|29-10-08, 09:52 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - November 1st, '08
"Keep your friends close, and your enemies far away." – Steven J. Ross
"Having all Australians' internet access subject to a secret and unaccountable government blacklist is completely unacceptable in a liberal democracy such as Australia. Any group with an axe to grind and political clout will be lobbying the Government to blacklist websites which they object to." – Dale Clapperton
"Every one of the wireless carriers fires high-use data customers." – Joe Mallahan
"People are still going to listen to free music. They’ll just go places where the labels don’t get paid." – Dave Goldberg
"The Pirate Bay has reached yet another milestone. Today, they track more than 20 million unique peers for the first time since the site was launched. It is estimated that the Pirate Bay tracks more than half of all BitTorrent users at any given point in time." – Ernesto
"Clearly, the sky is falling. The question now is how many people will be left to cover it." – David Carr
"I am glad to announce the first successful restoration of the BD+ protected movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ in linux. It was done using a blue ray drive with patched firmware (to get the volume id), DumpHD to decrypt the contents according to the AACS specification and the BDVM debugger from this thread to generate the conversion table. The conversion table is the key information to successfully repair all the broken parts in m2ts files to restore the original video content. This small tool was finally used to repair the main movie file ‘00001.m2ts’ according to the conversion table.
To verify the correctness i compared my 00001.m2ts with the one AnyDVD-HD creates and they both match. The MD5 hash of this 30GB large file is in both cases '0fa2bc65c25d7087a198a61c693a0a72'.
Well done everyone! " – Oopho2ei
The Return of the Invisible Mesh
Several years ago my main WASTE profile disappeared. The program ran, received and sent files, IMs, chat etc, but the main window just plain left the building. I mentioned it to some users on meshes I frequent and heard from other folks with the same trouble. It didn’t happen often but it was a hitch, it was real, and not being able to see the member list was a problem. People told me their windows came back after a while, as mysteriously as they vanished, so that was something to look forward to and sure enough mine did too eventually, about six months after it departed. So OK, chalk that up to the vagaries of an early release that never, ever had a single upgrade and little oddities like that are to be expected. It’s a testament to Justin Frankel’s programming talent that his WASTE file-sharing system works as well it does, considering we’re still using the very first version he released on a day in May more than five years ago, when he let it out for just a few brief moments, before AOL dragged it back in and slammed the door on it.
Last month I ran this versatile utility directly from a USB drive – without installing it first on a host computer, and remarked how well the setup works on the road. It opens normally, runs the same way, connects instantly to meshes and allows chat, IM’ing and will save downloads right back to the dongle it’s running from. The only issues I found were on a Windows 2000 ThinkPad where WASTE had never been installed: the laptop wouldn’t display the GUI’s. At first I thought it might have something to do with a lack of any initial installation or perhaps even the version of Windows, but it got me thinking and you probably know why. Sure enough the folder I pasted to the USB was copied from that box with the old vanishing interface and it was doing the same thing: launching invisibly. To see if perhaps another profile might produce better results I copied a different one and ran it on the ThinkPad. It worked. As soon as WASTE launched the interface popped up and the windows appeared. Files transferred to the thumb drive, chat and the other features functioned, all exactly as if I’d been running it off the original machine where it was first created several years before. The clone was perfect in every respect which was what I was hoping for so I simply copied several folders from a few PCs that connect to various meshes and placed them on the thumb drive. After a brief moment of C&P’ing the setups were done. Normally these profiles are time consuming to generate and a connection is needed to at least one other member of each mesh to complete the process and load current IP addresses. It’s basically impossible to do alone on the fly. Not that it’s easy to begin with. For some reason generating profiles doesn’t always work even under the best conditions – it’s the number one problem preventing WASTE from catching on beyond the very determined - but no matter how difficult it was I still had to recreate these iffy profiles from scratch each and every time if I wanted to log onto any networks while traveling. Not anymore. Now I can connect effortlessly to any mesh I belong to, including my own personal LAN, without installing or creating anything or leaving any trace on any computer I’m borrowing, making an already versatile app the king of the roam.
There was still one more thing to do however. Out of curiosity I re-ran that “invisible mesh” and tried sending IM’s and files to see if it was actually operating in some inadvertent stealth mode. It was. Even though I couldn’t launch a chat box directly, incoming messages from another host popped open a window making two-way conversations possible, and even though I couldn’t start a download, incoming transfers pushed from the host streamed directly to the thumb drive. The bottom line is that everything worked, even if I couldn’t see it.
There was and still is something spooky lurking inside that old profile, and although the original device on which it resides accommodates it somehow, the new drive will not. Yet. It’s one of those unexplained things that defines WASTE. Mysterious but workable, and always I think worth exploring. Who knows? Under certain circumstances a ghost in a machine like this could become an interesting friend.
November 1st, 2008
Belgian ISP Scores First Victory in P2P Case
Belgian ISP Scarlet has scored its first victory in an important case that has been dragging on for years. This case is the first real test of how European copyright law can be applied to peer-to-peer networks. To give you a quick recap:
The Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (Sabam, the Belgian version of the RIAA) started a case against Tiscali, one of the largest ISP’s in Belgium. In it, they argue that ISP’s are responsible when their customers transfer copyrighted files via their network. In 2004, Sabam (in their own words) ”obtained an intermediary judgement by virtue of which the court acknowledged that copyright infringements (regarding the reproduction right and right of communication to the public) were being committed by TISCALI customers. ”
The court then ordered a study into whether Tiscali (now called Scarlet) could be forced to block the transfer of copyrighted material through their network. This was finished last year, and in june 2007 Scarlet was ordered to implement technical measures to block the transfer of copyrighted works via P2P networks within six months. The fine for not following these instructions was set to €2500 per day.
