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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - May 19th, '07
"The study shows that when it comes to software, open-source varieties face fewer patent threats than proprietary ones." – Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
"Of all countries studied, the US had the lowest rate of piracy, yet the highest total losses." – Ed Oswald
"Our MP3-only strategy means all the music that customers buy on Amazon is always DRM-free and plays on any device." – Jeff Bezos
"The publisher complained that at the end of the first 'Sock Monkey' book, Drinky Crow burned the house down with everyone in it. I told them, 'It's a cartoon!' Next time they’ll all be fine." – Tony Millionaire
"[Rupert Murdoch’s] business is privatized, government propaganda; that’s all the company essentially does." – Bruce Page
"I think in the future, the broadcast stations will all turn off. There is a very limited amount of content on them." – Steve Perlman
"I have never seen insanity like this one in the music industry. This is true insanity." – Mark Lam
"Troll-whisperer." – Cory Doctorow
May 19th, 2007
Is he still here?
Gonzales Proposes New Crime: "Attempted" Copyright Infringement
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is pressing the U.S. Congress to enact a sweeping intellectual property bill that would increase criminal penalties for copyright infringement, including "attempts" to commit piracy.
"To meet the global challenges of IP crime, our criminal laws must be kept updated," Gonzales said during a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on Monday.
The Bush administration is throwing its support behind a proposal called the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007, which is likely to receive the enthusiastic support of the movie and music industries and would represent the most dramatic rewrite of copyright law since a 2005 measure dealing with pre-release piracy.
Here's our podcast on the topic.
The IPPA would, for instance:
* Criminalize "attempting" to infringe copyright. Federal law currently punishes not-for-profit copyright infringement with between 1 and 10 years in prison, but there has to be actual infringement that takes place. The IPPA would eliminate that requirement. (The Justice Department's summary of the legislation says: "It is a general tenet of the criminal law that those who attempt to commit a crime but do not complete it are as morally culpable as those who succeed in doing so.")
* Create a new crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software. Anyone using counterfeit products who "recklessly causes or attempts to cause death" can be imprisoned for life. During a conference call, Justice Department officials gave the example of a hospital using pirated software instead of paying for it.
* Permit more wiretaps for piracy investigations. Wiretaps would be authorized for investigations of Americans who are "attempting" to infringe copyrights.
* Allow computers to be seized more readily. Specifically, property such as a PC "intended to be used in any manner" to commit a copyright crime would be subject to forfeiture, including civil asset forfeiture. Civil asset forfeiture has become popular among police agencies in drug cases as a way to gain additional revenue, and is problematic and controversial.
* Increase penalties for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's anti-circumvention regulations. Currently criminal violations are currently punished by jail times of up to 10 years and fines of up to $1 million. The IPPA would add forfeiture penalties too.
* Add penalties for "intended" copyright crimes. Currently certain copyright crimes require someone to commit the "distribution, including by electronic means, during any 180-day period, of at least 10 copies" valued at over $2,500. The IPPA would insert a new prohibition: actions that were "intended to consist of" distribution.
* Require Homeland Security to alert the Recording Industry Association of America. That would happen when compact discs with "unauthorized fixations of the sounds or sounds and images of a live musical performance" are attempted to be imported. Neither the Motion Picture Association of America nor the Business Software Alliance (nor any other copyright holder such as photographers, playwrights, or news organizations, for that matter) would qualify for this kind of special treatment.
A representative of the Motion Picture Association of America told us: "We appreciate the department's commitment to intellectual property protection and look forward to working with both the department and Congress as the process moves ahead."
What's still unclear is the kind of reception this legislation might encounter on Capitol Hill. Gonzales may not be terribly popular, but Democrats do tend to be more closely aligned with Hollywood and the recording industry than the GOP. (A few years ago, Republicans even savaged fellow conservatives for allying themselves too closely with copyright holders.)
A spokeswoman for Rep. Howard Berman, the California Democrat who heads the House Judiciary subcommittee that focuses on intellectual property, said the congressman is reviewing proposals from the attorney general and from others. The aide said the Hollywood politician plans to introduce his own intellectual property enforcement bill later this year but said his office is not prepared to discuss any details yet.
One key Republican was less guarded. "We are reviewing (the attorney general's) proposal. Any plan to stop IP theft will benefit the economy and the American worker," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, who's the top Republican on the House Judiciary committee. "I applaud the attorney general for recognizing the need to protect intellectual property."
Still, it's too early to tell what might happen. A similar copyright bill that Smith, the RIAA, and the Software and Information Industry Association announced with fanfare last April never went anywhere.
News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report
Amazon to Offer DRM-Free Music Downloads
Amazon.com plans to launch a digital music store later this year, featuring music downloads without copyright restrictions.
The e-commerce giant announced Wednesday that it would offer songs from more than 12,000 record labels in the MP3 format, without the controversial digital rights management (DRM) software. Record labels are beginning to warming up to the concept of offering music downloads without DRM, after waging war with peer-to-peer companies over distributing their copyrighted music and over piracy issues.
"Our MP3-only strategy means all the music that customers buy on Amazon is always DRM-free and plays on any device," Jeff Bezos, Amazon's chief executive, said in a statement.
Users will be able to play their music on virtually any device, including PCs, iPods, Zunes and Zens, as well as burn the songs on CDs for personal use.
In making the announcement, Amazon also noted it has teamed up with EMI Music to offer songs from its digital catalog. As part of its digital music store, Amazon will offer EMI's new, premium DRM-free downloads.
That's the second deal EMI has struck since announcing it would begin offering DRM-free music downloads at a premium price. Last month, EMI and Apple struck a similar deal with the computer maker's iTunes store. Apple is expected to offer the label's DRM-free music beginning this month at $1.29 per song, versus DRM-protected music for 99 cents a song.
Last year, Yahoo Music began to test the concept of DRM-free music. Yahoo offered a single song without DRM from singer Jessica Simpson.
DRM With a Vengeance
Media companies are beginning to hear the anti-DRM message and are responding to the growing consumer backlash by reassessing plans for locking down content, or like EMI by dropping DRM entirely from most product offerings. Not so Adobe Systems. The giant software vendor is attempting to create nothing short of a content control penal colony wherein documents are prepared, consumed and persistently restricted.
That success requires fundamental changes in PC platform architecture right down to the chip level makes the sheer scope of their ambition nothing short of alarming.
For a detailed overview of where they are and perhaps more ominously, where they’re heading, listen to this in-depth webcast with Adobe’s senior technical "evangelist" Duane Nickull.
The Law Arrives in Wild West of Webcasts
PARIS: Since Pandora.com closed its box of digital musical delights this month to users outside the United States, the eulogies for the popular American radio Webcaster have been pouring in from Dubai to Patagonia.
It is "a step back to the dark ages in the music world!" fumed Mario from Mexico City. "No por favor!" declared a user from Spain. "Why can't they leave us in peace?"
With 6.5 million registered users, Pandora stands at the vanguard of the sprawling, global Internet radio market. But Webcasters are suffering severe growing pains in the form of a looming increase in U.S. royalty rates and the free-wheeling atmosphere of the Wild West with competing collection agencies all over the world in search of royalties.
On May 3, that chaos prompted Tim Westergen, a former musician who founded Pandora in a San Francisco apartment, to pull the plug on the international market, blocking foreign visitors through computer IP addresses, which identify the country of the user.
"This is a watershed period that we're going through," said Westergen, who had intended to start a British site this week, but scrapped the project temporarily with royalty struggles overwhelming the company. "We're a nascent industry that is transforming the landscape of the business, offering a massive diversity of music and I think that's challenging the powers that be."
The fundamental issue is that Internet radio sites are global by nature - streaming musical programs digitally to users all over the world. But there is no one-stop global shopping for royalty collections, which means that Pandora has to negotiate agreements with institutions from each territory or directly with independent and major music labels.
Global demand, though, respects no boundaries. The U.S. Internet radio audience climbed to 34.5 million in March, with the share of listeners higher in Europe at 49.5 million, according to ComScore Media Mextrix, a marketing research company that tracks Internet traffic.
"The number I like is average daily visits," Bob Ivins, marketing director for ComScore, said. "Across the European Union we have 5.8 million people hitting a radio site daily versus 4.2 million in the U.S. on an average day."
Those listeners are logging on to sites with a vast depth of music that can tailor programming to eclectic tastes. Live365.com, for instance, is a ten-year-old network of thousands of members who create their own online stations offering everything from Konkani music from the west coast of India to a Webcaster playing hundreds of versions of the same music: "Ave Maria."
The expanding market, which at this point lacks leaders, has overwhelmed the existing royalty structure. But the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI, in London has just hammered out an international agreement to develop a more manageable way to stream across competing territories and collect royalties.
"In actual practice, companies had to two options if they wanted to remain legal," said Lauri Rechardt, a legal consultant who helped negotiate the agreement for IFPI, which represents 1,400 record companies in 70 countries. Either they limited their service to certain territories for which they had cleared the rights, Rechardt said, or they attempted the physically impossible task of striking deals with hundreds of record labels.
Within the next three months, Rechardt said, he expected 40 national royalty collection agencies in the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America to sign the agreement to allow these institutions to license rights for musical streaming across several markets. On Friday, Gramex, the Finnish collection agency, was the first to sign.
"This agreement would make it a lot easier for us," said Mark Lam, chief executive of Live365.com, whose company is expanding into Taiwan and Japan. "Every time we go into new markets, we're called by the various societies who say, 'you owe us money.' So if there's a cross-border agreement that is reasonably priced it would lessen friction."
But the agreement leaves rate-setting to each individual country, and for the moment the United States is poised to set what is, in effect, a global benchmark. Those royalty rates are the subject of a furious political struggle over proposed increases that could raise the cost of sound recordings for Internet stations ranging between 300 percent to 1,200 percent.
Westergen, of Pandora, said that his negotiations to obtain a licensing agreement with the British collection agency, Phonographic Performance, ground to a halt because the U.S. increases "cast a shadow over all ongoing negotiations" as collection societies watched to see what happened in the United States.
Currently, Webcasters pay a percentage of revenues in performance royalties for music streamed to the United States to an industry-backed association called Sound Exchange, which collects and distributes the money. But the Copyright Royalty Board has set new rates effective July 15 that change the structure so Webcasters are charged each time a user listens to a song.
With the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, U.S. law exacts a higher value for digital content than for traditional radio, a system that allows the recording industry to charge performance royalties to digital music streamers and distributors like iTunes.
The new rate increases have sparked an intense lobbying campaign in Congress by small and large Webcasters like AOL radio and Clear Channel.
On Thursday those efforts prompted U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, to introduce legislation reverse a Copyright Royalty Board decision setting the new rates.
John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange in Washington, D.C., said that the Webcasters have managed to portray themselves as a grassroots collection of gritty, small independent Webcasters, but the ones who would benefit most are large companies with deep pockets like AOL Radio and Clear Channel.
"Do you say that if this service plays this music I get paid very handsomely, but if this service pays my music I don't?" Simson said of the divide in resources between big Internet radio companies and smaller independents. "I think it's a very delicate issue. And I think in any new area like the Internet there will be some businesses that survive and some that don't."
Along with a lobbying campaign in Congress, Webcasters are also pursuing an active public relations offensive online through the Savenet Radio Coalition, which is urging listeners to contact their legislators to support the "Internet Radio Equality Act."
Last.fm, a popular London-based Webcaster that is also a social networking site, will be affected by the rate increases, but is not terribly worried because of direct deals that it has negotiated with major labels, according to Christian Ward, a spokesman for Last.fm. "The industry trusts us," Ward said, "which means that there are always ways around the issues. It will be difficult, but we'll find our way around the problem."
Mark Lam, of Live365.com, is not so sanguine. "Obviously independent players will not be able to survive and that's because they want them to go away and make room for others with rich corporate parents," he said, adding, "I have never seen insanity like this one in the music industry. This is true insanity."
XM Pretends To Let Customers Cancel
Some XM Radio subscribers protesting the Opie and Anthony suspension hang up the phone thinking they've canceled, but after calling back to verify, it turns out they've only been given a 1-6 month credit, writes reader Justin:
On Wednesday I called and canceled my XM subscription after finding out Opie and Anthony were suspended. This afternoon (Thursday) I read on a message board that subscribers who also called to cancel were finding out their accounts were not canceled. Instead some were given the 1-6 month credit they turned down and others found out their accounts were not flagged for cancellation until May 26 (XM's shareholder meeting is May 25th, coincidence?).
Sure enough, when I called XM customer support to verify my cancellation I was told my account was granted a 3 month credit on Wednesday instead of the cancellation I demanded. After being transferred to the cancellation department I was hung up while on hold waiting for them to pick up. It took one more call to find out my account had been canceled around the time I was on hold (hung up on) waiting for the cancellation department.
So if any readers canceled their XM service they need to call XM again and verify. Otherwise they may be in for a surprise in a few months when XM monthly charges start back up.
Others writing on an Opie & Anthony fan forum, Wackbag, say the same happened to them.
It's almost as if XM hired AOL's old retention specialists.
Beware P2P Networks with a Tunnel to Confidential Data
Many of the biggest breaches in recent years were inadvertent disclosures, Dartmouth business school researchers found.
Peer-to-peer networks could be more than a nuisance in the workplace, they might also be providing cyberthieves with a tunnel into your most confidential data. So says a new study of corporate data leaks released Tuesday by Dartmouth business school researchers.
"Many of the biggest breaches in recent years were inadvertent disclosures," says Eric Johnson, professor of operations management at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and director of the school's Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies. Johnson co-authored the study along with Scott Dynes, a senior research fellow at Dartmouth's Institute for Security Technology Studies.
One of the major problems, they found, was that users were insufficiently protecting their files and data from peer-to-peer networks.
"Like most people I talked to, I underestimated the scope of the problem," Johnson told InformationWeek.
"The kinds of leaks coming out of these organizations would make their hair stand on end, in terms of both the amount and type of information leaked."
The Dartmouth study notes that there are an estimated 10 million users sharing music, video, software, and photos over peer-to-peer networks, up from about 4 million in 2003. This doesn't even include BitTorrent, a popular peer-to-peer application for video files that's difficult to monitor.
Meanwhile, efforts by ISPs, corporations, and copyright holders to limit peer-to-peer through technology (such as site blocking, traffic filtering, and content poisoning) or through the courts (the most notable being the Recording Industry Association of America prosecution of individual users and file sharing firms) have prompted peer-to-peer developers to create decentralized, encrypted, anonymous networks that can find their way through corporate and residential firewalls.
"These networks are almost impossible to track, are designed to accommodate large numbers of clients, and are capable of transferring vast amounts of data," the study says. And now the bad news. Criminals are actively searching peer-to-peer networks for any personal information they can use to commit identity theft.
There are several ways for confidential data to find its way to a peer network, including instances where users accidentally share folders containing such data, users store music and other data in the same folder that is shared, or users download malware that exposes their file directories to the network.
A lot of identity theft victims "don't realise that their son was on LimeWire last night sharing their financial information," Johnson says.
"Much of this software has interface designs that are confusing and even deceptive in a way that gets people to share, without knowing it, their whole hard drive."
Identity theft has become a bleak fact of life for many people. Many would-be identity thieves simply troll the Internet looking for sensitive information mistakenly posted to Web sites. Johnson and his colleagues have tracked this behavior by ordering credit cards and phone cards and then publicly disclosing account information via the Web.
"We leaked a live Visa card so we could watch what the thieves were doing with the information," he says, adding that he found that cyberthieves were using the stolen accounts in conjunction with PayPal and other online payment services to try to cover their tracks.
Johnson and his colleagues found lots of supposedly confidential information floating freely out on the Web, including job performance reviews and a bank's spreadsheet containing 23,000 business accounts including their contact names and addresses, account numbers, company positions, and relationship managers at the bank. He even found the results of a "confidential" security audit that a company had commissioned. Whoops.
One of the most effective ways to prevent business information from being leaked through peer-to-peer networks is to understand how these services are used.
"Security people say they've blocked ports inside their firewalls so that users can't connect into peer-to-peer networks," Johnson says.
"That's fine until those employees take their laptops home at night or go to a Starbucks and connect to a peer-to-peer network." There are ways of tracking whether corporate data has been leaked onto peer-to-peer networks. Security pros can set up their own accounts on the most popular peer-to-peer networks, which include Gnutella, FastTrack, and eDonkey, and search to see if any information being offered resembles their proprietary data or intellectual property.
"Create a digital footprint for your company," Johnson says. Keep track of all searchable keywords that would lead a Web surfer to your company, including firm names, abbreviations, ticker symbols, brand names, subsidiaries, etc., and use those terms to search the peer-to-peer networks.
Illegal File-Sharing Almost Wiped Out on OU Network, Officials Say
An effort to crack down on illegal file-sharing over Ohio University's computer network is apparently working, according to a news release from OU Tuesday.
Brice Bible, the university's chief information officer, reports in the release that illegal file-sharing on the university's network has "virtually stopped."
The OU information technology (IT) group that Bible heads has been denying network access to users who engage in high volume peer-to-peer file swapping with parties both inside and outside the university network.
Since April 27, the release states, IT officials have shut off 240 network users for unauthorized file-sharing. That number includes users of a file-sharing setup that was operating within the university network.
Based on the release, it would appear that OU is relying on a recording industry group for the information that illegal file-sharing has ground almost to a halt at the university.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has been monitoring such usage, and has filed a federal copyright-infringement lawsuit against 10 "John Doe" OU students for allegedly sharing copyrighted music files over OU's network.
Before filing the suit, it sent out some 50 warning letters to offending students, and has since sent more such letters with the threat of litigation unless the recipients make a cash settlement.
"After just two weeks, Recording Industry Association of America notices of illegal file-sharing detection have dropped to nearly zero as compared with 10 to 50 per day before," Bible said in the OU release. "I am pleased that we had such good results in a short time. And we did it without having to restrict legal uses of P2P technology."
OU claims that it has now refined its computer system to the point where it can distinguish between legal and illegal file-sharing, quashing the latter while allowing the former to continue. It uses filters that look for and block both encrypted file-sharing and unencrypted P2P programs sharing copyright information, while letting other types of file-sharing go on.
This means, the release states, that "users can grab a new Unix patch, turn in a film assignment to a professor, download a movie trailer, or send a friend the latest uncopyrighted indie cut without having to ask for special permission."
Bible noted in the release that on a campus that has suffered a huge and embarrassing data-theft incident, cracking down on illegal file-sharing is among other things a useful computer security measure.
"P2P protocols can make the system prone to security vulnerabilities, making it easier for hackers to find ways into a computer system," he said. "Some P2P protocols also can act like spyware. The fewer of these malicious tools on our system, the better."
The reduction in file-sharing has also freed up more bandwidth for legitimate uses, according to OU. The release notes that students who violate rules against file-sharing face loss of Internet access for a first offense, and disciplinary actions through Judiciaries for subsequent violations.
President Roderick J. McDavis is quoted in the release as saying he is pleased with the progress being made on this issue.
"Those individuals who have been doing this illegal activity have gotten the message that it is time to stop," McDavis said.
Stanford To Charge Reconnect Fee For DMCA Notices
Stanford didn't like appearing on the MPAA's list of 25 worst offenders. Last week the university issued notice of a new policy in which students are charged a reconnection fee, ranging from $100 to $1000, if they fail to respond quickly enough to a DMCA complaint. The policy is to take effect September 1 this year. As a show of "good faith" they are graciously allowing all students to start at the $100 fee level for subsequent notices.
BitTorrent User Loses Appeal in Movie Piracy Case
A Hong Kong man, believed to be the first person convicted of downloading pirated movies using BitTorrent file-sharing technology, lost his appeal on Friday in the territory's highest court.
Chan Nai-ming, who used the alias "Big Crook" on the peer-to-peer BitTorrent network, was found guilty in October 2005 of copyright infringement and attempting to distribute three Hollywood movies using the popular file-sharing software.
While people have used BitTorrent technology for years to download movies undetected, Chan was caught red-handed by a Hong Kong Customs officer in January 2005.
The three movies Chan was convicted of pirating were Daredevil, Miss Congeniality and Red Planet in what the Hong Kong government has called the first conviction of its kind in the world.
"He plainly succeeded in distributing copies of the films in question," the five-member Court of Final Appeal said on Friday in its judgment. "The appeal must accordingly be dismissed."
Chan had been sentenced to three months imprisonment, and had served several weeks in prison before the appeal of his conviction.
The defense argued that Chan merely enabled BitTorrent users "to make copies of their own" of movies stored on his hard disk, rather than trying to "transfer" any copy in his possession, according to the judgment.
But the court rejected that argument, saying Chan "did create and have possession of such a copy (transiently or otherwise) for distribution to the downloading swarm."
Chan had posted a message inviting BitTorrent users to download a movie on an Internet movie forum called "bt.movie.hk" using his "Big Crook" alias.
The Hong Kong government welcomed the judgment, saying it clarified the law regarding Internet piracy.
"This judgment has confirmed that it commits a crime and violates copyright laws for the act of using (BitTorrent) software to upload and distribute," said customs official Tam Yiu-keung in a written statement.
He added the judgment would have a deterrent effect, a view endorsed by industry watchdogs such as the Hong Kong branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
"Those uploaders and downloaders who wish to rely on the gray areas of the law will have no more excuses," said Ricky Fung, the body's chief executive officer.
The BitTorrent system is designed to distribute large amounts of data such as movies by allowing individual computers to share the material they have downloaded from a source.
Hong Kong's Commerce Secretary earlier said the posting of copyrighted materials in Hong Kong using BitTorrent had dropped 80 percent within a year of Chan's arrest in 2005.
The Death of Piracy
"What's really amazing is that TV had the perfect test case, seeing the music business practically destroying itself and totally alienating their core fans for the past six or so years — and they look at that and say, 'Yeah, that's the way to go.' "
Piracy - no, not the eye-patch type, but the copyright infringement variety. Product piracy has been with us since the industrial revolution, but today it is most common in the distribution of music, films and television shows. Compared to the film and TV industries, those music bods have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt (or illegal download) and, nowadays, seen the video.
But is piracy really the conquering invader we are warned about by industry propaganda or will it one day concede a dramatic surrender? How about, rather than a fight to the death, we work together for a cease-fire and a harmonious future? Piracy only thrives because there is a gap in the market, with consumers feeling their needs are not being met. They want it now, they want it cheap, they want it easy and they want as much as they can get - and finally some people are listening.
Pirates would have no plan of attack if we could all get the same content free. Tedious release schedules give the pirates opportunity to sell us illegal copies 'before the official release date'. But street pirates could shift the same number of units selling legitimate copies instead of contraband if the distributors worked with them instead of against them.
The late 1990s witnessed a boom in illegal music file sharing through peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, such as the infamous Napster and Kazaa, which took its toll on traditional revenue streams for record companies. Peer to peer file exchange arose from the ashes of the dot com era alongside open-sourced programming and other decentralising practices, which questioned the status quo. Services like Napster, Grokster, Hotline and Kazaa allow people to share large files with each other quickly and easily. On a P2P network, if a computer requests a file, instead of slowly copying it from a single server to a computer, it copies pieces of it from a thousand computers which speeds up the process exponentially.
When music moved to digital files small enough to transfer across the internet a problem arose: people started swapping music files, piracy rose and the music industry howled. The war on new technology had begun.
Taking the fight to the courts, the media bayed for blood. Inevitably Napster, the first great music-based P2P service fell. Others followed, but new ones constantly took up the call to arms. P2P became a dirty word, synonymous with crooks, thieves and pirates.
But tough US Court rulings are not enough to keep a good idea down and the music industry finally learnt that old adage - if you can't beat them, join them. It was pointless to make new technologies illegal, far better to use them to the industry's advantage. Today online music distribution has been embraced, with the once rebellious Napster now a legitimate online music store - only one of the estimated 300 services available, compared to a handful a few years back. And with this legitimacy, P2P has now been awarded the shiny badge of respectability.
Surely with the relevant case of music so recent a memory, film executives would have the opportunity to win the war without having to unsheathe their weapons? Apparently not. US TV writer/ producer John Rogers is incredulous. "What's really amazing is that TV had the perfect test case, seeing the music business practically destroying itself and totally alienating their core fans for the past six or so years — and they look at that and say, 'Yeah, that's the way to go.'"
Online movie piracy was once considered by the Hollywood studios as seemingly impossible, and so it was: movie files were so large as to be unwieldy and with most internet users in the early/ mid 1990s using dial-up, it could take over 2 days to download a complete feature film. And no one needed a film that badly. Yet learning from Tom Cruise's Maverick in 'Top Gun', the "need for speed" was soon upon us and broadband arrived with such promises a plenty. As "large-sized file transfer" problems became less severe with compression technologies such as DivX, sharing became more widespread and began to affect large software files like animations and movies. And with that, movies could be trafficked through the Internet providing consumers with exciting, new territories to explore. The vast majority of which were illegal and so DivX joined the lawyer's hit list.
In the past, files were distributed by point-to-point technology with a central uploader distributing files to downloaders. With these systems, a large number of downloaders for a popular file used an increasingly larger amount of bandwidth. If there were too many downloads, the server became unavailable. The opposite is true for peer-to-peer networking, the more downloaders the faster the file distribution. With 'swarming technology', as implemented in file sharing systems like eDonkey2000 or BitTorrent, downloaders help the uploader by picking up some of its uploading responsibilities.
P2P technology was employed by the brains behind Kazaa, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, to create Skype. This in turn revolutionised the communications industry and helped move P2P networks to legitimacy. Revelling in this newfound acceptance, we can now look forward to the introduction of Joost, the first grand worldwide P2PTV conduit. Joost's vast library of quality content will help establish its name, but it will be the absence of any fees that make it stand alone amongst it's competitors. With an advertising-backed model, customers plugging in anywhere in the world can enjoy content without paying a penny.
Sounds like the pirates lost that one.
But the advancements in technology don't end there. DivX, like Napster was initially feared, but progressed to secure industry acceptance. DivX sealed deals with electronics companies to include their codec in home DVD players, enabling people to download a film, burn it to DVD and watch it at home on their TV. This effectively picked the pocket of the pirates, as the costs involved are so scant as to under-cut any illegal street seller.
Making matters worse for the pirates is the added value that many download services supply. The technology-literate can enjoy more than the just the film itself with many sites providing a plethora of added extras to excite film lovers. With anything from downloadable scripts or posters to special features, fans can immerse themselves more fully in the world of films keeping even the fussiest of fan boys happy. The online communities promise interactivity with other enthusiasts, and recommendations specifically monitored to reflect your personal tastes. All this and at the best quality.
So with the films available online legally and complete with all the trimmings, what is plan B for today's pirate?
For many, it's the immediate gratification they provide. If you are in England why wait for the film that's screening to American audiences? Why delay getting your hands on a DVD if you don't have to?
The high cost of producing numerous film prints for exhibition in cinemas meant that it used to take a film at least a year to open in cinemas around the globe. Money men need to feel that one window of opportunity is closed before they open the next one, in this case the end of a long cinematic run delays the arrival of the film on DVD. Because of this, DVDs did not come out for at least 12 months (and with zone restrictions), and then comes the television broadcasting window, then the cable window and so on.
But some of Hollywood's most influential figures are looking to create a more simultaneous experience. George Lucas opened ‘Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith’ on the same day internationally, an idea supported by John Fithian, from the National Association of Theatre Owners "we have consistently advocated reduced or eliminated windows between the US and international theatrical release."
The advent of digital cinema projectors will allow more films to open all over the world at the same time, as it cunningly sidesteps the time lags and costs incurred of it's cousin the 35mm. Curt Marvis, from download giant CinemaNow, is looking forward to this change, "it is about time. I think we will see the Hollywood studios adapt their traditional release 'windows' more and more." Some distributors are already making their DVDs available only 1 to 2 months after a cinematic release and it seems to be an idea that is catching on. In Norway they are testing selling DVDs in cinema lobbies and Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh has put his considerable weight behind the matter. The director happily experimented with no window at all, allowing his murder mystery ‘Bubble’ to be watched at a cinema, on a DVD or on cable TV, all on the same day.
Some argue that such examples are merely the indulgences of big names that can afford the luxury of a low budget flop, and Soderbergh shouldn't bite the hand that feeds. His resolution has not been swayed by such criticisms: "The studio model has to be rethought," he told Hollywood Reporter. "Everything changes and evolves. We've got to get with it, embrace it and find a way to make it work...The movies are not the way they used to be when I grew up." The movie business, in his own words is "out of whack."
Simultaneous release may have the traditional money men shaking their heads, but as the windows close it will remove one more of the motivations that people have to go to pirates: seeing the films before they come out.
But lastly what about the pirates themselves - where do they stand in this war?
How about side-by-side with the film distributors? It's really not too far-fetched. Supplying pirates with legitimate DVDs at cheap prices legitimises the pirate networks, turning pirates into conventional points of purchase (POP). This benefits all parties and provides a new, yet established, outlet. Time Warner and Twentieth Century Fox have both met with success having implemented this scheme in China, though the inability to find legitimate Western DVDs and the low wages in China have also been influential factors. However with a tried and tested example out there, it cannot be too long until other distributors like Wysiwyg, look to the pirate as friend, not foe. Indeed Wysiwyg invites pirates to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a view to making more money by selling more, better quality DVDs.
As Hollywood attempts to pass some further legislation or publicly whinge about the money it is losing from piracy, it fails to see the bigger picture. In the war between technology and piracy, technology can win and, like the reformation of street pirates, can now help establish a new world order. The technologies that once formed the greatest threat to the media industries have now removed that very threat. Oh, sweet irony.
Music Companies Heartened by Report on Internet Piracy
Music companies have been heartened by a parliamentary report backing calls for internet service providers (ISPs) and search engines such as Google to crack down on users that share music illegally as well as extending copyright terms for recording artists.
The report, compiled by the Culture, Media and Sports Committee, argued that ISPs and search-based businesses should do more to discourage piracy amongst customers. Music companies have been blighted by illegal file-sharing amongst internet users and have been frustrated by ISPs that refuse to take action against customers that are breaking the law.
Internet companies such as BT and Tiscali argue that they are "mere conduits of information" and that the onus is on music companies to prove their customers are engaged in illegal activity in the courts before action should be taken. However music companies argue that ISPs are in the best position to clamp down on illegal file-sharing and have profited from the rapid increase in broadband take-up in the UK, partially driven by demand for digital music on the back of rampant growth in iPod sales.
The report also recommended that the law related to damages should be reviewed to ensure that penalties constituted a real deterrent to copyright theft.
John Kennedy, chairman and chief executive of the music trade body the IFPI, said the report provided hope for music companies that ISPs have to start working with content owners to crack down on piracy. He said that, according to the Treasury-backed report on intellectual property rights by Andrew Gowers last year, UK ISPs have to show that progress is being made to tackle illegal file sharing this year. If ISPs remain intransigent, the Gowers Report has recommended the Government consider some form of regulation.
Mr Kennedy said there had been some "meaningful discussions" with ISPs that buy capacity from network owners prepared to take action as illegal file-sharers tend to use large amounts of bandwidth, costing those operators money.
The parliamentary report also urges the Government to press the European Commission to extend the copyright term for sound recordings to at least 70 years. Under current UK laws, copyright on sound recordings expires after 50 years.
Mr Kennedy said it was "very embarrassing" that the Government refused to support the UK music industry. "Even though we can't win the Eurovision song contest, the UK music industry is arguably the most important in the world, given its history. Its influence has been immeasurable," he said.
The Parliamentary report criticised the Gowers Report for focusing only on economic analysis and not on the moral rights of the recording artists.
Poland: Nine People Held by Police for Translating Movies
Nine people involved in a community portal Napisy.org have been held for questioning by Polish police forces. The possible accusation is publishing illegal translations of foreign movies.
Napisy.org was the most popular Polish portal where users (over 600 thousands active ones) were free to submit translated subtitles for popular movies (mostly from English to Polish, but not only). Popular video players could be then used to display the subtitles when playing a movie (usually a DVD-rip).
The website (already shut down) was located on German servers. Zbigniew Urbański from the Polish National Police informed that the police action was supported by German colleagues and the Polish Foundation for protecting Audio-Video content (connected with The Polish Society of the Phonographic Industry, a Polish RIAA/MPAA-like organization):
The people held for questioning are mostly the people who were involved in translating the movies. They were stopped in different places all over the country: in Śląsk (Silesia), Podlasie (Podlachia), Kraków (Cracow) and Szczecin (Stettin). Among the arrested was the service administrator from Zabrze. The case is evolving. Further actions are coming.
During the proceedings, 10 PCs and 7 laptops have been secured by the Police, together with about 2000 CDs containing (probably) illegally copied movies and PC software.
According to Polish copyright law any “processing” of others’ content including translating is prohibited without permission. The people held (aged 20 - 30) were questioned on Wednesday and Thursday and then allowed to leave. In case of being accused of illegal publishing of copyrighted material, they can spend in jail up to 2 years (in the worst case).
Meet the Copyright Alliance
Anyone who believes things are as bad as they can get with self-interest corporate groups undermining freedom of choice, freedom of expression and freedom of speech should prepare themselves.
There's a new anti-consumer gang in town, and it'll be more actively poisonous than anything you've ever seen before.
Collectively and individually, the huge music, movie and software industry groups claim the men, women and children upon whom they all depend so absolutely are nothing but potential criminals just waiting for an opportunity to rob them blind by "massively distributing" corporate product on- and offline.
Enter the Copyright Alliance meant to, "convince increasingly skeptical members of the general public and policymakers that copyrights are something special that deserve protection," says the Hollywood Reporter.
"Patrick Ross, executive director of the organization, said that the group helps fill a gap that was left when former MPAA chief Jack Valenti died," states the story. Valenti, "ran a similar group known as the Copyright Alliance that went into eclipse after his death last month" but, "That was a creature of Jack Valenti. With this, we hope to preserve that broad group."
Congress, "heralded the launch of the Copyright Alliance, which consists of 29 organizations in the U.S. ranging from entertainment and arts groups to technology and sports coalitions," says Variety. "The alliance estimates that the number individuals it represents totals 11 million.
Praising the new multi-level enforcement outfit are such infamous entertainment industry supporters as Hollywood Howard Berman, Howard Coble and John Conyers.
Observes InfoWorld, "Several copyright bills are likely to come before Congress this year, said Representative Howard Berman, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property," going on:
Among the bills Berman expects in Congress is reform of the payment system for music royalties, particularly higher payments for artists whose music is sold online, he said.
Berman praised the Copyright Alliance for its focus. Congress and advocates need to 'protect against the constant assault on copyright law,' he said.
Copyright issues are likely to produce major debate in Congress this year. Two bills would nullify a March ruling from U.S. copyright royalty judges increasing the royalty fees Internet radio broadcasters must pay. In February, Representative Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, introduced a bill that would carve out customer rights for the so-called fair use of copyright works.
The Copyright Alliance also will work on efforts to educate consumers about copyright. Many young people today don't understand the value of copyright, said James Gibson, an intellectual property professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. "The problem is, in the popular culture, copyright gets a bad rap," he said.
At the launch, "the alliance sought to draw attention to the importance of copyright-dependent industries by showing a short video depicting photographers, animators and other artists deemed 'the face of copyright'," says ZDNet, continuing, "Grammy-winning Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier, guitarist and Booker T and the MGs member Steve Cropper, famed folk singer Tom Paxton and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Tim O'Brien also showed up to tout the importance of copyright to their livelihoods."
However, the story points out, pro-consumer group the Digital Freedom Campaign, whose members include the Consumer Electronics Association, advocacy group Public Knowledge, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was launched recently.
"That group argues that big labels and studios are threatening to squelch new gadgets and consumer freedom by chipping away at the fair use rights written into copyright law," says ZDNet.
"They support proposals like the Fair Use Act, sponsored by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and three of his House colleagues, which would amend the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow consumers the legal right to pick digital locks on copyrighted works for certain home or educational purposes.
"RIAA President Cary Sherman, for his part, has denounced the group's stance as an 'extremist' interpretation of the law designed to frighten consumers and policymakers."
The Copyright Alliance describes itself as a, "non-profit, non-partisan educational organization dedicated to the value of copyright as an agent for creativity, jobs and growth" whose members will lobby for heavier civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringements, which they call "violations".
And schools at all levels should expect a flood of industry created and supplied materials and 'instructors' because the music, movie and software cartels also promise to 'educate' and motivate your children, saying:
It's never too early to learn the value of copyright. In fact, every time a child takes crayon to paper, he or she has created a copyrighted work, but how many know the rights they've just earned?
Educators across the country recognize the value of incorporating an understanding of copyright into lesson plans, but the resources haven't always been readily available. The Copyright Alliance, as part of its educational mission, aims to identify valuable curriculum guides and other educational resources and make those resources available to educators.
Unbelievably, the group also claims it'll support freedom of expression, issuing a set of fulsome "policy principles" to "guide their educational outreach efforts".
To enrich our culture through incentives to create and disseminate new and innovative creative works to citizens.
To promote the progress of science and creativity, as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, by upholding and strengthening copyright law and preventing its diminishment.
To advance educational programs that teach the value of strong copyright and its vital role in fostering creative expression, driving economic growth, and enriching the lives of our citizens.
To protect the incentive to create by supporting effective civil and criminal enforcement of copyright laws domestically and internationally.
To defend the rights of creators to control their property, understanding the necessary balance of those rights with the public good.
To encourage the inclusion of copyright protections in bilateral, regional, and multilateral agreements to protect creators and foster global development.
To protect the rights of creators to express themselves freely under the principles established in the First Amendment, with copyright as an "engine of free expression."
It's hard to imagine a more unsavoury, unscrupulous and unethical collection of parasites, and all in one place.
Members include: American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; American Society of Media Photographers; Association of American Publishers; Broadcast Music, Inc; Business Software Alliance; CBS Corporation; Directors Guild of America; Entertainment Software Association; Magazine Publishers of America; Major League Baseball; Microsoft; Motion Picture Association of America; National Association of Broadcasters; National Collegiate Athletic Association; National Music Publishers' Association; NBA Properties, Inc; NBC Universal; News Corporation; Newspaper Association of America; Professional Photographers of America; Recording Artists' Coalition; Recording Industry Association of America; Software & Information Industry Association; Sony Pictures Entertainment; Time Warner; Viacom; Vin Di Bona Productions; and The Walt Disney Company.
The alliance's academic board boasts James Gibson, University of Richmond; Michael Ryan, George Washington University; Micheal Einhorn, Rutgers University; Stan Liebowitz, University of Texas at Dallas; Ronald Mann, University of Texas; R Polk Wagner, University of Pennsylvania; and, Lee Hollaar, University of Utah.
Its financial, legal, political and media resources and limitless and anyone who thinks things are bad now should very definitely stay tuned.
Because in the words of Bachman Turner Overdrive, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet.
Copyright Extension Urged for U.K. Sound Recordings
British copyright laws on sound recordings must be extended beyond 50 years to prevent veteran musicians like Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney from losing royalties in later life, a report from a parliamentary committee said Wednesday.
The issue of copyright protection has become a hot topic in Britain as early hits from aging musicians approach the cut-off point.
The increasing public discussion has arrived at a time when the online digital music revolution has renewed interest in the back catalogues of many performers.
Under current rules, performers can earn royalties for 50 years from the end of the year when a sound recording was made.
In comparison, novelists, playwrights and composers enjoy copyright protection for their life and 70 years afterwards.
Today in Business
If the rules do not change, Richard's first hit "Move It!" from 1958 would lose protection in 2009, while early tracks from The Beatles like "Love Me Do" would also soon be out of date.
"We have not heard a convincing reason why a composer and his or her heirs should benefit from a term of copyright which extends for lifetime and beyond, but a performer should not," the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the Parliament said in its report.
"Given the strength and importance of the creative industries in the U.K.," the report concluded, "it seems extraordinary that the protection of intellectual property rights should be weaker here than in many other countries whose creative industries are less successful."
The copyright protection for performers in the United States is 95 years from release. In Australia it is 70 years.
The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, commissioned by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and released in December, rejected calls to extend the protection.
Andrew Gowers, who headed the review, said that longer copyright terms would increase the costs for consumers and companies that play music.
But the parliamentary report released Wednesday argued that the Gowers review examined the situation from a purely economic point of view and had not considered the moral rights of artists to own and control their intellectual property.
The committee called on the government to lobby the European Commission to extend the term of copyright to at least 70 years.
John Kennedy, the chairman of the IFPI body that represents the international recording industry, welcomed the report.
"The Select Committee has given a ringing endorsement for fair treatment of the U.K. music industry," he said.
"It has backed two simple principles - that U.K. performers must get a term of copyright protection comparable to composers and that Britain must not be left with weaker copyright protection than its international partners."
The committee, which looked at a range of issues facing the creative industries, also sided with the IFPI in its effort to require Internet service providers to do more to discourage piracy of music.
Madonna Releases New Song, "Hey You" for Charity, to Perform it at July's 'Live Earth' Concert
Madonna, one of the headliners at this summer's "Live Earth" concerts, has released a new digital song for the musical event.
The global concert series, taking place July 7, is designed to raise awareness about climate issues. "Hey You," which Madonna produced with Pharrell Williams, doesn't specifically talk about Earth issues, but the ballad's lyrics refer to loving and saving each other.
Madonna is scheduled to perform the song during the show at Wembley Stadium in London. Other shows will take place in Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; Tokyo; Shanghai, China; Johannesburg, South Africa; Sydney, Australia; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Hamburg, Germany; and Istanbul, Turkey.
"Hey You" is available on MSN.com. The first million downloads are free, and Microsoft is pledging to donate 25 cents per download to the Alliance for Climate Protection.
Besides Madonna, other headliners slated for the London concert include the Hot Chili Peppers, Genesis and the Beastie Boys.
Madonna Steals Song "Hey You" For Live Earth
Madonna steals copyrighted works again.
Date Released: 05/19/2007
Miami, Florida, May 19, 2007 - on May 3, 2007, Aisha released a free song titled “Thieves” via her web site www.aishamusic.com, about Madonna and the copyright infringement legal case Aisha v. Madonna, which was filed with the Supreme Court in April 2007 (case no. 06-1389). Press releases were issued that were carried on several press sites two weeks ago.
Two weeks later, on May 16, 2007, Madonna has mimicking released a free song titled “Hey You,” where she further unlawfully stole items from Aisha’s private, unreleased, Copyrighted Catalog, valued at billions due to its sheer voluminous content, which contains 9,000 songs, 300 movie scripts and short stories, 15 book manuscripts, 200 music video treatments, 500 photographs, 150 photo treatments, a perfume line and clothing line, valued at billions.
Additional litigation will be brought over the song “Hey You” by Madonna, which was illegally released through MSN.
Aisha stated, “I know my words when I see them and these items were copyrighted long ago before she infringed them this week. Once again, she has stolen copyrighted material that does not belong to her. She is unequivocally the most unoriginal artist in the history of music. How can one claim to be doing charity work, for which one has stolen that which is being contributed. Only a fraud would do that. Not to mention, the song sounds bad due to her singing. The hot air that is her thin, squeaky, wobbly voice will not help climate change.”
A formal complaint was filed with George W. Bush appointees Alberto Gonzales at the DOJ and FBI Director Robert Mueller in September of 2005, as copyright infringement is a crime the FBI investigates.
However, Mueller has shirked his duties once again, as he was publicly noted to have done in the Mark Foley congressional page scandal, where another famous figure was involved. The Inspector General excoriated the FBI for this conduct, under Robert Mueller.
Aisha stated, “Mueller’s criminal negligence in this case in allowing Madonna to continue to illegally use years old copyrights on a regular basis, speaks terribly of him and his abilities as chief law enforcement officer of the country. It stands to reason, if he can’t stop Madonna, how’s he going to stop Osama. They need to listen to Congress and the American people and step down for the sake of the country.”
Aisha was the first to break the story in her December 2006 internet based Sound Off Column about the FBI abusing the Patriot Act via improperly obtaining emails, bank statements and phone records of American and international citizens. Three months later, Aisha’s claims in her Column were confirmed when in March 2007 IOG Glenn Fine wrote of FBI abuses of the Patriot Act regarding emails, banks statements and phone records, resulting in a recent Senate inquiry.
The local Miami FBI, run by Jonathan Solomon, stated they are investigating the criminal copyright infringement and invasion of privacy case Aisha v. Madonna. However, this has not stopped Madonna and her associates from unlawfully continuing to pilfer the contents of Aisha’s preexisting, private, Copyrighted Catalog that was proven to have been procured by them via illegal means, in making an unauthorized copy of the master file, with additional items stolen from Aisha’s publicly viewed web site.
Aisha further stated, “An illegal copy of my Copyrighted Catalog was made and she continues to unlawfully use items from it, attributing them to herself and her associates in violation of U.S., British and United Nations laws. She has illegally passed around and sold items from my Copyrighted Catalog to other parties in the industry, who have been tied to her via business records and tax records, as well as stealing items for herself and her companies in violation of SEC laws, that govern each respective corporation.”
UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COMPLAINT
A United Nations human rights abuse complaint has been prepared and will be filed with the U.N. via an assigned international representative. Aisha’s human rights have been violated in respect to her copyrights, property ownership and privacy, which has been invaded in the same manner that other victims experienced in the Anthony Pellicano case.
Anthony Pellicano is Madonna’s lawyer’s now incarcerated private investigator. The contents of the human rights abuse report will be posted to the Internet shortly via Aisha’s web site.
COMPARATIVE LYRICAL CONTENT OF THE INFRINGEMENTS CONTAINED IN THE SONG “HEY YOU” BY MADONNA TO AISHA’S PREEXISTING COPYRIGHTS THAT ARE YEARS OLD:
Aisha: don’t give up Madonna: don’t you give up
Aisha: Life isn’t so bad Madonna: It’s not so bad
Aisha: A chance for you - give us a second chance Madonna: There’s still the chance for us
Aisha: the courage to be yourself Madonna: just be yourself
Aisha: poet and peacemaker Madonna: poets and prophets
Aisha: Tell me why you act so shy Madonna: Don’t be so shy
Aisha: There's a reason people have so much difficulty Madonna: There’s reasons why it’s hard
Aisha: Make it together Madonna: Keep it together
Aisha: we'll make it anyway Madonna: we’ll make it alright
Aisha: But will you change, you’ve got to beat this thing Madonna: You’ve got to change this time
Aisha: Remember this Madonna: Remember this
Aisha: Is real, It’s more than something you feel None of it’s real including the way you feel
Aisha: Save your soul Madonna: Save your soul
Aisha: little sister Madonna: little sister
Aisha: Save your soul Madonna: Save your soul
Aisha: Little Brother Madonna: little brother
Aisha: Save yourself the pain save yourself
Aisha: learn to love yourself Madonna: first love yourself
Aisha: courage to love someone else Madonna: then you can love someone else
Aisha: I can’t change everyone Madonna: If you can change someone else
Aisha: save everyone else Madonna: saved someone else
Aisha: it’s a choice you make Madonna: You’ve got a choice
Aisha: everything makes sense Madonna: it will make sense
Aisha: learn to love yourself Madonna: first love yourself
Aisha stated, “Madonna is famous for taking other people’s songs, changing a line or two, then taking full writer’s credit and financial compensation for something she did not write. That’s called stealing and fraud. Thanks to her, we now have the unenviable task of monitoring all new releases, checking for people she illegally sold items from my Catalog to, in order to bring future lawsuits to get my work back.” Madonna’s many copyright infringement, civil rights violations and breach of contract cases illustrate a pattern of misconduct that has spanned five countries: 1. Aisha v. Madonna (civil rights and copyright infringement) 2. Sorrentino v. Madonna (assault and battery on a 10 year old child) 3. Myers v. Madonna (civil rights violations) 4. Ronald J Myers v. Madonna (civil rights violations) 5. Barrier v. Madonna (civil rights violations) 6. Bourdin v. Madonna (copyright infringement) 7. Easy Street Records v. Madonna (copyright infringement) 8. Acquaviva v. Madonna (copyright infringement) 9. D’Onofrio v. Madonna (copyright infringement) 10. Iving L Williams v. Madonna (copyright infringement) 11. Eon Net LP v. Madonna (copyright /patent/trademark infringement) 12. Rich Kidd Music Publishing, Inc. v. Madonna (copyright infringement) 13. Winterland v. Madonna (copyright infringement) 14. Hobe Cie. LTD v. Madonna (trademark infringement) 15. Coppola v. Madonna (personal injury) 16. Rice v. Madonna (breach of contract) 17. Mclay v. Madonna (breach of contract) 18. Nike, Inc. v. Madonna (breach of contract) 19. Millennium Films v. Madonna (breach of contract) 20. Done and Dusted v. Madonna (breach of contract)
FULL LIST OF ALLEGED INFRINGEMENTS:
The following is a list of works from Aisha’s aforementioned Copyrighted Catalog that she formally alleged Madonna and her affiliates such as Warner Bros Pictures, Warner Bros Records, Warner Bros’ artists like Paris Hilton and Madonna's cousin, Gwen Stefani, among others Madonna does business with, have unlawfully used, in the ongoing infringements of her copyrights.
Defendants in the case who have already been sued in the 2005 Aisha v. Madonna lawsuit that was recently filed with the Supreme Court, continue to infringe more of Aisha’s works, such as Sony for Beyonce and Interscope for Gwen Stefani, who has stolen from Aisha’s Copyrighted Catalog two albums in a row now, reaping millions in illegal profit.
1. Princess Diaries 2 (2005) 2. Prince And Me 1 & 2 (2005) 3. Sam’s Lake (2005) 4. Gravedancers (2005) 5. Material Girls (2006) 6. Valentine’s Day (2006) 7. American Dreamz (2006) 8. Goal (2006) 9. My Sister’s Keeper (2006) 10. Blond Ambition (2007) 11. Rude Buay (2007) being used by Madonna’s husband Guy Ritchie (his fourth infringement lawsuit since he has been with her). 12. Tonight He Comes (2007) 13. “American Life” song by Madonna (2003) 14. “Orange County Girl” by Madonna’s cousin Gwen Stefani (2006) 15. “Confessions On A Dance Floor” CD by Madonna (2005) 16. A backdrop from Madonna's Re-invention world tour (2004) 17. A backdrop from Madonna's Confessions world tour (2006) 18. "Sorry" Music video by Madonna (2005) 19. “Stars Are Blind” music video by Madonna's fellow Kaballah Centre member and Warner Bros artist Paris Hilton (2006) 20. Madonna's fellow Kaballah Centre member Britney Spears’ “Streams Of Consciousness” column, ripped off my “Sound Off Column” - both bearing the same initials and written content that Spears plagiarized years after my Column was copyrighted, indexed and established online. 21. Items from my clothing line have been illegally used for Madonna's English Roses clothing line (2005) 22. Items from my clothing line are illegally being used for Madonna's H&M line (2007) 23. December 2006's "Beauty Buyble" by Judith Regan's Regan Books, who was behind Madonna's 1990's "Sex" book. 24. E’s 2007 “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” 25. “Dandelions” by Madonna’s fellow Kabbalah Center member Nicole Richie 26. “Where Is Your Dignity” “Burned” and “Happy” by Hillary Duff, who starred in Madonna’s infringing film she stole from my Catalog, “Material Girls” 27. “Hollaback Girl” by Madonna’s cousin Gwen Stefani (2005) 28. “Worldwide Woman,” “Amor Gitmo” and “Welcome To Hollywood” by Beyonce Knowles (2007) 29. “Beautiful Liar,” “Suga Mama,” “Greenlight,” “Flaws and All” and “Still In Love” low budget music videos by Beyonce (2007) 30. “Umbrella” by Rihanna 31. “Can I Live” by Nick Cannon (2005) 32. My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) 33. “Never Again” by Kelly Clarkson (2007) 34. “Hey You” by Madonna (2007) 35. A verbatim theft of a specific cultural joke in “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” (2005), stolen from Aisha’s 1998 copyrighted script “Presidential Dreams.” “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” was produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment. Brad Pitt starred in Guy Ritchie’s box office bomb “Snatch” which was also the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit. Since he has been with Madonna, different litigants have sued Guy Ritchie 4 separate times for copyright infringement, over the projects “Snatch” “Swag” “Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels” and in the legal case Aisha v. Madonna for pilfering items from Aisha’s catalog.
Can CBS Put the Net Into Network?
Broadcaster launches plan syndicating shows on web, admits old strategy failed
A year ago, CBS Corp. announced the creation of Innertube, an entertainment channel on CBS.com designed to make the company a player in online video. It streams video of sporting events, news reports and reruns of shows such as the hit comedy "How I Met Your Mother."
CBS's new chief Internet strategist now jokes that the Web address for Innertube should be "CBS.com/nobodycomeshere."
A version of what the hit CBS show 'CSI' would look like on a variety of Internet video players. Clockwise from top: Joost, AOL, TV.com and Bebo.
CBS, after a year of experimenting with various Web initiatives, says that forcing consumers to come to one site -- its own -- to view video hasn't worked. Instead, the company plans to pursue a drastically revised strategy that involves syndicating its entertainment, news and sports video to as much of the Web as possible. It represents a stark departure for the TV industry. Most of CBS's major competitors, including Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal and News Corp.'s Fox, are to some degree all betting that they can build their own Internet video portals.
Starting this week, an expanded menu of CBS's video content will be available for free to consumers on as many as 10 different Web sites ranging from Time Warner Inc.'s AOL to Joost Inc., a buzzy online video service that is just rolling out. The company calls its new venture the CBS Interactive Audience Network.
Because CBS plans to sell the advertising that will appear on the digital network, the launch is timed to coincide with the industry's high-stakes "upfront" ad-selling season, which kicks off today. It is the time of the year when the big networks unveil their fall schedules to advertisers and start negotiations to place some $9 billion in ads for the 2007-2008 television season, which starts in September.
CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves plans in coming days to announce a flurry of other deals aimed at giving consumers new ways to use CBS content online. For instance, CBS is working on agreements with social-networking sites such as Facebook Inc. and Last.fm Ltd. to allow users to post CBS video clips to their profiles, according to people familiar with the matter. A deal is also imminent with Slide Inc., which allows users of social networks such as MySpace to personalize photos and video for their pages.
All the big networks will aggressively shop advertising space on their sites to media buyers this week, but most of the networks are pursuing a homegrown approach to Internet video. ABC, for instance, has focused on streaming all of its prime-time programming through its own ABC.com player. NBC Universal and Fox in March said they are creating a new Internet video portal to compete with Google Inc.'s popular video-sharing site YouTube. In addition to launching the new portal -- which the two companies plan to support with a $100 million marketing campaign -- the venture will syndicate the content to big Web sites. Those sites include AOL, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN, TV.com, News Corp.'s MySpace and Yahoo Inc.
In contrast, CBS has abandoned attempts to build its own blockbuster portal and is instead signing pacts with a raft of smaller -- and often-untested -- Web companies, from Joost to Veoh Networks Inc., a video-sharing service. Unlike other big media companies, CBS's holdings in cable networks are limited, which gives it more freedom to distribute its content widely over the Internet without hurting a cable revenue stream. CBS is essentially placing bets on which video sites will matter in the coming months and years, both in the U.S. and around the world. With any luck, the smaller sites will grow in popularity, boosting the exposure of CBS shows -- and lifting the network's haul of online ad dollars. CBS will give advertisers the freedom to tweak their ads to fit the different sites. The internal code name for CBS's new strategy: "Rolling Thunder."
"We can't expect consumers to come to us," says Quincy Smith, the president of CBS Interactive. "It's arrogant for any media company to assume that."
CBS faces a particularly difficult challenge luring its viewers to the Web. The network, home to franchises such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "60 Minutes," attracts an older average viewer than ABC, NBC or Fox. As a result, media buyers and analysts say, CBS's audience is less Web-savvy and the company has a harder time funneling viewers to its Web site with on-air promos.
The likes of Yahoo and MSN see the networks as trying to leverage their relationships with TV ad buyers to siphon off online ad dollars. So while the Web companies want to offer their users access to portions of studio movies and TV hits -- which explains why they are signing deals with all the networks -- they argue that they should be selling the advertising that accompanies it. The company that sells the ads gets to keep the lion's share of the revenue; in CBS's case, it gets 90%, while the Web partners get a 10% cut.
Joanne Bradford, chief media officer of MSN, says advertisers would be served better by buying online ads directly from Web sites rather than buying Internet packages offered alongside their upfront TV deals with the networks. "I'm a little irritated that the networks have put together a digital package that lets a marketer check a box and isn't as robust or deep," she said at a conference last week for advertisers in Seattle.
Advertisers will ultimately decide if CBS's new strategy is the right one. So far, media buyers are positive about the move, although they note that CBS has had troubles implementing some heavily promoted digital efforts in the past. CBS has already signed up major advertisers for its digital network such as Procter & Gamble Co., General Motors Co. and AT&T Corp.'s Cingular Wireless.
"I'm really impressed, especially regarding the ability for us to make one buy but tailor the ad message differently to each of the sites," says Tracey Scheppach, corporate vice president and video-innovations director at Publicis Groupe's Starcom USA.
-- Kevin J. Delaney contributed to this article
CBS Fires Consultant Gen. Batiste Over VoteVets Ad; 'We Went to War With a Fatally Flawed Strategy'
Retired Army Major Gen. John Batiste has been asked to leave his position as a consultant to CBS News over a new advertisement criticizing the Iraq war. The ad was produced by the group VoteVets.
Appearing on MSNBC's Countdown, Batiste, former First Infantry Division commander, tells host Keith Olbermann in the video clip below, "I'm no longer wearing the uniform of our country; I have no ties to the defense industry; I can speak honestly, I have a duty to do so. And I know there [are] other generals both active duty and retired that are doing all they can within their means. In my case, I'll continue to speak out."
After Olbermann asks Batiste about the war itself, the retired general says, "We went to war with a fatally flawed strategy ... This is all about a president who's relying almost solely on the military component of strategy to accomplish the mission in Iraq."
"Sadly," he continues, "we're missing the diplomatic, the political, and the economic components that are fundamental and required to be successful."
Is It the Woman Thing, or Is It Katie Couric?
The numbers are stark. Eight months into Katie Couric’s job as the first woman to anchor a network newscast on her own, her “CBS Evening News” has not only settled back into its long-held position of last among the evening news broadcasts, but also regularly falls short of the newscast that Ms. Couric replaced.
In the latest week’s ratings, “CBS Evening News” had its worst performance since the Nielsen company installed its “people meter” ratings system 20 years ago.
Ms. Couric professed to be unfazed. “Honestly, I think we’re going to see ebbs and flows,” she said in a telephone interview the day after receiving the ratings news. “I don’t think it’s a doom-and-gloom scenario.”
But it certainly is not a buoyant scenario either, as Sean McManus, the president of CBS News, acknowledged. “We are a distant third,” he said. “There is no way to sugarcoat that fact.”
CBS executives say their research had predicted that the newscast would continue to struggle in the ratings, even after the network’s enormous investment in Ms. Couric — an estimated $15 million in annual salary — as well as millions more to build a new set and promote her and her newscast.
But the network seemed not fully prepared for a host of other developments that followed its expensive decision.
There has been a cascade of hostile comments in the press. Members of the news staff were quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer as suggesting that Ms. Couric might stay only through the 2008 election. And a recent Gallup poll reinforced the notion that Ms. Couric had become a polarizing figure: 29 percent of respondents said that they did not like her, as opposed to 51 percent who said that they liked her. (Her competitors at ABC and NBC both had negative scores under 20 percent and positives around 60.)
Turning around the newscast will be a serious challenge, one former longtime network news executive said. “I think it will be very difficult, honestly,” said the executive, who asked not to be identified because he expects to work again with one of the networks. “Usually it takes a cataclysmic event to change news loyalties.”
“CBS Evening News” continues to bring in revenue for the network — the smallest share of a total of about $540 million for the three network newscasts combined — and CBS executives said that it remains profitable. But network sales executives have estimated that for each 0.1 rating point a newscast drops among viewers from age 25 to 54, the program could lose $5 million to $6 million in revenue. (A point represents about 100,000 viewers.) CBS executives concede that as the ratings decline, so do the profits.
“We’re not making as much as we would if the ratings were up,” said Mr. McManus.
Despite the low ratings and the reports of sniping from colleagues, the mood inside CBS News remains unshakably upbeat. In an interview in her office overlooking the set, Ms. Couric sought to convey the message, backed up by CBS management, that she was not going anywhere. Not now, not after the 2008 election, not anytime encompassed by her initial five-year contract.
Nor does she want to go anywhere, she insists. “I have no regrets,” she said.
The network’s executives, including Leslie Moonves, the CBS chairman, say they knew that they were acquiring probably the most avidly followed personality in television news, and so they did expect a media spotlight. But some of the other reactions caught them off guard.
“Am I surprised by the attention?” said Mr. Moonves. “No. Am I surprised by the vitriol? Yes.”
He and Mr. McManus took pains to deny vigorously that there has been any plan to unseat Ms. Couric. “It’s a flat-out lie that there has been any consideration, any meeting or any discussion about replacing Katie,” Mr. McManus said.
“This is a long-term commitment,” Mr. Moonves said.
Ms. Couric, 50, made her debut on CBS in September, after 15 years at “Today,” accompanied by great fanfare. She was expected to appeal to younger viewers. And to a degree she has — her ratings, while still usually third, are most competitive among younger women. But the newscast CBS created to try to take advantage of Ms. Couric’s morning-show skills has already been discarded, discredited as a colossal misfire.
One senior CBS producer who supports Ms. Couric but requested anonymity because of a working relationship with some people on the program, summed up that initial newscast, saying, “it was inane.”
Ms. Couric said, “I don’t think there was ever a vision to blow up the evening news, but to maybe make some changes that would recharacterize it.”
The biggest target of criticism was the segment called Free Speech, in which people like the film director Morgan Spurlock and the author Mitch Albom (as well as many unfamiliar voices) sounded off on issues for 90 seconds. But some CBS News staff members said they had been disappointed with the ill-focused approach of the entire newscast.
Part of the problem may have been timing, the former network executive said.
“They decided to go away from hard news just when there was a shift in interest to real news, with continuing issues about Iraq and the early buildup to the presidential election.”
Mr. McManus defends the choices CBS made. After years of hearing how the evening news was a dying institution, if the network had not tried to shake things up, he said, “the industry would have said: why did you hire Katie Couric and put on the exact same newscast?”
CBS’s evening news broadcast has now been entrusted to the network news veteran Rick Kaplan, who was brought in seven weeks ago to improve the newscast and impose some hard-news discipline. He has increased the number of stories covered by the newscast, quickened the pace and instituted more focus on the lead story, adding sidebar reports to try to add context.
Many of the changes return the program to a more traditional format, but another longtime CBS news producer said that might not be the best use of Ms. Couric’s skills. “That show doesn’t fit her personality,” said the producer, who asked not to be identified because he works on another program.
And while the newscast’s structure has been pummeled, Ms. Couric has also endured exceptional personal scrutiny. She was criticized for wearing too much makeup or too little. Ms. Couric was caught up in an odd plagiarism incident, when an essay she had presented as her own — even though written by a producer — turned out to have been lifted from The Wall Street Journal.
She was criticized for being too soft in her initial newscasts, and too hard in an interview with the presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, after they revealed that Mrs. Edwards’s cancer had returned. The issue was complicated by the public knowledge that Ms. Couric’s husband, Jay Monahan, died from colon cancer in 1998.
“Some people asked me if I was going to bring up Jay. I would never,” Ms. Couric said. “I want to educate people about colon cancer. But I never, ever want to exploit my husband’s death.”
Ms. Couric’s defenders ask whether a man taking the CBS job would have had his looks, hair, and clothes commented on in the same way as Ms. Couric’s. Or if a single male anchor’s social life would be almost daily fodder for the tabloids.
“Maybe we underestimate the huge shift this represented,” Mr. McManus said. “It was almost a watershed event to have a woman in that chair.” He added, “There is a percentage of people out there that probably prefers not to get their news from a woman.”
Even some doubters inside the network say the newscast has improved under Mr. Kaplan. Ms. Couric has tried to break through on stories the network thinks play to her strengths.
For example, she quickly made her way to the campus of Virginia Tech after the killings there and did many interviews in a special hourlong newscast. (Her numbers increased that night, but ABC, with Charles Gibson still in the New York studio, won the ratings, as it has consistently over the last several months. Brian Williams of NBC was second.)
Even with some improvements, many staff members remain less than confident that the situation can be reversed, said one CBS producer who asked not to be identified because of concern that management did not want employees to criticize Ms. Couric. But Ms. Couric was not necessarily the problem, the producer said. “People may be critical of her, but if they work with her, they like her,” the producer said.
However, CBS still labors under some entrenched handicaps, like the weak performance of many of its stations, which leaves its evening news with the weakest lead-in audiences of the three networks. The program has typically finished more than 1.5 million viewers behind both of its network competitors. Ms. Couric’s newscast audience is now off about 4 percent from the newscast anchored a year ago by Bob Schieffer, who had succeeded Dan Rather for an interim period that lasted 17 months.
Despite those numbers, some advertisers continue to be supportive. Andy Donchin, the director of national broadcast for the advertising agency Carat USA, said, “ It’s still a good place for my clients to sell their products.” Among the advertisers his firm represents are Pfizer, Hyundai and Alberto Culver.
Andrew Tyndall, who publishes a report that monitors the network evening newscasts, said Ms. Couric’s newscast was “a work in progress” and that it was too soon to declare whether it would succeed or not. But, he said, “she has misplayed the expectations game.”
With those early expectations gone and signaling perhaps that CBS has no Plan B in the works, Mr. McManus said that the network is looking for long-term gains.
“Our ratings will improve because of the quality of our newscast and the quality of our anchor,” he said. “That’s the only plan that makes sense right now.”
As to when that might happen, Mr. McManus said, “Three years, four years, five years; that is the time frame that I think, realistically, you need to use to evaluate where the broadcast is and where CBS News is.”
Charles Gibson Enjoys a Second Wind on ABC
The retirement date had already been set: Charles Gibson was scheduled to leave ABC News on June 22, 2007, after a 32-year career.
Whatever hope Mr. Gibson, or his employer, may have had of extending that date had ended in December 2005, when ABC effectively passed over Mr. Gibson as a replacement after the death of Peter Jennings, the anchor of what was then called “World News Tonight.” Mr. Gibson, it was decided, would end his career on “Good Morning America.”
“And that was fine,” Mr. Gibson said yesterday from behind his desk at ABC News headquarters in Manhattan, resplendent in a pinstripe dress shirt more evocative of the New York Yankees than his beloved Baltimore Orioles. “Good Morning America,” he added, “is not a bad way to end your television thing.”
It didn’t turn out that way of course. Not only did Mr. Gibson wind up getting the job after all — his first anniversary is May 29 — but as he spoke yesterday, he did so as the anchor presiding over the most-watched of the three network newscasts, at least since Jan. 1.
“I’m a huge John Irving fan,” he said. “John Irving writes a lot about how events you don’t expect come in and turn your life. I think that’s very true.”
He added: “I sort of shake my head sometimes and think, ‘Son of a gun.’ What’s the old thing they say? ‘Luck is basically preparation plus opportunity.’ ” Still, as Mr. Gibson, 64, was quick to point out about his broadcast, “We haven’t won anything.”
With just a few weeks left in the prime-time season that began in September, “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” remains the most-watched of the so-called Big Three broadcasts during that period, in terms of overall viewership and, more narrowly, among viewers ages 25 to 54, the demographic category to which advertisers are most closely tuned.
But those seasonwide figures mask a swing in momentum, and thus perception, that has occurred during the last four months.
So far in 2007 “World News With Charles Gibson” has been drawing on average about 8.88 million viewers each night, according to Nielsen Media Research estimates. That is about 56,000 more viewers than Mr. Williams’s broadcast each night. More significant, though, is that the ABC broadcast is attracting, on average, about 450,000 more viewers a night than it was last year at this time; over the same period, the viewership of the NBC broadcast has dropped by about 530,000, according to Nielsen.
Asked if he knew why ABC was up and NBC was down, Mr. Gibson said: “I don’t have any answer.”
Pressed to offer some theories, he ticked off several possible reasons. The most important, he said, was “stability.” Specifically he was referring to how he had sought to calm the program’s employees after a turbulent year. Mr. Jennings’s death was followed by the departures of his designated successors (Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas) last year after Mr. Woodruff suffered injuries in Iraq, and Ms. Vargas then decided to step down because of her pregnancy.
He also suggested that the program had “caught some breaks” in recent months, including Brian Ross’s early reporting on the Congressional page scandal that would claim the career of Representative Mark Foley, a Florida Republican. ABC News also received an extra half-hour in prime time on the night of the midterm elections in November. And finally there was the return of Mr. Woodruff, who reported not only on his recovery but on the treatment of wounded veterans.
Mr. Gibson, when asked if he had changed as a journalist over the last year, said he had grown more comfortable with the notion that, when warranted, he was able to all but decide on his own how a particular report might be played.
As an example he cited how he was adamant all day Tuesday that his broadcast not open with the obituary of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who had died earlier in the day.
“You don’t normally lead with obituaries for someone with a legacy that is very positive in some ways, very negative in other ways,” he said. “It was a sense I had that it didn’t rise to the point of the lead.”
Ultimately Mr. Gibson’s broadcast opened with word of an apparent deal in Washington on immigration policy; Mr. Williams and Katie Couric of CBS News would go with the Falwell story, which Mr. Gibson played second.
“A year ago, when I first came in, I began to realize that the anchor’s inclinations, I guess, or feelings, were listened to and taken to heart a lot,” he said. “I kept thinking, ‘You better not express this unless you’re damn sure you’re right.’ Just be very careful picking not your spots, because they’re going to listen to you, by golly.”
So has Mr. Gibson gotten around to rescheduling that retirement date? As of now, he says, his contract goes until several months after the 2008 presidential election. But neither he nor his boss, David Westin, the president of ABC News, expressed any interest yesterday in setting an end date on what has turned out to be an unexpected and extraordinary run.
“I would not be looking to make any changes there,” Mr. Westin said in a separate interview, “and I would hope he would not either, for some time to come.”
Trying to Keep the Viewers When the Ads Come On
As the big agencies get ready for the biggest week of the year for the biggest advertising medium, changes are coming that can only be called, well, big.
The medium is of course broadcast television, which remains a powerful way to peddle products despite the recent inroads made by alternative ways to watch programs, which include the Internet, digital video recorders, cellphones, DVD players and video on demand.
Beginning today, the, er, um, big broadcasters will reveal their prime-time lineups for the new season in a week of lavish, star-filled presentations at Manhattan landmarks like Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden.
For years, the presentations during what is known as upfront week — so named because the agencies decide to buy billions of dollars of commercial time before the fall season starts — have remained essentially the same. Season after season, the spiels were mostly confined to rote reiterations of the value of buying spots on broadcast television.
But the growing popularity of the alternatives to watching TV on TV sets is forcing the networks to change decades of habits.
For instance, ABC is scheduled to describe at its upfront presentation tomorrow an extensive promotional initiative called “ABC start here” in which TV is just one medium among many. The campaign is intended to help guide consumers through the maze of devices on which they can watch ABC entertainment and news shows.
“It doesn’t matter — TV, online, iTunes, whatever,” said Michael Benson, executive vice president for marketing at the ABC Entertainment unit of ABC, part of the Walt Disney Company.
“They have control,” Mr. Benson said of viewers, “and we’re not going to fight that. We want to make it easy for them to get what they want, where they want, when they want.”
At the same time, ABC and the four other big broadcast networks are working on methods to hold the attention of TV viewers throughout the commercial breaks that interrupt the shows they want to see.
That is becoming increasingly important for two reasons. One is that more viewers are watching shows delayed rather than live, using TiVo and other DVRs. Research indicates those viewers are more likely to fast-forward through spots than those who watch live TV.
The other reason the networks need viewers to keep watching ads is that Nielsen Media Research, the ratings arbiter, intends soon to begin measuring viewership of commercials as well as programs.
One way that many networks hope to engage viewers during commercial breaks is by wedging original content into the blocks of advertising time, so that viewers will anticipate seeing something fun if they sit through a few ads.
Fox Broadcasting, for instance, tried out a series of clips for two weeks last month about an animated character named Oleg, a New York cab driver, who popped up in eight-second vignettes during commercial breaks in series like “24.” CW has been running “content wraps,” which mix sponsor products into program snippets.
Some experiments involve the cast of the shows in which the commercials appear, serving as hosts for the breaks. That is a throwback to an era when “cast commercials” proliferated with the stars of series like “I Love Lucy,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” and even “The Flintstones.”
The changes are fraught with risk because the broadcasters have long been following tradition in the way they schedule shows, promote them and sell commercial time in them. But with risk comes potential reward, analysts say.
“We do focus groups with consumers 18 to 34, the most desired demographic, the most tech-savvy, and their media consumption habits are changing,” said Michael Kelley, a partner in the entertainment media and communications practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “With that comes receptivity to new forms of advertising, provided the networks get closer to viewers’ interests.”
To do that, Mr. Kelley said, the broadcasters must change their focus to “engagement,” or involving viewers in ads, from “impressions,” the total audience exposed to commercials. He likened the challenge to how Google persuaded computer users that ads could be useful rather than annoying, by promising that only relevant ads would be displayed alongside search results.
Several network executives responsible for sales acknowledge the challenges ahead.
“We need to become a lot more innovative in the way we present commercials,” said Ed Swindler, executive vice president and chief operating officer at NBC Universal advertising sales, part of the NBC Universal division of the General Electric Company.
NBC has been testing what Mr. Swindler called “various forms of pod innovation,” referring to the collection of commercials that compose a break, “and even when ratings did not go up, some measures of engagement did.”
For example, Mr. Swindler said, in one experiment, the awareness of a brand rose 15 percent compared with a spot in a regular commercial break.
“This puts the onus on networks to creatively program the commercial pods,” he added, “and on agencies to create commercials more fun and interesting to watch.”
Mr. Swindler declined to provide additional details of the tests for competitive reasons, but at least one was previously reported: a trivia quiz during a commercial break on the sitcom “Scrubs.”
Fox, part of the News Corporation, is more open about its experiments with Oleg the cab driver. In one clip, Oleg sang about himself to the Barry Manilow tune “Copacabana.” In others, he drove around celebrities like Tom Cruise and Rosie O’Donnell.
“From minute-by-minute ratings, we couldn’t tell much,” Jon Nesvig, president for sales at Fox, said, but “an on-screen blurb, ‘Go to fox.com,’ generated quite a bit of Web traffic; on some nights, Oleg got more than 100,000 hits.”
It is unclear whether Oleg, created by Ideocracy, a New York agency, will be back. Some viewers complained that the character, who spoke with Greek inflections, was an ethnic stereotype, and “people found the accent a little hard to understand,” Mr. Nesvig said.
Even so, “some form of content in the commercial breaks is on our radar,” he added. “Under the right circumstances, we’d do more.”
The network that has been the most innovative in this realm is CW, owned by the CBS Corporation and Time Warner, which has been offering its so-called content wraps to advertisers since September. Each one blends entertainment and advertising in a break that runs two or two and a half minutes.
Brands sponsoring content wraps include Activision, Caress, Herbal Essences, Listerine and Toyota. The most recent, for the Cover Girl line of cosmetics sold by Procter & Gamble, appeared last Tuesday during “Gilmore Girls.”
For the 2006-7 season, “we thought in our wildest dreams we’d do 10, and we’ve ended up doing closer to 20,” said Bill Morningstar, executive vice president for sales at CW.
“We’re all looking for ways to engage consumers differently and get them to put down the remote control and pay attention during commercial breaks,” Mr. Morningstar said, adding: “We did a focus group last week in which we watched the participants watch the content wraps. They physically leaned forward during the commercial breaks.”
After the upfront week presentations conclude, the negotiations between the networks and agencies begin in earnest. In recent years, the amount of commercial time the broadcasters have sold in each upfront market has ranged from $8.5 billion to $9.5 billion. (There are also upfront markets for cable, syndicated and Hispanic TV; all told, upfront sales can total around $20 billion a year.)
The broadcast upfront talks can last anywhere from a week, if demand is strong, to three months, if it is weak. Trade publications have speculated that the haggling may take longer than usual this time as the networks and agencies grapple with issues like commercial ratings and how to measure DVR viewership.
So far the need for those changes has been given a lot of lip service, but now network executives seem to be translating words into action.
“If there’s any year to do it, this is the year,” Jo Ann Ross, president for sales at CBS. “All of what we’re all talking about is good for the business.”
Changing the paradigm could make the networks more accountable to advertisers and more appealing to viewers, Ms. Ross said. “But we want to make sure that when we do do it, we do it in the right way,” she added. “It’s very tricky.”
Sitcoms Are Dead! Long Live Sitcoms!
NETWORK television isn’t dead.
I don’t care what you hear this week when the executives of CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and the CW all come to town for “upfronts,” the presentations where they hawk their fall lineups to dubious advertisers. I don’t care what you read in articles about huge hit counts on YouTube or hot-selling “Sopranos” DVDs or the runaway success of cable shows like “The Closer” on TNT. I don’t care what you think when you watch ABC’s “According to Jim” — yes, that’s still on the air, and yes, millions of Americans recently tuned in for its very special 135th episode, “In Case of Jimergency.”
Network television simply cannot be allowed to die, and not just because that would bring a premature end to the career of Charlie Sheen. Its death would also force Hollywood producers to sell their golfing castles in Scotland, fly business class and order the 2002 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou instead of the 1995. So let’s not even go there.
Fortunately, network television has a fail-safe option: the situation comedy.
Admittedly, it’s not an obvious solution. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the five networks together have plans to buy as few as five new half-hour comedies to help fill almost 100 hours of prime time each week. That makes the sitcom seem like a long-shot method for a troubled industry to save itself.
But unlike serial dramas like “Lost” and “24,” sitcoms can be repeated again and again, with lots of high-priced commercials, and in no particular order. When producers’ prayers get properly answered, these half-hour shows are then sold for millions of dollars into “off-network syndication,” the magic term to describe television’s 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. time slots. It’s the backbone of local programming, a means for affiliates in, say, Cleveland and Miami to sell advertising and guarantee viewers without breaking a sweat.
At its peak in the mid-‘90s, “Seinfeld” earned NBC $200 million in profit each year, and went on to make more than $1 billion in syndication revenues. Which pays the bills for every network television flop you’ve ever seen, not to mention the cost of maintaining Jerry Seinfeld’s parking garage.
With such huge potential revenue streams, sitcoms remain a viable business plan — as long as the factories keep new high-quality models coming off the assembly line. And so the networks create dozens of sitcom pilots each year, and from them emerge the occasional mega-hit half-hours like “The Cosby Show,” “Seinfeld” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” — those successes that help justify and finance the networks’ continued existence.
Forget all the endless talk about the death of sitcoms: a recent study showed that the average American television-watching household increased its comedy-watching to four and a half hours a week this season, up from less than four hours in the 1993-4 television season.
The only trouble is that viewers are still mostly watching reruns of “Seinfeld” and “Friends.” Instead of producing much-needed new hits, the networks have littered the landscape with money-losing duds like “Courting Alex” and “Emily’s Reasons Why Not.” Anyone hear of “Help Me Help You”? It made its debut last fall on ABC, and will next appear as a write-off on the network’s balance sheet.
But despite the long years since “Friends” and “Raymond” and “Will & Grace,” the networks still do this one thing better than anyone else; for some reason, the cable channels haven’t figured out how to consistently duplicate the formula. Or maybe they don’t want to waste the many millions it costs the networks to develop all the shows that don’t dent the Nielsen Top 10 — or 50 — and die before producing a return on the investment.
HBO may have stumbled onto a syndication hit with “Sex and the City” and will soon have another in “Entourage,” but its occasional other efforts haven’t worked at all; don’t wait up for reruns of “Lucky Louie” or “The Comeback” at 11 p.m. Remember FX’s “Starved”? I didn’t think so.
Going forward, the real problem for the networks will be finding fresh ideas for comedies from the junk heap of pitches and pilots. Even a good “Friends” episode starts to wear thin after the 50th viewing, I happen to know. It speaks to the scarcity of next-big-things that ABC actually produced a pilot based on a handful of 30-second Geico “Cavemen” commercials, despite the lack of a coherent narrative, recognizable stars or even a logical concept.
That “Cavemen” has a good chance to get picked up reflects just how little inspiration drives the network development process. This year’s pilots also include CBS’s “Up All Night,” set in a 24-hour diner (think “Cheers”), NBC’s “I’m With Stupid,” set in a mismatched apartment share (think “The Odd Couple”), and ABC’s “Carpoolers,” set in the world of carpooling (think of changing the channel). Television comedy ruthlessly feeds on its own rich past, finding stale ways to repeat clever premises, fantasizing about the possibility of a windfall.
But even if the ideas aren’t innovative or original, the rewards will register if it works. “The King of Queens” has sold into syndication, and so has “Two and a Half Men.” It’s remarkable that after a half-century, the network sitcom has yet to progress very far beyond the basic lovable-losers blueprint of “The Honeymooners” and “I Love Lucy,” but maybe that’s part of the reason network sitcoms remain necessary. They fulfill our need for group experience — all of us laughing along with a studio audience at the comforting cadence of sitcom humor.
That’s why this fall’s network schedules will try again to capitalize on the half-hour format, and will for years, maybe decades to come. They may be endangered species, but networks and sitcoms still feed off each other; as long as comedy writers can squeeze a chuckle out of a rim shot, the networks will survive.
Hi-Definition Telecasts at Center of Met Opera's New Strategy Under Peter Gelb
David Gockley, general director of the San Francisco Opera, sat in a movie theater and watched a live broadcast of Puccini's "Il Trittico" from the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
"I sent an e-mail to Peter Gelb," he said a few weeks later. "I said, `I respond to this better than actually being in a live theater because the sound is so good, the camera work is so good and it focuses you on the essence of what makes performances great."'
More than anything else, Gelb's first season as general manager of the Met will be remembered for his video innovation, transmitting six operas live around the world in high-definition as part of a series that will expand to eight productions next season.
Gelb took over last August when Joseph Volpe retired after 16 years as head of the country's biggest musical institution and focused on sight as well as sound _ for some putting too much emphasis on the visual. Gelb's first season opened with a stunningly beautiful new production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" directed by Oscar winner Anthony Minghella, and another highlight of the season was Bartlett Sher's sassy staging of Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," also arranged by Gelb.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the percentage of potential ticket revenue sold at the Met had slid steadily, from 90.8 percent in the 2000-1 season to 76.8 percent in 2005-6. It bounced back to 83.9 percent in the season that ended last weekend, and the number of sellouts increased to 88 _ exactly quadruple the total in Volpe's final season.
Gelb said there were increased expenses but that it was too early to assess the bottom line.
"It was essential that in order to fuel the longer-term recovery of the Met, that the kinds of significant changes that we put into place had to begin with this season rather than sitting back and allowing the box office to continue to flounder," he said Tuesday.
Full subscribers for next season are 185 ahead of last season's 12,942, and that includes about 2,000 new subscribers, double last season's 900. He's scheduled seven new productions for next season, the most at the Met since the nine in 1966-67, the company's first season at Lincoln Center.
Gelb is transforming the Met to a company whose live performances are only a part of a larger equation. Its radio telecasts had been a staple since 1931, and Gelb instituted satellite radio and audio streaming on the Internet. He envisions productions being rolled out in the same manner as movies: the opening, the theater telecast and a pay-per-view television availability followed by free broadcast on PBS. In the end, the best are released on DVDs.
"I hope it works. Something needs to be done," said tenor Ben Heppner, slated to be featured in next season's broadcast of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde."
The Met isn't the only opera company racing ahead in the video age. The San Francisco Opera is installing its own television production facility at a cost of about $3 million and hopes to negotiate deals with its unions allowing greater rights. At The Royal Opera in London, Sony put in equipment capable of transmitting 12 cameras simultaneously from 32 possible access points.
"This is the area we're all moving into a very, very big way," said Elaine Padmore, Covent Garden's director of opera. "It's a big challenge for us all in the performing arts."
Through May 14, the Met sold 323,751 tickets to its theater broadcasts, where admission is generally $18 in the United States. "Barbiere" was the top seller at 74,937 on March 24.
Gelb projects that next season's total will reach 800,000.
"We will potentially be in a situation where as many people will attend the movie theater showing live as actually go to the Met during the season," he said.
Singers, taking note of the robotic cameras on the sides of the stage that look like "Star Wars" droids, use special makeup for high definition and, according to soprano Renee Fleming, pay more attention to appearances. Many of them say they've noticed that more people are seeing their performances because of the telecasts.
"Everything is experimental and it remains to be seen. It certainly can't hurt," said soprano Deborah Voigt. "I've had several people here who have seen simulcasts and gone to a theater. I notice that audiences seem to be getting younger."
While in the auditorium focusing on the live performance, each spectator chooses what to focus on, but in the theaters that decision is taken over by the television director. While wide shots sometimes are used for the theater telecasts, closeups sometimes are substituted for the television versions.
Some operas benefit. Tan Dan's "The First Emperor," which seemed inert at times on stage, was faster paced in director Brian Large's TV version. For a riveting revival of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" with Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a touching moment was left in, when tenor Ramon Vargas sang passionately to Elena Zaremba without noticing that a leaf had fallen onto his head.
Gockley said technology advances have been the key.
"With old-time television _ small screen, not adequate audio __ the majesty of opera didn't really come through," he said. "In high definition and in good quality sound in somebody's home, a big screen is a very, very powerful conveyance and gives a depth and dimension that we could only dream about before."
In other news, Gelb said Mary Zimmerman will direct the Met's new production of Bellini's "La Sonnambula" in 2008-9 and that "Das Rheingold" will open the 2010-11 season, starting the Met's new staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle.
He also said money was the reason the Met's proposed 2008 tour of China with "The First Emperor" fell through.
"We were always relying upon the Chinese to be able to provide us with financial guarantees that would cover all the costs of the tour," he said. "I guess in the end it became it became more than they had bargained for."
Internet Meets Large Screen
ROBERT SOREL, a trombonist from Woonsocket, R.I., keeps his PC in his basement media room, where, hooked up to his other components, it acts as a jukebox for his music and video collection.
In Woodbury, N.J., Dave Wasman, a computer consultant, keeps a Mac Mini connected to his high-definition television so he can browse the Web for news and short films.
And Chris Lanier, a student at the University of Houston, uses his network-enabled Xbox to link his living room TV to his office computer, which he taps for Web offerings and for archived video.
Each is exploring the couch-potato frontier, using a PC to bring the bounty of the Internet to the TV. They struggle with arcane formats, noisy fans and Web sites designed for the desktop to escape the old television broadcast networks and their collection of channels numbered in the mere hundreds.
The long-predicted convergence of the Internet and the broadcast world is accelerating. Unlike the established television networks, which serve up 30-minute meals of programming, video-sharing Web sites are nurturing a world of snacklike shorts. But finding the right hardware for this convergence still requires some thought.
Some hook up an office PC to a large screen, a process that is straightforward for most modern screens and computers but is often complicated by tiny idiosyncrasies often caused by the very openness that attracts the users. Both Apple and Microsoft have been slowly moving toward the living room by enhancing desktops with software packages like Front Row or Media Center, which display videos and play music with a simplified interface.
Another choice is a product designed for the living room, often by the same computer companies. The new Apple TV or the Xbox can bring videos, photos or music from the computer over to the TV, but they do not offer full Web browsers or all of the content that may be available online.
Steve Perlman was a founder of WebTV, the start-up company that built a set-top box for browsing the Web in 1996 — a box that is now sold by Microsoft as MSN TV. He points out that PCs are poor guests in the living room because they can take a long time to start, spew white noise from a fan and are susceptible to viruses.
The standard graphical desktop interface is hard for couch dwellers to use because of the small fonts and many tiny buttons. Web browsers and other tools ask for input from a keyboard that usually requires two hands, or from a mouse that needs a hard flat surface.
The people on the couch will be leaning back, not sitting forward, and “they’ll be holding a beverage in one hand and possibly their girlfriend or boyfriend in the other,” Mr. Perlman said. “You really only have one hand available.”
One common solution is a wireless keyboard like the Adesso SlimTouch (about $85 from www.adesso.com) or the Logitech diNovo Edge (about $165 from www.logitech.com). Both come with trackpads for moving the cursor. A more sophisticated solution is a programmable remote control like the SnapStream Firefly (about $50 from www.snapstream.com). This will link the push of a single button on the remote to a long list of commands for the computer to execute. For instance, one button can call up a Web page with a weather report or the latest news.
If the computer comes with a remote, as the iMac does, products like Remote Buddy (from iospirit.com for about $13.50) or Mira (from twistedmelon.com for about $16) let the user push one button to activate programs.
Many users take advantage of features that were originally included to help people with poor eyesight. The Firefox Web browser, for instance, can increase the size of the fonts in most Web pages, and a number of programs will zoom in on any part of the screen, making it easier to watch Web videos on the big screen.
Juggling computer settings to make fonts readable is a constant challenge for most users. Many report, for instance, that they avoid the higher-resolution screen settings to make the fonts and the controls larger.
Mr. Lanier in Houston, for instance, uses a 37-inch Panasonic TV that displays signals in the 720p format, which is short of the highest definition. A higher-resolution set is “not worth it for that screen size,” he said.
“As soon as you get up to the larger screen size, then it becomes a benefit depending on how close you are to the TV,” he said. “Based on how far I sit from the TV, the benefits aren’t going to be seen by my eyes.”
One big advantage of the open-ended PC platform is its adaptability to third-party products. Hauppauge, for example, makes a $99 HDTV tuner that converts broadcast HDTV signals into PC files that will play on Windows Media Center, where they can be watched later.
While many welcome this flexibility, it can also complicate matters. Mr. Lanier, for instance, began with a full PC in his living room, but moved it back to his office and replaced it with the simplified interface provided by his Xbox.
Some companies are introducing products to simplify the links between PC and TV. The MediaSmart flat-panel TVs from Hewlett-Packard include a small, limited processor that adds about $300 to the price. It uses the home network to download videos, photos and music from a PC with Media Center.
“The neat thing about this, it does it without bringing the pain of the PC into the living room,” said Alex Thatcher, senior product marketing manager at the digital TV solutions group of Hewlett-Packard. “By that, I mean the pain of doing a virus scan.”
Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president for worldwide product marketing, says that while he can understand why some might want to add a Mac Mini (about $600) to a living room TV, he thinks a better choice for many is the new Apple TV offering (about $300), which will display music, photo and videos from a Macintosh or a PC.
“You need to focus on making things easier to use,” he said. “You start with making the simplest things work well from the beginning.” He said Apple was concentrating on adding simple features to the living room, not shoehorning a PC into the living room.
Apple TV does not include a Web browser, but it will search the Web for some things. Movie trailers are downloaded directly from Apple’s Web site; this may be how Apple will choose to open up its interface to YouTube videos in the future.
Smoothing the connections is a big topic for the companies as they jockey to find the best way to satisfy both content creators and the couple on the couch.
“Just as Web sites are adapted to detect whether it’s a mobile device, I expect that you’ll begin to see Web sites that are adapted for viewing on a television screen,” said Mr. Perlman, the WebTV founder, who is now nurturing media tools and content through his business incubator, the Rearden Companies. “When that happens, you’ll see an utter transformation of the business.
“I think in the future, the broadcast stations will all turn off. There is a very limited amount of content on them.”
Lost in the Transition: Movies in Home Theater
Back in the mid 90s, it appeared that both the studios’ panicked fears of home theater users and the brutal format wars were nearly under control. However, one other critical problem still had to be solved:
The studios had worked so hard to differentiate movies from television and create an experience that could not be duplicated at home, that now--somewhat ironically--solutions needed to be engineered for the technical problems of presenting those movies designed exclusively for theaters on home theater equipment.
As the industry inched toward DVD, Laserdisc and VHS users often ended up with poor transfers from the original theatrical movies sitting in studio’s warehouses.
Lost in the Transfer.
Since television had a fixed screen ratio, studios took their existing wide aspect films and commonly just cut the sides off using ‘pan and scan’ techniques to get as much of the action as possible inside a full screen version of the original widescreen movie.
However, many movies had been designed specifically to show off the dramatic wide aspect ratios of widescreen movie formats, and subsequently lost a lot of their original character from the brutal editing required for pan and scan transfers to home theater formats.
Using letterboxing, the entire movie could be shown at the expense of blank areas at the top and bottom of the screen, but studios feared that consumers were more concerned about using the whole TV tube rather than seeing the whole movie.
This shot from Lady and the Tramp shows why pan and scan is used: putting the full glory of a CinemaScope film on TV requires blacking out a significant chunk of the screen with letterboxing, or cutting out half the picture to present a “full frame” version. On a widescreen TV, much less letterboxing is necessary.
The letterbox version feels like watching a movie, while the full screen version cuts the film into a cartoon.
In addition to the extra-wide picture problem, there was also no way to deliver the fancy six track audio designed for theatrical movies on home theater equipment.
Those extra channels of sound did not really make sense to deliver at home anyway, because most multichannel theater audio systems--including 70 mm Todd-AO--delivered five front channels and one rear surround channel.
Dolby Stereo Fixes Movie Sound.
As movies fell from their glorious golden age in the early 70s, new technologies helped to solve problems in the movie theater, and those solutions eventually impacted home theater as well.
The various multichannel magnetic soundtracks put on 70 mm prints for use in the fanciest theaters weren't practical, durable, or economical. In 1975, Dolby Labs introduced Dolby Stereo, a new high quality system that offered good sound that was easier and cheaper to deliver.
Dolby's new system was backwardly compatible with existing equipment that optically read the basic soundtrack that had always been on movies; it used the same two channel optical recordings printed directly on standard 35 mm movie film.
However, Dolby Stereo was more than just left and right stereo; it also added two new channels:
•a center channel that directs attention toward the stage
•a surround channel that provides immersive, ambient sound toward the rear
Using methods similar to the right and left stereo matrix on records and FM radio, Dolby Stereo adds a center channel to both channels, and then adds a surround channel, phase shifted 90 degrees.
When played through two speakers, the center channel is imaged by the brain of the listener between the two speakers, and the surround channel, being out of phase, creates an ambient, surrounding effect.
The Real Deal on Surround
Dolby Stereo surround effects don't actually require more than two speakers to hear because sound is perceived in the brain; stereo imaging only requires two ears on the listener, not a certain number of speakers.
While some insist that “real” surround effects require the maximum number of speakers currently being sold on the most expensive surround sound systems, that's principally because they're just excited about buying the most gold plated speaker wire connectors possible.
There is nothing “real” about vibrating a speaker coil to create sound, nor is there anything “real” about engineering a soundtrack that greatly exaggerates audio positioning. Many portable stereos similarly have a wide mode that creates eerily surrounding effects from regular sound inputs using just two speakers.
Taking Dolby Stereo Apart
While the psychoacoustics behind Dolby Stereo can be delivered by standard two channel stereo equipment, the stereo imaging effect is even greater when using special decoding and multiple speakers.
In Dolby Stereo, the surround channel is separated by doing a differential of the two channels, applying a low pass band filter to remove highly frequency distractions, and is output to speakers along the rear of the theater with a slight delay.
During the surround extraction, the center channel is turned 180 degrees out of phase and cancels itself out, following the same principle behind noise cancelation headphones. Similarly, the surround channel is also out of phase with the left and right channels, and therefore cancels out that duplication as well.
In addition to the out of phase noise cancelation effect, Dolby Stereo also performs a delay on the surround, exploiting the Haas Effect, a phenomenon where the brain ignores duplicate sounds from two sources heard within 30-40 milliseconds.
With a longer delay between two sounds, we hear a reverberating echo; using the Hass Effect, the brain can better localize sounds by ignoring unnecessary noise and only tuning into positioning cues that matter.
Dolby Stereo’s slight delay wipes the duplicate surround wave from perception, so the audience only hears center channel sound that appear to come from the stage, and surround sound that appears to envelop from behind.
The simplicity and flexibility of Dolby Stereo resolved several issues: it helped to ensure that all movies had a durable, high quality soundtrack that could scale from simple systems to more complex ones, and created an incentive for theater owners to upgrade their sound to take advantage of an audio feature that would now be ubiquitous, not just used on one or two big movies or as part of a fad.
Dolby Surround Comes Home
In 1982, Dolby introduced a version of the Dolby Stereo system for home equipment under the name Dolby Surround, followed by the greatly improved Dolby Surround Pro Logic in 1987, Pro Logic II in 2000, and IIx in 2004.
Each version introduced greater sophistication in delivering immersive surround sound.
Since all modern movies have a Dolby Stereo soundtrack, when Laserdisc and Stereo VHS arrived the full theatrical sound from the movie ‘just worked’ on home stereo equipment. While Pro Logic was prohibitively expensive when it first came out, it has since been included on nearly all home stereo equipment.
Dolby's Pro Logic was also intended to present music with surround effects. However, because Pro Logic was created for movies it created an unnatural ‘center stage feel’ that a lot of people didn't like.
That’s why Pro Logic II offers two modes, one for movies with a strong center that directs attention toward the screen, and one for music that presents a more diffusely ambient sound.
Other attempts at recording and distributing multichannel sound for music, including a rash of “quadraphonic” attempts in the early and mid 70s, failed due the similar problems that had plagued theater sound in the early 70s: a chicken and egg situation of limited content and limited equipment.
Pushing the State of The Art.
Dolby's solution was not only elegant and inexpensive to deliver, but was also regarded as high quality. Its combination of elegant simplicity and economical distribution prepared a way for theatrical sound to be delivered cost effectively in home theater.
In the late 70s, a reemergence of theatrical technology pushed by movie makers helped raise the bar once again, creating another wave in the state of the art that would also eventually lap up on the shores of home theater.
A future article takes a look.
What's the Matter with HDMI?
How the designers of the HDMI standard screwed up, and what's to be done about it.
HDMI, as we've pointed out elsewhere, is a format which was designed primarily to serve the interests of the content-provider industries, not to serve the interests of the consumer. The result is a mess, and in particular, the signal is quite hard to route and switch, cable assemblies are unnecessarily complicated, and distance runs are chancy. Why is this, and what did the designers of the standard do wrong? And what can we do about it?
The story begins with another badly-developed standard, DVI. A few years ago, there was a movement within the computer industry to develop a new digital video display standard to replace the traditional analog VGA/RGBHV arrangement still found on most computer video cards and monitors. Interested parties grouped together to form the Digital Display Working Group (DDWG), which developed the DVI standard.
DVI had all the earmarks of a standard designed by committee, and it remains one of the most confusing video interfaces ever. DVI could run analog signals, digital signals, or both, and it could run digital signals either in a single-link configuration (in a cable using four twisted pairs for the signal), or in a dual-link configuration (using seven). Identifying which DVI standard or standards any particular device supported was not always easy, and the DVI connector came in various flavors and was never really manufactured in any form that wasn't well-nigh impossible to terminate.
But the worst thing about DVI was something that the computer-display professionals involved in its development really didn't give much thought to: distance runs. Most computer displays are mounted at most a few feet away from the CPU, so it didn't seem imperative that DVI work well over distance. This lack of concern for function at a distance, coupled with common use of twisted-pair cable (e.g., CAT 5) in computer interconnection, led to a decision that DVI would be run in twisted-pair cable.
Had the DVI standard been designed by broadcast engineers rather than computer engineers, things probably would have turned out very differently. In the broadcast world, everything from lowly composite video to High-Definition Serial Digital Video is run in coaxial cables, and for good reasons, which we'll get to in a bit. Long-distance runs of VGA, in fact, are always handled in coaxial cable (though there may be a number of miniature coaxes in a small bundle, rather than something which obviously appears to be coax).
DVI lacked a couple of things which the consumer audio/video industry wanted. It was implemented on a variety of HD displays and source devices, but it was confusing for the consumer because of the many variants on the standard and different connector configurations, and it didn't carry audio signals. A consortium to develop and promote a new interface, HDMI, was formed; the idea was to come up with a standard which could be implemented more uniformly, was less confusing, and offered the option of routing audio signals along with video.
Here, again, was an opportunity to avoid problems. The difficulties of running DVI-D signals over long distances were well known, and the mistakes of the past could have been avoided by developing HDMI as a wholly new standard, independent of DVI. Instead, the HDMI group elected to modify the DVI standard, using the same encoding scheme and the same basic interface design, but adding embedded audio and designing a new plug. Instead of many DVI options, analog, digital, single and dual link, there was one "flavor" of HDMI (actually, there is also a dual-link version in the HDMI spec--but you won't find it implemented on any currently available device). This provided the advantage of making HDMI backward-compatible with some existing DVI hardware, but it locked the interface into the electrical requirements of the DVI interface. Specifically, that means that the signals have to be run balanced, on 100 ohm impedance twisted pairs.
We're often asked why that's so bad. After all, CAT 5 cable can run high-speed data from point to point very reliably--why can't one count on twisted-pair cable to do a good job with digital video signals as well? And what makes coax so great for that type of application?
First, it's important to understand that a lot of other protocols which run over twisted-pair wire are two-way communications with error correction. A packet that doesn't arrive on a computer network connection can be re-sent; an HDMI or DVI signal is a real-time, one-way stream of pixels that doesn't stop, doesn't error-check, and doesn't repair its mistakes--it just runs and runs, regardless of what's happening at the other end of the signal chain.
Second, HDMI runs fast--at 1080p, the rate is around 150 Megapixels/second. CAT5, by contrast, is rated at 100 megabits per second--and that's bits, not pixels.
Third, HDMI runs parallel, not serially. There are three color signals riding on three pairs, with a clock circuit running on the fourth. These signals can't fall out of time with one another, or with the clock, without trouble--and the faster the bitrate, the shorter the bits are, and consequently the tighter the time window becomes for each bit to be registered.
Consider, by contrast, what the broadcast world did when it needed to route digital video from point to point. The result was HD-SDI, high-definition serial digital interface. One coaxial cable can route an HD SDI signal hundreds of feet without errors, with no repeater hardware or EQs in the line. Had the consumer industry opted for a coaxial-based standard, we'd be able to do the same in our homes. Admittedly, few of us need to make 300-foot runs; but the ability to run 300 feet without problems would be accompanied by rock-solid certainty of being able to do 50, or 75, without any worry at all.
But why is there such a big difference between twisted pairs and coax? It all has to do with the electrical properties of the two methods of routing signal from one place to another: balanced, through twisted pair, and unbalanced, through coax.
We tend to assume, when thinking about wire, that when we apply a signal to one end of a wire, it arrives instantaneously at the other end of that wire, unaltered. If you've ever spent any time studying basic DC circuit theory, that's exactly the assumption you're accustomed to making. That assumption works pretty well if we're talking about low-frequency signals and modest distances, but wire and electricity behave in strange and counterintuitive ways over distance, and at high frequencies. Nothing in this universe--not even light--travels instantaneously from point to point, and when we apply a voltage to a wire, we start a wave of energy propagating down that wire which takes time to get where it's going, and which arrives in a different condition from that in which it left. This isn't important if you're turning on a reading lamp, but it's very important in high-speed digital signaling. There are a few considerations that start to cause real trouble:
Time: electricity doesn't travel instantaneously. It travels at something approaching the speed of light, and exactly how fast it travels depends upon the insulating material surrounding the wire. As the composition and density of that insulation changes from point to point along the wire, the speed of travel changes.
Resistance: electricity burns up in wire and turns into heat.
Skin effect: higher frequencies travel primarily on the outside of a wire, while lower frequencies use more of the wire's depth; this means that higher frequencies face more resistance, and are burned up more rapidly, than lower frequencies.
Capacitance: some of the energy of the signal gets stored in the wire by a principle known as "capacitance," rather than being delivered immediately to the destination. This smears out the signal relative to time, making changes in voltage appear less sudden at the far end of the wire than they were at the source. This phenomenon is frequency-dependent, with higher frequencies being more strongly affected.
Impedance: if the characteristic impedance of the cable doesn't match the impedance of the source and load circuits, the impedance mismatch will cause portions of the signal to be reflected back and forth in the cable. The same is true for variations in impedance from point to point within the cable.
Crosstalk: when signals are run in parallel over a distance, the signal in one wire will induce a similar signal in another, causing interference.
Inductance: just as capacitance smears out changes in voltage, inductance--the relationship between a current flow and an induced electromagnetic field around that flow--smears out changes in the rate of current flow over time.
Impedance, in particular, becomes a really important concern any time the cable length is more than about a quarter of the signal wavelength, and becomes increasingly important as the cable length becomes a greater and greater multiple of that wavelength. The signal wavelength, for one of the color channels of a 1080p HDMI signal, is about 16 inches (1), making the quarter-wave a mere four inches--so impedance is an enormous consideration in getting HDMI signals to propagate along a cable without serious degradation.
Impedance is a function of the physical dimensions and arrangement of the cable's parts, and the type and consistency of the dielectric materials in the cable. There are two principal sorts of cable "architecture" used in data cabling (and HDMI, being a digital standard, is really a data cable), and each has its advantages. First, there's twisted-pair cable, used in a diverse range of computer-related applications. Twisted-pair cables are generally economical to make and can be quite small in overall profile. Second, there's coaxial cable, where one conductor runs down the center and the other is a cylindrical "shield" running over the outside, with a layer of insulation between. Coaxial cable is costlier to produce, but has technical advantages over twisted pair, particularly in the area of impedance.
It's impossible to control the impedance of any cable perfectly. We can, of course, if we know the types of materials to be used in building the cable, create a sort of mathematical model of the perfect cable; this cable has perfect symmetry, perfect materials, and manufacturing tolerances of zero in every dimension, and its impedance is fixed and dead-on-spec. But the real world won't allow us to build and use this perfect cable. The dimensions involved are very small and hard to control, and the materials in use aren't perfect; consequently, all we can do is control manufacturing within certain technical limits. Further, when a cable is in use, it can't be like our perfect model; it has to bend, and it has to be affixed to connectors.
So, what do we get instead of perfect cable, with perfect impedance? We get real cable, with impedance controlled within some tolerance; and we hope that we can make the cable conform to tolerances tight enough for the application to which we put it. As it happens, some types of impedance variation are easier to control than others, so depending on the type of cable architecture we choose, the task of controlling impedance becomes harder or easier. Coaxial cable, in this area, is clearly the superior design; the best precision video coaxes have superb bandwidth and excellent impedance control. Belden 1694A, for example, has a specified impedance tolerance of +/- 1.5 ohms, which is just two percent of the 75 ohm spec; and that tolerance is a conservative figure, with the actual impedance of the cable seldom off by more than half an ohm (2/3 of one percent off-spec). Twisted pair does not remotely compare; getting within 10 or 15 percent impedance tolerance is excellent, and the best bonded-pair Belden cables stay dependably within about 8 ohms of the 100 ohm spec.
If we were running a low bit-rate through this cable, it wouldn't really matter. Plus or minus 10 or 15 ohms would be "good enough" and the interface would work just great. But the bitrate demands placed on HDMI cable are severe. At 1080i, the pixel clock runs at 74.25 MHz, and each of the three color channels sends a ten-bit signal on each pulse of the clock, for a bitrate of 742.5 Mbps. What's worse, some devices are now able to send or receive 1080p/60, which requires double that bitrate.
Impedance mismatch, at these bitrates, causes all manner of havoc. Variations in impedance within the cable cause the signal to degrade substantially, and in a non-linear way that can't easily be EQ'd or amplified away. The result is that the HDMI standard will always be faced with serious limitations on distance. We have found that, at 720p and 1080i, well-made cables up to around 50 feet will work properly with most, but not all, source/display combinations. If 1080p becomes a standard, plenty of cables which have been good enough to date will fail. And it gets worse...
