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Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - September 2nd, '06
"Our parents certainly had the right to trade cassettes and to record movies on VHS. Must we be considered digital sub-citizens?" – Aziz Ridouan
"This is the ultimate [piracy] case. This is a case where someone made a lot of money." – Jay V. Prabhu
"The American myth is the little tailor that could, the yeoman who can grow up to be president, the humble log cabin leads to the emancipation of the slaves. That’s the most threatening idea in the world." – Michael Tolkin
"National myths die, I don’t think they return. And our national myth is finished, except in a kind of belligerent way." – Michael Tolkin
"I don’t think America’s had a good movie made since Abu Ghraib. I think it showed that a generation that had been raised on those heroic movies was torturing." – Michael Tolkin
"When the moral lessons of the movies can’t blunt the pain or give you energy because you’re too poor or hungry or scared or trapped — so trapped that the Journey of the Hero is the story of how your oppressors won King of the Hill — you can’t be helped by anything except violence in the real world, but it’s the kind of violence the movies lay off on the villain, mass violence." – Michael Tolkin
"If I wrote the truth of what I know, the book would be 10,000 pages." – Robert Evans
"One person familiar with the inquiry said [Broadcasting Board of Governors' pending chairman] Hamilton ended the interview as the investigators began to ask about using the office for horse racing business." – Stephen Labaton
Q n A
"Universal announced it would soon give away free music downloads at an advertiser supported site. Will it now be legal to record and share these free songs?"
The short answer is probably no for the moment, but it remains a possibility nonetheless. To explain why we have to look back a bit.
In the only other major case where an advertiser supported distribution model was litigated, the US Supreme Court narrowly ruled a generation ago that the manufacture of devices capable of recording broadcast TV was legal if the devices could be used for time-shifting, that is for the temporary storage of a program for later viewing, which they declared non-infringing, even if the machines could also be used for what they then considered to be infringing uses like the creation of permanent video libraries, although the specifics of this last point are murky due to a mysteriously missing footnote. Since they also didn't get around to defining temporary ("Forever minus a day," as the copyright cartels would have us believe?) it came to mean you could keep the tapes until they fell apart, and more importantly, you could generally do what you liked with them. Share the stuff with friends, trade etc, distribute. If the same legal logic applied to advertiser supported free music distribution then yes, you could record the songs for later listening and perhaps even share. Unfortunately logic is just about the last thing congress and the courts apply to matters concerning the media usage rights people are supposed to have, and we won’t expect an announcement from the RIAA anytime soon extolling us to rip, share, enjoy!
The members of congress who count, the ones who chair the committees and shepherd the laws, are about as hostile to the concept of legal sharing as is possible to be. It's been methodically drilled down deep into them. They truly hate the idea. If they have no problem shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits brought by the anguished families of murder victims, they will fall on their swords persecuting peer-to-peer companies if some users infringe, despite the fact the constitution makes abundantly clear freedom of the press is a fundamental right they cannot abridge.
Today none of us can look to either the Capitol or the courts for protection because they refuse to provide it. The logic behind their decisions isn't internally based, it is based instead on protecting the narrow special interests of large donators, and not just any of them, but media company donators who in some secret and disturbing way have all but co-opted modern law making processes throughout the world. It wasn't always thus. Until quite recently most copyright expansion claims were greeted with a healthy skepticism that the petitioners themselves had to overcome, and as likely as not were decided in favor of the public. Why this changed so drastically after World War Two would make for a fascinating investigation, one that concerns the integration of news, books, music, movie, radio and television distribution within the same powerful cartels, the rise of modern corporate lobbying, politicians' insatiable hunger for media access and the ultimate seduction and corruption of the very lawmakers sent to congress and parliament to protect our rights. It's not an investigation I'm expecting to see anytime soon. This will probably have to wait until bold new researchers take it on at independent university levels – after thoroughly compromised politicians like Orrin Hatch and Ted Stevens are replaced by younger lawmakers who understand true digital rights, ours in other words, and the genuine damage those disgraced politicians, the courts and most of all the media companies have done to us and our culture during the last twenty-five years is diluted by time.
September 2nd, '06
Free Music, Complete With Strings
A new online music company is offering a huge catalog of songs from the world's largest record company, the Universal Music Group, available for people to download free.
The company, called SpiralFrog, said Tuesday that it wanted to wean music fans, especially young people, away from illegal downloads and pirate music sites by offering a legitimate source, supported by advertising instead of download fees.
SpiralFrog is the latest to offer a challenge to Apple Computer's hugely successful iTunes, which lets users download songs legally for 99 cents each, and its many smaller imitators. Though the venture is not the first to try a free ad- supported approach, the backing of Universal, with millions of songs in its catalog from thousands of artists like Eminem and Gwen Stefani, Elton John and Gloria Estefan, Count Basie and Hank Williams, promises to give it instant credibility and scale.
SpiralFrog, which is privately held and headed by Robin Kent, a former advertising executive, said it expected to start testing its service in the United States and Canada by the end of the year and that it would expand to Britain and other European markets next year.
The announcement reflects the music industry's eagerness to experiment with digital business models and find a way to overcome piracy and illegal copying, which remain a major problem despite the record companies' efforts to enforce their copyrights in court.
While the industry has tried to encourage the growth of legitimate alternatives like iTunes, some record executives have begun to chafe at Apple's dominance in the online market, particularly its one-size-fits-all pricing model, saying it has restricted the growth of digital sales.
For consumers, SpiralFrog's free downloads will come with many more strings attached than Apple's paid ones. Users of SpiralFrog will have to sit through advertisements and will be prevented by software from making copies of the songs they download or from sharing them with other people.
They will have to revisit the SpiralFrog Web site regularly to keep access to the music they download. And the songs will be encoded in the Microsoft WMA format, largely incompatible with Apple iPod portable music players.
The venture is not the first legitimate one to make music available for free. Napster, a former peer-to-peer file- sharing scourge of the record companies, introduced an advertising-supported service this year that lets users listen to a few songs without paying fees. But Napster's free service streams music to users, rather than letting them download and store the files, like iTunes.
"Offering young consumers an easy- to-use alternative to pirated music sites will be compelling," Kent, of SpiralFrog, said in a statement. "SpiralFrog will offer those consumers a better experience and environment than they can get from any pirate site."
Neville Hobson, a spokesman for SpiralFrog, said the company hoped to pursue licensing deals with the other major record companies - Sony BMG, EMI and Warner Music - to augment its deal with Universal Music, a unit of Vivendi.
Given the fragmentation of the digital music business - the hundreds of would-be challengers to iTunes mainly have minuscule shares of the market - analysts said new services like SpiralFrog would face difficult challenges.
"Few service providers are currently in a position to provide the large audiences that advertisers require, and few pure music providers have the heritage of building a business funded by advertising," said Michele Mackenzie, principal analyst at Ovum, a telecommunications and Internet consulting firm.
Still, the music industry is treating Apple with kid gloves. "This is certainly not being pitched as a challenger to iTunes," Hobson, of SpiralFrog, said. "It's a very different model. It's complementary to iTunes."
Google to Allow Free Downloads of Books
Google Inc. on Wednesday plans to begin letting consumers download and print free of charge classic novels and many other, more obscure books that are in the public domain.
Using Google's Book Search service, Web surfers hunting titles like Dante's ''Inferno'' and Aesop's ''Fables'' will be able to download PDF files of the books for later reading, to run keyword searches or to print them on paper. Up to now, the service only allowed people to read the out-of-copyright books online.
Google supports the service by showing its small, keyword-generated text ads on search-results pages.
The download initiative does not include any books under copyright. For these titles, Book Search only displays basic bibliographic information and, in many cases, small snippets of text surrounding a search term, unless it has permission from the publisher to show more. The company's display of snippets has riled some publishers, but Google has argued the small bites of text constitute fair use.
Google's Book Search service is the product of its Books Library Project, which is digitizing books from major libraries around the world in order to make them searchable online. Its partners include the University of Michigan, Harvard University, Stanford University, Oxford University, the University of California and the New York Public Library. Google is also conducting a pilot project with the Library of Congress.
India University to Digitize Rare Books
The Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi plans to digitize its collection of books and manuscripts, some of them dating to the 16th century, to make them more accessible to researchers.
More than 1,600 rare books and 2,500 manuscripts, published from the 16th to 19th centuries, will be converted into digital form.
"Our primary aim is to help researchers from across the country to access the rare books, papers and manuscripts," S.M. Afzal, a university official, told the Hindustan Times.
The yearlong project, scheduled to begin in September, will "ensure that rare and valuable work is safely preserved in digital format for future generations," Afzal said.
The books and manuscripts are in different languages, including Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Pashtu and Punjabi. The library also has numerous collections of original papers relating to India's independence from British rule in 1947, including the private papers of many independence leaders.
Public Domain Books, Ready for Your iPod
Kara Shallenberg and her 10-year-old son, Henry, exhausted the audiobook collection at their library in Oceanside, Calif., five years ago. With Henry’s appetite for listening still strong, Ms. Shallenberg began to record herself reading his favorite books. Eventually she upgraded from a using a tape deck to burning CD’s on her laptop computer. Last fall she took her hobby to a wider audience.
Ms. Shallenberg’s recordings of “The Secret Garden,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and other works are now available, free, to anyone with an Internet connection and basic audio software. She is part of a core group of volunteers who give their voices and spare time to LibriVox, a project that produces audiobooks of works in the public domain.
“Everything I read to Henry was copyrighted,” Ms. Shallenberg said, adding that she was frustrated she couldn’t share those works. “The idea of creating audiobooks that other people could enjoy was exciting.”
LibriVox is the largest of several emerging collectives that offer free or inexpensive audiobooks of works whose copyrights have expired, from Plato to “The Wind in the Willows.” (In the United States, this generally means anything published or registered for copyright before 1923.) The results range from solo readings done by amateurs in makeshift home studios to high-quality recordings read by actors or professional voice talent.
At its worst a free audiobook can sound like a teenager reading aloud in high school English class. At its best it can offer excellent sound quality and skilled narration infused with a passion for the text. In between is a world of competent readings, sometimes spiced with affected accents, mumbled words and distant car horns and reflecting all manner of literary interpretations.
LibriVox celebrated its anniversary on Aug. 10, around the same time it surpassed the 100-book mark. It also offers more than 200 recordings of short stories, plays, speeches, poems and documents like the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence. By comparison the audiobook industry, which typically sells recordings for $15 to $30, released 3,430 titles, taking in $832 million, in 2004, the last year for which figures are available.
LibriVox’s founder, Hugh McGuire, 32, a software developer and writer in Montreal, said there were another 100 works in development, all of which would be recorded, edited and uploaded by volunteers.
“The principles of the project are to be totally noncommercial, totally ad free, totally volunteer and totally public domain,” he said. Readers can volunteer at the Web site, librivox.org.
One of LibriVox’s colleagues in the free audiobook realm is Telltale Weekly (telltaleweekly.org), which sells recordings for 25 cents to $8, but makes them available at no charge through its Spoken Alexandria Project (spokenalex.org) after five years or 100,000 downloads, whichever comes first. It was founded in 2004 by Alex Wilson, a writer and actor in Chapel Hill, N.C., who performs many of the readings. Another service, LiteralSystems (literalsystems.org), has 51 works available for free download and emphasizes their professional quality.
The audio format of choice for each service is MP3 (though Spoken Alexandria and LibriVox offer other options), which means the audiobooks can play on any computer and most digital music players. Unlike with commercial audiobooks, listeners are free to copy and share the recordings.
All three services rely on Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org), the online repository of works in the public domain, for texts. Listeners often can choose from several recordings of the same work; LibriVox, for example, offers three readings of the Gettysburg Address. Among the most recorded authors are Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Jack London, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, William Shakespeare and Lucy Maud Montgomery (“Anne of Green Gables”).
LibriVox’s volunteers, who record solo or in collaboration, are restricted in their material only to previously published works in the public domain in the United States. This open policy has let the personal preferences of readers shine through, Mr. McGuire said.
“If someone turned up with a smut book from 1850, we would do it,” he said. “We did ‘Fanny Hill,’ which is an early erotic Victorian book. Everyone was laughing in the discussion forums about having to keep quiet while recording so their kids wouldn’t hear them.”
Other LibriVoxers have proposed reading the Koran (some have already read chapters of the Bible), recording Supreme Court decisions and reciting pi to an unknown, but you can assume lengthy, number of digits. A multilingual recording of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is underway, as is a full cast recording of “The Pirates of Penzance.”
While some listeners object to the wide variety of recording quality, Mr. McGuire said, “our take on it is if you think a recording is done badly, then please do one and we’ll post it as well.”
LibriVox has more than 1,800 registered volunteers, and its audience continues to grow.
“Last week I listened to an early Agatha Christie novel as I shopped for groceries, chopped vegetables, sewed a hem or took my walk,” Arlene Goldbard, a New York writer and social activist, wrote on her blog after enjoying her first LibriVox recording in June.
The other free audiobook services are more centralized in their administration, often with one person doing most of the work and recording (meaning listeners had better enjoy that person’s voice and narration style). They tend to select works with the best chance of gaining mass appeal, and put an emphasis on maintaining consistent production values.
Warren Smith, the founder of LiteralSystems, searches out local actors and voice talent in Santa Fe, N.M., where he lives. He also actively seeks donations and sponsorships to finance his work and help pay performers.
“I started with a MiniDisc recorder and now have a little 8-by-8-foot recording studio,” he said. “The end focus is matching commercial quality,” while keeping the recordings free.
Over the last year Ms. Shallenberg has read more than 200 individual chapters and six novels for LibriVox, in addition to shorter works. She also turned her son Henry from an audiobook fan to a budding voice talent who has recorded some of Aesop’s fables.
“I would be surprised if he didn’t keep doing recordings, because he loves audiobooks,” she said. “When you love something that much, you want to get involved.”
QTFairUse6: is Hymn finally back to strip FairPlay on iTunes 6?
Remember Hymn? You should, back in the day (like, um, 2004) it allowed you to strip the FairPlay DRM right off iTunes Music Store bought files just like that; well, it's been a long time in coming, but a new app called QTFairUse6 looks like it can now be used (with some amount of difficulty) to dump iTunes version 6.0.4 - 6.0.5 files of their chastely protection. It's not quite as slick as FairUse4WM or anything, but if you're not afraid to get your hands dirty with a little python up in this piece, you can get yours now; if not, it shouldn't be too long before our man Igor S.'s next-gen method for circumventing Apple's copy protection methods makes its way into a nice, neat little graphical interface all the Macs in the house are sure to adore. And, of course, then it's not too much longer after that when Apple blocks out this hack of Hymn and moves on to the next FairPlay iteration. DRM man, it's like a freaking möbius strip of consumer hurt.
An Open Letter to Microsoft - Why You Shouldn't Kill FairUse4WM
We know that you're already probably working to fix the, um, hole that's been discovered in Windows DRM 10/11, but we're going to ask you this anyway: please don't stop consumers from using FairUse4WM to remove copy protection from music they've downloaded.
We understand why you put DRM on these files in the first place – the major labels won't grant you (or rather the companies that are using your DRM) a license to sell their music without it – but there are some good reasons why you should let this one slide.
For starters, it'll actually make consumers more likely to buy music and sign up for subscription services like Napster To Go and Rhapsody To Go. This sounds counterintuitive, but it's not. Being able to strip out the DRM on a file actually makes it more useful – and thus more valuable – for the consumer.
Shortly after posting the news, we got a slew of messages from readers and friends telling us they were signing up with a PlaysForSure service provider because they were no longer worried about being able to play the songs they've downloaded on their MP3 player. Since you can already get the same music for free if using P2P networks, all DRM does is make it harder for honest consumers to enjoy the music they're paying for. It's difficult to justify paying for a less useful version of a song when with a little effort you can find it elsewhere in a non-copy protected format.
We're big fans of the subscription services, here at Engadget, but let's face facts: the damn things don't work very well. It's pretty easy to download tracks, but it's a serious pain in the ass to successfully transfer them to a portable device. The only way for DRM to be successful is if it's painless and seamless, and we get tons of emails from consumers complaining about how hard it is to get Napster, Rhapsody, Yahoo Music Unlimited, etc. tracks on to their players, or, god forbid, Macs.
Are a lot of people going to pay $15 to sign up for a subscription service, download a ton of music, and then cancel a month later? Absolutely, but that's not a big deal. Those people were never, ever going to sign up for a service that offers locked down music anyway, so be happy that you squeezed any money out of them at all. (Yeah, this does make it tougher to offer free, unlimited trials, but that's not the end of the world.) Could those same people then put all the music they've just downloaded up on the P2P networks? Sure, but all that music is available there anyway, so it shouldn't make a bit of difference in the grand scheme of things.
So just try and look the other way this time. We've been on the verge of canceling our subscription services for a couple of months now (too many snafus involving DRM licenses and device syncing), but FairUse4WM has changed our minds now that we can actually download music with the confidence that we'll be able to enjoy it. Does the fact that we could quit and "keep" the music that we've been "renting" a problem? Theoretically, but what's going to keep consumers paying those monthly fees isn't the threat of losing access to their collection (though that's part of it); what keeps them paying is the continuing access to a large, frequently updated catalog of new releases and older tunes. DRM makes paying for music less attractive than stealing it; FairUse4WM flips that around and makes paying for music more attractive since you can more easily play the music you've purchased on the device of your choice.
Without a doubt you guys in Redmond are getting an earful from the record labels. You promised them a secure system, and you failed. They might already be threatening to withdraw their licenses for their music, but here's where you have to stand up and explain to the labels why they need to chill. Send Steve or Bill or J or whomever to smooth things over. We aren't assuming this is going to be an easy thing to make happen, but c'mon, you guys are /Microsoft/, if any company has the clout to make this happen and drag the entertainment industry into the 21st century, it's you. The music industry needs to accept that there is always going to be a certain amount of piracy, and then just get on with the business of selling digital. Let 'em keep the DRM in place if they want – we can all pretend that it still works -- just make it possible for anyone who really wants to get rid of it to take that extra step.
Besides, whether the RIAA likes it or not (or realizes it or not), you'll be doing the right thing for both consumers and the music business. (And isn't that the point of all this?) FairUse4WM means that all our PlaysForSure tracks will actually play for sure, so please don't go and spoil it.
Your friends at Engadget
Microsoft Admits Music Hack
MICROSOFT has acknowledged the existence of a program circulating on the internet that could circumvent its copy protection for online music, but said it was working on a fix.
The program called "fairUse4WM" enables users to strip out the so-called digital rights management (DRM) in downloaded songs that limits the number of copies that can be made.
A Microsoft spokesman said a patch was being developed with the software giant's online music partners, those who use the Windows media format for online music sales.
The program could undermine efforts to limit illicit copies of music circulated on the web.
Some analysts said the impact would be minimal.
"Does it matter? Well, yes and no," said Mark Mulligan at Jupiter Research.
"Yes it exposes a vulnerability that technically means that rights protected content downloaded from the likes of Napster can now have its rights management circumvented. But in practice it doesn't actually mean that much."
Mr Mulligan said consumers who wanted to use legitimate sites would probably not use the technology but that hackers and those interested in illegal copies may already have the means to accomplish this.
"This is big news in the weird and wonderful world of hackers and developers, but not really that big a deal for the digital music world," Mr Mulligan said.
"Hackers will always crack technology. That is their raison d'etre."
From Russia with love
Pirates are Disconnected From Internet
Amendments to Russian law, destined to put an end to uncontrolled downloading of books, videos, and music from the Internet, come into force today. According to these amendments, works published on the web will be protected by the law in the same way as those published on paper, CD, or DVD. It means the owners of pirate websites might be punished by up to 5 years of imprisonment.
Amendments to the law “About copyright and allied rights” were ratified in July 2004. However, they come into force on September 1, 2006. Basically, they make legal the concept of “notifying everyone” which brings the Internet under the jurisdiction of law. Thus, texts of books or mp3 music files published on the web have the same copyright protection as normal books or CDs, and come under article 146 of the Criminal Code of Russia (“Violation of copyright and allied rights) which allows a punishment of imprisonment for up to 5 years for pirates.
There was practically no legal protection like this before. The law “About copyright” was adopted in 1993, when hardly anyone in Russia ever heard of the Internet, so the corresponding articles in this law were worded rather vaguely. By the way, it was the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade that lobbied the introduction of Internet law into Russian legislation. The Ministry is also leading the talks on Russia’s accession to the WTO, in which the issue of fighting against pirates in Russia has been one of the most important. As for the 2-year delay of the law, the legislators decided to give the time to mp3-website owners, for instance, to sign license contracts with the suppliers of music.
However, it did not happen. Experts estimate that 97 percent of music spread in Russian Internet now is still piratic, and many mp3 websites sell western music to western customers. Legal Internet market is estimated at less than $1 million per year, while the turnover of just one of the major illegal Russian websites, offering some 850,000 of musical tracks for 12—15 cents, reaches up to $25—30 million, according to different estimates.
People of the industry call the anti-pirate amendments “revolutionary”. “It is a very important step on the way to make Internet market legal,” believes Vladimir Dragunov, legal advisor of the representative office of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) in Russia. “There are no legal sites because no one could fight against internet-pirates—it was difficult to explain the word-splitting that existed before September 1 to judges.” “Building the legal market begins today,” agrees Sofia Sokolova, editor-in-chief of zvuki.ru website. “Authors now have a new means to assert their rights effectively. Websites themselves will now be obliged to find copyright holders.” Vladimir Dragunov pointed out that record labels will not fight against small-scale pirates. “The problem is not to destroy each pirate site,” he said. “It is necessary to change the ratio between piratic and legal Internet from 99 to 10 percent, for instance.
However, other experts interviewed by Kommersant do not share in such optimism. “Russian laws might be good, but they are not implemented very well,” said Vadim Uskov, head of law company Uskov and Partners. “If usual sellers of counterfeit goods are not caught on the street, then no one will catch the owners of websites in the Internet where it is hard to identify them.” Vadim Uskov reminded that a new law “About advertising” prohibiting spam came into force on July 1. “Nothing changed after it came into force,” says Uskov. “The same will happen with these amendments. We need decisive measures, like in China for instance. They put the criminal responsibility for publishing pirate products on Internet providers, so the latter check their websites many times a day.”
Besides, the law itself might hinder bringing pirates to responsibility. The matter is that nearly all pirate sites do not consider themselves as such. They act under the cover of licenses issued by so-called collective societies for managing the rights (for example, Russian Society for Multimedia and Digital Networks). Because of legal loophole, not taken care of before September 1, such societies can give out “licenses” even for mp3 tracks of singers with whom they have no agreements. Moreover, the State Duma will hear a new package of laws—the 4th part of the Civil Code of Russia, uniting all rules of protecting copyrights and allied rights. Responsibility for Internet piracy is not worded clearly in this law. So, this code of laws too, for passing which Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spoke, can play right into pirates’ hands, because all laws that came into force today will lose their legal force when this new law is passed.
Education Dept. Shared Student Data With F.B.I.
Jonathan D. Glater
The Federal Education Department shared personal information on hundreds of student loan applicants with the Federal Bureau of Investigation across a five-year period that began after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the agencies said yesterday.
Under the program, called Project Strikeback, the Education Department received names from the F.B.I. and checked them against its student aid database, forwarding information. Each year, the Education Department collects information from 14 million applications for federal student aid.
Neither agency would say whether any investigations resulted. The agencies said the program had been closed. The effort was reported yesterday by a graduate student, Laura McGann, at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, as part of a reporting project that focused on national security and civil liberties.
In a statement, Mary Mitchelson, counsel to the inspector general of the Education Department, said, “Using names provided by the bureau, we examined the Department of Education’s student financial aid databases to determine if the individuals received or applied for federal student financial assistance.”
Information collected on federal financial aid applications includes names, addresses, Social Security numbers, incomes and, for some students, information on parents’ incomes and educational backgrounds.
Generally, only United States citizens and permanent residents are eligible to apply for federal student financial aid.
An assistant director of the F.B.I., John Miller, said in a statement: “During the 9/11 investigation and continually since, much of the intelligence has indicated terrorists have exploited programs involving student visas and financial aid. In some student loan frauds, identity theft has been a factor.’’
Mr. Miller said the Education Department was asked to “run names of subjects already material to counterterrorism investigations” to look for evidence of student loan fraud or identity theft.
“No records of people other than those already under investigation were called for,” he said. “This was not a sweeping program, in that it involved only a few hundred names. This is part of our mission, which is to take the leads we have and investigate them.”
Mr. Miller said that the effort was not concealed and that it was referred to publicly in briefings to Congress and the Government Accountability Office.
A spokeswoman for the bureau, Cathy Milhoan, said the Education Department had provided financial aid information on fewer than 1,000 names in connection with terrorism investigations.
The information sharing was disclosed as the Education Department examines a proposal by the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, established last year by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, to create a national student database that would follow individual students’ progress as a way of holding colleges accountable for students’ success.
“This operation Strikeback confirms our worst fears about the uses to which these databases can be put,” said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents 900 institutions. “The concentration of all this data absolutely invites use by other agencies of data that had been gathered for very specific and narrow purposes, namely the granting of student aid to needy kids.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation would not discuss the specific criteria it used in seeking information on students but said the program was narrowly focused.
“People are trying to turn this into something that it wasn’t,” Ms. Milhoan said. “We are not out there arbitrarily running student records for the sake of running them.”
Ms. Mitchelson of the Education Department said a review of the files of the people named by the F.B.I. had not led to any cases that charged student loan fraud.
Ms. Mitchelson said the information sharing was possible under a law that permits a federal agency to release personal information to another agency “for a civil or criminal law enforcement activity.”
She said the department had spent fewer than 600 hours on the program, including 50 hours over the last four years.
Ms. McGann, the journalism student who reported on the program, said she saw data sharing mentioned, but not described, in a report by the Government Accountability Office that she reviewed in the spring as part of a research project after a seminar on investigative reporting.
“I thought that was pretty unexpected for the Department of Education,” said Ms. McGann, 24, who graduated this year from Medill. “So I decided I would try to look into that a little more.”
She said she found another mention of the program in a report from the inspector general’s office in the department.
In June, Ms. McGann went directly to the Education Department.
“Eventually, I did an on-camera interview with a deputy inspector general there who did comment on the program,” she said.
She said his name was Michael Deshields.
“After that,’’ Ms. McGann added, “I decided I should file a Freedom of Information Act request.”
Last month, she received documents in response to her request that were heavily redacted, she said. Among them were Education Department memorandums describing F.B.I. requests for information on specific people whose names were blocked out and an internal memorandum dated June 16, 10 days after her interview, stating that the data sharing program had terminated. The name of the author of that memorandum was also redacted, she added.
“I learned that getting information from a federal agency you need to be persistent,” Ms. McGann said. “And I learned that public documents are really a wealth of stories.”
She said she had accepted a position at Dow Jones Newswires in Washington.
Eric Lichtblau contributed reporting from Washington for this article.
ISP Releases Name In File-Sharing Case
The entertainment industry achieved a key victory Thursday after a Dutch Internet service provider surrendered the name and address of one of its customers suspected of illegal file-sharing.
Ronald van der Aart of UPC, the Netherlands' second-largest broadband ISP with 500,000 subscribers, said the company decided not to appeal a summary judgment by Amsterdam's District Court in a suit brought by the Brain Institute, an organization founded to fight digital copyright infringement.
Brain spokesman Okke Delfos-Visser said the agency would now contact the UPC customer and would likely sue if a settlement isn't reached first. Similar cases in the United States are usually settled for several thousand dollars.
Brain is funded by the U.S.-based Motion Picture Association and Recording Industry Association of America, along with their international and Dutch counterparts.
Previous attempts by Brain to force Dutch Internet providers to give up names of clients suspected of illegal file-sharing had foundered on technicalities. Brain and the organizations it represents say have often been powerless to sue for copyright infringement because they only have numeric Internet Protocol addresses assigned by companies like UPC, not the actual identities.
UPC argued it cannot be certain which of its clients used a given IP address at any given moment.
But in the current case, Brain had gotten a court order to seize the servers of a now-defunct file-sharing network called "Dikke Donder," which used BitTorrent file-sharing software.
Stored on the Dikke Donder servers were records of the IP and e-mail addresses that network members had used to sign up for the group. Several addresses were issued by UPC, including one to a user called "muzan."
The Amsterdam District Court ruled that, taken together, the e-mail and IP addresses must have been enough for UPC to know the identity of the Dikke Donder user. Any objections, it said, were "so theoretical that there can't be any discussion of a 'reasonable doubt.'"
E-mail attempts to reach the client, using an address identified in court documents, bounced. UPC did not disclose the person's identity to The Associated Press.
UPC is a subsidiary of Colorado-based Liberty Media Corp.
Tool Generates Fake Searches For Privacy
A new tool seeks to make your searches more private by hiding them in plain sight.
TrackMeNot periodically sends fake, innocuous queries to search engines, making it harder for someone to glean your actual search habits by reviewing the companies' logs that contain your queries.
The tool comes as AOL revealed it had released the search histories of more than 650,000 subscribers. Although user names were not included, the company admitted that the search terms themselves could contain sensitive information. Two AOL employees were fired and a third resigned over the disclosure.
The tool, developed by two researchers at New York University, sends random searches, such as "boston clock" and "croissant," to the four largest search engines - Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp.'s MSN and AOL. A fake search is made, on average, every 12 seconds under default configurations; the tool can generate millions of unique queries from its list, and users can add their own.
TrackMeNot, however, works only with the Firefox browser, which has less than 10 percent market share, according to WebSideStory.
It's also not foolproof. Someone knowing the list of terms TrackMeNot uses can simply strip those records out of the databases. Developers say they are working on expanding the list.
TrackMeNot is available at: http://mrl.nyu.edu/dhowe/TrackMeNot
Web Browser Leaves No Footprints
Browzar deletes internet caches, histories, cookies to protect user privacy
The latest entrant to the crowded Internet browser market is the appropriately named Browzar, a tool specifically designed to protect users' privacy by not retaining details of the Web sites they've searched.
Most Web browsers like Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer automatically save users' searches in Internet caches and histories. Users do have the option of deleting the history folder and emptying the Internet cache, but many people either don't know how to do that or tend not to, leaving a trail of where they've been online behind them in the browser.
Browzar is being officially launched Thursday but can already be run or downloaded from its Web site. Users don't have to register to use the free browser.
Browzar automatically deletes Internet caches, histories, cookies and auto-complete forms. Auto-complete is the feature that anticipates the search term or Web address a user might enter by relying on information previously entered into the browser.
Browzar is the brainchild of Ajaz Ahmed, the man behind Freeserve, the first U.K. Internet service provider (ISP) to offer free Internet access to customers in the late 1990s. He sold Freeserve -- which quickly became the U.K.'s largest ISP -- to France Télécom SA's Wanadoo operation in 2001 for £1.6 billion (US$3 billion).
"Privacy is becoming a bigger issue," Ahmed said, pointing to the recent leak of more than 20 million user search queries by AOL LLC. "The AOL story highlights the issue that some of the things people are searching for are very, very personal."
The Browzar site contains a page of stories from users who have either discovered things they rather not have known about their friends and loved ones through their Web browser's history or auto-complete feature or who have had information revealed they would have preferred kept private. For example, Ahmed cited a statistic that 35 percent of people using matchmaking Web sites are already married.
While Freeserve was focused on the needs of the U.K. market, Ahmed hopes Browzar will have global appeal, particularly anywhere users are going online on shared computers, for instance, at Internet cafes.
Browzar is very small in size, 264 kilobytes, and downloads within a few seconds. The browser is currently available for Windows and Ahmed plans versions for the Mac OS and Linux. Browzar is in beta testing at present and should enter general availability some time next month, he said.
Ahmed has formed a private company, Browzar Ltd., based in Huddersfield in the U.K. which he is fully funding, to help support and market the new browser. He's also hoping interest in Browzar will be driven by word of mouth and the Internet to achieve the kind of ubiquity enjoyed by the likes of Skype, MySpace and YouTube.
So far, Browzar the company has a handful of employees, but Ahmed is planning to release more sophisticated versions of the Web browser as well as server-side applications. He plans to take on more staff as the company's product portfolio grows.
Browzar doesn't limit law enforcement's ability to track an individual's online behavior. "We don't make people invisible on the Internet; it's a privacy tool for your own desktop PC or the PC you're using," Ahmed said. "Law enforcement can still go to ISPs if they want; we don't override anything."
Browzar includes a search engine and the startup will generate money through revenue-sharing deals with search engine providers. Initially, the relationship is with Yahoo Inc.'s Overture advertising sales subsidiary, but Ahmed plans to set up additional partnerships with other search companies over time to give users a choice of search engines.
Ahmed came up with the name "Browzar" as one that was simple to both say and remember. He said he was surprised that the domains browzar.com, browzar.net and browzar.co.uk were still available.
RFID Safeguards Pass The California Legislature
The best thing about the US passport RFID debate is how it has managed to make RFID security a visible issue. Concern over the security implications of RFID-enabled documents has now spread to the state level, where governments struggle to make identity documents secure and simple to access. California's Assembly has just passed bill S 768, a piece of legislation that sets out the security guidelines that RFID-equipped state documents must meet (it needs only the governor's signature now to become law).
The bill was initially introduced in February 2005. On its way through the legislature it attracted the notice of the EFF, which had a hand in amending the bill and is now pleased with the results.
The bill, subtitled the Identity Information Protection Act of 2006, gives guidelines for RFID documents produced until December 31, 2012, at which point the requirement will apparently be reviewed and updated. It affects all IDs issued by "a state, county, or municipal government, or subdivision or agency thereof, that use radio waves to transmit data or to enable data to be read remotely," and forces them to incorporate certain safeguards. First, the documents must implement a mutual authentication process with the card reader in order to prevent data being grabbed from nearby, unauthorized readers. Second, all data must be encrypted or otherwise rendered "unreadable and unusable by an unauthorized person" while in transit. Third, and perhaps most interesting, is the requirement that the transmission of any personally identifiable information be placed under the owner's sole control.
This means that citizens should always know when their documents are being accessed, and should be in control of that process. The bill spells out a few different ways this can happen, including a potential requirement that the the document will need to slipped through a bar code scanner before the RFID chip data would be unlocked and ready for transmission. Documents can also incorporate a switch of some kind that enables RFID transmission (and the default position of the switch must be set to "no transmission").
Some uses of ID will also require secondary identification, most likely in the form of a PIN code or human ID check (does the picture match the person?) in order to cut down on identity theft. The bill also directs the state to post signs in all locations where a reader is found and to set up a Web page listing the location of every reader in the state.
This looks like a responsible approach to RFID technology—it implemements multiple safeguards, makes the process of reading IDs transparent (as opposed to the steath monitoring of IDs), and puts consumers in control of their information. If laws like this are imitated by legislatures across the country, they would go a long way toward easing citizen concerns about RFID—unless, of course, you don't trust the government to follow its own rules.
MTV Awards Uncut, Live On The Net
MTV has managed to find entertainment in Ozzy Osbourne taking out the trash and Mariah Carey touring her house. On Thursday night, they hoped to squeeze a few more drops out of celebrity navel gazing.
On a simultaneous online broadcast, MTV offered viewers not just a peak backstage at the Video Music Awards, but real-time behind-the-scenes access.
With more than 30 cameras, MTV's Overdrive Web site boasted an "uncensored" look at performers, presenters and stars as they made their way to the stage, exited with moonmen awards or powdered their noses in makeup rooms.
The proceedings certainly caught Lil' Jon's eye.
"Zoom in on the booty!" he exclaimed when checking out the control room full of video monitors. He was disappointed with the first find: "Paris (Hilton) got a little booty! We need a bigger booty!"
At times, Overdrive offered candid, spontaneous moments, of which the regular telecast is now mostly bereft. More often, though, it was continuous, embarrassing VJ banter.
Despite numerous claims otherwise, the online broadcast wasn't technically live, but lagged about 13 seconds behind the TV show. It was, however, "uncensored," as Pharrell proved while riding in an elevator with Ludacris. When the camera was pointed out to him, he looked up at it and promptly swore.
VJ Damien, the primary host, worked out of the control room - a basement-like hole that resembled what Dick Cheney's bunker might look like if he was an MTV fan. Damien, however, spent more time bragging about the hip new MTV product than actually showing backstage action.
When MTV hosted last year's Live 8 concert, it was roundly panned for frequently cutting from the music to its VJs. The success of America Online's Web coverage of Live 8, though, in some sense, paved the way for Overdrive's VMAs online approach.
Yet it appears MTV hasn't learned its lesson: Give us stars, not VJs. Does anyone really want to hear Sway discuss his basketball prowess?
But the sights and sounds of an extremely crowded backstage area were still many, and often offered a more entertaining perspective than the actual award show.
50 Cent complained about security: "They treat me like a terrorist when I come here. They wand me 50 times," he said while Justin Timberlake danced onstage. "How many checkpoints you got for me?"
Jessica Simpson sang an impromptu bar of Kelis' "Milkshake." OK Go stretched nervously before their highly choreographed treadmill performance. We even learned that their treadmills run at 2 mph.
And there was a certain joy in seeing former DJ Cipha Sounds interview former Vice President Al Gore. Similarly, it's surprisingly fun to overhear how Andre 3000 responds to `How's it goin'?': "Can't complain, mayne."
In 1990, MTV pioneered the idea of a pre-show before the main event awards program. Is the network's live backstage coverage destined to be a new staple? Probably in some form.
But next time, get Lil' Jon to host it.
MySpace to Sell Music From Nearly 3 Million Bands
MySpace, the wildly popular online teen hangout, said on Friday it will make its first move into the digital music business by selling songs from nearly 3 million unsigned bands.
MySpace is the latest company to try to take on Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, but unlike many other start-up rivals, it already boasts 106 million users, as well as the backing of parent company News Corp.
"The goal is to be one of the biggest digital music stores out there," MySpace co-founder Chris DeWolfe told Reuters. "Everyone we've spoken to definitely wants an alternative to iTunes and the iPod. MySpace could be that alternative."
In the past year, MySpace.com has become the single most visited Internet address among U.S. Web users, according to Hitwise, with mainly teenagers and young adults using the site to socialize, share music and photographs.
Before the end of 2006, De Wolfe said MySpace will offer independent bands that have not signed with a record label a chance to sell their music on the site. MySpace says it has nearly 3 million bands showcasing their music.
Songs can be sold on the bands' MySpace pages and on fan pages, in non-copyright-protected MP3 digital file format, which works on most digital players including Apple's market-dominating iPod.
The bands will decide how much to charge per song after including MySpace's distribution fee, said Rusty Rueff, the chief executive of Snocap, which will manage the e-commerce service. Snocap provides digital licensing and copyright management services and was started by Napster founder Shawn Fanning.
Rueff said the "small" distribution fee was not yet fixed.
DeWolfe said MySpace would be "enhancing and customizing" its online music store as the service evolves, aiming to eventually offer copyright-protected songs from major record companies.
"I don't think the record companies are going to be interested in distributing music without copy protection anytime soon," said David Card, analyst at Jupiter Research.
Though DeWolfe would not give any details of discussions with record companies, an industry source close to the matter said EMI Group has had discussions with MySpace. EMI declined comment.
EMI, Vivendi's Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG own around 75 percent of mainstream popular music. Most of this music is only available on MySpace for live streaming as a promotional tool.
Digital music is the fastest-growing sector of the record industry but the market is dominated by iTunes, which has more than 70 percent of U.S. sales, according to NPD Research. iTunes is only fully compatible with the iPod.
The market has been abuzz with news of new entrants in recent weeks. Privately held SpiralFrog plans to launch a free music download service supported by advertising before the end of the year, and has reached a deal with Universal Music.
Microsoft Corp. is planning to launch an iPod rival called the Zune, which will be supported by an integrated music download store similar to iTunes.
MySpace said it is working with eBay Inc.'s PayPal for the site's online payment system.
Samsung to Launch Music Download Service
Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. on Friday said it plans to introduce a line of digital music players and a download service, under an agreement with privately held media provider MusicNet.
Terms were not disclosed.
MusicNet will power the service and provide the underlying technologies and library of music for Samsung's new subscription digital music service and online stores in Britain, Germany and France.
In addition, Samsung is planning on expanding the service throughout Europe and Asia after its initial launch phase. Customers will have access to more than 2 million licensed songs.
The service and stores are expected to launch later this year.
OpenOffice To Be 'True' Mac Application
Microsoft Office alternative, OpenOffice, will ship in a native version for OS X next month.
OpenOffice.org is a multiplatform and multilingual office suite and an open-source project. Compatible with all other major office suites, the product is free to download, use, and distribute.
Until now the software has required that users install the X11 Window System, a graphical interface that lets Unix-based applications work on Macs. The new version of the software won't require X11, and will work just like any other OS X-native application.
A huge collection of screenshots of the application running natively on a Mac are available on an OpenOffice developer website.
The release also seems likely to debut at OOoCon in Lyon, France, which runs between 11-13 September.
Snakebite - A BitTorrent Server
It's easy to download files with BitTorrent, but sharing your files over BitTorrent is somewhat complicated. You have to generate torrents for each file you want to share, run a tracker, and run a seeder. Most people don't even know what any of that means. It's much more complicated to share files using BitTorrent than with a webserver. To put your files on the web, you just drop them in the correct folder and then webserver does the rest.
Now we have Snakebite, which provides all of the power of BitTorrent with the ease of use of a webserver. Simply install snakebite, launch it, and drop files in the correct folder. They are then shared over BitTorrent with no additional effort. Additionally, snakebite automatically generates a user-customizable page with links to all of your torrents. That way you can just point people to your links page and they can download anything that you have. Even cooler is that if you enter a username and password into the snakebite config file it will automatically create an account for you on the ACTLab TV (sponsors of snakebite) redirect servers. Then you have an easy to remember link to paste to your friends, even if your IP address changes. For instance, if your username was "actlabtv" (sorry, already taken) then going to http://actlab.tv/snakebite/redirect/actlabtv will redirect you to the currently running snakebite server we have here at ACTLab TV. Check it out and download some movies.
Step 1 - Install
Currently, the only installer we have is for Debian. The best way to install it is to add the line "deb http://actlab.tv/debian binary/" to your /etc/apt/sources.list file and then do an "apt-get update" and an "apt-get install snakebite". This will also install the latest version of BitTorrent (much more up-to-date than the standard one in Debian).
We are really excited about releasing a version for Windows. However, we are primarily Linux programmers and so we need someone to help us with the py2exe compilation of snakebite for Windows. If you think you can help, please contact us. Check us out at http://actlab.tv/. We'd also like to make an OS X installers, of course.
Step 2 - Configure
You can edit your config file manually (/etc/snakebite.ini) or you can use the web interface (http://localhost:2020/config). The only thing you really need to change out of the box is to enter in your username and password for the redirect service. This can be any username and password that you want. Your account is automatically created the first time you run snakebite.
Step 3 - Run snakebite
You can launch snakebite like any Debian service: /etc/init.d/snakebite start.
Step 4 - Check out your links page
If you entered in a username and password, you should be able to look at your links page at http://actlab.tv/snakebite/redirect/username. This will actually redirect you to your IP on the machine on which you are currently running snakebite. This is registered automatically every time you run snakebite, so it will be kept up to date if you switch computers or have a dynamic IP address. You can also go to http://localhost:6060/links to view your links page.
There should be one link, to gag.jpg, a simple strangely-named work-safe test file which is just a picture of some guy chilling.
Step 5 - Make some files available for sharing
Just put the files in the snakebite directory (by default /var/snakebite/files). Wait a minute or so and then reload your links page. The new files should show up on the page and be ready for download.
Step 6 - Download some files
Clicking on any of the links on your links page should cause your browser to ask you if you want to save the file or open it in BitTorrent. Installing snakebite installs BitTorrent, so if you're browser is on the same machine as snakebite it should be installed. If you're testing from another machine, you can use the BitTorrent download link at the bottom of the links page to download BitTorrent (or just go to bittorrent.com). You can use any BitTorrent client that you like. We just link to the mainline one because our friends wrote it.
Step 7 - Customize your page
There are three customizable parts to your links page: the user picture, the CSS stylesheet, and the blurb at the bottom. These are all in the snakebite web directory (by default /var/snakebite/web). Change them to whatever you'd like. I find that customizing your user picture makes the page feel about ten times more awesome.
Step 8 - Send your link to all of your friends
Remember, the link http://actlab.tv/snakebite/redirect/username will always send you to your currently running snakebite even if your IP changes. We think this is really handy because we always forget our IP.
If you already using dyndns or something, you can use that instead, we won't be hurt.
Step 9 - Reflect
Now you're sharing files over BitTorrent. Who knew that it could be this easy? If you have more files to share, you just drop them in the directory. Everything is automatic, everything is fun! With all the time we just saved setting this up, we can spend more time finding cool files to share and making funny user pictures. It's kind of like myspace really, except it's not broken every other day. (Well, let's hope.)
Snakebite was implemented by Evan Wilson under the mentorship of Brandon Wiley as part of the Google Summer of Code program. The internship was organized through he University of Texas at Austin New Media Initiative by Sandy Stone. Snakebite is one of the services which is part of the Tristero project, a collection of reusable peer-to-peer components organized by the Foundation for Decentralization Research, a 501(c)3 non-profit promoting research into peer-to-peer system to help solve real problems. Release hosting and redirect services are provided by ACTLab TV, an independent student Internet TV station formed as a collaboration between the ACTLab/New Media Initiative and the Foundation for Decentralization Research.
