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Old 06-02-08, 08:54 AM   #1
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Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
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Default Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review – February 9th, '08

Since 2002

"It’s very frightening that IFPI can get through the courts with something like this. In Turkey and China its the state that decides what information the people can access and what should be censored. In Denmark its apparently the record industry." – Sebastian Gjerding

"Oink was the biggest music library in the world. People didn’t use it because they were criminals, people used it because it was literally better than any service you could pay for." – Benn Jordan

"The internet doesn't work that way." – Dane cop

February 2nd, 2008

IFPI Forces Danish ISP to Block The Pirate Bay

The battle between the IFPI and the Pirate Bay continues. A Danish court ruled in favor of the IFPI, and ordered the Danish ISP “Tele2″ (DMT2-Tele2) to block all access to the popular BitTorrent tracker. The Pirate Bay, currently ranked 28th in the list of most visited sites in Denmark, is working on countermeasures.

The court case was initiated by the IFPI - the infamous anti-piracy organization that represents the recording industry - and plans to force other ISPs to do the same. However, The Pirate Bay is determined to fight back, as usual.

The Pirate Bay team has already asked other BitTorrent admins to stand up against the IFPI lobby, and arranged a meeting with Tele2 to discuss the current events. Pirate Bay co-founder Brokep told TorrentFreak in a response: “I hope the torrent community understands what this will do to Danish people. It will also act as a very bad precedent for the European Union, and I hope everybody will fight this.”

At the moment, The Pirate Bay team is registering new (Danish) domains, to make sure people can still download .torrent files from the Bay when the ban is activated later today tomorrow. In addition the Pirate Bay will launch a campaign website, together with the Danish pro-piracy lobby “Piratgruppen”.

Sebastian Gjerding, spokesperson for Piratgruppen, a pro-piracy lobby whose goals are to reform current copyright law and protect consumers’ rights, is not pleased with the news. He told TorrentFreak: “The verdict is absurd. It will block access for danish users to the worlds largest distributor of culture and knowledge - copyrighted or not. It’s true that you can access copyrighted material through The Pirate Bay, as you can with Google or Rapidshare. Should they be blocked as well?”

“It’s very frightening that IFPI can get through the courts with something like this. In Turkey and China its the state that decides what information the people can access and what should be censored. In Denmark its apparently the record industry,” Sebastian adds.

This is not the first time a Danish ISP has been ordered to censor the Internet. In December 2006 A Danish court ruled against Tele2 in a similar case, and ordered the ISP to block all access to Allofmp3.com. According to the ruling, the ISP was willingly infringing copyright if their customers use AllofMP3 to download music.

IFPI has announced it will continue it’s battle against BitTorrent sites in Europe. Last month they tried to convince European lawmakers that ISPs should block access to websites such as The Pirate Bay, and block filesharing protocols, no matter what they’re being used for. Luckily, these proposals were rejected.

We will follow this campaign, and the response from Denmark closely.

Warner, Universal Take Action Against Baidu

Three global record companies have launched legal proceedings against China's top Internet search engine Baidu.com Inc, accusing it of violating copyright by giving access to music files, an international music trade body said.

Universal Music Ltd, Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Hong Kong) Ltd and Warner Music Hong Kong Ltd have asked a court to order Baidu to remove all links on its music delivery service to copyright-infringing tracks that they own the rights to, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said in a statement.

The claims have been filed with a court in Beijing, said IFPI, which is backed by global music industry heavyweights.

Separate action is also being taken by Universal Music Ltd, Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Hong Kong) Ltd, Warner Music Hong Kong Ltd as well as Gold Label Entertainment Ltd against Chinese media firm Sohu.com Inc and its search engine, Sogou, the statement added.

Yahoo China also faces proceedings after refusing to comply with a December ruling by the Beijing Higher People's Court which confirmed that the company violated Chinese law by committing mass copyright infringement, IFPI added.

Spokesmen for the three Chinese companies and court officials could not be reached for comment.

In December, IFPI said the Beijing Higher People's Court upheld a ruling that Yahoo China violates Chinese law by facilitating mass copyright infringement through music downloads.

"The music industry in China wants partnership with the technology companies -- but you cannot build partnership on the basis of systemic theft of copyrighted music and that is why we have been forced to take further actions," John Kennedy, IFPI chief executive, said in the statement.

IFPI said that more than 99 percent of all music files distributed in China are pirated, and the country's total legitimate music market, at $76 million, accounts for less than 1 percent of global recorded music sales.

(Reporting by Sophie Taylor; Editing by Jan Dahinten)

RIAA: Egg On Face Over Ray Beckerman
p2pnet news

RIAA lawyers are becoming dazed and confused as day after day, they try to con US judges into believing Warner Music, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony BMG customers, including very young children, are criminals and thieves.

Yesterday, in Arista v Does 1-21, targeting Boston University students, the Big 4’s RIAA tried to block the EFF’s (Electronic Frontier Foundation) request for permission to file an amicus curiae brief, says Recording Industry vs The People.

This is the case where Big 4 unlicensed ‘investigator’ MediaSentry was told to take a hike, by order of the Massachusetts state police.

It’s now also the cause of serious RIAA embarrassment centering on Ray Beckerman, the famous New York lawyer who runs Recording Industry vs The People, the unique online repository of scores of documents relating to Big 4 sue ‘em all cases.

Beckerman was one of the first attorneys to represent RIAA victims and as such, he’s better than merely well known by the RIAA and the many and various hired legal guns which represent it.

With that in mind one has to wonder not only how, but why, the RIAA’s demand that the EFF representation be barred, offered up by Nancy M. Cremins and John R. Bauer of Boston’s Robinson & Cole, has Beckerman as an EFF attorney.

Say Crimins and Bauer in their court document:

[The] EFF regularly takes legal positions in these cases that defy all logic. Indeed, one of EFF attorneys, Ray Beckerman, operates a blog on the Internet called “Recording Industry vs. The People” which, by way of example accuse Plaintiffs of acting as “a cartel of multinational corporations [that] collude to abuse our judicial system, distort copyright law, and frighten ordinary working people and their children.”
Yea, verily They also need to learn how to write.

This is somewhat akin to RIAA president Cary Sherman being described as someone dedicated to helping, instead of trying to destroy, American music lovers.

Never happen.

Be that as it may, today the RIAA fell flat on its lying face.

Judge Nancy Gertner (right) allowed the EFF’s motion for leave to file an amicus brief in Arista v Does, overruling the RIAA’s objections, on the ground that the cases present “questions of copyright law and computer technology” and that “amici participation” may “shed light on the issues before [the Court],” says RIvTP.

Definitely stay tuned.

RIAA Wants Songwriter Royalty Lowered

Lest there be anyone left who believes the RIAA's propaganda that its litigation campaign is intended to benefit the "creators" of the music, Hollywood Reporter reports that the RIAA is asking the Copyright Royalty Board to lower songwriter royalties on song file downloads, from the present rate of 9 cents per song — about 13% of the wholesale price — down to 8% of wholesale. Meanwhile, the big digital music companies, such as Apple, want the royalty rate lowered even more, to something like 4% of wholesale. So any representations by any of these companies that they are concerned for the "creators" of the music must henceforth be taken with a boxcar-load of salt.

Major Labels 'Face DoJ Antitrust Probe'

Unlaunched TotalMusic prompts price fixing concern
Andrew Orlowski

Two major labels have been served notice of a fresh antitrust investigation, a music business newsletter reports today. MusicAlly's daily Bulletin suggests that the as-yet-unlaunched TotalMusic service, currently backed by Universal and Somy BMG, has prompted notices from the US Department of Justice. The report suggests all four major labels have been contacted.

TotalMusic, described by Rick Rubin back here, is reported to be a low-cost, multi-platform subscription service to be offered to consumers through ISPs and device manufacturers. The plan has few of the restrictions traditionally attached to subscription services, with the service provider or hardware manufacturer subsidising some or all of the mooted $5 monthly fee.

"The subscription model is the only way to save the music business," Rubin has said. "If music is easily available at a price of five or six dollars a month, then nobody will steal it."

As an example of third-parties' willingness to subsidise music to the point of it being "free", UMG recently signed a deal with Nokia to bundle free downloads with selected handsets, which the punter can than keep.

A history of abuse

However, since the four major labels supply 80 per cent of the market with sound recordings, the issue of price-fixing has never been far from formal regulatory scrutiny. Executives are schooled in avoiding trigger words that indicate the major labels are acting in concert. In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission concluded that the labels' "Minimum Advertised Price" programs constituted wholesale price fixing, which had cost consumers $480m.

Fear of being seen to act like a cartel has paralyzed progressive licensing initiatives.

In December 2001, the majors backed two music subscription services called PressPlay and MusicNet, and came under immediate antitrust attention. PressPlay was backed by Universal and Sony, while MusicNet was backed by Warner, EMI and BMG together with Real Networks. The DoJ investigated a number of complaints, the strongest of which was that the major labels refused to license their catalogues to competing music service providers.

The investigation was overtaken by the launch of iTunes, and with it Apple's creation of a licensed market for digital music downloads. The DoJ formally concluded the probe in December 2003 with a few harsh words at the subscription offerings. While investigators couldn't find support for price fixing, the services were extremely unpopular and loaded with restrictions.

This backed the idea, the DoJ suggested, that the goal of the programs was to "impede the growth of the Internet" for music distribution, and steer users back to the "bread and butter of the music industry"; physical CD sales.

But that's a luxury the major labels don't have today. With physical sales of sound recordings showing a 25 per cent year-on-year decline, labels are prepared to lose many of their traditional paranoia and technophobia, and take the risk. They have nowhere left to go.

Today it's the harsh economic reality of doing business that most hampers the launch of licensed services that can effectively compete with free ones.

Only huge telecomms companies and large global hardware manufacturers - Apple, Nokia and Sony are all individually much larger than the entire record industry - can afford to license the music. As so often, the internet is portrayed as redistributing power from the few to the many; but with music, it may simply concentrate power with a small number of players. One or two faces may change.

France Investigates Warner Music CEO Bronfman

Warner Music Group Corp Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. has been placed under formal investigation by French authorities as part of a probe into insider trading at Vivendi, Warner said on Thursday.

Bronfman was formerly a director of Vivendi and sold shares in the French media giant in 2002.

The probe centers on trading during the tenure of former Vivendi Chief Executive Jean-Marie Messier.

Vivendi Universal nearly collapsed in mid-2002 after a debt-fuelled acquisition spree carried out under Messier to turn the company from a simple utilities company to an international media empire.

Vivendi has since sold off a large number of assets to help pay back its debt.

Thierry Marembert, attorney for Bronfman, said in a statement on Thursday that placing someone under investigation is a preliminary stage of proceedings conducted by two French investigating magistrates and no charges have been filed.

"He will continue to cooperate with the proceedings. Mr. Bronfman's transactions have at all times been proper and at no time did he contravene any French laws or regulations," Marembert said.

Bronfman, who resigned from the Vivendi board in December 2003, provided testimony regarding the matter in June.

"The inquiry has encompassed certain trading by Mr. Bronfman in Vivendi stock. Several individuals, including Mr. Bronfman ... have been given the status of "mise en examen" in connection with the inquiry," Warner said in a Jan. 25 regulatory filing.

(Reporting by Sue Zeidler; Editing by Andre Grenon)

PRO-IP Act is Dangerous and Unnecessary, Say Industry Groups
Eric Bangeman

Last month, the Copyright Office held a closed-door session on the issue of statutory damages. A small affair, the roundtable was a response to the PRO-IP Act introduced in Congress late last year. In the wake of the meeting, eight public interest and industry groups have published a white paper (PDF) arguing against any changes to the "one work" rule and the increases in statutory damages that would result from such changes.

The PRO-IP Act would drastically alter US copyright law by increasing the amount of statutory damages that could be awarded to rightsholders. For instance, someone copying a 50 songs from a boxed set could be liable for $7.5 million in damages instead of the current $150,000. There's more: there would be a new office created within the executive branch that would be responsible for IP enforcement, while the Department of Justice would get a new IP enforcement division.

The white paper, submitted by the Consumer Electronics Association, Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Association of Public Television Stations, the Library Copyright Alliance, the Computer & Communications Industry, NetCoalition, and the Printing Industries of America, argues against the kind of changes to the copyright law envisioned in the PRO-IP Act.

Noting that the courts can currently award massive statutory damages without rightsholders having to demonstrate that they have suffered any actual harm (ask Jammie Thomas about that), the white paper calls current copyright law a "carefully designed compromise" meant to balance the interests of both parties. After all, if a rights-holder believes that it has suffered damages in excess of the statutory limits, it has the option to seek punitive damages as well.

From the standpoint of Big Content, the problem is that it can be difficult to prove actual damages; lifting the ceiling on statutory damages is much easier. During the Jammie Thomas trial, one recording industry executive testified that she had no idea what the RIAA's actual damages were. "We haven't stopped to calculate the amount of damages we've suffered due to downloading," testified Sony BMG's head of litigation Jennifer Pariser.

That's not enough, argues the white paper. Supporters of the PRO-IP Act are "not able to produce any examples where that rule has created unfair outcomes for rightsholders," according to the groups. "In fact, at the January 25 meeting Associate Register Carson asked the proponents of Section 104 if they could cite a single example where the one work rule produced an unjust result. The proponents were unable to do so."

The authors of the white paper paint a dreary future where "copyright trolls" file lawsuits in order to rake in massive amounts of statutory damages, where innovation is stifled, and where artists are afraid to "Recut, Reframe, and Recycle" because of the financial risks involved.

The PRO-IP Act would also strengthen the hand of rightsholders when it comes to secondary infringement, a development the white paper contends should be avoided at all costs. Noting that courts have seldom—if ever—ruled on the question of the applicability of statutory damages in the case of secondary infringement (a federal judge rejected the RIAA's argument that Debbie Foster was liable for secondary infringement in Capitol v. Foster), the authors argue that any changes to the Copyright Act must limit liability for secondary infringement. Otherwise, companies would be less willing to create innovative new products for fear of running afoul of this issue.

The increase in statutory damages might be justified, allow the white paper's authors, if there was evidence that it would help in the fight against piracy. They argue that such evidence is lacking. "At the January 25, 2008, meeting, supporters of the amendment provided no evidence that weakening the one work rule would deter infringement by end users or commercial 'pirates.'"

There's a lot more in the white paper, including a fascinating (well, fascinating to me, anyway) look at the history of development of the statutory damages clause in the Copyright Act. But the key takeaway is this: current law already provides for adequate damages for rightsholders, and the proposals backed by Big Content in the current legislation would have far-reaching negative consequences if the bill is passed in its current form.

Further reading:

The white paper (PDF) is available from Public Knowledge
The complete text (PDF) of the PRO-IP Act (HR 4279) is available from the GPO

Federal Aid Threatened by New Bill

Bill would require Santa Clara to create alternatives for illegal file-sharing
Gina Belmonte

The entertainment industry continues to find new ways to combat copyright violations on university campuses -- this time it has turned to the federal government.

Under the College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007, students face the potential risk of losing their federal student aid if illegal peer-to-peer Internet file sharing continues on campus. The bill, HR 4137, has been introduced to the House of Representatives and is up for debate in the coming weeks.

While HR 4137 is a massive education bill, one provision of the bill, titled "Campus-based Digital Theft Prevention," is sparking controversy among students and university officials. Section 494 first mandates institutions to publicize policies and procedures relating to illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted material. The second part of the section -- and the most contested -- requires institutions to plan to offer alternatives to illegal downloading as well as explore tools and software to prevent such illegal activity.

Universities that fail to comply are subject to a loss of federal student aid funding, ultimately penalizing every student who receives federal financial aid -- regardless of whether they participate in the illegal activity. Loss in such funding would affect those with Pell grants, Stafford and Perkins student loans, as well as those with work study funded by federal student aid, according to Neena Dagnino, office manager of the Financial Aid Office.

The required alternatives to illegal file sharing imposed by the bill can mean something as simple as putting up a Web site with links to places like iTunes and Rhapsody, said Ron Danielson, chief information officer.

However, other alternatives could include the university having to subscribe to download services or purchase software to control and block illegal file sharing. The extent of the threat has yet to be delineated, as the bill fails to specify exactly what is expected of the university, said Danielson.

The university seems to already be taking many illegal file-sharing precautions, said Tyler Ochoa, a Santa Clara professor of law with a specialization in copyright law.

In addition, the bill only requires the university to develop a plan that offers alternatives to illegal file sharing, not implement it, said Ochoa.

For now, the university has decided the best approach toward dealing with illegal downloading is an educational one, said Information Technology Director Carl Fussell.

Fussell cited some of the ways the university has done its best to deter illegal file sharing: Santa Clara offers an open course on illegal downloading taught by the chief information officer and copyright law professor, university representatives speak to students and parents during orientation, and a student support staff encourages other alternatives to illegal downloading.

Still, section 494's potential penalties to ensure the profit of the entertainment industry at the expense of students seem harsh, said Danielson.

"Universities should not play as tools for the tyrants," said Richard Stallman, copyrights activist and peer-to-peer sharing advocate, in a symposium speech on campus last Thursday.

Stallman argued universities should not keep records of illegal file-sharing activity that would help the corporate interests of the entertainment industry.

For liability reasons, the university releases student information upon the receipt of subpoenas, court orders that demand the identification of students, said Fussell.

Preliminary to subpoenas, Digital Millennium Copyright Act notifications are notices of alleged copyright infringement that have been traced to a computer in the network.

These notifications also request that the university retain records to identify the violators and ask them to preserve the copyright infringing materials.

The university could be called into court to testify and would not deliberately destroy information related to a potential legal action, said Danielson.

The RIAA has issued 20 DMCA notes to Santa Clara students since the beginning of the academic year, a low number for an institution of this size, said Danielson. Still, he said he believes the entertainment industry appears to be unfairly targeting higher education institutions.

Some students said they think the bill could be effective.

"If I downloaded music I'd probably stop," said freshman Jake Echeverria. "I'm just not into music that much, I think, but I'm definitely into my FAFSA."

Others feel there are probably better methods of punishment.

"I don't think it's right to punish an entire group for the actions of a few," said freshman Dan Pursley. "You can target the few that are doing it and then let the RIAA deal with it. It seems like it's their fight, not the school's."

Yet to be debated by the House during the next couple of weeks, the bill has a long road ahead before becoming a tangible threat.

First it has to pass, then an institution may have to lose its financial aid and go to court before universities can be sure what exactly this legislation means, said Danielson.

Rather than anticipate the potential consequences, Stallman said he urges people to contact their representatives and express their disfavor before the entertainment industry's grip on democracy gets too tight.

Microsoft Misleads on Copyright Reform
Michael Geist

The Hill Times this week includes an astonishingly misleading and factually incorrect article on Canadian copyright written by Microsoft. The most egregious error comes in the following paragraph which attempts to demonstrate why Microsoft thinks reform is needed:

Imagine you're an aspiring author who decides to self-publish on the internet in hopes of supporting yourself and catching the eye of a publishing house. Now imagine someone hacks into your website and accesses your work and begins using the ideas expressed in your work for their own commercial benefit. You should be protected, right? In Canada, you are not.

Actually, you are protected.

Copyright law would clearly protect an author whose work was used without permission for commecial benefit. In fact, the infringer would face the prospect of significant statutory damages. But don't take my word for it. One year ago (almost to the day), Microsoft issued a press release trumpeting a win at the Federal Court that led to one of the highest statutory damages awards in Canadian copyright history - $500,000 in statutory damages and an additional $200,000 in punitive damages. Funnily enough, the company didn't argue that it wasn't protected in that case (update: note that if Microsoft is claiming that there is no protection for the ideas rather than the expression of the ideas, then this is correct, though it's true for all countries since copyright protects the expression, not the ideas themselves).

The column then continues with this gem:

If we take our self-publisher as an example - that person is looking for innovative distribution channels to share their work. If digital distribution methods are not protected, what incentive is there for that person to seek other, even more innovative ways to distribute and commercialize their creations?

Actually, there are lots of incentives. In fact, Microsoft just bid $44.6 billion for a company (Yahoo) that is one of the most vocal proponents of distributing music without such protections and owns Flickr (itself formerly a Canadian company), one of the most successful online photo sites where over two billion photos have been posted without protection.

Finally, the column concludes by acknowledging that:

Critics of the proposed law often raise concerns about how to provide for fair dealing. The existing Copyright Act already provides exceptions for research, study, the disabled, and more.

Yes it does. The problem with the laws that Microsoft is seeking is that those exceptions would be trumped by the combination of content that is locked down and the Prentice Canadian DMCA. But then Microsoft ought to know that, since it is the company selling the digital locks.

Yahoo May Consider Google Alliance, Source Says
Eric Auchard

Yahoo Inc would consider a business alliance with Google Inc as one way to rebuff a $44.6 billion takeover proposal by Microsoft, a source familiar with Yahoo's strategy said on Sunday.

Yahoo management is considering revisiting talks it held with Google several months ago on an alliance as an alternative to Microsoft's bid, which, at $31 a share, Yahoo management believes undervalues the company, the source said.

A second source close to Yahoo said it had received a procession of preliminary contacts by media, technology, telephone and financial companies. But the source said they were unaware whether any alternative bid was in the offing.

Few natural bidders exist beside Google that could engage in a bidding war, and Google would be unlikely to win approval from antitrust regulators, some Wall Street analysts said on Friday.

Yahoo's efforts to find an alternative bidder could simply be a measure to pressure Microsoft to boost its bid, which valued Yahoo at $44.6 billion when first announced on Friday.

Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Jeffrey Lindsay wrote in a research note that "the Microsoft bid of $31 is very astute" because it puts pressure on Yahoo management to take actions that could unlock the underlying value of Yahoo assets, which he estimates are worth upward of $39-$45 a share.

Separately, Google Inc fired back on Sunday at Microsoft Corp's bid to acquire Yahoo Inc, accusing Microsoft of seeking to extend its computer software monopoly deeper into the Internet realm.

David Drummond, a Google senior vice president and its chief legal officer, said in a blog post that the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo could undermine competition on the Web and called on policy makers to challenge the combination.

Microsoft responded to Google's arguments by saying that a merger with Yahoo would create a "compelling number two competitor for Internet search and online advertising" to market leader Google.

"The alternative scenarios only lead to less competition on the Internet," Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith said in a statement.

Drummond argued that Microsoft's power stems from decades- old monopolies in Windows -- the software operating system used to control most personal computers -- and Internet Explorer, which is the dominant browser consumers used to view the Web.

Microsoft's proposed merger with Yahoo would combine the No. 1 and No. 2 suppliers of Web-based e-mail, instant messaging (IM) and portals, which act as starting points for hundreds of millions of users seeking information on the Web.

The Google executive argued in an official blog post that Microsoft could be looking to favor Microsoft and Yahoo services by pushing customers to other Web services they own instead of letting customers elect to use rival services.

"Could a combination of the two take advantage of a PC software monopoly to unfairly limit the ability of consumers to freely access competitors' email, IM, and Web-based services?" Drummond said in a blog at googleblog.blogspot.com/.

In making its case for the deal during a conference call on Friday, Microsoft executives said Google -- not Microsoft -- was the one company antitrust regulators were likely to bar from buying Yahoo, based on Google's dominance in Web search.

Microsoft executives cited industry data showing Google has a 75 percent share of worldwide Web search revenue. Collectively, Yahoo and Microsoft attract around 20 percent of Web searches, Internet measurement firms show.

"Today, Google is the dominant search engine and advertising company on the Web," Smith said in replying to Google on Sunday. "Google has amassed about 75 percent of paid search revenues worldwide and its share continues to grow."

A person familiar with Google's thinking said the company believes Microsoft is using the same playbook it did in the 1990s to switch Windows users away from Web browser pioneer Netscape Communications to its own Internet Explorer.

"It is the same old story," the source said. (Additional reporting by Megan Davies in New York; Daisuke Wakabayshi in Seattle and David Lawsky in San Francisco; Editing by Diane Craft)

Yahoo Board to Spurn $44B Microsoft Bid
Michael Liedtke

Yahoo Inc.'s board has concluded Microsoft Corp.'s $44.6 billion takeover bid undervalues the slumping Internet pioneer and plans to reject the unsolicited offer, a person familiar with the situation said Saturday.

The decision, first reported by The Wall Street Journal on its Web site, could trigger a showdown involving two of the world's most prominent technology companies.

If it wants Yahoo badly enough, Microsoft could try to override Yahoo's board by taking its offer — originally valued at $31 per share — directly to the shareholders. If Microsoft pursued that risky route, it will likely have to nominate its slate of directors to supplant Yahoo's current 10-member board.

Alternatively, Microsoft could sweeten its bid. Many analysts believe Microsoft is prepared to offer as much as $35 per share for Yahoo, which still boasts one of the Internet's largest audiences and most powerful advertising vehicles despite a prolonged slump that has hammered its stock.

Yahoo's board reached the decision after exploring a wide variety of alternatives during the past week, according to the person who spoke to The Associated Press. The person didn't want to be identified because the reasons for Yahoo's rebuff won't be officially spelled out until Monday morning.

Microsoft and Yahoo declined to comment Saturday.

Facing Free Software, Microsoft Looks to Yahoo
Matt Richtel

Nearly a quarter-century ago, the mantra “information wants to be free” heralded an era in which news, entertainment and personal communications would flow at no charge over the Internet.

Now comes a new rallying cry: software wants to be free. Or, as the tech insiders say, it wants to be “zero dollar.”

A growing number of consumers are paying just that — nothing. This is the Internet’s latest phase: people using freely distributed applications, from e-mail and word processing programs to spreadsheets, games and financial management tools. They run on distant, massive and shared data centers, and users of the services pay with their attention to ads, not cash.

While such services have been emerging for years, their rapid adoption has been an important but largely overlooked driver of the $44.6 billion hostile bid that Microsoft made to take over Yahoo this week.

That proposed deal would give Microsoft access to Yahoo’s vast news, information, search and advertising network — and the ability to compete more squarely with Google.

But a merger would also allow Microsoft to adapt its empire to compete in a world of low-cost Internet-centered software.

Yahoo’s huge user base could provide the audience and the infrastructure for Microsoft to change how it distributes its products and charges for them.

“Microsoft makes its money selling licenses to millions and millions of people who install it on individual hard drives,” said Nicholas Carr, a former editor at The Harvard Business Review and author of “The Big Switch,” a book about the transition to what the technology industry calls cloud computing.

“Most of what you need is on the Internet — and it’s free,” he said. “There are early warning signs that the traditional Microsoft programs are losing their grip.”

Certainly, analysts said, Microsoft’s revenue — $51 billion last year, most of it from software — is not yet suffering in any meaningful way.

The company said, to the contrary, that business is booming, and that Microsoft Office, a flagship product, is having a record-breaking year.

“Last year was our best year, and this year is better,” said Chris Capossela, a Microsoft vice president with the Office division.

At the same time, though, the company has lowered prices. Last year it began selling its $120 student-teacher edition to mainstream consumers, who had been asked to pay more than $300 for a similar product.

The bulk of the company’s profit comes from selling to corporations, which unlike consumers may be slower to adapt to a system in which proprietary data is not stored in corporate-owned data centers.

Microsoft said that corporate customers prefer using software that they are familiar with and that provides more functions and better security.

But the corporate business, too, is coming under increasing assault from lower-cost Internet competitors, including Microsoft’s archnemesis, Google.