In June 2005, the HDMI organization announced the new HDMI 1.3 spec. Among other things, the 1.3 spec offers new color depths which require more bits per pixel. The HDMI press release states:
"HDMI 1.3 increases its single-link bandwidth from 165MHz (4.95 gigabits per second) to 340 MHz (10.2 Gbps) to support the demands of future high definition display devices, such as higher resolutions, Deep Color and high frame rates."
So, what did they do to enable the HDMI cable to convey this massive increase in bitrate? If your guess is "nothing whatsoever," you're right. The HDMI cable is still the same four shielded 100-ohm twisted pairs, still subject to the same technical and manufacturing limitations. And don't draw any consolation from those modest "bandwidth" requirements, stated in Megahertz; those numbers are the frequencies of the clock pulses, which run at 1/10 the rate of the data pairs, and why the HDMI people chose to call those the "bandwidth" requirements of the cable is anyone's guess. The only good news here is that the bitrates quoted are the summed bitrates of the three color channels -- so a twisted pair's potential bandwidth requirement has gone up "only" to 3.4 Gbps rather than 10.2.
What's to be Done?
It's unlikely, given the wholehearted way in which the consumer electronics industry has embraced HDMI, that this interface will disappear anytime soon. We're stuck with it. Given that that's so, what can a person do to avoid problems with video dropouts and outright signal failure?
First, limiting run lengths is a good idea whenever it can be done. If you don't need to put your sources at one end of the room and the display at the other, by all means avoid doing so.
Second, if run lengths can't be limited, consider relying on analog component or RGBHV signals for your distance runs; these formats are much more robust (in large part because they run in coax rather than in twisted pairs) and can be run hundreds of feet.
Third, eliminating unnecessary switches, couplers, and adapters may help; as bad as the impedance mismatch problems are in the cable itself, those problems are even worse when the cable's conductors must be split out to join to a connector, or when the signal must travel through connections that can't be kept at 100 ohms.
Fourth, there are some things that can be done in cable design, and we're on the task. In particular, though the impedance of pairs can be controlled only to a limited degree, there are some things which the Chinese (who, as of this writing, manufacture all of the HDMI cable sold by anyone, anywhere, under any brand name) do not have the technical capacity to do but which American manufacturers do, and which help address the problem. Belden has a patented "bonded pair" technology which involves molding twisted pairs together rather than simply twisting them, and which was developed specifically to address the problem of running high bitrates through twisted pairs. Beginning in 2005, we consulted with Belden on construction of such a cable for use in HDMI applications and in 2006, Belden built a series of sample reels of cable for us in its engineering lab. Our in-use testing has shown the cable working at 150 feet at ordinary high-definition resolutions (720p, 1080i) and up to 180 feet at 480p. Electrical tests of the cable indicate that it should be good for 1080p at a greater distance than any cable currently on the market. The cable has been ordered for full-scale production and should be available on our site around the very end of June or the first half of July 2007.
Many thanks to Bluejeans Cable for providing this article for our site.
1. This is the wavelength "in air," i.e., as though the signal were propagating at the speed of light. Since cable will always have some type of dielectric material around the wires, the wavelength is actually shorter still; for solid polyethylene, the wavelength would be about 2/3 of this measure.
Pioneer Unveils Revamped Plasma Technology
For Pioneer, black is the new black.
At a press event Wednesday morning, the electronics company unveiled its new line of high-definition plasma televisions, a selection of new home theater equipment, and a new technology and business strategy that it calls "Project Kuro," after the Japanese word for "black." And black was the focus of the event: after all, Pioneer claims that its new eighth-generation flat panels provide the most advanced levels of deep black of any television on the market.
According to presentations by Pioneer executives, the company has completely restructured both its technology and business strategies as part of Project Kuro. New color filter technology and cell structure have allowed for "significantly deeper black levels," said Russ Johnston, senior vice president of marketing for Pioneer USA, who called it "game-changing technology." This revamped plasma technology will be available in all Pioneer flat-panels.
Some analysts have expressed doubt about plasma television technology's success in the HDTV market, but Pioneer's executives painted a sunny outlook on the grounds that the color quality is better overall. "Plasma is self-emissive in red, in green and in blue," Johnston explained. "It can also reproduce the entire color spectrum from white to black."
At the same time, as many electronics manufacturers are trying to make their HDTVs become more common and more affordable, Pioneer wants to emphasize the opposite. Tom Haga, CEO of Pioneer North America, said that the company is aiming to "break away from the commoditization models that so many companies are chasing," and instead demand the highest quality possible in audio and video.
Pioneer executives said at the press conference that Project Kuro reinforces the company's dedication to a customer base of "discerning entertainment junkies"--consumers who all share a passion for high-quality audio and video and are willing to shell out the cash for it. "We want consumers to walk into the store and see that our panels are the best," said Ken Shioda, general manager of display products for Pioneer. "These consumers expect a very unique experience when they make any purchase."
In June, Pioneer will be shipping the first models of its eighth-generation plasma TV line, which had been previewed at the Consumer Electronics Show in January: the 42-inch Pioneer PDP-4280HD, which will sell for $2,700; and the Pioneer PDP-5080HD for $3,500. A month later, the first models from the Pioneer Elite line will be available: the 42-inch Pioneer Elite PRO-950HD for $3,200; and the 50-inch Pioneer Elite PRO-1150HD for $4,500.
More flat-panel plasma TVs, these with higher-end 1080p resolution, will ship this fall. The 50- and 60-inch models range in price from $5,000 to $7,500.
Additionally, Pioneer's new Elite line includes new home theater equipment offerings: a Blu-ray Disc player for $1,000, a Blu-ray Disc computer drive for $299, and four new audio-video receivers that retail between $650 and $1,600.
Putting the 'Wow' Into Home Movies
'Wow" is typical. "Jeez" is another favorite. "Man, look at that!" is a runner-up. These are the noises your friends and neighbors will make the first time they see high-definition movies - of your life.
And no wonder. The picture and sound are many times sharper and clearer than standard TV. The picture is wide, like a movie. And here's the kicker: This is not some high-definition nature channel playing in a demo loop at Best Buy. These are home movies: your children, your family outings, your vacations.
Most high-definition camcorders record on plain old MiniDV tapes, the same one-hour cassettes sold by stores everywhere for about $4 each. But next month, Sony and JVC will offer new high-definition camcorders that record on built-in hard drives instead.
The beauty of hard-drive camcorders like the Sony Handycam HDR-SR7 and the JVC Everio GZ-HD7 is that you never have to rewind or fast forward. You can use an on-screen table of thumbnails to jump to any scene for immediate playback. You never have to worry about recording over something by accident. And you never have to wonder if there is a blank tape in the machine.
Both of these new machines are clad in shiny, futuristic black. Each can store five hours of high-definition recordings at top quality - which is a very, very high quality indeed. The picture is so sharp, it could cut your corneas.
Both cameras connect to high-definition TVs using either HDMI, a single cable that carries both picture and sound, or component cables - three for picture, two for sound. Both include goodies usually missing on cheaper camcorders, like a microphone jack and, on the Sony, a headphone jack. Both have built-in lens covers - a great feature - and a minutes-remaining battery display. And both come with batteries that last only 90 minutes or so, but accept optional five-hour batteries.
These are expensive machines. The suggested list prices are $1,300 for the Sony and $1,700 for the JVC. Once these camcorders hit store shelves, their street prices will probably be a couple of hundred dollars lower.
On paper, the JVC is particularly drool-worthy. It is a three-chip camera, meaning it contains separate sensors for red, green and blue light. In principle, this setup should offer much better color than one-chip cameras like the Sony. Surely that feature alone justifies the price difference and the much bulkier design.
Unfortunately, the three chips do not seem to make much difference. I ran both camcorders through parallel video torture tests, filming everything from sunny softball games to spooky unlit basements and bike rides on overcast days. In no case could any of my guinea-pig observers detect a difference in color or clarity.
The JVC's image stabilizer is nowhere near as good as the one on the Sony, or on Canon's terrific new HV20, a high-definition tape camcorder that I tested for comparison. This is a serious problem. Because of the wide screen, high-definition video emphasizes the horizontal elements of the picture. If the camcorder is not well stabilized, it is very easy to make your audience seasick.
Now, the trouble with hard drives is that they get full and you have to empty its contents onto a computer or a DVD burner. The Sony SR7 stores video in a new compression format, unhelpfully called Avchd, that was especially developed for tapeless camcorders. This storage format requires less space than, say, the HDV format used by high-definition tape camcorders. The Sony SR7's lower-capacity sibling, the SR5, also uses this format. So does the compact CX7, which records onto memory cards instead of hard drives.
Unfortunately, few popular video-editing programs recognize Avchd. Sony says that its own program, the Windows-only Vegas software, can edit Avchd, and that Nero, Ulead, Pinnacle and Sonic Solutions have Avchd editing programs in the works. In the meantime, you will have to be content with editing your videos right on the camcorder.
Then there is another problem. How will you show the finished videos on your TV? You will have to connect the camcorder to your TV with a wire, just as in the bad old days. There are high-definition DVD burner, but you would be foolish to buy one until the format war of high-def DVD formats, Blu-ray versus HD-DVD, is over.
JVC, on the other hand, has really thought these problems through. The camcorder can impersonate a tape camcorder, so you can play its recordings right into iMovie, Pinnacle or any other Mac or Windows editing software.
It is not altogether clear, however, that these hard-drive camcorders are an improvement over tape. Tape camcorders cost less and offer infinite capacity in the form of blank tapes sold in stores, do not require a computer as an offloading station and produce video that is easy to edit.
Nonetheless, it is nice to have hard-drive camcorders as an option.
A Diet, Oddly Bland, of Continuous Images and Chat
IN the short history of the Internet, most online videos have been funny, fleeting clips lasting only a few minutes — sometimes just seconds. Web sites like YouTube and MySpace are populated with bite-size videos that the youngster down the street whipped up in his spare time. And media companies like Viacom and NBC have posted abridged versions of popular shows on their Web sites.
But the future of online television may lie with longer programs, the kind that merit curling up on your couch rather watching from your office chair. Most video viewing, after all, is still on television sets, and many people turn them on for hours at a time. In contrast, Nielsen Net/Ratings finds that consumers visit YouTube on average for only 11.5 minutes at a time.
With this in mind, my husband and I logged on to two new Web sites last week that portray themselves as the future of television — they stream long-form content mimicking television, but they also let viewers use their computers while watching.
We wanted to see how long we could stay interested in TV online — how long it could keep us from turning on our BlackBerrys, our other laptop or regular television. To give the sites a fighting chance, we plugged our computer into the overhead projector that normally connects to our cable box, dimmed our lights and poured some drinks.
We visited Joost, founded by the team that first created Kazaa, a peer-to-peer music network. Kazaa ran into copyright woes in 2001, and the team then introduced Skype, an Internet phone service now owned by eBay.
Joost has been available in trial form to a small group of Web users for a few months, as has Babelgum, a site backed by the Italian telecommunications magnate Silvio Scaglia. It will open its doors in a broader test run for consumers on May 31.
Both sites require a quick download to get started and a continuous Internet connection. Babelgum runs on the QuickTime program, which can also be downloaded free. Babelgum will be available only for PCs at first, but by the end of the summer a product is planned for Macs.
The main difference between these sites and YouTube is the nature of the content: it is full-length and professionally edited. Like YouTube, the content is free. Yet, as we all know, nothing is ever really free. Joost required me to register my age, gender and other details, and both Web sites say they will monitor your viewing patterns. Joost says it does this so it can produce “personalized television supported by advertisements that are most likely to interest you.”
In the advertising industry, sites that ask for user data upfront are a treasure trove for companies that want their brands pitched to just the right people at just the right time. Joost has already signed up more than 30 major advertisers, including Microsoft, Unilever and United Airlines.
Within a few minutes of logging on to Joost, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and Kraft all zapped ads at us. Babelgum will not have ads until later in the year and is planning to make its ads skippable during the trial period — an option that consumers will appreciate but advertisers will begrudge.
Joost’s interface is flashy — colorful globs float by, converting the screen into the equivalent of a giant lava lamp. Babelgum has a more streamlined look, with black screens framing programs as they load. Babelgum viewers will be able to rate shows they watch, and sign up for “smart channels” that recommend programs based on past viewing. Joost has more gadgets to play with for now, including TiVo-like controls to pause and fast-forward while you watching, but finding them can be confusing until you are accustomed to the system.
Joost features programs from television brands like Comedy Central, National Geographic, Adult Swim and Sports Illustrated (yes, there is a swimsuit channel). Babelgum is staking out its turf with television programming that is popular overseas — BBC documentaries and sports events sponsored by Red Bull, are two examples — and niche content made by independent producers in the United States.
As we watch the Guinness World Records TV channel on Joost, boredom creeps in. How long can you watch television these days without doing something else? My husband pulls up his favorite technology site alongside Joost because he has become annoyed with the sometimes choppy images. Soon, he pulls out his laptop, too, and turns on the regular television.
Time passes — and I cannot sit still. I reach for my BlackBerry to check e-mail. But wait. Joost and Babelgum have solutions for the multitasker generation. Even as they mimic television, these sites incorporate the social networking and communication tools of cyberspace. Television programs on Joost are played in windows overlaid with screens that allow the communication addict in us to IM our friends within Joost.
Salvation. I send my friend Aaron an e-mail invitation to join Joost.
We meet in the Live@Much channel. There are 19 programs here — all interviews with musicians. First we watch Beyoncé, then Nelly Furtado, then John Mayer. Aaron (otherwise known by his screen name fLocker) tells me what he is switching to as he clicks through (we spend about an hour doing this but I’m sparing you from a full transcription).
fLocker: Now I’m watching Jay-Z.
LouiseStory: I can’t keep up with you!
fLocker: Nah, I think I just have ADD. I can’t just watch one thing for too long.
An ad for Garnier Fructis hair conditioner appears on my screen. I wonder if Aaron sees the same ad.
LouiseStory: What ad are you seeing?
fLocker: I think it was a car commercial. Didn’t pay attention to it though. Haha.
LouiseStory: Are you watching real TV while using Joost?
fLocker: Haha, yea kind of.
LouiseStory: Braxton and I got bored, so we have four screens going.
fLocker: Well, I’m sitting on the couch in front of the TV, and it’s on. But I’m mostly watching this.
AARON tells me that chatting while watching TV is nothing new for him. He did it when AOL introduced Instant Messenger; he and his friends sent instant messages while their television sets were tuned to the same channel. Joost simply enables chatting and viewing on the same screen. (Babelgum plans to introduce a chat tool this summer).
After using Joost for 60 minutes we decide to say farewell.
LouiseStory: It’s awkward saying goodbye on Joost.
fLocker: Why is that?
LouiseStory: Cause we both know we might both keep watching. There’s an expectation in instant messaging to keep talking. If you’re online you have to be talking.
And, if you are below a certain age, your eyes can’t resist shifting from screen to screen on multiple devices. By the time we turned off Joost and Babelgum last week, we also had turned on our regular television, two laptops and BlackBerrys.
Traditional television is competing with newer technologies for our attention, even while we watch, because TV is a one-way medium. Our experience with Joost and Babelgum made us think that the services should add more televisionlike content to expand the range of people who might watch.
They also should probably stick to their strengths as television sites where consumers can multitask while watching. At least for me, they have the potential to refocus my attention in the living room on fewer screens — maybe even (perish the thought) just one.
At a French Studio, Great Ghosts and Big Plans
FOR more than 30 years the olive- and palm-tree-laden grounds of the Victorine studios here, just steps from the sea, have tempted a steady stream of producers and businessmen hoping to revive the place where classics like Truffaut’s “Day for Night” and Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” were filmed.
But a very Mediterranean mix of local bureaucracy and political corruption has helped defeat them all, including Michael Douglas and his brother Joel, who took charge of the Victorine in the mid-1980s, only to leave a few years later with little to show for it.
“We’ve been disappointed so many times,” said Emile Martin, 64, who began as the Victorine’s film projectionist in 1965 in the studio’s heyday and is the archivist and unofficial historian. “We had a lot of hope when the Douglas brothers came, but Michael hardly ever showed up, and Joel just played pinball all day.”
Yet the entrepreneurs keep coming, and the Victorine, whose Paramount Pictures-style white arched gate was recently refurbished, has flickered back to life, most recently to capture the antics of Rowan Atkinson on film. Mr. Atkinson, the British comic best known to American audiences for his hammy cameos in movies like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually,” is no Cary Grant. Nor is his new movie, “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” reminiscent of Hitchcock, though it is set in the south of France. But for Jean-Pierre Barry, the owner of Euro Media Television, the Paris-based television and film powerhouse, which took over the studio in 1999, the Bean movie demonstrates that his plan to renew the studio by vigorously promoting it as a film- and TV-friendly place is working.
“Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” which recreated part of the Cannes Film Festival on the Victorine’s soundstages, has been a huge hit internationally and arrives in the United States in August. The Victorine “must survive, and we’re going to see to it that it does,” Mr. Barry, who began Euro Media on a shoestring in 1983, said as he sped down a Nice highway in his Mini-Cooper, bound for the airport to pilot his own jet back to Paris.
“I am Belgian, don’t forget,” he said. “We are different from French. We have a fighting business mentality. We are making sure Hollywood knows we’re here and open for business.”
But even Mr. Barry concedes he faces an uphill battle and a deadline. The Victorine must compete with other established studios in Europe, while newer facilities dangle cheaper labor and tax breaks to lure productions. And he and Euro Media face a homegrown political obstacle: the city, which owns the property, can turn the studio into a housing development in 2018.
The Victorine’s history is a tangled one, but one that is a quintessentially south-of-France story, replete with jet-set-era glamour, tragedy and shady subplots. Created in 1919, about the time the first studios in Hollywood were built, the Victorine has played host to the likes of Jeanne Moreau, Brigitte Bardot, Grace Kelly, Lauren Bacall and David Niven. David Lean died during preproduction at the Victorine of his last, never-completed movie, “Nostromo.” The studio has survived one world war and weathered three major fires. Yet those blows didn’t compare with what Mr. Martin calls the studio’s “catastrophic years,” 1975 to 1983, during the long reign of Nice’s most notorious mayor, Jacques Médecin.
Mr. Médecin presided over such blatant corruption on the Côte d’Azur that Graham Greene, then a resident of nearby Antibes, helped force a criminal investigation that ultimately resulted in Mr. Médecin’s arrest and imprisonment. But not before Mr. Médecin, a regular at the studio commissary, was able to install cronies as studio bosses, some of whom pocketed profits they made from visiting production companies and left without ever reinvesting any money in the studio.
Some, Mr. Martin said, sabotaged the place on their way out, cutting cables and breaking equipment. “It was what we call a southern way of doing things,” said Antoine Sabarros, a film and television producer who has worked at the Victorine for 30 years. “But it got to the point where you had to fight to get anything accomplished here, and I’ve gotten sick of fighting.”
Conditions at the studio were so bad during the filming in 1982 of Sean Connery’s final appearance as James Bond, in “Never Say Never Again,” that the director, Irvin Kershner, threatened to stop production if the filthy screens in the projection room, yellowed from decades of smoking, were not cleaned.
“The grass was so high it was like a savanna out here,” Mr. Martin remembered. “The crew for the Bond film had trouble moving the equipment around. It was embarrassing.”
The stirrings of a comeback began in 1996, when the action star Jean-Claude Van Damme arrived to film “Maximum Risk” and “Double Team.” And Euro Media’s takeover — with its strategy of pursuing a mix of prestige and lowbrow films, along with television shows and commercial production for brands like Toyota and McDonald’s — has accelerated the rejuvenation of the Victorine, officially called Studios Riviera. John Frankenheimer’s “Ronin,” with Robert De Niro; “Swordfish,” starring John Travolta; and the director Neil Jordan’s “Good Thief” have been filmed at the studio. And the lowbrow French surfer film “Brice de Nice,” one of the biggest box office successes in French history, was shot partly at the Victorine in 2004, along with other French films starring national legends like Catherine Deneuve and Miou-Miou.
Since Euro Media took over in 1999, 24 feature films have made use of the Victorine, and the number of television shows shot there has doubled. In 2000, 18 television commercials were made there; by 2005 the number had risen to more than 50.
Though the Victorine is faring better, the competition among European studios to lure filmmakers has never been more fierce. The studio has always been dwarfed by Rome’s larger Cinecittà Studios (“La Dolce Vita” and “The Gangs of New York,” to name a few), and today studios in Eastern Europe can offer cheaper shoots. Even Pinewood Studios near London recently lost its stranglehold on the James Bond franchise when the producers of “Casino Royale” decided to film at the Barrandov Studios in Prague.
And there’s a more ominous threat in Spain, where in 2005 an $88 million studio, Ciudad de la Luz, opened in the coastal city of Alicante. French filmmakers are signing on; the new Gérard Depardieu movie, “Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques,” was shot there last year. Unlike the Victorine, which receives no government money, the Spanish government hands out hefty subsidies, including a reported six million euros — more than $8 million — for “Astérix.”
To compete better, Euro Media and Mr. Barry have upgraded the Victorine and the marketing efforts for it. The company recently opened a modern recording complex, run by a French-born Los Angeles music producer. And last year the Victorine hired its first international marketing agent, Dana Davidson Thevenau, an American who was the director of a French film commission. She recently went to Los Angeles to raise the studio’s profile in the film industry and is overseeing an elaborate marketing display at the Cannes Film Festival, which begins Wednesday.
“It’s a huge job to turn this studio around,” Ms. Thevenau said, “especially when filmmakers can go anywhere in the world. But we have this incredible location, and we have this amazing history. When Rowan Atkinson was here, he wanted to hear all the stories about Truffaut and Hitchcock and Grace Kelly.”
Standing on the upper patio of the Victorine’s villa, built for a prince in the late 1800s and the headquarters for a succession of studio bosses, Mr. Martin reminisced about those glory days. He recalled sharing some of Katharine Hepburn’s chocolates during “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” drinking whiskey with Richard Burton on “The Comedians,” playing himself in a bit part in “Day for Night” and watching workers construct a swimming pool that Elizabeth Taylor requested but never used.
If that history isn’t enough, some veterans of the Victorine trust in another savior: the ghost of Rex Ingram, an Irish-born Hollywood director who took over the Victorine in 1925 and shot several films there. “I heard about the ghost the first day I started here,” said Patricia Douglas, a French film production coordinator and the former wife of Joel Douglas, who met him when the Douglas brothers filmed “The Jewel of the Nile” at the Victorine in 1985. “Everyone said it was a positive ghost.
“And,” she added, “it doesn’t want the Victorine to die.”
Girth and Nudity, a Pictorial Mission
BEFORE we begin, let’s get one thing out of the way: Yes, Leonard Nimoy is more than happy to do it — the Vulcan salute, the gesture that launched a thousand spaceships. He does so easily, effortlessly: palm outward, fingers extended, the index and middle finger smashed together, the ring finger and pinky touching, the thumb sticking out on its own.
“People ask me all the time,” Mr. Nimoy said, carrying saucers of coffee and tea into his art-filled living room off Central Park West. He placed them next to galleys of his forthcoming photography book, which sat near a copy of “Carnal Knowing: Female Nakedness and Religious Meaning in the Christian West,” by Margaret R. Miles, and a folder of news clippings on obesity.
“You see what I have here, about the health guidelines for models?” he asked, pointing a long, tapered finger toward the file.
The basso profundo voice was unmistakable, his words occasionally clipped with his native Boston accent. “They now have to have at least a certain weight to qualify,” Mr. Nimoy added. He looked pleased. This is a subject that speaks to him.
He knows that he is an unlikely champion for the size-acceptance movement; body image is a topic he never really thought about before. But for the last eight years, Mr. Nimoy, who is 76 and an established photographer, has been snapping pictures of plus-size women in all their naked glory.
He has a show of photographs of obese women on view at the R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton, Mass., through June; a larger show at the gallery is scheduled to coincide with the November publication of his book on the subject, “The Full Body Project,” from Five Ties Publishing. The Louis Stern Fine Arts gallery in Los Angeles and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston have acquired a few images from the project. A few hang at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery in New York. (Their explicitness prevents the images from being reprinted here.)
These women are not hiding beneath muumuus or waving from the bottom of the Grand Canyon à la Carnie Wilson in early Wilson Phillips videos. They are fleshy and proud, celebrating their girth, reveling in it. It is, Mr. Nimoy says, a direct response to the pressure women face to conform to a Size 2.
“The average American woman, according to articles I’ve read, weighs 25 percent more than the models who are showing the clothes they are being sold,” Mr. Nimoy said, his breathing slightly labored by allergies and a mild case of emphysema. “So, most women will not be able to look like those models. But they’re being presented with clothes, cosmetics, surgery, diet pills, diet programs, therapy, with the idea that they can aspire to look like those people. It’s a big, big industry. Billions of dollars. And the cruelest part of it is that these women are being told, ‘You don’t look right.’ ”
Mr. Nimoy, who divides his time among homes in New York and Los Angeles and on Lake Tahoe, in California, admits that before he began this project, it had never occurred to him that beauty might be culture driven, that a fat body in Africa is treated quite differently from one in the United States. “In some cultures their weight is a sign of affluence: their husbands can afford to feed them well,” he noted.
His enlightenment came about eight years ago, when he had been showing pictures from his Shekhina series — sensual, provocative images of naked women in religious Jewish wear — at a lecture in Nevada. Afterward, a 250-pound woman approached him and asked if he wanted to take pictures of her, a different body type. He agreed, and she came to the studio at his Tahoe house. She arrived with all sorts of clothes and props, “as if she were playing a farmer’s wife in a butter commercial,” he said.
His wife, Susan, who was assisting him, said, “No, we want to shoot nude.” So the model removed her clothing and lay down on the table. At first Mr. Nimoy was very nervous, he said.
“The nudity wasn’t the problem,” he said, “but I’d never worked with that kind of a figure before. I didn’t quite know how to treat her. I didn’t want to do her some kind of injustice. I was concerned that I would present this person within the envelope of an art form.”
But soon he relaxed into it, lulled by the clicking of the camera and the woman’s comfort with her body. He placed some of the shots in various exhibitions, and they invariably garnered the most attention. “People always wanted to know: ‘Who is she? How did you come to shoot her? Why? Where? What was it all about?’ ”
He decided to pursue the subject further and was led to Heather MacAllister, the founder and artistic director of Big Burlesque and the Fat Bottom Revue, a troupe of plus-size female performers in San Francisco. Ms. MacAllister died in February of ovarian cancer, but something she said to Mr. Nimoy in one of their first meetings struck a chord. “ ‘Any time a fat person gets on a stage to perform and is not the butt of a joke — that’s a political statement,’ ” he recalled. “I thought that was profound.”
Initially, he was interested in replicating Herb Ritts’s popular image of a group of nude supermodels clustered together on the floor, and a Helmut Newton diptych of women clothed and then unclothed in the identical pose. Ms. MacAllister and some of her friends agreed to be his subjects. He then posed the women to simulate Matisse’s “Dance” and Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.”
The responses have ranged from joy to horror. One formerly obese woman said the photos terrified her; she said they recalled a picture she kept in her wallet as a reminder of her former self. Other women have thanked Richard Michelson, the Northampton gallery owner, for displaying the images, and even asked if Mr. Nimoy wanted to photograph them.
“I am actually amazed at how little negative reaction there has been,” said Mr. Michelson. “I attribute this in part to the gallery setting, and the fact that Northampton, Massachusetts, is perhaps the most liberal city in the most liberal state in the nation.”
“We do overhear some reductive ‘Is Nimoy into fat chicks’ comments when the gallery room is first entered,” he continued, “but in fact the fun nature of the work and the quality seem to shut people up by the time they leave. I’ve had a few crank e-mails with snide remarks, but not a one from gallery visitors.”
The Big Fat Blog, a Web site devoted to fat acceptance, wrote about Mr. Nimoy’s photographs in 2005. A woman calling herself Nellicat wrote in response: “I’m 5’5" and weigh between 130 and 135. But I don’t feel as comfortable in my own skin as I should. I look at those women strutting, posing, laughing, and I feel real envy towards them. There they are, posing for a man (!) knowing that the whole world will be able to see them naked (!!) and they are LOVING it. Oh, to be that free! To be that comfortable and beautiful in your body — I truly envy them.”
Though most people think of performers as naturally more unabashed than the rest of us, Ms. MacAllister said it is sometimes difficult for them, too. “We get scared and struggle w/self-acceptance and self-love just like you,” she posted on the blog at the time. “Just want you to know that ‘freedom is not free’; the freedom you see us enjoying is the result of constant hard work and eternal vigilance against the ‘tyranny of slenderness.’ ”
Mr. Nimoy was born in Boston to Russian Jews; he speaks and reads Yiddish. He began acting at 8, but his big break came at 17, when he was cast as Ralphie in a Boston production of Clifford Odets’s “Awake and Sing.” In 1966, he landed a gig on a little television show called “Star Trek,” which ran for only three seasons but would resonate for decades. He spent two seasons on “Mission Impossible” and in 1971 went to U.C.L.A. to study photography. He didn’t graduate, but he has a master’s in education and an honorary doctorate from Antioch College. He hasn’t acted since 1990, choosing to devote himself to art collecting, voiceover work and various philanthropic endeavors, including an artists’ foundation he and his wife run.
Most people know him as Mr. Spock, the terminally rational Vulcan with the famous hand signal. (The signal, which he said was his design, is actually rooted in Judaism. It represents the Hebrew letter “shin,” the first letter in the word Shaddai, which means God.)
In 2002, he published a book of photographs entitled “The Shekhina Project.” Shekhina is the feminine aspect of God; the photographs are sensual, erotic images of women draped in phylacteries, religious garments typically worn by Jewish males. The pictures were very controversial within the Jewish community: some people objected to the nudity, while others were offended by women in traditionally male garb. On the latter point, Mr. Nimoy said that he was not the first to put forth the idea. “There are historical writings of famous Jewish women, daughters of rabbis, who have done that,” he said.
He expects his second book to provoke an equally strong reaction, though he hopes the audience will gain a new perspective on the issue and learn something.
As for whether people will think he has a fetish, he said he can’t help that. “I just have no way of dealing with that,” he said with a laugh. “People will think what they’re going to think. I understand that.”
And what of his own attitude toward fat women?
“I do think they’re beautiful,” he said. “They’re full-bodied, full-blooded human beings.”
He doesn’t necessarily find them sexually attractive. “But I do think they’re beautiful.”
Google Wins Part of Nude-Photo Suit
A federal appeals court Wednesday cleared Google Inc. to resume posting tiny versions of nude photos by a Beverly Hills-based adult publisher.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals undid a preliminary injunction, issued last year by a Los Angeles District Court, that had kept the Web search giant from displaying thumbnail-size photographs of images owned by Perfect 10 Inc. that other sites had improperly posted.
Saying the District Court erred, the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled that Google could legally display those images under the fair use doctrine of copyright law. The doctrine allows use of copyrighted work under some conditions, such as for parody or education.
But the three-judge panel handed Google a mixed victory. It sent the case back to the District Court to determine whether Google was indirectly liable for damages because it linked to websites that displayed Perfect 10's copyrighted images without permission.
Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., is fighting legal battles on a number of fronts over how it indexes and displays copyrighted material, including photos, books and TV shows.
"We are delighted that the court affirmed long-standing principles of fair use, holding that Google's image search is highly transformative by creating new value for consumers," Google General Counsel Kent Walker said in a statement.
Amazon.com Inc. also was named a defendant by Perfect 10 because its A9 search engine points to Google's search results. The Seattle-based online retailer declined to comment on the ruling.
Dan Cooper, Perfect 10's general counsel, said the company would ultimately prove that Google was indirectly liable for copyright infringement. He cited the court's finding that, "There is no dispute that Google substantially assists websites to distribute their infringing copies to a worldwide market and assists a worldwide audience of users to access infringing materials."
Cooper said that finding "confirms what we've believed all along: that a search engine cannot knowingly facilitate access to infringing material without consequence."
Legal experts differed over what the ruling might signal for Google's legal battle with Viacom Inc. over clips of TV shows posted on Google's YouTube video service.
Evan Cox, a partner at law firm Covington & Burling in San Francisco, said the court's decision left open the possibility that courts could someday require Google and Internet service providers to actively try to stop users from using their technology to traffic copyrighted content. So far, the 9th Circuit has held that a company has to take action only if it knows of a specific instance of copyright infringement — and it can easily stop the infringement.
"This is a win for Google but with some worrisome loose ends in the opinion," Cox said.
But Neil J. Rosini, a lawyer with Franklin, Weinrib, Rudell & Vassallo in New York, said the case merely reaffirmed Google's defense in most copyright cases: that it complies with copyright law because it takes down copyrighted material when its owners ask.
The ruling came on the same day that Google announced a revamp of its popular search engine. Through an effort called Universal Search, Google began displaying full-length playable videos, images and news stories directly in its general search results. For example, a query about Steve Jobs will pull up pictures of Apple Inc.'s chief executive, as well as blogs about Jobs and a video of his 2005 speech at Stanford University.
Sex, Drugs and Updating Your Blog
Jonathan Coulton sat in Gorilla Coffee in Brooklyn, his Apple PowerBook open before him, and began slogging through the day’s e-mail. Coulton is 36 and shaggily handsome. In September 2005, he quit his job as a computer programmer and, with his wife’s guarded blessing, became a full-time singer and songwriter. He set a quixotic goal for himself: for the next year, he would write and record a song each week, posting each one to his blog. “It was a sort of forced-march approach to creativity,” he admitted to me over the sound of the cafe’s cappuccino frothers. He’d always wanted to be a full-time musician, and he figured the only way to prove to himself he could do it was with a drastic challenge. “I learned that it is possible to squeeze a song out of just about anything,” he said. “But it’s not always an easy or pleasant process.” Given the self-imposed time constraints, the “Thing a Week” songs are remarkably good. Coulton tends toward geeky, witty pop tunes: one song, “Tom Cruise Crazy,” is a sympathetic ode to the fame-addled star, while “Code Monkey” is a rocking anthem about dead-end programming jobs. By the middle of last year, his project had attracted a sizable audience. More than 3,000 people, on average, were visiting his site every day, and his most popular songs were being downloaded as many as 500,000 times; he was making what he described as “a reasonable middle-class living” — between $3,000 and $5,000 a month — by selling CDs and digital downloads of his work on iTunes and on his own site.
Along the way, he discovered a fact that many small-scale recording artists are coming to terms with these days: his fans do not want merely to buy his music. They want to be his friend. And that means they want to interact with him all day long online. They pore over his blog entries, commenting with sympathy and support every time he recounts the difficulty of writing a song. They send e-mail messages, dozens a day, ranging from simple mash notes of the “you rock!” variety to starkly emotional letters, including one by a man who described singing one of Coulton’s love songs to his 6-month-old infant during her heart surgery. Coulton responds to every letter, though as the e-mail volume has grown to as many as 100 messages a day, his replies have grown more and more terse, to the point where he’s now feeling guilty about being rude.
Coulton welcomes his fans’ avid attention; indeed, he relies on his fans in an almost symbiotic way. When he couldn’t perform a guitar solo for “Shop Vac,” a glittery pop tune he had written about suburban angst — on his blog, he cursed his “useless sausage fingers” — Coulton asked listeners to record their own attempts, then held an online vote and pasted the winning riff into his tune. Other followers have volunteered hours of their time to help further his career: a professional graphic artist in Cleveland has drawn an illustration for each of the weekly songs, free. Another fan recently reformatted Coulton’s tunes so they’d be usable on karaoke machines. On his online discussion board last June, when Coulton asked for advice on how to make more money with his music, dozens of people chimed in with tips on touring and managing the media and even opinions about what kind of songs he ought to write.
Coulton’s fans are also his promotion department, an army of thousands who proselytize for his work worldwide. More than 50 fans have created music videos using his music and posted them on YouTube; at a recent gig, half of the audience members I spoke to had originally come across his music via one of these fan-made videos. When he performs, he upends the traditional logic of touring. Normally, a new Brooklyn-based artist like him would trek around the Northeast in grim circles, visiting and revisiting cities like Boston and New York and Chicago in order to slowly build an audience — playing for 3 people the first time, then 10, then (if he got lucky) 50. But Coulton realized he could simply poll his existing online audience members, find out where they lived and stage a tactical strike on any town with more than 100 fans, the point at which he’d be likely to make $1,000 for a concert. It is a flash-mob approach to touring: he parachutes into out-of-the-way towns like Ardmore, Pa., where he recently played to a sold-out club of 140.
His fans need him; he needs them. Which is why, every day, Coulton wakes up, gets coffee, cracks open his PowerBook and hunkers down for up to six hours of nonstop and frequently exhausting communion with his virtual crowd. The day I met him, he was examining a music video that a woman who identified herself as a “blithering fan” had made for his song “Someone Is Crazy.” It was a collection of scenes from anime cartoons, expertly spliced together and offered on YouTube.
“She spent hours working on this,” Coulton marveled. “And now her friends are watching that video, and fans of that anime cartoon are watching this video. And that’s how people are finding me. It’s a crucial part of the picture. And so I have to watch this video; I have to respond to her.” He bashed out a hasty thank-you note and then forwarded the link to another supporter — this one in Britain — who runs “The Jonathan Coulton Project,” a Web site that exists specifically to archive his fan-made music videos.
He sipped his coffee. “People always think that when you’re a musician you’re sitting around strumming your guitar, and that’s your job,” he said. “But this” — he clicked his keyboard theatrically — “this is my job.”
In the past — way back in the mid-’90s, say — artists had only occasional contact with their fans. If a musician was feeling friendly, he might greet a few audience members at the bar after a show. Then the Internet swept in. Now fans think nothing of sending an e-mail message to their favorite singer — and they actually expect a personal reply. This is not merely an illusion of intimacy. Performing artists these days, particularly new or struggling musicians, are increasingly eager, even desperate, to master the new social rules of Internet fame. They know many young fans aren’t hearing about bands from MTV or magazines anymore; fame can come instead through viral word-of-mouth, when a friend forwards a Web-site address, swaps an MP3, e-mails a link to a fan blog or posts a cellphone concert video on YouTube.
So musicians dive into the fray — posting confessional notes on their blogs, reading their fans’ comments and carefully replying. They check their personal pages on MySpace, that virtual metropolis where unknown bands and comedians and writers can achieve global renown in a matter of days, if not hours, carried along by rolling cascades of popularity. Band members often post a daily MySpace “bulletin” — a memo to their audience explaining what they’re doing right at that moment — and then spend hours more approving “friend requests” from teenagers who want to be put on the artist’s sprawling list of online colleagues. (Indeed, the arms race for “friends” is so intense that some artists illicitly employ software robots that generate hundreds of fake online comrades, artificially boosting their numbers.) The pop group Barenaked Ladies held a video contest, asking fans to play air guitar along to the song “Wind It Up”; the best ones were spliced together as the song’s official music video. Even artists who haven’t got a clue about the Internet are swept along: Arctic Monkeys, a British band, didn’t know what MySpace was, but when fans created a page for them in 2005 — which currently boasts over 65,000 “friends” — it propelled their first single, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” to No. 1 on the British charts.
This trend isn’t limited to musicians; virtually every genre of artistic endeavor is slowly becoming affected, too. Filmmakers like Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) and Rian Johnson (“Brick”) post dispatches about the movies they’re shooting and politely listen to fans’ suggestions; the comedian Dane Cook cultivated such a huge fan base through his Web site that his 2005 CD “Retaliation” became the first comedy album to reach the Billboard Top 5 since 1978. But musicians are at the vanguard of the change. Their product, the three-minute song, was the first piece of pop culture to be fully revolutionized by the Internet. And their second revenue source — touring — makes them highly motivated to connect with far-flung fans.
This confluence of forces has produced a curious inflection point: for rock musicians, being a bit of a nerd now helps you become successful. When I spoke with Damian Kulash, the lead singer for the band OK Go, he discoursed like a professor on the six-degrees-of-separation theory, talking at one point about “rhizomatic networks.” (You can Google it.) Kulash has put his networking expertise to good use: last year, OK Go displayed a canny understanding of online dynamics when it posted on YouTube a low-budget homemade video that showed the band members dancing on treadmills to their song “Here It Goes Again.” The video quickly became one of the site’s all-time biggest hits. It led to the band’s live treadmill performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, which in turn led to a Grammy Award for best video.
This is not a trend that affects A-list stars. The most famous corporate acts — Justin Timberlake, Fergie, Beyoncé — are still creatures of mass marketing, carpet-bombed into popularity by expensive ad campaigns and radio airplay. They do not need the online world to find listeners, and indeed, their audiences are too vast for any artist to even pretend intimacy with. No, this is a trend that is catalyzing the B-list, the new, under-the-radar acts that have always built their success fan by fan. Across the country, the CD business is in a spectacular free fall; sales are down 20 percent this year alone. People are increasingly getting their music online (whether or not they’re paying for it), and it seems likely that the artists who forge direct access to their fans have the best chance of figuring out what the new economics of the music business will be.
The universe of musicians making their way online includes many bands that function in a traditional way — signing up with a label — while using the Internet primarily as a means of promotion, the way OK Go has done. Two-thirds of OK Go’s album sales are still in the physical world: actual CDs sold through traditional CD stores. But the B-list increasingly includes a newer and more curious life-form: performers like Coulton, who construct their entire business model online. Without the Internet, their musical careers might not exist at all. Coulton has forgone a record-label contract; instead, he uses a growing array of online tools to sell music directly to fans. He contracts with a virtual fulfillment house called CD Baby, which warehouses his CDs, processes the credit-card payment for each sale and ships it out, while pocketing only $4 of the album’s price, a much smaller cut than a traditional label would take. CD Baby also places his music on the major digital-music stores like iTunes, Rhapsody and Napster. Most lucratively, Coulton sells MP3s from his own personal Web sites, where there’s no middleman at all.
In total, 41 percent of Coulton’s income is from digital-music sales, three-quarters of which are sold directly off his own Web site. Another 29 percent of his income is from CD sales; 18 percent is from ticket sales for his live shows. The final 11 percent comes from T-shirts, often bought online.
Indeed, running a Web store has allowed Coulton and other artists to experiment with intriguing innovations in flexible pricing. Remarkably, Coulton offers most of his music free on his site; when fans buy his songs, it is because they want to give him money. The Canadian folk-pop singer Jane Siberry has an even more clever system: she has a “pay what you can” policy with her downloadable songs, so fans can download them free — but her site also shows the average price her customers have paid for each track. This subtly creates a community standard, a generalized awareness of how much people think each track is really worth. The result? The average price is as much as $1.30 a track, more than her fans would pay at iTunes.
Yet this phenomenon isn’t merely about money and business models. In many ways, the Internet’s biggest impact on artists is emotional. When you have thousands of fans interacting with you electronically, it can feel as if you’re on stage 24 hours a day.
“I vacillate so much on this,” Tad Kubler told me one evening in March. “I’m like, I want to keep some privacy, some sense of mystery. But I also want to have this intimacy with our fans. And I’m not sure you can have both.” Kubler is the guitarist for the Brooklyn-based rock band the Hold Steady, and I met up with him at a Japanese bar in Pittsburgh, where the band was performing on its latest national tour. An exuberant but thoughtful blond-surfer type, Kubler drank a Sapporo beer and explained how radically the Internet had changed his life on the road. His previous band existed before the Web became ubiquitous, and each town it visited was a mystery: Would 20 people come out? Would two? When the Hold Steady formed four years ago, Kubler immediately signed up for a MySpace page, later adding a discussion board, and curious fans were drawn in like iron filings to a magnet. Now the band’s board teems with fans asking technical questions about Kubler’s guitars, swapping bootlegged MP3 recordings of live gigs with each other, organizing carpool drives to see the band. Some send e-mail messages to Kubler from cities where the band will be performing in a couple of weeks, offering to design, print and distribute concert posters free. As the band’s appointed geek, Kubler handles the majority of its online audience relations; fans at gigs chant his online screen-name, “Koob.”
“It’s like night and day, man,” Kubler said, comparing his current situation with his pre-Internet musical career. “It’s awesome now.”
Kubler regards fan interaction as an obligation that is cultural, almost ethical. He remembers what it was like to be a young fan himself, enraptured by the members of Led Zeppelin. “That’s all I wanted when I was a fan, right?” he said. “To have some small contact with these guys you really dug. I think I’m still that way. I’ll be, like, devastated if I never meet Jimmy Page before I die.” Indeed, for a guitarist whose arms are bedecked in tattoos and who maintains an aggressive schedule of drinking, Kubler seems genuinely touched by the shy queries he gets from teenagers.
“If some kid is going to take 10 minutes out of his day to figure out what he wants to say in an e-mail, and then write it and send it, for me to not take the 5 minutes to say, dude, thanks so much — for me to ignore that?” He shrugged. “I can’t.”
Yet Kubler sometimes has second thoughts about the intimacy. Part of the allure of rock, when he was a kid, was the shadowy glamour that surrounded his favorite stars. He’d parse their lyrics to try to figure out what they were like in person. Now he wonders: Are today’s online artists ruining their own aura by blogging? Can you still idolize someone when you know what they had for breakfast this morning? “It takes a little bit of the mystery out of rock ’n’ roll,” he said.
So Kubler has cultivated a skill that is unique to the age of Internet fandom, and perhaps increasingly necessary to it, as well: a nuanced ability to seem authentic and confessional without spilling over into a Britney Spears level of information overload. He doesn’t post about his home life, doesn’t mention anything about his daughter or girlfriend — and he certainly doesn’t describe any of the ill-fated come-ons he deflects from addled female fans who don’t realize he’s in a long-term relationship. (Another useful rule he imparts to me: Post in the morning, when you’re no longer drunk.)
There’s something particularly weird, the band members have also found, about living with fans who can now trade information — and misinformation — about them. All celebrities are accustomed to dealing with reporters; but fans represent a new, wild-card form of journalism. Franz Nicolay, the Hold Steady’s nattily-dressed keyboardist, told me that he now becomes slightly paranoid while drinking with fans after a show, because he’s never sure if what he says will wind up on someone’s blog. After a recent gig in Britain, Nicolay idly mentioned to a fan that he had heard that Bruce Springsteen liked the Hold Steady. Whoops: the next day, that factoid was published on a fan blog, “and it had, like, 25 comments!” Nicolay said. So now he carefully polices what he says in casual conversation, which he thinks is a weird thing for a rock star to do. “You can’t be the drunken guy who just got offstage anymore,” he said with a sigh. “You start acting like a pro athlete, saying all these banal things after you get off the field.” For Nicolay, the intimacy of the Internet has made postshow interactions less intimate and more guarded.
The Hold Steady’s online audience has grown so huge that Kubler, like Jonathan Coulton, is struggling to bear the load. It is the central paradox of online networking: if you’re really good at it, your audience quickly grows so big that you can no longer network with them. The Internet makes fame more quickly achievable — and more quickly unmanageable. In the early days of the Hold Steady, Kubler fielded only a few e-mail messages a day, and a couple of “friend” requests on MySpace. But by this spring, he was receiving more than 100 communications from fans each day, and he was losing as much as two or three hours a day dealing with them. “People will say to me, ‘Hey, dude, how come you haven’t posted a bulletin lately?’ ” Kubler told me. “And I’m like, ‘I haven’t done one because every time I do we get 300 messages and I spend a day going through them!’ ”
To cope with the flood, the Hold Steady has programmed a software robot to automatically approve the 100-plus “friend” requests it receives on MySpace every day. Other artists I spoke to were testing out similar tricks, including automatic e-mail macros that generate instant “thank you very much” replies to fan messages. Virtually everyone bemoaned the relentless and often boring slog of keyboarding. It is, of course, precisely the sort of administrative toil that people join rock bands to avoid.
Even the most upbeat artist eventually crashes and burns. Indeed, fan interactions seem to surf along a sine curve, as an artist’s energy for managing the emotional demands waxes and wanes. As I roamed through online discussion boards and blogs, the tone was nearly always pleasant, even exuberant — fans politely chatting with their favorite artists or gushing praise. But inevitably, out of the blue, the artist would be overburdened, or a fan would feel slighted, and some minor grievance would flare up. At the end of March, a few weeks after I talked with Kubler in Pittsburgh, I logged on to the Hold Steady’s discussion board to discover that he had posted an angry notice about fans who sent him nasty e-mail messages complaining that the band wasn’t visiting their cities. “I honestly cannot believe some of the e-mails, hate mail and otherwise total [expletive] I’ve been hearing,” he wrote. “We’re coming to rock. Please be ready.”
Another evening I visited the message board for the New York post-punk band Nada Surf, where a fan posted a diatribe attacking the bass player for refusing to sign an autograph at a recent show, prompting an extended fan discussion of whether the bass player was a jerk or not. A friend of mine pointed me to the remarkable plight of Poppy Z. Brite, a novelist who in 2005 accused fans on a discussion board of being small-minded about children — at which point her fans banned her from the board.
When Jonathan Coulton first began writing his weekly songs, he carefully tracked how many people listened to each one on his Web site. His listenership rose steadily, from around 1,000 a week at first to 50,000 by the end of his yearlong song-a-week experiment. But there were exceptions to this gradual rise: five songs that became breakout “hits,” receiving almost 10 times as many listeners as the songs that preceded and followed them. The first hit was an improbable cover song: Coulton’s deadpan version of the 1992 Sir Mix-a-Lot rap song “Baby Got Back,” performed like a hippie folk ballad. Another was “Code Monkey,” his pop song about a disaffected cubicle worker.
Obviously, Coulton was thrilled when his numbers popped, not least because the surge of traffic produced thousands more dollars in sales. But the successes also tortured him: he would rack his brains trying to figure out why people loved those particular songs so much. What had he done right? Could he repeat the same trick?
“Every time I had a hit, it would sort of ruin me for a few weeks,” he told me. “I would feel myself being a little bit repressed in my creativity, and ideas would not come to me as easily. Or else I would censor myself a little bit more.” His fans, he realized, were most smitten by his geekier songs, the ones that referenced science fiction, mathematics or video games. Whenever he branches out and records more traditional pop fare, he worries it will alienate his audience.
For many of these ultraconnected artists, it seems the nature of creativity itself is changing. It is no longer a solitary act: their audiences are peering over their shoulders as they work, offering pointed comments and suggestions. When OK Go released its treadmill-dancing video on YouTube, it quickly amassed 15 million views, a number so big that it is, as Kulash, the singer, told me, slightly surreal. “Fifteen million people is more than you can see,” he said. “It’s like this big mass of ants, and you’re sitting at home in your underpants to see how many times you’ve been downloaded, and you can sort of feel the ebb and flow of mass attention.” Fans pestered him to know what the band’s next video would be; some even suggested the band try dancing on escalators. Kulash was conflicted. He didn’t want to be known just for making goofy videos; he also wanted people to pay attention to OK Go’s music. In the end, the band decided not to do another dance video, because, as Kulash concluded, “How do you follow up 15 million hits?” All the artists I spoke to made a point of saying they would never simply pander to their fans’ desires. But many of them also said that staying artistically “pure” now requires the mental discipline of a ninja.
These days, Coulton is wondering whether an Internet-built fan base inevitably hits a plateau. Many potential Coulton fans are fanatical users of MySpace and YouTube, of course; but many more aren’t, and the only way for him to reach them is via traditional advertising, which he can’t afford, or courting media attention, a wearying and decidedly old-school task. Coulton’s single biggest spike in traffic to his Web site took place last December, when he appeared on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” a fact that, he notes, proves how powerful old-fashioned media still are. (And “Weekend Edition” is orders of magnitude smaller than major entertainment shows like MTV’s “Total Request Live,” which can make a new artist in an afternoon.) Perhaps there’s no way to use the Internet to vault from the B-list to the A-list and the only bands that sell millions of copies will always do it via a well-financed major-label promotion campaign. “Maybe this is what my career will be,” Coulton said: slowly building new fans online, playing live occasionally, making a solid living but never a crazy-rich one. He’s considered signing on with a label or a cable network to try to chase a higher circle of fame, but that would mean giving up control. And, he says, “I think I’m addicted to running my own show now.”
Will the Internet change the type of person who becomes a musician or writer? It’s possible to see these online trends as Darwinian pressures that will inevitably produce a new breed — call it an Artist 2.0 — and mark the end of the artist as a sensitive, bohemian soul who shuns the spotlight. In “The Catcher in the Rye,” J. D. Salinger wrote about how reading a good book makes you want to call up the author and chat with him, which neatly predicted the modern online urge; but Salinger, a committed recluse, wouldn’t last a minute in this confessional new world. Neither would, say, Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, a singer who was initially so intimidated by a crowd that she would sit facing the back of the stage. What happens to art when people like that are chased away?
It is also possible, though, that this is simply a natural transition point and that the next generation of musicians and artists — even the avowedly “sensitive” ones — will find the constant presence of their fans unremarkable. The psychological landscape has arguably already tilted that way for anyone under 20. There are plenty of teenagers today who regard themselves as “private” individuals, yet who post openly about their everyday activities on Facebook or LiveJournal, complete with camera-phone pictures. For that generation, the line between public and private is so blurry as to become almost nonexistent. Any teenager with a MySpace page is already fluent in managing a constant stream of dozens of semianonymous people clamoring to befriend them; if those numbers rise to hundreds or even thousands, maybe, for them, it won’t be a big deal. It’s also true that many recluses in real life flower on the Internet, which can famously be a place of self-expression and self-reinvention.
While researching this article, I occasionally scanned the list of top-rated bands on MySpace — the ones with the most “friends.” One of the biggest was a duo called the Scene Aesthetic, whose MySpace presence had sat atop several charts (folk, pop, rock) for a few months. I called Andrew de Torres, a 21-year-old Seattle resident and a co-founder of the group, to find out his story. De Torres, who played in a few emo bands as a teenager, had the idea for the Scene Aesthetic in January 2005, when he wrote a song that required two dueling male voices. He called his friend Eric Bowley, and they recorded the song — an aching ballad called “Beauty in the Breakdown” — in a single afternoon in Bowley’s basement. They posted it to MySpace, figuring it might get a couple of listens. But the song clearly struck a chord with the teen-heavy MySpace audience, and within days it had racked up thousands of plays. Requests to be the duo’s “friend” came surging in, along with messages demanding more songs. De Torres and Bowley quickly banged out three more; when those went online, their growing fan base urged them to produce a full album and to go on tour.