We'd like to thank all of the people that kept ACTLab TV going this summer: Joseph Lopez, Evan Wilson, Sandy Stone, Michelle Atkins, and Robert Fancher.
BT Encrypted Traffic Throttler
The traffic shaping battle continues. Allot Communications announced today that their traffic management device NetEnforcer is able to detect, and throttle encrypted BitTorrent traffic.
Allot Communications states:
Previously, companies have been able to detect and manage applications based on the BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file transfer protocol. However, detecting encrypted BitTorrent has been nearly impossible.
Today, Allot is announcing that its NetEnforcer is the first broadband traffic management device to identify and help manage applications based on the encrypted BitTorrent P2P file transfer protocol.
Bittorrent traffic is consuming 40-60% of ISP’s traffic, and more and more ISPs started to block, and or throttle BitTorrent traffic for this reason.
Earlier this year, the most popular BitTorrent clients implemented RC4 encryption, to counter this bandwith throttling. The bittorrent encryption seems to work pretty well, and the topic led to a heated discussion.
NetEnforcer is a new weapon for the ISPs in the battle for bandwidth.
The developers of Azureus, Bitcomet and µTorrent have some work to do if NetEnforcer can live up to its expectations.
Non File Trading Software - Something Different
My software startup recently released a version 1.0 of Maazios, which tackles new applications using P2P. Besides free phone calls (Skype) and file trading, P2P can also be used for conducting auctions, running your own storefront, posting classified ads/yellow page ads, hosting simple message boards, and much more - for free. Freedom and free stuff are trademarks of the internet.
Maazios is a bit different and strange in what it tries to do. I would recommend before trying the software that you read some of the information on the website http://www.maazios.com or our blog - http://maazios.blogspot.com . I also wrote a paper posted on the website discussing the future of P2P http://www.maazios.com/Sequel.htm .
I understand some of you may have doubts due to the past piranha frenzy hype surrounding P2P. But after reading some of the info, I invite you to install the software. Word of caution: we noticed some early home users, who allowed firewall server access for Maazios, but did not set the portforwarding (port # 49999) on their cable/dsl router: their computers contacted our test machines but it was not possible for our test machines to connect to their computers. So please setup portforwarding because Maazios does not use supernode concept. Contact me if you have problems installing or using the software (email@example.com - no new user have emailed me so far to troubleshoot or ask questions). I can help you confirm whether your Maazios can connect to one of my test machines and vice versa. Once confirmed, you will be able to view/bid/buy items on the test machines (named "prime" or "janedoe"). I won't hold you responsible for the test purchases or feedback rating .
For those of you who are passionate P2P engineers/scientists, I like to hear some preliminary general information about your expertise and past exploits.
Add your concerns, questions, etc. to this topic as well. I will check on it at least once a day to post my response.
Janus Project PC Can Scan 300 WiFi Networks At Once
You've heard of black hat hackers and white hat hackers, but what about leather hat hackers? Meet the first: Kyle Williams. This creative genius has built the ultimate network hacking PC, the "Janus Project," which can focus its eight WiFi cards to break your standard WEP encryption in under five minutes. Beyond that, it can sniff 300 WiFi networks simultaneously, store and continuously encrypt all the data with AES 256-bit keys. In addition, the Janus Project has an instant off switch, which requires a USB key that has a 2000-bit passkey and a separate password to regain access. What's under the hood? Williams packed an Ubuntu Linux machine running on a 1.5GHz VIA C7 processor with an Acer 17-inch screen into that snazzy little rugged yellow box. Oh, and the closed case is waterproof too, in case you need to transport Janus Project on a whitewater raft to your next hacking hotspot. We don't doubt someone will.
Singapore: One Nation Under Wi-Fi
By the end of the year, it will be possible to roam almost anywhere in Singapore and get a wireless signal.
As part of its Intelligent Nation 2015 program, the island nation will be able to boast of countrywide Wi-Fi coverage in a few months, Bill Chang, executive vice president of wireless service provider SingTel, said in a recent interview.
"At the end of the year, Singapore will be one mega hot spot," he said. "They are breaking Singapore into three regions and looking at ways to maximize coverage."
The country had a pretty good head start. The official report released with the unfurling of the Intelligent Nation program pointed out that Singapore already had one public hot spot for every square kilometer at the end of last year. Communication between hot spots will be augmented by mesh networking, according to the Intelligent Nation report. Commercial WiMax--a wireless standard that allows signals to travel over longer distances than those using Wi-Fi--will begin in Singapore by the end of the year, said Chang.
The Intelligent Nation program, officially unveiled last year, seeks to make Singapore a global leader in communications technology in a decade. The country doesn't have the large domestic market, manufacturing base or low costs of places like India and China, so the idea is to focus more on industries with a large intellectual property component, similar to what South Korea and Israel are doing. The program is backed by various government subsidies and incentives.
Other initiatives in the program include digitizing public health records, bringing broadband connections into at least 90 percent of residences, recruiting multinationals to locate their call centers for Asia in the country and in general boosting Singaporean technology exports. The country hopes to add 80,000 information technology jobs through the effort. Another goal is to put computers into 100 percent of homes with school-age children.
This is all good news for SingTel, he added. The 127-year-old company (it started as a telegraph provider back in the days of British colonial rule) has emerged as one of the telecom giants of Asia. In its 2001 fiscal year, SingTel reported revenue of $3.1 billion. Approximately 81 percent of the revenue derived domestically. In fiscal 2005, revenue came to $8.3 billion and 71 percent came from overseas.
"We are Asia's largest multimarket mobile operator," Chang said. "We want to be the king of the hill in Asia rather than spread ourselves too thin."
To expand, the company cuts deals or invests in regional wireless carriers such as Indonesia's Telkomsel and India's Bharti Airtel. Through these alliances SingTel garners about 2.5 million new cellular customers a month with around 800,000 coming from neighboring Indonesia. Along with growing the cellular business, SingTel wants to expand its managed services business.
Singapore is also investing heavily in recruiting biotech companies and U.S. and European scientists to work in the country.
A Watchdog Group Warns Against AOL’s Free Software
Tom Zeller Jr.
Dealing yet another blow to AOL, a leading software watchdog group warned users away from AOL’s free client software yesterday on the ground that it displayed characteristics consistent with “badware.”
The term badware describes a wide array of downloadable applications that try to install extra components on a computer without clearly informing users of what they are or what they will do.
The group, StopBadware.org, posted an “open inquiry” into the AOL software yesterday, meaning that a dialogue has been opened with the company and that a full “badware” designation is still pending.
The report, however, stated that the AOL client software, which provides subscribers with a suite of services, also installed extra software deceptively, altered the Web browser and other computer components without notifying the user, and did not uninstall completely, among other “badware behaviors.”
Similar characteristics are often found in pernicious forms of spyware and adware, often called malware. The StopBadware organization was founded in part to assist consumers in spotting shady software. The group is jointly run by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the Oxford Internet Institute of Oxford University.
The group received several tips and complaints about the AOL software from users at its Web site, and decided to test it.
“All we’re asking is that you tell people upfront what you’re doing,” said John G. Palfrey Jr., executive director of the Berkman Center.
Andrew Weinstein, an AOL spokesman, said that many of the problems Mr. Palfrey’s group cited were already being addressed in planned upgrades of the client software, due out next month, but added that the company believed the problems to be minor, “nonsubstantive” and wholly unmalicious.
“No one has done more to protect users from malware than AOL,” Mr. Weinstein said.
Mr. Palfrey agreed that the group found nothing malicious in the AOL installation, and added that the company had already begun fixing some of the problems raised. But he also said software did not have to be malicious to violate consumer trust.
“We currently recommend that users do not install the version of AOL software that we tested,” the StopBadware.org Web site read yesterday, “unless the user is comfortable with the level of risk we identify or until the application is updated consistent with the recommendations in this report.”
Indian State to Bypass Microsoft ‘Monopoly’
In a new attack on multinational corporations, the Communist government in India’s southern state of Kerala is campaigning to eliminate Microsoft from use in public institutions, just weeks after it imposed a ban on Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
As part of a drive against “monopolistic” organizations, schools and public offices across the state are being encouraged to install free software systems instead of purchasing Microsoft’s Windows programs.
“It is well-known that Microsoft wants to have a monopoly in the field of computer technology. Naturally, being a democratic and progressive government, we want to encourage the spread of free software,” M. A. Baby, the state’s education minister, said by telephone.
Microsoft was not being banned, he said, but the government was actively encouraging Kerala’s 12,500 schools to switch to the Linux operating system, available around the world free of charge.
The news will further unsettle foreign investors in this state. Also this month, Kerala imposed a sweeping ban on the sale and production of Coke and Pepsi after an environmental watchdog based in Delhi said their soft drinks contained unhealthy levels of pesticides. Less comprehensive bans were introduced in six other states across India.
Mr. Baby said the announcement was not part of an ideological campaign against Western-made products. “We have great respect for the contribution made by the United States and its European allies in the fields of art and literature and culture,’’ he said. “At the same time we are not happy with the monopolistic and imperialistic moves, both in political and economic spheres, made by these nations.”
With its population of 32 million, Kerala is one of India’s smaller states, but Microsoft said it represented an important market. The state has a literacy rate of more than 90 percent, much higher than the national average of about 65 percent, and is known to be innovative in its promotion of computer literacy.
About 30,000 computers are already in use in schools across the state, and the Education Ministry said about 600,000 students opted to take free software training classes this year.
In a written statement, Microsoft’s public sector head in India, Rohit Kumar, said the company had tried to keep its prices low to make them accessible to schools, selling one version of Windows for between $25 and $30 per computer.
“Under the School Agreement program, Microsoft has successfully created a very competitive pricing-value model, keeping in mind the financial constraints that beleaguer most educational institutions,” Mr. Kumar said.
Financial, rather than ideological, reasons may be at the root of the state’s decision to promote free software.
The Education Ministry has an annual budget of 40 million rupees, or $1.86 million, to promote computer technology among the one million students, aged between 5 and 15, currently at school — a sum that will be stretched as Mr. Baby attempts to fulfill his ambition of making all the state’s “schoolchildren computer literate.”
Rush Testing Is Under Way for Microsoft’s New System
Microsoft rushed what may be the final test version of its Windows Vista operating system to more than a million testers on Friday, trying to meet deadlines for its long-delayed commercial release.
With pressure mounting to squeeze out final bugs, Microsoft asked testers to give Vista an urgent shakedown — even as they headed into a long holiday weekend.
Microsoft has said publicly that it is hoping to offer the program to corporate customers before the end of November and to the broader consumer market in January.
It will be the first new version of Windows in more than five years, an unusually long time between releases. But Microsoft executives have also repeatedly cautioned that until Vista meets performance and stability standards, the company will refrain from offering it commercially.
On Friday, several analysts said that the Microsoft program might end up slipping further from the November goal. Microsoft has recently been talking about an “end of the year” shipping goal for the corporate version of Vista, according to one analyst who was briefed on Thursday.
A company spokesman disputed the reports of further slippage, saying that the company was still aiming to meet the November and January goals.
Because most large corporations may wait as long as 18 months before deploying the program widely to employees, a relatively short further delay is unlikely to have a significant revenue impact on Microsoft.
“Corporate adoption will be relatively slow,” said Roger L. Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, a computer industry consulting firm. “It could be 2008 before many companies actually deploy in volume.”
Over the summer, Vista has been tested by several million developers and ordinary users and has received less than stellar marks. Complaints have ranged from repeated crashes to an irritating user interface that constantly force users to click on warning boxes.
A recent version being used by a smaller group of technical experts has been given much higher marks for stability and for using less computer memory.
Friday’s version, called Release Candidate 1, or RC1, is a crucial last trial needed to tell the company whether it is on track.
“This is supercritical for us,” said Sven Hallauer, director of release management for Windows Vista, during an internal interview that was posted Friday on a company Web site. “We have our own criteria for quality to ship, but we really need the validation from the community.”
Time is particularly tight, he said, because the company has only two or three weeks after Friday’s release to make significant changes, after which the project will grow increasingly constrained.
“Teams are working superhard right now,” he said in the interview. “Teams are working 50, 60, 70 hours a week to go ship this RC1 milestone.”
In an e-mail message sent to testers Friday, Jim Allchin, co-president of Microsoft’s platform and services division, wrote: “The operating system is in great shape with RC1, but there’s still a lot of testing to do. You’ve come through for us so far, and I’m asking you to once again put the pedal to the metal and send us feedback.”
Analysts said that while the company has made progress, there could still be land mines that could throw the effort into disarray.
“They are never out of the woods until the product is delivered,” said Al Gillen, research director for system software at the International Data Corporation, a market research firm based in Framingham, Mass.
This week, Microsoft declined to comment after pricing information appeared on Amazon.com. The prices, which ranged from $199 for a basic home version to $399 for the all-in-one Windows Vista Ultimate, will potentially increase Microsoft’s earnings next year, according to Rick Sherlund, a Goldman Sachs financial analyst.
In a research note, he also cautioned that the significant hardware requirements for the new operating system might limit the rate of adoption for the software.
Vista will have an array of new features and changes in appearance from Microsoft’s current operating system, Windows XP. Superfetch, for example, lets Vista monitor the applications most frequently used and places them in memory so that they will appear to load more quickly.
In the interview posted by Microsoft, Mr. Hallauer said Vista would have fewer dreaded “blue screens of death,” in which the operating system freezes and leaves the user with a blue display screen. Instead, Vista will automatically recover from such freezes and start over, without forcing the user to restart the system manually.
P2P Gets Legit
The new Ascap: Audionautes
When Aziz Ridouan was growing up in a low-income housing project in the Loire Valley, he spent so much time on his computer that his family thought he didn't have any friends. In fact, he had tons of them – online. Now the 18-year-old high school student heads the Association des Audionautes, an organization of 6,000 Web junkies that has made peer-to-peer file-sharing an issue in France's upcoming presidential election. Under a plan that would compensate artists through a surcharge on Internet service provider fees, the group aims to make France the first country to legalize file-sharing. Think of it as Ascap for the P2P era.
Ascap, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, is the US organization that collects royalties and pays songwriters for broadcasts, webcasts, and live performances. Ridouan's system would work much the same way: ISPs would charge a few extra euros per month and grant users a license for unlimited P2P downloading. "It's not revolutionary at all," maintains Jean-Baptiste Soufron, the Audionautes' legal counsel. Indeed, the idea has its roots in the 1847 case of Ernest Bourget, a songwriter who refused to pay his tab at a Paris café because its orchestra was playing his works without permission. The court ruled that Bourget had to pay for his drinks, but the café had to pay for his music. This prompted the establishment in 1850 of Sacem, the world's first agency to collect performance royalties. The idea spread to the US, and Ascap was founded in 1914.
The major music companies equate Ridouan's proposal with legitimizing piracy, but they don't mention they collect more than two-thirds of every dollar from online and CD sales. Under such a licensing scheme, they could get just one-fourth.
Ridouan has won many over to his cause – including one of France's two leading presidential candidates – by appealing to the French love of culture as something beyond mere product. "Our parents certainly had the right to trade cassettes and to record movies on VHS," Ridouan wrote in a recent op-ed article in the establishment daily Le Monde. "Must we be considered digital sub-citizens?"
Nikki Hemming Q&A
In their grim and relentless determination to gain total control of online distribution, the entertainment cartels are scarfing up companies which own independent p2p applications, and closing down web pages deemed dangerous to the corporate cause.
BearShare was the most recent p2p application to be assimilated and just before that, Kazaa owner Sharman Networks 'settled' for a reported $115 million.
However, where BearShare didn't want to go, Sharman had for years been trying one thing after another to become one with the Big Four which, until the 'settlement,' had treated it and associate companies such as Altnet and Brilliant Digital Entertainment with extreme contempt, suing Sharman because its Kazaa allegedly facilitated file sharing, a heinous crime in the Big Four's book.
Kazaa, despised as the application almost solely responsible for launching spyware on the Net, and also infamously linked to the bulk of RIAA sue 'em all file sharing cases, was on its death bed, and Altnet had been desperately trying, and consistently failing, to convince the corporate world that its 'lame duck' DRM product was The One.
But days after the 'settlement' was announced, Big Four organization the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industries) was hosting Altnet blurb written by BDE boss Kevin Bermeister.
And the deal with the Big Four also means Kazaa will be resuscitated.
Now Kazaa boss Nikki Hemming who, says Billboard, " rarely grants interviews, preferring to challenge herself with shark diving," has granted an interview with Billboard.
Among other things, "Business is not about individuals, and it’d be pretty foolish of me to take personally things that have happened in the past," she says.
Below are a few excerpts:
Billboard: How soon do you anticipate before Sharman starts announcing its first licensing deals and in which territory?
Hemming: Very soon, actually. It’s our goal to secure licenses on a worldwide basis so we can take advantage of the fact there is a worldwide audience for us.
Billboard: What is your game plan for the Kazaa software?
Hemming: The first thing is to be at the forefront of technology. We have a lot of advantages from creating a flourishing digital content destination. We have an incredibly powerful brand and a lot of technical expertise. We have a unique understanding of the viral power that comes from P2P, and that’s going to be a facet in a very successful future selling content digitally. I’m confident we’re going to be leading the market in the future, cooperatively with the industry.
Billboard: When Napster went legit, it lost users. What have you got in place to stop that happening to Kazaa?
Hemming: That boils down to understanding the consumer market so that we deliver a product that hits the sweet spots of what they are expecting from a P2P application from which you can choose licensed content. We haven’t been sitting on our hands while we’ve been negotiating a settlement. We’ve been preparing for our future, and we’ve geared up for a strong entrance into the market.
Billboard: You’re going to negotiate with people who have had you followed, raided your house and office, and called you a gangster. Have you got a problem with that?
Hemming: Business is not about individuals, and it’d be pretty foolish of me to take personally things that have happened in the past. In terms of negotiations, we’ve concluded the first big negotiation already. Mutually agreeing to settle required a round-the-table agreement to go forward together. We’re not just willing to work together - we’re excited about the prospect.
Billboard: At the same time, the people you’re negotiating with would have some suspicions about Sharman’s setup. Do you agree you’ll have to clear the air with your future partners?
Hemming: The air is already cleared. We went out of our way to deal with any and all concerns on this subject. The Australian record industry’s most senior lawyer Richard Cobden didn’t have one question left on the subject. Anyone who says otherwise is simply making mischief.
Billboard: What role will Kevin Bermeister and his two companies play in the new Kazaa?
Hemming: We have a joint-venture agreement with Altnet, where Kevin is CEO, which has been in place for a period of time. We have technology that we are developing; he has technology that he is developing. Altnet is a great company to collaborate with: they’re very innovative and we’re happy to work with them.
Billboard: When Sharman first bought Kazaa, you envisaged use of a subscription model. Is that still a viable proposition?
Hemming: I think you’re referring to IPUF [Intellectual Property Use Fee]. That’s a model that certainly shouldn’t be dismissed. It requires that all parties in the integration chain participate, and therefore it’s a slightly longer term proposition. But Sharman intends to participate in the market with more than one model to ensure we’re capturing consumer demand across the board.
Billboard: Why have consumers not embraced subscription models?
Hemming: The IPUF model was before its time, and there were not enough players involved in the model in order to deliver it seamlessly. So when a consumer is purchasing they don’t see the back-end, they just get the experience they are looking for. Partially there are technical boundaries, and partly there’s not been enough innovation in subscription models at the moment.
Hemming is currently suing p2pnet for alleged libel in p2pnet's home province of British Columbia in Canada. Sharman, too, was suing us, but dropped out a while back.
"You’re going to negotiate with people who have had you followed, raided your house and office, and called you a gangster," said Billboard. "Have you got a problem with that?"
She responded, "Business is not about individuals, and it'd be pretty foolish of me to take personally things that have happened in the past."
Does that mean she'll soon apply the same keen reasoning skills to p2pnet, which neither raided her house nor called her a gangster?
BellSouth to Eliminate DSL Service Fee
Under pressure from the Federal Communications Commission, BellSouth Corp. said Friday that it will stop collecting a $2.97 per month regulatory fee from its high-speed Internet customers.
The company made the announcement after learning the FCC had begun investigating whether the carrier and Verizon Communications Inc. were violating federal truth-in-billing laws.
BellSouth said it is "immediately eliminating" the fee that was "designed to recover a number of costs remaining from previous regulatory obligations and other network expenses."
The company said most of BellSouth's DSL Internet service customers will see the change on their bills within a week.
Both companies have been accused of continuing to collect regulatory fees that the government is no longer assessing or substituting another fee of a similar amount.
The FCC confirmed Friday that "letters of inquiry" had been mailed to the two carriers seeking information about their billing practices.
At issue is the Universal Service Fund, a fee the government imposes on carriers to subsidize communications services in rural and low-income areas. Carriers pass the charge along to customers and usually itemize it on their bills.
FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said Friday that the agency prefers to let competitive forces govern the markets with minimum government regulation but is "willing and quick to act to protect consumers."
The FCC decided last year that carriers would no longer be required to collect the fee for high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) service starting Aug. 14, 2006.
Verizon sent DSL customers an e-mail stating that on Aug. 26, it would charge a new monthly "supplier surcharge" of $1.20 or $2.70, depending on the connection speed. The fee will affect about half of Verizon's 5.7 million DSL subscribers, according to the company.
Prior to Aug. 14, the company was collecting $1.25 or $2.83 for from DSL customers depending on the connection speed.
Until Friday's announcement, BellSouth had continued to collect $2.97 per month from all 3.2 million of its DSL customers.
Verizon said the new fee is needed to recover costs related to offering the high-speed Internet service. Company spokesman Brian Blevins said the new surcharge has nothing to do with any regulatory fees.
"We would have no comment on it other than to say obviously we will explain to them (the FCC) whatever it is they want to have explained," Blevins said.
Verizon to Drop 'Supplier Surcharge'
Verizon Communications Inc. said Wednesday that it was dropping a "supplier surcharge" on its high-speed Internet service for retail customers.
The decision comes less than a week after the Federal Communications Commission mailed a letter to the company asking that it explain the reasoning for the charge.
The FCC also had sent a letter to BellSouth Corp., which said Friday that it will stop charging a $2.97 per month fee on a similar service.
"We have listened to our customers and are eliminating this charge in response to their concerns," Bob Ingalls, chief marketing officer for Verizon, said in a statement.
The dispute followed a decision by the government to stop assessing a Universal Service Fund charge on companies that offer digital subscriber line (DSL) Internet service.
The companies had passed the charge, which subsidizes services in rural and low-income areas, on to their customers.
Consumer groups have accused the companies of simply replacing the dropped fee with a new charge rather than passing along savings to their customers.
Verizon dropped the fee on Aug. 14, but informed customers that it would be charging the new "supplier surcharge" on Aug. 26. The company told customers in an e-mail that the monthly fee would be $1.20 or $2.70, depending on their connection speed. The fee affected about half of Verizon's 5.7 million DSL subscribers, according to the company.
Customers who have already paid the charge will receive credit, the company said.
Prior to Aug. 14, Verizon was collecting $1.25 or $2.83 from DSL customers, depending on the connection speed.
Verizon said Wednesday the fee was "imposed by its affiliated operating telephone companies to cover costs associated with providing DSL service to customers who do not also subscribe to Verizon's traditional phone service."
On Friday, BellSouth said it was immediately eliminating the fee and that it was "designed to recover a number of costs remaining from previous regulatory obligations and other network expenses."
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin released a statement supporting the companies' action.
"I am pleased that both Verizon and BellSouth have eliminated fees recently imposed on their DSL customers," he said. "Consumers should receive the benefits of the commission's action last summer to remove regulations imposed on DSL service."
10m Households In Britain Have Broadband Internet Access
Britain's love affair with the internet has reached new heights, according to research revealing that almost three-quarters of the nation's net users are on high-speed broadband connections.
A study by the Office for National Statistics shows that almost 10m households in Britain use broadband to access the net, outstripping the number of old-fashioned dial-up connections by three to one.
Though the overall number of homes with an internet connection rose by only 0.6m last year, the dominance of broadband is increasing rapidly. Three years ago 8.5% of households in Britain had high-speed internet access, but by June this year the figure had ballooned to 40%.
The news will come as music to the ears of media and technology companies searching for new ways to profit from their internet-based services. Faster connections could help the spread of online TV and are integral to plans by companies including BT and BSkyB.
But despite the overall growth shown by the ONS figures, the picture across the country remains mixed. Internet penetration is at its highest in London, East Anglia and the south-east of England, where an average of 65% of homes are online. But Scotland remains the only area of Britain where more than half of homes still have no internet access.
Recent changes have been driven by the launch of "free" broadband services. Companies have started offering internet access as an incentive for signing up to telephone or TV contracts, something that has appealed to consumers looking for a reason to upgrade
Carphone Warehouse's TalkTalk business started the ball rolling in the spring, bundling a "free" broadband service into its residential telephony package. It is already thought to have gained 400,000 subscribers.
Since then Carphone Warehouse has been joined on the bandwagon by Sky and mobile phone companies are also moving into internet access. Orange is offering "free" broadband to high-spending customers while Virgin Mobile last week announced it would bundle internet access from Virgin.net with its pay monthly tariffs. O2 recently bought Be Broadband as it prepares its home broadband offer and Vodafone is looking for a fixed-line network partner to provide internet access to its customers.
Industry watchers said yesterday that the figures for internet penetration would be even higher if the ONS had taken into account the growth of the mobile internet industry. "We've seen a huge increase in the number of people using their mobile phones to access the internet in the last year, but this surge is not recognised by the official figures," said a spokesman for T-Mobile. "Technology has made huge advances in the last year and phones with internet access are readily available."
Lithium-ion Technology In The Spotlight
Lithium-ion batteries are ideal for mobile electronics because they are lightweight, extremely energy-dense, and have a unique chemistry allowing them to be recharged.
Their foundation is the lithium ion. Lightweight, highly reactive and tiny, the metal can generate high voltage while taking up little space, making it ideal for use in energy-sucking portable electronics. Its chemical makeup also makes it easy to recharge.
But the batteries are also delicate. Manufacturing contamination caused the overheating that prompted the recall of nearly 6 million Sony Corp.-made batteries in the past two weeks from Apple Computer Inc. and Dell Inc. laptops.
The chemical reaction that occurs in lithium-ion batteries is complicated. But the basic reaction involves coupling a lithium-carbon compound (which serves as the negative electrode) with cobalt oxide (which serves as the positive electrode), according to K.M. Abraham, a lithium battery consultant and visiting chemistry research professor at Northeastern University in Boston.
Normally this reaction is controlled and safe. But if uncontrolled, the lithium can stoke a huge reaction, he said.
Because consumers are demanding more of ever-smaller devices, engineers are boosting the power generated from lithium-ion batteries while grappling with managing the extreme energy contained in the small package.
Recharging is made easy because the ions can be easily inserted and extracted without major structural changes in the electrode material, Abraham said.
But there are dangers. If the battery isn't made well, energy can be released very quickly in an uncontrolled fashion.
Abraham said the biggest threat is the possible penetration of the thin barrier made of synthetic material - about as thick as a sheet of paper - that separates the two electrodes and prevents the quick release of energy.
If a particle - such as a speck of metal - breaches the protective membrane during manufacturing, the particles worm through the opening and collide with the electrode, causing the device to short-circuit.
"There is still room to grow in terms of the amount of energy we can squeeze form a lithium-ion battery," he said. "The technology can be improved, but we're so much in a hurry to come out with these consumer products, shortcomings can occur in the finer details of the battery construction."
Toshiba to Create Microsoft Music Gadget
Microsoft Corp.'s answer to Apple's iPod will be built by Toshiba Corp., the software company confirmed Friday.
The gadget, which will be one of the products marketed under Microsoft's "Zune" brand, will let people share songs, photos, music playlists and other content with others via a wireless connection. One feature will allow a person to act as a DJ, sending music to up to four other devices.
Toshiba's role was disclosed Thursday when the electronics company filed papers with the Federal Communications Commission. Kyrsa Dixon, a spokeswoman for one of Microsoft's public relations firms, confirmed Friday that Toshiba will make the device.
Photos included in the filing show a white rectangular device with a large screen and several buttons. The minimalist feel closely resembles Apple Computer Inc.'s wildly popular iPod.
Dixon said the report is legitimate. She declined to comment further, saying only that the company is expected to release more details in the coming weeks.
A Toshiba spokesman did not immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.
Microsoft said in July that it planned to launch a series of music and entertainment products that are expected to compete with Apple's iPod player and iTunes music service, with the first expected to be available this year.
The company has released few details about the undertaking, although it recently warned financial analysts that it will require millions of dollars in investment and will not pay off immediately.
Microsoft also has said that Zune is key to the software maker's overall entertainment ambitions and will capitalize on - and tie into - the company's other entertainment offerings. These include the Xbox video game console, Microsoft's television technology and the media-focused version of the Windows operating system that lets people do things like record and watch live television.
Still, Microsoft is expected to face tough competition from the iPod and iTunes juggernaut. Other hardware manufacturers, including Creative Technology Ltd. and Samsung Electronics Co., offer portable media players using Microsoft's software, although they've had little success against Apple.
Microsoft's Zune Aims to be Social Butterfly
Microsoft's forthcoming Zune player is shooting to be the life of the party, allowing users to create mobile social networks and stream music to nearby friends or strangers, according to a government regulatory filing.
Zune owners can act as their own DJ, sending streaming music content to up to four other devices, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission . With the device's wireless networking abilities turned on, people can send and receive photos, as well as "promotional copies of songs, albums and playlists," according to the filing, made public Thursday.
Hardware maker Toshiba, which is manufacturing the Zune device, was the company that filed the FCC documents. The documents refer to the device and service alternately as Zune and by two code names, Argo and Pyxis.
A Microsoft representative confirmed that the filing is legitimate and that Toshiba will manufacture the Zune device, but declined to offer additional details or comment on the information in the FCC filing.
"More details about Zune will be announced in the coming weeks," the representative said in an e-mail.
Microsoft confirmed last month that it was developing a device and music service to rival Apple Computer's iTunes/iPod combination. The company had said Zune would have built-in Wi-Fi abilities, but had not yet said what it planned to allow users to do with their wireless connection.
The software maker said it will have one model available in time for this year's holiday season. It has also said it expects the Zune effort to take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
As regards the DJ feature, people have the option of turning the feature on or off, as well as of choosing whether to stream to any nearby Zune user or only to people on their friends list. If the DJ setting is on, people don't need to do anything else to allow others to listen to their music. The music sent is the same as what the DJ is listening to; if they stop listening, the stream is interrupted.
According to the draft user manual, the device supports both the 802.11b and 802.11g wireless standards. It also has a 30GB hard drive, a 3-inch screen and an FM tuner, along with a USB 2.0 connection to synchronize with a PC. "Sync your music, movies and pictures," reads one page from the manual.
Microsoft has said that Zune will come preloaded with videos from record label EMI, but has not discussed the details of any music or movie service it plans to offer.
Regulatory filings, such as the one Toshiba made, are required before devices with wireless connections can be sold to the public.
Toshiba has long used Microsoft's software in its products, dating back to its first laptop in 1985. The company has also made portable media players and handheld computers using the slimmed-down Windows CE operating system.
Last year, the two companies inked a patent cross-licensing pact and also spoke at the time of working together on "new breakthrough innovations that will bring about new scenarios for years to come."
Laptop Slides Into Bed in Love Triangle
LARRY SMITH knows he is treading a fine marital line. Mr. Smith, 37, is the editor of Smith, an online magazine he founded, and he loves to work in bed at all hours — midafternoon, 2 a.m. if insomnia strikes, then again in the morning.
“Sitting there in bed half awake with a cup of coffee is extremely pleasant,” he said.
Yet Mr. Smith is all too aware of his wife’s mounting disapproval of his routine and suspects that a laptop-in-bed ban could be imminent.
As electronic devices get smaller, people tote their technology around the house more than ever. And as the number of home wireless networks also grows, laptops — along with Treos, BlackBerries and other messaging devices — are migrating into the bedroom and onto the bed. The marital bed has survived his-and-her book lights and the sushi-laden bed tray. Can it also survive computers that tether their owners to the office or make the bed the workplace itself?
Piper Kerman, Mr. Smith’s wife, tries to be understanding about her husband’s need to work constantly, but her tolerance has limits, especially when she thinks about the significance of their bed, their first joint purchase when they started out as a couple 10 years ago.
“Not to get too squishy about it, but you kind of want the bed to be a sacred space,” she said. “The bed is a restorative place in my mind. It’s not a place to work.”
Relationship experts and those who study technology in people’s lives hold divergent views on the topic.
“The most comfortable spot in the world is in bed, and that’s where people start their day and end their day,” said Ken Anderson, an anthropologist and a senior researcher at Intel Research in Beaverton, Ore.
Mr. Anderson has been studying people’s routines since 2002 in an attempt to understand the role technology plays in their daily lives. In a paper published with three colleagues, he found more technology ending up in the bedroom. One woman Mr. Anderson kept track of for months had trouble sleeping unless her husband was at her side. So he joined her in bed with his laptop as he continued his work.
Mr. Anderson viewed this in a positive light, as the husband’s effort to be considerate of his wife’s needs. “The whole idea of being co-present is very important these days,” he said.
Dr. Enoch Choi, 36, and his wife, Tania, 33, who have been married 10 years, both take laptops to bed to write their blogs. “I suppose I started the trend,’’ said Dr. Choi, a physician in Palo Alto, Calif. “But now my wife is just as much the nighty-night PowerBook key-banger, blogging away for her friends.”
Ms. Choi, a computer interface designer, said she used to be offended by gadgets in the bedroom. “I don’t even have a TV in the room,” she said. But now, “it’s one of those weird modalities of intimacy I’m just going to have to reconcile myself to.’’
She added:“Honestly, if both of us are in there with the computer it’s a good night. But if one of us wants to be left alone, we’re in different places with our technology. If we want to be connected, then we both bring our technology into the bedroom.”
This may be the face of the happy marriage, circa 2006, when according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 30 percent of Americans own laptops.
But as some marital experts point out, in relationships under strain a laptop computer in bed can be used to avoid intimacy, not to foster it.
“There are many people who want a partner close, but not too close,” said David Schnarch, the director of the Marriage and Family Health Center, in Evergreen, Colo., and the author of “Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships” (W. W. Norton 1997). “So snuggling up next to them with the computer is for many of us the ideal situation for a feeling of contact but an assurance there won’t be eye-to-eye intimacy.”
Dr. Schnarch continued: “The problem is not computers. Two generations ago people did it with the television. It’s just the latest appliance that galvanizes our attention.”
A study by sociologists at Duke and the University of Arizona that gained wide attention this summer found that too much computer use can isolate one further from a shrinking circle of confidants.
Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociologist at Duke and an author of the study, said preliminary results from a survey conducted in 2004 (but not used in the published study) suggest that those who use the Internet for extended periods are less likely than others to mention their spouse as their first confidant.
Most couples experts said the act of taking an electronic device to bed did not by itself threaten a marriage. “It depends on the relationship,” said Marcy Levine, a marriage and family therapist in San Francisco. “If the relationship is a solid one, where the partners are loving and connected, then bringing a laptop to bed is a way of continuing to be with their partner even if they need to do something else.”
When a couple lie in bed together, both focused on the computer, Ms. Levine said, they can be said to be engaging in an intimate act.
Such is the case with Teresa and David Sholes of Bennington, Vt., who have been married for 15 years.
Ms. Sholes, a medical equipment consultant in Bennington, savors the convenience and coziness of her bed, and her laptop is something of a fixture there, not just at bedtime.
“Sometimes in the winter, if I want to rest in the middle of the day, I’ll bring my laptop and my phone and cuddle into bed,” she said.“I can be anywhere and connected to anything. It feels very powerful.”
Ms. Sholes uses her laptop in bed for more than work. She searches for recipes, plans birthday parties for her 5-year-old daughter, balances her checkbook and listens to audio books.
She also lies in bed and exchanges instant messages with her husband, who is elsewhere in the house on his own computer. “We discuss things, you might even say argue,” she said. “The IM will often eliminate a lot of the tone, and we can discuss things a little bit better. “
But the Sholeses also use the computer in bed to watch movies and to look at photographs Ms. Sholes has taken. And they sit together and have instant messaging conversations with friends.
In addition, the laptop has helped their sex life. “There have been a couple of times where we have digital pornography and can play it right there in bed,” Ms. Sholes said. “At this stage in our marriage I feel like we should bring our laptop into bed more often.”
Laptop computers aren’t the only pieces of electronica to work their way into bedrooms.
Candace Falk, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., has grown so accustomed to a constant third presence in her marriage — her husband’s handheld Treo — that its arrival in their bed seemed inevitable.
“The big laptop thing in bed was a more obvious statement of having his mind elsewhere,” Ms. Falk said. “This small object can be fondled under the covers.”
Bitsie, a nickname Ms. Falk borrowed from another couple whose computer is a constant presence, not only lights up. It also vibrates. “The bells and whistles are supposedly there to remind him about everything he has to do, kind of like a vibrating 24/7 secretary,” Ms. Falk said.
She said she did not like having Bitsie in the bedroom. “I find her most annoying in her tininess and under the covers,” she said. “The buzz that goes off in the middle of the night to remind him of something he has to do is positively annoying.
But because Ms. Falk and her husband, who is a hard-working public-interest lawyer, respect each other’s work, they make room for it. “It’s a kind of ménage à trois that I didn’t choose, but there it is, every day and night,” she said.
Mr. Smith, who lives in New York, might soon find his bedtime computer use relegated to business trips. And Ms. Kerman, his wife, clearly wouldn’t mind.
“There is something about that tap-tap-tap that makes me a little crazy,” she said.
No Suit Required
Terry McBride has a maverick approach to music management: Take care of the fans and the bands, and the business will take care of itself.
Terry McBride has an idea. Another idea. A good – no, a great idea. McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, is sitting in his Vancouver, British Columbia, office with his local marketing staff discussing strategy for the release of a new album by Barenaked Ladies. The marketing departments in three other cities are conferenced in. The conversation ping-pongs from Nascar promotions to placement in a Sims videogame. McBride is on a roll.
"This one's a real wingdinger," he says, leaning into the speakerphone so New York, Denver, and Los Angeles won't miss a word. "Let's give away the ProTools files on MySpace. Vocals, guitars, drums, and bass. We'll let the fans make their own mixes." The room falls quiet. Musicians usually record their instruments and vocals on separate tracks; the producer and mixer combine those tracks into a finished product. McBride wants to make the individual files available so that amateur DJs can use them like Lego bricks to create something all their own. The record industry likes control. McBride is proposing unfettered chaos.
A voice from LA breaks the silence: "For the single, you mean, right?" McBride's features screw up in concentration, then quickly expand into a grin. "What I'm proposing," he says, "is that we make all 29 songs available as ProTools files. In two weeks." The Internet marketers in Vancouver look worried. "But," he adds, "we'll get the files from the single up on MySpace by Monday." Libby White, a member of the department, shoots McBride a skeptical look. Can they make it? McBride asks. White sighs. "We'll make it," she says.
To all appearances, Nettwerk is just a midsize music management company with an indie record label on the side. Many of the artists on its client roster – which includes Avril Lavigne, Dido, Sarah McLachlan, and Stereophonics – are mainstream acts. But McBride, the company's cofounder and creative force, is quietly carrying out a plan to reinvent the music industry, including legalizing file-sharing and giving artists control over their own intellectual property.
Which puts Barenaked Ladies, the goofy folk-pop jam band from Canada known to their fans as BNL, at the vanguard of this stealth revolution. Three years ago, on McBride's advice, BNL left the Warner Music Group imprint Reprise Records to create its own label, Desperation Records. The upcoming album will be the first major test of that decision. It will also reveal whether Terry McBride is a crazy genius or just crazy.
The music industry is suffering. The major record labels – which rely on CDs for most of their revenue – are in decline. CD sales in the US have dropped more than 20 percent from a peak of $13.4 billion in 2000. But don't be fooled: The market for music is thriving. With the rise of peer-to-peer networks, the iPod, and other digital technologies – plus a 100 percent jump in concert ticket sales since 1999 – the world is awash in music. The industry now has more sources of revenue – ringtones, concert tickets, license agreements with TV shows and videogames – than ever before.
Record labels have always been the center of gravity in the industry – the locus of power, ideas, and money. Labels discovered the talent, pushed the songs, and got the product on the air and into stores. The goal: move records, and later, CDs. "The labels were never in the business of selling music," says David Kusek, vice president of Boston's Berklee College of Music and coauthor of The Future of Music. "They were in the business of selling plastic discs."
Musicians generally make very little from the sale of their records. The costs of production, marketing, and promotion are charged against sales, and even if they go multiplatinum and cover those costs, their cut of any extra revenue is usually less than 10 percent. On top of this, the labels typically retain the copyrights to the recordings, which allows them to profit from the musicians' catalogs indefinitely. "It's as if you received a loan for a house," says Ed Robertson, one of BNL's lead vocalists. "But when you finish paying off that loan, the label says thank you and keeps the house."
And, funny thing, this model isn't just bad for artists, it's increasingly bad for business. Because the label makes most of its profits from recorded music, much of the money spent marketing an artist benefits third parties like concert promoters and music publishing companies. In addition, copyrights to a piece of music are usually divided between a label and a publisher, which collect royalties every time the work is recorded, performed, or played publicly. "What other business splits up its key assets and sells them to separate businesses that wind up in conflict with each other?" asks Duncan Reid, a venture capitalist who now helps run UK-based Ingenious Music.
Industry insiders like McBride think the old model is as antiquated as the 8-track. "The future of the business isn't selling records," McBride says. "It's in selling music, in every form imaginable." And by establishing a series of so-called artist-run labels, McBride is creating the next-gen music company. "We become the management company, the publishing company, and the record company rolled into one," McBride says. "We take our 20 percent cut of the whole pie."
More important, he says, the new model frees him and his artists from the overgrown bureaucracy of the music industry, and that means more money for everyone. He can book tours, sell ringtones, peddle songs to advertising agencies and, yes, give away free downloads without any of the complex, multiparty negotiations that once gummed up the works. "It used to take months to sell a frickin' ringtone to Bell Canada," McBride says. "With BNL, one phone call gets the job done."
McBride's success will depend on what he calls "collapsed copyright." Nettwerk will represent artists like BNL, but the bands will record under their own labels and retain ownership of all their intellectual property, an anomaly in the industry. The bands, in turn, can expect to earn considerably more money – say, $5 to $6 from the sale of each CD instead of the standard dollar or two.
Nettwerk is also poised to take advantage of the significant changes in music marketing wrought by social networking sites like MySpace. Radio, and the labels that provide tunes for radio playlists, are no longer the gatekeepers to stardom. Some of the most promising new bands, like Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire, owe their success to online word of mouth and grassroots marketing. Nettwerk has tapped this phenomenon to the fullest, offering prizes to people who sell a certain number of CDs to friends and using software to keep close tabs on its extensive network of volunteer marketers, formerly known as fans.Music Reborn
By becoming a one-stop shop, Nettwerk fronts some of the money and does most of the work once performed by the various players associated with a big, complicated act like BNL. (The band itself pays the studio costs of its recordings.) And however admirable and logical it might be to keep the intellectual property in the hands of an artist, McBride also runs a risk: Acts could use Nettwerk to reach stardom only to then abandon the company for a different management firm.
It's a risk McBride is willing to take. Twelve of the nearly 40 acts on Nettwerk's roster now have their own labels, and McBride says that within six years nearly all his artists will have shed their major-label partners. "The old system kept us from imagining what a music product could be," McBride says. "Now we can really start to have fun."
McBride's growing empire started small. "There were these great bands in Vancouver that didn't have managers," says McBride, who founded Nettwerk Productions with an old friend, Mark Jowett, in 1984. By the late '80s, their fledgling music management company was beginning to deal in major-league talent, including a classically trained up-and-comer named Sarah McLachlan. Her first release, Touch, eventually went gold in Canada, and her second, Solace, went platinum up north. Still, she wasn't able to penetrate the crowded American marketplace. McBride and Jowett were convinced that her third album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, could become a breakout success. The product of more than a year's collaboration with producer Pierre Marchand, it showed considerably more maturity and musical sophistication than her previous work. But after the first single failed to light up radio stations, Arista Records stopped pushing the album.
"That's how we discovered we could do a lot of things major labels do. Sarah had made this incredible album, and we felt that if we were just persistent, it would find an audience," McBride says. And, eventually, it did. Traditionally, a management company limits itself to things like booking tours and helping artists negotiate deals with their labels. Marketing is left to the labels. But for McLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, McBride had his employees call radio stations and record stores to push the disc. Slowly, it inched into popular consciousness. "It sold a quiet million," McBride says with a chuckle. "We went from city to city and spent a year working the album." The grassroots effort built a following for McLachlan, and four years later, her next major album, Surfacing, debuted at number two on the Billboard charts.
