|05-03-08, 08:13 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - March 8th, '08
"I order the respondents, that is Israeli internet service providers, to systematically block access to the illicit site, httpshare, so that surfers cannot enter this site and utilize it in order to impede upon the claimants’ copy rights." – Haifa District Court Justice Gideon Ginat
"I don't want the people in my community to feel we're behind every little tree and surveilling them. If there's any kind of inkling that we're misusing our power and our technology, that trust will be destroyed." – Tucson police Chief Richard Miranda
"They are sort of useful idiots for the Beijing regime." – James Mulvenon
"I want to make a difference. I can't make a difference by creating some new fantastic computer for a company because all they will do is sell it. But on this we can change the way kids learn, we can improve education over the entire planet." – James Cameron
March 8th, 2008
Israeli Internet Providers Ordered to Block File Sharing Website
Operators attempt to circumvent move; IFPI: We will take action against international sites as well
The Haifa District Court two weeks ago ordered the three largest internet service providers in Israel to block access to the Israeli file-sharing site httpshare, this following a petition levied by the 12 largest record companies in Israel.
Court: Illicit site ought to be blocked
The controversial site, httpshare, doesn’t contain any actual movies or music files for surfers to download, but merely has links to file sharing sites, such as bittorent, which allow web surfers to download such files.
Web surfers have noted that in the last few days they receive a 404 error message from their internet browser when they attempt to access the site, but no notice of the site’s obstruction has appeared online as of yet.
“I order the respondents, that is Israeli internet service providers, to systematically block access to the illicit site, httpshare,” wrote Haifa District Court Justice Gideon Ginat in his February 25th verdict, “so that surfers cannot enter this site and utilize it in in order to impede upon the claimants’ copy rights.”
The judge did not set a timeframe for this expected shut down, or indicate how long access to the site will be blocked.
Site operators: The battle has begun; the site is perfectly legal
Site operators in turn are attempting to fight back against this virtual shut out by changing the IP address of their website, but have reported that internet service providers have managed to block out their website even after they have made these modifications.
“The file sharing battle has begun…we’ll be left with a world wide web that contains news alone,” reads the site’s homepage, which is now only partially available utilizing certain internet access providers.
According to site operator, who left a message to visitors frequenting their site's homepage, the site, “is perfectly legal. According to legal codes in the Netherlands, sites providing external links allowing surfers to download movie, music, games and program are perfectly legal. Sites cannot sites these illicit files on their internet servers, and that is precisely what we do not do. The site merely provides links to file sharing sites such as http:bittorent.”
Moreover, site operators noted, “The website operates from the Netherlands, and the fact that is in Hebrew does not make it automatically subject to Israeli law! Israeli law applies only to Israeli residents and to websites operating from Israel itself.”
IFPI: We’ll go after international sites as well
Why have other Israeli websites not been blocked out by service providers? According to Moti Amitai, Director of the Enforcement Unit of the Israeli branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, “he IFPI has taken action against sites which operate from Israel and whose proprietors are Israeli.”
In this particular case, notes Amitai, the site’s operator seemingly lives abroad, and so this represents an entirely different scenario.
As for international files sharing sites, Amitai noted that “we want to utilize this verdict as a precedent and go after international sites as well. We are now looking into the logistics and the legal issues involved.”
Survey: Warnings from ISPs Could Slash File-Swapping by 70%
Filtering all Internet traffic to look for signs of illicit file-swapping has been a hugely controversial idea, criticized on grounds of privacy, efficacy, cost, and long-standing "safe harbor" principles that apply to network operators such as ISPs and phone companies. But a new study out from UK media lawyers Wiggin suggests that, if it works, such filtering could actually curtail "digital piracy" by 70 percent.
The finding is of special relevance in the UK, where some form of ISP filtering is currently being considered as a way to deal with the illegal trading of copyrighted material. ISPs and content owners are engaged in a voluntary negotiation over how to address the problem, but the UK government has indicated that it will legislate in April 2009 if no agreement is reached by then. The government appears to be planning something similar to the French system, which is developing a "three strikes" approach to notifying and then blocking offenders.
Wiggin commissioned the 2008 Digital Entertainment Survey, which found that 70 percent of all people polled said they would stop illegally sharing files if their ISP notified them in some way that it had detected the practice. When broken down by age group, an unexpected trend emerges: teenagers are generally more likely to change their behavior than older Internet users.
The survey showed that people would also stop sharing files if they felt that the chance of being prosecuted was higher, but that 68 percent of all users think it is "very unlikely I will be caught." Even if more stories about P2P prosecutions find their way into the mainstream press, half of all users said they would continue to share files because they perceive the total risk to be quite small. A notice system that required only a letter or a phone call instead of a full-blown legal proceeding could clearly operate more quickly and more widely, and seems to have the best chance of altering behavior.
Whether ISP filtering can work, and can do so while avoiding false positives and maintaining user privacy, remains an open question, and there's still debate over the idea that ISPs should (as a matter of policy) become enforcers of the copyrights for a specific industry segment. Still, the new survey suggests that if these problems can somehow be overcome, ISP notification might well have a better chance of changing behavior than legal action alone.
Nine Inch Nails Sells Out Of $300 Deluxe Edition In Under Two Days
Yesterday we wrote about Trent Reznor launching his new Nine Inch Nails album online with a variety of interesting options that people could choose to buy. The top of the list, for $300, was a "Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition Package" that included all the high quality downloads, two CDs, a data DVD, a Blu-ray high def DVD and assorted extras, all in a nice package signed by Reznor. This was only limited to the first 2,500 people. While some scoffed at the price of this package, it was clearly designed for NIN's biggest fans -- and they ate it up. Mike Linksvayer points out that this option is now sold out, meaning that Reznor grossed $750,000 in just a couple of days on that package alone, not taking into account any of the other packages that many more people likely bought into.
Now, before some people start complaining that this will only work for big name bands, there's an easy response to that: these days, the way to become a big band is to get your music out there. Newer bands can easily give away music as a promotion to get attention, build up a following, and throw in these types of options as they get bigger. Besides, smaller, less-well-known acts still have plenty of other offerings they can use to make money, even as a smaller band.
Publishers Phase Out Piracy Protection on Audio Books
Some of the largest book publishers in the world are stripping away the anticopying software on digital downloads of audio books.
The trend will allow consumers who download audio books to freely transfer these digital files between devices like their computers, iPods and cellphones — and conceivably share them with others. Dropping copying restrictions could also allow a variety of online retailers to start to sell audio book downloads.
The publishers hope this openness could spark renewed growth in the audio book business, which generated $923 million in sales last year, according to the Audio Publishers Association.
Random House was the first to announce it was backing away from D.R.M., or digital rights management software, the protective wrapping placed around digital files to make them difficult to copy. In a letter sent to its industry partners last month, Random House, the world’s largest publisher, announced it would offer all of its audio books as unprotected MP3 files beginning this month, unless retail partners or authors specified otherwise.
Penguin Group, the second-largest publisher in the United States behind Random House, now appears set to follow suit. Dick Heffernan, publisher of Penguin Audio, said the company would make all of its audio book titles available for download in the MP3 format on eMusic, the Web’s second-largest digital music service after iTunes.
Penguin was initially going to join the eMusic service last fall, when it introduced its audio books download store. But it backed off when executives at Pearson, the London-based media company that owns Penguin, became concerned that such a move could fuel piracy.
Mr. Heffernan said the company changed its mind partly after watching the major music labels, like Warner Brothers and Sony BMG, abandon D.R.M. on the digital music they sell on Amazon.com. “I’m looking at this as a test,” he said. “But I do believe the audio book market without D.R.M. is going to be the future.”
Other major book publishers seem to agree. Chris Lynch, executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, said the company would make 150 titles available for download in an unprotected digital format in “the next couple of months.”
An executive at HarperCollins said the publisher was watching these developments closely but was not yet ready to end D.R.M.
If the major book publishers follow music labels in abandoning copyright protections, it could alter the balance of power in the rapidly growing world of digital media downloads. Currently there is only one significant provider of digital audio books: Audible, a company in Seattle that was bought by Amazon for $300 million in January. Audible provides Apple with the audio books on the iTunes store.
Apple’s popular iPod plays only audio books that are in Audible’s format or unprotected formats like MP3. Book publishers do not want to make the same error originally made by the music labels and limit consumers to a single online store to buy digital files that will play on the iPod. Doing so would give that single store owner — Apple — too much influence.
Turning to the unprotected MP3 format, says Madeline McIntosh, a senior vice president at the Random House Audio Group, will enable a number of online retailers to begin selling audio books that will work on all digital devices.
Some bookstores are already showing interest. The Borders Group, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., introduced an online audio book store in November using D.R.M. provided by Microsoft. Its books cannot be played on the iPod, a distinction that turns off many customers. But Pam Promer, audio book buyer for Borders, said the company welcomed moves by the publishers and planned to begin selling MP3 downloads by early spring.
A spokesman for Barnes & Noble said the retailer had “no plans to enter the audio book market at this time.”
Publishers, like the music labels and movie studios, stuck to D.R.M. out of fear that pirated copies would diminish revenue. Random House tested the justification for this fear when it introduced the D.R.M.-less concept with eMusic last fall. It encoded those audio books with a digital watermark and monitored online file sharing networks, only to find that pirated copies of its audio books had been made from physical CDs or D.R.M.-encoded digital downloads whose anticopying protections were overridden.
“Our feeling is that D.R.M. is not actually doing anything to prevent piracy,” said Ms. McIntosh of Random House Audio.
Amazon and Audible would not comment on whether they would preserve D.R.M. protections on their own audio books, citing Securities and Exchange Commission restrictions surrounding the recent acquisition.
Rep. Berman Pulls Controversial "Compilations" Rule from PRO-IP Act
The PRO-IP Act was designed to "strengthen" US intellectual property protections, but opponents of the bill have referred to it as "gluttonous" and overreaching. One of the most controversial bits of the bill was a provision to stop treating compilations of copyrighted works as a single work. This change would mean, for instance, that a music label could seek 10 or 12 times the allowed statutory damages when it prosecutes someone who sells a single copy of an album. For magazines and newspapers which contain a host of separate copyrighted pieces (articles, advertising, etc.), the effects could be even more dire, since a single lost copyright lawsuit could put publishers on the hook for millions and millions of dollars in fines. Today, a House subcommittee removed the controversial provision from the Bill and passed it on to the full committee for further comment.
William Patry, Google's top copyright counsel and the man who literally wrote the book on the subject, said that the compilation change made him "very happy." Public Knowledge head Gigi Sohn, who testified to Congress about the bill's shortcomings late last year, also said in a statement that she was "pleased that the Subcommittee deleted from the bill the section (Section 104) that would have allowed multiplied damages for infringement of a compilation far beyond any reasonable levels."
An argument by copyright owners in defense of the change was that it essentially lowered the value of individual works. If a music company, for example, was able to nail someone for selling 10 songs from 10 different artists, the company could seek the maximum statutory damages ($150,000) and then multiply the amount by 10 ($1.5 million). But if that same petty crook was selling all 10 songs on a single CD, it would be treated as a compilation and the label could only get $150,000.
The standard response to this from digital rights groups is that statutory damages are plenty high already, and that nothing prohibits plaintiffs from seeking much higher amounts of money once they prove actual damages (statutory damages required no proof that the activity in question has harmed the copyright owner).
In their view, removing the statutory limits on damages from compilations could create significant legal uncertainty for companies that use copyrighted content in their operations. Any mistake, even an inadvertent one, that ends up in court could well see a company liable for damages so astronomical that it would simply have to close its doors. The bigger concern is not that this would happen on a regular basis, but that the possibility of it happening was so catastrophic that new companies would be scared off doing anything interesting with copyrighted content.
This argument was actually brought up during a stakeholder roundtable early this year. A US official from the Copyright Office reportedly asked those pushing the change if they could point to a single example from the last several decades in which they had suffered economic harm from the compilations provision. According to reports from those in the room, this led to a significant period of dead air (a claim I heard echoed again last week at a music conference in New York).
The good news here is that Rep. Howard Berman's (D-CA) Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, actually made the changes in response to work by subcommittee staff, the US Copyright Office, and testimony from hearings. Despite his hostility to several provisions in the bill, Patry concluded that the process worked well, in the end. "Committee staff and the Copyright Office devoted a great deal of attention to the issue and the round table that was held was very well run and very balanced," he noted. "It was government at its best."
Berman took responsibility for making the changes. In his opening statement at the markup hearing this morning, he agreed that the bill "is not perfect" and said that this was why he would be "introducing a managers' amendment today that will address some of the concerns groups have brought to the Subcommittee's attention." Despite Berman's reputation as a big booster of the MPAA and RIAA, he also has a reputation for being willing to listen to other voices and make changes in response to legitimate criticisms. Kudos to him for doing that.
Berman's not necessarily done with the compilations issue, though. He went on to say that the section would be pulled out of "expediency," and said that legislators needed more time to craft a good solution. "There will be ongoing discussions about these issues," he said.
A Lack of Peers Leads AllPeers to Close Up Shop
P2P startup AllPeers announced today that it would be closing its doors due to insufficient growth. "We are tremendously proud of the product that our team has built, and we remain convinced of the potential of adding social features like file-sharing to the web browser," the company wrote on its blog today. "However, we have not achieved the kind of growth in our user base that our investors were expecting, and as a result we are not able to continue operating the service."
The UK-based company first launched its beta Firefox extension in 2006, which allowed users to share files with each other from within the browser. AllPeers used the BitTorrent protocol to share files and was compatible with Windows 2000, XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. The company even received a round of venture capital funding from Mangrove Capital Partners and Index Ventures—the same firms that backed Skype.
Interest was high when AllPeers first launched, but soon went flat due to hefty competition from other P2P apps. Last March, the company announced that the software would go open source under the Mozilla Public License (MPL) and GNU General Public License (GPL) in an attempt to attract more developers. In July, the company announced that AllPeers would be gaining full BitTorrent support (previously, users could only share files among other AllPeers users) and hoped that the feature would spark new interest in both the Firefox and the extension.
Unfortunately, none of those tactics worked, and AllPeers sank. The company never came up with a way to make money—last July, AllPeers told us that it might use Amazon's S3 to store shared content and charge customers for the service, but the idea never quite took off. With so many other free P2P services out there, it's questionable as to whether any sort of payment model would have worked anyway. And by tying its software directly to Firefox, AllPeers limited itself in how the user could make use of its services.
The company's investors must not have thought it was going anywhere either, as AllPeers was unable to secure another round of financing to keep it afloat. Still, the company has remained positive about the decision, saying that it learned many lessons about user feedback, the Mozilla community, and marketing a product. "When we started working on AllPeers, we knew that it was an ambitious project with no guarantee of success," the company wrote. "Such is the nature of any software startup. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Makes Popular Series Available DRM-Free Via BitTorrent
As one of many ways to reach people with our content we have decided to do an experiment and make one of our most popular television series available through BitTorrent.This technology makes it possible for us to make our content available in a very high quality without having to invest in large server farms and expensive bandwidth.
The very popular series called “Nordkalotten 365″ has been aired on traditional TV in Norway. Over 900 000 of Norway’s 4,6 million watched the show in average, and the marketshare was close to 50%! “Nordkalotten 365″ is now made available for download. In this series the experienced hiker Lars Monsen has traveled alone through the north of Scandinavia for one year. The first episode is already published and the next episodes will be made available as they are encoded.
The files are MPEG4 H.264, 1024×576 25fps, 3 Mbit/s. No DRM.
So far the experiment has been a huge success. After one day roughly 8000 people have downloaded the torrent file. Because of the limited statistics reporting from the Amazon S3 tracker we are using we don’t have exact numbers from the tracker itself. Taking into account that Norway is a small country with only 4,5 million people this number is above expectations. The file has been out there for one day, and at this point only the first episode of the series is available. The bittorrent technology seems to work especially well for completely legal and high quality downloads. People happily seed the file and the download speeds achieved are reported to several megabits/s. The whole 600 MB file downloading in minutes or even seconds for the people with fast connections.
The files can be downloaded with the use of any bittorrent client, but the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation are promoting the free and open source Miro player as the most user friendly and easy way to get hold of the television series.
The reactions from the audience have been extremely positive. More than a hundred comments on the article announcing the experiment (Norwegian) express solid gratitude and people that are impressed by the move.
The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation will keep on with experiments like these and try to make more content available through this technology in addition to the more traditional channels of streaming, podcasts and DVD sales.
House IP Committee Member Endorses College P2P Blocking
In an editorial for The Hill, Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC) took aim this week at P2P file-swappers. If the moral and legal arguments won't convince them to stop sharing, Coble suggests another tactic: scaring kids straight. Identity theft, he says, is a consequence of file-swapping.
Pirate Bay: big revenue claims fabricated by prosecutors
Coble's editorial points out that one Gregory Kopiloff has pled guilty to grabbing information over Limewire and using it to commit identity theft. Kopiloff is scheduled to be sentenced on March 17.
While attempting to convince kids that this could happen to them (Kopiloff's victims "appear to have been of high school or college age"), Coble's wider purpose doesn't really concern identity theft at all. His piece is titled "Share your music, lose your identity," but, by the third paragraph, he's already transitioning back to the "file-swapping is illegal and wrong" argument. It's as though he has no real faith in his premise, and most file-swappers are already aware that sharing all of your documents with the entire world is probably a bad idea.
Here's how Kopiloff segues from the "it's bad for you" to "it's wrong" arguments: "This case is not the first time, however, Limewire and other peer-to-peer programs have been implicated in the deliberate theft of valuable property." Translation: Your personal property is valuable, and you'd hate to have it taken, so why are copying valuable property that belongs to others without paying for it?
From there, it's a short skip and a jump to ISP filtering, though Coble addresses this only in the context of universities (which, it turns out, aren't actually the hotbed of piracy the MPAA claimed). He pointed to Ohio University, which instituted a total ban on P2P apps last year, and held it up as a model of responsible action. "They responded by making leadership and personnel changes in their office of information technology," said Coble, "filing student judicial charges against first-time offenders, and installing a technology that identifies computers engaged in sharing unauthorized copyrighted media and then disconnects them from the university network."
While Coble touts this as an easy solution to the problem, others who have testified to Congress have pointed out that it creates an "arms race" that can be quite easily won by anyone willing to encrypt traffic. For that reason, some schools have also taken to contacting students who exceed certain bandwidth thresholds, even if they haven't been doing anything wrong. Fortunately, these schools are also "protecting student network users from identity thieves."
Public Knowledge staff attorney Sherwin Siy objects to the editorial on the grounds that it equates P2P with piracy (which everyone from NBC to Blizzard to Linux distributors to Vuze will tell you isn't true). More troubling, Coble endorses Ohio's move, which blocked an entire technology regardless of use—a draconian approach to a promising technology like BitTorrent.
"P2P is a manner of transferring data," says Siy. "It's not an infringement-only protocol. Software giants like Microsoft and Sun provide software tools for using P2P precisely because it's a good way for developers to share large files and updates."
Coble's view isn't surprising, but, as someone who sits on the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, one would hope for more nuance here. Last year, though, Coble did support the content industry-backed Copyright Alliance, a group dedicated to pushing stronger IP laws through Congress, so nuance in this area may not be his defining quality.
Lessig Questions Pirate Party’s Existence
At a preview of his new ‘Change Congress’ project, the Stanford professor took a swipe at the Pirate Party of the United States. Whilst expressing skepticism about it’s utility, his main criticism seemed to be the name.
Lawrence Lessig appears to be in and out of the tech news recently - the will-he-won’t-he run for Congress, has caused a storm of blog-posts this last month alone. Having declined to run on the democratic party ticket, he has now started criticizing other parties.
At a preview of his new Change Congress project at the ETech conference, the Creative Commons founder responded to a question about the US Pirate Party, saying “I’m skeptical of the utility of something like the Pirate Party in the United States.” He went on to comment about the naming, referring to the ‘honest business fighting illegitimate thieves‘ battle that Hollywood portrays with “Call your party the Pirate Party, and you’ll reinforce that. The branding is not one that I would embrace here in the United States.”
Naturally, the Pirate Party of the US disagrees. “As a professor, he should know better than to advocate judging a book by it’s cover” says Andrew Norton, head of the US Pirate Party. “It’s also unusual that the man that fought Hollywood’s increase of copyright, should find fault with a party that only seeks to represent the general public, and what better title than the name that Hollywood is using for all citizens.” referring to a recent study,(pdf) which suggested that everyone violates copyright, and are thus pirates, every day.
“It may, however, be that he feels since we are called ‘The Pirate Party’, that at some point we may advocate Piracy, or at least copyright infringement. We do not, and will not, promote the breaking of any law, criminal or civil,” added Norton. “We, like Prof. Lessig, stand squarely behind the political process, and hope that people will use their ability to vote, to vote for the candidates they want, rather than the so-called ‘tactical voting’ which has turned current US politics into the sham it is. In this, we are willing and eager to work with the Change Congress campaign in any way we can.”
These sentiments regarding the political process in the US have suddenly come to a head, with Independent Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader condemning the current political setup. On an appearance on the hugely popular Daily Show Tuesday, he commented “The two parties have shut out the people in Washington. It’s corporate occupied territory.”
He later went on to comment about how the two parties have rigged things so it’s hard for any other party to even get on the ballot, which the Pirate Party knows only too well. “Many states bury their party registration requirements in vast amounts of legalese,” says Norton. “Other states don’t publish it clearly, and don’t respond to requests for information on it. Government is supposed to exist for the benefit of the people, but right now, it’s benefiting the lawyers, and those that can pay for them.”
Can Lessig really ‘Change Congress’? It all depends if he will see past names, to the actual issues they hide.
Dutch Movie About Islam Threatens Nation
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has warned a maverick lawmaker of the risks to Dutch national interests if he presses ahead with a film criticizing the Koran.
Balkenende's appeal to Geert Wilders on Friday stopped short of demanding that he not release the film, which Wilders said was in the final stages of editing.
"Already we are having to take account of serious threats to Dutch people," Balkenende said in a televised news conference.
"When you see how the reactions have been at home and abroad, what the risks could be of this film, then there's one person who must answer for it, and that is Mr Wilders himself," he said.
Wilders said his short film would portray the Koran as a "fascist book." He does not yet have a broadcaster for it, but says he will release it on the Internet if he fails to find one.
In a statement after Balkenende's news conference, Wilders accused the Cabinet of "bowing to fear of terror and fear of Islam" and rejected calls to scrap the movie.
"Let me make one thing clear: The film will be released," he said.
Last week, the Pakistani government ordered Internet providers to restrict access to YouTube, allegedly to prevent Pakistanis from accessing a clip of Wilders in which he makes derogatory remarks about Islam. The move inadvertently caused a worldwide outage of the video sharing site.
The Dutch development minister called off a visit to Somalia on Friday after he was warned his life would be in danger on the trip.
"This is about the safety of Dutch citizens and businesses abroad, the Dutch military which is on a mission [in Afghanistan], about the broader interest of the Netherlands, the values for which we stand, our reputation internationally," Balkenende said.
In an earlier last week, Wilders said negative reactions to his film "only served to prove the point" that Islam should be criticized.
Wilders said the film would demonstrate how the Koran incites violence and intolerance of women and homosexuals.
Muslim groups in the Netherlands say they will file hate-speech charges against Wilders for previous statements, such as his description of Islam as a "retarded" religion. The Grand Mufti of Syria has warned of "bloodshed" if the film is released.
The Dutch national antiterrorism coordinator has told Wilders he may have to go into hiding abroad once his film is released. He already lives under constant police protection.
Dutch embassies have warned staff to brace for similar violence if the film is broadcast.
Chuck Taylor All-stars
Cyber-Rebels in Cuba Defy State’s Limits
James C. McKinley Jr.
A growing underground network of young people armed with computer memory sticks, digital cameras and clandestine Internet hookups has been mounting some challenges to the Cuban government in recent months, spreading news that the official state media try to suppress.
Last month, students at a prestigious computer science university videotaped an ugly confrontation they had with Ricardo Alarcón, the president of the National Assembly.
Mr. Alarcón seemed flummoxed when students grilled him on why they could not travel abroad, stay at hotels, earn better wages or use search engines like Google. The video spread like wildfire through Havana, passed from person to person, and seriously damaged Mr. Alarcón’s reputation in some circles.
Something similar happened in late January when officials tried to impose a tax on the tips and wages of employees of foreign companies. Workers erupted in jeers and shouts when told about the new tax, a moment caught on a cellphone camera and passed along by memory sticks.
“It passes from flash drive to flash drive,” said Ariel, 33, a computer programmer, who, like almost everyone else interviewed for this article, asked that his last name not be used for fear of political persecution. “This is going to get out of the government’s hands because the technology is moving so rapidly.”
Cuban officials have long limited the public’s access to the Internet and digital videos, tearing down unauthorized satellite dishes and keeping down the number of Internet cafes open to Cubans. Only one Internet cafe remains open in Old Havana, down from three a few years ago.
Hidden in a small room in the depths of the Capitol building, the state-owned cafe charges a third of the average Cuban’s monthly salary — about $5 — to use a computer for an hour. The other two former Internet cafes in central Havana have been converted into “postal services” that let Cubans send e-mail messages over a closed network on the island with no links to the Internet.
“It’s a sort of telegraph service,” said one young man, shrugging as he waited in line to use the computers at a former Internet cafe on O’Reilly Street.
Yet the government’s attempts to control access are increasingly ineffective. Young people here say there is a thriving black market giving thousands of people an underground connection to the world outside the Communist country.
People who have smuggled in satellite dishes provide illegal connections to the Internet for a fee or download movies to sell on discs. Others exploit the connections to the Web of foreign businesses and state-run enterprises. Employees with the ability to connect to the Internet often sell their passwords and identification numbers for use in the middle of the night.
Hotels catering to tourists provide Internet services, and Cubans also exploit those conduits to the Web.
Even the country’s top computer science school, the University of Information Sciences, set in a campus once used by Cuba’s spy services, has become a hotbed of cyber-rebels. Students download everything from the latest American television shows to articles and videos criticizing the government, and pass them quickly around the island.
“There is a whole underground market of this stuff,” Ariel said.
The video of Mr. Alarcón’s clash with students was leaked to the BBC and CNN, giving the world a rare glimpse of the discontent among the young with the system. His answers to the questions seemed evasive. Asked about the ban on travel, Mr. Alarcón suggested that if everyone who wished to were allowed to travel, there would not be enough airspace for the planes.
Another event many people witnessed through the digital underground was the arrival in the United States of Carlos Otero, a popular television personality and humorist in Cuba who defected in December while on a trip to Toronto.
Illegal antennas caught signals from Miami television stations, which youths turned into digital videos and shared. Though the event smacked more of celebrity news than politics, it would never have been shown on the official media.
Some young journalists have also started blogs and Internet news sites, using servers in other countries, and their reports are reaching people through the digital underground.
Yoani Sánchez, 32, and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, 60, established Consenso desde Cuba , a Web site based in Germany. Ms. Sánchez has attracted a considerable following with her blog, Generación Y, in which she has artfully written gentle critiques of the government by describing her daily life in Cuba. Ms. Sánchez and her husband said they believed strongly in using their names with articles despite the possible political repercussions.
Shortly before Raúl Castro was elected president last week to replace his ailing brother, Fidel, Ms. Sánchez wrote a piece describing what sort of president she wanted. She said the country did not need a soldier, a charismatic leader or a great speaker, but “a pragmatic housewife” who favored freedom of speech and open elections.
Writing later about Raúl Castro’s first speech as president, she criticized his vague promises of change, saying they were as clear as the Rosetta Stone was when it was first found. Both essays would be impossible to publish in Cuba.
“The Internet has become the only terrain that is not regulated,” she said in an interview.
Because Ms. Sánchez, like most Cubans, can get online for only a few minutes at a time, she writes almost all her essays beforehand, then goes to the one Internet cafe, signs on, updates her Web site, copies some key pages that interest her and walks out with everything on a memory stick. Friends copy the information, and it passes from hand to hand. “It’s a solid underground,” she said. “The government cannot control the information.”
It is spread by readers like Ricardo, 28, a philosophy student at the University of Havana who sells memory sticks to other students. European friends buy blank flash drives, and others carry them into Cuba, where the drives available through normal channels are very expensive and scarce.
Like many young Cubans, Ricardo plays a game of cat and mouse with the authorities. He doubts that the government will ever let ordinary citizens have access to the Internet in their homes. “That’s far too dangerous,” he said. “Daddy State doesn’t want you to get informed, so it preventively keeps you from surfing.”
Pedro, a midlevel official with a government agency, said he often surfed Web sites like the BBC and The Miami Herald at work, searching for another view of the news besides the ones presented in the state-controlled media. He predicted that the 10,000 students studying the Internet and programming at the University of Information Sciences would transform the country over time, opening up more and more avenues of information.
“We are training an army of information specialists,” he said.
Bank Moves to Withdraw Its Suit Against Wikileaks Site
Jonathan D. Glater
A Swiss bank on Wednesday moved to withdraw a lawsuit that it had filed against a Web site that it claimed had displayed stolen documents revealing confidential information about the accounts of the bank’s clients.
Lawyers involved in the case said the move by Bank Julius Baer most likely ends its battle against Wikileaks, a Web site that allows people to post documents anonymously “to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations.”
The bank last month obtained an order from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco that obstructed, but did not absolutely prevent, access to material posted on Wikileaks by turning off the domain name wikileaks.org. The judge’s action drew a flurry of media attention and a barrage of legal filings by media and other organizations arguing that the order violated the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.
After a hearing on Friday, Judge White withdrew that order, saying that he was worried about its First Amendment implications and that he thought it might not be possible to prevent viewing of the documents once they had been posted on the Web anyway.
In its court filing, lawyers for Bank Julius Baer wrote that the bank “may, at their option, later pursue their claims, including in an alternate court, jurisdiction or venue.” But lawyers for the organizations that filed motions to intervene and friend-of-the-court briefs said they thought it unlikely that the bank would attempt to continue litigation elsewhere.
“I frankly find it hard to think that they are actually going to try to do that, at least in the United States,” said Matthew Zimmerman, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They may very well try to go after their former employee,” who the bank claimed had stolen and posted the documents, he added.
A call to lawyers for Bank Julius Baer at the firm of Lavely & Singer in Los Angeles was not returned on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Zimmerman speculated that Wikileaks might move the registration of its domain name to a company outside the United States, making it more difficult for an American court to exercise jurisdiction over it. Bank Julius Baer had named Dynadot, a company in San Mateo, Calif., that was the registrar of the wikileaks.org domain name, as a defendant in the case, and the judge’s controversial order was aimed at Dynadot.
Garret D. Murai, a lawyer for Dynadot, said that as of Wednesday afternoon the owner of the domain name, John Shipton, had not transferred the domain name to a different registrar.
Roger Myers, a lawyer for Mr. Shipton, who is Australian and lives in Kenya, said his client may not yet have received word of Bank Julius Baer’s action.
Lawyers for the intervening parties in the case had threatened to try to recover legal fees in the case under a California law intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits, said Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer at Public Citizen who argued against the judge’s order at the hearing on Friday.
Mr. Levy said that the judge’s decision to withdraw his order would offer a powerful message in future cases in which plaintiffs might try to shut down Web sites because of the content they display.
“A judge who’s confronted with a request like the bank’s in the future is going to be much more reluctant to give this order,” Mr. Levy said. “The lesson of the case is going to be taken very seriously.”
Hollywood, Silicon Valley and AT&T? It’s a Deal
Laura M. Holson
Hollywood and Silicon Valley have something of a Mars/Venus problem: the two sides are talking but they don’t speak each other’s language. A new venture involving a phone company may just add Pluto into the mix.
On Monday, the William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent shop, will announce that it is teaming up with the Silicon Valley venture capital firms Accel Partners and Venrock to invest in digital media start-up companies based in Southern California. What makes the combination unusual, though, is the addition of AT&T as a limited partner.
While there has been a spate of deals recently as entertainment and technology companies try to capitalize on their shared interest in new media, many people view wireless carriers as too controlling, particularly when it comes to offering new software and content on today’s more sophisticated, Web-friendly cellphones.
This deal is an indication of how quickly online and mobile entertainment are transforming the wireless carriers and perhaps a recognition — on all sides — that a failure to act now could leave the partners vulnerable to interlopers who seek to upend their traditional businesses.
Susan Johnson, a senior vice president for business development at AT&T, who will be working with the alliance, said the convergence of media and technology was “as much an opportunity as a threat.”
Hollywood and Silicon Valley executives have had an uneasy relationship since the Internet boom of the late 1990s, when the promise of a new-media revolution failed to materialize. Scores of actors and directors piled into private jets to make the 300-mile pilgrimage from Los Angeles to Palo Alto, but they were unsuccessful at creating properties for the Web.
“There is always a fear, I know, that the bubble is about to burst when a parade of actors and actresses comes through my door,” said Jim Breyer, a board member of Marvel Entertainment and a partner at Accel, which invested early on in Facebook. “This time the discussions are much more rational.”