“It just sort of accidentally turned into this huge thing,” de Torres told me when I called him up. “We thought this was a little side project. We thought we wouldn’t do much with it. We just threw it up online.” Now their album is due out this summer, and they have roughly 22,000 people a day listening to their songs on MySpace, plus more than 180,000 “friends.” A cross-country tour that ended last December netted them “a pretty good amount of money,” de Torres added.
This sort of career arc was never previously possible. If you were a singer with only one good song, there was no way to release it independently on a global scale — and thus no way of knowing if there was a market for your talent. But the online fan world has different gravitational physics: on the basis of a single tune, the Scene Aesthetic kick-started an entire musical career.
Which is perhaps the end result of the new online fan world: it allows a fresh route to creative success, assuming the artist has the correct emotional tools. De Torres, a decade or more younger than Coulton and the Hold Steady, is a natural Artist 2.0: he happily spends two hours a day or more parsing notes from teenagers who tell him “your work totally got me through some rough times.” He knows that to lure in listeners, he needs to post some of his work on MySpace, but since he wants people to eventually buy his album, he doesn’t want to give away all his goods. He has thus developed an ear for what he calls “the perfect MySpace song” — a tune that is immediately catchy, yet not necessarily the strongest from his forthcoming album. For him, being a musician is rather like being a business manager, memoirist and group therapist rolled into one, with a politician’s thick hide to boot.
Guy Drinks. Bird Drinks. Guy Thrives. Bird Drinks.
IN certain New York artistic circles the cartoonist Tony Millionaire is famous for once, at the end of a very long night, having sex with a slice of pizza. This was in the mid-’90s, a period when Mr. Millionaire, who is large and striking-looking to begin with, used to favor lime-green leisure suits or a tuxedo with a bottle of vodka in the pocket. He would frequently end an evening by climbing on a table, removing his false teeth and declaring, “I am Tony Millionaire!”
The name is a pseudonym of course, though a former girlfriend used to claim it came from an Old French term meaning “owner of 1,000 serfs.” Mr. Millionaire — or Scott Richardson, as he used to be known — actually lifted it from an “I Dream of Jeannie” episode and printed it on a label for a party he attended in 1981. The tag stuck, and he now says, “If I ever hear anybody using my other name, it’s either my mother or my lawyer.”
These days Tony Millionaire is practically a brand name, attached to a syndicated weekly comic strip, “Maakies”; a series of comic books called “Sock Monkey”; the graphic novels “Uncle Gabby” and “Billy Hazelnuts”; and an animated cartoon, “The Drinky Crow Show,” which will make its first appearance on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim on Sunday night at 11:45. (Since Friday the episode has also been available on adultswim.com; whether there will be more depends on how this one goes over.)
Spun off from by the “Maakies” comic strip, “The Drinky Crow Show” is about an alcoholic, suicidal crow and his sidekick, a dim-witted libidinous monkey named Uncle Gabby, shipmates on a 19th-century whaling ship captained by a crusty Ahab type who happens to have a sexpot daughter. Like the strip, the cartoon is graphically elegant, done in a style reminiscent of early comics masters like Winsor McKay and Johnny Gruelle (who drew “Raggedy Ann”); the content, on the other hand, comes bubbling up from a part of the imagination that polite cartoonists lock away.
This first episode begins with a whoosh of crow vomit and ends with a squirt of bug excrement. In between there are floggings, decapitations and dismemberments, cannonballs that go right through characters, leaving perfect round holes, and one instance each of copulation between whales and between a fly and a cockroach. The hero, Drinky Crow, rescues the ship and Uncle Gabby, or half of him, anyway, with quick thinking and artistic enterprise — when he’s not blotto, that is, a condition indicated by a giant X where his eye should be and little bubbles circling his head.
This troubled, bibulous little bird is in many ways Mr. Millionaire’s alter ego and also his savior. He came up with the character in the winter of 1993, during an extremely low period in his life. He was living in New York then, and barely scraping by, as he had been since getting out of art school, by making architectural drawings of houses. But that winter his business had dwindled, and as he recalled recently: “My girlfriend said, ‘You’re not going to be able to pay the rent, are you?’ She said it would be better if I moved out, and so I was broke, sleeping on couches, begging food from friends. One night I went to this bar in Brooklyn, Six Twelve in Williamsburg, and on a napkin I started drawing a cartoon about a crow who got drunk and blew his brains out. The bartender said, ‘Every time you draw one of those, I’ll give you a beer,’ so I just kept drawing. He photocopied them, and pretty soon they became a kind of trademark for the bar. The bartender even made a Styrofoam model of Drinky Crow.”
Drinky’s fame eventually spread to The New York Press, the alternative paper, which commissioned Mr. Millionaire to do a weekly strip for $25 an installment. That in turn led to syndication and to freelance work for The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and other mainstream publications. “That was the first time in my life I ever paid taxes, and I was a little worried that I was going to get in trouble,” he said. “But I got a good accountant, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll tell them you were homeless.’ ”
Though Mr. Millionaire has since branched out into books and television, the strip — two strips, really, one very slender one underneath the other — remains a cornerstone. “No matter what, I’ve got to get my weekly ‘Maakies’ out,” he explained. (The name is a nonsense word, chosen because Mr. Millionaire liked the way it looked; it rhymes with “car keys” pronounced with a Massachusetts accent: MAH-kees.) “That’s my soul. Without it I’d still be a bum, I’d still be drawing houses. I needed a deadline. That’s the code of the cartoonist: make the deadline.”
Among the fans of “Maakies” is Art Spiegelman, the author of “Maus.” “I really like the fact that there’s this disparity between the delicacy of the drawing and the coarseness and stupidity of the humor,” he said recently. “That goes back to a great moment in cartoon history.”
The strip also provides a window onto Mr. Millionaire’s background and influences. The shipboard setting, for example, owes something to his boyhood in Gloucester, Mass., where his maternal grandparents were both artists who frequently painted nautical themes. His grandfather also introduced him to the world of the classic Sunday comics, which often manifest themselves explicitly in Mr. Millionaire’s work, in strips, for example, that adopt the style of Mr. Gruelle, Rube Goldberg, V. T. Hamlin’s “Alley Oop.” The idea of a second strip running beneath the main one, and usually with no relation to what’s going on above, is something he borrowed from George Herriman, the creator of “Krazy Kat.”
Mr. Millionaire’s parents were both artistic too. His father was a designer, and his mother a junior high school art teacher. She forbade coloring books in the house, and when he was younger also talked him out of aspiring merely to be a commercial artist. “She said, ‘What, you want to paint pork chops on the side of cardboard boxes?’ ” he recalled, and then added, “In my mind there was never any doubt that I was going to do something artistic, and for all the hassles my parents gave me, they were always very encouraging: ‘You stupid idiot — it’s because of you it’s raining! You’re a great artist.’ ”
Mr. Millionaire, now 51, has been married for six years to the actress Becky Thyre, and they live with their two young daughters in a stucco bungalow in Pasadena, Calif. Thanks to health insurance Mr. Millionaire now has dental implants to replace the falsies. (The originals were knocked out in a car crash when he was a teenager.) And though he professes still to be a wild man of sorts, most of his boozing these days is notional, except for a few beers late at night while he works in his studio, drawing in ink with store-bought fountain pens he tweaks with a pair of needle-nose pliers.
The studio is a converted one-car garage that looks more like a consignment shop than an artist’s workroom. Some of his grandparents’ paintings hang on the wall, along with yellowing newspaper pages from the Golden Age of comics. There is a stuffed raccoon cat in the rafters, and antlers and a mangy head high on the north wall. A computer printer is hidden in an old radio cabinet, and tucked away in a corner is a scanner Mr. Millionaire uses to send his Drinky Crow drawings to the animators, who work in Transylvania.
The notion of turning “Maakies” into a cartoon occurred first to Eric Kaplan, who wrote for “Futurama” and “Malcolm in the Middle” and has lately been working on a series of full-length “Futurama” features. He said recently that because of his work in animation and production he had become interested in developing more projects that brought together striking design and unusual stories, and he heard about Mr. Millionaire from the cartoonist Peter Bagge.
Like a lot of TV people he was also aware of some Drinky Crow shorts on “Saturday Night Live” in the late ’90s. Six were made, and though only two were shown, they became legendary for their weird bleak humor. “What appealed to me about ‘Maakies’ was that it’s a distinct comedic world,” Mr. Kaplan said. “It makes you feel that you’ve gone to the well of Tony Millionaire’s imagination and let down a bucket. With the cartoon we’re going down into the same lava.”
Mr. Millionaire credits Mr. Kaplan, who wrote the script for the first “Drinky Crow” on Adult Swim for figuring out how to turn a series of four-panel cartoons into an extended narrative, and for teaching him that cartoon dialogue doesn’t always work when spoken. Mr. Kaplan says the process wasn’t as complicated as Mr. Millionaire makes it sound. “I went for a long walk with Tony, and I asked him why he was so depressed when he started drawing Drinky,” he recalled. “And I thought: ‘I can fill in a little of the psychology. He’s a frustrated romantic who’s had his heart broken. And Uncle Gabby is just a guy who wants to eat, have sex, get drunk. Drinky’s the more sensitive one.’ ”
He added: “As much as possible, we tried to take a certain way of looking things from Tony’s brain and put it on the screen. It’s a very pregnant premise — kind of in the past, kind of in the present. It’s about this world — it speaks to the horror of life.”
Getting the voices right, Mr. Millionaire said, proved to be more of a challenge than he imagined. A single actress nailed all the female parts, but they went through a couple of actors for Drinky before finally discovering one who sounded sufficiently sodden.
Even harder was getting the right look. The animation is computer generated, and originally it was too three-dimensional. “It looked like ‘Jimmy Neutron,’ ” Mr. Millionaire explained, adding that early versions of Drinky had him jumping up and down, strutting, clapping his hands. “I said: ‘No, no, no — he doesn’t do that! He has much less affect.’ ”
Eventually he and the animators devised a system whereby he took the computer-generated models and added by hand all the etchinglike details so characteristic of his work: the planks, the portholes, the texture of Gabby’s fur. “That’s why it looks like 3-D Sunday comics,” Mr. Millionaire said. “ I don’t know anything about animation, but I invented a whole new technique, Maakimation!”
Adult Swim, which has given us, among other innovations, “Saul of the Mole Men” and “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” with its talking milk shake, French fries and meat wad, does not observe the same rules as the rest of television. For one thing there are no seasons; shows come and go seemingly at random. As Nick Weidenfeld, Adult Swim’s manager of program development and a champion of “Drinky Crow,” explained recently, there are no focus groups, no pre-testing of a show. “We don’t go by the usual TV model,” he said. “For a new show, it’s more a question of: Does this feel right in terms of what we’re doing and where we’re going?”
What this means in practice is that for the time being there are no further episodes of “Drinky Crow.” The pilot will be shown Sunday night, and then by some process that seems in part mystical and in part based on viewer response, the network bigwigs will decide whether or not to order more. If the show is approved, Mr. Millionaire and Mr. Kaplan already have hundreds of new plots stored in their heads. “The ship can travel,” Mr. Millionaire explained. “It can go to Japan, it can go to the North Pole. It can sprout wings and fly to the edge of the universe if it has powerful enough rockets and the right fuel: alco-fuel.”
But what about poor Uncle Gabby, who at the end of Episode 1 is cut in half at the waist, with his spinal column dangling down like an extension cord and insects feasting on his blood? “The publisher complained that at the end of the first ‘Sock Monkey’ book, Drinky Crow burned the house down with everyone in it,” Mr. Millionaire said. “I told them, ‘It’s a cartoon!’ Next time they’ll all be fine.”
SuperMoviesDownload: The YouTube Virus
YouTube users can’t have failed to notice that the Most Viewed list is consistently dominated by videos branded by a site called SuperMoviesDownload. How did they get so many views? Cheating, of course.
We pointed out in October 2006 that it was easy to enter the Most Viewed list on YouTube just by opening some tabs in Firefox and setting them to auto-refresh - no real skill required. (For those who try refreshing the page once and see no increase in views, note that YouTube only updates its viewing stats every few hours). Based on the ease with which these sites are dominating the popularity rankings, it seems that nothing has been done to fix the issue. In other words: these unwanted self-promoters are doing nothing more than refreshing the page on one PC - when we tried this for our original post, there wasn’t even any sign that IPs were being logged. For SMD, which seems to sell movie downloads, the process goes something like this:
1. Find an interesting YouTube video
2. Add your own site branding and URL
3. Upload to an account and disable comments so no one complains about you taking their clips
4. Auto-refresh the page 50,000 times
5. Get in Top Viewed List
Below is a screenshot showing that 7 of the Most Viewed YouTube clips right now are from SMD, and many others come from sites using the same trick. Eric Schmidt was asked about the problem at a recent interview (pointed out to us by The CoMotion Group), but downplayed the problem. It seems that a fix would be easy and straightforward: why not go ahead and fix it up?
Tilting at a Digital Future
IN Rupert Murdoch’s world, two things are certain: the sun never sets on the kingdom, and a TV is always on in the background.
On the evening of April 26, several large television monitors adorned the terrace of Mr. Murdoch’s Beverly Hills mansion for a dinner celebrating a special edition of “American Idol” that raised more than $70 million to fight poverty. An Asian noodle station was set out by the pool; nearby, sushi chefs busily sliced tuna for “Idol” co-hosts Simon Cowell and Ryan Seacrest, and seven, hyperactive “Idol” finalists who, when they weren’t clamoring around megastar Tom Cruise, dreamily watched themselves on the big screens. Wendi Deng, Mr. Murdoch’s wife, wore a billowy, green dress and introduced their 5-year-old daughter, Grace, to guests before sending her to bed.
Mr. Murdoch casually sipped wine and chatted with his daughter, Elisabeth, and other guests. He had planned for the event to be an early dinner party, but he finally headed to bed at 1 a.m., leaving music impresario Quincy Jones and others chatting on a sofa. After all, he had work to do.
What partygoers didn’t know was that during the previous week, on April 17, Mr. Murdoch had offered to buy Dow Jones & Company, the venerable publisher of The Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion. So far, he had not heard back directly from the Bancrofts, the family that controls Dow Jones. Signals sent by the Bancrofts’ intermediaries were not encouraging, but he was prepared to fly cross-country and meet with the family on a moment’s notice.
As is so often the case with Mr. Murdoch, the Dow Jones bid is counterintuitive and seemingly quixotic. While investors and media giants have cooled on the newspaper industry, the News Corporation’s czar has patiently waited for the right moment to bid on a prize he has long coveted but felt was beyond his reach. Mr. Murdoch’s bid has also caused hand-wringing about his intentions for The Journal, a publication that has long led the pack in authoritative business coverage.
Perhaps the chief worry among those concerned about the journalistic future of Dow Jones is how much editorial independence the company would have under Mr. Murdoch’s rule. It also raised questions about how well the strait-laced Journal would fit within a conglomerate whose offerings include the online hangout MySpace, racy British tabloids, and table-thumpers like Bill O’Reilly.
WHATEVER the media mogul says he may do with such a powerful enterprise, a close look at what he’s actually done in the past — particularly how he has deployed his far larger Hollywood and television properties — is a telling indicator of what life may be like for Dow Jones in a Murdoch regime.
When Mr. Murdoch bought the struggling 20th Century Fox studio in 1985, Hollywood viewed him as just the latest arriviste, doomed to be suckered by the industry’s vagaries. Yet Mr. Murdoch restored the studio, let his staff there produce the films they wanted (for the most part), and used Fox as a springboard to start his Fox television network and a passel of cable channels and other ventures around the globe.
“Rupert Murdoch is utterly consistent,” says Barry Diller, who once ran Fox and now oversees the IAC/Interactive Corporation. “It’s not like he’s adding toys. This is oxygen to him.”
In almost every case, Mr. Murdoch endured years of losses to put new offerings like Sky Television in England the Fox News Channel in America on the map. There is scant evidence of Mr. Murdoch’s envelope-pushing imprimatur at the studio that is the center of it all, just as it is less in evidence at the large quality newspapers he owns, including The Times of London and The Australian.
Mr. Murdoch’s long-held desire to own The Journal fits into a similar grand plan: to revitalize if not save the original business — newspapers — on which he built his empire. Mr. Murdoch’s vision is to fold together the far-flung news businesses he owns into a seamless digital platform anchored by the Web-oriented Journal and, in the process, reinvent the newspaper industry that his company was built on. “We are a relatively old company deeply rooted in print journalism,” Mr. Murdoch told his top news executives in his Aussie drawl a few days after the “Idol” party. “Now, we have to make huge leap into a completely different world.”
The digital future he envisions has information zipping across an expanding, ubiquitous array of screens — TVs, laptops and cellphones. In a world of proliferating broadband, Mr. Murdoch sees video as a bigger component of the news blur and he wants to meld his disparate video assets into his sprawling digital infrastructure: from Fox News in the United States, Sky News outlets around the world, and the business TV channel he is launching this fall in America and plans to take international (which, if his cards play out, he hopes to tie closely to The Journal).
As Mr. Murdoch tries to make the digital future a reality, skeptics wonder whether he will use his newfangled media platform to merely transmit news and analysis or whether he will package information according to his own needs — and even use it as a cudgel.
A couple of days embedded in the Murdoch camp yields a few clues about what makes Rupert run and why. At age 76, he appears to be in his strongest position in years — with his company’s share price up nearly 50 percent in the past two years and his grip over his company finally secure. He remains unblinkingly fixated on the advancement of the News Corporation as though it were a nation state and his relentless corporate march has imbued his company with a maverick culture less apparent at other media giants scrambling to adapt to the hurly-burly of the digital age.
Mr. Murdoch has also shown little hesitation to reverse course when his plans go awry. He says that China, for instance, is no longer the corporate imperative that it once was for him. Until recently, he was determined to build a global satellite-TV empire to delivery his programming, but the rapid emergence of the Internet cooled his ardor. DirecTV, was a company he pursued for years with as much fervor as he now shows for Dow Jones, but he recently agreed to sell it only three years after it was acquired. While the News Corporation’s involvement in the newspaper business could seem like nostalgic attachment to an industry that has seen better days, Mr. Murdoch is hardly known for being sentimental. Indeed, Mr. Murdoch is pretty much the same in public as he is in private, with little evidence of an inner Rupert — even to some who work closely with him.
“This is a man who’s been single-minded since he was 22 years old and he’s woken up every morning with the same agenda: which is to extend the reach and power and influence of his company,” said one person close to Mr. Murdoch who was given anonymity to speak openly about him. “I think tomorrow is the same as today in that respect.”
Mr. Murdoch has had an eventful personal life — including six children from three marriages — and his raw ambition dovetails with an endless curiosity about world affairs, a mischievous streak, and a self-image as the ultimate outsider. In fact, Mr. Murdoch says he is most energized when he is taking on “the elites” — words he practically sneers when he says them — in what he perceives as a career-long battle to offer consumers more media choices. (The Journal, of course, represents one of the quintessential elite media trophies).
Asked if even now he doesn’t consider himself an elite, Mr. Murdoch shakes his head. “No, I’m going to keep myself as much of an outsider as possible,” he says. “We just don’t join clubs.”
MR. MURDOCH’S many critics over the years have viewed him in a far less noble light, accusing him of a cynical worldview that appeals to the lowest common denominator. In sum, they say, he is willing to sacrifice principle for profit.
“His business is privatized, government propaganda; that’s all the company essentially does,” says Bruce Page, a journalist who worked at The Sunday Times of London before Mr. Murdoch owned it and is among his toughest critics. Mr. Page’s 2003 book, “The Murdoch Archipelago,” portrayed Mr. Murdoch as nothing less than a threat to democracy. “It isn’t that Murdoch’s particularly wicked. He’s not a fearsome, warriorlike figure. He’s Falstaff. He has absolutely no concept of honor.”
James H. Ottaway Jr., whose family owns 6 percent of Dow Jones, sounded a similar, if more measured, alarm in a statement on May 6 opposing the offer. “When Rupert Murdoch’s news interests conflict, his business interests usually prevail,” Mr. Ottaway wrote.
This is far from how Mr. Murdoch sees himself, although he has acknowledged that “it has been a long career, and I’m not going to say that it hasn’t been punctuated by mistakes.” He also argues that he has evolved as a newspaper owner and does not interfere in coverage or dictate editorial positions at his quality titles.
There are certainly well-worn stories about how he dropped BBC from his Chinese satellite service to appease the government, published the so-called Hitler Diaries in his Sunday Times, and pummeled foes in the pages of The New York Post. But his proponents say that there are the less-told stories about how he once owned The Village Voice and New York magazine and left their editorial operations largely alone.
Asked what he would tell the Bancrofts if they granted him a meeting, Mr. Murdoch says, “I want to tell them how much I appreciate them as a family and to impress on them that my family would be a worthy successor.”
Mr. Murdoch half-jokingly says that he is too busy to roll up his shirtsleeves and write headlines; after all, he has 47,000 employees. He has also offered to install an independent board at The Journal to ensure independence, something he did at The Times. But he has also made it clear that he is not offering a 67 percent premium over Dow Jones’ share price to stay away from the place — and that he vows to invest in the business. In the British market, for example, he has spent nearly $1 billion on new presses, converted the venerable Times to a tabloid format while expanding its foreign bureaus, and started a free daily — all in the past few years.
Although Mr. Murdoch is a huge fan of The Journal’s conservative editorial pages, which are routinely aligned with the political tenor of the Fox News Channel, he insists that most of his editors pick for themselves which candidates they support in elections. In England, it is not unusual for The Sunday Times and The Times of London to support different candidates; same for his big tabloids The Sun and News of the World. (In this political season, Mr. Murdoch says that personally, he is keeping his options open; among the American presidential candidates, “I’m not madly enthusiastic for anyone,” he says.)
Without his cherished newspapers, Mr. Murdoch would be just another billionaire spouting about politics and world affairs and occasionally chairing fund-raisers — not playing as defining a role in shaping public opinion and packaging information. But print isn’t, at first blush, where the action is in the Murdoch kingdom.
From the sprawling Fox studio lot in Century City and the twinkling lights of the Los Angeles splayed out beneath his terrace, newspapers seem like a quaint and distant quadrant of the empire, contributing just 15 percent of the company’s $21.3 billion in revenue in the nine months ended March 31, 2007, and 14 percent of its $3.2 billion in operating income. Like most newspaper companies, the newspaper group is facing slow revenue growth, and its operating margins are running at a solid, if unspectacular, 14 percent.
Over his usual lunch of whitefish and spinach at the Fox commissary three days before CNBC first reported his bid for Dow Jones, Mr. Murdoch boasted that the “underlying readership of newspapers is going through the roof.” Yet he had notably sat on the sidelines as two of America’s largest newspaper groups, Knight-Ridder and Tribune Company, went up for sale and failed to attract more than a single bidder. Had the industry become so impaired that he would never buy another newspaper again?
“It’s all possible,” he said, with an earnest smile. “Never say never.”
In the days after he submitted his bid for Dow Jones, Mr. Murdoch says that he had started to think his offer was going to be quietly rejected. But the Bancrofts authorized the family’s trustee to hire bankers and lawyers to represent them — an encouraging sign. Then, word leaked out through CNBC, to the chagrin of Mr. Murdoch and his advisers, who worried that if it became public the family may close ranks.
Mr. Murdoch was back in New York when the news broke and went on the Fox News Channel to talk about his offer. While he was in the studio, the Bancrofts issued a statement that family members representing 52 percent of the votes in Dow Jones opposed the offer. Mr. Murdoch said that he held out hope — which he says he still maintains — for a meeting with the family.
Three days after his Fox News appearance on May 3, Mr. Murdoch still had not received any direct word from the Bancrofts. He sat on a sofa in his office on the eighth floor of the News Corporation’s Manhattan headquarters, behind him a wall of TV screens showing his channels, set next to a luminescent blue and yellow map of the world. (There is also a rack for his newspapers, flown in daily).
He said that he believed some of the 35 Bancroft family members may be swayed to take his offer, and then did something he rarely does: talk about the past. He spoke of his father’s beginnings in Australian newspapers, and how he rescued papers that, he said, would have otherwise disappeared. “There’s a pattern that goes right up to today, of providing choice.”
Later that same day, he boarded the company jet for a flight to Monterey, Calif. For the third year in a row, he was gathering his top publishing and digital executives from here and abroad to brainstorm about how to go about conquering the Internet. By the time the jet was over Michigan, several News Corporation executives were playing poker in the back of the plane. Col Allan, the editor of The New York Post, watched the Republican debate on a big television screen and Robert Thomson, editor of The Times of London, phoned his newsroom to get the results of the French election.
Mr. Murdoch had planned to view some TV pilots, but never got around to it as he, Mr. Thomson and his executive vice president of corporate affairs, Gary Ginsberg, sat in his study and talked into the night about politics and world affairs. At one point, Mr. Murdoch, wearing a beige cardigan, glanced at a screen tuned to his news channel.
“Fair and balanced,” he declared, repeating the Fox News motto, which he meant as a playful jab at Mr. Ginsberg, who worked in the Clinton administration.
THE next morning, Mr. Murdoch was joined by Peter A. Chernin, the News Corporation president, to kick off the “Digital News Initiative” conference at the Monterey Plaza Hotel. The 60 or so attendees ran the gamut of his company’s news operations, including teams from not only his British and Australian papers and The Post, but also from Sky Television in London, the Fox television group and MySpace.
There was urgency in the room, because the company’s online media outlets do not have the same kind of dominance they enjoy in TV and in print. For instance, both FoxNews.com and NYPost.com saw the number of unique users to their sites rise around 30 percent in April versus a year earlier, but they still ranked only 9th and 26th among the most visited general news sites, according to ComScore Networks.
Guest speakers included Mark Zuckerberg, the 22-year-old founder of Facebook, Meg Whitman, the chief executive of eBay, and Kjell Aamot, the chief executive of Schibsted, the Norwegian publisher that generates a majority of its earnings from its online operations. Mr. Murdoch was staying at his ranch in nearby Carmel, where he had a dinner for the group.
Critical to reinventing the newspaper business, Mr. Murdoch told the audience, is getting the 175 newspapers the company owns to share resources and move quickly in unison. “We need to take advantage of our global scale everywhere,” he said.
Although Mr. Murdoch had not expected to discuss his offer for Dow Jones at the meeting, he offered a brief explanation. “We had hoped to keep it private and secret for a lot longer while they were having proper time to consider it,” he said. “I think it’s an incredible franchise with outstanding people.”
The challenges facing Dow Jones are somewhat different then those facing Mr. Murdoch’s papers because financial news is one of the few forms of information that consumers will pay for online. Still, The Journal, like other newspapers, has struggled to find ways to grow as print advertising and readership has come under pressure.
Jeremy Philips, a 34-year-old former Internet executive who joined the company last year to oversee strategy and acquisitions, followed Mr. Murdoch with a presentation that brought the challenges and opportunities facing the newspaper industry into sharp focus.
Online news is typically free, and advertising rates for it are comparatively low. Mr. Philips calculated that for every print reader a newspaper loses, it currently needs 100 online readers to generate the same amount of revenue. The more encouraging news is the costs of reaching those readers are less expensive through the Internet than through print — indeed, The Times of London, which recently revamped its Web site, is regularly visited by more users outside of England than within.
Another slide posited that of the millions of readers who come to various newspaper sites in a given month, a huge majority come only once, a consequence of all those referrals from search engines and aggregators. Mr. Philips said he sees that traffic, despite how fleeting it may be, as an incredible opportunity if all those one-time visitors can be compelled to come back a few times more.
Mr. Murdoch perked up when discussing the online potential of The New York Post, which has consistently lost money since he acquired it for a second time in 1993. At a break in the conference, Mr. Murdoch sought out Rebecca Wade, the editor of The Sun, to discuss the results of that day’s Scottish election. For a while, he sat at the back of the ballroom chatting with Mr. Zuckerberg of Facebook, who sat next to him again at dinner. Mr. Murdoch listened closely.
If one thing was clear over the weekend, it was that Mr. Murdoch’s determination to revitalize the news will depend as much on mastering geeky technology as storytelling and layout. Winning The Journal will require other masterful feats like convincing the Bancrofts that the sometimes fractious Murdoch clan will be worthy stewards.
Mr. Murdoch says that if the Bancrofts grant him a meeting, he would like to introduce them to his grown children so they can see the passion they all share for the news business.
Of course, Mr. Murdoch does not exactly see himself as a wizened septuagenarian preparing to hand off his media assets. His wife, Wendi, is 38 years his junior, and they have socialized with the Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his fiancée, Anne Wojcicki. The Murdochs are planning to move into a $44 million penthouse on Fifth Avenue next year. It is the most expensive apartment in New York and was once owned by Laurence Rockefeller; it is another prize that Mr. Murdoch has said he has long coveted.
By every measure, he appears to believe he has plenty of time to get exactly what he wants. As he wrapped up the conference in Monterey last Sunday, he looked out at his employees and said: “You all think I’m too old.” Pausing for a beat, he added: “I think you’re too old.”
At Wall Street Journal, Slim Margins Open Door to Murdoch
Does The Wall Street Journal make money? The question might seem silly. The chronicler of capitalism, the bible of business: of course The Journal turns a profit, right?
Dow Jones & Company, which owns the newspaper, does not break out separate figures for The Journal. But the probable answer, according to analysts and current and former company officials, is yes, The Journal operates in the black, but barely, and maybe not for long.
"I would say The Journal is probably marginally profitable," said John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst based in Silver Spring, Md. "No question they've made some things better in the last couple of years, but there are trouble signs."
Dow Jones is profitable overall, although like many media companies it has been squeezed as readers and advertisers migrate to the Web. But The Journal itself, despite weekday circulation of more than two million, second only to USA Today in the United States, has lagged far behind most major papers in profit margin.
That performance has helped depress the stock price, making Dow Jones an attractive takeover target for Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation, whose bid for the company sent the stock price soaring. (Executives at Dow Jones declined to comment for this article.)
And already, 2007 is looking worse than 2006. Early this year, Dow Jones projected that for the year, The Journal would see an increase in ad revenue in the midsingle digits. Instead, through the first four months of the year, it is down more than 4 percent from the year-earlier period, despite the resources being poured into the Saturday issue and the decision to open up the paper's front page to advertising last fall.
Last week, Lehman Brothers projected a slight decline for the year in ad revenue at Dow Jones's consumer media group, which includes The Journal, Barron's and MarketWatch, with declines at the print Journal wiping out the online gains, and then some.
Murdoch argues that the News Corporation can capitalize on The Journal's strength as a brand, leveraging it for a new Fox business cable channel and pouring more money into its European and Asian editions. The Bancroft family, which owns a controlling share of Dow Jones, opposes Murdoch's bid of $60 a share, although the opposition is based more on philosophical reasons than financial ones.
In part, The Journal's recent struggles can be attributed to its longstanding commitment to high-quality journalism that translates into high costs, and to the particular pressures felt by a business-oriented newspaper.
But they are also the result of some management decisions to expand during the late 1990s boom, high turnover in the paper's ad sales department and recent attempts to broaden the paper's advertising base with the Saturday issue.
The Journal and its Web site account for most of the consumer media group, which makes up about 55 percent of Dow Jones's revenues. As a whole, the group posted a slight operating loss in 2005 and a positive margin of 3 percent last year, despite unusually strong ad sales — and analysts say the margins for the Journal were probably worse.
Yet even in unsettled times, with newspapers unsure of their futures, many still rack up healthy profits. The corporate divisions that include newspapers posted 2006 operating margins of 23.7 percent at the Gannett Company, the nation's largest chain and publisher of USA Today; 18.3 percent at the Tribune Company, which publishes The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times, where editors and publishers have been under pressure to cut costs; and 9.6 percent at The New York Times Company.
In a way, the Journal's troubles are nothing new; Wall Street analysts, big investors and, at times, members of the Bancroft family have complained for more than a generation that it was a brilliant product poorly managed, but boom times made it profitable, anyway. In 1998, the paper added Weekend Journal, a Friday section with softer news and features, and the two years after that, operations were flush as the stock market rose and the technology industry went wild.
But this decade has amplified the industry's troubles, with ad dollars contracting, newsprint and other costs rising, and the decades-long decline in circulation accelerating. And while Sept. 11 marked a turning point at all papers, it hit particularly hard at The Journal, whose headquarters is near the World Trade Center site.
Like many other papers, the Journal has cut costs by shrinking the physical size of the paper, losing about 10 percent of the space devoted to news in early 2007. But it has not been willing to engage in the kind of wholesale staff cuts seen across the industry.
Dow Jones Newswires and The Journal often produce separate coverage of the same events, and Dow Jones executives have argued for reducing that duplication, allowing some reduction in the news staff. The Journal's editors and reporters have strongly resisted such consolidation, often successfully arguing that heavier use of the wires' work would dilute the distinctiveness and quality of The Journal. But many people in The Journal newsroom also say that some consolidation is inevitable.
The Journal has additional challenges, including its heavy dependence on business-to-business advertising, which dropped sharply in the 2001 recession, and never rebounded the way consumer advertising has. In the first four months of this year, technology advertising — a business mainstay — dropped 23 percent, while total advertising volume was down 5.5 percent.
The paper, traditionally published only on weekdays, introduced a Saturday issue in September 2005, hoping to tap deeper into consumer ads and make itself competitive on coverage of news that breaks on Fridays. The company says the Saturday issue is meeting expectations — 60 percent of its advertisers last year were new to The Journal, and 70 percent of the revenue was from consumer ads.
But it is an expensive project because it means filling and printing more papers and requires new delivery arrangements to reach the homes of readers who get The Journal weekdays at work. The Weekend Edition of the Journal may turn out to be a smart long-term strategy — analysts are divided on that question — but for now, it loses money, and will continue to do so for some time. Dow Jones has said that the weekend Journal lowered earnings by about 15 cents a share last year, which translates to a loss of about $12 million.
The Journal's attempts to sell ads have not been helped by the fact that the top advertising position will soon have changed hands five times in eight years, sometimes going to people with little or no newspaper experience.
Ad revenue at the Journal began to improve in late 2005, and in 2006, it rose 8.8 percent, the first full-year increase since 2000. Some of that was because of the Saturday issue, but even the weekday numbers rose.
But in February, the executive in charge of ad sales, Judy Barry, who was well-regarded in the company, resigned. People at Dow Jones who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about internal matters said that she clashed with Richard F. Zannino, who had become Dow Jones's chief executive in February, 2006. Ad revenue has dropped sharply since she left.
Last Thursday, the company put Michael F. Rooney, a career magazine executive, in charge of ad sales, with the new title of chief revenue officer. By the time he takes over next week, the position will have been vacant for three months.
Increasingly, Dow Jones is positioning itself as a digital information supplier whose parts — including newswires and the Factiva archive service — nourish one another and should not be judged singly.
But the domestic edition of the Journal remains by far the largest piece of that puzzle. The Journal is also the only large paper in the country to charge for access to its Web site. With more than 900,000 subscribers, WSJ.com has become an important source of income, but the demand for payment limits the audience it can offer to online advertisers, and the ad rates it can charge.
A former Dow Jones executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of damaging career prospects, said: "I don't think there's much hope of averting a revenue decline this year at The Journal, maybe even the company as a whole, and I wouldn't be surprised if The Journal was operating in the red by year's end."
Reuters Agrees to $17.2B Thomson Takeover
Reuters agreed on Tuesday to a $17.2 billion takeover by Thomson that would vault the combined entity ahead of Bloomberg to become the world's largest financial data and news provider.
The combined company will be headed by Tom Glocer, 47, who is now chief executive of Reuters, and he will be responsible for finding the $500 million in savings the companies are promising to deliver by the third year.
Reuters trustees, who could have vetoed any takeover, endorsed the deal, which is still subject to approval by shareholders and regulators.
"We believe that the formation of Thomson-Reuters marks a watershed in the global information business, and will underpin the strength, integrity and sustainability of Reuters as a global leader in news and financial information for many years to come," said Pehr Gyllenhammar, chairman of the trustees.
Holders of each Reuters Group PLC share traded in London will be paid the equivalent of about $7 in cash and 0.16 shares of Thomson Corp.'s Toronto-listed stock.
The value of the deal is calculated based on Thomson's closing share price of 48.46 Canadian dollars on the Toronto Stock Exchange on May 3, the day before the companies announced they were exploring a combination.
Shareholders of Thomson, formally based in Toronto but with its operational head office in Stamford, Conn., would control more than three quarters of the shares in the new company, Thomson-Reuters PLC.
Woodbridge, the Thomson family holding company which controls roughly 70 percent of Thomson, will own approximately 53 percent of the combined business. Other Thomson shareholders will have 23 percent and Reuters shareholders 24 percent, the companies said.
Reuters and Thomson compete with Bloomberg LP, founded by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, in providing data terminals to the world's major banks and brokerages. Reuters was the market leader for years before steadily losing ground to Bloomberg.
An April report from Inside Market Data Reference said Bloomberg has a 33 percent share of the market, with Reuters holding 23 percent and Thomson 11 percent.
"For Thomson, it is a defining moment in our journey to become the information provider of choice for the world's business and professional markets," said Richard J. Harrington, Thomson's president and chief executive. Harrington, 60, will step down when the merger is completed.
London-based Reuters was born in 1851 when Paul Julius Reuter started sending stock market quotations between London and Paris via the new Calais-Dover cable.
Reuters shares rose 3.1 percent to 624.5 pence ($12.38) on the London Stock Exchange at midday.
The merged companies will have a dual-listed structure.
The renamed Thomson-Reuters will retain current listings on the Toronto Stock Exchange and on the New York Stock Exchange. It also will apply for its ordinary shares to be listed on the London Stock Exchange and intends to apply for its American Depositary Shares to be listed on Nasdaq.
"The companies will be separate legal entities but will be managed and operated as if they were a single economic enterprise," the announcement said. "The boards of the two companies will be identical and the combined business will be managed by a single senior executive management team."
The combined Thomson Financial unit and Reuters financial and media businesses will be called Reuters.
Thomson's professional businesses — legal, tax and accounting, scientific and healthcare — will be branded as Thomson-Reuters Professional.
Clear Channel says Private-Equity Firms Raise Bid by 0.5 Percent
Channel Communications Inc. said Friday the Boston-based private-equity firms trying to buy the radio and advertising company raised their bid by half a percent, in an attempt to defeat strong opposition to the value of their previous offer.
Thomas H. Lee Partners LP and Bain Capital Partners LLC amended their offer to $39.20 per share, up from the $39 per-share bid that Clear Channel’s board rejected as inadequate. The new price values the company at about $19.45 billion.
The firms included a condition that they will pay an undisclosed premium if the deal does not close before Dec. 31. They also granted existing shareholders the option of taking the payment either in cash or as shares in the private company. The agreement limits the number of shares that can be exchanged at a one-to-one ratio to 30.6 million, or about $1.2 billion worth.
Clear Channel’s board approved the amended merger agreement and recommended shareholders vote in favor of the deal. The company canceled a shareholder meeting scheduled for May 22 and will reschedule it once it makes the requisite regulatory and securities filings.
The company delayed an earlier shareholder vote after it became clear the deal did not have enough support to win approval.
Clear Channel is the nation’s largest radio-station operator. It also has a large outdoor advertising unit.
Local News Web Site Postpones Coverage by Reporters in India
A local news Web site's editor who hired two reporters in India to cover suburban Pasadena said he's been so overwhelmed by reaction to his plan that he had to postpone publication of their first stories.
James Macpherson said he hasn't found the time he hoped to train one of his new staffers to cover Monday night's City Council meeting, which is shown live on the Web.
"We've been prevented from doing that due to the attention that we've received," Macpherson said Monday.
He hired the reporters last week and wanted to have posted their stories on pasadenanow.com by now. One based in the Indian financial center of Mumbai will watch the meetings, which often go past midnight, and use the time difference (early morning here is early afternoon in India) to write summaries so readers in the city near Los Angeles can log on Tuesday mornings and find out what happened.
Macpherson said he's working with the reporters on stories he intends to post before next Monday's meeting. As a Pasadena native, he said, he knows the city and its players and will ensure stories written from afar are fair and accurate.
Many newsrooms already are facing job and coverage cuts and Macpherson's plan struck a nerve when The Associated Press first reported its details Thursday.
Since then, Macpherson has spoken with more newspapers, TV and radio stations than he can name and hasn't had time to do interview requests from as far away as Australia and France. Hundreds of responses nearly shut down his e-mail account and vaulted pasadenanow.com from obscurity to a destination for those wondering what was going on.
Reaction has fallen into two camps.
Many within journalism have pilloried the idea of covering local news from half a world away -- or suggested it must be a publicity stunt. As Larry Wilson, editor of the local Pasadena Star-News paper wrote in a column, how could an Indian reporter know whether a council member was joking when he made his remarks?
Others agree with Macpherson, who pointed out that desk-bound reporting is commonplace in an increasingly lean news industry.
One of the skeptics quoted in AP's original story was Bryce Nelson, a University of Southern California journalism professor and Pasadena resident. He said reaction to the story was striking, and not just among reporters.
A reader wrote Nelson remarking that a story about an anti-war march in a Northern California newspaper bore little resemblance to the actual event -- perhaps because the reporter had written the story without being there.
Delivered on Electronic Paper, the Seattle P-I Won't be Your Father's Web Site
The flat, flexible display screen you can roll up and put in your pocket or purse might finally be here. Hearst Corp., owner of the Post-Intelligencer and an investor in the technology, plans to test it in Seattle and elsewhere.
Sometime in the next two years, if Hearst Corp.'s plans work out, a handful of Seattle Post-Intelligencer readers will begin getting their morning news not from the paper on the front stoop or by dropping change in a corner newsbox — or even on their laptop — but from a new electronic newspaper that's displayed on a screen as light and flexible as paper. The screen will be about the size of a small tabloid newspaper, and it will be in color.
The electronic P-I will carry real-time news, same as the Internet, not yesterday's news like traditional papers. Readers will turn the e-paper's pages by touching the flexible screen. And when those readers head off to work, they will roll up the electronic P-I and stuff it in their pocket, purse, or briefcase.
"If you could tell someone, 'We'll deliver your news in a customized way, so that when you wake up at 6 a.m., you'll have 6 a.m. news on the front page, every day,' we think consumers will say, 'Hey, that's pretty darn good,'" said Ken Bronfin, who heads Hearst's interactive division.
With the ink barely dry on a new joint operating agreement (JOA) between Hearst and the Seattle Times Co., which under the agreement prints and distributes both papers, Hearst is planning to field test a version of the long-promised e-paper here in Seattle. Some industry experts think the e-paper will upend the entire newspaper industry. It will most certainly rattle Seattle's media market.
Hearst officials say they hope to begin testing their device with the P-I here and at some other sites where the company has media operations within two years. While the display technology originally was developed to deliver print news, Hearst officials told Crosscut it could also become a flexible, low-cost platform for delivering video or standard Web content. Hearst owns a dozen newspapers, including the P-I, but also 29 television stations, 19 magazines, and numerous Web sites.
"No one has really done what we are planning to do with this," said Bronfin. "This is all clearly new. No consumers have had contact with this."
Tech and media companies have been predicting for years that they are on the verge of unveiling some form of a flexible e-paper that is practical for consumers. But the technology has been slow to evolve and expensive to develop.
Newspapers in Belgium and Germany, and U.S. media companies like The New York Times Co., are working on their own versions of an e-paper. But Hearst's device would be the first to offer a tabloid-sized newspaper on a large, flexible, color screen.
Hearst is not generally known for newspaper innovation, and Bronfin's interactive division has attracted little notice. It operates as both a venture capital and incubator arm for the company's tech investments. Hearst bought a piece of E Ink, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that was spun off from MIT's Media Lab about 10 years ago. E Ink's other owners include Intel, Motorola, and McClatchy Co., the minority owner of The Seattle Times and owner of the Tacoma News Tribune, Tri-City Herald, The Olympian, Bellingham Herald, and Idaho Statesman in Boise.
In addition to heading Hearst Interactive, Bronfin currently chairs E Ink's board. Seattle, he said, "is a great market for trying this out." The city has a large computer-literate population, a built-in test bed for Hearst in the P-I, and competition from The Seattle Times, which would provide a daily comparison for reader acceptance of an electronic P-I.
The e-paper screen uses ordinary reflected light, like regular printed paper, instead of being backlit like a laptop screen. It requires so little power that it can operate for a month or more on flashlight batteries before needing a recharge.
Sony's digital Reader, which it introduced last year and claims to be able to display up to 25 300-page books, already uses the E Ink technology on a hardback platform. Hearst's flexible electronic newspaper would have a similar capacity, Bronfin said.
James McQuivey, television and media analyst for Forrester Research, says the e-paper could be for news readers what the iPod is for music fans. Its extended power life, he says, is "probably the single largest display innovation of this decade." Hearst, McQuivey said, is furthest along in this area of display technology.
But if Hearst tries to give the e-paper full wireless capability — that is, updates the news second by second instead of downloading a page and storing it as an iPod stores downloaded music — the device's power reserve would be cut by as much as 80 percent, McQuivey said.
According to E Ink's Web site, its electronic ink contains millions of microcapsules, each the diameter of a human hair. Each microcapsule contains either positively charged white particles or negatively charged black particles, suspended in a clear fluid. Bronfin calls the chemical mix the device's "secret sauce." A tiny electric charge draws one microcapsule to the surface of the screen and pushes the oppositely charged capsule to the bottom, creating white or black dots that form a printed page. Transistors embedded in the screen alter the charges, changing the page.
The microcapsules can be displayed on a variety of flexible surfaces, including foil, plastic, cloth, or real paper. The whole thing is managed by an embedded microprocessor.
While electronic ink has been around for years, newspapers have been slow to move toward the technology. Traditional newspaper formats are tough to adapt to computer screens, which are small and must be read head-on to avoid distortion. Laptops are heavier and bulkier than ink on paper, and advertisers examining prototypes complain that flexible, colored screens distort or wash out when they are rolled or folded.
Last Sunday, May 13, however, LG.Philips LCD, a Korean display manufacturer, announced that it has solved many of those screen problems. Philips said it has developed a 14.1-inch color screen using E Ink's technology that is thinner than a postcard, has the clarity of a traditional newspaper, and can be bent with no distortion or fade. Philips' Web site shows a worker bending the screen with a color display the width of a small tabloid newspaper.
Hearst said it plans to use Philips display technology for its e-paper experiment. Philips' announcement cited projections by Displaybank, a Korean research firm, that the worldwide market for flexible displays will be $12 billion by 2015.
Hearst's plans to begin testing its e-paper here in the relatively near future could help explain why it elected last month to suddenly settle a four-year legal fight over the JOA with the Seattle Times Co. The two companies announced the settlement April 16, just before they were to enter binding arbitration.
Under the settlement, the Times Co. dropped efforts to end the JOA and shut down the P-I for at least nine years. The Times also agreed to pay Hearst $24 million in exchange for Hearst's promise to drop a claim that the Times managed the JOA in favor of the Times and give up its right under the previous version of the JOA to 32 percent of the Seattle Times Co. profit until 2083 if it is forced to close the P-I.
Both Hearst and Times Co. officials have offered only vague explanations for suddenly settling the dispute after years of costly and often bitter fighting. The agreement's wording, however, permits both companies to engage in "other business ventures and activities" outside the JOA without sharing their revenues. If Hearst is able to deliver an electronic P-I, the Times, which prints, delivers, and markets both papers under the JOA, would be left with an expensive overhead of trucks and printing presses while the P-I would be relatively unencumbered.
"If in the long run Hearst can avoid buying presses, trucks, and gas to deliver the P-I [and can instead do so] in a fashion that is convenient and meets my wants and needs, I'd say it offers a pretty fascinating opportunity," said Randy Beam, an associate professor of communication at the University of Washington. The e-paper technology, said Beam, who specializes in newspaper management and operations, "dramatically cuts the cost of distributing the news."
"It would certainly enhance competition between newspapers and television as distributors of real-time information about things like weather and sports scores," he said.
However, Beam and other industry experts say e-papers won't necessarily fix dwindling newspaper readership, especially among younger readers.
The problem with attracting younger readers, Beam said, lies with newspaper content, not the delivery system. "My big worry," he said, "is that paper companies would look at this technology as just an opportunity to do in the future what they do now, just more cheaply."
Others, like San Francisco-based media investor and consultant Alan Mutter, say media companies like Hearst are focusing on the wrong target. A former newspaper editor who writes the blog Newsosaur, Mutter said readers are already overloaded with electronic gadgets, and newspapers should aim to provide better content on existing devices.
"A specialized device like this that you need to carry along with your cell phone, laptop, pager, and Blackberry is just a non-starter," Mutter said.
But Bronfin said a big attraction of Hearst's e-paper would be its cost — less than an annual subscription to the P-I, which is about $185. That cost could be less if the company chose to incorporate it into a long-term e-paper subscription, the way cell-phone companies do with their hardware.
With a JOA settlement in place, Bronfin said, Hearst might seek Times participation in its e-paper test here. "If relations are good," he said, "the more the merrier."
Bill Yearous, a Seattle Times Co. vice president for information technology, said the company has been closely following the development of E Ink's technology and has experimented with formatting The Seattle Times for Sony's Reader. Philips' flexible-screen technology, Yearous said, is "absolutely amazing." But he said Hearst has not yet approached the Times about testing a flexible-screen delivery system.
"We would consider anything," Yearous said of an e-paper partnership with Hearst.
Magazine Suspends Its Run in History
After more than 50 years American Heritage, the magazine that furnished not just the minds but, in its original hardcover format, the dens of generations of American history buffs, is suspending publication, its editor, Richard F. Snow, said last week.
The bimonthly magazine, which is owned by Forbes Inc., has been for sale since January, and in the absence of a buyer, Mr. Snow said, the publishers have decided to put the next issue, June-July, on indefinite hold. For at least the time being, however, American Heritage will continue to maintain a Web site.
That leaves Mr. Snow and his staff, which has dwindled to four from a dozen, in limbo, where they have been since just before Christmas, when they were informed that the magazine was going on the block. “It’s a little like sailing the Flying Dutchman through the fog,” Mr. Snow said. “On the other hand, I’ve been here for 40 years, so I can’t really bitch about job instability.”
The magazine has always been a bit of an anomaly among American publications.
The circulation is currently 350,000, or as high as it has ever been, and hundreds of those readers can still be reliably counted on to write in arguing about the true causes of the Civil War or, as happened recently, to point out that the author of a World War II article doesn’t know the difference between the M-1 rifle and the M-16, which didn’t come in until Vietnam.
American Heritage was founded in 1954 by James Parton, Oliver Jensen and Joseph J. Thorndike Jr., refugees from Life, who from the beginning broke most of the rules of magazine publishing. They determined not to accept ads, for example — on the ground that there was a “basic incompatibility between the tones of the voice of history and of advertising” — and instead charged a yearly subscription of $10, a figure so steep at the time that readers were allowed to pay it in installments. They also published in clothbound, hardback volumes with full-color paintings mounted on the front.
The format was an instant hit with readers, who instead of tossing back issues often shelved them in their bookcases, but it initially confounded the United States Post Office, which decreed that American Heritage could use neither the book rate nor the periodical one. That ruling was eventually overturned, but not until the magazine had almost bankrupted itself by paying for parcel post.
The first editor of American Heritage was Bruce Catton, a Civil War historian who wrote in the inaugural issue in December 1954 that “the faith that moves us is, quite simply, the belief that our heritage is best understood by a study of the things that the ordinary folk of America have done and thought and dreamed since first they began to live here.” In the beginning, at least, that meant a fair amount of WASPy nostalgia and a steady ration of stories about the Civil War. That inaugural issue, for example, includes a piece about a Union general who was falsely accused of treason in 1862, as well as articles about the country store, the Fall River steamship line and a lament by Cleveland Amory about the decline of New York men’s clubs.
Mr. Snow, 59, went to work in the American Heritage mailroom in 1965, when Columbia University insisted he take a little time off, and joined the staff full time when he finally graduated, in 1970. He has been there ever since, and in 1990 he became the magazine’s sixth editor, succeeding Byron Dobell.
Either he was a perfect fit to begin with, or over the years he has taken on many of the characteristics of his workplace, for he now closely resembles his own magazine. He is quite youthful looking, on one hand (probably because he is one of those people who mature early and then never change), and a little old-fashioned on the other. He speaks in perfectly turned paragraphs and may be the last person left in New York to unself-consciously use “indeed” as an exclamation.
He favors gray suits and sweater vests, his telephone manners are impeccable, and he has a bubbling, high-pitched voice that turns a simple “hello” into something that resembles the opening bar of a Broadway show tune. Like his magazine he has an almost insatiable curiosity and is particularly expert on the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, not to mention Coney Island amusement rides at the turn of the last century.
Mr. Snow has been at American Heritage long enough that he can remember when it was an empire in the mid-’60s, employing 400 people, with the magazine as a flagship for what was in effect a publishing company selling books, many of them by some of America’s best-known popular historians, by direct mail. He was managing editor in 1980, when the magazine ceased publishing in hardback (except for subscribers who wanted to shell out extra for what Mr. Snow now calls a “padded, leatheroid edition”), and in 1982 when, bowing to economic necessity, it began soliciting ads.
“We all felt very bad about taking advertising,” Mr. Snow recalled. “But it had the odd effect of making us feel we were in touch with the world. There was a sense of a living connection to a process that was actually sort of fun — or at least it was fun while we were getting ads.”
