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Old 20-07-06, 02:59 PM   #1
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Join Date: May 2001
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Default Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - July 22nd, '06

"Unless the world comes together and helps all these defenseless people, the RIAA's going to win all these battles. And they're going to rewrite the copyright law." – Ray Beckerman

"This is an income-generating job." – Mickey Spillane

"I don’t need a hit really; I just need my music to reach people. I couldn’t go backwards. I would rather starve than go backwards." – Issa, the artist formally known as Jane Siberry on her new self-determined pricing policy for song downloads

"I used to make more in a day than I probably make in a week now." – Norman Isaacs, Manhattan record store owner

"We don't use DRM, not for philosophical reasons, but for practical reasons: we want your music to work everywhere forever." – eMusic CEO David Pakman

"It's a movie that's really miserable to watch but you feel like you should watch it." – George Loewenstein

"I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends." – Mickey Spillane

"We've come to see the battle against the RIAA as being a very important front for us to win on. We're on the tipping point with these lawsuits. If we can put together a fund, it will encourage lawyers to participate in them." – Peter Brown

"The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one. But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security." – Judge Vaughn Walker

Bang. Pow. Yawn.

There’s a new brand of evil stalking the comics: the 12 year old downloader. Well, that’s what the industry wants us to believe. Comics have always been passed around and they’ve been scanned and swapped for years, but recently publishers have realized downloading makes a scary bogeyman to hang stagnating sales on and they’re pointing ink-stained fingers at P2P. Don’t buy it. I was a big comics fan as a kid and owned piles of issues, so many in fact that I got good at trading them. I did pretty well too - and learned enough to know that nobody’s impressed by mere downloads. Unlike movies or records, reading a comic book is a tactile experience. We had to have the issues in our hands, feel the rough pulp, check the ink, the registration, the saturation, the dots. Slide our fingers over the shiny covers. Move them around to see how they reflected light. Curl them up, look through the tubes. Tap them. The total experience is a combination of factors unreplicatable in a scan.

The business isn’t losing kids to downloads. They're just not engaged with the medium anymore. For generations comics were the only place you could see edgy, mind-bending graphical imagery in sharp contrasts and explosive colors. No longer. Video games deliver all that and more, in a moving, manipulatable environment. I imagine comics are kind of passé for kids today, what with everything else jumping out at them.

If the comic book industry wants to recapture younger readers they should avoid the obsessive occupation with file-sharing that has consumed music and film executives and concentrate instead on making comics relevant to people who now have a nearly infinite array of graphical choices waiting to divert them. It won’t be easy, but doing anything less is a recipe for irrelevance.



July 22nd, '06

MPAA gets free child labor

Dare Violate a Copyright in Hong Kong? A Boy Scout May Be Watching Online
Keith Bradsher

Movie and song copiers beware: use an Internet discussion site in Hong Kong to violate copyrights and you may be turned in to law enforcement authorities by an 11-year-old Boy Scout.

Starting this summer the Hong Kong government plans to have 200,000 youths search Internet discussion sites for illegal copies of copyrighted songs and movies, and report them to the authorities. The campaign has delighted the entertainment industry, but prompted misgivings among some civil liberties advocates.

The so-called Youth Ambassadors campaign will start on Wednesday with 1,600 youths pledging their participation at a stadium in front of leading Hong Kong film and singing stars and several Hong Kong government ministers.

The Youth Ambassadors represent a new reliance on minors to keep order on the Internet. All members of the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and nine other uniformed youth groups here, ranging in age from 9 to 25, will be expected to participate, government officials said.

Tam Yiu-keung, the Hong Kong Excise and Customs Department’s senior superintendent of customs for intellectual property investigations, said the program should not raise any concerns about privacy or the role of children in law enforcement. The youths will be visiting Internet discussion sites that are open to all, so the government program is no different than asking young people to tell the police if they see a crime while walking down the street, he said.

Local news reports are unfair in suggesting that the government is recruiting young people to spy on others, Mr. Tam added. “We are not trying to manipulate youths and get them into the spy profession. What we are just trying to do is arouse a civic conscience to report crimes to the authorities.”

Unlike mainland China, which conducts periodic crackdowns on illegally copied movies at the insistence of Western countries, Hong Kong has a fairly good reputation for banning everything from counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags to pirated DVD’s. But the program is making some here nervous. Emily Lau, a pro-democracy lawmaker, said that the government should release more details of the program to the public for debate before proceeding, and should be particularly wary of having children report offenders to law enforcement.

“Public education I support, but to get young kids to do the reporting?” she said. “I feel uneasy about it.”

Christine Loh, the chief executive of Civic Exchange, a policy research group, said the government program would have to be managed with particular care because of its faint echoes of the Cultural Revolution in mainland China, when children were encouraged to inform on their parents and other relatives.

Youths who participated in a pilot program this spring found another problem: some of their friends thought it was uncool. “They joke with me and ask, ‘Oooh, will you arrest me?’ ” said Hung Ming-Wai, 16.

In the hope of making the program cool, the government has arranged for Wednesday’s stadium ceremony to include Stephen Fung, a film director and actor, as well as four singers popular here: Gigi Leung, Niki Chow, Wilfred Lau and Alex Fong.

When youths report to the authorities that movies, songs, television programs or other copyrighted material is being made available through an Internet posting, customs officials will verify the posting and then relay it to trade groups like the Motion Picture Association or the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. The associations and their members then send warning letters to the Web masters of the discussion forums, asking them to delete the offending posting; the customs officials keep secret which child has spotted which posting.

The 700 youths who participated in a pilot program this spring found 800 cases in which copyrighted material was being made available using BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing software. Follow-up investigations by customs officials identified the sources of most of these postings, which were from the United States, Australia, Europe, Taiwan and Europe, beyond the easy reach of Hong Kong customs investigators.

Mr. Tam said that Web masters have already deleted more than three-fifths of the offending postings, and there had been no sign that the postings were being replaced.

The customs agency here said it planned no action against people who download copyrighted material. “There’s no consensus at this moment among the general public” on how to handle such cases, Mr. Tam said

Hong Kong law prescribes criminal penalties for those who make copies of copyrighted materials available to others without permission, while specifying civil penalties for those who accept such copies. But the operation of BitTorrent complicates this distinction, as a user who downloads a song or movie may unintentionally pass segments of it on to other computer users.

Enforcement here has focused on those placing BitTorrent seeds, the computer links that make it possible to start the sharing of files.

The Hong Kong youth campaign covers a sixth of the territory’s youths ages 9 to 25 and is particularly aimed at teenagers. It is drawing international interest. Customs officials here have already been contacted by their counterparts in the United States, Macao and mainland China, and are ready to work with other jurisdictions to help set up similar programs, Mr. Tam said.

But Dean Boyd, a Homeland Security Department spokesman in Washington, said that the United States had no plans to introduce a similar program, partly because of liability concerns.

Deron Smith, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, said in an e-mail message that the group had no plans to ask scouts to report infringements to law enforcement officials.

By contrast, the Scout Association of Hong Kong has embraced cooperation with the government here as a way to teach good citizenship. Cub Scouts, ages 7 to 11, will not participate. But all Boy Scouts, ages 11 to 20, will be expected to use the system, in which youths use a password-protected Web site to report offending postings that they spot on the Internet, said Lee Tsz-yiu, the assistant scout headquarters commissioner overseeing the program.

Educating youths to respect copyrights is a central goal of the program, officials said. “Let’s face it: a lot of Internet piracy is done by young people, particularly in their teens, and the difficulty is it’s almost becoming a fashion to download music, download video,” said Joseph Wong, Hong Kong’s secretary of commerce, industry and technology.

The program may work better here than it would elsewhere, local officials suggest. Hong Kong teenagers are surprisingly obedient, possibly because of a Confucian tradition and very strong social pressures to study hard and serve the community.

But the effectiveness of the program may depend partly on the efficiency of the participants. Au Yeung Ka-ho, a 17-year-old senior cadet in the Civil Aid Service, a local youth group, said that he had seen more copyrighted material being made available with BitTorrent during the pilot program than he actually reported to the government.

“Sometimes I found the Bit Torrent seeds, but it was too late and my parents urged me to go to bed,” he said. “By morning I had forgotten the Web links and could not go back.”

Amnesty Accuses US Firms Over China Web Censorship
Ben Blanchard

Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O>, Google Inc <GOOG.O> and Yahoo Inc <YHOO.O> have breached the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in colluding with China to censor the Internet, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

The three publicly traded companies are ignoring their own stated commitments -- which in Google's case includes corporate motto "Don't be evil" -- and are in denial over the human rights implications of their actions, the group said.

"All three companies have, in one way or another, facilitated or concluded in the practice of censorship in China," London-based Amnesty said in a report.

"All three companies have demonstrated a disregard for their own internally driven and proclaimed policies. They have made promises ... which they failed to uphold in the face of business opportunities and pressure from the Chinese government," it said.

"This raises doubts about which statements made by these organisations can be trusted and which ones are public relations gestures."

Yahoo defended itself by saying its presence in China, even with the restrictions, could still help open up the country and added that it, too, was concerned by the issue.

"We believe we can make more of a difference by having even a limited presence and growing our influence, than we can by not operating in a particular country at all," Yahoo said in a statement to Reuters.

Calls to Google and Microsoft representatives in China were not immediately returned.

Amnesty said the three companies were in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says everyone should be guaranteed freedom of expression.

The group said it was calling on the three companies and other Internet firms to lobby Beijing to release all "cyber dissidents", be open about what filtering policies they operate and promote human rights in China.

Amnesty said some actions the firms had taken, like Google's refusal to offer an e-mail service in China due to privacy-invasion worries, were good, but more action was needed.

In May, Yahoo said it was seeking the U.S. government's help in urging China to allow more media freedom after reports linking information the company gave to Chinese authorities with the jailing of a dissident.

The case was the latest to highlight conflicts of profit and principle for companies in the world's second-biggest Internet market.

Web search leader Google has come under fire for saying it would block politically sensitive terms on its new China site, bowing to conditions set by Beijing.

Earlier this month, China sentenced reporter Li Yuanlong to two years in jail, adding to its list of writers imprisoned for expressing themselves through the country's expanding but tightly censored Internet.

Chinese Company: Skype Protocol Cracked
Jeremy Kirk

Skype is dismissing a claim by a small team of Chinese engineers who say they have reverse engineered the protocol used for Skype Internet phone calls.

The development is being reported by Charlie Paglee, the chief executive officer of Vozin Communications, a voice-over-IP company that offers the Talqer plug-in for Google Talk, and which has operations in China and California. Paglee, a Mandarin speaker who has worked in China since 1987, said he knows the people in the small company who reverse engineered the Skype protocol.

Paglee wrote about the reverse engineering on his blog, and said he has been asked not to reveal the name of the company that reverse engineered the protocol.

The 10-person Chinese company, which has received venture capital funding, is planning to release in two weeks three software components based on the Skype protocol that would allow developers to create compatible applications, Paglee said. Those components comprise voice and instant-messaging functions, he said.

Skype’s protocol is proprietary, so third party developers have not been able to build compatible applications. Some other voice-over-IP applications are based on the open Session Initiation Protocol standard, enabling third-party developers to create interoperable products.

Skype, a unit of eBay, said Friday it is aware of the claim but had "no evidence to suggest that this is true."

"Even if it was possible to do this, the software code would lack the feature set and reliability of Skype," according to a statement from Skype. "Moreover, no amount of reverse engineering would threaten Skype’s cryptographic security or integrity."

By cracking the Skype protocol, the company claims it can also block Skype voice traffic, Paglee said. "They could literally turn the lights off on Skype in China very, very quickly," said Paglee, who is also a lawyer and engineer, speaking from California on Friday.

The company could transfer the technology to the Chinese government, which has continually sought ways to tighten its filtering and control over the Internet. So far, the company doesn’t have any plans to market its blocking capabilities, Paglee said.

The company claims it can block calls by exploiting Skype software functions, he said. Skype’s software taps users’ computers to route calls. Paglee said the Chinese company can detect, map and block the computers that are passing on calls, and in doing so shut down Skype calls.

The company, however, has not been able to decrypt the phone calls passing through those computers and listen in because of the complicated encryption keys used during calls, Paglee said.

"Skype’s conversations are still secure, but what’s not secure is their present business model of using everybody else’s computer to propagate the Skype network," Paglee said.

Paglee details in his blog a call he received from the engineers using a rudimentary client. Part of the proof that the protocol had been cracked came when the engineers sent Paglee the IP address of his computer, information that normally would be encrypted during a Skype session.

"I was a little bit shocked," Paglee said. His blog can be seen here.

RIAA Conducting "Reign Of Terror," Lawyer Says
Bruce Byfield

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is waging a "reign of terror" against "defenseless people" in its efforts to prosecute people for illegal music downloads. So says Ray Beckerman, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the law firm of Vandenberg & Feliu in New York. Best known for his Recording Industry vs the People blog, Beckerman made the comment during a conference call yesterday organized by the Defective By Design campaign.

During the call, whose purpose was to raise awareness and to create a defence fund against the RIAA, Beckerman described what he alleges are the typical tactics used by the RIAA in suing individuals in the United States and other countries, and two of the cases that might become landmarks in the struggles against the RIAA's actions.

According to Beckerman, the RIAA has brought 19,000 cases against private individuals. "You have a multi-billion-dollar cartel suing all sorts of people who have no resources whatsoever to withstand these litigations," Beckerman says. His concern is that "due to the adversarial nature of justice, the RIAA will be successful in rewriting copyright law," particularly if the technological community does not resist.

Typical procedures

Beckerman is highly critical of the typical procedure in these cases -- and of judges who do not understand the technical issues involved. He describes the cases as beginning with an investigator locating a folder with copyrighted songs on a file-sharing network such as Kazaa. Without further research, the investigator takes a screenshot that shows only the text and meta-data. Through what Beckerman calls a "concealed process" -- a phrase that hints darkly of collusion and violation of privacy -- the investigator associates the folder with a dynamic IP address. The RIAA then issues a series of John Doe law subpoenas (ones brought against anonymous defendants) to obtain the name and address of the subscriber associated with that IP address.

These cases are brought in a city far away from the person who is about to become the defendant. Typically, defendants learn about the request for personal information only a few days before the hearing, and have no idea that they are about to be sued. "They don't have copies of court orders or any papers filed," Beckerman says. "They have absolutely no way to resist." Some learn about the subpoenas only after they receive a court order directing them to turn over their personal information. He describes this maneuver as "entirely illegal." Pointing out that tracing an IP address to a particular provider is simple, he adds that the RIAA must be "purposefully bringing those cases where they know that the people do not live so that they will get no information of any kind."

Most of these individuals are residents of the United States, since many countries, such as Canada and the Netherlands, deny the validity of such cases. "In the Netherlands," Beckerman notes, "the courts went so far as to say not only is it a bogus investigation but an illegal violation of people's privacy." However, in other countries, such as France, cases have been successfully brought through the RIAA's sister organizations, while in the United States, "judges have been rubber-stamping these orders."

This is the point where Beckerman and the EFF prefer to intervene in a case. They try to point out that "any real pirate would never leave the meta-data [and] would be using someone else's Internet access account," Beckerman says. "Even seeing the shared file folder doesn't tell you which computer it resided on, because you're seeing files from a group of computers that are connected."

The trouble is, Beckerman says, "The judges have no clue. They actually won't let me talk about it. There was a case in 2004 where an elderly judge was told by a lawyer in his brief from the RIAA that from the meta-data and the hash, you could tell that these were illegally copied files, which was, of course, nonsense. But the judge actually referred to that in his decision as to why he was upholding the subpoena." Often, the judges make decisions without hearing oral arguments at all.

Once the RIAA has a name, the RIAA brings a case against the individual identified. As Beckerman points out, at this point, the evidence is inconclusive. "At most, they can say that someone who might somehow be associated with that IP address might have made some files available. But they certainly don't know that the defendant did. All they know is that the defendant wrote out a check to the Internet provider."

However, this vagueness does not stop the proceedings. The RIAA's preference, Beckerman says, is "to extort a [cash] settlement." If an individual resists, the RIAA brings a federal suit against him, which few individuals can afford to defend against unless they can find a lawyer willing to work for free or for a nominal fee. "You'll notice that you'll never see a big law firm in that category," he says. "The big law firms are like any big corporation -- they need to make a profit. They would be interested in representing the RIAA, not the poor people who the RIAA are pursuing."

Two leading cases

After talking in general terms, Beckerman briefly described two of the cases that he believes could have far-reaching consequences. In Elektra vs. Barker, the defendant is a nursing student who lives in a housing project. The defence has made a motion to dismiss, because the case "doesn't specify any acts, dates, or times of copyright infringement as the laws normally require." In response, the RIAA claims that "merely making files available on the Internet is in and of itself a copyright infringement" -- an argument, as Beckerman points out that, if successful, "would probably bring down the entire Internet. Because of the implications of this argument, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and the US Internet Industry Association have intervened on behalf of the defence, and the Motion Picture Association of America and the US Department of Justice on behalf of the prosecution. Potentially, the case could decide the fate of the RIAA cases one way or another. Yet, Beckerman says, "We've received no support of any kind from anywhere."

In UMG vs. Lindor, the defendant "is a home house-aid who's never even used a computer," according to Beckerman. "She's never operated a computer, she's never even turned on a computer. The only connection she has ever had to a computer is that she has on occasion dusted near the parts that she believes are a computer. And yet she is being pursued as an online distributor in peer-to-peer file sharing."

Since Beckerman became involved in the case after it had gone to federal court, he has tried to learn the details of the charges -- so far with little success. "The RIAA is trying to conceal the information about how it conducts its 'investigation,'" he says. "They have stalled every discovery request we've made" -- presumably because to reveal this information would also reveal the weakness of all the similar cases.

"Unless the world comes together and helps all these defenseless people," Beckerman concluded, "the RIAA's going to win all these battles. And they're going to rewrite the copyright law."

Questions and last remarks

After Beckerman ended his remarks, he took several questions from call participants. One participant, who worked in Student Legal Services at the University of Massachusetts, mentioned that her office knew of 52 students who were facing similar charges. Most of them settled out of court, but Student Legal Services was preparing to assist at least one case.

Peter Brown, executive director of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and one of Defective By Design's chief organizers, wrapped up the call by emphasizing the need to support the defendants in these cases. What the RIAA is doing today with music downloads, Brown warns, other organizations may be doing next year if digital rights management technologies become commonplace in hardware. He urged call participants to blog about the call to educate others, and announced that a recording of the call would be available shortly on the Defective By Design site.

Brown also mentioned that people can donate money to the cause through the FSF Web site, or by sending checks earmarked "RIAA Lawsuits" to the FSF.

"We've come to see the battle against the RIAA as being a very important front for us to win on," Brown said, speaking for both Defective By Design and the FSF. "We're on the tipping point with these lawsuits. If we can put together a fund, it will encourage lawyers to participate in them."

Audio From Wednesday's RIAA Lawsuit Conference Call with Ray Beckerman
Gregory Heller

If you couldn't make it to the conference call with Ray Beckerman, a lawyer representing clients in cases against the RIAA, you can listen or download the audio from Archive.org

Here is the draft transcript (thanks Jeanne!), a more edited version will follow.

Take Action
Listen to the recording, and then make a donation to support Ray's clients in these important legal cases or consider donating to the Patti Santangelo case

Then sign the Bono petition

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Downloading Service to Allow Film Watching on TV Screens
Saul Hansell

Several large studios will start letting people create DVD’s of movies in their homes today using a new feature of CinemaNow, an online movie-downloading site.

The movie industry has been experimenting with ways to rent and sell downloaded movies, but these efforts have been hampered because the movies generally had to be watched on computer screens. The new service allows the movies to be seen on any television set connected to a DVD player.

“People like to watch movies in their living rooms, and this solves their problem,” said Curt Marvis, chief executive of CinemaNow, which is offering the download-to-DVD service. The studios participating include Sony, Disney, Universal, MGM and Lions Gate, which is a major shareholder in CinemaNow.

CinemaNow has been selling downloaded movies since April from these and some other studios, but the movies were restricted to computer viewing, and the downloads included only the film. The new offering also includes the bonus material on DVD discs, like filmmakers’ commentary and extra scenes.

The picture quality of the discs made through the downloading will not be as high as those on commercial DVD’s because the files need to be compressed to reduce the downloading time. Even so, it will take about three hours to download and burn a movie, hardly allowing for impulse purchases.

Mr. Marvis said users would not be inconvenienced by the time. “I was testing the service over the weekend with my family,” he said. “We picked out a movie to see, launched the service, cooked dinner, ate and by the time we washed and put away the dishes, there was the movie.”

And the studios are not yet allowing new releases to be sold in a form that can be copied to DVD’s. Initially, CinemaNow will offer about 100 older titles, including “Scent of a Woman,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Barbershop.” Prices will be about $9 to $15, the same as the films sold in versions that could be downloaded only to computers.

Mr. Marvis said the response to the initial offering had been tepid. One reason is that studios have fixed wholesale prices so that CinemaNow charges $19.95 for many new releases, more than customers pay at chain stores, which sell DVD’s at a loss as a way to draw in shoppers.

Even though many computers are now sold with drives that can burn DVD’s, allowing users to burn their own copies of movies has been a legal and technical challenge. The system that is used to keep commercial DVD’s from being copied is controlled by an agreement between electronics and production companies that does not allow it to be used for making discs in homes.

CinemaNow has chosen to use different copy-protection technology made by a German company, Ace.

MovieLink, a rival downloading service owned by a group of major studios, announced Monday that it planned to allow users to burn their own DVD’s of movies, but that it did not expect to have the feature available until the middle of next year. One reason is that it hopes the DVD consortium will modify its agreement to create a standard method for allowing movies to be copied onto discs at home.

Resurrecting Circuit City’s Disposable DOA DiVX?

WWDC Surprise: Apple to Announce iTunes Movie Rentals
Ryan Katz

With three weeks until Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, Think Secret has learned exclusively that CEO Steve Jobs will use his keynote address to announce the debut of movie rentals through the iTunes Music Store. While the announcement will undoubtedly be billed as a further extension of iTunes' dominance in digital media downloads, it represents a coup for the movie industry, which will have succeeded in standing its ground against Apple's pressures to offer consumers the option of owning movie downloads.

Apple is said to have ironed out agreements with Walt Disney, Universal Studios, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Bros., and is currently in talks with other major movie studios as well. It's unknown to what extent content will be available come the August 7 announcement, or whether Apple will announce all of its studio deals at that time.

Because the movies will be rented to consumers and not sold, people familiar with the situation report downloads will be coded with a date stamp that will restrict playback. It is not known exactly how the coding system will work, but industry experts tell Think Secret that the software would likely either limit the number of playbacks or provide unlimited viewing for a period of time, after which the movie will be "turned off" and no longer available.

Apple's decision to implement a rental model for movies will be a major departure for the company and Jobs. Apple had been trying for months to persuade the movie studios that the a-la-carte model of buying individual titles, as the iTunes Music Store offers with music, was the way to go. The studios, however, have been fixed on offering only a subscription or rental-based model.

"We knew that Steve [Jobs] saw the rental model as the only viable option," a person familiar with the situation said. "We knew it was a matter of time before he signed on."

"The subscription business makes sense for everybody. We'll all make money. But more importantly, it's a different beast from music and no one—not even Steve Jobs—is blind to that," the insider said.

Technology Rewrites the Book
Peter Wayner

When Steve Mandel, a management trainer from Santa Cruz, Calif., wants to show his friends why he stays up late to peer through a telescope, he pulls out a copy of his latest book, “Light in the Sky,” filled with pictures he has taken of distant nebulae, star clusters and galaxies.

“I consistently get a very big ‘Wow!’ The printing of my photos was spectacular — I did not really expect them to come out so well.” he said. “This is as good as any book in a bookstore.”

Mr. Mandel, 56, put his book together himself with free software from Blurb.com. The 119-page edition is printed on coated paper, bound with a linen fabric hard cover, and then wrapped with a dust jacket. Anyone who wants one can buy it for $37.95, and Blurb will make a copy just for that buyer.

The print-on-demand business is gradually moving toward the center of the marketplace. What began as a way for publishers to reduce their inventory and stop wasting paper is becoming a tool for anyone who needs a bound document. Short-run presses can turn out books economically in small quantities or singly, and new software simplifies the process of designing a book.

As the technology becomes simpler, the market is expanding beyond the earliest adopters, the aspiring authors. The first companies like AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse and others pushed themselves as new models of publishing, with an eye on shaking up the dusty book business. They aimed at authors looking for someone to edit a manuscript, lay out the book and bring it to market.

The newer ventures also produce bound books, but they do not offer the same hand-holding or the same drive for the best-seller list. Blurb’s product will appeal to people searching for a publisher, but its business is aimed at anyone who needs a professional-looking book, from architects with plans to present to clients, to travelers looking to immortalize a trip.

Blurb.com’s design software, which is still in beta testing, comes with a number of templates for different genres like cookbooks, photo collections and poetry books. Once one is chosen, it automatically lays out the page and lets the designer fill in the photographs and text by cutting and pasting. If the designer wants to tweak some details of the template — say, the position of a page number or a background color — the changes affect all the pages.

The software is markedly easier to use — although less capable — than InDesign from Adobe or Quark XPress, professional publishing packages that cost around $700. It is also free because Blurb expects to make money from printing the book. Prices start at $29.95 for books of 1 to 40 pages and rise to $79.95 for books of 301 to 440 pages.

Blurb, based in San Francisco, has many plans for expanding its software. Eileen Gittins, the chief executive, said the company would push new tools for “bookifying” data, beginning with a tool that “slurps” the entries from a blog and places them into the appropriate templates.

The potential market for these books is attracting a number of start-ups and established companies, most of them focusing on producing bound photo albums. Online photo processing sites like Kodak Gallery (formerly Ofoto), Snapfish and Shutterfly and popular packages like the iPhoto software from Apple let their customers order bound volumes of their prints.

These companies offer a wide variety of binding fabrics, papers, templates and background images, although the styles are dominated by pink and blue pastels. Snapfish offers wire-bound “flipbooks” that begin at $4.99. Kodak Gallery offers a “Legacy Photo Book” made with heavier paper and bound in either linen or leather. It starts at $69.99. Apple makes a tiny 2.6-by-3.5-inch softbound book that costs $3.99 for 20 pages and 29 cents for each additional page.

The nature and style of these options are changing as customers develop new applications. “Most of the people who use our products are moms with kids,” says Kevin McCurdy, a co-founder of Picaboo.com in Palo Alto, Calif. But he said there had been hundreds of applications the company never anticipated: teachers who make a yearbook for their class, people who want to commemorate a party and businesses that just want a high-end brochure or catalog.

Picaboo, like Blurb, distributes a free copy of its book design software, which runs on the user’s computer. Mr. McCurdy said that running the software on the user’s machine saves users the time and trouble of uploading pictures. The companies that offer Web-based design packages, however, point out that their systems do not require installing any software and also offer a backup for the user’s photos.

As more companies enter the market, they are searching for niches. One small shop in Duvall, Wash., called SharedInk.com, emphasizes its traditional production techniques and the quality of its product. Chris Hickman, the founder, said that each of his books was printed and stitched together by “two bookbinders who’ve been in the industry for 30 or 40 years.” The result, he said, is a higher level of quality that appeals to professional photographers and others willing to pay a bit more. Books of 20 pages start at $39.95.

Some companies continue to produce black-and-white books. Lulu.com is a combination printer and order-fulfillment house that prints both color and black-and-white books, takes orders for them and places them with bookstores like Amazon.com.

Lulu works from a PDF file, an approach that forces users to rely on basic word processors or professional design packages. If this is too complex, Lulu offers a marketplace where book designers offer their services. Lulu does offer a special cover design package that will create a book’s cover from an image and handle the specialized calculations that compute the size of the spine from the number of pages and the weight of the paper.

A 6-by-9-inch softcover book with 150 black-and-white pages from Lulu would cost $7.53 per single copy.

These packages are adding features that stretch the concept of a book, in some cases undermining the permanent, fixed nature that has been part of a book’s appeal. The software from SharedInk.com, for instance, lets a user leave out pages from some versions of the book. If Chris does not like Pat, for instance, then the copy going to Chris could be missing the pages with Pat’s pictures.

Blurb is expanding its software to let a community build a book. Soon, it plans to introduce a tool that would allow group projects, like a Junior League recipe book, to be created through Blurb’s Web site. The project leader would send out an e-mail message inviting people to visit the site and add their contributions to customized templates, which would then be converted into book pages.

“Books are breaking wide open,” Ms. Gittins said. “Books are becoming vehicles that aren’t static things.”


Like Having a Secretary in Your PC
David Pogue

TESTING, testing, one two three. Is this thing on?

Well, I’ll be darned. It’s really on and it’s really working. I’m wearing a headset, talking, and my PC is writing down everything I say in Microsoft Word. I’m speaking at full speed, perfectly normally except that I’m pronouncing the punctuation (comma), like this (period).

Let’s try something a little tougher. Pyridoxine hydrochloride. Antagonistic Lilliputians. Infinitesimal zithers.

Hm! Not bad.

Oh, hi, honey. Did you get to the bank before it closed? Oh, hold on, let me turn off the mike. Wouldn’t want our conversation to wind up in my column!

O.K., back again. The software I’m using is Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9.0 (www.nuance.com), the latest version of the best-selling speech-recognition software for Windows. This software, which made its debut Tuesday, is remarkable for two reasons.

Reason 1: You don’t have to train this software. That’s when you have to read aloud a canned piece of prose that it displays on the screen — a standard ritual that has begun the speech-recognition adventure for thousands of people.

I can remember, in the early days, having to read 45 minutes’ worth of these scripts for the software’s benefit. But each successive version of NaturallySpeaking has required less training time; in Version 8, five minutes was all it took.

And now they’ve topped that: NatSpeak 9 requires no training at all.

I gave it a test. After a fresh installation of the software, I opened a random page in a book and read a 1,000-word passage — without doing any training.

The software got 11 words wrong, which means it got 98.9 percent of the passage correct. Some of those errors were forgivable, like when it heard “typology” instead of “topology.”

But Nuance says that you’ll get even better accuracy if you do read one of the training scripts, so I tried that, too. I trained the software by reading its “Alice in Wonderland” excerpt. This time, when I read the same 1,000 words from my book, only six errors popped up. That’s 99.4 percent correct.

The best part is that these are the lowest accuracy rates you’ll get, because the software gets smarter the more you use it — or, rather, the more you correct its errors.

You do this entirely by voice. You say, “correct ‘typology,’ ” for example; beneath that word on the screen, a numbered menu of alternate transcriptions pops up. You see that alternate 1 is “topology,” for example, so you say “choose 1.” The software instantly corrects the word, learns from its mistake and deposits your blinking insertion point back at the point where you stopped dictating, ready for more.

Over time, therefore, the accuracy improves. When I tried the same 1,000-word excerpt after importing my time-polished voice files from Version 8, I got 99.6 percent accuracy. That’s four words wrong out of a thousand — including, of course, “topology.”

For this reason, it doesn’t much matter whether or not you skip the initial training; the accuracy of the two approaches will eventually converge toward 100 percent.

NatSpeak 9 is remarkable for a second reason, too: it’s a new version containing very little new.

Yes, they’ve eliminated the training requirement. And yes, the new NatSpeak is 20 percent more accurate than before if you do the initial training. Then again, what’s a 20 percent improvement in a program that’s already 99.4 percent accurate — 99.5? That’s maybe one less error every 1,000 words.

(Nuance has done some clever engineering to wring these additional drops of accuracy out of the program. For example, the program has always used context to determine a word’s identity, taking into account the two or three words on either side of it to distinguish, say, “bear” from “bare.” The company says that Version 9 scans an even greater swath of the surrounding words.)

But the rest of the changes are minor. The top-of-the-screen toolbar has shed the squared-off Windows 3.1 look in favor of a more rounded Windows Vista look. You can now use certain Bluetooth wireless headsets for dictation, although Nuance has found only two so far that put the microphone close enough to your mouth to get clear sound. A new toolbar indicator lets you know when you’re in a “select and say” program like Word — that is, a program where you can highlight, manipulate and format any text you see on the screen using voice commands.

At least Nuance hasn’t gone the way of so many software companies, piling on features and complexity in hopes of winning your upgrade dollars. For the second straight revision, the company has preferred to nip and tuck, making careful and selective improvements.

Now, Nuance isn’t the only game in speech-recognition town. Microsoft says that Windows Vista, when it makes its debut next year, will come with built-in dictation software.

Nuance claims not to be worried, pointing out that Vista will understand only English. NatSpeak, on the other hand, is available in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, British English and “World English,” which can handle South African, Southeast Asian and Australian accents.

NatSpeak is also available in a range of versions for the American market, including medical and legal incarnations. Mere mortals will probably want to consider either the Standard version ($100) or the Preferred version ($200), each of which comes with a headset. Both offer the same accuracy.

The Preferred edition, however, offers several shiny bells and whistles. One of them is transcription from a digital pocket voice recorder. This approach doesn’t provide the same accuracy as a headset, and it requires what today is considered an excruciating amount of training reading: at least 15 minutes. But it does free you from dictating at the computer.

The Preferred perk is voice macros, where you teach it to type one thing when you say another. For example, you can say “forget it” and have the software spit out, “Thank you so much for your inquiry. Unfortunately, after much consideration, we regret that we must decline your application at this time.”

There’s also a $900 version called Professional, which offers, among other advanced features, complete control over your PC by voice; it can even set in motion elaborate multi-step automated tasks.

NatSpeak also runs beautifully on the Macintosh. The setup is a bit involved: you need a recent Intel-based Mac, Apple’s free Boot Camp utility, a copy of Windows XP, and a U.S.B. adapter on your headset. And you have to restart the Mac in Windows each time you want to use NatSpeak. But if you can look past all that fine print, NatSpeak on Macintosh is extremely fast and accurate.

If that sounds like too much effort, there is a Macintosh-only alternative: iListen ($130 with headset). Version 1.7, newly adapted for Intel Macs, offers better accuracy and a shorter training time than previous versions, though nothing like the sophistication or accuracy of NatSpeak. After 30 minutes of training, the program made 42 mistakes in my 1,000-word book excerpt, which the company says is better than average.

As for NaturallySpeaking: if you’re already using Version 8, it’s probably not worth upgrading to Version 9. Most people will find the changes to be too few and too subtle.

But if you’re among the thousands who have abandoned dictation software in the past, it’s a different story. Version 9 is a stronger argument than ever that for anyone who can’t or doesn’t like to type, dictation software is ready for prime time; the state of this art has attained nearly “Star Trek” polish.

Excuse me — what, honey?

O.K., I’m just finishing up here; I’ll be right down. Let me just turn my mike off.

Yahoo Offers Unrestricted MP3 Download For $1.99; Considering More

Yahoo music head Dave Goldberg has, in the past, expressed he’s a fan of unrestricted MP3 format (meaning no DRM and hence portable to any device, including iPods), pointing to eMusic, which does that (others like MP3tunes.com and smaller sites also do that, with non-mainstream music). Now Yahoo is doing a trial with one big artist, and surveying its Yahoo Music users on whether it should offer more of these MP3 downloads.

On the trial, it is offering the new Jessica Simpson song “A Public Affair” as an MP3 file for $1.99. Which is a high price from the 99 cents for usual downloads people are used to…but I bet it will come down in the next few months. The blog post from Yahoo Music’s official blog says that the premium is for a personalized “name version” of the song, not because it doesn’t have DRM. Also, Ian says on the blog: “The right price for MP3s is somewhere between $0.99 and there, IMHO”, though not sure labels are comfortable doing that yet.

On the survey Yahoo Music is doing, one of the questions in the survey: “Would you consider paying $1.09 for a single, unrestricted MP3 download that would have absolutely no limitations on its use and could be transferred to any portable audio player or computer?” That might be a decent price for initial period.
Also, this is one way labels can subvert the power Apple holds over the digital music market, and I’m sure some of this is playing out behind the scenes with this move.

Stoic Napster Troubled By Grecian Formula
Andrew Orlowski

Last autumn, Napster launched a striking advertising campaign. It drew inspiration from, of all places, the stoic philosophers.

The most memorable slogan was "Have Everything, Own Nothing", and we asked the company about it at the time.

Did Napster mean what it said?

Yes, insisted Alan Cohen, Napster's chief marketing officer.

"In today's world, everything is becoming digital, and digital media is becoming so prevalent that the whole idea of ownership has been questioned," he told us.


Yes. The idea was that instead of paying $1 to own something, the company had come up with the "provocative" question that you don't need to, so long you can access it.

But there's nothing new under the sun. As Paul says of himself in Corinthians 6:9-10 -

"We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see - we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making man rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

[Our emphasis]

Had Napster consciously borrowed from this philosophy of self-denial?

"No - it's just a new way to think about it," Cohen told us, denying that it had even been borrowed.

Alas, since preaching this radical message, Napster's fortunes have taken a tumble.

Napster's market share fell from 9 per cent to 3 per cent in Q1, according to the NPD Group.

(GeniusWatch: Despite losing almost $200m over four years, Napster was upgraded to "outperform" by PiperJaffrey analyst Gene Munster in ... March).

And who's the beneficiary? eMusic's share during the same period doubled to 13 per cent, making it the No.2 music download service after Apple's iTunes.

Last night at MusicAlly's first seminar of the year, eMusic CEO David Pakman was too tactful to dwell on the comparison, but he was delighted to offer suggestions why.

There's no DRM, and unlike Napster, you don't lose your music when your subscription lapses.

"We don't use DRM, not for philosophical reasons, but for practical reasons: we want your music to work everywhere forever," he said.

Because they're unencumbered by Microsoft's DRM, said Pakman, there are only two services that can sell to the iPod owner: Apple and eMusic, and eMusic preserves your investment once you step outside the all-Apple world.

And Pakman didn't spare the point that iTunes hasn't offered users much more than a dabble in the digital puddle. The average iPod owner has just 21 iTunes Music Store songs on their device.

Worse, he said, iTunes has made the "Long Tail" even more top heavy: 90 per cent of revenues come from 10 per cent of the catalog.

"It's made the music industry more reliant on hits," said Pakman. "If iTunes was the sole model, it would wildly exacerbate the problem."

We'd also suggest eMusic's success also flies in the face of the "Web 2.0" war against expertise, its "cult of the amateur". eMusic makes browsing for music a pleasure, and employs 120 editorial staff to provide guides and reviews. Apple, we were told (and can't corroborate), employs just 16. eMusic is not, as one Register reader memorably described iTMS when it launched, "an airport kiosk without the cigarettes and chewing gum".

eMusic has two problems, he acknowledges. eMusic chooses from the independent sector, because the majors won't let him have songs without DRM. But when the independent sector includes Duke Ellington and Creedence Clearwater Revival - and in all makes up 40 per cent of music market, he reckons - the choice isn't so bad. And eMusic must cap downloads each month for its 200,000 users. "The light users subsidize the heavy users - just like a health club". But it's clearly doing something right.

So where does Napster go from here?

Perhaps another stoic, Epictetus, had some advice when he wrote -

"What difference is it to you who the giver assigns to take it back? While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don't view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel."

Hacking Digital Rights Management
Nate Anderson

Like a creeping fog, DRM smothers more and more media in its clammy embrace, but the sun still shines down on isolated patches of the landscape. This isn't always due to the decisions of corporate executives; often it's the work of hackers who devote considerable skill to cracking the digital locks that guard everything from DVDs to e-books. Their reasons are complicated and range from the philosophical to the criminal, but their goals are the same: no more DRM.

We're going to revisit the history of the most famous DRM cracks. While the stories themselves are fascinating, one of the merits of such an exercise is to use the lessons of the past to consider the challenges of the future. Along the way, we'll address the following important questions:

• Will DRM someday be unbreakable? Do content companies care if it is?
• Who or what is a "Beale Screamer"?
• What does the history of DRM mean for new technologies such as Blu-ray discs and HDCP links?
• Can a marker violate the DMCA?
• What's more important: technology, Congress, or the market?
• Will a Stalin statue make a brief cameo appearance in the conclusion of this article?

We'll start our survey with one of the most-used DRM schemes in the country, Apple Computer's FairPlay.

It's all about the music


The FairPlay system, despite the professional effort that went into it, turned out to be surprisingly hackable, given Apple's reputation for robustness and general platform security. When Apple decided to take a bite out of the digital music market several years ago, it marshaled its internal technical resources to develop a home-grown DRM scheme dubbed FairPlay. By the middle of 2004, the encryption scheme had been cracked more times than a toppled Humpty Dumpty. Jon Johansen, the Norwegian hacker partly responsible for cracking the encryption on DVDs (see below), released the primitive QTFairUse, which attempted to bypass (rather than break) the FairPlay encryption. QTFairUse relied on Apple's software to decrypt the protected song files and then grabbed the unencrypted music from RAM. It then wrote this data to an unencrypted AAC file that turned out not be readable by most music players.

QTFairUse would not be the program to bring unencumbered iTunes downloads to the mainstream user, but it did represent one possible line of attack. Another approach was provided by playfair, a little program capable of stripping the DRM from iTunes files. Instead of grabbing the unencrypted data, playfair relied on grabbing the key FairPlay encryption uses. This key was stored on the iPod and was also easily accessible on Windows systems; once it was grabbed, songs could be decrypted and written to disk (Mac systems initially required the iPod to be attached to the computer).

This approach meant that you could only decrypt songs to which you had the rights anyway, but Apple was still unhappy about it. They modified their software to make the key much harder to grab. They also leaned on the web hosting company that playfair used; the project was also pulled from SourceForge. Showing just how hard it is to stuff the code genie back in the bottle, though, playfair development continued. The project was renamed "Hymn" and new versions are still being released, though all still have problems with certain versions of iTunes.

A third approach came from PyMusique, software originally written so that Linux users could access the iTunes Music Store. The software took advantage of the fact that iTMS transmits DRM-free songs to its customers and relies on iTunes to add that gooey layer of DRM goodness at the client end. PyMusique emulates iTunes and serves as a front end to the store, allowing users to browse and purchase music. When songs are downloaded, however, the program "neglects" to apply the FairPlay DRM. (A variant of PyMusique, called SharpMusique, has been developed and maintained by Johansen, though it has not been updated in 10 months).

The attacks on FairPlay have been enlightening because of what they illustrate about the current state of DRM. They show, for instance, that modern DRM schemes are difficult to bypass, ignore, or strip out with a few lines of code. In contrast to older "patches" of computer software (what you would generally bypass a program's authorization routine), the encryption on modern media files is pervasive. All of the software mentioned has still required Apple's decoding technology to unscramble the song files; there is no simple hack that can simply strip the files clean without help, and the ciphers are complex enough to make brute-force cracks difficult.

Apple's response has also been a reminder that cracking an encryption scheme once will no longer be enough in the networked era. Each time that its DRM has been bypassed, Apple has been able to push out updates to its customers that render the hacks useless (or at least make them more difficult to achieve). The resulting cat-and-mouse game between the company and its users will no doubt become a familiar feature of future DRM schemes, most of which are now built with the ability to update themselves even after deployment.

On the other side, it's also more difficult than ever to shut down a cracking project. Coders simply move their work from server to server until they find a spot where the long arm of Apple Legal cannot reach.

Windows Media

When it comes to music, Microsoft's own DRM system comes second only to Apple's FairPlay—though that's not saying much in the US, where Apple has an 80 market share. Still, it's a solid achievement for the Redmond, WA-based company, which beat out earlier contenders like Liquid Audio and Real. Windows Media Audio has been hacked less frequently than Apple's competing system, but as security analyst Bruce Schneier puts it, this is due to "market share, nothing more." Because relatively few music downloads are sold in the format, hackers devote less energy to cracking it.

Windows Media Audio has stood secure for several years now, but it was memorably hacked back in late 2001, when version two of the encryption was in use. A hacker using the pseudonym "Beale Screamer" posted a long message to the sci.crypt newsgroup in which he described how to circumvent the DRM protections of Windows Media Audio and provided code to do so. His program, dubbed "freeme," worked, but with limitations; users needed to have a license for the song before the decryption would work. It also was designed only for version 2 of Microsoft's DRM, the one included with Media Player 7.

Beale Screamer actually had some complimentary words for the Microsoft engineers who designed the scheme:

You guys have put together a pretty good piece of software. Really. ... My real beef is with the media publishers' use of this software, not the technology itself. However, it's easy to see where software bloat and inefficiency comes from when this code is examined: every main DLL has a separate copy of the elliptic curve and other basic crypto routines, and parameters passed back and forth between modules are encrypted giving unnecessary overhead, not to mention all the checks of the code integrity, checks for a debugger running, code encryption and decryption. Perhaps you felt this was necessary for the "security through obscurity" aspect, but I've got to tell you that this really doesn't make a bit of difference. Make lean and mean code, because the obscurity doesn't work as well as you think it does.

Mr. Screamer ("Beale" to his friends) made a point of asking users not to use freeme as a tool for violating copyrights, because such use would violate the serious point he was trying to make about DRM's dangers to fair use. Such principled messages are actually quite common among DRM crackers; whether users heed them is another story altogether.

The news created headaches for Microsoft's digital media group, but ultimately the hack was not of great concern. Microsoft was able to update their DRM, which has not been widely breached since that time.

"Compact discs"

Unlike DVDs, which had encryption built into the specification, compact discs were unencrypted and uncompressed, which made them the obvious go-to location for pristine digital copies. With the rise of broadband and the introduction of file-swapping systems like Napster in the late 1990s, record labels began to worry about the security of the venerable CD. When online music stores began selling songs in earnest, the problem was truly brought home to the labels. Why should they invest the time and money into selling DRM-laden songs that only irritated customers when those same customers could simply drive to the local store and pick up a better-quality, unencrypted version of the same music?

The labels were faced with an obvious decision: either forego DRM altogether or find some way of backporting it to CDs. Since the first option was never seriously considered, the second one prevailed, and an assortment of techniques appeared that promised to copy protect "compact discs" (copy-protected discs generally do not conform to the official Red Book CD standard maintained by Philips and therefore cannot legally use the "compact disc" logo). These fell into two groups: active and passive protection, and they worked (or failed to work) quite differently.

Passive protection introduced deliberate errors into the compact disc format. These errors were designed to exploit the subtle differences that initially existed between home CD players and computer CD drives. Solutions like the Cactus Data Shield initially promised that they could deliver near-total compatibility and excellent protection from ripping. In practice, things did not work out nearly so well.

For one thing, compatibility was an issue from the start. Despite minor differences, CD players and computer drives are similar enough that many computers could read the discs without problems, while some home CD players could not. One of the obvious virtues of the CD format is that you can bring it home from a store anywhere in the world, pop it into your player, and have it work without hassles. Copy-controlled CDs broke this long-standing compatibility for the sake of modestly increased security.

The other approach was to include active protection. This took the form of software installed on the disk that tried to install itself onto a user's computer in order to control the user's access to the drive. Such software was written only for Windows, which meant that sticking the disc into a Mac or a Linux box bypassed the code entirely. Even on Windows machines, the security provided was rudimentary at best. SunnComm's MediaMax 3 DRM system could be easily bypassed by using a black marker (a revelation that got security researcher John Halderman into hot water before SunnComm saw the light and declined to prosecute him).

Not everyone was eager to take a Sharpie to their newest albums, however, but an even simpler solution soon emerged. Most active protection could be bypassed simply by disabling Autorun in Windows (or holding down the shift key when the CD is inserted, which has the same effect).

No discussion of CD protection schemes would be complete without a mention of Sony BMG's notorious rootkit software, which was formally known as "XCP." XCP, created by UK firm First4Internet, created security vulnerabilities on a user's computer that were only made worse by the initial uninstall program. After a series of class action lawsuits, the company eventually pulled from store shelves all CDs containing the program and made restitution to affected customers.

Adobe e-books

While most attacks end simply with the company releasing an update to its software, American authorities took a harder line against Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov. Sklyarov had worked on password cracking techniques for his dissertation, and after leaving school was employed by Russian software firm Elcomsoft, where he was a part of the team that developed a crack for Adobe e-books. Although Elcomsoft marketed their Advanced eBook Processor as a way to make PDF files out of legally purchased e-books (something that was not allowed by the Adobe software), Adobe saw it as a piracy tool.

Back in 2001, when the Skylarov story broke, Adobe and Microsoft were both pushing hard to establish their e-book formats in the marketplace. An insecure format could potentially lead to lower profits for publishers, authors, and online bookstores, all of whom would request whatever technology was most secure. In this atmosphere, a highly public announcement of the security flaws in Adobe software was unwelcome. Skylarov attended the Las Vegas "Def Con" conference and presented a paper on e-book security (see the slides).

Adobe's system used a 40-bit key but proved difficult to crack by brute force methods (unlike CSS; see below). Skylarov estimated that a 450 Mhz Pentium III could take anywhere from 16 hours to 960 hours to break the code, but then showed how various companies (including Adobe) had made poor implementation decisions that made the system for more susceptible to hacking.

The next morning, he found himself on the receiving end of an FBI interrogation. Elcomsoft president Alexander Katalov described Skylarov's arrest this way:

On Monday morning, at around nine AM, he and another one of our employees, Andrei, were leaving the hotel for the airport. At the exit of the hotel they were approached by two men. They showed their FBI IDs. Dmitryi was immediately hand-cuffed. And they immediately took him and Andrei to different rooms. With Andrei, they simply talked—for about a half an hour, they talked with him about what's what, after which they let him go. He tried calling me several times, but the calls didn't get through. Later he called the Moscow office, where it's about nine thirty, and from there we got mail with the notification of the arrest.

Controversy over the arrest exploded across the Internet. To many, the case exemplified the problems with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made most encryption circumvention illegal. (Intriguingly, Elcomsoft's president also claimed that his company routinely sold password cracking software to the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies.) It wasn't long before even Adobe had cold feet about the entire situation, and the company withdrew its request for prosecution.

"We strongly support the DMCA and the enforcement of copyright protection of digital content," said Colleen Pouliot, Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Adobe. "However, the prosecution of this individual in this particular case is not conducive to the best interests of any of the parties involved or the industry. ElcomSoft's Advanced eBook Processor software is no longer available in the United States, and from that perspective the DMCA worked. Adobe will continue to protect its copyright interests and those of its customers."

The government later dropped charges against Skylarov, but only under the condition that he cooperate with their case against his employer. On December 17, 2002, a California jury found Elcomsoft not guilty on all charges; Skylarov was free to return to his wife and two children in Russia (read an interview with him that ran just after the trial ended). Skylarov continued his work at Elcomsoft, which no longer publishes the Advanced eBook Processor, and has authored a book on software security.

At the movies


When the consortium behind the DVD standard drew up the format's specification, they included a basic DRM system called the Content Scramble System. CSS was designed to deter piracy, not by being particularly robust, but by being obscure (the DVD Copy Control Association provides no information on the subject until you take out a license from them). Quickly proving the adage that security through obscurity does not provide reliable protection, the encryption scheme was broken wide open in 1999. Exactly who cracked the code, however, remains something of a mystery.

