|10-12-08, 09:20 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - December 13th, '08
"We believe that cyberspace cannot be secured without regulation." – Center for Strategic and International Studies report
"It's outrageous that on a whim, a border agent can just ask you for your laptop. We can't just throw our constitutional rights out the window." – Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y
"We may not know what the maximum impact of openness is but we do know that in the most closed places the worst things happen." – Arvind Ganesan
"You're not likely to find any retards in Russia who'll pay Superfone for the use of emoticons." – Nikita Sherman
"Klaatu barada nikto, indeed." - Dennis Overbye
December 13th, 2008
Report: P2P Networking to Grow 400 Percent over Next Five Years
About $4.1 Billion of U.S. broadband provider capital spending in 2007 was driven specifically by consumer use of peer-to-peer networking, according to MultiMedia Intelligence. That capex burden was slightly down from the $4.2 billion spent in 2006 to support P2P applications.
In 2008, U.S. broadband operators incurred almost $700 million in operating expense as a result of peer-to-peer, or “P2P,” networking, MultiMedia Intelligence estimates.
P2P Internet traffic, despite having grown at a torrid pace for years, will grow nearly 400 percent over the next five years, the firm says, growing from a level of 1.6 petabytes of Internet traffic per month in 2007 to almost 8 petabytes per month by 2012.
One well-known P2P service, BitTorrent, got some virtual ink recently from TMC (News - Alert) Vice President and CTO Tom Keating, who wrote in his blog of an article at the Register that claims that a recent uTorrent decision to use UDP (News - Alert) for P2P file transfers (instead of TCP) to get around ISP “traffic management” restrictions will cause a meltdown of the Internet.
“Poppycock you say?” Keating writes. “It’s worth pointing out that traditionally P2P sharing apps such as Bittorrent, use TCP not UDP. So why would UDP cause VoIP apps to fail? Well for one huge reason, TCP allows for congestion control.”
P2P data currently represents 44 percent of all consumer traffic over the Internet and 33.6 percent in North America. Over 70 percent of that traffic consists of audio and video files, Multimedia Intelligence says.
BitTorrent and Oversi Team to Deliver a P2P Solution for ISPs
BitTorrent has joined hands with Oversi to deliver an integrated solution to optimize P2P traffic across the Internet Service Provider (ISP) network.
The new collaboration will help ISPs to reduce bandwidth costs and deferred infrastructure investments together with a higher quality subscriber experience.
Oversi is know for its multi-service platform for over-the-top (OTT) content, including Internet video, peer-to-peer (P2P) and other media applications. Its solutions enable service providers to overcome the huge traffic load on their networks and even help in improving subscribers' quality of experience (QoE).
As per the new agreement, Oversi's NetEnhancer network intelligence platform will help BitTorrent's intelligent client protocols to improve peer selection in line with the ISP's network capabilities while speeding up P2P downloads and even avoids network bottlenecks.
NetEnhancer is a P2P management tool which optimizes service providers’ resources by automatically routing P2P traffic to local peers in line with the available network resources of the operator.
Service providers can now benefit from reduced hop counts and bandwidth savings across the network while their subscribers enjoy faster download times. At the same time, NetEnhancer maintains the integrity of the P2P network with peers still having access to
Eric Kinker, CEO of BitTorrent, said that they were glad to be cooperating with leading network equipment vendors like Oversi to build solutions that help network operators while preserving and even improving the end user experience on BitTorrent file transfers.
The BitTorrent/Oversi solution supports commercial and non-commercial P2P applications and ongoing advances in P2P architectures. The solution even supports the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Application-Layer Traffic Optimization (ALTO) working group initiative, which aims to improve the routing of P2P data traffic.
David Tolub, Oversi's President and CEO, said, "We welcome our collaboration with the global P2P technology leader. For the first time, network intelligence is being combined with P2P client intelligence to solve a key ISP dilemma: how to reduce network congestion while improving user performance. This solution meets a real need, while reducing operational and capital expenses at a time of shrinking budgets".
Oversi is an active member of the P4P Working Group (P4PWG), sponsored by DCIA. P4P, or Proactive network Provider Participation for P2P, is a method for ISP and P2P software to optimize peer-to-peer connections.
Can We Get Some Better Telecom Shills Please?
Imagine that I proposed to you the following argument. I have (let's pretend) added up all the fuel consumed in the process of getting WidgetCo's widgets from the factory to consumers. There's all the gas burned by the trucks that bring the widgets from the factory to the retail store. And then there's the gas each consumer burns driving to and from the store for widgets. And having added up the costs of all this carbon, I discover that WidgetCo is paying only a tiny fraction of the total cost of the fuel consumed in the process of getting widgets from the factory to the homes of customers. Now suppose I claim that this is evidence of some form of outrageous unfairness—WidgetCo is somehow forcing you to subsidize their shipping costs! (The widgets, by the way, are free.)
If, in fact, I were to make such an argument, you would rapidly conclude that there are really only two possibilities: (1) I am a moron, or (2) I must think that you are if I expect you to find this persuasive.
I will let you decide which applies to the author of a "research study" of Google's bandwidth use being pushed by the anti–net neutrality site NetCompetition.org. Using some rather dubious proxy measures—which would be worth further scrutiny as well, if the fundamental premise weren't so manifestly bogus as to render such quibbling moot—telecom shill Scott Cleland estimates that Google and its subsidiaries "used" 16.5% of consumer broadband traffic in 2008, but only paid 0.8% of consumer broadband costs. This, the author brazenly claims, amounts to an implicit subsidy of some $6.9 billion to Google, and proves that Google "uses" 21 times as much bandwidth as it pays for.
This is stupid on so many levels I'm almost too stunned to know where to begin. Why would you ever imagine that the per-byte cost of getting upstream traffic out on a few enormous pipes would be the same as the per-byte cost on the downstream side, where the same traffic is dispersed to a bazillion consumers, each with their own broadband connection? (Nestle pays a lot less per pound than you do for sugar; I await a "research study.") What would possess anyone to posit that there's some inherently "fair" division of the cost of connecting end users to popular (mostly free) services anyway? Google adds value to the product ISPs sell, presumably helping them to attract customers; should Eric Schmidt be demanding compensation for the "implicit subsidy"?
There are plenty of perfectly valid reasons to be skeptical of net neutrality regulation. For reasons I have never understood, the telecoms have decided not to focus primarily on these, but instead push this line about Google "free riding" on their bandwidth. It would make sense if it were a dishonest argument that worked... but it's a transparently bogus dishonest argument that not only fails to convince anybody, but serves as a reminder that the telecoms' position in this debate is motivated above all by the dream of extracting rents from large firms like Google. The telcos may actually have the right side of the policy question, but it'd be a hell of a lot easier to agree with them if they'd stop embarassing themselves like this periodically. Better shills please.
Response to Phone Companies' "Google Bandwidth" Report
Earlier this week I thought that the announcement of a broadband access "call to action" was an encouraging sign that the phone and cable carriers could set aside their differences with Internet companies and public interest groups over network neutrality, and focus on solving our nation's broadband challenges. Unfortunately, a report issued today suggests that some carriers would still rather point fingers and keep fighting old battles.
Scott Cleland over at Precursor Blog is, of course, not exactly a neutral analyst. He is paid by the phone and cable companies -- AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner, and others -- to be a full time Google critic. As a result, most people here in Washington take his commentary with a heavy dose of salt.
The report that Mr. Cleland issued today -- alleging that Google is somehow unfairly consuming network bandwidth -- is just the latest in what one blogger called his "payola punditry." Not surprisingly, in his zeal to score points in the net neutrality debate, he made significant methodological and factual errors that undermine his report's conclusions.
First and foremost, there's a huge difference between your own home broadband connection, and the Internet as a whole. It's the consumers voluntarily choosing to use our applications who are actually using their own broadband bandwidth -- not Google. To say that Google somehow "uses" consumers' home broadband connections shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Internet actually works.
Second, Google already pays billions of dollars for the bandwidth and server capacity necessary to connect our data centers together, and then to carry traffic from those data centers to the Internet backbone. That is the way the Net has always operated: each side pays for their own connection to the Net.
Third, Mr. Cleland's cost estimates are overblown. For one, his attempt to correlate Google's "market share and traffic" to use of petabytes of bandwidth is misguided. The whole point of a search engine like Google's is to connect a user to some other website as quickly as possible. If Mr. Cleland's definition of "market share" includes all those other sites, and then attributes them to Google's "traffic," that mistake alone would skew the overall numbers by a huge amount.
Mr. Cleland's calculations about YouTube's impact are similarly flawed. Here he confuses "market share" with "traffic share." YouTube's share of video traffic is decidedly smaller than its market share. And typical YouTube traffic takes up far less bandwidth than downloading or streaming a movie.
Finally, the Google search bots that Mr. Cleland claims are driving bandwidth consumption don't even affect consumers' broadband connections at all -- they are searching and indexing only websites.
We don't fault Mr. Cleland for trying to do his job. But it's unfortunate that the phone and cable companies funding his work would rather launch poorly researched broadsides than help solve consumers' problems.
US Role as Internet Hub Starts to Slip
An internet traffic boom in Africa and Asia has reduced US dominance over web capacity
America is losing its position at the centre of the internet, according to a new study.
The survey by communications analysts TeleGeography Research, based in Washington DC, shows a rapid growth in internet capacity around the rest of the world over the past year - particularly in Latin America and Asia.
As a result, America's traditional role as the internet's traffic policeman is drifting away as other parts of the world become less reliant on it.
"The US used to be a primary hub for many regions," said Eric Schoonover, a senior analyst at TeleGeography. "A lot of data still comes through the US, and a lot of content there is served out to other countries … but its importance is declining, though it has by no means gone away."
The survey - which looks at data taken from internet backbone providers around the world - examined the size and capacity of the physical connections that make up the internet, as well as the traffic that moves across them.
It found that dramatic shifts have led to a decline in America's involvement in overall internet traffic. In 1999, 91% of data from Asia passed through the United States at some point on its journey. By this year that number had fallen to just 54%.
The change was even more pronounced in Africa. Nine years ago the US was involved in 70% of internet traffic coming from the continent, but that number has decreased to just 6% as more can be directed internally, or through Europe and the Middle East.
"There used to be a phenomenon on the internet called 'tromboning'," said Schoonover. "If I were sitting in Singapore or South Africa and I sent an email to a friend three houses down, it was just as likely that the email was going to traverse New York City as somewhere local.
"What we see now is that phenomenon becoming less and less apparent as more local hubs and internet exchanges crop up in Latin America, in Asia and a few in Africa."
Greater capacity around the world not only offers better access to millions of people, but also helps to make the internet more stable overall.
Earlier this year it became apparent how important alternative routes around the world have become, when major undersea cables linking Europe, Africa and Asia were mistakenly damaged. The string of incidents cut off or reduced internet access for around 100 million people and caused massive disruption to businesses as far apart as India and Egypt.
America's traditional role as the hub of internet activity is largely a result of the network's beginnings in the 1960s as the Arpanet, a chain of interlinked computers funded by the US military.
That system evolved over time into the internet, but it was only really with the creation of the world wide web in 1990 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee that explosive online growth really took hold.
Now more than 1.4 billion people worldwide use the internet, with access expanding and new uses requiring greater bandwidth.
But earlier this year the US lost its position as the biggest country on the internet, as the number of users in China overtook the number of users in the US for the first time.
There are also moves afoot to globalise the way the web works, allowing the creation of website addresses in languages like Chinese, Arabic and Russian, rather than just the Roman alphabet.
Plans by Icann, the organisation which oversees internet addresses, had been opposed by some who argued that it could create a splintering of information and allow some repressive governments to exercise greater levels of control over its citizens. However, the proposals passed and the organisation plans to start liberalising web addresses in 2009.
The growth of internet connectivity in other parts of the world does not mean there has been a slowdown in growth in north America and Europe, however. After several years of slower expansion, TeleGeography said capacity has started speeding up even faster, with growth rates hitting 63% last year.
"The US and Europe, just by the nature of scale, had started to flatten out - but even in the last year those have re-accelerated," said Schoonover.
"In Asia and Latin America, growth rates are through the roof and Africa is starting from such a low base, they can't help but to grow very, very quickly."
As Buyout Fails, Bell Canada Seeks to Bolster a Struggling Business
With the record-setting $50 billion leveraged buyout of Bell Canada all over except for the potential litigation, the company, Canada’s largest telecommunications company, once again faces a possibly bigger issue: reversing the seemingly relentless decline of its business.
The takeover, which had several setbacks, appeared doomed late last month after the accounting firm KPMG concluded that Bell, which trades under the corporate name B.C.E., would not be solvent after being burdened with about $30 billion in debt from the deal.
Its demise was confirmed on Thursday through two curt statements. The buyout group, which was led by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, said that the deal’s failure to pass its solvency test was the final blow, adding: “Under these circumstances neither party owes a termination fee to the other.”
In its statement, Bell questioned the buyers’ right to terminate the deal just over 24 hours before its expiration time and said that it would demand a $1.2 billion break-up fee. “All closing conditions have been satisfied by B.C.E., other than the solvency opinion, a condition to closing that was to be satisfied by its nature at the effective time,” the company wrote.
But as lawyers for both sides prepared to settle that question, many analysts said that Bell was now better positioned to deal with the future than it would have been after a buyout.
“This announcement today is probably the best news Bell can hear,” said Brahm Eiley, a principal at the Convergence Consulting Group, a telecommunications analysis firm based in Toronto. “They were going to be saddled with a debt which would have meant that they could not have done anything.”
Bell is a humbled giant. It is now the No. 3 player in Canada’s wireless market behind Rogers Communications, which also leads the cable television business, and Telus, the dominant telephone company in Alberta and British Columbia.
Bell’s satellite television service has always lagged well behind cable. And Rogers in Ontario, along with Vidéotron in Quebec, are now poaching about 10 percent of Bell’s traditional local phone customers a year. Mr. Eiley estimates that cable companies now provide about one-quarter of Canada’s local telephone service after entering the business in 2004.
Bell’s sole remaining area of dominance is providing services to businesses and governments, although fierce competition from Telus in that segment has lowered its profitability.
While the takeover has collapsed, it did have one effect on Bell. At the request of the buyers, George Cope, a former Telus executive, was appointed as the company’s chief executive in July, replacing Michael J. Sabia.
Mr. Cope’s early steps have not dealt with the company’s broad strategic issues. Instead he has mainly focused on cost cutting, eliminating 2,750 mostly middle management jobs and introducing a new logo and advertising campaign for the company.
Many of Bell’s most pressing problems date back to the technology boom of the late 1990s. At that time, Bell focused on media company acquisitions rather than on network upgrades. It paid premium prices for, among other things, Canada’s largest private television network, CTV, and control of The Globe and Mail newspaper.
Mr. Sabia came in and unwound the company’s media foray. But while Rogers can now compete with Bell in all of its consumer product areas including wireless, Bell’s aging network means that the company is fast losing ground in the Internet and television businesses.
Bell never fulfilled plans to start selling television through an upgraded wired network about three years ago. That leaves it offering only a satellite television service. Because Canada is far north of the equator, where the system’s satellites orbit, many potential customers are unable to receive it.
At the same time, Rogers and Vidéotron, a unit of the publisher and broadcaster Quebecor, are increasingly offering Internet services in some areas that offer speeds well beyond Bell’s service.
Vidéotron has also recently won approval, along with three other companies, to compete in the wireless market.
Troy Crandall, a telecommunications analyst with MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier in Montreal, expects that Bell will be forced to make substantial network investments.
“Sure it’s expensive,” he said. “But if they continue on the way they were going, we’re going to see cable making more inroads while the new wireless entrants take the low end of their market.”
Mr. Eiley cautions that both Bell and Telus, which he said faced several of the same problems as Bell, would have to weigh carefully the potential returns from investments in network upgrades. That situation, he added, might delay or even block substantial change.
“Bell could just muddle along for a pretty long time,” he said. “You can run your business that way, but you end up being a much smaller player.”
Comcast Bills Man For Self-Immolating Cable Box Of Doom
If your Comcast cable box starts a fire in your home — should you be responsible for paying to replace it?
That's what happened to Kirk — and he's refusing to pay up, so Comcast has been harassing him for months. Finally, they stopped letting him use OnDemand, so Kirk canceled.
The story began when the Fire Department was summoned to Kirk's house at 5:30 AM because his cable box had caught fire. He says he never received an apology from Comcast, or any reassurance that the flaming cable box would be investigated. What he did get is a bill for $88 for destroyed equipment.
From The Daily Journal:
Full-Length Movies Going Online
In recent years, much of the interest in online video has focused on its effects on mainstream or conventional television – the emergence of a "clip culture," in which popular segments of television programs draw larger audiences on websites like YouTube than on conventional television. The shift of conventional broadcast to the Internet is remarkable, but it misses important developments for longer-form video.
For example, last week I released Why Copyright? Canadian Voices on Copyright Law, a 47-minute documentary on copyright reform. Produced with filmmaker and law student Daniel Albahary, the documentary examines why copyright has emerged as an important issue. It features a wide range of Canadian voices, including Nettwerk Record's Terry McBride, Hamilton Tiger Cats owner Bob Young, Toronto-based science-fiction author Karl Schroeder and Privacy Commissioner of Canada Jennifer Stoddart.
While this is hardly the first film about copyright, the release was noteworthy since it occurred exclusively online and in the process highlighted the potential for independent creators to use the power of Internet distribution to level the cultural playing field.
Finding ways to distribute films may have once posed a significant barrier, but that is clearly no longer the case. Why Copyright? was posted to online video sites such as YouTube and Blip.tv, which offer free streaming distribution. Another version was posted to Dot-Sub, a video-streaming site that enables viewers to create subtitles in other languages. Further versions were made available via BitTorrent, allowing people to download the entire DVD of the film.
Within days, thousands of people had viewed the film at virtually no cost.
My experience is not unique as the Internet is now filled with examples of filmmakers bypassing the conventional theatre and DVD distribution systems.
For example, earlier this year Michael Moore, one of the world's best-known documentary filmmakers, released his latest work – Slacker Uprising – free online. The film, which was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, can be downloaded by anyone in Canada and the United States or viewed as a streamed version on Blip.tv.
The same is true for Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning, a Finnish parody of Star Trek and Babylon 5 that has been described as the most popular Finnish film of all time. The independent feature-length film has been freely downloaded millions of times and can be viewed as a streamed version on Google Video.
Why Copyright? is strictly non-commercial; however, the use of Internet distribution is also emerging as an effective business model. In the case of Slacker Uprising, a DVD version of the movie can be purchased directly from the site, leading to higher profit margins for Moore. The Star Wreck film has also become a commercial success, having earned back the creators' investment through merchandise and DVD sales.
These experiments point to the potential for taking films from the big screen to the computer screen. Combining free Internet streaming or downloading with a commercial model that may include DVD sales, merchandise sales, broadcast license fees and advertising revenues hold the promise of generating wider audiences and providing a financial payback for creators.
The popularity of short clips online may garner the lion's share of attention, but it is the potential to use the same distribution channels for full-length video that may reshape the industry for both creators and the businesses that market and distribute their work.
Zeroing in on Your Favorite Video Clips
WATCHING videos on the Web is fast becoming a national pastime. More and more people are turning on their computers to view clips of shows they missed on television or to watch the increasing number of full-length TV programs and movies now available online.
To help sift through all the choices, companies including VideoSurf and Digitalsmiths have developed search tools. They allow viewers to find quickly a favorite scene from “Entourage,” for example, or a particular video clip of Barack Obama they’ve always wanted to see. They can even locate an exact segment they want to view without having to click “play” and watch the entire video.
Such search tools that pinpoint and index an increasingly finer level of detail within videos may prove appealing not only to consumers searching for that special laugh on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” but also to companies compiling guides to Web video watching. And the technology may eventually come in handy in searching family video archives for hard-to-find sightings of Great-Uncle George.
VideoSurf, based in San Mateo, Calif., has a free video search engine that is now in beta or test version at www.videosurf.com. It uses computer-based facial recognition and other tools to analyze videos frame by frame — and to identify characters, objects and scenes shown within each frame for detailed searching.
For instance, people who enter “Jon Stewart” in the search bar see not only a list of videos including Mr. Stewart, but also, beneath each listing, a preview of the actual videos: a panel of thumbnail images of representative scenes that the computer compiles automatically.
Click on any one of these images, like the face of a guest on Mr. Stewart’s show, or the face of John Oliver, one of Mr. Stewart’s correspondents, and go directly to that part of the video. Users can also select snippets within a video and send them by e-mail to friends.
VideoSurf’s facial recognition algorithms are used not only for these video summaries, but also to pick out the main faces and related videos associated with subjects entered in the search bar.
Type in “bailout,” for instance, and many of the characters in this national drama appear in thumbnail portraits across the top of the screen, above the general search results. Click on “Henry Paulson,” and the results are re-sorted to show videos including him.
Digitalsmiths, based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., also uses facial recognition and other computer vision techniques to index Web videos. Unlike VideoSurf, which has a direct portal for consumers, Digitalsmiths puts its search engine to use behind the scenes, within the Web sites of companies that want to make their videos more accessible, said Ben Weinberger, co-founder and chief executive.
“You don’t go to us to watch video,” Mr. Weinberger said “We work with content owners like studios to help them monetize their contents online.”
Digitalsmiths powers many online video searches, he said, including those at TheWB.com., TMZ.com and Essence.com.
Traditional engines that search video typically rely on keywords, descriptive captions or other tags, often supplied by the producer, to identify the contents, said James L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
Engines that go beyond these descriptive tags to automatically search the visual contents themselves may appeal to consumers. Such engines, he said, let consumers get under the hood to see what’s inside the video, instead of counting on tags that may be limited or even inaccurate.
The audience for online video is substantial and growing steadily, and now includes roughly three out of four Internet users in the United States, said Jaimee Steele, a spokeswoman for comScore, which measures consumer Internet habits. In September, for example, more than 146 million people watched an average of 86 videos during the month, up from about 136 million unique online video viewers watching 68 videos, on average, in September 2007.
Sites indexing these videos will have their work cut out for them. VideoSurf has so far indexed video from about 80 Internet sites, including Hulu, YouTube and Comedy Central, said Dr. Eitan Sharon, chief technology officer. “We abstract every object in each frame of a video and analyze it, saving it as a visual entity like a paragraph,” he said.
The company started by analyzing videos about subjects or people popular on the Internet. “Gradually we will get to cover the vast majority of online videos,” he said.
Al Gore, the former vice president, is among the investors in VideoSurf, which started in September.
VIDEOSURF’S technology works in part by memorizing components of faces, Dr. Sharon said. It stores away images of Britney Spears’ eyes and cheekbones, for instance, in its collective memory, so it can recognize an image of her despite changes in light. Such expert perception means that the technology can do what many people can’t, he said.
“The machine easily distinguishes between Tina Fey and Sarah Palin,” he said.
Mr. McQuivey of Forrester says he thinks VideoSurf’s technology might have arrived at an opportune time.
“As videos get longer,” he said, “it’s harder and harder to find the one minute you want to see.”
Bringing That Quirky Video Store Clerk to the Web
Claire Cain Miller
Next time you’re home on a Friday night, searching for a movie to watch, Stuart Skorman wants you to visit Clerk Dogs, his new movie recommendation Web site.
The site, officially introduced Tuesday, uses a novel approach in Silicon Valley: the recommendations have been created not by computers but by humans, in this case video store clerks. In that sense, Clerk Dogs does for movies what the Internet radio site Pandora does for music.
Think of the type of movie you are in the mood for, type in the name of one you like in the same genre, and Clerk Dogs will present you with a list of options and details about how each compares with the original movie.
“We’ve created a whole system based on that interaction between a clerk and a customer,” Mr. Skorman said. “I’m betting my retirement because I want to bring human beings back into the process.”
The site has cataloged 5,000 movies so far and is focusing on its 2,000 suspense and crime movies to start. It will add other genres and plans to include 12,000 movies by February, adding new releases as they come in.
Alerting customers to older movies they might like helps DVD distributors, Mr. Skorman said. That is because new releases are loss leaders and stores make their money off of older movies, yet many customers do not seek out old releases.
“Anyone can rent a new release, but to be able to rent an old Humphrey Bogart movie that might remind them of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ — that’s not so easy, but that’s very profitable,” he said.
Mr. Skorman started the site in part because he thinks that computer-based recommendation engines, known as collaborative filtering systems, do not do a very good job.
Netflix, a potential Clerk Dogs competitor or partner, uses its own Cinematch software to suggest new movies. The company has acknowledged that the software is less than perfect and is offering $1 million to any programmer who can improve upon it. The contest has been running for two years, but no one has been able to crack the code. (Clerk Dogs would not have been able to enter the contest, Mr. Skorman said, because “we weren’t fixing their system, we wanted to replace it.”)
Mr. Skorman began thinking about how to best recommend movies to customers in 1985, when he opened Empire Video, a chain of six video stores in Vermont that he sold in 1993. In 1990, he built a kiosk service for Blockbuster stores to recommend movies, but the partnership fell through. In 1995, he founded Reel.com, a movie Web site that he sold to Hollywood Entertainment, the parent of Hollywood Video, for $100 million in 1998. Next was Elephant Pharmacy, a chain of drug stores in the Bay Area that sells both Western and herbal medicines. Continuing the theme, he added a video store to the pharmacy.
Clerk Dogs “is a culmination of my life’s work, all these ways of helping people find movies,” Mr. Skorman said.
During his decade at Empire Video, he learned how to help customers who came in asking for a movie recommendation. “I asked one question: Name a movie you’ve seen in the past that you’re in the mood for something similar tonight,” he said. “We knew more about them than Netflix could ever know, because we knew exactly what they were in the mood for at that moment.”
The clerks on his staff rate 35 attributes of the movie, or as many of those as apply to the film, on a scale of 1-10. They range from black humor, action and cinematography to sex, sensuality and Hollywood feel.
If you enter “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the 1999 thriller starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, Clerk Dogs offers 40 similar movies, from “Cape Fear,” the 1962 Gregory Peck version, to “Match Point,” the 2005 Woody Allen movie. Its top match is “Notes on a Scandal,” which, it says, has similar character depth and suspense, but a slower pace and a better soundtrack.
Alternatively, users can adjust the ratings themselves to find a movie that lines up with what they are in the mood for. If you want a movie that’s more suspenseful and upbeat than “Mr. Ripley,” it recommends “Manhunter,” the first movie with the Hannibal Lecter character.
The analysis has been done by 22 former video store clerks, several of whom worked with Mr. Skorman at Reel.com. He gave them a test in which they had to pick an unusual movie and then name five that are most similar and describe their similarities and differences in 10 words or less.
A clerk spends 30 minutes to an hour on each movie. The ratings are reviewed by editors, and every so often all the clerks go over a selection of movies together to make sure they are in agreement. If customers disagree with Clerk Dogs’s analysis, they can send their comments to the writer, who decides whether to revise the review.
“It takes people who worked in video stores to know that the kind of people who like ‘Pulp Fiction’ don’t always like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ — they warn them it can be a little slow or black — and they might like ‘Get Shorty’ more,” he said.
Mr. Skorman started Clerk Dogs with just over $1 million of his own money. Hiring humans is a lot more expensive than depending on computers, of course, but Mr. Skorman said that the bulk of the human work is almost done. Once Clerk Dogs finishes 12,000 movies, the company will spend only $100,000 to $200,000 a year paying part-time clerks to add new movies.
He plans to make money through advertising on the site, earning a commission when people rent a movie through it (Clerk Dogs has already partnered with Amazon.com and is negotiating more partnerships) and licensing the technology to other Web sites.
“In the old days, when you found good clerks in video stores, you kept going back to that store because they knew your taste,” Mr. Skorman said. “It became a relationship. Ours will have that connection to the customer.”
Those Funny YouTube Videos Are Pulling in Serious Money
Making videos for YouTube — for three years a pastime for millions of Web surfers — is now a way to make a living.
One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site. For some, like Michael Buckley, the self-taught host of a celebrity chatter show, filming funny videos is now a full-time job.
Mr. Buckley quit his day job in September after his online profits had greatly surpassed his salary as an administrative assistant for a music promotion company. His thrice-a-week online show “is silly,” he said, but it has helped him escape his credit-card debt.
Mr. Buckley, 33, was the part-time host of a weekly show on a Connecticut public access channel in the summer of 2006 when his cousin started posting snippets of the show on YouTube. The comical rants about celebrities attracted online viewers, and before long Mr. Buckley was tailoring his segments, called “What the Buck?” for the Web. Mr. Buckley knew that the show was “only going to go so far on public access.”
“But on YouTube,” he said, “I’ve had 100 million views. It’s crazy.”
All he needed was a $2,000 Canon camera, a $6 piece of fabric for a backdrop and a pair of work lights from Home Depot. Mr. Buckley is an example of the Internet’s democratizing effect on publishing. Sites like YouTube allow anyone with a high-speed connection to find a fan following, simply by posting material and promoting it online.
Granted, building an audience online takes time. “I was spending 40 hours a week on YouTube for over a year before I made a dime,” Mr. Buckley said — but, at least in some cases, it is paying off.
Mr. Buckley is one of the original members of YouTube’s partner program, which now includes thousands of participants, from basement video makers to big media companies. YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, places advertisements within and around the partner videos and splits the revenues with the creators. “We wanted to turn these hobbies into businesses,” said Hunter Walk, a director of product management for the site, who called popular users like Mr. Buckley “unintentional media companies.”
YouTube declined to comment on how much money partners earned on average, partly because advertiser demand varies for different kinds of videos. But a spokesman, Aaron Zamost, said “hundreds of YouTube partners are making thousands of dollars a month.” At least a few are making a full-time living: Mr. Buckley said he was earning over $100,000 from YouTube advertisements.
The program is a partial solution to a nagging problem for YouTube. The site records 10 times the video views as any other video-sharing Web site in the United States, yet it has proven to be hard for Google to profit from, because a vast majority of the videos are posted by anonymous users who may or may not own the copyrights to the content they upload. While YouTube has halted much of the illegal video sharing on the site, it remains wary of placing advertisements against content without explicit permission from the owners. As a result, only about 3 percent of the videos on the site are supported by advertising.
But the company has high hopes for the partner program. Executives liken it to Google AdSense, the technology that revolutionized advertising and made it possible for publishers to place text advertisements next to their content.
“Some of these people are making videos in their spare time,” said Chad Hurley, a co-founder of YouTube. “We felt that if we were able to provide them a true revenue source, they’d be able to hone their skills and create better content.”
In a time of media industry layoffs, the revenue source — and the prospect of a one-person media company — may be especially appealing to users. But video producers like Lisa Donovan, who posts sketch comedy onto YouTube and attracted attention in the fall for parodies of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, do not make it sound easy. “For new users, it’s a lot of work,” Ms. Donovan said. “Everybody’s fighting to be seen online; you have to strategize and market yourself.”
Mr. Buckley, who majored in psychology in college and lives with his husband and four dogs in Connecticut, films his show from home. Each episode of “What the Buck?” is viewed an average of 200,000 times, and the more popular ones have reached up to three million people. He said that writing and recording five minutes’ worth of jokes about Britney Spears’s comeback tour and Miley Cyrus’s dancing abilities is not as easy as it looks. “I’ve really worked hard on honing my presentation and writing skills,” he said.
As his traffic and revenues grew, Mr. Buckley had “so many opportunities online that I couldn’t work anymore.” He quit his job at Live Nation, the music promoter, to focus full-time on the Web show.
There is a symmetry to Mr. Buckley’s story. Some so-called Internet celebrities view YouTube as a stepping stone to television. But Mr. Buckley started on TV and found fame on YouTube. Three months ago, he signed a development deal with HBO, an opportunity that many media aspirants dream about. Still, “I feel YouTube is my home,” he said. “I think the biggest mistake that any of us Internet personalities can make is establish ourselves on the Internet and then abandon it.”
Cory Williams, 27, a YouTube producer in California, agrees. Mr. Williams, known as “mrsafety” on YouTube, has been dreaming up online videos since 2005, and he said his big break came in September 2007 with a music video parody called “The Mean Kitty Song.” The video, which introduces Mr. Williams’ evil feline companion, has been viewed more than 15 million times. On a recent day, the video included an advertisement from Coca-Cola.
Mr. Williams, who counts about 180,000 subscribers to his videos, said he was earning $17,000 to $20,000 a month via YouTube. Half of the profits come from YouTube’s advertisements, and the other half come from sponsorships and product placements within his videos, a model that he has borrowed from traditional media.
On YouTube, it is evident that established media entities and the up-and-coming users are learning from each other. The amateur users are creating narrative arcs and once-a-week videos, enticing viewers to visit regularly. Some, like Mr. Williams, are also adding product-placement spots to their videos. Meanwhile, brand-name companies are embedding their videos on other sites, taking cues from users about online promotion. Mr. Walk calls it a subtle “cross-pollination” of ideas.
Some of the partners are major media companies; the ones with the most video views include Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, CBS and Warner Brothers. But individual users are now able to compete alongside them. Mr. Buckley, who did not even have high-speed Internet access two years ago, said his YouTube hobby had changed his financial life.
“I didn’t start it to make money,” he said, “but what a lovely surprise.”
The Extended Life of Monty Python
IS there life left in the dead parrot sketch?
It has been 25 years since Monty Python was a living comedy troupe — the film “The Meaning of Life,” released in 1983, was its swan song — but that has not stopped one alumnus from trying to convince the world that Python, like the parrot in its ancient skit, is just resting. For decades, Eric Idle has made sure the Monty Python name continues to grace books, DVDs, concert tours, a Broadway show, ring tones and video games.
Now he is helping take Monty Python to the Internet.
Pythonline.com, a social network and digital playground, offers clips of old material that people can use to make mash-ups, perhaps inserting their own pet in the killer-rabbit scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The home page has a blog format with news about the surviving Pythons; elsewhere there are chat boards and e-mail forums. Membership is free.
Mr. Idle is a driving force behind the site, though his role could only be described as, well, something completely different.
“I write about football for them occasionally,” he said, laughing. “I thought it was the most abstruse thing I could do for it.”
Despite the continuing wit and charm of Mr. Idle, the Web site’s current content is not very funny. The discussion forums tend toward comments like “Happy Birthday, Eric!” The classic clips, which are familiar, are now available on YouTube, where they are more likely to be viewed by younger people, for whom they are fresh and hilarious.
The other Pythons — John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin — are not active on the Python site. (Graham Chapman, the sixth Python, died in 1989.) Mr. Cleese was the only one who chose to comment on the digital venture, saying he was “vaguely aware” of Pythonline, but had no intention of contributing.
Mr. Idle tried to get Pythonline.com going on his own several times in the 1990s, only to set the project aside. “It was like Sisyphus,” he said. “Every morning there was another mountain to push the pebble up. Then I got annoyed because people would deny it was me, so I would tell them to shove off and they would say, ‘Oh, it is you.’ ”
In 2007, he signed a partnership with the New Media Broadcasting Company, a small outfit in Glendale, Calif., to jointly operate Pythonline. The site has been in beta-testing mode since the spring and will be officially introduced at the end of the month, said Scott Page, chief executive of New Media Broadcasting.
Mr. Page said the Python channel on YouTube had recorded 4.5 million video views and 52,000 subscribers in its first two weeks.
Previous incarnations of Pythonline were static, Mr. Page said, “something you would go to and look at content, but couldn’t participate.” This time, he said, “it’s not just about watching, it’s about participating, everyone getting involved.”
New Media Broadcasting aims to make Pythonline profitable through advertising revenue and paid subscriptions, though the company is currently coasting on “substantial” private financing, Mr. Page said. The company’s mission is to run sites where artists can communicate directly with fans.
Although Monty Python has already had a lasting mark on the Internet — junk e-mail was named spam after a Python sketch — purists argue that it is impossible to keep the original material as vibrant as it once was. Back in the 1970s, when the British group introduced America to silly walks, upper class twits and the “Lumberjack Song,” Python had a cultish intellectual following that prided itself on understanding the humor that had been incubated at Oxford and Cambridge.
But older fans complain that Python gets watered down with every new iteration. People who laughed at the Latin grammar lesson in “Life of Brian” in 1979 might cringe at “Spamalot,” the Broadway show that translates the 1975 movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” for a mass audience. (Symbolically, the Broadway show, which will close on Jan. 18, now stars Clay Aiken of “American Idol” fame.)
Mr. Idle, who lives in Los Angeles, became the group’s de facto torch bearer in the late 1990s, when he began delving into its catalog and repackaging old material, often with a knowing wink, as with his 2000 tour, “Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python.”
“I did try stopping for 10 or 15 years, but the trouble with Python is it’s a bit like being a Beatle,” he said by telephone. “You can’t start over again.”
SO far his biggest post-Python hits are “Spamalot,” which won a Tony award for best Broadway musical in 2005, and a 2007 concert tour based on “Life of Brian” called “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy).” He is now working on a book about Python’s touring days and a celebration next year to commemorate the group’s 40th anniversary.
“What we have is a brand, a franchise,” he said. “We created this name that exists, and everyone knows what it means and we should be grateful to our younger selves that we own it all.”
Because the original members of the group own the rights to most of the Monty Python catalog, each continues to reap royalties from Mr. Idle’s productions.
“The rest of us aren’t terribly interested, but we are very grateful that Eric is doing it,” said Mr. Cleese, an original Python who mentioned an expensive divorce as just one reason he appreciated the continuing royalties. Still, he said, it was “basically terribly boring to me to be going back and doing something I did 35 years ago.” (That said, he noted that his current project was a stage musical adaptation of his 1998 film, “A Fish Called Wanda.”)
Clearly the public does not share Mr. Cleese’s boredom with Python. “Spamalot,” according to Variety, has grossed $162 million since opening in 2005, not counting the touring productions.
“Here it never stops,” Mr. Idle said of Python in America. “It’s on television all the time, and people know it backwards and forwards. They all learned ‘The Holy Grail’ in college as though it were a text. There isn’t a demographic that hasn’t been tickled by Python, which struck me as completely bizarre.”
While Mr. Idle has proven adept at wringing money out of Python, some question whether there is a price to the group’s legacy. “When you can get a Monty Python screen saver, it ceases to be what Monty Python was,” said Robert J. Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University (and a huge Python fan in high school).
When Pythonline officially makes its debut, it will compete for attention with CollegeHumor.com and FunnyOrDie.com. Monty Python has had “a huge resurgence recently with the Will Ferrell generation of comedy — silly is back in a big way,” said Sam Reich, director of original content at CollegeHumor.com. “Sketch in general is back in a big way thanks to the Internet — sketch works online.”
Fans should not expect to see much fresh material from Mr. Idle. At 65, he is “not a YouTube, Facebook kind of guy,” and prefers to spend his time writing songs. “I go down every few months and visit them and encourage them, but I couldn’t do that anymore,” Mr. Idle said. “It’s just too boring.”
Studios Plan to Synchronise DVD and Online Movie Release
CONSUMERS will no longer have to wait weeks or even months after a film is released on DVD to watch it on pay-TV or download it over the internet, with major studios planning simultaneous roll-outs.
Australia's biggest video rental group predicts a major film studio will begin simultaneously releasing movies to DVD and video-on-demand by March.
That means people will be able to legally download a film from Foxtel, TiVo or BigPond as soon as it is available in DVD form in video stores.
Franchise Entertainment Group director Paul Uniacke would not name the studio, but predicted more would follow.
Internationally, Time Warner said in April it would make all its DVD film titles available on VOD on a "day-and-date", or simultaneous release, basis.
In May, Apple announced that new movie releases from nine film studios would be available for sale on the iTunes website on the same day as their DVD release, with 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, Warner, Paramount, Universal and Sony all participating.
Locally, the distributors' release windows vary considerably, with some releasing content to VOD 45 days after it goes to DVD.
"Windows have been shrinking now for five to 10 years," Mr Uniacke said.
"It gives the consumer choice. It's like people order takeaway food but they still go to restaurants as well."
In Hard Times, Is Best Buy’s Best Good Enough?
Laura Zinn Fromm
AMY ADONIZ, general manager at the Best Buy flagship store, knows what her staff wants for Christmas: a case of Red Bull.
Two weeks before Black Friday, Ms. Adoniz gave in to employees’ requests and had a Red Bull vending machine installed at the store, at 62nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan. Many in the sales staff of 140 are drama students, opera singers and actors who may run themselves ragged selling electronics by day and performing at night. To keep them from getting hungry and cranky over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Ms. Adoniz let them wear slippers and Uggs boots to work, and had food delivered three times a day.
Employees aren’t the only ones being tended to this shopping season. To lure customers, Ms. Adoniz waits for — and on — their dogs. “We have a doggie water bowl with filtered water, and treats for them as well,” she says.
With unemployment rising sharply, and consumer spending plummeting, Best Buy managers are bending over backward to attract shoppers and are encouraged to put their personal stamp on the stores. For Ms. Adoniz, that means stoking employees with caffeine and carbohydrates and catering to customers’ pets.
It’s an extraordinarily tough time for retailers. “November is shaping up to be the worst month in retail since I’ve been here 30 years,” says Edward Schmults, C.E.O. of FAO Schwarz, the toy chain. “Now I know how that little kid felt who misbehaved all year and then wondered if Santa was going to show up in December.”
Next year could be even worse. Fitch Ratings forecasts that the United States economy will contract 1.2 percent in 2009, with consumer spending falling 1.6 percent. “The impact on retailers is almost tragic as the economy adjusts,” Mr. Schmults says.
And Best Buy, to limit the damage, is not just cutting prices. It is trimming inventory and advertising, promoting higher-margin, private-label lines and pushing exclusive products, like the Blue Label series of notebook computers made for Best Buy by Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba. It’s also adding new services and products that specifically aim at women.
If the stock market and consumer spending hadn’t plunged so precipitously, Best Buy, the nation’s biggest electronics retailer, with $44 billion in annual revenue, might not have had to bother stocking up on delectables for dogs. The chain’s chief rival, Circuit City, recently filed for bankruptcy protection and is closing 155 stores. Tweeter, a high-end rival, shut down this week, and Sharper Image’s stores, which sold more exotic electronics, are liquidating. CompUSA closed most of its stores last year.
But no retailer is immune from the drop in consumer confidence and spending, especially one that specializes in gadgets, not groceries. Sales at Best Buy stores open more than a year were down 7.8 percent in October, compared with the same month last year. The company will not release November figures until Dec. 16, but it’s already clear that November was a brutal month for electronics retailers. According to a report MasterCard Advisors released last week, sales of electronics and appliances nationwide sank 25.2 percent in November, versus the same month last year.
Best Buy’s stock price, which reached almost $54 in November 2007, closed Friday at $23.05, and its market capitalization has shrunk to $9.5 billion. Because of slumping sales, Fitch Ratings in mid-November downgraded the outlook on Best Buy’s $2.7 billion in debt to negative, from stable.
Nevertheless, Karen Ghaffari, a managing director at Fitch, says she thinks Best Buy will weather the storm. Its longstanding reputation for high-quality service helped it grab market share this year when Circuit City laid off many of its highest-paid — and most experienced — sales workers, and shuttered stores.
“Best Buy is a very strong operator,” Ms. Ghaffari says, “and long-term they should benefit from the difficulties being experienced by the weaker competitors.”
That may well be so. But consumers’ reluctance to spend is making Best Buy’s investors skittish. Though analysts expect revenue to grow slightly next year as the company expands overseas, profit margins will come under pressure from price-cutting, especially on televisions. “Given the circumstances and uncertainty in what’s coming here in this market, we decline to comment,” said a press officer at Gardner Lewis Asset Management, which owned almost four million shares of Best Buy in June.
In an interview, Best Buy’s president, Brian Dunn, discussed the challenges the company faced. “The depth and speed with which the economy stumbled was extraordinary,” said Mr. Dunn, who started as a salesman at the chain 23 years ago. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Our business was growing really nicely and then, all of a sudden, boom!”
BEST BUY’S winter holiday shopping season is crucial, as it is for every retailer. A good Christmas can make the difference between a mediocre year and a fantastic one. Ten percent of a retailer’s sales can come on Black Friday alone, and typically, almost 60 percent of Best Buy’s profit comes from fourth-quarter sales.
Now that it’s clear that fourth-quarter sales and profits will be down substantially from last year, the chain is scrambling to cut costs. There will be fewer national TV commercials and more targeted e-mail crowing about low prices.
Best Buy stores are stocked with thousands of boxes of the hit video games Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero and Wii Fit, along with myriad camcorders, digital cameras, flat-screen TVs and GPS devices. Nevertheless, to make sure that the company isn’t stuck with mountains of unsold merchandise after Christmas, Best Buy is cutting inventory levels to match reduced demand, Mr. Dunn says. But the company will not say by how much.
“Suppliers are being flexible,” Mr. Dunn says. “Apple, HP, Samsung and Sony have answered the bell nicely and worked with us on inventory levels.”
To accommodate shoppers, Best Buy is offering more lenient financing. Customers who charge at least $499 worth of merchandise on a store credit card don’t have to pay interest for 18 months. “We don’t push it,” Mr. Dunn says, “but customers are grabbing the 18-month financing options.” Last year, shoppers had to spend at least $499 on one item to receive such financing. “Now you can put whatever you want into your cart to get it up to $499,” he says.