During this period – the early to mid-'90s – the record industry was soaring. Aging boomers were replacing vinyl with CDs, and grunge ignited a rock renaissance. CD sales were growing at double-digit rates, and label execs developed an addiction to easy money: manufactured hits by pop acts like 'NSync or compilations that could be sold in volume at big-box retailers like Wal-Mart.
This was a high-water mark for corporate rock. Recent consolidation and acquisitions meant that almost all labels were owned by one of five companies: BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. A new emphasis on quarterly results discouraged label executives from nurturing new bands and focusing on long-term development.
Meanwhile, Barenaked Ladies was running into the same problems Sarah McLachlan had faced. The band was a sensation in Canada in the early '90s when an independently released cassette tape went gold – a first. The Ladies were quickly courted by all the major labels, and they signed with Reprise in 1992. But their second album failed to meet Reprise's sales expectations, and on the eve of its next release in 1995, the band found itself facing an artistic and financial crisis.
"Radio just didn't believe in us, and Reprise wasn't doing anything to convert them," recalls Steven Page, the band's cherubic lead vocalist. "They signed us at the height of the grunge era, and we were playing this folk-pop music that they just didn't know what to do with," he says. "We would have been dropped after the second album, except we had this success in Canada." In late summer 1995, BNL asked McBride to become its manager. The band had finished recording its third album, Born on a Pirate Ship, and all the members were burned out, says McBride. He told them to take some time off, then give him 18 months of their lives.
Album sales in both countries were lackluster. But following the template he created for McLachlan, McBride chose a single, "The Old Apartment," and sent the band out on tour, pushing the single one city at a time. "Terry worked it like crazy, basically doing the label's job," Page says.
McBride micromarketed the album, slowly expanding BNL's fan base in the US to set the stage for its next LP, a live album called Rock Spectacle. "The first two albums didn't get any airplay in the US, but they had great singles," McBride says. Rock Spectacle became a minor hit, priming American audiences for BNL's breakout 1998 album, Stunt. "Stunt blew the industry away. It debuted at number three on the charts, and no one even had us on the radar screen," Page says. "It was all because of the work Terry put in."
Stunt went on to sell more than 5 million copies, a major success. But the band's subsequent albums fell far short of that mark, and by 2003, when BNL's contract with Reprise expired, the members were unsure of their next move. In December of that year, McBride traveled down to Portland, Oregon, to discuss the band's future. "We were at this Vietnamese restaurant, and I think they were totally unprepared for what I said," McBride recalls. "I told them not to sign a new contract, that they could do better on their own." It was a big step, and while the band's first effort on its own label, a Christmas album called Barenaked for the Holidays, has sold a respectable 400,000 units, the real test of McBride's model is still to come.
The freedom from major-label constraints that BNL now enjoys was at first "nerve-racking," Page says. The feeling passed. For the new album, Barenaked Ladies Are Me (read: army), McBride and BNL have reinvented the release campaign, starting with the music itself. The band wrote 29 new songs, which will be packaged and sold in a variety of formats, including a CD, four different digital versions, a 14-track collection for Starbucks in Canada, and a second full-length disc, Barenaked Ladies Are Men, due early next year.Music Reborn
And that's just the beginning. Between ringtones, acoustic versions, and concert recordings, those 29 songs have been multiplied into more than 200 "assets" – song versions – that can be used individually or in conjunction with others to create a product. "Because the copyrights are in one place [in BNL's hands], we can be really creative," McBride says. Hardcore fans can buy 45 of those assets on a USB drive; others can download the special Sims versions (recorded in Simlish, no less). "For decades, people in music have used the number of albums sold as a measuring stick for success," McBride says. "We're trying to get people to see beyond that. It's about revenue from music, however you make it – selling concert tickets, licensing to TV, or selling packed USB drives."
Eventually McBride would like to pioneer another source of revenue with even greater potential: P2P networks. Earlier this year, he sparked a music industry uproar when he announced he would pay the legal defense for a Texas man being sued for piracy by the Recording Industry Association of America. "The lawsuits are hurting my bands," he says. "If you could monetize the peer-to-peer networks, everyone would make more money."
But even such a radical step is just one facet of McBride's larger strategy. In May, President Bush signed into law a revision of the tax code that will make it easier to sell intellectual property as a stock, with profits being taxed at the same lower rate as other capital gains. "Once we have access to all the intellectual property, we're going to offer shares in individual artists and take in equity investments," McBride says. "Eventually, a major band could be its own public company." The key, he adds, sounding like an overzealous investment banker, is that the value of a band would be measured like a stock and would receive capitalization in expectation of future earnings. "At that point, even a band selling 100,000 units a year becomes profitable," McBride says.
McBride isn't the only industry executive who sees music and musicians from the perspective of an investment banker. In 2005, Ingenious Media launched Ingenious Music, which operates more like a VC firm than a label, running several equity funds that invest in bands, managers, and small labels. "We're not interested in making a record company; we're making a music company," says Duncan Reid, the firm's commercial director. Like Nettwerk, Ingenious wants a slice of every pie, not just the increasingly small morsels from CD sales.
On this side of the Atlantic, Dimensional Associates has a similar long-term goal. The firm owns eMusic, the second-largest digital music service after iTunes, and The Orchard, a digital distributor of independent music. Dimensional has invested in a variety of music industry services, including a mobile recording studio and a publishing company. And like Nettwerk, the company is starting to back artists who will hold the rights to their own work. Even the major labels are beginning to experiment. Warner's all-digital label, Cordless Recordings, for example, gives bands their masters in exchange for a cut of concert and merchandising revenues.
McBride has every reason to be confident that his experiment with Barenaked Ladies will pay handsomely. The band has a loyal following that has warmly embraced its new independence. If Barenaked Ladies Are Me can bring in even modest returns, both Nettwerk and the band will be in the black. The real test will come as Nettwerk tries to launch bands like the Format, an indie act with a small following and no real presence in the popular consciousness. "If we can break bands using this model," McBride says, "the industry will never be the same."
The Infinite Album
Release a traditional 13-track CD? No thanks, says Beck. Instead, he serves up a collection of songs, remixes, and videos that fans can piece together any way they want.
Answer the following: You heard Beck's last album, Guero, (a) online as an unfinished mix that was leaked in late 2004; (b) as the official 2005 Interscope CD release, which contained most of the tracks on the leaked version plus a few new songs; (c) as the deluxe CD/DVD edition, complete with seven bonus tracks, a surround sound mix, and interactive video art to accompany every song; (d) in one of the many unauthorized fan mashups floating around the Net; (e) not as Guero at all, but as Guerolito, a commercially released companion piece featuring remixes by Diplo, Adrock, and Boards of Canada.
Whatever your answer – and, yes, you can choose more than one – Guero represented a new way to think about the album. Because there was no album, no static list of 13 songs. Instead, there was a project that drew on Beck's Latin leanings and the Dust Brothers' eclectic production to create a portrait of the artist circa 2003-2005 (a Guero Cycle, if you will). Such is the future of the album, as envisioned by Beck; it's something to be heard, seen, and reconstituted by artist and audience alike. As the Beatles did with Sgt. Pepper's almost four decades ago, Beck has expanded the range and potential of the form.
The repercussions here aren't just creative. The very logistics and economics of the music industry are at stake, as one album becomes a long shelf of songs and products, each carrying its own release date, distribution path, and price tag. In the end, fans can create their own versions of the album, stringing fave songs and remixes into one ideal playlist.
Now Beck is doing it again. The multiple versions, the audience interactions, the multimedia experiments – they're all back in Guero's yet-to-be-titled follow-up, due out this fall. Wired caught up with the iconic singer-songwriter in Los Angeles to discuss mashups, YouTube, and the future of the album.
Guero, with all its various versions and releases, seems to have heralded the end of the album as we know it.
There are so many dimensions to what a record can be these days. Artists can and should approach making an album as an opportunity to do a series of releases – one that's visual, one that has alternate versions, and one that's something the listener can participate in or arrange and change. It's time for the album to embrace the technology.
Isn't all that repackaging just about making ways to sell more product?
I guess that's part of it, but for me it's more about giving the music legs, giving people new ways to experience it. There are so many ways to integrate technology into music; I can't wait to see how the opportunities end up being put to use.
What sort of things do you envision?
Even though the mashup sensibility has become something of a cliché, I'd love to put out an album that you could edit and mix and layer directly in iTunes. We did a remix project on a Web site a few years back where we put up the tracks to a song and let people make their own versions. There was something really inspiring about the variety and quality of the music that people gave back. In an ideal world, I'd find a way to let people truly interact with the records I put out – not just remix the songs, but maybe play them like a videogame.
Any other ideas?
Well, cover art and all the paraphernalia that come with albums have always been really important to me. I'm one of those people who needs a visual crutch for music. But that stuff is being devalued, since so many people listen on their computers. I've been toying with the idea of replacing album art with moving graphics that would pop up on your computer when you played songs from the album.
Do you ever get nostalgic for the albums of old, the LP and all that?
Sure. I'm something of a traditionalist, so I have a soft spot for a record with just a standard side A and side B. But there's simply more room for information with digital media, and it would be ridiculous not to take advantage of that. It's sort of like the difference between a wire recording and a piano roll and a cassette tape. They're different formats, and they inspire different approaches.
So what are you doing with these ideas on the new album?
I haven't figured it all out yet, but one cool thing is that the CD cover is going to be designed so no two copies are the same. The artwork is going to be customizable. The album will come with all these little stickers – each copy of the disc will have a different set – and you'll use them to create your own version of the cover. The idea is to provide something that calls for interactivity and that's totally different from what you'll have if you just download the album.
Anything else in the works?
Well, we're going to put out a version of the record that people will be able to watch on sites like YouTube.
Whoa. What's that all about?
We filmed a series of very low-budget, homemade videos for all the songs on the record. We got a bunch of cameras and a $100 video mixer off eBay and shot 15 silly, impromptu videos against a greenscreen. We even invited our friends and family into the studio to be a part of the action – my mother-in-law did the lighting, and my son and nieces and nephews are running around acting crazy. It was just a complete free-for-all, done on the fly. We're putting all the videos together right now with the idea of having a visual version of the record that we'll put on the Internet. I'm totally curious to see how the videos will add to the experience of listening to the album. Or maybe they'll actually detract from the experience. That would be funny.
So you don't mind people sharing videos on the Web?
Not at all. The whole idea behind making videos is to get them out there for people to see. They don't really play videos on TV anymore, so I have no problem with people putting them online.
Do you personally come up with these projects?
Yeah, most of them. I have a pretty strong art background, and getting to create all these extensions of the music is how I bring my appreciation for that world into what I do.
Does your label, Interscope, ever balk at your ideas?
Actually they've been great about everything. The labels are trying to figure all this stuff out just like everyone else, and I feel fortunate that I've been able to do so much experimenting to see what works. I've also been lucky because I signed a unique record deal back when I started that allowed me to try out a lot of weird things and even record different types of albums for different labels. I think that set me up nicely for where things are currently headed.Music Reborn
So do you think the music industry is moving toward a model where artists will license individual projects to labels instead of signing long-term contracts?
I'd be surprised if artists didn't do a lot more of that type of stuff in the next few years. I'm excited about being able to take totally different approaches to creating and distributing different types of projects. I like the idea that I can quickly record a few acoustic songs that I've been working on and immediately put them online for people to download. And then I can record songs with a producer in a big studio for a big label and put them out as a CD, a DVD, and a remix project and let people experience that music in very different ways.
Couldn't you do all that stuff on your own? Do you really even need a label anymore?
It's hard to say what will happen with all that. Record labels definitely aren't going to go away, but it'll be really interesting to see how their role changes. Some of the guys in my band recently started a side band just for fun. At their first show, kind of as a joke, they told everyone to check out their MySpace page – which they hadn't even set up yet. As soon as they got offstage they signed up for an account and put some live recordings online. A couple of days later, they checked back, and a bunch of people had visited and heard their music. Obviously, this was all without a label – without even an album out. It kind of blew my mind.
Are you surprised by how quickly things are changing?
A little. It used to take 5 to 10 years for something new to get through and really make an impact, but that's changing. I had been playing music for a long time when "Loser" became a hit on the radio. It seemed to most people like my success came overnight, but it took years of building and playing tiny shows. We didn't play the 1,000-seat venues for years. Now I see groups come out who have a few cool MP3s online, and they're selling out theaters across the country.
The new iTunes: eMusic
The CD is taking a spot next to the cassette tape as a cultural relic. The future of music retailing is, like so much else, an online proposition. And while the hulking Wal-Mart of the music marketplace is still iTunes, the hipper Target is eMusic. The site has lined up 4,000 independent labels and outsells competitors Rhapsody, MSN Music, and Napster combined, making it the second-biggest digital music vendor.
The upstart got there by offering what the others don’t: deep catalogs from indie darlings like Cat Power, Danger Doom, and Sufjan Stevens, at much lower prices (about 25 cents a song if you use all your downloads under the subscription plan) and without the hassles of digital rights management. Discover a terrific new band, buy a track, and you can easily email the song to friends. All tracks are sold in MP3 format, which can be played on almost any portable player – not just the iPod – and they can be copied and shared as many times as buyers want. That’s in stark contrast to the restrictions watermarked on Apple’s downloads (such is the price of playing with the major labels). Sure, eMusic still lags far behind iTunes: It sells just 4.5 million tracks a month compared to Apple’s estimated 60 million. But it’s sure to be big in Europe – countries like France and Denmark are notoriously anti-DRM – when it launches there later this month.
Apple Sends a NastyGram
We just got an email from Apple regarding a YouTube video reposted on CrunchGear:
Re: Apple Computer Copyrighted Material Illegally Disseminated by Crunchgear.com
To Whom It May Concern:
We represent Apple Computer, Inc. (”Apple”). It has come to our attention that your website, at http://crunchgear.com/2006/08/28/how...-os-x-leopard/, is posting a video demonstrating certain features of Apple’s new operating system, Mac OS X 10.5 (aka “Leopard”). While we appreciate your interest in Leopard, it has not yet been released to the public. The software demonstrated in the video must therefore be running on a pre-release developer’s build of OS X 10.5. All such builds have been distributed to developers under strict terms of confidentiality that prohibit the dissemination of screenshots or other displays of the software. The builds are also copyrighted by Apple, and U.S. copyright law explicitly prohibits unauthorized displays of copyrighted works.
Apple therefore requests that you remove this video from your website and take steps to prevent any further distribution of videos or screenshots of Apple software without Apple’s authorization. If you are represented by counsel, please provide me with the identity of that counsel.
Thank you in advance for your cooperation,
/s/ Ian Ramage
O’Melveny & Myers LLP
Embarcadero Center West
275 Battery Street, Suite 2600
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 984-xxxx (direct)
(415) 984-xxxx (fax)
DMCA Certification: I hereby state, under penalty of perjury, that I have a good faith belief that your activities are not authorized by Apple, that the information in this notification is accurate, and that I am authorized to act on behalf of Apple in this regard.
This message and any attached documents contain information from the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP that may be confidential and/or privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, you may not read, copy, distribute, or use this information. If you have received this transmission in error, please notify the sender immediately by reply e-mail and then delete this message.
Ian, it a YouTube video. That’s at www.youtube.com. Get them to take it down if it’s a violation of your IP and it will stop showing at crunchgear and the other sites.
And Ian, when you are done, please take the time to send your client, Apple, a similar email for posting basically the same material on their own site.
Man Gets 3 Years For 'Botnet' Attack
A man was sentenced to three years in prison Friday for launching a computer attack that hit tens of thousands of computers, including some belonging to the Department of Defense, a Seattle hospital and a California school district.
Christopher Maxwell, 21, of Vacaville, Calif., was also sentenced to three years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty in May to federal charges of conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer and conspiracy to commit computer fraud.
U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman said the crime showed "incredible self-centeredness" with little regard for the impact on others. She said the prison time was needed as "deterrence for all those youth out there who are squirreled away in their basements hacking."
Defense attorney Steve Bauer had sought probation and community service, noting his client had no prior criminal record and saying Maxwell did not intend his robot virus program to spread as far as it did.
Maxwell and two juvenile co-conspirators were accused of using "botnet" attacks - programs that let hackers infect and control a computer network - to install unwanted Internet advertising software, a job that earned them about $100,000.
Three victims testified at Maxwell's sentencing: a representative of Seattle's Northwest Hospital, damaged in February 2005; a representative of the U.S. Defense Department, which reported damage to hundreds of computers worldwide in 2004 and 2005; and a former system administrator for the Colton Unified School District in California, where more than 1,000 computers were damaged over several months in 2005.
Man Sentenced Over Computer Attacks
A 19-year-old Michigan man who ran an Internet business selling retro sports jerseys was sentenced Friday to 30 months in federal prison for recruiting a New Jersey teen to carry out computer attacks against competitors.
Jason Salah Arabo was also ordered to pay $504,495 to his victims, which included operators of competing Web sites as well as an Internet hosting company.
Arabo, of Southfield, Mich., pleaded guilty in April to a federal conspiracy charge.
He acknowledged that in 2004 he ran Web-based companies http://www.customleader.com and http://www.jerseydomain.com . Arabo said he used online instant message conversations to recruit Jasmine Singh of Edison, N.J., who was 16 at the time, to electronically bombard other throwback jersey Web sites - including New Jersey-based http://www.jersey-joe.com .
Throwback jerseys are styled after classic team sports attire and are sought after by fans and the fashion-conscious.
In July of 2004, Singh carried out attacks aimed at computer servers supporting the competitor Web sites, disabling the sites.
Prosecutors said Arabo gave Singh some historical sports jerseys and pricey sneakers as payment.
Singh's attacks stopped six months later when FBI agents and state police investigators searched his home and seized his computer.
Singh pleaded guilty in August 2005 as an adult in state Superior Court to two counts of computer theft. He was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $35,000 in restitution.
Man Gets 6 Years in Software Piracy Case
A Florida man who made millions of dollars selling illegal copies of computer programs was sentenced Friday to six years in prison in one of the nation's largest software piracy cases.
Danny Ferrer, of Lakeland, Fla., pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy and copyright infringement charges after an FBI investigation of his Web site, BuysUSA.com. Ferrer also was ordered to pay more than $4.1 million in restitution to software makers Adobe Systems Inc., Autodesk, and Macromedia Inc.
Ferrer bought numerous airplanes, a fighter-jet simulator, a Lamborghini, a Hummer and other luxury vehicles with his profits. U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered the items be sold to pay restitution in the case.
"You extended your hand into the pockets of these people," Ellis said before sentencing Ferrer. "If severe penalties were not attached, people would line up from here to Los Angeles to do what you've done."
Ferrer told the judge he started selling the pirated software to pay for a feeding tube for his sick wife, but "there was probably a certain amount of greed."
Prosecutors said they are working with the FBI to investigate the providers of fake software serial numbers on the Internet, which allowed Ferrer to sell the programs.
The software looked legitimate to consumers, but was deeply discounted, said John Wolfe, of Business Software Alliance, an industry group.
Ferrer's Web site began selling software in 2002 and was shut down by the FBI in October 2005, authorities said.
Prosecutors said the illegal sales cost the software companies as much as $20 million, but industry officials say the amount could be higher.
"This is the ultimate case," prosecutor Jay V. Prabhu said in court. "This is a case where someone made a lot of money."
Barney the Dinosaur Sued After Legal Threats
Barney, the plush purple saurian, likes to sing about love, hugs and kisses.
But the dinosaur's lawyers have taken precisely the opposite view when threatening Web sites that display less-than-flattering images of the plump T-Rex--a legal tactic that finally led to a lawsuit on Wednesday from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The suit, filed in federal district court in New York, argues that trademark claims by Barney's owners have threatened "free expression rights" by trying to rid the Internet of Barney parodies and negative depictions. The trademark is owned by Lyons Partnership.
EFF and the Akin Gump law firm are representing Stuart Frankel, who maintains the "Source of All Evil" site with a rendering of a vaguely Satanic cartoon tyrannosaur. Frankel writes: "The Barney Creature is a voracious, bottomless pit. All who oppose it with ridicule must be destroyed."
Matthew Carlin, an associate at the New York firm of Gibney Anthony and Flaherty, sent at least four threatening e-mail messages to Frankel starting in February 2002. Each demands the removal of the Barney pages and threatens immediate legal action unless the pages are deleted.
Carlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
This is hardly the first time that Barney's attorneys have tried to stamp out criticism of the rotund children's show character.
Last year, Carlin threatened Baltimore-area programmer Rob Carlson whose Web site features a photograph of a Barney toy suspended from the ceiling.
Barney's lawyers once sued the creator of a sports mascot that, as part of its performance, assaulted and generally did violence to a Barney look-alike.
But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1999 that the performance was a parody and not forbidden by trademark law. "Even if young children--like the 2-year-old who had such a traumatic reaction to the down-trodden Barney--are in attendance, we would expect them to be supervised by parents who could explain the nature of the parody," the court decided.
Internet Archive Settles Suit Against Wayback Machine
The Internet Archive is off the hook in a lawsuit accusing it of negligence for allowing old Web pages to be viewed using the Wayback Machine, which archives pages unless Web site owners specifically ask that they be excluded from the database.
The case involves two patient-advocate groups in the Philadelphia area with similar names--Healthcare Advocates of Philadelphia and Healthcare Advocate, which the former sued for trademark infringement.
Lawyers for the defendant used the Wayback Machine to get access to old Web pages of the plaintiff. The plaintiff then sued both the defendant's law firm, Harding Earley Follmer & Frailey, and the Internet Archive, saying the nonprofit had archived pages that it should not have.
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle told CNET News.com on Thursday that the problem was due to a "temporary bug" in the Wayback Machine that allowed the pages that should have been hidden to be accessed.
"This is really a lawsuit between two parties and we got sort of dragged into it and I'm glad we're now out of it," he said.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Meanwhile, the plaintiff's lawsuit against the law firm for allegedly violating copyright law by accessing the old documents is pending.
Big Video Game Producer Receives More Subpoenas
Take-Two Interactive Software, the embattled video game publisher, said yesterday that it had received additional grand jury subpoenas from the Manhattan district attorney’s office seeking information about its financial activities.
The company also said it planned to delay its fiscal third-quarter earnings report while it dealt with an internal investigation into its practices in granting stock options. Last month, Take-Two said that the Securities and Exchange Commission had opened an investigation into its option grants dating back to 1997.
Take-Two, which is best known for the Grand Theft Auto series, did not say when it planned to report earnings for its third quarter, which ended July 31. It would ordinarily publish them roughly six weeks after the close of the quarter.
In a conference call with analysts, Take-Two said revenue for the quarter would be around $240 million, in line with forecasts. But the company said analysts’ estimates for profit were “too high.”
A consensus of industry analysts had projected that Take-Two would lose 21 cents a share in the quarter. Take-Two executives declined to specify how much it expected its results to fall below forecasts.
Take-Two made its announcement after the close of the stock market. In after-hours trading, the company’s stock fell 8.2 percent, to $11.20.
Company executives said the disappointing returns were caused by a transition to a new generation of video game consoles, including the PlayStation 3, which is scheduled for release in November. That transition, which has slowed the sale of video games as consumers await the new hardware, has hurt all of the major game publishers.
Still, industry analysts said the latest troubles for Take-Two underscored that it had its own issues.
“The outstanding story for them is about lack of credibility and trust,” said Mike Hickey, an analyst with Janco Partners, who has a buy rating on Take-Two stock. “This doesn’t make that go away.”
Mr. Hickey and other analysts said the impact of the latest bad news might not be too great because it came during the lull gripping the industry. Had the company projected disappointing profit for next year or 2008 — when many investors in video game stocks are counting on an industry recovery — it would have been more significant.
In late June, Take-Two disclosed that it had received subpoenas from the Manhattan district attorney seeking information about its business practices dating back to 2001. Take-Two has already been the subject of investigations by the S.E.C. and the Federal Trade Commission.
The latest subpoenas request documents about the company’s S.E.C. filings, stock options and other compensation, certain employees and the board, Take-Two said. It said it had not been advised that the company or its executives were the subjects of an investigation by the district attorney.
Madden Video Game Posts Record Sales
Electronic Arts Inc. said Thursday that sales of its latest "Madden" football video game grossed more than $100 million in its first week, the biggest launch in the franchise's 17-year history and the latest sign of an improving outlook for the industry.
EA, the world's largest video game publisher, said consumers snapped up more than 2 million copies of "Madden NFL 07" in its opening week, up 12 percent from last year's game launch.
The Madden game is the flagship franchise for the Redwood City-based game maker, with new versions each year ranking consistently as best sellers. To date, more than 53 million copies of the game have been sold.
While a handful of other game titles have had more successful openings - Microsoft Corp. said its Halo 2 game reached $125 million in sales within the first 24 hours in 2004 - robust interest in the Madden game is a welcome development in a year where game makers are struggling amid a video game console transition period.
Along with other game makers, EA's sales have suffered as consumers have delayed purchases until the expected release later this year of next-generation consoles, namely Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Co.'s Wii.
An industry turnaround isn't expected until next year, and EA officials predicted during its quarterly earnings report on Aug. 1 that video game sales for 2006 across the industry would be flat to down 5 percent.
Still, the success of the latest Madden game illustrates how lucrative the video game industry has become. Its opening-week gross sales rivals some of this year's biggest movie box office draws: "The Da Vinci Code" movie, for instance, drew $102 million in its first week, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.
Learning to Love a Cable Guy
When workers from AT&T and Verizon visit homes to install their new television services, they come with blue hospital booties that they slip over their shoes before going inside.
The sight of burly installers in dainty slip-ons might induce snickers. But the booties are just one of the many ways in which phone and cable companies are trying to reverse their reputations for shoddy service and win over customers who have a growing number of alternatives.
For years, service was an afterthought for these companies because customers had little choice but to get their phone and cable services from what were effectively monopolies. The litany of complaints is well known: long waits for repair visits, unresponsive call centers, high-priced and inflexible service plans. On customer satisfaction surveys, phone and cable companies often rank even below the airlines.
But service has improved slowly as satellite providers, upstart phone carriers and cellphone companies have provided attractive alternatives. And now that cable and phone companies are starting to sell similar bundles of phone, broadband Internet and television products — known in the industry as a triple play — they risk losing subscribers forever if they do not keep them happy.
“When you think of the triple-play customer at $100 to $120 and $140, there’s certainly a lot more at stake,” said Ian Olgeirson, an analyst at Kagan Research, who calculated that the country’s largest cable companies increased spending on services by 48 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period in 2005. “There is this threat that someone could come in with a full bundle to take the customer away.”
That is what happened with one Verizon customer in New Jersey. In July, Joe Bender-Zanoni, a patent lawyer who lives in Little Falls, got fed up when Verizon took months to fix his phone line, which he said went down during heavy rainstorms. After repeated calls to the company and the state public utility commission, Mr. Bender-Zanoni signed up for phone service from Cablevision, which already provided his television and broadband.
“Sheer anger led me to Cablevision,” he said. “Once I got aggravated with the phone company, I looked at their triple play. They actually answer their phones.”
In the world of competing triple plays, though, Mr. Bender-Zanoni said he would consider returning to Verizon if it started selling television along with phones and broadband lines, in his area. “If I don’t like Cablevision, when Verizon gets all wired up, the person with the best deal will be the one who gets all the services.”
A Verizon spokesman, Eric Rabe, said the company addressed Mr. Bender-Zanoni’s complaints before he left for Cablevision, which, Mr. Rabe said, had been aggressively discounting its phone service to win customers.
The growing competition is prompting changes in both the cable and phone industries. Verizon technicians who normally work outdoors splicing cables and the like are being trained to work on PC’s so when they install high-speed data lines, they can fix associated problems on customers’ computers, like viruses.
Verizon has developed a special knife that uses pressurized air to slice through lawns so fiber optic lines can be buried. The tool cuts through grass, but does not break sprinkler pipes and gas lines. Verizon also goes to great lengths to repair lawns where cables are buried. In Virginia, where the company has installed 4,141 miles of fiber optic cable so far, it has bought 283,147 pounds of grass seed.
Comcast is combating a major customer peeve: being transferred around when seeking service on the phone. The company has centralized its billing so operators, who receive about 200 million calls a year, can answer questions about all products. Comcast says operators now spend 8 minutes helping a customer with an installation, down from 12 minutes previously.
Comcast and other cable providers are bolstering their call centers because they now sell so many products, including digital video recorders, video on demand and phone service.
At Time Warner Cable’s call center in Flushing, Queens, 550 operators handle about 770,000 calls a month in five languages, and another 230,000 calls are answered by voice prompts, said Missy Mans, the head of operations there. The company has increased the number of operators at the center by 15 percent this year and plans a similar increase next year.
With 1.5 million customers in the New York City area, the calls run the gamut, from queries about equipment to people asking for directions to the nearest payment center. The average call is five and a half minutes, and agents handle several dozen calls a shift.
“There’s huge financial savings if we cut the average call to five minutes, but not if we don’t solve the problem,” said Glenn A. Britt, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable. “We don’t want to just push them off the phone.”
The cable industry’s service calls have also gotten an upgrade. Helver Gregory, a Time Warner Cable technician in Queens recognized his customer’s tight schedule recently as he took 15 minutes to install a digital video recorder, adjust the television and demonstrate how the new machine worked. Then he gathered his boxes, checked the carpet for scraps and left.
“Right now, my goal is to go to a house and give the best customer service so customers don’t think about changing companies,” Mr. Gregory said.
Cable and phone companies still get low marks from consumers for service, according to the widely watched American Customer Satisfaction Index compiled at the University of Michigan. The cable and satellite industries, which the survey lumps together, got a score of 63 on a scale of 1 to 100 this year. That is below traditional phone companies at 70, airlines with 65 and fast-food restaurants at 77.
Customers still say they think that satellite television companies provide better customer service, but cable companies have narrowed the gap for three years running, according to J. D. Power & Associates. The addition of phone service is partly behind the improvement, the survey showed.
“The cable guys are playing the high-touch game on the telephone side,” Frank Perazzini, a director at J. D. Power, said. “They’ve been attentive to customer needs and it shows up in the customer service satisfaction ranking.”
The surveys suggest that customer perceptions of the quality of service are partly based on whether they think they are getting a good deal. This bodes well for the Bells as they enter the television business with products that are cheaper and, in some ways, more advanced than comparable cable products. They have also coddled customers with dedicated help lines, free wireless Internet routers and other goodies that have helped them grab up to 15 percent of the markets they have entered.
When the Bells began selling broadband in the form of digital subscriber lines in the late 1990’s, they sometimes advertised in places where service was still unavailable, giving potential customers a reason to call their cable provider. It took several years for the Bells to catch up, partly aided by heavy discounts.
Selling television service is even more complicated and involves many more variables, including set-top boxes that technicians typically must install. Customers are also less forgiving of problems with television service than they are with broadband lines, and that can lead to more complaints and higher service costs.
Cable and phone companies do not disclose how much they spend on customer service. But keeping customers happy is not cheap. Companies often find it hard to quantify how service contributes to the bottom line. So executives walk a fine line between spending on services with uncertain results and trimming budgets when times get tough, hoping customer complaints do not rise.
To keep costs down and speed response times, companies like Time Warner have been using e-mail and instant messaging to answer questions, with mixed success. Cable companies ignore 17 percent of the e-mail messages they receive, according to Terry Golesworthy, the president of the Customer Respect Group, which rates companies on their responsiveness.
“Their e-mails have gotten more helpful, but they’ve gotten slower,” he said.
Comcast’s efforts to improve its reputation for service suffered in June, when a customer in Washington videotaped a visiting repairman who fell asleep on his couch while waiting on hold with the company’s repair office. The customer put the video online where it drew thousands of viewers and was cited in television and newspaper reports.
Comcast fired the repairman and sent a vice president to help fix the customer’s Internet connection. But the incident seemed to tap into lingering widespread disdain for “the cable guy,” a sentiment that cable companies, as well as phone companies, continue to fight.
“There’s no question that cable has a legacy, and that it’s a legacy that takes time to overcome,” said Dave Watson, the executive vice president for operations at Comcast’s cable division. “We recognize that and we know we have to do better.”
Iran Exhibits Anti-Jewish Art
The title of the show is “Holocaust International Cartoon Contest,” or “Holocust,” as the show’s organizers spell the word in promotional material. But the content has little to do with the events of World War II and Nazi Germany.
There is instead a drawing of a Jew with a very large nose, a nose so large it obscures his entire head. Across his chest is the word Holocaust. Another drawing shows a vampire wearing a big Star of David drinking the blood of Palestinians. A third shows Ariel Sharon dressed in a Nazi uniform, emblazoned not with swastikas but with the Star of David.
The cartoons are among more than 200 on display in the Palestinian Contemporary Art Museum in central Tehran in a show that opened this month and is to run until the middle of September.
The exhibition is intended to expose what some here see as Western hypocrisy for invoking freedom of expression regarding the publication of cartoons that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad while condemning President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran for questioning the Holocaust.
The cartoons of Muhammad, first published in September 2005 in a Danish newspaper, were widely condemned by Muslims as blasphemous. They prompted riots in many countries, which left some people dead and several European embassies burned by demonstrators.
The cartoons in the exhibit draw on images both ancient and contemporary, from the fictional “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” to Israeli tanks running over Palestinian children. Each picture is carefully matted and placed in a soft wood frame, hung with great care and illuminated by gentle lighting.
“It is not that we are against a specific religion,” said the show’s curator, Seyed Massoud Shojaei, making a distinction that visitors to the show are certain to question. “We are against repression by the Israelis.”
In February, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri said it would challenge Western concepts of freedom of expression by exploring one of the West’s taboos and challenging accounts of the Holocaust in the contest. Mr. Shojaei said more than 1,000 pictures from 61 countries had been submitted, proving that “there is a new Holocaust in Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The provocative theme may attract the attention of the West. But it has gone little noticed here. Over a three-day period the gallery was virtually empty. A few visitors stopped by, mostly art students who said they had visited to examine artistic techniques. Many were happy to take away a free poster: a photograph showing three military helmets piled up, two with swastikas on the crown, a third with the Star of David.
“I came here to study the quality of the work,” said Hamid Derikvand, 27, who said he was an art student at the university across the street from the gallery.
What did he think of the message? “I am not interested in politics,” he said.
Technically this is not a government show. The cash prizes that will be awarded to the winners — including a $12,000 top prize — will not come from the government, Mr. Shojaei said. But the theme of the show fit well with the leadership’s efforts to define itself as confrontational with the West and as a leader in challenging Israel’s existence. At the height of the worldwide anger over the Muhammad cartoons there were two protests in Tehran, both organized by government officials.
But while people here say they sympathize with Palestinians and Lebanese and are angry at Israel and the United States, there did not seem to be a rush to see the show.
“Look, these cartoons are the reflections of U.S. and Israelis’ deeds, but wouldn’t it have been better if they were put on display in the U.S. or even in Israel?” said Ali Eezadi, 70, a retired industrial engineer who visited the gallery Thursday afternoon.
“If this were the case,” he said, “certainly there would be a rationale for it. But having this kind of exhibition in Iran does not draw much attention. I mean, these things are said, written and expressed in lots of ways that makes people apathetic.”
At first, Mr. Shojaei was eager to show visitors around. He was proud to point to his own drawing, a rabid dog with a Star of David on its side and the word Holocaust around its collar.
He said there were three reasons for holding the show. The first is that in the West it is all right to insult religion but impermissible to question the Holocaust, he said.
The second is to ask why Palestinians must pay the price for the atrocities of the Holocaust — which he, unlike his president, did not question. And the third is to draw attention to what he called the creation of a new Holocaust against Muslims, primarily Palestinians.
“We have been accused of being advocates for neo-Nazis,” he said, speaking in Persian through an interpreter. “This is not true.”
The show took up three floors of the gallery, and Mr. Shojaei was on the third floor, surrounded by images that at most used the Holocaust as a subtext: a dove chained to a Star of David. President Bush seated at a desk swatting doves. A Jew, or Israeli, asleep with three Arab heads mounted to the wall above his bed.
“We are not saying the Holocaust is a myth,” he said. “We are saying that by this excuse Israelis are repressing other people.”
But Mr. Shojaei was not interested in answering questions or being challenged on his statements. “You will need to make an appointment for an interview,” he said abruptly, and left quickly through the front door after an attempt to engage him.
Cartoons from other countries were on display as well: China, India, Brazil, Syria, Jordan, Pakistan. An Israeli soldier, holding a gasoline can that said Holocaust on the side, pouring the fuel into a military tank. A razor blade in the ground, like the wall Israel is building along the West Bank, with the word Holocaust along the side. Two firefighters, each with a Star of David on his chest, using Palestinian blood to extinguish the word Holocaust, which was ablaze.
Mr. Shojaei said none of the images were intended as anti-Jewish, only anti-Zionist and anti-Israeli — and of course, anti-American and anti-British. As evidence, he said Iranians lived peacefully with this country’s Jews.
But Morris Motamed, the one Jewish member of Iran’s Parliament, said he had not gone to the show, because “it was in line with anti-Semitism and aimed at insulting Jews.”
He added, “I felt if I went, I would get insulted and get hurt.”
The Mystery of the Missing Novel
This summer, Harper’s Magazine has been serializing a novel for the first time in 50 years. A plot-driven satire about a manipulative doll-company millionairess who buys and renovates much of a small college town in upstate New York, John Robert Lennon’s “Happyland” lends itself to publication in installments. But why it’s appearing in Harper’s — and not in book form — is one of the more intriguing publishing stories of the season.
The novel was originally under contract to W.W. Norton, but the publisher and author parted ways at the 11th hour, Lennon says, after Norton got cold feet about potential legal trouble. In outline, but not detail, the novel’s protagonist, Happy Masters, is strikingly similar to a real woman: Pleasant Rowland, the founder of the American Girl line of dolls, who has been financing the renovation of properties owned by her alma mater, Wells College, in Aurora, N.Y., in the Finger Lakes region. Since 2001, Rowland has converted two 19th-century houses into inns and opened three restaurants in the heart of the lakeside town, stirring up contention: some residents have been resistant to her zealous and unsolicited attention, others have welcomed the spruce-up. In Lennon’s zany, entertaining novel, the megalomaniacal Happy Masters goes even further, strong-arming the town mayor and the beleaguered president of the local all-female college, buying up businesses and even hiring someone to drop bricks off the roof of the college library, injuring two students, to prove she needs to build another.
Novels are frequently based on real people, but it’s extremely rare for a publisher to drop one because of libel concerns. “I’ve never heard of a novel being pulled for fear of defamation claims,” said Paul Aiken, the executive director of the Authors Guild. He said a novelist could be sued if “the character is clearly based on a real person and the person is identifiable and people would believe that it’s factual.” But it’s difficult to prove libel in fiction, especially if the character in question is modeled on someone who could be considered a public figure, for whom the standards of defamation are higher. (For example, no libel lawsuits were filed over “The Devil Wears Prada,” Lauren Weisberger’s best-selling roman à clef about the Vogue editor Anna Wintour.) It’s also rare for a non-public figure to win a case involving defamation in fiction. In 2003, for instance, a court dismissed a suit filed against Random House and Joe Klein by a woman who claimed she might be identifiable in “Primary Colors,” Klein’s 1996 novel inspired by Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign.
As for “Happyland,” Lennon insisted that all the characters, including Happy Masters, are entirely fictional, though he added that “there’s no question it is inspired by the basic outline of some real events.” Lennon, who is 36 and lives in Ithaca, N.Y., said he became interested in Pleasant Rowland’s interventions in Aurora after he taught creative writing at Wells College for a semester in 2000. “The town was cute and dilapidated,” he said in a phone interview. “She was very aggressive in seeking to buy up property. Some got mad, others were willingly selling. Some friends said, ‘Oh, you should write a novel about this.’ I usually fly solo. I like making stuff up. But the basic concept seemed really appealing to me, making up my own people enmeshed in a similar situation.”
Norton declined to specify why it dropped “Happyland.” But Lennon said the editing process had been going smoothly, and that legal questions emerged only after he submitted the final of multiple drafts. Since signing a contract with the publisher in June 2004, Lennon had been working with Robert Weil, a veteran editor known for line-editing as aggressively as he tries to drum up attention for his authors. “I’d worked with Bob before on ‘Mailman’” — Lennon’s well-received 2003 novel, also published by Norton — “and we had a really good editorial relationship,” he said. It was Weil, Lennon said, who suggested he cut a lot of subordinate characters and bring Happy Masters to the fore. “He wanted there to be more drama and a stronger narrative through line,” Lennon said. “I’d send them pages, he’d send them back for more tweaking. The whole issue of legal questions never came up.” (Weil declined to comment.)
When Lennon handed in the final draft in mid-January 2005, “I wasn’t in touch with my editor anymore, I was in touch with a lawyer,” he said. “They were asking me to remove any reference to dolls or a doll company. I basically refused.” According to Lisa Bankoff, Lennon’s literary agent at International Creative Management, the publisher was worried that Pleasant Rowland “would possibly be litigious.” A spokeswoman for Norton, Louise Brockett, said only that “we resolved our differences with the author amicably, we wish him well, and it would be inappropriate for us to discuss our publishing decisions.” (After Norton backed out, Lennon’s British publisher, Granta, also dropped the book, Bankoff said. Libel law is much stricter in Britain than in the United States.)
Lennon tends to ride the line between literary and commercial fiction. His first novel, “The Light of Falling Stars” (1997), is about the aftermath of a plane crash in Montana. In “The Funnies” (1999), the son of a cartoonist takes over his father’s comic strip after his death. Lennon revisited Montana in “On the Night Plain” (2001), about a sheep-rancher, and turned to upstate New York for “Mailman,” about a postal carrier in what appear to be the last 10 days of his life. Lennon’s most recent book, “Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes,” was published by Granta in Britain last year, but hasn’t found an American publisher yet. One of the book’s 100 vignettes is about a novelist who writes a lengthy local history, only to be told by publishers to cut it in half. Hooked on editing, she keeps removing passages from her book until finally only a haiku remains: “Tiny Upstate town/Undergoes many changes/Nonetheless endures.”
Lennon cut 30,000 words and one character to fit “Happyland” in Harper’s. (The third of four installments appears in the September issue.) Roger Hodge, the editor of Harper’s, said the magazine had been looking to serialize a novel when he heard from a friend of Lennon’s about “Happyland” being dropped by Norton. “It seemed to me to be a perfect novel to serialize,” Hodge said. But the magazine hasn’t been playing up the novel’s history. “Just because some other publisher had decided not to do it, that’s not a good reason to read a novel,” he said. Harper’s wasn’t concerned about lawsuits, Hodge said. “It’s fiction, it’s a satire, there’s no legal concern whatsoever. ... Our lawyers thought that they couldn’t imagine that there would be any problem and were puzzled even that they were asked about it.”
Katie Waller, the executive director of the Aurora Foundation, which Pleasant Rowland founded in 2001 to oversee renovations in Aurora, said Rowland was traveling and unavailable for comment. Waller said she’d informed Rowland about Lennon’s novel in May, when The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., wrote about the Harper’s serialization. Rowland, who sold American Girl to Mattel in 1998 for $700 million, lives in Madison. “I do know about Harper’s doing ‘Happyland’ and I told Pleasant about it,” Waller said. “I know she hasn’t read it and doesn’t intend to. I haven’t read it and I don’t intend to.” Waller said Rowland had not been in touch with Norton or Harper’s and had no intention of suing. “Oh, absolutely not,” she said. She mentioned an interview Lennon gave The Ithaca Times earlier this month, in which “he said it’s all fictional.”
Waller said the foundation had helped make Aurora a tourist destination. “We did the restoration of these beautiful buildings, then hired the staff to get them up and running,” she said. “I just turned over the five properties back to the college as of June 1. My work is completed.”
Lennon’s agent is still trying to sell “Happyland” to a publisher, along with a new literary crime novel he has written. In the meantime, Lennon said he was pleased to have “Happyland” serialized in Harper’s, with its circulation of more than 200,000. “I wonder if it would have gotten half the attention that it has if it were just a normal book. Given my experience in the literary publishing world, I doubt it,” he said. “Nothing is less momentous in the world than the publication of another literary novel.”
THIS, industry insiders feared, was Hollywood’s own Fort Sumter.
When Paramount Pictures publicly and acrimoniously terminated its 14-year relationship with Tom Cruise’s production company on Tuesday, it seemed to be the studio moguls’ long-simmering declaration of war against their pricey stars.
Paramount’s announcement came after a series of skirmishes between studios and stars: the cancellation of one Jim Carrey film and the postponement of another on the verge of production; the public rebuke by the chief of Morgan Creek, James G. Robinson, of Lindsay Lohan after excessive partying caused her to miss work; and the studios’ letting lapse at least a half-dozen production deals with stars.
According to The Los Angeles Times, talent agents and executives alike were pondering whether relations between the studios and the stars had “sunk to a new low.” Perhaps so, but the dichotomy between studio-dominated films and star-dominated ones has always been something of a false division.
From the early 1910’s, when audiences first began to identify actors on screen and then demand to see their favorites, stars have always provided wattage to the movies, and every studio was reliant on them. Consequently, it has never been a matter of whether a studio could operate without stars; it has always been a matter of whether the studio or the star held the greater power. This battle has largely defined the industry.