Though Norwegian coder Jon Johansen is the name most often associated with the crack, a text file distributed with later versions of his software points out that Johansen was not the original code breaker (that honor goes to an anonymous German hacker). Johansen did make a name for himself, though, by helping to develop the DeCSS software as member of the group MoRE (Masters of Reverse Engineering).

DeCSS allowed PC users to strip their DVDs of the CSS encryption and then save the resulting files to their hard drives, and it landed Johansen in trouble with the Norwegian authorities. Despite multiple trials, the Norwegian judicial system ultimately ruled that Johansen's work was legal, in part because he was simply using it to exercise his fair use rights to watch DVDs under Linux.

Although the CSS algorithm was first broken by obtaining a key from a commercial DVD player, analysis of the cipher showed that it could be broken without trouble by brute force approaches. The cipher's key length was only 40 bits, a number dictated by US export regulations in place when the DVD specification was created. Due to the cipher's design, though, it proved much easier to crack than any 40-bit cipher should be.

DVD players are factory-built with a set of keys. When a DVD is inserted, the player runs through every key it knows until one unlocks the disc. Once this disc key is known, the player uses it to retrieve a title key from the disc. This title key actually allows the player to unscramble the disc's contents.

The decryption process might have been formidable when first drawn up, but it had begun to look weak even by 1999. Frank Stevenson, who published a good breakdown of the technology, estimated at that time that a 450Mhz Pentium III could crack the code in only 18 seconds—and that's without even having a player key in the first place. In other, words a simple brute force attack could crack the code at runtime, assuming that users were patient enough to wait up to 18 seconds. With today's technology, of course, the same crack would be trivial.

Once the code was cracked, the genie was out of the bottle. CSS descramblers proliferated, spawning a true alpha geek contest to break the encryption in the fewest lines of code; 434 bytes appears to be the current record.

[i]#define m(i)(x^s[i+84])<<
unsigned char x[5],y,s[2048];main(n){for(read(0,x,5);read(0,s,n=2048);
write(1,s,n))if(s[y=s[13]%8+20]/16%4==1){int i=m(1)17^256+m(0)8,k=m(2)0,j=m(4)17^m(3)9^k
;c=c>y)c+=y=i^i/8^i>>4^i>>12,i=i>>8^y<<17,a^=a>>14,y=a^a*8^a<<6,a=a>>8^y<<9, k=s

Because the CSS system could not be updated once in the field, the entire system was all but broken. Attempts to patch the system (such as Macrovision's "RipGuard") met with limited success, and DVDs today remain easy to copy using a multitude of freely available tools.

In the end, CSS may have halted piracy of the most casual sort, but the general result was to make criminals out of consumers who wanted to back up their disc collections or remove the annoying but unskippable segments at the beginning of movies. Even though it's now simple to crack, most consumers don't know how to do it or do not own the proper equipment.The point is as simple one: DRM schemes do not need to be uncrackable to control people's behavior.
AACS attacks!!!

DVD encryption proved easy enough to break, but we'll soon have the chance to see how robust the next generation of video encryption schemes proves to be. AACS, the basic encryption present on both Blu-ray and HD DVD titles, is supposed to be a major step up from CSS. The scheme was put together by some of the biggest names in the industry, including Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Sony, and Disney. The spec is administered by the AACS Licensing Authority, which will attempt to control the format by licensing equipment manufacturers.

AACS relies on the well-established AES (with 128-bit keys) to safeguard the disc data. Just like DVD players, HD DVD and Blu-ray drives will come with a set of Device Keys handed out to the manufacturers by AACS LA. Unlike the CSS encryption used in DVDs, though, AACS has a built-in method for revoking sets of keys that are cracked and made public. AACS-encrypted discs will feature a Media Key Block that all players need to access in order to get the key needed to decrypt the video files on the disc. The MKB can be updated by AACS LA to prevent certain sets of Device Keys from functioning with future titles—a feature that AACS dubs "revocation."

This decision certainly makes it harder for manufacturers to design insecure devices or to purposely allow consumer workarounds (which was common for DVD region coding). Now, companies who do such things could potentially find their players unable to access new titles, something sure to infuriate buyers. As AACS drily notes, a device maker had better "treat its Device Keys as highly confidential, as defined in the license agreement."

AACS also supports a new feature called the Image Constraint Token. When set, the ICT will force video output to be degraded over analog connections. ICT has so far gone unused, though this could change at any time.

A more consumer-friendly feature is Managed Copy, which studios can use in order to let consumers make protected digital rips of their media for use on HTPCs and home media servers. These will still be encrypted and locked down, but at least people will be able to back up their HD DVD collection without breaking the DMCA.

While AACS is used by both HD disc formats, the Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) has added some features of its own to make the format "more secure" than HD DVD. The additions are BD+ and ROM Mark; though both are designed to thwart pirates, they work quite differently.

While the generic AACS spec includes key revocation, BD+ actually allows the BDA to update the entire encryption system once players have already shipped. Should encryption be cracked, new discs will include information that will alter the players' decryption code. The BDA describes the feature this way:

The BDA also adopted "BD+", a Blu-ray Disc specific programmable renewability enhancement that gives content providers an additional means to respond to organized attacks on the security system by allowing dynamic updates of compromised code. With these enhancements, content providers have a number of methods to choose from to combat hacks on Blu-ray players. Moreover, BD+ affects only players that have been attacked, as opposed to those that are vulnerable but haven't been attacked and therefore continue to operate properly.

The other new technology, ROM Mark, affects the manufacturing of Blu-ray discs. All Blu-ray mastering equipment must be licensed by the BDA, and they will ensure that all of it carries ROM Mark technology. Whenever a legitimate disc is created, it is given a "unique and undetectable identifier." It's not undetectable to the player, though, and players can refuse to play discs without a ROM Mark. The BDA has the optimistic hope that this will keep industrial-scale piracy at bay. We'll see.

Although HD DVD and Blu-ray are brand-new, trash talk has already begun. Jon Johansen has already claimed that he will crack AACS by 2007, and has registered the deaacs.com domain. Stay tuned.

The front door's not the only way into a house

Looking back over a few of the best-known hacks of the past decade, a few key points stand out. First, DRM schemes are like houses: they have many ways in. If the front door is locked, there might be an open window. If the windows are bolted, check for a house key under the fake rock by the geraniums. If the main floor is secure, do the unexpected—slide down the chimney.

The ingenuity shown by the various hackers is a testament to the creativity of the human spirit (and to the desire for unencumbered media). The CSS algorithm can be cracked by a brute force attack in a couple of days, but it's the exception here. Most ciphers no longer succumb to brute force attacks in any reasonable amount of time, so hackers have looked for other ways to get at the content encrypted inside. Grabbing the key works well, but can be terribly complicated to do; sometimes it's just easier to let the decryption code do all the work, then grab the unencrypted stream from memory.

Technical measures aren't the only way to "hack" a DRM scheme. Our survey has highlighted the role that public pressure can play in having the locks removed and the house thrown open (consider Adobe and SunnComm, for instance). Superior encryption is worthless to a company if it ends up compromising their bottom line and brand reputation. Finally, some of the simplest attacks require nothing more than a marker or a finger. Both techniques show that a good hacker knows her technology, but she also knows when not to overengineer things.

The point here is that there are many ways to bypass DRM. Whether or not any particular method counts as a true "hack" hardly seems to matter, since they all accomplish the same goal. As Bruce Schneier tells Ars,

Does it matter if someone cracks the algorithm or the system? All the person cares about is if he can bypass the DRM system. If he can do that, the system is broken. Which particular piece broke is academically interesting, but operationally irrelevant.

The future: "lawsuit DRM"

A statue of Stalin flanked by grateful peasants used to tower over Prague. Perched above the Vltava on the Letna plain, it was the largest group statue in all of Europe at the time of its construction. It took years of manpower to build, and when complete, the beaming visage of "Papa Josef" dominated the skyline. Several short years after its completion, however, Stalin fell from grace in Communist circles and the massive monstrosity was torn down.

Many anti-DRM zealots talk about DRM technology as though convinced it will follow the same trajectory—massive spending and labor, years of careful construction, then ripped apart a few days later because no one wanted it after all. It's possible that this will be the case, but such a sanguine prediction could also be dead wrong. Though DRM's brief history has shown that formats can be cracked, few of the tools to do so have entered the popular consciousness, and the ones which have are illegal in the US. The force of law (and the risk of lawsuits) combined with the obscurity of most cracking tools means that even DRM solutions which are easily cracked can be effective at preventing casual piracy. Such technologies end up controlling only the behavior of legitimate users; those who want free copies of Dude, Where's My Car? from BitTorrent won't be deterred.

Although it doesn't stop piracy, this level of DRM may be good enough for most labels. It helps to instill a belief in the public that they can only do with their media what their media allows them to do (as opposed to exercising fair use rights, which may prove more broad than DRM restrictions). This type of thinking will enable media companies to better monetize their core products by selling them multiple times—movies on DVD, then again on Blu-ray, then once more for PSP, maybe a fourth time for your iPod, and a couple bucks for the privilege of time-shifting.

DRM need not be complicated to accomplish this. Even simple and highly-breakable encryption schemes have thrown up a legal barrier (courtesy of the DMCA) that will deter many average Americans from backing up their DVD collection (and then buying Finding Nemo a second time when the toddler sticks the disc in the toaster). HDCP, which is a form of "link encryption" that will guard the signal between HD players and televisions (or monitors), functions this way. Ed Felten, a computer science professor at Princeton, has analyzed the encryption and concluded that "the bottom line is clear. In HDCP, 'security' technologies serve not to disable pirates but to enable lawsuits. When you buy an HDCP-enabled TV or player, you are paying for this—your device will cost more and do less."

Sometimes "good enough" is good enough

DRM's not going away anytime soon, and newer techniques such as BD+ promise to make future technologies even more difficult to hack for long periods of time. Does that mean that hacking such systems will soon be pointless? Bruce Schneier says no.

"Do systems that allow you to change locks on your front door make burglary pointless?" he asks. "Of course not. The goal is to break the scheme and produce copies of the movie without DRM. Hacking DRM schemes will be fruitful as long as DRM schemes exist."

Given the time and money that developing strong DRM can take (and the fact that pirates will crack the format anyway), media companies may simply settle for more basic systems that still exert "good enough" control. After all, if "hacking" can take diverse forms, so can DRM, and the content industry's victory with the DMCA shows that effective control is not simply designed in the laboratory, but in the halls of power as well.

340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 New Web Addresses Created By Internet Chiefs . . . So We Won’t Run Out Of Space Soon, Then
Jonathan Richards

TO THE lay observer it seems like an infinite network of computers, servers and cables stretching around the globe.

But the worldwide web is filling up. So quickly, it turns out, that programmers have had to devise a new one.

Of the internet addresses available, more than three quarters are already in use, and the remainder are expected to be assigned by 2009. So, what will happen as more people in developing countries come online? The answer is IPv6, a new internet protocol that has more spaces than the old one: 340,282,366,920,938,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 spaces, in fact. “Currently there’s four billion addresses available and there are six billion humans on Earth, so there’s obviously an issue there,” said David Kessens, chairman of the IPv6 working group at RIPE, one of five regional internet registries in charge of rolling it out.

Every device that is connected to the internet — websites, computers and mobile phones — needs an “internet address” to locate it on the network.

When the internet was developed in the 1980s, programmers had no idea how big it would become. They gave each address a “16-bit” number, which meant that the total number of available addresses worked out at about four billion (2 to the power of 32).

But as use grew, it became clear that the old protocol, IPv4, wasn’t big enough, so a new one was written based on “32-bit numbers”. That increased the number of available addresses to 340 undecillion, 282 decillion, 366 nonillion, 920 octillion, 938 septillion — enough for the foreseeable future, Mr Kessens said.

IPv6 does not involve any new cables being laid, nor will there be any burden on customers, for whom the change will appear seamless. It will, however, greatly improve the quality of certain internet services, in particular phone calls, which are not suited to IPv4.

“The big change is going to be in peer-to-peer services like gaming and file-sharing, which are going to become much easier to use,” Mr Kessens said.

Several service providers, including AOL and Yahoo!, have applied for space on the new network, and IPv6 is in use in some countries, including the Netherlands. But the big “driver” is likely to be the release next year of the new version of Microsoft Windows, Vista, which is understood to contain some IPv6-only applications. The US Government has told departments to make their systems “IPv6-ready” by 2008.

The Department of Trade and Industry said it was aware of the changeover, but that it was up to large providers to take the lead when it occurred.

Both protocols can work on the same network and IPv4 will not be decommissioned.

Congress: Buy Energy-Efficient Servers Now
Declan McCullagh

Congress wants you to buy more energy-efficient computer servers.

It's no joke. The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved legislation instructing Americans to "give high priority to energy efficiency as a factor in determining best value and performance for purchases of computer servers."

But what official Washington is belatedly discovering is hardly new to technology companies, which have tried to boost efficiency in servers since at least as long ago as 2001. Higher efficiency not only reduces electricity bills, it also offers lower cooling costs, so server buyers have long had a strong market incentive to go green.

Sun Microsystems, for instance, sells servers outfitted with a low-power "CoolThreads" microprocessor that uses less power than an average light bulb. Intel's "Woodcrest" and "Montecito" generation of processors will both consume about 30 watts less than their predecessor models. Sun, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, Dell and others have even created an association called The Green Grid to promote power efficiency.

Nevertheless, Washington politicians voted 417-4 on Wednesday to tell American purchasing managers that it's in their "best interests" to pay attention to energy conservation.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a three-month study "of the growth trends associated with data centers and the utilization of servers in the federal government and private sector."

Rogers has made energy issues a focus, taking credit for helping to create a $3.7 billion hydrogen fuel program and backing ethanol use. His Web site lists tips on saving energy, including suggestions to "observe the speed limit" while driving and avoiding "rapid acceleration and breaking."

Technology companies were quick to use the news of the House vote as a mechanism to tout the energy efficiency of their products.

HP said in an e-mail message to CNET News.com: "HP's innovative leadership in energy research over the past 12 years has led to its holistic Power and Cooling approach, delivering an energy efficient adaptive infrastructure comprising both products and services to the marketplace."

A Sun representative added in a separate e-mail: "Sun's Eco-Responsibility initiative is aggressively focused on reducing environmental impact by designing products that use less power, using less harmful materials, and encouraging reuse and recycling in our industry."


Congress Targets Deceptive 'Sex' Sites
Declan McCullagh

Web pages that use innocent words like "Barbie" or "Furby" but actually feature sexual content will be subject to felony charges, thanks to a bill the U.S. Senate approved Thursday.

Anyone who includes misleading words or images intended to confuse a minor into viewing a possibly harmful Web site could be imprisoned for up to 20 years and fined, the legislation says.

"I appreciate the willingness of all members to put aside unrelated controversial issues so that we could focus on the core purpose of this bill--protecting children," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said during the floor discussion. The Senate approved the bill by a voice vote.
Senators target sex

The U.S. Senate has approved a bill targeting some sexually explicit Web sites. Here's an excerpt:

Whoever knowingly embeds words or digital images into the source code of a Web site with the intent to deceive a minor into viewing material harmful to minors on the Internet shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for not more than 20 years...

A word or digital image that clearly indicates the sexual content of the site, such as 'sex' or 'porn,' is not misleading...

The term 'source code' means the combination of text and other characters comprising the content, both viewable and nonviewable, of a Web page, including any Web site publishing language, programming language, protocol or functional content, as well as any successor languages or protocols.

The 163-page Child Protection and Safety Act (click here for PDF) represents the most extensive rewriting of federal laws relating to child pornography, sex offender registration and child exploitation in a decade. Supporters say it's necessary to protect the nation's youth.

An earlier version of the measure had already cleared the U.S. House of Representatives, which is expected to approve the revised version next week. President Bush endorsed the bill Friday, saying it will provide "law enforcement officials with the tools they need to track those who prey upon children."

If the bill becomes law, it's not clear which Webmasters would become federal felons. Sites like Kontraband.com, which show Barbie and Ken dolls having simulated sex, could be in trouble, depending on how prosecutors and juries interpret the language.

A key phrase in the legislation promises prison time only if a Webmaster has the "intent to deceive" a casual visitor. David Greene, staff counsel for the nonprofit First Amendment Project, says it could pass constitutional muster if used against Web sites that trick minors into viewing off-color sexual material.

Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who has written a legal textbook on the First Amendment, said the "intent" requirement is crucial. Judges could go either way on deciding whether the legislation is constitutional or not, Volokh said.

"It becomes difficult to prove and difficult to predict what a jury will decide, because it's a question of what your purpose was" in creating the Web site, Volokh said.

In addition, the Child Protection and Safety Act (named for Adam Walsh, who was abducted and murdered at 6 years old) would

• Punish the intentional Internet sale or distribution of "date rape drugs" with a new federal crime that would carry a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The list of offending drugs would include gamma hydroxybutyric acid (sometimes called liquid ecstasy), ketamine and flunitrazepam (better known under the trade name Rohypnol).

• Specify that anyone who must register under the proposed law's requirements would no longer enjoy any electronic privacy. Such a person must make his "computer, other electronic communication or data storage devices or media" available to police examination without a warrant at any time.

• Force sex offenders to provide a DNA sample, a requirement that many states already have adopted.

• Create a national sex offender registry to be run by the FBI, with "relevant information" on each person. It's supposed to permit geographical lookups based on ZIP code.

• Fund a series of pilot programs, lasting up to three years, to tag sex offenders with tracking devices that would let them be monitored in real time. The devices would include a GPS downlink (to provide exact coordinates), a cellular uplink (to transmit the coordinates to police), and two-way voice communications.

• Begin a study to evaluate the effectiveness of monitoring and restricting the activities of sex offenders. That study would include "limiting access by sex offenders to the Internet or to specific Internet sites."

"This bill will protect children and save countless lives by dramatically improving our efforts against sex offenders and violent criminals," Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said after the Senate vote. "Too many parents are devastated by an innocent child exploited and harmed by predators lurking in our communities."

Sensenbrenner, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, predicted the House would send the bill to Bush for his signature next week.

iPod Forever? Not In Its Current Form
Charles Cooper

Sometimes, you have to wonder whether Silicon Valley's MBA elite paid attention when their professors lectured about why it's a good idea to put customers first. Then again, maybe that was an elective course they skipped.

Case in point: the big goof not to embrace interoperability from the very start. All the public-relations palaver in the world can't disguise what everyone who uses computers and software already knows--erecting unnecessary technology barriers has benefited only a handful of companies. As the tech business closes in on the 25th anniversary of the original PC from IBM in August, I find it incredible that the industry is still wrestling with this anachronism.
In many instances, companies simply determine it's best to lock in customers.

But the tech business is still good for the occasional surprise, such as when Microsoft and Yahoo made good on a pledge to make their instant-messaging services talk to each other. It took long enough, and the launch of a beta test of the system should not be equated with a finished product. Still, it is a harbinger of a different computing universe, where about 350 million Microsoft and Yahoo users will be able to message each other, adding buddies from either service to their contacts lists.

Unfortunately, the good news still doesn't extend to users of IM services from Google or AOL. Those two companies, which are also financial partners, continue to develop their private IM plans. It's unclear whether the resulting technology will interoperate with the forthcoming Microsoft-Yahoo IM system. Watching the development of these competing axes, I wouldn't bet on it. Here's to hoping that they choose wisely.

iPod forever?
In many instances, companies simply determine that it's best to lock in customers. Apple Computer adopted that tack when it intentionally made its iTunes Music Store incompatible with music players sold by rivals.

That decision likely helped cement Apple's dominance in the commercial music download business. And with its typical sense of design, Apple's iTunes service is cleaner and easier to use than anything on the market.

But did Apple put consumers first by locking out people who bought digital music players from other companies?

European legislators think not. In France, a watered-down law slated to go into effect within the month could force Apple to retreat. The original wording of the document was tougher, but it's the first piece of legislation on either side of the Atlantic that enshrines the concept of interoperability as a governing principle.

Apple has until the end of July to explain to regulators in Norway, Denmark and Sweden why songs sold on iTunes could not be played on rival devices. The issue is also slated to come up for debate when legislators in Poland and Switzerland update their respective copyright laws.

Although Apple hasn't publicly commented since France passed its proposal, the company had earlier described the law as the equivalent of "state-sponsored piracy." The hyperbole, while harsh, is consistent with Apple's pursuit of its self-interest.

The irony is that the company that built its computers on a nonproprietary chip also wound up building a proprietary music service. Until now, who could argue against CEO Steve Jobs' decision? The iPod-iTunes combo is the "wow" product of the decade but, increasingly, Apple will be pressed to bring down the walls it has erected.

That may be the best way to guarantee that the momentum behind its great invention continues into the next decade.

Users Report MacBooks and MacBook Pros Randomly Shutting Dow...
Jacqui Cheng

Complaints from angry MacBook and MacBook Pro users about their computers "randomly" shutting down seem to have suddenly started flowing in by the somewhat freakish masses over the last several weeks on websites and discussion boards across the Internet, although the causes seem like they could be attributed to many different factors.

Unfortunately, there seem to be thousands of anecdotal accounts across the Internet at large about this issue, but the overall problem that everyone is experiencing is that their MacBooks and MacBook Pros are all just completely powering off during regular use without the battery having run down—most users seem to be reporting that this problem happens to them regardless of whether the computer is plugged in or not.

According to one of the longest self-contained discussions about this issue online on Apple's own support discussion board, most people's problems are being attributed by Apple to a faulty logic board. Yes, those two ominous words that strike fear into our hearts: logic (*gasp*) board. Many of us remember the horrors that were incurred with Apple's iBook logic board issues some years ago and would never want to live through such dismal times ever again. Many users have apparently either called up AppleCare or taken their MacBooks/MacBook Pros into an Apple Store to have it examined, only to have it die right there in front of the Genius or while on the phone. There have been some reports of receiving a replacement machine immediately on the spot while others have had theirs "sent in" for logic board repairs.

Alas, it is always easy to pass off issues such as this by claiming that the problems are being experienced by a "very vocal minority." However, making such claims tends to be a lot easier said than done when you are not one of those suffering. Yes, dear readers, even your humble Infinite Loop writer has had a random MacBook Pro shutdown at least once (often more than once) every single day for at least two weeks.

Have any of our readers experienced this with their MacBooks or MacBook Pros? If so, have you done anything about it or had any resolution from Apple?

Personally, I have a hot date with a Mac Genius at 5:45.

Friendster's Patent Possibilities

Social-networking upstarts have stolen its lead, but the site now may have a potent legal weapon at its command
Jessi Hempel

Friendster.com may be losing some of its "friends" to upstart MySpace.com. But the old-school social-networking site just got something that MySpace lacks: a patent on—you guessed it—social networking.

The patent, issued on June 27, refers to a "system, method, and apparatus for connecting users in an online computer system based on their relationships within social networks." While that's pretty general, it certainly covers the activities of the dozens of other social-networking Web sites that have sprung up since Friendster filed for the patent in June, 2003 (see BusinessWeek.com, 12/12/05, "The MySpace Generation").

It's not yet clear how Friendster will use the patent, which names original founder Jonathan Abrahms as the inventor. Friendster President Kent Lindstrom says the company is in the process of determining whether the site will be able to charge licensing fees. "Any kind of businessperson would say, 'Hey, we're going to prosecute this to the full extent we can and get every penny we can out of it,' " says Lindstrom. "But we do work in a community of businesses and don't want to just cause trouble if there is no reason for it."

But trouble is waiting, should Friendster decide to wield the patent. "There is a legal presumption that the patent claims were properly issued over the earlier technology discussed in references that were considered by the Patent Office while the application was under examination," says intellectual-property attorney Bill Heinze of Thomas, Kayden, Horstemeyer & Risley. "It's very difficult for someone to convince a judge to go back and say the examiner is wrong."

SECOND PATENT PENDING. Other social-networking Web sites don't yet appear to be losing much sleep. Reid Hoffman, founder of business social-networking site LinkIn.com, said in an e-mail, "Some of our folks have reviewed the claims, and think that it's fairly obvious that none of them apply to us…. So, in short, not worried." A MySpace spokesperson says the company isn't currently prepared to comment.

Bolt.com founder Aaron Cohen says that patent protection could hold back innovation in the industry. "Social media today is similar to rock 'n' roll in the '60s," he says. "Every company riffs on each other. Patent-protection strategies are counter to the spirit of the user-generated revolution."

Friendster wasn't the first to file a social-networking patent. Sixdegrees.com, an early social-networking community that at its peak had about 3.5 million members, in 2001 was granted a patent for which it filed four years earlier. The patent went as part of the assets when Sixdegrees.com sold to now-defunct media company Youthstream Media Networks. Hoffman, along with Tribe.net founder Marc Pincus, purchased that patent at an auction in 2003.

Meanwhile, Friendster filed for a dozen patents in mid-2003 at the urging of major venture capital backer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. A second patent is expected to be granted soon, says Lindstrom. This one will focus on the technologies involved when a user loads photos onto another user's page.

REVISED FOCUS. Friendster has lost luster in recent years, earning a reputation for failing to keep up with the needs and desires of its users (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/13/05, "Hey, Come to This Site Often?"). But in recent months, the site has picked up momentum as it continues to improve design and technology. Friendster counts 9 million to 10 million users, and it added 300,000 users last month. Says Lindstrom, "It's not MySpace, but it's a pretty sharp increase." (MySpace, owned by News Corp. (NWS), had 51 million unique users in May.)

Last October, Friendster put itself on the block, but by early winter, it hadn't found a buyer and was quickly losing capital. Kleiner Perkins pulled Friendster out of debt in February, giving the company the capital to pay its 25 employees and get back on track.

The company now plans to focus on post-college users, young urban adults looking to connect to people in new cities. The recently redesigned site gives attention to what users are doing, rather than inviting folks to surf profiles, and Friendster is bulking up on engineers to make the site more user-friendly. Says Lindstrom: "In the end, people will end up using Friendster because the design is good and it runs fast. So we've been focusing on responding to what users are asking for."

Maybe, but in a sector where popularity is viral and fleeting, and reputation is everything, Friendster may want to think twice about unfriendly acts toward rivals.

Intel's New Core 2 Duo Processors Run Blazingly Fast in PC World Tests

PCs with new 'Conroe' chips decisively outscore AMD-based rivals in our tests.
Eric Dahl

ExclusivePC Worldtests show that PCs equipped with Intel's new Core 2 Duo processors, formerly code-named Conroe, set new high marks for desktop performance--they're the fastest we've seen by far.

With this chip line, due to launch formally on July 27 , Intel decisively reclaims the power desktop crown from competitor AMD.

In our WorldBench 5 test suite , Intel's Core 2 Duo reference system outscored a matching system equipped with AMD's high-end Athlon 64 FX-62 chip by 17 percent. We also tested shipping PCs based on several chips in the Core 2 Duo family, including a water-cooled, overclocked ABS machine that posted a mark of 181 on our WorldBench 5 test--the highest WorldBench score we've ever seen. (See our detailed test results . For full reviews of four new Core 2 Duo-based systems, click the product names in the results chart.)

All of our Core 2 Duo configurations performed impressively, and the higher-end models in particular should allow power users to handle demanding multimedia work on their PCs more quickly and to perform multiple computing tasks at once more efficiently. Gaming, too, will receive an impressive boost from systems equipped with the new chips.

Though its new products are good news for users, things are different for some Intel employees, as the company announced the layoff of 1000 management employees today.

The Core 2 Duo processor line ranges from the 1.86-GHz E6300 chip ($183) with 2MB of cache to the 2.93-GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800 chip ($999) with 4MB of cache; all have a 1066-MHz system bus. (Intel leaves the "Duo" designation off of its X6800 CPU.)

Though Core 2 Duo chips use the same Socket 775 interface as current Pentium 4 and Pentium D chips, they require new chip sets, so you'll have to get a new motherboard--you can't just pop a Core 2 Duo chip into your existing Intel-based PC and reap the tremendous performance gains. The Core 2 Duo reference systems we tested used a motherboard with Intel's 975X Express chip set (boards using the P965 Express chip set will also be available); nVidia and ATI have their own Core 2 Duo boards as well.

The new processors and systems will be on sale from various vendors beginning July 27, with some configurations of Core 2 Duo machines checking in at surprisingly reasonable prices.

Power to Spare

Our motherboard Core 2 Duo test setup consisted of an Intel 975X Express board, 2GB of DDR2-667 memory, a pair of SATA hard drives configured in a striped array, and an nVidia GeForce 7800GT-based graphics card. We swapped first a 2.93-GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800 chip and then a 2.67-GHz Core 2 E6700 chip into that setup to generate scores we could compare directly to an otherwise identically configured system featuring AMD's new DDR2-capable AM2 platform and its top-of-the-line FX-62 processor.

Both of the Intel setups bested the AMD-based system on every test in our WorldBench 5 suite as well as on every one of our gaming tests (see chart below). The improvement on WorldBench 5's multitasking tests, which involve running a Web browsing session in Mozilla while encoding a file with Windows Media Encoder, was particularly dramatic. You'll also see notable gains in Photoshop and similar graphics applications.

The Core 2 Extreme X6800 reference system logged a score of 160 on WorldBench 5, 17 percent higher than the 137 turned in by the corresponding system using AMD's $1100 Athlon 64 FX-62. And the PC using the less expensive E6700 chip managed a score of 153 on WorldBench--still 12 percent better than the FX-62 PC's mark.

In addition to our lab-built systems, we tested several vendor-supplied PCs. For example, Dell's $3985 XPS 700, a high-end system based on the 2.67-GHz Duo E6700 processor, came with 2GB of RAM, an nVidia GeForce 7950 GX2 Dual-GPU graphics board with 1GB of SDRAM, and two 320GB SATA hard drives in a Raid 0 array. That system (whose price includes a 24-inch wide-screen monitor) also earned a score of 153 on WorldBench 5, well ahead of the 142 posted by the previous top scorer, a 2.6-GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60-based Xi system.

But even those notable scores paled in comparison to the performance of the overclocked system that ABS sent us. The $4199 water-cooled ABS Ultimate X9--which shipped with 2GB of RAM, a pair of Radeon X1900 Crossfire graphics boards, two superfast Western Digital 150GB SATA drives configured in a striped RAID array, and a Core 2 Extreme X6800 chip overclocked from 2.93 GHz to run at 3.5 GHz--turned in a WorldBench 5 score of 181. Obviously, this system is not a likely choice for typical buyers, but its score is by far the highest we've seen from a shipping system. And it may indicate how much headroom Intel's Core microarchitecture possesses.

Architectural Improvements

It's unlikely that ABS could have wrung such impressive overclocking performance out of its Core 2 Extreme system if Intel hadn't put a lot of effort into reducing power consumption in the Core microarchitecture.

Intel's previous generation of Pentium Extreme Edition chips drew up to 135 watts of power. The Core 2 Extreme X6800 draws only 75 watts, according to Intel's thermal design specification; and the more mainstream Core 2 Duo parts bump that number down to 65 watts. As a result, ABS had the headroom to dramatically overclock its system. Moreover, the design should enable system vendors to build high-performance PCs in smaller, quieter cases.

Intel developed its Core microarchitecture from the ground up, focusing on multiple CPU cores, high performance, and low power consumption--there's a lot of technology packed onto its 65nm die (shown below). Using lessons learned in building its successful Pentium M mobile CPUs, Intel first improved its mobile line and released the Core Duo CPUs (for details on these chips see " Notebooks Rev Up With Dual-Core Tech "). Then the company set out to strengthen the performance of its desktop chips, while dramatically reducing their power consumption. For example, when your PC is sitting idle or running just a few simple apps, the Core 2 Duo can clock down or shut off parts of its logic to conserve power.

Much of Core 2 Duo's performance advantage over its Pentium predecessors comes from an additional execution unit on each CPU core. (Core 2 Duo chips have four such units per CPU core versus the Pentium D's three per core.) The additional unit per core, plus some clever coding that lets the chip fuse common groups of instructions into single instructions, allows Core 2 Duo chips to outperform Pentium D chips that run at higher clock speeds

A staggering 4MB of L2 cache keeps the higher-end Core 2 Duo chips supplied with the data they need in order to run at full speed, and Intel has carefully tuned their prefetching algorithms, which preemptively cache the appropriate data before the CPU needs it.

While most dual-core chips, including AMD's Athlon 64 line and Intel's Pentium D CPUs, dedicate a certain amount of cache to each CPU core, the Core 2 Duo provides shared access to its entire 4MB of cache. And the chip can distribute that cache between its cores as needed. If one core is churning away at a particularly complex task, it can use most of the L2 cache, while the other core runs a simple task that demands less cache memory.

AMD's Response

Intel has produced a winner with its Core Duo 2 design; and for the first time in years, the company holds a clear performance advantage over its longtime rival, AMD. But while the short-term performance picture may look bleak for AMD, don't count the company out.

AMD plans to introduce aggressive price cuts this month; and later this year, it will launch 4x4, an enthusiast platform that enables systems to use a pair of high-end dual-core chips. Though applications and games capable of taking full advantage of multiple CPU cores are rare as yet, we expect the performance--and price--of 4x4 systems to be quite high.

Looking further into the future, AMD will open up its HyperTransport bus, allowing other companies to design specialized coprocessors and accelerators and drop them onto the same superfast bus that AMD uses to shuttle data between the CPU, RAM, and other key components in a system. Such coprocessors could be built into a CPU package for multisocket systems or designed as add-in boards for a new slot type dubbed HTX.

This initiative, which AMD is calling Torrenza , will debut on the server side, where multisocket systems are already common and where specialized processors could accelerate Java code or database operations. Desktop and gaming applications are farther away; but if demand is high enough, Torrenza-based physics or graphics coprocessors could appear in the next few years.

Ultimately, however, while 4x4 and Torrenza are interesting technologies, neither is likely to have a large mainstream impact. AMD's true answer to Core 2 Duo will arrive in 2007, when it is scheduled to launch its next-generation CPU architecture, dubbed "K8L." K8L and single-chip quad-core processors will be compatible with 4x4 motherboards, according to AMD.

In the meantime, no matter what their budget, demanding PC users have a high-performance option in the Core 2 Duo line, which should keep their processor-intensive applications humming along.

Lawmakers to Crack Down on Data Brokers
Ted Bridis

Even as others cited the Fifth Amendment, a former data broker enthralled Congress on Wednesday with a bizarre, behind-the-scenes lesson on how this shadowy industry covertly gathers Americans' telephone records without subpoenas or warrants.

Some lawmakers gasped and others shook their heads in amazement during testimony from James Rapp, a former data broker run out of the business years ago by Colorado police.

In this document obtained by the Associated Press from congressional investigators, e-mails from February 2006 show how a customer was trying to obtain information on NBA basketball player Damon Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo) (AP)

Others identified as active data brokers refused to answer questions about how they conduct business, invoking their constitutional rights against saying anything under oath that might be used by prosecutors.

Rapp described what steps he would use, for example, to locate and steal the credit-card records of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., saying he would first trick a utility operator to reveal her home address. He also boasted that he could uncover the bank password of Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., in one hour.

"It's just playing the game," said Rapp, who told lawmakers he now cares full-time for his elderly mother in Colorado and lives off his family's savings.

Lawmakers were impressed _ and troubled _ as Rapp explained how easily customer service representatives at America's leading telephone and credit companies can be duped into revealing private account information.

"I don't think we have any privacy at all," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla.

Brokers have tricked telephone carriers into disclosing private customer information and broken into online accounts, in some cases guessing passwords that were the names of pets, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"She has two pets, one named Rainbow and the other is Max," wrote Donnie Tidmore of Waco, Texas, in September in an e-mail to one such data broker, PDJ Investigations of Granbury, Texas.

Tidmore, a private detective, also works as police chief in nearby Crawford, Texas, where President Bush owns his ranch. Tidmore wanted lists of cellular calls and the Social Security number of a Virgin Mobile USA subscriber for a case.

Tidmore told the AP on Wednesday the data brokers he used obtained information through legal means, but he acknowledged he has no idea how PDJ could obtain another person's phone records lawfully without a subpoena or warrant.

Tidmore agreed that, in his capacity as police chief, he would have needed a subpoena or warrant to obtain a citizen's phone records.

PDJ's owner, Patrick Baird, was among 11 people identified as data brokers who refused to testify during Wednesday's congressional hearing, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights not to incriminate themselves. They included Jim Welker, a Colorado state lawmaker who operated Universal Communications Co., which advertised it could obtain lists of anyone's telephone calls for $50.

The head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, promised to press for a broader vote in Congress soon on legislation the panel already approved to outlaw efforts to impersonate customers to trick companies into revealing personal records, a practice known as "pretexting."

Another data broker, Michele Yontef, smiled slightly when Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., read excerpts from an e-mail she sent to a colleague in July 2005 in which she complained: "I was shot down four times. ... I keep getting northwestern call center and they just must have had an operator meeting about pretext as every operator is cued in."

Yontef was described as legendary among data-brokers, so skillful in obtaining private phone records that she was known as "Ma Bell." She also declined to answer questions from lawmakers, citing the Fifth Amendment.

The congressional inquiry was expected to resume Thursday, when lawmakers question officials from federal and local police agencies over their use of data brokers to gather personal telephone records without a subpoena or warrant.

Crime of the Future--Biometric Spoofing?
Steve Ranger

Watch where you leave your fingerprints--soon they could be the target of thieves looking to break into your bank account.

Although biometric security systems--using fingerprints, iris scans and facial recognition--are only just now entering the mainstream, they are likely to be common within a few years.

And as soon as biometrics begin to be used to protect bank accounts or benefit systems, crooks will start looking at ways of breaking into them, according to Bori Toth, biometric research and advisory lead at Deloitte & Touche.

Biometric spoofing is a "growing concern", she said.

Toth told silicon.com: "We are leaving our prints everywhere so the chance of someone lifting them and copying them is real.

"Currently it's only researchers that are doing spoofing and copying. It's not a mainstream activity--but it will be. It's just human nature; if it can be done it will be done if you can achieve some benefit from it."

Different biometrics may be attacked in different ways. For example, researchers have proved in the past it is possible to trick fingerprint systems with fake fingers made of gelatine.

Similarly, would-be thieves could try to spoof facial recognition systems with photos, videos or facial disguises in order to get access to the systems or information they protect.

Part of the problem is that many of the biometrics used by these systems are easily visible.

Toth warned: "Many people are trying to regard biometrics as secret but they aren't. Our faces and irises are visible and our voices are being recorded. Fingerprints and DNA are left everywhere we go and it's been proved that these are real threats."

In response vendors are building tighter security into their biometric systems--for example to check that a finger has a pulse, or that a real iris is being presented rather than a photo.

YouTube Takes Stage at Media Summit
Michael Liedtke

Just 17 months ago, Chad Hurley was squirreled away in a Silicon Valley garage running up credit card debt as he and business partner Steve Chen developed the quirky Internet video site that became YouTube Inc.

During the past two days, Hurley has emerged among the main attractions at an elite media summit in Idaho, where the 29-year-old entrepreneur is seizing upon the attention to further his quest to establish his San Mateo, Calif.-based startup as an entertainment and advertising hub.

"There is a big wave of video coming online and these (media) guys want to work with us to stay relevant in this changing marketplace," Hurley said during an interview with The Associated Press. "This trend in the Internet isn't changing, so we are working with them to find solutions on how they can embrace what we are doing and really leverage that to help their business."

Hurley isn't the only promising newcomer to be welcomed at an invitation-only conference that has brought together the world's richest media and technology leaders to network and mull possible new directions.

Blake Krikorian, chief executive of Sling Media Inc., also is on hand to extol the virtues of the San Mateo, Calif-based company's Slingbox, a device that relays programming from a living room TV to any Internet-connected computer.

Like YouTube's unorthodox Web site, Sling Media's product might have unnerved long-established media a few years ago.

But now there seems to be a realization that it makes more sense to try to live with upstarts like Hurley and Krikorian instead of pouring a lot of energy _ and money _ into trying to stifle them.

"There is certainly some level of disruption to what we are doing, but it has been really refreshing to see that some of these leaders are becoming pretty progressive in their thinking," said Krikorian, who started Sling Media two years ago.

Hurley's and Krikorian's presence at this conference while their companies are so young provides another sign of the rapidly changing times.

The leaders of Google Inc. weren't invited to the annual event hosted by investment banker Herb Allen until the online search engine leader was nearly five years old.

Now, Google co-founder Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt are among the gaggle of billionaires attending this year's powwow. Google co-founder Sergey Brin also had indicated he would be here, but word circulated Thursday that he had changed his plans.

Hurley proved he is quickly making powerful new friends Thursday when he hooked up with CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves for a 45-minute sit-down held in a small room outside the closed-door meetings where all the other conference participants had gathered.

During a wide-ranging conversation that could be heard by several reporters working in the room, Moonves seemed to become increasingly intrigued as he learned more about YouTube's rapid evolution.

Moonves marveled when Hurley informed him that YouTube's steadily expanding audience is now watching about 100 million videos per day. He asked how YouTube might be able to direct more traffic to Web sites owned by CBS. The meeting ended with Moonves concluding that CBS should start posting daily snippets of its programming on YouTube.

If CBS forges a formal agreement with YouTube, it would mark the Web site's second endorsement from a major television network in less than three weeks. In late June, NBC announced it would share some of its programming on YouTube as well as buy some advertising on the Web site.

"That was a big, key moment in our history," Hurley said of NBC's stamp of approval.

Now Hurley may face his biggest challenge _ proving that YouTube can attract enough advertising to become profitable. The 52-employee company has so far been subsisting on $11.5 million in venture capital.

The tremendous buzz surrounding YouTube doesn't necessarily mean big-spending advertisers will follow, said IDC analyst Greg Ireland. "YouTube absolutely has a great story to tell, but will that be enough to close deals with advertisers?" Ireland said.

The analyst believes many conservative advertisers may shy away from YouTube for fear of having one of their messages appear next to the racy and vulgar videos that occasionally pop up on the site.

YouTube also runs the risk of alienating its audience if more advertising fills the Web site, a factor that could drive traffic to the many other rivals building video libraries.

Hurley is confident YouTube will prove the skeptics wrong. Just last week, Walt Disney Co. ran ads promoting the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie sequel throughout YouTube's Web site for an entire day _ the first time an advertiser had gone to such lengths.

This week's media conference has provided Hurley with a prime opportunity to recruit other major advertisers to YouTube. The CEOs of two major retailers, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc., are expected to show up before the conference ends.

Hurley also is hoping to meet with Nike Inc. Chairman Phil Knight, who told the AP he wants to make it happen.

"It's phenomenal," Knight said of YouTube. "I absolutely think there is a place for it (in advertising budgets)."

Both Hurley and Krikorian will have a chance to make another positive impression Saturday when they are scheduled to make presentations.

Hurley said he hopes to educate the conference participants about the potential of online video.

When he describes the $200 Slingbox, the 38-year-old Krikorian will have a slightly different agenda _ one he hopes will strike a chord with profit-driven executives. "I want every single person in this place to buy a Slingbox," he said.



For data storage it's really important that you reduce the filesize as much as possible. I remove all the tags (they take up so much room) and burn all the track 1's onto disc 1, track 2's onto disc 2 etc. Then when I want to find a tune I just look the album up on Amazon, find the track number and I know which DVD to go to.

Internet `Tubes' Speech Turns Spotlight, Ridicule Onto Sen. Stevens
Liz Ruskin

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is enduring no end of ridicule in the blogosphere for his recent explanation, in a Commerce Committee debate, of how the Internet works.

Snorting loudest are bloggers who are angry at Stevens for not adding a nondiscrimination provision - known as "net neutrality" - to the communications bill that he wants Congress to pass this year.

"The Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes," Stevens said during a June 28 committee session.

"And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled. And if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

At another point in his 11-minute discourse, he said he'd seen these delays firsthand: "I just the other day got - an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially."

Internet pundits greeted his explanations with a nonstop snigger fest, with extra helpings of derision, on sites such as boingboing, Daily Kos, Fark, MySpace and YouTube.

"Ted Stevens, unfrozen caveman senator," was the pronouncement on Wonkette.

Stevens' staff director on the Commerce Committee, Lisa Sutherland, said the bloggers were making fun of Stevens for a pretty minor mistake: saying "tubes" rather than "pipes." The latter is common slang in the telecom industry, especially when discussing the Internet carrying capacity of phone lines or cable.

Stevens, as the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, is pushing a rewrite of the nation's fundamental communications act. His online critics say his speech shows he's not the right person to make modern communications policy. He's had few defenders in the blog world, and the episode has been mentioned in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Times of London. The Stevens entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia now includes a lengthy recap of the tube speech and its aftermath.

The transcript of his remarks, and links to the recording itself, have been circulating like crazy. Blog viewers can find a tubes T-shirt design, a PowerPoint cartoon and a Ted Stevens techno remix, which has Stevens repeating "a series of tubes!" and extended umm-ing and er-ing. By Friday, the techno remix was being celebrated in a video showing all manner of vacuum tubes, pneumatic tubes and other 1950s-style technology.

Bits of Stevens' speech aired on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" this week. Host Jon Stewart had an alternate explanation for why it took so long for Stevens to receive his staff's e-mail: "Maybe it's because you do not seem to know jack BLEEP about computers or the Internet ... but hey, you're just the guy in charge of regulating it."

Communications lobbyists - particularly those who side with him on "net neutrality," but also some who don't - say Stevens is getting a bad rap. They say he was employing analogy in the tubes statement. He understands communications-technology issues just fine, they say, however inarticulate he may have sounded at one particular moment. Stevens, many attest, is a BlackBerry junkie whose thumbs sometimes are flying over the device during meetings.

"Senator Stevens chaired 26 hearings and sat through a half-dozen listening sessions (on communications issues), some that lasted an entire day," Sutherland said. "I can tell you from personal conversations with him almost daily on these topics that he understands the technical, the legal and the economic aspects of new technologies and how they will be deployed ... throughout the nation."

At the heart of the barbs is Stevens' stance on "net neutrality." It's a polarizing, complicated issue that has, on one side, the corporations that bring the Internet into homes and offices - such as AT&T, BellSouth and cable companies - and on the other, the companies that provide the services that people use on the Internet - most prominently Google, craigslist, eBay and Microsoft.

The content providers say that without new laws, the telephone and cable companies will become self-serving Internet gatekeepers, letting traffic flow quickly to vendors with whom they have financial affiliations and slowly to their competitors.

Craig Newmark, the creator of craigslist, described the possible threat this way: Imagine you call Joe's Pizza and the first thing you hear is a recording saying your call will be connected in a minute or two, or you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. That's what proponents of net neutrality say telephone and cable companies want to do to the Internet. They say that whatever speed customers pay for, that's what they should get, no matter what Web sites they visit.

The phone and cable companies, on the other hand, say they wouldn't do anything to compromise Internet freedom and that if they tried to, their customers would dump them for other Internet providers. They say the net neutrality protections proposed would hamper innovation.

Take GCI, a phone and Internet provider in Stevens' home state. Company executives say they've been talking to Web-based businesses that require high-speed connections to work properly. Some of GCI's customers choose to buy the cheapest, slowest connection available. A site that sells streaming video may want to treat that customer to a higher speed whenever he or she visits, the GCI execs say.

"Instead of the customers having to buy the top speeds, the providers buy the top speeds and give it to the lower-speed customers for free," said Dana Tindall, GCI's senior vice president for governmental affairs.

A net neutrality law would make arrangements such as that impossible, Tindall said. And, she said, neutrality legislation could make it impossible to prioritize among uses.

"It would make it very difficult to manage capacity such that everyone had a good Internet experience," she said, "because it would enable applications that come in and just take all the capacity (to do so), without being able to do anything about it."

Proponents of net neutrality say all similar types of data should be treated the same. If it's decided that telemedicine should have a priority, it shouldn't matter whether the doctors are at Johns Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic, said Craig Aaron, the communications director for Free Press, which coordinates a large coalition that's lobbying for net neutrality.

Aaron makes no apology for celebrating some of the comical interpretations of Stevens' tubes speech on the coalition's Web site. It's an easier entryway into a technically difficult subject, he said.

"Anything that brings people to this issue and lets the public know this debate is happening is good," he said. "If that has to be a techno remix of Ted Stevens, all the better."

Do these portrayals accurately reflect Stevens' technical knowledge of the Internet?

"All I can say is the statement speaks for itself," Aaron said. "Here is the member of Congress driving the legislation that is going to reshape the future of the Internet giving a speech that suggests he may not have a lot of experience with the Internet."

Ed Ingle, Microsoft's top lobbyist, said he still hoped that Stevens' position on net neutrality would evolve. Microsoft is part of the pro-net neutrality lobby.

Whatever led Stevens to the position he's taken, it wasn't a lack of technical knowledge, according to Ingle. Over the past year or two, Stevens has engaged Microsoft's top technologists, including Bill Gates, in several "robust discussions," Ingle said. Stevens seemed to have no trouble understanding the Microsoft people and asked probing questions, he said.

"Truly, we would love if all senators were as sophisticated on technical issues as Senator Stevens," Ingle said. "I would honestly put him among the most technology-savvy members of the Senate ... and that is something, considering that some of them have engineering degrees."

But opinions like that are unlikely to change Stevens' online reputation as a codger whose mind is stuck in the mimeograph age.

"I'm not even reading any comments that suggest otherwise because I'm not going to let anyone kill the funny with this one," one blog contributor wrote.

To read a story about a haunting folk version of the tubes speech disappearing briefly from MySpace, with a link to the song, go to www.wired.com/news/technology/0,71381-0.html?tw(EQUAL)wn(underline)index(underline)2

FBI Consultant Spared Jail in Hacking Case

An FBI computer consultant who pleaded guilty to hacking the secret passwords of Director Robert Mueller and others will not serve any time in prison, a federal judge has ruled.

Joseph Thomas Colon of Springfield, Ill., was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon to six months of home detention and ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution to the FBI.

Colon pleaded guilty in March to four misdemeanor counts of intentionally exceeding his authorized computer access. He faced up to 18 months in prison after he acknowledged using two computer programs available for free on the Internet to extract the information and decode the passwords of Mueller and others.

Prosecutors do not believe Colon was trying to damage national security or use the information for financial gain. But the FBI said it was forced to take significant steps to make sure there was no harm from Colon's actions.

"Joseph T. Colon was granted a substantial level of trust. He betrayed that trust," FBI assistant director Charles S. Phalen Jr. said. "Once we identified the breach of security, we took quick and appropriate action to neutralize its impact."

Colon had said he was given a password to the FBI's secret computer system to speed work he was hired to perform in the FBI's Springfield office.

Checklist for Camp: Bug Spray. Sunscreen. Pills.
Jane Gross

The breakfast buffet at Camp Echo starts at a picnic table covered in gingham-patterned oil cloth. Here, children jostle for their morning medications: Zoloft for depression, Abilify for bipolar disorder, Guanfacine for twitchy eyes and a host of medications for attention deficit disorder.

A quick gulp of water, a greeting from the nurse, and the youngsters move on to the next table for orange juice, Special K and chocolate chip pancakes. The dispensing of pills and pancakes is over in minutes, all part of a typical day at a typical sleep-away camp in the Catskills.