That strategy worked for Nadia Lora and her husband, Carlos, both 21. The couple work at Nunzio’s Grill, a restaurant in Vauxhall, N.J., where she is the manager and he is a cook. They were shopping at a Best Buy near the restaurant on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and they bought a JVC camcorder and a Garmin Nuvi GPS system, purposely spending enough to hit the $499 financing threshold. Ms. Lora said the Best Buy incentives allowed her to justify her purchases: “I like that they don’t charge interest for stuff for months.”
IN this stressed-out holiday season, Best Buy is trying to be hip and friendly. The chain is the only retailer to have exclusive rights to sell the new Guns N’ Roses album, “Chinese Democracy,” in its stores and has hired Magic Johnson to open stores in urban areas. Free limousine rides and mini-camcorders were offered to 25 customers in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Miami and other major markets who wrote compelling, 250-word essays about why shopping at Best Buy on the day after Thanksgiving was a meaningful ritual for their families.
Claudia Di Folco, 35, an actress and former television news reporter, was shopping at Best Buy two days before Thanksgiving. She bought a $299 Slingbox, which transfers whatever is playing on your home television onto a laptop, cellphone or PC, so her husband could watch the New York Jets game during a trip to Rome. Ms. Di Folco lives a few blocks from the Best Buy store at 86th Street and Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side and shops there often. “They always have special sales, or at least the big yellow signs make you think they do,” she says.
On the day after Thanksgiving back at 62nd and Broadway, hundreds of electronics fans lined up. “We had a fabulous day,” says Ms. Adoniz, 41, that store’s manager, though she says she was less confident earlier in the week. “With everything happening with the economy, we didn’t know if that was going to scare customers away.”
But when she arrived at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, 500 people were waiting. Customers had been outside since Thanksgiving morning: they sat huddled in sleeping bags; the line went around the block to Central Park West and back. Ms. Adoniz gave out coffee and sales fliers.
Samsung employees played trivia contests with shoppers, doling out T-shirts, tote bags and other prizes. Ms. Adoniz’s fliers detailed the store’s so-called doorbuster sales — 50-inch plasma televisions for $799, laptops starting at $329, GPS devices for $99, digital cameras for $50. Prices have inched up since then, but, Ms. Adoniz says, “there is still a lot of holiday traffic and a lot more online ordering.” Laptops are particularly popular.
Among televisions, the best seller at her store was the 42-inch Dynex, the chain’s private label; it sold for $499. Margins on private-label items are much higher than margins on name-brand electronics, so Best Buy is pushing Dynex as well as its Insignia line of digital cameras, televisions and GPS devices.
“The TVs were flying out the door; they were huge,” Ms. Adoniz says.
The company hasn’t released official figures for Black Friday, but analysts say sales were better than expected. In an effort to keep customers buying, Best Buy aggressively promoted low prices on its Web site every day last week.
In a down economy, the biggest challenge for Best Buy may be from discounters that are chasing its core base of gadget-happy consumers.
“Wal-Mart, Costco and Target have expanded their assortments,” says Steven L. Martin, who manages Slater Capital Management, a retail hedge fund. “Five years ago if you said Wal-Mart would sell plasma TVs, no one would have believed you.”
Best Buy also faces stiff competition from retailers like Amazon that do business exclusively online. The company is fighting back by allowing shoppers to make purchases online and then pick them up at Best Buy stores, which eliminates shipping costs. “Out of this storm comes new operating models,” Mr. Dunn says. “The ecosystem is going to change. We see storefronts closing.”
For now, though, Best Buy has a potent weapon in its battle with the discounters and online sellers: its staff. Members of Best Buy’s sales staff, a k a “Blue Shirts,” go through a 20-hour training program, then spend two weeks shadowing an experienced sales staff member around the floor. Historically, the Best Buy training program has been so strong, some people in the industry say, that competitors often waited for Best Buy to let staff go after Christmas, and then snap them up.
Ms. Di Folco, the actress, says: “Most of the time, I find really informed people who can actually answer my questions. It’s like they seem to be electronic junkies versus kids wasting time at a part-time job they don’t enjoy.”
Its sales force may give Best Buy a competitive advantage even in a holiday season when many customers are interested in rock-bottom prices.
“The importance of the salesperson is directly related to the price of the product being sold,” says Chris Denove, vice president at J. D. Power & Associates, the consumer research firm. “If you’re talking about toothpaste or pencils, the salesperson is immaterial, but when you’re talking about high-end electronics such as flat screen TVs, the salesperson can be critical.”
Target, meanwhile, is going after the technical support business — a big profit center for Best Buy — and has hired Zip Express, a company started by Chris Mauzy, a former Best Buy employee, to challenge the “Geek Squad” for which Best Buy is known. For a fee, members of the Geek Squad will install your purchase and provide technical support, even on products not bought at Best Buy. It’s a huge profit center for the company.
Mr. Mauzy, who left Best Buy to start Zip Express in October 2007, is introducing an electronics-installation service for 200 Target stores.
To further protect itself against inroads from the discounters, Best Buy is trying to make shopping more appealing to women. Its Omega Wolves program, a focus group made up of 3,500 working women in the United States and London, has a page on Facebook; Omegas socialize and give the chain feedback. Thanks to the Omegas, Ms. Adoniz’s store has what she calls “nicer fixtures,” like wood-trimmed displays and lighter backdrops.
Ms. Adoniz’s store also aims to stock accessories with women in mind: fake leopard skin and red crocodile cases for BlackBerrys and other gadgets from Liz Claiborne, Betsey Johnson, Dooney & Bourke, Tumi and Steve Madden. Crystal Stroupe, a personal shopper and an aspiring opera singer, spends much of her time at Best Buy keeping the accessories table neat and pretty.
Ms. Adoniz says the accessories table brings a lot of astonished looks, “but we know the female shopper was an underserved market.” Best Buy says women are now spending more money at its stores than men, which has led Ms. Adoniz and managers of other stores to expand accessories aimed at women. Many Best Buy stores now carry items like blow-dryers, curling irons and hair straighteners, as well as pink cameras and phones. “We have a whole personal care section and it does very well,” Ms. Adoniz says.
The effort to appeal to women may ultimately help Best Buy distinguish itself from traditional electronics retailers, which tend to market electronics to men.
“You can’t assume that every expensive TV is going to be bought by a male,” says Matthew J. Fassler, a retail analyst at Goldman Sachs. “Women need to be served as intently as men."
THAT said, Best Buy’s business is hard-core electronics, not blow-dryers; the company is betting that if a family buys just one gift this December, it will involve electronic entertainment. “When the customer gets into difficulty, they tend to cocoon,” Mr. Dunn says. “After 9/11, they invested in their homes and loved ones and experiences.”
Mr. Dunn says he usually wins his office pool for predicting December results; this year, he’s betting that cocooning drives sales, but he acknowledges that “it’s too soon to tell” how the holiday season will play out.
“As the economy becomes tougher, people think more carefully about whether they really need to buy an item,” he says. “The threshold for a considered purchase has moved down. Last year, it might have been $500. This year, it might be $300, $200 or even $100 for some families.”
Enough for an iPod case and a Slingbox cable, but not much more.
The Online Customer Is Spending Less
For all the significance attached to Cyber Monday, the unofficial start of the online holiday shopping season on the day after Thanksgiving weekend, this year’s numbers were hardly inspiring. Chase Paymentech’s Cyber Holiday Pulse Index reported an increase for Cyber Monday 2008 of less than 1 percent in revenue, although it also recorded 14 percent more total transactions this year.
What gives? The answer lies in the average value of each purchase by online shoppers, down 12 percent from last year. Chase’s index, which surveys 25 of the largest 150 retailers on its Internet payment processing network, showed that the average shopper spent $7.19 less per transaction on Cyber Monday this year over last — reflecting deeper discounts than usual, thriftier shoppers or both.
“It’s a distinct finding that we didn’t predict,” said Mia Shernoff, executive vice president for marketing at Chase Paymentech. “It’s reasonable to say that that’s the beginning of the ramp-up, but it’s not the big day in the same way that Black Friday is.”
Chicago Band Uses Digital Savvy to Promote Album
Progressive jam band Umphrey's McGee is capturing the attention of the music industry with the pre-order campaign for its upcoming album.
Such strategies are nothing new, and many offer an incentive to buyers -- a free download of the first single or access to early ticket sales for concerts. But Umphrey's McGee has gone to far greater lengths for its January 20 release "Mantis," which the Chicago-based band hopes will bring it mainstream success after 11 years building a nationwide base of loyal supporters.
The group has a variety of content that it's making available to anyone ordering the album now, including digital singles, rare live performances, behind-the-scenes video footage and photos. But in an innovative twist, the band is not releasing it all at once. Instead it's releasing tiers of content based on how many pre-orders are sold. Each time the number of pre-orders reaches a certain threshold, a new tier of content is released. (There are nine tiers in all.) The idea is to engage diehard fans as evangelists who will convince their friends and family to pre-order "Mantis" so the next tier of content can become available.
So far, it's worked. According to band manager, Vincent Iwinski, Umphrey's McGee has sold more than 2,400 pre-orders since it launched in late October, including a $50 deluxe package that contains a bonus DVD and vinyl copy. That may not seem like a lot to mainstream acts, but it's twice the number of pre-orders that the band logged for its last album, 2006's "Safety in Numbers," according to Iwinski.
Already, Umphrey's McGee has released six of the nine content tiers and had to raise the sales requirement for the remaining tiers to avoid running out of content too soon.
"We're realizing that doing things the way we've done the last few years is not going to keep people's attention," Iwinski says. "What's important to us in this day and age is to give people a reason to buy one copy of the album in return for all this free stuff."
The campaign could serve as a template for how emerging and established acts alike can kick-start interest in a new release. But it's not as if this idea came out of nowhere. For more than a decade, Umphrey's McGee has built its fan base through the strategic use of free content and fan engagement.
The band, which plays some 120 shows annually, sells out 4,000-capacity venues by charging a core group of eight to 15 fans in each market with the task of giving away free CDs. It then lets attendees freely tape shows; and it sells the sound board mixes for $15 per CD after the concert or $10 for a digital download available 72 hours after each gig. It sells upwards of 300 CDs per show and to date has moved 750,000-plus tracks online. It also has a podcast series that releases two 75-minute recordings of live material every month to more than 20,000 subscribers.
The demand that this has created among fans is such that the band began holding onto certain content rather than making it available immediately. Select shows were not available for taping or post-event purchase. Umphrey's McGee also stopped performing some of its songs, particularly those to be included on "Mantis." This content, combined with tracks from early out-of-print releases and 11 years of rarely seen photos and videos, is driving the demand for the presale.
"Because we're a band that has always recorded everything, taken photos of everything, used video as much as possible and doing that for such a long time, we have a lot of stuff," Iwinski says.
What's more, Umphrey's McGee isn't frontloading all of this content into the presale. The CD will contain an electronic key that will give anyone buying it -- presale or otherwise -- access to a site where even more material will be released monthly for a year after the arrival of "Mantis."
The combined strategy has gotten the attention of several digital music experts, including Gartner analyst Mike McGuire, who cites the initiative as the perfect way to implement a pre-order campaign. While far better-known acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have raised the bar for generating interest in upcoming releases, Umphrey's McGee has become an unlikely role model for a music industry still struggling with the conversion to digital distribution amid rampant piracy.
Is iTunes Ditching DRM Tomorrow?
Speculation about if when iTunes would score DRM-free tracks from all major studios like Amazon and Walmart do has been rampant, but according to a rumor at AppleInsider, all this speculation may come to an end tomorrow.
AppleInsider cites a Dec. 3 story from the French publication Electron Libre that says iTunes will remove DRM from Sony BMG, Universal and Warner tracks on December 9th, like it already does with EMI and indie content. The story doesn't say what percentage of tracks from the major labels, or what the cost bump for the new tracks might be, if any, though it seems to say the thing might cover every single album and track on iTunes. In fact, check out this rather ungraceful machine translation of the French story for yourself:
Paul McCartney Releases New Album as DRM-Free Digital Download
Music wants to be free!
Kudos to Paul McCartney. His latest album for his side project, The Fireman, is called Electric Arguments, and it’s available as a “100% DRM free” digital download. It gets even better than that, though. You can buy just the digital download for $8.99, or you can purchase a CD, Vinyl, or Deluxe edition that includes access to the digital download. The download is available in 320 kbps MP3, Apple Lossless, and even FLAC!
The main page of the site also has a flash player that lets you listen to all the songs on the album from start to finish, so you can try before you buy. It’s so nice to see a professional musician not being crazy about this stuff, realizing that DRM only punishes your paying customers, and that it’s perfectly reasonable for people to want to listen to a CD before plunking down their hard-earned money for it. People are going to do that anyway, so why not let them do it through you, where you can keep track of how many people have checked it out, where they’re coming from, and if they go on to buy the CD. Good job to Paul for seeing digital delivery of content not as a crisis, but as an opportunity. Now if only his record label would get their heads out of their asses and let them put the Beatles catalog on iTunes.
PC Prince of Persia Contains No DRM. It's a Trap!
Let me fill you in on something we've learned in the past year: PC gamers do not like DRM. EA was reminded of this the hard way, and every PC release that includes SecuROM inspires legions of gamers to claim that they'll refuse to buy the game because of the program's inclusion. Ubisoft has heard you, and the retail, boxed version of Prince of Persia on the PC has absolutely no copy protection. It's doubtful the company is doing this out of the goodness of its heart, however.
"You're right when you say that when people want to pirate the game they will but DRM is there to make it as difficult as possible for pirates to make copies of our games," Community Manager UbiRazz wrote on the official forum. "A lot of people complain that DRM is what forces people to pirate games but as PoP PC has no DRM we'll see how truthful people actually are. Not very, I imagine." He goes on to note that only retail copies are DRM-less, since the Steam-bought version will, of course, to be tied to Steam's authentication system.
Ubisoft has already had its eye blackened a few times recently when it comes to DRM and piracy. Assassin's Creed suffered from a shoddy PC port, and the game constantly tried to authenticate online, causing problems for players who bought the game. "The address is 184.108.40.206:3074 random local, 3 attempts every 75 seconds, registering to Ubisoft in Ontario. DRM messing with honest patrons again... as long as the game is running it will keep hammering away at that address," one forum member wrote. Gamers often had to shut off their Internet connection to play the game.
In another case, a patch for Rainbow Six Vegas 2 broke the game for some people; the game asked for the CD to be placed in the drive, and of course players who purchased the game online had no disc. Ubisoft's solution? Copy a CD crack from a warez group and issue it as a patch. If you can't beat pirates, you can at least take their work and pass it on as a cheap way to fix your messes. The irony was delicious, but gamers were not amused.
So what will happen with Prince of Persia? The game will be pirated. The game would have been pirated no matter what DRM was placed in the game, naturally, but by removing DRM and waiting for the title to hit the torrents, Ubisoft has given itself an out whenever they're taken to task over DRM in the future. "We tried removing it, and we lost money!" will be an easy answer from now on. The remarks from the Community Manager already sound surly and antagonistic, as if the company is simply waiting to get ripped off to prove its own point
Ubisoft could let the pirates do their thing and remove the DRM without framing it as a challenge to the community—rarely is a pirated copy a lost sale—but that's asking a lot from an industry that continues to see its customers as guilty until proven innocent. We'll be waiting for the inevitable "we told you so" press release from Ubisoft.
Moby, Daft Punk Join iPhone Gaming Application
You've played the iPhone app. Now get the soundtrack.
EMI Music has become the first major label to line up multiple artists for an edition of Tapulous' popular iPhone game application Tap Tap Revenge.
The new version of the rhythm game, called Tap Tap Dance, features songs by five EMI acts -- Moby, the Chemical Brothers, Digitalism, Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx -- as well as independent acts Justice, Junkie XL, Soul Magic Orchestra and Morgan Page.
Tapulous will release all 10 tracks included in the game by the end of the year as a digital soundtrack that will be available exclusively through iTunes.
The Palo Alto, Calif., app developer is also in talks with other major labels and expects to launch another application with multiple artists early next year, Tapulous CEO Bart Decrem says.
"We are close to having a formula that the artists, labels, publishers and Apple are all happy with," he says.
After Apple gets its 30% cut of Tap Tap Dance's $4.99 sale price, that would leave about $3.50 to be divvied up among Tapulous and the other parties. The original Tap Tap Revenge, which is free, was the iTunes App Store's most popular game download of 2008.
Despite the involvement of EMI Music, the label says it will leave promotion of Tap Tap Dance to the artists involved, according to EMI Music executive VP Cynthia Sexton. "We're talking to them about ways of letting their fan base know through existing social networks," she says.
While EMI's planned digital soundtrack for Tap Tap Dance would be a first for Tapulous, the company is also positioning the growing Tap Tap franchise itself as a way for fans to hear new music. Every Thursday, Tap Tap provides game users free song downloads and exclusive remixes from well-known acts, including Katy Perry, Kaiser Chiefs and Lady Antebellum.
Christmas With Weezer, another new edition of the Tap Tap game, includes covers of six classic Christmas songs including "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Silent Night."
In an announcement on the band's Web site, Weezer said the tracks were "recorded exclusively for this game and are not available anywhere else."
Start-up to Help People Sell Unwanted MP3s
"Stop illegally sharing, and start legally selling" is the tagline for a start-up that wants to enable music owners to sell their unwanted MP3s.
Ernesto at the blog TorrentFreak has a story about Bopaboo, which has created a digital marketplace where users operate mini download stores.
A user registers and then is given an MP3 store where they can upload the music they want to sell. No DRM-wrapped music allowed so iTunes owners like me are blocked from selling.
According to TorrentFreak, there is no limit on the number of songs that can be offered. Sellers select their own prices but, of course, must cut Bopaboo a percentage of sales.
This was an idea bound to emerge out of the craze over songs stripped of digital rights management software.
Bopaboo buyers can search for music in all the usual ways, and the site offers a seller rating to help shoppers learn a merchant's reputation. Bopaboo says the site is legal and it sounds like it should be. Don't people own their MP3s? We'll see.
EMI Shopping Distribution Arm To Rivals
EMI is reportedly in talks with rivals such as Universal Music Group, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group over a U.S. distribution deal. Each company has been approached by Terra Firma, which bought EMI in 2007, about taking over EMI's warehouses and distribution network, according to the Financial Times. The contract could be worth about $20 to $30 million, although Terra Firma has pushed for a higher price. The private equity firm initially discussed getting out of the distribution of CDs and digital music in the U.S. altogether, but talks now focus on physical distribution only, excluding sales and marketing.
By negotiating with rival music companies rather than third party distributors, EMI is more likely to secure an upfront payment since its rivals could find savings from consolidating its distribution with that of EMI, notes the FT. But the talks over the potential deal were led by Chris Roling, who is one of the Terra Firma executives now leaving EMI as their chances of large bonuses or rapid returns on their personal investments decline.
Meanwhile, the discussions over the recorded music business do not affect the more profitable music publishing division.
Sony to Trim 8,000 Jobs and Reduce Investment
The Sony Corporation, the Japanese consumer electronics giant, said on Tuesday that it would eliminate 8,000 jobs and rein in planned investment in reaction to the global economic slowdown.
Sony, which had already announced scattered cost-savings measures, blamed the rapid deterioration in the global economic outlook and the strength of the Japanese currency for the cuts.
The measures, combined with a bleak outlook from Sony’s rival Samsung and news that Japan’s economy had contracted more than initially thought during the third quarter, highlighted how much Asian economies were suffering as a result of the financial crisis — now increasingly also an economic crisis — that began in the United States last year.Many economists say they believe that worse is still to come, in earnings declines and job cuts, for companies across Asia as their export-reliant businesses reel from the sharp drop in global demand for cars, refrigerators, television sets and other discretionary items.
“The number of jobs cuts in Japan will increase day by day,” said Tomoko Fujii, head of economics and strategy in Tokyo with Bank of America.
Sony, which had already announced cost cuts and had been widely expected to outline more, blamed the rapid deterioration in the global economic outlook and the strength of the yen for the latest cuts.
“These initiatives are in response to the sudden and rapid changes in the global economic environment,” Sony, which has 160,000 employees, said in a statement. Sony aims to save more than 100 billion yen, or $1.1 billion, a year through the measures, which also include shutting several plants.
About 10 percent of the company’s 57 plants will be shut, including two overseas sites, and plans to expand a site in Slovakia where LCD televisions for the European market are assembled have been delayed. The statement did not specify which plants will be closed.
Sony will also trim spending in semiconductors and will outsource a part of the production it had planned for image sensors for cellphones.
“Based on such measures, Sony is planning to reduce investment in the electronics business by approximately 30 percent” in the fiscal year ending March 2010, the company said.
Still, many analysts were unconvinced that the cost-cutting program would be enough to shield Sony from the effects of the global slowdown.
Kazuharu Miura, an analyst who covers the electronics industry at Daiwa Institute of Research, said, “Considering the slowdown of the consumption in 2009, I doubt if this measure can offset the downturn of the sales. The company’s operating profit will decline.”
Mr. Miura said it was possible that Sony would announce another restructuring plan next year.
Sony has resorted to similar restructuring measures in the past decade, cutting about 4,000 jobs abroad and 5,000 in Japan in the three years after 2003, with savings totaling about 83 billion yen a year, he said.
The downturn has extended across most industries as consumers worried by the gloomy outlook and the sharp drops in stock markets have reduced discretionary spending. This has led to a flurry of earnings revisions among the region’s export-oriented behemoths. In October, Sony cut its annual profit forecast by 58 percent for the financial year to March.
Japanese exporters have been hit especially hard as the yen has rallied against the dollar and the euro in recent months. The swing has made Japanese exporters’ goods more expensive for consumers in the United States and Europe.
The announcements highlight the extent of the pain many Asian exporters — especially in Japan — are facing as the global financial crisis deepens. Like other Japanese manufacturers, Sony has suffered from slowing consumer demand, aggravated by the yen’s rally against the dollar and the euro in recent months, which makes Japanese goods more expensive for consumers in the United States and Europe.
The Japanese domestic market also is faring badly, with Japan last quarter slipping into recession. Indeed, reports released on Tuesday indicated that Japan’s economy sank deeper into recession in the third quarter than initially estimated. Japan’s export-driven economy contracted 0.5 percent in July-September, far more than the preliminary figure of a 0.1 percent decrease, revised gross domestic product figures indicated.
But Sony has many problems of its own. Once known for leading innovation, it has been supplanted since the days of the Walkman and PlayStation by competitors like Apple and Nintendo. At the same time, Sony has also lost market share to less expensive rivals from China and South Korea who have challenged it on lower-cost items like televisions.
Under Howard Stringer, its first non-Japanese chief executive, the company has undergone large restructurings, cutting jobs and less profitable products, and spinning off some units.
Sony’s earnings — like those of many of the region’s export giants, including Canon, Samsung and Honda — have plummeted as a result of the slowing export and forced the company to cut its annual profit forecast for the fiscal year through March 2009 by 58 percent in October.
The announcement was made after the Tokyo market closed; Sony shares closed up 3.9 percent.
Martin Fackler and Kamiizumi Yasuko contributed reporting.
Three Major Record Labels Join the 'Choruss'
Eliot Van Buskirk
U.S. universities are getting a glimpse at a plan that would build a small music-royalty fee into the tuition payments they receive from students. If successful, the model — proposed by digital music strategist Jim Griffin on behalf of Warner Music Group — could be expanded to make ISPs the collector of such micropayments, eliminating some of the most irksome and contentious issues dividing the music industry and its customers.
An industry source told Wired.com that the independent nonprofit organization that would collect funds from universities and ISPs and disburse them to copyright holders will be called Choruss and that three of the four major labels have signed on, with Universal the remaining holdout. A simple whois lookup revealed that Griffin's OneHouse Digital registered the Choruss.com domain in August.
Nonprofit technology advocate Educause is shopping a version of the unlimited music plan on behalf of Warner and the other major labels to several high-profile American universities including Cornell, Columbia and the University of Chicago. Although talks are in the early stages, they could lead to ISP-level music licenses offered to the general public.
According to slides in the presentation, which was created by of Mark Luker of Educause on behalf of Warner Music Group and refers universities to Griffin, the program's goal is to allow university students to "access and use music any way they want to" while "generat[ing] fair returns to content owners."
In return for a university paying fees to Choruss, its students would be able to continue downloading as they have been — bit torrent, Limewire and so on — without fear of legal reprisal. Unlike previous plans that require the use of onerous digital rights management, this one would allow students to download music in the unprotected formats they prefer, using the hardware, software and networks of their choice.
Choruss, an independent organization that would not afford Warner preferential treatment despite its role in the organization's creation, according to our source, would distribute the funds to all relevant copyright holders including indie bands and labels.
The major labels have been slow to embrace digital music distribution in a way that makes sense to most music fans. Even though they all do business through iTunes and other digital vendors, they still require per-unit payments for downloads and heavy DRM for subscriptions. Many experts believe the original Napster represented a major opportunity for the labels to monetize file sharing in a manner similar to the way performance royalties are collected from restaurants or radio stations and avoid further alienating their customers by hauling them into court.
The proposed unlimited music service, as late in coming as it is, could make more sense to both labels and fans than the current system of download-and-sue, and it would allow for edge-of-network licenses for mashups, playlists and so on, with no DRM. As long as the system is priced fairly — and from what we've heard, the monthly per-student price would be south of $5 per month — it could provide a blueprint for larger ISP-level music sharing licensing. At this point, universities are still assessing the plan.
"Cornell is participating with the other universities in discussions to try to understand the Warner Music Group proposal," a university spokesman told Wired.com. Techdirt's source said the slideshow was shown at Columbia, Cornell, MIT, Penn State, Stanford, University of California at Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Colorado, University of Michigan, University of Washington and University of Virginia.
Watchdog organization the Electronic Freedom Foundation supports the plan, lending it more credence, and Warner confirmed that it is seeking alternatives to the litigation-based approach at the schools' behest.
"Of course, we are actively engaged with universities and other parties to seek a constructive resolution to a complex issue — how to assure artists appropriate compensation while enabling the widespread dissemination of their work among fans," a Warner Music Group spokesman responded to the presentation's publication on Techdirt.
"Therefore, we are undertaking an effort to develop new voluntary business models that seek something other than — and we believe, better than — a litigation-based approach. This is exactly the type of solution that several universities and their associations have been asking for."
A Wired.com poll showed that approximately 70 percent of readers would pay $10/month for legal access to all of the music on the internet, and we understand that Choruss would call for a significantly lower fees than that. Its detractors might be underestimating the consumer appeal of an inexpensive, unlimited and unrestricted music network.
College Radio Maintains Its Mojo
A PIZZA box and half a dozen laptops lay open in the poster-lined basement lounge of WRPI, the radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. As a soda machine hummed, students prepared to record a local metal band and debated whether reggae is fundamentally a 1970s style or “transcends the boundaries of time.”
It was the kind of scene that has played out countless times at campus radio stations, which for generations have served as a clubhouse for connoisseurs and a training ground for the music industry. But when WRPI’s student D.J.’s leave the studio, they said, they are unlikely to listen to the radio at all.
“Even when I’m in the car, I’m usually listening to my iPod and not that much to the station,” said Blair Neal, the music director.
In the age of blogs and MySpace, college radio might seem an anachronism, an analog remnant in a digital world. With young people listening to the radio less, student stations no longer enjoy the influence they had when they gave bands like R.E.M. and Nirvana an early boost to stardom.
But instead of clashing with the Internet, the 700 or so college stations around North America have persevered alongside it, settling into a role as the slower but more loyal foil to the fickle blogosphere. And thanks to the continued passion of their personnel, the stations remain surprisingly successful at promotion, according to many in the music industry, playing a bigger part in breaking new acts than is usually acknowledged.
“College radio is still tremendously important,” said Kris Chen, an executive at XL Recordings, whose artists include Vampire Weekend and Devendra Banhart. “And as college radio reaches farther now because of the Internet, its usefulness has increased and adapted.”
In many cases, the D.J.’s are bloggers themselves. Mr. Neal, a laconic 23-year-old studying for a graduate degree in electronic arts, contributes to a WRPI blog.
“I love being the first person to hear about something and toss the album to a bunch of friends to see what they think,” he said in the station’s bare auxiliary studio, where local bands are recorded weekly.
For decades the lifeblood of college radio has been programming that veers between anarchic and insightful, as young D.J.’s indulge their whims free from the narrow formats of commercial stations. (Most campus stations are financed by their colleges.) At their peak in the 1980s and ’90s the stations served as a crucial cheering section for new bands and were courted attentively by the major record labels.
With record companies’ promotional budgets now slashed, and a wide gulf between mainstream and collegiate tastes, few expect college stations to be catalysts for large-scale pop crossovers anymore. And for many students captivated by doing radio — and getting a call from a listener at 3 a.m. — that’s just fine.
“I think the station is less about the people who listen to it and more about the people who are involved in it,” said Lyzi Diamond, the music director of KWVA at the University of Oregon at Eugene, where each week she proudly hangs up a copy of the Billboard pop chart with an X drawn through it.
She has two blogs: one for her playlists and one for her poetry.
In New York in October for the CMJ Music Marathon, which exists at the nexus of college radio’s past and present, Ms. Diamond, 19, was determined to raise her station’s profile. Between cigarettes outside Lower East Side clubs, she handed out ballpoint pens with KWVA’s slogan (“You can’t get your bachelor’s without it”) and put faces to the phone voices and e-mail handles of promoters and fellow D.J.’s from around the country.
That close-knit group is as valuable a grass-roots promotion network as the most influential blogs are, many in the music industry say. But some worry that few people are still listening.
Hard numbers about ratings for campus radio are scarce, but trends show that the college-age audience pays less attention to radio every year. From 1998 to 2007 the amount of time 18- to 24-year-olds spend listening dropped 18 percent, while for people 35 to 64 it slipped 9 percent, according to the Arbitron ratings service.
“For today’s college students radio listenership is down considerably,” said Norman Prusslin, a media professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook who is president of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System, an advocacy organization.
At WRPI students operate and maintain all the equipment, from the elaborate 1970s phone system — its bizarre tangle of wires takes up a wall in an electrical closet — to the Power Mac G5 and the sleek 24-track mixing board. Dan Weeks, 20, the chief engineer, said that he is too busy with the equipment to do a show, but that the station’s stature on campus was what attracted him.
“My parents went to school here,” Mr. Weeks said, “and when they were here the radio station was awesome. Everybody listened to it. I came back hoping that it would be the same thing.”
Is it? Does the station have the same influence?
“Maybe not as far reaching,” he answered, “because radio was probably a lot more popular then. But we definitely still have an impact.”
To reach new audiences, college and other noncommercial stations have taken the lead in Internet broadcasting: 60 percent have Web streams, compared with 36 percent for all stations, according to RadioTime, an online service.
KALX at the University of California, Berkeley, one of the most influential college stations, averages about 60 listeners at a time for its stream, and often has more than 100, said Sandra Wasson, its general manager. But most stations have seen only a trickle.
“We can see in our logs that we’re being listened to in Sri Lanka and Australia,” said Joel Willer, director of broadcasting at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “But we’re still looking at an average worldwide of less than two dozen people.”
In response to the erosion of audiences for terrestrial stations, labels and artist managers have looked to the Internet to promote their music. Tom Gates, a manager of indie-rock bands like Brand New and the Format, said that for many of his acts — especially the younger ones — college radio is an unnecessary expense.
“That’s $1,500 I could use to film a show and service it to five different blogs, which may get us a few hundred thousand eyeballs,” Mr. Gates said. “As opposed to college radio, which might reach a few hundred.”
Some think those few hundred might be worth the money to reach. Two of the most successful independent rock bands in recent years, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire, are often called emblematic of the quick-moving blog era. But their record companies say college radio played a far greater role in their good fortune than Web sites. “The Internet has gotten too much credit for the success of Arcade Fire,” said Mac McCaughan, an owner of the band’s label, Merge. “College radio is more of a real barometer of what people like and what people are listening to than blogs.”
Promotion aside, the stations have long served another important function: providing a link to jobs in the recording industry, which at every level is peopled with campus radio alumni. Bobby Haber, the chief executive of CMJ Network — and a former music director of WBRS at Brandeis University — created a trade magazine, College Media Journal (now CMJ New Music Report), in 1978 after failing to secure a promotion job at CBS Records. “I was devastated,” he said.
Many of those positions at the major labels have disappeared. But in their place is a large and decentralized job market for promoters, publicists, managers and merchandising specialists, mostly at small, nimble independent companies.
Ms. Diamond of the University of Oregon station said she was first stung by the radio bug while in high school in Oakland, Calif. For no apparent reason a local commercial rock station interrupted its programming, and she was stunned by the sense of mischief and power. “All of a sudden the radio cut out and they started playing cartoon noises for the day, just cartoon noises,” she recalled. “And I was like: ‘Wow, they can do that. That could totally happen.’ ”
But Ms. Diamond, who is studying planning and public policy, said during a packed afternoon show at Cake Shop, a tiny club on the Lower East Side, that she was not considering a career in radio, or in the music business at all; she wouldn’t want to work at a station where she couldn’t play anything she wanted.
As the crowds pushed forward and another band began playing, she said that for now her life was consumed by KWVA.
“At the end of the day your friends might not be there, your job might not be there,” Ms. Diamond said, “but radio will always be there. And it’s really cool to have something you can depend on.”
Free Association: Sound of Silence
Music bloggers beware: Your posts could vanish without warning.
Music blogs are engines for fandom, DJ culture and music making. They range from websites featuring news, links and commentary run by individual fans, to label-run sites promoting similar sounds and scenes. Music blogs may also include producer coalitions that promote music as part of an ongoing culture of participation. Finally, there are blog aggregators that report on what's hot and online music magazines with formal articles that include links to the music that they discuss. Many feature actual streaming or downloadable audio files that allow the reader to hear what all the fuss is about.
At minimum, a music blog might consist of basic lists or links to hot or obscure tunes, like a mixtape or playlist. But at maximum, many blogs provide fascinating context for the music they post, from scholarly analysis on a particular music element to a devoted fan's impassioned history of a tiny subgenre, or even a wide-ranging set of thoughts on a musical theme.
Although blogs serve various creative purposes, they are above all social spheres. By posting links, entries and search functions, music blogs promote and embody a lively culture of interaction. Music blogs can also help artists. One anonymous blogger points out, "People like myself discover new music through these blogs, which often leads to album purchases, and even more often to support of the artist's concerts, merchandise, etc." Other blogs focused on DJ culture have new electronic artists post their work for feedback -- an important step in developing artists and music scenes.
But now posts are disappearing. The trigger for deletion appears to be MP3 audio file links that possibly violate copyright law. However, many blog sites go far beyond simple link lists, including commentary, images and bloggers' own creative work alongside music. The blogger's original work, also covered by copyright law, often disappears along with the problematic link.
Apparently, some people's intellectual property matters more than others!
Even stranger, some deleted links were given to bloggers by artists and labels explicitly for promotional purposes. As another anonymous blogger told me, "On the one hand record companies use blogs to help them sell records, and on the other hand, persecute blogs for it."
It also seems that one branch of the music industry doesn't know what the other one is doing. Linda, author of a small Southern California-based music blog, explains,
When Blogger has notified music bloggers, they've cited the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), an unwieldy mishmash of compromises between the content and tech industries. The DMCA is supposed to protect middleman technology companies like Google ("Internet Service Providers" or ISPs) from lawsuits over what their users do. To avoid lawsuits over content that users post, ISPs must not create or edit content but simply host it, and must take down content when an owner says it infringes their copyright.
Bloggers can technically use the DMCA to fight back if they think their use is legal, by filing a counter-notification. In the best scenario, this would mean the copyright holders and the people who upload copyrighted content can duke out the issue themselves while the ISPs stay out of it.
However, Blogger hasn't given bloggers the tools they need to defend themselves. Counter-notification can only happen after Blogger registers takedowns online. But, as Linda pointed out, since Blogger has not yet registered any complaints, "There is nothing for me to 'counter'. I have no idea who I have offended or how."
Blogger's own code of conduct says, "If we remove or disable access in response to such a notice, we will make a good-faith attempt to contact the owner or administrator of the affected site or content so that they may make a counter notification." Since when is no notice a good-faith effort?
Even if Blogger complied with its own policy and the DMCA, that might not be enough. Linda points out the asymmetry of the legal battle: "The direction[s] for filing a counter-notification includes agreeing to pay all legal fees if I am found in the wrong. Without knowing what I am defending myself against, how can I possibly agree to such terms? Is it realistic for me, someone whose blog earns no money, to retain a lawyer?"
The system is biased in favor of those with plenty of cash and their own lawyers on staff. Luckily, in the US, we have a legal defense that would cover many music blogs -- at least those that discuss, educate, criticize and comment. These could qualify for fair use protection, which does allow people to make use without permission of copyrighted works in ways that benefit society.
Although many bloggers, DJs and musicians I spoke with said that some blogs don't play fair, they all emphasized the overall benefit that music blogs provide to artists and the public. "There will always be pirates," said one blogger, label owner, producer and DJ. "File-sharing, mash-ups, and DJ mixes are all part of a huge explosion of musical creativity. We're living in a time in which people are exposed to more new music than ever before and it's the free flow of information that's driving this push forward."
Unfortunately, it looks like Blogger may have made a private deal with content owners to automatically remove posts that owners complain about, rather than going through a transparent process with room for discussion. While this may not be illegal (although we should be concerned about the effect on our fair use rights), this is exactly why we can't trust private companies to administer our culture fairly: They can make deals with other private companies without public input.
And why should we trust the content industry to make the rules when it doesn't play fair? There's a long history of baseless and debatable copyright complaints. If these companies have Blogger's ear and don't consider input from the public or users, they can basically define our access to works with no accountability.
What About Author's Rights?
Worse yet is the fact that music bloggers' own original material is being deleted. Even if some links in a post are not fair use, two wrongs don't make a right. Google has made its name by promising to do right by its users and the data they host for the public. If they keep deleting our own creative works, why should the public trust them?
Blogger is a private company, but it provides public services similar to those offered by libraries, archives and broadcasting. It's a growing problem in the internet era: These private companies, controlled only by private law, have the ability to run their businesses with little or no respect for the public.
Google recently made a deal with book publishers over access to scanned books for Google Book Search. We have to be vigilant that they don't snub the reading public the way they are currently dissing the listening, writing and remixing public on Blogger.
UK Consumer Group Goes After Copyright Bullies
UK consumer advocacy group Which? has filed a complaint against the law firm responsible for sending out letters to Internet users threatening them with legal action if they don't pay up for various copyright violations. The organization says it has investigated a number of letters sent by Davenport Lyons and believes that it has sent repeated accusations to innocent users, coercing them into paying for something they didn't do. As a result, Which? wants the Solicitors Regulatory
Davenport Lyons has been in the news several times this year for sending prelitigation letters on behalf of content owners chasing after suspected infringers. This summer, the firm sent letters to people operating open WiFi networks, saying that they'll be responsible for the illegal actions of others. Davenport Lyons has also been sending letters on behalf of game publishers, accusing users of illegally downloading games from the Internet. Most recently, the law firm made headlines after it began sending out letters to Internet users in the UK—including a 60-year-old married couple—accusing them of illegally downloading hardcore gay porn.
In all cases, the letters demand users pay up for their alleged crimes or face even more serious charges in court. The "settlement" amount is usually around £500, and there is very little evidence linking the user in question to the allegedly stolen content, but that hasn't stopped Davenport Lyons from moving forward with its bullying tactics on behalf of copyright owners in Europe.
Which? says that, during its investigations, it found that Davenport Lyons had wrongly accused a number of users on behalf of game companies like Atari (which has since severed its ties with the law firm). Despite their innocence, Which? says that some users have been scared into shelling out cash after receiving multiple letters just to get them to stop. One Internet user told Which? that he cancelled his home broadband connection for fear that he will get yet another letter.
"We think the SRA needs to take urgent action against Davenport Lyons," Which? head of legal affairs Deborah Prince said in a statement. "In the current financial climate, we expect an increase in the action that companies may want to take against individuals. The SRA must investigate all such allegations and take decisive action where necessary."
Davenport Lyons' prelitigation settlement tactic is extremely similar to one that the RIAA continues to employ here in the US, as it attempts to ferret out Internet users that it suspects are guilty of copyright infringement. Some of the universities that receive the letters, however, are fighting back against the RIAA's bullying tactics by refusing to forward the letters on to the suspected infringers. They understand the difficulty of attempting to nail down a single user based on a largely-disposable and reusable IP address. Just last week, a federal judge quashed a subpoena that personal information about several Boston University students, ruling that the university had "adequately demonstrated that it is not able to identify the alleged infringers with a reasonable degree of technical certainty."
Davenport Lyons, like the RIAA, is apparently ignoring methodological flaws in the hope that some will feel intimidated enough to just pay up. But now with the potential involvement of the SRA, it's possible that the law firm will get a firm talking-to about its tactics. Which? requests that those who have been wrongly accused of copyright infringement in the UK contact the organization by e-mail at email@example.com.
Turning 100 at Carnegie Hall, With New Notes
Daniel J. Wakin
Classical music tends to lionize the great composer cut down in youth, but Elliott Carter made a mockery of that trope on Thursday. Mr. Carter, the dean of American composers, celebrated his 100th birthday, on the day, with a concert at Carnegie Hall.
He had a piece on the program, of course, but not some chestnut written when he was a student in Paris in the 1930s or an avant-gardist in New York in the 1950s or a Pulitzer Prize winner in the 1960s or a setter of American poetry in the 1970s or a begetter of chamber music and concertos in the 1980s.
Mr. Carter wrote the 17-minute piece, for piano and orchestra, just last year, at 98. In fact, since he turned 90, Mr. Carter has poured out more than 40 published works, an extraordinary burst of creativity at a stage when most people would be making peace with mortality.
His first opera had its premiere in 1999. He produced 10 works in 2007 and six more this year. “I don’t know how I did it,” Mr. Carter said on Tuesday in the cluttered but homey Greenwich Village apartment where he has lived since 1945. “The earlier part of my life I felt I was more or less exploring what I would like to write. Now I’ve found it out, and I don’t have to think so much about it.”
The new piece, “Interventions,” was given its New York premiere Thursday evening by the pianist Daniel Barenboim and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with James Levine conducting. When it ended, Mr. Carter slowly rose amid the cheers and applause, and with the aid of a friend, made his way to the stage. Mr. Barenboim took his arm and helped him up the steps. A mock cake adorned with piano keys and musical notes, topped with a sparkler, was wheeled out. The orchestra broke into “Happy Birthday,” with the audience singing along. After Mr. Carter made his way back to his seat, Mr. Barenboim and Mr. Levine, who had asked him to write the piece for the occasion, stood at the edge of the stage applauding.
Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” came next on the program; Mr. Carter said that hearing a performance of that piece at Carnegie 85 years ago had helped inspire him to become a composer.
Mr. Carter is a phenomenon. To paraphrase the musical satirist Tom Lehrer, when Mozart was Mr. Carter’s age, he had been dead for 65 years.
He has lived more than three times as long as Schubert did. Some composers, like Verdi and Richard Strauss, produced until the end of long lives — but that was merely their 80s.
Lionized as one of the great American composers, Mr. Carter is respected as much, if not more, in Europe. The intellectual and performing giants of the field champion him and several top musicians in New York remain deeply loyal. Despite the thorny, complex nature of much of his music, his concerts these days are often packed, as was Carnegie on Thursday night.
“He’s still writing at the top of his form,” Mr. Levine said. “Like all great composers, every time he writes a piece he has new ideas he’s trying, as well as coming up with a subtler reworking of something he had done before.”
The Carnegie affair is one of dozens of concerts that have taken place worldwide recently to honor Mr. Carter. “God help me,” Mr. Carter said.
All the attention has left him feeling a little ambivalent. “There are all these pieces I want to write,” he said, “and I can’t get to them because there are all these things getting in the way. But on the other hand one does enjoy appearing, having especially wonderful performances, which is fascinating to me.”
That prompted a provocative thought.
“I’d rather hear them play good contemporary music than old music,” he said of the performers devoted to his work. He was bored, he said, with scores from the age of “gaslights and horses,” although he admits to exceptions: Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven symphonies. But 20th-century composers “have a spark” and convey “what it is like to be living now,” he said.
In the interview, Mr. Carter displayed a mind alive with ideas, a gentle but slightly tart wit and a streak of self-deprecation.
Mr. Carter, whose father was a lace importer, was born in New York. He attended Harvard with a recommendation from Charles Ives, majored in English, and went to France to study composition with the legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger. He wakes every day at 7 a.m., composes for two and a half hours, goes out for a constitutional with an aide, rests after lunch, composes again or receives visitors in the afternoon, and watches French satellite television in the evening, if he does not have a concert to attend.
He said he has gone back to reading the classics, including “Hamlet.” After starting a third bout with Proust in the original French, “I got a little sick of it two months ago,” he said. “That’s why I turned to Shakespeare.”
