|09-11-06, 10:50 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - November 11th, '06
"The illegal spying program should be a primary focus of congressional efforts to investigate this administration's abuse of power. Several of the new committee chairs have already expressed their intention to conduct a thorough inquiry into the unlawful actions of this administration." – Caroline Fredrickson
"Without Net Neutrality, the current experience that Internet users enjoy today is in jeopardy." – Sen. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA
"Clearly, we're going to have to address the question of network neutrality." – Rep. John Dingell, D-MI
"Either there is no evidence of any links between piracy and organised crime or it is simply beyond the capacity of rights holders to identify these links." – Alex Malik
"There's no way on this planet that she would have left that child. Nobody is ever going to tell me that woman walked away from Sophie." – Andy Ostroy
"I think of the entertainment industry and Detroit similarly." – Jerry Seinfeld
"It was kind, kind bud. Yummy stuff." – Lucia
"She was a strong woman with a lot of talent, I will miss her." – poisomike
When Representative Jack Murtha suggested last November that the troops come home it created a public furor among republicans, but privately they reacted with glee. Surely this will be the democrats’ downfall they gloated, so out of step are they they think pulling out of Iraq will resonate with patriotic Americans…
We know the result. After watching those democrats take over the House and all but seal the Senate, President George W. Bush did what he insisted last week he would never do: he fired Donald Rumsfeld. It may be he simply can’t afford having Rumsfeld subpoenaed by Nancy Pelosi, and if inconvenient truths emerge before his presidential term ends the next subpoena may well be his. He could be right, but firing Rummy isn’t going to help if he’s looking for a safety net. If there’s anything there something will come out somewhere that leads to more questions that cascade into inevitable torrents that end with a President in front of a shocked nation, under oath, disgraced and finished. His dad is doing all he can to prevent the scenario, bringing in the old guard to form a defensive circle around his boy, but it remains to be seen whether this unprecedented familial Whitehouse takeover will ultimately protect the President or just delay the unavoidable, but that’s a story for another day.
Here at Napsterites the story for today is the opportunity this mid term election upset presents to us as internet users and file-sharers, so the reasons it has occurred are somewhat less pressing. We have for six long years dealt with a hostile Washington group determined to suppress our constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech, assembly and the ability to access and distribute information. Whatever minor gains we may occasionally receive from a grudging judiciary we lose to an increasingly fanatical Justice Department, and with the exception of a handful of progressives in Washington, we have not been able to get a fair hearing anywhere near that town. All the levers of power are held by our enemies and the legislators they have bought off in the House and Senate. These powerful old men are so arrogant and hostile they haven’t even attempted an illusion of fairness, they simply treated us with open contempt, secure in the belief their rich friends in international media would insulate them from our anger. When Orrin Hatch proposes to destroy your computer without due process because it contains legal, non-criminal content that might be in violation of minor civil ordinances, we don’t need a crystal ball to judge his motives, they are sitting plainly in front of us.
Because the democrats have regained control of congress, Orrin will no longer reprise his performance as a sometime Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee so this part time composer won’t be conducting any more hearings on that or any other stage. This will be repeated at every committee that affects us, as republican chairmen leave from Copyrights, Commerce and countless others, all the way up to and including the powerful FCC itself. There is even the possibility we will be able to revisit the disastrous CARP ruling that imposed fees so onerous onto internet radio it silenced innumerable voices and some 40,000 unique stations overnight.
We don’t have much time. Already lobbyists at major media concerns are calling in markers for the most expensive election in US history so we’ll have to move fast, but with democrats in power there is at least a presumption the public will receive better reception than it got from shielded republicans.
Might I suggest something as simple as a telephone call to start? Perhaps one of a congratulatory nature to your new and returning representatives and senators, and to those freshly minted chairmen of the committees that sound our future with every gavel’s bang. They will be approachable only for as long as the fundamentals remain foremost in their minds: that their time may yet be brief, that to achieve a more substantial future they must listen to their true constituents; the ones who call from modest homes, not those jetting in this week from glass encased corporate castles.
November 11th, '06
Blogs Take Lead in Reporting Polling Problems, With Supporting Evidence on YouTube
Tom Zeller Jr.
Blogs of all political stripes spent most of yesterday detailing reports of voting machine malfunctions and ballot shortages, effectively becoming an online national clearinghouse of the polling problems that still face the election system.
And in a new twist this year, many bloggers buttressed their accounts of electoral shenanigans with links to videos posted on the video Web site YouTube.
RedState.com, the conservative journal, heralded a “massive meltdown in Pennsylvania” early in the day, citing “widespread reports of an electoral nightmare shaping up in Pennsylvania with certain types of electronic voting machines.”
Erick Erickson, RedState’s chief blogger, also included a report of poll watcher intimidation in Philadelphia, along with a link to a video on YouTube that appeared to show a certified poll observer (armed with a video camera) being blocked from a polling station.www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-HK_VT81Pk&e
Brad Friedman, perhaps the most dogged critic of electronic voting machine technology in the blogosphere, said he saw his site traffic spike at left-leaning Bradblog.com, as reports of machine malfunctions began pouring in from around the country.
“Folks understand by now that I’ll get these stories out so that they’ll get confirmed,” Mr. Friedman said.
That the blog now has a firm place in the choreography of national events — and in elections perhaps more so than in any other cultural exercise — is a boon to the democratic process, said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance at Oxford University and a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.
“In a lot of ways they’re helping to set the agenda for the mainstream media in fast-moving events like this,” Mr. Zittrain said. “They just need to be able to produce enough that’s credible quickly to give a lead.”
Alluding to some of the voter intimidation reports that unfolded on Election Day, he added, “There’s also a real difference between hearing about a call that tells someone they’re not allowed to vote and actually hearing the call as if you are receiving it.”
Some bloggers placed what were said to be digital recordings of such calls online for the world to hear.
Elsewhere online, voting machine problems also filled many posts on Talking Points Memo, a liberal site that seemed to take the initiative in tracking complaints, malfunctions and alleged malfeasance by Republicans.
Among the litany of issues cited at Talking Points: computer problems that caused long lines in Denver; polling stations that stayed open later in Indiana after voting problems and delays; votes for Claire C. McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race that somehow registered for her opponent, Jim Talent; complaints that crashed an Ohio county phone system.
It was impossible to gauge the veracity of every report cited. Some blogs linked to reports in local or national news media. Others copied e-mail messages or cited phone calls with local polling officials, while still others merely created open threads for readers to contribute their personal accounts of voting problems.
Not every site thought chaos was at hand, however. Ed Morrissey of the conservative Captain’s Quarters blog said traffic to his site yesterday was about two or three times normal. But Mr. Morrissey added that though he had heard some talk of voting woes, he thought on the whole they were “pretty minor” and would not have any effect on the overall outcome.
One of the biggest controversies of the last national election cycle — the discrepancy between the exit polls that showed John Kerry with a lead and the final results — continued to animate discussions on many liberal blogs. With the 2004 discrepancy in mind, major news organizations were embargoed yesterday from releasing poll data for most of the day, and had generally agreed to refrain from releasing detailed numbers until most polls had closed.
The big question mark, however, was whether the numbers would leak in the blogs, and by 6 p.m. that had already begun to happen. Chris Bowers of MyDD.com, a liberal blog, posted “unconfirmed Senate numbers” at 5:47 p.m. — though he added a caveat.
“Double super caution: these numbers are both unconfirmed, and they are exit polls,” Mr. Bowers wrote. “I am going to keep looking into this.”
Even so, many of the biggest names in political blogging — including John Aravosis of Americblog, John Amato of Crooks and Liars, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit and Mr. Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters — had been corralled by a member of the mainstream news media, CNN, at Tryst, a trendy Washington coffeehouse, last night.
Constantine Stavropoulos, the owner of the cafe, said he had closed its doors for the “blog party,” which the network periodically broadcast and streamed online. He said he expected the bloggers — an attractive bunch, he said — to linger long after the votes were in.
“Bloggers look a lot better than I thought they would,” Mr. Stavropoulos said.
Michael McElroy contributed reporting.
A Conversation with Douglas W. Jones and Peter G. Neumann
Does Technology Help or Hinder Election Integrity?
Douglas W. Jones and Peter G. Neumann have long been active participants in promoting integrity in the election process, with special emphasis on the dependable use of information technology, as well as on the weak-link nature of the entire process, from beginning to end.
Elections form the fundamental basis of all democracies. In light of many past problems with the integrity of election processes around the world, ongoing efforts have sought to increase the use of computers and communications in elections to help automate the process. Unfortunately, many existing computer-related processes are poorly conceived and implemented, introducing new problems related to such issues as voter confidentiality and privacy, computer system integrity, accountability and resolution of irregularities, ease of administration by election officials, and ease of use by voters—with many special problems for those with various handicaps. Overall, the issues relating to computer security provide a representative cross-section of the difficulties inherent in attempting to develop and operate trustworthy systems for other applications. These issues, of course, have relevance internationally and are increasingly timely.
This interview attempts to capture some of the most basic problems and potential solutions. We explicitly recognize the end-to-end nature of the election process—from voter registration to voter authentication to ballot casting to vote counting and results distribution—in which each step has potential vulnerabilities. Here, however, we focus primarily on the issues related to the use of computer systems, although we begin with some questions that put the technological problems in the context of the overall election process.
PETER G. NEUMANN To what extent is election integrity a technological problem, in contrast with a socio-economical, political, or other kind of problem?
DOUGLAS W. JONES It is certainly all of those. Even pure hand-counted paper ballots raise technical questions. Whatever the technology, any attempt to scientifically investigate elections has unavoidable political implications. I have described this as “very political science”; work in this area is as politically loaded as work on evolution or stem cells. Merely claiming that research into election integrity is needed is seen by many politicians as challenging the legitimacy of their elections.
PGN Let’s start with the big picture. What are the most important technological issues that we need to consider?
DWJ Much of the difficulty stems from the fundamental requirement that the election system be transparent. To borrow a phrase from Dan Wallach, associate director of ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections), the system must convince the losers that they lost. Those who lost an election and their partisans typically have no required technical qualifications, so the entire system must be sufficiently open and comprehensible that nontechnical observers can believe the results. Furthermore, the losers in an election have no reason to believe any assertions made by a government that is run by the winners.
Generally, systems become more trustworthy when redundancy is used to protect against internal errors, accidents, and attacks, but the mere presence of redundancy offers no guarantees unless the placement and transmission of the copies are carefully planned and there are clear procedures for identifying and resolving discrepancies between the copies.
Vote counting is an accounting function, and as such, the accounting standards for voting ought to be comparable to those for money. We ought to design auditability into our voting systems. So long as we are forced to trust the software of voting systems, we need a tightly controlled software development process, so that all code is attributable both to the specifications it fulfills and to the programmers who wrote it. We also need secure authentication of hardware, software, configuration files, and results to defend against both fraud and accident. In addition to self-authentication, we need trustworthy paths for transport of all system components.
Finally, we need to learn how to evaluate whether our systems actually meet design requirements. Certification by anonymous bureaucrats or government contractors operating behind closed doors cannot be expected to convince the loser in an election. Can you imagine what would happen if the NSA (National Security Agency) certified the security of voting systems? The conspiracy theorists would have a field day. Even so, NSA certification would be far stronger than the current approach to voting-system certification.
PGN What about other issues, such as preventing insider misuse?
DWJ One of the problems in public discussions of voting-system integrity is that the different participants tend to point to different threats. Election-system vendors and election officials generally focus on effective defense against outside attackers, usually characterized as hackers. Meanwhile, many public interest groups have focused on the possibility of election officials corrupting the results.
Over the past two centuries of American history, we have seen ample evidence of attacks from both directions, but it appears that the vast majority of election fraud has involved corrupt jurisdictions protecting their positions. This pattern has appeared repeatedly in big-city political machines, as well as in rural areas.
PGN What can be done to address all of the seemingly nontechnological problems? Might technological approaches such as registration databases help or hinder?
DWJ Both, of course. It is clear that technology can be used as fairy dust. Crypto fairy dust has a long record in the world of elections. The most famous case involves the voting machines made by Global Election Systems (later Diebold), where all the machines had the same DES encryption key hard-coded into their software. Use of cryptographic authentication of object code falls into the same category if you expect the voting machine to self-authenticate by printing out the authentication code of the software it’s running. You advance beyond the fairy-dust-stage only if you allow an external observer to examine the contents of memory and independently compute the authentication code.
At the same time, it is clear that the technology exists to overcome many of the defects of current electronic voting systems. The pyramid-of-trust model used to authenticate casino game firmware is very well tested (and patented, see U.S. Patent 6,149,522). We know how to use both symmetric-key and public-key cryptosystems to authenticate all data flow both to and from the voting machine. We know how to automate the key-management problem for a flock of voting machines so that the cryptographic keys are reset to new random values for each machine for each election without placing a huge burden on election administrators.
The problem is, there are other things we cannot do. The proof that there is no effective software to detect all malware has a structure very similar to that of Turing’s proof that the halting problem cannot be solved. Assume you have a malware detector that never misidentifies well-behaved code as malware and never identifies malware as being well behaved. Create an application that incorporates your malware detector. If that application detects malware, it behaves entirely honestly. If it does not detect malware, it becomes malware itself. Now, submit your application to itself. The malware detector is obviously wrong, so our initial assumption that it worked was wrong.
We cannot reliably inspect a program to determine that it does not contain hidden functionality, and it is impossible to guarantee detection of all hidden functionality by black-box testing. The prevalence of “Easter eggs” in commercial software demonstrates this. Whereas some Easter eggs may be intentional tools used to detect illegal copying, others are clearly examples of unauthorized functionality that has slipped through the quality-control tests at the vendor.
Finally, of course, no highly technical measure is going to be entirely convincing to a naive observer. We therefore need to emphasize understandable measures. In the area of cryptography, for example, the work being done by people like David Chaum to develop cryptographic election protocols that can be explained to those of us without Ph.D.s is promising, but it seems to me that they have a long way to go. I see no hope of reducing software correctness proofs for paperless voting machines to a form that average voters should trust.
PGN By the way, it was Doug Jones who in 1997 discovered the DES key hard-coded into the software and reported it. Ironically, despite many changes since then in the software, that very same key is reportedly still in the software. (Only recently was the election administrator given the option to change the key manually!)
Moving on, what issues have we not yet addressed?
DWJ The centralization of voter registration records provides interesting opportunities. The anarchic system of voter registration record keeping, which until this year was common nationally, was awful. In many jurisdictions, a large fraction of the records were long out of date, and no two counties seemed to keep their records in the same format. Now, HAVA (Help America Vote Act of 2002) has forced migration to statewide registration databases. This promises to improve things, but it also means that mismanagement, when it occurs, will have statewide consequences. One common problem is already appearing in many states—namely, that of matching driver’s license records with voter records. As it turns out, many of us haven’t been entirely careful to spell our names identically in our different official government records, and some states have opted to go with very bad name-matching software in an effort to clean up the new statewide registration databases that are mandated by HAVA.
One lesson has struck home repeatedly. The consequences of human error and fraud are frequently indistinguishable. An investigation of voting-machine event logs in Miami-Dade County in a minor municipal election in 2003 showed that some vote records came from machines that had not been deployed at the polling place. When I was asked to investigate this, my first hypothesis was that someone had fraudulently used a machine in the county warehouse to record the votes that should have come from the precinct. The problem with this hypothesis was that the election was so minor and the outcome so expected that fraud didn’t make any sense. Occam’s Razor was wrong: Working with the vendor and the county, we eventually determined that the misrecorded serial numbers were the result of an unlikely sounding coincidence involving a fairly common administrative error (failing to plug in the machine) combined with a programming error (i++ instead of ++i during the recording of the low-battery message in the event log) combined with a software design error (failing to use the redundant memory format properly).
PGN What about operational risks?
DWJ Voting-system administrators walk a tightrope, balancing the cost of obtaining in-house expertise with dependence on vendor technical support. In-house expertise is expensive, sufficiently so that many small jurisdictions will never be able to afford to operate without outside support. Over the past century, it is clear that voting-system vendors have generally made more money selling election support services than selling the machines themselves. Service contracts may involve as little as preventive maintenance or as much as complete election support—relieving the county of the need for any local technical expertise.
The intermittent nature of election work makes it almost impossible for anyone to dedicate full-time positions for all of the different technical jobs involved in elections. Much of the election workforce must, therefore, be made up of temporary employees. Voting-system vendors transfer large numbers of workers from other roles in the company into the field as election consultants for the duration of each election season; in jurisdictions that rely on local expertise, it is common to draft computer programmers and technicians from other government departments. In addition, both the vendors and the voting jurisdictions depend on hiring and training temps.
Whether dealing with temporary employees or contractors, it is clear that election officials face some serious problems. At what point do you draw the line between functions that are performed only by trusted permanent employees of the jurisdiction and functions that you allow contractors or temporary employees to perform? Do you allow them to handle ballots? Do you allow them to do on-site preventive maintenance? If something breaks, what repairs do you permit them to perform?
PGN You mention making the process more open. What procedural steps might help to that end, particularly those that could overcome potential insider attacks?
DWJ One of the biggest problems with the current regulatory framework is that it contains poor provisions for feedback. When failures occur in our election systems, they are reported in an ad hoc way, and it is not at all clear that those who are involved with formulating or applying our voting-system standards have ready access to information about system failures. We need to close the loop, so that voting-system failures are routinely investigated and the results of those investigations are made available to the public, to certifying agencies, and to those in charge of further development of the voting-system standards.
The definitions we use have some startling effects on openness. For example, consider the definitions of the words programming and software. We in computer science take the meanings of these words for granted, but they have come to have different meanings in the context of elections. Voting-system software is generally the proprietary intellectual property of the voting-system vendor and not subject to public inspection. This may itself be a problem, but the creeping definition of the word software has led some jurisdictions to object to public disclosure of the contents of election configuration files. These files do not contain (or at least ought not to contain) anything proprietary to the vendor; in theory, their only content is descriptions of the ballots and voting rules for the jurisdiction. Unfortunately, creating the configuration files to set up a voting system for an election has come to be described as programming the election, and these files have come, therefore, to be described as software.
Another problem revolves around the interpretation of public records. All of the records of an election are generally public, but many of these records are stored in proprietary data formats. Even the ink-on-paper records printed by election-management systems are frequently loaded with cryptic abbreviations. Unfortunately, the documentation necessary to interpret these records is generally considered confidential. This is absurd. It is as if the public records were being made available only in encrypted form. As far as I am concerned, the documentation necessary to interpret any public records must itself be public.
PGN The computer science community seems almost unanimously wary of attempts to enable elections via the Internet—for example, the SERVE (Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment) report. To what extent could better computer-system security and sound uses of cryptography satisfy the necessary requirements?
DWJ A good part of the problem is that most Internet voting proposals involve absentee voting systems that happen to use the Internet instead of postal ballots. Absentee voting, where voters fill out their ballots outside the controlled context of polling places, allows voters to easily prove, to a crook, that they filled out their ballots as required. This is why I have long recommended increased use of satellite polling places for early voting instead of unrestricted postal voting.
Internet voting from the home has many additional problems. Browser neutrality is one. Several current schemes operate correctly only under Microsoft Internet Explorer. I don’t believe that such limits are appropriate for any official government use of the Internet.
With Internet voting from the home, we have no control over what spyware may be present on the voter’s machine. Even if the voting application is distributed as a bootable system image, we cannot prevent it from being run under an emulator. Emulators that accurately simulate the realtime behavior of the emulated system are entirely possible—I’ve written one!
On the other hand, I see no reason that the Internet cannot be used for any functions that currently use wireless systems or other public networks such as the switched telephone network. Use of the Internet for reporting unofficial results from the precinct to the central election headquarters would seem to be no less safe than the wireless schemes used in some jurisdictions today. We know how to authenticate such transmissions, although I am unaware of vendors that are doing this correctly, and we know how to assure that they do not corrupt the official results: Just print the official results to paper and extract machine-readable media from the voting machine before inserting the communications card or cable in the machine. Many jurisdictions already get this right.
PGN “No less safe than the wireless schemes?” Wow, that is damning with faint praise. How unsafe are the wireless schemes used today, which are typically remotely spoof-able and certainly misusable by insiders?
DWJ I have no great confidence in wireless transmission, but it has been used for several years in some jurisdictions. In urban areas, for example, it is popular to set up polling places in building lobbies. It turns out that the lobby of a typical high-rise building is the one place in the building that frequently has no phone lines, so if the election administrators want a fast electronic report of the results from each polling place, the obvious way to do it is using wireless technology.
There are security advantages to both hand-delivering results from the polling place and electronic delivery, even wireless electronic delivery. Copies delivered by hand are necessarily delivered slowly, allowing an attacker the time needed to construct a counterfeit. This applies equally to paper and electronic media. Immediate electronic delivery over a public wired or wireless network denies the attacker the time to carry out an elaborate attack, assuming that the keys needed to authenticate the data have not been compromised.
PGN In many countries, voters still vote with a single piece of paper and have thus far resisted the use of high-tech approaches. Other countries seem to be pursuing various levels of computerized voting. Do you see any trends around the world for or against the potential “technologization” of elections?
DWJ It is important to understand that the U.S. system of elections places more contests on a single ballot than any other country in the world. In Clay County, Iowa, a relatively small rural county, the November 2000 ballot held 20 distinct contests, ranging from President of the United States to County Agricultural Extension Council, as well as 11 judicial retention questions and one referendum. Hand-counting ballots of this complexity is far more difficult than hand-counting ballots in a parliamentary democracy where there is only one race on the ballot, for member of parliament. This complexity is why the United States began applying machinery to vote counting a century ago.
Electronic voting technology has been used in some countries to deal with other complexities. For example, Belgium uses a hybrid party list scheme, where voters may vote for either a party list or for individual candidates. The complexity of Belgian rules for voting and ballot counting, even when there is only one race on the ballot, invites the use of computers; as a result, electronic voting has been used extensively in Belgium.
The canton of Geneva, Switzerland, has allowed Internet voting for several years in order to allow the large number of Geneva citizens who work overseas to cast ballots. As in the United States, the Swiss typically hold as many as four elections a year, and they routinely place multiple issues on the ballot for some of their elections (although rarely as many as 10).
India has what must be the world’s simplest paperless electronic voting machines, used nationwide. Of all the electronic systems in use today, it comes the closest to being simple enough that it might actually be possible to prove its integrity.
Brazil also uses a paperless electronic voting system nationwide, one that is far more complex than the Indian system, in part because the ballot access rules used in Brazil routinely allow for hundreds of candidates running for a single office.
Russia, in contrast, has opted to use optical mark-sense voting, although apparently, its rules forbid hand-counting of the ballots, making the system as potentially dangerous as a purely electronic system.
In November 2005, I participated in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe election-observing mission in Kazakhstan. The e-voting system developed in Kazakhstan includes some very interesting innovations involving stateless voting machines and use of smartcard technology. Unfortunately, these innovations were balanced by some severe defects. The one that concerns me the most is that the voting-system standards themselves were a state secret. As in the United States, Kazakh voting machines must be approved by an independent testing authority, and the detailed reports by the authority on the system are delivered only to the voting-system developers, with no intention that these ever become public documents.
PGN Would you care to close with some personal comments on your experiences in tilting at this particular set of windmills?
DWJ When the Iowa Secretary of State called for computer scientists to volunteer to serve on the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems, I was afraid that nobody would volunteer, so I did. As it turned out, I was right. Nobody else from Iowa’s high-technology sector volunteered. When I resigned after a decade on the board, it was very difficult to find anyone from the high-tech sector willing to serve as my replacement.
I had served as a voting examiner for only a short time when I began finding serious problems in the voting systems that were being brought forward for certification in Iowa. Through the end of the 1990s, I remained quiet about these problems, simply voting against certification of defective systems and quietly telling the vendors about the defects they needed to fix.
Aside from a few postings in the ACM Risks Forum, I said little in public until spring 2000, after I had read the California Internet Voting Task Force Report of January 2000. At that time, I was chair of the board of examiners, and as of the 2000 general election, I was the only state election official making critical comments about voting technology.
This changed my life. Before the election, most of my time was spent on realtime embedded systems. In the years that followed that election, I have had little time for anything other than voting technology. Since then, I’ve learned to laugh when someone calls me a Luddite or a conspiracy theorist. The word activist is more troublesome. As a computer professional, I feel an obligation to advocate responsible computer use and to oppose irresponsible computer use. At the same time, being seen as an advocate endangers my credibility as an academic.
Music Industry Responds to Spanish Ruling
IFPI criticises media coverage of the case. Specifically, the inference that the ruling affected the status of p2p file sharing.
The recording industry body International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has responded to the ruling of a Spanish judge in a music sharing case. It has expressed its disappointment at the judge defining the distribution of music CD-Rs as 'private copying', on the grounds there was no profit involved.
It has also criticised media coverage of the case. Specifically, the inference that the ruling affected the status of p2p file sharing within Spain.
'Swapping copyright-infringing music through peer-to-peer networks remains illegal in Spain as it is throughout Europe and virtually everywhere else,' said an IFPI spokesperson. 'The Spanish Justice Minister has confirmed in a clear statement that file-sharing copyrighted music without permission is illegal.'
The IFPI insists the case did not involve p2p file-sharing, but rather the physical distribution of CDs that were advertised on the Internet.
The case was brought by Promusicae, Spain's record industry association, which said that it has appealed the decision.
But, as we reported, all is not lost for the record companies anyway. The Spanish government plans to introduce new laws that would outlaw private copying.
Judge OK's Challenge to RIAA's $750-Per-Song Claim
Posted by Zonk
"In UMG v. Lindor, in Brooklyn federal court, the presiding judge has held that Marie Lindor can try to prove that the RIAA's claim of $750-per-song statutory damages is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Constitution, since she has evidence that the actual wholesale price of the downloads is only 70 cents. This decision activates an earlier ruling by the Magistrate in the case that the record labels must now turn over 'all relevant documents' regarding the prices at which they sell legal downloads to online retailers, and produce a witness to give a deposition by telephone on the subject. Judge Trager rejected the RIAA's claim that the defense was frivolous, pointing out that the RIAA had cited no authorities contradicting the defense, but Ms. Lindor's attorneys had cited cases and law review articles indicating that it was a valid defense. See the Decision at pp. 6-7."
Don't Want to Get Sued by the RIAA? Just Disable Wi-Fi Security!
At Broadband Reports, Karl picks up on an OUT-LAW.COM report noting that Tammie Marson of Palm Desert, California responded to a file-sharing lawsuit from the RIAA by stating that her wireless network was not secure, and that therefore the file sharing seen on her network could have been from any passerby.
"The defense worked, and the RIAA dropped the case," Karl writes.
As an El Reg article points out, "If this becomes a popular defense, it could seriously hamper a huge number of file-sharing lawsuits taken in the US against individuals. It also looks to be a trend in defense against movie file-sharing lawsuits."
And back at Broadband Reports, PoloDude observes, "I think it's a great defense. But who says you have to turn off your security? Let them try and prove the state of your Wi-Fi security..."
Do Not Try the Cheerleader Defence
EDITORIAL: The message boards are alive with misguided advice about wireless networks. Switch off your security, they say: you’ll get away with murder.
It follows the news that the music industry has dropped a lawsuit against Tammie Marson of Palm Desert, California. Marson argued that the fact that her computer contained illegal music files downloaded over her internet connection was not proof of a crime. As a cheerleader teacher, she said, hundreds of girls passed through her house, any one of whom could have used her PC. She also ran a wireless network without security – so anyone outside her house could have used her net connection.
Observers in homes without cheerleader traffic were fascinated by the wireless defence. “I’m going to open my network to the neighbourhood,” was a typical comment. “Screw the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America]!” But think this through: suppose someone outside your house uses your connection to download child porn to a laptop, hack into a bank or launch a denial of service attack. Unless you change your router’s default settings, you’ll never know. But the police might. So they’ll impound your computer and, if they find no incriminating files, they might give it back; or suspect that you knew how to cover your tracks. It’s your word against theirs. So keep your home network secure. For criminals, accessing an insecure network is as easy as putting on a balaclava.
Your office wireless network is more likely to have good security – but perhaps you should check. A quarter of business networks are unsecured, according to a recent wireless survey by RSA Security. Its tests in London this year found that 22% of access points still had default settings that put networks at risk. RSA points out that these offices are at risk of data theft and virus infection. It follows that they could also face difficult questions from police tracing terrible crimes. They might not prove anything against your company; but nor is it an investigation your business wants.
We don’t hear of such investigations today, but that could change. While the percentage of vulnerable networks is falling, it is falling slowly – and the total number of networks is rising fast. RSA reports a 73% year-on-year rise in the number of wireless hotspots in London.
The police don’t like anonymity breaking evidential chains. Will they push for new laws that make unsecured networks illegal, or grounds for a claim that the operator is aiding and abetting the commission of a crime? After all, our Data Protection Act already has certain expectations of office networks that hold personal data. While the police don’t care about extending these expectations to protect movies and music, they do care about hacking and child porn; and right now they probably care even more about terrorist communications. At a time when air travellers can’t carry toothpaste, it doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched to foresee the banning of safe havens for criminal communications.
That may or may not happen. But for now, if nothing else, fix your wireless security. Otherwise you could find yourself reported in the press as helping the police with their enquiries in connection with a terrible crime. Nobody wants that.
Google Video Sued For Copyright Infringement
Google Video Is Facing A copyright infringement lawsuit, the company revealed this week in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The lawsuit, filed in France, seeks $192,465 (150,000 Euros) in damages; it's based on allegations related to a documentary that surfaced on the site. Google said it removed the video as soon as it learned that owners hadn't authorized its release. "This is a small lawsuit over a single video that appeared briefly. We have procedures in place that allow copyright owners to tell us if their content is placed on Google Video without authorization. When we receive appropriate notice, we quickly remove the content from Google Video," the company said in a statement.
The lawsuit is believed to stem from Google's hosting of video clips. While this particular lawsuit doesn't appear to be related to Google's recent agreement to purchase video-sharing site YouTube for $1.65 billion, the case potentially foreshadows how Google will defend itself in any suits that arise out of the YouTube merger.
Some legal observers hold that Google will have solid legal ground to fight suits--at least in the United States--as long as the company removes copyrighted clips once the owner complains. But others hold that the law governing online copyright is ambiguous about whether Web sites are liable if companies sue without first giving the sites notice and an opportunity to remove copyrighted content.
Malaysia Cracks Down on Phone Dealers
Malaysian authorities have detained three mobile phone dealers who illegally downloaded songs from the Internet and sold them as ring tones, a report said Friday.
Officers detained the men during a raid on a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur and seized laptops containing thousands of such songs, which were sold as ring tones to mobile phone users for up to five ringgit (US$1.36, euro1.10) each, the New Straits Times said.
Initial investigations showed the men earned at least 600 ringgit (US$163; euro136) a day, it said. They could be jailed five years and fined up to 20,000 ringgit (US$5,450; euro4,541) a song if charged with copyright infringement, it added.
Othman Nawang, a state director for the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, was quoted as saying that at least one-third of some 300 mobile phone outlets in the city were involved in this illegal practice and vowed to crack down on them.
"We had warned them that it was illegal. We gave them a long time to clean up their act but during recent checks, we found that more dealers were downloading songs and selling them as ring tones," he said in the report.
"We have to act now before the situation gets out of control. We have our targets and we will be visiting their outlets soon."
Othman and other ministry officials could not be reached for comments.
Malaysia is one of 36 countries on a U.S. watch list of serious copyright violators, and music and movie industry officials have expressed concern over the prevalence of piracy here.
Elderly Harmonica Player Arrested for Performing Copyrighted Songs at Bar
A 73-year-old bar manager who illegally performed copyrighted tunes by the Beatles and other artists on the harmonica was arrested Thursday on suspicion of violating the Copyright Law, police said.
Arrested was Masami Toyoda, of Tokyo's Nerima-ku. He has reportedly admitted to the allegations against him.
Investigators accuse Toyoda of illegally performing 33 songs such as the Beatles' songs "Here, There and Everywhere" and "Yesterday," whose copyrights are managed by the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers. He allegedly performed the songs on the harmonica with a female pianist at the bar he operated between August and September this year.
Officials said the society sought a provisional injunction against Toyoda in 2001 because he had repeatedly performed copyrighted songs in the past without permission, and the Tokyo District Court granted the injunction.
The society filed a criminal complaint against him in September this year because he later kept playing copyrighted songs. (Mainichi)
Peer-to-Peer Gets Personal
Companies such as AllPeers, Pando, and Zapr aren't waving the pirate flag - but they're using Napster-like technology to help you send photos to Grandma.
Sending Grandma a video of baby's first steps via e-mail is a bit like taking a horse and sleigh over the river and through the woods to her house: tediously slow and prone to freezing.
In the YouTube era, our hard drives are stuffed with bandwidth-hogging home movies, music, and photos that we share with friends and family using technology built to transmit short text messages. Now a slew of companies are stepping in with a solution to the broadband bottleneck: personal peer-to-peer file sharing.
But companies such as AllPeers, Pando, and Zapr aren't waving the pirate flag. Unlike the original Napster and Kazaa file-swapping services, which were targeted by the music industry for allowing massive copyright infringement, this new breed of file sharing is largely a private affair, designed to let people trade files one-to-one or among a selected group.
Some services, such as MediaMax and Myfabrik, avoid file-sharing technology altogether by allowing subscribers to store their digital goodies on a central server. The advantages over e-mail: fewer limits on how big files can be, and it's all just a click away for you and your friends.
Lots of funding; little revenue
The demand for such services is growing. Every day YouSendIt, for instance, transfers more than 30 terabytes of files among its members - the equivalent of the contents of about 1,000 laptop computers. MediaMax, which is operated by a San Diego company called Streamload, sends 3 million files among its members daily and stores 650 terabytes of their data.
Venture capitalists, meanwhile, are pouring money into personal file-sharing startups. In the past two years, Fabrik has raised $12 million in funding, Pando has scored $11 million, and YouSendIt has pocketed $5 million.
Most of the newer services have little revenue to speak of yet. The exceptions are Streamload, which claims $3 million in revenue for 2005; TransMedia's Glide, which is on track to bring in at least $3.5 million in subscription fees this year; and YouSendIt, which should hit $1 million. Only TransMedia claims to be profitable.
It's all private
Each service has its own twist. The website-based ones let you upload files and then send links to your friends to view or download them. MediaMax, for instance, lets you store 25 gigabytes for free and then collects $5 to $30 a month, depending on how much you upload. Fabrik's recently launched Myfabrik offers 1 gigabyte for free and then charges a monthly fee of 49 cents per gigabyte thereafter. It encourages people to use the service for all the pictures and music they want to share on social-networking sites like MySpace.
On the peer-to-peer side, it's all about file transfers. AllPeers's software is an extension to Firefox that turns the browser into a file-sharing service complete with a buddy list showing who's online and what they have to trade. AllPeers, based in London and Prague, is backed by the same venture capitalists who invested in Skype (now owned by eBay (Charts)).
Meanwhile, when you send a file using Pando, the recipient gets a regular e-mail with a small attachment. By opening the attachment, that person connects with every other Pando user who is online and also has that file, along with a central backup server.
As for Singapore-based Zapr, you simply drag files to a list of people you want to share with, and Zapr sends each of them an e-mail with a Web link. When they click on the link, they can download the files from your computer as long as you're online.
"The link is our currency," explains Zapr chief marketing officer Michael Liubinskas, a former executive at Kazaa operator Sharman Networks. "Since it's private," he adds, "this is about personal file sharing for family and friends. We wanted to build something legally safe."
Finding YouTubes in the rough
So how do these companies plan to make money?
Some are trying to sell subscriptions to heavy users, such as graphic designers or photographers who need to send large files to clients. Others are dabbling in advertising, which is none too surprising given that the typical customer at this point is a tech-savvy 18- to 34-year-old male - in other words, marketing nirvana. YouSendIt CEO Ivan Koon, a former Adobe executive, wants to build his company into a Web-based document management service for small businesses.
Other file sharers plan to license their services. Streamload sells a white-label version of its product to companies like Sprint (Charts) spinoff Embarq, which in turn will make it available to their DSL customers. And Intel (Charts) will be offering TransMedia's Glide with future ultramobile PCs.
Pando CEO Robert Levitan thinks his startup can make money as a low-cost delivery network for high-definition movie trailers and other digital content. Most of these services can also be integrated into MySpace pages, blogs, and RSS feeds. AllPeers wants to let people sell as well as share media.
With so many players out there, a shakeout is inevitable. "It will be really tough for smaller, no-brand companies to survive," notes Michael Cai, a broadband analyst with Parks Associates. Then again, in the public file-sharing realm, YouTube was a no-brand company - until suddenly it wasn't.
Sharing Made Simple
Several new services hope to profit from letting people exchange big digital files.
SERVICE HOW IT WORKS COST BUSINESS MODEL
AllPeers Transfers files to your buddies through a BitTorrent-based add-on to Firefox. Free Content delivery fees, peer-produced media sales
Glide Stores and shares digital media via browser-based "desktop" or smartphone 300MB free; $5/month for 1GB; $10/month for 4GB Subscription fees, software licensing
MediaMax Stores digital photos, movies, and other files on the Web 25GB free; $5-$30/month for 100-1,000GB Subscription fees; software licensing; advertising
Myfabrik Sends links to shared files stored on the Web or a Maxtor Fusion hard drive 1GB free; 49 cents/month for each additional GB Subscription fees, software licensing
Pando E-mail attachments initiates BitTorrent-based P2P transfer backed by server Free Content delivery fees, advertising
YouSendIt Sends links to uploaded files good for 14 days; designed for business use 100MB free; $5-$30/month for more Subscription fees
Zapr Turns any file or folder on your PC into a shareable Web link Free Advertising
Next-Gen Graphics Connector Picks up DRM Skills
Exactly six months after the tech world was introduced to DisplayPort, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) has proposed DisplayPort Version 1.1, which would bring high bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) support to the standard. Previously, DisplayPort 1.0's copy protection support was described as "optional," but if the VESA DisplayPort Task Group has its way, it will become mandatory.
The members of the task group proposing the 1.1 update consist of companies such as AMD, Dell, Genesis Microchip, HP, Intel, Lenovo, NVIDIA, and Samsung Electronics. Support for HDCP is something that we expected when news broke that DisplayPort 1.0 supported "optional robust copy protection." HDCP support built into the standard would mean that any DRM restrictions on the content being viewed would be enforced on both the transmitting and receiving ends. DisplayPort 1.1 will be compatible with HDCP 1.3, allowing products using both DisplayPort and DVI or HDMI to share a common encryption key.