On Thursday, Google took its attack to a new level. It released Google Apps Team Edition — a version of its productivity software that includes word processing, spreadsheet and calendar programs. In a form of guerrilla marketing, the fans of Google Docs can take it into the office, bypassing or perhaps influencing decisions made by corporate executives, who until now have overwhelmingly bought Microsoft software.

Google, while it gives such software free to consumers, charges corporations for a premium edition, though the fee is less than what Microsoft charges for productivity software, analysts said.

The change is coming not from corporations but on the computers of a growing base of individuals who increasingly expect their software to be free — and for it to be processed and managed over the Internet.

Kevin Twohy, 20, a mathematics student at U.C.L.A., uses a free service on Facebook to store and share photos, a program called Picnik to edit the images, and Gmail.

For his English class last semester, he wrote a term paper about William Blake using Google’s free word processing software, even though Microsoft Office had come loaded on his personal computer.

The advantage of the Google program, he said, was that it allowed him to keep his information on Google’s servers so that it was accessible at any computer, whether he was working at his fraternity, a coffee shop, a campus computer bank or the library. The experience, he said, has persuaded him not to pay money for software.

“I don’t ever see myself buying a copy of Office,” he said.

Those individual users may be able to do what an army of lawyers and regulators in the United States and Europe have never been able to do — rein in Microsoft’s monopoly power. There is some evidence that the erosion in its pricing power has already begun.

Last fall, Microsoft lowered prices of its most powerful productivity software for students, whom it regards as important future customers. For a limited time, it said, students could buy a $60 downloadable version of its most feature-rich version of Office, which ordinarily costs around $460.

Microsoft has also had ad-supported online competitors who have challenged other prominent brands, like the Encarta encyclopedia and Microsoft Money, personal finance management software.

“If Microsoft had to start over today, it wouldn’t even think about charging money for its software,” said Yun Kim, an industry analyst with Pacific Growth Equities. “Nobody in their right mind is developing a business in the consumer market to charge” for software.

Mr. Kim said that he expected Microsoft at some point to introduce a free ad-supported version of Office for consumers, though the company insists that it has no such intention.

Mr. Kim, however, expects that Microsoft’s corporate business is more entrenched and resilient, and less susceptible to the influences of free or ad-supported cloud computing.

Microsoft’s online competitors disagree. Among them is Zimbra, a division of Yahoo that offers Internet-centered productivity software for e-mail, word processing and spreadsheets.

Consumers pay nothing for the product, but corporations pay as much as $50 a year per license. About 20,000 companies, most of them small, are paying customers.

For Office software, Microsoft charges $75 a year per license to large companies, and up to $300 for small companies, according to Forrester Research.

Satish Dharmaraj, general manager of Zimbra, said the company could undercut Microsoft because it costs far less to create, maintain, fix and upgrade software that runs in a central data center instead of on thousands of individual computers.

But the relative quality of Microsoft’s software continues to attract customers, argued J. P. Gownder, an industry analyst with Forrester Research.

He said that Microsoft has an opportunity to develop a hybrid version of its software that combines the convenience of cloud computing with the security of processing on the desktop, thus helping it maintain and further its empire.

“This is the predominant reason why Microsoft has gone after Yahoo,” Mr. Gownder said. “The ad revenue is a nice short-term achievement, but in the long run it is much more about delivering apps over the Web.”

Firefox Vulnerable By Default
Don't blame the extension developers this time

You probably thought otherwise after they just released version a couple of hours ago, that had a fix for numerous other vulnerabilities. But guess what? we are going to see pretty soon I guess. I snared at Mozilla before: don't patch vulnerabilities for fifty percent, take the time and fix the cause. Because directory traversal through plugins is all nice and such, we don't need it. We can trick Firefox itself in traversing directories back. I found another information leak that is very serious because we are able to read out all preferences set in Firefox, or just open or include about every file stored in the Mozilla program files directory, and this without any mandatory settings or plugins.

In the vulnerability we make use of the 'view-source:' scheme that allows us to source out the 'resource:' scheme. With it, we can view the source of any file located in the 'resource:///' directory, which translates back to: file:///C:/Program Files/Mozilla Firefox/. Then we only include the file inside it and it becomes available to a new page's DOM, and so we are able to read all settings.

Other issues can emerge also, this is only a short-hand proof of concept. Like always, more is possible. While chatting with Gareth Heyes, I came up with the vector in a couple of minutes. We talked about more issues which we probably are going to discuss very soon. That's right, back to the drawing board with this one. In the mean time you can either use another browser, or install the NoScript plugin to mitigate these issues. The NoScript plugin can be found here.



 @name: Firefox <= information leak pOc

 @date: Feb. 07 2008

 @author: Ronald van den Heetkamp

 @url: http://www.0x000000.com


pref = function(a,b) {

   document.write( a + ' -> ' + b + '<br />');



<script src="view-source:resource:///greprefs/all.js"></script>

U.S. Agents Seize Travelers' Devices

Clarity sought on electronics searches
Ellen Nakashima

Nabila Mango, a therapist and a U.S. citizen who has lived in the country since 1965, had just flown in from Jordan last December when, she said, she was detained at customs and her cellphone was taken from her purse. Her daughter, waiting outside San Francisco International Airport, tried repeatedly to call her during the hour and a half she was questioned. But after her phone was returned, Mango saw that records of her daughter's calls had been erased.

A few months earlier in the same airport, a tech engineer returning from a business trip to London objected when a federal agent asked him to type his password into his laptop computer. "This laptop doesn't belong to me," he remembers protesting. "It belongs to my company." Eventually, he agreed to log on and stood by as the officer copied the Web sites he had visited, said the engineer, a U.S. citizen who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of calling attention to himself.

Maria Udy, a marketing executive with a global travel management firm in Bethesda, said her company laptop was seized by a federal agent as she was flying from Dulles International Airport to London in December 2006. Udy, a British citizen, said the agent told her he had "a security concern" with her. "I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight," she said.

The seizure of electronics at U.S. borders has prompted protests from travelers who say they now weigh the risk of traveling with sensitive or personal information on their laptops, cameras or cellphones. In some cases, companies have altered their policies to require employees to safeguard corporate secrets by clearing laptop hard drives before international travel.

Today, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Asian Law Caucus, two civil liberties groups in San Francisco, plan to file a lawsuit to force the government to disclose its policies on border searches, including which rules govern the seizing and copying of the contents of electronic devices. They also want to know the boundaries for asking travelers about their political views, religious practices and other activities potentially protected by the First Amendment. The question of whether border agents have a right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.

The lawsuit was inspired by two dozen cases, 15 of which involved searches of cellphones, laptops, MP3 players and other electronics. Almost all involved travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern or South Asian background, many of whom, including Mango and the tech engineer, said they are concerned they were singled out because of racial or religious profiling.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman, Lynn Hollinger, said officers do not engage in racial profiling "in any way, shape or form." She said that "it is not CBP's intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny" and that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity.

The reason for a search is not always made clear. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives, which represents 2,500 business executives in the United States and abroad, said it has tracked complaints from several members, including Udy, whose laptops have been seized and their contents copied before usually being returned days later, said Susan Gurley, executive director of ACTE. Gurley said none of the travelers who have complained to the ACTE raised concerns about racial or ethnic profiling. Gurley said none of the travelers were charged with a crime.

"I was assured that my laptop would be given back to me in 10 or 15 days," said Udy, who continues to fly into and out of the United States. She said the federal agent copied her log-on and password, and asked her to show him a recent document and how she gains access to Microsoft Word. She was asked to pull up her e-mail but could not because of lack of Internet access. With ACTE's help, she pressed for relief. More than a year later, Udy has received neither her laptop nor an explanation.

ACTE last year filed a Freedom of Information Act request to press the government for information on what happens to data seized from laptops and other electronic devices. "Is it destroyed right then and there if the person is in fact just a regular business traveler?" Gurley asked. "People are quite concerned. They don't want proprietary business information floating, not knowing where it has landed or where it is going. It increases the anxiety level."

Udy has changed all her work passwords and no longer banks online. Her company, Radius, has tightened its data policies so that traveling employees must access company information remotely via an encrypted channel, and their laptops must contain no company information.

At least two major global corporations, one American and one Dutch, have told their executives not to carry confidential business material on laptops on overseas trips, Gurley said. In Canada, one law firm has instructed its lawyers to travel to the United States with "blank laptops" whose hard drives contain no data. "We just access our information through the Internet," said Lou Brzezinski, a partner at Blaney McMurtry, a major Toronto law firm. That approach also holds risks, but "those are hacking risks as opposed to search risks," he said.

The U.S. government has argued in a pending court case that its authority to protect the country's border extends to looking at information stored in electronic devices such as laptops without any suspicion of a crime. In border searches, it regards a laptop the same as a suitcase.

"It should not matter . . . whether documents and pictures are kept in 'hard copy' form in an executive's briefcase or stored digitally in a computer. The authority of customs officials to search the former should extend equally to searches of the latter," the government argued in the child pornography case being heard by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

As more and more people travel with laptops, BlackBerrys and cellphones, the government's laptop-equals-suitcase position is raising red flags.

"It's one thing to say it's reasonable for government agents to open your luggage," said David D. Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University. "It's another thing to say it's reasonable for them to read your mind and everything you have thought over the last year. What a laptop records is as personal as a diary but much more extensive. It records every Web site you have searched. Every e-mail you have sent. It's as if you're crossing the border with your home in your suitcase."

If the government's position on searches of electronic files is upheld, new risks will confront anyone who crosses the border with a laptop or other device, said Mark Rasch, a technology security expert with FTI Consulting and a former federal prosecutor. "Your kid can be arrested because they can't prove the songs they downloaded to their iPod were legally downloaded," he said. "Lawyers run the risk of exposing sensitive information about their client. Trade secrets can be exposed to customs agents with no limit on what they can do with it. Journalists can expose sources, all because they have the audacity to cross an invisible line."

Hollinger said customs officers "are trained to protect confidential information."

Shirin Sinnar, a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, said that by scrutinizing the Web sites people search and the phone numbers they've stored on their cellphones, "the government is going well beyond its traditional role of looking for contraband and really is looking into the content of people's thoughts and ideas and their lawful political activities."

If conducted inside the country, such searches would require a warrant and probable cause, legal experts said.

Customs sometimes singles out passengers for extensive questioning and searches based on "information from various systems and specific techniques for selecting passengers," including the Interagency Border Inspection System, according to a statement on the CBP Web site. "CBP officers may, unfortunately, inconvenience law-abiding citizens in order to detect those involved in illicit activities," the statement said. But the factors agents use to single out passengers are not transparent, and travelers generally have little access to the data to see whether there are errors.

Although Customs said it does not profile by race or ethnicity, an officers' training guide states that "it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual's connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity."

"What's the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?" Cole said, noting that the countries the government focuses on are generally predominantly Arab or Muslim.

It is the lack of clarity about the rules that has confounded travelers and raised concerns from groups such as the Asian Law Caucus, which said that as a result, their lawyers cannot fully advise people how they may exercise their rights during a border search. The lawsuit says a Freedom of Information Act request was filed with Customs last fall but that no information has been received.

Kamran Habib, a software engineer with Cisco Systems, has had his laptop and cellphone searched three times in the past year. Once, in San Francisco, an officer "went through every number and text message on my cellphone and took out my SIM card in the back," said Habib, a permanent U.S. resident. "So now, every time I travel, I basically clean out my phone. It's better for me to keep my colleagues and friends safe than to get them on the list as well."

Udy's company, Radius, organizes business trips for 100,000 travelers a day, from companies around the world. She says her firm supports strong security measures. "Where we get angry is when we don't know what they're for."

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

Danish Police Befuddled by 1G iMac
John Martellaro

An open wireless network led to a Danish police investigation of a stolen credit card. The police wanted to confiscate the author's computer. When the author's roommate agreed to also let the police look at her first generation iMac, they were frustrated because they thought the iMac was just the screen. They wanted to know where the actual computer was and got rather heated about finding it, according to the author of Rottin' in Denmark.

The police were equally confused when the poor fellow tried to explain that even though his personal computer was only two weeks old, he was reading his Web e-mail from November, trying to figure out where he was on the dreaded "night of the 15th."

Even worse, however, was this tragic dialog with the police.

• 'We have your roommate's permission to confiscate her computer,' the Ichabod Crane one said.
• 'Whatever,' I said. They had already assured me that we would get our laptops back that afternoon, so I figured the damage had already been done. Ichabod started rooting around under her desk.
• 'Where's the computer?' he said.
• 'On the desk. That's the computer,' I said.
• 'No, the computer.'
• 'That's the computer, dude.'
• 'That's the screen.' He had lapsed into the voice you use when you explain to your 6-year-old cousin how the toaster works. 'I mean the compuuuuuter. Understand?'
• 'Dude. That's the whole computer. Right there. The blue object the size of an armadillo.'
• 'No. Where the daaaaata goes. The computer part.'
• 'That is the computer. For Hell!' Danish swear words aren't as satisfying.
• 'So that's the entire computer, right there?'
• II was standing there with a look on my face like I was watching a dog walk on its hind legs.
• 'New technology, huh?' he said.
• I blew the dust off the keyboard and handed it to him. 'Do you mind if I check your badge again?'

The police were also very confused about how a neighbor could log onto their open, wireless network. "The internet doesn't work that way," was the officer's response.

Watchdogs are Wary of New Licences

Could they be mere step away from ID cards?
Lindsay Kines

"Enhanced" driver's licences such as those to be issued in B.C. will lay the groundwork for a national identity card, federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said yesterday.

Stoddart said the licences, touted as an alternative to a passport for the purpose of crossing the U.S. border, closely resemble the Read ID program in the United States. She characterized that program as a way of introducing a "type of national identity card" for Americans.

"This may be an attempt to encourage us to harmonize with them," she said.

Privacy commissioners across the country oppose a national identity card.

"We think it's unnecessary," she said. "We think it's intrusive, and we think it's a route that Canadians don't need to follow.

"So this is very worrisome to us as a possible model."

Stoddart made the comments as B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis welcomed fellow commissioners from across the country to Victoria to raise concerns about the privacy and security of enhanced drivers' licences.

B.C. began offering the licences to a select group of 500 residents last month to ease border crossings into the U.S. by land or sea. A passport is required for air travel.

The enhanced licences contain a radio frequency identification chip with a "unique identifier" that can be read from 10 metres away. It's that identifier that worries commissioners, since it could form the basis for a national identity card and allow governments to track people's movements.

B.C. Minister of State for Intergovernmental Relations John van Dongen rejected that concern, saying the drivers' licences are being issued for the sole purpose of speeding border crossings.

The information on the licence will be much the same as on a regular licence, and will not include a person's driving or criminal record.

More worrisome for the watchdogs is that the database, at least initially, will likely be in U.S. hands where it could be lost, subject to "inappropriate browsing" or used for unintended purposes.

The commissioners said that no program should proceed on a permanent basis unless the database remains in Canada.

Loukidelis noted that Canada doesn't let its passport database be seen by foreigners.

"And we don't see why there would be any need to do anything differently when it comes to enhanced drivers' licences," he said.

"I think that we have to think long and hard before we get into that kind of approach. Generally speaking, if data leaves the country then privacy rules don't follow."

Great Firewall of China Faces Online Rebels
Howard W. French

As an 18-year-old student with an interest in the Internet, Zhu Nan had been itching to say something about the country’s pervasive online censorship system, widely known here as the Great Firewall.

When China’s censors began blocking access to the popular photo-sharing site Flickr, Mr. Zhu felt the moment had come. Writing on his blog last year, the student, who is now a freshman at a university in this city, questioned the rationale for Internet restrictions, and in subsequent posts, began passing along tips on how to evade them.

“Officials in our country claimed that Internet censorship is done according to the law,” Mr. Zhu wrote. “If so, why not let people know about this legal project, and why, instead, ban the Web sites that publicize and examine those legal policies? If you’re determined to do this, you shouldn’t be afraid of criticism.”

Mr. Zhu’s obscure blog post and his subsequent activism is a small part of what many here regard as a watershed moment. In recent months, China’s censors have tightened controls over the Internet, often blacking out sites that had no discernible political content. In the process, they have fostered a backlash, as many people who previously had little interest in politics have become active in resisting the controls.

And all of it comes at a time of increasing risk for those who choose to protest. Human rights advocates say the government has been broadening its crackdown on any signs of dissent as the Olympic Games in Beijing draw near.

For a vast majority of Internet users, censorship still does not appear to be much of a factor. The most popular Web applications here are games and messaging services, and the most visited Internet sites focus on everyday subjects like entertainment news and sports. Many, in fact, seem only vaguely aware that China’s Internet universe is carefully pruned, and even among those who know, a majority hardly seems to care.

But growing numbers of others are becoming increasingly resentful of restrictions on a wide range of Web sites, including Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, MySpace (sometimes), Blogspot and many other sites that the public sees as sources of harmless diversion or information. The mounting resentment has inspired a wave of increasingly determined social resistance of a kind that is uncommon in China.

This resistance is taking many forms, from lawsuits by Internet users against government-owned service providers, claiming that the blocking of sites is illegal, to a growing network of software writers who develop code aimed at overcoming the restrictions. An Internet-based word-of-mouth campaign has taken shape, in which bloggers and Web page owners post articles to spread awareness of the Great Firewall, or share links to programs that will help evade it.

In almost every instance, the resistance has been fired by the surprise and indignation when people bumped up against a system that they had only vaguely suspected existed. “I had had an impression that some kind of mechanism controls the Internet in China, but I had no idea about the Great Firewall,” said Pan Liang, a writer of children’s literature and a Web site operator who first learned the extent of the controls after a friend’s blog was blocked. “I was really annoyed at first,” Mr. Pan said. “Then the 17th Party Congress came, and I received an order that my Web site, which is about children’s literature, had to close its message board. It made me even angrier.”

Like others, Mr. Pan used his Web page to post solutions for overcoming the restrictions to some banned sites, and then he used a historical allusion to mock his country’s censorship system.

“Many people don’t know that 300 years after Emperor Kangxi ordered an end to construction of the Great Wall, our great republic has built an invisible great wall,” he wrote. “Can blocking really work? Kangxi knew the Great Wall was a huge lie: just think how many soldiers are needed to guard those thousands of miles.”

A 17-year-old blogger from Guangdong Province who posted instructions on how to get to YouTube, overcoming the firewall’s restrictions, was no less philosophical. “I don’t know if it’s better to speak out or keep silent, but if everyone keeps silent, the truth will be buried,” wrote the girl, who uses the online name Ruyue. “I don’t want to be silent, even if everyone else shuts up.”

The Chinese government seems particularly wary of video-sharing sites like YouTube, and has recently tightened regulations on domestic Internet providers in ways that are aimed at controlling such services.

Others, meanwhile, have gone beyond launching Internet-based responses like these and taken more direct action. One such person is Du Dongjing, 38, an information technology engineer in Shanghai who sued a branch of China Telecom for contract violation because of the service provider’s unacknowledged restrictions on Web content.

In this case what initially angered Mr. Du was the surprise blocking of his own business Web site last February. The site markets personal finance software, and had no editorial content of any kind. When the service provider failed to explain why the link went dead, Mr. Du took the phone company to court.

His lawsuit was rejected by a Shanghai court in October, but the case has been heard in appeal. “The Americans have an expression, ‘You can’t fight City Hall,’ ” Mr. Du said. “However, I believe that with the help of today’s Internet, the mood of the public, I can win this case. I can even make a contribution to improving Chinese democracy.”

Even as anticensorship activism spreads, views are divided about whether a grass-roots campaign can prevail. Some see strong continued popular resistance to the limits imposed by tens of thousands of well-financed government technicians operating powerful computers and predict a breakthrough.

Yuan Mingli, who created an anti-Great Firewall evasion group because of his love for Wikipedia, said the government was already at work on new generations of Internet technology aimed at insulating Chinese users even more from the rest of world. But he predicted its failure. “That’s impossible, fundamentally, because people’s hearts have changed,” he said, adding that the system would “eventually break down precisely because China cannot be completely disconnected to the outside world anymore.”

For some of the anticensorship activists, creating a broader awareness of censorship is itself a victory. “If you don’t know what’s on top of you, than you won’t fight back against it,” said Li Xieheng, a blogger who wrote a program he named Gladder, meaning Great Ladder, to help users of the Firefox browser overcome Great Firewall restrictions. “It’s just like many people not feeling that China isn’t free. They’re not aware of it and feel things are natural here, but that’s just the power of media control.”

Mr. Li said he expected the Great Firewall to continue adapting to the tactics of its opponents. The movement, though, has proved the power of public opinion as an important limitation of the censor’s power, he said. “Why don’t they just take Google down?” he asked. “It’s because they don’t want to have a scene and have everybody know. A lot of people came to know about the system because of Flickr, and that is something the system needs to weigh.”

Fan Wenxin contributed reporting from Shanghai.

Iran is Not Disconnected!

We have gotten a few queries about why we did not highlight Iran in our review of the network outages that resulted from the cable breaks. Like most countries in the region, the outages in Iran were very significant, but for the most part they did not exceed 20% of their total number of networks. Now 20% is a significant loss, but in the context of an event where countries lost almost all of their connectivity, such a loss did not place Iran into the top 10 of impacted countries. So we focused most of our attention where the losses where the highest.

But then there was this Slashdot posting, claiming Iran had zero connectivity. This was news to us. It's said that "the first casualty of war is truth." Something similar can probably be said with regard to catastrophic failures. Truth might not be first, but it is a very close second. Journalists are pushed to meet deadlines for stories about topics for which they have little familiarity, and technical experts sometimes jump to conclusions on the basis of little evidence. It's not hard to see why the truth gets distorted; it's hard to think clearly when you believe the sky is falling.

The Slashdot claim was made since a web page at the Internet Traffic Report was reporting that the country was down. This report seems to be based on pings to a single router in Iran from multiple places around the world, which at best only indicates that one router in Iran is unavailable, not that the entire Internet has ceased to function there. Of course, once something ends up "in print", it tends to gain credibility and then be referenced by others. And before long, large numbers of people think it is actually true. (For a detailed ping analysis to the region during the outage, see this article.)

To understand what happened in Iran after the fiber cuts, we looked at actual routing data for the country, collected from around the globe. You can say with absolute certainty that if a provider does not have a route to any network in Iran, then no traffic will flow from that provider or its customers to Iran. But that is all you can say. The problem could be with the provider. That is why Renesys collects routes from a carefully selected set of peers around the world. If none of them know how to get to Iran, then you can be assured that Iran is truly off the air. Note that you have to be careful here with your selection of peers. If all of them end up traversing the same cable to get to Iran, even when other options exist, then the problem could be only with that cable and nothing more. To make a definitive statement about the worldwide reachability of any geography, you need to collect data from a diverse and at least somewhat independent set of peers so that you'll see all paths into the area. When the overwhelming majority of them have the same view of a situation, then you can conclude that the view is almost certainly correct for the entire world.

So back to Iran. In the following graph, we plotted the availability of Iranian networks for four entire days, 30 January 00:00 UTC until 3 February 00:00 UTC. The first day is the day of the cable cuts. Of the 695 networks that geo-locate to Iran, at no time were more than 199 unavailable, as observed by large number of Renesys peers. A few peers here and there might not have been able to reach Iran for local reasons, but the vast majority of the world could get to most of the networks in Iran for this entire time period. Note also that around 64 networks were unavailable before the event even started. These networks could be simply unused at this time. In other words, at most 135 networks that were active before the cable cuts disappeared for at least a short while during the outages.

So much for Iran being off the Internet. Again, this is not to imply that Iran was not impacted by this event. A lot of networks were unavailable and some of them continue to be so. The end users of those networks are certainly noticing the problem and everyone in the country might be experiencing a slowdown due to the decrease in bandwidth to the region. Still, Iran fared much better than most.

Online Petition Asks Wikipedia to Remove Pictures of Muhammad
Noam Cohen

An article about the Prophet Muhammad in the English-language Wikipedia has become the subject of an online protest in the last few weeks because of its representations of Muhammad, taken from medieval manuscripts.

In addition to numerous e-mail messages sent to Wikipedia.org, an online petition cites a prohibition in Islam on images of people. The petition has more than 80,000 "signatures," though many who submitted them to ThePetitionSite.com remained anonymous.

"We have been noticing a lot more similar sounding, similar looking e-mails beginning mid-January," said Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco.

A Frequently Asked Questions page explains the site's polite but firm refusal to remove the images: "Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group."

The notes left on the petition site come from all over the world.

"It's totally unacceptable to print the prophet's picture," Saadia Bukhari from Pakistan wrote in a message. "It shows insensitivity towards Muslim feelings and should be removed immediately."

Paul Cobb, who teaches Islamic history at the University of Notre Dame in Indian, said, "Islamic teaching has traditionally discouraged representation of humans, particularly Muhammad, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent." He added, "Some of the most beautiful images in Islamic art are manuscript images of Muhammad."

The idea of imposing a ban on all depictions of people, particularly Muhammad, dates to the 20th century, he said. With the Wikipedia entry, he added, "what you are dealing with is not medieval illustrations, you are dealing with modern media and getting a modern response."

All Forgiven, WIMUS-AM Is on a Roll
Jacques Steinberg

IN the two months since his microphone was turned back on, Don Imus has hardly suffered for company.

Politicians like John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and Bill Richardson have called him on the air to welcome him back and take his questions, as have Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and John McCain, who happily accepted Mr. Imus’s presidential endorsement.

Newsmen like Tim Russert, Bob Schieffer and George Stephanopoulos have submitted to interviews, too, along with the authors Michael Beschloss and Doris Kearns Goodwin, and the columnists Maureen Dowd, Thomas L. Friedman and Frank Rich of The New York Times.

Each appeared with some regularity before Mr. Imus was fired in April over the racially and sexually disparaging remarks that he and a producer made about the Rutgers women’s college basketball team. And each has followed him to his new radio flagship (WABC-AM in New York) and to RFD-TV, the up-and-coming, rural-oriented television channel now simulcasting his program in place of MSNBC.

The immediate imprimatur of such A-list guests is but one indication that Mr. Imus has emerged, seemingly clean and in many ways whole, from a wash cycle administered with breathtaking velocity both inside the Beltway and out. (One notable exception: he has yet to find a radio affiliate in Washington, D.C., where his show was once regarded as a virtual salon.) While it will be some time before Arbitron has calibrated how many listeners he has on the nearly 50 stations that do carry his show, many advertisers have seen little reason to wait. Bigelow Teas, Accountemps, NetJets, the Mohegan Sun casino, various car makers and a big New Jersey hospital are peddling their wares during his commercial breaks, at least in New York, just as they did before.

Last week, the nation’s largest cable system, Comcast, reached a deal with RFD, which is mostly seen outside big cities, that could result in the channel’s addition to systems in Washington, Boston, Philadelphia and Nashville, among others. Time Warner is discussing a similar deal that could return Mr. Imus to its cable systems in New York and Los Angeles.

That Mr. Imus has moved with relative ease from transgression to redemption is — to some — a reflection of the country’s collective attention span, which these days can be measured by the time it takes to watch a video on YouTube (where tens of thousands heard his ill-fated remarks last spring) or to scan a blog item on the gossip site Defamer.com.