A terra cotta self-portrait head of his wife, Helen, a sculptor who fiercely protected him until her death in 2003, sits in his living room. Virgil Blackwell, a clarinetist, serves as Mr. Carter’s business manager and constant helper, handling everything from royalties to hearing-aid batteries.
Audiences do not always take well to Mr. Carter’s complicated works. But players are drawn to his music because of its challenges and his ability to write well for their instruments.
. His recent compositions have generally grown shorter and less dense. “I finally have done all my adventures and great big noisy pieces. Now I write simple ones. That’s a new adventure.”
He said that life — his, at least — “is just a matter of luck.”
“I’ll be damned if I know why I write all that music that people like,” he said. “That some people like, anyhow,” he added.
With the interviewer out of the apartment, Mr. Carter was heard on the other side of the door saying to an aide, “I’ve got to rest a little after this nonsense.”
Joza Karas, Collector of Music of Nazis’ Victims, Dies at 82
Joza Karas, a musician and teacher who became a sleuth in his quarter-century search for the music and stories of composers who managed to do masterly work in a Nazi concentration camp, died on Friday in Bloomfield, Conn. He was 82.
His family announced the death.
In 1985 Mr. Karas (whose first name is pronounced YO-zha) published “Music in Terezin, 1941-1945.” That book chronicled the thriving musical life in the disease-ridden concentration camp at Terezin, in what is now the Czech Republic. The camp was also known by its German name, Theresienstadt.
Mr. Karas collected more than 50 pieces of the music written there and produced editions that have been widely performed.
In films and by other means, the Nazis made propaganda use of the four concert orchestras and as many chamber groups that flourished at Terezin. An opera company mounted several productions.
In a legendary deception, when the International Red Cross inspected the camp in 1944, the Nazis sent the old and sick to gas chambers, painted buildings, planted flowers and even opened a chocolate shop.
In truth, Terezin was a place where 140,000 people, mainly Jews, were held in a labor camp or transferred to death camps like Auschwitz. Many died at Terezin through execution, disease and starvation.
But the music was real, developing spontaneously after a pianist found and repaired an abandoned piano. Soon there were several choruses. Inmates smuggled in instruments in pieces.
Eventually, more than 10 composer-inmates created original works, many of which were performed in the camp. One such composer was Viktor Ullmann, who had studied with Arnold Schoenberg. He formed the Studio for New Music at Terezin. Others were Hans Krasa, Gideon Klein and Pavel Haas.
Despite using the music for propaganda, the Nazis had no interest in preserving it, and the composers and musicians could not: many of them were killed. Tracking it down became Mr. Karas’s obsession.
“Why should I, a Christian, get involved in a research project virtually untouched for 25 years, since the last puff of smoke had darkened the skies of Auschwitz?” he wrote in his book. “Putting aside these questions, I felt attracted to the project because I am a Czech musician, and this was a subject dealing with the music of Czechoslovak Jews.”
Josef M. Karas was born in Warsaw on May 3, 1926, and learned to play the violin when he was very young. His father, Frantisek, was a government official, a professor of Polish and an author who wrote about Czech customs; he also helped Jews as part of the World War II underground.
As a boy, Joza noticed that his Jewish classmates had stopped coming to school with no explanation. He saw signs warning people away from Jewish-owned stores.
In 1948 Mr. Karas escaped Czechoslovakia, which by then was under Communist rule, and made his way to the United States by way of Colombia and Canada. In 1955 he began more than a half-century of teaching the violin at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and of playing the instrument in the Hartford Symphony.
In 1970, Mr. Karas read articles in a Czech music magazine reporting that eight short compositions and fragments of music from Terezin had been deposited in the Jewish Museum in Prague. Investigating this seemed a perfect project for summer break. On his first trip to Prague, he made several major finds. One was the piano reduction and orchestral version of Hans Krasa’s children’s opera “Brundibar.” It had been the most popular musical production in the camp, presented 55 times.
Mr. Karas made a performing edition of the opera, about a brother and sister whose efforts to buy milk for their sick mother are thwarted by an evil organ grinder. He conducted the North American premiere of the opera in Czech in 1975 and the English-language premiere in 1977, using a translation by him and his wife, the former Milada Javora, who had died in 1974.
Mr. Karas is survived by his second wife, the former Anne Killackey; his sons Francis, Henry, Michael, Joseph and Alexander; his daughter Joan K. Carrasquillo; his brothers Zdenek and Frantisek; his sister Jana Spacek; and seven grandchildren.
“When I started my research, I used to have nightmares,” Mr. Karas told The Hartford Courant. “And guilt. I’d pick up a piece of chocolate and I couldn’t eat it.”
He recovered. “They say Czechs get used to anything,” he said. “Even the gallows.”
Bettie Page, Queen of Pinups, Dies at 85
Robert D. McFadden
Bettie Page, a legendary pinup girl whose photographs in the nude, in bondage and in naughty-but-nice poses appeared in men’s magazines and private stashes across America in the 1950s and set the stage for the sexual revolution of the rebellious ’60s, died Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 85.
Her death was reported by her agent, Mark Roesler, on Ms. Page’s Web site, bettiepage.com.
Ms. Page, whose popularity underwent a cult-like revival in the last 20 years, had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia and was about to be released Dec. 2 when she suffered a heart attack, said Mr. Roesler, of CMG Worldwide. She was transferred in a coma to Kindred Hospital, where she died.
In her trademark raven bangs, spike heels and killer curves, Ms. Page was the most famous pinup girl of the post-World War II era, a centerfold on a million locker doors and garage walls. She was also a major influence in the fashion industry and a target of Senator Estes Kefauver’s anti-pornography investigators.
But in 1957, at the height of her fame, she disappeared, and for three decades her private life — two failed marriages, a fight against poverty and mental illness, resurrection as a born-again Christian, years of seclusion in Southern California — was a mystery to all but a few close friends.
Then in the late 1980s and early ’90s, she was rediscovered and a Bettie Page renaissance began. David Stevens, creator of the comic-book and later movie character the Rocketeer, immortalized her as the Rocketeer’s girlfriend. Fashion designers revived her look. Uma Thurman, in bangs, reincarnated Bettie in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” and Demi Moore, Madonna and others appeared in Page-like photos.
There were Bettie Page playing cards, lunch boxes, action figures, T-shirts and beach towels. Her saucy images went up in nightclubs. Bettie Page fan clubs sprang up. Look-alike contests, featuring leather-and-lace and kitten-with-a-whip Betties, were organized. Hundreds of Web sites appeared, including her own, BettiePage.com, which had 588 million hits in five years, CMG Worldwide said in 2006.
Biographies were published, including her authorized version, “Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend,” (General Publishing Group) which appeared in 1996. It was written by Karen Essex and James L. Swanson.
A movie, “The Notorious Bettie Page,” starring Gretchen Mol as Bettie and directed by Mary Harron for Picturehouse and HBO Films, was released in 2006, adapted from “The Real Bettie Page,” by Richard Foster. Bettie May Page was born in Jackson, Tenn., the eldest girl of Roy and Edna Page’s six children. The father, an auto mechanic, molested all three of his daughters, Ms. Page said years later, and was divorced by his wife when Bettie was 10. She and some of her siblings were placed for a time in an orphanage. She attended high school in Nashville, and was almost a straight-A student, graduating second in her class.
She graduated from Peabody College, a part of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, but a teaching career was brief. “I couldn’t control my students, especially the boys,” she said. She tried secretarial work, married Billy Neal in 1943 and moved to San Francisco, where she modeled fur coats for a few years. She divorced Mr. Neal in 1947, moved to New York and enrolled in acting classes.
She had a few stage and television appearances, but it was a chance meeting that changed her life. On the beach at Coney Island in 1950, she met Jerry Tibbs, a police officer and photographer, who assembled her first pinup portfolio. By 1951, the brother-sister photographers Irving and Paula Klaw, who ran a mail-order business in cheesecake, were promoting the Bettie Page image with spike heels and whips, while Bunny Yeager’s pictures featured her in jungle shots, with and without leopards skins.
Her pictures were ogled in Wink, Eyeful, Titter, Beauty Parade and other magazines, and in leather-fetish 8- and 16-millimeter films. Her first name was often misspelled. Her big break was the Playboy centerfold in January 1955, when she winked in a Santa Claus cap as she put a bulb on a Christmas tree. Money and offers rolled in, but as she recalled years later, she was becoming depressed.
In 1955, she received a summons from a Senate committee headed by Senator Kefauver, a Tennessee Democrat, that was investigating pornography. She was never compelled to testify, but the uproar and other pressures drove her to quit modeling two years later. She moved to Florida. Subsequent marriages to Armond Walterson and Harry Lear ended in divorce, and there were no children. She moved to California in 1978.
For years Ms. Page lived on Social Security benefits. After a nervous breakdown, she was arrested for an attack on a landlady, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a California mental institution. She emerged years later as a born-again Christian, immersing herself in Bible studies and serving as an adviser to the Billy Graham Crusade.
In recent years, she had lived in Southern California on the proceeds of her revival. Occasionally, she gave interviews in her gentle Southern drawl, but largely stayed out of the public eye — and steadfastly refused to be photographed.
“I want to be remembered as I was when I was young and in my golden times,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 2006. “I want to be remembered as a woman who changed people’s perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form.”
A Fictional Reporter in a Real-Life Mess
ROD LURIE knew from the start that his new film, about a newspaper reporter who goes to jail to protect a source, might be a tough sell in an age in which the press is held in widespread and casual disdain. But it took a throttling from a fellow director, Oliver Stone, to really drive the point home.
Mr. Stone was working with Josh Brolin on a California soundstage this spring, testing the makeup Mr. Brolin would use to portray President Bush in “W.” Mr. Lurie was nearby, reshooting a scene in “Nothing but the Truth,” which stars Kate Beckinsale and will remind some viewers of the real-life travails of Judith Miller, the former reporter for The New York Times who spent 85 days in jail in 2005.
Mr. Stone spotted Mr. Lurie and stormed over. “He puts his beefy fingers around my neck,” Mr. Lurie recalled, “and said, ‘Don’t turn Judy Miller into a hero.’ ”
It was at that moment, Mr. Lurie said, that he realized just how tough it would be to separate his film from its real-life roots.
“Nothing but the Truth,” which Mr. Lurie wrote and directed, is at once plainly based on Ms. Miller’s story and yet hardly a docudrama. It adds to and pivots from the historical record, and it sharpens the difficult legal, moral and ethical issues in the Miller case.
The film, which opens Dec. 17 in New York and Dec. 19 in Los Angeles before a wider release, “is first and foremost a thriller, a political thriller,” Mr. Lurie said.
Still, he said, he knows he must blast through some preconceptions to draw an audience. “I’m going to predict that it’s going to be held against us,” he said, “because of some level of anger and contempt toward Judith.” (Mr. Stone said in a statement he did not recall the remark about Ms. Miller but added that “I might very well have said that in a joking fashion.”)
Before the invasion of Iraq, Ms. Miller wrote a series of articles for The Times relying on Bush administration officials and Iraqi defectors for evidence that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq was developing unconventional weapons. Ms. Miller has acknowledged that her reporting in this area turned out to be “totally wrong,” adding that “if your sources are wrong, you are wrong.”
Hostility among media critics toward Ms. Miller’s Iraq reporting spilled over into skepticism about her motives in another matter, her protection of the source who told her that Valerie Wilson (often referred to by her maiden name, Valerie Plame) was an undercover operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. It surfaced yet again when the source, I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, told her she was free to talk, effectively freeing her from the jail where she had spent almost three months after a federal judge held her in contempt of court.
In the old days a stint behind bars to protect a source was a shining badge of First Amendment honor. “Nothing but the Truth” explores the post-Miller landscape, the one left after the scorched-earth leak investigation conducted by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel in the case.
“The weather has changed,” Albert Burnside, an aging lion of the First Amendment bar played by Alan Alda, says in the film. His tone is mournful, elegiac. “In the old days this would have been easier to fight.”
Mr. Lurie is probably best known for “The Contender,” the 2000 film starring Joan Allen as an embattled vice presidential nominee. He also directed “The Last Castle,” with Robert Redford, and “Resurrecting the Champ,” with Samuel L. Jackson. “Nothing but the Truth” is informed by Mr. Lurie’s years as an entertainment reporter at The Daily News in New York, Los Angeles magazine and other publications, where he learned the rhythms and shortcomings of deadline journalism.
The film avoids some of the messy real-life facts of the Wilson saga. Ms. Miller, for instance, never wrote an article about Ms. Wilson; the film’s protagonist, a reporter named Rachel Armstrong played by Ms. Beckinsale, divulges the identity of a C.I.A. agent in an article of indisputable public moment. The sources are different, and so are the consequences.
The film also injects children into the mix, with mother-child bonds complicating what would otherwise be a strong but sterile law-school hypothetical case study. The film explores the toll that ambition and principle can exact on reporters and spies who also happen to be mothers.
The effect is unsettling, which seems to have been Mr. Lurie’s goal. “There is moral ambiguity in the shield law itself,” Mr. Lurie said, referring to statutes that offer reporters protection from efforts to make them reveal their sources. Many states have them; the federal system does not. Reporters have no protection under the First Amendment from federal grand jury subpoenas.
“The Miller case made that perfectly clear,” the folksy but relentless special prosecutor in the film, Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon), says, in its only direct reference to Ms. Miller. Shield laws are balancing acts, it seems to say, and finding the right balance is hard. Some kinds of important reporting cannot be done without promising confidentiality to sources. But the justice system has a powerful interest in full information, and allowing journalists to keep secrets frustrates that interest.
Mr. Alda, who attended Supreme Court oral arguments to prepare for his role, has been thinking about the questions posed by the film. “The real conflict is with the obligation of every citizen to give testimony,” he said in an interview. “That goes up against the right to know what’s going on.”
“Going back to the beginning of our country,” Mr. Alda continued, “it’s been a real concern whether we have a press free enough to keep the government from doing things we don’t want it to do.” He then quoted Patrick Henry: “The liberties of a people never were nor ever will be secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
Mr. Alda, Ms. Beckinsale and Mr. Dillon are part of a cast that includes Angela Bassett as the editor of the film’s fictional newspaper, The Capitol Sun-Times; Noah Wyle as the paper’s appealing but hapless in-house lawyer; and David Schwimmer as Rachel’s inconstant husband.
But the film’s most striking performance comes from Vera Farmiga, who plays the C.I.A. operative, here called Erica Van Doren. In one scene Van Doren, suspected of leaking her own identity, is given a lie detector test. “We brought in a real polygraphist to polygraph her,” Mr. Lurie said. “He actually connects her up to the machine and asks her, ‘Is your name Erica Van Doren?’ and so on.”
Mr. Lurie thought that would be good for verisimilitude. But it turned out the machine had something to say about the power of Ms. Farmiga’s acting. The polygraph operator, Mr. Lurie recalled, pulled him aside afterward: “He says: ‘You’re not going to believe this. The machine says she’s telling the truth.’”
The cast also includes a surprising choice: Floyd Abrams, who represented Ms. Miller and The Times in the leak investigation, plays the trial judge. Having the nation’s pre-eminent First Amendment lawyer on the set was certainly handy.
“It was like being on a war movie and having a high-level military commander to ask,” Ms. Beckinsale said.
In his handling of the Miller case, though, Mr. Abrams was criticized for fighting the last war, the one in which the press was still thought to occupy the high ground. The film itself faithfully reflects the rout the Miller case turned out to be.
The legal action moves awfully fast, though, compressing actions that take months or years into weeks. And when Burnside gives a long and stirring speech in the Supreme Court, the justices sit in rapt and respectful attention. In the real court, which declined to hear the Miller case, questions would have been flying.
Mr. Alda said his character, a vain clotheshorse, is not based on Mr. Abrams. For starters, Mr. Alda said, “the thing about the guy being a snappy dresser — that’s not Floyd.”
Mr. Abrams said: “Anyone who knows me knows how much I care about my clothes and my watch and my shoes.” (This writer, who has known Mr. Abrams for more than 20 years, knows how much: not much.)
Mr. Abrams said he took pleasure in playing a brusque and impatient judge of the sort who has sometimes tormented him: “It was very therapeutic for me.”
For Ms. Miller, watching the film was the opposite of therapy, and she sounded a little glum discussing it. “I had nothing to do with the movie,” she said. “I was not consulted in any way.”
She did see a recent screening, and she found the experience difficult. “It brought a lot of stuff back,” she said. “Parts of it were very disturbing to me.”
The jail scenes, with their mixture of crushing boredom and humiliation, were particularly wrenching, Ms. Miller said. “It does feel like an eternity,” she said of jail time. “You’ve got to be very committed and very clear about why you are there.”
Ms. Miller, who retired from The Times in 2005, is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and a commentator on Fox News.
Ms. Beckinsale met Ms. Miller two summers ago for a lunch at the Century Association, a private club in Manhattan, arranged by Mr. Abrams. Ms. Beckinsale said that the lunch was pleasant but that Ms. Miller was wary. “I know she was very gun shy about a movie being made at all,” Ms. Beckinsale said.
The two women talked about Ms. Miller’s time in jail, and Ms. Beckinsale said she came away admiring Ms. Miller’s toughness and energy. Ms. Miller, for her part, had nothing but praise for Ms. Beckinsale: “She’s very talented, obviously, in addition to being gorgeous.”
Both women emphasized, though, that the film was fiction. Ms. Miller’s “moral dilemma was much different,” Ms. Beckinsale said, from the one faced by Rachel Armstrong. “I was told 400 bazillion times by Rod that I was not playing” Ms. Miller, Ms. Beckinsale said.
Instead, Ms. Beckinsale said, her most valuable preparation for the role was shadowing two reporters from The Los Angeles Times. She detected uncomfortable similarities between her job and theirs.
“There’s an isolation,” she said. “You have to have a bag ready. You have to have understanding friends and family. Trying to get a story on the front page is so similar to getting a movie made.”
Former Drug Officer Launches 'KopBusters' TV Show
Stephen C. Webster
Barry Cooper, a former Texas police officer with eight years of specialty in drug interdiction, first made waves when he released the film "Never Get Busted Again," a how-to guide for evading police drug seizures.
Austin, Texas-based Cooper's latest project is not nearly so benign, and will likely generate for the former drug warrior an army of enemies in law enforcement.
'KopBusters' is a reality TV program that aims to sink crooked officers.
"KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana," claims a release from NeverGetBusted.com "When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house."
"The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster's attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster's secret mobile office nearby.
"The attorney was handcuffed and later released when eleven KopBuster detectives arrived with the media in tow to question the illegal raid. The police refused to give KopBusters the search warrant affidavit which is suspected to contain the lies regarding the probable cause.
"It is not illegal to grow plants under a light in your home but it is illegal to lie on an affidavit and plant drugs on a citizen. This operation was the first of its kind in the history of America. Police sometimes have other police investigating their crimes but the American court system has never dealt with a group of citizens stinging the police. Will the police file charges on the team who took down the corrupt cops? We will keep you posted."
Cooper's "Never Get Busted Again" was a runaway success, the sales of which serve as financial support for this most recent project.
"The drug war is a failed policy and the legal side effects on the families are worse than the drugs," Cooper said to the Dallas Observer in early 2007. "I was so wrong in the things I did back then. I ruined lives."
The 'Kop Busters' sting was the feature of a CBS 7 report, aired Dec. 4, 2008.
Russian Hopes to Cash In On ;-)
Texting using emoticons has become increasingly popular
A series of punctuation marks used to convey a wink in text messages - known as an emoticon - has been trademarked in Russia, says a local businessman.
Entrepreneur Oleg Teterin said the trademark for the ;-) emoticon was granted to him by Russia's federal patent agency.
But critics doubt the trademark's legal basis as the emoticon has been in the public domain for years.
Mr Teterin said he would chase firms using the symbol without permission.
"I want to highlight that this is only directed at corporations, companies that are trying to make a profit without the permission of the trademark holder," Mr Teterin said in comments on the Russian TV channel, NTV.
"Legal use will be possible after buying an annual licence from us," he was quoted by the newspaper Kommersant as saying.
"It won't cost that much - tens of thousands of dollars," added the businessman, who is president of Superfone, a company that sells advertising on mobile phones.
But he said he does not plan on tracking down individual users of the emoticon.
He also said since other similar emoticons - :-) or ;) or :) - resemble the one he has trademarked, use of those symbols could also fall under his ownership.
Some observers say the announcement by Mr Teterin is a gimmick.
The president of Russian social networking site odnoklassniki.ru, Nikita Sherman said: "You're not likely to find any retards in Russia who'll pay Superfone for the use of emoticons".
Alexander Malis, a director of the firm Vympelkom, said his company would not pay on principle, and jokingly suggested patenting brackets.
According to Russian media, Mr Teterin is not the first person to try to trademark the ;-) symbol in Russia.
Kommersant said in 2005 a St Petersburg court upheld an appeal from the German corporation Siemens, which was sued by a Russian man claiming he held the trademark.
Canadian Copyright Board Raises Tax
The Canadian Copyright Board has announced it will raise the tax on blank compact discs to 29¢ (US$0.23), a 38% increase. Previously the tariff on blank recordable CDs was 21¢ (US$0.1679).
The tariff is collected on behalf of the Canadian Private Copying Collective, an organization formed in 1999 and created to collect money that compensates musicians and stakeholders for having their music copied by individuals. The decision leaves the rate for audio cassettes at 24¢
The board says there were two reasons for the increase.
"First, increased mechanical licence royalties, coupled with the elimination of container deductions and free goods allowances in the calculation of the performers' and makers' remuneration, greatly add to our estimation of the total remuneration per prerecorded CD," the board said in a report. "Second, the use of compression technology raises from 15 to 18.4 the average number of tracks copied on a blank CD used to copy music."
Using the new royalty rate, blank CD sales would have generated $29 million (US$23 million) in revenue in 2008, the board said, adding that despite the rate increase, the total amount collected would remain consistent with past years due to falling blank CD sales.
"Should this forecast not materialize, the estimated amount of royalties would be adjusted accordingly," the board said.
Why A Music Tax Is A Bad Idea
We already had a post discussing how we find it troubling that Warner Music has not been more open in discussing its proposed "voluntary license" plan. It was a neat little rhetorical trick by Warner to claim that we weren't being fair in slamming the proposal so early, when the company itself had kept the plans secret all along. Would they have preferred until they rolled out the "completed" plan for us to point out its problems?
Either way, while we discussed why it was a bad plan in our original post, some are not convinced it's a bad plan. Matt Asay, over at News.com gives his qualified support for the plan, while Nate Anderson at Ars Technica pretty much takes Warner's party line that we're being unfair in criticizing this idea before it's had a chance to air out. Of course, Anderson conveniently skips the fact that Warner wasn't letting the plan air out. These discussions were being held without important stakeholders, where key problems with the plan would not get discussed. Besides, given how many times the major record labels have come up with new great plans that actually made life worse for consumers, I would think the industry has to earn the right to be given the benefit of the doubt. We've been fooled too many times.
Anderson also mischaracterizes our position greatly -- first claiming that we're only kicking the plan because of our "knee-jerk churlishness" and need "to jackboot the music industry in the proverbial groin every time it comes up with a new idea." That makes for nice prose, but pretty much ignores any substance behind our position. In fact, Anderson seems to claim the only reason we dislike the plan is because we called it a "tax" insisting that was the "sum total" of our analysis. This, of course, is untrue -- and Anderson and his co-authors at Ars Technica are well aware of the more than a decade we've put into analyzing music industry business models, including cheering on good models (and even cheering on the big record labels when they do something right). Why Anderson and Ars Technica chose to misrepresent all of that (while throwing in some unwarranted insults), I do not know, but I'll take the blame, and suggest that perhaps we did not explain our position clearly.
So, I'll try again.
Why A "Voluntary License" Is A Bad Idea
Yes, the industry gets upset when anyone calls this a "tax" so I'll use the "voluntary license" term, even though tax is much more accurate. A true voluntary license wouldn't require everyone having a certain provider to opt-in, but that's exactly what this plan would require. In fact, as the slides indicate, eventually it would basically require all ISPs to "opt-in" forcing all of their members to "opt-in." Suddenly, everyone has to pay. That's not a voluntary license. It's a tax.
However, even if we step back and pretend it's really a voluntary license, and even if we grant the premise that all record labels sign up for this plan, you've still created a mess that doesn't help anyone. First, you have to set up a huge bureaucracy to manage this process -- and it is quite a process. You need someone to monitor everything that's happening online to determine whose music is actually being shared and played. You have to somehow create methods to accurately determine -- from the biggest to the smallest -- who actually deserves payment. And, if you don't think that process won't be gamed, you apparently just got on the internet in the last year. As soon as there's the ability to get paid out just because more people are sharing your music, just watch the games that folks take to make sure they get a larger cut. The system will punish honest artists, and reward the scammers.
Next, you have to set up another bureaucracy in charge of managing all of this money, and figuring out how to dole it out (while keeping a cut for itself). Even if this operation is, as planned, a "non-profit" -- don't think it will be cheap. You're talking about a huge operation that is tasked with determining how much money every musician in the world is owed, and then trying to get that money to them. Given the recording industry's history with not being able to "find" some big name musicians, just take a guess how well this will work here? Instead, there's a better than even chance that eventually, the big record labels will note that it's "easier" and "more efficient" for this "third party" bureaucracy to just send a big check to the labels each month, and let them dole out the money to their artists (after taking a cut, of course).
And, of course, there's the whole question of what the rules will be for determining how much each artist will make. Over the summer, we had a look at the sausage making process for compulsory licensing, and it's not pretty. Basically, you get backroom deals combined with senile "copyright board" judges who don't understand the marketplace or technology making final determinations on exactly how much every action is worth. We've already got too many different compulsory licenses to count. All this will really be doing is adding yet another one to the list. It doesn't simplify things -- it complicates them even more. The recording industry, of course, loves that complication. It lets them come in and "handle" things, which most of the time means twisting the rules to its advantage.
Yes, the EFF and Public Knowledge favors some form of "voluntary license," and Warner Music and Griffin are quick to play that up, as if their plan has won some kind of public approval. But the reality is quite different. Someone from Public Knowledge was quick to show up in our comments (where Warner Music still fears to tread, for some reason) to point out that they have not endorsed this plan, but are open to discussions on it. The EFF has also been cautious, noting in the past that it does not support a license that is called voluntary, but is really compulsory. In the end, though, I simply disagree with the EFF on the benefits of any sort of licensing plan. Fred von Lohmann once explained his support to me as such: "A voluntary licensing plan basically gets the issue off of consumers, and lets everyone else fight it out in court."
That sounds nice, but ignores the unintended consequences. The big record labels have shown over and over again that they can twist the process to their advantage. So while it may be true that consumers won't be getting sued any more, it doesn't mean they won't get screwed. The plans will weigh heavily to the advantage of the established recording industry with its leverage in the space. It's a really, really sad situation that we should feel like rewarding the industry for its decade of actively fighting against progress by saying "well, phew, as long as you agree to stop suing, here's as huge chunk of money."
Have you noticed a pattern here? What you're doing is setting up a big, centrally planned and operated bureau of music, that officially determines the business model of the recording industry, figures out who gets paid, collects the money and pays some money out. The same record industry that has fought so hard against any innovation remains in charge and will have tremendous sway in setting the "rules." The plan leaves no room for creativity. It leaves no room for innovation. It's basically picking the only business model and encoding it in stone.
Oh, and did we mention it's only for music? Next we'll have to create another huge bureaucracy and "license" for movies. And for television. And, what about non-television, non-movie video content? Surely the Star Wars kid deserves his cut? And, newspapers? Can't forget the newspapers. After all, they need the money, so we might as well add a license for news. And, if that's going to happen, then certainly us bloggers should get our cut as well. Everyone, line right up!
This is a bad plan that will create a nightmare bureaucracy while making people pay a lot more, without doing much to actually reward musicians.
And, worst of all, it's totally unnecessary.
So What's The Alternative?
But then, as people will be quick to note: what's the alternative? If we don't do this, then how will musicians get paid? This, of course, is a logic fallacy that assumes incorrectly that musicians only make money from the direct sale of music. Musicians that are already embracing business models based on a solid understanding of information economics are discovering they can do quite well (almost always better than under the old model). And, yes, this applies to both big and small musicians.
The basics are pretty straightforward, and if you're new here, you should follow the links to understand them more thoroughly. But musicians get to use their already-created content, which are effectively infinite due to its digital nature, to grow the market for all of the scarcities that surround them. This can include physical goods, but the bigger money is in non-tangible scarce goods that simply can't be copied: access to the musicians, seats at a concert, the ability to create new music and many other opportunities that have the side benefit of more closely tying fans to the musician. And this doesn't need to be complicated. You could set the whole thing up as a subscription fan club with different levels providing different scarce benefits -- and everyone wins.
The simple fact is that these business models are already working for many, many musicians. Hardly a day goes by where someone doesn't show us yet another example of musicians creatively coming up with new and unique business models that embrace these economic principles, and which allow them to make even more money than they did in the past. And, yes, there's still room for the record labels if they want to act as true partners, helping musicians implement these business models and enabling musicians to better connect with their true fans.
Of course, that involves some work. It involves a real change in how business is done. It may not be as easy as a plan that lets the record labels sit back and collect large sums of money with promises to distribute it, but it can be a lot more profitable for everyone in the long run. It's more efficient. It allows true competition to take place in the marketplace, rather than letting the market set the winning model. It lets people share music without worry of a lawsuit (in fact, if the business model is implemented correctly, it gets musicians to encourage more file sharing as it helps build up a larger audience for those scarce goods). Without having to fund those huge bureaucracies, there's also much more money that can go to the actual artists as well. Plus, fans feel better knowing that their money actually is supporting the artists, rather than a central bureaucracy.
But the important point is that this plan is working today for many different players in the music world, including some smarter labels and (most importantly) the fans. The only ones it's not working for are the big record labels who have refused to recognize the opportunities -- and the bands that rely on those labels for guidance. We shouldn't be setting up a system to reward those folks, just as everyone else is figuring out how to succeed.
Let The Market Work
Jim Griffin and Warner Music have been working behind closed doors, trying to craft the perfect business model that preserves their business. During that same period, a large number of folks have been out here, actually involved in an open conversation about business models that are working today. We've seen artist after artist learn (on purpose or accidentally) how to embrace these concepts and how to succeed beyond anything they ever saw in the past.
Let's not kill that off with a plan worked out in the backrooms that will almost definitely have significant unintended consequences. Let's let the market work its magic transparently.
Griffin's complaint about our post (delivered via Warner Music) was that it was unfair of us to criticize a plan so early in the planning stages. We made no such complaint here when we first laid out these discussions so many years ago. We encouraged people to criticize and discuss the plans -- and for people to test them out. That resulted in more discussions and more experiments and adjustments and we're seeing the end result of that now -- with many, many success stories. Griffin's plan allows for no such experimentation. It's an all or nothing plan, and if you accept it as currently laid out, you're going all in when half the rules of the game are being established without the players' knowledge.
That's a bad, bad bet.
If Jim Griffin wants us to hold back on criticizing his plan, why can't he and Warner hold back on implementing their plan that effectively blocks out the market forces that are already succeeding?
UK Government Signals Extension to Copyright Term
Culture secretary Andy Burnham has announced a major shift in Government thinking today by recommending copyright term in sound recordings should be extended to 70 years.
Burnham made the surprise announcement at the UK Music creators conference this morning. He told the conference at the ICA that he and Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) Secretary of State John Denham agree 70 years is a fair length of term because he wants to see the benefits go back to performer.
The move is a major victory for the music industry, which has been campaigning for term extension for years. It has consistently come up against the recommendations of Andrew Gowers, whose 2006 review of copyright stuck at keeping copyright at 50 years.
Burnham's announcement was immediately praised by BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor. He says, “Copyright is the lifeblood of our creative economy and we are delighted that the government is recognising this by supporting an extension of copyright term for British musicians and labels. Copyright stimulates investment in musical talent and encourages innovation. Thousands of recording artists, hundreds of music companies and all British music fans will benefit from fairer copyright term”.
UK Music also supports any proposal on term extension. CEO Feargal Sharkey says, "At this critical time of change, the creative industries have never been more vital to this nation's future prosperity. Today's announcement regarding term extension is a clear sign that Government, like everyone in our industry, is committed to ensuring that UK music retains its status as the very best in the world."
UK Music chairman Andy Heath adds, "Now more than ever it is imperative that the entire music business pulls together. Today's Government announcement is a positive step forward in that process."
MU assistant general secretary Horace Trubridge says, “We are delighted that the Government has today demonstrated its clear support for the performer community. The MU has always argued that term of protection should not run out during a performer’s lifetime, and we would support any proposal that supported this principle and was of direct benefit to performers.”
The Government has come under increasing pressure this year to change its stance on term following proposals from EC Internal Markets commissioner Charlie McCreevy in February to increase the term of protection to 95 years. McCreevy was also at today's creators conference.
McCreevy's proposals, which have the support of several European countries including France, are currently working their way through the EC Parliament and Council.
Microsoft Offers to Reduce Search Data in Europe
Kevin J. O’Brien
BERLIN — Microsoft offered Monday to abide by a European privacy panel’s request that it reduce the length of time it kept records of Web searches if its rivals, Yahoo and Google, did the same.
Google and Yahoo, in separate statements, said that for now they were unwilling to change their policies.
Microsoft said it made the offer in a letter to the Article 29 Working Party, a European Commission advisory panel made up of data protection commissioners from each of its 27 member countries. In April, the panel recommended that search engines keep search records no longer than six months before making the data untraceable.
Microsoft’s MSN Live Search currently retains search data for 18 months. Yahoo keeps data for 13 months and Google for 9 months.
The advisory panel was to meet Tuesday and Wednesday, but its members are postponing a decision on whether to take any action against the companies until at least February, when the companies are to make presentations before the panel.
John Vassallo, a lawyer for Microsoft, said Microsoft was not willing to act alone because doing so would create a commercial disadvantage.
“We support the commissioners’ recommendations but are asking them to ensure these are uniformly observed,” said Mr. Vassallo, who is based in Brussels. “Otherwise, to do so unilaterally would put us at a disadvantage.”
Search engine practices are one area in which advanced Web technology is coming into conflict with stricter European privacy rules. German and Swiss officials have also expressed concerns about Google’s Street View map technology, which puts photographs of streetscapes on the Web without the consent of property owners, violating privacy laws in those countries.
In the debate about data retention, the Internet companies have said that records of past searches help them enhance the performance of their search engines. Privacy advocates say the companies are also using the data to compile behavioral profiles on users, which are then used to target advertising, the main source of revenue.
Google was used for 62 percent of online searches in Europe in October, according to comScore, a research firm in Reston, Va. Yandex, a Russian search engine, handled 3 percent, Yahoo 1.5 percent and MSN 1.4 percent.
Should the discussions reach an impasse, the European panel may ask the commission to intervene. Barring that, individual countries could levy fines on the companies.
2009 - SSD Year of Revolution
Since first entering the consumer market about two years ago solid state drives (SSDs) have improved significantly, and while prices remain substantially higher than conventional magnetic storage, it is predicted that in 2009 SSDs will finally make an impact on both the consumer and business markets.
Dr. Fujio Masuoka from Toshiba invented the first flash memory in 1984. When Intel introduced it as a commercial product four years later, the flash market grew by several orders of magnitude. In the late 1980s, the Israeli company Msystems (now part of Sandisk) started selling flash storage solutions for the military and aerospace industries (the lack of moving parts made them ideal for ruggedized systems). At the time 1MB of flash cost thousands of dollars. Almost 20 years later, the same revolution is reaching the consumer and business markets with a new generation of SSDs which outperform even the fastest magnetic based drives in both read, write and of course latency.
In early 2007, when Samsung introduced its first generation SSD into the market it had a capacity of 32GB, sequential read/write speeds of 57 MB/s and 32 MB/s respectively and a hefty price tag of around $1000. In the ensuing two years, the read and write speeds of the top of the line drives increased more than fourfold while capacities grew from 32GB to 160GB and more recently to 256GB. Prices, however, remained the weak point of solid state drives so far, and while Multi-level cell technology (MLC) is able to bring relatively lower-end parts’ prices down (as of late November 2008, 64GB MLC parts could be found for under $200), higher end Single-level cell (SLC) parts can easily reach over $500 for a mere 32GB.
Currently there are several main differences between SLC and MLC based drives. SLC, which has been used for defense and industrial applications since the early days of solid state drive technology, has an inherently better endurance (more read/write cycles) than MLC. SLC is also typically faster, especially when it comes to sequential write speeds (although read speeds are also typically lower for many low-end parts). On the other hand, MLC has higher density and significantly lower cost per Gigabyte.
The rules of the SSD market have started to change with the recent introduction of a series of solid state drives developed by a new and powerful player – Intel (along with Micron). The Intel X25-M SSD has been promoted by Intel as the fastest SSD drive in the world, and although there might be faster “industrial” level SLC drives already on the market, Intel is surely one of the fastest MLC drives, boosting a whooping 250MB/s read speed and 70MB/s write speed). Intel also claims to have improved the reliability of its MLC drives to a level in which a user can write 100GB of data on the drive each day for 5 years. On a more realistic average user scenario a 10 year life span should be expected. More demanding uses (servers etc.) could still strain the technology and for that reason Intel also introduced a different SLC based drive called X25-E Extreme which is more suitable for enterprise applications (boosting 250MB/s read speed and 170MB/s write speed) and at least twice the endurance.
Despite the revolutionary nature of Intel’s new MLC line, pricing still remains the Achilles heel of the SSD market. An 80GB Intel X25-M costs just under $600 – about 30 (!) times the price of a similar sized conventional hard drive. The new Intel X25-E Extreme with only 32GB costs over $700 (due to its SLC technology), making enterprise adoption rate low and slow.
However, Intel is far from being the only player in the advanced SSD market. Samsung, which released the first consumer SSD in 2007, has also significantly improved its products in the past two years. Back in May 2008, Samsung announced plans to release an ultra fast MLC based SSD, boosting an exceptionally large 256GB capacity. In November 2008 Samsung made good on its promise and announced that the new drives have entered mass production and should be expected on the market soon. The new drive will boost a read speed of 220 MB/s and an exceptional write speed of 200 MB/s. Like Intel’s SSD, the price is going to be the determining factor. Although as of late November 2008 Samsung had not yet released specific prices, estimates are that these will reach at least $1000.
Other players in the ever expanding SSD game include Toshiba, which also recently announced a 256GB MLC drive but with about half the read/write performance of the upcoming Samsung model, and Sandisk (which was almost acquired by Samsung earlier in 2008). Sandisk recently announced a new SSD related technology known as Extreme Flash File System (ExtremeFFS). According to Sandisk, this technology has the potential to greatly extend endurance and accelerate SSD random write speeds by as much as 100 times compared with existing systems. The ExtremeFFS can optimize a Vista OS to make a much more efficient use of a Sandisk drive and it can even learn user patterns in order to store data used with higher frequency in more accessible locations on the drive.
Some of the strongest players in the enterprise SSD market are relatively unknown to the general public. These companies include names such as Memoright, Mtron, STEC, BiTMICRO Networks and Adtron (among others). Most of them specialize in manufacturing high end SLC disks for industrial and enterprise applications. Mtron, for example, recently announced it will reveal a new SLC based SSD drive in 2009 with an unprecedented 260MB/s read and 240MB/s write speeds. However given the company’s current generation SSD pricing of around $900 for 64GB drive, the new super fast drives will probably find limited costumer share even on the enterprise market.
So what are we going to see in 2009 in the SSD market? Setting aside game-changing technologies such as Sandisk’s ExtremeFFS we believe the market will be divided into 3 main segments. High-end industrial/enterprise SLC based drives with $1000 and higher price tags. These more “traditional” SSDs will gradually loose their appeal as more cost effective high-end MLC drives will reach the market. These new drives which include Intel’s X25-M series (with a 160GB and even larger capacity versions planned for 2009) and Samsung’s upcoming ultra fast MLC drive (with a 512GB version planned for 2009) will represent a more viable option probably around the second half of 2009 (given the predicted drop in flash prices for this time period).
The third and last segment will be the entry-level consumer MLC based SSD market. As of late 2008, several companies including OCZ, G.SKILL, Patriot and others are offering relatively cheap ($300-$400 for 128GB drives) SSDs with better performance than most high-end conventional hard drives (above 150MB/s read and close to 100MB/s write). The attractiveness of such drives should increase considerably when prices go down below $200 for 128GB.
Both the high-end consumer segment and the enterprise SSD market have already stretched the capabilities of the existing SATA II technology to its limits. With the X25-E Extreme capable of 250MB/s read and 170MB/s write and the new Samsung with 220 MB/s read and 200 MB/s write, not to mention the upcoming Mtron with 260MB/s read and 240MB/s write – the upper limit of 300MB/s of the existing SATA II doesn’t look that far off any more. In order to allow for even faster drives a new SATA standard is currently in the works. The new standard, SATA 6Gb/s, will be backwards compatible and allow for up to twice the bandwidth – 600MB/s. However, given the rate in which the SSD market has been progressing, it might be wise to wonder if an even higher bandwidth should have been selected.
Another possibility could be to abandon the SATA connection altogether and move to an all USB interface for hard drives. With the USB 3.0 specifications now finalized, the next USB standard will have a similar bandwidth as the next generation SATA (i.e. 600MB/s) but it will have two important advantages – it can also deliver power (and SSDs typically consume relatively low power) and it is (or will be) a much more prevalentstandard. This means it will be cheaper to implement and more mobile (you can easily take your flash drive with you anywhere you go and still get blazing fast performance).
Analysis: More Than 16 Cores May Well be Pointless
One of the ongoing themes of my microprocessor coverage over the past few years has been the relationship between on-chip execution bandwidth and the "memory wall." So I was intrigued to learn of new research from Sandia National Labs that indicates that the severity of the memory wall problem may be much greater than the industry generally anticipates.
In a nutshell, the "memory wall" problem is pretty straightforward, and it's by no means new to the multicore era. The problem arises when the execution bandwidth (i.e., aggregate instructions per second, either per-thread or across multiple threads and programs) available in a single socket is constrained by the amount of memory bandwidth available to that socket. As execution bandwidth increases, either because clockspeeds get faster or because the die contains more cores, memory bandwidth has to increase in order to keep up.
To put this in simple multicore terms, cramming a ton of processor cores onto a single die does you no good if you can't keep those cores fed with code and data.
But memory bandwidth isn't keeping up. Memory bus bandwidth (latency and/or throughput) hasn't increased quickly enough in proportion to Moore's Law, a fact that leaves processors starving for bytes. In this respect, the "memory wall" is a classic producer/consumer problem, and it's the reason that on-die cache sizes have ballooned in recent years. As the memory wall gets higher and higher, it takes more and more cache to get you over it. At this point, it would be fair to say that most modern server processors are really high-speed memories with some processor core stuck on the die, instead of vice versa.
The memory wall is therefore an added barrier to the success of the many-core paradigm. I say "added," because the most famous barrier is the programming model. Massively multithreaded programming isn't just a "hard problem"—rather, it's a generation's worth of Ph.D. dissertations that have yet to be written.
The work from the Sandia team, at least as it's summarized in an IEEE Spectrum article that infuriatingly omits a link to the original research, seems to indicate that 8 cores is the point where the memory wall causes a fall-off in performance on certain types of science and engineering workloads (informatics, to be specific). At the 16-core mark, the performance is the same as it is for dual-core, and it drops off rapidly after that as you approach 64 cores.
The chart included in the report is striking, and I wish I had the appropriate background to interpret it. (Again, the lack of any link, DOI, report title, deck title, or other reference information is unbelievable.) Nonetheless, despite the lack of color from the source, I'm sure the many-core skeptics in the audience—and there are quite a few—will seize on it as further validation that the maximum worthwhile core count is well below 16.
It looks like Sandia is proposing that stacking memory chips on top of the processor is the solution to this bandwidth problem. If that is indeed their proposal, then they're in good company. Both Intel and IBM have touted advances in chip-stacking techniques, and Sun has published research in the area of high-bandwidth memory interconnects that involve placing dice edge-to-edge. But, to my knowledge, these die-stacking schemes are further from down the road than the production of a mass-market processor with greater than 16 cores.
The Mother of All Demos - 150 Years Ahead of its Time
It's not the mouse. It's what you do with it
Sometime in the late sixties, as Douglas Engelbart was preparing what would one day be called The Mother of All Demos (http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...7622017763097), his boss flew to Washington to meet with the money man.
The demo that birthed the modern computer mouse - and so much more - was funded by Bob Taylor, a NASA program manager who would one day take his own place among the titans of modern computing. Engelbart's boss had a single question on his mind as he walked into Taylor's office after a cross-country flight from Northern California's Stanford Research Institute.
"He came from the west coast to see me, which was very unusual," remembers Taylor, also known for cooking up the ARPAnet and Xerox PARC's Computer Science Laboratory. "He came into my office and he said 'I want to talk to you about Doug - Why are you funding this guy?'"