In the golden days of the studio system in the 30’s and 40’s, stars were essentially indentured servants — albeit well-remunerated ones — who took straight salaries, had little control over the films they made, and were bound by unconscionably long contracts.
It wasn’t until the stars’ Emancipation Proclamation in the mid-1940’s, when Olivia de Havilland challenged her studio contract in court and won, that the balance of power began to shift.
In the early 50’s, the old studio system collapsed entirely under the double blows of declining audiences lost to television and an antitrust suit that forced film companies to divest themselves of the theaters they owned. A power vacuum opened, which the stars happily filled.
The legendary agent Lew Wasserman engineered a profit participation deal for his client Jimmy Stewart in 1950 that gave him half of the studio’s take from his films; at the same time, stars like Burt Lancaster were forming their own production companies, trading their movies for financing. From the hapless film executives’ perspective, the inmates had finally taken over the asylum.
The talent have been running the asylum ever since, and the studios have had little choice but to let them. With hundreds of millions of dollars now riding on each picture, the star has been the best way of shortening the odds against failure.
Indeed, as Hollywood has relied increasingly on the first weekend grosses, stars have accrued even more power. Stars who can open pictures — that is, attract fans before even word-of-mouth has had a chance to operate — have become a precious commodity. This is how Mr. Cruise, maybe the best opener ever, became the highest-paid star in history.
But the conventional wisdom that big stars make big profits for the studios has been under attack recently. Wracked by the growing uncertainty of the market as audiences pursued other entertainment options and by oscillating grosses that unaccountably rise and dip, studio heads have been flummoxed.
Studios have, for years, thrown money at stars with salaries escalating to more than $20 million a picture — and that doesn’t even include stars’ participation in a movie’s gross, or cushy production deals, like Mr. Cruise’s, which was said to be costing Paramount $10 million a year.
With all the money spent on stars, not to mention exorbitant production budgets, the profit margins for the studios have grown thinner and thinner. It was only a matter of time before executives would come to question whether this arrangement was worth it.
For Mr. Cruise, it didn’t help that he exhibited his oddball behavior just when the economics of stardom seemed most uncertain. Sumner Redstone, the head of Paramount’s parent company, estimated that Mr. Cruise’s falling popularity cost Paramount up to $150 million on “Mission: Impossible III.” As Mr. Redstone saw it, Mr. Cruise overplayed his hand, both financially and personally.
Still, this isn’t only a Tom Cruise problem. In disengaging from Mr. Cruise, Mr. Redstone issued a warning to other puffed-up stars with inflated salaries and demands. After decades of studios threatening to draw the line, Paramount actually had the chutzpah to do it. Everyone is now on notice: The moguls want their power back.
But if this is the empire striking back, one wonders if it is a bold stroke or a foolhardy miscalculation.
Paramount’s salvo against its biggest star may be an attempt to bring some financial sanity to the old asylum. But it’s also another sign of just how badly the film industry has lost its bearings in this new media environment, where the once-reliable teenage audience is suddenly less reliable; video games and the Internet are making the inroads into movies that TV once did; and DVD sales, which once seemed like the studios’ salvation, are plummeting.
The stars, for their part, have helped create an untenable economic situation. But even though Mr. Redstone wants to bring them to heel, he is devaluing the movies’ greatest asset, and opening a breach the studios alone can’t fill. The fear in Hollywood is that Mr. Redstone may be smashing the star-driven model without putting anything in its place but financial responsibility, and audiences don’t line up to see financial responsibility.
Of course, Hollywood is accustomed to prophecies of doom. The difference this time is that everyone — stars and executives alike — seems clueless. The asylum is out of control and no one knows what to do about it.
Cruise Gets First Funds for Projects
Tom Cruise showed Hollywood the money yesterday, with his independent production company announcing that it had lined up financing from a wealthy sports entrepreneur.
Hollywood’s reaction? That’s a good start, but show us more.
Less than a week after Paramount Pictures and Tom Cruise ended their 14-year relationship, his company announced a deal with First and Goal L.L.C., an investor group headed by Daniel M. Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins and chairman of the Six Flags amusement parks. The two-year arrangement can be renewed for a longer term, both sides said.
The financing is well under $10 million, according to Paula Wagner, Mr. Cruise’s business partner. Under the deal, Cruise-Wagner Productions will receive funds to cover overhead and develop new projects. The agreement would still require the new production company to raise money for films from other private investors or the Hollywood studios, Ms. Wagner said.
Although she suggested last week that hedge funds were eager to invest up to $100 million in the company, it appeared yesterday that such financing had not yet materialized.
Harold Vogel, author of “Entertainment Industry Economics,” said of the deal, “This is a step forward, but it is not definitive because they will still need significant funds for production.’’
Several media executives wondered yesterday why Mr. Cruise had not simply put up the money himself for overhead and development.
In a telephone interview, Ms. Wagner said: “We wanted to be in business with entrepreneurs. We wanted a focus on future brand and marketing opportunities. This deal is about access and not about money.”
Along with Mr. Snyder, First and Goal consists of Mark Shapiro, chief executive of Six Flags, and Dwight C. Schar, chairman of NVR, a home builder. Mr. Schar is a longtime investor with Mr. Snyder.
Mr. Shapiro will supervise the investment. “Dan has been vocal about being in the entertainment business,” Mr. Shapiro said. “And we bring marketing expertise.”
Mr. Snyder started Snyder Communications in 1988, took it public eight years later and sold it to the Havas agency in 2000 for $2.2 billion. He bought the Washington Redskins in 1999.
First and Goal and Cruise/Wagner were brought together by the Creative Artists Agency, which represents Mr. Cruise, Mr. Shapiro said.
Outside money has been flowing into Hollywood as people who have made big fortunes develop an appetite to be in the movie business.
Last week, Sumner M. Redstone, the chairman of Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, said he was cutting ties with Mr. Cruise because his unpredictable behavior — like speaking out publicly against psychiatry and jumping on Oprah Winfrey’s couch — was affecting his results at the box office.
Mr. Cruise and Ms. Wagner, though, insisted that they had already decided to start their own company and strike out on their own before Mr. Redstone made the announcement.
A Big Star May Not a Profitable Movie Make
Eduardo Porter and Geraldine Fabrikant
Is Sumner M. Redstone crazy like a fox?
Movie industry executives may be forgiven for thinking that the Viacom chairman was mad to let Tom Cruise go after a 14-year relationship simply because Mr. Cruise seemed a little off balance. After all, the movies made by Viacom’s Paramount Pictures studio and the actor’s production company earned more than $2.5 billion at the box office.
Yet, if you ask economists and other academics that study the movie industry, Mr. Redstone’s decision was, in financial terms, spot on. The best reason to get rid of Mr. Cruise or, for that matter, Mel Gibson, or Lindsay Lohan, is not their occasional aberrant behavior. They, like most marquee names in Hollywood, are simply not worth the expense.
“Who knows what went through Mr. Redstone’s mind?” said Jehoshua Eliashberg, a professor of marketing, operations and information management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “But one can’t discard that the reason is that it doesn’t make economic sense to pay him all this money.”
Mr. Eliashberg is part of a growing cadre of academics studying how movies are made, financed and distributed. Most are finding that the studio’s assumption that big stars will increase a movie’s bottom line is simply wrong.
“There is no statistical correlation between stars and success,” said S. Abraham Ravid, a professor of economics and finance at Rutgers University, who, in a 1999 study of almost 200 films released between 1991 and 1993, found that once one considered other factors influencing the success of a film, a star had no impact on its rate of return. Employing a star had virtually no discernible impact on the box office itself. Mr. Cruise would no doubt object to that assertion. And to be fair, there is some theoretical pedigree to the idea that he may be worth every penny. In fact, there is a whole branch of economics that aims to explain how talented people generate so much more money than competitors who are only slightly less good. It’s called “superstar economics.”
Superstar economics, which has been used to explain the astonishing fees of top lawyers and the skyrocketing pay of star chief executives, dates back to the insight in the late 19th century of the British economist Alfred Marshall, who observed that “the relative fall in the incomes to be earned by moderate ability ... is accentuated by the rise in those that are obtained by many men of extraordinary ability.”
The dynamic was explained by a University of Chicago economist, Sherwin Rosen, in a 1981 paper entitled “Superstar Economics.” Mr. Rosen posited that improvements in technology that would make it easier for top performers in a field to serve a larger market would not only increase the revenue generated by stars, but would also reduce the revenue available to everybody else.
Take the National Basketball Association. Michael Jordan pulled in millions of dollars in the 1980’s and 1990’s because basketball fans from San Francisco to Milwaukee would tune in to Chicago Bulls games on TV to watch him play. In the absence of Mr. Jordan, those fans would probably have been watching the game of the Milwaukee Bucks or the Golden State Warriors instead.
In a study about ticket prices for concerts, the Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger found that between 1983 and 2003, a period in which MTV, Napster, the iPod and other technologies extended the reach of top acts, the share of concert revenue taken by the top 5 percent of artists increased to 84 percent, from 62 percent.
Hollywood, where the star system was invented, is not wholly dependent on celebrities: the list of biggest-grossing movies in history is dominated by movies like “Shrek 2,” “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” and the “Star Wars” series, which were not star-driven. But the industry still places an enormous importance on superstar power based on a straightforward fact: On average, movies that have big names starring in them make more money at the box office than movies that do not.
Movie industry specialists argue that, in the complicated world of Hollywood economics, stars bring many different kinds of benefits. They are easier to market, they help sell more tickets at home and overseas and they help drive home-video sales, which are a bigger and bigger slice of studio revenue. “If the stars’ job is to increase output, by drawing crowds into the theaters or selling DVD’s, it is not working as well as it had worked in the past,” said Harold L. Vogel, author of a book called “Entertainment Industry Economics: A Guide for Financial Analysis.” But, he added: “This is a hiatus. We have gone through 25 years where new distribution for films — videocassettes, cable and DVD’s — added new revenue potential. That meant less resistance to stars’ salary demands.”
Even studio chiefs will acknowledge that a star does not guarantee success. “Bewitched,” starring Nicole Kidman, cost an estimated $85 million and had taken in only about $62 million at the American box office by late 2005. Yet there is a bedrock belief that the winning formula consists of the right star in the right movie.
“If you pay a star a great deal of money for a film that people don’t want to see, then it won’t work,” said Sidney Sheinberg, the former president of MCA Universal. “It is always a question of whether you are dealing with a project that is enhanced by a star or are you dealing with a project where you are looking for the star to make it happen, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Anita Elberse, an associate professor at the Harvard Business School, tried to measure the average effect of a star by analyzing casting announcements on the price of stocks on the Hollywood Exchange (www.hsx.com), a simulated market where hundreds of thousands of users trade stocks in individual movies based on their expected box-office revenue. Prices on this exchange have been found to be fairly good predictors of a film’s box-office success.
Ms. Elberse found, for instance, that the announcement in 2002 that Mr. Cruise had dropped out of “Cold Mountain” — he had been expected to play the lead — reduced the movie’s expected gross by $10 million. The announcement that Mr. Cruise was in talks to play a leading role in “The Last Samurai” lifted the movie’s expected gross by $28 million.
Combing through 12,000 casting announcements between November of 2001 and December of 2004, related to 600 movie stars and 500 movies, Ms. Elberse found stars, on average, were worth $3 million in theatrical revenue.
Still, Ms. Elberse and other academics suspect that the box-office power of movie stars might be somewhat of a mirage. Ms. Elberse found that, even when casting announcements had an impact on the expected financial outcome of a given film, they had no discernible effect on the share price of the media companies that owned the movie studio — indicating that the participation of a star had no impact on the expected profitability of the studio.
Moreover, even if a star-studded movie does well, it does not necessarily mean that the stars are causing higher ticket sales. In fact, it seems to move the other way around: stars select what they believe are promising projects. And studios prefer to put stars in movies that they expect to be a success.
“Movies with stars are successful not because of the star, but because the star chooses projects that people tend to like,” said Arthur S. De Vany, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of California, Irvine, who has written extensively about the economics of moviemaking. “It’s a movie that makes a star.”
In other words, while a person will go to a Bruce Springsteen concert because the artist is, indeed, Bruce Springsteen, the success of “The Matrix” had to do with many things other than its star, Keanu Reeves.
“Movie industry executives keep this perception that stardom is a formula for success, but they don’t measure it,” Mr. Eliashberg said. “They resist using analytical methods for all sorts of reasons, from being uncomfortable with numbers to the argument that this is a creative industry and not a business.”
Mr. De Vany and other economists point out that many factors contribute to the success of a movie — like a big budget, having a G or PG rating, opening on a large number of screens and whether it is a sequel, among others.
In one study, Mr. De Vany and W. David Walls, an economist at the University of Calgary, took those factors into account. Looking across a sample of more than 2,000 movies exhibited between 1985 and 1996, they found that only seven actors and actresses — Tom Hanks, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Jodie Foster, Jim Carrey, Barbra Streisand and Robin Williams — had a positive impact on the box office, mostly in the first few weeks of a film’s release.
In the same study, two directors, Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone also pushed up a movie’s revenue. But Winona Ryder, Sharon Stone and Val Kilmer were associated with a smaller box-office revenue. No other star had any statistically significant impact at all. So what are stars for? By helping a movie open — attracting lots of people in to see a movie in the first few days before the buzz about whether it’s good or bad is widely known — stars can set a floor for revenues, said Mr. De Vany.
“Stars help to launch a film. They are meant as signals to create a big opening,” he said. “But they can’t make a film have legs.”
Mr. Ravid, the Rutgers professor, suggests that stars serve as insurance for executives who fear they could be fired for green-lighting a flop. “If they hire Julia Roberts and the film flops, they can say ‘Well, who knew?’ ” said Mr. Ravid.
Films That Come Over the Net Don’t Come Easy
John R. Quain
Several obstacles — meager libraries, frustrating download times, copyright issues — have hamstrung online movie offerings to date. But the biggest challenge has been what those in the industry refer to as the “last 10 feet” problem. You could download a digital copy of a movie to your computer, but you were stuck watching it on the PC.
The meager libraries are quickly filling up with titles to rent or buy. And several movie sites are even on the verge of bridging those last 10 feet.
There are a variety of ways to obtain movies online — legitimately. One approach from Vongo (www.vongo.com), for example, is a subscription movie rental service. For a monthly $9.99 fee, movie fans can watch any movie on the service on their PC’s. But the selection is limited to titles licensed by the Starz premium cable and satellite service, which owns Vongo. That means that there are typically only a few hundred full-length feature films available at any given time, mostly post-DVD release titles, like “Jackie Brown” and “Bewitched.”
Vongo’s subscription model has two additional drawbacks. You cannot purchase movies to own, and each movie has “available until” restrictions. When Starz’s license to broadcast a movie ends, so does your right to play the downloaded file.
To avoid such confusion, most movie download sites try to mimic the offerings of dwindling brick-and-mortar video stores. Typically, the online rental sites like CinemaNow (www.cinemanow.com) and Movielink (www.movielink.com) offer digitally compressed movies on a pay-per-rental basis. Customers download movies from an online catalog; rentals last for 24 hours, or you can purchase titles to keep.
While the idea sounds simple, carrying it out has been anything but. A digitally compressed movie takes at least 30 minutes to download over a high-speed cable or D.S.L. connection. If you want picture quality comparable to that of a DVD release, it can take more than an hour to download a 90-minute movie. CinemaNow also offers several titles in a crystal-clear high-definition format, but downloading these monster files is an overnight process.
In addition to the lethargic download times, the playback restrictions imposed by studios are reminiscent of the fine print on a car lease. CinemaNow’s typical rental fees for the store’s 1,000-plus library of movies range from $2.99 for older titles to $3.99 for new releases. Offerings include most of the latest major releases, matching those you would find in a video store. You have 30 days from the date of rental to watch a movie, but once you hit the start button you have just 24 hours to watch before the rental self-destructs.
If you want to download a title permanently to your hard drive, prices at CinemaNow are $9.95 to $19.95. The catch is that to adhere to Hollywood’s copyright restrictions these movies can be viewed on only three devices, all compatible with Windows Media Player, that you register with the service. You can make a backup copy of a purchase to a DVD, but that DVD will play only on the computer that was originally used to download the movie. Furthermore, not all rental movies are available for purchase — and not all movies available for purchase are available for rental.
Confused yet? If so, you should be happier with the latest CinemaNow feature, offering movies you can burn to a disc that will play on any DVD player. Intended to solve the “last 10 feet” problem, the burn-to-DVD service is still in preview or “beta” mode, but it already has a selection of over 100 titles, including “Center of the World” by Wayne Wang, the Al Pacino movie “Scent of a Woman,” and concert videos by artists like Johnny Cash and the Doors.
It took me an hour to download the $12.99 offbeat thriller “Panic.” But when it came time to burn the DVD, which CinemaNow’s software does automatically, the recording failed after 30 minutes, wasting one blank DVD. A second attempt, which took about 30 minutes, was successful.
In addition to the time investment, buyers should know that the copy-thwarting software that CinemaNow employs to make the DVD’s is not an industry standard. Consequently, some competitors warn that the discs may not play in all DVD players. But in informal tests with new and old DVD players, I encountered no problems, and the picture quality was comparable to most store-bought DVD’s.
The CinemaNow burn-to-DVD feature is a harbinger of what is to come in the next few months from other services, according to Jim Ramo, the president of Movielink. Movielink offers a similar library of mainstream films with playback restrictions that are virtually identical to those of CinemaNow. Rental prices range from $1.99 to $4.99, with download-to-own prices starting at $8.99 and going up to $19.99. Movielink differs from CinemaNow in that it does not have a section of sexually explicit films, and it offers a handful of titles in a format for new portable media players based on the Windows Ultra-Mobile PC operating system from Microsoft.
Owned by major studios — MGM, Paramount, Sony, Universal Studios, and Warner Brothers — Movielink does not yet let customers burn movies to DVD’s, but Mr. Ramo says the studios are eager to do so. Consequently, in a few months Movielink will include a burn-to-DVD option with a copy protection program called the Content Scramble System (CSS), which will require the use of special DVD’s.
Other sites are trying to lure movie fans by adding downloadable Hollywood movies to the type of free amateur clips found on sites like YouTube. Guba (www.guba.com), for example, originally offered only free video clips culled from newsgroup postings but now includes mainstream films like “V for Vendetta” for purchase at $9.99. Twenty-four-hour rentals for older films, like “Rebel Without a Cause,” can be as low as 99 cents, but there is a limited selection (mainly Sony and Warner Brothers titles).
Last week, AOL introduced its own AOL Video portal (www.aolvideo.com), combining free video fare with downloadable movies and a range of TV series, like “Wonder Woman” and “Blue’s Clues.” Backed by AOL’s owner, Time Warner, the site is quickly amassing an extensive arsenal of shows and movies as it signs up more studios and television networks. It already has movies from four Hollywood studios, including 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures, and features ad-supported content from A&E, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and TNT. Like YouTube and Guba, it also includes free amateur videos.
Even AOL’s download service, however, can be confusing for customers trying to figure out what is free and what is available for purchase. For example, “Wonder Woman” episodes can be viewed free as a streaming video feed, while “Blue’s Clues” shows can be downloaded to a PC but cost $1.99 each. Movies, like “Spider-Man 2,” can be bought for $9.99 but not rented or burned to DVD.
In September, AOL will introduce a “10-foot edition” of AOL Video designed to be navigated by remote control on a TV connected to a Windows Media Center PC.
The current online mainstream movie services are for Windows users only. But the superstar in digital downloads is still iTunes from Apple, whose offerings so far are limited to $1.99 TV shows and music videos for playback on iPod screens. Enlarging the picture even to computer monitor size yields a fuzzy image. On the other hand, Apple claims it has sold more than 35 million videos online, so it may not be long before iTunes realizes it has to join the downloadable movie movement.
Ultimately, what may hamper sales of downloadable movies may not be download times or trouble with DVD burning. The obstacle will be price. It is often more economical to rent DVD’s from local rental kiosks or mail-order outfits like Netflix (www.netflix.com). So for now the best way to solve the “last 10 feet” problem is still to get up off the couch.
Making Movies: New Camcorders Shake Up the Market
Canon recently announced four new camcorder models within the space of just a few days, a move that I believe is going to shake up the market.
Canon HV10The launch of the Canon HV10, which will be available in September, means that Sony isn't the only company offering a consumer HDV camcorder.
With a radically different design than the Sony HC3, the $1299 Canon HV10 undercuts the price of the HC3 by $200--and $1200 is the list price. The HV10 will be available for about $1100 to $1200 on the street once it starts appearing in quantity. That's great news for buyers: Competition helps push prices down and boost the market for new camcorders.
Price Cuts Coming?
I would expect that Sony will announce price cuts soon that will lower the HC3's price to the same level as that of the HV10, or perhaps even a touch below, with an eye toward tempting consumers who are looking to buy a new camcorder for the holidays. If you are thinking about upgrading to a high-def camcorder, it's probably worth waiting a month or two to see how the prices fall as the HV10 hits the stores and competition heats up.
Canon XH G1For those of you with a slightly higher indie-film-type budget, Canon also announced two new interesting high-end HDV camcorders: The $6999 XH G1 and the $3999 XH A1 are cheaper than the professional $8999 XL H1, but have a lot of features that serious moviemakers will like.
For one thing, both camcorders can shoot in 24-frames-per-second mode (which looks like film). And the XH A1 has a removable lens, so as with an SLR, you can swap out the different lenses for shooting in different situations. Both of these camcorders look like they will be big hits with indie filmmakers: They are designed with the wide selection of professional controls that appeal to aspiring directors who like to take control of their shooting.
New Canon DVD Camcorder
Canon DC22Canon also announced a new DVD camcorder that has an interesting feature. The $699 DC22 is a nicely designed, small camcorder that Canon claims is the world's smallest. The new model (which will be available later this month) can write to the new 8cm DVD-R dual-layer discs, which hold 2.6GB of data--double the 1.3GB capacity of their single-layer cousins.
This greater disc capacity goes some way toward alleviating one of my major complaints about current DVD camcorders: You end up swapping discs every few minutes. The DC22 can store 36 minutes of video at the highest quality on a dual-layer disc, up from 20 minutes on a single-layer disc. But while that capacity is an improvement, it's still not as good as that of a MiniDV camcorder (which can hold 60 minutes) or the new breed of hard-drive camcorders, which can hold many hours of video. The new dual-layer 8cm discs are expensive, as well: about $20 for a pack of three. For that price, you can buy a pack of 20 single-layer discs.
This certainly won't be the last camcorder to use the new higher-capacity discs: I expect that the next generation of Sony DVD camcorders will also support dual-layer discs. The recently announced HDR-UX1 can write to DVD+R dual-layer discs, and Sony will probably use the same DVD mechanism in its next generation of standard-definition DVD camcorders. But right now, Canon is the only manufacturer offering this extra recording capacity in a DVD camcorder.
AVCHD: What Does It Stand For?
In my last column, I discussed the new AVCHD format, and mentioned that I didn't think the new name was an acronym for anything. A few people have pointed out that it may be a combination of the AVC (Advanced Video Compression) and HD (High Definition) acronyms; Macworld editorial director Jason Snell described it as a "smash-o-nym."
But according to Yolanda Hunt-Boes of Sony, "It's not an acronym." Still, she acknowledges that "when you see AVC, you do think of compression technology, and HD often refers to high definition. Together, the letters make sense as it relates to the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec that is being used in our new high-def Handycam camcorders." So I guess that means you're free to make up your own. One wit suggested Advancing Video Can Harm Devotees, but personally I vote for A Very Confusing & Hard Definition.
A Windmill for Your Backyard?
A small, affordable wind turbine available for the first time this September promises to help homeowners fight the rising cost of energy.
The Skystream 3.7, a wind generator from Southwest Windpower in Flagstaff, Ariz., stands 35 to 100 feet tall — depending on the location — and costs about half that of conventional turbines currently available.
Southwest Windpower is planning to mass produce the Skystream and sell it for between $10,000 to $12,000 installed, about half the cost of similar size turbines, which are typically assembled by hand on a much smaller scale.
According to the developers, the system could save the average homeowner $500 to $800 per year on electricity.
"I think Skystream has a chance to break the 10 cent per kilowatt hour at the best sites," said Jim Green, senior project manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's National Wind Technology Center in Golden, Colo.
The center partnered with Southwest Windpower to help engineer and test the turbines.
Comparable technologies that generate electricity from the wind or even the sun cost between 15 to 35 cents per kilowatt hour, said Green.
That high pricetag has kept renewable energy sources from being competitive with fossil fuels. And for those willing to install wind turbines, whether out of choice or necessity, there have been other hurdles aside from cost.
Wind turbines typically require stabilizing wires running from the tower to the ground to keep the structure steady. Installation is further complicated by the need for up to three electrical boxes that work to convert the energy harvested by the turbine into useable household power.
But Skystream needs no stabilizing wires. It needs to stand just 20 feet higher than the tallest object within a 500-foot radius, so its tower can be as short as 35 feet. And all of the necessary electrical conversion is built into the machine.
After a Skystream turbine is installed, the house uses energy from the wind when it exists. If there is no wind, the house automatically takes energy from the local utility.
"If the generator produces more power than what your house uses, the meter spins background and gives you a credit to use another day," said Andy Kruse, vice president of business development at Southwest Windpower.
Depending on the available wind, the turbine could provide 40 to 90 percent of an average home's energy needs.
But even though the Skystream may be affordable and easy to hook up to a residential circuit breaker, it may still be difficult for a homeowner to tap into available wind, said renewable energy expert Scott Sklar, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Stella Group, which helps companies select clean energy technology.
The majority of homeowners associations, which mandate rules and guidelines for new developments, prohibit wind turbines on properties, he said. Furthermore, only 29 states have passed laws mandating standards that make it easy to plug into the power grid.
"You can buy any maker's push-button phone and it has the same plug. But we have not done that nationally for on-site power generation," said Sklar.
The Story behind "Start Me Up" and Windows 95
Joe Wilcox started the ball rolling with this post about recalling the days of the Windows 95 launch and the Start Me Up campaign. That prompted some emails from Brad Silverberg and Brad Chase (if you don't know who they are, let's just say these were Microsoft's war time consiglieri in those days). There's a great story to be told about this and rather than ruin it, I've asked Brad and Brad to tell the tale. So as the countdown to Vista goes on, here's part 1, courtesy Brad Silverberg.
"Joe's recent post on Microsoft Monitor about the Win 95 Start Me Up tv commercial brought back lots of fun history to remember, including negotiating with the Stones for the song. It took months of negotiating with their agent, Prince Rupert (yeah, I think he was a titled prince), including trips by Brad Chase to a private recording session with the Stones in Amsterdam.
At the time, the Stones hadn't licensed their songs for TV commercials so it was a big policy decision for them. We may think of them as a rock band but they are really like a corporation, with Mick the CEO and Keith the president, whose product happens to be rock music. Mick didn't want to do any licensing of songs as he felt it hurt their artistic purity. But it was at a time when their popularity has declined and so they were open to aligning themselves with new and exciting stuff in the world (like Win95 and the whole PC/Internet/Technology wave). Plus, Keith did want to license. Apparently his burn rate was higher than Mick's , and wanted the money. Keith pushed Mick hard and finally prevailed on Mick, who wanted to help Keith out. They agreed to license it to us and after long, painful negotiations, we reached terms.
By the way, the price was not the $10m or $12m or whatever that is common belief. I'm not at liberty to disclose the exact amount, but it was a small fraction of that. It was the Stones, who after doing the deal, leaked the big number figure so as to set the market price for their next deal. Also, when they delivered the song, it was NOT for the studio version we all know (and which we had agreed upon). Instead they delivered some later version that wasn't quite the same. Why? Because it was with some newer band members who got a lower royalty rate than the ones in the original version. We said no way, and got the original version.
For the next year, every time that song was played, people thought, "Win95." It was money well spent and still a great commercial."
Crypto Browser Plug-In Aims For Simplicity
German coders have developed a free encryption plug-in for webmail accounts. Freenigma (http://www.freenigma.com) comes as a browser plug-in for Firefox which works with Yahoo!, Gmail, Hotmail and other webmail accounts. The eponymous firm behind the technology wants to extend this service to other webmail and social network sites.
Freenigma is designed to hide the complexity of cryptography, often a barrier to adoption, behind a simple simple user interface. Users can sign up for the service at Freenigma's web site. Before encrypted emails can be exchanged punters will need to invite their contacts to sign-up too. Planned improvements include the ability to send encrypted emails to anyone using client programs that meet the OpenPGP standard (such as PGP).
That, along with an inability to encrypt email attachments, are definite areas of improvement and where dedicated (though slightly more complex) encrypted webmail services such as HushMail might be preferred by some. But a simple crypto browser plug-in is long overdue and the attempt to make encrypted emails easier to use is a positive development. You can find out more about freenigma in an FAQ here (http://www.freenigma.com/frequentlya...ons/index.html).
"I think play is more significant than appearance. Therefore I want the others to focus on my fingering and sound. Furthermore I know I’m not that handsome."
Web Guitar Wizard Revealed at Last
EIGHT months ago a mysterious image showed up on YouTube, the video-sharing site that now shows more than 100 million videos a day. A sinewy figure in a swimming-pool-blue T-shirt, his eyes obscured by a beige baseball cap, was playing electric guitar. Sun poured through the window behind him; he played in a yellow haze. The video was called simply “guitar.” A black-and-white title card gave the performer’s name as funtwo.
The piece that funtwo played with mounting dexterity was an exceedingly difficult rock arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon, the composition from the turn of the 18th century known for its solemn chord progressions and its overexposure at weddings. But this arrangement, attributed on another title card to JerryC, was anything but plodding: it required high-level mastery of a singularly demanding maneuver called sweep-picking.
Over and over the guitarist’s left hand articulated strings with barely perceptible movements, sounding and muting notes almost simultaneously, and playing complete arpeggios through a single stroke with his right hand. Funtwo’s accuracy and velocity seemed record-breaking, but his mouth and jawline — to the extent that they were visible — looked impassive, with none of the exaggerated grimaces of heavy metal guitar heroes. The contrast between the soaring bravado of the undertaking and the reticence of the guitarist gave the 5-minute, 20-second video a gorgeous solemnity.
Like a celebrity sex tape or a Virgin Mary sighting, the video drew hordes of seekers with diverse interests and attitudes. Guitar sites, MySpace pages and a Polish video site called Smog linked to it, and viewers thundered to YouTube to watch it. If individual viewings were shipped records, “guitar” would have gone gold almost instantly. Now, with nearly 7.35 million views — and a spot in the site’s 10 most-viewed videos of all time — funtwo’s performance would be platinum many times over. From the perch it’s occupied for months on YouTube’s “most discussed” list, it generates a seemingly endless stream of praise (riveting, sick, better than Hendrix), exegesis, criticism, footnotes, skepticism, anger and awe.
The most basic comment is a question: Who is this guy?
If you follow the leads, this Everest of electric-guitar virtuosity, like so many other online artifacts, turns out to be a portal into a worldwide microculture, this one involving hundreds of highly stylized solo guitar videos, of which funtwo’s is but the most famous. And though they seem esoteric, they have surprising implications: for YouTube, the dissemination of culture, online masquerade and even the future of classical music.
JOHANN PACHELBEL, the great one-hit wonder of the baroque period, originally composed his Canon in D Major for three violins, at least one chord-playing instrument (like a harpsichord or lute) and at least one bass instrument (like a cello or bassoon). With its steady walking rhythm, the piece is well suited to processionals, and the bass line is extremely easy to play, a primer on simple chords: D, A, B minor, F-sharp minor, G. A sequence of eight chords repeats about 30 times.
The exacting part is the canon itself: a counterpoint played over the bass, originally by the three violins. The first violin plays variation A, then moves on to B, while the second violin comes in with A. By the time the first violin gets to C, the second starts in with B, and the third violin comes in with A: like three people singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
With 28 variations, the piece becomes supercharged with complexity only to revert to a simpler structure as it ends. If you hadn’t heard it a thousand times before — in the movie “Ordinary People,” in commercials, at all those weddings — it might blow you away.
Last year Jerry Chang, a Taiwanese guitarist who turns 25 on Thursday, set out to create a rock version of the song, which he had been listening to since childhood. It took him two weeks. Others, like Brian Eno, had done so before him, and some listeners say his arrangement is derivative of one composed for the video game “Pump It Up.” But one way or another, his version, “Canon Rock,” rocked.
Once he had his arrangement on paper — and in his fingers, since sweeping is above all a function of motor memory — Mr. Chang decided to publish his work. In the arena of high-speed guitar heroics, though, an audio recording is not enough; the manual virtuosity is almost like a magic trick, and people have to see it to believe it. So he sat on his bed in front of a video camera, fired up his recorded backing track and played his grand, devilish rendition of “Canon Rock.” He then uploaded the video to a Web site he had already set up for his band and waited for a response.
Before long he was inundated with praise, as well as requests for what are called the “tabs,” or written music, and the backing track, or digital bass line, which fans of his work downloaded and ran on their own computers. They then hoisted up their Fenders and Les Pauls to test their skills against JerryC’s. One of these guys was funtwo.
By following a series of clues on JerryC’s message board and various “Canon Rock” videos, I was able to trace funtwo’s video to Jeong-Hyun Lim, a 23-year-old Korean who taught himself guitar over the course of the last six years. Now living in Seoul, he listens avidly to Bach and Vivaldi, and in 2000 he took a month of guitar lessons. He plays an ESP, an Alfee Custon SEC-28OTC with gold-colored detailing.
A close analysis of his playing style and a comparison of his appearance in person with that of the figure in the video, left little doubt that Mr. Lim is the elusive funtwo.
Recently he e-mailed me an account of how he came to make his YouTube video. His English is excellent, from years spent at Auckland University in New Zealand, where he plans to return in March.
“First time when I saw JerryC’s ‘Canon’ video, it was so amazing, I thought I might play it,” he wrote. “So I practiced it by myself using tab and backing track from Jerry’s homepage.” On Oct. 23, 2005, he uploaded his video to a Korean music site called Mule. From there an unknown fan calling himself guitar90 copied it and posted it on YouTube with the elegant intro: “this guy iz great!!!”
Repeatedly newcomers to the comments section on YouTube suggest that the desktop computer visible on the right side of the video is doing all the playing, and that funtwo is a fraud. They point out that there is a small gap in timing between the finger work and the sound of the video. These complaints invite derision from those in the know. (Funtwo’s use of a backing track is no secret, and as for the gap, he says he recorded the audio and video independently and then matched them inexactly.)
Guitar fanatics are perplexed: “How the hell does he gets his harmonics to sound like that?” Some praise specific components of the performance, including the distortion, the power chords or the “sweet outro.” Overall a consensus emerges: This guy iz great.
“I’m shocked at how much you rock,” one fan said. “Funtwo just pure ownz the world,” said another. “Somebody just beat JerryC at his own song,” tinFold44 said. Carrie34 gushed, “funtwo’s version makes me want to hold up my lighter and *hug* my inner child! ”
PACHELBEL’S CANON, at its essence, dramatizes the pleasure of repetition and imitation. It should come as no surprise, then, that JerryC and funtwo have both attracted impersonators. Over the past year, as JerryC’s and funtwo’s videos have been broadly distributed on every major video-sharing site, hundreds of other guitarists have tried their hands at JerryC’s “Canon Rock.” Many copy the original mise-en-scène: they sit on beds in what look like the bedrooms of guys who still live with their parents. They make little effort to disguise their computers. And they look down, half-hiding behind hats or locks of hair.
Some imitators have gone further than that. A Malaysian guitarist claiming erroneously to be funtwo briefly set up a MySpace page, then shut it down. And this month, in Washington, a 12-year-old classical pianist named Alfonso Candra played “Canon Rock” for a small crowd at the Indonesian Embassy. He too claimed he was the guitarist in the “guitar” video. That was untrue, but Alfonso played his heart out.
This process of influence, imitation and inspiration may bedevil the those who despair at the future of copyright but is heartening to connoisseurs of classical music. Peter Robles, a composer who also manages classical musicians, points out that the process of online dissemination — players watching one another’s videos, recording their own — multiplies the channels by which musical innovation has always circulated. Baroque music, after all, was meant to be performed and enjoyed in private rooms, at close range, where others could observe the musicians’ technique. “That’s how people learned how to play Bach,” Mr. Robles said. “The music wasn’t written down. You just picked it up from other musicians.”
In this spirit, JerryC told fans on his Web site, “I don’t plan to make tabs anymore. The major reason is that it takes lots of time, and I think the best way to learn music is to cover it by ear.”
That educational imperative is a big part of the “Canon Rock” phenomenon. When guitarists upload their renditions, they often ask that viewers be blunt: What are they doing wrong? How can they improve? When I asked Mr. Lim the reason he didn’t show his face on his video, he wrote, “Main purpose of my recording is to hear the other’s suggestions about my playing.” He added, “I think play is more significant than appearance. Therefore I want the others to focus on my fingering and sound. Furthermore I know I’m not that handsome.”
Online guitar performances seem to carry a modesty clause, in the same way that hip-hop comes with a boast. Many of the guitarists, like Mr. Chang and Mr. Lim, exhibit a kind of anti-showmanship that seems distinctly Asian. They often praise other musicians, denigrate their own skills and talk about how much more they have to practice. Sometimes an element of flat-out abjection even enters into this act, as though the chief reason to play guitar is to be excoriated by others. As Mr. Lim said, “I am always thinking that I’m not that good player and must improve more than now.”
Neoclassical guitar technique has fallen largely out of favor in American popular music. It’s so demanding that many listeners conclude it has no heart and lacks the primitive charm of gut-driven punk and post-punk, which introduced minimalist sounds in a partial corrective to the bloated stylings of American heavy metal.
In the YouTube guitar videos, however, technical accomplishment itself carries a strong emotional component. Many of the new online guitarists began playing classical music — violin, piano, even clarinet — as children; they are accustomed to a highly uneven ratio of practice to praise. Mr. Lim’s fans said they watch his “Canon Rock” video daily, as it inspires them to work hard. When I watch, I feel moved by Mr. Lim’s virtuosity to do as he does: find beauty in the speed and accuracy that the new Internet world demands.
Even as they burst onto the scene as fully-formed guitar gods, they hang back from heavy self-promotion. Neither JerryC nor funtwo has a big recording contract.
At a moment in pop history when it seems to take a phalanx of staff — producers, stylists, promoters, handlers, agents — to make a music star, I asked Mr. Lim about the huge response to the video he had made in his bedroom. What did he make of the tens of thousands of YouTube commenters, most of whom treat him as though he’s the second coming of Jimi Hendrix?
Mr. Lim wrote back quickly. “Some said my vibrato is quite sloppy,” he replied. “And I agree that so these days I’m doing my best to improve my vibrato skill.”
Download Time Stops Much Movie Vice
The Weekend Herald was taken through the process of downloading the recently released movie Miami Vice by a New Zealand "pirate" this week.
All we needed was a broadband internet connection - and a lot of time.
It began by downloading a software "client" that connected us to a so-called peer-to-peer sharing network. There were lots to choose from, the most popular being those that used BitTorrent system.
It took 10 minutes to download and five minutes to install it.
We then went to a popular file-sharing search engine called mininova.org. We searched for Miami Vice. It was up on another computer ready to be "shared" with whoever wanted it.
Download time depends on your internet connection, with a 2-5 gigabyte movie taking hours or up to two days. Most pirates leave it downloading overnight.
The pirate said the main thing stopping him from downloading movies was the time it took, but this would become better as people's broadband connections got faster.
This was the case with Miami Vice: we gave up.
The pirate had not heard of the pirate-hunting software being used by NZFAC.
He had soon found something he believed would protect him.
* Miami Vice at the theatre: $29 for two.
* On dodgy illegal DVD: $10.
* Downloaded to your computer at home: absolutely free.
Who framed The Pirate Bay
Sorry, but we aren't going to publish any pictures of Monique Wadsted naked (taken with that hidden pinhole camera) - yet. Besides, even we have a lower limit of decency. However, our friends, a dedicated truth team, has aquired the e-mail conversation between Monique (at MPA) and Henrik Ponten (at Antipiratbyrån). We're not gonna publish all of it, to keep the suspense running, but here's a sample! This e-mail happens to contain the full list of works in the criminal charges filed against TPB, so you know who to boycott.
Nedan finner du lista över titlar och företag. Önskar offert för att ni
skall ladda ned detta via TPA så att det duger som bevis. Förteckningen
är givetvis konfidentiell.
De bästa hälsningar
_Activision Publishing Inc_:
1. Call of Duty
2. Call of Duty 2
_Blizzard Entertainment Inc_:
1. World of WarCraft
2. Diablo II
_Sierra Entertainment Inc_:
2. Swat 4
3. Empire Earth II
4. Tribes Vengeance
News From The North
The TankGirl Diaries
First Votes to be Cast Tomorrow
There are only 19 days left to the Swedish parliamentary election, but the first votes will be cast already tomorrow as the advance voting starts in some Swedish electoral districts. The Pirate Party members and sympathizers have been increasingly engaged in various practical aspects of the election work. They have been out to the streets to erect poster stands, to hand out flyers to bypassers and to set up their own 'valstugor' (little wooden cabins where voters can chat with party representatives) into the centrums of the larger cities. One of the most urgent tasks for the party has been to organize the distribution of ballot papers. As they are a newly established party, they get no help from the Swedish state in the task, so they have had to print hundreds of thousands of ballot papers at their own cost and to find volunteers to take them to each and every voting place around the country - a considerable challenge for a new party in a large country like Sweden.
The Green Party has started to raise its own profile in filesharing matters. It is organizing a press hearing in the Swedish Parliament about filesharing - unfortunately no other political parties have been invited so it will not be a real political debate. The threat of dropping under the 4 % vote thresold remains very real for the Greens, and they need badly the support of young voters - who would seem to be much more interested in the Pirates than in the Greens. For example demokrati.nu shows presently 3.7% support for the Green Party while Pirate Party has 16.5 % support there. Hardly anyone in the Pirate Party believes they could get even 10% of the votes in the actual election but getting that crucial 4% seems possible although by no means sure. NordicBet gives still only 1:15 odds for the Pirates to make it, and the 'official' opinion polls show virtually no support for the Pirates. On the other hand they do well in all online polls, and their membership keeps growing steadily, being already clearly larger than that of the Greens.
Another Membership Landmark for Pirate Party
The Swedish Pirate Party has reached another membership landmark after passing the membership of the Green Party recently. With its 8521 members PirateParty is now larger than Moderate Youth League (Moderata Ungdomsförbundet), the youth organization of Moderaterna, the second largest party in Sweden. The Moderate Youth League was founded in 1934 as Young Swedes (Ungsvenskarna) and most top Moderate Party politicians have started their political career in its ranks, including the present chairman of the Moderate Party, Fredrik Reinfeldt. The next membership challenge for the pirates will be to reach the Left Party with its estimated 11.000 members, presently sitting in the governing coalition with Social Democrats and the Green Party.
The growing membership of Pirate Party is in obvious conflict with the 'official' opinion polls that keep showing marginally small support for the Pirate Party. This has made part of the press doubt Pirate Party's membership figures not being somehow real. But a closer scrutiny reveals that there is little room for errors in party's membership figure: the total member count is a sum of local figures coming from over 250 electorate districts, and each district head can check the validity of their own component in the sum anytime. No discrepancies have been reported by any of them. So if the membership figure seems factual and is in conflict with the opinion polls, then maybe the opinion polls are wrong? In 18 days we will know.
Open Source "Gaining Enormous Momentum"
The open-source software "phenomenon" extends far beyond Linux, and is "gaining enormous momentum," IDC reports. Following a recent survey of over 5,000 developers in 116 countries, IDC has concluded that open-source software represents "the most significant all-encompassing and long-term trend that the software industry has seen since the early 1980s."
In its research, IDC found the use of open source to be "pervasive," spanning nearly three-fourths of organizations and hundreds of thousands of projects. The market research firm says it expects that open source will ultimately "play a role in the life-cycle of every major software category, and will fundamentally change the value proposition of packaged software for customers."
The results of the study indicate that open-source software is currently being used by 71 percent of developers worldwide, according to IDC. Additionally, open-source software software is "in production" at 54 percent of the surveyed developers' organizations. Furthermore, half the surveyed developers said that the use of open-source in their organizations is increasing.
IDC offered the following additional observations relating to the proliferation of open-source software:
• Over the next ten years, open source will extract a toll on the industry in the low double digits, percentage wise, led by vicious price competition
• Price effects are a less important impact of open source adoption than the effect of open source on the entire life-cycle of software invention and innovation
• Despite the proliferation of open source license forms, only three business models are important from an industry and an individual vendor success point of view: the software revenue model, the public collective model, and the service broker model
• Competitive success among vendors' open source markets will be determined by a different set of core competencies than those required to invent and market a new product
"Although open source will significantly reduce the industry opportunity over the next ten years, the real impact of open source is to sustain innovations in mature software markets, thus extending the useful life of software assets and saving customers money," explained Dr. Anthony Picardi, senior vice president of Global Software Research at IDC.