Movie studios would much prefer to be able to control how we view their content on both ends rather than just one, because they know that if we can see it, it can still be pirated. As Ken mentioned previously, their solution to this conundrum is that content providers can choose to simply not display HD content at all on a non-HDCP monitor. It is more likely that they would degrade unprotected content to something like 540p, however Hollywood has reportedly agreed to delay these forced quality downgrades until as late as 2012. Whether they stick to that plan remains to be seen.
DisplayPort is being touted as the "HDMI for computers" as it can carry high-definition audio signal over the same connection as video. Its "micro-packetized" system carries 10.8Gbps of bandwidth unidirectionally, making it the expected successor to DVI as the next standard for computer display connectivity. DisplayPort's low-latency, high-bandwidth connection made it rather appealing as the up-and-coming standard for display connections, but some users may be put off by the imposing addition of HDCP support, marking one step closer to full content protection instead of just copy protection. However, when faced with the possibility of not being able to view HDCP-protected content at full resolution, consumers may give in and opt for HDCP-supported displays, which would be good news for manufacturers and the studios.
German ISP Forced To Delete IP Logs
"A German federal court decided today that T-Online, one of the largest ISPs in Germany, was obligated to delete all IP logs of a customer upon request to guarantee their privacy. From the article: 'The decision (German) does not mean that T-Online is now obliged to delete all their IP-logs, the customers first need to complain. But, if they ask T-Online to delete their IP-logs, the ISP has no other choice than to comply. A lawyer from Frankfurt already sketched a sample letter (German) to make this process easier.'"
'Enemies of the Internet' Named
A list of 13 "enemies of the internet" has been released by human rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
For the first time, Egypt has been added to the list while Nepal, Libya and the Maldives have all been removed.
The list consists of countries that RSF believes are suppressing freedom of expression on the internet.
The civil liberties pressure group has organised a 24-hour protest, inviting web users to vote for the worst offending countries.
Visitors to the RSF website are also invited to leave a voice message for Yahoo's co-founder Jerry Yang, expressing their views on the firm's involvement in China.
RSF has been outspoken in its condemnation of Yahoo. The search engine has been criticised along with other companies for helping the Chinese authorities block access to some online material.
The 13 Countries Blacklisted
The blacklist is published annually but it is the first time RSF has organised an online protest to accompany the list.
"We wanted to mobilise net users so that when we lobby certain countries we can say that the concerns are not just ours but those of thousands of internet users around the world," said a spokesman for RSF.
Many of those on the internet blacklist are countries that are regularly criticised by human rights groups, such as China and Burma.
Egypt is a new entrant and has been shortlisted for its attitude to bloggers rather than specific web censorship, said RSF.
"Three bloggers have been arrested and detained this year for speaking out in favour of democratic reform. This is an appeal to the Egyptian government to change its position," said the RSF spokesman.
"The fact that this year we have removed three countries from the list is encouraging. It shows that the situation can change for the better," he added.
On a visit to Libya, Reporters Without Borders found that the Libyan internet was no longer censored although it still considers President Maummar Gaddafi to be a "predator of press freedom".
The War is Over and Linux Won
A new IBM-sponsored study on Linux sent me by Joe McKendrick, our SOA expert, goes a long way toward explaining the big Oracle and Microsoft moves regarding Linux.
The war is over and Linux won. (The original Linux penguin was created by Larry Ewing. This particular bird lives at the LWN Penguin Gallery.)
The truth of the assertion is in a chart near the back of the report. It shows that 83% of companies expect to support new workloads on Linux next year, against 23% for Windows. The move is slower for larger enterprises, but the direction is clear.
At least in the server world, Linux has won.
Web servers and database servers remain the dominant applications, but development environments are now among the most popular systems in production, meaning the trend toward Linux and open source applications should accelerate.
Over two-thirds of the respondents said they will increase their use of Linux in the next year, and almost no one said the opposite.
So if Microsoft is doing a slow take-over of Novell, and Oracle is bringing out its own stack, these are understandable defensive moves, a re-arrangement of forces if you will. Because the war is over and Linux won. And in business that means it's on to the next war.
Microsoft Finishes Work on Windows Vista
Microsoft Corp. finished work Wednesday on its long-delayed Windows Vista operating system, and said the software would be broadly available Jan. 30.
The announcement means Microsoft will meet - just barely - its revised goal of putting Vista in consumers' hands in the first month of 2007.
Windows Vista's code was released midmorning Wednesday to manufacturing - a step that allows the company to begin making the copies that will be distributed with PCs and sold at stores, said Jim Allchin, co-president of the Microsoft division that includes Windows, in a conference.
"This is a good day," Allchin said.
Microsoft had previously said it would release Vista to big business clients at an event at the Nasdaq Stock Market on Nov. 30, and Allchin reiterated Wednesday that corporations who buy Windows licenses in bulk will get the new system this month. That's also in keeping with the company's revised release schedule.
The release will be the first major upgrade in more than five years to the operating system that powers most of the world's personal computers. Vista boasts improved graphics, more effective tools for finding documents, pictures and other items on personal computers, and a new Internet browser, among other changes.
The software has been plagued by delays, the most recent of which was blamed in part on efforts to improve security. Microsoft products are a near-constant target of Internet attackers, and the company is often in the uncomfortable position of having to plug holes in its products.
Allchin cautioned that Vista will still face some security threats because attackers are growing more sophisticated. But he said a rigorous testing process and changes that make it harder for attacks to jump from one Vista-powered computer to the next should reduce those problems.
In its quest to get Vista out the door, Redmond-based Microsoft also has had to scale back some of its original goals, including scrapping a more sophisticated method for sorting and organizing data. Analysts have said that scaling back the system could hurt the company if people don't see enough reason to upgrade.
The most recent delays also forced Microsoft to miss the holiday season, potentially dealing a blow to computer makers and retailers who may have been hoping for the new system to boost gift sales.
Microsoft and computer manufacturers are offering holiday shoppers coupons good for a free or discounted Vista upgrade.
It's not clear how quickly big businesses will start using Vista. It can often take months if not years for companies to test a new operating system and make sure it will work well with the other programs they rely on.
Allchin said Microsoft is providing tools that allow companies to test for compatibility problems more quickly than with past Windows releases. He also said he hopes the security improvements would drive companies to upgrade faster.
Microsoft shares rose 3 cents to close at $28.98 Wednesday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
Allchin Suggests Vista Won't Need Antivirus
Scott M. Fulton, III
During a telephone conference with reporters yesterday, outgoing Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin, while touting the new security features of Windows Vista, which was released to manufacturing yesterday, told a reporter that the system's new lockdown features are so capable and thorough that he was comfortable with his own seven-year-old son using Vista without antivirus software installed.
Allchin's statement came in response to a question about his relative level of confidence that Vista would be more secure than Windows XP SP2. In response, he noted there were key security features added to Vista which could not be added to Windows XP SP2 even though, he said, his people apparently tried to do so.
Two such features -- namely Vista's new parental controls, and Address Space Layout Randomization (ASLR), which renders the object code of the system kernel in memory differently each time to thwart the designs of malicious code -- render his son's Vista machine comfortable enough for him to use, even though production-quality anti-virus software for the unit has yet to be completed.
"I would say that Windows XP SP2 did an amazing job, and I'm proud of what we did there. But you have to understand, we learned a lot during Windows XP SP2, and there were things that we couldn't put in that product," explained Allchin.
"I'll give you an example: It's my favorite feature within Windows Vista, it's called ASLR (Address Space [Layout] Randomization). What it does is, each Windows Vista machine is slightly different than every other Windows Vista machine. So even if there is a remote exploit on one machine, and a worm tries to jump from one machine to another, the probability of that actually succeeding is very small. And I wanted to do this in Windows XP SP2, but we couldn't figure out how to do it. So then a smart guy here came up with a solution, so we put it in Windows Vista."
After summarizing that past statement, Allchin continued, "Please don't misunderstand me: This is an escalating situation. The hackers are getting smarter, there's more at stake, and so there's just no way for us to say that some perfection has been achieved. But I can say, knowing what I know now, I feel very confident."
"I'll give you an example: My son, seven years old, runs Windows Vista, and, honestly, he doesn't have an antivirus system on his machine. His machine is locked down with parental controls, he can't download things unless it's to the places that I've said that he could do, and I'm feeling totally confident about that," he added. "That is quite a statement. I couldn't say that in Windows XP SP2."
Allchin led up to that comment after having recalled the company's Defense-in-Depth program, which emerged in 2004 as a way to assist software in defending specifically against viruses, but which evolved into a comprehensive anti-malware campaign.
As a result of Defense-in-Depth, Allchin told the reporter, Service Pack 2 of Windows XP made it substantially more difficult for malware to get to the kernel.
"So we've just put up one barrier after another," he said, "so that the end result is, in the percentages, when I look at the number of bulletins that we've produced over a period of time for Windows XP SP2, and I look at what I would expect to take place in terms of, not just the number, but probably more important, the severity for Windows Vista, we have been doing measurements of that all along, and it's my opinion that the severity of the bulletins will be less, as well as the number will be less.
"That's to be proven, so we will see about that. But I need to say the following: Windows Vista is something that will have issues in security, because the bar is being raised over time," Allchin continued. "But in my opinion, it is the most secure system that's available, and it's certainly the most secure system that we've shipped. So I feel very confident that customers are far better off by using Windows Vista than they are with anything that we've released before."
ASLR would apparently have been a component of Defense-in-Depth, based on Allchin's comments, had it been compatible with the existing architecture of Windows XP. In fact, ASLR may help substantiate the need for such features as PatchGuard, which is designed to draw a kind of "moat" around the kernel of the operating system, rendering it inaccessible accept through authenticated communications.
But the evolution of the Defense-in-Depth program, he implied, may have evolved its implementation in Vista beyond the need for the generation of antivirus protection that was its original impetus.
Microsoft and Universal Make Zune Deal
Microsoft and Universal Music Group say they have struck a licensing deal for the software company's new Zune portable music player and digital music store that calls for the recording company to get paid a cut of the sales of the device.
Executives at both companies declined to disclose the financial terms of the deal, which is expected to be officially announced early Thursday.
Redmond-based Microsoft Corp. is pursuing similar agreements with other major record labels, Chris Stephenson, general manager of global marketing for Microsoft Entertainment, said late Wednesday.
Zune, which is scheduled to be released Nov. 14, is Microsoft's attempt to compete with Apple Computer Inc.'s market-leading iPod player and iTunes music service. The device, which will sell for $249.99, lets people share songs, playlists or pictures over a wireless connection with nearby Zune users.
By paying record labels a portion of Zune player sales, Microsoft hopes to have more freedom to allow song-sharing or other promotions, Stephenson said.
"There's certain marketing elements that we're looking at going forward, all based around the sharing and wireless scenarios," he said. He declined to provide specifics.
But in an interview late Wednesday, Universal Music Group Chairman and CEO Doug Morris told The Associated Press that the wireless song-sharing feature of the Zune was not a major factor behind the company seeking a revenue sharing deal on the player.
"The only factor was that we feel that there's a great deal of music that's (stored) on these devices that was never legitimately obtained, and we wanted to get some sort of compensation for what we thought we're losing," Morris said. "I want our artists to be paid for the music that makes these devices popular."
While sales of digital tracks have increased in recent years amid lagging sales of CDs, record labels lament that much of the music that winds up on iPods and other digital players comes from either CDs fans already own or tracks culled from online file-sharing services.
Earlier this year, Universal and other major recording companies settled a dispute with Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. over its Sirius S50 portable music player by reaching a deal that called for Sirius to pay the record companies a fee for every S50 it sells.
Universal sought a similar approach when Microsoft came calling Universal to hash out a licensing deal for its Zune online music store.
Absent a deal with Universal, Microsoft faced the prospect of unveiling Zune without content from the world's biggest recording company, home to artists such as U2, Eminem and Shania Twain.
Morris said the agreement with Microsoft marks a turning point in how the company will approach similar deals in the future.
"I don't want any business built on our music without getting paid a part of the business," he said.
Morris declined to say what percentage of each Zune sold will be paid to Universal Music, but said "it's good."
Under the terms of the deal, Universal will split the money it gets from Zune player sales with its artists. Morris declined to say how much artists will be paid.
The Dress Code Is Relaxed, but the Courting Is Intense
Andrew Ross Sorkin
Dozens of the world’s biggest media moguls and investment bankers, dressed in perfectly pressed suits, mingled in the lobby of the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan yesterday at the annual FourSquare conference.
And then there was Mark Zuckerberg, the 22-year-old chief executive of the social networking site Facebook, wearing Adidas flip-flops — sans socks — with a blazer and jeans.
Welcome to Web 2.0, Wall Street style.
The FourSquare conference has become the East Coast incarnation of Allen & Company’s annual summer gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho, which has been the hatching place for all kinds of major and minor deals.
And if Chad Hurley, the chief executive of YouTube, was the belle of the ball at Sun Valley this summer, then Mr. Zuckerberg was the “it” boy of FourSquare.
Mr. Hurley was also in attendance yesterday, still basking in the glow of his company’s sale to Google for $1.65 billion — and also wearing a blazer and jeans, though he had shoes on.
YouTube’s sale may be only a month old, but Wall Street had already appeared to move on to the next big deal with all eyes on Mr. Zuckerberg, who has been in on-and-off negotiations with Yahoo. At the conference yesterday, Mr. Zuckerberg could be seen standing amid a throng of high-powered would-be suitors. Analysts have estimated that Facebook could have a value of as much as $1 billion.
Mr. Zuckerberg demurred when asked whether he would sell to Yahoo. (Terry S. Semel, Yahoo’s chief executive, was also in attendance, though he was not seen talking to Mr. Zuckerberg.)
Many speakers and attendees at the conference, including Barry Diller of IAC/InterActiveCorp, Shari E. Redstone of National Amusements, David J. Stern of the National Basketball Association, Martin Sorell of WPP and Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Company, among others, attended a dinner the night before, where much of the conversation was about the YouTube deal and its astronomical price tag. Several people questioned whether Internet valuations had once again gotten out of control.
“We’ve seen how this movie ends,” said one executive at a traditional media company who nonetheless was still looking at a bevy of new media acquisitions. “But we all believe we can change the ending.”
Among the companies being whispered about as takeover targets were sites with user-generated content like Digg and del.icio.us and other video sites like Brightcove.
The two-day FourSquare conference, now in its fifth year, has become a hot spot for executives to see and be seen and also attracts much of Wall Street’s banker elite. The conference is run by the Quadrangle Group, a private equity firm that specializes in media and technology. The firm was founded in 2000 by Steven Rattner, Peter R. Ezersky and Joshua L Steiner.
Much of the conference also focused on how user-generated content was upsetting the traditional media model and whether it was a fad or here to stay.
During a luncheon panel, Howard Stringer, chief of Sony, joked that in 10 years, “I will be on my MySpace page entirely alone.”
Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, lamented the quality of the comedy on user-generated YouTube clips. “It’s terrible,” he said. Mr. Stringer retorted, “It’s funny to them.”
The discussion turned to how the erosion of the economics of television had forced networks like NBC to decide to show only lower-budget reality and game show fare during part of evening prime time.
“I think of the entertainment industry and Detroit similarly,” Mr. Seinfeld said as he dressed down the television executives in the room for not being bolder in their programming. “They don’t have confidence in their instincts. Maybe they don’t have instincts to be confident in?”
For all the technological shifts going on in media, Mr. Stringer described an article from Time magazine in 1960 that lamented the dearth of new programming on television. “Nothing changes,” he said.
The continuing saga of TVU…continues
TVU Chief Grapples With Copyright Questions
Paul Shen, the CEO of controversial TVU Networks, said he doesn't understand why anyone in television would consider his company a threat. In fact, he said he comes to the TV industry bearing gifts.
Shen is the creator of the TVUPlayer, which enables people to stream live TV broadcasts to one another via the Internet. The blogging community in recent months has showered praise on the technology for aggregating TV channels such as ESPN, the Disney Channel, Fox and NBC in one place, and for creating a Web TV experience that more closely resembles traditional viewing.
But almost everyone who writes about TVU Networks' growing popularity has plenty of questions about the start-up. Who is behind the nifty technology? How does the company make money? Is the service legal?
In an interview with CNET News.com, Shen said the TVUPlayer is nothing more than a way to demonstrate his technology, which he claims can help broadcasters mine a rich new distribution platform and advertise to new customers. He acknowledged that much of the content on the TVUPlayer belongs to others but denied being a video pirate. Users of his technology are responsible for any copyright violations, Shen said, and they are the ones who stream the TV broadcasts--though he conceded that they are able do this only through the use of his technology.
Is he right? Arguing that a technology company isn't responsible for the actions of its users is not a new idea and has met with mixed results, said Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which often defends tech entrepreneurs in copyright infringement cases.
"We've seen this business model before," von Lohmann said. "First there was Napster and then other companies who told themselves, 'Hey, if I attract enough users, the (entertainment companies) will have to deal with me.' When they tried that trick in 1999, it led to a downpour of attorneys."
At a time when YouTube and other video-sharing sites are under pressure to cleanse their sites of unauthorized videos, some worry that copyright issues could thwart the ability of online video to reach its potential as a means to distribute entertainment. YouTube recently was asked by a Japanese copyright group to purge its site of 30,000 clips, and Viacom made a similar request regarding videos on the site from "Comedy Central." Representatives for YouTube declined to comment.
In such a climate, it's easy to see why TV networks and cable stations are leery of companies like TVU Networks. The company's peer-to-peer software enables people to stream live TV broadcasts on to the Web without any authorization and involves file sharing--a word that always gives entertainment executives pause.
In some ways, TVU Networks resembles some of the file-sharing start-ups that plagued the music industry for years. There's very little information about the company on its Web site and what is there is a bit confusing. Until recently, the site prominently announced that the company is based in Shanghai. The site's contact page still lists a Shanghai address, but Shen lives and works in Northern California. He declined to say which city. TVU Networks, like many companies, is incorporated in Delaware.
Nonetheless, Shen maintains that broadcasters have nothing to fear from him.
"I really was not intending to catch so much attention," said Shen, who saw the popularity of his service mushroom during the World Cup soccer championship games over summer. "Our goal is to create a new transmission medium."
He said his service was created to do nothing more than to demonstrate his peer-to-peer technology, which he argued can help TV stations save boatloads of money.
Here's how it works: Broadcasts are separated into information packets and distributed among users' PCs. The PCs then exchange the information automatically among them. Nothing has to be uploaded to any server.
This limits the bandwidth costs because broadcasters don't have to continuously transmit content to each individual viewer, Shen said.
He said TVU Networks can embed advertisements into video so that broadcasters can target specific regions and demographic groups, and the company is also working on encryption technology to secure signals.
"For broadcasters, this is a better way to reach audiences online," Shen said.
As for the possible copyright issues his company faces, he said they are not unlike the ones that YouTube is wrestling with.
Copyright attorneys and technology analysts disagree. While many legal experts argue that YouTube qualifies for legal protection under the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, they said TVU Networks appears to have a far more questionable claim.
The most important difference between the two companies is that among the more than 50,000 videos uploaded to YouTube every day, there is plenty of material on the site that doesn't violate copyright. Because of this, YouTube can more successfully make the argument that it doesn't know about specific acts of copyright infringement, said John Stickevers, a copyright attorney with the Boston law firm of Bromberg & Sunstein.
"The safe harbor provision doesn't apply if the service provider has actual knowledge of the infringing activity on the system," Stickevers said.
By comparison, there is rarely ever more than 50 broadcast streams found at any one time on the TVUPlayer, and every cable or broadcast station found on the service and contacted by CNET News.com said TVU Networks is using their content without authorization.
Of course, TVU Networks is not the only company going down this path. One highly anticipated entry that is due to launch in the coming weeks was developed by the makers of Kazaa and Skype. What remains to be seen is how they handle the copyright issue.
Shen might have reason for hope if he's truly just interested in showcasing his technology and if it can really help the industry, von Lohmann said. He said he has noticed a willingness by entertainment companies recently to work with creators of bleeding edge technologies, and Shen may have already taught broadcasters that people want to watch TV without having to jump between Web sites.
"If you'd had asked me about this company a few years ago I would have told you that they would be sued within a week," von Lohmann said. "Now, I think there are lots of people at big media companies that have a wait-and-see approach. They understand that many in the tech sector are saying, 'We want to innovate and at the same time we'll help you guys make more money.'"
Interview: RawFlow on Why Peer-to-Peer Technologies Will Revolutionise Webcasting As We Know It
Posted by Stuart Dredge
Peer-to-Peer technology isn't just about cheerfully downloading the new Justin Timberlake album from some bloke in Greenland. Really. In fact, P2P could be the gateway to watching legal, full-screen webcasts from big broadcasters and media companies.
At least this is the view of RawFlow, a provider of, you guessed it, live P2P streaming technology. So why are the concepts that powered Napster, Kazaa, BitTorrent and co now being taken up by Big Media? Tech Digest talked to RawFlow's Mikkel Dissing and Ian Keeling to find out.
The problem with current video streaming technologies is that they're costly for the content providers, says Keeling. “Right now, when you broadcast over the Internet, there’s a success penalty. Every new audience member incurs a cost for the broadcaster in terms of bandwidth and server capacity."
His view is that this is why webcasting hasn't taken off properly yet. In a layman's nutshell, RawFlow's P2P technology harnesses the unused bandwidth of internet users to provide more efficient streaming, and lower the costs for broadcasters.
The firm is ultra-keen to make a couple of things clear, however. Firstly, this is a live streaming service, it’s not about downloading stuff. And secondly, this isn’t piracy – a stigma that Keeling says has been attached to P2P technology since Napster was in its heyday.
“It’s live, and it’s not possible for an end user to capture the content,” says Keeling. “You consume the content, and it’s gone. It doesn’t download onto your computer, so you can’t pass it on or share it in any way.”
Rawflow’s technology also supports full copy protection technologies as well as ‘geo-locking’ – where webcasts can only be viewed by users with an IP address in a specific country or territory. That’s great news for Big Media, but what's the benefit to us consumers sitting in front of our PCs?
“The bottom line is that now, if you’re an end user who wants to watch video on the Internet, chances are you’re watching it in a small window not much bigger than a business card, and if lots of people log on, you get buffering and jittering,” says Keeling.
“P2P is a more efficient way of using bandwidth, so if a broadcaster invests £100,000 in webcasting a music concert, rather than watching this little window, you could be watching it full-screen. And because P2P is more cost efficient, they don’t have to roll the costs of the webcast onto you, the consumer.”
Keeling says there’s a big surge in the number of large broadcasters and media firms who want to use P2P technology for live streaming, naming the BBC, Disney and Warner Brothers as examples. However, CEO Mikkel Dissing says that P2P streaming also suits smaller companies who want to broadcast online, but haven’t been able to afford the bandwidth before.
“Say you were Swindon football club, there’s no way you’d be interesting enough for Rupert Murdoch to put you on the Sky platform,” he says. “But that’s the beautiful thing about the Internet, as you can do it yourself. But it’s not been affordable for a lot of these smaller broadcasters and companies before.”
With that in mind, RawFlow has just announced a new tool called QuickStart, aimed at small-to-medium sized broadcasters, media companies and presumably home counties football clubs. The results will hopefully be an explosion in niche webcasting.
But back to Big Media. In its dealings with broadcasters, Keeling says he has seen a number of them loosen up when it comes to their attitude towards copy protection and digital rights management.
“We’re seeing content owners be a lot more relaxed about how content is being used,” says Keeling. “The biggest earner is advertising, so the more people you can get in front of your content, the better.”
To take the example of a music concert, this might mean that you could live stream a gig, which when it finishes downloads to your computer, although you'll have to pay to watch it again. Or you might be able to share it with friends, although again, they'll have to pay to watch the whole thing. There's still plenty of work to be done though in convincing the Hollywood studios and record labels to make full use of P2P.
“We see ourselves as spokespeople for P2P,” says Dissing. “We want to convince people that it’s not bad, it’s good. And in my opinion, it’s the only way the Internet can become a broadcast medium. There’s no way you can build proper business models around a model where every single new viewer costs more money than you can demand.”
Vivendi’s Talks With Kohlberg Suggest Even the Biggest Are Fair Game
Eric Pfanner and Andrew Ross Sorkin
Is Vivendi in play?
That was the question being whispered among the world’s media moguls over the weekend after it emerged that Vivendi had held talks with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company over a potential $50 billion takeover bid, which would have been the largest leveraged buyout offer in history.
Vivendi, an ungainly conglomerate whose businesses include the Universal Music Group, the French pay-TV company Canal Plus, video games and telecommunications providers in France, Morocco and elsewhere, has long been considered a ripe target for a takeover or a breakup.
“There are linkages between the telecoms and media strands, but not of such a scale as to justify the business being retained as a single group,” Patrick Wellington, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said in a recent note to investors.
Up until the talks with K.K.R., executives at Vivendi had seemed to be against any sale or breakup of the company. But people involved in the recent talks said it was Vivendi that invited K.K.R. to make a friendly offer, opening the possibility that the company could welcome discussions with other suitors.
It is unclear why the talks between Vivendi and K.K.R. collapsed. Some people involved in the discussions suggested it was Vivendi that eventually called them off while others pointed to cooling interest from K.K.R. after it learned of tax penalties and media license requirements in France that could make a deal difficult.
With big media and telecommunications companies seeking acquisitions again and private equity firms, with more than $2 trillion in buying power, gobbling up businesses around the world, even a company as large as Vivendi is not off limits. Indeed, it could be especially attractive for certain rivals who want to pick off its pieces, or for private equity firms that may be attracted to its relatively steady cash flow and the possibility of breaking it up. Private equity has been looking for supersize deals in recent months; HCA was acquired for $33 billion, Freescale Semiconductor was bought for $17.6 billion and Univision was sold for $12 billion, among others.
A spokesman for Vivendi declined to comment beyond a statement the company made on Saturday confirming reports in The New York Times and The Financial Times about the collapsed talks. In the statement, Vivendi said it “confirms having received and reviewed a friendly expression of interest from K.K.R.,” but that the preliminary bid “did not result in any proposition and has now ended.” A spokeswoman for K.K.R. also declined to comment.
Vivendi’s chief executive, Jean-Bernard Lévy, appears to want to keep the company intact, analysts said, noting that he has described Vivendi as having “different and complementary” businesses. Mr. Lévy’s strategy has included a merger of Canal Plus with a rival satellite operator, TPS. He has also returned Vivendi to the role of acquirer, striking a recent deal to buy the music publishing business of Bertelsmann, the German media company, for 1.6 billion euros.
The Vivendi statement also said the review of the approach from K.K.R. concluded in favor of “maintaining the current Vivendi assets within the group in order to create value.”
Vivendi has been remaking itself since 2002, when Jean-Marie Messier, who transformed the company from a staid water utility into a Hollywood player, was ousted as chief executive. Mr. Messier had championed a series of acquisitions that turned the company into one of the world’s biggest media groups but also loaded it with a debilitating debt burden. Much of the United States media business was later sold, in a deal that created NBC Universal.
In the wake of Mr. Messier’s departure, Vivendi has been wrestling with questions about its future. At least one shareholder has proposed a breakup of the company’s diverse assets, and there has been speculation that the company’s board is divided on the best way forward.
A Norwegian investor named Alexander Vik, who heads a firm, Sebastian Holdings, that owns Vivendi shares, has been calling for a breakup of the company; Vivendi rejected an informal approach from the firm last spring.
At the time, reports in the French press suggested that several Vivendi board members, including Claude Bébéar, who is also chairman of the French insurer Axa, and Jean-René Fourtou, the Vivendi chairman, also favored a breakup. They later joined Mr. Lévy at a news conference to deny these reports.
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts has had links to Vivendi via Marie-Josée Kravis, wife of Henry Kravis, founding partner of the buyout firm. She was a member of Vivendi’s supervisory board, though she stepped down last March.
Private equity firms often see the sum of a company’s parts as worth more than the whole: they sometimes break companies apart, cut costs and then resell the units at a profit. But analysts say it is not clear that such a feat could easily be performed with Vivendi.
The Universal Music Group, for instance, has been gaining market share from rivals like the Warner Music Group and Sony BMG, making it difficult to justify cost-cutting moves that might undermine the business at a time when the music industry is struggling to deal with the effects of digital piracy.
Selling the company as a whole might be difficult, too, analysts say, particularly if the acquirer were an American buyout firm like Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. French regulations prevent foreign concerns from owning majority stakes in broadcasters like Canal Plus.
Questions have long swirled around the future of one Vivendi holding: its 56 percent stake in the French mobile operator SFR. The other 44 percent stake in SFR is owned by Vodafone, the British mobile operator, which has recently moved to extract itself from investments in markets like Belgium, where it has also held a minority stake in a wireless operator.
Verizon's Big TV Bet Goes Small-Town
It could be the setting for a sitcom. Or perhaps a dramedy. Some 70 residents of Smithtown, N.Y., have jammed themselves into the boardroom of the town hall. They are accompanied by several gray-suited lawyer types, who conspire in hushed tones. There is also a guy in a chicken costume.
Unfortunately for Verizon Communications (nyse: VZ - news - people ), this is a reality show, and one it seems doomed to watch over and over again: Verizon has spent many years and billions of dollars gearing up to enter the cable television business. But before it can do that in Smithtown, it will need approval from the town's 115,000 residents. And it will have to go through the same process every time it wants to set up shop in another municipality.
Verizon Chief Executive Ivan Seidenberg will spend some $18 billion burying fiber-optic pipes that can bring consumers super-fast Internet access. The company can also use those pipes to offer digital TV signals. That ability is a key to Seidenberg’s plans to fend off cable and satellite businesses that are now moving into broadband and phone services themselves. Verizon says it will have 6 million homes in 16 states ready for fiber optic service, which it has branded "FiOS," by the end of the year.
Verizon has built much of the infrastructure it needs to deliver the service, and it continues to negotiate with television networks for the rights to show the same kind of programming that cable networks already offer. But the town-by-town franchise licensing process remains the company’s last, and most cumbersome, obstacle.
Some states are making it easier for Verizon and AT&T (nyse: T - news - people ), which is embarking on a similar push, by passing statewide franchise laws, setting up a boilerplate franchise agreement. But even then, the telcos still have to go town to town to negotiate fees and right of way permits. A pending bill in Congress would do the same thing nationwide, though its fate is likely to get enmeshed with other telco issues, like net neutrality.
On Long Island, Verizon has spent more than two years negotiating with local boards, a few towns at a time, and has secured 19 local franchises. Five more franchises, including Smithtown’s, could be sealed this week. But just to cover Long Island in Verizon TV service, there's a lot of work left: Cable competitor Cablevision (nyse: CVC - news - people ) has 110 separate franchises on Long Island, according to company spokesman Jim Maiella.
Last summer, Verizon approached Smithtown, a town about 50 miles outside of New York City, to discuss its plans to offer TV. Verizon's legal negotiations with Smithtown's government started in July after the company had built a "significant amount" of its fiber network.
At Smithtown's first public hearing on Sept. 26, more than 75 people flooded the town's tiny boardroom with election night fervor to comment on the 30-page franchise agreement. While most of the group wore jeans and casual, late summer clothes, two groups in dark suits huddled in front: Attorneys for Verizon and Cablevision, which stands to lose business once Verizon's TV trucks roll in.
Many residents who signed up to comment had to wait downstairs or outside to uphold the room's fire code capacity; about half the crowd wore large Verizon buttons: "FiOS TV YES. It's just better." Verizon officials touted the quality and features of the service. Others, including Verizon-contracted attorney Scott Parr, who negotiated the Smithtown contract, touted the benefits of competition and choice, including lower prices and better customer service--though for the time being, Cablevision advertises a "triple play" package of Internet, telephone and cable TV service for $89.85 per month, while Verizon charges $94.85 per month for a similar package.
Cablevision can't block new competitors outright, but it can slow them down. With marked-up copies of Verizon's agreement, Cablevision attorneys pointed out areas they found weak: Verizon's schedule to build out service in the entire town, its obligation to restore damaged municipal property and clauses excusing Verizon from penalties in case of unusual events. The idea that Cablevision is resisting its competition is nonsense, attorney Peter Bee tells residents. "We're ready to meet and beat Verizon."
All of this, Cablevision insists, is to maintain a level competitive playing field. "Our efforts are intended to make sure the phone company, or any competitor, is subject to the same regulations, standards and costs that we face in providing video service in a community," says spokesman Maiella.
If Cablevision officials could speak candidly, they might express some sympathy for their soon-to-be competitors--the cable industry went through the same process 20 and 30 years ago, when it first secured franchise agreements, offering towns incentives like community access channels in return for the right to pipe TV into their homes. Those agreements now serve as Verizon’s benchmarks.
Now many Smithtown residents want their town council to get more out of Verizon. For instance, Cablevision has built a public access studio in Smithtown, but rather than build a second one, Verizon proposes giving the town $325,000 to build their own. This draws some jeers from residents and officials who said the city government isn't supposed to be in the TV studio business.
A second public meeting on Oct. 10 drew a smaller crowd but generated the same animated atmosphere. Some residents again asked for a second public access studio--one claimed she was "sick to her stomach" and "couldn't sleep" after hearing Verizon wouldn't be building a local studio. One eccentric showed up in a chicken suit, carrying a sign saying the "town board has chickened out." No two towns are alike, says Monica Azare, senior vice president of public policy and external affairs for Verizon's New York and Connecticut regions. "We can never gauge or predict the drama that can unfold at the hearing."
At the coaxing of Cablevision attorneys and town board members, Verizon agreed to amend its terms to extend service to adjacent, unincorporated Commack, N.Y., by the end of 2007 and to set it up so that the city could record video at both its town hall and its senior citizen center, where some board meetings take place. After an hour-long debate, the town signed off.
Assuming New York's state public service commission approves the Smithtown franchise this week, residents will soon be able to order Verizon television service, and the company will be close to its 200th local agreement nationwide, covering more than 3.5 million households. But then it needs to convince people to actually switch services: In its most recent quarterly earnings call, the company said it only had 118,000 television customers. By 2010, the company hopes to have 3 million to 4 million.
Meanwhile, competitors are rapidly going after Verizon's plain vanilla phone business. Cablevision, serving the New York area, scored 122,000 voice customers in the second quarter. Comcast (nasdaq: CMCSA - news - people ), with 23 million cable customers in 36 states, added 483,000 digital voice customers in its third quarter. And the cable operators aren’t required to get local phone franchise agreements themselves.
For now, it's back to the town-by-town lobbying dance--an expensive one, at that. A veteran telecom industry lawyer estimates that Verizon will pay for somewhere between 50 to 100 attorney hours per franchise. And while Verizon's Azare won’t comment about her company’s legal bills, she does note that it has even more costs: Engineers who advise about each town's geography and fiber-build schedule, media relations and external affairs.
But Wall Street seems upbeat about Verizon's chances. After Verizon's fiber-focused investor presentation in late September, Sanford C. Bernstein telecom analyst Jeffrey Halpern declared FiOS a "likely growth engine for the next decade.” Even if that engine has to stop and start at each new town.
No Robots, No Aliens and No Safety Net
A HOMELESS man? Is Will Smith kidding? He’s been rich, famous, handsome and beloved for close to two decades and the man isn’t yet 40. One look at the guy and you just want to break out in a smile: hey, it’s Will Smith, things are looking up.
He lounges on a pale suede settee in his five-story town house on the East River, with the sun streaming through the plate glass. At 38, Mr. Smith barely looks different from the young man in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” still playing somewhere on cable reruns: the jug ears; the wide-set, dancing brown eyes; the ready smile and familiar belly laugh.
He is lanky and muscular under a black dress shirt and artfully distressed blue jeans, and barely shows the strain of having shut down traffic in Midtown Manhattan the previous day for the shoot of his next big-budget effort, “I Am Legend.”
As a movie star Mr. Smith has found a steady audience as a can-do, good-natured winner, a hero battling on the side of good. He has been believable as a robot-battling cop (“I, Robot”), as an alien-battling agent (“Men in Black”) and as a really-big-alien-battling pilot (“Independence Day”).
So it seems like a stretch, and not a small one, to believe he might be a homeless man on the streets of San Francisco. But that’s the real-life character that he plays in “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a small, heart-wrenching drama about the kind of failure that Will Smith has never known, and isn’t likely to know.
Today Chris Gardner, the person on whom the movie is based, is a successful stockbroker. But for a year in the 1980s he found himself faced with a curious set of circumstances: single father to a young boy, a barely paid intern-trainee at the brokerage firm Dean Witter, and — suddenly — homeless.
Mr. Gardner spent night after night trudging the streets of the crime-ridden Tenderloin district of San Francisco, with all his earthly possessions on his back, diapers shoved under one arm, pushing the stroller with his toddler toward a homeless shelter. When the shelter was full, they slept in the park. Or under Mr. Gardner’s desk. Or sometimes in the public bathroom of a subway station.
This period was the subject of a “20/20” segment in 2004 and became the basis of Mr. Gardner’s autobiography, which shares the film’s title and was published earlier this year.
“The movie, fabulous as it is, focuses on one very tough, dark, frightening year of my life,” Mr. Gardner said in a phone interview from Chicago, where he now lives. As a smart striver in his 20s, he was determined to live out the American dream and achieve material success. But at the same time, he said, “I was determined to break the cycle of fathers who were not there for their sons.”
For Mr. Smith playing someone on the losing end of fortune’s whim was not nearly as formidable as portraying someone who was actually there on the set nearly every day of the shoot.
To play the role he had to be willing to strip away his movie stardom and put on someone else’s skin. Not all movie stars can do this successfully. Plenty of them — Harrison Ford, say, or Bruce Willis — don’t want to. It can be a painful process. Or, as Mr. Smith said, a “terrifying” one.
“It’s very scary to adapt someone’s life, and do it in two hours, and the person is there,” he said. “In the first period, you say: ‘I can’t do this. No way.’ Then the story starts to eat at you, and you say, ‘Oh, I have to.’ Then you meet the person, and it becomes clear how daunting the task is. It’s someone’s life. On top of my being a perfectionist — and trying to shoot for the idea of perfection in an imperfect science — it’s a gut-wrenching task.”
To help get there Mr. Smith lost 25 pounds, grew his hair and donned glasses. (The authenticity was helped by the fact that his own son Jaden Smith played Mr. Gardner’s son in the film.) But the harder work was on the inside. He had to drop a lot of his habits and tricks. His obsessive preparation. His tendency to make methodical lists: do the first take, angry; do the second take, frustrated. Peering through his lens, the director, Gabriele Muccino, made Mr. Smith give up the gloss and go deeper.
