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Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - December 9th, '06
"People don’t say, ‘I want to see user-generated content,’ they want to see Michael Richards in the club. If that happens to be from a cellphone, they are happy with a cellphone." – Lloyd Braun
"The amended reforms make it clear consumers can transfer the music they own onto devices such as iPods and enable the next wave of technology by allowing people to record a TV or radio program on mobile devices to watch it at a more convenient time." – Philip Ruddock
"By tidying up a small part of the copyright law, we believe Gowers may well be opening the floodgates to uncontrolled and unstoppable private copying and sharing from person to person, as well as format to format." – Association of Independent Music (AIM)
"If they decide that the only safe way for me to leave the country is by boat, then that's pretty much the end of my career here in the States. It's one thing to harass researchers, but if they can chase them out of the country, then that's a real chilling effect." – Chris Soghoian
"This is a battle royal against a cunning and adaptable enemy." – Susie Winter
"If you think income has been distributed unequally, wealth has been distributed even more unequally." – Anthony Shorrocks
"Before last month, I never heard of this movie. Now I’ve seen it over 100 times. I like it very much." – Jimmy Fong
"We're just so absolutely ignorant about sound. We expose ourselves to all kinds of threats and never even think about it." – Ronald Webster
"Laptops are like fat people." – Nicholas Negroponte
"BitTorrent has acquired µTorrent." – Site announcement
Q 'n' A
I’ve Been Away from Music Sharing for a While. What’s New?
THE DAYS of the one size fits all Napster-like environment are over for the moment but that's not to say a particular program can't get you most of the way there. Depending on what you're looking for the closest thing to a one stop shop for album sharing right now is Soulseek, but - and this is an important but - the community shows little patience with leechers, so be prepared to offer a fat share folder or you'll find yourself unceremoniously dumped by the hosts with the most content.
Further forays into file-sharing must now include BitTorrent and the numerous tracking sites that have sprung up to replace the search function previously incorporated into the P2P programs you may have been familiar with. First install a decent client like µTorrent. Then you can start your content quest by visiting public trackers like Mininova, Meganova, ThePirateBay and the semi-private Demonoid. All are stuffed with downloadable torrents of varying value and type upped by power-P2P'ers from across the globe. At some point if you find BitTorrent to your liking you'll want to join more exclusive trackers, where quality is foremost and breadth of content wide. The benefits of private trackers are obvious but all require a thorough dedication to uploading and instill severe, lifetime bans on those who treat the ratio rules as "suggestions."
If things have changed in the file sharing world during your absence it hasn’t been all negative. I happen to believe P2P has never been stronger. The class of files is tremendously improved, and particular standouts are the new MP3 "V0" format and the incomparable (if incomparably huge) lossless FLAC. Those two changes alone have brought the quality of downloads into the realm of near-audiophile sound and bit-perfect WAV clones respectively. These and the sheer number of enthusiastic uploaders means it’s a great time to jump back in.
December 9th, '06
A stern talking to
File-Swapping: So Much Fun, Even the Children of Music Moguls Do It
Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman made a startling admission when he sat down for a Second Life interview with Reuters: his kids have pirated music. Well, they've probably pirated music—Bronfman doesn't sound too sure. "I'm fairly certain that they have, and I'm fairly certain that they've suffered the consequences," he said, though he later confirmed that he had caught at least one Bronfman child using P2P software. Naturally, his kids were forced to cough up thousands of dollars to the RIAA to keep from getting sued. Right?
Of course not; Bronfman told the reporter that he disciplined his child, but that he would prefer to keep the details of the punishment "within the family." He also gave his offending offspring a little talk about morality. "I explained to them what I believe is right, that the principle involved is that stealing music is stealing music. Frankly, right is right and wrong is wrong, particularly when a parent is talking to a child, a bright line around moral responsibility is very important. I can assure you they no longer do that."
It's tempting to label this hypocrisy, which it certainly is in one way (Bronfman is in no danger of getting sued, but he has no problem funding the RIAA's lawsuits of others), but Bronfman's response to his children's file-sharing shows that he lacks the true hypocrite's soul. File-swapping remains verboten in the Bronfman household.
Still, this shows just how normal young people consider file-swapping to be. When your dad runs one of the largest music labels on the planet and you still turn to P2P networks to discover new tunes, it's clear that the issue isn't just lack of access to music. Or money. This is now considered a "normal" way of checking out digital content.
The incident is reminiscent of the MPAA's own decision to copy a movie without permission earlier this year. In both cases, the industry insiders—so concerned with stomping out the piracy of others—suffered no legal consequences for their own dodgy behavior.
RIAA Mischaracterizes Letter Received From AOL
"In Elektra v. Schwartz, an RIAA case against a Queens woman with Multiple Sclerosis who indicates that she had never even heard of file sharing until the RIAA came knocking on her door, the judge held that Ms. Schwartz's summary judgment request for dismissal was premature because the RIAA said it had a letter from AOL 'confirm[ing] that defendant owned an internet access account through which copyrighted sound recordings were downloaded and distributed.' When her lawyers got a copy of the actual AOL letter they saw that it had no such statement in it, and asked the judge to reconsider."
RIAA Moves to Reduce Artist Royalty Payments
Sometimes you just have to ask yourself if the RIAA could display more greed or avarice without actually hiring Satan as its general counsel. The Hypebot points to an article in Radio and Records which reads, "During the period when piracy was devastating the record industry, the RIAA argues, profits for publishers rose as revenue generated from ringtones and other innovative services grew. Record industry executives said there was nothing strange about seeking a rate change that would pay less to the people who write the music."
So, let's see if we get this straight. The RIAA alienates its fans and customers by overcharging, failing to embrace new technology and suing anyone who tries to give music fans what they want. At the same time, the publishers work hand in hand with innovators (such as ringtone publishers) and find great success. Now, as a thank you for all the hard work and deft thinking, the RIAA asks the feds to lower the amount of money they pay artists under statutory deals?
I'm reminded of the Simpsons spin off episode when they launched "The Critic." Jay Sherman asks the Arnold Schartzeneger-alike, "How do you sleep at night?", to which he replies, "On top of a big pile of money, with many beautiful women." I'm left to wonder, exactly how does the RIAA sleep at night?
FCC to Hear Country Stars' Tales of Woe
With several country music legends set to testify before the Federal Communications Commission during a hearing in Nashville on media ownership next week, the agency might feel as if it's in the Grand Ole Opry instead of the campus of Belmont University.
Porter Wagoner, George Jones, Dobie Gray, Naomi Judd and Craig Wiseman are among the singer/songwriters who have tentatively agreed to testify Monday, according to entertainment industry officials.
Musicians, songwriters, actors and others who owe much of their livelihood to radio and television fear that allowing the ownership universe to contract will undercut their ability to get airplay, said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America.
"The commission just keeps allowing expanding ownership limits in local markets, where one person or company can pretty much own everything," said Carnes, who also plans to testify. "If there are three country stations in a market, and they get bought out and merged into one, that really hurts us."
The hearing is the second in a series the commission is conducting on the issue.
In June, the commission reopened the hotly disputed issue of ownership limits, including the number of radio and television stations that one owner can have and restrictions on cross ownership between newspapers and broadcasters.
Former FCC chairman Michael Powell pushed through loosened rules in 2003, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia threw them out on grounds that the FCC compiled an insufficient record to justify them.
The 2003 changes would have let one corporation own -- in a single community -- up to three TV stations, eight radio stations, the cable system, the only daily newspaper and the biggest Internet provider, according to Democratic FCC commissioners who opposed the plan.
One regulation to raise a single company's audience-reach ceiling to 45% of U.S. households, instead of 35%, was taken off the table that year when Congress set the audience-reach ceiling at 39% by statute.
Media companies contend that existing ownership rules were outmoded in a media landscape that has been altered substantially by cable TV, satellite broadcasts and the Internet. Critics disagree, arguing that easing restrictions likely will lead to a wave of mergers, handing a few giant media companies control of what the public sees, hears and reads.
Backdown on Draconian Laws
FAQ addresses copyright concerns
The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, today issued an FAQ clarifying the practical implications of his major copyright reforms.
He called the reforms "groundbreaking", and said England, Canada and New Zealand were looking to follow Australia's lead on copyright reform.
The controversial Copyright Amendment Bill 2006, which, as of yesterday, passed through both houses of Parliament, will become law by January 1.
Before it passed through the Senate, the bill underwent significant modifications, following immense criticism by industry bodies, the media and the public.
Under the bill's original provisions, everyday activities - such as singing Happy Birthday and owning an iPod, DVD recorder or camera phone - would have been criminalised.
But Mr Ruddock said his amendments to the bill had rectified these issues.
"The Government has recognised that technology has moved on and has acted to provide all stakeholders with certainty," Mr Ruddock said in a statement.
In fact, Mr Ruddock said his reforms made Australia a world leader on copyright reform.
"Australia's approach is in contrast to those countries which have a general 'fair use' right or which put levies on equipment for private copying," he said in a statement.
"Many countries have not yet tackled the issue of fair use in the digital environment. Australia's approach is fair and certain for all concerned."
The FAQ clarified that it would be perfectly legal to sing Happy Birthday in a public place, record television or radio programs for viewing at a later date, and copy legitimately purchased music to an external medium such as an iPod or a CD.
Playing a region-coded DVD bought overseas in a multi-zone DVD player would also be legal.
However, the bill maintains that it would be illegal to "build up a collection [of recorded programs] to keep indefinitely for repeated use".
The FAQ also stipulates that one "cannot give away, sell or hire a recording or play it at school or work or to any other kind of public audience". This includes uploading recordings to the internet.
Similarly, with regards to a music collection, it would be illegal to "sell, loan, or give away a copy you make to a friend, but a friend can listen to your music with you".
The amendments made to the bill have been welcomed by industry bodies such as Electronic Frontiers Australia and the Labor Party, but both still have issues with certain aspects of the bill.
The Greens continue to oppose the reforms, contending that the Government has simply bowed to pressure from the US as a result of the free-trade agreement.
A review of the legislation is set for March 2008. Its purpose is to ensure the legislation is fulfilling the Government's goal of updating Australia's copyright regime to encompass new digital technologies and the internet.
Copyright Pirates Face Crackdown
Copyright criminals must face far tougher regulation to protect the entertainment industry, a report says.
The Gowers Report was commissioned by the government to look at modernising UK copyright laws for the digital age.
While it proposes new powers against copyright infringement, it also says private users should be allowed to copy music from a CD to their MP3 player.
It also recommends the 50-year copyright protection for recorded music should not be extended.
Former newspaper editor Andrew Gowers said piracy and counterfeiting was probably the biggest challenge the intellectual property (IP) system faced.
The report estimates 20% of the entertainment industry's turnover was lost to illegal copying and says tougher enforcement is a vital part of reform.
It calls for penalties against people who sell pirate versions of music and films on the internet to be brought in line with those who make hard copies. Currently, the former face two years and the latter 10.
The chancellor has welcomed this and announced an extra £5m for Trading Standards officers to take action against more bootleggers.
A hotly-debated aspect of the review was an examination of the copyright on sound recordings.
Many artists and record companies had pressed for the current 50-year limit to be extended to 95 but Mr Gowers has rejected this.
If this is approved it would mean recordings by 1950s artists, notably Sir Cliff Richard, will come out of copyright during the next few years.
But the report recognised the ease of copying material can be useful to the economy and backed a strictly limited private copying exception.
This would mean "format swapping" like putting music from a CD onto an MP3 player - theoretically illegal under present laws - would be allowed.
Mr Gowers says: "The ideal IP system creates incentives for innovation, without unduly limiting access for consumers and follow-on innovators."
The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which represents the mainstream recording industry, broadly welcomed the report but said it would continue to press for the copyright extension.
Peter Jamieson, chairman of the BPI, said: "Stealing music is effectively stealing the future of British musicians and the people who invest in them.
"The decision on extension is ultimately for the European Commission and we will be putting our case vigorously when it reviews the relevant directive next year."
The Association of Independent Music (AIM) said it was particularly unhappy over the issue of allowing more private copying.
A spokesman said: "This is taking pragmatism to the point of capitulation, and falls drastically short of creating the progressive copyright framework needed in the digital age.
"By tidying up a small part of the copyright law, we believe Gowers may well be opening the floodgates to uncontrolled and unstoppable private copying and sharing from person to person, as well as format to format."
The Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) was fully behind the report's conclusions.
Kieron Sharp, Fact director general, commented: "Film piracy has been seen by some as a "soft" crime yet it brings harm and other serious criminal activity to local communities.
"Criminals made over £270m from film piracy in 2005, making this the worst affected single sector for intellectual property crime out of all IP industries.
"This is revenue that has been lost to the local and national economy and is affecting British jobs."
The Alliance Against IP Theft, which represents creative and manufacturing industries, called for an IP minister to oversee the issue.
Director general Susie Winter said: "This is a battle royal against a cunning and adaptable enemy.
"Consumers who buy fake goods will be horrified to discover where their money is actually going.
"The government's response requires all hands on deck, from the police, trading standards officers and the judiciary, to educators, business and the Treasury."
A spokesman for the Treasury said: "We welcome the report and will be carrying its recommendations forward.
"The chancellor specifically highlighted the huge importance of creativity and intellectual skills to the economy."
Shock Record Industry Poll: Brits Like British Musicians
So we should extend copyright? Pull the other one, Cliff
The British Phonographic Institute unleashed a classic piece of leading questioning in its bid to keep Cliff Richard in botox until the next Millennium Prayer is due.
The record industry body has been lobbying hard for the Treasury's Gowers Review (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12...rights_review/) of intellectual property to recommend extension of coyyright on sound recordings from 50 years to 95 years - the same as in the US.
The BPI came up with the conceit of using online polling shop YouGov to ask consumers whether they thought UK recording artists "should be protected for the same number of years as their American counterparts".
Predictably, 62 per cent said yes.
As well as posing a patriotically loaded question, the BPI also tugged on respondents' heart-strings by fingering the artist as the beneficiary of copyright extension. In reality, songwriters already have a 70 year copyright - that is the length of their lifetime plus 70 years; the 50-year rule applies to recording owners like, er, the BPI's major label donors.
The industry has spent a great deal of effort in trying to convince the public and polititians that the streets will be awash with down-at-heel aged musos. Sir Cliff has become spokesbachelor on the issue, presumably because he'll be among the very few artists who are still alive and making royalties on recordings from the 1950s.
Recently, a perhaps less partisan National Consumer Council (NCC) poll found 55 per cent thought they were within their rights (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/05...opyright_poll/) to make private copies of their music collections.
Even when handed a hospital pass by the BPI, 18 per cent of its respondents said they were unsure whether UK artists should have parity on copyright length. Given the poor public awareness of intellectual property rights evidenced by the NCC finding, that's a figure certain to rocket if an honest question had been asked.
Which is kind of the point of commissioning an expert review. Gowers is expected to report soon.
Ok, So I’m Wrong
For almost 10 years now, I’ve been waging a war against retrospective term extension. My simple argument has been that copyright is about creative incentives, and you can’t create incentives retrospectively.
I now see I am apparently wrong.
As reported yesterday, there was an ad in the FT listing 4,000 musicians who supported retrospective term extension. If you read the list, you’ll see that at least some of these artists are apparently dead (e.g. Lonnie Donegan, died 4th November 2002; Freddie Garrity, died 20th May 2006). I take it the ability of these dead authors to sign a petition asking for their copyright terms to be extended can only mean that even after death, term extension continues to inspire.
I’m not yet sure how. But I guess I should be a good sport about it, and just confess I was wrong. For if artists can sign petitions after they’ve died, then why can’t they produce new recordings fifty year ago?
Classic Documentaries Sent Back to the Vault
Canadian copyright material too costly to renew
You the taxpayer paid for Donald Brittain's The Champions, his National Film Board of Canada trilogy exploring the careers of Pierre Trudeau and René Lévesque. But you can't see it -- because rights to much of the footage used in this production have expired. "And it won't become available until the NFB decides that it is worth its money to renew the cost of image clearances," says Samantha Hodder, executive director of the Documentary Organization of Canada.
Thanks to spiralling copyright licensing costs, payable to whoever holds the copyright (unions, archives, creators, corporations) -- and thanks, too, to the rising cost of insurance to protect against copyright claims -- more and more public film footage is no longer available to the Canadian public, nor for use by Canadian creators. That's the message of the DOC's new white paper, released yesterday by the 700-member organization.
The Copyright Clearance Culture and Canadian Documentaries, written by Ottawa copyright lawyer Howard Knopf, cites many eyebrow-raising cases. An example: Quebec filmmaker Sylvie Van Brabant's film Remous/Earthwalk has been withdrawn from public circulation because its main character sings 30 seconds of a recognizable tune whose rights the National Film Board has deemed too expensive to renew.
The cost of paying to use archival footage has been increasing, in part, the white paper notes, because underfunded institutions such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and NFB have taken to using licensing fees as a revenue source. Filmmaker Avi Lewis was told that it would cost him $187.50 per second for CBC footage of his own grandfather, former NDP leader David Lewis, uttering the phrase "corporate welfare bums." The younger Lewis backed off.
The white paper also details how imminent changes to Canadian copyright law -- probably coming early in the new year -- could make matters even worse.
The DOC has also sent the Departments of Heritage and Industry a letter -- signed by more than 130 filmmakers, including Oscar-winner Denys Arcand and Emmy-winner John Kastner -- urging that Ottawa's forthcoming copyright legislation incorporate the idea of fair use and users' rights.
"The urban landscape is saturated with trademarks, jingles and signs. We must not be constrained by restrictions on incidental use," filmmaker Kevin McMahon said. "If I inserted a wide shot of Yonge Street into one of my films, most lawyers would advise me to seek the permission of every merchant, billboard owner and advertiser." Lacking that, McMahon said, he would have to remove the shot.
Pirates Spoof Vista's Enterprise Activation
The software spoofs a Key Management Service server, one of the two technologies that Microsoft debuted last month that let businesses activate a large number of copies of Windows Vista.
Pirates are circulating a hack that lets them activate counterfeit copies of Windows Vista using a spoofed server that Microsoft relies on to make sure enterprises switch on the new operating system.
The software, loaded with the long name of "Microsoft.Windows.Vista.Local.Activation.Server-MelindaGates" is available on several pirate Web sites. It spoofs a Key Management Service server, one of the two technologies that Microsoft debuted last month that let businesses activate a large number of copies of Windows Vista. KMS requires that at least 25 PCs be connected to a corporation's network.
Vista is the first version of Windows that Microsoft requires volume license customers to activate. Besides KMS, the Redmond, Wash. developer also offers Multiple Activation Key, which resembles the retail version's activation process. PCs activated using KMS must reactivate at least once every six months.
The MelindaGates hack uses a VMware image of a KMS server to activate -- and keep activated -- a pirated edition of Windows Vista Business. "Looks like Windows Vista Volume Activation 2.0 is a big bust," wrote a user identified as "clank" on the PirateBay Web site Friday.
Like every edition of Windows, Vista has been plagued with counterfeit copies. Pirated editions with cracked activation keys were posted long before Microsoft officially launched the OS Nov. 30.
However, the Redmond, Wash. developer has gone to greater lengths to stymie counterfeiting, including the overall effort it's dubbed "VA 2.0" for Volume Activation 2.0, which uses a new set of technologies to activate and validate Vista and essentially turn off faux copies.
OMG this is big! Microshaft gets it in the end!
Only, the end came faster than they expected!
I'm going to commit my nights to sharing this
with colleagues around the globe!
Fsck Big Business!
Internet Libel Cases Soar
Melissa de Sieni
The number of cases of libel on the internet reported to the Swedish Data Inspection Board has soared from four in 2000 to 157 in 2005 - but that is only a fraction of the total number of complaints received, according to Sveriges Radio.
“Many are abused on the Internet but can't get any help anywhere. There are so many insults and so much harassment that we have no practical way of dealing with it,” said Mats Björklund, a lawyer at the board, to SR.
Only a small number of reported cases are registered and even fewer are reported to the police.
The Swedish Data Inspection Board's main tool in handling such cases is the Personal Data Act. In order for violations to be classified as a crime, some kind of personal information about the person has to be published.
But the law contains exceptions and if the information published serves a "journalistic purpose", then no crime has been committed. That was the finding in a case in the Supreme Court in 2001.
Since then, many have exploited this gap in the Personal Data Act and have claimed that they published sensitive information about others for “journalistic purposes”.
"The clever ones publish sensitive personal information in the form of a newspage or simple newspaper and we cannot get to them, so it is a problem," says Björklund.
The number of defamation offences registered have also increased - by 30 percent during the period 2002-2005.
Class Action Filed Against Kazaa on Behalf of Customers Sued by RIAA for "Shared File Folders"
In Chicago, Illinois, a Kazaa customer has filed a class action against Kazaa, Lewan v. Sharman, U.S.Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill 06-cv-6736.
The lead plaintiff, Catherine Lewan, was a Kazaa customer who was sued by the RIAA for her use of Kazaa, and paid a settlement to the RIAA.
In her complaint she alleges, among other things, that
-Kazaa deceptively marketed its product as allowing "free downloads" (Complaint, par. 30);
-it designed the software in such a manner as to create a shared files folder and make that folder available to anyone using Kazaa, while at the same time failing to make the user aware that it had done so (Complaint, par. 36-37); and
-it surreptitiously installed "spyware" on users' computers which made the shared files folder accessible to the Kazaa network even after the user had removed the Kazaa software from his or her computer (Complaint, par. 42-45).
Universal, MySpace Set For Landmark Battle
The legal battle brewing between Universal Music and MySpace could shape the broader commercial relationship between traditional media companies and a new generation of internet start-ups that rely on them for content.
Last month Universal accused MySpace of infringing its copyrights by allowing its customers to post music videos from artists such as Jay-Z on the site without permission.
The lawsuit followed similar claims by Universal a few weeks earlier against two other sites that feature user-generated content, Bolt.com and Grouper.com.
Yet, as lawyers prepare for battle, they do so on uncertain legal ground. The legislation at the heart of the debate, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, was written years before social networking sites such as MySpace even existed.
That fact has injected considerable uncertainty into the matter, according to copyright experts, and helps explain why lawyers from both sides are proclaiming that the DMCA, as it is known, is on their side.
“There’s a lot of grey area here,” said Lee Bromberg, a partner at Bromberg & Sunstein, a Boston-based law firm that specialises in intellectual property.
Mr Bromberg views the most recent suits as the latest chapter in copyright law’s long history of failing to keep pace with new technology. It is a tension that emerged more than 200 years ago when the printing press made obsolete regulations devised for hand-drawn maps and charts.
Kraig Baker, a partner at Davis, Wright, Tremaine in Seattle, agreed.
“It’s part of the continuing struggle between content owners and developers of technology,” he said. “People are trying to find out where the line is.”
The DMCA was passed in 1998 to strengthen intellectual property rights for software, films and other materials. One of its key provisions was a “safe harbour” lobbied for by telephone companies, who were worried that they might be held liable for copyright violations on the internet since they supplied the trunks and phone lines that were its basic infrastructure.
The safe harbour protec-ted so-called “dumb pipes” from prosecution as long as their owners did not have prior knowledge of infringement and complied expeditiously with requests to remove copyrighted material.
Grouper, Bolt and MySpace, owned by News Corp, insist that they meet those conditions.
In addition to responding to requests to remove material, they have sought to insulate themselves by installing new filtering technologies that would make it less burdensome for traditional media companies to monitor their sites.
“We are in full compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and have no doubt we will prevail in court,” MySpace said. But some lawyers say social networking and user-generated content sites are not the passive carriers – like an internet service provider – that the drafters of the law had in mind.
For one thing, they tab and index materials to make them easily searched on their sites. “Services like YouTube and MySpace aren’t dumb pipes,” said Jeffrey Liebenson, a partner at Herrick, Feinstein. “These may be beyond the scope.”
Another debate hinges on how much these services should know about copyright infringement before it occurs. While it is true that they would not know what material individual users are posting on their sites at any moment, a review of their content reveals that much of it is illegal.
“The content people will say, ‘Come on, the search term the person entered was ‘David Lettermans Show’. Of course they knew it was copyrighted’,” said Jonathan Zittrain, professor of internet governance and regulation at Oxford University.
Mr Zittrain said that the DMCA probably favoured the user-generated sites but that their case was hardly airtight.
“If I had to place a bet, I think they would probably pull it off. But there is plenty of room for a judge to rule on the equities,” he said.
Content companies could also be bolstered by the Supreme Court’s ruling last year against Grokster, an online file-sharing service.
In that case, the court found that software and technology companies could be held liable for copyright infringement when customers use their technology to download films and songs.
A key part of their ruling was that Grokster and other companies named in the suit had encouraged copyright violations as part of their business strategy to attract users and then sell advertising based on that traffic.
Whether a court would conclude that copyright infringement is part of MySpace and other sites’ business model or a mere consequence is an open question. In the meantime, there is a good chance that the sides will settle.
After threatening to sue earlier this year, Universal ultimately struck a distribution deal with YouTube, the leading internet video site, in which it receives a share of advertising revenue and a licensing fee for its content. It also received equity in the company worth tens of millions of dollars. But in the longer term, it seems likely that both content companies and the software and technology industries will lobby for revisions to the DMCA as they attempt to strengthen their positions.
“I think there’s a tension between the law as written, and the law as intended,” Mr Liebenson said. “The DMCA was enacted in a very different era.”
Software's Newest Niche
Thanks in part to the Google-YouTube deal, a host of new software products aim to help companies identify copyrighted material quickly and accurately
In the aftermath of Google's announcement that it would pay $1.65 billion for video site YouTube, a burning question remains on many observers' minds: How is the Web-search titan going to keep copyrighted material from ending up on YouTube? And, more to the point: What are Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his team going to do about the costly litigation that would result if they fail?
Executives at both companies tried to answer these questions in the hours before the pact was revealed, as YouTube inked deals with Universal Music Group and Sony BMG that ensured the site's users could watch copyrighted works legally, and even incorporate copyrighted music into homemade videos.
But the copyright conundrum is far from resolved for Google, YouTube, and legions of other sites that specialize in user-generated content. Some analysts reckon that half the content on some sites is illegally distributed. "All you have to do is look at top-10 lists at these sites," says Josh Bernoff, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Most of them are copyrighted and there illegally." The problem is only snowballing as the number of sites multiplies and traffic surges.
It's not that companies aren't trying. While there are tools designed to detect and block illegal copyrighted audio, "there's currently no video filtering device on the market that works," says a MySpace spokesperson. While many Web video-sharers have considered using different software tools before, they claim that these have returned too many false-positives—or videos that really didn't include illegal material. Lacking a good tool, sites fell back on employing dozens of staffers to sift through postings, searching manually for offending material. That's no mean feat for a site that streams millions, if not tens of millions, of videos a day.
Attacking the Problem
But a vanguard of software developers is aiming to turn the tide on filtering copyrighted material—and their handiwork is expected to hit the market in the coming months. Some of this new software is being developed internally. In late November, News Corp.'s (NWS) MySpace began testing an automated take-down tool that will help content providers like Fox flag infringing content for MySpace to remove. Google (GOOG) is expected to release a search tool by year's end, designed to crawl YouTube's postings and detect offending content. Google did not respond to requests for comment.
A slew of specialized software makers are releasing new kinds of technology that promise nearly 100% reliability in detecting copyrighted works. On Nov. 28, Audible Magic, which has long provided music-protection tools to music studios, unveiled its Motional Media Identification software, a sort of fingerprinting for video. The tool collects information about a video's unique properties, related to how it was shot and edited, and uses that unique fingerprint to help content owners discover it later on the Web. The software will become commercially available in the first quarter of 2007, says Vance Ikezoeye, the company's CEO.
Other outfits promise releases in the next few months as well, as they expect the video authentication market to be many times larger than the market for software that safeguards music copyrights. Just how much money is there in such filtering software? The market is at its inception, so estimates are hard to come by. But revenue from user-generated content sites should reach $850 million by 2010, up from $80.6 million this year, according to In-Stat. Software makers are eager to tap into such growth rates.
Audible Magic rival Gracenote, offering audio authentication tools that MySpace recently began to use, charges between $10,000 and $100,000 a year in licensing per client, depending on volume of queries. It could charge a premium for the planned video detection tool. Gracenote has already seen the number of inquiries related to the latter product quadruple in the past year, says Stephen White, the company's senior director of product and content management. Gracenote's technology analyzes a video file's unique audio signature to identify the image. White declined to discuss planned pricing for the video tool.
Video Site Rivals
While these companies plan to license software, some could be bought outright by video Web sites (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/10/06, "YouTube's New Deep Pockets"). One possible target is Guba, a company that also hosts user-generated videos and sells movies and TV shows.
The company also has a tool named Johnny, which was launched about three years ago, and compares every image and video posted on the site with its library of about 3 million unique "signatures" of copyrighted files. A signature is essentially an image's unique print that can't be altered by cropping a video, renaming it, or speeding up its delivery. Guba CEO Thomas McInerney claims that Johnny can detect, using an image's color palette and other characteristics, and pass on for humans to review, more than 99% of the offending files.
While Guba has been asked to license Johnny for several years, so far it hasn't been willing to comply, viewing the search engine as a competitive advantage in striking deals with content providers, such as Sony Pictures (SNE), which offers its films through the site. "Johnny was a big part of that," says McInerney. The site makes money through advertising and online movie rentals (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/12/06, "Don't Nix Netflix Just Yet").
Questioning the Laws
Yet, implementation of this type of software won't be easy. Video tools' reliability still has to be proven. And using them could still cause companies such as YouTube and MySpace to weed out material that doesn't run afoul of copyright law. Many Web users today don't simply post copyrighted videos; they edit them, remix them, and change them—arguably, coming up with new creative works that these tools would block, says Lawrence Lessig, copyrights expert and professor of law at Stanford Law School.
"Increasingly, people will begin asking if copyright rules from the 20th century make sense in the 21st century," Lessig says. "Why should I hire a lawyer to show a video of my child turning three and dancing to a Madonna song? We'll see a growing conflict between the technology and the content. If [companies like YouTube] only dance to the tune of the content industry, they risk bad will from the rest of the Internet."
Some software makers say Web sites will side with the users—simply because that's the more profitable thing to do. "They don't want to pay for a solution, because their business is driven by piracy," says Brian Baker, CEO of software maker Widevine, whose investors include Cisco (CSCO) and whose video fingerprinting technology, identifying copyrighted material with 99.6% reliability, has been available since 2000. "They get more eyeballs because of piracy, and more advertising."
Azureus Launches Zudeo For Finding And Sharing Video
Natali Del Conte
Azureus will launch Zudeo Monday morning, a content indexing site for finding and sharing large video files. The company told TechCrunch on Friday that they would be partnering with 20 major TV and film studios to provide free programs, although they won’t name the partners just yet.
Azureus is known for their peer-to-peer applications and Zudeo will build off of that, allowing users to share their own content. But it will also allow corporate content providers to publish, showcase, and distribute high resolution, long form content. The company says the focus will be on “high quality DVD and HD content.” Essentially, Zudeo is a hybrid of YouTube’s social sharing and a B-to-C content channel.
“Media companies are embracing digital media distribution,” said Jarl Mohn, current chairman of the board of CNET Networks and an Azureus board member, in a release sent to TechCrunch on Friday. “Zudeo provides a very effective and secure P2P platform to distribute content to their audience.”
Azureus said that they are trying to “centralize and go viral.” Each listing will have a user rating and an embed code called Azureus Magnet so that users can share the content on other sites.
Azureus also announced a $12 million round of funding by Redpoint Ventures and BV Capital. This is a heap of cash for a video-sharing site if you consider that YouTube was initially financed for approximately $11 million. Azureus CEO Gilles BianRosa told us that the money would go towards marketing and team building.
Currently, Azureus has 15 employees. The company says that they have had 130 million downloads of their client, mostly from SourceForge.net, and are averaging 500,000 more per week. The company claims to have 15 million unique users.
Azureus’ deal with content providers is where they believe they will profit the most.
“Today, content creators and publishers can use Zudeo to freely promote and distribute their digital creations, with no limitation in length or video quality,” BianRosa said. “Furthermore, they can use our social networking tools to expose their content throughout the web, including blogs and social networks. Similarly, movie, games, and music fans can access a growing catalog of high resolution media content and share it with their friends easily.”
Bram Cohen on BitTorrent's Future
Ace programmer Bram Cohen denies he is leaving BitTorrent -- and says he's busier than ever positioning the company to totally own online video downloads.
In an exclusive e-mail interview, Cohen responds to the rumors that he is stepping down -- and offers new details about BitTorrent's forthcoming video distribution platform.
It was rumored last week that Cohen, BitTorrent's CEO and co-founder, was about to quit.
But "it's definitely not true," said director of communications Lily Lin. "Bram is very much here, and here to stay."
Indeed, BitTorrent seems to be expanding faster than ever. As reported on Monkey Bites blog, Cohen's San Francisco company is forming distribution partnerships with several major film and television studios, including 20th Century Fox, MTV Networks, G4, Palm Pictures and Paramount Pictures. In May 2006, BitTorrent teamed up with Warner Bros. to distribute films and televisions shows online.
The company also said last week it has secured an additional $20 million in funding from Accel Partners and Doll Capital Management to make the video store a reality.
Wired News: First of all, would you care to comment on the rumors about you leaving the company?
Bram Cohen: You can't believe everything you read in the tabloid rags. We had a big laugh about that one around the office.
WN: Can you offer some details on compatibility and hardware requirements for video content downloaded with the new service? Will there be a special software player, digital rights management, cross-platform compatibility?
BC: We're rolling out with some content DRM'd, using Windows DRM, at the insistence of our content partners. We're very concerned about the usability problems DRM introduces, and are educating our content partners about the lost commercial opportunity.
WN: So, as it stands right now, the downloaded video content will only work on Windows software?
BC: At the initial launch, yes, the content from the studios and networks will be protected with Windows DRM.
WN: Will there be any seeding requirements that users will need to consider when sharing video content from BT.com? Will there be any price breaks or discounts for people who seed well above the minimum?
BC: Our software will handle transfers almost invisibly. It does a reasonable amount of transferring in a way that doesn't interfere with anything else the user might be doing, to make as simple and friendly an experience as possible. As is built into the BitTorrent protocol, users who upload more will tend to get better download rates than users who upload less, so users with fast upload capabilities will get better performance, but that's not something they have to worry about beyond what kind of net connection they get.
WN: Any worries about the potential backlash of users who are wary of large media corporations using their bandwidth and distributed resources to turn a profit?
BC: Peer distribution allows for more content, at higher quality, than could possibly be distributed otherwise, and that's a big win for end users. It isn't like end-user resources are being used with no benefit to them.
Users are happy to contribute bandwidth as long as it's part of a service they want and doesn't interfere with their general web-browsing experience. We've got technology to automatically reduce transfer rates when the user's net connection is being used for something else, so only spare bandwidth is used.
WN: Do you think BitTorrent has gained enough mass-market recognition to be a destination for people to find and download online video? Right now, they can get movies from Amazon, Apple or Wal-Mart. Why will they use BitTorrent?
BC: Currently, when people want high-quality video they turn on the TV or get a DVD. The space is wide open in terms of gaining mindshare for an online download site. We're going to excel both in having a comprehensive catalog so people can reliably find something they want and in having a simple, friendly consumer experience.
WN: Do you think your plan will dispel some of the conceptions media execs have about BitTorrent -- that it's just a tool for piracy?
BC: Those preconceptions have already been mostly overcome. BitTorrent from the beginning has been a useful general-purpose tool, tailored for people who want to publish their own content out in the open, and enough people have done technical due diligence for the community at large to make that realization.
Back when there was some stigma to anything related to peer-to-peer, there were some amusing stories of companies having an official policy of not using any peer-to-peer technology at all, but some sysadmin would surreptitiously use BitTorrent for internal distribution when it was clearly warranted.
WN: Do you have any plans for implementation of BitTorrent software on other platforms? Web apps? Mobile apps? Widgets?
BC: Delivery of high-quality content is something that can benefit all platforms. We're working on making BitTorrent come preinstalled on many embedded devices, as one of the basic services they support in the same class as web browsers.
WN: Where do you see file-sharing going in one year? Five years?
BC: We're going to see everything continue to become more web-based, and the special status of high-quality video files and other large files as somehow different will go away. The current limitations on distributing them will cease to exist.
BitTorrent, Inc. Acquires µTorrent
There's little doubt that BitTorrent - both the protocol and the company - are quickly becoming the most important Internet event since the arrival of the World Wide Web. In many ways it already has supplanted the importance of the web, as it's responsible for utilizing a majority of the Internet's bandwidth and is the definitive distribution method for millions.
The road towards creating an Internet phenomenon has not been easy for file-sharing and P2P developers. In fact it has been a road filled with legal obstacles since the concept went mainstream with Napster. To date, the only successful P2P protocol seemingly capable in traversing from the legally questionable to outright legitimate is BitTorrent.
With a massive userbase and highly advanced protocol capable of transferring large files with ease, the entertainment industry has taken a much softer stance on the BitTorrent issue. Both mainstream and independent studios are gradually using the BitTorrent protocol to distribute their work and take advantage of the massive user potential.
As BitTorrent, Inc. continues to exist unmolested in the P2P fray, it has slowly built up its reputation as a pro-artist and legitimate avenue for online distribution. Its understanding between the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) in November of 2005 helped solidify this fact, as well as its continued expansion of entertainment on BitTorrent.com.
Now it appears BitTorrent, Inc. has taken the next step - the acquisition of µTorrent (microTorrent.) In an joint announcement made today, the two firms have publicly solidified the merger.
"Together, we are pleased to announce that BitTorrent, Inc. and µTorrent AB have decided to join forces," a forum post on uTorrent states. "BitTorrent has acquired µTorrent as it recognized the merits of µTorrent's exceptionally well-written codebase and robust user community. Bringing together µTorrent's efficient implementation and compelling UI with BitTorrent's expertise in networking protocols will significantly benefit the community with what we envision will be the best BitTorrent client."
Since µTorrent's arrival in 2004, it quickly became the BitTorrent client of choice for a significant amount of users. It's small memory footprint, single executable, and diminutive size (~1 megabyte) has simplified BitTorrent for millions of users. Often considered one of the last heroes of file-sharing, today's news will no doubt spell concern for the µTorrent faithful.
However in attempt to thwart this inevitable concern, both BitTorrent and µTorrent have been adament that the user experience will remain unchanged. In fact, BitTorrent, Inc. assures its users this event will only benefit the end user.
"Following the acquisition, patented content delivery innovations made by BitTorrent, Inc. will be integrated in the µTorrent client in a manner that will remain seamless to the community of users. Ultimately, the integration of best-of-breed BitTorrent technology will result in an improved client and an enhanced user experience. It will also accelerate BitTorrent's plans to provide high-performance content delivery services that power websites seeking the most efficient platform for distributing large, high-quality files. Lastly, the incorporation of µTorrent's lightweight codebase strengthens the adoption of BitTorrent technology in embedded systems, including televisions, mobile phones and other non-PC platforms."
For now, both BitTorrent, Inc. and µTorrent will remain visually independent. There's a lot of action going on behind the scenes, and the integration of the two clients will evolve as time progresses. BitTorrent, Inc. saw a great client with the loyal following of millions, and today's event is likely just the beginning of the great BitTorrent consolidation. The details of the acquisition are currently not being made public.
Free Publicity for Musicians and Safe P2P for Everyone
Soulseek still the best, after all these years.
Soulseek is one of the best p2p on the web for "Underground" music.
Soulseek is free
10 $ Donations are accepted for a month of premium downloads
What is Soulseek ??
Soulseek is the safest p2p program out on the web currently and has been for years, it was made for independent artist to share thier music but overtime turned into a full p2p file sharing system.
How do I get Soulseek ??
You can download soulseek for free at www.slsk.com, some other sites try to charge you a one time fee but those are all scams so don't waste your $$ on them, Soulseek is free to everyone.
I installed soulseek .. How do I start trading files ??
First you must create a user name and password, that can be done with the log on screen that comes up when you first open slsk (soulseek). You may have to try a few times to get a name that is not taken already, but just keep trying.
Second you must set the folder which you want to share your files and another to save files you download. To do this you must go to "File Sharing Configuration" located in the Option menu and open it. Once your in the File Sharing Configuration folder set the "select save folder" to the folder you want to save your downloads in. Now that you have your save folder setup, do the same with the "Add Shared Folder", this will tell the computer which folders to share with the other members of soulseek. Then last decide if you want everyone to be able to search your files, or if you want to give permission first.
Once you have all your file sharing setup just log off soulseek and log back on so everyone can see you files. This is important because on soulseek a lot of people will not share or ban others who share no files. After this you can setup general options and personal info, even make a little bio with a profile photo.
Now you must start searching for files and you can do this lots of ways. One way is to "wish list" a file you are having trouble finding and soulseek will search all users in all rooms over time as long as you stayed logged on. Another is to enter rooms and just search for specific types of music, games or movies.
List of some soulseek rooms :
Drum and Bass
and a lot more ...
You can enter any of the rooms and search for files under that rooms category, then talk to the other users in the room to trade files. If someone is bothering you , is rude , takes files without sharing or anything else, you can just ban them from your files and from sending you text.
Soulseek is by far the best p2p program out for underground music and is totally spy ware and ad ware free. I have used soulseek for 2 years with no bug or virus. If you are sick of all the p2p programs that make your PC run like crap or fill it with a lot of viruses soulseek is the answer. With a built in chat system linked to the file sharing you really get to meet the people you trade files with, unlike other programs. If you like soulseek, you can donate 10$ and get special download deal for a month to get more files faster.
I would personally recommend DSL or a cable connection with any p2p, but you could use dial up to. With high speed internet you can set the max number of downloads you accept and receive at once, I was trading songs in 2 minutes with another high speed user.
How do I share my own music on soulseek ?
Sharing your music on soulseek is easy and fun !!! You also have may ways to find people that like the type of music you make and talk to them even before sending them any of your music. One way to find people is threw the profiles , you can search / browse different members profiles and "likes and dislikes" section to find people with your taste. A second way to find people is to just enter the room of your muisic genre and start talking to people, search their music files for music that is similar to the music you make, browse the profiles of people in that room, post you have free mp3.s on scrolling room ticker, send files people that have opened their "accept uploads" option without talking to them or having them download from you. Really the ways to share your music is endless on soulseek and its free !!!!
I would HIGHLY recommend soulseek to any independent music producer / rapper ... ANYTHING !!!
It's the best and has been for years , happy sharing .
Thousands of Songs in Your Pocket: An Audiophile's Nightmare?
Will consumers who demand portable music always have to compromise on sound quality?
Two trends say a lot about music today:
• Online music aggregators keep rising, pushing a blizzard of compressed, mostly MP3-format, digital tunes bought individually and crammed into hand-held players.
• Live-concert revenues keep soaring - thanks to mesospheric ticket prices, to be sure, but thanks also to long queues outside stadiums and more intimate venues.
What they appear to mean, taken together: Listeners demand portability and a la carte song purchases. But at least some also want "fidelity," to experience a sound that's true to the full aural expression the artist poured out at the moment of a work's creation. Technology, artist advocacy, and buyer behavior will determine the degree to which listeners can have both, experts say.
The main issue: size. New technology can deliver ever smaller, more storable music files - but the process carries a cost in terms of sound quality. Most of what all those earbuds-wearers are hearing, say experts, is bass-heavy noise.
"With the growth of portable audio, people have been rushing to build their libraries; it's been more quantity over quality," says Jennifer Boone, who tracks audio developments for the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington, Va.
A CEA survey earlier this year indicated that clarity and richness of sound were important to most audio-equipment buyers. It also betrayed some befuddlement.
"[Our] research shows that 56 percent of consumers have never even heard what they would consider to be a 'great audio experience,' " says Ms. Boone, "so they don't know how to evaluate [audio]."
Last month the CEA launched a campaign (www.greataudio.com) to educate buyers about available formats and devices, enlisting the help of the band 3 Doors Down to help reach an audience younger than the typical audiophile.
"They're really passionate about it," Boone says of the band. "It's really important to them that people are able to hear their music in the way it was intended when they were in the studio."
That's important to sound engineers, too. "You spend a long time training your ears and striving to perfect your craft and put out a better product," says Jeff Willens, an audio-restoration specialist at Vidipax in Long Island City, N.Y. "When you finally discover that these things are being listened to on cellphones and through pea-size earphones, it's kind of disheartening."
Mr. Willens cites a technological evolution with a serious hiccup. "For the past 100 years or so ... every new format that came along was an improvement over the previous one," from 78s to vinyl to tape and high-grade cassettes, he says.
After CDs arrived and files became digitally encoded, he explains, there was a push to make files small and still "fairly listenable." The technology used to create MP3s - "lossy" compression - strips away what might be viewed as "unnecessary audio information," he says - information that can, in fact, contribute to richness.
"So MP3 is," he says, "one of the first times where a newer format is of poorer quality than the one that came before it."
Another problem: The sheer number of variations in compression technology. The array of audio file formats includes Apple's AAC and Dolby's AC3, as well as WMA, OGG, FLAC, AVI, and others.
"It's a tragic tradition of the consumer-electronics business that there are always multiple formats," says Buzz Goddard, a senior writer at www.highfidelityreview.com. "When vinyl records started out they ran at four different speeds with six different equalization curves," he says. "The same kind of thing is happening all over again."
For his own use, Mr. Goddard, like Willens, favors WAV, a "lossless" compression format that renders sound accurately but has some drawbacks - notably the tremendous amount of storage space it requires: some 50 to 60 megabytes per song, versus about two for an MP3.
"If I want to put CDs on my hard drive I store them as WAV files because that is a bit-for-bit copy of the original master tape." says Goddard. "If I need portability and I'm running out of space, I would compress it. And I typically use MP3, but I do it at a fairly high setting ... it's acceptable, but not what I would listen to in the home."
In home-audio hardware, the trend has been toward convergence, says the CEA's Ms. Boone - portables that plug into home-theater systems. The trend in the music itself, she says: downloadable and housed on hard drives rather than discs such as Super Audio CD or DVD Audio.
Because there isn't much music available on SACD or DVD-A, Boone says, "consumers opted out of either [disc]. Today, [the industry is] rallying behind high-resolution digital formats - CD-resolution and "lossless" audio files from companies like MusicGiants [ www.musicgiants.com]."
Whether such formats go mainstream depends on more than just bandwidth and digital storage space: It's about behavior.
"We've seen this rather dramatic change in people from buying CDs properly to [in some cases] stealing their music online," says Goddard of MP3s, the format of choice for filesharing. "At that 'price' they kind of overlook the fidelity. Are people willing to pay an extra 15 to 20 percent for something that sounds a little better? That's going to be the big question."
New Chip Provides High-End Sound
Veteran audio engineer Tony Bongiovi, who once worked with Jimi Hendrix, has been disappointed for decades that the equipment most people used to listen to music couldn't replicate the high-quality sound heard in the studio.
Now, he thinks he's created an answer: a technique for sound processing that's making its debut in a JVC car stereo this week.
"Speakers are such a primitive device, but with digital technology we can overcome that," Bongiovi said. (If his name sounds familiar to those who know music but nothing of audio engineering, it's because his second cousin is Jon Bon Jovi.)
The technique, which Bongiovi calls the Digital Power Station for the studio he once built in a converted power station in Manhattan, can be described as a very sophisticated equalizer. It adapts intelligently to the music to give even cheap speakers a full, robust sound and compensate for the deficiencies of the listening space.
This is accomplished by digital signal processing, a technology found in virtually all consumer audio products. But according to Bongiovi, it has never been employed in this way.
Bongiovi and his company, Bongiovi Acoustics of Port St. Lucie, Fla., first built a device using analog components to produce the effect, but the unit was the size of a refrigerator. He turned to Glenn Zelniker, a specialist in digital signal processing, to program a chip to do the same thing.
"The technique really allows the sound source to be heard very well, loud and clear and intelligible in a very, very compromised sonic environment," Zelniker said.
The chip, an off-the-shelf digital signal processor from Motorola spin-off Freescale Semiconductor Inc., is programmed specifically for each car model, taking into account the characteristics of its speakers and interior. It has more than 120 points of adjustment.
"It's so precise that the hatchback Ford Focus has a different tuning from the regular one," Bongiovi said.
In a demonstration for a reporter in a Ford Focus with standard speakers, the JVC KD-S100 car stereo produced radically different sound quality with the Digital Power Station chip engaged. The sound swelled to give an impression of space, and all instruments came through clearer.
The bass was very rich and free of distortion, a phenomenon Bongiovi attributes both to the chip knowing exactly how much the four speakers can take, and to synchronizing them to act as one "virtual subwoofer."
The stereo will cost $700 to $1,000 installed, depending on the make of the car, and will be available only at dealers, since the chip requires programming (via a CD) to match the make of the car.
While the technology is particularly suited to a noisy environment like a car, Bongiovi sees it as having much wider applications, though there are no specific plans for taking the chip to consumer gadgets beyond the car stereo.
In another demonstration, he had a computer play the movie "King Kong" through an inexpensive JVC home-theater-in-a-box speaker setup. Using software on the computer to run the Digital Power Station algorithm, the sound quality improved tremendously. With no real increase in volume, sounds surfaced that previously were unnoticed, like the giant gorilla breathing and shuffling his feet. There was an overall feeling of theater-like space even in a small room.
While the process may do little for the high-end gear of an audiophile, it appears to be very adept at compensating for the weaknesses of cheap speakers. Even the sound from the built-in speakers of a flat-panel TV set was improved by Digital Power Station.
"I want people at home to experience what we experience in the studio, and this is the only way to do it," Bongiovi said.
Device Created to Protect One's Hearing
Researchers have developed a device that could help protect people from hearing loss: It flashes red when a music player or lawn mower emits deafening noises.
Say, you're near a tractor and worry the noise is loud enough to cause ear damage. Simply press your thumb on the handheld device's sound port to see whether it's too loud. Likewise, you can press your iPod's ear buds against the port to know whether you ought to turn the volume down.
Three staff members with the Hollins Communications Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that does research on speech and hearing, spent about a year developing the device, called Ear3. The group is selling the device for $50 at ear3.info.
"We're so concerned about eating properly, exercising and getting physical checkups, and we're idiots about our ears," executive director Ronald Webster said.
People can lose half of their hearing range before they notice it, said Webster, a retired Hollins University psychology professor who founded the institute in 1972.
Of the 33 million American adults with some degree of hearing loss, about 22 million suffered permanent damage from loud noise, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Young, healthy ears can recover from limited exposure to loud noise, Webster said, but "repeated insults lead to hearing loss."
Webster said the institute team developed the measuring device because they were concerned about the sound that music players such as Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod can emit. A sound level of 85 decibels is a danger zone for hearing loss, he said, and music players can exceed that.
"We're beginning to see more and more younger people showing up" with hearing loss, he said.
Earlier this year, Apple updated its iPod software so listeners can set how loud their players can go. But the controls do not specify decibel levels, leaving listeners guessing.
With the Ear3, the danger signal flashes slowly at 85 to 90 decibels, increasing to steady red at 90 and rapid-fire flashes at 100.
"We're just so absolutely ignorant about sound," Webster said. "We expose ourselves to all kinds of threats and never even think about it."
Major Labels to Offer Unrestricted MP3s
After years of selling online music digitally wrapped with copy and playback restrictions designed to hinder piracy, major music labels are beginning to make some songs available in the unrestricted MP3 file format.
The releases are part of an experiment to gauge demand for tracks that can be played on any digital music player capable of playing MP3s, one of the oldest music compression formats.
Normally, copy-protected tracks are only playable on certain devices. By selling MP3s, recording companies can ensure they can be played on Apple Computer Inc.'s market-leading iPod players without going through Apple's iTunes Music Store.
The latest such offering comes from singer Norah Jones and rock band Relient K, both signed to labels operated by Britain's EMI Music.
Jones' "Thinking About You" and Relient K's "Must Have Done Something Right" - both from their forthcoming albums - went on sale for 99 cents each as MP3 downloads Tuesday via Yahoo Inc.'s online music service.
Relient K also is selling the song on the band's Web site with a bonus MP3 titled "Fallen Man," while EMI has released an MP3 from British pop singer Lily Allen for sale only in Great Britain.
Many artists, mostly with independent labels, have been selling music in the MP3 format for years. Dimensional Associates Inc.'s eMusic has sold nearly 100 million MP3 downloads to date.
Still, major labels have been reluctant to follow suit.
That is beginning to change, if slowly.
This summer, Sony BMG Music Entertainment released an MP3 by pop diva Jessica Simpson on Yahoo Music, while the Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Records released an entire album by pop singer Jesse McCartney in the MP3 format.
"They're still looking at it as an experiment but the labels have really come a long way in terms of wanting to see how this works for them," said Carrie Davis, a Yahoo spokeswoman, refusing to disclose sales totals for the Simpson and McCartney tracks.
Spyware Fighters Go After MP3 Search Site
Two antispyware watchdogs are urging federal regulators to take action against a music search Web site that they say is a front for malicious software.
FastMP3Search.com.ar, registered in Argentina, advertises itself as a search service for music files, but instead tricks people into loading a host of malicious applications onto their PC and opens computers up to further cyberattacks, according to StopBadware.org and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
"In the past year, we've come across dozens of malicious programs available on hundreds of Web sites, and without question, the FastMP3Search.com.ar plug-in tops our list of the worst actors," said John Palfrey, co-director of the StopBadware coalition.
StopBadware and the CDT said they will file a joint complaint against the Web site with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Thursday. StopBadware.org is an initiative, backed by Sun Microsystems, Google and Lenovo, that aims to create a blacklist of malicious software. The CDT is a watchdog group that runs the Anti-Spyware Coalition.