"As business requirements shift from acquiring new customers to sustaining existing ones, the competitive landscape will move towards costs savings and serving up sustaining innovations to savvy customers, along with providing mainstream software to new market segments that are willing to pay only a fraction of conventional software license fees. Open source software is ultimately a resource for sustaining innovators," Picardi concluded.
Changing the Report, After the Vote
Except for David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, every member of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education found enough to endorse in the draft the panel produced last month to support it over all. All of them, certainly, also found some aspects of the report objectionable, yet swallowed those objections and agreed, at a public meeting August 10, to sign the report. The panel’s members agreed at the time that the report would undergo only minor copy editing and “wordsmithing” between then and when it was formally presented to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings later this month.
That agreement was nearly imperiled last weekend, though. Gerri Elliott, corporate vice president at Microsoft’s Worldwide Public Sector division, sent an e-mail message to fellow commissioners Friday evening saying that she “vigorously” objected to a paragraph in which the panel embraced and encouraged the development of open source software and open content projects in higher education. The paragraph read like this:
The commission encourages the creation of incentives to promote the development of open-source and open-content projects at universities and colleges across the United States, enabling the open sharing of educational materials from a variety of institutions, disciplines, and educational perspectives. Such a portal could stimulate innovation, and serve as the leading resource for teaching and learning. New initiatives such as OpenCourseWare, the Open Learning Initiative, the Sakai Project, and the Google Book project hold out the potential of providing universal access both to general knowledge and to higher education.
While she agreed with the underlying idea that technological innovation aimed at sharing educational materials and furthering collaborative learning is essential, Elliott said, she took issue with the commission’s decision to weigh in on “the manner in which the underlying software is developed.”
“It is certainly a surprise entry and was absolutely never discussed in any of the meetings I attended,” Elliott wrote, adding that she would “never sign” a report that contained the paragraph as written. She proposed alternative language from which the word “open” was conspicuously absent.
A few hours later, just after midnight on Saturday, Charles Miller, the panel’s chairman, wrote in an e-mail that he believed Elliott’s proposed changes were “an improvement and consistent with the work of the commission.” He said the panel would make the changes “if there are no objections.”
But the objections came quickly, and in varying degrees of intensity. Charles M. Vest, president emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that he was “generally comfortable” with Elliott’s suggestion but that he thought it essential that “open content” must stay. ("Open source,” he agreed, does not necessarily translate into “access to knowledge,” but “we must absolutely consider both commercial software platforms and open-source development as parts of the mix.") MIT has been a pioneer among colleges in making its course materials freely available online.
Richard Stephens, senior vice president for human resources and administration at Boeing, said he agreed with Elliott’s ideas, but still questioned whether it was appropriate to substantively change the draft the commissioners agreed to in August. “There are a number of commissioners that would like something changed, but felt that the report, while not perfect, reflected the findings and recommendations necessary to improve this nation’s higher education system,” Stephens said. “Unless we all agree, it would be difficult to accept this change and not the changes others would like to see.”
As is his wont, Richard Vedder, an outspoken economics professor at Ohio University, weighed in with all of his typing fingers blazing mid-day Saturday. Not only was the original version appropriate, Vedder said (open content “is a promising new trend in higher education that needs our explicit support,” he wrote), but more importantly, “I think it is outrageous to try to change the text of a document weeks after members have been asked to read it, and long after we have met and voted to sign it.” Vedder said he thought it might even be illegal to “change a report that has been voted on in a public meeting and to which people have already signed.”
Then he added: “I must say, and I am sorry if I offend Gerri, that many very important persons on this commission found the time to read the report when asked by the chair. Their corporate responsibilities, while great, were not so great that they neglected their responsibilities to the commission.... Perhaps Microsoft considered this a low priority part of Gerri’s work — if so she should not have accepted this assignment, or, if she did, she should accept the consequences of her failure to perform her duties as all other members of the commission have.”
Not surprisingly, Elliott was not pleased. She called the original wording of the document “parochial” and a “commercial endorsement of specific products.” (In an interview Thursday, Elliott noted that she had never, during the panel’s year of deliberations, “expressed endorsement of one platform over another — that would have been inappropriate. I was not on the commission representing my company, I was there to represent the workforce.")
And to Vedder’s comments on her tardy response to the commission’s report — she was traveling during the August 10 meeting, and did not join via teleconference as did several other panel members, including Robert Zemsky from Thailand — Elliott said in her e-mail reply that she was “completely offended by this personal attack.” “This has nothing to do with my ‘corporate responsibilities,’ and [Miller] was well aware of my availability and access in August.” (In Thursday’s interview, she added that she had given Miller her proxy at the August 10 meeting based on her sense of the report at the “macro” level, but had not had a chance to review the final document until recently.)
Ever the conciliator, James J. Duderstadt sought a compromise. While acknowledging that “we cannot reopen the wordsmithing of the final draft of the report to each of the concerns many of us had with specific details, he proposed language that both broadened the original paragraph to address Elliott’s concerns yet sustained references both to open content initiatives and to open source software. His proposal:
The commission encourages the creation of incentives to promote the development of information-technology-based collaborative tools and capabilities at universities and colleges across the United States, enabling access, interaction, and sharing of educational materials from a variety of institutions, disciplines, and educational perspectives. Both commercial development and new collaborative paradigms such as open source, open content, and open learning will be important in building the next generation learning environments for the knowledge economy.
Saturday night, Miller endorsed Duderstadt’s compromise, which he said was “an improvement in the language, and because it meets the intent of the original language, it should meet both the legal standard and the form of the motion we approved. We take that very seriously and again, that’s a matter of judgment, but I think it would meet a test of reasonableness and we would clearly and openly point out the change to the public.”
That didn’t quite go far enough for Elliott, though. She thanked Duderdstadt for his suggestion but objected to his proposed inclusion of “open source” ("it’s a method of coding software, and one of several available, period") and “open content” (a “term which can mean different things and enter us into some copyright debate"). She suggested language that struck those phrases.
Monday morning, Miller said the commission would go with Duderstadt’s compromise language, which he called “an improvement in the draft” that “does not require and will not be put to a vote.”
Later that morning, Elliott gave in, writing: “I support Jim’s paragraph as well.”
* * *
The Result of Microsoft in Education
I see the results of Gerri Elliott’s position all the time. I constantly hear K-12 students talking about opening up “Internet Explorer", not “a Web browser". I hear them talking about making “PowerPoint slides” instead of “a slide presentation.” And, of course, “Word doc” instead of “document". Ms. Elliott obviously wants this to continue.
We must always remember that corporate entities, such as Microsoft and Apple, have a very different agenda than we educators do. They want to make “good little employees” that will get hooked on their products and demand them at work. We, on the other hand, want to, and are mandated to, teach our students how to learn. That means concepts, not MS Word-specific keystoke shortcuts. You want to learn the latter? That’s what trade schools are for, not K-12 or college-level education.
The gall of Ms. Elliott and her company is that not only did she object to open *source*, but also open *standards*. This is called “lock-in". We cannot, as educators, promote that, not even tacitly.
- Steve Walker
* * *
I’m fairly sure I’d be fired from my job if I didn’t do the work, didn’t show up for the meetings, and whined about the outcome of a meeting I didn’t attend after I signed off on a document I didn’t read.
Patent Fight Rattles Academic Computing
Every day, millions of students taking online college courses act in much the same way as their bricks-and-mortar counterparts. After logging on, they move from course to course and do things like submit work in virtual drop boxes and view posted grades - all from a program running on a PC.
It may seem self-evident that virtual classrooms should closely resemble real ones. But a major education software company contends it wasn't always so obvious. And now, in a move that has shaken up the e-learning community, Blackboard Inc. has been awarded a patent establishing its claims to some of the basic features of the software that powers online education.
The patent, awarded to the Washington, D.C.-based company in January but announced last month, has prompted an angry backlash from the academic computing community, which is fighting back in techie fashion - through online petitions and in a sprawling Wikipedia entry that helps make its case.
Critics say the patent claims nothing less than Blackboard's ownership of the very idea of e-learning. If allowed to stand, they say, it could quash the cooperation between academia and the private sector that has characterized e-learning for years and explains why virtual classrooms are so much better than they used to be.
The patent is "is antithetical to the way that academia makes progress," said Michael Feldstein, assistant director of the State University of New York's online learning network and one of the bloggers who has criticized the company.
Blackboard, which recently became the dominant company in the field by acquiring rival WebCT, says the critics misunderstand what the patent claims. But the company does say it must protect its $100 million investment in the technology. The day the patent was announced, Blackboard sued rival Desire2Learn for infringement and is seeking royalties.
"It just wouldn't be a level playing field if someone could come onto the scene tomorrow, copy everything that Blackboard and WebCT have done and call it their own," said Blackboard general counsel Matthew Small.
Waterloo, Ontario-based Desire2Learn said it was surprised by the lawsuit but will defend itself vigorously. No court date has been set.
The dispute is part of a contentious area of the law concerning patents awarded not just on invented objects, but on ideas and processes. In theory, patents can be awarded on a whole range of ideas as long as they are "non-obvious" and the Patent Office sees no evidence they have been described before. Patents have been awarded for everything from types of credit card offers to methods of teaching a golf swing.
Now, the issue is surfacing in the growing field of e-learning.
According to the Sloan Consortium, 2.3 million U.S. college students were taking at least one course entirely online in the fall of 2004 - a figure that is likely higher now and doesn't include "hybrid" classes with both online and in-person components. Most of those students use so-called "Learning Management Systems," which provide the electronic backbone for online education. For-profit and traditional universities are investing millions in these systems, hoping the upfront investment will pay off down the road with a more efficient teaching model.
About 90 percent of colleges use some kind of LMS, according to data from Eduventures, a Boston company that does research and consulting on online learning, and they are used in about 46 percent of classes. Blackboard has about 60 percent of the market for those systems, followed by eCollege and Desire2Learn with about 20 percent each, according to Eduventures.
"A few years ago this was a place to just hang your syllabus, maybe post a couple of links," said Catherine Burdt, a senior analyst with Eduventures. "Increasingly, we see these systems as the foundation of academic computing."
Blackboard's patent doesn't refer to any device or even specific software code. Rather, it describes the basic framework of an LMS. In short, Blackboard says what it invented isn't learning tools like drop boxes, but the idea of putting such tools together in one big, scalable system across a university.
"Our developers sat down and said 'college IT departments are having a lot of trouble managing all these disparate Web sites from each class. How can we turn this into one computer program that manages all of the classes?'" Small said. "That was a leap."
Critics say it was a tiny hop at most.
Blackboard's claims are "incredibly obvious," said Feldstein. The company's patent suggests "that they invented e-learning," said Alfred Essa, associate vice chancellor and CIO of the Minnesota state college and university system.
The academic IT community has taken its case to the blogosphere. Over recent weeks, a sprawling Wikipedia entry has emerged tracking a history of virtual classrooms as far back as 1945 in an effort to demonstrate the idea was not Blackboard's.
Why are universities concerned? Many use off-the-shelf systems sold by Blackboard already. But others use rival companies like Desire2Learn, or mix and match to meet their own needs. Because universities are decentralized and have such varied systems, one size rarely fits all, says Feldstein. Many borrow from open-source courseware programs with names like "Moodle" and "the Sakai Project."
The fear is that universities, afraid of being sued for patent infringement, would stop that mixing, matching and experimenting - and that innovation would suffer. Feldstein notes most LMSs started out as university research projects - including Blackboard itself, at Cornell.
Blackboard's Small denies the company is claiming to own the very idea of e-learning. He says the company supports open source, and notes a Blackboard product called Building Blocks allows users to create their own systems off Blackboard's basic platform. Blackboard, he says, is focussed on commercial providers and has no intention of going after universities - its customers, after all - in court to collect royalties.
"Blackboard is not a troll," he said, referring to the term for companies that establish a patent but don't use it except to exact royalties from others. "We're not trying to put anyone out of business. We're not trying to hinder innovation. We're seeking a reasonable royalty."
Desire2Learn founder and CEO John Baker says his company will fight the patent hard.
"We hope that after we defend ourselves this will be good for everybody in the industry - clients, students, educators, everybody," he said.
Words of Wisdom vs. Words From Our Sponsor
WHO will stand up to eulogize the fat tome of learning, the college textbook?
Writers have written lovingly of the tactile pleasures provided by printed books and newspapers, but no one has paid particular tribute to the voluptuous four-color, four-pound textbook. Now being replaced by weightless electronic versions, the bound artifact remains forlorn and unloved. In any ceremony marking its demise, college students may want to throw a fusillade of stones at its coffin. Expensive texts, after all, have broken many student budgets.
A $4 billion-a-year business cannot change fundamentally overnight; the shift from printed to electronic textbook will take years. In the meantime, a small publisher of college textbooks, Freeload Press of St. Paul, seeks to take advantage of this flux with a new concept: providing free e-textbooks to students. The catch? Ads are inserted within the text.
It has been 16 years since Channel One’s advertising-supported news broadcasts first slipped into the commercial-free space of middle schools and high schools; today, its in-class advertising, it says, reaches seven million students.
Channel One was able to parachute in televisions and satellite systems like relief supplies to school systems short of cash. Having secured the acquiescence of central administrators, the company never had to fight its way into each classroom, stepping over teachers who objected to the intrusion of commercials into their realm.
Higher education has not been so easy to crack. For the most part, instructors are free to choose whichever textbook they think best suits the needs of their classes, an arrangement that periodically upsets advisory commissions that would like to transplant the one-size-fits-all approach of secondary education to colleges.
Universities will accept gifts from prominent business executives — Stanford students, for example, stand a good chance of guessing who provided the lead gift for the Gates Computer Science Building — and corporate benefactors can expect credit on a plaque for donations of money and equipment. But the core of the university, its intellectual autonomy, is protected by a faculty unbeholden to outside interests.
Textbooks used in the classroom are, like the instructors themselves, extensions of a university’s autonomy and no more likely to be considered an appropriate place for corporate ads than the classroom lectern (or the instructor’s forehead).
Freeload Press seems unlikely to be the company that will succeed in adding commercial messages to the typical college textbook. Its problems begin with that unfortunate name, which conjures an image of party crashers cadging free beer, not a publishing concern striving for the highest intellectual standards. It was founded two years ago and has found the going slow.
Excluding study aids, it offers 15 textbook titles, most of them in math and business, and relies on an even smaller base of authors who contribute to multiple books. This summer, the company announced that the University of Michigan was the 100th college to assign one of its textbooks, but this number exaggerates the popularity because it includes those that have tried it once and have not opted for a second trial.
The number of universities that will be using any of its free textbooks as a required text this fall is only 38.
Without a full range of outstanding textbooks, Freeload will remain nothing more than a concept with dubious prospects. It can’t sign up the authors it needs to expand its offerings because professors balk at the juxtaposition of “Solution to Demonstration Problem” on one page and an ad for a double bacon cheeseburger and fries on the next. The example is not hypothetical.
Randal E. Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, did not have any kind words about the quality of the Freeload titles that he reviewed. His summary: “They’re closer to Schaum’s notes than to university-level course textbooks.” He predicted that Freeload would continue to find it hard to recruit top authors because of the mingling of advertising and supposedly disinterested teaching.
“The idea will be too much of a cultural leap for some,” the company says on its Web site about resistant faculty members. It matter-of-factly aims at professors willing to choose a textbook based on “the price/value consideration alone.”
Asked to select a textbook on the basis of price over quality, professors will resist, as they properly should. Professors, however, are not blind to the shocking prices of new textbooks. Nor are they deaf to the complaining voices of their students. They know that students increasingly buy used textbooks, and that this in turn affects the prices on new texts that sit unsold on the shelves.
J. Bruce Hildebrand, executive director for higher education at the Association of American Publishers, said publishers report that sales of a new textbook edition evaporate almost completely after one year, when used copies flood the market.
Authors say that this drives publishers to shorten the intervals between revisions and to raise prices to try to recoup development costs from a shrinking base of new-book buyers — then the cycle repeats.
The system is broken. Its replacement, however, should not entail a hasty embrace of advertising and substandard contents, but rather adoption of electronic versions of the best textbooks in their field, at much-reduced prices and free of advertising.
When I spoke last week with Jefferson P. Williams, a lecturer of accounting at the University of Michigan, whose summer school course placed his university at the top of Freeload’s celebratory news release, he did not assert that the Freeload textbook was equal in quality to better-known texts.
He had selected the financial accounting textbook for a class of 20 non-accounting majors mainly on the basis of price and adequate coverage. It is noteworthy that he found that many students ended up paying after all. Most class members found reading the dense pages on the computer monitor to be a strain and resorted to buying a softbound printed version of the book — free of ads — from Freeload Press for $35.
The reading difficulty is created by Freeload’s use of PDF images, which retain the printed page’s layout without reformatting. Navigating around a single superwide, supertall page requires lots of clicking and zooming and patience. The company will soon use improved software that can automatically adjust the text so it is more legible, said Tom Duran, a founder of Freeload Press and its chief executive.
Also planned are what Mr. Duran calls a “payload version” of the print edition, one with ads embedded in the text. His company likens its textbook advertising to that accepted by newspapers and magazines.
But this defense ignores the main reason that the advertising in textbooks is objectionable. It’s not the fear of direct tampering with content but the idea that select interests shouldn’t be able to rent the attention of a captive student audience.
When soliciting advertisers, Freeload unapologetically calls attention to its own readership’s lack of choice: “Your Marketing Message works overtime in textbooks” because “grades provide motivated readers; quizzes, tests and finals drive traffic back and forth throughout the medium.”
Most faculty members do not wish to have their teaching associated with specific sponsors. Mr. Hildebrand, of the Association of American Publishers, said, “Faculty want their instruction material to be neutral.” Last year, a Canadian subsidiary of McGraw-Hill began to solicit advertisements for a printed textbook, but an uproar of objections caught the attention of the home office, which promptly shut down the initiative.
A spokeswoman for McGraw-Hill, Mary Skafidas, reiterated last week that the company did not place ads in its textbooks. “We never have, and we never will,” she said.
THE major publishers are introducing e-textbooks at reduced prices. McGraw-Hill offers 2,000 of its textbook titles in electronic format in addition to print; Pearson has 800 electronic titles. Less expensive to produce for obvious reasons, both publishers’ e-textbooks are priced at half as much as the printed versions. The software used by these publishers automatically resizes the e-book’s pages, reducing the pain of reading on-screen.
These e-textbooks are not books in the customary sense. Sandi Kirshner, chief marketing officer for Pearson’s higher-education group, says the e-textbook is offered only on a “subscription basis,” which means that a student buys access for a defined period, like a semester, and cannot resell access to the book to others.
A real-world Solution to Demonstration Problem: hold the double bacon cheeseburger and fries.
Cause Mayhem to Disrupt Illegal Downloads, Says Introversion
Developer reveals it subverts P2P networks in battle against crime
In a refreshing take on the battle against software piracy, developer Introversion has revealed that it 'causes mayhem' on peer-to-peer networks to exasperate pirates and downloaders who plan to play illegal copies of its games.
Speaking exclusively to GamesIndustry.biz in an interview to be published next week, the developer talks candidly about its methods of disrupting piracy by subverting and polluting peer-to-peer networks.
"You can't stop peer-to-peer file sharing, so the best route to combat it is to subvert it," revealed Tom Arundel, sales and marketing director at Introversion.
"We will release a version of our game that looks like it's been hacked at the same time as a pirated version gets out," he said.
"Our version looks like the real game, but is in fact a demo. After the third time of downloading the demo, the P2P user will be very, very frustrated, and will do one of two things - give up or buy the game from us. We subverted the Bit Torrent network for Darwinia very successfully this way," he revealed.
Arundel believes that trying to stop piracy and peer-to-peer sharing is a failed fight. "Rather than attack the cause, it's better to attack the symptoms," he said.
"The key is to make it difficult enough or risky enough for those who would pay, to buy a legitimate copy."
Arundel is also aware that agitating the illegal user does no harm in terms of marketing, stating, "You can cause mayhem on P2P networks. It's quite fun really and it gets a lot of people talking about your products also."
Introversion's new title, DEFCON, is due for release next month. GamesIndustry.biz will be publishing the full interview with Arundel early next week.
Online Spy Plan Raises Fears Over Privacy
Powerful, intrusive new technology is about to be used to spy on New Zealanders online.
The software, developed to hunt movie pirates, can track internet searches in what an international privacy watchdog says is an alarming intrusion. It can trace Google searches and other download attempts back to the computer they came from.
New Zealand anti-piracy investigators used the program in a recent trial, discovering 1153 attempts to illegally download hit children's movie Chicken Little.
Now the Weekend Herald can reveal that the Motion Picture Association, a consortium of major movie studios, is about to use the anti-piracy program fulltime.
The way it could allow private companies to intrude on personal computer use and gather evidence for legal action has raised concerns with internet companies, the Privacy Commissioner and the police.
The New Zealand Federation against Copyright Theft, the MPA's representative here, will use the software to identify pirates by their IP address - a computer's unique identity. It could track the IP address to the internet company which holds the user's details. The internet company could then agree - or be compelled - to give those details to NZfact.
Federation executive director Tony Eaton said action against pirates could begin with a "cease and desist" letter.
In more serious cases, Mr Eaton said, the police could be informed, a search warrant executed, the computer seized and the user prosecuted under the Copyright Act. It is believed that nobody has yet been prosecuted here for downloading movies or music off the internet, although it has happened overseas.
"If the anti-piracy message isn't getting through, then this is one of the tools we will use," Mr Eaton said.
He described the pirate-hunting software as "basically a search engine that searches the search engines", not spyware or a virus.
Mr Eaton has appointed a internet investigator whose first job will be to try to get the co-operation of internet companies in giving the details behind the IP addresses. However, ihug and Orcon have said they would not give up the information without a court warrant.
Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said computer users could ask her to investigate. "It is understandable that people can feel strongly about companies covertly accessing information from their personal computers," she said. "It is an intrusion into personal space."
Ms Shroff said it was unclear if the software breached existing law because an IP address identified a computer - which could obviously be shared or used by just one person.
Maarten Kleintjes, head of the police electronic crime lab, said he "wanted to have a talk" with NZfact to make sure it was not breaching the "demarcation line" between where the internet ended and the personal computer began.
"Even we can't do that," he said. "It would be like us searching every house in a street, without telling anybody and without search warrants."
The Electronic Freedom Frontier (EFF), a United States-based internet civil liberties watchdog, said claims the pirate-hunting software could trace internet searches were new.
"You may occasionally search Google for information about downloading a movie, but you are going to make a hundred unrelated searches, [maybe] about a medical condition, your sexual orientation and political beliefs," said EFF senior lawyer Fred von Lohmann.
"No one should be fooled by their argument that just because they are trying to stop piracy they should be allowed to do whatever they want."
The police and Internal Affairs said their operations to identify IP addresses being used for crimes such as child pornography were targeted rather than "fishing expeditions". Both said they would usually use a search warrant to obtain information from the internet companies.
Scott Bartlett, general manager of Orcon Internet and a director of the Internet Service Providers Association of New Zealand, assured his customers that it would defer only to the justice system.
Mark Rushworth, chief executive of ihug, said: "We won't be passing on any information to a private consortium."
It is understood the software was developed under the command of Chad Tilbury, the MPA's director of worldwide internet enforcement.
Experts Say 'Wasting Time' Can Be Good For Workers
American employees are spending nearly one-fourth of their work hours not focusing on their jobs, according to a recent national survey.
But that "wasted" time can sometimes benefit their employers, said local management experts.
American Online and Salary.com recently released the results of their second annual national survey on wasted time at work.
They polled more than 2,700 AOL users and human resource officials.
On average, respondents said they spent 1.86 hours a day not focusing on work (compared to 2.09 hours in last years survey). That was double what human resource managers assumed. That doesn't include lunch or scheduled breaks.
What are people doing instead?
Top reasons included using the Internet (52 percent), socializing with co-workers (26.3 percent), running errands (7.6 percent), spacing out (6.6 percent), making personal telephone calls (3.9 percent), arriving late and leaving early (2.9 percent) and applying for other jobs (0.7 percent).
Eugene Buccini, a professor of management at Western Connecticut State University, said what seems like goofing off can sometimes help make workers more productive.
For example, talking with co-workers can be important when it's not excessive. "You need some socializing. That builds up trust. They are building the relationships to allow good work to happen," he said.
Even things that seem like a slam dunk no-no might be OK in some situations.
"Playing solitaire on the computer, at first blush, that's a time waster," Buccini said. "In a high intensity environment, every once in a while you might need that time to chill out and get yourself back together."
The key to keeping things under control is having written guidelines, said Nancy Haas, a Danbury area workplace consultant.
That way, employees know what's OK and what's not. "That's only normal (spending some time not working). You can't stand over someone with a microscope 24 hours," Haas said. "They should have a policy in place on use of business equipment including the computer. They can rightfully enforce the policy."
Still, Haas said managers need to show flexibility.
"As long as they get the work done, I don't know if it's a problem," she said.
Salary workers might spend countless hours in their office. Allowing them time to check their e-mail or shop online at work actually might keep them productive," Buccini said. "They don't have to go home to do their errands. "I think companies are short-sighted when they say, 'We want people to work with their noses to the grindstone,'"Š" he said.
He warned of burnout when employees have little time to relax.
"They build up all this stress and then people take time off because they're stressed," he said.
Of course, many workers may be exploiting their bosses, looking to avoid work.
Salary.com -- calculating the average American's annual salary at $35,062-- said time-wasting costs companies about $4,030 a worker per year.
Nationwide, that's $544 billion.
What happens if slacking off becomes wide-scale in a workplace?
"I'm looking at who that manager or that leader is," Buccini said. "Obviously, they are not giving them enough work, appropriate work or motivating them," he said.
He suggested larger companies have "teams" of employees. That way, the workers police themselves. "If someone is slacking off, they can say 'We have to get these things done,' and the boss doesn't have to do it."
|31-08-06, 03:19 PM||#2|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Alternative Rockers See Hobby Evolve Into Business
Members of the alternative rock group Eleven West are, from left, Andrew Lipton, Kevin Kohart, Saagar Kulkarni, Greg Autuori and Scott Erich.
Some friendships are meant to last. For five young men in Ridgefield, music has been the bond that's kept their friendship strong.
Members of the band Eleven West -- Scott Erich, Greg Autuori, Kevin Kohart, Saagar Kulkarni and Andrew Lipton -- turned their music hobby into a business, no small feat for guys who just graduated from high school.
"My parents bought me a drum set when I was 8," Kohart, 18, said. "I took lessons for two years, then we moved here, and Scott and I started peaking off of each other.""Kevin and I have played together since fifth grade," Erich, 18, said. "We ."‰."‰. picked up Andrew and Saagar in middle school. Then I moved to London at the end of eighth grade."
Kulkarni, 17, started playing the bass in fifth grade. "From there, I played in school orchestra and jazz band," he said. "I started playing electric bass in jazz band and realized I wanted to play rock and more modern styles."
Kulkarni, Erich, Kohart and Lipton all played in the jazz band rhythm section throughout middle school. Forming their own group was almost a given.
Through the years, the band went through many names and metamorphoses. Autuori joined the group in ninth grade, filling Erich's role as guitarist and singer. "As our taste in music evolved through high school, our style evolved with it," Kohart said.
Erich agreed. Returning to the band in fall of 2005, he found it influenced by groups such as Avenge Sevenfold, Thursday and Incubus.
"When we first started out, we listened to Led Zeppelin and (Jimi) Hendrix and The Doors," he said. "So we played bluesy-rock."
Eleven West's recent sound can best be described as alternative rock, and they've taken it on the road.
From January to July they played at venues including the Empress Ballroom in Danbury, The Space in Hamden, Toquet Hall in Westport and Trackside in Wilton.
"We do it all ourselves," Erich said. "Booking shows, production, song writing, promotion -- with the exception of the help of a studio engineer, Ryan Perra, in Westport, where we recorded the CD."
Their CD was cut in July as a testimonial to their time together, before they go off to college this fall. To date, they've sold 175 copies "out of the trunks of cars."
The CDs is also available at Ridgefield Music and a number of Web sites. Within a month it should be available on iTunes.
They have no big music-business ambitions.
"Our music has gone from hobby to business, and when we get back together again, it will be hobby again," said Erich, who will minor in music at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania."I think you could safely say we all have a love of music," said Autuori, 18, who put down his guitar and has done vocals with the group since Erich's return. "Anyone can pick up our CD and enjoy it," Kulkarni said. "It's not experimental. There's something for everyone."
An Eye for Cool, and Cash
In the Hunt to Fill 'Social News' Web Sites, Contributors Now Compete
Sara Kehaulani Goo
Corey Spring has a college student's dream job: He gets paid to surf the Internet.
Every morning, the 22-year-old Ohio State University senior spends at least an hour wading through 100 of his favorite Web sites -- mostly blogs and mainstream news sites -- looking for unique news items he thinks online readers would like. A few weeks ago, he scored big: He found a New York Times story that identified a woman based on the Internet searches she performed using AOL, which released its users' search data in a privacy breach earlier this month.
He quickly copied and pasted the story's Web address into an online form at Netscape.com, wrote a headline and summary of the story, then clicked the send button.
"It's nice to be the first one to get a big scoop that just came out and nobody's heard of," Spring said. "You want to be the first to say, 'Hey, look at this!' "
Spring neither reports nor writes the news, but he submits stories he finds interesting to one of several popular "social news" Web sites -- places where seeing a story first in a major publication counts as a coup. Such sites encourage visitors to share articles they find interesting, vote on items they like best and post comments about them. The idea is to digest the most current information swirling around the Internet -- as diverse as global news, celebrity gossip and tech tips -- and post it in one place, where top stories can change hour by hour.
On Friday, when many of the nation's newspapers focused on the Hurricane Katrina anniversary, Pluto's planetary status and France's decision to send troops to Lebanon, social news sites offered a far different sampling. The top stories on Digg.com included "10 things Google knows about you"; a first-person account from a man who claimed he was interrogated by D.C. police for playing with a portable video game near the Capitol; and an Associated Press report about the City of Las Vegas no longer issuing wedding licenses past midnight.
The system depends on a steady stream of contributors like Spring. Last month, Netscape said it would be the first to pay the most active contributors -- $1,000 a month to post at least 150 stories during that time to its newly redesigned Web site. The job qualifications are rather fuzzy, but an executive said active "navigators" or "social bookmarkers" provide a valuable service because they keep the site's content varied and fresh.
"This is a new field, in some ways, a new talent pool," said Jason Calacanis, general manager at Netscape, a division of AOL. "They have a different skill set analogous to other jobs out there but perhaps most analogous to 'cool hunting.' It's almost like urban archaeology, finding interesting things. In other industries it might be a talent scout, or it might be a designer or people who go out and find the latest cool sneakers. There are people in our society who get employed doing a job like this."
Indeed, some of the newly employed "navigators" found it hard to describe the skills required for the job, other than the ability to navigate the Internet very quickly. Most of them are also bloggers, but others simply love to search the Internet in their free time and like the online fame they achieve for becoming one of the most active contributors to such sites.
"I love doing this -- I love trolling around the Internet. It's all I do all day," said Sarah Gim, a 32-year-old blogger who specializes in finding unique news items about food and shopping. Netscape hired her after seeing her contributions to the food blog Slashfood. She likes that "people who look at Netscape and other navigators, they know Sarah and they think of food. I love being known as the food person."
Wayne Welch was one of the top contributors to Digg before he was lured away by Netscape's offer. "It never was or has been a goal of mine to become a top" contributor, Welch said in an e-mail. "It just kind of happened. I have made many friends from Digg who have the same interests as I do, so really to me it was a sharing of information, hey I found this cool story, what did you find. In the process of doing this many people liked the stories I was submitting and I am the same way in my personal life, I always want to share something cool with anyone who will listen."
Calacanis's offer last month created a bit of controversy in the Internet world, especially because Netscape made clear that it wanted to hire some of the top contributors to other similarly designed sites, such as Reddit.com, Newsvine.com and Digg.com, which do not pay people for submitting stories. Some users called Netscape's new employees sellouts for accepting the offer, but others said they hoped Digg and others would also begin paying their heavy contributors.
"PAYING PEOPLE to submit stories to a social news site is just plain wrong," wrote someone with the screen name Wayne Kerr, in a discussion about the matter on the Web site Postbubble ( http://www.postbubble.com/ ). Another commentator, with the screen name Thomas Aylott, disagreed, arguing that surfing for news "isn't an art, it's a skill. And now, finally, it's a marketable and profitable skill."
Jay Adelson, chief executive of Digg, which helped pioneer the social news format with a focus on tech-related news, said his Web site will not pay contributors because he fears that will disrupt its online community.
He said he does not want to create an imbalance whereby one user is more valued than another. "What's important to the community is not to favor anyone," Adelson said. "If we betray that and start compensating users one way or another, you create significant hierarchies where individuals are motivated based on compensation."
But other contributors to social news Web sites think something much larger is taking shape. Derek Van Vliet, one of the top contributors to Digg who now works for Netscape, said he has been approached by another social news site to submit stories for a fee. He declined to name the company that made the offer.
"I do not think this is about paying users. I consider this paying people to contribute quality content, which is not a new concept on the internet by any means," Van Vliet wrote in an e-mail. "I expect to see more opportunities like this for people who contribute positively to social communities."
Web, Reality TV Create New Celebrities
Reality TV turns nobodies into stars. Spoof Internet music videos garner millions of viewers. Television executives and program makers faced up to an uncomfortable truth Saturday at the Edinburgh International Television Festival: In the age of interactive television and user-generated online content, just about anyone can be a star.
The phenomenon is especially pronounced in Britain, where the fiercely competitive tabloid press requires a constant supply of celebrities - A-list, B-list, C-list and below.
"We don't really care how they became famous," said Boyd Hilton, television editor of Heat, the country's top celebrity magazine.
The rise of the instant star and the increasingly ephemeral nature of celebrity pose a challenge to television's traditional measures of talent. So it's no surprise that one of the most popular sessions at the Edinburgh festival was a panel discussion - titled "Don't You Know Who I am?" - that examined the changing nature of celebrity.
Hundreds of producers and programmers from around the world, from Danish TV to Disney to the BBC, packed an auditorium to hear from panelists including Rebecca Loos - a "celebrity" famous for her alleged affair with soccer star David Beckham - and "Lottery Lout" Michael Carroll, a multimillion-dollar winner with big tattoos and an extensive criminal record.
The fame of Loos and Carroll clearly irked some "traditional" celebrities, who resented the success of people with no discernible talent.
"I think I got known to the public for having a talent," said actress and singer Michelle Gayle, another panelist. "The things 'celebrities' are doing are not the things I want to do."
Gayle said she despaired "when you're speaking to kids and their ambition is to be a footballer's wife."
Loos - who garnered headlines, and a small fortune, when she sold the story of her alleged romance with the married Beckham - was unrepentant.
"My view is: You take from it what you can," said Loos, who has appeared on several reality-TV shows and says she is now developing her own TV projects.
"It has given me opportunities, certain doors that are interesting ... You have to take the good and the bad," she said.
Psychologist Marisa Peer said there had been a fundamental change in the nature of celebrity.
"The public used to like iconic celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor that they could never be like ... People now like celebrities who are like them," she said.
Panelist Jeremy Beadle, a once-ubiquitous British game show host now rarely sighted on TV, had a warning for aspiring celebs: fame is fleeting.
"I don't think the people who chase fame understand what it really is, because they will be crucified," he said. This program should be called 'Don't You Know Who I Was?'"
An even greater challenge to TV and its notions of celebrity may come from technology. Video-sharing sites like YouTube and Google Video mean that homemade clips can be seen by millions, creating instant - and usually short-lived - global phenomena.
"In this type of world, everyone is a celebrity," Marissa Mayer, Google Inc.'s vice president of search products and user experience, told delegates during another session Saturday.
"You can thank us for it or not, but it does cause things like a David Hasselhoff video to be the biggest video in the world."
At Forbes.com, Lots of Glitter but Maybe Not So Many Visitors
If Forbes.com was looking to create some Internet buzz last week, it succeeded.
The Web site published an article called “Don’t Marry Career Women,” which suggested that if a man did, he was more likely to be cheated on, get divorced and have a dirty house.
Responses on the Web were swift, with many blogs and sites like Salon.com attacking the posting as a sexist throwback. Forbes.com temporarily withdrew the article and later paired it with an opposing view titled, “Don’t Marry A Lazy Man.”
Forbes.com, the online sibling of Forbes magazine and part of Forbes Inc., is more accustomed to delivering the news than being the news. And despite last week’s dust-up, it is adept at it. Even as Forbes magazine has declined in advertising in the last few years, Forbes.com has thrived.
Its own ads proclaim that “more people get their business news from Forbes.com than any other source in the world,” saying that its sites drew about 15 million unique visitors in a single month earlier this year. It was a well-heeled crowd, according to Forbes.com, which says that the average household income of its users is $149,601.
Forbes’s Web prowess is a big reason Elevation Partners, a private equity firm that counts Bono of U2 as a managing director, agreed on Aug. 4 to buy a minority stake in Forbes’s publishing business. “Forbes has already won the first round” in the battle for Internet supremacy, an Elevation founder, Roger McNamee, said then.
But a closer look at the numbers raises questions about Forbes.com’s industry-leading success. For its claim of a worldwide audience of nearly 15.3 million, it has been citing February data from comScore Media Metrix, one of the two leading providers of third-party Web traffic data.
There are several problems with that statistic, though, and comScore has since revised the figure downward to less than 13.2 million as part of a broader revamping of its worldwide data for many sites. Jack Flanagan, executive vice president at comScore Media Metrix, said the new figures were released “a couple of months ago” after it changed its methods for estimating global audiences.
There is also the question, given Forbes.com’s user figures, of where those visitors were going. According to comScore, 45 percent of its February traffic went to ForbesAutos.com, a companion Web site heavy on car reviews and photos. About three-quarters of the ForbesAutos.com traffic came from outside the United States.
Since February, comScore said, Forbes.com’s traffic has tumbled. In July, Forbes Web sites drew 7.3 million unique visitors worldwide, almost a million of whom went to ForbesAutos. That put Forbes.com slightly below Dow Jones (whose online properties include The Wall Street Journal’s Web site and MarketWatch), CNNMoney.com (which includes the sites of Fortune and Business 2.0 magazines) and sites affiliated with Reuters, each of which comScore says had some 7.6 million visitors that month.
James Spanfeller, chief executive of Forbes.com, is not backing away from the contention that Forbes.com is No. 1 in its field.
“Are we leading the pack?” Mr. Spanfeller said in an interview on Friday. “Yes.”
Asked why, as recently as last week, Forbes.com continued to cite comScore’s discarded figure of 15.3 million on its Web site, Mr. Spanfeller said that the company only learned of comScore’s new, lower number when informed of it by a reporter. He also said that the usage statistics for many of its rivals were revised downward as well, some by larger percentages than that for Forbes.com.
What about comScore’s July figure of 7.3 million, which is less than half what Forbes.com has been using? Mr. Spanfeller said comScore’s latest figures clashed with the company’s internally generated data, which still showed about 15 million visitors a month, with ForbesAutos.com accounting for about 2 million of those.
Still, Mr. Spanfeller, who is also chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the trade association for online media, conceded that the proliferation of Web traffic statistics could be confusing and agreed that the industry needed to deal with that issue.
Forbes.com is hardly the only site to present traffic figures that are higher than those reported by the third-party companies. And because they rely on sampling and extrapolation, even the independent companies often present vastly different results for the same site.
Faith in such data has also suffered as a result of recent restatements by the large Web-tracking businesses. Nielsen/NetRatings, comScore’s main competitor, recently reduced its April numbers for Entrepreneur.com to about 2 million visitors from a previously reported 7.6 million. (The company said it made the change to remove Entrepreneur.com pages that had popped up without the user requesting them.)
The Forbes site’s assertions that it is top dog irk its competitors. “Forbes.com is not the biggest,” Vivek Shah, president of digital publishing for Time Inc.’s business and finance network, said in an e-mail message on Friday.
His comment was seconded by L. Gordon Crovitz, publisher of The Journal and executive vice president of Dow Jones, who is responsible for Dow Jones’s consumer brands, including The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and MarketWatch. Both Mr. Shah and Mr. Crovitz pointed to figures from Nielsen/NetRatings, which they say undercut those from Forbes.com.
Nielsen/NetRatings’ latest audience figures in the United States — Nielsen does not provide worldwide figures — show Forbes.com with less than 6.6 million unique visitors in July, putting it below both Dow Jones, at about 7.8 million, and CNNMoney, at about 8.5 million. The largest business site was Yahoo Finance, with 12.2 million visitors, although other financial sites often choose not to compare themselves with large portals.
The debate is more than just a numbers game. According to Nielsen/NetRatings, the Forbes site attracted almost $55 million in revenue in 2005, the most among business publications, including The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and the business pages of The New York Times.
Some competitors argue that Forbes.com’s popularity derives in part from racy, provocative or wealth-obsessed lifestyle features that have little to do with traditional business news — examples from this year include “The Hottest Billionaire Heiresses,” “Top Topless Beaches” and “America’s Drunkest Cities.” Those kinds of articles, unlikely to appear in Forbes magazine, may be a small fraction of those that Forbes.com posts each day, but they are often featured on mass-market Web portals.
Most financial publications cover the softer side of money, hoping to cast a wide net and attract different types of advertisers. And like Forbes.com, many Web sites link up with portals to increase their traffic. Forbes.com may simply do these things better, or more aggressively, than most.
In fact, one Forbes.com rival seems to be taking a page from its playbook. In the spring, BusinessWeek Online hired away the Forbes.com lifestyle editor, Charles Dubow, to be its director of new products.
Still, some competitors say that while eye-catching lifestyle stories may attract lots of readers, those readers are more transient and less likely to be the kind of high-powered professionals that advertisers pay more to reach.
Mr. Crovitz of Dow Jones cited Nielsen/NetRatings data from June showing that the average visitor to a Dow Jones site spent 19 minutes there during the month, as opposed to 5 minutes for the Forbes.com user.
Mr. Spanfeller responded that many Forbes.com readers were busy decision-makers who cannot spend large chunks of their workday trolling the Web.
What do advertisers think? Jeff Lanctot, vice president and general manager of a marketing services company, Avenue A Razorfish, suggested that touting flashy, nonbusiness content, while not necessarily a problem, could pose risks for a site like Forbes.com if overdone.
“If it is a salacious Paris Hilton link that drops you at Forbes.com, that might be an issue” for an advertiser, he said.
But Alan Schanzer, managing partner at MEC Interaction North America, a media planning group, saw little harm in what he called Forbes.com’s occasional tongue-in-cheek approach.
Consider “America’s Drunkest Cities,” a Forbes.com posting that ranked American cities by alcohol consumption. “I would guess that was a very popular piece,” Mr. Schanzer said. “I bet lots of people in New York were trying to figure out why they weren’t higher up.” (New York was No. 32 on Forbes.com’s list; Milwaukee was No. 1.)
Mr. Spanfeller said Forbes.com’s readership had a very appealing demographic profile that had remained relatively stable even as its audience had grown.
He pointed out that Forbes.com allowed its advertisers to specify what kind of editorial material they wanted to be paired with. That way, an advertiser seeking to be associated with hard business news would not see its ad run next to, say, the article on topless beaches.
Even if advertisers do not balk at Forbes.com’s provocative postings, some readers and business leaders might. Michelle Peluso, chief executive of Travelocity.com, told Salon last week that she thought that Forbes.com’s “career women” posting was “incredibly disappointing” and that she planned to speak with people at the magazine about it.
Asked about the article, Mr. Spanfeller said it was an aberration that had “clearly failed” to give the subject the sensitive treatment it deserved.
Despite the furor, the career women posting and reaction seemed unlikely to dent Forbes.com’s standing in the Web rankings anytime soon. Yesterday, the revamped piece — renamed “Careers and Marriage” — stood at the top of the site’s list of its most popular postings.
Wireless Providers Poised to Win Spectrum Licenses
Ken Belson and Matt Richtel
When the government’s multibillion-dollar auction of radio spectrum licenses began two weeks ago, it looked as if newcomers might get the chance to buy their way into the mobile phone business, leading to more choices for consumers.
But now the country’s biggest cellular providers appear poised to win many of the 1,122 licenses up for auction, allowing them to expand their reach and reducing the chance that a new entrant might bring down prices.
At the same time, cable companies like Time Warner and Comcast have teamed up with Sprint Nextel to bid on chunks of spectrum to expand their limited presence in the wireless business. Analysts said the cable companies were likely to use the spectrum to offer wireless Web access, not necessarily phone service.
Of the $13.3 billion in bids registered thus far, $2.2 billion has come from the cable providers, bidding together in a consortium with Sprint, the third-largest cellular carrier. But about 60 percent of the total bids have come from Cingular, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, the first-, second- and fourth-largest cellphone companies. T-Mobile has bid nearly $4 billion, mostly for licenses in major metropolitan areas, while Cingular and Verizon have sought licenses that cover broader regions.
In throwing their financial weight around, the cellphone companies may have scared off DirecTV and EchoStar, the two largest satellite television providers, which were expected to make a charge into the wireless arena but withdrew from the auction last week.
“The kings of the hill defended the hill,” said Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst at Ovum, a telecommunications consulting firm. “The dream of another wave of new entrants has died.”