David Siminoff, a general partner at Venrock who invests in media companies, said, “The ethos of this fund is about reducing the friction.” Further, he added, “Hollywood people are not stupid. They are just not technology people.”
AT&T is not looking exclusively for content; the likes of CBS, ESPN and NBC already provide much of that for cellphones. Instead, it is hoping to invest in technologies that will make it easier to run ads on cellphones, as well as to nurture social networks like Facebook and MySpace, online hits that have migrated to hand-held devices.
AT&T has spread money around Hollywood before — it invested in the film producer Media Rights Capital — but those investments were largely passive.
The fund was the idea of James A. Wiatt, chief executive at William Morris, and Paul Bricault, who runs the agency’s consulting practice and has known Mr. Siminoff for years. The fund’s initial financing will be in the tens of millions of dollars, which it will use to start and invest seed money in fledgling companies interested in creating online content and technology for social networking, mobile games and advertising.
The founders also want flexibility. While investments are likely to be as small as $250,000, the founders would also consider financing companies that need millions of dollars. Although the emphasis of the fund is on Southern California, investments may be made in other areas.
The founders’ interests are varied. Ms. Johnson said AT&T was most interested in mobile applications, while Mr. Siminoff said he was looking for content or social networking companies with “emotional relevance” for consumers.
Richard Wolpert, a former president of Disney Online and the chief strategy officer at RealNetworks, a digital entertainment company, has been hired to oversee the fund. It will have an executive committee, with representatives from William Morris and its venture capital partners, and a larger investment committee to decide which companies get financing. “All of us are looking to bring ideas and contribute,” said Mr. Wiatt.
Talent agencies in the last year have taken different directions in their approach to new media. But if there is any question how important it is to the future, consider this: the Writers Guild of America effectively shut Hollywood for three months recently when it went on strike after demanding a greater share of new-media profits from producers.
Creative Artists Agency has been seeking venture capital partners ever since it paired with Sequoia Capital almost a year ago to help start the Will Farrell-backed Web site FunnyOrDie.com. Industry executives say Creative Artists has sought to raise as much as $150 million for a digital entertainment and technology fund. Other firms, like ICM and Endeavor, are interested in capitalizing on technology relationships, too.
By contrast, the advertising agency Spot Runner and the United Talent Agency helped start 60Frames, an online content creator and video producer. United Talent owns a stake in 60Frames, but the $3.5 million raised to finance projects came from private and institutional investors, said the chief executive of 60Frames, Brent Weinstein, and UTA has no hand in day-to-day operations.
“It was very important for 60Frames to be independent,” said Mr. Weinstein, who used to work at UTA.
Whatever the future prospects of the William Morris alliance, all involved hope a happy outcome will be something that cannot be valued on a spreadsheet: talk that leads to understanding. Ms. Johnson described herself as a technologist who knows little about Hollywood. “We’re not in it for the return on investment,” she said. “It is the dialogue.”
Or, as Mr. Bricault of William Morris put it: “Without our disparate skill sets, it is just another investment fund.”
The Scrabulous Deal Snag: Money
Update on the Scrabulous saga, which pits two Indian brothers against Electronic Arts (ERTS), RealNetworks (RNWK), Mattel (MAT), and Hasbro (HAS). All four U.S. companies have some claim to the rights of Scrabble, the game the Indian duo have turned into a successful Facebook app, but all four say they're willing to work with the brothers to keep a version of their game up and running.
The hold up? Money. A source familiar with the negotiations say Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla want too much.
What's the gap? The brothers say they're generating $25,000 a month, or $300,000 a year in revenue. A 10x-20x multiple on that would make Scrabulous worth $3-$6 million, but for argument's sake let's say they'll have a hockey stick growth curve, and that their game project could be worth more than $10 million.
Sound fair? Maybe. But our source says the brothers want a "multiple of several times that" $10 million, and the four corporations they're negotiating with think that's ridiculous.
Do the corporations have a vested interest in portraying the brothers as greedy IP pirates? You bet. Could the brothers make a claim that they've got the right to sell a game that uses the same rules as Scrabble, but under a different name? Maybe. On the other hand, if they fight this and lose, they could end up with nothing. So we'd bet this stand-off resolves sooner than later.
The Myth of the 'Transparent Society'
When I write and speak about privacy, I am regularly confronted with the mutual disclosure argument. Explained in books like David Brin's The Transparent Society, the argument goes something like this: In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, you'll know all about me, but I will also know all about you. The government will be watching us, but we'll also be watching the government. This is different than before, but it's not automatically worse. And because I know your secrets, you can't use my secrets as a weapon against me.
This might not be everybody's idea of utopia -- and it certainly doesn't address the inherent value of privacy -- but this theory has a glossy appeal, and could easily be mistaken for a way out of the problem of technology's continuing erosion of privacy. Except it doesn't work, because it ignores the crucial dissimilarity of power.
You cannot evaluate the value of privacy and disclosure unless you account for the relative power levels of the discloser and the disclosee.
If I disclose information to you, your power with respect to me increases. One way to address this power imbalance is for you to similarly disclose information to me. We both have less privacy, but the balance of power is maintained. But this mechanism fails utterly if you and I have different power levels to begin with.
An example will make this clearer. You're stopped by a police officer, who demands to see identification. Divulging your identity will give the officer enormous power over you: He or she can search police databases using the information on your ID; he or she can create a police record attached to your name; he or she can put you on this or that secret terrorist watch list. Asking to see the officer's ID in return gives you no comparable power over him or her. The power imbalance is too great, and mutual disclosure does not make it OK.
You can think of your existing power as the exponent in an equation that determines the value, to you, of more information. The more power you have, the more additional power you derive from the new data.
Another example: When your doctor says "take off your clothes," it makes no sense for you to say, "You first, doc." The two of you are not engaging in an interaction of equals.
This is the principle that should guide decision-makers when they consider installing surveillance cameras or launching data-mining programs. It's not enough to open the efforts to public scrutiny. All aspects of government work best when the relative power between the governors and the governed remains as small as possible -- when liberty is high and control is low. Forced openness in government reduces the relative power differential between the two, and is generally good. Forced openness in laypeople increases the relative power, and is generally bad.
Seventeen-year-old Erik Crespo was arrested in 2005 in connection with a shooting in a New York City elevator. There's no question that he committed the shooting; it was captured on surveillance-camera videotape. But he claimed that while being interrogated, Detective Christopher Perino tried to talk him out of getting a lawyer, and told him that he had to sign a confession before he could see a judge.
Perino denied, under oath, that he ever questioned Crespo. But Crespo had received an MP3 player as a Christmas gift, and surreptitiously recorded the questioning. The defense brought a transcript and CD into evidence. Shortly thereafter, the prosecution offered Crespo a better deal than originally proffered (seven years rather than 15). Crespo took the deal, and Perino was separately indicted on charges of perjury.
Without that recording, it was the detective's word against Crespo's. And who would believe a murder suspect over a New York City detective? That power imbalance was reduced only because Crespo was smart enough to press the "record" button on his MP3 player. Why aren't all interrogations recorded? Why don't defendants have the right to those recordings, just as they have the right to an attorney? Police routinely record traffic stops from their squad cars for their own protection; that video record shouldn't stop once the suspect is no longer a threat.
Cameras make sense when trained on police, and in offices where lawmakers meet with lobbyists, and wherever government officials wield power over the people. Open-government laws, giving the public access to government records and meetings of governmental bodies, also make sense. These all foster liberty.
Ubiquitous surveillance programs that affect everyone without probable cause or warrant, like the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping programs or various proposals to monitor everything on the internet, foster control. And no one is safer in a political system of control.
Phorm Fires Privacy Row for ISPs
Web users are up in arms over what they see as an invasion of privacy by a company that will track surfing patterns to serve targeted ads
Marc Burgess has the sound of a man trying to keep a pack at bay. "Our privacy claims have been audited by Ernst & Young; they have been through our system and seen that it does what we say it does," he says. "Privacy International have done a privacy impact assessment, and they will be doing spot checks. We have spoken to the Information Commissioner's Office. All of the privacy groups in the US, UK and Europe have been impressed by our approach."
The problem for the senior vice-president of technology at Phorm, an Aim-listed company which recently tied up a deal with the UK's three biggest internet service providers - BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk, who between them have more than 10 million customers - is that it's not the privacy groups who he really needs to convince. It's the millions of people whose services will be affected by Phorm's scheme, because some are up in arms over what they see as an invasion of their privacy through Phorm's intention to categorise all of their web-surfing habits in order to target online ads at them.
The essence of the Phorm scheme is straightforward. It will have equipment at ISPs that will track your activities on port 80 (used for the web) - though not to secure websites. With each site you visit it will capture the URL (and, for a search engine, the search terms too) plus enough of the header data from the page to "categorise" it into one of a number of areas. Anything longer than a three-digit number is thrown away. Your IP address is not captured, but a cookie with a unique number is set on your browser when you start using it, which persists into the future.
The data about what websites you tend to visit is then categorised to generate a profile. When you then visit a page whose adverts are sourced from the Open internet Exchange (oix.net) - set up by Phorm - your browser will see adverts targeted to your profile. (Adult, gambling, political, drugs and smoking-related adverts are not allowed.) Your browsing history is not retained; instead the profile for the cookie is refined as it "sees" more of your browsing. Sites that join OIX are told they will get a better per-click payment than with other services. (Disclosure: The Guardian is one of a number of media websites that are signed up to OIX.)
Users get one benefit: if they try to access a phishing site that is listed on a database available to Phorm, a warning will appear on the browser - though phishing sites not on the database won't trigger any warning.
News of the deal has leaked out ahead of the service's launch. BT says it will begin trialling soon with "a few thousand" customers, though the Guardian has learnt that BT and Phorm tested the service in secret last summer; at least one customer noticed (tinyurl.com/25jwn6) and began worrying that his machine had been infected by a Trojan. BT's support centre had not been told, but later said there was "an issue" affecting "a small number of users". BT denied any involvement with Phorm at the time. The lack of candour has now aroused the ire of many who have learnt about it, who see this as a matter of trust - and are not convinced that ISPs are earning that trust.
Part of the anger derives from Phorm's long and chequered history. In a previous incarnation, as 121Media, it distributed a program called PeopleOnPage, which was classified as spyware by F-Secure (tinyurl.com/yu7pae). Burgess insists it was adware: "Spyware is downloaded without you knowing. Our adware client you had to deliberately download and agree to an end-user licence agreement." (121Media became Phorm last May.)
But there'll be no EULA with this scheme. "The issue is that these ISPs have signed deals to allow a third party unfettered access to ALL of your web browsing," wrote clanger9 on the Guardian's Technology blog.
"Not just the URLs, but the content as well. The fact that they use this data to provide 'targeted advertising' and claim to discard it afterwards is irrelevant. All your browser content, webmail, forum postings, everything is being analysed by servers owned and controlled by a third party."
For many, the concept of someone seeing where you're going has uncomfortable echoes of AOL's disastrous leak in August 2006, when it mistakenly made available 2GB of data encompassing 20m search keywords for more than 650,000 users collected over a three-month period. Using just the clues from the searches, which used a unique ID for each searcher, journalists and bloggers were able to identify a number of them - demonstrating that even just your search habits (as Google only notes what you search for and what page you then go to) can profile you to a third party.
Phorm's challenge is that it is simultaneously trying to persuade the two sides of the argument - the would-be advertisers and the users - of two slightly different points.
Advertisers are told that it will be able to profile the surfers, based on where they have visited, and target them through that uniquely numbered cookie. But users are told they will not be identifiable. It's the apparent contradiction in those statements that has infuriated so many.
For that reason, those who have heard about it are demanding that the scheme should be opt-in - requiring you to choose to allow it - rather than opt-out. BT and Virgin Media told the Guardian this week that they had not yet decided on either. But it's clear that with millions of customers, the benefits would only accrue if millions take part - which will never happen in an opt-in scheme.
BT, which calls the scheme "Webwise" (webwise.bt.com), notes that you can turn off the monitoring by permanently blocking the cookie from oix.net, though of course you won't then get Phorm's warning about phishing sites. (Many browsers do have installable anti-phishing toolbars, however.) It also implies that the system will be opt-out, with one question saying: "I didn't switch on this service. Why do I have to switch it off?"
To which the given answer is: "We believe BT Webwise is an important improvement to your online experience - giving you better protection against online fraud and giving you more relevant advertising."
But it's potentially an improvement for the ISPs, too - by garnering them more money. For years they have had to sit by and watch while companies like Google, DoubleClick (now being bought by Google), Yahoo and Microsoft have analysed where people go online, and in the case of DoubleClick notice which adverts they are served and which they click on. (Your browser almost certainly has a cookie from doubleclick.net.) They've missed out on the billions of pounds of targeted advertising those companies, and the cookies they have placed (from which the AOL-Google data was drawn) have made.
And with budgets getting squeezed all the time, every ISP is eager to find new revenue sources. Phorm is understood to have contacted scores of ISPs around the world, making presentations about the potential benefits of its scheme.
Phorm's approach, in trying to create a network from the ground up that involves ISPs, advertisers and publishers, is certainly audacious. But one former employee told the Guardian that this typifies its approach: "I'm used to the culture of smart people, long hours and overall complexity but this was exponentially more true of Phorm. It was a 'get a Ferrari and lose your sanity' kind of deal."
Adding that Phorm was "very serious" about anonymising data, the former employee noted that the company has been in talks with the Home Office about whether its system would fall under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which is used for surveillance and crime prevention.
But there was also one unexplored possibility about the technology, the ex-employee noted: "The [Phorm] platform clearly has some edge-of-network technologies involved. It would be entirely feasible for an ISP to allow customers to opt out - and subsequently throttle their service."
Targeting the grail
That would be a worrying development; but it is the simple idea that a third party will be monitoring, even anonymously, where you go online that has spooked people. On the Virgin forums at cableforum.co.uk, 95% of those who answered a poll said they would opt out of the deal.
But they, of course, are only a tiny proportion of those whose data might be channeled through Phorm's servers. "This is the holy grail for advertisers," insists Burgess. "Privacy-friendly but targeted." But in their quest to grab that grail, might ISPs and Phorm have found the point at which users rebel?
Rick Karr On Government Secrecy
RICK KARR: You may not know James Risen's name, but you probably know his work: He's one of the NEW YORK TIMES reporters who broke the story of the Bush administration listening in to phone calls and reading email, without search warrants. That story infuriated some conservatives. A popular blog accused Risen and his co-author of treason for revealing sensitive information, and pundit William Bennett said the reporters deserved jail time.
Bennett may get his wish. A federal prosecutor has asked a grand jury to look into a book that Risen wrote. It details not only warrantless wiretapping but also how, when it came to covert operations in the Middle East, the Administration made "mistake piled on mistake" caused an "espionage disaster" and was "operating in the blind" when it came to Iran.
Risen was subpoenaed to tell a grand jury who he talked to about Iran — in other words, to reveal his anonymous sources. So far, the reporter has refused to talk. And recently, his lawyer moved to quash the subpoena. Some veteran investigative journalists wrote letters in support of that motion. One of them told me that if Risen is forced to testify, the public will be the real loser. Here's why: Anonymous sources have a lot to lose if their identities are revealed because a lot of them are powerful or prominent. So, if the Federal government can force a reporter like Risen to reveal their identities, those sources will clam up. There'd be more corruption and wrongdoing in Washington that the public would never learn about.
Administration officials seem not to mind keeping the public in the dark.
But for muckrakers and whistleblowers, it's getting harder and harder to expose corruption and wrongdoing.
Take the case of former FBI agent Sibel Edmonds: She blew the whistle on massive incompetence at the Bureau — sloppy translations, missed messages from terror suspects. She even alleged that insiders were leaking secrets to foreign agents. She lost her job for it.
Just after Congress got interested in her story — and a bipartisan group of Senators said they found her claims credible enough to warrant an investigation — the administration retroactively classified everything that she knew, pretty much shutting down any chance of an investigation. U.S. journalists have found it nearly impossible to look into her claims. Over the past year, there's been only one article on her in a major newspaper, and it simply announced that she'd won a freedom-of-speech award. Meanwhile, the TIMES OF LONDON has published three stories — just this year — digging into her claim that Administration officials sold secrets to foreign governments.
Sometimes the Administration's efforts to squelch critics seem downright petty: Reporters for the Web site TALKING POINTS MEMO, for example, led the way in showing how the Administration encouraged federal prosecutors to go after Democrats, but go easy on Republicans. So the Department of Justice kicked the web site off of its press list. A small thing, sure, but it rankled one member of the House enough that he asked Attorney General Michael Mukasey about it at a hearing. Mukasey's response? "I don't know."
Recently, the Department of Justice reinstated TALKING POINTS MEMO to its press list — right around the same time that the web site won an award for its reporting on the Department of Justice.
So, Administration officials stonewall lawmakers and try to silence critics — or just make their jobs harder. That's not news. But this time, a reporter could go to jail. The irony in James Risen's predicament is that he was one of the reporters who revealed that the Administration could never have secretly listened in on phone calls, or read emails, without help from big telecom firms — the conglomerates that supply most Americans with phone or Internet service. After the article appeared, civil-liberties advocates filed lawsuits against the conglomerates trying to hold them accountable for helping the Administration break the law. Just recently, the Senate voted to grant those telecom companies immunity from the lawsuits — to let them off the hook — while the reporter who'd exposed them fought to stay out of jail.
More FBI Privacy Violations Confirmed
Lara Jakes Jordan
The FBI acknowledged Wednesday it improperly accessed Americans' telephone records, credit reports and Internet traffic in 2006, the fourth straight year of privacy abuses resulting from investigations aimed at tracking terrorists and spies.
The breach occurred before the FBI enacted broad new reforms in March 2007 to prevent future lapses, FBI Director Robert Mueller said. And it was caused, in part, by banks, telecommunication companies and other private businesses giving the FBI more personal client data than was requested.
Testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Mueller raised the issue of the FBI's controversial use of so-called national security letters in reference to an upcoming report on the topic by the Justice Department's inspector general.
An audit by the inspector general last year found the FBI demanded personal records without official authorization or otherwise collected more data than allowed in dozens of cases between 2003 and 2005. Additionally, last year's audit found that the FBI had underreported to Congress how many national security letters were requested by more than 4,600.
The new audit, which examines use of national security letters issued in 2006, "will identify issues similar to those in the report issued last March," Mueller told senators. The privacy abuse "predates the reforms we now have in place," he said.
"We are committed to ensuring that we not only get this right, but maintain the vital trust of the American people," Mueller said. He offered no additional details about the upcoming audit.
National security letters, as outlined in the USA Patriot Act, are administrative subpoenas used in suspected terrorism and espionage cases. They allow the FBI to require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to produce highly personal records about their customers or subscribers without a judge's approval.
Last year's audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, issued March 9, 2007, blamed agent error and shoddy record-keeping for the bulk of the problems and did not find any indication of criminal misconduct. Fine's latest report is expected to be released as early as next week.
Several Justice Department and FBI officials familiar with the upcoming 2006 findings have said privately the new audit will show national security letters were used incorrectly at a similar rate as during the previous three years.
The number of national security letters issued by the FBI skyrocketed in the years after the Patriot Act became law in 2001, according to last year's report. Fine's annual review is required by Congress, over the objections of the Bush administration.
In 2005, for example, Fine's office found more than 1,000 violations within 19,000 FBI requests to obtain 47,000 records. Each letter issued may contain several requests.
In contrast to the strong concerns expressed by Congress and civil liberties groups after last year's inspector general's report was issued, Mueller's disclosure drew no criticism from senators during just over two hours of testimony Wednesday.
Speaking before the FBI chief, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., urged Mueller to be more vigilant in correcting what he called "widespread illegal and improper use of national security letters."
"Everybody wants to stop terrorists. But we also, though, as Americans, we believe in our privacy rights and we want those protected," Leahy said. "There has to be a better chain of command for this. You cannot just have an FBI agent who decides he'd like to obtain Americans' records, bank records or anything else and do it just because they want to."
Following last year's audit, the Justice Department enacted guidelines that sternly reminded FBI agents to carefully follow the rules governing national security letters. The new rules caution agents to review all data before it is transferred into FBI databases to make sure that only the information specifically requested is used.
Fine's upcoming report also credits the FBI with putting the additional checks in place to make sure privacy rights aren't violated, according to a Justice official familiar with its findings.
Critics seized on Mueller's testimony as proof that a judge should sign off on the national security letters before they are issued.
"The credibility factor shows there needs to be outside oversight," said former FBI agent Michael German, now a national security adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union. He also cast doubt on the FBI's reforms.
"There were guidelines before, and there were laws before, and the FBI violated those laws," German said. "And the idea that new guidelines would make a difference, I think cuts against rationality."
Bush Uses Veto on C.I.A. Tactics to Affirm Legacy
Steven Lee Myers
President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency’s latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques.
Mr. Bush vetoed a bill that would have explicitly prohibited the agency from using interrogation methods like waterboarding, a technique in which restrained prisoners are threatened with drowning and that has been the subject of intense criticism at home and abroad. Many such techniques are prohibited by the military and law enforcement agencies.
Mr. Bush’s veto deepens his battle with increasingly assertive Democrats in Congress over issues at the heart of his legacy. As his presidency winds down, he has made it clear he does not intend to bend in this or other confrontations with Congress on issues from the war in Iraq to contempt charges against his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and former counsel, Harriet E. Miers.
Mr. Bush announced the veto in the usual format of his weekly radio address, which is distributed to stations across the country each Saturday. In his remarks, he unflinchingly defended an interrogation program that has prompted critics to accuse him not only of authorizing torture previously but also of refusing to ban it in the future. “Because the danger remains,” he said, referring to threats from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, “we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists.”
Mr. Bush’s veto — the ninth of his presidency, but the eighth in the last 10 months with Democrats in control of Congress — underscored his determination to preserve many of the executive prerogatives his administration has claimed in the name of fighting terrorism, and to cement them into law.
Mr. Bush is now fighting with Congress over the expansion of powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and over the depth of the American security commitments to Iraq once the United Nations mandate for the international forces there expires at the end of the year.
The administration has also moved ahead with the first military tribunals of those detained at Guantánamo Bay, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, despite calls to try them in civilian courts.
The debate has left the C.I.A. at odds with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies, whose officials have testified that harsh interrogation methods are either unnecessary or counterproductive. The agency’s director, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, issued a statement to employees after Mr. Bush’s veto defending the program as legal, saying that the Army Field Manual did not “exhaust the universe of lawful interrogation techniques.”
All are issues that turn on presidential powers and all will define Mr. Bush’s legacy. And as he has through most of his presidency, he built his case on the threat of terrorism.
“The fact that we have not been attacked over the past six and a half years is not a matter of chance,” Mr. Bush said in his radio remarks, echoing comments he made Thursday at a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. “We have no higher responsibility than stopping terrorist attacks,” he added. “And this is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe.”
The bill Mr. Bush vetoed would have limited all American interrogators to techniques allowed in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation, which prohibits physical force against prisoners.
Democrats, who supported the legislation as part of a larger bill that authorized a vast array of intelligence programs, criticized the veto sharply, but they do not have the votes to override it.
“This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good,” one of its sponsors, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, said in a statement on Friday when it became clear that Mr. Bush intended to carry out his veto threat. “Yet, he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future. The United States is not well served by this.”
The Senate’s majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said that Mr. Bush disregarded the advice of military commanders, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, who argued that the military’s interrogation techniques were effective and that the use of any others could create risks for any future American prisoners of war.
“He has rejected the Army Field Manual’s recognition that such horrific tactics elicit unreliable information, put U.S. troops at risk and undermine our counterinsurgency efforts,” Mr. Reid said in a statement. Democrats vowed to raise the matter again.
Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has been an outspoken opponent of torture from his own experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. In this case he supported the administration’s position, arguing as Mr. Bush did on Saturday that the legislation would have limited the C.I.A.’s ability to gather intelligence.
Mr. Bush said the agency should not be bound by rules written for soldiers in combat, as opposed to highly trained experts dealing with hardened terrorists. The bill’s supporters countered that the legislation would have banned only a handful of techniques whose effectiveness was in dispute in any case.
The administration has also said that waterboarding is no longer in use, though officials acknowledged last month that it had been used in three instances before the middle of 2003, including against Mr. Mohammed. Officials have left vague the question of whether it could be authorized again.
Mr. Bush said, as he had previously, that information from the C.I.A.’s interrogations had averted terrorist attacks, including plots to attack a Marine camp in Djibouti, the American Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, Library Tower in Los Angeles and passenger planes from Britain. He maintained that the techniques involved — the exact nature of which remained classified as secret — were “safe and lawful.”
“Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland,” he said.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, disputed that assertion on Saturday. “As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevent an imminent terrorist attack,” he said in a statement.
The handling of detainees since 2001 has dogged the administration politically, but Mr. Bush and his aides have barely conceded any ground to critics, even in the face of legal challenges, as happened with the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay or the warrantless wiretapping.
At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.
Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Bush’s actions were consistent with his efforts to expand executive power and to protect the results of those efforts. Some, he said, could easily be undone — with a Democratic president signing a bill like the one he vetoed Saturday, for example — but the more Mr. Bush accomplished now, the more difficult that would be. “Every administration is concerned with protecting the power of the presidency,” he said. “This president has done that with a lot more vigor.”
Representative Bill Delahunt, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has been holding hearings on the administration’s negotiations with Iraq over the legal status of American troops in Iraq beyond Mr. Bush’s presidency. He said that the administration had rebuffed demands to bring any agreement to Congress for approval, and had largely succeeded.
“They’re excellent at manipulating the arguments so that if Congress should assert itself, members expose themselves to charges of being soft, not tough enough on terrorism,” he said. “My view is history is going to judge us all.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.
See Dick hide
Chicago Links School Cameras to 911 Center
Mayor announces system, says program will provide 'comprehensive' security
More than 4,500 cameras in Chicago public schools are being connected to police headquarters and the city's 911 center in a technological upgrade designed to improve safety, officials said Thursday.
In an emergency, arriving officers also will be able to view real-time images from the cameras on screens in their squad cars.
"The key is getting the information to the police officer in that car," said Mayor Richard Daley.
Cameras belonging to the Chicago Transit Authority and other public agencies have been linked to the city's 911 center, and devices in some public buildings also have been connected as Daley seeks to consolidate video surveillance.
The mayor, who made the announcement at a news conference Thursday at police headquarters, said that when the school camera program is completed in the next few months, Chicago "will have a comprehensive school security system that will make it far easier for us to respond more quickly and effectively to any emergency at a school building."
Cameras are installed at about 200 of Chicago's 650 public schools, including all high schools and some administrative buildings.
Until now, they have been monitored only at the Board of Education's central office.
The city is using $418,000 in federal Homeland Security funding to make the new connections.
"Many of the schools have different types of systems," said Cmdr. Jonathan Lewin, the Police Department's technology chief. "Schools are of varying ages. Some have systems over 10 years old ... That all had to be integrated together to a common platform."
Routine monitoring will occur on cameras mounted outside buildings, with viewing of images from cameras inside the schools only during emergencies, Daley said.
The mayor acknowledged the cameras provide only limited security, citing a spate of shootings in recent days that have claimed young victims during after-school hours.
Back at City Hall on Thursday, angry aldermen complained to Daley administration officials that bureaucratic snafus and foot-dragging have affected Police Department staffing.
Fifty police recruits who were told by the department to prepare to begin training on Feb. 19 instead won't start classes until May 19. And 50 veteran officers who were supposed to be freed from office jobs to street duty still are behind desks because civilians have not yet been hired to take their places, aldermen said at a meeting of the council's Police and Fire Committee.
Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), committee chairman, blamed the city Budget Department.
"It appears the budget office for some reason decided to slow down hiring," he said.
"You had young recruits who thought they were being hired ... and they showed up and then were told literally to just go home and weren't even told when to come back. That's unfortunate."
Meanwhile a "bureaucratic maze" is "preventing civilians from being hired for those administrative jobs," Carothers said.
Consider them inkled
National Dragnet Is a Click Away
Authorities to Gain Fast and Expansive Access to Records
Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Ellen Nakashima
Several thousand law enforcement agencies are creating the foundation of a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information to fight crime and root out terror plots.
As federal authorities struggled to meet information-sharing mandates after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police agencies from Alaska and California to the Washington region poured millions of criminal and investigative records into shared digital repositories called data warehouses, giving investigators and analysts new power to discern links among people, patterns of behavior and other hidden clues.
Those network efforts will begin expanding further this month, as some local and state agencies connect to a fledgling Justice Department system called the National Data Exchange, or N-DEx. Federal authorities hope N-DEx will become what one called a "one-stop shop" enabling federal law enforcement, counterterrorism and intelligence analysts to automatically examine the enormous caches of local and state records for the first time.
Although Americans have become accustomed to seeing dazzling examples of fictional crime-busting gear on television and in movies, law enforcement's search for clues has in reality involved a mundane mix of disjointed computers, legwork and luck.
These new systems are transforming that process. "It's going from the horse-and-buggy days to the space age, that's what it's like," said Sgt. Chuck Violette of the Tucson police department, one of almost 1,600 law enforcement agencies that uses a commercial data-mining system called Coplink.
With Coplink, police investigators can pinpoint suspects by searching on scraps of information such as nicknames, height, weight, color of hair and the placement of a tattoo. They can find hidden relationships among suspects and instantly map links among people, places and events. Searches that might have taken weeks or months -- or which might not have been attempted, because of the amount of paper and analysis involved -- are now done in seconds.
On one recent day, Tucson detective Cynthia Butierez demonstrated that power in an office littered with paper and boxes of equipment. Using a regular desktop computer and Web browser, she logged onto Coplink to search for clues about a fraud suspect. She entered a name the suspect used on a bogus check. A second later, a list of real names came up, along with five incident reports.
She told the system to also search data warehouses built by Coplink in San Diego and Orange County, Calif. -- which have agreements to share with Tucson -- and came up with the name of a particular suspect, his age and a possible address. She asked the software to find the suspect's links to other people and incidents, and then to create a visual chart displaying the findings. Up popped a display with the suspect at the center and cartoon-like images of houses, buildings and people arrayed around him. A final click on one of the houses brought up the address of an apartment and several new names, leads she could follow.
"The power behind what we have discovered, what we can do with Coplink, is immense," Tucson police Chief Richard Miranda said. "The kinds of things you saw in the movies then, we're actually doing now."
The expanding police systems illustrate the prominent roles that private companies play in homeland security and counterterrorism efforts. They also underscore how the use of new data -- and data surveillance -- technology to fight crime and terrorism is evolving faster than the public's understanding or the laws intended to check government power and protect civil liberties, authorities said.
Three decades ago, Congress imposed limits on domestic intelligence activity after revelations that the FBI, Army, local police and others had misused their authority for years to build troves of personal dossiers and monitor political activists and other law-abiding Americans.
Since those reforms, police and federal authorities have observed a wall between law enforcement information-gathering, relating to crimes and prosecutions, and more open-ended intelligence that relates to national security and counterterrorism. That wall is fast eroding following the passage of laws expanding surveillance authorities, the push for information-sharing networks, and the expectation that local and state police will play larger roles as national security sentinels.
Law enforcement and federal security authorities said these developments, along with a new willingness by police to share information, hold out the promise of fulfilling post-Sept. 11, 2001, mandates to connect the dots and root out signs of threats before attacks can occur.
"A guy that's got a flat tire outside a nuclear facility in one location means nothing," said Thomas E. Bush III, the FBI's assistant director of the criminal justice information services division. "Run the guy and he's had a flat tire outside of five nuclear facilities and you have a clue."
In a paper called "Intelligence-Led Policing: The New Intelligence Architecture," law enforcement authorities working with the Justice Department said officers " 'on the beat' are an excellent resource for gathering information on all kinds of potential threats and vulnerabilities."
"Despite the many definitions of 'intelligence' that have been promulgated over the years, the simplest and clearest of these is 'information plus analysis equals intelligence,' " the paper said.
Efforts by federal authorities to create national networks have had mixed success.
The federal government has long successfully operated programs such as the Regional Information Sharing System, which enables law enforcement agencies to communicate, and the National Crime Information Center, an index of criminal justice information that police across the country can access. Though successful, those systems offer a relatively limited look at existing records.
A Department of Homeland Security project to expand sharing substantially, called the Information Network, has been bedeviled by cost overruns, poor planning and ambivalence on the part of local and state authorities, according to the Government Accountability Office. Almost every state has established organizations known as intelligence fusion centers to collect, analyze and share information about possible leads. But many of those centers are underfunded and undermanned, and some of the analysts are not properly trained, the GAO said last year.
Federal authorities have high hopes for the N-DEx system, which is to begin phasing in as early as this month. They envision a time when N-DEx, developed by Raytheon for $85 million, will enable 200,000 state and local investigators, as well as federal counterterrorism investigators, to search across millions of police reports, in some 15,000 state and local agencies, with a few clicks of a computer mouse. Those reports will include names of suspects, associates, victims, persons of interest, witnesses and any other person named in an incident, arrest, booking, parole or probation report.