The medication lines like the one at Camp Echo were unheard of a generation ago but have become fixtures at residential camps across the country. Between a quarter and half of the youngsters at any given summer camp take daily prescription medications, experts say. Allergy and asthma drugs top the list, but behavior management and psychiatric medications are now so common that nurses who dispense them no longer try to avoid stigma by pretending they are vitamins.

“All my best friends take something,” said David Ehrenreich, 12, who has Tourette’s syndrome yet feels at home here because boys with hyperactivity, mood disorders and facial tics line up just as he does for their daily “meds.”

With campers far from home, family and pediatricians, the job of safely and efficiently dispensing medications falls to infirmaries and nurses whose stock in trade used to be calamine lotion and cough syrup. Three times a day, at mealtimes, is the norm, with some campers also requiring a sleep aid at bedtime to counteract the effect of their daytime medications.

“This is the American standard now,” said Rodger Popkin, an owner of Blue Stars Camps in Hendersonville, N.C. “It’s not limited by education level, race, socioeconomics, geography, gender or any of those filters.”

Peg L. Smith, the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association, a trade group with 2,600 member camps and three million campers, says about a quarter of the children at its camps are medicated for attention deficit disorder, psychiatric problems or mood disorders.

Many parents welcome the anonymity that comes when a lot of children take this, that or the other drug, so none stand out from the crowd.

“It’s nobody’s business who’s taking what,” said one parent of an Echo camper whose child is medicated for A.D.D. and who asked not to be named for privacy reasons. “It could be an allergy pill. The way they do it now, he feels comfortable. He just goes up with everybody else, gets it and then carries on with his day.”

Increasingly popular is a service offered by a private company called CampMeds, which provides a summer’s worth of prepackaged pills to 6,000 children at 100 camps. Its founder, Dana Godel, said 40 percent of the children regularly took one or more prescription medications, compared with 30 percent four years ago. Eight percent used attention deficit medications last year; 5 percent took psychiatric drugs.

Borrowing technology developed for nursing homes, CampMeds distributes pills in shrink-wrapped packets marked with a name, date and time. Camp nurses simply tear each packet along the dotted line, sparing them the labor-intensive task of counting pills and reducing the risk of error and thus liability.

The proliferation of children on stimulants for attention deficit disorder, antidepressants or antipsychotic drugs — or on cocktails of all three — is not peculiar to the camp setting. Rather it is the extension of an increasingly common year-round regimen that has also had an impact on schools, although a lesser one, as most medicine is taken at home.

Exacting diagnoses and proper treatments enable some children to go to camp who otherwise could not function in that environment, said Dr. David Fassler, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Dr. Fassler said that children with one behavioral or mood disorder often “have a second or even a third diagnosis.” A child with A.D.D. may also be depressed and anxious, he said, a combination of symptoms that can make such children pariahs in the close quarters of a summer camp cabin without the proper combination of remedies.

Some camp owners question the trend, however. Mr. Popkin, the camp owner in North Carolina, is among them. “It’s universal, and nobody really knows if it’s appropriate or safe,” he said.

And many experts say family doctors who do not have expertise in psychopharmacology sometimes prescribe drugs for anxiety disorders and depression to children without rigorous evaluation, just as they do for adults.

“There is no doubt that kids are more medicated than they used to be,” said Dr. Edward A. Walton, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and an expert on camp medicine for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “And we know that the people prescribing these drugs are not that precise about diagnosis. So the percentage of kids on these meds is probably higher than it needs to be.”

A few medicines growing in popularity, like Abilify and Risperdal, are used for a grab bag of mood disorders. But according to the Physicians’ Desk Reference, the encyclopedia of prescription medications, they can have troublesome side effects in children and teenagers, including elevated blood sugar or the tendency toward heat exhaustion, which requires vigilance by counselors in long, hot days on the ball fields.

Some doctors, nurses and camp directors are uneasy about giving children so-called off-label drugs like Lexapro and Luvox. Such medications are used for depression and anxiety, and have been tested only on adults but can legally be prescribed to children. Clonidine is approved as a medication for high blood pressure but is routinely used for behavioral and emotional problems in children.

“That doesn’t mean they are inappropriate or unsafe,” Dr. Fassler said, adding that camp nurses should be able to call the physician when they have questions, but that not all parents welcome that.

Few camp directors risk discussions with parents about behavioral or psychiatric drugs. “We don’t make these judgments for families,” said Marla Coleman, an owner of Camp Echo and a past president of the American Camp Association.

Figuring out how to distribute all this medicine has taken some trial and error, beginning with supervision by the nurses, who watch the children take their pills.

Some camps do it in the mess hall, citing informality to put campers at ease and the convenience of having everyone assembled in one place.

Other camps prefer the infirmary, to provide more privacy. Camp Pontiac in Copake, N.Y., built a special medication wing with its own entrance and a porch where campers wait their turn.

In Fishkill, N.Y., at a Fresh Air Fund camp for underprivileged children, one nurse in the infirmary deals with bug bites and skinned knees and the other dispenses Strattera and Zoloft, the first for attention deficit disorder and the second for depression, social anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder. Children at the camp take a comparable amount of medication for behavioral and psychological problems as their more privileged counterparts, but more of them suffer from asthma and fewer from seasonal allergies.

The potential for drug interactions is compounded by the widespread use of allergy and asthma medications. Tofranil, an antidepressant for adults that is used for bed-wetting in children, is not recommended in combination with Allegra, for seasonal allergies, Advair, an asthma drug, or epinephrine, the injectable antidote to deadly allergic reactions to bee stings, insect bites and certain foods, primarily peanuts.

Despite a tenfold increase in childhood allergies over the last decade, some camp doctors think daily medication is overused. The owners of Camp Pontiac, Ken and Rick Etra, brothers who are ear, nose and throat doctors, urge parents to forgo prescription remedies for seasonal allergies when occasional over-the-counter antihistamines are sufficient. Their summer camp does not overlap with the height of the pollen and grass season, the Etras say.

They also discourage bed-wetting medications, which can leave a youngster groggy. “They don’t pee, but they’re zombies,” said Mimi Burcham, Pontiac’s head nurse. Instead, camp directors train counselors to wake certain children at midnight for a trip to the bathroom and replace soiled linens with identical sheets to avoid embarrassment.

CampMeds charges $40 per child for any length of stay or for any regimen, a cost that most camps pass along to families. The Fresh Air Fund camps do not use CampMeds, but not because of cost, said Jenny Morgenthau, the fund’s executive director. Rather, she said, many of the families are too disorganized — some in shelters or in prison — to do the preparatory paperwork.

So Fresh Air’s campers arrive with unmarked bags and bottles that cannot be used under state regulations, and without some of their essential medicines. Susan Powers and Leticia Diaz, who run the infirmary at the girls’ camp, are accustomed to children bringing their brother’s expired asthma inhaler or their grandmother’s sleeping pills in a perfume bottle. Sometimes the medications are missing because they have been sold on the street or used by adults, Ms. Powers and Ms. Diaz said. It takes a few days to unscramble.

The nurses at high-end camps have the opposite problem, with parents who try to involve themselves in all aspects of their children’s lives. Some, for instance, may view photographs on the camp Web site, see their child is sunburned and call the camp director to ask for more diligent application of sunscreen. That mind-set may produce ceaseless efforts to help the child, but it has the potential to lead to overmedication, many camp owners and doctors say.

Ms. Burcham, a special-education nurse during the school year, said she often worried about her unfamiliarity with some of the drugs. She turns to the Physicians’ Desk Reference for guidance, or sometimes calls her father, a psychiatrist.

Unpacking the shipment of medicine at Pontiac in mid-June, she tried to make sense of a packet from CampMeds for an 11-year-old who, for the first time, would be taking Concerta, for attention deficit disorder, along with Clonidine and Wellbutrin, both mood disorder drugs.

“I’m not a specialist, and that’s very disturbing sometimes,” Ms. Burcham said. “How do I know if we’re really getting it right?”

Then she carefully placed the medications in a plastic bin marked with the camper’s name.

A Portable (and Squeezable) Way to Recharge
Anne Eisenberg

CONSUMERS have trouble focusing on the distant promise of fuel cells to power their cars. But fuel cells to recharge their cellphones, PDA’s, MP3 players and other hand-held devices? That might be a different story — especially if those fuel cells, far from any wall outlet, could inject an inexpensive, vivifying stream of electricity into, say, a fading Nokia and recharge it for three 10-hour runs, or provide 60 to 80 hours of music played on an iPod.

That’s a fuel cell people might like, especially that frustrated contingent standing around any AC power source at the airport. For them, popping a 5-ounce fuel cell out of a backpack, plugging it into a Treo and watching the device quietly recharge might well have its charms.

Such a gadget is indeed in the works, although it is not quite yet on store shelves or inside commuters’ briefcases.

Throughout this month, a lightweight, disposable fuel cell developed in Israel is being shipped to hundreds of potential customers in the United States, Europe, mainland China, Taiwan, Japan and other places where people love their Razrs, BlackBerries and PlayStation Portables.

The fuel cell is housed in a flexible plastic shell a bit larger than a deck of cards. The cell comes with a cable to link it to the device that needs recharging. Squeeze the shell — the container resists slightly and pleasantly as it clicks shut — plug in the cable, and the fuel cell starts to do its work: a chemical reaction produces electricity, and a dead Razr is brought to life more swiftly than Frankenstein.

Will people take to this new way to recharge devices? That is the hope of Gennadi Finkelshtain, deviser of the system and general manager of More Energy, a company in Lod, Israel, outside of Tel Aviv, that is already producing the fuel cell systems on a semi-automated line. More Energy is a subsidiary of Medis Technologies, which is based in New York.

The suggested retail price for the fuel cells will probably be about $20, or $24 if the reusable connecting cable is included, Mr. Finkelshtain said.

Mass production is scheduled for Ireland in the first half of 2007, and if the dreams of Mr. Finkelshtain and his backers come true, fuel cells will take their place on the shelves of many a shop, grocery and convenience store.

Mr. Finkelshtain, an engineer, learned the basics of energy technology and fuel cells in the former Soviet Union. He emigrated to Israel in 1990. “The fuel cell industry in the U.S.S.R. was very advanced,” he said, by way of explaining the beginnings of his expertise.

Many other micro fuel cells for various uses are either on the market or will be soon, said Sara Bradford, one of the people on Mr. Finkelshtain’s list to receive a trial fuel cell. She is an analyst at the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, which did a study of micro fuel cell markets around the world. She is looking forward to trying out the device.

“This is the first fuel cell recharger pack,” said Ms. Bradford, who works out of the firm’s San Antonio office. “There’s nothing like this in terms of a fuel cell.” If the company meets its deadline, she said, it will also be the first to mass-produce portable fuel cell rechargers, predicting that such a product would have “a big market.”

Batteries, however dramatic their evolution, haven’t been able to keep up with consumer demand for portable power. “Every year, every few months, there’s a widening of this power gap,” Ms. Bradford said. Always, it’s “a question of how long your batteries run versus how long you want them to run.”

Small fuel cells are exciting, she said, because they address this consumer yearning. People say, “I want my cellphone to run longer; I want to watch a couple of movies on my PlayStation,” she said.

Energizer will soon be among the companies addressing the need to recharge — although with batteries, not fuel cells. In September, it will introduce a portable, battery-based recharger, Energi to Go, said Kelvin Belle, a senior product manager in St. Louis. The recharger, at $19.99, is meant for cellphones and comes with two disposable lithium AA batteries that provide an average of 1.3 charges before they are used up, Mr. Belle said. New batteries sell for about $10 a four-pack.

The company expects to produce another recharger for audio and game devices later in the year.

The Medis fuel cell provides 20 watt hours of total energy, said Shmuel Gal, head of the electronics department in Israel. “The actual use time depends on the device,” he said. For a standard cellphone, for example, 20 watt hours will provide approximately 10 full charges, each worth about 3 hours of use time.

Starter kits for the fuel cell will come with an electrical cord, said Robert K. Lifton, chief executive of Medis. At one end of the cord is the slender, chip-based power management system that steps up the voltage according to the device. This end plugs into the fuel cell. At the other end is a detachable tip for the specific device being charged. A BlackBerry requires one tip, a Treo another.

The connectors have no electronics within them and are inexpensive — about 6 to 10 cents each for Medis to buy, Mr. Lifton said. The starter kit will probably be sold with five or six of these connectors.

Devices that are plugged into the fuel cell will start immediately, Mr. Lifton said. Fully recharging a device takes about the same time as recharging would at the wall.

THE fuel cell has a simple basis, Mr. Finkelshtain said: sodium borohydride, mixed with an electrolyte, potassium hydroxide and a small amount of alcohol. When a user squeezes the cover, “the electrolyte goes to the electrolyte chamber and the fuel to the fuel chamber.” Oxygen from the air — the cover has small slots incised in it — reacts with the fuel to produce electrical energy. The pack can be stored for a year, he said; once activated, the cell will last two months.

Medis’s product is a promising entry into the portable fuel cell market, said Zbigniew Wronski, a research scientist at the Canada Center for Mineral and Energy Technology, part of the country’s department of natural resources. Mr. Wronski, who has worked for many years on hydrogen materials for fuel cells, admires the Medis approach for many reasons, including the architecture of the fuel cell. Squeezing it, he said, permits the simultaneous injection of the new fuel and extraction of the used fuel to the other chamber.

“It’s like a carpet-cleaning machine,” he explained. “Squeeze it, and the soap solution goes into the carpet, but at the same time, the dirty solution is swept back to a different part of the compartment.”

Until now, fuel cells, invented in 1839, have made their way successfully onto space shuttles, but not yet into our daily lives. Maybe Mr. Finkelshtain’s ingenious pocket recharger will begin to change all of that.

Big Tests For Fuel Cells Coming in 2007
Michael Kanellos

Next year fuel cells could take a significant step forward, according to a CEO of one of the leading manufacturers of the technology.

In 2007, the U.S. military will conduct field tests of hybrid power systems, which combine lithium ion batteries and methanol fuel cells, Peng Lim, CEO of MTI Micro Fuel Cells, said during an interview here Tuesday. The hybrid power systems will be squeezed into portable radar and other devices and will be tried out in remote sensors that pick up vibrations, sounds or movement in the field and radio the data back to headquarters.

In hybrid systems, the small lithium ion battery provides peak power while the fuel cell recharges the battery or runs the equipment when less power is required to run it. Fuel cells harvest the energy from chemical reactions and then provide that energy (in the form of electrons) to devices.

"Fuel cells will be there to refill your tank, and your tank will be lithium ion batteries," Lim said. "We will complement lithium ion. Over the next 10 years we could be a replacement."

MTI plans to deliver a round of fuel cell prototypes to Samsung at the end of the year to power cell phones and a second round of prototypes in the spring of 2007, he said. If all goes well, Samsung could potentially incorporate fuel cells into products. Generally, a product can go from prototype to shelves in around 18 months.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is also expected in 2007 to follow a recommendation that fuel cells containing 100 percent methanol be carried on flights. The department has already approved fuel cells that contain 24 percent methanol and 76 percent water, but those don't compete well against batteries.

Fuel cell proponents have missed several deadlines in the past. Hitachi said in late 2003 that it would have PDAs (personal digital assistants) running on fuel cells by 2005. Toshiba said in 2004 that its sleek fuel cell for MP3 players would be delayed from 2005 to 2006 and has yet to appear.

Part of the problem, Lim said, is that such things take time. "When you talk to a scientist, he thinks it's done when the prototype is done. But that's a long way from getting it to people like you and me," he said.

In the last several years, engineers have tweaked fuel cells and managed to make them more efficient than earlier prototypes.

Besides Samsung, MTI has inked a deal with Duracell, which will resell refill cartridges for MTI fuel cells under its own brand name. Working with a large consumer electronics manufacturer and a consumer goods company gives fuel cells an opportunity to get in front of people. Lim also sits on the board of advisers of Inventec, the contract manufacturer that produces portable devices for Apple Computer and others.

The good news is that demand for more power in portable devices continues to grow. Watching video or TV on cell phones consumes energy. Overall, fuel cells can provide more power in a limited space of volume than lithium ion batteries, say fuel cell advocates.

Lithium ion batteries in the lab can provide 0.4 to 0.5 watt/hours per cubic centimeter and about 0.25 watt/hours per cubic centimeter in everyday products, according to MTI. (A watt/hour is a measure of how much electricity will be produced over an hour.)

A cubic centimeter of methanol can provide 1.3 watt/hours. The methanol has to be contained in a fuel cell, of course. Thus, if the fuel cell housing--a plastic and metal device with a membrane that converts methanol into water, carbon dioxide and electrons--is 20 cubic centimeters and it holds 10 cubic centimeters of methanol, the resulting fuel cell will perform as well as 30 cubic centimeters of a lithium ion battery. Manufacturers, though, can get a better ratio between methanol and the actual physical fuel cell itself than that, Lim said, resulting in more energy per cubic centimeter.

For the military, there are other advantages as well. Battery packs weigh a lot and can't be discarded (for fear of environmental problems and the enemy figuring things out about your equipment). A portable battery pack taken on a 72-hour mission might weigh 24 pounds and take up nine liters of space. An equivalent fuel cell might weigh 9 pounds and consume four liters of space. On the way back from the mission, the weight is greatly reduced because the methanol has been consumed.

Battery manufacturers, however, aren't standing still. Some, such as Valence Technology, are working on lithium batteries that fit into large devices such as cars, while start-up PowerGenix says it has come up with a new generation of batteries for power tools. Cell phones and notebooks almost universally rely on lithium ion batteries.

An even bigger problem for fuel cells may lie in convincing customers. When the subject comes up on news sites or chat boards, the usual complaints and fears crop up. Will a methanol fuel cell blow up in my lap? What happens when I run out--will I be able to buy replacements or refills?

Lim says the answer is no on the first and yes on the second. If all goes well, 7-Eleven will sell refills right next to the breath mints and beef jerky. Those questions, though, will become less important when and if the performance gains can be demonstrated.

"You won't see the value of a fuel cell until you need to call your boss and you run out of batteries," he said.

A Fake Music Documentary Played for Anything but Laughs
David Browne

LIKE many at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Matt Dentler was intrigued by one particular premiere: “Brothers of the Head,” a story about an obscure British punk band fronted by, of all things, conjoined twins. The news that the feature was directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe — the team who made “Lost in La Mancha,” a documentary about Terry Gilliam’s never-completed film “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” — also appealed to Mr. Dentler, who, given the premise, was expecting something humorous along the lines of the eternally celebrated “This Is Spinal Tap.”

When the screening was over, though, Mr. Dentler didn’t know quite what to make of what he’d seen. “Everyone was talking about it,” recalled Mr. Dentler, a producer for South by Southwest, the annual Austin, Tex., multimedia jamboree. “It’s so not what you’d expect. It’s moving and really disturbing. It’s definitely not a comedy.”

Ever since “Spinal Tap” arrived more than 20 years ago, the fake pop documentary has become a growing subgenre. But while the films have ranged from parodies of the gangsta rap scene (“CB4”) to the folk music community (“A Mighty Wind”), they have all shared one aspect: playing the innumerable clichés of the music world for laughs.

Superficially, “Brothers of the Head” (which opens in New York on July 28) adheres to many of the trademarks of the fake-rock-doc genre. The film chronicles the saga of the Bang Bang — fronted by sensitive, introspective Tom Howe and his pent-up, aggressive attached twin, Barry — by way of salvaged “lost” scenes and “interviews” with surviving associates. Like some of its predecessors, the film was largely improvised, and the actors sang their own parts.

Yet any similarities to “Spinal Tap” and its ilk end there. From the moment the freakish brothers (played by the real-life identical twins Harry and Luke Treadaway) are sold into virtual music-business slavery until their tragic end — with plenty of kinky sexual couplings and druggy excess in between — “Brothers of the Head” takes an uncommon tack: a documentary approach that is not parody but genuinely serious drama.

“With something like ‘Spinal Tap,’ the documentary format makes you momentarily take it seriously, which makes it funnier,” Mr. Fulton said by telephone from Los Angeles. “But that wasn’t the effect we were after at all. We wanted to use a documentary to make a richer kind of fiction. We wanted to take on the challenge of using those techniques but not have it be a satire at all.”

“Brothers of the Head” did, in fact, begin as fiction. Based on an obscure 1977 science-fiction novel by the British author Brian Aldiss, it was adapted by the screenwriter Tony Grisoni, whom Mr. Fulton and Mr. Pepe met on the set of Mr. Gilliam’s “Don Quixote” debacle. Although unfamiliar with the book, the directors, who have been making documentaries together since the early 90’s, were immediately intrigued.

“We definitely saw personal parallels in the story of Tom and Barry,” Mr. Fulton said. “Certainly the fact that Lou and I are long-term collaborators and it’s difficult to separate ourselves from each other.”

The cinéma vérité approach also made it easier to persuade backers to finance the admittedly off-the-wall idea. “People don’t know our fiction films because they’re all short,” Mr. Pepe said. “So this was a way of convincing a financier that we know what we’re doing.”

Although the British company Film Four picked up the film after its initial backer, United Artists, was sold in 2004, IFC Films, which is distributing it in the United States, had some early qualms. “We read the script and found it interesting, but we wanted to see the finished project first,” said Jonathan Sehring, IFC’s president. “Our production group thought it was odd. And Lou and Keith hadn’t done anything other than straight documentaries.”

Based on its description, the $5 million film “sounds absolutely ridiculous: Siamese-twin punk-rock band,” Mr. Fulton said. “But we were taking the most absurd premise and trying to make it as real as possible.” Presenting the drama as a documentary, Mr. Pepe added, “encourages the audience to believe in the story more so than if it were done in a standard Hollywood format.”

Instead of looking to old mockumentaries (“the dreaded term,” Mr. Pepe said), the directors watched classic rock documentaries like D. A. Pennebaker’s “Don’t Look Back,” about Bob Dylan, and “Gimme Shelter,” the Maysles Brothers’ film about the Rolling Stones and Altamont. They then hired a veteran British producer and musician (Clive Langer, who has worked with everyone from Elvis Costello to the band Bush) to write and produce the music, which Mr. Fulton described as “the missing link between David Bowie and the Sex Pistols.”

To further blur the line between fantasy and reality, the film includes clips from a fabricated long-lost Ken Russell biopic of the twins; Mr. Russell himself contributed improvised reminiscences. Finally, to ensure that viewers wouldn’t instantly think the film was fiction, Mr. Fulton and Mr. Pepe cast unknowns in the leads: twin 19-year-old drama students from Devon, England.

During their first two auditions, Harry and Luke Treadaway were simply told that the film was about brothers. Only during their third tryout were they shown the script. “I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know about this,’ ”Harry Treadaway recalled in a telephone interview from London. (“They were a little disturbed,” Mr. Fulton said.)

But Mr. Treadaway said the possibilities in the very different (if bound-together) brothers, and the simple chance to make a film, erased their unease. The biggest hindrance for the Treadaways may have been being strapped together — with everything from a rock-climbing harness to prosthetics — for long periods of time. “It was a bit annoying anytime you wanted to go to the toilet,” Luke Treadaway said.

After its Toronto premiere, “Brothers of the Head” made the rounds of film festivals, including Tribeca and (thanks to Mr. Dentler, who became a passionate supporter) South by Southwest. Although reactions ranged from enthusiastic to puzzled, the mass audience for a somber, often unnerving fictional rock documentary — which isn’t afraid to dwell on close-ups of the flesh that connects the Howes — is an open question.

For his part, Mr. Fulton acknowledged that the audience for such a film is “a difficult one to target” but said he uses a different barometer for its success. “When the lights go up, the audience always looks dumbfounded,” he said dryly. “I’m proud of that.”

An Uprising on the Right in a World That Leans Left
John Anderson

"THERE are exceptions to every rule,” said the writer, director and producer Charles E. Sellier Jr. “But I’ve been at this 34 years, and I really, honestly, believe that the more creative you are, the more likely you are to be a liberal.”

“I think there is a huge disconnect between conservatives and film,” said the festival director Jim Hubbard. “I don’t know if it’s in their DNA or what, but there’s definitely a reason conservatives tend to shun the arts.”

“The conservative movement has been about talk radio, maybe books,” said the filmmaker Michael Wilson. “Film — and music, to a large degree — has long been considered in the realm of liberal thought.”

It would be natural to assume that the three men quoted above labor somewhere on the left side of Hollywood, or make movies about free-trade coffee pickers and Chinese sneaker factories. None is the case. Mr. Sellier, chief executive of Grizzly Adams Productions, has been responsible for documentaries like “George W. Bush: Faith in the White House” and the religiously themed “Breaking the Da Vinci Code.” Mr. Hubbard, with his wife, Ellen Gard Hubbard, founded the right-leaning, Dallas-based American Film Renaissance festival in 2004. And Mr. Wilson was responsible for one of the more successful conservative documentaries of recent years, “Michael Moore Hates America.”

What the three acknowledge, however, is that something besides liberal bias is responsible for the striking shortage of conservative nonfiction cinema at a time when filmmakers on the other end of the spectrum are flooding screens with messages about global warming, the war in Iraq and the downside of Wal-Mart.

Mr. Hubbard, for one, is out to fill the void. He said a philanthropist, whom he declined to identify, had come forward with money to help finance a series of six documentaries that Mr. Hubbard wanted to produce, on various subjects, including the growth of government and whether it is “potentially a threat to our freedom.”

Mr. Hubbard traces his own passion for the hitherto missing conservative cinema to an experience almost five years ago, when he was attending the University of Arkansas law school. He and his wife, he says, went to their local art house, where the menu was “Bowling for Columbine,” “Frida” and “The Life of David Gale” — films, respectively, by a liberal, about a Marxist and against capital punishment. The Hubbards weren’t pleased.

“We support art,” Mr. Hubbard explained during a recent interview. “We want more people to make films with all perspectives. But what we noticed was a definite lack at the center-right of things. If you look at the top 20 documentaries in the political genre, 18 or 19 take a left-of-center position. And if you look at the last election, 51 percent of the country takes a right-of-center position. You’d think there’d be a market there.”

Still, the Hubbards and others, if they are to succeed, will have to figure out exactly why conservative expression, so vibrant in books and broadcast in recent years, has remained muted on film.

A number of factors present themselves. Hollywood’s studios, which often shun onscreen politics for fear of alienating one side of the audience, are barely a factor in the documentary business. But documentaries are relatively inexpensive to make, so most are scratched together with independent financing, then go scrambling for an audience — on cable television, at political gatherings or, for the lucky few, in theaters.

It’s no secret that film festivals don’t just serve as the cradle for many political documentaries, but also provide the only home they’ll ever know. Neither is it classified information that many festival programmers and audiences, by their own description, lean leftward. But several programmers interviewed for this story — from Geoff Gilmore at Sundance to Carl Spence at Seattle to Ally Derks at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, the largest documentary festival in the world — said they simply did not get many conservative films.

“We did get one very interesting film a few years ago — partly financed by the Army — that was a tale of the heroic hardships of some of the most celebrated and later successful P.O.W.’s in Vietnam,” said Alan Franey, program director of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

“It was quite gripping in a ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’ sort of way,” he added, referring to Werner Herzog’s 1997 documentary about the adventures of a pilot who had been shot down during the Vietnam War. “But our staff were, probably rightly, convinced that our audience doesn’t appreciate ‘that sort of thing.’ ”

Richard Peña, program director of the New York Film Festival and a member of the New Directors/New Films selection committee, similarly noted a dearth of strong conservative prospects. “For a number of years we received submissions from a Christian university of films that always looked like cheap sci-fi and were always about forced abortions,” Mr. Peña said.

“I frankly can’t think of docs with a conservative slant,” Mr. Peña added. “New Directors did show Néstor Almendros’s ‘Improper Conduct,’ but Nestor would have argued that it was truly a left film, since it defended gay rights, while attacking Castro. The festival also showed a documentary years ago, about the Ukraine famine in the 1930’s, written by Soviet attacker Robert Conquest. The gist of his argument was that the famine was ordered by Stalin to take care of those unruly Ukrainians, but his evidence had been disputed. But those are probably more marginal cases.”

Meanwhile, others in the documentary world argued that the very nature of conservatism runs counter to the rebellious impulses that make a good film — in effect, contending that a critique like Robert Greenwald’s “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” is inherently more exciting than a defense like Ron Galloway’s “Why Wal-Mart Works.”

“The origin of the word conservative is about not changing, accepting what is,” said the director Wash Westmoreland, who is not a conservative. “And that’s never a very interesting thing to make a film about. The thing that drives you to make a documentary is seeing it as a way to social change. Societies with little conflict tend not to make interesting art.”

Before he and his partner, Richard Glatzer, made “Quinceañera” — which won the grand jury prize for dramatic features at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — Mr. Westmoreland directed “Gay Republicans,” which profiled various members of the Log Cabin Republicans and the split within the group over President Bush’s stance on gay marriage. Though each character in the movie was Republican, it remained a story about a progressive struggle.

The notion that conservatism is essentially static would probably come as a surprise to some of the exuberant right-leaning thinkers who have upended the talk-radio world. Yet Mr. Sellier, with several religious documentaries to his credit, finds some truth in the idea.

“In order for a mind to soar at the possibilities and come up with someone no one ever thought of and making a film about it and showing it at a film festival — it means you’re out of the box,” he said. “And if you’re out of the box, you’re out of conservative thinking, aren’t you?”

Mr. Sellier described himself as an evangelical Christian, but also as a pragmatic businessman. He follows market research. He said he makes the films he makes because there’s an appetite for them. “You may come back to me in five years and ask , ‘Why is the only thing you make sci-fi movies?’ ”

Mr. Hubbard, however, points to the lack of supportive infrastructure as a major stumbling block for conservatives like Mr. Wilson, who had no shortage of creative energy when he conceived his “Michael Moore Hates America.”

“Michael had a great idea,” Mr. Hubbard said of Mr. Wilson, whose film parodied Mr. Moore’s own “Roger & Me” by following around an unresponsive Mr. Moore and attempting to debunk his film “Fahrenheit 9/11.” (Mr. Moore comes under frequent attack, from the film “FahrenHYPE 9/11” to the Web site “Bowling for Truth.”)

“Here you have an individual that conservatives despise, a critique of the No. 1 doc of all time, and he couldn’t raise a nickel till it was too late,” Mr. Hubbard said. “It boggles my mind. That film got standing ovations at both screenings we gave it in Dallas.”

With his newfound financing, Mr. Hubbard said he expected to produce films that were more than simple polemic, though whether they will satisfy the likes of Lincoln Center’s Mr. Peña or Vancouver’s Mr. Franey remains to be seen.

“A documentary should be an investigation,” Mr. Hubbard said. “You might have a preconceived notion, but we definitely want to keep an open mind. If we have to criticize Republicans, we’re going to criticize them. And if we find a place to praise Democrats, we’re going to do that.”

Mr. Wilson, who is planning to make a film with Mr. Hubbard, seconded the notion that conservative films will succeed only if they reflect deeper cinematic values than many have shown to date.

“I’m a movie guy,” said Mr. Wilson. “I went to see ‘Nacho Libre’ yesterday. But because documentaries have moved to the forefront, a lot of people have started making documentaries — and not everybody’s a filmmaker.”

Initial offerings to Mr. Hubbard’s Dallas festival or the conservative Liberty Film Festival in Los Angeles, he said, included “a lot of movies that were like two-hour speeches. It might be important to someone who’s making it, but it doesn’t engage anyone else.”

But word of better conservative films, including his own, has been spreading, he said. And, inevitably, that has gotten him meetings in Hollywood. “One executive told me: ‘Listen, everybody has his or her politics, and in Hollywood they tend to skew leftward. But the bottom line is, if you can make us money, we want to work with you.’ It’s still a business.”

The Russians Are Filming! The Russians Are Filming!
Laura M. Holson and Steven Lee Myers

JAMES D. DECK and James Heth — or “the Americans,” as their Russian film crew calls them — descended 200 feet down a rusty ladder into the blank darkness of one of this city’s serpentine subway tunnels, far below a cluttered construction lot near the old Red Army Theater.

Mr. Deck and Mr. Heth are the creative and technical advisers on “Trackman,” a thriller set here, filmed in Russian and aimed at millions of eager moviegoers spread across the former Soviet republics. It is the first local-language film for Monumental Pictures, a joint venture of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the Patton Media Group, a production company backed in part by American investors.

A primary task for the two men is to instill a studio-style work ethic on the “Trackman” set and to make sure that the movie is delivered on time and on budget. When the film’s director, Igor Shavlak, tells Mr. Deck that cameras will roll in 30 minutes, Mr. Deck raises a good-natured eyebrow. “Promise?” he asks.

Mr. Shavlak welcomes the prodding. “The idea is to absorb the American experience” making films, he said later. “It is common knowledge we are lagging far behind.”

Not, it would appear, for long. Russia’s movie industry, following a torpid decade that mirrored the country’s social, political and economic turbulence after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, is in the midst of a creative renaissance and box-office boom. And Hollywood — whose producers, distributors and exhibitors rarely pass up a chance to exploit an opportunity — is spending millions on theaters, distributors and movies themselves.

“It’s like a gold rush right now,” says Michael Lynton, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. “There is a long history of good filmmaking; there are actors and directors who know what they are doing. The trick is getting in at the ground level.”

Russia, of course, is a land where a rush for gold is a perennial pastime. It is also an unpredictable, unwieldy place that in recent years has routinely rewarded and then confounded the expectations of many fortune hunters. Even so, analysts and film executives all say the movie business here looks more promising and more vibrant than it has in many, many years.

Box-office receipts in Russia increased 20 percent in 2005, to $331 million, with PricewaterhouseCoopers, the American accounting firm, predicting double-digit growth in each of the next five years. (Other hot growth markets, based on preliminary data, are Turkey and China.) By contrast, almost every other major Western and Eastern European country had box-office declines last year, as did the United States, where revenue slid 5.7 percent, to $9 billion.

The number of tickets sold in Russia jumped 19 percent, to 125 million, in 2005, while movie admissions in the rest of Europe, the United States and much of Asia were either flat or down, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Russia’s biggest movie distributor is Gemini Film, which 20th Century Fox, a unit of the News Corporation, bought in April. Michael Schlicht, a native of the former East Germany, heads Gemini’s Moscow office, and he advises that serious, creative film companies ignore Russia at their own peril.

“You have to be here,” he says.

“Trackman” is the first of three Russian films that Sony plans to make this year with Patton, whose partners include Paul B. Heth, James’s older brother, and Shari Redstone, the president of National Amusements, the Boston-area-based company that runs movie theaters. Ms. Redstone’s father is the American media tycoon Sumner M. Redstone.

Ms. Redstone has also joined with Mr. Heth in Rising Star Media, a five-year-old company that has built two American-style multiplexes that are drawing thousands of moviegoers to the sprawling megamalls sprouting on Moscow’s suburban fringes. Rising Star says it has plans for two more multiplexes, including the first in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

Other media companies are interested, too. Fox, which bought the international rights to Timur Bekmambetov’s eerie, supernatural blockbusters “Night Watch” and “Day Watch,” now has 40 employees here, Fox executives said. In March, the Walt Disney Company announced the hiring of a senior executive to expand operations in Moscow. Such moves, mere baby steps by American corporate standards, still illustrate how much has changed, and how quickly, in Russian moviemaking.

In the years after the Soviet collapse, the Russian film industry — an accomplished one, despite state controls — ground to a halt after losing its government financing. Like other industries, it struggled to adapt to a free market. Most of the old Soviet movie houses — large halls with single screens — became casinos or auto showrooms. A flood of mostly cheap counterfeit videos, followed later by DVD’s, kept Russians out of what few theaters were left. Even acclaimed films like Nikita Mikhailov’s “Burnt by the Sun,” which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1994, was viewed mostly on video.

In 1997, more or less the nadir of the Russian film industry, producers filmed only 13 movies in Russia, according to Gemini Films and Kinobusiness Today, a Moscow trade publication. The total Russian box office was a mere $6 million, and only a fraction of that was for Russian films. The next year, Russia defaulted on its debts and the ruble plummeted in value, leaving little money for a night out at the movies.

Then, beginning in 2000, the country’s fortunes turned. The political and economic stability that coincided with the presidency of Vladimir V. Putin lifted incomes and fueled a consumer spending boom that, inevitably, left struggling Russians with the once unthinkable: disposable income. While Russia remains poor, with an average monthly income of $350, a middle class is emerging, especially in cities like Moscow, where average monthly income is $1,050, according to government data.

After years of bounding growth, Russian-made films accounted for 26 percent of the country’s box-office revenue last year, according to Russian film executives. Analysts predict that the share may rise to 40 percent in the next few years. With subsidies from the government, Russian film production has doubled since 2002; some 85 productions are under way this year.

Unlike other flourishing markets, Russia poses few obstacles to making a movie inside its borders or having it distributed. In China, by contrast, politicians keep a leash on imports, allowing only 20 foreign films into the country each year. India, for its part, is dominated by a tight-knit group of filmmakers who specialize in stylized musicals. That makes it a hard market for outsiders to crack.

With its relative openness, Russia has become the world’s 13th-largest movie market, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Analysts say that the market is likely to keep growing, given Russia’s population of 143 million and the many millions of other Russian speakers in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics.

Hollywood has taken notice. Last December, as part of a celebration to re-release “Cinderella” on DVD, Disney staged a ballroom party for 2,000 children at the Kremlin Palace of Congresses, where Communist Party dignitaries once assembled.

As snow flecked the Kremlin’s golden domes outside, Disney offered cake and candy to aspiring princes and princesses who learned to waltz inside. Disney’s animated characters — officially frowned upon by some in Russia when the country was under Soviet control — twirled on the dance floor. Disney even flew in actors from the United States to sing popular songs from “Cinderella” and “Snow White.” Several months later, Disney announced that it would expand its presence here, making Russia a top priority.

But Disney, typically conservative, is only beginning to ponder making movies; so far, the company says it is more comfortable selling DVD’s, books and stuffed animals.

IN 1996, Paul Heth, with the Eastman Kodak Company as a sponsor, opened Moscow’s first modern, American-style theater here, in a converted conference hall near Pushkin Square. He called it Kodak KinoMir, or Cinema World. It was the first theater to show films with digital sound and dubbing that actually stayed in sync. Mr. Heth recalls moviegoers waiting in long lines to see the first film, “The Rock,” a Nicholas Cage thriller. The theater sold out for almost every showing during the next two years.

“The good news is, Russians love movies,” Mr. Heth said. Still, by 2000, there were only about 78 modern screens in 55 theaters throughout Russia, according to industry analysts. Then the boom hit. The number of screens passed 1,000 in 2005 and is expected to reach 1,350 this year.

But hurdles remain. Shortly before Mr. Heth’s company, Rising Star, opened its first KinoStar-branded theater in 2003, the seats arrived without bolts to attach them to the floor. “I don’t want to say doing business there is easy,” said Mr. Heth’s partner, Ms. Redstone. “It’s complicated enough in the United States. But it’s even more complicated there.”

Mr. Heth and Ms. Redstone say their theaters try to evoke the glamour of Hollywood, but with a modern twist. All are air-conditioned, built in suburban shopping malls and anchored by a megastore, like the furniture company Ikea. At the first KinoStar theater in suburban Moscow, attendants show customers to reserved seats. There, on a stage above the concession stand, the Bolshoi Theater’s orchestra played one evening. The theater sells beer and wine in the auditorium, as well as local pastries, sandwiches and sushi.

For some, extravagance has its drawbacks. A night at the movies is not cheap: tickets in Moscow cost more than $9. At first, patrons thought the theaters were “too glamorous,” Ms. Redstone said. “They thought they needed an invitation.”

Despite pricey tickets, Russian films have recently begun beating out Hollywood’s heavily promoted blockbusters by using Hollywood’s own tactics, including wide releases and promotional onslaughts — all of which are marketing novelties here. In 2004, the hugely popular “Night Watch” became Russia’s highest-grossing film ever, with $16.3 million in Russian box-office receipts, edging out the much-anticipated “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” which brought in $14 million.

Subsequent films made in Russia broke the “Night Watch” record. In 2005, “The Turkish Gambit,” a historical adventure film, garnered $19.3 million. A few months later, “Company 9,” a bloody, emotionally wrought movie about a cadre of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, pulled in $25.6 million. Mr. Putin viewed a special “Company 9” screening at his residence outside Moscow and declared the Russian film industry “reborn.”

“Day Watch,” the sequel to “Night Watch,” opened in January and grossed $34.7 million, three times more than Peter Jackson’s “King Kong.” The twist is that locally produced Russian hits — often portrayed here as a backlash against imported American fare — are being spurred by Hollywood’s interest.

“Trackman” bears no resemblance to a Hollywood blockbuster. Its budget is about $2 million and its story is purely Russian: a bank heist goes sour and a group of robbers seize hostages. But it is a touchy theme in a country that in recent years has endured two hostage crises in which hundreds of people died — the first at a Moscow theater in 2002 and another at a school in Beslan in 2004. The robbers in the film escape into the labyrinthine tunnels under Moscow, only to encounter a mysterious killer, a former K.G.B. agent obsessed with protecting the subway passages that were long rumored to exist as secret escapes for Communist apparatchiks.

But the American influence on “Trackman” is clear. Monumental Pictures oversaw the movie from the start, conducting focus groups to test story themes and even bringing in an American script doctor to polish the prose. Star-making is also part of the mix for film producers because, here as in America, stardom sells.

“They also want their own Brad Pitts and Monica Belluccis,” said Michael Dounayev, the managing director of Sistema Mass Media, which founded Thema Production, a Luxembourg company that has produced two Russian films this year. Thema is converting an unfinished St. Petersburg military warehouse into a 45,000-square-foot production studio, and plans to open it next year.

The financial risk of making movies in Russia is small: most budgets are between $1 million and $5 million. But other headaches persist — quotidian problems like securing permits or office space.

“We couldn’t get an office,” said Mr. Lynton at Sony. “It’s not like Shanghai where there are new buildings. And it is not like they are in the best condition.”

To forestall similar problems, studios like Fox will not consider making a movie in Russia without a local producer onboard. Sony has an international executive, Gareth Wigan, who is based in Los Angeles but travels regularly to Russia to oversee the company’s films here.

Mr. Deck says delays that can dog film production anywhere seem compounded here because of Russia’s bureaucracy. And, of course, there is the language barrier. Still, his excitement is palpable. “You can’t build this set,” he said gleefully, peering down a subway tunnel where “Trackman” was being filmed.

Hollywood’s biggest challenge in Russia is a well-known culprit: film piracy. DVD’s are sold on the street for as little as $2 to $5 on the same day — and sometimes before — a movie’s theatrical debut. Many are copied directly from movie theater prints, suggesting the work of local industry insiders, not enterprising pirates seated in the back of a movie theater carrying camcorders. Mr. Schlicht estimates that movie studios and producers lose about 90 percent of potential Russian box-office revenue because of rampant piracy. But even that is not deterring the most intrepid investors.

“Russia is a hot market right now because things are actually happening,” said Tomas Jegeus, co-president of Fox’s international theatrical distribution division. “It is not just a promise of good fortune to come, like in so many other countries.”

For Ailing Disney, a Shot of Strong Medicine
Laura Holson

Since last year, Hollywood has been expecting the Walt Disney Company to announce layoffs in its film division. But with two humbling years at the box office, the company is planning something bigger: a larger overhaul of its movie studio.

After a yearlong review of its operations, Walt Disney Studios will soon announce a major reorganization of its live-action movie division, which will alter the way Disney movies are made and marketed, according to several people briefed on the plan.

As of last weekend, Disney was still assessing how many jobs would be eliminated as a result. International and domestic marketing, which have been handled separately, are expected to be combined under Mark Zoradi, president of Buena Vista International, the studio’s overseas distribution arm, said these people. Another Disney veteran, Oren Aviv, who supervises Disney’s domestic movie marketing, is to be promoted too, although it is unclear what his responsibilities will be.

In elevating the two executives, both of whom are close to the studio chairman, Richard Cook, Disney is betting on a revolution from within, unlike Paramount Pictures, which quickly brought in outsiders to shake up a staid culture last year. Mr. Cook was charged with reinventing the studio last year. Robert A. Iger, Disney’s newly appointed chief executive, has said that his priorities would be global expansion and promoting Disney products across all the company’s divisions.

The last two years have been disappointing for the studio despite the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (which remained in top place at the box office during the weekend with another $62 million in sales) and “The Chronicles of Narnia” last December. The studio produced a series of flops, many from its adult-oriented division Touchstone Films, including “The Alamo,” “The Ladykillers” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.” Last year Disney fell to No. 5 in domestic box-office share, bringing in $962 million. In 2003 it was No. 1, with $1.5 billion in domestic ticket sales.

Mr. Cook, who has been mulling possible changes since last year, presented his plan to Disney’s board at a recent executive retreat in Orlando, Fla., said some of the people briefed on the meeting. All of the people interviewed for this article declined to be named, citing the delicate nature of the reorganization. Disney executives declined to comment as well.

Mr. Zoradi has a reputation as a demanding executive, but one well versed in how to sell movies abroad, a matter of keen interest in Hollywood as movie attendance in the United States has flattened out in recent years and studios are looking overseas for growth.

Having Disney’s worldwide marketing team under one umbrella would allow for cost efficiencies, with the elimination of overlapping jobs. Those and other budget cuts are likely to help Disney’s earnings prospects in the future. Three research firms recently downgraded Disney’s stock, partly because of fears that gasoline prices would deter some people from visiting the company’s theme parks.

Other movie studios have considered but abandoned the concept of combining both international and domestic marketing. That was the case at Warner Brothers last year, which scrapped the idea after executives there appealed to run their own businesses.

Mr. Aviv is highly regarded for his marketing acumen and was given the title of chief creative officer last year after Paramount tried to recruit him, said Hollywood executives apprised of those negotiations.

He joined Disney in 1991 and has sought to expand his duties, particularly in movie production. He was an executive producer for two Disney films, the blockbuster “National Treasure” in 2004, a story idea he generated, and “Rocket Man” in 1997.

As recently as last week, Mr. Cook was discussing with Mr. Aviv what his new responsibilities would be. Those could include overseeing the studio’s franchise films or new marketing ventures, according to some of these people.

The changes are likely to affect Nina Jacobson, Disney’s president of production, the people said. Ms. Jacobson, who recently renewed her contract with Disney, has been an advocate for smaller, quirky films from Touchstone, including “The Ladykillers,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen.

For months both Mr. Iger and Mr. Cook have been saying that Disney will cut the number of movies produced by Touchstone and more actively promote the better-known Walt Disney Pictures brand. The latter recently unveiled a redesigned logo, meant to give the brand a contemporary look.

As important, the number of films released each year is expected to tally about 12 or 13 films by 2008, said some of the people, down from the 14 to 20 films it has made in the past. Those would include Disney and Pixar-branded animated films, Miramax Films, Touchstone and Walt Disney Pictures releases.

Last year the studio conducted an internal review of its peers, said a Hollywood executive who talked with Mr. Cook about the results. The review showed that the least profitable studios had a rate of return on theatrical releases of 1 percent, while the most profitable studios earned 8 percent, said the executive. Disney ranked in the middle.

That made it harder for Mr. Cook to demand a larger budget when other Disney divisions, like its cruise line business, showed more promising growth, the Hollywood executive said Mr. Cook told him.

The smaller slate also would not support the studio’s present overhead. The size of any layoffs, predicted last December to be about 100 jobs, has grown several-fold as Mr. Cook has refined his reorganization plan. Some of those apprised of the studio’s plans suggest Disney could eliminate 20 percent to 30 percent of the studio staff, including some through attrition and lapsing of contracts.

Mr. Iger also wants the studio to exploit Disney’s brand better. “We’re about the whole,” said Andy Bird, president of Walt Disney International, in a recent interview. “We’re about the totality of a franchise or a particular brand.” (In the interview, Mr. Bird was discussing Disney’s global ambitions, particularly in Russia.)

Like Pixar Animation Studios, which the company recently acquired for $7.4 billion, Walt Disney Pictures is one of the few recognizable names in family entertainment. “It is the one thing that differentiates them from other movie studios,” said an executive at a competing studio.

Another priority of Mr. Iger’s is global expansion. Consider last year’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” It drew $447 million internationally, outstripping the movie’s domestic box-office revenue of $292 million. A sequel is in the works for 2008, although production has already been delayed.

But in making fewer movies, Disney is also making a bigger financial bet. The runaway success of the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, which cost $140 million, surprised both Disney and moviegoers. (Its two sequels cost more than $200 million each, according to industry estimates, or nearly 50 percent more than the original.) If the first had failed, there would be no sequels or revamped “Pirates” ride at Disneyland. The challenge is to create a steady diet of fresh, franchise-worthy projects that, like “Pirates,” can become dependable earners for years to come.

Wall Street analysts, as well as Disney fans, are watching. Any doubts were not apparent at the recent “Pirates” premiere at Disneyland. There Mr. Cook surveyed the partygoers, who were sitting in bleachers facing Tom Sawyer’s Lake and waiting for the movie to begin. When the updated Walt Disney Pictures logo finally appeared onscreen, they cheered wildly.

News From The North

Nordic File Sharers Form Pressure Group
Jan Libbenga

Following the raid against the popular Swedish file sharing website The Pirate Bay (Piratbyråns), several Nordic organisations have launched an international pressure group The Pro Piracy Lobby (http://www.propiracy.org), which is seeking "common ground for further discussion and cooperation".

The founders of the alliance, including Artliberated Network, Piratbyrån from Sweden, the Berlin-based project piratecinema.org and the Danish and the Norwegian Piratgruppen, say they will copy "whatever we want" adding "Don't touch our Internets! We live it and we are here to tell the world that p2p will never be stopped, can't be stopped and shouldn't be stopped."

The issue of compensation for lost royalties, however, isn't addressed, other than that “the freedom of developing and offering networking services of any kind should be considered a self-evident right."

The Pro Piracy Lobby says it will continue to grow along with the expansion of a “positive understanding of piracy and file sharing”. The intention is to operate globally in the near future.

One scheme it is already heavily promoting is a new type of insurance. For just 113 Danish kroner file sharers can now join tankafritt.nu's service in Sweden, which compensates for financial persecution. Additionally sharers receive a t-shirt which reads: "I was convicted of files haring and all I got was a lousy t-shirt". Danish tankafritt.nu is pondering a similar service, but is still examining legal grounds.

Meanwhile, the recently seized Piratbyråns server remains in custody until further notice. "We need the server and its contents to be able to use our democratic rights to work to influence public opinion," Rasmus Fleischer from Piratbyrån says. Swedish prosecutors are currently combing through the servers looking for evidence. According to Swedish newspapers they are going to give special attention to any profits made by The Pirate Bay.

TankGirl is on vacation.

Times to Reduce Page Size and Close a Plant in 2008
Katharine Q. Seelye

The New York Times is planning to reduce the size of the newspaper, making it narrower by one and a half inches, and to close its printing operation in Edison, N.J., company officials said yesterday.