The lack of new participants, however, could also reflect a realization that building another nationwide cellular network would be prohibitively expensive. The four largest carriers already have about 85 percent of the nation’s 218 million cellphone subscribers, and they have spent more than a decade and tens of billions of dollars building their networks.
Cable companies would also have to spend billions more to market their service in a country where most people already have cellphones. They would probably attract only about 2.5 million subscribers who would pay about $45 a month, according to estimates by Jason Bazinet, who tracks media and entertainment companies at Citigroup.
Emerging technology that lets wireless phones use data networks instead of traditional cellular networks to connect calls could give the cable companies a route into the phone market.
More likely, analysts said, cable companies are buying spectrum because they are interested in building a network of wireless hubs to let their customers log onto the Internet not just at home, but also in cafes, parks and hotels.
The cable consortium has bid for dozens of licenses, some of which cover the New York metropolitan area, where Time Warner Cable provides service, as well as Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago, where Comcast is the main provider. It has also bid for licenses in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities.
While wireless data networks are cheaper to build than voice networks because fewer towers are needed, it is unclear whether the cable companies will ever make enough money from data service to offset the cost of offering it. Verizon Wireless and Sprint already sell so-called 3G, or third-generation, data services that are only just catching on, analysts said.
“I don’t think cable is going to get into mobile voice because it’s overgrazed, but they’ve drunk the 3G Kool-Aid and believe that a lot of nomadic people that they can’t reach are signing up for wireless services,” said Edward Snyder, a telecommunications analyst at Charter Equity Research. Mr. Snyder questioned this strategy, asking, “Why go head-to-head with something that’s been around for years?”
Satellite television providers may have reached that conclusion. DirecTV and EchoStar had put more than $972 million on deposit ahead of the auction, more than any other group, suggesting they were committed to buying a lot of spectrum. Analysts said the companies might want to introduce a vast fixed wireless or even mobile phone network.
But after just a week of bidding, the companies withdrew. Their early departure could have been a tactic to win more favorable terms from potential partners that already own spectrum. By showing a willingness to spend heavily, the companies could have been trying to signal that they were able to go it alone if need be, said Mr. Bazinet of Citigroup.
Still, Mr. Entner said that the satellite companies were astute in backing out of the auctions because, by his estimates, it could take 20 years or more to generate a return on their investment in spectrum.
“Their delusions of grandeur were abruptly brought to the ground,” he said. “They thought they could buy this on the cheap, but wireless is not something you can buy on the cheap.”
Cell Phones Spill Secrets
The married man's girlfriend sent a text message to his cell phone: His wife was getting suspicious. Perhaps they should cool it for a few days.
''So,'' she wrote, ''I'll talk to u next week.''
''You want a break from me? Then fine,'' he wrote back.
Later, the married man bought a new phone. He sold his old one on eBay, at Internet auction, for $290.
The guys who bought it now know his secret.
The married man had followed the directions in his phone's manual to erase all his information, including lurid exchanges with his lover. But it wasn't enough.
Selling your old phone once you upgrade to a fancier model can be like handing over your diaries. All sorts of sensitive information pile up inside our cell phones, and deleting it may be more difficult than you think.
A popular practice among sellers, resetting the phone, often means sensitive information appears to have been erased. But it can be resurrected using specialized yet inexpensive software found on the Internet.
A company, Trust Digital of McLean, Va., bought 10 different phones on eBay this summer to test phone-security tools it sells for businesses. The phones all were fairly sophisticated models capable of working with corporate e-mail systems.
Curious software experts at Trust Digital resurrected information on nearly all the used phones, including the racy exchanges between guarded lovers.
The other phones contained:
--One company's plans to win a multimillion-dollar federal transportation contract.
--E-mails about another firm's $50,000 payment for a software license.
--Bank accounts and passwords.
--Details of prescriptions and receipts for one worker's utility payments.
The recovered information was equal to 27,000 pages -- a stack of printouts 8 feet high.
''We found just a mountain of personal and corporate data,'' said Nick Magliato, Trust Digital's chief executive.
Many of the phones were owned personally by the sellers but crammed with sensitive corporate information, underscoring the blurring of work and home. ''They don't come with a warning label that says, 'Be careful.' The data on these phones is very important,'' Magliato said.
One phone surrendered the secrets of a chief executive at a small technology company in Silicon Valley. It included details of a pending deal with Adobe Systems Inc., and e-mail proposals from a potential Japanese partner:
''If we want to be exclusive distributor in Japan, what kind of business terms you want?'' asked the executive in Japan.
Trust Digital surmised that the U.S. chief executive gave his old phone to a former roommate, who used it briefly then sold it for $400 on eBay. Researchers found e-mails covering different periods for both men, who used the same address until recently.
Experts said giving away an old phone is commonplace. Consumers upgrade their cell phones on average about every 18 months.
''Most people toss their phones after they're done; a lot of them give their old phones to family members or friends,'' said Miro Kazakoff, a researcher at Compete Inc. of Boston who follows mobile phone sales and trends. He said selling a used phone -- which sometimes can fetch hundreds of dollars -- is increasingly popular.
The 10 phones Trust Digital studied represented popular models from leading manufacturers. All the phones stored information on ''flash'' memory chips, the same technology found in digital cameras and some music players.
Flash memory is inexpensive and durable. But it is slow to erase information in ways that make it impossible to recover. So manufacturers compensate with methods that erase data less completely but don't make a phone seem sluggish.
Phone manufacturers usually provide instructions for safely deleting a customer's information, but it's not always convenient or easy to find. Research in Motion Ltd. has built into newer Blackberry phones an easy-to-use wipe program.
Palm Inc., which makes the popular Treo phones, puts directions deep within its Web site for what it calls a ''zero out reset.'' It involves holding down three buttons simultaneously while pressing a fourth tiny button on the back of the phone.
But it's so awkward to do that even Palm says it may take two people. A Palm executive, Joe Fabris, said the company made the process deliberately clumsy because it doesn't want customers accidentally erasing their information.
Trust Digital resurrected erased e-mails and other information from a used Treo phone provided by The Associated Press for a demonstration after it was reset and appeared empty. Once the phone was reset using Palm's awkward ''zero-out'' technique, no information could be recovered. The AP already used that technique to protect data on its reporters' phones.
''The tools are out there'' for hackers and thieves to rummage through deleted data on used phones, Trust Digital's chief technology officer, Norm Laudermilch, said. ''It definitely does not take a Ph.D.''
Fabris, Palm's director of wireless solutions, said the company may warn customers in an upcoming newsletter about the risks of selling their used phones after AP's inquiries. ''It might behoove us to raise this issue,'' Fabris said.
Dean Olmstead of Fresno, Calif., sold his Treo phone on eBay after using it six months. He didn't know about Palm's instructions to safely delete all his personal information. Now, he's worried.
''I probably should have done that,'' Olmstead said. ''Folks need to know this. I'm hoping my phone goes to a nice person.''
Guy Martin of Albuquerque, N.M., wasn't as concerned someone will snoop on his secrets. He also sold his Treo phone on eBay and didn't delete his information completely.
''I'm not that kind of valuable person, so I'm not really worried,'' said Martin, who runs the www.imusteat.com Web site. ''I guarantee that three-quarters of the people who buy these phones don't think about this.''
Trust Digital found no evidence thieves or corporate spies are routinely buying used phones to mine them for secrets, Magliato said. ''I don't think the bad guys have figured this out yet.''
President Bush's former cybersecurity adviser, Howard Schmidt, carried up to four phones and e-mail devices -- and said he was always careful with them. To sanitize his older Blackberry devices, Schmidt would deliberately type his password incorrectly 11 times, which caused data on them to self-destruct.
''People are just not aware how much they're exposing themselves,'' Schmidt said. ''This is more than something you pick up and talk on. This is your identity. There are people really looking to exploit this.''
Executives at Trust Digital agreed to review with AP the information extracted from the used phones on the condition AP would not identify the sellers or their employers. They also showed AP receipts from the Internet auctions in which they bought the 10 phones over the summer for prices between $192 and $400 each.
Trust Digital said it intends to return all the phones to their original owners, and said it kept the recovered personal information on a single computer under lock and disconnected from its corporate network at its headquarters in northern Virginia.
Peiter ''Mudge'' Zatko, a respected computer security expert, said phone owners should decide whether to auction their used equipment for a few hundred dollars -- and risk revealing their secrets -- or effectively toss their old phones under a large truck to dispose of them.
What about a case like the Lothario whose affair Trust Digital discovered?
''I'd run over the phone,'' Zatko said. ''Maybe give it an acid bath.''
T-Mobile Hacker Gets Home Detention
A hacker who infiltrated the network of T-Mobile USA Inc. and accessed personal information of hundreds of customers, including a Secret Service agent, was sentenced Monday to one year of home detention.
Nicholas Lee Jacobsen, 23, must also pay $10,000 in restitution to T-Mobile to cover losses caused by his acts, which took place in 2004.
The former Santa Ana resident who now lives in Oregon said he lacked "comprehension and maturity" when he targeted the network of Bellevue, Wash.-based T-Mobile USA, uncovering the names and Social Security numbers of 400 customers.
"I did some very stupid things," Jacobsen told U.S. District Judge George King at his sentencing Monday in Los Angeles.
Jacobsen was able to read some sensitive information that Special Agent Peter Cavicchia could access through his wireless T-Mobile Sidekick device. No investigations were compromised, the Secret Service said.
"What you've done is very dangerous to others. Maybe you didn't fully appreciate that, perhaps because of your youth," King told Jacobsen Monday.
Jacobsen could have faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the crime, accessing a protected computer.
10 Top Tips For Protecting Yourself At Hot Spots
Wi-Fi hotspots have become ubiquitous at cafes, airports, restaurants, and other public location. In fact, more and more cities are creating hotspots that blanket entire metropolitan areas.
But every time you connect at a hotspot, you're asking for trouble. hotspots are open networks that don't use encryption, which invites hacking and snooping. In addition, when you're on a hotspot you're connected to the same network as your fellow hotspot users, they can potentially weasel their way onto your PC and inflict damage.
But don't let that deter you from connecting. There's plenty you can do to keep yourself safe at hotspots. Just follow these ten tips.
1. Disable Wi-Fi ad-hoc mode Wi-Fi runs in two modes: infrastructure mode, which you use when you connect to a network; and ad-hoc mode, when you connect directly to another PC. If you've enabled ad-hoc mode, there's a chance that someone near you can establish an ad-hoc connection to you without your knowledge, and they'll then have free reign in your PC. So when you're in a hotspot, make sure that ad-hoc mode is turned off. To do it:
1. Right-click the wireless icon in the System Tray.
2. Choose Status.
3. Click Properties
4. Select the Wireless Networks tab.
5. Select your current network connection.
6. Click Properties, then click the Association tab.
7. Uncheck the box next to "This is a computer-to-computer (ad hoc) network".
8. Click OK, and keep clicking OK until the dialog boxes disappear.
2. Use a wireless Virtual Private Network (VPN). When you're at a hotspot, anyone nearby with a sniffer can see all the packets you send and receive. This means they can see your passwords, user names, email...anything you do online. A great way to protect yourself is with a wireless VPN that encrypts all the information you send and receive when you're online, so you'll be free from snoopers. My favorite is hotspotVPN. It's easy to set up and use; you don't need to download software, because it uses XP's built-in VPN software. It costs $8.88 per month, or in one, three, and seven day increments for ,$3.88, $5.88, and $6.88 respectively. You can also pay for more secure VPN encryption from the service for between $10.88 and $13.88 per month.
3. Use an encrypted USB flash drive. For maximum protection of your data, use a clean laptop that only has an operating system applications on it, and put all of the data you're taking with you on an encrypted USB flash drive. Many flash drives include encryption features. That way, even if someone somehow gets into your PC, they won't be able to read or alter any of your data.
4. Use a personal firewall. A firewall will protect you from anyone trying to break into your PC, and can also protect any spyware or Trojans on your PC from making outbound connections. The XP firewall offers only one-way protection; it doesn't stop outbound connections. So for maximum security, don't rely on XP's firewall. There are plenty of good firewalls out there, but for most purposes, the free version of ZoneAlarm is a great choice.
5. Turn off file sharing. It's fine to enable file sharing on your home network. But doing it at a public hotspot invites any of your close-by latte drinkers to start slurping files off your system. To turn it off. Turn it off by running Windows Explorer, right-clicking on the drive or folders you normally share, choosing Sharing and Security, and unchecking the box next to "Share this folder on the network."
6. Make sure the hotspot is a legitimate one. One of the latest hotspot scams is for someone to set up a hotspot themselves in a public location or cafe, and when you connect, steal your personal information, or ask you to type in sensitive information in order to log in. So before connecting at a hotspot, ask someone at the counter of the cafe the name of the hotspot, because someone may have set up another one, in the hopes of luring in the unwary.
7. Disable or remove your wireless adapter if you're working offline. Just because you're at a hotspot doesn't necessarily mean that you have to connect to the Internet -- you may want to work offline. If that's the case, remove your wireless card. If you instead have a wireless adapter built into your laptop, disable it. In XP, right-click the wireless icon, and choose Disable. If you're using the adapter's software to manage your connection, check the laptop on how to disable it.
8. Use email encryption. Much email software includes encryption features that encrypt messages and attachments. So turn on email encryption when you're at a hotspot. In Outlook 2003, select Options from the Tools menu, click the Security tab, and then check the box next to "Encrypt contents and attachments for outgoing messages." Then click OK.
9. Look over your shoulder. Sniffers and hacking techniques aren't required for someone to steal your user names and passwords. Someone only needs to peer over your shoulder to watch what you're typing. So make sure no one snoops on you as you computer.
10. Don't leave your laptop alone. Had too many lattes and need to hit the rest room? Don't leave your laptop behind. Laptop thefts are getting increasingly common at hotspots. In fact, San Francisco has been subject to a hotspot crime wave of sorts, with thieves even grabbing people's laptops while they were using them. Some hotspots have responded by including a port to which you can lock your laptop via a laptop lock.
Wi-Fi's 'N' to Get Industry Group Nod
An industry group of wireless networking companies said Tuesday it will start certifying next-generation routers and network cards in 2007, a year before official standards are expected.
Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, said that without a certification program, the market could have been fragmented by the growing number and variety of pre-standard "Draft N" or "Pre-N" products claiming faster speeds and greater range. The products take their names from the 802.11n standard.
As early as a month ago, the alliance, which ensures Wi-Fi products from different companies work together, indicated it wouldn't certify the interoperability of the pre-N products. But delays within the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the professional association which shepherds the standards process, prompted the Wi-Fi Alliance to rethink, Hanzlik said.
Currently, the IEEE is working on integrating thousands of comments and edits to a draft standard. Hanzlik said he expects to use the next version of the draft for testing and certification - but that if the IEEE is still bogged down, the Wi-Fi Alliance will go ahead with the plan anyway. Then, when the IEEE approves a final 802.11n standard, the alliance will conduct a second phase of testing.
At all levels, industry players seemed pleased with the decision.
"This announcement will give 802.11n a really big shot in the arm," said Michael Hurlston, the vice president of chipset maker Broadcom Corp.'s wireless LAN division. "We're expecting a market shift in terms of market share away from standards a/b/g and towards n. We think this accelerates that process."
In the absence of alliance-led certification, chip makers would have been on their own to make sure products were interoperable - a process that would have required a lot of one-on-one, under-the-radar negotiations, Hurlston said.
Intel Corp. and Atheros Communications Inc., which both make wireless chipsets, expressed support for the move, as did Airgo Networks Inc.
"Rather than having these products delivered in a vacuum, the Wi-Fi Alliance said, let's impose some rigor on the market," said David Borison, director of product marketing for Airgo. "We're all competitors. At the first sign of trouble, everybody points at someone else. That's why the Wi-Fi Alliance is so important."
Dell Inc., which recently started shipping laptops with 802.11n wireless cards, and Netgear Inc., which makes 802.11n wireless routers and cards, were also in favor of certifying pre-standard products.
Interoperability will speed the adoption of new wireless products, said David Henry, director of product marketing for Netgear's consumer products division.
AT&T Aims to Build Network for Ill. City
AT&T Inc. is the lead candidate to build a citywide wireless network for Springfield, Ill., marking the company's first success in the developing market to blanket municipalities with ubiquitous Internet access.
Mayor Timothy Davlin announced Tuesday that the city intends to pursue a proposal submitted by AT&T, pending approval by the Springfield City Council. The state capital is still free to choose a partner other than AT&T.
As with a growing number of municipal wireless projects, the Springfield network's users will be given a choice of free access supported by advertisements or paying a daily or monthly fee for a connection without ads. AT&T also plans to sell the wireless capability as an add-on service for residential and business customers who already pay for DSL online access over the company's local telephone network.
The network is to be built and maintained without taxpayer dollars, Davlin said in a statement.
Hundreds of municipal wireless projects have been proposed around the country the past few years. Many have sparked protest from those who oppose any such expenditure of taxpayer money, as well as from phone and cable TV companies that would be forced to compete with a low-cost or free wireless service.
City officials frequently argue that Internet access is a vital public service akin to water and garbage collection, asserting that broad wireless access is an economic necessity for keeping and luring businesses. They also complain that the local phone and cable providers have been slow to bring affordable broadband access to low-income residents.
But in the face of heavy lobbying, the trend has veered away from the early emphasis on city-owned and city-run networks. Instead, cities have been contracting with companies such as EarthLink Inc. and MetroFi Inc. to build and operate the systems with plans to generate revenue from ads and subscriptions.
One company has rejected the ad-based model: In June, MobilePro Inc. pulled out of a deal to set up a wireless network in Sacramento, Calif., saying the city's request for a network funded entirely through advertising was not financially feasible.
AT&T has partnered with MetroFi on at least one bid for such a project in Riverside, Calif., and has been "actively involved" in seeking deals to provide wireless networks in as many as a dozen cities, said Eric Shepcaro, senior vice president for AT&T Business Services.
The Springfield network would cover between 25 and 30 square miles, delivered with a combination of Wi-Fi and longer-range technologies such as WiMax.
Hackers Gain Data on AT&T Shoppers
Hackers gained access to a computer system and obtained credit card information and other personal data from several thousand customers who purchased digital subscriber line equipment from AT&T’s online store, the company said Tuesday.
AT&T said the system was hacked into over the weekend.
The data of “fewer than 19,000 customers” were affected, the company said.
AT&T, based in San Antonio, said it closed the online store and would pay for credit monitoring services for the people whose files were broken into.
The company notified the major credit card companies whose customer accounts were affected.
It also sent notification to customers involved via e-mail messages, phone and letter.
The company said the unauthorized access was found within hours of the breach.
Disaster Simulation in U.S. Finds Computers Vulnerable
It would begin with a worldwide virus outbreak that had cities under quarantine, emergency workers overwhelmed and government agencies unable to cope. It would be compounded by cyberterror attacks that cut off power, phones and Internet access.
Such was the simulated crisis that teams from the Pentagon, nongovernmental agencies and several dozen technology companies set out to handle in a five-day exercise this month that was meant to showcase and test a new set of digital tools for responding to disaster.
The limitations of even the latest technology were made apparent in the simulation, when an effort to restore communications by setting up wireless networks resulted in a three-day data traffic jam.
Yet the problems encountered in the training effort, named Strong Angel III, failed to discourage the participants, a diverse group of more than 800 "first responders," military officers and software and wireless network experts - some from rivals like Microsoft and Google, working side by side.
"My view is that the value of Strong Angel is 70 percent in the social networks that will be created," said the organizer, Eric Rasmussen, a Navy surgeon and veteran of relief efforts on several continents. "What we do is try to bring people with disparate backgrounds together and ensure that they are forced to enter into a conversation."
More than $35 million in equipment was assembled in San Diego as part of the event, which was aimed at preparing for natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist attacks or the aftermath of a war.
On Aug. 21, the group began to assemble a makeshift command center at an abandoned building near the airport in San Diego. But a state-of-the-art wireless network, which was intended to route video images, satellite map coordinates and other data from an array of mobile computers, failed to come to life.
"Finally I said, 'Lights out! Everyone turn everything off and let's start over,'" said Brian Steckler, a computer scientist at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, who was in charge of more than a dozen interlocking networks at the heart of the command center.
Hundreds of computers and even cellphones were shut down, and then the network was turned back on, segment by segment. Too many high-bandwidth applications had clogged the network, including a powerful video camera and "rogue" transmitters set up by participants intent on creating their own mini-networks.
Computer researchers call wireless networks of this type "hastily formed networks." But Steckler said his experience in the training session and in real disasters had led him to refer to them as "fragilely formed networks" instead.
But the technology roadblocks were balanced by notable successes, like the work of Google, Microsoft, ESRI, Intergraph and other companies to allow the sharing of a single set of digital satellite maps seamlessly and to overlay event data relayed from emergency workers throughout the San Diego area.
The new software capability relies on a Microsoft-designed system called Simple Sharing Extensions. It has been built on industry standards, like the Web protocol known as Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, which was designed to enable one-way data streams.
Such tools are valuable for disaster- response coordinators who require real-time data feeds from a variety of locations.
The Microsoft extensions will make it possible for the feeds to display constantly changing or even conflicting data streams from multiple sources.
Moreover, the achievement demonstrated that industry rivals like Microsoft and Google could cooperatively generate useful technologies.
Small teams of programmers from the two companies sat before laptops at adjacent tables to make sure that the Microsoft software connection system would transfer information to Google Earth, Google's visual mapping tool.
"I've been talking to Google all week," said Robert Kirkpatrick, lead architect of Microsoft's humanitarian systems group.
That is the kind of teamwork that Rasmussen had in mind when organizing the Strong Angel event, the third such exercise held since 2000.
Rasmussen has become a leading figure in high-tech emergency preparedness in the United States and internationally. His expertise has been honed by experience in Bosnia and Baghdad, in African refugee camps, in Indonesia after the tsunami and in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Working a decade ago in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Pentagon, he began exploring the use of high-tech systems to support the emergency missions that he would serve in as a doctor.
"People are dying in really ugly ways, and it's avoidable," he said.
That led him to organize Strong Angel, which he said was not a formal disaster exercise, but rather a laboratory to experiment with technology that might prove useful in disaster settings. He likened the event to a group of musicians playing casual jazz, rather than a rigorous symphony.
That unstructured approach led to some frustrations among participants, who complained at times that they were uncertain of their duties. But Rasmussen said the situation was meant to force them to organize themselves in a leadership vacuum.
Rasmussen's effort has the support of Linton Wells 2nd, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration at the Pentagon. Wells, a military strategist, was a driving force behind a Pentagon directive last November that put "stability operations" - defined as "military and civilian activities conducted across the spectrum from peace to conflict to establish or maintain order" - on an equal footing with waging war as a primary mission for the military.
Recognizing the shortcomings of reconstruction efforts after the invasion of Iraq, the directive said that much of this work was best performed by "indigenous, foreign or U.S. civilian professionals."
"We want to be able to create a space outside of the Pentagon's network firewalls to offer assistance," Wells said. Such a shift in mission would make it easier, for example, to provide Pentagon imagery from satellites and unmanned Predator aircraft to disaster relief organizations, he said.
It took 300 e-mail messages and ultimately the intervention of a fleet admiral to get Rasmussen and two colleagues to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, in the days immediately after the tsunami in December 2004. Such missions need to be on the military's checklist, Wells said.
In addition to large technology firms like Cisco Systems, Mitre and Bell Canada, smaller companies demonstrated a range of initiatives last week, tucked amid a phalanx of big trucks that had brought communications equipment to the command site.
VSee Lab, a Silicon Valley startup, brought a video-conferencing software system made to transmit video over today's cellular telephone data networks at good quality.
GATR Technologies, a two-person company in Huntsville, Alabama, brought a satellite communications antenna tucked inside a large inflatable beach ball made of ultralight racing sail cloth.
The system, designed by Paul Gierow, a former aerospace engineer, weighs a little more than 70 pounds, or 30 kilograms, and makes it possible to deploy a two-megabit Internet connection - faster than many digital phone lines - virtually anywhere.
Google Releasing Package For The Office
Gmail is headed for the office - officially.
Starting Monday, Google will offer Google Apps for Your Domain, a free package of programs for businesses, universities and other organizations.
Workers will be able to send e-mail with Gmail, Google's two-year-old Web-based mail service, but messages will carry their company's domain name. The package also includes Google's online calendar, instant-messaging service, and Page Creator, a Web page builder.
Information technology administrators can make some customizations. "But really, the applications are exactly what you'd experience as a consumer if you use them," said Dave Girouard, VP and general manager of Google Enterprise, a division of Google Inc.
The free edition of Apps for Your Domain is, like Google's main site, supported with ads. By the end of the year, the company also plans to launch a paid version that will offer more storage, some degree of support, and likely, no ads. A price for this edition hasn't been set.
Providing e-mail and other applications for businesses moves Google closer into what has traditionally been turf occupied by Microsoft Corp. Earlier this year, Google released a program that builds simple Excel-type spreadsheets but lets users access them on the Web.
Now, with e-mail, Google appears to be targeting Microsoft's Outlook and Exchange franchises - although the company plays down any such views.
"We don't see our products as an either/or thing right now," Girouard said. "Smaller businesses, it may be the case where this is the preferred e-mail and messaging solution. In larger companies, it may well be used alongside."
In February, Google launched a beta test with San Jose City College in California; by the end of the beta, the company said hundreds of universities had signed up, along with one-person businesses, medical and legal practices, even some companies with tens and hundreds of employees.
For all of Google's side projects - spreadsheets, shopping, maps - its revenue is almost entirely based on its search advertising.
While Girouard said the market for enterprise e-mail and other products is very large, he declined to speculate on the financial implications. "We tend to focus first on user adoption," he said. "The business model follows pretty successfully."
For businesses, Google hopes the suite of applications will relieve some of the cost and annoyance of administering e-mail servers and the like - and hopefully, fewer calls to internal help centers.
After AOL's recent data privacy debacle, businesses may have qualms turning their employees' data over to Google.
"Third-party hosting providers aren't necessarily any more risky than their own companies," said Girouard. "Google has hosted applications and information for individuals, and is starting to do it for organizations. We do have a very good track record," he said.
AOL Revamps Its Online Music Service
Internet giant AOL has revamped its Web-based music download service, adding music videos, streaming radio and user community features.
The new version of AOL Music Now is scheduled to debut Tuesday, offering some 2.5 million audio tracks and thousands of music videos, the company said.
Audio tracks can be bought individually for 99 cents, while music videos cost $1.99 each.
The service offers unlimited downloads at a monthly rate of $9.95, or $14.95 for the ability to transfer songs to compatible portable music players.
By increasing video content, AOL is putting itself in a better position to compete with rivals like Yahoo, said Phil Leigh, an analyst with Inside Digital Media.
Other established online music services also sell video content or allow computer users to view - not download - videos free of charge. But the AOL Music Now subscription plan includes unlimited music video downloads.
"The previous service was very simple in its construct with the main goal of allowing people to listen to unlimited music on demand," said Amit Shafrir, president of AOL Music Now.
"The new service has a lot more features to it. It's completely redesigned," he said.
Among the new features are more than 200 AOL radio stations and XM Satellite Radio channels along with tools for users to browse the playlists of other subscribers.
Shafrir declined to say how many subscribers the service has.
AOL first entered the online music market in 2003, launching a music download store powered by MusicNet that was available only to subscribers of AOL's Internet service.
Last year, the company acquired another established online music provider, MusicNow, and launched a preview version of AOL Music Now in November, opening the Web-based service to non-AOL members.
AOL also runs a separate music portal that offers ad-supported music news and other content for free.
The redesign of AOL Music Now comes as the field of licensed online music services has been growing.
Earlier this summer, MTV Networks Inc. launched its own music subscription service. Other online music services such as Yahoo's Music Unlimited, Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store, RealNetworks' Rhapsody and Napster Inc. have also been vying for a bigger piece of the market.
Burglary Suspect Charged With Courthouse Theft
A New Fairfield man already facing burglary and larceny charges was arrested Friday after allegedly stealing the purses of several Judicial Department employees during a court appearance.
State Police said Jason D. McNally, 35, of Route 39, was in superior court in Bantam when a marshal saw him stuff something under his shirt as he entered a rest room. The marshal confronted him when he came out, but McNally ignored her and left the building, police said.
While McNally was still in the parking lot, the marshals learned that a purse had been stolen, and one of them approached him again. But this time, police said, McNally struck the officer and fled on foot.
He was eventually apprehended by state police a short distance away.
Meanwhile, marshals learned that several other purses had been rifled, and McNally was found to be in possession of some of the stolen items, police said.
He was charged with four counts of third-degree burglary, two counts of sixth-degree larceny, a single count of fourth-degree larceny, criminal trover and assault on a public safety official.
ILN News Letter
Court Issues Injunction Against Utah Net Censorship Bill
A federal court in Utah has blocked enforcement of an Internet censorship bill that CDT, the American Civil Liberties Union, and a broad coalition of bookstores, independent artists and ISPs challenged as unconstitutional in 2005. The court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction that prevents the enforcement of statutory provisions amended by Utah House Bill 260. The law would force web sites to remove lawful content from the Internet or face prosecution. It would also require ISPs to block access to adult sites in such a way that many innocent sites would likely also be blocked.
Decision at <http://www.cdt.org/speech/20060829utah.pdf>
Sony Settles Canadian Class Actions Over Rootkit
Sony has settled several outstanding Canadian class action suits launched in the wake of the Sony rootkit controversy last year. Settlement terms are similar to those reached in the United States. The settlement must still receive court approval.
Settlement information at <http://cdtechsettlement.sonybmg.ca/en/>
California Passes WI-FI User Protection Bill
California's state assembly has passed a bill to require makers of Internet access gear to warn consumers of the risks of using unsecured wireless connections. Legislators in both houses of the state legislature voted overwhelmingly in favour or the "Wi-Fi User Protection Bill" to inform users how to secure networks against piggybacking, or unauthorized sharing of wireless access.
Critics Say RIAA Copyright Education Is Contradictory
The music industry's educational video about copyright law has been declared full of "baloney," according to several trade and public interest groups. The RIAA's video suggests that students should be sceptical of free content and that it is always illegal to make a copy of a song, even if it is just to introduce a friend to a new band.
Times Withholds Web Article in Britain
Tom Zeller Jr.
If Web readers in Britain were intrigued by the headline “Details Emerge in British Terror Case,” which sat on top of The New York Times’s home page much of yesterday, they would have been disappointed with a click.
“On advice of legal counsel, this article is unavailable to readers of nytimes.com in Britain,” is the message they would have seen. “This arises from the requirement in British law that prohibits publication of prejudicial information about the defendants prior to trial.”
In adapting technology intended for targeted advertising to keep the article out of Britain, The Times addressed one of the concerns of news organizations publishing online: how to avoid running afoul of local publishing laws.
“I think we have to take every case on its own facts,” said George Freeman, vice president and assistant general counsel of The New York Times Company. “But we’re dealing with a country that, while it doesn’t have a First Amendment, it does have a free press, and it’s our position that we ought to respect that country’s laws.”
Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said restricting information fit with trends across the Internet. “There’s a been a sense that technology can create a form of geographic zoning on the Internet for many years now — that they might not be 100 percent effective, but effective enough,” Mr. Zittrain said. “And there’s even a sense that international courts might be willing to take into account these efforts.
Plans were made at The Times over the weekend to withhold print versions of the article in Britain, as well as news agency and archived versions.
But the issue of the Web was more complicated.
Richard J. Meislin, the paper’s associate managing editor for Internet publishing, said the technological hurdle was surmounted by using some of The Times’s Web advertising technology. The paper could already discern the Internet address of users connecting to the site to deliver targeted marketing, and could therefore deliver targeted editorial content as well. That took several hours of programming.
“It’s never a happy choice to deny any reader a story,” said Jill Abramson, a managing editor at The Times. “But this was preferable to not having it on the Web at all.”
eBay Gambles on Google Partnership for Success of Skype, the Internet Phone Service
EBay is hoping its new partnership with Google will help it find new ways to make money from Skype, its Internet calling service. But experts wonder if enough people are willing to make the switch from traditional phones to talking through their computers.
A critical aspect of the deal announced yesterday is that Google will introduce a feature that allows users to talk to advertisers by way of Skype, instead of just clicking through to the advertisers’ Web sites. Users of this feature, called click-to-call, would also have the option of using Google’s own Google Talk system or standard telephones.
Early tests by several companies indicate there is a group of advertisers, including mortgage brokers, who are willing to pay $8 to $15 for each call from a Web searcher, roughly 10 times more than they will pay for a Web site click. Under the Google- eBay deal, money paid by advertisers for calls completed through Skype would be split between the two companies, although the proportion of the split was not disclosed.
But most of these tests so far, including those by Google, are focused on calling using regular phones, rather than calling by PC using services like Skype. Indeed, eStara, a company that provides pay-per-call advertising technology to companies including Verizon’s SuperPages.com unit, offers both telephone and PC calling options. It has found that only 10 to 15 percent of people choose to talk using their computers, and that this proportion is not increasing.
“The vast majority of consumers want calls to be landline-based,” said John Federman, eStara’s chief executive. PC calling requires computers that are equipped with microphones, and a change in customer behavior.
Alex Kazim, the president of Skype, said an increasing number of computers now came with microphones, and consumers were increasingly using them.
“We see a shift over time as users become more and more able to do voice calling on their PC’s,” Mr. Kazim said. He pointed out that Skype had 100 million users worldwide.
EBay bought Skype last year for $2.6 billion and additional payments based on its performance. It expects Skype to generate $200 million in revenue this year, mainly from fees for connecting PC calls to regular telephones and extra services like voice mail.
In an interview Sunday, Meg Whitman, eBay’s chief executive, said that the click-to-call system could substantially increase Skype’s revenue, but she declined to say by how much.
Skype and Google will begin testing the system next year. So far, most pay-per-call advertising uses one of two technologies. In some, the ads simply display a telephone number for users to call as they would any business. But the number is used only for that advertising campaign, so each call can be tracked. In others, users enter their phone number on the Web and receive a call moments later from the advertiser.
Google has tested the latter system because it can record exactly what path a user took before initiating a call.
AOL, which is using pay-per-call in its Web search ads, uses the unique phone number approach, because it is easier to understand.
“Consumers are more interested in what they are going to say to the mortgage broker than learning how to change behavior,” said Marc Barach, the chief marketing officer of Ingenio, which runs the pay-per-call system used by AOL.
Matt Booth, an analyst with the Kelsey Group, said there was a large potential market for ads that generate voice calls, especially among small businesses that do not do much business online.
“Sending someone to a Web site for a plumber is not as valuable as setting up a phone call,” Mr. Booth said.
EBay is also exploring how to use voice communication on its own auction site. So far, it has allowed sellers in some categories to add “Skype me” buttons that let potential bidders call them using Skype. It does not charge for this service, as it is seen as an alternative to e-mail, the usual way sellers have answered questions.
But eBay hopes to develop new services for marketers who are simply looking for contacts with potential customers rather than simple transactions, charging them for every call completed.
“There is a class of goods and services where the eBay transaction model is struggling,” said Mr. Kazim of Skype. “Real estate agents are not looking to sell a particular house. They want you to come in, and figure out what you need and can afford, so they can show you five houses that are right.”
The other part of the deal announced yesterday is more straightforward: Google will sell advertising that will appear on eBay pages outside of the United States. In May, eBay struck a similar deal for Yahoo to sell ads on its pages in the United States. Yahoo also agreed to use eBay’s PayPal unit as its main payments system worldwide.
Ina Steiner, the editor of AuctionBytes, a newsletter, said many eBay sellers saw little benefit from the deals with Yahoo and Google.
“It looks like eBay is milking its auction site as a cash cow to invest in PayPal and Skype,” Ms. Steiner said. “People are already seeing the tests for the Yahoo ads, and they are not happy about them because they compete with the eBay sellers.”
EBay is trying to minimize this competition by showing ads for what it calls complementary products, like accessories, rather than for the products being auctioned.
Ms. Steiner said most sellers saw the Skype Me feature as an imposition.
“Most sellers don’t want to talk to buyers,” she said. “They can barely keep up with their e-mail correspondence.”
Google’s shares rose $7.69 yesterday, to close at $380.95, while eBay’s shares rose 49 cents, to $25.79.
Women Go FM
Can intelligent, informational, entertaining FM talk radio wean American women away from an underperforming music radio format and from TV's Oprah, the soaps, Dr. Phil and the Springer and Maury freak shows? And in sufficient numbers to provide an audience that makes commercial sense?
A cool new outfit called GreenStone Media, the creation of some high-powered dames and backed by deep-pocketed investors, certainly believes it's possible. And they'll talk about and promote this idea, and unveil their new "mass appeal format for FM radio--for women and by women," when GreenStone officially launches on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at Manhattan's Museum of Television & Radio.
Never heard of GreenStone? With a board of directors including the late media tycoon Walter Annenberg's daughter Wallis and a couple of high-profile lightning rods like Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, don't fret. You'll be hearing plenty!
The company's New York director of programming, Heather Cohen, a longtime New York WOR Radio exec who produced its powerhouse Joan Hamburg Show, first briefed me about GreenStone, named after a famous children's book by Alice Walker.
And despite Fonda and Steinem, Heather assures me "this is not a left-wing or feminist network." Her thesis: "AM talk radio tends to be highly political, and women don't like that." That surprised me; I thought women were as nutty about politics as the rest of us.
What GreenStone plans to offer is some good talk, information and lots of comedy. And terrific on-air talent, though not many seasoned radio types. Plus, an impressive management lineup bound to get industry, critical and Madison Avenue attention.
The big boss is CEO Susan Ness, who served seven years with the Federal Communications Commission, so she knows what Washington lets you get away with. For the past five years, she's been a consultant on the industry side rather the regulatory side. GreenStone's No. 2 is Edie Hilliard, chief operating officer and executive vice president--a real pro, a 30-year industry vet and something of a programming whiz in indie radio content production and syndication. Dina Dublon is the chief financial officer, following a career as CFO at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Board members include best-selling author (Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman) Gail Evans, formerly a member of CNN's executive committee; Frank Osborn, CEO of Quantum Communications; Emmy-winning anchorwoman Carol Jenkins; poet, novelist and Ms. Editor in Chief Robin Morgan; Fonda; Steinem; and Wallis Annenberg, a vice president of the Annenberg Foundation and a trustee of the University of Southern California.
Financial backers are pretty impressive as well. Among them are David Kennedy; Marta Kauffman, the producer of Friends; Jamie McCourt, the president of the L.A. Dodgers; and "radio icon" Frank Guild.
Ness and Hilliard both called to fill me in.
"We're doing nine hours of programming a day, increasing very shortly to 12 hours," says Ness.
How many stations have signed up, and are they NPR stations?
"No, they're all commercial FM stations. So far, we have Jackson, Miss.; Hartford/New Haven (Conn.), and just signed Albany, N.Y."
Any NYC area outlet?
"We're in discussion with all the groups that own commercial stations," Hilliard says, adding, "eventually, we'll be on satellite as well." Stations are apparently free to cherry-pick and air parts of the day's total programming.
Content being crucial, here's the daily GreenStone on-air lineup: The morning drive features three stand-up comics, Maureen Langan, Cory Kahaney, and Nelsie Spencer, billed as "The Radio Ritas"; from 9 to noon, best-selling author and working mom Lisa Bernbach takes over; Rolonda Watts works from noon to 3; then Mo Gaffney and Shana Wride come on with their "Woman Aloud" show.
GreenStone sounds admirably objective about the prospects in its press materials: "The Arbitron numbers are dramatic. Women are leaving in droves to find content they just can't find on radio. And the younger the demos, the bigger the loss."
Having said that, here's how Hilliard, in an interview with Inside Radio, sees the future of GreenStone: "It will take several weeks or months to polish the shows and be sure we have the right elements in place and the right balance to make for good radio. We intend to be off-Broadway through the spring (ratings) book…we also think we'll be at an average of 100 stations for each program by the end of the second year."
Black Crowes Drop Keyboardist, Delay CD
Keyboardist Eddie Hawrysch is no longer a part of the Black Crowes.
Hawrysch was ''released'' from the rock band because of ''personal issues,'' according to a statement issued Monday by the group's publicist, Mitch Schneider.
Hawrysch joined the band in 1991.
He will be replaced on the Black Crowes' fall tour -- which begins in Richmond, Va., on Sept. 7 -- by Rob Clores, who has played with the John Popper Band and other blues artists.
The band has delayed the release of its new double album ''The Lost Crowes.'' Originally scheduled to hit stores Tuesday, a ''recently discovered manufacturing error'' has caused the record's release to be postponed until Sept. 26.
CNN `Live From...' the Ladies Room
Kyra Phillips, anchor of CNN's ''Live From...,'' unwittingly upstaged President Bush's speech in New Orleans with on-the-air analysis of her husband and the marriage of her brother -- all live from a CNN ladies room.
Unaware that her wireless microphone was ''live'' during her break, Phillips could be heard overriding Bush's prepared address Tuesday as he was seen marking the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The Atlanta-based Phillips, in conversation with an unidentified woman in an echoey room, dismissed most men with a vulgar term, but called herself ''very lucky in that regard. My husband is handsome and he is genuinely a loving -- you know, no ego -- you know what I'm saying? Just a really passionate, compassionate, great, great human being. And they exist. They do exist. They're hard to find. Yup. But they are out there.''
A few moments later, she observed that ''brothers have to be, you know, protective. Except for mine. I've got to be protective of him.''
Why? ''His wife is just a control freak.''
At that point, another voice cut in: ''Kyra.''
''Yeah, baby?'' replied Phillips on hearing her name.
''Your mike is on. Turn it off. It's been on the air.''
CNN anchor Daryn Kagan, looking flustered, then broke into the telecast with a recap of what Bush had been saying.
Phillips later apologized to viewers ''for an issue we had with our mikes'' and ''for a little bit of an interruption there during the president.''
CNN issued its own official statement, explaining the network had ''experienced audio difficulties during the president's speech today in New Orleans. We apologize to our viewers and the president for the disruption.''
The network also apologized to the White House.
Clip and Save Holds Its Own Against Point and Click
In an Internet age, it would seem to be a scene from the past. But for Kristine Davis, as for millions of shoppers across the country, it remains a Sunday morning ritual: retrieving the newspaper from the driveway and quickly extracting the coupon inserts.
By shrewdly using coupons, and tracking store sales, Ms. Davis says she can cut the monthly grocery bill by 30 or 40 percent for her family of four in Marietta, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta.
“It makes me feel terrible when I go to the store and don’t have a coupon,” she said. “It’s a way of life.”
It is a way of life, at first glance, that seems especially vulnerable to the relentless advance of the Internet, with its ability to aim at narrow groups of consumers and measure results. An estimated 99 percent of the roughly 300 billion coupons distributed annually in the United States — mainly in Sunday newspapers — end up in the trash, unused and unredeemed.
An Internet assault on the paper-clipping coupon business is indeed under way, and Google has now entered the fray. But while the cool logic of efficiency suggests the traditional paper coupon is in imminent peril, the marketplace tells another story — at least so far.
The coupon business is a case of new technology confronting a deep-seated commercial culture. Market practices, business relationships and consumer expectations developed over decades are not likely to be quickly swept aside.
There are, to be sure, other holdouts against the supposedly inevitable triumph of digital technology and the Internet. At one time or other, the endangered species list of commerce has included books, bricks-and-mortar stores and business travel for face-to-face meetings. But the resilience of the humble paper coupon appears particularly remarkable. Consumer surveys have shown that most American households use coupons, and that the coupon inserts are the second-most-read part of the Sunday newspaper, after the front page.
“Coupons are an ingrained part of the nation’s shopping culture,” said Charles Brown, co-chairman of the Coupon Council, a coupon advocacy group.
The paper coupon, Mr. Brown insists, is a powerful marketing vehicle to reach millions of consumers and build brands and customer loyalty. Proof of the coupon’s worth, he said, is that major companies like Procter & Gamble, S. C. Johnson, General Mills and Kraft continue to rely on traditional coupons, and that the yearly number of coupons distributed keeps rising slightly.
Some marketing experts say that while old habits resist change, the demise of the paper coupon is a sure thing. It is, they say, the marketing equivalent of a blunderbuss, while the Internet offers a laser shot.
“The paper coupon is the single most inefficient marketing tool you could imagine,” said Peter Sealey, a former chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola who is a marketing consultant in Sausalito, Calif. “The traditional paper coupon is going to die. It can’t survive in the Internet world.”
Two weeks ago, Google announced that it would begin offering local discount coupons to people who use its Google Maps service. The search giant is joining companies that have been distributing online coupons for years, like ValPak and CoolSavings, and Silicon Valley start-ups like Coupons Inc. and Zixxo, which are bringing new technology to the business of marketing national or local coupons over the Internet.
The use of online coupons is rising rapidly, by more than 50 percent a year, but they still account for less than 1 percent of the consumer goods coupons distributed, according to the Promotion Marketing Association, a trade group.