The system will be accessible to federal law-enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, and state fusion centers. Intelligence analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center and FBI's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Center likely will have access to the system as well.
"The goal is to create a one-stop shop for criminal justice information," the FBI's Bush said.
In the meantime, local and state authorities have charged ahead with their own networks, sometimes called "nodes," and begun stitching them together through legal agreements and electronic links.
At least 1,550 jurisdictions across the country use Coplink systems, through some three dozen nodes. That's a huge increase from 2002, when Coplink was first available commercially.
At least 400 other agencies are sharing information and doing link analysis through the Law Enforcement Information Exchange, or Linx, a Navy Criminal Investigative Service project built by Northrop Grumman using commercial technology. Linx users include more than 100 police forces in the District, Virginia and Maryland.
Hundreds of other police agencies across the country are using different information-sharing systems with varying capabilities. Officials in Ohio have created a data warehouse containing the police records of nearly 800 jurisdictions, while leaving it to local departments to provide analytical tools.
Same Data, New Results
Authorities are aware that all of this is unsettling to people worried about privacy and civil liberties. Mark D. Rasch, a former federal prosecutor who is now a security consultant for FTI Consulting, said that the mining of police information by intelligence agencies could lead to improper targeting of U.S. citizens even when they've done nothing wrong.
Some officials avoid using the term intelligence because of those sensitivities. Others are open about their aim to use information and technology in new ways.
One widely used Coplink product is called Intel Lead. It enables agencies to enter new information, tips or observations into the data warehouses, which can then be accessed by people with proper authority. Another service under development, called "predictor," would use data and software to make educated guesses about what could happen.
"Intel Lead is particularly applicable to the needs of statewide criminal intelligence and antiterrorism fusion centers as well as federal agencies who need to bridge the intelligence gap," said a news release by Knowledge Computing, the company that makes Coplink.
Robert Griffin, the chief executive of Knowledge Computing, said Coplink yields clues and patterns they otherwise would not see. "It's de facto intelligence that's actionable," Griffin said.
Managers of Linx are eager to distinguish their system from the commercial Coplink and its more extensive capabilities. They acknowledge their system includes data-analysis capabilities, and it will feed information to counterterrorism and intelligence authorities. In fact, the system is designed to serve as a bridge between law enforcement and intelligence.
But they said Linx is not an intelligence system under federal laws, because it relies on records police have always kept. "It does not create intelligence," said Michael Dorsey, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent in charge. "It creates knowledge."
To allay the public's fears, many police agencies segregate information collected in the process of enforcing the law from intelligence gathered on gangs, drug dealers and the like. Projects receiving federal funding must do so.
Nearly every state and local jurisdiction has its own guides for these new systems, rules that include restrictions intended to protect against police intrusiveness, authorities said. The systems also automatically keep track of how police use them.
N-DEx, too, will have restrictions aimed at preventing the abuse of the data it gathers. FBI officials said that agencies seeking access to N-DEx would be vetted, and that only authorized individuals would have access. Audit trails on whoever touches a piece of data would be kept. And no investigator would be allowed to take action -- make an arrest, for instance -- based on another agency's data without first checking with that agency.
But even some advocates of information-sharing technology worry that without proper oversight and enforceable restrictions the new networks pose a threat to basic American values by giving police too much power over information. Timothy Sample, a former intelligence official who runs the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, is among those who think computerized information-sharing is critical to national security but fraught with risks.
"As a nation, our laws have not kept up," said Sample, whose group serves as a professional association of intelligence officials in the government and intelligence contracting executives in the private sector.
Thomas McNamara, chief of the federal Information Sharing Environment office, said a top goal of federal officials is persuading regional systems to adopt most of the federal rules, both for privacy and to build a sense of confidence among law enforcement authorities who might be reluctant to share widely because of security concerns.
"Part of the challenge is to leverage these cutting-edge tools so we can securely and appropriately share that information which supports efforts to protect our communities from future terrorist attacks," McNamara said. "Equally important is that we do so in a manner that fully protects the information privacy and legal rights of all Americans."
Miranda, the Tucson police chief, said there's no overstating the utility of Coplink for his force. But he too acknowledges that such power raises new questions about how to keep it in check and ensure that the trust people place in law enforcement is not misplaced.
"I don't want the people in my community to feel we're behind every little tree and surveilling them," he said. "If there's any kind of inkling that we're misusing our power and our technology, that trust will be destroyed."
Montgomery's Finest Won't Pay Fines
Among the thousands of drivers who have been issued $40 fines after being nabbed by Montgomery County's new speed cameras are scores of county police officers. The difference is, many of the officers are refusing to pay.
The officers are following the advice of their union, which says the citations are issued not to the driver but to the vehicle's owner -- in this case, the county.
That view has rankled Police Chief J. Thomas Manger and County Council Member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who chairs the Public Safety Committee.
"You can't have one set of laws for police officers and another one for the rest of the world," Andrews said.
In recent weeks, officers have twice been photographed speeding past a camera and extending a middle finger, an act that police supervisors interpreted as a gesture of defiance. "There is no excuse for that kind of behavior," said Andrews, who was briefed on the incidents.
During the last eight months of 2007, the department's cameras recorded 224 instances in which county police vehicles were nabbed traveling more than 10 mph over the speed limit, the department disclosed this week in response to an inquiry from The Washington Post.
Of those citations, 76 were dismissed after supervisors determined that officers were responding to calls or had other valid reasons to exceed the speed limit. Nearly two-thirds of the remaining 148 fines have not been paid, including an unspecified number that remain under investigation, said Lt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman. He said the number of citations issued to police employees this year is not yet available.
Officer Mark Zifcak, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, did not respond to an e-mail and two phone messages this week seeking comment. In a notice posted on its Web site, the union advises that "members should not pay or set court dates for speed camera citations that are issued to the employer."
Manger is demanding that officers pay the fines, a request that has met stiff opposition from union leaders and has been ignored by some sergeants who were asked to investigate whether officers nabbed by the cameras had a valid reason to speed.
"We are not above the law," Manger said in an interview. "It is imperative that the police department hold itself to the same standards that we're holding the public to."
Officials at the county's fire department, sheriff's office and four municipal police departments said employees who have been caught speeding in government vehicles have paid the fines.
"The only time we don't make them pay the fine is if they're on an emergency call," Sheriff Raymond M. Kight said. "We haven't had any resistance at all."
The dispute over the citations is the latest in a series of confrontations between county police commanders and the union, which has become increasingly powerful in recent years.
Leaders of the police union recently filed a grievance arguing that the citations constitute a change in labor conditions that the department must negotiate with the union before implementing.
Some sergeants, who are covered by the union, have refused to investigate whether infractions occurred when officers were responding to calls, forcing commanders to turn to lieutenants, who are not represented by the union, according to two law enforcement sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the cases are being investigated as personnel matters.
The sources said the cruiser in one of the incidents in which a vulgar gesture was made was assigned to Michael Simpson, an officer in Wheaton. One of the sources said Simpson appears to have been responding to a call in January when he was traveling at more than 80 mph on Randolph Road.
Simpson received speed camera citations in November and December, according to a database of citations obtained under a public records request.
Simpson did not respond to an e-mail message seeking comment, and efforts to contact him through the department's media office were unsuccessful.
Supervisors at the three municipal police departments in the county that operate speed cameras -- Gaithersburg, Rockville and Chevy Chase Village -- said employees have not resisted paying fines.
"We hold them responsible," said Rockville Police Capt. Bob Rappoport, whose department has received about a half-dozen citations. "Our officers have paid out of their own pockets."
Gaithersburg and Rockville officers are not represented by the same union as county police officers, and the Chevy Chase Village police do not have a union.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who said he received and paid for a speed camera citation recently, said that he disagrees with the county police union's position but that he is confident that Manger will hold his officers accountable.
Under the law, owners of vehicles, not drivers, are punished for failure to pay fines. Manger said, however, that officers who continue to ignore citations might be disciplined.
Montgomery is the only county in Maryland that is authorized to use cameras to enforce speed limits, but legislation is moving through the General Assembly this year to allow speed cameras statewide.
A bill introduced by Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration would allow local jurisdictions to use speed cameras in residential neighborhoods, near schools and on highways with construction work. The Senate could vote on the measure as early as next week.
US Military Bans Google Map-Makers
The US Defence Department has banned Google map-making teams from making detailed street-level video maps of American military bases after images of one ended up on the popular internet site.
A message sent to all defence department bases and installations around the country late last week told officials not to allow the mapping website from taking panoramic views inside the facilities.
Google said taking such pictures was against its policy and the incident was a mistake.
The issue emerged just a few days after reports suggested that British protesters used Google Earth to help plot access to the roof of the Houses of Parliament.
Air Force General Gene Renuart, chief of the US Northern Command, said the decision to issue a formal ban was made after at least one Google crew requested and was then permitted access to a base.
He said he was concerned that allowing the 360-degree, street-level view could provide sensitive information to potential adversaries and endanger servicemen and women.
He said such views could show "where all the guards are, it shows how the barriers go up and down, it shows how to get in and out of buildings, and I think that poses a real security risk to our military installations".
Google spokesman Larry Yu said a crew mistakenly asked for access to a base, and base officials agreed.
"It is against our policy to request access to military bases for the purpose of capturing imagery in Street View," he said.
He said that when Google was contacted about the issue, the imagery was taken off the site within about 24 hours.
Air Force Cyber Command's New Weapon: DMCA Notices
It's cyber war! Lawyers representing the Air Force's elite electronic warriors have sent YouTube a DMCA takedown notice demanding the removal of the 30-second spot the Air Force created to promote its nascent Cyber Command. We'd uploaded the video to share with THREAT LEVEL readers.
How quickly alliances shift in the murky new world of Cyberarmageddon. It was just last month that the Air Force sent us the ad, and thanked THREAT LEVEL for agreeing to run it. The spot shows earnest airmen deftly thwarting a hacker attack on the Pentagon using Minority Report-type touch-and-drag screens. I'm certain hundreds, if not thousands, of geeks have already enlisted as a result of our patriotic shilling for the Air Force.
Now, though, it seems we're just another cyber enemy to be squashed like so many Chinese DDoSers or unsanctioned blogs. Was it something I said?
But Air Force marketing chief Keith Lebling, who sent us the spot in the first place, says any intellectual property claim should have gone through his office, and none did.
U.S. Government works aren't even copyrightable. YouTube doesn't know that -- presumably because it has no lawyers -- and it's taken down the video. A spokeswoman said in an e-mail that the Google-owned service has no choice but to comply with DMCA notices. That's not quite right, though. YouTube has no legal obligation to remove non-infringing content.
Fortunately, we have our own servers. You can see the restored Cyber Command ad below. Catch it before someone drops an EMP bomb down our chimney.
Update: YouTube has sent along the DMCA notice (.pdf). It's signed by Meredith Pikser, an attorney with international law firm Reed Smith LLP, on behalf of the Air Force.
Steve Jobs Made Me Miss My Flight
Or: On my way to San Jose.
On waking, I reach for my blackberry. It tells me what city I'm in; the hotel rooms offer no clues. Every Courtyard by Marriott is interchangeable. Many doors into the same house. From the size of my suitcase, I can recall the length of my stay: one or two days, the small bag. Three or four, the large. Two bags means more than a week.
CNBC, shower, coffee, email. Quick breakfast, $10.95 (except in California, where it's $12.95. Another clue.)
Getting there is the worst part. Flying is an endless accumulation of indignities. Airlines learned their human factors from hospitals. I've adapted my routine to minimize hassles.
Park in the same level of the same ramp. Check in at the less-used kiosks in the transit level. Check my bag so I don't have to fuck around with the overhead bins. I'd rather dawdle at the carousel than drag the thing around the terminal anyway.
Always the frequent flyer line at the security checkpoint. Sometimes there's an airline person at the entrance of that line to check my boarding pass, sometimes not. An irritation. I'd rather it was always, or never. Sometimes means I don't know if I need my boarding pass out or not.
Same words to the TSA agent. Standard responses. "Doing fine," whether I am or not. Same belt. It's gone through the metal detector every time. I don't need to take it off.
Only... today, something is different. Instead of my bags trundling through the x-ray machine, she stops the belt. Calls over another agent, a palaver. Another agent flocks to the screen. A gabble, a conference, some consternation.
They pull my laptop, my new laptop making its first trip with me, out of the flow of bags. One takes me aside to a partitioned cubicle. Another of the endless supply of TSA agents takes the rest of my bags to a different cubicle. No yellow brick road here, just a pair of yellow painted feet on the floor, and my flight is boarding. I am made to understand that I should stand and wait. My laptop is on the table in front of me, just beyond reach, like I am waiting to collect my personal effects after being paroled.
I'm standing, watching my laptop on the table, listening to security clucking just behind me. "There's no drive," one says. "And no ports on the back. It has a couple of lines where the drive should be," she continues.
A younger agent, joins the crew. I must now be occupying ten, perhaps twenty, percent of the security force. At this checkpoint anyway. There are three score more at the other five checkpoints. The new arrival looks at the printouts from x-ray, looks at my laptop sitting small and alone. He tells the others that it is a real laptop, not a "device". That it has a solid-state drive instead of a hard disc. They don't know what he means. He tries again, "Instead of a spinning disc, it keeps everything in flash memory." Still no good. "Like the memory card in a digital camera." He points to the x-ray, "Here. That's what it uses instead of a hard drive."
The senior agent hasn't been trained for technological change. New products on the market? They haven't been TSA approved. Probably shouldn't be permitted. He requires me to open the "device" and run a program. I do, and despite his inclination, the lead agent decides to release me and my troublesome laptop. My flight is long gone now, so I head for the service center to get rebooked.
Behind me, I hear the younger agent, perhaps not realizing that even the TSA must obey TSA rules, repeating himself.
"It's a MacBook Air."
Anthrax Reporter Held in Contempt
A federal judge held a former USA Today reporter in contempt of court Friday and ordered her to pay up to $5,000 a day if she refuses to identify her sources for stories about a former Army scientist under scrutiny in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said Toni Locy must pay fines out of her own pocket as long as she continues to defy his order that she cooperate in scientist Steven J. Hatfill's lawsuit against the government.
Hatfill accuses the Justice Department of violating his privacy by discussing the investigation with reporters.
Locy had asked that a contempt citation be delayed while she appeals to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The judge refused.
Starting at midnight Tuesday, Locy is ordered to pay fines of $500 a day for the first week, $1,000 a day for the second week and $5,000 thereafter until she appears before the judge on April 3.
''To maximize the potential that Ms. Locy will ultimately comply with the court's order ... Ms. Locy is required to personally bear the responsibility of paying the fine the court imposed,'' Walton wrote.
Locy ''is precluded from accepting any monetary or other form of reimbursement,'' the judge added.
Locy, 48, is a former Associated Press reporter who wrote about Hatfill while working at USA Today.
''I'm terribly disappointed in the judge's ruling,'' said Locy, now a professor at West Virginia University's journalism school. ''I had hoped he would reconsider this draconian sanction.''
In his decision, the judge said that further delay of a case that is already over four years old ''may very likely prejudice Dr. Hatfill, with the potential result being the erosion of his ability to effectively establish'' his Privacy Act claims.
''When weighing ... Dr. Hatfill's need to identify the leakers before their memories are exhausted against Ms. Locy's desire to preserve her ability to pursue her appeal, her interest, at a minimum, is counterbalanced by Dr. Hatfill's,'' the judge added.
Explaining his rationale for making Locy pay the money out of her own funds, the judge pointed to statements Hatfill's lawyers made in court papers. Hatfill's legal team said that while Locy's reporting was conducted ''within the scope of her employment for USA Today, her contempt was not. It began long after she left the employment of USA Today.''
Five people were killed and 17 sickened when anthrax was mailed to Capitol Hill lawmakers and members of the news media just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called Hatfill, who worked at the Army's infectious diseases laboratory from 1997 to 1999, ''a person of interest'' in the investigation.
Walton ruled in August that five journalists must identify the government officials who discussed details about the case. Though reporters said testifying would chill the flow of information, Walton said that fear is outweighed by Hatfill's rights in his Privacy Act lawsuit.
Three reporters cooperated after their sources identified themselves to Hatfill's lawyers. Locy says she cannot remember whom she talked to about Hatfill specifically and is refusing to identify all the sources she spoke to about anthrax generally.
The judge is also considering whether to find former CBS reporter James Stewart in contempt.
Stewart says that his cooperation is no longer necessary since several law enforcement officials have already acknowledged talking to reporters in the case about information similar to what Stewart reported.
Nobody was charged with the anthrax attacks and Hatfill's lawyers say the Justice Department destroyed his good name by discussing details of the case with reporters. Walton has scheduled time for settlement negotiations that could head off a trial, but Hatfill's attorneys have said it appears unlikely they will settle.
Chinese Hackers: No Site is Safe
They operate from a bare apartment on a Chinese island. They are intelligent 20-somethings who seem harmless. But they are hard-core hackers who claim to have gained access to the world's most sensitive sites, including the Pentagon.
The leader of these Chinese hackers says there "is always a weakness" on networks that allows cyber break-ins.
In fact, they say they are sometimes paid secretly by the Chinese government -- a claim the Beijing government denies.
"No Web site is one hundred percent safe. There are Web sites with high-level security, but there is always a weakness," says Xiao Chen, the leader of this group.
"Xiao Chen" is his online name. Along with his two colleagues, he does not want to reveal his true identity. The three belong to what some Western experts say is a civilian cyber militia in China, launching attacks on government and private Web sites around the world. Watch hackers' clandestine Chinese operation »
If there is a profile of a cyber hacker, these three are straight from central casting -- young and thin, with skin pale from spending too many long nights in front of a computer.
One hacker says he is a former computer operator in the People's Liberation Army; another is a marketing graduate; and Xiao Chen says he is a self-taught programmer.
"First, you must know about the Web site you want to attack. You must know what program it is written with," says Xiao Chen. "There is a saying, 'Know about both yourself and the enemy, and you will be invincible.'"
CNN decided to withhold the address of these hackers' Web site, but Xiao Chen says it has been operating for more than three years, with 10,000 registered users. The site offers tools, articles, news and flash tutorials about hacking.
Private computer experts in the United States from iDefense Security Intelligence, which provides cybersecurity advice to governments and Fortune 500 companies, say the group's site "appears to be an important site in the broader Chinese hacking community."
Arranging a meeting with the hackers took weeks of on-again, off-again e-mail exchanges. When they finally agreed, CNN was told to meet them on the island of Zhoushan, just south of Shanghai and a major port for China's navy.
The apartment has cement floors and almost no furniture. What they do have are three of the latest computers. They are cautious when it comes to naming the Web sites they have hacked.
But eventually Xiao Chen claims two of his colleagues -- not the ones with him in the room -- have hacked into the Pentagon and downloaded information, although he wouldn't specify what was gleaned. CNN has no way to confirm if his claim is true.
"They would not publicize this," he says of someone who hacks the U.S. Defense Department. "It is very sensitive."
This week, the Pentagon said computer networks in the United States, Germany, Britain and France were hit last year by what they call "multiple intrusions," many of them originating from China.
At a congressional hearing in Washington last week, administration officials testified that the government's cyber initiative has fallen far short of what is required. Most alarming, the officials said, there has never been a full damage assessment of federal agency networks. Watch Pentagon bans Google from bases »
"We are here today because we must do more," said Robert Jamison, a top official in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. "Defending the federal system in its current configuration is a significant challenge."
U.S. officials have been cautious not to directly accuse the Chinese military or its government of hacking into its network.
But David Sedney, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, says, "The way these intrusions are conducted are certainly consistent with what you would need if you were going to actually carry out cyber warfare."
Beijing hit back at that, denying such an allegation and calling on the United States to provide proof. "If they have any evidence, I hope they would provide it. Then, we can cooperate on this issue," Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said during a regular press briefing this week.
But Xiao Chen says after the alleged Pentagon attack, his colleagues were paid by the Chinese government. Again, CNN has no way to independently confirm if that is true.
His allegations brought strenuous denials from Beijing. "I am telling you honestly, the Chinese government does not do such a thing," Qin said.
But if Xiao Chen is telling the truth, it appears his colleagues launched a freelance attack -- not initiated by Beijing, but paid for after the fact. "These hacker groups in my opinion are not agents of the Chinese state," says James Mulvenon from the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, which works with the U.S. intelligence community.
"They are sort of useful idiots for the Beijing regime."
He adds, "These young hackers are tolerated by the regime provided that they do not conduct attacks inside of China."
One of the biggest problems experts say is trying to prove where a cyber attack originates from, and that they say allows hackers like Xiao Chen to operate in a virtual world of deniability.
And across China, there could be thousands just like him, all trying to prove themselves against some of the most secure Web sites in the world.
Pentagon Attack Last June Stole an "Amazing Amount" of Data
On June 22, 2007, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that the Pentagon's network had been successfully attacked the previous Wednesday, and that this attack was responsible for a disruption in email service to some 1,500 Pentagon employees. At the time, Gates downplayed the attack, saying that it affected only the OSD's (Office of the Secretary of Defense) non-classified e-mail service and that there was "no anticipated adverse impact on ongoing operations." It seems that the adverse impact of the June attack may have been much greater than Gates' early guidance implied. According to a top DoD technology official quoted at GovernmentExecutive.com, the thieves behind that attack seized an "amazing amount" of data.
New details on the attack itself have become available in the months since it occurred. According to Dennis Clem, CIO of the Pentagon and the OSD, the intrusion was first detected during an IT restructuring that was underway at the time. By the time it was detected, malicious code had been in the system for at least two months, and was propagating via a known Windows exploit. The bug spread itself by e-mailing malicious payloads from one system on the network to another. The messages themselves were spoofed and appeared to be legitimate missives from other employees. Once the recipient opened an infected e-mail, the worm sent that person's password and other login credentials back to home base.
The government isn't saying what, exactly, got stolen. There's no evidence to contradict Secretary Gates' claim that the classified e-mail system remained unaffected, but data that Clem describes as "sensitive" was accessed and encrypted before being transmitted to the hackers' location. As for where that location might be, unconfirmed reports point towards China's People's Liberation Army. China, of course, has vehemently denied any knowledge or responsibility. The Pentagon has stepped up its network protection since the intrusion, and added additional protection in the form of smart cards and digital signatures. Such security measures are the ultimate example of closing the barn door after the horse is gone, but should at least make further intrusions more difficult.
U.K. Government Lost More Than 1,000 Laptops in Recent Years
The worries about how the U.K. government protects sensitive data continue: A report to parliament admits that the government has lost or had stolen more than 1,000 laptops in recent years
The U.K. government has lost or had stolen over 1,000 laptop computers in recent years, a government report said Tuesday. The revelation is not going to quell the the mounting criticism of the government's record on protecting sensitive data. The figures, released to parliament, show that at least 200 laptops went missing last year alone -- the equivalent of about sixteen per month -- from departments including the defense ministry and the revenue and customs department. There has been a steady drip of revelations about lost computers in the media since last November, when the government admitted it had lost confidential records for twenty-five million Britons who receive child benefit payments. The data, on two discs which were put in the post by mistake, included names, addresses, dates of birth, and bank details, prompting outrage from political opponents and civil liberties campaigners.
In January, the defense ministry stoked fears about potential identity fraud by revealing that a laptop containing details of some 600,000 people interested in joining the armed forces was stolen from a naval officer. Just last week, a disc marked "Home Office -- confidential" turned up in a second-hand laptop bought on the Internet auction site eBay that was taken to a computer shop. Civil servants have since been banned from taking unencrypted laptops or devices containing sensitive data out of secure premises, but the statistics published Tuesday could still be an under-estimation as not all departments gave figures, including the home and foreign offices, and much of the data only covers the past twelve months. In all, at least 1,052 laptops have disappeared.
The Ministry of Defense (MoD) topped the list -- although it appeared to provide the most comprehensive figures -- saying that since 1998, it has had 503 laptops stolen, including 68 in 2007. Twenty-three PCs were also lost. The Ministry of Justice has had 136 laptops stolen since 2001; eight others were lost and another 26 were described as "missing."
Heathrow Airport First to Fingerprint
David Millward and Gordon Rayner
Millions of British airline passengers face mandatory fingerprinting before being allowed to board flights when Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opens later this month.
Your view: Would compulsory fingerprinting in airports put you off flying?
For the first time at any airport, the biometric checks will apply to all domestic passengers leaving the terminal, which will handle all British Airways flights to and from Heathrow.
The controversial security measure is also set to be introduced at Gatwick, Manchester and Heathrow’s Terminal 1, and many airline industry insiders believe fingerprinting could become universal at all UK airports within a few years.
All four million domestic passengers who will pass through Terminal 5 annually after it opens on March 27 will have four fingerprints taken, as well as being photographed, when they check in.
To ensure the passenger boarding the aircraft is the same person, the fingerprinting process will be repeated just before they board the aircraft and the photograph will be compared with their face.
BAA, the company which owns Heathrow, insists the biometric information will be destroyed after 24 hours and will not be passed on to the police.
It says the move is necessary to prevent criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants trying to bypass border controls.
The company said the move had been necessitated by the design of Terminal 5, where international and domestic passengers share the same lounges and public areas after they have checked in.
Without the biometric checks, the company says, potential criminals and illegal immigrants arriving on international flights or in transit to another country could bypass border controls by swapping boarding passes with a domestic passenger who has already checked in.
They could then board the domestic flight, where proof of identity is not currently required, fly on to another UK airport and leave without having to go through passport control.
Most other airports avoid the problem by keeping international and domestic passengers separate at all times, but the mixed lounges exist at Gatwick, Manchester and Heathrow’s Terminal 1.
Gatwick and Manchester currently deal with the problem by photographing all passengers as they pass through security, and checking the picture against their face at the departure gate.
Terminal 1 will soon introduce fingerprinting.
Civil liberties campaigners have raised concerns about the possibility of security agencies trying to access the treasure trove of personal data in the future, adding that fingerprinting "will make innocent people feel like criminals".
There are also fears that fingerprinting will add to the infamous "Heathrow hassle" which has led to some business travellers holding meetings in other countries because they want to avoid the sprawling, scruffy airport at any cost.
Although fingerprinting is carried out at some foreign airports - most notably in the US - as part of immigration checks for international arrivals, Heathrow will be the first to fingerprint domestic passengers before they board their flights.
Even if domestic passengers have a passport with them, they will still have to go through the biometric checks.
Dr Gus Hosein, of the London School of Economics, an expert on the impact on technology on civil liberties, is one of the scheme’s strongest critics.
He said: "There is no other country in the world that requires passengers travelling on internal flights to be fingerprinted. BAA says the fingerprint data will be destroyed, but the records of who has travelled within the country will not be, and it will provide a rich source of data for the police and intelligence agencies.
"I grew up in a society where you only fingerprinted people if you suspected them of being criminals. By doing this they will make innocent people feel like criminals.
"There will also be a suspicion that this is the thin end of the wedge, that we are being softened up by making fingerprinting seem normal in the run-up to things like ID cards."
Mr Hosein claimed automatic fingerprint technology is only 90 per cent accurate at best, and clear fingerprints can be difficult to obtain.
Simon Davies, of campaign group Privacy International, suggested a photograph alone would be a perfectly adequate - and much cheaper - way of identifying passengers.
"If they are photographing people anyway, why can’t that be used as a means of identifying them, rather than taking biometric data?" he said. "It would probably be 50 times more reliable at a 50th of the cost.
"Fingerprint recognition technology is far from perfect, and the experience in the US has shown that the information can only be used retrospectively, not in real time, as it takes so long to match a fingerprint to the one held on the database.
"I think once again we are seeing the introduction of technology whose benefits are illusory."
A spokesman for British Airways said: "We are supportive of the use of fingerprinting at Terminal 5. We need to make sure the right people get on the right flights and this will definitely help us to ease check-in and boarding procedures."
BAA said the fingerprinting scheme was decided upon after consultation with the Home Office, and the company is keen to reassure passengers that their fingerprints will not be made available to any outside agency.
A spokesman said: "The data will be destroyed after 24 hours. It will not be made available to the police or anyone else. This is purely for border and immigration control."
International passengers will not be fingerprinted, as they must show a passport when they check in and before they board their flight.
However, the fingerprinting of domestic passengers is expected to be the first step in the increasing use of the technology for people coming to and from Britain.
Within the next few weeks BAA will announce plans for voluntary fingerprinting under a so-called "trusted traveller" scheme.
Those willing to have their fingerprints and passport information stored would be able to bypass immigration queues by placing their finger on a scanner instead of waiting to have their passport checked.
The move follows a trial of the technology, known as "miSense", at Heathrow last year.
In the long term, fingerprinting could become even more widespread when the Government introduces tighter embarkation controls next year, which have not yet been specified but could range from having to show passports more often before boarding or using biometric checks.
Officials began talks with the aviation industry within months of an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airlines in August 2006.
At the time, the Home Office refused to rule out the use of fingerprint and biometric checks as part of routine embarkation controls, and some industry insiders believe universal fingerprinting may be brought in when biometric passports are introduced in 2012.
One option could be to routinely check fingerprints against the criminal record database - a step which is currently only taken when immigration officers have a reason to be suspicious.
Underground Art: How Banksy Gave Swiss Embassy an Image Makeover
• Young graffiti artist drafted in for PR stunt
• Series of car park works worth £1m unveiled
Mark Brown, arts correspondent
Switzerland's ambassador knew his country had an image problem. It was in the headlines for the wrong reasons, with the banks being accused of hanging on to Nazi gold, and he wanted to do something positive.
So Bruno Spinner invited some young graffiti artists into the embassy's underground car park and let them do what they wanted. They could even have a rave there a few days later, he decided.
The ambassador's rebranding exercise has had an extraordinary unintended consequence: one of the car park graffiti kids went on to become an artist collected by the rich and famous whose works command eye-popping prices at auction. The works at the embassy in London are by Banksy and are worth more than £1m.
There are about 10 pieces obviously by the Bristol-born artist. The most striking is a montage of 21 mohican-haired Lenins with the words "vulture capitalists" stencilled underneath. It is on the wall next to the car park exit and has suffered a few noticeable bashes - the consequence of tight underground car park corners.
Other works include a French poodle having a dream - or perhaps a nightmare - about a nasty-looking bulldog-faced poodle. Another has Mona Lisa with a green rifle sight on her forehead. Mickey Mouse is there too while one of the car park pillars has a threatening policeman and the words: "Laugh now, but one day we'll be in charge."
The Banksys, barring the odd flaking bit of paint, have held up well and have remained a secret known only to regular users of the car park
Spinner's idea was to get some of the UK and Switzerland's leading graffiti artists to spraypaint the walls and then have a rave once all the fumes had gone.
The party in 2001 was, a statement from the Swiss embassy said, "part of a series of events organised at the beginning of this century aimed to engage with the next generation of people and artists who will largely shape and determine the future".
The plan was to whitewash the walls but the embassy was pleased with the results and decided to keep the graffiti.
Switzerland's current ambassador, Alexis Lautenberg, said: "I was somewhat surprised when I drove in. The Swiss embassy obviously has many layers. This seems to be a particularly important and solid one and should be a source of inspiration every time you drive in or out."
Banksy has, remarkably, managed to keep his "they seek him here, they seek him there" anonymity throughout a career which has seen his fanbase widen and prices of his works rocket.
At Sotheby's in 2006 a stencil of a green Mona Lisa with paint dripping from her eyes sold for £56,700. Earlier this month a stencil of a sandwich-board wearing monkey called Laugh Now sold for £228,000 at Bonhams. Banksy's own view of these auctions is probably summed up by a picture he put on his website last year: "I Can't Believe You Morons Actually Buy This Shit," it said.
He also has many celebrity fans. Damien Hirst is said to collect Banksys. Angelina Jolie paid £200,000 for one and other stars such as Jude Law and Keanu Reeves have been reported as buyers.
The Swiss embassy can probably claim now to have the coolest car park in London so it was appropriate that last night it was used for the launch of the 2008 Your Game scheme, a charitable project run by the BBC and the Football Foundation to help young people who might be at risk of getting involved in gang culture, gun crime or substance abuse.
Caj Sohal, the project founder of Your Game admitted his jaw dropped when he saw the car park. "We agreed to go there not really thinking it was right but when you go in and see the quality of the work, it's a perfect fit for our project."
Communications: Why do We Accept Less Than 99.999%?
Pick up your phone. Go ahead and try it right now.
Since you're still reading, I know that you have a broadband internet connection, as opposed to a dial-up ISP. I also know that when you picked up your phone you heard a dial tone. That's because telephone service is regulated. Operators are expected to achieve "five nines" of reliability or "uptime" -- the service must be available 99.999% of the time -- and they must report any instances of downtime longer than 2 minutes. That's a miniscule five minutes of downtime in the 525,600 minutes in a year.
