stores, as many as 250 a day.
Mustafa sells them to a cell phone business he wouldn't identify. He says he's doing nothing illegal and scoffs at FBI concerns that the practice could aid terrorists.
"If it did, I wouldn't do it," said Mustafa, a Palestinian immigrant from the West Bank. "I'm not stupid."
Purchasing cell phones in bulk is not illegal and authorities haven't had much luck trying to prosecute the buyers. Earlier this week, a federal judge threw out the charges against the men in the Michigan case, saying there wasn't enough evidence to take the case to trial.
The Michigan charges alleged that by removing the cell phones from their original packaging, the men made it easier to repackage the phones with counterfeit trademarks in violation of federal copyright law.
The men arrested in Ohio in August face a low-level charge of giving misleading information to police, including changing their story about why they had so many cell phones when they were first stopped.
Terrorism charges were leveled in both cases but quickly dropped.
The middlemen indicate an apparently insatiable hunger for the phones, with profits in some cases of 100 percent for a handset that retails for as little as $20.
The phones are so cheap because TracFone and other providers of prepaid cellular service sell them at a loss to create a market for their real profit maker, selling customers more call time.
For example, a Nokia 1100 - one of the phones referenced in TracFone's lawsuit against Larry's Cell - was being sold in stores for about $20 a phone. However, it probably cost TracFone about $25 per phone wholesale, said Paul Sagawa, an industry analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York.
The Dallas men arrested in Michigan said they had spent $20,000 on phones within just a few days.
The Riedeman e-mails promise earnings of $10,000 a month for aggressive buyers. Riedeman offered bonuses to such suppliers, from $120 to anyone bringing in 400 phones a month to $2,000 for someone buying 2,000 a month, according to court documents.
Mustafa wouldn't say how much he earns on each $20 phone but said it's a reasonable profit.
"I don't think I'll make a million bucks," he said. "Just enough to take care of my car, my gas, a hotel and make a little money."
Buyers - often young men - pay cash, frequently making purchases in the middle of the night to avoid scrutiny and to skirt store sales limits, according to affidavits and other filings in state and federal court.
They make up stories about why they need the phones, move from cashier to cashier or simply buy the limit from a store, wait awhile, then return.
"I have many times used other shoppers to help me," said the Riedeman e-mail. "You would be surprised how many folks will lend a helping hand."
Riedeman could not be reached to comment. E-mail and phone messages were not immediately returned. No lawyer for him is listed in federal court documents. A phone for his brother, Clint, who is also named in the lawsuit, rang unanswered.
After receiving the phones from the buyers, often in bulk shipments, the middlemen deactivate a software lock on the devices so they can be used on other cellular services. The phones are then repackaged and shipped to their next destination, records show.
A lawsuit filed in January by Nokia Corp. accuses Pan Ocean Communications of Pompano Beach, Fla., of buying $20 cell phones from Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Target Corp. stores, disabling their software, then reselling them for $39 as legitimate Nokia handsets. The company sold them to distributors, wholesalers, exporters and flea market booth operators, the lawsuit said.
A judge ordered Pan Ocean and another company, Sol Wireless Group of Miami, to stop reselling the phones. Messages seeking comment were left with attorneys representing the businesses.
Destinations have changed over the years, from Singapore in the past to Mexico today, said John Walls, a spokesman for CTIA, a cellular industry trade association that opposes the practice.
"You're able to deliver a pretty good product that will operate on the Mexican network, the black market can deliver a handsome profit on that device, and Mexican consumers have the opportunity to save themselves a few dollars," Walls said.
Lawsuits filed by TracFone and Nokia also name markets in Latin America and Hong Kong, where resale prices are higher.
Since TracFones that haven't been tampered with can work only in the United States, overseas buyers ought to know they aren't being sold legitimately, said Jim Baldinger, a TracFone attorney in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Lawyers for the men arrested in Michigan and Ohio say their clients were conducting legal business and are being targeted only because they are of Middle Eastern descent.
"All these individuals were doing was buying and reselling phones," said Detroit attorney Nabih Ayad. "There's nothing illegal about it. They buy cell phones from one retailer and sell them to another retailer who can sell them for more."
Retailers, wireless service providers and phone makers don't see it that way. "Resale on the black market is never a good thing," said Wendy Dominguez, a Radio Shack Corp. spokeswoman.
At West Broad Cellular near downtown Columbus, owner Abdul Salameh sells prepaid phones starting at $50, far above the price charged by rivals whom he suspects of scooping them up at places such as Wal-Mart.
Salameh, 26, says he's being undercut by the practice but isn't sure how to combat it:
"If people are selling them for real cheap, we're getting destroyed."
Philanthropy Google’s Way: Not the Usual
The ambitious founders of Google, the popular search engine company, have set up a philanthropy, giving it seed money of about $1 billion and a mandate to tackle poverty, disease and global warming.
But unlike most charities, this one will be for-profit, allowing it to fund start-up companies, form partnerships with venture capitalists and even lobby Congress. It will also pay taxes.
One of its maiden projects reflects the philanthropy’s nontraditional approach. According to people briefed on the program, the organization, called Google.org, plans to develop an ultra-fuel-efficient plug-in hybrid car engine that runs on ethanol, electricity and gasoline.
The philanthropy is consulting with hybrid-engine scientists and automakers, and has arranged for the purchase of a small fleet of cars with plans to convert the engines so that their gas mileage exceeds 100 miles per gallon. The goal of the project is to reduce dependence on oil while alleviating the effects of global warming.
Google.org is drawing skeptics for both its structure and its ambitions. It is a slingshot compared with the artillery of charities established by older captains of industry. Its financing pales next to the tens of billions that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will have at its disposal, especially with the coming infusion of some $3 billion a year from Warren E. Buffett, the founder of Berkshire Hathaway.
But Google’s philanthropic work is coming early in the company’s lifetime. Microsoft was 25 years old before Bill Gates set up his foundation, which is a tax-exempt organization and separate from Microsoft.
By choosing for-profit status, Google will have to pay taxes if company shares are sold at a profit — or if corporate earnings are used — to finance Google.org. Any resulting venture that shows a profit will also have to pay taxes. Shareholders may not like the fact that the Google.org tax forms will not be made public, but kept private as part of the tax filings of the parent, Google Inc.
Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, believe for-profit status will greatly increase their philanthropy’s range and flexibility. It could, for example, form a company to sell the converted cars, finance that company in partnership with venture capitalists, and even hire a lobbyist to pressure Congress to pass legislation granting a tax credit to consumers who buy the cars.
The executive director whom Mr. Page and Mr. Brin have hired, Dr. Larry Brilliant, is every bit as iconoclastic as Google’s philanthropic arm. Dr. Brilliant, a 61-year-old physician and public health expert, has studied under a Hindu guru in a monastery at the foothills of the Himalayas and worked as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
In one project, which Dr. Brilliant brought with him to the job, Google.org will try to develop a system to detect disease outbreaks early.
Dr. Brilliant likens the traditional structure of corporate foundations to a musician confined to playing only the high register on a piano. “Google.org can play on the entire keyboard,” Dr. Brilliant said in an interview. “It can start companies, build industries, pay consultants, lobby, give money to individuals and make a profit.”
While declining to comment on the car project specifically, Dr. Brilliant said he would hope to see such ventures make a profit. “But if they didn’t, we wouldn’t care,” he said. “We’re not doing it for the profit. And if we didn’t get our capital back, so what? The emphasis is on social returns, not economic returns.”
Development of ultra-high-mileage cars is under way at a number of companies, from Toyota to tiny start-ups. Making an engine that uses E85 — a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline — is not difficult, but the lack of availability of the fuel presents a challenge, said Brett Smith, a senior industry analyst at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Another barrier, Mr. Smith said, lies in the batteries for so-called plug-in hybrids, which require more powerful batteries that charge more quickly than the current generation of hybrid batteries.
There are skeptics, too, among tax lawyers and other pragmatists familiar with the world of philanthropy. They wonder whether Google’s directors might be tempted to take back some of the largess in an economic downturn.
“The money is at the beck and call of the board of directors and shareholders,” said Marcus S. Owens, a tax lawyer in Washington who spent a decade as director of the exempt organizations division of the Internal Revenue Service. “It’s possible the shareholders of Google might someday object, especially if we go into an economic depression and that money is needed to shore up the company.”
And there is the question of how many of the planet’s problems can truly be addressed by a single corporate entity.
But even while expressing reservations about Google’s approach, Mr. Owens said that the structure of Google.org “eliminates all the constraints that might otherwise apply.”
The only conventional part of Google.org is the Google Foundation, a nonprofit with an endowment of $90 million that is constrained in how it spends by the 501(c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Service code.
Google’s big philanthropic experiment lies in the part of Google.org where the bulk of the funding now resides. This part of Google.org will be fully taxable, with the ability to invest in a full spectrum of programs and companies.
All of Google.org’s spending, Dr. Brilliant said, will be in keeping with its mission, and there is to be no “blowback.” That is, should Google.org make a profit with one of its ventures, those funds will not go to the search engine business, but will stay within Google.org.
Google had existed for only six years, when, in advance of the company’s initial public offering in August 2004, Mr. Page and Mr. Brin told potential investors that they planned to set aside 1 percent of the company’s stock and an equal percentage of profits for philanthropy. By the end of 2004, Google.org was formed.
The company has said it plans to spend the money over the next 20 years, and the Google board recently approved a more rapid disbursement rate, $175 million over the next two years.
“Poor people can’t wait,” Dr. Brilliant said. “Dying people can’t wait for some 20-year plan. It’s not what we’re doing here.”
Ventures that grow out of Google.org could be seen to have a competitive edge because they do not need to show a financial profit. But financial returns from a project like the high-mileage car are not necessarily the aim.
“I think how you count profit is the issue here,” said Peter Hero, president of the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, a charitable foundation with about $1 billion in assets. “Google.org is measuring return on cleaner air and quality of life. Their bottom line isn’t just financial. It’s environmental and social.”
Once Google.org was formed, the company spent months searching for an executive director. There was no lack of interest in the job.
“Literally thousands of people worldwide got in touch with us,” said Sheryl Sandberg, the Google vice president who led the search. “We’d get someone who was an amazing technology entrepreneur but who didn’t know anything about the developing world.”
Then along came Dr. Brilliant, an affable man generous with bearhugs and self-deprecating humor whose unlikely résumé looks like a composite career summary of multiple high achievers.
After receiving his medical degree, Dr. Brilliant studied for two years with Neem Karoli Baba, a famous Hindu guru.
As Dr. Brilliant tells the story, in 1973, shortly before the guru’s death, he told Dr. Brilliant to “take off the ashram whites” and use his skills as a physician to help eradicate smallpox, which was devastating India at the time.
Dr. Brilliant joined a team of United Nations workers who painstakingly worked their way through India inoculating people against the disease. In 1980, the World Health Organization declared that smallpox had been eradicated.
In 1978, Dr. Brilliant started the Seva Foundation, which focuses on preventing and curing blindness throughout Asia and Latin America. In 1985, Dr. Brilliant was a co-founder of the Well, a seminal online community. Throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s, he ran several high-tech companies in Silicon Valley.
Dr. Brilliant first heard about Google.org in early 2005 while lying in bed in India, sick with dysentery. He had gone there to work with the polio eradication program of the United Nations and, while recovering, he saw news of Google.org in a local newspaper.
He sent an inquiry to the only e-mail address he could find: firstname.lastname@example.org. He got no response.
This year, Dr. Brilliant was awarded the TED Prize, an award given at the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, a gathering of leaders from the technology and entertainment industries. The prize awards three recipients $100,000, and a “wish” for how to change world.
Dr. Brilliant’s wish was for the creation of an “early detection, rapid response” system for disease outbreaks. The idea would be an open-source, nongovernmental, public access network for detecting, reporting and responding to pandemics.
Some Google insiders heard about the award and invited Dr. Brilliant to give a talk at the company. Mr. Page and Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, were in the audience as Dr. Brilliant described the polio eradication efforts of the United Nations. They agreed they had found their director and began to recruit him.
At first, Dr. Brilliant said, he was thrilled. But then he turned skeptical, largely because of the for-profit structure of the organization.
“I got weak knees,” he said. “It was weird. It was precedent setting.” After several lengthy conversations with executives at Google, Dr. Brilliant changed his mind. Six months into the job, he has traveled to India to visit eye clinics and polio vaccination projects with Mr. Page, and to China to discuss clean energy alternatives. Next week, he leaves for Africa to visit Google grant recipients in Ghana.
Dr. Brilliant said he had no desire to “reinvent the wheel” by working on projects others are already involved in. And although Google is a high-tech company, that does not mean that Google.org will be throwing around high-tech solutions.
“Why would we put Wi-Fi in a place where what they need is food and clean water?” he said.
Marianne Faithfull has Breast Cancer
Marianne Faithfull has postponed a world tour after being diagnosed with breast cancer, her London publicist said Thursday.
Doctors in France, where Faithfull was diagnosed, say the cancer is in its earliest stages, said publicist Rob Partridge.
Faithfull, 59, had been due to begin a world tour next month, but it has been postponed until next year.
"I have absolute faith and confidence in my fantastic medical team and of course I will be well again, if not better than ever," the British singer-actress said in a statement released by Partridge.
"Next year's tour, I want to assure fans, will be one big celebration."
Partridge said the cancer had been "quickly discovered by doctors in France — where Marianne stays when not at home in Ireland — and the prognosis for a return to full health is excellent.
"Indeed, Marianne Faithfull is looking forward to playing the rescheduled tour in 2007," he said.
The tour had been due to kick off in Paris on Oct. 7, with concerts in the United States, Canada, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Hungary and Spain before ending in London on Dec. 18.
Faithfull gained fame in the 1960s as the girlfriend of Mick Jagger and as the pure-voiced singer of "As Tears Go By." After battling drug addiction, she re-emerged in 1979 with the raw album "Broken English" and has since found a new audience as a sophisticated chanteuse.
|14-09-06, 11:23 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
The Hard Drive Turns 50
Melissa J. Perenson
Today, the hard drive is found everywhere--from the PCs we use daily to MP3 players and memory keys so small you can toss them in your pocket and forget you're carrying around a hard drive. But when the hard drive was first introduced on September 13, 1956, it required a humongous housing and 50 24-inch platters to store 1/2400 as much data as can be fit on today's largest capacity 1-inch hard drives.
Back then, the small team at IBM's San Jose-based lab was seeking a way to replace tape with a storage mechanism that allowed for more-efficient random access to data. The question was, how to bring random-access storage to business computing?
Enter the RAMAC, 1956
IBM's answer to this quandary was the Random Access Method of Accounting and Control, dubbed the RAMAC for expediency. The device's name is a direct reflection of the need for such capabilities in the enterprise. Led by project leader Rey Johnson, IBM's San Jose lab brought the RAMAC 305 to market.
Recalls Al Shugart, who worked as a field engineer at IBM before joining the RAMAC project and went on to later found Seagate Technology: "They were starting from scratch in the lab. The RAMAC was not just a disk drive, it was a whole system. Nobody had made disk drives before."
The approach IBM's engineers came up with represented a clean approach to random data access, notes Shugart: "The concept of the whole disk drive was random access." To achieve random access, the device would have to move its read/write heads around to different data tracks. "The easiest way to do that," he says, "was a stack of disks."
The integrated RAMAC was about two refrigerators in width and not quite as tall, and it literally weighed a ton. Its 50 24-inch platters were in a stack inside the unit, in an assembly that spun at 1200 revolutions per minute. The unit used two magnetic recording heads. The RAMAC could hold 5MB--about the storage that today is needed for one 5-minute MP3 encoded at 128 kilobits per second.
In order to read and write the data, the RAMAC heads moved across a series of circular tracks on each disk surface. Albert Hoagland, who helped build the first drive and is working to preserve the history of magnetic disk technology as executive director of the Magnetic Disk Heritage Center, elaborates: "A shaft ran the length of the disk stack, with a horizontal arm that moved in and out; that arm, which weighed three pounds, had to get to another track in less than a second."
"The disks' surfaces were covered with a paint that had magnetic properties--very similar to the paint used on the Golden Gate Bridge," says Bill Healy, senior vice president at Hitachi (which bought IBM's storage division in 2003). "They needed a disk with magnetic properties, so it would be magnetically susceptible to recording 1s and 0s; and they needed a read element, such as a disk head, to detect, read, and write that data," he explains.
The initial prototype, remembers Shugart, "was a relay machine, it wasn't even a vacuum tube machine. They ended up building 12 of them. From there on, we would design a system for production, including a disk drive. The production [version] was a vacuum tube machine, and I was in charge of designing the computer system for the vacuum tube machine."
Although the RAMAC shares only passing characteristics with today's hard drives, it is the drive that launched the industry. "The [technology] industry reinvented itself as the applications for the hard drive changed," says Healy. "In the fifties and sixties, these devices were made for large corporations, government--the enterprise. The 24-inch diameter platter reduced in size in time. As the devices got smaller over that time, they were mainly aimed at the enterprise environment," he continues. Disk capacity doubled every two years, a 40 percent compound growth rate.
Adds storage industry analyst Tom Coughlin of Coughlin Associates: "Many companies started to make hard drives for computers, because it was a relatively inexpensive, high-performance way to make mass storage."
From the late fifties to the early seventies, hard drives were largely used in mainframe computer systems, the kinds found in large corporations and government. The rise of personal computers in the late seventies and early eighties opened the door of opportunity for hard drives--and in turn dramatically influenced where computer technology could go. "With the introduction of hard disk drives," notes Coughlin, "you had large amounts of storage that were always attached to the computer, and that enabled personal computers to achieve the levels of success they had. A hard drive allowed you to create higher-performance computers with more features because you could have a richer operating system running off the hard drive."
The disk drive has come amazingly far since its introduction: "Today, on 2.5-inch platters we have 15,000 times the capacity of the original IBM RAMAC," says Seagate Technology Chief Operating Officer Dave Wickersham.
Wickersham notes that the advancement is startling when compared to the pace of other industries: "In the auto industry, to keep that same pace, they'd have gone from fitting five people in the car in 1956, to fitting 160,000 people in that car; or, from getting 25 miles per gallon to 62,500 miles per gallon."
Today we have drives that cover a range of sizes (the smallest is Toshiba's 0.85-inch drive, initially introduced in 2GB and 4GB capacities) and specialties. Vendors offer drives optimized for uses in servers, desktops, notebooks, digital video recorders, music players, and more; and you'll find hard drives in cars, planes, and a wealth of other commercial and military applications.
Prices have dropped dramatically. The RAMAC 305's cost per megabyte was approximately $10,000--that's about $70,000 in today's value. Today, a typical desktop hard drive can deliver that same megabyte for 3/100 of a cent.
Over time, the core recording technology--longitudinal magnetic recording--has remained the same, but the way drives are designed and built has changed. Coughlin reflects: "Heads have gone from the original metal cores, to harder ferrite cores, then to thin-film inductive heads; magneto-resistive heads; and then giant magneto-resistive heads. Now we're moving to tunneling magneto-resistive heads. They're now using complex nanotechnologies in magnetic recording heads."
The media has changed, too. "In the beginning, they used iron-oxide particles dispersed in a plastic binder; then they transitioned in the early eighties to the development of the initial thin-film disks," continues Coughlin. "By the nineties, thin film disks were the standard, and since then they've become more complex, with multiple layers of thin films performing different functions. At the same time, the heads are flying increasingly closer to the disk's surface," he explains. The closer the heads fly to the surface, the more data can be stored in a given area--and the drives have become quicker and more accurate. "Increasing electronic integration over the years has led to impressive improvements in head positioning in the detection and decoding of very small signals, and in the correction of errors," he says.
After 50 years of relying on longitudinal magnetic recording, the industry is shifting production to perpendicular magnetic recording. (For details on these technologies, read "How It Works: Hard Drives.") The technology was initially explored decades ago, but is only now being used in drive production. Toshiba was the first out the gate in 2005, with its 1.8-inch 40GB mobile hard drive. Seagate was next to the party, with the release of the first 2.5-inch 160GB notebook hard drive and the 3.5-inch 750GB hard drive earlier this year.
Wickersham elaborates: "From an areal density perspective, perpendicular has changed the industry. For a while, areal density was growing at north of 100 percent per year. Then that came down to 10 to 20 percent a year--demonstrating that longitudinal was out of gas. Perpendicular got us back to this 40 percent per year areal density growth; with it, you can quadruple your capacity every four years."
In our storage-hungry universe of digital downloads and digital photography, increased capacity is a good thing. "There's up to 60 percent per year growth in storage demand, for the next five years," continues Wickersham. "The demand for storage is greater than the ability to grow areal density," he says.
Hard Drives: Future Watch
Hard drives have been indispensable to our computer use for about the last 20 years. Today, hard drives are increasingly indispensable in other ways. "The whole lifestyle has changed--content is king, and we're carrying data wherever we go. The hard disk drive is the enabler of this," says Seagate's Wickersham. "We have 20 disk drives in our home--and there are four of us," he continues.
Hard drives are in everything from cell phones and digital audio players to set-top box video recorders. That trend will grow, according to industry experts--and provide a fertile new opportunity for the proliferation of high-capacity, hard drive-based storage.
Hitachi's Healy suggests that the beginning of what he thinks of as the "consumer era of hard drives" can be traced back to 1998, with the introduction of the 1-inch IBM Microdrive. At the time, it stored 340MB in a space just a bit thicker than a standard CompactFlash card.
"A tech-savvy home could easily generate 5 terabytes of cumulative data from 2002 to 2010," estimates Coughlin. He elaborates: "About half of that would be personal content and half of that would be commercial content. I'm projecting that by the next decade, as consumers become creators of content--a camera on your cell phone is just the beginning--the demand for storage will mushroom, and the line between what's commercial and what's personal will be blurred. Personal content will significantly overwhelm commercial content for the people who are comfortable with the technology--especially the younger generation."
Universally, industry experts expect the cost per gigabyte to continue to fall and capacity to continue its march onward and upward. Estimates Gartner Research Vice President John Monroe, by the end of 2006 you'll see 80GB to 160GB 3.5-inch drives sell for less than $50. By 2010, Monroe predicts that you'll pay that same price for 750GB to 1TB drives. The pace of areal density boosts, he notes, won't be quite as rapid as they have been in the past decade, but they will continue.
Wickersham outlines what he expects for 3.5-inch drives: "In 2005, for a three-platter drive, 500GB was standard. By 2009, that will be a 2TB drive. And if we continue for 2013, using Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording technology, we'll have 8TB drives." Wickersham throws out similar numbers for 1-inch drives: From a standard of 8GB in 2005, he expects we'll see 30GB in 2009, and 100GB in 2013.
We can also expect to see hybrid hard drives that integrate flash memory to take advantage of Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista operating system. In addition, server technologies such as faster rotational speeds and more robust design should trickle down into standard desktop drives--that's something, says Wickersham, "that's closer to [happening in] 2007 to 2013. I think it will be sooner than anyone realizes."
In the near term, one potential technology tweak could be a shift to using what's called long data block. In long data block, you'll move from 512 bytes to 4 kilobytes--a change that requires operating system support. This could boost a drive's capacity and efficiency during video streaming.
Looking ahead, other technologies that will help keep the areal density race on include patterned magnetic media and Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording, also known as HAMR.
Patterned magnetic media is a less random and more structured recording process in which the bits of info are akin to small islands of magnetic material.
In HAMR, the drive will have a heating element, perhaps even a laser, to heat tiny bits of information and change the state of the material, as the data is written; the changed state will allow data to be recorded. "It's quite an integration challenge, integrating a laser into the disk drive," says Wickersham.
As these future technologies show, magnetic disk recording has plenty of innovation ahead. "The technology can be re-engineered and reinvented and extended for at least another couple of decades," Hitachi's Healy enthuses. Engineering roadmaps extend another two decades, at this point--although the sharpest engineers can't completely anticipate where storage is going. Back in 1956, after all, a storage scientist's wildest dreams would not have foreseen the developments we take for granted today.
How to Run µTorrent in Mac OS X
As a x-Windows guy and an ardent BitTorrenter I can confidently say that µTorrent is one of the best BitTorrent clients available for Windows 95 through Vista. It’s lean, takes up very little memory and doesn’t need to be installed, you can even run it off a USB pen drive. It also offers all the important features like Selective Downloading, Universal Plug ‘n’ Play Support, Super Seeding Mode and RSS Feeds Subscription. Soon we will also be able to use µTorrent via a web-interface.