Needless to say, Douglas Engelbart's boss wasn't the only one who questioned the import of the mouse inventor's 1968 interactive-computing demo, which received a 40th anniversary celebration at Stanford University's Memorial Hall yesterday afternoon. Bill Paxton - one of the SRI researchers who participated in the demo - says that 90 per cent of the computer science community thought Engelbart was "a crackpot."
"It's hard to believe now," he explains, "but at the time, even we [Engelbart's fellow researchers] had trouble understanding what he was doing. Think of everyone else out there."
The Demo Relived
Three or four years later, Engelbart repeated his hypertext-meets-desktop-sharing-meets-video-conferencing demo. In the audience was an MIT prof described by Andries van Dam, another east-coast prof in attendance, as among "the best and the brightest" of the early 1970s computing cognoscenti. According to van Dam, at the end of the presentation, the MIT man raised his hand and said "I don't get it - everything you've shown me today I can do on my ASR-33."
The ASR-33 was a standard-issue teletype - a machine that did nothing but print stuff you keyed into it. "In a Turing sense, he was right," van Dam says. "But that was completely not the point. The demo went right over his head, and I thought to myself, 'If the best and the brightest can't grok this, what hope have we got?'"
As it turns out, there was hope. In the years to come, Engelbart's on-line system - known by the pseudo-acronym NLS - begat the GUI machines developed at Xerox PARC. PARC begat the Apple Macintosh. And the Macintosh begat a widely used operating system from a company called Microsoft.
Engelbart didn't just invent the mouse. He and his team were the first to divide a graphical interface into windows-like subsections. "Even way back then, we already had the concept of multiple windows," Engelbart told The Reg in 2005. "Any one application could manage multiple windows, and you could easily move objects, paragraphs, and words between them."
Desktop sharing, 60s style
NLS also foreshadowed video conferencing and desktop sharing, as Engelbart demonstrated for Andy van Dam and about a 1,000 other computer obsessives on that December afternoon back in 1968. At yesterday's 40th-anniversary celebration, Engelbart's colleagues and peers gathered to hail him as one of computing history's great visionaries - a man who foretold the future.
"[Engelbart] was one of the very few people very early on who were able to understand not only that computers could do a lot of things that were very familiar, but that there was something new about computers that allow us to think in a very different way - in a stronger way," says Alan Kay, the PARC researcher who built atop Engelbart's work with the development of the object-oriented computing environment he called SmallTalk.
But those gathered for Engelbart's anniversary also warned that most of his vision was lost amidst the computer revolution.
A Dream Deferred
As van Dam points out, Engelbart's system seamlessly combined its tools in ways our modern machines do not. "[NLS] hasn't really been realized with the mainstream market," van Dam says. "We're looking back at this with a kind of nostalgia, asking what this magician did for us. But ask yourself this: What do we really have today?
"We have a collection of tools at out disposal that don't inter-operate. We've got Microsoft Word. We've got PowerPoint. We've got Illustrator. We've got Photoshop. We can do a lot of individual things that were done with NLS and we can do them with more functionality...But they don't work together. They don't play nice together. And most of the time, what you've got is an import/export capability that serves as a lowest common denominator."
For van Dam - and others who witnessed it first hand - NLS went much deeper than the GUIs of today. "Everything inter-operated in this super rich environment. And if you look at the demo carefully, it's about modifying, it's about studying, it's about being really analytical, and reflecting about what's happening."
This last point is hammered home by Alan Kay, another firsthand witness to Engelbart's 1968 demo. "I was shivering like mad, with a 104 degree temperature," he says. "But I was determined to see it."
When Kay thinks of NLS, he remembers Henry David Thoreau's response to the first transatlantic cable. "We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks closer to the New," Thoreau wrote in Walden. "But perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough."
Kay calls this "one of the earliest examples of capturing the two sides of technology. Here's this incredibly difficult technical feat that could be used for expressing important information back and forth. But Thoreau understood exactly who human beings are and what they like to do with their technology."
Like van Dam, Kay argues that Engelbart's interactive system hasn't been realized. "You may have noticed after watching the demo that [NLS's] response time is a just a little bit better than we have today." But his bigger point is that the ideas that did survive are now dedicated to transmitting the 21-century equivalent of Princess Adelaide's whooping cough.
NLS wasn't meant to enhance the transatlantic cable, Kay says. It was meant to create an entirely new form of collaboration. "It showed that ideas could be organized in a different way, built in a different way. What we were looking at was not something that was trying to imitate what was already there.
"The jury is still out on how long - and whether - people are actually going to understand this." It took the world 150 years to realize the true power of the printing press, Kays says, citing Thomas Paine's Common Sense as the publication that finally did the trick. And he wonders if we will need another 150 years to embrace NLS.
NLS was designed to harness the power of "collective intelligence" - to create a deeper level of thought. His research group was dedicated to "augmenting human intellect." But forty years on, Engelbart's core vision has vanished. NLS has devolved into Twitter.
But Kay still has hope. "We haven't forgotten NLS, after 40 years. It's as good today as it was when we first saw it. The real significance of NLS is that it put a difficult idea into the world and it put it into the world so well that none of us can forget - and everyone will leave here today and go out and try to get others to understand it."
You can view The Mother of All Demos here (http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...7622017763097).
Hack of the Clones: Why Apple Can't Stop the Copies
Brian X. Chen
Just hours after announcing plans to sell a high-end Mac clone, niche electronics reseller EFI-X changed course in order to avoid a nasty legal confrontation with Apple.
"We certainly don't want to get into a legal battle that's over a couple thousand dollars," an EFI-X spokesman said. "Potentially Apple could have a legal issue there. They may not have a legal issue, but with all the money they have they might try to make one."
Despite the sudden turnabout, it's getting harder and harder for Apple to guard the most precious jewel at the core of its success: The Mac operating system.
Apple forbids Mac OS X from running on anything but a Mac. But in the past year, an army of Mac cloners has emerged, their rise facilitated in large part by Apple's 2006 decision to switch to Intel chips. The most prominent example is Florida-based Psystar, a startup selling Mac clones, which has been in legal battle with Apple since July. Shortly following Psystar's lead were companies with similar offerings: OpenTech, OpeniMac and Art Studios Entertainment Media.
Friday morning, AppleInsider reported that EFI-X was going to start selling custom-made PCs with the USB dongle included inside. But in a phone interview with Wired.com, EFI-X said it was going to cancel this deal, in fear that Apple would construe this offer -- a computer shipped with a Mac OS X booter -- as a Mac clone.
HR&O attorney Eric Overholt said the dongle will likely face legality issues with Apple. He explained Apple could potentially allege piracy and copyright infringement in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, because the Taiwanese company is essentially copying the Mac BIOS and putting it in a chip (the dongle).
"My thought is that this company will face the same type of lawsuit and claims that Psystar is facing," said Eric Overholt, an HR&O attorney with HR&O. "This dongle tricks the clone into thinking that the clone is actually a Mac. There will also most likely be claims against [the company] for 'reverse engineering' the Mac BIOS in order to create their 'dongle.'"
Art Studios Entertainment Media's dongle shows how the definition of a "Mac clone" has become blurry. And that gives away just how easy it's become for manufacturers to steal Apple's operating system -- and market it in different ways in order to dodge legal bullets.
"I would say that one of the things that's happening to Apple is that it's less able to keep secrets than it used to be because it has broader supply chain and broader distribution," said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies.
Apple wasn't always opposed to Mac clones. For a brief period in the 1990s -- when Steve Jobs was still exiled from Apple -- Apple CEO Michael Spindler licensed the Mac operating system to several manufacturers: Power Computing, Motorola, Umax, APS, Radius and DayStar. When Jobs retook the helm in 1997, one of the first items on his agenda was to destroy the clone program and eliminate these cheaper alternatives to Apple's goods.
But in 2006, Apple opened itself up to attack again (knowingly or not) when it ditched its own Power PC processors in favor of Intel's more power-efficient CPUs. Because Apple then had to code OS X to run on Intel processors, it opened a door for hackers: They could modify the operating system code to run on any Intel-powered, non-Mac machine.
The Intel switch gave birth to an underground community of hackers dubbed OSX86, who anonymously contribute to a wiki that details the techniques required to get the Mac OS to work on other Intel machines. The OSX86 community is what made Psystar and all the aforementioned companies possible, and it's also what enables people to install Mac OS X on a netbook, a popular hack.
"People were talking about Apple coming out with a laptop under $800 for the first time, and someone already made one and it's a [hacked] netbook," said Brad Linder, blogger of Liliputing.
Although running OS X on a non-Apple machine may violate Apple's software license agreements and copyrights, and may be a violation of the DMCA, the new crop of clone makers have plenty of tricky moves to evade legal trouble.
One of the trickiest moves comes from Taiwanese company Art Studios Entertainment Media. The company isn't selling a Mac clone, per se. It's manufacturing a USB dongle that lets PCs boot up any operating system, including OS X. Conveniently enough, Art Studios Entertainment Media calls the product EFI-X, and is selling the product through EFI-X USA, the reseller that no longer wants to be known as a maker of Mac clones. The Taiwanese company is urging EFI-X to avoid marketing the dongle's primary feature as booting computers off OS X -- even though that's what most customers likely want it for.
Confused yet? EFI-X USA says it is too.
"We get somewhat mixed signals on what [Art Studios Entertainment Media] would really like to accomplish," said an EFI-X spokesman. "They produce the device and want to sell it, but somehow they don't want it to come out that the primary function of the device is that it allows people to run OS X on generic Intel hardware."
Another company with a creative plan to put out a Mac clone was OpenTech. The Florida-based company launched in July, promising to sell computers together with a how-to kit on installing the operating system of your choice, including Apple's. A spokesman for OpenTech made bold statements, saying, "Our legal team has come to the conclusion that we wouldn't be violating any copyright laws or any other laws." But just a month later, OpenTech shut down its operation and put it up for sale.
Apple continues to battle Psystar, a Florida-based company that started selling PCs hacked to run OS X in April. Apple in mid-July filed a lawsuit alleging copyright, trademark and shrink-wrap license infringement. And much to Apple's surprise, Psystar's legal team is fighting back, leading the corporation to believe the small company may be receiving help from other parties -- perhaps another competing corporation.
Since the Mac clones market is young, it's difficult to tell how much these clone makers and netbook hackers are actually cutting into Apple's sales. Given the difficulty of getting the hacks to work, or even of getting a clone maker on the phone, total sales of Mac clones probably miniscule. And it's unlikely we'll see Mac clones break into the mainstream anytime soon, given Apple's ruthless legal team.
Even so, Apple's clone problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. As long as OS X runs on Intel hardware, and as long as the developers behind OSX86 continue their work, it will be difficult for Apple to stop cloning altogether.
Five PC Power Myths Debunked
Don't let misinformation prevent you from cashing in on PC power management
Turning off PCs during periods of inactivity can save companies a substantial sum. In fact, Energy Star estimates organizations can save from $25 to $75 per PC per year with PC power management. Those savings can add up quickly. According to a recent report by Forrester titled "How Much Money Are Your Idle PCs Wasting?" PC power management is helping General Electric and Dell boast savings of $2.5 million and $1.8 million per year, respectively. That also results in a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions.
[ For more on PC power management, please read "When PCs don't snooze, you lose." | Read about 10 more power-saving myths. ]
So why is there hesitancy at some organizations to implement PC power management, given that the payback is easy to calculate? Perhaps some companies are being swayed by myths about PC power management. Forrester outlines five such myths in its report.
Myth No. 1: The power used turning my PC on negates any benefits of turning it off. Forrester debunks this myth as follows: The average desktop draws 89 watts per hour. If it's left on overnight for 16 hours, it consumes 1.42kW. It's impossible for the power surge that occurs when powering on a PC to rival that figure: "You would be drawing energy at a rate of 17 kWh -- the equivalent of 44 HP DL580 servers at 100 percent utilization. Moreover, the average US wall outlet can only provide 1.8 kW of draw, which is about one-tenth of what the power surge would require."
Myth No. 2: My screen saver is saving me energy. Though at times entertaining and whimsical, screen savers aren't power savers. As the report notes, "Certain graphics-intensive screen savers can cause the computer to burn twice as much energy," according to the EPA's Energy Star Program. A screen saver displaying moving images consumes just as much electricity as an active PC. A blank screen saver is slightly better, but most screen savers don't save energy unless they actually turn off the screen, or in the case of laptops, turn off the backlight. In short, it's better to place PCs in a lower power state than it is to run a screen saver.
Myth No. 3: Turning my PC on and off will reduce its performance and useful life. There may have been some truth to this once upon a time, the report notes, but today's new and improved modern hardware can handle it. The Forrester Report cites findings from the Rocky Mountain Institute: "Modern computers are designed to handle 40,000 on/off cycles before failure, and you're not likely to approach that number during the average computer's five to seven year life span. In fact, IBM and Hewlett Packard encourage their own employees to turn off idle computers, and some studies indicate it would require on/off cycling every five minutes to harm the hard drive."
The report goes on to say that "powering down your computer may actually extend its life cycle by reducing the intake of dust, which can cause fans to seize up or parts of circuit boards to overheat."
[ Powering up and down PCs is OK -- but find out why powering down servers is a calculated risk. ]
Myth No. 4: I can't run updates and patches for PCs in lower-power states. It's perfectly possible to rouse PCs from slumber for patches, updates, and backups. "This is most often achieved using WOL (Wake on LAN) technology -- an Ethernet networking standard that allows PCs to be 'woken up' from a lower power state after receiving a 'magic packet' network message. Alternatively, recent hardware improvements such as Intel vPro can offer similar functionality without relying on the WOL standard," according to the report.
Myth No. 5: My PC users will not tolerate any downtime for power management. The Forrester report does acknowledge that end-users have very little patience for downtime. However, it suggests that "potential user complaints can be mitigated by communicating the positive financial and environmental benefits of PC power management."
The Forrester report "How Much Monday are Your Idle PCs Wasting?" is available for $279.
Apple Disables Egyptian iPhone GPS
Wandering in the desert
If you buy your iPhone 3G in Egypt, don't expect it to help you navigate the trackless wastes of the Sinai or Akabat.
According to a story published by The New York Times, the Egyptian government has demanded that Apple disable the iPhone 3G's GPS capability as a condition of offering it for sale in that tightly-controlled country.
The Times reports that Apple has "apparently" acceded to the government's demands, even though GPS-enabled iPhone 3Gs are freely available for sale to Egyptians on eBay and elsewhere.
The Egyptian government's reported rationale - that GPS functionality should be limited to military purposes - indicates that Mubarek and Co. are living in a bygone age. For example, The Times article quotes one Egyptian blogger, Ahmed Gabr, as calling the de-GPS-ing of the iPhone "totally pointless" due to the fact that Google Maps "works flawlessly" in Egypt, allowing unfettered access to views of "places you’re not supposed to see."
Not that the Egyptian government is alone in its desire for control. Witness, for example, Google's self-censoring in response to the Chinese government's demands - or, for that matter, today's news that the Chinese government is continuing its efforts to have foreign computer companies disclose details of their security technologies.
As hard as repressive governments may try to keep their citizens in the dark, however, they're fighting a rear-guard action. The simple fact is - as Stewart Brand famously said back in 1984 - that "Information wants to be free." Although Brand used the word "free" in a financial sense - as in "without cost" - Webster's first definition of the word includes the phrase "enjoying civil and political liberty."
Information is a powerful solvent, dissolving shackles wherever it flows freely. The Egyptian government and its repressive brethren worldwide know that and are doing their best to keep it from liquefying their hold on power.
They're going to lose. It may take decades or longer, but the cat is out of the bag. The train has left the station. And the horses are out of the barn. Info-Elvis has left the building.
It's just a matter of time.
And when info is fully free, Apple will certainly be ready to adjust its marketing strategies and sell you the technology you'll need to access it. Even if you're an Egyptian.
The Freedoms That Technologies Help Bring
AMONG international outrages, depriving citizens of personalized maps seems far down on the list.
Still, that was the condition put on the introduction of Apple’s 3G iPhone in Egypt. The government demanded that Apple disable the phone’s global-positioning system, arguing that GPS is a military prerogative.
The company apparently complied, most likely taking a cue from the telecom companies that sell the phone there, said Ahmed Gabr, who runs a blog in Egypt, gadgetsarabia.com, and wrote about the iPhone’s release there. “The point is that using a GPS unit you can get accurate coordinates of any place and thus military bases and so on could be easily tagged,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
I met Mr. Gabr last summer in Alexandria, Egypt, at the worldwide conference for Wikipedia. He was typical of the young Egyptians in attendance — hungry for new technology, hopeful about what it would mean for their country.
As much as any country, however, Egypt illustrates the push-me-pull-you nature of technology under an oppressive government. Young people flock to Facebook, in a way I never could have imagined. For the largest Arab country in the world, it was a way for the educated elite to reach out to one another and to those who had left the country for an even more elite education.
Andrew Bossone, an American in Cairo who writes about technology, said that despite its expense, the iPhone in Egypt was “really popular — everyone knows the iPhone.” In addition to editing a technology magazine, he teaches at American University. “One of my students who comes from a wealthy family has the iPhone and one of my designers, who is not rich, bought it on credit,” he said.
Mr. Bossone says he thinks the government will relent on issues like GPS because it will side with business even at the expense of security concerns.
“The economy is itself a security issue,” he said. “The slower the economy grows, the more people become discontented, and that is a security issue.”
But thus far, each time technology has promised to help introduce democracy to the country, the young peoples’ hopes have been dashed. A movement for political reform that used Facebook to organize protests over the spring was shut down. The authorities cracked down, jailing many of its organizers. In the last few weeks, a blogger affiliated with the radical group Muslim Brotherhood was arrested for his writings, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights. Another blogger is being held in a military camp, the group says.
It is enough to make one ask if new technologies — the personal computer, the World Wide Web, the all-powerful smartphone — will help set us free or merely give us that illusion.
Apple modified its phone without any public acknowledgment. In a series of e-mail exchanges and brief telephone conversations, an Apple spokeswoman detailed the success of the iPhone rollout around the world — a total of 13 million phones shipped since it was introduced in June 2007, and more than 200 million applications downloaded.
But she did not answer how the iPhone came to be disabled and whether Apple had a policy it followed in modifying its products to meet the demands of governments worldwide.
This issue remains keenly relevant as Apple negotiates the introduction of the iPhone to China, whose estimated 500 million users make it the big kahuna of cellphone markets. Some reports say that in addition to issues like revenue sharing, there has been talk about modifying the phone so as not to use the 3G network or offer Wi-Fi capability.
Mr. Gabr described in his e-mail message what he considered to be the faulty rationale for the policy in Egypt.
“From a technical point of view, this is totally pointless because Google Maps works flawlessly here — you can even get a clear snap (with accurate coordinates) of places you’re not supposed to see.”
As an aside, he said that months ago he “bought an American iPhone 3G via eBay” with full functionality. “Cheaper, earlier and without compromise,” he wrote, signing his note with a self-satisfied smiley-face.
I must admit, I didn’t exactly think that the right to GPS was one of the Four Freedoms. But Arvind Ganesan, director of the business and human rights program of Human Rights Watch, placed the issue in a larger context.
First, he described freedom of information as part of the broader, better known, freedom of expression. Transparency about the government’s budget, for example, can be crucial to eliminating corruption and instituting democratic reforms.
And second, he argued that it was important for technology companies to set principles and follow them. “Here is the big question for Apple: Is this an ad-hoc approach or is there a fundamental policy, balancing the freedom of expression and information with the demands of the government?”
It is easy to get swept up in the utopianism embedded in new technologies. That we will be more politically engaged because of the organizing and fund-raising tools of social networking; that we will think greater thoughts now that anyone can have access to nearly everything ever written; that our tribal hatreds will melt away as the world recognizes that we genuinely are all connected.
Even those like Mr. Ganesan, who see technology abused, are cautiously hopeful. “Technologies do not hold people accountable. They give people the tools to hold people accountable.” But he added: “We believe as a human rights group that the Internet can have an opening and transforming effect.”
When Human Rights Watch was founded in 1978, he said, people were “smuggling letters by hand from the Soviet Union — that was how the world found out about a dissident.” Today, there is a range of tools for spreading the word, from blogs to e-mail to YouTube videos.
“We may not know what the maximum impact of openness is,” he said. “But we do know that in the most closed places the worst things happen.”
Storefronts in Virtual Worlds Bringing in Real Money
Want to walk a mile in Elvis Presley’s blue suede shoes? It’ll cost you 50 cents.
In a down economy, that might be an affordable luxury to a teenager or twentysomething hanging out in a virtual world like Gaia Online, which this week will start selling a range of digital accessories depicting the rock legend’s style, including blue suede shoes, a white-rhinestone jumpsuit ($4) and a pompadour ($1.50).
Younger people unfamiliar with Elvis might prefer to shell out $2 for Justin Timberlake’s signature fedora or $3 for a pair of Snoop Dogg Dobermans to raise the cool quotient of their characters, known as avatars.
That is the premise behind Virtual Greats, a start-up in Huntington Beach, Calif., that represents celebrities and brands in the burgeoning American virtual goods business. The one-year-old company acts as a broker between Hollywood and the technologists who run youth-oriented virtual worlds like Gaia, Whyville and WeeWorld.
So far, the deepening recession has not slowed sales of virtual goods, which executives attribute to people spending more time at home. Gaia Online, a youth world with seven million monthly visitors, sells more than $1 million a month of virtual goods and expects a record month in December, said its chief executive, Craig Sherman. One rival, IMVU, has also had a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales since September.
Facebook, the leading social network, allows members to spend real money to send virtual gifts, and it has worked with corporations like Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, which gave away 500,000 virtual ice cream cones in April as part of a Free Cone Day promotion in stores.
Consumers are tightening their belts, but they still want to socialize with peers and express themselves, industry executives say. Virtual goods like Paris Hilton’s pet Chihuahua or Mr. Timberlake’s puffy jacket can offer a cheap way to stand out.
“People are thinking that they’re sacrificing in other areas so I’ll indulge here with a dollar,” said Charlene Li, a social media analyst formerly with Forrester Research. “Is it worth it? It depends on them.”
By most estimates, customers spend about $1.5 billion a year on virtual goods worldwide. Tencent Holdings, a publicly traded Internet media company based in China, is the leader, with hundreds of millions in annual revenue from virtual goods in online games and other applications. Internet companies in the United States are behind the curve.
For celebrities, licensing virtual products is a new way to make a buck and stay hip with a young crowd. Snoop Dogg’s manager, Constance Schwartz, said she did not have a clue about virtual worlds when Virtual Greats approached her this year, so she and her team spent a week exploring Gaia Online.
After seeing that many teenagers were spending their time and allowances there, Ms. Schwartz explained the concept to Snoop Dogg. She said it was an easy sell, given that Snoop Dogg had been one of the first rap musicians to license works for ring tones and voice tones. His only requirement was that all of the goods be “true to himself,” down to the hair braids, house slippers and plates of Roscoe’s chicken and waffles he regularly eats in Los Angeles.
At Elvis Presley Enterprises, virtual worlds are just another drop in the bucket — 250 licensees worldwide sell 5,000 Elvis products and promotions, including talking dolls, Pez dispensers and a Facebook page. “Elvis is everywhere,” said Kevin Kern, a spokesman for the company, which controls the name, image and likeness of the rock star. “Why not the virtual worlds?”
Virtual Greats appeals to partners like Snoop Dogg and Elvis Presley Enterprises because it does the legwork that neither party — rights holder or virtual-world operator — has the desire or time to do. On one end, it courts celebrities and brands, negotiates licenses and aggregates talent; on the other end, it coalesces an otherwise fragmented market of virtual worlds starved for added sources of revenue.
Dan Jansen, former head of the Boston Consulting Group’s global media and entertainment practice, started Virtual Greats in partnership with Millions of Us, a marketing agency in Sausalito, Calif., that builds virtual worlds. The two companies shared the idea that virtual worlds lacked diverse revenue sources and had no presence when it came to celebrity or branded goods. The Omnicom Group, a marketing and advertising firm, and Allen & Company, an investment bank, invested an undisclosed sum in Virtual Greats.
Virtual goods have profit margins of 70 percent to 90 percent because they do not cost much to store, reproduce or distribute. Still, making a profit requires high volume. Next year, Virtual Greats hopes to represent 30 worlds and more than 50 artists.
It is talking with movie studios about licensing rights to characters like Ferris Bueller and with sports leagues for the rights to jerseys. It is also courting luxury brands like Gucci, Prada and Chanel for the rights to represent their goods online.
One challenge for Virtual Greats and its partners is to create legitimacy for the online brands while ensuring that there is not too much supply.
Mr. Sherman says Gaia uses “forced forms of rarity,” or limited editions of items. Over time, those items can command a premium in the secondary market, where members trade their goods for virtual currency. For example, a Gaia golden halo now out of production sold for $6,000 on eBay, he said.
Similarly, Virtual Greats has learned that it underpriced some items, like the Hulk Impact Crater, which originally sold for 50 cents, then went up sixfold in the Gaia aftermarket. In its several months of testing, Virtual Greats has found that people prefer more expensive items with a brand name over cheaper, generic items. And larger items that are easier to see are more popular than small ones.
Licensed virtual goods probably will not be more than a tiny niche business. Generic items are a huge portion of the virtual-goods market, and company-sponsored promotions like the Ben & Jerry’s cones on Facebook will probably grow in importance as marketers try to extend their brands onto social networks.
The economic downturn could make many people reconsider the notion of spending real money to outfit fictional personas with an Elvis pompadour or a Snoop Dogg hoodie.
Still, Mr. Jansen argues that people always crave a bit of brand-name glamour. “Maybe you can’t afford that Louis Vuitton bag, but you could in virtual form,” he said. “They’re an affordable luxury in this difficult economy.”
Journalists Are a Chatty Bunch, as CNN Finds Out on Twitter
CNN says it wants newspaper feedback as it creates a news wire service to compete with The Associated Press and other services. At a meeting last week, one newspaper staff member offered his advice — and shared the framework of CNN’s plans — in real time on the social messaging Web site Twitter.
“Still definitely a work in progress,” Ryan Pitts, the online director for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., wrote on Twitter last Tuesday, while expressing enthusiasm about the wire service’s potential.
CNN, a division of Time Warner, invited several dozen newspaper editors to Atlanta last week for a summit about its forthcoming news wire. Gatherings of journalists aren’t usually off-the-record affairs, but CNN probably didn’t expect each segment of the summit to be shared with the Web. Then again, the increasingly popular Twitter, which allows users to share short messages with others, sometimes acts as a wire service as well. (CNN declined to comment.)
The network’s executives said repeatedly at the summit that they are “not trying to replicate A.P.,” Mr. Pitts wrote under the username “onemoreryan.” Unlike the A.P., which offers packages of content to subscribers, affiliates of the CNN wire would receive access to all of its content. But it would be a smaller product: according to Mr. Pitts, CNN’s off-the-cuff estimates of 8 to 10 national articles a day, and a similar number of international and financial articles, raised eyebrows among the newspaper editors. The company’s theory, he wrote, “is that most papers don’t need huge bucket” of news, “just best of the best.”
Providing some feedback of his own, Mr. Pitts suggested that simple graphics and maps should be part of the CNN service. He wrote that sports and photos would be “the big holes to fill for potential customers,” but added, “there are sources for those.”
While arguably the most important point about the product, the price, wasn’t discussed at the meeting, Mr. Pitts pronounced himself “very impressed“ with the organization. He even offered feedback about the bathrooms: “three stars.” BRIAN STELTER
U.S. Is Losing Global Cyberwar, Commission Says
Center for Cybersecurity Operations is proposed to protect military, government, and corporate electronics from criminals and other nations
The U.S. faces a cybersecurity threat of such magnitude that the next President should move quickly to create a Center for Cybersecurity Operations and appoint a special White House advisor to oversee it. Those are among the recommendations in a 44-page report by the U.S. Commission on Cybersecurity, a version of which will be made public today. The bipartisan panel includes executives, high-ranking military officers and intelligence officials, leading specialists in computer security, and two members of Congress.
To compile the report, which is entitled "Securing Cyberspace in the 44th Presidency," commission members say they reviewed tens of thousands of pages of undisclosed documentation, visited forensics labs and the National Security Agency, and were briefed in closed-door sessions by top officials from Pentagon, CIA, and British spy agency MI5. From their research, they concluded that the U.S. badly needs a comprehensive cybersecurity policy to replace an outdated checklist of security requirements for government agencies under the existing Federal Information Security Management Act.
The report calls for the creation of a Center for Cybersecurity Operations that would act as a new regulator of computer security in both the public and private sector. Active policing of government and corporate networks would include new rules and a "red team" to test computers for vulnerabilities now being exploited with increasing sophistication and frequency by identity and credit card thieves, bank fraudsters, crime rings, and electronic spies. "We're playing a giant game of chess now and we're losing badly," says commission member Tom Kellermann, a former World Bank security official who now is vice-president of security at Boston-based Core Strategy.
Obama seems on board
Kellermann should know: He had a hand in crafting the nation's cybersecurity strategy in 2003. But as he tells it, government efforts led by the Homeland Security Dept. have been stymied by bureaucratic confusion and an unwillingness by agencies and corporations to share information about cyber break-ins. The commission's report catalogues incidents afflicting financial institutions, large corporations, and government agencies, including some first detailed publicly over the last year in various BusinessWeek articles. In an ominous note for the private sector, the commission notes that "senior representatives from the intelligence community told us they had conclusive evidence covertly obtained from foreign sources that U.S. companies have lost billions in intellectual property." For more on the spread of malicious software, read Saturday's New York Times article, "Thieves Winning Online War, Maybe Even in Your Computer."
Kellermann describes a behind-the-scenes effort by several members of the commission, some of whom are advisors on President-elect Barack Obama's transition team, to convince him of the need for action "to stop the hemorrhaging of national secrets, proprietary information, and personal data. We need to begin to deal with this cancer." Informal briefings by members of the commission, starting last July, seem to have affected Obama's thinking, sources say. Those who worry about the problem are heartened by his July 16 vow to "declare our cyber-infrastructure a strategic asset" and to "bring together government, industry, and academia to determine the best ways to guard the infrastructure that supports our power." At the time, the candidate also pledged that, if elected, he would appoint a "national cyber advisor" who would report directly to the President.
The Threat from China
As the world's corporations, governments, military forces, and computer users have gravitated to the Web, so have competitors, adversaries, criminals, and spies, including government-backed electronic operatives establishing footholds for potential attacks, according to groups such as the congressionally created U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission, which warned on Nov. 21 of the threat from China (BusinessWeek.com, 11/21/08).
"The damage from cyber attack is real," states the cybersecurity group's report, referring to intrusions last year at the departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and Commerce, and at NASA and the National Defense University.
Hacking for 'friendly fire'
The report continues: "The Secretary of Defense's unclassified e-mail was hacked and DOD officials told us that the department's computers are probed hundreds of thousands of times each day; a senior official at State told us the department has lost 'terabytes' of information; Homeland Security suffered 'break-ins' in several of its divisions, including the Transportation Security Agency; Commerce was forced to take the Bureau of Industry and Security offline for several months; NASA had to impose e-mail restrictions before shuttle launches and allegedly has seen designs for new launchers compromised. Recently, the White House itself had to deal with unidentifiable intrusions in its networks."
The report mentions some of the most severe threats, such as those being faced by U.S. war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, only hypothetically. It notes, for instance, that "the U.S. has a 'blue-force tracking' that tells commanders where friendly forces are located," and then goes on to posit a scenario under which an opponent could turn some of the blue signals to red, a color used to flag adversaries' forces. The implication is that an intruder might, for instance, provoke a so-called friendly-fire incident in which U.S. fighters mistakenly target U.S. personnel.
At least six members of the commission approached by BusinessWeek declined to share specifics of the most recent intrusions into the computers of companies, the Pentagon, the U.S. Central Command, and important centers of military operations such as Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Defense and intelligence officials also declined to describe the operational impacts of that massive penetration of corporate and military networks, but they did confirm that it culminated Nov. 22 in the raising of U.S. Strategic Command's threat level—known as INFOCON—which entailed banning plug-in devices such as thumb drives throughout the U.S. military and in some allied forces. Emergency briefings were also given to Obama and President Bush.
U.S. military fights agent.btz
As first reported Nov. 28 by Los Angeles Times in "Cyber-Attack on Defense Department Computers Raises Concerns,", the intrusion and compromise of the U.S. military networks began with a piece of malicious software—or malware—known as agent.btz, which has also afflicted corporate networks in recent months, U.S. military officials and private cybersecurity specialists confirmed. Such intrusions have grown increasingly sophisticated and difficult to trace to their origins. The latest generation of malware, developed by gangs and governments with large sums of money at their disposal, can easily cloak its activities and capabilities.
Complicating the cleanup is not only the nature of the malicious software, but the sheer scale of the task: The U.S. military has around 7 million vulnerable electronic devices. U.S. military officials tell BusinessWeek that assuring themselves that they have cleansed their computers of the intruders that gained a foothold via agent.btz has grown increasingly uncertain and expensive. Forensics examinations and the reprogramming of each computer—which continues in the Pentagon, in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, and in military installations in Afghanistan—costs around $5,000 to $7,000 per machine, sources said.
Kellermann and other computer security consultants declined to discuss the threat to the U.S. military, though several said they were intimately familiar with it. But Kellermann said it was yet another example of how "the cyber security threat has really gotten out of control. But it's not only a national security threat. It's an economic security threat."
Blogger Convicted in Threat to Harper
The profanity-laced rantings of an Internet blogger against Prime Minister Stephen Harper were more than just a joke, a judge has ruled in convicting him of uttering threats.
Provincial court Judge Judith Shrier, in a written decision released yesterday, rejected Patrick David Fenton's claims his comments weren't to be taken seriously.
Shrier said the Canmore man's explanation in court didn't fit with what he told police when he initially was questioned.
Fenton said his blog, which included threats to kill the PM, was clearly meant to be taken as satire.
But he told the RCMP he was simply venting his frustrations.
"If he thought his jokes were obvious, why did he tell the police that he realized he went too far?" Shrier said.
"His intention to vent his frustrations, as opposed to making jokes, is revealed in several places in the interview," the judge said in agreeing with Crown prosecutor Nadine Nesbitt the posting was meant to be taken seriously.
Shrier said Fenton admitted he tried to present himself as dangerous, noting he included a photo of himself wearing ski goggles with a knife in his mouth in one blog, and called his postings "drunken soldier."
Among the comments he made to Harper were "if I ever meet you the last thing you see other than your own blood and/or organs will be my remorseless eyes."
He also said: "I want to kill you so slowly I want you to suffer terribly begging for death."
Fenton was handed a 12-month suspended sentence and ordered to complete 60 hours of community service.
McGuinty Admits He `Stepped In It' with Young Drivers
The public outcry against a proposed regulation that would have limited teen drivers in Ontario to having only one other teenage passenger in the car was so fast and furious that he couldn't escape it, Premier Dalton McGuinty admitted today.
The province backed down yesterday and withdrew the plan to restrict drivers aged 16 to 19 with a G2 graduated licence to just one other teen in a vehicle after 150,000 people joined an online protest and members of the legislature were inundated with complaints.
"I got hit with this everywhere," McGuinty said.
"I'm talking about the grocery store, going for walks. You know, every once in a while you step in it."
McGuinty joked that his own four grown children, all in their 20s, gave him a hard time about the teen driving restrictions.
"When my own kids began to picket my own home I knew I'd overstepped," he said.
"We like to think that we do all kinds of good things in government, but we never do anything perfectly. There was a glaring imperfection."
Transportation Minister Jim Bradley said the 150,000 people who had joined a Facebook protest against the teen driving restrictions clearly had an impact on the government's thinking, as did people in rural and northern Ontario, where public transit is scarce.
"We certainly did get comment (and) we said we would listen to what people had to say," Bradley said.
"What we heard, particularly from our rural and northern members, was that it was a significant imposition (on people in those areas)."
Bradley said the huge Facebook protest means his proposed legislation got a lot of people – young and old alike – talking about statistics that show having more teens in a car with a teen driver can greatly increase the chances of an accident.
"I really appreciate the fact that people are interested in safety," he said.
"I suspect a lot of parents are going to be talking to their kids now about being in a car or van with a number of other people."
The opposition parties said another provision of the same legislation that imposes a zero blood-alcohol limit for all Ontario drivers aged 21 and under is discriminatory, but they proposed different ways of addressing the issue.
"We have a concern with the reference to age 21," said Progressive Conservative critic Joyce Savoline. "We prefer using broader terms like novice driver, because it isn't just age, it's how long you've been driving."
The New Democrats want to go even further by reducing the blood-alcohol limit from 0.08 to 0.05 – or even zero – for drivers of all ages.
"I think we need to get into a discussion at committee and have people come talk to us about should we be changing the limit for all drivers," said NDP critic Gilles Bisson.
"I don't think it's right just to target young drivers."
What the MPAA Wants from Obama: 3 Strikes, Canada Crackdown
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has supplied its political wish list to the Obama transition team, and thanks to new transition team policies, that means the MPAA has shared its agenda with everyone on the Internet. "Graduated response" rules are praised, anti-camcording rules are paramount, and Canada and Spain are two of the countries that need to be singled out for "priority trade policy attention."
The Obama transition team is publicizing its meetings with interest groups and putting any materials provided to the team up on the change.gov web site. The MPAA document is a mere one-pager that outlines the group's international agenda, but it does give us a good sense of what an MPAA-run world would look like.
The group wants the US government to continue pressuring other countries on camcording in theaters, which it calls the "major source of pirated motion pictures." Free trade agreements with countries like Korea and Malaysia have recently included such provisions, forcing the countries to alter their laws or penalties for camcording before gaining better access to the US market. The MPAA wants to see this trend continue in trade agreements (no doubt including the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement under negotiation at the moment), and the group is especially concerned about Mexico, where camcording has reached "crisis proportions."
But the truly interesting bits come further down the page. In the section on Internet piracy, the MPAA understandably claims that such piracy is a top priority, and it wants to see "inter-industry cooperation" in the matter. Fair enough, but what sort of cooperation is envisioned. "MPAA views recent efforts by the Governments of France and the United Kingdom to protect content on-line and facilitate inter-industry cooperation as useful models," says the document.
The reference is to the hugely controversial "graduated response" plans that the music industry, in particular, has pushed hard for in Europe. "Useful models" suggests that MPAA would not be averse to seeing something similar in the US, though it's difficult to imagine an Obama administration passing tough "three strikes" rules in the near future.
The other controversial bit comes right at the end, when the MPAA offers up its 2009 country blacklist: Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia, and Spain. Canada isn't normally thought of as a piracy haven, but it has been on the hit list of IP groups for some time; even video game companies have demanded that the country take action to crack down on pirates.
That irritates Canadians like Michael Geist, the law professor who helped lead the charge this year against an industry-friendly overhaul of copyright law. The MPAA document "makes it clear that the copyright lobby groups will continue to blame Canada, despite the fact that Canada is compliant with its international obligations," he writes. "Claiming that Canadian law is akin to China or Russia ought to be dismissed outright, yet the ease with which the Canadian government caved to pressure on the camcording issue has apparently emboldened the same lobby group to demand even more."
Giving hope to the MPAA may be news that Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), who (literally) represents Hollywood in Congress, could be tapped as the new US Trade Representative. (USTR is also overseeing the ACTA process.)
Ed Black of the Computer & Communications Industry Association demands that whoever get the job "leave existing parochial, corporate or constituent interests behind now that his or her new constituency is the American public... Browbeating our trading partners to ratchet up IP protection or face trade sanctions has alienated our friends... While a 'what's good for Disney must be good for America' approach to IP foreign policy may once have made sense, it now impedes efforts to repair our international relationships."
Making such lobbying documents public may not produce any substantive changes in how business in Washington gets done, but it certainly generates more public scrutiny of the various interest groups that plead their cases before the President-Elect. In the case of the MPAA, some of those public reactions have been... strong.
"It's time to stop this madness, and President-elect Obama should treat these fleecers of the American consumer with the utmost contempt," says one. "Any actions as their lapdog enforcer would severely diminish my respect of his administration."
Obama Pledges Public Works on a Vast Scale
Peter Baker and John M. Broder
President-elect Barack Obama promised Saturday to create the largest public works construction program since the inception of the interstate highway system a half century ago as he seeks to put together a plan to resuscitate the reeling economy.
With jobs evaporating and the recession deepening, Mr. Obama began highlighting elements of the economic recovery program he is trying to fashion with Congressional leaders in hopes of being able to enact it shortly after being sworn in on Jan. 20. His address on Saturday followed the report on Friday indicating that the country lost 533,000 jobs in November alone, bringing the total number of jobs lost over the past year to nearly 2 million.
Mr. Obama’s remarks showcased his ambition to expand the definition of traditional work programs for the middle class, like infrastructure projects to repair roads and bridges, to include new-era jobs in technology and so-called green jobs that reduce energy use and global warming emissions. “We need action — and action now,” Mr. Obama said in an address broadcast Saturday morning on radio and YouTube.
Mr. Obama’s plan, if enacted, would be in part a government-directed industrial policy, with lawmakers and administration officials picking winners and losers among private projects and raining large amounts of taxpayer money on them.
It would cover a range of programs to expand broadband Internet access, to make government buildings more energy efficient, to improve information technology at hospitals and doctors’ offices, and to upgrade computers in schools.
“It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption,” Mr. Obama said. “Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online.”
President Bush and many conservative economists have opposed such large-scale government intervention in the economy because it supports enterprises that might not survive in a free market. That is the crux of the argument against a government bailout of the auto industry.
But Mr. Obama proposes to charge ahead, asserting that extensive government support is needed to preserve and create jobs while building the latticework of a 21st century economy.
Although Mr. Obama put no price tag on his plan, he said he would invest record amounts of money in the vast infrastructure program, which also includes work on schools, sewer systems, mass transit, electrical grids, dams and other public utilities. The green jobs would include various categories, including jobs dedicated to creating alternative fuels, windmills and solar panels; building energy efficient appliances, or installing fuel-efficient heating or cooling systems.
Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House energy adviser, said that Mr. Obama had now settled whatever debate there was in his transition team and among Democrats in Congress over how to lift the economy in the short term and over a longer horizon.
“It’s now clear that Obama intends to stimulate the economy through large direct government spending on infrastructure projects as well as through business and individual tax cuts,” said Mr. Bledsoe, now an official of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a nonpartisan research group in Washington. “He is advocating things like guaranteeing every American a college education, wiring the entire country for Internet, putting in a smart electric grid. If he can do it, these will be major systemic advantages for the United States in the competitive global economy.”
Although Mr. Obama is weeks away from taking office, Friday’s grim jobs report heightened pressure on him to assert leadership before his inauguration.
Mr. Obama and his team are working with Congressional leaders to devise a spending package that some lawmakers suggest could total $400 billion to $700 billion. Some analysts forecast even higher costs. Mr. Obama has said he would direct his team to come up with a plan to save or create 2.5 million jobs in the first two years of his administration.
A big part of that will be public works spending. “We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s,” Mr. Obama said. He did not estimate how much he would devote to that purpose, but when he met with the nation’s governors last week, they said the states had $136 billion worth of road, bridge, water and other projects ready to go as soon as money became available. They estimated that each billion dollars spent would create up to 40,000 jobs.
Local and regional transit systems have $8 billion more in projects that could begin immediately, like buying hybrid buses and expanding light rail systems, creating thousands of jobs.
“He hasn’t given us any commitment, but we are fairly certain it’s going to be large,” Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and chairman of the National Governors Association, said in an interview Saturday. “I think he understands if you’re trying to reverse the economy and turn it around, this is not the time to do it on the cheap. This is not the time to do it in small doses.”
Mr. Bush and other Republicans have resisted such an approach in part out of concern for the already soaring federal budget deficit, which could easily hit $1 trillion this year. Borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars today to try to fix the economy, they argue, will leave a huge bill for the next generation.
Conservative economists have also long derided public works spending as a poor response to tough economic times, saying it has not been a reliable catalyst for short-term growth and instead is more about politicians gaining points with constituents.
Alan D. Viard, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, told the House Ways and Means Committee recently that public works spending should not be authorized out of the “illusory hope of job gains or economic stabilization.”
“If more money is spent on infrastructure, more workers will be employed in that sector,” Mr. Viard added. “In the long run, however, an increase in infrastructure spending requires a reduction in public or private spending for other goods and services. As a result, fewer workers are employed in other sectors of the economy.”
Mr. Obama implicitly tried to counter such arguments by invoking the federal interstate highway program, seen as one of the most successful public works efforts in American history.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, ultimately resulting in the construction of 42,795 miles of roads. In 1991, the government concluded that the total cost came to $128.9 billion, with the federal government paying $114.3 billion and the states picking up the rest.
Mr. Obama also responded to criticism of waste and inefficiency in such programs by promising new spending rules, like a requirement that states act quickly to invest in roads and bridges or sacrifice federal money.
“We’ll measure progress by the reforms we make,” Mr. Obama said, “and the results we achieve by the jobs we create, by the energy we save, by whether America is more competitive in the world.”