American Heritage remained more driven by circulation than by ads, however. According to Scott Masterson, a senior vice president at Forbes and president of American Heritage, the magazine was losing money when Forbes bought it in 1986 and then bounced back for a while. But in the late ’90s, Mr. Masterson said, it failed to reap the kind of profits that many magazines did, and after 2001 it experienced the same downturn that afflicted the magazine business in general and had trouble recovering.
Part of the problem was the Internet, Mr. Snow said. “We’re really a general interest magazine,” he said. “We don’t play to a history buff in any narrow sense — like the Civil War re-enactors, for example. They can go on the Web and get thousands and thousands of hits.”
Three years ago Mr. Snow and Mr. Masterson decided to embrace the magazine’s aging readership and rejiggered American Heritage to appeal more specifically to baby boomers, mostly publishing articles about things that had happened in their lifetime. The formula was an editorial success, Mr. Snow said, yielding articles like one that appeared in the February-March issue about the Wrecking Crew, an unheralded studio band that played on many hit records in the ’60s and ’70s. But it failed to provide the hoped-for bump on the business end. “Forbes has been very, very patient,” he said. “but basically they’ve been carrying us for a while.”
Over lunch recently at Keens — another venerable New York institution, decorated with old clay pipes and playbills and where he pointed out, for the sake of accuracy, that the famed mutton chop is really lamb — Mr. Snow lamented that the next issue of American Heritage might never get into print.
“We’re just about finished with the issue, and we have a particularly fine piece by Teller, the nontalking half of the Penn and Teller team,” he said. “It’s a superb piece of writing, an essay about a fellow named David Abbott, who was a great American magician.”
Mr. Snow added, “You know, some issues are better than others, but I don’t think there’s been a single one where anything really bored me.”
He said he was still unsure about his own fate, but if need be he could go back to writing historical novels. “I’ve written four,” he said. “Two were loathed by everyone who read them, but two actually got published.” And no matter what happens, he has worked out a crucial point of his severance: He gets to keep his Royal manual typewriter.
“That was the typewriter I was assigned in 1970, and it will follow me to the grave,” he said, and he added: “I wish this were more a sign of granitic stability, but in fact it’s a sign of my computer incompetence. I use it just to type labels, but it works beautifully. Every year someone comes in and cleans it. I don’t think he’s paid by Forbes. He’s some spectral presence who just turns up.”
Internet Giants Vie to Snap Up Web Ad Firms
It’s a good time to be an Internet advertising company.
In the struggle for advantage in the digital advertising boom, companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL are rapidly acquiring once-obscure firms, sometimes for eye-popping prices. The payoff, they hope, will be in the relationships and technology that can deliver the right ad to the right person at the right time across myriad online sites.
The struggle reached new heights yesterday when Microsoft agreed to buy the online advertising company aQuantive for about $6 billion. It is Microsoft’s largest acquisition ever and a sign of its struggle to build an Internet ad business on its own.
The purchase caps a month of intense deal making, ignited when Google agreed to buy DoubleClick, a competitor of aQuantive, for $3.1 billion, outbidding Microsoft. Since then, all of Google’s main competitors have snapped up online advertising specialists.
Underlying the deals, which total more than $10.5 billion, is a transformation of the advertising world away from traditional media like television, radio and print.
“We’ve reached a tipping point,” said Bryan Wiener, chief executive of 360i, a search marketing company based in New York. “It’s not just talk anymore. The flood of dollars online is starting to accelerate to match the amount of time we spend online.”
Online ads accounted for 5.8 percent of the $285 billion spent on advertising in the United States in 2006, according to eMarketer, a research firm. It estimates that the online share will rise to 10.2 percent by 2010.
In the first quarter of this year, AT&T spent $79 million on online image-based advertising, compared with $55.6 million in the quarter a year ago, according to Nielsen/NetRatings Ad Relevance. The Ford Motor Company increased its purchases to $29 million in the period, from $7 million a year earlier.
As those dollars move online, the big Internet companies see a chance to capture an ever-larger portion of the ad business, and they are seeking to expand.
Until recently, for instance, Google was largely focused on selling small text ads that appear alongside its search results and on other Web sites. Microsoft and Yahoo have sought a piece of that business and have sold ads on their own Web portals, which attract hundreds of millions of users each month.
Now, the large Internet companies all want to become intermediaries between advertisers and the millions of Web sites that have fragmented the online audience. And they are hoping to help deliver ads to online video games, cellphones and Internet television services.
“This is about the opportunity,” said Kevin Johnson, president of Microsoft’s platforms and services division. “We believe that there are tens of billions of dollars in economic value that can be generated in this industry, and we are committed to getting a bigger share of it.”
Analysts say that strengthening its online advertising business is particularly critical for Microsoft, not only because the company has lagged behind competitors like Google and Yahoo, but also because a major technological shift risks eroding the company’s core software business.
Google, which leads the online advertising world, is among those trying to make inroads into Microsoft’s traditional software business by offering word processing, spreadsheets and other software free.
Microsoft has “a strategic need to get into advertising in a big way and to protect the castle against the Google onslaught,” said Todd Dagres, founder and general partner of Spark Capital, a venture capital firm in Boston.
So far, Microsoft’s online advertising efforts have been a mixed bag. Seeking to compete more effectively with Google and Yahoo, Microsoft made a major investment in building a search engine and a technology system to deliver ads on it. Despite that effort, Microsoft’s share of the online search audience has declined steadily, making it harder to persuade advertisers to use the system.
“To effectively compete with the likes of Google and Yahoo, Microsoft needs to have a large base of advertisers,” said Anthony Noto, an analyst with Goldman Sachs. Mr. Noto said that Google had more than 500,000 advertisers and Yahoo about 300,000, while Microsoft has only a small fraction of that. “As long as that gap exists, they will have an inferior ability to monetize their own product,” Mr. Noto said.
Now aQuantive, which is based in Seattle, will bring many advertisers to Microsoft — and more.
The company has three business units, including Atlas, which like DoubleClick sells tools to advertisers and Web publishers that select and deliver the ads that appear on any given Web page when a user clicks on it. The so-called ad-serving technology, for which aQuantive charges a fee, uses data collected across the Web to figure out which ads are likely to be relevant to a particular user.
For example, when a user visits a news Web site, an ad server might deliver an ad from a marketer that is trying to reach the typical reader of the site. Even more valuable, it might make a match between the marketer’s target audience and typical readers of a news article on a particular subject.
The technology also uses the data to help Web publishers earn the most for the ad space available on their sites. That could also help Microsoft get more from the ads that appear on its own Internet portal.
Additionally, the DRIVEpm unit of aQuantive brings to Microsoft an advertising network that buys ad space from online publishers and sells it to advertisers. Both units would give Microsoft a greater role in brokering and selling ads outside of its own Web portal, MSN.
It is that same ambition that explains the recent wave of deals by other Internet companies. In addition to Google’s purchase of DoubleClick, Yahoo recently bought the 80 percent of Right Media that it did not already own for $680 million. The company operates an auction marketplace in which advertisers and publishers buy and sell online advertising space in real time.
This week, AOL bought Third Screen Media, which operates an ad network for mobile phones, and Adtech, an online advertising firm in Germany. AOL was the first Internet portal to buy a major advertising network, Advertising.com, in 2004.
“We early on saw the value of a big owned and operated portal, plus a large third-party network,” said Michael J. Kelly, president of AOL Media Networks.
The recent deals are also blurring the lines between the big Internet companies and traditional advertising companies like the Omnicom Group, WPP Group and Publicis Groupe, potentially bringing them into conflict.
On Thursday, the WPP Group bought 24/7 Real Media, another DoubleClick competitor, for $649 million, to compete better with Internet companies.
And in aQuantive, Microsoft is also getting the Avenue A/Razorfish unit, a leading interactive agency that helps marketers plan advertising campaigns, design ads and place those ads on Web sites either directly or by taking part in ad networks and exchanges.
This is “a watershed week for advertising in general,” said Rich LeFurgy, a former Madison Avenue executive who is an online advertising consultant and investor. “The boundary between ad agencies and ad media has been breached at the highest level. That’s never happened before.”
To understand how hot the market for online advertising technology has become, consider aQuantive’s stock price, which opened the year at about $25 a share. The company’s shares jumped when Google said it would buy DoubleClick for what many analysts thought was a steep price. Microsoft ultimately offered $66.50 a share in cash for aQuantive, an 85 percent premium over its closing price Thursday. Shares of aQuantive soared 78 percent yesterday, to $63.79.
Microsoft said the bidding for aQuantive was competitive, but would not say which other companies were interested in acquiring it. But having been outbid by Google for DoubleClick, Microsoft may have believed it could not afford to let this deal get away.
“They weren’t going to lose this process,” said a person close to the transaction. “That’s why they paid the price they did.” The conversations between Microsoft and aQuantive “got serious after the Google-DoubleClick deal was announced,” this person said.
Microsoft said the acquisition would require antitrust review.
The software giant has asked regulators to scrutinize the Google-DoubleClick deal, which it said would reduce competition. But Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said during a conference call with analysts that Microsoft and aQuantive were complementary businesses and that their union would promote competition.
The pursuit of online advertising businesses has not gone unnoticed by venture capitalists, who are financing a new generation of ad-focused start-up companies.
In 2006, these investors put $372 million into companies involved in Internet marketing services, according to the National Venture Capital Association, an industry trade group. That was the highest annual figure since 2000.
Carl Eibl, a managing director at Enterprise Partners Venture Capital, a San Diego firm, said there was a sense of urgency among entrepreneurs and investors to start companies based on Internet advertising and marketing and to develop them quickly. “There’s a race to critical mass and a race to position,” he said.
In that respect, he said investors view the recent spate of acquisitions as “heartening but also sobering.”
“The key acquisitions are happening right now,” he said.
Matt Richtel, Steve Lohr and Eric Pfanner contributed reporting.
Online Invitation to ‘Help Yourself’ Surprises the Stuff’s Owner
The offer had sure seemed strange. Then again, it appeared on Craigslist, the online marketplace that has made its name by upending conventional classified advertising.
“House being demolished,” read the posting on March 24. “Come and take whatever you want, nothing is off limits. Items outside and garage will be open for access into house. Please help yourself to anything on property at 1202 East 64th Street. Tacoma.”
Within a week, the unoccupied house at that address in Tacoma, Wash., had been picked clean. Living room window? Gone. Water heater? Gone. Kitchen sink? Naturally.
And the homeowner? Laurie Raye was stunned.
Now the matter has moved from Craigslist to Superior Court, where Ms. Ray’s niece, Nichole Marie Blackwell, 28, is to appear next week to face charges of burglary, malicious mischief and criminal impersonation. Investigators said they had traced the fraudulent advertisement to a computer Ms. Blackwell had previously used to post other times on Craigslist.
“Blackwell said that she had disliked the victim for years and was upset because the victim had evicted her mother from the house in question without letting her mother get her possessions,” said a document filed last week by the Pierce County prosecutor.
“On March 24, 2007, she drove by the house and noticed the garage was open,” the document continued. “Blackwell and her mother entered the garage and took items that belonged to her mother. Blackwell then returned home and was angry at the victim for how she was treating family members and posted the ad.”
Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive for Craigslist, said users had flagged the ad as inappropriate within hours of its posting. “Apparently it’s a family feud,” Mr. Buckmaster said.
The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller
WHEN Shana Kelly, a literary agent at the William Morris Agency, submitted Curtis Sittenfeld’s first novel, “Cipher,” to book publishers in 2003, she had high expectations. She contacted nearly two dozen high-ranking editors at major publishers, expecting every one to make offers for her client’s coming-of-age story set at a boarding school.
Within weeks, though, most editors had passed. “They loved it but weren’t sure they could sell a lot of copies, because they couldn’t figure out how to market it,” Ms. Kelly said. In the end, Random House was the only publisher to make an offer, giving Ms. Sittenfeld a $40,000 advance.
Random House published “Cipher” in January 2005, renaming it “Prep” and backing it with a clever marketing and publicity campaign. But the initial print run was just 13,000 copies — not enough to generate added royalties on the $40,000 advance.
“Prep” proceeded to confound all expectations by making the New York Times best-seller list a month after publication. The hardcover, with a cover price of $21.95, eventually sold more than 133,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, which captures about 70 percent of sales. The paperback also became a best seller, selling 329,000 copies to date. Foreign rights have been sold for publication in 25 languages, and Paramount has optioned the movie rights.
The book was buoyed by favorable press and word of mouth. But other books receive similar attention and go nowhere, so why was “Prep” so successful? Conversely, what causes a book that was all the rage at auction time to fall flat at bookstores?
Brian DeFiore, a literary agent, asks: “Is it the cover? The title? The buzz wasn’t there? Timing? It wasn’t that good?”
The answer is that no one really knows. “It’s an accidental profession, most of the time,” said William Strachan, editor in chief at Carroll & Graf Publishers. “If you had the key, you’d be very wealthy. Nobody has the key.”
The hunt for the key has been much more extensive in other industries, which have made a point of using new technology to gain a better understanding of their customers. Television stations have created online forums for viewers and may use the information there to make programming decisions. Game developers solicit input from users through virtual communities over the Internet. Airlines and hotels have developed increasingly sophisticated databases of customers.
Publishers, by contrast, put up Web sites where, in some cases, readers can sign up for announcements of new titles. But information rarely flows the other way — from readers back to the editors.
“We need much more of a direct relationship with our readers,” said Susan Rabiner, an agent and a former editorial director. Bloggers have a much more interactive relationship with their readers than publishers do, she said. “Before Amazon, we didn’t even know what people thought of the books,” she said.
Most in the industry seem to see consumer taste as a mystery that is inevitable and even appealing, akin to the uncontrollable highs and lows of falling in love or gambling. Publishing employees tend to be liberal arts graduates who enter the field with a starting salary around $30,000. Compensation is not tied to sales performance. “The people who go into it don’t do it for the money, which might explain why it’s such a bad business,” Mr. Strachan said.
Eric Simonoff, a literary agent at Janklow & Nesbit Associates, said that whenever he discusses the book industry with people in other industries, “they’re stunned because it’s so unpredictable, because the profit margins are so small, the cycles are so incredibly long, and because of the almost total lack of market research.”
Publishers do engage in limited numbers crunching. In estimating value, editors rely heavily on an author’s previous sales or on sales of similar titles. Based on those figures and some analysis — about the popularity of the genre, the likely audience, the possible newsworthiness of the topic of the economy — they work up profit and loss projections.
The advance payment to the author is often an estimate of the first year’s royalties, usually 10 percent to 15 percent of expected sales. The advance is a liability for the publisher because it is a fixed cost. It doesn’t have to be repaid by the author if it turns out to be an overestimate, which it usually is. But when earned royalties exceed the advance amount, the author is paid more.
Calculating the advance accurately would be a prized skill, but no editors claim to have a scientific handle on how a book will sell. Instead, they emphasize the role of intuition and say that while big unexpected losses and gains do happen, somehow it all works out.
But results are not spectacular, for an industry that had $34.6 billion in net revenue in 2005. Net profit margins hover in the mid-single digits for the $14 billion trade segment, which covers adult, juvenile and mass market titles, with an estimated 70 percent of titles in the red.
Sales in the trade segment (which includes both fiction and nonfiction) grew 5 percent in 2005 from the previous year, but year-over-year sales growth is expected to decline to less than 2 percent by 2010, according to book industry trade group data. The industry does follow trends to pursue growth, but when it comes to acquisitions, methods have not changed much in hundreds of years, says Al Greco, a professor of marketing at Fordham University.
IT’S the way this business has run since 1640,” he says. That is when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies. “It was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run. And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot,” Professor Greco said.
There is a “business model” that supports this risk-taking. As Mr. Strachan puts it, “Lightning does strike.”
And so it must. To make money, the industry depends on perennial sellers and on best sellers. It’s not so much the almost sure-fire best sellers by the well-known authors, because those cost so much to acquire and market, but the surprise best sellers. Those include books like “Prep,” “The Nanny Diaries” (bought for $25,000, it sold more than four million copies), “Marley and Me” (bought for $200,000, sold 2.5 million copies) and “The Secret” (bought for less than $250,000, sold 5.25 million copies in less than six months).
“They’re the ones we all hope and pray happen to us one day,” says Judith Curr, the publisher of Atria Books, which printed “The Secret,” a self-help book that explains “the law of attraction.”
After seeing the movie version of “The Secret,” which existed before the book, Ms. Curr estimated that the planned book could sell a million copies. Based on what? “Just a feeling,” she said. She described it as a tingling that went up her spine.
All of the major houses have also lost on big bets. One of the highest advances ever paid was more than $8 million for a proposal that became “Thirteen Moons,” the second novel by Charles Frazier. He is the author of “Cold Mountain,” which sold 1.6 million copies in hardcover.
Random House printed 750,000 copies of “Thirteen Moons” for the hardcover release in October. The book became a best seller, but it has sold only 240,000 copies so far, according to Nielsen BookScan. That would account for less than $1 million of earned royalties, under standard contract terms. The paperback will be out next month, further diminishing hopes of selling out even the initial hardcover print run.
“It’s guesswork,” says Bill Thomas, editor in chief of Doubleday Broadway. “The whole thing is educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. You just try to make sure your upside mistakes make up for your downside mistakes.”
Downside mistakes are more risky when they come with higher advances. These result from bidding wars or when a house decides that a project is so special it is worth acquiring at nearly any cost.
“On rare occasions, you love it, bypass the numbers crunching, do back of the envelope in your head, call the agent and get in early and offer half a million,” Mr. Thomas says. That can lead to auction fever.
“That’s often when the business model of this industry falls to pieces,” Mr. DeFiore, the agent, says. “Because publishing houses are paying high six and even seven figures in hopes those books will turn into the megahits they need, but some will and some won’t, so those big bets are dangerous.”
In the case of hardcovers, a few books that the publishers think have best-seller potential are promoted with generous marketing and publicity campaigns. Others are considered long shots, with anticipated sales of maybe a few thousand copies. Most are considered midlist, with respectable sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies, Mr. Greco says, but not breakout sales.
Titles can shift categories unexpectedly. “Nobody in publishing is smart enough to know which of the big books will be fiascos, which of the little books will be successes and which in the middle might go up or down,” Mr. Thomas says.
There are two ways for a book to become a best seller. One is to make it on to a best-seller list by selling many copies in a week. Other books sell steadily over months and years, eventually outselling many official best sellers. “Unanswered Cries,” a true-crime book by Tom French, was acquired in 1989 by St. Martin’s for $30,000. It now has 400,000 copies in print in paperback and sold at least 31,000 copies last year alone.
These older titles are crucial to profits because marketing and acquisition costs have usually already been recouped. Yet publishers focus much more attention on the hardcover release. As they prepare to introduce a book, any combination of timing, packaging, marketing and other factors could help ignite the mysterious spark that leads to best-sellerdom.
Contributing to the success of “The Secret,” for example, could be any or all of the following: the subject, the title, the initial DVD release, the marketing campaign, the power of the Internet, “Oprah” and the latest trend.
But “The Secret” is only the most recent book of its type. “Many people have spent lots of money trying to publish the book ‘The Secret’ has become,” says Susan Petersen Kennedy, president of the Penguin Group. “A lot of books are just like that that haven’t worked.”
The same uncertainty surrounded “Prep.” When Ms. Sittenfeld was writing the novel, she recalled, colleagues said, “The boarding school book has already been written. Why are you doing it again?”
But after it became a best seller, Ms. Sittenfeld said, she heard the opposite: “Of course it did well! It’s a boarding school book!”
The publisher of “Prep” attributes the success, in addition to the story, to a catchy title and book cover and creative marketing and publicity. A team of four publicists made belts that matched the cover for giveaways, and sent splashy gift bags (holding pink and green flip-flops, the belt, notebooks, lip gloss) with the galleys to magazines. The pitch letter included photocopies of the publicists’ own high school yearbook photos.
“It got attention, and we started getting calls wanting more and more galleys,” says Jynne Martin, one of the publicists.
An impressive lineup of press coverage followed. The book ended up with coveted crossover market appeal: in addition to young women, the book was read by adolescents, more mature readers and males, according to anecdotal evidence. Information about readers is often anecdotal because publishers argue that market research would be too expensive, or too difficult to pull off because one book is so different from the next.
“Some of the best and most interesting books have something contrarian that does surprise and delight. says Susan Weinberg, publisher of PublicAffairs.
TAKE the surprise of “Skinny Bitch,” a diet book by Rory Freedman, a former modeling agent, and Kim Barnouin, a former model. “The voice is funny, tough love, no nonsense,” the authors’ agent, Talia Rosenblatt Cohen, said. But the authors were largely unknown and advocate a vegan lifestyle. “Everyone kept saying, ‘No platform!’ and ‘Vegan!’ ” Ms. Rosenblatt Cohen said.
The book sold to Running Press in Philadelphia for barely over five figures and has not received much mainstream press since its publication 16 months ago. Word traveled among vegans and college students, however, and it became a Los Angeles Times best seller. More than 100,000 copies are now in print, and the authors have signed a deal for two more books with Running Press for “well into the six figures.”
Some experts wonder if book publishers might uncover more books like this if they tried harder to find out more about their buyers and what they want.
“The Newspaper Association of America has a staggering amount of data on people who read newspapers. The book business has, basically, nothing,” said Professor Greco. “They’re not going into the marketplace and doing mall intercepts and asking people, as they leave the bookstore, ‘What did you buy? Did you find what you’re looking for? What motivated you to choose that book?’ ”
An exception is the consumer research gathered by the Romance Writers of America, a writers’ association that publishes a regular market study of romance readers. It reports survey information on, for example, demographics, what respondents are reading, where they are getting the books and how often, and what kind of covers attract them. Romance authors and publicists use the information to create promotional campaigns.
Most publishers, though, continue to gather data on sales and not much else, though past performance is certainly no guarantee of future results, even from the same author.
After “Prep” became a best seller, Random House signed a two-book deal with Ms. Sittenfeld for a multiple of her $40,000 “Prep” advance that she would not reveal.
Her second coming-of-age novel, “The Man of My Dreams,” was published last May, and again the advance payment and sales haven’t matched up. According to Nielsen BookScan, “The Man of My Dreams” has sold 36,000 copies in hardcover and 6,000 in paperback.
Ms. Sittenfeld says she is reminded of something she heard from an editor: “People think publishing is a business, but it’s a casino.”
Editors’ note: The editor of the Sunday Business section is under contract to Random House and did not edit this article.
An Author’s Nightmare
“You should sue your publisher.”
Those attention-getting words were uttered by a man who was invariably referred to as “the grand old man of Chicago book dealers.” That, rather than “hello,” was his greeting when my co-author and I once entered his shop.
His place had the familiar scent of a real old-fashioned bookstore for book lovers, enhanced by carpeting and the traditional brass bell that tinkled as you opened the door.
“I ordered 50 copies of ‘Cavett,’ H.B.J. sent me nine copies, and I sold them all that morning,” he said. He was referring to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, our publisher. “It’s three weeks now that I can’t get any more copies out of your publisher. People come in for it every day. Do you have a good lawyer?”
How could this be? How could they not send the books?
It was Christmas buying time, the book had made The New York Times best-seller list, and Chris Porterfield and I were in Chicago doing a media blitz. We did the Donahue show (then in Chicago), and Irv Kupcinet’s show and Studs Terkel’s and made numerous other Chicago radio and TV appearances. How could the book not be in a popular bookstore? Any comfort from thinking maybe this was an isolated case quickly dissolved. “And the Kroch-Brentano chain of stores,” he said, emphasizing the word “chain,” “can’t get it either.”
He told us where to find one of those stores, and we went there. “Nice to see you,” said the department clerk. “It’d be even nicer to see your book. People are driving us crazy.”
(If this were a ’40s movie, the picture would start to undulate, and the music would tell us we’re going back in time.)
Authors telling me similar stories began to play back in my head, but not having been an author when I’d heard them, I’d paid scant attention. Some had been famous people, but some not so famous. The typical author might have been a guy who spent three years writing a book in his humble apartment while his wife taught night school to make ends, if not meet, come into closer proximity. Then suddenly, delight: The book got good reviews. But the publisher did the typical poor job of distributing it, and still another potential best-seller was strangled in its cradle by the incompetence of the publishing house. People with such stories often said, “Nobody knew my name, of course. This wouldn’t happen to you.” (Ha!)
(Screen becomes wavy again and we are back at the “Cavett”-free book counter.)
I felt the vein at the left of my forehead begin to pulsate — a sign my staff would watch for during taping of a show. It was an infallible indication that I was getting irritated by a guest.
“May I use your phone?” I asked the nice clerk. I called H.B.J. and asked to speak to Mr. Jovanich, the tall, erudite, handsome head of the company who had urged and encouraged and wined and dined me, ultimately seducing me into doing a book. The seduction included long, pleasant, chatty lunches with him at Lutece, an elegant (et très cher) French eating joint. Lunch included fine wines selected knowledgeably by my host. Mostly we dined alone, but once we were favored by the presence of the elegant, witty and still knock-out-beautiful Paulette Goddard. (We aren’t in Nebraska anymore, Toto, I thought.) All boded well for the book.
“Hello, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.”
“Bill Jovanovich please.”
“Mr. Jovanovich isn’t in.”
(Temple throb increases.) “Where is he?”
“He’s in Europe, I’m afraid”
“Don’t be afraid. Where in Europe?”
“I’m afr… I believe he’s traveling right now.”
“Who’s running the store while he’s gone?”
“The president of H.B.J.”
“Let me have him.”
“He’s at the Yale Club right now.”
“Are you equipped to reach him there and put him on the line with me?”
“Is this an emergency?”
(Our camera cuts to the Yale Club locker room. Men in and out of towels parading about.)
Attendant: “Locker room.”
“Mr. [I cannot recall his name] please.”
“He’s in the steam room.”
“Get him out.”
(A suspenseful pause.)
(The President of H.B.J., presumably holding his towel in place with his free hand): “Hello, who’s this?”
“Dick Cavett. In Chicago. I’m in a Kroch-Brentano store. They’ve all been out of ‘Cavett’ for weeks. What the hell is the excuse for this? Are you not allegedly a professional enterprise?”
At that moment, a nice lady came to the book counter and asked for … you guessed it … “Cavett” and registered disappointment. I put her on the phone, saying, “Tell this man your problem.”
She: “I haven’t been able to find Mr. Cavett’s book anywhere in Chicago. I’m going to have to buy Lawrence Welk’s book instead.”
Me (taking the phone): “How fast can you get the books here?”
(I forget what he said, but it was unsatisfactory.)
“What about overnight air express?”
“Yes, Dick [the pointed way of saying one’s name by the annoyed]. That would be expensive.”
“As expensive as not selling the book for three weeks?
“Before you return to the comforts of the steam room, I’ll make this easy for you. If the books aren’t here by tomorrow morning, I’ll cancel the Dinah Shore Show, the Carson Show, the Today Show and all the rest of this so-called selling tour and come home. Your hapless company has one book on the best-seller list and you can’t manage to distribute the goddamn thing. You must be very proud.”
(I hung up, as loudly as possible this side of breakage.)
The books winged their way to the Windy City the next morning, worth their weight in air express fees. I did the other shows, the book sold pretty well despite H.B.J.’s best efforts, and life resumed.
It was in telling this tale to Calvin Trillin that I learned of his ongoing project, “An Anthology of Authors’ Atrocity Stories About Publishers.” Even if he got a publisher and the book came in at under 60 pounds, they’d fail to get it to the stores. That practice, I’ve been told ever since my battle of Chicago, continues, like Bush’s war, to this day.
My friend and prolific writer of books Roger Welsch, who made overalls chic on “CBS Sunday Morning” over the years with his “Postcard from Nebraska” (which Johnny Carson told me was the only “must see” on his personal televiewing list), recently was asked to do a book signing — a semi-pleasant aspect of book promoting. The author sits in a bookstore framed by stacks of his work and signs them for chatty purchasers. Roger said he got slicked up and drove a good distance to Grand Island, Neb. He entered the bookstore and became a bit uneasy, because nothing resembling a crowd was in evidence. In fact, nothing resembling even a person was there, except for the lady who ran the place. “How nice of you to come!” she effused and went and got the store’s copy of his book from the window for him to sign. He drove home.
When asked to sign now, he asks politely if “book” is plural.
Apple Snags 10 Percent of U.S. Retail Notebook Sales in March
Apple Inc.'s line of MacBook and MacBook Pro notebooks combined for nearly 10 percent of all notebook sales at U.S.-based retail stores during the month of March, while sales of iMacs also helped the Mac maker rank amongst the top five desktop manufacturers for the first time this year, according to just-released data from NPD Group.
US retail notebook sales
For the month of March, Apple placed fourth on NPD's list of top selling retail notebook vendors with a 9.9 percent share, ahead of of Compaq's 8.5 percent share but behind Gateway's 13.0 percent share. Toshiba topped the list -- which omits manufacturers like Dell who only sell direct. -- by grabbing 26.2 percent of the market, followed by HP at 23.9 percent.
The 9.9 percent notebook share garnered by Apple is up from February, when it did not place in the top five, but down from January, when it registered a 10.1 percent share of U.S. retail notebook sales.
US retail desktop sales
Meanwhile, the Mac maker broke into NPD's list of top five U.S.-based retail desktop vendors for the first time this year, seizing a 7.7 percent unit share. The list, which does not include Dell, was topped by HP with an even 35 percent slice of the market. HP was followed by Compaq (16.7 percent), Gateway (16.6 percent), and Emachines (16.4 percent).
SanDisk chips away at iPod retail share
Over in the digital media player space, Apple in March saw continued erosion of its share of the retail segment at the hands of rival SanDisk. For the month, Apple held onto a 68.9 percent share, down from 72.3 percent in February and 72.7 percent in January. SanDisk appears to be the primary beneficiary of the iPod maker's lost share, with its slice of the retail media player market rising from 8.9 percent in January, to 9.7 percent in February, and 11.2 percent in March.
Rounding out the top five digital media player retail vendors for the month of March was Creative with a 3.6 percent share (up from 2.7 percent in February), Microsoft with a 2.5 percent share (no change), and Samsung with a 2.2 percent share (down from 2.5 percent in February).
Microsoft Says Vista Sales at Nearly 40 Million
Microsoft Corp. has sold nearly 40 million Windows Vista licenses in the first 100 days that the latest version of the operating system has been available, Chairman Bill Gates said on Tuesday.
Gates said an accelerating consumer shift to digital lifestyles had helped make the operating system the fastest-selling in history, and that premium editions have accounted for 78 percent of Vista sales.
"I'm really thrilled at how this has come together," said Gates during a speech at Microsoft's Windows Hardware Engineering Conference 2007 in Los Angeles.
Windows operating systems run on more than 95 percent of the world's computers and represent the Redmond, Washington-based company's biggest profit driver.
Vista, which Microsoft introduced on January 30, also marks the first major operating system upgrade in more than five years from the world's biggest software maker.
Gates said Windows Vista allows many niche-oriented PC functions to move into the mainstream, from Web cameras to various home remote-controlled items.
Gates also said that the company named its next-generation Windows Server software -- formerly known as "Longhorn" -- Windows Server 2008.
Windows Server is the server operating system equivalent to the Vista PC operating system, with an emphasis on many of the same features, such as better security.
Microsoft, which controlled an estimated two-thirds of the global server software market in 2006, has said the product is on track to debut in the second half of 2007.
Gates said Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 will provide a platform for hardware innovations and drive increased demand for a wide range of new PCs and devices.
He cited a study by research group IDC that projects there will be a $120 billion economic impact from product and services revolving around Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.
The company also said three new hardware manufacturers -- Gateway Inc. (GTW.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Lacie and Medion -- plan to build products for Windows Home Server.
That software is aimed at helping families with multiple PCs easily centralize, share and protect digital content, such as pictures, music, documents and videos.
Microsoft shares were up 7 cents at $30.94 in afternoon Nasdaq trading.
Microsoft to Sell $1b in Software to Lenovo
China's largest PC maker says the purchase advances goal of protecting intellectual property worldwide.
Lenovo Group Ltd. has signed a deal with Microsoft Corp. to buy Windows, Office and other software suites for its personal computers in a deal worth as much as $1.3 billion.
The agreement emulates one inked in 2006, worth $1.2 billion over one year, to pre-install Microsoft's Windows operating system software on Lenovo's computers, deemed a major step in China's efforts to combat piracy.
A Beijing-based spokesman for China's largest PC maker said on Thursday that the framework agreement, encompassing this fiscal year, had been signed on Wednesday in the United States.
"Our projection is the price tag could be as much as $1.3 billion for this fiscal year," the spokesman said. "Last year's agreement was executed very well."
Both firms hoped to advance "one of the most important goals of international business: the protection of intellectual property," Lenovo senior vice president Chen Shaopeng, who attended the signing ceremony, said in a statement on Thursday.
In November 2005, Lenovo became the first personal computer manufacturer to pre-install Windows on all of its product lines for the Chinese market.
The move followed a Chinese government decree that required all PCs made in China to have licensed operating software installed before leaving the factory, as part of Beijing's efforts to crack down on piracy.
Details of the 2007 purchasing agreement would be finalised later, the Beijing-based spokesman said.
Lenovo now sells pre-installed Microsoft software on computers sold in more than 65 countries around the world.
Microsoft and Lenovo last month announced they would build a joint research and development innovation centre in China, marking Microsoft's first such endeavor with an OEM partner, it said.
The centre will focus on technologies for the China market and concentrate on mobile devices and ways to build products on top of Microsoft's software, it said.
Lenovo -- one of several Chinese companies trying to craft an international brand -- commands a dominant market share in Asia excluding Japan but faces fierce competition from Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard elsewhere.
The Chinese firm is now vying with Taiwan's Acer Inc. for the mantle of world's third-largest PC manufacturer, tracking behind Hewlett-Packard and Dell.
Lenovo has also been grappling with expenses arising from layoffs and corporate streamlining after its $1.25 billion purchase of IBM's PC arm in 2005.
Lenovo's shares fell 0.7 percent to HK$2.91 on Thursday, broadly in line with the main market's 0.5 percent dip. The stock has gained more than 5 percent over the last year.
Microsoft Takes on the Free World
Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe. Fortune's Roger Parloff reports.
Free software is great, and corporate America loves it. It's often high-quality stuff that can be downloaded free off the Internet and then copied at will. It's versatile - it can be customized to perform almost any large-scale computing task - and it's blessedly crash-resistant.
A broad community of developers, from individuals to large companies like IBM, is constantly working to improve it and introduce new features. No wonder the business world has embraced it so enthusiastically: More than half the companies in the Fortune 500 are thought to be using the free operating system Linux in their data centers.
But now there's a shadow hanging over Linux and other free software, and it's being cast by Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500). The Redmond behemoth asserts that one reason free software is of such high quality is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft's patents. And as a mature company facing unfavorable market trends and fearsome competitors like Google (Charts, Fortune 500), Microsoft is pulling no punches: It wants royalties. If the company gets its way, free software won't be free anymore.
The conflict pits Microsoft and its dogged CEO, Steve Ballmer, against the "free world" - people who believe software is pure knowledge. The leader of that faction is Richard Matthew Stallman, a computer visionary with the look and the intransigence of an Old Testament prophet.
Caught in the middle are big corporate Linux users like Wal-Mart, AIG, and Goldman Sachs. Free-worlders say that if Microsoft prevails, the whole quirky ecosystem that produced Linux and other free and open-source software (FOSS) will be undermined.
Microsoft counters that it is a matter of principle. "We live in a world where we honor, and support the honoring of, intellectual property," says Ballmer in an interview. FOSS patrons are going to have to "play by the same rules as the rest of the business," he insists. "What's fair is fair."
Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez sat down with Fortune recently to map out their strategy for getting FOSS users to pay royalties. Revealing the precise figure for the first time, they state that FOSS infringes on no fewer than 235 Microsoft patents.
It's a breathtaking number. (By comparison, for instance, Verizon's (Charts, Fortune 500) patent suit against Vonage (Charts), which now threatens to bankrupt the latter, was based on just seven patents, of which only three were found to be infringing.) "This is not a case of some accidental, unknowing infringement," Gutierrez asserts. "There is an overwhelming number of patents being infringed."
The free world appears to be uncowed by Microsoft's claims. Its master legal strategist is Eben Moglen, longtime counsel to the Free Software Foundation and the head of the Software Freedom Law Center, which counsels FOSS projects on how to protect themselves from patent aggression. (He's also a professor on leave from Columbia Law School, where he teaches cyberlaw and the history of political economy.)
Moglen contends that software is a mathematical algorithm and, as such, not patentable. (The Supreme Court has never expressly ruled on the question.) In any case, the fact that Microsoft might possess many relevant patents doesn't impress him. "Numbers aren't where the action is," he says. "The action is in very tight qualitative analysis of individual situations." Patents can be invalidated in court on numerous grounds, he observes. Others can easily be "invented around." Still others might be valid, yet not infringed under the particular circumstances.
Moglen's hand got stronger just last month when the Supreme Court stated in a unanimous opinion that patents have been issued too readily for the past two decades, and lots are probably invalid. For a variety of technical reasons, many dispassionate observers suspect that software patents are especially vulnerable to court challenge.
Furthermore, FOSS has powerful corporate patrons and allies. In 2005, six of them - IBM (Charts, Fortune 500), Sony, Philips, Novell, Red Hat (Charts) and NEC - set up the Open Invention Network to acquire a portfolio of patents that might pose problems for companies like Microsoft, which are known to pose a patent threat to Linux.
So if Microsoft ever sued Linux distributor Red Hat for patent infringement, for instance, OIN might sue Microsoft in retaliation, trying to enjoin distribution of Windows. It's a cold war, and what keeps the peace is the threat of mutually assured destruction: patent Armageddon - an unending series of suits and countersuits that would hobble the industry and its customers.
"It's a tinderbox," Moglen says. "As the commercial confrontation between [free software] and software-that's-a-product becomes more fierce, patent law's going to be the terrain on which a big piece of the war's going to be fought. Waterloo is here somewhere."
Brad Smith, 48, became Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel in 2002, the year the company settled most of its U.S. antitrust litigation. A strawberry-blond Princeton graduate with a law degree from Columbia, Smith is a polished, thoughtful and credible advocate whom some have described as the face of the kinder, gentler, post-monopoly Microsoft. But that's not really an apt description of Smith; he projects intensity, determination, a hint of Ivy League hauteur, and ambition.
We're sitting at a circular table in Smith's office in Building 34 on the Redmond campus, with a view of rolling green lawns splashed with pink-blossomed plum trees. In the 1970s and 1980s, Smith recounts, software companies relied mainly on "trade secrets" doctrine and copyright law to protect their products. Patents weren't a big factor, since most lawyers assumed that software wasn't patentable.
But in the 1990s, all that changed. Courts were interpreting copyright law to provide less protection to software than companies had hoped, while trade-secrets doctrine was becoming unworkable because the demands of a networked world required that "the secret" - the program's source code - be revealed to ever more sets of eyes.
At the same time courts began signaling that software could be patented after all. (A copyright is typically obtained on an entire computer program. It prohibits exact duplication of the code but may not bar less literal copying. Patents are obtained on innovative ways of doing things, and thus a single program might implicate hundreds of them.)
In response, companies began stocking up on software patents, with traditional hardware outfits like IBM leading the way, since they already had staffs of patent attorneys working at their engineers' elbows. Microsoft lagged far behind.
As with the Internet, though, Microsoft came late to the party, then crashed it with a vengeance. In 2002, the year Smith became general counsel, the company applied for 1,411 patents. By 2004 it had more than doubled that number, submitting 3,780.
In 2003, Microsoft executives sat down to assess what the company should do with all those patents. There were three choices. First, it could do nothing, effectively donating them to the development community. Obviously that "wasn't very attractive in terms of our shareholders," Smith says.
Alternatively, it could start suing other companies to stop them from using its patents. That was a nonstarter too, Smith says: "It was going to get in the way of everything we were trying to accomplish in terms of [improving] our connections with other companies, the promotion of interoperability, the desires of customers."
So Microsoft took the third choice, which was to begin licensing its patents to other companies in exchange for either royalties or access to their patents (a "cross-licensing" deal). In December 2003, Microsoft's new licensing unit opened for business, and soon the company had signed cross-licensing pacts with such tech firms as Sun, Toshiba, SAP and Siemens.
At the same time, Smith was having Microsoft's lawyers figure out how many of its patents were being infringed by free and open-source software. Gutierrez refuses to identify specific patents or explain how they're being infringed, lest FOSS advocates start filing challenges to them.
But he does break down the total number allegedly violated - 235 - into categories. He says that the Linux kernel - the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware - violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces - essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up - run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68.
Now that Microsoft had identified the infringements, it could try to seek royalties. But from whom? FOSS isn't made by a company but by a loose-knit community of hundreds of individuals and companies. One possibility was to approach the big commercial Linux distributors like Red Hat and Novell that give away the software but sell subscription support services. However, distributors were prohibited from paying patent royalties by something whose very existence may surprise many readers: FOSS's own licensing terms.
Author of Linux Patent Study Says Ballmer Got It Wrong
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said he wasn't really saying that Linux violates more than 200 software patents, Microsoft followed up by saying Ballmer was only citing findings from a controversial study done this summer by OSRM (Open Source Risk Management), a risk-mitigation consultancy.
The study claimed that Linux has been found to potentially violate 283 software patents. The author of that report, however, doesn't see things the way Ballmer does at all.
"Microsoft is up to its usual FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt]," said Dan Ravicher, author of the study Microsoft cites, who is an attorney and executive director of PUBPAT (the Public Patent Foundation).
"Open source faces no more, if not less, legal risk than proprietary software. The market needs to understand that the study Microsoft is citing actually proves the opposite of what they claim it does."
"There is no reason to believe that GNU/Linux has any greater risk of infringing patents than Windows, Unix-based or any other functionally similar operating system. Why? Because patents are infringed by specific structures that accomplish specific functionality," Ravicher said.
"Patents don't care how the infringing article is distributed, be it under an open-source license, a proprietary license or not at all. Therefore, if a patent infringes on Linux, it probably also infringes on Unix, Windows, etc.," he said.
It makes no difference whether and how software is distributed, Ravicher said. "The bottom line is there's no reason to believe that Windows, Solaris, AIX or any other functionally similar operating system has any less risk of infringing patents than Linux does."
"Ballmer makes a very bold statement by saying Linux infringes hundreds of patents," Ravicher said. "That is extremely different than saying 'Linux potentially infringes X patent,' because the requirement to prove infringement is much more difficult than the requirement to simply file a case claiming infringement. As the SCO saga shows, filing a case based on an allegation is one thing; proving the merits of the allegation in court is something completely different."
Speaking Thursday at the Microsoft-sponsored Asian Government Leaders summit in Singapore, Ballmer said, "There was a report out this summer by an open-source group that highlighted that Linux violates over 228 patents. Someday, for all countries that are entering WTO [the World Trade Organization], somebody will come and look for money to pay for the patent rights for that intellectual property. So, the licensing costs are less clear than people think today."
In fact, the study said Linux potentially violates 283 software patents, not "over 228" as Ballmer said in his speech.
But Ravicher said Ballmer misinterpreted his study's findings. "He misconstrues the point of the OSRM study, which found that Linux potentially, not definitely, infringes 283 untested patents, while not infringing a single court-validated patent."
"The point of the study was actually to eliminate the FUD about Linux's alleged legal problems by attaching a quantifiable measure versus the speculation," he said. "And the number we found, to anyone familiar with this issue, is so
The study shows that when it comes to software, open-source varieties face fewer patent threats than proprietary ones, Ravicher said. "If one believes the proof is in the pudding, open-source software has much less to worry about from patents than proprietary software."
"Consider this—not a single open-source software program has ever been sued for patent infringement, much less been found to infringe. On the contrary, proprietary software, like Windows, is sued and found guilty of patent infringement quite frequently."
These include the patent battle over Eolas Technologies' browser technology and the recent settlement between Eastman Kodak Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. over Kodak's patent being infringed by Java.
Ravicher wasn't the only open-source leader to take offense at Ballmer's comments.
"At OSDL, we have a lot of confidence in the robustness of Linux around IP, patents and copyright," said Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL (Open Source Development Laboratory), the home organization of Linux creator Linus Torvalds.
"Some of the world's largest vendors share our view and are willing to stand behind Linux to protect their customers, as are we," Cohen said. "HP offers its Linux customers indemnification. So do Red Hat and Novell. Both Novell and IBM have publicly promised to use their extensive patent portfolios to protect Linux customers."
Cohen said OSDL has set up a $10 million legal defense fund for Linux customers. "With Linux adoption growing three times faster on the server than any other operating system, customers are clearly not intimidated by FUD and are continuing to embrace Linux," he said.
Cohen said none of the challengers to Linux has specified where the platform may be overstepping its bounds.
"Over the past 18 months, a handful of companies and individuals who are threatened by Linux's success have tried to argue that Linux may infringe others' software patents. We find it interesting that none of those companies or individuals have said which patents Linux may offend.
"Yet patents are, by their nature, public; inventions must be disclosed in exchange for the rights granted by the PTO [the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office]. Detractors of Linux on patent grounds should be asked to point to the specific patents that they claim infringe."
Torvalds and Moglen Agree: MS Patent Claims are 'FUD'
After reading portions of the Fortune Magazine story which contains the latest sabre rattling by Microsoft in its battle against free software, we asked Linus Torvalds, father of the Linux kernel, if he had any comment on Microsoft's claims that the kernel knowingly infringes on 42 Microsoft patents.
Can you get a list of which ones? Before that, it's just FUD, and there's not a whole lot I can say or do. Is there prior art? Are they trivial and obvious to one skilled in the art? Would we need to work around them? We don't know, because all I've heard so far is just FUD.
If MS actually _wanted_ us to not infringe their patents, they'd tell us. Since they don't, that must mean that they actually prefer the FUD.
While Torvalds and Free Software Foundation legal counsel Eben Moglen don't always see eye to eye, they seem to be in harmony on this issue. Moglen said last week at the Red Hat Summit in San Diego that the threat of lawsuits is often more effective than actually suing, because if you sue you have to stipulate which patents are being infringed and show that the patents are good.
Students May Get Recycled Computers
Some students in the Northwest school district don’t have computers at home, but administrators hope that will change soon.
The district has decided to do something different this year with the surplus computers that are “retiring” from service on their regular five-year replacement cycle: give them to students who need them at home.
Jerry Ashton, director of technology for the district, said the idea came from Superintendent Karen Rue. Ashton said he did some research to find out if the Texas Education Code even allowed giving students computers, which it does.
“The idea was to get computers in the houses of the kiddos who otherwise couldn’t get them,” Ashton said.
Rue said the five-year-old computers have become obsolete for the district’s purposes but will be valuable for students who don’t have a computer at home now.
“These computers may not have market value, but they have kid value,” she said.
Knowing that there are more homes without computers than computers available, each campus principals selected students they knew did not have computers at home or potentially did not have computers. Each campus submitted names of students they felt could best benefit from having a computer at home.
A total of 375 flyers were sent home with the selected students to explain the program to parents and ask if they were interested in receiving the free computers.
Administrators are hoping for a successful turnout to the computer pick up Saturday, May 12, and again on June 2. Next year, Ashton estimates that more than 1,000 computers will be available according to the replacement cycle.
All of the hard drives have been reformatted so it contains no district information. Each computer will also include a free set of software which will include a word processing application, a photo manipulation application and a few games along with a Linux operating system. The district does not provide Internet access, at least not yet.
“That is in the long-range technology plan,” Ashton said. “The goal is to offer a discounted rate for NISD students. We’ve just started putting together those details.”
In the past, the surplus computers were put up for bid. Ashton said the district usually received little if any money for the computers, sometimes “pennies on the dollar for scrap.” Some companies charged to haul off the computers.
Response to the program has been positive, Ashton said.
“We’ve had a couple of parents call us and thank us,” he said. “Some see it as something the child has won. Those who have called have been very grateful.”
Some surplus computers will also be used for a new type of summer technology camp for students, Ashton said.
“In the past we’ve taught certain software titles, but this year, we are teaching how to assemble and disassemble a computer and load software. The goal is to include this as an after-school program. We hope to get kids excited about technology,” he said.
TiVo Awarded Patent For Password That Is So Hard To Guess It Will Outlive Your Hard Drive
TiVo’s dust up with Dish may get all of the ink love, but in reality, it represents a very small part of their patent portfolio. Between their trademark filings, their patent applications and their aggressive open market acquisitions, TiVo has managed to build a very impressive intellectual property portfolio around their technology. They haven’t always had the cash to defend this moat, but with damages from TiVo’s potential patent award against Dish, now up to $130 million it could free up a lot of cash to go after other infringers, if Dish loses their appeal.
Some of TiVo’s patents have obvious applications and some of them are really held more for defensive purposes, but it’s the bizarre ones that I find most interesting and on Tuesday, TiVo was issued a patent for a method of locking down hard drives, that involves creating a password, that is so hard to guess, it would take longer than the expected life of your hard drive for someone to crack. According to the patent document, the method is described as the following.
“An authentication system for securing information within a disk drive to be read and written to only by a specific host computer such that it is difficult or impossible to access the drive by any system other than a designated host is disclosed. While the invention is similar in intent to a password scheme, it significantly more secure. The invention thus provides a secure environment for important information stored within a disk drive. The information can only be accessed by a host if the host can respond to random challenges asked by the disk drive. The host’s responses are generated using a cryptography chip processing a specific algorithm. This technique allows the disk drive and the host to communicate using a coded security system where attempts to break the code and choose the correct password take longer to learn than the useful life of the disk drive itself.”
At first the whole thing seems pretty silly to me, but when I think about it, I see two ways that TiVo could take this technology.
The Glass Half Empty - It’s pretty clear that the studios don’t like consumers having control over their our content. When TiVo first introduced TiVo to Go, there were rumblings that Hollywood would sue them over it. Since than, this rhetoric has turned out to be nothing but empty threats. Nonetheless, TiVo was forced to make compromises. When it comes to HDTV, the studios have drawn a line in the sand and consider it sacred. They will not allow consumers to take HDTV content to go (even though we have fair use rights to what we’ve paid for ) Is it that TiVo is in a shakedown with the studios and has implemented these protections to make sure you can’t just unplug your external drive and give it to your friends or is this the secret sauce behind the DRM that prevents you from taking Amazon movies and watching it on an iPod? When it comes to these issues, TiVo has been forced to walk a fine line between pleasing their customers and keeping the studios off their backs and while there are certaininly a wide variety of ways that you could use this technology, it could also be abused in the wrong hands.
The Glass Half Full - From the very start, security has been a big focus for TiVo. They want their customers to be safe. From the get go, they knew that they had to build a network where people didn’t have to worry about pop up viruses. You hear a lot about different hacks on TiVo, but you never hear about anyone actually being able to hack into TiVo’s internal systems, so that they can take control of other people’s DMRs. A secure connection between a consumer and TiVo is not just essential for their customer’s privacy, but it’s a requirement for allowing TiVo to utilize transaction related advertising. There will always be mischief makers who want to wreck havoc on a system, but if you can lockdown the content, it will go a long way towards preventing people from doing damage.
I think that this is a very creative patent, but in all honesty, I don’t know enough about the Technology behind this patent, to have any idea of what this could really be used for. The real answer probably lies in a grey area that exists outside either explanation. Given TiVo’s history of standing up for consumer rights, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Security on a DMR is just as important as security on a computer and my non-technical guesstimate is, that this patent represents technology that was implemented a long time ago. It’s kind of a quirky idea, but I’ve come to expect nothing less from the people who reinvented television.
TiVo, Disclosure - I own stock in co. mentioned, VOD, TV, Technology.
This really has nothing to do with security, at least the kind of security that benefits TiVo owners. The only conceivable attack it might prevent is someone breaking into your home, opening up your DVR, and stealing the hard drive while leaving the rest of the $600 machine behind.
If you prevent me from accessing the hard drive I paid for, inside a box I own, that doesn’t benefit me. It might benefit TiVo, who wants me to buy new features from them instead of installing them myself. Or it might benefit Big Content, who wants me to buy shows on DVD instead of archiving my own recordings. But it sure doesn’t do anything for me.
Hard drive/Blu-Ray combo
1000GB Blu-ray Recorder Announced By Hitachi
Hitachi has revealed a 1 Terrabyte Blu-ray recorder at the Harvey Norman retail conference being held at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
Hitachi is set to launch a 1000GB Blu-ray recorder. The product that was shown at the Harvey Norman Conference being held at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre. According to Hitachi Australia the device will go on sale in 2008 for around $2,000.
'Racetrack' Memory Could Gallop Past the Hard Disk
An experimental breakthrough that could dramatically increase the capacity, speed and reliability of computer hard drives has been announced by an international team of physicists.
Guido Meier at the University of Hamburg in Germany and colleagues used nanosecond pulses of electric current to push magnetic regions along a wire at 110 metres per second - a hundred times faster than was previously possible.
By contrast, today's hard drives rely on the much slower spinning motion of a disk to move magnetic regions - and the data encoded by these regions - past a component that can change or "read" this magnetic information.
"If you want to make a hard drive, operating speed is an important factor," says Meier. "The idea is also to get rid of the mechanical parts, so there's much less wear and tear, and devices can become more robust."
The idea of moving magnetically-stored data electronically has been touted before. Stuart Parkin at IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California, patented a similar concept called a magnetic "racetrack" in 2004.
Round the bend
In his device, a U-shaped magnetic nanowire is embedded into a silicon chip. Magnetic domains are then moved along the wire by pulses of polarised current, and are read by fixed sensors arranged in the silicon itself.
According to IBM, this type of magnetic memory could vastly simplify computers, and eventually replace all hard-disk drives. However, previous experiments have disappointed, producing speeds up to a thousand times slower than predicted.
"Our results showed the movement of domains cannot be predicted with certainty as they get stuck on imperfections in the crystal," says Meier. "We believe this is why previous attempts were relatively slow as they used longer electric current pulses – up to microseconds long – increasing their chances of getting stuck."