µTorrent is currently only available for Windows. But that isn’t going to stop us from running it in OS X.
We currently have two ways of doing this. The first and more obvious way to do this would be to install Parallels and just run it as we would any other Windows program. The second is with an exciting new program (not so new for Linux users) called CrossOver. CrossOver is still in beta, but is already a very usable and stable alternative to installing a copy of the entire Windows operating system on your Mac, which is essentially what you’re doing when you run Parallels.
So, here’s what you need to do:
Sadly, CrossOver only works on Intel-Macs, so don’t try this on a PPC one (I won’t be responsible if it blows up in your face ).
First off, go download CrossOver Beta, it’s available as a free download on the developer’s site. Once you have it installed, you will be able to run quite a few Microsoft programs, as well as other small Windows programs within OS X. µTorrent is one of those other small programs.
Next, you need a copy of µTorrent. After you’ve downloaded the Windows executable (utorrent.exe), double-click it and CrossOver should start bouncing in the dock with the little .exe symbol displayed on it. After a few seconds µTorrent will load up.
That’s it, you’re done! You’re running µTorrent in Mac OS X!
Waitasecond, slow down. There are still some things you need to know…
The file structure that you see while trying to download a torrent is a tad confusing. You see, CrossOver tricks programs into believing that there’s a C: drive on your Mac, when there actually is none.
Make sure you do not save your files in the C: drive. You can get to your user folder by choosing:
Desktop > / > Users > Yourusername
Another annoying thing is the fact that you can’t just untick files you don’t want when trying to download selectively. You have to right-click on the file and choose “select” or “deselect.”
But seriously, do I really want to run a BitTorrent client that has to be emulated through CrossOver? No. For me this was just a fun side-project. Just like attempting to run IE6 in OS X. A major drawback is that CrossOver hogs too much RAM to be able to constantly run in the background. The day there’s something like Rosetta for Windows applications, it’ll open up a whole new market to developers. Even better would be a Mac-version of µTorrent, which is incidentally in the developer’s plan of action.
Have you tried running µTorrent in OS X? Do you think it’s worth the trouble? We want to know.
Head of H-P’s Board to Step Down
Hewlett-Packard Co. said Tuesday that Patricia Dunn will step down as chairwoman of the computer and printer maker in January amid a widening scandal involving a possibly illegal probe into media leaks. She will be succeeded by CEO Mark Hurd.
Hurd will retain his existing positions as chief executive and president and Dunn will remain as a director.
"I am taking action to ensure that inappropriate investigative techniques will not be employed again. They have no place in HP, " Hurd said in a statement.
Dunn apologized for the techniques used in the company's probe, which included "pretexting" in which private investigators impersonated board members and journalists to acquire their phone records.
"Unfortunately, the investigation, which was conducted with third parties, included certain inappropriate techniques. These went beyond what we understood them to be, and I apologize that they were employed," Dunn said in a statement.
The pressure on Dunn to step down began rising sharply on Monday when Congress and federal investigators entered the fray surrounding HP's possibly illegal probe of media leaks. The FBI, the U.S. Attorney for Northern California and the House Energy and Commerce Committee all joined the probe of the scandal swirling around HP's Board of Directors.
HP shares rose 19 cents to $36.55 in Tuesday morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Dunn was angry about the media leaks and commissioned an unnamed outside firm to identify their source. They used Social Security numbers and other personal information to get phone companies to turn over detailed logs of home phone calls of reporters and board members.
Although frequently used by private investigators, pretexting tests the bounds of state and federal law.
On Tuesday, Dunn defended the need for the investigation.
"These leaks had the potential to affect not only the stock price of HP but also that of other publicly traded companies," she said.
HP's board met Monday night to discuss whether Dunn should remain chairwoman of the Silicon Valley giant.
Richard Hackborn, who has served on the board since 1992, will become lead independent director in January.
Dunn's entanglement in the pretexting scandal marks a rare stumble for one of the most powerful women in corporate America.
The child of a vaudeville actor and a showgirl in Las Vegas, Dunn, 52, worked as a freelance journalist after college before taking a temporary secretarial job at Wells Fargo & Co.
She was CEO of Barclays Global Investors before she resigned from that post in 2002 to battle breast cancer and melanoma. Dunn joined HP's board in 1998 and became chairwoman in 2005, taking an active role in running the 11th largest company on the Fortune 500.
She oversaw the ouster of former HP CEO Carleton Fiorina in February 2005, and two months later introduced Hurd as Fiorina's successor.
Hurd wasn't well known on Wall Street or in the financial media before taking the reins of HP. But he enjoyed a solid reputation among business experts as a no-nonsense cost cutter familiar with nearly every facet of management. HP shares surged 10 percent the day his appointment was announced.
He was previously chief executive at Dayton, Ohio-based NCR Corp., a computer services company best known for its ATM machines.
At HP he orchestrated a cost-cutting campaign that, when it winds down later this quarter, will have resulted in as many as 15,000 layoffs. But morale had been noticeably higher under Hurd than Fiorina -- until the pretexting scandal.
Although it marks a dark chapter in the company's history, HP could benefit from having Hurd consolidate his power, said Roger Kay, president of the market research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates.
"It makes perfect sense to give (Hurd) the chairmanship," he said. "He has the character, personality and chops to do it. I can't think of anyone else you would want to run the company at this point."
House Panel and U.S. Attorney Join H.P. Inquiry
As its directors continued to confer on the future of its chairwoman, Hewlett-Packard found itself under increased legal and political scrutiny Monday over the use of private investigators to trace the source of news leaks in the board.
The United States attorney’s office in San Francisco said it was looking into the methods used by the investigators, which included the questionable if not illegal tactic of “pretexting” — posing as directors and journalists to get their phone records.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, meanwhile, asked the company to identify the consulting firm it hired for the investigation, the subcontractor that carried out the ruses and all of the targets. It also demanded copies of contracts and legal opinions in the matter.
The company’s board, which met inconclusively on Sunday, resumed telephone consultations Monday afternoon. Foremost among the topics was the role of the chairwoman, Patricia C. Dunn, who the company says first authorized the investigation last year.
Ms. Dunn recused herself from parts of the discussion, according to a person with knowledge of the board’s deliberations, leaving the company’s outside counsel, Larry W. Sonsini, chairman of the powerhouse Silicon Valley law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, to preside.
Mr. Sonsini and his firm were consulted at various points in the investigation, according to the company. As a result, his role at the board meeting was “an odd choice,” said Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management who advises companies on corporate governance. “They have a highly conflicted law firm right now,” he said.
Hewlett-Packard spokesmen would not comment on the board’s deliberations, and Mr. Sonsini has not responded to requests for comment since the upheaval at the company became public last week.
Over the weekend, in a reflection of the high stakes, Ms. Dunn brought in Sitrick & Company, a well-known and tenacious public relations firm specializing in crisis management, to represent her and the company. Michael S. Sitrick, the firm’s chairman and chief executive, has represented a number of high-profile clients, including the supermarket billionaire Ronald W. Burkle when a contributor to The New York Post was accused of trying to extort money from him.
One reason for the board’s extended talks was reported to be discussion of Thomas J. Perkins, who quit the board in May in anger at Ms. Dunn over the internal investigation. A person with knowledge of the board’s deliberations said that Mr. Perkins, a pre-eminent Silicon Valley venture capitalist, sought to return to the board but that members are split on whether he should.
Mr. Perkins’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, disputed that report. “Mr. Perkins will not return to the H.P. board, even if asked,” Mr. Corallo said, but “he believes in the performance and prospects of the company under the leadership of Mark Hurd.”
While Mr. Perkins has been an ally of Mark V. Hurd, the chief executive — Mr. Perkins, like Mr. Hurd, sees H.P. as a growth company — his public airing of his problems with Ms. Dunn has injured the company’s image. (Hewlett-Packard’s stock, though, has been relatively unscathed since the furor became public last week. It closed up slightly Monday at $36.36.)
Mr. Perkins’s insistence that the company acknowledge his reason for resigning in May — and his disclosure of what he had learned about the investigative tactics — led to the current upheaval. He and his lawyer presented information to the federal authorities at the same time that they sent information to the California attorney general and the Securities and Exchange Commission, both of which have indicated they are already conducting inquiries.
Corporate governance experts are split over whether the board should ask Ms. Dunn to step down.
“This is one of the biggest corporate blunders in the past 10 years,” said Charles M. Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. “To get this far off tells you that something was wrong with the board.”
Mr. Sonnenfeld said the directors would be wise to keep the board’s chairmanship separate from the chief executive position, if only because the chairman can “take the bullets” that might otherwise hit the chief executive. “It keeps Mark Hurd above the fray,” Mr. Sonnenfeld said.
Removing Ms. Dunn, he said, will not make the problems go away, but will just shift the focus to Mr. Hurd, who sits on the board. “I wouldn’t think he’d want to be in the chair right now,” he said.
A big part of the company’s problem is that it has been unwilling to speak out. Joseph A. Grundfest, a professor of law and business at Stanford Law School, said the company should be saying two things.
First, it needs to say that pretexting is wrong. “There hasn’t been a clear, unambiguous message,” he said. Saying that would allow the company to shift the terms of the debate, he said.
“Dunn was also pretexted,” he said. “She was as much a victim.”
He also said the focus should be on the leaker, George A. Keyworth II, a long-serving board member who was asked to resign but has refused. “This verges on the preposterous,” Mr. Grundfest said, adding that he thought the company should even take legal action against him.
“Mr. Keyworth has said, ‘You can’t trust me, but share confidential company information with me,’ ” Mr. Grundfest said.
Another public battle may not be the most appealing prospect, but Ralph D. Ward, the publisher of Boardroom Insider, an online magazine on corporate governance, suggested that an outside panel was needed to evaluate the board. “Not Larry Sonsini,” he said. “He seems to have been part of the problem.”
The panel, composed of governance experts, might help to establish the board’s credibility and independence, Mr. Ward said.
An Industry Is Based on a Simple Masquerade
Matt Richtel and Miguel Helft
When Patrick Baird, a private detective in Granbury, Tex., was hunting a runaway or helping a husband find out if his wife was cheating, he would often look for clues in telephone records. He bought them from firms that specialized in obtaining them, and says he did not ask about their methods.
But late last year, as scrutiny of such firms and their often deceptive practices heated up, Mr. Baird stopped giving them business.
“If my own mother came to me and said ‘I need this done,’ I couldn’t do it,” he said in an interview last week. “We’re abiding by public opinion here.”
People who obtain calling records often use a technique known as pretexting — using a pretext, like masquerading as a customer, to get a company to disclose information. Their shady subculture has been getting renewed attention since the revelation last week that a subcontractor for an investigative firm working for Hewlett-Packard used pretexting to obtain the call records of company board members and reporters.
It is hard to quantify the size of the telephone pretexting economy. But in recent years it has turned into a small industry, with dozens of Web sites offering calling records to anyone with a credit card, for a modest fee. Their main customers appear to be private investigators, although some in that field criticize the practice.
“Web sites came out of the woodwork like locusts in the last five to seven years,” said Eddy L. McClain, past president of the National Council of Investigation and Security Services, a trade group. “It was too tempting for many investigators not to take that shortcut.”
Pretexting “is at a minimum unethical and at a maximum unlawful,” Mr. McClain said. “It is a real smear on our profession.”
Pretexters often use techniques similar to those employed by identity thieves to obtain not only telephone records but also other private data. Robert Douglas, an information security consultant and former private detective, said they often called telephone companies armed with some personal information, like a customer’s Social Security number, mailing address or date of birth. Then they charm and cajole the phone company employee into thinking they are the actual customer.
“They have the knack,” Mr. Douglas said. “It’s more art than science.”
Many professionals pretexters, including those who have used the practice to build lucrative data brokering businesses, are reluctant to discuss their methods. At a Congressional hearing in June, 11 of the witnesses who were called refused to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
But two others agreed to speak. One of them was David Gandal of Loveland, Colo., whose business, Shpondow.com, helps repossession companies find cars whose owners have defaulted on their loans.
Mr. Gandal said in an interview that he used pretexting to obtain cellphone records, when necessary, until last year. He stopped, in part, because carriers began suing some pretexters. But there was nothing difficult about getting cellphone records, Mr. Gandal said.
“All you need is the last four digits of a Social Security number and a correct ZIP code,” he said. “You go to the wireless company’s Web site, you sign up like you are that person, you can view the bill.”
In most cases, Mr. Gandal said, he already had the Social Security number from the lien holder. But if necessary, he could find it in commercial databases. To demonstrate, he asked a reporter his full name and state of residence and read him back his Social Security number within seconds.
Another witness at the June hearing, James Rapp, a former data broker from Colorado with a long history of run-ins with law enforcement, described how he used pretexting to gather all sorts of information: addresses linked to a specific phone number from the telephone company, Social Security numbers from credit reporting agencies, and an address and phone number from a utility company.
Mr. Rapp explained how he might call the utility company pretending to be a customer with a gas leak. He would then give the operator a false address for that customer, only to have the operator correct him. “They’re going to say, ‘Oh, well, we have you over here, 144 Northwest,’ whatever,” Mr. Rapp told the committee, according to a transcript. With a bit more subterfuge he could easily get the customer’s phone number as well.
At the hearing, Representative Edward Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who is chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that research had showed that in addition to private investigators, lawyers and tabloids, the customers of these data brokers included “automobile finance companies and repossession companies and major banks and major corporations around America.”
The Federal Trade Commission, some state legislatures and telephone companies have all tried to shut the industry down, with mixed success so far. Many Web sites that sold calling records have disappeared, but experts say many pretexters remain in business.
“Part of the problem is that there is still no law at the federal level making it clear that the activity is illegal,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Using pretexting to obtain financial records was made illegal in 1999. Many legal experts say that pretexting to get phone records is already illegal under federal and state laws against fraud, but Congress is considering bills that would make this more explicit.
The California Legislature has passed a bill that makes it unlawful to obtain phone records by fraud or deceit, and to buy or sell someone’s phone records without their consent. The bill has not yet been signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The F.T.C. has filed suits against several pretexters under laws barring unfair and deceptive practices. AT&T, Cingular, Verizon and other companies have also sued dozens of people whom they accuse of fraudulently obtaining phone records.
And some carriers have changed the way they do business in an attempt to thwart pretexters. Last year Verizon stopped asking customers for their Social Security numbers as a chief way to establish their identity, said Eric Rabe, a Verizon spokesman. Instead, he said, the company is asking people to provide information that is on their phone bill, like an account number. Verizon is also teaching customer service representatives what they should look for to identify possible pretexters, Mr. Rabe said.
The new vigilance comes at a price. Customers often want to get information quickly and are impatient when they have to put up with a series of questions to establish their identity. Mr. Rabe said.
Walt Sharp, a spokesman for AT&T, said his company continued to accept Social Security numbers as a central means of identification. “That’s generally something known only to customers, or it should be,” Mr. Sharp said.
Mr. Douglas, the security consultant, agreed that the carriers faced a tough balancing act. “We’re in the McDonald’s generation. Everybody wants information and they don’t want to wait for it,” he said. “That’s why these guys win.”
No system is foolproof if a wily pretexter knows how to convince a company representative that he is a customer who is desperate for account information, Mr. Douglas said. This person might say he is on a business trip, without access to account information, but needs to check his records quickly.
“You come up with a plausible scenario as to why you need the information now,” he said.
Mr. Baird, who operates a detective agency with three employees, said he did not know if the people he paid for phone records used duplicitous means to get records, though he assumed that their approach may have involved pretexting. He said he once regularly contracted with various companies and people that charged $110 to $175 for sets of records. The records, he said, were of use in many instances, such as tracking runaways, helping insurance companies ferret out fraud or helping the police determine if a criminal suspect was having conversations with another bad actor.
“It’s an issue for law enforcement wanting to move on something early and we were able to give them a direction while they’re waiting for a subpoena,” Mr. Baird said. He said that he stopped trying to obtain phone records because of the negative attention it has received, and the uncertainty about whether obtaining them was legal.
Mr. Baird said he felt that his and other detective agencies were using the phone records in beneficial and legitimate ways. The decision to stop using them has cost him in lost business, though he declined to say how much. “We’ll leave it alone and let Congress figure it out,” he said.
Zeroing In on Sources H.P. Used
Damon Darlin and Matt Richtel
Prosecutors looking into the internal spying operation at Hewlett-Packard are beginning to link together a chain of investigators from the company down to the detective agencies that may have been involved in obtaining the phone records of its directors and a number of journalists.
According to people briefed on Hewlett-Packard’s review of its internal investigation, prosecutors are focusing on the role of the Action Research Group of Melbourne, Fla. Congressional investigators identified the company this year as one of the most prolific users of subterfuge for obtaining phone records, a method known as pretexting.
Hewlett-Packard has said that it hired investigators who used such a technique in their search to identify a director who the company said was leaking information to the news media. California and federal prosecutors are investigating whether the internal investigation broke any laws, and the California attorney general has said indictments are likely.
An owner of the Action Research Group, Joseph DePante, when asked by telephone on Friday about the Hewlett-Packard investigation, said: “I don’t know anything about that. Thank you for calling.” He refused to comment further.
Mr. DePante, 59, started his business in 1989 and is a licensed private investigator. The firm’s Web site says it has databases of records that help collection agencies, lawyers and other private detectives collect debts. The site also advertises searches for criminal, financial and employment records. The company’s manager, Matthew DePante, 27, is described as “knowledgeable in all areas of telephone research.”
In addition to the Florida firm, prosecutors have been examining the role of Security Outsourcing Solutions, a tiny Boston-area private detective firm. The firm and its principal, Ronald R. DeLia, have ties to Hewlett-Packard through the company’s Global Investigations Unit, which is based in Massachusetts.
Anthony R. Gentilucci, manager of global investigations for H.P., is president of the New England chapter of the High-Tech Crime Investigation Association, an organization of law enforcement officials, private detectives and corporate security officers. Two of the five other elected officers, Glenn Tandy and Kevin Mazza, also work for H.P.’s security arm, and Mr. DeLia has been a member of the association.
John J. McLean, a police detective in Medford, Mass., and the second vice president of the association, said Mr. DeLia attended meetings and had “an impeccable reputation.” He said Mr. DeLia and Mr. Gentilucci knew each other, “but how close they were, I don’t know.”
Mr. DeLia did not respond to e-mail and telephone messages requesting comment, and Mr. Gentilucci’s office referred all inquiries to Hewlett-Packard’s headquarters.
The links between the men were personal. Mr. Gentilucci and Mr. DeLia were fellow groomsmen in a 1997 wedding in Boston, according to a wedding announcement in The Boston Herald. One of the two best men in the wedding was John Kiernan, a partner in the law firm of Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata, which shares a Boston address and phone number with Security Outsourcing Solutions.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has sent a letter to Mr. DeLia requesting that he testify at a subcommittee hearing on the Hewlett-Packard matter on Sept. 28 in Washington. The subcommittee is expected to put Mr. Gentilucci on its witness list as well, a committee staff member said. It has already requested the appearance of Patricia C. Dunn, H.P.’s chairwoman; Larry W. Sonsini, Hewlett-Packard’s outside lawyer; and Ann Baskins, the company’s general counsel.
The same panel, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, held hearings this year on the use of fraud in obtaining phone records. The panel’s subsequent inquiries identified Action Research, the Florida firm, as “the biggest of the big” among companies using pretexts to obtain phone numbers, said Rob Douglas, an information security consultant who worked for the subcommittee. The company, he said, “is in the inner core” of pretexters.
Mr. Douglas said Action Research takes orders for phone records from hundreds, if not thousands, of private detective agencies, though it sometimes also works for lawyers and other clients. He said Action Research could receive as many as hundreds of orders a day for phone records and other confidential consumer data, charging perhaps $75 to $125 per request.
Deciding whether Action Research has any involvement, illegal or otherwise, in the Hewlett-Packard case is complicated by its location, in Florida.
Some of the records were gained by a computer user with an Internet address owned by Cox Communications, the cable company and Internet service provider, which does not provide Internet cable service in the Melbourne area or in Boston.
A search warrant obtained by California authorities said the Internet address used to obtain the phone records of at least one director and one reporter was 22.214.171.124, which a computer expert traced to a personal computer in Omaha or Council Bluffs, Iowa, the city across the Missouri River from Omaha.
Mr. Douglas said a firm like Action Research could have used a subcontractor or an employee based in the Midwest or employed a technique called spoofing to disguise the origin of its own computer address.
A Hewlett-Packard spokesman declined to comment Friday evening on any contractors that might have been involved.
The outcry over the methods used in Hewlett-Packard’s investigation has forced Ms. Dunn, who authorized it, to step down as chairwoman.
Hewlett-Packard has not publicly identified the investigators it used, though California officials said the company had been cooperative.
One question investigators have been asking is who at Hewlett-Packard was involved in hiring and supervising the investigators. That is one reason Ms. Baskins, H.P.’s general counsel, has been called by Congressional investigators.
In a June 19 e-mail message to Mr. Sonsini, the outside lawyer, Thomas J. Perkins, a director who resigned in May in a dispute over the investigation, raised the question of the legality of obtaining private phone records without a subpoena. Mr. Sonsini responded that Ms. Baskins had “looked into the legality of every step of the inquiry and was satisfied that it was conducted properly.”
Ms. Baskins, 51, has spent all but one year of her 26-year legal career at H.P. She was promoted to general counsel by Carleton S. Fiorina, the former chairwoman and chief executive.
Ms. Dunn has said she turned to the company’s security department in April or May 2005 for an initial investigation of the leaks, then asked Ms. Baskins’s help in a further investigation last January.
Mr. Gentilucci, the Boston-based investigator for Hewlett-Packard, said in an online résumé that he conducts investigations for the company to protect its “assets, people, property, information and reputation.” A fraud examiner, he worked for the Digital Equipment Corporation, and then for Compaq Computer after it bought Digital, and for H.P. after its merger with Compaq. He was the national president of the high-technology detectives’ trade group in 2003.
Katie Zezima contributed reporting from Boston.
Tiny Firm’s H.P. Link Scrutinized
Matt Richtel and Damon Darlin
California prosecutors looking into the Hewlett-Packard spying case are focusing in part on a small private investigation firm in suburban Boston, operating out of a yellow house with black shutters in a quiet neighborhood.
How such a tiny firm ended up handling work for H.P., one of the largest technology companies in the world, as it tried to find out who had leaked company secrets is not clear. But other private investigators said on Wednesday that the situation was not surprising, because corporations in need of such services often end up relying on a chain of subcontractors.
Prosecutors will have to follow that chain as they pursue those responsible for gaining access to the phone records of journalists and company board members.
It is common practice for a company’s head of security, its general counsel or its outside law firm to hire a security consulting firm, which often hires smaller firms, like the one prosecutors say was involved in this case, Security Outsourcing Solutions in Needham, Mass.
Those firms then hire freelance investigators to do work like surveillance or the acquisition of phone records.
The H.P. investigation involved the use of a technique known as pretexting — in this case, pretending to be a customer to obtain that customer’s records from the phone company.
The small firms provide skills that larger firms may not have, but they also offer another benefit. Using middlemen can insulate the company that has ordered the investigation from any shadowy activities, private investigators said.
“I’d be dumfounded if you could find a corporation the size of H.P. that turned directly to the pretexter,” said Rob Douglas, an information security consultant who has testified to Congress about illicit tactics used to obtain telephone records. He added that these investigations “have middlemen and are layered.”
Mr. Douglas said it was not clear whether the layering in this case was intended as a way to shield company executives, or was just the way the process worked, with one step leading to another until a specialist in obtaining phone records was needed.
Federal and state prosecutors are continuing to investigate what laws, if any, were broken in Hewlett-Packard’s hunt for directors who leaked information to the news media.
Hewlett-Packard has said the investigators it hired, whom it refuses to identify, did succeed in identifying a director as a source of leaks. That director, George A. Keyworth II, resigned Tuesday after the company accused him of giving details of a management meeting to a reporter.
The investigation into the leak resulted earlier this year in the resignation of another director, Thomas J. Perkins, an ally of Mr. Keyworth, over a dispute with Patricia C. Dunn, the board chairwoman who ordered the investigation. The company said on Tuesday that Ms. Dunn would give up her position in January.
“It’s a remarkable story because it is such an obvious inappropriate thing to do,” said Daniel E. Karson, an executive managing director and counsel at Kroll, the nation’s largest investigation and security firm.
People who were briefed on details of the company’s internal investigation have said that Security Outsourcing Solutions, which is run by Ronald R. DeLia, was one company involved.