The green jobs portion of the economic package could run as high as $100 billion over two years, according to an aide familiar with the discussions.
A blueprint for such spending can be found in a study financed by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts and the Center for American Progress, a Washington research organization founded by John D. Podesta, who is a co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s transition team.
Daniel J. Weiss, an environmental analyst at Mr. Podesta’s center, said Washington should invest more money in existing programs that create work while cutting energy use, like home weatherization programs that have been chronically underfinanced.
Firms Push for a More Searchable Federal Web
Google's professed corporate mission is "to organize the world's information."
But for years, the U.S. government, one of the world's largest depositories of data, has been unwilling or unable to make millions of its Web pages accessible.
"The vast majority of information is still not searchable or findable either because it's not published or it's on Web sites which the government has put up which no one can index," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said during a recent presentation at the New America Foundation.
Now Schmidt has a unique opportunity to change that as an informal adviser to President-elect Barack Obama, a tech booster who dubbed his first Senate law "Google for government" because it aimed to make federal information more accessible.
Today, a wide array of public information remains largely invisible to the search engines, and therefore to the general public, because it is held in such a way that the Web search engines of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft can't find it and index it. Not surprisingly, Yahoo and Microsoft officials agree that people would be better served if more public information became accessible to their search engines.
A person using one of the search engines, for example, can't find Environmental Protection Agency enforcement actions against a given company, can't discover the picture of a specific ancient Egyptian artifact at the Smithsonian and can't search by name for the details of a Vietnam War casualty.
And for many Web users, if an online item can't be found with a Web search engine, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist.
"Unfortunately, too much of the public information provided on government Web sites just doesn't show up when the average American does a Google search," said J.L. Needham, Google's manager of public-sector content partnerships. "As a result, information that is intended for the public's use is effectively invisible."
To be sure, much of the information that the search engines are asking for is already digitized and available on the Web. EPA enforcement actions can be found through a portal on the agency's site, details on Egyptian artifacts can be found through a search of the National Museum of Natural History and details of a Vietnam War casualty may be found by searching the National Archives site.
The trouble, as the search engines see it, is that most Web users have become accustomed to finding information by typing queries into one of the engines -- and if they don't find it there, they give up.
Needham estimates that 1,000 federal government Web sites are inaccessible to search engine "crawlers," the programs that are run to discover what information is available on the Web.
Much of the inaccessibility stems from the fact that so much federal government data, while public, can be accessed only after users fill out an online form. The search engines' crawlers generally can't look into such databases.
For example, Google notes that a user seeking details on an Environmental Protection Agency enforcement action against Anheuser-Busch can't be found by entering a simple search query such as "EPA enforcement Anheuser-Busch." Instead, a person needs to know to go to a particular EPA enforcement Web site and enter "Anheuser-Busch."
To make those databases visible to search engines would require the federal government to make each item into a Web page and then to provide a list of those Web page addresses to the search engines.
Microsoft is working with more than 25 federal agencies to make their Web sites "crawlable" by search engines.
"I do agree with Google," said Molly O'Neill, chief information officer of the EPA, which has more than 200 Web sites. "When people search, they should be able to find the data."
But information technology officials in the federal bureaucracy said that the transition may require significant manpower and that the costs could be large.
"We have been working very closely with Google," said Francisco Camacho of the Web services division of the Smithsonian. "With limited resources as always, it's a little bit hard."
The National Archives expects that its entire database containing descriptions of its holdings will be available to Google by January, said Pamela Wright, a program manager for the National Archives and Records Administration. The EPA has made some sites accessible, too, and the Smithsonian has sent Google the links for 78,000 pages, Camacho said.
Some federal officials have grumbled, however, that Google is making this push purely for financial reasons: The more that is available to search engines, the more people will use search engines, letting Google show advertising to more people.
"The more information is available, the more people are likely to use Google," said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of http://SearchEngineLand.com. "It does help Google in the end."
But Needham said the company's motive in the federal Web site effort isn't the money; it's making sure customers find what they want.
"We don't care because there is monetization value," Needham said. "It's because if we fail to answer a question, then our users are disappointed with us, not their government."
Digg-Like Tool Lets Change.gov Visitors Pick Policy Questions
President-elect Barack Obama's transition team on Wednesday launched a tool on its transition site Change.gov that utilizes the collaborative nature of Web 2.0 tools to bring to attention issues that matter to voters.
Its "Open for Questions" tool allows visitors to submit a question for the transition team and, much like Digg, allows users to vote for other people's questions they find important or vote against questions they don't like. The most popular questions will be regularly answered by the Obama team.
As of Wednesday evening, 159,890 had voted on 1,986 questions from 3,255 people. The most popular question was, "What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?" The second most popular question was, "What will you do as President to restore the Constitutional protections that have been subverted by the Bush Administration and how will you ensure that our system of checks and balances is renewed?"
Obama's advisers had previously indicated that the president-elect would use such a collaborative approach to come up with solutions for problems like regulating the privacy terms for electronic health records.
"That's the kind of thing that shouldn't be decided by one person in the new administration," Obama adviser Reed Hundt (former FCC head - Jack) said in October.
White House Opposes FCC's Free Internet Plan
The Bush administration opposes a Federal Communications Commission plan for free, nationwide wireless Internet access, according to a report Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.
The FCC has been considering auctioning 25 megahertz of spectrum in the 2155MHz to 2180MHz band. As part of the rules for using the spectrum, the FCC plans to require license holders to offer some free wireless broadband service.
The FCC sees the idea, which is based on a proposal submitted to the FCC by M2Z Networks in 2006, as a way to provide broadband Internet service to millions of Americans who either can't afford or don't want to pay for high-speed Internet access.
However, in a letter sent to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Wednesday, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez expressed the administration's opposition to the idea, which could be voted on as early as next week, according to the report.
"The administration believes that the (airwaves) should be auctioned without price or product mandate," Gutierrez wrote, according to the Journal's report. "The history of FCC spectrum auctions has shown that the potential for problems increases in instances where licensing is overly prescriptive or designed around unproven business models."
An FCC representative told the newspaper that it had received Gutierrez's letter and was reviewing it.
"We agree that market forces should help drive competition, but we also believe that providing free basic broadband to consumers is a good thing," the representative told the Journal.
The FCC essentially threw its support behind the idea in October with the release of an engineering report that dismissed concerns about interference for existing providers.
Existing providers like T-Mobile USA, which spent $4.2 billion in 2006 acquiring spectrum in an adjacent band, said that opening up this spectrum would cause interference and disrupt service.
The report, however, concluded that spectrum could be used as planned "without a significant risk of harmful interference."
Investigation Finds "Abuses Of Power" At FCC
After almost a year-long investigation, the U.S. House Commerce Committee has released its report on the FCC and Chairman Kevin Martin, noting "egregious abuses of power" by the Commission. However, the report does not make clear whether Martin and FCC actually broke any laws in recent years.
The report, titled "Deception and Distrust: The Federal Communications Commission Under Chairman Kevin J. Martin," found several examples where Martin "manipulated, withheld or suppressed data, reports and information," especially where regulation of the cable industry was involved.
"Any of these findings, individually, are cause for concern. Together, the findings suggest that, in recent years, the FCC has operated in a dysfunctional manner and Commission business has suffered as a result. It is my hope that the new FCC Chairman will find this report instructive and that it will prove useful in helping the Commission avoid making the same mistakes," stated Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).
"Our investigation confirmed a number of troubling allegations raised by individuals in and outside the FCC," added Bart Stupak (D-MI). "It is my hope that this report will serve as a road map for a fair, open, and efficient FCC under new leadership in the next administration."
The report also takes aim at Martin's management style, which it says has created a culture of fear around the FCC. It says, "Chairman Martin's heavy-handed, opaque, and non-collegial management style has created distrust, suspicion, and turmoil among the five current commissioners,"
FCC spokesman Robert Kenny said that the Commission's review of the report found that it "did not violate any rules, laws or procedures," according to The Washington Post. "Chairman Martin has followed the same procedures that have been followed for the past 20 years by FCC Chairmen, both Democratic and Republican alike."
The entire report can be read (in PDF format) here.
Editorial: FCC Commisioner Wants DRM, ISP Filtering, New Job
Five commissioners head the Federal Communications Commission. Most of its decisions remain arcane and of interest only to specialists, but this year alone, the Commission has taken assertive steps against certain P2P throttling techniques and in favor of white space devices in high-profile cases have a direct impact on your end-user Internet experience. So, when one of the five commissioners gives a speech in which DRM is praised as "very effective," ISP filtering is portrayed as a Great Leap Forward, and a government partnership with the RIAA to "educate" schoolkids is promoted, it matters. Fortunately, however, it won't matter for too much longer.
Deborah Taylor Tate is one of the three Republicans on the Commission, and this week found her at the University of Pennsylvania, talking about intellectual property. As one of the handful of people voting on crucial issues that affect the US telecommunications sector, one would hope to see clear thought, sharp analysis, and a grasp of the relevant facts. Some concern for the "public interest" might not be out of order, as well.
It was therefore disturbing to see that, three paragraphs into her talk, Tate was already trotting out 20-year old industry propaganda points about the $250 billion a year the US loses to "piracy" (broadly construed), even after that particular number was thoroughly debunked by Ars months ago and never had much in the way of evidence behind it.
As Washington Editor Julian Sanchez pointed out in that piece, "These statistics are brandished like a talisman each time Congress is asked to step up enforcement to protect the ever-beleaguered US content industry. And both [including a separate figure on job losses], as far as an extended investigation by Ars Technica has been able to determine, are utterly bogus."
Sadly, the speech goes downhill from here.
FCC <3 filters?
The FCC has little to do with DRM, so Tate's views on its effectiveness hardly matter. She did say that modern DRM schemes were "surprisingly complex," a statement with which we would agree.
What does matter is the Commission's take on network issues like ISP filtering. AT&T has agreed in principle to filter its network for copyrighted content, while NBC Universal has pushed hard for such filtering to happen; these are not merely theoretical issues.
Tate praises the "cooperation of industry players and ISPs" that has "helped stem the flow of piracy, while minimal regulation was needed" (she's referring to universities who have installed various filtering systems to curtail P2P). Such filtering means that the FCC would have to allow some shockingly "non-neutral" behavior, but Tate is fine with that. More than fine, in fact—she says that ISP filtering illustrates "the positive side of network management."
Some people don't get this, Tate says, and keep complaining about the "restriction of lawful uses of the Internet." This is the point at which most political officials would at least nod in the direction of such concerns, but not here. Tate's approach to those who think this way is to suggest an attitude change. Instead of worrying about surveillance, civil rights, or unintended consequences, "The focus should be on how network management can help reduce illegal uses of the Internet," she says, "allowing operators to effectively identify and remove pirated content traveling across their platforms."
That's certainly a concern, but why should it be the focus of the network management debate? Oh, right, because we're losing $250 billion a year to piracy.
What's odd about this entire filtering argument is that Tate at one point even admits it wouldn't work. Encrypt your traffic and the contents are hidden. There are limited workarounds that depend upon the protocol in use, but realtime content analysis or watermark detection on a broad scale is simply not going to happen at ISP-level wireline speeds when the traffic is encrypted.
Tate recognizes that "encrypting the file" blocks most content analysis schemes, but she argues that "other methods, including digital fingerprinting, will ultimately find the material." Digital fingerprinting can identify clips even after they have been through multiple transformations, cropping, compression, and color shifting, but it doesn't have anything to identify so long as traffic remains encrypted.
Such leaps in logic mar the speech in numerous places, though perhaps this is simply a crafty way for Tate to prove her underlying point: the market always knows better than the regulators.
The counterpoint to this might be: it's time for some better regulators.
Remember that bit above where Tate talks about "minimal regulation"? This is important to her whole approach, since government involvement in markets is not ideal. Tate describes herself as a "humble regulator" who wants to "let the market work as much as possible." When a problem arises, we should "facilitate a market solution, rather than governmental intervention." One can't help but think of a certain president who promised a "humble foreign policy" of his own before delivering something quite different, and the same seems to be true of Tate's promise.
Regulation and legislation fit her definition of "humble" so long as they serve the interests of content owners, as though the FCC as an agency is charged with overseeing corporate welfare alone and not setting ground rules for the confusing tangle of interests in US business, academic, and private life.
This is why Tate can rail against regulation but immediately praise the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which forces all US colleges and universities that take federal funds (some holdouts like Hillsdale do not) to educate students about copyright and to make plans for legal alternatives to filesharing.
Her next section talks up the FCC E-rate program that helps schools pay for Internet access; it's a $2 billion a year federal program and Tate wants to make sure that, in the future, any school that takes the money needs to ensure "that they are using this access only for legal purposes." In this case, that means education against piracy, and Tate praises a government partnership "with parties such as RIAA and IKeepSafe to ensure that these tools are put into place."
You don't have to fly the Jolly Roger to detect the whiff of hardcore ideology here; regulation that I like is "humble" and necessary and minimal; regulation that I don't like is a huge government intrusion into people's lives.
Thus, the whole Comcast/P2P debacle is redefined as a triumph of market forces, not as a prudent regulatory intervention. In Tate's version of the story, Comcast and BitTorrent (the company) "came to a solution of how to manage Comcast's network without harming BitTorrent users, and both were better off for it."
Without the FCC having tackled that case in the first place, of course, none of this was likely to happen, and the rapprochement with BitTorrent came only as Comcast tried to head off FCC action. And the particular deal with BitTorrent actually had little to do with the final FCC outcome, anyway. While the FCC did avoid "regulating" network neutrality, it certainly didn't stay on the sidelines or out of the market.
And "markets" are complicated; remember that one issue in the Comcast case was that video distributor Vuze was having its legal product affected by the Comcast throttling, while non-P2P-using video companies were not. Standing up unequivocally for one industry's wants has ramifications for other industries, not to mention the huge pieces of American life and leisure that have little to do with "industry" at all.
Goodbye to all that
Tate won't be around for much longer at the FCC. Frankly, given statements like "digital fingerprinting and watermarking would not be possible if net neutrality is enforced in its harshest form," that looks to be a good thing.
On a regular basis, the FCC deals with complex issues that have widespread ramifications for the entire US Internet-using populace. Having commissioners who feel that the government has a duty to partner with and back educational classroom content from the RIAA; who really believe that ISP filtering is so unproblematic we can stop considering objections; and who think that universities worry about file-swapping because tuition might be raised to pay for the needed "expansion of storage capabilities" (huh?) isn't good for the FCC and isn't good for America.
On the other hand, it might be good for Tate; no doubt plenty of rightsholder-backed lobby groups would love to have a former FCC commish on the board, and Tate's speech could hardly be better pitched as a job application.
Tilting at Windmills
Like it or not, everyone has a stake in the DRM and net neutrality battles. Some also have reality on their side.
Last night, I read a very interesting editorial by Nate Anderson over at Ars Technica. The focus was a recent speech by Deborah Taylor Tate, one of the five FCC commissioners. In this speech, Tate praises DRM and argues in favor of draconian ISP network filtering to fight the scourge of digital piracy.
Reading the transcript of the speech, it's obvious that Tate's views on DRM, piracy, and network neutrality are at odds with reality, and firmly in the court of the RIAA and MPAA. That's fine -- opinions are just opinions, after all, even if hers can directly influence policy and legal concerns regarding these matters. But we'd be remiss if we didn't point out what's really happening in the world and on the Internet, since it's clear that so many politicians and their appointees have a highly skewed sense of which way the wind is blowing.
Let's start with DRM. Tate doesn't really have a dog in the DRM fight, and it's relatively curious that she mentioned it at all, but her remarks on ISP-level filtering for copyrighted content does brush shoulders with DRM.
So let's just get this straight: DRM has already failed.
The only winners in the world of DRM are the companies that have been paid large sums of money to develop highly complex, invasive, and ultimately useless DRM and copy protection schemes. Consumers lose this battle constantly when legally purchased games won't play on their PC because they have the temerity to have two CD-ROM drives, have Daemon Tools installed, or the moon isn't in the second house (warning: extremely salty language, probably not safe for work). They lose when their legally purchased music won't play on any device because the service offering the locked media is shut down, or when they try to open a legally obtained application in a location where there isn't any network access, only to be told that they can't use it because the authorization servers cannot be contacted. Examples like these occur constantly, all across the globe. The only group that isn't negatively impacted by DRM is the pirates themselves. It's more or less trivial to circumvent any DRM or copy protection scheme, and the fact that fully functional cracks exist for just about every piece of software ever released bears that out. Thus, normal users that have paid for their software, game, music, or movie run into walls when simply trying to use their purchases while the pirates skate right on by with a knife in their teeth and a parrot on their shoulder. It's not just a case of arresting a crowd to find the criminal, it's a case of arresting a crowd and missing the criminal -- every single time.
If that's not bad enough, the RIAA just sued a terminally ill teenager.
As far as net neutrality goes, Tate's comments on ISP filters are equally hard to swallow. If every ISP suddenly had the capabilities in place to drop packets containing illegal copyrighted material, it wouldn't impact the scene at all. Unless distributed access frameworks like Tor, encryption, Internet access in countries other than the United States, and everyday functions like encrypting a data stream become prosecutable felonies, then filtering of this type at the ISP level is completely useless except as a method of paving the way toward a tiered Internet. It might seem that some on the other side of this particular fence would be overjoyed if encryption were illegal -- a stance that is equal parts ridiculous and horrifying.
Make no mistake -- piracy is illegal, and should be. Content providers, authors, musicians, actors, and the like should be paid for their work, and downloading pirated copies of games, music, and movies is wrong. It's also very, very, simple.
Generally speaking, downloading a DRM-free movie on BitTorrent is faster than any legal service. It's also easier to do, and the movie will be playable on just about any device you care to use. This is why piracy is so prevalent, not the concept of getting something for nothing. In fact, using shady sources for games, applications, music, and videos is fraught with danger -- you never know what code might be hidden in a pirated copy of a game, for instance. Most people would much prefer to pay a fee and be free of these worries. Of course, some DRM schemes have also been known to install rootkits on your PC.
The solution would seem to be obvious: If you can't beat them, join them. I'd love to see an MPAA-approved BitTorrent tracker that charged a $20 monthly subscription for access to high-quality DRM-free movie torrents. Same goes for music and other entertainment content. Amazon's been selling DRM-free MP3s for quite some time now, as have some other vendors -- take that model and expand it. The current plan of trying to stay dry by attempting to block each individual raindrop at the source just isn't viable and never has been.
Leave the ISPs out of it -- it's not their job to protect a failing business model, and a movement toward a tiered and filtered Internet will do nothing to stem the tide of piracy, but will result in great restrictions on innovation, freedoms, and the general use of the Internet. There's nothing to be gained down that path other than possibly to expand the wallets of a few companies -- the same companies that apparently believe that Google is a bandwidth hog. The assertions in the original report are so ridiculous as to be first taken as a joke or parody, but unfortunately, they're serious.
These divisions are probably normal in the sense that they mark this as a time where available technology has far outstripped the law and the facilities of entrenched businesses and archaic business models. However, for the tech-savvy person to ignore these salvos and trust that the status quo will remain is equally dangerous.
Adapt or die, indeed. That goes for both sides.
Pirate Parties are “A Classic Civil Rights Movement”
PiratPartiet, the Swedish Pirate Party, has started its march on Brussels with a bang. The party hopes to make a strong showing in June at the European Parliament elections, and has been bolstered in its aims by comments in major Swedish newspapers, which have termed the party “a classic civil rights movement.”
It was almost three years ago that the first Pirate Party was formed in Sweden. Its aim is to deal with over-reaching copyright law, and this is exactly what the Pirate Party stands for in most people’s minds. But there is more.
In recent times, the Pirate Party has been more concerned with government actions that affect ordinary citizens. The wiretapping law (FRA) for example, as well as the likes of IPRED, which will give companies chasing an alleged copyright infringer more powers than the police. Worrying for anyone that has followed our stories on Davenport Lyons in the UK. “If IPRED becomes law, then drug dealers will have greater rights and protection than file-sharers,” wrote one news site.
On Monday, the PiratPartiet released their list of candidates for the EU parliamentary election taking place in June. Heading the list is party vice-chairman Christian Engstrom, but the other 19 candidates cover a wide age-range and are of roughly equal gender. This is not a party dominated by geeky teenage boys, but one that’s growing quickly; the Swedish Pirate Party now has only a few hundred members less than the Green Party.
Other countries aren’t so lucky. Spain, Poland and France, are among those with parties that hope to run in the election, but are having difficulty getting supporters. “It’s a sad state of affairs globally,” says Andrew Norton, the coordinator of Pirate Party International. “Most countries have lots of people that just can’t be bothered. They will post on forums to express their anger, but not do anything worthwhile about it.”
However, in Sweden - the home of The Pirate Bay - things are getting better. In the prominent Swedish newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet, the headline reads “IPRED Favours the Pirate Party.” It goes on to comment on how directives like IPRED are driving people to the Pirate Party in Sweden, people who are concerned over both IPRED and FRA laws.
In their first election The Swedish Pirate Party gathered some 35,000 votes – roughly comparable to a leading 3rd party candidate in a US presidential election, percentage-wise. But, with the heavy public focus on these hot-topic issues, it’s entirely possible they’ll reach 100,000 – the number required in the last EU election in Sweden to get a seat.
The newspaper closed with a comment from political scientist and election researcher Henrik Oscarsson, who identified the Pirate Party as “a classic civil rights movement”. We have to wonder, does this make Brokep and Co. at the Pirate Bay, the digital Rosa Parks?
Science of Santa: How Santa Delivers All His Presents in One Night
Don’t believe in Santa Claus? Cutting-edge science explains how Santa is able to deliver toys to good girls and boys around the world in one night.
If you’re skeptical of Santa’s abilities to deliver presents to millions of homes and children in just one night, North Carolina State University’s Dr. Larry Silverberg, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, can explain the science and engineering principles that allow the Jolly Old Elf to pull off the magical feat year after year.
With his cherubic smile and twinkling eyes, Santa may appear to be merely a jolly old soul, but he and his North Pole elves have a lot going on under the funny-looking hats, Silverberg says. Their advanced knowledge of electromagnetic waves, the space/time continuum, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and computer science easily trumps the know-how of contemporary scientists.
Silverberg says that Santa has a personal pipeline to children’s thoughts – via a listening antenna that combines technologies currently used in cell phones and EKGs – which informs him that Mary in Miami hopes for a surfboard, while Michael from Minneapolis wants a snowboard. A sophisticated signal processing system filters the data, giving Santa clues on who wants what, where children live, and even who’s been bad or good. Later, all this information will be processed in an onboard sleigh guidance system, which will provide Santa with the most efficient delivery route.
Silverberg adds that letters to Santa via snail mail still get the job done, however.
Silverberg is not so naïve as to think that Santa and his reindeer can travel approximately 200 million square miles – making stops in some 80 million homes – in one night. Instead, he posits that Santa uses his knowledge of the space/time continuum to form what Silverberg calls “relativity clouds.”
“Based on his advanced knowledge of the theory of relativity, Santa recognizes that time can be stretched like a rubber band, space can be squeezed like an orange and light can be bent,” Silverberg says. “Relativity clouds are controllable domains – rips in time – that allow him months to deliver presents while only a few minutes pass on Earth. The presents are truly delivered in a wink of an eye.”
With a detailed route prepared and his list checked twice through the onboard computer on the technologically advanced sleigh, Santa is ready to deliver presents. His reindeer – genetically bred to fly, balance on rooftops and see well in the dark – don’t actually pull a sleigh loaded down with toys. Instead, each house becomes Santa’s workshop as he utilizes a nano-toymaker to fabricate toys inside the children’s homes. The presents are grown on the spot, as the nano-toymaker creates – atom by atom – toys out of snow and soot, much like DNA can command the growth of organic material like tissues and body parts.
And there’s really no need for Santa to enter the house via chimney, although Silverberg says he enjoys doing that every so often. Rather, the same relativity cloud that allows Santa to deliver presents in what seems like a wink of an eye is also used to “morph” Santa into people’s homes.
Finally, many people wonder how Santa and the reindeer can eat all the food left out for them. Silverberg says they take just a nibble at each house. The remainder is either left in the house or placed in the sleigh’s built-in food dehydrator, where it is preserved for future consumption. It takes a long time to deliver all those presents, after all.
“This is our vision of Santa’s delivery method, given the human, physical and engineering constraints we face today,” Silverberg says. “Children shouldn’t put too much credence in the opinions of those who say it’s not possible to deliver presents all over the world in one night. It is possible, and it’s based on plausible science.”
Computer Scientists Find Audio CAPTCHAs Easy to Crack
The Carnegie-Mellon University team behind the reCAPTCHA service is continuing to expand its effort to mix basic security and useful work. CAPTCHAs are the distorted text that helps various online services ensure that the entity opening an account is a human, not a bot bent on using the service to dish out spam. The reCAPTCHA service puts the mental horsepower need to interpret these images to good use, harnessing it to identify text in scanned books where OCR software has failed. Now, the team has turned its attention to the audio CAPTCHAs used by the visually impaired.
Audio CAPTCHAs consist of a string of spoken characters, typically masked and distorted by a form of background noise. To start with, the researchers looked into the security of existing audio CAPTCHAs used by Google and Digg. In a paper that will be presented later this week at the Neural Information Processing Systems Conference, the authors demonstrate that these are relatively easy to crack.
The work involved gathering 1,000 audio CAPTCHAs from Google, Digg, and the reCAPTCHA service. 900 of these were used as a training set and the remaining 100 were set aside to test the system when done. The software first did a rough audio analysis, dividing each item into equal-sized chunks, each sufficiently long to fit any spoken character. Those segments with the highest energy peaks, which are considered most likely to contain actual letters, were set aside for analysis.
The authors tested a number of methods used to extract features from recordings of speech (for the curious, these are mel-frequency cepstral coefficients and two forms each of perceptual linear prediction and relative spectral transform-PLP). These features were then subjected to analysis using machine learning programs, which were trained on the identification of individual characters. Three methods—AdaBoost, support vector machines (SVM), and k-nearest neighbor (k-NN)—were trained using the 900 audio CAPTCHAs that had been processed manually. The result of this pairing of processing and analysis methods was a total of 15 different attempts at cracking each of the 100 test audio CAPTCHAs.
Google's audio CAPTCHAs consist of a series of the digits 0 through 9 recited over background noise of speech played backwards. That was nowhere close to enough to consistently fool the researchers' software; the SVM technique got the CAPTCHA right about two-thirds of the time, and AdaBoost wasn't far behind (k-NN performed badly in this test). Digg uses both digits and letters, but plays them over a less complex background that sounds like flowing water. AdaBoost failed this test entirely, but SVM was able to clear 70 percent accuracy with several of the processing techniques; k-NN trailed it by a significant margin.
reCAPTCHA's own audio version was similar to Google's but used different speakers for different digits. This proved to be a significant barrier to the learning algorithms, which, at best, got it right a bit less than half the time (again, SVM was the star). As the authors point out, however, getting it right half the time would be more than worth the effort for spammers that may have hundreds or thousands of computers at their disposal. Some sites also allow the answer to be off by one digit, which would significantly increase the success rate.
Based on their results, the authors conclude that more of just about everything is better: more speakers, more characters, more distortion, and longer strings of tokens all seem to make a difference. As a result, they have expanded their own service to include all numbers from 0 to 99.
But the CMU team is not losing the vision of community betterment that drove the development of its text reCAPTCHA system in the first place. Team members are now working on the audio equivalent, using it to harness user brainpower to transcribe fragments of historic recordings that stump automated systems. If all goes well, the visually impaired users of audio CAPTCHAs will soon help to provide transcripts of classic radio programs.
Windows XP: The OS That Won't Quit
Phasing out an old operating system is nothing new for Microsoft, but Windows XP is unique in that it may be too good to die.
This week, Dell announced it will offer systems with the aging Windows XP for a surcharge of US$150 over the newer Windows Vista--this only five months after it stopped offering XP on its Inspiron consumer desktop and laptop PCs.
The deadline for Windows XP downgrades has been pushed back twice now, remaining in effect until July 31, 2009-a strong indication that enough users want to stay with the aging XP rather than give Vista a chance.
Though market share for Windows XP dropped nearly 10 percent in 2008 as Vista slowly made gains, XP still has a market share of 66 percent, according to Web metrics company Net Applications.
XP downgrade fees from Dell and other OEMs will no doubt continue to irk customers in 2009, while businesses that want to stay with Windows XP will do the downgrades themselves. Industry analysts agree that Microsoft's downgrade fees are a minor problem compared to the bigger problem of so many users still wanting an older, now discontinued OS on hardware that it wasn't designed for.
Don't Penalize XP, Incentivize Vista
Industry analyst Rob Enderle, president of tech consulting firm the Enderle Group, says the XP downgrade fees will ultimately be counter-productive and possibly disastrous for Microsoft because they trade off short-term revenue for long-term customer loyalty.
"The fix for this should be to focus like lasers on demand generation for Vista but instead Microsoft is focusing aggressively on financial penalties," Enderle says. "Forcing customers to go someplace they don't want to go by raising prices is a Christmas present for Apple and those that are positioning Linux on the desktop."
As the economic recession deepens in 2009, the price of laptops and desktops, as with all retail items, will be closely watched by consumers and businesses. A recent IDC report predicts that the price of PCs will drop by close to 10 percent in 2009.
Enderle said the XP downgrade charge and the resulting pressure to move to Vista will put a magnifying glass on Microsoft in the coming year. "Instead of charging a penalty for XP, Microsoft should provide incentives for Vista," he says. "They are too focused on margins for one product and are forgetting the damage they are doing to their brand."
Worse than the downgrade fees is taking away a buyer's freedom of choice, says Roger Kay, president of consulting and research firm Endpoint Technologies. "People never like being 'forced' to do anything. They tend to resent it," he says.
Is Windows 7 the Solution?
Vista's successor, Windows 7, has been regarded as a solution to the Vista stigma, although whether or not users choosing XP over Vista is enough to move up the Windows 7 ship is still anyone's guess. Enderle predicts that Microsoft will change its estimated Windows 7 ship date of January 2010 and drop it sometime next year.
"Windows 7 is designed to fix this problem [the Vista stigma], but it will need stronger demand generation marketing than Microsoft has yet proven it can provide," Enderle says.
Kay, on the other hand, is not convinced that customer reliance on XP and the shunning of Vista affects Microsoft's OS release schedule. "Sinofsky [Windows senior VP Steven Sinofsky] is pretty clear about how his process works. Windows 7 code won't ship until it's ready."
Charging users for Windows XP downgrades may be Microsoft's short-term solution to drive users to Vista and Windows 7, but what else should the software giant do to get its customers to move forward?
Enderle says it's mostly a matter of better marketing. "They have to step up to Apple-level demand generation marketing and work to remove the stigma from Vista more aggressively," he says. "They had an interesting start earlier this year with the Mojave project but it seems to have tailed off of late and Apple continues to out execute them sharply."
As Windows XP fees add up and the OS continues to get pulled from OEMs, the desire to keep using the OS will likely wane in 2009. But that the desire is there at all should be disconcerting for Microsoft, says Enderle.
"Were this Apple, you wouldn't have the option to use an old OS at all. Granted you probably wouldn't want to, which speaks to the problem here."
With HP in, all OEMs Now Ship Desktop Linux
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
I have known for more years than I care to think about that HP has been almost ready to release a pre-configured Linux desktop system. But, then, they wouldn't pull the trigger.
Now, they have. At long, long, one more time with feeling, last, HP is shipping Novell's SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 10 SP2 on a business desktop: the HP Compaq dc5850
The problem was HP was a house divided when it came to shipping a Linux desktop. A lot of HP, mostly on the engineering side, wanted to do it. A lot of other HP staffers, mostly management, wanted nothing do with it.
It's not that HP didn't get that their customers wanted Linux. They already knew that. HP had actually been shipping Linux on servers for ages. Next to IBM, when it comes to servers, HP is the most significant supporter Linux has. I mean, besides supporting the big names of Linux, like Red Hat and Novell SUSE, HP actually supports more obscure Linux distributions such as Asianux, Mandriva, and even the ultimate community Linux distribution: Debian.
But, when it came to the desktop, HP always got cold feet.
Oh, you could order Linux on a desktop, like the HP/Compaq nc6120 business notebook. And, if you wanted computers by the semi-trailer load, HP would install whatever you wanted on them. But, if you wanted 'ready-to-wear' desktop Linux you were out of luck.
Recently, however, the pro-Linux desktop forces started winning. First, HP released the HP 2133 Mini-Note with SLED. Now, starting on December 15th, you'll be able a full desktop system preloaded with SLED and ready to go starting at $519.
With this move, HP finally followed Dell, which was the first major OEM to make desktop Linux available as a pre-load, Lenovo and Asus into the desktop Linux revolution. In fact, with HP coming aboard, the first stage of the Linux rebellion is done.
Today, for the first time ever, all the major PC vendors are shipping at least one system with pre-loaded desktop Linux. It's a big day for desktop Linux users, maybe the biggest day ever.
Small is Beautiful
Computing: Netbooks are small computers that are cheaper and lighter than full-scale laptops. They have their merits—but do not ask too much of them
STEVE JOBS says Apple does not know how to make a $500 computer “that’s not a piece of junk”. Yet this article was written on a small computer that costs less than that—and barely a quarter of the price of the Apple iMac that sits on the desk beside it. Small, cheap mini-notebooks like this, or “netbooks” as they have come to be called, are not as fast or as capable as a big computer like an iMac, and in performance terms they trail behind most laptops. But they are certainly not junk, and for some people they may be the best computers money can buy.
Netbooks are a hot-selling consumer product. The first to appear on the market, a year or so ago, were aimed at children. But now they are proving popular not just with families and first-time computer buyers but also with power users who want something small, lightweight and cheap.
They typically have screens measuring seven to ten inches diagonally. They have built-in wireless networking, but lack an optical drive for CDs or DVDs. Some use flash memory for storage instead of a hard disk, which makes them more robust and extends battery life. Netbooks generally cost less than $500. IDC, a market-research firm, reckons worldwide sales of netbooks will reach 10.8m in 2008 and more than 20m in 2009, during which they will represent 11-12% of the entire laptop market.
Keep it simple
Most current models, including Samsung’s NC10, much of the Asus Eee range, the MSI Wind and the Acer Aspire One, use Intel’s Atom as their central processor. This is the chipmaker’s smallest processor, designed specifically for low-cost and portable devices, not for intensive number-crunching. But because a lot of things that people do with computers, such as e-mail, writing and web browsing, do not require fancy graphics or lots of processing power, netbooks can still be extremely useful.
The number of netbooks available is growing as more producers pile into the market (but not Apple—at least, not yet). But if you are buying one, avoid the temptation to get the slickest, most powerful machine available. Much advice on offer online suggests souping up the specification of a netbook so it can run Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system, rather than the free, open-source Linux system that is offered as standard on many netbooks.
Yet increasing the specification only makes sense for people who want to run (and to pay for) Windows and specific Windows-based applications. The extra hardware and software costs start to push the price of a netbook towards that of a standard laptop, which will invariably be better because it has a bigger processor and superior graphics. For many users, the basic, free software shipped with a netbook will be quite enough.
The most basic model of the Acer Aspire One can be found for £179 in Britain and around $300 in America. It simply switches on and runs with the minimum of fuss. It has 8 gigabytes (GB) of flash storage and 512 megabytes of RAM, which is a bit puny. But that is perfectly adequate to run the customised version of Linux that comes pre-installed on it, along with a suite of software, including Open Office. With no hard drive, and a switch to turn off the wireless connection (not the fastest in the world), power can be conserved. So a bigger, bulkier battery may not be necessary either, unless you want to use the computer untethered for long periods. Because it boots up in a few seconds, rather than thinking of the Acer as a mini laptop it might make more sense to view it as a beefed-up personal digital assistant, such as an old PalmPilot or Psion, but with a better screen and a proper keyboard.
But what about the lack of storage? Again, the way the machine can be used addresses this problem. First, netbooks are designed to be used with the net, which is where an increasing number of people now store a lot of their stuff, such as e-mail, videos and photos, and where people do other work with online applications. Second, with three USB ports it can always be plugged into devices, such as a portable hard drive, to store things locally. Storage space can also be boosted by plugging a small SD-card flash memory (16GB versions are now widely available) into one of two ports, one of which is designated to act as semi-permanent storage.
As for the software, Open Office was surprisingly easy to use—a doddle for anyone who has used Microsoft Office. Moreover, the ability to save work in different formats presented no compatibility problems when sending files to a Windows-based machine. Photo software and other applications were simple to use too. The machine is not up to much for playing games, but then a dedicated games console beats most computers when it comes to games anyway.
The Acer has a built-in webcam, which makes it ideal for video-calling services such as Skype. Admittedly, installing third-party software can be a bit of a fiddle, and some of the advice available online threatens to lure users into the tangled depths of the Linux undergrowth, where few people will want to venture. But as netbooks become more prevalent, such difficulties are likely to ease.
The upshot is that netbooks are great as cheap, simple and small computers for performing basic tasks—especially if the pre-installed software does what you want it to. They will never satisfy power users who want to edit video and play elaborate games, but they are not meant to. Provided they do not expect too much, most users will be delighted with them.
Linux - Stop Holding Our Kids Back
This blog is momentarily interrupted to bring you a snippet of recently received email.
"...observed one of my students with a group of other children gathered around his laptop. Upon looking at his computer, I saw he was giving a demonstration of some sort. The student was showing the ability of the laptop and handing out Linux disks. After confiscating the disks I called a confrence with the student and that is how I came to discover you and your organization. Mr. Starks, I am sure you strongly believe in what you are doing but I cannot either support your efforts or allow them to happen in my classroom. At this point, I am not sure what you are doing is legal. No software is free and spreading that misconception is harmful. These children look up to adults for guidance and discipline. I will research this as time allows and I want to assure you, if you are doing anything illegal, I will pursue charges as the law allows. Mr. Starks, I along with many others tried Linux during college and I assure you, the claims you make are grossly over-stated and hinge on falsehoods. I admire your attempts in getting computers in the hands of disadvantaged people but putting linux on these machines is holding our kids back.
This is a world where Windows runs on virtually every computer and putting on a carnival show for an operating system is not helping these children at all. I am sure if you contacted Microsoft, they would be more than happy to supply you with copies of an older verison of Windows and that way, your computers would actually be of service to those receiving them..."
xxxxxxxxx Middle School
I suppose I should, before anything else, thank you. You have given me the opportunity to show others just what a battle we face in what we do. "We" being those who advocate, support and use Free Open Source Software and Linux in particular.
If you find my following words terse or less than cordial, take a breath and prepare yourself...what I have to say to you are soft strokes to your hair in comparison to what you are about to experience.
First off, if there was even the slightest chance that I was doing something illegal, it would not have been done. To think that I would involve my kids in my "illegal" activities is an insult far beyond outrage. You should be ashamed of yourself for putting into print such none sense.
And please...investigate to your heart's content. You are about to have your eyes opened, that is if you actually investigate anything at all. Linux is a free as-in-cost and free as-in-license operating system. It was designed specifically for those purposes. Linux is used to free people from Microsoft. The fact that you seem to believe that Microsoft is the end all and be-all is actually funny in a sad sort of way. Then again, being a good NEA member, you would spout the Union line. Microsoft has pumped tens of millions of dollars into your union. Of course you are going to "recommend" Microsoft Windows". To do otherwise would probably get you reprimanded at the least and fired at the worst. You are only doing what you've been instructed to do.
You've been trained well.
I don't know when you attended college Karen but the Linux of even two years ago pales in feature and ability to what there is available now...and that in turn will pale in a year's time. linux is superior to MS windows in so many ways, they are too numerous to mention here...I am weary of enumerating them. Unlike Microsoft who meters their "improvements" and then shovels them to you every five years or so for purchase; Linux releases their improvements upon their completion. We receive the newest and the best of the system when it is tested to be usable and stable. Karen, you have no idea the slavery you work under...but you don't know any better. The shame of it is, you are trapped with millions of other teachers in obeying the NEA and preaching the goodness of Windows and Microsoft. A superior, free and absolutely entertaining method of operating your computer is within reach and you are unable to grasp it.
The most disturbing part of this resides in the fact that the AISD purchases millions of dollars of Microsoft Software in a year's time when that money could be better spent on educating our children. A dedicated School Teacher would recognize that fact and lobby for the change to Free Open Source Software and let the money formally spent on MS bindware be used on our kids.
A teacher who cared about her students would do that.
That is sad past my ability to express it to you. Don't shackle your students in your prison Karen.
Now. You give that boy his disks back. Aaron is a brilliant kid and he's learned more using Linux than he ever did using Windows. Those disks and their distribution are perfectly legal and even if he was "disruptive", you cannot keep his property. I have placed a call to the AISD Superintendent and cc'd him a complete copy of your email. It looks like we will get to meet in his office when School starts again after the holiday. I am anxious to meet a person who is this uninformed and still holds a position of authority and learnedness over our children.
It never was my intention to attack anyone personally....
My sights were set on correcting some obvious misconceptions. It was a focused attack on ignorance but with some unsolicited commentary on a particular group.
Whether by proxy or focused intent, it appears that is what has happened, however.
A particular teacher within the Austin Independent School District now sucks.
The consensus began building about 24 hours ago when I published a blog strongly chastising a teacher who emailed me. She made, what I considered to be, some amazingly ignorant statements, statements that I felt attacked the very core reason for my existence. It made me much angrier than it should have.
I'm human, so sue me.
No wait, scratch that last line...don't sue me. It is being discussed.
Her tone didn't help her case much. She insinuated that I may had done something illegal. We build/refurbish computers for kids who are financially disadvantaged. We also build and present computers to kids of high achievement. To even hint that I am involved in anything that approaches breaking the law is not only silly, it evokes emotion better left un-evoked. I've worked for years to bring the level of success, however limited, we have now. The last thing I need is to lose it all for something silly.
So instead of crafting a measured, count-for-count personal response, I chose to share her obvious ignorance with members of the Linux Community. It was meant to illustrate the maddening ignorance and bias a Linux Advocate faces in a Microsoft Windows world. It was also meant to digitally spank the hand of the offender. It was a good direction to go I thought.
Things pretty much turned to fecal flakes from there.
Look, I write this little back-water blog to document what we do at the HeliOS Project and to advocate Linux in general. One of our main focuses is to see to it that Linux begins gaining a foothold in the computing public's awareness. And no, my goal isn't to convince you to switch to Linux.
That's my desire.
My goal is to make you aware that you have a choice in how you operate your computers. And yes, a bias exists on the Linux side of the ledger.
Ya think? People don't realize they are prisoners in their own computers when they use Microsoft Windows. If they ever read the EULA, they'd understand quickly.
So boasting a stunning readership in the dozens, I go about my business writing about things that happen in our day to day operations. Every now and then, something or someone does or says something that I believe needs attention.
Well, we got attention. When I published a part of the email this Teacher sent me, it experienced something known as "The Slashdot Effect." Slashdot is a website devoted to the tech/internet world and is read by hundreds of thousands an hour.
Yeah...hundreds of thousands an hour. My article scolding this teacher ended up on the front page of Slashdot.
For whatever reason, this story took on a life of its own. By 10:30 AM, I had to turn my cell phone off. Poeple were getting my number from my business website and calling me with their comments and reactions.
Not all of them were particularly on my side.
I received calls from South Africa, The Netherlands, Croatia, The Land Down Under and Russia.
It's the one from New Zealand that bothered me the most.
The caller identified himself and then further identified himself as an editor for a well known magazine published in the UK. He was extremely to-the-point with his call.
He would donate $1000.00 immediately to The HeliOS Project if I would give him the name of the Teacher I blogged about.
I hung up the phone.
"This is madness." I thought to myself. What is the big friggin' deal here? This is a non-story.
And my phone buzzed again but it wasn't with the incoming call ring...it was a text message being received. I cued the caller ID and it returned as "unavailable".
I pushed "read message" and waited for the text to appear on my screen.
"Can I call you?"
I pulled the truck over into a parking lot and answered:
"I guess. Who r u?"
The inactivity was so long that I started the truck and began to put it into gear and re-enter traffic when the buzz came again. I pushed the read button.
It was my turn to hesitate. Finally, I toggled Reply and typed in one character.
She didn't call right away. It took her about 15 minutes to finally call me. When she did she didn't say anything for the first 15 seconds. When she finally did speak, it was obvious she was crying.
"Why did you throw me to the wolves like that?"
I didn't even have to think of the reply.
"I didn't throw you to the wolves Karen, I threw ignorance to the wolves. Let me ask you something. If I had not emailed you a link to my blog, would you have even known about this?"
Again she hesitated. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that if you didn't know I had written that blog, would you have known about all these comments? Has anyone called you or bothered you about this? Have your co-workers mentioned it?"
"Then the wolves didn't touch you Karen. If I had included your last name or email address, then yes, you could ask me that question but as it stands, you are just a nameless school teacher that evoked a public response from me."
She didn't say anything for several seconds. When she did, it was a quiet and simple:
Yeah...thank you. Like I deserve that. Let me share a couple things with you here. First off, I want to sincerely apologize for some things I did say, things that were way off base and even if they were situationally true, they didn't add anything of value to the conversation.