If that doesn't sound like much -- if you think that 99.0% ought to be just fine -- then keep in mind that 99.0% availability means that your service might be down for more than three and a half days every year. Calling 911 doesn't seem so helpful in that situation, does it?
We've come to expect, and to depend on, that level of service for our home phones. That's because local and long distance phone lines are regulated.
So why are we so unconcerned about it for other forms of communication?
ISPs used to promise unlimited internet service, but when we actually tried to take them up on their promises they complained that there was a bottleneck; they would have to filter. Or they would charge us higher prices for more bandwidth. And we seem willing to accept such explanations.
We're so used to cable and satellite television reception problems that we don't even notice them anymore. We know that many of our emails never reach their destination. Mobile phone companies compare who has the fewest dropped calls (after decades of mobile phones, why do we even still have dropped calls?) And the ubiquitous BlackBerry, which is a mission-critical device for millions, has experienced mass outages several times this month. All of these services are unregulated, which means there are no demands on reliability, other than what the marketplace demands.
Why don't we demand more?
Recently, when attempts were made to protect net neutrality, telecom companies complained that people were trying to introduce new regulations. Telecoms don't like regulations; they cost money.
Reliability requires redundancy (at least two of everything) and failover plans so everything continues to work even when something breaks. BlackBerry service went down because Research In Motion routes all messages through a single point of failure. And it failed. Systems today are built as cheaply as possible, and it shows.
We're building products and services as quickly as possible, as minimally as possible. Everything is designed to maximize profit. And, one could say, designed to fail. We're building systems to which we are increasingly entrusting our lives. Even failing only 1% of the time just isn't good enough. Would it be acceptable if the wheels feel off of 1 out of every 100 cars?
We once understood the value of just enough regulation to ensure the secure operation of services that we depend on everyday. Now we are building entirely new classes of products to replace the old ones -- services we have come to depend on even more in our everyday lives. Could you live without your mobile phone? How would you function at work without email access?
What does it take for us to recognize that we need to take the same steps necessary to ensure that the technologies created today -- and into the future -- are just as dependable as the good old telephone was 50 years ago?
US Rural Broadband: You Can Get It, But You Can't Afford It
The US Internet Industry Association, a trade group representing Internet companies and ISPs, has just released a report on broadband deployment in rural America. Actually, "report" is too generous; the document simply rehashes some numbers on US broadband that we have covered before here at Ars. But the paper raises a point worth mentioning: don't confuse broadband adoption and deployment. Most US citizens can get some form of broadband access But those in rural areas are less likely to pay for it than those in urban areas.
The USIIA points to several stats on broadband availability in the US. At least one person in 99 percent of US ZIP codes has access to an Internet connection over 200kbps, for instance. Now, that's not a terribly impressive statistic for multiple reasons, but better are the findings that 79 percent of those with a home phone (which is nearly everyone in the US, thanks to the Universal Service Fund) could get DSL. In addition, 96 percent of all households who can get a cable signal can purchase Internet access through their cable provider (though cable reaches many fewer homes than do phone lines).
None of these statistics is new, but USIIA is right to point out that the deployment of broadband lines in recent years has grown reasonably comprehensive. As to the actual use of broadband services, though, the numbers are lower, and there's still a substantial gap between urban residents and rural residents. The point of the paper is that this can't be chalked up to faults on the part of infrastructure companies, and is instead caused mainly by age and cash. Rural residents tend to be older and less well-off than their urban peers in the US, making broadband both less interesting and less affordable.
Sure it's tasty, but can you afford broadband?
But then the real point of the discussion becomes clear: "these are largely issues of investment and technological innovation rather than issues that require changes in policy." While the USIIA welcomes more government money to extend access to rural residents, it's not as open to federal regulation of the tubes. Despite the fact that "more rural broadband use" isn't generally trotted out the best reason to support network neutrality or open access, the paper makes sure to let the reader know that both are a bad idea. "Regulation of the Internet, from open access to network neutrality, won't stimulate adoption of broadband," says the paper. (Not surprisingly, the group also told the FCC to butt out when it comes to regulating network management in the Comcast case.)
What we need to get away from, the USIIA says, is presenting data "in ways intended to support a specific policy or political view rather than allowing the data to speak to [sic] itself." Data doesn't talk to itself, of course, and it doesn't interpret itself, either. If it did, the USIAA would have released a table of statistics and not a document that is almost completely interpretive and intended to support certain policy ideas and political views about the nature of the Internet.
Whistle-Blower: Feds Have a Backdoor Into Wireless Carrier -- Congress Reacts
A U.S. government office in Quantico, Virginia, has direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier's systems, exposing customers' voice calls, data packets and physical movements to uncontrolled surveillance, according to a computer security consultant who says he worked for the carrier in late 2003.
"What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment," Babak Pasdar, now CEO of New York-based Bat Blue told Threat Level. "I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that."
Pasdar won't name the wireless carrier in question, but his claims are nearly identical to unsourced allegations made in a federal lawsuit filed in 2006 against four phone companies and the U.S. government for alleged privacy violations. That suit names Verizon Wireless as the culprit.
Pasdar has executed a seven-page affidavit for the nonprofit Government Accountability Project in Washington, which on Tuesday began circulating the document, along with talking points (.doc), to congressional staffers hashing out a Republican proposal to grant retroactive legal immunity to phone companies who cooperated in the warrantless wiretapping of Americans.
According to his affidavit, Pasdar tumbled to the surveillance superhighway in September 2003, when he led a "Rapid Deployment" team hired to revamp security on the carrier's internal network. He noticed that the carrier's officials got squirrelly when he asked about a mysterious "Quantico Circuit" -- a 45 megabit/second DS-3 line linking its most sensitive network to an unnamed third party.
Quantico, Virginia, is home to a Marine base. But perhaps more relevantly, it's also the center of the FBI's electronic surveillance operations.
"The circuit was tied to the organization's core network," Pasdar writes in his affidavit. "It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions."
The 2006 lawsuit, which is suspended pending an appeals court ruling, describes a similar arrangement, naming Verizon.
Because the data center was a clearing house for all Verizon Wireless calls, the transmission line provided the Quantico recipient direct access to all content and all information concerning the origin and termination of telephone calls placed on the Verizon Wireless network as well as the actual content of calls.
The transmission line was unprotected by any firewall and would have enabled the recipient on the Quantico end to have unfettered access to Verizon Wireless customer records, data and information. Any customer databases, records and information could be downloaded from this center.
That doesn't mean Pasdar's affidavit confirms the claims in the lawsuit. He acknowledges speaking with the attorneys on that lawsuit before it was filed, so he may be the source in that complaint as well. But he insists he did not name Verizon or any other phone company to the lawyers.
"I don't know if I have a smoking gun, but I'm certainly fairly confident in what I saw and I'm convinced it was being leveraged in a less than forthright and upfront manner," Pasdar says.
Verizon spokesman Peter Thonis says he can't confirm or deny a Quantico arrangement, or comment on whether Pasdar did contract work for the company.
"What you're talking about sounds as if it would be classified and involving national security, so I wouldn't be able to find out the facts," Thonis writes in an e-mail.
Postscript: In response to some of the comments here and elsewhere: No, it's not CALEA. CALEA requires phone companies to give the FBI real time access to call content and call detail information on specific targets when presented with a warrant. It does not oblige them to give the FBI or anyone else direct unmonitored access to switches, billing systems or databases.
For more on the FBI's CALEA network, check out Ryan's article on the subject from last year.
Update: Democratic leaders in the House are taking Pasdar's claims seriously. John Dingell, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee, wrote a Dear Colleague letter today, addressing the issue.
Mr. Pasdar's allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the Administration. Moreover, the whistleblower's allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against AT&T. ...
Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House Members be given access to the necessary information, including the relevant documents underlying this matter, to make an informed decision on their vote. After reviewing the documentation and these latest allegations, Members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity."
Analyzing e-Mail Messages to Find Insider Threat
Researchers develop a technology based on Probabilistic Latent Semantic Indexing (PLSI) to detect changes in the words and terms individuals in an organization use in their e-mail messages -- to fellow employees and to outsiders; research shows that certain verbal and terminological changes indicate criminal or even terrorist intent
What's in a word? Apparently, a lot: One quick way to spot insider threats from individuals within an organization such as a multinational company or military installation is reported in the current issue of the International Journal of Security and Networks. The technology uses data mining techniques to scour e-mail and build up a picture of social network interactions. The technology could prevent serious security breaches, sabotage, and even terrorist activity. Gilbert Peterson and colleagues at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio are developing technology that could help any organization sniff out insider threats by analyzing e-mail activity or find individuals among potentially tens of thousands of employees with latent interests in sensitive topics. The same technology may also be used to spot individuals who feel alienated within the organization as well as unraveling any worrying changes in their social network interactions.
Security efforts typically focus on outside electronic threats, explain Peterson and colleagues. They point out, however, that it is insiders that pose the greatest threat to an organization. Insiders are members of the organization who may have access to sensitive information for legitimate purposes but who could betray that trust for illegitimate reasons. An aggrieved employee, saboteur, or terrorist infiltrator with access to such information could potentially cause great harm. Spotting the potential for an insider attack quickly without recourse to huge numbers of investigators is essential to preventing such an occurrence. Peterson and his colleagues have developed an approach to assist investigators looking for such insider threats based on an extended version of Probabilistic Latent Semantic Indexing (PLSI). This extended technology can discern employees' interests from e-mail and create a social network graph showing their various interactions. The researchers explain that individuals who have shown an interest in a sensitive topic but who have never communicated to others within the organization on this subject are often the most likely to be an insider threat. The software can reveal those people either with a secret interest in that topic or who may feel alienated from the organization and so communicate their interest in it only to those outside the organization. Another important signal of alienation or a potential problem is a shift in the connections between an individual and others within the organization. If an individual suddenly stops communicating or socializing with others with whom they have previously had frequent contact, then the technology could alert investigators to such changes.
The research team has tested their approach on the archived body of messages from the liquidated Enron company e-mail system. Their PLSI results unearthed several individuals who represented potential insider threats. It should be noted, however, that the individuals under indictment are the bosses of the organization. It was the core of the organization that is responsible for the illegal behavior, says Peterson. The team points out that while internet activity was not available for Enron, it is generally available from the same sources that supply e-mail history logs and so could be used to search more widely for insider threats. He adds that by turning the domain on its ear, in effect, the identify of the whistleblower could be revealed.
Text Generation Gap: U R 2 Old (JK)
Laura M. Holson
AS president of the Walt Disney Company’s children’s book and magazine publishing unit, Russell Hampton knows a thing or two about teenagers. Or he thought as much until he was driving his 14-year-old daughter, Katie, and two friends to a play last year in Los Angeles.
“Katie and her friends were sitting in the back seat talking to each other about some movie star; I think it was Orlando Bloom,” recalled Mr. Hampton, whose company produced the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, in which the actor starred. “I made some comment about him, I don’t remember exactly what, but I got the typical teenager guttural sigh and Katie rolled her eyes at me as if to say, ‘Oh Dad, you are so out of it.’ ”
After that, the back-seat chattering stopped. When Mr. Hampton looked into his rearview mirror he saw his daughter sending a text message on her cellphone. “Katie, you shouldn’t be texting all the time,” Mr. Hampton recalled telling her. “Your friends are there. It’s rude.” Katie rolled her eyes again.
“But, Dad, we’re texting each other,” she replied with a harrumph. “I don’t want you to hear what I’m saying.”
Chastened, Mr. Hampton turned his attention back to the freeway. It’s a common scene these days, one playing out in cars, kitchens and bedrooms across the country.
Children increasingly rely on personal technological devices like cellphones to define themselves and create social circles apart from their families, changing the way they communicate with their parents.
Innovation, of course, has always spurred broad societal changes. As telephones became ubiquitous in the last century, users — adults and teenagers alike — found a form of privacy and easy communication unknown to Alexander Graham Bell or his daughters.
The automobile ultimately shuttled in an era when teenagers could go on dates far from watchful chaperones. And the computer, along with the Internet, has given even very young children virtual lives distinctly separate from those of their parents and siblings.
Business analysts and other researchers expect the popularity of the cellphone — along with the mobility and intimacy it affords — to further exploit and accelerate these trends. By 2010, 81 percent of Americans ages 5 to 24 will own a cellphone, up from 53 percent in 2005, according to IDC, a research company in Framingham, Mass., that tracks technology and consumer research.
Social psychologists like Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied the social impact of mobile communications, say these trends are likely to continue as cellphones morph into mini hand-held computers, social networking devices and pint-size movie screens.
“For kids it has become an identity-shaping and psyche-changing object,” Ms. Turkle said. “No one creates a new technology really understanding how it will be used or how it can change a society.”
Marketers and cellphone makers are only too happy to fill the newest generation gap. Last fall, Firefly Mobile introduced the glowPhone for the preschool set; it has a small keypad with two speed-dial buttons depicting an image of a mother and a father. AT&T promotes its wireless service with television commercials poking fun at a mom who doesn’t understand her daughter’s cellphone vernacular. Indeed, IDC says revenue from services and products sold to young consumers or their parents is expected to grow to $29 billion in 2010, up from $21 billion in 2005.
So far, parents’ ability to reach their children whenever they want affords families more pluses than minuses. Mr. Hampton, who is divorced, says it is easy to reach Katie even though they live in different time zones. And college students who are pressed for time, like Ben Blanton, a freshman who plays baseball at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, can text their parents when it suits them, asking them to run errands or just saying hello.
“Texting is in between calling and sending and e-mail,” he explained while taking a break from study hall. Now he won’t even consider writing a letter to his mother, Jan. “It’s too time consuming,” he said. “You have to go to the post office. Instead, I can sit and watch television and send a text, which is the same thing.”
But as with any cultural shift involving parents and children — the birth of rock ’n’ roll or the sexual revolution of the 1960s, for example — various gulfs emerge. Baby boomers who warned decades ago that their out-of-touch parents couldn’t be trusted now sometimes find themselves raising children who — thanks to the Internet and the cellphone — consider Mom and Dad to be clueless, too.
Cellphones, instant messaging, e-mail and the like have encouraged younger users to create their own inventive, quirky and very private written language. That has given them the opportunity to essentially hide in plain sight. They are more connected than ever, but also far more independent.
In some cases, they may even become more alienated from those closest to them, said Anita Gurian, a clinical psychologist and executive editor of AboutOurKids.org, a Web site of the Child Study Center at New York University.
“Cellphones demand parental involvement of a different kind,” she said. “Kids can do a lot of things in front of their parents without them knowing.”
TO be sure, parents have always been concerned about their children’s well-being, independence and comportment — and the rise of the cellphone offers just the latest twist in that dynamic. However it all unfolds, it has helped prompt communications companies to educate parents about how better to be in touch with their children.
In a survey released 18 months ago, AT&T found that among 1,175 parents the company interviewed, nearly half learned how to text-message from their children. More than 60 percent of parents agreed that it helped them communicate, but that sometimes children didn’t want to hear their voice at all. When asked if their children wanted a call or a text message requesting that they be home by curfew, for instance, 58 percent of parents said their children preferred a text.
“Just because you can reach them doesn’t mean they have to answer,” said Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which is studying the impact of technology on adolescents. “Cellphones give teens more of a private life. Their parents aren’t privy to all of their conversations.”
Text messaging, in particular, has perhaps become this generation’s version of pig Latin. For dumbfounded parents, AT&T now offers a tutorial that decodes acronyms meant to keep parents at bay. “Teens may use text language to keep parents in the dark about their conversations by making their comments indecipherable,” the tutorial states. Some acronyms meant to alert children to prying eyes are POS (“parent over shoulder”), PRW (“parents are watching”) and KPC (“keeping parents clueless”).
SAVANNAH PENCE, 15, says she wants to be in touch with her parents — but also wants to keep them at arm’s length. She says her father, John, made sure that she and her 19-year-old brother, Alex, waited until high school before they got cellphones, unlike friends who had them by fifth grade. And while Savannah described her relationship with her parents as close, she still prefers her space.
“I don’t text that much in front of my parents because they read them,” she said. And when her parents ask who is on the phone? “I just say, ‘People.’ They don’t ask anymore.”
At first, John Pence, who owns a restaurant in Portland, Ore., was unsure about how to relate to his daughter. “I didn’t know how to communicate with her,” Mr. Pence said. “I had to learn.” So he took a crash course in text messaging — from Savannah. But so far he knows how to quickly type only a few words or phrases: Where are you? Why haven’t you called me? When are you coming home?
When his daughter asks a question, he typically has one response. “ ‘OK’ is the answer to everything,” he said. “And I haven’t used a question mark yet.” He said he had to learn how to text because his daughter did not return his calls. “I don’t leave a message,” he said, “because she knows it’s me.”
Savannah said she sends a text message to her father at least two or three times a day. “I can’t ask him questions because he is too slow,” she said. “He uses simple words.” On the other hand, her mother, Caprial, is more proficient at texting and will ask how her day was at school or how her friends are doing. (Her mom owed her more facile texting skills to being an agile typist with small hands.)
Early on, Savannah’s parents agreed that they had to set rules. First, they banned cellphone use at the dinner table and, later, when the family watched television together, because Mr. Pence worried about the distraction. “They become unaware of your presence,” he said.
Mr. Pence is well aware of how destabilizing cellphones, iPods and hand-held video game players can be to family relations. “I see kids text under the table at the restaurant,” he said. “They don’t teach them etiquette anymore.” Some children, he said, watch videos in restaurants.
“They don’t know that’s the time to carry on a conversation,” he said. “I would like to walk up to some tables and say, ‘Kids, put your iPods and your cellphones away and talk to your parents.’ ”
But even he has found that enforcing rules is harder than might be expected. He now permits Savannah to send text messages while watching TV, after he noticed her using a blanket over her lap to hide that she was sending messages to friends. “I could have them in the same room texting, or I wouldn’t let them text and they would leave,” said Mr. Pence of his children. “They are good kids, but you want to know what they are up to."
Other families face similar challenges.
In 1999, Marie Gallick got a family plan for her and her three children and found that each of them had a different approach to cellphone use. One of Ms. Gallick’s sons likes to talk, she said, while her other son, Brandon, who lives near her home in Raritan, N.J., preferred to text. How much they communicated with her, she said, depended on their mood. And she found she had to be careful about what she said and how.
“There is emotion behind it,” she said. Once, one of her sons didn’t answer his cellphone when she called, so she sent him a text saying, “NICE OF YOU TO TURN ON YOUR PHONE.”
“They thought I was mad,” she said. Ms. Gallick did not understand that using capital letters was the same as yelling. (She said she had the same problem when she began using e-mail, which, perhaps, makes her problem as much about adapting to digital shifts as it is about communicating with children.)
Brenda Ng, vice president for consumer insights at T-Mobile, the cellular provider, said her company’s studies show that while cellphone use can cause division, it, too, is “the glue” that cements relationships. “It may seem mundane, but they keep people together,” Ms. Ng said.
Consider this: Brandon Gallick, who is 23, recalled a night last year when he was driving home on a country road near Hillsborough, N.J., and a large donkey ran in front of his car. He couldn’t wait to get home to call his mother. “I had to text my mom right away,” he said, noting he sent text messages to friends, too. “I wanted to tell her about it because it was so funny. We don’t see many donkeys in New Jersey.”
Ms. Gallick appreciated the message. “I like it when he does that,” she said. “It makes me feel special.” But again, the unintended consequence was more miscommunication for her.
“It took five texts before I thought he really meant it,” she said. “What I find is that you have to text each other more to understand each other than if you just picked up the phone. You are constantly asking, ‘What did you mean?’ It is a form of alienation but at the same time it is keeping us in contact.”
In fact, texting appears to be easier than talking for some cellphone users, providing yet another distraction for them inside their cars. Mr. Blanton at Vanderbilt, like many of his peers, texts his mother and friends even when both of his hands should be on the steering wheel.
“I can text without looking at the phone,” he said. “It’s definitely not safe. Sometimes I’ll look up and I don’t remember where I’ve been driving.”
MS. TURKLE, the M.I.T. professor, says cellphones offer another way for the Facebook generation to share every life experience the second it unfolds.
“There is a slippage from ‘I have a feeling I want to make a call’ to ‘I need to make a call,’ ” she said. “You don’t get to have a feeling before sharing that feeling anymore.”
Ms. Turkle recalled a vacation with her daughter in Paris, where she hoped to immerse her in the local culture and cuisine. “Part of the idea of Paris is being in Paris,” Ms. Turkle said. But during an afternoon stroll, her daughter received several calls and text messages on her cellphone from friends back in Boston. Her daughter, she said, felt compelled to return every one.
When Ms. Turkle asked why she didn’t turn off her cellphone and enjoy the city, she said her daughter replied, “I feel more comfortable talking with my friends.” But her daughter’s friends didn’t even really want to talk. “They just want to know where you are,” Ms. Turkle said. “It’s a new sensibility.”
It is a new sensibility on many fronts. Jan Blanton said her relationship with her son, Ben, is closer because cellphones make reaching out so simple. And that has caused her to reflect on her relationship with her own parents.
In the early 1980s, when she left home to attend college, Ms. Blanton said, her relationship with her parents was frayed. “We didn’t have open communication,” she said. “I wasn’t close to them. Maybe once a week I’d call. My parents were happy when we were out of the house.”
Ms. Blanton wonders if things might have been different if they had text messaging back then. Her son now sends frequent text messages to his grandfather, discussing baseball and fishing. “I can write better than I talk,” said Ms. Blanton, whose relationship with her parents is now close. “I think we would have had a better experience.”
It is likely that in just a few years, younger members of the digerati will consider cellphones like those the Blantons are using to be relics. While many consumers have become fashion-conscious about the latest in technological devices, analysts say that young children and teenagers are particularly so and more likely than their parents to continually gravitate to something new.
Mr. Hampton said his daughter Katie recently asked for a BlackBerry so she could better send e-mail to her friends and have unfettered access to the Internet.
“I said no,” he recalled. “It’s not necessary.”
But then again, Mr. Hampton said, he may change his mind. “No one is teaching kids how to use these things,” he said. “But in fairness, adults don’t know how to use them, either.”
Hollywood Hopes to Laugh to the Bank
Hollywood’s big studios have found their cure for the surfeit of dour movies last fall and winter: a spring-summer comedy glut.
Not inclined to half-measures, the film industry is about to swing from an awards season stuffed with bleak dramas like “There Will Be Blood” and the Oscar-winning “No Country for Old Men” toward a four-month stretch in which an unusual number of comedies will be crowding the screen.
Roughly half the major-studio releases from April through early July — the most valuable real estate on companies’ film schedules — will be live-action comedies starring some of the biggest box-office draws, including Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy, Steve Carell and Mike Myers. Hollywood’s hoped-for laugh riot stands in stark contrast to the same period last year, which was dominated by fantasy sequels like “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
The comic alignment probably owes more to the film industry’s internal dynamics as pictures in the same genre just happened to fall into place — and as executives, noting the success of “Wild Hogs” last March and “Superbad” last August, edged more comedies into the big-money months — than to any pulse moving through the nation at large. Whatever the source, it will test the audience appetite for a whole lot of what is usually a good thing.
The onslaught begins in April, when Universal Pictures has scheduled three comedies. “Leatherheads,” directed by and starring George Clooney, is a screwball comedy about the early days of professional football. It opens two weeks before the love tangle “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” produced by Judd Apatow. And that one is just a week ahead of “Baby Mama,” in which the “Saturday Night Live” veterans Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wrangle over surrogate motherhood.
The next month Sony Pictures Entertainment will release four comedies in a row, beginning with “Made of Honor,” on May 2 about a male maid of honor played by Patrick Dempsey. It is followed in short order by “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” with Mr. Sandler, about a hair stylist and Israeli secret agent; “Hancock,” with Mr. Smith, about a down-and-out superhero; and “Step Brothers” with Mr. Ferrell and John C. Reilly, about rival stepbrothers.
But the main event will occur on June 20. If nobody blinks — and both studios are standing firm at this point — Paramount Pictures, Mr. Myers and “The Love Guru” will open that Friday against Warner Brothers, Steve Carell and the new movie version of “Get Smart” in a face-off of the kind that big companies with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake generally like to avoid.
Rob Moore, Paramount’s vice chairman, said there were enough laughs to go around. “You have so much capacity in the summer, and there are only two movies opening that weekend,” he said.
Few here would declare a cultural trend. “Can you make an argument that the world is in such a depressed place that we’re going to comedies?” said Casey Silver, a producer of “Leatherheads.” “Far be it from me to say.”
Still, history has its lessons. Beset by a writers’ strike and a weakening economy, Hollywood saw four comedies — “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Coming to America,” “Big,” and “Crocodile Dundee II” — sweep the box office in the summer of 1988. In the last three presidential campaign years, however, the biggest comedy hit came after the election: “Meet the Fockers” in 2004, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 2000 and “Jerry Maguire” in 1996.
Lately studios have made the most money from comedies that stayed in theaters for many weeks, outlasting action or fantasy blockbusters that often fall off sharply after the first weekend. “A good comedy has legs,” said Shawn Levy, executive producer of “What Happens in Vegas,” set for release by 20th Century Fox on May 9, and the director of “Night at the Museum,” which took in more than $250 million at the domestic box office in a six-month run after its release in December 2006.
This year comedy has come to the fore because of several unrelated factors. Sequels thinned out for a while — “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” are the only two big fantasy follow-ups in the vicinity of Memorial Day. Comic mainstays who will show up with pictures include Mr. Myers; Mr. Sandler; Mr. Ferrell; Mr. Stiller, with “Tropic Thunder,” for Paramount (and now bumped to August), about actors whose war movie turns real; and Mr. Murphy, with “Meet Dave,” for Fox, about a human who is piloted by tiny aliens.
Mr. Clooney and Mr. Smith, at the same time, took a break from their more serious sides. And Mr. Apatow, a prolific writer, director and producer who has been involved with movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Anchorman,” suddenly spawned five pictures. It’s a burst of activity that appears to outdo even the comic frenzy during which John Hughes gave birth to a clutch of movies like “The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles” and “Weird Science” in the 1980s.
This spring and summer Mr. Apatow, will have various credits on “Drillbit Taylor,” “Zohan,” “Sarah Marshall,” “Step Brothers” and “Pineapple Express.”
On a hot streak with hits like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” this filmmaker, who declined to be interviewed for this article, missed badly in December with his musical biopic spoof, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” for Columbia. Last weekend one of his occasional associates, Mr. Ferrell, underperformed expectations for New Line, when his 1970s basketball sendup, “Semi-Pro,” brought in a little more than $15 million.
The poor results sent a shiver through an industry that likes comedies because they are generally less expensive than animated films like “Ratatouille” or effects-driven spectacles like “Transformers.” But though more cost-effective, comedies still need a healthy turnout by American moviegoers because most do not play well abroad.
Still, Valerie Van Galder, marketing president of Sony’s Columbia-TriStar Motion Picture Group, said she was confident that the audience remained hungry for laughs. “It’s a communal experience,” she said of the genre’s enduring appeal.
And Thomas Pollock, a partner in the Montecito Picture Company, whose “Old School” helped put Mr. Ferrell on the fast track five years ago, pointed out that heavily tested, carefully tuned comedies were on the whole wonderfully predictable.
“Multiply the number of big laughs in the movie times $10 million, and you get the ultimate domestic box office,” Mr. Pollock said. “Ten big laughs, $100 million.”
The Very Model of a Modern Media Mogul
When Michael D. Eisner left the Walt Disney Company in 2005 and set about remaking himself in new media, investing in a video-sharing Web site and starting a digital studio, some people in Hollywood snickered. Here we go, the whispers went, another fading star who doesn’t know when to leave the stage.
Could Mr. Eisner get the last laugh?
Among the Hollywood developers scrambling to create original Internet programs, Mr. Eisner, 65, is one of the very few who can claim early success. “Prom Queen,” a murder-mystery series distributed on MySpace and other Web sites, has been viewed by nearly 20 million people since its debut last spring.
He sold a dubbed version in France, peddled remake rights in Japan and made a sequel, “Prom Queen: Summer Heat.” The series, which came with commercials, even turned a profit along the way, a spokesman said.
Now, Mr. Eisner’s second series, “The All-For-Nots,” a comedy that documents the travails of a fictional indie rock band, will make its debut next week on the Internet, mobile devices and the HDNet cable network. The project reflects lessons learned. This time Mr. Eisner is protecting broad foreign syndication sales by restricting foreign access to the series, which will be available in the United States on YouTube and other sites.
With “The All-For-Nots,” which is sponsored by Chrysler and Expedia, Mr. Eisner is out to prove there is money to be made in the space between user-generated content and traditional television production.
“I would like to say I have a McKinsey study of a strategy,” he said, referring to the management consulting firm. “It doesn’t work that way. You just take your history and your education and your instincts and you put them all into a melting pot and out comes something.”
There are plenty of people in Hollywood who are rooting for him to fail. Jealousy over the success of “Prom Queen” — and Mr. Eisner’s occasional boasting about it — is one reason. He also retains his share of detractors from the Disney days. And while Internet types have overwhelmingly welcomed him, others remain skeptical.
“Just because Eisner is behind something, it doesn’t mean it is going to be a success,” said Darren Aftahi, a digital media analyst at ThinkEquity Partners in Minneapolis.
Still, the manner in which Mr. Eisner signed up Chrysler goes a long way toward explaining how he has become a leader of the digital media pack.
Most of his rivals — including his former employer, which announced the creation of a digital production studio last week — must labor to woo big-name advertisers to their untested Web content. The Disney-ABC Television Group spent months refining its strategy before Toyota signed on as the inaugural sponsor.
Mr. Eisner just flips through his Rolodex. When you spend 21 years running Disney, your friends are people like Robert L. Nardelli, the chairman of Chrysler. “I needed a car for the show so I called Bob,” Mr. Eisner said. (His successor at Disney and the other media kingpins have deep business relationships of their own, of course, but do not have the luxury of devoting their full attention to lining up product placements.)
Vuguru, Mr. Eisner’s Web studio, is just one of dozens of players trying to make a business out of Web shows. Many have popped up in recent months, as producers idled by the writers’ strike tested the medium. Others, like the producers of “Lonelygirl15,” have been tinkering in the area for years.
Studios like Warner Brothers and NBC Universal also have been trying to muscle in to the area. There have been pockets of success, but no studio has proved that it has a workable business model, said Michael Pond, a media analyst at Nielsen Online.
“The big studios have a lot of resources, but fast for them is pretty slow for the Web,” he said. “They are focusing harder on creating Web programs, but others are already there.”
Like Mr. Eisner. Vuguru, a made-up word he thought sounded hip, is part of a constellation of new-media plays he is making. Through Tornante, the venture capital firm he founded after leaving Disney, Mr. Eisner owns Vuguru; a large stake in Veoh, a site that allows users to download video with the quality of high-definition television; and Team Baby Entertainment, which makes sports-themed DVDs for infants and toddlers.
Most recently, Tornante, which is Italian for “hairpin turn,” paid $385 million for Topps, the longtime maker of trading cards and Bazooka bubble gum.
Mr. Eisner is keeping his ultimate playbook to himself, but drops a few hints.
“With Topps, I was interested in a company that could be a far bigger sports and entertainment media company,” he said. Among his ideas are the digital delivery of trading cards and the creation of Topps-branded sports movies or sports channels on cable. As for Bazooka Joe, the gum mascot, he recently told a trade magazine that “it would be foolish of me not to try and build that character into something as much as or more than he ever was.”
In some ways, “The All-For-Nots” is comfortable territory for Mr. Eisner. While working at ABC in 1970, he helped develop “The Partridge Family,” the series about a musical family that unexpectedly hits it big. “The new show is not that different from that experience of marrying music to story,” he said.
The idea for “The All-For-Nots” came last spring when Mr. Eisner saw “The Burg,” a Web comedy about the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. “It had real flair,” he said. “It was funny.” He sought out the creator, a company called Dinosaur Diorama, and asked for ideas.
He passed on “The Burg 2,” but a pitch about the hubristic futility of trying to conquer the nation with indie rock sounded fun.
Bebo, the large social networking site, signed on as a distribution partner, along with a half-dozen other sites. “The All-For-Nots” cast members will have Bebo profiles that link to a channel where users can watch the series. David Aufhauser, Bebo’s business development director, noted that the site’s features would allow users to distribute “All-For-Nots” content among themselves.
Verizon Wireless became the mobile video partner and Mr. Eisner got HDNet on board. Mark Cuban, the founder of HDNet, had been a guest on Mr. Eisner’s CNBC talk show. “Michael and I talk ideas all the time,” Mr. Cuban wrote in an e-mail message. “The approach we have taken with ‘All-For-Nots’ gives us three shots at consumers, any of which could take off singularly or in combination. Web exclusivity is too limited.”