But others who are investigating the company’s actions said Wednesday that there were most likely other firms involved. Security Outsourcing acts as a kind of temporary employment agency and rounds up people who can do a particular job, so it is likely that those who got access to the phone records were subcontractors. Legal filings in the California attorney general’s investigation show that one of the pretexters gained access to a phone company Web site using Internet service from Cox Communications, a cable company that does not operate in Boston.
State investigators have not said if there were any other middlemen involved. Several private investigators said one reason to think Security Outsourcing had help was that whoever did the actual work of obtaining the phone records of the H.P. board members and journalists had their Social Security numbers.
Attempts to contact Security Outsourcing on Wednesday by phone and e-mail and in person failed. No one answered the door at Mr. DeLia’s residence in Needham, a large home on a tree-lined street.
In addition to listing the Needham home as an address, Security Outsourcing Solutions shares a Boston phone number and address with the law firm of Bonner Kiernan Trebach & Crociata, although its name does not appear on a lobby directory. Calls to the firm were referred to a partner, John A. Kiernan, who said he had “a relationship that involves attorney-client privilege” with Mr. DeLia and could not talk about the matter.
Mr. DeLia, 56, is a licensed private detective in Massachusetts who, according to state police, has had no disciplinary actions against him. James Atkinson, a Boston-area private detective who specializes in preventing electronic surveillance and has worked with Mr. DeLia, described him as a “stand-up guy,” adding: “I’d be astonished if this involved Ron. This is not the kind of work he does.”
At the top of the hierarchy in the corporate investigations industry are firms like Kroll or Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu that work with large corporations. Firms like Secure Source, specializing in security risk assessments, or SafirRosetti, which focuses on financial fraud and computer breaches, offer narrower services. Both are units of the GlobalOptions Group, which has been consolidating a number of small firms to gain influence with corporations.
At the very bottom, investigators say, are the shadowy information brokers, the so-called pretexters, who promote their ability to get phone and credit records.
“There is a huge subdivision of investigative skills,” said James Cawood, who runs a corporate investigations firm called Factor One in Oakland, Calif.
Terry Lenzner, the head of the Investigative Group International, a well-known Washington investigations firm, said that for a large company like Hewlett-Packard to contact a small firm directly would be unusual. “I would think it would be unheard-of,” he said.
Mr. Lenzner said he had never heard of Security Outsourcing.
Mr. Karson said a company’s decision on whom to hire for an internal investigation could sometimes be as casual as the head of security saying, “I know a guy.” He added: “That’s how a large company can end up working with a small firm.”
Katie Zezima contributed reporting from Boston and Needham, Mass.
DSL Prime: AT&T's Ashcroft
In the latest news: AT&T and Verizon may need the best legal talent in the industry.
"I want to apologize for any inconvenience this incident has caused."
—Travis Dodge, AT&T, to Tom Perkins.
A billion euro IPO at Neuf Cegetel shows the potential of combining voice, DSL at 15 Mbps, and video in a package for 30 euro. Iliad/Free set the model, Neuf matched, and both are reporting actual profits high enough to pay tens of millions in taxes. Incredible growth toward two million customers each. Terrible for France Telecom, perhaps, but that's what competition should be doing.
Deutsche Telecom just announced "drastic price reductions," to about 50 euro for the triple play, heading in the right direction after bleeding a million customers.
In the U.S., we're struggling to get the same services for $99. Prices are actually rising for basic local service (FCC data) and are going up for long distance as well as AT&T and MCI were swallowed. Even more amazing is wireless, where costs are dropping 5 to 15 percent per year. Dave Barden, Bank of America, reports "across all providers, across all customer segments, [wireless] industry pricing has been flat to rising year to date." One of the smartest guys in D.C. still has this wrong, justifying policy with the claim prices are dropping. That's simply incorrect.
Meanwhile, AT&T and Verizon may need the country's best legal talent to deal with their poor security and the Hewlett-Packard scandal. Fortunately, AT&T just hired John Ashcroft, Bush's Attorney General. Verizon already has on the payroll Bush's daddy's Attorney General, Bob Barr.
Verizon President Larry Babbio is entangled as an HP board member who presumably knew what was going on. Only a fool would believe, as the WSJ reports HP's Dunn saying, "she and other H-P directors didn't learn that 'pretexting' involved the potentially fraudulent representation of identity until August." How the heck did they think the investigators got the phone records? Babbio for sure knew these would never have been legitimately released.
Say hello at VON. Sorry I'm missing the DSL Forum at BBWF in Vancouver and Think Equity in San Francisco, and wish I could make it to London for Telco 2.0. I hope to catch Commissioners Adelstein and McDowell in Dallas on the 21st, where I understand Adelstein's harmonica will lead the band at the NAB Radio Show. Despite my "the buck stops here" judgment of the FCC Chair, best of luck to Kevin Martin in his re-nomination hearing.
AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, John Ashcroft, and Larry Babbio
Tracking reporters and a billionaire
John Ashcroft, formerly George Bush's Attorney General and since July 20th an AT&T registered lobbyist, is the perfect man to resolve their latest crisis. AT&T leaked the phone records of Hewlett-Packard board member Tom Perkins, as well as reporters from the WSJ, New York Times, and the San Jose Mercury. Perkins and ally George Keyworth are now off the board for talking to reporters.
Abusing reporters is part of the game, but embarrassing billionaires is a very dumb move. Bill Lockyer, California Attorney General, is looking for someone to indict. A thorough investigation is called for. Ashcroft believes in using the strongest possible methods to get information he wants. National Journal reports Ashcroft was hired to work on "privacy issues related to telecommunications law." Very timely.
Larry Babbio, Verizon President, is a Hewlett-Packard board member who presumably acted on the report and was well informed on what happened. He has his own powerful legal shield if necessary; Bill Barr, U.S. Attorney General in the first Bush presidency, works for Verizon. I wasn't surprised Babbio declined my request for an interview about how Verizon protects its own customers from this kind of snooping. Babbio is a smart guy with a spirit I like, and Verizon is building the best network in the western world.
Babbio remains Vice Chairman but has quietly handed over many duties to Virginia Ruesterholz with the title President—Verizon Telecom. That job makes her one of the most powerful women in America, but she carefully avoids publicity and the rumors that Babbio has begun a transition. Ruesterholz is an engineer with close ties to the Stevens Institute in New Jersey, where Babbio's $6 million donation funded a new building. She has strong backup as well—husband Kevin Ruesterholz leads Next Generation Networks at Lucent. Everyone in the industry is tracking her closely.
A Comeback Overshadowed by a Blog
THERE was a stretch there — well, O.K., about a decade — when The New Republic fell out of the conversation. Long a Beltway touchstone, the thin little weekly with a soft spot for policy and fresh-faced Harvard grads seemed to lose momentum and then became a magazine of pure polemic at precisely the moment that blogs made argument ubiquitous, clickable and much more of a conversation.
The magazine was vulnerable in part because it was so caught up in being transgressive and contrarian: a position here on Bosnia, there on Iraq and way over there on Israel. The growth of the blogs rendered The New Republic a curio, like the Sunday morning political shows, an artifact of political commentary that took six days to download after events actually took place. After a time, the institution that once bragged that it was the in-flight magazine of Air Force One seemed to become a Skymall catalog on the “Lieberman for Senate” campaign plane.
In an effort to recast itself, the magazine moved steadily onto the Web with blogs of its own, articles and occasional newsbreaks. Franklin Foer, a talented young staff member and author of “How Soccer Explains the World,” was named editor, returning the magazine to narrative and a voice that offered a little hollandaise with all of those brussels sprouts.
The New Republic is finally back in the news, although not entirely for its journalism. Last week, Mr. Foer suspended a senior editor, Lee Siegel, for insinuating himself anonymously into his blog on the magazine’s site, using a so-called sock puppet to attack his opponents and lick his own face — he described himself as “brave” and “brilliant” — under the pen name “Sprezzatura.”
While it is easy to sense the magazine’s embarrassment, in the hierarchy of sinners at The New Republic (Ruth Shalit, a promising young writer turned plagiarist, and Stephen Glass, a promising young writer turned fabulist), Mr. Siegel would seem to rate only as a misdemeanant.
But there is a broader lesson here, a cautionary tale about the mainstream media’s engagement with the Web. Blogs, which may look like one more way to publish, are first and foremost a way to listen, something that journalists at established outlets don’t necessarily do well.
The cliché about not arguing with people who buy ink by the barrelful is in the process of being replaced by another: best not to pick a fight with people who have gigabytes of text at their disposal unless you are interested in a duel on equal footing.
Professional reputations and affiliations with mainstream institutions don’t offer any cover — not The New Republic, not CBS and not The New York Times. Mr. Siegel was obviously driven slightly batty by the new medium, even calling it “blogofascism,” a term that brought much ridicule down on his head.
He has since calmed down and has his regrets.
“People of course have a right to question a critic’s judgment, but there’s a difference between doing that and merely insulting someone you disagree with,” he said in a phone call. “So I wildly created an over-the-top persona and adopted the tone of my attackers, when I should have just gone to the gym instead.”
Mr. Siegel is not the first established writer to stumble in answering the call of the wild Web. Journalists who have fought their way up amid the clutter in traditional media are used to having their opinions questioned, but not with the directness and ferocity that the Web encourages.
EZRA KLEIN, a writer for The American Prospect and a blogger who seemed to touch a raw nerve in Mr. Siegel (who used his Sprezzatura sock puppet to label Mr. Klein “an awful suck-up” whose writing “is sweaty with panting obsequious ambition”) said that the direct response mechanism that many readers find so bracing has left many mainstream writers feeling threatened.
“There is a certain kind of person who is well suited to the moment,” he said. “The skill set now included how tough your skin is. People have to be accountable for what they write and that is not a bad thing. It is a good thing for magazines, the kind of countervailing power that they have needed for a long time.”
For Mr. Foer, the imbroglio over Mr. Siegel is an unfortunate distraction at a time when the magazine has been creeping back into the news for its journalism. In the past few months, The New Republic has done sprightly, newsy profiles of George Allen and Newt Gingrich as part of its effort to chronicle potential candidates for president, in addition to a deeply reported anniversary article about New Orleans and a special issue on Darfur.
The magazine needs a revival. The intellectual gymnastics, humorless tutorials and abundant moralism emanating from the dour young faces at The New Republic over the last decade meant that the magazine not only lost money — something it has done efficiently since its founding in 1914 — but readers as well. Circulation has dropped to barely more than 60,000 as of last June, from 101,000 in 2000.
“The real opportunity in political journalism is doing stuff that takes time and space,” Mr. Foer said. He sees blogs, most of which are content to annotate the work of others, as amplifiers, not competitors.
“What happened with Lee Siegel has been a mild distraction,” he said. “But it does not mean that blogs and what they represent are bad for the magazine. When we hit a home run, it can now echo in unprecedented ways.”
Martin Peretz, the editor in chief of the magazine and one of its owners, is less sanguine about the possibilities of online journalism than Mr. Foer. “The political dialogue has been digitally enhanced, but it has also been digitally diminished,” he said. He plans to address these issues, among other topics, on — what else? — a new blog called The Spine.
“I would hope the name is accurate, that I have the kind of conviction that will lend itself to the medium,” he said.
His blog will have its debut next week. Mr. Peretz, who recently signed on to a committee to raise funds for I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff, indicted on a perjury charge in the C.I.A. leak case, and who never met an Israeli military offensive he didn’t like, cares little for the conventions of objectivity that constrain most working journalists. Perhaps he was always a blogger waiting to happen. But is he ready for the blood sport that goes with it?
“I do not remember a time, even during the 60’s, when there was such uncivil discourse,” he said. “Even at Harvard.”
Changing Its Tune
The radio industry keeps losing people like Danny C. Costa, a senior at Boston University who grew up listening to radio in New York and New Jersey.
For the last few years, Mr. Costa has tuned out radio in favor of Web sites where he can get access to downloads or videos he heard about from friends. He prefers these to the drumbeat of the Top 40. He burns his favorite songs onto CD’s or copies them onto his iPod.
“I just sort of stopped listening to radio, because I had access to all this music online,” Mr. Costa said.
While more than 9 out of 10 Americans still listen to traditional radio each week, they are listening less. And the industry is having to confront many challenges like those that have enticed Mr. Costa, including streaming audio, podcasting, iPods and Howard Stern on satellite radio.
As a result, the prospects of radio companies have dimmed significantly since the late 1990’s, when broadcast barons were tripping over themselves to buy more stations. Radio revenue growth has stagnated and the number of listeners is dropping. The amount of time people tune into radio over the course of a week has fallen by 14 percent over the last decade, according to Arbitron ratings.
Over the last three years, the stocks of the five largest publicly traded radio companies are down between 30 percent and 60 percent as investors wonder when the industry will bottom out.
Now, radio’s woes have spurred a new wave of deal making.
Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest radio operator, is now considering selling some of its 1,200 stations in smaller markets after years of acquiring everything in sight, according to industry analysts. The Corporation">CBS Corporation did the same thing recently and now says it is looking at further station sales. The Walt Disney Company struck a deal this summer to get out of the radio business altogether, and in May, Susquehanna Broadcasting, the nation’s largest privately held radio group, was sold to another broadcaster.
But rewriting the ownership map is just part of radio’s scramble to find a new groove. In the last year, the industry has moved into overdrive by increasing experimentation with new formats and starting digital initiatives like HD Radio — a nascent format that will allow listeners with special tuners to hear more specialized channels. Radio companies are moving fast into Web businesses that incorporate video and other features that could not have been imagined when commercial radio first appeared nearly nine decades ago.
“It’s not a debate any more that radio is a structurally declining sector,” said Michael Nathanson, media analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “What you’re starting to see are strategic changes in operating models to address the sluggishness of growth.”
What has set radio apart from other challenged media businesses — like video rentals, magazines, television stations and newspapers — was the swiftness of its fall from grace on Wall Street.
A possible reason is that unlike other media businesses, radio appears to have come late to the game of focusing on viable online business models. Although digital revenues are growing fast, they accounted for only $87 million of the industry’s $20 billion in 2005 revenues, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson Communications.
It is not just students in their dorms who are spending their listening time elsewhere.
Larry R. Glassman, a surgeon who does lung transplants and commutes between Cold Spring Harbor and Manhasset, N.Y., each day, used to tune into radio for his 40-minute drive, particularly to hear his classic rock favorites.
But now he subscribes to XM Radio, and recently had an XM receiver installed in a new boat. “Some of the programming I just flip over,” he said, adding that he would listen to XM in surgery if he could. Instead, “I use the iPod in the operating room.”
Mr. Glassman, who is 51, said he turned a deaf ear to radio primarily because of the advertising and because he finds the playlists of his favorite stations too mainstream and limited.
Broadcast radio advertising over all was up 0.3 percent in 2005, lagging in growth in comparison with the gross domestic product for the third consecutive year. It will continue to lag economic growth for the next five years, according to Veronis Suhler. (Only the newspaper industry gets a slower top-line growth prognosis.)
Radio’s digital efforts come as the nation’s two satellite radio companies — XM and Sirius — have amassed more than 11 million subscribers drawn to the services’ marquee names, led by Mr. Stern and various sports leagues, niche programming, sound quality and fewer or no advertisements. Still, some broadcasters argue that satellite has grabbed an unfair share of buzz given that its audience subscribers pale beside the roughly 230 million Americans who listen to old-fashioned free radio.
“As an industry, we’ve lost the hipness battle,” said Jeffrey H. Smulyan, the chief executive of Emmis Broadcasting. “Like a lot in life, it may be more perception than reality.” (Mr. Smulyan tried to take his company private earlier this summer in the face of its sagging stock price, down more than 40 percent since 2003.)
But the radio companies are looking to fight back with innovations of their own.
Clear Channel, for instance, signed a deal with BMW earlier this month to provide real-time free traffic updates to navigation systems in the automaker’s new models. The company announced another deal to beam its radio signals to Cingular wireless phone users, offering them streaming and on-demand content as well.
“We’re going to go to all sorts of different distribution platforms and have an additional five, six or seven revenue streams that we didn’t have even 24 months ago,” Mark P. Mays, Clear Channel’s chief executive, said in a recent interview.
Clear Channel has already tried other things — including stock buybacks, spinning off its outdoor advertising division and hiring a senior executive from AOL to oversee its online music efforts. It also adopted a much-watched plan to reduce on-air clutter by reducing the amount of advertising it broadcasts and running shorter spots.
Clear Channel managed to outperform the industry in its latest quarter, increasing revenue by 6 percent.
In aggressively moving online, radio companies are starting to offer new services with the sort of personalization that appeals to Web-savvy listeners. And they have put a greater emphasis on unique local programming — news, sports, traffic, weather and talk — that is tough for Web competitors to emulate.
Clear Channel already has one of the most visited music sites on the Web, and CBS Radio, formerly known as Infinity Broadcasting, has aggressively stepped up an Internet presence that was nearly nonexistent since last year. The company now streams more than 70 of its stations live, and it has started KYOURadio.com, a kind of a YouTube.com for listener-generated Podcasts.
The company has flipped formats at 27 of its stations since last year, pursuing growing areas like Spanish-language radio and using the popular Jack format, which has no on-air host and evokes the randomness of surfing for popular music.
In the first six months of the year, the operating income of CBS’s radio business fell 17 percent. Joel Hollander, chief executive of CBS Radio, said in an interview that although the business was not growing as it once did, it generated a lot of cash for the CBS Corporation and required relatively little capital investment.
“This is still a fabulous business,” he said.
Mr. Smulyan said he hoped that HD Radio and radio stations’ budding presence on the Web could help restore the luster of the business.
Peter L. Supino, an equity analyst at Wallace R. Weitz in Omaha, said the radio industry had awakened to the need to revamp the way it sold advertising and focus on improving its product, both online and off.
“It seems like an industry that had a nice run in the 1990’s that didn’t have to worry — it was just ‘step on the gas and take more in sales every year,’ ” said Mr. Supino, whose firm holds shares in Cumulus Media, the radio company.
While radio companies are pinning their hopes on HD Radio, it is still at least three years from becoming a big enough business to have an impact on industry revenues. And John S. Rose, a partner in the media practice at the Boston Consulting Group, says the industry has not yet figured out ways to use the pristine sound quality of HD Radio to offer paid downloads of songs.
Amid so much uncertainty, it is little wonder that sessions at next week’s National Association of Broadcasters radio convention in Dallas advertise things like: “Learn to steal money from your local newspaper” and “Harnessing the power of blogging.” It is also a sign of the times that the convention’s opening reception does not have a broadcaster as a host. Instead, Google will be buying the drinks.
12 Arrested for Prostitution Ads on Web
Police in Bucks County have charged 12 women after an investigation into prostitutes who allegedly have been advertising on the Web site Craigslist.
After police received a tip in August about alleged prostitutes advertising on the site, investigators called cell phone numbers in local listings that advertised "GFEs" - girlfriend experiences - asking for payment in "ro$e$" or "125 donations."
The undercover investigators agreed to meet the women at motels, and almost all 12 were arrested within two minutes, he said.
Several of the women who were arrested had brought along their boyfriends, and five men were arrested on drug charges, police said.
Similar sting operations have led to prostitution charges against women in states including Maryland, New York, Oregon and New Hampshire.
Craigslist spokeswoman Sue MacTavish Best said the site cooperates with law enforcement and has a flagging system that allows users to bring prohibited content to the company's attention so it can be removed.
Concerns Raised Over Web Sex Ad Replies
At first glance, the posting looked like any number of Internet classified ads explicitly seeking sex. But instead of the 27-year-old woman with long brown hair advertised, a male, Seattle-area graphic designer collected the replies and posted them online - with photos, names and contact information. Privacy experts say the case treads the line legally but crosses it morally.
"It's a sad commentary overall," said Lauren Weinstein, a veteran computer scientist and privacy advocate. "It's one of those situations where both sides look bad. ... From an ethical standpoint, this isn't brain surgery."
It all began with Jason Fortuny's posting on the online community Craigslist. According to his Web journal, Fortuny took a real ad and reposted it so that responses went straight to him. Among the 178 responses were 145 photos of men "in various states of undress." The replies included e-mail addresses, names and in some cases, instant-messaging accounts and phone numbers.
Fortuny then posted all the replies on a Web site devoted to parodies and satires online.
It's by no means the first time information thought private gets posted online.
Internet vigilantes have engaged spammers and scam artists and posted results of their conversations online. Others expose sexual predators they purposely seek out in chat rooms.
In this case, however, the men who replied to Fortuny's posting did not appear to be doing anything illegal, so the outing has no social value other than to prove that someone could ruin lives online, said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Oxford and Harvard universities.
Whether Fortuny violated any laws is less clear, he said.
"It's one of those questions that could find its way onto a law school exam because it is comparatively new territory," Zittrain said.
Fortuny did not immediately respond to e-mails from The Associated Press, and calls Monday to his telephone number generated a message saying the subscriber "is not in service."
Craigslist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster told the AP in an e-mail that Fortuny's actions violated the site's policies. He noted that the ad in question was removed several times, only to be reposted.
"Publishing private e-mails is something that decent people don't generally do without very good reason," Buckmaster said.
Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Craigslist would be protected under federal law exempting service providers from liability for what their users do. Fortuny's liability under Washington state law, he said, rests on whether the disclosures are of legitimate concern to the public.
"As far as I know, they (the respondents) are not public figures, so it would be challenging to show that this was something of public concern," Opsahl said.
Weinstein said the action could potentially make Internet users more likely to question the legitimacy of Craigslist ads and more reluctant to participate.
"Once you've lost that trust," he said, "a large part of the utility of what those services were there for in the first place is lost."
The Story Behind MySpace
TRENT LAPINSKI, a 20-year-old blogger and journalism student, has been investigating the social-networking site MySpace since July 2005, when the News Corporation bought it.
This week, Valleywag, a Silicon Valley gossip blog, published Mr. Lapinski’s long, critical examination of MySpace. According to Mr. Lapinski and Nick Douglas, Valleywag’s editor, an unidentified “online publisher” that had contracted Mr. Lapinski to write the article balked based on “groundless legal implications” after News Corporation complained (valleywag.com). Mr. Lapinski said the News Corporation declined to comment on his article.
But News Corporation is not the focus. It is the tale of MySpace’s founders, who, according to Mr. Lapinski’s report, came from companies involved with spam, spyware and adware.
The article was “professionally fact-checked,” Mr. Lapinski wrote, and although Mr. Douglas wrote in the introduction that it reads “like a conspiracy theory,” it is based mostly on information that has been in the public record all along, though never assembled in such a comprehensive fashion.
According to the article, and many sources to which it links, MySpace began this way: “Headed by C.E.O., founder, and chairman Brad Greenspan, eUniverse (now Intermix Media), was a multimillion-dollar marketing and entertainment company known for sites like Skilljam.com, pop-up advertising, unsolicited mass e-mails, spyware, and the adware behind controversial peer-to-peer file sharing network Kazaa.”
Two men from a company called ResponseBase — which, like eUniverse, was the target of many complaints about spamming — came to eUniverse when that company purchased ResponseBase in 2002. They were Chris DeWolfe, the current chief executive of MySpace, and Tom Anderson, the first “friend” of MySpace members.The three men were members of Friendster, the social-networking site that preceded MySpace, and they used that site as a template for MySpace, but with the focus on commerce rather than networking, Mr. Lapinski said.
Mr. Lapinski said MySpace’s initial popularity came not from word-of-mouth, as is often assumed, but from an intense e-mail campaign. From there, Mr. Lapinski details the already well-known, drama-fraught deal to sell Intermix to News Corporation last year. He describes the current MySpace as more of a marketing tool than a social-networking site.
Loren Baker of Search Engine Journal wrote that nearly everything in the article is old: It is “well known in the marketing world that the parent company which sold MySpace to News Corporation was not a band of do-gooders.”
“Does this mean that MySpace will spam you now?” Mr. Baker asked. “Not really, as Fox Interactive is not going to ruin a good thing.”
JUST ANOTHER WORD The Cato Institute this week published its annual Economic Freedom of the World report, which “seeks to measure the consistency of the institutions and policies of various countries with voluntary exchange and the other dimensions of economic freedom.”
“This year’s report,” according to the introduction, “notes that economic freedom remains on the rise,” though the average score is still only at 5.1 out of 10. The highest-scoring country is Hong Kong, with a score of 8.7, followed closely by Singapore (showing that economic freedom is measured here in strict isolation from other kinds of freedom). The United States scored 8.2. At the bottom are countries like the Central African Republic, Algeria and Venezuela. The report can be downloaded from cato.org .