The changes, to go into effect in April 2008, will be accompanied by a phased-in redesign of the paper and will mean the loss of 250 production-related jobs.

Several other American broadsheets reduced their size a few years ago, and many are planning further shrinkage to cut costs as the price of newsprint climbs and newspapers lose readers and advertisers to the Internet.

The Times, which made the announcement last night on the eve of its quarterly earnings report, said it would sublet its plant in Edison and consolidate its regional printing facilities at its newer plant in College Point, in Queens.

That consolidation will mean the loss of about a third of the total production work force of 800.

The Edison plant, which opened in 1992, is to keep printing papers until the spring of 2008, by which time one new press will have been added at College Point. That plant opened in 1997.

The company said the changes would save about $42 million a year — $30 million by consolidating printing at College Point and $12 million by reducing the size of the paper. Leaving the Edison plant means the company can avoid about $50 million in capital improvements there, although it will spend about $150 million to combine the facilities in College Point and buy a new press.

The reduction in the size of The Times will mean a loss of 5 percent of the space the paper devotes to news. If the paper only reduced the size of its pages, it would lose 11 percent of that space, but Bill Keller, the paper’s executive editor, said such a loss would be too drastic, so the paper will add pages to make up for some of the loss.

“That’s a number that I think we can live with quite comfortably,” Mr. Keller said of the 5 percent reduction, adding that the smaller news space would require tighter editing and putting some news in digest form.

Several broadsheets — including USA Today, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post — have already reduced their size and others, like The Wall Street Journal, are planning to.

“It’s painful to watch an industry retrench,” Mr. Keller said. “But this is a much less painful way to go about assuring our economic survival than cutting staff or closing foreign bureaus or retrenching our investigative reporting or diluting the Washington bureau.”

Santa Barbara Paper Staff Stages Protest
Jeff Wilson

Dressed in black and their mouths taped shut, reporters and staff of the Santa Barbara News-Press staged a protest Friday over a recent wave of resignations at the newspaper.

More than 300 supporters roared with applause and shouts when about 25 News-Press employees emerged from the newspaper's Spanish-style landmark building and walked to a microphone in an adjacent park.

Reporter Melinda Burns said newspaper staffers have been ordered not to speak about internal operations and were threatened with dismissal if they did.

"We are very sorry we can't speak, but thank you for coming," she said, stepping away from the microphone as members of the group put duct tape over their mouths. Many in the crowd hoisted signs, including ones that read: "Free the News" and "No More News Suppress."

The protest was the latest public display of newsroom tension that began when staff accused the daily's owner of meddling in news coverage. Six top editors and two writers have resigned, and a copy editor quit Friday.

One of those who resigned, reporter Scott Hadly, said a list of demands was presented to management Thursday. He said they want restoration of journalistic ethics, reinstatement of editors who were forced to resign, new contract negotiations and recognition of the Teamsters union as their exclusive bargaining unit.

Interim publisher Travis Armstrong said he blamed the protest partly on the paper's enemies, among them developers and politicians.

Armstrong said employees who protested would not be disciplined, adding he was disappointed by how the newspaper's order not to discuss internal operations had been portrayed.

Those who quit have said owner Wendy McCaw killed a story about Armstrong's recent sentencing for drunken driving. The newspaper had previously reported on his arrest.

She has said the resignations were prompted by her unwillingness to let editors and reporters "flavor the news with their personal opinions."

The News-Press, founded in 1855, is locally owned and published by McCaw's Ampersand Publishing LLC, which bought the paper in 2000 from the New York Times Co. It has a 57-person editorial staff, publishes seven days a week and has a daily circulation of about 41,000.

At One Paper, All Tension Is Local
Sharon Waxman

Wendy P. McCaw, the reclusive multimillionaire owner of The Santa Barbara News-Press, is at war with her own staff. What started as a conflict over journalistic ethics has in the past week escalated into a full-blown rebellion.

Staffers have been marching out the door, accusing her of interfering with their editorial independence. When she published her explanation of the departures as an expression of bias in the reporting staff on Thursday, even more quit. On Friday, her staff — or what remained of it — held a rally outside the newspaper building, where some 30 reporters and editors, dressed in black, put duct tape over their mouths, to represent the owner’s gag order issued last week.

Throughout, Mrs. McCaw, who acquired the paper in 2000, has been absent, away in Europe and communicating mainly through her deputy, the acting publisher and opinion page editor, Travis Armstrong.

In her first interview about the resignations, she said on Sunday that the fault was with those who had left.

“This is not a freedom of the press issue, or of intimidation of the newsroom,” she said. “There were personality differences in the newsroom, and the people who didn’t want to be there are not there any longer.”

At a time when the future of newspapers is being challenged by the Internet, and as newspapers around the country — large and small — debate the merits of private versus corporate ownership, The News-Press is an example of what can happen when an active, committed local owner determines to steer her own path.

But the still-unfolding story of the paper, a 105-year-old institution in this upscale, seaside city, remains highly unusual. It is certainly a surprising turn for a paper that won a Pulitzer Prize under its last local owner, Thomas M. Storke, in 1962, and which frequently wins general excellence awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

At the heart of the conflict is Mrs. McCaw, an enigmatic local figure whose fortune, which resulted from her divorce from the cellphone magnate Craig McCaw in 1997, was at one time estimated by Forbes at more than $1 billion. She bought the paper in 2000 from The New York Times Company for more than $100 million (the exact figure was not made public). Known as a libertarian, environmentalist, animal-rights activist and vegetarian, she rarely is seen in the newsroom. Amid all the turmoil, she said she was reading the paper only “occasionally.”

But Mrs. McCaw has expressed strong views via the editorial page, about issues from property rights to the preservation of wild pigs in the nearby Channel Islands. Sometimes her views raised eyebrows, as when an editorial called for people to donate rice and beans, rather than turkeys, to the poor on Thanksgiving.

Mr. Armstrong, meanwhile, has become a magnet for discontent outside the paper because of his sharply worded editorials about local officials, including the mayor, and his own involvement in the news-gathering operation. Since becoming acting publisher two weeks ago, he quashed a news article about the newsroom resignations — running his column with an explanation instead — and killed an article about a city councilwoman’s decision to retire.

In the six years since the paper changed owners, circulation at The News-Press has dropped steadily — as it has at most newspapers across the country — from 48,000 to about 40,000. Still, profit margins have risen to 25 percent from about 11 percent, buoyed by advertising from Santa Barbara’s booming, high-end real-estate market and the elimination of employee benefits like pensions and 401(k)’s, according to a former top executive at the paper, who asked not to be named because the information was proprietary.

The paper’s management has been in flux, with six publishers holding the job over the last five years, even as Jerry Roberts, a respected journalist recruited from The San Francisco Chronicle to be executive editor, professionalized the paper and filled the front page with local news.

In a front-page note to readers on Thursday, Mrs. McCaw essentially accused members of her staff of misconduct, writing that the turmoil at the paper resulted because her ideals of “accurate unbiased reporting, and more local stories that readers want to read” were not being reached.

“When news articles become opinion pieces, reporting went unchecked and the paper was used as a personal arena to air petty infighting by the editors, these goals were not met,” she wrote.

The letter was met with outrage and confusion in the newsroom. “It’s a sad thing for her to attack her own newsroom that way,” said Mr. Roberts, who resigned. “What’s the message here?”

In her interview, Mrs. McCaw did not elaborate much on her critique of the news coverage, mentioning an instance when editors published the address of the actor Rob Lowe in a news article about a property dispute. “I’m committed to the highest standards of journalism and quality,” she said. “And I’m committed to putting out the paper.”

When Mrs. McCaw offered Mr. Roberts the top editing job, “she said she wanted to be a strong, local paper,” he recalled over breakfast at the quiet El Encanto hotel, the same place he first met with her about taking the position. “I thought that was a great vision. The fact that she would be a single, local, independent owner, I thought was a great advantage. And for a long time, it was.”

But in 2004, editors rankled at instances when Mrs. McCaw asked for special news consideration of pet subjects, such as litigation she won against an architect, or more prominent placement of reviews by her fiancé, Arthur Von Wiesenberger, then the newspaper’s restaurant critic.

Relations deteriorated between Mrs. McCaw and Mr. Roberts, and she stopped speaking to him after the fall of 2004, he said, communicating when necessary through her fiancé.

In early 2005 when Joe Cole, Mrs. McCaw’s lawyer, became the publisher, things settled down. Mr. Cole resigned in April of this year for undisclosed reasons, and Mrs. McCaw and Mr. Von Wiesenberger became co-publishers.

The conflict over the division between editorial opinion and news-gathering arose anew when Mr. Armstrong was arrested in May for drunken driving. The newspaper ran a news article on Page 3, which Mr. Armstrong considered a sign of a personal vendetta against him by Mr. Roberts. Mrs. McCaw said she agreed that the prominence of the article reflected a vendetta.

Mr. Roberts denied that, saying the paper could not favor its own employees, especially a high-profile figure like Mr. Armstrong. “It wasn’t a close call,” he said. “He’s a public figure in this town, and a lightning rod.”

When Mr. Armstrong was sentenced a couple of weeks later, Mr. Roberts planned a short follow-up, but received instructions from his higher-ups not to print the item after Mr. Armstrong complained. Mr. Roberts killed the article, determining then that he would probably have to leave the paper.

The breaking point came during his vacation two weeks ago, when Mrs. McCaw sent letters of reprimand to several editors and a reporter for publishing the address of Mr. Lowe.

Then on Monday, July 3, Mr. Armstrong was appointed acting publisher, whose duties would now include overseeing the news coverage. “That was untenable for me,” said Mr. Roberts. “The whole church-state thing going on was now resolved, in favor of the church.” Mr. Roberts and five other top editors resigned, along with Barney Brantingham, a longtime columnist who had worked there for 46 years.

Mr. Brantingham’s resignation came as a surprise to everyone. “I wasn’t directly affected by all this,” said the columnist, “but I left in protest. I couldn’t work in a newsroom where the news was being manipulated — stories being suppressed and killed, opinion seeping into the news side.”

Mrs. McCaw, who on Friday hired a crisis expert in public relations, said she did not know why Mr. Brantingham resigned, and called it a “personal issue.”

In an interview, Mr. Armstrong did not deny taking an active interest in the daily news coverage as the acting publisher, saying it was not unusual to do so. “It is well within the publisher’s privilege, and even responsibility, to uphold a newspaper’s standards, and it is up to the publisher to communicate that to the employee,” he said last week, in the presence of the newspaper’s lawyer.

Asked to clarify the journalistic standard at The News-Press, Mr. Armstrong said: “Some of it is on a case-by-case basis,” declining to elaborate further.

In the past week, Mr. Armstrong named a new assistant managing editor, a city editor, an interim sports editor and a contributing business editor to replace those who walked out. But the situation has only become more volatile.

At Friday’s vigil, a couple of hundred supporters chanted, “Shame!” as Mr. Armstrong looked down from the Mission-style newspaper tower. Mr. Brantingham, speaking before the crowd, openly wept. “I can’t stand it,” he said. “I love that paper. It’s hurt me so much. And it didn’t have to happen.”

At the vigil, a reporter, Scott Hadly, told his co-workers that he also would resign.

With the newspaper up in arms, the ripples have spread far beyond the newsroom. “We’re surprised, and concerned,” said Mayor Marty Blum, looking out the window of her office in city hall toward The News-Press, a historic building just next door. “We need a good local paper.” She said several local investors were meeting to discuss the options for starting an alternate daily paper.

A protest against Mrs. McCaw was planned for tomorrow in front of the newspaper, and an open forum on journalism ethics was scheduled for Wednesday. Mr. Armstrong said about 200 people had canceled subscriptions.

On Saturday, the paper ran a news article about the upheaval, with a picture of Friday’s protest, and a couple of readers’ letters lamenting the resignations. But so far it has not published letters to the editor like one sent by Lou Cannon, a respected political author and journalist who lives here.

Mr. Cannon called on Mr. Armstrong to resign, writing: “People don’t trust the news when it is merely an expression of opinion.”

Mr. Armstrong gives no sign of preparing to resign. And on Saturday, the paper won two first-place prizes at the annual awards of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, one for the front page, and for the editorial page. Mr. Armstrong did not attend.

Confidant Crisis
Ann Hulbert

By now, I bet almost everybody knows somebody who has joined a social networking Web site like MySpace.com, with more than 90 million members, or Facebook.com, a college-based Web site that has become a high-school favorite, too. That means most people probably also know that “friend” is no longer just a noun, but a verb, one that entails minimal exertion: “to friend” a person involves an exchange of mouse clicks, one to request a spot on someone’s (often very lengthy) list of people granted access to his or her online profile, and a click in response to accept the petitioner. If you’re too old and busy to be logging on obsessively to this Internet social scene, you’re doubtless enmeshed in your own way, e-mailing far-flung acquaintances or anticipating the spread of free Internet telephone service.

Americans, in other words, aren’t exactly suffering from anomie. If anything, a surfeit of connectivity is the curse of the moment. (Take a trip in a nonquiet Amtrak car if you want vivid evidence.) No wonder a recent study, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks Over Two Decades,” published in the latest American Sociological Review, made it into the headlines and onto “Good Morning America.” Here was surprising news that touched a nerve. Who would have guessed, in our gabby tell-all culture, that people interviewed in the 2004 General Social Survey would report an average of only two “core” confidants with whom they “discuss important matters,” down from the mean of three close ties elicited by the same question in 1985? Just as startling, given an ever more interwoven world, was the decline in the percentage of Americans — to 57 percent from 80 percent — who named at least one non-kin person as part of this inner circle.

The media, predictably enough, were spooked by the specter of “social isolation”: though we may bowl alone, we’re always ready to join a chorus of concern about fraying communities. But before rushing to conclude that Americans have simply gotten lonelier and more insular, why not consider another possibility? Perhaps, as the study’s authors themselves hint at one point, we’ve also gotten better at demarcating what constitutes truly intimate communing — expecting more of our confidants, we have, in effect, defined intimacy up. That is not exactly what you would expect in an era of constant communicating. Yet could it be precisely because we’re more plugged in to a disparate array of people who supply us with information when we need it, offer advice and keep us intermittent company, that our standard of genuine closeness has become more exacting? It’s not just that we’re too busy for more than a select few confidants. We may be choosier too.

Look at Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics,” or at junior-high-school cliques, and it’s clear that discriminating among degrees of friendship can be a daunting task. The most tenacious of taxonomists, Aristotle thought pleasure and utility counted for less than the rare commingling of virtuous character as the basis for friendship. Centuries of varying ideals and fears ensued. Are our close ties becoming shallower and more instrumental? How many are too many, and what is enough? Is friendship a matter of spontaneous sincerity, heartfelt reciprocity, mutual understanding, deep loyalty, moral obligation or shared passion — and can it last? In his new book, “Friendship: An Exposé,” Joseph Epstein quotes the German sociologist Georg Simmel already worrying a century ago that we moderns are destined to drift among “differentiated friendships,” missing out on an all-encompassing connection.

Turn from philosophizers to recent empirical surveys, and it’s clear the challenge of categorizing confidants remains as complex as ever. In January, just five months before the General Social Survey appeared, a phone survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project set out to assess the impact of Web involvement on real-world social networks. The study emerged with a notably big figure for what it termed “core ties”: a median number of 15 people with whom respondents said they had discussed important matters, with whom they were in frequent touch or from whom they got substantial help. Here was a three-pronged conception of core ties that roped in friendships across the Aristotelian spectrum, from the useful to the pleasurable and beyond, rather than distilling out just soul mates. Add in the median number of 16 weaker yet still “significant ties” that the Pew survey also counted, and the findings left Americans looking anything but socially isolated.

And now consider the fact that the General Social Survey finds that on average, individuals have only two close confidants. As we puzzle over what the decline means, perhaps we should be reassured that Americans seem clear-eyed about their connections. The study’s low figures may be stark testament that we value a deep bond when we find it and aren’t fooled when we don’t. When one-dimensional, functional relationships are ever more accessible, the desire to be known and to know another from all sides and from inside out may be lodged even deeper — and may thrive closer to home. A century ago, another philosopher surveying a modernizing world, George Santayana, had already concluded that “the tie that in contemporary society most nearly resembles the ancient ideal of friendship is a well-assorted marriage.” The General Social Survey data suggest an inner core that isn’t oppressively clannish but invites rising equality and diversity, narrow though it is. The percentage of people who include a spouse in their circle of closest confidants went from 30 percent in 1985 to almost 40 percent two decades later. And in 2004, 15 percent reported at least one confidant of another race, up from 9 percent in 1985. While to friend has become a frivolous verb, to bond might prove to be one that Americans are taking, if anything, more to heart than ever.

The Graying of the Record Store
Alex Williams

SO this is an evening rush?

On a recent Monday, six people — soon enough four, then two — were browsing the bins of compact discs at Norman’s Sound and Vision, a music store on Cooper Square in Manhattan, around 6 p.m., a time that once constituted the daily rush hour. A decade ago, the number of shoppers might have been 20 or 30, said Norman Isaacs, the owner. Six people? He would have had that many working in the store.

“I used to make more in a day than I probably make in a week now,” said the shaven-headed Mr. Isaacs, 59, whose largely empty aisles brimming with punk, jazz, Latin music, and lots and lots of classic rock have left him, many afternoons, looking like a rock ’n’ roll version of the Maytag repairman. Just as troubling to Mr. Isaacs is the age of his clientele.

“It’s much grayer,” he said mournfully.

The neighborhood record store was once a clubhouse for teenagers, a place to escape parents, burn allowances and absorb the latest trends in fashion as well as music. But these days it is fast becoming a temple of nostalgia for shoppers old enough to remember “Frampton Comes Alive!’’

In the era of iTunes and MySpace, the customer base that still thinks of recorded music as a physical commodity (that is, a CD), as opposed to a digital file to be downloaded, is shrinking and aging, further imperiling record stores already under pressure from mass-market discounters like Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

The bite that downloading has taken out of CD sales is well known — the compact disc market fell about 25 percent between 1999 and 2005, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, a trade organization. What that precipitous drop indicated by the figures doesn’t reveal is that this trend is turning many record stores into haunts for the gray-ponytail set. This is especially true of big-city stores that stock a wider range of music than the blockbuster acts.

“We don’t see the kids anymore,” said Thom Spennato, who owns Sound Track, a cozy store on busy Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “That 12-to-15-year-old market, that’s what’s missing the last couple of years.”

Without that generation of buyers, the future looks bleak. “My landlord asked me if I wanted another 10-year lease, and I said no,” Mr. Spennato said. “I have four years left, then I’m out.”

Since late 2003, about 900 independent record stores have closed nationwide, leaving about 2,700, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a marketing research company in Studio City, Calif. In 2004, Tower Records, one of the nation’s largest chains, filed for bankruptcy protection.

Greta Perr, an owner of Future Legends, a new and used CD store on Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, said that young people never really came back to her store after the Napster file-sharing upheaval of the late 90’s; she has responded by filling her windows with artists like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. “People come in and say: ‘I remember when I was 20, Steve Miller’s second record came out. Can I get that?’ ” she said.

Industry statistics bear out the graying of the CD-buying public. Purchases by shoppers between ages 15 and 19 represented 12 percent of recorded music in 2005, a decline from about 17 percent in 1996, according to the Recording Industry Association. Purchases by those 20 to 24 represented less than 13 percent in 2005, down from about 15 percent. Over the same period, the share of recorded music bought by adults over 45 rose to 25.5 percent, from 15 percent.

(The figures include CD’s and downloaded songs, with CD’s still an overwhelming share of the market in recorded music, 87 percent, in 2005.)

The dominance of older buyers is especially evident at smaller independent stores in metropolitan areas, where younger consumers tend to be more tech-oriented and older music fans tend to be more esoteric in their tastes, said Russ Crupnick, an analyst with the NPD Group, a market research firm.

At Norman’s, which is 15 years old and just around the corner from New York’s epicenter of punk, St. Marks Place, shoppers with nose rings and dewy cheeks are not unknown. But they may only be looking to use the automatic teller machine. A pair of teenagers — he with ink-black dyed hair, and she in ragged camouflage shorts — wandered in one evening recently and promptly froze in the doorway, stopped in their tracks by an Isaac Hayes cut from the 70’s.

They had the confused looks of would-be congregants who had stumbled into a church of the wrong denomination; they quickly shuffled off. Most of Norman’s other customers were old enough to remember eight-track tapes. Steven Russo, 53, for instance, was looking for jazz CD’s. Mr. Russo, a high school teacher in Valley Stream, N.Y., said that he values the store for its sense of camaraderie among cognoscenti as much as its selection. “It’s the ability of people to talk to people about the music, to talk to personnel who are knowledgeable,” he said.

Richard Antone, a freelance writer from Newark whose hair was flecked with silver curls, said his weekly trip to the store is a visual experience as well as an auditory one. “I remember how people admired the artwork on an album like ‘Electric Ladyland’ or ‘Sgt. Pepper’ as much as the music,” he said.

The lost generation of young shoppers — for whom a CD is a silvery disc on which you burn your own songs and then label with a black marker — will probably spell doom for Norman’s within the next five years, said Mr. Isaacs, the owner. Several of his downtown competitors have already disappeared, he said.

Some independent owners are resisting the demographic challenges. Eric Levin, 36, who owns three Criminal Records stores in Atlanta and oversees a trade group called the Alliance of Independent Media Stores, representing 30 shops nationally, said that businesses losing young customers are “dinosaurs” that have done nothing to cater to the new generation. Around the country, he said, shops like Grimey’s in Nashville, Shake It Records in Cincinnati and Other Music in New York are hanging on to young customers by evolving into one-stop hipster emporiums. Besides selling obscure CD’s and even vinyl records, many have diversified into comic books, Japanese robot toys and clothing. Some have opened adjoining nightclubs or, in Mr. Levin’s case, coffee shops.

“Kids don’t have to go to the record store like earlier generations,” Mr. Levin said. “You have to make them want to. You have to make it an event.”

But diversification is not always an option for smaller stores with little extra space, like Norman’s. Mr. Isaacs’s continued survival is due in part to a side business he runs selling used CD’s on Amazon and eBay. He buys them from walk-in customers who are often dumping entire collections.

Unlike the threatened independent bookstore, with its tattered rugs, dusty shelves and shedding cats, indie record stores in danger of disappearing do not inspire much hand-wringing, perhaps because they are not as celebrated in popular imagination as the quaint bookshop. (Record geeks can claim only “High Fidelity,’’ the book and movie, as a nostalgic touchstone.)

Still, the passing of such places would be mourned.

Danny Fields, the Ramones’ first manager, points out that visiting Bleecker Bob’s on West Third Street in the late 70’s was “like experiencing the New York music scene” in miniature — it was a cultural locus, a trading post for all the latest punk trends. “Dropping into Bleecker Bob’s was like dropping into CBGB’s,” he said. (You can still drop into Bleecker Bob’s.)

Dave Marsh, the rock critic and author of books on popular music, noted that rockers like Jonathan Richman and Iggy Pop honed their edgy musical tastes working as record store clerks.

“It’s part of the transmission of music,” said Mr. Marsh, who recalls being turned on to cult bands like the Fugs and the Mothers of Invention by the clerks at his local record store in his hometown, Waterford, Mich. “It seems like you can’t have a neighborhood without them.”

Business Revolutionaries Learn Diplomacy’s Value
William C. Taylor

MICHAEL L. CHASEN is a young entrepreneur with a fast-moving start-up, a highflying stock, and far-reaching growth plans. His company, Blackboard Inc., sells software that enables colleges and universities to put all their essential activities online: course reading, homework assignments, class discussions, tests and lab projects.

Blackboard’s software, now used by well over 10 million students and their professors, has all the earmarks of a “disruptive technology” — a blend of computing and Internet-based connectivity with the potential to transform how established institutions operate.

Yet Mr. Chasen, the company’s president and chief executive, will never be confused with the brash upstarts that defined the Internet boom of the 1990’s, or Silicon Valley’s ever-growing crop of disruption-crazed entrepreneurs.

There’s something undeniably romantic about start-ups that champion radical business models designed to change the world. But business revolutions tend to end the way political revolutions do — badly and bloodily, with carnage everywhere.

Many a hard-charging start-up has taken aim at old-line industries but has wound up shut down (Webvan, for example), bought out ( Napster) or chronically losing money ( TiVo).

Mr. Chasen was determined to build a company that would endure, which is why, despite Blackboard’s huge ambitions, he and his colleagues have relied on a conservative strategy and style. They may be disruptors, but they conduct themselves like diplomats.

“How long have people been predicting that higher education was going to experience fundamental change or fall apart?” Mr. Chasen asked during an interview at his company’s headquarters in Washington. “But we are teaching and learning in much the same way we have for centuries. We don’t aim to ‘replace’ the classroom. We’re not looking to ‘revolutionize’ education. We help schools deliver more effectively what they are good at already.”

There is no question that business has been good for Blackboard. The company, which introduced its first product in 1998, is on track to generate sales of more than $170 million in 2006, up from $93 million in 2003. Blackboard went public at $14 a share in June 2004 and its stock price has doubled, giving it a market value of $800 million.

What’s striking about these results is that they have emerged from such a button-downed strategy.

At the height of the first Internet boom, Mr. Chasen recalls, he and his co-founder, Matthew Serbin Pittinsky, Blackboard’s chairman, were under pressure to stop charging for their software — a formula for rapid (if money-losing) growth. They resisted, unlike many of their free-spirited rivals, most of whom were wiped out in the dot-com crash.

“We thought we had created something of value, and we wanted to charge for it,” Mr. Chasen said. “Besides, we couldn’t figure out how to make money with ‘free.’ No matter how many zeroes we put into the spreadsheet, it all added up to zero.”

Even the company’s name sends a reassuring message. Most of its current rivals — companies like eCollege.com, Desire2Learn, and Jenzabar — have identities that underscore their roots in the Internet era. Not so Mr. Chasen’s outfit. “A blackboard is one of the oldest platforms for teaching and learning,” he said. “We never presented ourselves as a ‘disruptive’ technology. Of course, if you look back on our impact, there’s no question that Blackboard has been a disruptive force.”

Michael McCue, a co-founder and the C.E.O. of Tellme Networks, has also come to appreciate that the most effective way to champion a disruptive technology is to recognize the virtues of diplomacy. His company, based in Mountain View, Calif., is a classic Silicon Valley story.

Neither he nor the other co-founder, Angus Davis, graduated from college. Yet they raised $250 million in venture capital to pursue a business plan named DialTone 2.0 — marrying telephones and the Internet to reshape how companies communicate with their customers and how individuals get information. (For example, E*Trade Financial uses Tellme to automate telephone requests for stock quotations, while Cingular Wireless uses Tellme for much of its “411” directory-assistance service.)

The company, with annual revenue of more than $100 million, already handles two billion calls a year, up from roughly 800 million in 2004. “We have a technology that is as disruptive as anything could be to the telecommunications industry,” Mr. McCue said. “We’re trying to open up what has always been a closed network. We have a lot of ambition.”

But its ambition does not inspire brash rhetoric or reckless business plans. “Being a disruptor is like running with nitroglycerin,” he said. “Sometimes you can go fast, but you’d better know when to slow down.”

He speaks from experience. Back in the 90’s, Mr. McCue was vice president for technology at Netscape Communications, the ultimate symbol of disruptive competition. He watched as Netscape grew dramatically, brazenly challenged Microsoft’s hold on the computer business and experienced a devastating counterattack.

“At Netscape, the competition with Microsoft was so severe, we’d wake up thinking about how we were going to deal with them, instead of how we would build something great for customers,” Mr. McCue said. “Basically, we mooned Microsoft. And man, did we pay. I vowed I would never let that happen again.”

Early on at Tellme, according to Mr. McCue, his company faced a defining strategic choice: “Do we say, ‘To heck with the old guard; we’re going for the gusto’? Or do we work with the old guard and bring them along?” He decided on the second course, even if it meant passing on some early opportunities for growth. “If you try to make too much happen too quickly, you get arrogant,” he said. “That’s why I’m not going for market share at all costs. Being a disruptor means being patient.”

Stephen J. Sills, president and chief executive of Darwin Professional Underwriters, has been a disruptive force for two decades in an industry infamous for its patience. His new company, which went public in May, specializes in insurance for some decidedly high-profile risks: medical malpractice, directors-and-officers liability, errors-and-omissions policies for negligence claims against lawyers, managed-care organizations and police departments.

It has also started an Internet service, i-bind, to automate the underwriting process for agents who do business with small and midsize organizations in these product lines.

As he squares off against the industry giants, Mr. Sills advances a break-the-mold agenda. He says his business strategy is to identify “loose bricks” — gaps in coverage, price and customer service that the establishment ignores. He has not been afraid to hire insurance outsiders — rare in this insular field — on the theory that fresh eyes uncover new opportunities.

His company’s headquarters, in Farmington, Conn., feels like that of a high-tech start-up, with bright colors, a business-casual atmosphere and a bell that rings when the company lands a new account. “You can’t grow big with a me-too strategy,” Mr. Sills said. “If our competitors were doing their job, we wouldn’t need to exist.”

(Mr. Sills’s first insurance-industry start-up, Executive Risk, was also known for its innovative strategy and practices. The company, which opened in 1987, was acquired in 1999 by the Chubb Corporation in a deal valued at more than $1 billion.)

STILL, despite Darwin’s challenges to the status quo, the talk at the company is of evolution, not entrepreneurial revolution — hence the name. Mr. Sills has the benefit of patient capital. He started the business in partnership with the Alleghany Corporation, a low-profile, 77-year-old holding company that has owned everything from railroads to real estate. And he has been careful not to project a brand identity based on a harsh critique of prevailing industry practices. In most businesses, and certainly in the insurance business, customers look for reassurance as well as reform.

“There’s plenty of room for change in this business,” Mr. Sills said. “But people don’t want to feel foolish for buying what they’ve been buying. If you execute properly in the gaps where the big guys aren’t doing it, there’s a world of opportunity.”

It’s a new twist on an old idea: Talk softly, even when you carry big ambitions for your company.

Wiretap Surrender

Sen. Specter's bill on NSA surveillance is a capitulation to administration claims of executive power.

SENATE JUDICIARY Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has cast his agreement with the White House on legislation concerning the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance as a compromise -- one in which President Bush accepts judicial review of the program. It isn't a compromise, except quite dramatically on the senator's part. Mr. Specter's bill began as a flawed but well-intentioned effort to get the program in front of the courts, but it has been turned into a green light for domestic spying. It must not pass.

The bill would, indeed, get the NSA's program in front of judges, in one of two ways. It would transfer lawsuits challenging the program from courts around the country to the super-secret court system that typically handles wiretap applications in national security cases. It would also permit -- but not require -- the administration to seek approval from this court system, created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, for entire surveillance programs, thereby allowing judges to assess their legality.

But the cost of this judicial review would be ever so high. The bill's most dangerous language would effectively repeal FISA's current requirement that all domestic national security surveillance take place under its terms. The "compromise" bill would add to FISA: "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to collect intelligence with respect to foreign powers and agents of foreign powers." It would also, in various places, insert Congress's acknowledgment that the president may have inherent constitutional authority to spy on Americans. Any reasonable court looking at this bill would understand it as withdrawing the nearly three-decade-old legal insistence that FISA is the exclusive legitimate means of spying on Americans. It would therefore legitimize whatever it is the NSA is doing -- and a whole lot more.

Allowing the administration to seek authorization from the courts for an "electronic surveillance program" is almost as dangerous. The FISA court today grants warrants for individual surveillance when the government shows evidence of espionage or terrorist ties. Under this bill, the government could get permission for long-term programs involving large numbers of innocent individuals with only a showing that the program is, in general, legal and that it is "reasonably designed" to capture the communications of "a person reasonably believed to have communication with" a foreign power or terrorist group.

The bill even makes a hash out of the generally reasonable idea of transferring existing litigation to the FISA court system. It inexplicably permits the FISA courts to "dismiss a challenge to the legality of an electronic surveillance program for any reason" -- such as, say, the eye color of one of the attorneys.

This bill is not a compromise but a full-fledged capitulation on the part of the legislative branch to executive claims of power. Mr. Specter has not been briefed on the NSA's program. Yet he's proposing revolutionary changes to the very fiber of the law of domestic surveillance -- changes not advocated by key legislators who have detailed knowledge of the program. This week a remarkable congressional debate began on how terrorists should face trial, with Congress finally asserting its role in reining in overbroad assertions of presidential power. What a tragedy it would be if at the same time, it acceded to those powers on the fundamental rights of Americans.

Attorney General: Bush Blocked Review of Spy Program
Anne Broache

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday resumed his defense of the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, while admitting that the president prevented a review of the program earlier this year by Justice Department lawyers.

Gonzales reiterated the president's recent pledge to submit the National Security Agency program to review by a secret court as long as Congress passes a new law that satisfies the White House's demands.

"At the end of the day, we will have a decision by the court saying what the president is doing is, in fact, constitutional," Gonzales said in his second appearance before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee here since the secret surveillance came to light.

Gonzales said Bush refused to give the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility access to the classified program. The office announced in May that it was unable to conduct an investigation into the role department lawyers had played in developing the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program, which targets overseas telephone calls and the e-mails of Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists.

Several areas of inquiry
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, asked Gonzales why Bush had declined access. "Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance. Why not OPR?" he asked.

Noting the importance of the program, Gonzales said: "The president of the United States makes decisions about who is ultimately given access."

The official faced more than three hours of at-times stern questioning from both political parties on a wide range of topics, ranging from funding for local law enforcement at the nation's Mexican borders to how the administration investigates leaks of sensitive information to the press.

The topic of the NSA spy program weighed heavy on the minds of many committee members, particularly Democrats inflamed about a draft bill negotiated by the Bush administration and Specter.

Specter said last week that the president agreed to submit the NSA program for review provided that Congress passed a "compromise" version of that legislation, which has not yet formally been made public.

Civil liberties groups have assailed the version they were able to obtain, calling it a "sham." They've criticized it on a number of fronts, such as failing to require that the current surveillance programs or any future ones be vetted by a court, sweeping all legal proceedings involving such eavesdropping to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and eroding Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by requiring less information before such activities can gain approval.

Democrats take aim
In a letter to Specter on Tuesday, the committee's eight Democrats urged him to hold another hearing on the new version of the bill before bringing it to a vote. Among other concerns, they said they had "little doubt" that "many types of surveillance that now require a warrant will no longer require one if your bill is enacted."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who serves as committee co-chairman, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, pressed the attorney general on why he didn't decide to submit the program for review earlier.

"You talk about the enormous authority he has...There's nothing to stop him from doing that today, is there?" Leahy asked.

"The president could submit an application, but the court may not have any jurisdiction or authority to rule on the application," Gonzales said. He was referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has the authority to approve individual wiretapping requests when at least one end of the communication is outside the United States.

Specter attempted to downplay the criticism of his compromise proposal and concessions to the president. Whatever bill the Congress may pass, he said, it can't override the president's wartime powers under the Constitution.

He also dismissed complaints that the statute wouldn't bind any president to have surveillance programs reviewed by courts. If the president "fulfills his commitment" to take the program to the secret court, "a future president could look back and see what President Bush did," Specter said. "He wouldn't be bound by what President Bush did, but it would be a very solid precedent."

Judge Rejects U.S. Request On Eavesdropping Lawsuit
Adam Tanner

A federal judge rejected on Thursday a request from the head of U.S. intelligence and other officials to dismiss a lawsuit against AT&T <T.N> charging the firm illegally allowed the government to monitor phone and e-mail communications.

AT&T asked the court in late April to dismiss the case, and two weeks later the U.S. government also asked the federal judge to dismiss it, citing its state secrets privilege.

U.S. director of intelligence John Negroponte told the court in a filing that disclosing the information in the case "could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."

In a 72-page ruling, Judge Vaughn Walker rejected that request regarding a case that has highlighted the domestic spying program acknowledged by President George W. Bush.

"The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret," the U.S. District Court for Northern California judge wrote. "Public disclosures by the government and AT&T indicate that AT&T is assisting the government to implement some kind of surveillance program."

"The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one," he continued. "But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security."

The judge cited what public officials, including Bush, and the media have already said in public about the eavesdropping program.

"If the government's public disclosures have been truthful, revealing whether AT&T has received a certification to assist in monitoring communication content should not reveal any new information that would assist a terrorist and adversely affect national security," Vaughn wrote.

"Confirming or denying the existence of this program would only affect a terrorist who was insensitive to the publicly disclosed 'terrorist surveillance program' but cared about the alleged program here.

"AT&T could reveal information at the level of generality at which the government has publicly confirmed or denied its monitoring of communication content."

In its February lawsuit the privacy rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation said the program allows the government to eavesdrop on phone calls and read e-mails of millions of Americans without obtaining warrants.

They are seeking an injunction that would order the government to stop the program.

"The court's ruling vindicates the privacy and security rights of every citizen in the United States," Robert Fram, a lawyer representing the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department reacted cautiously.

"We are reviewing the judge's ruling. No determination has been made as to what the government's next step will be in this matter," Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said.

(Additional reporting by James Vicini in Washington D.C.)

Bush's Back Rub Magnified In Cyberspace
Jake Coyle

An impromptu back rub that President Bush gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now massaging millions of funny bones.

A 5-second video and series of photographs recently posted on YouTube.com and various blogs show Bush surprising Merkel at the G-8 Summit by quickly rubbing the back of her neck and shoulders. The chancellor immediately hunches her shoulders, throws her arms up and grimaces, though she appears to smile as Bush walks away.

The video has been one of the most popular clips on the Web and spawned countless remarks on the particulars of etiquette for world leaders. Coupled with Bush's use of an expletive at the summit and a U.S. senator comparing the Internet to a "series of tubes," the incident reveals anew the power of the Web - and YouTube, specifically - to beam embarrassing political gaffes around the world.

Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, agrees that today, public figures have to be more careful in "a thousand ways." But he maintains sites like YouTube can be revealing.

"If they're not doing something that's embarrassing, they have nothing to worry about," he says. "A president ought to know enough not use an expletive in a fairly open meeting and almost any male alive today knows that you don't offer uninvited massages to any female, much less the chancellor of Germany."

Many writers saw a sexist aspect to Bush's back rub. "This isn't a Sigma Chi kegger, it's the G-8 Summit," wrote blogger Christy Hardin Smith on Firedoglake.com.

(Bush was actually in Delta Kappa Epsilon. Another Web 2.0 truism: Blogs are not always friendly with the facts.)

Earlier this week, Bush was recorded using the s-word while discussing the Mideast with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. An mp3 of Bush's line, posted by The New York Times, has been a popular download - ranking two spots ahead of Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack" on The Hype Machine, a Web site that charts the most-linked audio tracks by blogs.

No one need remind former presidential hopeful Howard Dean of the political ramifications of the Web - nor Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.

The 82-year-old Republican, chairman of the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation, has been parodied mercilessly by bloggers after referring to the Internet as a "series of tubes" and for mistakenly calling an e-mail "an Internet." A music video for the "DJ Ted Stevens Techno Remix" is currently playing on YouTube.

Like Bush's closed-door G-8 meeting, a speech by Stevens was once unlikely to reach many people. But now sites like YouTube can strike anytime, anywhere.

Even when you're getting a massage.

Broadband Video is Overrated Too !
Mark Cuban

No i dont hate technology. I just prefer a little realism with my technology planning. Broadband Video is smoking hot right now. Why ? Because thats where the money is. Advertisers have gone bonkers over it. For good reason. Its a great use of the net for advertisers. A video directed to the right demo can generate far more value for an advertiser than many other advertising opportunities. Advertisers have caught on and are putting their budgets to rich media. Thats a good thing.

Its also why content providers, particularly major media players are putting content into broadband offerings. If you can get a great CPM and sell “name brand” content that commands a great CPM, you are stupid not to do it.

But offering broadband content in order to gain a bigger share of the advertising pie is a completely different realization of broadband than the expectation that broadband video delivered over the internet is going to be a viable alternative or as some future gonzos are suggesting, a future replacement for tradtional delivery of TV. A replacement for TV ? Over the open internet ? Now that is crazy ! (for definition’s sake here, Im exluding private end to end controlled networks like cable or telcos who are using IP delivery of content. Switched delivery of content on an end to end owned network is not “internet delivery”)

The first problem for broadband is bandwidth. DVd quality at 1mbs is fine today, but have you noticed you cant do live consistently for any size audience at even this minimum bandwidth level ?

If someday the internet can support live delivery of 1mbs unicast streams, the cost will be prohibitive (every live stream requires a direct stream from source to end viewer), It adds up very fast. 1 stream per person. X number of streams per server. All the routing and internal backbone equipment to get it on the net. All the monitoring equipment to make sure it gets to the viewer in some semblance of decent quality. All the people to make sure that all works. Thats big bandwidth and overhead and hosting costs. Which is why 350k simultaneous streams at 300k quality for march madness and a concert were considered huge events in 2006. Every single incremental user for a 300k stream of a 2 hour event can cost more than $1 PER USER. (Dont think so ? call a broadband video provider and ask them how much they will charge to stream a live 300k stream to 350k simultaneous viewers with TV level quality of service).

Compare that with the cost of delivering TV today.

Then of course there is the consideration that if broadband will replace TV, what happens when we go High Def ? Lets see we can get by with the lowest quality and only 6mbs of bandwidth (and all you “we have a better codec people, your stuff still looks like crap doing HDTV at 6mbs) . If its a challenge and costs a fortune to delivery 300k streams at 350k , DVD quality , how long do you think it will be before we can do the same over the internet with 6mbs or the required 8mbs for low end and 12 mbs for high end content ?

It aint gonna happen anytime soon. Not this year. Not next. Not 5 years. Not 10 years.

Want to deliver the SuperBowl or American Idol in HD in realtime to 10s of millions of simultaneous viewers ? Not in this lifetime without some breakthrough technology that hasnt been invented yet. (DO NOT SEND ME EMAILS SAYING YOU HAVE THIS. YOU DONT)

So if you want to look at broadband as the future of tv delivery, you can completely eliminate live programming. Of course thats not a big deal. Right ??????

Its feasible of course to do on demand, in a netflix type model. Let it download over night (equal to postal overnight). But it does tie up your PC, so shipping on a hard or optical drive is much more efficient, and thats not the internet.

But wait there’s more. You still have to pay for that bandwidth somewhere. Yes peer to peer helps save bandwidth at the originating end. But it doesnt help at the destination end. 100 peers on a network segment will still use the same amount of bandwidth on that segment as 1 destination with no peers. 10gbs of programming still has to find its way to the destination. So clogged pipes in that last mile are going to clog further as more content is delivered is delivered at higher bit rates. Which in turn mean that fewer broadband bits can be delivered at busy times to last mile users. Net Neutrality will pretty much guarantee that this is a problem forever and ever.

Finally, there is the home experience. Everyone who thinks that analog and sd channels look Worse on an HDTV than they did on an analog tv raise their hand. Now everyone who thinks its worth the hassle to hook a PC up as a media center, connect it using HDMI or DVI to their new HDTV and then connect to the net as their primary source of content, raise the other hand….

You can hook any HDTV today up to pretty much any recent PC and use it as a conduit to get internet content to your HD set. You know how many people are doing it ? Not many at all. I dont know of any families gathering around their brand new HDTV to watch internet content they just grabbed from Youtube. I know millions that are doing it for HDNet, HDNet Movies, TNT HD, HBO HD , ESPN HD.

The reward for connecting a PC to an HDTV isnt worth the hassle and that wont change for years. Dare i say, not even in 10 years, if ever.

Two years ago i wrote that it will be easier to deliver content on a hard drive than it will be over the net. That is the case today, and it will be the case for a long time to come.

Remember, your broadband throughput hasnt increased 5 mbs in 5 years. What makes you think that its going to give you 5mbs more of THROUGHPUT to enable you to do a SINGLE hd stream at a time to your home in the next 5 years ? Or 15mbs more to do 2 HD streams ? (you do want to use your PVR for HD shows dont you ?)

And finally, for all you content creators that think broadband video, whether to a PC or PDA will be the greatest opportunity to make money since…. Podcasting, well read my posts on podcasting. You aint gonna make crap from your broadband video efforts that are drawing zillions of downloads (dont you realize a download isnt the same as actually watching ? do you watch every minute of everything you download ???) unless someone hires you to create programming for TRADITIONAL VIDEO DISTRIBUTION METHODS LIKE TV or DVD !

Study Finds Backdating of Options Widespread
Stephanie Saul

More than 2,000 companies appear to have used backdated stock options to sweeten their top executives’ pay packages, according to a new study that suggests the practice is far more widespread than previously disclosed.

The new statistical analysis, which comes amid a broadening federal inquiry of the practice of timing options to the stock market, estimates that 29.2 percent of companies have used backdated options and 13.6 percent of options granted to top executives from 1996 to 2005 were backdated or otherwise manipulated.

So far, more than 60 companies have disclosed that they are the targets of government investigations, are the subject of investor lawsuits or have conducted internal audits involving the practice, in which options are backdated to days when the company’s shares trade at low prices. They include Apple Computer, CNet and Juniper Networks.

Last week, the United States attorney in San Francisco announced a task force to investigate the backdating of options, which appears to have been particularly popular in Silicon Valley during the 1990’s dot-com boom. The study found that the abuse was more prevalent in high-technology firms, where an estimated 32 percent of unscheduled grants were backdated; at other firms, an estimated 20 percent were backdated.

An author of the study said the analysis suggested that the disclosures so far about backdated stock options may be just the tip of the iceberg.

“It is pretty scary, and it’s quite surprising to see,” said Erik Lie, an associate professor of finance at the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa.

Professor Lie said the findings were so surprising that he asked several colleagues to check his numbers. Together, they concluded that the numbers probably erred on the low side.

The study by Professor Lie and Randall A. Heron, of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, was posted Saturday to a University of Iowa Web site. Using information from the Thomson Financial Insider Filing database of insider transactions reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the two men examined 39,888 stock option grants to top executives at 7,774 companies dated from Jan. 1, 1996 to Dec. 1, 2005.

The findings were based on an analysis of whether share values increased or declined after option grant dates. “Half should be negative and half should be positive,” said Professor Lie. “That’s the underlying logic.”

But the analysis revealed that the distribution was shifted upward.

“This is not random chance. It’s something that’s manipulated, clearly,” said Professor Lie.

Of the companies examined, 29.2 percent, or 2,270, had at some point during the period manipulated stock option grants, the study estimated.

“Over all, our results suggest that backdated or otherwise manipulated grants are spread across a remarkable number of firms, although these firms did not manipulate all their grants,” the authors said.

The study concluded that before Aug. 29, 2002, 23 percent of unscheduled grants — as distinguished from grants that companies routinely schedule annually — were backdated. Unscheduled grants are easier to backdate.

On that day, the S.E.C. tightened reporting requirements to require that executives report stock option grants they receive within two business days. After that, the backdating figure declined to 10 percent of unscheduled grants, the paper said.

Professor Lie said that a number of companies simply ignored the new reporting rule. “You still see problems. The rule is not enforced,” he said.

Professor Lie, who first alerted S.E.C. investigators to problems with backdating after an analysis that he conducted in 2004, said there was some positive news in his new research.

“It has been suggested that some accounting firms have been pushing this practice more than others,” he said. “There’s actually very little evidence of that, which to me is very comforting.”

The study found that smaller auditors rather than larger ones were associated with a larger proportion of late filings and unscheduled grants, which most likely lead to more backdating and manipulative practices.

It also singled out two firms — PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG — as being associated with a lower percentage of manipulation.

When Couric Broadcasts the News, Some Radio and Web Sites Will Too
Deborah Starr Seibel

When a network evening newscast passes the anchor’s baton, viewers have come to expect an overhauled set, music and graphics. But for Sept. 5, when Katie Couric takes over on “The CBS Evening News,” the network is planning more widespread changes, including fanning the newscast out across different media, including radio and the Web, to capture a wider audience.

Taking questions from more than 200 television critics gathered here on Sunday for their semiannual meeting, Ms. Couric and Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, outlined some of what Mr. McManus calls “expansive and in many ways unprecedented” changes that will come when Ms. Couric takes over from Bob Schieffer and becomes the first female sole anchor of a major network newscast.

“The CBS Evening News is going to be showcased on the radio,” said Mr. McManus, “which is new and it’s different and I think will further expose our product to a lot of people.”

The multiplatform strategy will involve simulcasting the first segment of the evening news on CBS Radio News, which will be made available to its more than 500 affiliated stations around the country. Already committed to the simulcast are WCBS-AM in New York, WTOP radio in Washington and WBZ in Boston.

The strategy will also include on-demand, extended Webcast interviews (done by Ms. Couric or CBS correspondents) and daily on-camera Web rundowns of the news lineup for the television broadcast that evening.

“Our goal on Sept. 5 is that whether you’re in your car, on your computer, commuting, listening on your cell phone, or, God forbid, at home watching television, that the CBS news will be available to you,” said Mr. McManus.

Additionally, it was announced that CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer, who has not only stabilized the newscast but attracted some 300,000 new viewers, will be staying on as a contributing correspondent based in Washington. He may also be assigned a role as commentator, according to Mr. McManus.

Ms. Couric appeared relaxed, in good spirits and ready to take on a crowd of eager reporters.

Her meeting with the television critics came one day before the end of her six-city “listening tour,” a series of town hall meetings and cancer fund-raisers closed to the new media that were designed to ease her transition from NBC to CBS and to foster goodwill with important CBS affiliates such as Dallas, Denver, San Diego and San Francisco.

“I took the entire month of June off,” said Ms. Couric. “I found that sleep is very underrated and it was a great time for me to relax and spend quality time with my children.”

As for what she had heard this week from her viewers in the town hall meetings, Ms. Couric said, “it reinforced, happily, the view that there are a lot of highly intelligent, very engaged people in this country who are very interested in serious subjects and the news of the day.”

What she learned, she said, is that people want longer news stories and they want to know how the stories are relevant to their lives. They also feel, she said, that the news is too depressing.

Ms. Couric says that the her broadcasts will be a work in progress. “We have a lot of work ahead. I’m really excited to get started, to stop talking about this and to actually start doing the job.”

News Online Seems to Have Long Shelf Life
Noam Cohen

A new research paper seeks to answer a riddle for publishers, editors and even readers: when does new news become old news?

In the case of a news article on the Internet, the answer is surprisingly long: 36 hours on average, according to the paper, “The Dynamics of Information Access on the Web,” which appeared in the June issue of Physical Review E, the journal of the American Physical Society.

More precisely, 36 hours is the amount of time it takes for half of the total readership of an article to have read it, the paper found. The physicist who led the research, Albert-László Barabási of the University of Notre Dame, said that the paper’s conclusion should give journalists hope, even in the era of instant news. Dr. Barabási said that traditional ideas about the way people use the Internet would have led researchers to expect a much shorter half-life, more like two to four hours.

“You can spin it two ways,” said Dr. Barabási, a specialist on complex networks. “Gee, only 36 hours is the typical half-life of an article. Or gee, I would have expected it to be shorter.”

Editors of online news sites said the results confirmed what they experience day to day.