“ ‘You’re posing,’ ” Mr. Muccino would complain, Mr. Smith said. “ ‘Don’t you pose for my camera.’ He’d say: ‘You can’t trick me. You’re making faces as if you’re hurt. I need you to take some time. And come back. And be hurt.’ ”
Now, months distant from those private moments, Mr. Smith folded his hands carefully. “Acting is generally humbling. But it’s much more humbling when someone can see you like that.”
For the last several years Mr. Smith, having achieved every other goal he had set in his life, has been, as he put it, “struggling to hit my stride as an artist.” How hard that is to accomplish is difficult to imagine in a world where Will Smith the Movie Star is an overwhelming reality, hovering over every business conversation, clinging to him in every public encounter.
And unlike other goals, he found this one was not so easily achieved with elbow grease and his fabled charm. With “Ali” in 2001 Mr. Smith struggled to transform himself into Muhammad Ali, sculpturing his body into fighting form, giving up his soul to the director, Michael Mann. The performance earned him an Oscar nomination for best actor, though the film itself failed to ignite great excitement, and Mr. Smith was not considered a front-runner for the prize.
But of course the star persona persisted. When Mr. Gardner took the actor on an unannounced, nighttime walkabout among the panhandlers, prostitutes and drug users of the still-shabby Tenderloin — trying to shake him up — he asked if Mr. Smith was scared. He didn’t want to admit it.
“I said: ‘I’m Will Smith. People got love for me,’ ” Mr. Smith recalled. Mr. Gardner was not impressed. “He said: ‘Imagine you’re not Will Smith. And you’re sleeping out here, with your son.’ ”
James Lassiter, Mr. Smith’s friend and for two decades his business partner in Overbrook Entertainment, their production company, has seen Mr. Smith deepen and mature as he has sought to join the ranks of the most respected actors of his generation.
“Will has always been the guy who wanted people to love him, and he works hard at that,” Mr. Lassiter said. “I think he’s starting to understand that he doesn’t have to work as hard at that. That happens naturally.”
Part of letting the wish go was putting himself in the hands of Mr. Muccino, an unknown in America who had previously directed Italian films. “We only get to the next level by taking a chance,” Mr. Lassiter said. “In the past, safe made more sense for us. But Will is now comfortable enough to say: ‘I relate to this guy’s passion. I want to go with that.’ ”
With Mr. Muccino goading him on, Mr. Smith worked at relinquishing some of his self-control, on the set and off. “You want to trick yourself, you want to slip,” he said. “It’s a weird kind of temporary insanity. It’s like a sneeze: you feel it’s coming, it’s coming, and when you sneeze, you lose control, you close your eyes, your heart stops.
“That’s analogous to what I was searching for. That moment when you believe you’re actually Ali. Or Chris Gardner. Every take you try to get there.”
He felt it several times during the making of “Ali,” when he was on location in Mozambique. On “Pursuit,” the moments were more numerous, and quieter. Like the time Mr. Gardner took Mr. Smith to see the bathroom at the Oakland commuter train station, a place where he and his son had slept on many nights. Mr. Smith asked to be left alone in the bathroom for a few minutes. He came out five minutes later. “He was not the same guy,” Mr. Gardner recalled. “It was like a ghost jumped into his body.”
The scene was shot later, on a set. In the film Mr. Smith — exhausted, hungry, dirty, rejected from every shelter he has tried, and with his son in tow — pretends that they have landed in a prehistoric wonderland, and must crawl into a cave (the bathroom) to hide from dinosaurs. His son willingly beds down on cardboard and a coat. Slumped against the tile wall, his son’s head in his lap, Mr. Smith locks the door and — as someone outside starts banging to be allowed in — a tear slowly crawls down his cheek.
“That’s acting nirvana,” Mr. Smith said. “You’re not acting. You’re slipping into the moment. I was there.”
MR. GARDNER and Mr. Smith do not nominally have much in common, certainly not in their family histories. Mr. Smith, as many of his fans know, comes from a two-parent, middle-class family in Philadelphia, his mother a school board employee, his father the owner of a refrigeration company. He is happily married to Jada Pinkett Smith, with two young children, and an older son from a first marriage.
Still single today, Mr. Gardner was born in Milwaukee and did not know his father until adulthood. As a child he shuttled among foster homes, relatives and his mother, after she married a violent, alcoholic man who, Mr. Gardner says in his book, constantly beat her and her children.
His stepfather, he says, took special pleasure in demeaning him as worthless. Much of Mr. Gardner’s life became dedicated to proving his stepfather wrong and, just as important, not to become him, or his own father, who abandoned him.
What Mr. Gardner and Mr. Smith do share is optimism and an unquenchable drive to succeed. In Mr. Smith’s case that success came early; he turned to music as the Fresh Prince, then to television, then to movies. Mr. Gardner had a more torturous run. He had some initial good luck, with a series of mentors that led from the Navy to the Veterans Administration in San Francisco, where he conducted medical research.
But his job there did not pay well. And after unsuccessfully selling medical equipment, he decided to try for the brass ring and be a stockbroker. He even managed to land the traineeship at Dean Witter without a college degree. But life got complicated: His wife left. Soon he and his new girlfriend had a child. Then she left too, returning after several months to deposit their son, when she found she couldn’t make it on her own.
Mr. Gardner chose to keep the boy, whatever the cost, while he continued to aim for the greatest possible success. This wasn’t exactly practical, but Mr. Smith understands the decision perfectly.
“I can so relate to that,” Mr. Smith said. “I am that guy. I have to be the best I can be. I have to achieve everything I can possibly achieve. I feel like I owe it to every single person I came into contact with, who knows my life, I owe it to them. It’s a call from God, or Allah, or Jehovah. I don’t even necessarily know why.
“The beauty of America is that we’re not realistic. The idea that anything is possible, that idea is being kept alive here. This story is why America worked — as an idea. The idea is that this is the only country in the world where Chris Gardner is possible. The pursuit is what makes America great.”
Then Will Smith did something surprising. He recited the Declaration of Independence. The whole first segment, including the “pursuit of happiness,” rapid-fire. When he finished, and noted the surprise of an observer, he said: “I believe it.” Pause. “I don’t believe we do it well.” And he recalled a moment from when he was walking through the Tenderloin with Mr. Gardner.
“We were just standing out there in this place of broken dreams. Of extreme poverty. And it washed over me that the greatest poverty is the poverty of ideas. Chris was equally impoverished as these people, but he never had the poverty of ideas. He was rich with belief. Rich with faith.” He smiled, that sunny It’s-Will-Smith-Things-Are-Looking-Up smile. “And I’ve always felt like that.”
Hollywood Puts the Squeeze on Talent
Laura M. Holson
On a recent trip to New York City, Russell Crowe was asked by reporters why he had dropped out of negotiations to star in a new movie being directed by Baz Luhrmann and produced by 20th Century Fox.
The Academy Award winner, never one to mince words, suggested it was, in part, the money. “I do charity work, but I don’t do charity work for major studios,” Mr. Crowe said.
It seems the needy are not the only ones in Hollywood with their hands out. Movie and television studios, facing escalating budgets, rampant piracy and the uncertain future of new media, are demanding concessions from talent. But as actors, directors and writers feel the squeeze, many are not happy about it.
Worse, the tension is not likely to ease soon. As studios are set to begin contract negotiations with talent in January, all sides are girding for battle.
Hollywood is in the midst of a strategic shift. The average cost to make and market a movie has skyrocketed — to $96.2 million last year, from $54.1 million in 1995 — while lucrative DVD sales have flattened. Major film studios are fending off illegal piracy, which industry executives say accounted for $1.3 billion in lost revenue in the United States last year.
The growth of new media threatens to undermine traditional businesses, while studios are flummoxed about how to take advantage of the new opportunities they represent. And movies and TV also face tough new competition from video games and online social networking sites. Even cellphones have become a favorite diversion among the young.
As in so many other show business debates, money and control are at the heart of the matter. And without solutions to these problems in sight, relations between talent and the studios are more strained than ever.
“No matter how successful you are, you are not invincible,” said Brett Ratner, who directed the blockbuster “X-Men: The Last Stand” and is an executive producer of the television show “Prison Break.” “The studio is writing the checks. It’s all about leverage and who has the power. The goal is to get the biggest deal you can, because you are going to have to give something back to the studios anyway.”
With guild contracts set to expire within the next two years, the animosity is palpable. This summer, 12 writers for the reality show “America’s Next Top Model” went on strike, complaining that the producers would not let their work be recognized by the Writers Guild of America, which would have guaranteed the writers pension and medical benefits. And movie studios are aggressively demanding that actors and directors lower their fees or risk having their movies dropped.
Two weeks ago, 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures walked away from “Halo,” a movie based on the popular video game, after the executive producer, Peter Jackson, and others refused to reduce their fees. It is one of several productions recently that have either been halted or delayed; others include the comedy “Used Guys,” an adaptation of the television show “Dallas” and “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”
But it is the growing area of new media and technology that has made the relationship between studios and talent most fragile. Mr. Ratner, who also directs music videos, said he wanted to share in the profits from music videos when they were downloaded over services like the Apple iTunes Store. And actors, writers and directors are pressing to be paid fees for shows they worked on that are streamed or sold on the Internet, as well as for new programming on cellphones.
Talent and studios, of course, have clashed before. In 2001, a Hollywood shutdown was narrowly averted. In 1988 writers walked out for nearly half a year, delaying the fall television season. And in 1980, actors took to picket lines to establish fees for films made for pay television channels, like HBO.
But there seems to be a greater urgency now, because there do not appear to be clear answers to the industry’s woes. And entertainment executives seem more determined this time to hold the line. Film studios got burned in the 1990s when popular film actors and directors brokered lucrative paydays for themselves while, in some cases, studios took a loss on their films. Now even bankable stars, like Tom Cruise, are being cut less slack. His 14-year producing deal with Paramount Pictures was severed this summer, although he rebounded last week to become a partner at United Artists.
“It works on an artist’s psyche, ourselves included,” said Brian Grazer, an Academy Award winner who produced the blockbuster “The Da Vinci Code.” “You are faced with a new reality. Do you want to stick to your price and be forced to stand in the parking lot instead of playing on the field? That is cause for conflict between talent and studios.”
Brad Grey, a former talent manager and currently chairman at Paramount, said he did not think relationships with actors were more contentious than in the past. But, he said, leverage had shifted in favor of the studios. The studios will pay top dollar for certain actors, writers or directors, but only if they need them, he said. The rest have to settle for less.
“If indeed you are an actor and you believe you will guarantee box office, then you have the privilege and freedom of arrogance,” Mr. Grey said. “It’s when there is a margin for error that emotion runs high.”
Even Mr. Grazer said a new discipline imposed on talent could be beneficial. But not surprisingly, the industry’s guilds — particularly the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America — are defiant.
On Sept. 20, nearly 700 protestors gathered at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles at a Writers Guild unity rally. Among them was Sara Jane Sluke, one of 12 writers for “America’s Next Top Model” who went on strike in July because of a lack of union representation for writers on that show. Many jobs in reality television are not covered under union contracts; guild representation is negotiated separately for each show.
“This is trying to grab a little security in an uncertain business,” said Ms. Sluke, who added that she and her colleagues wanted pension and health benefits like those negotiated by the show’s editors.
A spokesman for the CW network, which broadcast the show, said neither the CW nor the producers would comment.
J. Nicholas Counter, who for 25 years has been president and chief negotiator of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said the striking writers might have been more successful if the Writers Guild had been less hostile.
“If the guilds are flexible, these deals could be negotiated,” said Mr. Counter, who was not involved with “Top Model.” “There are more tensions, more pressures on both sides. This is worse than it’s ever been.”
Indeed, it is not the only scuffle involving the Writers Guild. NBC Universal recently filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the Writers Guild after writers for television shows, including “The Office,” refused to work for Web shows too.
“The posture and rhetoric studios are blaming us for having is that we are being too aggressive and militant,” said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild. “But there is a mentality out there that this is a buyer’s market, that we’ll do more for much less.”
Whatever the tensions, many in the industry still prefer to avoid a strike. Said Mr. Grey of the coming negotiations: “From our perspective, tough is fine as long as you get to a reasonable place. Rhetoric is one thing; reality is another.”
Last year, Alan Rosenberg, who starred in the television show “L.A. Law,” was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild, pledging that studios should pay fees for content delivered by new media. It was a particularly appealing platform because guild infighting had left many actors worried the dissension among their ranks made them vulnerable.
So far Mr. Rosenberg has had some success in negotiating terms. Last year, for instance, he said, nonguild actors were being asked to perform in short programs for cellphones based on the ABC series “Lost.” The Screen Actors Guild objected. “They have to come to us first and talk about it,” said Mr. Rosenberg, referring to the show’s producers.
That led to negotiations with Touchstone Television, a division of the Walt Disney Company, which produced the show. Now actors who work on the cellphone program based on “Lost” will get a minimum wage of $425 for their work, as well as other fees if a short program was streamed on the Internet or sold on DVD, according to the guild. (The writers and directors negotiated separate deals.)
“It is possible to work things out and not just react to vitriolic letters,” said Mr. Rosenberg, referring to correspondence from lawyers sent in such disputes.
That said, the Screen Actors Guild is clashing with Disney and other studios over how much talent will be paid for television shows offered for sale by services like iTunes. Recently studios agreed to pay actors a fee similar to those negotiated for DVD sales. The actor’s guild balked, saying it should have been consulted first about the decision to offer shows online. The dispute between the actors and the studios is in arbitration, with actors hoping for a higher fee.
“We don’t consult the guilds on major business decisions,” said Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks, which was first to offer shows for sale on iTunes. Either way, she added, it was more important that media companies move ahead with online offerings, even if it meant conflict. “There is a far greater risk in doing nothing, than doing this,” she said.
Recently Mr. Ratner, the director, was driving down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood when he noticed a going-out-of-business sign at Tower Records, the music retailer that once thrived on selling the music of superstars like Prince, Elton John and Madonna. Many here, like him, fear that the problems that plagued the music business are heading their way.
“What happens if the film business is not ahead of the curve?” he asked. “What is going to happen to me? To all of us?”
Mr. Ratner said he had been well compensated as a director. Still, he has urged the Directors Guild of America to look at several issues facing directors, including the fact that they are not paid when music videos they direct are sold on the Internet.
But he is not waiting around to see what the guilds will do or studios will offer either. Mr. Ratner said he was close to announcing a deal with an Internet company to create his own “Saturday Night Live”-style program that he would own outright and distribute online. Then he can bypass studio bosses altogether.
“I could make a lucrative deal for myself,” he said. “This is just the beginning.”
Disney's Risks Made Fairy Tales Come True
Entertainment and media companies are in an embattled mode, and retrenchment is the order of the day. This summer, even as it fielded the season's top two hits -- "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Cars" -- the Walt Disney Co. ordered 650 layoffs worldwide. All across town, studios have been cutting back on production deals and big-budget movies.
But one of the many lessons from Neil Gabler's newly published and richly detailed biography "Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination" (Knopf) is that it takes money to make money. If there was a pattern to Disney's career, it is that, in pursuit of creative risks, he repeatedly overextended his company. He was often in hock to creditors, especially Bank of America. But the risks generally paid off.
Disney, with the support of his brother Roy, was certainly a shrewd businessman. His Walt Disney Enterprises virtually invented modern-day licensing: In 1934, with Mickey Mouse products popping up everywhere, Disney was involved in the sale of $35 million of merchandise domestically. In the '50s, he redefined promotion and branding with his ABC-TV show, which premiered in 1954, and later drove audiences to the newly opened Disneyland.
Gabler's account of the creation of the ground-breaking animation feature "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" illustrates just how painstakingly far Disney was willing to go to pursue his vision. For all its period detail, it's also a chronicle that strikes a number of modern-day parallels.
In 1933, when Disney began contemplating "Snow White," it was by no means clear that a full-length animated film was financially feasible -- or that moviegoers were ready to embrace a feature-length cartoon. In the wake of the enormous success of that year's eight-minute short "The Three Little Pigs," his contemporaries began urging him to take the leap: James Thurber suggested he tackle Homer's "Iliad" or "Odyssey." Publisher M. Lincoln Schuster suggested he take a look at a book called "Bambi." Mary Pickford offered to underwrite production costs on an animated/live-action "Alice in Wonderland."
Disney, though, opted for the fairy tale "Snow White," initially budgeted at an entirely unrealistic $250,000. Disney envisioned a production schedule of 12-18 months. Instead, he spent more than a year just developing the story and another year training animators and overseeing preliminary sketches. Animation didn't begin until February 1936, and the rush to meet the movie's December 21, 1937, premiere led to round-the-clock work sessions.
Along the way, Disney had to virtually invent this particular wheel. A muted, pastel color palette required developing new paint formulas. A multiplane camera was constructed to add dimensionality and perspective. In a sort of primitive attempt at motion capture, animators and actors filmed live-action scenes to study how the dwarves should move.
Ultimately, the movie cost more than $1 million, most of which came from bank loans. But by May 1939, it had become the highest-grossing film to date, pulling in $6.7 million. The studio retired its debt. Its distributor RKO offered to set up a revolving fund of $1 million for Disney's next two features. (Disney had shrewdly moved his distribution deal from UA to RKO in part to guarantee his control of TV rights.) And Disney himself saw to it that the animators were paid $750,000 in bonuses.
As Gabler observes, "Money was just instrumental for Walt, a way for him to make his films." It's a lesson that Hollywood ignores when it treats films as nothing more than quarterly accounting items.
Disney Sells Nearly a Half Million Films Through iTunes
Walt Disney Co. said Thursday it has sold nearly a half million films through Apple Computer's iTunes store since announcing the distribution deal a little less than two months ago.
The sales figure, which amounts to approximately $4 million in revenue, was announced during the entertainment conglomerate's fiscal fourth quarter conference call with analysts and members of the media.
Disney said it expects movie downloads to generate $50 million in added revenue during the first year of the program.
It started by making 75 movies available on iTunes service in Sept. and recently announced plans to add the No. 1 animated film of the year, Cars, and the No. 1 film of the year, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
With half a million sales in just under eight weeks, customers are purchasing approximately 62,500 movies from Apple's iTunes store each week, or just shy of 9,000 each day.
Thus far, Disney is the only major motion picture studio who has agreed to sell its films through the ubiquitous iTunes service. However, News Corp's. Fox Entertainment Group and independent Lions Gates are reported to be in ongoing negotiations with Apple about making their catalog of films available to iTunes customers.
In beating Wall Street's expectations, Disney said earnings per share for the fourth quarter increased 89 percent to $0.36, compared to $0.19 in the year-ago quarter. Profits doubled from $379 million to $782 million.
"Disney had a spectacular year, posting record revenues, record net income, and record cash flow," said president and chief executive Robert Iger. "It is a result of the incredible creativity at our company."
Iger added that the company is close to wrapping up a digital distribution deal with Comcast that would likely result in the delivery of new shows to both the provider's cable and online customers.
Disney Will Open a Video Game Studio
The Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Game unit on Tuesday announced a new video game studio that will focus on creating new and Disney-inspired titles for Nintendo Co. Ltd's hand-held DS player and upcoming Wii console.
Scott Novis, who headed the Rainbow Studios team that developed the popular video game based on the Disney Pixar film "Cars," was tapped to be vice president and general manager for Disney's new Fall Line Studio, based in Salt Lake City.
Nintendo's Wii console, which features a novel motion-sensitive controller, has captivated gaming enthusiasts and is set to make its U.S. debut on November 19.
The Japanese game company has also made a splash with its DS players, which has two screens, opens like a book and allows players to control play with a stylus.
Innovative titles like "Nintendogs" and "Brain Age," which respectively let players pet and train dogs and exercise their mental skills, have helped propel sales of the DS. Nintendo in late October forecast that it will sell 20 million DS units during the fiscal year ending march.
For France, Video Games Are as Artful as Cinema
France is proud of its contribution to culture in such forms as existentialism, Impressionism and auteur films. Now the French culture minister wants to add Donkey Kong to his country’s pantheon of high art.
“Call me the minister of video games if you want — I am proud of this,” the minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, said in an interview last month. “People have looked down on video games for far too long, overlooking their great creativity and cultural value.”
Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres is seeking to have video games recognized as a cultural industry eligible for tax breaks, similar to French cinema.
In March, he pinned medals from the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres — a prize awarded to acknowledge cultural accomplishments — on three prominent video game designers, including Shigeru Miyamoto, the Japanese creator of Donkey Kong. The game, popularized in the 1980s, stars an Italian plumber called Mario.
Video game creators should receive a tax break of 20 percent, up to a ceiling of 500,000 euros, Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres says.
“Video games are not a mere commercial product,” he insisted. “They are a form of artistic expression involving creation from script writers, designers and directors.”
An increase in game players and game sales relative to other cultural goods underscores the need for video games to be recognized as a part of the broader culture, he said.
For instance, the best-selling video game for 2005 in France, Pro Evolution Soccer 5, had better sales than the Harry Potter books or the DVD of “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” according to the market research firm GfK France.
But economic interests may also play a role in pushing the tax break. France is home to Vivendi Games, Ubisoft Entertainment and Infogrames Entertainment, which owns Atari. All three companies were among the top 10 video game companies in the world by revenue in 2005.
With a total of roughly 100 video game companies, France, along with Britain, has long produced more video games than the rest of Europe combined, according to the market research firm Idate, of Montpellier, France.
Of late, however, the French companies have been facing tough times. Infogrames has been struggling against high debt, and an American rival, Electronic Arts, bought 19 percent of Ubisoft’s shares in 2004. And Vivendi Games earns most of its revenue from one best-selling game, World of Warcraft, said Laurent Michaud, head of the video games division at Idate.
“It is true that the French video game sector is fragile,” Mr. Michaud said. “But this is true for companies in all markets due to the quick-changing nature of industry.”
The minister’s push to have video games characterized as cultural goods faces challenges from the European Union and the video game industry itself.
Since a tax break could constitute state aid to an industry, Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres went to Brussels in mid-October to argue his case with the European Union competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes. He said that the tax break would protect cultural goods and did not go against the European Union’s subsidy reduction policies.
The Interactive Software Federation of Europe, a group of international video game companies, however, is opposed to enshrining video games as a part of cultural heritage for fear of government interference, and has resisted the tax breaks.
“The French concept of culture is that the government knows better than consumers,” said Patrice Chazerand, secretary general of the group, based in Brussels. “It is unhealthy to have the French government using discriminatory subsidies to influence video games.”
Those producing video games outside of France warn that financial assistance would make French game producers lose touch with their audience.
“Similar to what happened with the French film industry, these plans will prove bad for the industry and for consumers,” said Gerhard Florin, the executive vice president in Switzerland for international publishing at Electronic Arts, which would not directly benefit from French government support. “French cinema’s financial assistance supports only a few well-connected producers who no longer need to pay attention to consumers.”
In 2004, French cinema received support equivalent to 523 million euros, or $665 million, according to a study released in May by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
To Yves Guillemot, chief executive of the French video game giant Ubisoft, tax breaks are necessary to keep French salaries internationally competitive. Partly because of high French salaries, only 600 of the 3,500 employees at Ubisoft are in France, Guillemot said. About 1,500 employees work in Canada, where most production occurs, with the rest spread among China, the United States, Romania and Spain.
“Without production in France, we lose the creativity and diversity that this country offers,” Mr. Guillemot said. “When we create games in a country — if it is China or France — we put our way of life into that game.”
Arguments for cultural diversity echo strongly with Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres, who wants to ensure France’s continued role in the video game industry. “We need a public policy to help stop this sector from outsourcing,” he said. “Just like music and the cinema, video games should be supported by the state.”
But not all video games would receive support. Funds would go only to those that have creative input from France and are deemed to have artistic merit.
“Video game characters will not be required to wear a beret and carry a liter of wine under their arm,” Mr. Donnedieu de Vabres said. “But we do need to protect what is different in video games produced by each nation.”
Hands On: Apple iPod Shuffle
Redesigned Apple music player offers style and sound at a tiny size.
No question about it: Apple's new iPod Shuffle is minuscule: It's smaller than a matchbook, slimmer than a microcassette, and light enough that you could clip it on your shirt and not even stretch the fabric. In my first hands-on experience with the updated Shuffle, I found it a worthy player for the price--provided that you'll be happy with limited controls and capacity.
Big Package, Tiny Player
I bought the 1GB iPod Shuffle for $79 this morning at the San Francisco Apple Store. This is the only price and capacity Apple is selling, and it's a better deal than the original iPod Shuffle, which cost $149 for 1GB and $99 for 512MB.
The new Shuffle comes in a clear, hard-shell plastic package, about the size of a blackboard eraser; the package opens to reveal the player, its headphones, and a dock. Unlike its white, gum-pack-size, plasticized predecessor, the new Shuffle has a matte-anodized aluminum finish, which my grimy fingers didn't smudge during use. The spring clip on the back attaches firmly to clothing and makes up half the thickness.
The USB 2.0 dock included in the box is a nice addition. However, unlike the original Shuffle, which had a USB 2.0 connector integrated into the player, the new iPod Shuffle requires this USB 2.0 dock for charging and syncing the player. The dock is tiny, but its weight and the grippy nonslip pad underneath will help it stay in place on your desk.
The player fits into the dock snugly, attaching at both the dock connector and the headphone jack. I found the 3-foot, 3.25-inch cable long enough to reach around to the USB ports on the back of my PC while the dock was balanced on the computer. You can buy a $29 USB adapter to charge the Shuffle without the dock, which makes charging easier when you're not near your computer. Currently, the Apple Store doesn't offer the option to buy a second USB dock.
Like the original version, the new Shuffle lacks a display. A switch on the bottom for playing songs toggles between sequential and random order. In addition to the four-way navigation dial, the new Shuffle has an extremely small (think pinhole) LED that lights green, orange, or red to indicate battery status (Apple claims up to 12 hours of battery life), and green or orange to indicate play and volume status. The bundled quick-start card and booklet explain what all the blinking means, but I found in practice that the LED was too small and too subtle to be useful.
Plugging the Shuffle into my monitor's low-powered USB port launched iTunes and a message that I needed iTunes 7.0.2 or later. Once I updated my software, iTunes automatically recognized the device and chose 164 songs (964MB) from my iTunes music library to upload to the player, since my library was bigger than the 1GB capacity of the device. (Apple says the device holds up to 240 songs.) The algorithm the software uses seemed to upload my recently played and top-rated songs, but strangely, it didn't upload the last album that I had purchased from the iTunes Music Store. If you have a large iTunes library, you may want to manually pick the songs you upload.
Audio quality through the included earbuds was loud and full. No complaints there.
The bottom line: I like Apple's new iPod Shuffle. Given that 1GB of capacity is no big shakes these days, the lack of a screen seems less deplorable than during our last Shuffle review. If you're on a budget and you want a good, albeit minimalist, audio player, get the Shuffle.
Companies Track Gridlock Via Cell Phones
Tracking traffic can be an expensive business. In some places, costly cameras and radar systems are mounted high above highways to watch traffic at strategic points. Transportation agencies also dig up roads to install sensors that monitor the flow. And helicopters roam the skies of the busiest cities, relaying information on the choked roadways to media outlets.
Atlanta's horrendous traffic has inspired two companies that are looking to monitor many more roads and highways than is done today and at a much lower cost. Their approach: Track the signals of cell phones that happen to be inside cars.
By using anonymous data from wireless providers to mark how fast cell-phone handsets are moving - and overlaying that information with location data and maps - IntelliOne and AirSage hope to offer more detailed information and pragmatic advice than other firms that monitor traffic through radar, helicopters or cameras. But some critics aren't so sure the benefits outweigh the potential privacy risks.
Both systems rely on wireless companies allowing them to process the data from their towers that calculate the position of each phone about twice a second when it's being used and once every 30 seconds when it's not.
IntelliOne, in business since 1999, uses technology that can track vehicles to within 330 feet without using Global Positioning System satellites. Its software is designed to weed out the difference between pedestrians and drivers, then crunch it into detailed color-coded maps that show average speeds along roadways. Light-traffic stretches are in green, slowdowns in yellow and logjams in red.
It rolled out a pilot program in Tampa, and plans to dive into its first market in March, in Ontario, Canada. Forty more markets, including Atlanta, could be covered by November 2007.
The service would be marketed free to wireless providers, who would share profits with IntelliOne. Media outlets could buy access to broad snapshots of a city's traffic situation.
Individual customers would be able to buy a single use or pay a monthly fee for personalized information and a service that sends alternate routes when traffic takes a turn for the worse. No prices have been set yet.
AirSage has a similar strategy and has partnered with Sprint Nextel Corp. to offer government customers real-time traffic data. The company already has four contracts with state transit departments and recently announced a plan with the Georgia Department of Transportation to extend traffic coverage between Atlanta and Macon.
Cy Smith, AirSage's president and CEO, said more than $1 billion is spent each year by government agencies to track traffic, but the expense doesn't even cover 1 percent of the nation's roads. He said his company can increase coverage tenfold at the same expense.
The success of both systems will hinge on whether wireless companies are willing to extend the service to a mass market. Lewis Ward, a telecom analyst with IDC, said wireless carriers have long been reluctant to use the locations of their users for profit and that's unlikely to change.
"Location is one of the unique attributes of a cell phone," Ward said. "There is a lot of value there and a lot of potential for abuse. From my sense, the carriers have invested quite a lot of money to develop these systems and they're very unlikely to let those streams back out."
It remains to be seen whether wireless providers will be swayed. Cingular, for instance, said it doesn't plan to immediately provide traffic-tracking services.
"We're not going to speculate on future plans," said Dawn Benton, a company spokeswoman. "But should we participate in projects like this in the future, we would only do so with strong privacy protections in place."
Kristin Wallace, a Sprint spokeswoman, confirmed the partnership with AirSage but said she wouldn't comment more due to "competitive reasons."
Privacy advocates are already raising a red flag.
"This is your personal information. Shouldn't you have the right to control whether people know where you are?" asked Melissa Ngo of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. "When I signed up for a cell phone, I did not sign up to be tracked."
Beyond privacy concerns, the cell phone-based tracking system has other potential flaws, one being that there's no way to determine exactly what is backing up traffic.
Ron Herman, IntelliOne's CEO, illustrated that as he sat in his Atlanta office monitoring an abrupt slowdown in Tampa traffic. It could have been a police car parked on the shoulder of the road or a more disruptive fender-bender, but there's no way to know. "I'd guess someone lost a mattress," he reckoned.
And tracking data will likely be sparse late at night or early in the morning, when few drivers are navigating the roads.
But the odds are, where cell phones are sparse, so is traffic.
As Smith said, "There are times when the absence of data tells as much a story as the presence of data."
Helio Launches Buddy Tracking Service
With instant messaging programs, it's easy to tell whether a friend is at the computer, ready to chat. Despite its immense popularity, the concept of the buddy list hasn't made a smooth transition to the mobile world.
Now a small cell phone provider named Helio LLC is introducing a service for its youthful target audience that not only lets you know whether a friend's phone is turned on, but tells you where that person is.
The new "Buddy Beacon" feature uses GPS satellite technology to track up to 25 fellow Helio subscribers. Their locations are plotted on a map displayed on the screen of a pricey new handset that's also being launched on Thursday.
The user can see the nearest address for each buddy's location. If one user notices that a friend is nearby, a call can be placed directly from the application. As you might expect, a person has to consent to being tracked on someone else's list of Beacon buddies.
The telecommunications bubble of the late 1990s included countless unfulfilled promises about the impending arrival of cell phones with robust location-tracking capabilities.
A service similar to Helio's was once available through the former AT&T Wireless, but disappeared with that company's acquisition by Cingular Wireless two years ago. Rather than GPS, the "Find Friends" service relied on triangulation to locate a subscriber, measuring the distances a signal was traveling between the person's phone and the closest network antennas.
More recently, companies including Sprint Nextel Corp. and Disney Mobile have introduced phones that enable parents to track the location of a child. Likewise, a growing number of cell providers are offering tracking services for businesses, particularly those with fleets of vehicles.
As with other Helio non-voice features, there's no extra charge for using the Beacon application beyond the premium price tag for the company's calling plans, ranging from $65 to $135 per month. Likewise, as with Helio's other high-end handsets, the new "Drift" phone featuring the Beacon service is priced at $225.
Online Player in the Game of Politics
KEN AVIDOR would not seem to constitute much of a threat to the Republican Party. A Minnesota graphic artist with no official political role, he is a self-described Luddite and a bit of a wonk with an interest in arcane transportation issues.
But last month, Mr. Avidor, a Democrat, managed to capture some video in which Michele Bachmann, a Republican candidate running for election to the United States House of Representatives from Minnesota’s Sixth District, suggested that, after some fasting and praying, not only had God told her to become a tax attorney, he had called her to run for Congress. And now that the election was near, God was “focused like a laser beam, in his reasoning, on this race.”
In the parlance of politics, Ms. Bachmann was “speaking to the room,” in this case, a group at the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Center, Minn. The speech was Webcast live by the church group, allowing Mr. Avidor to use a video camera he borrowed from his 17-year-old daughter to capture the shaky but discernible video off his computer monitor. He then used a three-year-old Mac to edit the piece and then forward it to, well, the world at large.
The video on YouTube and Mr. Avidor’s video blog (michelebachmannmovies.blogspot.com), was picked up by other bloggers and eventually, The Star Tribune, the daily newspaper in Minneapolis. Ms. Bachmann’s opponents did everything they could to circulate the video and put her in a position of explaining God’s unpaid consulting role in her campaign.
People in the elections business often say that the most powerful form of endorsement, next to meeting and being actually impressed by a candidate, is the recommendation of a trusted friend.
IN this election, YouTube, with its extant social networks and the ability to forward a video clip and a comment with a flick of the mouse, has become a source of viral work-of-mouth. As a result, a disruptive technology that was supposed to upend a half-century-old distribution model of television is having a fairly disruptive effect on politics as well.
“In politics, there is a very high signal-to-noise ratio,” said Mr. Avidor, who runs his blog in his spare time. “It gives you a megaphone and allows you to break through the clutter, and maybe capture the attention of major media. If you get the right message, it can go viral in a hurry and have a big impact.”
Campaign video material, once restricted to expensive television commercials that were endlessly focus-grouped and tweaked, has performed a jailbreak.
And a growing tendency on the part of people to run to the Web for current information — an Associated Press/America Online poll found that 43 percent of likely voters get political news from the Internet — means a universe of new opportunities and hazards for candidates.
By now, everyone with a keyboard knows who Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia, is and has at least a vague notion what macaca means. In some other instances, candidates have been fighting back — literally — creating yet more fodder for digital video. One of Mr. Allen’s supporters is shown in a clip putting an impertinent questioner in a headlock, and in Colorado, United States Representative Marilyn Musgrave’s supporters can be seen manhandling a video crew. It is vaguely comical, and of course, eminently forwardable.
“There have always been people from the other side shooting video,” said Chuck DeFeo, manager of President Bush’s online campaign in 2004 and now general manager of Townhall.com, a conservative site that features a number of radio talkers. “When television came along, it was an era of one message for many. Now because YouTube functions as a network, you are seeing many messages handed from one person to another. In a way, it is a return to the past, to the grass roots, and can be a great touch point for campaigns.”
The free video discourse has yet to eat into paid political advertising on television — according to Nielsen Media Research, spending on this year’s midterm election is up 32 percent over 2002 — but there is immense potential for a more intimate relationship with potential voters who can now program their own diet of political news.
“It is especially critical at the end of the campaign when you are looking for the marginal voter,” said Jonah Seiger, managing partner at Connections Media, an Internet strategy firm. “Instead of the 500th commercial or the 15th robocall, I can get a video link from a friend. There is nothing more powerful in the sort of last-mile delivery of information than a contact with a so-called influential.”
Candidates are doing extensive video outreach, from the undersheriff of Las Vegas, who is running for the sheriff’s job and is showing video of himself taking down perps, to United States Senate incumbents trumpeting their records. But the phenomenon does not end there — much of the more interesting video has nothing to do with individual candidates. Instead, a growing genre of self-produced commentary is being made using cheap digital tools to create engagement of another sort.
A currently popular political spot on YouTube uses a parody of the Mac versus PC television ads to deft political effect. Written by John P. Kramer, a nighttime bartender at the Second City comedy club in Chicago, the spots are charming, a rare quality in political propaganda.
In the spot, two friendly men introduce themselves as a Republican and Democrat and suggest that they have much in common, with a few critical differences.
“You should see this guy cut taxes. It’s insane!” says the Democrat in a voice filled with marvel, “And he knows I am better at things like Medicare, civil rights and Social Security.”
The suite of six Web-only spots gently but powerfully suggests that Democrats generally have more on the ball.
“The reason I liked the Mac/PC ads is that the two guys are obviously friends and stay that way,” said Mr. Kramer, who cast a few buddies from work to play the two sides of the political coin. “I’m a Democrat and my brother is a Republican, but I don’t think that we want to involved in some Shermanesque march to the sea, the concept of total war. We have to live together when it’s all over.
“I just wanted to get people laughing and calm them down a bit,” he added.
Another YouTube classic hits on the same topic to very different effect. A swell of music plays as a title unfolds: “The Difference between Democrats and Republicans.” It is followed by five seconds of the blank screen and then the words, “The end.” Silly, but like JibJab.com’s Kerry-Bush mashup during the last presidential campaign, the point is surely made.
“People don’t want a big, long explanation of political issues,” said Mr. Avidor, who is spending the homestretch of the campaign continuing to use video to document Ms. Bachmann’s every wiggle and wobble. “They want the sound bite, or even better, they want to see it. Seeing is believing.”
Do the Rights of the Disabled Extend to the Blind on the Web?
ACCORDING to an advocacy group, Target declined last year to make its Web site fully accessible to blind people with specialized screen-reading technology last year. If true — and Target has denied the accusation in court — it was a public relations blunder, and it may have been illegal as well.
The National Federation of the Blind sued Target, contending that the company’s inaction violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because the Web site is essentially an extension of its other public accommodations, and as such, should be easily accessible to people with disabilities.
A Target spokeswoman would not comment on those assertions, but in court the company offered testimony from three blind users rebutting the federation’s arguments.
On Sept. 6, a federal judge in California held, in a preliminary ruling on the suit, that in some instances, Web sites must cater to disabled people.
Legal scholars say the full reach of that ruling will not be clear until the case is decided, if it reaches that point.
But in the meantime, the dispute shows that although commercial Web sites have made considerable strides in serving this small fraction of their customer base, there are still substantial difficulties on both sides of the screen.
“Web sites are more useful than they used to be, but there are still a few more hurdles than you’d like to have to go through,” said James Gashel, an executive director of the federation, based in Baltimore.