“Yesterday it was Heath Ledger,” Martin Kaplan, a media professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, said last week. “Today it’s Britney Spears and Natalee Holloway again. There’s a lot of competition for the shelf space of national outrage.”

To Mr. Schieffer, who has chronicled scandal in Washington for 40 years, “it seems like in this age of instant communication, they fall faster and they rise faster.”

“IT used to be, before the Internet, it took a while for this stuff to get around,” Mr. Schieffer added. “Now it goes around in a nanosecond. Maybe what we’re seeing is that it’s possible to come back just as quickly.”

Perhaps. But in his return, Mr. Imus has also benefited from the extraordinary goodwill he has banked over the years by helping countless politicians to scrounge for votes, journalists (including Mr. Schieffer) to attract viewers or readers, and authors to sell books.

“His voice reaches all the right people, be they politicians or business associates,” said Jerry Della Femina, the legendary ad man, who arranged for one client, the Hackensack University Medical Center, to have the first commercial on Mr. Imus’s comeback show, followed shortly thereafter, by another client, the New York-Long Island Honda dealers. “He’s got a great audience, a very wealthy audience.”

Mr. Beschloss, who has had four books showcased on the Imus program over the last 10 years, was asked if, in deciding to go back on the show, he had felt any sense of indebtedness. “That’s just human nature,” he said. “Of course I do.”

But he also said he had been moved by Mr. Imus’s apologies in the days before his firing and his meeting with (and subsequent forgiveness by) the Rutgers team.

“The speed of this,” he said, “is really a response to the magnitude of the apology and the magnitude of the acceptance by the people who were offended.”

Which is not to say that everyone has been so quick to absolve Mr. Imus.

Five journalists from Newsweek who were once among Mr. Imus’s most frequent guests — including Jon Meacham, the editor — are continuing, for now, to abide by a policy the magazine adopted following his comments last spring: they are not appearing on the show. (For his part, Mr. Imus has not asked.) Also yet to return is former Representative Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, who is black and who Mr. Imus had supported in his unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate in 2006. Mr. Ford did not return several messages left for him last week.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, said he viewed the fast track of Mr. Imus’s return as a sign of how “cash and marketplace trump race.”

“I’m troubled by the cynicism,” said Mr. Gates, who has never been an Imus guest. “Basically Imus has had a sabbatical. His remarks were the racist remarks of the month. Now it’s as if everyone has forgotten. Perhaps he has learned from his mistake.”

But Mr. Gates said that the responsibility for Mr. Imus’s rebound lay not just with the elites of white America, but with those in the black community who led the charge for his firing.

“People like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were so vocal, and so triumphant in their moral victory,” he said. “Where are they now?”

Mr. Jackson did not immediately return a message left at his press office Friday. But Mr. Sharpton, who had pledged to monitor Mr. Imus’s broadcasts, said that the host “has not been offensive” in his latest incarnation.

“He came out on his first day back and said he should have been fired, which clearly validated everything we’d been saying,” Mr. Sharpton said. “We were affirming the girls and black women. We were not trying to destroy Imus. I hope he does well.”

Still, Michael Eric Dyson, a university professor in the sociology department at Georgetown University who has never been an Imus guest, lamented that the sting of the words uttered that day by Mr. Imus and his producer, Bernard McGuirk, had already begun to fade. After Mr. Imus referred to the Rutgers team as “nappy-headed hos,” Mr. McGuirk used another racial slur (and a reference from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze”) to contrast the skin tone of many of the Rutgers players to that of their opponents from the University of Tennessee.

“And nappy was a stand-in for black female ugliness,” said Mr. Dyson, who is black and the author of “Know What I Mean?” a meditation on hip-hop. “That’s what Imus was getting at.”

In light of the offensiveness of those remarks, Mr. Dyson said he wished Mr. Imus’s guests had waited a bit longer before traipsing back.

“You mess up in a marriage and you step out on your spouse, you can’t just pretend in the first month or two that it’s all good,” he said. “You need a year. The rush to redemption has been a bit speedy, and therefore a bit cheap.”

That said, Mr. Dyson said that he did not oppose the host’s return. “I’m for second chances,” he said. “I’d much rather see a guy like Imus remain on the air” to “try to make amends and change the tenor of the discourse.”

In many ways, the show Mr. Imus is now putting on is not all that different than the one before. He continues to disparage Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as “Satan” “the Devil” and “evil” (including last week in an interview with Senator Kerry, who endorsed her rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama). Also back is Rob Bartlett, an impressionist who variously appears as a randy Bill Clinton, or as Don Corleone bemoaning Florida’s rejection of Mr. Giuliani. (Mr. Bartlett’s godfather immediately called for a summit with the heads of several Florida “families,” including those led by “Don” Shula and “Don” Duck.)

But to regular listeners, it is clear that Mr. Imus and Mr. McGuirk, who is still heard often, are holding their tongues. Gone are Mr. McGuirk’s most offensive characters, including a homophobic “Cardinal Egan,” and a caricature of C. Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, seemingly reimagined as Stepin Fetchit.

Mr. Imus has also been true to his pledge to engage two new black cast members on matters of race. He did so on Mr. Obama’s being asked, at a CNN debate in South Carolina, if he considered Mr. Clinton “the first black president,” as Toni Morrison has suggested. Mr. Imus said he felt the question was condescending and patronizing to Mr. Obama.

Last week, Mr. Imus welcomed one of his favorite gospel groups, the Blind Boys of Alabama, who’d been on the old show several times. This time, though, one of the songs they performed took on new meaning in light of his experience the last nine months.

It was a Negro spiritual, “Free at Last.”

California Court Bars Unmasking of Web Critic

A California appeals court on Wednesday said an anonymous Internet poster does not have to reveal his identity after being sued for making "scathing verbal attacks" against executives at a Florida company on a Yahoo! Inc message board.

The Sixth Appellate District in Santa Clara County reversed a trial court ruling that would have allowed a former executive at SFBC International Inc to subpoena Yahoo! for the names of her critics.

The appeal was filed by a poster whose screen name includes a Spanish expletive but who is known as "Doe 6" in the lawsuit filed by former SFBC Chairman and COO Lisa Krinsky in 2006.

Krinsky accuses Doe 6 and nine other Yahoo! Finance posters of libel, fraud and other claims arising from posts they made about her while she was a company officer.

The appellate court concluded that while Doe 6's messages were "unquestionably offensive and demeaning," they could not be counted as defamation since they could not be considered assertions of fact.

Without a cause of action, Krinsky could not overcome Doe 6's First Amendment right to speak anonymously on the Internet, the court said.

The decade-old controversy over pseudonymous posting in invest or chat rooms took a major twist last July when the U.S. regulators revealed that Whole Foods Market Inc CEO John Mackey had been posting in Yahoo! Finance under a fake name for several years.
His messages boosted his own company's strategy and denigrated those of rival supermarket chain Wild Oats, which Whole Foods later sought to acquire.

(Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Gary Hill)

MediaSentry Role in RIAA Lawsuit Comes Under Scrutiny
Eric Bangeman

A key component of all of the RIAA's lawsuits against suspected file-sharers is supplied by MediaSentry, the company that goes hunting for targets on KaZaA and other P2P networks. MediaSentry's role in the RIAA's cases is coming under new scrutiny in Lava v. Amurao, with the defendant's attorney arguing that the testimony from the company be excluded on the grounds that Media Sentry is operating as a private investigator without the license that is required by New York state law.

MediaSentry has acted as the RIAA's investigative arm throughout the music industry's legal campaign against file-sharers. The exhibits attached to the RIAA's complaints invariably contain screenshots of KaZaA users' share folders as well as a list of the 20 to 30 songs downloaded by MediaSentry in their entirety.

In Lava v. Amurao, defendant's attorney Richard A. Altman is arguing that MediaSentry's testimony should be barred. Calling the firm "plaintiffs' private investigator," Altman argues that the company's activities violate New York State law. As a result, "no testimony or evidence gathered in the course of their investigation should be admissible."

Under section 70 of the New York General Business Law, all private investigators need to first be licensed by the state before conducting business. Altman uses section 71 of the same law to argue that MediaSentry is indeed a private investigator under the laws of New York. "The company clearly falls within the definition, in that its primary function is "the securing of evidence to be used in the trial of a civil... case," argues Altman.

MediaSentry's findings are key to all of the RIAA's cases, and the company's director of enforcement, Mark Weaver, testified during the Jammie Thomas trial last fall. Weaver explained to the jury how KaZaA works, how MediaSentry obtains its evidence, and how some of the music in tereastarr@KaZaA's shared folder was itself likely downloaded over P2P networks.

Without MediaSentry's testimony and exhibits, the RIAA would have very little left to build a case on, a fact that Altman is banking on in his filing. It appears, however, that the judge may not ever rule on the motion, as the RIAA has filed a motion to dismiss the case with prejudice. Rolando Amurao, the defendant and person responsible for the ISP account in question, apparently has no idea how to use a P2P program, and the RIAA accuses his adult daughter, Audrey Amurao, of copyright infringement in the motion for dismissal.

Should the Audrey be sued by the RIAA and decide not to settle, the question of whether MediaSentry needs a PI license (the company says that it does not) is certain to arise once again. It's a question that has been raised by a handful of other file-sharing defendants that we're aware of, including Tanya Andersen, who had the case against her voluntarily dismissed by the RIAA and currently has a malicious prosecution lawsuit against the record labels pending. If a judge were to rule that MediaSentry is indeed a private investigator operating without a license, it would be a major blow to the RIAA.

Pirate Bay Says It Can't Be Sunk, Servers Scattered Worldwide
David Kravets

The world's most notorious BitTorrent tracking site, The Pirate Bay, won't be going to Davy Jones' Locker, even if its four operators are convicted of facilitating copyright infringement, one of the defendants said in an interview Friday with THREAT LEVEL.

Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi, one of the four Swedes charged in Sweden on Thursday, said in a telephone interview that the site has set up a clandestine, double-blind operation with its servers spread throughout the world -- and out of reach of the Swedish authorities.

"The Pirate Bay is not in Sweden," the 29-year-old Kolmisoppi said.

Where are the servers?

"It's a distributed system. We don't know where the servers are. We gave them to people we trust and they don't know it's The Pirate Bay," Kolmisoppi said. "They then rent locations and space for them somewhere else. It could be three countries. It could be six countries. We don't want to know because then you'll have a problem shutting them down."

The Pirate Bay allows users to search for and access indexed torrents, which contain the information needed to download data containing copyright-infringing content like movies, music, software and other material from users of the service. The Bay, he said, operates like the search engine Google, which also points the way to copyrighted works on the internet.

"We're just a general-purpose search engine and torrent-tracking system. You can put whatever you want on the Pirate Bay," Kolmisoppi said. "We don't participate in how the people communicate with each other. We only participate in bringing the possibility to communicate and share files."

The Bay has been on the entertainment industry's and police authorities' watchlists for years.

In June, 2006, a police raid shuttered it for three days after the authorities confiscated its servers, which were later moved. The raid sparked street protests in Sweden, and garnered the site an international presence after the mainstream media began reporting on it.

The four charged in Stockholm are Hans Fredrik Neij, Per Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstroem and Kolmisoppi. According to charges lodged in Stockholm, the four are accused of "promoting other people's infringements of copyright laws."

"I think they're lame," he said of the charges.

Prosecutor Hakan Roswall was not immediately available for comment.

None of the defendants, Kolmisoppi said, have prior convictions, meaning even if they are convicted, they won't likely be jailed for the two years the charges potentially carry.

"As a worse-case scenario for us, we get a fine," Kolmisoppi said. "They can say we have to shut down the site, don't host it in Sweden. But they can't say it won't be accessible in Sweden or anywhere. They can't do anything about it, no matter what happens."

He also disputes that the company is generating millions in profit, as the authorities allege.

"It's so stupid to say we're making a profit," he said "We're spending hours and hours of our own time to do this. If we were making millions, we wouldn't have day jobs. And even if we did make millions, it would not change the fact that this is not illegal."

Kolmissoppi said his day job is "developing a micro payment system."

No court date has been set.


Polaroid Abandons Instant Photography
Patrick J. Lyons

In happier times: Polaroid’s 1970s-80s television ads featuring James Garner and Mariette Hartley wisecracking and needling one another were widely admired and imitated.

It was a wonder in its time: A camera that spat out photos that developed themselves in a few minutes as you watched. You got to see them where and when you took them, not a week later when the prints came back from the drugstore.

But in a day when nearly every cellphone has a digital camera in it, “instant” photography long ago stopped being instant enough for most people. So today, the inevitable end of an era came: Polaroid is getting out of the Polaroid business.

The company, which stopped making instant cameras for consumers a year ago and for commercial use a year before that, said today that as soon as it had enough instant film manufactured to last it through 2009, it would stop making that, too. Three plants that make large-format instant film will close by the end of the quarter, and two that make consumer film packets will be shut by the end of the year, Bloomberg News reports.

The company, which will concentrate on digital cameras and printers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001 and was acquired by a private investment company in 2005. It started in 1937 making polarized lenses for scientific and military applications, and introduced its first instant camera in 1948.

The Lede remembers fondly how magical it was to watch the image gradually manifest itself from the chemical murk right there in your hand. But truth be told, the Lede’s own scuffed Polaroid SX-70 camera, which used to get regular use in all manner of situations, from producing a quick step-by-step primer on how to do the Ickey Shuffle to documenting a problem with a house he was buying that cropped up the day before the closing, hasn’t come out of its cabinet drawer in years.

Loyal users take heart, though — Polaroid said it would happily license the technology to other manufacturers should they want to go on supplying the niche market with film after 2009.

Our Media Have Become Mass Producers of Distortion

An industry whose task should be to filter out falsehood has become a conduit for propaganda and second hand news
Nick Davies

Here's a little example of what I call Flat Earth News. In June 2005, Fleet Street told its readers about a gang of feral child bullies who had attempted to murder a five-year-old boy by hanging him from a tree; the boy had managed to free himself. This story was not true. Indeed, it was obviously not true from the moment it started running. There was the commonsense problem that even a fully grown man with 10 years of SAS training who found himself hanging by the neck would have the greatest difficulty in reaching up and lifting his entire body weight with one hand while using the other to remove the noose. How would a five-year-old boy do it?

More than that, there was the evidence in the story itself. From the first day, the police refused to say the boy had been hanged. The parents and neighbours, who told the press how shocked they were, never claimed to know what had happened. The one and only line on which the whole story was built was a quote from the boy's adult cousin, who said he had told her: "Some boys and girls have tied a rope around my neck and tried to tie me to a tree." That's "tie me to a tree", not "hang me from a tree".

It was a nasty case of bullying but not an attempted murder. A 12-year-old girl had put a rope around the boy's neck and led him round like a dog, pulling on it hard enough to leave marks on his neck. That was clearly dangerous. But the boy never claimed she had hanged him from a tree. Indeed, he never even claimed that she had tied him to a tree, only that she had tried to. To double check, we spoke to Professor Christopher Milroy, the Home Office pathologist who handled the case. He said: "He had not been hanged. That was not correct and I couldn't understand why the press were insisting that he was."

Nevertheless, the tabloids ran all over it; and TV and the rest of Fleet Street joined in. The London Evening Standard called it a lynching; the Mail, Guardian and Times ran headlines which stated boldly that the boy had been hanged; the Independent ran a moody feature about fear descending on the boy's estate. Sundry columnists joined in with solemn comment about the youth of today and the impact of violence on television.

The ingredients in this little story run routinely through a stream of other small stories, through stories as big as those about the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and then into a flood of media commentary that feeds into government policy and popular understanding - falsehood as profound as the idea that the Earth is flat, widely accepted as true to the point where it can feel like heresy to challenge it.

There never was a time when news media were perfect. Journalists have always worked with too little time and too little certainty; with interference from owners and governments; with laws that intimidate and inhibit the search for truth. But the evidence I found in researching my new book, Flat Earth News, suggests our tendency to recycle ignorance is far worse than it was.

I commissioned research from specialists at Cardiff University, who surveyed more than 2,000 UK news stories from the four quality dailies (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) and the Daily Mail. They found two striking things. First, when they tried to trace the origins of their "facts", they discovered that only 12% of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. With 8% of the stories, they just couldn't be sure. The remaining 80%, they found, were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry. Second, when they looked for evidence that these "facts" had been thoroughly checked, they found this was happening in only 12% of the stories.

The implication of those two findings is truly alarming. Where once journalists were active gatherers of news, now they have generally become mere passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material, much of it contrived by PR to serve some political or commercial interest. Not journalists, but churnalists. An industry whose primary task is to filter out falsehood has become so vulnerable to manipulation that it is now involved in the mass production of falsehood, distortion and propaganda.

And the Cardiff researchers found one other key statistic that helps to explain why this has happened. For each of the 20 years from 1985, they dug out figures for the editorial staffing levels of all the Fleet Street publications and compared them with the amount of space they were filling. They discovered that the average Fleet Street journalist now is filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985. In other words, as a crude average, they have only one-third of the time that they used to have to do their jobs. Generally, they don't find their owns stories, or check their content, because they simply don't have the time.

Add that to all of the traditional limits on journalists' trying to find the truth, and you can see why the mass media generally are no longer a reliable source of information.

A Tiny Staff, Tracking People Across the Globe
Jason DeParle

It has an editorial staff of one and annual advertising revenues of less than $2,000. It charges its subscribers nothing and pays most contributors the same. Mapping the settlement of Latino poultry workers is its idea of a sexy piece.

But for a growing number of followers, it has become an important read.

Every moment has its magazine, and for the age of migration it is the Migration Information Source, a weekly (more or less) online journal followed worldwide by scholars, policy makers and the occasional migrant in distress. “My soul’s dying every moment,” an Iranian asylum seeker wrote last year in an e-mail message from Greece. “Give me an answer.”

Many readers discover the Source simply by googling the word “immigrant” and finding a link to migrationinformation.org among the millions of citations.

At the site’s helm is an American-born editor, Kirin Kalia, 32, who describes herself as “half Dutch, half Indian, 100 percent American and total migration geek.” Ms. Kalia thrives on hybridity — devouring Indian-American novels and Dutch-Moroccan films — and finds no migration topic too obscure. To know the fate of Latvian mushroom pickers in Ireland is, for her, to glimpse the world in a grain of sand.

“To move to a different country for whatever reason takes so much courage,” she said, interrupting an interview to play a song by a British-Indian rapper, Panjabi MC, stored on her hard drive. “The fact that so many people do it is just endlessly fascinating to me.”

With conflicts rising over immigration to the United States, interest in the Source has surged. Readership has doubled in the past three years, Ms. Kalia said, to about 140,000 unique visits each month. To stroll through the archives is to see the American debate freshly, as part of a global phenomenon.

If the Source has a unifying theme, it is that migration is a defining force nearly everywhere. There are about 200 million migrants in the world — probably a record, demographers say, in both relative and absolute terms — and more than 80 percent live outside the United States.

The Source has focused on Tajik construction workers in Russia, farmhands from Burkina Faso who pick Ghanaian crops and the Peruvians who take jobs left behind by Ecuadorean workers who have migrated to Spain.

Other themes of the coverage include the speed with which migration has grown (Spain’s immigrant population has risen nearly sixfold in 10 years) and the conflict it brings, within both nations and living rooms. Political parties rise and fall. Economic interests win and lose. Family relations change.

“None of this is easy,” Ms. Kalia said.

Nor is the process of tracking it, with migration studies a nascent field and data on many countries scarce. But the magazine has won praise from a roster of A-list scholars who read it, write for it and assign it to their students.

“It’s the best online source of information on migration that I have seen worldwide,” said Rubén G. Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine and a leading authority on the children of immigrants to the United States.

The magazine is published by a Washington research group, the Migration Policy Institute, that was started six years ago (with assistance from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation and the J. M. Kaplan Fund) to help fill the knowledge gap.

Does migration drive down domestic wages? Do guest worker programs always bring permanent settlement? Does “brain drain” hurt developing countries, or have critics overlooked indirect benefits, like the money the migrants send home?

“Heck! I don’t believe we have a consensus on a single thing in migration,” said Demetrios G. Papademetriou, the Migration Policy Institute’s president. “You have to build a knowledge base if you’re going to make progress.”

With a staff of 20, the institute reflects the mobility it studies. In addition to Mr. Papademetriou, a Greek immigrant, it includes a Moldovan demographer (Jeanne Batalova), a British analyst (Will Somerville), a Filipino-American with dual citizenship in Iceland (Dovelyn R. Agunias), and a refugee expert (Kathleen Newland, a co-director) who is American-born and married to a British journalist.

Some critics see a loose-borders tilt to the work. “They do some useful research,” said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that seeks lower immigration to the United States. “But their orientation is towards higher immigration and looser borders worldwide.”

But admirers said the work merely reflected the reality that migration is ubiquitous. “This is not something just going on inside the United States,” Mr. Rumbaut said.

One recent article charts the emergence of Tajikistan as a leading exporter of labor, with one in five Tajik adults leaving to work abroad each year. Another shows that at least 60 million migrants have left one poor country to live in another.

Yet another compares the incentives that draw Mexicans to the United States with those that lure Africans onto rickety boats bounds for Spain. American wages are about four times those in Mexico, a Norwegian scholar, Jorgen Carling, noted, while the wage differential between Spain and Senegal is “a staggering 15 to one.”

Even nonmigrants can be deeply affected by migration, at both ends of the stream. Studying a village in the Dominican Republic, Peggy Levitt of Wellesley College found that women prefer to marry men who have worked abroad “because they want husbands who will share in the housework and take care of the children the way men who have been to the United States do.”

Conflict is also a running theme, across cultures and time. The Dutch are so worried about assimilation they require migrants to pass a language test before they come. Aristede R. Zolberg of the New School, notes that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin “considered the German language to be the bearer of a culture incompatible with republican democracy.”

Professor Zolberg resists the term “age of migration” (coined by the scholars Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller) because people have been migrating since the beginning of time. Still, he sees migration growth as likely to continue, in an era of cheap travel and easy communication via cellphones and Web cams. And as incomes rise in the developing world, more people have the means to move.

“What’s new is it’s much easier now,” he said.

Financially, the Source may be a victim of its own success. Its initial supporters largely consider the site a core mission of the institute, to be financed from the broader institute’s $3.5 million budget. That leaves Ms. Kalia rattling the online cup for reader donations.

As for the difficulties that migration can bring, Ms. Kalia encountered them early when her uncle, who is Dutch and a Catholic priest, flew to California to baptize her baby brother. Her Hindu grandmother lived with the family, and locked herself in her bedroom, beside a Lord Krishna poster, until the uncle promised to desist.

Ms. Kalia has yet to write about the episode, but she does see a lesson. “It shows you just how difficult negotiating cultural differences can be,” she said.

Yahoo to Offer RealNetworks’ Music Service on Its Site
Alex Veiga

Yahoo Inc. will cease operating its online music subscription service and switch its customers to RealNetworks Inc.'s Rhapsody music service as part of a new deal between the companies that calls for Yahoo to promote Rhapsody on its site.

Terms of the deal, to be formally announced Monday, were not disclosed. The move is part of Yahoo's overhaul of its online music offerings.

''People want to have music and consume it in lots of different forms and across different devices and platforms and we want to have a play in as many of those as we can,'' said Scott Moore, Yahoo's head of media.

Moore said the partnership would allow Yahoo to focus its energies more on free, ad-supported music and other media offerings.

Yahoo Music Unlimited lets users download an unlimited number of tracks that are playable as long as their plan is active.

Under the Yahoo-RealNetworks partnership, subscribers to Yahoo Music Unlimited will be shifted to the Rhapsody service sometime in the first half of this year. Yahoo subscribers' music library and payment plans will remain the same for a limited time after the switch, but those wishing to remain on Rhapsody eventually will be required to sign up at Rhapsody's rates.

Yahoo's subscription rates range from $5.99 a month, if users pay for a full year in advance, or $8.99 a month. Rhapsody memberships start at $12.99 a month.

Yahoo executives declined to say how many subscribers their music service has. Rhapsody has 2.75 million subscribers worldwide, including customers signed up for its premium radio and mobile music services.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo has been hurt by sliding profits and a new management team is trying to turn the company around. Last week, it received an unsolicited $44.6 billion offer from Microsoft Corp.

As part of its deal with RealNetworks, Yahoo will integrate Rhapsody into its online music portal, something both companies hope will translate into new Rhapsody subscribers.

''They are our subscription partner going forward and there's money to be made for both of us in that,'' Moore said.

The two companies also intend to collaborate on other digital music services, including offering music downloads, the companies said.

In addition to its music subscription service, Yahoo offers free streaming audio, music videos, Web radio. It also operates a premium Internet radio service.

The company's management said last fall it had begun to de-emphasize its subscription model in favor of an advertising-supported music service.

The Internet pioneer also planned to announce Monday that it had acquired FoxyTunes, a browser plug-in that offers -- among other features -- online searches for music, lyrics and other content tied to media playing on a computer. It also recently launched a Web-based media player.

Moore said the company is still working out the details of upcoming changes to its music offerings, but noted music downloads and ad-supported music would play a role.

''We already have a very significant streaming ad-supported business and that's something that I'm particularly interested in continuing to expand,'' Moore said. ''In terms of downloads, that's another area where I'm not quite ready to talk about yet, but we're very interested and we're exploring our opportunities.''

Both Yahoo and Rhapsody have previously offered a limited number of tracks in the MP3 format.

Yahoo Wipes Out Small Business Hosted Storage Limits

Monthly service offers unlimited disk space, bandwidth to business customers
Brian Fonseca

Yahoo Inc. this week introduced a new monthly Web Hosting service for small and medium sized businesses, which provides unlimited hosted storage capacity and bandwidth.

Subscribers to the new service, priced at $11.95 a month, are free to take up as much disk space on Yahoo's servers as they need to transfer data, store information or secure e-mail without fear of shrinking capacity restrictions, the company said. The service is only available in the U.S. from Yahoo's Small Business division and costs $11.95 per month.

Previously. Yahoo had charged companies $12 a month for 5GB of disk space and 200GB of bandwidth per month; $20 a month for 10GB disk space and 400GB of bandwidth; and $40 for 20GB disk space and 500GB bandwidth, said Guy Yalif, director of web hosting products for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo.

The company's 1.5 million small business customers will soon receive instructions on how to migrate to the new model, Yalif said.

Yalif said the company has enough capacity to handle the increasing requirements, though he declined to provide details. Yalif said the service is not designed to be a "hard drive" in the sky but rather a mechanism to help the small business users quickly get in line with growing online demands. He said Yahoo will monitor the service to prevent any illegal activities.

Kaitlyn Sharp, CEO of Houston, Tex.-based Custom Plumbing & Hardware has used Yahoo Web Hosting for a year to support her decorative hardware and plumbing showroom business. The new service eliminates any need to postpone new efforts due to limited storage capacity.

"I'm thinking about doing maybe some online sales and putting a lot more detail in the system. But people were saying 'you have to have a lot of storage [for that], you sure you can keep this on Yahoo?' At least I don't' have to worry about that anymore," said Sharp.

MySpace Wins Domain Name Fight
Mark Sweney

MySpace has won the right to have the MySpace.co.uk domain name despite another firm having registered it six years before the social networking website launched.

The ruling, by domain registry Nominet's dispute resolution service, has caused controversy in the industry because Total Web Solutions of Stockport registered the myspace.co.uk name in 1997, long before the US social networking website launched.