NOSTALGIA BREAK Nostalgic types and ironic hipsters will love the set of 1970’s toy commercials on YouTube (search for “70’s toy commercials”). The spots for games like Bing Bang Boing and for toys like the Water Wiggle are fun to watch, but the most striking thing about these commercials is how long they were. At a full minute each, they might lose most of today’s attention-short youth (youtube.com)
Web Video-Diary Mystery Again Deepens
A home-schooled teenager named Bree is heating up the internet like few others today. But is she for real? Or is she merely an actress, and if so, who are the people responsible for mounting the charade?
This Internet whodunit centers on 16-year-old Bree's "Lonelygirl15" online video diaries posted on sites such as YouTube and MySpace. They've caused a cyber-stir not seen since "The Blair Witch Project."
The mystery has fueled the popularity of the short videos that are a staple on a growing number of Web sites devoted to posting homemade entertainment.
On sites such as Revver and Guba, regular people are posting videos that range from confessional diaries to stunts involving everything from skateboards to breath mints dropped into bottles of Diet Coke.
Many feature people just sitting in front of video cameras, talking about the mundane happenings in their lives or ranting about some issue or another.
On YouTube, one of the most popular sites for amateur videos, 26,930 people are subscribed to the Lonelygirl15 "channel," meaning they regularly view videos posted there. More than 2.3 million people have viewed Bree's videos, according to YouTube.
Lonelygirl15 started posting her dorky adventures in June, with a video that looked like so many others on the Web. "Bree" is sitting in her typical-looking teenage room, introducing herself and making a variety of goofy faces.
In subsequent "episodes" (so far, she has posted more than 30 videos with the latest entry posted Sept. 10), Bree talks about her parents, her friend Daniel and her "religion," which includes a mysterious ritual Bree has been selected for.
The ceremony only takes place "once in a really long while" and attendance is limited to a select few.
"My parents won't even be allowed to come," Bree says.
The ceremony also involves memorization and "special exercises" that Bree's mother is going to help her with. Plus, she has to go on a diet.
"Other than that, it's basically like preparing for a bar mitzvah or a confirmation," Bree says matter of factly.
The mystery deepens. In her room is what looks like a shrine to the occult figure Aleister Crowley, leading many Bree-watchers to assume she is involved in some kind of Satanic cult.
Then, several weeks ago, rumors began to fly that Bree was not a genuine teen blogger at all, but an actress playing a part in scripted and produced drama. The proof, it was said, is that Bree never reacts on-screen to comments posted about her, never wavers from the plot.
So far, even as media attention heats up about her authenticity, Bree has yet to react in her videos.
Fans began to speculate that the videos were part of a big marketing campaign for some movie and bristled at being manipulated by some Hollywood studio.
The most notable Web hoax related to movie publicity was for the 1999 film "The Blair Witch Project." Footage from an alleged documentary about a mysterious video tape and missing teens created a buzz on the Web that helped boost the film's box-office success.
The marketing theory surrounding Lonelygirl15 was bolstered when amateur sleuths uncovered that the name was trademarked recently by Encino attorney Kenneth Goodfried, who did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
Web detectives also concluded that Bree's MySpace account was being controlled by someone using a computer at the Hollywood talent firm Creative Artists Agency. An agency spokesman did not immediately return a call Monday.
And then came the announcement posted on the mock fan site Lonelygirl15.com stating that Bree was indeed an actress.
"Thank you so much for enjoying our show so far," said the note, signed only "The Creators" and addressed to "our incredible fans."
The note, posted Sept. 7, continued: "Right now, the biggest mystery of Lonelygirl15 is `who is she?' We think this is an oversimplification. Lonelygirl15 is a reflection of everyone. She is no more real or fictitious than the portions of our personalities that we choose to show (or hide) when we interact with the people around us."
The "Creators," who describe themselves as filmmakers but not part of a big corporation, go on to promise a new Web site featuring interactive storytelling where "the line between `fan' and `star' has been removed, and dedicated fans like yourselves are paid for their efforts."
But in the strange world of Lonelygirl15, nothing can be trusted. Soon after the message was posted, the Web site could not be accessed. It was running again over the weekend, where two new episodes were posted, but was only intermittently available on Monday.
Creators Confess to Lonelygirl15 Mystery
The creators behind the Internet video mystery teen Lonelygirl15 have revealed themselves and want their fans to know they are not a front for a big Hollywood studio marketing some upcoming film.
Instead, the three friends launched the adventures of the doe-eyed, 16-year-old homeschooled "Bree" as an experiment in storytelling that they intend to continue on their own Web site that was launched Tuesday.
Bree's inventors went public after fans of the two- to three-minute videos began questioning her existence and expressing disappointment that the seemingly genuine video diaries were a hoax.
The creators identified themselves to The Associated Press as Miles Beckett, 28, of Woodland Hills, Calif.; Mesh Flinders, 26, of Petaluma, Calif., and Greg Goodfried, 27, of Los Angeles.
Beckett, a self-confessed Internet geek, said he came up with the idea of using short videos as a storytelling technique while a surgical resident. Earlier this year, he met Flinders, a fledgling filmmaker, at a party.
Flinders said he had been developing the character of a teenage girl who was more at home relating to adults than with her peers. The character never quite fit into any of his screenplays, but seemed a perfect fit for Beckett's idea of telling stories using video blogging.
The two joined with Goodfried, an attorney, recruited the actors to play Bree and her dorky boyfriend, Daniel, and began writing the broad outlines of an open-ended plot filled with the kind of mysteries and clues TV watchers know from the hit ABC show "Lost."
The short videos began appearing on the Web sites YouTube and MySpace in June. The creators said Tuesday that they never intended to stage a hoax or trick people into believing their characters were real.
Rather, they intended to begin posting elements of the story online and then incorporate reactions and suggestions from fans into the plot.
The result was part video game, where viewers exercise some measure of control over the characters, and part mystery novel, complete with hidden clues and cliffhanger chapters that left viewers wanting more.
Flinders writes scripts for each "episode" and the actress playing Bree delivers her lines with a persuasive power that still has some online viewers believing she is genuine, even after "The Creators" posted their online confession several days ago.
The three creators declined to identify the name of the actress Tuesday. But amateur Internet sleuths discovered she is Jessica Rose, a 19-year-old actress from New Zealand who recently moved to Los Angeles.
The revelation that Bree was fake initially angered fans on YouTube, who suspected Lonelygirl15 was a slick Hollywood attempt to advertise some upcoming movie or TV show.
But since the creators revealed the fictitious nature of the show last week, the number of people subscribing to the Lonelygirl15 channel on YouTube has skyrocketed.
"Just because I know a movie isn't real isn't going to stop me from watching it," Alexandra Inman, a 17-year-old fan from St. Louis, said Tuesday. "I'm there for the entertainment."
Bree's adventures will continue on a new Web site created in conjunction with the online syndication network Revver. The company helps video-makers profit from their efforts by attaching ads to each video, then burying a "tag" in the computer code that tracks where the video is posted. Revver then shares the ad revenue with the authors.
As far as what happens to Bree next or just how long "Season One" will last, the creators themselves are unsure. Stay tuned.
Lionel Richie Gets His Groove Back
Megahits like “All Night Long,” “Hello” and “Three Times a Lady” helped make Lionel Richie one of the best-known artists of the 1980’s, but to the generation who was in diapers when he was dancing on the ceiling, he’s not an international superstar but something far less fabulous: a father.
“Young people come up to me all the time and say, ‘Oh my God, you’re Nicole Richie’s dad; I just saw you on ‘The Simple Life,’ ” he said one recent morning in his sprawling Manhattan hotel suite. “They have no idea who I am or what I’ve done.”
What he’s done in his three-decades-long career is sell nearly 100 million albums worldwide, win five Grammys and earn an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his hit “Say You, Say Me,” from the “White Nights” soundtrack. While he enjoyed success with the R&B band the Commodores, Mr. Richie became a household name with his solo debut, “Lionel Richie,” and its even more successful follow-up, “Can’t Slow Down,” which on the strength of ballads like “Stuck on You” and “Penny Lover” sold more than 10 million copies. He used his fame for good when he and Michael Jackson wrote “We Are the World,” a song that raised more than $50 million for African famine relief.
In recent years his once blazing hot career has cooled, but now Mr. Richie is hoping to regain relevance with a new album, “Coming Home,” which will be released today by Island/Def Jam. In an effort to ensure that his latest effort doesn’t end up being largely ignored like several of his recent albums, he has teamed up with young hit-making producers like Jermaine Dupri, Dallas Austin and Raphael Saadiq. “I asked them, ‘What does Lionel Richie sound like in 2006?’ ” Mr. Richie said, “And they said, ‘The same way he sounded like in 1976 — we’ll just bring you new beats.’ ”
While the album’s feel and lyrics are vintage Richie, the beats are indeed updated. “I Call It Love,” for example, sounds like a track that could have easily appeared on the album by the young R&B singer Ne-Yo. “All Around the World,” with its aggressive horns and strings, could be dubbed “All Night Long 2006.” And Mr. Dupri said “What You Are” was his modern interpretation of “Hello.” Still, Mr. Dupri, who helped resurrect Mariah Carey’s floundering career, said he was not interested in turning Mr. Richie into the next Usher or Justin Timberlake.
“It’s the same thing I told Mariah: an older artist has to deal with reality,” he said. “You’re not going to get younger, so you’ve just got to get better. I’m not going to have a bunch of rappers on his album. It’s about the music, not about someone trying to be hip.”
Antonio Reid, chairman of Island/Def Jam, said he was not too concerned about “Coming Home” becoming a runaway success, an interesting admission for a label executive. “We’re all doing this as a labor of love,” he said. “Sales are secondary. I’m excited to see him doing his thing, smiling, singing; I’m enjoying watching him and the creative process.”
Wearing designer jeans, a Roberto Cavalli shirt and tons of silver jewelry, Mr. Richie, 57, was dressed like a man half his age.
He appeared to be enjoying his newfound visibility. He is featured in a joke in the not-so-romantic comedy, “The Break-Up,” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. A recent commercial for Starburst candy parodies the video for his ballad “Hello.” “I love it all,” he said. “I’m waiting for the Viagra people to call me and ask to use ‘All Night Long.’ ”
Nevertheless, he owes much of his current popularity to his daughter Nicole, whose chic get-ups, ever-shrinking waistline and high-profile feud with Paris Hilton (the two star on the reality series “The Simple Life”) has kept the Richie name in the headlines and on magazine covers for nearly three years. He’s done little to distance himself from his daughter. In fact, he appears to be capitalizing on their relationship. She appears in the video for his first single from the new album, “I Call It Love,” and last week the two were interviewed together on “20/20.”
He beams when speaking about her, though he admits he is concerned about her weight, or lack there of. “It scares me to death,” said Mr. Richie, who has two other children. A recent tabloid magazine cover, which featured a photograph of her running on the beach in a baggy blue bikini, upset him, he said.
“I called her over to the house and asked, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” he recalled. Mr. Richie said her doctors had assured him that she is neither bulimic nor anorexic but that her weight loss was a result of stress from being in the spotlight.
“Some people take fame and pressure and get fat, some get skinny, some get addicted to drugs, but she’s already been through that, so she’s not going back there,” Mr. Richie said of his daughter, who was once addicted to heroin. “She’s just got to find her rhythm and she‘ll be fine, but I always tell her, ‘Get used to it, kid, because it doesn’t get any better.’ ”
Mr. Richie knows about the perils of fame. During the interview, which took place shortly after a promotional concert in Bryant Park that was broadcast on “Good Morning America,” he recalled the insanity that was once his life. While running through a crowd after a solo concert in New York years ago, he said an overzealous fan cut away a portion of his leather jacket with a knife. “That was crazy,” he said. “I didn’t even know the entire back was missing until I got back to my hotel.”
He said he prefers a more subdued existence now. “There was a point in my life when I was very comfortable with people chasing me down the street and tearing my clothes off,” he said. “But then you start to think, will I be happier with a career or the pandemonium?”
“The career,” he went on. “Will I be happier with a hit record or a great copyright that lasts forever? I’ll take the copyright. But you only learn something like that after you’ve been through the pandemonium.”
Those copyrights have served him well over the years. Unlike some performers of his generation, Mr. Richie isn’t hurting for cash. He owns a substantial amount of real estate in Los Angeles and lives in a 30-room mansion in Beverly Hills, which he used to share with his wife, Diana Alexander, who divorced him in 2004. He performs not because he needs to, but because he wants to.
“As a writer and a performer, if you’re going to be in the business, you always have to spar,” he said. “You’re always have to find out if you still have it, if it’s still there. And it’s not like the sports business, where your knees give out, and you retire. In the music business that’s just not the case.”
Mr. Richie couldn’t help taking a swipe at the crop of new artists. “Today we’ve learned to celebrate mediocrity,” he said. “Back in the day we had creative artists; today we have created artists.”
More Questions of Accuracy Raised About ABC Mini-Series on 9/11 Prelude
The first half of ABC’s dramatic mini-series “The Path to 9/11,” which drew fierce advance partisan reaction last week over its portrayal of Clinton administration officials, drew an estimated 13 million viewers Sunday night, several million more than a rebroadcast of a CBS documentary about Sept. 11 but far fewer than NBC’s opening-week National Football League game.
In response to complaints from former members of the Clinton Administration and their supporters, ABC edited several scenes in the film that critics said suggested Clinton officials had been negligent in their efforts to stop Osama bin Laden in the years leading up to the attacks, including historically inaccurate scenes that they said had been simply made up.
But other disputed scenes remained, and several notable mistakes or inventions remained. Among them was the film’s opening scene, which showed Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the terrorists who hijacked four airplanes on Sept. 11, buying a ticket to board an American Airlines flight in Boston on that morning. In fact Mr. Atta boarded a USAirways flight in Portland, Me., which connected in Boston to an American Airlines flight bound for Los Angeles.
ABC repeatedly stated that its intention was to produce a drama that did not cast blame and that was objective in its telling of the events leading up to the attacks. But two retired F.B.I. agents said on Friday that they had declined or resigned from advisory roles on the miniseries because of concerns about the program’s accuracy.
Marc E. Platt, an executive producer of the miniseries, said in an interview on Monday that the film “was never a political project.”
“We were never politically motivated,” he said. “I never had a conversation with anybody at the network, any of the actors, advisers, filmmakers or writers about politics.”
“We never tried to take a political point of view,” he said. “And we tried to be fair within the context of a dramatization.”
But critics of the film have focused on political statements by Cyrus Nowrasteh, who wrote the script, and some affiliations of the director, David L. Cunningham, to claim that the film’s makers were biased against the Clinton administration.
The project would appear to have more benign roots however. Stephen McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment, and Quinn Taylor, the senior vice president for motion pictures for television and miniseries at ABC, first conceived the idea of a mini-series based on the independent Sept. 11 commission’s best-selling report in 2004. Mr. Taylor contacted Mr. Platt, who had a production deal with Touchstone, the Disney unit that produces series and movies for ABC and other networks. In addition to films like “Legally Blonde,” Mr. Platt, formerly chairman of Sony’s TriStar Pictures, had produced television projects, including a 2005 version of “Once Upon a Mattress,” starring Carol Burnett and Tracey Ullman, for ABC.
After several attempts to find a director, Mr. Taylor settled on Mr. Cunningham, who had directed “Little House on the Prairie” for ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney.” And Mr. Platt and Mr. Taylor decided on Mr. Nowrasteh as the screenwriter after reading his script for “The Day Reagan Was Shot,” a 2001 television movie that was shown on the Showtime cable network.
“I thought that was an effective dramatization of an historic event,” Mr. Platt said, “and it seemed Cyrus had the ability to deal with lots of research and sources.”
Mr. Nowrasteh drew subsequent attention for his political remarks about the 9/11 film however. He told the conservative Internet site Front Page Magazine that the mini-series shows how the Clinton administration lacked the will to stop Mr. bin Laden. The mini-series “dramatizes the frequent opportunities the administration had in the 90’s to stop bin Laden in his tracks but lacked the will to do so,” he said, according to an interview posted Aug. 16 at frontpagemag.com.
Mr. Cunningham too has drawn attention for his links to a nondenominational Christian group based in Hawaii called Youth With a Mission, which was founded by his father, Loren Cunningham, and which promotes youth involvement in religious outreach around the world.
But Mr. Platt and Hope Hartman, a spokeswoman for ABC, said the political and religious affiliations of the two men had nothing to do with and did not influence the mini-series in any way.
On the set, however, there were disputes about the accuracy of the film, according to two F.B.I. agents who were or were asked to be associated with the film. One of the agents, Thomas E. Nicoletti, was hired by the mini-series’s producers in July 2005 to oversee its technical accuracy, but left after less than a month because of scenes he said he believed were misleading or just false.
“There were some of the scenes that were total fiction,” said Mr. Nicoletti, who served as a supervisory special agent and a member of the joint terrorism task force before retiring in 2003. “I told them unless they were changing this, I could not have my name associated with it.”
Chief among Mr. Nicoletti’s concerns were scenes that put people at places they weren’t or plotted the narrative action out of chronological order. “There were so many inaccuracies,” he said. Mr. Nicoletti said he asked the producers to make changes, but was rebuffed. “I’m well aware of what’s dramatic license and what’s historical inaccuracy,” Mr. Nicoletti said. “And this had a lot of historical inaccuracy.”
After initially promoting the film as being based on the official report of the Sept. 11 Commission, ABC changed that promotion last week to say the film was based on a number of sources. And it added a disclaimer that ran at least three times during the broadcast on Sunday. The disclaimer noted that “for dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression.”
But at a meeting with television writers and critics in July to promote the film, former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, the chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, said that he had vetted much of the screenplay for accuracy and that he was confident it reflected the spirit of what happened. “I’m very happy with it,” he said.
ABC subsequently cut a scene in the film where the White House terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke indicates that President Bill Clinton would not be willing to go after Mr. bin Laden because of the impeachment fight over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
Another scene removed from the broadcast version, The Associated Press reported, showed Samuel R. Berger. a national security adviser to President Clinton, hanging up on George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, as the C.I.A. was seeking permission to attack Mr. bin Laden.
Ms. Hartman of ABC said that the editing of the film continued until late Saturday night, but she declined to comment on what changes were made to the film before it was broadcast. “We prefer to let the film speak for itself,” she said.
At the July session with television writers, Mr. Platt also discussed why it was necessary to dramatize a report that was already dramatic enough with invented scenes and composite characters. “Through dramatization — although I would point out that our ambitions and our goals and our standards were all about accuracy in that portrayal — we felt it was the most accessible way to bring a very important story, very important lesson, to the broadest possible amount of people in this country,” Mr. Platt said.
Mr. Kean concurred. “More people will see this than will ever read out report,” he said.
Former Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, the vice chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, took issue, however, with the need for dramatizing the work of the commission. “It suggests to me that news and entertainment are getting dangerously intertwined, and I do not think that is good for the country, because an event of this consequence is very hard to understand,” he said on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington. “To distort it, or not to present it factually in this kind of presentation does not serve the country well."
Jesse McKinley contributed reporting from San Francisco andJacques Steinberg from New York.
Voting Machines Wreak Havoc in Maryland Elections
Montgomery Co to extend voting hours after election glitches
Debbi Wilgoren and Miranda Spivack
Polling stations in Montgomery County will remain open until 9 tonight--an hour later than usual--to accommodate voters who were turned away from the polls this morning because of a glitch that left computerized voting machines across the county inoperable.
Circuit Court Judge Eric M. Johnson issued the order about 2 p.m., in response to a petition by the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Boxes of automated voting cards that are required to work the electronic machines were mistakenly left behind in a Rockville warehouse in the run-up to Election Day, elections officials said.
Early morning voters were forced to cast provisional, hand-written ballots at Montgomery County's 238 polling places, while election staffers scrambled to deliver the forgotten voting cards as quickly as possible. Several precincts ran out of the paper ballots, and workers from at least one precinct went to a copy shop to make more. Some poll workers, according to witnesses, did not know the provisional ballots were an option and told voters to try again later in the day.
The cards began to be delivered shortly after 7 a.m. and had been dropped off at all polling stations by 9:50 a.m., election officials said, and voting returned to normal. But for some of those who had shown up as early as 7 a.m. to cast their ballots and could not wait, it was too little, too late.
"This is just obscene that we can live in one of the most forward-thinking counties in the country, and have so many advantages open to us, and for some reason we can't get our polls to work," said campaign volunteer Valerie Coll, who was stationed outside Cannon Road Elementary School in Silver Spring.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he was deeply disturbed by what happened in the county, and by lesser reports of voting irregularities in Prince George's County, Baltimore and elsewhere around the state.
"That's negligence," he said of the undelivered cards, speaking outside Green Street Elementary School in Annapolis, where he cast his own ballot without difficulty. "That's inexcusable."
Voters who encountered problems anywhere in Maryland should call 1-800-811-8336 to report them, Ehrlich said.
A Baltimore court also ordered polling places in the city to remain open until 9 p.m. because several couldn't open on time for a variety of reasons.
The Montgomery County Board of Elections met in emergency session and voted 3 to 0 to petition the Circuit Court of Montgomery County to extend polling hours from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Election officials apologized profusely for the mix-up but said the provisional ballots that had been cast this morning would not be counted until Monday because of a lack of available staff.
Voters who are in line at the polls by 8 p.m. tonight will be permitted to vote on the electronic machines, said board president Nancy H. Dacek, a Republican former county council member. But those arriving after 8 p.m. will have to use provisional ballots, just like those citizens who showed up first thing this morning, she said.
"We regret this very, very much. Call it clerical error, call it what you will, everybody is beside themselves and very upset about it," Dacek said.
She said precinct workers began calling the board's officers at 6:15 a.m. to report that the cards -- which function like ATM cards and are handed to each voter as he or she arrives at the polls -- had not been delivered. Voters are supposed to insert their cards into the electronic voting machines so that the correct ballot will appear on screen. Without the cards, the voting machines cannot work.
This afternoon, county officials were rounding up electricians, plumbers, carpenters and other public works employees to resupply polling places with the paper ballots in preparation for the extended voting hours. About 20 county vans were assembling at the Board of Elections office on Twinbrook Parkway to get ready to make the deliveries.
In addition to delaying the counting of the votes, the polling problems could negatively impact candidates for statewide office whose base of support is strongest in Montgomery County. Such candidates are counting on strong voter turnout in the Washington suburbs to offset the totals of opponents from other parts of the state.
"Absolutely you have to be concerned. That potentially disenfranchises a great many voters," said Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas Gansler, who is competing against Baltimore attorney Stuart Simms to be the Democratic nominee for state attorney general.
Gansler appeared at a late morning news conference at Leisure World in Silver Spring along with several other Democrats -- Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County delegate to the General Assembly vying for the nomination for Maryland comptroller; U.S. Senate candidate Josh Rales; county executive candidates Isaiah Leggett and Steve Silverman and state's attorney candidate John McCarthy -- to demand that voting hours be extended. The candidates expressed outrage at the glitch and urged voters who were turned away this morning to return and try again later in the day.
"You have people who have been disenfranchised already," Franchot said. "What happened this morning is unacceptable. It's just wrong."
Rales, a Potomac businessman whose base of support is in the Washington suburbs, was consulting with lawyers this morning to prepare a lawsuit, if necessary, to keep the polls open late. "This is the one time when citizens have a way to have an impact on their government," Rales spokeswoman Alyson Chadwick said.
Voting was delayed at about 15 or 20 polling places in Prince George's County as well, officials said, because new electronic voter authorization books either were not operable or had not been delivered when the polls opened, officials said.
Among the precincts affected were University Park Elementary School, Kettering Baptist Church in Largo or Valley View Elementary in Oxon Hill, campaign workers and voters said.
Long lines formed, and some polling stations told voters to try again later. Others began offering provisional ballots, which in some cases were in short supply. Alisha Alexander, Prince George's deputy elections administrator, said most of the problems occurred in the northern part of the county.
At Valley View, voters were told the voting machines were not available, said Oxon Hill resident Jennifer Campbell-Adams, who showed up to vote at about 7 a.m. "They actually turned people away," Campbell-Adams said. "Then they told people to come back, and gave them provisional ballots."
She said the precinct had only 100 paper ballots and appeared likely to run out before the electronic machines were working.