The music search site asks people to install a plug-in to be able to download MP3 files. This plug-in is actually a cocktail of malicious software that contains adware, Trojan horses and disables the Microsoft Windows firewall, according to StopBadware and the CDT.
"They've combined so many bad things in a single bundle. It's a parade of horribles," Palfrey said.
In tests of FastMP3Search.com.ar, StopBadware was unable to download any MP3 files from the site, the group said.
So far, the consumer protection group has not succeeded in tracking down the owner or operator of FastMP3Search.com.ar. However, it is hoping the FTC can determine who is behind the site and where they are located, a representative for StopBadware said.
"The FTC has had success in working with other governments to help crack down on malicious Web sites and applications," the representative said. StopBadware and the CDT are asking the agency to end the Web site's practices.
Chrysler Creates Safety P2P Network for Cars
DaimlerChrysler has developed an ingenious system for warning drivers about hazardous road conditions, taking notice of the popularity of peer-to-peer file sharing and bringing it over into the automotive world. Called "WILLWARN," the system monitors how a car is driving by checking the brakes, electronic stability controls, and a thermometer. It can then determine the road conditions and send them to other cars via a built-in peer-to-peer network. That way when ice forms on a highway, that info can get passed back, car to car, all the way down the road, letting people know to find a detour or slow down.
In order for the system to work it'll need to be set up on more than just DaimlerChrysler cars, so they plan to share the technology with all car manufacturers. It's nice to see a company doing something innovative that will benefit everyone and not just their own customers. Kudos, Chrysler. —
Japan Group Seeks YouTube Copyright System
A Japanese entertainment group has asked the popular video-sharing site YouTube Inc. to implement a system to prevent users from uploading videos that would infringe copyrights, a group spokesman said Tuesday.
The Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers sent a letter making the request addressed to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen by express mail and e-mail on behalf of 23 Japanese TV stations and entertainment companies, according to Takashi Fujii, a spokesman for the Jasrac group.
Most videos posted on YouTube are homemade, but the site also features copyrighted material posted by individual users.
YouTube's policy has been to remove clips that infringe copyright after it receives complaints, but questions have continued to linger about the site's vulnerability to legal claims for distributing content owned by other media.
Last month, YouTube - recently acquired by Google Inc. for $1.65 billion - deleted nearly 30,000 files after the Japanese group complained of copyright infringement.
But Jasrac said in a letter dated Monday seen by The Associated Press that the problem has persisted, and that the current system "is not functioning well due to the (continued) large volume of illegal uploads."
The letter requested that YouTube introduce a preliminary screening system to prevent copyrighted clips from being posted. It also asked for a series of provisional measures, including posting a notice in Japanese about illegal uploads, requiring uploaders to register and terminating users who violate copyright.
The letter asked YouTube to respond no later than Dec. 15.
YouTube has been negotiating with leading copyright holders and reached agreement with several letting the Web site post copyright music videos and other content in exchange for sharing ad revenue.
The company agreed to deploy an audio-signature technology that can spot a low-quality copy of a licensed clip. YouTube would have to substitute an approved version or remove the material automatically.
YouTube has licensing deals with CBS Corp. and three major recording companies: Warner Music Group Corp., Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment, which is a joint venture between Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG.
Since YouTube started in February 2005, the company has blossomed, now showing more than 100 million video clips per day.
YouTube's worldwide audience was 72.1 million by August, up 2.8 million from a year earlier, according to comScore Media Metrix.
Nintendo Wii Sells Nearly 372,000 Units
Japan's Nintendo Co. sold almost 372,000 of its new Wii video game console in the first two days of its Japanese launch, industry analysts said Tuesday.
The Wii hit Japanese stores on Saturday, two weeks after its U.S. release, and sold 371,936 units in its opening weekend, according to Enterbrain, a Japanese publisher of video game magazines.
The top-selling game for the console was Nintendo's Wii Sports game, which sold 176,880 copies, Enterbrain said. Nintendo titles occupied the top four slots for the best-selling titles for the unit.
Kyoto-based Nintendo's new console has been widely tipped as a wild-card contender in the three-way battle with Sony Corp's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp's Xbox 360 for market control of the next generation of video game consoles.
Nintendo Investigating Wii Strap Problem
Nintendo's president acknowledged Thursday the just-launched Wii video-game machine may have a problem with a strap that secures its trademark wandlike remote-controller to the player's wrist.
President Satoru Iwata also said Nintendo may raise its sales target for the Wii, which is selling out at retailers since it went on sale in recent weeks in the U.S. and Japan.
The console from the maker of the Pokemon and Super Mario games is locked in a fierce three-way battle with Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.
"We are investigating," Iwata said of reports about the Wii's strap coming off as players swung around the controller, at times causing the remote to fly out of their hands.
Players use the Wii remote like a tennis racket, sword and other devices to play games.
"Some people are getting a lot more excited than we'd expected," Iwata said. "We need to better communicate to people how to deal with Wii as a new form of entertainment."
The company has not decided on any specific measures to change the strap, Nintendo spokesman Yasuhiro Minagawa said.
Iwata said he first wants to see how Christmas sales go before revising Nintendo's sales target for 6 million Wii consoles by the end of March.
"I'm not ruling that out entirely, but it's premature to say it now," he said at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo.
Nintendo has delivered more machines so far to consumers than Sony Corp. has, partly because of Sony's production problems.
Nintendo has shipped about 400,000 Wii machines in Japan and more than 600,000 in North America. The machine went on sale Thursday in Australia and is set to go on sale Friday in Europe.
Sony readied just 100,000 PlayStation 3 machines for the Japan launch, and 400,000 consoles for its U.S. debut. Its European launch has been pushed back until March.
Sony has promised 2 million PS3 machines by the end of the year, while Nintendo is targeting 4 million in global shipments of Wii during the same period. Both Sony and Nintendo are projecting selling 6 million by the end of March.
Selling machines in numbers is crucial in the gaming business because hot-selling formats attract software companies to make more games, which in turn boost machine sales.
Iwata denied that Nintendo was competing against Sony. It's more important to attract novice players and to reach out to older people and others usually not associated with games, he said.
Analysts say Wii appeals to inexperienced players and has a price advantage at 25,000 yen or $250 - about half of the PlayStation 3.
Analysts expect Wii to mount a serious challenge to market-leader Sony, which has sold more than 200 million PlayStation series machines worldwide over the years, although they say the verdict on next-generation machines is still out for a couple of years.
Sony is expecting to rack up 200 billion yen ($1.7 billion) in red ink in its game unit for the fiscal year ending March 2007, much of it in startup costs for PlayStation 3.
Nintendo is forecasting profit of 100 billion yen ($845 million) for the fiscal year, as Wii buoys earnings in the second half.
Chinese Food Pirates
Manager Arrested for Garbage in Lard
A factory manager in east China has been arrested for using grease from swill, sewage, pesticides and recycled industrial oil to make lard for human consumption, state media said Monday in the country's latest food scare.
Ying Fuming, a manager at the Fanchang Grease Factory in Taizhou, a city in Zhejiang province, sold the lard at half the price of other wholesalers while promising that his product met safety standards, the Shanghai Daily said.
The factory was shut down and local health and food authorities began an investigation this year after an anonymous tip indicated that the plant ''recycled large amounts of used grease to process substandard lard,'' the newspaper said.
It is the latest incident involving substandard or fake food products in China, where there is rampant counterfeiting of food and medicines.
China's food safety watchdog announced last month that seven companies that produced salted, red-yolk duck eggs used potentially cancer-causing red dyes.
In 2004, at least 12 infants died from malnutrition after drinking phony formula in a city in the eastern province of Anhui. More than 200 babies suffered wasted limbs and swollen heads -- common symptoms of malnutrition.
The Taizhou factory, which opened in September 2005, was ordered shut down but continued operating at night, the Shanghai Daily said. It sold its product to retailers across the country, who sold it to clients, including hotels and restaurants, it said.
In a recent night raid, officers found 83,000 pounds of raw materials and 11,600 pounds of lard, the newspaper said without providing any more details.
''Some was recycled edible grease, such as oil refined from swill and cooked oil,'' it said. ''Some was grease rendered from sewage, and some was recycled industrial grease.''
By law, only pure fat from hogs can be used to produce edible lard, the newspaper said.
Samples from the Fanchang factory showed an acid value more than 11 times higher than the national limit, it said.
China Firms Unveil New Video Players
China's top electronics makers on Wednesday unveiled dozens of video players made with a homegrown DVD format in a campaign to promote a Chinese alternative to foreign technology.
The DVD format, known as EVD, is part of state-backed efforts to create standards for mobile phones and other products and reduce dependence on foreign know-how and possibly reap licensing fees if they are adopted abroad.
EVD, or Enhanced Versatile Disc, was first released in 2003, but an effort to promote it was dropped in 2004 after the players failed to catch on with consumers and producers squabbled over licensing fees.
Now Chinese electronics makers have revived the campaign on a massive scale, saying they plan to switch completely to EVD by 2008 and stop producing DVD players. Electronics makers, film studios and retailers are promising to sell EVD discs and players.
The move also adds a new twist to rivalry between the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc next-generation video standards being promoted by competing groups of U.S., Japanese and European companies.
Promoters of EVD say it provides crisper pictures and sound, bigger recording capacity and better anti-piracy features than standard DVD.
Zhang Baoquan, general secretary of the EVD Industry Alliance, a group promoting the alternative format, expressed confidence that sales in China's booming consumer electronics market will be strong enough to support producers after they stop making DVD players.
"By 2008, when EVD replaces DVD, there will be no major impact on Chinese manufacturers," he said at a news conference.
Chinese sales of high-definition TV sets next year are expected to grow by 60 percent to 8 million units, driving sales of video players, Zhang said. He said producers plan to start trying to export EVD machines next year.
On Wednesday, 54 video players from 20 Chinese manufacturers were displayed at a Beijing art gallery. They included models from Haier Group, one of the world's top three appliance makers, and TCL Group, which owns French television maker Thomson and the RCA brand.
Chinese companies produce 80 percent of the world's DVD players under their own brand names and for foreign electronics companies or retailers. But manufacturers complain that fees paid to foreign owners of technology cut into profits in a highly competitive industry.
At Wednesday's exhibition, film distributors displayed dozens of Chinese movies and a handful of foreign titles including the Hollywood thriller "Cellular" in EVD format.
The industry group says EVD players will retail for about 700 yuan ($87), about the same as a DVD player.
The 20 manufacturers in the EVD alliance account for 90 percent of DVD sales in China, according to Zhang.
Chinese authorities have had only mixed success with earlier efforts to promote homegrown standards for the fast-growing fields of mobile phones and wireless encryption.
Last year, Beijing dropped an effort to make its encryption standard mandatory for computers and other goods sold in China after the United States and other governments complained it would hamper market access for foreign companies. In March, the global industrial standards body rejected the Chinese system for worldwide use.
Beijing has postponed announcing a next-generation mobile phone standard as its researchers try to develop their own system. The delay has prompted complaints by mobile phone carriers and handset manufacturers.
State media say the Chinese system has performed poorly in tests.
Study: HD DVD Has Lead in Consumer Support
An independent analysis of online discussions on next generation DVD formats Blu-ray and HD DVD seem to give the early edge to HD DVD. Cited as reasons are a consumer distrust of Sony and displeasure in the company's decision to include it in the PS3.
The study, released by research firm Cymfony late Tuesday, indicates that while discussion on the two formats is pretty evenly split, positive discussion on HD DVD is 46 percent higher than that of Blu-ray. The study researched 18,000 posts from October 1 to November 30, 2006.
Cymfony's research also found few were interested in talking about higher storage capacities and advanced interactivity, two points where Blu-ray seems to have the edge over its rival.
Overall, nearly 33 percent of all online posts on HD DVD were positive, compared with 53 percent that were neutral, and 14 percent negative. Blu-ray scored a 24 percent positive rating, with 53 percent neutral and 23 percent negative.
Among 2,000 posts randomly selected for more analysis, the company found 2.5 times more posts being impressed with HD DVD than Blu-ray, and 70 percent more posts discussing the advantages of the format over those doing the same for Blu-ray.
The most common reason for the negativity towards Sony's format was what was considered a general dislike, accounting for 24 percent of the selected posts, doubting the company's ability to launch a successful format, and it's image as an arrogant company.
"While the media and manufacturers duke it out over their format choice, our research shows that consumers are turning away from Blu-ray because of Sony's reputation and heavy-handed launch strategy," Cymfony chief strategy and marketing officer Jim Nail said.
Second in the list was negativity surrounding its inclusion in the PS3, at 21 percent. The firm noted that the launch of the console occurred during the period, which generated a large number of posts. Many cited displeasure at being forced to use Blu-ray, whereas Microsoft provided a choice with making the HD DVD disc drive an external option.
"Our research shows there's more going on with consumers: it's not that consumers are waiting for one format to win before they purchase, but they actively doubt Sony's ability to win the battle," Nail said.
He noted at this point that a majority of the discussion was still among early adopters, but with such negativity early on, Sony may run into problems with a mainstream audience. Consumers just don't see a difference, Nail argues.
Holiday Decorations Can Create Major Wi-Fi Disturbances
AirMagnet Inc., the award-winning leader in wireless network assurance, announced the results of a recently conducted survey measuring wireless signal strength in a standard office setting both before and after introducing a change in the office environment — holiday decorations. While decorations are relatively commonplace at this time of year and might seem innocuous, as with any change introduced to a wireless environment, it's difficult to predict how new elements might affect wireless performance - but proper planning can help reduce the negative effect on wireless networks. AirMagnet's survey, using AirMagnet Survey PRO and AirMagnet Laptop Analyzer, showed the decorations had a significant impact on the Wi-Fi network, with:
• Signal strength decreased by 25 percent
• Signal deterioration increased over distance by one-third
• Signal distribution uneven in some locations, deteriorating signal strength by an additional 10 percent
"When new elements are introduced into an enterprise environment they have the potential to seriously affect the performance of the Wi-Fi network, by deflecting, absorbing or otherwise interfering with the wireless signal. During the holidays, it could be the decorations in an office, at other times it could just as easily be a new microwave oven or a metal shelving unit," said Chia-Chee Kuan, CTO and vice president of engineering for AirMagnet.
Signal deterioration leaves users experiencing sluggish and dropped connections, decreasing their productivity and creating major headaches for IT administrators. AirMagnet advises network administrators to regularly utilize wireless analysis tools both during the holidays and year round to evaluate the effects of any changes to their corporate environment and determine how best to mitigate interference issues and optimize the performance of their network.
Health Hazard: Computers Spilling Your History
Milt Freudenheim and Robert Pear
BILL CLINTON’S identity was hidden behind a false name when he went to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital two years ago for heart surgery, but that didn’t stop computer hackers, including people working at the hospital, from trying to get a peek at the electronic records of his medical charts.
The same hospital thwarted 1,500 unauthorized attempts by its own employees to look at the patient records of a famous local athlete, said J. David Liss, a vice president at NewYork-Presbyterian.
And just last September, the New York City public hospital system said that dozens of workers at one of its Brooklyn medical centers, including doctors and nurses, technicians and clerks, had improperly looked at the computerized medical records of Nixzmary Brown, a 7-year-old who prosecutors say was beaten to death by her stepfather last winter.
Powerful forces are lobbying hard for government and private programs that could push the nation’s costly and inefficient health care system into the computer age. President Bush strongly favors more use of health information technology. Health insurance and medical device companies are eager supporters, not to mention technology companies like I.B.M. and Google. Furthermore, Intel and Wal-Mart Stores have both said they intend to announce plans this week to embrace electronic health records for their employees.
Others may soon follow. Bills to speed the adoption of information technology by hospitals and doctors have passed both chambers of Congress.
But the legislation has bogged down, largely because of differences over how to balance the health care industry’s interest in efficiently collecting, studying and using data with privacy concerns for tens of millions of ordinary Americans — not just celebrities and victims of crime.
Advocates of such legislation, including Representative Joe L. Barton, the Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that concern about snooping should not freeze progress on adopting technology that could save money and improve care.
“Privacy is an important issue,” said Mr. Barton, who will lose the chairman’s post when the Democrats take over next year, “but more important is that we get a health information system in place.” Congress can address privacy later “if we need to,” he said.
Democrats, however, have made it clear that they are determined to address the issue of medical-records privacy once they take command of both houses of Congress next month. “There is going to be much more emphasis placed upon privacy protections in the next two years than we have seen in the last 12 years,” said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a longtime privacy advocate.
Mr. Markey, a member of the Energy and Commerce committee, said he supported legislation that would allow individuals to keep their medical records out of electronic databases, and require health care providers to notify patients when health information is “lost, stolen or used for an unauthorized purpose.”
Representative John D. Dingell of Michigan, the ranking Democrat who is expected to become chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee next month, said that expanding electronic health care systems “clearly has great potential benefit.” But he added that “it also poses serious threats to patients’ privacy by creating greater amounts of personal information susceptible to thieves, rascals, rogues and unauthorized users.” Members of his committee, as well as the House Ways and Means Committee, have been struggling with such issues.
Academic medical centers like NewYork-Presbyterian have considerable experience with electronic records. But many other hospitals have been slow to jump on board, as have doctors and patients. Only one in four doctors used electronic health records in 2005, according to a recent study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and George Washington University, and fewer than 1 in 10 doctors used the technology for important tasks like prescribing drugs, ordering tests and making treatment decisions.
Cathy Schoen, a senior researcher at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit foundation, said primary-care doctors in the United States were far less likely than doctors in other industrialized countries to use electronic records. In Britain, 89 percent of doctors use them, according to a recent report in the online edition of the journal Health Affairs; in the Netherlands, 98 percent do.
Technology experts have many explanations for the slow adoption of the technology in the United States, including the high initial cost of the equipment, difficulties in communicating among competing systems and fear of lawsuits against hospitals and doctors that share data.
But the toughest challenge may be a human one: acute public concern about security breaches and identity theft. Even when employers pay workers to set up computerized personal health records, many bridle, fearing private information will fall into the wrong hands and be used against them.
“When I talk to employees, the top concern they have is: ‘What happens to my information? What about the Social Security numbers on my employee insurance, as well as the identity threat now appearing in health care?’ ” Harriett P. Pearson, I.B.M.’s chief privacy officer, said in a recent interview. “We have to be proactive about addressing privacy issues.”
Dr. J. Brent Pawlecki, associate medical director at Pitney Bowes, the business services company, said that people in the United States are most concerned that they could lose their health insurance, based on something in their health records. Pitney Bowes is weighing the pros and cons of electronic personal health records for its employees.
The worries are widely held. Most Americans say they are concerned that an employer might use their health insurance records to limit job opportunities, according to several surveys, including a recent one by the nonprofit Markle Foundation.
Some patients are so fearful that they make risky decisions about their health. One in eight respondents in a survey last fall by the California HealthCare Foundation said they had tried to hide a medical problem by using tactics like skipping a prescribed test or asking the doctor to “fudge a diagnosis.”
Dr. Stephen J. Walsh, a psychiatrist and former president of the San Francisco Medical Society, said, “I see many patients who don’t want any information about their seeing a psychiatrist on a record anywhere.”
CONGRESS addressed some of these concerns in 1996, when it passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. That made it a federal crime, albeit rarely punished, to disclose private medical information improperly.
But critics say that the law has some worrisome loopholes, that infractions are rarely prosecuted, and that violators have almost never been punished. The law, for example, lets company representatives review employees’ medical records in order to process health insurance claims.
Critics say that it would not be unusual in some companies for the same supervisor to be in charge both of insurance claims and of hiring and firing decisions; this could allow companies to comb their ranks for people with expensive illnesses and find some reason to fire them as a way to keep health costs under control. Easily accessible computerized files would make the job that much easier, the critics say.
Joy L. Pritts, a health policy analyst at Georgetown University, said that in developing and promoting health information technology, the government seemed to assume that it could “tack on privacy protections later.” But she warned: “That attitude can really backfire. If you don’t have the trust of patients, they will withhold information and won’t take advantage of the new system.”
Executives can hire private tutors who specialize in teaching how to stay on the right side of the rules. But based on the experience so far, there is little chance that executives will be punished if they break them.
The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Health and Human Services has received more than 22,000 complaints under the portability law since the federal privacy standards took effect in 2003; allegations of “impermissible disclosure” have been among the most common complaints. But the civil rights office has filed only three criminal cases and imposed no civil fines. Instead, it said, it has focused on educating violators about the law and encouraging them to obey it in the future.
With federal enforcement so weak, privacy advocates say they are also concerned about recent efforts in Congress to pre-empt state consumer protection laws. They often provide stronger privacy rights and remedies, particularly for information on H.I.V. infection, mental illness and other specific conditions.
State laws, unlike the federal law, have resulted in some stiff penalties. Last April, a California state appeals court approved a malpractice award of $291,000 to Nicholas Francies, a San Francisco restaurant manager, who lost his job after his doctor disclosed his H.I.V.-positive status in a worker’s compensation notice to Mr. Francies’s employer. He also got $160,000 from his employer in a settlement.
Dr. Deborah C. Peel, a psychiatrist and privacy advocate in Austin, Tex., has assembled a broad group called the Patient Privacy Rights Foundation, to lobby in Washington. Members span the political spectrum, from the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group to the American Conservative Union and the Family Research Council.
Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker, has called for “a 21st-century intelligent health system” based on electronic records. He also says individuals “must have the ability to control who can access their personal health information.”
“People do have a legitimate right to control their records,” said Mr. Gingrich, who has worked closely with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, on the issue of computerized records. On their own, they have also advocated strict rules to protect privacy.
Mr. Gingrich noted that the Senate had twice passed bills to prohibit discrimination based on personal genetic information; the House did not vote on them. Democrats say the outlook for such legislation will improve when they take control of Congress.
EVEN without new federal laws to guide them, some companies have begun to encourage their employees to embrace electronic medical records. At Pitney Bowes, employees are paid a bonus if they store a copy of their personal health records on WebMD.com, the medical Web site.
“We haven’t pushed that, except to make an offering,” Dr. Pawlecki said. But for those without electronic records, he added, “any time you go to a different system or a different doctor, the chances are that your records will not be able to follow you.” As a result, there is a risk of “harmful care,” like drug interactions or side effects, he said, as well as risks of omitting needed care and conducting duplicate tests.
Pitney Bowes and WebMD Health are among a group of 25 companies meeting with Ms. Pearson of I.B.M. to develop a set of principles and best practices that she said would help persuade people that their employers really did not look at private information stored online.
Ms. Pearson’s group is working with Janlori Goldman, director of the Health Privacy Project in Washington. Employers need to adopt standards for personal health records that address their workers’ privacy, confidentiality and security concerns, Ms. Goldman said.
WebMD, which manages employees’ health records for dozens of companies, had discussions earlier this year with Google, which is developing a Web site called Google Health, according to people familiar with the project. Google has not commented on its plans. But commenting generally on the issues, Adam Bosworth, the vice president for engineering at Google, said that privacy is a hurdle for technology companies addressing health care problems.
“There is a huge potential for technology to improve health care and reduce its cost,” Mr. Bosworth said in a statement. “But companies that offer products and services must vigorously protect the privacy of users, or adoption of very useful new products and services will fail.”
Even before the theft this year of a Veterans Affairs official’s laptop that contained private medical records of 28 million people, a consumer survey found that repeated security breaches were raising concerns about the safety of personal health records.
About one in four people were aware of those earlier breaches, according to a national telephone survey of 1,000 adults last year for the California HealthCare Foundation. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The survey, conducted by Forrester Research, also found that 52 percent were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that insurance claims information might be used by an employer to limit their job opportunities.
The Markle survey, to be published this week, will report even greater worry — 56 percent were very concerned, 18 percent somewhat concerned — about abuse by employers. But despite their worries, the Markle respondents were eager to reap the benefits of Internet technology — for example, having easy access to their own health records.
Companies that have tried to use computers to increase the efficiency of medical care say their success has hinged on security. “The privacy piece was critical,” said Al Rapp, corporate health care manager at United Parcel Service, which recently introduced a health care program built on computerizing the records of 80,000 nonunion employees.
U.P.S. offers to add $50 each to workers’ flexible spending accounts if they agree to supply information for a personal “health risk appraisal.” They can receive another $50 if spouses also participate. More than half accepted, Mr. Rapp said, with the understanding that the information would go to data archives at UnitedHealth Group and Aetna. “We are not involved in any way,” he said, referring to U.P.S.’s managers.
Aetna and UnitedHealth combine these appraisals with each person’s history of medical claims and prescription drug purchases. When the software signals a personal potential for costly conditions like diabetes, heart problems and asthma, an insurance company nurse, or health coach, telephones the employee with suggestions for preventive care and reminders for checkups, taking medications and the like.
“The employee can tell the nurse who calls that they don’t want to participate,” Mr. Rapp said. “Thus far, it has been very well accepted.”
Last week, he said, the health coach reached out to the spouse of an employee after noting that her condition and weight suggested a potential risk for a heart attack.
“She asked this person, ‘Are you taking your cholesterol medication, Lipitor?’ She said, ‘I won’t take Lipitor,’ ” and went on to mention the side effects she had read about on the Internet, Mr. Rapp said.
The nurse informed the woman’s doctor, who changed her prescription to a similar drug, Mr. Rapp said. He added that he was one of “a very few select people in the human resources department” who are permitted to see personal health records, under the federal privacy rules.
“I can see the names, to see the issues,” Mr. Rapp said. “I manage the program. I have responsibility for the success of the program.” But he added that he was prohibited under the law from sharing the employee’s data with other U.P.S. managers. “Generally speaking, U.P.S. would have no knowledge of it,” Mr. Rapp said.
Still, worries linger across the health care system. Hospital executives say that private investigators have often tried to bribe hospital employees to obtain medical records that might be useful in court cases, including battles over child custody, divorce, property ownership and inheritance.
But computer technology — the same systems that disseminate data at the click of a mouse — can also enhance security.
Mr. Liss, of NewYork-Presbyterian, said that when unauthorized people tried to gain access to electronic medical records, hospital computers were programmed to ask them to explain why they were seeking the information.
Moreover, Mr. Liss said, the computer warns electronic intruders: “Be aware that your user ID and password have been captured.”
High-Tech Firms to Push Data-Privacy Law
Christopher S. Rugaber
Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and other high-tech companies are preparing to push for data-privacy legislation next year to replace what they consider an outdated patchwork of state and federal laws that are inconsistent and burdensome.
"We think the time has come for a comprehensive privacy bill that would protect consumers' personal information while still allowing the flow of information needed for commerce online," Ira Rubinstein, a Microsoft lawyer, said this week.
Several recent high-profile breaches of consumers' personal information have made consideration of privacy proposals more likely, Rubinstein said. The Social Security numbers and medical data of approximately 930,000 people were compromised this June, for example, when computer equipment belonging to insurance provider American International Group Inc. was stolen.
Microsoft, HP and eBay Inc. earlier this year formed the Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum to lobby for privacy legislation. Google Inc., Intel Corp., Oracle Corp. and other companies later joined.
The forum supports legislation that would set standards for what notice must be given to consumers about personal information collected on them and how it will be used, Rubinstein said. The companies are aiming for a law that would override any existing state laws and standardize privacy rules across industries.
The group's efforts will likely face some opposition, however.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a consumer advocacy group, said the proposals, if adopted, would amount to an industry drafting its own regulations.
Rotenberg also argued that the notices to consumers preferred by Microsoft and other companies are insufficient to protect online privacy. Instead, consumers should have access to the data that companies have on them and have more control over how they are used, he said, similar to the way consumers can currently access their credit reports.
Rotenberg also opposes the pre-emption of state laws, which he said in many cases have better protections than federal rules. Many anti-spam experts complained when Congress in 2003 approved a measure that did not let individuals sue spammers and that pre-empted most state laws that did.
Meanwhile, Stuart Ingis, a partner at the law firm Venable LLP, said that a broad privacy measure is unnecessary.
"Comprehensive privacy legislation already exists in this country," he said, citing existing laws and regulations governing financial and health-care privacy.
Those rules took decades to develop and provide strong protections for consumers, said Ingis, whose firm represents several companies and trade groups that track privacy issues.
Although high-tech companies have been seeking comprehensive federal privacy legislation, Congress has focused on the steps companies should take to protect data and when companies should notify consumers of data security breaches.
But several data security bills failed to pass during the soon-to-end congressional session, largely because of jurisdictional struggles between different congressional committees, said Steve Adamske, spokesman for Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.
Frank, incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said Wednesday that he plans to consider the issue of data security next year. To avoid a repeat of the jurisdictional struggle, Frank says he plans to propose to incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she appoint a task force of members from committees with oversight on privacy matters to work on the issue.
Senate Passes Bill to Criminalize Pretexting
Brad Stone and Matt Richtel
The Senate passed legislation last night that would make it a federal crime to obtain a person’s telephone records without permission, an act known as pretexting.
The measure, which was approved by unanimous consent last night and is similar to a bill passed earlier in the House, imposes a fine of up to $250,000 and imprisonment of up to 10 years for duping telephone companies into divulging the calling records of private individuals. The penalties can go up under special circumstances, like cases involving domestic abuse.
The support for the legislation comes in the aftermath of the spying scandal at Hewlett-Packard, the computer giant. The company, eager to ferret out purported leaks to journalists from within its board, used private detective firms to retrieve phone records of directors, managers and journalists.
Companies convicted under the Senate legislation face fines of up to $500,000.
The legislation includes penalties and a prison sentence of up to 10 years for individuals who sell or buy phone records knowing the lists were obtained through deceptive means. Passage, which came just days before the conclusion of the Republican-led Congress, is a victory for privacy advocates and regular phone users concerned about the confidentiality of their records.
“The fraudulent acquisition of phone records is now clearly and unequivocally illegal,” said Jon Leibowitz, a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, an agency charged with combating unfair and deceptive business practices, including pretexting.
“Just having the statute on the books will help reduce the number of bad actors out there,” Mr. Leibowitz said.
But some privacy advocates say the legislation does not go far enough.
“Given the amount of attention Congress has given to this issue, we should have a better bill," said Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Mr. Rotenberg said he would like to see Congress force companies to protect their customers’ personal information. Mr. Rotenberg also expressed concern over an exemption in the legislation for law enforcement agencies that could allow them to hire private detectives or others to obtain individuals’ calling records.
The bill passed the House on a unanimous 409-0 vote in April. But it remained stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee for months, largely because of competition with a more complex pretexting bill in the Senate Commerce Committee, which would have required phone companies to ensure that personal records were being given only to the appropriate person.
After the Hewlett-Packard pretexting scandal made national headlines, House Republicans sent a letter to the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, invoking the saga and urging prompt action on the stronger bill pending in the judiciary committee.
Consumer advocates plan to propose broader legislation in a session of Congress next year that would also make it illegal to try to fraudulently obtain other kinds of personal information, like utility, TV and Internet service provider records.
At Hewlett-Packard, regulatory filings this summer revealed that the company chairwoman, Patricia C. Dunn, had authorized a broad investigation into the source of embarrassing boardroom leaks to the news media. On Thursday, the company said it would pay $14.5 million to settle a civil lawsuit brought by the California attorney general, Bill Lockyer.
Detectives hired by the company employed pretexting techniques to obtain the phone records of company board members, employees and at least nine journalists who covered the company.
Ms. Dunn resigned from the company in September and in October was charged by Mr. Lockyer with identity theft and conspiracy. Privacy advocates say that even before the new law was passed, the attention the case was getting was pushing pretexters further underground.
Rob Douglas, who testified about pretexting on Capitol Hill and runs the Web site PrivacyToday.com, says the major test will be whether federal prosecutors back up the bill with aggressive enforcement. “If the Department of Justice doesn’t take the issue seriously and prosecute individuals,” he said, “it will be taken by the underground information community that they have carte blanche to continue the practice.”
Windows Vista Crack is Actually a Trojan
Malware makers are starting to take advantage of the number of users searching for cracks for the pirated copies of Vista floating around.
A new download has started circulating around the crack boards called "Windows Vista All Versions Activation 21.11.06". It purports to be an activation crack for any version of Vista.
However, the file is actually a trojan-carrier which will install Trojan-PSW.Win32.LdPinch.aze onto your PC.
BitTorrent users who posted reviews of the crack said that a number of antivirus programs detected the malware, though Norton AntiVirus and NOD32 did not.
In an interview about the Windows Vista installation process, and the ease with which administrators can pre-install software into a Vista install DVD, Microsoft Australia's John Pritchard warned that pirated copies of Vista could easily come with malware preinstalled.
"I would certainly recommend when people are looking at any content they make sure they have the approved and hologrammed DVDs to make sure they’re dealing with the genuine product, to get away from not knowing where the source comes from. If they have control of the unattended installation and built it themselves then hopefully they know what they are putting on it."
Zero Day Flaw Reported in Windows Media Player
Right after the zero day exploit for Word was announced. We have this from eEye Digital security:
The Windows Media Player library WMVCORE.DLL contains a potentially exploitable heap buffer overflow in its handling of "REF HREF" URLs within ASX files. If the URL contains an unrecognized protocol (only "file", "ftp", "http", "https", "mms", "mmst", "mmsu", "rtsp", "rtspt", and "rtspu" appear to be recognized), the function at 7D7A8F27 in WMVCORE.DLL version 22.214.171.12450, and at 086E586E in WMVCORE.DLL version 10.0.0.3802, will create a copy of the string in which the protocol is replaced with "mms". A heap buffer is allocated, the string "mms" is copied into it, and then everything after and including "://" in the "REF HREF" URL is concatenated using wcsncat.
Unfortunately, the heap buffer for the new "mms" URL is allocated to the size of the "REF HREF" URL, and even more unfortunately, the length of the input string being passed to wcsncat is supplied as the character count, effectively causing wcsncat to behave identically to wcscat. As a result, a two- or four-byte heap overflow is possible if the "REF HREF" URL features a protocol shorter than three characters (the length of "mms").
Single-letter protocols (such as "a://") are rejected, but this restriction can be circumvented by encoding the protocol ("%61://"), thereby making a four-byte overflow possible.
Exploitability due to the corruption of the adjacent heap block's header is assumed likely but research is ongoing.
Microsoft has not announced the vulnerability yet, nor do they have a fix available.
The best way to protect against it right now is to open windows explorer and click on the tools menu, then folder options
Click on the file types tab, and scroll down to "ASX". Either delete it (Windows will no longer know what to do with ASX files - BE CAREFUL! -, or change to another program.
Microsoft Investigates Word Flaw
A newly disclosed flaw in Microsoft Word could let malicious hackers take control of victims' computers by sending them e-mail with a Word document attached.
Microsoft Corp. informed computer users of the problem Tuesday, though the company classified it as a security "advisory." That makes it a less urgent warning than other security disclosures, though the company is investigating attacks that exploited the vulnerability.
As of Wednesday evening, the company had not released a patch to fix the problem.
The vulnerability affects versions of Microsoft Word sold from 2000 through 2006. Microsoft Word 2007, which is currently available only to businesses, is not vulnerable, the company said.
To fall prey, a computer user would have to open a Word document attached to an e-mail. Microsoft advised people not to open or save attachments from unknown correspondents. Security experts consider that standard e-mail advice under any circumstances, but Microsoft also suggested rejecting unsolicited attachments even from friends and colleagues.
This vulnerability appeared no more dangerous than other flaws that have emerged previously in Microsoft Office applications, said Dan Hubbard, vice president of security research at Websense Inc.
Even so, the threat is worth taking seriously, said Justin Bingham, chief technology officer for network monitoring company Intrusic Inc.
He noted that it would be very easy for a con artist to call someone in a company, state a legitimate-sounding pretense - posing as a vendor or a jobseeker, for example - and then send an e-mail with an benign-seeming Word attachment that exploited the security hole.
"The gravity of this problem is very big," he said. He added that when Microsoft issues a patch for the security hole, companies should install it immediately rather than waiting until their next regularly scheduled update.
Do you want to play a game?
Hackers Attack Naval War College Network
Michelle R. Smith
Hackers attacked the computer network at the Naval War College in Newport, taking down the school's network for more than two weeks, including some e-mail services and the college's Web site.
The Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command in Norfolk, Va., detected the intrusion around Nov. 16 and took the system offline, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Doug Gabos said. He said the unclassified network was used by students.
Military spokesmen would not give an estimate on when the school's Web site, http://www.nwc.navy.mil , will be back up.
The Naval War College bills itself as the Navy's leading center of strategic thought and national security policy.
Investigators were trying to determine the extent of the intrusion, Gabos said. They planned to upgrade firewalls and make other unspecified improvements.
"Once that is complete, the network will be restored," Gabos said.
Gabos would not comment on who is suspected of attacking the network.
School spokeswoman Karen Sellers said e-mail worked on campus, but people could not send or receive messages from off-campus.
"It's certainly inconvenient," she said. "But we all understand the importance of network security and we're patiently waiting."
Sailor Gets 12 Years for Espionage; Peddled Contents of Laptop
A Navy petty officer was sentenced Wednesday to 12 years in prison for stealing a military laptop and peddling its contents to a foreign government.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Ariel J. Weinmann admitted guilt to espionage, desertion, larceny and destruction of government property before a military judge at Norfolk Naval Station earlier this week.
The Salem, Ore., submariner could have received life without parole, but a plea agreement spared him the maximum. He also was dishonorably discharged.
Officials had accused Weinmann of passing classified information to representatives of undisclosed foreign governments in Austria and again in Mexico.
Weinmann, 22, deserted from the Connecticut-based submarine Albuquerque in July 2005 after becoming disillusioned with the Navy. He told the court on Monday that he sought to live in another country.
Customs agent Allen Brock testified in August that Weinmann was found in March carrying a piece of paper with the names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of two individuals, as well as a notebook whose handwritten contents aroused suspicion.
Weinmann was found at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport with $4,000 cash, three CD-ROMs, an external computer storage device and memory cards for storing digital images.
The information contained on the CDs has been classified.
Federal Panel Rebuffs Guidelines That Insist on a Paper Trail
Cameron W. Barr
A federal advisory group rejected a measure yesterday that would have discouraged states from using electronic voting systems that lack an independent means of verifying their results, according to a spokeswoman for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Members of the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, a group created by Congress to advise the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, deadlocked 6 to 6 on the proposal at a meeting held at the NIST headquarters in Gaithersburg. Eight votes are needed to pass a measure on the 15-member committee.
NIST spokeswoman Jan Kosko said the proposal was introduced by Ronald Rivest, a computer science professor at MIT who heads a subcommittee on transparency and security.
Rivest told committee members that software errors in paperless machines could go undetected, leading to a situation in which "an election result is wrong and you have no evidence to show that it's wrong."
Committee member Brit Williams, a computer scientist who has conducted certification evaluations of Georgia's paperless electronic voting system, opposed the measure. "You are talking about basically a reinstallation of the entire voting system hardware," he said.
Five states -- Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland and South Carolina -- use machines without a paper record exclusively. Eleven states and the District either use them in some jurisdictions or allow voters to chose whether to use them or some other voting system.
The proposal was based on draft recommendations developed by scientists at NIST, who said in a document released last week that voting machines that do not produce a paper record of each vote "cannot be made secure."
The committee is beginning to prepare technical guidelines that the Election Assistance Commission is expected to adopt next year but that would not be implemented until 2009 or 2010. The guidelines are not binding, but many states require election officials to use voting systems that meet national criteria.
Echoing the work of the NIST scientists, Rivest's proposal suggested guidelines that reject systems "in which the correctness of the election results is dependent on the correctness of the software."
Panel Changes Course, Approves e-Voting Checks
One day after a federal advisory committee rejected a proposal designed to usher in more stringent requirements for electronic voting machines, the same panel has changed course.
On the final day of a public meeting at the National Institute of Standards and Technology outside Washington D.C., the Technical Guidelines Development Committee, which advises the U.S. government on electronic voting machine standards, voted unanimously to begin drafting regulations that would require the "next generation" of voting systems to be "software independent."
Voting machines are considered to be "dependent" on software if an undetected bug or modification in their code can lead to an undetectable change in the election's outcome. Paperless touch-screen voting machines, also known as direct-record electronic machines, typically fall into that category.
Both the original and revised proposals were offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer science and electrical engineering professor Ron Rivest, who serves as chairman of a subcommittee focused on voting machine security and transparency.
A key difference between Tuesday's proposal and a proposal narrowly rejected by the committee at Monday's session is its emphasis on the generation of voting machines currently in use. They would not have to be decertified if they fail to meet the new requirements, the revised resolution said. The 14-member committee is made up of engineers, computer scientists and election administrators.
"The Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC) has considered current threats to voting systems and, at this time, finds that security concerns do not warrant replacing deployed voting systems," the resolution said--provided that they already adhere to existing standards set by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency charged with setting e-voting guidelines for states.
That provision is likely aimed at quelling concerns by elections officials who have balked at the idea of replacing millions of dollars worth of paperless electronic machines and are not convinced that a paper trail would significantly enhance security or voter confidence. Thirty-five states either already have some form of paper trail or have such a requirement in place.
The revised version still emphasizes the importance of requiring new machines to be "software independent" in order "to provide auditability and proactively address the increasing difficulty of protecting against all prospective threats."
Computer scientists speaking at the TGDC's meeting said there's no way to ensure that software code on voting machines is bug-proof. They have argued that the only way to ensure an accurate tally is to have an independent means of auditing election results, whether it be a paper trail or some yet-to-be developed paperless verification technique.
The newly adopted resolution also takes an extra step, calling for the committee to write "usability and accessibility requirements to ensure that all voters can verify the independent voting record."
The advisory committee has been meeting since Monday to consider action on a number of other issues related to electronic voting machines, including security and transparency, testing requirements, usability and privacy.
The software independence resolution and others approved by the committee are only incremental steps underpinning a broad set of guidelines that the group is expected to devise by July 2007. It's unclear when any new guidelines would take effect, but it's not likely to occur until at least spring 2008, after a lengthy period of public comments, hearings and federal agency approval.
Spam Doubles, Finding New Ways to Deliver Itself
Hearing from a lot of new friends lately? You know, the ones that write “It’s me, Esmeralda,” and tip you off to an obscure stock that is “poised to explode” or a great deal on prescription drugs.
You’re not the only one. Spam is back — in e-mail in-boxes and on everyone’s minds. In the last six months, the problem has gotten measurably worse. Worldwide spam volumes have doubled from last year, according to Ironport, a spam filtering firm, and unsolicited junk mail now accounts for more than 9 of every 10 e-mail messages sent over the Internet.
Much of that flood is made up of a nettlesome new breed of junk e-mail called image spam, in which the words of the advertisement are part of a picture, often fooling traditional spam detectors that look for telltale phrases. Image spam increased fourfold from last year and now represents 25 to 45 percent of all junk e-mail, depending on the day, Ironport says.
The antispam industry is struggling to keep up with the surge. It is adding computer power and developing new techniques in an effort to avoid losing the battle with the most sophisticated spammers.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. Three years ago, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman, made an audacious prediction: the problem of junk e-mail, he said, “will be solved by 2006.” And for a time, there were signs that he was going to be proved right.
Antispam software for companies and individuals became increasingly effective, and many computer users were given hope by the federal Can-Spam Act of 2003, which required spam senders to allow recipients to opt out of receiving future messages and prescribed prison terms for violators.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the volume of spam declined in the first eight months of last year.
But as many technology administrators will testify, the respite was short-lived.
“At the beginning of the year spam was off our radar,” said Franklin Warlick, senior messaging systems administrator at Cox Communications in Atlanta.
“Now employees are stopping us in the halls to ask us if we turned off our spam filter,” Mr. Warlick said.
Mehran Sabbaghian, a network engineer at the Sacramento Web hosting company Lanset America, said that last month a sudden Internet-wide increase in spam clogged his firm’s servers so badly that the delivery of regular e-mail to customers was delayed by hours.
To relieve the pressure, the company took the drastic step of blocking all messages from several countries in Europe, Latin America and Africa, where much of the spam was originating.
This week, Lanset America plans to start accepting incoming mail from those countries again, but Mr. Sabbaghian said the problem of junk e-mail was “now out of control.”
Antispam companies fought the scourge successfully, for a time, with a blend of three filtering strategies. Their software scanned each e-mail and looked at whom the message was coming from, what words it contained and which Web sites it linked to. The new breed of spam — call it Spam 2.0 — poses a serious challenge to each of those three approaches.
Spammers have effectively foiled the first strategy — analyzing the reputation of the sender — by conscripting vast networks of computers belonging to users who unknowingly downloaded viruses and other rogue programs. The infected computers begin sending out spam without the knowledge of their owners. Secure Computing, an antispam company in San Jose, Calif., reports that 250,000 new computers are captured and added to these spam “botnets” each day.
The sudden appearance of new sources of spam makes it more difficult for companies to rely on blacklists of known junk e-mail distributors. Also, by using other people’s computers to scatter their e-mail across the Internet, spammers vastly increase the number of messages they can send out, without having to pay for the data traffic they generate.
“Because they are stealing other people’s computers to send out the bad stuff, their marginal costs are zero,” said Daniel Drucker, a vice president at the antispam company Postini. “The scary part is that the economics are now tilted in their favor.”
The use of botnets to send spam would not matter as much if e-mail filters could still make effective use of the second spam-fighting strategy: analyzing the content of an incoming message. Traditional antispam software examines the words in a text message and, using statistical techniques, determines if the words are more likely to make up a legitimate message or a piece of spam.
The explosion of image spam this year has largely thwarted that approach. Spammers have used images in their messages for years, in most cases to offer a peek at a pornographic Web site, or to illustrate the effectiveness of their miracle drugs. But as more of their text-based messages started being blocked, spammers searched for new methods and realized that putting their words inside the image could frustrate text filtering. The use of other people’s computers to send their bandwidth-hogging e-mail made the tactic practical.
“They moved their message into our blind spot,” said Paul Judge, chief technology officer of Secure Computing.
Antispam firms spotted the skyrocketing amount of image spam this summer. A technology arms race ensued. The filtering companies adopted an approach called optical character recognition, which scans the images in an e-mail and tries to recognize any letters or words. Spammers responded in turn by littering their images with speckles, polka dots and background bouquets of color, which mean nothing to human eyes but trip up the computer scanners.
Spammers have also figured out ways to elude another common antispam technique: identifying and blocking multiple copies of the same message. Pioneering antispam companies like the San Francisco-based Brightmail, which was bought two years ago year by the software giant Symantec, achieved early victories against spam by recognizing unwanted e-mail as soon as it hit the Internet, noting its “fingerprint” and stopping every subsequent copy. Spammers have defied that technique by writing software that automatically changes a few pixels in each image.
“Imagine an archvillain who has a new thumbprint every time he puts his thumb down,” said Patrick Peterson, vice president for technology at Ironport. “They have taken away so many of the hooks we can use to look for spam.”
But don’t spammers still have to link to the incriminating Web sites where they sell their disreputable wares? Well, not anymore. Many of the messages in the latest spam wave promote penny stocks — part of a scheme that antispam researchers call the “pump and dump.” Spammers buy the inexpensive stock of an obscure company and send out messages hyping it. They sell their shares when the gullible masses respond and snap up the stock. No links to Web sites are needed in the messages.
Though the scam sounds obvious, a joint study by researchers at Purdue University and Oxford University this summer found that spam stock cons work. Enough recipients buy the stock that spammers can make a 5 percent to 6 percent return in two days, the study concluded.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has brought dozens of cases against such fraudsters over the years. But as a result of the Can-Spam Act, which forced domestic e-mail marketers to either give up the practice or risk jail, most active spammers now operate beyond the reach of American law enforcement. Antispam researchers say the current spam hot spots are in Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia.
While spammers are making money, companies are clearly spending more of it to fight the surge. Postini says that the costs for companies trying to fight spam on their own have tripled, mostly because of increased bandwidth costs to handle bulky image spam and lost employee productivity.
The estimates should be taken with a grain of salt, since antispam companies are eager to hawk their expensive filtering systems, which can cost around $20,000 a year for a company of 1,000 employees. But the onslaught of junk e-mail does affect business operations, even if the impact is difficult to quantify.
At the headquarters of the Seattle Mariners this summer, the topic of the worsening spam problem came up regularly in executive meetings, and the team’s top brass began pressuring the technology staff to fix the problem. Ben Nakamura, the Mariners’ network manager, said he tried to tighten spam controls and inadvertently began blocking the regular incoming press notes from opposing teams.
Two weeks ago, the situation grew so dire that the team switched from software provided by Computer Associates, whose suite of security programs sat on the team’s internal server, to a dedicated antispam server from Barracuda Networks, which gets regular updates from Barracuda’s offices in Silicon Valley.
Mr. Nakamura said the new system had greatly improved the situation. On a single day last week, the team received 5,000 e-mail messages and the Barracuda spam appliance blocked all but 300. Still, some employees continue to see two or three pieces of spam in their in-boxes each day.
Some antispam veterans are not optimistic about the future of the spam battle. “As an industry I think we are losing,” Mr. Peterson of Ironport said. “The bad guys are simply outrunning most of the technology out there today.”
Washington Uses New Spyware Law, Gets $1 Million Settlement
The Washington State Attorney General's office has announced a $1 million settlement in the state's first anti-spyware case. Using a new spyware law, Attorney General Rob McKenna went after Secure Computer earlier this year, charging that their "Spyware Cleaner" product had, well, a couple of flaws: it didn't work well, it deleted a user's Hosts file after installation, and it tried to convince users to "upgrade" to another program that did essentially the same thing.
But it was the way that Spyware Cleaner was marketed that attracted the Attorney General's attention in the first place. The company allegedly spammed users to advertise its product, included deceptive subject lines, failed to include an opt-out mechanism, and suggested that the product was "discounted" for a "limited time," when in reality it was always available for the same price.
The dubious marketing tactics did not end there. Secure Computer also sold its product using pop-up ads which warned users that their computers might be infected with spyware, and it offered them a free system scan. The results of the scan were invariably positive. "Our investigation found that this so-called free scan always detected spyware, even on a clean computer," said Senior Counsel Paula Selis, who led the state investigation. "In order to remove this falsely detected spyware, users were instructed to pay $49.95 for the full version of Spyware Cleaner." It is illegal under Washington law to "induce a computer user to download software by falsely claiming the software is necessary for security purposes," she added.
The consent decree makes for interesting reading. It contains a long list of behaviors that the company's owners agree never to engage in again, including one that has been known to befuddle less-technical family members: the fake error message pop-up. In a small victory for consumers, it is now illegal for the men involved to misrepresent "that a computer may be infected with spyware, malware, adware, a virus, or any similar allegedly harmful software by utilizing pop-up, pop-under, banner, skyscraper, or any form of Internet advertisements that simulate computer systems error warnings appearing to originate from the consumer's computer or from a source other than Defendants."
The state also sought out several men who were advertising affiliates of Secure Computer and were responsible for some of the most egregious deceptive advertising. If you've ever wondered why so many people are willing to do this kind of dodgy affiliate marketing, the answer is simple: for the cash. In this case, Secure Computer offered its affiliates massive commissions of $37.50 on each $49.95 piece of software sold. Several US-based men also settled with the state, but Manoj Kumar of Maharashtra, India could not be located—another reminder of how globalized these Internet annoyances have become.
Secure Computer is actually based in New York, and has gone out of business since the lawsuit was filed. Washington State went after the company after 1,145 state residents purchased the software and the complaints began rolling in. Secure Computer president Paul Burke will now pay $200,000 in penalties, make $75,000 worth of restitution to Washington residents, and pay another $725,000 to cover the state's attorneys' fees. The irony of an anti-spyware law being used against an anti-spyware vendor was not commented upon.
The Washington Attorney General's office has done a real public service to the nation by pursuing this case (hopefully, more will follow), but having state prosecutors pursue national targets isn't an ideal strategy. Only Washington residents will get refunds, even though Secure Computer sold its program across the country.
MySpace Tool to Help Block Sex Offenders
The popular online hangout MySpace said Tuesday it will develop technologies to help block convicted sex offenders, the site's latest attempt to address complaints about sexual predators and other dangers to teens.
MySpace is partnering with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build and deploy within 30 days a database that will contain the names and physical descriptions of convicted sex offenders in the United States. An automated system will search for matches between the database and MySpace user profiles. Employees will then delete any profiles that match.
Parents, school administrators and law-enforcement authorities have grown increasingly worried that teens are at risk on MySpace and other social-networking sites, which provide tools for messaging, sharing photos and creating personal pages.
About 12 percent of all MySpace's visitors in October were under 18, according to comScore Media Metrix. The tracking company counts Americans who visit the site at least once in a given month, so the proportion of teens may actually be higher based on time spent.
The aim of such sites is for users to expand their circles of friends - and critics say those circles sometimes come to include sexual predators. Wired News said a recent investigation turned up hundreds of profiles for convicted sex offenders.
Forty-six states now maintain registries containing more than 550,000 convicted sex offenders, each with its own rules on what information the public may obtain, as well as when and what can be done with it.
"How do you analyze those different databases and analyze them against our, right now, 135 million user profiles?" said Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer. "We came to the conclusion (that) there was absolutely no real way to do this in a real-time, scalable fashion."
Instead, Sentinel will build a search tool for MySpace using data from aggregators such as LexisNexis Inc.'s Seisint unit, said John Cardillo, the Miami-based company's chief executive. The database, to be updated monthly, will include details such as names, age, hair color, height, scars and tattoos.
The News Corp. site, however, won't be using Sentinel's technology to verify the ages and identities of users to ensure they're not adults posing as teens - a change urged by many lawmakers and law-enforcement officials.
Cardillo said his service would be ineffective for such a purpose given the site's large teen population. Children don't have public records the same way adults do, he said, so the technology can't rule out whether an adult is posing as a teen online.
"What we'd rather do at this point is solve problems we know we can solve," Cardillo said.
Image-recognition software and other techniques are being considered to identify sex offenders who do not use their real names. In the meantime, Cardillo said, the database technology won't catch everyone but "will be highly effective." He declined to elaborate or provide any quantifiable targets.