“It’s remarkable to watch how the readers find their way to what they’re interested in,” said Jennifer Sizemore, managing editor of the news portal MSNBC.com, which is owned by the Microsoft Corporation and the NBC Universal division of the General Electric Company. “Sure, the top news story always gets a ton of traffic. But sometimes that second-to-last headline near the bottom of the page won’t be far behind. And there are features that will draw strongly for a week or more. Even once they’re no longer featured on the front, they are prominent throughout the site.”

Neil F. Budde, general manager of Yahoo News, said his site must balance a variety of competing interests: frequent visitors who get bored by even slightly stale news, less frequent visitors who won’t know what has happened in the last few hours or even days, and the editors’ own news judgment.

“What would be ideal would be to keep track of when you were last on our site and present a package of news that would be different than what others see,” said Mr. Budde.

He said that the site had so much traffic that it was hard to conduct detailed research along the lines of Dr. Barabási’s study. But, he added, “we do have real-time statistics for the headlines that appear on the front page,” and “you can see that click rates go down after a couple of hours.”

Dr. Barabási said that one of the main insights from his research was that Internet users did not read news articles evenly throughout the day. Instead, they read in bursts. So while a story will seem old to some users, others who have been away from the Internet for a while will be intrigued to catch up and begin reading.

The researcher says that he has found the same “burst” pattern of activity in other areas, whether in phone usage or in the correspondence habits of famous scientists like Einstein and Darwin.

The research paper was based on a month of tracking every click of each visitor to a prominent Hungarian news and entertainment site, origo.hu. (To protect the privacy of the 250,000 or so unique visitors to the site, researchers were given numbers rather than the Internet addresses of the visitors.)

“What we find when we look at one particular individual is not uniform in time,” Dr. Barabási said. “There are short periods of lots of clicks and then long periods of nothing.”

This pattern is considered the reason that readership rates don’t drop off precipitously for particular articles after a few hours.

This policy of promoting articles on a Web site even after they have lost their “news value” is the one concrete suggestion Dr. Barabási offered to editors, because searches won’t help readers who don’t know what they have been missing.

Sun Valley Diary: Week in Review

The moguls began arriving on Tuesday, many in Cadillac Escalades and at least one in a Ford Taurus.
Who is on the list of attendees is, of course, less important than who is not.

Every year the conference has one rock star. This year it was Chad Hurley, chief executive of online video sharing service YouTube.
Mogul watching is perhaps the most important activity in Sun Valley.

We broke the news: Grupo Televisa used the week to hold meetings with the winning bidder of Univision.

We broke this news too: The Weinstein Company formed a joint venture with Robert L. Johnson, the founder of BET. (Harvey Weinstein was not pleased that we scooped the story.)

Bigwigs like shade. And Brian Roberts of Comcast likes DealBook. Murdoch, Stringer, Diller & Eisner open up.

WNYC’s Planned Move Will Finish Its Breakup With the City
Glenn Collins

It’s time, at last, to bid farewell to the carpets paisleyed with primordial coffee stains. To say sayonara to the unpredictable floods that have engulfed corner offices. And to liberate long-suffering talk-show guests from the limbo of a security line choked with wedding parties schlepping to the Marriage License Bureau.

After broadcasting since 1924 from the marble-and-mosaic corridors of the Municipal Building at 1 Centre Street in Manhattan, WNYC is going from drab to fab. WNYC, which has the largest audience of any public radio station in the United States, will finally sever its umbilical cord to the bureaucracy that gave it life and sheltered it so persistently. Escaping its 51,400 square feet of tired but rent-free space scattered on eight floors of the Municipal Building, the station will make a $45 million move northwest to two and a half floors of a 12-story former printing building at 160 Varick Street.

The new offices, between Vandam and Charlton Streets, will have 12-foot ceilings and 71,900 square feet of space. The number of recording studios and booths will double, to 31. And there will be a dramatic new 140-seat, street-level studio for live broadcasts, concerts and public forums.

“There is a little sadness in leaving after the decades of history here, but it’s time to move out of the house,” said Laura R. Walker, the station’s president and chief executive since 1995.

Critics outside the station question whether the pricey move will pose an intolerable fund-raising burden, jeopardizing the station’s independence, forcing it to rely more on corporate underwriters and skewing its audience toward a well-heeled elite.

Ralph Engelman, chairman of the journalism department at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University and a former board chairman of WBAI, a public radio station that competes with WNYC, said of the move, “I wonder to what extent that would require more underwriting, and listeners with more upscale demographics to sell the station to underwriters?”

But to Ms. Walker, WNYC had no choice. “We needed more space, and we wanted to have our own identity,” she said, asserting that the move will increase its reach and its appeal to diverse audiences. Renovation is scheduled to start this fall for a move planned for next spring or summer.

The staff of 165 will definitely not be picketing to remain in the Municipal Building, a 99-year-old landmark that, as Leonard Lopate, the station’s indefatigable interviewer, said, “seems to be falling apart.”

Of the move, Brian Lehrer, the midmorning talk-show host, said, “Personally, I have no mixed feelings about it,” ruefully recalling years of trekking down a flight of stairs from his 25th-floor studio just to use the fax machine.

On Varick Street, 18 journalists will no longer be jammed into a shoebox of a newsroom; indeed, capacious new offices will permit a staff of 40.

Guests will wait in an actual green room, not out in the hall at the water cooler. And with less cumbersome security requirements than at the Municipal Building, should he agree to revisit, Carson Kressley of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” would probably not be late for a radio interview — as he was a while back — because of panic that his large, spiked belt contained explosives.

“In a place where the phones work and the toilets flush,” Ms. Walker said cheerfully, “we can focus better on making radio.”

The city long treated the station as a stepchild and at times sought its exile. Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia threatened to sell WNYC to supplement the city’s Depression budget, and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani actually did during his privatization campaign in the 1990’s. Mayor Edward I. Koch, in what critics saw as the most egregious misuse of programming power, demanded in the 1970’s that the station broadcast the “John Hour,” a listing of the names of men convicted of patronizing prostitutes. (It was broadcast once, then was canceled after a lusty outcry.)

“City officials saw the station as a place to get free publicity,” said Mr. Lopate, who joined WNYC in 1985.

The station won its independence nine years ago when the WNYC Foundation, financed by listeners and major donors, paid $20 million for its broadcasting licenses. “After the sale there was none of that,” Mr. Lehrer said of rampant political intrusions.

Alan G. Weiler, a real estate lawyer who is chairman of the WNYC board’s facilities committee, said the station had examined nearly 60 spaces in three boroughs. “We decided we had to move in Lower Manhattan” as a show of support, he said, noting that the station was unable to occupy its own offices for three weeks after Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Weiler declined to reveal the cost of the 20-year lease, with its 10-year renewal option.

Given its proximity to the Holland Tunnel, the 3,400-square-foot street-level performance hall will have to be buffered in soundproof glass to hush the honking of passing drivers.

Executives said the station is considering setting up a WNYC news zipper outside the building. “I think of the drivers as a captive audience,” Mr. Weiler said.

According to Arbitron, the radio ratings service, the station — comprising WNYC 93.9 FM and WNYC AM 820 — has the largest Manhattan audience in radio, though it ranks 13th citywide in competition with salsa, hip-hop and light FM. It has 99,378 members, up from 78,866 in 2001, and reaches more than a million unique listeners each week.

WNYC pays a $3 million membership fee per year to National Public Radio, which finds national underwriters for the programs it produces, like “All Things Considered,” and keeps the proceeds from the corporate announcements that run on local stations.

But WNYC produces 100 hours a week of its own programming, including the shows of Mr. Lehrer and Mr. Lopate, as well as “Studio 360,” “On the Media,” “Radio Lab” and “Soundcheck.”

WNYC has already embraced podcasting, has 600,000 listeners on the Internet and also puts its shows on satellite radio for “a little money, not huge,” said Ms. Walker, who declined to specify the amount.

In addition to the $45 million for construction, rent and operating costs on Varick Street, WNYC will be raising money for a one-time fund of $12.5 million to cover the cost of creating 40 more hours of new programming and three new shows. The total cost of $57.5 million for both the move and programming is nearly three times the $20 million the station had to raise over seven years to buy its licenses. So far it has pledges of $25 million from foundations, government agencies and private donors.

The price has not gone uncriticized. “As it takes this next step in its history, is it going to be serving all New Yorkers or serving a largely elite audience?” asked Professor Engelman.

Like many public stations, WNYC presents an average of two minutes each hour of what public broadcasters call enhanced corporate underwriting — advertisements that are announced, but not presented as produced commercials — which contributes $8.5 million to its $29.7 million annual operating budget. “I don’t see a difference between enhanced underwriting and real commercials,” said Amy Goodman, a co-host of the “Democracy Now!” show syndicated on 450 stations, including WBAI.

She added: “Commercialization threatens public radio. You don’t want to see public stations turning to corporations instead of reaching out into diversity and into the city.”

Beyond that, “commercials create the possibility of conflicts of interest,” Professor Engelman said, “since underwriters have leverage about what goes on the air.”

But to Mr. Lehrer, the WNYC firewall against corporate interference “is incredibly high.” He added, “No funder has ever had a conversation with me, and I have never heard about any pressure being exerted.”

Curtis Sliwa, the Guardian Angel and WABC morning-drive co-host, said that to thrive WNYC “should try to attract a diverse mass audience to expand its donor base.” Mr. Sliwa had a WNYC talk show for seven months in 1994 “after I was forced upon them by Rudy Giuliani,” he said.

He added: “If you have a blue collar or no collar, and you listen to WNYC, you’re going to turn the dial because you know they aren’t talking to you; they speak the language of the suites, not the language of the streets.”

Mr. Sliwa holds that WNYC is limited by its politics as well. “They wanted liberal, progressive radio,” he said, recalling his tenure, “and I was like the Antichrist of public radio, a conservative voice.”

Nicki Newman Tanner, WNYC’s board chairwoman for the past two years, said the station and its programming strive to be “diverse in gender, ethnically and racially, given our responsibility to reflect New York as completely as we can.” Her 37-person WNYC board has 14 women, 4 African-Americans, 2 Hispanics, an Asian and a South Asian.

Mr. Sliwa criticized, too, the salaries of the station’s top executives, including that of Ms. Walker, 48, WNYC’s president. Her compensation and benefits of $313,701, according to 2004 public filings, are the equivalent of 7,842 regular $40 station memberships.

“That is way too much,” Mr. Sliwa said. “I would take some of her $300,000 and give it to the behind-the-scenes people, the producers and stringers, who do their jobs as a labor of love and are living from paycheck to paycheck.”

But Ms. Tanner said that to flourish, the station needed to hire “the best and the brightest in a competitive environment,” referring to broadcasting-executive compensation.

Salary, though, hasn’t been a priority for many at the station. Oscar Brand, the 86-year-old host of the Saturday night “Folksong Festival” — which made its debut on Dec. 10, 1945 — said he had never had a contract during 60 continuous years, and had never been paid. He is proud, he added, that in the McCarthy era his show featured songs by blacklisted singers like Pete Seeger.

When Mr. Brand was blacklisted himself in the 1950’s, “the station never looked at my programs in advance,” he recalled, and WNYC management “never even spoke to me about being blacklisted. It’s that kind of place.”

H.P. to Unveil Radio Chips to Store Data
John Markoff

Researchers at Hewlett-Packard are set to introduce a new technology on Monday that they say will allow large amounts of information to be stored on tiny chips attached to objects.

An inexpensive handheld electronic reader can access the information by touching the experimental chips, which might be placed on a painting, a photo, a bracelet or virtually anything else. The stored information might include video, sound and text.

Company officials were cautious about potential commercial applications, but said the technology might be used to store audio that could be read back from photographs, for example. Or, it could be used to read and modify electronic medical information in a medical patient’s ID bracelet.

The first generation of chips stores up to 512,000 bytes of information, roughly the amount of text in a slim novel. The technology was developed by a Hewlett-Packard Labs group based in Bristol, England, during the past four years

Hewlett-Packard executives said that the technology was intended to serve a different purpose from RFID, or radio frequency identification, tags, which are often used as tracking devices on commercial products.

“What we’re talking about is distributing digital information in the physical world,” said Howard Taub, associate director of H.P. Labs.

In contrast to RFID tags, which store only a few hundred or few thousand bits of information, and which are readable from distances of tens of feet, the H.P. Memory Spots can be read only from extremely close range and store up to hundreds of thousands of bytes of information.

Like RFID tags, Memory Spots are powered from radio fields emitted by reading devices, but the H.P. researchers said they would have new applications beyond the typical supply chain and identification functions of RFID chips. Ultimately, executives said, the reading and writing technology could be added to smart phones or other inexpensive handheld devices.

The Memory Spot chips could be priced as low as 10 cents each if they were manufactured in volume, Mr. Taub said.

An independent RFID expert said that the idea was intriguing, but that commercial success was by no means guaranteed.

“The paradigm by which we deal with data-enabled objects and where we store the data and what the privacy constraints are will all play into whether this technology will be successful,” said Chris Diorio, chairman and co-founder of Impinj, a Seattle-based maker of advanced RFID chips.

One of the advantages of the Memory Spot is that the 1.4-millimeter-square chips contain a small processor and as a result have the ability to offer data protection features.

Viruses Leap To Smart Radio Tags
Mark Ward

Computer viruses could be about to take a giant leap and start spreading via smart barcodes, warn experts.

Security researchers have infected a Radio Frequency ID tag with a computer virus to show how the technology is vulnerable to malicious hackers.

The researchers warn that RFID tags could help mount many different types of attacks on computer systems.

Makers of radio tag systems were urged by the group to introduce safeguards to guard against RFID-borne bugs.

Cat attack

"This is intended as a wake-up call," said Andrew Tanenbaum, one of the researchers in the computer science department at Amsterdam's Free University that did the work revealing the weaknesses on smart tags.

"We ask the RFID industry to design systems that are secure," he said.

RFID tags are essentially smart barcodes that replace the familiar lines with a small amount of computer memory, a tiny processing unit and a radio. Information is downloaded into the tag and read off it via radio.

Many large companies are keen to use the RFID tags because they will help keep track of the goods they are shipping from warehouses out to stores or regional offices. Currently RFID tags are relatively expensive so most are used to log what is in boxes of goods rather than to label individual items.

However, many expect the smart tags to become ubiquitous as the price of making the devices falls.

In their research paper Mr Tanenbaum and his colleagues Melanie Rieback and Bruno Crispo detail how to use RFID tags to spread viruses and subvert corporate databases.

"Everyone working on RFID technology has tacitly assumed that the mere act of scanning an RFID tag cannot modify back-end software and certainly not in a malicious way. Unfortunately, they are wrong," wrote the trio in their research paper.

The researchers showed how to get round the limited computational abilities of the smart tags to use them as an attack vector and corrupt databases holding information about what a company has in storage. To test out the theory the group created a virus for a smart tag that used only 127 characters, uploaded it and watched it in action.

Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at anti-virus firm F-Secure, said: "RFIDs with embedded computers are suspectible to basically all the same threats any other computers are. Unfortunately."

If viruses do appear in smart tags, said the researchers, they are likely to cause problems for companies that read data off the tags. They speculated that consumer activist groups could use smart tags viruses to cause havoc at stores they are targeting.
In some cases, said the researchers, viruses could be spread by household pets such as cats and dogs that are injected with the tags to help identify their owner.

The researchers urged companies working on RFID systems to start thinking seriously about security measures to protect against future threats.

Doctor, Your Sponge Is Beeping

Technology that helps airlines keep track of baggage and sounds an alarm when a shoplifter tries to leave the store may be able to stop surgeons from losing a sponge inside a patient, a study said on Monday.

Doctors at Stanford University School of Medicine who tested sponges embedded with radio frequency identification tags said the system accurately alerted surgeons when they deliberately left a sponge inside a temporarily closed surgical site and waved a detector wand over it.

But they said the size of the chips used -- 20 millimeters or about 0.8 of an inch -- was too large and would need to be reduced to be practical on sponges and surgical instruments.

Alex Macario, a physician and professor of anesthesia who led the study, said the future probably will see a combination of tags and other techniques such as counting instruments and sponges before and after an operation.

"We need a system that is really fail-safe; where, regardless, of how people use this technology, the patient doesn't leave the operating room with a retained foreign body," he said.

The Stanford study, published in this week's Archives of Surgery, involved eight patients. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and by a grant from the Small Business Innovation Research Program, using sponges developed by ClearCount Medical Solutions Inc. in Pittsburgh.

Macario has no financial interests in that company but two of the study's co-authors own several patents related to tagged sponges and work for the Pittsburgh company.

The tags use a circuit that emits an identifying a signal when prompted by a radio signal. Such tags are widespread commercially for uses ranging from luggage tracking and preventing currency from being counterfeited to shoplift loss protection and automated highway toll collection.

One earlier study found that medical personnel left foreign objects, most often sponges, inside a patient's body in one out of every 10,000 surgeries causing complications and even death.

Directing the Film, Then Its Hype
Caryn James

Among the more obscure entries in Johnny Depp’s filmography is a sly cameo in “The Buried Secret of M. Night Shyamalan,” a 2004 film about the making of Mr. Shyamalan’s period thriller, “The Village.” Mr. Depp explains that he decided not to appear in the earlier movie “Signs” because Mr. Shyamalan wanted to exert some creepy control over his cast, requiring a confidentiality agreement and feeding the actors comments to spout to the press (as if that never happens).

“Buried Secret” gives us the director as diva — no “eye contact with Night,” a publicist warns the documentary crew — and eventually shows Mr. Shyamalan stomping out of an interview and withdrawing his cooperation.

We now know that “The Buried Secret” was a “Blair Witch”-style hoax, a mock documentary promoting “The Village,” and that its subject played along with it until the end. (The Sci Fi Channel was forced to confess two days before the special was shown.)

Seen on DVD today the mock doc is an overlong, sporadically clever spoof of Mr. Shyamalan and the machinery of hype itself. But it is revealing because it uses what is beginning to look like a favorite Shyamalan ploy: self-promotion by proxy.

With his new film, “Lady in the Water,” set to open on Friday, he seems to be making a push to raise his celebrity profile beyond that of the guy whose surprise-twist movies make boatloads of money when they’re good (“The Sixth Sense” and “Signs”) and only slightly smaller boatloads when they’re bad (“Unbreakable” and “The Village”). But in the current flurry of image-shaping, the egotist satirized in “Buried Secret” seems all too real.

The most blatant part of the strategy is Michael Bamberger’s headline-grabbing new book, “The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale” (Gotham Books). A work about the making of the new film, the book so echoes its subject’s point of view (he’s the sensitive artiste, misunderstood by his old studio, Disney) that it reads like an act of ventriloquism.

Beyond that, Mr. Shyamalan has given himself a substantial acting role in “Lady in the Water,” a leap beyond the cameos in his earlier movies. Viewers might recognize his face from the extravagantly dreamlike American Express commercial shown during the Oscars. He has written a children’s book, also called “Lady in the Water” (Little, Brown), and reads a snippet in a video on Amazon.com.

Then there are the articles about the Bamberger work, some as credulous as the book itself. All this, and Mr. Shyamalan is only now hitting the talk-show circuit. It’s as if he’s trying to vault himself into the Spielbergian reaches of fame.

He has never been shy about such outsize ambitions. He wrote, produced, directed and even starred in his first film, “Praying With Anger” (1992), soon after graduating from New York University film school. On screen he comes across as a good-looking, mild-mannered, appealing guy, until some over-the-top comment boomerangs.

In a feature included on the DVD of “The Sixth Sense” he says, “My goal as a filmmaker is to make — try to make — cultural phenomenon,” as if such things can be manufactured by sheer force of will. It might seem that way to him; after all, “I see dead people,” that film’s famous line, has become a pop-culture catchphrase.

But the movies that followed have not approached the same cultural impact, and now the children’s book shows how wrong things can go when someone strives overtly for mythic resonance. A bedtime story Mr. Shyamalan created for his two daughters, “Lady in the Water” is the tale that inspired the film, about a narf, a gentle sea nymph, who lives under a swimming pool.

In the book Mr. Shyamalan tries to capture a world where magic exists — in movie terms, more Spielberg, less Hitchcock — but he does surprisingly little to create that place. He tells what narfs do, but he doesn’t depict a single one with a name or personality.

Lacking any vivid characters for children to latch on to, the book is abstract and finally preachy. If you see a narf, he writes, “one day you will do something important for the world.” He asserts mythic enchantment rather than enticing his audience into it, a curious lapse from a filmmaker who really knows how to tell a story.

Reaching for a broader audience, the film naturally has a more complicated version of this plot, and a major narf character (Bryce Dallas Howard). But while it sounds different from Mr. Shyamalan’s earlier works, promos link it to the thrillers. One television spot ends with a young voice eerily singing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?,” making the movie seem like a horror fairy tale. Another trailer shows Paul Giamatti attacked in the dark by an unseen creature. Yet even the film’s press notes place it in the tradition of “E.T.” and “The Wizard of Oz,” so it makes sense to be skeptical about those trailers.

Relying on Mr. Shyamalan as a selling point isn’t a stupid idea; sometimes when he asserts something, people do swallow it. That sort of spin worked for the supposedly explosive Bamberger book, with early newspaper reports summarizing its man-bites-studio story as if that were something bizarre. The Los Angeles Times’s headline was “Horror Director Impales Disney in Tell-All Book,” while The Observer of London’s was “Director’s Tell-All Assault on Disney Shocks Hollywood.” (Those Hollywood innocents; so easily shocked.)

Really, Disney doesn’t look so bad, not even in the episodes that have already become notorious: three Disney executives are not properly deferential when Mr. Shyamalan’s assistant hand-delivers scripts to them on a Sunday; those executives then fly to Philadelphia for dinner with Mr. Shyamalan and say they have problems with the screenplay. They are clearly indulging a star director’s childish self-importance. (To make “Lady,” he moved to Warner Brothers.)

You can’t blame a filmmaker for trying to control the spin when there is so much uncontrolled information swirling around. The Smoking Gun Web site — www.thesmokinggun.com — once posted the production budgets of some of Mr. Shyamalan’s movies, which included salaries for “The Village”: $2.75 million for Adrien Brody, $1.25 million for William Hurt and a measly $150,000 for Bryce Dallas Howard, who played the main character. She was unknown then, but still.

Mr. Shyamalan’s current ambitions seem bigger than mere spin control, though, and depend as much on the public response to him as to his new movie. “My life is about finding time to dream” is the tag line of his Amex commercial. A dream can be a tough thing to share, especially when it’s the fantasy of turning yourself into a pop-cult star.

NSF Backs Open Source Wireless Mesh Project
Katie Fehrenbacher

Earthlink and Tropos might be looking to make millions off of muni wireless, but members of the open source community are hard at work trying to make wireless networking free. And they just got some funds to help their cause. Sascha Meinrath, of the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network, CUWIN, just called me this morning to say his open source wireless mesh project received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Sascha says he plans to use the money to add staff, scour the globe for open source partners, and boost research and testing.

The organization had been applying to the NSF for 4 years now, and previously Sascha had been paying much of the research fees out of pocket–so the news is good for him on a lot of levels! A project like this could help make wireless broadband available for communities that can’t afford it and address the real digital divide. Not just recreate the economics of the traditional phone and cable operators with a slightly less monthly subscriber fee.

I thought maybe the NSF was starting to pay attention to an open source wireless project because of what wireless networking was shown to do in recovery efforts in Hurricane Katrina and the East Asian tsunami. Sascha said he wasn’t sure why the NSF approved them this time.

The open source code addresses the networking layer that improves the strength and reduces redundancies of the wireless signal. The code is in beta form and freely available on the organization’s web site. Making this technology freely available to anyone might make some companies with nice profits from wireless mesh, a tad unhappy. But the companies that are confident in their own technology probably won’t mind.

Sascha said he has also been talking to a few companies for partnerships. For example, he says possible partnerships could be wireless hand held device makers looking to test products over a test mesh network, that don’t want to pay a lot to use an already established network owned by a for-profit company.

Allan Leinwand, a partner at Panorama Capital, is an open source networking advocate and funded Vyatta the open source router company. He says a funding like this is really exciting for the open source network community, but that it’s also a big leap to turn a project into a widely used product.

The CUWIN project is really small, so whether the code will become popular is unclear. Sascha said his group started as “a bunch of geeks in my living room and grew to an international community.” Maybe these funds could help the technology follow suit.

Press Release

Demand For “anytime, anywhere” Internet Access Drives Continued Surge In Notebook PC Ownership Around The World

The Popularity Of Notebook PCs Will Help Close The Digital Divide Between Society’s Technological Haves And Have-Nots, Says Ipsos Insight Study The Face of the Web

Growing availability to low cost, high-speed and often wireless Internet service appears to be propelling laptop and notebook sales around the world, helping close the so-called “digital divide” between technology’s haves and have-nots, say researchers from Ipsos Insight in their annual The Face of The Web study of global Internet trends.

Global notebook PC ownership grew a healthy eight percentage points in 2005, while desktop PC ownership growth stagnated around the world for the first time. At the end of 2005, 34% of households globally owned a notebook or tablet PC compared with 20% in 2003. Meanwhile, global desktop PC ownership remained unchanged between 2004 and 2005 at 60%, and may be signaling a “changing of the guard” in the PC category overall.

Given the surge in ownership, it is becoming increasingly clear that notebook PCs will become a driving change agent in consumers’ PC usage and Internet behavior, particularly in more developed global markets with greater access to wireless networks in the home and in public places.

“The continued popularity of notebook PCs, coupled with growing public access, means that a wireless Internet world is rapidly approaching reality, particularly in North America. Widespread wireless Internet will revolutionize consumption models for many different industry sectors - decisions like where to eat lunch, where to shop, where to entertain ourselves,” said Brian Cruikshank, Senior Vice President & Managing Director of Ipsos Insight’s Technology & Communications practice.

“Many consumers around the world already own a desktop PC and are now acquiring their first notebook PCs, which are built to handle a whole new generation of applications, devices and content. The technologies that support mobile notebook usage are poised for very strong growth in the future as consumers begin to learn how to utilize these new wireless platforms along with their existing desktops.”

No Place Like Home

Despite the sharp rise in notebook PC ownership, Internet access from outside the home remains a niche activity globally, as the home continues to be Internet Users preeminent point of access; of people who used the Internet in the past 30 days, nearly nine in 10 access the Internet from their homes, outpacing the workplace (50%) by an almost two-to-one margin, and nearly 10 times the prevalence of typical ‘wireless’ destinations such as bars or cafés. However, nearly twice as many Internet users claimed to have accessed the Internet from a bar, café, restaurant or airport in 2005 (9%) vs. 2004 (5%), hinting that the growing expectation for ‘anytime, anywhere‘ access may soon become a reality for Internet users around the world.

The ‘anytime, anywhere’ paradigm is becoming a reality much faster in North America than any other part of the world, as roughly one-third of adults in North America have accessed the Internet wirelessly using a notebook PC in the past 30 days. This is likely fueled by a growing number of in-home WLANs, the launch of WWANs by wireless service providers, public Wi-Fi hot spots and the continued build-out of municipal wireless networks available to the public.

Interestingly, Japanese wireless Internet usage from a PC pales in comparison to the prevalence of wired Internet usage, despite the fact Japan has one of the highest rates of notebook PC ownership (62%) in the world. As mentioned in a previous research release from The Face of the Web, this may be symptomatic of this region’s advanced use of the mobile phone as the predominate platform for wireless Internet access.

Most Use, Expect High-Speed Access

Still, tethered high-speed access remains the most common way Internet users jump online. Today, nearly three in four Internet Users globally surf via a high-speed connection, while the prevalence of high-speed connections as a primary access technology for users rose five percentage points in 2005 (67%) vs. 2004 (62%). Perhaps more notably, dependence on dial-up access declined sharply 2005, and was unseated by DSL as the most commonly used access technology around the world.

Among high-speed access technologies, DSL and Cable remain the most common forms of high-speed connections globally, though Cable access eclipses DSL access in only one part of the world – North America. Within dial-up dominant markets, Internet access via wireless service has made significant gains, while prevalence of this access technology among Internet users in these markets actually surpasses that of other more developed markets.

Concluded Cruikshank: “We have seen demand for high-speed Internet grow to where there is now an anytime, anyplace expectation for access to information. Consumers without a high-speed connection at home are motivated to utilize hot spots and other forms of public access to get online as they become more available, which in turn, promises a greater opportunity for the delivery of rich content and digital services to under-developed Internet markets around the world.”

YouTube and the Copyright Cops: Safe... For Now?
Ken Fisher

If you've never heard of YouTube, let me introduce you: YouTube is a massively popular video sharing site that has quickly become one of the Internet's most trafficked websites, climbing into the top 50 of all sites online in a year's time (as tracked by Alexa). According to Nielsen NetRatings, the site serves almost 13 million users a month and serves up 50 million videos each day. Maybe you've been by the site to see Jon Stewart's hilarious (yet depressingly accurate) coverage of the "'Net neutrality" debate, or maybe you enjoyed watching Ernesto Hoost and friends in Silent Library. And maybe, just maybe, you've enjoyed some videos that weren't uploaded without the copyright owner's permission, too.

See, YouTube's continued survival is a bit of a mystery to some. The site thrives in part on what appears to be copyright infringement, but aside from a few scuffles (most notably with NBC), there's been nothing Napster-ish about its history. TV clips, movie clips, you name it... they all appear on the site regularly, and without authorization. So far, the major lawsuits haven't shown up.

Daniel Pearl, Deputy editor of BBC's Newsnight, recently compared life at the venerable Beeb to life at YouTube. Noting that the BBC has to get clearance for everything that it uses, Pearl asks, "So why is there one rule for us and another for YouTube?" That is, why does the BBC get hit with letters, licensing demands, and potential lawsuits when they use unauthorized material, yet YouTube is packed to the gills with it? "Perhaps someone could explain," he says.

For Pearl and others with similar questions, you're in luck. See, while the BBC and other news organizations are accountable for what they show to users, YouTube is built upon laws that give them a safe harbor. And believe it or not, it's the DMCA protecting YouTube—the same DMCA that is destroying fair use. As the EFF's Fred von Lohmann explains in an editorial for The Hollywood Reporter Esq., YouTube is shielded because the site is an "online service provider," arguably similar to your own Internet Service Provider (ISP). Among other things, the DMCA provides protection for service providers against being held responsible for the actions of their users. Much like the RIAA can't sue Comcast for little Jimmy's pirate web server he hosts on their broadband network, so too with YouTube.

As an online service provider, YouTube seemingly has an out of almost any trouble you can throw at it. A disgruntled copyright owner must first supply the company with a legal notice of the infringement (the infamous takedown notice), and YouTube can stay in the clear by merely identifying the infringing material and removing it. They're safe from damages, even if 20,000 people watched the unauthorized material. Why? Because they only host it. Users upload the video (never mind how they got it), and that's ultimately the big distinction between YouTube and, say, the BBC. If the Beeb showed a 10 minute clip without authorization, they could be liable for thousands of dollars. YouTube, no.

As von Lohmann points out, this isn't a license to print money. YouTube can lose its safe harbor protections if it appears that they are directly profiting from the infringement of copyrights by their users. In von Lohmann's opinion, this is why YouTube only shows advertisements on pages without video on them. As the company searches for a business model, it will be critically important for them to stay away from anything that looks to capitalize on, well, one of the things that makes the site so popular: copyright infringement.

The situation leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many. Weblogs Inc. CEO Jason Calacanis wrote about the company's business model last February: "YouTube and other video hosting sites have made it easy to pirate stuff on the web (which is where piracy started), but they shouldn't be positioned as some revolutionary business," he wrote.

Perhaps it will be revolutionary, however. When the significant legal challenges come, and I strongly believe that they will, YouTube will be put into the onerous position of testing the limits of copyright law. Are clips of longer video programs fair use? Does a company that attracts so much copyrighted material have a chance to fight off charges of inducing or aiding copyright infringement? Does YouTube have a responsibility to make it impossible to download videos from their site? These are but a few of the questions looming large in the background.

While not exactly the same thing, it is important to note that the legitimate uses of P2P did not, in the end, protect Grokster. Rather, the ruling in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios v. Grokster left open the very real possibility that a disgruntled copyright holder could argue that YouTube, as a kind of Internet software, is "designed and promoted to aid in infringement" (to borrow language from the ruling). You may recall the the Supreme Court Justices pinged Grokster for failing to "develop filtering tools or other mechanisms to diminish the infringing activity using their software." And to get back to von Lohmann's argument about the cautious placement of advertisements, note that the justices also addressed this matter from a broad perspective, writing:

"[R]espondents make money by selling advertising space, then by directing ads to the screens of computers employing their software. The more their software is used, the more ads are sent out and the greater the advertising revenue. Since the extent of the software's use determines the gain to the distributors, the commercial sense of their enterprise turns on high-volume use, which the record shows is infringing. This evidence alone would not justify an inference of unlawful intent, but its import is clear in the entire record's context."

That is to say, merely refraining from placing advertisements on pages with infringing video won't necessarily be enough if the high-volume traffic of the site leads to advertising gains elsewhere. Sadly, the Grokster ruling did not bring the clarity to these issues for which many had hoped.

Two things are clear, however. YouTube is popular, and few people want to see the site go away. Since YouTube does not allow for users to download videos (without hacks that they do not support), many people feel that it is ultimately a win-win situation for copyright holders and the audience (the former essentially getting free promotion to the latter). The second matter is that legal eyes are watching YouTube. Following on the heels of their spat with NBC, the company instituted limits on video cap lengths largely to combat copyright infringement, and it may be no coincidence that they publicly revealed their motivations (consider the "filter" arguments noted above). The RIAA is now also after YouTube (and Google) for amateur music videos uploaded by users. Whether or not little spats will erupt into the all-out war that followed the pre-legit days of Napster remains to be seen, but I don't expect that old dog (the entertainment industry) to have learned any new tricks.

"Blogspot Banned" - Lets Demand Explaination Under "Right to Information Act"

Last two days, i have tried every trick i know to access my blog hosted on blogspot.com and later find out, all the website/blogs hosted on blogspot.com are Banned by some ISPs on direction of Government of India.

Well i run a independent online publication about computer graphics which spread over two domains 1) http://cgindia.blogspot.com and 2)http://cg-india.com, and visited by 120000 to 170000 visitors every month, now if this Bann going to stay here for long, I fear of loosing more than 30% visitors...this really sucks. But, This problem is quite serious not because users from certain region wont be able to access my/your weblog, Instead its about your freedom and speaking your Mind....I am quite frustrated and so does the couple of hundred thousand bloggers in India...

Lets demand our right and Demand Explanation from Indian Government under "Right to Information Act"!

Some people are speculating the blogspot Bann is connected with recent Mumbai blast . This is Ironic, its like locking good people inside their houses because they cant control the bad people out there!
info on RTI - http://www.ndtv.com/rti/default.asp

Live and let live!
Amit Dixit


Government Lifts Ban On Websites

DoT says blogs which were blacked out after 7/11 will soon be restored.

New Delhi: Bloggers in India can rest easy now.

According to the Department of Telecommunications, blogs which were blacked out three days after the Mumbai blasts will soon be restored.

Post 7/11, the Government decided to block sites without saying why and the ISPs decided to go ahead, do one better and block all blogs.

The Centre issued an order to block 22 websites after a two-page write up containing derogatory references to Islam appeared in a blog.

The Department of Telecommunciations had issued notices to all Internet service providers (ISPs) to block the two pages, but due to a technical error, ISPs blocked all blogs.

Various ISPs say they were asked to block access to a list of 20 odd websites, which these include sites like Dalitstan.org, Clickatell.com, Hinduunity.com, Princesskimberly.blogspot.com and Hinduhumanrights.org - all sites that supposedly spread extreme views.

The Department of Telecommunciations has now clarified that the error is being rectified.

The Government alleges that these blogsites were fuelling hatred and communalism, but it also clarified its stand saying that they were not trying to censor free speech in the country. Instead they insisted that these sites have been under security check much before the terrorist attacks.

Or does it?

India Calls It a Technological Error, but Blog Blockade Continues
Somini Sengupta

After two days of angry inquiries and charges of government censorship, the Indian government took a step Thursday toward explaining a mysterious blockade on personal blogs, calling it “a technological error” that would be repaired soon.

In an e-mail message sent early on Thursday, India time, an official at the office of the Consulate General of India in New York said the order to block a handful of Web sites, including the popular blogspot.com, which plays host to thousands of personal blogs, had been prompted by the discovery of a site that contained what the official called “two impertinent pages” rife with material considered to be “extremely derogatory references to Islam.”

In an effort to stave off potential sectarian violence, the official said, the government’s Department of Telecommunications instructed Internet service providers to block access to the two pages. “Because of a technological error, the Internet providers went beyond what was expected of them, which in turn resulted in the unfortunate blocking of all blogs,” the official explained.

As of Friday, however, the sites remained blocked.

The consulate’s response came a day after a number of news articles on the matter appeared in the American news media, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It remained unclear why, despite repeated efforts, officials at the Department of Telecommunications in the capital, New Delhi, refused to provide any explanations for the blockade earlier this week.

The blockade has sown anger and confusion among Indian bloggers, who accuse the government of censorship and demand to know why their sites have been jammed.

Among the speculations that had been offered was that certain blogs could be used by terrorists to coordinate operations.

On Tuesday, when reports of the blockade emerged, officials at the Ministry of Communications did not return repeated calls. Gulshan Rai, an official at the ministry’s Department of Information Technology, said he was aware of “two pages” that had been blocked for spreading what he called antinational sentiments, but did not provide details.

Also on Tuesday, a technician at a Bangalore-based service center of one Internet provider said the government had ordered blogspot.com to be blocked “due to security reasons.” A service provider in New Delhi said the government, without explanation, had directed his company to block access to fewer than a dozen sites; he could offer no details on the nature of those sites.

The secretary for telecommunications, D. S. Mathur, hung up the phone when reached at home.

Blogs: the New Terrorist Training Ground?
Nate Anderson

In the days following the deadly train blasts in Mumbai, the Indian government took an unusual security step: it blocked access to blogs. According to the India Times, the Department of Telecommunications issued the order for the blocks, apparently operating on the belief that the bombers may have organized the attacks through the sites.

India's method of blocking objectionable content differs from that used by China, where the government's Great Firewall can snuff out dissent and "unpatriotic" material with the click of a mouse. In India, block requests are issued by the government and passed on to ISPs, which are responsible for implementing them. Because there is no central point of control, such blocks are haphazard. In such a situation, it can be difficult to tell exactly what it is that the government has ordered to be shut down.

The confusion over the situation has been heightened by the fact that some Indian ISPs are apparently blocking entire domains (including *.blogspot.com), though the government order allegedly lists only specific web sites within those domains. Given this situation, and the fact that the government has said little about the blocks, it has fallen to intrepid bloggers and journalists to figure out exactly what is going on—and the results illustrate the ingenuity and sense of community that can often be found online.

Once news of the blocks began to spread, Indian bloggers started a wiki to list ISPs and their blocking policies. They made phone calls, got in touch with government officials, and collated their information online. The story was soon picked up by larger blogs around the world and then by traditional media outlets.

While the story shows the resourcefulness of bloggers, it also points out the difficulty that governments have controlling the flow of information. If the train attacks truly were organized in some way through blogs, blocking the sites in question seems unlikely to increase security. There are simply too many blogging sites and usenet groups and mailing lists to make the effort practical without a massive, all-seeing state security apparatus of the kind that most democracies despise. The outraged bloggers in this case also show that such measures are like using a shotgun to hit a housefly; you might get the fly, but you're going to destroy the entire kitchen to do it.

Survey of the Blogosphere Finds 12 Million Voices
Felicia R. Lee

Bloggers are a mostly young, racially diverse group of people who have never been published anywhere else and who most often use cyberspace to talk about their personal lives, according to a report on blogging released yesterday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The report also said that 8 percent of Internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog, and that 39 percent of Internet users, or about 57 million American adults, read blogs.

“This is a decent portrait of the long tail of the blogosphere,” Lee Rainie, director of the project, said in an interview yesterday. “These are the average, everyday folks who blog. They are different from the A-list bloggers who get so much media attention. This is the first attempt or one of the first attempts at a representative sample of bloggers.”

The report, called “Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet’s New Storytellers,” relied on two telephone surveys conducted over the last year. The first survey, taken from July 2005 to February 2006, asked in-depth questions of 233 people, who were a nationally representative sample of bloggers. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 7 percent.

Additionally, from November 2005 to April 2006, 7,012 adults (including 4,753 Internet users) were surveyed by telephone. That survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent for the Internet users and 2 percent for the entire group.

Amanda Lenhart, the senior research specialist for the project, said that while the number of bloggers surveyed was not large, only 4 percent of all Americans have blogs.

“Certainly, as a research center, we get asked about blogging,’’ Ms. Lenhart said of the reason for the surveys. “It was something igniting the American consciousness. Blogs were perceived as having a big impact on politics, technology and journalism. We wanted to go in and see what bloggers were doing.”

Pew is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center based in Washington.

So far it appears that most bloggers view blogging as a hobby that they share with a few people, Ms. Lenhart said. “The new voices are being read in relatively limited spheres,’’ she said.

Among the report’s findings was that while many well-known blogs are political in nature, 37 percent of bloggers use them as personal journals. Among other popular topics were politics and government (11 percent), entertainment (7 percent), sports (6 percent) and general news and current events (5 percent). Only 34 percent of bloggers considered blogging a form of journalism, and most were heavy Internet users.

More than half of bloggers (54 percent) are under 30, the report said, evenly divided between men and women. More than half live in the suburbs, a third live in urban areas and 13 percent in rural areas. Bloggers, the report said, are also less likely to be white than the general Internet population: 60 percent are white, 11 percent are African-American, 19 percent are English-speaking Hispanic and 10 percent identify themselves as members of some other race. By contract, 74 percent of Internet users are white.

Despite a potentially vast audience in cyberspace, the Pew project found that 52 percent of bloggers said they blogged mostly for themselves. When asked for a major reason for blogging, 52 percent said it was to express themselves creatively and 50 percent said it was to document and share personal experiences.

Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired, a magazine about technology and culture, said the Pew report was accurate. “The finding that jumped out at me was the recognition that people are talking about the subjects that matter in their personal lives,” he said.

Mr. Anderson, the author of the book “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More” (Hyperion), said that the Pew report shows how the blogosphere is unlike traditional media. “It’s narrow, niche subjects,” he said. “It’s a granularity of media that we in the commercial media could not scale down to. Niche media is ‘me’ media, and the blogosphere is the ultimate manifestation of that.”

BSkyB Poised To Enter Broadband Price War
Nic Fildes

Competition in the UK broadband market will step up a gear tomorrow when BSkyB, the satellite television company, unveils its broadband offer. Its move will pitch it head to head with Carphone Warehouse and Orange, which have both recently launched so-called "free" broadband offers.

Sky is thought likely to follow its rivals in offering free broadband to its high-spending customers as part of a bundled package including television and telecoms services. Customers who subscribe to cheaper packages may need to pay a subscription fee, but that may be priced relatively cheaply.

Carphone and Orange both let customers subscribing to their telecoms products access broadband for free. But Carphone will come under pressure this week to change the claim that it provides "free broadband forever" after the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints against the retailer. The ASA is tipped have ruled against Carphone, which requires customers to sign up for a £20.99 monthly line-rental and calls package, on top of paying a £29.99 connection fee.

Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, expects Sky to play hardball in the broadband market. "We expect BSkyB to price aggressively against existing players, to market the services intensively to gain a large subscriber base quickly and to offer bundled packages to encourage the 47 per cent of Sky pay-TV subscribers who already have broadband to convert."

With BT potentially encroaching on BSkyB's core television market when it launches BT Vision later in the year, broadband internet access can be used to shore up its customer base. Sky completed the £211m purchase of the business broadband internet company Easynet in January but has kept a lid on its plans.

Rupert Murdoch, Sky's chairman, said earlier this month that the broadband launch would have a "significant" impact on profits. The company expects the service to be cash flow negative in the first three years after launch.Morgan Stanley forecasts a £83m operating loss as a result of the launch in the current year, rising to £102m next year.

Sky's entry into the broadband market adds a new player into an already competitive sector. BT, NTL and a host of smaller players such as Pipex and Plusnet have seen the likes of Carphone, Orange, O2 and now Sky enter the market during 2006 and Vodafone has also announced its intention to offer broadband services.

Sky is also fighting Orange and Carphone Warehouse to take over the customer base of AOL UK.

NTSB Probes Laptop Batteries in Jet Fire
Kimberly Hefling

Did laptop batteries aboard a UPS cargo plane ignite, causing the aircraft to catch fire?

The National Transportation Safety Board began looking into the question at a hearing Wednesday.

All three crew members on the plane were treated for minor injuries after it made an emergency landing shortly after midnight Feb. 8 at Philadelphia International Airport.

Several other incidents have occurred in recent years in which lithium batteries _ used in laptops and cell phones _ have caught fire aboard airplanes.

Less than two months ago in Chicago, a spare laptop battery packed in a bag stored in an overhead bin started emitting smoke, chief crash investigator Frank Hilldrup of the NTSB testified Wednesday.

A flight attendant used an extinguisher and the bag was removed, but the bag caught fire on a ramp, Hilldrup said.

Investigators in the Philadelphia fire found that several computer laptop batteries were on board the plane, and that in many cases portions of the laptop batteries had burned, he said.

"It is not known at this time the role these batteries may have played in the fire," Hilldrup said.

Lithium ion batteries are sometimes referred to as "rechargeable" or "secondary" lithium batteries. They, along with primary or "non-rechargeable" lithium batteries, can present fire hazards because of the heat often generated when they are damaged or suffer a short circuit.

It is expected to take several months for the NTSB to reach a conclusion about the cause of the fire in Philadelphia, although several hazardous materials on board the plane have been determined not to be the cause. The NTSB is also examining other related issues, such as what can be done to make cargo flights safer and the overall emergency response to the incident.

In 1999, a shipment of lithium batteries ignited after it was unloaded from a passenger jet at Los Angeles International Airport. Another shipment erupted into flames in Memphis in 2004 when it was being loaded onto a FedEx plane bound for Paris.

In the case of the UPS cargo plane, the crew declared an emergency on approach into Philadelphia. Fire and rescue crews met the four-engine jet, a DC-8 that originated in Atlanta, when it touched down shortly after midnight.

Firefighters said the blaze was under control about four hours later, although the charred plane smoldered for hours.
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The Age of the Web Hermit
Phil Hartup

Modern Life is Rubbish

The last ten years have seen the Internet move from a global porn distribution network to becoming one of the true wonders of the modern world. (And also a much faster porn distribution network). While communication over the internet has always been fast, it has never been as easy to use as it is today. Compatible hardware was never so common, nor had the net generated such obscene amounts of money.

Before the internet it used to take years, decades even, to build a corporation worth billions on the stock market, yet compared to the likes of Google and Amazon even the meteoric rise of Microsoft seems ponderous. The internet has ripped up old notions of time and space, with people now able like never before to exchange ideas, data and, most importantly of all, money. Transactions can happen almost instantly with as much confidence and security as might be present in a day to day physical transaction. Whilst fraud on the internet is always a danger, it is still no more risky than braving a trip to the shops.

So in this world where fortunes are made and lost by trading in nothing more substantial than data; where you can choose your friends and acquaintances not just from the people you meet at work or down the pub, but from all over the world; where you can get almost any item from any where delivered to your door without having to leave your desk; we have to ask ourselves - is there anything that we really need good old fashioned Real Life for any more? Is a life of doing things and meeting people as our primitive ancestors in the late 20th Century knew it becoming redundant?

The Web Hermit

The notion of people living most of their lives in the internet is not a new one. The Centre For Online and Internet Addiction was founded in 1995, so even back then in the days of dial up and Windows 3.1 there were certifiable web addicts. Back then excessive web-usage was seen as an addiction and the chief reason for this is that in those days the web, for the overwhelming number of users, was a diversion. While the internet as a research tool even back then was substantially more convenient and useful than any trip to your average public library, the principle usage was frivolous. The idea that a person could work, shop, chat, play and even find romance on the Internet was an accepted possibility, but people still attached a stigma to it.

As the Internet comes of age we are seeing that stigma removed, as the web becomes less an amusing diversion and more a useful tool which in some fields is practically a necessity. As the first generation born into the Information Age reaches adulthood, we are seeing the possibility for almost the entirety of a persons life to be handled online, where real life and online are effectively the same thing.

It is the era of the Web Hermit.

Stayin' Alive

Prioritising your online existence above your physical one is all well and good until you starve, die of exposure, or run out of money at the Internet Cafe. If the Web Hermit is to exist at all he needs to be able to take care of the essentials of life. While our ancestors needed food, shelter, clean water and a pointy stick to keep the barbarians at bay, our thoroughly modern Web Hermit knows that all these things can easily be acquired over the internet. All he needs is a bank account and a supply of money to pour into it.

Online banks such as First Direct represent some of the first forays by major, established corporations into the ethereal world of the Internet. Internet banks are strange entities, lacking branches, tellers or even any actual cash if you so wish. Using electronic transactions and a credit card it’s possible to never have to deal with that vulgar paper money stuff at all. Online banking has never been so easy to set up and use and provides many advantages over its physical world equivalent.

First Direct allows you to manage all your cash on the net, whilst Starbucks allows you to get on the web at the majority of its coffee shops.

So our web hermit now has an overdraft and he has credit cards, but if he wants to move out of his mothers cellar before he hits thirty he needs an income. With a lot of office jobs these days requiring little more than a computer which can send and receive emails and a telephone, it is not hard to set yourself up almost anywhere. A WiFi capable laptop and a mobile phone mean that the office can pretty much travel anywhere. This is where we see one of the more enticing advantages to the life of the Web Hermit - when so much of your life is online you can get to it anywhere there’s a connection, which could mean a coffee shop of a resort on the Spanish Riviera.

Having an ordinary job and working via the web is one thing, but of course the alternative is to simply make money out of the web itself, and there are many ways to do this. The explosion in the popularity of internet gambling has brought together millions of rubes in easily accessible shoals and the web is full of the exploits of those who harvest the online Poker rooms after the pubs have emptied on a Friday or Saturday night. If you prefer a more predictable type of gambling there’s always playing the markets, with share and currency dealing on the web easier than its ever been. If you want something a little more stable than gambling in its various forms then there are other alternatives. Ebay allows for the easy sale and distribution of goods or outside of this there are innumerable websites selling everything from t-shirts to miniature pet pigs.

Businesses that before would have been high street shops with a tiny customer base can now reach hundreds of millions of potential customers. Where before to open a small business such as a clothing shop you’d need stock to display, premises and staff, now all you need is a website to get the ball rolling. Making money through the internet isn’t just an option any more, for an increasing number of businesses it’s a necessary move.

So you’ve got your bank account, you’ve got your income, and you’ve still not had to put your trousers on today. Not bad. But naturally, man does not live by bread alone.