I want to apologize to all the hard-working and honest NEA members. My statements were based on an isolated but nasty experience two years ago, and, while I developed a nasty dislike for the people in that situation, it was both unfair and short-sighted to say the things I did. The teachers that we entrust our kids with on a daily basis do us a service that is under-appreciated, under-paid and over-criticized. My mini tirade didn't add anything of value to the situation and only served to inflame an already volatile area of debate. You have my sincere apology for slapping you all with such a wide brush.
Karen isn't alone in her ignorance. I have sat in a PhD's office...a PhD that happened to be a principal of a school. She told me that according to her "tech staff", it was illegal to remove Microsoft Windows from their school computers. So who is ignorant here? The "tech staffer" afraid of losing his MCSE position or the Dr. of Education that didn't bother to check into such a statement. Ignorance isn't the sole possession of this particular school teacher.
Karen and I have talked on the phone now for a couple of hours, here and there. We've come to understand each other more and had she said some of the things in her email that she said during our phone conversations...this black ink on white digital paper probably wouldn't exist.
And neither would over 2000 comments that were less than kind on one end of it and absolutely brutal on the other.
The student did get his Linux disks back after the class. The lad was being disruptive, but that wasn't mentioned. Neither was the obvious fact that when she saw a gaggle of giggling 8th grade boys gathered around a laptop, the last thing she expected to see on that screen was a spinning cube.
She didn't know what was on those disks he was handing out. It could have been porn, viral .exe's...any number of things for all she knew. When she heard that an adult had given him some of the disks to hand out, her spidey-senses started tingling. Coupled with the fact that she truly was ignorant of honest-to-goodness Free Software, and you have some fairly impressive conclusion-jumping.
In a couple of ways, I am guilty of it too.
Karen seems to be a good teacher, and as she stated to me today, she has learned more about the tech world in a few days than she's learned in five years.
That's because she's trapped in a world of Windows. Most people are.
I have contacted the technology department of AISD and have discovered it has a rich technology environment that uses open source software in all aspects of instruction, operation, and administration. The District has over 36,000 desktop and laptop computers. While about 24,000 of those computers run some version of Windows, AISD is anything but a Windows shop. Their current standard teacher/student image includes both Open Office and Firefox on all Windows computers, and recently has added Open Office to the Apple OS image. Other open source software on both images include audacity and lame, and other free software such as Google Earth, iTunes, Adobe and many plug-ins. They also are members of the world community grid; their 36,000 computers are providing many hours of spare processing time (during the work day) to organizations trying to solve major world problems such as energy, cancer, and AIDS. Additionally, they are running more than 100 Linux servers. Other Open Source and Free Software AISD uses include:
apache for web servers
samba for file sharing
nagios for server monitoring
mySQL and postgreSQL for some databases
sendmail for email services
ISC DHCP and bind for DHCP services
moodle for course management
tomcat and jboss for web based applications
perl and php to build in-house applications
As an Austin citizen I am proud to see that AISD is a solid supporter of the open source community and is not blindly following a Microsoft centric architecture. In fact because they are reasonably agnostic they make an overt attempt to find applications that are multi-platform and save money. Also, it is not unreasonable that an organization with approximately 6,000 teachers representing a cross section of America with many different teaching specialties, that there will be some individuals that are not totally aware of current technology trends.
Now to the meat of the matter. Many, many of you have pushed for the identification of this teacher.
I cannot or will not relinquish that. Read the comments from slashdot alone or the hundreds on my blog to understand why!
There isn't any amount of money I will accept to throw a human being into that cement mixer.
The fact that I did it to a profession is bad enough.
All Righty Then
Michigan State to Student: Political E-Mail is Spam
Most schools encourage students to become active in campus politics. Not Michigan State University, which has filed disciplinary charges against a student leader who sent e-mail criticizing an abbreviated fall semester.
Kara Spencer's encounter with MSU's disciplinary apparatus started in September, when the student government member began discussing the shortened fall 2009 schedule with a small group of faculty members and administrators. She followed up by contacting 391 faculty members by e-mail, saying that professors should be aware of the "burden for class schedules and syllabi" the change would involve.
The e-mail irked a single faculty member, Katherine Gross, who teaches plant biology. Gross complained to the university administrators, who summoned Spencer to a mandatory meeting and informed her that she would face disciplinary charges.
A formal letter listing Gross as a "possible witness" to the offense said that the e-mail violated university policies saying that students can use the network only for "authorized purposes."
"Students on campus have been supportive," Spencer told CNET News. So has the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a nonpartisan group in Philadelphia that urged MSU President Lou Anna Simon to halt the disciplinary process in advance of a hearing that was scheduled to take place on Tuesday.
It didn't work: The president rebuffed FIRE and the hearing took place as scheduled. A decision is expected soon.
"To date I have not received any notification from the judicial board regarding the case," Spencer said on Thursday. "The board may take up to seven days to render a ruling, so at this point I am just waiting for their notification."
Gross, the biology professor who complained, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
MSU's bulk e-mail rules say that e-mailing more than a "small set of recipients"--with the maximum number set at 30 people--is verboten. In a statement on Friday, MSU said: "It is clear that this policy is content neutral and is a set of procedural requirements that apply to all bulk use of the e-mail system, as opposed to a policy that makes distinctions based on the content of particular e-mails. It is our belief that such a policy does not impose unlawful restrictions on free speech." MSU declined to comment on specifics, citing privacy laws.
If MSU were a private school, such strict limits would be a matter of its contract with students and faculty: objectionable and inconsistent with academic freedom, perhaps, but not necessarily illegal. But because MSU is a public school, it is legally obligated to provide students with due process rights and it must protect their free speech rights.
And that's what FIRE thinks has gone wrong with MSU's disciplinary prosecution of Spencer.
Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's individual rights defense program, believes this is the first time he's heard of antispam rules being applied this broadly on campus. "The rule should be: if it's not disruptive, then you can do it," he said.
"The question is: does bulk unsolicited e-mail count as inherently disruptive to the campus?" he said. "I would say no, it doesn't, especially when the message is something that's directly relevant to everything on campus."
FIRE's letter to MSU on November 26 calls on President Simon to halt the "erroneous prosecution of Kara Spencer, who has been under investigation for more than two months for her clearly protected expression. If e-mailing faculty members about common concerns is outside the parameters of acceptable speech at MSU, surely no member of the MSU community can feel safe contacting another about any relevant matter of concern. Is this truly the lesson that MSU wishes to teach to students who will soon be entering into civil society at large?"
If MSU does not back down, FIRE has the option to file a First Amendment lawsuit in federal court. Federal law allows private parties to recover attorneys' fees in a successful free speech case against a government or public university.
Cuba Says Blogger Ran Afoul of the Law
Police have prohibited Cuba's most prominent blogger from attending an independent cyber-workshop and warned that her activities ran afoul of the law, her husband said Friday.
Yoani Sanchez and husband and fellow blogger Reynaldo Escobar were summoned separately Wednesday to a police station near their apartment in Havana's Vedado district and reprimanded, Escobar said in a telephone interview.
Authorities told the couple they could not travel to the western province of Pinar del Rio for a two-day blogger's workshop scheduled to begin Friday night.
"We aren't attending the inauguration of the workshop, which has not been suspended. We've just changed the dynamic of how we are meeting," said Escobar, without elaborating.
An account of the reprimand appears on Sanchez's blog, "Generacion Y." The site was blocked to Internet users on the island Friday.
Sanchez wrote that police told her, "We want to warn you that you have transgressed all the limits of tolerance with your closeness and contact with elements of the counterrevolution."
Sanchez could not be reached Friday, and Cuba's government had no comment.
Another Havana blogger, Claudia Cadelo, was also called into a meeting with police, but failed to appear because she is in the hospital, Escobar said.
The gathering was supposed to involve about 20 bloggers and is being organized by Dagoberto Valdes, a Roman Catholic layman in Pinar del Rio. Valdes was the volunteer director of the church magazine Vitral, which gently called for more plurality and democratic participation, until he was removed from the post by the island's bishop in April 2007.
Valdes was traveling Friday, but his associate, Virgilio Toledo, said authorities in Pinar del Rio also advised two local activists against attending the workshop.
"They think it's an activity about human rights, which it's not," Toledo said.
The Communications Ministry put into effect a law this week that instructs the island's Internet providers to "prevent access to sites where the content is contrary to social interests, morals or good custom, as well as the use of applications that affect the integrity or security of the State."
Escobar said the police suggested Cuba was especially sensitive to criticism as it struggles to recover from the effects of three storms that hit in less than two months this hurricane season, causing more than $10 billion in damage.
Asked if Cuba could be in the midst of a cyber-crackdown, he said, "I don't know how far they will go."
"For dissidents who traditionally have been surrounded, things have gotten stricter," Escobar said, referring to a small group of activists who dare criticize the island's single-party system.
Cuba tolerates no organized political opposition and dismisses dissidents and activists as "mercenaries" who take money from the United States to undermine the communist system.
Sanchez's posts about the struggles of daily life on the island have made her a sensation overseas and she won Spain's Ortega y Gasset Prize for digital journalism.
According to her blog, police said that her activities had "totally nullified your ability to dialogue with Cuban authorities."
Access to the Internet is strictly controlled in Cuba and the government routinely blocks sites it considers too critical.
Test for Vietnam Government: Free-Speech Bloggers
Last fall, when police clashed with Catholic protesters over confiscated church land, the Vietnamese public didn't need to rely on the sanitized accounts in the government-controlled media. They could read all about it on the blogs.
The photos and translated Western news reports about last September's outlawed prayer vigils were posted in a Vietnamese blogosphere where anything goes _ from drugs, sex, marriage and AIDS to blunt criticism of the communist government.
Until now the government has generally taken a hands-off attitude. But officials at the Ministry of Information and Communications appear to be losing patience. They say they are preparing new rules that would restrict blogs to personal matters _ meaning no politics.
Blogs and unlicensed news Web sites have taken on added weight since a crackdown on journalists cast a chill over Vietnam's mainstream media.
In June, two journalists who had aggressively covered a major government corruption case were arrested and one of them was sentenced to two years in prison. Four others had their press cards revoked after running front-page stories decrying the journalists' arrests.
The bloggers were quick to react.
"We fought two wars to free ourselves from the shackles of imperialism and colonialism, all in the hope of having basic human rights," wrote Vo Thi Hao, a novelist and painter, on her self-titled blog. "Even the French colonial government allowed private media, opposition parties and free expression."
Such sentiments would never appear in Vietnam's state-controlled media, which are dominated by admiring stories of the country's leaders or dull accounts of the bureaucracy at work.
In the reporting of the vigils organized by the Catholic Church to demand the return of lands seized decades ago, the state media portrayed the protesters as lawless, while the bloggers portrayed them as principled and brave.
"I get information from the blogs that I could never find in the state media," said Nguyen Thu Thuy, a blogger who delves into her religious beliefs and family life. "Everybody has the right to free expression," she said in an interview.
Roughly 20 million of Vietnam's 86 million citizens use the Internet, according to the latest government figures. While high-profile bloggers are concentrated in the big cities, cyber-cafes can be found in all but the most remote corners of the country.
Any public criticism of the government would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but today's bloggers are sometimes scathing.
A popular Ho Chi Minh City blogger known as Osin recently chided Vietnam's top-ranking officials for chartering airplanes to fly to international meetings.
"A head of state should not use a chartered plane to show off," he wrote, pointing out that when the prime minister of Thailand visited Vietnam, he came on a commercial flight. "A politician's reputation does not depend on whether he can fly around in a big plane. It depends on whether he values the taxpayers' money."
Information and Communications Ministry officials did not reply to an interview request from The Associated Press.
Vietnam has yet to go as far as neighboring China does in suppressing undesirable Internet content. It blocks some Web sites run by overseas Vietnamese that the government views as a political threat. But it has not hindered access to Yahoo 360, a blogging platform that is extremely popular with young Vietnamese.
"It's interesting that they've chosen not to block it," said Rebecca MacKinnon, a professor at the University of Hong Kong who has written about China's Internet policies. "One assumes it's because they don't want to deal with the blowback it would cause."
Still, the government occasionally tries to make an example of those who go too far.
A blogger known as Dieu Cay was charged with tax evasion after encouraging people to protest at the Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City shortly before the Beijing games last summer. He criticized China's policies in Tibet and the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that is claimed by both China and Vietnam.
Vietnam's government is particularly sensitive to anything it regards as fomenting public protests, and also is wary of upsetting its giant northern neighbor.
Vietnamese bloggers often write confessional postings that have nothing to do with politics.
One named "Sun's Secret" recently wrote about her upcoming marriage and her fears that she was rushing into it too quickly. "Sometimes I feel like I just want to run away from this relationship," she confided.
Sun's Secret also confessed to feeling remorseful because she introduced two friends who slept together and later found out that they were HIV positive.
"Is it my fault?" she asked. "I introduced them."
Some bloggers say the government has failed to keep up with the spread of blogging, and think it's too late to roll it back.
"The government doesn't have the technology or the manpower to control all the bloggers," read a posting on TTX Vang Anh, a popular self-styled citizens' "news agency."
China Irks US with Computer Security Review Rules
The Chinese government is stirring trade tensions with Washington with a plan to require foreign computer security technology to be submitted for government approval, in a move that might require suppliers to disclose business secrets.
Rules due to take effect May 1 require official certification of technology widely used to keep e-mail and company data networks secure. Beijing has yet to say how many secrets companies must disclose about such sensitive matters as how data-encryption systems work. But Washington complains the requirement might hinder imports in a market dominated by U.S. companies, and is pressing Beijing to scrap it.
"There are still opportunities to defuse this, but it is getting down to the wire," said Duncan Clark, managing director of BDA China Ltd., a Beijing technology consulting firm. "It affects trade. It's potentially really wide-scale."
Beijing tried earlier to force foreign companies to reveal how encryption systems work and has promoted its own standards for mobile phones and wireless encryption.
Those attempts and the new demand reflect Beijing's unease about letting the public keep secrets, and the government's efforts to use its regulatory system to help fledgling Chinese high-tech companies compete with global high-tech rivals. Yin Changlai, the head of a Chinese business group sanctioned by the government, has acknowledged that the rules are meant to help develop China's infant computer security industry by shielding companies from foreign rivals that he said control 70 percent of the market.
The computer security rules cover 13 types of hardware and software, including database and network security systems, secure routers, data backup and recovery systems and anti-spam and anti-hacking software. Such technology is enmeshed in products sold by Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and other industry giants.
Giving regulators the power to reject foreign technologies could help to promote sales of Chinese alternatives. But that might disrupt foreign manufacturing, research or data processing in China if companies have to switch technologies or move operations to other countries to avoid the controls. Requiring disclosure of technical details also might help Beijing read encrypted e-mail or create competing products.
"I think there's both a national security goal and an industrial policy goal to this," said Scott Kennedy, an Indiana University professor who studies government-business relations in China. "I'm sure before they came out with this, there was a discussion with industry and industry probably was giving them lots of requests about what should be included."
American officials objected to the rules in August at a regular meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade.
"We don't believe China imposing these regulations is consistent with its trade commitments," said a U.S. Embassy spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with official policy. "If there is an international standard that has been agreed upon by the international community, then that's the standard."
China agreed to delay releasing detailed regulations pending negotiations, but has not postponed the May enforcement deadline. No date has been set for more talks.
"We don't really view them announcing a delay in publication as a resolution to the issue," the American official said.
The agency that will enforce the rules, the China Certification and Accreditation Administration, said in a written statement they are meant to protect national security and "advance industry development." But it did not respond to questions about what information companies must disclose and how foreign technology will be judged.
An official of one foreign business group said companies were reluctant to talk publicly for fear of angering Chinese authorities while negotiations were under way.
Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems Inc. and security-software makers McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp. did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for chip maker Intel Corp. said it would obey Chinese law but did not respond to questions about how it might be affected. A spokeswoman for personal computer maker Dell Inc. said it could not comment until detailed regulations are released. A spokesman for IBM Corp. said its products are not covered by the rules.
China has one of the largest technology markets, with more than 253 million Internet users and 590 million mobile phone accounts. It has tried to leverage that to promote its high-tech industries, which lag foreign competitors.
China prompted an outcry in 2006 when it tried to require computer and phone companies to use its WAPI wireless encryption standard. That would have given Chinese companies that developed the standard a head start in creating products and let them collect royalties from foreign competitors. Beijing dropped its demand after Washington complained it was a trade barrier.
In 2001, Beijing tried to require computer and software suppliers to disclose how their encryption systems worked. That was scrapped after companies said the demand was too broad and trade secrets might fall into the hands of Chinese competitors.
China also developed its own standard for third-generation mobile phones to compete with two global standards. But it agreed to let Chinese carriers use all three standards after U.S. and European officials expressed concern that it might try to keep out foreign technology.
Associated Press researcher Bonnie Cao in Beijing contributed to this report.
The Panopticon Economy
The NSA’s new data-mining facility is one component of a growing local surveillance industry
Greg M. Schwartz
Surrounded by barbwire fencing, the anonymous yet massive building on West Military Drive near San Antonio’s Loop 410 freeway looms mysteriously with no identifying signs of any kind. Surveillance is tight, with security cameras surrounding the under-construction building. Readers are advised not to take any photos unless you care to be detained for at least a 45-minute interrogation by the National Security Agency, as this reporter was.
There’s a strangely blurry line during such an interrogation. After viewing the five photos I’d taken of the NSA’s new Texas Cryptology Center, the NSA officer asked if I would delete them. When I asked if he was ordering me to do so, he said no; he was asking as a personal favor. I declined and was eventually released.
America’s top spy agency has taken over the former Sony microchip plant and is transforming it into a new data-mining headquarters — oddly positioned directly across the street from a 24-hour Walmart — where billions of electronic communications will be sifted in the agency’s mission to identify terrorist threats.
“No longer able to store all the intercepted phone calls and e-mail in its secret city, the agency has now built a new data warehouse in San Antonio, Texas,” writes author James Bamford in the Shadow Factory, his third book about the NSA. “Costing, with renovations, upwards of $130 million, the 470,000-square-foot facility will be almost the size of the Alamodome. Considering how much data can now be squeezed onto a small flash drive, the new NSA building may eventually be able to hold all the information in the world.”
Bamford’s book focuses on the NSA’s transformation since 9/11, with the impetus for the new facility being a direct ramification of those attacks. At the time, the NSA had only about 7 percent of its facilities outside the Washington D.C./Baltimore area. But the realization that additional attacks could virtually wipe out the agency catalyzed a regional expansion. [See “Secret Agency Man,” November 5, 2008.]
The new facility is a potential boon to the local economy since it’s reportedly going to employ around 1,500 people, but questions remain about whether there will be adequate oversight to prevent civil-rights violations like Uncle Sam’s recent notorious warrantless wiretapping program. The NSA would suggest the facility’s ability to sort through surveillance data is one of America’s top defenses against terrorist threats, but the NSA’s presence comes with concerns that abuse of its secretive power could see the agency become akin to the “Thought Police” of 1984, George Orwell’s classic novel depicting the nightmare of a total surveillance society — and all for nothing. Even as the facility is completed, a new government-backed report has concluded that data surveillance is an ineffective method for identifying potential terrorists or preventing attacks.
So just what will be going on inside the NSA’s new San Antonio facility? Bamford describes former NSA Director Mike Hayden’s goals for the data-mining center as knowing “exactly what Americans were doing day by day, hour by hour, and second by second. He wanted to know where they shopped, what they bought, what movies they saw, what books they read, the toll booths they went through, the plane tickets they purchased, the hotels they stayed in… In other words, Total Information Awareness, the same Orwellian concept that John Poindexter had tried to develop while working for the Pentagon’s [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency].”
Bamford details how Hayden, now head of the CIA, had originally leaned toward being overprotective of civil rights, not wanting to see the NSA revisit the scandal-ridden era of the 1970s and the violations of “Project Shamrock.” But 9/11 altered Hayden’s philosophical direction 180 degrees. The Total Information Awareness project supposedly died when the plan was exposed, Poindexter resigned, and Congress cut off further funding. But Bamford and others have reported that the project simply migrated to the NSA, “an agency with a far better track record than DARPA for keeping secrets.”
The NSA remembers the Alamo
The NSA was waffling on selection of a home for its new facility when the City of San Antonio sent a mission to NSA headquarters in January 2007 to lobby for it, part of a continuing effort to woo the agency. On January 18, Microsoft announced its selection of San Antonio for a new data center. The NSA followed suit three months later. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff was part of the effort to entice the NSA to choose San Antonio. He says talks centered on economic factors and what the city could do to facilitate the NSA’s plans.
“They’re pretty tight on what they do; they don’t share that information with you,” says Wolff. “I hope that the administration will be addressing [civil-rights violations], and I hope they’re correcting those concerns.”
Bamford writes about how NSA and Microsoft had both been eyeing San Antonio for years because it has the cheapest electricity in Texas, and the state has its own power grid, making it less vulnerable to power outages on the national grid. He notes that it seemed the NSA wanted assurance Microsoft would be here, too, before making a final commitment, due to the advantages of “having their miners virtually next door to the mother lode of data centers.” The new NSA facility is just a few miles from Microsoft’s data center of the same size. Bamford says that under current law, NSA could gain access to Microsoft’s stored data without even a warrant, but merely a fiber-optic cable.
“What the Microsoft people will have will be just storage of a lot of the email that is being sent. They keep this email — I don’t know why — and there should be some legislation saying how long it should be kept,” said Bamford in a phone interview last week. “The post office doesn’t keep copies of our letters when we mail letters; why should the telecom companies or the internet providers keep copies of our email? It doesn’t make sense to me. But there’s no legislation. So they need a place to store it, and that’s where they’re storing all this stuff.”
(Microsoft did not return a call for comment before press deadline.)
The new NSA facility boosts the agency’s already formidable presence in South Texas, where they have 2,000 employees on the Medina Annex of the Lackland Air Force Base — mostly Signals Intelligence, or Sigint, specialists, who use cutting-edge technology to intercept anything from faxes to emails and satellite communications.
NSA’s new facility also gives the agency easy access to UTSA’s Institute for Cyber Security and the school’s Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security. The ICS was founded in 2007 with a $3.5-million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to continue efforts to protect American communities against cyber-attacks, with the CIAS — a think tank launched in 2001 — being rolled into the ICS. All of this led U.S. Representative Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) to declare San Antonio “the center of cybersecurity, in the country and the world.”
ICS Founding Executive Director Ravi Sandhu acknowledges some synergy between the NSA presence in San Antonio and UTSA’s cybersecurity work.
“Cybersecurity in the public domain has largely been about defense, but there’s certainly an attack component to it. To some degree, the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence agencies are now starting to talk about the attack component in the public domain,” says Sandhu.
Sandhu says UTSA’s cybersecurity students are recruited by many of San Antonio’s local employers and doesn’t doubt that NSA is one of them. “Recruiting is one end … but it’s an attractive thing for NSA employees [too]. They can further their education — they can do degrees part-time, they can do advanced degrees … so there are advantages beyond direct recruitment of NSA students.”
Does automated data mining even work?
While the opening of the NSA’s massive new data center heightens existing civil-rights concerns, a new report from the National Research Council questions whether such data-mining is even effective. Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation and released in October of this year, the report suggests that pattern-based data-mining is not even a viable way to identify terrorists.
The 352-page study —“Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists” — concludes that identification of terrorists through automated data-mining “is neither feasible as an objective nor desirable as a goal of technology development efforts.” It also says inevitable false positives will result in “ordinary, law-abiding citizens and businesses” being erroneously flagged as suspects.
“Actions such as arrest, search, or denial of rights should never be taken solely on the basis of an automated data-mining result,” says the report. The question, then, is how rigorously will human analysts vet such information before alleged leads are pursued, and who has oversight of the process?
“Part of the problem is … jurisdiction over national-security issues is very divided in Congress. You have the Homeland Security committee, the Justice committee, but, of course, you also have some basic issues — government oversight, appropriations,” says Professor Fred Cate, the NRC committee member who wrote most of the report and who serves as director of Indiana University’s Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. “So I think in some ways one of the issues is the need for a more streamlined oversight system so that somebody takes responsibility for it.”
Cate says the migration of the TIA project to the NSA is part of the problem.
“Because so many different agencies are involved and because there are no consistent oversight mechanisms, it’s very hard [to monitor]. And Congress created a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and then it didn’t like the way it created it initially, so then it recreated it with more powers, but it never confirmed any members to it,” says Cate. “So for the past year, there’s been nobody in that critical position. So I think one immediate step for Congress and the new president will be to nominate members and get them confirmed.”
The lack of clearly delineated oversight remains a vital yet unsolved issue. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Virginia), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, would appear to be the Congressman with the most power to pursue such oversight.
“Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, but now it’s mostly the security, industrial complex; it’s these people that build all the hardware and software for Homeland Security and Intelligence and all that,” says Bamford. “As far as I can see, nobody has a handle on how many contractors are out there, what they’re doing, how much money’s going to them, how much is useful, how much is wasted money.”
Cate says the NRC committee is not necessarily opposed to data-mining in principal, but is concerned about how it’s carried out. “The question is can you do it and make it work so that you don’t intrude unnecessarily into privacy and so that you reach reliable conclusions.”
Bamford writes in the Shadow Factory of how the NSA’s Georgia listening post has eavesdropped on Americans during the Iraq War, including journalists, without a warrant or any indication of terrorism. He also reports on NSA eavesdropping on undecided members of the United Nations Security Council in the run-up to the vote on the Iraq War resolution, with the Bush regime seeking information with which to twist the arms of voting countries. The spying was only revealed due to British Parliament whistleblower Claire Short, who admitted she’d read secret transcripts of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s confidential conversations.
“The UN people have been aware of [NSA eavesdropping] for a long time, but there’s not much they can do about it,” says Bamford.
A common response to concerns about data surveillance is that those who keep their noses clean have nothing to worry about. But the reach of the NSA’s surveillance net combined with lack of oversight and the political paranoia escalated by the 9/11 attacks means that almost anyone could wind up on the terrorist watch list.
“The principal end product of all that data and all that processing is a list of names — the watch list — of people, both American and foreign, thought to pose a danger to the country,” writes Bamford. “Once containing just twenty names, today it is made up of an astonishing half a million — and it grows rapidly every day. Most on the list are neither terrorists nor a danger to the country, and many are there simply by mistake.”
Bamford reports that consequences of being on the list could include having an application for a Small Business Administration loan turned down; having a child’s application to one of the military academies rejected; or, because the names are shared with foreign governments, being turned away after landing in Europe for a vacation or business trip. All without ever being told why.
A senior intelligence official concerned about the situation told Bamford “the system is a disaster,” adding that the list at the National Counterterrorism Center isn’t even compatible with the NSA and CIA systems.
“They could be snooping on just about anything right now and not be accountable and be able to hold their hands up and go, ‘Our system doesn’t track that,’ when in many cases the system does, but the code is so convoluted you could never know it,” says the official.
Bamford also reports on Uncle Sam’s skyrocketing use of “national security letters” for obtaining personal information. The NSLs, which do not require probable cause or court approval, jumped from 8,500 in 2000 to 143,074 between 2003 and 2005, according to a 2007 Justice Department inspector general’s report. Under the revised version of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, it’s not only a crime for any company to refuse to cooperate, it’s also become a crime for company officials to even disclose their cooperation.
“There was a lot of pressure by the FBI in ’94 to have CALEA enacted … but the Clinton Administration was in favor of doing all that,” says Bamford.
The question for us then becomes who, if anyone, is watching the watchdogs? One organization devoted to such duty is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit whose mission is to protect electronic civil liberties. Reducing the use of NSLs to gag and acquire data from online service providers is one of the planks in EFF’s proposed privacy agenda for the new Obama administration.
“The issue here is that when people are gagged, you can’t talk about it and [people] don’t know what kind of abuses there are,” says EFF media-relations coordinator Rebecca Jeschke. The EFF privacy agenda also includes repealing or repairing the FISA Amendments Act, reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and reform of the State Secrets Privilege, the latter which has been used by the Bush regime to shield its electronic surveillance activity from judicial review.
The EFF filed a lawsuit against the NSA in September on behalf of AT&T customers who were victims of warrantless wiretapping, with defendants including President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and NSA Director Keith Alexander. The EFF also filed suit against AT&T — until this summer headquartered in San Antonio, the telecom giant still maintains a sizable presence here — for participating in the illegal surveillance program, and is challenging the FISA Amendments Act passed by Congress in July — which gave retroactive immunity to the telecom companies — as being unconstitutional.
“Where I disagreed was the immunity to telecommunications entities … and that’s why I couldn’t support something that provided for the immunity provision,” says U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez (D-San Antonio) of the FISA Amendments Act. “We had something that we thought in the House was good, and then the Senate did their own thing. But I was never happy with the inclusion of the blanket-immunity provision to telecommunications entities, because I thought it relieved them of a responsibility and duty that they owe as corporate citizens.”
Gonzalez added that he thinks “there’s still tremendous shortcomings in the law when it comes to making sure that you don’t have abuses of the authority of eavesdropping.”
The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., a public interest research group whose mission is similar to EFF’s, is suing the Department of Justice for access to documents authored by government lawyers regarding President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. These opinions, prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel, provided the legal rationale for Uncle Sam to wiretap American citizens in the United States without court approval. On October 31, a federal judge ordered the DOJ to provide for independent judicial inspection of documents relating to the program.
The latest news in Uncle Sam’s ongoing surveillance scandal happens to come from the FBI’s involvement with the NSA. The Washington Times reported in November that Supervisory Special Agent Bassem Youssef, who oversees the FBI’s role in the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, says the FBI engaged in unlawful acts while carrying out that surveillance. Youssef, who now fears career retaliation for stepping up as a whisteblower, is due to testify with the Justice Department.
Whether or not the new Obama administration will enact any demonstrable change in the personnel and policies that created the civil-rights violations of recent years remains a question mark.
“Everything I’ve seen so far with Obama has not been focused on change. It’s been focused on bringing back the old Clinton Administration or continuing the same,” says Bamford, noting the President-elect’s decisions to nominate Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Bamford mentions Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold as someone he feels would fight for greater accountability.
“That’s a person I would like to see rewarded for making the right decision, instead of people being rewarded for making the wrong decisions,” says Bamford of Feingold’s record in voting against the revised FISA Amendments Act and being the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act.
Bamford ends The Shadow Factory by quoting Senator Frank Church, the first chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, during the original hearings on the NSA in the 1970s. “If a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology,” said Church more than three decades ago.
That technology now sees its latest evolution occurring at the shadowy building on San Antonio’s West Military Drive.
Panel to Call for Review of Wiretapping of Scholar
Eric Lichtblau and James Risen
A Congressional oversight panel plans to ask the National Security Agency to start an investigation into new evidence that the agency illegally wiretapped a Muslim scholar in Northern Virginia and concealed the eavesdropping during a 2005 trial in which the scholar was convicted on terrorism charges.
Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said in an interview that he planned to ask the inspector general of the N.S.A. to open what would be the first formal investigation by the agency into whether its eavesdropping program had improperly interfered with an American’s right to a fair trial.
Mr. Holt said he was responding to new evidence presented to him and other Congressional leaders by the Muslim scholar’s lawyer indicating that the Bush administration tried to hide the full extent of the government’s illegal spying in the criminal case.
If the N.S.A. inspector general begins an inquiry, analysts said, that could also signal a new willingness by the agency, under a new administration, to examine its own operations in the eavesdropping program.
President-elect Barack Obama was a critic of the Bush administration’s domestic spying program while he was in the Senate and on the campaign trail, and experts on intelligence matters are waiting to see whether he takes action early in his administration to rein in the program.
“I find the allegations troubling,” Mr. Holt said. His select intelligence panel was created last year by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, in response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations to provide more comprehensive Congressional oversight of the intelligence community.
The scholar, Ali al-Timimi, once a spiritual leader in Northern Virginia and described by prosecutors as a “rock star” in the Islamic fundamentalist world, is now serving a life sentence in federal prison after he was convicted in 2005 on charges of inciting his Muslim followers to commit acts of violence overseas.
Prosecutors described Mr. Timimi as the spiritual mentor to a group of young men in Northern Virginia who were convicted of giving material support in Kashmir to Lashkar-e-Taiba — the separatist group blamed by the Indian authorities for the recent attacks in Mumbai. Several of the Northern Virginia men had received paramilitary training in Pakistan, apparently at the urging of Mr. Timimi, but there was no evidence that they had taken part in any terrorist attacks.
Mr. Timimi’s lawyers maintain that the N.S.A., without acquiring court-approved warrants, used the eavesdropping operation approved by President Bush weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks to wiretap his communications, and that the interceptions might include evidence that would point to his innocence in what they regard as a free-speech case. They charge that the government has intentionally withheld that material despite repeated requests.
The Justice Department has denied that it had any other evidence of eavesdropping against him other than what it turned over to his lawyers. But the federal judge in the case, Leonie M. Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., has expressed increasing annoyance over persistent questions about the N.S.A.’s possible role.
In a recently unsealed transcript of an October closed-court hearing in the case, the judge stated that she believed that the government appeared to have committed violations of federal rules governing evidence and discovery. She also ordered the government to search for further evidence of its use of secret surveillance operations against Mr. Timimi.
A review of the public court file in Mr. Timimi’s case, which includes the titles of classified filings, also strongly indicates that the court has received evidence that the N.S.A. was used to intercept conversations between Mr. Timimi and Suliman al-Buthe, a Saudi fundamentalist with suspected ties to terrorism. During Mr. Timimi’s trial, prosecutors presented evidence that in a phone conversation with Mr. Buthe, Mr. Timimi had celebrated the 2003 destruction of the space shuttle Columbia. But the government has never publicly acknowledged that it used the N.S.A. program to intercept conversations between the two men.
In a letter sent Thursday to Mr. Holt and other members of the Congressional intelligence committees, Jonathan Turley, a lawyer for Mr. Timimi, said that a classified filing given to Judge Brinkema had “revealed that some of the interceptions (that were specifically sought) did in fact exist.”
Mr. Turley said in the letter that he had met with the N.S.A. inspector general’s office last week on a separate matter and briefed staff members there on the Timimi case.
“In that meeting, we discussed how best to open an investigation into the matter,” he wrote, and the inspector general’s staff made it clear that a formal referral from Congress for investigation would make it easier for them to start an inquiry. The security agency’s inspector general’s staff recommended that he make a formal complaint to Congress and request an internal agency investigation, Mr. Turley wrote in his letter sent to the intelligence committees. “Once a referral is made, I can then bring the specific evidence of misconduct to the N.S.A. for internal investigation.”
A spokesman for the N.S.A. declined to comment.
The N.S.A. inspector general’s office conducted periodic audits into the eavesdropping program even before it became public in December 2005, but Democrats on Capitol Hill complain that the agency has been unwilling to examine the operations of the program to answer critical questions about how it was run and what oversights were in place to protect Americans’ civil liberties.
Some Democrats have called on Mr. Obama to establish an independent commission that would examine the wiretapping program, interrogation tactics used on prisoners, and other tactics used by the government in its campaign against terrorism since the 2001 attacks.
Republicans in Congress who support the N.S.A. program say that Democrats have been too eager to investigate issues that have long been resolved.
Hidden Travels of the Atomic Bomb
William J. Broad
In 1945, after the atomic destruction of two Japanese cities, J. Robert Oppenheimer expressed foreboding about the spread of nuclear arms.
“They are not too hard to make,” he told his colleagues on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, N.M. “They will be universal if people wish to make them universal.”
That sensibility, born where the atomic bomb itself was born, grew into a theory of technological inevitability. Because the laws of physics are universal, the theory went, it was just a matter of time before other bright minds and determined states joined the club. A corollary was that trying to stop proliferation was quite difficult if not futile.
But nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth. In the six decades since Oppenheimer’s warning, the nuclear club has grown to only nine members. What accounts for the slow spread? Can anything be done to reduce it further? Is there a chance for an atomic future that is brighter than the one Oppenheimer foresaw?
Two new books by three atomic insiders hold out hope. The authors shatter myths, throw light on the hidden dynamics of nuclear proliferation and suggest new ways to reduce the threat.
Neither book endorses Oppenheimer’s view that bombs are relatively easy to make. Both document national paths to acquiring nuclear weapons that have been rocky and dependent on the willingness of spies and politicians to divulge state secrets.
Thomas C. Reed, a veteran of the Livermore weapons laboratory in California and a former secretary of the Air Force, and Danny B. Stillman, former director of intelligence at Los Alamos, have teamed up in “The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation” to show the importance of moles, scientists with divided loyalties and — most important — the subtle and not so subtle interests of nuclear states.
“Since the birth of the nuclear age,” they write, “no nation has developed a nuclear weapon on its own, although many claim otherwise.”
Among other things, the book details how secretive aid from France and China helped spawn five more nuclear states.
It also names many conflicted scientists, including luminaries like Isidor I. Rabi. The Nobel laureate worked on the Manhattan Project in World War II and later sat on the board of governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science, a birthplace of Israel’s nuclear arms.
Secret cooperation extended to the secluded sites where nations tested their handiwork in thundering blasts. The book says, for instance, that China opened its sprawling desert test site to Pakistan, letting its client test a first bomb there on May 26, 1990.
That alone rewrites atomic history. It casts new light on the reign of Benazir Bhutto as prime minister of Pakistan and helps explain how the country was able to respond so quickly in May 1998 when India conducted five nuclear tests.
“It took only two weeks and three days for the Pakistanis to field and fire a nuclear device of their own,” the book notes.
In another disclosure, the book says China “secretly extended the hospitality of the Lop Nur nuclear test site to the French.”
The authors build their narrative on deep knowledge of the arms and intelligence worlds, including those abroad. Mr. Stillman has toured heavily guarded nuclear sites in China and Russia, and both men have developed close ties with foreign peers.
In their acknowledgments, they thank American cold warriors like Edward Teller as well as two former C.I.A. directors, saying the intelligence experts “guided our searches.”
Robert S. Norris, an atomic historian and author of “Racing for the Bomb,” an account of the Manhattan Project, praised the book for “remarkable disclosures of how nuclear knowledge was shared overtly and covertly with friends and foes.”
The book is technical in places, as when detailing the exotica of nuclear arms. But it reads like a labor of love built on two lifetimes of scientific adventure. It is due out in January from Zenith Press.
Its wide perspective reveals how states quietly shared complex machinery and secrets with one another.
All paths stem from the United States, directly or indirectly. One began with Russian spies that deeply penetrated the Manhattan Project. Stalin was so enamored of the intelligence haul, Mr. Reed and Mr. Stillman note, that his first atom bomb was an exact replica of the weapon the United States had dropped on Nagasaki.
Moscow freely shared its atomic thefts with Mao Zedong, China’s leader. The book says that Klaus Fuchs, a Soviet spy in the Manhattan Project who was eventually caught and, in 1959, released from jail, did likewise. Upon gaining his freedom, the authors say, Fuchs gave the mastermind of Mao’s weapons program a detailed tutorial on the Nagasaki bomb. A half-decade later, China surprised the world with its first blast.
The book, in a main disclosure, discusses how China in 1982 made a policy decision to flood the developing world with atomic know-how. Its identified clients include Algeria, Pakistan and North Korea.
Alarmingly, the authors say one of China’s bombs was created as an “export design” that nearly “anybody could build.” The blueprint for the simple plan has traveled from Pakistan to Libya and, the authors say, Iran. That path is widely assumed among intelligence officials, but Tehran has repeatedly denied the charge.
The book sees a quiet repercussion of China’s proliferation policy in the Algerian desert. Built in secrecy, the reactor there now makes enough plutonium each year to fuel one atom bomb and is ringed by antiaircraft missiles, the book says.
China’s deck also held a wild card: its aid to Pakistan helped A.Q. Khan, a rogue Pakistani metallurgist who sold nuclear gear on the global black market. The authors compare Dr. Khan to “a used-car dealer” happy to sell his complex machinery to suckers who had no idea how hard it was to make fuel for a bomb.
Why did Beijing spread its atomic knowledge so freely? The authors speculate that it either wanted to strengthen the enemies of China’s enemies (for instance, Pakistan as a counterweight to India) or, more chillingly, to encourage nuclear wars or terror in foreign lands from which Beijing would emerge as the “last man standing.”
A lesser pathway involves France. The book says it drew on Manhattan Project veterans and shared intimate details of its bomb program with Israel, with whom it had substantial commercial ties. By 1959, the book says, dozens of Israeli scientists “were observing and participating in” the French program of weapons design.
The book adds that in early 1960, when France detonated its first bomb, doing so in the Algerian desert, “two nations went nuclear.” And it describes how the United States turned a blind eye to Israel’s own atomic developments. It adds that, in the autumn of 1966, Israel conducted a special, non-nuclear test “2,600 feet under the Negev desert.” The next year it built its first bomb.
Israel, in turn, shared its atomic secrets with South Africa. The book discloses that the two states exchanged some key ingredients for the making of atom bombs: tritium to South Africa, uranium to Israel. And the authors agree with military experts who hold that Israel and South Africa in 1979 jointly detonated a nuclear device in the South Atlantic near Prince Edward Island, more than one thousand miles south of Cape Town. Israel needed the test, it says, to develop a neutron bomb.
The authors charge that South Africa at one point targeted Luanda, the capital of neighboring Angola, “for a nuclear strike if peace talks failed.”
South Africa dismantled six nuclear arms in 1990 but retains much expertise. Today, the authors write, “South African technical mercenaries may be more dangerous than the underemployed scientists of the former Soviet Union” because they have no real home in Africa.
“The Bomb: A New History,” due out in January from Ecco Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, plows similar ground less deeply, but looks more widely at proliferation curbs and diplomacy. It is by Stephen M. Younger, the former head of nuclear arms at Los Alamos and former director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the Pentagon.
Dr. Younger disparages what he calls myths suggesting that “all the secrets of nuclear weapons design are available on the Internet.” He writes that France, despite secretive aid, struggled initially to make crude bombs — a point he saw with his own eyes during a tour of a secretive French atomic museum that is closed to the public. That trouble, he says, “suggests we should doubt assertions that the information required to make a nuclear weapon is freely available.”
The two books draw on atomic history to suggest a mix of old and new ways to defuse the proliferation threat. Both see past restraints as fraying and the task as increasingly urgent.
Mr. Reed and Mr. Stillman see politics — not spies or military ambitions — as the primary force in the development and spread of nuclear arms. States repeatedly stole and leaked secrets because they saw such action as in their geopolitical interest.
Beijing continues to be a major threat, they argue. While urging global responses like better intelligence, better inspections and better safeguarding of nuclear materials, they also see generational change in China as a great hope in plugging the atomic leaks.
“We must continue to support human rights within Chinese society, not just as an American export, but because it is the dream of the Tiananmen Square generation,” they write. “In time those youngsters could well prevail, and the world will be a less contentious place.”
Dr. Younger notes how political restraints and global treaties worked for decades to curb atomic proliferation, as did American assurances to its allies. “It is a tribute to American diplomacy,” he writes, “that so many countries that might otherwise have gone nuclear were convinced to remain under the nuclear umbrella of the United States.”
And he, too, emphasizes the importance of political sticks and carrots to halting and perhaps reversing the spread of nuclear arms. Iran, he says, is not fated to go nuclear.
“Sweden, Switzerland, Argentina and Brazil all flirted with nuclear programs, and all decided to abandon them,” he notes. “Nuclear proliferation is not unidirectional — given the right conditions and incentives, it is possible for a nation to give up its nuclear aspirations.”
The take-home message of both books is quite the reverse of Oppenheimer’s grim forecast. But both caution that the situation has reached a delicate stage — with a second age of nuclear proliferation close at hand — and that missteps now could hurt terribly in the future.
Mr. Reed and Mr. Stillman take their title, “The Nuclear Express,” from a 1940 radio dispatch by Edward R. Murrow , who spoke from London as the clouds of war gathered over Europe. He told of people feeling like the express train of civilization was going out of control.
The authors warn of a similar danger today and suggest that only close attention to the atomic past, as well as determined global action, can avoid “the greatest train wreck” in history.
Mumbai Terrorists Relied on New Technology for Attacks
The terrorists who struck this city last month stunned authorities not only with their use of sophisticated weaponry but also with their comfort with modern technology.
The terrorists navigated across the Arabian Sea to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan, with the help of a global positioning system handset. While under way, they communicated using a satellite phone with those in Pakistan believed to have coordinated the attacks. They recognized their targets and knew the most direct routes to reach them in part because they had studied satellite photos from Google Earth.
And, perhaps most significantly, throughout the three-day siege at two luxury hotels and a Jewish center, the Pakistani-based handlers communicated with the attackers using Internet phones that complicate efforts to trace and intercept calls.
Those handlers, who were apparently watching the attacks unfold live on television, were able to inform the attackers of the movement of security forces from news accounts and provide the gunmen with instructions and encouragement, authorities said.