Donna Edwards, who is running against incumbent Albert Wynn for the Democratic nomination to the 4th district Congressional seat, said she also heard from voters who were told to come back later. "This is not Florida," fumed Edwards, referring to widespread irregularities in that state in the 2000 presidential election. "They should have been asked to fill out provisional ballots."
State Senator Paul Pinsky said one of his constituents was not only rejected by the new voting system but she was also unable to cast a provisional ballot. "She had no choice but to go home," he said, standing outside Charles Carroll Middle School. "I am really surprised. This is not acceptable."
The polls opened on time in Howard County today, but lines quickly formed and voters and workers alike were frustrated as they struggled with new electronic equipment at scattered locations.
Poll workers found that screens on new electronic poll books froze or shut down as they tried to record arriving voters.
Howard Elections Director Betty L. Nordaas said that for the first two hours this morning, "I was getting a lot of calls. It was very challenging for many of our voters." Some people, she said, complained that they left the polls without voting because of the delays.
"You can recover from this, but with new technology and new [poll] judges, there's a learning curve," Nordaas said. She said in some cases, poll workers failed to offer voters provisional ballots when machine troubles occurred. Since the morning, teams of elections officials have been stopping in at the county's 103 precincts.
Voting was proceeding smoothly this afternoon, Nordaas said.
"We're trying to be as reactive as we can to any kind of problem, issue and question," she said.
The challenge has been far more daunting in Montgomery County today.
At Luxmanor Elementary School in Rockville, Larry Schleifer cast a provisional ballot, then groused that it would not be counted along with the electronic tallies expected later in the day. He said he was frustrated that no one had crossed his name off the voter registry when he was handed a paper ballot and was concerned that election workers would not keep track of who had done what.
"What's going to stop somebody from voting twice?" he fumed. "I think it's unconscionable that this has happened."
County councilmember Howard Denis said he was unable to vote at his Friendship Heights polling station until about 10 a.m., when the missing cards were delivered. He said he met an elderly veteran who had been given a provisional ballot and found it confusing and difficult to fill out. "It's embarrassing. There's got to be accountability," Denis said. "This is some celebration of democracy, a day after 9/11."
Bernice Wuethrich, voting at Grace United Methodist Church on New Hampshire Avenue, said she cast her ballot on the electronic machines after they were up and running. But even then, she said, not everyone's name was coming up on the computer.
"They don't have a printed list" of eligible voters, "they don't have a backup," Wuethrich said. "So when the computer goes down, they can't even look at a list to see who's eligible to vote."
Louise Bradley said she arrived at her polling station after the electronic cards had been delivered, but her card did not work properly. When she got to the section of the ballot listing candidates for the Democratic central committee, it was already filled out. Bradley said she had to remove the computer's choices and insert her own.
At Kensington Parkwood Elementary, officials ran out of paper ballots around 8:30 a.m. and voters were turned away, said Democratic precinct chairwoman Liz Cummings.
"So many of these races are so close. . . . Voters are yelling at us and yelling at the election judges," Cummings said as she implored voters to return. "Some people said, 'I have a job and can't come back,' " said Cummings, who herself had to leave at 2:30 p.m. to catch a plane. "If I can't vote, I am going to be sobbing," she said.
Staff writers Christian Davenport, Susan DeFord, Hamil R. Harris, Ernesto Londoño, Ann E. Marimow, Matthew Mosk, Philip Rucker, Steve Vogel and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.
Panel in Senate Backs Bush Plan for Eavesdropping
Eric Lichtblau and Kate Zernike
The White House took a critical step on Wednesday in its effort to get Congressional blessing for President Bush’s domestic eavesdropping program, but it ran into increasingly fierce resistance from leading Republicans over its plan to try terror suspects being held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The mixed results signaled the tough road the White House faces in trying to sell the two key planks in its national security agenda to sometimes skeptical Congressional Republicans less than two months before the midterm elections.
Democrats have allowed Republicans to fight among themselves over the issues, and appear willing to allow the issues to come to a vote rather than risk charges of political obstructionism in an election season.
The White House has turned its focus to Capitol Hill as part of a broad push to shift the public debate toward national security and away from Iraq. After kicking off the campaign in a series of recent speeches, Mr. Bush is scheduled to visit Capitol Hill on Thursday morning to rally support for his proposals.
On the domestic eavesdropping program, strong White House lobbying began to pay dividends on Wednesday as the Senate Judiciary Committee approved on a party-line vote two legislative approaches favored by the White House, along with a third the Bush administration opposes. The program would allow the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without a warrant on the international phone calls and e-mail of people in the United States.
But negotiations between Capitol Hill and the White House broke down as three Republican senators crucial to passage of the legislation hardened their stance against a White House plan that would reinterpret a main provision of the Geneva Conventions.
Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said the committee would vote Thursday in a closed session on an alternative that he and his two chief allies — Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona — have championed, even if the White House refuses to go along with them. The senators have said changes to the American interpretation of the provision of the Geneva Conventions, known as Common Article 3, would undermine the nation’s international credibility and open the way for other countries to treat captured American troops at their whim.
“This is not about November 2006. It is not about your election. It is about those who take risks to defend America,” Mr. Graham said.
The administration pushed back, convening a conference call in which John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, described the Senate alternative as unacceptable. Mr. Negroponte said the plan would impose intolerable limits on any interrogation methods American intelligence officers might use against future terror suspects held by the Central Intelligence Agency in secret overseas prisons.
Dan Bartlett, a senior aide to Mr. Bush, said the dispute with the Senate Republicans “may require us to go our different ways for now and try to come back in conference.”
The House appears on track to endorse the White House proposal, with the House Armed Services Committee voting overwhelmingly on Wednesday in favor of a bill that looks much like the president’s.
The White House political strategy in the past week has been twofold: first, putting Mr. Bush in the public spotlight with a string of national security speeches, and now, trying to put Democrats in a box by forcing them to take a stand and vote on Mr. Bush’s authority to run two of his most controversial antiterror programs.
But Senators Warner, McCain and Graham appeared to be providing cover for the Democrats, allowing them to stay on the sidelines while the three senators, respected Republicans with distinguished military records, take on the White House.
“We think that this is a sincere effort, based on principle, by Senators Warner, McCain and Graham, to come up with the best legislation they can,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Asked whether Democrats were worried that the Republicans might yield to the White House, Mr. Reed said: “I haven’t seen any evidence of that yet. What I’ve seen is that they’re approaching this looking at the substance, not just over weeks and months, but what’s in the best interests of the United States, what’s in the best interests of American military personnel who might years from now be held.”
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, has been pushing the administration’s point of view, and Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, has said he may bring the president’s legislation to the floor, rather than the one backed by the three senators.
Mr. Warner and his allies have warned that if that happens, they will introduce amendments to make the president’s legislation look like theirs. The senators have military leaders on their side, and in a letter sent to the Armed Services Committee on Thursday, 27 retired military leaders urged Congress to reject the White House proposal to reinterpret the definition of Common Article 3.
The letter said the proposal “poses a grave threat to American service members, now and in future wars,” noting that American troops are now deployed in areas where the article is their only source of protection if they are captured.
“If degradation, humiliation, physical and mental brutalization of prisoners is decriminalized or considered permissible under a restrictive interpretation of Common Article 3,’’ the letter warned, “we will forfeit all credible objections should such barbaric practices be inflicted upon American prisoners.”
The administration had also faced resistance over the N.S.A. wiretapping program. The Democrats had bottled up the administration’s proposals, saying Congress was being forced to legislate “in the dark” about a secret program that few members had been briefed on. They have repeatedly used procedural maneuvers to block the proposals from coming to a vote in the Judiciary Committee, drawing accusations of obstructionism from Republicans.
But Democrats, who appeared to realize the risk of being accused of thwarting debate on national security matters, did not stand in the way of the committee vote on Wednesday.
With Republicans united in support, the panel approved on a 10-to-8 vote a hotly debated plan drawn in negotiations with the White House by Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee chairman. The plan would allow a secret court to rule on the constitutionality of the wiretapping program. It would also implicitly recognize the president’s constitutional authority to gather foreign intelligence, a concession Democrats and civil rights advocates contend would expand the president’s authority to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.
The panel also approved a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, that would require the administration to notify Congress when it conducted wiretaps without a warrant.
Democrats claimed a partial victory on the wiretapping issue when they won Judiciary Committee approval of another measure that could effectively ban the security agency’s eavesdropping program.
That plan, drafted by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, would affirm that the foreign intelligence law passed by Congress in 1978, requiring court approval for eavesdropping, as the “exclusive” means of authorizing wiretaps in the United States against suspected terrorists and spies.
Democrats succeeded in getting two Republican moderates, Mr. Specter and Mr. Graham, both of whom had voiced concerns over the legal aspects of the wiretapping program, to vote in favor of the proposal and send it to the full Senate.
That set the stage for the unusual spectacle of the Judiciary Committee — and its chairman — supporting two proposals that many lawmakers said would effectively nullify each other if passed.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.
Congress to Open Tax Money Tracking Site
From $500,000 for a teapot museum in North Carolina to $450,000 for plants on the east side of the Capitol, the federal government spends hundreds of billions every year for grants, contracts, earmarks and loans. With creation of a new federal Web site, citizens will at least be able to see where some of their tax money goes.
The House on Wednesday passed by voice vote and sent to President Bush legislation to create a Web site that will give people ready access to information on the $300 billion in grants issued to some 30,000 organizations annually, and the roughly 1 million contracts exceeding a $25,000 threshold.
"It's a great, bipartisan plan to make sure tax dollars are spent wisely," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Bush, in a statement, welcomed the bill, saying it showed the commitment of Congress "to giving the American people access to timely and accurate information about how their tax dollars are spent."
The vote for a more open federal account book was a victory for lawmakers whose reputations have suffered this year from lobbying scandals and outcries over growing porkbarrel spending.
But the House continued to struggle over another open-government measure - to bring light to the special projects or "earmarks" that lawmakers insert in larger bills. And the House and Senate have been deadlocked for months over a more comprehensive lobbying reform bill growing out of the scandals earlier this year linked to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The House was scheduled to take up a measure Thursday requiring lists of those inserting earmarks in legislation, although there was dissension among the Republican ranks about details of the rules change. Members of the Appropriations Committee were insisting that the new rules apply equally to committees covering tax bills and authorization bills.
The database bill would require the White House Office of Management and Budget to set up a Google-like, user-friendly Web site by Jan. 1, 2008, that would provide easy access to information about grants and contracts.
Users will be able to type in "Halliburton" or "Planned Parenthood," for instance, to find out what kind of contracts or grants have been awarded such companies or groups. They can also do a search for a specific state or district to see what kind of money is flowing from Washington.
They could check on earmarks in a highway bill last year such as the $200 million approved for a bridge in a sparsely populated area of Alaska or the defense contracts that proved the undoing of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The California Republican was sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this year for taking bribes in exchange for steering contracts to a company.
"This bill will make tracking government spending easier for citizens, reporters and legislators alike," the Senate sponsors, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., said in a statement. "Improving transparency will force lawmakers to be more accountable to the American people."
In 2009 the Web site is scheduled to add a feature to help pinpoint subcontracts, an area that tends to be less visible to the public and is thus more susceptible to waste and abuse.
"It's a tremendous tool in the arsenal for budget watchdogs," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. He said it was the "biggest leap for transparency in government" since Congress created its own Web site, http://thomas.loc.gov/ .
The bill is S. 2590
US Official Questions Regulatory Scrutiny of Apple
A top U.S. antitrust official on Wednesday urged foreign governments to think twice before interfering with popular new technologies, singling out overseas scrutiny of Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes online music service as an example of misguided enforcement.
Justice Department antitrust chief Thomas Barnett cited proposals by some officials overseas to impose restrictions on iTunes as an example of overzealous regulation that he said could discourage innovation and hurt consumers.
Barnett warned about a rise in "regulatory second-guessing" that "threatens to harm the very consumers it claims to help."
The comments came during a speech at an antitrust law conference in Washington, D.C., before an audience that included antitrust officials from Europe and Asia.
Barnett did not name specific agencies or countries. However, officials in France and several Scandinavian countries have been considering steps that would require Apple to permit iTunes music to play on devices other than its iPod.
In prepared remarks, Barnett said the scrutiny of Apple "provides a useful illustration of how an attack on intellectual property rights can threaten dynamic innovation."
Barnett said Apple should be applauded for creating a legal, profitable and easy-to-use system for downloading music and other entertainment via the Internet.
Excessive government interference can deter innovation and encourage rival companies to "devote their resources to legal challenges rather than business innovation," he added.
Barnett was asked later by a member of the audience if the comments were also an indirect reference to the European Commission's ongoing antitrust case against Microsoft Corp.
The Commission has fined Microsoft twice since 2004, and it is now talking to the company about whether its new operating system, Vista, has anti-competitive features that should be changed. Microsoft recently raised the possibility that it might delay the introduction of Vista in Europe, saying it depended on the commission's antitrust requirements.
Barnett responded that he wanted to "discuss some of these issues in a different context."
But one antitrust lawyer said afterwards said the speech "has implications for other firms, including Microsoft."
"He's talking to (EC officials), as well as the Japanese," this lawyer said.
Another attorney at the event said he believed Barnett was taking aim more broadly at a practice known as "forum shopping," in which companies try to gain advantage in the market by finding a sympathetic government willing to impose sanctions or regulations on a rival.
Those kinds of sanctions can ultimately come back and impact consumers in the United Sates, this lawyer said.
"Given what's happened in Microsoft, it's encouraged other companies to go to the regulatory trough in other jurisdictions to try to get relief that spills back over into the United States," another antitrust lawyer said after the speech.
Philip Lowe, director general of competition at the European Commission, also attended the speech. Afterward, Lowe told reporters he shared Barnett's concerns about proposals to impose restrictions on iTunes. Lowe also downplayed the disagreements over the Microsoft case.
Goonhilly Satellite Dishes Threat
Three-quarters of staff at the largest satellite communications station in the world could lose their jobs after BT said it planned to scale down the site.
Ninety of the 120 workers at Goonhilly, in Cornwall, could lose their jobs or be redeployed, as satellite operations are moved to Madley, in Herefordshire.
An internal BT report says the move would help the firm centralise and remain competitive, the BBC can reveal.
Only one of the station's 61 dishes, Arthur, would remain under the plan.
Sub-sea cable operations will continue at the site, which covers 65 hectares (160 acres) of The Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall and is the largest station in the world in terms of land area and the number of antennas.
Goonhilly's first dish, Arthur, was built to receive the first live transatlantic television broadcasts from the United States via the satellite Telstar in 1962.
It is now a Grade II listed structure and is therefore protected.
Goonhilly currently handles about 10 million telephone calls a week as well as computer data from the Atlantic and Indian Ocean areas, but its TV operations have been wound down over the years.
The move out of Goonhilly was recommended following a three-month review by BT.
A decision is expected to be confirmed by BT executives later this year, with satellite communications ending by 2008.
Kelvin Ball, head of radio, subsea and satellite communications for BT, said: "The view of the BT committee which considered this matter is that it is no longer commercially viable for satellite communications to continue at both Goonhilly and Madley.
"These recommendations have not been taken lightly. We need to reduce our running costs if we are to remain competitive in this fiercely competitive marketplace.
"Having considered all aspects, it was clear that the Madley site, in Herefordshire, was best suited to continue, primarily because of its more central location in BT's UK network.
"Other activities carried out at Goonhilly, such as the sub-sea cable operations, project management and health and safety, will continue."
Staff were told the news at a meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr Ball said they were "completely shocked" at the move, but BT wanted to avoid any compulsory redundancies through redeployment and retraining.
The future of the visitors centre, which attracts 80,000 people a year, was being reviewed "with a view to it hopefully continuing".
Digital Cameras Focus on Revised Reality
Want to look thinner? Taller? Tanner? Don't worry, there's a camera for all that.
Today's cameras will let you do more than adjust the flash; they'll let you adjust reality. Photo-adjusting features that once required a PC and special know-how are now allowing consumers to alter a photo as soon as it's snapped.
Some new Hewlett-Packard cameras include a feature that makes subjects look thinner, while another mode makes facial lines and pores virtually disappear. A "skin tone" feature on some Olympus models can give consumers a leisure-class tan. Other manufacturers offer modes to make the colors of the world richer as you capture them. Using these new in-camera tools, consumers can even crop out ex-boyfriends, or put a virtual frame around a new one.
Most digital cameras to date have had tools that remove red-eye from photos or lighten darkened images because of a poor flash. But that editing corrects a deficiency in the photographer's skills, or the camera itself, not the subject.
With new tools, average people can create their own "pictures that lie" at the moment of capture, without any trace of the real image that was seen with the naked eye.
"People in the legal world are now concerned about whether photos can be accepted as evidence anymore, especially when you can alter the scene as you click the shutter," said Peter Southwick, associate professor and director of the photojournalism program at Boston University. "And in the old days, there was an original, now there is no original. Photography as a tool for providing evidence, or as proof, may not exist anymore."
The late media and culture critic Neil Postman had famous criteria for all technology, noted Anthony Spina, an adjunct professor of sociology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey who specializes in technology's impact on society.
"(Postman) would ask: 'What problem does this new technology answer?' What problem is this solving? What's the point? The problem is, obviously, that people want to look thinner," Spina said.
Spina is referring to HP's recently released in-camera editing feature that makes a person appear more svelte. The tool, called "Slimming Mode," is part of HP's Design Gallery software, which is included on some of its Photosmart M and R series cameras. It compresses the center of a photo and stretches the edges to fix the aspect ratio, said Linda Kennedy, a product manager for digital photography at HP.
The slimming tool doesn't target people specifically; it will elongate any object centered in the photo, with three degrees of slimness. Like most digital cameras with editing tools, the changed photo is saved as a copy, and the original image remains on the camera intact.
Kennedy, one of the proponents of the feature while it was in development, said the idea came from the many people HP surveyed who said they hated having their picture taken. Kennedy also pointed to another use.
"We had a personal trainer wanting to use the camera as a motivational tactic for her clients," she said. "Putting a good photo of the person on their refrigerator so they can say, 'I do want to look like this,' as opposed to the fat picture in a bathing suit," can be inspiring.
HP isn't the only manufacturer to offer this type of alteration feature. With the digital camera market maturing, manufacturers are using new features to entice customers to upgrade their current digicams. Canon, Kodak, HP, Nikon and Olympus all offer features that increase saturation, bumping up the richness of color "seen" by the camera. The photographer clicks and a sunset forever becomes more brilliant than it appeared in real life. Homegrown vegetables become more luscious.
"The consumer products and all these changes in photography, to me, are going to cause an undermining of people's ability to believe a photograph, which is the foundation of photojournalism," Southwick said. "Now that it is at the consumer level and people are going to see this, I am not sure on a fundamental level that they are ever going to believe a photo when they see it."
With photo-editing packages widely available, Southwick said he has seen a change over the years in people's attitude toward the integrity of photos. During lectures or speaking engagements, Southwick asks his audience how many people have heard of Photoshop. Ten or 12 people used to raise their hands, but now everybody does. Still, as big as Photoshop's impact, Southwick said, in-camera photo-editing features will have an even greater effect on the way people relate to photography.
If pictures are indeed captured memories, as camera marketers would have consumers believe, these new features enable people to create a rosier vision of their personal history.
Spina pointed out that the creation of these tools and the fact that there is a market for them, speaks to the societal pressure to achieve physical perfection, as well as some people's deceptiveness when creating online personas.
"It almost does contribute to people changing their identities, for whatever reasons they are motivated to do that," Spina said. "Particularly, I can see it being used on a dating service. Now you can say the picture is current and still lie. But what I want to know is: What's going to finally happen when you meet that person? Even if you are not using it for that, its only interest is to make you look better. But why would you take a picture of yourself and give it to people who know you if it doesn't really look like you?"
But does it really matter? Photos have been "lying" for years in one respect or another. For example, photography from the 1940s, because it was black and white, gave a clean orderly appearance, with people in photos from that era appearing consistently crisp, with bright white teeth and seemingly matching outfits.
Spina said that he finds most technology of this nature as nothing more than entertainment. But he does see the trend leading to a larger philosophical question.
"Does social change drive technology change, or do changes in technology change social behavior?" he asked. "No one has won that debate...It just depends on where you fall on that continuum. My own personal bias is that technology advancements lead to social change."
Picking a Picture
In the old days of digital television, a year or two ago, choices were simple. If the screen measured under 37 inches diagonally, it would be a liquid-crystal-display panel. From about 37 to 43 inches, it would probably be a plasma panel. And larger sizes would be rear- or front-projection sets.
But as flat panels have grown, categories have blurred. For 50-inch screens, plasmas starting at about $3,000 are an alternative to projection models starting under $2,000. A bigger rivalry occurs between L.C.D. and plasma panels of around 40 inches, where prices are virtually identical. For example, the most popular plasma from LG Electronics, the 42-inch 42PC3D, sells for $2,000 and its 42-inch L.C.D., the 42LC2D, sells for $2,100.
So which television type is better: L.C.D. or plasma?
The first step in answering that is to get past antiquated stereotypes. Plasma, for instance, is still haunted by burn-in — the tendency to retain marks from images displayed on the screen for too long. Video games, for example, were hazardous to early plasma TV’s because they displayed static elements like score boxes.
But for modern plasmas, burn-in usually disappears after a few hours of displaying other content, according to David Katzmaier, a senior editor for home video and audio at the online technology publisher CNET. In fact, plasmas are sturdier over all than they used to be. Many new screens are expected to last 60,000 hours before losing half their brightness — the standard measure of a screen’s lifetime. (Modern L.C.D.’s are also rated for 60,000 hours.) That is over 23 years of watching TV seven hours a day, every day.
One stereotype does hold: L.C.D.’s are brighter than plasma panels and can better compete with strong ambient light. And L.C.D. screens do not reflect room light, as most plasmas do (though manufacturers are beginning to fix that problem). So sellers recommend L.C.D.’s for viewing in brightly lighted rooms. “The last thing we want is for someone to get a plasma and get a really horrible glare on it and take it back,” said John Zittrauer, a sales representative at the Best Buy in Chelsea.
But L.C.D.’s are too bright for many settings. “I could take away 25 percent of the light on an L.C.D. panel and still have a blindingly bright picture,” said Kevin Miller, a home theater consultant who also writes TV reviews for CNET.
At CNET’s test center in Manhattan, Mr. Miller and Mr. Katzmaier were reviewing the 42-inch Vizio L42 HDTV L.C.D. ($1,600). To optimize picture quality, they reduced the backlight intensity to 10 on a scale of 1 to 100. (The default is 90.)
More important than brightness, according to Mr. Katzmaier and Mr. Miller, is the contrast ratio — the range between the brightest and darkest tones the screen can produce. To demonstrate, they showed two best-in-class TV’s: Sony’s 40-inch KDL-40XBR2 L.C.D. ($3,500) and Pioneer’s 50-inch PDP 5070HD plasma ($4,000). While both had been adjusted to produce the same light output, the Pioneer’s screen looked brighter and showed more depth and detail. That was a result of a higher contrast ratio, said Mr. Miller, because plasmas can produce deeper blacks than L.C.D.’s.
Contrast ratio is the most important aspect of screen quality, according to the Imaging Science Foundation, a company that evaluates video products and trains technicians who service televisions. (Mr. Miller is an original member of the foundation and one of its instructors.) But vendor claims about contrast ratio may not be realistic.
For example, L.C.D.’s at CNET’s lab had claimed contrast ratios ranging from 4500:1 to 7000:1. Mr. Katzmaier said the TV’s might be able to achieve those numbers, but not under real-world viewing conditions with settings optimized for image quality. “These very high contrast ratios are achieved often by very bright whites, which many viewers would find offensive,” he said. Mr. Miller estimates that in a realistic setting, plasma and L.C.D. TV’s have contrast ratios between about 300:1 and 400:1.
Although plasma can produce more contrast than L.C.D., it does not always do so. And a plasma’s contrast advantage fades away — literally — in bright rooms, where the ambient light overpowers dark tones. “Speaking about black levels in a bright room isn’t really worthwhile,” Mr. Katzmaier said.
After contrast, color saturation and accuracy are the next most important quality factors. Though plasma panels used to beat L.C.D.’s on these measures, the technologies are now about equal. Over all, colors appeared very similar on the Sony and Pioneer sets at CNET’s lab. And according to Mr. Katzmaier’s measurements, the Sony actually came a bit closer to the HDTV color standards.