Nigam said MySpace would consider making the database, to be called Sentinel Safe, available to rivals.
Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org, credited MySpace for trying but said a database was no panacea.
"People who are registered sexual offenders will just not be themselves now (and) the people who they really need to protect kids from in most cases are not (convicted) sexual offenders," she said. "They are people who haven't been caught yet. It's a great PR (public relations) move but frankly I don't think it's going to make anyone safer."
In a statement, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal dismissed the database as ineffective without age and identify verification.
But Nigam said he sees the database as part of a larger strategy that includes education and partnerships with law enforcement. He also said governments ought to require sex offenders to register e-mails they use to help sites like his screen profiles.
"We have to do everything we can in every different angle," he said.
In June, MySpace adopted new restrictions on how adults may contact the site's younger users and request to view their full profiles, which contain hobbies, schools and additional personal details. That, too, was criticized as ineffective because adults may simply register as teens to skirt the restrictions.
Aftab warned parents not to reduce oversight of their kids.
"They see this, they may misunderstand and think it will keep sex offenders off the site," she said. "The fact that it sounds more effective than it really is, that's a big problem."
Iran Blocks Access to YouTube.com
Ali Akbar Dareini
Iran has blocked access to the popular video-sharing Web site YouTube.com, and a media rights group warned Tuesday that Internet censorship in the Islamic state is on the rise.
Internet users who tried to call up the YouTube site Tuesday were met with the message, "On the basis of the Islamic Republic of Iran laws, access to this Web site is not authorized" - which appears on numerous opposition and pornographic Web sites the government blocks.
It was not known how long the site had been on Iran's Web blacklist. The Paris-based media rights group Reporters Without Borders said YouTube had been blocked for the past five days.
Iran's Shiite cleric-run government regularly blocks opposition Web sites, including blogs, and the number of sites that bring up the "unauthorized" message has been increasing over the past year. Western news sites, however, are generally available.
Videos from the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and other Iranian opposition groups have been posted on YouTube.com, along with videos posted by individual Iranians critical of the regime. The site also has Iranian pop music videos, which are frowned upon by the religious leadership.
In its statement Tuesday, Reporters Without Borders warned that "censorship is now the rule rather than the exception" in Iran.
"The government is trying to create a digital border to stop culture and news coming from abroad - a vision of the Net which is worrying for the country's future," it said.
"The Iranian government policy is not an isolated case. It is getting closer and closer to that of the authorities in China, with particular stress being laid on censorship of cultural output," it said.
In October, Reporters Without Borders named Iran as one of the 13 worst culprits for systematic online censorship, along with Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Hard-liners have severely restricted pro-reform newspapers over the past six years after they blossomed following the 1997 election of reformist president Mohammed Khatami.
Conservatives in the courts shut down many even before Khatami was succeeded by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year. Some independent newspapers remain, but their criticism of the government is muted for fear of being shut down.
Google Advances Online Software Crusade
Google Inc., a company synonymous with searching the Internet, hopes to define far more of the world's computing experience with a helping hand from schoolchildren.
For several months, it has been giving away to all takers an online word processor, spreadsheet and other programs that can perform tasks usually handled by desktop software. Offering a convenience that worries some privacy experts, the programs automatically store everything in Google's vast data centers so the information can be retrieved on any Internet-connected computer.
As it tries to usher in a new era in computing, Google is promoting its software applications in kindergarten through high school classrooms, where kids who have grown up with the Web are more likely to experiment with different technology.
"It's the perfect place for them to target the next generation of computer users," said James McQuivey, a former Forrester Research analyst who is now a Boston University professor specializing in technology and communications.
The free-software approach poses a challenge to Microsoft Corp., whose success revolves around sales of its long-dominant Windows operating system and Office suite. The programs - including Word and Excel - are installed on hard drives and information is usually stored locally as well.
Google views its educational initiative as a public service for teachers who often lack the money and expertise to introduce more technological tools into their classrooms. The company doesn't allow advertising in its word processing and spreadsheets programs, leaving it unclear how Google expects to make money.
"We think it's good to get people familiar with the other things we do (besides search), but it's not like we are trying to get some kind of lifetime value out of each student," said Cristin Frodella, a Google product manager overseeing the education project.
"We just want to help teachers engage kids with technology that makes learning seem less like drudgery."
Google is trying to engage the teachers first.
In October, the company posted an online guide to provide instructors with ideas on how to incorporate the applications into their curricula. In November, Google invited about 50 Northern California teachers to spend the day at its Mountain View headquarters to learn more about the advantages of the program.
Google plans to host similar programs in other parts of the country as it tries to recruit more teachers to proselytize its online software.
Some students are already learning about the advantages of Google's word processing program, which enables people in different locations to collaborate simultaneously or view and edit documents at different times.
Palo Alto High School junior Danielle Kim said that flexibility was particularly helpful when her debate team jointly worked on a presentation earlier this year. But she also saw a downside to Google's approach. "It requires you to have Internet access," she said. "What happens when you are in a place that doesn't?"
Google expects that issue to become less of a problem as high-speed Internet connections become as commonplace as electrical outlets. Wireless access would enable information to be delivered to cell phones and other mobile devices as well as PCs and cable boxes.
The company is betting heavily that this vision will become reality. In this year alone, Google is expected to spend about $2 billion on various projects, including a data center sprawling across the equivalent of two football fields about 80 miles east of Portland, Ore.
The computers will do more than just index the Web and process the billions of search requests that pour into Google each month. Google wants its vast network to become a storehouse of software applications and personal information for millions of people no longer tethered to a single computer.
That ambition already has triggered alarms among privacy experts worried about so much personal information being entrusted to a single business.
Even if Google stands by its promise to protect its users' information, there are no guarantees that mischief-making computer hackers or crusading government agencies won't eventually try to pry into the database, said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility.
"When data is sitting on computers other than your own, it becomes a very tempting target," he said. "I have no problems at all with Google's motivation because I really do believe they want to protect their users' privacy. But I think they are creating something that will have the vultures circling."
Despite those concerns, having Google automatically store important documents appeals to absent-minded students like Palo Alto High junior Ryan Drebin. "I am always losing my flash drive anyway," he said, referring to a small portable memory chip.
Palo Alto High, located in an affluent city five miles from Google's headquarters, has become one of the main testing grounds for the company's educational push. That's because Esther Wojcicki teaches English and journalism there.
Wojcicki first met Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998 when they started the company in the garage of her daughter's Silicon Valley home. She has stayed in touch with them ever since and is a consultant on the current education project.
"I feel like I am on the edge of something really exciting and perhaps classroom changing," Wojcicki said. "Using this as a teaching tool, I will be able to look at students' papers and make suggestions before they even turn it in."
Not all of Wojcicki's students like the idea of giving their teacher an advance peek at their assignments.
"Everyone procrastinates on their homework to some extent. The teacher doesn't need to see that," said Katie Barich, a senior in Wojcicki's journalism class.
Google isn't the first high-tech company to use education as a marketing tool. In the most conspicuous example, Apple Computer Inc. has positioned its Macintoshes as a student's best friend for the past 20 years. Despite those efforts, the Mac holds a U.S. market share of just 6 percent with virtually everything else going to Windows-based personal computers.
Unlike Apple's computers or Microsoft's programs, Google's software is free - an enticement that gives it a built-in advantage, especially in schools hard-pressed to buy enough computers, let alone software licenses, to accommodate students.
"There is such a big digital divide out there that products like this really help level the playing field for these kids," said Lucy Gray, who teaches sixth graders at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
Microsoft offers a discounted version of Office to students and teachers for $149 - significantly less than the $400 for the full standard edition.
But free software is tough to beat. Wojcicki spent about $4,400 to license 70 copies of Microsoft Word earlier this year, before Google launched its educational push.
Other instructors who have been experimenting with Google's software don't think Microsoft has anything to worry about. Microsoft so far as brushed off Google's alternative software as niche applications unlikely to gain mass appeal. At the same time, though, Microsoft has been introducing more online versions of its software applications just in case the phenomenon takes off.
"I don't think people are going to stop using Word because of this," said Rebecca Altamirano, who helps prepare students for college at East Palo Alto Academy High School. "(Google's software) will be more of a supplement, a critical addition that has been missing from classrooms."
Schumer Warns On No-Swipe Credit Cards
No-swipe credit cards that use radio waves to relay their data put consumers at increased risk of identity theft, Sen. Charles Schumer said Sunday.
"These cards may be convenient, but they're a double-edged sword," said Schumer, D-N.Y.
Tens of millions of no-swipe credit cards have been issued in the past year. When a customer uses the credit card to make a purchase, the card is processed by a radio frequency identification reader operated by the retailer.
Schumer said thieves can equip themselves with the radio frequency readers to steal information from the credit cards, which are being marketed heavily as time savers.
"All you need to be is within a couple of feet of the customer," Schumer said. "You may as well put your credit card information on a big sign on your back."
But JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation's second-largest financial services provider and its premier credit card issuer, has maintained the no-swipe method provides the same level of security as the traditional swiping method, which involves reading a magnetic strip on the back of the card. The cards use encrypted data, it said.
"The card and the reader in the terminal are safe and secure, and the transaction is handled the same way that credit cards are managed today," Thomas O'Donnell, senior vice president of Chase cards services, said when the company announced the launch of its blink cards last year.
Schumer, who held a news conference on a busy Manhattan street corner Sunday amid holiday shoppers, called for regulations to require higher encryption standards that would make the cards more secure.
In addition, Schumer said contracts for the no-swipe credit cards should have warning boxes disclosing "the known weaknesses of the technology."
"Holiday shoppers need to be extremely careful with their credit cards," he said, "and these companies need to step up their efforts to protect people from identity theft."
A telephone call to Visa International Inc., the nation's largest credit card brand, wasn't immediately returned.
RFID Personal Firewall
"Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum and his student Melanie Rieback (who published the RFID virus paper in March) and 3 coauthors have now published a paper on a personal RFID firewall called the RFID Guardian. This device protects its owner from hostile RFID tags and scans in his or her vicinity, while letting friendly ones through. Their work has won the Best Paper award at the USENIX LISA Conference."
Samsung, Microsoft Launch New Smartphone
Samsung Electronics Co., South Korea's largest corporation, joined Microsoft Corp. on Monday in launching the first mobile phone in Asia and Europe to use high-speed HSDPA wireless technology.
The companies said the phone - the Samsung Ultra Messaging i600 - was the world's thinnest 3G smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard. It is also the first smartphone that supports Web applications like podcasts and RSS Feeder, which scans Web sites for updates, the companies said.
The announcement was made in Hong Kong at ITU Telecom World 2006, a major convention for the telecommunications industry.
The companies said the phone, which can connect with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0, was designed for work and play. It has two digital cameras and can be used for 3G video calls.
"The mobile population is increasingly looking to use one device that easily plugs into their life, both in and out of the office," said Pieter Knook, a senior vice president at Microsoft.
The device, powered by Microsoft Windows Mobile 5.0, uses the new mobile protocol called HSDPA, or high-speed downlink packet access, that provides faster downloads of video and streaming music. The download speed is designed to be as fast as those provided by ADSL, or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, used in homes.
Have Camera Phone? Yahoo and Reuters Want You to Work for Their News Service
Hoping to turn the millions of people with digital cameras and camera phones into photojournalists, Yahoo and Reuters are introducing a new effort to showcase photographs and video of news events submitted by the public.
Starting tomorrow, the photos and videos submitted will be placed throughout Reuters.com and Yahoo News, the most popular news Web site in the United States, according to comScore MediaMetrix. Reuters said that it would also start to distribute some of the submissions next year to the thousands of print, online and broadcast media outlets that subscribe to its news service. Reuters said it hoped to develop a service devoted entirely to user-submitted photographs and video.
“There is an ongoing demand for interesting and iconic images,” said Chris Ahearn, the president of the Reuters media group. He said the agency had always bought newsworthy pictures from individuals and part-time contributors known as stringers.
“This is looking out and saying, ‘What if everybody in the world were my stringers?’ ” Mr. Ahearn said.
The project is among the most ambitious efforts in what has become known as citizen journalism, attempts by bloggers, start-up local news sites and by global news organizations like CNN and the BBC to see if readers can also become reporters.
Many news organizations turned to photographs taken by amateurs to supplement coverage of events like the London subway bombing and the Asian tsunami. Yahoo’s news division has already used images that were originally posted on Flickr, the company’s photo-sharing site. For example, it created a slide show of images from Thailand after the coup there in September.
Camera phone videos are increasingly making news themselves. Michael Richards, the actor who played Kramer on “Seinfeld,” was recorded last month responding to hecklers in a nightclub with racially charged epithets. The video was posted on TMZ, the celebrity news site.
The Yahoo-Reuters project will create a systematic way to incorporate images covering a wider range of topics into news coverage.
Starting tomorrow, users will be able to upload photos and videos to a section of Yahoo called You Witness News (news.yahoo.com/page/youwitnessnews). All of the submissions will appear on Flickr or a similar site for video. Editors at both Reuters and Yahoo will review the submissions and select some to place on pages with relevant news articles, just as professional photographs and video clips are woven into their news sites today.
“People don’t say, ‘I want to see user-generated content,’ ” said Lloyd Braun, who runs Yahoo’s media group. “They want to see Michael Richards in the club. If that happens to be from a cellphone, they are happy with a cellphone. If it’s from a professional photographer, they are happy for that, too.”
Users will not be paid for images displayed on the Yahoo and Reuters sites. But people whose photos or videos are selected for distribution to Reuters clients will receive a payment. Mr. Ahearn said the company had not yet figured out how to structure those payments. The basic payment may be relatively small, but he said Reuters was likely to pay more to people offering exclusive rights to images of major events. For now, no money is changing hands between Yahoo and Reuters, but if Reuters is able to create a separate news service with the user-created material, it will split the revenue with Yahoo.
Before photographs or videos are used on the Yahoo site or distributed by Reuters, photo editors at Reuters will try to vet them to weed out fraudulent or retouched images.
This is an imperfect process. Last summer, a blogger discovered that photos of the conflict in Lebanon by a freelance photographer working for Reuters had been digitally altered. Reuters stopped using the photographer and withdrew his work from its archive. The company is now trying to develop software that will help detect altered photographs.
The arrangement with Yahoo is one of several initiatives by Reuters to use the Internet to bring new sources to its news report. It has invested $7 million in Pluck, a company that distributes content from blogs to newspapers and other traditional media outlets. It has also backed two more experimental ventures: NewAssignment.net, an effort to foster reporting that combines the work of professional journalists with input from online readers, and Global Voices, a collection of blogs from less-developed countries.
Yahoo has its own ambitious plans for the You Witness News service. The images received will be used on its sports and entertainment sites. Over time, it wants to expand to local news and high school sports. And it will consider allowing users to contribute articles as well as images. For now, both Yahoo and Reuters are concerned that they do not have the resources to edit and verify such articles.
“News has special constraints on content quality,” said Elizabeth Osder, a senior director for product development at Yahoo. “If we publish text, we want to review it.”
CNN, which is owned by Time Warner and introduced its I-Reports section for user-submitted material on its site in August (www.cnn.com/exchange/), accepts text, images and video. Some submissions are included in its news broadcasts.
“Even the best reporters in most cases are approaching the story from the outside in,” said Mitch Gelman, the executive producer of CNN.com. “What a participant observer can offer is the perspective on that story from the inside out. We feel as a news organization we need to provide both to offer full coverage to our audience.”
Yahoo and Reuters will have other competitors besides mainstream news organizations when it comes to attracting submissions. People with compelling video, for example, may want the instant gratification of putting it on YouTube, the giant video site owned by Google, or some other site.
“The average person witnesses something that is considered news once every 10 years,” said Steve Rosenbaum, who created MTV Unfiltered, one of the first viewer-contributed video programs on television. “When it’s time to put something on the Internet, they will put it in the place they have used before. The numbers tell us that is YouTube.”
Indeed, Yahoo has had some trouble attracting submissions for another high-profile initiative, an effort to solicit videos for a site created jointly with Current, the cable network started by former Vice President Al Gore. As of Friday, that site is no longer accepting new videos.
Moreover, said Mr. Rosenbaum, who now runs Magnify Media, which helps Web sites post video contributions, it might be difficult to get the right sort of submissions.
“If you are asking your audience to know what is a national news story of interest to the world, it seems to me there are only two results: whether you get flooded with lots of car fires, or you get nothing. Neither is a particularly good effect.”
How To Tell If Your Cell Phone Is Bugged
Greetings. A story is making the rounds right now regarding FBI use of cell phones as remote bugs. I originally wrote about this concept in my PRIVACY Forum in 1999 ("Cell Phones Become Instant Bugs!") so the issue is real, but we still need to bring the current saga back down to earth.
This discussion doesn't only relate to "legal" bugs but also to the use of such techniques by illegal clandestine operations, and applies to physically unmodified cell phones (not phones that might have had separate, specialized bugs physically installed within them by third parties).
There is no magic in cell phones. From a transmitting standpoint, they are either on or off. It is true that many phones have an alarm feature that permits them to "wake up" from their usual "off" state. However, this is not a universal functionality, even in advanced phones such as PDA cell phones, which now often have a "totally off" mode available as well.
It is also true that some phones can be remotely programmed by the carrier to mask or otherwise change their display and other behaviors in ways that could be used to fool the unwary user. However, this level of remote programmability is another feature that is not universal, though most modern cell phones can be easily programmed with the correct tools if you have physical access to the phones, even briefly.
But remember -- no magic! When cell phones are transmitting -- even as bugs -- certain things are going to happen every time that the alert phone user can often notice.
First, when the phone is operating as a bug, regular calls can't be taking place in almost all cases. A well designed bug program could try to minimize the obviousness of this by quickly dropping the bug call if the phone owner tried to make an outgoing call, or drop the bug connection if an incoming call tried to ring through. But if the bug is up and running, that's the only transmission path that is available on the phone at that time for the vast majority of currently deployed phones. Some very new "3G" phones technically have the capability of running a completely separate data channel -- in which voice over IP data could be simultaneously transmitted at full speed along with the primary call (conventional GSM data channels -- GPRS/EDGE -- typically block calls while actively transmitting or receiving user data). But this is pretty bleeding-edge stuff for now, and not an issue for the vast majority of current phones.
Of course, if a cell phone is being used as a remote bug, the odds are that the routine conversations through that phone are also being monitored, right? So this "one call at a time" aspect isn't as much of a limitation to bugging as might otherwise be expected.
Want to make sure that your phone is really off? Taking out the battery is a really good bet. Don't worry about the stories of hidden batteries that supposedly can be activated remotely or with special codes. The concept makes no sense in general, and there just isn't room in modern cell phones for additional batteries that could supply more than a tiny bit of added power, if any.
But if your battery seems to be running out of juice far too early (despite what the battery status display might claim), that might be an indication that your phone is being used to transmit behind your back (or it might be a worn out battery and a typically inaccurate battery status display).
Another clue that a phone may have been transmitting without your permission is if it seems unexpectedly warm. You've probably noticed how most cell phones heat up, especially on longer calls. This is normal, but if you haven't been on any calls for a while and your cell phone is warm as if long calls were in progress, you have another red flag indication of something odd perhaps going on.
Finally, if you use a GSM phone (like the vast majority of phones around the world, including Cingular and T-Mobile in the U.S.) you have another virtually fullproof way to know if you phone is secretly transmitting. You've probably noticed the "buzzing" interference that these phones tend to make in nearby speakers when calls or data transmissions are in progress. A certain amount of periodic routine communications between cell phones and the networks will occur while the phones are powered on -- even when calls are not in progress -- so short bursts of buzzing between calls (and when turning the phones on or off) are normal.
But if you're not on a call, and you hear a continuing rapid buzz-buzz-buzz in nearby speakers that lasts more than a few seconds and gets louder as you approach with your phone, well, the odds are that your phone is busily transmitting, and bugging is a definite possibility. Note that this particular test is much less reliable with non-GSM phones that use CDMA (e.g. Sprint/Verizon phones), since CDMA's technology is less prone to producing easily audible local interference. This strongly suggests that CDMA phones may be preferred for such bugging operations. A variant form of CDMA (called "WCDMA") is used for the high speed data channel (but not the voice channel) on new 3G GSM phones. Since voice could theoretically be encoded onto that channel as I mentioned above -- which would be harder to detect than the main GSM voice channel -- this is a technology that will bear watching.
The odds of most people being targeted for bugging are quite small. But it's always better to know the technical realities. Don't be paranoid, but be careful.
DHS Passenger Scoring Illegal?
A newly revealed system that has been assigning terrorism scores to Americans traveling into or out of the country for the past five years is not merely invasive, privacy advocates charge, it's an illegal violation of limits Congress has placed on the Department of Homeland Security for the last three years.
The Identity Project, founded by online rights pioneer John Gilmore, filed official objections (.pdf) to the Automated Targeting System, or ATS, on Monday, calling the program clearly illegal.
The comment cited a little-known provision in the 2007 Homeland Security funding bill prohibiting government agencies from developing algorithms that assign risk scores to travelers not on government watchlists.
"By cloaking this prohibited action in a border issue ... the Department of Homeland Security directly and openly contravenes Congress' clear intent," wrote project members Edward Hasbrouck and James Harrison.
A DHS spokesman said the language in the appropriations bill doesn't cover the ATS, and insisted the program is legal.
At the National Targeting Center, the ATS program harvests up to 50 fields of passenger data from international flights, including names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, and uses watchlists, criminal databases and other government systems to assign risk scores to every passenger.
Though the government has provided few details, such a system could look at travel history, who the ticket was purchased from or what kind of car someone drives to attempt to figure out who is a likely terrorist threat.
When passengers deplane, Customs and Border Protection personnel then target the high scorers for extra screening. The notice says the data and the scores can be kept for 40 years, shared widely, and be used in hiring decisions. Travelers may neither see nor contest their scores.
Paul Rosenzweig, a high-level Homeland Security official, told Congress in September that the system had "encountered 4801 positive matches for known or suspected terrorists." However, it is unclear how many of those were correct matches.
The system appears to fly in the face of legal requirements Congress has placed in the Homeland Security appropriations bills for the last three years, which states, "None of the funds provided in this or previous appropriations Acts may be utilized to develop or test algorithms assigning risk to passengers whose names are not on government watch lists."
The prohibition most recently appeared in section 514(e) of Congress' 2007 appropriation, which was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 4th. It's one of a set of restrictions on the long-delayed and scandal-plagued replacement for the current domestic air travel watchlist system.
Planned replacements would have the government, not airlines, check passengers' names against watchlists. An early version called CAPPS II would have assigned color-coded threat levels to passengers determined by a mix of government and commercial data, but that was scuttled by the DHS after the plan was widely criticized.
Marc Rotenberg, the director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he was unaware of the language but that it clearly applies to the Automated Targeting System, not just Secure Flight, the delayed successor to CAPPS II.
"Bingo, that's it -- the program is unlawful," Rotenberg said. "I think 514(e) stands apart logically (from the other provisions) and 514 says the restrictions apply to any 'other follow-on or successor passenger prescreening program'. It would be very hard to argue that ATS as applied to travelers is not of the kind contemplated (by the lawmakers)."
Jim Harper, a Cato Institute fellow who also serves on the DHS' external privacy advisory board, echoes Rotenberg's reading.
"The language is clear that the risk scoring may not be used on non-suspects," Harper said. "The counter-argument is that the section it is in is about Secure Flight, but I think you have to pretzel yourself to make that argument."
The government could still check passenger names against watchlists and criminal databases for possible matches, according to Harper's analysis.
"But it certainly makes the use of risk-scoring unlawful, I suspect," Harper said.
DHS spokesman Jarrod Agen disputes that interpretation. "The language in the appropriation bill refers specifically to Secure Flight," Agen said. "The authority for ATS is all mandated by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which mandates that we receive the airline data and interpret that data to keep terrorists out of the country."
Details of the program were first announced in early November in the Federal Register, but gained more attention when the Associated Press reported that the system began operation prior to 9/11. Privacy activists say they knew nothing about the program since they assumed it was simply being used to screen cargo.
The Identity Project requested that all current records in the system be destroyed and that the program be re-configured.
The comment period on the proposal, which ended Monday, will be re-opened on Friday for additional feedback. Comments can be submitted online using docket number DHS-2006-0060.
TSA Now Investigating Boarding Pass Hacker
Last month Security Fix reported that Chris Soghoian -- the Indiana University doctoral student who created an online boarding pass generator to demonstrate security holes in the Transportation Security Administration's "no-fly" list -- had been cleared of any wrongdoing by the FBI and the Justice Department.
Well, turns out the guy isn't out of the woods yet.
On Wednesday afternoon, Soghoian received a letter from the TSA informing him that the agency is conducting its own investigation into the allegation that he "attempted to circumvent an established civil aviation security program established in the Transportation Security Regulations." If Soghoian is ultimately found to have attempted said circumvention, the TSA said, he could be subjected to civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. That could be a steep fine: Something like 35,000 people viewed and possibly used the boarding pass generator during the less than 72 hours that it was live on his site in November.
[I can only imagine the calculus that went into picking that fine amount: "TSA guy #1: Wait, people just aren't going to take this seriously if we make it just a measly $10,000 fine." TSA guy #2: "By George, you're right! We'd better add another grand on there just to be on the safe side."]
All kidding aside, this is kind of absurd. It's absurd because the cat is already out of the bag. That's the way information on the Internet works: Once it's out there, it's incredibly hard if not impossible to get it all back. Soghoian's site has no doubt been archived by anyone who would want to use it for malicious or illegal purposes (this guy, operating under what is in all likelihood a pseudonym, continues to mirror the Northwest Airlines boarding pass generator that Soghoian built.)
Soghoian has until the day after Christmas to respond in writing to the charges against him. For him, worse than the specter of fines is the notion that he may one day find his own name on the TSA's no-fly list.
"If they decide that the only safe way for me to leave the country is by boat, then that's pretty much the end of my career here in the States," Soghoian said. "It's one thing to harass researchers, but if they can chase them out of the country, then that's a real chilling effect."
Software Used to Predict Who Might Kill
University of Pennsylvania criminologist Richard Berk, a trained statistician, never met a data set he didn't like.
Now, using fresh data from the Philadelphia probation department, Berk and three colleagues have built an innovative model for predicting which troublemakers already in the system are most likely to kill or attempt a killing.
With the homicide rate in Philadelphia outpacing last year's by at least 7 percent, a computer model for "forecasting murder" is in the works, Berk said, to be delivered to the probation department in the new year, with clinical trials of the new tool to begin in the spring.
Initial research suggests the software-based system can make it 40 times more likely for caseworkers to accurately predict future lethality than they can using current practices.
The project is funded with a private grant and the software is in the public domain, so the product will be delivered to the city free.
"This will help stratify our caseload and target our resources to the most dangerous people," probation department director of research Ellen Kurtz said. "I don't care as much about (targeting) the shoplifter. I care a lot about the murderer, obviously."
Sociologists have produced hundreds of studies using discrete pieces of information about offenders to try to come up with the means to identify probationers most likely to commit future felonies.
But homicide, because it is a relatively rare event, has been very hard to predict. Of all probationers in Philadelphia, only about one in 100 will commit homicide. But for obvious reasons it is crucial to find that needle in the haystack, Berk said.
Though it is well known that the probability of becoming a killer falls off with age, especially between 18 and 30, Berk's innovation is that he uses the relatively new statistical technique called "step-function" analysis to show how fast and when the dropoffs occur.
"In reality the risk doesn't decline in a smooth, straight line" but falls precipitously at certain points for certain reasons, he said.
The tool works by plugging 30 to 40 variables into a computerized checklist, which in turn produces a score associated with future lethality.
"You can imagine the indicators that might incline someone toward violence: youth; having committed a serious crime at an early age; being a man rather than a woman, and so on. Each, by itself, probably isn't going to make a person pull the trigger. But put them all together and you've got a perfect storm of forces for violence," Berk said.
Asked which, if any, indicators stood out as reliable predicators of homicide, Berk pointed to one in particular: youthful exposure to violence.
Using probation department cases entered into the system between 2002 and 2004, Berk and his colleagues performed a two-year follow-up study - enough time, they theorized, for a person to reoffend if he was going to. They tracked each individual, with particular attention to the people who went on to kill. That created the model. What remains at this stage is to find a way to marry the software to the probation department's information technology system.
When caseworkers begin applying the model next year they will input data about their individual cases - what Berk calls "dropping 'Joe' down the model" - to come up with scores that will allow the caseworkers to assign the most intense supervision to the riskiest cases.
Even a crime as serious as aggravated assault - pistol whipping, for example - "might not mean that much" if the first-time offender is 30, but it is an "alarming indicator" in a first-time offender who is 18, Berk said.
The model was built using adult probation data stripped of personal identifying information for confidentiality. Berk thinks it could be an even more powerful diagnostic tool if he could have access to similarly anonymous juvenile records.
The central public policy question in all of this is a resource allocation problem. With not enough resources to go around, overloaded case workers have to cull their cases to find the ones in most urgent need of attention - the so-called true positives, as epidemiologists say.
But before that can begin in earnest, the public has to decide how many false positives it can afford in order to head off future killers, and how many false negatives (seemingly nonviolent people who nevertheless go on to kill) it is willing to risk to narrow the false positive pool.
"If we have 100 probationers I can accurately find the one murderer who statistically will be in that group if I devote resources to all 100 as if they are murderers. The problem is that for that one murderer who is a 'true positive,' I have 99 false positives. We all would agree that's not a good use of resources.
"Now suppose I can identify the 10 at highest risk. For that one true positive I now have nine false positives," Berk said, "and that may be something we choose to live with."
Before His ‘MASH,’ Altman’s TV Warfare
Nothing much happens on the Western front.
On an episode of ABC’s old World War II series “Combat!,” which starred Vic Morrow, a group of G.I.’s capture a German soldier and debate what to do with him.
In a single hour on “The Unit,” a 2006 CBS series that is the closest equivalent to “Combat!,” operatives from a covert special forces unit capture a Bosnian war criminal. They also confront a perfidious French commander of a United Nations peacekeeping force whose machinations allow the Bosnian warlord to escape and burst into a black-tie celebration back in the United States, machine guns blazing — the rudest intrusion since Moldavian terrorists stormed Amanda Carrington’s royal wedding on “Dynasty” in 1985.
That episode of “The Unit” was written and directed by David Mamet, the series’s creator, and is distinctive for the chopped, repetitive dialogue known as Mametspeak.
The “Combat!” episode was directed by Robert Altman in 1962. This legendary film director (“MASH,” “Gosford Park”), who died last month, began his career in television, perhaps most memorably bringing his cinematic style and dark vision of war to the first season of “Combat!” Mr. Altman directed 10 episodes, and one of them, “Survival,” was so disturbing that he later said it got him fired. (He was also legendarily difficult to work with.)
On Monday AmericanLife TV, a cable network that caters to baby boomers, will begin showing five of Mr. Altman’s “Combat!” episodes as a tribute.
The series, which followed an army platoon fighting its way in 1944 from Normandy to the liberation of Paris and beyond, has been in reruns off and on for decades. Several generations of American children got their first sense of World War II from the show’s black-and-white tableaus of bombed-out farmhouses and dank forests. (“Combat!” switched to color for its fifth and last season in 1967). The series is available on DVD, but this is a chance for viewers, baby boomer or not, to see free some of Mr. Altman’s most famous episodes, or just relive their television memories of World War II.
He was not the series’s first director, but Mr. Altman was involved from the beginning and helped shape its look and its tone, which in retrospect was remarkably sorrowful and bleak. War is hell on “Combat!” and hellishly arbitrary. Sometimes it even is pointless. King Company’s second platoon, “King Two,” was led by Lieutenant Hanley (Rick Jason), but the stories mostly revolved around Sergeant Saunders (Mr. Morrow) and his battle-scarred men. The camera took its time, slowly zooming in on a soldier’s privations and personal turmoil and the trench-forged camaraderie that keeps each of them going.
“Combat!” went on the air 17 years after the war ended but had a Bill Mauldin sensibility, perhaps because many of the people behind the camera came of age after Pearl Harbor. Mr. Altman enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943 and became a co-pilot, flying B-24s over the Dutch East Indies.
Mr. Mamet was a student at Goddard College in Vermont at the height of the Vietnam War. His producing partner and consultant on “The Unit,” which had its debut last March, is Eric L. Haney, a former Ranger and member of Delta Force, which helps explain why the series concentrates on Special Forces derring-do. So does the timing: when American forces are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, a heroic prism provides a more comforting look at warfare.
There is nothing comforting about Mr. Altman’s last episode, “Survival,” which will be shown on Dec. 8. It was shocking and over-the-top in its day. And it still is.
The men in the platoon are captured but escape during an artillery attack. In the confusion, Sergeant Saunders is left behind, tied up in a burning barn, screaming in pain as the flames engulf his hands. For the rest of the episode Saunders staggers like a zombie through enemy-held territory, in shock, his blackened hands dangling limply from his wrists. Whole scenes of Saunders moving wordlessly through the woods in a trance beneath an avant-garde musical score, look like a work of modern dance. (The show’s composer, Leonard Rosenman, gave his compositions titles like “Tortured Crawling” and “More Tortured Crawling.”)
In another episode Saunders is trapped in a German command post with a contentious sergeant from another platoon. “You wouldn’t be afraid of a little action, would ya?” he says gratingly. Saunders replies quietly, “I’m afraid 24 hours a day.” The unlikable sergeant gives his life to allow Saunders to sneak back to the American side with vital information about a German attack plan. Saunders returns, exhausted, to learn that his comrade’s sacrifice was needless: the Allies just cracked the German code and knew all about the enemy advance.
“The Unit,” mostly keeps its heroes out of Iraq, preferring make-believe antiterrorist raids and rescue missions all over the world. “Over There,” a gritty 2005 series by Steven Bochco on FX about fictional troops stationed on the real frontlines of Iraq, faltered in the ratings and was not renewed. The most successful television shows about war dramatize battle from the safe remove of time: “M*A*S*H,” the sitcom version of Mr. Altman’s antiwar comedy, began in 1972, before the Vietnam War was over, and was set in Korea. “China Beach,” which focused on nurses in Vietnam, went on the air in 1988.
The French landscape of “Combat!” couldn’t be more different than the streets of Baghdad, and the German enemy is identifiably dressed in gray. But 40 years later the weary dedication of infantrymen straining their luck on a third combat tour has a special resonance. Robert Altman’s first efforts at storytelling are in some ways as contemporary as his last.
Separating Hyperbole From Horror in Iraq
Tom Zeller Jr.
Over the course of last week, an Associated Press article — one subsequently challenged by the military — in which six Sunni worshipers were reportedly doused in kerosene and burned alive by Shiite attackers, became the worst kind of totem.
For bloggers who believe that the media has been drawing false pictures of mayhem in Iraq, the insistence of the American military and Iraqi officials that the burning incident appeared to be a mere rumor was proof that their suspicions were correct.
“Getting the News From the Enemy” was how the Flopping Aces blog (floppingaces.net) tracked the developing face-off between the military and A.P.
Iraq’s interior ministry wielded the article like a bludgeon and used it as an opportunity to create a press monitoring unit that suggested, in no uncertain terms, that reporters in Baghdad should come to its press officers for “real, true news.” A ministry spokesman promised “legal action” — whatever that might mean — against journalists who publish information the agency deemed wrong.
That may seem patently absurd. But in a country where most of the on-street, in-neighborhood reporting for Western news organizations is done by native Iraqis — working at great personal risk — the threat of “legal action” may reverberate with tones more menacing, and more damaging to a free press, than they seem at first blush.
Then there was The Associated Press itself, which by Friday had come to view the continued scrutiny of its article as evidence that everyone — the military, the blogosphere, even other media outlets tracking the back-and-forth — was either agenda-driven, insolent, or both, but not legitimately curious.
The international editor of the A.P., John Daniszewski, said in a statement Tuesday that the military’s questioning of the original sourcing on the article was “frankly ludicrous and hints at a certain level of desperation to dispute or suppress the facts of the incident in question.”
Mr. Daniszewski added that A.P. was nonetheless re-reporting the incident, and the agency had sent its reporters back to the Hurriyah neighborhood of Baghdad, where they found several additional witnesses who not only corroborated the original report, but gave exhaustive details of a day of bedlam, for a second article that hit the wires Tuesday afternoon. The initial report came out Friday, Nov. 24.
The second article included recollections of the hour — between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. — and of militiamen using rocket-propelled grenade launchers to blast open the front of a mosque; of six men being dragged out, blindfolded, handcuffed and lined in the street; and of a 1.3-gallon canister being used to douse the men with kerosene. They were then set ablaze, The Associated Press’s witnesses recalled, allowed to writhe and suffer, and then ultimately shot, once each, in the head. Residents said they buried the bodies after a prolonged gun battle with the attackers.
For all of the grisly detail, a spokesman for the Iraq interior ministry, Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, continued on Thursday to call the incident a rumor.
“We dispatched our forces to the area where the rumor claimed the burning took place and found nothing,” he said.
Meanwhile, little in the way of fallout over the event itself has been detected — no outcry, no heated, televised denunciations from Sunni clerics and politicians — as might be expected from what The Associated Press itself called “one of the most horrific alleged attacks of Iraq’s sectarian war.”
And so questions lingered and the blogs raged on.
The executive editor of The Associated Press, Kathleen Carroll, in a meeting in her office Friday afternoon, explained that the agency had already done all it could to respond to the uncertainties by vigorously re-reporting the article, and suggested that to engage these questions — to continue to write about them — merely fueled a mad blog rabble that would never be satisfied.
That is one way of looking at it. And there are certainly much larger issues to consider in Iraq.
As The Associated Press reminded everyone in September, the Pentagon is not without its own public relations agenda. It awarded a $12 million, two-year contract to the Lincoln Group, a public relations firm in Washington, to keep tabs on English and Arabic media sources and produce “public-relations-type products” for American forces in Iraq, A.P. reported. This is the same company that was found last year to be buying positive coverage in Iraqi newspapers as part of an American military operation.
There are also important questions that can be raised about the steps taken by Iraq’s interior ministry to control reporting on the streets, to steer journalists toward “official” channels of information, and to threaten those who seek independent sources.
And finally, as horrible as the alleged events in Hurriyah were, caches of dumped dead bodies are turning up in neighborhoods almost weekly, car bombs rip through markets and waiting lines and the death toll for American soldiers is approaching 3,000. No one is disputing those accounts.
But then, that may be partly the point. It is important to find out if this really happened in order to separate the hyperbole from the merely horrible in Iraq, so that the horrible will still have meaning. Otherwise it will all become din.
It is also true that the institution conducting America’s multibillion gamble in Iraq — the military — says that this standout of atrocities never happened, while a venerable, trusted news agency has twice interviewed witnesses who said, in extensive, vivid detail, that it did.
That is not just a curiosity. It is a limbo that leaves Hurriyah open for use as a political plaything, to confirm deep-seated beliefs about the media, or to give Iraqi ministers rhetorical fuel to threaten reporters.
Whatever the agenda of the bloggers most interested in debunking the article, it somehow seems important to figure out why this incident — in the face of all the killings in Iraq — remains in such dispute.
Panel: U.S. Underreported Iraq Violence
U.S. military and intelligence officials have systematically underreported the violence in Iraq in order to suit the Bush administration's policy goals, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group said.
In its report on ways to improve the U.S. approach to stabilizing Iraq, the group recommended Wednesday that the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense make changes in the collection of data about violence to provide a more accurate picture.
The panel pointed to one day last July when U.S. officials reported 93 attacks or significant acts of violence. "Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence," it said.
"The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases." It said, for example, that a murder of an Iraqi is not necessarily counted as an attack, and a roadside bomb or a rocket or mortar attack that doesn't hurt U.S. personnel doesn't count, either. Also, if the source of a sectarian attack is not determined, that assault is not added to the database of violence incidents.
"Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals," the report said.
A request for Pentagon comment on the report's assertions was not immediately answered.
Some U.S. analysts have complained for months that the Pentagon's reports to Congress on conditions in Iraq have undercounted the violent episodes. Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq watcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a November report that the Pentagon omits many low-level incidents and types of civil violence.
Live from Paris: Everything You’re Not Supposed to Know
Tom Zeller Jr.
Coming this week: English news from a distinctly French point of view. Does the world need another international news network to compete with CNN and BBC World?
If you wake up in the morning and think, “Gosh, I’m tired of the same old Anglo Saxon biases in my English-language international news broadcasts,” you’ve had precious few options.
But it seems you’ve not been alone.
That’s what Jacques Chirac thought, too — particularly when it came to what he saw as the somewhat chauvinistic coverage of the Iraq war by the only global networks delivering ’round-the-clock news in the real lingua franca — English: BBC World and CNN.
So was born the concept of France 24, which officially launches this week — first with a free, live streaming broadcast on the Internet (www.france24.com), and then via satellite a day later.
The partially state-subsidized network, which will broadcast in English as well as French and Arabic, aims to compete with those networks, as well as with the newly launched Al Jazeera International network. But its core mission is to bring a distinctly French perspective to the news. From its brochure:
In accordance with its stated mission, France 24 reports on international news with a specifically French viewpoint, including a range of opinions, debates, disputes, confrontations, defense of multilateralism, secularism, solidarity, respect, freedom of expression, lifestyle, culture, fashion, gastronomy, etc.
The network will be available in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The rest of the world will have to view it online at France24.com
If that sounds interesting to you, curb your enthusiasm a bit: The television signal will initially reach Europe, the Middle East and Africa only. In the U.S., it appears only Washington, D.C. Comcast subscribers will have any hope of getting a look at it on the their televisions, or employees of the United Nations in New York, which will receive the signal by special arrangement. Everyone else will have to rely on the Web version to see what the fuss is all about.
According to a recent write-up in The Times of London, the network’s official motto, “Everything you are not supposed to know,” graced the entrance of the network’s Paris headquarters — although the article also suggested that executives were planning to change the motto, finding it “too cheeky.”
Meanwhile, for those who are curious, an “unofficial” France24 blog has made it its mission to track every move the network makes.
One interesting point was raised two weeks ago by Jean-Louis Missika, a French media analyst, who wondered whether the world’s consumers wanted another news channel.
“The market is largely saturated, and France is coming into it very late,” Mr. Missika told the Associated Press.
France 24’s executives counter that demand is growing, because viewers are increasingly skeptical and want “more and different viewpoints.” What do you think?
Study: More Internet Journalists Jailed
When Iranian journalist Mojtaba Saminejad was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the country's Supreme Leader, it was not for an article that appeared in a newspaper. His offending story was posted on his personal Web blog.
Nearly one-third of journalists now serving time in prisons around the world published their work on the Internet, the second-largest category behind print journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in an analysis released Thursday.
The bulk of Internet journalists in jail - 49 in total - shows that "authoritarian states are becoming more determined to control the Internet," said Joel Simon, the New York-based group's executive director.
"It wasn't so long ago that people were talking about the Internet as a new medium that could never be controlled," he said. "The reality is that governments are now recognizing they need to control the Internet to control information."
Other noteworthy imprisoned Internet journalists include U.S. video blogger Joshua Wolf, who refused to give a grand jury his footage of a 2005 protest against a G-8 economic summit, and China's Shi Tao, who is serving a 10-year sentence for posting online instructions by the government on how to cover the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
For the second year in a row, CPJ's annual survey found the total number of journalists in jail worldwide has increased. There were 134 reporters, editors and photographers incarcerated as of Dec. 1, nine more than a year ago.
In addition to the Internet writers, the total includes 67 print journalists, eight TV reporters, eight radio reporters and two documentary filmmakers.
Among the 24 nations that have imprisoned reporters, China topped the list for the eighth consecutive year with 31 journalists behind bars - 19 of them Internet journalists.
Cuba was second with 24 reporters in prison. Nearly all of them had filed their reports to overseas-based Web sites.
The U.S. government and military has detained three journalists, including Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, who was taken into custody in Iraq nine months ago and has yet to be charged with a crime.
CPJ recorded the first jailing of an Internet reporter in its 1997 census. Since then, the number has steadily grown and now includes reporters, editors and photographers whose work appeared primarily on the Internet, in e-mails or in other electronic forms.
The increase is a testament to the increasing attention of government censors to the Internet, media experts say.
"I refer to the freedom of the press as the canary in the coal mine," said Joshua Friedman, director of international programs at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. "It's a barometer of the insecurity of the people running these governments. One of the things that makes them insecure these days is the power of the Internet."
The rise in jailings of Internet journalists is also an indication that reporters in authoritarian countries are increasingly using the Web to circumvent state controls.
Shi, the jailed Chinese journalist, could have published his notes on state propaganda in the Chinese magazine in Hunan province where he worked as an editorial director. He chose instead to send an e-mail from his Yahoo account to the U.S.-based editor of a Chinese language Web forum.
Cuban journalist Manuel Vasquez-Portal said he posted his articles on a Miami-based Web site for a similar reason.
"Without a doubt, the Internet provided me an avenue. It was the only way to get the truth out of Cuba," he said through an interpreter.
Vasquez-Portal, who was jailed for 15 months in 2003, said he had to call his stories in to the operator of the Web site, though, because Cubans are not allowed access to the Internet.
Group: China Has Most Jailed Journalists
China, which jails more journalists than any other nation, is challenging the view that information on the Internet is impossible to control, and the implications for press freedom could be far-reaching, a New York-based rights group said.
At least 31 journalists are behind bars in China, making it the world's leading jailer of reporters for the eighth year in a row, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in its annual survey released Thursday.
Three out of four of the journalists were convicted under vague charges of subversion or revealing state secrets, and more than half were Internet journalists.
China encourages Internet use for business and education but tightly controls Web content, censoring anything it considers critical of - or a threat to - the Communist Party.
Blogs are often shut down, and those who post articles promoting Western-style democracy and freedom are routinely detained and jailed under subversion charges.
"China is challenging the notion that the Internet is impossible to control or censor, and if it succeeds there will be far-ranging implications, not only for the medium but for press freedom all over the world," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement Thursday.
Shi Tao, a former journalist for the Dangdai Shangbao or Contemporary Business Newspaper in the central province of Hunan, was sentenced last year to 10 years on charges of leaking state secrets.
Shi, 37, was alleged to have e-mailed the contents of a secret official memo about media restrictions to the U.S.-based Democracy Forum Web site.
Journalism activists criticized Yahoo Inc. after it emerged that the company had given prosecutors e-mail from Shi's account.
Li Yuanlong, a reporter for the Bijie Daily newspaper in the southern city of Bijie, was convicted in July of inciting subversion and sentenced to two years in prison after he posted essays on foreign Web sites.
His essays, written under the pen name Ye Lang or "Night Wolf," included "On Becoming an American in Spirit" and "The Banal Nature of Life and the Lamentable Nature of Death."
They were published on sites banned in China, including Boxun News, the Falun Gong-affiliated Epoch Times, ChinaEWeekly, and New Century Net, according to earlier reports.
Last week, a Beijing court took five minutes to reject an appeal, made by New York Times researcher Zhao Yan, against his three-year prison sentence.
Zhao had been convicted of fraud, but press advocacy groups saw his case as a political vendetta for his pre-Times career as a crusading investigative reporter - and as a warning to Chinese reporters.
The survey found the total number of journalists jailed worldwide had risen to 134 as of Dec. 1 - nine more than a year earlier.
Cuba was the second biggest jailer of journalists, with 24 reporters in prison. Nearly all had filed their reports to overseas-based Web sites. Eritrea, which has imprisoned 23 journalists, was third.
The United States tied for seventh place on the list, having jailed three journalists.
Putting Playboy on Trial in Indonesia
Tom Zeller Jr.
The editor of the Indonesian edition of Playboy went on trial in South Jakarta today.
Although the magazine is a much tamer version of the title known to Western readers, and contained no nudity and, according to a Reuters report, “less flesh than many of the magazines on sale in the world’s most populous Muslim country,” the magazine’s launch in April sparked widespread protests — and apparently violated the country’s indecency provisions.
Prosecutors are coming down hard on the editor, Erwin Arnada, according to the Reuters report:
“Photos, drawings and articles in Playboy Indonesia magazine were results of the defendant’s selection,” said prosecutor Resni Muchtar. “They were unsuitable for civility and could arouse lust among readers so they violated feelings of decency.”
The case involves only the first issue. Subsequent issues have continued to be sold, and there has been no government move to ban the publication. Back in July, Jane Perlez of The New York Times took a look at a few copies. Here’s how she described them:
Most of the articles in the first three issues were the run-of-the-mill fare of any general interest magazine in Asia, an account of amputees from Cambodia’s civil war, the stories of Indonesian mail-order brides, a photo essay about domestic violence against children and a long article on East Timor.
The photographs of the centerfold Playmate in sparse though hardly salacious clothing … and a lonely hearts column geared to men were about the strongest suggestion that Indonesia’s Playboy was actually aimed at male readers.
The cover of the third issue was certainly fleshier, though still demure compared with other men’s glossies on the newsstands here: an Indonesian model dressed in a long mohair sweater and a pair of briefs shows cleavage and the suggestion — though only a suggestion — of her navel.
Playboy Indonesia’s offices were attacked by the Islamic Defenders Front — a group apparently known to attack various Jakarta night spots during “anti-vice raids” — last April. But according to The Guardian, much of the anti-Playboy furor has died down since the company moved its headquarters to Bali, a mostly Hindu enclave.
Could wikis and blogs prevent a terrorist attack?
When Matthew Burton arrived at the Defense Intelligence Agency in January 2003, he was excited about getting to his computer. Burton, who was then 22, had long been interested in international relations: he had studied Russian politics and interned at the U.S. consulate in Ukraine, helping to speed refugee applications of politically persecuted Ukrainians. But he was also a big high-tech geek fluent in Web-page engineering, and he spent hours every day chatting online with friends and updating his own blog. When he was hired by the D.I.A., he told me recently, his mind boggled at the futuristic, secret spy technology he would get to play with: search engines that can read minds, he figured. Desktop video conferencing with colleagues around the world. If the everyday Internet was so awesome, just imagine how much better the spy tools would be.
But when he got to his cubicle, his high-tech dreams collapsed. “The reality,” he later wrote ruefully, “was a colossal letdown.”
The spy agencies were saddled with technology that might have seemed cutting edge in 1995. When he went onto Intelink — the spy agencies’ secure internal computer network — the search engines were a pale shadow of Google, flooding him with thousands of useless results. If Burton wanted to find an expert to answer a question, the personnel directories were of no help. Worse, instant messaging with colleagues, his favorite way to hack out a problem, was impossible: every three-letter agency — from the Central Intelligence Agency to the National Security Agency to army commands — used different discussion groups and chat applications that couldn’t connect to one another. In a community of secret agents supposedly devoted to quickly amassing information, nobody had even a simple blog — that ubiquitous tool for broadly distributing your thoughts.
Something had gone horribly awry, Burton realized. Theoretically, the intelligence world ought to revolve around information sharing. If F.B.I. agents discover that Al Qaeda fund-raising is going on in Brooklyn, C.I.A. agents in Europe ought to be able to know that instantly. The Internet flourished under the credo that information wants to be free; the agencies, however, had created their online networks specifically to keep secrets safe, locked away so only a few could see them. This control over the flow of information, as the 9/11 Commission noted in its final report, was a crucial reason American intelligence agencies failed to prevent those attacks. All the clues were there — Al Qaeda associates studying aviation in Arizona, the flight student Zacarias Moussaoui arrested in Minnesota, surveillance of a Qaeda plotting session in Malaysia — but none of the agents knew about the existence of the other evidence. The report concluded that the agencies failed to “connect the dots.”
By way of contrast, every night when Burton went home, he was reminded of how good the everyday Internet had become at connecting dots. “Web 2.0” technologies that encourage people to share information — blogs, photo-posting sites like Flickr or the reader-generated encyclopedia Wikipedia — often made it easier to collaborate with others. When the Orange Revolution erupted in Ukraine in late 2004, Burton went to Technorati, a search engine that scours the “blogosphere,” to find the most authoritative blog postings on the subject. Within minutes, he had found sites with insightful commentary from American expatriates who were talking to locals in Kiev and on-the-fly debates among political analysts over what it meant. Because he and his fellow spies were stuck with outdated technology, they had no comparable way to cooperate — to find colleagues with common interests and brainstorm online.
Burton, who has since left the D.I.A., is not alone in his concern. Indeed, throughout the intelligence community, spies are beginning to wonder why their technology has fallen so far behind — and talk among themselves about how to catch up. Some of the country’s most senior intelligence thinkers have joined the discussion, and surprisingly, many of them believe the answer may lie in the interactive tools the world’s teenagers are using to pass around YouTube videos and bicker online about their favorite bands. Billions of dollars’ worth of ultrasecret data networks couldn’t help spies piece together the clues to the worst terrorist plot ever. So perhaps, they argue, it’ s time to try something radically different. Could blogs and wikis prevent the next 9/11?
The job of an analyst used to be much more stable — even sedate. In the ’70s and ’80s, during the cold war, an intelligence analyst would show up for work at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va., or at the National Security Agency compound in Fort Meade, Md., and face a mess of paper. All day long, tips, memos and reports from field agents would arrive: cables from a covert-ops spy in Moscow describing a secret Soviet meeting, or perhaps fresh pictures of a missile silo. An analyst’s job was to take these raw pieces of intelligence and find patterns in the noise. In a crisis, his superiors might need a quick explanation of current events to pass on to their agency heads or to Congress. But mostly he was expected to perform long-term “strategic analysis” — to detect entirely new threats that were still forming.