Hasan Gafoor, Mumbai’s police commissioner, said Monday that as once complicated technologies — including global positioning systems and satellite phones — have become simpler to operate, terrorists, like everyone else, have become adept at using them. “Well, whether terrorists or common criminals, they do try to be a step ahead in terms of technology,” he said.
Indian security forces surrounding the buildings were able to monitor the terrorists’ outgoing calls by intercepting their cellphone signals. But Indian police officials said those directing the attacks, who are believed to be from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a militant group based in Pakistan, were using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service, which has complicated efforts to determine their whereabouts and identities.
VoIP services, in which conversations are carried over the Internet as opposed to conventional phone lines or cellphone towers, are increasingly popular with people looking to save money on long distance and international calls. Many such services, like Skype and Vonage, allow a user to call another VoIP-enabled device anywhere in the world free of charge, or to call a standard telephone or cellphone at a deeply discounted rate.
But the same services are also increasingly popular with criminals and terrorists, a trend that worries some law enforcement and intelligence agencies. “It’s a concern,” said one Indian security official, who spoke anonymously because the investigation was continuing. “It’s not something we have seen before.”
In mid-October, a draft United States Army intelligence report highlighted the growing interest of Islamic militants in using VoIP, noting recent news reports of Taliban insurgents using Skype to communicate. The unclassified report, which examined discussions of emerging technologies on jihadi Web sites, was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington-based nonprofit group that monitors the impact of science on national security.
VoIP calls pose an array of difficulties for intelligence and law enforcement services, according to communications experts. “It means the phone-tapping techniques that work for old traditional interception don’t work,” said Matt Blaze, a professor and computer security expert at the University of Pennsylvania.
An agency using conventional tracing techniques to track a call from a land line or cellphone to a VoIP subscriber would be able to get only as far as the switching station that converts the voice call into Internet data, communications experts said. The switch, usually owned and operated by the company providing the VoIP service, could be located thousands of miles from the subscriber.
The subscriber’s phone number would also likely reveal no information about his location. For instance, someone in New York could dial a local phone number but actually be connected via the Internet to a person in Thailand.
In Mumbai, authorities have declined to disclose the names of the VoIP companies whose services the Lashkar-e-Taiba handlers used, but reports in Indian news media have said the calls have been traced to companies in New Jersey and Austria. Yet investigators have said they are convinced that the handlers who directed the attacks were actually sitting somewhere in Pakistan during the calls.
One senior Lashkar-e-Taiba leader who American officials believe may have played a key role in planning the Mumbai attacks is Zarrar Shah. Mr. Shah, known to be a specialist in communications technology, may have been aware of the difficulties in tracing VoIP.
To determine the location of a VoIP caller, an investigating agency has to access a database kept by the service provider. The database logs the unique numerical identifier, known as an Internet Protocol (I.P.) address, of whatever device the subscriber was using to connect to the Internet. This could be a computer equipped with a microphone, a special VoIP phone, or even a cellphone with software that routes calls over the Internet using wireless connections as opposed to cellular signals.
It would then take additional electronic sleuthing to determine where the device was located. The customer’s identity could be obtained from the service provider as well, but might prove fraudulent, experts said.
Getting the I.P. address and then determining its location can take days longer than a standard phone trace, particularly if service providers involved are in a foreign country.
“Ultimately, we can trace them,” said Mr. Gafoor, referring to VoIP calls. “It takes a little longer, but we will trace them.”
Washington is assisting the Indian authorities in obtaining this information, according to another Indian police official who also spoke anonymously because of the continuing investigation.
Further complicating this task is the fact that I.P. addresses change frequently and are less tied to a specific location than phone numbers.
Computer experts said that while these challenges were formidable, none were insurmountable. And they cautioned that security services and police forces might be disingenuous when they complain about terrorists’ use of new technologies, including VoIP.
The experts said that VoIP calls left a far richer data trail for investigators to mine than someone calling from an old-fashioned pay phone. Mr. Blaze, the computer security expert at the University of Pennsylvania, also noted that 15 years ago the Mumbai attackers would probably not have had the capacity to make calls to their handlers during the course of their attacks, depriving investigators of vital clues to their identities. “As one door closes — traditional wire line tapping — all these other doors have opened,” Mr. Blaze said.
Panel Presses to Bolster Security in Cyberspace
License plates may be coming to cyberspace.
A government and technology industry panel on cyber-security is recommending that the federal government end its reliance on passwords and enforce what the industry describes as “strong authentication.”
Such an approach would probably mean that all government computer users would have to hold a device to gain access to a network computer or online service. The commission is also encouraging all nongovernmental commercial services use such a device.
“We need to move away from passwords,” said Tom Kellermann, vice president for security awareness at Core Security Technologies and a member of the commission that created the report.
The report, which offers guidance to the Obama administration, is a strong indictment of government and private industry efforts to secure cyberspace to date. “The laissez-faire approach to cyber-security has failed,” Mr. Kellermann said.
Restricting Internet access is one of a series of recommendations that a group of more than 60 government and business computer security specialists will make in a public presentation, “Securing Cyberspace in the 44th Presidency,” on Monday.
The report has been prepared during the last 18 months under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy group, after a number of break-ins into government computer systems.
“The damage from cyber attack is real,” the report states. “Last year, the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security, and Commerce, NASA and the National Defense University all suffered major intrusions by unknown foreign entities.”
The report describes a laundry list of serious break-ins ranging from the hacking of the secretary of Defense’s unclassified e-mail to the loss of “terabytes” of data at the State Department.
The group recommends the creation of a White House cyber-security czar reporting to the president and the consolidation of the powers that have largely been held by the Homeland Security Department under the Bush administration. The report argues that cyber-security is one of the most significant national security threats and that it can no longer be relegated to information technology offices and chief information officers.
The commission included the top Democrat and Republican members of the House Homeland Security subcommittee that oversees cyber-security. The chairmen of the commission included Jim Langevin, a Democratic congressman from Rhode Island; and Michael McCaul, a Republican congressman from Texas.
Scott Charney, corporate vice president for trustworthy computing at Microsoft; and Harry D. Raduege Jr., a retired Air Force lieutenant general who is chairman of the Center for Network Innovation at Deloitte & Touche, were also on the commission.
The report calls for new laws and regulations governing cyberspace.
“We believe that cyberspace cannot be secured without regulation,” the report said. The proposed regulations included new standards for critical infrastructure providers like the finance and energy industries, as well as new federal product acquisition rules to force more secure products.
The report does not entirely reject the work of the Bush administration. It cites the creation of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, adopted by the government as part of a presidential memorandum issued last January as a good starting point for remaking the nation’s cyber-security strategy.
That effort has led to a commitment by the federal government to spend more than $30 billion in the next seven years to enhance computing security.
New Trojan in Mass DNS Hijack
Single box pollutes entire LAN
Researchers have identified a new trojan that can tamper with a wide array of devices on a local network, an exploit that sends them to impostor websites even if they are hardened machines that are fully patched or run non-Windows operating systems.
The malware is a new variant of the DNSChanger, a trojan that has long been known to change the domain name system settings of PCs and Macs alike. According to researchers with anti-virus provider McAfee's Avert Labs, the update allows a single infected machine to pollute the DNS settings of potentially hundreds of other devices running on the same local area network by undermining its dynamic host configuration protocol, or DHCP, which dynamically allocates IP addresses.
"Systems that are not infected with the malware can still have the payload of communicating with the rogue DNS servers delivered to them," McAfee's Craig Schmugar writes here of the new variant. "This is achieved without exploiting any security vulnerability."
The scenario plays out something like this:
• Jill connects a PC infected by the new DNSChanger variant to a coffee shop's WiFi hotspot or her employer's local network.
• Steve connects to the same network using a fully-patched Linux box, which requests an IP address.
• Jill's PC injects a DHCP offer command to instruct Steve's computer to rout all DNS requests through a booby-trapped DNS server.
• Steve's Linux box can no longer be trusted to visit authoritative websites. Although the address bar on his browser may show he is accessing bankofamerica.com, he may in fact be at an impostor website.
The only way a user might know the attack is underway is by manually checking the DNS server his computer is using (e.g. by typing "ipconfig /all" at a Windows command prompt). There are several countermeasures users can take, Schmugar said, the easiest being hard-coding a DNS server in a machine's configuration settings.
(In Windows, this can be done by going to Start > Control Panel > Network Connections and right clicking on Local Area Connection and choosing properties. Scroll down to Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and click the Properties button. Then type in the primary and secondary for your DNS service. We're partial to OpenDNS, whose settings are 220.127.116.11 and 18.104.22.168.)
In an interview, Schmugar said the DHCP attack doesn't exploit a vulnerability in either user machines or network hardware, allowing it to work with a wide variety of home and enterprise routers. It involves a ndisprot.sys driver that is installed on the infected box. Once there, it monitors network traffic for DHCP requests and responds with bogus offers that contain the IP address to the rogue DNS server.
DNSChanger has already been viewed exploiting router weaknesses to change DNS settings, but the ability to poison other machine's DHCP connections appears to be new, said Eric Sites, VP of research at Sunbelt Software. For the moment, the new variant doesn't appear to be widely circulated, but the prospect of a trojan that can poison other machines' DHCP connections suggests this one is worth watching.
Microsoft Warns of New Windows Bug, Says Attacks Under Way
WordPad Text Converter flaw wasn't patched in big Tuesday update
On the same day that Microsoft Corp. released its biggest batch of security patches in more than five years, the company also warned Windows users of a critical bug that it didn't get around to fixing.
In an advisory posted yesterday, Microsoft said that "limited and targeted" attacks are in progress by hackers exploiting an unpatched vulnerability in the WordPad Text Converter, a tool included with all versions of Windows. The flawed converter handles Microsoft Word 97 files on Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 (SP4), XP SP2, Server 2003 SP1 and SP2.
Newer versions of Windows -- XP SP3, Vista and Server 2008 -- are not vulnerable to the bug, however.
WordPad is a basic word processor that has been bundled with Microsoft's operating system since Windows 95. The converter allows people who don't have the company's Word application to open documents in Windows Write, Word 6.0, Word 97, Word 2000 and Word 2002 formats.
Microsoft said that the WordPad converter bug requires some help from the user, who must be tricked into actually opening a malicious file -- most likely delivered as an e-mail attachment.
It also gave users equipped with Word some additional advice about how to block attacks. "When Microsoft Office Word is installed, Word 97 documents are by default opened using Word, which is not affected by this vulnerability. However, an attacker could rename a malicious file to have a Windows Write (.wri) extension, which would still invoke WordPad. This file type can be blocked at the Internet perimeter," the advisory said.
As it almost always does in its advisories, Microsoft was vague about whether it plans to patch the problem. "Upon completion of this investigation, Microsoft will take the appropriate action to help protect our customers," the boilerplate text read. "This may include providing a security update through our monthly release process or providing an out-of-cycle security update, depending on our customer needs."
The last time Microsoft issued a security advisory was in late October, just days after it released an emergency patch for Windows, when it told users that exploit code had made it to the Web. That bug was later exploited by several pieces of malware, including the "Conficker.a" worm, which some researchers said was being used to build a massive botnet.
If Microsoft does patch the WordPad problem on its monthly schedule, the first opportunity for fixing the flaw would be Jan. 9, 2009.
Researchers Inadvertently Release IE7 Attack Code
Chinese researchers fail to note that the last security patch released by Microsoft did not take care of a problem they had earlier identified; thinking the problem has been fixed, the researchers release code that might be misused to exploit an unpatched IE 7 vulnerability
In Plato's Republic the question is posed: "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (who will guard the guardians?) Here is a case showing that the question is still relevant today. Chinese researches admitted that they inadvertently released code that might be misused to exploit an unpatched Internet Explorer 7 vulnerability. Register's John Leyden reports that scripts to pull off the trick were already on sale in underground forums before the inadvertent release. Still, anything that increases the likelihood of digital delinquents getting their hands on the exploit is unwelcome.
VeriSign's iDefense security division reports that attack code was up for sale at prices of up to $15,000 through underground forums. Prices are likely to slide following the release of assault code from labs run by KnownSec. Security tools firm eEye reckons the flaw has been the target of exploitation since 15 November.
According to iDefense, KnownSec made the code available after failing to note that last Tuesday's Microsoft bulletins failed to fix the underlying vulnerability behind the bug, which revolves around IE7's handling of malformed XML tags. KnownSec offers an explanation of what happened -- alas, it is in Mandarin. Here is the first sentence:
Leyden writes that the security flaw affects XP and Vista users, and creates a means to load Trojans or other forms of malware onto even fully patched Windows boxes simply by tricking surfers into visiting maliciously constructed websites. The attack method has been thus far restricted to delivering game password stealers, the Internet Storm Center reports. Microsoft is investigating reports of attacks and considering its options. Leyden notes that the timing of the attack in the run up to the holiday period -- and just after a bumper batch of eight bulletins -- suggests an out-of-sequence patch might be on order before the next scheduled patch.
FTC Kills Scareware Operation that Duped Over a Million Users
The Federal Trade Commission today got a court to at least temporarily halt a massive "scareware" scheme, which falsely claimed that scans had detected viruses, spyware, and pornography on consumers' computers.
According to the FTC, the scheme has tricked more than one million consumers into buying computer security products such as WinFixer, WinAntivirus, DriveCleaner, ErrorSafe, and XP Antivirus. The court also froze the assets of Innovative Marketing, Inc. and ByteHosting Internet Services, LLC to preserve the possibility of providing consumers with monetary redress, the FTC stated.
The defendants used an elaborate ruse that duped Internet advertising networks and popular Web sites into carrying their advertisements, according to the FTC's complaint. The defendants falsely claimed that they were placing Internet ads on behalf of legitimate companies and organizations. But due to hidden programming code that the defendants inserted into the advertisements, consumers who visited Web sites where these ads were placed did not receive them, the FTC said. Instead, consumers received exploitive advertisements that took them to one of the defendants' Web sites. These sites would then claim to scan the consumers' computers for security and privacy issues. The "scans" would find a host of purported problems with the consumers' computers and urge them to buy the defendants' computer security products for $39.95 or more. However, the scans were entirely false, the FTC said
Innovative Marketing is incorporated in Belize and maintains offices in Kiev, Ukraine. ByteHosting Internet Services is based in Cincinnati, Ohio. The FTC complaint alleges that these two companies, along with individuals Daniel Sundin, Sam Jain, Marc D'Souza, Kristy Ross, and James Reno, violated the FTC Act. The complaint also names a sixth individual, Maurice D'Souza, as a relief defendant who received proceeds from the scheme.
Under US District Court for the District of Maryland order, the defendants are barred from falsely representing that they have run any type of computer analysis, or that they have detected security or privacy problems on a consumer's computer. They also are barred from using domain names obtained with false or incomplete information, placing advertisements purportedly on behalf of a third party without that party's consent, or otherwise attempting to conceal their own identities. The order also mandates that companies hosting the defendants' Web sites and providing domain-registration services take the necessary steps to keep consumers from accessing these Web sites, the FTC said.
The FTC seeks to permanently bar the defendants from engaging in "scareware" marketing and pay for any damages and ill-gotten booty.
Md. Court Weighs Internet Anonymity
Case pits free speech against redress for defamation
Henri E. Cauvin
In a First Amendment case with implications for everything from neighborhood e-mail lists to national newspapers, an Eastern Shore businessman argued to Maryland's highest court yesterday that the host of an online forum should be forced to reveal the identities of people who posted allegedly defamatory comments.
It is the first time the Maryland Court of Appeals has confronted the question of online anonymity, an issue that has surfaced in state and federal courts over the past few years as blogs and other online forums have increasingly become part of the national discourse.
The businessman, Zebulon J. Brodie, contends that he was defamed by comments about his shop, a Dunkin' Donuts in Centreville, posted on NewsZap.com. The shop was described as one "of the most dirty and unsanitary-looking food-service places I have seen."
The comment was posted in a 2006 exchange among anonymous posters named CorsicaRiver, RockyRacoonMd and others. Brodie is not certain which poster is responsible for that and other remarks that he claims were defamatory, and he has only their screen names. Brodie is demanding that Independent Newspapers Inc., the company that owns the site, divulge the identities of his critics.
A Circuit Court judge in Queen Anne's County ordered the company to hand over the information. The company appealed, setting up yesterday's argument in Annapolis.
In a sign of the significance of the issue, Independent Newspapers has been represented by the litigation arm of Public Citizen, the national consumer advocacy organization, and by a leading First Amendment lawyer, Bruce W. Sanford.
For advocates of strong protections for anonymous speech and the Internet, online chat rooms are the 21st-century successors to the town square and the political pamphlet.
"There's a long tradition in U.S. history of at least anonymous political speech, and certainly when you contemplate the Internet and the new opportunities it offers, this is the way a lot of speech happens," Sam Bayard, assistant director of the Citizens Media Law Project at Harvard Law School, said in an interview.
At the same time, however, many argue that the First Amendment should not become a shield for those responsible for defamatory remarks. The reach of the Internet has allowed anonymous speech to potentially influence more people than ever, compounding the harm of a false claim.
In the case of Independent Newspapers v. Brodie, the right to free speech has bumped up against the right to seek redress in court for civil wrongs.
For a little more than an hour yesterday, Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer for Public Citizen, and E. Sean Poltrack, a lawyer for Brodie, argued before the seven members of the state's high court over how the judges should balance those rights.
Filing a lawsuit would ordinarily allow a plaintiff to begin the process of requesting relevant information to which it is entitled, known as discovery, not only from the defendant but also from third parties such as, in this case, the newspaper company.
But with the defendants' right to express themselves anonymously in the balance, such information should not be easily compelled, Levy argued. Instead, plaintiffs should have to present more evidence in support of their claim than what is typically required to initiate discovery. "Otherwise, you don't have the compelling government interest to set aside the First Amendment right," Levy told the judges."
Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., the most active questioner in the case, challenged Levy about how such a showing would be made. Would an affidavit suffice? Would a hearing be necessary? And he wondered whether a trial judge's preliminary determination that the statements could be defamatory would be a sufficient basis for the plaintiff to obtain the identities of the posters.
Levy did not suggest that the right to speak anonymously is absolute. But caution is in order because once anonymity is gone, it cannot be restored, he said.
A number of state courts have heard similar cases, and Levy urged the Maryland judges to follow the lead of New Jersey, where in 2001 an appeals court crafted a standard for cases involving subpoenas to identify anonymous Internet speakers. The court required plaintiffs to produce "sufficient evidence" of their cause of action and mandated that judges balance First Amendment rights against the strength of the plaintiffs' case and the need for identities to be disclosed.
But Poltrack argued that the circuit judge, Thomas G. Ross, conducted a balancing test of his own and concluded that Independent Newspapers was obligated to identify the users sought by Brodie.
Poltrack said that requiring plaintiffs to provide evidence at such an early stage was unfair. "It's a tremendous and onerous burden," he told the judges.
CRTC New Media Hearing: The Three Battleground Issues
Friday was the deadline for written submissions to the CRTC's New Media hearing and the Commission has already posted filings from nearly 100 individuals and organizations. While there are some noteworthy side copyright issues (the CMPDA - the Canadian arm of the MPAA - is concerned that dropping the new media exception would bring back iCraveTV and the legality of Internet retransmission, while CRIA implausibly argues without any evidence that "one of the factors that has significantly restricted legitimate Canadian broadcasting content being delivered and accessed over the Internet is the proliferation of unauthorized file swapping and downloading"), the real fight in the February hearings will come down to three issues:
1. The ISP Levy
Several creator groups unsurprisingly argue for a new levy on ISP subscribers to fund the creation of Canadian new media. ACTRA assumes the lead role in this regard, seeking 3 percent of ISP broadband revenues and 0.6 percent of wireless service provider revenues. The proposed levy is opposed by many groups including telecommunications companies and the Competition Bureau. The telecom companies include a paper written by MIT's David Clark and William Lehr and Rogers offers a rebuttal from Suzanne Blackwell and a legal opinion from Faskens.
2. The New Media Regulatory Exemption
Many submissions call on the CRTC to continue the regulatory exemption for new media, including the wireless industry, Google, telecom industry, the NHL, and the broadcasters. On the other hand, ACTRA and SOCAN lead the charge for a new, highly regulated Internet. SOCAN's vision is astonishing, calling for at least 51 percent Canadian content requirements for Canadian commercial websites. ACTRA calls for full Cancon rules for new media and wants the CRTC to licence new media undertakings, arguing that "the Commission should also require that those who are making programs available from Canada, through the Internet or to mobile receiving devices, for viewing at a time and place chosen by the user be licensed." Note that ACTRA also believes that user generated content should regulated under the Broadcasting Act.
3. Net Neutrality
The link between new media and net neutrality has clearly resonated with a large number of groups. While the telecommunications companies do not touch the issue, many groups express concern about a non-neutral Internet. These include ACTRA, CIRPA, the Canadian Music Publishers Association, the Canadian Conference of the Arts (which argues that the New Media hearings should be delayed to coincide with the net neutrality hearing), Stornaway Communications, and Pelmorex Media.
21 Million German Bank Accounts - Yours for Only €12m
It's a steal
Identity thieves who claim they stole details of 21 million German bank accounts are offering to sell the data on the black market for €12 million (US$15.3 million), a German magazine reported over the weekend.
To prove they weren't bluffing, the crooks produced the compact disc containing the names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays account numbers, and bank routing numbers of 1.2 million accounts. Two investigative reporters for WirtschaftsWoche say they obtained the CD during a face-to-face meeting at a hotel in Hamburg with two individuals involved with the theft. The journalists were posing as interested buyers working for a gambling operation.
"We took away with us the first delivery, a CD with 1.2 million accounts, that we couldn't imagine," said one of the editors overseeing the investigation. "In the worst case, three out of four German households would have to be afraid that some money could be taken from their checking account without their authorisation, and perhaps even without their realising it," the magazine stated.
The information was most likely collected from call center employees, the magazine said.
It's Germany's second mega heist of personal information in as many months. In October, T-Mobile admitted losing records belonging to 17 million customers that included their names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, and email addresses.
Peter Schaar, a government official in charge of protecting personal data, said the WirtschaftsWoche report should serve as a wake up call.
"It is essential that personal data cannot be transmitted with the individual's explicit agreement," he told ZDF television.
Border Laptop Searches Raise Concern
Mohamed Shommo, an engineer for Cisco Systems Inc., travels overseas several times a year for work, so he is accustomed to opening his bags for border inspections upon returning to the U.S. But in recent years, these inspections have gone much deeper than his luggage.
Border agents have scrutinized family pictures on Shommo's digital camera, examined Koranic verses and other audio files on his iPod and even looked up Google keyword searches he had typed into his company laptop.
"They literally searched everywhere and every device they could," said Shommo, who now minimizes what he takes on international trips and deletes pictures off his camera before returning to the U.S. "I don't think anyone has a right to look at my private belongings without my permission. You never know how they will interpret what they find."
Given all the personal details that people store on digital devices, border searches of laptops and other gadgets can give law enforcement officials far more revealing pictures of travelers than suitcase inspections might yield. That has set off alarms among civil liberties groups and travelers' advocates — and now among some members of Congress who hope to impose restrictions on the practice next year.
They fear the government has crossed a sacred line by rummaging through electronic contact lists and confidential e-mail messages, trade secrets and proprietary business files, financial and medical records and other deeply private information.
These searches, opponents say, threaten Fourth Amendment safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure and could chill free expression and other activities protected by the First Amendment. What's more, they warn, such searches raise concerns about ethnic and religious profiling since the targets often are Muslims, including U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
"I feel like I don't have any privacy," said Shommo, a native of Sudan who has been in the U.S. for more than a decade and plans to apply for citizenship next year. "I don't feel treated equally to everybody else. I feel discriminated against."
Customs and Border Protection, part of the Department of Homeland Security, asserts that it has constitutional authority to conduct routine searches at the border — without suspicion of wrongdoing — to prevent dangerous people and property from entering the country. This authority, the government maintains, applies not only to suitcases and bags, but also to books, documents and other printed materials — as well as to electronic devices.
Such searches, the government notes, have uncovered everything from martyrdom videos and other violent jihadist materials to child pornography and stolen intellectual property.
While Homeland Security points out that these procedures predate the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, civil liberties groups have seen an uptick in complaints about border searches of electronic devices in the past two years, according to Shirin Sinnar, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. In some cases, travelers suspected border agents were copying their files after taking their laptops and cell phones away for anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks or longer.
Such inspections appear to amount to "a fishing expedition" by border agents, said Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates.
These objections led the Asian Law Caucus and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file a Freedom of Information request to obtain the federal policy on border searches of electronic devices. When the government failed to respond, the groups filed a lawsuit this year. And lawmakers began demanding answers.
So in July, amid the mounting outside pressure, Homeland Security released a formal policy stating that federal agents can search documents and electronic devices at the border without suspicion. The procedures also allow border agents to detain documents and devices for "a reasonable period of time" to perform a thorough search "on-site or at an off-site location."
The problem with this policy, argues Marcia Hofmann, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is that the contents of a laptop or other digital device are fundamentally different than those of a typical suitcase.
As Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is co-sponsoring one of several bills in Congress that would restrict such searches, put it: "You can't put your life in a suitcase, but you can put your life on a computer."
Susan Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, which filed its own Freedom of Information request to obtain the government's laptop search policy, noted that border searches pose a particular concern for international business travelers. That's because they often carry sensitive corporate information on their laptops and don't have the option of leaving their computers at home.
And for many travelers, the concerns go beyond their own privacy or the privacy of their employers. Lawyers may have documents subject to attorney-client privilege. Doctors may be carrying patient records.
Tahir Anwar is an imam at a mosque in San Jose, Calif., so his laptop and iPhone contain confidential information about the mosque's members, including their personal e-mail messages.
Anwar has traveled abroad 12 times over the past 2Â½ years and he has been detained upon returning to the U.S. every time. Border agents have searched his laptop and once took away his cell phone for 15 minutes.
Now when Anwar travels, he simply leaves his laptop behind and deletes e-mail off his iPhone before crossing the border, synching it back up with his computer after he gets home.
"People tell me their innermost secrets," Anwar said. "I tell people to e-mail me, so a lot of personal information is in my e-mail. If people find out that this information is being looked at, I can't serve my purpose and people won't come to me."
For its part, the government argues that some of the most dangerous contraband is transported in digital form today — making searches of electronic devices a crucial law enforcement tool.
Among the successful searches the government cites from recent years: In 2006, a man arriving from the Netherlands at the Minneapolis airport had digital pictures of high-level Al-Qaida officials, and video clips of improvised explosive devices being detonated and of the man reading his will. The man was convicted of visa fraud and removed from the country.
"To treat digital media at the international border differently than Customs and Border Protection has treated documents and other conveyances historically would provide a great advantage to terrorists and others who seek to do us harm," Jayson Ahern, the agency's deputy commissioner, said in a statement submitted to the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution in June. Homeland Security did not send anyone to testify.
Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for the department, also stressed that a tiny fraction of 1 percent of all travelers are singled out for laptop searches at the border. She added that Homeland Security does not profile based on religion, race, ethnicity or any other criteria in conducting such searches.
So far, only a handful of court cases have addressed the issue.
Federal appeals courts in two circuits have upheld warrantless or "suspicionless" computer searches at the border that turned up images of child pornography used as evidence in criminal cases.
But late last year, a U.S. magistrate judge in Vermont ruled that the government could not force a man to divulge the password to his laptop after a search at the Canadian border found child pornography. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Vermont is appealing the decision to the U.S. district court.
Now Congress is getting involved. A handful of bills have been introduced that could pass next year.
One measure, sponsored by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., chairman of the Constitution subcommittee, would require reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to search the contents of electronic devices carried by U.S. citizens and legal residents. It would also require probable cause and a warrant or court order to detain a device for more than 24 hours.
And it would prohibit profiling of travelers based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is sponsoring a bill in the House that would also require suspicion to inspect electronic devices. Engel said he is not trying to impede legitimate searches to protect national security. But, he said, it is just as important to protect civil liberties.
"It's outrageous that on a whim, a border agent can just ask you for your laptop," Engel said. "We can't just throw our constitutional rights out the window."
What the Search Engines Have Found Out About All of Us
Google has released its map of the national brain and appetites for 2008, and it turns out that many, many people across America have been asking the Internet “what is love?” and “how to kiss.”
And to tighten the focus, Google has also provided a list of search queries made by people sitting at computers in New York City.
It turns out that New Yorkers are looking for something a bit different. On a list of the 10 subjects that posted the greatest increases this year, the country as a whole was looking for Fox News and information about David Cook, the “American Idol” champion.
Neither made the New York list. Then again, the national list did not have 2 of the city’s top 10: Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus architecture school, and the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile circular underground tunnel in Switzerland that was built to smash protons into each other at the speed of light.
No doubt someone out in cyberspace can explain the surge of interest this year in Gropius, who has been dead since 1969 and has only one structure of any note in the city, the former Pan Am building.
The collider is easier to understand. There were worries that the crash of protons would instantly create a black hole, but in good news that was widely overlooked at the time, no hole appeared — or is it disappeared? — on Sept. 10, the day the machine was turned on. Search-engine interest in the collider promptly dropped off, as people pointed their anxieties and inquiries toward “Wall Street.” (The collider is currently on the fritz, as is Wall Street.)
On the surface, these kinds of lists are supposed to reveal what Google calls the zeitgeist of 2008, though it’s not much of a surprise that people were interested in Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. But they also provide hints of the level of personal details that people are now turning over to search engines and related businesses without much awareness.
The lists, said Lt. Col. Greg Conti, a professor of computer science at West Point, “are just major tsunami-type activities, big waves in the online searches.”
Professor Conti, the author of “Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?” (Addison-Wesley, 2008), contends that Google’s internal tools make it possible to develop detailed pictures of individual interests, not just of masses of teenagers looking for the very latest about Miley Cyrus.
“A complete picture of us as individuals and as companies emerges — political leanings, medical conditions, business acquisitions signaled by job searches,” he said. “It would be very scary if we could play back every search we made. Those can be tied back very precisely to an individual. You can go all the way from individual molecules of water up to the tsunami.”
INFORMATION on the Web looks free, but it is actually swapped for little bits of data that are useful to businesses. Google records Internet protocol addresses that are generated by each computer, cookies permitted by the users, the kind of browser being used, and the operating system of the computer, said Heather Spain, a spokeswoman for Google.
After nine months, Ms. Spain said, Google “anonymises” the data it has collected.
“At that point we permanently delete the last two digits from both the I.P. address and parts of the cookie numbers,” she said. “This breaks the link between the search query and the computer it was entered from. It’s similar to the way in which credit card companies replace digits with hash marks on receipts to improve their customers’ security.”
Professor Conti said that few people have the slightest idea how much of a trail they leave across the Internet. “People tend to think they’re only leaving footprints on sites that they trust,” he said, but many Web sites contain invisible code, like Google Analytics, that can track users over swaths of the Web.
The lists of popular searches, Ms. Spain said, are the products of inquiries by millions of people and do not threaten anyone’s privacy. The tools Google provides to the public for analyzing searches generally make it possible to look at the inquiries made in a particular state, not by individual cities.
For now, surrendering personal information is the cost for asking questions and getting answers quickly. All of the privacy measures are cumbersome.
“I speak about this at hacker conferences,” Professor Conti said, “and if they say something’s hard to use, believe me, it’s hard. There’s really no solution now — except abstinence. And if you choose not to use online tools, you’re not a member of the 21st century.”
Cutting the cheese
Smiling, Glasses and Hats Taboo for Driver's License Photos
Don't flash a toothy smile, don't wear your glasses and don't wear a hat or head scarf while you're getting your photo taken for an Indiana driver's license or identification card.
The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles last month rolled out a new set of rules governing how people must be photographed on their driver's license photos.
No, the rules aren't designed to make driver's license photos -- which already had a reputation for being unflattering -- even worse.
Rather, the BMV is making the photographs uniform so their facial recognition software can be its most effective in spotting fraudulent license applications.
A person's new photograph will be compared against old photographs on file -- more than 6 million dating back at least eight years -- to protect customers from identity fraud, said Ron Stiver, BMV commissioner.
"We take very seriously our responsibility to help protect the personal identity of Hoosiers, and the employment of this innovative technology is yet another important step forward in doing just that," Stiver said.
BMV Communications Director Dennis Rosebrough said if a criminal went to get a driver's license under his name, the criminal's photograph would be compared to an old photograph of Rosebrough and the BMV could be alerted the next day that the two don't match.
Rosebrough said the new technology is just an advancement of what the BMV already was doing. BMV employees always have looked at the old photo of a person to see if it looked like the person seeking a new license.
The facial recognition software might raise privacy issues, Rosebrough acknowledged. The BMV could give police a photo of a wanted person and that person could be arrested going through an airport where facial recognition software is used.
But Rosebrough said the BMV has long cooperated with law enforcement to provide photos and information that leads to arrests.
The bottom line, Rosebrough said, is that in this day of identity theft and fraud, "We believe it's our responsibility to assure all Hoosiers the credentials we issue ... are as accurate as possible." He said Indiana is one of about 20 states using the technology.
Rosebrough said BMV customers can petition to leave on headdresses in photographs for religious reasons and can petition to have a nonphoto license or identification card. Overall, the rule changes have been implemented without a hitch.
"We've really had minimal issues," Rosebrough said.
"If people understand why we're doing something, our experience is the great, great majority of our customers say 'fine, we get it.' "
Workers Pay for Debacle at Tribune
Andrew Ross Sorkin
Sam Zell acknowledged from the start that his deal for the Tribune Company was flawed.
“I’m here to tell you that the transaction from hell is done,” Mr. Zell said last December when he sealed his $8.2 billion takeover of the publisher of The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times.
But just how hellish this deal was, particularly for Tribune employees, became painfully clear on Monday when the 161-year-old company filed for bankruptcy.
There is a lot of blame to go around, and much of it will be directed at Mr. Zell, the real estate baron whose knack for buying when everyone else is selling earned him a fit sobriquet for the news business these days: The Grave Dancer.
Advertising is in a free fall, and every newspaper is suffering. But Mr. Zell literally mortgaged the future of Tribune’s employees to pursue what one analyst, Jack Newman, at the time called “a childhood fantasy.”
Mr. Zell financed much of his deal’s $13 billion of debt by borrowing against part of the future of his employees’ pension plan and taking a huge tax advantage. Tribune employees ended up with equity, and now they will probably be left with very little. (The good news: any pension money put aside before the deal remains for the employees.)
As Mr. Newman, an analyst at CreditSights, explained at the time: “If there is a problem with the company, most of the risk is on the employees, as Zell will not own Tribune shares.” He continued: “The cash will come from the sweat equity of the employees of Tribune.”
And so it is.
Granted, Mr. Zell, 67, put up some money. He invested $315 million in the form of subordinated debt in exchange for a warrant to buy 40 percent of Tribune in the future for $500 million. It is unclear how much he’ll lose, but one thing is clear: when creditors get in line, he gets to stand ahead of the employees.
Mr. Zell isn’t the only one responsible for this debacle. With one of the grand old names of American journalism now confronting an uncertain future, it is worth remembering all the people who mismanaged the company before hand and helped orchestrate this ill-fated deal — and made a lot of money in the process. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. They include members of the Tribune board, the company’s management and the bankers who walked away with millions of dollars for financing and advising on a transaction that many of them knew, or should have known, could end in ruin.
It was Tribune’s board that sold the company to Mr. Zell — and allowed him to use the employee’s pension plan to do so. Despite early resistance, Dennis J. FitzSimons, then the company’s chief executive, backed the plan. He was paid about $17.7 million in severance and other payments. The sale also bought all the shares he owned — $23.8 million worth. The day he left, he said in a note to employees that “completing this ‘going private’ transaction is a great outcome for our shareholders, employees and customers.”
Well, at least for some of them.
Tribune’s board was advised by a group of bankers from Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, which walked off with $35.8 million and $37 million, respectively. But those banks played both sides of the deal: they also lent Mr. Zell the money to buy the company. For that, they shared an additional $47 million pot of fees with several other banks, according to Thomson Reuters. And then there was Morgan Stanley, which wrote a “fairness opinion” blessing the deal, for which it was paid a $7.5 million fee (plus an additional $2.5 million advisory fee).
On top of that, a firm called the Valuation Research Corporation wrote a “solvency opinion” suggesting that Tribune could meet its debt covenants. Thomson Reuters, which tracks fees, estimates V.R.C. was paid $1 million for that opinion. V.R.C. was so enamored with its role that it put out a press release.
In some corners of the world, you could arguably applaud Tribune’s board for selling the company when they did. The Chandler family, which owned 12 percent of Tribune through its previous sale of Times Mirror, campaigned for a sale and eventually won, though the family accepted a much lower price than they had hoped.
You could even call them prescient, having sold before the financial crisis and economic downturn that has put so many companies in harm’s way. And at $34 a share, Tribune shareholders did well. The share price of the company’s closest rival, the McClatchy Company, has tumbled 84 percent since the Tribune deal closed.
But what about those employees? They had no seat at the table when the company’s own board let Mr. Zell use part of its future pension plan in exchange for $34 a share.
Mr. Newman, the analyst who predicted the trouble, said in an interview on Monday, “The employees were put in a very bad situation.” He added that while boards are typically only responsible to their shareholders, this situation may be different. “There has to be a balance,” he said, “to create sustainability for all the stakeholders.”
Dan Neil, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Los Angeles Times, led a lawsuit with other Tribune employees against Mr. Zell and Tribune this fall. The suit contended “through both the structure of his takeover and his subsequent conduct, Zell and his accessories have diminished the value of the employee-owned company to benefit himself and his fellow board members.”
If the employees win, they will become Tribune creditors — and stand in line with all other creditors in bankruptcy court.
Sony Ericsson, Vodafone Back Google's Android
Fourteen of the world's largest mobile phone and chip makers, including Sony Ericsson, Vodafone Group Plc and ARM Holdings Plc, joined the Open Handset Alliance on Tuesday to support the Android mobile device platform developed by Google Inc.
The new members' pledge to back the Android software is a significant feat for Google in the mobile phone industry, as its T-Mobile G1 phone takes on rival Apple Inc's wildly popular iPhone 3G.
Sony Ericsson, a joint venture of Japan's Sony Corp and Sweden's Ericsson, said on Tuesday it plans to release a mobile phone that uses the Android software in mid-2009.
"Android is set to become a significant application framework for mobile phones," said Ericsson's head of mobile platforms Robert Puskaric in a statement.
By joining the Open Handset Alliance, each of the members commits to developing applications and services for mobile phones and handsets using the Android platform or designing Android-compatible mobile devices. Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc, Toshiba Corp and Garmin Ltd also pledged their support, bringing the total number of companies in the Open Handset Alliance to 47.
Both Google and Apple have wooed developers to create applications for their mobile devices, but Apple keeps a tight grip on the iPhone's hardware and operating software. Google's Android is open to being changed by outside developers.
(Reporting by Jennifer Martinez, with additional Reporting by Sinead Carew in New York; editing by Gerald E. McCormick)
Google Brings Old Magazines Back to Life, Online
On Tuesday Google announced a partnership with several publishers to bring complete catalogs of old magazines online.
By using the same scanning process that has been implemented for Google's Book Search product, these titles undergo optical character recognition and are indexed into Google's search engine. In a post on the company's official blog, Google said that the scanned works will first be available in Book Search, with integration into regular Google search results to follow.
Among the more notable publications are Popular Science, Men's Health, Ebony, and New York Magazine. As part of the partnership, magazine publishers are getting links leading users back to the publication's site. These show up on the side of the content, along with advertising and user reviews.
Google has not provided a full directory of scanned titles outside of using a magazine tag, which denotes titles that are not books. However, once you've discovered a title there's a really neat way to browse through its history by decade, which includes a Google Maps layer that shows you places mentioned with links right to that page or article.
It's not clear if Google or select publishers intend to further monetize this new program by selling full digital copies of certain titles. As it stands now, users are able to view entire copies of magazines, although they're not able to archive them for personal use offline.
Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?
JOCELYN BOWIE was thrilled by the invitation to join a book group. She had just returned to her hometown, Bloomington, Ind., to take an administration job at Indiana University, and thought she had won a ticket to a top echelon. “I was hoping to network with all these women in upper-level jobs at I.U., then I found they were in the book group,” she said. “I thought, ‘Great! They’ll see how wonderful I am, and we’ll have these great conversations about books.’ ”
Ms. Bowie cannot pinpoint the precise moment when disillusion replaced delight. Maybe it was the evening she tried to persuade everyone to look beyond Oprah Winfrey’s picks, “and they all said ‘What’s wrong with Oprah?’ ” she said.
Or perhaps it was the meeting when she lobbied for literary classics like “Emma” and the rest of the group was abuzz about “The Secret Life of Bees,” a pop-lit best seller.
The last straw came when the group picked “The Da Vinci Code” and someone suggested the discussion would be enriched by delving into the author’s source material. “It was bad enough that they wanted to read ‘Da Vinci Code’ in the first place,” Ms. Bowie said, “but then they wanted to talk about it.” She quit shortly after, making up a polite excuse: “I told the organizer, ‘You’re reading fiction, and I’m reading history right now.’ ”
Yes, it’s a nice, high-minded idea to join a book group, a way to make friends and read books that might otherwise sit untouched. But what happens when you wind up hating all the literary selections — or the other members? Breaking up isn’t so hard to do when it means freedom from inane critical commentary, political maneuvering, hurt feelings, bad chick lit and even worse chardonnay.
“Who knew a book group could be such a soap opera?” said Barb Burg, senior vice president at Bantam Dell, which publishes many titles adopted by book groups. “You’d think it would just be about the book. But wherever I go, people want to talk to me about the infighting and the politics.”
One member may push for John Updike, while everyone else is set on John Grisham. One person wants to have a glass of wine and talk about the book, while everyone else wants to get drunk and talk about their spouses. “There are all these power struggles about what book gets chosen,” Ms. Burg said. Then come the complaints: “It’s too long, it’s too short, it’s not literary enough, it’s too literary ... ”
The literary societies of the 19th century seemed content to leave the drama to authors and poets, whom they discussed with great seriousness of purpose. Some book groups evolved from sewing circles, which “gave women a chance to exercise their intellect and have a social gathering,” said Rachel W. Jacobsohn, author of “The Reading Group Handbook,” which gives a history of the format plus dos and don’ts for modern hosts.
Today there are perhaps four million to five million book groups in the United States, and the number is thought to be rising, said Ann Kent, the founder of Book Group Expo, an annual gathering of readers and authors.
“I firmly believe there was an uptick in the number of book groups after 9/11, and I’m expecting another increase in these difficult economic times,” she said. “We’re looking to stay connected and to have a form of entertainment that’s affordable, and book groups are an easy avenue for that.”
Most groups are all-female, but there are plenty of all-male and coed ones. Lately there have emerged plenty of online-only book groups too, though — given the difficulty of flinging a drink in the face of a member who suggests reading Trollope — those are clearly a different animal.
And more clubs means more acrimony. Sometimes there is a rambler in the group, whose opinion far outlasts the natural interest of others, or a pedant, who never met a literary reference she did not yearn to sling. The most common cause of dissatisfaction and departures?
“It’s because there’s an ayatollah,” said Esther Bushell, a professional book-group facilitator who leads a dozen suburban New York groups and charges $250 to $300 a member annually for her services. “This person expects to choose all the books and to take over all the discussions. And when I come on board, the ayatollah is threatened and doesn’t say anything.” Like other facilitators, she is hired for the express purpose of bringing long-winded types in line.
For Doreen Orion, a psychiatrist in Boulder, Colo., the spoiler in her book group was a drama queen who turned every meeting into her own personal therapy session. Dr. Orion was used to such people in her practice, but in her personal life — well, no thanks. “There were always things going on in her life with relationships, and she’d want to talk about it,” she said. “There’d be some weird thing in a book and she’d relate it to her life no matter what. Everything came back to her. It was really exhausting after a while.”
What attracted Susan Farewell to a book group called the IlluminaTea were guidelines that precluded such off-putting antics. No therapy talk, no chitchat and no skipping meetings. “It was very high-minded,” said Ms. Farewell, a travel writer in Westport, Conn. Members took turns selecting books, “and you felt that your choice was a measure of how intelligent and sophisticated and worldly you were,” she said.
The high standards extended to the refreshment table. “When it was your month to host a meeting, you would do your interpretation of a tea, and the teas got very competitive,” Ms. Farewell said. Homemade scones and Devonshire cream were par for the course, and Ms. Farewell recalls spending the day before her hostess stint making watercress and smoked salmon sandwiches.
This started to feel oppressive. “If the standards had been more relaxed, I would have stayed in the group,” she said. “But I just felt I couldn’t keep getting clotted cream. I couldn’t work and carry on the formality and get through the novel every month, so I just said I couldn’t make the meetings anymore.”
Some who leave one group find happiness in another. Dr. Orion and another woman broke from their original group and contacted another woman who had also left. “Then we secretly reconstituted as another group,” Dr. Orion said. “We’ve been going strong for 10 years, but our experience has made us cautious about inviting new members. We’ve become very selective.”