"This dispute resolution service decision is counter-intuitive at first sight and serves as a warning that domain registrations are not guaranteed and need to be secured by pro-active management as well as a clear understanding of the dynamic nature of the industry," said Jonathan Robinson, the chief operating officer at web services company NetNames.

However, the ruling, made by independent expert Antony Gold, found that while myspace.co.uk had initially been used to offer email services and mini-websites to subscribers it had changed its model to exploit MySpace's popularity.

TWS started to use the myspace.co.uk address to lead to a "parked" web page with advertisements for social networking websites including MySpace.

The arbitrator decided that this was evidence of abusive registration, that TWS was profiting unfairly from the association with MySpace.

MySpace.co.uk was awarded to News Corporation-owned MySpace as a result.

The two sides disagreed about whether the use of the myspace.co.uk domain name was abusive.

Out-Law.com, the website owned by lawyers Pinsent Masons, said that the TWS defence was based on the fact that mysapce.co.uk had been used for running advertisements before the founding of the social networking website and that it should not be punished for its recent popularity.

TWS said that the choice of ads that run on the myspace.co.uk website are determined by algorithms linked to search terms by internet users, which in recent years have been dominated by people looking for MySpace.

Gold, the arbitrator, said that it was not relevant that TWS did not select the specific ads. Because it owned the website it was responsible for those ads and income made off the back of MySpace.

"It is amazing how, after so many years, domain disputes still cause such unpredictable outcomes and associated controversy," said Robinson. "It also highlights how automated web content of any sort can get people into real difficulties."

Since its launch, MySpace has used myspace.com as its global home page.

Giants - Patriots Most - Watched Super Bowl
David Bauder

The 97.5 million viewers who saw the New York Giants' last-minute win over the New England Patriots made it the most-watched Super Bowl ever and second biggest event in American television history.

Only the ''MASH'' series finale in 1983, with 106 million viewers, was seen by more people, Nielsen Media Research said Monday. Sunday's game eclipsed the previous Super Bowl record of 94.08 million, set when Dallas defeated Pittsburgh in 1996.

This year's game had almost all the ingredients Fox could have hoped for: a tight contest with a thrilling finish involving a team that was attempting to make history as the NFL's first unbeaten team since 1972.

But the Giants ended New England's bid for perfection, 17-14. Throughout the game, the teams were never separated by more than a touchdown.

''You might like your equation going in, but you still need some breaks going your way,'' said Ed Goren, Fox sports president. The closeness of the game probably added a couple million viewers to the telecast's average; the audience peaked at 105.7 million viewers between 9:30 and 10 p.m. EST -- during the fourth quarter.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning won bragging rights over his brother: Last year's win by Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts was seen by 93.2 million people, now the third most popular Super Bowl. Manning was set to appear on David Letterman's ''Late Show'' on Monday, but travel delays in Arizona pushed his appearance back to Wednesday.

An eye-popping 81 percent of all TV sets on in the Boston area Sunday were tuned in to the game. In New York, the audience share was 67 percent.

There were signs even before game time that Fox could be headed for a record. The opportunity for a team to make history with football's first 19-0 record was a powerful draw. The Giants and Patriots also had a tight contest in late December that drew strong ratings.

The Giants' underdog run had also captivated the nation's largest media market, making up for the only potential weakness in the event as a drawing card: the lack of geographical diversity in the competing teams.

There were past Super Bowls with higher ratings, topped by the 1982 game between San Francisco and Cincinnati (49.1 rating, 73 share). That indicates a larger percentage of homes with televisions were watching the game. But since the American population has increased, along with the number of people with TVs, the actual number of people watching this year was higher.

The Giants-Patriots game's actual rating (43.2 rating, 65 share) was the highest for any Super Bowl since 2000. That means 43 percent of the nation's TV sets were tuned in to the game, and 65 percent of the TV sets that were turned on were watching football.

The 97.5 million figure represents the game's average viewership during any given minute. Nielsen said that a total of 148.3 million watched at least some part of the game.

Goren said ratings were stronger than usual for Fox's pregame show, crediting the decision to add a show biz element with Ryan Seacrest to a program often usually only hardcore football fans could love.

Fox, a division of News Corp., charged $2.7 million for 30 seconds of advertising time on the game, and that may have been a bargain.

This year's Super Bowl was one of the few -- if only -- television events where more people watched the commercials than the program itself, according to digital video recorder makers TiVo Inc.

By measuring live viewership, and the number of people who rewound their DVRs, the most-seen Super Bowl commercial was E-Trade's stock-talking baby, who ended a financial discussion by spitting up, TiVo said.

''I didn't see that punch line coming at all,'' said Todd Juenger, Tivo's research chief.

Pepsi's Justin Timberlake commercial was second, proving fans either like watching Timberlake, or like watching him sail into a mailbox post crotch-first. The Doritos ''Mouse Trap'' commercial, from an idea submitted by a viewer, was third.

In what may be a sign of the times, TiVo's top 10 commercials featured only one beer ad and four for either soft drinks or flavored water.

For Marketing, the Most Valuable Player Might Be YouTube
Stuart Elliott

SOME religions believe in an afterlife. Others do not. On Madison Avenue after the Super Bowl, most everyone is a believer.

An agency of the Publicis Groupe created a spot for Tide to Go, and another division created a Web site to dovetail with it.

That is because the Internet, digital video recorders, mobile devices and other technologies are giving a strong postgame presence to the commercials that appear each year during the Super Bowl. The spots can be watched later on Web sites, forwarded to friends through e-mail, discussed on message boards and assessed on blogs.

It is a far cry from just a few years ago, when the Super Bowl commercials disappeared after the game, along with the losing team. Now the strategy among sponsors is to maximize postgame exposure to help amortize the eye-popping cost of a Super Sunday spot — this time, an estimated $2.7 million for each 30 seconds of national air time.

For instance, the commercials “got a higher audience than the game” in homes with the TiVo video recorder service, said Todd Juenger, vice president and general manager for audience research and measurement at the New York office of TiVo.

“There is rewinding and multiple viewing of the ads” on Super Bowl Sunday, he added. “It’s one of the few times it happens.”

Super Bowl XLII, broadcast by Fox on Sunday, was no exception, Mr. Juenger said. TiVo’s list of most-watched spots was topped by one of two for E*Trade featuring a “talking” baby; in this spot, the infant spits up at the end of his spiel.

The E*Trade commercial, created by the Grey Global division of the WPP Group, was followed on the TiVo list by one featuring Justin Timberlake, for a music promotion co-sponsored by Pepsi-Cola and Amazon; a spot for Doritos created by a consumer for a contest last year; one for Coca-Cola Classic that spoofed the red-blue political divide; and a spot with Carmen Electra for Ice Breakers Ice Cubes gum.

The results “say something about the TiVo audience in terms of what works to get something rewound,” Mr. Juenger said, listing tactics like humor, celebrities and surprise punch lines.

The Timberlake spot came from BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group. Pepsi-Cola and Doritos are both owned by PepsiCo. The spot for Coca-Cola was created by Wieden & Kennedy. The ad for Ice Breakers, a Hershey brand, was from TracyLocke, also part of Omnicom.

Scores of Web sites are offering computer users a chance to watch video clips of the Super Bowl commercials, among them AOL, MSNBC, MySpace, Spike and YouTube.

During the Fox broadcast of the game — watched by 97.5 million viewers, a record for a Super Bowl, data from Nielsen estimated — the announcers twice reminded the audience to “log on to myspace.com” if “you’ve missed any of the Super Bowl commercials.” (MySpace and Fox are owned by the News Corporation.)

Even specialty Web sites are getting into the act. The Huffington Post, at huffingtonpost.com, known for politics, is wooing visitors to a section that offers a look at the “best 2008 Super Bowl ads.”

And three Web sites operated by the automotive expert Edmunds Inc. (edmunds.com, carspace.com and AutoObserver.com) are carrying video clips of and discussions about car commercials from companies like the Audi division of Volkswagen, General Motors, Hyundai Motor America and Toyota Motor.

On some Web sites, visitors could vote for their favorite spots. In the sixth annual AOL Super Sunday Ad Poll, conducted by the AOL division of Time Warner, a Budweiser commercial that spoofed “Rocky,” starring a Clydesdale and a Dalmatian, was the leading vote-getter as of Monday afternoon.

The Bud spot was followed by a commercial for Bridgestone Firestone with a screaming squirrel and a commercial for Coca-Cola Classic that brought to life balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

The spot for Budweiser beer, an Anheuser-Busch product, was created by DDB Worldwide, part of Omnicom. The Bridgestone Firestone commercial, one of two sponsored by Bridgestone during the game, was created by the Richards Group. The Coke Classic spot was from Wieden & Kennedy.

Visitors to YouTube, owned by Google, are even being offered an incentive to vote for their favorite spot at a special section of the site (youtube.com/adblitz): The commercial attracting the most votes will be featured on the YouTube home page next Tuesday.

The spot that had been watched most often on YouTube as of Monday afternoon was for SoBe Life Water, sold by PepsiCo, featuring animated lizards dancing to “Thriller.” Not far behind was a spot for GoDaddy, a Web services company, which directed viewers to godaddy.com to watch a risqué commercial that the company said Fox had refused to run.

The SoBe spot was created by the Arnell Group, another Omnicom agency, and the GoDaddy.com spot was created internally.

Bob Parsons, the chief executive of GoDaddy, wrote Monday on his blog (bobparsons.com) that the “banned” spot had been watched online Sunday more than two million times. And traffic on Monday was “up over four times normal levels,” he added.

“Our Web site has never been busier,” Mr. Parsons said.

The cross-promotion between the GoDaddy commercial and Web site was indicative of the increasing efforts by Super Bowl sponsors to integrate their TV and online presences.

“The ‘torture test’ for brands beyond their Super Bowl ads is how to make it easy for consumers to find the ads and engage with them, whether you put them on Web sites, on YouTube or make them easy to search for on Google,” said Pete Blackshaw, executive vice president at the Nielsen Online Strategic Services division of the Nielsen Company.

“I think a lot advertisers are still struggling to organize around this,” Mr. Blackshaw said, as they try to coordinate the work of various agencies that specialize in different tasks like traditional ads, digital ads or media placement.

“The conflict comes to a head in the Super Bowl,” he added, “when there’s a lot of money riding on the campaign.”

Mr. Blackshaw praised sponsors that created special Web sites, known as microsites, to promote their campaigns. He singled out as notable the one for the Tide to Go stain remover sold by Procter & Gamble (mytalkingstain.com). The site was created by the Digitas division of the Publicis Groupe, whose Saatchi & Saatchi division created the Tide to Go commercial for the game.

Steven Siegel, vice president for brand solutions at HipCricket, a mobile-marketing agency, said he was disappointed there were “not as many examples of mobile programs as I would have liked to see” in spots and promotions during the game. One he recalled, sponsored by the Cadillac division of General Motors, asked viewers to vote by text message for the most valuable player.

“A lot of Super Bowl viewership takes place outside the home, away from your computer,” Mr. Siegel said. “With mobile, you can immediately engage with consumers at a bar, at a friend’s house.”

Some sponsors used old-school media for postgame outreach. Several, including Bridgestone Firestone, Doritos, E*Trade, Under Armour and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, ran ads in newspapers Monday to encourage conversation about their spots.

At least one advertiser missing from the Super Bowl sought to ride the coattails of a competitor that had been there. The Miller Brewing division of SABMiller ran an ad in USA Today that offered mock congratulations to Anheuser-Busch for the success of its spots for Bud Light.

“This certainly calls for beer,” the ad teased. “A nice cold Miller Lite.”

Dave Peacock, vice president for marketing at Anheuser-Busch, dismissed the ad as “one of those things we almost don’t dignify with a response.”

“We learned in research in the last few months that people prefer to hear a positive story,” Mr. Peacock said, which is why he believes the heart-warming “Rocky” parody for Budweiser did so well.

Anheuser-Busch, usually the biggest Super Bowl ad spender each year, is known for how intensely — and how far ahead — it works on its commercials.

Asked what the company intends for Super Bowl XLIII, scheduled for Feb. 1, 2009, Mr. Peacock replied, laughing, “We have a meeting this afternoon.”

The Beta Male’s Charms
Stephanie Rosenbloom

“EVERYWHERE there’s someone better than you,” said Steven Tsapelas, 26, over a cheeseburger deluxe at Mike’s Diner in Astoria. “Everywhere you go, if you’re talking to a girl there’s five other guys right in their immediate vicinity blowing you away.”

So goes the refrain of the New York City beta male — that gentle, endearingly awkward, self-conscious soul for whom love is a battlefield. For the last year or so the bungled seductions and everyday fears of such men have been laid bare in “We Need Girlfriends,” a no-budget Web series based on the ups and downs of Mr. Tsapelas and his former college roommates, Brian Amyot, 26, and Angel Acevedo, 25.

A cult hit among the under-30 set, the series chronicles the lives of three postcollegiate guys (Henry, Tom and Rod) who live on the cheap in Queens and routinely demonstrate that while they are suitors with hearts of gold, the only game they have is Taboo.

In one episode Tom is crushed to learn that his former college girlfriend has created a blog called “I Probably Never Loved Tom” and changed her MySpace status to “in a relationship” (her new beau’s MySpace moniker is Looze It 2 Me). In another episode, Henry receives a letter in the mail from his eighth-grade self and realizes that though he has lost his virginity and no longer wears sweat pants in public, he is still a Mr. T fan likely to die alone, like his former classmate, Morbidly Obese Carl.

The 11 brief episodes (the shortest is under six minutes; the longest is more than 14) have been viewed millions of times on YouTube, MySpace and WeNeedGirlfriends.tv, where they were posted monthly at midnight. As one fan wrote on the show’s MySpace page: “I watched it religiously waiting for every new episode coming out like a fat guy waiting for his MoonPie to cook in the microwave.”

Like other buzz-generating Web content, the series has attracted mainstream media movers and shakers: Greg Daniels, the executive producer of the American version of “The Office,” and Dennis Erdman, a director and producer who worked on television shows the three grew up with like “Saved by the Bell”, both sent e-mail messages to say they were fans. A pilot for CBS, with Darren Star of “Sex and the City” fame as executive producer and Mr. Erdman and Clark Peterson of “Monster” as co-executive producers, is in the works.

Until now, “We Need Girlfriends” — which underscores that women are not the only ones to cultivate meaningful friendships with each other or to be emotionally pulverized by the opposite sex — has been filmed on the streets of Astoria and in Mr. Amyot and Mr. Acevedo’s humble apartment, with its mismatched furniture and walls of unframed movie posters. The three were the creative team, the body doubles and the extras. They created the series at night and on weekends when they weren’t at their day jobs. The actors worked for free.

“We were sort of casting fictional versions of ourselves but, you know, we cast better looking guys than ourselves,” said Mr. Amyot, who was also having lunch at Mike’s Diner, where the three regularly convene to brainstorm and to decompress.

Promoting “We Need Girlfriends” cost nothing: Mr. Tsapelas, Mr. Amyot and Mr. Acevedo made MySpace pages for Henry, Tom and Rod two months before the show went online, duping MySpace users into thinking the characters were real people and delighting them with posts about a rivalry between the abrasive, porn-watching Rod and the bespectacled, “X-Files”-revering Henry. Fans (who “skew a little bit female, but not by much,” according to Mr. Acevedo) made art collages of Rod and Henry and bought “Team Rod” and “Team Henry” T-shirts. Each character had more than 2,000 MySpace friends before the first “We Need Girlfriends” episode was uploaded.

“I saw this little kid with geeky glasses on, and I thought he was really cute,” said Jessica Babyok, 20, of Beaver Falls, Pa., who presumed Henry was real.

Though he turned out to be as real as Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, Ms. Babyok ended up liking “We Need Girlfriends” so much that she stayed up until midnight waiting for each episode to go online. “It shows you a different side of the male psyche, and they’re all really geeky and that’s awesome,” she said.


“I just feel that the geeky guys have more to offer than the hotshots.”

Before Mr. Tsapelas, Mr. Amyot and Mr. Acevedo were spending their days teasing out the virtues of fictional beta guys who subsist on Bagel Bites and ice pops, they were attending Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., where they met in 2000 and worked together as film majors. In general, Mr. Tsapelas (the inspiration for Henry) does the writing, Mr. Amyot (a k a Tom) directs and Mr. Acevedo (Rod) shoots and edits. After graduation they reconvened in Astoria, entered short film contests and attended small film festivals. Yet it all cost time and money, and few people ever showed up for screenings. Inspired by Comedy Central and Spike TV’s online contests, they decided that showcasing their work on the Internet would get it seen by more people and also enable them to tell a longer story. But what?

“At the time we were watching ‘Entourage’ a lot,” Mr. Tsapelas said. “And ‘Entourage,’ you know, these guys go through their daily situations in life and just pick up women constantly. And for us it was like the complete opposite. Everything was a struggle.”

For the first time since college, all three were single. “We broke up and I was just clueless,” said Mr. Amyot, whose three-year relationship had been the longest of the bunch. “I would have these discussions with Steve about it, about what I was feeling, how I was trying to figure it out and, like, how are we going to meet girls and all this stuff. We were just sort of living the lives that these characters are living in the show while trying to come up with an idea for a Web series.”

Their college relationships had been the most momentous of their relatively young lives. “That was like the last hope, I guess,” Mr. Tsapelas said. “And then it ended, and then we were all on a life raft.” He suggested to Mr. Amyot and Mr. Acevedo the notion of creating an anti-“Entourage,” a show, essentially, “about us.”

The first episode, in which Rod accuses Tom of “scamming” his “squirrel” (translation: stealing the woman he’s got his eye on), went online on Nov. 1, 2006. Eventually a few of the episodes ended up on the home page of MySpace. Last April, Episode 4, “Rod vs. Henry” (in which Rod uses Photoshop to create a picture of himself having sex with Henry’s ex), appeared on the home page of YouTube. In the episode, Rod invites every girl Henry has ever made out with (all three) to their apartment to see Henry’s collection of wrestling dolls and DVDs. Henry appropriates tricks from the movie “Home Alone” to booby-trap the apartment, in an attempt to maim Rod.

“It kind of exploded after that,” Mr. Tsapelas said. Last May the three went to Los Angeles to meet industry executives who had contacted them, including Barry Blumberg (now their manager), talent agents (they signed with United Talent) and Mr. Daniels, who gave them a tour of the set of “The Office.”

Two months later, the three received an e-mail message from Mr. Erdman, saying Mr. Star had expressed interest. In August they were back in Los Angeles meeting with Mr. Star and Sony Pictures TV. Two months later, they ended up pitching “We Need Girlfriends” to several networks.

On a visit to Mr. Erdman’s house in Bel Air, they asked him if it was O.K. if they photographed themselves with his Emmy and Golden Globe awards. (It was.) They were about 500 feet outside of Mr. Erdman’s gate when he called Mr. Amyot’s cellphone and told them to return. The three thought they had forgotten something, but when they pulled their rental hybrid up to the gate, Mr. Erdman leaned into the car window and told them that CBS wanted “We Need Girlfriends.”

Mr. Tsapelas’s first instinct was to call his mother.

Now all three are supervising producers and writers on the “We Need Girlfriends” pilot, which they were working on until the night before the writers’ strike began. “It would have been probably done by Christmas,” said Mr. Tsapelas.

While they don’t know when the script will be completed, they can answer another question: Do they still need girlfriends?

Mr. Tsapelas has been dating a graphic designer for about a year and a half (she created the “Team Rod” and “Team Henry” shirts). Mr. Acevedo, who was trolling Facebook a few months ago, came across the profile of the first girl he ever kissed (at 14). He is now her boyfriend.

As for Mr. Amyot: “I’m dating a girl,” he said sheepishly. “The girl that broke up with me that inspired ‘We Need Girlfriends.’ ”

Net Neutrality's Not Anti-Property, it's About Our Property
Ken Fisher

It took 17 rounds, but when the FCC's $4.638 billion reserve was met late last week, it meant that the FCC's mandated open access rules would necessarily come into play. Under the proposed rules, 22MHz of the spectrum to be auctioned would be subject to open-access regulations, meaning that the company winning the auction would not be able to control what kind of devices are attached to the network or how the bandwidth is used.

While there were plenty of high-fives around here, not everyone is pleased. Scott Cleland, founder of telecom analyst firm The Precursor Group, is out blasting the developments, saying that open access and "net neutrality" advocates are "antiproperty" according to the IDG News Service. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"Everybody throws the word 'open' around and says open is wonderful," Cleland said. "But 'open' means communal. It means not owned."

Mr. Cleland is of course wrong on the most fundamental of levels. Open means open, not communal. Check a dictionary. When Verizon "opens" its network this year, it's certainly not giving up complete and utter ownership of its network.

Second, Net Neutrality advocates are not ipso facto "antiproperty," because if they were, they wouldn't care whether or not their own devices (aka, property) were locked into proprietary networks and/or designed to only work with specific technologies. Net neutrality proponents simply want their property to work like it should.

What has brought this situation to light is nothing short than the collective abuses of the American wireless user, who is frankly sick of having choice determined by carrier lock-in and having "features" determined by committee. The rhetoric of property is apropos here, in the way that carriers can sometimes treat their subscribers like they own them. Compare your cell phone service to your cable TV service. Both are, ultimately, powering expensive pieces of technology you own, but taking your television to another cable company is magnitudes easier than taking your cell phone to another carrier.

To be sure, "open" access won't mean free access or that whoever owns a chunk of open spectrum can't make money. It simply means that making such services worth paying for will require a lot more than traditional carrier lock-in. At the very least, it marks the beginning of an age when our mobile telecommunications property has value and functionality less constrained by arbitrary sets of rules from on high. And to hear Verizon tell the tale, their dramatic swing from opposing the notion of "open access" networks to wanting to build one themselves was partially the result of coming to grips with market forces in a competitive environment. It certainly had nothing to do with "not owning" a network. It was quite the opposite: Verizon realized that the best kind of network to own is the open kind.

RIAA Boss: Move Copyright Filtering from ISPs to Users’ PCs
Nate Anderson

Filtering sounds so wholesome. As with filtered water, Internet filtering backers suggest that their products simply keep the sludge from passing through, and who wants to drink unfiltered sludge? The big difference between the two kinds of filtering is that sludge can't use 128-bit keys and AES encryption to hide its sludgy nature; Internet traffic can. It's a key problem for any Internet filtering regime, including the one being studied right now by AT&T. Once strong encryption is slapped on Internet traffic, the effectiveness of filters drops off dramatically.

At a Washington, DC, tech conference last week, RIAA boss Cary Sherman suggested that Internet filtering was a super idea but that he saw no reason to mandate it. Turns out that was only part of the story, though; Sherman's a sharp guy, and he's fully aware that filtering will prompt an encryption arms race that is going to be impossible to win... unless users somehow install the filtering software on their home PCs or equipment.

Last night, Public Knowledge posted a video clip from the conference that drew attention to Sherman's other remarks on the topic of filtering, and what he has to say is downright amazing: due to the encryption problem, filters may need to be put on end users' PCs.

The issue of encryption "would have to be faced," Sherman admitted after talking about the wonders of filtering. "One could have a filter on the end user's computer that would actually eliminate any benefit from encryption because if you want to hear [the music], you would need to decrypt it, and at that point the filter would work."

This means moving the filter out of the network and onto the edges (local machines), since it's at the edges that decryption and playback occurs. But who would voluntarily install software that would continually scan incoming P2P streams for copyrighted material after that material has been decrypted? Or software that would watch every song you played and tried to figure out if it was legit?

Sherman knows it's a tough sell. "Why would somebody put that on their machine?" he asked rhetorically. "They wouldn't likely want to do that."

No... they wouldn't. But Sherman's idea is that customers install filtering software such as virus scanners all the time because they see a tangible benefit to it. Apparently, they are supposed to realize the same benefit from installing a filter that flags as illegal the very music that they are trying to download.

This is clearly not going to happen, so Sherman has another idea. He appears to suggest installing the filter in a customer's cable or DSL modem, which wouldn't act as anything more than a network filter (the encryption and decryption happens on the PC). There's also some talk of putting the filtering tech into "applications" such as P2P apps, but again, this seems unlikely, especially for the open-source ones. Maybe he hopes to get OS vendors on board?

The entire scheme has about as much chance of success as my 2008 bid for the White House (write-in Anderson for President in November!). The only way to make it work is to mandate the filters or have ISPs mandate that users install them to get on the Internet. The consumer backlash from such a plan would be like the force of a thousand supernovas, and it's hard to visualize this happening.

What's most incredible about all of this is that the RIAA and some ISPs (namely AT&T) are seriously moving ahead with a filtering regime despite their own admissions that it won't work. Filters might work, they might allow for fair use, and they could conceivably be built in such a way as to maintain privacy, but it just wouldn't matter. Filtering as a concept is ultimately doomed by encryption unless the "filters" simply block entire protocols altogether, and talking about the consumer benefits of installing RIAA-approved filtering software is just another sign of how ludicrous the entire debate has become.

It's time to find a better solution with more than a short-term chance of success.

“The Federation” Targets BitTorrent Pirates at the Workplace

The UK’s Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has launched the third phase of ‘Operation Tracker’, an initiative to monitor people using BitTorrent to share computer software from their homes and also from their workplaces.

FAST - The Federation Against Software Theft is a UK organization setup in 1984 with the stated aim of ‘promoting the legal use of software by enforcement, lobbying and education’

‘The Federation’, as they like to be called, are currently entering Phase 3 of ‘Operation Tracker’ which aims to trace a “large number of computer users who are breaking copyright law by sharing software on the internet.” They do this using what they call ‘undercover investigators’ - people monitoring P2P networks and gathering data. FAST targets residential addresses but much prefers to catch business connections engaged in file-sharing activities as these are easiest to get a big settlement from. Very often, FAST tries to shift the blame for the file-sharing directly to the company directors, an effective way of increasing the pressure.

Now, FAST says it is monitoring certain sites for the purposes of tracking ‘illegal software downloads’, particularly those that employ ’swarming technology’ (BitTorrent) in the 3rd phase of Operation Tracker. FAST is using a tracking tool it calls ‘The CCTV of the Internet’ but which is likely just an open source BitTorrent client, with some more advanced logging features tagged on.

Chief Executive of The Federation John Lovelock, said of the system: “The march of technology assists both the law breaker and the investigator.” Indicating a longer-term initiative rather than a blitz he continued: “Operation Tracker Three is not designed to achieve overnight results. Rather it is a long-term surveillance operation aimed at successfully tracing and bringing to book anyone found to be blatantly flouting the law.”

According to FAST, it recently carried out some research with YouGov and was very disappointed to learn that just 2% of the workforce in the UK thought that they could get caught ’stealing software’. With that in mind, this ‘new phase’ is probably more of a publicity drive for instilling fear into UK businesses who allow their staff to share files than anything else.

As mentioned before, FAST likes to concentrate its efforts on targeting businesses, and those directors that run them, very often claiming that management allow their employees to break the law and therefore must be held ultimately responsible.

“Corporate liability is something that management cannot afford to gloss over - misuse of software is something Directors cannot plead ignorance to” said Lovelock. “If employees are using the corporate network for illegal activity those in charge may be liable. Theft is theft and will be treated accordingly.”