And during the cold war, threats formed slowly. The Soviet Union was a ponderous bureaucracy that moved at the glacial speed of the five-year plan. Analysts studied the emergence of new tanks and missiles, pieces of hardware that took years to develop. One year, an analyst might report that the keel for a Soviet nuclear submarine had been laid; a few years later, a follow-up report would describe the submarine’s completion; even more years later, a final report would detail the sea trials. Writing reports was thus a leisurely affair, taking weeks or months; thousands of copies were printed up and distributed via interoffice mail. If an analyst’s report impressed his superiors, they’d pass it on to their superiors, and they to theirs — until, if the analyst was very lucky, it landed eventually in the president’s inner circle. But this sort of career achievement was rare. Of the thousands of analyst reports produced each year, the majority sat quietly gathering dust on agency shelves, unread by anyone.
Analysts also did not worry about anything other than their corners of the world. Russia experts focused on Russia, Nicaragua ones on Nicaragua. Even after the cold war ended, the major spy agencies divided up the world: the F.B.I. analyzed domestic crime, the C.I.A. collected intelligence internationally and military spy agencies, like the National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, evaluated threats to the national defense. If an analyst requested information from another agency, that request traveled through elaborate formal channels. The walls between the agencies were partly a matter of law. The charters of the C.I.A. and the defense intelligence agencies prohibited them from spying on American citizens, under the logic that the intrusive tactics needed to investigate foreign threats would violate constitutional rights if applied at home. The F.B.I. even had an internal separation: agents investigating terrorist activity would not share information with those investigating crimes, worried that secrets gleaned from tailing Al Qaeda operatives might wind up publicly exposed in a criminal trial.
Then on Sept. 12, 2001, analysts showed up at their desks and faced a radically altered job. Islamist terrorists, as 9/11 proved, behaved utterly unlike the Soviet Union. They were rapid-moving, transnational and cellular. A corner-store burglar in L.A. might turn out to be a Qaeda sympathizer raising money for a plot being organized overseas. An imam in suburban Detroit could be recruiting local youths to send to the Sudan for paramilitary training. Al Qaeda operatives organized their plots in a hivelike fashion, with collaborators from Afghanistan to London using e-mail, instant messaging and Yahoo groups; rarely did a single mastermind run the show. To disrupt these new plots, some intelligence officials concluded, American agents and analysts would need to cooperate just as fluidly — trading tips quickly among agents and agencies. Following the usual chain of command could be fatal. “To fight a network like Al Qaeda, you need to behave like a network,” John Arquilla, the influential professor of defense at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me.
It was a fine vision. But analysts were saddled with technology that was designed in the cold war. They now at least had computers, and intelligence arrived as electronic messages instead of paper memos. But their computers still communicated almost exclusively with people inside their agencies. When the intelligence services were computerized in the ’90s, they had digitally replicated their cold-war divisions — each one building a multimillion-dollar system that allowed the agency to share information internally but not readily with anyone outside.
The computer systems were designed to be “air gapped.” The F.B.I. terminals were connected to one another — but not to the computers at any other agency, and vice versa. Messages written on the C.I.A.’s network (which they still quaintly called “cables”) were purely internal. To get a message to the F.B.I. required a special communication called a “telegraphic dissemination.” Each agency had databases to amass intelligence, but because of the air gap, other agencies could not easily search them. The divisions were partly because of turf battles and partly because of legal restrictions — but they were also technological. Mike Scheuer, an adviser to the C.I.A.’s bin Laden unit until 2004, told me he had been frustrated by the inability of the systems to interpenetrate. “About 80 percent of C.I.A.-F.B.I. difficulties came from the fact that we couldn’t communicate with one another,” he said. Scheuer told me he would often send a document electronically to the F.B.I., then call to make sure the agents got it. “And they’d say, ‘We can’t find it, can you fax it?’ And then we’d call, and they’d say, ‘Well, the system said it came in, but we still can’t find it — so could you courier it over?’ ” “
These systems have served us very well for five decades,” Dale Meyerrose told me when I spoke with him recently. But now, he said, they’re getting in the way. “The 16 intelligence organizations of the U.S. are without peer. They are the best in the world. The trick is, are they collectively the best?”
Last year, Meyerrose, a retired Air Force major general, was named the chief information officer — the head computer guy, as it were — for the office of the director of national intelligence. Established by Congress in 2004, the D.N.I.’s office has a controversial mandate: it is supposed to report threats to the president and persuade the intelligence agencies to cooperate more closely. Both tasks were formerly the role of the C.I.A. director, but since the C.I.A. director had no budgetary power over the other agencies, they rarely heeded his calls to pass along their secrets. So the new elevated position of national-intelligence director was created; ever since, it has been filled by John Negroponte. Last December, Negroponte hired Meyerrose and gave him the daunting task of developing mechanisms to allow the various agencies’ aging and incompatible systems to swap data. Right away, Meyerrose ordered some sweeping changes. In the past, each agency chose its own outside contractor to build customized software — creating proprietary systems, each of which stored data in totally different file formats. From now on, Meyerrose said, each agency would have to build new systems using cheaper, off-the-shelf software so they all would be compatible. But bureaucratic obstacles were just a part of the problem Meyerrose faced. He was also up against something deeper in the DNA of the intelligence services. “We’ve had this ‘need to know’ culture for years,” Meyerrose said. “Well, we need to move to a ‘need to share’ philosophy.”
There was already one digital pipeline that joined the agencies (though it had its own limitations): Intelink, which connects most offices in each intelligence agency. It was created in 1994 after C.I.A. officials saw how the Web was rapidly transforming the way private-sector companies shared information. Intelink allows any agency to publish a Web page, or put a document or a database online, secure in the knowledge that while other agents and analysts can access it, the outside world cannot.
So why hasn’t Intelink given young analysts instant access to all secrets from every agency? Because each agency’s databases, and the messages flowing through their internal pipelines, are not automatically put onto Intelink. Agency supervisors must actively decide what data they will publish on the network — and their levels of openness vary. Some departments have created slick, professional sites packed full of daily alerts and searchable collections of their reports going back years. Others have put up little more than a “splash page” announcing they exist. Operational information — like details of a current covert action — is rarely posted, usually because supervisors fear that a leak could jeopardize a delicate mission.
Nonetheless, Intelink has grown to the point that it contains thousands of agency sites and several hundred databases. Analysts at the various agencies generate 50,000 official reports a year, many of which are posted to the network. The volume of material online is such that analysts now face a new problem: data overload. Even if they suspect good information might exist on Intelink, it is often impossible to find it. The system is poorly indexed, and its internal search tools perform like the pre-Google search engines of the ’90s.“
One of my daily searches is for words like ‘Afghanistan’ or ‘Taliban,’ ” I was told by one young military analyst who specializes in threats from weapons of mass destruction. (He requested anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak to reporters.) “So I’m looking for reports from field agents saying stuff like, ‘I’m out here, and here’s what I saw,’ ” he continued. “But I get to my desk and I’ve got, like, thousands a day — mountains of information, and no way to organize it.”
Adding to the information glut, there’s an increasingly large amount of data to read outside of Intelink. Intelligence analysts are finding it more important to keep up with “open source” information — nonclassified material published in full public view, like newspapers, jihadist blogs and discussion boards in foreign countries. This adds ever more calories to the daily info diet. The W.M.D. analyst I spoke to regularly reads the blog of Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor known for omnivorous linking to, and acerbic analysis of, news from the Middle East. “He’s not someone spies would normally pay attention to, but now he’s out there — and he’s a subject-matter expert, right?” the analyst said.
Intelligence hoarding presented one set of problems, but pouring it into a common ocean, Meyerrose realized soon after moving into his office, is not the answer either. “Intelligence is about looking for needles in haystacks, and we can’t just keep putting more hay on the stack,” he said. What the agencies needed was a way to take the thousands of disparate, unorganized pieces of intel they generate every day and somehow divine which are the most important.
Intelligence heads wanted to try to find some new answers to this problem. So the C.I.A. set up a competition, later taken over by the D.N.I., called the Galileo Awards: any employee at any intelligence agency could submit an essay describing a new idea to improve information sharing, and the best ones would win a prize. The first essay selected was by Calvin Andrus, chief technology officer of the Center for Mission Innovation at the C.I.A. In his essay, “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community,” Andrus posed a deceptively simple question: How did the Internet become so useful in helping people find information?
Andrus argued that the real power of the Internet comes from the boom in self-publishing: everyday people surging online to impart their thoughts and views. He was particularly intrigued by Wikipedia, the “reader-authored” encyclopedia, where anyone can edit an entry or create a new one without seeking permission from Wikipedia’s owners. This open-door policy, as Andrus noted, allows Wikipedia to cover new subjects quickly. The day of the London terrorist bombings, Andrus visited Wikipedia and noticed that barely minutes after the attacks, someone had posted a page describing them. Over the next hour, other contributors — some physically in London, with access to on-the-spot details — began adding more information and correcting inaccurate news reports. “You could just sit there and hit refresh, refresh, refresh, and get a sort of ticker-tape experience,” Andrus told me. What most impressed Andrus was Wikipedia’s self-governing nature. No central editor decreed what subjects would be covered. Individuals simply wrote pages on subjects that interested them — and then like-minded readers would add new facts or fix errors. Blogs, Andrus noted, had the same effect: they leveraged the wisdom of the crowd. When a blogger finds an interesting tidbit of news, he posts a link to it, along with a bit of commentary. Then other bloggers find that link and, if they agree it’s an interesting news item, post their own links pointing to it. This produces a cascade effect. Whatever the first blogger pointed toward can quickly amass so many links pointing in its direction that it rockets to worldwide notoriety in a matter of hours.
Spies, Andrus theorized, could take advantage of these rapid, self-organizing effects. If analysts and agents were encouraged to post personal blogs and wikis on Intelink — linking to their favorite analyst reports or the news bulletins they considered important — then mob intelligence would take over. In the traditional cold-war spy bureaucracy, an analyst’s report lived or died by the whims of the hierarchy. If he was in the right place on the totem pole, his report on Soviet missiles could be pushed up higher; if a supervisor chose to ignore it, the report essentially vanished. Blogs and wikis, in contrast, work democratically. Pieces of intel would receive attention merely because other analysts found them interesting. This grass-roots process, Andrus argued, suited the modern intelligence challenge of sifting through thousands of disparate clues: if a fact or observation struck a chord with enough analysts, it would snowball into popularity, no matter what their supervisors thought.
A profusion of spy blogs and wikis would have another, perhaps even more beneficial impact. It would drastically improve the search engines of Intelink. In a paper that won an honorable mention in the Galileo Awards, Matthew Burton — the young former D.I.A. analyst — made this case. He pointed out that the best Internet search engines, including Google, all use “link analysis” to measure the authority of documents. When you type the search “Afghanistan” into Google, it finds every page that includes that word. Then it ranks the pages in part by how many links point to the page — based on the idea that if many bloggers and sites have linked to a page, it must be more useful than others. To do its job well, Google relies on the links that millions of individuals post online every day.
This, Burton pointed out, is precisely the problem with Intelink. It has no links, no social information to help sort out which intel is significant and which isn’t. When an analyst’s report is posted online, it does not include links to other reports, even ones it cites. There’s no easy way for agents to link to a report or post a comment about it. Searching Intelink thus resembles searching the Internet before blogs and Google came along — a lot of disconnected information, hard to sort through. If spies were encouraged to blog on Intelink, Burton reasoned, their profuse linking could mend that situation. “
Imagine having tools that could spot emerging patterns for you and guide you to documents that might be the missing pieces of evidence you’re looking for,” Burton wrote in his Galileo paper. “Analytical puzzles, like terror plots, are often too piecemeal for individual brains to put together. Having our documents aware of each other would be like hooking several brains up in a line, so that each one knows what the others know, making the puzzle much easier to solve.”
With Andrus and Burton’s vision in mind, you can almost imagine how 9/11 might have played out differently. In Phoenix, the F.B.I. agent Kenneth Williams might have blogged his memo noting that Al Qaeda members were engaging in flight-training activity. The agents observing a Qaeda planning conference in Malaysia could have mentioned the attendance of a Saudi named Khalid al-Midhar; another agent might have added that he held a multi-entry American visa. The F.B.I. agents who snared Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota might have written about their arrest of a flight student with violent tendencies. Other agents and analysts who were regular readers of these blogs would have found the material interesting, linked to it, pointed out connections or perhaps entered snippets of it into a wiki page discussing this new trend of young men from the Middle East enrolling in pilot training.
As those four original clues collected more links pointing toward them, they would have amassed more and more authority in the Intelink search engine. Any analysts doing searches for “Moussaoui” or “Al Qaeda” or even “flight training” would have found them. Indeed, the original agents would have been considerably more likely to learn of one another’s existence and perhaps to piece together the topography of the 9/11 plot. No one was able to prevent 9/11 because nobody connected the dots. But in a system like this, as Andrus’s theory goes, the dots are inexorably drawn together. “Once the intelligence community has a robust and mature wiki and blog knowledge-sharing Web space,” Andrus concluded in his essay, “the nature of intelligence will change forever.”
At first glance, the idea might seem slightly crazy. Outfit the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. with blogs and wikis? In the civilian world, after all, these online tools have not always amassed the most stellar reputations. There are many valuable blogs and wikis, of course, but they are vastly outnumbered by ones that exist to compile useless ephemera, celebrity gossip and flatly unverifiable assertions. Nonetheless, Andrus’s ideas struck a chord with many very senior members of the office of the director of national intelligence. This fall, I met with two of them: Thomas Fingar, the patrician head of analysis for the D.N.I., and Mike Wertheimer, his chief technology officer, whose badge clip sports a button that reads “geek.” If it is Meyerrose’s job to coax spy hardware to cooperate, it is Fingar’s job to do the same for analysts.
Fingar and Wertheimer are now testing whether a wiki could indeed help analysts do their job. In the fall of 2005, they joined forces with C.I.A. wiki experts to build a prototype of something called Intellipedia, a wiki that any intelligence employee with classified clearance could read and contribute to. To kick-start the content, C.I.A. analysts seeded it with hundreds of articles from nonclassified documents like the C.I.A. World Fact Book. In April, they sent out e-mail to other analysts inviting them to contribute, and sat back to see what happened.
By this fall, more than 3,600 members of the intelligence services had contributed a total of 28,000 pages. Chris Rasmussen, a 31-year-old “knowledge management” engineer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, spends part of every day writing or editing pages. Rasmussen is part of the younger generation in the intelligence establishment that is completely comfortable online; he regularly logs into a sprawling, 50-person chat room with other Intellipedians, and he also blogs about his daily work for all other spies to read. He told me the usefulness of Intellipedia proved itself just a couple of months ago, when a small two-seater plane crashed into a Manhattan building. An analyst created a page within 20 minutes, and over the next two hours it was edited 80 times by employees of nine different spy agencies, as news trickled out. Together, they rapidly concluded the crash was not a terrorist act. “In the intelligence community, there are so many ‘Stay off the grass’ signs,” Rasmussen said. “But here, you’re free to do what you want, and it works.”
By the late summer, Fingar decided the Intellipedia experiment was sufficiently successful that he would embark on an even more high-profile project: using Intellipedia to produce a “national intelligence estimate” for Nigeria. An N.I.E. is an authoritative snapshot of what the intelligence community thinks about a particular state — and a guide for foreign and military policy. Nigeria, Fingar said, is a complex country, with issues ranging from energy to Islamic radicalism to polio outbreaks to a coming election. Intellipedia’s Nigeria page will harness the smarts of the dozen or so analysts who specialize in the country. But it will also, Fingar hopes, attract contributions from other intelligence employees who have expertise Fingar isn’t yet aware of — an analyst who served in the Peace Corps in Nigeria, or a staff member who has recently traveled there. In the traditional method of producing an intelligence estimate, Fingar said, he would call every agency and ask to borrow their Africa expert for a week or two of meetings. “And they’d say: ‘Well, I only got one guy who can spell Nigeria, and he’s traveling. So you lose.’ ” In contrast, a wiki will “change the rules of who can play,” Fingar said, since far-flung analysts and agents around the world could contribute, day or night.
Yet Intellipedia also courts the many dangers of wikis — including the possibility of error. What’s to stop analysts from posting assertions that turn out to be false? Fingar admits this will undoubtedly happen. But if there are enough people looking at an entry, he says, there will always be someone to catch any grave mistakes. Rasmussen notes that though there is often strong disagreement and debate on Intellipedia, it has not yet succumbed to the sort of vandalism that often plagues Wikipedia pages, including the posting of outright lies. This is partly because, unlike with Wikipedia, Intellipedia contributors are not anonymous. Whatever an analyst writes on Intellipedia can be traced to him. “If you demonstrate you’ve got something to contribute, hey, the expectation is you’re a valued member,” Fingar said. “You demonstrate you’re an idiot, that becomes known, too.”
While the C.I.A. and Fingar’s office set up their wiki, Meyerrose’s office was dabbling in the other half of Andrus’s equation. In July, his staff decided to create a test blog to collect intelligence. It would focus on spotting and predicting possible avian-flu outbreaks and function as part of a larger portal on the subject to collect information from hundreds of sources around the world, inside and outside of the intelligence agencies. Avian flu, Meyerrose reasoned, is a national-security problem uniquely suited to an online-community effort, because information about the danger is found all over the world. An agent in Southeast Asia might be the first to hear news of dangerous farming practices; a medical expert in Chicago could write a crucial paper on transmission that was never noticed by analysts.
In August, one of Meyerrose’s assistants sat me down to show me a very brief glimpse of the results. In the months that it has been operational, the portal has amassed 38,000 “active” participants, though not everyone posts information. In one corner was the active-discussion area — the group blog where the participants could post their latest thoughts about avian flu and others could reply and debate. I noticed a posting, written by a university academic, on whether the H5N1 virus could actually be transmitted to humans, which had provoked a dozen comments. “See, these people would never have been talking before, and we certainly wouldn’t have heard about it if they did,” the assistant said. By September, the site had become so loaded with information and discussion that Rear Adm. Arthur Lawrence, a top official in the health department, told Meyerrose it had become the government’s most crucial resource on avian flu.
The blog seemed like an awfully modest thing to me. But Meyerrose insists that the future of spying will be revolutionized as much by these small-bore projects as by billion-dollar high-tech systems. Indeed, he says that overly ambitious projects often result in expensive disasters, the way the F.B.I.’s $170 million attempt to overhaul its case-handling software died in 2005 after the software became so complex that the F.B.I. despaired of ever fixing the bugs and shelved it. In contrast, the blog software took only a day or two to get running. “We need to think big, start small and scale fast,” Meyerrose said.
Moving quickly, in fact, is crucial to building up the sort of critical mass necessary to make blogs and wikis succeed. Back in 2003, a Department of Defense agency decided to train its analysts in the use of blog software, in hopes that they would begin posting about their work, read one another’s blogs and engage in productive conversations. But the agency’s officials trained only small groups of perhaps five analysts a month. After they finished their training, those analysts would go online, excited, and start their blogs. But they’d quickly realize no one else was reading their posts aside from the four other people they’d gone through the training with. They’d get bored and quit blogging, just as the next trainees came online.
There was never a tipping point — “never a moment when two people who never knew each other could begin discussing something,” as Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University who was hired to consult on the project, explained to me. For the intelligence agencies to benefit from “social software,” he said, they need to persuade thousands of employees to begin blogging and creating wikis all at once. And that requires a cultural sea change: persuading analysts, who for years have survived by holding their cards tightly to their chests, to begin openly showing their hands online.
Is it possible to reconcile the needs of secrecy with such a radically open model for sharing? Certainly, there would be merit in a system that lets analysts quickly locate like-minded colleagues around the world to brainstorm new ideas about how the Iraqi insurgency will evolve. But the intelligence agencies also engage in covert operations that ferret out truly incendiary secrets: the locations of Iranian nuclear facilities, say, or the name of a Qaeda leader in Pakistan. Is this the sort of information that is safe to share widely in an online network?
Many in the intelligence agencies suspect not. Indeed, they often refuse to input sensitive intel into their own private, secure databases; they do not trust even their own colleagues, inside their own agencies, to keep their secrets safe. When the F.B.I. unveiled an automated case-support system in 1995, agents were supposed to begin entering all information from their continuing cases into it, so that other F.B.I. agents could benefit from the collected pool of tips. But many agents didn’t. They worried that a hard-won source might be accidentally exposed by an F.B.I. agent halfway across the country. Worse, what would happen if a hacker or criminal found access to the system?
These are legitimate concerns. After the F.B.I. agent Robert Hanssen was arrested for selling the identities of undercover agents to Russia, it turned out he had found their names by trawling through records on the case-support system. As a result, many F.B.I. agents opted to keep their records on paper instead of trusting the database — even, occasionally, storing files in shoeboxes shoved under their desks. “When you have a source, you go to extraordinary lengths to protect their identities,” I. C. Smith, a 25-year veteran of the bureau, told me. “So agents never trusted the system, and rightly so.”
Worse, data errors that allow information to leak can often go undetected. Five years ago, Zalmai Azmi — currently the chief information officer of the F.B.I. — was working at the Department of Justice on a data-sharing project with an intelligence agency. He requested data that the agency was supposed to have scrubbed clean of all classified info. Yet when it arrived, it contained secret information. What had gone wrong? The agency had passed it through filters that removed any document marked “secret” — but many documents were stamped “SECRET,” in uppercase, and the filter didn’t catch the difference. The next time Azmi requested documents, he found yet more secret documents inadvertently leaked. This time it was because the documents had “S E C R E T” typed with a space between each letter, and the filter wasn’t programmed to catch that either.
A spy blogosphere, even carefully secured against intruders, might be fundamentally incompatible with the goal of keeping secrets. And the converse is also true: blogs and wikis are unlikely to thrive in an environment where people are guarded about sharing information. Social software doesn’t work if people aren’t social.
Virtually all proponents of improved spy sharing are aware of this friction, and they have few answers. Meyerrose has already strained at boundaries that make other spies deeply uneasy. During the summer, he set up a completely open chat board on the Internet and invited anyone interested to participate in a two-week-long discussion of how to improve the spy agencies’ policies for acquiring new technology.
The chat room was unencrypted and unsecured, so anyone could drop in and read the postings or mouth off. That way, Meyerrose figured, he’d be more likely to get drop-ins by engineers from small, scrappy start-up software firms who might have brilliant ideas but no other way to get an audience with intelligence chiefs. The chat room provoked howls of outrage. “People were like, ‘Hold it, can’t the Chinese and North Koreans listen in?’ ” Meyerrose told me. “And, sure, they could. But we weren’t going to be discussing state secrets. And the benefits of openness outweigh the risks.”
For something like Intellipedia, though, which trafficks in genuinely serious intelligence, hard decisions had to be made about what risks were acceptable. Fingar says that deeply sensitive intel would never be allowed onto Intellipedia — particularly if it was operational information about a mission, like a planned raid on a terrorist compound. Indeed, Meyerrose’s office is building three completely separate versions of Intellipedia for each of the three levels of secrecy: Top Secret, Secret and Unclassified. Each will be placed on a data network configured so that only people with the correct level of clearance can see them — and these networks are tightly controlled, so sensitive information typed into the Top Secret Intellipedia cannot accidentally leak into the Unclassified one.
But will this make the Intellipedia less useful? There are a few million government employees who could look at the relatively unsecret Intellipedia. In contrast, only a few thousand intelligence officials qualify for a Top Secret clearance, and thus will be allowed into the elite version. This presents a secrecy paradox. The Unclassified Intellipedia will have the biggest readership and thus will grow the most rapidly; but if it’s devoid of truly sensitive secrets, will it be of any use?
Fingar says yes, for an interesting reason: top-secret information is becoming less useful than it used to be. “The intelligence business was initially, if not inherently, about secrets — running risks and expending a lot of money to acquire secrets,” he said, with the idea that “if you limit how many people see it, it will be more secure, and you will be able to get more of it. But that’s now appropriate for a small and shrinking percentage of information.” The time is past for analysts to act like “monastic scholars in a cave someplace,” he added, laboring for weeks or months in isolation to produce a report.
Fingar says that more value can be generated by analysts sharing bits of “open source” information — the nonclassified material in the broad world, like foreign newspapers, newsletters and blogs. It used to be that on-the-ground spies were the only ones who knew what was going on in a foreign country. But now the average citizen sitting in her living room can peer into the debates, news and lives of people in Iran. “If you want to know what the terrorists’ long-term plans are, the best thing is to read their propaganda — the stuff out there on the Internet,” the W.M.D. analyst told me. “I mean, it’s not secret. They’re telling us.”
Fingar and Andrus and other intelligence thinkers do not play down the importance of covert ops or high-tech satellite surveillance in intercepting specific jihadist plots. But in a world that is awash in information, it is possible, they say, that the meaning of intelligence is shifting. Beat cops in Indiana might be as likely to uncover evidence of a terror plot as undercover C.I.A. agents in Pakistan. Fiery sermons printed on pamphlets in the U.K. might be the most valuable tool in figuring out who’s raising money for a possible future London bombing. The most valuable spy system is one that can quickly assemble disparate pieces that are already lying around — information gathered by doctors, aid workers, police officers or security guards at corporations.
The premise of spy-blogging is that a million connected amateurs will always be smarter than a few experts collected in an elite star chamber; that Wikipedia will always move more quickly than the Encyclopaedia Britannica; that the country’s thousand-odd political bloggers will always spot news trends more quickly than slow-moving journalists in the mainstream media. Yet one of the most successful new terrorism-busting spy organizations since 9/11 does in fact function like a star chamber. The National Counterterrorism Center was established by Congress in 2004 and charged with spotting the most important terrorism threats as they emerge. The counterterrorism center is made up of representatives from every intelligence agency — C.I.A., F.B.I., N.S.A. and others — who work together under one roof. Each analyst has access to details particular to his or her agency, and they simply share information face to face. The analysts check their personal networks for the most dire daily threats and bring them to the group. In three meetings a day, the officials assess all the intel that has risen to their attention — and they jointly decide what the nation’s most serious threats are. “We call it carbon-based integration,” said William Spalding, the center’s chief information officer.
When I raised the idea of collaborative tools like blogs and wikis, Spalding and Russ Travers, one of the center’s deputy directors, were skeptical. The whole reason the center works, they said, is that experts have a top-down view that is essential to picking the important information out of the surrounding chatter. The grass roots, they’ve found, are good at collecting threats but not necessarily at analyzing them. If a lot of low-level analysts are pointing to the same inaccurate posting, that doesn’t make it any less wrong.“
The key is to have very smart people culling” the daily tips, Travers told me. In October, for example, nervous rumors that a football stadium in the United States would be subject to a nuclear attack flooded the National Counterterrorism Center; analysts there immediately suspected it was spurious. “The terrorist problem has the worst signal-to-noise ratio,” Travers said. Without the knowledge that comes from long experience, he added, a fledgling analyst or spy cannot know what is important or not. The counterterrorism center, he said, should decide which threats warrant attention. “That’s our job,” he said.
The Spying 2.0 vision has thus created a curious culture battle in intelligence circles. Many of the officials at the very top, like Fingar, Meyerrose and their colleagues at the office of the director of national intelligence, are intrigued by the potential of a freewheeling, smart-mobbing intelligence community. The newest, youngest analysts are in favor of it, too. The resistance comes from the “iron majors” — career officers who occupy the enormous middle bureaucracy of the spy agencies. They might find the idea of an empowered grass roots to be foolhardy; they might also worry that it threatens their turf.
And the critics might turn out to be right. As Clay Shirky of N.Y.U. points out, most wikis and blogs flop. A wiki might never reach a critical mass of contributors and remain anemic until eventually everyone drifts away; many bloggers never attract any attention and, discouraged, eventually stop posting. Wikipedia passed the critical-mass plateau a year ago, but it is a rarity. “The normal case for social software is failure,” Shirky said. And because Intellipedia is now a high-profile experiment with many skeptics, its failure could permanently doom these sorts of collaborative spy endeavors.
There is also the practical question of running a huge civil-service agency where you have to assess the performance of your staff. It might be difficult to measure contributions to a wiki; if a brilliant piece of analysis emerges from the mob, who gets credit for it? “A C.I.A. officer’s career is advanced by producing reports,” notes David Weinberger, a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, who consulted briefly with the C.I.A. on its social software. “His ability is judged by those reports. And that gets in the way of developing knowledge socially, where it becomes very difficult to know who added or revised what.”
In addition, civil libertarians are alarmed by the idea of spies casually passing sensitive information around from one agency to another. “I don’t want the N.S.A. passing on information about innocent Americans to local cops in San Diego,” Weinberger said. “Those laws exist for good reasons.”
In many ways, the new generation of Web-savvy spies frames the same troubling questions as the Patriot Act, which sought to break down the barriers preventing military spy agencies from conducting operations inside the United States, on American citizens, and then sharing that information with domestic groups. On a sheerly practical level, it makes sense to get rid of all barriers: why not let the N.S.A. wiretap American conversations? Vice President Cheney has argued forcefully that these historical barriers between agencies hobble the American military and intelligence forces; the Patriot Act was designed in part to eliminate them. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda heed no such boundaries, which is precisely why they can move so quickly and nimbly.
Then again, there’s a limit to how much the United States ought to emulate Al Qaeda’s modus operandi. “The problems the spies face are serious; I sympathize with that,” Shirky told me. “But they shouldn’t be wiping up every bit of information about every American citizen.” The Pentagon’s infamous Total Information Awareness program, which came to light in 2002, was intended to scoop up information on citizens from a variety of sources — commercial purchase databases, government records — and mine it for suggestive terrorism connections. But to many Americans, this sort of dot-connecting activity seemed like an outrageous violation of privacy, and soon after it was exposed, the program was killed. James X. Dempsey, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, maintains that the laws on spying and privacy need new clarity. The historic morass of legislation, including the Patriot Act, has become too confusing, he says; both spies and the public are unsure what walls exist. While Dempsey agrees that agencies should probably be allowed to swap more information than they currently do, he says that revamped rules must also respect privacy — “otherwise, we’ll keep on producing programs that violate people’s sense of what’s right, and they’ll keep getting shut down.”
For all the complaints about hardware, the challenges are only in part about technology. They are also about political will and institutional culture — and whether the spy agencies can be persuaded to change. Some former intelligence officials have expressed skepticism about whether Meyerrose and Fingar and their national-intelligence colleagues have the clout and power to persuade the agencies to adopt this new paradigm. Though D.N.I. officials say they have direct procurement authority over technology for all the agencies, there’s no evidence yet that Meyerrose will be able to make a serious impact on the eight spy agencies in the Department of Defense, which has its own annual $38 billion intelligence budget — the lion’s share of all the money the government spends on spying. When I spoke to Wilson P. Dizard III, a writer with Government Computer News who has covered federal technology issues for two decades, he said, “You have all these little barons at N.S.A. and C.I.A. and whatever, and a lot of people think they’re not going to do what the D.N.I. says, if push comes to shove.”
Today’s spies exist in an age of constant information exchange, in which everyday citizens swap news, dial up satellite pictures of their houses and collaborate on distant Web sites with strangers. As John Arquilla told me, if the spies do not join the rest of the world, they risk growing to resemble the rigid, unchanging bureaucracy that they once confronted during the cold war. “Fifteen years ago we were fighting the Soviet Union,” he said. “Who knew it would be replicated today in the intelligence community?”
New on the Web: Politics as Usual
K. Daniel Glover and Mike Essl
THE Netroots.” “People Power.” “Crashing the Gate.” The lingo of liberal Web bloggers bespeaks contempt for the political establishment. The same disdain is apparent among many bloggers on the right, who argued passionately for a change in the slate of House Republican leaders — and who wallowed in woe-is-the-party pity when the establishment ignored them.
You might think that with the kind of rhetoric bloggers regularly muster against politicians, they would never work for them. But you would be wrong.
Over the past few years, bloggers have won millions of fans by speaking truth to power — even the powers in their own parties — and presenting a fresh, outsider perspective. They are the pamphleteers of the 21st century, revolutionary “citizen journalists” motivated by personal idealism and an unwavering confidence that they can reform American politics.
But this year, candidates across the country found plenty of outsiders ready and willing to move inside their campaigns. Candidates hired some bloggers to blog and paid others consulting fees for Internet strategy advice or more traditional campaign tasks like opposition research.
After the Virginia Democratic primary, for instance, James Webb hired two of the bloggers who had pushed to get him into the race. The Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont in Connecticut had at least four bloggers on his campaign team. Few of these bloggers shut down their “independent” sites after signing on with campaigns, and while most disclosed their campaign ties on their blogs, some — like Patrick Hynes of Ankle Biting Pundits — did so only after being criticized by fellow bloggers.
The trend seems certain to continue in 2008. Potential presidential hopefuls like Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain already are paying big-name bloggers as consultants, and Julie Fanselow of Red State Rebels said on her blog she would entertain job offers from Howard Dean, Barack Obama, John Edwards or Al Gore.
“This intersection isn’t going away,” Jerome Armstrong of MyDD, an elite blogger hired by campaigns, wrote earlier this year, “and I hope more and more bloggers are able to work to influence how campaigns are run.”
Here is a listing of some of the most influential bloggers who went to work for campaigns this year, what they were paid according to campaign disclosure documents, and praiseworthy posts about their employers or critical ones of their employers’ opponents.
Homemade Memorial Is Stirring Passions on Iraq
The tranquil suburb of Lafayette hardly seems the most likely place in the Bay Area for a battle over the First Amendment and the war in Iraq. Liberal Berkeley is just over the hill, after all, and nearby San Francisco is always spoiling for a fight.
But over the last few weeks, it is Lafayette — an affluent bedroom community 20 miles east of downtown San Francisco — that has become the scene of a passionate debate over the place of political speech in suburbia.
At issue is a hillside memorial, made up of some 450 small white crosses and a 5-by-16-foot sign that reads: “In Memory of 2,867 U.S. Troops Killed in Iraq.” The memorial was created by Jeff Heaton, a building contractor and antiwar activist, who said it was meant “to get people involved on a local level” and talking about Iraq.
Sure enough, people here have become involved, including more than 200 people and a half-dozen television news crews and reporters who crammed into the usually sparsely attended City Council meeting last week to voice their opinions about the memorial. And while many there said they found the crosses deeply moving, others called the memorial unpatriotic, disrespectful or just plain ugly.
That camp included Jean Bonadio, a former Marine sergeant who said she was so offended that she stopped her car and climbed the hill to dismantle the sign, which sits with the crosses on private property of a fellow advocate just north of Highway 24, a major Bay Area thoroughfare, and the Lafayette light-rail station.
“My first reaction was, ‘What a disgrace to those who have sacrificed,’ ” said Ms. Bonadio, 53, a dog trainer. “I had no tools with me, so I removed it with my bare hands and feet.”
The sign was repaired, but Ms. Bonadio is not the only one trying to take down the sign. Shortly after the memorial was erected, the city government called on Mr. Heaton to remove the accompanying sign, citing a municipal code forbidding anything larger than four square feet to be posted on private property.
That, however, prompted some supporters of the memorial to suggest that the city was engaging in censorship, accusations Mayor Ivor Samson denied. “The content of the sign is not an issue,” Mr. Samson said. “If the sign was that size and said ‘I love my mom,’ it would still be in violation.”
Mr. Samson also said that the memorial had drawn attention here precisely because Lafayette, where the median cost of a home is over $1 million, was traditionally apolitical. “I think had this been in Berkeley or Santa Cruz, a community with a greater history of political activism, this wouldn’t be news,” he said.
No action was taken at Monday’s meeting, after the city’s attorney said he needed more time to study the issue. But Louise Clark, who owns the property the memorial sits on, said that if the sign had to go, the meaning would be lost.
“If it’s just crosses, it’s a cemetery,” said Ms. Clark, 81. “It’s not a cemetery, nobody is buried there. It’s a memorial.”
But some Lafayette residents question whether the memorial actually meant to remember the dead troops. “There’s no American flag flying, it’s just very stark and shock value,” said Lyn Zusman, 53, whose son is a marine just back from Iraq. “If you want to make it a memorial, you personalize it. But if it’s a protest, call it that. That’s why we live in America, so we can spout our views off.”
This is not the first time Mr. Heaton, a longtime Lafayette resident, has tried to erect a memorial in his hometown. Three years ago, he tried to mount a smaller display of crosses on the same hillside. The night after he planted them, however, someone stole them. The next day, he planted the crosses again, and the next night, they disappeared again.
But this time, Mr. Heaton says he feels that the mood about the war has shifted, both nationwide and in Lafayette.
“There’s been a real change in the tide of feeling about the war,” said Mr. Heaton, 53, who said the inspiration for the crosses came from a visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. “It is much more acceptable now to question the reasons for the war.”
He added that Lafayette would be a good place to make a statement because “it is pretty sleepy and conservative and not that much happens there.”
City officials in Lafayette also say their city has been slowly changing, with an influx of former Berkeley and San Francisco residents looking for a place with good public schools for their children. Lafayette, Mr. Samson said, now has “people who are very interested in the larger world.”
The Lafayette crosses are not the only grass-roots remembrance around, or the only one to stir controversy. Veterans for Peace, a nonprofit antiwar group based in St. Louis, has regularly planted similar arrays of crosses on beaches in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara. Since 2004, the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group based in Philadelphia, has sponsored a traveling exhibit called Eyes Wide Open, which features a pair of empty boots for every American solider killed in Iraq.
Michael T. McPhearson, executive director of Veterans for Peace, which also has fields of crosses planted in four other cities, admitted that the displays sometimes provoked angry reactions. “They say we’re not supporting the troops, and they say we shouldn’t be doing these vigils,” said Mr. McPhearson, 42, who served in the first gulf war. “But we feel that especially because we’re veterans and we’ve served, we have the right.”
Mr. Samson said he did not know when the city attorney would rule on whether the sign in Lafayette had to go. In the meantime, however, Mr. Heaton and Ms. Clark say they will continue to add crosses — and update the numbers on the sign.
“It’s overwhelming just looking at that small number, and that’s nowhere near the number of the ones we lost,” said Ms. Clark, speaking of the dead in Iraq. “When we get all those crosses up there, everybody will gasp.”
Ken Starr targets free speech
High Court Takes 'Bong Hits for Jesus' Case
The Supreme Court entered into a free-speech dispute Friday involving a high school student suspended over a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner.
The justices accepted an appeal from a school board in Juneau, Alaska, after a federal appeals court allowed a lawsuit by the family of Joseph Frederick to proceed.
Frederick was suspended in 2002 after he unfurled the 14-foot-long banner -- a reference to marijuana use -- just outside school grounds as the Olympic torch relay moved through the Alaskan capital headed for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
"Bong," as noted in the appeal filed with the justices, "is a slang term for drug paraphernalia."
Even though Frederick was standing on a public sidewalk, school officials argue that he and other students were participating in a school-sponsored event. They had been let out of classes and were accompanied by their teachers.
Principal Deborah Morse ordered the 18-year-old senior to take down the sign, but he refused. That led to a 10-day suspension for violating a school policy by promoting illegal drug use.
He filed suit, saying his First Amendment rights were infringed upon. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California, agreed, concluding the school could not show Frederick had disrupted the school's educational mission by showing a banner off campus.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court relied on the Supreme Court's famous 1969 "Tinker" case, in which two Iowa high students were allowed to continue wearing anti-Vietnam War armbands.
But the justices in other appeals involving free speech have ruled against students' ability to give sexually suggestive speech, and in favor of a school's right to restrict what is published in student newspapers.
Attorney Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor who investigated President Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, is representing the school board.
Starr, who is now dean of the law school at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, urged the high court in his appeal brief to clear up the "doctrinal fog infecting student speech jurisprudence."
According to an Associated Press report, Starr is handling the case free of charge.
The case will test school's ability to regulate speech on illegal drugs, particularly when it is done off school grounds.
The appeal will likely be argued in late February, with a ruling expected by late June.
The case is Morse and the Juneau School Board et al. v. Frederick (06-278).
Social News's Trustworthiness Problem
It's hard to quantify, but we've all seen stories on Digg whose popularity are simply baffling.
Niall Kennedy did some good spadework on a specific story that did very well indeed on Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, and del.icio.us which was clearly boosted by votes from interested parties. Digg and others are working hard to deal with this kind of abuse. But until it is eliminated, the credibility of social news sites will be in question.
Our research shows that consumers see social news sites as less trustworthy than news media or portal sites -- by a fairly wide margin. Stories like this tell us it's going to take a while for social news aggregators to win the trust they need to be more than a fringe source for most consumers.
I took a look at consumer interest in social news in reports on social news aggregators and trustworthiness, both of which were released last week.
The Big Digg Rig
Digg became one of the top sites for tech news because it lets Web-savvy geeks decide what's newsworthy, offer up stories they like and vote on their favorites.
Now, dubious Internet marketers are planting stories, paying people to promote items, and otherwise trying to manipulate rankings on Digg and other so-called social media sites like Reddit and Delicious to drum up more links to their Web sites and thus more business, experts say.
"People are trying to basically take advantage of Digg by artificially promoting a story with fake diggers or some other methodology of link swapping," Digg Chief Executive Jay Adelson said.
Unlike traditional news sites where editors decide what the news is, Digg emerged two years ago as an alternative where readers post links to stories from other Web sites that they think are newsworthy. The users hit a thumbs up button, giving it a "digg" if they like the story or a thumbs down button if they don't like it. The most popular stories appear on the front page and users are encouraged to comment on stories.
The egalitarian nature of these aggregation sites has led a number of online publications, including CNET News.com, to add "Digg" and "Delicious" buttons that allow their own readers to recommend their stories to other users of the aggregation sites.
So it shouldn't be a surprise that marketers and spammers are a half-step behind. Since popular stories on Digg get linked to by blogs and other sites, marketers are doing everything they can to get content from their sites featured on Digg. The more links back to a Web site, the more it rises in search engine rankings and thus the more money that site can make.
Some marketers offer "content generation services," where they sell stories to Web sites for the sole purpose of getting them submitted to Digg and other sites. This combination of spam and blogs is called "splogs." The stories often feature topics and keywords in headlines that are likely to appeal to the Digg crowd, such as "geeks" and "Apple."
Lazier but still tricky marketers merely scrape content off legitimate sites to put up on their own sites in a technique called "link jacking." In essence, they are hijacking the links that should go back to the original site, experts say.
In a posting last week titled "The Spam Farms of the Social Web," blogger Niall Kennedy detailed how a suspicious item recently made it among the top five stories on Digg before the community "buried" it. The Digg user submission links to a story entitled "Geek's Guide to Getting in Shape: 13 Surefire Tips" written by "Dental Geek" for the i-Dental Resources blog. The blog site has links to other pages with ads that offer content creation marketing services and which collect money for dental plans sold, Kennedy said.
Digg isn't alone in these problems. News aggregator Reddit and Delicious, where users swap Internet bookmarks, are also susceptible, Kennedy said.
Thankfully, "the weight loss story never made it off the new page on Reddit," said Chris Slowe, senior programmer at Reddit, which was recently acquired by Conde Nast, owner of Wired Digital.
Slowe said he is aware of attempts to manipulate aggregation sites but said Reddit users are good at "self policing." For instance, users will band together and vote down stories promoted by suspicious users, he said.
A representative for Delicious, which is owned by Yahoo, had no comment on whether or not there have been attempts to rig that site.
Money driving ingenuity
Companies charge as much as $15,000 to get content up on Digg, said Neil Patel, chief technology officer at the Internet marketing firm ACS. If a story becomes popular on Digg and generates links back to a marketer's Web site, that site may rise in search engine results and will not have to spend money on search advertising, he said.
Another way to get Web links to a suspicious site is to get inside help from users at a social media site. For instance, spammers have tried to infiltrate Digg to build up reputations and promote stories for marketers, experts say.
Other scammers are trying other ways to buy votes. A site dubbed "User/Submitter," purports to pay people 50 cents for digging three stories and charges $20 for each story submitted to the site, plus $1 for every vote it gets. The Spike the Vote Web site boasts that it is a "bulletproof way to cheat Digg" and offers a point system for Digg users to submit and dig stories. And Friendly Vote bills itself as an "online resource for Web masters" to improve their marketing on sites like Digg and Delicious.
"Digg has become a big enough phenomenon that it does move ideas and in some cases generates enough traction that people can then buy into a product or a stock," said Kennedy, an independent researcher working on search technologies. "A fake story will affect the (PlayStation maker) Sony brand."
Kennedy was referring to an item headlined "Just out from Reuters 650,000 PS3s to be recalled!!" posted on Digg on November 20 that made it to the front page within hours, according to a blog posting titled "Limitations of Socially Driven News," written by Digg user Muhammad Saleem.
Digg executives say they are on top of the situation.
"There is technical information that only we could know that flags us when someone is attempting to manipulate" stories and rankings, said Digg's Adelson. "It happens every single day." Adelson declined to go into details on how the system works.
In addition, Digg's 680,000 registered users serve as cops and fact-checkers, he said. "By merging the algorithms and the people I believe we have a foolproof system."
For now, it's a cat-and-mouse game for Digg to stay on top of the rigging attempts.
"Digg and others are working hard to deal with this kind of abuse," Jupiter Research analyst Barry Parr wrote on his blog this week. "But until it is eliminated, the credibility of social news sites will be in question."
IP Assignment, Per Capita
The IP rich list - as decided by ARIN, RIPE, et al.
Under IPv4 there are 4,294,967,296 possible IP addresses - each of which may be assigned to a device or computer on the internet. 4 billion addresses equates to slightly less that two thirds of an IP address per person on the planet. As you may imagine, the IP addresses are not distributed evenly around the world - they are assigned to individual countries by Regional Internet Registries such as ARIN and RIPE. We take a look at how that information breaks down per person in each country.
First of all, I obtained an IP address to country lookup list, which revealed the blocks assigned to each country - from this I was able to calculate the total number of IP addresses allocated to each country. I then divided that total figure by the country's population, giving an indication of the number of IPs available to that country per capita (person).
The map below shows this data. Those countries with more than 1 IP per person are in green, those with 1 IP for every 10 people are in yellow, 1 IP for 100 people in orange, and so on. The top 10 and bottom 10 countries, with the population and IP statistics, are listed in tabular form below.
Top 10 Countries
Country Population No. of IPs IPs/capita
1. Vatican City 783 8,191 10.5 IPs per person
2. United States 299,161,390 1,352,246,048 4.5 IPs per person
3. Canada 32,547,200 70,313,601 2.2 IPs per person
4. Iceland 297,139 589,790 2.0 IPs per person
5. Monaco 35,656 63,480 1.8 IPs per person
6. Gibraltar 27,921 47,097 1.7 IPs per person
7. Liechtenstein 33,987 51,217 1.51 IPs per person
8. Sweden 9,072,269 13,573,300 1.501 IPs per person
9. Finland 5,255,580 7,705,691 1.496 IPs per person
10. Australia 20,555,300 29,998,170 1.459 IPs per person
As you can see, the top 10 countries are as you may expect - western, wealthy countries with high internet penetration.
Vatican City makes it to No. 1 by virtue of being tiny, and the rest consist of the US, Nothern Europe, Japan and Australia. Smaller principalities fare well - such as the wealthy city-state of Monaco and the small German principality of Liechenstein.
Bottom 10 Countries
And so, onto the bottom 10 countries. Note that these are expressed in a slightly different way - rather that IPs per person, these are expressed by people per IP - the reciprocal.
Country Population No. of IPs IPs/capita
195. Afghanistan 29,863,000 20,476 1,458 people per IP
196. Madacascar 18,606,000 12,286 1,514 people per IP
197. Guinea-Bissau 1,586,000 1,203 1,550 people per IP
198. Central African Republic 4,038,000 2,047 1,972 people per IP
199. Burundi 7,548,000 2,302 3,278 people per IP
200. Myanmar 50,519,000 12,286 4,112 people per IP
201. Malawi 12,884,000 3,070 4,197 people per IP
202. Ethiopia 75,067,000 16,383 4,582 people per IP
203. Niger 13,957,000 255 58,139 people per IP
204. Democratic Republic of Congo 59,319,660 1023 58,140 people per IP
As seen in the shaded map above, it's the African countries and disputed territories that have the highest ration of people to assigned IPs. The least IP-dense country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been stricken by war during the main period of growth of the internet, and has likely suffered. There is a clear reflection of GNP in these figures too - those countries with lower GDPs have similarly lower concentrations of IPs.
This IP shortage is the reason why the move to IPv6 is underway, which supports a markedly superior 3.4x1038 possible addresses - more than enough for everyone on the planet, and no doubt we'll need the extra address space with the lesser economically developed countries catching up in terms of internet usage.
Lieberman Warns of Violent Video Games
Sen. Joe Lieberman wants to advise parents about violent video games such as "Manhunt."
With the holiday shopping season under way, an entertainment software industry group is trying to encourage parents to use video game ratings to protect their children from graphic images of sex and violence.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board, a nonprofit industry group that rates games for content, announced on Thursday it would distribute four public service announcement TV ads to over 800 television and cable stations nationwide in the coming days as part of a new public awareness campaign.
The campaign was timed to coincide with the holiday shopping season when more than half of all video games are sold each year, officials said.
"Just like movies and TV shows, video games are created for a diverse audience of all ages, and some are simply not intended for children," said ESRB president Patricia Vance.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who have been active in the fight to protect children from sexually explicit and graphically violent videos, records and movies, appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference to lend their support to the campaign.
The senators praised the education campaign as an example of how industry officials could work with advocates trying to safeguard children.
"It's the holiday season and these PSAs are a great gift for parents," Clinton said. "They will raise awareness in time for the holiday season ... Parents are really hungry for this information."
Lieberman said parents must play a central role in learning about the ratings and what games their children should be playing.
"In the end, this comes down to parents," Lieberman said. "Ultimately, this is about parents exercising some responsibility."
Vance said about 12 percent of the games the ESRB rates each year are M-rated, intended for those aged 17 and over. She said parents should take such ratings seriously in deciding if the content of the game is appropriate for their child.
Best Buy president Brian Dunn and GameStop president Steve Morgan appear in the ads, stressing their support for the ESRB ratings as well as their store policies not to sell M-rated games to children under 17 without the permission of their parents.
The ESRB rating system was created in 1994 by the entertainment software industry.
"We're very grateful to have the support of Senator Clinton and Senator Lieberman in launching this campaign," said Vance.
German Minister Wants Jail Time for Violent Game Creators, Distributors …and Players
According to a report in Spiegel, a bloody school shooting in Germany last month has led to renewed calls for action against violent games.
As reported by GamePolitics, an 18-year-old Counter-strike player assaulted his former middle school in November, wounding a reported 37 people before taking his own life.
The rampage led Minister of the Interior Gunther Beckstein to propose amendments to German law which would authorize prison sentences for those who create or distribute game content which features “cruel or otherwise inhumane acts of violence against humans or humanlike creatures.”
The real shocker is that Beckstein would lock up violent game players as well.
Penalties proposed by Beckstein include up to one year in jail and/or fines.
GP: The translation of original web page was accomplished via Google, so it’s rather imprecise. I have made small edits to the Beckstein quotes which seem contextually correct.
UPDATE: MSNBC has more, including a quote from Frank Sliwka, head of the Deutsche E-Sport Bund, which coordinates online gaming competitions:
Now we are being labelled as a breeding ground for unstable, dysfunctional and violent youngsters.
MSNBC also reports that Interior Minister Beckstein has reached his own conclusions about violent games:
It is absolutely beyond any doubt that such killer games desensitise unstable characters and can have a stimulating effect.
The article further speculates on what such a ban might mean for the March, 2007 PlayStation 3 launch in Europe. Top titles for the beleagured system include shooter Resistance: Fall of Man and Call of Duty 3.
N.C. Student Accused in PlayStation Robbery Fatally Shot by Police Trying to Serve Warrant
A young man accused of robbing a fellow college student of two new Playstation 3 video game consoles was shot and killed - possibly while holding a game controller, his roommate said - by officers sent to arrest him.
Peyton Strickland, 18, was killed Friday at a house he shared with three roommates, Sheriff Sid Causey said.
"If this boy would've come to the door, opened the door, we probably wouldn't be talking," the sheriff said Sunday.
Roommate Mike Rhoton said Strickland was unarmed when he got up from playing a Tiger Woods golf game but may have been holding a controller when he went to the door as officers bashed it in. Strickland's dog, a German shepherd, also was shot to death.
The sheriff said Strickland was shot by members of a specially trained team who went to help university officers serve arrest warrants. Causey said officers considered the arrest a high-risk situation.
"Anytime that someone beats a person severely and commits an armed robbery, I certainly would consider him a risk and a danger," Causey said.
Authorities promised Monday to fully investigate the shooting. "No one is above the law and no one is beneath its protection," District Attorney Ben David said. He declined to discuss details of the case.
The State Bureau of Investigation is examining the case and three deputies on the team were placed on paid leave, normal practice whenever officers fire their weapons, Causey said.
Arrest warrants alleged that Strickland, a student at Cape Fear Community College, and a University of North Carolina-Wilmington student stole two PlayStation units from another UNC-Wilmington student Nov. 17, the day the consoles were introduced.
The sheriff said the robbery victim waited three days in line to buy the units for $641 each at a Wal-Mart. He was unloading them at his campus apartment when one man beat him to the ground while another took the consoles, Causey said.
The second man named in the warrants was arrested at another address and released on bail Saturday, authorities said.
The nationwide introduction of the Sony game system was marked by rowdy crowds and store stampedes. One buyer waiting in line at a Connecticut store was shot by robbers.
Officials Say Teen Coerced Into Exposing Herself With Web Cam
An Upstate man faces federal charges after police said he threatened a young teenage girl and coerced her into using a Web camera to take explicit images that he later posted on the online social network Myspace.com.
Shaun Brown, 25, was arrested and arraigned Monday in federal court on charges that he coerced a minor to engage in a sexual act and that he coerced a minor over the Internet.
Brown met the 13-year-old girl, who lives in Ohio, in an online chat room for cheerleaders, according to court documents.
Police said he pursued her with sexually explicit instant messages and threatened to harm her and her family if she didn't expose herself via the Web cam.