Mr. Gashel said that most sites accommodate screen-reading technology, which tells blind users the layout of a Web page and describes images, search prompts and other fields into which users can type information to find a product or complete a purchase. (The most popular screen-reading software, Jaws for Windows from Freedom Scientific, sells for around $900.)
When sites do not accommodate screen-reading software, the online shopping or browsing experience breaks down for the 200,000 or so of the nation’s 1.3 million people with vision disabilities who are online, according to Mr. Gashel.
Most online stores go to great lengths to make sure that their sites are accessible to people with disabilities, simply because it is good business to allow as many people as possible to shop. And online-shopping technology specialists say it is not so difficult or costly a task.
“It’s very straightforward to make a site accessible,” said Dayna Bateman, senior information architect at Fry Inc., which operates e-commerce Web sites on behalf of large retailers including Brookstone, Eddie Bauer and Spiegel.
Ms. Bateman said that the more software coding a Web site could offer to help screen readers and other technologies navigate a site, the more likely it was that the Web site would show up on search engine results, because Google, Yahoo and others looked to the same coding for clues about the Web page’s content.
“So it’s actually an advantage in the marketplace,” she said. “I just don’t think a lot of folks are schooled enough in accessibility to know that.”
For advocates of people with disabilities, the most effective tool for ensuring a smooth online experience has been the Americans with Disabilities Act. But because the law was signed in 1990, before the Web was in common use, its language offers little guidance on how to approach questions of online accessibility.
A variety of lawsuits based on Disabilities Act provisions have been brought against online companies, notably one brought by Mr. Gashel’s organization against AOL in 1999, but the suits were settled before judges could offer clear guidance on how, or whether, the law applied to Web sites.
In denying Target’s motion to dismiss the suit two months ago, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of United States District Court in San Francisco held that the law’s accessibility requirements applied to all services offered by a place of public accommodation. Since Target’s physical stores are places of public accommodation, the ruling said, its online store must also be accessible or the company must offer equally effective alternatives.
So what about online-only Web merchants like Amazon.com, BlueNile, Drugstore.com and RedEnvelope as well as fast-growing young online companies like YouTube and MySpace?
“That issue is still up for grabs,” said Michael R. Masinter, a law professor who specializes in Disabilities Act and civil rights issues for Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Mr. Masinter said the Target suit, since it involved an offline merchant’s online operations, would not address that issue.
The case, though, is important to Amazon, because it runs Target’s online store as it does those of a handful of other big offline merchants.
An Amazon spokeswoman, Patricia Smith, said that “as a matter of course we work cooperatively with all of our retail partners to develop and implement the tools and features they want incorporated onto their Web sites.” Amazon, she added, “is already generally usable for people with screen readers.” It has offered a text-only, streamlined site designed for such devices (amazon.com/access).
Mr. Masinter said one potentially thorny issue in the Target suit was whether phone services offered by online merchants were suitable substitutions for the Web site when the site did not work well for technologies like screen-reading software. Given the high cost of maintaining phone-based customer service operations, the question would be of particular interest to retailers and disabled people.
Companies in one emerging category of Internet commerce, online education, have the most ground to make up in adapting their offerings for the disabled, according to Jane Jarrow, president of Disability Access Information and Support, an education industry consultancy.
Most online-only schools, Ms. Jarrow said, “are oblivious to the fact that they have a significant issue here.” Many online-only schools rely on chat rooms, for instance, for class discussions, and screen-reading software does not function properly with chat rooms — nor can learning-disabled students often keep pace with the discussions.
The issue has become critical because many online-only schools became eligible this summer to receive federal student aid. But to get such funds, organizations must adhere to regulations in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which has been updated to say that all Web sites of groups receiving federal money must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Capella University, a Minneapolis-based institution known for online courses, employs a full-time disabilities specialist, who, among other things, has guided the school to avoid using online chat rooms for its courses. Some online schools follow similar approaches, but most do not, said Richard Allegra, director of professional development for the Association on Higher Education and Disability, an industry group.
“I think people are starting to understand their obligations to make their services accessible,” he said. “The question they have is, how to do that?”
The CMJ Big Break? Not Such a Big Deal
Bands aren’t waiting for their big break anymore. Or if they are, they’re keeping mighty busy in the meantime. That was the gist of this year’s CMJ Music Marathon, the showcase for independent music that expanded to five days this year, presenting music day and night from last Tuesday through Saturday.
Since 1981 CMJ’s gatherings have been offering a dual message. (CMJ originally stood for College Media Journal; it’s still a trade magazine that monitors college radio.) The marathons encourage the small-scale, do-it-yourself approach that has been enshrined and maintained by punk and indie rock. At the same time they tease with the prospect that being chosen to perform on a club bill assembled by CMJ — which winnowed 1,000 bands from 4,500 applicants — and being heard by the people who come to New York for the convention could lead to anything from a shared tour to a recording contract. This year the mass market seemed further away, while the indie circuit was bustling.
The lineup, as always, was overwhelming. There weren’t many large shows with bands that have escaped the club circuit, although the thoroughly independent Swedish electronica duo the Knife chose CMJ to make its North American debut with a moody, high-tech production. The dance-rock band the Rapture played CMJ’s opening-night party with a set of pure funk that showed how years of touring can make a band trade arty indulgences for muscle. And the Fall, which was formed in 1976 by Mark E. Smith and has influenced countless indie-rock bands, played a perverse half-hour set on Saturday night. Although the band riffed clean and hard, with two bass players, half of the brief set was other bands’ songs.
Recording contracts aren’t as glamorous as they used to be, not with major labels floundering. MTV and commercial broadcast radio haven’t helped by narrowing their offerings to a few nearly incompatible genres: self-pitying emo rock, bump-and-grind rhythm-and-blues and catchphrase hip-hop. At the CMJ showcases, some bands were still aiming for careers in current mass-market rock. They were the ones slavishly imitating Fall Out Boy’s punk-pop hooks and making music-video rock-star faces.
Of course hardly a band at CMJ would turn down a Top 10 single or a gold album on principle. Nor will any rule out other possibilities: a spot on a video-game soundtrack, in a commercial or on television, all of which can be hyperlinked back to the band. Most of the performers I heard — which were of course only a small fraction of the showcases — were making their way without Top 40 expectations.
The do-it-yourself circuit was once a patchwork of live shows and sporadic college-radio exposure, but the Internet has changed that. Now, the most obscure band can put up a page on myspace.com and have its music streamed on any Internet connection, any time. So a showcase at CMJ or its springtime counterpart, South by Southwest, is no longer such a make-or-break moment.
But a live performance, something more tangible, hi-fi and sloppy than a faceless MP3 file, can still make a band vivid. Born Ruffians, a band from Toronto, writes crisp, staccato songs about awkward feelings, harking back to the early Talking Heads. The songs can easily stand on their own. But onstage the band’s lead singer, Luke LaLonde, brought an extra dollop of endearing, unabashed nerdiness to the music.
Monsters Are Waiting plays stubbornly midtempo, neatly constructed pop songs featuring Annalee Fery’s breathy, girlish voice; onstage her gawky art-girl cool was counteracted as the band started with terse little riffs and stirred them into postpunk jitters. And it takes a live performance, pulsating in a room full of head-bobbing listeners, to appreciate 120 Days, a Norwegian band that takes the throbbing repetition of rave music and German synthesizer rock and adds some fervent vocals.
As big-time commercial pop rushes headlong into just a few niches, that leaves just about everything else for independents. They can try revivalism or avant-gardism, hugely ambitious concepts or cagey shtick, painstaking sincerity or elaborate artifice, verse-chorus-verse pop or amorphous noise. Styles discarded by the pop mainstream survive in the indie sphere. Underground hip-hop, which has pretty much settled for the college crowd while complaining (in rhyme) about how “the real hip-hop” has been abandoned, maintains the ambitious wordplay and political intentions rarely heard from hitmakers. Performers like Cadence Weapon — from Canada, which he proudly rhymed with “janitor” — and Darc Mind made the syllables fly. Commercial hip-hop hooks were exploited in meta-style by Girl Talk, the one-man laptop band, who mashed up samples from hits — dispensing a new hook every 10 seconds — for a knowing but still dancing crowd.
There are times at CMJ when it seems that just one band is playing set after set: a band with four guys in T-shirts, two of them strumming a slow-building guitar drone. Not that drones are so bad. The Archie Bronson Outfit, an English power trio, turns bluesy one-chord riffs and reedy, yelpy vocals into ominous, violent visions. Chin Up Chin Up stacked minimalist guitar lines and matter-of-fact vocals into intricately driving songs; Silversun Pickups merged swelling, droning psychedelia with grungy resentment.
But indie rock knows better than to settle into its own stereotypes. Across CMJ were bands sprouting extra instruments — cellos, accordions, trombones, glockenspiels — and coming up with songs that weren’t content to stay within one style or half a dozen.
In a short set on Saturday afternoon, for example, the Annuals, from North Carolina, encompassed the rippling introspection of the Beach Boys, the anthemic power of U2, the busy arpeggios of Yes and the lurching momentum of the Replacements — and topped one song with a slide whistle. Quirky, heartfelt and a little messy, it was indie rock with boundless ambitions, few of them commercial.
FBI Tightens Net Around Identity Theft Operations
The FBI is cracking down on an international identity theft operation that involves the trading of social security numbers; the sale of stolen credit card account information; and phishing, the practice of using e-mail to trick consumers into handing over personal information, authorities said yesterday.
Called Operation Cardkeeper, the investigation has brought about the arrests of more than a dozen people in the United States and other countries who are members of online communities that specialize in "carding," the trafficking of stolen identities and credit card and bank account information.
"We are sharing evidence and using sophisticated techniques like never before," said James E. Finch, assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division. "Cyber criminals will no longer be able to hide behind borders to conduct their illicit business."
Investigators said some members of the criminal rings purchased data that was electronically copied from the magnetic strip on the back of credit or debit cards and used the information to create counterfeit cards for cash withdrawals and retail purchases. Others sold Social Security numbers and other personal data through online carder forums. That data was later used to obtain credit cards in the victims' names, investigators said.
Facing charges in the United States are Frederick T. Hale, 27, and Zanadu Lyons, 24, both of Columbus, Ohio, and Dana Carlotta Warren, 29, of Ellenwood, Ga. Authorities have also served search warrants in Albany, N.Y.; Atlanta; Dallas; Knoxville, Tenn.; Memphis; and Omaha.
Working with international authorities, the FBI also assisted in the arrests of 11 people in Poland believed to be connected to a network of online fraud forums. The FBI said it had traced a series of phishing attacks from late 2004 back to members of the Polish ring.
Phishing involves the use of e-mail messages that impersonate those from a financial institution and urge recipients to update their account information. Recipients who comply typically are directed to bogus look-alike bank sites designed to steal customer information.
The Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry consortium, said more than 10,000 phishing Web sites were active on the Internet in August, about double the number of sites in January.
In 2004, the FBI and U.S. Secret Service infiltrated and dismantled the Shadowcrew and Carderplanet fraud forums, arresting 28 individuals who collectively traded more than 1.7 million stolen credit card numbers.
The Proposal to Control Net Access
Senator Eduardo Azeredo (PSDB-MG) is the responsible for a bill that will end with Internet privacy and anonymity altogether. This bill, if passed into law, will require every ISP to store each connection performed by a user for at least 3 years.
If approved, it will be a crime, punishable with up to 4 years of jail time, to disseminate virus or trojans, unauthorizedly access data banks or networks and send e-mail, join chat, write a blog or download content anonymously. The bill states that every user must fully identify herself before using the Net, with full name, current address, phone number and the equivalent of the Social Security Number. To access the Net without providing this information, or to give false information, will also be a crime.
Senator Eduardo Azeredo wants to legally recommend every Internet user to buy the government approved certificate, and use it on every connection to the Net.
Now that's what you call a democracy.
The Senator can argue as much as he want on how this measure is going to stop cybercrime. But what does it look like to people that want to blog against the government? That's censorship by fear.
What about our right to privacy? I don't want my ISP spying on me and linking the data I access with my personal information. They already have this ability, but it's a much reduced one because they don't have all of my personal information. And some ISP's employees may be stalkers and murderers that now will have FULL INFORMATION on how to reach me.
Also it won't stop cybercrime. It'll just make it evolve. Most hardcore cybercriminals already employ different anonymization techniques.
There are some critics against this bill, mostly from ISPs and lawyers, that argue that it's going to put too much burden on the user, slow Internet adoption and ruin privacy for the regular user, while bringing only small benefit on the war against cybercrime.
Hopefully they will be able to lobby some sense into Senator Eduardo Azeredo. If this unfortunate bill gets the green light, please start learning how to surf anonymously using TOR or similar tool.
Gwan, click the Eula. Y’know ya wanna.
Man Sacked for Porn to be Re-Hired: IRC
A technology company has expressed disappointment at being ordered to reinstate an employee it sacked for viewing and storing pornography on his work laptop.
In May, NSW Industrial Relations Commissioner John Murphy rejected an appeal by Richard Budlong, 56, for unfair dismissal by NCR Australia, over his breach of the company's code of conduct.
Mr Budlong, who had worked at NCR for 31 years, was sacked for storing 175 pornographic images, some portraying acts of bestiality, in a folder marked "amusements" on his work laptop.
He claimed there was a prevailing culture of tolerance towards such images, which had been circulated to him by a range of senior colleagues, including a director and general manager.
The full bench of the NSW IRC set aside Commissioner Murphy's decision on Friday and ordered NCR to reinstate Mr Budlong, finding his dismissal was harsh, unreasonable and unjust.
In its judgment, the IRC said there was an "air of automaticity" about the annual signing off of employees on NCR's code of conduct, "a degree of mechanical, unthinking routine in employees making a commitment to abide by the code".
The commission also rejected NCR's contention that it had a "zero tolerance policy" to accessing pornography, finding there was "no such policy in existence".
NCR said it was surprised and disappointed by the decision.
"Mr Budlong's employment with NCR was terminated on 7 June 2005, following the discovery of excessive and explicit pornographic materials on his work computer that were accessed, received, stored and viewed over a number of years," spokesman Graham White said.
"NCR profoundly disagrees with the NSW IRC's conclusion that this amounted to a one-off breach, albeit one that the NSW IRC concedes is a serious breach."
Mr White said NCR would comply with the commission's orders, although it was unsure whether Mr Budlong intended to return to the company.
"NCR will comply with the NSW IRC's decision, as it must, but strongly refutes the comments made by them," he said.
"NCR believes that the NSW IRC's suggestion that employees engage in mechanical, unthinking routine is demeaning to the employees who review and sign their undertakings."
The commission also said it expected NCR would take steps to better position itself in such a situation in the future, including installation of a firewall and better communication of its policies.
"NCR believes that the code and the consequences for breach are clear, comprehensive and fully understood by all employees, and it will continue in its communication and enforcement efforts," Mr White said.
Media 2.Uh-Oh: Intro
There is always hidden meaning to deals - the Google-YouTube deal is no exception. Why YouTube sold is pretty easy - $1.65 billion ain't bad for 20 months work and it would have taken at least $50-100 million from Sequoia Capital, their venture backers, to build the infrastructure and salesforce to build a real company. That's real money.
But what about Google? Why do it?
Google is an amazing beast. Massive growth AND huge 64% EBITDA profit margins from basically one service: serving ads on pages with search results. A $10 billion run rate and $130 billion market capitalization. As Darth Vader might say: impressive.
So why bother buying YouTube? Is this a sign of strength ("we bought them because we can turn anything into gold") or weakness (like, say, Ebay buying Skype as their auction franchise weakens) or desparation (Excite merging with AtHome). It makes a difference. On the surface, this looks like a deal from strength - video is the next frontier on the Internet, blah, blah. But really, did Google want to do it or have to do it?
Despite continued growth, Google has hinted at a few signs of weakness. One is their huge capital spending to build datacenters and servers and bandwidth capacity, dinging their cash flow. I thought the search business scaled with much less investment. Maybe not.
And second, Google actually paid for traffic - $1 billion to Dell over 3 years for a crummy toolbar on Dell PCs. The numbers may work, but it's kind of like Hugh Grant paying for something he would get anyway. There may still be someone in Sheboygen who doesn't know about Google. Is search now such a commodity that Google needs to pay money to keep growing?
Perhaps that is what this deal is foreshadowing. YouTube is a company whose amazing growth from zero to 100 million videos served per day is based on copyright infringement, amateurish video (I get it, don't drink Diet Coke after eating Mentos), their stomach to lose money on each video shown and a hobbled together business model to charge record labels to show music videos (we now know Paris Hilton can't sing).
If Google needed an easy to use technology to upload and then view videos (which they kinda , sorta have with Google Video), they could have paid the same $65 million that Sony paid for Grouper. Nope, we don't need your stinkin' technology, Google is paying $1.65 billion (with a "b") or 1.3% of Google's current value, for a media property. Plain and simple. But what does that even mean?
Maybe it will just be an expensive sandbox to play in. Keep it separate from Google (which they should have done with Google China), and give Chad Hurley enough rope to either keep growing and get a decent shave or hang himself. If the legal battles get ugly (and I agree with Mark Cuban, they will), they can just shut it down one Friday afternoon. But maybe losses over the next three years from YouTube, a wholly owned subsidiary of Google, will be less than the $1 billion they are pissing away paying Dell for traffic. But despite all the attempts and Yahoo's Terry Semels strategizing, real media on the Web is still just a concept.
Who are the next media moguls and to whom do they have to sell their souls for the priviledge? The $165 billion question left unanswered by this deal is: What is media anymore? Can you just slap videos up on the Web and become a younger and more vibrant Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone?
(Fade to Carry Bradshaw typing on her laptop in every dopey episode of Sex and the City.)
Is it Media 2.0 or Media Two Point Uh-oh?
Over the next couple of days, I will churn out some thoughts - channels, layer cakes, slivers, political entrepreneurs, virtual pipes and other gimmicks to try and explain all this - with hand-drawn illustrations to boot. Come back for the next parts, program your Tivos, set your RSS - same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.
Saving Democracy With Web 2.0
Hey, Web 2.0! Election Day is Nov. 7, and your country needs you.
At BarCamp, SuperHappyDevHouse, NetSquared and other hacker get-togethers, scores of entrepreneurs and engineers arrive eager to collaborate, make information easier to share and use, and mobilize groups for effective action.
Though it may not be obvious, the road marks in this amorphous thing called Web 2.0 are political: grassroots participation, forging new connections, and empowering from the ground up. The ideal democratic process is participatory and the Web 2.0 phenomenon is about democratizing digital technology.
There's never been a better time to tap that technological ethic to re-democratize our democracy.
Many Americans believe that our political system is broken, and that money is to blame. Legislators are beholden to donations from special interest groups. Regulators pass through a revolving door to take jobs in the very industries they used to regulate. Big campaign donors somehow land big government contracts, despite arcane public bidding processes.
New data-sharing technology can enable citizens to follow the money in comprehensive and compelling ways, and vote accordingly.
Today, you can already access online data on which companies donate to which political parties and candidates, and make some good guesses about what they get in return. Opensecrets.org, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, provides a startling amount of information on campaign donations, members of Congress and special interest groups. MAPLight.org provides a detailed service for tracing California state legislation, including who supported and who killed various bills.
A new, publicly accessible government website mandated by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 will soon list the federal government's grants and contracts, tracing exactly how tax money is being spent.
Knowing how much money is spent for which programs, and where, is a great start. Knowing what good, if any, spending that money accomplishes would be even better. Web 2.0 technology can help citizens process and understand political donations, government contracts and programs, and performance metrics in all sorts of important and novel ways.
For example, tagging information about federal expenditures, unpaved highways or toxic waste sites with GeoRSS would let citizens easily cross-reference the data with other information, including campaign donations. Data feeds that use Ajax, JSON and OpenGIS Web Map Service can incorporate externally hosted geospatial capabilities into mashups that weave data together into a single, multifeatured map.
These capabilities would make publicly accessible information publicly comprehensible, for a multitude of uses and applications, incorporating a variety of data.
Major internet players are beginning to understand the power of mapping political data. This past Monday, Google announced that it would overlay 2006 campaign data from the Federal Election Commission and Opensecrets.org on top of Google Earth. Users can see stars on the U.S. map wherever there are races for congressional seats and state governorships. Clicking on a star opens up a bubble with information about races in that area.
I'd like to see applications that go further, mashing up statistics about government procurement contracts with databases of campaign finance donations -- visually tracing the path of a dollar as it travels from campaign contributor to contract procurement.
Similarly, citizens should be able to see which districts receive infrastructure improvement and which are left out in the cold; which have true public health, and which only have subsidies for health plans that their residents and businesses can't afford.
Cross-link Environmental Protection Agency permits for particle emissions with census information and campaign contributions, and you might find out if polluted air is the result of racism, cronyism or both. Are asthma cases in inner cities or breast cancer cases in suburbs a byproduct of human or political genomes? Do campaign contributions from real estate developers result in urban decay and indoor pollutants (stoking more asthma cases) in poor neighborhoods?
Better-synthesized information can reveal the dynamics of cause and effect, chart the money trail and lay bare the profit motive.
Pioneers in this field, like Bruce Cahan (firstname.lastname@example.org), president of the nonprofit Urban Logic, envision the end of business as usual in politics. Voters and officeholders will be able to connect the dots in previously impossible ways. Social finance markets and technology will change the way budgeting and regulation happens.
Cahan proposes using new data-sharing technology to blend various performance metrics for cities into a spatially weighted measure called "sustainable resiliency." People can then use the measure as ratings for capital markets, insurance and even politicians.
"We read of billion-dollar national infrastructure repair cost studies on the eve of highway legislation, or scary medical risks on the eve of public health or environmental budget hearings," Cahan told me. "Special interests with special knowledge compete to out-shock us because we've made their funding depend on public fear.
"But with a common performance benchmark, we can model urban risks so that both voters and markets can hold government accountable for creating multidimensional solutions to complex problems."
Cahan is using the market to encourage data tagging of performance benchmarks by creating new financing schemes that offer cities, businesses and nongovernmental organizations cheaper interest and insurance rates as a reward for building sustainable resiliency into their regions.
Like Web 2.0, ideas like sustainable resiliency are completely nonpartisan, totally political and fundamentally democratic.
Some Americans have given up on politics, but not on making the world a happier, healthier and more sustainable place. I'd like to see entrepreneurs focused on building the next billion-dollar YouTube clone carve some time out of the day to take the cool new Web 2.0 tools for sharing and collaboration, and apply them to make publicly available data sets. Make them manageable, interoperable and visually compelling.
Do that, and you've created new ways to make government responsive to the public, and to magnify the individual power of each educated and informed voter.
Long-Term Wikipedia Self-Promotion Exposed
Wikipedia, as everyone knows, can be vulnerable to certain types of activity that compromise its integrity. As a collaboration between tens of thousands of ordinary people, without a rigorous credential policy like the current pilot of Citizendium. While on the one hand that has enabled Wikipedia to grow to its amazing size today, and the combined forces of AntiVandalBot and the Recent Change Patrollers generally keep vandalism to a minimum (although not entirely without issue), there are some kinds of vandalism that people simply aren’t prepared for.
The article on “NPA personality theory”, a theory developed by retired physician Anthony M. Benis, was recently proposed for deletion. The move came as something as a surprise, since the article had previous been listed as a Good Article, one of the best 0.2% of all articles, and one of just six in the field of psychology. Now, it was accused of being an example of long-standing and accepted self-promotion at the website, having been largely written by a user called “ABenis” — Anthony M. Benis himself.
The article was originally listed as a Good Article some months ago, thanks to an extremely effective campaign of astroturfing and deception. Not only was the article written almost entirely by Benis himself (and an associated user, named “D-katana”), but it took advantage of the fact that Good Article and peer reviewers aren’t really supposed to ensure that the articles they are asked to look at aren’t vandalism. The assumption is that, if they make it as far as GA review, they’re probably quite good.
Unfortunately, the problems run deeper than simply taking advantage of the system. At several points during the course of the article’s creation at Wikipedia, users expressed worrying attitudes towards NPA personality theory and its article. To quote from the AfD discussion:
One editor in particular expressed rather directly that his or her intention was to use Wikipedia to promote the theory, as evidenced by this statement: “And, in turn, Wikipedia has the honor of the recognition for championing the theory before any other group of scholars took it on for further development and propagation.” –Cswrye
The article, and the one on its author (both still kept in Google’s cache, if you’re interested) remained in Wikipedia and even rose to great heights entirely on the work of a single editor — who happened to be creator of the theory.
And they remained there for months, and months, and months:
This is precisely one of the things that troubles me about Wikipedia even more than reg’lar spam — bogus knowledge slipped in between the cracks and woven into the article matrix. Yikes. –Dhartung
I’m not sure what there can be done with this. The fault is not with any of the users who were asked to review the article, since their work does not involve checking for notability, verifiability or hoaxes; they make good-faith efforts to improve the article as requested. The fault doesn’t lie with any of the newpage patrollers, who had just one chance to catch the article upon creation and were not in a position to make a snap decision on its accuracy.
That said, the blame doesn’t even entirely fall with Benis: while he certainly violated Wikipedia’s vanity guideline (and common sense) and the GNU FDL under which Wikipedia content is licensed (reproducing the article without reference or the terms of the license at npatheory.com), he wasn’t even the only editor involved, nor was he — apparently — the one that instigated the article’s “improvement.” These things happen, and it’s certainly not possible to find a single point of failure.
The fault here lies partially with the structure of Wikipedia, too. The website’s openness both allows an enormous amount of vandalism to filter through every day, not all of which can be removed within minutes, and relies on ordinary people to catch hoaxes like this and remove them.
In this case, the articles were caught by a professional scientist after one of them had been a Good Article since 29 May 2006 — and while it’s comforting to think that this is now gone, it’s a little unsettling to know that we might have missed more.
Surf 'n' Ride: Access the Net in the Car
When Stephen Devine drove with his family from their home in Massachusetts to New York City, he spent two frustrating hours trying to find a place to park his 9-foot-high camper van, which won't fit in most garages. In the end, his 17-year-old daughter found a place to park online - and she didn't even have to leave the van to do it.
Devine's van is equipped with TracNet, a system that allows passengers to access the Internet on a vehicle's video screens. Launched in September by Middletown, R.I.-based KVH Industries Inc., TracNet brings the Internet to the installed screens in a car, truck, RV or boat. It also turns the entire vehicle into a wireless hot spot, so passengers can use their laptops to go online.
Devine - who also purchased KVH's satellite TV system, called TracVision, when he bought his camper a month ago - said the value of in-vehicle Internet became obvious at that moment in New York.
"For me, that just paid for itself, because I was five minutes away from going home," said Devine, of Hanover, Mass.
KVH also makes TracVision, which provides satellite TV service in vehicles and boats; TracPhone, a satellite communications service for boats; and precision navigation and guidance systems for the military. The company had 2005 revenue of $71.3 million, including $49 million in mobile satellite sales.
While TracNet is still very new, KVH spokesman Chris Watson said there has been interest from owners of recreational vehicles and boats. He also predicted the service would be a hit with car services, which see it as a way to provide a new convenience for customers.
But KVH believes the demand has the potential to be much wider. Watson cited research by J.D. Power and Associates which found that more than half of full-size sport utility vehicles, 40 percent of luxury SUVs and 40 percent of minivans now come with video screens.
"Once a video screen shows up, people have a preference for live content," Watson said.
Art Spinella, president of Bandon, Ore.-based CNW Marketing Research, which specializes in the auto sector, agreed.
"A large percentage of folks under 40 would like to have in-car access to the Internet, rather than just on their cell phone or BlackBerry," he said. "If it's priced right, there's a market."
The current price is $1,995 for the automotive version of TracNet. The system operates on Verizon Wireless' high-speed network, which costs another $60 to $80 a month. There is also a $10 monthly charge for MSN TV, the service from Microsoft Corp. that brings the Internet to TV screens. The consumer provides the screens.
An MSN TV portal provides access to e-mail, instant messaging, weather maps, chat rooms, news and other features. While Web sites outside of the portal are fully accessible, most are not formatted correctly for TV screens and may not look quite right, even though the content is all there. Another limitation is the system's dependance on the Verizon network: Where there is no cell phone service, there won't be any Internet access either.
As with TracVision, TracNet can be used on a screen visible to the driver only when the car is in park. When the vehicle is in motion, that screen automatically switches to navigation.
Devine, 48, purchased TracNet for his camper van with both personal and business uses in mind. He heads an architecture and construction management firm and plans to put the camper at a job site for a contractor to live out of.
"If he wanted to go online and e-mail us or look up some information," the contractor would be able to use the TracNet system to do it, Devine said.
Robert Ramsden, of Key Largo, Fla., said he purchased TracNet for his boat as a way to let him cruise more and still manage his business. The 67-year-old and his wife own four Intelligent Office franchises, which provide "virtual office" services to businesses.
Previously, if the couple wanted Internet access on their boat, they would have to pull into a marina and hope it had wireless access. TracNet has made that unnecessary.
"It works really well," Ramsden said. "My wife and I both could be on the boat with our laptops, and just log in, and use the wireless capabilities of it."
But Ramsden said the idea of mobile Internet in a car wouldn't hold much appeal for him.
"Our car is what we go back and forth to work in," he said.
A Wi-Fi Express Lane
John R. Quain
IT’S axiomatic in the computer world that nothing is ever fast enough. And so it goes with popular wireless Wi-Fi networks, which already seem overcrowded and slow. The growing interest in video sites like YouTube and streaming TV programs online has served to underscore the problem. Naturally, the wireless manufacturers are happy to step into the breach with a new, faster Wi-Fi standard. Well, almost.
Under the technical rubric 802.11n, the new Wi-Fi routers and adapters for desktops and laptops are based not on a completed specification but on a draft version of the specification that is before the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers standards body. The institute standard is not expected to be ratified until early in 2008.
So products bearing the “Draft N” designation started trickling out last spring and built to a virtual flood of new products this fall. Driven by impatient companies — and consumers no longer satisfied by older 802.11b and 802.11g networks — the Draft N devices look to become a de facto standard. But should you make the move without a final specification in place?
If you’re looking for faster response when sharing files on a home network or better wireless coverage throughout the house, or are using an Internet phone, the Draft N devices do offer advantages. The fastest commonly used Wi-Fi standard today is 802.11g, which yields a theoretical top speed of 54 megabits per second (Mbps). The N standard is capable of a top end of 300 Mbps, and may reach a whopping 540 Mbps in the future (more on that later).
In addition, under ideal conditions — clear skies, no walls and no other wireless devices — an 802.11g network can stretch only about 300 feet before losing a signal. N networks can reach up to 1,400 feet under similar circumstances.
Practically speaking, though, wireless networks never perform at their theoretical limits. Speeds drop off significantly as you get farther from a wireless router, for example, and concrete floors, steel reinforced walls and — worst of all — other networks seriously impede the reach of most Wi-Fi networks. Draft N is an effort to overcome these obstacles by combining wireless channels and employing up to three transmitters and three receivers in a configuration known as multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO). MIMO technology uses reflected signals to improve the reliability and strength of a wireless signal.
Consequently, the new Draft N routers have additional antennas, and are often advertised as delivering “4 times the range and 12 times the speed” of 802.11g networks. Of course, to get these results you need a Draft N wireless router and corresponding adapter for all your devices on the network. Draft N routers will work with older 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi adapters, however, without reducing the performance of other N-capable computers on the network.
Because my wife often gently tells me to move because I’m blocking her network signal — an apocryphal accusation, I’m convinced — the opportunity to extend the range and reliability of a home wireless network was appealing to me even within the narrow confines of a Manhattan apartment. To gauge the capabilities and reliability of the new Wi-Fi offerings, I tried five Draft N wireless routers ranging in price from $150 to $200 and a half-dozen adapters, which generally cost $120 each.
The easiest product to set up was Belkin’s N1 wireless router, but even it presented challenges. With its large, obvious icons on the front of the router to indicate what’s connected (and what isn’t), the N1 is designed for networking neophytes. Handy quick reference cards are included, and once you’re online, the software even suggests checking for updates to the router’s software.
Companies are still working on programs to optimize the reliability, speed and compatibility of Draft N products. Moreover, all the manufacturers I interviewed said that they expected their current Draft N products to be upgradable with software to comply with the final 802.11n standard (although none would make any guarantees). So regular free updates are necessary.
Generally, updating involves downloading software, logging into the router, instructing it to upload the new program and then restarting the network. Unfortunately, this proved to be an annoying process with all of the routers — so buyers should realize that keeping a Draft N network running smoothly represents an added investment in time.
Routers from D-Link, Linksys and Netgear also did a reasonable job helping with installation. These models relied on a CD-based program to walk users through the setup process. The program for Netgear’s RangeMax Next Wireless Router Gigabit Edition even takes the extra step of offering experienced users the option of skipping the guided installation.
Where the programs failed to improve was in terms of making security settings. Choosing between encryption methods (WEP or WPA?) and tracking password keys is still a brain-numbing process. And all of the products, including Belkin’s, automatically broadcast the network’s name for all to see — an invitation to hackers and free riders that I suggest you turn off.
After rerouting cables and copying down and re-entering lengthy pass keys, the good news was that all the routers I tested worked with older 802.11b and 802.11g adapters, as well as attached storage devices, network cameras and each other’s Draft N adapters.
In general, the performance of the Draft N products also was much better than older 802.11g devices. Several of the N networks reached speeds in excess of 100 Mbps. The Linksys Wireless-N Broadband Router in particular worked well with all of the wireless adapters I tested it with. More important, my wife no longer accused me of blocking her Internet access when I stood in her office doorway. But as the manufacturers warn, your results may vary.
One reason is that most of the Draft N products will downshift to a 20-megahertz channel (versus a wider 40-megahertz path) if they detect another Wi-Fi network in the vicinity. This is done as part of a “good neighbor” policy, because using the wider channel could hurt the performance of neighboring networks.
Perceptive readers will note that because the impressive top speed of the Draft N products far exceeds that of most Internet connections, it will not, for example, improve your download time on Web pages. The benefits relate to the traffic within your own network, like sending videos back and forth or letting the children play games between connected machines without making it impossible for you to pay the bills online.
To encourage buyers to make the switch to Draft N, the Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry consortium that certifies Wi-Fi devices, recently decided that since manufacturers were not waiting for the final Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers specification, it wouldn’t either. Early next year it will begin issuing Wi-Fi Draft N certification logos to products that pass compatibility tests.
All the Draft N products I tested transmit and receive information in the 2.4-gigahertz band. But the next wave of N products will add a 5-gigahertz band, essentially doubling the speed of Wi-Fi networks — to as much as 540 Mbps — and allowing users to separate tasks. To reduce interference, for example, you will be able to assign voice calls over the Internet to the 5-gigahertz band while restricting regular Web surfing to the 2.4-gigahertz band.
The question, then, is why you should buy something that is probably going to be obsolete in a year or less. Of course, if you followed that logic, you would never buy another piece of computer equipment again.
HPNA Gets Speed Boost to 320Mbps
The HomePNA Alliance, backers of a networking spec that works over coaxial or twisted pair wiring, has announced the release of the HPNA 3.1 specification. The big news comes in the form of a speed jump from 128Mbps to 320Mbps, which pushes it above competing networking standards HomePlug AV and MoCA (Multimedia over Coax) for the title of fastest networking tech outside of gigabit Ethernet and makes it a more attractive option for triple-play providers. (For an overview of all the competing technologies, check out our recent report "Propagating the triple play through the house.")
The technologically savvy among us may prefer the likes of gigabit Ethernet or are looking forward to the final approval of the 802.11n WiFi spec and its 600Mbps speeds, but for many US users HPNA 3.1 and MoCA may be the best way to move content around the house. Both HPNA and MoCA can run over coaxial cable which gives them a leg up in newer homes where coaxial and twisted-pair copper wire are run to nearly every room in the house.
With its 320Mbps of bandwidth and ability to use either coaxial cable or phone wires, HPNA 3.1 can easily handle VDSL, ADSL, POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), and television simultaneously. Since it is capable of multispectrum operation, HPNA can also handle multiple networks over the same wiring, with up to 50 devices spread up to 1,000 feet apart on a single network.
HPNA is the technology of choice for AT&T in its U-Verse fiber-to-the-node installations and is finding favor with other IPTV providers. Verizon, which is in the midst of rolling out its FiOS fiber-to-the-premises network, is sticking with MoCA and its 135Mbps of throughput for the time being. MoCA is currently limited to coax and can handle voice, video, and data packets without any quality of service issues.
When you go to your local big-box electronics retailer or computer store, you'll see little, if any, MoCA or HPNA networking equipment on the shelves. ABI Research director Michael Wolf told Ars that service providers are snapping up almost all of the equipment at this point. "We won't see much in the way of retail products for MoCA or HPNA 3.0 during the next 12 to 24 months," remarked Wolf.
If you are looking for an alternative to running gigabit Ethernet through your house and don't want to mess around with Draft N equipment that may or may not be compatible with the final 802.11n spec, your best bet is HomePlug AV. HomePlug AV products should be appearing on store shelves soon. Manufacturers Netgear and D-Link have recently begun shipping powerline networking products that use the competing DS2 powerline networking technology, which also offers speeds of up to 200Mbps. Our testing of a pre-HomePlug AV Netgear unit that had a maximum throughput of 85Mbps resulted in max speeds of only 18Mbps, but HomePlug AV gear may perform better.
With an estimated 45 million connections using either HPNA, MoCA, or HomePlug AV (which runs over electrical wiring) by 2011, the progress of these competing standards bears watching. If the 802.11n spec is ratified and comes to market in a timely matter, its 600Mbps bandwidth cap along with its ease of installation and use may change the story.
FCC Endorses Broadband over Powerline
W. David Gardner
The Federal Communications Commission on Friday gave a big boost to Broadband over Powerline (BPL), classifying the technology as an "information service."
The declaration places BPL-enabled access services on equal footing with cable modem and DSL Internet access services. The FCC has campaigned for BPL approval for years, although ham radio operators have long complained that BPL would interfere with its service.
By ruling BPL service's transmission component is "telecommunications," and an "information service," BPL will find it easier to deploy beyond the handful of networks that are currently scattered around the country, mostly in the Northeast.
"The Commission's broadband statistics show that subscribers to BPL Internet access services, although few in number overall, increased by nearly 200 percent in 2005," said FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who has been a supporter of the technology. "By finding that BPL Internet access services are information services, the Commission provides the regulatory certainty necessary to foster competition between different broadband platform providers."