As is customary, Lovelock goes on to confuse physical theft, with copyright infringement: “Our message hasn’t changed,” he said. “Installing software unlawfully is wrong. After all you would not let your employees steal a company car so why are corporates allowing this to continue?”

‘The Federation’ is interesting in that it has mixed non-profit and for-profit operations under the same banner, leaving some people wondering about the direction of the organization. The Federation was a share holder in the for-profit business ‘FAST Limited’ with both sharing offices, staff and a common logo, creating a huge amount of confusion, as indicated by this post, and others like them:

“We had a visit from an officer of Fast who, in a 10-minute Q&A, identified ‘16 areas of concern’ with our IT practices. Nearly all were bullshit, with some very minor exceptions. She then suggested that we should join FAST as a corporate member to complete the training, just in case (hint, hint) Trading Standards ever came around to do an audit. What this tells me is that she is obviously a salesperson, working on commission, signing up as many members as possible. This strikes me as a highly unethical way of doing business for what is essentially a regulatory body.”

Unethical? Surely not…..


Famous Black Lives Through DNA’s Prism
Felicia R. Lee

“African-American Lives 2,” a four-part series on PBS that begins on Wednesday night, belies its sleepy name with the poetry of history, the magic of science and the allure of the family trees of Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Tina Turner, Don Cheadle, Tom Joyner and Maya Angelou.

It is the latest incarnation of the highly rated, critically successful star genealogy program that its host, the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., presented in 2006. Then Oprah Winfrey, Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones and Whoopi Goldberg were among Professor Gates’s eight guests for “African-American Lives.” That was followed in 2007 by “Oprah’s Roots.”

This time scientists use DNA samples, and scholars peruse slave ship records, wills and other documents to recreate the histories of 12 people, including Professor Gates and one Everywoman guest.

“I conceived of these series as roots in a test tube,” Professor Gates says early in “Lives,” which will be broadcast on most PBS stations in two hourlong episodes on Wednesday and two on Feb. 13. Through the prism of the individual stories of rapes of black women, the failed promise of Reconstruction, the great migration of black Southerners to the North, the struggle for education, land, and freedom, Professor Gates lays bare the basic contradiction of the American dream.

Mr. Rock can be seen wiping away a tear after learning that his great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, served in the South Carolina Legislature, and died owning dozens of acres of land. He never knew any of that history, Mr. Rock says in the program. He recounts growing up in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood and being bused to a white school where he was bullied.

“Until I lucked into a comedy club at, you know, age 20, just on a whim, I assumed I would pick up things for white people for the rest of my life,” Mr. Rock says. “If I’d known this, it would have taken away the inevitability that I was going to be nothing.”

Along with the triumphs are the inevitable tragedies. Tom Joyner, the celebrity radio personality, is shaken to learn that in 1915 an all-white jury in South Carolina convicted his two great-uncles of killing a white man. They were prosperous landowners, but were sent to the electric chair, even though evidence uncovered by the “Lives” researchers suggests their innocence. Mr. Joyner and Professor Gates said they planned to petition the South Carolina government to exonerate them posthumously.

Mr. Joyner is seen in “Lives” gathered with his extended family, reading old newspaper articles and learning a story that had been lost.

“I have had mixed emotions — grief, anger, pride,” Mr. Joyner said in an interview about the program’s revelations, adding, “If you feel — and all of us have these feelings — that you can’t go any further, think about the people in your past and what they survived.”

In addition to the celebrities, the “Lives” interview subjects include Bliss Broyard, a writer whose father, Anatole Broyard, a New York Times book critic and editor, was black and passed for white; the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, a Harvard theologian; Linda Johnson Rice, president and chief executive of the company that publishes Ebony and Jet magazines; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the Olympic gold-medal athlete; and Kathleen Henderson, a University of Dayton administrator who competed with more than 2,000 entrants to be on the program.

Professor Gates, a co-founder of the genealogy Web site AfricanDNA.com and the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, keeps things going at a rapid pace for his guests. He whips out photographs of former slave masters (who were sometimes relatives), pinpoints the African countries of ancestors and travels to Ireland himself to track down his Irish roots. In the last episode everyone learns his or her percentage of European, Native American and African blood.

“These stories are much more in-depth than those in ‘African-American Lives,’ ” Mr. Gates said in a recent telephone interview. “Then, a lot of documents had not been digitized, and we’ve learned to interpret the DNA testing better, with more subtlety and sophistication.”

In one of the stories Morgan Freeman puzzles over the nature of the relationship between his white great-great-grandfather and African-American great-great-grandmother, who had eight children together. His great-great grandfather’s employer owned her.

“I don’t know, really,” Mr. Freeman replies when Professor Gates asks him how that information makes him feel.

But, in a twist, the “Lives” researchers discovered that Mr. Morgan’s white great-great grandfather sold land to his biracial sons. And they found the great-great-grandparents’ headstones on that land in Mississippi, side by side, bearing the same last name and surrounded by the graves of their children.

None of the guests are 100 percent anything. Maya Angelou shakes her head in sorrow as Mr. Gates tells her that her black great-grandmother, 17-year-old Mary Lee, was impregnated by her 50-year-old white former master (who forced her to name another man as the father) and ended up in the poor house along with her child. That child was Ms. Angelou’s grandmother, Marguerite.

“That poor little black girl, physically and psychologically bruised,” Ms. Angelou murmurs.

“You never know how you’re going to come here,” Ms. Angelou said in an interview about her participation in “Lives” and her ancestor Mary Lee. “People have great weddings, and they’re lucky to have it last five years.”

Ms. Angelou said she initially disliked the idea of using celebrities to reclaim history but realized that they would attract viewers to examine the complexity of this country’s roots. “Nothing human can be alien to me,” Ms. Angelou said. “If we could internalize just a portion of that, it could get us away from the blithering idiocy of racism.”

And what is race? Professor Gates asks. Ms. Broyard, who grew up thinking she was white, says in “Lives” that she believes that her father, who died in 1990, “passed” to protect his children from racism. She does not feel she has the right to call herself “black” now because it designates not just physicality but lived experience, she tells Professor Gates.

“It’s a complicated message to get across,” Ms. Broyard said in an interview. “We can find the geographic origins of our ancestors, but it doesn’t mean that race is a biological destiny.”

Still, Professor Gates sees the evolving use of DNA and records searches as ways to revolutionize how science is taught in schools. PBS is using the Web site pbs.org/aalives2 and other resources to help educators and others interesting in pursuing the information in the series.

“Forget going into a classroom and saying, ‘I am going to teach you about Watson and Crick and the double helix,’ ” Professor Gates said. “Imagine if I could say, ‘With this cotton swab, we can tell you where your ancestors come from in Africa.’ ”

Mininova Launches Music Torrent Streaming

The popular BitTorrent site Mininova just released a set of new features, including music torrent streaming. The new music streaming feature uses a Java applet developed by BitLet, which is easy to use and compatible with all Java-enabled browsers.

With the new music streaming feature users can listen to individual music tracks, streamed from .torrent files. It is integrated in the featured torrents section, which lists all the distributors that take part in Mininova’s content distribution platform. An example of a streamable torrent is this track.

If you want to stream music torrents that are not listed in the featured section, you’ll need to use the Bitlet website. The service currently supports mp3 and ogg/vorbis files.

BitTorrent streaming is not restricted to music files, and indeed, Erik, one of the founders of Mininova told TorrentFreak that they are currently looking into the possibility of video streaming via BitTorrent as well. He said that Mininova will start a private BETA test of the BitTorrent video streaming integration in a few weeks.

Together with the music streaming capability, Mininova published some other new features including comment tracking, which gives users an overview of all the comments they recently made. Another new feature that might come in handy is the manual refresh of the seeder and leecher statistics that logged in users now have.

Finally, every self respecting BitTorrent sites now has its own toolbar. Isohunt and The Pirate Bay launched one a few weeks ago, so Mininova couldn’t stay behind. Personally I’m not a huge fan of these toobars, but some people seem to like it. The good news is, the toolbars are malware free, and generate some extra revenue via the integrated search box.

It’s good to see that Mininova and other BitTorrent sites continue to add new features, and improve the service to their users.
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Old 06-02-08, 08:55 AM   #2
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Listen to Songs, Free, Online

This search service, registered through a Scottsdale Arizona proxy and hosted by Liquidweb, lets you stream any song with just a simple song/artist querry. No fee, no subscription, no registration, no malware, no ads, no limits. It doesn't have every song, but it seems to have a fair amount, including some obscurities. Other services do this too but I like the clean new interface. Via SeeqPod/SpinJay.


Vudu Test Confirms HD Download Worries (Plus: What Needs to Be Done)

Over the weekend, I checked out three versions of the Transformers movie: standard-def and high-def instantaneous downloads to the Vudu box with 4-Mbps net connection, as well as the HD DVD of the movie, playing through the Xbox 360. As you can see in the image above, the so-called HD experience from Vudu wasn't one that could come close to comparing with the HD DVD playback. In fact, it was awfully hard to see a vivid difference between that and the perfectly fine (and $2 cheaper) SD download.

A lot of people (including Steve Jobs) like to talk about the imminent arrival of HD downloads, a magic talisman that will help peace-loving technophiles avoid the atrocities of the last shiny-silver-disc format war. But as we've discussed and others have researched, bandwidth, and not resolution, determine final quality.

It's a no-brainer, and one that Vudu is well aware of, especially as it enters its newest round of content offerings. To its credit, the company decided that it's more important to offer high-quality downloads instantly, rather than make people wait for the 8+ hour download that might look more like video from a Blu-ray or HD DVD disc. But can we still call them HD?

In the frames above, you see snapshots I took all at the same time depicting Vudu paused in standard-def and high-def playback, as well as more or less the same frame paused on the HD DVD as well. One could argue that the frames look funny because of the way Vudu pauses, so let me be clear: the difference in playback between the HD DVD and the HD download was huge. My wife laughed, saying "Even I can see the difference." The difference between the SD and HD Vudu downloads was not significant at all. In fact, it was not especially noticeable. Again, to Vudu's credit, the standard def version looks really nice, and both videos started playing the instant I rented them.

The bottom line is that HD downloads are a novelty item now, and they'll probably stay that way until:

• Higher bandwidth permits the rapid download of huge files
• A quality-assurance system is agreed upon where "HD" refers to specific attributes that go beyond frame resolution
• Hollywood deems it fit to start releasing mainstream videos in great quantities in HD—remember, those dudes hold the keys, now and forever, whether we like it or not.

Nature Giving Way to Virtual Reality
Randolph E. Schmid

As peopleAs people spend more time communing with their televisions and computers, the impact is not just on their health, researchers say. Less time spent outdoors means less contact with nature and, eventually, less interest in conservation and parks.

Camping, fishing and per capita visits to parks are all declining in a shift away from nature-based recreation, researchers report in Monday's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

''Declining nature participation has crucial implications for current conservation efforts,'' wrote co-authors Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic. ''We think it probable than any major decline in the value placed on natural areas and experiences will greatly reduce the value people place on biodiversity conservation.''

''The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children,'' Pergams said in a statement. ''Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance.''

By studying visits to national and state park and the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses the researchers documented declines of between 18 percent and 25 percent in various types of outdoor recreation.

The decline, found in both the United States and Japan, appears to have begun in the 1980s and 1990s, the period of rapid growth of video games, they said.

For example, fishing peaked in 1981 and had declined 25 percent by 2005, the researchers found. Visits to national parks peaked in 1987 and dropped 23 percent by 2006, while hiking on the Appalachian Trial peaked in 2000 and was down 18 percent by 2005.

Japan suffered similar declines, the researchers found, as visits to national parks there dropped by 18 percent between 1991 and 2005.

There was a small growth in backpacking, but that may reflect day trips by some people who previously were campers, wrote Pergams and Zaradic. Pergams is a visiting research assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, while Zaradic is a fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program, Delaware Valley, in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

While fishing declined, hunting held onto most of its market, they found.

''This may be related to various overfishing and pollution issues decreasing access to fish populations, contrasted with exploding deer populations,'' they said.

The research was funded by The Nature Conservancy.


On the Net:

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: http://www.pnas.org

The Nature Conservancy: http://natureconservancy.org


Spies' Battleground Turns Virtual

Intelligence officials see 3-D online worlds as havens for criminals
Robert O'Harrow Jr.

U.S. intelligence officials are cautioning that popular Internet services that enable computer users to adopt cartoon-like personas in three-dimensional online spaces also are creating security vulnerabilities by opening novel ways for terrorists and criminals to move money, organize and conduct corporate espionage.

Over the last few years, "virtual worlds" such as Second Life and other role-playing games have become home to millions of computer-generated personas known as avatars. By directing their avatars, people can take on alternate personalities, socialize, explore and earn and spend money across uncharted online landscapes.

Nascent economies have sprung to life in these 3-D worlds, complete with currency, banks and shopping malls. Corporations and government agencies have opened animated virtual offices, and a growing number of organizations hold meetings where avatars gather and converse in newly minted conference centers.

Intelligence officials who have examined these systems say they're convinced that the qualities that many computer users find so attractive about virtual worlds -- including anonymity, global access and the expanded ability to make financial transfers outside normal channels -- have turned them into seedbeds for transnational threats.

"The virtual world is the next great frontier and in some respects is still very much a Wild West environment," a recent paper by the government's new Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity said.

"Unfortunately, what started out as a benign environment where people would congregate to share information or explore fantasy worlds is now offering the opportunity for religious/political extremists to recruit, rehearse, transfer money, and ultimately engage in information warfare or worse with impunity."

The government's growing concern seems likely to make virtual worlds the next battlefield in the struggle over the proper limits on the government's quest to improve security through data collection and analysis and the surveillance of commercial computer systems.

Virtual worlds could also become an actual battlefield. The intelligence community has begun contemplating how to use Second Life and other such communities as platforms for cyber weapons that could be used against terrorists or enemies, intelligence officials said. One analyst suggested beginning tests with so-called teams of cyber warfare experts.

The IARPA paper concurred: "What additional things are possible in the virtual world that cannot be done in the real world? The [intelligence community] needs to 'red team' some possible scenarios of use."

The CIA has created a few virtual islands for internal use, such as training and unclassified meetings, government officials said.

Some veterans of privacy debates said they believe that law enforcement and national security authorities are preparing to make a move, through coercion or new laws, to gain access to the giant computer servers where virtual worlds reside.

Jim Dempsey, policy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonpartisan group that monitors privacy issues, said he heard the same worries from the government when cell phones became popular in the 1980s and again when mainstream American logged on to the Internet in the 1990s.

Dempsey said the national security fears are overblown, in part because the country already has legal and technical mechanisms in place to give the government access to digital records it needs.

"They want to control this technology and make it even easier to tap than it already is," Dempsey said. "When the government is finished, every new technology becomes a more powerful surveillance tool than the technology before it."

Questions about the impact of innovations in communications technology are nothing new. Criminals, terrorists and others have used Web sites for more than a decade to recruit, operate scams and trade pornography. Law enforcement and intelligence authorities responded to new technologies by repeatedly seeking out new surveillance authorities.

Intelligence officials said, however, that the spread of virtual worlds has created additional challenges because commercial services do not keep records of communication among avatars. Because of the nature of the systems, the companies also have almost no way of monitoring the creation and use of virtual buildings and training centers, some of them protected by nearly unbreakable passwords.

"Virtual environments provide many opportunities to exchange messages in the clear without drawing unnecessary attention," the IARPA paper said. "Additionally, there are many private channels that can be employed to exchange secret messages."

And there are the numbers. Some marketers and technology observers are predicting explosive growth in the use of virtual worlds in coming years. As more people create avatars, it will become harder to identify bad guys, intelligence officials said. As in the real world, one of the central difficulties is establishing the identity of individuals.

"The challenge that we face is to be able to distinguish the fanatics from the average person looking for some simple enjoyment," said the IARPA paper.

One intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had no evidence of activity by terrorist cells or widespread organized crime in virtual worlds. There have been numerous instances of fraud, harassment and other virtual crimes. Some computer users have used their avatars to destroy virtual buildings.

Last month, Second Life operators shut down a dozen online banks holding virtual currency worth an undetermined amount of actual dollars, after computer users raised questions about whether the banks were paying promised interest.

National security officials have begun working informally to take stock of virtual worlds. That research likely will take on more urgency this year, as companies in other countries prepare to unveil their own virtual worlds.

One such world, called HiPiHi, is being created in China. HiPiHi founders said they want to create ways for avatars to be able to travel freely between its virtual world, Second Life and other systems -- a development that intelligence officials say make it doubly hard to track down the identity of avatars.

In promotional material, HiPiHi officials said that they believe that virtual worlds "are the next phase of the Internet."

"The residents are the Gods of this virtual world; it is a world of limitless possibilities for creativity and self-expression, within a complex social structure and a full functioning economy," the promotional material says.

"Virtual worlds are ready-made havens," said a senior intelligence official who declined to be identified because of the nature of his work. "There's no way to monitor it."

The popularity of virtual worlds has grown despite the technology being in an early stage of development. The systems don't work well on older computers or those with relatively slow connections to the Internet. Though Second Life has more than 12 million registered users, only about 10 percent of those accounts are active. About 50,000 people around the world are on the system at a given moment, according to Linden Lab, which operates Second Life.

Officials from Linden Lab have initiated meetings with people in the intelligence community about virtual worlds. They try to stress that systems to monitor avatar activity and identify risky behavior are built into the technology, according to Ken Dreifach, Linden's deputy general counsel.

Dreifach said that all financial transactions are reviewed electronically, and some are reviewed by people. For investigators, there also are also plenty of trails that avatars and users leave behind.

"There are a real range and depth of electronic footprints," Dreifach said. "We don't disclose those fraud tools."

Jeff Jonas, chief scientist of IBM Entity Analytic Solutions, who has been examining developments in virtual worlds, which have attracted some investment from the company, said there's no way to predict how this technology will develop and what kind of capabilities it will provide -- good or bad. But he believes that virtual worlds are about to become far more popular.

"As the virtual worlds create more and more immersive experiences and as global accessibility to computers increases, I can envision a scenario in which hundreds of millions of people become engaged almost overnight," Jonas said.

Jonas said it's almost a certainty that clandestine activity associated with real criminals and terrorists will flourish in these environments because of the ease, reach and obscurity they offer.

"With these actors there will be organized criminal planning and behavior," he said. "The likelihood that somebody is recruiting, strategizing or planning is almost a certainty."

Satellite Spotters Glimpse Secrets, and Tell Them
John Schwartz

When the government announced last month that a top-secret spy satellite would, in the next few months, come falling out of the sky, American officials said there was little risk to people because satellites fall out of orbit fairly frequently and much of the planet is covered by oceans.

But they said precious little about the satellite itself.

Such information came instead from Ted Molczan, a hobbyist who tracks satellites from his apartment balcony in Toronto, and fellow satellite spotters around the world. They have grudgingly become accustomed to being seen as “propeller-headed geeks” who “poke their finger in the eye” of the government’s satellite spymasters, Mr. Molczan said, taking no offense. “I have a sense of humor,” he said.

Mr. Molczan, a private energy conservation consultant, is the best known of the satellite spotters who, needing little more than a pair of binoculars, a stop watch and star charts, uncover some of the deepest of the government’s expensive secrets and share them on the Internet.

Thousands of people form the spotter community. Many look for historical relics of the early space age, working from publicly available orbital information. Others watch for phenomena like the distinctive flare of sunlight glinting off bright solar panels of some telephone satellites. Still others are drawn to the secretive world of spy satellites, with about a dozen hobbyists who do most of the observing, Mr. Molczan said.

In the case of the mysterious satellite that is about to plunge back to earth, Mr. Molczan had an early sense of which one it was, identifying it as USA-193, which gave out shortly after reaching space in December 2006. It is said to have been built by the Lockheed Corporation and operated by the secretive National Reconnaissance Office.

Another hobbyist, John Locker of Britain, posted photos of the satellite on a Web site, galaxypix.com.

John E. Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a private group in Alexandria, Va., that tracks military and space activities, said the hobbyists exemplified fundamental principles of openness and of the power of technology to change the game.

“It has been an important demystification of these things,” Mr. Pike said, “because I think there is a tendency on the part of these agencies just to try to pretend that they don’t exist, and that nothing can be known about them.”

But the spotters are also pursuing a thoroughly unusual pastime, one that calls for long hours outside, freezing in the winter and sweating in the summer, straining to see a moving light in the sky and hoping that a slip of the finger on the stopwatch does not delete an entire night’s work. And for the adept, there is math. Lots of math.

“It’s somewhat time consuming and tedious,” Mr. Molczan said, acknowledging that the very precise and methodical activities might seem, to the uninitiated, “a close approximation to work.”

When a new spy satellite is launched, the hobbyists will collaborate on sightings around the world to determine its orbit, and even guess at its function, sharing their information through the e-mail network SeeSat-L, which can be found via the Web site satobs.org.

From his 23rd-floor balcony, or the roof of his 32-floor building, Mr. Molzcan will peer through his binoculars at a point in the sky he expects the satellite to cross, which he locates with star charts. When the moving dot appears, he measures the distance it travels across the patch of sky over time, which he can use to calculate factors like speed and direction.

Mr. Molzcan declined a request to visit him in Toronto and to be photographed for this article, saying: “No offense intended, but this is beginning to sound like more of a human interest story than one about the substance of the hobby. My preference is for the latter. Also, I prefer not to have photos of myself published.”

Mr. Locker, who favors a telescope for his camerawork, said that people like him and Mr. Molczan were not, as he put it, “nerdy buffs who lie on our backs and look into the sky and try to undermine governments.” Spotting, he said, is simply a hobby.

“There are people who look at train timetables and go watch trains,” he said. People are drawn to what interests them, he said, and “it’s what draws people to any hobby.”

While recent news coverage has focused on the current satellite’s threat to people when it falls from above, that threat is, statistically, very small. Even when the space shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas five years ago and rained debris over two states, no one on the ground was injured.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, noted that 328 satellites had come down in the past five years without injury to anyone. While Mr. Johndroe declined to divulge much about the current satellite aside from the fact that it carries no nuclear material, he said that the government would take responsibility in the remote chance of damage or injury.

The government’s relationship with the hobbyists is not a comfortable one. Spokesmen for the National Reconnaissance Office have stated that they would prefer the hobbyists not publish their information, and suggest that foreign countries try to hide their activities when they know an eye in the sky will be passing overhead.

The satellite spotters acknowledge that this may be so, though they doubt that such tactics are effective. Mr. Molczan said he believed that the hobbyists hurt no one but that “you can’t say with absolute certainty what effect you’re having.”

Mr. Pike said the officials who complained about the hobbyists “don’t like it, but they’ve got to lump it.” Despite the many clever ways that the spy agencies try to minimize the likelihood that their satellites will be spotted, he said, they will be. And that, he said, is a valuable warning: a world with so many eyes on the skies renders deep secrets shallow.

“If Ted can track all these satellites,” Mr. Pike said, “so can the Chinese.”

Quantum Teleporting, Yes; the Rest Is Movie Magic
Dennis Overbye

In a battle waged with popcorn, floodlights, chalk and star power, science and art squared off at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology one night last month.

On one side of a vaunted cultural divide were Doug Liman, director of the coming movie “Jumper,” about a young man who discovers he can transport himself anywhere he wants just by thinking about it, and Hayden Christensen, the film’s star.

On the other were a pair of the institute’s physics professors, Edward Farhi and Max Tegmark, experts on the type of physics the movie was purporting to portray, who had been enlisted to view a few scenes from it and talk about science.

In the middle were hundreds of M.I.T. students who had waited for hours to jam into a giant lecture hall known as Room 26-100 and who proved that future scientists and engineers could be just as rowdy and star-struck as the crowds outside the MTV studios in Times Square.

“I guess I wasn’t expecting such a lively group,” Mr. Christensen said.

The evening was the brainchild of Warren Betts, a veteran Hollywood publicist who has helped promote a number of movies with scientific or technological themes, including “Apollo 13.” Mr. Betts said he had gotten excited after a Caltech physicist told him that teleportation was actually an accomplished fact in the quirky realm of quantum physics.

Mr. Betts arranged for clips from the movie, scheduled for a Feb. 14 release, to be shown, and then inveigled Dr. Farhi, an expert on quantum computers, and Dr. Tegmark, a cosmologist, to participate in a panel discussion. They agreed, as long as they could talk about real physics.

“What do I know about movie production?” asked Dr. Farhi, calling himself “clueless.” He said, “If the students learn something, it’s fine, I’m happy.”

The corridor outside M.I.T.’s venerable lecture hall was transformed for the occasion into a red carpet — sans the actual red carpet — lined with television cameras and reporters. At the appointed hour, Mr. Christensen, who played the young Anakin Skywalker in “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” and “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” began to proceed slowly down the line.

Mr. Liman, the director, meanwhile, confessed to being nervous. “We’re about to see a couple of M.I.T. professors rip me to shreds,” he said. “I hope they appreciate that I tried to respect the physics of the planet we live on.”

Mr. Liman, who directed “The Bourne Identity,” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” said he had been a “physics prodigy” in high school, which had gotten him into Brown University despite a checkered adolescence. He never took a physics class in college, however. “Being good at it made it a little boring,” he said.

He said he had fallen in love with the “Jumper” script — adapted by David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg from a series of young adult novels by Steven Gould — because of its honesty. The first thing the new superhero does with his powers is rob a bank. “The story was as honest as it could be,” Mr. Liman said.

He said he had spent a lot time trying to figure what teleportation would actually look like, never mind what causes it. If a body suddenly disappeared, for example, there would be a rush of air into the vacuum left behind.

Physics, Mr. Liman said, is more connected to filmmaking than one might expect. “I liked problem solving,” he said. “A film,” he added, “is one big problem.”

An hour later, Dr. Farhi and Dr. Tegmark, true to their words, let the air out of the “Jumper” balloon.

In real experiments recently, Dr. Farhi told the movie fans, physicists had managed to “teleport” a single elementary particle, a photon, which transmits light, about one and a half miles, “a little less exotic than what you see in the movie.”

What is actually teleported in these experiments, he explained, is not the particle itself but all the quantum information about the particle.

To accomplish this is no small matter. Among other things, the teleporters have to create a pair of so-called entangled particles, which maintain a kind of spooky correlation even though they are separated by light years. Both of them exist in a kind of quantum fog of possibility until one or the other is observed. Measuring one particle instantly affects its separated-at-birth twin no matter how far away. If one is found to be spinning clockwise, for example, the other will be found to be spinning counter clockwise.

In order to use this magic to “teleport” a third particle, Dr. Farhi emphasized, you have to send a conventional signal between the entangled twins, and that takes time, according to Einstein. “You cannot get that thing over there faster than the speed of light,” Dr. Farhi said, to cheers from the crowd.

The real lure, he said, is not transportation, but secure communication. If anybody eavesdrops on the teleportation signal, the whole thing doesn’t work, Dr. Farhi said. Another use is in quantum computing, which would exploit the ability of quantum bits of information to have different values, both one and zero, at the same time to perform certain calculations, like factoring large prime numbers, much faster than ordinary computers.

As Dr. Tegmark said, “Nobody can hack your credit card, and then you can build a quantum computer and hack everybody else’s card.”