The girl complied and didn't tell her parents until after she found the images on Myspace.com. Brown opened an account on the social networking site in the teenager's name and posted an image of the girl exposing herself and included her name and address, according to court documents.
Brown is being held pending a detention hearing Thursday in Binghamton, prosecutors said.
Officials at Myspace.com did not immediately return calls seeking comment late Monday.
The incident was first reported to police in Ohio, who discovered Brown's identity and contacted the Tompkins County Sheriff's Office in Ithaca, near Brown's Newfield residence. Federal investigators took on the case soon after.
Brown is being held pending a detention hearing Thursday in Binghamton, prosecutors said.
Teens Get Warning on Internet Safety
The Hall family of Newtown Brad, Donna, Brian, 12, and David, 17 listen to a presentation on Internet safety in Newtown on Sunday.
Sexual predators who troll for victims in chat rooms and through social networking Web sites may get most of the headlines, but there are plenty of other potential problems awaiting young people on the Internet, cyber-sleuth Pat Storino said.
Identity theft, illegally downloading music or copyrighted software, and going online to threaten or get even with someone who with whom you're having a problem are just a few of them, Storino told a group of about 50 adults and teens who attended a program on Internet safety at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday evening.
"There are as many ways to break the law online as there are in the real world," said Storino, a police officer in New York state, who's spent the last eight years of his 21-year law enforcement career investigating crimes on the World Wide Web. "There are a lot of very bad people out there. Not only are they a parent's worst nightmare, but they're your worst nightmare, too."
With a few clicks of his mouse, Storino showed the audience how quickly a "preda-phile," as he called them, can identify the person they are talking with online. The demonstration was an eye-opener to both the teens and their parents.
"I think how quickly you can be found out was the biggest surprise," said Karyne Anderson of New Fairfield, who said the presentation will cause her to pay even closer attention to the way her three children, ages 17, 14 and 10, spend their time on the family computer.
While several of the young people in the audience said they were already familiar with many of the pitfalls that await them online, 17-year-old Blake Hanneson of New Fairfield agreed the demonstration was a shock.
"It was just how easy it is for people to steal information and get information about you," he said.
Storino advised the teens to avoid chat rooms and to immediately notify a parent or an adult when they encounter someone who made them feel uncomfortable. He also warned them not to chat with someone they "don't know in the real world," and to never agree to meet someone they've only talked to online.
"Instant messaging is a valuable means of communication, but only with someone you know in the physical world. If I can pretend to be a 14-year-old boy or girl online, anyone can," he said.
Storino also showed the audience several of the methods that cyber-criminals employ to obtain financial and personal information that can be used to commit financial crimes, such as identity theft. Just because a pre-teen or teenage computer user may not have a credit card or bank account, by communicating with unknown parties or by visiting "inappropriate Web sites," they could open up the family computer to attacks by programs that could ferret out that kind of information.
"The people that write the programs that hack computers, for the most part, are smarter than you and your parents," he warned.
Storino also warned against posting messages online that could be interpreted as a threat, something that 15-year-old James Pesantez and his friend, 14-year-old James Fogell, both of Danbury, said had happened to them.
"Usually, they do it online because they are too chicken to say it to your face," Fogell said.
Weed Arrested For Marijuana
Two teens from Cheshire, Conn. were arrested on drug charges Sunday.
According to a statement sent by Bethel police this morning, officers stopped a car that was driving erratically on Route 6 at about 9:20 p.m. Officers then brought in a canine unit and searched the car.
Police said they found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the car.
Gregory Weed, 18, was charged with driving under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to use a turn signal.
Timothy Weed, 19, was charged with possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Both were released on $100 cash bonds pending a Dec. 12 court date.
Troubling ’07 Forecast for the Old-Line Media but Not for the Online
THE first Monday in October is known in legal circles as the start of the Supreme Court term. Similarly, on Madison Avenue, the first Monday in December has become familiar as the kickoff of the advertising forecast season.
And yesterday a flood of forecasts indeed flowed from analysts and agencies, all generally pointing to a challenging year ahead for the traditional media along with substantial growth for all things online.
(For those wondering why early December brings the predictions, it is because two brokerage firms, Credit Suisse and UBS, have long held their annual media conferences in the first week of the month. Other firms schedule the release of their forecasts at the same time, to ride the coattails of the competing conferences.)
Most forecasters are predicting growth in ad spending in the United States next year of 2 to 5 percent over 2006. That would represent a decline from the rate of growth in ad spending this year compared with 2005, which is expected to finish in the range of 3 to 6 percent. But it is not bad considering that 2007 will be missing two major events that help administer a hypodermic to ad budgets in even-numbered years: Olympics and national elections.
“You normally see a real drop-off in a non-Olympics, non-election year,” said Robert J. Coen, senior vice president and forecasting director at Universal McCann in New York, who opened the UBS conference.
Rather, Mr. Coen said, he believed that more marketers next year would increase ad budgets as they decide to “start turning their attention back to long-term communications” from a focus on cost-cutting.
Still, reactions to the predictions for 2007 depend upon the perch from which they are considered. Those in the traditional media like television and newspapers will no doubt frown after hearing that most forecasters expect at best flat growth in ad spending for them.
Those who sell ads on Web sites, on the other hand, are likely to be beaming at the high double-digit percentage gains being predicted for them.
“The trend that will continue to affect the media universe in 2007 is the ongoing shift in advertising dollars from traditional media into nontraditional media, most notably the Internet,” Fitch Ratings concluded in an outlook report.
Television, radio and newspapers will “experience slow growth and ongoing audience declines,” according to the report, “and ad spending continues to follow consumer patterns.”
For instance, the Newspaper Association of America is predicting that spending for ads on the Web sites of newspapers will increase a robust 22 percent next year from 2006. But ad spending in the print editions of those newspapers in 2007 will increase only 1.2 percent from this year, the association is forecasting, pulled down by a decline in classified advertising and no growth in demand from national advertisers.
An analyst for Credit Suisse, Debra Schwartz, questioned in a report whether even the prediction for an anemic gain of 1.2 percent was “too optimistic.”
A forecast from the Morton-Groves Newspaper Newsletter, issued last week, may be pessimistic enough for her. The publication predicted that ad spending in newspapers next year will fall 2 percent from 2006, a bigger decline than the 1.8 percent it is forecasting for this year compared with 2005.
(For ad spending on newspaper Web sites, the newsletter predicted an increase in 2007 of 23.3 percent from this year, coming after a gain of 34 percent it is forecasting for 2006.)
James Conaghan, vice president for business analysis and research at the newspaper association, offered a reason for the upbeat outlook for newspaper Web sites.
In a test recently started by Google to sell advertisements that appear in the print versions of 50 major newspapers, “the ad volume placed in the newspapers in the first three weeks has exceeded Google’s expectation for the entire three months of the test,” Mr. Conaghan said at the UBS conference.
“The advertisers and the publishers are also satisfied with the results,” he added.
Gordon Borrell, chief executive at Borrell Associates, who spoke with Mr. Conaghan, suggested that “10 years out, many newspaper Web sites could be as large as the newspapers that spawned them” in terms of ad revenue.
In another striking example of the divergence in forecasts for the traditional and new media, Mr. Coen, whose agency is part of the McCann Worldgroup unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies, predicted that ad spending on the four largest national broadcast television networks would increase just 3 percent next year from 2006.
In contrast, ad spending by national advertisers on the Internet will grow five times as fast, at 15 percent, Mr. Coen said.
Mr. Coen does not include search engine marketing in his estimates for Internet ad spending, classifying it as more promotional in nature. Another forecaster who does include it within his online totals — Steve King, worldwide chief executive at ZenithOptimedia, part of the Publicis Groupe — offered a prediction that Internet ad spending next year would grow 29 percent from 2006.
By comparison, Mr. King offered forecasts for many traditional media for percentage gains in low single digits like 1.5 percent for local radio and 2 percent for newspapers.
In fact, Mr. King said, he expected online ad revenue to grow at “seven times the rate for traditional ad growth.”
Internet ad spending as a percentage of the total for all American media will reach 7.1 percent this year, Mr. King said. He predicts that it will hit 10.4 percent in 2009.
Mr. Coen, who offers forecasts twice a year, predicted that American ad spending in 2007 would total $298.8 billion, up 4.8 percent from $285.1 billion in 2006. That is a full percentage point lower than the 5.8 percent increase he predicted last June when he gave his initial forecast for 2007.
Mr. Coen’s total for 2006 represents an increase of 5.2 percent from 2005. By contrast, last June he forecast a gain of 5.6 percent. Twice before, in June and December 2005, he predicted an increase of 5.8 percent.
Mr. Coen attributed the decline largely to “the beleaguered local sector” of ad spending, “which hasn’t done very well in traditional media,” he said, because local advertisers “continue to cut to the bone.”
Also, “consolidations are killing things” locally, Mr. Coen said, referring to combinations of local department stores, pharmacies and hardware chains, which are reducing the ranks of potential advertisers.
That was demonstrated — painfully, if you own a local newspaper — in Mr. Conaghan’s presentation. In the third quarter, when Federated Department Stores replaced a host of local retail names with the Macy’s brand, he said, the company’s ad spending in newspapers fell about 14 percent from the same period a year ago.
The declines were even more pronounced in certain Macy’s regional markets, Mr. Conaghan said, citing decreases of 34 percent in the South, 39 percent in the Midwest and 42 percent in the West.
Linux Isn't Just For Grownups Anymore
It looks like the education space could be the first, real place where Linux could grab beachhead in the desktop PC market.
Take a look at Indiana, for example.
In about a year, through a public school grant program, State of Indiana education officials have moved at least 22,000 students from Windows-based desktops to Linux-based desktops. That led Microsoft to hold up a study by IDC's Government Insights unit, after it pointed IDC analysts to five public school districts in the Hoosier state that are still standardized on Windows. Those districts are staying away from broad adoption of Linux for kids' workstations for a variety of reasons including stability, availability of applications and, not insignificantly, because the grownups running IT in the school districts know Windows better than Linux.
"If the school district has money to spend on their own, most of them are buying Windows systems," John Samborski, vice president of ACE Computers of Arlington, Ill. told me last week. ACE has a contract to supply desktops to Indiana schools.
But kids obviously don't have as long of a history with Windows as the adults. What about them?
I wanted to find out for myself so I put Linux to the test with the two most demanding public school students I know -- my own kids.
I loaded Xandros Professional 4 onto an old Compaq Presario 2500 (I tried SLED 10, Ubuntu and an earlier version of Xandros, but Xandros Professional 4 did the best job of recognizing my wireless card and connecting to the Internet.) I put the notebook in front of my 11-year old daughter, bookmarked her webmail URL, set her up with a Google Docs account for her homework, and showed her how to use Pandora to play her favorite music. And then I walked away; a half-hour later I walked back and she was knee-deep into a Flash-based game on Disney.com via her Firefox browser. She looked happy. She later wrote a draft of an email on Google Docs and then sent it to me. Among other things, she wrote, "Thanks."
Later in the day, I sat my 10-year old son down in front of the laptop. I set him up the same way as his sister: webmail, Google Docs, Pandora. I left him alone for a half hour and, lo and behold, he found some video games, too. (It was a Saturday so I didn't crack down on the time wasting.)
"So Dad," he asked. "What is the difference between Linux and Windows?" I tried to explain but it was a waste of breath. "What difference do you see?" I asked back.
Xandros Professional 4 lists for $99, versus anticipated Windows Vista pricing of $199. But Google Docs and OpenOffice are free, Firefox just works, and with Skype for Linux and sites like Meebo.com -- which offers free, web-based instant messaging on all the big services -- communication applications are free and completely available on Linux. (I'm sure there will be a point where I just get my daughter a Skype account instead of letting her tie up the home phone line talking to her friends after school.)
Teachers and school administrators will continue to opt for Windows for, among other reasons, because they know Windows and they know it works. But teachers and school administrators also have kids, and when they open up their own wallets to buy technology for them they'll begin to ask themselves what's the difference between Linux and Windows. And then their answers might sound similar to a 10-year old boy's.
Data Format Approved as Int'l Standard
A data format used in Microsoft Corp.'s prevalent Office software line has been approved as an international standard - a move aimed at preserving access to documents created with the package for years to come.
Companies and governments had expressed concern that documents created with Microsoft's proprietary technology might be impossible to read at some point in the future if Microsoft shifted to a format incompatible with current versions.
For example, Massachusetts state government decided that in 2007 it would begin storing new records in a standard free of proprietary controls - namely, the OpenDocument format used in open-source software.
The groundswell threatened to hurt demand for Microsoft's highly profitable Office products, which include such programs as Word and Excel.
So last year, Microsoft proposed making its "Open XML" format - which is the default format in its newly released Office 2007 line of software - an international standard that could be licensed for free.
That would allow anyone to build products that access information stored in Office documents, similar to how Adobe Systems Inc. lets outside developers create programs that work with Adobe's PDF.
Microsoft submitted the proposal with Ecma International, a Geneva-based industry group that establishes technical standards, and got backing from other players, including rival Apple Computer Inc. Ecma International announced Thursday its approval of Office Open XML as a standard, touting the step as vital for document creation and archiving.
"Hopefully this will allow some of the supposed conflict to die down," said Alan Yates, general manager for information-worker strategy at Microsoft. "Now that OpenXML is an open international standard, we think that people will essentially have much greater trust that it's around for the long term."
In a statement, Massachusetts' acting chief information officer, Bethann Pepoli, said the state will review the standards.
"We've engaged in a multi-year campaign to ensure the openness and standardization of the documents that government uses," Pepoli said. "Microsoft's decision to bring their new software format to an international standards body and today's vote validate our efforts to adopt open standards."
Inside Story: How Microsoft & Massachusetts Played Hardball Over Open Standards
Less than a week after he became CIO of Massachusetts last February, Louis Gutierrez sensed a serious threat to his power — one that was being promoted by a seemingly unlikely source. Within a matter of days, Gutierrez confirmed that Brian Burke, Microsoft Corp.’s government affairs director for the Northeast, had been backing an amendment to an economic stimulus bill that would largely strip the Massachusetts Information Technology Division of its decision-making authority.
For Microsoft, the call to arms had sounded several months earlier, when the state’s IT division surprised the company with a controversial decision to adopt the Open Document Format for Office Applications, or ODF, as its standard file format. Even worse, from Microsoft’s perspective, the policy stipulated that new desktop applications acquired by state agencies feature built-in support for ODF, a standard developed and promoted by some of its rivals — most prominently, IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc.
The amendment Burke was promoting had the potential to stop the ODF policy dead in its tracks by giving a government task force and the secretary of state’s office approval rights on IT standards and procurement policies. Gutierrez, who resigned last month over a funding dispute that appeared to be unrelated to the ODF controversy, clearly was rankled by Burke’s involvement with the amendment. Yet he made no attempt to shut the door on Microsoft. On the contrary, he did the opposite.
“While Brian will never be welcome in my office, Microsoft, of course, will remain so,” Gutierrez wrote to Alan Yates, a general manager in the company’s information worker product management group, in an e-mail message that detailed what he had learned about Burke’s lobbying.
The message, sent on March 3, is one of more than 300 e-mails and attached documents obtained by Computerworld under the Massachusetts Public Records Law. The e-mails provide a behind-the-scenes look at some of the hardball tactics used, compromises considered and prickly negotiations that ensued as Gutierrez and Yates each tried to deal with the ramifications of the first-of-its-kind policy calling for state agencies to adopt ODF by Jan. 1, 2007.
The topic of document formats may have an arcane air to it, but it matters deeply to the world’s richest software company. Document formats have played a critical role in helping Microsoft to secure and maintain its dominance of the office-productivity applications market, with more than 400 million users of its Office software worldwide.
“It wasn’t the only reason that people standardized on Microsoft Office, but it was the main reason,” said Michael Silver, an analyst at Gartner Inc.
When Massachusetts committed to its ODF policy, migrating away from Office appeared to be the only way that executive-branch agencies could comply. Microsoft had spurned the state’s requests to engineer ODF support directly into Office, complaining in a 6,425-word document sent to the IT division in November 2005 that the open standard was “nascent and immature.”
The company argued that its new Office Open XML format also merited inclusion in Version 3.5 of the IT division’s Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM), the newly minted open standards blueprint for state agencies. Microsoft even took the rare step of submitting Open XML to the ECMA International standards body in an attempt to show that its format would pass muster as “open.” But to Microsoft’s chagrin, Massachusetts issued only a noncommittal statement of optimism that Open XML would someday meet its standards.
Microsoft’s concerns extended well beyond Massachusetts. Yates told Gutierrez in one e-mail that the state’s mandate carried “a lot of weight” with public policy makers around the world. And he repeatedly complained in his messages to the CIO that Microsoft’s rivals were misrepresenting the state as the “reference case for a mandatory ODF-only policy,” rather than stating its broader goal of embracing open standards in general.
“We think the common external view is that the current policy is etched in stone and [that] Microsoft products and technology are shut out of the Commonwealth unless we agree to neuter our products for awhile,” Yates wrote to Gutierrez in April.
The fact that the ODF policy threatened Microsoft’s business interests wasn’t lost on Eric Kriss, who had paved the way for its adoption while serving as a cabinet secretary under Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. In an interview, Kriss said he wasn’t surprised by “the aggressiveness” that Microsoft showed both publicly and privately in pursuing its opposition to the ODF policy.
“I think Microsoft took a good run at trying to change the world as opposed to trying to change [itself],” Kriss said. “And you expect to get the shock and awe when that happens. That’s what we got.”
Kriss, who left his post as secretary of administration and finance shortly after Version 3.5 of the ETRM was issued in September 2005, instigated the open-standards policy based on the belief that public documents shouldn’t be tied to a single vendor’s proprietary document format.
He was no stranger to technology himself. Following a prior stint as the state’s finance secretary, Kriss became CEO of MediQual Systems Inc., a database developer with products based on Microsoft’s FoxPro software. He left MediQual in 1998 to start his own business, Workmode Inc., which uses open-source software to develop Web-based business applications. He makes no secret of his belief that governments eventually will move to open source.
But Kriss insisted that the ODF policy wasn’t intended to be anti-Microsoft. He said technical people at Microsoft told him it would be “trivial” to add support for ODF to the new Office 2007. The resistance to doing so came from the vendor’s business side, according to Kriss.
Yates told Computerworld in an interview last month that ODF “came up late in the development process for Office 2007” and that the standard “really isn’t finished.” He also said Microsoft was “surprised” when Massachusetts issued the ODF mandate and dropped what he claimed was an earlier agreement for the state to accept Office file formats as being open.
As part of his e-mail exchanges with Gutierrez, Yates didn’t deny Burke’s involvement in promoting the amendment sponsored by state Sen. Michael Morrissey that sought to take away much of the IT division’s decision-making authority.
“I am certain that Brian was involved,” Yates wrote to Gutierrez in response to the CIO’s March 3 message about Burke’s role in lobbying for the amendment. But Yates claimed that Burke’s intention was “to have a ‘vehicle’ in the legislature” to address a policy that Microsoft viewed as “unnecessarily exclusionary.” Burke’s aim was “not specifically to transfer agency authority,” Yates wrote.
He also asserted that the Morrissey amendment “was developed and is promoted by others who were/are very inflamed by your predecessors’ handling of many things.” The predecessors Yates referred to were Kriss and Peter Quinn, who was CIO before Gutierrez and had cited the Morrissey amendment as one of the contributing factors when he resigned last January.
During his interview with Computerworld, Yates was adamant that neither Microsoft nor anyone on its payroll had authored the amendment. In response to questions about the company’s lobbying activities, he said, “At the time, our public affairs people were — you can call it lobbying — but they were in fact trying to educate people to the real issues in the mandate for ODF. And we were, yes, arguing against it — absolutely.”
The situation started to change in late March and early April, however. A March 30 e-mail from Yates indicated that he had received a phone call from Gutierrez and that the CIO wasn’t happy. Yates wrote that he had spoken with Burke after Gutierrez called, “and ALL activity in and around the capitol building next week is now being canceled.”
By that time, discussions geared toward a compromise were in full swing between the two men. Gutierrez, who declined to comment for this story, was dogged in his quest for an Office software plug-in that could translate documents into and out of ODF. That would spare him the trouble of having to plot a potentially costly and time-consuming migration of tens of thousands of PCs to applications with built-in ODF support, such as IBM’s Workspace, Sun’s StarOffice and the open-source OpenOffice.org suite.
He also hoped the plug-in approach would satisfy advocates for the blind and visually impaired who had raised concerns that the most popular software products for reading and magnifying computer screens don’t work as well with ODF-supporting applications as they do with Office. Some advocates had threatened to file lawsuits based on federal antidiscrimination laws if the state moved to software that was inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Gutierrez first broached the subject of a “save-to-ODF” plug-in in a Feb. 17 e-mail to Yates. A subsequent message from Gutierrez on March 31 indicated that Microsoft had “committed” to Thomas Trimarco, Kriss’ successor as the state’s administration and finance secretary, that it would be willing to work with a third party to “technically cooperate, and possibly financially cooperate” on creating an ODF converter plug-in for Office.
In early April, Gutierrez signaled that he was willing to consider a memorandum of understanding that Microsoft had drafted. The company said it would publicly commit to financially supporting the development of third-party ODF conversion tools. In return, Massachusetts would announce that Open XML met its criteria to qualify as an open format and merited inclusion in future ETRM revisions, pending the technology’s sanction by an international standards body.
Microsoft went so far as to prepare a draft press release announcing the agreement. But Gutierrez wrote to Yates that he viewed “Draft 1” of the memorandum of understanding as “a bit of a slap.”
No ‘Chest Thumping’
At 9:27 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, April 7, Gutierrez sent a message to Yates offering an “alternative formulation,” writing that he would “avoid any chest thumping or anything that smacks of nongracious support for a Microsoft ODF conversion commitment.”
Gutierrez added that, contingent on the delivery of a working ODF converter that was either inexpensive or free to government users, the state would “essentially say ‘this war is over’ and we look forward to long-term use of competitive office suites, including Microsoft Office.”
The discussions broke down, though. “I believe I’ve had enough,” Gutierrez wrote to Yates on April 8. “You all do what you need to do. We’ll do what we need to do.”
The next day, a Sunday, Gutierrez offered one last gasp at a compromise, repeating his previous offer “even as I begin to let go of hope for quiet, bilateral and pragmatic resolution of this matter.”
Yates responded on the evening of April 11. First, he told Gutierrez that Microsoft thought “a public announcement in the current environment probably was not a good step for either of us. It would just be too easy to ‘spin’ such an announcement in a negative way against us or you.”
Yates added that Microsoft would no longer pursue “legislative action” against the ODF policy because that approach had created “such friction” with the state’s IT division, Trimarco and Romney.
“We disagree with the governor’s mandatory ODF policy as much as ever,” Yates wrote, “but also respect your position and approach to the future; and will no longer argue our case for legislation — simply based on the constructive communication with you.”
In his interview with Computerworld, Yates said, “There was a time when we just stopped because we felt that at that point, the decision-makers in Massachusetts did understand the issues and were acting reasonably and rationally, and things would take care of themselves over time.”
An April 21 e-mail from Yates to Gutierrez said Microsoft’s “senior government leaders” were encouraged to hear that the CIO had given the go-ahead to distribute an internal memo about a new Enterprise Agreement the Massachusetts Operational Services Division had negotiated with Microsoft. The contract enables the state as well as municipalities to buy Microsoft products at discounted prices. Last year, a total of $5.8 million was spent under a previous deal.
“As always, please let me know if there is anything happening locally that causes you concern,” Yates wrote in closing to Gutierrez. “I assume that everyone on the ground in MA for MSFT is acting according to my directions as I communicated to you.”
Gutierrez told Yates in response that Microsoft’s promise to stop lobbying for the amendment aimed at the IT division had “already helped.” He wrote that if the Morrissey amendment or a version of it was approved, “my responses will be as immediate, sharp and unsparing as committed earlier. But that is a precaution that I trust is more formality than substance at this point.”
The Massachusetts legislature approved the economic stimulus bill in June without the amendment. In early July, Microsoft announced that it was sponsoring an open-source project to develop an Office plug-in for translating files between Open XML and ODF. And Gutierrez formally announced on Aug. 23 that the state at least initially would adopt a plug-in strategy to fulfill the ODF policy. By then, he had no need to rely solely on the fruits of the Microsoft-backed project. Plug-ins also had been submitted to the state for testing by Sun and the OpenDocument Foundation.
The tortuous process that played out in Massachusetts is starting to have an effect well beyond the state’s borders. For example, without the plug-in approach, Belgium’s national government wouldn’t be able to meet ODF adoption deadlines that are due to begin taking effect next September, said Peter Strickx, chief technology officer at the Belgian Federal Civil Service’s Information and Communication Technology Division in Brussels.
Like Massachusetts, Belgium is taking a wait-and-see approach toward Open XML. “The objective is interoperability,” Strickx said. But he added that the government doesn’t plan to migrate its entire user base away from Office. “That’s between 60,000 and 80,000 users,” he noted. “We’re in a very tight budgetary situation, so we cannot ask the IT managers to spend even more on something that in their opinion doesn’t bring any real business value.”
When Gutierrez announced his resignation as Massachusetts CIO in early October, he cited the legislature’s failure to pass a bond bill that included funding for key IT projects. Since the bill also would have funded non-IT projects, the stall didn’t appear to be directly tied to any remaining opposition to the ODF policy.
Ironically, on Nov. 2, Gutierrez’s last day as CIO, Microsoft announced an agreement with Novell Inc. that included a pledge to cooperate on development of translation software to improve the way ODF and Open XML work together.
What a difference nine months had made.
Microsoft Looking to Run Windows on OLPC
Educational laptop could get Windows as well as Linux
Microsoft wants to make its Windows operating system available on the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) notebook computers, OLPC chairman Nicholas Negroponte said at the NetEvents conference in Hong Kong on Saturday.
"I have known [Microsoft chairman] Bill Gates his entire adult life. We talk, we meet one-on-one, we discuss this project," said Negroponte, vnunet.com can reveal.
"We put in an SD slot in the machine just for Bill. We didn't need it but the OLPC machines are at Microsoft right now, getting Windows put on them."
The SD slots allow users to add additional storage capacity to the laptops. Additional memory would be required for Windows to run on the current OLPC XO test models because they ship with only 512Mb of built in Flash memory.
The system requirements for Windows XP demand a minimum of 1.5Gb of storage space for both the Home and low cost Starter Edition that Microsoft targets at developing nations.
Microsoft's testing of Windows on the OLPC computers marks a major shift in the strategy for the project, which was designed to run a set of open source applications including an adapted version of Red Hat's Fedora Linux distribution.
Gates has publicly criticised the OLPC project, arguing that its small screen and lack of a hard disk make it underpowered.
The educational project attempts to build a low cost notebook computer that will improve education for children in developing economies.
As the device is nearing completion, test units are currently being distributed to nations that have expressed interest in purchasing the notebooks, such as Nigeria and Brazil.
When Negroponte first announced the project in January 2005, he was aiming for a price tag of $100 per device. This prompted the project to be nicknamed the '$100 laptop'.
The first units are expected to cost around $140, with prices dropping as production ramps up and component prices decrease.
A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.
Green Party Slams Microsoft OLPC Involvement
Software giant accused of 'restricting knowledge economy'
The UK's Green Party has accused Microsoft of "unacceptable bribery" in trying to run Windows on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project.
"Open source tools are a way to let the global south develop their own knowledge economies," Siân Berry, principal speaker for the Green Party, told vnunet.com in an email.
"Microsoft wants to restrict the greatest profits in the knowledge economy to already established software corporations like itself.
"By installing its programs on these laptops Microsoft hopes to create market domination and vendor lock in. That is unacceptable bribery.
"It would be a massive missed opportunity not to extend software freedom to students in the global south."
The comment comes on the back of revelations that Microsoft is keen to see Windows running on the OLPC machines.
Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC chairman, told vnunet.com at the NetEvents conference in Hong Kong on Saturday: "I have known [Microsoft chairman] Bill Gates his entire adult life. We talk, we meet one-on-one, we discuss this project.
"We put in an SD slot in the machine just for Bill. We didn't need it but the OLPC machines are at Microsoft right now, getting Windows put on them."
The inclusion of an SD slot will allow the internal storage capacity of the machines to be increased from 512MB to 1.5GB, the minimum necessary to run either the Home or Starter editions of Windows XP.
Buy Microsoft, it's Your Patriotic Duty
That seemed to be the message at the London launch of Microsoft Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 on 30 November 2006. Gordon Frazer, Microsoft’s UK managing director, devoted most his opening speech to a gallimaufry of statistics and quotations intended to show that buying these new offerings would somehow make Britain more competitive.
Nowhere (of course) was there any suggestion that making better use of organisations’ existing computer investments might be just as effective in improving their efficiency. Nor (ditto) was there any acknowledgement that the wholesale adoption of these new products would lead inevitably to a productivity decline for a period, as it would with any large software installation.
In the dream world proposed by Microsoft, users don’t have to spend working time and ingenuity getting used to new software; systems departments don’t need to drive themselves to distraction ironing out the wrinkles in the new systems; and trading partners don’t have to run around in ever-decreasing circles trying to get their systems to work with them. These are petty details.
Later, there was even the suggestion from one of Frazer’s colleagues that there was a link between introducing Windows 95 and a rise in the increase in UK productivity in 1995 (“nearly doubling” from 1.9% to 2.9%, i.e. increasing by just over half). I was expecting him to finish by saying, “Coincidence? I think not.” Anyone who struggled with Win95 at the time will understand how ludicrous a claim this is. Any rise will have been despite the introduction of Win95.
Samuel Johnson’s dictum—“patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”—came to mind while I sat through this bombardment of dodgy stats and implausible insinuations. I doubt that Gordon Frazer is a scoundrel, or any of his colleagues there that day, but I did think they were desperate.
There were many references to this being the biggest launch in Microsoft’s recent history and I think the clue lies there. The marketing difficulty Microsoft has is simple: Why should people care? So what if you’ve made a bet-your-company decision? So what if thousands of programmers have spent millions of hours producing unimaginable amounts of code? So what if this has been the most extensive beta testing programme since Neanderthal man emerged? These things matter to you, Mr (or Ms) Microsoft, but all we users care about it is whether the software is of value to us.
This question was not adequately dealt with during the afternoon. Microsoft had gathered some corporate users there (and I know how hard that can be) but we didn’t hear enough from them. There was a short panel session with three of them, from CapGemini, QinetiQ and Newham Borough Council, and video testimony from a couple more. What they had to say was interesting but there was no time for a sensibly paced presentation of their evidence or for any examination of it. And you can’t cross-question a video.
Oh, and there were also some glimpses of the products involved, delivered in high-speed demonstrations and viewable in blurred form on too few and too small screens. What was the point of that, I wondered? Admittedly, we were granted a whole 15 minutes afterwards (gosh!) for a closer look at all the products but I forewent the opportunity. Another day.
Given that the afternoon was labelled “the launch for business”, I was hoping for more about business and what this new software could do for it. Perhaps this trio of products will have a dramatically beneficial effect on the productivity of the organizations that use it. If so, Microsoft failed to offer convincing evidence of it. I also remain sceptical that any piece of software can have a measurable effect on the performance of the UK economy.
Negroponte: Laptops are Like "Fat People"
Kicking off the second day of NetEvents 2006, IT industry heavywieght Nicholas Negroponte has hit back at critics of his $100 One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) scheme by showing off one of the first production models and by saying that conventional laptops are like"fat people."
"It's a real computer," he said about his OLPC and illustrated, via slides of the Quanta production facility in Shanghai making the machine, that the OLPC dream is now a working reality.
Explaining his analogy, Negroponte explained that as fat people use most of their muscle to move their fat, conventional laptops need more ever more muscle to move the fat of bloatware on them. This makes them prone to instability, Negroponte said: "My (conventional) computer, Crashes five times a day."
In comparison, Negroponte said that because his OLPC machine is leaner using Linux and that it has been designed for kids rather than for using (Microsoft) Office, it is probably better option than a traditional machine for the purpose it is intended for.
The mission for Negroponte is all about eliminating poverty with education." It's not a lap top project its an education project," he said.
And education for the 1.2bn children in the developing world is the primary focus for Negroponte who explained that in some rural parts of the world, some school kids are only in school two and a half hours a day. So the key, for Negroponte, is to take advantage of the other hours when the child is out of school.
Although the machine is preinstaled with Linux ut this doesn't mean that you can't run Windows on the machine, Negroponte said. " We put in an SD slot just for Bill," he quipped. Negroponte also confirmed that there are currently machines at Microsoft that were being prepped for Windows. But he also revealed that Mirosoft was having a "geniune issue" with open source and that the Redmond giant was "struggling with it."
$150 Laptops to Get Rival in Brazil
Intel Corp. said Tuesday its diminutive low-cost laptop will be evaluated in Brazil next year alongside a cheaper alternative from a nonprofit group seeking to bring computers to poor children worldwide.
The company said it would donate 700 to 800 of the $400 "Classmate PCs" to the government for a large evaluation in schools. Intel has already tested the computers on a smaller scale with students and teachers in a poor neighborhood of Campinas, near Sao Paulo.
Elber Mazaro, marketing director for Intel in Brazil, said this marked the first time the company had reached an agreement with any government for this kind of testing.
The deal to test the Classmate PC comes after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last month received a prototype of a $150 laptop developed by the U.S. nonprofit group One Laptop Per Child, which began at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. One Laptop Per Child expects to sell several million devices to governments in developing countries, beginning with Brazil, Nigeria, Libya, Argentina and Thailand.
Brazil has 187 million citizens, but tens of millions don't have access to a computer or the Internet. Public schools offer little or no computer training, and some don't even have electricity.
The Brazilian government wants to bridge the divide, and Silva believes laptops for children will improve education.
Intel's laptop is about half the size of a traditional laptop, weighs 2.9 pounds, and has a seven-inch color screen. It has wireless Internet capability and employs flash memory instead of a hard drive, but does not include a CD or DVD player.
It is not yet clear whether the laptops to be tested in the school will use Windows, Linux or a mix of the two, Mazaro said. Brazil's government favors Linux and other free open-source software in its programs to provide computers to the needy, because using Windows can drive up costs.
While the Intel laptop cost more than twice the price of the nonprofit organization's model, executives said prices would come down with mass production.
"The goal clearly is to make millions and millions of these," said John Davies, an Intel vice president for sales and marketing.
The government plans to test the Intel laptop along side the One Laptop Per Child model and a third computer being offered by an Indian company, said Jose Aquino, a special assistant to Silva.
"We're going to put it in the classroom and see how it does," he said.
Davies said the price difference between the Intel laptop and the nonprofit group's model is actually narrower because One Laptop Per Child makes its product in China and does not factor shipping costs into the price. Intel has Brazilian manufacturers lined up to produce the computer.
But Walter Bender, the nonprofit group's president of content and software, points out it doesn't "cost $250 to ship a laptop from Shanghai to Sao Paulo."
Bender says his group welcomes the competition.
"The only way the price is going to continue to go down is competition in the marketplace," Bender said in a telephone interview from Cambridge, Mass. "One of our goals was to get industry to wake up to that need."
Azureus' HD Vids Trump YouTube
The file sharing company Azureus on Monday launched a new distribution platform for downloading high-quality video, which the company hopes will become the next YouTube -- but for high definition, DVD-quality video on the internet.
Available at Zudeo, users can upload, download and comment on videos in a manner similar to other video sharing sites like YouTube, Metacafe and Revver. But instead of the low-resolution video offered by competing services, the Azureus system promises internet video at better than DVD quality, thanks to BitTorrent's ability to distribute huge video files speedily.
"Try watching a YouTube video in full-screen mode," says Azureus CEO Gilles BianRosa. "You can't make out the details of what's going on. We've changed all that."
Azureus is best known for its popular file-sharing client of the same name, which allows users to download big files from each other using the peer-to-peer BitTtorrent protocol.
BianRosa says his company's video service is more than just another YouTube clone.
"Our main target is high-definition video, which is a whole new market online," he says. "People will be able to post any kind of quality on our platform, but on top of that, we also make it possible to post videos that exceed DVD quality."
BianRosa says the company, which is based in Palo Alto, plans to add television shows and full-length feature films to the service later this month. Azureus has inked distribution deals with 12 television, film and media companies, he says. Details of the partnerships, including any DRM restrictions to be applied to the licensed content, will be announced in two weeks.
The company says it will comply with copyright laws by removing any illicit clips at the rights holders' request -- a policy followed by most other video-sharing sites. BitTorrent has a reputation for being used to distribute copyrighted movies and music (in addition to numerous legitimate uses). YouTube is also well known for hosting television clips and music videos that are sometimes subject to copyright spats.
The company plans to give users the ability to attach pre-roll or post-roll advertisements to uploaded videos. Videos are currently shared with no advertising, but an opt in, ad-sharing program is under development.
In a demonstration last week, the company showed a crisp, clear, DVD-quality clip that began streaming only seconds after the download was started.
The highest-quality videos, tagged with an "HD tag," offer a noticeable step up from the quality seen on other video sharing sites.
BianRosa says his company set out to create a double-duty web platform that appeals to professional media companies as well as the web's video junkies.
"One side is meant to serve as a distribution platform for filmmakers and media companies," he says. "On the other side, consumers get a destination where they can find entertaining and informative videos, connect with the creators and also post their own content. We've built a platform that connects filmmakers and content creators with the audience at large."
The launch of the new Azureus platform arrives one week after Wal-Mart announced its own video on demand and download-to-burn service in a bid to compete with similar offerings from Amazon and CinemaNow.
A new research study by Verdict Research predicts the market for legal video downloads will grow from its current $218.4 million to $975 million by 2011.
"There's growing consumer interest in HD," says Joe Laszlo, a research director at JupiterResearch. "Online video publishers are looking to stand out from a crowded field these days. Focusing on high quality HD video is a very effective way to do that."
With high-definition video cameras available for less than $1,000, and with the rapid adoption HDTVs in the home, it's clear that high-definition entertainment has a future.
But the visual clarity of internet video tends to be less than stellar, mostly because the bandwidth costs associated with serving large, high-quality video files is prohibitively expensive. However, the BitTorrent protocol enables content distributors like Azureus to share large files using much less bandwidth.
Every user who downloads a file on a BitTorrent network also simultaneously uploads pieces of the file to other users on the network. This distributed file-sharing method reduces the amount of bandwidth required to host a large file such a high-definition video.
The file-sharing company BitTorrent, creator of the peer-to-peer protocol of the same name, is also working on its own video distribution platform which will launch in February 2007. In addition, the founders of Skype, Niklas ZennstrÃ¶m and Janus Friis, are developing The Venice Project, a video distribution platform that uses peer-to-peer file sharing technologies.
Azureus users can access the service through the company's website, or they can download a new, web-enabled version of the Azureus BitTorrent client that has the service built in. The Azureus client is a Java application that runs on all of the major operating systems. The client is an open source application, and the company claims that the code will continue to be based on open standards.
Users can upload video either to the central server or they can share a video among a select group of friends by creating a private "trackerless" torrent.
The videos are served in either the iPod-friendly H.264 format or VC-1, which is used for Windows media files. Once downloaded, users can transfer videos to a portable video player or a PC connected to a television.
The company claims that users with a fat enough download pipe -- over 300 KB per second -- can view streaming DVD-quality videos on demand. This is a feature that BianRosa hopes will catch the attention of video producers who are eager to display their creations on a more flattering stage.
"Independent filmmakers will also be able to post videos at a much higher quality than is possible on services like YouTube," he says.
To that end, the user interface of the new Azureus client reflects the movie theater experience, with video thumbnails displayed in the letterboxed 16:9 aspect ratio against a neutral black background.
By 2010, Movies-Over-The-Web Will Be Hollywood’s ‘New Box Office’
Movies-over-the-web are going to be a big part of Hollywood’s “new box office,” according to the Research and Markets research firm. And Apple is in a good position to capitalize on the trend. In fact, the research firm says that the iPod is also laying the foundation for Apple’s “Television 2.0” business expansion, with the advent of video capability and the sale of video programming on iTunes.
According to the firm’s study, the market for movies on the web will generate US$37.25 million in 2006 in the U.S. —a mere .15 percent of the domestic home video rental and sell-through market for 2005. The total number of full-length motion picture units sold (either via rental or download-to-own) over the Internet could total 9.5 million, barely one percent when compared to the 1.34 billion DVDs and videocassettes sold in 2005. Placed in context, the $37.25 million in web-based movie distribution revenue is less than the 2005 domestic box office revenue for independent film hit Napoleon Dynamite, which generated $44.5 million in ticket sales that year.
The sale and rental of movies over the Internet will grow dramatically over the coming years and could reach nearly 60 million (59.4 million) units by 2010, with revenues skyrocketing to over a half billion dollars ($534 million). However, even with this growth, Internet movie sales and rentals will still represent a tiny portion of the motion picture industry’s revenues. The $534 million in 2010 represents only two percent of the home video rental and sales revenue generated by the motion picture business in 2005. The 59.4 million units still represents only four percent of the total home video units sold in 2005.
Research and Markets says that the single biggest factor holding back Internet movie sales is Hollywood’s reluctance to allow films to be sold over the web so that they can ultimately be viewed on TVs. Although technologies exist today that allow for the transfer of web-distributed films to traditional TV sets, these technologies are too complex for most consumers. Other technologies that allow for a smoother transition of movies to TV sets are still too new and have yet to gain traction in the marketplace. I’d be surprised if Apple doesn’t have something up its sleeves regarding this.
Research and Markets also expects the same, forecasting a rosy future for the company in movies and TV show downloads. “Apple’s forays into the Television 2.0 arena have produced remarkable results to date, and promise to generate for Apple as much, and in all probability far more, revenue than Apple’s successful iTunes digital music business,” the research firm says.
Praise for Gibson Film, Quandary for Oscar Voters
With some early reviews lauding the audacity and innovation of Mel Gibson’s bloody Mayan epic, “Apocalypto,” Hollywood’s tight-knit community of Oscar voters may find itself facing a difficult dilemma in the coming weeks: Will they consider the film for an Academy Award?
Since Mr. Gibson’s drunken tirade against Jews last summer, many people in Hollywood swore — both publicly and privately — that they would not work with him again or see his movies.
But that was before the critics began to weigh in on “Apocalypto,” a two-hour tale about a peaceful village of hunter-gatherers who are attacked and enslaved by the bloodthirsty overlords of their Meso-American civilization.
Mr. Gibson wrote, directed, produced and financed the film, much as he did “The Passion of the Christ,” his surprise 2004 blockbuster; the Walt Disney Company is distributing the film.
“Apocalypto,” which will open on 2,500 screens across the country on Friday, is as different from a typical Hollywood film as Mr. Gibson’s last one: it features unrelenting, savage violence, is told in an obscure Mayan language and uses many nonprofessional actors with a primitive look born far from Hollywood.
Most critics (including this newspaper’s) have yet to weigh in on “Apocalypto,” but the excitement of those who have — like that among journalists who lingered to debate the film after a screening ended in Los Angeles last week — has been palpable.
“ ‘Apocalypto’ is a remarkable film,” Todd McCarthy wrote in Variety. “The picture provides a trip to a place one’s never been before, offering hitherto unseen sights of exceptional vividness and power.”
“Gibson has made a film of blunt provocation and bruising beauty,” Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone. “Say what you will about Gibson, he’s a filmmaker right down to his nerve endings.”
Other reviewers allowed themselves to psychoanalyze Mr. Gibson even as they praised the film. In a mixed review in The Hollywood Reporter, Kirk Honeycutt observed that Mr. Gibson “knows how to make a heart-pounding movie; he just happens to be a cinematic sadist.”
The rising tide of generally positive, if qualified, reviews poses a problem for Hollywood insiders, many of whom would prefer to ignore Mr. Gibson entirely, despite his formal apology and a trip to rehab.
Powerful players like Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Ari Emanuel, of the Endeavor talent agency have publicly disavowed Mr. Gibson, with Mr. Emanuel writing online last summer that “people in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him.”
Other studio chiefs have said they would not work with Mr. Gibson in the future but would not say so for attribution because they didn’t want to endanger their future business dealings. At least one influential publicist has declined to work on an “Apocalypto” Oscar campaign because of objections to Mr. Gibson’s views, but would not say so publicly for similar reasons.
And yet, can the 5,830 voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences — an organization that like broader Hollywood, includes many people who are Jewish — ignore a film that may well be considered by critics to be among the best of the year?
Murray Weissman, who has worked on Oscar campaigns for many years and is working for the Weinstein Company on its hopefuls this year, said some voters would not see the film on principle.
“There is still a lot of resentment out there among the Academy members, certainly the Jewish group of them, over the incident,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are very unforgiving. I have run into some who say they will not see any more Mel Gibson movies.”
Yet, Mr. Weissman added, those who saw the movie and believed it deserving would vote for it. “The movie academy is of full of professionals; they will respect a good movie,” he said. “If the guy made a classic film and it’s absolutely brilliant — hey, I’m Jewish — I’d probably embrace it. But going in, I’m shocked and dismayed at his behavior.”
The problem posed by Mr. Gibson touches on an age-old question of whether an artist’s personal behavior ought to be a factor in judging his or her work.
The question is not a new one even in the brief history of cinema, which includes people like D. W. Griffith, the visionary feature director whose work fed racist stereotypes; Leni Riefenstahl, whose ground-breaking talent served Nazi Germany; or Roman Polanski, who in 1977 pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor and then fled the country, which did not prevent him from winning the Oscar for best director in 2003 for “The Pianist.”
As Richard Schickel writes in the Dec. 11 issue of Time magazine, “Gibson is a primitive all right, but so were Cecil B. DeMille and D. W. Griffith, and somehow we survived their idiocies.” Disney has taken a low-key approach to the Oscars, awaiting a general sense from critics and influential voices in Hollywood. The film was not on a list of screenings for Oscar consideration sent to Academy members, and no screenings are scheduled with question-and-answer sessions featuring Mr. Gibson, as has become the custom for movies vying for Oscar consideration.
But as the film has been gathering critical support, executives at the studio have begun to refer to “Apocalypto” as their “Million Dollar Baby,” the small movie directed by Clint Eastwood that came from behind two years ago to win best picture at the Oscars. And the studio is planning to send out “screeners,” DVDs sent to Academy members.
“From Day 1 we’d hoped that people would judge the movie on its artistic merits and judge Mel as a director,” said Dennis Rice, a Disney studio spokesman. “We believe they’ll separate their feelings of Mel the man from Mel the artist.”
But in addition to the other issues, the film’s sheer violence — which includes decapitation and hearts ripped from the chests of human sacrifice victims — could turn off some voters, whatever their feelings toward the director.
“Once the reviews come out and it’s perceived to be a foreign language film with that kind of violence, you will have trouble getting people to actually go see it,” said one seasoned Oscar campaigner, who declined to speak for attribution because of business ties to Disney.
“There will be a degree of resistance, And Mel would be the first one to say, ‘I anticipate a degree of ambivalence,’ he knows that,” said Peter Bart, the editor of Variety . “The violence is an issue. But that’s the way he is. That’s the way he sees the world.”
Movie review | 'Apocalypto'
The Passion of the Maya
A. O. Scott
“I’m going to peel off his skin and make him watch me wear it.” This grisly threat is delivered by one of the main bad guys in Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto.” The promised flaying never takes place, but viewers who share this director’s apparently limitless appetite for gore will not be disappointed, since not much else in the way of bodily torment has been left to the imagination. There are plenty of disembowelings, impalings, clubbings and beheadings. Hearts are torn, still beating, from slashed-open chests. A man’s face is chewed off by a jaguar. Another’s neck is pierced by darts tipped with frog venom. Most disturbing, perhaps, is the sight of hundreds of corpses haphazardly layered in an open pit: a provocative and ill-advised excursion into Holocaust imagery on this director’s part.
Violence has become the central axiom in Mr. Gibson’s practice as a filmmaker, his major theme and also his chief aesthetic interest. The brutality in “Apocalypto” is so relentless and extreme that it sometimes moves beyond horror into a kind of grotesque comedy, but to dismiss it as excessive or gratuitous would be to underestimate Mr. Gibson’s seriousness. And say what you will about him — about his problem with booze or his problem with Jews — he is a serious filmmaker.
Which is not to say that “Apocalypto” is a great film, or even that it can be taken quite as seriously as it wants to be. Mr. Gibson’s technical command has never been surer; for most of its 2-hour 18-minute running time, “Apocalypto,” written by Mr. Gibson and Farhad Safinia, is a model of narrative economy, moving nimbly forward and telling its tale with clarity and force. It is, above all, a muscular and kinetic action movie, a drama of rescue and revenge with very little organic relation to its historical setting. Yes, the dialogue is in various Mayan dialects, which will sound at least as strange to American ears as the Latin and Aramaic of “The Passion of the Christ,” but the film’s real language is Hollywood’s, and Mr. Gibson’s, native tongue.
When I first heard about this project, and later when I saw the early trailers, I halfway hoped that Mr. Gibson might turn out to be an American (or half-Australian) version of Werner Herzog, setting out into the jungle to explore the dark and tangled regions of human nature. Once you get past the costumes and the subtitles, though, the most striking thing about “Apocalypto” is how comfortably it sits within the conventions of mainstream moviemaking. It is not an obsessive opera like Mr. Herzog’s “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” but rather a pop period epic in the manner of “Gladiator” or “Braveheart,” and as such less interested in historical or cultural authenticity than in imposing an accessible scheme on a faraway time and place.
The setting is Central America before the arrival of the Spanish, when the Maya empire, in Mr. Gibson’s version, was already in the process of collapsing from within. The basic moral conflict — as it was in “Braveheart,” directed by and starring Mr. Gibson, and in “The Patriot,” a vehicle for him directed by Roland Emmerich — is between a small group of people trying to live simple, decent, traditional lives and a larger, more powerful political entity driven by bloodlust and greed. This kind of conservative anti-imperialism runs consistently through Mr. Gibson’s work; whether the empire in question is Roman, British or Mesoamerican, and whatever its political resonance might be, it allows the viewer to root for an unambiguously virtuous underdog.
“Apocalypto” begins with a group of young men out on a hunt and lingers for a while in their happy, earthy village, a place that might double as a nostalgic vision of small-town America were it not for the loin cloths, the tattooed buttocks and the facial piercings. Blunted (Jonathan Brewer) is nagged by his mother-in-law and teased by his buddies because he hasn’t yet made his wife pregnant, but he accepts his humiliation in good humor, like the jolly fat kid on a family sitcom.
Meanwhile Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), whose father (Morris Birdyellowhead) is an admired hunter and warrior, snuggles down with his pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez), and their young son, Turtle Run (Carlos Emilio Baez). There’s fresh tapir meat on the grill and an old-timer telling stories by the fire. Life is good.
Needless to say, this pastoral idyll cannot last. The ominous strains of James Horner’s score indicate as much. Before long the village is set upon by fearsome marauders, led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo), who rape, burn and kill with ruthless discipline and undisguised glee. The locals resist valiantly, but the survivors are led away to an uncertain fate. Seven and Turtle Run stay behind, hidden in a hole in the ground.
Jaguar Paw’s mission will be to rescue them and also to avenge his friends and kin. First, though, he will accompany us on a Cecil B. DeMille tour of the decadent imperial capital, a place of misery, luxury and corruption, where priests and nobles try to keep famine and pestilence at bay with round-the-clock human sacrifices.
Neither Mr. Gibson’s fans nor his detractors are likely to accuse him of excessive subtlety, and the effectiveness of “Apocalypto” is inseparable from its crudity. But the blunt characterizations and the emphatic emotional cues are also evidence of the director’s skill.
Perhaps because he is aiming for an audience wary of subtitles, Mr. Gibson rarely uses dialogue as a means of exposition, and he proves himself to be an able, if not always terribly original, visual storyteller. He is not afraid of clichés — the slow-motion, head-on sprint toward the camera; the leap from the waterfall into the river below — but he executes them with a showman’s maniacal relish.
And it is, all in all, a pretty good show. There is a tendency, at least among journalists, to take Mr. Gibson as either a monster or a genius, a false choice that he frequently seems intent on encouraging. Is he a madman or a visionary? Should he be shunned or embraced? Censured or forgiven?
These are the wrong questions, but their persistence reveals the truth about this shrewd and bloody-minded filmmaker. He is an entertainer. He will be publicized, and he will be paid.
Addressing the War, an Actor Stretches
David M. Halbfinger
Of all the movies being made about the war in Iraq, few have examined the burdens being shouldered by the families of the nation’s fighting men and women. Fewer still have looked up close at the price paid by those who have lost a husband — let alone a wife and mother.
Yet as the war entered its third year in 2005, and after the Pentagon and the Senate banned news photos of the flag-draped coffins of fallen soldiers, John Cusack, the star of dozens of films, found himself yearning for a movie project that could cast a spotlight on an aspect of the war that the government was keeping largely off screen.
“If they’re getting away with that, then your job as an artist in this era would be to tell the story of one of those coffins coming home,” Mr. Cusack, 40, said in a telephone interview this week.
He said that he had also been looking for “great acting challenges,” but that he kept falling into leading man roles in comedies, romances and thrillers. “It’s still the studios, and they tend to offer you versions of what you’ve done,” he said.
A few months later, however, Mr. Cusack found what he was looking for. A young screenwriter, James C. Strouse, whose first script, “Lonesome Jim,” had just been turned into a modestly praised dark comedy by Steve Buscemi, approached Mr. Cusack’s production company with an idea about a man whose wife is killed in battle, and who then has to break the news to their two young daughters.
“Sometimes the universe works to meet you halfway,” Mr. Cusack said.