By switching powerful magnetic fields on and off, the researchers were able to rapidly create magnetic domains in a wire less than a micron wide made of permalloy - a magnetic material made of iron and nickel that is often found in disk drives.
These regions contains many magnetic atoms all aligned in the same direction and are separated by domain walls – thin regions where the atoms change their magnetic orientation from one alignment to the other. These can then be moved using much shorter nanoscale pulses.
A powerful x-ray microscope, capable of resolving features as small as 15 nanometres, was then used to read this information by snapping images of domain walls before and after the nanosecond current pulses. Future hard drives could store data by designating a domain wall to be a binary one, while its absence could be interpreted as a binary zero, the researchers say.
However, there are still problems that need to be overcome before the technique could be used more widely. In particular, small crystal imperfections in the wire impede progress, slowing down some domain walls and stopping others altogether.
"The question is can we fabricate media that are perfect or control the imperfections," says Peter Fischer, a team member at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California. Meier believes that using different materials and changing the shape of the wire could help avoid these issues.
Holographics Set to Feed a Market Hungry for Data Backup
It has taken 40 years, but our insatiable appetite for data has finally led to holograms for storage - if you've got the cash
Could magnetic tapes, hard drives and optical disc formats like Blu-ray be replaced by a data storage format that uses holograms? The world's first commercial holographic storage system is launched this autumn, with the product able to store the equivalent of 64 DVD movies on a disc about the size of a CD.
Holographic storage has been talked about since the 1960s, but it's taken more than 40 years for technology to catch up.
InPhase Technologies, based in Longmont, Colorado, is the latest company to get behind holographic storage. InPhase has spent 13 years developing materials, systems and processes. Its first products - marketed under the Tapestry brand - will be a 600GB write-once disc and a drive.
Wolfgang Schlichting, a research director at IDC, the analysis group, says: "The biggest challenge was developing the media. There was a lot of work on complex crystalline rewritable media, but the success of CD-R showed that write-once media could succeed, so then there was a switch to photopolymer materials. The cost and complexity of the optics has also decreased - you're now talking of technology that's similar to a digital camera."
The increasing demand for data storage makes it necessary to look beyond conventional forms of storage technology, such as optical discs or magnetic tape. The storage capacity of optical discs has increased over successive generations, from CD-Roms, which store around 700MB of data, to DVDs (18GB), and now next-gen formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD, which each hold upwards of 25GB. And there are plans for even larger capacity discs.
But despite this, optical disc technology has struggled to keep up with our insatiable appetite for data. That's why many archival systems still use magnetic tape, which offers large storage capacities at a cost-effective price. However, tape has its problems. Wlondek Mischke, director of research at technology company DaTARIUS, says: "Magnetic tape is very difficult to handle and very expensive [and] is waiting for something to replace it. Holographic storage could be the one."
But how successful will holographics be? Jim Porter, president of market research company Disk/Trend, says: "Any holographic storage system will have to be reliable, easy to use and be sold at a price that is considered by prospective buyers to be appropriate for the application."
The first holographic products are certainly not mass-market - a 600GB disc will cost around $180 (£90), and the drive costs about $18,000. Potential users include banks, libraries, government agencies and corporations.
Kevin Curtis, InPhase's chief technology officer, says: "Very large companies are showing the most interest, which is interesting, because large companies tend to be technology laggards. The amount of data they're getting through is becoming unmanageable." However, Bill Foster of consultancy Understanding & Solutions, says: "Tape technology is well established. It will be difficult to sweep aside."
What's more, tape technology is still evolving. Last year, IBM and Fuji Photo Film showed that it was possible to pack data on to magnetic tape with a density of 6.67bn bits per square inch - or 15 times the data density of standard tape. And magnetic hard disk capacity is also increasing thanks to perpendicular recording.
Nor does holographic storage look like replacing optical disc formats any time soon. "Any storage system with the capability to supersede today's optical discs will have to have rewritable versions and be offered at more attractive prices. Holographic products will not reach these objectives in the foreseeable future," says Porter. Jean-Paul Eekhout, TDK's corporate strategy director, adds: "Holographic storage will be complementary to formats like Blu-ray. It's more a B2B [business-to-business] technology and will find a place in the archival market. But I don't expect holographics in its current shape or form to cross over to the commercial market."
Even InPhase acknowledges that we are unlikely to see pre-recorded videos on holographic discs for a long time - if ever. "We're not looking at [packaged] content," admits Curtis. Conventional optical discs and drives are cheaper to produce and there is a huge hardware and software infrastructure based around them.
But Walden says: "We believe the technology lends itself to both business and consumer applications. Almost every company involved in optical storage is also looking at holographics as a potential candidate for the next generation of optical disc." IDC thinks that by 2011, the holographics drive market will worth around $200m globally, a small portion of the multibillion-dollar data storage market.
David Mercer, principal analyst at research group StrategyAnalytics, says: "The challenges will revolve around production economics and industry standards, and these alone are likely to delay the emergence of significant consumer volume opportunities."
Mercer believes holographic technology will play some role in storage devices aimed at consumer applications, such as content archiving and creation, but adds that: "It will be more challenging to develop a video distribution and publishing standard around holography, as this will involve the coordination of interests in content ownership and protection, device manufacturers and others. By the time these pieces fall into place, video distribution will have migrated to some degree towards online models so the need for a physical media platform may be in doubt."
Indeed, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates thinks that formats such as Blu-ray and HD-DVD represent the last generation of physical video formats, with future generations downloading videos on demand.
But Foster says that holographic storage might stand a better chance at challenging another storage medium - flash memory. "Holographic storage doesn't have to be on a disc - it can also be on solid state medium," he says. So perhaps holographic storage's day has finally come.
• How holograms work
The source material (such as a photographic image or video footage) is encoded with error correction and channel data, but instead of the encoding being carried out on a bit-by-bit basis (as with say, CD or DVD), around 1m bits are generated at one time, which are recorded as a single page. The process uses light from a single laser split into two - a signal beam, which carries the data, and a reference beam. Where the two beams intersect, the interference pattern (hologram) is recorded within a photosensitive storage medium. Note "within" - because holographic storage is a 3D process that uses the entire recording layer and not just the surface of the medium.
The data is recorded throughout the depth of the media uniformly, and multiple pages of information can be recorded in the same volume by changing the angle of one of the two beams. To read the data, a reference beam with the same characteristics used during the recording process is shone on to the holographic disc and the deflected beam is read by a digital camera detector.
Holographic storage offers extremely fast data transfer rates - currently up to 160Mbit/sec, though there are plans to increase this.
An alternative system uses micro-holograms to record discrete recording layers, like a multi-layer DVD.
Liz Murphy, of InPhase, says: "You only have one opportunity to introduce a product and there's so much anticipation about this. We want holographic storage to be successful."
House Dems: Broadband Isn't Broadband Unless it's 2Mbps
Saying that the FCC "has not kept pace with the times or the technology," Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) opened a hearing today into the FCC's methods for measuring broadband availability in the US. The US lags in speed, availability, and value, said Markey, compared to a country like Japan, where most residents can pay $30 a month for 50Mbps fiber connections to the Internet (which some senators would like to see migrate across the Pacific). But without accurate data on US broadband, neither the government nor private industry will be able to put forward a comprehensive national broadband plan.
Problems with the FCC's broadband data collection methodology have been well-known for years, and Congress is finally poised to step in and tell the agency how to fix the problem. The Broadband Census of America Act, currently in draft form, asks the FCC to increase its broadband threshold speed from 200Kbps to 2Mbps and to stop claiming that a ZIP code has broadband access if even a single resident in that ZIP code does. It also asks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to prepare a map for the web that will show all this data in a searchable, consumer-friendly format.
The mood among the members of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet was jovial; Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) even opened by asking (in reference to the proposed map), "Why do maps never win at poker?" The answer: "Because they always fold." Groan.
Is 2Mbps the answer?
"More broadband" is one of those issues that every politician supports, and everyone agrees that the current system has problems, but there was still wrangling over important details. The most contentious of these was whether the government should mandate a definition for "high-speed Internet." Right now, that definition includes any connection over 200Kbps, which Markey wants to boost more than 10 times. 2Mbps is faster than many current DSL links, so part of the reasoning behind this change appears to have a public relations focus—telecommunications companies will want to boost their offerings to over 2Mbps in order to avoid the stigma of not providing "true" broadband.
The plan went over well with the consumer advocates who appeared before the subcommittee. Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America, said that the US is "stuck with a twentieth century Internet" and that he would support increasing the "broadband" definition to 2Mbps. Ben Scott of Free Press echoed that sentiment, suggesting that the definition needs to be an evolving standard that increases over time, which is in contrast to the current FCC definition; it has not changed in nine years. "We have always been limited by the FCC's inadequate and flawed data," he said.
Those from the industries that provide Internet connectivity were less thrilled about the approach, arguing that 768Kbps DSL lines in rural areas might not be speedy today but still remained a massive improvement over dial-up speeds and should still be counted. One proposal, made by several speakers, was summed up well by Steve Largent of the CTIA, which represents wireless telephone companies. He suggested that the FCC keep the current threshold at 200Kbps but provide more granularity so that users can see exactly which speed tiers are available in their neighborhoods. Many new broadband subscriptions are currently coming from wireless connections, which would nearly all be excluded under any definition that set a baseline of 2Mbps. Largent also stressed the need, acute in his industry, for more spectrum to deliver services, and he asked that the FCC's upcoming 700 MHz auction occur on schedule.
Kyle McSlarrow, who heads the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (and who was yesterday calling for a vastly reduced FCC), said that his group supported the goals of the subcommittee, but that the government must act cautiously in attempting to translate broadband data into a grand national strategy. "It's not like the marketplace isn't addressing consumer demand," pointing out that Comcast recently demoed 100Mbps cable technology.
The representatives appeared most interested in the testimony of Brian Mefford, CEO of ConnectKentucky. ConnectKentucky is a public/private partnership that has boosted broadband availability from 60 percent to more than 90 percent in just two and a half years and used mapping techniques to identify current gaps in service. Once those were discovered, the group helped to create a regulatory environment that encouraged private investment, then partnered with companies on a market-driven approach to rolling out new lines, even in rural areas. 80 percent of the funding came from state and federal government agencies, while 20 percent was put up by the companies involved. By the end of this year, 100 percent of Kentucky homes should be able to access broadband of at least 768Kbps.
No such public/private partnership exists on the national level, but Markey and others appeared greatly interested in Mefford's testimony, suggesting that a similar scheme could be introduced to Congress in the future. Such a plan had the support of several industry leaders, including Walter McCormick, head of the US Telecom Association, who would no doubt love to see federal money and support for extending services into low-profit regions.
The FCC, the whipping boy at the hearing, has heard enough of the criticism that it has started to take a hard look at its data collection policy, but major changes have yet to be introduced.
Cisco Routers Caused Major Outage in Japan: Report
Cisco routers were the source of a major outage May 15 in an NTT network in Japan, according to an investment firm bulletin.
Between 2,000 and 4,000 Cisco routers went down for about 7 hours in the NTT East network after a switchover to backup routes triggered the routers to rewrite routing tables, according to a bulletin from CIBC World Markets. The outage disconnected millions of broadband Internet users across most of eastern Japan.
Cisco says it could not say which specific router models were involved.
"Cisco is working closely with NTT East to identify the specific cause of the outage and help prevent future occurrences,” a Cisco spokesman said in an e-mailed reply. “At this time, Cisco and NTT have not determined the specific cause of the problem."
NTT East and NTT West, both group companies of Japanese telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT), are in the process of finalizing their decisions on a core router upgrade, according to the report.
The routing table rewrite overflowed the routing tables and caused the routers’ forwarding process to fail, the CIBC report states.
“Clearly, this failure doesn't reflect well on (Cisco) and at the very least highlights the need for two vendors,” states CIBC analyst Ittai Kidron in the report. Kidron states that NTT West is evaluating Juniper core routers while East evaluates the Cisco platforms.
“That said, we don't expect the failure at NTT East to influence its decision with respect to its choice of core router vendor,” Kidron states in the bulletin. “In fact, as router capacity was partly responsible for the failure, it is possible the outage could accelerate NTT's transition to Cisco's newer core router, the CRS-1.”
NTT was one of the initial testers of the CRS-1 when the product was launched three years ago.
“We don't believe the decisions would change based on this event,” Kidron concluded. “Juniper still remains a leading contender at NTT West and Cisco at NTT East.”
Symantec False Positive Cripples Thousands of Chinese PCs
A signature update to Symantec's anti-virus software crippled thousands of Chinese PCs Friday when the security software took two critical Windows .dll files for malware.
According to numerous blog entries from Chinese computer users, a virus signature database seeded yesterday mistook two system files of a Chinese edition of Windows XP SP2 as a Trojan horse which Symantec dubs "Backdoor.Haxdoor." The anti-virus software -- Norton AntiVirus, for example, or the anti-virus component of the Norton 360 or Norton Internet Security suites -- then quarantined the netapi32.dll and lsasrv.dll files.
"With these files removed, Windows XP will no longer start up, and even the system Safe Mode no longer functions," said one user writing to the alt.comp.anti-virus newsgroup this morning.
Late Friday, China time, the Chinese Internet Security Response Team (CISRT) posted an alert on its English-language blog. "It's a terrible day for lots of Chinese users (especially Enterprise Users) who use Norton products today," CISRT said. "This issue has made a huge effection to Chinese people." Other reports claimed that more than 7,000 users had already contacted Rising Antivirus, a Chinese security company, asked for help on how they could recover their PCs. On Rising's home page, its threat gauge was rated at red late Friday, the highest ranking this year.
In an e-mailed statement, Symantec acknowledged the signature update bug and said it re-released a new update late Thursday, U.S. time. The Cupertino, Calif.-based security vendor also said that only Simplified Chinese versions of Windows XP SP2 that have been patched with a Microsoft fix from November 2006 were impacted.
If the PC hasn't been rebooted, users can grab the revised signature update to fix the problem, said Symantec. But if Windows was restarted after the flawed update, the user has a much harder row to hoe. Because the bad signature update removed the two .dll files, Windows won't boot -- it ends in a Blue Screen of Death, said CISRT -- and so there's no way to retrieve the new signature or to restore from a backup.
"Customers impacted by this issue following reboot of an affected system can return their system(s) to the previous state through use of the Windows recovery console," Symantec said. XP's recovery console is a command line-driven tool that gives limited access to the PC and its hard drive. Users writing on online forums recommended users copy the two .dll files from their Windows restore CD to the hard drive.
A likely snafu in that scenario, however, is that many Chinese users don't have a restore CD because they're running pirated copies of Windows.
"Norton this time has made a very serious mistake," the Chinese-language Sogou news site said [translation by Babelfish -- eds.].
"All the main news channel in China has reported this since 6 in the morning ECT +8, but symantec keeps silence," someone identified as "Ink" said on the Wilders Security Forum.
Other anti-virus companies have gone through similar fiascos. In March, users blamed Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Live OneCare for deleting Outlook e-mail files, although the company denied that the security service was at fault. More than two years ago, Trend Micro Inc. distributed a flawed virus definition file that slowed thousands of PCs to a crawl. Three months later, the anti-virus vendor said that the incident had run up $8.2 million in direct costs to the company.
Hackers Hijack Windows Update's Downloader
Hackers are using the file transfer component used by Windows Update to sneak malware past firewalls, Symantec researchers said today.
The Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) is used by Microsoft Corp.'s operating systems to deliver patches via Windows Update. BITS, which debuted in Windows XP and is baked into Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista, is an asynchronous file transfer service with automatic throttling -- so downloads don't impact other network chores. It automatically resumes if the connection is broken.
"It's a very nice component, and if you consider that it supports HTTP and can be programmed via COM API, it's the perfect tool to make Windows download anything you want," said Elia Florio, a researcher with Symantec's security response team, on the group's blog. "Unfortunately, this can also include malicious files."
Florio outlined why some Trojan makers have started to call on BITS to download add-on code to an already compromised computer. "For one simple reason: BITS is part of the operating system, so it's trusted and bypasses the local firewall while downloading files."
Malware, particularly Trojans, which typically first open a back door to the system for follow-on code, needs to sidestep firewalls to bring additional malicious software -- a keylogger, for instance -- to the PC. "[But] the most common methods are intrusive [and] require process injection or may raise suspicious alarms," said Florio.
"It is novel," said Oliver Friedrichs, director of Symantec's security response group. "Attackers are leveraging a component of the operating system itself to update their content. But the idea of bypassing firewalls isn't new."
Symantec first caught chatter about BITS on Russian hacker message boards late last year, Friedrichs added, and has been on the lookout for it since. A Trojan spammed in March was one of the first to put the technique into practice.
"The big benefit BITS gives them is that it lets them evade firewalls," said Friedrichs. "And it's also a more reliable download mechanism. It's free and reliable, and they don't have to write their own download code."
Although BITS powers the downloads delivered by Microsoft's Windows Update service, Friedrichs reassured users that there was no risk to the service itself. "There's no evidence to suspect that Windows Update can be compromised. If it has a weakness, someone would have found it by now.
"But this does show how attackers are leveraging components and becoming more and more modular in how they create software. They're simply following the trend of traditional software development," said Friedrichs.
Florio noted that there's no way to block hackers from using BITS. "It's not easy to check what BITS should download and not download," he said, and then offered some advice for Microsoft. "Probably the BITS interface should be designed to be accessible only with a higher level of privilege, or the download jobs created with BITS should be restricted to only trusted URLs."
Microsoft was unable to immediately respond to questions about unauthorized BITS use.
Internet Captures Half of Spare Time
Broadband users make online time a priority.
Broadband users spend almost half their spare time in a typical weekday online, according to Media-Screen's "Netpop|Play" report.
A copy of the study provided to eMarketer stated that the average broadband user spent an hour and 40 minutes of her typical weekday spare time online. Over half of that time online was devoted to entertainment and communication.
The study also noted a range of users' spare time activities, and found that e-mail and personal Web surfing trumped TV viewing.
Josh Crandall of Media-Screen said that the point of the results was not that broadband users spend more time online, but that online marketing is still underused in proportion to that time.
"Currently, the proportion of advertising resources devoted to the Internet (about 7%, according to ZenithOptimedia) is nominal relative to the value it generates in interest and engagement among fans," said Mr. Crandall. "As more of the population goes online and there are more marketing channels, it will be imperative for the entertainment industry to know how to effectively allocate marketing and advertising dollars."
eMarketer's own estimates for US online ad spending as a percentage of the overall market are based on Internet Advertising Bureau/PricewaterhouseCoopers data, and are similar to the Zenith numbers. One in 10 ad dollars will go online in 2010, up from 6.6% this year.
Broadband users have been spending more time online for years. The "broadband effect" has been credited with increasing time spent online and the range of online activities conducted.
As the 2005 Forrester Research/HeadlightVision "It's a Broadband Life" report noted, "The essence of the Broadband Effect is that when what consumers can do changes, what they will do changes dramatically."
"A variety of data shows that the Web is an equally important entertainment platform for broadband users as it is a communication platform," says eMarketer Senior Analyst Ben Macklin. "This is a broadband phenomenon, and not only are broadband users watching, listening and interacting with online entertainment content, they are actively creating it."
How To Keep Hostile Jerks From Taking Over Your Online Community
Angry people looking for fights will inevitably try to poison successful Internet communities. Columnist Cory Doctorow looks at ways to remove the poison without killing the discussion too.
The Internet Tough Guy is a feature in all Internet social forums. These are people who poison discussions with anger, hatred, and threats. Some are malicious. Some are crazy. Some are just afflicted with a rotten sense of humor. Whatever their motives, they're a scourge. It takes precious little trolling to sour a message-board. A "troll" -- someone who comes onto an online community looking to pick fights -- has two victory conditions: Either everyone ends up talking about him, or no one talks at all. And where two or more trolls gather, they'll egg each other on, seeing who can anger and disrupt the regular message-board posters the most.
It can be distressing. If you're part of a nice little community of hamster-fanciers, Trekkers, or Volkswagen enthusiasts, it's easy to slip into a kind of camaraderie, a social setting in which everyone talks about life, aspirations, family problems, personal triumphs. In some ways, it doesn't matter what brought you together -- the fact that you're together is what matters.
Then, almost without warning, your community goes toxic. Someone in your group undergoes a radical personality shift and begins picking fights, or someone new comes to the party with an agenda. Or, worst of all: Your little clubhouse achieves some small measure of fame and is overrun by newcomers who don't know that Liza is a little bit touchy on the subject of hamster balls, or that old Fred gets into a froth anytime someone asks about retrofitting a bud vase into a vintage Beetle, or that everyone here actually kind of knows Wil Wheaton from reading his blog and he's a total mensch, so jokes about shoving Wesley out the airlock are frowned upon.
Sometimes, you rebound. More often, you tumble. Things get worse. The crowds get bigger, the fights get hotter. Pathologically angry (but often funny) people show up and challenge each other to new levels of vitriol.
In extreme cases, you end up with the kind of notorious mess that Kathy Sierra found herself in, in which trolls directed such bilious, threatening noise towards a harmless advocate for "passionate users" in web-applications that she withdrew from speaking at O'Reilly's Emerging Tech conference.
You can deal with trolls in many ways. Many trolls are perfectly nice in real life -- sometimes, just calling them on the phone and confronting them with the human being at the other end of their attacks is enough to sober them up. But it doesn't always work: I remember one time I challenged someone who'd been sending me hate mail to call me up and say the words aloud: the phone rang a moment later and the first words out of my troll's mouth were, "You f*cking hypocrite!" The conversation declined from there.
Trolls can infect a small group, but they really shine in big forums. Discussion groups are like uranium: a little pile gives off a nice, warm glow, but if the pile gets bigger, it hits critical mass and starts a deadly meltdown. There are only three ways to prevent this: Make the pile smaller again, spread the rods apart, or twiddle them to keep the heat convecting through them.
Making the group smaller is easy in theory, hard in practice: just choose a bunch of people who aren't allowed in the discussion anymore and section them off from the group. Split. Or just don't let the groups get too big in the first place by limiting who can talk to whom. This was Friendster's strategy, where your ability to chat with anyone else was limited by whether that person was your friend or your friend's friend. Users revolted, creating "fakesters" like "New York City," whom they could befriend, forming ad-hoc affinity groups. Friendster retaliated by killing the fakesters, and a full scale revolt ensued.
Spreading the group apart is a little easier, with the right technology. Joshua Schachter, founder of del.icio.us, tells me that he once cured a mailing-list of its flame-wars by inserting a ten-minute delay between messages being sent to the list and their delivery. The delay was enough to allow tempers to cool between messages. A similar strategy is to require you to preview your post before publishing it. Digg allows you to retract your messages for a minute or two after you post them.
But neither of these strategies solves the underlying problem: getting big groups of people to converse civilly and productively among themselves. Spreading out the pile reduces the heat -- but it also reduces the light. Splitting the groups up requires the consent of the users, a willingness to be segregated from their peers.
The holy grail is to figure out how to twiddle the rods in just the right fashion so as to create a festive, rollicking, passionate discussion that keeps its discourse respectful, if not always friendly or amiable.
Some have tried to solve this with software. Slashdot (and similar group-moderated sites like Kuro5hin and Plastic) use an elaborate scheme of blind moderation in which users are randomly assigned the ability to rank each others' messages so that other users can filter what they read, excluding low-ranked posts. These strategies are effective for weeding out the pathetic attention-seekers, but they don't have a great track record for creating rollicking discussion. Instead the tone of the discussions, even read at the highest level of moderation, is an angry, macho one-upmanship. The top posts are often scathing rebuttals of someone else's ill-considered remarks.
I'm not sure why this is, but I suspect that it's because there's something fundamentally unfriendly about a roundtable where the participants are explicitly asked to participate in active, public, quantitative rating of one's peers. Like one of those experimental 1970s communes where everyone has to tell everyone else the absolute truth all the time ("Your laugh irritates me," "You have a fat rear end that I find unappealing"), this does a good job of getting all the cards on the table, but is less successful at inspiring an atmosphere of chumminess.
Then there's the psychological effect of trolling: For a certain kind of person (guilty as charged), flames are nearly impossible to let go of. I get tons of lovely fan mail from people who want me to know how much they liked my books. I love these notes and write short, polite, thank-you letters back to each person. But the memories of these valentines fades quickly. Not so the ill-considered, pseudonymous rant from someone who's convinced that I'm on the take, or who has some half-baked theory about copyright, or who wants to say insulting things about my family, friends, interests or habits.
Those people command my full attention. Many's the time I've found myself neglecting a warm bed, a hot meal, or a chance to go out for a cup of coffee with a friend in order to answer some mean-spirited note from some 16-year-old mouth-breather who achieves transcendence only through pointless debate with strangers. For many of us, our psyche demands that these insults be met and overcome.
I am, by my nature, a scrapper. I come from a family of debaters, and my job for several years has been to win debates over copyright and digital freedom. I think that many technology designers are of a similar bent: Argumentative and boisterous, hard-pressed to back away from even a pointless fight. And it is these people who often end up designing our tool-suites for online communities. We view ourselves as locked in an arms-race with trolls who seek to overcome our defenses.
However -- and thankfully -- many community conveners are of a more amicable bent. Although they're not technically capable of writing their own message-board tools, they are socially qualified to wield them.
Take my friend Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who moderates the sprawling, delightful message-boards on Making Light, a group-blog where the message boards run the gamut from the war in Iraq to Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan-fiction, and where they discussion is almost always civil.
Teresa is a troll-whisperer. For some reason, she can spot irredeemable trolls and separate them from the merely unsocialized. She can keep discussions calm and moving forward. She knows when deleting a troll's message will discourage him, and when it will only spark a game of whack-a-mole.
Teresa calls it "having an ear for text" and she is full of maddeningly unquantifiable tips for spotting the right rod to twiddle to keep the reactor firing happily without sparking a meltdown.
In the wake of the Kathy Sierra mess, Tim O'Reilly proposed a Blogger's Code of Conduct as a way of preventing a recurrence of the vile, misogynist attacks that Sierra suffered. The idea was that bloggers could choose to follow the Code and post a little badge to their sites affirming their adherence to it, putting message-board posters on notice of the house rules. Although it sounds like a reasonable idea on the face of it, bloggers were incredibly skeptical of the proposal, if not actively hostile. The objections seemed to boil down to this: "We're not uncivil, and neither are those message-board posters we regularly see on the boards. It's the trolls that we have trouble with, and they're pathological psychos, already ignoring our implicit code of conduct. They're going to ignore your explicit code of conduct, too." (There was more, of course -- like the fact that a set of articulated rules only invite people to hold you to them when they violate the spirit but not the letter of the law).
O'Reilly built his empire by doing something incredibly smart: Watching what geeks did that worked and writing it down so that other people could do it too. He is a distiller of Internet wisdom, and it's that approach that is called for here.
If you want to fight trolling, don't make up a bunch of a priori assumptions about what will or won't discourage trolls. Instead, seek out the troll whisperer and study their techniques.
Troll whisperers aren't necessarily very good at hacking tools, so there's always an opportunity for geek synergy in helping them to automate their hand-crafted techniques, giving them a software force-multiplier for their good sense. For example, Teresa invented a technique called disemvowelling -- removing the vowels from some or all of a fiery message-board post. The advantage of this is that it leaves the words intact, but requires that you read them very slowly -- so slowly that it takes the sting out of them. And, as Teresa recently explained to me, disemvowelling part of a post lets the rest of the community know what kind of sentiment is and is not socially acceptable.
When Teresa started out disemvowelling, she removed the vowels from the offending messages by hand, a tedious and slow process. But shortly thereafter, Bryant Darrell wrote a Movable Type plugin to automate the process. This is a perfect example of human-geek synergy: hacking tools for civilian use based on the civilian's observed needs.
But there aren't enough Teresas to go around: how do we keep all the other message-boards troll-free? Again, the secret is in observing the troll whisperer in the field, looking for techniques that can be encapsulated in tutorials and code. There is a wealth of troll whisperer lore that isn't pure intuition and good sense, techniques that can be turned into tools for the rest of us to use.
A friend who's active on the Wikipedia community once summed up her approach to life: "Don't let assholes rent space in your head." That is, don't let the jerks who crash your community turn it into a cesspool. It's easier said than done, though.
Assisting the troll whisperers and learning from them recognizes that most of us want a civil discussion, and give us the tools to repel trolls. Instead of implying that we all lack civility, these techniques recognize our good will and help us solve the hard social problems of keeping the pathological personalities renting space in our heads.
|16-05-07, 09:58 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Convert iTunes AAC to Open MP3 In Seconds
NOTE: If you're having issues with QTFairUse6, check the JHymn FAQ first and then if that doesn't solve your problem post a message here or in Help.
A port of the original QTFairUse to iTunes 6 using the excellent pydbg package by Pedram Amini.
Current version: 2.5
QTFairUse6-2.5.zip (NOTE: Contains newest CFG file...no need to download it separately now!)
Latest CFG file (Included in the QTFairUse6-2.5.zip archive):
Beginners Guide (Included in the QTFairUse6-2.5.zip archive):
For iTunes 7.1.1 support, download the latest CFG file and unzip to your QTFairUse6 directory and allow it to overwrite the existing CFG file.
2006-11-29 Version 2.5
GUI version and library conversion routines by ATOM_alac.
Support for iTunes 7.0.1 and 7.0.2.
Fast dumping for iTunes 7.x
Patch offsets are now specified in an external file. This should make it easier to add support for new iTunes versions.
Invalid m4a files which were sometimes produced by 2.4 are now detected and reconverted as needed.
More thread syncronization added to fix potential bugs.
List of protected files is now retrieved from the xml library file. This should speed things up somewhat for owners of huge libraries.
Previous version: 2.4
All links at source, Jack
iTunes-Like Video Services Have no Future: Study
Online video sites that sell shows and movies such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes will likely peak this year as more programming is made available on free outlets supported by advertising, according to a study released on Monday.
Sales of movies and television shows are expected to almost triple to $279 million in 2007 from an estimated $98 million last year. But unless the average consumer begins paying for their online video en masse, growth in sales will likely peter out next year, according to Forrester Research.
"In the video space, iTunes is just a temporary flash while consumers wait for better ways to get video. They're already coming," said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey, the author of the study, who also called the paid download video market a "dead end."
Forrester estimated that sales growth is not likely to triple or even double in 2008 and beyond, after early adopters and media addicts have already started using the services.
Confusion over different video file formats, difficulties watching downloaded videos on television screens and other technical problems have kept average users from paying for shows online.
Efforts by traditional media distribution companies to make more of their shows available for free on the Internet -- including the Hollywood-backed film service MovieLink, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s service and Amazon.com Inc.'s Unbox service -- are also working against paid services.
Led by Walt Disney Co.'s ABC.com, TV networks including News Corp.'s Fox are offering some hit shows online for free.
News Corp. and General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal also launched a joint venture to distribute a combined archive of shows over the Internet.
"Free is going to win," McQuivey said.
Cable TV service executives and set top box makers are also seeking to make online videos easier to watch on big TV screens
-- a major topic of discussion at last week's cable industry trade show in Las Vegas.
Earlier this year, Time Warner Inc.'s AOL struck a deal to make its videos available directly on Sony Corp. flat-panel televisions.
Currently, only about 9 percent of online adults have paid to download a program or a movie, the study said. These people spent an average of $14 each to buy videos last year and will likely spend more this year as new online outlets debut.
McQuivey advises media companies to make their content available on all distribution platforms, but pay more attention to those that let users share content within a home network.
Shaping the Future
(One of the things that goes with being an SF writer is that people expect you to talk about, well, the future. Last week, engineering consultancy TNG Technology Consulting invited me to Munich to address one of their technology open days. Here's a transcript of my talk, which discusses certain under-considered side effects of some technologies that you're probably already becoming familiar with. Note that this is a long blog entry — even by my verbose standards — so you'll need to hit on the "continue reading" link to see the whole thing.)
Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting me here today. I understand that you're expecting a talk about where the next 20 years are taking us, how far technology will go, how people will use the net, and whether big shoulder pads and food pills will be fashionable. Personally, I'm still waiting for my personal jet car — I've been waiting about fifty years now — and I mention this as a note of caution: while personal jet cars aren't obviously impossible, their non-appearance should give us some insights into how attempts to predict the future go wrong.
I'm a science fiction writer by trade, and people often think that means I spend a lot of time trying to predict possible futures. Actually, that's not the job of the SF writer at all — we're not professional futurologists, and we probably get things wrong as often as anybody else. But because we're not tied to a specific technical field we are at least supposed to keep our eyes open for surprises.
So I'm going to ignore the temptation to talk about a whole lot of subjects — global warming, bioengineering, the green revolution, the intellectual property wars — and explain why, sooner or later, everyone in this room is going to end up in Wikipedia. And I'm going to get us there the long way round ...
The big surprise in the 20th century — remember that personal jet car? — was the redefinition of progress that took place some time between 1950 and 1970.
Before 1800, human beings didn't travel faster than a horse could gallop. The experience of travel was that it was unpleasant, slow, and usually involved a lot of exercise — or the hazards of the seas. Then something odd happened; a constant that had held for all of human history — the upper limit on travel speed — turned into a variable. By 1980, the upper limit on travel speed had risen (for some lucky people on some routes) to just over Mach Two, and to just under Mach One on many other shorter routes. But from 1970 onwards, the change in the rate at which human beings travel ceased — to all intents and purposes, we aren't any faster today than we were when the Comet and Boeing 707 airliners first flew.
We can plot this increase in travel speed on a graph — better still, plot the increase in maximum possible speed — and it looks quite pretty; it's a classic sigmoid curve, initially rising slowly, then with the rate of change peaking between 1920 and 1950, before tapering off again after 1970. Today, the fastest vehicle ever built, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, en route to Pluto, is moving at approximately 21 kilometres per second — only twice as fast as an Apollo spacecraft from the late-1960s. Forty-five years to double the maximum velocity; back in the 1930s it was happening in less than a decade.
One side-effect of faster travel was that people traveled more. A brief google told me that in 1900, the average American traveled 210 miles per year by steam-traction railroad, and 130 miles by electric railways. Today, comparable travel figures are 16,000 miles by road and air — a fifty-fold increase in distance traveled. I'd like to note that the new transport technologies consume one-fifth the energy per passenger-kilometer, but overall energy consumption is much higher because of the distances involved. We probably don't spend significantly more hours per year aboard aircraft that our 1900-period ancestors spent aboard steam trains, but at twenty times the velocity — or more — we travel much further and consume energy faster while we're doing so.
Around 1950, everyone tended to look at what the future held in terms of improvements in transportation speed.
But as we know now, that wasn't where the big improvements were going to come from. The automation of information systems just weren't on the map, other than in the crudest sense — punched card sorting and collating machines and desktop calculators.
We can plot a graph of computing power against time that, prior to 1900, looks remarkably similar to the graph of maximum speed against time. Basically it's a flat line from prehistory up to the invention, in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, of the first mechanical calculating machines. It gradually rises as mechanical calculators become more sophisticated, then in the late 1930s and 1940s it starts to rise steeply. From 1960 onwards, with the transition to solid state digital electronics, it's been necessary to switch to a logarithmic scale to even keep sight of this graph.
It's worth noting that the complexity of the problems we can solve with computers has not risen as rapidly as their performance would suggest to a naive bystander. This is largely because interesting problems tend to be complex, and computational complexity rarely scales linearly with the number of inputs; we haven't seen the same breakthroughs in the theory of algorithmics that we've seen in the engineering practicalities of building incrementally faster machines.
Speaking of engineering practicalities, I'm sure everyone here has heard of Moore's Law. Gordon Moore of Intel coined this one back in 1965 when he observed that the number of transistor count on an integrated circuit for minimum component cost doubles every 24 months. This isn't just about the number of transistors on a chip, but the density of transistors. A similar law seems to govern storage density in bits per unit area for rotating media.
As a given circuit becomes physically smaller, the time taken for a signal to propagate across it decreases — and if it's printed on a material of a given resistivity, the amount of power dissipated in the process decreases. (I hope I've got that right: my basic physics is a little rusty.) So we get faster operation, or we get lower power operation, by going smaller.
We know that Moore's Law has some way to run before we run up against the irreducible limit to downsizing. However, it looks unlikely that we'll ever be able to build circuits where the component count exceeds the number of component atoms, so I'm going to draw a line in the sand and suggest that this exponential increase in component count isn't going to go on forever; it's going to stop around the time we wake up and discover we've hit the nanoscale limits.
The cultural picture in computing today therefore looks much as it did in transportation technology in the 1930s — everything tomorrow is going to be wildly faster than it is today, let alone yesterday. And this progress has been running for long enough that it's seeped into the public consciousness. In the 1920s, boys often wanted to grow up to be steam locomotive engineers; politicians and publicists in the 1930s talked about "air-mindedness" as the key to future prosperity. In the 1990s it was software engineers and in the current decade it's the politics of internet governance.
All of this is irrelevant. Because computers and microprocessors aren't the future. They're yesterday's future, and tomorrow will be about something else.
I don't expect I need to lecture you about bandwidth. Let's just say that our communication bandwidth has been increasing in what should by now be a very familiar pattern since, oh, the eighteenth century, and the elaborate system of semaphore stations the French crown used for its own purposes.
Improvements in bandwidth are something we get from improvements in travel speed or information processing; you should never underestimate the bandwidth of a pickup truck full of magnetic tapes driving cross-country (or an Airbus full of DVDs), and similarly, moving more data per unit time over fiber requires faster switches at each end.
Now, with little or no bandwidth, when it was expensive and scarce and modems were boxes the size of filing cabinets that could pump out a few hundred bits per second, computers weren't that interesting; they tended to be big, centralized sorting machines that very few people could get to and make use of, and they tended to be used for the kind of jobs that can be centralized, by large institutions. That's the past, where we've come from.
With lots of bandwidth, the picture is very different — but you don't get lots of bandwidth without also getting lots of cheap information processing, lots of small but dense circuitry, hordes of small computers spliced into everything around us. So the picture we've got today is of a world where there are nearly as many mobile phones in the EU as there are people, where each mobile phone is a small computer, and where the fast 3G, UMTS phones are moving up to a megabit or so of data per second over the air — and the next-generation 4G standards are looking to move 100 mbps of data. So that's where we are now. And this picture differs from the past in a very interesting way: because lots of people are interacting with them.
(That, incidentally, is what makes the world wide web possible; it's not the technology but the fact that millions of people are throwing random stuff into their computers and publishing on it. You can't do that without ubiquitous cheap bandwidth and cheap terminals to let people publish stuff. And there seems to be a critical threshold for it to work; any BBS or network system seems to require a certain size of user base before it begins to acquire a culture of its own.)
Which didn't happen before, with computers. It's like the difference between having an experimental test plane that can fly at 1000 km/h, and having thousands of Boeings and Airbuses that can fly at 1000 km/h and are used by millions of people every month. There will be social consequences, and you can't easily predict the consequences of the mass uptake of a technology by observing the leading-edge consequences when it first arrives.
It typically takes at least a generation before the social impact of a ubiquitous new technology becomes obvious.
We are currently aware of the consequences of the switch to personal high-speed transportation — the car — and road freight distribution. It shapes our cities and towns, dictates where we live and work, and turns out to have disadvantages our ancestors were not aware of, from particulate air pollution to suburban sprawl and the decay of city centers in some countries.
We tend to be less aware of the social consequences, too. Compare that 1900-era figure of 360 miles per year traveled by rail, against the 16,000 miles of a typical modern American. It is no longer rare to live a long way from relatives, workplaces, and educational institutions. Countries look much more homogeneous on the large scale — the same shops in every high street — because community has become delocalized from geography. Often we don't know our neighbours as well as we know people who live hundreds of kilometers away. This is the effect of cheap, convenient high speed transport.
Now, we're still in the early stages of the uptake of mobile telephony, but some lessons are already becoming clear.
Traditional fixed land-lines connect places, not people; you dial a number and it puts you through to a room in a building somewhere, and you hope the person you want to talk to is there.
Mobile phones in contrast connect people, not places. You don't necessarily know where the person at the other end of the line is, what room in which building they're in, but you know who they are.
This has interesting social effects. Sometimes it's benign; you never have to wonder if someone you're meeting is lost or unable to find the venue, you never lose track of people. On the other hand, it has bad effects, especially when combined with other technologies: bullying via mobile phone is rife in British schools, and "happy slapping" wouldn't be possible without them. (Assaulting people while an accomplice films it with a cameraphone, for the purpose of sending the movie footage around — often used for intimidation, sometimes used just for vicarious violent fun.)
It's even harder to predict the second-order consequences of new technologies when they start merging at the edges, and hybridizing.
A modern cellphone is nothing like a late-1980s cellphone. Back then, the cellphone was basically a voice terminal. Today it's as likely as not to be a video and still camera, a GPS navigation unit, have a keyboard for texting, a screen for surfing the web, an MP3 player, and it may also be a full-blown business computer with word processing and spreadsheet applications aboard.
In future it may end up as a pocket computer that simply runs voice-over-IP software, using the cellular telephony network — or WiFi or WiMax or just about any other transport layer that comes to hand — to move speech packets back and forth with acceptable latency.
And it's got peripherals. GPS location, cameras, text input. What does it all mean?
Putting it all together
Let's look at our notional end-point where the bandwidth and information processing revolutions are taking us — as far ahead as we can see without positing real breakthroughs and new technologies, such as cheap quantum computing, pocket fusion reactors, and an artificial intelligence that is as flexible and unpredictable as ourselves. It's about 25-50 years away.
Firstly, storage. I like to look at the trailing edge; how much non-volatile solid-state storage can you buy for, say, ten euros? (I don't like rotating media; they tend to be fragile, slow, and subject to amnesia after a few years. So this isn't the cheapest storage you can buy — just the cheapest reasonably robust solid-state storage.)
Today, I can pick up about 1Gb of FLASH memory in a postage stamp sized card for that much money. fast-forward a decade and that'll be 100Gb. Two decades and we'll be up to 10Tb.
10Tb is an interesting number. That's a megabit for every second in a year — there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That's enough to store a live DivX video stream — compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution — of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry — a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send — onto that chip, while I'm awake. All the time. It's a life log; replay it and you've got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017. (Cheaper if we use those pesky rotating hard disks — it's actually about five thousand euros if we want to do this right now.)
Why would anyone want to do this?
I can think of several reasons. Initially, it'll be edge cases. Police officers on duty: it'd be great to record everything they see, as evidence. Folks with early stage neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimers: with voice tagging and some sophisticated searching, it's a memory prosthesis.
Add optical character recognition on the fly for any text you look at, speech-to-text for anything you say, and it's all indexed and searchable. "What was the title of the book I looked at and wanted to remember last Thursday at 3pm?"
Think of it as google for real life.
We may even end up being required to do this, by our employers or insurers — in many towns in the UK, it is impossible for shops to get insurance, a condition of doing business, without demonstrating that they have CCTV cameras in place. Having such a lifelog would certainly make things easier for teachers and social workers at risk of being maliciously accused by a student or client.
(There are also a whole bunch of very nasty drawbacks to this technology — I'll talk about some of them later, but right now I'd just like to note that it would fundamentally change our understanding of privacy, redefine the boundary between memory and public record, and be subject to new and excitingly unpleasant forms of abuse — but I suspect it's inevitable, and rather than asking whether this technology is avoidable, I think we need to be thinking about how we're going to live with it.)
Now, this might seem as if it's generating mountains of data — but really, it isn't. There are roughly 80 million people in Germany. Let's assume they all have lifelogs. They're generating something like 10Tb of data each, 1013 bits, per year, or 1021 bits for the entire nation every year. 1023 bits per century.
Is 1023 bits a huge number? No it isn't, when we pursue Moore's Law to the bitter end.
There's a model for long term high volume storage that I like to use as a reference point. Obviously, we want our storage to be as compact as possible — one bit per atom, ideally, if not more, but one bit per atom seems as if it might be achievable. We want it to be stable, too. (In the future, the 20th century will be seen as a dark age — while previous centuries left books and papers that are stable for centuries with proper storage, many of the early analog recordings were stable enough to survive for decades, but the digital media and magnetic tapes and optical disks of the latter third of the 20th century decay in mere years. And if they don't decay, they become unreadable: the original tapes of the slow-scan video from the first moon landing, for example, appear to be missing, and the much lower quality broadcast images are all that remain. So stability is important, and I'm not even going to start on how we store data and metainformation describing it.)
My model of a long term high volume data storage medium is a synthetic diamond. Carbon occurs in a variety of isotopes, and the commonest stable ones are carbon-12 and carbon-13, occurring in roughly equal abundance. We can speculate that if molecular nanotechnology as described by, among others, Eric Drexler, is possible, we can build a device that will create a diamond, one layer at a time, atom by atom, by stacking individual atoms — and with enough discrimination to stack carbon-12 and carbon-13, we've got a tool for writing memory diamond. Memory diamond is quite simple: at any given position in the rigid carbon lattice, a carbon-12 followed by a carbon-13 means zero, and a carbon-13 followed by a carbon-12 means one. To rewrite a zero to a one, you swap the positions of the two atoms, and vice versa.
It's hard, it's very stable, and it's very dense. How much data does it store, in practical terms?
The capacity of memory diamond storage is of the order of Avogadro's number of bits per two molar weights. For diamond, that works out at 6.022 x 1023 bits per 25 grams. So going back to my earlier figure for the combined lifelog data streams of everyone in Germany — twenty five grams of memory diamond would store six years' worth of data.
Six hundred grams of this material would be enough to store lifelogs for everyone on the planet (at an average population of, say, eight billion people) for a year. Sixty kilograms can store a lifelog for the entire human species for a century.
In more familiar terms: by the best estimate I can track down, in 2003 we as a species recorded 2500 petabytes — 2.5 x 1018 bytes — of data. That's almost ten milligrams. The Google cluster, as of mid-2006, was estimated to have 4 petabytes of RAM. In memory diamond, you'd need a microscope to see it.
So, it's reasonable to conclude that we're not going to run out of storage any time soon.
Now, capturing the data, indexing and searching the storage, and identifying relevance — that's another matter entirely, and it's going to be one that imprint the shape of our current century on those ahead, much as the great 19th century infrastructure projects (that gave our cities paved roads and sewers and railways) define that era for us.
I'd like to suggest that really fine-grained distributed processing is going to help; small processors embedded with every few hundred terabytes of storage. You want to know something, you broadcast a query: the local processors handle the problem of searching their respective chunks of the 128-bit address space, and when one of them finds something, it reports back. But this is actually boring. It's an implementation detail.
What I'd like to look at is the effect this sort of project is going to have on human civilization.
The Singularity reconsidered
Those of you who're familiar with my writing might expect me to spend some time talking about the singularity. It's an interesting term, coined by computer scientist and SF writer Vernor Vinge. Earlier, I was discussing the way in which new technological fields show a curve of accelerating progress — until it hits a plateau and slows down rapidly. It's the familiar sigmoid curve. Vinge asked, "what if there exist new technologies where the curve never flattens, but looks exponential?" The obvious example — to him — was Artificial Intelligence. It's still thirty years away today, just as it was in the 1950s, but the idea of building machines that think has been around for centuries, and more recently, the idea of understanding how the human brain processes information and coding some kind of procedural system in software for doing the same sort of thing has soaked up a lot of research.
Vernor came up with two postulates. Firstly, if we can design a true artificial intelligence, something that's cognitively our equal, then we can make it run faster by throwing more computing resources at it. (Yes, I know this is questionable — it begs the question of whether intelligence is parallelizeable, or what resources it takes.) And if you can make it run faster, you can make it run much faster — hundreds, millions, of times faster. Which means problems get solved fast. This is your basic weakly superhuman AI: the one you deploy if you want it to spend an afternoon and crack a problem that's been bugging everyone for a few centuries.
He also noted something else: we humans are pretty dumb. We can see most of the elements of our own success in other species, and individually, on average, we're not terribly smart. But we've got the ability to communicate, to bind time, and to plan, and we've got a theory of mind that lets us model the behaviour of other animals. What if there can exist other forms of intelligence, other types of consciousness, which are fundamentally better than ours at doing whatever it is that consciousness does? Just as a quicksort algorithm that sorts in O(n log n) comparisons is fundamentally better (except in very small sets) than a bubble sort that typically takes O(n2) comparisons.
If such higher types of intelligence can exist, and if a human-equivalent intelligence can build an AI that runs one of them, then it's going to appear very rapidly after the first weakly superhuman AI. And we're not going to be able to second guess it because it'll be as much smarter than us as we are than a frog.
Vernor's singularity is therefore usually presented as an artificial intelligence induced leap into the unknown: we can't predict where things are going on the other side of that event because it's simply unprecedented. It's as if the steadily steepening rate of improvement in transportation technologies that gave us the Apollo flights by the late 1960s kept on going, with a Jupiter mission in 1982, a fast relativistic flight to Alpha Centauri by 1990, a faster than light drive by 2000, and then a time machine so we could arrive before we set off. It makes a mockery of attempts to extrapolate from prior conditions.
Of course, aside from making it possible to write very interesting science fiction stories, the Singularity is a very controversial idea. For one thing, there's the whole question of whether a machine can think — although as the late, eminent professor Edsger Djikstra said, "the question of whether machines can think is no more interesting than the question of whether submarines can swim". A secondary pathway to the Singularity is the idea of augmented intelligence, as opposed to artificial intelligence: we may not need machines that think, if we can come up with tools that help us think faster and more efficiently. The world wide web seems to be one example. The memory prostheses I've been muttering about are another.
And then there's a school of thought that holds that, even if AI is possible, the Singularity idea is hogwash — it just looks like an insuperable barrier or a permanent step change because we're too far away from it to see the fine-grained detail. Canadian SF writer Karl Schroeder has explored a different hypothesis: that there may be an end to progress. We may reach a point where the scientific enterprise is done — where all the outstanding questions have been answered and the unanswered ones are physically impossible for us to address. (He's also opined that the idea of an AI-induced Singularity is actually an example of erroneous thinking that makes the same mistake as the proponents of intelligent design (Creationism) — the assumption that complex systems cannot be produced by simple non-consciously directed processes.) An end to science is still a very long way away right now; for example, I've completely failed to talk about the real elephant in the living room, the recent explosion in our understanding of biological systems that started in the 1950s but only really began to gather pace in the 1990s. But what then?
Well, we're going to end up with — at the least — lifelogs, ubiquitous positioning and communication services, a civilization where every artifact more complicated than a spoon is on the internet and attentive to our moods and desires, cars that drive themselves, and a whole lot of other mind-bending consequences. All within the next two or three decades. So what can we expect of this collision between transportation, information processing, and bandwidth?
We're already living in a future nobody anticipated. We don't have personal jet cars, but we have ridiculously cheap intercontinental airline travel. (Holidays on the Moon? Not yet, but if you're a billionaire you can pay for a week in orbit.) On the other hand, we discovered that we do, in fact, require more than four computers for the entire planet (as Thomas Watson is alleged to have said). An increasing number of people don't have telephone lines any more — they rely on a radio network instead.
The flip side of Moore's Law, which we don't pay much attention to, is that the cost of electronic components is in deflationary free fall of a kind that would have given a Depression-era economist nightmares. When we hit the brick wall at the end of the road — when further miniaturization is impossible — things are going to get very bumpy indeed, much as the aerospace industry hit the buffers at the end of the 1960s in North America and elsewhere. This stuff isn't big and it doesn't have to be expensive, as the One Laptop Per Child project is attempting to demonstrate. Sooner or later there won't be a new model to upgrade to every year, the fab lines will have paid for themselves, and the bottom will fall out of the consumer electronics industry, just as it did for the steam locomotive workshops before them.
Before that happens, we're going to get used to some very disorienting social changes.
Hands up, anyone in the audience, who owns a slide rule? Or a set of trigonometric tables? Who's actually used them, for work, in the past year? Or decade?
I think I've made my point: the pocket calculator and the computer algebra program have effectively driven those tools into obsolescence. This happened some time between the early 1970s and the late 1980s. Now we're about to see a whole bunch of similar and much weirder types of obsolescence.
Right now, Nokia is designing global positioning system receivers into every new mobile phone they plan to sell. GPS receivers in a phone SIM card have been demonstrated. GPS is exploding everywhere. It used to be for navigating battleships; now it's in your pocket, along with a moving map. And GPS is pretty crude — you need open line of sight on the satellites, and the signal's messed up. We can do better than this, and we will. In five years, we'll all have phones that connect physical locations again, instead of (or as well as) people. And we'll be raising a generation of kids who don't know what it is to be lost, to not know where you are and how to get to some desired destination from wherever that is.
Think about that. "Being lost" has been part of the human experience ever since our hominid ancestors were knuckle-walking around the plains of Africa. And we're going to lose it — at least, we're going to make it as unusual an experience as finding yourself out in public without your underpants.
We're also in some danger of losing the concepts of privacy, and warping history out of all recognition.
Our concept of privacy relies on the fact that it's hard to discover information about other people. Today, you've all got private lives that are not open to me. Even those of you with blogs, or even lifelogs. But we're already seeing some interesting tendencies in the area of attitudes to privacy on the internet among young people, under about 25; if they've grown up with the internet they have no expectation of being able to conceal information about themselves. They seem to work on the assumption that anything that is known about them will turn up on the net sooner or later, at which point it is trivially searchable.
Now, in this age of rapid, transparent information retrieval, what happens if you've got a lifelog, registering your precise GPS coordinates and scanning everything around you? If you're updating your whereabouts via a lightweight protocol like Twitter and keeping in touch with friends and associates via a blog? It'd be nice to tie your lifelog into your blog and the rest of your net presence, for your personal convenience. And at first, it'll just be the kids who do this — kids who've grown up with little expectation of or understanding of privacy. Well, it'll be the kids and the folks on the Sex Offenders Register who're forced to lifelog as part of their probation terms, but that's not our problem. Okay, it'll also be people in businesses with directors who want to exercise total control over what their employees are doing, but they don't have to work there ... yet.