One student asked the physicists if they rolled their eyes at the scientific miscues in movies. That was too much like work, protested Dr. Farhi, who said he was more interested in the acting and the characters. Dr. Tegmark said that even inaccurate science fiction movies could inspire scientists to think. You could see something that you think is impossible, he said, but that might start you thinking. “Why is that impossible? It can trigger a train of thought,” he said.

“The hard part of science is finding the right questions,” Dr. Tegmark said.

Asked if science mattered, Mr. Liman said that he always tried to get to know the reality behind a film, but that it was not always so easy. One professor he approached for advice about “Jumper” threw him out of his office, he said.

He went on to describe his attempts to portray the teleportation jumps realistically. Wind would rush to fill the vacuum left by the departing body, he said, and papers would fly around.

“Yeah,” Dr. Tegmark said.

Under some conditions moisture would condense out of the air into clouds.

The physicists nodded. “In any other place, I would sound very scientific,” Mr. Liman said, to laughter and applause.

By now the divide between the two cultures was getting as fuzzy and blurred as some quantum fog.

Dr. Tegmark asked what scientists could do to help the movie makers.

“Watch ‘Jumper,’ ” Mr. Christensen answered, “and then get to work and figure out how to do it.”

And the award goes to…

Taiwan Group Guilty of 90 Percent of Microsoft Piracy
Simon Burns

Microsoft claims that a small group led by a recently jailed Taiwanese man was the source of almost all high quality pirated copies of its software up until his arrest in 2004.

The claim suggests that Microsoft practically wiped out commercial piracy of its products with the arrest of Huang Jer-sheng, the owner of Taiwan-based software distributor Maximus Technology.

Microsoft announced today that Huang and his associates were responsible for the "production and distribution of more than 90 percent of the high-quality counterfeit Microsoft software products either seized by law enforcement or test-purchased around the world".

Huang was recently sentenced to four years in jail by a Taiwanese court. Three co-defendants received between 18 months and three years in jail. Six individuals were originally arrested in the case.

Microsoft named two CD replication plants in Taiwan (Chungtek Hightech Enterprise and Cinway Technology) as the main producers of CDs for the piracy ring. Counterfeiters in southern China were also involved.

"After Chungtek was raided for intellectual property infringements in October 2001, Maximus ended the partnership and shifted its illegal operation to underground optical disk plants in the Shenzhen and Dongguan areas," said Taiwan's Intellectual Property Office.

Even holographic labels were duplicated. "A laser label expert was hired to conduct technology transfer of copying laser labels of the legal products," Taiwanese authorities reported after Huang was arrested.

"The finished products with their professionally made packaging, laser labels, warranty cards and instruction manuals made them impossible for consumers to question their authenticity."

Microsoft said in a statement released today: "The prosecutions of this international ring of counterfeiters, led by Huang Jer-sheng, mark the culmination of a number of complex global investigations conducted over a six-year period which resulted in the total dismantling of this criminal counterfeiting syndicate."

Pirating the 2008 Oscars (Now with 6 Years of Data)

Every year, the Academy tries to stop Oscar films from leaking online. And every year, they leak all the same. I've been tracking Oscar piracy since 2004, but I've decided to up the ante, releasing all the underlying data and extending it to 2003. Six years of Oscar piracy data on all 186 nominated films from 2003 to 2008 -- including US release dates for Academy screeners, cams, telesyncs, R5/telecines, screener leaks and retail DVD rips -- can all be viewed or downloaded below.

This year, all but six of the 34 nominated films were available in DVD quality by the last week of January. This is about consistent with past years, but we're seeing a shift towards studios releasing DVDs closer to their theatrical date. This trend, combined with the new availability of high-quality Region 5 rips from overseas, is making the screener leak less meaningful. After all, why bother releasing the screener if the retail DVD or a direct-from-film transfer is already out?

Collecting this data took me all day, so I'm going to publish my analysis and pretty charts tomorrow.

Horror Auteur Is Unfinished With the Undead
Katrina Onstad

WE get the zombies we deserve.

Over five films and four decades the director George A. Romero’s slack-jawed undead have been our tour guides through a brainless, barbaric America that seems barely hospitable to the living. They lurch across a bigoted civil-rights-era countryside (“Night of the Living Dead,” 1968), claw at a suburban shopping mall (“Dawn of the Dead,” 1978) and wander dazed in an anxious post-9/11 world (“Land of the Dead,” 2005).

Mr. Romero is now 68, and his influence has long saturated the cultural mainstream, but he’s exhumed his living dead yet again for “Diary of the Dead,” opening Friday. The zombies’ — and Mr. Romero’s — current bugaboo? The blogging, uploading, navel-gazing infotainment age.

“It’s scary out there, man,” Mr. Romero said, gesturing at a laptop as he sat in his apartment here, chain-smoking Marlboros. “There’s just so much information, and it’s absolutely uncontrolled. Half of it isn’t even information. It’s entertainment or opinion. I wanted to do something that would get at this octopus. It may be the darkest film I’ve done since ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ ”

The only sign that Mr. Romero, the world’s foremost zombie auteur, lives in the small, cat-toy-filled apartment was a framed photo by the front door showing him in a group hug with some cheerful ghouls. “My little friends,” he said.

Since Mr. Romero’s head-eating friends made their debut four decades ago in the cult classic “Night of the Living Dead” — now in the National Film Registry — zombie variations have kept coming. Last year alone brought “I Am Legend”; Robert Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” in “Grindhouse”; “Resident Evil: Extinction”; and “28 Weeks Later.”

Mr. Romero’s latest offering seems modest in comparison. “Diary of the Dead” is about a group of Pittsburgh college students shooting a cheapo mummy movie in the woods when the zombies start swarming. These kids will go down filming, and the result is metazombie; a film within the film is called “The Death of Death.”

Shot for under $4 million in Toronto (Mr. Romero’s hometown for three years or so, since he decamped from Pittsburgh) and starring a largely unknown Canadian cast, “Diary of the Dead” also marks a return to Mr. Romero’s signature filmmaking style: cheap, local and studio free. After the $16 million Universal production “Land of the Dead,” starring Dennis Hopper, Mr. Romero decided to scale back. (The movie made about $21 million domestically.)

“It was a grueling shoot, and it was all getting too big, too ‘Thunderdome,’ ” Mr. Romero said. “I wanted to make something with some film students, find a dentist that would put up a quarter of a million and do it way under the radar for DVD release.”

Instead Mr. Romero’s producing partner, Peter Grunwald, showed the script to the Los Angeles company Artfire Films, which put up the money. “But we had absolute control,” Mr. Romero said, emphatically. The Weinstein Company bought North American distribution rights.

“Diary of the Dead” enters a horror market dominated by all-gore-all-the-time franchises like “Saw” and “Hostel.” “I don’t get the torture porn films,” Mr. Romero said. “They’re lacking metaphor. For me the gore is always a slap in the face saying: ‘Wait a minute. Look at this other thing.’ ”

The man who made entrails-chomping a horror staple shows restraint in “Diary of the Dead.” Sure, a daughter catches her mom devouring her dad’s heart, but Mr. Romero doesn’t linger on it. The moderation was partly a function of the plot: the film is supposedly shot by a film student running for his life, with no time for close-ups. But Mr. Romero said he also felt little need to add to the landslide of violent images in the news.

“I was glad to back off the gore in the current political climate,” Mr. Romero said. “I thought that because we were using the subjective camera, it would be spookier to stay away, not to get too close. Being removed from the horror is what’s scary, like watching an accident.”

Using stock footage from recent disasters like Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Romero makes a dark joke out of a zombified, politically inert populace. The video gamer kids in the movie are either watching horror or recording it, forever at a distance.

“I always thought of the zombies as being about revolution, one generation consuming the next,” said Mr. Romero, who has a gentle hippie quality about him (gray ponytail, propensity to use the word “man”). “But I wasn’t trying to come down hard on these kids particularly. This blogosphere thing is our time. All my films are snapshots of North America at a particular moment. I have an ability within the genre to be able to do that.” Among the masters of horror, Mr. Romero joked, he has the “the Michael Moore slot.”

Mr. Romero was raised in the Bronx, a horror-comic fan and self-described “film freak” who would ride the subway into Manhattan to rent the reels of “The Tales of Hoffmann” (1951), an outsized Moira Shearer musical based on the Jacques Offenbach opera. On those rare occasions when the movie wasn’t available, he was told that the only other person who took it out was around his age. “And that kid was Martin Scorsese,” Mr. Romero said, grinning.

He briefly studied film and drama at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (then Carnegie Institute of Technology), landing his first paid directing gig shooting documentary segments for the public television children’s show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy” may have been his first experiment with gore.

In 1967 Mr. Romero and a group of friends pulled together $114,000 and ventured into the woods south of Pittsburgh to shoot “Night of the Living Dead,” a black-and-white horror film inspired by the Richard Matheson novel “I Am Legend.” (Mr. Romero said he hasn’t seen the recent Will Smith version.) The book, about the last man alive in Los Angeles, was more vampire than zombie; Mr. Romero drafted his own mythology of the undead.

“Before George zombies in movies were voodoo,” said Max Brooks, author of “The Zombie Survival Guide.” “He redefined the zombie as a flesh eater created from science, not magic. He took the zombie from fringe horror to apocalyptic horror. Suddenly they could be anywhere.”

Mr. Romero also tacked social commentary to the genre’s escapism, initially by accident. Because he gave the best audition, a black actor, Duane Jones, was cast as the heroic lead, a role never intended for an African-American. Mr. Jones plays a good man protecting (mostly) odious white people; for his selfless actions he’s rewarded with a fatal gunshot from a lynchlike mob.

“We started to realize the casting had changed the meaning of the film while we were making it,” Mr. Romero said. “The night we finished, we’re driving to New York, with the print in the trunk of the car, and heard on the radio that Martin Luther King had been shot. We went, ‘Oh, no, this is good for us.’ ”

A decade later, after “Night of the Living Dead” had been championed in the pages of Cahiers du Cinema and established a following, Mr. Romero set the sequel in a shopping mall. “Dawn of the Dead” is poppy and cartoonish, with zombie escalator gags and canned-music-theme slayings.

“Other zombie movies don’t match George’s eye for satire or wit,” the actor Simon Pegg wrote in an e-mail message. Mr. Pegg was a writer and star of the 2004 zombie sendup “Shaun of the Dead.” “Even films such as ‘28 Days Later,’ which I really enjoyed, delivered the allegory but with a very straight face. George seems able to scare, disgust, challenge and amuse, simultaneously.”

Mr. Pegg’s voice can be heard in “Diary of the Dead” as a Cronkite-esque announcer booming doom across the airwaves. Mr. Romero also got Wes Craven, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro and Stephen King to contribute their voices — a Who’s Who of nerd-boy film.

“He’s the kind of director other directors really admire, the last baby boomer who has yet to sell out,” Mr. Brooks said of Mr. Romero. “He appeals to the rest of us who would love to be that pure but who still like to pay our bills.”

Mr. Romero said he’s never seen much money from his films. He’s had many failures too, like the Reagan-era “Day of the Dead” and most of his nonzombie films, including “Monkey Shines” (1988) and “The Dark Half” (1993). (An exception is the 1982 film “Creepshow.”)

Sealing his indie credibility, or his financial fate, he left Pittsburgh for Toronto. Mr. Romero filmed a straight-to-DVD movie called “Bruiser” there in 2000 and liked the crews so much that he eventually moved there. He is separated from his wife and former collaborator, the actress Christine Forrest, and now lives with his girlfriend.

In Toronto and everywhere he goes in the iMovie age he satirizes, people slip Mr. Romero homemade zombie movies. “There’s enough of them out there already,” he said with a sigh, though he admitted that he’s working on a sequel to “Diary of the Dead.” “It always comes down to: ‘Well, what’s your idea? What’s the film about?’ Because zombies alone. ...” He laughed. “Like, get off it, man.”

Will Disney Keep Us Amused?
Brooks Barnes

VISIT Disney’s California Adventure — a 55-acre theme park next door to the fabled progenitor of the modern amusement Mecca, Disneyland — and you will find a noisy reminder of what happens when a company loses its focus and cuts corners.

The Walt Disney Company built the park on the cheap in 2001, and many rides are copies of familiar carnival workhorses like the Ferris wheel. A lack of landscaping can leave guests sweltering. Outdoor shows were borrowed from other Disney properties. And the theme, built around tributes to California, is modest except for an occasionally unintentional ghost-town atmosphere: The park draws about 6 million visitors a year, a trickle compared with the 15 million who swarm Disneyland.

Now, Disney is embarking on a $1.1 billion, five-year effort to get California Adventure on track. The blueprints call for ripping out ho-hum rides and adding elaborate new ones, rebuilding the park’s entrance — a hodgepodge of turnstiles, a miniature Golden Gate Bridge and pastel tile murals — to shift the focus to Disney iconography.

In June, Disney will unveil a glimpse of the shoot-for-the-moon bet it is making on California Adventure’s makeover, with the introduction of a ride called Toy Story Mania. More than three years in the making, and estimated to cost about $80 million, the attraction essentially puts guests inside a video game.

Riders, wearing 3-D glasses, board vehicles that career through an old-fashioned carnival midway, operated by characters from the popular “Toy Story” film franchise. Vehicles stop at game booths — 56 giant screens programmed with 3-D animation from Pixar — and riders play virtual-reality versions of classic carnival games.

But much more is riding on the attraction than a complex turnaround of just one theme park. Toy Story Mania, which Disney is also installing in Florida, reflects the larger pressures and challenges facing the company’s $10.6 billion parks and resorts business. To stay relevant to younger, digitally savvy visitors while also delivering growth to investors, Disney, the company that invented the modern theme park, knows that it has to devise a new era of spectacular attractions rooted in technology.

One-upmanship increasingly drives this intensely competitive business, and Disney’s rivals are also trying harder to gain market share. Universal Studios, part of NBC Universal, has more than quadrupled its spending on new rides, introducing attractions in California and Florida that are based on “The Simpsons.” Universal is teaming up with Warner Brothers to bring a small Harry Potter-theme park to Florida in late 2009. Niche players like SeaWorld and Legoland are also muscling in on Disney’s territory.

At its core, however, Toy Story Mania represents an effort to solve a puzzle that poses a much larger threat to Disney and the broader amusement park business. The quickening pace of daily living, advances in personal technology and the rapidly changing media landscape are combining to reshape what consumers expect out of a theme park, Disney executives say.

Toy Story Mania, which carries a modest price tag compared with some other Disney efforts, demonstrates one way that the company is fighting back, said Jay Rasulo, the chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

“Bigger and more expensive is not necessarily the answer,” Mr. Rasulo said. “You want people leaving thinking, ‘Wow, only Disney could do that.’ ”

Consumers’ fixation on instant gratification and personalization has been reshaping the entertainment industry for some time, but it has finally caught up to the theme park business in visible ways. For instance, Disney has spent much more effort — and money — developing ways to entertain people as they stand in line for Toy Story Mania.

An animatronic figure with an estimated $1 million price tag will sing songs and interact with guests as they wait. Employees dressed as “Toy Story” characters will stroll among the crowds.

“There’s an erosion of patience,” said Bruce Vaughn, the chief creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, the company’s development group. “People’s tolerance for lines is decreasing at a rapid rate.”

Mr. Rasulo said that younger visitors, in particular, expect customized entertainment. So Toy Story Mania’s computers will accommodate riders of various skill levels.

“Guests are pretty much no longer interested in being passive viewers,” Mr. Rasulo said.

To address shifting tastes, the broader amusement park industry will have to rewrite its operating rules, said Jerry Aldrich, the founder of Amusement Industry Consulting. “Disney is already there, but a lot of parks are just waking up to this,” he said.

The health of the parks and resorts unit is crucial to Disney’s overall performance. Its lucrative sports unit, ESPN, makes more money, and its movie studio basks in Hollywood glamour. But the parks, where people interact with Mickey and his pals, are the reason that the Disney brand is so powerful, analysts say. As the theme parks go, so goes Disney.

Lately, Wall Street has been sounding alarm bells about the unit — and not just about California Adventure. While Disneyland and the cluster of Florida parks that make up Disney World have been churning out record profits on strong increases in attendance, some investors worry that the troubled domestic economy will tear a hole in the business. In late January, a Citigroup analyst downgraded Disney’s stock to a sell, citing concern about lower demand for hotel rooms at the resorts.

DISNEY strongly rejects the skepticism, and some other analysts agree. Disney’s chief financial officer, Thomas O. Staggs, said the company saw no indication that consumers were cutting back. “We are pleased with the current pace of business at our parks, particularly given the record attendance we achieved last year,” he told analysts on Tuesday during a conference call, held as the company released fiscal first-quarter earnings.

Vacationers from Europe and Asia, benefiting from a weak dollar, could pick up some of the slack in the event of an economic downturn, but that could lead to cannibalization — Disney needs those same visitors to patronize theme parks in Paris, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Although its performance has drastically improved from its early days, Disneyland Resort Paris is still struggling after 10 years of changes and heavy capital investment. The park in Japan is cruising right along, but attendance at nearby Hong Kong Disneyland, the company’s newest park, has fallen more than 25 percent since its 2005 opening. Disney told analysts on Tuesday that attendance in Hong Kong has recently “improved significantly” because of new promotions.

To make certain that Toy Story Mania is a hit — part of a strategic effort to keep mining revenue from the 13-year-old “Toy Story” franchise — Disney is pulling every lever in its vast arsenal.

Pixar, the Disney-owned studio working on “Toy Story 3” for a 2010 release, contributed animation and general creative advice. Disney VR Studios, the company’s video game unit, customized software, while the parks and resorts unit handled the heavy lifting of design and construction. The media networks division, which includes ABC, will help publicize the ride once it opens — along with hundreds of other promotional partners.

“We have an incredible number of engines at this company, and every one is firing around this franchise,” Mr. Rasulo said.

WORK on Toy Story Mania got under way on a stiflingly hot September day in 2005, when a team of Disney creative developers went to the Los Angeles County Fair. The goal was to research how carnival games operate.

Two developers, Kevin Rafferty and Robert Coltrin, had devised an idea for a new California Adventure ride that would juxtapose the old-fashioned romance of a carnival midway with high-tech video game elements. They had a hunch that “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2,” the Pixar films about toys coming to life, would provide a good theme. But they didn’t know much about carnival games.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Are the games we remember from our childhoods even relevant anymore?’ ” Mr. Coltrin said.

At the fair, the two were thrilled as they walked through rows of game booths — wooden structures that carnival operators call “stick joints” — to find crowds enjoying classic games like the ring toss and water guns. “We were like, ‘Score!’ and gave each other a high-five,” Mr. Coltrin recalled.

Using digital cameras, members of the development team documented details, from the colors of the canvas covering each booth — red and yellow — to how far apart the games were spaced. They quickly ruled out some games as options for the ride. “Toss a coin in a cup didn’t really do it for us,” said Chrissie Allen, a senior show producer.

But other games, like one in which customers threw darts at balloons, piqued their interest. “We thought, ‘This just might work,’ ” Ms. Allen said.

Reassembling at Disney’s offices in Glendale, Calif., the team worked on the concept that would become Toy Story Mania. Because carnivals sell commotion, there would be lots of flashing lights, barkers trying to capture riders’ attention, buzzers and bells.

Mr. Rafferty and Mr. Coltrin dreamed up a fanciful story: The classic toys in “Toy Story” had come to life and staged a carnival under their owner’s bed while he was away at dinner. Little Bo Peep would operate the balloon darts; Ham, the talking piggy bank, would cheer riders as they tossed virtual eggs at barn animals. The culmination would be “Woody’s Rootin’ Tootin’ Gallery,” a twist on old-fashioned shooting galleries.

They would use full-scale 3-D animation, a first for a Disney ride. That, Mr. Vaughn said, would make riders feel as if they were inside a video game or a virtual world. “We look at it as gaming meets immersive storytelling,” he said.

While Mr. Vaughn and his colleagues were cogitating in the fall of 2005, Disney had its hands full. Robert A. Iger had just taken over the company after the exit of Michael D. Eisner and was working to extend Disney’s partnership with Pixar, an effort that would result in a $7.4 billion acquisition.

When Mr. Rasulo and his team presented Mr. Iger with plans for Toy Story Mania, Mr. Iger was interested but cautious. Would that dovetail with much larger efforts to overhaul the entire park? The ride could handle up to 1,500 riders an hour. Was that enough? An improved relationship with Pixar looked promising, but what if a deal couldn’t be reached? Would that hinder plans to build a lavish ride around Pixar’s core creative property?

But Mr. Iger liked a couple of the important parts of the proposal. Imagineers (Disney’s term for creative developers) suggested building versions of the ride at the same time in California and Florida — a Disney first — to leverage the development costs. Another component involved the ease with which the ride could be rethemed every season.

“The chance to take simple games that people have loved playing for generations and pairing them with cutting-edge technology just sounded exhilarating to everybody,” Ms. Allen said.

BUILDING elaborate models is among the first formal steps in creating a Disney attraction. Engineers, paying attention to scale and sight lines, want to find out how a planned addition would affect the existing park.

Models are built on large tables equipped with wheels. The company keeps room-size models of entire parks, and engineers will eventually wheel the new model into that area to see how it looks.

To give birth to Toy Story Mania, Mr. Rafferty and Mr. Coltrin went to work turning drawings of the ride into foam models, toiling in the same 1950s-era building in suburban Los Angeles where Walt Disney himself once tinkered.

Tweaks started to happen. The team added turrets to the top of the ride for a more dramatic flair. They shifted the direction of the facade by a few degrees to make it more visible from the park entrance. “And we knew at this stage that we wanted a little piece of magic out in front as a tease to people as they waited in line,” Mr. Coltrin said.

Upstairs, designers entered blueprints for the ride into a computer program. This would allow them to start building and refining the entire project, which is made up of 150 computers, with 90 of them moving around on the ride vehicles and communicating with one another via a secured wireless network. With a click of a mouse, developers could jump to any spot inside in the vehicles for a virtual dip into how the experience might look to someone on the ride.

“We don’t want anybody to be able to see multiple versions of Woody at the same time, and seconds make a difference,” said Mark Mine, the technical concept designer. “Every part of the ride has to be magical.

“It is much easier and less expensive to do this before the concrete has been poured,” he added. “As rides become more complicated, your ability to tweak in the field gets harder and much more expensive.”

Across the street, in a cold, unmarked garage, Ms. Allen helped to conduct “play tests” on rudimentary versions of the ride. More than 400 people of all ages — all had signed strict nondisclosure agreements — sat on a plywood vehicle set up in front of a projection screen and played various versions of the games. Disney workers studied their reactions and interviewed them afterward.

“We were looking to see if some effects were too scary,” Ms. Allen said, “or if there wasn’t enough laughing happening during certain sequences.”

Among the discoveries: People wanted to be able to compare scores after they were finished playing, while some children had a hard time reaching the cannonlike firing controller, christened by Disney as a “spring action shooter.” Engineers added a computer screen to vehicles to display scores and installed the controls on movable lap bars.

“We were trying to find out things we didn’t even know to ask about,” said Sue Bryan, a senior show producer.

The ride’s psychological components started to take shape during this phase. Disney decided that riders were happier when they got a bigger visual payoff. (One of Little Bo Peep’s balloons now pops with greater force when hit with a virtual dart and a blast of air shoots into a rider’s face.) A game involving shooting at a paper target was dropped. (“It was hard to make paper interesting,” Ms. Bryan said.) And developers decided that the last game before the exit needed to be the easiest, so riders would feel that they were coming out as winners, even if they weren’t very good.

After Disney closed the Pixar deal, in January 2006, Toy Story Mania became more elaborate. Mr. Iger wanted Pixar — and particularly one of its co-founders, John Lasseter, who had worked as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland after college — to contribute to creative advances in the parks. Disney had incorporated Pixar movies into its theme parks before, but Pixar’s involvement in those efforts was modest, Mr. Vaughn said.

“The minute Pixar became 100 percent part of the family, it could go whole hog and dive in,” he said.

One of Mr. Lasseter’s major concerns about Toy Story Mania centered on the animation, various developers said. Disney had hired an outside contractor to handle it, but Mr. Lasseter insisted that Pixar staff members who were involved in creating the films should also work on the ride.

The Disney team had also decided to leave out Buzz Lightyear, the modern spaceman toy in the films, because he was already showcased in an older ride called Astro Blasters. But Pixar felt that the character was essential to the “Toy Story” franchise. Buzz will now be a host of a game, and he shares top billing on the ride’s marquee.

Creating what Mr. Coltrin had called “a little piece of magic” was another area of special attention for Mr. Lasseter and his lieutenants. To entertain people as they waited in line, the developers decided to place one of Disney’s signature animatronic figures outside. It would draw attention like a carnival barker, but also be sophisticated enough to interact one on one with guests, adding another element of customization.

Only one “Toy Story” figure was considered for the role: Mr. Potato Head.

WORK on Mr. Potato Head started last year in a heavily guarded Disney research plant a few miles from the company’s headquarters in Burbank, Calif. Developers had to make a five-foot-tall plastic potato sing, dance and seemingly hold conversations with people at random. The robot also had to be able to remove his ear and put it back on.

“It’s all in the math,” said Jimmy A. Thomas, the lead mechanical designer.

When Walt Disney introduced animatronics in the 1960s, coining the word in the process, his creations moved in simple ways through the use of pneumatic valves and hydraulic pumps. The children in the It’s a Small World attraction wowed patrons simply by blinking their eyes and bowing.

Modern visitors expect much more. Mr. Potato Head — with help from a dozen video cameras, several computers, an unseen ride operator and a $1 million budget — will be able to make his mouth form words, a first for Disney animatronics.

The comedian Don Rickles, whose gravelly voice brought the character to life in the films, was hired to record 750 words and four songs. The hidden ride operator, armed with a computer and cameras that scan the crowd, will then choose phrases based on the actions and appearance of people standing in front of it. (“Hey, you in the red baseball hat.”)

The goal was to make the character so perfect that it looked as if it had just stepped out of the movies. Pixar executives tightly monitored every detail and helped direct Mr. Rickles. At a recent taping, the Pixar team put him through his paces.

“Let’s put a little more chuckle in that line,” said Roger Gould, Pixar’s creative director, sitting in a recording studio as 10 other executives and engineers took notes and adjusted instruments.

Mr. Rickles complied, repeating a line that would play if the ride stopped unexpectedly. “Folks, we’re having a little delay here,” he said. “For your safety, please stay seated inside the game tram.”

Among Disneyphiles, at least, the wait for Toy Story Mania to open is unbearable. Blogs like Blue Sky Disney and Mice Age, which are not affiliated with the company, have been chronicling minute details of the construction. (“The first ride vehicles have just arrived in California from their production facility in Osaka, Japan!”)

Al Lutz, the publisher of Mice Age and a critic of what he calls California Adventure’s “cheap strip-mall stucco” aesthetic, says fans are keen to see the ride’s over-the-top details. Disney is, after all, a company that studied how the sun struck the earth differently in various locations to determine the color of paint to use on the fairy-tale castle at the center of each resort.

“Young people are going to be fighting to be first in line,” he said.

AT&T’s Broadband Harvest Strategy
Saul Hansell

UPDATED: Details from AT&T are at the end of the post.

AT&T is raising the price for its broadband data services by $5 a month, as first reported by The Chicago Tribune. It now offers DSL data service at $15, $20 and $25 a month, depending on the speed.