Halfway, in that Mr. Strouse, whose previous filmmaking experience had occurred in his basement in high school, also planned to direct the film. But after a courtship of long talks about films and character, about Mr. Strouse’s sense of the story and Mr. Cusack’s desire to stretch — Mr. Strouse recalled a look in Mr. Cusack’s eye “almost like a boy in a toy store” as he discussed the role — the two agreed to go forward.
The result of their collaboration is “Grace Is Gone,” a tiny, taut and, the makers hope, affecting entry in the dramatic competition at next month’s Sundance Film Festival.
Mr. Strouse, 29, would seem to have led a charmed life. His first choice to direct “Lonesome Jim,” in which Casey Affleck played a depressed would-be writer who moves back in with his parents in Indiana, was Mr. Buscemi, who took the job; the film went to Sundance in 2005 before a small release by IFC Films last spring.
If that was not lucky enough, Mr. Strouse also wrote “Grace Is Gone” with Mr. Cusack in mind. After “Lonesome Jim,” Mr. Strouse’s agents had arranged for him a series of brief “Perrier meetings” with Hollywood producers — the meeting ends when the glass is empty — but Mr. Strouse held his tongue about the Iraq-widower idea until he arrived at the office of Mr. Cusack’s New Crime Productions.
“They had a basketball court in their office, and I love basketball,” said Mr. Strouse, who after all is a Hoosier. Mr. Cusack’s producing partner, Grace Loh, liked his pitch, and urged Mr. Strouse to put it to paper. (Another good omen: later that day Mr. Strouse spotted Mr. Cusack in the dairy aisle of a grocery. He did not introduce himself.)
Mr. Strouse’s wife, Galt Niederhoffer, is a principal at Plum Pictures (“The Baxter,” “The Ground Truth”), and she already had financing in place. When Mr. Cusack finally committed to the project in late February, it was just a few weeks until shooting began. It was an exceptionally smooth path for any film, not least an indie.
Still, making a movie about Iraq without alienating supporters of the war was not easy, given that the writer-director and the actor-producer shared an antipathy for it. Mr. Cusack, after all, is now filming a dark farce of which he is a co-author, “Brand Hauser,” a Strangelovian satire about “war and branding” and the free-market philosophy that, he says, saw Iraq as a laboratory experiment. The film, being shot in Sofia, Bulgaria, is “set in the next place that they’d invade, if this ideology had its way,” Mr. Cusack said.
But both Mr. Cusack and Mr. Strouse said they wanted to avoid “editorializing” with “Grace Is Gone.”
“I really think it can be deadly to have an agenda in telling fiction,” Mr. Strouse said. “I wanted to connect with people on an emotional level. And I thought the best way to do that was to try and play it as straight and true as I could. There was always the hope that this could somehow be above the argument, and challenge your opinions, whatever they are — to not let anyone off too easily.”
His solution was to make Mr. Cusack’s character, Stanley, a former soldier himself and a solid supporter of the war his wife had gone off to fight, and to set up a telling confrontation with the man’s brother (Alessandro Nivola), a vocally antiwar slacker who does not understand the toll it is taking on Stanley. Mr. Strouse said he modeled Stanley on his own father, to a degree: “In his youth he wanted to be Audie Murphy, but he had this condition with his eyes, and he lied his way into the service and got booted out.”
For his part, Mr. Cusack said he was mindful of Willy Loman. “I thought of all the concrete this guy had poured into this structure that supported him in the certainty of his belief,” he said. “That rigidity was cracking by this transformative event in his life. At the same time, I really empathized with him. I wanted to get inside what it must be like to really believe in the mission, and give that character his dignity, and give that character his grief.”
Mr. Strouse asked military spouses about their ways of coping with deployment. He says he learned, for instance, that children should be allowed to watch the news only under supervision. When “Grace Is Gone” was shot last spring, just seven mothers had been reported killed in Iraq, Mr. Strouse said, but he found the widower of one for Mr. Cusack to interview.
“I asked him about the first three days of that grief,” Mr. Cusack said. “I asked him how he told his kids, what those conversations were like, what the feeling was like in his body. I probably just heard the music. But he told me a lot.”
The collaboration did not end when filming began. Mr. Strouse had crammed by reading up on directing, but he had to be told basic things, like to stand next to the camera rather than watch the action on a video monitor. Mr. Cusack “was really kind of a mentor through a lot of the process,” Mr. Strouse said.
The film was shot in the Chicago area, Mr. Cusack’s old stamping grounds, and for help in coaching the two newcomers playing his daughters, Shélan O’Keefe and Gracie Bednarczyk, Mr. Cusack reached out to Joyce Piven, his old acting teacher, whose other former students include her son Jeremy and Lili Taylor.
His own performance, meanwhile, is unlike anything Mr. Cusack has done before, starting with a physical transformation — achieved with a distinctly unhip hairstyle, chunky eyeglasses, tucked-in shirt and pigeon-toed, hunched-in gait — that renders him almost incognito in the film’s opening scenes.
Ms. Piven, who hung around the set to see him perform, remarked on Mr. Cusack’s “lack of vanity” in the role, and praised him for creating his own opportunities as a producer. “He has very wide range, unplumbed,” she said. “So I wasn’t so surprised as happy that he’s branching out, and he has the means to do it.”
GPS Sends Ambulance 200 Miles Off – Route
An ambulance crew ferrying a mental health patient between two nearby hospitals drove an extra 400 miles roundtrip because they relied on a faulty coordinates in their satellite navigation system.
The 10-mile trip within London should have taken less than half an hour. But the crew, having never driven to the destination before, relied only on the vehicle's GPS system. They didn't fathom that something was amiss until they had reached the outskirts of Manchester, more than 200 miles north of London.
The ambulance crew left King George's Hospital early Tuesday of last week and arrived at Mascalls Park Hospital in the afternoon. The London Ambulance Trust said the patent was remained comfortable and arrived safely.
The mishap doesn't surprise Daniel Callahan, an expert on technology and culture. He said reliance on GPS would inevitably lead people to ditch their maps and ignore road signs. GPS is so reliable, he said, that people might trust it more than their own judgment.
''It's very tempting to use technology to replace ordinary common sense,'' he said.
As far as the London ambulance crew is concerned, they won't be repeating the mistake: Officials said the coordinates for the hospital they were trying to reach had been corrected.
James Kim Found Deceased
The body of missing CNET editor James Kim has been located, authorities announced Wednesday.
Arrangements are being made to transport Kim to the Oregon State Police office in the town of Central Point, Ore., for a medical examination, according to police, and autopsy results may be in by Thursday. Kim had been missing in the remote southwestern Oregon wilderness for 11
Kim, 35, left his family's stranded car Saturday morning searching for help and never returned. Kim apparently traveled in an 8-mile circle and was found less than a mile, separated by a sheer cliff, from where his family's station wagon got stuck in the snow. Officers said there was no way to determine whether he was trying to return to his starting point or if he became disoriented.
"He was very motivated...he traveled a long way," Josephine County Undersheriff Brian Anderson said.
The Kim family has asked that it not be contacted, and that flowers and donations not be sent at this time. Once the family has decided how they want Kim to be honored, CNET will release details.
"They have been true champions throughout this whole ordeal," Lt. Gregg Hastings of the Oregon State Police said of the Kim family. "We just want them to know our thoughts and our prayers have been with them from day one."
After being rescued in good condition Monday, Kim's 30-year-old wife, Kati, and daughters Penelope (4 years) and Sabine (7 months) have been reunited with family members. Kati Kim suffered frostbite on two toes, but will not lose those toes, according to a close family friend.
While stranded, the family stayed warm using the car heater, then burned tires when they ran out of gas, authorities said. Kati Kim also nursed the girls.
James Kim, Kati, Penelope and Sabine left their home in San Francisco two weeks ago on a Thanksgiving road trip to the Pacific Northwest. They had been last seen on the Saturday after the holiday in Portland and later at a Denny's restaurant in Roseburg, according to a San Francisco Police Department missing persons report.
The family was expected to return to San Francisco on November 27. When both James and Kati failed to show up for appointments on November 28, co-workers began to worry for their safety. The Kims are known for keeping in touch daily with their friends and co-workers, either by phone or e-mail.
Throughout the Kims' ordeal, messages of support and concern numbering into the thousands have continued to pour in to CNET, as well as to a Web site set up by family and friends. That site was available only intermittently following release of the news Wednesday.
James Kim was a senior editor covering digital audio who also co-hosted a weekly video podcast for the Crave gadgets blog (read Kim's CNET profile here). He had been writing a book on Microsoft's Zune MP3 player. Formerly, he was an on-air personality on the now-defunct cable television network TechTV.
Anderson said searchers were devastated at Wednesday's discovery. "I'm crushed," said the choked-up sheriff.
Upon hearing the news, CNET readers immediately began to post condolences on the site's message boards. They also sent e-mails to Kim's co-workers expressing their sadness.
"James kept his wife and kids alive while sacrificing his own life and I believe all men who read this story will hold James in the highest regard as a man among men who gave his two children the rest of their lives," one reader wrote.
"My family and I will continue to pray for James' family...When I try to put myself in his shoes, I think James did what every parent would do for his family. James, God bless," wrote another.
And another: "Please realize that there were so many people praying for his safe return...I'm sorry!"
At CNET's San Francisco headquarters, employees convened to share their grief and discuss ways they could memorialize and honor their beloved colleague.
"This has been an incredibly heartwrenching experience for all involved," CEO Neil Ashe said. "I know that I speak for everyone here at CNET Networks when I say that James Kim was a hero. We will miss him greatly."
A refocused full-scale search for James Kim involving helicopters, Sno-Cats, four-wheel-drive vehicles, river rafts and searchers on foot had been under way since Kim's wife and daughters were rescued Monday. Late afternoon on Tuesday, searchers found several items left by Kim, including a pair of pants and the remains of an Oregon map, and officials believed he may have left them as markers or indicators of his path.
Rescue workers at a Wednesday evening press conference said the terrain that confronted Kim was rugged, with poison oak, slippery rocks and moss and loose earth.
Searchers also said the conditions in the canyon were such that rescuers got soaked within 30 minutes of descending into it. The rescue workers were wearing protective gear; Kim was wearing only street clothes.
Asked what kind of effort he thought was needed to cover the ground Kim traveled, Anderson said, "It seems superhuman to me that he did what he did."
On Wednesday morning, authorities, still expressing hope that Kim was alive, announced plans to drop care packages strategically along the route where Kim was believed to be. The bundles contained warm clothing and provisions, as well as a personal letter from Kim's family described as a "father's plea to his son" to let Kim know help was on the way.
CNET News.com's Greg Sandoval contributed to this report.
|07-12-06, 11:48 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Interview: Warner Music Boss Edgar Bronfman
Warner Music Chief Executive Edgar Bronfman sat down in Second Life on Friday for a broad-ranging interview about CopyBot, the balancing act between the content industry’s copyrights and the creativity of its customers, and the time he caught his own kids illegally downloading songs.
The following is an edited transcript:
Adam Reuters: How has the music industry, from production to marketing to distribution, changed in the MySpace, YouTube era we find ourselves in?
Edgar Bronfman: It really is all about the sense of community. There used to be a sense of community if you remember a really great record store where you could go through all the albums and talk about your records. Now you can have that sort of sharing in a virtual community or on an Internet community, and therefore do it much more broadly.
It not only gives access to far more artists on something like MySpace but so many more people can interact with each other and with artists, and so the sense of community grows. Music is very much about community and a sense of shared passion.
AP: So how does the business model work? Your artist is in the middle, you’ve got conversations on music, streaming music on MySpace, uploading on YouTube.
EB: The business models will vary with the platform. What we’re trying to do as a music company is first to enable as many uses of the content as possible to allow others to innovate. We’ll figure out what the business model is as certain things have traction and other things don’t.
We’re trying to enable as much progress as quickly as possible rather than wait to see a business model develop.
AP: Does that mean becoming a little more permissive? For example, on Second Life you can create a house and stream music, just like you’d play it in your real-life living room. But there might be some copyright issues there. Do you think the industry as a whole needs to loosen up a bit to let the new areas emerge?
EB: I think there needs to be flexibility on the part of content owners, and respect for the communities that are developing. We also feel that there needs to be some recognition that intellectual property is real property. We need a find a middle ground that allows both communities, the owners and the users, to be happy.
AP: The music industry’s approach to illicit uploading and downloading has been to take a carrot and stick approach, offering legal alternatives like iTunes on one hand and filing lawsuits against uploaders on the other. We’re a couple years into this now, you’ve paid a PR price for some of these lawsuits. Now that we’re maybe in the middle era of the copyright issue, has the equation changed at all?
EB: The approach isn’t different, but the effect is. There are now many more carrots than sticks. We’ve got all kinds of carrots. Running a red light is wrong, stealing a CD out of the store is wrong, stealing music is wrong, and that’s not going to change. What we’ve tried to do is make a distinction, not go after the casual jaywalker, but the car thief.
We don’t want to go after people who are casually downloading a few songs, but people who are massively uploading tracks. Having said that, it’s not the centerpiece of our strategy.
AP: Taking a question from the audience, McLuhan Ennis asks: “Can you give a description of the what you describe as middle ground? Say, within the context of a mash-up, what would be an example of fair use?”
EB: It’s our hope we can find a way to generally license much or all of our content for users to adapt in any way they see fit. We want people to use their creativity to take our content and do what they think is an interesting thing.
AP: So, you have seven children, have you ever caught any of them using Gnutella or Limewire or the P2P network?
EB: I have. I explained to them what I believe is right, that the principle involved is that stealing music is stealing music. Frankly, right is right and wrong is wrong, particularly when a parent is talking to a child, a bright line around moral responsibility is very important. I can assure you they no longer do that.
AP: What were the consequences?
EB: I think I’ll keep that within the family. (Laughter)
AP: We have a question from Prokofy Neva: How do you view the recent CopyBot scare, and how would you address this issue if you owned Second Life?
EB: I’m not sure I’d address it differently than I address our own issues. Intellectual property is intellectual property, whether it’s in the form of an avatar or a song or any such thing. These are the creations of someone’s mind, and it’s property as real as real estate. It needs to be protected on the one but made available as broadly as is reasonable on the other.
That balance will always be difficult to strike, and people will always disagree about the appropriate balance. But as long as the argument is what’s the balance, rather than whether we should make it available, we can make more people more people happy than unhappy.
AP: Part B to that question from Prokofy, and I should say you are also part of a venture capital fund, is whether you would ever consider buying Linden Lab.
EB: I don’t know that we would or wouldn’t, but what I can say is I really admire Second Life, it’s building something really extraordinary and terrific. I wish Phil Rosedale and the entire team really great things. I think it’s great to see people take the potential of new technologies and create a community that will be a great benefit to its users whoever owns it, and wherever it goes.
AP: So will we see Warner Music in Second Life anytime soon?
EB: I sure hope so. We already had an artist Regina Spector and we introducer her album in a virtual loft, I hope we can do more of those things, and that the Second Life community will tell us what it is they think we should be doing to enhance our experience.
AP: Do you see user-generated content as something significant, rather than a flash in the pan?
EB: I do. Virtual communities let us have millions of people connecting. To tap that creativity is fantastic, and we’ll see it more and more.
The Most Dangerous Download of All
Using online music services to share songs without paying for them may be illegal, but casual users don’t usually find themselves under the steely gaze of an angry recording industry executive. Unless Dad is the head of Warner Music Group.
We asked Edgar Bronfman, the head of the world’s fourth largest music company, at the Reuters Summit whether any of his seven kids stole music.
“I’m fairly certain that they have, and I’m fairly certain that they’ve suffered the consequences.”
We couldn’t begin to guess what that means. He explained to our Second Life reporter, Adam Pasick:
“I explained to them what I believe is right, that the principle is that stealing music is stealing music. Frankly, right is right and wrong is wrong, particularly when a parent is talking to a child. A bright line around moral responsibility is very important. I can assure you they no longer do that.”
Great, but what did he do to them?
“I think I’ll keep that within the family.”
17 responses to “The most dangerous download of all”
Please note that comments should not be regarded as the views of Reuters.
December 2nd, 2006 at 3:07 pm GMT
So the concequences for 14 year old Susie Q. Public downloading some stupid song that she could have legally taped off of the radio are that her parents and her a put through a protracted form of legal extortion, resulting in the depletion of their family’s life savings and plunged into debt, perhaps permanently effecting the child’s future education. The concequences for this guy… he has to give a stern lecture. Now we know why everyone loves record company weasels!
December 2nd, 2006 at 7:55 pm GMT
If he didn’t donate their college funds to his company and trample their futures, he didn’t punish them appropriately.
December 3rd, 2006 at 3:42 pm GMT
I bet he didn’t try and sue em’ in court like he would everyone else!
December 4th, 2006 at 1:00 am GMT
Record executives should be jailed for violating their customers’ civil rights with these unfounded lawsuits. (Are they even checking if users are just replacing tracks from scratched CDs they legitimately own?)
That people are allowed to equate copyright infringement with stealing, and not be called out as absurdists immediately thereafter, is the fault of the journalist. In this sad case, the journalist even does it himself! Hey, you there! Stop that!
The notion of “intellectual property” only exists to confuse people: there really is no such thing! Trademark law, patent law, and copyright law are all real (and separate) bodies of law, and violating them is no more theft than it is arson or assault.
You devalue the _actual_ concept of physical property when you apply its terminology to infinitely replicateable things like computer data files.
Music Executives Behaving Badly Pt II | Josh Smith Online says:
December 4th, 2006 at 3:26 am GMT
[…] Somebody must have spiked the punch at the last price fixing collusion industry conference. These Music executives are letting it all out these past few weeks. First Doug Morris of Universal Music Group calls iPod owners theives, now Edgar Bronfman an executive at Warner Music Group admits that his children have downloaded music illegally! To top it off he won’t go into the punishment details other than saying, “I explained to them what I believe is right, that the principle is that stealing music is stealing music. Frankly, right is right and wrong is wrong, particularly when a parent is talking to a child. A bright line around moral responsibility is very important. I can assure you they no longer do that.” […]
RSS fabriek » Blog Archive » CE-Oh no he didn’t! Part XX - Warner Music CEO “fairly certain” his kids pirate music says:
December 4th, 2006 at 1:07 pm GMT
[…] We’re going to assume you’re well versed with the RIAA, just about the most god-forsaken industry group that ever did roam the earth (much like its unofficial partner in crime, the MPAA); and more importantly for the purposes of this post, Warner Music, one of the four major labels, which all, incidentally, back the RIAA. So what did Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner Music, have to say when questioned as to whether any of his seven kids pirate music? “I’m fairly certain that they have, and I’m fairly certain that they’ve suffered the consequences.” Funny, we haven’t heard about any inter-familial lawsuits involving Bronfman sr. v. Bronfman jr. concerning definitions in fair use and music piracy. In fact, given that he knows what pirates live in his house using his internet connection, it should only follow that he sue his children into eternal debt (not before having Warner Music shut off their household internet connection at the ISP level). After all, what’s good for the goose is good — ah forget it. Every time we try to apply logic and reason to the executives behind the RIAA our brains do a zero divide. […]
December 4th, 2006 at 4:13 pm GMT
BWAHAHAHA!! I just read “moral responsibility” and “music industry” in the same article! The folks that have brought us such ‘morally responsible’ artists as: 2 Live Crew, Marilyn Manson, Motley Crue, ‘Ol Dirty Bastard and ON AND ON AND ON..These losers would hang your children over a nickel. Here’s to this corrupt and creatively BANKRUPT industry to continuing to circle the abyss while technology leaves them further in the vapors..Cheers..
December 4th, 2006 at 7:29 pm GMT
“A bright line around moral responsibility is very important.”
Is it morally responsible for the recording industry to take the largest cut from the efforts of artists?
tssci security » CEO kids steal music, get slap on the wrist says:
December 4th, 2006 at 9:24 pm GMT
[…] …while the rest of us get subpoenaed and sued for more money than we can afford to pay off in a lifetime! Well, that’s exactly what Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner Music told Reuters. What a bunch of crap. We asked Edgar Bronfman, the head of the world’s fourth largest music company, at the Reuters Summit whether any of his seven kids stole music. […]
Bronfman has his; do you have yours?
Richest 2 Pct Own More Than Half The World: Study
Two percent of adults have more than half of the world's wealth, including property and financial assets, according to a study by the U.N. development research institute published on Tuesday.
While global income is distributed unequally, the spread of wealth is even more skewed, the study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the U.N. University said.
"Wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe and high income Asia-Pacific countries. People in these countries collectively hold almost 90 percent of total world wealth," the survey showed.
The Helsinki-based institute said its study was the first global research on the topic, for which there is only limited data.
"We've estimated that the richest 2 percent of adults own more than half of global wealth, while the bottom half own 1 percent," said institute director Anthony Shorrocks.
He likened the situation to that where, in a group of 10 people, one person has $99, while the remaining nine share $1.
"If you think income has been distributed unequally, wealth has been distributed even more unequally," Shorrocks said.
According to the study, in 2000 a couple needed capital of $1 million to be among the top 1 percent on the wealth list -- the richest 37 million people in the world.
More than one in every two of those people lives in the United States or Japan.
And it found that net assets of $2,200 per adult would put a household in the top half of the world wealth distribution.
DivX CEO on Video, YouTube, iPod
Jordan Greenhall talks about DivX’s hacker roots, YouTube, iTV—and what's wrong with iPods.
DivX CEO and founder Jordan Greenhall’s laid-back Southern California image belies the fact that he heads a billion-dollar digital video compression company.
San Diego-based DivX went public—raising $145.6 million—in September to a warm investor reception (see DivX Climbs in Nasdaq Debut). Since its market debut, shares have steadily gained over 50 percent, signaling staying power.
Wall Street may be onto something. DivX has become a de facto standard for digital video compression. So far that technology is finding its way into chips used inside DVD players. For DivX, that means licensing fees from millions of DVD players sold.
DivX gives people the power to compress movie files from the Internet for playback on the PC or in the living room. Fascination with Internet video—culminating in Google’s $1.65-billion purchase of YouTube—hasn’t hurt either.
Mr. Greenhall acknowledges that YouTube has raised digital video’s profile, saying that DivX provides a far richer, big-screen viewing experience for serious enthusiasts. He’s among a handful of companies including Microsoft, Sony, and Apple that are banking on convergence in the living room.
Emerging from DivX’s IPO quiet period, Mr. Greenhall talked recently with Red Herring about the company’s strange start. It began with tracking down a French hacker known simply as Gej, who had hacked together the earliest version of the DivX video codec.
Gej's DivX rose to fame as a wildly popular video download format on the P2P site Napster. Few knew who Gej was at the time because of the way DivX had been hacked together.
“So I went out on IRC and the underground Internet to look for him,” Mr. Greenhall said. “Most people thought he was Russian. The next likely place was the Netherlands. I contacted some folks who actually knew who he was. After I went through some hazing rituals, they put me in contact with him.”
Gej, whose real name is Jerome Rota, and Mr. Greenhall talked by long distance and came to agree on what could happen with DivX in the coming years, deciding to work together. At first, “we worked remotely together,” Mr. Greenhall said.
One day Mr. Rota finally flew in for a meeting in San Diego, where Mr. Greenhall went to go get the French hacker at the airport. “He came with nothing but a pack of cigarettes.” It was an unusual start.
Finally, just before the dot-com downturn, Mr. Greenhall said, venture capital interest swarmed around DivX. Ultimately, it went with Zone Ventures. Mr. Greenhall holds about 8 percent of DivX.
Q: How did you get started in digital video?
A: Basically, what was happening was I was working on this specific strategy around digital media and looking for when and how video would get rolled into digital media. At exactly that same time, Jerome in France, who had a degree in computer science as well as video editing was employed as a video creator.
And he had a specific material need for the ability to take some video he made in his house and move it through a DSL line to another location, and he wanted to keep the quality as high as possible. And he didn’t have anything available at the time to do that. So he created the first DivX.
And he created it and he did in a very open way, which was out on the Internet. He said, “Anybody know anything that works?” Various people said, “Here’s different tools, and here’s things that work.”
He sort of put it together. Not a linear engineering, but rather what’s available, put it together, what can we do right now that really works, and how can we put it together—sort of kludge it. And it went from version one to version three. And by version three, I got wind of it.
People were talking about, “Hey, this thing is being used because it can take very high-quality DVD and make it small enough for the Internet like MP3.” Being at MP3.com, I had been broadcasting out to my network of people, and I needed something like this for video.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your video codec?
A: Video compression technology is a pretty well understood science. And it’s made of a bunch of different tools. When you’ve invented an algorithm that does compare this frame to this frame and see if there’s any difference between them, it’s done.
And then somebody else can do it. And then you can develop more sophisticated algorithms that might have a better ability to then very rapidly compare the two.
Q: DivX came on most people’s radar in the late 90’s as a download format on file-sharing networks. Can you describe how it grew out of that period?
A: The two places where it took off were university local networks, where you have high-bandwidth, and students typically had a PC as their primary media device. They didn’t have a TV and a PC, so video on their PC made a lot of sense. Downloading over the Internet was trivial even back in 2000.
And then of course the other one was that this was in the heyday of Napster. People were cognizant of the notion of P2P networks and cognizant of getting digital media content from other people on the Internet.
And it turned out with DivX you could turn a P2P network into a viable way to distribute video content, and people did, which of course when we wrote our original business plan was predictable.
We sat down and said what you just created will do these things, people will adopt it, they will use it to transmit high-quality video, probably movies, probably television shows, probably porn—on the Internet—and in this domain and in this particular way.
In some timeframe, they will want to be able transmit that from the PC into the living room. It will be the kind of content that wants to live in the living room—just like what happened with MP3. You had music files sitting in your PC and you wanted to take them portable.
Somebody had to invent the portable MP3 player. In fact, I was at MP3.com at the time, I got to physically touch the first MP3 player ever made. It was made by these guys from Korea—it was literally duct tape.
Q: What’s the next evolutionary phase for DivX in the era of YouTube?
A: It’s called Stage 6. It’s about two months old. We’re putting a stake in the ground, saying we know more about this phenomenon than most people. If you’re serious about creating your content as a content creator, then you use Stage 6. If you’re not, then YouTube is great. One of the things that YouTube is very good for is acting as a marketing vehicle.
Q: How important has YouTube been in raising the profile of what you’re doing?
A: It’s been very good. I mean the more people who are exposed to the notion of being able to use the Internet to access media or to use the Internet as a way to create and publish media is good in general.
We’ve actually found a reasonable number of people who have published to YouTube and then published to Stage 6. If you want to watch it in higher quality, then you watch it in DivX. And remember, we own the living room, so if you want to watch it on your TV, that’s the end of the game.
Q: Where does this fall into the bigger picture, where iTV and Xbox are going after this market?
A: iTunes took the traditional music industry and converted that into a new media industry. Xbox, iTV, and DivX connected—they’re all trying to solve that same problem and create convergence. And once the access part is solved—and you’re able to take that content into your living room—you’ll get a massive acceleration of the market opportunity for all content.
Q: What are the chances of getting DivX into Apple devices?
A: Random. Technically easy. It’s all about Apple. Apple right now is trying to rule. They’re trying to keep a closed system, where everything is Apple.
Q: At what point do you think Apple would work with DivX?
A: Apple will trail. They will actually have to take one on the chin before they change their ways. But what we’re just seeing in the iPod world is we’re just starting to see the demographics where the iPod is no longer considered hip. Kids these days are starting to see the iPod as passé. That’s the problem with being a fashion accessory.
The beauty of the iPod is that it is a fashion accessory, that it can be very rapidly absorbed. It’s not a gadget anymore—it’s a piece of fashion.
The problem with being a piece of fashion—that people in the fashion world will tell you—is that you gotta turn that shit over pretty quickly because it falls out of fashion. Apple kind of went through the iPod, the iPod Mini, the different colors, and the nano, but it’s kind of the same thing. Once it becomes uncool to have an iPod, price becomes the differentiator.
Q: When did it become apparent you could make a real business out of DivX?
A: The video content that is being created is video content that wants to live on your TV. It looks best on your big-screen TV. So one can predict with a high degree of precision that when a critical mass of content is sitting out there on PC hard drives around the world that a market will exist.
And that market demand will cause entrepreneurial entities to meet that market demand by taking DivX and putting it into devices so that it can go into your living room. So our job as a company is to simply build that market.
As it turned out, in 2002 we got our first calls from consumer electronics manufacturers. When we first called the chip guys, they said, “I don’t know who the hell you are. Why would I want to do this?”
From mid-2002 to 2004 we went on a complete rampage signing up all the chip vendors and then all the major OEMs. And by the end of 2004, Sony signed and they were the last of the major OEMs. We have all the major OEMs signed and shipping at least one DivX certified.
Net Neutrality Stalemate on AT&T Merger
Scott M. Fulton, III
A two-month stalemate among commissioners of the US Federal Communications Commission regarding the proposed merger of AT&T and regional provider BellSouth may be reluctantly broken by one commissioner who had earlier recused himself, having previously served as counsel for a firm that lobbied on behalf of AT&T's competitors.
It could be the largest merger in American history, currently valued at $82.2 billion. It could also be the most costly irony in history, as some government regulators, legislators, and the whole of the Dept. of Justice is actively behind a deal to sew back together what the 1984 divestiture order made the former AT&T Corp. tear from its ribs: the southeastern US service arm of the former Bell System.
If the merger does go through, it would be the fourth Baby Bell (RBOC) to be reabsorbed under the AT&T umbrella, although last year, it was AT&T Corp. that was merged into SBC (the former Southwestern Bell), which then assumed the old name but left the RBOC's corporate structure mostly intact.
What's holding up the party is debate over whether one fewer competitor, especially in the southeast, would lead to a systematic reduction in competition. While the DOJ is arguing that one fewer competitor never hurt anyone, opponents point out that the new entity could hold all the cards with regard to the leasing of communications lines to smaller companies that have to provide service over those same lines in order to survive. It was the idea that telecom companies should not have to lease service lines from Ma Bell on her own terms, that led to the creation of MCI and the breakup of AT&T in the first place.
Nominated last January by President Bush to fill a vacant seat after Kevin Martin ascended to the chairman's seat, Commissioner Robert McDowell was previously assistant general counsel for COMPTEL, an association representing smaller communications companies' interests before the federal government.
Last October, COMPTEL put itself on record not as opposing the concept of the merger, but for opposing the terms the two companies negotiated, which the association argued did not do enough to promote competition. The association would possibly support a merger, if its terms included extending provisions that would compensate for the loss of competition in BellSouth's coverage area.
While McDowell was attempting to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest, Chairman Martin is now considering, according to multiple reports this afternoon, asking the FCC's general counsel, Sam Feder, to rule on the matter of whose interests are more important: the government's in seeing this matter through, or the public's in seeing it ethically decided.
However, if Feder rules that McDowell must vote, there's no guarantee that he would break the logjam. He could abstain, forcing a newly installed 110th Congress -- with a Democratic majority in both houses -- to take up the matter after the holidays.
In COMPTEL's petition before the FCC last October, its attorneys wrote, "The Applicants' proposed thirty-month limitation with an automatic sunset on conditions and commitments must be considered in light of the substantial competitive harms that would result from the combination of AT&T and BellSouth. The damage to competition and innovation can only be cured by the assurance of a pro-competitive environment that reasonably and effectively invites the entry and expansion of competitive carriers. It will take new entrants many years to expand sufficiently to replace the competition lost due to the merger.
"When viewed from such a perspective," the petition continued, "it is clear that the proposed limitation will cause the conditions to lapse before they are fully and sufficiently implemented and before the pre-merger levels of competition can be replaced."
The Justice Dept. swiftly approved the AT&T/BellSouth merger early last October, almost as soon as the matter was brought up, saying the fact that there are so many competitors in telecom markets already indicated that they wouldn't be harmed by one fewer player.
"The presence of other competitors, changing regulatory requirements and the emergence of new technologies in markets for residential local and long distance service indicate that this transaction is not likely to harm consumer welfare," stated DOJ Antitrust division chief Thomas O. Barnett following the approval, adding, "The proposed acquisition does not raise competition concerns with respect to Internet services markets or 'net neutrality."'
But immediately afterward, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein went on record condemning the DOJ's move, questioning why it acted so swiftly without waiting for the results of a congressional inquiry, when it had urged caution on other merger matters in the past.
"Today's move by the Department of Justice to approve the proposed AT&T-BellSouth combination without condition is a reckless abandonment of DOJ's responsibility to protect competition and consumers," Adelstein wrote. "By failing to issue a complaint, consent decree or condition, it appears DOJ took a dive on one of the largest mergers in history just to avoid further court scrutiny."
One concern, raised by COMPTEL last October, is whether the newly merged entity could force smaller competitors, not just in the southeast but across the country, to lease access to its lines in bundle deals only. This could effectively limit potential lessees to just the major players - those with the capability to provide voice, data, and television service in a "triple play," or not at all. That makes the merger conditions effectively a net neutrality issue, merging -- if you will -- the AT&T/BellSouth debate with the existing fracas in Congress over whether national Internet licensing would lead to favoritism among the major players.
But another issue could be equally as intriguing: A newly merged telecom powerhouse could conclude it needs fewer providers of raw materials, especially copper, as it continues its conversion to a fiberoptic system. Smaller telecom competitors don't have the capital required to compete in the fiberoptic space, and continue to require copper in order to complete "the last mile" between private telecom lines and households.
But if AT&T decommissions the copper plants, they could cease to produce copper altogether. "Putting the brakes on this anti-competitive activity, and preserving the copper last mile access required for intra-modal competitors to reach customers, is critical to ensuring that consumers have more than one or two choices of service providers," COMPTEL wrote.
Its proposed solution would apparently keep copper providers in business, at least for awhile. But lawmakers and commissioners on both sides of the merger issue may argue, why force a phone company to purchase raw materials it doesn't need?
With the absence of McDowell to break any ties, the remaining four commissioners have been hopelessly deadlocked over the past two months over whether to impose these and other conditions upon the deal. The deadlock has led to a bigger debate throughout Washington, over whether such conditions would amount to too much government control over what industry leaders consider innovation.
Last month, the merger partners agreed to provide DSL broadband service to customers in outlying areas for as low as $10 per month, and not requiring customers to subscribe to AT&T phone service in order to qualify for good rates on broadband, in response to requests from House Democrats. But part of the current debate concerns whether this is actually a good thing: The new AT&T already has an advantage in being able to install DSL service in rural areas, that its competitors don't enjoy. If AT&T clinches those customers before others have a chance, they may never get that chance.
After the DOJ decision in October, Commissioners Adelstein and Michael Copps wrote FCC Chairman Miller, urging him to open up the merger matter before a public hearing.
"Given the limited analysis from our leading antitrust authorities," the commissioners wrote, "it is all the more imperative that we now employ an open process to fully involve all affected parties, including the applicants, in order to get the public and expert review that is otherwise lacking...To put this in context, we are still six months ahead of the time it took us to complete the Adelphia-Comcast-Time Warner merger, a transaction less than one-fifth the size of this one."
But when protracted debate forced Miller on November 2 to pull the public hearing from the docket, COMPTEL went on record as supporting Miller's move to suspend a public hearing.
"COMPTEL applauds the FCC for choosing not to consider the proposed merger of AT&T and BellSouth at its Nov. 3 open meeting," a COMPTEL statement said. "Given AT&T's failure thus far to make a good faith effort to address legitimate public interest concerns, COMPTEL is heartened that the Commission did not bend to AT&T's pressure tactics. It remains to be seen whether AT&T ever engaged in any meaningful attempt to resolve those concerns but we look forward to seeing what, if any, last-minute proposals they may have made to the Commission."
So even if McDowell were compelled to vote, and chose not to abstain, it isn't exactly clear at this time that he'd necessarily vote in accordance with his old employer even if he opposed the merger in principle. And however he votes, legislators early next year may take up the issue over whether a matter this important, with enormous impact on the future of global telecommunications, should ever be hoisted onto the shoulders of just one man.
AT&T: We Don't Need no Stinking Fiber to the Premises
Did AT&T make the right call when it decided to only run fiber to the node instead of to each dwelling? The telecom thinks so. AT&T CFO Richard Lindner defended the company's decision at a conference held by investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston, according to Reuters.
"Our view at this point is that we're not going to have [to run] fiber to the home," Lindner told the conference. "We're pleased with the bandwidth that we're seeing over copper."
Verizon, in contrast, has chosen to go with a more costly strategy of running fiber to the premises with its FiOS service. It costs much more, about $900 to pass a home during deployment, but not every home passed will sign up for FiOS. As a result, analysts estimate that the actual cost per customer acquired is along the lines of $9,650.
AT&T's cost is significantly less. By running fiber to the local node and using the existing copper wiring to cover the distance between node and dwelling, AT&T is able to cut costs. AT&T plans to make its U-Verse service available to 19 million homes by the end of 2008 at a cost of around $5.1 billion, which works out to around $270 per home. Verizon expects to spend approximately $18 billion to reach around 18 million homes.
From a financial standpoint, the numbers add up. But questions remain over the ability of AT&T's U-Verse network to scale with traffic growth. Verizon FiOS subscribers can get speeds of 30Mbps/5Mpbs (for $179.95 per month) and 15Mbps/2Mbps for $44.95; those figures appear to be fairly future-proof. AT&T's U-Verse offering looks downright paltry in comparison, maxing out at 6Mbps down and 1Mbps up; when the copper link between the node and each home is only capable of 25Mbps, that's the best the company can hope to do given current technological limitations.
AT&T's reliance on existing copper infrastructure is the driving force behind its decision to use IPTV for its cable television offering. By treating television as just another type of switched packet traffic, AT&T is able to make the most of that 25Mbps of bandwidth. In contrast, Verizon is using plain old television service for its cable offering, with IPTV reserved for video on demand. Verizon has up to 620Mbps of bandwidth available just for Internet traffic.
In the near term—maybe the next three to five years—AT&T should be fine; not everyone wants or needs 6Mbps Internet. Will AT&T regret its fiber-to-the-node strategy down the line? It might, especially if subscribers are unable to fully take advantage of especially bandwidth-hungry services. Should that be the case, the telecom will be faced with an expensive network upgrade. Perhaps most importantly, the company's Internet offering might prove lacking in the eyes of consumers, especially as the cable industry moves towards the rollout of DOCSIS 3.0 and 100Mbps speeds. In areas with meaningful broadband competition, AT&T may find itself coming in third place—a bad position in a three-horse race.
Energy Crisis Seen For Tech
Valley rivals meet with feds amid fears that growth could be stunted
Sarah Jane Tribble
The nation's biggest technology companies sat down with federal regulators Wednesday to assess the industry's thirst for power amid fears that volatile and expensive energy could hinder the growing sector.
The fierce competitors at the table -- including Google, IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard -- rarely gather to talk strategy. But they were lured by the chance to influence the development of national energy standards.
``I think we may be at the beginning of a potential energy crisis for the IT sector,'' Victor Varney, a vice president for Silicon Graphics, told the regulators. ``It's clearly coming.''
Already, local companies are adjusting growth plans, and data centers have moved out of California for more stable power supplies, he said.
Google's Bill Weihl, who works with energy strategy engineering and operations, countered that the crisis isn't upon the industry yet but is possible in the next five to 10 years if adequate and reliable energy supplies are not ensured.
The U.S. Department of Energy, which measures power use in various industries, hopes to learn from the companies, and to design guidelines for building efficient facilities and technology, said Andrew Karsner, assistant secretary of energy efficiency and renewable energy for the department. He also is considering eventually auditing energy use in technology facilities, much like the department's audits of steel and paper plants.
The round table, hosted by Advanced Micro Devices, was the first meeting in what Karsner called a public and private partnership. Research firm Gartner estimates that within two years about half of the world's data centers will have insufficient power and cooling capacity to service the high-density servers companies need to keep up with demand for their services and products.
The use of electricity plays a vital role in powering the offices, research-and-development laboratories and massive data centers for the technology sector, which is one of America's fastest-growing industries.
Concern about electricity pricing and volatility has led Microsoft to talk with its network manufacturers about building more efficient servers. IBM and Hewlett-Packard -- which both build data centers -- want to improve efficiency at the facilities. AMD promotes changing the design of data centers to increase airflow to keep the supercomputers cool.
The technology industry's need for energy should worry everyone, Karsner said Tuesday before sitting down with the executives. Protecting the technology sector from an energy crisis is akin to protecting the American economy, he said.
To illustrate his point, Karsner hypothesized: ``What happens to national productivity when Google goes down for 72 hours?''
It's a far-fetched and grim possibility Karsner said he doesn't want to consider.
Karsner and members of his energy team asked the technology executives about productivity and took notes during what turned into a four-hour brainstorming session about the need to create more efficient equipment and develop standards for building data centers.
Executives at Google, which is working on its own data center in the Northwest, charged that the energy used by laptops and personal computers should be considered in the discussion, while others argued that standards needed to be set for the development of data centers.
The executives also urged the regulators to work with efforts already under way, such as the Green Grid group Silicon Valley companies began quietly organizing in April to address the same energy concerns.
``There are not all that many experts who understand this problem holistically, and the worst thing that we could do is to fracture the bandwidth,'' said Paul Perez, vice president for storage, networks and infrastructure and enterprise servers for Hewlett-Packard.
AMD: New Chips Consume Half the Power of Core 2 Duo
Moves to 65-nm generation
AMD announced its entry into the 65-nm manufacturing generation Tuesday with a new line of 65-watt "energy-efficient" processors that the company claimed already consumes just under 50 percent less power than the Intel Core 2 Duo.
AMD's novel argument provided a backdrop for four new chips – the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4000+, 4400+, 4800+, and 5000+ – will be sold for the same price as their older counterparts, which were fabricated on the 90-nm process. The Athlon 64 X2 line will receive the 65-nm conversion treatment first, which will be completed by the first quarter of 2007 in its Fab 36 in Dresden.
AMD's notebook and server processor lines will receive the same 65-nm treatment, which will be completed some time in 2007, according to Jack Huynh, responsible for marketing and business development at AMD's desktop division. AMD's standard Athlon 64 and Sempron lines will lag the X2's conversion, as they are not "mainstream" parts, Huynh said.
Shifting to a finer manufacturing process means less power and waste heat is needed to run at a given speed. In desktops, that means that the chip can be clocked faster while still maintaining the given power; in notebooks, the overall power consumption can be reduced while still maintaining a given speed. AMD's energy-efficient chips split that difference, offering power savings and a quieter desktop PC environment.
"With the Vista rollout, it's more and more important to multitask and multicore without a super loud box -- that's the end goal," Huynh said.
In May, AMD announced an energy-efficient processor roadmap, up to the 4800+ chip, that established a 65-watt power threshold. Certain other Athlon 64 X2 processors, including the 3500+ and 3800+, were also classified as "small form factor" energy-efficient processors and designed to run at a maximum of 35 watts. All of the new 65-nm energy-efficient chips are classified to run at 65 watts maximum power.
But AMD's sales team is also attempting to convince customers that even its older "Rev. F" 65-watt, 90-nm chips actually consume less power than Intel's Core 2 Duo components, with the delta even more magnified when its new 35-watt, 65-nm chips are compared.
AMD's argument goes like this: modern desktop and notebook processors constantly scale up and down between full speed and an idle state, which AMD has branded "Cool 'n' Quiet". At a given time, pushed to full load by an application, AMD's chips run hotter and consume more power. But across a typical computing day – where a user might check his email or surf the Web – the processor idles more often then not. At idle, AMD's 90-nm Athlon 64 X2 consumes 7.5 watts. Its latest 65-nm chips idle at 3.8 watts. By comparison, the 65-nm Core 2 Duo idles at 14.3 watts.
AMD's 90-nm/65 watt Athlon 64 X2 chips consumed 47.6 percent the power of a 65-nm Core 2 Duo chip, the company said. A 35-watt X2 consumes 73.3 percent of the power of the same Core 2 Duo. However, directly comparing the two chips' power load, in a real-world computing environment, over the course of a day, would be a daunting task, Huynh acknowledged.
Comparing processors by the power consumed has either been done using real-world measurements or via a number called "Thermal Design Power," a guideline given to engineers that estimates the maximum amount of power that a chip would consume. Huynh called TDP and process technology comparisons "purely a numbers game".
"We don't want to get caught in the processor technology game," Huynh said. "We have superior power management features than our competition."
The new processors meet or exceed the new Energy Star requirements for idle power consumption, which go into effect in July 2007, Huynh added.
Huynh also discouraged those who might hope that AMD might create a low-power version of the Quad FX or "4x4" platform that was criticized for its high power consumption. "We always have to look at all the options, but that [the Quad FX] roadmap is 125-watts, extended through next year," he said.
The 65-nm development work was researched in conjunction with IBM. Normally, a processor conversion would take nearly a full year; AMD's goal is to complete it within about half that time, Huynh said. The next step? To catch up with Intel on 45-nm, which last week announced test samples of its 45-nm "Penryn" processors. AMD's goal is to catch up with Intel in 18 months, he said.
UCF Researcher’s 3-D Digital Storage System Could Hold a Library on One Disc
Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
Imagine taking the entire collection of historical documents at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and storing it on a single DVD.
University of Central Florida Chemistry Professor Kevin D. Belfield and his team have cracked a puzzle that stumped scientists for more than a dozen years. They have developed a new technology that will allow users to record and store massive amounts of data -- the museum’s entire collection or as many as 500 movies, for example -- onto a single disc or, perhaps, a small cube.
Belfield’s Two-Photon 3-D Optical Data Storage system makes this possible.
“For a while, the community has been able to record data in photochromic materials in several layers,” Belfield said. “The problem was that no one could figure out how to read out the data without destroying it. But we cracked it.”
Think of it this way. Television viewers can tape a show on a VHS tape. They can use the tape several times. But each time the same segment of the tape is used, the quality diminishes as the tape wears out. Eventually, the data is lost. The same is true of recordable DVDs.
Belfield’s team figured out a way to use lasers to compact large amounts of information onto a DVD while maintaining excellent quality. The information is stored permanently without the possibility of damage.
The process involves shooting two different wavelengths of light onto the recording surface. The use of two lasers creates a very specific image that is sharper than what current techniques can render. Depending on the color (wavelength) of the light, information is written onto a disk. The information is highly compacted, so the disk isn’t much thicker. It’s like a typical DVD.
The challenge scientists faced for years was that light is also used to read the information. The light couldn’t distinguish between reading and writing, so it would destroy the recorded information. Belfield’s team developed a way to use light tuned to specific colors or wavelengths to allow information that a user wants to keep to stay intact.
The UCF team’s work was published in Advanced Materials (2006, vol. 18, pp. 2910-2914, http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/adma.200600826) and recently highlighted in Nature Photonics (http://www.nature.com/nphoton/reshig...n.2006.47.html ). A patent is pending.
Once the technology is fine-tuned, it could be used to store historical documents or create complicated databases that could give decision-makers quick access to critical information, Belfield said.
Blu-Ray Disc Association and industrial leaders in computer and other media recently commercially introduced Blu-Ray Disc technology that allows for storage of 25 gigabytes (GB) on a single layer of a disc and 50 GB on two layers. It has been referred to as the next generation of optical disc format, and it offers high-definition quality.
Belfield’s technique allows for storing on multiple layers with the capacity of at least 1,000 GB and high-definition quality.
The UCF team has received a $270,000, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to continue its work. The team will focus on making the technique even more efficient, partly by reducing the required laser power.
The team’s work with lasers and lights has other practical applications. Belfield and his colleagues in the Department of Chemistry are exploring the use of light to detect and treat certain types of cancer.
Belfield’s research team is creating chemical agents that, after being injected into patients, will travel within the bloodstream to find and bind with cancer cells. Using light, doctors would then be able to see if and where a patient has cancer cells. Another agent could be injected that would then destroy the cancer cells when activated by light, without damaging other healthy cells.
Paul D. Thacker
Science and technology underpin the modern American economy, but as a steady drumbeat of recent reports have suggested, experts fear that the current trajectory for the U.S. scientific enterprise could eventually undermine the country’s competitive stance. Attempting to find solutions, the Brookings Institution brought together a handful of scholars Tuesday to suggest and discuss federal strategies to head off the problem.
Lawrence H. Summers, the Charles W. Eliot University Professor and the former president of Harvard University, concisely summed up the day’s concerns. The last century was the century of physics, and it was a century directed by America, he said. The 21st century will likely be defined by advances in the biomedical sciences.
“The question is,” he asked, “‘Will the United States be the leader?’ ”
Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the chancellor for science and technology at the University of California at Berkeley, proposed that the federal government provide prizes as an incentive to spur research. Kalil’s idea originates from a contest in 1919, when a New York hotel owner, Raymond Orteig, offered a $25,000 purse to the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. While Charles Lindbergh ultimately succeeded in 1927, nine different teams spent more than $400,000 going after the money, helping to spawn the multibillion-dollar aviation industry.
Dangling prizes in front of innovators has benefits not found in the typical funding process. By offering a prize, government pays for success instead of rewarding a research proposal, as occurs with grants. Second, prizes can stimulate private investment by attracting entrepreneurs and corporate enthusiasts interested in capturing a trophy. Finally, there is nothing like a cash jackpot to stir public interest.
“I’m not saying that we don’t have to fund research, but we should look to prizes as a complement,” said Kalil. Drawbacks exist, however. Kalil noted that small companies and individual inventors face difficulty raising funds to pursue cash awards, and prizes can work only for narrowly tailored projects. A contest simply would not work, he said, for a highly complex project like discovering a Higgs boson particle.
But prizes can spur research in areas like space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration recently announced that it will sponsor competitions to invent technologies such as flexible astronaut gloves, and Kalil recommended that NASA create prizes for more ambitious contests such as building a lunar lander-rover. Kalil also suggested that prizes may be the way to spur innovations in African agriculture, vaccines for diseases that afflict the poor, energy policy and even learning technologies.
Researchers need to design learning software that is as interesting to students as video games, he argued. Kalil said that this policy shift would not require huge amounts of money. For instance, he recommended that NASA initially devote around $100 million of its $16.8 billion budget to contests.
Richard Freeman, professor of economics at Harvard, made a similar plea for targeted spending, focused instead on graduate research fellowships sponsored by the National Science Foundation. In the early 1960s, NSF funded about 1,000 graduate students in the Graduate Research Fellowship Program and three decades later, it sponsors the same number. Freeman said that the government needs to triple that number and increase the value of each fellowship from $30,000 to $40,000 annually.
Funding more graduate students would not solve all the problems in science, but Freeman said that the minimal cost ($375 million a year) would galvanize the younger generation to set the future agenda for science. “The point is that we would get a substantial response to this and all the good things would follow,” he said.
Review: Gaming PCs Surpass New Consoles
The new video game consoles already look pretty wimpy compared with the latest gaming PCs. The Wii? Whatever. The Xbox 360? No match. The PlayStation 3? You can't find one, anyway.
Featuring water-cooled microprocessors, beefy graphics cards and gigabytes of memory, current high-end gaming PCs are light years ahead of the latest consoles from Microsoft Corp., Nintendo Co. or Sony Corp. However, they come at a hefty price, however.
Together, two new systems I tested cost nearly $16,000 - as much as a new Honda Civic. But a new car can't run video games, and that's where the Mach V from boutique computer maker Falcon Northwest ($9,621.83 as tested, including a 30-inch display, wireless mouse and keyboard) and Alienware's Area-51 7500 ($5,419) excel. These two screamers are among the fastest, most capable machines money can buy for all your video gaming needs.
So what exactly do you get for that much cash? Each system includes fairly similar innards: two gigabytes of memory and an advanced 3-D graphics card from Nvidia Corp. that alone retails for $600 - as much as a high-end PlayStation 3. Perhaps the most significant feature is the new microprocessor from Intel Corp., known as Core 2 Extreme, which acts as the computing brain of each system.
Sporting four tiny processing engines on a single chip instead of just one or two, it means you can play online games like "World of Warcraft" and "work" programs like Microsoft Office without skipping a beat.
The consoles, on the other hand, tend to use customized chips tuned especially for games, and for the most part that's still the case.
The Xbox 360's CPU was designed by IBM Corp. and has three cores compared to the four cores found in the Mach V and Area-51 7500. The Wii uses a much less advanced processor also created by IBM.
The exotic processor in the PS3 is nothing to sneeze at: called Cell, the chip packs so much power that it's being used in an upcoming supercomputer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
Keep in mind, however, that the technology in the consoles is locked and unlikely to change in the next five years or so, when the Xbox 720, the PS4 and the Wii 2 arrive. PCs, meanwhile, can constantly be upgraded.
The current technology in the Mach V and the Area-51 7500 meant I could frag opponents in ultrahigh 2,560-pixel-by-1,600-pixel resolutions - effectively double that of high-definition TVs - in games like "Quake 4" while maintaining a silky-smooth frame rate.
The recent strategy game "Company of Heroes" was simply amazing as WWII battles were waged with stunning clarity in real time.
As with most new technology, however, today's crop of games are not yet programmed to tap the full potential of the advanced processors and graphics cards.
At this point, more cores aren't necessarily faster. That should all change next year with Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system and a slew of snazzy new video games like the upcoming first-person shooter "Crysis" due later in 2007.
Interestingly, neither the Area-51 nor the Mach V included a next-generation Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive for high-definition movies, something now available for the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Instead, both had standard DVD drives.
The Mach V was so new, in fact, I experienced some bugs such games that froze up and stuttered at times. The problem vanished after I downloaded newer software drivers for the video card.
Beyond the shiny parts, these two PCs have a sense of style that's a huge departure from the normal boring beige, black or silver computers. (Alienware is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dell Inc.)
The Mach V is a hulking tower with hand-painted blue flames around the entire case. There's a clear plastic panel on one side of the machine so fellow geeks can gawk at the system's snazzy circuit boards. For added effect, the interior is lit up by a blue neon light.
The Alienware system was even more bizarre. The curvaceous, glossy black case was encrusted with colored lights and logos that look like small alien heads, and the case itself is actually shaped like the head of some alien from "The X-Files."