Nancy Atkins Peck, an artist and historian in Glen Rock, N.J., has also made a successful transition. Until the election cycle of 2004, she had loved her book group — the members read “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” novels by Virginia Woolf “and sometimes a paperback of no importance,” she said.
Then, after a presidential debate, an argument about the candidates ensued, “so it was decided that we couldn’t read any political books or have any political discussions anymore,” recalled Ms. Peck, who had just suggested the group read a book about the Bush White House.
“It was nixed, and I just felt that was unnatural,” given that the group had successfully discussed other sensitive issues, she said. She and her husband then joined a coed group, which has worked out well. “And we read a heck of a lot of political books,” she said triumphantly.
Sometimes the problem is a life-stage mismatch among group members. “I know of a group where all but one member has young children,” said Susanne Pari, author of the novel “The Fortune Catcher” and the program director at Book Group Expo. “They talk for 15 minutes about the book and then launch into a discussion of poopy diapers and nap times and preschool.”
Then the one member who had nothing to bring to the soiled Pampers conversation announced she did not have time for the group. For etiquette reasons, “it’s very uncommon” for people to give the real reason for their disenchantment, Ms. Pari said.
Ms. Bushell, the book-group facilitator, tells of one woman who left a group “because she didn’t envision herself sitting around talking about a book — she thought some business networking would take place.”
Another woman decamped because she wanted to read more chick lit. “I hate to sound ponderous,” Ms. Bushell said, “but I have a certain moral obligation. I don’t feel I can be paid for leading a discussion about ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’”
At Book Passage, a store with two branches in the San Francisco area, Kate Larson is something of a Miss Lonely Hearts for newcomers and disgruntled book group members. “I collect names, and when I get 12 or 14 I ask them to come to a meeting at the store,” she said. “If it looks like they all agree about what kinds of things they want to read, they’ve got a book club.”
Ms. Larson uses a newsletter to help people find special-interest groups — say, in science fiction or spirituality. Groups made up of total strangers seem to last longer, she said, “because the focus is truly on the book.”
As for Ms. Bowie of Indiana University, she was asked to join another group but has chosen to stay unaffiliated. “My experience was a real disappointment,” she said. “Now when I look at a novel in a store and it has book group questions in the back, it almost puts me off from buying it.”
One Alien to Another: A Broadcast to the Stars
Klaatu barada nikto, indeed.
Seeking the ultimate red carpet, or perhaps a chance to get a good word in for humanity to whoever might be Out There watching, the makers of the new movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still” have arranged for it to be beamed into space on Friday, on the same day the movie opens here on planet Earth.
The movie, starring Keanu Reeves as the alien Klaatu, who comes to warn mankind to change its warlike ways or be destroyed, is of course a remake of the 1951 classic starring Michael Rennie. No official translation of them exists, but the words “Klaatu barada nikto” were sufficient in the original movie to save the Earth, or at least postpone its day of judgment from Klaatu’s robot enforcer Gort. And they have been a touchstone of science fiction and alien sociology ever since.
So what better words to broadcast to the stars?
The movie will be broadcast in real time, starting at noon on Friday, by Deep Space Communications Network, a Florida company that has beamed whale songs and the Craigslist Web site, among other things, into space in the three years of its existence. According to its Web site, the company will transmit a five-minute signal into space for anyone for $299.
In this case, Jim Lewis, Deep Space’s director, said the company had to satisfy 20th Century Fox, the film’s producers, that the transmission could not be intercepted and pirated on Earth or in the air. The movie will be beamed in the direction of Alpha Centauri, a triple star system about four light-years from here. That means it will take four years for it to get to Alpha Centauri. (There is plenty of time to get popcorn, whoever you are.)
The reviews will take longer to come back, if they ever do, and we could hope they are kinder than Klaatu’s.
As an interstellar broadcast, the movie at least beats a Doritos commercial, which was broadcast into space by a set of European radar stations in June in the most recent high-profile space transmission. Whether it lives up artistically to the Beatles song “Across the Universe,” which NASA sent off in February as part of the agency’s 50th anniversary, remains to be seen.
The biologist and writer Lewis Thomas once suggested that if we were going to send anything to the stars, we send Bach. It would be bragging, he admitted, but we are allowed to put our best foot forward.
Television and radar signals have been leaking from the Earth out into space for most of a century, creating a bubble of football games, the Vietnam and Iraq wars, political conventions, quiz shows and “Howdy Doody” that is more than 100 light-years in diameter and growing.
That outpouring is one reason astronomers should not be perturbed about sending movies or commercials into space, said Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., which is engaged, among other things, in searching for extraterrestrial signals.
We’ve already advertised our presence.
Dr. Shostak, who was a consultant for the new movie, is chairman of a committee of the International Academy of Astronautics devoted to SETI.
There are some people, he acknowledges, who might worry that broadcasting “The Day the Earth Stood Still” could be inimical to our interests. He added, “I think that if these people are truly worried about such things, they might best begin by shutting down the radar at the local airport.”
This (New) American Life
A. O. Scott
Kelly Reichardt’s latest film, “Wendy and Lucy,” is 80 minutes long — it would fit inside Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” twice, with room to spare — and does not contain a superfluous word or shot. Like “Old Joy” (2006), Ms. Reichardt’s modest and critically beloved second feature, “Wendy and Lucy” takes place mainly outdoors and registers the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest with unostentatious affection.
Instead of a musical soundtrack there is, for the most part, the sighing of the wind in the trees, the rumbling of freight trains and trucks and, sometimes, the absent-minded humming of Michelle Williams, who plays Wendy, a young woman drifting through Oregon and Washington on her way to Alaska.
The Northwestern setting might put you in mind of a story by Raymond Carver, whose clean-lined prose has something in common with Ms. Reichardt’s reserved and attentive shooting style. At first glance “Wendy and Lucy” looks so modest and prosaic that it seems like little more than an extended anecdote. A young woman pauses on her journey in a nondescript, weary town and encounters a run of bad luck, some of it brought about by her own bad decisions. Her car breaks down. She is arrested for shoplifting. Her dog goes missing.
But underneath this plain narrative surface — or rather, resting on it the way a smooth stone rests in your palm — is a lucid and melancholy inquiry into the current state of American society. Much as “Old Joy” turned a simple encounter between two longtime friends into a meditation on manhood and responsibility at a time of war and political confusion, so does “Wendy and Lucy” find, in one woman’s partly self-created hard luck, an intimation of more widespread hard times ahead.
This movie, which was shot in August 2007 and made its way through various international festivals before arriving in Manhattan on Wednesday, seems uncannily well suited, in mood and manner, to this grim, recessionary season. We may be seeing more like it, which I suppose would be a silver lining of sorts.
Ms. Reichardt, quietly establishing herself as an indispensable American filmmaker, explores some paradigmatic and contradictory native themes: the nature of solidarity in a culture of individualism; the tension between the lure of the open road and the longing for home; the competing demands of freedom and obligation.
But these lofty ideas — the same ones that animated Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild,” another movie about a young person’s trek toward Alaska — are grounded in an unyielding material reality, subject to the remorseless logic of the cash nexus. The most expressive, most heartbreaking moment in “Wendy and Lucy” involves a small sum of money changing hands, a gesture that encapsulates both Ms. Reichardt’s humanism and her unsentimental sense of economic reality. Whatever big dreams may be driving Wendy, her mind is necessarily focused on dollars and cents.
Ms. Williams, always a thoughtful, risk-taking actress (see everything from “Brokeback Mountain” to “I’m Not There” to “Synecdoche, New York”), here expunges all traces of movie star glamour, dressing in brown, knee-length cut-off shorts and a shapeless blue sweatshirt, and framing her delicate, slightly elfin face with drab dark hair. Wendy’s manner is wary and diffident, and she calculates the dangers and possibilities of every encounter as if she were counting out pennies and dimes. She confronts a casually indifferent, intermittently compassionate world with an attitude that seems at once independent and helpless. Contemplating the final leg of her journey, which began in Indiana, Wendy is resilient and determined. Also lost, terrified and alone.
Except, that is, for Lucy, the yellow-brown mutt who is her companion, her responsibility and one of the few fixtures in Wendy’s mobile, minimal world. She has, in addition to her dog, an old Honda Accord, a money belt and a notebook in which she carefully records mileage and expenses. Her plan is to find work in a fish cannery, maybe in Ketchikan.
“I hear they need people up there,” she says. It’s a plain and practical statement that is also terribly sad in its implications. Apart from Lucy, there may not be anyone else who needs or wants Wendy.
When Wendy calls her sister back in Indiana from a pay phone, the sister is curt and suspicious, expecting a request for money or assistance. Some of the strangers Wendy meets are a little more generous and encouraging, but always within the constraints of their own circumstances. A parking lot security guard (Walter Dalton) becomes the closest thing she has to a friend, but only after he has shooed her off the premises. A mechanic (Will Patton) knocks a few dollars off his towing fee and gives her the benefit of his automotive expertise, which may hurt more than it helps. With one exception — a young supermarket worker (John Robinson) who insists on strict enforcement of the store’s zero-tolerance policy toward shoplifters — people give Wendy a break when they can.
Ms. Williams and the filmmakers (Ms. Reichardt wrote the screenplay with Jon Raymond, from whose story “Train Choir” “Wendy and Lucy” is adapted) refrain from making too overt a play for our sympathy. Like the locals Wendy encounters, we don’t know enough about her to form a clear judgment, and we may subject her to our own doubts and prejudices.
I think the film’s neutral, nonexpository style encourages this, allowing the more conventional-minded among us to wonder if driving to Alaska is really the best idea, or to question the wisdom of other aspects of Wendy’s plan. Disapproving of Wendy’s choices is one route to caring about her, which in turn leads to some difficult, uncomfortable questions. What would any of us do in her situation? What would we do if we met someone like her? How can we be sure we haven’t?
What will happen to her? The strength of this short, simple, perfect story of a young woman and her dog is that this does not seem, by the end, to be an idle or trivial question. What happens to Wendy — and to Lucy — matters a lot, which is to say that “Wendy and Lucy,” for all its modesty, matters a lot too.
“Wendy and Lucy” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has some swearing, a little drug use and a brief implication of violence, but no nudity, sex or murder. The rating seems to reflect, above all, an impulse to protect children from learning that people are lonely and that life can be hard.
WENDY AND LUCY
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Directed by Kelly Reichardt; written by Ms. Reichardt and Jon Raymond, based on the short story “Train Choir” by Mr. Raymond; director of photography, Sam Levy; edited by Ms. Reichardt and Mike Burchett; music by Will Oldham; produced by Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani and Larry Fessenden; released by Oscilloscope Laboratories. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes.
WITH: Michelle Williams (Wendy), Will Patton (Mechanic), John Robinson (Andy), Will Oldham (Icky), Walter Dalton (Security Guard) and Larry Fessenden (Man in Park).
Financial Crisis Tames Demand for World’s Oldest Service
On a recent night at Big Sister, which calls itself the world’s biggest Internet brothel, a middle-aged man selected a prostitute by pressing an electronic menu on a flat-screen TV to review the age, hair color, weight and languages spoken by the women on offer.
Once he had chosen an 18-year-old brunette, he put on a mandatory terry-cloth robe and proceeded to one of the brothel’s luridly lighted theme rooms: an Alpine suite decorated with foam rubber mountains covered with fake snow.
Nearby, in the brothel’s cramped control room, two young technicians worked dozens of hidden cameras that would film the man’s performance and stream it, live, onto Big Sister’s Web site.
Customers can have sex free of charge at Big Sister, in return for signing a release form allowing the brothel to film their sexual exploits.
But even with this financial incentive, Carl Borowitz, 26, Big Sister’s marketing manager, a Moravian computer engineer, lamented that the global financial crisis had diminished the number of sex tourists coming to Prague.
“Sex is a steady demand, because everyone needs it, and it used to be taboo, which made a service like ours all the more attractive,” said Mr. Borowitz, who looks more like Harry Potter than Larry Flynt. “But the problem today is that there is too much competition and our clients don’t have as much disposable income as before.”
In the Czech Republic, where prostitution operates in a legal gray zone, the sex industry is big business, generating more than $500 million in annual revenues, 60 percent of which is derived from foreign visitors, according to Mag Consulting, a Prague-based research firm that studies the industry.
Big Sister is not the only brothel suffering the effects of a battered global economy. While the world’s oldest profession may also be one of its most recession-proof businesses, brothel owners in Europe and the United States say the global financial crisis is hurting a once lucrative industry.
Egbert Krumeich, the manager of Artemis, Berlin’s largest brothel, said that in November, usually peak season for the sex trade, revenues were down by 20 percent. In Reno, Nev., the famed Mustang Ranch recently laid off 30 percent of its staff, citing a decline in high-spending clients.
Big Sister is not struggling as much as some of its more traditional rivals, since its revenues are largely derived from the 30 euros a month, or about $38, its 10,000 clients pay to gain access to its site.
But Mr. Borowitz said Big Sister hoped to offset a 15 percent drop in revenues over the past quarter by expanding into the United States. The brothel also produces cable TV shows that air on Sky Italia and Britain’s Television X, as well as DVDs like “World Cup Love Truck.”
Ester, an 18-year-old prostitute at Big Sister who declined to give her last name, said that big-spending clients had diminished, but that she was still earning nearly 2,000 euros a month — enough to pay the rent and buy Louis Vuitton bags. “The reason to do this is for the money,” she said, after gyrating half-naked on a pole. Being filmed, she added, made her feel more like an actress than a sex object.
Since the fall of Communism in 1989, the Czech Republic has become a major transit and destination country for women and girls trafficked from countries farther east like Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Moldova, according to the police.
For nearly 20 years, tens of thousands of sex tourists have streamed into Prague, the pristinely beautiful Czech capital, drawn by inexpensive erotic services, an atmosphere of anonymity for customers and a liberal population tolerant of adultery. According to Mag Consulting, 14 percent of Czech men admit to having sex with prostitutes, compared with a European Union average of 10 percent.
Dozens of cheap flights to Prague have also ensured a flow of bachelor parties from across Europe, with multiple daily flights from Britain alone.
Jaromir Beranek, an analyst with Mag Consulting, said the strength of the Czech crown against the euro, lower spending power and competition from lower-cost sex capitals like Riga, Latvia, and Krakow, Poland, were threatening one of the country’s most thriving sectors.
Many Czechs are more than happy to see Prague shrug off its reputation as one of the world’s top 20 sex destinations. But some in the hotel industry are so alarmed by the drop in tourists that they are lobbying the government to legalize the trade, in the hope that it will help lure more clients.
While some critics have warned that legalization would effectively transform the Czech state into the country’s biggest pimp, the Czech government is considering whether to emulate the Netherlands and Germany by regulating prostitution like any other industry. It is considering passing legislation by the end of the year that would require the Czech Republic’s estimated 10,000 prostitutes to register with the local authorities.
Dzamila Stehlikova, a minister from the Green Party, who is shepherding the bill through Parliament, argued that by forcing the business out into the open, it would make it harder for human traffickers to thrive, while helping to ensure mandatory health checkups for prostitutes. Other advocates argued that legalization would generate millions of euros in lost tax revenue from an industry that was largely underground.
Not everyone is enthusiastic; the prostitutes themselves say that being issued prostitution identification cards would further stigmatize them.
Hana Malinova, director of Bliss Without Risk, a prostitution outreach group, said she feared the current credit crunch was pushing more poor women into prostitution, since they could make more money selling their bodies — about 120 euros for a half-hour session at some upscale sex clubs in Prague — than flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
Even with the downturn, she added, prostitution was far more resilient than other industries, though the downturn was discouraging adultery.
“An Austrian farmer from a remote area who is not married will still cross the border to the Czech Republic looking for sex,” she said. “On the other hand, the recession is helping to keep husbands at home who might otherwise be cheating on their wives.”
In Czech towns near the German border in northern Bohemia, long blighted by a daily influx of sex tourists, many are happy that the business is suffering.
Only a few years ago the town of Dubi was so overrun by prostitution that a nearby orphanage was opened to provide refuge for dozens of unwanted babies of prostitutes and their German clients. Sex could be purchased for as little as 5 euros — the price of a few beers in Dresden — drawing a daily influx of more than 1,000 sex tourists.
Today, more than three dozen brothels have been winnowed down to four; several were converted into goulash restaurants or golf clubs.
Petr Pipal, Dubi’s conservative mayor whose zero-tolerance policy was a key reason for the change, said that installing surveillance cameras and police officers at the entrance of brothels had deterred sex tourists. Rising prices for sex services and the global financial crisis, he added, were also helping to tame demand.
“Two or three years ago, we would get 1,000 men coming here for sex on a Friday night, which is a lot for a town of 8,000 people,” he said. “The one good thing about the economic crisis is that it is helping to keep sex tourists away.”
In Prague, even brothels in the most touristy areas complain they are suffering from economic hardship. On a recent night near Wenceslas Square in Prague, dozens of young men loitered outside a row of neon-lighted sex clubs, beckoning passing tourists with offers of complementary alcohol and racy strip shows.
Inside Darling, a multilevel cabaret famous for cancan shows modeled on the Moulin Rouge in Paris, young women gyrated on a stage, surrounded by leopard skin couches, flashing disco balls and paintings of naked women.
Suzana Brezinova, the club’s marketing director, said some high-spending businessmen still visited Darling to shrug off economic doldrums.
“People have less money,” she said. “But hard times also mean that people want to be cheered up.”
Jan Krcmar contributed reporting from Prague, and Victor Homola from Berlin.
Telstra Says No to Filtering Trials
THE country's largest internet service provider has dealt the Rudd Labor Government a slap in the face by refusing to participate in content filtering trials.
Child protection group Child Wise said Telstra's decision was bad for Australia, but other groups welcomed the news.
Political activist organisation GetUp is even planning an advertising blitz to rally opposition to the filtering plans.
ISP Internode has also declined to take part, while Optus and iiNet will participate.
On November 10, the Government released details of its long-awaited call for expressions of interest on live content filtering trials for internet service and mobile providers.
Telstra, which through its BigPond internet service has millions of customers, showed its hand even before the clock struck midnight, the deadline for expressions of interest.
The blow was delivered in a succinct statement.
"Telstra is not in a position to participate in the Government's internet filtering trial, primarily due to customer management issues," a company spokesperson said. The company said it was separately evaluating technology that allowed blocking via defined blacklists.
"We will continue to work constructively with all stakeholders, including the Government, to help provide a safe internet environment for children," the Telstra spokesperson said.
Internode managing director Simon Hackett said: "We feel the policy is deeply flawed as it stands and further dignifying that policy with additional tests that will repeat the results of the tests done over the last decade will not turn a flawed policy into a good one."
Child Wise chief executive Bernadette McMenamin said Telstra's decision was a black day for Australia, and questioned the telco's commitment to protecting children online.
"This indicates that Telstra is not committed to banning child pornography and we should question its values," Ms McMenamin said.
It is unclear if Telstra's no-show will derail the Government's plans to introduce mandatory content filtering at internet service provider level, but Ms McMenamin said she hoped it wouldn't.
Telstra's decision came as no surprise as ISPs have warned there were problems with the call for expressions of interest.
One major issue is how service providers would choose participants, their customers, to take part in the pilot.
"Do we pick names out of a hat?" said one ISP staff member who declined to be named.
Another issue was the sample size. The call for expressions of interest does not stipulate how many internet users ISPs would have to enlist for the live trials to be credible.
Sage-Au, a not-for-profit professional organisation representing system administrators, said the figure should be in the millions.
"How do you choose these participants? To make these trials really meaningful, it has to be done in a real-world environment with millions of internet users," Sage-Au president Donna Ashelford said.
"The bottom line is live ISP content filtering is simply not feasible."
There's also the question of legal liability and who would be held responsible if something went awry during the pilot.
If the Government can back up calls for mandatory content filtering with legislation, ISPs may be more willing to play ball.
Meanwhile, GetUp national director Simon Sheikh said more than $41,000 had been raised to fund an advertising campaign against filtering slated to start next week.
The country's second-largest internet and mobile phone provider, Optus, has submitted an expression of interest application, but on its own terms.
"Our participation will be strictly limited to filtering only the Australian Communications and Media Authority blacklist, which contains URLs of illegal content," an Optus spokesperson said. There are 1300 web pages on the list.
"The trial is anticipated to operate in a specific geographic area, with customers given the option to opt out of the trial."
Details will be finalised closer to the trial launch and Optus will decide on the size of the sample and where the pilot will be conducted.
A spokesman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy declined to comment on Telstra's announcement, saying only: "A number of ISPs have indicated their intent to participate in the trial. We won't be commenting further until all responses have been received."
Labor Plan to Censor Internet in Shreds
The Government's plan to censor the internet is in tatters, with Australia's largest ISP saying it will not take part in live trials of the system and the second largest committing only to a scaled-back trial.
And the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has written to critics saying that the so-called "live" trials would be "a closed network test and will not involve actual customers". Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said this was a sign the Government was slowly backing away from the heavily criticised policy.
The live trials, scheduled to kick off before Christmas, were supposed to provide a definitive picture of whether the filters could work in the real world, after lab tests released by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in June found available ISP filters frequently let through content that should be blocked, incorrectly blocked harmless content and slowed down network speeds by up to 87 per cent.
But now Telstra and Internode have said they would not take part in the trials. iiNet has said it would take part only to prove to the Government that its plan would not work, while Optus will test a heavily cut-down filtering model.
The Government plans to introduce a two-tiered censorship system of filtering from the ISPs' end. The first tier would be compulsory for all Australians and would block all "illegal material", as determined by a blacklist of 10,000 sites administered by ACMA.
The second tier, which is optional, would filter out content deemed inappropriate for children, such as pornography. Experts say this second tier will have the most marked effect on network performance because every piece of traffic handled by the ISP will need to be analysed for "inappropriate" content.
Optus confirmed it would start a live pilot early next year but stressed it would test only the first tier and even then it would only block the current ACMA blacklist of 1300 URLs, as opposed to the Government's expanded 10,000 URL list.
Details are scant but the trial will operate in a specific geographical area and customers will be given the option to opt out.
Senator Conroy's office could not explain why it was telling people that the trials would not involve actual customers, which would give little indication of the real-world impact of the filtering plan.
Senator Conroy himself has consistently dodged questions about his policy in Parliament.
"How on earth could you conduct a 'live' trial if there are no customers to assess?" Opposition communications spokesman Nick Minchin said.
"The minister also continues to be deliberately vague and cryptic about the definition of unwanted content and now he is unable to clarify how this so-called live trial will be conducted, even though he wants it to start before December 24."
The Greens today called on the Government to abandon its internet filtering trial, saying it was flawed and doomed to failure.
The plan is opposed by the Greens, Opposition, the internet industry, some child welfare advocates, consumers and online rights groups. They fear the blacklist will be expanded to include the blocking of regular pornography, political views, gambling and pro-abortion sites.
"This trial is simply all show. It won't give any meaningful indication of how mandatory internet filtering would work in practice," Senator Ludlam said.
Colin Jacobs, vice-chairman of Electronic Frontiers Australia, said yesterday's incident in Britain, in which virtually the entire country was unable to edit Wikipedia because the country's Internet Watch Foundation had blacklisted a single image on the site, illustrated the pitfalls of mandatory ISP filtering.
Senator Conroy has said that, under his filtering plan, Australia would sign up to the same IWF blacklist.
"In Australia, not only would the Government have the ability to secretly add any site to our blacklist, but an unaccountable foreign-based organisation would as well," Mr Jacobs said.
"Given that the traffickers of genuine abuse material will not let themselves be slowed down by a filter and are already covering their tracks, the net result that will be achieved here is exactly this: inconvenience, chaos and expense with absolutely no dividend for the children."
Senator Ludlam said in a phone interview he believed Labor would drop the mandatory filtering policy in the new year once the now scaled-back trials were completed.
He said the Government could not abandon it now "without losing significant political face".
This Saturday anti-censorship protesters are planning to picket in Australia's capital cities, including Sydney's Town Hall and Melbourne's State Library.
Internet Censorship: Australia Says No
A nationwide protest rally against the internet censorship filter proposed by the Australian Labor Government was held today. Over 9,000 people were slated to attend nationwide. I was fortunate enough to go to the rally on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide, South Australia. I heard speeches from the Digital Liberty Coalition, the Green Left Weekly, and other concerned members of the public.
People NEED to pay attention and protest this issue, because the current Government is much more serious about the filter than governments have been in the past.
Some background on the internet filter, quoting from http://nocleanfeed.com:
People NEED to take action to prevent Australian’s civil rights being taken away. You can do this through GetUp!’s Save the Net campaign - 86,021 people have already take action and it’ll only take you a couple of seconds.
Cartoon Porn Kids are People, Judge Says in Simpsons Porn Case
Cartoon characters are people, a judge has ruled in an appeal by a man convicted of having porn based on the children from the popular Simpsons cartoon series.
In the New South Wales Supreme Court today, Justice Michael Adams ruled that a fictional cartoon character was a "person" within the meaning of the relevant state and commonwealth laws.
Alan John McEwan was appealing his February conviction for possessing child pornography and using his computer to access child pornography.
"The alleged pornography comprised a series of cartoons depicting figures modelled on members of the television animated series The Simpsons," the judge said.
The cartoons showed characters such as Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson having sex.
McEwan was convicted and fined $3000 and placed on a good behaviour bond.
"In my view, the magistrate was correct in determining that, in respect of both the commonwealth and the NSW offences, the word 'person' included fictional or imaginary characters ...," the judge said.
"... The mere fact that the figure depicted departed from a realistic representation in some respects of a human being did not mean that such a figure was not a 'person'."
In dismissing the appeal, the judge ordered each party to pay its own legal costs in the first case dealing with the "difficult" issue.
Brit ISPs Censor Wikipedia Over 'Child Porn' Album Cover
Virgin Killer births mass edit ban
Six British ISPs are filtering access to Wikipedia after the site was added to an Internet Watch Foundation child-pornography blacklist, according to Wikipedia administrators.
As of Sunday morning UK time, certain British web surfers were unable to view at least one Wikipedia article tagged with ostensible child porn. And, in a roundabout way, the filtering has resulted in Wikipedia admins banning large swaths of the United Kingdom from editing the "free encyclopedia anyone can edit."
On Friday, Wikipedia administrators noticed that Virgin Media, Be Unlimited/O2/Telefonica, EasyNet/UK Online, PlusNet, Demon, and Opal were routing Wikipedia traffic through a small number of transparent proxy servers as a way of blocking access to the encyclopedia's article on Virgin Killer, a mid-1970s record album from German heavy band Scorpions.
At it stands, the article includes an image of the album's original cover, which depicts a naked prepubescent girl. The cover was banned in many countries and replaced by another when the album made its 1976 debut. And apparently, the image is now on a blacklist compiled by the Internet Watch Foundation, a government-backed organization charged with fighting online child pornography in the UK and Europe.
According to posts on Wikipedia and Wikinews, users of those six ISPs receive blank pages, "404 errors," or something similar if they attempt to view the Virgin Killer article. But that's half the issue.
Because the six ISPs are routing Wikipedia traffic through transparent proxies, huge numbers of would-be Wikipedia editors appear to be coming from the same IP range. A single IP, for instance, may identify all Virgin Media users. This means that if Wikipedia admins ban one Virgin Media customer for "abusing" the site with inappropriate edits, they ban every Virgin Media customer.
According to ZDNet, many UK users receive this message if they attempt to edit the site:
Wikipedia has been added to a Internet Watch Foundation UK website blacklist, and your Internet service provider has decided to block part of your access. Unfortunately, this also makes it impossible for us to differentiate between different users, and block those abusing the site without blocking other innocent people as well.
In Wikiland, this creates an epic user-generated conundrum. Wikipedia fancies itself as a kind of Web 2.0 wonderland where anyone on earth can contribute. So it doesn't like banning edits from enormous chunks of the UK. But administrators have refused to remove the naked prepubescent on the grounds that "Wikipedia doesn't censor."
According to admins, the issue is now in the hands of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that oversees Wikipedia. But as of Sunday morning, the Foundation had not spoken.
Whether it removes the naked prepubescent or not, the Foundation will receive an uncensored Web 2.0 tongue lashing. Wikipedia isn't a user-generated utopia. It's a cultish self-contradiction that can't help but undermine its own ideals.
IWF Backs Down on Wiki Censorship
The online watchdog, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), has withdrawn its objection to a Wikipedia page that contained an image of a naked girl.
The page of the online encyclopaedia shows an album cover of German heavy metal band Scorpions, released in 1976.
A number of internet providers blocked the page after IWF said it could be "potential illegal child sexual abuse."
The IWF now says that given the age and availability of the image, it was no longer on its list of proscribed sites.
Volunteers who run Wikipedia said it was not for the foundation to censor the site, which is one of the web's most popular.
They also argued that the image was available in a number of books and had never been ruled illegal.
In a statement on its website, the IWF said that the image could still potentially breach the Protection of Children Act 1978, but "in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list."
Wikipedia volunteer David Gerard said he and fellow users were angry that as well as the photo, the text on the page had been blocked.
"Blocking text is a whole new thing - it's the first time they've done this on such a visible site," he said.
The IWF admitted that its attempts to prevent people seeing the image had been counter productive.
"IWF's overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect. We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users."
Sony Sued for Collecting Data on Children Under 13
Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the recording company of Justin Timberlake and Bruce Springsteen, has been sued by the U.S. for collecting and disclosing personal data about 30,000 young children without informing their parents.
The Federal Trade Commission filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday in Manhattan federal court. The suit, which alleges violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, seeks unspecified money damages and an injunction.
"Sony Music collected, used and/or disclosed personal information from children without first providing their parents with notice of its information practices," the complaint says.
The FTC claims Sony Music, a Sony unit that operates more than 1,100 music-related Web sites, collected information from more than 30,000 children under age 13 since 2004, despite claiming on its sites that visitors that young wouldn't be allowed to register.
Sony agreed to pay a $1 million fine and hire a compliance officer who will put a screening process in place to prevent the collection of such data, according to two people close to the agreement who declined to be identified. The settlement may be announced as early astoday, they said.
The sites collected information such as names, addresses, mobile phone numbers, e-mail addresses, dates of birth, ZIP codes, usernames and gender, the FTC said.
Four years on
How Spyware Nearly Sent a Teacher to Prison
Julie Amero's career is over, but few believe she did anything wrong
If there's a poster child for the dangers of spyware, it's Julie Amero.
The 41-year-old former substitute teacher was convicted of four felony counts of endangering minors last year, stemming from an October 19, 2004, classroom incident where students were exposed to inappropriate images.
Amero was an unlikely porn surfer. Four months pregnant at the time, she said she had only just learned to use email. She says she was well-liked by teachers and students at Kelly Middle School in Norwich, Connecticut, where the incident occurred.
Amero said she did everything she could to protect her kids, but school officials, reacting to angry calls from parents, went to the police, who soon pressed criminal charges.
The case ruined her life. She believes stress from the arrest caused her to miscarry her baby, and her career as a teacher is finished. A heart condition landed her in the hospital after she fainted several times. And while she was briefly employed at an area Home Depot last year, she was fired from the job shortly after an employee posted news clippings about her trial in the employee lounge.
Her conviction in January 2007 was the low point of her life, but soon after that Amero found a champion in Alex Eckelberry, the CEO of Sunbelt Software, who contacted her after hearing about her case. After looking at the evidence, he and other security professionals concluded that Amero had been wrongly convicted. Within months they had mustered a high-powered team of lawyers and security experts who ultimately got the guilty verdict overturned, setting the stage for a retrial.
She calls Eckelberry her "shining star" and keeps a picture of him on her wall
Amero reached a plea bargain agreement with prosecutors last month. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, paid a US$100 fine and had her state teaching license revoked. She's still clearly upset with local prosecutors, whom she says pursued an "incompetent and malicious" case against her.
Following is an edited transcript of a telephone interview she gave to the IDG News Service.
What happened on October 19, 2004?
I went into the classroom and the regular teacher was there, Matt Napp. He was on the computer and I talked to him about the work for the day and I asked him if I could use his computer at some point. I wanted to email my husband because he had just taught me how to email and was on a business trip.
He [Matt Napp] was like, 'Yeah, it's all logged on for you; you're all set to go. But don't turn it off because you have to do attendance and this and that with the computers.' And I was like, 'Sure, I'm going to run to the ladies' room before class starts.' When I came back he had left, and there were two kids sitting at the computer, which was at the side of the teacher's desk.
I looked at the screen and it was kids looking at hair sites — red and green spiky hairdos — it was no big deal. I started my day and did attendance. Some of the kids were talking and giggling. They were glancing toward the computer which was not facing them, it was facing the window which looked out to a courtyard, and I looked and things were popping up on the screen that were inappropriate. And I knew no better than to, the little tiny box on the right hand corner, click it off. And every time I clicked it, more came.
What was on the screen?
Little itty bitty tiny pictures of sites: Viagra sites, sex enhancement creams, women in lingerie, things of that sort. Nothing lewd.
So no pornography?
Was there nudity?
There was no nudity. There were sites listed. And the things they said [in court] I clicked on and went and looked at have been proven that they never were clicked on and looked at. The things that were on there were just inappropriate things to be looked at in a classroom; Victoria's Secret kind of stuff, you know.
So what did you do?
There was a woman in the classroom; she was an aid that helped with a little girl who was deaf. I actually asked her if she'd watch the classroom because something was going on with the computer, and she said, 'That's not my job.' So I had to actually sit there, and I was pretty peeved that she would not watch the class.
So I had to wait until my break and at breaktime I ran, literally ran through the halls to the teachers' lounge. There were four teachers in the room ... and then the art teacher said, "You know what, you should probably let someone in the office know."
I went down to tell ... the vice principal and she wasn't there, so I was like, "OK I'll catch her toward the end of the day." I went back to the lunch room and talked to them. I was really worried and I said, "I don't know what to do with it. I keep popping the little Xs, but more come back." And [a teacher] said, "Make sure you tell somebody by the end of the day."
At the end of the day, I ran into [the vice principal] and I told her.
So there was never anything pornographic?
[The prosecution] said there was one site visited, where there was a thumb-sized picture of oral sex.
So they found one picture of oral sex on the computer, but you didn't see that?
When did this become a criminal case then? Because what you're describing doesn't seem that bad.
I worked for a couple of days after this incident. It took two or three days. I finally got called down to the principal's office. He sat me down, shut the door and said, "What is this?" And he showed me a list on paper of a bunch of sites. And I don't know what they were.
So anyway, he gave me a ration of shit and he said, "You're going to go home and you're not subbing for a while." That night he called me at home and said I wasn't working for that school anymore... A couple of days go by and I never get any more phone calls about [substitute teaching].
Then all of a sudden, the police called. They asked me to come down and give a statement. They told me when I went in that I was going to be arrested for 10 counts of risk of injury. They just took my picture and said, "See ya."
Why do you think you were initially convicted on these charges?
Jurors saw things on the wall [images displayed by the prosecution in the courtroom] that were huge pictures. They said I didn't do enough to protect the children. I went for help; I don't know what more I could have done.
How did you feel after the verdict?
I felt like, "I'm going to die. I'm going to go to jail." I walked out of there looking to find me a new toothbrush to take to jail. I was in bed for a week or so, crying. My husband had to stay home with me. My family came to me, and we thought I was going to jail. And then out of nowhere, Alex popped up.
When did you start feeling like you might have a chance that you might get out of all of this?
Once the compilation of all the records and the trial transcripts were sent to Alex. They were like, "It shows here this, this and this, but they said you did this, this and this. That's wrong." They started giving me little pieces of hope. It moved on from there. I started feeling better daily.
Tell me about the day your guilty verdict was set aside.
I came home with my husband, and where we live we have an outdoor fire pit and a big yard facing the woods. We had a fire in the fire pit; we had a couple of beers and roasted marshmallows. I felt like it was the beginning of something new.
How do you feel about the way it ultimately resolved?
I'm not happy that I had to give up my teaching credentials, but that was part of the bargain. They wanted a pound of flesh; they got it.
So what are you going to do now?
I've been trying to keep calm for the last couple of days. A lot of calls have come in. People wanting to see or speak to me. A guy from New Zealand wants to come and do a documentary. I don't really know where to go with it. I'm kind of timid. I don't really know what to do.
Do you see yourself ever working again?
I don't know if it will ever happen. At this time, I don't think straight.
Why do you think prosecutors didn't back off and just drop the case?
I don't know. I think they wanted their pound of flesh because all these people in the world came to my defence. They thought they had a crack case, 40 years in jail, make a name for themselves, another notch in their belt.
And somebody, my shining star, said "No way."
Nude Virgin Mary Cover Prompts Playboy Apology
A nude model resembling the Virgin Mary on the cover of the Mexican edition of Playboy magazine, published only days before a major Mexican festival dedicated to the mother of Jesus, prompted the company's U.S. headquarters on Friday to apologize.
The magazine, which hit newsstands on December 1 as ceremonies began leading to Friday's pilgrimage to the Mexico City shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, showed a model wearing nothing but a white cloth over her head and breasts.
She is standing in front of a stained glass window with the cover line, "We Love You, Maria" in Spanish. The model's name is Maria Florencia Onori.
The Virgin of Guadalupe, said to have appeared to a sixteenth century Indian peasant, is Mexico's most revered Roman Catholic figure and the annual pilgrimage to the Mexico City basilica dedicated to her is one of the world's largest religious events.
In a statement, Chicago-based Playboy Enterprises Inc said the Mexican edition of the magazine is published by a licensee, and the company did not approve or endorse the cover.
"While Playboy Mexico never meant for the cover or images to offend anyone, we recognize that it has created offense, and we as well as Playboy Mexico offer our sincerest apologies," the statement said.
Raul Sayrols, publisher of Playboy Mexico, said in a statement, "The image is not and never was intended to portray the Virgin of Guadalupe or any other religious figure. The intent was to reflect a Renaissance-like mood on the cover."
Playboy Mexico printed 100,000 copies of the issue.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Todd Eastham)
SEXTING - Teens Love to Send Nude Photos
A significant percentage of teens (ages 13-19) and young adults (20-26) have electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves:
• 22% of teen girls
• 18% of teen boys
• 36% of young adult women
• 31% of young adult men
Source: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com
Passing a flirtatious note to get someone's attention is so yesterday. These days, young people use technology instead.
About a third of young adults 20-26 and 20% of teens say they've sent or posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves, mostly to be "fun or flirtatious," a survey finds.
A third of teen boys and 40% of young men say they've seen nude or semi-nude images sent to someone else; about a quarter of teen girls and young adult women have. And 39% of teens and 59% of those ages 20-26 say they've sent suggestive text messages.
"One of the reasons we wanted to do the survey was to put some sort of structure around the anecdotes," says Marisa Nightingale of the non-profit National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which commissioned the survey with the Hearst Digital Media site CosmoGirl.com. Chicago-based market research firm Teenage Research Unlimited surveyed 1,280 teens and young adults online Sept. 25 to Oct. 3.
About 80% of teens 13-17 and 93% of those 18-24 use cellphones, estimates Nielsen Mobile; most cells now have built-in cameras. Though photos are often intended for a boyfriend or girlfriend, they are increasingly shared, especially after a breakup.
High school senior Mayron Gezaw, 17, of Fairfax, Va., says a nude photo that she heard a girl sent her boyfriend showed up on her phone last year. "The whole class was sharing it by the end of the day. … The guys said, 'She's so hot.' The girls were more like, 'I feel sorry for the girl,' or they just lost all respect" for her.
Most of those surveyed (73%) said they knew sending sexually suggestive content "can have serious negative consequences," yet 22% said it's "no big deal."
Still, news reports increasingly document school-related or legal repercussions after indecent photos pop up online. And lawyers say there are many unanswered questions about whether young people who send their own photos could face prosecution for obscenity or child pornography.
"I do think people over 40 grew up with a different sense of this stuff," Nightingale says. "Unfamiliarity with the technology plus hearing about some of these extreme stories on the news can combine to make parents feel so overwhelmed and intimidated that they just don't want to deal with it."
The survey also found 48% of teens and 64% of young adults have received sexually suggestive text messages; 22% of teens and 28% of young adults say they are "more forward" digitally than "in real life."
Matthew Younger, 17, of Takoma Park, Md., says he has seen the pictures on other people's phones.
"I feel pretty sure if you ask any high school boy across America, they'll say yes, they've seen this kind of thing. It's incredibly widespread."
Cell Phone 'Sexting' A Problem, Teens Say Explicit Photos Sent Among High Schoolers
The popularity of cell phone text messaging has led to a new and controversial trend for students and parents on Portalnd-area high schools.
Teens told Portland TV station KPTV that many of their classmates are using cell phones to take and send explicit photos. They said "sexting" is a major problem at most campuses in Portland.
Anton Bogan, a local high school student, said "9.7 times out of 10, it's a nasty photo."
By texting, students keep their conversations secret because they're not talking on the phone. They can even use their phones in the classroom.
"I'd rather text than talk on the phone," said 17-year-old Darrell Keyes. "I waste, like, 4,000 text messages in a month."
But texting inappropriate photos can turn into a criminal matter.
In Utah, "sexting" led to criminal charges when a parent had found an explicit photo and called police. Several students at one school were found to be texting inappropriate photos.
Portland-area prosecutors said parents can also face charges if they know their child is sending racy pictures and allowing it to continue.
Students said the worst part is that one photo can get to dozens of people in a matter of minutes and the photo can end up in the wrong hands.
"(With) the Internet, things can get out," said student Heather Taylor. "You know that when you take a picture in the first place."
Sending nude photos via cellphone now has a name. It's called "sexting" and it's the latest talking point for parents of teens.
In Seattle, sexting moved to the forefront in June when school officials at Bothell High School heard rumors of naked pictures of two cheerleaders circulating among football players. School officials received copies of the photos in August and suspended the two girls from the cheering squad, one for a month and the other for the entire school year, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Last month, the cheerleaders' parents sued the school district, alleging that the girls should not have been suspended.
The issue of sexting is arising elsewhere as well, with cases reported in at least a dozen states. In the past month, police have confiscated five cell phones of teens between ages 11 and 17 in Scranton, Penn., and in New York, police have charged a 16-year-old boy with allegedly enticing a 15-year-old girl to text him sexually explicit photos and a movie of herself that he then forwarded to friends.
According to a survey of 1,280 teens and young adults by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com, 22 percent of girls and 18 percent of boys say they have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves. And about one-third of teen boys and one-quarter of teen girls say they have had nude or semi-nude images shared with them. Posting sexually suggestive messages is even more prevalent among the teens surveyed. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. Nearly 40 percent of them report posting such messages, and nearly half of them say they have received them. In video interviews with the National Campaign, a panel of teens tells tales of sexting in the Washington region. One girl, Mayron, shares the story of a girl from West Springfield High School who sent a photo of herself topless to her boyfriend. "By the end of the day, the whole county had it," Mayron says.
Short of banning camera phones, parents can find ways to get through to teens that sexting isn't such a good idea. For one, "make sure your kids fully understand that messages or pictures they send over the Internet or their cell phones are not truly private or anonymous," says the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "Also, make sure they know that others might forward their pictures or messages to people they do not know or want to see them, and that school administrators and employers often look at online profiles to make judgments about potential students/employees. It’s essential that your kids grasp the potential short-term and long-term consequences of their actions."
In addition, the National Campaign recommends having your teens leave their phones and laptops in a public place in the house at bedtime, keeping an eye on their electronic pages and postings, knowing their friends -- both in real life and cyberspace -- and clearly setting expectations of "appropriate" electronic behavior.
If you have teens, how do you keep up with the latest in teen technology? Do you watch their Tweets and track their Facebook page? Have you heard your teens talking about sexting? And if your child is a pre-teen, how are you setting the stage for when their technological knowledge surpasses your own?
Plano teenager, 18-year old Melanie Young says everyone is doing it. "It's like flirting and just having a little fun," says Young.
The teen engages in "sexting", a term for a kind of text messaging that often involves sending erotic, nude pictures. Young says, "I don't pose nude, but I do send pictures and get pictures and my brother he gets pictures all day long."
Experts say "sexting" is becoming an all too common practice for many teenagers, who often think it's no big deal to send racy photos via email or text. Many consider it nothing more than sending a flirty note.
According to researchers at Rochester Technology of Institute almost one-third of teens in grades 10-12 have sent or received sexual content online and they use cell phones. For children in grades 4-6, that number is still one in ten.
Attorneys like Dallas lawyer, Clint David say the practice is trouble waiting to happen. "It is the height of insanity to take a picture of yourself naked and send it to another person", says David. At least one teenager has landed in jail because of his alleged actions involving "sexting."
A 16-year old Pennsylvania boy was arrested and charged with possessing child pornography after police say he coaxed a 15-year old girl into sending him explicit pictures.
David says prosecutors can easily use felony laws written to punish pedophiles against teens who send or receive provocative messages. "The bottom line is kids don't do this, if you have pictures hit delete."
"Sexting" teenagers say they are quickly finding out that what was meant for one set of eyes is often revealed to the world.
Young says a friend sent a nude picture to a boy she barely knew and it ended up being seen by every student in three schools. "You need to know the pros and cons before you send the message," says Young.
Until next week,
Current Week In Review
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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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