Like Chrysler, Expedia paid to be woven into the story line. As the band travels to 24 cities in search of fame, it books hotel rooms using Expedia, the online travel agency. Sarah Pynchon, Expedia’s vice president for brand marketing, said the company has been looking for product-placement opportunities in Web shows, but has been reluctant because the Internet audience “is going to be much more skeptical” of advertiser integration than television viewers.
Mr. Pond of Nielsen said that Mr. Eisner was smart to focus on music-driven stories, pointing to the success of shows like “Hannah Montana.” The concept also provides additional marketing angles. Cast members of “The All-For-Nots” will perform a concert on March 11 at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex.
Mr. Eisner is the first to caution that, despite his early success, he has not found the Web video Rosetta Stone. Indeed, the slogan for “The All-For-Nots” could be his own. “The band that will conquer the World Wide Web,” the show’s Web site reads, “unless they run out of gas.”
Early and often
United Tech Bids $2.6B for Diebold
Conglomerate's $40-a-share unsolicited offer is two-thirds higher than ATM maker's Friday closing price.
United Technologies Corp. said Sunday it has made an offer to buy Diebold Inc. for $2.63 billion.
United Technologies (UTX, Fortune 500), parent company of jet engine-maker Pratt & Whitney, Otis elevator and Sikorsky Aircraft, said it made the unsolicited offer to Diebold (DBD) on Friday after trying to negotiate a deal for two years.
Diebold, based in Canton, Ohio, makes ATMs, business security systems and voting machines.
The $2.63 billion purchase price represents United Technologies' offer of $40 per outstanding share, about two-thirds higher than Diebold's closing stock price Friday of $24.12. United Technologies said the total enterprise value of the deal was about $3 billion.
"This transaction creates significant and immediate value for Diebold shareholders with no operational risk, while creating long term value for UTC shareholders," George David, United Technologies' chairman, said in a news release.
James Geisler, vice president of finance of United Technologies, said the company announced the offer Sunday night because executives believe their offer is "so compelling we thought shareholders should know about it."
A call seeking comment was left with Diebold.
In a Feb. 21 letter provided by United Technologies, Diebold Chairman John N. Lauer said the board discussed United Technologies' overtures but determined "it was not in the best interests of the corporation or its shareholders to pursue discussions with UTC regarding a business combination with Diebold."
Hartford-based United Technologies, which is capitalizing on strong aerospace and defense industry trends, reported revenue last year of $54.7 billion, up 14.5% from 2006. Net income for the year was $4.2 billion, up more than 13%.
The acquisition fits United Technologies fire and segment unit well, Geisler said.
In addition, Diebold's presence in the ATM market is strong in China, where United Technologies' Otis elevator business also has produced strong revenue, Geisler said in an interview. United Technologies' network of sales and maintenance for the elevators can be adapted to the ATM business, he said.
Diebold, which began in the 19th century as Diebold Safe & Lock Co., making safes and vaults, announced last month it will cut 5% of its work force to reduce costs, shedding 800 jobs, mostly in North America and Brazil. The cuts come on top of a plan to save $100 million announced last year.
Diebold also said it's reviewing manufacturing and storage facilities in North and South America for ways to further reduce costs.
Diebold is dealing with a sharp decline in revenue at its election systems unit and delays in Brazil, where it was to install a lottery system.
The company has said preliminary data show 2007 revenue rose 1% to $2.95 billion in 2007 from an adjusted $2.93 billion in 2006. Election systems revenue fell 69% to $61 million, and the Brazilian lottery revenue dropped 87%.
Diebold has not issued any financial statements since April and is being investigated by the Justice Department and securities regulators over its accounting practices.
The company said it resolved the review of how it recognizes revenue and changed an accounting practice. The change boosted revenue by $31 million in 2007 and by $27 million in 2006. For prior years, it took $190 million off the top line.
Diebold expects an ongoing review of accounting items to be done by the end of the first quarter or in the second quarter. It will then report preliminary results for the final three quarters of 2007.
United Technologies has in the past few years bought Lenel Systems International Inc. of Rochester, N.Y., a security systems and software developer; Chubb, a fire safety and security services business; and Kidde, a British fire and safety products maker.
It's Official: Pirates Crack Vista at Last
James Bannan Vista
A genuine crack for Windows Vista has just been released by pirate group Pantheon, which allows a pirated, non-activated installation of Vista (Home Basic/Premium and Ultimate) to be properly activated and made fully-operational.
Unlike cracks which have been floating around since Vista RTM was released in late November, this crack doesn’t simply get around product activation with beta activation files or timestop cracks - it actually makes use of the activation process. It seems that Microsoft has allowed large OEMs like ASUS to ship their products with a pre-installed version of Vista that doesn’t require product activation – apparently because end users would find it too inconvenient.
This version of Vista uses System-Locked Pre-Installation 2.0 (SLP 2.0). It allows the “Royalty OEMs” to embed specific licensing information into the operating system which Vista can activate without having to go back to Microsoft for verification. The licensing components include the OEM’s hardware-embedded BIOS ACPI_SLIC (which has been signed by Microsoft), an XML certificate file which corresponds to this ACPI_SLIC and a specific OEM product key.
Pantheon released a bundle which includes the certificate files from ASUS, Dell, HP and Lenovo along with OEM product keys for Vista Home Basic, Home Premium and Ultimate, and an emulator which allows the BIOS ACPI_SLIC driver for any manufacturer to be installed without requiring the system to be physically running that hardware. For example, you can install the ASUS certificate information on any machine, not just an ASUS.
And yes, the crack most certainly works. You end up with an activated, legitimate copy of Vista which passes all the Windows Genuine Advantage checks.
The release of this crack does make a bit of a mockery of the whole volume activation process. I was beginning to think the new activation process introduced with Vista might spell the end of easy and large-scale Windows piracy, and if the only way to activate Vista was to have it communicate directly with Microsoft, then that just might have been a possibility. But allowing such a workaround to OEMs just because their users might not like it has introduced a weakness into the system. Pirate groups are well known for exploiting any weakness no matter how small (as evidenced by the cracking of KMS), so once this activation process became known it was only a matter of time.
As the crack is tied to specific product keys, it remains to be seen whether Microsoft will be able to do anything about shutting out machines activated using this method. But their work will be made much more difficult now that such machines have completely bypassed the online activation process, and are connecting as legitimate copies of Windows.
Why Falling Flash Prices Threaten Microsoft
The surprise success of the Asus Eee could mark a change in how people view open source — and cause problems for Windows
It seems that the £200 ultraportable Asus Eee PC can do no wrong. The size of a paperback, weighing less than a kilogram, with built-in Wi-Fi and using Flash memory instead of a hard drive for storage, the Eee PC has been winning positive comments not just from hyperventilating hardware reviewers, but also from ordinary people who have actually bought it.
According to an (admittedly biased, because it was self-selecting) online survey of 1,000 users on the independent Eee PC site eeeuser.com, around 4% were dissatisfied with their purchase, 33% found the system pretty much what they expected and 62% thought it was even better than they had hoped.
Looking through the thousands of postings in eeeuser.com's user forums, the same comments keep coming up: it's so small, the build quality is high, it boots up quickly, it just works. In fact, it's hard to find many negative points. Most are about the placing of the right-hand shift key, the small size of the keyboard, the limited battery life and the slightly awkward mousepad. One thing that is almost never mentioned as a problem is the fact that the Eee PC is running not Windows, but a variant of GNU/Linux.
Better in store
Until now, the received wisdom has been that GNU/Linux will never take off with general users because it's too complicated. One of the signal achievements of the Asus Eee PC is that it has come up with a front end that hides the richness of the underlying GNU/Linux. It divides programs up into a few basic categories - Internet, Work, Learn, Play - and then provides large, self-explanatory icons for the main programs within each group. The result is that anyone can use the system without training or even handholding.
This combination of good functionality and out-of-the box ease of use with a price so low that it's almost at the impulse-buy level could prove problematic for Microsoft. Until now, there has been no obvious advantage for the average user in choosing GNU/Linux over Windows on the desktop, and plenty of disadvantages.
The price differential has been slight, and there has always been the problem of learning new ways of working. The Asus Eee PC changes all that. Because the form factor is so different, people don't seem to make direct comparisons with the desktop PC, and therefore don't expect the user experience to be identical.
The price differential between the basic Eee PC running GNU/Linux and one running Windows XP is now significant as a proportion of the total cost. One of the main suppliers of the Asus Eee PC, RM, sells the GNU/Linux version with 4Gb of storage and 512Mb of RAM for £199. The cheapest machine running Windows XP costs £259, 30% more, not least because Microsoft's operating system needs more storage and memory - 8GB and 1GB respectively. It is that difference, far more than any cost of licensing Windows, which means that Linux-based machines can remain consistently cheaper.
That disparity seems likely to increase when Microsoft phases out Windows XP at the end of June. Vista costs more than Windows XP and it requires a minimum of 15GB of storage for installation of even the most basic version. In order to run Vista on the Eee PC, users will need to buy models - currently non-existent - with much more Flash memory.
At least Moore's Law should mean that the price of memory chips will continue to plummet. For example, in 2001 $8 (£4)would have bought you around 8MB of Flash memory, whereas in 2011 it will buy you 8GB, according to projections by Gartner. As a result, Alan Brown, Gartner's research director for semiconductors, says the price of ultraportables like the Eee PC "could decline about 15% within three years to between £160 and £170".
The UK company Elonex has already set an even lower price point: it has just announced its own ultraportable, called The One, which offers most of the features of the Eee PC for £100. Other companies that have launched, or announced, similar machines running GNU/Linux include Acer, Everex, and the Australian company Pioneer Computers; even HP seems to have one on the way. At least one manufacturer of traditional portables is worried by the downward trend in prices. According to Cnet, Sony's Mike Abrams commented: "If [the Eee PC from] Asus starts to do well, we are all in trouble. That's just a race to the bottom."
This makes the relative cost of systems running Microsoft's products greater. The argument that its software is "worth more" because it has more features is unlikely to cut much ice as users discover that functionality of the kind offered by Firefox and OpenOffice.org is fine for most everyday uses - the target market for these new small devices. Moreover, the rise of free browser-based online services such as Gmail and the Google Docs office suite means you can get by with just Firefox.
The situation in developing countries is even worse. Not only must Microsoft and its partners compete with new low-cost portable GNU/Linux systems specifically designed for these markets, like the XO-1 from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project or Intel's Classmate PC, but they must also sell against unauthorised copies of Microsoft's products, which are routinely available on the streets for a few dollars. To combat this, Microsoft has started selling copies of Windows for around $3 in these markets.
Size does matter
Although this kind of bargain basement pricing helps make its products competitive with low-cost alternatives like open source or unauthorised copies, Microsoft's profit margin is cut close to zero. That's not necessarily a disaster for a company with huge cash reserves, but it could be dire for one planning to take on billions of dollars of debt - as Microsoft has said it will need to do in order to finance the acquisition of Yahoo. What if it is forced to extend this kind of pricing to western markets in order to match the cheap GNU/Linux systems in this "race to the bottom"?
The first effects may already be being felt. Notably, last week Microsoft cut the cost of retail copies of Vista, apparently because people don't see it as a necessary upgrade at the prices charged. While the vast majority of Windows "upgrades" will still come through people buying new PCs, as corporate customers hold back, the erosion of Microsoft's ability to set prices for its operating system - and perhaps more importantly its hugely profitable Office suite - could spread deep into its product suite.
And if people don't think that the extra features of Vista are worth the price, at least at retail, it makes the argument that Windows is "worth more" than Linux harder to sustain. It's an interesting - and, for Microsoft, critical - question just how low the price of these "basic but good enough" portables can go.
The original target price of the OLPC machine was around $100, but its designer, Mary-Lou Jepsen, already thinks she can do better. She says that a $75 system is "within reach," and she set up a new company, Pixel Qi, to help realise that vision.
In the process, she hopes to spawn an entirely new generation of computers. "We'll have decent, highly portable, rugged, multi-use computers everywhere. That poses constraints on the circumstances of use - the input aspects and the screens, the networking and the software, all will have to evolve." If they're to be cheap enough for many people in developing countries to buy, these systems will almost certainly be using open source, but Jepsen doesn't see the zero price tag as its main advantage: "The true and large value of free [software] is the ability to change and customise it."
In other words, Microsoft could give away its software, and it still couldn't compete with the truly open, customisable nature of free code. It seems that the only way Microsoft can hope to get people using its software on this new class of low-cost, ultraportable machines is by going fully open source itself.
HD-DVD Players, Films Dumped on eBay - Buyers Flock
When a technology format succumbs the story usually ends right there as the marketplace has no need for dead technology. Shortly after the priests gave last rights to Toshiba's HD-DVD format I thought I would monitor that harbor of market fluidity known as eBay to see how low - and presumably how ignored - HD-DVD player units and movies would go. I guess it is a morbid curiosity on my part to watch those who invested in the technology - some as recently as this past holiday season - bite the bullet and dump their once coveted item for the victorious Blu-ray.
I was correct in my assumption that HD-DVD owners would dump the technology. Here is something I did not expect; these players and films are finding many takers.
Huh? Did these people miss the memo that Blu-ray won the war? Considering that high definition player technology is still the domain of the early adopter - in other words the savviest consumer who is purchasing home electronics - I find it hard to believe there are that many naive people out there.
As I thought about a reason to explain this energetic activity for a condemned technology it dawned on me that the post-mortem HD-DVD market may just be benefiting from the rules of a disposable economy. These are consumer actions where if a product is cheap enough it is worth it for the buyer to commit to it for the short run even if all they will do at the end of that run is dispose of it in the trash. I'll explain this logic and why it might offer a possible reason for what is happening on eBay.
At full retail HD-DVD players were always priced significantly less than their equivalent Blu-ray counterparts. The cheapest Blu-Ray units to date run between $300 and $400 with mid-priced units priced at over $500. In November, Walmart and Best Buy sold the Toshiba HD-A2 for $99. Toshiba also released its third generation models for the holidays, the HD-A3 ($299), the HD-A30 ($399) and the HD-A35($499). Lower prices were not enough to pull Toshiba ahead. Brick and mortar shops like Target and WalMart sold HD-DVD and Blu-Ray movies for between $30 and $40 on average.
Post-mortem HD-DVD wares selling on eBay fall into two categories: 1. Sellers who know its over and are just trying to move their units for whatever they can get before they are completely worthless and 2. Sellers who have yet to be hit by reality and have put reserve prices on their items which are near list price. Observation shows that this second group of sellers are being ignored.
Those who are letting the eBay market dictate the price are finding ample bidders. For example, on February 25th a new sealed Toshiba HD-A3 with 5 movies included sold for $78.77. There were 21 bids on this player. A new-in-box Toshiba HD-A35 garnered 20 bids and sold for $154.49. Early March auctions for these two models are closing at around the same prices and "buy it now" prices are starting to reflect this. Used HD-A3x units - players with at most a couple of months use - are selling for less. All of these units play and upconvert standard DVDs. But even if you can get one of these players at near the cost of a standard DVD player, is there really much of a point?
Films and television shows in the HD-DVD are selling quite cheaply on eBay, averaging between $6 and $10 for an unopened disc. That's less than what you can buy the standard DVD version of the same movie for. This is where it gets interesting, because HD-DVD owners now have the opportunity to build themselves a sizeable film library inexpensively.
A key issue with high-def discs that also comes into play here is that the number of available films in both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray are rather enemic. Furthermore, because of exclusive contracts with movie studios, many titles are only available in one format or the other. Sure, it will all move to Blu-ray now, but that will take time, particularly since there are only a relatively small number of Blu-ray users now. Until Blu-ray players hit critical market mass each studio will only offer a modest cross-section of their films in high-def. That means it may take a couple of years before the local video rental shop sports a robust selection of Blue-ray titles. Until then Blu-ray users will find themselves using their pricey units to play a lot of standard DVDs. Of course, so will HD-DVD owners.
Early Adopter Depreciation - Do the Math
The early adopter pays a premium for aquiring the latest greatest now. Even though Both Blu-ray and HD-DVD have been around for a few years now, their battle for supremecy kept all but the early adopter out the market for high-def discs and equipment. For all intents and purposes, Blu-Ray still caters to the early adopter.
The nature of the consumer electronic industry is that two years from now the average consumer will probably be able to buy a Blu-ray unit for $80 that is equal to or better that the model the early adopter buys today for $300. This sets up what I call the early adopter depreciation.
The average adopter chooses to wait until prices come down ($80) before they invest in new technology. The early adopter who buys the least expensive Blu-ray unit gets to enjoy the new technology right away, but pays $300 for the privilege. The early adopter depreciation is the difference between these two figures, $300 - $80 or $220.
The early adopter essentially gets 2 years of Blu-ray for a $220 premium, which excludes the cost of buying or renting movies to play on the device. That's ok with him, because what is important is that he gets it NOW. This is what is most compells him to be an early adopter.
The demise of HD-DVD as a competing format creates a third option. An option where the consumer can get his high-def player now without paying the $220 early adopter premium. That savings pays for the player and more.
Take a consumer with a 42" plasma set who needs to replace a broken standard-def DVD player. He can a) replace it with another standard definition DVD for about $60. b) He can buy a Blu-Ray player for between $300-$1000. c) He can buy an HD-DVD unit for under $80 and then buy ten $10 or sixteen $6 HD-DVD videos.
The total cost of option C is about $180, which unlike options A and B extends the buyers existing DVD library. The cheap HD-DVD videos are critical here, because while it's only twenty dollars more to go to a high-def player, there is little advantage gained without high definition videos to play on it.
This $180 pay-out by the post-mortem HD-DVD adopter is $40 below the estimated two-year $220 early adopter depreciation today's Blu-ray consumer will experience. And this is before the Blu-ray consumer has bought or rented a single movie to play on their device.
As both the Blu-ray and HD-DVD user adds hi-def discs to their collection the HD-DVD consumer will do so at techno-dump prices. True, only Blu-ray consumers will have access to rent and buy the newest feature films, but as we mentioned before this advantage is muted by the fact that not all films will be made available in high definition in the short run.
Assuming that the pundits who are calling Blu-ray's victory pyrrhic are not correct, when the Blu-ray film and video catalog becomes robust two years from now the HD-DVD owner can simply buy that $80 Blu-ray unit and toss the HD-DVD player in the kids room for general DVD use.
And if the pundits are right? Then Blu-ray consumers gain nothing over their defeated HD-DVD brethren as both formats are short-term investments. As MIT professor Pai-Ling Yin told the NY Times:
Technology markets are characterized by waves of innovation, where the latest and greatest of last year is replaced by the latest and greatest of next year. Joseph Schumpeter described this pattern as “the perennial gale of creative destruction.” Blu-ray and HD-DVD are simply the next generation of discs, replacing the standard DVD of the last generation. Thus, there is but a limited amount of time (until the appearance of the next generation technology) for the firms and the technology of this generation to reap the rewards of being the shiny new item on the block.
In the presence of indirect network effects, that window of opportunity can be eaten away in a standards battle between two incompatible technologies.
But are these consumers really thinking about risk and short-term obsolescence when they buy these leftover and unwanted HD-DVD players on eBay. I doubt it.
I think they just came to the realization that the loser of the HD-DVD/Blu-ray war could offer the better interim value, the interim being the time it takes for high-def DVDs to replace standard-def. Yes, they are buying this decade's version of the Betamax, but as Pai-Ling Yin pointed out there is no guarantee Blu-ray will avoid the same fate.
And that's the message here. These consumers are buying, but they not buying Blu-ray. That should concern Sony. Instead, they are raising Blu-ray prices.
Canadian Blues Guitarist Jeff Healey Dies at 41
Legendary blues and jazz guitarist Jeff Healey has died, his publicist said Sunday. The Canadian musician had battled cancer his entire life.
"It was something he fought with considerable bravery," his publicist, Richard Flohil, told Newsnet late Sunday.
Healey, 41, had lost his eyesight to a rare form of the disease, Retinoblastoma, at the age of one.
The musician had performed with such acclaimed guitar players as B. B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and George Harrison.
His full name was Norman Jeffrey Healey and he passed away Sunday in the city of his birth, Toronto, at St. Joseph's Hospital.
Healey first began playing guitar at the age of three and formed his first band while still a teenager, according to his website. He played with a very distinctive style, laying his guitar on his lap.
"Visually, Jeff was an intriguing player to watch, because he played guitar -- by any conventional standard -- all wrong, with it flat across his lap," said Flohil. "But he was remarkable, a virtuoso player."
One of his best-known songs, "Angel Eyes," came from the Grammy-nominated album See the Light.
His blues band, simply called the Jeff Healey Band, has sold more than 1 million albums in the United States. But along with rock and blues music, Healey was also an accomplished jazz musician.
In his final years he had hosted a jazz program on Jazz-FM in Toronto, playing rare tracks from his vast collection of more than 30,000 78-rpm records.
He had also been touring with a group called the Jazz Wizards, playing American jazz from the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s.
They had been planning to perform a series of shows in Britain, German and Holland in April.
Healey leaves behind his wife, Cristie, 13-year-old daughter Rachel and three-year-old son Derek.
Tell the EU: Keep Copyright Sound!
A handful of major record labels are trying to break a fifty year-old promise. Musicians and their fans will not be the only victims.
Copyright in sound recordings currently lasts for 50 years. An independent review (the "Gowers review") commissioned and endorsed by the UK government says it should remain at 50 years. Yet the recording industry continues to demand that this term be extended. But term extension would be an injustice to European musicians and musical culture, and may harm our economy.
If you agree that copyright term on sound recordings should not be extended past 50 years, please, sign this petition today.
Copyright is a bargain. In exchange for their investment in creating and distributing sound recordings to the public, copyright holders are granted a limited monopoly during which are allowed to control the use of those recordings. This includes the right to pursue anyone who uses their recordings without permission. But when this time is up, these works join Goethe, Hugo and Shakespeare in the proper place for all human culture – the public domain. In practice, because of repeated term extensions and the relatively short time in which sound recording techniques have been available, there are no public domain sound recordings.
This situation is about to change, as tracks from the first golden age of recorded sound reach the end of their copyright term. The public domain is about to benefit from its half of this bargain. Seminal soul, reggae, and rock and roll recordings will soon be freed from legal restrictions, allowing anyone (including the performers themselves and their heirs) to preserve, reissue, and remix them.
Major record labels want to keep control of sound recordings well beyond the current 50 year term so that they can continue to make marginal profits from the few recordings that are still commercially viable half a century after they were laid down. Yet if the balance of copyright tips in their favour, it will damage the music industry as a whole, and also individual artists, libraries, academics, businesses and the public.
The labels lobby for change, but have yet to publicly present any compelling economic evidence to support their case. What evidence does exist shows clearly that extending term will discourage innovation, stunt the reissues market, and irrevocably damage future artists' and the general public's access to their cultural heritage.
As Europe looks to the creative industries for its economic future, it is faced with a choice. It can agree to extend the copyright term in sound recordings for the sake of a few major record labels. Or it can allow sound recordings to enter the public domain at the end of fifty years for the benefit of future innovation, future prosperity and the public good.
If you agree that copyright term on sound recordings should not be extended past 50 years, please, sign this petition today . Together, we can defeat copyright term extension.
If Intellectual Property Is Neither Intellectual, Nor Property, What Is It?
Continuing my ongoing series of posts on "intellectual property," I wanted to discuss the phrase itself. It's become common language to call it intellectual property, but that leads to various problems -- most notably the idea that it's just like regular property. It's not hard to come up with numerous reasons why that's not true, but just the word "property" seems to get people tied up. There are some who refuse to use the term, but it is handy shorthand for talking about the general space.
The main reason why I have trouble with the "property" part isn't just the fact that it leads people to try to pretend it's just like tangible property, but because it automatically biases how people think about the concept. As I've written before, the very purpose of "property" and "property rights" was to better manage allocation of scarce resources. If there's no scarce resource at all, then the whole concept of property no longer makes sense. If a resource is infinite, it no longer matters who owns it, because anyone can own it and it doesn't diminish the ownership of anyone else. So, the entire rationale for "property rights" disappears.
Even if you buy into the concept of property rights for intellectual output, a look at the history of property rights suggests that the laws are eventually forced to reflect the realities of the market. Our own Tim Lee just wrote up a masterful comparison of property rights in the early United States to copyright laws, noting how property rights in the US needed to change based on usage, rather than forcing everyone to follow the in-place rules. It's not difficult to see how the same may happen when it comes to "intellectual property" as well, if various companies who rely on those laws don't recognize the realities they face.
However, if we don't want to call it "intellectual property" what should it be called? Here are some of the contenders that people toss out:
• Intellectual Monopoly: Popularized by economists David Levine and Michele Boldrin, who have a fantastic (and well worth reading) book called Against Intellectual Monopoly. As they point out, patents and copyrights really are monopolies much more than they are property rights. In fact, as we noted early on, that's exactly how Thomas Jefferson and James Madison referred to the concepts when discussing whether or not such monopolies should be allowed by the Constitution.
• Intellectual Privilege: This one is being popularized by law professor Tom Bell, who is working on a book by the same title. While this is nice in that it retains the "IP" designation, it's also a bit cumbersome and requires a pretty detailed explanation for anyone to understand. For that reason, it may have a lot of difficulty catching on.
• Imaginary Property: Another one that retains the "IP" designation, and is growing in popularity on some blogs. It's also a little troublesome because it's probably the least accurate (and may also imply something entirely different than copyrights or patents). It gets rid of the "intellectual" part, and keeps the property part, even while calling it imaginary. But, intellectual output isn't imaginary. It's very real. That doesn't mean it's property, of course, but imaginary property may set people off in an entirely different manner.
• Others: Other suggestions are even less common, but deserve to be mentioned as well, if only briefly. There's use monopoly. Richard Stallman has suggested and rejected Imposed Monopoly Privileges (IMPs) and Government-Originated Legally Enforced Monopolies (GOLEMs), which are cute, but... not very practical. Some have even tried to tie the concept more closely to the "Promote the Progress" constitutional clause -- though, that really only covers copyright and patents. Besides, you again have the problem of it being cumbersome.
• None of the Above: There's definitely something to be said for voting for none of the above and clearly separating out each of the different types rather than lumping them all together into a single bucket.
In the end, I don't think that there's really a good answer. I think it makes sense for it to be context specific. Using "intellectual property" too freely is definitely a problem, as it creates a mindset and a framework that isn't accurate for the type of rights provided by patents, copyrights and trademarks. Yet, all of the other options have their own problems as well. I tend to think that whenever possible, it's best to use the specific type being discussed (i.e., patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc.). In general, because of common usage, I don't think it's bad to use the phrase "intellectual property" just so that people know what you're talking about -- but we should be careful to not use it in a way that reinforces the concept that it's property just like other kinds of property.
Chip Lock Aims to End Hardware Piracy
Pirated microchips based on stolen blueprints could soon be a thing of the past thanks to computer engineers at Rice University and the University of Michigan.
The boffins have devised a way to head off this costly infringement by giving each chip its own unique lock and key.
The patent holder would hold the keys, and the chip would securely communicate with the patent-holder to unlock itself. The chip could operate only after being unlocked.
The Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits (Epic) technique relies on established cryptography methods, and introduces subtle changes into the chip design process without affecting performance or power consumption.
With Epic protection enabled, each integrated circuit would be manufactured with a few extra switches that behave like a combination lock.
Each would also have the ability to produce its own at least 64-bit random identification number that could not be changed.
The chips would not be manufactured with an ID number, but would have the tools needed to produce the number during activation.
Epic chips would not work correctly until they were activated. To activate a chip, the manufacturer would plug it in and let it contact the patent owner over an ordinary phone line or internet connection.
The researchers report that integrated circuit piracy has risen in recent years as US companies started outsourcing production of newer chips with ultra-fine features.
Transferring chip blueprints to overseas locations opened new doors for bootleggers who have used the chips to make counterfeit MP3 players, cellphones and computers, among other devices.
This is a very new problem, according to Igor Markov, associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the paper.
"Pirated chips are sometimes being sold for pennies, but they are exactly the same as normal chips," he said.
"They were designed in the US and usually manufactured overseas where intellectual property law is more lax. Someone copies the blueprints or manufactures the chips without authorisation."
HK Star's Nude Photos Lead to Arrests in China
China has arrested two more people for posting nude photos of Hong Kong pop stars on the Internet, state media said on Saturday.
The two were sentenced to five days detention for spreading at least ten photos of singer and actor Edison Chen in bed with female celebrities, a scandal that has touched off a media frenzy in Hong Kong and feverish downloading of the photos.
The two men were arrested in the central province of Hunan after an online post showing the nude photos attracted more than 100,000 hits, Xinhua news agency said.
Eleven others across the country have already been detained for producing or selling the photos or posting them on the Internet, Xinhua said.
Some 1,300 private shots of the celebrities were stolen by the staff of a computer repair shop from a faulty laptop believed to belong to Chen, Hong Kong police have said.
Last week, Chen said he would quit the Hong Kong entertainment industry to "heal himself".
The Canada-born Chen, a hip hop artist and Asian film star, has admitted that most of the pictures circulating on the Internet had been taken by him and said that he never intended to show them to anyone.
Hong Kong police have made at least 10 arrests in connection with the scandal.
China prohibits the production or distribution of "pornographic products even without the purpose of making profit" and offenders can face detention of up to 15 days, Xinhua said.
Woz Finds Flaws in Apple's Latest Offerings
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heaped less than lavish praise on the company's iPhone, MacBook Air and Apple TV products when visiting Sydney this morning.
Wozniak, who created the Apple I and Apple II computers in the mid-1970s but ended his full-time employment with the company in the late '80s, said he was puzzled by the lack of 3G support on the iPhone and that he didn't believe the MacBook Air would be a hit.
"To tell you the truth I was really disappointed when the iPhone was introduced ... half the phones in the AT&T store at the time were 3G phones," Mr Wozniak said during a press conference following his keynote speech at the Broadband and Beyond Conference this morning.
"I was shocked because Apple is bringing the full internet [to mobiles] - full web pages with pictures and everything - and it's not 3G and I knew that would be a speed detriment."
Wozniak, who has moved on to new ventures since Apple but is still an employee and shareholder, said he did not know when a faster 3G iPhone would be released, although it had "sort of been known since day one that it would be here [eventually]".
The current iPhone model supports fast EDGE networks operated by Telstra and regular 2G networks, but both aren't as fast as 3G. At the UK launch of the iPhone, CEO Steve Jobs said Apple left out 3G support because it would have a detrimental effect on battery life.
"I never heard that it was a battery issue," said Wozniak.
"I don't understand why it would be a battery issue - I get as much life on my 3G phones as I get on my non-3G phones."
He said he still used the iPhone and praised its internet capabilities but he also carried a Motorola Razr for taking calls and browsing the web.
The iPhone is due to launch in Australia this year but thousands have already imported the device from overseas and unlocked it for use on local mobile networks.
When the MacBook Air was launched in January, Apple was criticised by reviewers for trading off too many essential features in favour of a lightweight, streamlined design.
The criticisms centred on the lack of a DVD drive, missing Ethernet networking port, relatively small 80GB hard drive and the inability to swap the battery.
Wozniak agreed with those criticisms, saying: "I don't think it's going to be a hit." He said he liked to burn a lot of DVDs for friends and watched movies on planes, and so needed the ability to swap batteries mid-flight.
"I'm trying to figure out a way to make the Air a part of my life because i'm a one-laptop-only person," he said.
"I don't feel it's a benefit if you have to carry the Air plus a DVD player plus a couple of extra dongles to connect to Ethernet things and also maybe an extra hard disk to carry your music - but still there's a pureness about it and really I like it."
Wozniak said he believed Apple TV - with its on-demand access to movies and TV shows without the need for a computer - was "a really good indicator of where the future is".
But he criticised the 24-hour time limit given to users who rent shows via the device and said the quality of YouTube videos played on it was poor.
The rental feature is not yet available on the Australian version of Apple TV, as the local iTunes store only offers music.
"My life is way too global and unpredictable for that [24-hour time limit] - I'll get interrupted by something and I won't finish it; I don't want to have to pay again," Wozniak said.
Wozniak, who is still good friends with Jobs, is known for his frank and honest opinions, even when asked about topics as close to home as Apple.
He said Jobs "very seldom" calls him to complain about something he has said about Apple in public.
The most recent case was when Wozniak criticised Apple for lowering the iPhone's price by $US200 within 10 weeks of its introduction, burning early adopters.
"We're really good friends - never argued over these things - but once in a while he [Jobs] will just have a comment, 'thanks a lot'."
Canadian University Puts IT Whiz Kids in 'Dormcubator'
The University of Waterloo is turning one of its residence halls into a think tank, where students can collaborate on Web, mobile, and other apps.
The University of Waterloo is giving over one of its residence halls to Velocity, a new incubator where students can collaborate on Web, mobile, and digital media applications with their fellow budding tech entrepreneurs and perhaps help breathe some life back into the incubator model.
Velocity will be housed in the 72-bed Minota Hagey dormitory on campus and will house 70 upper-level students per term who will work together on creating viable products and brushing up on their business skills, according to project leader, Sean Van Koughnett, who manages the university's Media & Mobility Network Project.