For some amongst us, the idea of spending the majority of a 24 hour period in front of a game of sort or another is nothing new. We’ve all known, or been, that guy so enamoured of his new game that he loses track of time and before he knows what’s what he’s missed an appointment, or accidentally played through til dawn without noticing the time, or died of exhaustion. Being sat in front of a PC gives you all the ways to kill time in the world and more, but this capacity for a device to take over a persons life for extended periods of time is nothing new.

Spending too much time in World Of Warcraft is no different to spending all day fishing, or on the golf course, or working on your car or a million other distractions where a person can relax and do their own thing. That said, the MMORPG is one of the first mediums to properly allow a person to exist more as a web entity than as an actual person and while they are certainly not a new phenomena (as anybody who camped the early morning rare spawns in Ultima Online can tell you), the scale of their spread throughout the gaming community can not be underestimated. Players create their avatar in these games and, by and large, while he she or it is not exactly a fully rounded character it’s safe to say that few players live their in game lives as they do their lives outside.

The well to do and respectable accountant becomes the trash talking rogue camping the new player areas, and the failing computer studies undergraduate becomes a PvP hero and legendary guild leader. The debate as to how bad online gaming is for a person and in what amounts has raged for nearly as long as there have been online games. Some might say that playing World Of Warcraft or Counter-Strike is not the most active of pastimes. This is true, but it’s not as if, in the event of the Blizzard servers suddenly all crashing and wiping themselves, the six million players of World of Warcraft would suddenly pick up footballs, hop on bicycles and head off to the park for some fresh air and a kick about. Do games make people inactive, or do inactive people flock to games?

Some might also say that online games lack the camaraderie and teamwork of, for example, playing for a local sports team. This is perhaps true, though we live in an age were many gaming clans and communities have been around for years, with players knowing each other for just as long. With voice communications in use during play and in many cases get togethers in the most easily reached country for drinking binges, we are starting to see the gaming clan emerge as a social group. While the most disturbing quality of the latest generations of online games could be said to be their addictiveness and their capacity to consume huge swathes of time, it is fair to say that in the main this is at least time spent with friends. One of the greatest factors that keeps a player in an MMORPG is their ties to their friends in game.

So our Web Hermit has got game, he’s got a clan, and he’s got people to talk to while he’s gaming. With Xbox Live leading the way for even consoles to become sociable gaming systems we’re seeing a revolution in online play. Gone are the days of the silent unwashed loner in his basement blazing away at complete strangers, now we see the gamer is a more rounded individual, communicating with others using TeamSpeak and maintaining enduring friendships which extend beyond just the game itself. He still doesn’t have to wash, or put any trousers on, though.

Recreation and Procreation

Gaming is not the be all and end all of online recreation though. If you like something a little more cultural then you can peruse the contents of a great many galleries and art collections such as the Tate gallery. Apart from visual art, the web is also home to almost every music track ever recorded, every movie ever made and every book ever written if you’re willing to hunt around a bit. It’s a sobering thought that your PC sitting in front of you right now could be give you the absolute best works that humanity has produced in the fields of art, literature, music and cinematography for nothing more than a bit of searching. There’s nothing to stop our Web Hermit from being a renaissance man, or a punk, or a TV addict or anything else.

As with any pioneering venture the internet has somewhat outrun law enforcement, and as such we live in the golden age of data piracy. While our Web Hermit might be something of a naughty pixie in the eyes of the media corporations, he’s probably savvy enough to get everything he wants off the web without having to open his wallet. Any and all cultural excesses are available to our listless specimen in front of his monitor. That’s all well and good, but the real advantage of the Web Hermit is not that he can manage his entire world from his computer at home. The true beauty of life as a Web Hermit is that because your income, finances and friends are all accessible on line, you can get to them from anywhere.

It’s perfectly possible to remain as the archetypal cellar dweller, but with the internet accessible easily throughout the developed world there really is no reason for the Web Hermit to physically be in any one place in preference to another. With email and messenger programs blissfully indifferent to which end of the planet you’re connecting from, with all the manifold research resources of the internet to play with and with Skype saving you from breaking the bank on the phone, geography has never been less important.

So if you can work from anywhere, can you get to anywhere? Naturally. Booking flights, hotels, activities and arranging to meet friends abroad has never been easier. This is again where we are seeing how the internet is not just becoming an option, it is becoming the preferable way to handle transactions. While booking online is one way to arrange holidays, it is fast becoming the only way to get hold of tickets for gigs, festivals and sporting events. With tickets over the phone for a lot of events selling out in minutes - if at first you don’t succeed, for nearly every event you can think of there’s a ticket on Ebay for it.

Being able to travel the world and get touted tickets to the best gigs and so on is all fine and dandy, but the Web Hermit can’t live alone forever. The majority of people meet their life partner at work. Since the Web Hermit makes his money on the internet then it’s fair enough that he should also seek a partner here. Internet dating has not exactly revolutionised dating as we know it. Dates are still pretty much exactly as they have always been, however the process of finding somebody to go on a date with has become so much easier that hunting for a partner has become less of a pursuit and more of a series of auditions.

Rather than lamenting having nobody to go out with your active Internet spouse-hunter can maintain a Fonz-worthy dating schedule without going to all the hassle of actually finding the likely candidates in their natural environment. As with any process designed to help find a partner those who have been successful will swear by it and those for whom it has failed will swear at it, but in any case with millions of subscribers to dating websites in the UK alone, the odds of our Web Hermit finding true love, or at least his first wife, are pretty favourable.

The Future

Web Hermits have never been exceptionally rare. However what is defining the modern internet dweller is not the amount of time that is spent online, it is how productive that time is and what can be achieved in it. For many people, the web can no longer be separated from their real life by the convenient ‘virtual’ tag. Reality, for more and more people, is inextricably tied up in the Internet. The web has allowed people to mix and congregate into social groups based on common interests rather than locality, and the result is that while physically the Web Hermit may appear more isolated than would seem healthy, he or she can still be a part of a close social unit.

Time will tell how strong the electronic ties that hold together internet societies will be. Civil society in the physical world could arguably be on the wane but on the internet, at least in these early years, we are seeing the reverse. Communities are becoming more stable and businesses to cater to them have been established. We are still in the relatively early days of the era of the Web Hermit and who is to say what will become of them? In years to come will we see grey haired old warhorses meeting up in their faded clan t-shirts sharing stories down the Dog And Duck of taking down the Molten Core fifty years ago? Will parents tell their children the enchanting tale of how they exchanged smiley faces in the Singles (19-29) room on Yahoo and knew that they were meant to be? There’s no way to know for sure where the Internet is going and where it will take the people who rely on it, but there can be no disputing that it is now integral to the fabric of modern society.

For our Web Hermit, being able to live, work and thrive in this environment with nothing more than a computer, an internet connection and a head full of passwords can only be a headstart in life.

The Tech Support Of The Crowds: Qunu
Rafe Needleman

In my experience, the best technical support on any product will come from somebody who actually uses and likes the product, not a paid support rep following a script. That's why people use open message boards. Message boards have always amazed me, though because so many people are willing to chip in and help people they don't know. But they work, and whatever the topic you need help with, there's almost certainly a group of people online willing to lend their earnest advice.

If you can't wait for a response in a message board, you can try a new service, Qunu, which is trying to replicate the message board community spirit, but in real time. Qunu connects you via instant message to an expert on the topic you need help with.

Qunu experts register themselves and tell the system what they know about. People who need help select a topic, and the system then connects the two people via IM.

At the moment the system is used mostly by programmers and other geeks, partly because experts on Qunu have to use a Jabber-compatible chat client. (Help-seekers don't need a chat client at all -- they communicate via the Qunu Web site.) The system should expand over time. Support for more popular chat networks like AOL's is forthcoming, which may pull in experts from other fields. Integration with voice chat and video may be added too.

Qunu is free, but it's clear that connecting people who need advice to experts could generate revenue. Like Ether, Qunu can expose consultants and service providers to their potential customers. Co-founder Helmar Rudolph told me he is setting up a "pro zone" on Qunu for experts who want to sell their advice instead of giving it away.

Maintaining the quality of the community of experts is going to be key to Qunu's success, and Rudolph told me that Qunu already has a reputation system, it's just not visible to users yet. Not only will it put at the top of lists experts who are the are most responsive and receive the best ratings, but it will also temporarily suppress the display of experts who answer a disproportionate number of queries, so everybody gets a chance to participate.

Qunu is a great idea. We already know that crowds are wise. They're altruistic and they love to talk, too. Qunu harnesses that.

Gracenote, music publishers in lyrics deal

Catalog Owners Mull Suits Against Unauthorized Sites
Sue Zeidler

U.S. digital entertainment company Gracenote on Thursday said it obtained licenses to distribute lyrics as music publishers mulled legal action against Web sites that provide them without authorization.

"When we first approached the publishers with this, they were excited. They thought lyrics had been an untapped resource for them and there's quite a bit of lyrics being taken for free on the Web," Ross Blanchard, Gracenote's vice president of business development, told Reuters in an interview.

Gracenote obtained the rights to the lyrics of more than 1 million songs from the North American catalogs of Bertelsmann AG's BMG Music Publishing, Vivendi's Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, jointly owned by Sony Corp and Michael Jackson, peermusic and other publishers.

Gracenote also said it was talking with all of its partners, including Yahoo Inc. and Apple Computer Inc's iTunes, on its plans to launch a service to offer legal and accurate lyrics for all digital media.

The service, to be initially available in North America, would be the first industry-backed move to providing lyrics legally, Gracenote said.

Until now, consumers' access to song lyrics has been largely through unauthorized sources, which usually provide inaccurate content, the company said.

Publishing industry officials cited Web sites such as lyrics.com and azlyrics.com among those who provide their catalogs' lyrics without their authorization. These sites could not be reached for comment.

"This license creates a new revenue stream which will guarantee that songwriters are paid for their work," said Nicholas Firth, chairman and chief executive officer of BMG Music Publishing.

Ralph Peer II, Firth's counterpart at peermusic, said licensing lyrics should boost worldwide music publishing revenues, estimated at about $4 billion annually. Peer said he hopes the unauthorized sites will seek licenses.

"I think we'll see a reasonable increase, as much as a 5 percent increase, in industry music publishing revenues five years out from where we are right now," Peer said.

"Clearly, there are copyright issues involving these unlicensed sites, which are making good income through advertising and other sources, while the composers are not getting their due," he said.

Gracenote's Blanchard said it was up to digital music retailers to decide how they will package or price the lyrics, but he did not expect it would involve significant added costs to consumers.

"We anticipate that you'll see different kinds of offers in the market, where lyrics are combined with recorded music in a total package like a subscription. This extra element should help drive sales growth. There are a lot of ways the services will derive value outside of adding an extra charge," he said.

Mickey Spillane, Creator Of Detective Mike Hammer, Dies

Mickey Spillane considered himself a "writer" as opposed to an "author," defining a writer as someone whose books sell.

"This is an income-generating job," he told The Associated Press during a 2001 interview. "Fame was never anything to me unless it afforded me a good livelihood."

The macho, Brooklyn-born mystery writer, who wowed millions of readers with the shoot-'em-up sex and violence of gumshoe Mike Hammer, died Monday at 88. Spillane's wife, Jane, told The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News he had cancer.

After starting out in comic books, Spillane wrote his first Mike Hammer novel, "I, the Jury," in 1946. Twelve more followed, with sales topping 100 million. Notable titles included "The Killing Man," "The Girl Hunters" and "One Lonely Night."

Many Hammer books were made into movies, including the classic film noir "Kiss Me, Deadly" and "The Girl Hunters," in which Spillane himself starred. Hammer stories were also featured on television in the series "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" and in made-for-TV movies. In the 1980s, Spillane appeared in a string of Miller Lite beer commercials.

"Thanks Mickey for giving the world so much pleasure during your time with us," actor Stacy Keach, who portrayed Hammer on TV in the 1980s, said in a statement Monday. "We shall miss you, but we are comforted by the knowledge that your work and Mike Hammer will live forever."

Mickey Spillane, 88, Critic-Proof Writer of Pulpy Mike Hammer Novels, Dies
Richard Severo

Mickey Spillane, the creator of Mike Hammer, the heroic but frequently sadistic private detective who blasted his way through some of the most violent novels of the 1940’s and 50’s, died yesterday at his home in Murrells Inlet, S.C. He was 88 and had homes in South Carolina and New York City.

His death was confirmed by Brian Edgerton of Goldfinch Funeral Home in Murrells Inlet, a village south of Myrtle Beach. Other details were not immediately available.

Scorned by many critics for his artless plots, his reliance on unlikely coincidence and a simplistic understanding of the law, Mr. Spillane nevertheless achieved instant success with his first novel, “I, the Jury,” published in 1947. He cemented his popularity over the next few years with books like “Vengeance Is Mine,” “My Gun Is Quick,” “The Big Kill” and “Kiss Me, Deadly,” which became the best of the several movies based on his books, in 1955, with Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer.

As the books kept coming, some critics softened toward him. The Times Literary Supplement of London described his 1961 novel, “The Deep,” as “nasty” but nevertheless exhibiting “a genuine narrative grip.”

Mr. Spillane referred to his own material as “the chewing gum of American literature” and laughed at the critics. “I’m not writing for the critics,” he said. “I’m writing for the public.” He described himself as a “money writer,” in that “I write when I need money.”

“I have no fans,” he told one interviewer. “You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends.”

His customers remained loyal even after the Hammer character became much imitated and later generations of pulp writers produced books filled with even more violence than Mr. Spillane’s.

Mr. Spillane’s mother was a Presbyterian and his father a Catholic; when he was coming into his own as a fiction writer, Mr. Spillane liked to say that he was “christened in two churches and neither took.” But in 1951, he became a Jehovah’s Witness, and he persuaded his mother and his first wife to convert. Instead of writing, he spent most of his time going door to door, spreading the message of the Bible. He wrote no books from 1952 to 1961, and those he wrote later, some fans said, lacked the vintage sadism of the first five, in which a total of 48 people were killed.

Mr. Spillane’s marriages to Mary Ann Pearce and Sherri Malinou ended in divorce. He married Jane Rodgers Johnson in 1983. His children, all by his first wife, were Kathy, Mark, Mike and Carolyn; he also had two stepchildren from his third marriage, Britt and Lisa. Details about survivors were not immediately released.

Mr. Spillane took issue with those who complained that his books had too much sex. How could there be sex, he asked, when so many women were shot? He noted the conspicuous role women played among his victims: Mary (abandoned), Anne L. (drowned in a bathtub), Lola (fatally stabbed), Ethel (whipped before she was shot), Marsha (shot) and Ellen (like Mary, given the heave-ho).

And then there was Velda, Mike Hammer’s blond, beautiful and patient companion in several novels. Hammer made no advances toward her and all she got for her trouble was being shot, assaulted, strung up naked and whipped.

In “I, the Jury,” Hammer became so angry at a female psychiatrist that he shot her in her “stark naked” stomach. (“Stark naked” was a phrase that Mr. Spillane rather liked.) As she died, she asked, “Mike, how could you?” To which Hammer replied, “It was easy.”

The Saturday Review of Literature summarized the book as “lurid action, lurid characters, lurid plot, lurid finish.” Anthony Boucher, reviewing it for The New York Times, called it “a spectacularly bad book.” But it enjoyed enormous sales and convinced Mr. Spillane that he could earn a living as a writer. He bought some land near Newburgh, N.Y., 60 miles north of New York City, built a cinder-block house there and proceeded to churn out his special brand of carnage. One bad guy was shot to death by a year-old baby, and in another book Mike Hammer wounded a malefactor just badly enough that he could watch him burn to death.

Frank Morrison Spillane was born on March 9, 1918, in Brooklyn, the son of John J. and Catherine A. Spillane; Mickey was a nickname for his baptismal name, Michael. He was educated in schools in Brooklyn and in Elizabeth, N.J., and graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1935. During his school years, he entertained friends by telling them his own ghost stories. He attended what is now called Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., without graduating.

During the 1930’s, he worked as a lifeguard at Breezy Point, Queens; during the 1940 Christmas season, he sold $1 ties at Gimbels department store. There he met Joe Gill, another Brooklynite, whose brother, Ray, was an editor at Funnies Inc., a comic-book producer in Midtown Manhattan. Mr. Spillane convinced Ray that he could write comic books.

The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, Mr. Spillane enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and became a fighter pilot. To his dismay, he was stationed in Florida and Mississippi for the duration of the war, training others to be fighter pilots. After the war, he returned to Funnies Inc., but soon tired of comic-book writing and turned to novels.

Aside from his detective stories, he wrote two well received, nonviolent children’s books, “The Day the Sea Rolled Back” (1979), which won a prize from the Junior Literary Guild, and “The Ship That Never Was” (1982).

Among his other novels were “The Long Wait” (1951), “The Girl Hunters” (1962), “Day of the Guns” (1964), “The Death Dealers” (1965), “The Twisted Thing” (1966) and “Body Lovers” (1967). He also was a writer of a screenplay based on “The Girl Hunters,” produced by Colorama Features in 1963.

Mr. Spillane’s most famous hero became the protagonist of two successful television series. The first, “Mike Hammer,” with Darren McGavin, ran from 1956 to 1959. “Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer,” with Stacy Keach, ran from 1984 to 1987. Mr. Keach also starred in “Mike Hammer, Private Eye,” from 1997 to 1998.

Mr. Spillane also did some acting; he played Mike Hammer and other “tough detective” roles and parodies on television and in movies. He also appeared in more than 100 Miller Lite beer commercials.

Caucus Groups Privately Schmooze Lawmakers

One House lawmaker joined 98 of them. A senator joined one because sugar beet growers asked him to. Members of the House and Senate belong to hundreds of informal clubs -- usually known as caucuses -- that have sprung up to advocate for special interests, with little public accountability.

At the Andrews Air Force Base golf course recently, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus teamed up with lobbyists in groups that were carefully crafted in advance.

And on a recent sunny day, House members who belong to the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus left suits and ties behind, grabbed shotguns and headed for the firing range in suburban Glenn Dale, Md.

The lawmakers got expert shooting advice from Olympic double trap champion Kim Rhode while they mingled with representatives of the outdoor-sports industry who footed the bill for the ''Great Congressional Shoot-Out'' and barbecue.

There was no public accounting for the special interest money. No talk about votes or hearings back at the Capitol. Just the hollers of ''pull'' and the pop, pop, pop of shotguns aiming for clay targets flying through the sun-filled sky.

Congress has allowed the caucuses to be affiliated with foundations that can raise unlimited amounts of money from special interests to finance social events and activities without having to disclose expenses or donations -- as lawmakers must for campaigns, political action committee and other groups.

That means no scrutiny by ethics enforcers, campaign finance regulators or the public.

The Associated Press surveyed Congress, identifying more than 500 such clubs and their members. Caucus events financed by special interests ranged from golf tournaments to Caribbean trips, AP found.



The caucuses offer companies, interest groups and their lobbyists an opportunity to schmooze lawmakers out of public sight. Usually, all it takes is money. Some groups include:

--The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation rounded up gunmakers Beretta and Winchester, the National Rifle Association, Wal-Mart and outfitters Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops to sponsor the shootout, according to the invitation.

--At the Congressional Hispanic Caucus golf outing, Rep. Nick Rahall II, D-W.Va., hit the course with a lobbyist for the Teamsters union and a retired admiral who heads the Nuclear Energy Institute.

''It wasn't an accident,'' Rahall said of the threesome. The lawmaker hails from an energy-producing state where Teamsters are influential.

-- The Congressional Internet Caucus lets high-tech and Internet companies like AT&T, Google and Microsoft serve on an advisory committee, giving industry a chance to bend lawmakers' ears and show off their latest technology.

-- The sugar growers' lobby credits its access to the House Sugar Caucus and the Senate Sweetener Caucus for helping to maintain quotas that keep cheaper foreign sugar out of the U.S. market.

''In the past 10 years we have steadily been building momentum, and I think certainly having a caucus out there having leaders telling our good story is one of the reasons why,'' said Phillip Hayes of the American Sugar Alliance.



Any member of Congress can form a caucus simply by writing a ''Dear Colleague'' letter inviting others to join.

The caucuses bring like-minded politicians together to promote particular issues. The groups also can aid lawmakers' fundraising connections, raise their profiles on issues that affect politically powerful interests back home and provide hobnobbing with celebrities or recreation that costs them nothing.

Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., boasts membership in 98 such clubs. At least 189 lawmakers belong to a dozen or more, an Associated Press survey of Congress found.

Sen. Conrad Burns, a member of 18 caucuses, said he joined the Sweetener Caucus at the behest of sugar beet growers in his state.

''I don't think I've ever attended,'' Burns, R-Mont., said of caucus meetings. ''I do what my growers tell me. I know we grow a lot of sugar beets in Montana.''

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., has nothing to do with caucuses. He said some lawmakers use them ''to cover their tails'' and hide their voting records.

''People will vote for a budget resolution that blocks your ability to provide decent funding for health or education, and then join a caucus or write some letter on behalf of a program for some disease,'' he said.

Government watchdog Fred Wertheimer, head of Democracy 21, wants caucuses to disclose their activities and finances.

''Members often create caucuses around particular interests or specific legislative goals,'' he said. ''They're bound to attract the special interests that have policy concerns in that area. And they create opportunities for financial help, for campaign contributions to those members.''

Lawmakers tout caucus memberships to prospective donors.

Arkansas Democratic Rep. Marion Berry's campaign noted on a fundraising invitation that he is chairman of the Blue Dog Task Force on Health, Education and Welfare. A fundraising flier for Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., billed him as vice chairman of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.



Some caucuses involve more obscure industry issues. To raise their profiles, some use star power.

NASCAR great Richard Petty posed for photos with lawmakers as he visited Capitol Hill on behalf of the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which holds a Washington rally every other year attended by lawmakers in the Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus.

Legislation that would let trade associations such as SEMA offer health insurance is among the group's priorities. So is heading off new federal regulation.

Many of the businesses that make race car parts belong to SEMA. Their message to Washington: ''We're good guys. ... We don't bother you, you don't bother us,'' Petty said. ''Just realize we're trying to make a living.''

Members of the Congressional Arts Caucus were lobbied by singer Carole King, who pushed for more arts funding with a performance.

Arts Caucus and Entertainment Caucus members got to hobnob with stars, including actors George Wendt of ''Cheers'' and Patty Duke and her son, ''Lord of the Rings'' actor Sean Astin.

''We realize we live in a society that is drawn to celebrities,'' said Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, which sponsors such events. ''We try and use the power of the entertainment industry to shine a spotlight on issues of social importance.''

That group's issues include tax breaks for production companies that make movies and TV shows, more arts funding and opposition to government indecency regulations.



Some caucuses and their affiliated groups, including the Sportsmen's Foundation, try to keep the public and press away from events where lawmakers mingle with lobbyists.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute refused AP access to its spring golf tournament at Andrews Air Force Base, home of the president's Air Force One jet. From the base golf shop, lawmakers could be seen getting into golf carts with lobbyists.

The event's sponsors included sportswear maker Nike, drug industry lobby PhRMA, The Coca-Cola Co., the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The parent company of Philip Morris, Altria, paid for breakfast, and AT&T sponsored golf carts.

Signs identifying golf pairings listed Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., playing with representatives of Strategic Impact and Pinnacle West Capital Corp., while Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif. played with two Coca-Cola officials.

Baca, Pastor and Hispanic Caucus Chairman Grace Napolitano, D-Calif., did not return multiple calls seeking comment.



Lawmakers often serve as lobbyists to sway colleagues on issues important to their caucuses.

When Congress was considering reconstruction aid after Hurricane Katrina, anti-gambling lawmakers opposed giving any money to casinos on the Gulf Coast.

The Congressional Gaming Caucus, led by Nevada House members Jim Gibbons, a Republican, and Democrat Shelley Berkley, began pressing fellow lawmakers to include the casinos.

The caucus forged a compromise. Hotels with casinos received recovery aid to help rebuild the lodging portions of their complexes.

Berkley said she's proud to serve as co-chair of the Gaming Caucus, which lets her introduce executives from her former industry to colleagues.

''When I was chairman of the board of the Nevada Hotel/Motel Association, a lot of middle management gaming executives were members of my board. They are running these hotels now. My relationship is up close and personal,'' she said.

Berkley benefits from the relationship with a political fundraiser every other year at a Las Vegas hotel.



Caucuses can offer a range of perks, including travel to resorts.

Rep. Donald Payne, co-chairman of the Caribbean Caucus, made at least 14 trips to Caribbean islands, Panama and Puerto Rico between November 2000 and the end of 2005. Among the visits: Payne and other caucus members attended the 10th anniversary of the Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, last November.

The conference was held at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, which describes itself as a ''beach-and-water sport lover's paradise.''

Payne, D-N.J., said caucus members helped Caribbean nations get U.S. hurricane relief and met with heads of state about drug trafficking, AIDS, trade and port security.

''If it's the Caribbean caucus, you have to go to the Caribbean,'' Payne said.



The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation rented a shooting range in a Maryland suburb in mid-May. The group's motto: ''We give sportsmen a voice ... and a seat at the table.''

Although the range is in a public park near Washington, the foundation made sure a range official and uniformed officer were at the entrance to turn the public away.

Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., finished as the overall top gun in the shooting competition. Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Don Young, R-Alaska, also won trophies.

Peterson hardly missed with his Ruger Red Label 12-gauge. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., admittedly didn't shoot well. He left his personal gun at home in Kansas and had to use shotguns provided by the hosts.

After the competition, lawmakers were treated to a live band and a buffet of shrimp, barbecue, oysters, chicken, cole slaw and potato salad. Trophies were handed out.

Back at the Capitol, senators debated the heated issue of immigration while the House gaveled to order, passed eight bills or resolutions by voice vote and held more than a half-dozen hearings on various legislation.

Peterson and Tiahrt said they didn't discuss legislation or view the shootout as a special way for lobbyists to make their case.

''From my point of view, people who come to this are people I know and talk to all the time,'' Peterson said. ''I don't think folks out there would think they're getting access they don't get already.''

Added Tiahrt: ''The lobbying community can come by my office any time.''

Windows Is Ready to Tout PC’s as Gaming Devices
Seth Schiesel

Quick, name the world’s most popular electronic game system.

If PlayStation or Xbox popped into your head, that’s understandable. Sony and Microsoft, the companies that make those machines, have spent rafts of cash over the years trying to make those brands synonymous with video games. But however understandable, if you answered PlayStation or Xbox or even Nintendo, you were also wrong.

In fact, the world’s most popular game machine is the personal computer. And that doesn’t mean Macintoshes; Macs are essentially nowhere in the game world. That means PC’s based on Microsoft’s Windows operating system. Hundreds of millions of people around the world use Windows PC’s and in Microsoft surveys about half of them report playing games. That doesn’t include the legions of office-bound Solitaire and Minesweeper addicts who don’t even think of themselves as gamers. (You are, though!)

But as popular as PC gaming is and has been, the general public has never really thought of the home computer as a primary game system. That is no accident. For the first few decades of the digital age, Microsoft’s top goal was to get computers into as many homes as possible. Bill Gates and friends knew that a family was more likely to spend $1,000 on its first computer if was meant to help little Johnny with his homework, or send baby pictures to Grandma, or help with the taxes, rather than if the family was thinking about the PC’s ability to send them into outer space or the depths of a dragon’s lair.

Well, here come the dragons.

After years of treating games, game players and game makers as the vaguely disreputable loons of the PC family, Microsoft is making a major strategic shift. Just as games are becoming a core part of mainstream entertainment, Microsoft is beginning to embrace gaming as a core part of using a computer. That means marketing the PC as the world’s most powerful gaming system and revamping Windows to make it more game-friendly.

Now that the computer business is about convincing people who already have PC’s to buy new ones (rather than their first one), Microsoft executives say they have realized that emphasizing games is a great way to do that.

“Previously we’ve had game technology built into Windows, but we didn’t approach gaming as one of Windows’ fundamental applications, and that’s what we want to start to do,” Rich Wickham, the director of Microsoft’s Windows gaming group, said during a recent visit to New York. “That means supporting developers more closely, seeding great games, making games easier to install and play, and having a unified marketing presence.”

The bigger picture is that PC gaming is surging these days even without Microsoft’s help. A few years ago, the conventional wisdom in game circles (even at Microsoft) was that PC gaming was stagnant, a niche backwater that would soon be swamped by consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.

The tsunami most game executives didn’t see coming was the rise in subscription-based online PC gaming, which wasn’t reflected in the retail sales charts that dominate big screens in boardrooms. Online PC games like Lineage II and World of Warcraft are on pace to take in more than $2 billion this year worldwide.

At the same time, publishers are coming to appreciate that having a strong portfolio of PC games can help them through the tough times that accompany the transition to a new generation of consoles every few years. With the introduction of the Xbox 360 just last November and the scheduled debuts of Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii this fall, game publishers have been suffering as customers adjust and wait for the new consoles. Perhaps the biggest hit of the year has been the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a game with a fanatical PC fan base (though the game has sold more copies for the Xbox 360).

So with the two new Japanese consoles coming this fall, Microsoft will try to blunt their impact in two ways. The first is an all-but-certain price cut on the Xbox 360. The second will be a new marketing and branding campaign around Windows gaming. That means advertising, but just as important, it also means some long overdue help for the sad patch of real estate known as the PC games section in stores.

“There’s no question about it: Windows games at retail is a disaster,” Mr. Wickham said, “and we’re going to fix that.”

This is what he means: If you walk into a game store or the game section at a Wal-Mart these days, the PlayStation games have a clearly marked area of their own. All the PlayStation game boxes look somewhat similar, and the overall impression is that PlayStation is a unified community of games and products. Same with the Xbox area. Same with the Nintendo area. This is because Sony, Microsoft’s Xbox group and Nintendo try to make their products as attractive as possible in stores and offer financial incentives to retailers to make that happen.

The PC games area, however, usually looks like a dump. Games may be organized haphazardly, they all look different, and they are probably stacked on some dusty shelf in the back of the store. For decades PC games have been the children of a hundred mothers, with each publisher pursuing its own retail strategy, if any at all. Having learned how to do retail marketing correctly with the Xbox, look for Microsoft to apply most of those lessons to PC games this fall.

So there will certainly be some new buzz around computer games this holiday season. But that will hardly compare with what the general public should expect to hear about PC gaming from Microsoft early next year as the company trots out its next version of Windows, called Vista. As Microsoft tries to persuade millions of people around the world to upgrade to Vista, enhanced support for gaming is going to be one of the main selling points.

So even if your current computer does the taxes just fine, there may be dragons in your future.

Avast, Me Critics! Ye Kill the Fun: Critics and the Masses Disagree About Film Choices
A. O. Scott

Let’s start with a few numbers. At Rottentomatoes.com, a Web site that quantifies movie reviews on a 100-point scale, the aggregate score for “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” stands at a sodden 54. Metacritic.com, a similar site, crunches the critical prose of the nation’s reviewers and comes up with a numerical grade of 52 out of 100. Even in an era of rampant grade inflation, that’s a solid F.

Meanwhile, over at boxofficemojo.com, where the daily grosses are tabulated, the second installment in the “Pirates” series, which opened on July 7, plunders onward, trailing broken records in its wake. Its $136 million first-weekend take was the highest three-day tally in history, building on a best-ever $55 million on that Friday, and it is cruising into blockbuster territory at a furious clip. As of this writing, a mere 10 days into its run, the movie has brought in $258.2 million, a hit by any measure.
All of which makes “Dead Man’s Chest” a fascinating sequel — not to “Curse of the Black Pearl,” which inaugurated the franchise three years ago, but to “The Da Vinci Code.” Way back in the early days of the Hollywood summer — the third week in May, to be precise — America’s finest critics trooped into screening rooms in Cannes, Los Angeles, New York and points between, saw Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s best seller, and emerged in a fit of collective grouchiness. The movie promptly pocketed some of the biggest opening-weekend grosses in the history of its studio, Sony.

For the second time this summer, then, my colleagues and I must face a frequently — and not always politely — asked question: What is wrong with you people? I will, for now, suppress the impulse to turn the question on the moviegoing public, which persists in paying good money to see bad movies that I see free. I don’t for a minute believe that financial success contradicts negative critical judgment; $500 million from now, “Dead Man’s Chest” will still be, in my estimation, occasionally amusing, frequently tedious and entirely too long. But the discrepancy between what critics think and how the public behaves is of perennial interest because it throws into relief some basic questions about taste, economics and the nature of popular entertainment, as well as the more vexing issue of what, exactly, critics are for.

Are we out of touch with the audience? Why do we go sniffing after art where everyone else is looking for fun, and spoiling everybody’s fun when it doesn’t live up to our notion or art? What gives us the right to yell “bomb” outside a crowded theater? Variations on these questions arrive regularly in our e-mail in-boxes, and also constitute a major theme in the comments sections of film blogs and Web sites. Online, everyone is a critic, which is as it should be: professional prerogatives aside, a critic is really just anyone who thinks out loud about something he or she cares about, and gets into arguments with fellow enthusiasts. But it would be silly to pretend that those professional prerogatives don’t exist, and that they don’t foster a degree of resentment. Entitled elites, self-regarding experts, bearers of intellectual or institutional authority, misfits who get to see a movie before anybody else and then take it upon themselves to give away the ending: such people are easy targets of populist anger. Just who do we think we are?

There is no easy answer to this question. Film criticism — at least as practiced in the general-interest daily and weekly press — has never been a specialist pursuit. Movies, more than any other art form, are understood to be common cultural property, something everyone can enjoy, which makes any claim of expertise suspect. Therefore, a certain estrangement between us and them — or me and you, to put it plainly — has been built into the enterprise from the start.

The current schism is in some ways nothing new: go back and read reviews in The New York Times of “Top Gun,” “Crocodile Dundee” and “The Karate Kid Part II” to see how some of my predecessors dealt with three of the top-earning movies 20 years ago. (The Australian with the big knife was treated more kindly than the flyboy or the high-kicker, by the way.) And the divide between critic and public may also be temporary. Last year, during the Great Box-Office Slump of 2005, we all seemed happy to shrug together at the mediocrity of the big studio offerings.

No more. Whatever the slump might have portended for the movie industry, it appears to be over for the moment, and the critics have resumed their customary role of scapegoat. The modern blockbuster — the movie that millions of people line up to see more or less simultaneously, on the first convenient showing on the opening weekend — can be seen as the fulfillment of the democratic ideal the movies were born to fulfill. To stand outside that happy communal experience and, worse, to regard it with skepticism or with scorn, is to be a crank, a malcontent, a snob.

So we’re damned if we don’t. And sometimes, also, if we do. When our breathless praise garlands advertisements for movies the public greets with a shrug, we look like suckers or shills. But these accusations would stick only if the job of the critic were to reflect, predict or influence the public taste.

That, however, is the job of the Hollywood studios, in particular of their marketing and publicity departments, and it is the professional duty of critics to be out of touch with — to be independent of — their concerns. These companies spend tens of millions of dollars to persuade you that the opening of a movie is a public event, a cultural experience you will want to be part of. The campaign of persuasion starts weeks or months — or, in the case of multisequel cash cows, years — before the tickets go on sale, with the goal of making their purchase a foregone conclusion by the time the first reviews appear. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but the judgment of critics almost never makes the difference between failure and success, at least for mass-release, big-budget movies like “Dead Man’s Chest” or “The Da Vinci Code.”

So why review them? Why not let the market do its work, let the audience have its fun and occupy ourselves with the arcana — the art — we critics ostensibly prefer? The obvious answer is that art, or at least the kind of pleasure, wonder and surprise we associate with art, often pops out of commerce, and we want to be around to celebrate when it does and to complain when it doesn’t. But the deeper answer is that our love of movies is sometimes expressed as a mistrust of the people who make and sell them, and even of the people who see them. We take entertainment very seriously, which is to say that we don’t go to the movies for fun. Or for money. We do it for you.

Comcast Censors ABC's Nightline
Preston Gralla

Think there's no reason for Congress to pass net neutrality laws? Consider this: Comcast recently censored ABC's Nightline on its Comcast Broadband TV service by deleting the part of the broadcast that said a Comcast technician was sleeping on a customer's couch instead of installing residential broadband.

The Consumerist shows both the original broadcast and censored broadcast.

In the original, someone was interviewed who noted that a Comcast technician fell asleep on the couch because he had called Comcast technical support, and was put on hold for an hour.

Pretty embarassing. So Comcast, rather than beef up technical its support, instead censored the show when it was shown on the Comcast Broadband service.

At the moment, this is more amusing than anything else. But what happens if a broadband provider decides it wants to curry favor with a politician, to get the politician to vote a certain way? Will Comcast or other ISPs censor coverage of the politician?

So for now, this censorship is no big deal. But it's a perfect example of why we need net neutrality.

Comcast Update

When Consumerist readers and users of Comcast's tv-over-internet service watched our clip on Nightline, they were surprised to see that Comcast appeared to censor out a part that was critical of the cable operator. Whither the Sleepy Comcast Tech? We pointed this out to the segment's producer. 50 minutes later, we got this email from Comcast Corporate Communications:

We noticed your most recent post on the Consumerist about the Nightline segment and wanted to clear up the facts. Comcast receives thousands of news segments from ABC for our comcast.net site and has not edited any of those segments, including Friday night's episode about blogs. We post the segments as we receive them directly from ABC and Nightline.

We have called our contact at ABC and the producer of your segment and they told us that they believe that their encoder may have inadvertently shortened the segment at the commercial break in error. We asked them to re-encode the entire segment, which they agreed to do. We will post the entire segment on Comcast.net as soon as we receive it.

If this is true, it's strange then that the cut happens several seconds before the commercial and then we cut into a story that followed right after the rest of the consumer piece...

We don't know who encodes who, but we don't think episode producers actually have much to do with that process. Therefore, we find it odd that Comcast would declare the ABC producer affirmatively said it was an ABC encoder problem that cause the cut. Either way you slice it, it's certainly terribly convenient for Comcast.

How To

Create a Torrent and Tracker

Send Cams to Campers!

Simplest instructions I’ve ever seen on a subject that’s baffled the best of them. Greek geek's moving-pointer uTorrent demo makes it so easy you'll be framing your very own MPAA takedown notice before the summer’s over. Jack Valenti gives it an A for Arresting!

Microsoft Sues 26 US Companies For Piracy
Nate Anderson

Bill Gates didn't make his billions by sitting behind a desk in Redmond and watching as resellers across the country ripped off his company's products, and he's not about to start doing it now.

Microsoft has just dropped the hammer on 26 US resellers that the company suspects of selling pirated software outright or pre-loading it onto PC hard drives. The company filed lawsuits against firms in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina after "secret shopper" tests turned up illicit software.

Sales International LLC of Conyers, Georgia, for instance, is accused of trafficking in counterfeit Windows 98, Windows 2000, and Windows XP authenticity labels, while the Chicago Computer Club Corp. allegedly distributed illicit versions of Office Professional 2003. Perhaps the strangest cases on the list are the two against companies that have been in trouble before over the exact same issue. Pearl River Computers (NY) and Microcomp Solution Inc. (CO) are both accused of illegally distributing copies of Office 2003 even though both firms had previously settled claims with Microsoft regarding software piracy. Either there's a lot of money to be made in piracy, or some folks simply enjoy hoisting the Jolly Roger.

Microsoft refers to software piracy as a "pandemic," and it's easy to see why it would be one of the company's chief concerns. Despite the occasional Xbox 360 or the rumored iPod-killing Zune, Microsoft still has most of its resources invested in software development. The company has experimented with new tools such as Windows Genuine Advantage, which is designed to smoke out software counterfeiters. Though such measures may control casual copying, they have so far proved no match for professional pirates.
26 lawsuits won't put an end to software piracy in the US, but Microsoft hopes that the move will set an example both for resellers and for their customers, who may scrutinize deals more closely when they seem too good to be true.

Q n A

Getting Online on the Go
By J. D. Biersdorfer

Q. Is there a way to get online by connecting a cellphone to a laptop computer?

A. Many mobile phones can serve double duty as laptop modems these days. This can come in handy when you’re nowhere near a wireless hotspot, an Ethernet network or even a telephone landline. If both the phone and the laptop can support Bluetooth connections, you can even link them wirelessly.

In general, if you don’t have Bluetooth capability, you will need a data cable that connects your phone to your computer’s U.S.B. port. Some phones include this cable in the box, but if your model didn’t come with one, you can find them for less than $30 at electronics shops or sites like www.3gcables.com.

You will need to sign up for a data plan from your wireless phone company, and you may need to install driver software on your laptop so the computer can recognize the phone. Some carriers also have their own connection programs that make it easy to jump on the airwaves. Check with your wireless service provider for the specific hardware, software and procedures needed to get the laptop online. Some companies have their own connection kits that give you everything you need to use the Internet anywhere you can get a cellphone signal.

Fighting Spam With Better Tools

Q. I’m using Microsoft Outlook 2000 and I get a lot of junk mail. Someone suggested that I upgrade to Outlook 2003. Is this the only and best way to protect against receiving junk mail? If I upgrade to Outlook 2003, can I save my current and old mail?

A. Outlook 2003 comes with better tools for fighting spam than previous versions of the software, including a robust and adjustable junk-mail filter. Upgrading to Outlook 2003 from Outlook 2000 should be a fairly seamless process, and the new program should import your mailboxes and personal settings for you during the installation process. (As with any new program installation, however, making a backup of your system or critical files first is always a good idea.)

Upgrading your Outlook software is not the only way to fight spam. There are several spam-filter programs available that work alongside your e-mail application to help weed out unwanted mail. Some of these include SpamEater Pro ($25; www.hms.com), Spamfire ($40; www.matterform.com) and Qurb ($30; www.qurb.com). All three have free trial versions available.

If you mainly use Outlook just for mail and contacts, switching to a newer mail program that includes junk-mail filters is another option. Mozilla Thunderbird, free software available at www.mozilla.com/thunderbird, can import your Outlook data and screen your mail for you. A step-by-step guide to doing just that is at opensourcearticles.com/thunderbird_15/english/part_06.

Teaching a Mouse New Tricks

Q. I have one of those new Mac mice that’s supposed to sense which side I click on and perform the appropriate function, but I keep clicking it wrong and getting stuck on the contextual menus. Can I change the way the mouse reacts?

A. Most modern computer mice allow you to adjust and customize the various button functions. Many new Macintosh computers include Apple’s Mighty Mouse, a touch- and squeeze-sensitive mouse with a small rotating ball for scrolling up and down and side to side. You can change the way the mouse reacts when you press its various parts by going to System Preferences under the Apple menu and clicking on the Keyboard & Mouse icon.

When you click the tab for Mouse, you can then select the functions you wish the mouse to perform when you press the left side, right side, scroll ball or sides of the mouse. For example, if you’re left-handed, you can flip the normal right-click and left-click buttons around. You can also program the mouse to open certain programs when you press down on the scroll bar or sides.

In Windows, you can get to the Mouse settings by going to the Start Menu and choosing the Mouse icon in the Control Panel area. Here, you can do things like change your primary and secondary buttons.

If you have traded in your standard mouse for a specialized multifunction mouse or trackball, you most likely have several other options for programming your buttons.

Stealth Rootkit Makes Its Debut In The Real World
Peter Pollack

Antivirus researchers and microbiologists are similar in that they both have occasionally predicted the rise of a new type of malignant attack before it is actually seen in the wild. In the biological arena, the continued spread of drug-resistant bacteria would be one example of this. In the world of electrons and data, some researchers had already prophesied the rise of rootkits that would be designed to hide themselves from ordinary means of detection.

Backdoor.Rustock.A is the first such stealth rootkit found outside the environs of the antivirus lab. Although Rustock.A (or Mailbot.AZ, as the F-Secure experts are calling it) is being rated by Symantec as an easy threat containment with a low distribution level, it uses some new techniques that make it virtually impossible to detect using conventional means.

A standard way of locating a rootkit's footprints on a computer is to count the number of running processes from two different viewpoints. First, the virus detection software counts the processes from a high level, just as Windows Task Manager might. Then the software shifts to a much lower level and counts the processes again. If the number is the identical, everything is considered acceptable. If the number varies, a problem will be suspected and the software is put to work.

Rustock.A avoids this straightforward detection method by burying its processes within the driver and kernel threads. Since the process count is unchanged, ordinary antivirus software will miss it completely.

Like a tricked-out Batmobile, Rustock.A also makes use of some classic stealth techniques to avoid detection: it can recognize when virus detection software is running and then alter its behavior to avoid that software; it hides its driver in an alternate data stream (ADS), then removes itself from the list of hidden drivers; it doesn't hook into any native APIs; and finally, it is polymorphic, so that its code is constantly changing.

Rustock.A has already been proven to run on beta versions of Windows Vista, so this is clearly a rootkit designed with the future in mind.

So far, Rustock.A has done comparatively little damage, and both Symantec and F-Secure have released updates to assist in locating and removing it. However, researchers say that there is reason to suspect that future versions are already in the works, and that other virus designers will be looking to exploit and improve upon some of the principles demonstrated in Rustock.A.

Microsoft Buys Winternals, Gains Russinovich
Jeremy Reimer

You may remember Mark Russinovich as being the first to discover and expose the infamous Sony rootkit. Russinovich has had a long and storied career delving into the murky depths of Windows' internals, and many have expressed the opinion that he knows more about the guts of Microsoft operating systems than anyone outside of Microsoft itself.

That's all about to change. Microsoft has announced that they are acquiring Russinovich's company, Winternals. Winternals provides a number of utility programs for Windows operating systems, including system repair and recovery tools for business customers. The company is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microsoft. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Russinovich will be working in Microsoft's Platforms and Services Division (PSD) with the job title of "Technical Fellow," an honor currently bestowed on a mere 14 people at the company. His partner and Winternals co-founder, Bryce Cogswell, will be joining the Core Operating Systems Division in the role of Software Architect—recall that Bill Gates' official job title has been "Chief Software Architect" for some years now.

Microsoft plans to continue selling Winternals' products, although the company says that it is "currently finalizing plans on how these products and technologies can be best integrated with existing Microsoft technologies to maximize future customer value." This makes it seem likely that some of the famous recovery tools could end up integrated with Windows itself in future releases.

Russinovich and Cogswell founded Winternals and a companion company, Sysinternals (originally NTInternals) back in 1996. Winternals provided the commercial side of the enterprise, while Sysinternals was a web site that offered useful freeware utilities, technical tips, and commentary by the two cofounders. Mark also worked for the web site and magazine WindowsITPro, providing useful commentary on a wide array of topics. Russinovich says that Sysinternals will remain operating for the time being, and he will continue to talk about Windows technologies in his blog and at industry conferences.

Much of Mark's work has come through careful analysis of the low-level plumbing of Windows NT, discovering many secrets without having full access to the operating system's source code. Over the years, he has become regarded as a respected operating systems researcher, often speaking out about shortcomings in the Windows NT line, which includes Windows NT, 2000, XP, Server 2003, and the upcoming Vista. He has written articles comparing NT to Linux, discussing NT's VMS heritage, and was a key speaker at the LinuxWorld conference in 2000. Both he and Microsoft appear to be very pleased by the acquisition. Russinovich seems excited by the possibilities offered by his new job, and Microsoft is a better company with him on board.

OpenOffice.org Less Secure Than Microsoft Office?
Eric Bangeman

OpenOffice.org has been increasing in both popularity and visibility over the past several months. Version 2.0 has added a number of new features to bring it closer to feature parity with Microsoft Office, and it also offers full support for the Open Document format. However, a report just released by the French Ministry of Defense says that it still falls short of Microsoft's office suite in one important area: security.

The classified report follows a one-year study by the Ministry comparing the popular open-source suite to its commercial competitor. During a demonstration for other parts of the French government on July 5, lab director Lt. Col. Eric Filiol showed some off some malevolent code the Ministry had developed in order to discover the weak points of both office suites. The researchers found that OpenOffice.org was more susceptible to certain attacks, including those made via macros.

In some instances, malevolent macros were considered to be secure by the open-source package, and as a result, users were not informed when they were executed. This was in contrast to Office, which barrages users with warnings each time a document with macros is opened.

Lt. Col. Filiol notes that the problems are conceptual, rather than due to sloppy coding. "We did not exploit security holes," he said. Filiol thinks that OpenOffice.org's rush to achieve a level of features and functionality comparable to that of Microsoft Office has led it to neglect security issues.

Representatives from the Ministry of Defense will present their findings to OpenOffice.org, which will then begin to address security issues over the course of the office suite's development. In the meantime, the Ministry's work may prove to be a small setback for OpenOffice.org, as some would-be users—including the city of Paris—reconsider widespread deployments of the free app. It could also be another blow for Sun, which offers consulting services for OpenOffice.org in France.

Bijou Burnout

For Some Netflix Users, Red Envelopes Gather Dust
Matt Phillips

Having grown up in a religious family that seldom went to movies, David Morrison didn't see a film in the theater until his early 20s. So when the Greensboro, N.C., resident heard about the DVD-by-mail rental service Netflix, he figured he could use it to watch great films he may have missed.

When he first joined, he packed his Netflix queue -- a member's running list of rental requests -- with diverse films. He watched Robert Flaherty's 1922 documentary "Nanook of the North," which follows an Inuit man's struggle to survive in the Arctic; Roman Polanski's 1974 detective film, "Chinatown"; and Sofia Coppola's 2000 teenage suicide drama "The Virgin Suicides."

But soon, his excitement over the arrival of the bright red Netflix envelopes began to ebb. And the DVDs began to collect, unwatched, on his coffee table. "They were just coming to my house, sitting around and I was sending them back," said Mr. Morrison, 37, who cancelled his subscription after a few months.

Netflix Inc., which boasts nearly five million members, often trumpets how its all-you-can-eat rental model is changing the way people are watching movies. But Netflix may also be changing the way people don't watch them. Through its Web site, Netflix makes it easy to comb through a massive catalog of 60,000 films. It offers access to everything from Charlie Chaplin's 1921 silent tramp movie "The Kid" to recent Academy Award-winners like "Crash." And some members admit that when browsing the Netflix backlog, they overestimate their appetite for off-the-beaten-track films. The result: Sometimes DVDs languish for months without being watched.

"It's a paradox of abundance," said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of culture and communication at New York University. If people aren't pressured to see a movie in a specific time frame, he said, viewers tend to put it lower on their priority list. "When you have every choice in front of you, you have less urgency about any particular choice," he added.

The result can be a type of guilt-fueled Netflix bottleneck for users, who may not feel like watching a film but are also loathe to return it, said Mike Kaltschnee, who writes a popular blog called HackingNetflix. He's experienced the sensation himself. He twice rented Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," kept it for weeks, only to send it back unwatched. He cites his Catholic upbringing for his inability to watch the sometimes-brutal depiction of Christ's last days. "It's childish almost. It's just a movie. But I could not put it in the DVD player," he said. "And I know I'm not alone."

High-brow vs. Low-brow

High-brow, dense or dark movies, like "The Passion of the Christ," prove particularly tough for some Netflix members to watch.

Member Lisa Snider added "Hotel Rwanda," -- a film set against the central African nation's ethnic massacres of the 1990s -- to her Netflix queue after it was nominated for three Academy Awards. But it sat for two months in her home before she mailed it back unwatched. "I could have bought that movie three times, I'm sure, for my rental fee," said the 37-year-old Ojai, Calif., resident.