The Area-51 7500 would certainly look right at home in Darth Vader's office. (One cool feature is a software utility that lets you adjust the colors of the exterior lighting.)
If there's one complaint with these new PCs (and all PCs, for that matter), it's that they don't play the massive variety of games available for the consoles.
On the flip side, these are computers that can be used to surf the Internet, edit videos, download music and process words in addition to games. Try that with your Wii.
And really, you can't call yourself part of the wealthy computer geek club until you've edited a spreadsheet on a 30-inch screen with one of these monsters.
Deciding between the two? I'd have to give the edge to the handcrafted, fine-tuned Mach V, but really, it's like choosing between a Ferrari and a Lotus sports car. It's largely a matter of personal preference between two distinctly different designs - and either way, you'll have to spend a small fortune.
Shrinking the Time It Takes to Shrink Those Video Files
J. D. Biersdorfer
Sometimes the destination is much more fun than the journey — for example, when converting video files or home movies for use on portable gadgets like the iPod and Sony PSP. Trimming videos down to the right size for a pocket player can take hours, but the new Instant Video To-Go hardware accelerator from ADS Technologies promises to cut that down to minutes.
At first glance, the Instant Video To-Go device looks like a U.S.B. flash drive. It comes with ArcSoft Media Converter 2 software in the box, but the real work is done by the accelerator. By the company’s estimates, a 100-minute two-gigabyte video in the MPEG2 format that would take around five hours to shrink down with software alone takes only 20 minutes to be transformed into the high-quality H.264 MPEG4 video used by many portables.
The device sells for around $80 and works with Windows XP systems with a U.S.B. 2.0 port; full specifications and a link to buy are at www.adstech.com. It can convert video to several formats, including Windows Media Video and QuickTime. It does not, however, capture video from outside sources like DVDs, just video stored on your computer.
HDTVs, Ripe for the Picking
Eric A. Taub
FALLING prices, improved technology and more programming choices have made this year absolutely, positively and finally the time to jump in and buy a high-definition TV.
Wait a minute. Wasn’t that what they were saying last Christmas?
According to the industry’s boosters, when it comes to HDTV, every year is the best year to buy such a set.
But this year seems better than the others — really.
Those waiting for lower prices do not need to wait more than a few weeks. The equivalent high-definition set from Sony that cost $10,000 five years ago now costs $1,000. In the last three months, the cost of flat-panel HDTV sets has dropped 12 percent on average, said Tamaryn Pratt, the principal owner of Quixel Research of Portland, Ore.
And Consumer Reports has enthusiastically recommended HDTV for the first time since the magazine began covering the technology. In terms of price, programming and quality, “HDTV has reached a tipping point,” said Paul Reynolds, the magazine’s electronics editor.
Yet those who want to upgrade from their once-giant 27-inch TVs are still in for sticker shock. While less expensive today, a high-definition set of comparable size costs hundreds of dollars more than a standard TV.
For many people, it will cost even more after they experience the superior picture quality, Dolby Digital surround sound and wide-screen image. They will be enticed not just to replace their aging tube set, but to trade up to a flat-panel or rear-projection model the size of a Smart car.
Today, 50-inch and larger flat-panel TVs are finding their way into more dens and living rooms. And larger rear-projection sets are producing images approaching the size of art-house movie screens.
Here is a look at some trends in HDTV pricing, features and technologies.
HDTV-set prices are in free fall. “Prices are dropping literally by the week,” Ms. Pratt said. “We call it the pricing Armageddon.”
A Panasonic 42-inch plasma set that cost $3,000 last Christmas is $1,800 today (and can be found at Amazon.com for $1,450). Similarly, Panasonic’s 50-inch model was $5,000 last Christmas, but is now $2,800, and can easily be found for $2,250.
Liquid-crystal-display sets, which used to cost much more than plasma TVs of the same size, are reaching price parity in the smaller sizes.
The prices of larger-size L.C.D. sets will continue to fall as manufacturers improve their ability to carve out more L.C.D. panels from a single piece of glass.
While the price drops have been steep, they are not finished. “The price decline is accelerating,” Ms. Pratt said. She predicted that a typical 42-inch flat panel TV would drop to $1,400 retail by this time next year, and a 50-inch model to $2,000.
720P VS. 1080I VS. 1080P
Depending on the model, HDTVs display images at different resolutions. The highest is known as 1080p, and is now featured on many large-screen high-end sets.
While 1080p creates the best high-definition image, no programs are broadcast in that standard because too much bandwidth is required.
So the only way to see a true 1080p image is to watch an HD DVD that has been recorded in one of the high-definition formats: high-definition DVD or Blu-Ray. Otherwise, HDTV images from broadcasters are converted to 1080p, with pixels added to the image to improve the resolution.
Whether you can see the difference between a 720p, 1080i or 1080p picture depends on the set’s quality, screen size and the distance you are sitting from it.
L.C.D. VS. Plasma ...
The performance of L.C.D. sets has been plagued by blurred images during fast-moving scenes. But L.C.D. pictures appear to have better contrast than plasma sets when viewed in bright light.
On the other hand, plasma TVs have traditionally come with a wider viewing angle. But the sets weigh considerably more than L.C.D.’s, so they are more difficult to hang on a wall. (Not many people do that anyway.)
With Sharp’s newest generation of L.C.D. sets, motion-blurring problems have been solved, said Bob Scaglione, the company’s senior vice president for marketing.
Two new Sharp models (a $3,200 46-inch set and a $4,300 52-inch unit) feature a four-millisecond picture response time, half that of previous models, Mr. Scaglione said.
He called the reduced response time “a major seismic shift in technology,” adding, “This takes the wind out of the sails of the plasma camp that has long said L.C.D. TVs were not good for watching sports.”
... VS. Rear-Projection Sets
As the prices for ever-larger L.C.D. and plasma sets drop, they are nudging less-expensive rear-projection sets out of the market. As a result, rear-projection sets are growing, sold in sizes where L.C.D. and plasma still cannot compete.
A new 56-inch 1080p rear-projection model from Samsung, the $4,200 HL-S5679W, uses red, green and blue light-emitting diodes to illuminate the screen, rather than the traditional bulb used in a rear-projection set. The picture is created with digital light processing technology (D.L.P.); a chip contains millions of tiny mirrors that move to allow light to pass through to the screen.
The advantage of L.E.D.’s is that the light lasts 20,000 hours at full brightness, compared with a 4,000-hour life for a traditional bulb, said Dan Schinasi, a Samsung senior product marketing manager.
Sony’s two new top SXRD 1080p rear-projection sets use a different technology, called LCoS, or liquid crystal on silicon, to create an image. Both sets, the $6,000 70-inch KDSR70 XBR2 and the $3,800 60-inch KDSR60 XBR2, feature the same electronics and a 2.5-millisecond response time, an “advanced iris” to improve color rendition, a 10,000:1 contrast ratio and automatic adjustment of brightness based on the room illumination.
To ease the task of connecting DVD players, set-top boxes, game consoles and audio receivers to an HDTV, the industry has adopted a standard called HDMI. An HDMI plug carries both audio and video signals in one cable, eliminating the nest of wires that plague many home theater setups.
Next year, HDMI version 1.3 will begin to appear on TVs and other components. The new standard gives manufacturers the ability to display billions rather than millions of color gradations, and to introduce auto-correction of lip-synch problems.
Bells And Whistles
It may be simple to hide a 27-inch TV in a corner, but giant plasma or L.C.D. sets are another matter.
To improve the sets’ decorative qualities, manufacturers are paying more attention to design issues. Sony offers interchangeable bezels on its 40- and 46-inch Bravia L.C.D. models. The company has sold 1,000 of the $300 colored frames, which come in red, black, blue, brown or white, since their introduction in August.
Philips’ Ambilight technology, available on select models, projects variable colors onto the wall behind the set, complementing the colors of any particular scene.
For those who place a set away from a wall, Philips has introduced a 42-inch L.C.D. model with four-sided Ambilight technology. The colors are projected onto the attached frame rather than onto the wall.
Look for more TVs to feature HDMI inputs on the front and sides of the set, making it easier to connect game consoles, video cameras and other devices that use the HDMI connection standard.
Taking the concept of TV as a home-entertainment center further, Sharp will introduce a set next year that comes with an Ethernet jack, so users can download entertainment content from specific Web sites.
When You Get The Set Home
The picture you see on an HDTV in the store will invariably look different when you get the set home. Every manufacturer cranks up the TV’s brightness and color controls at the factory, so images look good in a fluorescent showroom.
Once the set is unpacked, you can adjust the brightness and color controls. TVs from Philips now incorporate a settings assistant, in which a split screen shows before-and-after views of an image, reflecting the changes you have made.
Sharp and other manufacturers incorporate automatic tuning circuitry; once activated, the set will adjust its color and brightness to match the room’s conditions.
For those who want the best picture, use a tuning DVD, like Digital Video Essentials. The disc guides you through a series of tests that help you adjust the display optimally.
Media Players Tout Portable Music, Video
Portable media players and related accessories are among the hottest gift items this holiday season. People can now carry thousands of songs in their pocket, and many of the sleek gizmos can display photos and videos as well.
It's an alluring new kind of lifestyle: entertainment on-the-go. A soundtrack for your life.
A sampling of what's available:
Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod
The most popular line of portable players, commanding 75 percent of the U.S. market, is known for its sleek design, ease of use and integration with Apple's iTunes software and online store. The iPod Shuffle is the smallest in the lineup - tinier than a matchbook. The Shuffle lacks a display, playing songs in random order or according to a playlist. The iPod Nano, which has a 1.5-inch display, is the midsize model but still super-slim, using up to 8 gigabytes of flash memory to store 8,000 tunes or 25,000 photos. The full-size iPod has a beefier 30- or 80-gigabyte hard drive and can play back video on a bright 3.5-inch screen. (Manufacturer's suggested retail price: 1GB Shuffle $79; Nano, from $149 for 2GB to $250 for 8GB; video-capable iPod $250 for 30GB, $350 for 80GB)
SanDisk Sansa e200R Rhapsody series
An MP3 player with an easy, integrated way to access millions of songs through the Rhapsody subscription music service. Sansa players are the second-most popular in the U.S. market with a 10 percent share, according to The NPD Group, a research company. Unlike iPods, the e200R players also offer an FM tuner/recorder, voice recording and a memory card slot for additional storage. The 1.8-inch color screen displays photos and video, though video playback is not a main feature. Comes preloaded with music from Rhapsody. (MSRP: Four models from $140 for 2GB to $250 for 8GB. Separate music subscription needed)
Creative Zen Vision W
A portable video player with a generous, bright 4.3-inch wide-screen display. It supports MP3 and WMA audio files and a variety of video standards, including Windows-based formats used by movie download services like Amazon.com's Unbox. Compatible with TiVoToGo so TiVo users can transfer recorded television programs onto the device. A CompactFlash slot can be used to play back photos or videos from digital cameras. ($300 for 30GB, $400 for 60GB)
Archos 604 WiFi
Play music and videos that are streamed from your PC or stored on this 30-gigabyte multimedia player with built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking. It features a vibrant 4.3-inch touch screen and supports a variety of video formats, including copy-protected files from movie download services that use Microsoft's digital rights management technology. It also can be used to surf the Web. It records TV shows when docked to an optional digital video recording station. The device turns into a hard drive-based camcorder when it's connected to a digital camera and an optional adapter - or a separately sold helmet mini-cam. (MSRP: $450)
The Clix is a compact, rectangular media player with a 2.2-inch color display that can handle songs, photos and video. It features an FM tuner/recorder and voice recording, and also works with Windows-based music services, including immediate, integrated compatibility with MTV Network's Urge download/subscription music service. The device also can play downloaded casual games. It comes preloaded with games and songs from eMusic. (MSRP: $170 for 2GB model, $200 for 4GB)
The Inno is a portable XM satellite radio that also plays MP3 and Windows Media song files stored on its 1-gigabyte of internal memory. It not only can directly record your favorite XM radio channels but also features a built-in FM transmitter and integration with the Napster music service. If you hear a tune you like on XM, you could tag it for purchase later on Napster. (MSRP: $300. Napster subscription sold separately)
Myvu Personal Media Viewer
Watch videos or downloaded TV programs while you're washing dishes with this personal media viewer that's worn like a pair of space-age style sunglasses. It hooks up to a portable media player so it seems like you're watching video on a 27-inch screen instead of a 2.5-inch one. There's a universal version that weighs 2.4 ounces and works with any media player or a lighter, made-for-iPod version. (MSRP: $269 for universal model, $400 for iPod model)
Marware's Sportsuit Sensor(plus) with the Nike/ iPod Sport Kit
This combination creates a pedometer system that could be your virtual running coach while pumping out your exercise tunes. The Nike/iPod kit has a receiver that connects to an iPod Nano and wirelessly communicates with a sensor that slides into a pocket under the insole of specially designed Nike shoes. It tracks speed, time, distance and calories burned - data which can be uploaded later to your workout log on NikePlus.com. The velcro pouch from Marware means you could attach the sensor to the straps of any running shoe and not just special Nike treads. (MSRP: $10 for the Marware pouch, $29 for the Nike + iPod Sport Kit)
Bose QuietComfort 3 headphones
Listening to tunes on a digital music player while riding in subways, airplanes or cars could be less of an audio challenge with this noise-canceling headphone set. It's worn over the ear and uses electronic wizardry to dampen noise from the outside world. This latest model is smaller than its QC2 predecessor. Instead of large cups that envelop the ears, it has pads that rest on them. (MSRP: $349)
I177 iLuv Stereo Docking System
Forego the chatter of morning DJs with this iPod-compatible clock radio. If folks are already toting their own music everywhere with iPods, why not also the bedroom where you can fall asleep or wake to your favorite tunes? This iPod-compatible clock radio - with a traditional design and alarm clock features - will also simultaneously recharge the iPod. (MSRP: $90)
Some Gadget Gifts Make Work, Play Easier
Nothing shows how much you care more than a gift that makes play more fun and work less arduous. From an advanced computer mouse to a robot vacuum that sucks up nails, there's no shortage of gadgets to stuff into stockings or place under trees.
A sampling of gadget gifts for the home, office, car, train and anywhere:
Watch where you swing. Nintendo Co.'s new gaming console with an unusual motion-sensing controller promises to get families off the couch, using the wand controller like a virtual tennis racket, baseball bat, football, steering wheel or weapon. Who would have thought video gaming could make you break into a sweat? The graphics are nowhere near as impressive as those on Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3, but it's more affordable and somewhat easier to find. (Manufacturer's suggested retail price: $250. Games sold separately.)
IRobot Dirt Dog
Now you can clean the floors of your garage and not just your home with the push of a button. The maker of the Roomba and Scooba - the popular disk-shaped robots that vacuum carpets and scrub hard floors - has designed the Dirt Dog rover to fetch heavy-duty workshop messes, including wood chips, material scraps and small nails. (MSRP: $130)
Garmin nuvi 660
Quibbles over reading maps could be relegated to the past with a growing crop of car satellite-navigation systems. This latest pocket-sized GPS travel assistant with a 4.3-inch color widescreen display does more than give you turn-by-turn directions, traffic alerts and the location of the nearest gas station. It also lets you make handsfree cell phone calls via a Bluetooth microphone and speaker. A built-in FM transmitter also lets you listen to MP3s or audio books stored on the gadget through your car stereo. (MSRP: $900)
Philips VoIP 321 Cordless Phone
More people than ever are using the Internet to chat with family and friends but haven't ditched their trusty land lines at home. This cordless phone straddles both worlds and can handle both kinds of calls with eBay Inc.'s Skype as the Internet telephone service provider. It features a speakerphone, caller ID and displays whether an incoming call is Skype-based or from your traditional phone company. The base station needs to be connected to both a phone socket and a computer's USB port. (MSRP: $99)
Logitech MX Revolution Cordless Laser Mouse
This might be the quickest, slickest and smartest mouse around for computer-weary hands. It's the only mouse with a tiny motor so users can flick the scroll wheel into a free-spin for hyperfast navigation through huge documents or Web sites. Imagine zipping through 10,000 Microsoft Excel rows with a single flick. You can even set up different mousing modes to kick in depending on the software program in use. It has a dedicated button, too, for quick Web searches. (MSRP: $100)
Pinnacle Systems PCTV HD Pro Stick
Watch high-definition television on a desktop or laptop PC with this portable TV tuner that plugs into a USB 2.0 port. About the size of a pack of gum, it retrieves over-the-air high-definition or standard-definition TV signals and can turn the computer into a digital video recorder, though you'll need to be mindful of the hard drive space available for recordings. It's a relatively cheap way to view HDTV - and from any place you can tote a laptop. Comes with a thumb-sized wireless remote control and a retractable antenna. (MSRP: $129)
Nikon D40 Digital SLR Camera
Do you want your pictures to look professional but have no clue what ISO levels are? This entry-level, 6.1-megapixel, single lens reflex camera has built-in shortcuts and a cheat sheet of sorts that can guide SLR rookies to shooting better photos. It's lightweight and one of the smallest SLRs on the market. The fast-handling speed - a key difference between any SLR and point-and-shoot digital camera - means better action shots and fewer missed images as your pet or toddler turns away from the lens. (MSRP: $600, includes a 3x zoom, 18mm-to-55mm lens)
An electronic book reader doesn't offer the tactile satisfaction of turning a page, but the Sony Reader is the first e-book to at least imitate the look of paper by using an innovative screen technology. The 6-inch display appears more like a grayish piece of paper than a monochrome LCD screen, making the text easy on the eyes. The Reader's internal memory holds up to 100 books and can be expanded with memory cards. Load books or other documents from your PC, or buy e-books at Sony's online store where prices are generally a dollar or so less than the printed book. (MSRP: $350)
Seagate Portable External Hard Drive
Consider it a vault for digital valuables. Using this compact external drive as a backup or additional storage for photos, videos, music, important e-mails and documents will save people from deep regret should their computer's hard disk fail. It's quiet, weighs less than a pound, has a footprint that's smaller than a 4-by-5 inch photo, and is rugged enough for travelers on-the-go. Plugs into a computer's USB port. A range of capacities are available; the largest, a 160-GB model, can hold 51,200 photos, 2,665 hours of music, or 160 hours of video. (MSRP: from $90 for 40GB to $230 for 160GB.)
Harmony 1000 Remote Control
A sleek universal remote control with a 3.5-inch color touch screen. Easy enough for self setup and less expensive than rival high-end touchscreen models that are typically custom-installed. After an initial setup that involves connecting it to a computer and entering the model numbers of your entertainment devices, a single button press is all that's needed to watch TV or a movie, listen to music or play a game. It handles up to 15 audio or video devices. (MSRP: $500)
Cell Phones for the Holidays
No longer is the cellular phone selection limited to the RAZR, a $500 Treo and hundreds of look-alikes and act-alikes. Recent months have brought a wave of new devices that stand apart from the pack in terms of looks and next-generation features.
Dominating the new crop is a widening array of BlackBerry-like "smart" phones designed to be more consumer-friendly in function and price. As compared with the $300 to $500 traditional price tag for higher-end devices, these handsets are debuting at $200 with a two-year contract.
More than ever, thin is also in, with the carriers offering a growing number of slenderized clamshell and candy-bar phones. Yet despite the shrinking size, phones are coming with more built-in bells and whistles: external memory slots for storing music and photos, higher-resolution cameras and high-speed Internet capabilities.
A sampling of notable new handsets:
BlackBerry Pearl from T-Mobile and Cingular Wireless
The first BlackBerry targeting the consumer market, the Pearl is the first with a digital camera (1.3 megapixels), an MP3 music player and a memory slot. Just 2-inches wide and weighing 3.2 ounces, the Pearl's narrow QWERTY keyboard features two letters per key, relying on predictive software to suggest and choose the desired letter. A glowing navigational trackball - dubbed the Pearl - on the front replaces the signature side track wheel on other BlackBerry models. ($349.99 to $399.99 list price, depending on carrier, $199.99 with contract commitments and rebates)
LG "enV" from Verizon Wireless
The enV, also called the VX 9900, is a slimmer and lighter upgrade to the "V," a clamshell that opens to reveal a spacious QWERTY keyboard and dual speakers on the sides of a wide screen. Though a smidge longer and wider than the V, the enV is almost a quarter-inch thinner at 0.78 inch deep and half an ounce lighter at 4.6 ounces. The enV also features GPS satellite navigation and a higher-resolution 2 megapixel camera. ($319.99 list price, $129.99 with two-year agreement and $50 rebate)
Nokia E62 from Cingular Wireless
The E62 is the first mass-market smart phone based on the Symbian operating system offered in the United States. There's a heavy focus on e-mail through multiple applications. It also features a full-QWERTY keyboard and an external memory slot, but no camera. The E62 is "quad-band" compatible with four common wireless frequencies for overseas roaming. ($349.99 list price, $99.99 with two-year contract and rebate)
Motorola KRZR K1m from Verizon Wireless, Sprint and Alltel
An offshoot of the sleek RAZR line, the KRZR is a third of an inch smaller from side to side compared with its famous cousin, though a tad thicker, taller and heavier. Unlike the RAZR, the KRZR features external music controls. The version of this handset currently available in the United States also features a 1.3 megapixel camera, a memory slot and GPS location tracking. A version sold overseas and expected to be offered by other U.S. carriers next year has a 2 megapixel camera. ($349.99 to $399.99 list price, depending on the carrier, $199.99 to $249.99 with contract commitments and rebates)
Motorola ic502 from Nextel
The first dual-network phone since the merger of Sprint and Nextel, the ic502 offers Nextel subscribers decent wireless Internet speeds for the first time using Sprint's network. It also provides access to Nextel's hugely popular walkie-talkie services. The GPS-enabled handset is built to military specifications to withstand rugged conditions. While it doesn't sport a camera and other consumer-ish features, the higher data bandwidth is a major upgrade from the sub-dialup speed of other Nextel phones. ($249.99 list price, $59.99 with mail-in rebate and two-year contract)
Palm Treo 680 from Cingular Wireless
The first Treo targeting the consumer market, the 680 is slightly slimmer in size and far more slender in price than its predecessors. This QWERTY-keyboard device runs on the Palm platform and features a new 5-button "quick launch" toolbar on the touch screen. An ounce lighter than the pricier Treo 700, other physical distinctions include an internal antenna and a memory slot on the side. On the downside, the 680 has a lower-resolution camera and doesn't connect with Cingular's speedier data network. ($449.99 list price, $199.99 with two-year contract and rebate)
Samsung BlackJack from Cingular Wireless
A small and sleek handset packed with high-end features, the Windows-based BlackJack is less than half an inch thick and weighs 3.5 ounces. Features include high-speed "3G" Internet access and a choice of navigation with either a front four-way key or a thumb wheel on the side. There's also a full-QWERTY keyboard,1.3 megapixel camera and external memory slot. It's quad-band compatible with four common wireless frequencies for overseas roaming. ($449.99 list price, $199.99 with two-year contract and rebate)
Samsung M610 from Sprint
Billed as the thinnest clamshell phone in the United States, the M610 is just 0.47 inch thick, or about a tenth of an inch thinner than the RAZR. It's also about a fifth of an ounce lighter at 3.28 ounces. Perhaps more importantly, it connects with Sprint's broadband-speed Power Vision network. Other features include a 2 megapixel camera, external memory slot and GPS location tracking. ($329.99 list price, $179.99 with two-year contract)
Samsung Trace from T-Mobile
At just 0.3 inch thick, the Trace is a new slimness champ among "candy bar" (non-flip) phones. Despite the small size and weight - 2.5 ounces - the phone offers an unusually large screen and multimedia features: 1.3 megapixel camera, MP3 music player and external memory slot for storing pictures and music. ($199.99 list price, $99.99 with two-year contract)
Sidekick 3 from T-Mobile
The newest addition to the popular Sidekick family is about 20 percent smaller than its predecessor and features a new trackball for one-handed navigation. Other improvements on the SideKick 2 include the addition of an MP3 player, external memory slot, and a removable battery. ($479.99 list price, $249.99 with two-year contract)
A cellular and Wi-Fi smart phone running on Windows Mobile. Features include a full-QWERTY keyboard, 1.3 megapixel camera, external memory slot, Windows Media Player Mobile. The phone also offers quad-band compatibility with four common wireless frequencies for overseas roaming, and an internal Wi-Fi antenna to connect to the Internet over a home or public wireless network (such as T-Mobile Hotspots at Starbucks and other retail locations). ($349.99 list price, $199 with a two-year contract)
Accidents, yes. Cancer, apparently not
Cell Phones Don't Raise Cancer Risk: Study
Using a cellular phone does not increase a person's risk of cancer, according to a broad study released on Tuesday involving more than 400,000 Danish cellular telephone users.
A team of researchers used data on the entire population of Denmark to determine that neither short- nor long-term use of cellular phones, also called mobile phones, was linked to a greater risk of tumors of the brain and nervous system, salivary gland or eyes, leukemia or cancer overall.
It is estimated that more than 2 billion people worldwide use cellular phones.
"I think the results of this study are quite reassuring," Joachim Schuz of the Danish Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen, the lead researcher, said in an interview by cellular phone from Denmark.
The study, one of the most comprehensive to date, represented the latest evidence endorsing the safety of cellular phones. The data available to the researchers allowed them to look at a large number of cell phone users and assess potential risks many years after they first used them.
"The big advantage is a whole nation is included in the study," Schuz said.
The phones emit electromagnetic fields that can penetrate into the brain, and some scientists have sought to determine if this could cause cancer or other health problems.
Schuz's team studied data on 420,095 Danish cell phone users (357,553 men and 62,542 women) who first subscribed for mobile service between 1982 and 1995 and were followed through 2002 -- meaning some were tracked for two decades. The researchers then compared their cancer incidence to the rest of Denmark's population.
A total of 14,249 cancer cases were seen among the cellular telephone users, a number that was lower than would be expected for that population, according to the study appearing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Clean Bill Of Health
"We were not able to identify any increased risks of any cancers that could be related to the use of the cellular phones," John Boice, a cancer epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University who worked on the research, said in an interview.
Boice said the type of radiation involved in cell phones is not known to damage cells or DNA. "So there's no biological mechanism that would suggest that even this type of exposure could cause cancer or DNA damage," Boice said.
The study reinforces the consensus among leading health organizations that cellular phones do not cause harmful health effects, a wireless industry group said.
"The overwhelming majority of studies that have been published in scientific journals around the globe show that wireless phones do not pose a health risk," said Joseph Farren, spokesman for CTIA, the Washington-based wireless industry group.
The researchers acknowledged some limitations in their work. Schuz said they could not differentiate between people who used the phones frequently and those who did so sparingly, meaning the researchers could not rule out the possibility that some type of increased risk exists among heavy users.
"There is, in fact, a hazard from the use of a cellular phone that we have to all be concerned about," added Boice, but it is not cancer-related. "And that's using a phone when we're driving an automobile," leaving a driver distracted and causing accidents.
The study was funded by the Danish Cancer Society and Danish Strategic Research Council.
NTT DoCoMo Recalls Sanyo Battery Packs
NTT DoCoMo said Thursday it is recalling 1.3 million battery packs made by Sanyo Electric Co. because some of them could generate excessive heat and rupture.
The battery packs made by Sanyo and installed in Mitsubishi Electric Corp's D902i handsets are subject to recall, according to NTT DoCoMo spokesman Kazunori Higuchi.
The model is only sold in Japan, Higuchi said.
The battery packs were made through May 2006 and owners of the handsets will be directly notified, Japan's largest mobile phone service operator said in a statement.
The problem is due to deformed parts installed in the battery. If the surface of the battery pack is dented accidentally, the battery could general excessive heat and rupture during or immediately after charging, NTT DoCoMo said.
The company has confirmed at least one battery rupture due to the problem and there were 17 other reports of overheating or rupture.
NRK, Ericsson Wireless Announce Ad Test
Norwegian broadcaster NRK and Swedish wireless equipment maker LM Ericsson AB on Wednesday announced what they called the world's first test of customized advertising for mobile phone television.
For the next two months, volunteers in Norway will receive interactive commercials tailored to their age, gender, interests and location while watching television on their mobile phones, the Norwegian state broadcaster said. Some 20 Norwegian and international advertisers are also participating, a news release said.
"Bonuses include fast channel-switching, built-in interactivity and easy access to new services," said NRK Director of Development Gunnar Garfors. "And many viewers even appreciate adverts, as long as they are relevant and may help lower the price of the service."
During the test, anyone in Norway who volunteers will be able to access NRK's two television stations and five of its radio channels with their normal mobile phones, using existing mobile phone infrastructure and a Java application.
For the test period, NRK is broadcasting a made-for-mobile television show, called "Paa traaden," or "On the Line," which allows views to interact by mobile phone with hosts, through voting, chatting, or sending photos or video clips. Mobile phone users can watch other programs live or on demand, as well.
The advertising will also be interactive, and is on the forms ranging from videos to downloadable products, a news release said.
"Our solution makes it possible for viewers to interact with their trusted brands, and it provides the advertising industry with an innovative, high-involvement customer marketing tool," Kurt Sillen, vice president for Ericsson Mobility World, said in a news release.
NRK said the trial could form the basis for a mobile TV advertising business model, possibly drawing more viewers, increasing traffic and revenues, while opening for new advertising formats. It said users could get a better mobile TV experience, possibly with sponsored programs.
A year ago, NRK and Ericsson on Friday announced what they say was the world's first test of interactive mobile television, and have been involved in a series of new media tests and projects.
VoIP Subscribers Grow 18 Percent in 3Q
U.S. subscribers to Internet-based telephone services grew 18 percent to 8.2 million in the third quarter, but the growth rate slowed for a second straight quarter, according to the research firm TeleGeography.
The latest tally on the market for Voice over Internet Protocol, better known as VoIP, is more than double the total of a year ago.
VoIP revenues for the second quarter were up about two and a half times - $732 million across the United States, compared with a year-ago level of $298 million.
Vonage Holdings Corp. remained the biggest provider with 1.95 million subscribers, followed again by Time Warner Inc.'s cable TV business at 1.64 million. But Comcast Corp. moved into third place with 1.35 million, surpassing Cablevision Systems Corp.'s 1.10 million.
TeleGeography predicted the market would grow by roughly 1.5 million subscribers in the fourth quarter to end the year with 9.7 million, or about 8.7 percent of the nation's households. Revenues are expected to approach $2.6 billion for the year, or more than 2.5 times the 2005 total of just over $1 billion.
India Web Calls By BPOs Face Axe
Joji Thomas Philip & Moumita Bakshi Chatterjee
After blogs and websites, the government is planning a clampdown on BPOs and KPOs over, what it feels is, illegal use of internet telephony.
It is giving final touches to a proposal under which ITeS companies must furnish the names of authorised service providers from whom bandwidth and internet telephony minutes have been taken. The companies will also have to give an undertaking that they will not use the services of unlicensed foreign service providers such as Net2Phone, Vonage, Dialpad, Impetus, Novanet, Euros, Skype and Yahoo.
As per Department of Telecommunications’ (DOT) estimates, these unlicensed service companies provide 30 million minutes of internet telephony per month to corporates, call centres and BPOs in the country.
According to official sources, foreign players such as Skype, in addition to disturbing the level-playing field for bonafide licensees, were also causing great revenue loss to the government as they did not pay the 12% service tax and 6% revenue share on internet telephony. Sources said DoT was keen to implement this move on security grounds too. Foreign service providers could be a “serious security threat as they did not come under any Indian regulator and policy framework,” they added.
The CEO of a leading BPO company claimed, on conditions of anonymity, that the larger ITeS organisations were well aware of regulatory issues, and were abiding by the law, but pointed out that the issue may be more prevalent in case of smaller BPOs. “However, one also needs to keep in mind that technology is changing rapidly and it will be hard to monitor such things. The policy in the next few years also needs to look at cost-effective technologies that offer significant economic benefits to businesses,” the executive said.
The government move, when implemented, will fulfil a long-pending demand of internet service providers (ISPs). Internet Service Providers Association of India president Rajesh Chharia said: “It is essential that the government seeks this undertaking from call centres as these foreign service providers do not possess the requisite licences as mandated by the Government of India for Indian ISPs.”
Once this proposal is implemented, the government, in case of an emergency, would be able to trace details of all internet telephony minutes. This is because, when minutes are purchased from authorised players, the company is mandated to provide any data pertaining to the use of internet telephony like call detail record, if required by the security agencies.
ISPAI has also demanded that the DoT put a notice on its websites indicating the names of operational ISPs having internet telephony licenses so that call centres and BPOs can ensure that they are availing services from an authorised service provider.
The DOJ's New Spin on Blocking Software
"In recent arguments over the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act, both sides have argued over the efficiency of Internet blocking software. While COPA would prohibit commercial U.S. websites from publishing freely available material that is "harmful to minors", the ACLU has argued that blocking software is a far more effective alternative, since among other things it can block porn sites located overseas, non-commercial websites, and p2p programs, all of which are beyond the reach of COPA. On the other hand, we had the surreal experience of watching the Department of Justice lawyer arguing in favor of a censorship law by saying that the blocking software alternative was unfair to children -- because it blocked too much legitimate material."
"For example," said DOJ attorney Eric Beane during opening arguments, "one filter even blocked a website promoting a marathon to raise funds for breast cancer research. Part of the CIA's World Fact Book was blocked. And a page with an ACLU calendar. [Blocking software blocks] a significant portion of other materials on the World Wide Web, materials that in many cases are necessary for a child to complete his homework." (Opening arguments transcript, p. 37.) As someone who has been publishing critiques of blocking software for years, I read those words and felt like cheering, despite the fact that I'm sitting in the other side's fan section for this match. (Beane is right, but he's missing the point, which is that whatever problems exist with blocking software, are minor compared to the problems with COPA -- because blocking software raises no constitutional issues when it's used by a private party in their own house, whereas COPA affects everyone in the U.S.)
The irony, of course, is that three years ago, in the trial over the similarly-named Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which required blocking software in all schools and libraries that receive federal funds, it was the ACLU pointing out the flaws in blocking software and the Department of Justice claiming that blocking software was accurate and effective.
At first it would seem that both sides are now guilty of flip-flopping. But reviewing what was said then and what was said now, my conclusion is that the ACLU did nothing more than shift their focus to a different set of facts, while the government did contradict themselves. And the source of this seeming flip-flop actually comes down to something pretty simple: two different ways of stating one set of numbers.
Now before going further I can't resist saying that I think the whole debate over "harmful to minors" material is pretty silly, because I don't think the pro-censorship side has ever put forth a reason why they think that pictures of naked people, or even people having sex with each other, are harmful to people under 18. I disagree with some people on matters like abortion and the death penalty, but I at least think they have some facts on their side; but I don't know of any facts supporting people who think that pornography is dangerous. Why is a woman's nipple harmful but a man's nipple isn't? How are the majority of high school students who have already had sex anyway, supposed to be harmed by pictures of other people having sex? And apart from the logical paradoxes, the pervasiveness of the Internet has now given us empirical data too: virtually all minors have now have access to anything they want to get on the Internet (either at home, or by sneaking to a friend's house), and where's the evidence that adolescents' brains have been hormonally turned to mush any more than they always have been?
But for the remainder of the discussion, suppose you're addressing people who believe that nudity and sexual material really are harmful to people under 18. (In any case, the judges probably believe it, and even if they don't, they're bound by legal precedents that assume as much.) The question is how accurately blocking software achieves this goal.
Blocking software has two types of error rates: underblocking (failure to block porn sites) and overblocking (blocking of non-pornographic sites). Underblocking errors are usually expressed one way: the percentage of porn sites in a given sample that are not blocked. But overblocking errors can be stated in two ways: the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked, or the percentage of blocked sites that are not pornographic. (There are borderline cases like nude art sites, but it turns out they're not common enough to affect the margin of error much; the vast majority of sites are either clearly porn or clearly not.)
The key is that if you want the overblocking rate to sound low, you talk about the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked. If you want it to sound high, you talk about the percentage of blocked sites that are non-porn.
For example, in the 2003 Supreme Court arguments over CIPA, Department of Justice attorney Theodore Olson downplayed the error rates of blocking software by saying:
"But even if it's tens of thousands of the -- of the 2 billion pages of material that is on the Internet, we're talking about one two-hundredths of 1 percent, even if it's 100,000, of materials would be blocked."
Here he's referring to the percentage of non-porn sites that are filtered. Attorney Paul Smith, arguing against the law, countered: "And so we have -- on these lists is a proportion, a huge proportion, perhaps 25, perhaps 50 percent of the sites that are blocked that are not illegal even for children."
"And so we have -- on these lists is a proportion, a huge proportion, perhaps 25, perhaps 50 percent of the sites that are blocked that are not illegal even for children."
and: "And the evidence is that there's about 11 million websites on the Internet, in --in the accessible part of the Internet and that 100,000 of those are the sexually explicit ones and that the --there are at least tens of thousands more that are on the list. So it's --the Government also says in their brief that about one percent of the Internet is over- blocked, which would be about 100,000 sites. So it is a substantial percentage. It is also a substantial amount. And most importantly, it's a very large percentage of what they're blocking is not what they intend to block."
"And the evidence is that there's about 11 million websites on the Internet, in --in the accessible part of the Internet and that 100,000 of those are the sexually explicit ones and that the --there are at least tens of thousands more that are on the list. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. So it's --the Government also says in their brief that about one percent of the Internet is over- blocked, which would be about 100,000 sites. So it is a substantial percentage. It is also a substantial amount. And most importantly, it's a very large percentage of what they're blocking is not what they intend to block."
-- that is, talking about the percentage of blocked sites that were non-pornographic. Both sides cited the same figure (100,000 non-pornographic sites blocked, apparently referring to an average across all blocking programs) -- but that same number could be seen as an "error rate" of either one hundredth of one percent, or 50%, depending on which formula you use.
Then in this year's COPA trial, the ACLU called CMU professor Lorrie Faith Cranor who testified that in tests that she reviewed,
"[blocking software programs] correctly blocked an average of approximately 92 percent of objectionable content. And they incorrectly blocked an average of 4 percent of content not matching the test criteria."
(Oct. 24th transcript, p. 57.) Back to talking about the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked -- which, again, when you put it that way, sounds low. On the other hand, although I couldn't find exact numbers cited by the DOJ's lawyers on the number of sites that were incorrectly blocked, in the portions of his opening argument quoted above, Eric Beane focused on the sad fact of the sites that were blocked -- not the fact that they comprised only a tiny fraction of sites on the Web. The two sides simply swapped formulas.
As for Peacefire's own studies over the years of blocking software error rates, one of the legitimate criticisms that could be made about our efforts was that we focused almost exclusively on the second number, the percentage of blocked sites that were non-porn. If you were interested in how blocking software actually affects the surfing experience of minors who are forced to use it, perhaps you would focus more on the first number, the percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked. Perhaps, you might say, that as an organization addressing the blocking software issue specifically from a minors' rights point of view, we really should have focused on that number quite a bit! But I did get a bit preoccupied with playing "gotcha" with the blocking companies, focusing on the percentage of blocked sites that were obvious mistakes, because it was frankly too much fun publicizing the absurdly high error rates of their programs, which belied the claims made by most blocking companies that all sites on their blacklist were examined by a human at their company before being added. (Although it seems to have done some good -- as far as I know, no blocking company is making that claim about their product today.)
The error rates were indeed absurdly high; we took a sample of the first 1,000 .com domains in an alphabetical list, ran them through several programs, and found that of the sites blocked, between 20% and 80% (!) were errors. (The median error rate was about 50%, which corresponds to the figure given by Paul Smith in the CIPA trial oral arguments quoted above.) This surprised even critics of blocking software, and skeptics complained that we must have made mistakes or simply fudged the numbers. (The whole point of using the first 1,000 .com domains was that if we had used a random sample and gotten error rates like that, we could have been accused of "stacking the deck" and using a fake random sample that was loaded with known errors and not truly random.) Years later, it came out that the companies whose products we'd tested, had been following a policy that if they found an objectionable site on a given IP address, all sites on that IP would be blocked, on the theory that hosting companies often group porn sites together on the same machine. Trouble was, while this may have often been true for bona fide porn sites, it was not true for most sites that featured just an incidental shot of someone's bare breasts or a large amount of profanity -- but this would also be enough to get all sites blocked at a given IP. So the 80% error rate was about what you'd expect after all.
You might think that a product with an 80% error rate could never survive in the marketplace, but consider who was buying the software. On the one hand, you had schools and companies buying the programs -- but they didn't care whether it worked so much as they cared about being able to show, for liability reasons, that they did something. On the other hand, you had parents who really did care about keeping porn off their computer -- but how many parents really did any thorough testing of the product, other than making sure it blocks the obvious sites like Playboy.com? A serious test could take days. Their kids are the only ones who would end up doing any thorough "testing" of the product, and if they found a way around it, it's not likely that they would tell their parents. With no market pressure to fix problems, an 80% error rate wasn't really surprising.
But even the most vocal critics of blocking software only pointed out that blocking software sometimes blocked sites about plumbing, or soccer, or aluminum siding; we never claimed that most of those sites would be blocked. Even with our high numbers of wrongly blocked sites, if they had been expressed as a percentage of non-porn sites that are blocked, they would have still sounded like a "low error rate".
The moral is, always keep track of what the "error rate" refers to in these debates. By moving around a few variables in a formula, the Department of Justice was able to go from saying in 2003 that blocking software was minimally intrusive, to making a speech in 2006 that made blocking software sound so tragically limiting that you could practically hear the violins playing. (I know, people who live in glass houses... *ahem*)
And what about the ACLU? If the Department of Justice is guilty of flip-flopping, from saying in 2003 that blocking software is a reasonable and narrowly tailored solution, to saying in 2006 that it's clumsy, ineffective, and overbroad, is the ACLU guilty of flip-flopping in the opposite direction?
Actually, the ACLU's position has always been consistent: blocking software has First Amendment problems when used in a school or library, due to overblocking and underblocking errors, but if used in the home it is still a lot more effective than a law like COPA, which would score pathetically on the same scale. As ACLU attorney Chris Hansen stated in opening arguments:
"COPA does not reach the 50% of all speech that is overseas... Filters are the most effective. Almost all of the filters that [expert witness] Mr. Mewett tested were at least 95% effective. Think about the 5% ineffectiveness compared to where we start with COPA being 50% ineffective..."
(Opening arguments, p. 22. Note: Chris Hansen has confirmed that the official transcript is wrong; it has him saying "35%" instead of "95%", which wouldn't make any sense.) As for overbreadth, COPA would criminalize speech by adults, intended for adults, something that no blocking program could ever do -- and as for minimizing collateral damage to innocent sites, does anyone think that even if COPA is upheld, parents will throw out their blocking software?
Even though the ACLU focused on different statistics in the two trials, in both cases they were focusing on the numbers that were relevant to the issue. When talking about constitutional problems with blocking software in schools and libraries, the percentage of blocked sites that are incorrectly blocked, is important, because it's their First Amendment rights that are at issue. The DOJ lawyer talking about all the sites that weren't blocked, was missing the point. If your site is being blocked, it hardly matters to you that for every blocked site there are hundreds that are not. "Hey, your site is not accessible, but don't worry, your competitors' sites are!"
On the other hand, when talking about the use of blocking software in the home, the publisher's First Amendment rights are not at issue; the issues that most parents would care about, are how effective it is, and whether most clean sites are still accessible. Well of course most of them are. Blocking software is not that bad.
Confused? The option to just stop making a big deal out of porn on the Internet is looking better all the time, isn't it?
How to Disable Your Blocking Software
You'll understand when you're younger
To get around your blocking software:
1. First, try a circumvention site like https://www.StupidCensorship.com/. Be sure to type https at the beginning of the URL, not 'http'. Even though this site has been widely known for months, many networks have their blocking software set up incorrectly so that sites beginning with https:// are not blocked, and https://www.StupidCensorship.com/ will still be accessible.
2. If that doesn't work, you can join our e-mail list where we mail out new Circumventor sites every 3 or 4 days. Of course, employees of blocking software companies have gotten on this list as well, so they add our sites to their blocked-site database as soon as we mail them out, but in most places it takes 3-4 days for the blocked-site list to be updated. So the latest one that we mail out, should usually still work.
3. If you have a computer with an uncensored Internet connection, you can follow these easy steps to set up your own Circumventor site. For example, if you want to get around blocking software at work, and you have a home computer with an uncensored Internet connection, you can install the Circumventor on your home computer. Then it will give you a new URL, and you can take that URL in with you to work and type it into your browser to get around the network blocking software.
4. If you're trying to get around blocking software that's installed on the local computer, and not on the network, use these instructions to boot from the Ubuntu Live CD. (These instructions include tips on how to tell the difference between blocking software that's installed "on the local computer" and software that's installed "on the network".)
News Corp. to Buy Out Malone’s Shares
Rupert Murdoch and John C. Malone have settled their long-running corporate feud, as Mr. Murdoch’s News Corporation agreed to buy out Mr. Malone’s big stake in the company in exchange for a controlling stake in DirecTV, cash and other assets valued at $11 billion, according to people briefed on the transaction.
After more than two years of on-and-off negotiations and jockeying that included Mr. Murdoch’s company adopting a poison pill takeover defense, a preliminary deal has been worked out that is expected to lead to a signed contract within two weeks, a banker briefed on the deal said.
If the deal goes forward as planned, Mr. Malone’s Liberty Media Corporation will acquire the News Corporation’s 39 percent stake in DirecTV as well as some $550 million in cash and other operating assets in a transaction that will allow both sides to avoid paying taxes. The News Corporation would simultaneously retire Liberty’s 19 percent voting stake in it in what amounts to a huge stock buyback.
For Mr. Murdoch, the deal would remove the threat of Mr. Malone’s challenging his family’s 31 percent voting interest in the News Corporation, which he has led for five decades. By virtue of shrinking the number of the company’s shares outstanding, it would also increase the Murdochs’ ownership to about 36 percent.
But it would come at the cost of selling a business, DirecTV, that Mr. Murdoch aggressively pursued for years before finally acquiring control of it in 2003 from General Motors. DirecTV is the nation’s largest satellite broadcaster with 15.5 million subscribers as of June 30, and another 1.7 million subscribers in South America.
Mr. Murdoch’s willingness to sell the stake may reflect recent concerns about how satellite broadcasters will compete against cable and telephone industry rivals in selling broadband Internet access and other nonvideo services.
It also would give the News Corporation a gain of close to $5 billion on the investment, based on DirecTV’s closing stock price of $23.53 today and the roughly $14 a share the company paid.
For Mr. Malone, the transaction also satisfies several financial and strategic objectives at once — not least of which is the ability to cash in on his big stake in News Corporation without paying taxes.
But it also puts Mr. Malone, the one-time king of cable television, back in the big leagues of companies that sell video services and could lead to a further reorganization of Liberty programming assets. These include half ownership of Discovery Communications, the QVC home-shopping channel and the Starz pay-television service.
Copying bad. Copying good.
Novelists Defend One of Their Own Against a Plagiarism Charge
A basic indignation underlies the letters of support gathered here on behalf of the novelist Ian McEwan, who has been accused of plagiarizing from a historical memoir in his novel “Atonement.” If he can be so easily charged with lifting someone else’s work on the basis of such scant evidence, the other authors declare, than what about them?
The letters — from heavyweights like Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, John Updike, Zadie Smith, Martin Amis and, in an unusual gesture for a man who shuns publicity, Thomas Pynchon — were published here on Wednesday in The Daily Telegraph, which reported that a campaign of sorts had arisen in defense of Mr. McEwan. Most of the writers said that they were intimately familiar with what Mr. McEwan had done, having done the same thing themselves.
“If it is sufficient to point to a simultaneity of events to prove plagiarism, then we are all plagiarists, and Shakespeare is in big trouble from Petrarch, and Tolstoy stole the material for ‘War and Peace,’ ” wrote the Australian writer Thomas Keneally, the author of “Schindler’s List.” “Fiction depends on a certain value-added quality created on top of the raw material, and that McEwan has added value beyond the original will, I believe, be richly demonstrated.” If not, Mr. Keneally added, “God help us all.”
The issue arose late last month when The Mail on Sunday printed an article pointing to similarities between several passages in “Atonement,” Mr. McEwan’s novel about a young woman whose overactive imagination sets in motion a chain of tragic events, and “No Time for Romance,” the autobiography of the romance novelist Lucilla Andrews, who died in October.
In a section describing a hospital for wounded British soldiers in World War II, Mr. McEwan used details very similar to ones in Ms. Andrews’s book, including descriptions of the treatment of injuries, the bathing of the patients and the nurses’ use of life-size dolls to practice on.
Mr. McEwan wrote an article for The Guardian the next day pointing out that he had freely acknowledged using Ms. Andrews’s book for its period detail, and indeed had gone out of his way to praise her publicly. Any similarities in phrasing were inadvertent, he said.
In the London literary world the general feeing was that Mr. McEwan had been unfairly accused and that the controversy, if it was indeed a controversy, had been stirred up needlessly.
“I thought, well, we have come to a pretty pass where an author like Ian McEwan has to write on the front page of The Guardian explaining what research is,” Erica Wagner, literary editor of The Times of London, said in an interview. “We have perhaps lost this sense of literature as a conversation.” She added: “The myth of originality? There’s no such thing.”
Meanwhile Julia Langdon, who wrote the Mail on Sunday article, said that she had been presented unflatteringly by some of Mr. McEwan’s supporters. “What I am utterly astonished by is the suggestion that I had some sort of motive,” she said in an interview. “I’ve been accused of envy and malice and being a publicist for the film of ‘Atonement.’ I’m just a journalist. I don’t have an agenda.”
Ms. Langdon said she was careful not to accuse Mr. McEwan outright of plagiarism, and merely laid out the case as perceived by others. “Nor at any point have I said that I do not admire Ian McEwan, although I’m beginning to admire him a little less as a result of what he’s organizing,” she said.
But Mr. McEwan has not organized anything, according to his editor, Dan Franklin, the publishing director of Jonathan Cape. Mr. Franklin said via e-mail on Wednesday that he had originally asked several authors to submit statements supporting Mr. McEwan, and that the effort had snowballed, with others joining in spontaneously. Only a handful of the authors are also published by Jonathan Cape.
In the statements the authors cheerfully admitted to plundering other work — historical writing, autobiography, primary-source documents, other novels — for their own books, and said that such research was the lifeblood of any novel that depended on period detail. Colm Toibin said in his statement, for instance, that his book “The Master,” a fictional imagining of an important period in the life of Henry James, was peppered with phrases and sentences from the work of James and others.
Meanwhile Rose Tremain wrote that her book “Music & Silence” depended “to a shocking extent on one extremely small illustrated book, ‘Christian IV,’ by Birger Mikkelson.” Mr. Ishiguro said that if Mr. McEwan is guilty of plagiarism, “at least four of my own novels will have to be marked down as plagiarized.”
The Australian writer Peter Carey, who has twice won the Booker Prize, Britain’s best-known literary award, described the work of the novelist as “mixing what we see with what we think, with that which can never be.”
Referring to sources and inspirations for his own books, he went on: “There’s a line from ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ in ‘Bliss.’ ‘Jack Maggs’ is scattered with little pebbles of Dickens, and all sorts of stuff stolen from his and his family’s life. ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ has a Christmas pudding lifted from Edmund Gosse’s ‘Father and Son’ and a number of consecutive zoological words practically snipped from the zoological notes of P.H. Gosse. There are also sentences from the Bible and a tourist brochure, too.”
How the World Caught Up With Pynchon
The reclusive American author has been unmasked by some technology that even he couldn't have dreamt up, says Michael Shelden
For most of his long literary career Thomas Pynchon has been as elusive as one of the murky plot lines in his notoriously convoluted novels. Unlike that other famous recluse of American literature – J D Salinger – Pynchon avoided publicity from the very start of his career and has done his best to hide all traces of his private life since, prompting some to call him the "Greta Garbo of American letters".
But this week he has issued one of his rare public statements – defending fellow novelist Ian McEwan against the charge of plagiarism – and has reminded everyone in the literary world not only of how powerful his support can be, but of how little is known about him.
Though the 69-year-old author has a large cult following, many of his most devoted readers couldn't tell you what he looks like or where he lives. In a big country like America, he has found it relatively easy to avoid the fame that came to him in the Sixties and Seventies with the publication of his two weighty masterpieces, V and Gravity's Rainbow.
There are only a handful of grainy photographs in circulation, all from his youth as a student at Cornell University, or during his brief service as a sailor in the US navy. In these pictures he appears as a gawky kid with a gap-toothed grin who seems to have little in common with the man he has since become – the mysterious conjurer of elaborate fictions that rival even those of his Cornell professor, Vladimir Nabokov.
Some determined readers have tried to fill in the great white blank of the author's biography. They've had only a few basic facts to work from. It was generally known that he came from an old and distinguished New England family and had been born on Long Island in 1937. At university, he studied engineering and worked for a short time at Boeing, serving as a technical writer in a division that developed the first long-range anti-aircraft missile.
But after he left Boeing, rumours about his life were far more plentiful than facts. It was said that he had moved to San Francisco and was living as a hippie, or that he was hiding out in Mexico as a smuggler of guns or drugs or both. Wherever he was, he had a good library. The multitude and range of literary references is mind-boggling in Gravity's Rainbow, which is set during the period of the V-2 assault on London and deals with a subject closely connected to the author's first job – missile development.
By the mid-Nineties, Pynchon was such an enigmatic figure that some critics were speculating that he might be the so-called "Unabomber" who was sending small packages of explosives to scientists and corporate leaders as a protest against uncontrolled technological growth.
And then, shortly after the Unabomber was caught hiding out in the wilds of Montana, Pynchon's cover was blown by an enterprising television crew from CNN. What they found was not a wild-eyed rebel or wizened hermit, but a prosperous, spry gent wearing a red baseball cap, a white moustache and a hip uniform of olive-green jacket and blue jeans.