Craig E. Moffett, a telecommunications analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., wrote in a note to clients that this move shows that the price war between cable and phone companies that had been anticipated is not going to occur. The telcos have priced DSL service far lower than cable operators. But instead of cable companies lowering prices to close the gap, the phone companies, he wrote, are raising their prices. He said that prices for some phone company services, like call forwarding and caller ID, are being increased by as much as 300 percent.

Indeed, he says that prices are going up at phone companies, cable companies and satellite TV providers for all manner of services and options. He called this a “harvest” strategy — the companies are trying to acquire customers with low prices and then reap profits several years later with fee increases.

The uniform direction of these price increases makes one issue clear, at least to us: the TelCos, cable operators and DBS providers will compete aggressively for voice, video and data customers -– but likely not on price. Across the board, the approach taken by each provider reflects an understanding of the benefits of pricing up the base rather than pricing down service to gain flow share as growth slows.
With Time Warner Cable testing caps on bandwidth for its broadband service, I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear about data prices going up.

UPDATE: An AT&T spokesman e-mailed some details of the changes:

The price change ($5) is in our 13-state traditional region (California, Nev., Texas, Okla., Missouri, Ark., Kansas, Ohio, Ill., Ind., Wis., Mich,. CT). The change will not occur in the 9 Southeast states.

The current pricing:
– Basic (768 Kbps): $14.99 (will change to $19.95)
– Express (1.5 Mbps) : $19.99 (will change to $25)
– Pro (3 Mbps) services.: $24.99 (will change to $30)

There is no price change for our 6 Mbps and 10 Mbps (this is only available to U-verse customers) services. Also, there is no price change for the $10 DSL service (768 Kbps) that we offer to customers who have never had DSL from AT&T before. Also, there is no change for customer who sign up for our 768 Kbps stand-alone DSL offer ($19.95).

The new pricing will be in effect for new customers signing up for service beginning Feb. 16. For month-to-month customers (those who are not on a contract), the change will begin to take affect in March. Customers who just signed up for month-to-month won’t see a change at this time.
He added this explanation for the reason behind the change:

Consumer broadband usage is exploding, driven by trends like video and music downloading, photo sharing, and online gaming. We invest billions of dollars each year to stay ahead of these trends and deliver a quality broadband experience. We remain committed to offering the best broadband pricing in the marketplace. We are making a $5 price adjustment for some levels of service to better reflect the value of our broadband service and market conditions. Even with this adjustment, our pricing still beats cable’s standard pricing across the majority of our markets.

Comcast Tweaks Terms of Service in Wake of Throttling Uproar
Eric Bangeman

Months after third parties were able to demonstrate that Comcast was throttling some BitTorrent (and Lotus Notes) traffic, the cable giant has quietly changed its terms of service. Comcast updated the ToS on January 25—the first update in two years, according to company spokesperson Charlie Douglas—to more explicitly spell out its policies on traffic management.

According to Section III of the revised ToS, Comcast "uses reasonable network management practices that are consistent with industry standards." The company points out that it is not alone in the practice, saying that "all major" ISPs engage in some form of traffic shaping. Comcast does it to keep its subscribers from suffering the heartaches of "spam, viruses, security attacks, network congestion, and other risks and degradations of service" and to "deliver the best possible Internet experience to all of its customers."

The revised language exactly mirrors that of the FCC's 2005 Internet Policy Statement, which allows ISPs to engage in "reasonable network management." At the same time, subscribers are entitled to run lawful applications and services, access their choice of lawful content, and hook up any hardware as long as it doesn't harm the network.

Not long after Comcast's traffic management practices came to light, the company was hit with a class-action lawsuit by a disgruntled subscriber. Online video provider Vuze complained to the FCC, and the Commission officially opened its investigation of the cable company in mid-January.

Since the investigation began, the FCC has been bombarded with comments from angry users. "If you so much as open a BitTorrent client on a computer on the Comcast network, your entire connection drops to almost a crawl," says one comment. Another user: "I have experienced this throttling of bandwidth in sharing open-source software, e.g. Knoppix and Open Office. Also I see considerable differences in speed ftp sessions vs. html. They are obviously limiting speed in ftp as well."

Comcast has denied throttling BitTorrent traffic, saying that the ISP just "delays" or "postpones" it on occasion. One analogy used by a Comcast executive was that of trying to make a phone call and getting a busy signal for a time, until the call actually goes through. A more accurate explanation of Comcast's use of TCP reset packets, to build on the phone analogy, would be talking on the phone with someone and then both of you hearing the other's voice saying "hang up." That's the effect of the forged reset packets: convincing the BitTorrent clients that the other(s) have stopped responding.

Douglas told Ars that the change in the ToS was made to better clarify the company's policies. "We updated the terms of service as part of our normal course of business," he said.

Comcast's decision to affirm its traffic management practices in the newly revised ToS is a welcome baby step towards greater transparency. Subscribers (disclosure: Comcast is my ISP) would love to see even more transparency from the company, which remains cagey when it comes to its nebulous usage caps as well as what type of traffic is liable to be "delayed."

Pay Per Gig
Steven Levy

If you are an Internet-crazy movie lover in Beaumont, Tex., life may soon take a miserable turn for you.

Time Warner Cable, which also sells broadband via its Road Runner service, has chosen your city for a pricing experiment. If you have plans to sign up and watch lots of high-definition flicks using, say, the new iTunes digital rental program announced last month, start saving now, because Time Warner is going to tally up those gigabytes. You know that feeling that mobile phone users get when they exceed their allotted minutes and get a heart-stopping tariff for overage charges? Some Beaumont cinephiles could get the same infarction from their Road Runner bills.

The experiment doesn't necessarily mean the rest of us will soon see a dramatic change in the way we pay for our broadband Internet; cable giant Comcast says it's also evaluating the concept, but other broadband providers aren't indicating they'll adopt the scheme. (They all have their own ideas, though, about getting returns on their broadband investments.) But Time Warner's move illuminates some of the troubling issues facing the United States in the Internet era, where, in terms of penetration, we are in 24th place -- behind Estonia -- in the international broadband competition.

The news broke about Time Warner's plan from a leaked internal memo that company spokesman Alex Dudley confirms as genuine. The Beaumont trial will be a test of "consumption-based billing." The reason for the change, he says, is that some users are unfairly piling up gigabytes of goodies on their digital plates. "As few as 5 percent of our customers use 50 percent of the network," he says, adding that these bandwidth hogs are commonly denizens of seamy peer-to-peer file-sharing networks; one of these gluttons downloaded the equivalent of 1,500 high-definition movies in a month.

It sounds reasonable for Time Warner to ask big-time freeloaders to pay their way. But talking to Dudley, I get the impression that it won't just be flagrant over-indulgers who wind up paying more. Indeed, he acknowledges that TW hopes such a plan will get all its customers thinking about how much media they consume on the Net. TW envisions offering plans capped at 5, 10, 20 and 40 gigabytes. Five gigs gets you barely two movies and a couple of TV shows, not counting the normal Web surfing, music streaming and e-mail. Clearly it won't just be inductees to the LimeWire Hall of Fame who are hit with excess charges.

Those penalties could be rough. Bell Canada, which meters service in some plans, charges customers who go over the limit $7.50 per additional gigabyte. (The Canadian dollar is worth about as much as the U.S. version these days.) That would jack up the $2.99 iTunes rental fee for "The Magnificent Seven" by 10 bucks. A high-def movie, typically 4 gigs, could cost you $30 more. (Bell Canada offers an Unlimited Usage Insurance Plan for $25 a month.)

You would think that consumer activists would be lining up against this idea, but some are holding their fire, largely because the experiment will measure how many bits a customer uses but doesn't care where those bits come from. This is in contrast to behavior that violates the principle of "net neutrality," which asserts that providers shouldn't be able tilt the digital playing field to favor their favorite Internet services (i.e. their partners or those who pay them). The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. Digital populists are more concerned with pressuring the FCC to enforce its principles that ban companies from selectively blocking Internet content. In the wake of one possible violation -- Comcast slowing traffic involving certain peer-to-peer transmissions -- several groups have petitioned the agency to adopt and enforce more specific regulations. Metering isn't seen as part of that problem.

There is, however, a net neutrality angle to the Time Warner Cable experiment. As its name implies, this operation's main interest is cable television. An increasingly important component of that business is distributing video on demand. TW's competitors in that arena are Internet companies that intend to do the same thing. The TW plan tilts the field in its own favor. Let's say I want to watch the indie film "Waitress." I may have the choice to order it on my cable box or rent it from iTunes. Each might cost me $3. But if I'm metered, renting it from iTunes might mean that I exceed my monthly limit, perhaps incurring a penalty that's more than renting the movie.

A more profound problem with the metering scheme, however, doesn't involve corporate competition but international competition. In the United States, where the Internet was born, we pay higher prices (seven times what they pay in South Korea) for slower speeds. (Japan's users surf 13 times faster.) Though President Bush promised affordable broadband for all by 2007, tens of millions are still stuck with dial-up.

Fast, cheap, abundant broadband is a fantastic economic accelerator, enabling breakout businesses and kick-starting new industries. Unless we move quickly, these will spring from foreign soil. Instead of testing systems that discourage people from vigorously using our overpriced, underpowered systems, government and industry should be working overtime to figure out how to get faster service for less money and make sure that all users, no matter where they live, have affordable access to the high-speed Net. Maybe then we'll get out of 24th place.

Peer-to-Peer Lending Online Takes Off

Major players begin entering market, or so-called 'P2P' scene
Jim Wyss

When Walter Kond needed $25,000 to buy a shipment of home-theater seats for his company to resell, he didn't go to the bank. He went online. Kond posted a loan request on Prosper.com and a few days later, more than 300 absolute strangers had pooled together the cash for a three-year loan at 13 percent interest.

Welcome to the world of peer-to-peer lending - where anyone with Web access can be a banker and small business owners like Kond are finding a new way to raise cash.

The industry is still in its infancy, but has been catching fire as major players enter the market. The UK's Zopa - considered the grand-daddy of the niche - launched its U.S. operations in December, California-based Lending Club debuted on social networking giant Facebook in May, and billionaire Richard Branson re-launched Circle Lending as Virgin Money USA in October.

"There is so little innovation in traditional consumer finance that anytime something new like this comes along, it's a rarity and something to watch," said George Hofheimer, chief research officer at Filene Research Institute in Wisconsin, which studies the lending sector. "This has a high probability of being what academics refer to as a 'disruptive innovation."'

Each of the services offers its own twist on peer-to-peer lending, but in Prosper, Kond says he found an intuitive, pain-free way to finance the imports for his online store Miacom.

Walking through the Miacom warehouse - stacked with everything from shredders to mahogany security doors - Kond said he first heard about Prosper during an eBay convention a few years ago. Last June, seeking a short-term loan to buy a shipping container of home-theater chairs he had spotted in Asia, Kond posted a seven-day ad on Prosper outlining what he wanted to do with the money and offering a 14.5 percent annual return.

"For the first three or four days there was nothing, but then we started getting corporate bidders and people who (make loans) for a living," Kond said. Prosper's lenders offered amounts from $50 to $1,000 and bid the interest rate down to 13 percent. "The next thing you know we have 25 grand and the container was on its way," Kond said.

While 13 percent is higher than Kond might get at his local bank, there are no penalties for paying off the Prosper loan early - and the process was far more pleasant, he said. In business since 1994, Kond said when he goes to banks, he still feels on the defensive: "I feel like they are looking for holes in my character or credit report (to find excuses) to not lend me money."

At Prosper, on the other hand, bidders were actually competing to give him cash.

If making unsecured loans to absolute strangers sounds risky, Prosper claims it's not.

Since launching in 2006, the company has facilitated $110 million in loans from 550,000 users and has an overall default rate of 1.37 percent.

The default rate on its highest rated, AA-loans is 0.27 percent - in line with brick and mortar banks.

John Mellencamp Asks McCain Camp to Stop Using His Music

Representatives of John Mellencamp have contacted the McCain campaign to ask them to stop playing Mellencamp’s music at McCain campaign rallies. John Mellencamp is a Democrat who had been supporting John Edwards’ presidential race until Edwards dropped out of the race last week. Mellencamp songs such as “Our Country” and “Pink Houses” have been commonly heard at McCain rallies. But Mellencamp hopes that is coming to an end.

Lilly's $1 Billion E-Mailstrom

A secret memo meant for a colleague lands in a Times reporter's in-box.
Katherine Eban

When the New York Times broke the story last week that Eli Lilly & Co. was in confidential settlement talks with the government, angry calls flew behind the scenes as the drug giant's executives accused federal officials of leaking the information.

As the company's lawyers began turning over rocks closer to home, however, they discovered what could be called A Nightmare on Email Street, a pharmaceutical consultant told Portfolio.com. One of its outside lawyers at Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton had mistakenly emailed confidential information on the talks to Times reporter Alex Berenson instead of Bradford Berenson, her co-counsel at Sidley Austin.

With the negotiations over alleged marketing improprieties reaching a mind-boggling sum of $1 billion, Eli Lilly had every reason to want to keep the talks under wraps. It was paying the two fancy law firms a small fortune to negotiate deftly and quietly.
If and when it did settle the allegations that it had improperly marketed its most profitable drug, Zyprexa, for schizophrenia, it would certainly want to announce the news on terms carefully negotiated with the government.

"We usually try to brace for that [kind of] story," a Lilly staffer said.

So when the Times' Berenson began calling around for comment, and seemed to possess remarkably detailed inside information about the negotiations, Lilly executives were certain the source of the leak was the government.

As it turned out, one of Eli Lilly's lawyers at Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia wanted to email Sidley Austin's Berenson, about the negotiations. But apparently, the name that popped up from her email correspondents was the wrong Berenson.

Alex Berenson logged on to find an internal "very comprehensive document" about the negotiations, the consultant said, and on January 30, Berenson's article, "Lilly in Settlement Talks With U.S." appeared on the Times' website. A similar article followed the next day on the front page of the New York Times.

Those who knew the real story must have had a chuckle—or shed some tears—over Lilly's statement to the Times that it had "no intention of sharing those discussions [with the government] with the news media and it would be speculative and irresponsible for anyone to do so."

When reached for comment, Alex Berenson told Portfolio.com, "I can't say anything. I just can't."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Philadelphia, which is spearheading the Zyprexa investigation, declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Eli Lilly.

However, the Lilly spokeswoman called back to add that the drugmaker would continue to retain Pepper Hamilton. Phone calls to Sidley Austin and Pepper Hamilton were not returned.

And sadly, no confidential emails with further scoops were received in error.

FBI's Sought Approval for Custom Spyware in FISA Court
Kevin Poulsen

The FBI sought approval to use its CIPAV spyware program from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in terrorism or foreign spying cases, THREAT LEVEL has learned.

Officials processing a Freedom of Information Act request from Wired.com have turned up some 3,000 pages of FBI documents about the CIPAV, according to an FBI FOIA official. They date back to at least 2005. Some 60 - 75 percent of them are internal e-mails. Others are technical documents and legal filings.

Among the legal filings are affidavits submitted by the FBI in other criminal cases, and affidavits submitted to the secretive FISC, a court based in the Justice Department's headquarters that approves surveillance orders and covert entries in cases involving national security, including terrorism probes. The court was created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

FISC hearings are closed and the decisions secret.

As first reported by Wired.com, the software, called a "computer and internet protocol address verifier," is designed to infiltrate a suspect's computer and collect various information, including the IP address, Ethernet MAC addresses, a list of open TCP and UDP ports, running programs, operating system type and serial number, default browser, the registered user of the operating system and the last visited URL, among other things.

That information is sent covertly to an FBI computer in Quantico, Virginia. The CIPAV then monitors and reports on all the target's internet use, logging every IP address to which the machine connects.

The FBI's use of the technology surfaced in July when Wired discovered an affidavit in an investigation into a series of high school bomb hoaxes in which the bureau traced the culprit using the program.

An FBI spokeswoman then invited Wired to submit a list of questions about the technology, but hasn't gotten back to us.

While the FBI FOIA official did not remark on the quantity or details of the CIPAV affidavits, it's likely the surveillance requests were granted Through the end of 2004, the court approved 18,761 warrants, and rejected only five. It approved 2,072, in 2005, and 2,181 in 2006, rejecting none. Five were withdrawn before a ruling.

In a rare published opinion in 2002, the court accused the FBI and Justice Department of supplying "erroneous information" in more than 75 affidavits.

It's unclear when Wired.com will see the FOIAed documents, and the FISC affidavits will almost certainly be withheld in their entirety.

FBI Wants Palm Prints, Eye Scans, Tattoo Mapping
Kelli Arena and Carol Cratty

The FBI is gearing up to create a massive computer database of people's physical characteristics, all part of an effort the bureau says to better identify criminals and terrorists.

But it's an issue that raises major privacy concerns -- what one civil liberties expert says should concern all Americans.

The bureau is expected to announce in coming days the awarding of a $1 billion, 10-year contract to help create the database that will compile an array of biometric information -- from palm prints to eye scans.

Kimberly Del Greco, the FBI's Biometric Services section chief, said adding to the database is "important to protect the borders to keep the terrorists out, protect our citizens, our neighbors, our children so they can have good jobs, and have a safe country to live in."

But it's unnerving to privacy experts.

"It's the beginning of the surveillance society where you can be tracked anywhere, any time and all your movements, and eventually all your activities will be tracked and noted and correlated," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Project.

The FBI already has 55 million sets of fingerprints on file. In coming years, the bureau wants to compare palm prints, scars and tattoos, iris eye patterns, and facial shapes. The idea is to combine various pieces of biometric information to positively identify a potential suspect.

A lot will depend on how quickly technology is perfected, according to Thomas Bush, the FBI official in charge of the Clarksburg, West Virginia, facility where the FBI houses its current fingerprint database. Watch what the FBI hopes to gain »

"Fingerprints will still be the big player," Bush, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, told CNN.

But he added, "Whatever the biometric that comes down the road, we need to be able to plug that in and play."

First up, he said, are palm prints. The FBI has already begun collecting images and hopes to soon use these as an additional means of making identifications. Countries that are already using such images find 20 percent of their positive matches come from latent palm prints left at crime scenes, the FBI's Bush said.

The FBI has also started collecting mug shots and pictures of scars and tattoos. These images are being stored for now as the technology is fine-tuned. All of the FBI's biometric data is stored on computers 30-feet underground in the Clarksburg facility.

In addition, the FBI could soon start comparing people's eyes -- specifically the iris, or the colored part of an eye -- as part of its new biometrics program called Next Generation Identification.

Nearby, at West Virginia University's Center for Identification Technology Research, researchers are already testing some of these technologies that will ultimately be used by the FBI.

"The best increase in accuracy will come from fusing different biometrics together," said Bojan Cukic, the co-director of the center.

But while law enforcement officials are excited about the possibilities of these new technologies, privacy advocates are upset the FBI will be collecting so much personal information.

"People who don't think mistakes are going to be made I don't think fly enough," said Steinhardt.

He said thousands of mistakes have been made with the use of the so-called no-fly lists at airports -- and that giving law enforcement widespread data collection techniques should cause major privacy alarms.

"There are real consequences to people," Steinhardt said. Watch concerns over more data collection »

You don't have to be a criminal or a terrorist to be checked against the database. More than 55 percent of the checks the FBI runs involve criminal background checks for people applying for sensitive jobs in government or jobs working with vulnerable people such as children and the elderly, according to the FBI.

The FBI says it hasn't been saving the fingerprints for those checks, but that may change. The FBI plans a so-called "rap-back" service in which an employer could ask the FBI to keep the prints for an employee on file and let the employer know if the person ever has a brush with the law. The FBI says it will first have to clear hurdles with state privacy laws, and people would have to sign waivers allowing their information to be kept.

Critics say people are being forced to give up too much personal information. But Lawrence Hornak, the co-director of the research center at West Virginia University, said it could actually enhance people's privacy.

"It allows you to project your identity as being you," said Hornak. "And it allows people to avoid identity theft, things of that nature." Watch Hornak describe why he thinks it's a "privacy enhancer" »

There remains the question of how reliable these new biometric technologies will be. A 2006 German study looking at facial recognition in a crowded train station found successful matches could be made 60 percent of the time during the day. But when lighting conditions worsened at night, the results shrank to a success rate of 10 to 20 percent.

As work on these technologies continues, researchers are quick to admit what's proven to be the most accurate so far. "Iris technology is perceived today, together with fingerprints, to be the most accurate," said Cukic.

But in the future all kinds of methods may be employed. Some researchers are looking at the way people walk as a possible additional means of identification.

The FBI says it will protect all this personal data and only collect information on criminals and those seeking sensitive jobs.

The ACLU's Steinhardt doesn't believe it will stop there.

"This had started out being a program to track or identify criminals," he said. "Now we're talking about large swaths of the population -- workers, volunteers in youth programs. Eventually, it's going to be everybody."

DHS Official Moots Real ID Rules for Buying Cold Medicine
Dan Goodin

A senior US Department of Homeland Security official has floated the idea of requiring citizens to produce federally compliant identification before purchasing some over-the-counter medicines.

"If you have a good ID ... you make it much harder for the meth labs to function in this country," DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker told an audience last month (http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev011608a.cfm) at the Heritage Foundation. Cold medicines like Sudafed have long been used in the production of methamphetamine. Over the past year or so, pharmacies have been required to track buyers of drugs that contain pseudoephedrine.

His comment came five days after the agency released final rules (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/01...hanges_issued/) implementing the REAL ID Act of 2005 that made no mention of such requirements. It mandates the establishment uniform standards and procedures that must be met before state-issued licenses can be accepted as identification for official purposes.

Beyond boarding airplanes and entering federal buildings or nuclear facilities, there are no other official purposes spelled out in the regulations. And that's just what concerns people at the Center for Democracy and Technology. They say Baker's statement underscores "mission creep," in which the scope and purpose of the REAL ID Act gradually expands over time.

"Baker's suggested mission creep pushes the REAL ID program farther down the slippery slope toward a true national ID card," CDT blogger Greg Burnett wrote here (http://blog.cdt.org/2008/02/04/real-...ission-creep/). He says requiring people to produce a federally approved ID to buy cold medicine is a good example of the "significant ramifications" attached to the act.

So far, 17 states have formally opposed REAL ID, which takes effect on May 11. Residents of those states will be subject to additional searches and other inconveniences when flying and may be barred from entering federal buildings and nuclear plants.

Baker's statement belying the official DHS position on REAL ID isn't the first time the agency has made confusing remarks about the legal requirements surrounding identification. According to travel writer Edward Hasbrouck, DHS officials continue to plant the misunderstanding that residents from states which don't comply with REAL ID requirements won't get on planes. They will, Hasbrouck asserts here (http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/001382.html). In fact, he says, airlines are prevented by law from requiring any kind of ID.

Nonetheless, the DHS website continues to claim (http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtrav...rial_1044.shtm) a photo ID is needed to pass through security checkpoints. Hasbrouck has his suspicions about the motives for such statements.

"The most obvious explanation is that they want to use the implied (but legally and factually empty) threat of denial of air travel to intimidate states into 'voluntarily' complying with the Real-ID Act and its rules," he writes.

TrueCrypt 5.0 Released, Now Encrypts Entire Drive
A funny little man

The popular open source privacy tool, TrueCrypt, has just received a major update. The most exciting new feature provides the ability to encrypt an entire drive, prompting the user for a password during boot up; this makes TrueCrypt the perfect tool for non-technical laptop users (the kind who are likely to lose all of that sensitive customer data). The Linux version receives a GUI and independence from the kernel internals, and a Mac version is at last available too.

F.C.C. Approves Sale of Nationwide Spectrum to AT&T
Grant Gross

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has approved the purchase by AT&T of 12MHz of wireless spectrum that covers 60 percent of the U.S.

AT&T bought the spectrum from Aloha Spectrum Holdings. The spectrum, in the highly coveted 700MHz band, covers 196 million of the 303 million U.S. residents and includes 72 of the top 100 media markets in the country. Aloha acquired the spectrum in earlier FCC auctions and from other auction winners. This portion of the 700MHz spectrum is not part of the FCC auction now in progress.

The FCC, in an order issued Monday, approved the sale despite concerns expressed by the commission's two Democratic members. AT&T announced in October that it intended to buy the spectrum for US$2.5 billion. The company said then it planned to use the spectrum for broadcast video or for two-way communications such as voice, data or multicast content.

The 700MHz spectrum band carries wireless signals three to four times farther than some higher spectrum bands, making it optimal for long-range broadband networks.

Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said he voted to approve the deal because of a lack of public opposition, but he had concerns about the FCC's review of the deal.

The agency's review "lacks both substance and analysis in its review of whether, on balance, the transaction serves the public's interest," Adelstein said in a statement. "We are required to do more than simply conclude that a transaction benefits the public and will not have an adverse effect on competition. I would have preferred to see a more thorough assessment weighing the potential public interest harms and benefits of this transaction and its impact on the mobile telephony market."

Commissioner Michael Copps voted against the deal. The deal could have a large impact on a mobile voice and data market "that has seen round after round of consolidation in recent years," he said in a statement.

Copps also raised concerns about the FCC's review of the deal. The review "contains only an extremely abbreviated analysis of the competitive effects of this change in ownership," he said.

AT&T, in a statement, said it was pleased with the FCC's decision. The deal will help AT&T meet growing customer demand for wireless services, the company said.

Public Broadcasters Prepare to Fight Federal Budget Cuts
Elizabeth Jensen

It’s a familiar dance: for eight straight years, the Bush administration has proposed deep cuts in federal funds for public broadcasting, and seven times so far, Congress has restored them. But the magnitude of the proposed cuts put forth this week — Patricia Harrison, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, called them “draconian” — still sent public broadcasters scrambling.

Matt Martin, general manager of KALW-FM in San Francisco, went on the air Monday night to tell listeners about the effects of the proposed budget, which would cut in half the $400 million allocated in advance by Congress for fiscal year 2009 and cut $220 million from the $420 million already planned for 2010.

In addition, President Bush proposed eliminating advance funds for 2011, along with any additional funds in 2009 for stations to convert to digital transmission, which is federally mandated. They are the deepest cuts yet proposed by the administration.

KALW relies on federal funds for just under 10 percent of its $1.6 million annual budget, but that is money “that can make or break a lot of things we do,” Mr. Martin said. He added that he was particularly concerned about relying on contributions to make up any potential shortfall, given the state of the economy.

Critics of public funds for public broadcasting have long held that educational and other public-interest programming is increasingly available elsewhere, including on cable.

“The administration’s proposal is consistent with the evolving role of public broadcasting in a market that has benefited from tremendous growth and diversity of programming,” Sean Kevelighan, press secretary at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in an e-mail message. He also said that government funds make up only 15 percent of public broadcasting revenue.

The administration’s budget also called for cuts at the National Endowment for the Arts, but not nearly of the magnitude of those faced by public broadcasting. There the administration proposed a cut of $16.3 million — to $128.4 million from $144.7 million.

Robert L. Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group, called the cuts “senseless” and asked Congress to restore the National Endowment for the Arts to its 1992 financing level of $176 million.

“After three years of minimal, but incremental, funding growth, we are sorry to see an attempt at this progress erased,” Mr. Lynch said in a statement.

The administration also refused, for the eighth consecutive year, to finance arts education programs.