US is a Broadband Laggard, According to FCC Commissioner
One of the commissioners on the board of the Federal Communications Commission is taking shots at the state of broadband in the US. In an op-ed piece in yesterday's Washington Post, Democrat commissioner Michael J. Copps criticized the state of broadband in the US and called for changes in how the FCC handles broadband.
Part of the problem comes from how the FCC defines broadband penetration. Under the Commission's guidelines, a zip code is said to be served by broadband if there is a single person within its boundaries with a 200kbps connection. Not only is that a metric that sets the broadband bar incredibly low—less than four times faster than dial-up—but it does nothing to assess how deeply broadband service has penetrated into a given area.
Copps also cites a sad litany of metrics. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the US sits in 15th place worldwide when it comes to broadband penetration. The US does even worse with another ITU metric, the Digital Opportunity Index (DOI). The DOI measures 11 different variables, including Internet access price, proportion of users online, and proportion of homes with Internet access, and it slots the US in at the number 21 position, right between Estonia and Slovenia (South Korea, Japan, and Denmark top the DOI).
Most US residents stuck with a subpar broadband connections will agree that the biggest problem is competition. We have talked about the cable/DSL duopoly before on Ars, and as Copps points out, duopolies are best-case scenarios at the moment. Many broadband users are stuck with only one option when it comes to broadband.
According to Copps, "the FCC needs to start working to lower prices and introduce competition." Unfortunately, Copps' vision of competition doesn't appear to address what is arguably the biggest problem of all: the FCC's policy of classifying broadband as an information service, deregulating it, and counting upon competition between modes of delivery (e.g., cable vs. DSL) to save the day. Copps ignores that issue altogether, calling on to FCC to speed up the process of making unlicensed spectrum available and encourage "third pipe" broadband technologies such as BPL (broadband over power lines) and wireless.
Those proposals are a start, but by themselves are not enough to effect significant change in the near term. BPL, despite the periodic attention it gets, has less than 6,000 customers in the US. By and large, utilities have not shown themselves to be interested in getting into the ISP business. Opening up spectrum is no panacea, either. WiMAX deployments are just beginning and will not come cheaply.
Here are a couple of other suggestions. First, cities and towns should be allowed—if not encouraged—to build and deploy broadband networks. This goes beyond rolling out city-wide WiFi networks and into the area of fiber optics. Currently, a handful of states bar municipal governments from rolling their own fiber optic networks. The massive rewrite of telecom legislation that emerged from the Senate Commerce Committee last summer would override such state-level restrictions, allowing any city to get into the game. That bill has been stalled, however, and is unlikely to see the light of day in light of the election results this week.
Another option the FCC should seriously consider is turning back the clock on deregulation. Up until the FCC classified DSL as an information service, ILECs (incumbent local exchange carriers—phone companies) were required to lease their lines to DSL providers at competitive rates. That left consumers with a number of choices for DSL: your local phone company, EarthLink, and Speakeasy to name three. In the wake of deregulation, that is no longer the case. Sure, the ILEC will still lease its lines to other companies, but it will cost them. Cole Reinward, EarthLink's VP for municipal product strategy and marketing, told Ars Technica earlier this week that the DSL wholesale rates offered to EarthLink by ILECs "weren't particularly attractive and close to what they are offering retail to subscribers, making it difficult to compete on price."
Copps calls for the kind of "public-private initiatives like those that built the railroad, highway, and telephone systems." That's an excellent start—just look at the increasing number of municipal WiFi networks being developed via city-company partnerships. But when the private sector drops the ball, the public sector needs to have free rein to step in. Witness Qwest in Seattle: the telecom has refused to deploy fiber in Seattle while at the same time lobbying against the city's developing its own network.
Let's also get our metrics straight. Although 200kbps might look good to someone whose only alternative is dial-up, it's a joke when it comes to broadband. Revise it to something realistic, like 768kbps, which has become the lowest-tiered DSL offering available in most geographies and arguably marks the lower limit of "true" broadband. And make sure we rely on a representative sampling of an area to determine broadband penetration instead of the current single-person-in-a-zip-code model.
It seems like everybody agrees on an essential point: access to "quality," reasonably priced broadband is crucial in this day and age. Unfortunately, we're not even close in the US. Yes, the nation's two largest telecoms are at this moment rolling out new fiber optic networks. Better yet, consumers in areas served by Verizon's new FiOS network are seeing the benefits of increased competition: some cable providers in those areas are bumping speeds up to 15Mbps/1.5Mbps. However, fiber deployments are slow and selective, leaving most Americans out in the cold.
We may be looking at a radically different landscape in five years, with WiMAX, BPL, cable, DSL, and municipal WiFi networks offering consumers a host of equally-good choices. That rosy outcome is by no means guaranteed—there's much that has to be done in the interim to make it a reality.
High-Speed Wireless Dreams
HSDPA may finally deliver a small piece of wireless utopia. We tear down a PC card that can help make it happen
Just when it seemed that the overused wireless catchphrase "3G" might finally fade from memory, new technologies are starting to emerge and stake their own claim to the post-3G zeitgeist. For years 3G, or "third generation," denoted some future wireless utopia where voice, data, and video would all merge into a wondrous amalgam, marked by snazzy phones that do everything perfectly—and fast.
But there's a new wireless utopia, and again, it's about merging voice, data, and all the other stuff at even faster speeds. One of them is known as High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, or HSDPA, and it has started appearing on wireless networks operated by companies such as Vodaphone (VOD) in Europe and Cingular Wireless (a joint venture of AT&T (T) and BellSouth (BLS)) in the U.S. Meanwhile, South Korea's Samsung has started building HSDPA-ready phones.
The technology promises wireless speeds as high as 3.6 Mbps but in practice will be much slower than that—fast enough, though, to make wirelessly surfing the Web and downloading music and video worth the effort. That will make it ideal for wireless Internet access on a PC, and manufacturers have started to release PC cards for just that purpose. There are already scores on the market.
Market research firm iSuppli recently took apart one of those cards, the E620, manufactured by Chinese electronics giant Huawei and found that in addition to running fast, it doesn't cost all that much to make. Vodaphone sells the E620 card in Britain for a price equivalent to about $272. The components inside the card cost about $73, while manufacturing costs amount to about $6 per unit, says iSuppli analyst Andrew Rassweiler.
And while Huawei is certainly making a decent profit given its costs, the big winner in the HSDPA business appears to be wireless chipmaker Qualcomm (QCOM). Of the $73 in component costs inside the card, more than $40 worth of chips come from Qualcomm, Rassweiler says. "We've been looking inside other cards and some handsets that are HSDPA-ready from LG Electronics and Samsung, and we're seeing the very same Qualcomm chips every time," he says. The same set of Qualcomm chips appear in Samsung's SGH-Z520 and LG's Chocolate KU-800, the second version of LG's music-playing phone (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/5/06, "Easy Listening on LG's Chocolate").
"Qualcomm for years has had the CDMA side of the wireless business sewn up for itself," Rassweiler says. "Now it's looking like with HSDPA, its influence on the wireless industry could increase." Other companies building HSDPA chips include Texas Instruments (TXN) and Broadcom (BRCM). Motorola (MOT), Siemens (SI), and Sierra Wireless (SWIR) are all building HSDPA cards.
Other chips inside the card include Flash memory from Samsung, a USB controller from NEC (NIPNY), and power controller chips from Anadigics (ANAD) and AVX (AVX).
ISuppli has forecast shipments of 917,000 HSDPA devices this year, and expects shipments to increase to 87 million units a year by 2010.
Samsung Unveils 3-Way WiMax Gadget
Samsung Electronics Co. on Tuesday showed off a three-way gadget that's a phone, personal computer and music player tailored for an emerging wireless broadband technology.
The Mobile Intelligent Terminal was unveiled at a Samsung-sponsored industry conference on Mobile WiMax, which is just coming into use and promises fast broadband connections over long distances.
The device weighs about a pound and contains a fold-out keyboard, 5-inch screen and 30 gigabyte hard drive. It runs the full version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP operating system and also supports the CDMA mobile phone communications standard, which is used in South Korea and other countries including the United States.
Kim Hun-bae, Samsung vice president for mobile research and development, told reporters that the gadget is the world's first WiMax device that also works as a mobile phone. It also can access the Internet, make video phone calls and display television as well as other video.
The Suwon, South Korea-based company said it plans to launch the device in South Korea during the first half of 2007. Samsung didn't mention any plans for marketing the device in the U.S. and other markets. It also didn't provide a price.
WiMax has been strongly backed by Samsung, which is cooperating with U.S. companies Intel Corp., Sprint Nextel Corp. and Motorola Inc. to commercialize it in the United States.
South Korea is the first country to commercialize WiMax, which promises fast wireless broadband connections and mobile roaming. Limited trials of Mobile WiMax are under way in South Korea, with plans to cover the capital, Seoul, by early next year.
Sprint Nextel has said it aims to launch WiMax networks in some U.S. markets by late 2007, working with Samsung, Motorola and Intel.
Samsung is confident WiMax technology will soon become a global standard, a top executive said Tuesday.
"We have established a standard in (South) Korea, but it won't take long to spread throughout the world," Lee Ki-tae, president of Samsung's telecommunication network business, told reporters.
File Sharing Affects Job Applicants
In a recent nationwide survey conducted by the Business Week Research Services, 86 percent of the managers and supervisors involved considered job applicants’ downloading and file-sharing activity when making hiring decisions. In fact, just over 60 percent of hiring managers and supervisors say the employee would be fired (18 percent). 14 percent of hiring managers and 16 of supervisors report the person would be put on probation.
“Higher education students should take note of these findings,” Diane Smiroldo, vice president of public affairs for Business Software Alliance, said. “In preparing to enter the workforce, they need to know that illegal and unethical behaviors relating to illegal downloading and file-sharing pirated software can mean they may not get the job they want.” The online survey was conducted within the United States between Feb. 16 and March 10, 2006, among a nationwide selection of 954 corporate managers who hire or supervise recent college graduates and 523 people who graduated from college within the past five years.
With all the other concerns that students have to worry about when looking for a job after graduation such as location and pay, it is very frustrating that we now as a society have to worry about how downloading will affect our job opportunities. We all know by now that downloading copyrighted material is illegal, and I am pretty sure most students or job applicants would not go to an employer publicizing their use of p2p (peer-to-peer) file sharing. What should be important to the employer when in the hiring process are the applicant’s qualifications for the job. You know, what used to be the most important factor in the hiring process. Well now we can throw out the importance of internships and prior job experiences. Employers today are basically looking out for themselves when they consider downloading as a hiring factor.
The concern of employers is that if they were to hire applicants who download, the employees would continue to download content on the company computers which in turn could cause their company financial problems if they get a computer virus or get sued by the music or movie industry. In Arizona, a technology and business consulting firm Integration Information Systems paid one million to settle a lawsuit with the Recording Industry Association of America over downloaded music files. The associations said the company allowed workers to access and share thousands of copyrighted MP3 music files over its network.
Recently, worried employers have been disciplining workers and barring them for downloading copyrighted entertainment. As a student with high-speed internet, I know why employees would be tempted to download while on the job it’s very simple, downloading something at the office can take 15 seconds, compared with 20 minutes at home depending if you have 56k or even cable modem. It’s just faster and efficient. This is not an excuse to download on the job, but it’s definitely something people think about when they are online.
To control the use of company computers in the workplace, companies have started to implement new measures to protect themselves from lawsuits. Some of these measures deal with creating a written policy that explains the companies views about downloading, adding filtering software that would prevent employees from accessing music websites, monitoring software which would let the employers know who is downloading content and using firewall programs on the computers which would prevent employees from downloading anything.
At universities, there are policies that students must follow in order to avoid getting in trouble with the law. Here at SFA, some of my friends have gotten in trouble for downloading music and movies online. They told me that they received a letter from the school telling them that they have out all the movies and music that was in their computers. The school also banned them from having access to the internet for 30 days. This whole process is what students are starting to call “net jail.”
As more companies implement a policy or rules, students and applicants will be more aware of how companies feels about online downloading. Students just have to watch out for this question when they go to a job interview because this could put their future careers in jeopardy.
How to: Avoid Back Pain While at the Computer
Most hacks spend a good chunk of their working life hunched over the computer pounding away at the keyboard trying to beat those ever-pressing deadlines.
For them, as for a good proportion of the working world, back pain caused by poor working conditions can be a real problem.
Here Nicola Tann - formerly a body-conditioning instructor and professional dancer and now a freelance journalist - sets out some simple but effective tips on how stay pain-free at the desk.
Having a comfortable place to work makes a huge difference. If you are squashed into the corner of a bedroom, your desk is cluttered, or your lighting is insufficient, you will respond physically - by hunching up or leaning forward to peer at your screen.
• Your chair is comfortable and at a height where you can rest both feet flat on the floor.
• Your keyboard is far enough forward on your work surface so that you can rest your forearms, from elbow to wrist, on the desk. This relaxes the shoulders, helping to prevent tension and possible nerve irritation.
• Your chair, desk and monitor are all at the correct height to work comfortably and you have adequate light.
• You use a separate keyboard if you work on a laptop.
Many of us, when we imagine we are sitting up straight, can in fact over-compensate for our normal postural problems. If, for example, we usually have rounded shoulders, when told to sit up straight we may pull them too far back. In many cases this will throw the lower spine out of alignment too. Here are a few tips to help you to find a straight spine. (If you start to tense up during the following steps, take a few moments to breathe into the tense area and relax - the spine should feel able to move, not set in concrete.)
• Sitting with both feet flat on the floor, feel the two 'sitting bones' in the buttocks taking equal weight.
• Now start to feel the back of your skull becoming buoyant and gently pulling up away from your 'sitting bones'. (The top of the head is actually close to the crown, far further back than you might imagine, so the chin will drop down slightly as the back of the neck lengthens.)
• As the two ends of the spine lengthen away from each other, gently pull the belly button in toward the spine for support, keeping the ribs relaxed. (If you find this hard to feel, use an out-breath to pull in.)
• Finally, let your shoulders slide down away from your ears. To help broaden the shoulders imagine someone gently pulling them away from each other. Tip: Shoulders should feel broad across the front and the back at the same time.
The simplest rule to follow is: 'do the opposite movement to the one that is causing the problem'. If your screen is to your right, move it to the left. Swap your mouse to the other hand - you will get used to it much quicker than you think. This can be applied beyond just working practice - sleep on your other side, carry your bag on the other shoulder, hold your phone in the other hand. Here are some gentle stretches on this premise that can be done either at or by your desk. Repeat each a few times. Sit up straight and:
• Circle the shoulders up, back, down then forward. There are three shoulder circles - one with the arms hanging down, one circling the elbows with each hand on its own shoulder, and the third circling the whole extended arm - that work every muscle in and around the shoulder joint.
• Sitting with your hands in your lap, pull your shoulders up to your ears and hold for a few seconds before letting them relax down.
• Gently move your head, making sure you return to upright between each stretch. Drop your ear toward your shoulder on each side. Look left and right, and up and down - when looking up be careful not to 'crunch' into the vertebrae, but to extend, keeping some length in the back of the neck.
Walking is, after lying horizontal, the activity that puts the least pressure on the spine, (with standing coming third and sitting the worst of the four), but any gentle movement is good if it's raining or your flat/office is too small for a good walk.
Try every hour or 90 minutes to get up from your desk and move around - even if it's only for a few minutes. Here are some suggestions:
• Go round the block/ to the park/ for a paper if it's a nice day. As you walk let your shoulders drop away from your ears and your arms swing naturally by your side - this will relax the shoulders, helping prevent possible nerve irritation, and naturally stimulate lymph drainage - a process that can become sluggish if inactive for long periods.
• If you work in an office, go to talk to a colleague rather than emailing them or picking up the phone - and try to leave the office for some fresh air daily.
• If you work at home there is a lot you can do. Wander round the garden, or put on your favourite song and dance and sing/shout-along. It may sound silly, but singing engages the diaphragm and this in turn encourages deeper breathing, naturally dispelling tension.
Neck and shoulders - lie on the floor with your arms out to the side, palms facing up, feet propped on the floor, hip width apart with knees pointing up to the ceiling. Breathe naturally into your belly, feeling your whole body relax into the floor.
As you breathe allow the shoulders to relax, feeling the front of the armpit opening up. Then feel the weight of the head sinking down into the floor. Gently roll the head from side to side over the back of the skull, (keeping your chin slightly tucked down), as if your head were full of sand, and you were pouring it from each ear. Continue to breathe steadily and deeply.
Lower back - kneel, sitting back on your feet, with the knees slightly apart. Lean forward to rest over your thighs and rest your arms along the floor either out in front of you or back by your legs - whichever is more comfortable. Let your head relax forward and rest here for as long as you need, breathing deeply and, again, allowing the whole body to relax toward the floor. Tip - let the 'crease' in the front of the hip deepen and get softer as you relax.
Physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractics, massage and acupuncture can all provide relief, and should be viewed as a business expense. When you find the right treatment and practitioner, you will wonder how you ever did without them. Getting timely treatment can not only relieve pain, but also prevent future problems.
Try getting a recommendation for a practitioner from someone you know or, if this fails, check how long a therapist has been practicing and if they have any experience in dealing with your particular problem. Most practitioners will be happy to have a chat before you book in with them, even if it is only over the phone, and if they're not willing then they may not be worth seeing.
If you feel any pain or discomfort during any of the above exercises, stop immediately. Going to a pilates or body conditioning class will give you the benefit of advice from the instructor, who is trained to correct you on observation. Always arrive a little early to let the instructor know about any problems or pain you may have and they will be able to tailor their instructions to your needs.
Thank you all so much.
Her second greatest fear was that no one would miss her or care that she was gone. She loved this site and everyone in it. Even you multi.
You added a bit of challenge to her life on the site. She loved a challenge.
RB, Lion, Rasta, and Vern:
You were her best friends here. You all knew her best and could roll with her punches. You guys were the ones who got her to listen when she just didn't want to hear it.
Thank you all so, so much.
In case you’re wondering her first greatest fear was dieing in the Midwest. She was always afraid she would never get out........I guess that fear wasn't unfounded.
|09-11-06, 10:55 AM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
What the Democrats' Win Means for Tech
It was the narrowest of Republican margins in the U.S. Senate that doomed a crucial vote on Net neutrality earlier this year.
By an 11-11 tie, a GOP-dominated committee failed in June to approve rules requiring that all Internet traffic be treated the same no matter what its "source" or "destination" might be. A similar measure also failed in the House of Representatives.
But now that this week's elections have switched control of the House back to the Democrats--and they appear to have seized the Senate as well--the outlook for technology-related legislation has changed dramatically overnight.
On a wealth of topics--Net neutrality, digital copyright, merger approval, data retention, Internet censorship--a Capitol Hill controlled by Democrats should yield a shift in priorities on technology-related legislation.
Network neutrality is one of the clearest examples of a partisan rift. In the Senate, all the Republican committee members but one voted against extensive broadband regulations. These regulations are backed by Internet companies such as Google and eBay, but are opposed by telecommunications and hardware providers.
"Clearly, we're going to have to address the question of network neutrality," Rep. John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday. Dingell, who has served in the House for more than 50 of his 80 years, is set to be the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which writes telecommunications laws.
Dingell didn't elaborate. But he's previously gone on the record as a staunch supporter of extensive regulations that would prohibit network operators from charging content providers extra for premium placement or faster delivery, dubbing it "private taxation of the Internet." (Network operators say they may need to do this to recoup their vast investments in new broadband infrastructure.)
Adam Green, a spokesman for the liberal advocacy group Moveon.org, predicted that the election results would be a boon to the enactment of extensive Net neutrality regulations. "Internet freedom should not be a partisan issue. But Republicans have consistently been standing in the way, and there is zero doubt that the increased Democratic control of Congress will be fantastic news," said Green, whose group lobbies on the topic.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat set to be the next House Majority Leader, has also been a strong supporter of more Net neutrality regulations. Pelosi said in June that "without Net Neutrality, the current experience that Internet users enjoy today is in jeopardy."
The issue of electronic surveillance represents another partisan divide. House Democrats cast 62 votes against the 2001 Patriot Act, but only three Republicans opposed it. Similarly, not one Democrat opposed a more recent amendment requiring the executive branch to disclose its data-mining technologies, while 165 Republicans did.
Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington office, said she hoped the new Congress would investigate the National Security Agency's domestic spying program. "The illegal spying program should be a primary focus of congressional efforts to investigate this administration's abuse of power," Fredrickson said. "The president himself has admitted to authorizing this warrantless spying in direct contravention of the dictates of FISA," or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Longtime Washington observers acknowledge that neither party is that principled when it comes to the topic of electronic surveillance. Rather, positions on privacy can become partisan methods of attacking the party that holds the White House. (Republicans, now stalwart defenders of the Patriot Act, were advocates of protecting privacy during President Clinton's time in office. Republican Sen. Conrad Burns said the White House "has no respect for privacy," and House Majority Leader Dick Armey used words like "Orwellian" to describe administration proposals.)
The ACLU is pinning some of its hopes on Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who is set to be the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers has suggested imposing greater controls on government surveillance and is in a key position to lead a high-profile investigation.
"Several of the new committee chairs have already expressed their intention to conduct a thorough inquiry into the unlawful actions of this administration," Fredrickson said.
Digital copyright is another topic that likely will be heavily influenced by the congressional shakeup--though more because of new committee chairmen than the shift in party alignments.
Hollywood tends to be solidly Democratic: Employees of companies like Viacom, Walt Disney and Vivendi Universal consistently write checks to Democratic politicians over Republicans, by a 2-to-1 margin. (And Sen. Bob Dole, a Republican, famously bashed Hollywood during the 1996 presidential campaign.)
But in practice, Republican politicians have been nearly as enthusiastic about helping Hollywood. It was Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, who endorsed the so-called broadcast flag for television in January. It was a New Jersey Republican, Rep. Mike Ferguson, who introduced the legislation for digital radio two months later, and another from North Carolina, Rep. Howard Coble, who co-sponsored a plan in mid-2002 to let copyright holders disable PCs used for illicit file trading. And Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican, once called for remotely destroying pirates' computers.
The Motion Picture Association of America said on Wednesday that it encountered bipartisan opposition in the House--from Republican Joe Barton and Democrat Rick Boucher--when trying to enact a broadcast flag bill before. Such a law is designed to curb digital TV piracy by making certain receivers illegal to sell.
Because of Barton and Boucher's opposition, "we have bipartisan challenges on that, and we hope to have a bipartisan solution," said John Feehery, MPAA's executive vice president for external affairs. "We'll have to see how it all shakes out with the (new) chairmen."
One question worrying Washington insiders is who will be the next chairman of key subcommittees, such as one dealing with writing copyright laws.
"We're going through a process right now of just deciding what those priorities are going to be for the next year," Feehery said. "We've been working hard on the analog hole and broadcast flag--the bottom line is (that) we want to limit the impact of piracy on our industry."
If Boucher gets the nod as chairman, a broadcast flag becomes far less likely and changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's "anti-circumvention" sections become politically feasible. "He would be a big boost to our efforts to allow innovation to develop," said Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that has opposed content providers on many digital copyright bills.
If Rep. Howard Berman, however, gets the job, the recording industry and motion picture industry will have a staunch ally as subcommittee chairman. Berman, a Hollywood Democrat, has sponsored legislation in the past that would let copyright holders legally hack into peer-to-peer networks. (Berman currently is the subcommittee's top Democrat, but there's speculation that he'd take a different chairmanship.)
Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, said that his group's strategy to oppose to the broadcast flag won't change much. "Our strategy is (to) work with both parties," Shapiro said. "Technology is the field that's growing the national economy. It's not a partisan issue."
Shapiro is worried about what might happen in a so-called lame-duck Congress, which will reconvene briefly this fall under Republican control. Tennesseean Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is retiring, could "try to hurt us badly," Shapiro said. "He indicated he's going to try, with the broadcast flag and audio flag, possibly attached to a spending bill. We're very concerned about that and we're going to be very vigilant."
On other topics:
AT&T and BellSouth: Rep. Dingell on Wednesday reiterated concerns about rushing into approval of a proposed $80 billion merger of AT&T and BellSouth. The merger won unconditional approval from the U.S. Department of Justice but has stalled in another layer of review by the Federal Communications Commission.
"I think it would be in (the FCC's) interest, I think it would be in the interest of the committee, and I think it would be in the broad public interest" if the FCC delayed its decision until the new Congress is seated, Dingell said. That would let the Democrats hold hearings into its advisability.
House leadership: High-tech companies have reason to be optimistic about the Democrats passing laws in an industry-friendly direction under Rep. Pelosi's leadership, said Josh Ackil. Ackil is the vice president of government affairs for the Washington-based Information Technology Industry Council, whose members include Apple Computer, Microsoft, Dell, Cisco and Intel.
That's in part because the San Francisco representative emerged last November with a Democratic "innovation agenda" lauded by high-tech companies. The move signaled that "she understands the importance of a strong technology and innovation economy, and the effect that innovation economy has on every other industry," said Ackil, a former staffer to onetime House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. "She gets it."
Data retention: The Bush administration, led by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, has been pushing Congress relentlessly for new laws requiring Internet companies to keep records on what their customers do. Because Democrats have generally been more critical of this move, the proposal could run into more opposition next year.
The Markey factor: Rep. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democratic firebrand, has antagonized tech companies for a decade--but with a Republican majority in place since 1995, he's had little luck enacting legislation. Now that may change, especially because Markey is in line to take over the chairmanship of a key Internet and telecommunications subcommittee.
In the past, Markey has complained about privacy concerns in Intel chips and tried to force Web sites to delete information about visitors. He attacked AOL after it disclosed user search histories and said that Hewlett-Packard's boardroom scandal means more privacy laws are necessary.
The Big Chill
Verizon's decision last month to shut off a Montreal ISP for hosting edgy gay chatboards points to a colder, grayer internet ahead
The chilling of free expression-- sexual and otherwise-- on the internet is like global warming: almost everyone agrees it's happening, but the process is too big, too abstract, too long-term to readily notice. Only through the distorting window of dramatic events-- the collapse of an Alpine glacier or a Hurricane Katrina--do we see something's amiss.
When it comes to freedom on the net, lately a lot's been storming and crashing
• On November 3rd, US telecom giant Verizon says it will disconnect a Montreal-based internet service provider (ISP) Epifora whose clients host sexually edgy chat sites. Civil-liberties experts say it's an unprecedented assertion of corporate control over legal expression.
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The US government (see box) has also lately been turning down the thermometer on internet speech.
• Based on SM stories she had written and posted to her web site, Karen Fletcher was indicted in September for obscenity by US federal prosecutors on charges that carry up to 30 years in prison.
• US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urged Congress in September to pass legislation requiring that ISPs log all users' internet activity
• In August, the US Senate ratified the International Convention on Cybercrimes-- which requires signatories to investigate and arrest people for suspected crimes-- including crimes of expression-- that may not be even be illegal in the place where they were committed.
The internet was supposed to "route around censorship" and herald a global shift to "open societies." As repression hots up, is that dream heading into deep freeze?
Unplugged in Montreal
Certainly a chill has descended on a small Montreal ISP, Epifora, whose home page promises "respect for client privacy" and tolerance of "controversial speech." The company's clients host a number of websites and chatboards-- such as Boychat.org and Freespirits.org-- with a pederastic slant. On October 4th Epifora was notified by MCI-Canada that their connection to the internet backbone would be cut off in 30 days for violating the "acceptable use policy" of Verizon-- the giant US telecom that swallowed MCI in 2005. Epifora had paid for a high-speed link to the internet's "backbone" through MCI-Canada for five years, without incident. Neither Verizon, nor MCI-Canada, nor any law-enforcement agency had ever served Epifora with a "take-down notice"-- the established procedure in Canada to get an ISP to remove, pending a court hearing, a client's possibly offending material. So what was the alleged violation?
"I don't have any specifics for you," Verizon spokesman Peter Lucht tells The Guide. Nor did Verizon or MCI-Canada answer Epifora's queries. But Verizon, which maybe takes lessons in customer service at Guantanamo Bay, said their determination was final and unappealable.
In their particular corner of cyberspace, the chatboards on the Epifora network have proven vital. Some have been online for more than a decade, and have gained a loyal following, as they are among the few places on the net where people can talk relatively safely and anonymously about how to live with their feelings for youths.
"Every time I find a message from a newbie saying 'Thank God I found this place,' it's further validation for what I'd been doing for ten years," says a former Boychat webmaster. For many users, he says, the chatboards are key to participants' feelings of personal integrity. "We're a decent, civilized community of reasonable people," he goes on. "Ultimately our record is the chatboard itself and its archives."
Within a few days of news of the impending cut-off, Freespirits.org raised $30,000 in pledges for a legal defense fund-- and not because its users' are especially numerous or wealthy; its demographics are slanted to tech-savvy young people just coming out. "Boychat changed my life," says one participant, who notes that he met the man who has been his lover of five years on the board.
Right side of the law
Do consciousness-raising and mutual support cross red lines? Verizon's concise "Acceptable Use Policy" boils down to "don't do anything illegal," and Epifora insists it hasn't. For the five years MCI-Canada provided Epifora's backbone link, the company evidently agreed.
That Epifora's clients were not breaking the rules appears to be the view of one particularly informed group of people-- Canadian law enforcement.
With its transgressive content, Epifora had faced scrutiny before. After a July, 2001 report in Canada's National Post, MCI-Canada approached the Ontario Provincial Police for an opinion, and inspector Bob Matthews, of the OPP's "Project P" declared the material on Epifora's servers in compliance with the Criminal Code.
That says a lot, as Canadian law sets a higher bar than the US and most other countries, making no distinction between, say, photographs of minors having sex, textual descriptions thereof, or even speech "advocating" such acts.
There's no reason to think anything had changed: Epifora is a brick-and-mortar business, and authorities would've known where to knock. And if Verizon had reason to believe any of the sites on Epifora's network violated the law, Verizon could have served the ISP with a take-down notice.
"Boychat goes back 11 years, and there's a record of decisions by the moderators and the logs," says the former webmaster. "If we ever had to prove we were keeping an eye on our resource and self-policing, we can."
Breaking the backbone
Verizon's cutoff of Epifora didn't come out of the blue; it was the result of a campaign started in September by a Portland, Oregon-based outfit called Perverted Justice (PJ). Funded by NBC, the group runs private internet sex sting-ops as fodder for the TV network's eponymous "reality" cop show. Staffers and volunteers pose as underage teens on the net, steer conversation into sex-chat, and then lure men to meeting places, where police are waiting to bust them on-camera. Some critics condemn the show as an unholy marriage of cops and media. Certainly it turns destroying people's lives into entertainment. With the public's limitless appetite for kiddie sexposé, it's brought NBC stellar ratings and loads of money.
In mid-September, PJ launched a campaign to shut down Epifora, contending that its clients' chatboards contained speech promoting "rape," "stalking" and illegal porn. With Epifora evidently unfazed by controversial content, PJ targeted backbone provider Verizon, labelling it a "corporate sex offender."
Verizon's prompt cave-in to the pressure might seem expectable. But according to free-speech advocates, it opens a new chapter in constricting online speech.
"I'm not aware of cases where backbone providers have exercised this degree of censorship," says Lee Tien, staff attorney in San Francisco with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "I think this is very, very dangerous to speech on the internet, and why you need some kind of legal framework to govern [backbone access]."
The companies and organizations that run the net's major "trunk lines" usually present themselves-- and in turn are treated-- as "common carriers." Certainly, no one holds the phone company responsible if, say, Arnie rings up Moe to plan a bank heist. In the internet era, common-carrier status has become especially vital, even while it has grown legally murkier. Interlocking networks open to each others' traffic is what define the internet-- literally, a network of networks. With data on the net travelling at near light-speed, distance matters little compared to bandwidth. If you're a photon, the quickest path across Manhattan at rush hour might be by way of Singapore. A single e-mail or request for a web page gets broken into a powder of data packets, each travelling the most efficient path they can find, to be reassembled at the recipient-end on-the-fly. A network doesn't know whether a bit passing over its cables is a love letter or diagram on bomb-making.
Indeed, companies such as Verizon have been quick to assert their role as serving all comers without prejudice. Otherwise, every time a teen gets busted downloading bootleg Kurt Cobain, or a broker trades insider stock tips, or a hacker spews viruses, telecom executives could face charges as co-conspirators. Indeed, telecoms have resisted filtering content, arguing that the mere attempt would wrongly imply they control what passes over their wires.
Driving around jams
But why should one company's decision to censor an ISP matter? Kin to the US interstate system, today's internet is a bastard child of a 1960s-era US military project to create a communications mesh that could survive nuclear war. Even if Washington and Chicago were offline, the thinking went, data can always find a route that bypassed them.
But the highway metaphor shows the limits of the net as well as its robustness. From a bird's-eye view, the interstate system is interlocking web allowing infinite routings and destinations. But if you are stuck in traffic on Route 95 at the end of Labor Day weekend, the highway itself becomes an insurmountable obstacle.
"If there's only one bridge between two points then you can't route around it, because it's been architected that way," notes the EFF's Tien. "If that area of Montreal is only serviced by that provider, then you can't route around it."
And in fact, on a local level-- and even a global one from some standpoints-- internet infrastructure can be surprisingly centralized when judged by its narrowest expanses-- in a sense, its weakest links. Countless Nigerian ex-oil ministers have no trouble finding your inbox with their urgent inquiries about Swiss bank accounts that they need you to unlock. But in fact few cables link Africa to the internet beyond.
"If I can't do something with this ISP maybe I can with that one-- there can be some competition among providers at the ISP level," notes Tien. "But when it comes to a backbone provider, there may not be any alternative, so their power becomes determinative of what can or cannot be said. Perverted Justice, or whatever organizations that may be involved, has discovered the sensitivity of that bottleneck."
One solution is to build more redundancy in the network. "'Routing around censorship' always assumed there would be alternative ways to get around a blockage," Tien notes. "When it's actually somebody who controls a large amount of fiber, then you have the problem that you'll never be able to route around them."
Sensing their indispensability and feeling they've missed the internet boom-train that's riding over their rails, US telecoms right now are angling to parlay their control over the net's physical wiring into power over its content. That's the ongoing battle in Washington over "network neutrality"-- with Congress, palms greased with telecom cash, a hair's breadth away, under pending legislation, to give the likes of Verizon the keys to the content caboose.
Network neutrality is so central to the internet that users notice the principle as frequently as fish wonder about water.
Right now if you want Google.com, your ISP-- whoever it is-- will take you there, with the help of whatever big telecom ultimately links them to the backbone. But if they had the legal green light, that telecom could take you-- instead of to Google-- to whatever search engine paid them the fattest kickbacks.
It's a replay-- on a grander and more sinister scale-- of what Microsoft pulled off against Netscape in the 90s when it tried-- and for a time succeeded-- in parlaying its domination in operating systems into control over web browsing.
"Usually the network-neutrality debate is couched in business terms," notes the EFF's Ren Bucholz. "But the elephant in the living room is that if you can discriminate based on price, why can't you discriminate based on anything else?"
Gloves come off
Verizon's cut-off of Epifora is an early warning that global telecoms are prepared to use their choke-hold on the net's infrastructure to filter out chunky political expression. What will be the limits of such censorship? If chatting about the Boy Beautiful besmirches Verizon's corporate name, what does the firm gain by allowing access to sites celebrating barebacking or ball torture? The list of Americans registered as "sexual predators" for blow-jobs at highway rest stops is a few mouse-clicks away. Isn't Verizon a "corporate sponsor of perversion and disease" for selling such people internet access in the first place?
How far would Verizon go to eliminate edgy gay content-- and edgy gays-- from use of its networks? "We're not speculating about what the company might do," Verizon spokesman Lucht tells The Guide.
Epifora has a warchest big enough to start a legal battle, but probably not to carry it through to completion without outside help, with the controversial content in question possibly discouraging the usual cyber-freedom angels.
The case raises important questions. Can internet companies allege violations of "acceptable use" without saying what they are? Can they about-face and declare that legal content they willingly carried yesterday is forbidden today? Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone "freedom of the press and other media of communication." Does that mean anything when a tiny handful of backbone providers refuse access? Is it for a US company to decide that speech legal in Canada can be forced off the internet?
The Epifora case could establish important new legal principles. More likely, it will be one more step in the transition of the internet from messy democratic forum into a frigid private shopping mall, ringed with surveillance cameras, with many doors marked "no entry," free expression be damned.
Craigslist Sex Ad Scammer Seeks to Silence Critics
Baseless Copyright Claims Used to Shut Down Debate Over Privacy Controversy
San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed suit today against the man behind "craigslist-perverts.org" -- a website that publicized responses to fake personal advertisements posted on Craigslist.org -- on behalf of an online journalist who criticized the controversial outing campaign and received legal threats in return.
Michael Crook posted the fake ads earlier this year, claiming to be a young woman seeking a casual sexual encounter. Crook then displayed many of the replies on his craigslist-perverts.org website, including information such as the responders' names, photographs, phone numbers, and where they worked. Jeff Diehl, the editor of Internet magazine 10 Zen Monkeys, published an article in September critical of Crook's behavior and used an image of Crook being interviewed by Fox News to highlight how controversial a figure he was.
Instead of responding to the criticism with words, Crook sent a legal notice to the magazine's online service provider, claiming to be the copyright holder of the image and demanding that it be removed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Such actions violate the DMCA's requirements that only the copyright holder or someone authorized by her can send such notices.
"This is yet another case of someone intentionally misusing copyright law to try to shut down legitimate debate on an issue of public interest," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Crook certainly doesn't own the copyright to the news footage -- Fox News does. Furthermore, a still shot of that footage, used as part of a commentary on the controversy surrounding him, is clearly a fair use. It's hypocritical for such an outspoken figure like Crook to attack other speakers just because they disagree with him."
Because of Crook's misuse of the DMCA, Diehl was forced to switch web-hosting companies in order to continue publish the photo. But even then, Crook sent another bogus DMCA notice to the new hosting company, and Diehl had to remove the photo for a second time. In the lawsuit filed today, EFF asks that Diehl be compensated for the financial and personal expenses associated with responding to the meritless claims and switching web hosts -- as well as for the infringement to his free speech rights protected by the First Amendment.
This lawsuit is part of EFF's ongoing work to protect online free speech in the face of bogus copyright claims. Last week, EFF filed an objection to a subpoena from Landmark Education, a group that claimed copyright infringement in a video uploaded to the Internet Archive.
"The Internet is home to passionate debate on countless important issues. It is too bad that some people find the robust exercise of free speech so frightening that they use intimidation to try to silence it," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "EFF is grateful that people like Jeffrey Diehl and the Internet Archive are fighting back."