While working on more long-term implementations like a campus-wide IP telephony system, Van Koughnett wanted a project that would further digital media on campus but with more immediate results. He figured that many students were already working on mobile and Web applications on their own time, so why not bring them together? Said Van Koughnett: "We don't know if something will come out of one of these teams, but having a place where everyone can help work on it might help it to happen."
The residence will undergo a US$400,000 overhaul this summer to prep it for its first round of students this fall. The renovations will include Wi-Fi access, server space, increased bandwidth, and a 12-foot projection screen. Each of the three common areas will be transformed into a necessary space for the beginner businesspeople, including a mobile device lab and a corporate-style boardroom for product presentations.
This will come in handy during the symposiums planned for the students. Not content to just bring the students together and then leave them be, Van Koughnett has arranged for a boot camp at the beginning of term where the students can meet with corporate and consulting entities, checking out recruitment possibilities and getting real-world feedback on their ideas. An end-of-the-term symposium allows the residents to present their offerings. During the term, there will be additional one-day training sessions with role model types as well.
Said Vincent Guyaux, chairman of the Montreal-based start-up and business consultancy Embrase: "Bringing in these speakers is very important. (Learning about speaking about and selling your idea or product) is usually the most important part, but that's usually where start-ups are the weakest."
Info-Tech Research Group lead analyst Andy Woyzbun said that it will be imperative for industry partners to come and remain on board for the program to be really successful. "It really needs a level of involvement by industry that is serious, not just some executive from RIM to come in and talk once in a while. It will require significant time and money from companies."
To get into the Velocity project, students need to answer several in-depth questions about their technical and entrepreneurial savvy, and undergo a lengthy interview. The program has already received around 75 applications, with 55 offers extended and 40 accepted so far. Van Koughnett anticipates that the program will be full for its very first term starting in September. (The university has received applications from as far away as Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Toronto, but the program is only open to University of Waterloo students.)
The house is open, technically, to all students, but it will most likely be filled mostly with upper-level undergrad and graduate students with the requisite skills and experience and drive. (There has even been some interest from high school students, according to Van Koughnett, who said that he would be open to such a young applicant if they showed the necessary moxie and technical experience.)
The house will also be co-ed; the program has received about 30 per cent female applicants, according to fourth-year software engineering student and co-founder of student entrepreneurship group Impact Gaurav Jain, who has been involved with getting the project off the ground. He sees it as a valuable way to collaborate on the most cutting-edge projects. "Classwork is all about the fundamentals, but the information is often four years old, so when it comes to your pet projects you can work on the newest stuff like AJAX and PHP," said Jain. "And with pet projects, you usually don't have any structure, mentoring, and no help, and they never turn into a start-up...but here you can do something different and actually start a company--do something innovative."
It's not just the techies who've been angling for a spot in Velocity: "Students from all sorts of backgrounds have been applying (in addition to computer science and engineering students), like from arts, environmental studies, mechanical engineering, sciences, and business," Jain said. The participants have already begun to group into teams with similar interests or a project in mind. Singles with no built-in team can reach out to their fellow residents before the term starts via their Google Group, or an administrator will attempt to place them with a team with a similar bent and skill set.
Such an ambitious workload for a full-time senior student could be a real challenge, according to Woyzbun. "Young people in the tech field tend to have fairly heavy courseloads," he said, suggesting that one of the best ways to get around burn-out would be for the university to give participating students a course credit.
Van Koughnett said that program administrators are actually using this reluctance to not take on another project as a criterion to "weed out" the less committed. However, he said, some applicants are working around the time management issues by being on a work-term during their stay at Minota Hagey to free up their nights, or using a senior-level project-based course to work on their Velocity project.
And, if they manage to come up with a viable idea that makes it to the venture capital stage, there could be some iffiness around the intellectual property issue, said Guyaux. "If there's a lot of people sharing information (and then it turns into a sellable idea), then who owns that product?" Van Koughnett said that he will be soon consulting with intellectual property lawyers on this issue.
Overall, however, the start-up consulting biz sees the project as a positive move toward improved innovation in the nation. Said Raymond Luk, founder of the Montreal-based business start-up and business consultancy Flow Consulting: "Any initiative that promotes entrepreneurship in Canada is great, because it is sorely needed. When it's Canada versus the United States in terms of economy, growth, and innovation, if there's one area that Canada is lacking, it's innovation...and it makes sense for the university to encourage its students to dip their toes into entrepreneurship."
One stumbling-block that they might face, said Luk, is the project's focus. "When it's a physical space-based incubator, there can be a disconnect between the physical presence and what it actually requires to build a company. The challenge for incubators with a physical presence is against empire-building, where (the incubator administrators) just want to protect the infrastructure, which is different than the needs of the entrepreneur. They don't need office space, Internet access, or Foosball tables--what you really need is people and money, which is what's lacking in Canada. You need mentors and other successful entrepreneurs--that's what will be worth everything."
The recent spate of closed-down incubators might have something to do with the emphasis on a physical space, he said, while more consulting- and mentoring-based set-ups are becoming more successful and popular.
Guyaux agreed that Canadian tech start-up health is improving. "With these start-ups, the real question is: will we have enough funds? There are some new, smaller funds emerging, but seed money can be really rare due to the backlash of the bubble bursting. But hopefully these new venture capitalists will help."
Putting Innovation in the Hands of a Crowd
IF executives are going to rely on the wisdom of the masses for business help, it’s probably time the masses get a little compensation for it.
That’s the theory behind Kluster, the newest in a lineup of companies using the Web to channel the collective wisdom of strangers into meaningful business strategies. With a cash reward system for contributors and a big beginning at the TED conference last week in Monterey, Calif., Kluster hopes to attract just enough visitors with just enough business smarts to gain early momentum.
Along with members of the public, the 1,000 attendees of TED, a conference named for technology, entertainment and design that attracts leaders from many industries, used Kluster to generate ideas for a new product, then chose the most promising one and collaborated on the design. The result was “Over There,” an educational board game intended to promote cultural awareness, with questions like, “What percentage of the world’s population lives further than one mile from their nearest pure water source?”
According to Ben Kaufman, Kluster’s 21-year-old founder, there were a few parameters, including provisions that the product could not be wider or longer than eight inches and only specific materials, like single-injection plastic, could be used. Going into the process, Mr. Kaufman said he hoped the product would “be something that doesn’t just serve an uninteresting consumer need, but a humanitarian product that can be used by everyone.”
Mr. Kaufman said that would actually be a departure for him. As a founder of Mophie, a manufacturer of iPod accessories, Mr. Kaufman last year held a product design contest at the Macworld conference, with attendees submitting ideas and using a company Web site to refine designs and vote on the winner.
Out of that came the Bevy — a key chain and bottle opener built into the case for an iPod Shuffle — which Mophie sold by the thousands to retailers around the world. On the heels of that success, Mr. Kaufman in August sold Mophie for an undisclosed sum, then set out to build a business out of the process he used at Macworld.
Kluster includes a number of refinements to that process. Those who join are given 1,000 units of Kluster scrip, called “watts,” and they may earn more by telling the site more about themselves, like their area of expertise, age and income. Meanwhile, businesses are invited to post specific tasks to be addressed, like creating a new product, logo or corporate event.
Participants browsing the ideas offered by Kluster members can bet some or all of their watts on the ideas they most believe in, or post ideas of their own. Those who had winning ideas earn at least 20 percent of the bounty offered by the company that sought the idea, as well as more watts, while those who bet on the winning idea earn watts. Those who bet wrong lose what they wagered.
Mr. Kaufman said several well-known manufacturers would offer projects on the site after the TED contest. He would not disclose the identities of those businesses, but some, he said, would offer $50,000 or more for winning ideas, while others expect to give far less and hope that they have enough good will among their customers to spur ideas.
Kluster will make money, he said, by taking 15 percent of any rewards offered to projects and by charging fees for prominent placement of projects on the site, among other things.
Don Tapscott, the business strategy consultant and co-author of the book “Wikinomics,” said executives were quickly warming to the strategic value of “P.F.E.” ideas, or those “proudly found elsewhere.”
“Throughout the 20th century, we’ve had this view that talent is inside the company,” Mr. Tapscott said. “But with the Web, collaboration costs are dropping outside the boundaries of companies, so the world can become your talent.”
Mr. Tapscott, who credited Procter & Gamble with the P.F.E. concept, said executives can go overboard with the idea of outsourcing innovation if, in seeking such help, they expose too much of a company’s trade secrets. But so far, he knows of no business that has done so.
“They always err on the other side,” he said. “They don’t do enough.”
Among the obstacles in Kluster’s path are sites like InnoCentive and Cambrian House, which operate similarly. InnoCentive, based in Waltham, Mass., was until late last year a forum for solving science-related problems, typically for cash rewards. In September, it expanded into business, engineering and computer science, among other things. Since then it has grown by 15,000 participants, to 140,000, the company said.
Cambrian House, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, and has 64,000 participants, will also expand its Web site this year to accommodate projects across a broader range of industries. Until now, said Jasmine Antonick, a Cambrian House founder, the site has attracted mostly software and Web entrepreneurs.
Ms. Antonick expects the site to be profitable later this year, when it receives a share of payments made by businesses to several of Cambrian House’s participants, like two men who created Gwabs, an online video game that is to be distributed by an undisclosed company this summer.
Next month, it will introduce VenCorps, a site on which venture capitalists and other investors will review business ideas from the public and, after about 30 days, reward the best idea with $50,000 in exchange for a share of ownership.
VenCorps is a partnership between Cambrian House and Spencer Trask Collaborative Venture Partners, a division of the New York venture firm Spencer Trask. Sean Wise, a Collaborative Venture Partners founder, says he has high hopes for the site.
“No matter how good a V.C. I could be,” he said, “I could never be smarter than the wisdom of a collective community.”
Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research, said that Kluster had “commercial potential.” “Asking communities for help with solving problems is certainly going to help businesses,” he said. “It’s just not something you can count on delivering business value yet.”
Revenge of the Experts
The individual user has been king on the Internet, but the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward edited information vetted by professionals.
By any name, the current incarnation of the Internet is known for giving power to the people. Sites like YouTube and Wikipedia collect the creations of unpaid amateurs while kicking pros to the curb—or at least deflating their stature to that of the ordinary Netizen. But now some of the same entrepreneurs that funded the user-generated revolution are paying professionals to edit and produce online content.
In short, the expert is back. The revival comes amid mounting demand for a more reliable, bankable Web. "People are beginning to recognize that the world is too dangerous a place for faulty information," says Charlotte Beal, a consumer strategist for the Minneapolis-based research firm Iconoculture. Beal adds that choice fatigue and fear of bad advice are creating a "perfect storm of demand for expert information."
In December, Google began testing Knol, a Wikipedia-like Web site produced by "authoritative" sources that share ad revenue. The sample page contains an insomnia entry written by Rachel Manber, director of Stanford's Insomnia and Behavioral Sleep Medicine center. In January, BigThink.com, a self-styled "YouTube for ideas" backed by former Harvard president Larry Summers and others, debuted its cache of polished video interviews with public intellectuals. "We think there's demand for a nook of cyberspace where depth of knowledge and expertise reign," says cofounder Victoria Brown.
Meanwhile, Mahalo just launched the final test version of its people-powered search engine, which replaces Google's popularity-based page rankings with results that the start-up says are based on quality and vetted by real people. Enter "Paris hotels," for instance, into Google, and the search engine returns 18 million pages from an array of obscure Web sites. Plug the same request into Mahalo and you get the "Mahalo Top 7," a list of big-name sites, including Frommer's, Fodor's and Lonely Planet. Mahalo's lead investor, Sequoia Capital, has caught the Silicon Valley winds before: it was also an early backer of YouTube, Yahoo and Google.
Old standbys are also vying to fact-check the world before it reaches your fingertips. The decade-old reference site About.com says its traffic has jumped more than 80 percent since 2005, thanks to a growing network of 670 freelance subject experts called Guides. They include Aaron Gold, an automotive journalist whose picture and bio accompany his chirpy self-introduction: "Hi, I'm Aaron Gold, your Guide to cars!" About.com hires its Guides based on education and experience, then pays them for the page views they generate. The minimum salary is $725 a month, and there is no maximum; some Guides are pulling down six figures. As Peter Weingard, About.com's vice president of marketing, explains, "We like to think of ourselves as a friendly online neighborhood of experts."
Fueling all this podium worship is the potential for premium audiences—and advertising revenue. "The more trusted an environment, the more you can charge for it," says Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis, a former AOL executive who was previously involved with several Web start-ups. It's also easier to woo advertisers with the promise of controlled content than with hit-and-miss blog blather. "Nobody wants to advertise next to crap," says Andrew Keen, author of "The Cult of the Amateur," a jeremiad against the ills of the unregulated Web.
The timing could be right for a new era in Silicon Valley, a Web 3.0. It comes, after all, during dark days for the ideal of a democratic Web. User-generated sites like Wikipedia, for all the stuff they get right, still find themselves in frequent dust-ups over inaccuracies, while community-posting boards like Craigslist have never been able to keep out scammers and frauds. Beyond performance, a series of miniscandals has called the whole "bring your own content" ethic into question. Last summer researchers in Palo Alto, Calif., uncovered secret elitism at Wikipedia when they found that 1 percent of the reference site's users make more than 50 percent of its edits. Perhaps more notoriously, four years ago a computer glitch revealed that Amazon.com's customer-written book reviews are often written by the book's author or a shill for the publisher. "The wisdom of the crowds has peaked," says Calacanis. "Web 3.0 is taking what we've built in Web 2.0—the wisdom of the crowds—and putting an editorial layer on it of truly talented, compensated people to make the product more trusted and refined."
Those with a more tempered opinion say the expert cometh, but only modestly. "I think it's a shift in degree, rather than in kind," says Glenn Reynolds, whose book "An Army of Davids" defends the staying power of the little guy. For curated Internet fare to flourish it also needs to overcome a national distrust of experts that is, in fact, older than the country itself. In 1642, the Puritan John Cotton warned that "the more learned and witty you bee, the more fit for Satan you bee," while in the 19th century, Andrew Jackson and his followers ridiculed learned culture as an affront to the common man. In more recent years the ideal of the noble amateur has been bent to include a general disdain for the professional writer, editor or journalist. But while the tide of investment seems to be shifting somewhat, the nature of the Internet suggests that Web 2.0 populism will never be thrown out entirely. "There's always a Big New Thing, but the old Big New Thing doesn't really go away," says Reynolds. "It becomes just another layer—like we're building an onion from the inside out."
|05-03-08, 08:14 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
In Oscars, No Country for Hit Films
At the Governor’s Ball, the gilded post-Oscar fete, many of the evening’s winners swanned about with statues in one hand and glasses of Champagne in the other, while the losers washed down what was left of the evening with stronger spirits.
The movie industry was in full frolic, but beneath the waves of froth and elation, all was not well.
Thirty-two million people watched the Oscar broadcast last week, fewer than tuned in for the debut of “American Idol” in January, which means that a network-confected competition starring people named Ramiele Malubay and Robbie Carrico trumped a show with eight decades of history and stars like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett for the ultimate achievement in entertainment.
That’s the Hollywood equivalent of an Ultimate Fighting Championship outdrawing the Super Bowl (just wait, that’s coming, too).
The shrugs from the audience might have something to do with the always-on supply of celebrity 411. Star sightings were rarer in the good old days. Now, why tune in to see Jessica Alba’s baby bump when you already know that she visited her obstetrician last week and that mother and baby are doing fine?
Part of the problem may be good taste. Back when the academy was reflexively pulling the lever for movies like “Titanic,” the Oscar viewers showed up in droves, with over 55 million tuning in. But the current academy panel is increasingly composed of people from the industry who were weaned on the cinematic revolution begotten by directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
This year, those voters found all manner of ambitious, dark cinema to recognize, including “No Country for Old Men,” which won three Oscars, including best picture, and “There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic that earned a best actor Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis.
While there is much to be admired in the five best-picture nominees, all told, they have pulled in around $313 million so far at the box office, a few million less than “Transformers” did alone.
There was a feeling after this year’s Oscars, with low ratings and modest box office returns, that the version of Hollywood depicted in those myriad tributes is little more than nostalgia. Instead, the Oscars seemed one more discrete sandbox, where only a certain kind of movie can hope to play.
“Movies and television have both fractured into niches, and the Oscars are a television show about movies,” said Mark Harris, the author of “Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood,” a book about the nominees for best picture at the 1968 Oscars.
The Oscars’ transition to more refined fare began in the early 1990s when studios began hatching flanker brands, the so-called Indiewood specialty divisions like Fox Searchlight and Paramount Classic (now Vantage), to help the parent companies come up with quality films aimed at adults, and by proxy, the academy.
Ten years ago Harvey Weinstein, then of Miramax, demonstrated that a combination of audacious producing choices (“The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love”), an English accent or two, and brute marketing dollars could help the academy find its inner film critic.
But the Oscar bounce has all but disappeared, in part because the awards have been moved up in the year and the window in which a nomination could be used to attract to a wider audience has become shorter. In his book, Mr. Harris recounts how “The Graduate,” one of the nominees he wrote about, had a two-year run, including before and after the Oscars. Nowadays, perfectly wonderful films like Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” are pushed out of theaters (and out of competition) within a few weeks to make room for other bets.
As a result, the so-called Oscar movie is a very precise business exercise: it must be reviewed ecstatically, be seen by loads of adults and receive love at the warm-up awards shows before the Oscars. These kind of films have no toy revenues, no prequels or sequels, and little penetration with youth audiences (give or take the occasional “Juno”). With that kind of math, it’s a little like playing nickel slots with half-dollar coins.
“You can lose a lot of money on a $10 million movie that you spend $30 million marketing as an Oscar picture,” said one person in the industry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is a Hollywood film executive and the subject was about losing money.
Four days after the downsized Oscars, the other shoe dropped. New Line Cinema, the very independent division of Time Warner with a 40-year legacy including the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which drew $2.9 billion, was subsumed into another unit, Warner Brothers Studios. The move brought to mind the Walt Disney Company’s takeover of Miramax, another mini-major whose big bets made the parent company unhappy.
Several executives I spoke to this week pointed out that Time Warner’s new chief executive, Jeffrey L. Bewkes, is not primarily a movie guy. As is the case with Robert A. Iger of Disney and Howard Stringer of Sony, Mr. Bewkes’s primary audience works on Wall Street and wears pinstripes, not sequins.
But with Time Warner’s stock languishing around $16 a share, Mr. Bewkes had become increasingly impatient with New Line’s sovereignty and the duplication in costs in studio infrastructure and distribution that went with it.
Last week, Mr. Bewkes said that he liked the glamour of the Oscars as much as the next guy, probably more. But still.
“Any real movie company needs to greenlight projects that get recognition for their quality and that attract the best talent in the business,” he said. But, he added, you have to find a way to meet the needs of a mass audience in a profitable way, year after year, to even get to the starting gate of the awards season.
New Line will continue as a brand, but many of its 600 employees will be cut, including the guys that built it, Robert K. Shaye and Michael Lynne. It was clear that changes were coming, but people were shocked to see two of the last entrepreneurs in the business get the gate.
It was only four years ago, after all, that they were the toast of the Oscars, with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” receiving 11 awards, including best picture. So a week in which people in the movie business historically take victory laps and make grand plans became one of grim reckoning instead.
BitTorrent Throttling Company Sandvine Sees Sales Down 88%
Sandvine, manufacturers of BitTorrent throttling technology has seen its first quarter sales drop 88% in a year. After achieving 42,000% growth in 5 years, the company - best known for providing the technology which put Comcast into the spotlight recently - has seen its value plummet 42% in a single day.
When Comcast introduced the Sandvine traffic shaping solution, it hoped it could quietly interfere with its customer’s BitTorrent activities without getting too much attention. Unfortunately for them, their actions didn’t go unnoticed, and during August last year we broke the news that this ISP does indeed mess with it’s customers internet connections.
Since then, things have gone from bad to worse for Comcast, as their customers started to realize that this ISP wasn’t giving them what they paid for. As a result, Comcast are now being sued and annoyed users formed a coalition to challenge the company to try to claim compensation. All of this is on top of a FCC hearing which deemed that Comcast uses ‘hacker-techniques’ to interrupt BitTorrent traffic, techniques which are employed via the traffic management ’solution’ from Sandvine. Essentially, the Sandvine system allows Comcast to inject forged reset packets into BitTorrent transfers which makes seeding impossible - good news for ISPs who don’t want to give their customers the bandwidth they paid for, but bad news for BitTorrent, and even worse news for supporters of Internet neutrality.
However, it is the very fact that Sandvine allows ISPs like Comcast to disrupt their customer’s activities which prompted the recent Federal Communications Commission hearings. The FCC warned Comcast that it will not allow it to disrupt internet traffic, which is of course a major concern for other ISPs considering investing in the Sandvine system. According to a G&M report, it is this hesitancy over net neutrality issues, coupled with problems major telecoms companies are experiencing when trying to refinance their debts, that have hit Sandvine hard. A survey by financial services outfit Canaccord Adams suggest that the top 40 global communications companies are all currently extremely wary over capital expenditure.
Advocacy Groups Bash Comcast's "Technical-Sounding Nonsense"
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press, two of the biggest backers of the FCC's investigation into Comcast's traffic management practices, late last week filed reply comments with the Commission. The goal of both was to undermine the arguments trotted out by Comcast in defense of its BitTorrent "delaying" practices.
While the EFF turned in a dense and thoughtful discussion of the importance of corporate transparency, Free Press ranged much wider, seeking to undermine the whole edifice of "technical-sounding nonsense" coming from Comcast HQ. Taken together, both sets of comments make a strong case that Comcast's decision to block "pure seeding" during periods of network congestion was both poorly handled and is technically unnecessary.
"Spelunking in open FCC dockets"
The EFF decided to focus its comments not so much on what Comcast did (and does), but on how the company has gone about doing it. While acknowledging that "market forces should be preferred, whenever possible, to regulation," the group claims that markets will be stunted whenever the information asymmetry between service providers and users grows too great. When a company like Comcast refuses to admit what it is doing or to describe the effects of its network management decisions, it prevents many users from making an informed decision about purchasing service from Comcast (and the entire debate rests on the assumption that there is a robust competitive market, something that the EFF clearly has issues with).
When Comcast gives the impression that "it isn't using network management techniques that are designed to disrupt anyone's use of BitTorrent (or any other application)," as it did to the EFF back in September of 2007, it can be difficult for consumers to make an informed decision about ISP service.
Comcast does interfere with BitTorrent traffic under certain circumstances (when network traffic is high and a particular computer is uploading BitTorrent files but not downloading them), but the only way a user would know this with any certainty is by reading the company's recent FCC filing on the matter, the only place Comcast has spelled this out. As the EFF points out, "consumers should not be expected to resort to spelunking in open FCC dockets in order to find" these important details.
Without this information, many users will assume that any problems they see are simply a result of transient network connections, application peculiarities, or configuration issues on the user's own machine.
A lack of transparency also discourages innovation on the part of application authors, who will have less incentive to create new products if they remain unsure of how ISPs might treat those apps. If Internet software creators can no longer count on the "end-to-end" functionality of a network, and instead must guess at the effects that network management will have on their software's transmissions, they are no longer as free to innovate as they once were; the Internet has the potential to become a place where creativity needs permission.
"If ISPs are free to selectively deviate from established Internet standards in different ways," writes the EFF, "the resulting Balkanized patchwork would leave innovators with little choice but to obtain prior permission from major ISPs in order to guarantee that their applications will operate correctly."
While transparency is essential, the EFF argues that it need not be an undue burden on ISPs and that being open about the effects of network management doesn't need to compromise security. For instance, ISPs should disclose to users that they filter spam and viruses from some e-mail (and only when consumers use the companies' e-mail services), but they don't need to describe specific Bayesian filtering algorithms or virus removal techniques. Only when consumers know in this broad sense how ISPs are acting can they make informed decisions about which services to pay for.
Cutting through the "nonsense"
While Free Press is a big fan of disclosure, it insists that "disclosure alone is not enough." It would prefer the FCC to say that certain forms of network management are out of bounds, that they don't fall under the heading of "reasonable network management."
To make its case, the group attempts to dispel the "technical-sounding nonsense" put forth by Comcast and its allies. If you've been following this debate at all, you already have a good sense of what Comcast's position is: upgrades are too expensive, BitTorrent traffic would instantly consume any upgraded bandwidth, and the only way to properly manage traffic is to discriminate against specific protocols.
Free Press has been one of the groups consistently pushing ISPs to invest more heavily in infrastructure rather than throttle traffic instead. As a policy matter, the group believes this is simply a better way to go and that the US is falling dangerously behind the network infrastructures of other countries. Free Press probably doesn't help its case when it resorts to hyperbolic rhetoric about "letting our networks remain third-world networks," but it does make a good point that cost is not the only issue here. If the government decides that it is imperative to the public interest for ISPs not to block or delay specific Internet protocols, then debates about what's cheapest to implement are irrelevant.
"As a matter of policy, it doesn't matter if investment is slightly more expensive than throttling traffic," is how Free Press puts it. "It doesn't matter that cars with airbags are more expensive than those without or drugs with child-proof tops are more expensive than those without. Consumer welfare and our global competitiveness requires open, high-capacity networks, and government encourages investment in such ends, not in tools that block and discriminate against innovation and competition."
In any event, Free Press doesn't believe that network upgrades are actually that expensive, and industry estimates to the contrary may be misleading. It points to Dave Burstein's analysis over at trade publication DSL Prime, where Burstein estimates the cost of building a fully neutral network at around a buck a month per subscriber, and also notes how ridiculous are the claims that traffic shaping is "necessary" to the ISP business. If that's so, he correctly points out, why don't Verizon and AT&T need to shape? Clearly, there are other ways of handling the issue of congestion.
Finally, Free Press takes aim at the common talking point about BitTorrent and other P2P protocols: they will consume any available bandwidth, no matter how much is thrown at them. If this idea is granted, throttling or degrading such protocols makes an obvious kind of sense; but what if the premise is wrong?
Free Press points out that BitTorrent is an app that runs over TCP, and TCP already contains congestion-control mechanisms. One network congestion is sensed, TCP streams automatically dial themselves back (other groups allege that P2P protocols don't properly do this, however).
The more important point, though, is that P2P protocols are limited in another key respect: an end user's cable modem will only pull down or transmit a limited amount of data. Even if P2P protocols grab "all the available bandwidth," they can't grab more bandwidth than the cable modem allows out over the wire.
Eric Klinker, the chief technology officer at BitTorrent, made this point at the recent FCC hearing on the Comcast case. He pointed out that his cable modem was limited to 384kbps of upload speed, "so no application that sits behind that cable modem could ever transmit more whether they were using BitTorrent or any other application."
Unfortunately, Comcast doesn't actually have 384kbps of upload speed to give out to every subscriber at every particular moment. Because 45 or 50 users are connected to each "node" in a cable system and share total bandwidth among themselves, a quick calculation shows that if each user maxes out his or her upload speed, the total amount of information far exceeds the capacity of the uplink. Essentially, Comcast is selling a product that it cannot fully support, though the company contends that no networks are built for 24/7 peak usage and that this is entirely appropriate.
If Comcast really were concerned about bandwidth, Free Press suggests that the company take a hard look in the mirror. While Comcast has several hundred 6MHz slots available on its cable lines, only a few of these are devoted to Internet access. The rest provide access to cable TV and to Comcast's own video on demand services, and most are transmitting data that isn't used by anyone (cable transmits all of its channels all of the time, even when they're not being watched). To solve the problem, Comcast could 1) migrate to DOCSIS 3.0 more quickly and 2) move to a switched digital video network that only transmits currently-requested channels down the line. Both measures would boost current capacity tremendously.
The precedent problem
Comcast, which has been accused of crowd-shaping along with traffic-shaping, has shown no signs of backing down from its position. But if Free Press is at all correct and Comcast isn't actually saving itself much money, what's the point of all the fighting?
Burstein thinks it's all about the precedent. "Traffic shaping just doesn't save enough money to go to war, perhaps 10¢ per month, per subscriber," he says. "Verizon just confirmed [they] don't shape traffic or expect to do so in the future. Everyone's fighting so hard because they are afraid of a bad precedent."
Whatever happens, though, the ISPs are likely to get at least something in the way of precedent. Even a staunch defender of network management like Cisco chimed in this week with comments suggesting that ISPs should provide more notice about traffic-shaping procedures. "This notice should provide clear and meaningful information for consumers, including what traffic can be affected, under what conditions, and for how long." Free Press may not succeed in convincing the FCC that Comcast is spouting "nonsense," but the EFF looks likely to win its battle on transparency. Comcast has already taken baby steps in this direction.
Now, as to making use of that information, let's talk about that "robustly competitive market" I've heard so much about...
Retooling for a Changing Telecom Landscape
Competition is fierce in the European telecommunications industry, where companies are vying for customers by undercutting each other on prices for services like broadband while trying to keep up with new technologies.
Some phone companies, including Britain’s biggest, the BT Group, face an additional challenge in trying to replace some of the revenue they have lost as customers have dropped traditional fixed-line phone service. Some analysts say BT is in an especially difficult situation because it does not have a mobile phone business to help offset that decline.
But the chief executive, Ben Verwaayen, is betting that services like customized applications for corporate clients and advising companies on their networks can generate profit growth. As part of that plan, he has started to replace some of BT’s traditional fixed-line phone engineers with technology “wiz teams” and plans to invest more in training and hiring.
Mr. Verwaayen, 56, spoke recently about how he expects the industry to change from one that focuses on gadgets and hardware to services, the war for talent and acquisition plans. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Q. The market is moving quickly, customers are becoming more demanding and competition is fierce. In an environment like that, how do you gain an advantage over your rivals?
A. What we sell now is very different from what we sold five years ago. We don’t sell telephony or sending faxes anymore. What we sell now is a collaboration of different services. We provide what we call experiences and not just sell the hardware. I believe the world is moving into the next phase, where customers will much less distinguish between fixed and mobile services but will look more for the most innovative service for any given application. That’s why we focus on services and providing a social networking capability.
Q. Your main engine for growth is your services business, where you currently generate more than a third of total sales. Where do you see the biggest challenge with that approach?
A. It’s innovation. The reason to buy products is more and more that little level of innovation you get offered on top of the machines or gadgets you buy. While for companies in the connectivity business the challenge is to cut costs and prices, for us the gamble is can I keep innovating?
Q. How do you make sure you do? Do you spend an increasing amount on research and development?
A. You don’t need to have a massive corporate innovation group but you need smaller groups scattered around the organization and very close to your customer base. About 50 percent of our revenue today is from things we didn’t sell four or five years ago. When making investments, it is important to make them as neutral to any specific application as possible.
Q. Like many other former phone monopolies, including Deutsche Telekom, BT needed to transform itself by moving away from the shrinking fixed-line business toward new products and services to remain competitive. How difficult is that?
A. The challenge is how, in a company where everybody was born with a screwdriver in their hands, do you now start distributing keyboards. The innovation and the changes all happen on the software layer. The hardware layer simply is too expensive and changes take too long.
Q. BT is currently in the middle of a cost-cutting program that includes reducing positions on the traditional hardware side of the businesses while hiring staff for the services operation. How does that make the people with the screwdrivers feel?
A. They have to prove their value again because their world is more than ever about productivity. The screwdriver is not gone, but while in the past the screwdriver world would decide, now the people with the keyboard have the prime seat at the table. But if you look at our costs, it’s the other way round. The bulk of it is still in the screwdriver world. So the key to any successful investment strategy is to understand talent.
Q. How difficult is it to attract that talent? In December you bought the Singapore-based Frontline Technologies for about $140 million to expand in Asia. Most of your larger rivals have identified Asia as an area for future growth. How fierce is the war for talent there?
A. Very, very fierce. Talent is the differentiator. It’s where we put our money and our resources. If you don’t open your mind and offer more than just good pay in that environment, you lose out. That is the biggest challenge to corporations, and we have to adapt to the talent’s needs by being flexible and offer schemes like working from home. The type of people you find in BT now is massively different than just some years ago.
Q. BT has made 27 small- to medium-size acquisitions in the last three years. Many recent ones were in the technology sector in the United States. Are you planning to continue that growth strategy?
A. You can expect us to continue with such acquisitions because we’ve not only found interesting applications through them but also talent pools. The whole debate that I’m seeing around the world today that the U.S. is losing out to the East is wrong. It is the talent that will win no matter where that talent is based. In India, where 26,000 people are working for us, it’s not lower costs that we are after but the fact that the market there has entrepreneurial people.
US Government Forces Military Secrets on Brit Webmaster
Sorry, we thought you were us
A website promoting the town of Mildenhall has been shut down after it unintentionally became the recipient of hundreds of classified emails, including messages detailing the planned flight path of President Bush.