But colors look best when viewing the Sony — or any L.C.D. — head-on. The screen faded slightly when viewed from the side. The makers of L.C.D.’s are minimizing this side effect of the technology, and it was especially minor on the Sony model. But it was noticeable.
Plasma, in comparison, looks the same from any angle. So it is good for big screens viewed by crowds — say, in a sports bar. But even most L.C.D.’s show top-quality images within about a 30-degree arc. “That would be the width of the couch for most people,” said Al Griffin, senior reviews editor at Sound & Vision magazine.
The fourth criterion is resolution — the number of pixels that make up an image. In 42-inch sets, most plasmas and L.C.D.’s provide 768 screen lines, from top to bottom. But plasmas have 1,024 pixels per line, while L.C.D.’s have 1,280 or even 1,366 pixels. That makes 42-inch L.C.D.’s better for the high detail in video games, said Mr. Zittrauer of Best Buy. But for movies or sports, he says plasma’s better contrast ratio outweighs its resolution deficit.
The starting point for high-definition is 720 lines, but the pinnacle is 1080p, which has 1,080 lines of 1,920 pixels. So far, plasma makers have been able to squeeze all those pixels only into screens of 50 inches or more — at great cost. Pioneer’s 50-inch PRO-FHD1 lists for $10,000.
Some 1080p L.C.D.’s are smaller, down to 37 inches. And prices are not astronomical. The $3,500 Sony KDL-40XBR2, for instance, has 1080p resolution. It showed stunning images from a high-definition HD-DVD movie, in which individual strands of hair on the actors’ heads were visible.
But those details looked equally clear on Pioneer’s PDP 5070HD, which has about half as many pixels. To appreciate 1080p, viewers need a very high-quality source and a screen that is either big enough or close enough to show the detail. As the screen gets smaller, so does the distance.
“Thirty-seven-inch 1080p is not worth it,” said Mr. Griffin of Sound & Vision. “You’d have to sit so close.” And even at close range, high-resolution L.C.D.’s might blur details in fast-moving video, because the screens do not refresh images as quickly as plasmas do.
In the end, the scorecard shows a slight advantage for plasma. The panels have higher contrast ratios, wider viewing angles and better display of movement than L.C.D.’s do. But L.C.D.’s perform better in bright light; and they have higher resolution — for those who can actually see it. On color, the technologies are matched.
The ultimate choice depends largely on where the TV resides and what it displays. Movies in dark rooms will probably look better on plasmas; games in bright rooms should look better on L.C.D.’s. But even the differences that do remain are smaller than they used to be. So screen technology is only one factor in choosing a set, along with price, style, brand and the particular level of quality in the particular model.
That is why some manufacturers, like LG Electronics, sell both technologies. As Tim Alessi, an LG spokesman, said, “We put both out there in the market, at similar prices, and let the customers decide.”
Microsoft Releases New "Open Specifications Promise" on 35 Web Services Specifications
Microsoft has just posted the text of a new patent "promise not to assert " at its Website, and pledges that it will honor that promise with respect to 35 listed Web Services standards. The promise is similar in most substantive respects to the covenant not to assert patents that it issued last year with respect to its Office 2003 XML Reference Schema, with two important improvements intended to make it more clearly compatible with open source licensing. Those changes are to clarify that the promise not to assert any relevant patents extends to everyone in the distribution chain of a product, from the original vendor through to the end user, and to clarify that the promise covers a partial as well as a full implementation of a standard.
I learned about the new covenant from Microsoft yesterday, which provided me an advance copy of the covenant and the FAQ that accompanies it and an opportunity to ask questions about what it is intended to accomplish. I did have a few requests for clarifications that I'll incorporate below which may resolve some of the questions that might occur to you as well.
Of course, Microsoft (along with IBM and BEA) proposed most, if not all, of these standards to begin with, but I am still impressed with the new covenant, and am pleased to see that Microsoft is expanding its use of what I consider to be a highly desirable tool for facilitating the implementation of open standards, in particular where those standards are of interest to the open source community.
By way of general introduction to those not familiar with this type of mechanism, a non-assertion covenant (also sometimes called a "covenant not to sue", or in this case, a "promise not to assert") is at minimum a pledge given by a patent owner that someone that implements a standard will not be sued for doing so by the patent owner, subject to certain limitations. In effect, it is similar to the more traditional promise given by companies when they engage in the development of a standard, but with several important differences:
1. Instead of reserving the right to require each implementer to agree to the terms of a license agreement of the patent owner's choosing, the promise is "self-executing," meaning that the implementer doesn't have to do anything at all, except stay within the conditions of the covenant. Where, as with the new Microsoft promise, it is explicit that no one down stream need obtain a license as well, a key requirement of many of the most popular open source licenses is met as well.
2. Unlike the usual promise to license on RAND ("reasonable and non-discriminatory") terms, where the terms themselves are almost never made public in advance, and often never at all, all of the terms in a non-assertion covenant are out in the open, and apply equally to all. When such a promise is made before the standard is approved, that's even better, because there has been an increase in the number of disputes lately relating to whether the terms actually offered by a patent owner that has made a simple RAND promise have in fact been reasonable (for more see this blog entry , as well as this one).
Such covenants and promises, when they go far enough, are essential to the implementation of open source software under the most popular open source licenses, and as you'll see from the Microsoft Web page, it has gone to the trouble of consulting with a number of members of the open source community in advance regarding the specific wording of the new promise, and has secured approving quotes from two of them: a commercial customer (Red Hat) and a respected open source authority (Larry Rosen).
Promises and covenants such as the one that Microsoft has announced today have historically been unusual, but have lately been made more frequently, especially after IBM made a well-publicized promise not to assert 500 patents against open source software. Similar promises followed from Sun Microsystems, Nokia and Oracle, among others.
That being said, of course, the specific details of a non-assertion covenant are extremely important, and the wording of each promise made to date by a vendor has varied, sometimes simply to reflect the favorite phrasing of its legal advisors, but often in important ways as well.
With this as an introduction, let's take a look at the new Microsoft promise, both on an absolute as well as comparative basis. Here's what it says, and what I take it to mean:
Microsoft irrevocably promises…
While there are some ongoing issues that relate to all such covenants, and to regular standard setting promises as well (is the promise binding on someone to whom the vendor sells the patent?), the word "irrevocable" is the important one, and represents the desired pledge that the promise may not be later revoked, although the statement might better have been worded "Microsoft irrevocably promises (except as provided below)," because conditions do apply that would void the promise if violated by someone relying on the promise.
…not to assert any Microsoft Necessary Claims against you for making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing or distributing any implementation....
As noted earlier, the explicit downstream promise is helpful (Necessary Claims will be defined later in the text). But note that the same conditions apply to those downstream as to the original party.
…to the extent it conforms to a Covered Specification ("Covered Implementation"),…
The new promise relates to 35 standards, and may be extended to others in the future. It appears that the promise is a "base level," because additional assurances may be added with respect to future versions of the same standard. According to the FAQ that accompanies the new language, the phrase "to the extent" is meant to include partial as well as full implementation of a standard, a grant of rights that goes beyond what many standards organizations require as a pre-condition to a patent owner making its patent claims available to implementers.
…subject to the following. This is a personal promise directly from Microsoft to you, and you acknowledge as a condition of benefiting from it…
While the promise is irrevocable, it is not unconditional. In order to enjoy the benefits, an implementer must accept the terms that follow.
…that no Microsoft rights are received from suppliers, distributors, or otherwise in connection with this promise….
This limitation is actually less important than it might at first seem, since the definition of "Microsoft Necessary Claims" that appears later clarifies that Microsoft is, in fact, also pledging rights under patents that it "controls" as well as owns. Presumably this would include third parties to the extent that it is able to do so under license agreements or other rights granted by third parties as well as with respect to patents owned by controlled subsidiaries of Microsoft, but that would be a good subject for an addition to the list of FAQs.
…If you file, maintain or voluntarily participate in a patent infringement lawsuit against a Microsoft implementation of such Covered Specification, then this personal promise does not apply with respect to any Covered Implementation of the same Covered Specification made or used by you….
This provision goes by a number of names, one of which is "defensive revocation," and represents an exception to the introductory "irrevocable" promise. It is extremely common in standard setting and can have benefits to all implementers, who may benefit indirectly from the revocation of the rights of use of someone that is bringing infringement suits against other implementers. The addition of the new language that runs down the distribution change is helpful in the context of open source, since someone that loses its rights will not result in the loss of someone downstream that does not join in the law suit.
…To clarify, "Microsoft Necessary Claims" are those claims of Microsoft-owned or Microsoft-controlled patents that are necessary to implement…
The inclusion of "Microsoft-controlled" patents is notable, as not all standard setting organizations require a member to disclose or license such claims. Absent this language, implementers would want to be sure to understand the intellectual property rights (IPR) landscape relating to the standard in question if, for example, it was based upon a submission made by Microsoft that included any third-party rights.
… only the required portions of the Covered Specification…
This is the degree to which the great majority of standards organizations require a commitment. However, in a given case, an implement needs to be careful to understand how complete a standard may be, and how the standards organization in question defines "required," which can be more or less extensive, depending upon the organization.
…that are described in detail and not merely referenced in such Specification….
While not usually phrased in this fashion, this is a common limitation intended to clarify that, for example, other standards that may be referenced, or so-called "enabling technologies," the use of which would be required to use an implementation (e.g., the computer upon which the software is running) are not included.
…"Covered Specifications" are listed below….
To begin with, the 35 listed Web Services standards.
…This promise is not an assurance either (i) that any of Microsoft’s issued patent claims covers a Covered Implementation or are enforceable or (ii) that a Covered Implementation would not infringe patents or other intellectual property rights of any third party. No other rights except those expressly stated in this promise shall be deemed granted, waived or received by implication, exhaustion, estoppels, or otherwise.
This is the standard "boilerplate" language that keeps lawyers happy.
The FAQ provides additional details, although in a few cases, I found that they raised questions rather than resolved them. Here are two with respect to which I requested clarification, and what I learned:
Q: Does this OSP apply to all versions of the standard, including future revisions?
A: The Open Specification Promise applies to all existing versions of the specification(s) designated on the public list posted at http://www.microsoft.com/interop/osp/, unless otherwise noted with respect to a particular specification (see, for example, specific notes related to web services specifications).
The key word here is "existing," which in context means "now existing." The question thus arises, what about future versions of the same standards?
As with traditional standard setting commitments, patent owners are wary about making open-ended promises, since in an extreme case a competitor could seek to extend a standard to describe part of, or all of a product of a patent owner, going far beyond what had been anticipated by the owner at the time that it made its commitment. Although there are differences from organization to organization, typically when a new version of a standard is approved, a member remains bound by so much of the standard as does not change, but is not bound by any new material that is added to it unless it is then a member, and agrees to do so.
And that is what Microsoft is committing to do, when you read the note at the top of the table of standards to which the pledge applies. For a comparison, see the language in the Sun ODF covenant, which is analyzed here.
I also asked about this FAQ, which I found to be rather opaque:
Q: If a listed specification has been approved by a standards organization, what patent rights is Microsoft providing?
A: We are providing access to necessary claims consistent with the scope of our commitments in that organization.
Would this mean, for example, that if Microsoft had pledged less to a standards organization, that only the lesser pledge would apply? The response was no, just the opposite. The example given was that if a definiton of "required portions" was more liberal within a given standards organization than another, in each case, the definition of the applicable organization would control. In other words, the Microsoft promise would incorporate the definition of the standards organization in question. Microsoft would also continue to honor the commitments that it made in any organization of which it was a member, and would therefore continue to provide an actual license, if requested, by any implementer that desired one (as some will), to the extent that it had previously committed to do so.
Exactly how open source friendly is the new language? The FAQ is surprisingly cautious on that score, reading as follows:
Q: Is this Promise consistent with open source licensing, namely the GPL? And can anyone implement the specification(s) without any concerns about Microsoft patents?
A: The Open Specification Promise is a simple and clear way to assure that the broadest audience of developers and customers working with commercial or open source software can implement the covered specification(s). We leave it to those implementing these technologies to understand the legal environments in which they operate. This includes people operating in a GPL environment. Because the General Public License (GPL) is not universally interpreted the same way by everyone, we can't give anyone a legal opinion about how our language relates to the GPL or other OSS licenses, but based on feedback from the open source community we believe that a broad audience of developers can implement the specification(s).
On a first read, this seems pretty modest, and it will be quite interesting to see the reactions that the new language draws. If a given specification is not well detailed and will need lots of work in the future, then the pledge will only work well for so long as Microsoft stays involved with that standard. More significantly, the pledge only relates to "compliant" implementations, which does run afoul of the open source right to change anything. From a standards point of view, that serves a purpose, as it furthers the spread of interoperable implementations, which is what standards are all about. That works well from that perspective, but may leave some open source advocates less happy. Still, nearly all standards obligations are so limited, so to the extent that this limitation is regarded as unfortunate, the same objection could be made against nearly other vendor as well.
Be that as it may, I think that this move should be greeted with approval, and that Microsoft deserves to be congratulated for this action. I hope that the standards affected will only be the first of many that Microsoft, and hopefully other patent owners as well, benefit with similar pledges.
Note: While I provide legal services to a variety of standard setting organizations (including OASIS, which has set many Web Services standards), the opinions expressed above are mine alone. I have not been consulted by OASIS or any of my other standards clients in connection with the new Microsoft covenant.
Web2.Doh - Trusting the User Too Much
As the web 2.0 hype continues to become ever more frothy, it becomes more and more obvious that abusing the inherent 'social goodness' is not really that difficult.
To take a step back, the big trust in social sites is that most users are good, and the few that are bad, the good users can easily police them. Not exactly the same, but even Larry Page from Google believed that most users are good. iBegin's philosophy (point #2) clearly spells out that users are trusted to deal with the minority that are spammers. And (getting to the point now), Digg operates under the premise that if a story is spam/inaccurate/etc, users will mark it before it gets promoted. And if it does get promoted and people report it, a little text message will be added notifying users that the article may very well be wrong.
Now, the abuse of the beforementioned power has come to rear twice on Digg.
The first one was about the abuses in the political section. Nothing makes people angry like politics do. So instead of forming mobs and torching heathens, it was decided to bury all opposing views. Left wingers buried the right wingers. Right wingers buried the left wingers. Both ganged up on the libertarian and green party stories. Who had marked what lame? Were they organized? No way of knowing.
The second incident is the one still being felt today - accusations that the Digg 'elite' effectively controlled the site, followed by Kevin's promise of change (but lets not forget his e arlier promise of making the burial process more transparent - still waiting on that), and finally peaking with the top user on Digg saying goodbye.
Digg is interesting because it is the largest of the 'ranked' users. Sites like MySpace and Delicious are also very large (or larger) but do not have the same problem - they do not rely on users to report 'spam' (at least in the same way). But a lot of the new-fangled 'web 2.0' sites do rely on their users. And unfortunately, most of these sites trust the user implicitly.
So where is this article headed?
Lets take a look at P9 (the top Digg user). While I unfortunately do not have a link handy on me, once he was accused as 'gaming' the system, what had happened to political stories happened to him. Instead of removing stories that were at ideological ends with their beliefs, people simply reported anything P9 submitted. It did not matter what the content of that article was - as long as P9 was the submitter, it was marked off as lame/inaccurate/etc, and the article ceased to exist. It got bad enough that both Kev in and Jay (the two leaders at Digg) were forced to respond, asking people not to do that (a tacit admission that they were unable to stop it).
So while P9 announced a public resignation, he was basically killed off by his fellow diggers. He had an inverted Midas touch - anything he dugg/submitted was instantly bombed with spam reports, and the story dissolved and ceased to exist. Irony at its best - people who had accused him of gaming the system were doing the exact same thing.
So this was ugly, but an isolated issue ... right? But lets use our imagination. Lets say Person X doesn't like Digg. It may be because he has a site like Digg (and no, I don't mean Jason Calacanis). He may simply not like Kevin. Or he may be demented, like Jason Fortuny. So he thinks to himself - how can I mess up Digg? Pretty easy. Get 100 different IPs (not that hard, even if all 100 have different C classes). Register them on Digg. Have them randomly digg 5 stories a day. Then scrape the top 100 users on Digg, and add them randomly across the 100 fake users. Simmer for a week or 3, and then *bam* - start reporting any story dugg by the top 100 users as inaccurate.
Thats the sound of havoc. Instantly the biggest Digg addicts are neutered. What was a reward in fame and recognition is now an exercise in frustration. Anything they touch becomes tainted and useless. Repeat ad nauseum for as many weeks and as many users as you want. After all, RSS feeds make it easy
Now before I get accused of wanting to wreck Digg (why would I? They send us great traffic), Digg is simply the easiest example. Imagine other web 2.0 sites once they reach enough users. Shopping sites? Would it be surprising if suddenly the iPod gets knocked off as favorite MP3 player only to be replaced with a Zen? Or a tourist site - whoops, forget about the Empire State Building, check out the snazzy Chrysler Building (these are of course only hypothetical situations).
This is a major issue that web 2.0 sites need to plan and look into. Trusting users is a good thing. But implicitly trusting users is no good. If Digg has moderators that approve a story before it goes live on the front page, shouldn't they have moderators checking spam reports? Social sites give so much power and emphasis on users yet a handful still have the power to wreck these sites. Until these issues are properly addressed, social sites will continue to be gamed.
Teletruth News Alert - September 12th, 2006
Ethics in Telecommunications Awards Presented by Astroturf Group.
"United Church of Christ a Stooge for the Baby Bells?"
Only in Washington DC would no one bat an eyelash when an astroturf group is a sponsor and prime mover that gives out "ethics' awards in telecommunications at the National Press Club.
>The Everett C. Parker Lecture and Awards Luncheon --The 24th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Luncheon, will be held Tuesday, September 12, 2006, at 11:45 a.m. at the National Press Club. The event is sponsored by the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc. (OC, Inc.) and the Telecommunications Research and Action Center (TRAC).
We are not commenting on whether any of the recipients deserve their awards. TRAC is run by Issue Dynamics. Sam Simon is the chairman of TRAC as well as the founder of Issue Dynamics, a group that works for the phone companies, Verizon, AT&T, BellSouth to create astroturf groups or work with co-opted consumer, Hispanic, black, seniors or disabled groups for phone company-sponsored campaigns and lobbying.
See our homage page to astroturf groups: http://www.newnetworks.com/skunkworks101.html
Some Data About TRAC:
About TRAC: http://www.newnetworks.com/skunkworksTRAC.html
1) TRAC published a series of biased reports that were used to help the Bell companies enter long distance while trashing AT&T and MCI. This data was used and quoted by Verizon, BellSouth, SBC and others as real.
Example: "A new study by (TRAC) found that consumers in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida and Georgia could save at least $507 million and up to $1.73 billion on local phone and long distance service after one year of increased competition."
2) Even though TRAC is a non-profit, it was able to use money from Issue Dynamics (the Bell companies as clients) to do these reports.
TRAC IRS filings for 2002 showed TRAC made $19,600, had $47,000 of expenses, and owed Issue Dynamics and others $122,000 in liabilities. "During the year, TRAC purchased goods and services from an affiliated taxable organization named Issue Dynamics, inc. Issue Dynamics, Inc. provider management services as well as overhead costs for fees to TRAC."
3) Economics & Technology wrote about TRAC and its data:
"The so called consumer group that released these long distance studies, TRAC, is actually the creation of a Washington, DC public relations firm who's clients include Verizon, all of the other Bell companies, and the Bell companies' lobbying organization, the United States Telephone Association."
"The study's various assertions and assumptions, and the conclusions based thereon, are demonstrably false."
4) Teletruth filed a complaint with the FCC over the fact that TRAC and other Bell funded groups are on the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee.
About the Other Sponsor, United Church of Christ. (UCC)
Sourcewatch outlines some of the relationships between the Bell companies, Issue Dynamics and the UCC. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php...urch_of_Christ
And a story at http://www.UCCtruths.com asks "United Church of Christ Stooge for the Baby Bells?" Verizon (and Issue Dynamics) created a rally and campaign with various groups including UCC and the Gray Panthers to make MCI, then Verizon's largest competitor, look bad in the courts. Ironically, it worked and Verizon ended up buying MCI.
What's wrong with "astroturf" groups?
These faux grass-roots groups and their 'skunkworks' -- a cabal/campaign that controls the message for various groups --- are essentially out to deceive the regulators, the press and the public. This allows
BellSouth, AT&T and Verizon to use "non-profit status' to create campaigns that benefit these companies, but have the look-and-feel of being good for consumers. Or worse, there are co-opted organizations such as American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) or League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), that represent various black, Hispanic, disabled or seniors' issues. Because of their corporate funding, they make decisions that help their non-profit organization, but at a cost -- many of the issues they back don't help their constituents.
And there is a great deal of documentation that shows that various Bell-funded campaigns raised customer rates, retarded competition and slowed America's broadband deployment and the economy -- real harms because faux groups have the funding of deep-pocket corporations to shout louder than anyone else.
This problem is widespread and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to fool the public. Go to Issue Dynamics web site and you find that the company is 'creating buzz for IPTV'. By coincidence the Bell companies are fighting to offer IPTV -cable services, are trying to get rid of any restrictions on state and federal level from the FCC to Congress. Issue Dynamics also created "NMRC", New Millennium Research Council to do the new research funded by the phone companies.
"IPTV: NMRC Report and Telenews Event ---IDI was approached to create a new buzz about the possibilities of IPTV. IDI and partner think tank, the NMRC, produced a dynamic 17 page report and held a telenews event which attracted 20 news outlets and was covered by over 50 national publications."
Common Cause has released two reports on the new crop of organizations that are "wolves in sheep's clothing", examining the current net neutrality and broadband and franchise debates.
Over the next two months, Teletruth will be updating this information. However, it is clear astroturf and skunkworks organizations represent the antithesis of ethical behavior. Maybe someone should tell this to those in Washington DC.
Bruce Kushnick, Teletruth
Lawsuit Against Microsoft Set for Court
One of the last remaining consumer class-action antitrust lawsuits filed against Microsoft Corp. in a state court is set to go to trial in November, and the company's co-founder and chairman is on the witness list to testify.
That doesn't mean Bill Gates will end up in the witness chair in Polk County District Court defending his company's business plan, but it's a possibility.
The lawsuit against Microsoft has made its way to the Iowa Supreme Court three times and unlike those in most states, which have been either settled or dismissed, it is scheduled for trial on Nov. 13.
Attorneys expect the trial to last six months.
Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin said Tuesday her experts have estimated that individuals and businesses have been overcharged as much as $453 million for Microsoft products in the last 12 years because a lack of competition has inflated the cost of the company's products.
In Iowa, about 5.1 million licenses for Microsoft Windows have been issued, 1.8 million for Office, 446,373 for Word and about 21,349 for Excel.
The average consumer overcharge ranges from $10.50 for buyers of Word to $56.99 to those who purchased Excel, Conlin said.
Many customers may have purchased more than one version in 12 years, Conlin said, so they could be eligible for multiples of those amounts.
Conlin said class members include all those who bought the following in Iowa from May 18, 1994, through June 30, 2006: Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS, Word, Excel, or Office software, or a personal computer on which this software was already installed.
"Class members do not have to do anything to be included in the class and there is no cost to be a member of the class," Conlin said.
Customers in Microsoft's database have been notified by mail or e-mail that they are part of the class-action case, Conlin said.
Microsoft denies that consumers were injured and said that computer users have benefited from the company's efforts to improve its products.
"The merits of the case will be determined in a lengthy trial that will begin in November," Microsoft attorney Rich Wallis said Tuesday. "We're looking forward to being in Iowa and having the opportunity to address these claims and defend our business model of selling high quality software at fair and reasonable prices."
One of the reasons Iowa continues to fight Microsoft in court is that Conlin has refused to accept a settlement in which Microsoft would offer vouchers for computer products.
"I don't think Iowans want coupons," she said. "I think if they were charged too much money and that's what a jury decides, then they should get their money back, not a coupon."
The case claims Microsoft violated Iowa's antitrust laws and harmed customers by illegally overcharging for its software, by denying class members free choice in software products and the benefits of software innovation, and by making computers increasingly susceptible to security breaches.
Microsoft initially faced 206 class-action lawsuits across the United States. The company said 108 were consolidated in a federal antitrust case and 96 remained in state courts.
Most were dismissed or settled for vouchers.
Cases in Iowa and Mississippi are among a handful that remain.
District court officials sent a court-ordered notice to known class members in Iowa by mail and e-mail, a required step in class-action cases.