You know something? Keeping track of those quaint old laws about personal privacy is going to be really important. Because in countries with no explicit right to privacy — I believe the US constitution is mostly silent on the subject — we're going to end up blurring the boundary between our Second Lives and the first life, the one we live from moment to moment. We're time-binding animals and nothing binds time tighter than a cradle to grave recording of our every moment.
The political hazards of lifelogging are, or should be, semi-obvious. In the short term, we're going to have to learn to do without a lot of bad laws. If it's an offense to pick your nose in public, someone, sooner or later, will write a 'bot to hunt down nose-pickers and refer them to the police. Or people who put the wrong type of rubbish in the recycling bags. Or cross the road without using a pedestrian crossing, when there's no traffic about. If you dig hard enough, everyone is a criminal. In the UK, today, there are only about four million public CCTV surveillance cameras; I'm asking myself, what is life going to be like when there are, say, four hundred million of them? And everything they see is recorded and retained forever, and can be searched retroactively for wrong-doing.
One of the biggest risks we face is that of sleep-walking into a police state, simply by mistaking the ability to monitor everyone for even minute legal infractions for the imperative to do so.
And then there's history.
History today is patchy. I never met either of my grandfathers — both of them died before I was born. One of them I recognize from three photographs; the other, from two photographs and about a minute of cine film. Silent, of course. Going back further, to their parents ... I know nothing of these people beyond names and dates. (They died thirty years before I was born.)
This century we're going to learn a lesson about what it means to be unable to forget anything. And it's going to go on, and on. Barring a catastrophic universal collapse of human civilization — which I should note was widely predicted from August 1945 onward, and hasn't happened yet — we're going to be laying down memories in diamond that will outlast our bones, and our civilizations, and our languages. Sixty kilograms will handily sum up the total history of the human species, up to the year 2000. From then on ... we still don't need much storage, in bulk or mass terms. There's no reason not to massively replicate it and ensure that it survives into the deep future.
And with ubiquitous lifelogs, and the internet, and attempts at providing a unified interface to all interesting information — wikipedia, let's say — we're going to give future historians a chance to build an annotated, comprehensive history of the entire human race. Charting the relationships and interactions between everyone who's ever lived since the dawn of history — or at least, the dawn of the new kind of history that is about to be born this century.
Total history — a term I'd like to coin, by analogy to total war — is something we haven't experienced yet. I'm really not sure what its implications are, but then, I'm one of the odd primitive shadows just visible at one edge of the archive: I expect to live long enough to be lifelogging, but my first forty or fifty years are going to be very poorly documented, mere gigabytes of text and audio to document decades of experience. What I can be fairly sure of is that our descendants' relationship with their history is going to be very different from our own, because they will be able to see it with a level of depth and clarity that nobody has ever experienced before.
Meet your descendants. They don't know what it's like to be involuntarily lost, don't understand what we mean by the word "privacy", and will have access (sooner or later) to a historical representation of our species that defies understanding. They live in a world where history has a sharply-drawn start line, and everything they individually do or say will sooner or later be visible to everyone who comes after them, forever. They are incredibly alien to us.
And yet, these trends are emergent from the current direction of the telecommunications industry, and are likely to become visible as major cultural changes within the next ten to thirty years. None of them require anything but a linear progression from where we are now, in a direction we're already going in. None of them take into account external technological synergies, stuff that's not obviously predictable like brain/computer interfaces, artificial intelligences, or magic wands. I've purposefully ignored discussion of nanotechnology, tissue engineering, stem cells, genomics, proteomics, the future of nuclear power, the future of environmentalism and religion, demographics, our environment, peak oil and our future energy economy, space exploration, and a host of other topics.
As projections of a near future go, the one I've presented in this talk is pretty poor. In my defense, I'd like to say that the only thing I can be sure of is that I'm probably wrong, or at least missing something as big as the internet, or antibiotics.
(I know: driverless cars. They're going to redefine our whole concept of personal autonomy. Once autonomous vehicle technology becomes sufficiently reliable, it's fairly likely that human drivers will be forbidden, except under very limited conditions. After all, human drivers are the cause of about 90% of traffic accidents: recent research shows that in about 80% of vehicle collisions the driver was distracted in the 3 seconds leading up to the incident. There's an inescapable logic to taking the most common point of failure out of the control loop — my freedom to drive should not come at the risk of life and limb to other road users, after all. But because cars have until now been marketed to us by appealing to our personal autonomy, there are going to be big social changes when we switch over to driverless vehicles.
(Once all on-road cars are driverless, the current restrictions on driving age and status of intoxication will cease to make sense. Why require a human driver to take an eight year old to school, when the eight year old can travel by themselves? Why not let drunks go home, if they're not controlling the vehicle? So the rules over who can direct a car will change. And shortly thereafter, the whole point of owning your own car — that you can drive it yourself, wherever you want — is going to be subtly undermined by the redefinition of car from an expression of independence to a glorified taxi. If I was malicious, I'd suggest that the move to autonomous vehicles will kill the personal automobile market; but instead I'll assume that people will still want to own their own four-wheeled living room, even though their relationship with it will change fundamentally. But I digress ...)
Anyway, this is the future that some of you are building. It's not the future you thought you were building, any more than the rocket designers of the 1940s would have recognized a future in which GPS-equipped hobbyists go geocaching at weekends. But it's a future that's taking shape right now, and I'd like to urge you to think hard about what kind of future you'd like your descendants — or yourselves — to live in. Engineers and programmers are the often-anonymous architects of society, and what you do now could make a huge difference to the lives of millions, even billions, of people in decades to come.
Thank you, and good afternoon.
DirecTV Ponders Broadband Over Power Lines
Satellite television provider DirecTV may test delivering high-speed Internet service through power lines in a major U.S. city in the next year, its chief executive said Monday.
DirecTV and others are talking to companies that specialize in providing broadband through the electrical grid, Chief Executive Chase Carey said at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in New York.
"We're not the only ones talking to them," Carey said, in response to a question on whether DirecTV would consider a test in a major city. "I think you'll see some meaningful tests in this arena."
DirecTV would like to test delivering Internet access on power lines in a "top 50 city where you're covering at least half the city."
Testing the service on several hundred thousand people would provide the company with "challenges and positives," he said.
Delivering broadband access through power lines is something that companies have been testing for some years. Most U.S. residents get broadband service through their cable television or telephone companies.
Global Net Censorship 'Growing'
The level of state-led censorship of the net is growing around the world, a study of so-called internet filtering by the Open Net Initiative suggests.
The study of thousands of websites across 120 Internet Service Providers found 25 of 41 countries surveyed showed evidence of content filtering.
Websites and services such as Skype and Google Maps were blocked, it said.
Such "state-mandated net filtering" was only being carried out in "a couple" of states in 2002, one researcher said.
"In five years we have gone from a couple of states doing state-mandated net filtering to 25," said John Palfrey, at Harvard Law School.
Mr Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, added: "There has also been an increase in the scale, scope and sophistication of internet filtering."
ONI is made up of research groups at the universities of Toronto, Harvard Law School, Oxford and Cambridge.
It chose 41 countries for the survey in which testing could be done safely and where there was "the most to learn about government online surveillance".
A number of states in Europe and the US were not tested because the private sector rather than the government tends to carry out filtering, it said.
Countries which carry out the broadest range of filtering included Burma, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, the study said.
The filtering had three primary rationales, according to the report: politics and power, security concerns and social norms.
The report said: "In a growing number of states around the world, internet filtering has huge implications for how connected citizens will be to the events unfolding around them, to their own cultures, and to other cultures and shared knowledge around the world."
Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, said the organisation was also looking at the tools people used to circumvent filtering.
"It's hard to quantify how many people are doing this. As we go forward each year we want to see if some of these circumvention technologies become more like appliances and you just plug them in and they work," he added.
"Few states restrict their activities to one type of content," said Rafal Rohozinski, Research Fellow of the Cambridge Security Programme.
He added: "Once filtering is begun, it is applied to a broad range of content and can be used for expanding government control of cyberspace. It has become a strategic forum of competition between states, as well as between citizens and states."
Mr Palfrey said the report was an attempt to shine a spotlight on filtering to make it more transparent.
"What's regrettable about net filtering is that almost always this is happening in the shadows. There's no place you can get an answer as a citizen from your state about how they are filtering and what is being filtered."
The survey found evidence of filtering in the following countries:
Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma/Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.
Pentagon Blocks MySpace and YouTube
The Defense Department has decided to make it impossible to reach 13 Web sites from its network, citing an overabundance of “recreational traffic.”
In the policy released today, General B.B. Bell, commander in South Korea, said use of those sites “impacts our official DoD network and bandwidth ability, while posing a significant operational security challenge.” The memo is available in pdf format.
A spokeswoman for the United States Strategic Command was more specific in framing the issue as a technical limitation. “We’ve got to have the networks open to do our mission. They have to be reliable, timely and secure,” Julie Ziegenhorn said in an interview with Stars & Stripes, an independent newspaper published for the American military.
The ban also includes Metacafe, IFilm, StupidVideos, FileCabi, BlackPlanet, Hi5, Pandora, MTV, 1.fm, live365 and Photobucket.
Private internet connections still have access, but most troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are limited to Pentagon service, Stars and Stripes notes.
Today’s Web site ban and last month’s revision of military blogging policy were partly justified by operational security concerns. Both also prompted questions about whether leaders were trying to reduce the voices of individual soldiers by making it more difficult to publish their own material.
The ban also arrived as the American military started to increase its profile on YouTube, posting official footage that aimed “to show another side of operations in Iraq beyond news reports of ‘the car bomb of the day,’” the BBC said.
A writer for Wired Magazine told The Associated Press that individual soldiers were also helping to present a more positive picture of the situation in Iraq. “They are muzzling their best voices,” Noah Shachtman said.
US States Press MySpace to Give up Sex Offender Data
Attorneys general from eight states say they have information that thousands of sex offenders have profiles on MySpace. They are concerned that predators may be using the social networking site as a virtual meeting place with their underage victims and today they authored a letter calling on the company to disclose the exact number of offenders and identify each one.
The letter is the latest headache at MySpace, which by dint of its 177 million registered users and massive amount of web traffic has become a preferred target for spammers and scammers. Earlier today, we reported that a new wave of spam has turned one of the most popular groups on MySpace to a barren wasteland (http://www.theregister.com/2007/05/1...pam_blizzard/). Such problems show the powerful downside to Web 2.0's viral nature.
None of this has been lost on the more alert law enforcement officials. They astutely noted that in December MySpace hired Sentinel Tech Holding to help it track pedophiles who may be using its site. MySpace at the time was reeling from countless front-page stories detailing how convenient the site made it for unscrupulous adults to meet face-to-face with minors. (The most notable among those stories came from Wired News reporter Kevin Poulsen, who wrote a program that cross-indexed MySpace profiles (http://www.wired.com/science/discove.../2006/10/71948) with registered sex offenders. He was able to confirm 744.) So now, some six months later after the MySpace gesture, they are demanding the site come clean with what it's learned so far.
"As our states' chief legal officers, we are gravely concerned that sexual predators are using MySpace to lure children into face-to-face encounters and other dangerous activities," they write. "We remain concerned about the design of your site, the failure to require parental permission, and the lack of safeguards necessary to protect our children."
The letter seeks the exact number and identities of MySpace users who also appear in Sentinel's database of registered sex offenders, the number and identities of sex offenders who have ever been identified as MySpace users and what steps MySpace has taken to alert officials and end users of the danger posed by these users. It also seeks what steps MySpace has taken to remove predators from its user profiles. The letter requests MySpace officials provide the information by May 29.
In response, MySpace said in a statement it is "in the initial stages of cross referencing our membership against Sentinel's registered sex offender database and removing any confirmed matches". It didn't explain why it has taken so long or when the job might be completed. The statement went on to call for the passage of federal legislation requiring sex offenders to register their email address.
MySpace has also been harshly criticized for not doing more to protect its large number of underage users from predators. In January a suit (http://www.theregister.com/2007/01/18/myspace_sued/) alleged MySpace didn't do enough to prevent several predators from using the site to meet teen users and then sexually assaulting them.
The attorneys general are from the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and New Hampshire.
Citing Privacy, MySpace Won't Give Names of Sex Offenders to AGs
Citing federal privacy law, MySpace.com said Tuesday it won't comply with a request by attorneys general from eight states, including Connecticut, to hand over the names of registered sex offenders who use the social networking Web site.
MySpace's chief security officer said the company regularly discloses information to law enforcement officials but said the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act says it can only do so when proper legal processes are followed.
"We're truly disheartened that the AGs chose to send out a letter ... when there was an existing legal process that could have been followed," the security officer, Hemanshu Nigam, said in an interview.
In a letter Monday, attorneys general from North Carolina, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania asked MySpace to provide the number of registered sex offenders using the site and where they live.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday blasted MySpace for refusing to share the information and said no subpoena is needed for MySpace to tell the attorneys general how many registered sex offenders use the site "or other information relating to possible parole violations."
"I am deeply disappointed and troubled by this unreasonable and unfounded rejection of our request for critical information about convicted sex offenders whose profiles are on MySpace," Blumenthal said. "By refusing this information, MySpace is precluding effective enforcement of parole and probation restrictions that safeguard society."
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper echoed the sentiment, saying "it's sad that MySpace is going to protect the privacy of sex offenders over the safety of children."
Nigam said MySpace is serious about identifying and removing sex offenders from its Web site and wants to work with the attorneys general.
"Everybody needs to get together and delete online predators," Nigam said, adding that MySpace supports state and federal legislation requiring sex offenders to register e-mail addresses. "The attorneys' general concerns and our concerns are exactly the same."
In December, MySpace announced it was partnering with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build a database with information on sex offenders in the United States.
Software to identify and remove sex offenders from the site has been used for 12 days, and MySpace has "removed every registered sex offender that we identified out of our more than 175 million profiles," Nigam said.
It is also working with Sentinel to share the sex offender database and technology with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which works directly with law enforcement officials, Nigam said.
Christian Genetski, an attorney who has represented MySpace, said the Electronic Communications Privacy Act requires subpoenas, court orders or search warrants, depending on the information sought.
"It's a clearly defined law that most providers and prosecutors understand and work with on a daily basis," said Genetski, who covers information security and Internet enforcement at a firm in Washington, D.C. "My understanding is (the attorneys general) want the private personal information, and that's clearly the information the ECPA protects."
Blumenthal said will be aggressive in their pursuit of the information.
"We will take ...forceful action, including subpoenas if necessary to protect children," Blumenthal said.
MySpace, which is owned by News Corp., and other social networking sites allow users to create online profiles with photos, music and personal information, including hometowns and education. Users can send messages to one another and, in many cases, browse other profiles.
MySpace's policy prevents children under 14 from setting up profiles, but it relies on users to specify their ages.
MySpace Gives Details of Its Plan to Reveal Known Sex Offenders
MySpace, an online social network popular with teenagers, said in two statements yesterday that it was prepared to work with state attorneys general who have requested the identities of MySpace members who are known sex offenders.
But the company said its cooperation hinges on whether the state officials follow the law and subpoena the names, a step that a leader of the state attorneys general said was not necessary.
In its first statement, MySpace said it was “doing everything short of breaking the law to ensure that the information about these predators gets to the proper authorities.”
MySpace, a division of the News Corporation, said it would release information about its members as long as it was able to comply with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. That law “prohibits us from disclosing the information they’re seeking without a subpoena,” the second statement said.
MySpace’s statement was interpreted as a rebuff by Richard Blumenthal, the attorney general of Connecticut and the co-chairman of a working group of 50 attorneys general.
“I do believe it is disingenuous and disappointing because much of the information that we have sought, specifically the numbers of convicted sex offenders on the site require no subpoena or any other compulsory process,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “We have a valid and viable need to know about convicted sexual offenders who may pose a threat to children.”
Mr. Blumenthal said that parole conditions for sex offenders ordinarily say that they cannot be in contact with children.
He said that Connecticut and other states do not require subpoenas for enforcing parole conditions. Mr. Blumenthal said he plans to convene a conference call in the next few days of the 50 attorneys general to decide how to respond to MySpace.
He said they would issue subpoenas, if need be.
Hemanshu Nigam MySpace’s chief security officer, said in an interview that the site had already taken down the profiles of thousands of sex offenders since the beginning of May when it began running its own database check.
“We’re hoping that we can work out the proper legal channel so we can provide this information to the attorneys general,” Mr. Nigam said. “The attorneys general have a particular goal, which is to try to do something against online predators, and we do too, which is to try to keep them off our site.”
Mr. Nigam said that the company had aggressively tried to crack down on sex offenders. Late last year, the company hired Sentinel Tech, a company in New York, to design a system to compare its 175 million member records with public sex offender records.
“In six months, we are the only company in the country that has stepped up in an area that faces the entire Internet industry,” Mr. Nigam said. “We did it with our own costs.”
Police Blotter: Imprisoned Sex Offenders Demand PCs
Police Blotter is a weekly News.com report on the intersection of technology and the law.
What: Sex offenders held in Minnesota facility say it was illegal for guards to confiscate personal computers used in their rooms.
When: Court of Appeals of Minnesota rules on May 8.
Outcome: Sex offenders have no right to possess PCs.
What happened, according to court documents:
The sleepy town of Moose Lake is home to one of Minnesota's sex offender programs, where "people who are committed by courts as a sexual psychopathic personality or a sexual dangerous person" are civilly committed. The unit goes by the generic name of "Therapeutic Concepts Unit."
Last April, four patients escaped from a second TCU location, which raised alarms in nearby communities. During their escape, the sex offenders removed metal bars and broke security glass in windows.
One of the men was a convicted rapist, who was identified and captured after appearing on America's Most Wanted a few weeks later. The other three were caught within hours of their escape.
That escape prompted Minnesota to immediately confiscate TCU patients' computers for security inspections. Rodger Robb, a TCU patient, believed that his computer would not be returned.
He sued, claiming a violation of his due process rights, and was joined by fellow patient Larry Schultz. Other reasons the administration gave for the confiscations include: The rooms are small and electrical outlets are limited.
"The point about this computer thing that is so angering to so many people is that they painted with this real broad brush," Robb said, according to CityPages.com. "I have never been accused of misusing my computer for anything. I have never misused my computer for anything."
The confiscation is part of a broader, planned crackdown on personal computers owned by TCU patients, with administrators arguing that the machines are used to store sexual images and ones in common areas should be used instead. That crackdown was put on hold until Robb's lawsuit was decided, though. (A previous Police Blotter article described how one TCU patient claimed to have a First Amendment right to have Playboy images on his PC.)
Robb and Schultz lost before a trial judge, who rejected their request for an injunction and ruled that the duo had "fallen far short" of demonstrating that they would suffer a violation of their rights.
So did a state appeals court, which said last week that administrators enjoy great latitude "to accommodate a growing patient population and provide a safe and secure facility for patients and staff."
Excerpts from the appeals court's opinion:
Appellants argue that the state infringed upon their due process rights under U.S. Const. amend. V and Minn. Const. art. I, Sec. 7 because they were deprived of property interests. Although the protocol does not allow personal computers in the patients' rooms, they have access to common-use computers and may transfer appropriate data from their personal computer hard drives to disks. Appellants speculate that the state intends to destroy Robb's computer and appellants' other property. Because he has copious amounts of saved material on his computer, Robb speculates that it would be impossible to put it onto disks.
Appellants cite no evidence to support these contentions. And it is important for the state to have the ability to adjust policies to further MSOP's safety goals. Gary Grimm, MSOP program director, specifically denies appellants' contentions in his affidavit, stating "if the patient does not send out his computer, (MSOP) will place it in storage. (MSOP) will not destroy or otherwise dispose of patients' computers." (Editor's note: MSOP stands for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.)
The relationship between the parties is that appellants are committed in the TCU at MSOP, and respondents operate the treatment facility. The district court found that the statutory requirements allow the state "wide latitude" to develop programs and policies for the administration of the program, including disallowing contraband contained on computers. This is consistent with the articulated policy to maintain a "secure and orderly environment that is safe for persons in treatment and staff and supportive of the treatment program."
As the district court found, it would be a heavy administrative burden to require that the district court review each item of personal property to determine whether it complies with protocol. Absent a clear violation of the patients' rights, the state must exercise its professional judgment to accommodate a growing patient population and provide a safe and secure facility for patients and staff. On the current record, it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court, after considering each of the governing factors, to deny appellants' motion to temporarily enjoin the state from holding or confiscating appellants' personal property.
In Search of the Real Fake Steve Jobs
Who's behind The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs? The question riveting Silicon Valley as much as the satirical blog itself may be answered this week
Ask 10 folks in Silicon Valley for their favorite post from The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, the satirical blog by an anonymous writer channeling Apple's chief executive, and you'll likely get 10 different answers.
There's the one about IBM (IBM) CEO Sam Palmisano's visit to Apple (AAPL) headquarters, which begins, "You may not know this if you're not in the industry but IBMers are a bit like Roman Catholic nuns. They never travel in groups of less than 20." It includes Palmisano's compliments on Apple's "iPod compact disc player" and his questions about whether the iPod Shuffle is a tie clip or mouse.
Then there's the post about a conversation with Apple director Al Gore, who supposedly tells Jobs he's suffering from depression, is "wacky as a dime watch," and has to step off the board so he can run for President again.
Or how about the classic about how Yoko Ono screwed up licensing talks to get the Beatles' music included on iTunes. "We're drinking green tea on the floor of her living room and she's insisting that when we put the music up on iTunes that the band must be called 'John Lennon and the Beatles' and she must be listed as a member of the group. Her big tactic is just to repeat things over and over in this monotone voice, to wear you down—it's a Japanese business tactic, they all do it … and for a while I'm agreeing and trying to be all Zen about it, and Yoko is giving me the Zen right back, and we're both working our Zen and trying to be more passive-aggressive and monotone and repetitive than the other one, and finally I just snapped … 'It's bad enough you broke up the greatest band of all time. Now you're gonna frig this up, too? … It's just a distribution deal!' She bows her head and says, in this voice that's barely more than a whisper, 'I will pray for your soul.'" It ends, well, badly for both Jobs and Ono.
Since Secret Diary was started last year, the daily stream of such entries has made Fake Steve Jobs, or FSJ for short, required reading in Silicon Valley and beyond. It has quickly become Jon Stewart's Daily Show for the tech set. FSJ not only manages to hit many of the topics of the day, but its unfiltered satirical voice lets techies revel in their never-ending fascination of their own industry, and be entertained at the same time. "It's amazingly well read, in part because everybody gets a laugh," says Roger Kay, founder of tech consultancy Endpoint Technologies Associates. "If you're just a poor schnook, you get to laugh at what an egomaniac [Jobs] is, and at all his billionaire friends. But if you're in the game, you get to laugh at how well [Fake Steve] seems to know Jobs and his world."
FSJ has zealously guarded his (or her) identity since the blog was started. But now, as his popularity has soared, the guessing game over the author's true identity has grown almost as entertaining as The Secret Diary itself. It's a blend of the search for Watergate's Deep Throat with the speculation over the authorship of Primary Colors, the fictional-but-oh-so-accurate account of a Clintonesque White House in the early 1990s.
The guesses are all over the map. Tech journalists and former Apple marketing staffers are popular choices. More than one person has suggested the writer could be Jobs himself, as if he has the spare time. Then last week, the Silicon Valley gossip site Valleywag published a story intended to out FSJ, running through several possibilities before proclaiming on May 11 that the author is Leander Kahney, the 41-year-old editor of Wired News (wired.com). Only hours later, Valleywag reversed itself. After getting effusive praise in the blogosphere, Kahney, a longtime tech reporter and the author of two books on Apple, called Valleywag to say the site had gotten it wrong. "I didn't want to ruin it by fessing up," Kahney told BusinessWeek. "I was hoping to string it out over the weekend. But you can't take credit for someone else's work."
Book Deal on the Way?
The world may not have to wait much longer, however. According to one source, FSJ may unveil his identity as early as this week, possibly in connection with the announcement of a book deal. FSJ is represented by a literary agent, Emma Parry of Fletcher Parry in New York, say sources. "Early next week, he's going to be identified," says the source. Parry did not return calls seeking comment.
That certainly sets the stage for a public debut of, well, Jobsian dimensions. Kahney says he was as consumed with curiosity as anyone—maybe more. Earlier this year, before Wired News had signed a sponsorship deal with FSJ, he and a colleague went so far as to track the IP addresses when FSJ sent e-mails. But when his boss, Wired News Editor-in-Chief Evan Hansen, was about to reveal the identity to him, Kahney stopped him. "I didn't want to know."
The Secret Diary offers plenty of clues for those inclined to speculate. The author has an in-the-marrow sense of Silicon Valley's masters of the universe, an encyclopedic knowledge of Steve Jobs' history, and a been-there-done-that familiarity with the company's famously controlling public relations machine. Then there's the snarky and stylish writing style that seems to capture the ego Jobs would never give voice to. And there's a strange affection for British slang—like "chav"—that has many persuaded the writer is a Brit.
Those in the Know
The others who are suspected? The list is plenty long, but among those discussed is David Morgenstern of eWeek.com, Owen Thomas of Business 2.0, and Sarah Lacy, a BusinessWeek writer who left last year to write a book about Web 2.0 entrepreneurs. Cathy Cook, who worked with Jobs at NeXT Computer in the late 1980s and is known for her devilish wit, has received a flood of calls in recent months asking whether she is Fake Steve, including one from a reporter on her cell phone on a Saturday morning earlier this year. "I just howl with laughter," she says, denying it is she. "I used to be nasty, but I'm not anymore. And it's way too clever to [have been written by] me." The real Steve Jobs did not return messages seeking comment, so it isn't known who he suspects—or even what he thinks of the blog.
In the end, FSJ does such a clever job channeling Jobs that it's hard to know how he actually feels about him. Sure, Jobs comes off as a self-righteous egomaniac—but only because FSJ truly is always right. "Can you tell whether he's sympathetic to Jobs or not? It's not that obvious," says Kay, of Endpoint Technologies Associates. "I think he's struck the right note all the way around. A lot of people at Apple think it's funny."
The question now, if in fact Fake Steve goes public soon, is what the future holds for The Secret Diary without its primary secret. Many regular readers and industry insiders are skeptical that the blog can maintain its buzz without the veil of anonymity. An identifiable author allows targets to take issue with slights or insults, and an FSJ who has to defend his postings may be more restrained. "I hope he doesn't get outed," says Kahney. "It will get watered down if he is."
A Producer and an Ex-Prosecutor in a Trial by TV
The most disturbing spectacle at the trial of Phil Spector isn’t the wizened and peculiar defendant slumped in the courtroom dressed in a 1970s-style leisure suit and blond pageboy wig. It’s the parade of attractive, mature women shown on Court TV testifying that not so long ago they too were willing, even eager, to spend time with the once-legendary record producer.
Four female witnesses have said that at one point Mr. Spector threatened them at gunpoint, and that is crucial to the prosecution, which seeks to convict Mr. Spector, 67, of killing Lana Clarkson, a 41-year-old struggling actress and nightclub hostess who was found shot dead in his house on Feb. 3, 2003.
But what resounds with viewers is the portrait of a downward Hollywood spiral painted by these smart, foolish witnesses, who like Ms. Clarkson thought that an association with Mr. Spector could improve their lives, and now consider themselves lucky merely to have stayed alive.
The Spector trial is a raw, brutal porthole into the inequities and humiliating alliances of show business. It calls out for a raw and brutal navigator — someone who will drive viewers to repeat to themselves, over and over, “There but for the Nancy Grace go I.”
Ms. Grace, the former Georgia prosecutor with the chain-gang-and-magnolia Southern drawl, announced last week that she was leaving “Nancy Grace: Closing Arguments” on Court TV after 10 years. She will still be seen on CNN Headline News in her usual evening slot, but discussion of celebrity trials on Court TV may never be the same.
It may very likely remain preposterous: Court TV has announced it has hired Star Jones Reynolds, formerly of “The View” — whose tabloid wedding extravagances and Sisyphean weight struggles long ago eclipsed her background as a prosecutor — to be the host of a daytime talk show.
But it is Ms. Grace who, for better and for worse, is the face of news media vigilantism. She is unlikely to leave the cable network before the Spector trial is over, and that is fortunate. In this sordid celebrity murder case, Ms. Grace serves as the arbiter of how far people can go to achieve fame.
Ms. Grace has always cast herself as the pit bull champion of the victim, with a vehemence that sometimes victimizes the victim. In this trial in particular, she seems to identify with Ms. Clarkson, showing a knowing sympathy for her choices, and even relief that she herself was spared a similar destiny.
She raised the question of why Ms. Clarkson would choose to go late at night to Mr. Spector’s house by answering it herself. “I’ve gone to offices and locations alone to meet male witnesses and male informants,” she said on Court TV last week. “And I, of all people, having been a prosecutor, you would think, ‘Oh, don’t do that,’ but you know you can’t go through your life always assuming something horrible is going to happen to you, you got to live, all right?”
She said she didn’t think badly of Ms. Clarkson, whose career high point was the lead in a Roger Corman B movie, “Barbarian Queen,” for going home with Mr. Spector. As Ms. Grace put it, “She was trying to make things happen.”
There is nothing new about a naïve actress losing her life in the quest to become a movie star, but what is poignant about Ms. Clarkson’s fate was that she was not a youngster just off the bus, but a woman in her 40s seemingly desperate to recapture the wisp of fame that curled around her for a moment in the 1980s and moved on. It’s her indefatigable optimism and forced good cheer that sting the most. Ms. Clarkson was working as a hostess at the House of Blues when she met Mr. Spector; in 2001 she starred in a friend’s play, “Lana’s Pupil: Every Woman’s Guide to Gold Digging.”
Ms. Grace is proof that women with a yen for the spotlight and a law degree can become rich and famous even after their youthful bloom has faded. Less-educated, less-pugnacious women with a hankering for movie star status often end up serving drinks in Los Angeles restaurants and nightclubs and feeling fortunate if they are asked out by an aged, perhaps even unhinged, former celebrity.
There isn’t much sympathy for these women in the courtroom. Bruce Cutler, one of Mr. Spector’s lawyers, once disparaged the witnesses as “sycophants and parasites.” Even the prosecutors who are relying on them to build the case against Mr. Spector sometimes express contempt.
Kathy Sullivan, a waitress who spent part of the evening of Feb. 2 bar hopping with Mr. Spector, said she was reluctant to give the last name of another woman who had been with them briefly that night, turning to the judge to say beseechingly, “Now she’s going to end up in the paper.”
The deputy district attorney, Alan Jackson, smirked. “Oh, nobody’s promising that.”
Court TV anchors love to pull away from the courtroom to put their own stamp on the proceedings. The infamously combative Ms. Grace has no patience with experts who try to interpret the defendants’ psyches. When a psychologist, Dr. Patricia Saunders, suggested that Mr. Spector’s wigs and shoes might be a sign of what she labeled “feminine identification,” Ms. Grace interrupted her at “Cuban heel.”
“I don’t know what a Cuban heel is. What is a Cuban heel?” she barked at her guest. “Please be specific.” When Dr. Saunders proved unable to describe it with sufficient precision, Ms. Grace reprimanded her with her customary prosecutorial gusto: “Cuban heel. You used a phrase with which you are unfamiliar.”
That kind of badgering has gotten her into trouble. In 2006, she taped a segment with Melinda Duckett, whose son was missing, demanding that Ms. Duckett account for her own whereabouts when he disappeared. Ms. Duckett killed herself the day after the interview. Few besides Ms. Duckett’s family argued that Ms. Grace drove the distraught woman to suicide (the mother has not been eliminated as a suspect in the still-unsolved case), but it didn’t help Ms. Grace’s reputation.
But Ms. Grace is neither a journalist nor an impartial legal expert. “Closing Arguments” is not about judicial process, it’s about summary judgment, a breaking-news version of pseudo-reality shows like “The People’s Court” and “Judge Judy.” Ms. Grace also breezes past due process and good manners to voice populist indignation.
Ms. Grace expressed bafflement that someone like Mr. Spector would feel the need to threaten women to make them stay. “He can have any woman he wants with all that money,” she said, adding, “Well, almost any woman he wants.”
But her point may be well taken. When Mr. Spector arrives at the Los Angeles courthouse, cameras tape him stepping out of a white S.U.V. on the arm of a tall, blond young woman, 26-year-old Rachelle Marie Short, a model and aspiring actress he reportedly wed in late 2006.
Defense lawyers usually instruct clients and their families to look sober as they enter the courthouse, but last week Ms. Short, preening a bit behind trendy sunglasses in front of paparazzi cameras, couldn’t suppress a delighted smile.
And that was the most troubling tableau of all.
Report: Piracy Software Loses Continue to Rise
While the rate of piracy worldwide has stayed fairly stable, the cost of the problem to software developers continues to rise as the market continues to grow, the Business Software Alliance said on Tuesday.
An IDC study commissioned by the BSA found that for every $2 spent on legitimate software, a dollar is lost to piracy. Worldwide, around 35 percent of all software is pirated.
"The good news is we are making progress, however, we still have a lot of work to do to reduce unacceptable levels of piracy," said BSA President and CEO Robert Holleyman.
Global losses amounted to $40 billion in 2006, up 15 percent from the previous year. Some good news could be culled from the study: piracy rates dropped moderately in 62 countries, while increasing in only 13.
Progress was noted in places like China, whose piracy rates continued to drop. In 2006, 82 percent of software was pirated, down 10 points in three years. This amounted to an additional $864 million in revenue, the BSA said.
"This continued decline in China's software piracy rate is quite promising," Holleyman said. "BSA is encouraged by the commitment from the Chinese government to ensure legal software use.
Another problem area, Russia, also saw declines in the amount of pirated software during the same period, falling seven points to 87 percent in 2006.
Of all countries studied, the US had the lowest rate of piracy, yet the highest total losses at $7.3 billion. It was followed by China with losses of $5.4 billion, and France with $2.7 billion.
Rising Exports Putting Dent in Trade Gap
Jeremy W. Peters
Over half of the 9.1 million vehicles General Motors produced last year were sold in foreign countries. More KFC fast food restaurants are opening in China now than in the United States.
With the slumping housing market taking a toll on its business at home, Caterpillar is counting on sales of equipment and diesel engines in Europe, Asia and the Middle East to keep growing.
American companies have been doing business abroad for a long time, but never before has it been so important. This year, for the first time, Standard & Poor’s expects the 500 companies in its benchmark stock index to generate more than half of their sales in foreign countries.
Even as companies in the United States are gaining ground overseas, they are also sending more American-made products abroad. A weaker dollar is adding to their good fortunes, helping to make American goods and services more competitive in foreign markets.
As a result, it now looks as if the huge trade deficit, which swelled to a record $765.3 billion last year, could gradually decrease. The trade gap widened in March, mostly because of higher prices for imported oil, but the vast disparity between what Americans import and export is expected to narrow, which would allow trade to contribute to economic growth in the United States for the first time in more than a decade.
The shift to a more export-driven economy, if it continues, could add more jobs at home and help the United States bounce back from its slowest economic expansion in four years.
When the trade deficit shrinks, “home-grown demand is being fed by home-grown production instead of foreign production,” said Chris Varvares, the president of Macroeconomic Advisers, an economic research firm in St. Louis. “That requires more domestic employment, and that’s better for the domestic economy.”
Faster growth in Europe and Asia is helping to cushion the blow of a collapsing housing boom that has hampered domestic consumer spending, creating more demand from elsewhere for goods and services made in the United States.
Rather than hurting many American companies, a weak dollar is actually providing a strong lift. The exchange rate difference stokes profits from earnings generated abroad, countering the adverse effects on importers who must pay more and Americans traveling abroad with a less valuable currency in their wallets.
“The old notion that if the dollar’s bad, corporate profits have to go down is no longer correct,” said Howard Silverblatt, a senior analyst at Standard & Poor’s. “There’s a lot of growth going on in the rest of the world, and companies have to be there if they want to participate. There’s a lot to be sold.”
At the same time, a number of American workers have lost their jobs as companies moved more business overseas. And there is always the risk that the dollar could suddenly plunge and set off a global economic crisis.
But for now, the currency’s weakness is encouraging American manufacturers to keep more production at home and sell more goods abroad, and is aiding the turnaround in trade. That, in turn, could lead to a more balanced global economy less dependent on the United States as the main engine of growth, economists say. This year, growth in the United States is again expected to lag global growth.
Imports have been coming into the United States at a slower rate, and exports have accelerated. In the six months from October to March, the value of imports slowed in three months while the value of exports rose in all but one month, trade figures show.
Exports have been strongest for companies that make the tools needed to support the developing world: factory machinery, earth-moving equipment and the digital components used to build a modern telecommunications backbone.
As the value of the dollar has eroded, these goods have become more expensive to buy from European countries. A British pound now costs around $2, and the euro has been inching toward $1.40.
The dollar has not depreciated as much against the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan, so American exports remain at a competitive disadvantage there. A stronger yuan, in fact, has been one of the primary trade goals of the Bush administration, which has pressed China to allow its currency to rise in value.
“With the exchange rate being much more favorable for them to buy American products, it’s easier to get your foot in the door,” said Jason W. Speer, vice president at Quality Float Works in Schaumburg, Ill., a company that makes hollow metal spheres used to measure liquid levels and decorate the tops of flag poles. His foreign customers are “much more open than in previous years,” Mr. Speer said.
Mr. Speer oversees the company’s new exporting division, which did not start marketing to European countries until 2003. Then, exports outside North America accounted for only 3 percent of Quality Float Works’s sales. Last year — the company’s highest-grossing yet — they were 26 percent of its $2.2 million in sales. A weak dollar, Mr. Speer said, “certainly hasn’t hurt.”
At Caterpillar, which is typical of the big companies in the S.& P. 500-stock index, slightly more than a half of its worldwide sales of more than $41 billion came from outside the United States. It met that demand almost equally with overseas production and with American exports, which increased to $10.54 billion last year from $9.16 billion in 2005.
“As the dollar has been revalued, it means what we produce in the United States is more competitive,” said William C. Lane, Washington-based director for government affairs for Caterpillar, a maker of construction and mining equipment. Rapid economic growth in the rest of the world is helping. “The folks that sold the shovels did well,” he said. “We’re selling a lot of shovels.”
This year, the company said it expected its export business to keep increasing overall sales. The company estimated that its engine and machinery sales in North America would fall 11 percent this year. But the rise in the rest of the world — up 19 percent in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and 17 percent in Asia — will more than make up for the loss.
Caterpillar’s shift reflects a larger trend. For Citigroup, which is planning to eliminate 17,000 jobs and relocate 9,500 more, India has been the biggest driver of growth for its international operations.
Economists differ about how critical a weaker dollar is in stimulating trade and narrowing the trade deficit, but most agree that it has some effect.
“The weaker dollar is a smaller piece of the adjustment than underlying demand shifts,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard and a former economist with the International Monetary Fund. “The driving factors are fast growth in Europe, slower growth in the United States.”
While international demand is a significant factor in reducing the trade deficit, C. Fred Bergsten, the director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said the dollar’s role was hard to play down. He estimated that for every 1 percent decline in the average exchange rate of the dollar, the trade gap eventually narrowed by about $20 billion a year.
But there is no disagreement that whatever the cause, the flow of orders from overseas to American producers is finally starting to decrease the trade deficit. As a result, net exports could add to growth in the United States this year rather than subtract from it. That has not happened since 1995.
Trade contributed to growth in the second and fourth quarters last year. In the government’s preliminary estimate for the first quarter of this year, trade was a slight drag on the economy.
Most economists, however, expect trade to improve for the rest of 2007. And when the level of trade is averaged out over the last four quarters, it faintly added to overall economic activity.
“The factors are in place for the trade deficit to fall,” said Mickey D. Levy, chief economist with the Bank of America. “We’re past the inflection point.”
In addition to exporting more, many American companies are enlarging their operations overseas. Motorola, for example, has been very aggressive in building cellphone factories in China and now counts itself among the country’s largest foreign companies. General Motors recently announced plans to more than double production in India and build a new assembly plant there.
This expansion, however, is not only taking place among manufacturers. Financial services companies like Ernst & Young are growing fastest in India and China. American investment banks like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch cannot seem to hire quickly enough to meet the needs of expanding Asian companies.
If the dollar keeps falling, though, it could have adverse implications for foreign economies. Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the world’s biggest exporter, could suffer if the euro continues to appreciate against the dollar, a recent report by Commerzbank Economic Research concluded. While a strong euro has so far had little negative effect on German exporters, a euro at $1.50 would pose a “serious obstacle,” the report said. Demand for some of Germany’s most popular goods — everything from auto parts to chemicals — would slow.
But for now, Germany is doing very well, helping to lift demand not just in Europe but also in the United States and elsewhere.
“It’s the global footprint that’s key here,” said Eugene M. Truett, vice president of investor relations for Harsco, an industrial services company outside Harrisburg, Pa., which provides personnel to steel mills and construction sites around the world.
Seventy percent of Harsco’s sales come from outside the United States, and Mr. Truett said that he expected the figure to increase. “What is clear is that even if the U.S. economy slows down, the rest of the world appears to be able to grow,” he said. “If you are able to sell to those parts of the world successfully, then you’re not tied down to one central bank, one economy.”
Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher in Hong Kong, G. Thomas Sims in Frankfurt, Heather Timmons in New Delhi and Eduardo Porter in New York.
Gonzales Pledges To Get Tougher On Content Pirates
The Justice Department is pledging to get even tougher on copyright violators and other intellectual property thieves, saying it has already boosted convictions and lengthened prison sentences.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday he was sending a bill to Congress--the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007--that would toughen penalties for repeat offenders. He also said he would "hit criminals in their wallets" by boosting restitution and ensuring all ill-gotten gains are forfeited, as well as any property used to commit the crimes.
TV and film piracy has been a big issue in the conversion to digital, with Justice pledging to boost the number of attorneys trained to prosecute intellectual property (IP) crimes and to encourage more international cooperation in investigations.
Universal Chairman Bob Wright has argued that getting a handle on that piracy is not only critical to the digital TV conversion, but the whole U.S. and even global economy.
"These crimes, as we all know, also have a direct impact on our economy, costing victims millions of dollars and, if left unchecked, diminishing entrepreneurship," Gonzales said in announcing the bill.
Gonzales said there were currently 230 federal prosecutors who have been trained to handle IP cases, and that convictions in copyright and trademark cases were up 57% in 2006 over 2005, with prison terms of more than two years up 130% over the same period.
US DOJ Gets 50th Warez Conviction
The United States Department of Justice has announced the 50th felony conviction as part of its Operation FastLink crackdown on warez groups operating on the Internet to illegally share music, movies, games and software. Christopher Eaves, 31, of Iowa Park, Texas, faces up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release.
Eaves was part of a group known as "Apocalypse Crew," and was responsible for providing copyrighted music online before its official release. “Digital piracy is a serious and growing global problem, and this 50th conviction represents a milestone never before achieved in any online piracy prosecution,” commented Assistant Attorney General Fisher. The DOJ's Operation FastLink has thus far resulted in more than 120 search warrants executed in 12 countries.
Inside Edge - IT News, Analysis and Opinion
For the average user spam has always been an annoyance. For the average spammer it has always been about making money. For the criminal gangs that have muscled in on this lucrative industry during the last few years it is now about territory and control. Control, that is, of the botnets behind the malware distribution networks that they rent out to the spamming middle men to enable them to ply their trade in relative safety from the crippled arm of the law.
Leading AV researchers at Kaspersky have now identified three criminal gangs which are participating in an increasingly desperate battle of the botnets. This turf war is, as all turf wars have a habit of doing, turning nasty and it is the average computer who is getting caught ion the crossfire. No longer are the gangs happy to settle for a slice of the spam pie, they want it all. And that means control over as many compromised third party computers to create the biggest of mega zombie botnets. To accomplish this, the gangs behind the Bagle, Warezov and Zhelatin worms are turning their attention to ridding those compromised computers of rival gang malware infections in order to install their own and gain that control.
Spammers pay a lot of money to rent time on these mega botnets, and the bigger the botnet, the bigger its capacity to distribute spam, the more valuable a commodity it becomes.
Kaspersky Lab senior virus analyst Alexander Gostev writing in the latest Viruslist.com Malware Evolution report states that “war had been declared in cyberspace between the groups producing Warezov and Zhelatin. Taking into account the size of the botnets used by both groups, and their clear aim to conduct a large number of attacks, the situation was clear: this was threatening to become one of the most serious problems on the Internet in recent years.” Gostev identifies three groups from different countries who were all busy with the same thing, creating spam harvesting and distribution botnets. “This brought the three groups into conflict with each other, and they are willing to use everything at their disposal to gain an advantage” Gostev concludes.
The end result has been a huge increase in attacks on users, with an emphasis on developing new techniques to infect end users and evade detection by AV filters. If you need any evidence of this, 32% of all malicious code in email traffic during March 2007 was made up of Trojan-Spy.HTML.Bankfraud.ra according to Kaspersky, and indicating clearly that Bagle, Warezov and Zhelatin have created an epidemic.
Although there has been some success in dealing with high profile botnet related security incidents, including the 57 month prison term for Jeanson James Ancheta for infecting 400,000 computers for botnet use, this really is tip of the iceberg time. The really organised criminals will be using exactly the same techniques to evade capture and to protect the business of criminality as is seen in the drugs war. You can be sure that while sacrificial lambs get jail time, the gang bosses and the real botnet builders will continue to prosper. Until, that is, law enforcement, the judiciary and governments around the world start to take the spam problem as seriously as they do the drugs one. To be frank, I don’t see any evidence of that happening any time soon.
Get offa my clouds
Stealing IS a Crime, Right?
I have a LOT on my mind right now.. to be honest, i've rarely been so royally pissed off as i am today.
The photos shown above all have one thing in common (besides being rather lovely landscape photos):
They were all taken , without my permission, by the London based print-selling company Only-Dreemin. This company prides itself on offering its customers only the best quality canvas prints of the finest photos , by top artists.
What they fail to mention is that some of the photos they're selling prints of have been illegally obtained, and are being sold without the artists consent or knowledge.
In my case, a friend of mine came across their store on ebay and recognized one of my prints. (this was way back in january i think)
I looked into the matter and discovered 7 more of my photos being sold there. In the case of pictures 1, 2, 6 and 7, the image had been divided up into 3 vertical panels. ( Something i would never DREAM of doing myself. ) Furthermore, the images had been given new and exciting titles, like "Seraque II" and "Attica", "Dawn expander II" and " Joga" (barf)
I spent a good many days researching, going back thru their customer feedback, and was able to track back the sales of at LEAST 60 prints made from my images.
These prints sold for a total sum of 2450 british pounds (around 4840 US$ )
I gathered all the evidence , saved each webpage displaying my work , saved the list of customer feedback, printed all this stuff out and took it to a lawyer here in iceland.
She was confident that by sending them some well-phrased letters i'd be sure to get some damages out of them. After all, i had tons of incriminating evidence.
The letters did nothing other than make them take the images down from their site. Further letters got no response from them. My icelandic lawyer could do nothing else, so i was stuck with a bill and the infuriating fact that I, being only a non-wealthy art stutdent/ single mom in iceland, will have to accept that these people stole my work and made lots of money off it, and apparently are going to get away with it.
This is NOT OK BY ME.
I could think of little else to do than to at least tell people about this.
I have reason to believe that they've stolen images from other people, maybe other flickr users.
The reason i suspect this is quite simple. My photos were being sold under the bogus name of "Rebekka Sigrún" (the nerve of keeping the first name the same is somewhat amazing).
I saw a number of other photos being sold under that same artist name, and they werent mine. And obviously this Rebekka Sigrún doesnt exist.
Looking over the pictures i remember being sold under that name, it appears they've changed the artist name to "marco van eych". If anyone knows a landscape photographer by that name, let me know. i very much doubt he exists.
So i encourage everyone that has been displaying similar landscape photos on flickr to look at their site and see if they see something suspicious.
It would also be pretty cool if as many people as possible would send them angry letters, (address them to email@example.com ) but that's just if you feel like it
ok. i've said my piece. Quite a load off my back.
Freedom of Expression?? Telling the Truth??
not popular with flickr administration, apparently.
so, in case anyone is wondering where my post about my stolen photos , the long caption, and all 450+ comments went (some of them very well written and containing useful information for all flickr users and photographers and web-users in general), it was deleted by flickr.
this photo composite here, remember?:
“Flickr is not a venue for to you harass, abuse, impersonate, or intimidate others. If we receive a valid complaint about your conduct, we will send you a warning or
terminate your account.”
i find this more than a little depressing. to say the least.
and to think, just earlier today i was talking to a reporter from one of icelands main newspapers, saying what a great thing Flickr is and how its done so much for me and yada yada yada.
i don’t believe i was harrassing anyone. I was doing the only thing left for me to do when i had tried to seek legal assistance, after being victim to having my copyrighted work stolen and resold for profit by a dishonest company. I was told by my lawyer that i should just accept the fact and move on. Im not a big fan of giving up. I simply told the truth.
the fact that people sent harrassing letters to only-dreemin was a direct result of my post, but I myself wasnt harassing anyone. I was simply making it public that someone did wrong by me, and i think that’s a pretty far cry from harrassing some innocent party directly.
im extremely disappointed, to say the least.
Canadians Overpay Millions on Private Copying Levy
The Copyright Board of Canada issued its latest private copying decision [pdf] on Friday. The fourth major decision from the board on private copying, the decision addresses the levy for 2005 - 2007 (the Canadian Private Copying Collective attempt to extend the levy to iPods and SD cards would commence in 2008).
Interestingly, the levy will decrease slightly as a result of this decision, though the Copyright Board was actually inclined to increase the rate (note that all opposing parties dropped out of the proceedings, leaving only the CPCC to present evidence). The Board felt that 29 cents would be the appropriate levy for blank CDs, yet kept the levy at 21 cents since that is what the CPCC requested. At the same, it reduced the levy for other blank media - cassette tapes dropped by five cents to 24 cents per tape, while CD-R Audio, CD-RW Audio, and MiniDiscs all dropped from 77 cents to 21 cents.
The reduction in the levy leaves a significant surplus with the Board estimating that the CPCC will need to return $2.5 million in overpayment for the past three years. The CPCC has expressed disappointment at this result and indicated that it will develop a plan to reimburse importers and manufacturers for the higher levies that were collected from 2005 - 2007. Of course, assuming that the price of the levy was passed along to consumers, it is not the importers and manufacturers that should receive the reimbursement - it is Canadian consumers. The Board absolves itself of this issue by stating that "it is not for us to determine who, in the supply chain leading to the final consumer, will be the ultimate beneficiary of these refunds." In other words, Canadians have overpaid millions of dollars over the past three years for the private copying levy, yet that money will go into the pockets of importers, manufacturers, and possibly retailers (sounds like a class action lawsuit waiting to happen).
In addition to the overpayment issue, the decision contains several interesting revelations. First, the decision sheds some light on the CPCC's enforcement program. The collective has aggressively targeted those parties that do not pay the levy, with 21 claims over the past three years. In fact, the enforcement program has been so effective that the Board found that concerns about the emergence of a gray or black market for blank CDs has not materialized. Second, the Board indicated that it expects that revenues earned from the levy will steadily decrease in the coming years as the popularity of blank CDs gives way to other media. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. Of course, the CPCC has sought to address that by expanding the levy to iPods and SD cards. Third, despite claims that the levy does not apply to computer hard drives, the decision reveals that the Canadian Association of Broadcasters struck a deal with the CPCC in which it agreed that it would not collect a levy on computer hard drives used by broadcasters primarily for broadcasting purposes. Finally, readers may recall a CPCC survey which purported to find that Canadians think the private copying levy is reasonable. The retailers objected to the survey, but the Board went out of its way to state that it took no account of the findings in reaching its decision.
Pouwelse: Witness in RIAA Case
It's going to be interesting when Dr Doug Jacobson, a self-acclaimed expert in software used to monitor or block p2p file sharing applications, meets Dr Johan Pouwelse (right), a universally acknowledged expert in next-generation p2p technology.
Jacobson, based in the US, was hired by Warner Music, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony BMG's RIAA to ferret around in a computer hard drive owned by Marie Lindor to show she is all the RIAA claims she is.
Aged 57, she's a criminal and a thief, someone who illegally distributed copyrighted music 'product' online, according to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America).
Pouwelse, based at the Delft University in Holland and a visiting scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has now been hired by Mrs Lindor's lawyer, Ray Beckerman, to demonstrate conclusively why 'evidence' derived by Jacobson during his investigation, isn't worth a light.
The online desperado
A file shared online equals a sale lost, somehow, somewhere, the labels claim, saying that's exactly the same as walking into a store and stealing a CD. And RIAA disinformation specialists have been able to spin copyright infringement, a purely commercial matter, into a major crime on a level with rape and murder.
The 'files shared = sales lost' formula has never been proven by the RIAA, Warner Music, EMI, Vivendi Universal and Sony BMG, or anyone else. It has, however, been shot down in flames in a number of authoritative independent academic papers, the most recent being a study by Felix Oberholzer and Koleman Strumpf from the Harvard University Business School, University of Kansas, School of Business, respectively.
Their The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis, published in the prestigious Journal of Political Economy, states unequivocally:
Downloads have an effect on sales that is statistically indistinguishable from zero.
In truth, Mrs Lindor isn't an online desperado. She's a nurse's aide, a responsible position she's held for the last 20 years.
To her, a chip is a French fry and a computer a mystery, and she could no more "distribute" a digitized music file than she could fly to the moon.
But that doesn't play well in mainstream media stories or RIAA press releases and statements. So she's painted as an example of the "criminal" p2p file sharers who are "devastating" the Big 4, EMI (Britain), Vivendi Universal (France), Sony BMG (Japan and Germany) and Warner Music (US).