He was living in a nice apartment on the Upper West side of Manhattan with a wife and child. His wife is Melanie Jackson, with whom he fell in love while she was working as his literary agent. Their son is called Jackson Pynchon, now aged 15.
The author didn't take kindly to being filmed and used his considerable influence among media types in New York – some of whom had loyally protected his identity for decades – to suppress the CNN video. The network reported their discovery and aired part of their film, but agreed not "to isolate [Pynchon] and identify him specifically." The report did add, however, in Pynchonesque fashion, that the author "does happen to be among the people you will see in street scenes in the movie accompanying this story".
It was an extraordinary effort to aid and abet the novelist in what seems an increasingly pointless attempt to continue weaving a spell of mystery around what is a very ordinary life. Pynchon admitted to the CNN crew that the word "recluse" was hardly appropriate to the active existence he enjoys in the media capital of America.
Yet he remains today as evasive as ever, emerging only periodically from his self-imposed obscurity to bring out a new book – his latest, Against the Day, was published only last month – or to issue short statements through intermediaries, such as his recent declaration of support for Ian McEwan.
But his days of anonymity may be coming to an end. Ten years ago, when the CNN video first aired, it was next to impossible to find bootleg copies of it. Now, thanks to youtube.com, anyone can watch the footage of Pynchon strolling down his street in New York.
It seems a fitting conclusion to a game of hide-and-seek played by a man whose work is obsessed with the dangers of living in a world where rampant technological progress threatens to overwhelm everything and everyone. His novels imagine all sorts of strange scientific marvels that the world must learn to live with, but even Thomas Pynchon's fertile brain couldn't have predicted that one day he would be unmasked by something bearing the wonderfully weird title of YouTube.
From Soup to Guts, the Making of a Foodie
By Thomas Harris
Delacorte Press. 323 pages. $27.95.
This is what Thomas Harris’s readers would least like to hear from Mr. Harris’s flesh-eating celebrity, Dr. Hannibal Lecter: “I deeply regret any pain I may have caused for the victims and their families. For years I have helplessly battled the problem that caused me to misbehave. I intend to seek treatment for it immediately.”
Now for the second-least-welcome thoughts about Lecter. And these, unlike the above, actually were written by Mr. Harris. They come from “Hannibal Rising,” his final (please!) effort to cash in on a once-fine franchise that fell from grace. Plot points: Hannibal suffered a terrible trauma in childhood. Bad, bad men cooked and ate his baby sister. This gave him no choice but to become a cannibal himself. Monkey see, monkey do.
Does that motivation sound primitive? It shouldn’t. It is no more crude than the revenge plot that drives “Hannibal Rising” or the market forces that impelled Mr. Harris to cough up this hairball of a story. The book is the evil companion piece of a forthcoming film version of “Hannibal Rising,” for which Mr. Harris also wrote the screenplay, and is the supposed story of how the man became a monster.
“Here in the hot darkness of his mind, let us feel together for the latch,” Mr. Harris writes ludicrously. “By our efforts we may watch as the beast within turns from the teat and, working upwind, enters the world.”
Poetic pretensions notwithstanding, this particular beast is not slouching toward Bethlehem. Little Hannibal is headed from Lecter Castle in Lithuania (once home to Hannibal the Grim, a 14th- to 15th-century forebear) to Paris, by way of some grisly detours. “Hannibal Rising” begins as the Nazis invade Lithuania and drive the Lecters into hiding. Then it makes a meal of darling little Mischa Lecter, who cried out heart-rendingly for her brother (“Anniba!”), as her captors boiled a big pot of water.
On the theory that one such hellish vision is not enough, “Hannibal Rising” flashes back to it repeatedly. Supporting roles in Hannibal’s memory sequences are played by the corpses of his mother and beloved Jewish tutor. Suffice it to say that he is a scarred and lonely 13-year-old by the time he reaches France and encounters a vision of beauty: Lady Murasaki, the stately, exquisitely alluring Asian wife of Hannibal’s uncle.
Picture the magnificent Gong Li in this role — or just wait, because she’ll show up soon enough in the film version (due early next year). It will require all of her formidable acting skills to deliver dialogue like: “You are drawn toward the darkness, but you are also drawn to me.” Or this: “If you are scorched earth, I will be warm rain.” Hannibal himself, equally purple with Mr. Harris’s prose, prefers to speak in cricket imagery. For instance: “My heart hops at the sight of you, who taught my heart to sing.”
Despite lovely Lady Murasaki’s willingness to rain on him, Hannibal shows signs of teenage trouble. When a butcher makes crude remarks about Lady Murasaki’s anatomy, Hannibal savagely attacks him. “Flog no one else with meat,” a French police official warns him, but Hannibal will not heed that warning. While the book contains tranquil moments (“Hannibal sat on a stump in a small glade beside the river, plucking the lute and watching a spider spin”), Mr. Harris has not been summoned back from the Land of Writer’s Block to create lute-playing scenes.
A word about this elusive author: he has produced only five books since 1974, and his cult reputation as a superb thriller writer was once well deserved. After “Black Sunday” (about a blimp poised to attack a full stadium at the Super Bowl), he introduced Dr. Lecter and built two top-notch books around him: “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Then something went terribly wrong. It took 11 years for Mr. Harris to add a new installment (“Hannibal” in 1999) that turned crisp, riveting precision into self-parody. The character lost all traces of his brilliance and ate the brains out of a living man’s sawed-open skull.
That was a hard act to follow, horror-wise. “Hannibal Rising” doesn’t come close. Its sadism is subdued (though still sickening), and its young Hannibal sounds nothing like the older one. The reader who begins with this new book will have no idea why any of the older ones are well regarded. Nor is there any notion of what makes Hannibal diabolically clever — beyond his rooting for Mephistopheles while watching “Faust” at the Paris Opera.
That glamorous setting is one of many, many theatrical cues and flourishes featured in the new book. Mr. Harris has specialized in highly visual imagery since his Super Bowl blimp days, but “Hannibal Rising” takes this tendency to crass extremes. Leaving no doubt that this book is part screenplay, Mr. Harris provides background music (part of Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel and Gretel” for the eating of Mischa), symbolism (the brutalization of beloved swans), horror-prone settings during Hannibal’s medical school years (“Night in the gross-anatomy laboratory”) and grandiose locations for big thoughts. Hannibal’s major epiphany conveniently comes while he is contemplating the votive candles at Notre Dame.
Although much of “Hannibal Rising” is earnestly cinematic (watch out for an underwater corpse “no longer bald, hirsute now with green hair algae and eelgrass that wave in the current like the locks of his youth”), this material also has its campy side. The cannibalism is ugly but silly, with Hannibal menacingly wielding mayonnaise during one sequence. The story’s main villain is so evil that he’s seen getting a pedicure from a woman with a black eye.
And when this villain turns desperate, so does Mr. Harris. “We are alike!” the character cries. “We are the New Men, Hannibal. You, me — the cream — we will always float to the top!” Pity the poor actor forced to say those lines. Then remember that cream can turn sour.
Microsoft Debuts Book Search Tool
Anyone wanting to view an obscure 19th Century tome from the vaults of the British Library will be able to look for it online from Thursday.
Microsoft is releasing its Live Search Books, a rival to Google's Book Search, in test, or beta, version in the US.
The digital archive will include books from the collections of the British Library, the University of California and the University of Toronto.
Books from three other institutions will be added in January 2007.
Search full text
All the books currently included in the project will be non-copyrighted but later it will also add copyrighted work that publishers have given permission to include in the project.
"We feel very strongly about copyright. We don't do any mass scanning of in-copyright works," said Danielle Tiedt, the general manager of Live Search Selection for Microsoft.
Initially the database of available books will be searchable from the book search engine's home page or as a category on the main Windows Live Search page.
Later Microsoft plans to integrate all the books scanned into its general search engine.
"What we are focusing more of our efforts on for live searching is integrating all of those content types together to give you the most relevant results. If, for example, it's a search on historical content, chances are the most authoritative content may be found in a books search," said Ms Tiedt.
The system has a feature called "search inside a book" which will allow users to search the full text of books.
"We've focused on making the search experience really impactful...People will have full access to all of the text," said Ms Tiedt.
A separate global digital library plan by Google is also under way.
The search giant is spending $200m (£110m) to create a digital archive of millions of books from four top US libraries. It is also digitising out-of-copyright books from the UK's Oxford University.
In contrast to Microsoft Google's plans include adding both copyright and non-copyright books from participating institutions.
Although only non-copyrighted books will be available to view in full text, its project has come under fire from the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild
Vista Is Ready. Are You?
WINDOWS VISTA, the latest iteration of Microsoft’s operating system, is finally here. It was officially released to corporate users last week and will be available to consumers on Jan. 30. But now that Vista is ready, will your computer be? And what will be involved in an upgrade?
Microsoft says Vista offers increased security, along with an improved search function, an excellent calendar program, improved networking and a sidebar with quick access to mini-programs called gadgets. With the right display adapter, some editions of Vista will also offer a new interface called Aero that lets you preview what is inside a running program by placing your cursor over its thumbnail in the task bar.
It will be possible for many PC users to spend $99 to $259 to purchase a Vista DVD to upgrade their existing Windows XP machines. But before you do that, you need to take a good look at your PC as well as your peripherals and software. If your system isn’t quite compatible, it might be possible to make it ready for Vista with some additional memory or perhaps a new video card.
Even if your PC is Vista-ready, that doesn’t mean you should buy the upgrade kit. For most users, especially those whose hardware isn’t quite up to speed, it might make sense to wait until it’s time for a new PC.
The easiest way to get Vista is to buy a new PC after Jan. 30. If you want a new PC sooner, make sure the hardware is Vista-ready and see if the vendor is offering a coupon for a free or low-cost upgrade when Vista comes out. It is essential to compare the cost of buying a new system against purchasing Vista and upgrading your current PC. By the time you add up the cost of Vista plus any required hardware, it might be make more sense to get a new machine.
One variable for those thinking of upgrading is Vista’s system requirements, which vary by edition. Microsoft will offer a $99 Home Basic Edition that provides limited functionality but runs on more basic equipment. Unlike the higher-end versions, Home Basic won’t support the new Aero interface.
The minimum configuration to run the Home Basic Edition of Vista is a PC with 512 megabytes of memory, at least an 800-megahertz processor and a graphics card that is DirectX9-compatible; this includes most graphics adapters sold in the last few years. In other words, a vast majority of PCs that have been purchased in recent years are able to run this stripped-down version of Vista — but just because they’re able doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth the cost, effort and potential compatibility problems with existing software and peripherals.
Most consumers will find the $159 Home Premium edition more suitable. It includes the Aero interface along with Windows Media Center (to manage audio and video resources) and other features. The minimum hardware for the Premium edition is a gigabyte of memory and a one-gigahertz processor. You’ll also need DirectX 9 graphics with a Windows Vista Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver and at least 128 megabytes of graphics memory and pixel shader 2.0. Pixel shader refers to the ability of your graphics processor to render the surface properties of an image including lighting, shadows and other visual qualities.
Your machine must also have at least a 40-gigabyte hard drive with 15 gigabytes of free space as well as a DVD-ROM drive and audio output. While you can never have too much memory, Microsoft’s Vista group product manager, Greg Sullivan, said that one gigabyte was plenty. I’ve been running Vista on a 1.5-gigabyte machine and haven’t had any memory-related problems.
If your machine has Windows XP, an easy way to find out if it’s Vista-ready is to download the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor from Microsoft’s Vista Web site (www.microsoft.com/windowsvista/getready). The program, which is available now, will scan your PC to determine which edition of Vista, if any, can run on your machine.
Be sure to plug in all your external peripherals, like printers, scanners and external hard drives, as they, too, need to be evaluated by the upgrade tool. When the upgrade adviser scan is finished it will tell which edition it recommends. You don’t necessarily have to buy the recommended edition. To the left of the screen is a list of other editions. Click on the ones you’re considering and scroll down to see what changes you might have to make to run that edition.
Don’t panic if the upgrade adviser finds that some of your device drivers aren’t Vista-compatible. Chances are there are new drivers available to fix the problem. Microsoft has included many drivers within the operating system so, if all goes well, it will take care of making sure that your display adapter, sound card, printer, Ethernet card and other devices have the software they need to operate correctly.
But the list of included drivers is not exhaustive. Very old, very new and relatively obscure hardware might not be included, so to be safe, before you install Vista, visit the Web site for each of your hardware vendors to download the latest Vista drivers. The upgrade adviser looks for minimal, not optimal requirements.
For the Aero interface, the video card or Graphics Processing Unit (G.P.U.) is the most important component. The chips on that card (or on your PC’s system board) do the heavy lifting when it comes to displaying images on your monitor. Vista’s Aero interface, according to Rob Csongor, vice president of Nvidia, a leading maker of chips for computer graphics, is especially taxing on video processors because of the way it renders windows.
The use of Vista’s Flip 3-D window changer, for example, requires the video card to render a 3-D image of all of your open windows every time you press Alt Tab. The Windows desktop, according to a Microsoft Web site, “will be dynamically composed many times a second from the contents of each window.”
Even if your graphics card is Aero-compatible, you may still want to upgrade for faster performance. In my tests, a three-year-old Aero-compatible card from ATI (now part of Advanced Micro Devices) was noticeably slower than newer, moderately priced (about $130) cards from both ATI and Nvidia. I noticed it and so did the Windows Experience performance scanning program that comes with Vista.
If you have a desktop PC with a graphics card that’s not up to the task, you can replace the card with one that is Vista Aero-ready, and if your PC system board has an embedded graphics system, it may still be possible to add an external card. If you have a notebook PC whose graphics processor isn’t Vista-ready, you’re pretty much out of luck because, other than adding additional memory, it’s generally not possible to upgrade internal components of a laptop.
Another way to improve performance is to use a U.S.B. thumb drive or SD card to take advantage of Vista’s ReadyBoost feature. Vista uses that memory to store some of your program code so that programs load much faster than if it had to load from the hard drive.
Whether or not your machine is compatible, upgrading an operating system can be challenging despite Microsoft’s efforts to make it as smooth as possible. You should definitely back up your data files before starting. You have the choice of doing an “in place” upgrade, which retains your applications and data files, or a “full install,” which requires you to reinstall your programs.
A full install by default will not delete your data, though it may make the data more difficult to find. It often results in a faster and more reliable system because it cleans up the Windows registry and deletes any spyware and possibly problematic software on your machine.
And if you’re reluctant to upgrade, don’t fret. If Windows XP works for you now, it will continue to work long after Jan. 30. Besides, Vista isn’t going away anytime soon. Whether you want to or not, you’ll probably be using it on your next PC.
How Vista Lets Microsoft Lock Users In
Technology called "Information Rights Management," combined with copyright law and Windows Vista, give Microsoft the tools to hold users' data hostage in Office, says Cory Doctorow.
What if you could rig it so that competing with your flagship product was against the law? Under 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, breaking an anti-copying system is illegal, even if you're breaking it for a legal reason. For example, it's against the law to compete head-on with the iPod by making a device that plays Apple's proprietary music, or by making an iPod add-on that plays your own proprietary music. Nice deal for Apple.
Microsoft gets the same deal, courtesy of something called "Information Rights Management," a use-restriction system for Office files, such as Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets.
We've had access control for documents for years, through traditional cryptography. Using PGP or a similar product, you can encrypt your files so that only people who have the keys can read them.
But Information Rights Management (IRM), first introduced in Office 2003, goes further -- it doesn't just control who can open the document, it also controls what they can do with it afterwards. Crypto is like an ATM that only lets you get money after you authenticate yourself with your card and PIN. IRM is like some kind of nefarious goon hired by the bank to follow you around after you get your money out, controlling how you spend it.
With IRM, an Office user can specify whether her documents can be printed, saved, edited, forwarded -- she can even revoke access to the documents after sending them out, blocking leaks after they occur. Documents travel with XML expressions explaining how they can and can't be used.
Now, if anyone was allowed to make a document reader, it would be simple to make a reader that ignores the rules. This is a perennial problem for Adobe's password-restricted PDFs -- the only thing that distinguishes them from normal PDFs is a bit that says, "I am a restricted PDF." Just make a PDF reader that ignores the bit and you've defeated the "security." It's about as secure as one of those bogus "Confidentiality notices" that your mail-server pastes in at the bottom of every email you send.
There are plenty of readers for Microsoft's Office formats these days. Apple makes at least two -- Pages and TextEditor. Google and RIM both have Office readers they use to convert Office documents to other formats. And there's also free readers like OpenOffice.org, which are open source and so can be modified by anyone with the interest to write or commission new code for them.
But now that the format is well understood, Microsoft needs another way to ensure that it only hands keys out to readers that can be trusted to follow the rules that accompany them. Pages or OpenOffice.org can request a set of document keys just as readily as Office can. Microsoft can try to create secret handshakes to make sure it only gives out the keys to authorized parties, but just as the document format can be cracked, so can the handshaking.
IRM has an answer. Unlike a crippled PDF, a restricted Word file is encrypted. Only authorized readers will get the keys. This technology will return Office users to the days before the file format had been reverse-engineered by competing products like WordPerfect, where reading an Office file meant licensing the file-format from Microsoft.
If anyone makes a client that listens to its owner instead of Microsoft, then the system collapses. No-print, no-forward, revoke and other flags for the document can simply be ignored. Once Microsoft sends a decryption key to an untrusted party, all bets are off -- Microsoft loses its lock-in and you lose any notional security benefits from IRM. This has been a purely theoretical problem until recently -- but the advent of Vista and Trusted Computing should put it front-and-square on your radar.
Microsoft has an industrial-strength answer to the problem of figuring out whether a remote client is authorized to request keys. Trusted Computing. For years now, most PC manufacturers have been shipping machines with an inactive "Trusted Computing Module" on the motherboard. These modules can be used to sign the BIOS, bootloader, operating system, and application, producing an "attestation" about the precise configuration of a PC. If your PC doesn't pass muster -- because you're running a third-party document reader, or a modified OS, or an OS inside a virtual machine -- then you don't get any keys.
What this means is that Apple can make Pages, Google can make its Doc-converter, and OpenOffice.org can make its interoperable products, but none of these will be able to get the keys necessary to read "protected" documents unless they're on the white-list of "trusted" clients.
What's more, adding crypto to the mix takes us into another realm: the realm of copyright law. The same copyright law that prohibits competing head on with Apple also prohibits competing head-on with IRM. EDI and other middleware companies built their fortunes on writing software that unlocks your data from Vendor A's format so you can use it with Vendor B's product. But once Vendor A's data-store is encrypted, you run afoul of the law merely by figuring out how to read it without permission.
Vista is the first operating system to begin to use the features of the Trusted Computing Module, though for now, Microsoft is eschewing the use of "Remote Attestation" where software is verified over a network (they've made no promise about doing this forever, of course). No company has spent more time and money on preventing its competitors from reading its documents: remember the fight at the Massachusetts state-house over the proposal to require that government documents be kept in open file-formats?
The deck is stacked against open file formats. Risk-averse enterprises love the idea of revocable documents -- HIPPA compliance, for example, is made infinitely simpler if any health record that leaks out of the hospital can simply have its "read privileges" revoked. This won't keep patients safer. As Don Marti says, "Bill Gates pitch[ed] DRM using the example of an HIV test result, which is literally one bit of information. If you hired someone untrustworthy enough to leak that but unable to remember it, you don't need DRM, you need to fix your hiring process." But it will go a long way towards satisfying picky compliance officers. Look for mail-server advertising that implies that unless you buy some fancy product that auto-converts plain Office documents to "revocable" ones, you're being negligent.
No one ever opts for "less security." Naive users will pull the "security" slider in Office all the way over the right. It's an attractive nuisance, begging to be abused.
The Trusted Computing Module has sat silently on the motherboard for years now. Adding Vista and IRM to it is takes it from egg to larva, and turning on remote attestation in a year or two, once everyone is on next-generation Office, will bring the larva to adulthood, complete with venomous stinger.
TV Show Directory QuickSilverScreen.com Threatened by Fox
Summary: QuickSilverScreen is a US based website that is being forced to shut down or be given away for free after Fox claimed that LINKING to TV Shows on video sharing sites like YouTube and DailyMotion is illegal. Fox also alledgedly claims the site cannot be sold by the owner so therefore it must be given away for free.
In case you havn’t noticed there have been a number of directories popping up that link to full TV shows that are available online through video sharing sites such as YouTube and DailyMotion.
A few examples are All About South Park, Daily Motion Episodes and IPTV To Me, and apparently under US law all these sites are illegal. One such site has been targeted by Fox and asked to shut down, this site is QuickSilverScreen.
What Fox Says
The owner of the site recently disregarded a letter he received from Fox which stated that linking to copyrighted TV shows on the net is illegal.
”On behalf of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and/or its subsidiaries and affiliated companies (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Fox”), I am writing to notify quicksilverscreen.com of the infringement of Fox’s intellectual property rights in the above listed television series on the http://quicksilverscreen.com/ website and to demand that quicksilverscreen.com take immediate action to stop such infringements.”
The Legal Situation
“QuickSilverScreen may in fact violate US law”
QuickSilverScreen is owned and hosted in the USA and quickly reacted by switching to servers in Malysia. However, when Steve, the owner of QuickSilverScreen approached the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — A foundation that addresses social and legal issues arising from the impact of computers on society – he was told by EFFs Senior Intellectual Property Attorney Fred von Lohmann that “QuickSilverScreen may in fact violate US law, and that the EFF cannot represent him”.
I’m no Intellectual Property Lawyer but I think the legality around the site and linking to copyrighted content is very hazy. I’d like to emphasize the word may in the sentence “QuickSilverScreen may in fact violate US law”.
I’m pretty damn sure there is a strong argument that QuickSilverScreen is completely legal in the USA but at the same time there is also a strong argument it is illegal. I’m sure the last thing it wants is a legal battle with a big corporation like Fox.
“Fox is effectively being a Bully”
This law (if it were true) effectively takes freedom away from people by dictating what they can and can’t link to. This law is a grey area and Fox could very well be proved wrong. Luckiyl got Fox it can happily dictate what it believes to be the law unchallenged because they have the bigger pockets. Fox is effectively being a Bully trying to force sites like QuickSilverScreen so shut down.
What does this “law” mean?
Looking at recent South Park episodes that have appeared on YouTube you can see they are getting close to 10,000 views before they are taken down. Is it illegal for me to link to such an episode and tell people it’s there? That just doesn’t seem right.
If it is illegal for me to link to copyrighted content is it also illegal for me to write down the web address and give it to my friend? If I can’t communicate it on the internet then surely I can’t communicate it offline either. Am I not allowed to utter the words “South Park Episodes, Free, You Tube, Search” to my friends?
Where does the blame lie?
The people and companies who are really responsible for letting this copyrighted content become available on the internet are the video sharing sites for hosting the content and the people who upload the content.
YouTube and similar sites currently get away with hosting copyrighted content under the Safe Harbor laws by simply taking down any content when requested to do so by content owners.
Since illegal copyrighted content makes up a small proportion of content on video sharing sites and because it is uploaded by a user and not the website itself, the Safe Harbor laws hold quite strong, although they are not without holes.
Lucky for YouTube, it has some powerful Google lawyers behind the company to argue it’s point. Google has also reportedly paid off some content owners for the time being.
Also let’s not forget about that person who uploaded the copyrighted video? They knew exactly what they were doing and have no right to do it. But their identities are somewhat protected by the video sharing sites and the worst thing that happens to them is that they upload it again under a different username, while someone who links to that copyrighted video gets their site shut down.
Looking at this from a different perspective YouTube also seperates itself from a site like QuickSilverScreen because YouTube’s sole use is not to provide access to copyrighted content whereas QuickSilverScreen is solely to provide access to illegal content.
The Future of QuickSilverScreen
The owner of the QuickSilverScreen (QSS) who goes by the name of Steve says he has worked on the site for 8 years, since he was 18. Steve has built up a loyal community that has helped shape the website into a useful tool for finding TV shows online.
The ultimatum from Fox left Steve with a decision of closing the site or selling it, after putting years into the site he decided to sell it. According to Steve Fox were not too happy with this and told him he was not allowed to sell it.
In the QSS forum Steve said: “SitePoint banned my auction. (Thanks Fox!). Yes, Fox forced SitePoint to ban my auction, or at least that’s what SitePoint told me.”
Steve’s only option to keep the site alive is to give it away for free. He is asking anyone in a country which allows linking to copyrighted content to take over the site and promise to keep it alive. He is asking for $50 to cover the transfer of 5 domains associated with QSS.
Steve’s only option to keep the site alive is to give it away for free
On the QSS forum Steve said “Fox now claims that it is illegal for me to even SELL QSS to someone else. That’s why I’m giving it away” and in a separate thread he stated “Now I have to GIVE it away to whoever will take it, and that has not only made me cry once today, it has literally made me vomit three times in the last three hours.”
I feel sorry for Steve who’s obviously worked on the site for a long time and now has to give it away or see it shut down. However, anyone could see it would only be a matter of time before the TV companies gave QSS a kick with their boot of legal ‘justice’.
QSS will likely live on and move to some other distant foreign country away from the grasps of TV lawyers and even if it doesn’t there are plenty of other similar sites doing similar things that will continue to exist outside the US.
The Impact on Video and the Internet
Getting rid of QSS will not stop people watching free TV shows, they will just simply move onto somewhere else and use a site that is not based in the USA.
If TV companies want to stop this problem they need to tackle sites like YouTube head on to prevent them from hosting copyrighted TV shows and/or to provide a legitimate legal way to watch the TV shows online which is easy to use, not littered with adverts and fairly priced.
I do not agree with or condone pirating TV shows, but at the same time I do not agree with high DVD prices, excessive adverts on TV, and that there is no easy or fair way to download legitimate content off the net which is not overpriced and crippled with DRM.
For that reason I think TV shows appearing for free on the internet is a good thing and I hope it will eventually force content owners to distribute video fairly. Until that happens I won’t be siding with the TV companies when they threaten sites like QuickSilverScreen.
Yahoo Shakeup Highlights Web Video Shift
The departure of television veteran Lloyd Braun from Yahoo Inc. underscores a shift, or at least a major hiccup, by Internet companies away from creating costly original content.
Braun, who once ran primetime programming for the Walt Disney Co.'s ABC network, left Yahoo this week after his role was greatly diminished in a companywide reorganization that placed his group into a newly created division.
Yahoo's hiring of Braun to run the new Yahoo Media Group two years ago sparked speculation that the online company was itching to become, in effect, a TV network on the Web, producing its own shows to attract eyeballs to its lucrative Internet advertising.
After all, Braun was responsible for ABC's nascent turnaround and the genius behind its hit show "Lost." Analysts saw great symbolism in the consolidation of Yahoo's far-flung media sites - music, video, finance and news - into a new Santa Monica office that was once home of fabled movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
But two years ago, no one foresaw the rise of sites such as YouTube and MySpace, which became huge companies by aggregating user-generated videos and creating communities where people could network. YouTube was eventually bought by search giant Google Inc. for $1.76 billion, while MySpace was snatched by News Corp. for $580 million.
Few people also foresaw that major media companies such as Disney, CBS Corp. and Time Warner Inc. would begin selling TV episodes or full-length films over Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes store.
As YouTube and similar sites grew in popularity, Braun struggled to get competing Yahoo divisions to think in terms of content rather than technology, Braun recounted in an interview at his Santa Monica office several weeks before his departure.
One major glitch that consumed more than a year, for instance, was the lack of common software for producing and publishing content at the various product units inside Yahoo. Incompatible technology made it nearly impossible to design a template that could be easily shared by the various sites.
Before redesigns of such services as Yahoo Music or Yahoo Games could be launched, Braun's unit had to develop a common software platform, a task now completed. Yahoo recently started to rollout redesigned sites and introduced a new offering, Yahoo Food.
Braun also had to curtail ambitions to produce original shows for the Web. Replicating the TV network model would be prohibitively expensive, especially if such shows could only be viewed on a small computer screen.
Yahoo did create several new video and other programs, including news dispatches from war journalist Kevin Sites. The company also recently launched a series of live music performances similar to those featured on rival AOL's site.
But in a twist, one of its most popular shows, called "The Nine," features host Maria Sansone counting down nine notable user-generated video clips found on other sites such as YouTube.
Yahoo isn't alone.
When Time Warner Inc.'s AOL started breaking down its walls of exclusivity two years ago, the company cited its own video productions of concerts and other events as reasons people would want to visit its free, ad-supported sites. AOL even won a broadband Emmy for last year's "Live 8" concert special.
Although AOL isn't abandoning those productions, its focus lately has been on search. It wants to be the starting point for online video, whether it's hosted at AOL or at a rival like YouTube. AOL also started its own video-sharing service, UnCut Video, where users can share clips they produce with camera phones and camcorders.
The rapidly changing Web landscape has left Yahoo playing catch up, a situation this week's reorganization is designed to address.
"Frankly I'm surprised it took Yahoo so long to make this decision," said Dmitry Shapiro, chief executive of video startup Veoh Networks Inc. "I think it's been known for at least a year, with the success of YouTube and hundreds of media aggregator players like Veoh that are jumping into the game, that this is the way it should be done. But large companies move slowly."
Veoh wants to distribute user-generated and Hollywood content, but has no plans to create its own shows.
Nonetheless, original content created for distribution over high-speed Internet connections shouldn't be dismissed just yet, said former Disney chief executive Michael Eisner, who now invests in media-related startup companies such as Veoh.
"The production of original content for broadband is coming and will be significant and important just like it was significant and important for cable," Eisner said.
Eisner said traditional media and online companies are in a transitional period where Hollywood-generated programs, TV shows and films are competing for attention with user-generated material. Makers of original Web content aren't wrong, he said, but may be hurt by pushing it before consumers are ready.
"To take a position that it's all going to move to user-generated and be this anarchy and democracy is wrong," Eisner said. "To take the point of view that it's all going to be distribution of ancillary product from the studios and others is wrong. And to take the position that it's all going to be original product is wrong.
"It's all three and it's all a matter of being too early or too late."
Newspaper revenue continues to fall
Tribune November Sales up Despite Slowdown in Publishing Revenue
Tribune Co. said Thursday that sales edged higher last month despite a continued slowdown in publishing revenue as the media company's broadcasting and entertainment group delivered an outsized gain.
Tribune, whose publishing properties include the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, said consolidated revenue in the four weeks ended Nov. 19 rose 0.8 percent to $433 million from $429 million the previous November.
The company has been under fire from investors disappointed with its slumping share price and is reviewing a possible sale of some or all of its assets.
In Connecticut, Tribune owns The Hartford Courant, Greenwich Time and The Advocate of Stamford newspapers, along with television stations WTIC and WTXX.
Publishing revenue fell 1 percent to $326.3 million, hurt by a 0.3 percent decline in advertising revenue to $262.7 million. Circulation revenue fell 6 percent to $43 million as the company offered deep discounts to retain readership.
Retail ad revenue added 1.6 percent, with hardware and home improvement ads driving the gain. The recent slowdown in the housing market has led homeowners to redirect money into refurbishing existing houses instead of buying new.
National advertising revenue fell 1.7 percent, hurt by a drop in help wanted and automotive classified, which were off 6 percent and 5 percent respectively. Real estate ad revenue rose 6 percent.
Tribune, which also owns 24 television stations and the Chicago Cubs baseball team, said its broadcasting and entertainment group delivered a 6.9 percent revenue increase to $106.9 million.
Tribune shares slipped 4 cents to close at $32.16 on the New York Stock Exchange.
ICANN Reviews Revoking Outdated Suffixes
Over the past few years, the Internet has seen new domain names such as ".eu" for Europe and ".travel" for the travel industry. Now, the key oversight agency is looking to get rid of some.
Meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers began accepting public comments this week on how best to revoke outdated suffixes, primarily assigned to countries that no longer exist.
The Soviet Union's ".su" is the leading candidate for deletion, although the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro are transitioning from ".yu" to their own country codes. A Google search generated millions of ".su" and ".yu" sites.
East Timor now uses ".tl," though about 150,000 sites remain under its older code, ".tp."
Also obsolete is Great Britain's ".gb," which produced no sites on Google. Britons typically use ".uk" for the United Kingdom.
ICANN assigns country codes based on standards set by the International Organization for Standardization, which in turn takes information from the United Nations.
Conflicts can potentially occur when codes are reassigned.
Czechoslovakia didn't need ".cs" after it split into the Czech Republic (".cz") and Slovakia (".sk"). Serbia and Montenegro got ".cs" following the breakup of Yugoslavia, before further splitting into Serbia (".rs") and Montenegro (".me"). (In this case, a crisis was averted because Czechoslovakia let go of ".cs" long before it was reassigned, and Serbia and Montenegro never used it before splitting up.)
A few other domains have already disappeared, including East Germany's ".dd" and Zaire's ".zr" after the country became the Democratic Republic of the Congo (".cd").
ICANN wants to establish a formal policy and is accepting comments online until Jan. 31. Further deletions will likely take a year or longer to give users time to change.
Reductions in the number of domains - now 265 - are likely to be temporary. ICANN is crafting rules on how to roll out additional domains, including ones in non-English characters.
ICANN also is launching a review of eligibility rules for ".int," a domain reserved for international organizations.
Q & A
Adding Up Drive Capacity
J. D. Biersdorfer
Q. I have two 250-gigabyte external drives that I use with my PowerMac. When I open the Mac’s System Profiler program, it says that the drives are 232 gigabytes each. I’m wondering why this discrepancy exists.
A. The discrepancy you see between the advertised capacity of the hard drive and what the computer reports reflects different mathematical measurement systems being used to calculate the size. Computer operating systems use binary math to measure capacity, in which a kilobyte is not 1,000 bytes but 1,024 bytes — or 210.
Hardware manufacturers, on the other hand, use the base 10 system.
So while a hard drive may be advertised by its maker as having a capacity of say, 80 gigabytes (on the base 10 system), the computer will report the same drive as having a capacity of about 74 gigabytes in the binary math system.
Breaking it down into bytes shows the discrepancy more clearly: the drive manufacturer is counting one gigabyte as one billion bytes (1,0003) and the computer is counting that same one gigabyte in binary as 1,073,741,824 bytes (1,0243). As drives get bigger, the discrepancy gets larger. (An explanation of binary math is at kb.iu.edu/data/ackw.html.)
The hard drives on new computers may also show less available space than advertised. In addition to the differing math systems calculating the size of the drive, many new computers ship with a significant amount of installed software, including the operating system, free and sample programs and other applications that take up room.
Battery Changes on a Laptop
Q. My laptop is old and its battery won’t hold a charge anymore, so I always have to keep it plugged in to use it. How difficult is it to replace the battery?
A. Laptop batteries are usually pretty easy to replace, since they were generally designed to be removable in the first place and pop out once you press the release switch on the underside of the computer. As for finding a replacement battery, you can usually get one from your laptop’s manufacturer.
There are also many online stores that sell batteries for many different brands of laptops, but make sure you get the right type with the correct voltage for your model. Laptops for Less (www.laptopsforless.com) and Batteries.com (www.batteries.com) are two such shops.
Personal Zing in Your Ring
Q. Is there an easy way to make a ring tone for my phone from a CD track or MP3 file?
A. Making your own ring tones isn’t too difficult if you have a mobile phone that supports MP3 ring tones and a way to transfer files onto the phone from your computer. If you’re not sure about either, check your phone’s manual or wireless carrier’s Web site for the technical specifications for your phone model.
One of the simpler ways to make and install your own ring tones is to use software dedicated to the task. Programs like ToneThis (free at www.tonethis.com) for Windows or Xingtone Ringtone Maker for Windows and Mac OS X (xingtone.com; $20 to buy, free trial available) are options.
These types of programs let you edit the sound clip of your choice to the appropriate length and send it to your phone as a file download that you can assign as a ring tone. Most ring tone software makers list phone models and carriers on their Web sites so you can make sure your handset is compatible.
You may also be able to convert and edit a CD track or MP3 file with free or inexpensive audio programs available around the Web if your computer doesn’t have any sound-editing software already installed. Audio Shareware sites like HitSquad (www.hitsquad.com) and Audio Utilities (www.audioutilities.com) are two such sites. The open-source program Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) is a free audio editor for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux systems, but you need to download the program’s optional LAME MP3 encoder to export edited MP3 files.
Once you have edited your new ring tone with your audio program, you can transfer it to your phone as you do other files — U.S.B. cable, Bluetooth connection and e-mail download are some methods available. Check your phone’s manual for instructions on transferring audio files to the proper place for use as ring tones.
Poll: 'IM-Ing' Divides Teens, Adults
Teenager Michelle Rome can't imagine life without instant messaging. Baby boomer Steve Wilson doesn't care that it even exists. They're part of an "instant messaging gap" between teens and adults. And the division is wide, says an AP-AOL survey on how Americans use or snub those Internet bursts of gossip, happy date-making and teen tragedies that young people exchange by the hour while supposedly doing homework.
Rome, 17, a high school senior in Morristown, N.J., spends more than two hours each day sending and receiving more than 100 instant messages - or "IM-ing."
"I use it to ask questions about homework, make plans with people, keep up with my best friend in Texas and my sister in Connecticut," she said. "It has all the advantages."
The 51-year-old Wilson, a mechanic in Kutztown, Pa., prefers using e-mail and the telephone.
Instant messaging "is the worst of both worlds," he said. "It manages to combine all the things I don't like about each. I'm more or less a dinosaur. I use the Internet for things like buying car parts, reading celebrity gossip."
Almost half of teens, 48 percent of those ages 13-18, use instant messaging, according to the poll. That's more than twice the percentage of adults who use it.
According to the AP-AOL poll:
- Almost three-fourths of adults who do use instant messages still communicate with e-mail more often. Almost three-fourths of teens send instant messages more than e-mail.
- More than half of the teens who use instant messages send more than 25 a day, and one in five send more than 100. Three-fourths of adult users send fewer than 25 instant messages a day.
- Teen users (30 percent) are almost twice as likely as adults (17 percent) to say they can't imagine life without instant messaging.
- When keeping up with a friend who is far away, teens are most likely to use instant messaging, while adults turn first to e-mail.
- About a fifth of teen IM users have used IM to ask for or accept a date. Almost that many, 16 percent, have used it to break up with someone.
The bug can be contagious at any age.
Faith Laichter, a 50-year old elementary school teacher from Las Vegas, says she started using instant messaging after watching her children.
"I do it more now," she said, boasting: "Sometimes I do two conversations at once."
That's nothing for young people who check their e-mail, download music and perform other tasks at the same time.
"It's kind of remarkable to watch," said Steve Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "They can keep half a dozen conversations or more going at the same time."
But that can be more of a distraction than an accomplishment, says Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at American University.
"If you have 15 conversations going simultaneously," she said, "sometimes you're just throwing things out there and then dashing off to the next customer."
A bow to the traditional: When sharing serious or confidential news, both teens and adults prefer to use the telephone, the poll said.
The survey of 1,013 adults and 500 teens was conducted online by Knowledge Networks from Nov. 30-Dec. 4. The margin of sampling error for the adults was plus or minus 4 percentage points, 5.5 points for teens.
Technology for instant messaging has been available to the general public for about a decade. Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN are the major IM operators.
AP Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.
The growing use of email gadgets is spawning a generation of resentful children. A look at furtive thumb-typers, the signs of compulsive use and how kids are fighting back.
There is a new member of the family, and, like all new siblings, this one is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, resulting in jealousy, tantrums, even trips to the therapist.
As hand-held email devices proliferate, they are having an unexpected impact on family dynamics: Parents and their children are swapping roles. Like a bunch of teenagers, some parents are routinely lying to their kids, sneaking around the house to covertly check their emails and disobeying house rules established to minimize compulsive typing. The refusal of parents to follow a few simple rules is pushing some children to the brink. They are fearful that parents will be distracted by emails while driving, concerned about Mom and Dad's shortening attention spans and exasperated by their parents' obsession with their gadgets. Bob Ledbetter III, a third-grader in Rome, Ga., says he tries to tell his father to put the BlackBerry down, but can't even get his attention. "Sometimes I think he's deaf," says the 9-year-old.
The household tension comes as gadgets like BlackBerrys and Treos -- once primarily tools for investment bankers and lawyers -- have entered the pantheon of devices, including the TV, the personal computer and the cellphone, that have forcefully inserted themselves into the American home. Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, logged 6.2 million subscribers at the end of the second quarter this year, up from 3.65 million in the same period last year. Palm sold 569,000 Treos in the first quarter this year, up 21% from the same quarter the previous year. The problem has only gotten worse as more devices combine phone and email. Since people rarely leave home without a cellphone, even events that were once BlackBerry-free are now susceptible to office email.KICKING THE HABIT
Engaging in near-constant BlackBerry checking is similar to acts associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. We sought advice for curbing the habitual email itch from professionals.
The gadgets are recognizable to young children. A few parents say "BlackBerry" is in their toddlers' early vocabulary. Lucas Ellin, a Los Angeles 5-year-old, pretends he has his own, parading around the house with a small toy in his hand while shrieking, "Look, Mommy, it's my BlackBerry!" Earlier this fall, Novelty Inc., a manufacturer in Greenfield, Ind., unveiled its "My Very Own Berry Assistant" toy, available at convenience stores and gas stations under a sign reading, "Just like Dad and Mom's." The company expects to sell nearly 100,000 units before the end of the year.
In Austin, Texas, Hohlt Pecore, 7, and his sister, Elsa, 4, have complicated relationships with their mother's BlackBerry. "I feel very annoyed," says Hohlt. "She's always concentrating on that blasted thing." (Hohlt says he picked up the word "blasted" from the film "Pirates of the Caribbean.")
Elsa has hidden the BlackBerry on occasion -- Hohlt says she tried to flush it down the toilet last year. Their mother, Elizabeth Pecore, who co-owns a specialty grocery store, denies the incident. But Elsa also seems to recognize that it brings her mom comfort, not unlike a pacifier or security blanket. Recently, seeing her mom slumped on the couch after work, Elsa fished the BlackBerry from her mother's purse and brought it to her. "Mommy," she asked, "will this make you feel better?"
Emma Colonna wishes her parents would behave, at least when they're out in public. The ninth-grade student in Port Washington, N.Y., says she has caught her parents typing emails on their Treos during her eighth-grade awards ceremony, at dinner and in darkened movie theaters. "During my dance recital, I'm 99% sure they were emailing except while I was on stage," she says. "I think that's kind of rude."
Emma, 14, also identifies with adults who wish their kids spent less time playing videogames. "At my student orientation for high school, my mom was playing solitaire," she says. "She has a bad attention span." Her mother, Barbara Chang, the chief executive of a nonprofit group, says, "It's become this crutch."
Safety is another issue. Will Singletary, a 9-year-old in Atlanta, doesn't approve of his dad's proclivity for typing while driving. "It makes me worried he's going to crash," he says. "He only looks up a few times." His dad, private banker Ross Singletary, calls it "a legit concern." He adds: "Some emails are important enough to look at en route."
Some mental-health professionals report that the intrusion of mobile email gadgets and wireless technology into family life is a growing topic of discussion in therapy. They have specific tips for dealing with the problem, like putting the device in a drawer during a set time period every day. "A lot of kids are upset by it," says Geraldine Kerr, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Morristown, N.J. She says parents need to recognize that some situations require undivided attention. When you shut off the device, she says, "You're communicating nonverbally that 'you matter and what's important to you is important to me.' "
Still, like teenagers sneaking cigarettes behind school, parents are secretly rebelling against the rules. The children of one New Jersey executive mandate that their mom ignore her mobile email from dinnertime until their bedtime. To get around their dictates, the mother hides the gadget in the bathroom, where she makes frequent trips before, during and after dinner. The kids "think I have a small bladder," she says. She declined to be named because she's afraid her 12- and 13-year-old children might discover her secret.
Even in the context of close relationships, the issue is thorny. Christina Huffington, 17 years old and the older daughter of the Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, introduced the topic of her mom's constant emailing during a session with the family therapist. Her mother carries two BlackBerrys with her at all times. She looks at them while shopping and doing the downward-dog pose in yoga practice. "I had the feeling that my mom never listened to me," Christina says. The therapist advised that the family dinner table be an email-free zone. Still, Christina has her own BlackBerry -- a gift from her mother -- and she often uses it to communicate with her mom.
For many parents, finding the right balance is a struggle. Although mobile email allows them to attend a soccer game in the middle of the day, it also brings the office into the family room after dinner. In an age of connectedness, they sometimes have trouble disengaging from the office -- and many admit they check their messages more often than required. Bob Ledbetter Jr., whose son questions his hearing, agrees that he spends too much time checking his email. The commercial real-estate developer usually turns off his BlackBerry each night around 7:30 but then sometimes finds himself fiddling on his laptop computer. Totally disconnecting during family time "is a discipline I need to learn," says Mr. Ledbetter. "Even though I'm home, I'm not necessarily there."
Parents point out they're not alone in their habits. Jerry Colonna, father of ninth-grader Emma, says that for her birthday earlier this month, she asked for and received a T-Mobile Sidekick. "She's obsessively on email now," he says. "Kind of ironic." Emma responds: "I use it a moderate amount."
One of BlackBerry's biggest defenders, Jim Balsillie, the chairman of Research In Motion, says children should ask themselves, "Would you rather have your parents 20% not there or 100% not there?" Yet he, too, struggles with the issue. His wife tried to keep him off the device after work, asking him to leave it by the front door every night. When he snuck it in his pocket, he feared getting caught.
Chris DuMont, 15, of San Marino, Calif., recognizes that his father's habit helps bring in income. "Sometimes when we're on vacation he'll be on" his device, Chris says. "But the whole reason we're on vacation is because he's working."
Part of the blame certainly lies with the corporations that are outfitting their staffs with email devices, creating the expectation that employees will be available and responsive at all times. Still, some professionals have successfully carved time away from email, says Melissa Mazmanian, a fourth-year doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. For her dissertation, Ms. Mazmanian, 31, is studying the patterns of BlackBerry use among nearly 200 bankers, lawyers and employees of a footwear manufacturing company. People with infants and toddlers most actively set aside personal time, and colleagues learned to leave them alone.
More often, intervention is required. Lucas Ellin, the son of "Entourage" creator Doug Ellin, says his dad checks his email at restaurants, during Lucas's soccer games and on school visits. Lucas sometimes tries to divert his father's focus away from the device by hiding it or taking his dad's face in his hands to physically get his attention. When nothing else works, Lucas turns to the highest of authorities. "I go tell my mom that Daddy's not listening and then my mom yells at him," he says.
Sophie Singletary, the 7-year-old daughter of BlackBerry-driver Ross Singletary, can only dream of the day when she gets to call the shots. "I would say, 'You can only use the BlackBerry for two hours a day,' " she says. Then she pauses, and reconsiders: "Oh, actually, make it five minutes!"
Recreating ‘A Christmas Story’ for Tourists in Cleveland
If Denny Renz were a boy again, he said, he would love nothing more than to re-enact Ralphie Parker’s childhood.
He would crawl under the kitchen sink the way Ralphie’s brother, Randy, did to hide from Mr. Parker, their father in the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.” He would swing from the tree in the backyard, he said, dodging imaginary BBs fired from Ralphie’s coveted “official Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action range model air rifle.”
“I’ve never seen this house before, but it’s like I grew up here,” said Mr. Renz, 62, who drove 103 miles from Fairview, Pa., to see the home here where exterior shots of “A Christmas Story” were filmed.
Though originally panned by critics as a dark depiction of the holidays, “A Christmas Story” has earned status as a movie classic, rivaling long-time seasonal favorites like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Now fans from as far away as Los Angeles and Phoenix are flocking to a gritty Cleveland street overlooking a steel factory to visit the Parker family house restored to its movie glory.
A San Diego entrepreneur, Brian Jones, bought the house sight unseen on e-Bay for $150,000 in December 2004. He grew up watching “A Christmas Story” every year with his family. After Mr. Jones failed the vision test required to become a Navy pilot, his father tried cheering him up by building him a lamp with a woman’s leg as the base, similar to the one that enchanted Ralphie’s father in the movie.
Mr. Jones loved the gift so much that he started manufacturing copies of the lamps himself. Complete with fishnet stocking and a black high-heeled shoe, most lamps sell for $139 each; more than 7,500 have sold. Mr. Jones used the proceeds to cover the down payment on the house.
“When I first saw the house, there was snow on the ground, and I started running around the backyard,” said Mr. Jones, 30. “It felt like I was a little kid again.”
Unlike the Parkers’ single-family home in the movie, the Cleveland house was a duplex. (All the movie’s interior scenes were filmed on a sound stage in Toronto, Mr. Jones said.) Previous owners had installed modern windows, and covered the original wood siding with blue vinyl.
Watching the movie frame by frame, Mr. Jones drew plans of the Parker home. He spent $240,000 to gut the interior and transform the house into a near-exact copy of the movie set. (Darryl Haase, a tour guide, apologizes that the new stairwell is a few inches narrower than the one where Ralphie modeled his pink bunny pajamas.)
“Now I watch the movie and I catch myself looking at the background for anything we’re missing in the house,” Mr. Jones said.
To make the home feel more authentic, Mr. Jones hopes to install a stereo that recreates the sounds of Mr. Parker in the basement, swearing at the furnace. He briefly considered a Cleveland businessman’s offer to blow artificial smells of food, including Mrs. Parker’s cooked cabbage, through the house’s heat ducts.
Mr. Jones borrowed $129,000 to turn the house across the street into a museum and gift shop. Displays include the comically immobilizing snowsuit worn by little Randy, who famously cried, “I can’t put my arms down!”
Fans can buy a copy of the movie script for $40. Chunks of the house’s original wood siding cost $60.
About 4,300 people toured the house on opening weekend in November, Mr. Jones said. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 12 and under. He has no official attendance projections, but expects at least 50,000 visitors a year.
In a city starved for jobs and tourist dollars — the Census Bureau ranked Cleveland as America’s poorest big city in 2006 — the house has sparked a miniature tourism boom. For $159 the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel offers “Christmas Story” packages, which include overnight accommodations for two, tickets to the house and the movie playing continuously on the room television set.
Patty LaFountaine-Johnson, an actor from Cleveland, sews red-and-green felt hats like the one she wore as an elf in the movie. Autographed, they sell in the gift shop for $35 each. “A veritable steal, made personally by the elf from hell herself,” Ms. LaFountaine-Johnson said.
At C&Y Chinese Restaurant, the official restaurant of the “Christmas Story” house, waiters copy the movie’s Christmas turkey scene by taking a roasted duck to customer’s tables, where they chop its head off with a giant cleaver. The promotion has doubled the restaurant’s weekend sales to over 1,000 people a day, said Jimmy Fong, the manager.
“Before last month, I never heard of this movie,” Mr. Fong said. “Now I’ve seen it over 100 times. I like it very much.”
The Renovation – Jack.
Until next week,
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Jack Spratts' Week In Review is published every Friday. Submit letters, articles and press releases in plain text English to jackspratts (at) lycos (dot) com. Submission deadlines are Thursdays @ 1400 UTC. Please include contact info. Questions or comments? Call 213-814-0165, country code U.S.. Voicemails cannot be returned.
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|07-12-06, 03:38 PM||#3|
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: in this world
i bet yr fingers r tried after all typing
|07-12-06, 11:06 PM||#4|
Dawn's private genie
Join Date: May 2001
Location: the Canadian wasteland
Nice and comprehensive. The only story you missed is Jessica Simpson's new breast massage regimen, and that's more like T2T anyway.
|09-12-06, 09:25 AM||#5|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
"Last week a guy tried to hit on my mom." – Jessica Simpson
"We almost cut her out of the show." – CBS
Secret of Dating Jessica Simpson is Hitting it Off With Her Mum!
Now that she's back on the singles' list, it seems that men are finding ingenious ways to hit on Jessica Simpson - including chatting up her mother to get the singer's attention.
The blonde singer, whose divorce from hubby Nick Lachey was finalised in June this year, insisted that she had not been short of male attention ever since the couple first split last year.
However, as time goes on, it seems that men are going to great and sometimes bizarre lengths to impress the singer - like the time when a guy tried to hit on her by first flirting with her mom.
"Last week a guy tried to hit on my mom. He was saying how gorgeous, young and sexy she was but he was also kind of hitting on me. This guy knew I really loved my mum and thought he could get to me like that," TMZ.com quoted her, as saying.
Simpson and Lachey have both moved on in their personal lives since their split. While he's been dating MTV VJ and TV Personality Vanessa Minnillo, she has been linked to several men, including to US pop star John Mayer and her 'Employee of the Month' co-star Dane Cook.
Simpson's Mother Furious With Her
Jessica Simpson's mother reportedly lashed out at her daughter in front of Dolly Parton and US President George W Bush after she forgot the words to the country star's 9 to 5.
Reports suggest Tina Simpson was furious with her daughter and told her she should quit the music business if she didn't want to put in the work.
According to website TMZ.com, Tina said her performance was "embarrassing" and "unprofessional."
Simpson's mother was further incensed because Jessica had failed to make a dress rehearsal and hadn't bothered to learn the words to the song, instead relying on cue cards during the performance.
The show's producers insisted that she re-tape the performance without anyone in the audience if she wanted to be included in the show's broadcast.
A source at the US network CBS said, "We almost cut her out of the show."
NYTimes photo by Ansell Adams
Jessica Simpson demonstrating her new breast massage regimen.
This very important WiR addendum was produced for a very special reader, and was transcribed by moonlighting RIAA employees. – Jack
|09-12-06, 03:01 PM||#6|
Dawn's private genie
Join Date: May 2001
Location: the Canadian wasteland
This is uncanny. Intrepid reporter JS ferrets out ALL the stories, even ones I make up. Who knew she really HAS a breast massage regimen?
ps Jessica Simpson's initials are also JS
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