Over more than a decade, www.mildenhall.com received emails detailing all kinds of secret military information that were intended for official Air Force personnel. One detailed where Air Force One could be found in the air during a planned visit to the region by President Bush. Others included battlefield strategy and passwords.
"I was being sent everything from banal chat and jokes, to videos up to 15mb in size," Gary Sinnott, owner of mildenhall.com, said in this article in EDP 24. "Some were classified, some were personal. A lot had some really sensitive information in them."
As owner of mildenhall.com, Sinnott received every email that had that domain name included in the address field. The site was set up to provide information about the town of Mildenhall, which is about a half-hour's drive north east of Cambridge.
Sinnott says he brought the SNAFU to the attention of Air Force officials but was never able to get the problem fixed. At first, they didn't seem to take the matter seriously, but eventually, they "went mental," he said. Officials advised Sinnott to block unrecognizable addresses from his domain and set up an auto-reply reminding people of the address for the official air force base.
But still, the official emails continued to flow in to Sinnott's site. And to make matters worse, some people got angry after Sinnott told them they were sending email to the wrong address and gave his address to spammers. Sinnott was receiving 30,000 pieces of email per day, most of which was junk mail.
So Sinnott pulled the plug on the website. Though he remains the owner of mildenhall.com, it may only be a matter of time before all those emails incorrectly addressed to Air Force personnel at mildenhall.com automatically begin to bounce. And that ought to make security conscious people everywhere breath a little easier.
Alas, according whois records, mildenhall.net and mildenhall.org are in the hands of non-military individuals and mildenhall.us is available to anyone with $35. Given what we now know about the boobs who send confidential information, that ought to give us pause.
Dell Pointed Out Vista Mistakes, Internal Documents Show
Late changes, confusing marketing, doubting vendors contributed to Vista stumbles
Last-minute changes to Windows Vista broke drivers, forcing key hardware vendors to "limp out with issues" when the OS launched last year, according to a presentation by Dell Corp. that was made public this week.
"Late OS code changes broke drivers and applications, forcing key commodities to miss launch or limp out with issues," said one slide in a Dell presentation dated March 25, 2007, about two months after Vista's launch at retail and availability on new PCs.
The criticism was just one of many under the heading "What did not go well?" Others ranged from knocks against Vista's Windows Anytime Upgrade scheme, an in-place upgrade option, to several slams on "Windows Vista Capable," the marketing program that targeted PC buyers shopping for machines in the months leading up to Vista's debut.
Dell's postmortem, in fact, was one of several after-launch appraisals included in the 158 pages of e-mails and other documents unsealed Wednesday in a class-action lawsuit over Vista Capable.
"Stronger messaging regarding hardware requirements (the bar was set too low when Aero was dropped as a requirement for Vista Capable)," Dell's presentation noted in another slide.
That response wouldn't have come as a surprise to Microsoft. Dell had voiced its dissatisfaction with Microsoft's marketing plans a year and a half earlier. In August 2005, Gretchen Miller, Dell's director of mobile marketing responsible for the Texas company's laptop marketing gave feedback to Microsoft on its Vista programs.
"[The dual logo] adds another level of complexity to an already complex story, which in turn will create confusion for our customers, both corporate and consumer," said Miller in an e-mail. Although Dell advised Microsoft to scale back the logos, the software developer eventually went ahead with its plans for two stickers, once that announced a PC was "Vista Capable," the other advertising that the system was "Vista Premium Ready."
Dell also used the March 2007 presentation to call out other things it thought Microsoft got wrong in the push for Vista. "Windows Automatic Update was not what was advertised and has lead to a number of poor customer experiences," Dell charged. "Upgrade program needs a complete overhaul."
Microsoft's response to Dell's criticisms was not included in the documents revealed by U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman this week. A Microsoft OEM account manager who passed the Dell presentation to others at her company, however, said that she had told Dell that Microsoft would "have a more detailed postmortem discussion around capable and upgrade in the May  timeframe."
Microsoft only just tweaked Windows Anytime Upgrade this month. As of Feb. 20, Microsoft started mailing DVDs equipped with a product activation code, rather than e-mailing the key and expecting the user to dig out the original Vista installation DVD.
Company managers and executives also did their own postmortems on Vista, the unsealed e-mails revealed. One that presumably carried more weight than others was written by Steven Sinofsky, chief of Windows development. In an e-mail to CEO Steve Ballmer written less than three weeks after he took over the post, Sinofsky spelled out his three reasons why Vista stumbled out the gate.
"No one really believed we would ever ship so they didn't start the work until very late in 2006," Sinofsky said. "This led to the lack of availability [of device drivers]."
Next on his list: Changes to the operating systems' video and audio infrastructure. "Massive changes in the underpinnings for video and audio really led to a poor experience at RTM," he said. "This change led to incompatibilities. For example, you don't get Aero with an XP driver, but your card might not (ever) have a Vista driver."
Finally, said Sinofsky, other changes in Vista blocked Windows XP drivers altogether. "This is across the board for printers, scanners, WAN, accessories and so on. Many of the associated applets don't run within the constraints of the security model or the new video/audio driver models."
According to the e-mails made public this week, Microsoft will apply the lessons it learned with Vista the next time around. "There is really nothing we can do in the short term," noted Joan Kalkman, the general manager of OEM and embedded worldwide marketing, in a message written a week after Sinofsky's. "In the long term we have worked hard to establish and have committed to an OEM Theme for Win[dows] 7 planning.
"This was rejected for Vista. Having this theme puts accountability and early thinking on programs like Capable/Ready so that we make the right decisions early on."
Author Admits Acclaimed Memoir Is Fantasy
In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.
The problem is that none of it is true.
Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.
Riverhead Books, the unit of Penguin Group USA that published “Love and Consequences,” is recalling all copies of the book and has canceled Ms. Seltzer’s book tour, which was scheduled to start on Monday in Eugene, Ore., where she currently lives.
In a sometimes tearful, often contrite telephone interview from her home on Monday, Ms. Seltzer, 33, who is known as Peggy, admitted that the personal story she told in the book was entirely fabricated. She insisted, though, that many of the details in the book were based on the experiences of close friends she had met over the years while working to reduce gang violence in Los Angeles.
“For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk. Maybe it’s an ego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”
The revelations of Ms. Seltzer’s mendacity came in the wake of the news last week that a Holocaust memoir, “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years” by Misha Defonseca, was a fake, and perhaps more notoriously, two years ago James Frey, the author of a best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” admitted that he had made up or exaggerated details in his account of his drug addiction and recovery.
Ms. Seltzer’s story started unraveling last Thursday after she was profiled in the House & Home section of The New York Times. The article appeared alongside a photograph of Ms. Seltzer and her 8-year-old daughter, Rya. Ms. Seltzer’s older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, saw the article and called Riverhead to tell editors that Ms. Seltzer’s story was untrue.
“Love and Consequences” immediately hit a note with many reviewers. Writing in The Times, Michiko Kakutani praised the “humane and deeply affecting memoir,” but noted that some of the scenes “can feel self-consciously novelistic at times.” In Entertainment Weekly, Vanessa Juarez wrote that “readers may wonder if Jones embellishes the dialogue” but went on to extol the “powerful story of resilience and unconditional love.”
In the vividly told book, Ms. Seltzer wrote about her African-American foster brothers, Terrell and Taye, who joined the Bloods gang when they were 11 and 13. She chronicled her experiences making drug deliveries for gang leaders at age 13 and how she was given her first gun as a birthday present when she was 14. Ms. Seltzer told The Times last week, “One of the first things I did once I started making drug money was to buy a burial plot.”
Sarah McGrath, the editor at Riverhead who worked with Ms. Seltzer for three years on the book, said she was stunned to discover that the author had lied.
“It’s very upsetting to us because we spent so much time with this person and we felt such sympathy for her and she would talk about how she didn’t have any money or any heat and we completely bought into that and thought we were doing something good by bringing her story to light,” Ms. McGrath said.
“There’s a huge personal betrayal here as well as a professional one,” she said.
Ms. Seltzer said she had been writing about her friends’ experiences for years in creative-writing classes and on her own before a professor asked her to speak with Inga Muscio, an author who was then working on a book about racism. Ms. Seltzer talked about what she portrayed as her experiences and Ms. Muscio used some of those accounts in her book. Ms. Muscio then referred Ms. Seltzer to her agent, Faye Bender, who read some pages that Ms. Seltzer had written and encouraged the young author to write more.
In April 2005, Ms. Bender submitted about 100 pages to four publishers. Ms. McGrath, then at Scribner, a unit of Simon & Schuster, agreed to a deal for what she said was less than $100,000. When Ms. McGrath moved to Riverhead in 2006, she moved Ms. Seltzer’s contract.
Over the course of three years, Ms. McGrath, who is the daughter of Charles McGrath, a writer at large at The Times, worked closely with Ms. Seltzer on the book. “I’ve been talking to her on the phone and getting e-mails from her for three years and her story never has changed,” Ms. McGrath said. “All the details have been the same. There never have been any cracks.”
In a telephone interview, Ms. Seltzer’s sister, Ms. Hoffman, 47, said: “It could have and should have been stopped before now.” Referring to the publisher, she added: “I don’t know how they do business, but I would think that protocol would have them doing fact-checking.”
Ms. Seltzer said she had met some gang members during a short stint she said she spent at “Grant” high school “in the Valley.” (A Google search identifies Ulysses S. Grant High School, a school on 34 acres in the Valley Glen neighborhood in the east-central San Fernando Valley.) “It opened my mind to the fact that not everybody is as they are portrayed on the news,” she said. “Everything’s not that black and white or gray or brown.”
She said that although she returned to Campbell Hall, she remained in touch with people she met at Grant and then began working with groups that were trying to stop gang violence. She said that even after she moved to Oregon, she would often venture to South-Central Los Angeles to spend time with friends in the gang world.
In the book, she describes her foster mother, Big Mom, an African-American woman who raised four grandchildren and a foster brother, Terrell, who was gunned down by Crips right outside her foster mother’s home.
Ms. Seltzer, who writes in an author’s note to the book that she “combined characters and changed names, dates, and places,” said in an interview that these characters and incidents were in part based on friends’ experiences. “I had a couple of friends who had moms who were like my mom and that’s where Big Mom comes from — from being in the house all the time and watching what goes on. One of my best friend’s little brother was killed two years ago, shot,” she said.
Ms. Seltzer added that she wrote the book “sitting at the Starbucks” in South-Central, where “I would talk to kids who were Black Panthers and kids who were gang members and kids who were not.”
“I’m not saying like I did it right,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I did not do it right. I thought I had an opportunity to make people understand the conditions that people live in and the reasons people make the choices from the choices they don’t have.” Ms. McGrath said that she had numerous conversations with Ms. Seltzer about being truthful. “She seems to be very, very naïve,” Ms. McGrath said. “There was a way to do this book honestly and have it be just as compelling.”
Tucker Carlson Unintentionally Reveals the Role of the American Press
The most interesting part of the controversy over Obama advisor Samantha Power's referring to Hillary Clinton as a "monster" -- one might say the only interesting part -- is that immediately after Power said it, she tried to proclaim that it was "off the record." Here was Power's exact quote:
She is a monster, too –- that is off the record –- she is stooping to anything.
But the reporter who was interviewing her, Britain's Gerri Peev of The Scotsman, printed the comment anyway -- as she should have, because Peev had never agreed that any parts of the interview would be "off the record," and nobody has the right to demand unilaterally, and after the fact, that journalists keep their embarrassing remarks a secret.
It's extremely likely, though, that had Power been speaking to a typical reporter from the American establishment media, her request to keep her comments a secret would have been honored. In one of the ultimate paradoxes, for American journalists -- whose role in theory is to expose the secrets of the powerful -- secrecy is actually their central religious tenet, especially when it comes to dealing with the most powerful. Protecting, rather than exposing, the secrets of the powerful is the fuel of American journalism. That's how they maintain their access to and good relations with those in power.
Illustrating that point as vividly as anything I can recall, MSNBC's Tucker Carlson had Peev on his show last night and angrily criticized her publication of Power's remarks. Carlson upbraided Peev for her lack of deference to someone as important as Power, and Peev retorted by pointing out exactly what that attitude reflects about Carlson and the American press generally (via LEXIS; h/t Mike Stark):
CARLSON: What -- she wanted it off the record. Typically, the arrangement is if someone you're interviewing wants a quote off the record, you give it to them off the record. Why didn't you do that?
PEEV: Are you really that acquiescent in the United States? In the United Kingdom, journalists believe that on or off the record is a principle that's decided ahead of the interview. If a figure in public life.
PEEV: Someone who's ostensibly going to be an advisor to the man who could be the most powerful politician in the world, if she makes a comment and decides it's a bit too controversial and wants to withdraw it immediately after, unfortunately if the interview is on the record, it has to go ahead.
CARLSON: Right. Well, it's a little.
PEEV: I didn't set out in any way, shape.
CARLSON: Right. But I mean, since journalistic standards in Great Britain are so much dramatically lower than they are here, it's a little much being lectured on journalistic ethics by a reporter from the "Scotsman," but I wonder if you could just explain what you think the effect is on the relationship between the press and the powerful. People don't talk to you when you go out of your way to hurt them as you did in this piece.
Don't you think that hurts the rest of us in our effort to get to the truth from the principals in these campaigns?
PEEV: If this is the first time that candid remarks have been published about what one campaign team thinks of the other candidate, then I would argue that your journalists aren't doing a very good job of getting to the truth. Now I did not go out of my way in any way, shape or form to hurt Miss Power. I believe she's an intelligent and perfectly affable woman. In fact, she's -- she is incredibly intelligent so she -- who knows she may have known what she was doing.
She regretted it. She probably acted with integrity. It's not for me to decide one way or the other whether she did the right thing. But I did not go out and try to end her career.
Credit to Tucker Carlson for being so (unintentionally) candid about the lowly, subservient role of the American press with regard to "the relationship between the press and the powerful." A journalist should never do anything that "hurts" the powerful, otherwise the powerful won't give access to the press any longer.
Presumably, the press should only do things that please the powerful so that the powerful keep talking to the press, so that the press in turn can keep pleasing the powerful, in an endless, symbiotic, mutually beneficial cycle. Rarely does someone who plays the role of a "journalist" on TV so candidly describe their real function.
For anyone who wants to dismiss Carlson as some buffoon who is unrepresentative of journalists generally, I would refer them to the testimony at the Lewis Libby trial of the mighty, revered Tim Russert, Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News:
When I talk to senior government officials on the phone, it's my own policy -- our conversations are confidential. If I want to use anything from that conversation, then I will ask permission.
As The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin put it: "That's not reporting, that's enabling. That's how you treat your friends when you're having an innocent chat, not the people you're supposed to be holding accountable."
Unlike Carlson, Tim Russert is the Big Guy of the American press corps. He's the one they all look up to and admire, the one they invariably point to as proof that tough, adversarial journalism is alive and well in the U.S. Yet that's the same Tim Russert who admitted under oath that -- even with no "off the record" agreement -- all of his conversations with government officials are presumptively confidential, and he never reports anything unless they give him explicit permission in advance to do so.
It's the same exact subservient mindset Carlson expressed last night, just more formally and under oath. That's how the vast majority of them think and behave. As Peev asked in astonishment when Carlson insisted Power's comments should not have been published because doing "hurtful" things like that that makes the powerful dislike reporters: "Are you really that acquiescent in the United States?" See the Iraq War. Or the Bush administration. Or Tim Russert's operating rules.
I just had a very similar issue arise last week, and not for the first time. In response to media criticism I wrote, a well-known journalist emailed me out of the blue, unsolicited, with very petulant, whiny objections to what I had written. At the top of his email, he wrote "OFF THE RECORD," and he did the same with a subsequent exchange. I had never communicated with him before and never agreed to any such arrangement. But that's a common practice among journalists and many political figures; they think that they can unilaterally slap an "off the record" label on whatever they say and expect that it will be honored.
I ended up not publishing that exchange solely because the probative value was minimal and the primary effect from doing so would just have been to make him look foolish for being so petulant and thin-skinned. Publishing it would have been more vindictive and petty than instructive, so I didn't. But his unilateral "OFF THE RECORD" designation played no role in my decision.
I considered publishing it, and I am certain that had I done so, he would have accused me of acting improperly by publishing something he unilaterally decreed to be "OFF THE RECORD." Just as Russert and Carlson said, rampant secrecy is the coin of their realm, the fuel that greases their access. Nothing should ever be disclosed unless everyone agrees to disclosure and it doesn't "hurt" the person whose comments are being reported.
The number one rule of the standard establishment journalist is to avoid offending the powerful because the more offense they give, the fewer favors the powerful will do for the journalists. Conversely, and by logical necessity, the more journalists please the powerful, the more favors the powerful will do for them. As Carlson put it: "People don't talk to you when you go out of your way to hurt them as you did." I can't think of any single dynamic that better explains what has happened the last eight years than that one.
* * * * *
As for Carlson's snide, self-loving claim that "journalistic standards in Great Britain are so much dramatically lower than they are here," just watch this relentlessly probing, adversarial interview by the BBC's Jeremy Paxman of John Bolton regarding the Bush administration's invasion and occupation of Iraq, and ask yourself: how many American TV reporters would ever dare to conduct an interview of a high Bush official like this, especially when it's with a Serious Foreign Policy Expert regarding our being a Nation At War?
Where Greek Ideals Meet New England Charm
A GROUP of first-time visitors to the Providence Athenaeum climbed the steep stones steps to the imposing front door. One pried open the door tentatively, peered inside and exclaimed, “Oh, this is what a library is supposed to look like!”
This scene was observed by Alison Maxell, executive director of the athenaeum, who said that time and again, she has seen this same reaction: curiosity followed by wonderment. “A lot of people tell us they weren’t sure if they were allowed in here,” she said.
They very much are.
The Providence Athenaeum, whose roots go back to 1753 and which moved to its present building in 1838, is one of about 20 historic membership libraries around the nation that continue to play a vibrant role in the cultural lives of their communities — and welcome the curious.
Some of these membership libraries, including institutions in Philadelphia; St. Johnsbury, Vt.; and La Jolla, Calif., bear the title athenaeum, a Greek term for a place of learning, culture and discourse that stems from Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the arts. In the first half of the 19th century, the athenaeum concept — a library that is also a center for edification in the arts and sciences — was popular in the United States. “From the time of our founding, this was a gathering place,” Ms. Maxell said.
(Some early athenaeums, like those in Nantucket and Pittsfield, Mass., have become public libraries, while the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford now operates primarily as an art museum.)
Today, the Providence Athenaeum attracts more than 50 members and guests for Friday night discussions on culture and history. “We started serving sherry, and we’re scouring antique stores for more sherry glasses,” Ms. Maxell said of the popular series.
As if tailor-made for a weekend getaway, a series of historic athenaeums lines up along a virtual Athenaeum Alley in New England. Open for visits are athenaeums in Newport and Providence, R.I.; in Boston and Salem, Mass.; and in Portsmouth, N.H.
Visiting these bookish sanctuaries, which are housed in historic buildings in a number of architectural styles, provides an opportunity to touch remnants of American history. Many of the same books, newspapers, maps and documents that were read in colonial times can be viewed, admired and (with some limitations to nonmembers) handled.
Visitors to the Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, the oldest lending library in America, can survey at close range the 755 titles in the library’s Original Collection. This is a selection of books that 46 educated Newport residents collectively purchased from England in 1748; they built the library to house the collection.
“These are some of the same books that residents of Newport carried around these streets in 1750,” said Cheryl Helms, the director, standing in the Harrison Room in the original part of the building, the first private Palladian-style structure built in the colonies.
Many volumes concern law and theology, while others describe science and practical matters (making beer and how to build a privy). Ms. Helms explained that while rare books of this era need to be viewed by arrangement, they are, indeed, there for the reading.
“This is not wallpaper,” she said. “These books are meant to be used, and they are.”
Last year, the Redwood had 18,000 visitors. Many wanted to view its collection of furniture, sculpture and painting (there are six signed Gilbert Stuart portraits and two other paintings attributed to him). Frequently, scholars make arrangements to delve into vast resources on local and colonial history.
THE New England athenaeums I visited on a recent trip maintain not only active memberships, but also some peculiar terminology. Members are commonly called proprietors; some athenaeums distinguish share-holding proprietors from a second tier of members, called subscribers. At the Portsmouth Athenaeum, the director is called the keeper.
Many athenaeums maintain lists of rules that spell out consequences for offenses like writing in books. Some prohibit pens and provide pencils for notation, as well as cotton gloves for handling aged materials. Large or old books often must be rested on wedge-shaped foam cradles to protect brittle spines.
Surprisingly, the Boston Athenaeum permits dogs — those that behave, a staff member was quick to add.
These athenaeums also provide, in those areas where talking aloud is encouraged, lively opportunities for exchanging ideas with other devotees of literature, arts and sciences.
“In addition to having access to our book stock, members find intellectual stimulation in our exhibitions and by being part of discussion groups,” said Richard Wendorf, director and librarian of the Boston Athenaeum and the editor of “America’s Membership Libraries” (Oak Knoll Press, 2007), which details histories of 16 of the largest membership libraries.
More than 150 events, from afternoon teas to lectures and concerts, are held there each year. Members also may participate in any of a dozen discussion groups (fiction, mystery novels or World War II history, for example). Visitors, Mr. Wendorf added, are welcome to enjoy art exhibits on the athenaeum’s first floor while experiencing a remarkable work of 19th-century architecture. Tours of the building are given Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.
(A note to those who visit: While “athenaeum” is commonly pronounced ath-eh-NEE-um, in New England ath-eh-NAY-um is acceptable.)
The Boston Athenaeum was established in 1807 and since 1849 has been housed in an elegantly appointed building just a penny toss from the State Capitol on Beacon Hill. It has more than 600,000 volumes in its collection, and its notable paintings and sculpture are displayed throughout the seven-story building.
There are 7,270 members, who pay annual fees of $115 for individuals to $290 for a family. Some of them are proprietors, who own shares in the library, in many cases inherited shares held in their families for generations. Among the members over the centuries were Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Quincy Adams.
The Boston Athenaeum has several special collections, among them much of the personal library of George Washington. From within the athenaeum’s hushed reading rooms one can look out the building’s rear windows to the Granary Burying Ground, where tourists huddle around the graves of Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Paul Revere.
While roaming through stacks, one encounters books from completely different eras — from three or even four centuries — and this makes for random discoveries and often surprising associations. Whereas public libraries weed out books that are not checked out for five or 10 years, membership libraries tend to maintain and integrate books that bridge one century to another.
“We try to purchase books that we intend to keep,” said Mr. Wendorf, who emphasized that at the Boston Athenaeum any weeding is extremely selective.
He added that athenaeum methods of stacking books (by size or by several different or proprietary systems) also promote serendipitous discoveries.
“This is browsing at its very best,” he said, emphasizing that the entire book stock of the Boston Athenaeum, save for rare vaulted materials, is available for members to explore. “The physicality of books often is very important.”
In perusing the American history section in the Providence Athenaeum, one might glance through a recent book on Hurricane Katrina and find on the same shelf a century-old volume of “The Winning of the West” by Theodore Roosevelt.
Merely handling aged books often tends to degrade them, a problem that the Boston Athenaeum addresses in its conservation laboratory. There, in the building’s basement, conservators busily work in white lab coats, repairing spines and hand-stamping replacement bindings.
“Our goal is to allow members to handle books without damaging them,” explained James Reid-Cunningham, the chief conservator.
AT the Portsmouth Athenaeum, “We don’t turn our back on the past,” said Tom Hardiman, the keeper, adding that almost no book published before 1900 may be discarded by the library.
It was founded in 1817 and occupies an 1805 building on Market Square at the center of what once was a bustling port city.
Some of its rarest books, newspapers and documents, like a leather-bound accounts book from an 18th-century shipping merchant, are kept in a vault. Among the collections are 12,000 historic photographs, including once-popular 3-D stereoviews. About 4,000 photos and postcards have been scanned and placed on the athenaeum’s Web site.
The Portsmouth Athenaeum’s circulating collection fills a warren of rooms, united by small doors and winding staircases that list from the settling of the building over the centuries. Walls are covered with paintings of ships and with models used in the construction of many seaworthy vessels. Maritime buffs often go there to see the models, in particular, Mr. Hardiman added.
Experienced members of athenaeums often have strategies for locating good books from centuries past, with titles and authors long forgotten, according to Jean Marie Procious, director of the Salem Athenaeum, which was founded in 1810 and once counted Nathaniel Hawthorne as a member. Some of the athenaeum’s current members have a liking for 19th-century mystery novels, and there is a vast stock of such books in its stacks.
“Some members look for novels with the most-tattered covers,” Ms. Procious explained. “They figure these were the most widely read and must be the best.”
For all of the athenaeums’ efforts to be living centers for stimulating the intellect and delighting the artistic senses, they remain destinations of discovery, places where one can travel through time over a continuum of American history and literature.
M. T. Anderson, the author of “The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing” (Candlewick Press, 2006), made extensive use of his membership in the Boston Athenaeum in doing research for that book, a colonial-era tale of a young African-American who is trapped in a cruel experiment.
Mr. Anderson’s goal was to write the novel, which received the National Book Award for Young People in 2006, in an 18th-century voice. At the athenaeum, Mr. Anderson found an abundance of literature published before 1800. He immersed himself in these materials to recreate the language, grammar and syntax common to 18th-century Boston.
“The athenaeum was so helpful in my research,” Mr. Anderson said. To recreate accurate military details, he requested a book on tactical maneuvers that once was owned by George Washington, and which he viewed under supervision in the rare books room.
“I was quaking as I read it,” he said.
A selection of membership libraries in New England, and their current exhibits.
Redwood Library and Athenaeum, 50 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, R.I. (401-847-0292, www.redwoodlibrary.org); “The Harlem Renaissance: Poetry, Prose and Politics” and “The African American Photography of Carl Van Vechten: The Legacy Years,” both until May 22.
Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street, Providence, R.I. (401-421-6970; www.providenceathenaeum.org); “Robert Burns (1759-1796), the Charles Bradley Collection at the Providence Athenaeum,” through April 4.
Boston Athenaeum, 10 ½ Beacon Street, Boston (617-227-0270, www.bostonathenaeum.org); “All Shook Up,” Thomas Kellner photographs of the Boston Athenaeum, through April 19.
Salem Athenaeum, 337 Essex Street, Salem, Mass. (978-744-2540, www.salemathenaeum.net); “Celebrating 100 Years at 337 Essex Street,” historic photos, blueprints and documents of the design by the architect William G. Rantoul, through March.
Portsmouth Athenaeum, 9 Market Square, Portsmouth, N.H.: (603-431-2538, www.portsmouthathenaeum.org); “The Preservation Movement Then and Now,” until May 3.
How do the Three Leading Education-Orientated Ultraportable Notebooks Stack up? Take Our Visual Tour to Find Out.
Small and inexpensive notebooks designed primarily for schoolchildren — particularly in developing countries — have been a hot topic ever since Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project began in 2005. Production XO laptops (above, left) became available in November 2007.
OLPC is a not-for-profit organisation, whereas Intel, which notoriously joined and then exited the OLPC project, most definitely is not. Nevertheless, Intel's World Ahead program has the laudable aim of 'connecting the next billion people to uncompromised technology around the world', and part of that program is a low-cost notebook platform called Classmate (above, centre).
ASUS's Eee (above, right) has proven extremely popular since its mid-2007 launch. Designed in conjunction with Intel, the Eee has a broader remit than the OLPC and the Classmate in that it's less specifically targeted at developing countries and therefore less rugged. In the UK, the Eee is distributed by RM as the RM Asus miniBook.
In the following pages we take a comparative pictorial look at the OLPC XO, Intel Classmate and ASUS Eee.
The Intel Classmate (centre) is the bulkiest of the three notebooks, measuring 24.5cm wide by 19.6cm deep by 4.4cm high. The OLPC XO has the biggest footprint (24.2cm x 22.8cm), while the ASUS Eee is the baby of the bunch at 22.5cm by 16.5cm by 3.5cm. The Eee is also the lightest of the trio by some distance, weighing 920g, compared to 1.45kg for both the XO and the Classmate. In terms of overall stylishness the Eee is the winner, but the XO and the Classmate are both more rounded and rugged, and come with carrying handles.
The OLPC XO has the biggest screen, an innovative 7.5in. dual-mode transmissive/reflective LCD that can swivel from traditional clamshell mode to 'e-book' mode with the screen facing outwards, tablet-style (although it's not a touch-screen). The Classmate and Eee both have similar, rather cramped, 7in. TFT displays.
There are three different operating systems on view here: the XO runs a Red Hat Fedora 6-based version of Linux and the Sugar graphical user interface (GUI); the Classmate runs Windows XP (although some Linux distributions are also supported); and the Eee runs a Xandros-based Linux distribution (with Windows XP also now available).
The XO's keyboard is a waterproof membrane-style unit, while the Classmate and Eee have more traditional, if small, keyboards.
The left-hand sides of the three notebooks all carry a pair of audio jacks (mic/headphone) and a USB port; the Classmate and Eee add an RJ-45 Ethernet connector and a fan intake — features missing from the wireless-only, passive-cooled OLPC XO. The latter's ear-like antennas cater for 802.11s mesh networking as well as standard 802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity (also supported in the Classmate and Eee).
The connector for the XO's 12V AC adapter is also on the left-hand side: the notebook is designed to work with off-grid power sources such as solar panels and car batteries; a human-powered 'yo-yo' pull-cord generator has also been designed, although this is not yet widely available.
Another unusual feature of the XO is its microphone input, which can also be used to measure voltage and resistance, allowing sensors to be plugged in and their output recorded by the included Measure application (or 'activity' in OLPC's terminology).
The ASUS Eee is the only notebook of this trio with a VGA connector for an external monitor. The right-hand side of the Eee also carries two USB 2.0 ports (making a total of three), an SD/MMC card slot and a Kensington lock slot. The Intel Classmate's right side has the power connector, a second USB port and a fan vent, while the OLPC XO has a pair of USB ports (again making three in all), one mounted horizontally, the other vertically.
Viewed from the front, the bulkiness of the 4.4cm-thick Intel Classmate (centre) is clear, as is the relative slimness of the ASUS Eee, which tapers from 3.5cm at the back to 2.15cm at the front
In this picture, we have removed the protective cover of the Intel Classmate (centre) to reveal the SD card slot at the back. The rear of the ASUS Eee is mostly taken up by the battery, the only other feature being the power connector. Meanwhile, the back of the OLPC XO is simply a carrying handle.
Although it's the smallest of the three notebooks, the ASUS Eee has the largest keyboard. The main keys measure 15mm by 13mm and have a positive action; adults with large fingers may struggle to touch-type on the Eee, but children should have no problems. The Eee's touchpad is also relatively small.
Like the Eee, the Classmate has a traditional-looking keyboard, although it feels more solid than the Eee's. However, the key-tops are slightly smaller and the position of one or two keys (notably the '+/=' key) may confuse at first. The Classmate's circular touchpad seems slightly gimmicky, but is reasonably usable.
The Eee's keyboard is not ruggedised in any way, while the Classmate's is described as 'water resistant'. The OLPC XO's keyboard is properly rugged, being a sealed membrane-type unit (see next page). The XO has a conventional two-button touchpad flanked by two areas that will accept stylus input, although there's no stylus provided as yet.
The keys on the OLPC keyboard are relatively small and the action takes some getting used to — for adults at any rate. However, children who tested our review sample had no complaints (in fact one commented that it was 'addictive, like popping bubble-wrap').
The OLPC XO (left) has the biggest screen, measuring 7.5in. across the diagonal; the Intel Classmate and ASUS Eee both have 7in. TFT screens with native resolutions of 800 by 480 pixels.
The XO's screen is an innovative dual-mode TFT that can operate in greyscale/reflective mode to save power, or in LED-backlit colour/transmissive mode (shown here) for maximum inage quality. In greyscale/reflective mode, the resolution is 1,200 by 900 pixels and power consumption is 0.1-0.2W; in colour/transmissive mode, resolution is approximately 800 by 600 pixels and power consumption 0.2-1W, according to OLPC.
The XO has a 0.3 megapixel digital camera to the right of the display; the Classmate has no camera, although there are plans to include one in the next version of the system; the entry-level 'Surf' version of the Eee (pictured here) has no camera, but slightly more expensive models have a 0.3 megapixel unit.
Here is the OLPC XO in e-book (greyscale) mode, with the screen rotated and folded flat, facing outwards. Flanking the screen are the speaker grilles, with the camera (right) and microphone (left) above them. Below the speakers are a quartet of game buttons on the right and a four-way directional pad on the left. Beneath these are the power button (right) and a screen rotation control (left). There are also LEDs for power and battery status on the right, and wireless acquisition and activity on the left.
The battery in our OLPC XO review sample was a 4-cell 3,100mAh LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) unit, although 5-cell nickel metal hydride batteries (NiMH) are also used. Among the advantages of lithium iron phosphate are the absence of heavy metals and the ability to support more charge/discharge cycles than conventional Li-ion cells (OLPC quotes 2,000 in this case). Battery life figures vary, but in our simple rundown tests we got around 3.5 hours with the screen backlight on (colour/transmissive mode) and 4.5 hours with the backlight off (greyscale/reflective mode).