Mrs Lindor has a son, Woody Raymond, a paralegal by profession, and it's a near certainty the Big 4 labels were really after him, not his mother. But it's now Standard Operating Procedure for their RIAA to go after a parent or parents first, ultimately shifting their attention to their real targets, usually the children in the family. And indeed, Woody Raymond is also now an RIAA victim.
Inexpert 'expert' witnesses working for the corporate music industry repeatedly turn up in court cases, and Jacobson was to have plumbed the depths of Mrs Lindor's system to 'prove' her 'guilt'.
However, that didn't happen and Jacobson was shown to be a considerably less than perfect witness during detailed questioning by Beckerman at a deposition hearing.
Now Pouwelse, an invited speaker at the US Federal Trade Commission's p2p workshop a couple of years ago and who spent several months at Harvard Business School to study the economic impact of movie downloads on Hollywood, will drive the final nail into this particular RIAA coffin.
Nor will it be the first time he's shredded so-called expert testimony from an RIAA hireling.
Singularly and quotably unimpressed
A US firm called MediaSentry turns up over and again at Big 4 show-trials in North America and elsewhere. But its evidence often proves to be more damaging to the labels than to their victims.
It blew the game for the CRIA (Canadian Recording Industry Association of America) in 2004 when the latter demanded that a Canadian court order five ISPs to hand over the names of clients. Justice Konrad von Finckenstein was singularly and quotably unimpressed by MediaSentry 'evidence'.
Then the company blew it again in Holland when the District Court of Utrecht decided MediaSentry's investigation of p2p file sharing wasn't only flawed, it was "unlawful," ruling that Dutch ISPs didn't have to provide customer information to the CRIA's Netherlands counterparts.
Interestingly, Delft University of Technology's Johan Pouwelse and Henk Sips were expert witnesses in the Dutch case and the, "technical information provided by MediaSentry is limited and their measurement procedure is simplistic," said Henk and Pouwelse.
"MediaSentry did not conduct a thorough investigation ..."
The District Court of Utrecht agreed and ruled MediaSentry's investigation of p2p file sharing wasn't acceptable.
The chances of Jacobson surviving a meeting with Pouwelse aren't high, but the inevitable win will represent more than just another victory over the RIAA.
Pouwelse's evidence will be a landmark and it'll be re-employed by attorneys the length and breadth of America who are working to prove the innocence of their clients who, like Mrs Lindor, are falsely held up to be unprincipled, hard-core criminals and thieves.
Definitely stay tuned.
RIAA’s IP Gathering Techniques About to be Busted
RIAA’s shoddy data gathering techniques are unlawful and shouldn’t be used as legal evidence. This is what a Dutch court concluded based on the expert witness statement from Dr Johan Pouwelse, who is about to testify in the UMG v. Lindor case in the US.
Dr. Pouwelse is hired by Ray Beckerman, Mrs Lindor’s lawyer, to give his expert opinion on the RIAA’s IP-harvesting techniques.
Among others, the RIAA hires the US based company MediaSentry to monitor file-sharing networks for infringements of their client’s media. MediaSentry’s job is to identify and trace IP addresses they claim are engaged in such activity.
MediaSentry’s effectiveness has been called into question by Dr. Pouwelse in Foundation v. UPC Nederland. It was concluded that the “shoddy” way MediaSentry collects and processes IP addresses has no lawful basis. When the US court reaches the same conclusions, this will have great implications for many other RIAA lawsuits.
As Jon from P2Pnet puts it; “Pouwelse’s evidence will be a landmark and it’ll be re-employed by attorneys the length and breadth of America who are working to prove the innocence of their clients who, like Mrs Lindor, are falsely held up to be unprincipled, hard-core criminals and thieves.”
Pouwelse is founding father of the Tribler BitTorrent client and currently employed as an Assistant Professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
Sony Optimistic Despite Loss
Electronics maker forecasts operating profit of $3.7 billion for fiscal 2007, a six-fold gain from the prior year.
Sony reported a wider quarterly loss on Wednesday due to losses in its game unit, but it forecast a sharp rise in profit this year as it boosts sales of its PlayStation 3 video game machine and LCD TVs.
The Japanese electronics and entertainment conglomerate was hit hard last year by massive costs to launch the PlayStation 3 (PS3) and the recall of 9.6 million units of its laptop PC batteries, which in rare cases could catch fire from overheating.
But it is taking steps to cut production costs for the PS3 and is starting up an advanced liquid crystal display (LCD) panel plant with Samsung Electronics this year, which should help it make TVs more efficiently.
Sony (Charts), locked in a battle with Microsoft (Charts, Fortune 500) and Nintendo (Charts) for dominance in the $30 billion video game industry, forecast an operating profit of ¥440 billion ($3.66 billion) for the year to March 2008.
The estimate represents a six-fold gain on 2006/07 and beats the consensus of ¥377.8 billion in a poll of 20 analysts by Reuters Estimates, though it includes a ¥59 billion profit from a sale of land not likely reflected in the consensus.
Sony expects sales to grow 5.8 percent to ¥8.78 trillion.
"The forecast looks really good. It will be a matter of whether the company can actually achieve that goal," said Tomomi Yamashita, senior fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management.
"Investors think highly of Sony's efforts to turn around its struggling electronics business. Now its game business is underperforming, and whether it can fix that too will be closely watched."
For January to March, the fourth quarter of the past business year, Sony booked an operating loss of ¥113.4 billion, against a loss of ¥51.9 billion a year earlier and the consensus of a ¥94.5 billion loss according to five analysts.
Operating profit at Sony came to ¥71.75 billion in the year ended March 31, down from ¥226.42 billion a year earlier.
Sales rose 10.5 percent to ¥8.295 trillion while net profit rose 2.2 percent to ¥126.3 billion, boosted by the strong performance by Sony Ericsson, the world's fourth-largest mobile phone maker owned jointly by Sony and Ericsson.
Sony, which offers Bravia LCD TVs, Cyber-shot digital cameras and Vaio PCs, has packed its cutting-edge technology such as a Blu-ray high-definition DVD player into the PS3, enabling lifelike graphics but driving up its manufacturing costs.
The basic version of the PS3 is priced at twice as much as Nintendo's new console, the Wii, which has been outselling the Sony machine in Japan and the United States since the devices were launched late last year.
Sony said it would aim to nearly double shipments of the PS3 to 11 million units in 2007-08, but it warned that it would be difficult to bring its game division into the black following an operating loss of ¥232 billion in the past year.
It is banking on a better showing for the PlayStation Portable. Shipments of the handheld game player fell 41 percent in 2006-07 amid competition with Nintendo's popular DS device.
Howard Stringer, who became the company's first non-Japanese chief executive in 2005, has pledged to put Sony on the right track by selling non-core assets and pouring resources into its electronics segment that makes up two-thirds of overall sales.
The electronics unit improved to an operating profit of ¥157 billion in 2006-07 from a ¥7 billion profit in the prior year as it enjoyed robust demand for digital cameras, high-end camcorders and benefited from a weaker yen.
Motorola debuts new phones
Sony also more than doubled sales of LCD TVs to 6.3 million units and predicted a further surge to 10 million this year.
"We expect profits from TVs to get a boost this year, led by LCDs. We had a huge cost for the battery recall, but we won't have such expenses this year," Sony Chief Financial Officer Nobuyuki Oneda told a news conference.
The upbeat forecast will likely underpin the perception among investors that Sony is on a recovery path, even if it is still playing catch-up with Apple (Charts, Fortune 500) in the portable music player market and faces cut-throat competition with Matsushita Electric in flat TVs.
Prior to the announcement, shares in Sony closed up 1.3 percent at ¥6,460, having gained about 27 percent since the start of the year. The stock is now up about 70 percent since Stringer took the helm in June 2005.
"I think investors will be positive about the results. It won't be a case of the stock taking off, but there should be some gains. It would not be strange to see Sony's stock go as high as ¥7,000," said Shigemi Nonaka, adviser at Polestar Investment Management.
The Tokyo stock market's electrical machinery index, by comparison, is up 40 percent since June 2005.
April Video Game Sales Rose 20 Percent
U.S. sales of video games and related hardware rose 20 percent in April from a year earlier, driven by strong demand for Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Wii console and new Pokemon games for Nintendo's DS handheld.
Total sales of $839 million compared with $699 million in April 2006 but were down from $1.1 billion in March, in line with a seasonal pattern that sees sales taper off after the holiday season, according to data from market research firm NPD released on Thursday.
The Wii was the top-selling new console for the fourth month in a row, with Nintendo selling 360,000 units of the $250 machine with a unique motion-sensing controller.
"The demand has just blown the doors off. We're chugging along as fast as we can," said Perrin Kaplan, Nintendo's vice president of marketing.
Nintendo also had hits with its "Pokemon Diamond" and "Pokemon Pearl" titles for the DS. The latest pair of games in the popular franchise sold more than 1.7 million copies and spurred sales of 471,000 DS units.
"The 'Pokemon' titles drove hardware acquisitions," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.
Sony Corp. sold 82,000 units of its PlayStation 3, down 37 percent from the previous month as a lack of compelling new games discouraged potential buyers of the powerful-but-expensive system.
"The PlayStation 3 was obviously a little bit flat during the month. We didn't have a lot of hardware drivers out during the month, we didn't have any first-party titles," said Sony spokesman Dave Karraker.
"But we've got a pretty robust library coming for the rest of this year ... so I think you're going to see a real pick-up as these games start coming out," Karraker said.
Microsoft Corp. sold 174,000 Xbox 360 machines, down 13 percent on the month, with sales supported by a new version with a bigger hard drive and black paint job that sells for $480.
"That's a very strong number for us in the month of April," said Molly O'Donnell, senior group manager for Microsoft's entertainment and devices division. "A lot of this growth we think is fueled by our new Elite console."
Microsoft launched the Xbox in November 2005 and has about 59 percent of the installed base of new consoles, which totaled 9.2 million at the end of April, NPD figures showed.
Nintendo and Sony, which launched their machines a year after Microsoft, have 27 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of the installed base. However, Nintendo accounted for 58 percent of April console sales, compared to 28 percent for Microsoft and 13 percent for Sony.
After the "Pokemon" games, the next two best-selling titles were also from Nintendo as "Super Paper Mario" for the Wii sold 352,000 copies and "Wii Play" moved 249,000 copies.
Activision Inc.'s "Guitar Hero II" sold 197,000 units for the Xbox 360 and 142,000 copies for PlayStation 2.
Activision's "Spider-Man 3" sold 117,000 copies for the Xbox 360 and 105,000 copies for the PS2. The other top-selling games were Sony titles for the PS2: action game "God of War II" and baseball title "MLB '07: The Show."
Modified Xbox 360 Consoles Now Banned From Xbox Live
Microsoft's Xbox 360 now able to sniff out illegitimate copies of games
More than a year has passed since the release of the Xbox 360 DVD-ROM firmware hack to allow the play of backup games and bootleg copies. Those with hacked firmware had the ability to play copied games, mostly burned onto dual-layer DVD recordable discs, even online Xbox Live.
For a while, it seemed that such firmware modifications were undetectable by Microsoft – but that appears to have all changed with the latest Xbox 360 system software released last week.
Word came from the Xbox 360 hacking community that the Spring Update may have the ability to detect those who were playing copied games. More specifically, the system software would be able to determine the legitimacy of the disc in the DVD drive, not necessarily targeting any specific method of modification.
As a pre-emptive measure, hackers released updated disc drive firmware introducing various features, such as disc jitter, in an effort to further the exploit. Such efforts, however, appear to be all for naught, as report on Xbox-Scene indicates that Microsoft is now banning from Xbox Live users with modified DVD-ROM drives, regardless of firmware version.
The banning measures appear to have started alongside the release of the Halo 3 beta, perhaps in what is best described as a crackdown on Crackdown bootlegged copies that contained Halo 3 beta access. Just as it did during the original Xbox days, Microsoft is permanently banning modified consoles from connecting to Xbox Live, but not the user account.
Microsoft acknowledges its new initiative with an entry in its Gamerscore Blog: “As part of our commitment to our members, we do not allow people that we have detected to have modified their console to connect to Live. This is an important part of our efforts to try and maintain a fair gaming environment for the large majority of gamers that play by the rules. This topic is more important than ever given the recent release of the Halo 3 beta.”
The blog continues, “As a result, some consumers that try to login to Live who we detect have illegally modified their console will get an error code (Status Code: Z: 8015 - 190D) when trying to connect to the service. These users will not have their account automatically banned from LIVE, but they will no longer be able to access the service from the console they modified. We have stated in the past that customers can only enjoy access to the Xbox LIVE community through the use of a genuine, unmodified, Xbox console and we will continue to enforce this rule to ensure the integrity of our service, the protection of our partners and the benefits of our users.”
Devices Featuring New Standard to Hit Later This Year
Forget cables; the way you'll connect devices to your PC will be wireless. That's according to new research from In-Stat which predicts that Wireless USB will become the way to connect kit to your PC by 2008.
The wireless variant works in exactly the same way as cabled USB, but uses a short wave radio technology. And it's about to explode.
Some devices already exist, but hubs and other connection kit will be available commercially later in the year. In-Stat reckons there's plenty of potential in the market. Over two billion wired USB devices shipped last year, and it expects Wireless USB to grow by over 10 per cent annually.
"Certified WUSB is designed to replace USB cables on the PC desktop, as well as to facilitate temporary connections between mobile and fixed devices, such as portable digital audio players and PCs, or digital still cameras and printers," says Brian O'Rourke an analyst at In-Stat.Advertisement
One of the first hubs became available in Japan back in March.
Napster Music to be Available on Motorola Phones
Napster Inc. said on Tuesday it agreed to make its music subscription service available on Motorola Inc.'s mobile phones.
Napster and Motorola will develop promotional efforts for North America, the United Kingdom and Germany designed to let consumers listen to Napster's music on many Motorola music-enabled handsets.
Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.
Trend Sees Cell Phone Only Use Growing
More than a quarter of young adults have only cell phones, making them the leading edge of a strengthening move away from traditional landline telephones, a federal survey showed Monday.
Overall, the portion of adults with only cell phones grew by more than 2 percentage points in the latter half of last year to nearly 12 percent, an expansion rate that began in the first part of 2006 and was double earlier rates of growth.
One in four people aged 18 to 24 had only cell phones, as did 29 percent of those aged 25 to 29, the study showed. The percentages declined with age after that, with 2 percent of those 65 or over having only cell phones.
The trend away from landline phones affects the telephone industry, 911 emergency service providers, and government and private polling organizations, which rely heavily on random calls to households with wired telephones.
"All those wireless adults are missed" in those marketing and opinion surveys, said Stephen Blumberg, senior scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an author of the report.
That's a potential problem because people with only cell phones tend to be disproportionately young and have lower incomes. Studies have so far concluded that cell-phone-only users are not a large or diverse enough group to affect the accuracy of broad polls that omit them.
The data, from the
CDC's National Health Interview Survey, also found:
_15 percent of Hispanic adults, 13 percent of black adults, 12 percent of Asians and 11 percent of whites had only cell phones;
_22 percent of the poorest adults had only cell phones, double the rate for those who are not poor;
_13 percent of males and 11 percent of females had cell phones only;
_Nearly 2 percent of adults had no phone at all.
The figures were based on interviews with people in 13,056 households from June through December last year.
Tracking Himself: The 'Orwell Project'
Soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government mistook Hasan Elahi for a terrorist. On a return trip from Europe, the Bangladesh-born, New York-raised artist was flagged at the airport and interrogated. To prove his whereabouts, Elahi showed them his Palm PDA, a device that yielded enough information -- from calendar notes of appointments and classes he teaches at Rutgers University -- to placate his interrogators.
But shaking off the feds would not be easy. In the months after the first round of questioning, the FBI subjected Elahi to more interviews and to a lie-detector test. Though he passed the test, his paranoia grew.
The artist hatched a plan. If Big Brother wanted proof of his coordinates, why not surveil himself? Recording his own moves could, theoretically, seal his alibi. And, when conceived of as art project, the action might satirize federal intelligence gathering.
From the day in 2002 when Elahi implanted a GPS-enabled device in his cellphone, art and life merged. Several times a day, the artist input his location into the phone and his computer recorded the data (he hopes to incorporate a live GPS tracker soon). He then created a Web site that allowed viewers to see where he is at any given time -- you can visit at http://www.trackingtransience.net-- and he began taking photographs with a digital camera as further proof of his whereabouts.
A documentary exhibition, "Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project," on view at Civilian Art Projects, grew from Elahi's promising scheme.
But as an exhibition, "Tracking Transience" loses its way. Elahi's premise is based on real-life evidence and the obsessive recording of events. In this area, his exhibition succeeds. He foists plenty of visual information on us, including grids and panels of photographs taken at airports and on aircraft, site plans of various airport terminals and videos based on his travels.
Yet precious few of the images here are presented with time or date stamps or any identifying information. It's as if the element of corroboration has gone missing. Even the artworks that show satellite coordinates -- a video screen flashes one satellite image per day for a year, showing where the artist was at noon each day -- invite doubt. The year isn't listed, only the month and day -- May 1, May 2, etc. How are we to know when Elahi was where he said he was? Or if it was indeed the artist's phone that registered these coordinates?
The questionable authenticity of images is as old as the history of photography. The digital age invites further doubt. But there's something missing here -- a strand of evidence that establishes the artist as a voice of authority, if only mock authority. As it stands, doubts hang at every turn.
The trouble comes in the grids of photos on view, shot inside airports and on airplanes to prove the artist's presence at the time he claims to have been there. Yet one particularly arresting grid of color photos depicting in-flight meals is arranged not in accordance with a particular chain of events or itinerary. Instead, as the artist told me, the photos fit together simply because they looked good.
Yes, the colors pop and the images' regularity and repetition captivate. Making aesthetically minded choices is any artist's prerogative. But here, in a show dedicated to documentation, such a choice runs counter to the larger project. "Tracking Transience" is about establishing a veneer of confidence and it loses us when it wavers.
Another photo grid, called "Interstate," assembles pictures of airports the artist has visited. For this piece, Elahi input parameters into his computer to select the pictures -- a certain span of time, airports where he'd spent a minimum number of hours, etc. Such choices establish a relationship between the images. Yet even these moves aren't apparent without asking the artist himself.
Other pictures show urinals, food courts and other airport sights. Each image prompts questions: What day? Which airport? Which moving walkway? To his credit, Elahi cross-references his data with records kept by people other than himself -- bank transactions, credit card swipes and cellphone call data. Yet none of that information is on display in the gallery. Without real-life documentation corroborating the artist's truth, "Tracking Transience" becomes an exercise in solipsism.
Young Chinese Photographers At Addison/Ripley
A lot of art has emerged from China in the past few years, much of it very bad. It might as well be 1985 all over again, what with the proliferation of large-scale works by a handful of anointed stars selling for big, big bucks. Witness the epic jump in price at auction: In 2004, Sotheby's and Christie's combined sold $22 million in Asian contemporary art. Two years later, they sold 8 1/2 times that.
Washington hasn't felt the boom. A Federal Reserve Board show last year brought some Chinese art stars to town, confirming that price doesn't equal quality. At Addison/Ripley, three young Beijing-based photographers represent the more moderate end of the spectrum. Their prices range from a modest $6,000 to a demure $1,800, in part because photography is always cheaper than painting. Chosen with the help of a Beijing-based curator, the works on view represent three distinct styles -- landscape, surrealism and documentary-style social critique.
But this show isn't about the art. It's about how art is marketed. Remember that, aside from a few exceptional expatriates, Chinese contemporary artists haven't been readily accessible to us. For these three artists there are likely 300 or 3,000 more awaiting a big break. What makes these artists better than their peers? Art, like money, is a confidence game. Belief in the gallery that's backing them and trust in the curator that chose them are as important -- if not more so -- than their skills.
Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project at Civilian Art Projects, 406 Seventh St. NW. Wednesday-Saturday noon-6 p.m., to June 9. Call 202-607-3804 or visit http://www.civilianartprojects.com.
Three at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, 1670 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., to May 19. Call 202-338-2341 or visit http://www.addisonripleyfineart.com.
Gonzales Pressed Ailing Ashcroft on Spy Plan, Aide Says
On the night of March 10, 2004, a high-ranking Justice Department official rushed to a Washington hospital to prevent two White House aides from taking advantage of the critically ill Attorney General, John Ashcroft, the official testified today.
One of those aides was Alberto R. Gonzales, who was then White House counsel and eventually succeeded Mr. Ashcroft as Attorney General.
“I was very upset,” said James B. Comey, who was deputy Attorney General at the time, in his testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.”
The hospital visit by Mr. Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., who was then White House chief of staff, has been disclosed before, but never in such dramatic, personal detail. Mr. Comey’s account offered a rare and titillating glimpse of a Washington power struggle, complete with a late-night showdown in the White House after a dramatic encounter in a darkened hospital room — in short, elements of a potboiler paperback novel.
Mr. Comey related his story to the committee, which is investigating various aspects of Mr. Gonzales’s tenure as Attorney General, including the recent dismissals of eight United States attorneys and allegations that applicants for traditionally nonpartisan career prosecutor jobs were screened for political loyalties.
Although Mr. Comey declined to say specifically what the business was that sent Mr. Gonzales to the bedside of Mr. Ashcroft in George Washington Hospital, where he lay critically ill with pancreatitis, it was clear that the subject was the National Security Agency’s secret domestic surveillance program. The signature of Mr. Ashcroft or his surrogate was needed by the next day, March 11, in order to renew the program, which was still secret at that time.
Since the existence of the program was disclosed by The New York Times in late 2005, it has been reported that it was the subject of a tense debate at the highest levels of the Bush administration, with some officials concerned that the program was not adequately supervised, and others having more fundamental worries.
Around the time of the hospital incident, the White House suspended parts of the program for several months and imposed tougher requirements on the National Security Agency on how the program was to be used.Mr. Comey told the committee today that when Mr. Ashcroft was ill and he was in charge at the Justice Department, he told the White House he would not certify the program again “as to its legality.”
On the night of March 10, as he was being driven home by his security detail, he got a telephone call from Mr. Ashcroft’s chief of staff, who had just been contacted by Mr. Ashcroft’s wife, Janet.
Although Mrs. Ashcroft had banned visitors and telephone calls to her husband’s hospital room, she had just gotten a call from the White House telling her that Mr. Card and Mr. Gonzales were on their way to see her husband, Mr. Comey testified. “I have some recollection that the call was from the president himself, but I don’t know that for sure,” Mr. Comey said.
He said his security detail then sped him to the hospital with sirens blaring and emergency lights flashing, while he telephoned the director of the F.B.I., Robert S. Mueller 3d, from the car. Mr. Mueller shared his sense of urgency: “He said, ‘I’ll meet you at the hospital right now,’ ” Mr. Comey testified.
When he got to the hospital, Mr. Comey recalled, “I got out of the car and ran up — literally, ran up the stairs with my security detail.”
“What was your concern?” asked Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who was the chairman of today’s committee session.
“I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Mr. Comey replied.
Mr. Comey recalled arriving at the darkened hospital room, where Mr. Ashcroft seemed hardly aware of his surroundings. For a time, only Mr. Comey and the Ashcrofts were in the room. Meanwhile, Mr. Mueller, who had not yet arrived, told Mr. Comey’s security detail by phone “not to allow me to be removed from the room under any circumstances,” Mr. Comey testified.
Minutes later, he said, Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card entered the room, with Mr. Gonzales carrying an envelope. “And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter,” Mr. Comey related.
“And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me,” Mr. Comey went on: He raised his head from the pillow, reiterated his objections to the program, then lay back down, pointing to Mr. Comey as the attorney general during his illness.
When Mr. Mueller arrived, “he had a brief, a memorable brief exchange with the attorney general, and then we went outside in the hallway,” Mr. Comey said.
Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card departed, but after a while, Mr. Card telephoned Mr. Comey and “demanded that I come to the White House immediately,” Mr. Comey said.
“After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness, and I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States,” Mr. Comey said he told Mr. Card.
Whereupon, Mr. Comey said, he contacted the solicitor general, Theodore B. Olson, who was at a dinner party, and arranged to go with him to the White House. At first, Mr. Card would not let Mr. Olson enter his office, Mr. Comey said; he then had a considerably calmer private chat with Mr. Card for a quarter-hour, after which Mr. Olson entered the room and took part in the conversation.
“Mr. Card was concerned that he had heard reports that there were to be a large number of resignations at the Department of Justice,” Mr. Comey recalled.
Mr. Ashcroft had such serious reservations about the program that he considered resigning then, Mr. Comey testified. Instead, he stayed on until November 2004.
Mr. Mueller, too, considered resigning, Mr. Comey said.
“You had conversations with him about it?” Mr. Schumer asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Comey replied.The surveillance program was reauthorized on March 11, 2004, without a signature from the Department of Justice “attesting to its legality,” Mr. Comey testified.
Mr. Comey said today that he intended to resign the next day, March 12. But on that day, terrorists carried out deadly train bombings in Madrid, and he put his plans on hold and remained on the job until August 2005.
Even before Mr. Comey’s testimony, Mr. Schumer and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel’s ranking Republican, reiterated their low opinion of Mr. Gonzales as attorney general.
“He’s presided over a Justice Department where being a, quote, loyal Bushie seems to be more important than being a seasoned professional, where what the White House wants is more important than what the law requires or what prudence dictates,” Mr. Schumer said.
“It is the decision of Mr. Gonzales as to whether he stays or goes, but it is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is,” Mr Specter said. “And beyond Mr. Gonzales’ decision, it’s a matter for the president as to whether the president will retain the attorney general or not.”
GOP Senator Predicts Gonzales Will Quit
The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted Thursday that the probe of firings of federal prosecutors would lead to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The Justice Department, according to veteran Sen. Arlen Specter, can't properly protect the nation from terrorism or oversee President Bush's no-warrant eavesdropping program with Gonzales at the helm.
"I have a sense that when we finish our investigation, we may have the conclusion of the tenure of the attorney general," Specter, R-Pa., said during a committee hearing. "I think when our investigation is concluded, it'll be clear even to the attorney general and the president that we're looking at a dysfunctional department which is vital to the national welfare."
His comment echoed new criticism of the attorney general this week. Former deputy attorney general James Comey testified that Gonzales tried to get his predecessor as attorney general, John Ashcroft, to approve Bush's eavesdropping program as Ashcroft lay in intensive care.
Asked twice during a news conference Thursday if he personally ordered Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft's hospital room, Bush refused to answer.
"There's a lot of speculation about what happened and what didn't happen. I'm not going to talk about it," Bush said.
The tale inspired Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to become the fourth Republican senator to call for Gonzales' resignation. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., joined in the criticism.
"When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it," Roberts told The Associated Press.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who has not called for Gonzales' resignation, agreed.
"I have absolutely no confidence in the attorney general or his leadership," said Leahy, D-Vt.
Bush has stood by his longtime friend and adviser, the key to Gonzales' hold on his job.
But just when some predicted that Gonzales had survived the furors over the firings, Comey's testimony helped broaden the Democrat-led probe into whether the attorney general politicized the Justice department at the White House's behest - and inspired new calls for his resignation.
Gonzales has said only eight U.S. attorneys were targeted for dismissal. But the Justice Department, over nearly two years, listed as many as 26 prosecutors after concerns were raised about their performances, a senior government official familiar with the process said Thursday.
The Justice Department said it fully supports all of its current U.S. attorneys. The list of 26 names was first reported Thursday by The Washington Post (nyse: WPO - news - people ).
Many of the names on various and changing lists of prosecutors under scrutiny "clearly did not represent the final actions or views of the department's leadership or the attorney general," said Justice spokesman Dean Boyd. He said the lists "reflect Kyle Sampson's thoughts for discussion during the consultation process."
Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff, oversaw the review that drove the firings. He resigned in March as a result of the department's botched handling of the dismissals.
The developments came as Democrats sought more testimony from current and former Justice Department officials. House Democrats announced that Gonzales' former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, would testify next week under a grant of immunity.
Across the Capitol, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday postponed consideration of a subpoena for Bradley Schlozman, a former senior civil rights attorney and U.S. attorney who replaced Todd Graves in Missouri. Graves also was ordered to resign.
At issue is whether the department, at the White House's urging, tried to cause problems for Democrats by facilitating voter fraud cases and others involving corruption.
Republicans, unhappy with Gonzales for months, have largely refrained from outright calls for his sacking. But they issued more criticism Wednesday, driven by Comey's testimony this week.
According to Comey, Gonzales in 2004 pressured Attorney General John Ashcroft to certify the legality of Bush's no-warrant eavesdropping program. The conversation took place at Ashcroft's hospital bedside as the attorney general recuperated from pancreatitis.
Ashcroft rebuffed Gonzales, but the White House certified the program's legality anyway. Faced with the resignations of Ashcroft, Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Bush ordered the program be changed to accommodate Justice's objections.
Democrats said his testimony appeared to contradict Gonzales' account in February 2006, when he told two congressional panels that there had "not been any serious disagreement about the program."
Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman said Gonzales' testimony "was and remains accurate."
Joining Hagel in demanding Gonzales' resignation are GOP Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John McCain of Arizona, who is a presidential candidate. House Republican Conference Chair Adam Putman of Florida also has called for a new attorney general.
Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes Jordan contributed to this report.
The Secret Iraq Documents My 8-Year-Old Found
With a couple of keystrokes, you too can read the hidden history of the Coalition Provisional Authority, America's late, unlamented occupation government in Iraq.
Editor's note: The document discussed in this story can be viewed here, both with and without its hidden text.
I'm a political scientist, and I've spent many hours rooting through documents to study the bureaucracies that once, not so long ago, ran various British colonial outposts in the Middle East. Back in the days when occupation governments dealt in paper, there was always a chance that you'd find a surprise in these cobwebbed mountains of folders, ledgers and official reports. There were sometimes notes scribbled in pencil in the margins of books, and it was not unheard of to open a dusty old volume and have a personal letter fall out. Through such fortunate mistakes researchers could piece together the unofficial, off-the-record history of empire.
When I started studying the massive archive of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American occupation government that ruled Iraq from April 21, 2003, to June 28, 2004, I expected my experience to be different. I didn't think any letters would fall in my lap, because the archive is paperless. The first archive of occupation created during the IT era, the CPA's virtual history can be found online at www.cpa-iraq.org, on thousands of pages that each begin "Long live the new Iraq!"
But I forgot to factor in the ubiquity of human error, and of Microsoft Word. It turns out the IT era really is different, after all. It took my 8-year-old son just a few seconds to shake loose some hidden history from within the official transcript of the CPA.
My son made his discovery while impatiently waiting to play a computer game on my laptop. As part of a research project, I had downloaded 45 documents from a section of the CPA Web site known as Consolidated Weekly Reports. All but three of the documents were Microsoft Word. I had one of the Word documents up on my screen when my son starting toying with the computer mouse. Somehow, inadvertently, he managed to pull down the "View" menu at the top of the screen and select the "Mark up" option. If you are in a Word document where "Track changes" has been turned on, hitting "Mark up" will reveal all the deletions and insertions ever made in the document, complete with times, dates and (sometimes) the initials of the editors. When my son did it, all the deleted passages in a document with the innocuous name "Administrator's Weekly Economic Report" suddenly appeared in blue and purple. It was the electronic equivalent of seeing every draft of an author's paper manuscript and all the penciled changes made by the editors. I soon figured out that with a few keystrokes I could see the deleted passages in 20 of the 42 Word documents I'd downloaded. For an academic like myself it was a small treasure trove, and after I'd stopped hooting and hollering it took some time before I could convince my startled son that he hadn't done anything wrong.
Posting sloppily edited documents on an official Web site pales in comparison to some of the CPA's other mistakes. Its worst miscalculation was probably dissolving the Iraqi military on May 16, 2003, which jump-started the insurgency by sending 400,000 trained soldiers into the streets without jobs. In one of the best deconstructions of the CPA yet written, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran's describes the enchanted, ideologically blinkered world of the CPA workers in the Green Zone, and recounts how their bubble began to deflate as the insurgency mounted and as the harsh reality outside the high walls of the Zone began to intrude. A close look at the deletions in just one of the improperly redacted Word documents from the waning days of the CPA reveals how the enchanted mind-set worked, just before the spell wore off.
The document that my son accidentally undeleted, Administrator's Weekly Economic Report, was dated March 28, 2004. Its content is dry and unremarkable -- it charts the value of the new Iraqi dinar, for example, and summarizes public-sector economic reforms. The only truly interesting parts of it, in fact, are the deletions, which are on another topic altogether.
Presumably, staffers at the CPA's Information Management Unit, which produced the weekly reports, were cutting and pasting large sections of text into the reports and then eliminating all but the few short passages they needed. Much of the material they were cribbing seems to have come from the kind of sensitive, security-related documents that were never meant to be available to the public. In fact, about half of the 20 improperly redacted documents I downloaded, including the March 28 report, contain deleted portions that all seem to come from one single, 1,000-word security memo. The editors kept pulling text from a document titled "Why Are the Attacks Down in Al-Anbar Province -- Several Theories." (The security memo and the last page of the March 28 report can be seen here, along with several other CPA documents that can be downloaded.)
Microsoft Word's "Mark up" feature shows the time and date of the deletion and the identity of the person doing the deleting, but it doesn't give the original author of the passage or when it was written. The title and hints in the text point to a memo written by one person in December 2003 or January 2004, when daily attacks on coalition forces in Anbar, the heavily Sunni province west of Baghdad that is the heartland of the insurgency, were the lowest in many months. These were the CPA's salad days. Prior to the al-Sadr uprising and the Abu Ghraib scandal and the failed siege of Fallujah later in 2004, the CPA believed that it was succeeding in reshaping Iraq. In his book "The Assassins' Gate," George Packer depicts late 2003 and early 2004 as the last phase of quiet isolation for the CPA, before the facts on the ground began to impinge on its Green Zone idyll. "Why Are the Attacks Down" shows the CPA on the cusp, as the author gives a half-dozen different theories for the short-term decline in violence.
One explanation given for the downturn is called "Rounding Up the Bums." It suggests that the U.S. military might have successfully quelled the insurgency. Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack, who commanded the 82nd Airborne in Iraq until May 2004, was well known for using aggressive tactics. The memo describes Swannack and other generals as believing that American raids on suspected insurgents were driving the bad guys "underground." The memo acknowledges collateral damage, but is blithely unaware of the implications. "Most raids also leave in their wake a number of innocents who were either rounded up and detained or had their houses busted up ... But there appears to be sufficient care in how the attacks are carried out, adequate information in the community about the mild reality of detention, and sufficient civil affairs clean up afterwards that this has not been a major factor." By April 2004, the infamous Abu Ghraib pictures had begun to surface, visual evidence of how the military had been alienating the Iraqi civilian population.
A second explanation hinges explicitly on an old ethnic stereotype about how Arabs only understand force. The "Crossed the Line" argument insists that violence is intrinsic to Arab culture: "[It] is a form of political discourse as well as being culturally acceptable for settling disputes and scores." The memo then argues that the violence in Anbar was quelled once the Americans proved they could be more violent. The Americans brought out a bigger stick, namely Gen. Abizaid's threat to "some 70 Sheikhs and community leaders" in Anbar "to unleash hell," twinned with the U.S. Air Force dropping some timely Joint Direct Action Munitions on the province.
A third explanation, "Occupation Ending," says that the insurgents are backing off because they think the U.S. is about to depart. "What they" -- meaning the Iraqis -- "have gotten wrong," says the memo's author, "is the idea that the military will be leaving Iraq in June, which one individual said he was sure was a major factor in the diminishing attacks. Oh well, this is one time it might be best that folks don't fully understand things." Supposedly, the CPA's June 2004 deadline for handing over sovereignty to the Iraqis was misread by some locals as implying the withdrawal of American troops, and thus caused the number of insurgent attacks to decrease. (Four years later, the Bush administration often says any deadline for troop withdrawal would increase attacks.)
A fourth argument, "Project Money Flowing," embraces an enduring pillar of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Economic development and free trade, according to the money theory, would solve political disputes. American cash was coming to Anbar, and violence was abating. "While the amounts of money are still modest, especially in Fallujah, there are a number of visible projects ongoing that have employed some people and given the appearance that help is on the way." If the violence was going down in Iraq, according to this theory, it must have been because the CPA's various development projects were paying off. In 2007, few would argue that there are many signs of economic development anywhere in Iraq, or that billions in U.S. aid has mitigated opposition to the American presence.
A fifth theory, "Engagement," says that Iraqis have begun to have hope thanks to sustained contact with Americans. "We'll take some credit here. We have been engaging widely with ... ex-Baathists, ex-Army. While many are tiring of the refrain that if you stay with us things will get better, for some they actually have improved and that many have given hope to entire groups." The author calls these people "the various groups of losers in the New Iraq."
A final argument for the downturn in attacks offers what briefly looks like a flash of reality. The "Operational Pause" theory surmises that reduced attacks may be a statistical blip. They may increase again as "terrorists" regroup for future fights against the Americans and "other Iraqis." But then the author calls this "a boring theory," and notes, "There are very few persons we have met who subscribe to this."
Nowhere in any of these theories, including the "boring" one, does the author address the dissolution of the Iraqi Army as a major contributor to the violence. Nowhere, in fact, does the author seem to know which "bums" or "losers" are attacking the Americans or why. Indeed, the most remarkable passage in the entire deletion is a simple statement by an Iraqi businessman, whom the writer quotes in passing while explaining why American-induced economic prosperity will end the fighting. "It is nothing personal," the Iraqi says. "I like you and believe you could be bringing us a better future, but I still sympathize with those who attack the coalition because it is not right for Iraq to be occupied by foreign military forces." In the world of the CPA circa 2004, first one American glosses over this Iraqi's prophetic words, and then another tries -- unsuccessfully, as it turns out -- to delete them.
Full Body Scans Take Off at Amsterdam Airport
Amsterdam's Schiphol airport began using new body-scanning machines at security checkpoints on Tuesday, becoming the first major airport to use the technology to find metals and explosives hidden under clothing.
The "security scan" system, which uses harmless radio waves to display head-to-toe images of people, is also being used by other airports on a trial basis, but Schiphol is the only one to deploy the technology for regular use at its checkpoints.
Going through the scanner takes about three seconds, allowing users to avoid metal detectors or body searches. For privacy, the digital images are viewed by security personnel in another room and deleted after they are seen.
Schiphol, Europe's fourth busiest hub, handles about 160,000 passengers per day at peak times and. So far the security scan is voluntary but officials are hoping to expand it to include all passengers, crew and personnel.
Schiphol is one of the world's most modern airports, with flat-panel screens, airport-wide Web access and iris scanners already on offer to those who want to bypass passport lines.
Some people object to the machines because they are concerned about the radio waves, rather than privacy, said Schiphol's Chief Operations Officer Ad Rutten.
But the alternative, being hand-frisked, is "never a happy story," Rutten adds.
Japan Looking to Establish Wireless Island
Honestly, we're a bit freaked out right here in the US of A with all the RFID tags floating around in various forms, but Japan is planning to take tagging to the extreme by creating an island where there's just no escapin' it. The nation is looking to set up an "experimental landmass" where a smorgasbord of sensors will "allow doctors to remotely monitor the health of the elderly," and in another instance, "monitor the movement of pedestrians and notify nearby drivers." Additionally, IC tags could be implanted into produce in order to divulge information such as where it was grown to a shopper's mobile phone. Reportedly, the government is talking with local telecom carriers, electronics manufacturers, automakers, and several "other companies" as it attempts to assemble the pieces, and while no specific test site has been nailed down just yet, "the northern island of Hokkaido or southern island chain of Okinawa" are currently the most likely candidates.
Russia Accused of Unleashing Cyberwar to Disable Estonia
• Parliament, ministries, banks, media targeted
• Nato experts sent in to strengthen defences
A three-week wave of massive cyber-attacks on the small Baltic country of Estonia, the first known incidence of such an assault on a state, is causing alarm across the western alliance, with Nato urgently examining the offensive and its implications.
While Russia and Estonia are embroiled in their worst dispute since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a row that erupted at the end of last month over the Estonians' removal of the Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial in central Tallinn, the country has been subjected to a barrage of cyber warfare, disabling the websites of government ministries, political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies.
Nato has dispatched some of its top cyber-terrorism experts to Tallinn to investigate and to help the Estonians beef up their electronic defences.
"This is an operational security issue, something we're taking very seriously," said an official at Nato headquarters in Brussels. "It goes to the heart of the alliance's modus operandi."
Alarm over the unprecedented scale of cyber-warfare is to be raised tomorrow at a summit between Russian and European leaders outside Samara on the Volga.
While planning to raise the issue with the Russian authorities, EU and Nato officials have been careful not to accuse the Russians directly.
If it were established that Russia is behind the attacks, it would be the first known case of one state targeting another by cyber-warfare.
Relations between the Kremlin and the west are at their worst for years, with Russia engaged in bitter disputes not only with Estonia, but with Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Georgia - all former parts of the Soviet Union or ex-members of the Warsaw Pact. The electronic offensive is making matters much worse.
"Frankly it is clear that what happened in Estonia in the cyber-attacks is not acceptable and a very serious disturbance," said a senior EU official.
Estonia's president, foreign minister, and defence minister have all raised the emergency with their counterparts in Europe and with Nato.
"At present, Nato does not define cyber-attacks as a clear military action. This means that the provisions of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty, or, in other words collective self-defence, will not automatically be extended to the attacked country," said the Estonian defence minister, Jaak Aaviksoo.
"Not a single Nato defence minister would define a cyber-attack as a clear military action at present. However, this matter needs to be resolved in the near future."
Estonia, a country of 1.4 million people, including a large ethnic Russian minority, is one of the most wired societies in Europe and a pioneer in the development of "e-government". Being highly dependent on computers, it is also highly vulnerable to cyber-attack.
The main targets have been the websites of:
• the Estonian presidency and its parliament
• almost all of the country's government ministries
• political parties
• three of the country's six big news organisations
• two of the biggest banks; and firms specializing in communications
It is not clear how great the damage has been.
With their reputation for electronic prowess, the Estonians have been quick to marshal their defences, mainly by closing down the sites under attack to foreign internet addresses, in order to try to keep them accessible to domestic users.
The cyber-attacks were clearly prompted by the Estonians' relocation of the Soviet second world war memorial on April 27.
Ethnic Russians staged protests against the removal, during which 1,300 people were arrested, 100 people were injured, and one person was killed.
The crisis unleashed a wave of so-called DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service, attacks, where websites are suddenly swamped by tens of thousands of visits, jamming and disabling them by overcrowding the bandwidths for the servers running the sites. The attacks have been pouring in from all over the world, but Estonian officials and computer security experts say that, particularly in the early phase, some attackers were identified by their internet addresses - many of which were Russian, and some of which were from Russian state institutions.
"The cyber-attacks are from Russia. There is no question. It's political," said Merit Kopli, editor of Postimees, one of the two main newspapers in Estonia, whose website has been targeted and has been inaccessible to international visitors for a week. It was still unavailable last night.
"If you are implying [the attacks] came from Russia or the Russian government, it's a serious allegation that has to be substantiated. Cyber-space is everywhere," Russia's ambassador in Brussels, Vladimir Chizhov, said in reply to a question from the Guardian. He added: "I don't support such behaviour, but one has to look at where they [the attacks] came from and why."
Without naming Russia, the Nato official said: "I won't point fingers. But these were not things done by a few individuals.
"This clearly bore the hallmarks of something concerted. The Estonians are not alone with this problem. It really is a serious issue for the alliance as a whole."
Mr Chizhov went on to accuse the EU of hypocrisy in its support for Estonia, an EU and Nato member. "There is a smell of double standards."
He also accused Poland of holding the EU hostage in its dealings with Russia, and further accused Estonia and other east European countries previously in Russia's orbit of being in thrall to "phantom pains of the past, historic grievances against the Soviet union and the Russian empire of the 19th century." In Tallinn, Ms Kopli said: "This is the first time this has happened, and it is very important that we've had this type of attack. We've been able to learn from it."
"We have been lucky to survive this," said Mikko Maddis, Estonia's defence ministry spokesman. "People started to fight a cyber-war against it right away. Ways were found to eliminate the attacker."
The attacks have come in three waves: from April 27, when the Bronze Soldier riots erupted, peaking around May 3; then on May 8 and 9 - a couple of the most celebrated dates in the Russian calendar, when the country marks Victory Day over Nazi Germany, and when President Vladimir Putin delivered another hostile speech attacking Estonia and indirectly likening the Bush administration to the Hitler regime; and again this week.
Estonian officials say that one of the masterminds of the cyber-campaign, identified from his online name, is connected to the Russian security service. A 19-year-old was arrested in Tallinn at the weekend for his alleged involvement.
Expert opinion is divided on whether the identity of the cyber-warriors can be ascertained properly.
Experts from Nato member states and from the alliance's NCSA unit - "Nato's first line of defence against cyber-terrorism", set up five years ago - were meeting in Seattle in the US when the crisis erupted. A couple of them were rushed to Tallinn.
Another Nato official familiar with the experts' work said it was easy for them, with other organisations and internet providers, to track, trace, and identify the attackers.
But Mikko Hyppoenen, a Finnish expert, told the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that it would be difficult to prove the Russian state's responsibility, and that the Kremlin could inflict much more serious cyber-damage if it chose to.
Shhhh! A Secret Google Search URL That Removes Adsense Ads
Google makes most of their money from AdSense ads.
While it is technically possible to block Google ads on web pages through Firefox extensions or by modifying the hosts file, these hiding methods are mostly implemented by tech-savvy users and may not have that big an effect on Google's revenue.
However, here's a secret trick - if you append the parameter "output=googleabout" to Google Web Search URL, the search results page will not carry any AdSense ads that are otherwise seen on the top and right sections of the page.
Here's a direct URL to search Google minus ads:
Not sure why this parameter is in place but this could have an impact on their bottom line since it allows users to search Google sans advertisements without installing any geeky hacks. Thanks Vedrashko.
The following lines, when added to the Windows HOSTS file, will block Google from serving ads on your computer and won't track your visits on sites that use Google Analytics.
# [Google Inc]
127.0.0.1 pagead2.googlesyndication.com #[Google AdWords]
127.0.0.1 ssl.google-analytics.com #[urchinTracker]
127.0.0.1 www.google-analytics.com #[Google Analytics]
127.0.0.1 imageads.googleadservices.com #[Ewido.TrackingCookie.Googleadservices]
127.0.0.1 apps5.oingo.com #[Microsoft.Typo-Patrol]
127.0.0.1 service.urchin.com #[Urchin Tracking Module]
Clean Technology Bigger Than Internet: Software Guru
A global response to climate change will spur a business revolution bigger than the internet, said co-founder of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy.
"This is a much larger opportunity," he told Reuters, pointing to the scale of the problem and the profits to be made from simple steps like a more careful use of energy.
"It's profitable to be more efficient, it has a negative cost and a competitive disadvantage if you don't do it."
"You can sensibly adopt old technology, not drive a truck, or insulate your house," he said, speaking on the fringes of the Cleantech investor conference in Frankfurt.
Joy made his name creating and developing computer operating systems and microprocessors, for example helping to design the Java programming language.
Most scientists agree that climate change is being caused by mankind's emissions of greenhouse gases, especially the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
Using the example of the car industry, Joy saw the response in three parts: first using old technologies like smaller, more efficient cars; second adopting emerging technologies like "hybrid", part-electric cars; and third researching breakthroughs such as transport fuels derived from farm waste.
Climate change would spur innovation and California's Silicon Valley, which originally served the semiconductor industry, was well placed to benefit, he said.
"Solar cells are semiconductors, heat to electricity is semiconductors, software to manage systems comes out of Silicon Valley," said Joy, who is now a partner at venture capital investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).
A global race is on to be first to commercialize breakthrough technologies which could make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Research into safer, rechargeable lithium batteries is taking place mainly in the United States and Canada, but innovation in small electric cars is centered in Asia and Europe, he said.
"Smart people are everywhere."
Future breakthroughs will include more efficient solar cells that convert waste heat to electricity, and manipulation of catalysts at the ultra-tiny, or nano, scale to cut costs.
Climate change will create business losers, too: for example among U.S. car manufacturers which have resisted fuel efficiency standards, Joy reckoned.
"They lobbied Washington against innovation. The industry is now really in trouble, the car companies didn't innovate. Everyone's basically driving a truck."
Retroshare Release (v0.3.0pre10)
Quote:Posted By: drbob7
Date: 2007-05-15 04:34
Summary: Retroshare Release (v0.3.0pre10)
The new Windows Beta for Retroshare. (v0.3.0pre10) is now available from sourceforge.net
Retroshare is a cross-platform private sharing platform. This latest release enables private chat and easy certificate sharing.
* F2F communication network
* Web-Of-Trust Authentication.
* Private and Secured by OpenSSL.
* Private and Group Chat.
* Secure Messages (like Email)
* Simple File-Sharing.
* Automaticly Resumed Downloads.
* Easy Exchange of Certificates.
It is available for download from http://www.sf.net/projects/retroshare
join the growing retroshare network.
Threat To Free, Legal Guitar Tablature Online
Recently Hal Leonard Corporation, the world's largest songbook publisher, sent an email to the music publishing and copyright community urging them not to license guitar tablature for free, advertising-supported use online. The email includes a number of factual errors and was potentially very damaging to the potential for a free, legal, and licensed destination for guitar tab online. Musicnotes and MXTabs have posted the full letter along with their response.
U.K. Music Label Creates a Vinyl-MP3 Hybrid
While the copyright fight rages between big record companies and their customers, some smaller, independent labels are moving in with innovation instead of litigation.
First Word Records, a U.K. label based in Leeds, has one new idea -- vinyl records that include downloadable MP3s.
First Word's primary customers are DJs, an often challenging market for record labels. DJs embrace new technology or repurpose old (think scratching), but at the same time scour old stores and markets for rare, used vinyl. First Word is attempting to address both these needs with DigiWax.
The records are beautifully packaged, double-weight vinyl discs that come with a unique code. With the code, buyers can download an unprotected, 320Kbps MP3 version of the music, to use however they like.
First Word is not the only label offering an LP-plus-MP3 combination. Saddle Creek, which puts out Bright Eyes records, also includes a download code with some of its LPs.
The double-headed approach makes sense for several reasons. DJs and audiophiles will always want the top end of quality, so they will buy physical media, but for convenience you can't beat a digital file.
First Word cofounder Andy H is a DJ and knows the difficulties and dangers of traveling with rare discs. "The sheer weight and size of vinyl meant that I had to be very selective of what I took abroad to DJ," he says. By contrast, digital files weigh nothing, and if you have a backup, they are impossible to lose.
Publishing MP3s without the technology for digital-rights management was a deliberate choice. First Word cofounder Aly Gillani explains the DRM-free approach in terms that echo those of consumer advocate. "Once a customer has paid for the track they should be free to play it in any player," he says. "Making a legal, paid-for version of the file less useful than a copied or pirated one doesn't make sense."
Perhaps even more importantly, DRM also makes tracks unplayable in software used by many DJs, such as Serato.
First Word also sells its music on iTunes, Napster, Clickgroove and DJ Download. The company sees DigiWax as an extension of this choice. "This is just a little something extra for the true vinyl fans and collectors," says Andy H.
So, will vinyl ever go away? Probably not, if you ask First Word. "The sound of vinyl is still warm, rich, and -- if mastered properly -- sounds amazing in a club," says Andy H "Even the crackles before the record starts sound good."
Additional reporting by Eliot Van Buskirk.
Latest AACS Revision Defeated a Week Before Release
Despite the best efforts of the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) Licensing Administration (AACS LA), content pirates remain one step ahead. A new volume key used by high-def films scheduled for release next week has already been cracked. The previous AACS volume key was invalidated by AACS LA after it was exposed and broadly disseminated earlier this month. The latest beta release of SlySoft's AnyDVD HD program can apparently be used to rip HD DVD discs that use AACS version 3. Although these won't hit store shelves until May 22, pirates have already successfully tested SlySoft's program with early release previews of the Matrix trilogy.
AACS LA's attempts to stifle dissemination of AACS keys and prevent hackers from compromising new keys are obviously meeting with extremely limited success. The hacker collective continues to adapt to AACS revisions and is demonstrating a capacity to assimilate new volume keys at a rate which truly reveals the futility of resistance. If keys can be compromised before HD DVDs bearing those keys are even released into the wild, one has to question the viability of the entire key revocation model.
After the last AACS key spread far and wide across the breadth of the Internet, AACS LA chairman Michael Ayers stated that the organization planned to continue clamping down on key dissemination, despite the fact that attempts to do so only encouraged further dissemination. In a monument to comedic irony, the AACS LA has elected to put out the fire by pouring on more gasoline.
AACS clearly has yet to stop those determined to break the DRM scheme from copying movies, but its key revocation model does create additional burdens for device makers, software developers, and end users. As the futility of trying to prevent copying continues to become more apparent and the costs of maintaining DRM schemes escalate, content providers will be faced with a difficult choice of whether to make their content more or less accessible to consumers.
We are already seeing the music industry beginning to abandon DRM, but it doesn't look like the movie industry is ready to take the same logical step. Instead, the MPAA wants to have the best of both worlds by making DRM interoperable and designing it in a manner that, according to MPAA head Dan Glickman, will permit legal DVD ripping "in a protected way." Although the MPAA's plans for DRM reform could reduce the incentives for hacking AACS, the war between hackers and DRM purveyors will continue for the foreseeable future.
MIT Hacks XKCD Talk With AACS Key
Reader Hanji alerts us to a hack pulled off when Randall Munroe, author of the popular webcomic XKCD, spoke at MIT by invitation of the Lab for Computer Science. MIT hackers dropped hundreds of labelled playpen balls onto the audience from hatches in the ceiling. The labels bore XKCD's logo as well as the recently discovered 16-byte AACS processing key.
At another point in Munroe's talk he was stalked by remote-controlled mechanical velociraptors; but fortunately he had been supplied with a squirt gun full of grape juice.
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..
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