Police Say Man Met Teen on MySpace
A 46-year-old Bethel Connecticut man charged with attempted sexual assault after police found him in a parked car with a 15-year-old girl last week met the teen on MySpace.com, police said.
Bethel Police Chief Jeffrey Finch said Monday that Harry Denney, of Rockwell Drive, met the underage girl on the popular social networking Web site about a year
He wouldn't say if Denney and the teen had contact prior to the meeting that resulted in Denney's arrest in the high school parking lot Friday.
Officers who were patrolling the lot during a football game between Bethel and New Milford found the pair in a "suspicious vehicle" parked in a rear corner of the lot. Finch wouldn't say what attracted attention to the car.
In addition to the sexual assault count, Denney was charged with risk of injury to a minor and loitering on school grounds. He was released on $10,000 bond for an appearance Nov. 14 in Danbury Superior Court.
The arrest was the second made by Bethel police this year involving an older man and under-aged girls who met on MySpace.
In June, police charged a 25-year-old Newtown man with attempted sexual assault and attempted risk of injury after he had conversations they said were of a "sexual nature" with two 13-year-old Bethel girls he met through the Web site.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Monday called the latest incident "powerful evidence" of the need for MySpace.com to implement stricter safeguards to protect younger users.
Blumenthal is among attorneys general from 30 states who have called for raising the minimum age for a MySpace profile from 14 to 16, or for a separate site to be set up for 14- and 15-year-old users.
Blumenthal also said that MySpace.com should take steps to prevent older man from passing themselves off as 18-year-old boys in order to meet younger girls.
Company officials have "made encouraging statements that they understand our points, but we have yet to reach agreement with them," Blumenthal said.
"They claim there is no technical way to do a reliable age verification. WE say there is, though parental consent, by Social Security number or driver's license," the attorney general said.
A Son’s Revenge: ‘Friendbombing’
I HAVE many new friends. Too many.
My troubles began when I signed up for a page on Facebook.com, the Web site that’s phenomenally popular with millions of college and high school students.
I did it, frankly, to keep up with my own children. My daughter, Elizabeth, off at college and a 10-hour drive away, details her days on her LiveJournal.com and Facebook pages. Anyone can read the LiveJournal page, but Facebook requires that you have your own account, and be part of the same network (like University of Michigan students) or share “friend” status, to read others’ pages.
But a child doesn’t need to be out of town to be a little distant. Sam, my 16-year-old son, has a Facebook page, and when he occasionally left it up on his computer screen, I noticed it was a pretty freewheeling place, with coarse language, flirtation and jokes about high-school drinking. I mean, I hope they were jokes. We’re talking about that. In any case, it all made me want to keep an eye on things.
Now, I wouldn’t read my kid’s locked diary. But if Sammy is going to put his daily thoughts out there for the world to see, I’m going to check in every once in a while — and let him know that I’m doing it, too.
Facebook recently started offering accounts to corporations, and I signed up, and immediately “friended” Sam and Elizabeth, as well as several colleagues at work. My colleagues and I have not written on each others’ “walls” — a way for members to leave messages that can be read by anyone in the network — because we are, you know, grown-ups. We are neither hip nor cool, nor are we happening. And I was happily able to check in on my kids.
But things took a turn on Monday, when “new friend” requests started rolling in from students at my son’s high school. It was mystifying. I dug around and found that Sam had formed a group, Friend My Father.
He wrote, “My dad got a Facebook, lets make it worth his while.” He told them how to find me online, and then wrote, simply, “Go!”
Sam invited more than 100 teenagers to join the Friend My Father group. That night, more than a dozen did so, with “new friend” requests popping up every hour or so. Many of them wanted to say Hi. I replied. One asked questions like “waddup mr shcwartz? how it goes” and “r u a journalist or a writer? is there a difference?”
I had, to coin a phrase, been friendbombed. It reminded me of what computer security experts call a “distributed denial of service attack,” in which multiple computers send so many messages or information requests that data can’t get into or out of the targeted machine. As I sat at home Monday night trying to get work done, I occasionally moaned and announced to my wife, in resigned monotone: “Andrei has asked to be my friend. Sida has asked to be my friend. Alison has asked to be my friend.” My wife, who ridiculed me for cybersnooping on our boy, laughed at what she seemed to think was some kind of poetic justice, and said that Sam had cleverly exacted his revenge.
I explained to Sam that I didn’t quite know what to do with all of my new friends. “Yes!” he said with a smile. “I embarrassed my dad!”
The friend requests continue. I’ve known at least some of these kids for a long time, and like them. It’s nice to know that they like me enough to sign in and say, “Hey.”
But Facebook’s use of the word “friend” is a little troubling in a world where true friendship is hard to find and even harder to sustain. The idea of getting friends wholesale seems to be part of that element of the Internet that can render life virtual and a little pallid. In many ways, the Internet strengthens relationships by allowing easy communication over a distance. But without a human touch, it’s hard to keep the conversation going beyond niceties. Facebook seems to be saying: “Sure, we might be seeing less of our real friends face to face. But we’ll make it up with volume.”
I have visions of becoming like Charlie Rosenbury, a college student in Missouri who ended up with tens of thousands of friends by writing an automated program that put his request out far and wide. He became a Facebook celebrity and an object of ridicule.
But mainly what I wonder, as the new requests pop up one after another, is what parents will think if they discover that I am part of their teenagers’ network of friends. I worry that two terrifying words will come to mind: Mark Foley.
MySpace Aims for a Global Audience, and Finds Some Stiff Competition
A couple of months ago, Robert Basic, a 40-year-old technology consultant in Frankfurt, signed up for MySpace, the online social networking site, mostly out of curiosity.
In September, MySpace opened public test pages for Germany and France, the company’s first versions in languages other than English. That month, the site had 2.5 million unique users in Germany and about half that in France, respectable numbers for a new venture.
But Mr. Basic was only briefly among them. “I’m not a typical user,” he said. He became frustrated by unwanted messages and he did not care for the flashy pages.
“People here think the design is bad,” he said, “and that is important for Germans.”
MySpace, which was purchased by the News Corporation in July, is aggressively trying to move into overseas markets, and is expected to announce today that it is expanding into Japan in a possible joint venture.
With a presence already in Britain, Australia, Ireland, Germany and France, the company plans to add 11 other countries in the coming year, said Chris DeWolfe, the chief executive. Over the summer, Mr. DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, the company’s co-founders, went to China with Wendi Deng, the wife of Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chairman, and met with possible partners.
But as Mr. Basic’s experience shows, turning MySpace into a global power could be far more complicated than marketing a movie overseas. While the company has 100 million registered users, most are in the United States. People outside the United States already have different habits about socializing online.
And many do so by using cellphones rather than computers.
“In the U.S., teen and 20-something culture is more about I.M.,” instant messaging, said Danah Boyd, a fellow at the Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California, who studies popular culture and technology. In other countries, “the primary way of talking to your friends is SMS,” text messages on mobile phones.
Subject as it is to the whims of young people, the social networking business can be hard to predict. For example, Orkut.com, a social networking site started by Google, now consists mostly of Brazilians. After the site went online, Portuguese speakers attracted more Portuguese speakers, to the point where those who did not understand the language felt alienated.
“MySpace seems to be doing pretty well so far,” said Nate Elliot, a senior analyst at Jupiter Research, of the site’s international expansion. “But you have very little control over where these things take off.”
In Germany, MySpace must compete with Studivz.net, a site aimed at students that works much like the American site Facebook. In France, the company will compete with Skyblogs, which in August, the last month for which data is available, attracted 5.9 million unique visitors as opposed to the 1.1 million MySpace had in France, according to comScore.
Europe also has dozens of sites aimed at relatively small groups of people, which would not really compete with MySpace but could potentially limit its appeal in some markets if European consumers prefer a local experience.
Facebox, which is based in Brussels, for example, operates pages in different languages separately, on the logic that people prefer to join a more intimate network.
Something that will help MySpace compete, Ms. Boyd said, is the site’s emphasis on music. In the United States, the way bands of all sizes and music fans embraced the site helped it beat local competitors such as Friendster. In countries with established sites, “what MySpace is offering is music,” she said. And to compete effectively, it will have to attract local bands.
Mr. DeWolfe agrees. “It’s important to have something that reflects the local culture,” he said. Many MySpace hallmarks will remain, like secret shows from bands with pages on the site. But they will feature local artists, selected by local employees.
“They know what’s cool,” Mr. DeWolfe said. “The idea behind internationalization is localization.” Already, according to Jamie Kantrowitz, senior vice president for marketing and content for MySpace in Europe, the site has offered users a chance to hear albums by French rock bands before they were available in stores.
Since MySpace has never spent much money on advertising or content, it need not push its competitors aside to make a profit. “Our goal is to be No. 1 in every market,” Mr. DeWolfe said, “but we’re not so arrogant as to think we will be No. 1 in every market.”
As in the United States, the international versions of the site will make most of their revenue from selling ads. But some of the impetus for expansion may come partly from the site’s parent company.
“News Corporation is global,” said Allen Weiner, research director at Gartner Inc. “If they’re going to use the strategy they’re using in the U.S. — which is that MySpace is a portal but also a platform for content delivery — then each and every market is important.” So there’s a lot riding on this.”
This machine eats the competition for breakfast. (fava beans and chianti sold seperatly)
Free shipping on the Hannibal.
Uncomparable video display capabilities
- Native 1080i output
- Can display in 1080i, 720P, 480i, 480P, or standard definition
- Connect any TV. DVI, VGA, Component, S-video, composite
Completely Digital Audio
- 7.1 Digital Audio
- Dolby Digital, DTS, THX hardware decoding
- Digital SPDIF output to connect to home stereo components
- Stereo left and right (red and white) for non digital audio
- Replace your stereo, connect speakers directly
Built in Bit Torrent downloads
- Unlimited Downloads with the click of your remote
- Unlimited Free Movie and Music downloads
- We dont endorse pirating of movies or music
More options than you will know what to do with
- Rip DVD's to hard drive
- Burn home videos to DVD
- 802.11G wireless out of the box as well as wired ethernet
- 11 in 1 memory card reader for importing pics and vids straight to media center
- Surf the web with your remote
- Check your email
- Live updating local weather
- Sony universal remote included
- Play any media format, AVI, MPG1,2,4, MP3 and a hundred others
- Do everything with a push of a button on your remote
All with zero setup. You take it out of the box, plug it in, answer 3 questions about how you will hook it up. Watch movies and enjoy. Its that simple. Dont you wish everything in life could be this simple.
Microsoft to Offer Shows on Xbox Live
Elizabeth M. Gillespie
Microsoft Corp. has teamed up with a handful of Hollywood studios to sell TV shows and rent movies that can be downloaded through the software maker's Xbox Live online video-game service and beamed straight onto television sets.
The company announced Monday that beginning Nov. 22, Xbox Live users with the latest console will be able to choose from shows including "South Park," which airs on MTV's Comedy Central, and CBS Corp.'s "CSI," and movies including Warner Bros.' "V for Vendetta" and Paramount Pictures' "Mission Impossible III."
In addition to CBS, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures and MTV Networks, Microsoft has signed agreements with Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and Ultimate Fighting Championship, a privately held Las Vegas company that primarily broadcasts pay-per-view fights.
Financial terms of the partnerships were not disclosed.
Ross Honey, senior director of Microsoft's media, content and partner strategy group, estimated that 750 hours of programming would be available as soon as the service launches and roughly 1,000 hours by the end of the year.
The programming - most of it in standard-definition format and some in high-definition - will be available through the Xbox 360 console to any user of Xbox Live's free or paid online service, which allows gamers with broadband connections to send text or voice messages to each other, and watch movie trailers and other product demonstrations.
Microsoft hasn't said how much the downloads will cost, only that prices for programs broadcast in standard definition will be "competitive" with those offered by competitors, including Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes store, Movielink, CinemaNow and Amazon.com's Unbox.
TV shows through those services generally go for $1.99 per episode, while movie rentals generally cost about $3.99. Microsoft will sell TV shows for purchase only, and the only option for movies will be a rental that expires 24 hours after you start watching it.
High-definition content will cost more than standard-definition programming, Honey said, because it requires a lot more bandwidth to broadcast in the higher-quality format.
A key advantage Microsoft is hoping will play in its favor is that consumers will be able to watch the content on their TV sets rather than on computers or portable digital devices, the standards for most of the competing services.
"Being able to watch on your TV, yeah, that's a pretty big deal," said David Cole, president of DFC Intelligence, a market research firm based in San Diego.
IPods and other devices can be plugged into TV sets with optional cables, though the picture quality usually suffers a bit. A handful of gadgets that act as a bridge between computers and TVs also are available but haven't gained much consumer traction.
Apple's chief executive, Steve Jobs, recently showed off a compact set-top box, dubbed iTV, that will allow consumers to wirelessly send movies purchased online - as well as other digital content stored on a computer - to a television set. He said it will be available early next year.
Much like the Media Center edition of Windows XP, which Microsoft touts as an all-in-one PC and home entertainment center, the new Xbox service aims to bolster Microsoft's presence in the living room. Nevertheless, industry analysts aren't predicting it will drive hordes of people to buy the Xbox console.
"This is already a game system - so it's really going to sell to a presold audience," Cole said. "People aren't going to be buying it for these features, I don't think."
Some analysts said the initial variety of Xbox TV and movie programming struck them as a bit thin.
"The size of the launch library did feel a bit too small to be able to make a huge immediate impact," said Jason Anderson, director of research at San Francisco-based International Development Group. "But what it does is send out a signal flare to the rest of the industry that there's a commitment from Microsoft to be able to sell multiple types of content through the Xbox."
Analysts are not predicting that the new service will steal much business away from Sony Corp.'s market-leading PlayStation franchise, but the consensus seems to be that it will help Microsoft remain competitive.
The Xbox service will launch less than a week after Sony's PlayStation 3 video-game console hits store shelves in the United States.
Sony has not said whether it will sell TV shows and movies through PS3, though company officials last month said the forthcoming online PlayStation Store is being set up so users could potentially download movies through the PS3.
It would be easy for Sony to sell TV and movie downloads, given its ready access to shows and films produced by its Sony Pictures division.
"Sony has a wealth of entertainment content available to us at our fingertips, whether it's movies, television or music. It's just a matter of us tapping into that content, and we will be making an announcement about that at some point," said Dave Karraker, spokesman for Sony Computer Entertainment America.
The PS3, due out in U.S. stores on Nov. 17, will be able to play games and DVDs at "1080p," which is the highest-definition resolution currently available. Microsoft has developed a high-definition DVD drive that can be added to the Xbox 360. It will hit store shelves in the U.S., Europe and Japan in the coming weeks.
Adobe Gives Mozilla Some Computer Code
Adobe Systems Inc. is contributing some of the computer code behind its widely used Flash player to the Mozilla Foundation so that it can be improved upon and blended into an upcoming version of Mozilla's Firefox Web browser.
The donation, to be announced Tuesday at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, represents the largest contribution of code to Mozilla since the Mountain View-based foundation's 2003 inception. The code covers the scripting language in Adobe's Flash software, which millions of people use to view online media and other dynamic applications delivered over the Internet.
San Jose-based Adobe, best known for its Photoshop and Acrobat programs, picked up the Flash software as part of its $3.4 billion acquisition of Macromedia Inc. last year.
With the Mozilla contribution, Adobe becomes the latest major software company to throw its support behind open-source software - a concept founded on the belief that a global community of independent programmers can improve computer code by freely sharing their work.
Both Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. have announced expanded support of open-source software during the last two weeks.
Mozilla has set up an open-source project called "Tamarin" to manage the future contributions to the scripting language code from Adobe. The project will be jointly managed by developers from Adobe and Mozilla.
"By working with the open-source community we are accelerating the adoption of a standard language for creating and delivering richer, more interactive experiences that work consistently across PCs and mobile devices," said Kevin Lynch, Adobe's chief software architect.
The improvements eventually will be incorporated into the Firefox browser, probably in an upgrade scheduled for the first half of 2008, said Frank Hecker, the Mozilla Foundation's executive director. Mozilla is counting on the improvements to make many Web applications run more smoothly and quickly in Firefox.
The Flash player will continue to work on Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer browser.
In just a few years of existence, Firefox has emerged as the most popular alternative to Internet Explorer, which commands an 86 percent share of the market, according to WebSideStory. Two years ago, Explorer held a 93 percent share. Firefox's share stands at about 11 percent.
Asia ‘Pirates’ Out of Necessity, Not Choice
The content industries, specifically those in the US, accuse Asia of being the polestar of all piracy. Is this really the case? Or do otherwise law-abiding Asians have no other choice, no other legal alternatives?
Asia is associated with piracy. This association isn’t off the mark. People here use P2P networks to download copyrighted music (among other things), and having bootleg software on one’s computer is a completely normal thing. The idea of paying $100 for an original copy of Windows is considered wild. People are laughed at when they ask a computer salesman for original copies of Windows XP, Microsoft Office or Norton Antivirus. The general consensus is, when you can get it so easily for free, why bother? Well, many of us do bother.
Why is piracy widespread in Asia?
This question has two simple answers. Firstly, there aren’t viable legal competitors. Piracy can only be overcome if the customer feels he/she is getting something better by buying content, instead of downloading it for free. There are moral issues involved as well, and each person has a different breaking point. For some it might be being able to purchase songs from the iTunes Store, for others it might be getting a better deal, like an all-you-can-download monthly subscription service.
Secondly, Asia comprises mostly of ‘third world’ countries, most of whose citizens can’t afford the exuberant rates companies like Sony ($700 for a 512MB mp3 player) charge for their products. Multi-nationals are slowly understanding this and are starting to sell their products at a cheaper rate in Asia. The XBOX 360 is one of these. Also, many countries charge extraordinary import taxes on goods. This makes an imported good purchased in the grey market almost 1/3 the price of one bought legally. For example, iPods bought in the US and sold in India are considerably cheaper than those sold by authorised dealers here. Wired News published a mostly accurate piece on the booming grey market of iPods in India.
Pirates will be pirates
Pirates will be pirates. But people who want to purchase digital content legally will only be pirates if they have no other choice. Accusing an entire continent of being law-breakers is outrageous. Everyone’s favourite example these days is the iTunes Store. If Apple would expand into more countries, I am sure we would see a noticeable drop in the amount of music shared over P2P networks. Companies like Apple need to start trusting Asia. They can only gain from this. Piracy will continue with or without them. Their presence might actually reduce it. Apple Asia’s marketing director said that they “cannot comment on the specifics but it is true that iTunes is not available in Asia” and that the continent’s attitude towards copyrighted material is “relaxed.”
In April we reported on how a leading Indian newspaper, the Hindustan Times was openly promoting BitTorrent and the downloading of copyrighted files. Do they have another good legal alternative to recommend to their tech-savvy readers? No, they do not.
Asia now has the money. We’re just not being recognised as a potential market. Don’t turn away from us. We don’t want to be forced to pirate. “Do you want more frickin’ pirates?” asked Joey Alarilla, writing for CNET Asia. My answer is no, we do not.
Wikipedia "Hoax" Not Actually a Hoax
A long-standing article on the little-known "NPA theory" of personality was recently deleted from Wikipedia after editors realized that the piece had been authored by the creator of the theory, a doctor named Anthony Benis. Critics are already pointing to the case as an example of Wikipedia's problems, arguing that allowing a "hoax" article to persist for so long only shows how open Wikipedia is to "vandalism." But a closer look reveals a more complicated story.
NPA theory suggests that human personality is a combination of three traits: narcissism, perfectionism, and aggression. Each one of these traits is coded for by specific genes, and the process of personality formation therefore follows the long-established rules of genetics. It's a theory developed by Benis but not given much credence by the scientific community at large. Even Benis, when contacted by Ars Technica, acknowledges that his idea is not "conventional wisdom." Still, it's one that he believes in and wants to disseminate.
Back in May, Benis says that he was approached by a Wikipedia user who had seen Benis' website and asked him to do an entry on NPA theory. Benis tells Ars that he agreed to do so and that he and his associates "tried our best to produce the finest possible article." This article was posted to Wikipedia, where it remained undisturbed for many months.
In late October, though, a user brought attention to the fact that the article had been written and edited almost exclusively by user "ABenis," and questions were raised about whether this was appropriate. Wikipedia has strict rules against vanity articles, and it didn't help that an article was created about Benis himself that some argued was his own work. Benis says that a Wikipedia editor actually authored the entry, but acknowledges that it "took the appearance of a vanity entry." After a lengthy discussion, both articles were eventually deleted—but on the grounds that they were not "notable" enough to merit inclusion in Wikipedia.
After the deletion decision was made, Benis took his article on NPA theory and put it up on its own website (it is also still available on Wikipedia France).
The entire affair seems hardly worthy of mention, except that it provides an illustration of how quickly stories like this one can be sensationalized. One of the bloggers who first described the incident eventually admitted that the writeup was "sensationalist", and he awarded user ABenis a purple barnstar "for blogging carelessly."
But the case also raises a pair of interesting questions. The first concerns the Wikipedian concept of "notability." The proposed guidelines for academic notability no doubt keep thousands of academics from beginning brief vanity articles on themselves or writing up descriptions of their own pet projects, but Wikipedia is already stuffed with trivial topics—in fact, that's part of its charm. Where else can you learn about the 1980 computer game The Prisoner, read up on sixteen-year old Indy rapper Grand, or find hundreds of words of plot summary for Robin Hood: Men in Tights?
The other question is whether interested parties ought to be contributing material to the site. On the one hand, people like Benis are in the best position to know about their own line of work. On the other, obvious conflicts of interest arise, and users would be rightfully skeptical of the information's accuracy. But where does the line get drawn? People already contribute information to Wikipedia for topics they care about. Knowing when they are too involved in an industry/field of study/fan club to be objective can be almost impossible work.
Wikipedia in the news
Wikipedia continues to make headlines, but most of those seem to concern the site's accuracy, massive size, or safety from viruses. That's right—the BBC is reporting that the German Wikipedia was vandalized to include a link to a virus, though such events are simply inevitable outcomes of the Encyclopedia's decision to let all users post material. Showing that the moderating system does a good job of catching this type of thing, Wikipedia users quickly removed the offending link.
Wikipedia continues to grow, but that growth may be slowing. In October, Wikipedia added 49,220 articles to its database, the fewest of any month in the last year. For the project as a whole (including other languages), last month was the lowest one since April.
The site has become a staple resource for students, often to the chagrin of teachers, but a (totally unscientific) look at three sample articles shows that Wikipedia can hold up quite well to scrutiny. The Chronicle of Higher Education asked three college professors to critique articles chosen from their fields of study.
The article on Aldous Huxley's Brave New World earned a B-, with Dr. Peter Firchow noting that "it's clearly lacking an editorial hand to smooth out the inconsistencies." "African-American Civil-Rights Movement" was given a C by Dr. Doug McAdam, who notes that he "would not direct a student to this site," but does say that "it isn't bad in a lowest-common-denominator encyclopedia sense." Finally, "Flow Cytometry" was examined by Dr. J. Paul Robinson, who gave the article an A. Robinson appreciated the main entry, but noted that the subsections were less accurate. "I went in and actually made some corrections to these," he said, telling himself, "I can't leave these and let the record stand like this."
Attackers Dig Into Zero-Day Flaw
An "extremely critical" vulnerability has been discovered in Microsoft's XML Core Services, according to several security companies.
The vulnerability, which affects only systems running Internet Explorer, is caused by an unspecified error in the XMLHTTP 4.0 ActiveX Control and could be used to seize control of an affected system, according to an advisory from Secunia, a security company based in Denmark.
IBM-owned ISS X-Force detailed on its site the kind of damage that could be caused by the vulnerability.
"This could lead to loss of confidential information, disruption of business, or further compromise," according to the security company.
For the vulnerability to be exploited, a user would have to visit a malicious Web site, Secunia said.
Microsoft acknowledged that the bug is already being exploited, in a note posted to the company's site.
"We are aware of limited attacks that are attempting to use the reported vulnerability," Microsoft said.
Some of the software that may be affected includes Windows 2000, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003.
People running Windows Server 2003 and 2003 Service Pack 1 in the default configuration with the Enhanced Security Configuration turned on aren't affected, Microsoft said.
Microsoft will determine, based on "customer needs," whether to release a patch during the company's monthly release process or an "out-of-cycle security update," the company said.
Microsoft's next patch release day is November 14.
Torrents of Users Turn P2P Leaders Towards Licences, Sales
Kate Bulkley: BitTorrent is considered by most content owners, including broadcasters and studios, as a scourge because it encourages the illegal sharing of content. How do you respond to that?
Ashwin Navin: BitTorrent grew because people were using it to publish unlicensed TV shows and music and, big surprise, people like to download TV shows and movies and music, so now we've got 80 million people out there that have the software. The idea now is to convert this user base into paying customers. BitTorrent was never specifically designed for the purpose of stealing content, but it was designed to deliver content efficiently, and if we can be a distributor of content using our tools we can be more efficient than all of our competitors. Hopefully that will mean more margin for the publishers and better quality for the consumer.
KB: That sounds good, but a lot of people would say peer-to-peer networks and content protection are oxymorons.
AN: Five years from now we will be laughing about that because every service online uses some kind of peer-to-peer delivery. As file sizes get richer and bigger, P2P is fundamentally the only way to deliver content on the internet without breaking the internet itself. BitTorrent doesn't get in the way of content protection. It is actually a separate layer.
KB: This all sounds very rational and grown-up and is the future that you are trying to invent for BitTorrent, but when BitTorrent was founded in 2001 by Bram Cohen it was a very different story - it was more of a Napster, I mean the original Napster.
AN: Actually, from the day Bram founded BitTorrent it was a web-publishing tool and very controllable and distinct from other layers of service and technology that would be required to make it viable. Bram Cohen committed the grave crime of giving away this powerful tool for free! Anyone would consider that a crime because he never benefited from its use. Now that we have got this large number of users on BitTorrrent, we think there is huge commercial value in becoming a distributor of content.
To be clear, file sharing is one application of P2P. Napster, Grokster and Kazaa basically made a directory available to the public in exchange for everyone else's directory. BitTorrent doesn't work that way at all. BitTorrent uses P2P as a means to an end, so it is invisible to the user.
KB: You joined BitTorrrent in 2004, three years after Bram founded the company. You came into the company to create a business model, correct?
AN: Well, let's just say that before I joined, Bram had a phenomenally successful T-shirt company. (The only way BitTorrent was getting money was through donations and selling T-shirts.) It took a certain amount of convincing to actually point him in the direction of a commercial entity.
KB: The judicial system in the US has taken a dim view of peer-to-peer: Grokster is out of business. Why is BitTorrent still around?
AN: If your technology looks like it was designed for illegal purposes, you'll be held liable for it. It's kind of like the pornography standard. I can't define it but I know it when I see it, and that is basically what the court handed down. From the beginning of BitTorrent, Bram vociferously discouraged the use of BitTorrent for piracy and warned users there is no anonymity.
KB: So now the plan is to license content and sell it, but what about monetising the traffic you have? You already have some advertising. How is that going?
AN: BitTorrent does have a lot of traffic and we make some money from advertising, but that's not where we think we'll be wildly profitable.
KB: So the wildly profitable part means you need to license content, and so far you've signed a licensing deal with one studio, Warner Bros. But you haven't actually started offering any paid-for content yet. Why's that?
AN: What we want to show the world is that BitTorrent is the most efficient way to deliver content and there are attractive legal purposes for it. The second phase beyond that is to take the core component of the BitTorrent delivery system and make it available for a fee for anyone who has a website and wants to deliver content efficiently.
KB: And why is the Warner Bros deal the only one you've signed so far? Are you still proving the technology?
AN: We haven't announced any other deals but we've been quite successful working with all the other studios.
KB: Apple has licensed TV shows such as Lost and Desperate Housewives on the iPod. There's lots of other content on other sites, more each day. Why wait, or is it a case of you not being able to get the deals you need?
AN: The idea is to get a comprehensive catalogue. We also want to offer high-quality, fast downloads so it is a good experience to discover not only major content, but also independently created, high-quality content.
KB: So you are still working on the technology. Clearly a big part of that is the copyright protection software. How do you convince the Warner Bros of the world that you can protect their shows?
AN: There will never be a digital rights management (DRM) system that works (universally). It's sort of like expecting a $75 door lock to protect all your valuables. Fundamentally, you've got to get to a speed bump that works for 90 per cent of the users. Ten per cent of the users may have the interest and time to break something that is available for sale for $1, but most people aren't going to bother with that. At our launch, we are using Windows DRM, which is the accepted standard today. We're always looking for a standard that is independently created, cross-platform, and the studios are as well, especially when they see that Apple and Microsoft are starting to exert their control and lock in users.
KB: So what's the solution to having Apple or Microsoft dictate terms?
AN: I think the next phase is about DRM-free. It will be like the watermarked approach, so that content is labelled as mine and the process of putting it up on a P2P network is not attractive because I paid for it and so others should probably pay for it, too. Do I want something with my name on it all over the web? No. So that can be a pretty effective form of copy protection.
KB: What is your view on the pricing for these kinds of offers? I mean, your 80 million users are getting this stuff for free now.
AN: One of the things that seems to be proven is that consumers need a consistent pricing framework. The pricing needs to be commensurate with the value proposition of getting a digital download and so we are learning from others. We are shaping that up.
KB: What about user-generated content (UGC)? Will you encourage it and try to become YouTube 2?
AN: We care about the users who have created the content, not necessarily the people who have posted content that they haven't created or which they don't own.
Right now we have a submission tool that allows people to submit content on an invite-only basis.
KB: So, controlled UGC. Sounds like you don't see it as the future, which is interesting, given that Google just spent $1.6 billion to buy YouTube.
AN: People use BitTorrent to post UGC to their own sites and then our webcrawler picks it up. So instead of allowing people to post to their own sites, we are going to allow them to post to our site as well and therefore we hope to have a better connection with the artists and the file sharers. One thing about BitTorrent is we are all users as well.
KB: And all under the age of 25, no doubt?
AN: Well, I think the average age of BitTorrent staff is 29. But we in a sense don't need to do endless focus groups because we are the focus group!
Google Warns Against Changes to Australian Copyright Law
Internet search-engine giant Google has warned that proposed changes to Australia's copyright laws could drive the country back to "the pre-Internet era".
The warning came in a submission to Australia's senate on legislation Google said could open the way for copyright owners to take legal action against search engines for caching and archiving.
"Given the vast size of the Internet, it is impossible for a search engine to contact personally each owner of a web page to determine whether the owner desires its web page to be searched, indexed or cached," Google said Tuesday.
"If such advanced permission was required, the internet would promplty grind to a halt," Google's senior counsel and head of public policy Andrew McLaughlin told the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
Such requirements would "condemn the Australian public to the pre-internet era and will place them at a serious competitive disadvantage with those in other countries who have such access," McLaughlin said.
The Australian government says the new laws are designed to keep up with the fast pace of technological change, but McLaughlin said they failed to take into account the reality of how information was processed and provided online.
"Google believes that the bill fails significantly to bring Australia's Copyright Act fully into the digital age," it said.
Google has been locked in copyright disputes with several content providers globally, including Agence France-Presse, who have complained the Internet giant had used their material without permission or compensation.
Piracy Stats Don't Add Up
PIRACY statistics are labelled "self-serving hyperbole" in a draft government report.
'They're entitled to say they're not convinced, but not necessarily entitled to say it's unverified,' Jim Macnamara, BSAA chairman
A confidential briefing for the Attorney-General's Department, prepared by the zian Institute of Criminology, lashes the music and software sectors.
The draft of the institute's intellectual property crime report, sighted by The Australian shows that copyright owners "failed to explain" how they reached financial loss statistics used in lobbying activities and court cases.
Figures for 2005 from the global Business Software Association showing $361 million a year of lost sales in Australia are "unverified and epistemologically unreliable", the report says.
BSAA chairman Jim Macnamara said the figure was an extrapolation, but other studies had supported it.
"They're entitled to say they're not convinced, but not necessarily entitled to say it's unverified," he said.
The study, which says some of the statistics used by copyright owners are "absurd", will be redrafted after senior researchers disagreed with its conclusions.
Painting a picture of an industry seething with competitive jealousies, the report describes how "well-connected Canberra-based lobbyists" fight for government attention and police time on piracy.
Researcher Alex Malik, working for the AIC under a commission from the Attorney-General's Department and IP Australia, was particularly critical of the use of statistics in court.
"Of greatest concern is the potentially unqualified use of these statistics in courts of law," the draft reads.
Mr Malik declined to speak to The Australian, citing a confidentiality agreement.
Institute principal criminologist Russell Smith said the report was an early draft that was being edited by the agency.
"We wouldn't use language like that because it's not accurate, it's hyperbolic and overblown," he said.
"It was a very early draft written by a consultant, and we would want a chance to revise it.
"We have an extensive quality control system in the institute, so that drafts are read by most senior staff.
"The report hasn't been finalised. It's still being edited and revised."
Copyright owners have lobbied for several years to have a study done, hoping their figures will result in more law enforcement action on piracy.
The report, intended as a confidential government briefing, casts doubt on the methodology of some industry piracy studies.
It says the manager of the recording industry's anti-piracy arm, Music Industry Piracy Investigations, did not know how piracy estimates were calculated, as that work was done by the International Federation of Phonographic Industries in London.
Copyright owners often use street-value estimates to calculate losses, but this assumes that every person who bought pirated goods would otherwise have paid for a legitimate item, the report notes.
MIPI manager Sabiene Heindl defended the figures, which she said were based on local survey, research and seizure statistics, but compiled in Britain.
"The reason I wasn't personally aware of how they are prepared is because they are compiled by the IFPI," she said.
"They have a group that has been doing this for some time."
Ms Heindl said the report was not intended to be made public.
"We haven't had an opportunity to see the report," she said.
"My understanding is it wasn't to be a public document and that any submissions were to be considered confidential."
The most recent locally commissioned study was in the late 1990s, Mr Macnamara said.
Many copyright holders claimed links between piracy and organised crime, but AIC researcher had found nothing to support that view.
"Either there is no evidence of any links between piracy and organised crime or it is simply beyond the capacity of rights holders to identify these links," he wrote, adding that he was concerned about the way piracy figures were being used.
"It is inappropriate for courts and policy makers to accept at face value currently unsubstantiated statistics.
"Either these statistics must be withdrawn or the purveyors of these statistics must supply valid and transparent substantiation."
Some industry groups were reluctant to work with researchers, because of concern about data leaking to competitors.
Much of that has to do with a fight over access to resources.
"There is a perception among some rights holders that they are in competition with each other over limited federal government resources," the report says.
"They fear that if they reveal the nature of their relationships with government, such as the placement of well-connected Canberra lobbyists, they will jepordise their advantage."
New DVDs: Formidable 50: A DVD Collection Drawn From the Janus Vaults
In 1909 P. F. Collier & Son published a 50-volume set of the world’s great literature as chosen by Charles William Eliot, the president of Harvard. For the ambitious, go-getting Americans of the time, always eager to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the collection became an immediate success, and Mr. Eliot’s “five-foot shelf” found a place in countless American homes as it was published and republished over much of the 20th century.
Almost 100 years later, the Criterion Collection has issued a parallel compilation, “Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films.” Though it requires significantly less shelf space (about three and a half inches), this collection is just as useful as Mr. Eliot’s for cinematically curious Americans. Packaged in a brown fabric binder, the set includes an album of 50 DVDs drawn from the holdings of Janus Films, the distinguished distribution company founded in 1956, as well as a 240-page book of notes, credits and stills on all 50 titles.
Janus Films does not have quite the clout of Harvard, but it says a lot about the central role Janus has played in American film culture that the selections made by a modestly staffed for-profit distribution house have come to assume almost as much canonical authority as Mr. Eliot’s choices. Jean Renoir (“The Rules of the Game”) may have replaced Jean Racine, and Ingmar Bergman (“The Seventh Seal”) may have stepped in for Martin Luther, but it’s hard to argue with the artistic significance and historical importance of the great majority of the movies in this volume, an amazing number of which continue to figure on critics’ polls of the best films of all time.
There isn’t enough space here to catalog every title in “Essential Art House” (a complete list, along with a discount price on the set, can be found at the Criterion Collection Store, at store01.prostores.com/servlet/criterionco/Detail?no=31). Suffice it to say that if you attended a repertory theater in the 1960s or ’70s, took a film course in college or have seen more than one movie by Woody Allen, you have been exposed to at least some of the films in this collection: films like Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Avventura,” François Truffaut’s “400 Blows,” Fritz Lang’s “M,” Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” and Luis Buñuel’s “Viridiana,” along with dozens of others that constitute the backbone of the art house tradition.
These are movies to be returned to again and again — justification enough for owning Janus’s three-and-a-half-inch shelf, even with its breathtaking suggested retail price of $850. (In fairness, that breaks down to $17 a title, about half of what Criterion’s releases generally go for — though the discs in this collection don’t include the commentaries and other supplementary materials that give the Criterion discs their extra value.)
Janus Films was formed in Boston by Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey. They were friends from Harvard who had acquired the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., and the 55th Street Playhouse in Manhattan but were having trouble filling their schedules with the small number of films available from early specialized distributors like Walter Reade and Richard Davis.
Janus’s first acquisition was Pierre Braunberger’s documentary “Bullfight,” followed by two early films by an unknown Italian director named Federico Fellini, “The White Sheik” and “I Vitelloni.” All of them lost money (though “The White Sheik” is still part of the Janus library and is in the current set). Janus’s first hit came in 1958 in the unlikely form of “The Seventh Seal,” with its indelible image of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) engaged in a chess game with Death (Bengt Ekerot).
Other Bergman films followed — “Wild Strawberries” and “The Virgin Spring” are also part of the set — and then critical successes like Sergei Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible, Part II,” “The 400 Blows” and “L’Avventura.” But actual profits remained elusive.
For help, Mr. Haliday and Mr. Harvey turned to an old Harvard friend, William Becker, who in turn contacted an acquaintance of his own: Saul J. Turell, a documentary filmmaker who had been working in acquisitions for Walter Reade. “I asked Saul if he wanted to join me in taking over Janus Films,” said Mr. Becker, speaking from Los Angeles, where he was searching for new acquisitions at the American Film Market. “And he said yes, and that’s how it all happened.”
Janus might have remained just another independent distribution company, but its new owners had a eureka moment. The landscape was littered with important European films that had never been distributed in the United States or had had their original licensing deals expire. With new public television outlets and revival theaters springing up around the country, these films seemed unlikely to lose their value over the years. At a time when rights to a foreign film in the United States could be had for less than $50,000, Mr. Becker and Mr. Turell (who died in 1986) set about systematically acquiring the most prestigious films available, including some Hollywood classics.