Coupon sites like ValPak and CoolSavings, a subsidiary of Q Interactive, offer coupons for local merchants or nationally branded products. But digital coupons are also spread across many Web sites, just as ads are. So those looking for information on baby care might see an online coupon for diapers, while a person looking at a Web site for motorcycle enthusiasts would be more likely to see a coupon for helmets or leather jackets.
That kind of selective marketing, showing consumers advertising and promotions related to their browsing interests, is the potential Internet advantage.
Digital coupons typically must be printed and physically turned in at a store. So, there is still some paper handling. The next stage, according to marketing experts, will come with the spread of digital cellphones with location-tracking and automatic short-range communication technology. Electronic coupons will be delivered to cellphone owners on demand and redeemed by whisking the phone past a cash register scanner, eliminating all paper.
“That’s going to be the nuclear explosion in the coupon business,” said Mr. Sealey, the consultant, who expects that shift to occur in five years or so.
For its part, Google is going after the local coupon market. A person types in a city name or ZIP code and a buying interest, like “pizza,” and Google Maps presents a street map with locations flagged and a list of pizza shops beside the Web map.
Google will give merchants simple Web tools for making digital coupons. It is distributing online coupons, including ones from ValPak, without charge to the local businesses. Google plans to make money mainly by selling more ads to small businesses, linked to search words.
“The economics of distributing coupons digitally is very attractive,” said Shailesh Rao, Google’s director of local search. “We think a big opportunity is there.”
Coupons Inc., a start-up in Mountain View, Calif., is trying to move the coupons for national consumer brands online. Steven R. Boal, the chief executive, recalled that he was struck by the inefficiency of distributing and handling paper coupons when he first looked at the business.
“It was a forehead slapper,” said Mr. Boal, a former vice president for derivatives technology at J. P. Morgan. “This industry is ripe for change.”
In the last few years, the company has built a Web-based system for securely offering printable coupons for many large consumer companies. The number of coupons printed on the Coupons Inc. system has increased more than tenfold this year, Mr. Boal said. The company charges a small transaction fee to the manufacturers when someone prints a digital coupon.
The big transformation of the paper coupon business came in the early 1970’s, when George F. Valassis, a printer and marketing entrepreneur, persuaded consumer product companies to offer coupons that he would aggregate in Sunday newspaper inserts nationwide.
Today, this national coupon industry is estimated at more than $6 billion a year. About half of that is in incentive payments: the amount consumers save when they redeem coupons. The rest goes to all the middlemen involved in distributing, collecting and clearing coupon transactions. Fees are paid at each stage of handling, with retailers typically receiving 8 cents for each coupon they collect and pass along. S. C. Johnson & Son, the maker of Windex, Pledge, Glade and other household products, uses billions of paper coupons annually in its marketing. The nation’s Sunday newspapers can put a coupon in more than 50 million homes, noted Pat Penman, director of marketing services at S. C. Johnson.
“Online coupons are more targeted, but the traditional coupon is a big, pervasive marketing technique,” Mr. Penman said.
And while coupon clippers, Ms. Penman added, are looking for savings, they are also browsing for new products. So last month when the company introduced its Glade PlugIns Scented Oil Light Show, an air freshener in a light that changes color, it started an aggressive coupon campaign in Sunday newspapers.
“The Internet is having a big impact in how we market,” Ms. Penman observed. “But it’s not a light switch. It’s a transition.”
Coupon fanatics, it seems, will find plenty in their Sunday papers for years to come. But even for those coupons, the Internet can be a tool. Ms. Davis, in the Atlanta suburbs, frequents Web sites like www.couponmom.com, run by Stephanie Nelson, whose “virtual coupon organizer” is a state-by-state Web database of coupon offers in newspaper circulars.
Consumer product companies issue coupons to encourage people to sample new products, to make impulse purchases and to foster brand loyalty — not to enable the coupon cognoscenti to routinely save 30 or 40 percent on the monthly grocery bills.
So the two sides — producer and consumer — use different terms to describe certain shopping tactics. Sometimes, for example, a product will go on sale weeks after a coupon is published, but shortly before the coupon expires. The resulting savings can be huge — the item can be almost free — and that is not what the product maker had in mind with promotional campaigns that just barely overlap. To companies, this tactic is “stacking,” suggesting a gaming of the system. To shoppers, it is a “double play,” a cleverly timed move.
“That’s really exciting,” Ms. Davis said.
No Kid, but Robert Evans Still Stays in the Picture
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.
THE new broom swept unusually clean at Paramount Pictures over the last year or so. Gone are high executives like Sherry Lansing and Jonathan Dolgen, studio fixtures like the superstar Tom Cruise and the producer Scott Rudin, and legions of underlings, all cleared out as a new chief, the former talent manager and producer Brad Grey, took charge.
But one thing remains somehow unchanged on the company’s Hollywood lot.
Across a bright green lawn from the executive office building, under a familiar brown awning that would be at home on Park Avenue, the production company named for its owner, Robert Evans, still holds sway.
Having overcome financial misfortunes, a cocaine addiction and a series of debilitating strokes, Mr. Evans, 76, has also survived something as manageable as corporate regime change. His durability surely says something about the power of myth in the movie world. A boy wonder who ran Paramount in the early 70’s, he embarked on a personal odyssey that brought him back to the studio as a producer 15 years ago. But he was never quite as large as he became with the success of a 2002 documentary based on his autobiography, “The Kid Stays in the Picture.”
“ ‘The Kid Stays in the Picture’ did more for me than all the films I’ve done since I returned to Paramount,” he said during one of a series of recent interviews at his Beverly Hills home.
Mr. Evans’s professional survival — at a time when most of Hollywood is chasing youth and trimming overhead — also speaks to the power of personal loyalty, an enduring value in moviedom. “It is important that Bob keeps his deal,” said Sumner Redstone, the 83-year-old chairman of Paramount’s corporate parent, Viacom, and a close friend of the producer. “Though I can’t guarantee it, I would like to think he would be at Paramount forever.”
Mr. Evans certainly gives that impression, though his company — the contract for which runs to 2008 — doesn’t appear to be at peak productivity. Mr. Evans’s last feature credit was “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” a 2003 film on which his role during production, said Lynda Obst, another of its producers, was to act as a cheerleader. He says he has no films in active development.
Still, his gift for self-promotion remains formidable. “I’m a vital force to be reckoned with. I still have great ideas. Call your article ‘Evans Reloaded,’ ” Mr. Evans declared at his home in August.
Mr. Grey, in a phone interview, said Mr. Evans’s personal saga had been a factor in his own decision to sign on as Paramount’s chairman. “Part of taking this job was thinking how romantic it was the way that Bob Evans did it when he was running the studio,” he said.
Seconding the notion that Mr. Evans can stay as long as he chooses, Mr. Grey, who said Mr. Evans’s presence improved his own morale, noted that Paramount also had deals with the producers David Brown, who is 90, and A. C. Lyles, who is 88. “Evans isn’t the oldest producer on the lot,” he said.
Mr. Evans for his part strongly rejected the idea that he was being coddled because he knows so many of the movie industry’s secrets. “I’ve been back at Paramount since 1991. The only ones back then who could have cared about buried bodies are dead and buried themselves,” he said.
A significant preoccupation of late has been “The Fat Lady Sang,” a second memoir that he says he has submitted, unsuccessfully, to three publishers in the last several years. The latest version of the manuscript is chock full of bedside scenes of him lying near death after his stroke in 1998 and being comforted by Mr. Redstone, who Mr. Evans says was one of three key participants in his rehabilitation.
The others who were vital to his recovery were Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, who was also a producer of the “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” and Brett Ratner, a film director half Mr. Evans’s age who is a frequent visitor to his home.
Mr. Redstone said his own loyalty to Mr. Evans grew from a time when the producer took Mr. Redstone under wing. “In 1967 I owned a lot of movie theaters in the Northeast, but I didn’t know anyone in Hollywood,” he explained. “When I came out here, the only one who took the time to explain the Hollywood side of the business was Bob. He asked for nothing in return.”
Mr. Carter said in a phone interview that he got to know many associates of Mr. Evans while producing the documentary. When Mr. Evans returned to the film business in 1991, “he had an enormous reservoir of good will,” Mr. Carter said. “Even his competitors were happy to see him back. I challenge you to find someone who would say that Bob did anything below the belt while he was running Paramount.”
(When asked why his magazine did not publish an excerpt of the original memoir, Mr. Carter paid tribute to Mr. Evans’s ability as a myth builder: “We were offered the chance, but I declined because Bob’s work defies fact-checking. If you’re going to publish him, it’s best to go with the unvarnished Bob rather than the unvarnished truth.”)
While “The Kid” chronicled how Mr. Evans made his bones by backing young writers like Robert Towne and directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski and Hal Ashby, “Fat Lady” laments his forced pairing with the director William Friedkin , a movie veteran, on the box-office bomb “Jade” in 1995. But Mr. Evans also goes to great lengths to describe his friendship with and admiration for Mr. Ratner, a well-known figure on the industry party circuit who’s had mixed success since he hit the radar with “Money Talks” and the “Rush Hour” series almost 10 years ago.
Mr. Ratner returned Mr. Evans’s flattery in a phone interview last week. “ ‘The Fat Lady Sang’ will be made into a film with me directing,” Mr. Ratner said. “I want either Johnny Depp or Hugh Jackman to play Bob, who I consider not only one of the greatest producers of our time, but one of the greatest philosophers. ‘The Fat Lady Sang’ will be my Oscar picture.”
Stuart Fischoff, a psychology professor who recently retired from teaching at California State University, Los Angeles, and who has written about and for Hollywood, said that Mr. Evans may be serving a purpose far beyond his utility as a producer at Paramount: he is becoming the town’s institutional memory.
“No one becomes a legend unless people need the legend and legendary figures to explain why what happened once isn’t happening anymore,” Dr. Fischoff explained.
Even so, Dr. Fischoff said he found the extraordinary attention Mr. Evans has garnered in his later years a bit of a puzzlement. “Anyone who would identify Evans more than Coppola with ‘The Godfather’ is like a golf-ball manufacturer focusing on the ball rather than on Tiger Woods to explain Woods’s success.”
It was getting dark in Beverly Hills as Mr. Evans, whose gait still bears the traces of those strokes, shuffled to a dining room window that offers a handsome view of his pool and tennis court. (His fabled backyard screening room was gutted in a 2003 electrical fire.) Mr. Evans has been angry all day — and energized — about the previous night’s episode of the HBO series “Entourage.”
Portions of the episode had been filmed at Mr. Evans’s home. He was paid $30,000 for a location fee, but said he was not present during shooting, nor was he aware of the content of the scenes to be shot. So he was surprised when he watched those scenes to find the actor Martin Landau playing an aging, forgetful and washed-up producer named Bob Ryan with a butler named Alan in the scenes shot at his home. For years, Alan Selka has been Mr. Evans’s butler. (A spokeswoman for HBO said that the Bob Ryan character was not based on Mr. Evans.)
As the day wore on, Mr. Evans’s displeasure with Mr. Landau’s “Entourage” character lessened, as did his stamina. Though he says he’s still asked to play roles of men in their 50’s, Mr. Evans looks his age as his wobbly right foot slows his gait.
Asked if he might write something new about his seven wives (he’s been divorced from six of them; the seventh marriage was annulled) he replied curtly, “I don’t want to talk about them.”
The financial success of “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again,” the 1991 memoir by the producer Julia Phillips, is mentioned.
“I thought Julia was a very good writer,” Mr. Evans said, “but writing that kind of stuff is not good for your mental health. Besides, no one would read my book if I did what Julia did,” he added, smiling wanly. “If I wrote the truth of what I know, the book would be 10,000 pages.”
If Hollywood Is a Game, This Player Says It’s Over
David M. Halbfinger
It’s just a throwaway line in the opening paragraph of Michael Tolkin’s sequel to “The Player” — “box office was down, it would never return” — and it’s the stuff of so much anxiety in Hollywood these days that you could hardly call it a stretch for a novelist who, between books, makes a very nice living writing and doctoring screenplays.
Mr. Tolkin’s new installment in the scheming, self-obsessed and periodically homicidal adventures of the studio executive Griffin Mill, “The Return of the Player,” has less to do with the movie business than it does with screwed-up parents, their troubled kids and the aspirations of eerily lifelike gay demicentibillionaires to make it to the next level of obscene wealth, where interest accumulates so fast that a man who pays $125 million for a painting has already made his money back an hour after he signed the check.
Yet undergirding Mr. Tolkin’s trenchant take on the small world known as the West Side of Los Angeles — undermining that world, really — is his devastatingly pessimistic vision of the future of the movie business, not to mention of planet Earth.
In 1988, when he published “The Player,” which became a 1992 movie starring Tim Robbins and directed by Robert Altman, Mr. Tolkin said he had written it as his exit strategy from Hollywood after several frustrating years as a screenwriter. This time around, it isn’t Mr. Tolkin but his now-52-year-old character, Griffin, who is looking to get out, and not just out of Hollywood or Los Angeles, but someplace far away and well above sea level, where the melting ice floes can’t get him.
After listening to Mr. Tolkin for a couple of hours, one would think he should have up and left Hollywood months ago himself.
“The movies haven’t been very good the last three or four years, they really haven’t,” he said. “Everybody knows that. At least that, maybe more. And what they were will never return.”
The source of all this creative-industrial-complex angst is the death of what he both eulogizes and parodies: the classic journey-of-the-hero story structure, analyzed by Joseph Campbell in the 1940’s, popularized a generation ago by George Lucas through “Star Wars,” spouted and shorthanded by studio executives ever since, and all but trampled to death, Mr. Tolkin said, by nearly every subsequent action movie and thriller that Hollywood has turned out.
Or as Griffin puts it: “Physics cracked the atom, biology cracked the genome and Hollywood cracked the story.”
The result was inevitable, Mr. Tolkin suggested. “The children’s movies — ‘Lord of the Rings,’ the ‘Harry Potter’ movies — can still follow that myth, because the kids are too naïve to be cynical about it,” he said. “But everybody else knows the story. They know what’s coming.”
That heroic story structure also happened, as Mr. Tolkin points out ominously, to suffice for an American national myth — witness Horatio Alger, James Stewart or “just the myth of the American little guy” — the myth of a hero with a sense of duty, honor, courage, righteousness and justice. But that too, he fears, is dead, and he pinpoints its demise on a spring day in 2004 when pictures of United States soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners circulated the globe.
“I don’t think America’s had a good movie made since Abu Ghraib,” Mr. Tolkin said, before clarifying that he’s talking about big movies, not the minuscule ones that have met the industry’s quotas for unembarrassing award nominees. “I think it showed that a generation that had been raised on those heroic movies was torturing. National myths die, I don’t think they return. And our national myth is finished, except in a kind of belligerent way.”
Sitting in his spartan office above his garage in the wide-lawned neighborhood of Windsor Square, Mr. Tolkin recalled that he dreamt up “The Player” after staring at the Iran-Contra hearings and watching Elliot Abrams testify to Congress. “I was obsessed with the question of how could he sleep at night, because it was obvious that he was lying. I guess I was interested in the modern sociopath: the political sociopath, the bureaucratic sociopath.”
All these years later, Mr. Tolkin said, he chose to pick up again with his Player in the spring of 2002, several months after 9/11 had revealed the collapse of so many systems. That collapse made the kind of nightmares he has made a sub-specialty of — he shared writing credit for “Deep Impact,” and his other novels involve plane crashes and killings that unravel the lives of husbands and fathers — seem so plausible.
“The great line for that is ‘Enter the Dragon’: ‘You’ve offended me, my family and the Shaolin Temple,’ ” he said. “Me, I could defend myself. My family, we’re fine. But offending the Shaolin Temple means you’ve offended everything we stand for, and we cannot let that by. And our Shaolin Temple has been torn apart, and with it the family, and then with it even the sense of self. And Griffin, in the book, knows that. That’s why he’s panicked about the future, that’s why he wants to leave the country. Because, from the evidence of the collapse of the traditional story in Hollywood, that is the melting iceberg, the telltale sign.”
It seems odd, amid all this morbidity, to hear a character in “Return of the Player” declare that Hollywood is “the most positive force in nature.” And yet Mr. Tolkin said he believes it is.
“I do think the movies help bring people together,” he said. “If there was an Arabic cinema that was as good as the Asian cinema, there’d be less tension in the world. I believe that. When the movies were good, America was more popular in the world. The movies showed the world something really powerful, and that vision was so powerful that the movies were restricted, totalitarian regimes tried to keep the movies out because they were so powerful.
“The American myth is the little tailor that could, the yeoman who can grow up to be president, the humble log cabin leads to the emancipation of the slaves. That’s the most threatening idea in the world.”
At least it was. Now, as Griffin Mill explains, the world has turned off the fantasies that America once fed it: “When the moral lessons of the movies can’t blunt the pain or give you energy because you’re too poor or hungry or scared or trapped — so trapped that the Journey of the Hero is the story of how your oppressors won King of the Hill — you can’t be helped by anything except violence in the real world, but it’s the kind of violence the movies lay off on the villain, mass violence.”
Mr. Tolkin said his book is about “the destructive power of despair and hopelessness.” Which may just deter Hollywood producers from stampeding, as they did with “The Player,” to make the sequel into a movie.
Yet Mr. Tolkin’s watchword, borrowed from Edith Wharton, is “tragedy with a happy ending.” And so, he said, he holds onto hope. Hope that Hollywood won’t fail to find its own path to safety, that the oceans won’t rise to immerse Culver City, that the fanatics won’t inherit or blow up the Earth.
“I’m still hopeful,” he said, “but it’s an act of will now. Reason tells you otherwise.”
Broadcast Chief Misused Office, Inquiry Reports
State Department investigators have found that the head of the agency overseeing most government broadcasts to foreign countries has used his office to run a “horse racing operation” and that he improperly put a friend on the payroll, according to a summary of a report made public on Tuesday by a Democratic lawmaker.
The report said that the official, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had repeatedly used government employees to perform personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit.
The summary of the report, prepared by the State Department inspector general, said the United States attorney’s office here had been given the report and decided not to conduct a criminal inquiry.
The summary said the Justice Department was pursuing a civil inquiry focusing on the contract for Mr. Tomlinson’s friend.
Through his lawyer, James Hamilton, Mr. Tomlinson issued a statement denying that he had done anything improper.
The office of the State Department inspector general presented the findings from its yearlong inquiry last week to the White House and on Monday to some members of Congress.
Three Democratic lawmakers, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Representatives Howard L. Berman and Tom Lantos of California, requested the inquiry after a whistle-blower from the agency had approached them about the possible misuse of federal money by Mr. Tomlinson and the possible hiring of phantom or unqualified employees.
Mr. Tomlinson, a Republican with close ties to the White House, was ousted last year from another post, at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, after another inquiry found evidence that he had violated rules meant to insulate public television and radio from political influence.
His renomination to a new term as chairman of the State Department office that oversees foreign broadcasts, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is pending before the Senate.
Mr. Tomlinson’s position at the broadcasting board makes him one of the administration’s top officials overseeing public diplomacy and puts him in charge of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
The State Department report noted his use of his office to oversee a stable of thoroughbreds but did not mention one specific way in which his professional responsibilities and personal interests appear to have intersected. The horses, according to track records, include Karzai, as in Hamid Karzai, and Massoud, from the late Ahmed Shah Massoud) references to Afghan leaders who have fought against the Taliban and the Russians, as well as Panjshair, the valley that was the base used by forces to overthrow the Taliban.
In providing the report to the members of Congress, the State Department warned that making it public could violate federal law, people who have seen the report said. On Tuesday, Mr. Berman released the summary.
The lawmakers who requested the inquiry sent a letter to the president on Tuesday urging him to remove Mr. Tomlinson from his position immediately “and take all necessary steps to restore the integrity of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.”
A spokeswoman for the White House, Emily Lawrimore, said President Bush continued to support Mr. Tomlinson’s renomination. Ms. Lawrimore declined to comment on the State Department report.
In the statement issued through his lawyer, Mr. Tomlinson said that he was “proud of what I have accomplished for U.S. international broadcasting’’ and that the investigation “was inspired by partisan divisions inside the Broadcasting Board of Governors.’’
He implied that it was more efficient for him to work for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting at his office at the broadcasting board. About his horse racing work, he said the inspector general had concluded that it amounted to “an average of one e-mail and two and a half minutes a day’’ at the office.
He also said he spent more time on broadcasting responsibilities at his farm and residences than he spent on his horses at the office.
“In retrospect, I should have been more careful in this regard,’’ he said.
Mr. Tomlinson, 62, is a former editor of Reader’s Digest who has close ties to Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s political strategist and senior adviser. Mr. Rove and Mr. Tomlinson were on the board of the predecessor to the broadcasting board in the 90’s. Mr. Tomlinson has been chairman of the broadcasting board since 2002.
The board, whose members include the secretary of state, has a central role in public diplomacy. It supervises the government’s foreign broadcasting operations, including Radio Martí, Radio Sawa and Al Hurra; transmits programs in 61 languages; and says it has more than 100 million listeners a week.
Mr. Tomlinson’s ouster in November from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was prompted by a separate investigation by that inspector general at the corporation. That inquiry found evidence that Mr. Tomlinson had violated rules as he sought more conservative programs and that he had improperly intervened to help the staff of the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal win a $4.1 million contract, one of the corporation’s largest programming contracts, to finance a weekly public television program.
The heavily edited State Department report on Mr. Tomlinson’s activities at the Broadcasting Board of Governors did not identify the friend who received the improper employment contract. The report said that there was no competitive bidding to hire him, that he was retired and on a government pension when Mr. Tomlinson hired him and that he never filed the required paperwork with the board.
In his statement, Mr. Tomlinson identified the man as Les Daniels and said he had worked for 35 years at the Voice of America.
Mr. Tomlinson said, Mr. Daniels did important work as a liaison aide with the public and working on significant projects. Mr. Daniels was paid nearly $250,000 over two and a half years, ending last year.
Mr. Tomlinson was rebuked in the earlier report at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for improperly hiring an acquaintance from a journalism center founded by the American Conservative Union. The corporation paid the person more than $20,000 to monitor public radio and television programs for bias, including “Now,” with Bill Moyers as host.
The State Department report said that from 2003 through 2005 Mr. Tomlinson had requested compensation in excess of the 130 days permitted by law for his post. The report said that he had requested and received pay from the broadcasting board and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the same days worked on 14 occasions but that investigators were unable to substantiate whether they were for the same hours worked on the same days.
Investigators who seized Mr. Tomlinson’s e-mail, telephone and office records found that he had improperly and extensively used his office at the broadcasting board for nongovernmental work, including work for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the horse racing and breeding ventures. The material seized included racing forms and evidence that he used the office to buy and sell thoroughbreds.
Mr. Tomlinson owns Sandy Bayou Stables near Middleburg, Va., Records show that most of the horses have not been in the money, although Massoud appears to have been quite successful, earning purses of more than $140,000 over the last two years.
People who have seen the report said it noted that Mr. Tomlinson, on his lawyer’s advice, ended an interview with investigators early. One person familiar with the inquiry said Mr. Hamilton ended the interview as the investigators began to ask about using the office for horse racing business. Mr. Hamilton would not comment about the interview.
Outshining MTV: How Video Killed the Video Star
MTV outgrew music videos long ago. The network has stayed successful by showing reality dramas, celebrity specials and dating competitions. And so every year, MTV’s Video Music Awards seem slightly out of place. The network spends a night lavishly (and perhaps guiltily) paying tribute to music videos; it’s the 1980’s all over again. Then, reruns notwithstanding, it’s back to business as usual for another 364 days.
But while viewers used to complain about the dearth of music videos on MTV, that complaint itself now seems old-fashioned. Anyone who cares about music videos can find them elsewhere, sometimes courtesy of MTV itself. (The network unveiled a video-heavy site, mtv.com/overdrive, last year.) Tonight’s awards ceremony, to be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall, is the first since the introduction of the video iPod last year. And it’s the first since the rise of YouTube.com, the most efficient video-sharing site yet. If MTV no longer plays music videos all day long, who cares?
So what do music fans do when they have cheap cameras and an easy way to share their work with other fans? They sing cover versions of their favorite songs, or show off their lip-synching skill, or do silly little dances. On YouTube this means that artists sometimes end up competing with their own fans.
In one extreme recent case, the hip-hop club track “Chicken Noodle Soup,” by the Harlem duo Webstar and Young B, became a do-it-yourself sensation. Fans learned the accompanying dance even before the duo had a major-label record deal. And by the time Universal Republic rushed out an official music video, it almost seemed like an afterthought, because there were already hundreds of homemade “Chicken Noodle Soup” videos online. For some reason a wide variety of listeners felt compelled to show the world how well (or how poorly) they wiggled in time to that same siren-driven beat.
The spur-of-the-moment music video is a relatively new phenomenon. And some of this year’s most memorable major-label music videos found ways to pay tribute to lip-synchers and bedroom choreographers. In the video for Kelly Clarkson’s “Walk Away” (RCA/Sony BMG), images of Ms. Clarkson are interspersed with images of more-or-less regular people, all of them lip-synching their hearts out. For “Cheated Hearts” (Interscope), the Yeah Yeah Yeahs invited fans to impersonate band members and lip-synch the song. In the final version it can be hard to tell the real Yeah Yeah Yeahs from the fake ones.
No band has exploited online video more effectively than OK Go, from Chicago. The video for “Here It Goes Again” (Capitol) consists of a single, low-resolution shot of the band members performing an intricately choreographed routine on a set of treadmills. Part of the appeal is that these guys don’t look anything like professional dancers. The band wasn’t nominated for any awards. (“Here It Goes Again” was released too late to be considered.) But in a tribute to the power of online video, the members of OK Go are scheduled to reprise their treadmill routine during tonight’s show. Around New York there are tongue-in-cheek OK Go posters that say “For Your Consideration: Best Treadmill Video.”
Compared to these viral videos, tonight’s nominees for video of the year seem to come from a different planet. The five nominated videos are Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” (RCA/Sony BMG), Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” (Epic/Sony BMG), Madonna’s “Hung Up” (Warner Brothers), the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” (Warner Brothers) and Panic! at the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” (Fueled By Ramen). All five are glamorous productions built around performances.
In all five, the wardrobes — Ms. Aguilera’s speakeasy get-up, Shakira’s shiny red skirt, Madonna’s leotard, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ rock ’n’ roll makeovers, Panic! at the Disco’s circus-inspired suits — are more memorable than the plot or the direction. And with the exception of “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” all of these videos were commissioned by well-established acts with big budgets at their disposal.
Not too big, though. In the late 1990’s major-label acts routinely made seven-figure music videos, gambling that they would be able to make the money back through CD sales. But in an era of declining album sales, that logic seems less sensible than ever. These days, when major labels spend that kind of money, they’re not just doing it to provide MTV with free programming. They’re doing it because they want more stuff to sell.
That means more and more CD’s are bundled with DVD’s, or reissued with DVD supplements, or followed by stand-alone DVD companions. From the Arctic Monkeys (who recently released “Scummy Man,” described as “a short film inspired by the song ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ ”) to Chris Brown (whose fans are invited to buy “Chris Brown’s Journey,” a DVD cash-in), extended music videos are finding a home in record stores.
Truly ambitious (and well-financed) stars can make movies instead of videos. OutKast’s “Idlewild,” which was originally conceived as an HBO special, arrived in theaters last week. (No doubt some of the same theatergoers took in T. I.’s “ATL” this spring.) A week and a half ago Lifetime broadcast “The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale,” starring that singer. And in theaters next Friday, country fans can watch “Broken Bridges,” a feature starring Toby Keith.
And then there’s “High School Musical,” which must be the year’s most successful music video, even though you won’t hear about it at the Video Music Awards. It’s a Disney Channel movie that was a huge hit on cable and on DVD. It spawned a soundtrack CD of the same name that remains the year’s best-selling album, and also the year’s best example of how lucrative it can be to combine music and video.
Perhaps it’s a stretch to call a full-length Disney movie a music video. And certainly many more people saw Madonna’s “Hung Up” than saw all the “Chicken Noodle Soup” videos put together. But then it’s getting harder to tell exactly what a music video is or isn’t. A few of them fit on MTV, but more of them find homes on other screens, bigger ones, perhaps, or smaller ones.
There are still plenty of glamorous four-minute performance videos, and viewers will see glimpses of them tonight. But some viewers might also notice that this year’s music awards are old-fashioned in a different way. The ceremony will celebrate an old — though not quite obsolete — idea of what music videos can be. Once upon a time MTV outgrew the music video. But now it seems that the music video has outgrown MTV.
UK Mother Wins Ban On Violent Porn
A mother whose daughter died at the hands of a man obsessed with violent internet porn has won her fight for a ban on possessing such images. The government has announced plans to make the possession of violent porn punishable by three years in jail. It follows a campaign by Berkshire woman Liz Longhurst whose daughter Jane, a Brighton schoolteacher, was allegedly strangled by Graham Coutts. Mrs Longhurst's campaign was backed by MPs and a 50,000-signature petition.
In November last year the petition won cross-party support when it was presented to the House of Commons and was backed publicly by the solicitor general, Harriet Harman MP.
Since her daughter's death Mrs Longhurst, 74, from Reading, has fought a long campaign to ban the possession of images of sexual violence.
Mrs Longhurst said: "My daughter Sue and myself are very pleased that after 30 months of intensive campaigning we have persuaded the government to take action against these horrific internet sites, which can have such a corrupting influence and glorify extreme sexual violence."
Jane Longhurst, 31, was found dead on Wiggonholt Common, near Pulborough, West Sussex, on 19 April 2003.
She had been strangled with a pair of tights and her body kept in storage for weeks before it was found.
In 2004, musician Coutts, 36, of Waterloo Street, Hove, West Sussex, was convicted of her murder but on appeal he was ordered to serve a minimum 26 years in jail.
Trial jurors had been told of his obsession with strangulation and how he looked at internet sites connected with the fetish.
It is already a crime to make or publish such images but proposed legislation will outlaw possession of images such as "material featuring violence that is, or appears to be, life-threatening or is likely to result in serious and disabling injury".
Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker MP said: "Such material has no place in our society but the advent of the internet has meant that this material is more easily available and means existing controls are being by-passed - we must move to tackle this."
Mrs Longhurst said legislation, which would apply to all websites, would mean her daughter's death had not been "entirely in vain".
Reading West MP Martin Salter, who backed the campaign, said: "This campaign has taken a huge amount of time and effort but it has struck a chord right across the country.
The move by the government would close a legal loophole.
"It is great news that the Government has not only listened but has responded to calls to outlaw access to sickening internet images, which can so easily send vulnerable people over the edge."
The new law will not target those who accidentally come into contact with obscene pornography or affect mainstream entertainment industry working within current obscenity laws.
But the proposed legislation has drawn opposition from anti-censorship groups and organisations who represent people involved in sadomasochist activities.
Shaun Gabb, director of the anti-censorship organisation the Libertarian Alliance, said: "If you are criminalising possession then you are giving police inquisitorial powers to come into your house and see what you've got, now we didn't have this in the past."
This year five Law Lords sent Coutts' case back to the Court of Appeal to "invite that court to quash the conviction".
It was argued that jurors in the original trial should have been offered the option of manslaughter as well as a murder verdict.
Intimate Confessions Pour Out on Church’s Web Site
On a Web site called mysecret.tv, there is the writer who was molested years ago by her baby sitter and who still cannot forgive herself for failing to protect her younger siblings from the same abuse.
There is the happy father, businessman and churchgoer who is having a sexual relationship with another man in his church. There is the young woman who shot an abusive boyfriend when she was high on methamphetamine.
Then there is this entry: “Years ago I asked my father, ‘How does a daddy justify selling his little girl?’ He replied, ‘I needed to pay the rent, put food on the table and I liked having a few coins to jangle in my pocket.’ ”
About a month ago, LifeChurch, an evangelical network with nine locations and based in Edmond, Okla., set up mysecret.tv as a forum for people to confess anonymously on the Internet.
The LifeChurch founder, the Rev. Craig Groeschel, said that after 16 years in the ministry he knew that the smiles and eager handshakes that greeted him each week often masked a lot of pain. But the accounts of anguish and guilt that have poured into mysecret.tv have stunned him, Mr. Groeschel said, and affirmed his belief in the need for confession.
“We confess to God for forgiveness but to each other for healing,” Mr. Groeschel said. “Secrets isolate you, and keep you away from God, from those people closest to you.”
LifeChurch, which is 10 years old, tries to draw back those who may have left the faith, Mr. Groeschel said. The church hews to a conservative theology on homosexuality and abortion.
Its nine sites, in Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas, draw a total of 18,000 people to weekend services. LifeChurch also has a “virtual campus” online, and it relies on technology to bind together its “campuses” through endeavors like broadcast sermons.
Still, mysecret.tv represents the first time the church has had an interactive Web site tied to its sermons, in this case a series that Mr. Groeschel began last month on the need for confession.
“I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times people have told me that ‘I’m going to tell you something, Pastor, I’ve never told anyone before,’ ” Mr. Groeschel said. “I realized that people are carrying around dark secrets, and the Web site is giving them a first place for confession.”
The Internet already offers many places to confess, from the dry menu of sins at www.absolution-online.com to the raunchy exhibitionism at sites like www.confessionjunkie.com and www.grouphug.us. It is impossible to know whether these stories, like much on the Internet, are sincere or pure fiction.
One of the best-known sites is postsecret.blogspot.com, an extension of an art project in which people write their secrets on postcards and mail them to an address in Germantown, Md.
Mysecret.tv may be singular because it gives people at LifeChurch an easy opportunity to act on the sermons, said Scott L. Thumma, professor of the sociology of religion at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
“It’s not what you typically expect when a pastor delivers his weekly sermon, and you hit the back door and forget what he said,” Professor Thumma said. “Here it takes on a life of its own, and the folks that are here are not just those who go to LifeChurch.”
Since its inception, mysecret.tv has received more than 150,000 hits and more than 1,500 confessions, Mr. Groeschel said. Absolution is not part of the bargain, just the beginning of release.
“There’s no magic in confessing on a Web site,” Mr. Groeschel said. “My biggest fear is that someone would think that and would go on with life. This is just Step 1.”
The confessions are often just a paragraph or two. Some are eloquent, almost literary. Others are long, rushed and without punctuation, as if the writer needed to get it all out in one breath.
The starkness of the tersest confessions is jolting: “I have verbally and physically abused my wife.”
Another, referring to a spouse, said: “I tell you I love you everyday. Truth is I do love you, but I’m not in love with you, and I never have been. I just don’t want to hurt you and feel worthless.”
Many women speak of their regrets over having had abortions.
Other writers say they cannot shake the recurring nightmare of being sexually abused as children. Most were abused by relatives, neighbors and friends. Some went on to abuse younger children in their families. They state simply how their parents often did nothing to help. A few wonder where God is in all this.
“When I was 7, I was sexually abused by a guy,” a girl wrote. “Then, when I was 13, my mum did the same thing to me. Now I am 16 and scared. My doctor put me in a mental home. Sometimes, I think where is Jesus and why’s he not helping me.”
Because the site is anonymous, the staff at LifeChurch cannot reach out to those who are in danger of harming themselves or others, Mr. Groeschel said.
Professor Thumma pointed out that the resources section of the site could be improved. It now lists mostly religious books rather than mental health services.
Perhaps the most important activity the Web site has is letting people know that they are not alone in their suffering, Professor Thumma said. It harkens to the now rare practice of “testimony time” at evangelical churches, he said, when “you could hear stories about people overcoming problems, stories of hope, so that you felt you weren’t the only one struggling.”
Among those changed by the confessions is Mr. Groeschel himself.
“Knowing that so many people I see every week on the outside look so normal, and yet inside there is so much pain, that has been surprising,” he said. “When you hear about it in their own words, it’s hard to bear.”
Does To. Does Not.
Does the Internet improve social relationships and psychological well-being?
Well-known studies have showed that TV directly causes social disengagement and bad moods.
However, Internet is used for many social purposes — email, newsgroups, chat rooms, etc.
In 1998, Kraut et al. showed a correlation between Internet use and declines in social relationships and isolation,
Greater use of the Internet was also associated with small, but statistically significant declines in social involvement as measured by communication with the family and the size of people’s local social networks, and with increases in loneliness, a psychological state associated with social involvement.
This paper was titled the “Internet Paradox” because the Internet is heavily used for communication, yet it makes people lonelier. Strong relationships developed online are rare; most people use the internet to keep up with offline relationships.
More recently, Kraut et a. did another study on the original test group, and found that the negative effects of using the Internet had dissipated.
A second study was then done on new purchasers of computer and televisions, and it also showed that the internet had a positive effect on social and psychological well-being. Unsurprisingly, this was more pronounced for extroverts and more socially connected people.
So what accounts for the difference between the 1998 and the 2002 study?
One could argue that the Internet has changed. Online dating, discussion boards, social networking, instant messaging. It’s just a different Internet.
The other argument one can make is that the users have changed — when the first study was done, only about the third of the population had access to the Internet. Now, everyone’s online.
Interestingly, the new study showed that heavy Internet usage was associated with declines in local knowledge and interest in living in the local area. This is likely “the grass is greener on the other side” syndrome, and the paper remarks,
Unlike regional newspapers, for example, the Internet makes news about distant cities as accessible as news about one’s hometown.
Kraut, R., Kiesler, S., Boneva, B., Cummings, J., Helgeson, V., & Crawford, A. (2002). Internet paradox revisited. Journal of Social Issues, 58(1), 49-74. [PDF]
Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukopadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement and Psychological Well-Being? American Psychologist, 53(9), 1017-1031.
Can the PS3 Save Sony
The company that created the transistor radio and the Walkman is at the precipice. If Sony's new $600 console doesn't blow gamers away, it may be time to say sayonara.
Never try to introduce the same product twice. That was the lesson from the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May. A year earlier, at E3 2005 in Los Angeles, Sony had wowed the videogame industry with demonstrations of the upcoming PlayStation 3's unprecedented graphical muscle. The machine wouldn't be available until months after Microsoft's next-gen console, the Xbox 360. Yet based on the spectacular preview, many gamers had no problem waiting for the PS3. Then, early this year, Sony dropped a bombshell: The PS3 release would be pushed back until November. So when E3 came around again this spring, everyone trooped out to the retro Hollywood lotusland of the Sony Pictures lot – only to view the same console they'd been promised the year before. Not great.
Delays are nothing new in tech, but Sony seemed intent on making the worst of it. The crowd was kept waiting nearly an hour. Then Kaz Hirai, who heads PlayStation in North America, took the stage to declare, "The next generation doesn't start until we say it does!" He meant it as a dig at Microsoft, but to gamers who'd been salivating for a year, his words were like a bitch slap. The demos that followed were no more impressive than those the year before. Finally, PlayStation chief Ken Kutaragi came forward to make the one announcement everyone wanted to hear: the price. $600 for the high-end model? The room gasped, then fell silent. Almost immediately, the blogosphere lit up with denunciations: Sony has turned its back on gamers. The PS3 will be a failure. Kutaragi and Hirai are idiots.
PR fiascoes tend to be a sign that nobody's thinking about the customer. E3 was Sony's second in seven months. Last October, a security researcher reported on his blog that CDs from Sony BMG – the music label half-owned by Sony – contained antipiracy software that covertly embedded itself in computer operating systems, spying on their owners and leaving the machines themselves vulnerable to identity theft and zombie takeover attempts. Sony BMG pooh-poohed the problem and released a software fix that made it even worse. Millions of CDs had to be recalled. As class actions multiplied and even the Department of Homeland Security warned music labels against undermining computer security, angry consumers declared themselves ready to boycott anything with the Sony name on it.
Sixty years after its founding in the ashes of postwar Tokyo, the company that gave us the transistor radio and the Walkman portable music player is deeply wounded. Only once in the past five years has Sony's all-important electronics division posted a profit; during that same period, the company's share price has fallen by nearly half. Its hit products of the '90s – Handycams, WEGA TVs, VAIO computers – were succeeded by stillborn wonders like the AirBoard, a $1,000 videoscreen that could be carried around like a laptop, and the Net MD Walkman, a too-little-too-late attempt to challenge Apple's iPod. Neither this latter-day Walkman nor Sony Connect, the online music store The New York Times once called "Sony Disconnect," would have anything to do with MP3 files – only Sony's cumbersome and proprietary Atrac3 format would do. Now, having ceded to Apple the portable-music-player market, Sony desperately needs to stay on top in videogames. It's not just that Sony needs a win; PS3 is critical to its entire strategy.
The PS3 is much more than a game box. Kutaragi likes to say it's actually a computer, one that's designed to lie at the center of the networked home, serving up films, navigating the Internet, doing nearly everything a PC can do, and delivering jaw-dropping videogames besides. The new console relies on two extremely ambitious yet untested technologies. At its core is a highly sophisticated microchip that can cruise at teraflop speeds (equal to the fastest supercomputers of less than a decade ago) and that might someday revolutionize home electronics. Also built into the machine is Sony's new Blu-ray hi-def disc player, which is proudly incompatible with a rival format from Toshiba – and which represents a bold, some would say reckless, attempt to control the multibillion-dollar market in next-generation video discs.
All this makes for a daring strategy, but not one that plays to Sony's strengths. Sony has always been at its best as a personal hardware company, coming up with nifty gadgets that delight consumers. In recent decades, though, it's become oddly fixated on imposing its own standards – Betamax for VCRs, the Mini-Disc for digital music players, the Universal Media Disc for PlayStation Portable, the Memory Stick for anything you can think of – despite the world's unwavering rejection of those standards. And Sony has never displayed an aptitude for software or had great success with networking, the key feature Microsoft has built into the Xbox. Yet Sony has to face Microsoft not just in videogames but across the entire panoply of home electronics, which Microsoft is determined to control through software. And Sony has to do this with cash reserves of $6 billion – compared to Microsoft's $38 billion hoard – while losing hundreds of dollars in manufacturing costs alone for every PS3 sold. Eventually, Sony's costs will come down. But in the meantime, Goldman Sachs projects, Sony will lose nearly $2 billion on the PS3 by the end of this fiscal year in March.
Sony lovers – and they are legion – have been watching all of this with awe and trepidation. It's not every day that a $64 billion-a-year corporation puts its future on the line. "It's very un-Japanese," observes Rishad Tobaccowala, who tracks the entertainment business as a future-of-media specialist at the global ad giant Publicis. "It's betting the company. If this thing bombs, there is no second coming. Everything else about Sony is a sideshow. This is the show."
How did it come to this? There were missteps aplenty, but at their root is a common dynamic: What once made Sony great has worked against it in the digital age. Sony's course was fixed in the 1946 prospectus drawn up by cofounder Masaru Ibuka, when he set forth the new company's purposes of incorporation. Number one on his list: "To establish an ideal factory … where engineers with sincere motivation can exercise their technological skills to the highest level." To succeed, engineers would need to form small development teams and compete to build the next great gadget.
Teams of hardware engineers locked in competition: "It's the principle Sony is built on," says Shin'ichi Okamoto, PlayStation's former CTO, now a Tokyo entrepreneur. "Personally, I believe it's not such a good principle nowadays. I got this impression in the '80s, with the technological shift to semiconductors and software" – both of which require enormous development teams that collaborate with the hardware units their work is intended for. "At Sony, most engineers want to invent something new by themselves. That's a very different goal."
Phil Wiser, the former CTO of Sony's US operations, reached a similar conclusion after he was tapped to salvage Sony Connect. "With digital entertainment, you have to think about hardware, software, and services that tie them all together," says Wiser, who managed to heave Sony onto the MP3 bandwagon before leaving earlier this year for a Silicon Valley startup. "But it's very hard to quantify the advantage of good software. If you're in a hardware company and you analyze it from a financial perspective, you just want to do it as cheaply as you can. Software and services are an afterthought."
The need to replace small competitive teams with large collaborative ones did occur to a few key Sony executives. Toshitada Doi, a legendary engineer, set up a computer science lab in 1988 because he saw that the future would require networked devices and large-scale software development. Years later, then-CEO Nobuyuki Idei reorganized Sony into a series of "network companies" and charged a promising lieutenant, Yuki Nozoe, with pulling together random broadband offerings into an all-encompassing networked future. But all this talk of networks was anathema to Sony's entrenched engineering cadre. Today, Doi, Idei, and Nozoe are all gone, victims of their failure to make a difference, swept away in the boardroom coup that in spring 2005 put Howard Stringer, a longtime media exec who'd been heading Sony's US operations, in charge of the company.
The culture of the lone-wolf hardware engineer reached its apex when Ken Kutaragi triumphed over internal opposition to create the PlayStation. In the early '90s, Kutaragi burst forth with a seemingly reckless scheme to take on Nintendo and Sega, the ruling powers of the game world. Yet even then he viewed Microsoft as the ultimate enemy. Shuji Utsumi, a former PlayStation exec who now heads the Tokyo-based game developer Q Entertainment, recalls an exchange in which Kutaragi declared, years before the Xbox was introduced, that his competitor was Microsoft. "I thought, what is he talking about?" Utsumi says. "Is he nuts? But even before PlayStation was born, he was predicting a big war for the living room."