Yet, Ms. Snider said she had no trouble zipping through her next Netflix pick: "Junebug," a comedy about an art dealer's experience with a quirky Southern family. "It's just sort of a kooky movie," she said.

Netflix officials declined to disclose data on how often movies are shipped or what types of movies tend to be returned quickly, citing competitive concerns. But a company spokesman said the fact that some people let movies linger for months before watching them, doesn't hurt its business.

Researchers have documented this behavior among movie-watchers. In a 1999 experiment, a group of volunteers were asked to choose movies to rent from a list of 24 videos. Their options were a mix of what researchers termed "low-brow" movies -- including "My Cousin Vinny" and "Groundhog Day" -- and "high-brow" offerings, such as "Schindler's List" or the subtitled "Like Water for Chocolate." The researchers found that when people chose movies to watch the same day, they often picked comedies or action films. But when they were asked to pick movies to watch at a later date, they were more likely to make "high-brow" selections.

For example, the subjects were much more likely to select Steven Spielberg's Holocaust survival drama "Schindler's List" to watch in the future, rather than on the same night. "It's a movie that's really miserable to watch but you feel like you should watch it," said George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, one of the study's authors.

Unlimited Choices, No Late Fees

Others eye Netflix's nature as a subscription service as a way to explain why people rent, but sometimes don't watch. Users pay a flat monthly fee for the service. There are no late fees to compel users to return the movies quickly, though Netflix restricts how many DVDs members can have out at a time.

Such subscription services tap into a powerful vein of human instinct, said Peter Fader, a marketing professor who studies consumer behavior at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "People want unfettered access to things. They want whatever they want, to have as much as they want, when they want it," said Mr. Fader. "And they're willing to pay irrationally for it."

Even consumer behavior experts can't completely shake this habit. At one point, Mr. Fader had two Netflix DVDs -- both part of Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary series -- sitting at his home for more than six months. He describes the series as "weighty," but didn't want to send them back. "It's too much of an admission to say, 'I give up,'" Mr. Fader said.

When Phillip Ginder and his wife first joined Netflix in November 2002, they zipped through their queues -- often receiving, watching and re-sending movies in the same day. But more recently, the 30-year-old longshoreman said their DVD metabolism has dropped considerably.

For instance, the couple has let "The Aristocrats," a documentary in which a slew of comedians tell the same raunchy joke, languish at their San Pedro, Calif., home for four months. Mr. Ginder said he has been unable to coordinate a time to watch it with his wife and roommate, who both want to see it. "Until that perfect moment arrives, it's sitting there," he said.

Some Netflix members argue that unwatched movies are part of the price you pay for having access to Netflix's broad catalog. Girish Shambu, a professor of business management at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., has been a longtime, heavy-duty Netflix user. For around $50 a month, his plan lets him rent eight DVDs at one time. "Part of the price you pay is some movies you don't get to watch," said Mr. Shambu, 42, a part-time film critic. "Some movies do collect dust."

For CBS’s Fall Lineup, Check Inside Your Refrigerator
David S. Joachim

IN September, CBS plans to start using a new place to advertise its fall television lineup: your breakfast.

The network plans to announce today that it will place laser imprints of its trademark eye insignia, as well as logos for some of its shows, on eggs — 35 million of them in September and October. CBS’s copywriters are referring to the medium as “egg-vertising,” hinting at the wordplay they have in store. Some of their planned slogans: “CSI” (“Crack the Case on CBS”); “The Amazing Race” (“Scramble to Win on CBS”); and “Shark” (“Hard-Boiled Drama.”). Variations on the ad for its Monday night lineup of comedy shows include “Shelling Out Laughs,” “Funny Side Up” and “Leave the Yolks to Us.”

George Schweitzer, president of the CBS marketing group, said he was hoping to generate some laughter in American kitchens. “We’ve gone through every possible sad takeoff on shelling and scrambling and frying,” he said, adding, “It’s a great way to reach people in an unexpected form.”

Newspapers, magazines and Web sites are so crowded with ads for entertainment programming that CBS was ready to try something different, Mr. Schweitzer said. The best thing about the egg concept was its intrusiveness.

“You can’t avoid it,” he said. He liked the idea so much that he arranged for CBS to be the only advertiser this fall to use the new etching technology. •The CBS ads are the first to use imprinting technology developed by a company called EggFusion, based in Deerfield, Ill. Bradley Parker, who founded the company, wanted to reassure shoppers that egg producers were not placing old eggs in new cartons, so he developed a laser-etching technique to put the expiration date directly on an egg during the washing and grading process.

EggFusion, which was founded in 2001, started production last year with one egg company, Radlo Foods, which has since produced 30 million Born Free brand farm-raised eggs with etching. In May, EggFusion landed its first large grocery chain, A.& P., which will use the imprints on 400,000 America’s Choice conventional eggs sold each day in A.& P., Waldbaum’s, Food Emporium and Super Fresh stores from Connecticut to Maryland. Mr. Parker, whose family runs a chicken farm in North Carolina, knew that the way to get egg producers to cooperate was to make it worth their while. His answer was advertising on eggs.

“It’s unlike any other ad medium in the world, because you are looking at the medium while you are using it,” he says.

Egg producers, distributors and retailers all share in the ad revenue. EggFusion is selling the ads on its own, but plans to enlist the help of advertising agencies, company executives said.

As EggFusion sees it, consumers look at a single egg shells at least a few times: when they open a carton in the store to see if any eggs are cracked, if they transfer them from the carton to the refrigerator, and when they crack them open.

Mr. Parker said the destination of eggs was tracked so precisely that he envisioned being able to offer localized advertising, even aiming at specific ZIP codes, to promote events like local food festivals and concerts. He is setting aside a portion of the ads for charities, too, he said. The imprint is applied in the packaging plant, as the eggs are washed, graded and “candled,” or inspected for flaws, when the eggs are held by calipers and moved along a production line at 225 feet a minute. Right before an egg is packaged, laser light is applied to the shell, giving it the etching. Each imprint takes 34 milliseconds to 73 milliseconds, so the processing of eggs is not appreciably slowed down, Mr. Parker said.

The etching is ultrathin, to a depth of 50 to 90 micrometers, or 5 percent of the shell’s thickness. The imprint cannot be altered without breaking the shell, Mr. Parker said, in contrast to Europe, where ink is used to apply expiration dates on eggs.

“Ink is alcohol dye, so it can be wiped off. And ink splatters,” he said.

•A similar process to EggFusion’s has been used on a limited scale in the United States with fruits and vegetables, but mostly for replacing the price stickers used by grocers to track inventory and ring up an order.

It is not clear how commonly old eggs are placed in new cartons to appear fresher than they are. Repackaging is illegal, said Al Pope, president of the United Egg Producers industry group, and he says he believes it is rarely done. However, “If a consumer feels that having a date on the egg has some value, then it’s up to the consumer,” he said. “We believe in choices.”

Shaun M. Emerson, EggFusion’s chief executive, said: “I’m not sure you could ever know” how often repackaging old eggs occurs.

EggFusion has technicians assigned to each egg plant, and it owns the equipment and the freshness data, to ensure that no tampering occurs, the company’s executives said.

The eggs also carry a code that can be checked on a Web site, www.myfreshegg.com, to find out where the egg originated, the date it left the plant and the names of the distributor and retailer.

Both Radlo and A.& P. pay for the etchings — they will not say how much — but because A.& P.’s eggs will carry the CBS ads, it will also share in the ad revenue. But is egg-vertising an idea with staying power, or will the novelty expire after a few dozen bad puns?

“At this point it’s too early to tell,” Mr. Schweitzer of CBS acknowledges. “I think it’s like you know good ideas when you see them.”


Microsoft and Nortel Plan Phone Venture

The Microsoft Corporation said on Tuesday that it had formed an alliance with Nortel Networks as part of a push to run traditional business telephone systems on PC software.

Nortel, the Canadian telecommunications equipment supplier, said that it expected more than $1 billion in additional revenue from the four-year pact, which calls for the companies to work together on research and development and be partners on sales and marketing.

Microsoft aims to simplify the way workers communicate with one another by using software to link phones to computers so that they can handle voice functions.

Nortel shares rose 11 cents, to $2.07; Microsoft shares rose 26 cents, to $22.74.

Microsoft and Nortel said that under the deal, which can be extended, they will license some of each other’s intellectual property.

Brainy Robots Start Stepping Into Daily Life
John Markoff

Robot cars drive themselves across the desert, electronic eyes perform lifeguard duty in swimming pools and virtual enemies with humanlike behavior battle video game players.

These are some fruits of the research field known as artificial intelligence, where reality is finally catching up to the science-fiction hype. A half-century after the term was coined, both scientists and engineers say they are making rapid progress in simulating the human brain, and their work is finding its way into a new wave of real-world products.

The advances can also be seen in the emergence of bold new projects intended to create more ambitious machines that can improve safety and security, entertain and inform, or just handle everyday tasks. At Stanford University, for instance, computer scientists are developing a robot that can use a hammer and a screwdriver to assemble an Ikea bookcase (a project beyond the reach of many humans) as well as tidy up after a party, load a dishwasher or take out the trash.

One pioneer in the field is building an electronic butler that could hold a conversation with its master — á la HAL in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” — or order more pet food.

Though most of the truly futuristic projects are probably years from the commercial market, scientists say that after a lull, artificial intelligence has rapidly grown far more sophisticated. Today some scientists are beginning to use the term cognitive computing, to distinguish their research from an earlier generation of artificial intelligence work. What sets the new researchers apart is a wealth of new biological data on how the human brain functions.

“There’s definitely been a palpable upswing in methods, competence and boldness,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher who is president-elect of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence. “At conferences you are hearing the phrase ‘human-level A.I.,’ and people are saying that without blushing.”

Cognitive computing is still more of a research discipline than an industry that can be measured in revenue or profits. It is pursued in various pockets of academia and the business world. And despite some of the more startling achievements, improvements in the field are measured largely in increments: voice recognition systems with decreasing failure rates, or computerized cameras that can recognize more faces and objects than before.

Still, there have been rapid innovations in many areas: voice control systems are now standard features in midpriced automobiles, and advanced artificial reason techniques are now routinely used in inexpensive video games to make the characters’ actions more lifelike.

A French company, Poseidon Technologies, sells underwater vision systems for swimming pools that function as lifeguard assistants, issuing alerts when people are drowning, and the system has saved lives in Europe.

Last October, a robot car designed by a team of Stanford engineers covered 132 miles of desert road without human intervention to capture a $2 million prize offered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Pentagon. The feat was particularly striking because 18 months earlier, during the first such competition, the best vehicle got no farther than seven miles, becoming stuck after driving off a mountain road.

Now the Pentagon agency has upped the ante: Next year the robots will be back on the road, this time in a simulated traffic setting. It is being called the “urban challenge.”

At Microsoft, researchers are working on the idea of “predestination.” They envision a software program that guesses where you are traveling based on previous trips, and then offers information that might be useful based on where the software thinks you are going.

Tellme Networks, a company in Mountain View, Calif., that provides voice recognition services for both customer service and telephone directory applications, is a good indicator of the progress that is being made in relatively constrained situations, like looking up a phone number or transferring a call.

Tellme supplies the system that automates directory information for toll-free business listings. When the service was first introduced in 2001, it could correctly answer fewer than 37 percent of phone calls without a human operator’s help. As the system has been constantly refined, the figure has now risen to 74 percent.

More striking advances are likely to come from new biological models of the brain. Researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland, are building large-scale computer models to study how the brain works; they have used an I.B.M. parallel supercomputer to create the most detailed three-dimensional model to date of a column of 10,000 neurons in the neocortex.

“The goal of my lab in the past 10 to 12 years has been to go inside these little columns and try to figure out how they are built with exquisite detail,” said Henry Markram, a research scientist who is head of the Blue Brain project. “You can really now zoom in on single cells and watch the electrical activity emerging.”

Blue Brain researchers say they believe the simulation will provide fundamental insights that can be applied by scientists who are trying to simulate brain functions.

Another well-known researcher is Robert Hecht-Nielsen, who is seeking to build an electronic butler called Chancellor that would be able to listen, speak and provide in-home concierge services. He contends that with adequate resources, he could create such a machine within five years.

Although some people are skeptical that Mr. Hecht-Nielsen can achieve what he describes, he does have one successful artificial intelligence business under his belt. In 1986, he founded HNC Software, which sold systems to detect credit card fraud using neural network technology designed to mimic biological circuits in the brain. HNC was sold in 2002 to the Fair Isaac Corporation, where Mr. Hecht-Nielsen is a vice president and leads a small research group.

Last year he began speaking publicly about his theory of “confabulation,” a hypothesis about the way the brain makes decisions. At a recent I.B.M. symposium, Mr. Hecht-Nielsen showed off a model of confabulation, demonstrating how his software program could read two sentences from The Detroit Free Press and create a third sentence that both made sense and was a natural extension of the previous text.

For example, the program read: “He started his goodbyes with a morning audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, sharing coffee, tea, cookies and his desire for a golf rematch with her son, Prince Andrew. The visit came after Clinton made the rounds through Ireland and Northern Ireland to offer support for the flagging peace process there.”

The program then generated a sentence that read: “The two leaders also discussed bilateral cooperation in various fields.”

Artificial intelligence had its origins in 1950, when the mathematician Alan Turing proposed a test to determine whether or not a machine could think or be conscious. The test involved having a person face two teleprinter machines, only one of which had a human behind it. If the human judge could not tell which terminal was controlled by the human, the machine could be said to be intelligent.

In the late 1950’s a field of study emerged that tried to build systems that replicated human abilities like speech, hearing, manual tasks and reasoning.

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the original artificial intelligence researchers began designing computer software programs they called “expert systems,” which were essentially databases accompanied by a set of logical rules. They were handicapped both by underpowered computers and by the absence of the wealth of data that today’s researchers have amassed about the actual structure and function of the biological brain.

Those shortcomings led to the failure of a first generation of artificial intelligence companies in the 1980’s, which became known as the A.I. Winter. Recently, however, researchers have begun to speak of an A.I. Spring emerging as scientists develop theories on the workings of the human mind. They are being aided by the exponential increase in processing power, which has created computers with millions of times the power of those available to researchers in the 1960’s — at consumer prices.

“There is a new synthesis of four fields, including mathematics, neuroscience, computer science and psychology,” said Dharmendra S. Modha, an I.B.M. computer scientist. “The implication of this is amazing. What you are seeing is that cognitive computing is at a cusp where it’s knocking on the door of potentially mainstream applications.”

At Stanford, researchers are hoping to make fundamental progress in mobile robotics, building machines that can carry out tasks around the home, like the current generation of robotic floor vacuums, only more advanced. The field has recently been dominated by Japan and South Korea, but the Stanford researchers have sketched out a three-year plan to bring the United States to parity.

At the moment, the Stanford team is working on the first steps necessary to make the robot they are building function well in an American household. The team is focusing on systems that will consistently recognize standard doorknobs and is building robot hands to open doors.

“It’s time to build an A.I. robot,” said Andrew Ng, a Stanford computer scientist and a leader of the project, called Stanford Artificial Intelligence Robot, or Stair. “The dream is to put a robot in every home.”

For the Future of Borders, a Focus on Innovation
Motoko Rich

George L. Jones, the newly appointed chief executive of Borders Group, one of the nation’s largest book retailers, is a onetime aspiring rock star who went on to help Target create its bargain upscale aesthetic and revived the Scooby-Doo character for Warner Brothers.

Now Mr. Jones, 55, who was most recently chief executive of Saks Department Store Group, has the task of leading a company beset by intense competition from online and other retailers, lagging sales and changes in the way consumers want their books, music and movies delivered.

In his first interview since he officially started his job on Monday, Mr. Jones gave no bold plans for his tenure. Instead, he said yesterday that he wanted to focus on learning more about how the business worked and executing Borders’ already announced strategy to put Seattle’s Best Coffee shops and Paperchase stationery outlets into its stores. (The company bought Paperchase, a British retailer, in 2004.)

That said, Mr. Jones, who grew up in Little Rock, Ark., added, “I do think there might be opportunities here to do things differently.” He declined to give specifics but said, “What you can expect is that we will be an innovative company.”

Late yesterday the company said in a securities filing that Mr. Jones would be paid a base salary of $775,000 a year with the opportunity to earn a maximum annual bonus of $1.2 million.

The announcement last Thursday of Mr. Jones’s appointment to replace the retiring chief executive, Greg Josefowicz, coincided with the company’s admission that its fiscal second-quarter losses would be higher than expected. It said that losses for the quarter ending July 29 were expected to be between 28 cents and 32 cents a share, compared with the 10 cents to 20 cents range it had projected.

The company, which operates the Borders and Waldenbooks brands, attributed much of that loss to charges related to Mr. Josefowicz’s retirement and the closing of a distribution center. But it also said that second-quarter sales would be lower than originally thought, with sales declining in all stores.

Since the announcement, the company’s stock, which had already been drifting downward, has fallen 5.6 percent.

In the interview by telephone from the company’s headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., Mr. Jones recognized the company’s challenges, but he said: “This is not a broken business. It’s a company that has a strong foundation in businesses that I am passionate about.”

To the relief of the company’s 35,000 employees, Mr. Jones said he did not plan to cut jobs. “I don’t think this is a situation that all of a sudden you make this a great company by cutting out a lot of expenses,” he said.

Mr. Jones said that he was excited to take the job because he loves spending time in bookstores and enjoys reading biographies, travel guides and the novels of John Grisham and James Patterson. He also loves music — classic rock like Steely Dan, the Beatles and the Eagles — and owns more than 1,000 movies on DVD’s, he said.

One area where he sees opportunity, he said, is in translating the time consumers spend inside Borders stores into more dollars spent. “Our customers on average spend a lot longer in a store than what I’ve been used to,” he said. But, he added, “they like our stores; they’re staying there, but they’re not spending as much as they could.”

Mr. Jones said that with many music buyers migrating to digital downloads, the stores were already shrinking the space allocated to CD’s. “While we’re continuing in the music business, it does not now justify the space we have in the stores,” he said. “So we’re better off shrinking the music space and putting in Paperchase. And if you want to try new things and new ideas, one of the things is you have to find a place to put it.”

In considering how the company could compete with its chief rival, Barnes & Noble, as well as with online retailers, Mr. Jones said the solution was not to do the same things as the others. When he joined Target in the 1980’s, Wal-Mart was starting to dominate markets by offering lower prices. At first Target also tried to compete on price, Mr. Jones said, but quickly realized it could not. “So we increased the focus to trading up and making it a more fashionable shopping experience,” he said.

He declined to say how Borders might distinguish itself from Barnes & Noble, but he said that while “people in our company can easily go in and tell a lot of differences between a Borders and a Barnes & Noble, I wonder how many of the average customers might tend to get them confused.”

Still, he said, “Changing for the sake of change is not a smart thing to do.”

E-mail the New Snail Mail?

MySpace, texting more en vogue

E-mail is so last millennium.

Young people see it as a good way to reach an elder – a parent, teacher or a boss – or to receive an attached file. But increasingly, the former darling of high-tech communication is losing favor to instant and text messaging, and to the chatter generated on blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

The shift is starting to creep into workplace communication, too.

"In this world of instant gratification, e-mail has become the new snail mail," says 25-year-old Rachel Quizon from Norwalk, Calif. She became addicted to instant messaging in college, where many students are logged on 24/7.

Much like home postal boxes have become receptacles for junk mail, bills and the occasional greeting card, electronic mailboxes have become cluttered with spam. That makes them a pain to weed through, and the problem is only expected to worsen as some e-mail providers allow online marketers to bypass spam filters for a fee.

Beyond that, e-mail has become most associated with school and work.

"It used to be just fun," says Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate who studies social media at the University of California, Berkeley. "Now it's about parents and authority."

It means that many people often don't respond to e-mails unless they have to.

Boyd's own Web page carries this note: "please note that i'm months behind on e-mail and i may not respond in a timely manner." She, too, is more easily reached with the "ping" of an instant message.

That said, no one is predicting the death of e-mail. Besides its usefulness in formal correspondence, it also offers the ability to send something from "one to many," says Anne Kirah, a senior design anthropologist at Microsoft who studies people's high-tech habits. That might include an announcement for a club or invitation to a party.

Quizon e-mails frequently in her corporate communications job at a hospital, and also uses it when she needs documentation – for instance, when dealing with vendors for her upcoming wedding. In those cases, she says e-mail "still holds more clout."

But when immediacy is a factor – as it often is – most young people much prefer the telephone or instant messaging for everything from casual to heart-to-heart conversations, according to research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"And there is a very strong sense that the migration away from e-mail continues," says Lee Rainie, the director at Pew.

For many young people, it's about choosing the best communication tool for the situation.

You might use text messaging during a meeting that requires quiet, Rainie says, or make a phone call to discuss sensitive subjects so there's no written record.

Still, some who've gotten caught up in the trend toward brevity wonder if it's making things too impersonal. "Don't want to see someone? Then call them. Don't want to call someone? E-mail them. Don't want to take the trouble of writing sentences? Text them," says 33-year-old Matthew Felling, an admitted "serial texter" who is also the spokesman for the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington.

"It's the ultimate social crutch to avoid personal communication."

But others don't see it that way. They think the shift toward IM and text is simply more efficient and convenient.

Chintan Talati, 28, often uses instant message with other younger peers at his work, a California-based Web site that provides automotive information to consumers. He prefers IM over e-mail. "It's a way to get a quicker answer," he says.

His baby boomer colleagues don't necessarily share that view – and often find instant messaging overwhelming.

Boyd has found much the same in her research at Berkeley.

"Adults who learn to use IM later have major difficulty talking to more than two people at one time – whereas the teens who grew up on it have no problem talking to a bazillion people at once," Boyd says. "They understand how to negotiate the interruptions a lot better."

Kirah, at Microsoft, even thinks young people's brains work differently because they've grown up with IM, making them more adept at it.

For that reason, she says bosses should go right ahead and use their e-mail – and shouldn't feel threatened by IM.

"Like parents, they try to control their children," she says. "But companies really need to respond to the way people work and communicate."

The focus, she says, should be the outcome.

"Nine to 5 has been replaced with 'Give me a deadline and I will meet your deadline,' " Kirah says of young people's work habits. "They're saying 'I might work until 2 a.m. that night. But I will do it all on my terms.' "

On the Net:

Pew: http://www.pewinternet.org

Viacom and The Onion: Parody or Deal?

It almost sounds like one of The Onion’s made-up news items: Variety is reporting — without even mentioning sources, much less identifying them — that Viacom may acquire The Onion, the satirical newspaper and Web site whose headlines made “Area Man” into a minor celebrity. Other sources, including the Huffington Post, Paidcontent.org and Gawker, have also reported on a potential Viacom-Onion connection, even as they played up the speculative nature of the story.

While a source tells DealBook that such a deal has indeed been discussed, it is in very early stages and may never happen.

At first blush, a free, fake newspaper may sound like an odd acquisition for Viacom. But The Onion’s ersatz news, while different in tone from that offered by the Viacom-owned Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” could conceivably fit in well with the media giant’s Web strategy.

Also, The Onion’s A.V. Club, though largely unheralded, features well-regarded (and totally serious) criticism of music, movies, books and games. With the backing of Viacom, the A.V. Club’s reviews could be put in front of a lot more people and pose a challenge to more traditional sources of arts criticism.

An Exhibition About Drawing Conjures a Time When Amateurs Roamed the Earth
Michael Kimmelman

“Playing the Piano for Pleasure” is a minor classic of self-help by Charles Cooke promoting musical amateurism, published in 1941 in the upbeat style of Dale Carnegie. It lays out a strict regime of practice and discipline, the musical equivalent to a better body in 30 days. “We will worm our way, expending considerable effort, into the small end of the cornucopia,” he promises, “in order that we may later emerge, expending less effort and having the time of our life, out of the large end.”

I was reminded of Cooke while visiting the Grolier Club, where a show called “Teaching America to Draw” provides a refresher course in pencil-pushing and other sorts of sketching as a collective pastime. It’s about that golden era, from the time of the founding fathers nearly to Cooke’s day, when educated Americans drew as a matter of course.

Drawing was a civilized thing to do, like reading and writing. It was taught in elementary schools. It was democratic. It was a boon to happiness.

From 1820 to 1860, more than 145,000 drawing manuals circulated, now souvenirs of our bygone cultural aspirations. Not many of these manuals are still intact because they were so heavily used, worn down like church relics, which supplicants rubbed smooth from caressing.

We’re addicted to convenience today. Cellphone cameras are handy, but they’re also the equivalent of fast-food meals. Their ubiquity has multiplied our distance from drawing as a measure of self-worth and a practical tool. Before box cameras became universal a century or so ago, people drew for pleasure but also because it was the best way to preserve a cherished sight, a memory, just as people played an instrument or sang if they wanted to hear music at home because there were no record players or radios. Amateurism was a virtue, and the time and effort entailed in learning to draw, as with playing the piano, enhanced its desirability.

Drawing promoted meditation and stillness. “A sustained act of will is essential to drawing,” Paul Valéry put it. “Nothing could be more opposed to reverie, since the requisite concentration must be continually diverting the natural course of physical movements, on its guard against any seductive curve asserting itself.”

A century ago it was possible for a Philadelphia educator named J. Liberty Tadd to instruct young women to stand in pigsties to learn to draw animals directly from nature. There’s an illustration in the show from Tadd’s “New Methods of Education” of a girl in a long, improbably immaculate dress sketching pigs on a blackboard.

The exhibition is full of such exhortatory books, many of them discomfiting today because they presume a degree of skill among ordinary citizens — even children — that would now be regarded as noteworthy in the art world. There are exceptions, like a popular manual from the 1840’s by Benjamin Coe, one of Frederic Church’s teachers, who, to judge from his illustration of a maiden in a glen, needed a little brushing-up on perspective.

On the other hand, there’s J. T. Bowen’s “United States Drawing Book,” from 1839, with its moody view of a crumbling cathedral in a landscape, and P. Fishe Reed’s “Little Corporal’s Drawing Book,” a progressive manual from 1869 with bird drawings that Audubon might have been proud to make, conjuring an America in which 10-year-olds are absorbed not by Game Boys and iPods but by the finer points of mastering realism.

Clearly these manuals were aspirational no less than educational or recreational. It’s hard to imagine that most American schoolchildren during the 1870’s could duplicate the leaves and bugs and complicated curlicue patterns that Herman Krusi Jr. drew in his manuals for classroom instruction. But Americans wanted their children to: that’s the point.

Something happened between then and now, and it wasn’t just the invention of gadgets that eliminated the need to draw.

There was also a philosophical change, away from drawing as a practical endeavor and toward art appreciation. From dexterity and discipline to feelings and self-esteem: the shift in values is implied by some of the later books in the show. Consciously or not, they parallel changes in modern art, which threw out the rule books of draftsmanship and proposed a new, free-thinking attitude.

As for expending effort to become skilled at drawing, the post-Cooke postwar generation introduced Paint by Numbers, and the situation has gone downhill from there.

“Drawing in America is as much a basic human activity today as it has always been, even if it is not perceived to be as necessary to economic and cultural progress,” Albert A. Anderson Jr. writes in the slim pamphlet accompanying the show.

I don’t think so. Drawing and doodling are not the same. With the arts, American adults have acquiesced to playing the passive role of receivers.

In a new memoir, “Let Me Finish,” Roger Angell recalls trips to the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium in the 1930’s with his father, who also liked to join pickup games when middle-age American men still did that. Today baseball is like the arts, with grown-ups mostly preferring not to break a sweat. “We know everything about the game now, thanks to instant replay and computerized stats, and what we seem to have concluded is that almost none of us are good enough to play it,” Mr. Angell writes.

So it is with classical music, painting and drawing, professional renditions of which are now so widely available that most people probably can’t or don’t imagine there’s any point in bothering to do these things themselves. Communities of amateurs still thrive, but they are self-selecting groups. A vast majority of society seems to presume that culture is something specialists produce.

Rembrandt Peale published one of the drawing manuals in the Grolier Club show. Besides being an artist, Peale became Pennsylvania’s first high school art teacher in the 1830’s, hired by Alexander Dallas Bache, a grandson of Benjamin Franklin. People, Franklin pointed out, can often “express ideas more clearly with a lead pencil or a bit of chalk” than with words. “Drawing is a kind of universal language, understood by all nations,” he reminded Americans.

We have given it up, at a cost that, as Franklin might have put it, is beyond words. Mr. Angell goes on in his book to say that television and sports journalism have taught us all about the skills and salaries and private lives of professional ballplayers, on whom we now focus, instead of playing the game ourselves.

As a consequence, he writes, “we don’t like them as much as we once did, and we don’t like ourselves much, either.”

You can draw the analogy.

Yahoo Collapses On Results, Forecast

New ad platform delayed until fourth quarter
Bambi Francisco

Shares of Yahoo Inc. fell as much as 19% in early trading Wednesday after the Internet giant reported disappointing second-quarter results and issued a sales forecast for the current quarter that was weaker than expected.

Yahoo also delayed the release of a new search-advertising technology that it hopes will improve the profitability of that business, which lags that of search leader Google Inc.

The stock, (YHOO ) which has now fallen more than 30% this year, dropped as low as $25.95 soon after the open of U.S. markets, on heavy trading volume.

Late Tuesday, Yahoo reported that net sales, which exclude the payments the company makes to other Web sites to acquire traffic, rose 28% to $1.12 billion from $875 million. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expected net sales of $1.14 billion. For the third quarter, meanwhile, Yahoo said it expects to generate between $1.1 billion and $1.2 billion in sales, compared to analysts' expectations of $1.2 billion. The size of the stock drop suggests that many who had bought the shares expected Yahoo to raise its forecast for the rest of 2006.

"This is the second quarter in a row that they failed to raise their forecast, which means momentum investors are headed for the door," said Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst with Global Crown Capital who rates Yahoo shares as overweight.

Yahoo faces stiff competition in the market for Internet searches from Google, which makes more profit from each search query than Yahoo and is much more profitable overall. To help close the gap, Yahoo plans to launch its new search platform. But the company pushed back the release date of the technology to the fourth quarter from an expected third-quarter launch.

"To meet the standards that we believe our clients should expect from us, we think it is prudent to add some extra time to our original estimates for the commercial launch," Yahoo CEO Terry Semel said on a conference call.

The company said it expects to earn between $445 million and $505 million in operating income, before certain items, which could fall below some analysts' expectations for $491 million. For the full year, Yahoo expects to earn between $1.92 billion and $2.06 billion in operating income and sales of $4.6 billion to $4.85 billion. Analysts were expecting full-year sales of $4.78 billion. Yahoo said late Tuesday that second-quarter profit fell to $164 million, or 11 cents a share, from $755 million, or 51 cents, a year ago. The comparable 2005 period included a large one-time investment gain and but not the cost of employee stock options, as now required by law. Analysts had expected earnings of 12 cents a share, on the basis of generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo said sales rose 26% to $1.58 billion from $1.25 billion, as more businesses bought advertising on the company's Internet pages. Visitors to its sites surged thanks in part to interest in soccer's World Cup tournament. Yahoo delivered more than 138 million video streams related to the event.

On a positive note, Yahoo's Web sites, which provide everything from search results to health-related articles to music and video entertainment, are also seeing more traffic. The number of visits to Yahoo online properties in the second quarter rose 9% from a year earlier to almost 106 million monthly U.S. visitors, according to the research firm Nielsen/NetRatings. Yahoo's sales growth has also benefited as more companies shift ad spending away from traditional print media to the Internet. Yahoo generated 88% of its total sales from marketing, which includes advertisements on search results pages and branded advertising from across Yahoo's non-search properties.

"Branded advertising appears to have grown materially stronger than search advertising," wrote Mark Mahaney, an analyst at Citigroup. Yahoo does not break out the revenues from its marketing division. The remainder of Yahoo's sales comes from fee-based businesses, such as broadband access, premium mail services and dating services. Yahoo generated $190 million in its fee business, up 19% from a year ago. Yahoo ended the quarter with 14.3 million paying members, and expects to end the year with more than 16 million paid relationships.

Storytelling, Not Journalism, Spurs Most Blogs

Many people see Web journals, or blogs, as alternatives to the mainstream media, but most Americans who run them do so as a hobby rather than a vocation, according to a report released on Wednesday.

About 77 percent of blog authors, or bloggers, said they post to express themselves creatively rather to get noticed or paid, according to the report, released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The report also found that 37 percent of bloggers cited their life and experiences as their primary topics, while politics and government came in second at 11 percent.

Entertainment was the next-most-popular blog topic, with 7 percent, followed by sports, at 6 percent and news at 5 percent. Religion or spirituality was the aim of 2 percent.

About 8 percent of Internet users, or 12 million American adults, keep a blog, Pew estimated. Some 39 percent of U.S. Web users, or 57 million adults, read them, the researchers said.

More than half, or 54 percent, of bloggers are under age 30.

U.S. bloggers are evenly divided between men and women, and are more racially diverse than the Web population in general: Forty percent are nonwhite.

About 34 percent see their blogging as a form of journalism; 65 percent disagreed. Just over a third of bloggers said they engage often in journalistic activities such as verifying facts and linking to source material.

More than 40 percent of bloggers said they never quote sources or other media directly. Eleven percent said they post corrections. Sixty-one percent said they rarely or never get permission to use copyright material.

Fifty-five percent of bloggers write under a pseudonym. Nearly nine out of ten bloggers invite comments from other readers. Four out of five blogs use text, while 72 percent display photos. Audio links play on 30 percent of blogs.

Eighty-two percent of bloggers think they will still be blogging in a year. Three percent say they have quit.

The Pew report was based on a telephone survey of 233 self-identified bloggers conducted between July 2005 and February 2006. The error margin was 6.7 percent.

The report may understate rapid changes in how people blog, as 13 percent of those surveyed used LiveJournal software to blog, MySpace was used by 9 percent and Blogger 6 percent of the time. MySpace has proliferated since the survey ended and far outnumbers other tools.

Google Exec Challenges Berners-Lee
Candace Lombardi

A Google executive challenged Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee on his ideas for a Semantic Web during a conference in Boston on artificial intelligence.

On Tuesday, Berners-Lee, the father of the Web and the current director of the World Wide Web Consortium, gave the keynote on artificial intelligence and the Semantic Web at a conference sponsored by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

He said the next stage of the Web is about making data accessible for artificial intelligence to locate and analyze. A Semantic Web, a Web with linked data easily readable by machines, would make available more knowledge for reuse in serendipitous applications by people and organizations who are not the ones who originally created or published the information, Berners-Lee said.

The speech covered Berners-Lee's known proposal for Web developers to use semantic languages in addition to HTML. He stressed the importance of using persistent URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) and RDF (Resource Description Framework) for identifying information. Consistent use of these specifications, said Berners-Lee, will allow the Semantic Web to maintain the collaborative nature the World Wide Web was originally intended to have.

At the end of the keynote, however, things took a different turn. Google Director of Search and AAAI Fellow Peter Norvig was the first to the microphone during the Q&A session, and he took the opportunity to raise a few points.

"What I get a lot is: 'Why are you against the Semantic Web?' I am not against the Semantic Web. But from Google's point of view, there are a few things you need to overcome, incompetence being the first," Norvig said. Norvig clarified that it was not Berners-Lee or his group that he was referring to as incompetent, but the general user.

"We deal with millions of Web masters who can't configure a server, can't write HTML. It's hard for them to go to the next step. The second problem is competition. Some commercial providers say, 'I'm the leader. Why should I standardize?' The third problem is one of deception. We deal every day with people who try to rank higher in the results and then try to sell someone Viagra when that's not what they are looking for. With less human oversight with the Semantic Web, we are worried about it being easier to be deceptive," Norvig said.

"While you own the data that's fine, but when somebody breaks and says, 'If you use our enterprise system, we will have all your data in RDF. We care because we've got the best database.' That is much more powerful," Berners-Lee said. To illustrate his stance, he used the example of bookstores initially withholding information on stock levels and purchase price but then breaking them as others did.

Berners-Lee agreed with Norvig that deception on the Internet is a problem, but he argued that part of the Semantic Web is about identifying the originator of information, and identifying why the information can be trusted, not just the content of the information itself.

"Google is in a situation to do wonderful things, as it did with the Web in general, and add a whole other facet to the graphs--the rules that are testing which data source. It will be a much richer environment," Berners-Lee told the search giant executive.

Nobody is Listening to the Modern Hearing Problem
Christopher Wanjek

The buzz on the Internet is about the buzz you might not be able to hear.

It all started when a clever gent in Wales invented a device to chase away young hooligans loitering about malls and storefronts. The device, now patented and called the Mosquito, sends out a high-pitch shrill that only young ears can hear.

As we age, we lose the ability to detect higher-frequency sounds. Most people over age 30 can't hear anything higher than 16 kilohertz, regardless of how loud the sound is. The Mosquito's buzz is at 17 kilohertz, and it is loud and annoying, which sends the little punks scurrying. Score one for the adults.

But then some clever punk turned the tables. Teenagers are now downloading the Mosquito MP3 and using it as a ring-tone in school because teachers can't hear it. Score one for the kids.

All this is fun and games, but no one seems to be concerned about the health issue this has revealed. There is natural age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis. And then there's unnatural, accelerated hearing loss from noise. Most 30-year-olds should be able to hear a 17-kilohertz sound. This is the case in quiet societies in remote regions such as Nepal and parts of Africa. The fact that many of us cannot hear the Mosquito is a result of an epidemic of noise-induced hearing loss, not just aging.

The culprits

According to decade-old data from the National Institutes of Health, more than a third of the 28 million Americans with hearing difficulties lost their hearing at least partially due to noise.

And the problem is getting worse year by year. The ability to detect high frequency is the first to go, followed by volume in general.

The culprits are headphones, killer amps, and the proliferation of power tools and other loud home appliances that our grandparents didn't have.

I find it astounding that no one seems to care. Unless you're living in a cave or the White House, you would know, for example, that condoms can prevent pregnancy and many sexually transmitted diseases. Yet there is no similar awareness about (and free distribution of) earplugs to protect hearing.

Fighting the problem

The government seems lukewarm on hearing protection. Again, unless you're living in a cave or the White House, you know that soldiers in Iraq long lacked body armor. What is not known so well is that they still lack earplugs and instructions on why and how to use them. As a result, combat soldiers in Iraq are 50 times more likely to suffer permanent hearing damage compared to non-combat soldiers, according to a December 2005 study in American Journal of Audiology. Perhaps a quarter or more soldiers returning home have hearing loss, although there's no official statistics because the Army didn't bother conducting hearing tests beforehand.

Closer to home, the real scandal about illegal workers is not that they're stealing American jobs but that they are allowed to work without protections, such as earplugs. Pass by any construction site, and you will see that sometimes even the jackhammer operator, let alone the workers encircling him, has no ear protection.

There are rules. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health guidelines state that workers shouldn't be exposed to 110 decibels for more than 1.5 minutes during a daily 8-hour shift.

When you're not working, though, you are apparently allowed to be pummeled at a rock concert for two hours by sound that is about 10 times louder than this, at 120 decibels or higher.

Famously losing their hearing

To no surprise, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry, the two surviving members of The Who, which made the Guinness Book of World Records back in the 1970s as being the loudest rock group, have profound hearing loss [Townshend has publicized his problem as being caused by headphones]. So too do many older rockers, only now admitting it. And I bet you yourself have some degree of loss.

I recommend anyone over age 35 to get a hearing test just to understand how much hearing you may have lost. There are tests on the Internet. They might not be entirely accurate, but they will give you a sense of what your frequency cutoff is. Mine was around 15 kilohertz in my left ear and 16 kilohertz in my right ear. I could hear the Mosquito MP3, though, likely because it is not a true 17-khz wave.

The fact that my left ear is a little worse is evidence of noise-induced hearing loss. This is the ear I use most often on the telephone, because I dial with my right hand, and this is the one that gets punished with loud dial tones and surprise fax sounds.

An audiologist confirmed my hearing loss, even though I haven't worn headphones or sought out loud noise. The test was a real eye-opener—and ear-closer.

Can you hear the ring tone? Find out here.

Why Screaming Doesn't Make You Deaf
Ker Than

As you scream for your favorite sports team, special brain cells kick in to protect your auditory system from the sound of your own voice, a new study suggests.

These cells dampen your auditory neurons' ability to detect incoming sounds. The moment you shut up, the inhibition signal stops and your hearing returns to normal, so you can then be deafened by the screams of the guy next to you.

Scientists call this signal a corollary discharge. In crickets, on which the study was done, it's sent from the motor neurons responsible for generating loud mating calls to sensory neurons involved in hearing. The signal is sent via middlemen called interneurons.

Biologists have long known that corollary discharge interneurons, or CDIs, must exist. Only in recent years, however, have they started finding them. The new cricket study is the first to pinpoint CDIs for the auditory system.

Listen to me

Animals generate sounds to communicate, to attract mates, and to ward off rivals. Some animals, like dolphins and bats, even hunt with sounds.

CDIs help resolve two problems that sound-generating animals have. They protect creatures from their own sounds, and they allow animals to distinguish between sounds that they've created and ones from outside sources.

"It's difficult to say whether crickets can distinguish between self-generated and external sounds, but a similar mechanism in humans might explain how we can recognize our own voice," study leader James Poulet from the University of Cambridge told LiveScience..

Scientists haven't yet identified CDIs in humans but imaging studies have shown that auditory areas in our brains are suppressed during speech.

More to it

In addition to CDIs, humans have a so-called "middle ear reflex" that also helps to protect our hearing from loud sounds. Two tiny muscles are attached to bones in the middle part of our ears. When we're exposed to sudden loud noises, these muscles contract and make our auditory systems less responsive to incoming sounds.

Unlike corollary discharges, the middle ear reflex dampens hearing only in response to external sounds. Also, because it is only a reflex, the response becomes less vigorous with repetition and long exposure.

CDIs are not unique to the auditory system. In monkeys, visual CDIs help keep the visual scene stable even as the eyes move around rapidly. Scientists suspect CDIs exist for other sensory systems as well, including touch.

This could help explain why we can't tickle ourselves.

"The corollary discharge is not present when someone else tickles us," Poulet explained. "Therefore the sensory response in the brain is much greater and the tickle appears much more ticklish."

Another recent study found that the brain can anticipate your effort to tickle yourself, and it discounts the sensation.

Price of Virtual Living: Patience, Privacy
Peggy Mihelich

The virtual worlds depicted in the movies "The Matrix" and "Minority Report" can often seem far too real in today's world of computers, e-mail, instant messaging, MP3 players, cell phones, laptops, Wi-Fi and RFID.

Many of us can't get through a day without scanning, dialing or logging into a digital world so deeply embedded that living without 1s and 0s seems almost unthinkable -- and maybe impossible.

"We now live in an era where the technology is becoming mandatory instead of a choice. ...We have found ourselves tethered to our technology in a way that has really changed our lifestyle," said Larry Rosen, co-author of the book "TechnoStress: Coping with Technology @Work @Home @Play."

In 2004 the Census Bureau estimated that 62 percent of the U.S. population owned and used a cell phone. The IT consulting firm Yankee Group estimates that figure will reach about 82 percent by 2009.

About 73 percent of Americans age 18 or older use the Internet, up from 66 percent in January 2005, according to an April 2006 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The Department of Commerce estimates e-commerce sales at $25.2 billion for the first quarter of 2006, an estimated increase of 25.6 percent from the first quarter of 2005.

"The Internet's become a mass phenomenon in this country. It really has had an impact on how people get information and stay in touch with other folks," Pew researcher John Horrigan said.

The virtual world also has given millions of people a place to express opinions and ideas they are often too afraid to voice in the real world.

"When you are sitting and communicating in the virtual world nobody sees you." Rosen said. "Tons of research shows that when you are not visible you feel more inclined to say things that you would never say face to face."
The virtual self

The Web's anonymity factor has helped transform social patterns.

"There're so many ways to meet people on the Internet and you don't have to try so hard," said Andrew Engle, a 32-year-old Atlanta-area audio technician and member of the social networking site MySpace.

Social Web sites have become the ultimate marketing tool, "the virtuoso of yourself," according to MIT sociology professor Sherry Turkle.

A March 2006 Pew survey of online dating patterns found that 31 percent of American adults say they know someone who has used a dating Web site like Match.com or Yahoo! Personals. Many have found long-term relationships and married someone they met online.

But for all the successes of the social Web, there are limits to meeting and getting to know someone on the Internet.

"It's a nice way to communicate ... but what you are always doing is trying to make that person exactly what you want them to be," Rosen said. "And when you finally meet in the real world, it turns out they are not exactly what you've expected."

Online communities like "Second Life" and "The Sims Online" let members assume another identity -- a different name, job, spouse - separate from the real world. Online role-playing games like "EverQuest" and "Entropia Universe" let members create virtual economies where they can amass digital fortunes.

Turkle, who has studied and talked to members of these online societies, says many feel their virtual lives are better and more fulfilling than their real lives.

Identity play itself is not harmful, she says, but it can become harmful if it crowds out other aspects of life.

"All of this would be fine and interesting and no big deal except people are spending 80 to 100 hours a week doing it. And that's the problem," she said.
Loss of patience

Time in the virtual world takes us away from time spent in the real world. Though studies are inconclusive and ongoing, some psychologists warn that too much virtual exposure can undercut face-to-face interaction, lead to depression and isolation, and erode our patience.

"We don't have the tolerance any more to wait," Rosen said. "Listening to people talk slowly or talk, period -- we just can't tolerate it."

A recent Associated Press poll found that Americans start to feel impatient after 5 minutes on hold on the phone or 15 minutes in line.

Technology has brought us to a world where we have to have it when we want it, and we want to have it all simultaneously.

"Kids now can talk to you, have their iPod stuck in their ears, be on MySpace and ... [instant message] five people," Rosen said. "They don't even think of it as technology. They think of it as air. It's just there."

E-mail lets us send a quick response, and IM lets us carry on a real-time conversation with someone halfway around the world - a great and inexpensive convenience, but a behind-the-screen form of communication.

"When you're missing all those [spoken and visual] cues ... you have to read between the lines effectively," Rosen said. "And we do a lot of that, and we do misinterpret very easily."

Rosen notes that despite the drawbacks, technology has at least gotten us communicating. Pew's research even suggests the Web can foster deep communication.

"The Internet plays an important role in helping people reach out to their social networks in times of need," Horrigan said. "People use the quick e-mail to maintain their social networks. And then when they need to reach out and get information as part of a big decision, they set those networks into motion to get the kind of support they need."
The digital paper trail

If we are growing closer online, it's a closeness that some people fear is being too closely monitored.

"We are on the cusp of creating a surveillance society in the United States," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Steinhardt says he worries that we're moving in a direction where our "every movement, our every action, our every utterance and, soon people will claim, our thoughts can be tracked and monitored."

Already, global positioning satellites hover over us, security cameras watch our movements, retailers track our purchasing patterns, our e-mail and Internet use can be monitored, and RFID tags -- tiny chips with antennas - let our cars speed through tollbooths without having to stop and pay.

Such advances often bring great convenience -- and leave behind a digital paper trail of our daily lives.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, is pushing for the creation of a privacy bill of rights to protect personal data.

"Our economy is increasingly data-driven," she told the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy convention in June. "We've dramatically ramped up surveillance in our efforts to fight terrorists who hide among innocent civilians. But every day, the news contains a story of how the records of millions of consumers, veterans, patients have been compromised."

A Federal Trade Commission survey found that from 1999 to 2003 more than 27 million Americans were victims of identity theft, costing them and businesses more than $50 billion.

Personal data used to be protected by "practical obscurity," meaning that public records existed on paper or in isolated databases in courthouses and government offices. The information was legally within reach, but accessing it usually took hours or days and a lot of leg work.

But that's changing, Steinhardt said. Communication, transaction and other public and private records have moved online, and they can be pulled together in minutes to create a picture of our lives.

Typing someone's name into a search engine or online phone directory can reveal where they live. Going to their local government Web site can reveal how much their house is worth - and how much they pay in property taxes. Checking another Web site can reveal how much they contributed to political campaigns.
Need for privacy

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to secretly monitor e-mail and phone calls to and from the country to track people suspected of terrorist activity.

USA Today reported this year that BellSouth, Verizon and AT&T provided the NSA with records from billions of domestic phone calls after 9/11.

BellSouth and Verizon denied it, and the newspaper later said it could not establish that they had ever contracted with the NSA to provide such records. AT&T has not denied the story but said it would not provide such information without legal authorization.

Steinhardt says laws are needed to establish rights of privacy and control over our information, as well as encryption technologies to keep our data safe.

But Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a public policy, pro-technology think tank, says technology is not the enemy and should not be feared.

"Each little front to stop technology is a losing battle and, frankly, a battle that should be lost because technology makes our lives better," Atkinson said.

Would we do away with e-mail, he asks, just because the government can track it? "Everybody would laugh because e-mail is a powerful, wonderful technology."

What's needed, he said, are laws that protect privacy but don't block technology completely.

"It is inevitable that the economy and society will become virtually and completely digital," he said. "Whether that happens in 20 years or five years or 50 years, it's going to happen."

'Bridget Jones' Blogger Fire Fury

British secretary in Paris becomes Online 'cause celebre'

A British secretary working in Paris who says she was fired because her Paris employer objected to her Weblog has provoked an old and New Media storm.

Unmarried mother Catherine Sanderson -- "La Petite Anglaise" to 3,000 regular readers of her Internet diary -- is launching legal action in France, claiming unfair dismissal against accountancy firm Dixon Wilson, British media reports say.

The "old fashioned" firm was never named in her blog. Sanderson, 33, also remained anonymous -- except for her photograph on her Web site.

Now Sanderson claims to have been "dooced" -- the New Media term for getting fired for what you write in a blog after a Web designer lost her job for writing about her job and colleagues on her site, Dooce.com.

The rise and fall of "La Petite Anglaise" has added a new dimension to her tales of life with "Mr Frog", the French father of her three-year-old daughter "Tadpole" and office life with her "old school type" boss in the firm and other senior partners with "plummy Oxbridge accents," the UK's Press Association says.

Sanderson told the Daily Mail she was "made to feel like a naughty schoolgirl called up before the head" when Dixon Wilson suspended her.

Sanderson claims she was dismissed for "gross misconduct" because her blog, clearly carrying her picture, risked bringing the company into disrepute. She was also accused of using office time to write her blog.

Among references to her work at the accountancy firm was, under the heading "Titilation" the moment she revealed her cleavage during a video conference and descriptions of the office Christmas party.

At this event she revealed that her boss had committed the "unforgivable faux pas" of pulling a Christmas cracker before the senior partner.

One boss she describes as "very old school... He wears braces and sock suspenders (although I don't have any firsthand experience of those), stays in gentlemen's clubs when in London, and calls secretaries 'typists.'

"When I speak to him, I can't prevent myself from mirroring his plummy Oxbridge accent. His presence at this precise moment is both unhelpful and potentially embarrassing."