“We made a deal with RKO for a few little films like ‘Citizen Kane,’ ‘King Kong’ and ‘Top Hat,’ ” Mr. Becker recalled. “The principal buyer was me, but we all put our heads together.”
Armed with its formidable library, Janus no longer had to depend on theatrical bookings to do business: the 16-millimeter, nontheatrical business — aimed at colleges and local film societies — exploded as the 60s gave way to the 70s. In the 1980s, when the nontheatrical business collapsed in the face of competition from home video, Janus was ready again. In 1983 it formed a partnership with a start-up laser disc company, the Criterion Collection, and pioneered the use of supplementary materials and filmmakers’ commentaries. By the time Jonathan Turell and Peter Becker, sons of the founders, joined Janus in 1993, DVDs were about to take off, and Criterion, thanks to its experience in laser discs, was already ahead of the game.
Peter Becker, who became the president of Criterion in 1997 and helped to introduce the DVD line a year later, credits his forebears with the company’s success. “The whole Criterion idea is a direct outgrowth of the philosophy that Janus developed” over its history, he said from his New York office. “Janus had the insight that, much like the Penguin Classics or the Modern Library, there is a place for a curated collection of classic films — that cinema art is there to be collected like any other art.”
“The reason we created this 50-disc set was as much for ourselves as anything else,” Mr. Becker said. “We felt that we needed to create an appropriate and substantial milestone for this legacy. There aren’t a lot of small, independent companies, especially in the media business, that get to be 50 years old at all.”
A Vanishing Act for ‘Lost,’ as It Takes a 13-Week Break
After little more than a month of thrills and twists that have some fans feeling that the show is at its best ever, “Lost” is disappearing into the wilderness.
After tonight’s episode, only the sixth of the still-young fall television season, ABC will take “Lost” off the air for 13 weeks. The show will return on Feb. 7 for a run of 16 or 17 new episodes that will carry viewers into late May.
But the midyear split season is a scheduling gambit that could have enormous consequences not only for ABC, but also for the entire genre of serialized television drama, testing whether audiences are loyal enough to expensive, complex shows to weather long midseason interruptions.
Lengthy delays between seasons is a characteristic common to HBO and other premium channels, which have put popular series like “The Sopranos” on extended breaks to accommodate the plotting, script writing, filming and production schedules required to produce such cinematic shows.
But it is highly unusual for broadcast television, which still mostly adheres to a September-to-May season, to remove a show entirely from the schedule for three months in midyear.
“We would love to have 35 weeks of uninterrupted episodes,” said Jeffrey D. Bader, an executive vice president at ABC Entertainment who is responsible for planning and scheduling the network’s prime-time programming. “But the ‘Lost’ air schedule is dependent on the production schedule. And like all one-hour dramas, only a certain number of episodes can be delivered for the fall.”
This season’s split schedule is partly the result of backlash from fans who complained loudly last season about the frequent interspersing of new episodes with repeats. At its annual meeting with advertisers in New York last spring, Stephen McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment, promised to address those complaints.
Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, executive producers of “Lost,” said they believed this season’s scheduling would help fans follow the show better.
“Last season we would try to build a narrative arc over three or four weeks, and then it would just die with three or four repeats,” Mr. Cuse said. “We didn’t want to be in a situation this year where the audience would tune in and be confused whether an original episode was on or not.”
But the schedule could still cause confusion and dismay among “Lost” fans who do not spend most of their waking hours scouring recorded episodes and online fan sites for clues about the mysteries of the island where the show is set. If they tune in next Wednesday night at the usual time, they will be greeted with the first episode of “Day Break,” a new drama starring Taye Diggs, that has its own supernatural mysteries.
Part of the problem is that, as television dramas have become more like movies, the time required to produce a single episode has lengthened. Whereas dramas like “Marcus Welby, M.D.” might have required five days to shoot enough scenes to fill an hour of broadcast television, shows like “Lost” and the Fox hit “24” require eight days of filming, not including weekends.
Barry Jossen, the executive vice president for production at Touchstone Television, the studio that produces “Lost,” explained that, compared with shows like “Marcus Welby,” each episode of newer dramas has more scenes, more characters in each scene and more camera angles on each character.
Add in the time required to produce special effects, like the black-cloud monster that last week attacked the “Lost” character Mr. Eko, and the hours spent editing together all those scenes and camera angles, and it can take two weeks or more to create a one-hour show.
One solution might seem to be to start production earlier. But that is difficult with serialized shows, which have a season-long story line, meaning the whole season must be plotted in advance. Therefore more time must be spent writing and plotting in the summer, before actors begin stepping in front of the cameras.
Fox solves the problem by not putting “24” on the air until January, then running the show for 24 weeks straight, without interruption or repeat.
Mr. Bader said that ABC considered that, but other factors worked against it.
“We knew this would be a risky fall for us,” he said. “Monday Night Football” moved from ABC to ESPN this year, leaving a hole in the network’s prime-time schedule. The network also moved “Grey’s Anatomy” from Sunday nights to Thursday and, uncertain what the results of that move would be, decided that it could not afford to keep another signature franchise, “Lost,” off the fall schedule, he said.
Creating an extended, continuous season would require a different approach. “We could say, O.K., ‘Lost’ will be on for 30 weeks without interruption,” Mr. Bader said. “But to produce that many shows, we wouldn’t be able to do a season next year,” and viewers would have to wait until the 2008-9 season for the next installments.
Instead, ABC hopes to keep “Lost” fans enticed over the next three months with what it is calling “ ‘Lost’ Nuggets”: 30-second promotional clips of scenes from episodes not yet broadcast that will hint at what will become of the island castaways when the show returns.
The “Nuggets” will be shown each week during “Day Break,” although ABC is not saying at what time, meaning “Lost” fans will have to watch the new show or fast-forward through their digitally recorded files to unearth the clues.
Film: Where Horror Meets Art House
Makers of horror movies tend to fall into two main categories: gloomy types with dark- ringed eyes and nicotine-stained fingers, and big, jolly men (and men they mostly are; it's not a genre that attracts many women) who seem almost unnaturally well adjusted, as if they had worked out most of their obsessions and antisocial instincts through the fantasies they put on film.
Guillermo del Toro falls under the second category. A large, round man with long, reddish-brown hair, wire- rimmed glasses and a scraggly beard, del Toro, who was born in Guadalajara 42 years ago, comes across as a Mexican Santa Claus, full of cheer and infectious good humor. And yet the horror films he has made are some of the most unsettling and darkly poetic of the last two decades. "Within fantasy," del Toro said on a recent visit to New York, "you can explore anything."
His directing debut, released in 1993, was the internationally successful "Cronos," a modern vampire tale in which a Mexico City antiquarian (the Argentine actor Federico Luppi) discovers an ancient mechanism hidden by an alchemist in the base of a statue.
Del Toro's newest feature, "Pan's Labyrinth," shot in Spain and set for wide release this month and next month takes place in 1939, when the Spanish Civil War is coming to its horrendous conclusion. A little girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), accompanies her mother and her new stepfather, a fascist officer, Captain Vidal (Sergi López), to a remote area in northern Spain where fascist troops have been assigned to clean up what is left of the Republican resistance.
In an unconscious gesture of self- protection, Ofelia transforms the brutality she is forced to witness into a fairy story of her own imagining, in which another authority figure, no less than the Great God Pan (played by the mime Doug Jones) lures her into the secret world that lies beneath the labyrinth in the ruined garden behind the abandoned mill that serves as military headquarters. Ofelia's experiences below ground begin as an escape from reality, but reality creeps into the fantasy too. Pan, in his cruelty and insistence on unthinking obedience, becomes Captain Vidal's supernatural double, driving the girl into ever more terrifying tests of courage and resolve.
Underground refuges are a motif that runs through del Toro's films, along with giants, statues, keys, daggers, clocks and clockwork, and insects. His first American film, the 1997 "Mimic," imagined giant cockroaches living in the New York subways.
Alfonso Cuarón, a Mexican filmmaker ("Y Tu Mamá También" and the forthcoming "Children of Men") who is one of del Toro's oldest friends and a producer of "Pan's Labyrinth," said: "Guillermo was always the lonely child. There's a lot of him in the lonely little girls and boys he always portrays in his films. His stories are always about innocence, and he has an innocence that is very contagious, and helps you reconnect with your own. But at the same time it's a kind of innocence that is almost perverse."
After attending the University of Guadalajara, del Toro learned makeup and special effects under the American master Dick Smith. He established his own special-effects company, Necropia, and worked on films in several capacities, including boom operator, production assistant and assistant director, as well as makeup.
"My belief is that in order to be able to command, you need to learn to be able to obey," he said. "Otherwise as a director you are just a little dictator, living in a separate reality."
Cuarón and del Toro met in 1987, when both were working on a Mexican television series, "La Hora Marcada."
"We did a couple of other shows together,"' Cuarón continued, "and one day he said, 'You know, there's a story that's my most personal story and something I really love. I'd like to film it but - you know what? - you're going to be able to do it a lot more justice.' He told me the story, and I thought it was absolutely beautiful. It was called 'About Ogres,' but it was actually 'Pan's Labyrinth.'"
Del Toro is rare among contemporary filmmakers for his insistence on the primacy of the visual. "Ideally," he said, "images create their own narratives. My ideal film is a film with no dialogue."
"I get an idea of the theme first," he said. "And then the images immediately start to percolate. What I do then is open my diaries - right now I have three books, a sum of three hundred and some pages - and I check for ideas I like."
Del Toro's notebooks - as densely lettered and carefully illustrated as a Leonardo codex - are objects of beauty, and he insists on personally creating the many prop books with his own hand.
Both del Toro and Cuarón have been able to lead dual careers, alternating big-budget entertainments ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" for Cuarón, and "Blade II" and "Hellboy" for del Toro) with modestly budgeted, more personal films destined for art houses rather than multiplexes.
"Some people say, 'Why do you do a Hollywood movie and then do a Spanish movie?' It's because what I learn on 'Blade II' I put to use on 'Pan's Labyrinth,' where I use a mixing of makeup and prosthetic effect with computer graphics."
"You know," Cuarón reflected, "when you are a kid, you learn that you have to eat all of your cereal, because you know at the bottom of the cereal is a little plastic toy. And you eat all the cereal to get to the plastic toy. Guillermo and I used to say that the studio film is the cereal and that the plastic toy is the small movie.
"But we also have a secret that we swore not to tell anybody, which is that we love the cereal as much as the toy."
Man Held Without Bail in Murder of Actress
Thomas J. Lueck and Colin Moynihan
A 19-year-old construction worker who confessed to the police that he struck an actress in her Greenwich Village office and then left her hanging from a shower rod in her bathroom was ordered held without bail this morning pending a hearing next Tuesday.
Diego Pillco, the construction worker, appeared in State Supreme Court in Manhattan and was charged with second-degree murder in the death last week of Adrienne Shelly, which was initially believed to be a suicide.
Assistant District Attorney Marit Delozier said that Mr. Pillco made written and videotaped statements to the police that he had argued with Ms. Shelly after she complained about construction noise coming from an apartment below her office, at 15 Abingdon Square, in Greenwich Village.
"He admitted he fought with the victim," the prosecutor said at the brief hearing. "He tied a sheet around her neck and dragged her to the bathroom."
"This is an exceptionally egregious case."
After they argued, Mr. Pillco struck Ms. Shelly, leaving her unconscious, and then tried to cover up his crime by making it look like a suicide, Ms. Delozier said.
"This woman did not die from a strike to her head," Ms. Delozier told the court. "The medical examiner has made it clear, crystal clear, that the victim died from compression to the neck."
Mr. Pillco, a slightly-built man who was dressed in a gray and blue sweatshirt and jeans, said nothing during the hearing. His lawyer, Thomas Klein, asked that he be put under suicide watch.
Mr. Pillco, of Prospect Avenue in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, is a native of Ecuador who arrived in the city in July, police said. He had been working in a third-floor apartment directly beneath the one Ms. Shelly used as her office.
Ms. Shelly, 40, lived not far away on Varick Street with her husband, Andy Ostroy, and her daughter, Sophie. She used the Abingdon Square apartment as the base of a career that included leading or featured roles in two dozen Off Broadway plays as well as movies and television shows.
Ms. Delozier said that Ms. Shelly's husband dropped her off at the apartment that morning and did not speak to her all day. At 5:30 p.m., he went to meet her, and found her hanging from the shower rod.
Even though the death initially looked like a suicide, family members and friends were skeptical. Her show business career was thriving, they said, and she was a devoted mother to her 3-year-old daughter. They insisted that she would not have taken her own life.
"We have felt adamantly that what happened was not the result of suicide," Rachel Sheedy, Ms. Shelly's agent, said on Monday when she was informed of Mr. Pillco's arrest. "It is a great relief knowing that the police have taken us seriously."
Detectives from the Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village found few signs of trauma or struggle, and initially the death looked like a suicide. But the investigation soon showed signs of foul play.
"It appeared to be a suicide -- he staged it as a suicide," one investigator said. But he said investigators "never just accepted it for what it was staged to be."
They were particularly troubled by an unexplained footprint found in the bathroom. They examined the shoes of everyone who had entered the apartment, including police officers and emergency workers, but found no match for the print.
They canvassed the building, and found that renovation work was under way in some apartments. The detectives matched the footprint from Ms. Shelly's bathroom to one they found at one of the work sites, and then used the match to track down Mr. Pillco, the authorities said.
Ms. Shelly first gained recognition for her film roles in Hal Hartley's dark comedies "The Unbelievable Truth" and "Trust." She was featured last year in the movie "Factotum," starring Matt Dillon, and she had recently finished directing "Waitress," which is under consideration for inclusion in the Sundance Film Festival.
Ms. Shelly, born Adrienne Levine, was a Queens native who started performing as a child in arts camps on Long Island and upstate. She dropped out of Boston University after her junior year and moved to Manhattan.
Mr. Pillco was picked up Sunday night and taken to the Sixth Precinct station house, where he made his admissions early on Monday, investigators said. Neighbors at Mr. Pillco's apartment building said he was hard-working and respectful. He lived in a basement apartment with his cousin and held a variety of odd jobs, they said.
"He sent money home to his mother and father," said Frank Lingo, a neighbor. "He minded his business. He never bothered me or anyone else near here. He seemed like a good kid. I've never seen him hang out."
Chris Pannhorse, another neighbor, said: "He was always respectful to me and my wife. He's a good kid. Because that is what he is to me, just a kid."
The arrest came after a memorial service for Ms. Shelly on Sunday that drew hundreds of mourners.
According to The New York Post, Mr. Ostroy spoke at the service, repeating his insistence that his wife would not have committed suicide.
"There's no way on this planet that she would have left that child," he said. "Nobody is ever going to tell me that woman walked away from Sophie."
Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Kate Hammer, Daryl Khan, William K. Rashbaum, Emily Vasquez and Maria Newman.
Gates says Russia is Progressing on Software Piracy
MOSCOW (AP) - Microsoft Corp. chairman and co-founder Bill Gates said Tuesday that Russia has made progress tackling software piracy, a problem that has threatened the country's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Knockoffs of the latest computer programs can be had from stalls and markets around Moscow for just a few dollars, and pirated films, music and software in Russia cost U.S. companies nearly $1.8 billion in 2005, according to the International Intellectual Property Association. Despite Microsoft being one of the main victims of the pirates, Gates praised Russia's efforts to rein them in.
``A lot has been done in the past two years,'' he said in televised comments.
At a Microsoft-organized business forum later in the day, Gates also promised that handwriting-recognizing tablet PCs would be ubiquitous in five to 10 years, revolutionizing the way people learn, and eventually cost less than a set of textbooks.
``We'll spend billions to make that a reality,'' he said.
As well as making a sales pitch for Microsoft's Office 2007 and Vista -- the first update of Microsoft's operating system since 2001 -- Gates touched on the subject of education in his speech, promising that a part of Microsoft's $7 billion annual investments into research and development would be spent on advancing software for tablet PCs.
Gates said the company was also making it a priority to develop software that would unify users' disparate gadgetry.
``We want to get these devices to work together, to make them more user-centric,'' he said, and noted that eventually ``the ease of moving between devices will be very, very high -- because software is taking care of that responsibility.''
In a selection of questions submitted in advance on the Internet, Gates was asked if he would change anything about the way he had built Microsoft. With a few exceptions, he said he was satisfied.
``I'd be afraid to turn back time and risk that it wouldn't come out so good ... so, no complaints,'' he said.
Should Microsoft have pursued Internet search engines more aggressively given Google Inc.'s stellar rise?
``Yeah, that would have been nice,'' Gates said. ``But we'll be fine.''
Gates' Moscow visit was part of an international tour that saw him speak in Munich on Monday and takes him to Riyadh and Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday.
At the Microsoft Business Forum, Gates said that Russia's strong tradition in educating scientists and mathematicians meant that the country would have a key role to play in the global high-tech sector.
The popularity of computer science and mathematics among students in the U.S. is declining, Gates said. ``Its ironic, but ... this scarcity will create opportunities (for Russia).''
Half of university students in Russia study science and technology, according to industry data, contributing to one of the biggest technology talent pools anywhere in the world.
Gates used a meeting earlier in the day with Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to stress the importance of the Internet as an educational tool and pledge support for the government's efforts to bring the countries' schools online.
``Russia is a highly educated country, but the level of literacy includes computer literacy,'' he was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency. ``We are ready to help cooperate with the government in the field of education so that all the potential of modern technology can be realized.''
Bill Gates Says West Not Supplying Enough IT Talent
A shortage of information technology graduates from Western universities is leading companies to call on developing countries to meet research demand, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said on Tuesday.
After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia's internationally renowned education system became a cheap talent pool for the West. Now dozens of Russian language Web sites offer computer programming jobs in the United States, alongside visa support and language training.
"Worldwide, a lot of the developed countries are not graduating as many IT students as they were in the past, which is kind of ironic as it does mean it does increase the opportunities," Gates said.
Russia loses around 700,000 people each year -- about 0.5 percent of its total population -- to emigration, disease and alcoholism.
Many Western firms have also outsourced data management, software development and other high tech operations to lower cost operators in Asia, where education standards are high in some countries but wages are still comparatively low.
"There is a shortage of IT skills on a worldwide basis. Anybody who can get those skills here now will have a lot of opportunity," Gates said.
Gates spoke for about 30 minutes at the 2006 Microsoft Business Forum in Moscow in a speech in which he emphasized the need to retain the pace of research in the IT sector.
He said roll-up and stuff-in-your-pocket screens would be available in the next few years and students would study from portable computer tablets that act as interactive tutors.
"The curriculum will be redesigned in such a way around that device," he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Gates attended a seminar on innovation and information technology for regional officials from across Russia alongside First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a man touted as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin, whose second and final term in office expires in 2008.
(Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov)
Google Positioning for Move Into U.S. Radio
Web search leader Google Inc. is hiring scores of radio sales people and is spending heavily in a bid to expand its position in the $20 billion radio industry.
Google spokesman Michael Mayzel said this week that the company will begin a public test of Google Audio Ads by the end of the year. Advertisers will be able to go online and sign up for targeted radio ads using the same AdWords system they use to buy Web search ads.
Google is generally testing its ability to move into offline media, this week saying it would help customers buy advertisements in 50 U.S. newspapers.
It made a clear move into radio in January when it agreed to pay more than $1 billion, depending on performance, for dMarc Broadcasting Inc., which connects advertisers to radio stations through an automated advertising system.
It's all part of what Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt has said is an investment in radio advertising that could grow over time to include up to 1,000 Google employees -- not just in ad sales, but also in engineering and operations.
The fast-growing Silicon Valley Internet company had 9,378 employees in September.
"Google is hiring salespeople in most major markets and they're hiring sales people to sell radio. They're paying about 50 percent more than a typical radio sales person might make," said Bill Figenshu, chief operating officer of Softwave Media Exchange Inc, a unit of SWMX Inc.
Figenshu said three people he had spoken with believed Google was in talks to buy about $1 billion in radio advertising inventory from Clear Channel Communications Inc. Softwave Media Exchange sells radio ads online and competes with Google's dMarc.
Google declined to elaborate on its plans.
Google's move into radio comes at a time when Clear Channel, the biggest radio station operator, is weighing a possible sale of the company.
Clear Channel, which controls an estimated 20 percent of local radio industry revenues, declined to comment on recent reports that Google could take a stake in the radio company, perhaps as part of a buyout led by private equity firms.
Clear Channel's stock closed up 9 cents to $34.54 a share on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, while Google's stock fell 0.92 percent, or $4.38, to $472.57 a share on Nasdaq. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts.
In a recent research report, RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank said he was perplexed by Google's hirings, since they are being made before it has significant radio advertising inventory to sell.
"While there are other possibilities, we believe there's a reasonable chance Google Audio is establishing critical mass in anticipation of a major acquisition of prime inventory. Our sense from recent discussions with industry players has been most radio operators are reluctant to offer prime inventory to Google Audio," he said.
Bank said Clear Channel's size and potential sale make it a likely source of inventory for Google, either through Google taking a modest investment in a leveraged buyout or by taking a stake in the company's current incarnation.
Two private equity consortia are looking into making bids for Clear Channel, sources familiar with the matter said late last month. Analysts estimated an offer could approach $40 per share, valuing the company at just under $20 billion.
Other industry sources said Google had been approaching all the radio operators in recent weeks.
"They've been going around to all the radio groups, trying to do deals. It seems like a good time to be doing this because business is so slow, There's a lot of inventory," said one industry executive.
(Additional reporting by Eric Auchard in San Francisco)
For Start-Ups, Web Success on the Cheap
When Seth J. Sternberg and two colleagues started Meebo, a Web-based instant-messaging service, they didn’t go looking for venture capitalists. Using their credit cards, they financed the company themselves to the tune of $2,000 apiece. It was enough to cover their biggest expense — leasing a few computer servers at $120 a month each.
Within a month of its introduction in September 2005, Meebo was getting as many as 50,000 log-ins a day, and it needed more servers. It decided to take a modest $100,000 from three angel investors, wealthy individuals who typically contribute small amounts but do not get involved in management decisions.
“We had a bunch of V.C.’s talking to us about potentially putting more money in,” Mr. Sternberg said. “We said no. A lot of things happen when you raise a V.C. round, and they really slow you down.”
Eventually, Meebo did raise money from venture investors — about $3.5 million from Sequoia Capital. But that was after the company was well on its way to showing that its service was a hit; Meebo had about 200,000 daily log-ins.
In the last couple of years, hundreds of other Internet start-up companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere have followed a similar trajectory. Unlike most companies formed during the first Internet boom, which were built on costly technology and marketing budgets, many of the current crop of Internet start-ups have gone from zero to 60 on a shoestring.
Some have gone without venture capital altogether or have raised far smaller sums than venture investors would have liked. Many were sold for millions before venture capitalists could even get in. That has been a challenge for venture capitalists, who have raised record amounts in recent years and need places to put that money to work.
“V.C.’s hate it; they want you to take big money,” said Jay Adelson, who is the chief executive of two start-ups, Digg and Revision3. Digg took some venture money, but far less than backers offered, and Revision3 has been running on about $850,000 raised from a group of angel investors.
Several venture firms are seeking to adapt. Just last week, Charles River Ventures announced it would offer loans of $250,000 to entrepreneurs as a way to gain access to promising start-ups. Other firms are also giving out small loans, albeit not as a part of any formal program.
For its part, Mohr Davidow Ventures has increased the number of “seed” investments — small sums given to embryonic companies — to about 10 a year from 5. And Union Square Ventures, which was formed in 2003, has made nearly half of its investments at $1 million or less, a departure from its initial plan to make first-round bets of $1 million to $3 million, according to its Web site.
“I think there is in the V.C. community a sense that the rules have changed or are changing,” said John Battelle, a journalist and entrepreneur, who is a host of a technology conference in San Francisco this week that will include a panel on the subject. “How does the V.C. who is set up for a model that requires millions, if not tens of millions, revamp for a different scale?”
And as large firms try to go small, they are encountering a new crop of competitors who are happy to bankroll start-ups on the cheap and are fueling the current Internet boom. They include a large pool of angel investors and a number of small venture funds whose specialty is to invest tens of thousands of dollars, or hundreds of thousands at most.
There is even a group called Y Combinator, whose rule of thumb for investing in start-ups is $6,000 per employee. One of its investments, Reddit, was acquired last week by Wired Digital, which is owned by Condé Nast Publications, for an undisclosed sum.
“I came to the conclusion that $500,000 was the new $5 million,” said Michael Maples Jr., an entrepreneur who created a $15 million venture fund aimed at investing in companies that required little capital. Mr. Maples sees himself not so much as a competitor to venture capitalists, but as someone who is filling the gap between angels, who may invest $250,000 or so in a start-up, and venture investors, whose typical early-stage bet is closer to $5 million.
Several forces are allowing companies to operate cheaply compared with the first Internet boom. They include the declining costs of hardware and bandwidth, the wide availability of open-source software, and the ability to generate revenue through online ads.
“It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur,” Joe Kraus, a veteran of the dot-com boom, wrote in a widely noted blog posting last year. Mr. Kraus said it took $3 million to get his first start-up, Excite.com, from idea to product, much of it spent on servers and software, which have since become much cheaper or even free. His new start-up, JotSpot, was started on just $100,000.
With the notable exception of YouTube, many recent acquisitions involved Internet start-ups that simply could not effectively use large amounts from venture capitalists or produce large returns, said Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist and blogger.
“The problem is that as a V.C., these companies don’t soak up enough capital,” Mr. Kedrosky said.
To succeed, a firm with a $250 million fund needs a handful of investments from $10 million to $15 million that can return payouts of $150 million or more, Mr. Kedrosky said. But even a twentyfold return on a $1 million investment will not do much for the success of a large fund, Mr. Kedrosky said.
For smaller funds, the economics are far different. For starters, those who manage them do not earn huge management fees. Instead, they are almost always among the largest investors in the fund, so they will earn a return if the investments pay off.
“I think large venture funds in this economic model have a challenge,” said Josh Kopelman, managing director of First Round Capital. Since starting First Round in 2004, Mr. Kopelman has made about 30 investments that range from $250,000 to $500,000. Mr. Kopelman, who made a fortune as a serial entrepreneur, is the largest investor in First Round’s $50 million fund.
Y Combinator is aiming at even smaller firms, and its approach is decidedly unorthodox. It chooses companies for financing in two batches of 8 to 12; one batch is selected in the winter from companies based in Silicon Valley, the other in the summer from those in Cambridge, Mass.
“When you change the amount of money, a lot of things change,” said Paul Graham, one of four partners in Y Combinator, who made millions when his company, Viaweb, was sold to Yahoo in 1998. “We have to mass-produce things. We can be more risky. We are like mice, and V.C.’s are more like elephants. They can only make a few deals, so each one has a whole amount of weight and worry attached to it.”
As for the target investment of $6,000 for each employee, an explanation on Y Combinator’s Web site makes it clear that Mr. Graham and his colleagues are not looking for computer science entrepreneurs who want to be pampered: “C.S. grad students at M.I.T. currently get $2,000/month to live on, so this represents three months’ living expenses. Though in fact most groups make it last longer.”
Established venture capitalists, however, say the new crop of capital-efficient start-ups represents an opportunity, not a problem.
“Companies have bootstrapped themselves in earlier eras,” said Gary Morgenthaler, a general partner at Morgenthaler Ventures. “There is no shortage of companies that need venture capital and company-building skills.”
Jon Feiber, a general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, said it was “incredibly good and healthy” that many Internet start-ups were able to do more with less.
“A small percentage of those companies will lend themselves to the model of a larger fund,” Mr. Feiber said. “If your goal is to generate something of huge value and scale, it is going to take more than $300,000 or $400,000.”
JotSpot, the company that Mr. Kraus started on $100,000, may fit that mold. The company eventually took in $4.5 million from a pair of venture capital firms, and last week it was acquired by Google for an undisclosed sum.
“I think it could be a great time to be a venture capitalist,” Mr. Kraus said in an interview. “Like in any competitive market, fear and hope are the two competing forces.” And for venture capitalists, the success of scrappy start-ups may simply be heightening the fear. “I think there is a lot of fear that people won’t get into the best deals,” Mr. Kraus said.
The Information Factories
The desktop is dead. Welcome to the Internet cloud, where massive facilities across the globe will store all the data you'll ever use. George Gilder on the dawning of the petabyte age.
THE DRIVE UP INTERSTATE 84, through the verdant amphitheatrical sweep of the Columbia River Gorge to the quaint Oregon town of The Dalles, seems a trek into an alluring American past. You pass ancient basalt bluffs riven by luminous waterfalls, glimpsed through a filigree of Douglas firs. You see signs leading to museums of native Americana full of feathery and leathery tribal relics. There are farms and fisheries, vineyards arrayed on hillsides, eagles and ospreys riding the winds. On the horizon, just a half hour's drive away, stands the radiant, snowcapped peak of Mount Hood, site of 11 glaciers, source of half a dozen rivers, and home of four-season skiing. "I could live here," I say to myself with a backward glance down the highway toward urban Portland, a sylvan dream of the billboarded corridor that connects Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
Then, as the road comes to an end, the gray ruin of an abandoned aluminum plant rises from a barren hillside. Its gothic gantries and cavernous smelters stand empty and forlorn, a poignant warning of the evanescence of industrial power.
But industry has returned to The Dalles, albeit industry with a decidedly postindustrial flavor. For it's here that Google has chosen to build its new 30‑acre campus, the base for a server farm of unprecedented proportion.
Although the evergreen mazes, mountain majesties, and always-on skiing surely play a role, two amenities in particular make this the perfect site for a next-gen data center. One is a fiber-optic hub linked to Harbour Pointe, Washington, the coastal landing base of PC-1, a fiber-optic artery built to handle 640 Gbps that connects Asia to the US. A glassy extension cord snakes through all the town's major buildings, tapping into the greater Internet though NoaNet, a node of the experimental Internet2. The other attraction is The Dalles Dam and its 1.8‑gigawatt power station. The half-mile-long dam is a crucial source of cheap electrical power – once essential to aluminum smelting, now a strategic resource in the next phase in the digital revolution. Indeed, Google and other Silicon Valley titans are looking to the Columbia River to supply ceaseless cycles of electricity at about a fifth of what they would cost in the San Francisco Bay Area. Why? To feed the ravenous appetite of a new breed of computer.
Moore's law has a corollary that bears the name of Gordon Bell, the legendary engineer behind Digital Equipment's VAX line of advanced computers and now a principal researcher at Microsoft. According to Bell's law, every decade a new class of computer emerges from a hundredfold drop in the price of processing power. As we approach a billionth of a cent per byte of storage, and pennies per gigabit per second of bandwidth, what kind of machine labors to be born?
How will we feed it?
How will it be tamed?
And how soon will it, in its inevitable turn, become a dinosaur?
One characteristic of this new machine is clear. It arises from a world measured in the prefix giga, but its operating environment is the petascale. We're all petaphiles now, plugged into a world of petabytes, petaops, petaflops. Mouthing the prefix peta (signifying numbers of the magnitude 10 to the 15th power, a million billion) and the Latin verb petere (to search), we are doubly petacentric in our peregrinations through the hypertrophic network cloud.
Just last century – you remember it well, across the chasm of the crash – the PC was king. The mainframe was deposed and deceased. The desktop was the data center. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were nonprofit googoos babbling about searching their 150-gigabyte index of the Internet. When I wanted to electrify crowds with my uncanny sense of futurity, I would talk terascale (10 to the 12th power), describing a Web with an unimaginably enormous total of 15 terabytes of content.
Yawn. Today Google rules a total database of hundreds of petabytes, swelled every 24 hours by terabytes of Gmails, MySpace pages, and dancing-doggy videos – a relentless march of daily deltas, each larger than the whole Web of a decade ago. To make sense of it all, Page and Brin – with Microsoft, Yahoo, and Barry "QVC" Diller's Ask.com hot on their heels – are frantically taking the computer-on-a-chip and multiplying it, in massively parallel arrays, into a computer-on-a-planet.
The data centers these companies are building began as exercises in making the planet's ever-growing data pile searchable. Now, turbocharged with billions in Madison Avenue mad money for targeted advertisements, they're morphing into general-purpose computing platforms, vastly more powerful than any built before. All those PCs are still there, but they have less and less to do, as Google and the others take on more and more of the duties once delegated to the CPU. Optical networks, which move data over vast distances without degradation, allow computing to migrate to wherever power is cheapest. Thus, the new computing architecture scales across Earth's surface. Ironically, this emerging architecture is interlinked by the very technology that was supposed to be Big Computing's downfall: the Internet.
In the PC era, the winners were companies that dominated the microcosm of the silicon chip. The new age of petacomputing will be ruled by the masters of the remote data center – those who optimally manage processing power, electricity, bandwidth, storage, and location. They will leverage the Net to provide not only search, but also the panoply of applications formerly housed on the desktop. For the moment, at least, the dawning era favors scale in hardware rather than software applications, and centralized operations management rather than operating systems at the network's edge. The burden of playing catch-up in this new game may be what prompted Bill Gates to hand over technical leadership at Microsoft to Craig Mundie, a supercomputer expert, and Ray Ozzie, who made his name in network-based enterprise software with Lotus and Groove Networks.
Having clambered well up the petascale slope, Google has a privileged view of the future it is building – a perspective it's understandably reticent to share. Proud of their front end of public search and advertising algorithms, the G-men hide their hardware coup behind an aw-shucks, bought-it-at-Fry's facade. They resist the notion that their advantage springs chiefly from mastering the intricate dynamics of a newly recentralized computing architecture. This modesty may be disingenuous, of course, but amid the perpetual onrush of technological innovation, it may well be the soul of wisdom. After all, the advantage might turn out to be short-lived.
BACK IN 1993, in a midnight email to me from his office at Sun Microsystems, CTO Eric Schmidt envisioned the future: "When the network becomes as fast as the processor, the computer hollows out and spreads across the network." His then-employer publicized this notion in a compact phrase: The network is the computer. But Sun's hardware honchos failed to absorb Schmidt's CEO-in-the-making punch line. In which direction would the profits from that transformation flow? "Not to the companies making the fastest processors or best operating systems," he prophesied, "but to the companies with the best networks and the best search and sort algorithms."
Schmidt wasn't just talking. He left Sun and, after a stint as CEO of Novell, joined Google, where he found himself engulfed by the future he had predicted. While competitors like Excite, Inktomi, and Yahoo were building out their networks with SPARCstations and IBM mainframes, Google designed and manufactured its own servers from commodity components made by Intel and Seagate. In a 2005 technical article, operations chief Urs Hölzle explained why. The price of high-end processors "goes up nonlinearly with performance," he observed. Connecting innumerable cheap processors in parallel offered at least a theoretical chance for a scalable system, in which bang for the buck didn't erode as the system grew.
Today, Schmidt's insight has been vindicated, and he's often seen on Google's Mountain View, California, campus wearing his comp-sci PhD's goofy dimpled grin. The smile has grown toothier since he announced the plant in The Dalles, a manifestation of what he trumpets as "some of the best computer science ever performed." When it's finished, the project will spread tens of thousands of servers across a few giant structures. By building its own infrastructure rather than relying on commercial data centers, Schmidt told analysts in May, Google gets "tremendous competitive advantage."
The facility in The Dalles is only the latest and most advanced of about two dozen Google data centers, which stretch from Silicon Valley to Dublin. All told, it's a staggering collection of hardware, whose constituent servers number 450,000, according to the lowest estimate.
The extended Googleplex comprises an estimated 200 petabytes of hard disk storage – enough to copy the Net's entire sprawling cornucopia dozens of times – and four petabytes of RAM. To handle the current load of 100 million queries a day, its collective input-output bandwidth must be in the neighborhood of 3 petabits per second.
Of course, these numbers are educated guesses. One of the unstated rules of the new arms race is that all information is strategic. Even the once-voluble Chairman Eric now hides behind PR walls. I had to battle hoards of polite but steadfast flacks to reach him, but he finally replied to my queries with a cordial email. Cloud computing, he confirmed, has indeed succeeded the old high-performance staples: mainframes and client-server, both of which require local-area networks. This is very much last year's news. "In this architecture, the data is mostly resident on servers 'somewhere on the Internet' and the application runs on both the 'cloud servers' and the user's browser. When you use Google Gmail, Maps, Yahoo's services, many of eBay's services, you are using this architecture." He added: "The consequence of this 'architectural shift' is the return of massive data centers."
This change is as momentous as the industrial-age shift from craft production to mass manufacture, from individual workers in separate shops turning out finished products step by step to massive factories that break up production into thousands of parts and perform them simultaneously. No single computer could update millions of auctions in real time, as eBay does, and no one machine could track thousands of stock portfolios made up of offerings on all the world's exchanges, as Yahoo does. And those are, at most, terascale tasks. Page and Brin understood that with clever software, scores of thousands of cheap computers working in parallel could perform petascale tasks – like searching everything Yahoo, eBay, Amazon.com, and anyone else could shovel onto the Net. Google appears to have attained one of the holy grails of computer science: a scalable massively parallel architecture that can readily accommodate diverse software.
Google's core activity remains Web search. Having built a petascale search machine, though, the question naturally arose: What else could it do? Google's answer: just about anything. Thus the company's expanding portfolio of Web services: delivering ads (AdSense, AdWords), maps (Google Maps), videos (Google Video), scheduling (Google Calendar), transactions (Google Checkout), email (Gmail), and productivity software (Writely). The other heavyweights have followed suit.
Google's success stems from more than foresight, ingenuity, and chutzpah. In every era, the winning companies are those that waste what is abundant – as signalled by precipitously declining prices – in order to save what is scarce. Google has been profligate with the surfeits of data storage and backbone bandwidth. Conversely, it has been parsimonious with that most precious of resources, users' patience.
The recent explosion of hard disk storage capacity makes Moore's law look like a cockroach race. In 1991, a 100-megabyte drive cost $500, and a 50-megahertz Intel 486 processor cost about the same. In 2006, $500 buys a 750-gigabyte drive or a 3-gigahertz processor. Over 15 years, that's an advance of 7,500 times for the hard drive and 60 times for the processor. By this crude metric, the cost-effectiveness of hard drives grew 125 times faster than that of processors.
But the miraculous advance of disk storage concealed a problem: The larger and denser the individual disks, the longer it takes to scan them for information. "The little arm reading the disks can't move fast enough to handle the onrush of seeks," explains Josh Coates, a 32-year-old storage entrepreneur who founded Berkeley Data Systems. "The whole world stops."