Anyone in the class may chose to exclude themselves from the case but must do so by mail or e-mail by Nov. 13, Conlin said.
Distractions and Bargains Bought in Bulk
WE were in the vicinity of the two-gallon tubs of mayonnaise when my wife committed warehouse club heresy. “Sometimes I wonder how much of this stuff is actually a good deal,” she said.
With some items, neither of us had any doubt. Our local Costco sells an enormous hunk of Vermont cheddar cheese for just a little more than the supermarket charges for a modest piece of the same brand. Canned tomatoes are also a great deal, and if you buy diapers at Costco for a few years, you’ll save enough money to buy an iMac.
But with a lot of the other things stacked around the store, the truth was that we had no idea how good the prices were. Costco and its Wal-Mart-owned rival, Sam’s Club, have more than 90 million members across the country, and I suspect a lot of them are like us. They know a few products are clearly bargains, and they assume the best about everything else. Under the high ceilings and bright lights of a warehouse, surrounded by cans of Spam and bags of rice piled to the ceiling, everything looks as if it must be a good deal.
After my wife’s bolt of skepticism, I set out to see how well these assumptions held up, starting with razor blades, which have always seemed to be one of life’s most annoyingly expensive products. At Costco, a package of 16 Gillette M3 Power cartridges cost $32.99, or a little more than $2 a blade.
Indeed, no drugstore or supermarket came close to matching that price. But a quick Web search turned up a site — RazorsDirect.com — selling a package of 16 for $31.99 and packages of 48 for less than $2 a cartridge, all with free shipping.
Unlike Costco, Razors Direct doesn’t charge $50 a year for the privilege of shopping there. So much for buying razors at Costco.
A COUPLE of decades ago, most Americans had fairly limited shopping options for everyday items — often just a small store in the neighborhood and a supermarket a little farther away. Price mattered, but it mainly determined whether people would buy an item, rather than where they would buy it. If one kind of razor was too expensive, people typically traded down to another.
Today, shoppers can compare prices at Target, Wal-Mart, warehouse clubs, drugstores the size of supermarkets and, of course, the Internet. In other realms, Americans can choose among dozens of different types of telephone plans, credit cards, car leases and mortgages. This explosion of choices has made many industries more competitive, often driving down prices. It has moved the economy closer to a state of “perfect information,” as economists would say.
But it has also pushed retailers to make nearly everything they sell appear to be a bargain, be it bulk goods at a warehouse club or “marked down” items on the Internet. With each new choice that shoppers make, a store has a chance to persuade them that they are getting a deal, and because people like to think of themselves as savvy shoppers, they are all too eager to fall for the pitch. As a result, a sizable portion of the retail economy has come to be built on bargains that aren’t really bargains.
This is hardly what the theory of perfect information — not to mention common sense — would have predicted. “It’s really easy to compare prices now,” says Ulrike M. Malmendier of the University of California, Berkeley, part of a generation of young economists studying quirks in human behavior. “So all the predictions are that there is going to be more price sensitivity. Yet we often find the opposite.”
Ms. Malmendier has found an especially delicious example at eBay, the subject of a lot of academic interest right now. Besides being an auction site, eBay allows retailers to sell new goods on the site for a fixed price. They list the item with its price, and shoppers can click a “buy it now” button to purchase it just as they would on a more traditional site like Amazon. When the same item is available in the “buy it now” category and in an auction, it becomes possible to compare the prices, which is exactly what Ms. Malmendier and her co-author, Hanh Lee, did.
They looked at Cashflow 101, a board game created by Robert T. Kiyosaki, the author of the best-selling book “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” to teach, of all things, financial literacy. In the “buy it now” category, brand-new versions of the game typically sold for around $140, including shipping.
Just as you might expect, people started off bidding less than $140 in the auctions. But as time went on — and they received provocative e-mail messages from eBay announcing “You have been outbid!” — many raised their offers. Eventually, about two of every three auction buyers paid more than $140, even though many of them were buying used versions of the game.
Experienced eBay shoppers, who would seem like the sophisticated ones, were, in fact, the most likely to overbid. Sellers who mentioned that the manufacturer charged $195 for the game received higher bids than sellers who didn’t.
The common thread in these illusory bargains is distraction. On eBay, the distraction is the competition, which causes bidders to put winning ahead of saving money. With credit cards and mortgages, teaser rates make borrowers overlook what the interest rate will be in six months, as well as all the fees.
“What psychology often shows,” said Ravi Dhar, director of the Yale Center for Customer Insights, “is that people systematically focus on one set of information.”
As for Costco, the very size of the product is the distraction. In the end, I discovered that razor blades were fairly unusual; some other drugstore products were also overpriced, but most items at Costco were cheaper, pound for pound, than they were elsewhere. Still, there’s a larger truth that the razors point to: warehouse clubs are more expensive than they seem, thanks to hidden costs like the annual membership charge.
Research has found that people also eat more of a food item bought in bulk, simply because it’s sitting around the kitchen, which hardly seems like a good way to save money. Then there are the extra shopping trips that Costco customers must make, because many items aren’t sold there. Add it all up, and a good number of the warehouse clubs’ 90 million members probably are not well served by them.
That said, some people may simply enjoy wandering around an enormous warehouse and marveling at the scale of everything, the same way that eBay bidders love the thrill of an auction. There is nothing wrong with that. Let’s just call it what it is: not bargain hunting, but entertainment.
New England news
RIAA Nabs 45 On-Campus Students for Illegal Downloads
The Recording Industry Association of America has cited 45 Keene State College students for illegally downloading music using the college's Internet network.
Letters concerning the illegal downloads, the content of the downloads and which peer-to-peer networks were used in the process, were sent to the Information Technology Group at KSC.
"The RIAA is out looking for people who are doing this," said Information Technology Manager Laura Seraichick.
According to Seraichick, last academic year only five KSC students were cited for illegal downloading, while over 45 have been cited in the first three weeks of the semester.
"To have this many right at the opening of the year is like 'wow'," said Seraichick.
Despite the citation, the 45 students were not downloading an extraordinarily large amount of music, according to Seraichick.
"A lot of it is just one song," added Seraichick. "But it shouldn't matter, it is illegal."
One student, who would only speak to the Equinox on the condition of anonymity, was caught for illegal downloading and said she was alerted by the IT Group when her network access was shut off and a pop-up told her to go to the Help Desk.
When the source went to the Help Desk she said, "I know what I did and it's not a big deal."
The source was asked to sign a form stating she knew what she did, and would disable the downloading software from her computer before her network access was turned back on.
"I don't think I have a right to doing it," said the source. "It was just a wake up call."
The student caught downloading said she feels the college should take more steps to stop these programs from being used on the network.
"If the school doesn't want you to do it then block it," said the source.
Seraichick said part of the problem is a combination of new students and downloading programs that are harder to detect.
After all this, the source said she's learned her lesson, and advised, "Big Brother is watching, Keene knows what you're doing."
KSC is obligated as an institution to inform the student after the RIAA has sent a letter about a student's action but ultimately the student is accountable, according to Seraichick.
The letters sent from the RIAA states, "Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, if you ignore this notice, your institution may also be liable for any resulting infringement."
"We don't want to be the police for the RIAA," said Seraichick. "We are obligated to respond to these."
KSC does have a three strike policy in place for dealing with illegal downloading on campus.
The current policy requires those caught downloading to sign a form saying they are aware the activity was illegal then are shown how to shut off the peer-to-peer sharing, she added.
Two of the students are repeat offenders, said Seraichick. For the second offense, it is left at the discretion of the college judiciary whether any sort of punishment will be enacted.
For the third offense, Seraichick said, it is necessary for the college to take action against the student.
Meanwhile, the RIAA can, at any time, take action against the students caught for illegal downloading.
Seraichick said it was a gamble whether any action will be taken but none has been taken against students in the past.
KSC is currently looking to address the issue of illegal downloading to the campus community.
"We're looking to do more education so [the students] don't have to go through this," said Seraichick.
A MyKSC announcement was posted to begin this process and Seraichick added the IT Group was looking to do residence hall programs and other workshops on campus to promote awareness.
"It's typical with what other schools are doing," said Seraichick. "We just want the behavior to change."
Illegal Downloading Issue Warrants Response
In the first three weeks of this semester the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has cited 45 students for illegal downloading. That's nine times as many students as were cited in the entire 2005-2006 academic year.
There may be some question as to whether that figure is a result of increased illegal activity, more evasive downloading programs or increased attention to it, but there is no doubt that it is becoming a problem at Keene State College.
As a response to the problem, IT Group is planning campus-wide workshops and programs to inform students of the risks of illegal downloading and how to ensure programs that allow it are not active on students' computers.
Meanwhile, the 45 citations issued by the RIAA are not accompanied by any sort of punishment, at first. Though some ruling may come from the college after a second offense, it is entirely at the discretion of the judicial system. The third offense will result in a definite response from the college judiciary system.
However, while a ruling will not be coming from the college on a first or second offense, the RIAA reserves the right to press any and all charges for any infraction, so an offender may walk away with a warning from the college but may face fines, or even jail time, if prosecution is pursued by the RIAA.
It is appropriate the college is making some kind of response to this problem, whether through education or modifications to the three strikes process. Since the college has no control over the actions of the RIAA, educating students is a step in the right direction.
Still, the response of the RIAA appears to be a reaction to technology that they have been unable to control even with the force of law by targeting college students. Those that break this law are rarely criminals in the classic sense. Rather, they are music, movie and media lovers who have found an easy, cheap and illegal way to build their collections.
The release of the iPod proved that artists could turn a legitimate profit by capitalizing on the ease of digital music trafficking. Still, the option to pay nothing at all is too tempting for many.
Until media markets adapt to file-sharing technology, the use of many such programs will remain illegal and widespread. The 45 citations may reflect offenses anywhere from single song downloads to massive lists of illegally acquired material, but warrants a response nonetheless.
USC Copyright Rules Are Flawed
Universities - USC especially - are at a crossroads: Do they exist to promote scholarship, or do they exist to protect the business models of entertainment companies at any cost?
As students were returning to the USC campus for the 2006-2007 year, they were sent an ominous memo on "Copyright Compliance," signed by Michael Pearce, USC deputy chief information officer and Michael L. Jackson, vice president for Student Affairs.
This extraordinary document set out a bizarre, nonlegal view of copyright's intent and the university's purpose, and made it clear that in its authors' views, scholarship takes a backseat to copyright.
Copyright is a bargain. It grants some exclusive rights to authors and reserves the remaining rights to the public. The Constitution's framers were clear on this issue, having lived through the evils of monopolies endowed by the king in pre-Revolutionary times. They knew that granting monopolies to authors and their publishers was a dangerous business because the goods of knowledge are the core of scholarship, criticism, innovation and free speech.
That's why international copyright treaties and U.S. copyright law contain vital exceptions for educators, archivists, the disabled, scholars, parodists and artists. These exceptions have their origins in the tradition of the academy, the university's fundamental practice of taking others' work, analyzing it, criticizing it and building upon it.
The USC "Copyright Compliance" letter doesn't breathe a word of this. Instead, it contains passages like this:
"Copyright infringement occurs whenever someone makes a copy of any copyrighted work - songs, videos, software, cartoons, photographs, stories, novels - without purchasing that copy from the copyright owner or obtaining permission some other way."
This is simply untrue - if it's true, we should lock the library doors and arrest any professor who turns up with handouts or anyone who forwards an e-mail. Copyright infringement occurs when you make an unlawful copy of a copyrighted work. But oftentimes when you copy in the course of scholarship, you make a copy in accordance with the law.
This might not have much relevance to the average person in her living room, but it's central to what happens in the buildings on this campus. That's why universities like USC helped pass the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act, which codifies the ways in which distance educators can use copyrighted works without permission.
What's more, though "private copying" is usually out of the reach of copyright law, USC warns students in the memo that copying a "song for a friend or burning a mix CD is illegal." Twenty years ago, the record industry wept that "home taping is killing music." One hundred years ago, John Philip Sousa said to Congress, "These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. ... The vocal chord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."
In other words, it's not new to hear that making a mix CD (that great American courtship ritual) is illegal, but it's a little silly to hear a university taking up the demented cause of convincing music fans not to incorporate music into their culture.
The memo's purpose was to warn the student body from using peer-to-peer programs and other file-sharing tools. They did so not to warn them against using these tools to infringe copyright, but rather to warn them against using them at all on pain of losing their Internet access. The memo equates file sharing with infringement.
But this is a narrow and inaccurate view of P2P. P2P systems are the largest libraries of human creativity ever assembled. Even Grokster, the system shut down by the Supreme Court in a highly publicized case last year, was found by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to have more noninfringing documents than were held in the world's largest library collections - millions, tens of millions of works that were lawful to search and download.
P2P is a collection of material that might have reduced an earlier generation of scholars to tears. As a science-fiction writer, I've grown up with grandiose predictions about the future, but no jet-pack futurist was so audacious as to imagine a repository of knowledge as rich and potent as P2P.
It is this resource upon which the Copyright Compliance memo asks us to turn our backs.
Why would USC trumpet this one-sided, extremist view of copyright?
Isn't the university's purpose to promote scholarship? Shouldn't a university be aggressively defending scholarship against organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America, whose indiscriminate enforcers send sloppy takedown notices to university profs named "Usher" whose lecture audio files called "usher.mp3" are mistaken for songs by the artist Usher?
The answer is that, according to the memo, "USC's purpose is to promote and foster the creation and lawful use of intellectual property."
It's hard to imagine a more shocking statement in an official university communiqué. If this statement were true, then the measure of USC's success would be the number of patents filed and the number of copyrights registered rather than the amount of original research undertaken, the number of diplomas granted, the volume of citations in scholarly journals or even the number of Heisman Trophies garnered by the Trojans.
When I wrote about this on the blog I co-edit, Boing Boing, I was inundated with e-mails from around the world and around the campus, students who had confronted the university copyright policies up close and personal. They passed along UCLA's version of the "don't use P2P" memo, and while it was substantially less alarmist than the USC version, it was still short on the ringing endorsement that P2P deserves from an institution of higher learning.
But USC isn't the worst school on this subject - for example, Australia's Queensland University of Technology advises students not to synch their iPods with their school PCs, since even copying music you lawfully own there is considered illegal (I've just begun a research project with New York University professor and author Siva Vaidhyanathan to survey these copyright policies around the country).
More disturbing was the universal experience of USC students as reported in my self-selecting sample: All of the students I heard from who'd gotten into trouble for using P2P were unable to appeal the charges, no matter how reasonable their use of the network had been. I heard from Aram Sinnreich, an Annenberg School for Communication lecturer and doctoral candidate who had been censured by USC for using P2P on campus. Sinnreich had been called upon to testify in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the use of P2P networks, his area of study. Another student had been punished - by being cut off from the Internet - for downloading a copy of Lawrence Lessig's freely redistributable watershed text, "Free Culture." Both students asked the administration to reconsider their punishment; neither student heard back from the school.
Who on campus needs P2P? Computer science majors who want to study the architecture of P2P. Cultural studies majors who want to study the way that new culture diffuses through the network. Public diplomacy majors who want to study the way that P2P unites people across cultures and provides a lifeline for diaspora populations. Music majors who want to listen to public-domain works from the last century. Law students who want to examine the facts and the record on P2P use. English majors who want access to a stupendous library of public-domain texts.
Not to mention anyone who wants access to works licensed under Creative Commons, a licensing regime that encourages the public redistribution of creative works with the blessings of those works' creators. My first novel, the award-winning Tor book titled "Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom," was the first book released under a C.C. license just after the project's launch in January 2003. Since then, more than 700,000 copies have been downloaded from my site. It has been translated into many languages, and has gone through six English-language printings. Six months ago, there were 60 million C.C.-licensed works; now there are 160 million works whose authors wish to see them redistributed. These works are legal payload in P2P networks, and their authors are glad of P2P's novel architecture that relieves them of the cost of hosting and distributing creative works.
Universities should devote themselves to pedagogy and scholarship, not promoting the business model of the sinking dinosaurs of last year's entertainment companies. Today's record executives were the pirates against whom Sousa railed in 1908. Hollywood's studios were founded by people looking to rip off Thomas Edison's patents. Yesterday's pirates turn into today's entertainment execs in the blink of an eye. The university should study this phenomenon, criticize it and analyze it. To take sides in this issue is ridiculous.
How Copyright Broke
The theory is that if the Internet can't be controlled, then copyright is dead. The thing is, the Internet is a machine for copying things cheaply, quickly, and with as little control as possible, while copyright is the right to control who gets to make copies, so these two abstractions seem destined for a fatal collision, right?
The idea that copyright confers the exclusive right to control copying, performance, adaptation, and general use of a creative work is a polite fiction that has been mostly harmless throughout its brief history, but which has been laid bare by the Internet, and the disjoint is showing.
Theoretically, if I sell you a copy of one of my novels, I'm conferring upon you a property interest in a lump of atoms — the pages of the book — as well as a license to make some reasonable use of the ethereal ideas embedded upon the page, the copyrighted work.
Copyright started with a dispute between Scottish and English publishers, and the first copyright law, 1709's Statute of Anne, conferred the exclusive right to publish new editions of a book on the copyright holder. It was a fair competition statute, and it was silent on the rights that the copyright holder had in respect of his customers: the readers. Publishers got a legal tool to fight their competitors, a legal tool that made a distinction between the corpus — a physical book — and the spirit — the novel writ on its pages. But this legal nicety was not "customer-facing." As far as a reader was concerned, once she bought a book, she got the same rights to it as she got to any other physical object, like a potato or a shovel. Of course, the reader couldn't print a new edition, but this had as much to do with the realities of technology as it did with the law. Printing presses were rare and expensive: telling a 17th-century reader that he wasn't allowed to print a new edition of a book you sold him was about as meaningful as telling him he wasn't allowed to have it laser-etched on the surface of the moon. Publishing books wasn't something readers did.
Indeed, until the photocopier came along, it was practically impossible for a member of the audience to infringe copyright in a way that would rise to legal notice. Copyright was like a tank-mine, designed only to go off when a publisher or record company or radio station rolled over it. We civilians couldn't infringe copyright (many thanks to Jamie Boyle for this useful analogy).
It wasn't the same for commercial users of copyrighted works. For the most part, a radio station that played a record was expected to secure permission to do so (though this permission usually comes in the form of a government-sanctioned blanket license that cuts through all the expense of negotiating in favor of a single monthly payment that covers all radio play). If you shot a movie, you were expected to get permission for the music you put in it. Critically, there are many uses that commercial users never paid for. Most workplaces don't pay for the music their employees enjoy while they work. An ad agency that produces a demo reel of recent commercials to use as part of a creative briefing to a designer doesn't pay for this extremely commercial use. A film company whose set-designer clips and copies from magazines and movies to produce a "mood book" never secures permission nor offers compensation for these uses.
Theoretically, the contours of what you may and may not do without permission are covered under a legal doctrine called "fair use," which sets out the factors a judge can use to weigh the question of whether an infringement should be punished. While fair use is a vital part of the way that works get made and used, it's very rare for an unauthorized use to get adjudicated on this basis.
No, the realpolitik of unauthorized use is that users are not required to secure permission for uses that the rights holder will never discover. If you put some magazine clippings in your mood book, the magazine publisher will never find out you did so. If you stick a Dilbert cartoon on your office-door, Scott Adams will never know about it.
So while technically the law has allowed rights holders to infinitely discriminate among the offerings they want to make — Special discounts on this book, which may only be read on Wednesdays! This film half-price, if you agree only to show it to people whose names start with D! — practicality has dictated that licenses could only be offered on enforceable terms.
When it comes to retail customers for information goods — readers, listeners, watchers — this whole license abstraction falls flat. No one wants to believe that the book he's brought home is only partly his, and subject to the terms of a license set out on the flyleaf. You'd be a flaming jackass if you showed up at a con and insisted that your book may not be read aloud, nor photocopied in part and marked up for a writers' workshop, nor made the subject of a piece of fan-fiction.
At the office, you might get a sweet deal on a coffee machine on the promise that you'll use a certain brand of coffee, and even sign off on a deal to let the coffee company check in on this from time to time. But no one does this at home. We instinctively and rightly recoil from the idea that our personal, private dealings in our homes should be subject to oversight from some company from whom we've bought something. We bought it. It's ours. Even when we rent things, like cars, we recoil from the idea that Hertz might track our movements, or stick a camera in the steering wheel.
When the Internet and the PC made it possible to sell a lot of purely digital "goods" — software, music, movies and books delivered as pure digits over the wire, without a physical good changing hands, the copyright lawyers groped about for a way to take account of this. It's in the nature of a computer that it copies what you put on it. A computer is said to be working, and of high quality, in direct proportion to the degree to which it swiftly and accurately copies the information that it is presented with.
The copyright lawyers had a versatile hammer in their toolbox: the copyright license. These licenses had been presented to corporations for years. Frustratingly (for the lawyers), these corporate customers had their own counsel, and real bargaining power, which made it impossible to impose really interesting conditions on them, like limiting the use of a movie such that it couldn't be fast-forwarded, or preventing the company from letting more than one employee review a journal at a time.
Regular customers didn't have lawyers or negotiating leverage. They were a natural for licensing regimes. Have a look at the next click-through "agreement" you're provided with on purchasing a piece of software or an electronic book or song. The terms set out in those agreements are positively Dickensian in their marvelous idiocy. Sony BMG recently shipped over eight million music CDs with an "agreement" that bound its purchasers to destroy their music if they left the country or had a house-fire, and to promise not to listen to their tunes while at work.
But customers understand property — you bought it, you own it — and they don't understand copyright. Practically no one understands copyright. I know editors at multibillion-dollar publishing houses who don't know the difference between copyright and trademark (if you've ever heard someone say, "You need to defend a copyright or you lose it," you've found one of these people who confuse copyright and trademark; what's more, this statement isn't particularly true of trademark, either). I once got into an argument with a senior Disney TV exec who truly believed that if you re-broadcasted an old program, it was automatically re-copyrighted and got another 95 years of exclusive use (that's wrong).
So this is where copyright breaks: When copyright lawyers try to treat readers and listeners and viewers as if they were (weak and unlucky) corporations who could be strong-armed into license agreements you wouldn't wish on a dog. There's no conceivable world in which people are going to tiptoe around the property they've bought and paid for, re-checking their licenses to make sure that they're abiding by the terms of an agreement they doubtless never read. Why read something if it's non-negotiable, anyway?
The answer is simple: treat your readers' property as property. What readers do with their own equipment, as private, noncommercial actors, is not a fit subject for copyright regulation or oversight. The Securities Exchange Commission doesn't impose rules on you when you loan a friend five bucks for lunch. Anti-gambling laws aren't triggered when you bet your kids an ice-cream cone that you'll bicycle home before them. Copyright shouldn't come between an end-user of a creative work and her property.
Of course, this approach is made even simpler by the fact that practically every customer for copyrighted works already operates on this assumption. Which is not to say that this might make some business-models more difficult to pursue. Obviously, if there was some way to ensure that a given publisher was the only source for a copyrighted work, that publisher could hike up its prices, devote less money to service, and still sell its wares. Having to compete with free copies handed from user to user makes life harder — hasn't it always?
But it is most assuredly possible. Look at Apple's wildly popular iTunes Music Store, which has sold over one billion tracks since 2003. Every song on iTunes is available as a free download from user-to-user, peer-to-peer networks like Kazaa. Indeed, the P2P monitoring company Big Champagne reports that the average time-lapse between a iTunes-exclusive song being offered by Apple and that same song being offered on P2P networks is 180 seconds.
Every iTunes customer could readily acquire every iTunes song for free, using the fastest-adopted technology in history. Many of them do (just as many fans photocopy their favorite stories from magazines and pass them around to friends). But Apple has figured out how to compete well enough by offering a better service and a better experience to realize a good business out of this. (Apple also imposes ridiculous licensing restrictions, but that's a subject for a future column).
Science fiction is a genre of clear-eyed speculation about the future. It should have no place for wishful thinking about a world where readers willingly put up with the indignity of being treated as "licensees" instead of customers.
FCC Draws Road Map for Using Vacant TV Airwaves
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday set a road map for making airwaves between television channels available for other services by early 2009, when broadcasters are due to switch to digital signals.
The agency said it expects to have from its laboratory the results of tests for interference by July 2007 and would set final technical requirements for devices to use those airwaves without an FCC license by October 2007.
The FCC said in a notice it would accept applications for the equipment in December 2007 with the goal of having the devices on retail store shelves by February 2009, when broadcasters are scheduled to turn off their analog airwaves and broadcast in digital.