As news of Sanderson's dismissal was revealed, her blog "hits" more than trebled to 10,000, PA said.

On Wednesday more than 220 followers of her Web site recorded their comments on her dismissal. Most condemned her employers for targeting the world of the blogger and urged Sanderson to keep fighting.

But a few warned her that being online carried the same degree of responsibility as any other form of communication.

Now the course of her legal challenge -- one of the first involving bloggers' rights -- can be followed by a global audience if she chooses to continue her Bridget Jones-style saga, PA reported.

Originally from York, northern England, she has always worked in Paris, saying she started her Web site on a whim one day, after reading The Guardian's guide to Weblogs "and becoming engrossed in the adventures of Belle de Jour."

According to the British media reports she is now fighting for compensation from a French industrial tribunal of more than £54,000 ($98,000) -- two years' pay.

Dixon Wilson refused to comment on the case but according to the Daily Mail one senior partner at the firm was said to have been "incandescent with rage" about what she had written about him.

'Matter of principle'

Sanderson says she is fighting the case as "a matter of principle" to establish her private right to blog.

On Wednesday Daily Telegraph Paris correspondent Colin Randall, who first wrote about the plight of "La Petite Anglaise," used his own blog to ask whether print journalism is about to be smothered by the online age and "the march of the New Media."

One blogger responded: "I find it interesting that bloggers claim to be `the New Media' and then complain about being terminated from their positions at companies for being bloggers: would you expect to be terminated if you `moonlighted' for the traditional media?

"Say you worked for a large corporation, and in your spare time you wrote an anonymous 'insider's view' column for the Financial Times. Would you expect anything less than termination upon discovery?"

But another asked: "Where does the influence your employer has on your day-to-day life stop?"

On Sanderson's own Web site the vast bulk of correspondents supported her, but one blogger warned: "You do have to be so careful with publishing these days, and it's a mistake to think that blogging, because it is so easy, is any different."

Another wrote from Canada: "I do not intend for this to sound mean-spirited, but seriously, did you not see this coming?"

Sanderson told the Daily Mail she planned a book and had had "already worked out some proposals for publishers."

One of her supporters wrote encouragingly on her Web site: "You, Petite, are about to become infamous!"

Which New Browser Is Best: Firefox 2, Internet Explorer 7, or Opera 9?
Michael W. Muchmore

For a long time, there was nothing to talk about in web browsers. You used Internet Explorer, and that was it. Oh, to be sure, some Mozilla/Netscape holdouts clung to their ways, as did a smattering of users of Opera, Konqueror, and other obscurities. Internet Explorer itself hasn't had a major version change since the release of 6.0 in 2001, so there wasn't much to talk about there, either for five long years.

That's all changed, thanks to that phoenixlike incarnation of Netscape technology, Firefox. In one year, the open-source darling Firefox has pulled within a dead heat of browser the browser popularity crown, at least on the ExtremeTech site, where each browser claims just over 43 percent of our viewers. This spurred Microsoft to leave off its complacency, and serious development of the formerly dominant browser restarted in earnest.

Right at this moment, big changes have or are about to occur in three well-known browsers: Internet Explorer is finally being updated, with version 7 in its third beta and almost ready to roll out the door; Firefox is also ripening an upgrade beta for its Version 2.0—it's in beta 1; and finally Opera, which has a devoted but smaller following, has recently come out with Version 9.0.

So, three new browsers in the same year, after no action for a half decade. How do they stack up? We do a comparison of features, usability, memory, and disk usage to help you decide which you should spend your hard earned…oh wait a minute, they're all free, so you can pick the one you want without worrying about out of pocket. Keep in mind: We're just looking at what's there right now, and not considering what the browser developers may have planned for later additions. Also, these are such feature-rich apps that it would be impossible to compare every little detail—which has support for Atom feeds or importing OPML, and advanced Java settings, for example—we'll stick to the stuff that's most apparent to regular users. Let's take the browsers out for a spin, then, shall we?

Here's a summary of each of the browser's features:

Feature Firefox 2 Beta 1 Internet Explorer 7 Beta 3 Opera 9.00

Tabbed browsing Yes Yes Yes

Add-ins Yes—Extensions Yes—Add-Ons Widgets

Themes Yes No No

Built-in search with multiple engine choice Yes Yes Yes

Pop-up blocker Yes Yes Yes

Anti-Phishing Yes Yes No

Favorites button No Yes No

RSS reader Yes Yes Yes

Download manager Yes No Yes

Can remember open tabs for next session No Yes Yes

Save group of tabs as bookmark Yes Yes Yes

Macintosh/Linux version Yes/Yes No/No Yes

BitTorrent client No No Yes

Spell-checker for text boxes Yes No No—but GNU Aspell available

Download pause Yes No Yes (stop and resume transfer)

For such a major sounding version number increase—to 2.0—most users will be hard pressed to see much difference between this beta and Firefox 1.5. There's a lot more under the hood in the new version, for developers—JavaScript 1.7, client-side session and persistent storage, SVG (scalable vector graphics), SAX (Simple API for XML), and more. These developer features should translate into more features for end users in the long run.

For us little guys looking at the new browser now, the biggest changes are the spell checker in text boxes, renaming of the Go menu to History, combining Extensions with Themes in one dialog, and anti-phishing tool which you can find deep in a Setting tab.

Here's the list of everything that's new in Firefox 2, according to its developers:

• Built in Phishing Protection.
• Search suggestions now appear with search history in the search box for Google, Yahoo! and Answers.com
• Changes to tabbed browsing behavior
• Ability to re-open accidentally closed tabs
• Better support for previewing and subscribing to web feeds
• Inline spell checking in text boxes
• Search plug-in manager for removing and re-ordering search engines
• New microsummaries feature for bookmarks
• Automatic restoration of your browsing session if there is a crash
• New combined and improved Add-Ons manager for extensions and themes
• New Windows installer based on Nullsoft Scriptable Install System
• Support for JavaScript 1.7
• Support for client-side session and persistent storage
• Extended search plug-in format
• Updates to the extension system to provide enhanced security and to allow for easier localization of extensions
• Support for SVG text using svg:textPath

If you uncheck the Check to see if the site I'm visiting might be a scam option and then recheck it, you get a wordy dialog explaining that you'll send data to Google's log about fishy pages. When we tried to switch between local and by asking, the only choice was Google, and that was grayed out.

We were unable to find a site that tripped this tool after setting it to run. We threw every URL from patently spam emails we could find. Perhaps we really did win a million euros or owe that eBay user's PayPal account for that $465 we don't remember bidding on. Even if we entered a URL that was known to be a phishing site, found on security sites that keep track of such things, we couldn't trip the feature.

The spellcheck for text boxes was an interesting frill, using the familiar dotted colored lines under words of questionable orthography. In Firefox, zoom only zooms text, not pictures, but there's a wider range of text sizes to zoom to than in IE6.

RSS feeds are nicely handled in Firefox. When you navigate to a site that contains an RSS feed, the little orange feed button will appear in the right side of the address box. Clicking this brings up the following page: The answer you always hear when discussing a missing feature in Firefox is, "You can do it with an Extension." That usually is the case, and the Firefox Extension capability is elegant, powerful, and easy to use:

The link in this dialog goes to a full, organized guide of available extensions.

It's also nice that Firefox offers Themes:

But all the themes we found merely changed the interface buttons and perhaps added an image to the top menu area; they don't change the window borders the way you can with WindowBlinds. And beware that most themes haven't yet been updated to work with Firefox 2.

With XUL, AJAX and other technologies, Firefox has the most programmable interface of the browsers, allowing developers to pretty much use it as a foundation for their web-based applications. One example is the limited word processor from Michael Robertson's new company Ajax 13, ajaxWrite.

One peeve: Why isn't there still a one-click button for adding a new tab? You can use the middle mouse button if you know about it—and if your mouse has one (laptop users need not apply)—on new links, but sometimes you want a new empty tab, which in Firefox requires going through menus, or double clicking on the empty space to the right of the last tab (if you knew about that—usability is about making needed features obvious).

The security and tabbed browsing brought people to Firefox, and the extensions are what keeps them there. But it's a question of whether you're the type of person who likes to tinker with things to get them just how you want them, or to have something that comes with all the options built in. Extensions, themes, and interface programmability make Firefox the most flexible browser out there. But this programmability and its tremendous market share increase make it a target for security threats, which to their credit, the Firefox community of developers has addressed with a security updates.

If you really want to see a version of Firefox that's revamped, check out the Gecko-based Flock, which has added Web 2.0 features like tags, mashups with photo sharing and social bookmarking sites, and blogging. Flock also has implemented interesting interface features like a star button for quick favorite adds to both local and shared online sets, a topbar for browsing pictures, and a blog editor.

Microsoft's major themes for the new Internet Explorer are "easier and more secure." We think catching up to the competition with stuff like tabbed browser windows, add-ins, and built-in search is probably also pretty high on the agenda, too. And it's a major overhaul from Version 6. The beta browser sports a new, slick, streamlined look:

Note that by default, IE7 dispenses with the standard menu choices at the top, instead using icons with drop-downs. The star button lets you easily add a site to your Favorites, but only locally, unlike Flock, which can simultaneously save them to an online social bookmarking site like del.icio.us. Also, the refresh and Home buttons have moved over to the right of the address box. We're not sure we love that, but we're sure they have the usability testing numbers to justify it.

Tabbed browsing is fairly well-done in IE7, and you can even turn it off if you're an old-fashioned sort:

You have to hover over the blank, small tab to the right of the active ones to create a new blank tab; we wonder why this isn't always visible?

One feature unique to IE7 is its tile view of your tabs, called Quick Tabs, accessible from an icon just to the right of the add favorites icon:

Unlike the other two browsers in this roundup, IE7 has an RSS button that's always there below the address bar. If a site contains a feed, the button turns orange and lets you subscribe. Presentation of feeds is nicely done:

The entries could be a bit more tightly laid out, and it's interesting that the browser adds links to Digg and del.icio.us for each entry.

IE7 doesn't have quite the add-on library that Firefox has, and many of the "add-ons" are things like toolbars and even standalone apps. Oddly, we even found an entry for the Opera Browser among IE7's list of Add-Ons. Also, most of the add-ons don't customize the interface as they do in Firefox, and there aren't as many fun ones as there are in Opera Widgets.

Page zoom is much improved in IE7. In addition to holding down the Ctrl key and spinning the mouse wheel in and out, there's a zoom control in the lower right corner of the screen (see first picture of IE7). In Version 6, you could only zoom among the five text sizes, but in 7 you can zoom the page and pictures over a ridiculous range of small and large size, and the scroll bars zoom along with the browser contents.

IE7 adds some welcome conveniences for printing, too: It scales pages so they don't cut off on the side of the page—we've all run into this when printing web pages.

IE has been possibly the biggest target of security attacks over the last decade, with updates to cover holes a regular occurrence. Since Bill Gates's edict demanding "trustworthy computing" in 2002, Microsoft has been making big efforts towards eliminating these security holes, and IE 7 is intended to be a model child of this initiative. Defender, now in beta 2, is the major salvo in this direction; it's anti-spyware software that both finds spyware on your system and monitors for it in real time while you browse with IE.

According to Microsoft, the following security features are to be found in IE7:

• ActiveX Opt-in
• Security Status Bar
• Phishing Filter
• Cross-Domain Barriers
• Delete Browsing History
• Address Bar Protection
• International Domain Name Anti-spoofing
• URL Handling Security
• Fix My Settings
• Add-ons Disabled Mode
• Features Unique to Windows Vista

And when Windows Vista rolls around, they also plan to add a Protected Mode (where IE runs in its own sandbox) and Parental Controls. When went to some questionable sites, we could see the little animated icon in the lower right doing its job; hovering the cursor over it yielded the tooltip: "Phishing Filter is checking this website." It also caught a website that was trying to install an add-in.

In his column of a couple months ago, Jason Cross has said that IE7 Isn't Good Enough. His main complaints are that the new browser has taken too long to launch, and that it doesn't support the middle mouse button. This reviewer agrees that Microsoft should not have sat on its market-share laurels for five years without producing a new version of IE, but that doesn't mean the new browser doesn't include major advances. If the Firefox 2 beta is any indication, that browser won't be wowing anyone with incredible new features that would send it way ahead of the new IE version any time soon. As to the middle mouse button, it is a nice feature, but we're not sure what percentage of users even know of its existence.

Microsoft doesn't expect to convert the Firefox religious, but rather to bring over those who might have abandoned IE because of its security problems and lack of a tabbed interface. IE7 is a fine effort in this direction.

The Norway-based Opera Software has made a bigger dent in the mobile browser market, with deals for its Opera Mini with T-Mobile and Sony Ericsson, and recently with Nintendo being chosen as the browser on the Wii.

Opera was the first browser of all to feature tabbed browsing windows, debuting them in 1995. We think the browser does a darn good job implementing tabs in terms of usability and visibility, as well. The clear "Add new tab" button, and the default ability to close every tab—and now, when you hover the cursor over a tab, you get a thumbnail of the site on that tab—all show Opera to be a forerunner in the tab department. Of course, we're sure there are Firefox extensions that enable these behaviors, but having them built into the default application is nice.

Opera is the only non-beta in our roundup, and its new features include widgets, content blocking, BitTorrent, and a search engine editor.

Even in some features other than tabs, the other two market-leading browsers are playing catch-up with Opera—built-in RSS reader and saving groups of open tabs for later sessions, zooming text and pictures, and the X on each tab to close it. Here's the complete list of what its makers say is new in Opera 9:

• Content blocking
• BitTorrent support
• Widgets
• Search engine editor
• Site preferences
• New installer. One package—30 languages
• Integrated source viewer
• opera:config for advanced settings configuration
• Tab use best: Thumbnails when you hover the cursor over a tab.

Widgets in Opera are more like small standalone applications that can interact with the internet and live outside the browser, rather than interface elements that can change the basic behavior of the browser, as Firefox's extensions are.

The new BitTorrent support in Opera 9 is fairly unobtrusive; you simply go to a BitTorrent index web site, and when you click on a torrent link (a URL ending with the .torrent extension), you'll get this dialog:

After you give this the OK, your torrent will start downloading, and will appear in the regular Transfers page. There's also a dropdown choice in the built-in search to help you find torrents without the need to find a separate torrent search page.

On the topic of basic interface elements, we got a lot of use out of the sidebar in Opera pulls out when you click the left edge of the window. This can display bookmarks, history, widgets, notes, transfers, and links on the current page. Pretty darn handy.

And Opera still boasts several unique conveniences like Mouse gestures, and the Fast-forward button, which finds the most likely Next Page link and takes you there. Mouse gestures aren't for everyone, but they can save you keystrokes with a little practice. One simple example: To go back to the previous page, hold down the right mouse button and click the left mouse button. Fast forward worked perfectly on ExtremeTech reviews, finding the next page easily without requiring you to hunt for the Next link. A personal favorite convenience in Opera is Paste and Go, which lets you paste a URL into the address bar or a search term into the search box and load it in one click: It's the kind of thing that's so obvious but someone had to think of actually doing it. Paste-and-go is also available as a choice from the right-click context menu and as a keyboard shortcut.

One small convenience that was missing in Opera and that this reviewer has used frequently in Internet Explorer and Firefox is hitting Ctrl-Enter to add the "www." and ".com" to your entry on the address bar and just go to that URL by typing the meat of the domain name. We're happy to see that the shortcut now works in Opera 9. Rounding out the navigation aids: Middle clicking the mouse scroll wheel can close a tab and open a link in a new tab, and you can choose whether to have an X on all tabs to close them.

Another nice little touch in Opera is the progress bar at the right of the address bar, which tells you what percent of the page and the number of images that have been loaded from the site. The other browsers have progress bars, but we like the extra information here.

One oddity about Opera is that it opens popups that you want within the same browser frame, instead of in their own windows; this behavior can be changed in Advanced Preferences dialog, however.

Opera was the first browser with tabs, support RSS support, and now it's the only one with a built-in BitTorrent client and tab thumbnails (though IE7's Quick Tabs almost serves the same function). It's still the only with a fast-forward button and mouse gestures, and there are lot of other little conveniences that its developers cleverly incorporated—one-click Paste-and-Go, for example. Add to this that it's the fastest to load in testing and does best on the Acid2 web standards test, and we have to scratch our heads as to why its market share among browsers isn't greater.

We tested memory usage for the browsers both empty and with six tabs loaded. We also compare the last released versions of Firefox (1.5) and Internet Explorer, where pertinent. Memory and disk tests were done on a Pentium D system at 3.2GHz with 2GB of RAM, running Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 installed and load speed tests on a Sony Vaio 1.5GHz Pentium M system with 512MB RAM. Before we took the measurements, we executed the command rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks.

With no pages loaded, and with no bookmarks, and otherwise with default download settings, here was the memory use for each of the browsers:
Memory Usage (no pages loaded)

Firefox 2 Beta 1: 42K

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 3: 24K

Opera 9.0: 53K

IE 6.0: 17K

Firefox 17.8

We also tested memory use on the browsers with a bunch of tabs loaded. We used the same group of tabbed pages on all of the browsers—ExtremeTech home, Yahoo, PCMag.com, YouTube, BBC World, and Flickr (with the same picture showing). With this tab load the results were as follows:
Memory Usage Loading Six Tabs

Firefox 2 Beta 1: 73K

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 3: 70K

Opera 9.0: 52K

IE 6.0: 155K

Firefox 56K

Disk usage for each was as follows:

Disk Usage

Firefox 2 Beta 1: 18.8MB

Opera 9.0: 20.7MB

IE 6.0: 1.9MB

Firefox 18.6MB

None of this would tax a reasonably updated machine. The low IE6 size can be explained by that program's reliance on code already in Windows.

One performance point is noticeable when you just want to get browsing fast—startup time. We did these tests on a slower machine, a Sony Vaio 1.5GHz Pentium M system with 512MB RAM. We defragged the disk, ran rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks, and started each up after a reboot in case any code remained in memory from a previous session. These scores are the averages of three test runs.
Startup Time (average time in seconds)

Firefox 2 Beta 1: 12

Internet Explorer 7 Beta 3: 7.7

Opera 9.0: 5

Firefox 12.5

Standards Compliance

We also ran the browsers through the Acid2 Browser Test, from the Web Standard Project. It's an attempt to test how well a browser complies with web standards. While these are standards on the books—HTML4, CSS1, PNG, and Data URLs—they're not in widespread use, and are more of a refection on features developers would like to be able use in the future.

Clearly IE7 has some work to do if it hopes to do well on this test. Firefox still has some issues, and Opera is in good shape. Mind you, we didn't run into any noticeably misrendered pages in several days of testing the browsers, so this is probably more important for the future than for current sites. One incompatibility issue we did run into was that IE7 didn't not correctly handle the frames in our content management web application.

Users will reap some benefits from upgrading to any of these browsers, and all are excellently engineered, well-working software with lots of convenience, capability, and security.

We still think the tab interface in Opera—by far the most mature tab implementation of the bunch—is the easiest to use and understand: At the left of the tabs, there's a "New Tab" mini-tab, with an icon of a page and a plus sign. What could be clearer? In IE7, you don't see that you can add a tab unless you happen to hover the cursor over the small empty tab top to the right of the currently active one; in Firefox 2, you can get a new tab if you know to double-click the space to the right of the last tab, right click the tab and pick New tab from the choices, or actually go up to the File/New tab choice on the main menus. Opera, too, was the fastest to load in our testing and conformed to the standards tested by the Acid2 Browser Test.

Opera alone currently lacks an anti-phishing feature, but we wonder how critical this lacuna is; how about people just learning to be a little circumspect about where they enter their passwords and personal info? If you enter your bank's URL, you're safe, if an email sends you to a site that looks like your bank's, beware. More helpful is Microsoft's anti-malware tool, Defender, which scans your system for spyware you may catch while browsing.

If people switched to Firefox for tabbed browsing windows and extensions, they'll no longer have those reasons to shun Microsoft's slick new browser—as long as they can wait for its release. Microsoft seems to have enough confidence in the stability of Beta 3 to put its download button on the front page of its Internet Explorer site, rather than hidden in some developer area of the site. With IE7 so seemingly fully baked, we have to wonder why Microsoft is waiting for Vista to release it. Oh yeah, I guess they want another reason for you to buy Vista.

If the switch to Firefox was made for security—a major motivator, with all the holes found in IE and well publicized, the question is harder to answer. Microsoft has really taken security to heart, but only time will tell. With Firefox becoming such a market leader and boasting so much programmability, it's bound to become a prime target for hackers. For privacy, all have a "Delete Private Data" choice under their Tools menu—a nice way to keep people from seeing where you've been on the web.

IE7 now emulates the other two browsers by finally including a built-in search text box in the browser—yes you could always type your search into the address bar and get MSN search results, but the address bar is for URLs, not searches. RSS handling is another area where the other two have caught up to Opera, and all the browsers now do a decent job handling your subscriptions.

Read about a different animal in web browsing: 3D browsers.

If it's add-ons or extensions you want, Firefox still has the upper hand, with the most free plug-ins of any browser, but IE7 already has a decent catalog—though some cost money—and there are plenty of nifty "widgets" available for Opera 9 already. But neither of these offers the flexibility of Firefox's extensions and programmer hooks. And unlike Firefox, and Opera, Macintosh and Linux users need not apply with IE7.

These are all fine apps; we recommend you give them each a spin—it's a free download, after all—and stick with the one you find the most comfortable. Just keep in mind that IE7 is still beta (and you'll need to check the Show Updates box in Control Panel's Add Remove Programs window if you want to remove it), and Firefox is even earlier beta. For most users, it probably makes sense to wait for a later beta for Firefox and go ahead and try IE7 with a little caution. And don't worry about losing your bookmarks or favorites: With any of these upgrades, your bookmarks with come along for the upgrade ride.

Hacked Ad Seen on MySpace Served Spyware to a Million

An online banner advertisement that ran on MySpace.com and other sites over the past week used a Windows security flaw to infect more than a million users with spyware when people merely browsed the sites with unpatched versions of Windows, according to data collected by iDefense, a Verisign company.

Michael La Pilla, an iDefense "malcode" analyst, said he first spotted the attack Sunday while browsing MySpace on a Linux-based machine. When he browsed a page headed with an ad for DeckOutYourDeck.com, his browser asked him whether he wanted to open a file called exp.wmf. Microsoft released a patch in January to fix a serious security flaw in the way Windows renders WMF (Windows Metafile) images, and online criminal groups have been using the flaw to install adware, keystroke loggers and all manner of invasive software for the past seven months.

Internet Explorer users who visited a Web page containing this ad and whose IE was not equipped with the WMF patch would not get that warning. Rather, their machines would silently download a Trojan horse program that installs junk software in the PurityScan/ClickSpring family of adware. This stuff bombards the user with pop-up ads and tracks their Web usage. Only a little more than half of the anti-virus programs used at anti-virus testing service AV-Test.org flagged the various programs that the Trojan tried to download as malicious or suspicious.

Using software that captures and analyzes Web traffic, La Pilla found that the installation program contacted a Russian-language Web server in Turkey that tracks how many times the program was installed, presumably because most of this adware is installed by third parties who get paid for each installation. The data there indicate that the adware was installed on 1.07 million computers, La Pilla said, adding that all seven of the Internet addresses contacted by the downloader Trojan appear to be inactive at this time.

La Pilla said he also spotted the ad trying to serve up adware on Webshots.com, a popular photo-sharing site. It's not clear when this particular campaign started, he said, but an anonymous user at the invaluable CastleCops security forum posted information about a similar attack spotted on MySpace on July 12. Users at this online gaming forum apparently spotted the same WMF exploit being served via the DeckOutYourDeck ad as early as July 8.

A WHOIS database search for Deckoutyourdeck.com listed a fax machine as a contact phone number, but also contained an e-mail contact at RedTurtleInvestments.com. A WHOIS search on that domain turned up an address at Springfusion.com, which appears to be a fairly new online-affiliate marketing company. Springfusion.com is registered to a guy in Seattle, who -- when I contacted him via e-mail -- replied that he was not connected with any of the sites I looked up.

What is clear from this attack is that there are plenty of people who still haven't installed this security update from Microsoft. It's also fairly obvious that scammers and online criminals are targeting high-traffic Web sites. Alexa currently rates MySpace as the sixth most-visited site on the Web (Webshots.com earned a distant 137th most-visited ranking).

I left a message with Webshots and with MySpace's media hotline, and will update this post if I hear anything from either of them.

Update, 2:50 p.m. ET:A Webshots vice president called back to say the company didn't have any information on the attack, but that it was investigating.

Open Source In The National Interest
Matt Asay

Computer Business Review has an interesting review of the United States Department of Defense report "Open Technology Development". [PDF] If you haven't read it, you need to take a look. It is one of the most clear-sighted documents on open source that I've yet read, and should banish CIO doubts as to the core benefits of open source: cost savings, security, speed of development, robustness of development, etc.

SCO and others have been crying 'Foul' on the US government's increasing adoption of open source, suggesting (as Darl McBride writes here in his letter to the US Senate and House)

"I assert that open source software - available widely through the Internet - has the potential to provide our nation's enemies or potential enemies with computing capabilities that are restricted by US law."
Think that's a bit silly? Try this one, from the CEO of Green Hills Software:

"Now that foreign intelligence agencies and terrorists know that Linux is going to control our most advanced defense systems, they can use fake identities to contribute subversive software that will soon be incorporated into our most advanced defense systems."
Apparently O'Dowd (Green Hills CEO) has never actually taken the time to learn how open source and, specifically, Linux, operates. But we'll forgive his abject ignorance on the condition that someone pays his tuition to head back to school at some point. He needs it.

Anyway, back to the Department of Defense's report. It has a treasure trove of insight, nicely counterbalancing the ignorance noted above:
Currently within DoD, there is no internal distribution policy or mechanism for DoD developed and paid for software code. By not enabling internal distribution, DoD creates an arbitrary scarcity of its own software code, which increases the development and maintenance costs of information technology across the Department.

Other negative consequences include lock-in to obsolete proprietary technologies, the inability to extend existing capabilities in months vs. years, and snarls of interoperability that stem from the opacity and stove-piping of information systems....

Software code has become central to the warfighter's ability to conduct missions. If this shift is going to be an advantage, rather than an Achilles' heel, DoD must pursue an active strategy to manage its software knowledge base and foster an internal culture of open interfaces, modularity and reuse. This entails a parallel shift in acquisitions methodologies and business process to facilitate discovery and re-use of software code across DoD.

The national security implications of open technology development (OTD) are clear: increased technological agility for warfighters, more robust and competitive options for program managers, and higher levels of accountability in the defense industrial base....

DoD needs to use open technology design and development methodologies to increase the speed at which military systems are delivered to the warfighter, and accelerate the development of new, adaptive capabilities that leverage DoD's massive investments in software infrastructure.
To be fair, the DoD is not talking about open source exclusively in this report. It is talking more broadly about open development:
In the private sector, changes in design methodologies for software development are enabling enormous gains in productivity and efficiency. Individuals and companies are able to leverage open technology platforms to rapidly deploy new solutions and capabilities to improve their competitive advantage. These open technology platforms may be open source or proprietary software applications with open standards and published interfaces that allow the rapid development of new capabilities by third parties without coordination agreements.

It's the mash-up mentality, in some ways, that seems to appeal most to the DoD. But it's not just about "Web 2.0" thinking. It's about how to make the DoD a participant in the wider software community, thereby saving development cycles and development dollars, as this fascinating excerpt indicates:
DoD has two competing interests:

Provide for the defense of the U.S., and;
Support and grow the U.S. industrial base, which provides materiel and systems so that DoD can accomplish its mission.

These trade-offs are well understood for physical goods and services, but not as well understood for digital ones. DoD can easily calculate the cost difference between developing or acquiring a physical good or service by simply comparing make or buy costs. There is however a fundamental difference between physical and digital products. Digital goods (software code, music, movies, etc.) once created can be copied perfectly with relative ease: limiting distribution enforces scarcity, but that scarcity is arbitrary and negotiated, rather than an innate property of the product. Software's ability to be replicated also means it can be incorporated into other software systems without "using up" the original component, as one would with physical components.

The business model of purchasing physical goods and services has served DoD well in the past; but it falls short when applied to software acquisition. By treating DoD-developed software code as a physical good, DoD is limiting and restricting the ability of the market to compete for the provision of new and innovative solutions and capabilities. By enabling industry to leverage an open code development model, DoD would provide the market incentives to increase the agility and competitiveness of the industrial base.

Currently within DoD, there is no internal distribution policy or mechanism for DoD developed and paid for software code. By not enabling internal distribution, DoD creates an arbitrary scarcity of its own software code, which increases the development and maintenance costs of information technology across the Department. Other negative consequences include lock-in to obsolete proprietary technologies, the inability to extend existing capabilities in months vs. years, and snarls of interoperability that stem from the opacity and stove-piping of information systems.

DoD needs to evaluate the impact that locking into one set of proprietary standards or products may have to its ability to react and respond to adversaries and more importantly, to technological change that is accelerating regardless of military conflict. In order to remain competitive in a rapidly shifting technological landscape (including the disruptive technologies leveraged by our adversaries), DoD's software development and business processes must break out of the industrial-era acquisitions mold.
Amazing stuff. The DoD summarizes as follows, and shows a clear understanding of open source's benefits:
To summarize: OSS and open source development methodologies are important to the National Security and National Interest of the U.S. for the following reasons:
Enhances agility of IT industries to more rapidly adapt and change to user needed capabilities.

Strengthens the industrial base by not protecting industry from competition. Makes industry more likely to compete on ideas and execution versus product lock-in.

Adoption recognizes a change in our position with regard to balance of trade of IT.

Enables DoD to secure the infrastructure and increase security by understanding what is actually in the source code of software installed in DoD networks.

Rapidly respond to adversary actions as well as rapid changes in the technology industrial base.
Amen. Now if you're a CIO tasked with saving money and resources for a large or small enterprise, wouldn't it seem prudent to follow the lead of an organization tasked with saving taxpayers' money and lives? Yeah. Me, too.

Croatian Government Adopts Free Software Policy

Apply Open Sauce on the Balkans
Nick Farrell

THE CROATIAN government has decided to adopt a free software policy and move entirely to Open Source.

According to a document with the catchy title "Directions for Development and Use of Open Source Code Computer Programmes in Bodies and Institutions of State Administration" the Government says it needs to develop, prepare and procure open-source software.

Basically it feels that proprietary software leads to too much dependence on suppliers, which can damage the market competition.

It also says that open source programmes make the government's business more transparent and free access to information.

It reckons that Open Source will also save the Croatian tax payers huge amounts of cash while at the same time strengthening the domestic information science industry.

The report is available here.


2006 State of the Format Address
Mike Lyons

We're fine. Stations are getting higher ratings...and fund-drives are more effective and often shorter, meeting goals that you couldn't have imagined six years ago. That means the efficiency and effectiveness of the product is better. And the future is extremely encouraging, especially when you consider the shape of those stations over on the commercial side.


Sounds like a "day in the life" of a typical commercial music station today.

BIG PICTURE: Commercial radio has lost 13% of its audience in the last ten years while new choices for sonic entertainment continue to explode across the marketplace.

New West Records' Jeff Cook and I were both noting recently that XM's Cross-Country channel, programmed by our old friend Jessie Scott, will likely pass the current top country station in the USA, Chicago's WUSN, in cume this summer to become the number one country station in the land!

As the New York Times' Tom Friedman said in his best selling book "The World Is Flat," our world is changing. All the old commercial signals are now falling down while non-commercial stations rise with a better product that's commercial -free and accumulating more and more acceptance with the American listening public.

Commercial radio hasn't got a chance with the laptop generation. The product of almost every contemporary music format is too modal and now they have built themselves into a box of 3 or 400 songs along with a presentation that is so static it begs any attention at all from an active listener.

And the other shoe dropped during the last year.
For the typical modal commercial music station today, it can no longer expect listeners to stay tuned through a 4 or 5 minute commercial break. Listeners know that nothing special or worthwhile is coming next. When they hear a human voice, it is simply interpreted as a trigger that commercials are coming and its time to go.

The broadcast television networks saw the agencies cut back their spending this year on account of this same problem. And soon commercial radio may start feeling the same thing.

Commercial radio HAS invested capitol in HD-radio. But the large ownership groups were never expecting that to wholly save their ass. And Clear Channel's Mark Mays himself said last week that they'll have to wait another year to 18 months before the price-point on an HD tuner gets below $100 to ignite a, hoped for, wave of new adopters.

Meanwhile, it's Pearl Jam's "Live" or Boston's "More Than a Feeling" again...again...and again.

Fact is, radio's growth has just about evaporated except for non-commercial FM. And when that happens, Wall Street is not happy. Look at today...for the last three quarters CBS has basically offered stations for sale at every investors conference call (they offered 35 stations for sale later on Friday)...Jeff Smulyan is trying to take Emmis private...and this week Cumulus was busy buying back their own stock.

And the quick-fix schemes continue to pay-off on a shorter and shorter basis. Last year-go JACK or Classic-hits and get a four book run. They're almost all down now. Reggaeton? Down in Dallas, Miami and LA.
Shit, there's only Daddy Yankee and six other artists.
Turns out to be a three-book up run and...what do they do next? I mean, its pathetic. And sad.

When there is no investment or risk put into the product, the customers eventually pick up on it. After a decade of these format stunts, the bloom is truly off-the-rose. Nobody's buying it!

Meanwhile, this past year at Non-Commercial AAA, the format grew by another ten stations, sixth straight year of more new signals. We lost most of WDET in Detroit. KRVO in Portland, KZPL in Kansas City and WOKI in Knoxville. We got new AAA stations WCOO in Charleston, South Carolina, WGCS in South Bend/Notre Dame, WFIT in Melbourne, Florida, KTKE at Truckee CA/Lake Tahoe, WUSP in Wisconsin Rapids, Clear Channel's first Americana station at WTCR Huntington, West Virginia along with 8 new AAA HD stations from Clear Channel, CBS and Greater Media.

You've seen the incredible state-of-the-art studios here at the Public Radio Partnership's WFPK.
WYEP in Pittsburgh, WMNF in Tampa and WFUV in New York City also now have new killer facilities. And WFUV got their new power increase too, now covering completely the number one market in the country.

Earlier critiques that I have made at this convention have apparently been taken to heart, though I know its not just me but now I hear rotations have increased, tempo has become a larger priority and the old cliched Non-commercial golf-coverage tone of delivery is becoming harder to find.

(in a whisper) "Dan...I think K.T. Tunstall is using a seven-iron here. Should go right to left"

One last thing - I had one specific dream when I was invited to my first Non-Comm. I hoped that the ambitions and ideals of us as a programming community would eventually spill up to the management level. So that team goals could be achieved more effectively.
I've slowly seen that come to fruition and hope that the new managers I've met here bring their wisdom and honesty to the management and development meetings here. In 2006, Non-Commercial AAA radio can deliver listeners and value that commercial music radio would give their left nut to deliver. People believe, treasure and respond to a well-programmed AAA station.

Be grateful for your good fortune and keep doing the right thing because today's commercial broadcasters can't or won't.

That's the Truthiness of Non-Comm AAA today.

Indie Singer Offers New Music Model
Matt Cowan

As major music companies search for ways to make profit, the Canadian artist formerly known as Jane Siberry offers listeners a choice.

The musician who now goes by the name Issa has instituted a self-determined pricing policy for people downloading songs from her website.

Video report.

Money money money

Microsoft Tops Profit Forecast, Sets Share Buyback

Microsoft Corp. <MSFT.O> on Thursday posted a 23.5 percent drop in quarterly net profit, but raised its outlook for the current fiscal year as orders for upcoming products exceed expectations, lifting its shares by 6 percent.

The company also announced a new share buyback program that includes a $20 billion tender offer scheduled for next month and an authorization for up to $20 billion in additional buybacks through 2011.

The software maker reported a net profit of $2.83 billion, or 28 cents per diluted share, for its fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30. A year ago, Microsoft delivered a net profit of $3.7 billion, or 34 cents per share, boosted by a tax gain.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 16 percent to $11.8 billion.

Excluding a legal charge, Microsoft earned 31 cents per share. On that basis, analysts, on average, had forecast Microsoft to report a profit of 30 cents per share on revenue of $11.6 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

Microsoft caught investors by surprise in April when it revealed plans to invest an additional $2.6 billion to fund its flagging Web operations and other new businesses. The move dampened optimism that new products and an online strategy shift would bear fruit this business year.

In the current year, Microsoft expects to earn between $1.43 and $1.47 per share. Its previous forecast was $1.36 to $1.41 per share.

Since the company reported fiscal third-quarter earnings on April 27, the stock has fallen about 16 percent versus a 5 percent decline on the S&P 500 index. <.SPX>

But Microsoft shares were up 6.1 percent at $24.25 in after-hours trade after closing at $22.85 on Nasdaq.

Google Profit Doubles In Quarter

Web search leader Google Inc. <GOOG.O> on Thursday quarterly profits doubled as the company dodged the slowing growth trend that has hurt rivals Yahoo and eBay.

The results, which significantly beat market expectations, sent Google's shares up nearly 2 percent in after-hours trade.

Second-quarter net income rose to $721 million, or $2.33 per diluted share, compared with the year-earlier quarter's $343 million, or $1.19 per share. That beat analysts' consensus estimate of $1.95 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Revenue rose 77 percent to $2.46 billion. Wall Street was looking for revenue, on average, of $2.40 billion. Forecasts ranged between $2.30 billion and $2.52 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

"Overall the revenue came in certainly better than what I had been looking for and, I believe, certainly with respect to revenue relative to Street expectations," said David Garrity, analyst at Dinosaur Securities.

"The fact that you have got that kind of growth coming from overseas, where it's mostly going through Google's own network, probably can be seen as positive."

Excluding one-time items and stock-based compensation expenses, the Mountain View, California-based company reported a profit of $2.49 per share. On that basis, analysts had forecast $2.22 a share.

The company said it paid out traffic acquisition costs of $785 million, or 32 percent of advertising revenues, to affiliated Web sites that drive customers to view Google ads.

"We're very, very happy with having such a strong quarter in a seasonally weak period for us," Chief Executive Eric Schmidt told investors on a conference call to discuss the results. He added "it looks like our model continues to work extremely well."

Google's stock rose $6.91, or 1.8 percent, in after-hours trade, after jittery investors drove the stock down 3 percent to $387.12 in regular session trading on Nasdaq ahead of the results. The stock has lost 8 percent so far this year.

"At this level, Google is pretty attractively valued," said Global Crown Capital analyst Martin Pyykkonen.

Google shares hit a peak of $475 in January before investor concerns about maturing growth in the industry, and the need by Google and others to spend more on product development, led the stock lower.

On Thursday, the company reaffirmed that it will invest at a considerably higher rate in computers, networks and data centers than its expected rate of revenue growth in 2006.

Debate is raging over whether Google -- which enjoys growth rates three-to-four times faster than other major Internet companies -- is vulnerable to slowing industry growth trends or is itself a disruptive force taking share from rivals.

On Tuesday, Yahoo posted second-quarter profit in line with expectations but postponed an upgrade to an advertising system designed to compete with Google, and its shares suffered its biggest one-day percentage decline ever.

"Margins are a little bit better on at-consensus revenue growth," said Pyykkonen, who added that the margin improvement may be explained by more favorable tax rates.

"What the (revenue number) implies is that maybe they didn't take as much market share as was presumed from Yahoo's numbers the other day," Pyykkonen said.

Apple Posts $472M Profit On Revenues of $4.37B
AppleInsider Staff

Apple on Wednesday announced financial results for its fiscal 2006 third quarter ended July 1, 2006, posting revenue of $4.37 billion and a net quarterly profit of $472 million, or $.54 per diluted share.

These results compare to revenue of $3.52 billion and a net profit of $320 million, or $.37 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 30.3 percent, up from 29.7 percent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 39 percent of the quarter's revenue.

Apple shipped 1,327,000 Macintosh computers and 8,111,000 iPods during the quarter, representing 12 percent growth in Macs and 32 percent growth in iPods over the year-ago quarter.

"We're thrilled with the growth of our Mac business, and especially that over 75 percent of the Macs sold during the quarter used Intel processors. This is the smoothest and most successful transition that any of us have ever experienced," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "In addition, iPod continued to earn a US market share of over 75 percent and we are extremely excited about future iPod products in our pipeline."

"We're very pleased to report the second highest quarterly sales and earnings in Apple's history, resulting in year-over-year revenue growth of 24 percent and earnings growth of 48 percent," said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's CFO. "Looking ahead to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2006, we expect revenue of about $4.5 to $4.6 billion. We expect GAAP earnings per diluted share of about $.46 to $.48, including an estimated $.03 per share expense impact from non- cash stock-based compensation, translating to non-GAAP EPS of about $.49 to $.51."

As previously announced, an internal investigation discovered irregularities related to the issuance of certain stock option grants made between 1997 and 2001. A special committee of Apple's outside directors has hired independent counsel to perform an investigation and the Company has informed the SEC. At this time, based upon the irregularities identified to date, management does not anticipate any material adjustment to the financial results included in this earnings release. However, if additional irregularities are identified by the independent investigation, a material adjustment to the financial information could be required.

Apple will provide live streaming of its Q3 2006 financial results conference call utilizing QuickTime, Apple's standards-based technology for live and on-demand audio and video streaming. The live webcast will begin at 2:00 p.m. PDT on Wednesday. AppleInsider will provide coverage.

Crave Talk: Robberies Rise, Escape With Your iPod

Just a week ago, Gamespot journalist Guy Cocker, who works in the same building as Crave, was mugged ten minutes away from the CNET offices here in central London. His assailants held what felt like a semi-automatic weapon to the back of Cocker's head and told him, "we're taking all your stuff". They then took his Motorola L6 Slvr (iTunes compatible).

Cocker told us, "I chased them -- two of them threw me against a wall and took everything. It's lucky I didn't have my usual stash of gadgets on me -- my iPod, my Archos AV500 or my laptop. Mugging in London is out of control. I had my Motorola L6 grabbed right out of my hand".

The papers this morning would seem to agree with Cocker. "Rise in crime blamed on iPods", yells the front page of London's Metro. "Muggers targeting iPod users," says ITV. This is the reaction to the government's revelation that robberies across the UK have risen 8 per cent in the last year, from 90,747 to 98,204. The Home Secretary, John Reid, attributes this to the irresistible lure of "young people carrying expensive goods, such as mobile phones and MP3 players". A separate British Crime Survey, however, suggests robbery has risen by 22 per cent, to 311,000.

What can you do to foil the 8.2 per cent rise in people out to steal your iPod? The slow fix is calling for social regeneration to eliminate the state of poverty that motivates people to steal. But, if that all sounds a bit communist to you, then here are some suggestions that require very little outlay but could save your iPod from theft.

The paperback method
Cut an iPod-shaped hole in an old paperback book and insert the iPod into the cavity. This method has worked for centuries as a way of hiding valuable items without drawing attention to them. Put the iPod inside the paperback while you're walking through volatile areas and then remove it to listen to when you're back in safe territory. You could also cut a hole for the headphone lead, and run the buds out to your ears. Unfortunately, listening to a paperback novel will probably draw more attention to you than the iPod alone ever would. Anti-mugger rating: 8/10

The Coke can method
Get a Coke can, drink the contents, rinse out the can. Carefully cut the lid section off the can. Superglue a small magnet to the inside of the upper lip of the can so that it's flush with the open top of the can. Place the iPod inside and put the lid on the can. If you've cut the can correctly, the magnet should hold the lid tightly shut. Unless your mugger is exceptionally thirsty, they're unlikely to steal your Coke. Anti-mugger rating: 9/10

The gaffer tape method
This involves gaffer taping your iPod to your body. If you've ever watched a movie where someone is "fitted for a wire" by the FBI or similar, then you'll know what we're getting at here. This is a two stage deterrent. Firstly, your mugger will have to commit himself to partially undressing you if they want your iPod. Most muggers will find this distasteful.

The second deterrent takes advantage of the fact that most muggers want to get away quickly. When confronted by an iPod that has been taped to your chest by 15 loops of tightly wound gaffer tape he is likely to abandon you for easier pickings. Anti-mugger rating: 7/10

The Christopher Walken method
Pulp Fiction fans will remember Christopher Walken's speech to the child of a man killed in Vietnam. His father had asked Walken's character to look after his watch when the two were captured and held in a Vietnamese prison camp. Wanting to keep the watch safe from the guards, "he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide somethin'". Anti-mugger rating: 10/10

Roll Up Your Sleeves and Indulge in a Miami Vice
Guy Trebay

SOME pop culture phenomena have the life span of a mayfly. Others have the staying power of a plutonium rod. The phenomenally popular “Miami Vice” flickered across screens for barely five seasons — 1984 to 1989 — on NBC, yet the effects of its influence on television, movies, music and most lastingly, of course, fashion, were so potent and unforeseeable that one can pick up their radioactive signals 17 years after the series shut down.

The cop show lives on in reruns, on DVD and now in a new movie directed by the show’s executive producer, Michael Mann, which opens nationwide at the end of this month. While violent and stylized and packed with the gritty and hyper-real effects now obtainable through the miracle of computerization, “Miami Vice,” the movie, is set in the unfashionable present and thus unlikely to jump-start any trends.

True, each of its stars does his bit to add spin to the visual images originally conjured by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in the roles of James (Sonny) Crockett and Ricardo (Rico) Tubbs. But aside from a porn-star mustache that Colin Farrell, the new Crockett, wears, and the Malcolm X meets R. Kelly goatee Jamie Foxx affects in the movie, there is nothing stylistically to compare with the crazy subtropical brio of images from the 80’s TV show. Its Necco Wafer palette and ironic macho were ideal for an unsubtle era of big hair, big government and big bad gangsters hauling kilos for the Medellín cartel in cigarette boats backlighted by a Harvey Wallbanger sky.

“The way Michael Mann did the costumes has nothing to do with real cops,” said Jim Moore, the creative director of GQ magazine. “But it influenced everything we did at the time.”

The extent to which the show played a part in the sartorial recasting of the American man is difficult to overestimate. Before “Miami Vice,” which was conceived as a cop show for the MTV generation, adult males were not often in the habit of wearing T-shirts under sports coats or shoes minus socks. Most guys without ties in the 1980’s would have been considered slobs or candidates for the unemployment line. Pastel-colored trousers were reserved for caddies, pastel-colored vehicles for pimps. Suits in the late Reagan era were still substantially lined and padded and as rigidly shaped as Barcaloungers, although with sleeves. Loose, crumpled garments were considered work wear for convicts or gigolos. Hardly anybody without a begging cup wore a straw hat.

Although it’s hard now to remember the radical statement these gestures once constituted, before “Miami Vice” few men except bank tellers rolled up their jacket sleeves, and about the only folks who flipped up their blazer collars were the singer George Michael or patrons in some Fort Lauderdale gentlemen-only bar. “It’s the first point in fashion history where you can really show a TV having that influence on fashion,” said Mr. Moore, adding that a two-day growth of beard before “Miami Vice” was a sure sign of a impending bumhood. “ ‘Miami Vice’ made stubble cool,” he said. It has stayed cool far too long, and this is something Mr. Mann should be required to answer for.

When he orchestrated the look of the original show, Mr. Mann was venturing into stylistic territory already staked out by Italian designers, people like Gianni Versace, Gianfranco Ferré or Giorgio Armani, the man generally credited with introducing the world to the unconstructed suit — that is, without padding, a lining or internal stiffening. This might be as good a time as any to amend the old canard about Mr. Armani being the inventor of the floppy suit. It was long a staple of Neapolitan haberdashery, developed by tailors sent to London by wealthy patrons to apprentice on Savile Row. Being superior craftsmen, the tailors absorbed everything there was to know about British cuts and suit construction. Being Neapolitans, they blithely tossed out the window most of the knowledge they had acquired. It is generally too hot in Naples to dress like Bertie Wooster. But it is not too hot in Milan, where Mr. Armani adapted the look before wholesaling it to the world.

“Miami Vice” may also have marked the earliest mainstream appearance of that indestructible cultural chimera, the metrosexual. “As tough as Sonny Crockett was meant to be,” the dude on a boat with a pet alligator named Elvis, “he still had the meticulously groomed scruff on his face and the pastel, linen-y sports jackets,” said Dan Peres, the editor of Details. “That all was certainly a part of the cultural moment that allowed men to embrace their vanity a little more openly.”

It was their big weapons, of course, that gave the “Miami Vice” guys confidence enough to wear girly clothes and to moisturize. From the start the show unabashedly showcased the latest and scariest in armory, something it has in common with the new film, which rarely shows anyone unholstering a pistol when there’s a submachine gun around.

From the pilot episode, in which Crockett carried a sleek automatic, it was clear that the show sought to telegraph macho credibility and insider cool by swiping a tactic rappers were using successfully in their lyrical boasting, outgunning both everyday criminals and cops on the beat. So what if weapons experts considered the Bren Ten stainless steel pistol that was used for several early seasons to have been a dud, prone to malfunction and with a magazine that cost $100?

“The gun was a nice design, but you couldn’t find or afford the damn magazine,” said Garry James, a senior editor at Guns & Ammo. The Bren Ten was abandoned and replaced by a variety of other pistols, including one uncannily like a gold-plated model later found and looted from Saddam Hussein’s palace in Baghdad, and then seized by the British Customs and Excise Service early in 2003.

If the graphic and preening look of “Miami Vice” style made excellent joke fodder, visually easy to parody (as the cast of “Friends” did, in hilarious flashback), it also provided an enduring stylistic touchstone for consumers, who apparently never lost affection for Crockett and Tubbs.

Gamers still play “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City,” with its undercover officers looking like wonky virtual versions of Johnson and Thomas. Donatella Versace still designs men’s wear, as she did for the spring 2007 season shown recently in Milan, that modifies deftly, but only slightly, the defining elements of Pan-American style, circa Pablo Escobar and Manuel Noriega.

“Miami and ‘Miami Vice’ represented a magical time,” in the 1980’s, Ms. Versace said in an e-mail message, understatedly characterizing the era as colorful and “even excessive.” With her latest collection, Ms. Versace explained, “I returned to my roots and to a Miami that was very important to me in the late 80’s and early 90’s.”

Mr. Armani, too, plays games with the clichés of Latin macho; at his Emporio Armani presentation in June the designer sent models out wearing glue-on lip hair that looked a lot like the mustache Mr. Farrell has in the film.

With few exceptions, most purveyors of high-end design left “Miami Vice” behind a long time ago. Yet the effects of the show never really disappeared from the marketplace. “Our customer is a working guy who always wanted to look fashionable and set himself apart from the crowd,” said Neil Mulhall, the president of International Male, the mass market catalog clothier known for mesh pouch thongs and ruffled Byronic poets’ shirts. In its spring 2006 catalog, International Male offers a selection of suits in pink pastel linen and shirts of semi-sheer embroidered voile that could easily have been swiped from the set of “Miami Vice,” the television show or the film. “It’s a little bit forward and a little bit retro,” said Mr. Mulhall, neatly summing up the whole enterprise.

Until next week,

- js.

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