The Intel Classmate's battery is not designed to be easily removed — you need to undo four screws to get the protective cover off and two more to release the battery itself. Having done this, you discover a bulky and relatively weighty 6-cell 4,000mAh Li-ion unit. Intel claims around four hours' usage for the Classmate on battery power: this seems optimistic in our experience, although we have yet to formally test this.
The Eee has the most compact battery pack, a 4-cell 4,400mAh Li-ion unit for which ASUS claims 2.8 hours' life, which seems reasonable in our (so far anecdotal) experience.
Coming to a Watering Hole Near You: OLPC's Mesh Networking
James Cameron on mesh networking, cow powered laptops and the OLPC
Even in today's high-tech world of unified communications and wireless mobility, the idea of two kids with laptops sitting under a tree somewhere in Saharan Africa being able to exchange information without any kind of infrastructure or configuration, seems as wild an idea as the land they live in.
But with the OLPC project, this scenario is rapidly becoming a widespread reality.
James Cameron works for a computer company in support for enterprise Linux customers, and is deeply immersed in electronics, radio and software engineering. For the past two years Cameron has devoted his diverse technical talents to testing the wireless network component of the One Laptop Per Child project.
Cameron got involved with the project because he lives and works in the outback, in a small village called Tooraweenah, 58km from Coonabarabran (approx 500km northwest of Sydney).
There are few wireless access points and little noise in the radio spectrum there, making it the perfect location for testing the OLPC XO laptops as it mirrors the third world environments they are being deployed in.
"One of our test scenarios is two kids under a tree, in the middle of nowhere, who want to transfer a file between one laptop and another. At the moment with the software that we have, the hardware, and the mesh automation, they can open their laptops, transfer whatever it is they want and then walk off. They don't need any IP address configuration or anything special. It just works," he said.
Mesh networking increases the range of an access point. It is a type of wireless networking that uses redundant and distributed nodes to increase the reliability and range of the network. It is used to route information between OLPC XOs by turning the laptop and the child carrying it into the network infrastructure.
"Instead of the client PCs going to a single central point, what happens with a mesh network is they find their way to a selected point by working through all the other nodes in the mesh," Cameron said.
The mesh network is self-healing and autonomous, and meets the goals of the OLPC project by working without the need to hire electricians and radio specialists to make it work.
"The kids don't have to live within sight of the school to be able to use the school's repository of information, like its online library; they only have to be within radio sight of another kid who is within radio sight.
"They [schools] don't need to put in the infrastructure to cover the whole village - the kids carry it with them as they go home. It means you can deploy to more schools because you don't have to pay for the extra infrastructure," Cameron said.
Testing in the outback, Cameron discovered that the range of the XO could go up to 1.6km "quite easily" at 1.5m above ground.
But in the vast Australian outback, the Sahara or any other great rural expanse, 1.6km is still a very short distance.
"Imagine the kids are down at the waterhole after school, they will take their laptops there of course because they are on their way home, but they cant get to the school server without sending some of the kids back along the path to act as mesh nodes to get there. But if we've got a tall tree nearby, the school can organize to put a mesh node on top of that powered by a solar panel."
Cameron estimates a cost of about US$35 for a mesh node, a battery and a solar panel that can turn any tall tree, windmill, roof or rocky outcrop into a stand alone mesh node, ensuring coverage for the kids at an affordable cost.
"Assuming a range of 1.6km holds true, (the mathematical formula for area of a circle) Pi R squared tells us one well placed mesh node will cover up to eight square kilometres."
Cheap, conservable energy is also a big issue for the OLPC project, as many of the children who will use them wont have a way to charge their laptop at home, and will rely on their school to charge it for them.
"The school might have a generator or a solar panel, or in one school where we've got laptops deployed now we have two cows who walk around pushing a lever which rotates a generator that powers fifteen laptops for charging, so you get energy from wherever it's available," Cameron said.
The OLPC can also be powered by a hand crank, and can maintain an active wireless connection when it is hibernating.
Cameron isn't paid for his research and development work, but gets his rewards from being able to "play with some cool gear," and by knowing that his efforts are aiding an education revolution.
"I want to make a difference. I can't make a difference by creating some new fantastic computer for a company because all they will do is sell it. But on this we can change the way kids learn, we can improve education over the entire planet."
No Need to Take Discs Along
JUST because you have two homes doesn’t mean you need to have two of everything else: cable or satellite TV subscriptions, DVRs, telephone systems, music libraries, Internet packages. Thanks to a little thing called technology, you can set up those services in your primary home and then access them while on vacation.
“When it comes to content, you sort of want it all to be in both places,” said Danny Briere, chief executive of TeleChoice, a consulting firm, and co-author of “Smart Homes for Dummies.” “You don’t want to say, ‘Darn, I left that video at home’ or ‘Shucks, I did not load that CD up here.’ What you want is to be able to synchronize your collections between the two places so that when you load a CD into one, it shows up on the other.”
The easiest way to do that is to have Internet access in both locations and then use the ether to shuttle entertainment back and forth between houses. A mobile router like the Kyocera KR1 (www.kyocera-wireless.com) uses a PC card to create a Wi-Fi hot spot for your phone or laptop. While it’s a good idea to check whether a router supports your Internet carrier and your PC card, Mr. Briere predicts that compatibility will become less of a concern as the industry moves to an open network, meaning that devices will be able to work across different carrier networks. Right now, that’s not the case.
The best example, he said, is that most phones you get from phone carriers have constraints on whether you can use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi for other uses than they determine. “You can use Bluetooth to access your phone,” he said, “but they don’t want you to use that to let 10 people get on to your phone and access their broadband network.” Mr. Briere expects this, too, to change. Phones will come to serve as Wi-Fi hubs, “which means everybody in your ski condo can hop onto your broadband access.”
In the meantime, broadband Internet might be the one service worth investing in at both homes, because once that’s in place, you can pretty much use it to channel anything else. Want to listen to music? You don’t have to rely only on your iPod or MP3 player.
A company called ReQuest (www.request.com) has an Internet-based system that makes your music library available in your second home; when you add something to your home collection, that change is automatically reflected at your vacation pad.
Want to watch TV? You’re no longer limited to YouTube; broadcast and cable stations now offer much of their content free online. But if you’d rather watch regular television or access your home DVR from afar, that can be done, too.
An efficient option is a small device called a SlingBox (www.slingmedia.com, $129 to $229). Plug one end into your Internet connection and the other into your home TV’s cable box or DVR or both, and you can watch television and your recorded video library on a computer, cellphone or laptop. The new SlingCatcher (an add-on device, about $250) lets you view all that on an actual TV.
“The basic premise is that with a SlingBox, you have access to your living-room television no matter where you happen to be,” said Brian Jaquet, a Sling Media spokesman.
Control4, a higher-end home-automation system, also links audiovisual systems to multiple homes, but must be installed by a professional (www.control4.com). Or just stick with what you already have — if what you have is satellite TV. “The satellite TV service providers will allow you to treat your second-home TVs as if they were in your first home,” Mr. Briere said. “So for an extra $5 per month per TV, you can get your full subscription at your second home. It’s all aboveboard.”
The other big service second-home owners get stuck paying for twice is a phone line. Sure, you could use your cell as your main line while you’re away, but that can be difficult to share with the family. As a solution, Mr. Briere recommends VoIP, or voice over Internet protocol, a service offered by companies like Vonage, Optimum and Skype, that allows you to make and receive calls over the Internet (often with a normal telephone), using the same number all the time.
That way your friends and family can call you as if you were at home, and — with a little effort and a lot less money — you can feel as if you are.
Hack Into a Windows PC - No Password Needed
A security consultant based in New Zealand has released a tool that can unlock Windows computers in seconds without the need for a password.
Adam Boileau first demonstrated the hack, which affects Windows XP computers but has not yet been tested with Windows Vista, at a security conference in Sydney in 2006, but Microsoft has yet to develop a fix.
Interviewed in ITRadio's Risky Business podcast, Boileau said the tool, released to the public today, could "unlock locked Windows machines or login without a password ... merely by plugging in your Firewire cable and running a command".
Boileau, a consultant with Immunity Inc., said he did not release the tool publicly in 2006 because "Microsoft was a little cagey about exactly whether Firewire memory access was a real security issue or not and we didn't want to cause any real trouble".
But now that a couple of years have passed and the issue has not resolved, Boileau decided to release the tool on his website.
To use the tool, hackers must connect a Linux-based computer to a Firewire port on the target machine. The machine is then tricked into allowing the attacking computer to have read and write access to its memory.
With full access to the memory, the tool can then modify Windows' password protection code, which is stored there, and render it ineffective.
Older desktop computers do not come equipped with Firewire ports, which are needed for the hack to work, but many recent models do. Most laptops made in the last few years include Firewire ports.
Paul Ducklin, head of technology for security firm Sophos, said the security hole found by Boileau was not a vulnerability or bug in the traditional sense, because the ability to use the Firewire port to access a computer's memory was actually a feature of Firewire.
"If you have a Firewire port, disable it when you aren't using it," Ducklin said.
"That way, if someone does plug into your port unexpectedly, your side of the Firewire link is dead, so they can't interact with your PC, legitimately or otherwise."
Ducklin also advised people to be careful when giving others physical access to their computer.
"I know people who'd think three times about asking passing strangers to take their photo in front of the Opera House in case they did a runner with the camera, yet who are much more casual with their laptop PC, as long as it's software-locked, even though the hardware alone is worth five times as much as the camera," he said.
Microsoft was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
It Came From Outer Space
Images of UFOs, purportedly videotaped in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, have Internet viewers watching and debating.
Second in a series of occasional Web Scout mysteries, in which we investigate some of the questions haunting the Web entertainment world. In this installment, we get to the bottom of the UFO videos currently raging on YouTube.
THOUGH the island in the Caribbean shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic was spared a direct hit from Hurricane Dean this week, it may be that other, stranger entities made landfall there.
Evidence "UFO Haiti" and "UFO Dominican Republic" -- two authentic-looking home videos recently posted on the "News and Politics" section of YouTube. The films, which were uploaded from two different anonymous accounts, both appear to record close-up sightings of Area 51-type craft hovering above the island's beaches at sunset. As the ships pass eerily over, wind whips through the palm trees, dogs bark and a woman gasps in disbelief. All very real seeming. The jerky, amateur camera work could easily be that of a panicked Caribbean tourist.
The videos hummed to the top of YouTube's "Most Viewed" list, and from there invaded discussion forums and news aggregator sites across the Web, where debate raged about their origin and authenticity. Skeptics pronounced the videos a computer-generated fraud, probably part of some viral marketing ploy. Microsoft's Halo 3 was coming out soon, wasn't it? Or maybe it was for Nicole Kidman's movie "Invasion" -- or even the secretive new J.J. Abrams project about some kind of monster attack on New York.
Still, with all the cries of fraud and corporate opportunism, even the most steadfast doubters couldn't find anything in the footage that was obviously bogus. No matter where you stood, you had to agree that the quality of the movies was surpassing. More than a few observers in either camp called them "the best UFO videos ever."
"Frankly I'm worried about this," wrote one observer on the conspiracy site AboveTopSecret.com. "If people feel it necessary to flood the Internet or the UFO community with increasingly more 'realistic' hoaxes, what will happen in the event of a true landing?"
They're fake, right? Right?!
With so many people scrutinizing every frame in the videos, it was not long before the first imperfections were spotted in the story's hull. For one thing, no one could find any reports of flying objects in the Haitian or Dominican press -- or anywhere else. Surely an extraterrestrial visitation would've at least merited a brief. Or, failing that, a blog entry?
And yes, after a few viewings, "UFO Haiti" began to feel a little too real. In spite of the camerawoman's shaky hand and trouble keeping focus, she still manages a cinematically perfect tracking shot of the ship as it flies directly over her head. Moreover, her gasp is rather glaringly mistimed. It comes after she's already aimed the camera at the UFOs -- seconds after she's first seen them.
But it was the trees that aroused the most suspicion.
Freeze-frame the Haiti and Dominican Republic videos side-to-side, critics found, and you will see a palm tree in both videos that appears to be almost the exact same shape.
Two palm trees on the same tropical island? And they look really similar? Have you ever seen two palm trees that don't look really similar? That was the best the Internet crowd could do?
Someone needed to look deeper. And perhaps that someone was named Web Scout.
False starts, red herrings
The key would be to find the source of the videos. But there was a complication. For one thing, the videos had been posted and re-posted across the Net, and it was not trivial to identify which ones were the originals.
By the time I got in the game, there were several videos entitled "UFO Haiti" that actually predated the version that was on the "Most-Viewed" list. The best idea, then, was to contact the posters of several of the earliest "UFO Haiti" videos, including barzolff814, whose 2.2 million-view video was listed as the fourth to be posted under that name.
Within an hour, I got a message back from a 17-year-old Irish girl named Heather. It read as follows:
"umm yeah. whatever. you people are stupid. find something better to do with your time. and get a life."
A closer look at Heather's "UFO Haiti" revealed that it was 10 seconds of a still photo of her kissing her boyfriend, followed by a short video clip of a scared-looking squirrel, with the word "Pervert!!" flashing repeatedly in white.
Heather was a hoaxster, all right. Just not the one I was looking for.
As I waited for other "Haiti" posters to respond, I decided to make another study of the clues. In the discussion of the controversial palm trees, the name Vue 6 kept coming up. Vue 6 was a program by E-on Software that animators use to generate sophisticated-looking natural environments. A promotional clip on E-on's website included several scenes of tropical islands -- covered in hundreds of identical windblown palm trees. Furthermore, one of the promos even showed a cartoonish flying saucer skimming over a field!
I immediately tried to reach E-on President Nicholas Phelps at his office in Paris. (Another video -- "UFO OVER PARIS" -- had been posted in April. It was nowhere near as convincing as "UFO Haiti," but still -- vaguely reminiscent.)
Phelps' receptionist said he was not available. Soon afterward, I received a message from Phelps asking if we could conduct the interview by e-mail. Despite my repeated attempts to get him on the phone, he was recalcitrant.
On the matter of the video, Phelps admitted that it appeared "very much like the movie was created with Vue 6" but denied E-on had anything to do with creating it. "Although I admit it would have been smart marketing, lol!"
With my main lead blown, I could find nothing to lol about.
Somebody up there . . .
It has been said that the harder you work, the luckier you get. But this is not always true. Sometimes you get lucky even if you barely work hard at all.
The next morning, with all the good leads exhausted and most hope lost, the telephone rang.
(Actually, the computer rang. The Scout uses Skype.)
It was a woman named Sam. From Corsica. "Hello," she said. "I am calling on behalf of barzolff814."
Barzolff814? Why, he was the person who had posted the No. 1 Haiti video!
Barzolff, Sam said, wished to remain anonymous, but he was prepared to share the full story of the videos. I agreed not to reveal his real name. Then I was all ears as Sam began parroting into the phone the words I could hear Barzolff saying in the background.
The 35-year-old Barzolff is a professional animator who attended one of the most prestigious art schools in France and has a decade of experience with computer graphics and commercial animation.
It took Barzolff a total of 17 hours to make both the Haiti and Dominican Republic videos. He did it all by himself using a MacBook Pro and a suite of commercially available 3-D animation programs, including Vue 6. The videos are 100% computer-generated.
The videos, he said, were intended as research for a feature film project he's been working on with Partizan, the France-based production company responsible for, among others, Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
When contacted to verify the story, "Eternal Sunshine" producer Georges Bermann said it was all true, and that Barzolff was "an absolute genius" who could "make anything look entirely real."
To prove that he was truly behind the videos, Barzolff agreed to provide the L.A. Times with a new spacecraft video. Called "Proof," the video depicts a small version of one of the spacecraft floating above a Paris street. As the camera pans over, the viewer sees two elderly women at a cafe, one of whom is holding a remote control device. Humorously, of course, this video makes use of computer graphics as well.
The movie Barzolff is working on for the big screen is about two guys who create a UFO hoax so realistic that it spirals out of their control. "For better or worse," said Barzolff, who cited being "overwhelmed" by the response to his video as one of the reasons he didn't want to go public with his name.
Barzolff stressed the videos were not intended as a viral marketing ploy. His movie is still in the idea phase, and he created the hoax strictly as a "sociological experiment" -- in other words, just to see what would happen.
What happened far exceeded his expectations.
After he finished producing the videos, he posted them and went to bed. "I thought they would reach perhaps 2,000 people," he said through Sam.
"When I woke up the next morning there were 70,000 views," on the Haiti video. "Twenty minutes later it was up to 130,000 views. It grew exponentially from there."
Barzolff called the results of his experiment "entertaining, thrilling, completely addictive, and a little scary."
The scary part, he said, was that in spite of the evidence, "many people refuse to believe it's a hoax."
Iranian Internet Users Face Blockage During Coming Election
The Iranian government might block private access to the Internet for the general legislative election on March 14, two Iranian news outlets reported Monday.
But the two accounts appeared to differ on the rationale. "Shutting down the Internet service will depend on security plans and on the Ministry of Telecommunication," said Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the interior minister, according to Etemad Melli, a daily.
At the same time, a senior election official, Muhammad Javad Mahmoudi, said a shutdown would help ensure that the government had unimpeded Internet service for the election, even though the governments' Internet lines had been upgraded, according to ISNA.
Iran has placed many restrictions on the Internet, but it has never shut down the Internet on such a scale. Several million Iranians follow political news on the Internet, and political parties have their own active Web sites.
In 2006, the authorities banned download speeds on private computers faster than 128 kilobytes per second.
The government also uses sophisticated filtering equipment to block hundreds of Web sites and blogs that it considers religiously or politically inappropriate. Many bloggers have been jailed in the past years, and dozens of Web sites have been shut down.
F.C.C. Ask TV Station to Explain Blackout in Alabama
Doubts about an Alabama TV station’s explanation of a blacked-out segment of “60 Minutes” have been reinforced by a Democratic member of the Federal Communications Commission who says it “needs to get to the bottom of this.”
In an appearance before the National Press Club today, Michael Copps confirmed that he had urged Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the F.C.C., to investigate a question raised by the extraordinary timing of the malfunction at the station: It began just as a highly anticipated report about a major political scandal in the state was to begin, and ended in time for the program’s next segment.
Remembering a 1955 case of a Mississippi TV station that blocked a network news program about desegregation and spuriously claimed that cable trouble was to blame, Mr. Copps said, “The F.C.C. now needs to find out if something analogous is going on here,” according to Reuters.
He continued, “Was this an attempt to suppress information on the public airwaves, or was it really just a technical problem?”
Other members of the commission, which is made up of a Republican chairman, two other Republicans and two Democrats, have been less vocal so far.
An unnamed source told Broadcasting & Cable that Jonathan Adelstein, a Democratic commissioner, “fully supports” an investigation of the incident. Another source told Reuters that Mr. Martin was mulling whether to send the station — WHNT in Huntsville, Ala. — an official letter of inquiry, according to Reuters. Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell, both Republicans, have yet to comment on the incident.
Back in Huntsville, the station’s news director was already aghast at all the negative attention. After spending two days answering viewer complaints, she spilled her guts on the WHNT blog, writing a post titled “8 Mysterious Missing Minutes, Countless Hours of HELL.”
“Who would invite such a public relations nightmare on themselves??,” Denise Vicker asked with the urgency of double question marks. “I can assure you no sane person would do this.”
Hollywood on Edge of Its Seats as Wiretapping Trial Is Set to Start
David M. Halbfinger
More than five years have gone by since a Hollywood reporter who had been menacingly warned off of a story learned that her phones had also been tapped. On Wednesday, Anthony Pellicano, the onetime sleuth-to-the-stars accused of that eavesdropping, will go on trial here on racketeering charges in a case that has alternately seized the entertainment industry’s attention and left it wondering what all the fuss was about.
Federal prosecutors have outlined a case including its share of familiar Hollywood names. Brad Grey, the chairman of Paramount Pictures; Michael Ovitz, the deposed super-agent; and Bert Fields, the go-to lawyer for celebrities and moguls alike, have all acknowledged hiring Mr. Pellicano in business disputes in which the detective has since been accused of breaking the law.
But each has also denied knowing anything about Mr. Pellicano’s suspected wiretapping. And after five years of grand jury testimony, high-profile leaks and news articles examining the F.B.I.’s evidence, Mr. Grey, Mr. Ovitz and Mr. Fields have not been accused of anything.
Instead, those charged with conspiring with Mr. Pellicano include a former police detective, a retired telephone company repairman, a computer programmer and a litigious Israeli businessman; in Hollywood terms, a D-list of no-name defendants. Even Terry N. Christensen — no household name, but the founding partner of a top entertainment industry litigation firm — has had his portion of the case postponed and spun off into a separate trial.
The main witnesses, meanwhile, will include players in other industries, like a hedge fund manager and the billionaire head of a Los Angeles-based buyout firm; the former wives of the actor Keith Carradine and a real estate developer, Robert Maguire; and a parade of former employees and informants of Mr. Pellicano with firsthand knowledge of his activities. (It could at least get colorful: one ex-worker, Tarita Virtue, posed in lingerie for Maxim as “America’s hottest private eye,” before telling the F.B.I. that she had transcribed hundreds of Mr. Pellicano’s wiretaps.)
That said, the trial holds considerable interest in Hollywood. Big names might be called to testify, and revelations about the origins of the case may offer additional intrigue. Prosecutors have closely guarded the names of those they plan to call to the stand; they filed a witness list under seal late Tuesday. (A 244-name list, shown to prospective jurors to identify potential conflicts, has been widely misreported as a witness list.)
Mr. Grey and Mr. Ovitz, if not Mr. Fields, could easily find themselves taking the witness stand to answer extremely unwelcome questions. For Mr. Grey, who has steered Paramount’s comeback from sixth place to first at the box office among the big studios, it would mean having to revisit an unseemly lawsuit in which a screenwriter-producer, Bo Zenga, accused Mr. Grey, then the head of a talent management firm, of hogging the credit and profits from a movie.
For Mr. Ovitz, who has been trying to make a comeback in other businesses since being forced to sell his Artists Management Group in 2002, it would mean having to discuss publicly his talks with Mr. Pellicano about journalists whose coverage he disliked, among them the free-lance journalist Anita Busch, and Bernard Weinraub, then a reporter for The New York Times.
It is impossible to predict whether the most uncomfortable questions for Hollywood players will come from prosecutors or the defense, because Mr. Pellicano has chosen to represent himself. But then the most intriguing confrontation of all could come when Ms. Busch takes the stand and is cross-examined by Mr. Pellicano.
It was Ms. Busch, after all, who discovered a dead fish, a rose, what appeared to be a bullet hole, and a note saying “stop” on her car in June 2002 while she was pursuing stories about Mr. Ovitz and about organized crime. The F.B.I. was brought in and developed evidence it said linked Mr. Pellicano to the threat, but Ms. Busch learned only months later that her phones were being illegally tapped. (She has since accused Mr. Ovitz in a civil lawsuit of deploying Mr. Pellicano against her, which Mr. Ovitz denies.)
The trial, which begins with jury selection on Wednesday, is likely to be replete with technical details: how phone taps are installed, how Mr. Pellicano’s custom-made software analyzed intercepted conversations, how computers are searched and how encrypted files are decoded.
But jurors will probably find much to keep them awake, particularly when the tapes start to roll and they hear the coarse and misogynistic talk of a man who could hardly seem more unlike the softspoken, courtly, polite persona Mr. Pellicano has displayed in court.
The first example of that could come next week, when prosecutors call what they say will be their first witness other than F.B.I. computer experts: Matt Williams, a former third baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, who spoke with Mr. Pellicano in 2002 about a marital dispute.
An exhibit list filed late Tuesday teases other matters likely to surface at trial: disputes Mr. Pellicano worked on involving the actors Sylvester Stallone and Chris Rock, the Creative Artists agent Kevin Huvane, the Canadain media heiress Taylor Thomson and the music executive Freddy DeMann. There are also a number of exhibits involving people associated with Charles Roven, the producer of MGM’s “Rollerball,” when he was wiretapped on behalf of the film’s director, John McTiernan. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. While Mr. Pellicano has consistently vowed to refuse any deals and take his secrets to his grave, there remains a school of thought that he could drop the bravado if faced with a lengthy sentence and could cooperate in exchange for leniency. A more popular line of thinking, however, is that Mr. Pellicano — always the grandstander — is hankering for his moment in the sun.
Should RIAA Investigators Have to Disclose Evidence?
A technology battle is raging in UMG v. Lindor, a court case in Brooklyn. The issue at hand is whether the RIAA's investigator SafeNet now needs to disclose its digital files, validation methodology, testing procedures, failure rates, software manuals, protocols, packet logs, source code, and other materials, so that the validity of its methods can be evaluated by the defense. SafeNet and the RIAA say no, claiming that the information is "proprietary and confidential". Ms. Lindor says yes, if you're going to testify in federal court the other side has a right to test your evidence. A list of what is being sought is available online. MediaSentry has produced "none of the above". "Put up or shut up" says one commentator to SafeNet.
EFF to Take RIAA On in Court Over "Making Available" Claim
One of the contested P2P cases we've been following is Atlantic Records v. Jeffery Howell, which is being heard in a federal court in Phoenix. Howell and his wife have been representing themselves so far, but are going to get a bit of high-profile help tomorrow. EFF staff attorney Fred von Lohmann is going to appear at a hearing tomorrow to argue that the mere presence of music in a KaZaA share is not enough to constitute copyright infringement.
The Howells were originally sued in 2006. In their original response to the RIAA's complaint, they argued that KaZaA was "not set up to share" and that the files flagged by MediaSentry were "for private use" and "for transfer to portable devices, that is legal for 'fair use.'"
In August of last year, Judge Neil V. Wake granted the RIAA's motion for summary judgment, awarding the labels $40,500 in statutory damages and $350 in court costs. The Howells appealed the ruling, saying that they were "unaware" that their "personal files" were being shared over KaZaA, and in late September, Judge Wake vacated the summary judgment.
Von Lohmann's appearance in court tomorrow will be in support of a brief filed by the EFF in January. In the filing, the EFF argued that the mere fact that songs were made available for download in a shared folder does not constitute copyright infringement. The only downloading that anyone can demonstrate was done by MediaSentry with the RIAA's explicit authorization and permission, which the public interest group argues does not constitute copyright infringement.
The "making available" argument is one that keeps resurfacing in contested cases, and was one of the factors in the Jammie Thomas trial. The judge presiding over that case told the jury that the labels did not have to prove that anyone downloaded any files from Thomas—the mere fact that they were in a KaZaA share was sufficient to constitute copyright infringement.
Von Lohmann will argue against that reading of US copyright law in his appearance tomorrow. Since the Copyright Act specifically authorizes copyright owners to control copies distributed "to the public," there needs to be evidence that said distribution actually took place. "Where the only evidence of infringing distribution consists of distributions to authorized agents of the copyright owner, that evidence cannot, by itself, establish that other, unauthorized distributions have taken place," reads the EFF's brief.
The EFF has math on its side: with over 2.2 million KaZaA users online when MediaSentry downloaded the files, the group believes it's highly unlikely that anyone would have grabbed the 11 songs in question, as they were popular songs and available from thousands of other users on KaZaA.
The fact that Judge Wake is hearing arguments on this issue is significant. If he rules that the record labels have to show that someone aside from MediaSentry downloaded the files in order to prove infringement, it could prove to be a serious setback for the RIAA's legal campaign. At the very least, it would move Atlantic v. Howell further in the direction of a trial.
GARY GYGAX died last week and the universe did not collapse. This surprises me a little bit, because he built it.
I’m not talking about the cosmological, Big Bang part. Everyone who reads blogs knows that a flying spaghetti monster made all that. But Mr. Gygax co-created the game Dungeons & Dragons, and on that foundation of role-playing and polyhedral dice he constructed the social and intellectual structure of our world.
Dungeons & Dragons was a brilliant pastiche, mashing together tabletop war games, the Conan-the-Barbarian tales of Robert E. Howard and a magic trick from the fantasy writer Jack Vance with a dash of Bulfinch’s mythology, a bit of the Bible and a heaping helping of J. R. R. Tolkien.
Mr. Gygax’s genius was to give players a way to inhabit the characters inside their games, rather than to merely command faceless hordes, as you did in, say, the board game Risk. Roll the dice and you generated a character who was quantified by personal attributes like strength or intelligence.
You also got to pick your moral alignment, like whether you were “lawful good” or “chaotic evil.” And you could buy swords and fight dragons. It was cool.
Yes, I played a little. In junior high and even later. Lawful good paladin. Had a flaming sword. It did not make me popular with the ladies, or indeed with anyone. Neither did my affinity for geometry, nor my ability to recite all of “Star Wars” from memory.
Yet on the strength of those skills and others like them, I now find myself on top of the world. Not wealthy or in charge or even particularly popular, but in instead of out. The stuff I know, the geeky stuff, is the stuff you and everyone else has to know now, too.
We live in Gary Gygax’s world. The most popular books on earth are fantasy novels about wizards and magic swords. The most popular movies are about characters from superhero comic books. The most popular TV shows look like elaborate role-playing games: intricate, hidden-clue-laden science fiction stories connected to impossibly mathematical games that live both online and in the real world. And you, the viewer, can play only if you’ve sufficiently mastered your home-entertainment command center so that it can download a snippet of audio to your iPhone, process it backward with beluga whale harmonic sequences and then podcast the results to the members of your Yahoo group.
Even in the heyday of Dungeons & Dragons, when his company was selling millions of copies and parents feared that the game was somehow related to Satan worship, Mr. Gygax’s creation seemed like a niche product. Kids played it in basements instead of socializing. (To be fair, you needed at least three people to play — two adventurers and one Dungeon Master to guide the game — so Dungeons & Dragons was social. Demented and sad, but social.) Nevertheless, the game taught the right lessons to the right people.
Geeks like algorithms. We like sets of rules that guide future behavior. But people, normal people, consistently act outside rule sets. People are messy and unpredictable, until you have something like the Dungeons & Dragons character sheet. Once you’ve broken down the elements of an invented personality into numbers generated from dice, paper and pencil, you can do the same for your real self.
For us, the character sheet and the rules for adventuring in an imaginary world became a manual for how people are put together. Life could be lived as a kind of vast, always-on role-playing campaign.
Don’t give me that look. I know I’m not a paladin, and I know I don’t live in the Matrix. But the realization that everyone else was engaged in role-playing all the time gave my universe rules and order.
We geeks might not be able to intuit the subtext of a facial expression or a casual phrase, but give us a behavioral algorithm and human interactions become a data stream. We can process what’s going on in the heads of the people around us. Through careful observation of body language and awkward silences, we can even learn to detect when we are bringing the party down with our analysis of how loop quantum gravity helps explain the time travel in that new “Terminator” TV show. I mean, so I hear.
Mr. Gygax’s game allowed geeks to venture out of our dungeons, blinking against the light, just in time to create the present age of electronic miracles.
Dungeons & Dragons begat one of the first computer games, a swords-and-sorcery dungeon crawl called Adventure. In the late 1970s, the two games provided the narrative framework for the first fantasy-based computer worlds played by multiple, remotely connected users. They were called multi-user dungeons back then, and they were mostly the province of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But they required the same careful construction of virtual identities that Mr. Gygax had introduced to gaming.
Today millions of people are slaves to Gary Gygax. They play EverQuest and World of Warcraft, and someone must still be hanging out in Second Life. (That “massively multiplayer” computer traffic, by the way, also helped drive the development of the sort of huge server clouds that power Google.)
But that’s just gaming culture, more pervasive than it was in 1974 when Dungeons & Dragons was created and certainly more profitable — today it’s estimated to be a $40 billion-a-year business — but still a little bit nerdy. Delete the dragon-slaying, though, and you’re left with something much more mainstream: Facebook, a vast, interconnected universe populated by avatars.
Facebook and other social networks ask people to create a character — one based on the user, sure, but still a distinct entity. Your character then builds relationships by connecting to other characters. Like Dungeons & Dragons, this is not a competitive game. There’s no way to win. You just play.
This diverse evolution from Mr. Gygax’s 1970s dungeon goes much further. Every Gmail login, every instant-messaging screen name, every public photo collection on Flickr, every blog-commenting alias is a newly manifested identity, a character playing the real world.
We don’t have to say goodbye to Gary Gygax, the architect of the now. Every time I make a tactical move (like when I suggest to my wife this summer that we should see “Iron Man” instead of “The Dark Knight”), I’m counting my experience points, hoping I have enough dexterity and rolling the dice. And every time, Mr. Gygax is there — quasi-mystical, glowing in blue and bearing a simple game that was an elegant weapon from a more civilized age.
That was a reference to “Star Wars.” Cool, right?
Until next week,
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Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles, press releases, comments, questions etc. 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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