Companies such as computer chipmaker Intel have been pressing the FCC to make those airwaves available to be used without a license, while broadcasters have expressed concerns about interference with their signals.
Regulation Could Stifle Video Over 'Net, Says VON Speaker
As video on the Internet takes hold, proponents of the technology should beware the potentially stifling effects of government regulation, warned the keynote speaker at the 10th anniversary VON show in Boston Tuesday.
Reduced prices of video recording gear and reliable broadband IP services have made it possible for consumers to create and distribute their own video productions, said Jeff Pulver, the founder of VON. But just as FCC regulations threatened VoIP in 1996, they could also threaten the development of video over IP, he said. "Expect [the FCC] to be loud," Pulver said.
He pointed to comments yesterday at VON by FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate that the FCC would likely consider regulations to ban child pornography on the Internet, and those regulations could restrict development of legitimate content. "I consider it a warning shot," Pulver said.
He drew a parallel between this potential regulation and an attempt to ban or restrict Internet voice in 1996, and predicted a long battle and offered to help advocates of rights of IP video innovators. "The VON coalition will take people through the stages of what's going to happen," he said.
Reliable broadband Internet services and dropping prices of high-powered video recording and editing equipment make TV-quality IP broadcasts possible. This puts in the hands of consumers tools that previously only professional motion picture studios could afford. "I predict we will see new talent. Kids will produce video like we've never seen because they can," he said.
He cited the ability of individuals to create their own video equivalents of television networks, accumulating links to programming content they choose. "It's because people have freedom of expression that they are going out and doing this stuff," he said.
But sharing similarities with TV networks could attract government entities that currently tax and regulate network franchises. The FCC, which regulates broadcast and cable television, might try to regulate these personal networks as well because they are "TV-like," he said.
"There are ways to fight this," he added. "Don't let regulation get in the way of your innovation."
He demonstrated the current quality of IP video by projecting a trailer of the upcoming movie "Ghost Rider" on a screen that was being downloaded live to a standard desktop from sonypictures.com. The trailer featured high-quality video and sound. "It's better than TV," Pulver said.
Add to that the ability of individuals to control the elements of the content and that leaves wide open the opportunity to make a lot of money from IP video, he said. For instance, a video could be coded so a person watching could run a cursor over the shirt an actor is wearing, right click on it to find out more about it and left click on it to buy it, Pulver said.
Advertisers could tap the demographics of all viewers and personalize advertisements that come along with video content. "It's totally intrusive, but trust me, it could happen," he said.
DivX Set To Go Public Next Week
DivX, the video compression company that went from public enemy No. 1 in Hollywood to a trusted partner, will hold a public offering next week.
The San Diego-based company plans to sell 9.1 million shares for $12 to $14 a share.
Revenue for the first six months of 2006 came to $27.2 million, while net income was $5.9 million. In 2005, annual revenue was $29.3 million and net income was $2.3 million.
The DivX video compression technology offers DVD quality at 10 times the compression of traditional MPEG-2 files, enabling a full-length film to fit on one CD or eight films to fit on one DVD. More than 50 million DivX-certified devices have been released.
DivX does for video what the popular MP3 audio standard does for music, allowing people to create and play copy-protected video that's small enough to be easily distributed over the Internet and played on a variety of devices.
Initially, studios complained that consumers used the company's software to trade copyrighted video. The company subsequently added copyright protection technology. That led to deals with consumer electronics companies--which bundle the software so consumers can play DivX-compressed video--and film studios. The company's dream is to get studios to distribute their films over the Web with its software.
DivX is big in Europe, in part because the technology originated in France, executives at the company have said.
The company was founded in 2000 and has more than 200 employees.
Explore Banned Books
For more information about Banned Books Week (September 23rd-30th), visit http://www.ala.org/bbooks.
Is a book being challenged or banned in your community? The ALA can help you do something about it.
To Kill a Mockingbird. Of Mice and Men. The Great Gatsby. 1984. It's hard to imagine a world without these extraordinary literary classics, but every year there are hundreds of attempts to remove great books from libraries and schools. In fact, according to the American Library Association, 42 of 100 books recognized by the Radcliffe Publishing Course as the best novels of the 20th century have been challenged or banned.
Google Book Search is our effort to expand the universe of books you can discover, and this year we're joining libraries and bookstores across the country to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Banned Books Week – a nationwide initiative to help people learn about and explore banned books. You can start by browsing these 42 classics – books we couldn't be more pleased to highlight.
Age-Old Technology for New Bells
A few steps off Broadway in Lower Manhattan is a hidden staircase leading to a dimly lighted room in which something is about to happen that used to happen regularly for 150 years before it stopped in the late 1940’s.
That squarish little room is about to become, once again, a gathering place for bell ringers whose idea of a great time is to pull some ropes and ring a peal.
The narrow stairs lead into the tower of Trinity Church, at the head of Wall Street. With a $1 million donation from a British bell enthusiast, the church is removing a mechanical ringing system installed after World War II and putting in 12 brand-new bells that can be rung only by hand-pulled ropes dangling underneath. That will make Trinity the only change-ringing tower with 12 bells in the United States. (The National Cathedral, in Washington, has 10 bells.)
So a church that was filled with ash and debris when the twin towers collapsed on 9/11 is bringing back an art that dates from the Middle Ages and that change ringers say was imported from Britain in colonial times.
“It’s almost like putting something right again,” said the vicar of the church, the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee.
Change ringing had a more colorful history in New England than in New York: Paul Revere, for example, was a ringer at Old North Church. Change ringers say that was why he thought to ask for the one-if-by-land, two-if-by-sea lantern signal — he knew exactly what someone could see from the tower, and he knew that he could see the tower as he thundered on his midnight ride.
Now as then, change-ringers’ instruments rotate on wooden wheels as they are rung, and change-ringing bells are heavyweights. Tim Barnes, Trinity’s volunteer ringing master, says the heaviest at Trinity tips the scale at 2,700 pounds, as much as a small car.
“That weight is moving through a 360-degree circle on a set of bearings,” said Mr. Barnes, who is a director at Credit Suisse First Boston. “You’re controlling that on a wheel that has about a six-foot diameter. You’re controlling that movement of that bell from perhaps 30 feet below. That takes some doing.”
But change-ringing does not produce what a musician would consider a recognizable melody. Change ringers care less about a tune than about the complicated patterns that determine the order in which each bell is rung. With 12 bells, there are millions of possible combinations — “a walloping number,” said Owen Burdick, Trinity’s director of music.
To ring what is called a peal, a group of change ringers need go through no more than 5,000 changes. That takes about three and a half hours, Dr. Burdick said. If change ringing involves a mathematical challenge, installing the change-ringing bells at Trinity involved an architectural and engineering challenge. Adding the new bells meant adding weight in the church’s Gothic tower: the lightest of the bells is 510 pounds. There was also the question of where the band of change ringers would stand.
Trinity solved the second problem by removing the mechanism that used to run the clock on its tower. That will open up space below the bells, which will sit on newly installed steelwork, 90 feet above the ground. (The clock is now run by a small device that synchronizes the Trinity clock to an atomic clock and is accurate to one ten-thousandth of a second per year, Dr. Burdick said.)
For Dr. Burdick, there was another challenge. He is afraid of heights. After making the climb one morning last month, he smiled warily and said, “The things we do for love.”
Trinity’s return to change ringing began on an earlier climb, when he noticed that the bells used for chimes had grommets — holes in the floor with eyelets to protect ropes from chafing as they moved. “That meant there had been ropes,” he said, “and that meant they were bells for change ringing.”
He did more detective work. In the church’s archives, he found a bill of lading showing that the church had paid £867 for the first eight bells in 1797.
He discovered that in 1845, the church added or replaced four bells, cast in the same foundry as the older ones. Another bell joined the group in 1848, but its lineage was different: it was made in another foundry. The lineup grew again in 1849, with a bell that Dr. Burdick said had become “so nasty it sounds like a flower pot.” The newest bell was installed in 1909.
The bells were electrified in 1946 and “hung dead,” meaning they no longer revolved. That was when they were connected to the organ console and used as chimes.
Trinity is having those bells refurbished and mounted in a new position in the tower, above the new change-ringing bells. It sent the chime bells to a foundry in Baltimore, where craftsmen retuned them by scraping small amounts of metal from the insides on a slow-turning lathe.
As for change ringing, ringing a peal is noisy work: change ringers wear ear protection because the bells are “deafeningly loud,” said John Ambrosini, Trinity’s director of facilities.
But Trinity is installing motorized shutters in the tower that can be rolled down, blocking at least some of the sound.
“It really is something that either appeals to you, or it does not,” Mr. Barnes, the ringing master, said. “There’s a musical aspect to it, there’s a rhythmical aspect to it, there’s a mechanical aspect. You’re operating a heavy piece of machinery through a long piece of rope.”
And rope handling takes balance and coordination, as the vicar, Canon Mallonee, learned when she took her first change-ringing lesson. “I found it intimidating,” she said. “I’d see these experienced ringers, and they have a pattern — to think you can just go and do it, there’s an art to it.”
It is also hard work, Dr. Burdick said. But in Britain, he added, “there is the beer afterwards — they all go to the pub.”
“The only problem is, the beer is warm.”
Cool, at Least for a Few Minutes
IT was five minutes past 1 a.m. Sunday. The line for the MisShapes, a popular dance party held every Saturday at Don Hill’s in SoHo, stretched down the block. Fashion Week had started, and the MisShapes — three D.J.’s named Geordon Nicol, Greg Krelenstein and Leigh Lezark — had put out word that the singer Kelis was coming, along with the models Gemma Ward and Lily Donaldson.
Don Hill’s is little more than a dingy bar, but that night it was packed with art world and music stars, as well as hundreds of fiendishly dressed young people who had adopted the MisShapes style of wearing a heavy curtain of jet-black hair.
Max Minghella came outside for a cigarette. Mr. Minghella, an actor and Columbia student whose father is the well-known director, wore a blue blazer, a rumpled white shirt and jeans. He didn’t, on the surface, look like the kind of young man who would be at the MisShapes party, much less be part of the inner circle that hangs out in Don Hill’s basement.
But that was the thing about the MisShapes, he said. They don’t throw up any barriers to admission, in spite of their intimidatingly cool facade. Ms. Lezark, for whom half the guys in the basement probably nursed a serious crush, has been dubbed Princess Coldstare on the Web. But that’s not how Mr. Minghella saw them. “Geordon, Greg and Leigh are the sweetest people on the planet,” he said.
The MisShapes are, at least, a phenomenon, if not a puzzle. Mr. Krelenstein is 25; his partners both 23. The products of comfortable suburban or small-town upbringings, they formed the MisShapes almost as a fluke nearly three years ago, taking the name from a Jarvis Cocker song.
Partly because of the way they look — the men are reed thin and favor a severe bowl-shaped haircut, Ms. Lezark is a femme fatale version of Ali MacGraw — and partly because they have an entourage, they have been compared to Andy Warhol and other figures of the 1960’s underground.
Yet the MisShapes are really a contemporary idea, their status derived less from any recognizable achievement, like making art, music or films, than by their celebrity on the Internet. Their Web site (www.misshapes.com) includes thousands of pictures from their parties, documenting virtually every kind of new and bizarre style.
In places like the Philippines and Brazil, there are Web diaries and role-playing sites devoted to the activities of the MisShapes. When they flew to Miami to do a party for a boy’s 18th birthday, they found their images plastered on his bedroom walls. “He knew everything about their personalities,” said Gordon Hull, a friend of the group’s.
Mr. Hull, 29, who runs Surface2Air, an art direction, design and publishing company with offices in New York and Paris, continued: “Every five or 10 years there has to be something new for the young people coming to New York. These kids are even more savvy because the Internet came along at the same time that they did. The fact is their Web site made them big, because of the whole party-pix phenomenon.”
The group recently engaged an agent to find a book deal for their Web images. (The MisShapes make most of their money not from their weekly party but from D.J.ing events for magazines and designers.)
It is on the fashion world, though, that the MisShapes have had the most impact. This week they will select the music for either the shows or afterparties of Calvin Klein, Tory Burch and L.A.M.B, the label of Gwen Stefani. Ten days ago, they were in Las Vegas to D.J. a party at Magic, the apparel trade fair. The group has been approached by the London designer Vivienne Westwood to give creative advice for a new store here. And this past July, much to their surprise, the MisShapes’ skinny mop-haired look served as inspiration for Hedi Slimane’s Dior Homme show in Paris.
“It was so funny,” Mr. Nicol said over dinner with Ms. Lezark and Mr. Krelenstein as he recalled his reaction to seeing his style transferred to Mr. Slimane’s runway.
“It was scary,” said Ms. Lezark, who also attended the show, sitting across from Karl Lagerfeld and Elton John. “When the first model came down the runway, I said to Geordon, ‘Uh, he really looks like you.’ ”
Mr. Slimane, who is known for mining the styles of obscure bands and club scenes, visited Don Hill’s at least once, for a party in 2005 to promote his photographic book “Birth of a Cult.”
Fashion designers have long shown a vampire interest in the style and tastes of fringe groups, sucking them dry, and older houses, in particular, have depended on them for cachet with young fashion consumers. For the MisShapes, there is a danger they will lose credibility if they are seen as being in the pocket of big companies. Gawker, the media gossip site, has taken a number of swipes at the MisShapes, implying that a backlash is under way.
Mr. Nicol, who serves as the de facto manager of the group (Mr. Krelenstein works for a casting agency and Ms. Lezark is in college), said he doesn’t see a downside to working for fashion brands that have little in common with the MisShapes’ hip image.
“Gawker has been saying there’s a backlash for more than two years,” Mr. Nicol said. “But the head count of the MisShapes parties has been exactly the same, give or take 100 people. And the amount of money made at the bar is the same.”
Mr. Krelenstein added that contrary to the perception that the MisShapes are too cool for school, the D.J.’s have always taken an inclusive approach to the parties. They play all types of music, and there’s no guest list at the door. For instance, on Monday, the group will do music for a party for the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, performing with Mötley Crüe.
“I’m really excited about that,” Mr. Krelenstein said.
Mr. Nicol nodded. “We’re going to actually be on stage with Mötley Crüe. Then we’re doing a Teen Vogue party in L.A.”
Mr. Krelenstein laughed. “Mötley Crüe to Teen Vogue.” He added, “I think that’s our tastes. And I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful. For instance, we like the new Beyoncé song. It’s not the coolest, but it’s a good song.”
But Mr. Hull, whose company designed some of the printed fabrics for Marc Jacobs’s collection this week, has his doubts, which he has voiced to the MisShapes.
“I love them to pieces but I don’t think they understand a lot of what they’re doing,” he said. “They are really young. When they told me they were doing the music for Tory Burch, I said, ‘What the hell are you doing that for?’ And they said, ‘Because she’s an important socialite.’ I told them, ‘You guys need to be smart about what you’re doing because you’re going to lose the cachet you didn’t even try to get.’ ”
Mr. Hull thinks the MisShapes can have a career after the parties wind down, as consultants to youth-oriented brands. But he says they have to be careful about the choices they make.
“I know they admire Raf Simons and Martin Margiela,” Mr. Hull said, referring to designers who have a high degree of credibility among fashion insiders, in part because they’ve kept such low profiles. “But the kids are obsessed with Hedi Slimane and Karl Lagerfeld, and that’s a totally different perspective.”
To the MisShapes’ generation, however, the underground doesn’t really exist. The Internet exposes everything in about two seconds. Alexis Page, another friend of the group’s, who develops products for MAC cosmetics, said: “Gordon derives his view from the way he and his partners work at Surface2Air. They’re very selective. Lately, Geordon has been eager that the MisShapes do other things. They are kind of everywhere at the moment, but I don’t think it’s going to hurt them.”
Certainly the MisShapes agree. A few months ago they were invited up to Sotheby’s to play music for a party kicking off a sale of contemporary Russian art. The average age of the guests, Ms. Lezark reckoned, was about 35.
“Everybody loved it,” Mr. Krelenstein said, sounding surprised himself. “People kept coming up to us and saying, ‘Do you have a card?’ ’’
This summer the MisShapes officially became a corporation.
Milan Fashionistas Fear Spanish Skinny Model Ban
MILAN- Italy's fashion capital is in a tizzy over a ban on overly thin models at Madrid's fashion week, fearing it could be next with its own catwalk extravaganza less than two weeks away.
Milan's mayor, Letizia Moratti, told a newspaper this week that she may bring the Spanish ban on underweight models to Italian shows.
Madrid is turning away models whose body mass index, based on weight and height, falls below a certain level.
"With those kind of rules, we'd have to turn away 80 percent of models. Naomi Campbell wouldn't be able to walk down the catwalk, she'd be too thin," said Riccardo Gay, head of the model agency of the same name that used to represent Campbell in Milan.
He also said Madrid had exaggerated the issue.
"Some designers have used extremely thin models, but we haven't. We tell models to exercise, eat well, go to bed early -- sensible rules," he added.
Madrid's regional government imposed the rules on fashion week to protect the models as well as teenagers who may develop anorexia as they try to copy underweight catwalk stars.
Mario Boselli, head of the Italian fashion industry's chamber of commerce, said anorexia was a "rare phenomenon" in the fashion business.
"You don't solve these problems with new rules. We have to use common sense and work with everyone in the industry -- including the models -- to spread awareness and deal with the problem," Boselli told Reuters.
Moratti was unavailable for comment, having left on a trip to Japan.
Milan fashion week, which brings together top designers such as Versace, Armani, Gucci and Prada, starts on September 23.
Who’s This Guy Dylan Who’s Borrowing Lines From Henry Timrod?
Perhaps you’ve never heard of Henry Timrod, sometimes known as the poet laureate of the Confederacy.
But maybe you’ve heard his words, if you’re one of the 320,000 people so far who have bought Bob Dylan’s latest album, “Modern Times,” which made its debut last week at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.
It seems that many of the lyrics on that album, Mr. Dylan’s first No. 1 album in 30 years (down to No. 3 this week), bear some strong echoes to the poems of Timrod, a Charleston native who wrote poems about the Civil War and died in 1867 at the age of 39.
“More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours,” the 65-year-old Mr. Dylan sings in “When the Deal Goes Down,” one of the songs on “Modern Times.” Compare that to these lines from Timrod’s “Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night”:
A round of precious hours
Oh! here, where in that summer noon I basked
And strove, with logic frailer than the flowers.
“No doubt about it, there has been some borrowing going on,” said Walter Brian Cisco, who wrote a 2004 biography of Timrod, when shown Mr. Dylan’s lyrics. Mr. Cisco said he could find at least six other phrases from Timrod’s poetry that appeared in Mr. Dylan’s songs. But Mr. Cisco didn’t seem particularly bothered by that. “I’m glad Timrod is getting some recognition,” he said.
Henry Timrod was born in 1828 and was a private tutor on plantations before the Civil War started. He tried to sign up for the Confederate Army but was unable to serve in the field because he suffered from tuberculosis. He worked as an editor for a daily paper in Columbia, S.C., and began writing poems about the war and how it affected the residents of the South. He also wrote love poems and ruminations on nature. During his lifetime he published only one volume of poetry. Among his most famous poems were “Ode Sung on the Occasion of Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina 1866,” and “Ethnogenesis.” Mr. Cisco said he could not find any phrases from these poems in Mr. Dylan’s lyrics.
Mr. Dylan does not acknowledge any debt to Timrod on “Modern Times.” The liner notes simply say “All songs written by Bob Dylan” (although some fans have noted online that the title of the album contains the letters of Timrod’s last name).
Nor does he credit the traditional blues songs from which he took the titles, tunes and some lyrics for “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” and “Nettie Moore.”
This isn’t the first time fans have found striking similarities between Mr. Dylan’s lyrics and the words of other writers. On his last album, “Love and Theft,” a fan spotted about a dozen passages similar to lines from “Confessions of a Yakuza,” a gangster novel written by Junichi Saga, an obscure Japanese writer. Other fans have pointed out the numerous references to lines of dialogue from movies and dramas that appear throughout Mr. Dylan’s oeuvre. Example: “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word” echoes a line from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
This time around Scott Warmuth, a disc jockey in Albuquerque and a former music director for WUSB, a public radio station in Stony Brook, on Long Island, discovered the concordances between Mr. Dylan’s lyrics and Timrod’s poetry by doing some judicious Google searches. Mr. Warmuth said he wasn’t surprised to find that Mr. Dylan had leaned on a strong influence in writing his lyrics.
“I think that’s the way Bob Dylan has always written songs,” he said. “It’s part of the folk process, even if you look from his first album until now.”
Mr. Warmuth noted that Mr. Dylan may also have used a line from Timrod in “ ’Cross the Green Mountain,” a song he wrote for the soundtrack to the movie “Gods and Generals,” which came out three years ago. Mr. Warmuth said there also appeared to be passages from Timrod in “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum,” a song on “Love and Theft.”
Mr. Dylan has long been interested in the Civil War: in “Chronicles: Vol. 1,” Mr. Dylan’s autobiography, published by Simon & Schuster in 2004, he writes about spending time in the New York Public Library combing through microfilm copies of newspapers published from 1855 to 1865. “I crammed my head full of as much of this stuff as I could stand and locked it away in my mind out of sight, left it alone,” Mr. Dylan wrote.
To Mr. Warmuth, who found 10 phrases echoing Timrod’s poetry on “Modern Times,” Mr. Dylan’s work is still original. “You could give the collected works of Henry Timrod to a bunch of people, but none of them are going to come up with Bob Dylan songs,” he said.
Mr. Dylan could not be reached through his publicist for comment. A spokeswoman for Columbia Records, Mr. Dylan’s record label and a division of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, did not return calls for comment.
Because Timrod is long dead and his work has fallen out of copyright — you can find his collected poems on the Internet — there is no legal claim that could be made against Mr. Dylan.
But some fans are bothered by the ethics of Mr. Dylan’s borrowing ways. “Bob really is a thieving little swine,” wrote one poster on Dylan Pool (pool.dylantree.com/phorum5/read.php?1,642969), a chat room where Mr. Warmuth posted his findings. “If it was anyone else we’d be stringing them up by their neck, but no, it’s Bobby Dee, and ‘the folk process.’ ”
Authors who have been caught copying from other writers have been accused outright of plagiarism. Earlier this year Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore who had written a first novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” was attacked when readers discovered that many passages in the book nearly exactly replicated portions of “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings,” novels by Megan McCafferty. Ms. Viswanathan’s publisher, Little, Brown, pulled the book from shelves, and the author was disgraced in the press.
In Mr. Dylan’s case, critics and fans have long described the songwriter’s magpie tendencies, looking upon that as a manifestation of his genius, not unlike other great writers and poets like T. S. Eliot or James Joyce who have referenced past works.
Christopher Ricks, a professor of the humanities at Boston University who wrote “Dylan’s Visions of Sin,” a flattering study of the musician, said, “I may be too inclined to defend, but I do think it’s characteristic of great artists and songsters to immediately draw on their predecessors.” He added that it was atypical for popular musicians to acknowledge their influences.
Mr. Ricks said that one important distinguishing factor between plagiarism and allusion, which is common among poets and songwriters, is that “plagiarism wants you not to know the original, whereas allusion wants you to know.”
“When Eliot says, ‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’ — to have a line ending ‘to be’ when the most famous line uttered by Hamlet is ‘to be or not to be’ — then part of the fun and illumination in the Eliot poem is that you should know it,” he said. But he added: “I don’t think Dylan is alluding to Timrod. I don’t think people can say that you’re meant to know that it’s Timrod.”
That’s exactly what bothers Chris Dineen, a middle school Spanish teacher and casual fan of Mr. Dylan’s in Albuquerque. “It seems kind of duplicitous,” he said. “Even casual fans know that Dylan has a history of doing this and it’s part of what makes him great, but this is different. This is one poet who’s used over and over and over again.”
Mr. Dineen said he would have been happy if Mr. Dylan had just given Timrod credit for the lines. “Maybe it’s the teacher in me. If I found out that he had done this in a research paper, he’d be in big trouble.”
But James Kibler, a professor of English at the University of Georgia who teaches the poetry of Timrod in his Southern literature classes, was delighted to hear of Mr. Dylan’s use of the verse. “If I were Timrod, I would love it,” he said. “I would say he’s doing a great honor to Timrod and let’s celebrate that.” Mr. Kibler said he planned to share Mr. Dylan’s references with his classes because his students “probably know more about Bob Dylan than Timrod.”
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