PlayStation 3 is hostage to that prediction. Because technology can be decisive in war, Kutaragi loaded the PS3 with the biggest, baddest armaments yet: the Blu-ray disc drive and the Cell microchip. He and his team had barely gotten PlayStation 2 out the door when they started conceptualizing the silicon for its successor. The result, developed in partnership with IBM and Toshiba, features a central processing unit and eight coprocessors on the same chip, working in parallel. It's optimized for high-speed networking and fast decoding of encrypted and compressed data – copy-protected video for HDTVs, for example. Game developers now have to figure out how best to unlock its powers. Sunlight on water, creatures half-hidden by fog, age lines on a human face – "for every pixel, you can do more to synthesize reality," says Steve Pearce, CTO of Activision. "But it's a big challenge – our engineers have to start thinking in a new way."
As a result, the Cell has caused a lot of headaches for developers. The Xbox 360, with its three-core PowerPC processor, has already made game development far more complicated and expensive than before. Tim Sweeney, cofounder of the North Carolina-based developer Epic Games, figures it will take at least twice the effort to fully exploit the PS3's potential as to take the Xbox 360 to the max. Until that happens, it's unlikely there'll be much discernable difference between games on the two platforms. "The Cell has more theoretical computing power," says Sweeney, "but it might be years before we see that reflected in actual performance. So it's a fundamental question whether the long-term direction in computing is with architectures like the Cell."
Blu-ray is equally fraught. For starters, the whole business of high-definition disc drives seems designed to invite cynicism. With DVD players now in 85 percent of US homes, sales fell in 2005 for the first time – so some manufacturers may need a next-gen disc player, but it's not clear consumers do. Especially after August 2005, when talks aimed at averting a standards war with Toshiba's rival HD-DVD format ended in a stalemate. Andy Parsons, who heads advanced product development at Pioneer USA (a Blu-ray supporter), says compromise was impossible: "It's kind of like saying, 'LCD and plasma – why don't you combine the two?'" True enough – but it's also true that Blu-ray offers Sony yet another chance to establish a proprietary format. During the '90s, a similar conflict over the original DVD ended with Sony's surrender and Toshiba's collection of most of the royalties on every DVD and DVD player sold. This time, Sony had the support of the big US computermakers, most of Hollywood, and nearly all the Asian consumer electronics giants – so why not call Toshiba's bluff?
Then there was the decision to build Blu-ray into the PlayStation 3. Sony's logic seemed ironclad: Not only would the hi-def drive's huge storage capacity allow for far-more-realistic and complex games, the PS3 would carry Blu-ray into millions of households and drive sales of HDTVs as well. As it turned out, however, Blu-ray has done nothing good for the PS3. Blu-ray was the main reason gamers weren't able to get the new machine last spring: The launch had to be postponed because the new format's digital rights management system did not yet satisfy every Hollywood studio. Blu-ray was also a big factor in the PS3's high price tag. Of course, with stand-alone Blu-ray players starting at $1,000, the PS3 is actually a bargain – if a Blu-ray player is what you really want. If not, $600 is a lot of money. "For rich, older people it's attractive," Utsumi observes. "But I don't know if they are gameplayers."
Kaz Hirai has heard it all before: the jitters about a new disc format, the complaints from game developers, the charges of hubris. When you're this far ahead – more than 200 million PlayStations sold worldwide, compared to just 30 million Xboxes – it comes with the territory. "With every generational change, there are going to be challenges for the development teams," he says. "If everybody said it's a piece of cake, that's telling me it's not a future-proof console, that it has no headroom to grow." And that remark at E3? "I wanted to say, look – we're the leadership company, and we take that responsibility seriously. The next huge leap in technology does not come until we launch PlayStation 3."
Hirai has a point: PlayStation 3 is as high tech as it comes in gameland. Thanks to the Cell, the console can transform raw computer code into imagery that looks startlingly, almost disturbingly, real – just ask the Tiger Woods simulacrum that popped up at E3. It can render virtual worlds of shimmering beauty and mesmerizing intensity, as Warhawk, the forthcoming update of Sony's classic flying shooter, amply demonstrates. Nonetheless, Hirai's upbeat assessment of the PS3's prospects seems dangerously at odds with the feeling in the videogame business. One prominent industry figure, not associated with a console maker, recalls having lunch a couple of months ago with a game-company development chief who wondered aloud if Sony was going to pull a Sega – that is, go from number one console manufacturer to out of the business.
At the root of Sony's precarious position – not just in the industry, but with gamers at large – is the company's overweening ambition. The PS3 is all about power. Sony has said curiously little about whether this amped-up Linux über-computer will actually be fun to play. Meanwhile, Nintendo wowed everyone at this year's E3 with the Wii, a console you can play simply by waving a wand at the screen. And Microsoft has upped the fun quotient by making it easy to play with all your buddies online.
Sony's response to online gaming is revealing. When Microsoft launched its Xbox Live online service in 2002, console gaming went from solo affair to global meet-up. Back then, Sony was actually the leader in online gaming, with over 400,000 subscribers to EverQuest, its massively multiplayer online game. But MMOGs were played on a computer, not a game console, and there was little communication between the San Diego-based EverQuest group and the Tokyo-based PlayStation group. Xbox Live now has more than 3 million subscribers worldwide; the only place it isn't big is Japan. Kutaragi never fully developed his PlayStation 2 online service, which still requires game publishers to run multiplayer titles on their own servers, because it wasn't something he saw as lacking.
Yet game developers certainly saw the need for technology that would take their games online. "It's a very important function," says Ichiro Otobe, chief strategist of the Tokyo-based game publisher Square Enix, "and we want it coming from the platform developer – otherwise, we have to build it ourselves." Eventually, PlayStation execs got the idea. For more than a year, San Diego and Tokyo have been working together to come up with an answer to Xbox Live. Even so, Hirai says, "the fundamental approach is different from Microsoft's. They name it Live and it's a big to-do. We look at it the other way: There's the entertainment experience, what you have in the box, all those good things, and – oh, by the way – we have an online component."
In Sony, Microsoft may have found the ideal opponent: large, slow, still fixated on hardware, still trying to find its footing in the networked world. When Microsoft decided to move into the game business, it was because a handful of execs saw an opportunity to do for gaming what Windows had done for personal computing: transform it from a hardware-defined industry to one governed by software. J Allard, the team's leader, argued that the success of DirectX – a Microsoft software suite that made it easy to program a PC – meant the company could simplify game development, too. Allard was just as committed to online services: If Microsoft could hook up players worldwide, it could change the nature of gameplay and make Xbox the way of the future.
"This business used to be about hardware and a cartridge you popped in," says Peter Moore, the new leader of Xbox, at his headquarters in an office park in Redmond, Washington. "But hardware is a tough business. You need it, but you also need great software and innovative services." A Liverpool native with an office full of autographed soccer memorabilia and a sleek new Aston Martin coupe in the parking lot, Moore knows the vulnerabilities of hardware all too well: He headed Sega of America when PlayStation 2 overwhelmed its Dreamcast machine and pushed Sega out of the business. Now he spends much of his time on what Microsoft calls "Dev Luv," an all-out effort to give game developers the software tools and engineering support they need to make Xbox the platform of choice.
Meanwhile, Xbox Live keeps gaining new features – most recently, user profiles that allow other players to check out your skill level and reputation within the community. (Too many "avoid this player" raps and you could find yourself shunned.) And because the Xbox 360 acts as a bridge to Windows Media Center PCs, the console can serve up music and video from your hard drive and play it on any device in the house. Still, Moore notes, "we're not driving the 360 as the hub of the home. Editing and manipulating media is better done with a keyboard and mouse."
Like the PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 will get a hi-def disc drive, but it won't be built in, and it won't be Blu-ray. Last September, Microsoft and Intel announced they were throwing their weight behind Toshiba's HD-DVD, a move that prompted several companies from the Blu-ray camp to hedge their bet by accommodating both standards. Amir Majidimehr, Microsoft's point man on the decision, cites several reasons for siding with Toshiba, chief among them Blu-ray's move – largely at the behest of some copyright cops at Fox – to supplement the already draconian DRM mechanism adopted by both camps with yet another layer of protection. "We worry that this program could be hacked to do bad things," Majidimehr says, alluding to last year's Sony BMG fiasco. Blu-ray partisans say that's impossible – but in any case, Majidimehr argues, "if one or the other of these layers decides it doesn't like what you're doing, it won't let you play the movie." Was the competition with Sony a factor, too? "Of course," he says. "But our strategy is, people want to play games, so we build a game console. Sony is like, all or nothing. They're going to have a world of hurt waiting for them at the end of this year."
A couple of months ago, Howard Stringer and Ryoji Chubashi, Sony's president, reported to a luxury hotel in Tokyo's Shinagawa district to face 7,200 shareholders at Sony's annual meeting. It was not an enviable assignment. With the company in the red yet again in its most recent quarter, Japanese investors were in an unhappy mood. "I bought shares in mighty Sony," cried a woman whose holdings had lost nearly two-thirds of their value. "What are you going to do about this?"
It was hardly an unexpected question, and Stringer answered as best he could. Citing runaway ticket sales for Sony Pictures' The Da Vinci Code and the remarkable success of the Bravia digital TV line, he argued that Sony has entered a period of reemergence. But The Da Vinci Code will have no more lasting effect on the bottom line than earlier Sony blockbusters like Spider-Man, and Bravia relies on LCD technology that Sony ignored for years – until finally it had to partner with its Korean archrival Samsung to get back in the TV business. So while each was good news, they don't add up to a sign that mighty Sony is back.
Stringer's new mantra is "Sony United." It's meant to get the company to perform in the digital world, to shed its antiquated ways and embrace network thinking. Most of all, though, it's meant to get Sony to perform as a single unit. Blu-ray is the first product to get the full treatment, not just from PlayStation but from the film and music divisions as well. This will be the test of the theory that was used to justify the billions Sony spent to get into the entertainment business in the '80s – that Sony could have won the Betamax-VHS war if only it had had enough "content."
Sony has had rah-rah moments in the past – too many of them. Before "Sony United" there was "Transformation 60," which cut 20,000 jobs in hopes of returning the company to health by its 60th anniversary. Before that there was "Symphony," which was supposed to get all the different divisions to play the same tune. But the megaproducts Sony has come up with, whether the AirBoard portable TV/Internet screen or the PS3, haven't sought to fill some simple, unrecognized need, as the Walkman had done; they've sought to do many things in the best way imaginable. Simply reading their spec sheets is enough to make you suspect they were designed not to please customers but to beat Microsoft. They make you long for Nintendo's Wii, a game console whose singular appeal is that it'll be fun to play.
The Wii is a product Sony might have developed in its heyday. It doesn't try to outdo anyone on graphics muscle or computational power – in fact, it opts out of the arms race entirely. Faced with a shrinking videogame market in Japan even as it was being elbowed into third place worldwide by Microsoft, Nintendo had to do something fresh, so company president Satoru Iwata and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto put their heads together and came up with a gyroscopic controller that looks and feels like a TV remote. The Wii transforms gameplay from an exercise in button-pushing to something you do by swinging the controller through the air – pretty nifty when you're engaged in swordplay. No wonder gamers use words like "wow" and "amazing" when they try it out.
All this makes you wonder if united is the way to go. In 30 years, Sony has transformed itself from a consistently profitable consumer electronics company with annual sales of $1.6 billion to a dangerously wobbly consumer electronics-entertainment-financial services behemoth 40 times that size. Sony Electronics needs to embrace the networked world, obviously, but does it really need to be allied with a Hollywood film studio and a consumer-wary global music label in a global campaign against Microsoft? Probably not. It just needs to make cool products for the century we live in.
That shareholder in Tokyo had the right idea: Bring back mighty Sony. Please. That doesn't mean gargantuan Sony or megalomaniac Sony or rule-the-universe Sony; it means a Sony that's fun again. And for God's sake, no more wars in the living room – not unless they're the kind we can play with our friends.
High-Def DVDs Announced for Europe
Several movie studios announced plans Thursday to release a handful of films on high-definition DVD in Europe, continuing the slow rollout of the new format worldwide.
The Blu-ray Disc Association, which supports one of the two rival and incompatible high-def DVD formats, also announced that Sun Microsystems Inc., the creator of the Java technology, would join its board. Blu-ray uses Java to create interactive features.
Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., Sony Corp.'s Sony Pictures Entertainment and News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox said they would release several current and older titles this fall to coincide with the availability of Blu-ray players in various European countries. Sony's game console, Playstation3, will also include a Blu-ray DVD drive when it goes on sale later this year.
Earlier this week, more than a dozen Hollywood studios announced that some 75 movie titles, including "The Da Vinci Code" and "Chicken Little," will go on sale in Japan later this year using the Blu-ray format.
Studios have been slowly releasing titles in the United States since the first Toshiba HD DVD player went on sale in March and the Samsung Blu-ray player followed in July. Fox said Thursday it would release its first titles in November as well as distribute MGM titles such as "Rocky."
Blu-ray is backed by a consortium led by Sony Corp. It is fighting for dominance with HD DVD, a format backed by Toshiba Corp.
Both formats deliver sharper pictures and crisper sound and hold several times the data that standard definition DVDs contain. High-def DVDs also promise interactive features such as games and menus that display while the film is playing.
Blu-ray discs can hold more data, but HD DVD is more similar to regular DVDs, which simplifies production, according to its backers. The HD DVD camp also has the slight advantage of coming to market first.
Most of the major studios have said they will release titles in Blu-ray. Several has said they would release in both formats.
Universal Studios is the only studio backing HD DVD exclusively. Fox and Sony have said they intend to only back the Blu-ray format.
First Quantum Cryptographic Data Network Demonstrated
A joint collaboration between Northwestern University and BBN Technologies of Cambridge, Mass., has led to the first demonstration of a truly quantum cryptographic data network. By integrating quantum noise protected data encryption (quantum data encryption or QDE for short) with Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), the researchers have developed a complete data communication system with extraordinary resilience to eavesdropping.Ads by Google Advertise on this site
"The volume and type of sensitive information being transmitted over data networks continues to grow at a remarkable pace," said Prem Kumar, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern's Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-principal investigator on the project. "New cryptographic methods are needed to continue ensuring that the privacy and safety of each user's information is secure."
Kumar's research team recently demonstrated a new way of encrypting data that relies on both traditional algorithms and on physical principles. This QDE method, called AlphaEta, makes use of the inherent and irreducible quantum noise in laser light to enhance the security of the system and makes eavesdropping much more difficult. Unlike most other physical encryption methods, AlphaEta maintains performance on par with traditional optical communications links and is compatible with standard fiber optical networks.
The Northwestern researchers have previously carried out several demonstrations of the compatibility and reach of the AlphaEta system in conventional wave-division multiplexed optical networks. However, in all these tests the communicating parties, called Alice and Bob, had pre-shared encryption keys for use in the AlphaEta system.
Quantum Key Distribution exploits the unique properties of quantum mechanics to securely distribute electronic keys between two parties. Unlike traditional key distribution, the security of QKD can in theory provide quantitatively secure keys regardless of advances in technology. Typically, these ultra-secure keys would be used in traditional encryption algorithms to allow for high-speed encrypted communications.
BBN has built and demonstrated the world's first quantum network with untrusted network switches, delivering end-to-end key distribution via high-speed QKD since 2004. With the Boston Metro QKD network running 24/7, it is evident that quantum cryptography works in practice and may provide a technique for building highly secure networks.
In the present advance reported here, the QKD and the QDE technologies have been interfaced together. This integration of BBN's QKD system, which constantly provides refreshed ultra-secure encryption keys, with Northwestern's AlphaEta encryption system forms a truly quantum cryptographic data network.
The combined QKD/AlphaEta system has been demonstrated in a nine kilometer link between BBN headquarters and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. The AlphaEta encrypted signal carried OC-3 (155Mb/s) SONET data between the two nodes. A fresh encryption key of about 1 kilobit was repetitively loaded every three seconds. In a separate test, the AlphaEta encrypted signal was looped back multiple times to create an effective 36 kilometer link where more than 300 consecutive key exchanges were demonstrated.
"As secure communications require both secure key distribution and strong encryption mechanisms, the combined QKD/AlphaEta system represents the state-of-the-art in ultra-secure high-speed optical communications," said Henry Yeh, director of programs at BBN Technologies.
The quantum cryptographic research project is supported by a five-year, $5.4 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The communication protocol that is the backbone of today's Internet came out of a computer networking system begun by DARPA in the 1960s.
An Apple-Google Friendship, and a Common Enemy
When Eric E. Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, was named to Apple Computer’s board this week, it did more than signal a potential alliance between powerful companies. It touched off a wave of speculation about the motives of the man behind the move: Apple’s co-founder, Steven P. Jobs.
“The old social networks in Silicon Valley run very deep,” noted AnnaLee Saxenian, a leading scholar of the industry and dean of the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. “And this reminds us that Silicon Valley has a common enemy to the north.”
She did not even need to name the enemy she had in mind: Microsoft, the leading rival to both Mr. Jobs and Mr. Schmidt through most of their careers. Now, with the Internet era remaking the competitive landscape, their prospects for outdueling Microsoft’s Windows empire may be better than ever.
Even in a valley where careers leave few degrees of separation between any two companies, the Apple announcement was remarkable. Mr. Schmidt, brought in five years ago to guide Google and its young founders to a stock offering, is Silicon Valley’s consummate insider. Mr. Jobs, who spent years in the industry wilderness before retaking the helm of Apple, is its defining outsider.
But Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Jobs, both 51, share a common outlook: that computing technologies can be remarkably disruptive forces in business and in society at large.
There are many possibilities for a complementary strategy between their companies. This week, for example, Google announced that it was beginning to weave together a number of services that could be a Web-based competitor to Microsoft Office. And Mr. Jobs has skillfully driven a wedge into the dominant PC computing standard established by Microsoft’s Windows software and Intel’s hardware — the so-called Wintel alliance — by recently adopting Intel’s processor for Apple’s Macintosh computers.
Mr. Schmidt’s appointment set off chatter about linking the Google search engine to iTunes, Apple’s online music service — reinforcing Apple’s pre-eminence in a category where Microsoft is seeking a grip.
That would also have broader implications for the entertainment industry, an industry repeatedly put on the defensive by both Apple and Google.
“The studios, and for that matter, all the copyright owners, don’t want to see only one place become their sole retail outlet — whether it is Google or Apple or Sony,” said William Randolph Hearst III, a veteran Silicon Valley executive and investor.
At Apple and at Pixar, the digital movie studio he founded, Mr. Jobs has forced the recording industry and Hollywood to follow his lead in selling products in the digital world. His alliance with the Walt Disney Company — whose board he joined this year after Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion — has given him added leverage.
Now, by moving Apple a step closer to Google, with its command over online advertising, Mr. Jobs may be positioning Apple to play an even more influential role in the converging worlds of media and computing.
“Clearly what Disney was for Pixar, Google could be for Apple,” said Tony Perkins, an entrepreneur and editor of AlwaysOn Network, a Web site for Silicon Valley insiders.
Mr. Jobs and Mr. Schmidt refused to comment on the appointment, announced Tuesday, beyond prepared statements that they were looking forward to working together.
The appointment is Mr. Schmidt’s first move to broaden his role since coming to Google. Earlier in his career, Mr. Schmidt was a prominent Democrat and outspoken on the industry’s political agenda, but he abandoned that role when he joined Google. Now it appears that he is beginning to play on a broader stage again.
“Eric has clearly arrived as one of Silicon Valley’s new power brokers,” said William V. Joy, a partner at a leading venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, where Mr. Schmidt was long an executive.
Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Jobs have their roots in Silicon Valley’s second generation, the engineers and innovators who came after the early era of semiconductor pioneering. Their acquaintance dates from the early 1990’s, when Mr. Schmidt, heading software at Sun, approached Mr. Jobs, then running Next Computer, about technical cooperation between the companies.
While Mr. Schmidt’s credentials include a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, his early outlook on the industry was shaped when he worked at the Palo Alto Research Center, the legendary Xerox outpost known as PARC, where the first personal computers and modern networks were created in the 1970’s.
In contrast, Mr. Jobs, a college dropout, started out as a brash hobbyist who in the mid-70’s foresaw a market for the cobbled-together computer that his friend Stephen Wozniak had built to show off at the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto. The result was Apple, which they founded in 1977. PARC was also a touchstone for Mr. Jobs, whose visit there in the late 70’s exposed him to the graphical user interface and the computer mouse, two concepts he eventually brought to market with the Lisa and then the Macintosh.
Both men experienced long periods of relative adversity outside of the limelight of computing. Mr. Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985 by his handpicked chief executive, John Sculley. He then founded Next, which he ran without great success until he sold it to Apple in 1996 and rejoined the Apple fold.
Mr. Schmidt left his position at Sun Microsystems in 1997 to take over as chief executive at Novell, a network computing pioneer that, like Apple, had been a victim of Microsoft’s rise to dominance in desktop computing. After four years of trying to turn the struggling company around, he left to become chief executive at Google, where his experience was meant to offer balance to the two young founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
Now Mr. Schmidt will bring his experience into play at Apple, in part helping Mr. Jobs add to the independence of his board while the company investigates possible irregularities in stock option grants to Mr. Jobs and other Apple executives.
Executives who know the two men say they have not been close in the past, but are part of a tightly knit fraternity that draws their companies together at the executive level. Former Vice President Al Gore is a special adviser to Google and also holds a seat on Apple’s board. Another link between the companies is William V. Campbell, chairman of Intuit, the financial software company whose Quicken and TurboTax products have prevailed against Microsoft’s challenge.
Mr. Campbell was an early and close behind-the-scenes consultant at Google and is a former Apple executive and current board member. He has long been a confidant of Mr. Jobs, and visited with him while Mr. Jobs was recovering from cancer surgery two years ago.
While Google’s and Apple’s strategies are aligned in many ways, there are also potential areas of conflict. Both companies are rumored to be developing hand-held devices known as smart phones that would potentially compete. If the two companies do cross paths, it will be part of a local tradition.
“It’s part of the classic yin-yang competition in Silicon Valley, where innovators cross-fertilize each other’s thinking and then go out and clash in the marketplace,” said Paul Freiberger, a Silicon Valley historian.
Not As Wiki As It Used To Be
Wikipedia is considering introducing a form of prior restraint on edits. Bill Thompson wonders what this means for its users
The Wikipedia entry on elephants was edited to say their numbers had tripled
For some time the people behind Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia assembled from reader contributions and edited and maintained by those who care to get involved, have been coping with the fallout from a widely-publicised failure of their quality control mechanism.
Read Bill's update to his column following comments on Wiki mailing lists
Last November US politician John Seigenthaler took Wikipedia to task in the columns of USA Today over a false and defamatory biography of him that had been posted on the site.
The biography, it eventually emerged, had been written as a prank, but it remained online for four months before it was noticed and removed.
Since Mr Siegenthaler Sr was neither controversial enough to merit consistent attention, or interested enough in what happened online to bother to Google himself regularly, his biography simply sat there unremarked, although we have no way of knowing how many school essays mention his entirely fabricated involvement in the assassination of Robert and John Kennedy.
Those of us who had been using Wikipedia for some time were, of course, well aware that not everything on it was necessarily true or accurate, and the real surprise was more about the wider media interest in the site and its content that the Seigenthaler story triggered.
Wikipedia is, and will continue to be, a work in progress, a best effort by thousands of people to create an accurate, impartial and useful repository of human knowledge. As such it has succeeded in covering more topics, in more languages, than any other encyclopaedia.
But it necessarily contains errors, some placed there deliberately by writers with a specific agenda and others simply mistakes that have gone unnoticed.
Sometimes the errors are entirely frivolous, of course, as happened earlier this month when fans of US comedian Stephen Colbert followed his joking suggestion and edited pages on elephants to say that their population had recently tripled.
The errors are not a reason to dismiss the site's usefulness or importance. While Wikipedia should never be the last place one looks for information about a specific topic, I increasingly find that it is the best starting point for an exploration of a new subject.
However the nature of the "Wikipedia" itself seems to be shifting, largely as a result of policy decisions made since the Seigenthaler case, and this may well affect its continued usefulness.
While it continues to advertise itself as "the free encyclopaedia that anyone can edit", in practice there have always been limits on what some users can do, and an administrative and managerial team who have greater privileges than other users.
From relatively early in its existence it has been possible to ensure only administrators edit a page, but recent changes make it harder for ordinary users to create and update pages on the site.
Over time this new layer of control could mean that its timeliness and breadth - which other encyclopaedia has a list of Muppet characters based on real celebrities? - suffer as those with something to share are deterred from doing so.
A big change at the end of 2005 was the introduction of "semi-protection" for pages which were being vandalised. Once a page was marked in this way only registered users of at least four day's standing could make changes.
Semi-protection seems like a sensible and moderate response to a major problem for the site, and it is clearly not being abused by administrators to limit debate unnecessarily.
But now there are suggestions that a new architecture of control will be introduced for Wikipedia as a whole, if it proves successful when it is applied to the German-language site next month, and this could have far wider implications.
Under the new approach, page edits will no longer be immediately applied to pages but will instead have to be approved by an administrator before they become visible. Vandalism or changes which are not approved will not appear.
This is a major shift, from a "publish and fix" policy to one of prior restraint, where a cadre of privileged users will supervise what appears.
It is still only a proposal, so it is not yet clear if the new checks would be applied to every page, but this is obviously being considered seriously by Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales, and the site's Wikimedia Foundation.
The large number of control features that are being added to Wikipedia, raise an interesting question for all who care about the site and its content: when does the Wikipedia stop being a wiki and just become another website?
After all, if the special thing about a wiki is that pages can be edited by any user, then introducing layer upon layer of editorial control must mean that at some point Wikipedia becomes no different from any other online publication where content is approved before it is displayed.
And then the only special thing is that the editing tools allow in-page editing rather than requiring site visitors to use special software or go to an administration section of the site as most blogging sites do.
But that's hardly the basis for a revolution in the way human knowledge is gathered and distributed, is it? It begins to look more and more like any other community website with a limited degree of user participation.
What makes Wikipedia special and encourages those of us who are registered with it to participate in the community is the sense that we can all make a contribution. Putting more and more steps between editing and publishing risks damaging that sense of engagement and, as a result, could rapidly diminish Wikipedia's usefulness.
If Wikipedia can find a way to combine community participation with greater oversight, perhaps by encouraging every registered user to check changes and edits instead of leaving it largely to the central cabal of administrators, then they may be able to make the new approach work.
Perhaps we should all be asked to check one random page for every ten or twenty we look at, giving our time to make the site work in return for better content?
Everyday Scenes, Painted Every Day
NICK JAINSCHIGG was having a terrible time last week trying to paint a pink rose in 30 minutes. One day he said the petals looked thick as icing, and the next he just couldn’t get the bud texture right.
“Despite my best intentions, the image of a rose on a white background will always look like a greeting card,” he wrote in despair.
But Mr. Jainschigg refused to give up. And as he used different techniques — he tried big, floppy brushstrokes, he tried painting at twilight, he even changed the background to a flat chalky gray — I found myself rooting for him. And for the rose.
I was following his progress by making frequent visits to nickjainschigg.org, the Web site where he posts results of his efforts to complete a tiny postcard-size painting every day. Each afternoon, I clicked on his newest thumbnail image, hoping to see a masterpiece.
Why did I care? There were several reasons, actually, the most obvious being the empty space on the wall in the hallway that leads to my kitchen. Mr. Jainschigg is one of a growing number of artists who in the last few months have starting selling one-a-day creations online. One of his roses could look great on my wall.
Three might look even better. And suddenly, thanks to the one-a-day art movement, buying three original oil paintings is not a budget-busting proposition. Mr. Jainschigg, for instance, sells his small paintings for $100.
But beyond my instinctive shopper’s impulse to find a bargain, I was also excited to be witnessing yet another example of how the Internet has the power to upset old ideas and reshape retail markets.
Sites like acollageaday.blogspot.com (where Randel Plowman sells his 4-inch-by-4-inch collages for $25) and dailypaintings.com (where Elin Pendleton has posted her acrylic and oil paintings for prices as low as $100) remove the middleman from the transaction, connecting artists directly to collectors.
The Internet changes things fast. By most accounts, the roots of the painting-a-day movement reach back only as far as December 2004, when a painter named Duane Keiser, who also is an adjunct professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, decided to test his discipline by challenging himself to post a new creation every day on his site at duanekeiser.blogspot.com.
“I wanted to make a ritual for myself, to complete a painting in one day, every day, without any excuses,” Mr. Keiser said in a phone interview last week. “I liked the diary aspect of it, that it was like putting a time stamp on a painting. When it goes up on the blog, I know it happened on this day.”
Mr. Keiser’s experiment soon attracted the attention of boingboing.net, a popular blog that identifies online trends.
“After somebody wrote a little blurb about me for Boingboing, the whole thing just spread like, well, it was unbelievable,” Mr. Keiser said. “I would wake up in the morning and paint, say, an egg, and post it, and then some guy in India would e-mail me and it was breathtaking to realize that within a few minutes of my finishing a painting, people everywhere in the world were looking at it.”
Previously, Mr. Keiser sold most of his work through traditional brick-and-mortar galleries. “But this has allowed me the flexibility to not worry about whether a gallery will accept me,” he said.
Now there are plenty of other artists are doing the same thing. At paintingadayproject.blogspot.com, for instance, Jan Blencowe posts what she calls “small, simple still life paintings of common objects.” The artist Elizabeth Fraser sells her paintings on eBay, starting at $60; her work is online at web.mac.com/champart/iWeb.
At some painting-a-day Web sites such as justinspaintings.com and shiftinglight.com, I could subscribe to mailing lists; now I receive e-mail alerts the moment a new painting-a-day is posted.
There was a time when Mr. Keiser’s daily artworks sold for as little as $100 on his site. But since Domino magazine anointed him “the godfather of these blogs” in an article published in July, things have changed.
These days, he auctions his painting-a-day work at eBay, where last week a 5-inch-by-5-inch painting of a plate decorated with a crab got 12 bids before selling for $265. As of yesterday, a 5-inch-by-4-inch painting of a rushing river had 18 bids, and was up to $380.
But eBay frenzies turn me off. I’ve lived through too many of them.
I can remember, for example, when prices for milk-green Depression glass coffee cups were rising by the day as collectors who once were at the mercy of local flea markets’ limited inventory suddenly discovered the novelty of finding a world’s worth of collectibles at eBay.
I’m one of those people who overbid on a stack of chipped saucers. Now I look at them in the pantry and I feel the same kind of vague embarrassment that may overwhelm someone who stumbles across a Chia Pet in the attic.
Will the painting-a-day frenzy last? Or is it merely the fleeting symptom of a new Internet trend? In recent weeks, Mr. Jainschigg has sold the vast majority of the 413 painting-a-day works he posted during the last 15 months.
One of his biggest challenges now, he said, is not to cave in to the temptation to create work solely for the sake of selling it.
“All of a sudden, I realize, there are people looking over my shoulder,” Mr. Jainschigg said. “But although I do paint some fun stuff like little pretty landscapes, the occasional stuffed animal or a bug, I like to paint what I’m trying to learn. I was doing study after study of skeletons for a while when I was trying to master anatomy.”
Most of his paintings of skeletons and skulls are still for sale.
Last week, he warned his audience that he was painting his last rose for now. “This one, the final bud for the time being, was by way of declaring victory and going home,” he wrote.
Did I want to hang it on my wall? I wasn’t sure. Luckily, he’ll have something new for me to consider tomorrow.
The Noblest Collie of All Bounds Anew in the Glen
Everything old is new again in “Lassie,” the latest film about the beloved pooch with the I.Q. of a grad student and the instincts of a boomerang. Blissfully restored to the time period and location of Eric Knight’s 1940 novel, “Lassie Come-Home” —originally filmed by MGM in 1943 — the movie sets us down in a Yorkshire mining village with World War II on the horizon and social inequality front and center.
Opening with a beautifully orchestrated sequence involving Lassie, a terrified fox and a mass of flapping laundry, the movie — the 11th Lassie film, by the producers’ count — establishes its working-class turf immediately as miners and their wives confront a pack of blue-blooded hunters. The class conflict continues when the Duke of Rudling (a twinkling Peter O’Toole) buys Lassie from Sam Carraclough (John Lynch), an impoverished miner struggling to feed his stoic wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton), and 9-year-old son, Joe (the adorable Jonathan Mason). For the remainder of the movie, Lassie will run, limp and crawl her way back to the family she loves, a journey that will require her to brave more than 500 miles of countryside and innumerable cameos by well-known British actors. You’ll be pleased to know there are no wells.
Elegantly directed by the veteran British filmmaker Charles Sturridge, best known for stiff-upper-lip fare like the television mini-series “Brideshead Revisited,” “Lassie” approaches its classic tale with old-fashioned charm and not a trace of satire. As Lassie is transported to the Duke’s summer estate in the Scottish Highlands, the movie’s theme of forced separation is doubly underlined by Sam’s heading off to war and the Duke’s granddaughter, Cilla (Hester Odgers), being packed off to boarding school. This last occasions a lovely, tart scene in the school dormitory in which a dismayed Cilla is faced with row upon row of miserably numbered cots. “Just like the army,” boasts the headmistress.
Moving easily from the breathtaking shores of Loch Ness to the busy streets of Glasgow and the hills of Northumberland (the movie was filmed in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man), “Lassie” balances cruelty and tenderness, pathos and humor without ever losing sight of its youngest audience member. And whether cringing before the Duke’s vicious kennel man (Steve Pemberton) or performing alongside a traveling puppeteer (Peter Dinklage), this Lassie exhibits a repertory of facial expressions that would put Jim Carrey to shame. When little Joe — in a scene that perfectly evokes the British school system’s once-joyful embrace of corporal punishment — gets whacked on the wrist by a ruler-happy teacher, the sight of a sorrowful Lassie licking the welts is enough to bring even the most flint-hearted viewers to their knees.
Like the best kids’ movies, “Lassie” is exquisitely tuned to the way a child sees the world. The journey from England to Scotland seems to encompass several time zones, and a glimpse of Nessie aligns our shaggy heroine with the creatures of Celtic folklore. And though adults may take issue with the film’s ultimate capitulation to the power of patronage, tykes will just be happy that Lassie has come home once more to the multiplex where she belongs.
“Lassie” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). It has mild violence, a bit of cursing and one dead doggie.
Opens today nationwide.
Written and directed by Charles Sturridge, based on the book “Lassie Come-Home” by Eric Knight; director of photography, Howard Atherton; edited by Peter Coulson and Adam Green; production designer, JP Kelly; produced by Mr. Sturridge, Ed Guiney and Francesca Barra; released by Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films. Running time: 100 minutes.
WITH: Peter O’Toole (the Duke), Samantha Morton (Sarah), John Lynch (Sam), Steve Pemberton (Hynes), Jonathan Mason (Joe), Hester Odgers (Cilla), Jemma Redgrave (Daisy), Peter Dinklage (Rowlie), Gregor Fisher (Mapes), Edward Fox (Colonel Hulton) and Kelly Macdonald (Jeanie).
Some Material May Be Inappropriate or Mystifying, and the Rating May Be as Well
A. O. Scott
If you’re a regular reader of movie reviews in this newspaper, you’ve no doubt noticed that most of them end with a brief italic note, written by the critic, explaining (and occasionally mocking) the film’s rating. For some readers, this is the most important part of the review, and for this critic it is often the hardest to write. The little boxes that appear at the bottom of the print advertisements are sometimes helpful — we all know nudity or drug use when we see it — but they can also be mystifying. What is “intense adventure violence”? Are “thematic elements” harmful to children? When the box says “some language,” just how much language does it mean? And which language? Would a movie with no language be less dangerous?
“This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” a feisty, intellectually engaging new documentary by Kirby Dick (“Sick,” “Derrida,” “Twist of Faith”) does not so much answer these questions as explore just why they are so difficult to answer. The Motion Picture Association of America, which devised the current rating system and administers it, can be a remarkably secretive organization. Founded by the major Hollywood studios to head off the threat of government censorship and run for most of its history by Jack Valenti, a former staff member in Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House, the association often seems more arbitrary and less transparent in its workings than any federal agency this side of the C.I.A.
To find out who serves on the ratings board and what criteria they use, Mr. Dick hires private detectives, who park outside its nondescript offices in the Encino section of Los Angeles, scribbling down license plate numbers and taking pictures of employees on their lunch breaks. Mr. Dick even rummages through trash bags and discovers important, if puzzling, clues about why “Memoirs of a Geisha” qualified for a PG-13.
These whodunit elements are interspersed with more conventional documentary material: interviews with filmmakers and scholars, clips from movies that have run into trouble with the board, and occasional sound bites from the irrepressible Mr. Valenti, who tells us that the folks who hand out the ratings are “neither gods nor fools.” That narrows it down a bit, though not enough for Mr. Dick, who uncovers some curious inconsistencies in the association’s accounts of its procedures. Do the clergymen who sit in on appeals board meetings — along with representatives of theater chains and film sales companies — have a vote or not? No clear answer is forthcoming. Does the ratings board take a harder line on sex than on violence? On gay sex than on straight?
The evidence Mr. Dick gathers and the testimony of directors like Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry”) and Matt Stone (“South Park”) paint the Motion Picture Association as an outpost of prudishness and repression. (Bingham Ray, former president of United Artists, goes further, describing it as “fascist.”) The record of its recent decisions suggests a special squeamishness about depictions of female sexual pleasure and a picayune fastidiousness about certain body parts. A glimpse of Maria Bello’s pubic hair, for instance, threatened to doom “The Cooler” to an NC-17. But then again, “A Dirty Shame,” John Waters’s 2004 film, received the same rating just for talking about certain outré practices while showing almost no skin at all. (When Mr. Dick submitted a cut of this film, it was slapped with an NC-17, an unsurprising outcome that led to some hilarious, Kafkaesque telephone conversations between him and Joan Graves, the chairwoman of the ratings board. IFC Films, which is not owned by a major studio and therefore not required to submit its releases to the association, is distributing the film without a rating.)
These decisions have commercial as well as artistic consequences, since some of the biggest theater chains, retail stores and video outlets avoid the NC-17 rating as a matter of policy. Filmmakers who want their movies to be seen — and who often need to fulfill contracts requiring that they deliver a film with a certain rating — are thus compelled to cut their films to the association’s standards, a process that often involves guessing just what those standards are.
Mr. Dick, unabashedly on the side of the filmmakers, is particularly concerned with art films — movies obviously intended for grown-up viewing that are nonetheless subjected to a regime ostensibly designed to protect children. But — at the risk of sounding like Maude Flanders — what about the children? How are parents supposed to navigate the flood tide of popular culture that engulfs their kids at younger and younger ages? Does this ratings system help? Could it be improved?
Mr. Dick’s lack of interest in these questions is frustrating, and the narrow scope of “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” makes it more of a culture-war broadside than a nuanced work of cultural inquiry. It is, nonetheless, an engaging and entertaining movie, one that tries to illuminate an aspect of moviemaking — and moviegoing — that is deliberately left in the dark.
THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED
Opens today in Manhattan.
Directed by Kirby Dick; directors of photography, Shana Hagan, Kirsten Johnson and Amy Vincent; edited by Matthew Clarke; animated graphics by ka-chew!; produced by Eddie Schmidt; released by IFC Films. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at West Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 97 minutes. This film is not rated.
For a British TV Movie, a Real President Is Shot
The time is October 2007, and America is in anguish, rent by the war in Iraq and by a combustive restiveness at home. Leaving a hotel in Chicago after making a speech while a huge antiwar protest rages nearby, President Bush is suddenly struck down, killed by a sniper’s bullet.
That is the arresting beginning of “Death of a President,” a 90-minute film to be broadcast here in October on More4, a British digital television station. And while depicting the assassination of a sitting president is provocative in itself, this film is doubly so because it has been made to look like a documentary.
Using archival film as well as computer-generated imagery that, for instance, attaches the president’s face to the body of the actor playing him, the film leaves no doubt that the victim is Mr. Bush rather than some generic president.
The movie has not yet been released; indeed, the filmmakers were still editing it on Friday and were not available for comment, said Gavin Dawson, a spokesman for More4. But the station’s announcement this week that it planned to present “Death of a President” as part of its autumn season has raised something of a furor here.
“Whilst one is aware of other films that have shown assassinations, those have been in the realm of fantasy,” said John Beyer, the director of Mediawatch-UK, which campaigns against sex and violence on television. “To use the president of the United States, the real person, in some fictional presentation, I think that is wrong.”
The United States Embassy here directed calls to the White House, which said: “We won’t dignify this with a response.”
But Peter Dale, the head of More4, said the film was not sensationalistic and did not advocate the assassination of Mr. Bush.
“It has the combination of a gripping forensic narrative and also some very thought-provoking places where you are encouraged to think about the issues behind the narrative,” Mr. Dale said.
The film is to be shown publicly on Sept. 10 at the Toronto International Film Festival. After it is broadcast on More4, a channel that is free but available only to those with digital television, it is to be shown on Channel 4, a nondigital channel that is the BBC’s main commercial competitor.
As part of its publicity campaign, More4 released a still from the film depicting the moment Mr. Bush is shot. The picture, which has been reprinted extensively in British newspapers, shows the stricken Mr. Bush slumping forward into an aide’s arms, in front of a shocked, panicking crowd; a bank of cameras flash behind. It evokes the photographs of the mortally wounded Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and also recalls John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 outside the Washington Hilton.
Mr. Dale said that the focus of the film was on the assassination’s aftermath, as the news media rush to judgment and investigators plumb America’s fear and anger, particularly in communities with most cause to be angry at Mr. Bush. Suspicion soon focuses on Jamal Abu Zikri, a Syrian-born man.
The movie, Mr. Dale said, is “a very powerful examination of what changes are taking place in America” as a result of its foreign policy.
“I believe that the effects of the wars that are being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, “are being felt in many ways in the multiracial communities in America and Britain in the number of soldiers who don’t come home, and that people are beginning to ask: ‘When will these body bags stop coming back? Why are we there? When will it stop?’ ”
Two well-regarded films by the same team used the same pseudodocumentary style to imagine the ramifications of disastrous events, but were set in Britain. One, “The Day Britain Stopped,” showed Britain’s overstretched transportation system in meltdown after a series of mishaps cripples first the trains and then the roads, leading finally to the point when a passenger jet collides with a freight plane near Heathrow.
Few Britons have criticized “Death of a President,” perhaps wanting to see it before they comment. But the newspapers have been quoting upset expatriate Americans.
“It is an appalling way to treat the head of state of another country,” Eric Staal, a spokesman for Republicans Abroad in London, told The Evening Standard. “We’ve seen from early in his presidency the extremes the political left are willing to go to vilify him as an individual. This takes this vilification to a new and disturbing level.”
But The Daily Mirror, whose front-page headline on Friday was “Bush Whacked,” said in an editorial that while the film was “treading a fine line in terms of taste, it nevertheless provides dramatic food for thought.”
It added: “The undoubted furor that this will spark across the U.S. and among the handful of Bush supporters in Europe must not obscure the real question facing us all. Where is the War on Terror going? And how bad does it have to get before it gets better?”
The Phone, The Thief, His Wife and a Chihuahua?
If you took the photo of a Chihuahua at www.flickr.com/photos/benvoluto/216323527/, you have caused a Web sensation.
The mobile phone used to take that picture was stolen from Web designer Ben Clemens on an Amtrak commuter train in California in mid-August, he says.
Days later, thanks to software installed in the phone for Clemens' use, the Chihuahua picture and other snaps of a woman and children were automatically posted to Clemens' photo Web site for the world to see.
"Even the thief doesn't have any privacy, right?" said Clemens by telephone from his home in Berkeley, California.
His account of the incident, posted on the weblog he keeps up for friends and family, came to the attention of thousands of people and in late August ranked as one of the most popular Offbeat News items this year on "social content" Web site www.digg.com.
While some Web "vigilantes" set out to expose wrongdoers -- or other users notoriously circulate sensational fake stories to gain exposure for new products -- Clemens says his discovery of the software's potential to bust this criminal was an accident and the subsequent attention unwanted.
In "Pictures of the family of the person who stole my cell phone posted to my flickr account", at www.practicalist.com/archives/000183.html, the Yahoo Inc. employee tells how the software he installed on his phone was set to automatically upload pictures to www.flickr.com, a site where people post photos for friends, family, or the world to share.
The thief -- or whoever bought the phone from the thief -- appears not to have known the software keeps running even with a different user or SIM-card. So their shots were viewed thousands of times by people on the Web.
Despite assertions from the independent makers of the software that the tale is not a promotional stunt on their part, some Web users -- who may have fallen for so-called "guerrilla marketing" tactics in the past -- rounded on Clemens, accusing him of making the story up.
"This is totally a viral marketing campaign ... It's a nice implementation, with just enough flaws to be found out fairly quickly, but believable enough," says a relatively polite contributor to one of many strings of comment to the story.
"I've entered into some surreal world," Clemens told Reuters.
"People assume I'm doing it for self-promotion, marketing, a hoax or something like that. I'm talking to you because I want it to be known that it's not a hoax. I'm just too ordinary. I'm just too unclever for that."
He says the experience has been a lesson in the way the modern Web works: "(On the Web today), you can no longer have a separate -- private and public -- world. It makes you realize you have to be even more honest and careful."
He has now disabled the software and says he is not seeking justice, revenge, or even his mobile phone. He would quite like his life back.
Until next week,
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