The solution is to deploy huge amounts of random access memory. By the byte, RAM is some 100 times more costly than disk storage. Engineers normally conserve it obsessively, using all kinds of tricks to fool processors into treating disk drives as though they were RAM. But Google understands that the most precious resource is not money but time. Search users, it turns out, are sorely impatient. Research shows that they're satisfied with results delivered within a twentieth of a second. RAM can be accessed some 10,000 times faster than disks. So, measured by access time, RAM is 100 times cheaper than disk storage.
But it's not enough to reach users quickly. Google needs to reach them wherever they are. This requires access to the Net backbone, the long-haul fiber-optic lines that encircle the globe. In the last decade, the speed of backbone traffic has accelerated from 45 Mbps to roughly a terabit per second. That's a rise of more than 20,000 times. Google interconnects its hundreds of thousands of processors with gigabit Ethernet lines. The expense of placing gigantic data centers near major fiber-optic nodes is well worth the expense.
Wasting what is abundant to conserve what is scarce, the G-men have become the supreme entrepreneurs of the new millennium. However, past performance does not guarantee future returns. As large as the current Google database is, even bigger shocks are coming. An avalanche of digital video measured in exabytes (10 to the 18th power, or 1,000 petabytes) is hurtling down from the mountainsides of panicked Big Media and bubbling up from the YouTubian depths. The massively parallel, prodigally wasteful petascale computer has its work cut out for it.
THE FASTEST-GROWING search engine – besides Google – isn't Microsoft or Yahoo or AOL. It's Ask.com, which has seen its total searches grow 20 percent this year. Like Google, Ask.com has built a petascale computer out of commodity CPUs, hard disks, and RAM chips. And while Google doesn't permit outsiders to ogle the hardware inside its data centers, Ask.com is eager for the attention.
The East Coast branch of Ask.com's machine occupies a 500,000-square-foot concrete structure at the end of a long and winding suburban road. The driveway runs a gauntlet of pylons bearing heavy gray power lines and festooned with smaller yellow fiber-optic cables. The windowless facility crouches behind a 10-foot-high chain-link fence in a drab tan camouflage that suggests military-level security. The building holds the central nervous system of not only Ask.com, which occupies more than half the space, but also other well-known information technology companies. Corporate logos are conspicuously absent.
The facility is run by telco giant Verizon. It was designed not for supercomputing but for communications, steering photons through glass threads and mostly copper switches toward their telephonic destinations. MCI, a Verizon acquisition, built it to accommodate UUNet, the premier high-end Internet service provider.
Arriving at a diminutive brown door discreetly designated MAIN ENTRANCE, I pass inside to be vetted by earnest security guards. Metal gates clank behind me as I step into a sirocco of lukewarm air blowing up from the floor. A sudden roar of machinery – fans, air conditioners, and power supplies all whirring together in a tangle of white noise – assaults my ears. The few workers attending to the endless rows of cabinets protect their eardrums with hulking orange muffs.
These cabinets once held as many as eight UUNet routers apiece. Now each 10-foot frame houses 42 black Dell PowerEdge servers, interconnected by a Rastafarian tangle of wires – tens of thousands of computers in total. Hovering above the cabinets like a midday emanation over Death Valley, a shimmering haze of heat signifies an awesome consumption of power.
If it's necessary to waste memory and bandwidth to dominate the petascale era, gorging on energy is an inescapable cost of doing business. Ask.com operations VP Dayne Sampson estimates that the five leading search companies together have some 2 million servers, each shedding 300 watts of heat annually, a total of 600 megawatts. These are linked to hard drives that dissipate perhaps another gigawatt. Fifty percent again as much power is required to cool this searing heat, for a total of 2.4 gigawatts. With a third of the incoming power already lost to the grid's inefficiencies, and half of what's left lost to power supplies, transformers, and converters, the total of electricity consumed by major search engines in 2006 approaches 5 gigawatts.
That's an impressive quantity of electricity. Five gigawatts is almost enough to power the Las Vegas metropolitan area – with all its hotels, casinos, restaurants, and convention centers – on the hottest day of the year. So the annual operation of the world's petascale search machines constitutes a Vegas-sized power sump. In the next year or so, it could add a dog-day Atlantic City. Air-conditioning will be the prime cost and conundrum of the petascale era. As energy analysts Peter Huber and Mark Mills projected in 1999, the planetary machine is on track to be consuming half of all the world's output of electricity by the end of this decade.
Google's Hölzle noticed the high electric bills after taking his post in 1999. At 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, power dominated his calculus of costs. "A power company could give away PCs and make a substantial profit selling power," he says. (At The Dalles, the huge protuberances on top are not giant disk drives, climbing to the rooftop for a smoke while the RAM below does the work, but an array of eight hulking cooling towers.)
The struggle to find an adequate supply of electricity explains the curious emptiness that afflicts some 30 percent of Ask.com's square footage. Why is the second-fastest-growing search engine one-third empty? "We ran out of power before we ran out of space," says search operations manager James Snow, a ponytailed refugee from an IBM acquisition. Not only does the Verizon facility lack a cheap power source, it struggles to get any further power at all; designed for the more modest needs of Internet switching, the building has already maxed out the local grid. Consequently, Ask.com's Sampson has followed Google's trail to the Columbia River, where he's scoping out properties. Perhaps by moving farther up the river into the Washington headwaters he can get even cheaper power than Google will get in The Dalles.
Microsoft and Yahoo are a few steps ahead of him, building me-too data centers in Quincy and Wenatchee, Washington, respectively. There they can take advantage of rock-bottom electricity prices as well as dark fiber laid by the Bonneville Power Administration. Patterning itself on Ronald Reagan's cold war strategy against the Soviet Union, Microsoft is headed toward spending two dollars on data centers and online services for every dollar spent by Google. As Microsoft Live operations chief Debra Chrapaty tells me, her company "added a Google" last year in search capability.
Microsoft's power consumption has risen 10 times in the last three years as it has come to serve Hotmail's 260 million users, MSN Messenger's 240 million, and Live's 320 million. Chrapaty projects a further tenfold rise in the next five years as the company's nine data centers, most scattered around the US, are joined with others around the globe. With a great sucking sound audible in Redmond as the Windows desktop disappears into the cloud, Microsoft has no choice but to damn the expense and forge ahead.
The catch-up crew at Ask.com may be wise to hold out for alternatives beyond the remote corners of the Pacific Northwest. After all, hydropower is a limited and localized resource, while nuclear power promises centuries of nearly limitless energy that can be produced almost anywhere. China is moving forward with plans to build as many as 30 new nuclear plants; perhaps the next wave of data centers will be sited in Shenzhen.
UNTIL HUMANKIND devises an inexhaustible font of electricity that can be situated wherever it's most convenient, the best hope for cooling overheated data centers is to make computers themselves more efficient. The dire state of data center economics (as well as customer demand for portable computers with a reasonable battery life) has driven chipmakers to throw all their weight behind efforts to design low-power chips. AMD's Opteron CPU, debuted in 2003, consumed significantly less power than its predecessors, reversing the trend toward higher speed and greater power consumption that had held since the microprocessor was invented. The Opteron upgrade this past summer brought an additional 30 percent reduction in power usage. Intel, introducing its competing Core architecture, recently acknowledged that the market now values energy efficiency over clock speed. But with the Internet's expansion and the migration of desktop applications online, these improvements won't be enough to avert a meltdown.
An even more daunting roadblock stands ahead: Further dramatic gains in efficiency may be physically impossible without radical breakthroughs in chip design. Microsoft's Craig Mundie bluntly describes the predicament. "We have now run into a brick wall," he says. "What brought all of us faster computing was raising the CPU's clock rate, which increased power consumption. Raising the clock rate without consuming more power was only possible because we could lower the voltage. We can't do that anymore because we're down into electron volts. If you can't lower the voltage, you can't raise the clock rate without using a lot more power."
If CPUs won't run much cooler, maybe the rest of the computer can be redesigned to keep power consumption to a minimum. That's the goal of Andy Bechtolsheim, who's plotting the compact, low-power future of the data center from his workbench at Sun. Bechtolsheim has fundamentally reconceived the way computers are put together, coupling CPUs directly to drives, angling drives for maximum air flow, and connecting fans directly to motherboards. He aims to bring data center computing capacity to the back office – without oversize air-conditioning trolls on the roof.
Some industry vets believe that Bechtolsheim doesn't count much in the era of cloud computing. He counted, though, back in 1998 when he supplied the first outside money for Brin and Page. Prior to that, he had made successive fortunes as Sun's founder and employee number one, as a major early investor in Microsoft, and as progenitor of Granite Systems, an inventor of gigabit Ethernet switches ultimately snapped up by Cisco. Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and Sun give him sort of a royal flush, making him perhaps the supreme investor-entrepreneur in Silicon Valley history.
Speaking at double data rate in a German accent, Bechtolsheim acknowledges that the move from search to more ambitious services plays to Google's advantage. "To deliver video, maps, and all the rest on the fly, optimized for a specific customer's needs, to get the maximum benefit for the advertiser – that requires tremendous hardware, storage, and memory. It takes hundreds of computers free to each end user. The next tier down doesn't have the economics to build this stuff."
I ask, "So is the game over?" Bechtolsheim's reply: "Only if no one changes the game."
Earlier this year, Sun presented new products that can dispense the entire Internet from a few bread boxes – using, curiously enough, industry-standard AMD Opteron processors, cheap hard disks, and industry-standard RAM. The Sun Fire X4600 is a modular hybrid data server and storage facility. Stacking 655 of these machines together, the Tokyo Institute of Technology created a 38-teraflop machine that has been recognized as one of the world's fastest supercomputers. And with 1-terabyte drives, available next year, Bechtolsheim will be able to pack the Net into three cabinets, consuming 200 kilowatts and occupying perhaps a tenth of a row at Ask.com. Replicating Google's 200 petabytes of hard drive capacity would take less than one data center row and consume less than 10 megawatts, about the typical annual usage of a US household.
Leaning back in his chair in a Sun conference room, Bechtolsheim observes, "The last few years have been disappointing for people who want to accelerate progress in technology. But now the world is moving faster again."
FOR THE MOMENT, at least, the power of massive parallelism has far outstripped the promise of alternative computing architectures. But reliance on massively parallel computing may come to define the limits of what can be accomplished by a computer-on-a-planet. Two decades ago, Carver Mead, the former head of computer science at Caltech and key contributor to several generations of chip technology, pointed out that a collection of chips arrayed in parallel can't do everything a computer might be called upon to do. "Parallel architectures," he noted, "are inherently special-purpose."
Hölzle admits as much. Since he arrived at Google, he says, the company has been through six or seven iterations of its search software and perhaps as many versions of the hardware backend. "It's impossible to decouple the two," he explains. "The search programs have to fit with the hardware systems, and the hardware systems have to work with the software."
All previous parallel architectures, from Danny Hillis' Thinking Machines to Seymour Cray's behemoth supercomputers to Jim Clark's Silicon Graphics workstations, have fallen before this problem. Their software and hardware became too specialized to keep up with the pace of innovation in computing. Scalability is also an issue: As the number of processors grows, the balance of activity between communications and processing skews toward communications. The pins that connect chips to boards become bottlenecks. With all the processors attempting to access memory at once, the gridlock becomes intractable. The problem has an acronym – NUMA, for nonuniform memory access – and it has never been solved.
Google apparently has responded by replicating everything everywhere. The system is intensively redundant; if one server fails, the other half million don't know or care. But this creates new challenges. The software must break up every problem into ever more parallel processes. In the end, each ingenious solution becomes the new problem of a specialized, even sclerotic, device. The petascale machine faces the peril of becoming a kludge.
Could that happen to Google and its followers?
Google's magical ability to distribute a search query among untold numbers of processors and integrate the results for delivery to a specific user demands the utmost central control. This triumph of centralization is a strange, belated vindication of Grosch's law, the claim by IBM's Herbert Grosch in 1953 that computer power rises by the square of the price. That is, the more costly the computer, the better its price-performance ratio. Low-cost computers could not compete. In the end, a few huge machines would serve all the world's computing needs. Such thinking supposedly prompted Grosch's colleague Thomas Watson to predict a total global computing market of five mainframes.
The advent of personal computers dealt Grosch's law a decisive defeat. Suddenly, inexpensive commodity desktop PCs were thousands of times more cost-effective than mainframes.
In this way, the success of the highly centralized computer-on-a-planet runs counter to the current that has swept the computer industry for decades. The advantages of the new architecture may last only until the centripetal forces pulling intelligence to the core of the network give way, once again, to the silicon centrifuge dispelling it to the edges. Google has pioneered the miracle play of wringing supercomputer performance from commodity CPUs, and this strategy is likely to succeed as long as microchip progress remains in the doldrums. But semiconductor and optical technologies are on the verge of a new leap forward.
The next wave of innovation will compress today's parallel solutions in an evolutionary convergence of electronics and optics: 3-D and even holographic memory cells; lasers inscribed on the tops of chips, replacing copper pins with streams of photons; and all-optical networks in which thousands of colors of light travel along a single fiber. As these advances find their way into an increasing variety of devices, the petascale computer will shrink from a dinosaur to a teleputer – the successor to today's handhelds – in your ear or in your signal path. It will access a variety of searchers and servers, enabling participation in metaverses beyond the ken of even Ray Kurzweil's prophetic imagination. Moreover, it will link to trillions of sensors around the globe, giving it a constant knowledge of the physical state of the world, from traffic conditions to the workings of your own biomachine.
Such advances promise to transform the calculus of storage, bandwidth, and power that gives centralization its current advantage. As the redoubtable Bell Labs engineer turned giga-investor Andy Kessler tells me, "It's sure to happen. It always has. Because all the creativity, customer whims, long tails, and money are at the network's edge. That's where chipmakers find the volumes that feed their Moore's law margins. That's where you can find elastically ascending revenues and relentlessly declining costs."
Amid the beckoning fantasies of futurism, the purpose of whatever comes next – like that of today's petapede – will be to serve the ultimate, and still the only general-purpose, petascale computer: the human brain. The brain demonstrates the superiority of the edge over the core: It's not agglomerated in a few air-conditioned nodes, but dispersed far and wide and interconnected via myriad sensory and media channels. The test of the new global ganglia of computers and cables, worldwide webs of glass and light and air, is how readily they take advantage of unexpected contributions from free human minds, in all their creativity and diversity. Search and you shall find.
Easy for you to say
A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues
The passionate, sometimes rhythmic, language-like patter that pours forth from religious people who “speak in tongues” reflects a state of mental possession, many of them say. Now they have some neuroscience to back them up.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior.
The images, appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, pinpoint the most active areas of the brain. The images are the first of their kind taken during this spoken religious practice, which has roots in the Old and New Testaments and in charismatic churches established in the United States around the turn of the 19th century. The women in the study were healthy, active churchgoers.
“The amazing thing was how the images supported people’s interpretation of what was happening,” said Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, leader of the study team, which included Donna Morgan, Nancy Wintering and Mark Waldman. “The way they describe it, and what they believe, is that God is talking through them,” he said.
Dr. Newberg is also a co-author of “Why We Believe What We Believe.”
In the study, the researchers used imaging techniques to track changes in blood flow in each woman’s brain in two conditions, once as she sang a gospel song and again while speaking in tongues. By comparing the patterns created by these two emotional, devotional activities, the researchers could pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.
Ms. Morgan, a co-author of the study, was also a research subject. She is a born-again Christian who says she considers the ability to speak in tongues a gift. “You’re aware of your surroundings,” she said. “You’re not really out of control. But you have no control over what’s happening. You’re just flowing. You’re in a realm of peace and comfort, and it’s a fantastic feeling.”
Contrary to what may be a common perception, studies suggest that people who speak in tongues rarely suffer from mental problems. A recent study of nearly 1,000 evangelical Christians in England found that those who engaged in the practice were more emotionally stable than those who did not. Researchers have identified at least two forms of the practice, one ecstatic and frenzied, the other subdued and nearly silent.
The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.
The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate. “The findings from the frontal lobes are very clear, and make sense, but the caudate is usually active when you have positive affect, pleasure, positive emotions,” said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. “So it’s not so clear what that finding says” about speaking in tongues.
The caudate area is also involved in motor and emotional control, Dr. Newberg said, so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.
Dell Customer Gets Windows Refund
Thanks to Dell, one UK Linux user has succeeded in the perennial quest to buy and use a laptop without paying for an unused bundled OS.
Dell today gave freelance programmer and sysadmin Dave Mitchell, of Sheffield, UK, a refund of 47 pounds ($89) for the unused copy of Microsoft Windows XP Home SP2 bundled with his new Dell Inspiron 640m laptop, Mitchell says. Dell also refunded the tax, for a total of £55.23 ($105).
With few laptops available without the so-called "Microsoft tax", Windows refund requests have long been a slow movement among Linux community organizers. A few Linux users have reported success, but most laptop vendors have refused to honor the refund clause in Microsoft's End User License Agreement (EULA) unless the user returns the entire laptop. A Dell spokesperson was not aware of any policy change.
The online version of the Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition EULA states, "You agree to be bound by the terms of this EULA by installing, copying, or otherwise using the software. If you do not agree, do not install, copy, or use the software; you may return it to your place of purchase for a full refund, if applicable."
The language in the version that Mitchell received was slightly different. It read, "If you do not agree to the terms of this EULA, you may not use or copy the software, and should promptly contact manufacturer for instructions on return of the unused product(s) for a refund in accordance with manufacturer's return policies."
Mitchell ordered his Dell laptop on Oct. 21, and it arrived on Oct. 27. He sent a postal letter requesting a refund to Dell's Bracknell, UK office on Nov. 1, received a phone call two days later, and his refund today, he says.
Dell has not yet requested that Mitchell return his Microsoft hologram sticker or any other materials bundled with the system. The laptop did not come with a Windows CD.
Mitchell was careful to document that he did not run the Microsoft product or accept the EULA. "I booted the laptop, then photographed every step of the boot process up to and including clicking on the XP 'no I don't accept' button. I also scrolled through each page of the EULA, taking a photo of each page," he wrote in an e-mail interview.
The MacArthur Foundation's Digital Drive
The nonprofit institution has launched a five-year initiative to study online culture and media literacy, and its impact on modern youth
The world is in the middle of a seismic societal shift. Young people actively produce much more content—digital and otherwise—than previous generations, who were more passive in their consumption of commercially-generated media. One in 100 adults online create a blog or personal Web page or share artwork, photos, stories, or videos. Yet more than half of online teens regularly create such content, according to recent research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
For this reason, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently launched a $50 million, five-year initiative to investigate how and why young people—who have been bathed in bits and bytes since birth—use the Web, computer games, cell phones, and other gadgets to learn, play, and communicate.
"It's clear that for many, the richest environment for learning is no longer inside the classroom but…online and after school," said MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton at the launch of the Digital Media & Learning Initiative at the end of October (the press conference was, appropriately, also streamed in real time in the Second Life virtual world). "That's our opening hypothesis. We believe there's a new interdisciplinary cross-sector in the making, and MacArthur wants to build and support this field of digital media and learning."
To nourish this nascent field, the MacArthur Foundation will give $10 million in grants to individuals and organizations to work on projects that stimulate research in digital media or explore new approaches to educational innovation.
The remaining $40 million will be put towards fulfilling the broader aim of connecting researchers, educators, youth, and practitioners in different disciplines (and across sectors). A digital knowledge hub is already in the works, so that teachers from around the world can compare, contrast, and share research, tools, and findings through open-source software and online forums.
Founded in 1978, The MacArthur Foundation is a private, independent, grant-making institution. It's probably best known for its "genius grants," five year unrestricted fellowships with $500,000 stipends awarded to those who "show exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work." With assets of $5 billion, the organization makes grants of some $200 million annually.
The foundation typically dips its toe in uncharted waters gently, testing projects by giving short-term grants to develop preliminary research and prototypes. Based on the results of this seed innovation, they then allocate longer, more substantial grants. In 2005, they made several short-term (eight month to a year) grants that laid the groundwork for this new initiative, and some of those projects are among the first recipients of the Digital Media & Learning grants. Most of them will be three years in length. Here are some of them:
The participation gap. In 2005, Henry Jenkins, the director of the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received $500,000 for research that was published to coincide with the launch of the new initiative. His paper, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, examines what Jenkins calls the "participation gap."
While educators used to worry about the "digital divide"—whether all students had equal access to computers and technology—they should now consider the "participation gap", or whether students who can only use computers in the school library have enough time to develop the same media literacy and skills as peers who spend hours designing, communicating, editing, networking, and learning on their home computers.
Based on the results of his research, Jenkins' Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT will receive a further $1,800,000 to develop a media-literacy curriculum in conjunction with the Center for Urban School Improvement in Chicago. Curriculum products will include a library of day-in-the-life videos of people who have excelled in digital media and a Remixing Melville project, in collaboration with the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Students will use video, sound, and other multimedia tools and techniques to re-imagine Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick in the context of their own lives—an innovative way to introduce classic literature.
Kid-driven lessons.Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Southern California spent time with thousands of children in a large-scale ethnographic project. Both schools were given awards to expand upon their research: over $2 million to the School of Information Management & Systems at UC Berkeley and $1,346,000 to the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC.
Led by Mizuko Ito, a cultural anthropologist of technology use, along with information professor Peter Lyman, researchers observe children's interactions with digital media to get a sense of how they're really using the technology. The findings of this program will be shared with all the other MacArthur recipients to inform their research and to spawn innovative educational curricula and projects.
Global Kids, a non-profit youth organization, received $170,000 in 2005 to organize an essay competition and develop several online discussion forums where kids explained how they use digital media. They also developed an island within the teen spin-off of the immersive world Second Life. Created by Linden Lab, the same company that created the adult version, the Teen Second Life is inhabited by approximately 45,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 17.
Teens build educational areas and experiences to teach one another about world issues such as child sex-trafficking or the genocide in Darfur. Global Kids has received just over a million dollars to continue with this work.
Games and learning.The Academic Advanced Distributed Learning Co-Laboratory at The University of Wisconsin-Madison received $3 million to develop a media-literacy curriculum involving computer games. Using a software application, students can design games, learn aesthetic and systems design, and figure out how to problem solve with their peers. Several other grants were made to research the power of games as educational tools. Commercial outfits such as Gamelab, a game-development company based in New York, are also collaborating.
Evaluating the results. Digital-media education is such a new and rapidly changing field that one grant ($450,000) went to Blueprint Research & Design, a strategy consultancy, to develop the metrics to evaluate the Foundation's success in developing this new field. Given the many disciplines and sectors they hope to involve, finding a common language is one of the first aims. And to keep tabs on the unfolding projects, MacArthur has created a site to host ongoing discussion.
"Ultimately, we want to understand the benefits of digital media, and accelerate research and development in this area. But we also want to be cautious, and look at potential harms," says Connie Yowell, director of education at the MacArthur Foundation. "At this stage, we need to keep asking questions to know where to go next. For instance: Are kids daydreaming in the same way? Are they physically active in the same way? How are their identities shaped by this digital media?" This forward-thinking initiative hopes to find some answers.
Turkey May Relax Free Speech Limits
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signaled that he is prepared to amend a law limiting free speech, in an apparent 11th-hour attempt to prevent a crisis with the European Union.
The surprise move Sunday by Erdogan came just three days before the European Commission is expected to publish a report criticizing Turkey for sluggishness on reforms necessary if it wants to join the 25-member bloc.
"The move looks desperate," said Ilker Domac, a Turkish economist. "It shows how badly things are going with Turkey's EU membership prospects."
Talks with the EU have reached an impasse that could result in the suspension of the country's EU membership talks, some Turks fear. Such a move would hobble a key European and American ally in an unstable region and would risk slowing the pace of its political and economic reforms.
The commission, the EU executive branch, has been particularly concerned by Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which makes insulting Turkishness a crime. The law attracted global criticism earlier this year when the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, who was awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, was put on trial for telling a Swiss newspaper that more than a million Armenians were massacred by Ottoman Turks during World War I. The case was later dismissed.
In an apparent attempt to gain favor with the European Union before the commission's report is released Wednesday, Erdogan signaled that his party, Justice and Development, might be willing to amend the law.
"We are studying several options for how we can handle Article 301 in harmony with the spirit of the reforms," he said without elaborating.
Turkish analysts said this would likely entail narrowing the legal definition of what constitutes an insult to Turkishness and amending the law to make it compatible with the European Court of Human Rights.
Erdogan, who faces strong pressure from nationalists not to change the law, all but ruled out doing so last week. But Turkish officials said he had tempered his resistance after furious lobbying by human rights groups, trade unions and the business community, which fear that a break in EU membership talks would undermine Turkey's stability.
EU officials cautiously welcomed the move, but warned that Turkey's membership bid still faced enormous obstacles, in particular a simmering dispute over Cyprus that shows little sign of resolution.
"This is a positive signal, but there are other big hurdles that still need to be overcome," said Joost Lagendijk, the chairman of the Turkey delegation in the European Parliament and a member of the Green group.
Turkey has said it will not open its ports to ships from Cyprus, an EU member, until the European Union lifts trade restrictions against Turkish Cypriots in northern Cyprus, which is recognized internationally by Ankara alone. The Cyprus impasse has proved so intractable that last week Finland, which holds the Union's rotating presidency, canceled talks because the parties refused to be in the same room.
IBM Touts Smart Surveillance System
IBM Corp. hopes to capitalize on the enormous growth in video surveillance by selling technology from its research labs that performs real-time analysis on footage captured by security cameras in stores and sensitive locales.
Several companies already offer systems that can alert security guards if something unusual appears to be going on - such as someone entering an off-limits room or a jewelry store employee leaving a key in a display case.
But IBM contends that it is the first to add advanced search functions that make use of computers' improving ability to recognize video content. For example, the IBM system would let a user search for all instances of a green car passing by a store on a certain day.
The so-called S3 - Smart Surveillance System - also can incorporate data gathered from audio or chemical sensors. And IBM said S3 includes important privacy enhancements, such as the ability to automatically obscure faces of customers or passers-by.
Joseph LaRocca, vice president for loss prevention at the National Retail Federation, said that while he had not seen IBM's technology, the entry of such a large company into the market figured to help lower the prices and improve the capabilities of video analytics products.
Appeals Court Will Hear EFF/AT&T Spying Case
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is the next stop on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) case against AT&T over alleged collaboration with the National Security Agency's (NSA's) domestic surveillance program.
The court decided on Tuesday decided it would hear an appeal of a district court's decision allowing the EFF's case to go forward against the government and AT&T. The ruling is only an agreement to hear the case, not on the merits of the appeal.
The EFF first sued AT&T in January, claiming the company, then called SBC before it acquired AT&T and took the name, violated the law in providing customer information to the government.
The government claimed that "state secret privilege" prevented the federal judiciary from determining whether the spying program is legal or not. In July, U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker disagreed and ruled that the case could go forward.
Judge Walker has set a case management conference for November 17th to consider how EFF's lawsuit and other suits against telecommunications companies can go forward. The hearing will start at 10:30am at the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
The case involves allegations that AT&T, then SBC, provided caller information to the NSA as part of its domestic surveillance program monitoring that monitored international phone calls to suspected terrorists in foreign countries.
Thus far there has been no discovery or revelations, as all the court cases have involved arguments back and forth on the legitimacy of the EFF's claims and AT&T's counterclaims.
Lawyers Face Right to Blog
Online journals that contain legal discussions and background information are challenging traditional practices on attorney advertising
Evan Brown, a 32-year-old Chicago lawyer, publishes a blog about legal developments involving the Internet. Other than a cute picture of his 1-year-old son sitting on his shoulders on the Web site, the online forum is a scholarly discussion for tech geeks like him.
Yet, Brown acknowledges the blog, www.internetcases.com, has had some unintended business benefits. He has met about a dozen clients through his blog who have sought his advice on intellectual-property matters.
"I think of that as a natural and healthy side effect of the blog," said Brown, an associate at Hinshaw & Culbertson. "It's certainly not the reason I started it."
That impact of Brown's blog puts him at the leading edge of a debate about how attorneys communicate--and advertise.
The marketing potential, whether explicit or not, of law-related blogs--or "blawgs" as some attorneys have come to call their online journals--is raising some tricky ethical questions for the profession, which regulates lawyer advertising.
Those issues have come to the forefront in recent months, after ethics monitors in Kentucky found lawyer-written blogs to be advertising and subjected them to increased scrutiny. Regulators in New York have made bloggers nervous by proposing new advertising rules that also include electronic communications.
Blogging has added a 21st Century twist to the broader ongoing debate within the profession about advertising by lawyers. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court gave lawyers the 1st Amendment right to advertise. States came up with guidelines to protect consumers from deceptive legal ads, paving the way for late-night TV ads and billboards featuring bankruptcy attorneys.
But, even with the state protections, Warren Burger, former chief justice of the United States, once denounced "the outrageous breach of professional conduct we see in the huckster advertising of some attorneys."
Most large corporate firms eschew advertising. In its place, they employ marketing departments to generate news about the firms with the hopes of generating publicity. It's not advertising but it can achieve a similar purpose: promoting the firm's name and activities.
Law bloggers see their forums as a public service, not huckster advertising.
"If I blog and I talk about the law, why should that be treated any differently from a lawyer who goes to a senior center and gives a free talk about elder care?" said Marty Schwimmer, a lawyer in Westchester, N.Y., who writes a blog about trademark and copyright law.
The Kentucky Attorney's Advertising Commission sees a distinction, as Lexington attorney Ben Cowgill, an expert in lawyer professional conduct, discovered last year.
The state has rules that broadly define advertising to include virtually any communication to the public by a lawyer that contains any information about the lawyer or the lawyer's practice. The rules also require that ads must be submitted for commission approval, along with a $50 filing fee.
When Cowgill considered starting a scholarly blog on legal ethics, he thought it might be viewed as advertising. But if he followed the rules to the letter, he would have to give the state $50 every time he posted a new entry on his blog. "That would be cost-prohibitive," Cowgill said.
He went ahead with his blog anyway and on the day he started it, he sent a copy to the advertising commission stating that it was not an advertisement for legal services. "I told them that this was no different in concept than authoring a handbook on a particular field of law."
But the commission did not agree, concluding that the blog was no different than a law firm Web site, which comes under its guidelines. Cowgill described his run-in with the commission on his blog, which circulated like a virus to other lawyers-turned-bloggers.
Some argued that Kentucky had no right restricting lawyer speech this way and suggested that the $50 fee was unconstitutional if it was enforced every time a blog was updated.
After some negotiations, the commission reached a compromise with Cowgill that has become the working policy of the commission on blogs. Kentucky bloggers don't have to pay $50 every time they post a new entry, but if the blog contains a link to biographical information about the lawyer, that page has to be submitted to the state with a one-time fee. Regulators also can demand to review a blog if they find that it is not a legitimate exercise in journalism.
The more-generous policy has encouraged other Kentucky lawyers to launch blogs, Cowgill said.
There are between 2,000 and 3,000 law blogs nationwide, said Kevin O'Keefe, president of LexBlog, a company that creates blogs for lawyers to use as a marketing tool.
Despite the proliferation of lawyer-written blogs, Kentucky is one of the few states to mull the ethical issues. In Illinois, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, which enforces professional-conduct rules, including lawyer advertising regulations that are set by the state Supreme Court, said it has not received any complaints about blogs. And the topic has not generated much discussion at the state bar association, said Bob Creamer, a retired attorney in Evanston who sits on the group's committee on professional conduct.
Elsewhere, there's been some action. Some state regulators in different states say that current rules preventing misleading solicitations and protecting attorney-client privilege also apply to the blogs. The medium, in essence, should not matter.
But some states are updating their antiquated guidelines regulating lawyer advertising to take into account the rise of electronic communications. New York, for example, wants to ban Internet pop-up ads.
The state's office of court administration also has proposed some requirements that may pose a burden to lawyer bloggers. One amendment would require attorneys to provide copies of all ads. The definition of advertisements would include Web sites, e-mails, blogs and speeches.
Another proposed amendment would require law firms and attorneys to disclose in every e-mail or blog a listing of all office locations and jurisdictions in which the attorney and firm members are licensed.
The amendments have been criticized as too broad. Even the Federal Trade Commission has objected to some of the rules. The filing requirement, the FTC said, "will likely raise the cost of doing business for attorneys and thus likely raise prices for consumers."
There were so many public comments to the proposals that the state extended the deadline by two months, to Nov. 15.
"There has been an outcry against the excess," said Schwimmer. "I am optimistic they will do something more reasonable."
Humiliated Frat Boys Sue 'Borat'
Two fraternity boys want to make lawsuit against ''Borat'' over their drunken appearance in the hit movie.
The legal action filed Thursday on their behalf claims they were duped into appearing in the spoof documentary ''Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,'' in which they made racist and sexist comments on camera.
The young men ''engaged in behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in,'' the lawsuit says.
''Borat'' follows the adventures of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakh journalist character in a blend of fiction and improvised comic encounters as he travels across the United States and mocks Americans.
The plaintiffs were not named in the lawsuit ''to protect themselves from any additional and unnecessary embarrassment.'' They were identified in the movie as fraternity members from a South Carolina university, and appeared drunk as they made insulting comments about women and minorities to Cohen's character.
The lawsuit claims that in October 2005, a production crew took the students to a bar to drink and ''loosen up'' before participating in what they were told would be a documentary to be shown outside of the United States.
''They were induced to agree to participate and were told the name of the fraternity and the name of their school wouldn't be used,'' said the plaintiffs' attorney, Olivier Taillieu. ''They were put into an RV and were made to believe they were picking up Borat the hitchhiker.''
After a bout of heavy drinking, the plaintiffs signed a release form they were told ''had something to do with reliability issues with being in the RV,'' Taillieu said.
The film ''made plaintiffs the object of ridicule, humiliation, mental anguish and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community,'' the lawsuit said.
It names 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp., and three production companies as defendants.
Studio spokesman Gregg Brilliant said the lawsuit ''has no merit.''
The plaintiffs were seeking an injunction to stop the studio from displaying their image and likeness, along with unspecified monetary damages.
''Borat'' debuted as the top movie last weekend with $26.5 million.
More and More Pot Users Getting Their Marijuana Delivered to Their Door
In a city where you can get just about anything delivered to your door - groceries, dry cleaning, Chinese food - pot smokers are increasingly ordering takeout marijuana from drug rings that operate with remarkable corporate-style attention to customer satisfaction.
An untold number of otherwise law-abiding professionals in New York are having their pot delivered to their homes instead of visiting drug dens or hanging out on street corners.
Among the legions of home delivery customers is Chris, a 37-year-old salesman in Manhattan. He dials a pager number and gets a return call from a cheery dispatcher who takes his order for potent strains of marijuana.
Within a couple of hours, a well-groomed delivery man - sometimes a moonlighting actor or chef - arrives at the doorstep of his Manhattan apartment carrying weed neatly packaged in small plastic containers.
"These are very nice, discreet people," said Chris, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition only his first name be used. "There's an unspoken trust. It's better than going to some street corner and getting ripped off or killed."
The phenomenon isn't new. It has long been the case around the country that those with enough money and the right connections could get cocaine or other drugs discreetly delivered to their homes and places of business.
But experts say home delivery has been growing in popularity, thanks to a shrewder, corporate style of dealing designed to put customers at ease and avoid the messy turf wars associated with other drugs.
"It's certainly been the trend in the past 10 years in urban areas that are becoming gentrified," said Ric Curtis, an anthropology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in the drug culture.
The corporate model - and its profit potential - were demonstrated late last year when the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it had taken down a highly sophisticated organization dubbed the Cartoon Network. DEA agents arrested 12 people after using wiretaps and surveillance and making undercover buys.
Authorities estimated that since 1999, the ring made a fortune by delivering more than a ton of marijuana, some of it grown hydroponically - without soil - in the basement of a Cape Cod-style home on 10 acres in Vermont, where an informant reported the smell of the crop was overpowering.
The dealers, working out of a roving call center, processed 600 orders a day - from doctors, lawyers, Wall Street traders - even on Christmas, investigators said. Authorities refused to give names, but in one conversation overheard last October, a courier boasted about the ring's upscale clientele, according to court papers.
"We know comedians. We know celebrities," the courier said. "So you might meet a rapper, a singer. We go to a lot of people."
One former customer named Lucia, a 30-year-old employee at an entertainment cable network, recalled blatant deals done at the company's Manhattan headquarters. Executives and employees alike would pool their orders as if they were buying lunch together, then await the arrival of a courier, Lucia said.
The cost was $60 for one plastic case holding two grams of marijuana - a steep markup, but worth it because of convenience and quality, she said.
"It was kind, kind bud," she said. "Yummy stuff."
The emphasis on customer service and satisfaction was evident at one stash house, where agents found more than 30 pounds of marijuana in plain view, already packaged for holiday delivery, court papers said. The packages featured the drug ring's cartoon character logo and the greeting, "Happy Holidays From Your Friends at Cartoon!"
The operation's alleged mastermind, John Nebel, "should have been the CEO of a Fortune 500 company," said his attorney, Steve Zissou.
Instead, Nebel, who is awaiting trial, could get a minimum of 10 years in federal prison if convicted. Prosecutors also are demanding the forfeiture of $22 million in cash, homes, cars, motorcycles and a boat owned by him and his cohorts.
At Lucia's workplace, employees were "bummed" by the news of Nebel's bust, Lucia said. But worries that the office might get raided evaporated, and other dealers stepped in, though "their product does not hold up to Cartoon," she said.
Investigators seized customers' names and addresses from the drug operation's computer logs. But those people face little risk of prosecution, authorities said.
Authorities conceded the home delivery trade will probably survive because of the high demand for marijuana and the low penalties for dealing it.
Under state law, most marijuana offenses "are not treated as very significant crimes," said Bridget G. Brennen, the city's special narcotic prosecutor. "That is why you see the marijuana delivery services proliferating. Their exposure is slight."
Robot Identifies Human Flesh As Bacon
Let the robot holocaust commence: robots think we taste like bacon.
Researchers at NEC System technologies and Mie University have designed the cute little guy to the right: a metal man gastronomist, "an electromechanical sommelier", capable of identifying wines, cheeses, meats and hors d'oeuvres. Upon being given a sample, he will speak up in a childlike voice and identify what he has just been fed. The idea is that wineries can tell if a wine is authentic without even opening the bottle, amongst other more obscure uses...like "tell me what this strange grayish lump at the back of my freezer is/was."
But when some smart aleck reporter placed his hand in the robot's omnivorous clanking jaw, he was identified as bacon. A cameraman then tried and was identified as prosciutto.
Absolutely horrifying. Like cows, once robots taste blood, their hunger for human flesh can never be satiated.
Until next week,
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