By contrast, the White House requested $716.4 million for the Smithsonian Institution for fiscal year 2009, up from $682.6 million for fiscal 2008.

This was a positive turn for the Smithsonian, which has been struggling over the last year to improve its administration and oversight amid recent scandals.

The appropriation provided for an additional $15 million in a “legacy fund” requested by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, that would become available once the Smithsonian raised $30 million. The fund would be used for renovations and repairs at the institution’s various museums.

The proposed cuts for public broadcasting come just as local public television station executives are set to descend on Washington next week for a day of lobbying. They will be asking not just for the cut funds to be reinstated but also for an increase, which they eventually got last year, said John Lawson, president and chief executive of the Association of Public Television Stations.

“I’m confident we will be successful,” he said in an interview, noting that this year for the first time, stations will be tying their pleas to “the delivery of quantifiable services to local communities,” in the form of early childhood education, health information and a “recommitment to local programming, which is increasingly missing from the media marketplace.”

But others are not so sure. Ken Stern, chief executive of National Public Radio, said in an interview that even though public broadcasters had been successful in fighting off past proposed cuts, this year could be different. “I worry that this gets lost in a whole lot of other issues,” he said, acknowledging that it was also “an incredibly tight budget year.”

He added that “one of the shames” is that by focusing on restoring the budget, instead of adding new funds, attention is drawn away from how public broadcasting could do even more to serve its constituencies at a time of media upheaval.

“That’s the conversation we should be having, and not just fighting off these paint-by-numbers cuts that the administration is proposing,” he said.

Mr. Martin, at KALW in San Francisco, said he was careful not to advocate what action listeners should take when he told them about the cuts. But public broadcasters are hopeful that Congress will see the same groundswell of support for their services as they did during past budget fights. The last time around, some two million citizens contacted Congress, Mr. Stern said.

In a statement, Ms. Harrison of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which administers the federal money, noted that the proposed cuts “would work to degrade a 40-year partnership the American people overwhelmingly support and their elected representatives in Congress have repeatedly voted to strengthen.”

Robin Pogrebin contributed reporting.

Pirated by iTunes, Artist Turns to BitTorrent

The Flashbulb, aka Benn Jordan, became so outraged when he discovered that iTunes was effectively pirating his music, that he uploaded copies of his latest album to BitTorrent. TorrentFreak caught up with Benn to learn more about the decision to stop distributors and ‘coked-up label reps’ from getting all the cash.

An established, but outraged musician has decided to shun conventional distribution methods by following other recent initiatives (such as Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ promotion) by making his latest album available for free download. It’s available on BitTorrent on sites like The Pirate Bay, with so-called ‘OiNK replacement’ site, What.cd, providing the album on ‘free leech’ to encourage more downloads.

TorrentFreak caught up with Benn Jordan who told us he’s not just disillusioned, he’s ‘outraged’ that iTunes is selling his work without permission and seemingly keeping all the money.

TF: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your musical journey.

Benn: I’m Benn and I’m 29 years old. I started playing classical guitar when I was about 5, and since then, all I’ve wanted to do with my life was make music. Now 20-some odd years later, I feel lucky to tell you that I make music for a living. I’ve been releasing albums for about 14 years on various indy labels, and in the last 5 years I’ve also been composing for television, film, and ads. Music has allowed me to travel the world, meet thousands of wonderful people, and express myself through my work. It seems impossible to me that I’m on this planet for any other reason than writing music.

My label, on the other hand, doesn’t have a complex or radical plan. Our goal is to simply compensate our artists as much as possible, and that includes utilizing the “digital revolution” to our advantage, instead of punishing our artists by punishing their fans.

TF: Tell us a little about your dealings with labels and ‘the industry’ and why you became disillusioned.

Benn: Luckily, my record contracts were always negotiated well. Once things started moving with small labels I was approached by some larger ones, but there was always some seedy stipulation that prevented me from ever signing.

Still, with a 50/50 contract, I’d be selling 2,000 albums and would get $250 for it somehow. Many people that i’d meet at my shows would say that they bought my music on iTunes, yet I’ve never signed any sort of agreement allowing iTunes to host my music, and I’ve certainly never seen a dime of money for my albums hosted there.
So I started investigating the numbers from the label, which led me to some shocking revelations about how little the artist and label was getting in comparison to the retailers. When I got around to asking about iTunes, the owner of Sublight Records pleaded with me to “leave it be”. Everyone else made an extraordinary effort to ignore my calls and emails.

When I finally got a hold of the digital distributor (I must note that “digital distributor” is the most pathetic job title I’ve ever heard), I was told that once the files are in the iTunes system, it literally couldn’t be removed or taken down for a year. So, either Apple has created a self-aware doomsday machine that cannot be stopped or reasoned with, or everyone involved is just enjoying the gravy train of ripping off artists like myself and using Apple’s backbone of attorneys as an intimidation factor.

Even after having a lawyer working for me on this matter, this is the one and only response we’ve EVER been able to get from Apple:

Dear Benn,
I understand that you are writing to the iTunes Store because you are upset about finding your own album “The Flashlight” and some of your other album as well on the iTunes Store, and that you feel that you are owned
royalties for this music that his being purchased. I am sorry that you have to found this upsetting. My name is Wendy, and I would be happy to link you to right people to talk to about this issue

So, who’s the pirate I should go after? A kid who downloads my album because it isn’t available in non-DRM format and costs $30 on Amazon? Or a huge multi-billion dollar corporation that has been selling thousands of dollars worth of my music and not even acknowledging it?

I’m not disillusioned, I’m outraged, and anyone who ever spent a dime on buying music through these distribution methods should be outraged too. Here we are pleading with people to not steal music, and then we hand them dog shit when they go out of their way to buy it.

TF: You were a member of OiNK. Could you tell us a bit about your time there and how you used the site?

Benn: OiNK was an amazing network. As an avid-collector of ultra-rare old jazz records, I’ll tell you right now that it was the most complete and diverse library of music the world has ever seen. I filled some requests by uploading some of my rarer albums there. Eventually I started being harassed by someone on the network who was sending screen grabs of my seed lists to record labels. Upon complaining, a moderator simply removed my ability to communicate with anyone on the network or post comments on torrents. I can understand the paranoia and strictness.

I guess I just sort of laughed it off and stopped using it. When Oink went down, the only thing that surprised me was that the servers weren’t hidden in some weird country.

TF: Could you tell us more about the support you’re getting from one of the so-called ‘OiNK replacement’ sites, ‘What.cd’ ?

Benn: It was really a fresh breath of air for What.cd to promote the idea of artists having involvement with their own torrents. Not only does it benefit the artist to no end, but I can’t imagine that any court in the world would be able to pin someone on copyright infringement for a torrent the copyright holder created.

TF: Aside from uploading your own albums, at times you took an anti-piracy stance at OiNK, why the big change of heart?

Benn: I don’t think my stance has changed all that much. It’d be a great PR move to say that I’m pro-piracy, but I’d be lying. I keep seeing these internet news stories saying things like “The Flashbulb Promotes Piracy”. It is totally out of control. How could I be promoting piracy if I’m uploading my own material with a “buy it if you like it” message in the torrent?

What I’m promoting is the artist’s freedom to choose what can and can’t be done with his/her music, and more importantly, the listener’s freedom to do what he/she wants with their own computer, MP3 player, or internet connection.

After a journey through miles and miles of bullshit in this industry, you learn one thing: If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. Whether you’re downloading my music to check it out, to accompany the CD, or even pirating it…I want you to have a version/rip of it that I’ve listened to and approved of.

TF: You say you’re not pro-piracy yet you downloaded stuff from OiNK and also What.cd. One position seems to conflict the other. How do you explain this?

Benn: In my case I think that visible list of downloads strengthens my point. Most of those downloads are actually albums I already own (much easier to download than to record an entire vinyl album), albums I previewed but didn’t like, or albums I simply cannot find available in a suitable DRM-free format (including CD). Some of the software, like the TomTom DVD on my list, is actually impossible to technically “pirate” because you can’t buy a US TomTom GPS unit without the software. The thing is, when a tracker gets busted, the companies count these towards their losses.

So, my new album currently has 6381 downloads at the time of this interview on what.cd alone. Using that deceitful equation, my losses are over $100,000. If I wanted to, I could subtract those losses from my profit and completely get out of paying any income taxes. It makes sense from an evil, corporate, criminal-minded standpoint, right?

Beyond that, iTunes and other services simply are not acceptable to me. No company will have any control over a product that I legally own after I buy it, period.

Oink was the biggest music library in the world. People didn’t use it because they were criminals, people used it because it was literally better than any service you could pay for. It was the stubborn behavior of the record labels, artists, and government that wouldn’t allow that music library to have a cash register at the front door.

The thing RIAA is scared of is that their billion dollar backbone can no longer shelter people from exploring music themselves. Their business plan had evolved into telling the world what they will want to listen to and buy, and now they’ll have to actually compete with talented artists again. As the people regain control of the market, music will be judged by it’s content again and will be subjected to it’s own Darwinism. It is a very interesting time for the music industry…and since my entire life is devoted to making music, bring it on. I hope that this situation with my new record proves to other labels and artists that giving people exactly what they want is the smartest way to conduct any business.

TF: How do you feel about people being heavily punished for sharing music?

Benn: Obviously, the last thing I would want is anyone to be fined or imprisoned for listening to my music. Another feature of uploading my own torrent is that it creates a little legal nesting area on a network otherwise deemed illegal by most governments and RIAA. When someone else uploads a torrent of my music, it is without my approval…on the other end of things, and more importantly, when someone raids an admin’s apartment…no police officer is asking me if I want to press charges.

TF: What happens when people donate?

Benn: If you decide that you like the album, you’ll have the option of donating directly to the artist. If you decide that you’d like a CD, you’ll be able to order it directly from my label. I’ve even hired my mother to run our shipping department since she’s the most obsessive-compulsive-perfectionist office worker that I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Finally, every detail of my album’s content, release, and business is done exactly the way I want it to be done. I hope other artists realize how liberating and profitable it is compared to the distribution system we’ve all become so accustomed to.

TF: Radiohead did really quite well after they offered ‘In Rainbows’ online for free. You’re a few days into this experiment - how is it going for you?

Benn: My donations have a way to go before they match the numbers from CD pre-orders, but I’m still crossing my fingers. In a week or so I plan to release a detailed statistical report. For some reason I really like making pie charts.

TF: I’ve listened to the album - Soundtrack To A Vacant Life - and I really enjoyed it. Could you tell us some more about it?

Benn: It was 2 years in the making, and is conceptually me attempting to write the soundtrack to my own life. Of course this means that it is much more cinematic than electronic, and the songs all connect chronologically. Those who have heard my previous albums can expect this one to be a lot more melodic, tame, and instrumental. Suggested listening is with a decent pair of headphones from start to finish.

TF: I have some, I’ll try that later. Thanks for your time.

The Pirate Bay Interrogations

During the two year investigation into The Pirate Bay, several people connected to the site were questioned. The Swedish police allegedly used some of the harshest (Jack Bauer like) interrogation tactics to get them to talk, with surprising results.

When The Pirate Bay was raided back in 2006, three men were brought in for questioning, and the interrogations continued in the months that followed. The police’s goal was obviously to let the people behind the site confess to something they didn’t do. This led to a series of the most hilarious interrogation transcripts I’ve ever read.

Not surprisingly, “the confessions” of the Pirate Bay three didn’t help the police much. Earlier this week, the Swedish prosecutor Håkan Roswall charged four individuals involved with The Pirate Bay for “assisting copyright infringement”. Actually, this is a surprisingly mild accusation if you consider that he called the Pirate Bay “terrorists” only a few months ago. The response of Brokep’s lawyer sums it up quite nicely: “My client will plead not guilty, but i’m not sure if what he’s being charged with, is a crime at all,” he said.

Below you can read some of the transcripts of the interrogations of Brokep, Anakata and TiAMO, translated from a Swedish article published by IDG.se. (thanks Jens and Billy)

I: Interrogator
B: Brokep (Peter Sunde)

I: You are under suspicion of assisting copyright infringement between 2005-07-01 - 2006-05-31 by running and maintaining The Pirate Bay, and thereby assisting in other peoples’ copyright infringement. Another accusation is conspiracy to commit copyright infringement during the same period of time. This has been done through The Pirate Bay where a large amount of so called torrents of copyrighted files or content are made available. It’s customary to ask the person being interrogated if he admits or denies committing a crime?

B: I deny.

I: You deny.

B: Definitely!

I: Yes. And this thing with The Pirate Bay. I don’t know your position on anything about what you have been accused of, but I say you are one of the people who run this site, The Pirate Bay. What do you say about that?

B: I have no comment.

I: Why not?

B: I don’t want to make a statement about it.

I: What do you want to make a statement about?

B: I’ll probably not make statements about very much.

I: Okay. Then what are we doing here?

B: Well it was you who wanted to (not recognizable, laugh) interrogate me.

I: Yes, because you have the opportunity to explain you ideological position.

B: But I think…

I: ..the purpose of The Pirate Bay etc.

B: Oh, well I don’t think my ideology has anything to do with an interrogation. My ideology and my views on things are… Well it’s my political opinion and I can keep that to myself.

I: I’m not asking about your political opinion, I’m asking about your stance on….

B: But I think copyright is a political issue. So if you ask me about my opinion on a copyright policy issue, I will answer that I don’t wish to make a statement on my policy and my political views.


I: Interrogator
A: Anakata (Gottfrid Svartholm)

I: Well! What do you know about this site, The Pirate Bay?

A: Well it is a site.

I: Yes…what is it?

A: Yes bits and trackers and related services.

I: What is your part in this site?

A: No comment!

I: No. Anakata - Who is that?

A: No comment!

I: No. Do you know how long this has been going on, The Pirate Bay?

A: Like a couple of years!

I: Were you involved in starting it?

A: No comment?

I: No, I will ask a lot of questions!

A: Okay, you will have to annoy me then!

I: Do you have any idea how many users per day The Pirate Bay gets?

A: No comment!

I: Do you have any idea who maintains the homepage?

A: No comment!

I: How can one translate the word tracker? (Note: same in Swedish)

A: It is not possible to translate.


I: Okay! Is there anything else that you want to say, that we might find valuable to know?

A: No! Yes… there… you can tell Roswall that he is a damn clown, he can … can stop abusing the judicial system!!!

I: You have said this before!

A: Yes. It is the third or fourth time i have said it!

I: Okay!

A: I said it in the media earlier!

I: Well! Then I will end the interrogation at 12.25.


In a later interrogation Anakata was questioned about an interview with IDG.

I: Okay. During last year, or maybe it was this year, there was an interview in the Hot chair at IDG where you talked openly about The Pirate Bay’s operation. Have you got any comments on..(interrupted)

A: No! No comment.

I: Is it correct that you where in this..(interrupted)

A: No comment!

I: …interview. Okay.

I: We have been talking about this nickname Anakata, and we still claim that is you.

A: No comment!

I: You don’t want to comment on that either. Okay, then lets move on and make this effective instead!

I: Interrogator
T: TiAMO (Fredrik Neij)

I: This has been a police investigation for a long time. The prosecutor’s case is one of copyright infringement, assisting in copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. What is your position on this?

T: That he is wrong. That if we are guilty, then Google is guilty too.

I: You mean you can compare Google to The Pirate Bay?

T: Almost.

I: What the difference between them?

T: Well… One difference is that you can upload torrents on The Pirate Bay, but it’s really the same thing because if you have a site with copyrighted material, you can add the link to be indexed on Google. It’s the same level as both sites are handling user-generated material. We don’t have any views on what the content is, we just provide a search engine.

I: But these torrents.. Uhm.. I don’t know what it is in plural (ED: The word “torrent” sounds weird in plural in Swedish)

T: Files of meta data..

I: Yes, I know but what… torrents. If we talk about torrents as more than one, they actually end up on The Pirate Bay’s servers. That’s different to Google?

T: But in the same way it’s… we have a torrent file that is a reference to the material. Someone who only uses a meta link and doesn’t host the file but the file is still available on the filesharing network. Should that be less illegal or more legal? Just because you store the binary data for the hash file locally on a server?

I: But that’s more than Google provides. They only provide a link in that case. While a user or a specific computer in another network provides with the actual… meta data. That has nothing to do with…

T: But then you had to decide whether meta data in itself is illegal or not.

I: But surely it’s not!

T: No.

I: I don’t believe so either, but the summary I mentioned, assisting to commit a crime, that is supplying or owning certain things that can be used for a crime. In this case, it’s providing a tracker, providing a collection of torrent files, you have… It’s about a search engine and so on. That’s more than Google does?

T: Yes

I: And furthermore there was a change of legislation July 1 2005, which means the copyright law has been made tougher than before. I don’t know if you are familiar with the mp3 trial that many refer to in this context, that it is not permitted to link to copyrighted material?

T: Yes.

I: That sentence may be obsolete now, it’s not relevant anymore since the legislation has changed. That’s the foundation of the crime we investigate today. So this thing with Google, it isn’t quite the same thing.

T: I still don’t believe the way we have interpreted it, and we have consulted law people on this. They say that torrent files are not illegal and providing them is not illegal. Since we haven’t actively encouraged the users to upload copyrighted movies and not (not recognizable). We haven’t said anything. We have created an empty site where the only condition was that you cannot upload something where content doesn’t match the description, or if it blatantly is criminal in Sweden.

I: But at the same time, you ridicule Microsoft etcetera on another page of The Pirate Bay?

T: That’s because they try to apply US laws to Sweden.

I: Yes, but what they are really doing is making you aware that there is copyright infringing content on the site.

T: Yes.

I: It comes as no surprise to you that such content is available there?

T: No..

I: So you are not unaware that there is copyright infringing content, but still you chose to remain passive and not remove it?

T: There are links to copyrighted content!

I: Yes exactly, there are links to copyrighted content!

T: Yes.

I: And you are aware of this?

T: We have always had the policy not to interfere with the content on the site.

I: Ok.

T: Since the site was created by Piratbyrån, who stand for free speech and freedom to share without some bully trying to interfere, the policy (not recognizable)

I: That’s what we have left here (not recognizable). You say yourself that Piratbyrån is not a part of it anymore and that the ideological thing has faded during later years?

T: Yes, but I believe Gottfrid for example is ideologically in line with Piratbyrån. Peter as well.

I: And you aren’t?

T: I agree with much of what they say, but it’s not like I would go out on a cold rainy autumn day and protest with a sign against something (not recognizable)

The Pirate Bay and Filesharers Backed by Swedish Politicians

Two weeks ago we reported on Greens EFA launching the pro-filesharing campaign “I Wouldn’t Steal“. With new editorials in Swedish newspapers coinciding with The Pirate Bay’s charges, it seems the Green Party is looking to push the issue forward, thereby supporting The Pirate Bay.

In recent years, the Swedish Green Party, which holds 19 seats in parliament, has taken a clear stance on filesharing. Following the raid on The Pirate Bay in 2006, the party board released a memo entitled “Free the files!” in which they suggested to fully legalize non-commercial filesharing.

When asked about the purpose of the memo in 2006, party spokesperson Peter Eriksson said: “Our aim is to make laws in line with the new technologies. The other option is to pretend that you can go on like you always have, although it’s practically impossible. Reality has changed.”

One of the driving forces behind the recent “I Wouldn’t Steal” campaign from the European Green parties was the Swedish politician Carl Schlyter, and his initiative seems to have spurred others in the party to join the debate. Earlier this week, an editorial was published in two local Swedish newspapers. It was titled “Filesharing is not theft” and was written by Akko Karlsson, member of the Swedish Green Party’s executive board.

In the editorial, Akko argued that filesharing can’t be compared to theft, as theft is when someone takes away the possibility for another person to use something, whereas filesharing only creates a new copy without erasing the original.

“For me, this is a generation issue,” said Akko Karlsson when TorrentFreak asked her why she decided to write the editorial. “You should always endorse the new technologies’ possibilities.”

In her editorial, Akko criticizes the entertainment industry’s failing to enter the information age with working business models:

“You could argue that filesharing hinders some people from earning as much money as they would have if filesharing was not possible. But now it is possible, the technology is there, and then the industry needs to find new ways of handling it. They’ve had the chance to work on new ways for 10 years but haven’t come up with much else than silly trailers that say filesharing is theft. […] When new technology emerges, it’s not necessarily it that must be adapted to the old ways. Sometimes, the industry itself must adapt.”

Akko further told TorrentFreak that she’s convinced that filesharing, copyright and integrity will be important issues for Green Party in the 2009 elections for the European Parliament and the 2010 elections in Sweden.

“Because there is also the democratic aspect of this,” she says, “There are so many people under repressive regimes for whom filesharing and the Internet is the link to the rest of the world that inspires, gives hope and makes it endurable to fight for human rights and democracy. The state’s control system is expanding. We used to heavily criticize the intrusions of privacy and control systems in place behind the Iron Curtain, but now we are building this ourselves.”

In Swedish old media, there’s currently a heated argument against filesharing, with novelists like Liza Marklund and Jan Guillou using every inch of their weekly columns in Swedish newspapers to lobby for tougher measures. With the trial against The Pirate Bay coming up, the debate has sunk even deeper in the trenches. In this climate, for politicians to step up to the plate with sound arguments why filesharing should be legalized seems like a bold move.

But Akko Karlsson is not alone.

On January 31, an editorial was published in Gothenburg’s daily newspaper. It was written by Green Party’s Lage Rahm, member of Parliament, party spokesperson on IT issues and substitute member on The Committee on Industry and Trade. On the subject of the ongoing case against The Pirate Bay, he called for reason when it comes to impose tougher measures on filesharing:

“Not only is the struggle [to end illegal filesharing] doomed to fail, it also creates a risk that filesharing on the Internet becomes anonymized and encrypted. An increased availability of untraceable networks will make it harder to fight organized crime.”

As an example, Lage Rahm put forward the bust of a pedophile ring with more than 700 suspects in 33 countries last year. This was done by tracking chatrooms, downloaded photos and e-mail.

“Most people realize that the police and copyright interest groups are fighting against windmills. […] Convicting sentences against The Pirate Bay would have merely marginal effects on the scope of illegal filesharing. More severe is that the hunt will lead to an increased interest for absolute anonymity among Sweden’s approximately 1 million filesharers. Their activity will move to untraceable darknets.”

He focused on the dangers of Internet communities going underground and concluded:

“New technologies mean we as legislators are faced with an entirely new reality. Tougher measures against filesharing means risking the police’s possibilities of fighting child pornography and organized crime. It is worrying that the Minister of Justice doesn’t seem to realize this. For The Green Party, this is one of the main arguments of legalizing non-commercial downloading. […] The Minister of Justice should leave to the industry to clear up the mess they have made for themselves. Judicial resources should be diverted to fight severe online criminality instead of hunting filesharing sixteen-year-olds.”

So, what does this all mean for the European filesharer? Well, one thing is sure, political parties that actually have power are taking a pro-filesharing stance. A sign that things are moving forward, slowly, but in the right direction.

Rant of the week

A Reg Shill-Reporter?
Rick Brasche

Let's cut the crap, okay?

The issue isn't about technology or capability. It's about what the company sells, what it tells you you're going to get for your money, versus what you actually get.

This is very simple. If you sell me "unlimited" use then it is "unlimited". If you put a download cap (not just bandwidth throttling) then you are "limiting". very very simple.

telling me you sell "blazing fast" internet connections and demonstrating to me how fast i can download stuff, then put a cork on downloads that come from a source you decide is too popular, is "bait and switch".

Crying about not having enough to "serve all our customers" is not the customers' problem. If you failed to modify your infrastructure and oversold capability (which Comcast et al was already doing over 6 years ago when cable modems first rolled out-which is why I never went back to them) is *your* problem. If an airline sells me a seat on an airplane, then oversells the seats, giving me a f*cking bus ticket isn't going to be allowed.

What happened here is providers sold what they thought was a cash cow for them-selling to rubes who would never utilize bandwidth or even come close to getting their money's worth. Comcast and others just sat on their @sses and laughed at all those "nerds" who bought the "high speed hype".

Then, people started using the pipe. It wasn't just nerd bragging rights now. Even Aunt Bea and Grandma needed a phat pipe because the Internet got too bloated. Advertisements on her favorite gardening site and email provider are even full video now. Web 2.0 dorks and out of work dot-commers flooded the net with eye candy and bloated sites to try to get recognition. A fast connection became mandatory. And the cable companies were caught with their pants down.

We wouldn't accept crap like this from cellular companies would we? Cell speeds and coverage are much better than even 4 years ago, no matter how sucky their customer service and billing systems are. Every provider has wireless data service many times faster than the fastest dialup connection. Even as far behind Japan as we are, even AT&T is getting faster, and they actually put a little of their profits into infrastructure expansion and improvement.

Not the cable guys tho. Not in tune with how fast they sold the stuff. They got people canvassing my neighborhood at least once a week. One hub, a thousand apartments, and Comcast failing to mention you're sharing that "high speed' with every damned one of them. They also forgot to mention back in the day that you were all on the same network-when I used them I could browse the C drives on every neighbor's PC who was in the same neighborhood hub.

Maybe instead of paying shills and lawyers, maybe they ought to either upgrade neighborhood hubs to a better technology, or if that isn't possible, actually be *honest* about what you do and don't get. Advertise the average speed measured in a given neighborhood. tell new cusomers that your speed goes down as soon as that condo/housing development goes online next month. Tell them that for anything but websurfing and MMORPG's, it's going to get even slower so that the websurfing and email can get thru. Stop using "unlimited" in ads.

Because most of the world aren't weasely lawyers and Clinton apologists who buy into convoluted arguments about 'what the definition of the word "is" is". Most understand the language, and the language of lies is what's causing Comcast the problems. Less money on weaseling out, more on doing things right.

And keep your f**king cable guys and their ads off my porch. I told each and every one of them I ain't paying $50 a month for channels spewing mostly ads, propaganda and sh*tty "reality TV". Then getting gypped for more to get the few channels I could stand, and still, no decent pr0n. Oh yeah, add on more cost to be able to pay for their "socialist internet" (everyone is equal, some are more equal than others) and I'd pay close to $90 a month (until the next rate increase!) to get less than I do now with DSL and a Netflix account (that costs me less than $50 total now). Plus I remain blissfully unaware of "hawt social trends" like which wanker won "dancing with the stars", or what new beer/car commercial is so awesome. I ain't paying for some corporate @rsehats to cram a sewer pipe into my living room. They'd better pay *me*.
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12...ysis/comments/ (Dec. 13th,’07)

Finland's Roadside Toilets: Now Accessible Only by SMS
Darren Murph

While those in London can use SMS to actually find a lavatory, folks passing through Western Finland will be required to bust out their handset in order to relieve themselves in select public restrooms. In an attempt to curb vandalism, the Finnish Road Administration has implemented a system along Highway 1 which requires restroom visitors to text "Open" (in Finnish, of course) in order to let themselves in. The idea is that folks will be less likely to lose their mind and graffiti up the place knowing that their mobile number is (at least temporarily) on file, but it remains to be seen if uprooters will simply take their defacing ways elsewhere or actually excrete in peace.

Until next week,

- js.

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Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles, press releases, comments or questions in plain text English to jackspratts (at) lycos (dot) com. Submission deadlines are Thursdays @ 1400 UTC. Please include contact info. The right to publish all remarks is reserved.

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