This year, Scarlet asked the court to cancel this order because the systems Sabam proposed for filtering traffic didn’t work as advertised; Sabam has already apologized to the judge about providing incorrect information. The court has now ruled in favor of Scarlet, staying the fine until the final ruling in this case which is expected about a year from now.
Judge Tells RIAA To Stop 'Bankrupting' Litigants
The Boston judge who has consolidated all of the RIAA's Massachusetts cases into a single case over which she has been presiding for the past 5 years delivered something of a rebuke to the RIAA's lawyers, we have learned. At a conference this past June, the transcript of which (PDF) has just been released, Judge Nancy Gertner said to them that they "have an ethical obligation to fully understand that they are fighting people without lawyers... to understand that the formalities of this are basically bankrupting people, and it's terribly critical that you stop it....". She also acknowledged that "there is a huge imbalance in these cases. The record companies are represented by large law firms with substantial resources", while it is futile for self-represented defendants to resist. The judge did not seem to acknowledge any responsibility on her part, however, for having created the "imbalance", and also stated that the law is "overwhelmingly on the side of the record companies", even though she seems to recognize that for the past 5 years she has been hearing only one side of the legal story.
Harvard’s Charlie Nesson Raises Constitutional Questions in RIAA Litigation
In a major development in RIAA litigation, Prof. Charles Nesson of Harvard Law School is charging that the RIAA’s tactics are an abuse of federal process and that the law on which the litgation rests — the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999 — is unconstitutional.
Nesson, with the help of Harvard Law 3Ls Shubham Mukherjee and Nnamdi Okike (which should tell you that our future leaders may have more “un-American” names than Barack Obama), made the arguments in defending Joel Tenenbaum’s counterclaim against the record companies. Tenenbaum, who was a teenager at the time he downloaded seven songs over a P2P network, is also seeking to join the RIAA in his suit.
In the opposition to plantiff’s motion to dismiss counterclaim, Nesson charges that the federal law is essentially a criminal statute in that it seeks to punish violators with minimum statutory penalties far in excess of actual damages. The market value of a song is 99 cents on iTunes; of seven songs, $6.93. Yet the statutory damages are a minimum of $750 per song, escalating to as much as $150,000 per song for infringement “committed willfully.” (Title 17, s. 504(c))
Harvard has a website with filings and other information in RIAA v. Tenenbaum.
If the law is in fact criminal in nature:
• Defendants are entitled to the due process accorded criminal defendants, including criminal procedure and right to a jury trial.
• Congress has violated the Constitution by puttng the prosecution of a criminal statute in the hands of private parties.
• Congress has violated separation of powers by requiring the courts to try cases according to inappropriate civil processes.
• Congress has violated the 5th and 8th Amendments by requiring “grossly excessive statutory damage awards.”
The law, Nesson writes, is “wholly analagous” to a law that provides the following regime for speeders: (1) a $750 fine for every mile over the speed limit, escalating to $150,000 per mile if the speeder knew he was speeding; (2) the fines are not publicized and few drivers know they exist; (3) enforcement not by the government but by a private police force that keeps the fines for itself and:
Looking at Students and P2P — With Data
Between the deluge of litigation from the entertainment industry and defiant opposition from college students, is there a way out of the deadlock surrounding the debate on peer-to-peer file sharing?
Researchers now conducting an in-depth study of students’ downloading habits — and how they respond to policy changes — think there is, and the magic bullet isn’t a call for a restructuring of the industry or a punitive approach to music theft. It’s data.
So much data, in fact, that banks of computers at Carnegie Mellon University are still processing the reams of numbers collected last year. Although the full extent of the study’s conclusions isn’t known yet, those involved in the project shared some results of the data analyzed so far: students’ Internet activity during the full month of April, 2007, on Illinois State University’s campus network.
The university, a major producer of K-12 teachers and home of the Digital Citizen Project, which funded the study with support from both higher education associations and industry, allowed its IT specialists to monitor the Internet use of all students who live on campus for three separate months: April of last year, September of last year and April of this year. The last two months are still being analyzed.
The unprecedented scope of the project — complicated by the sheer amounts of data, not to mention the privacy concerns that had to be addressed before multiple institutional review boards — has allowed, and will continue to allow, researchers an in-depth peek at students’ downloading habits. Some of the results — such as that iPods dominate in students’ choices for portable music players or that peak downloading times are around 1 a.m. — confirm conventional wisdom. Others upend it, while data soon to be released could provide new insights into what kinds of interventions can reduce illegal file sharing on campus.
Perhaps most surprising for some will be the finding that not all students, in fact, are born technological geniuses. Many of them, in fact, aren’t aware of the difference between peer-to-peer file sharing (using clients such as LimeWire and Kazaa) and sharing files over instant messaging clients or Facebook. That highlights what the researchers believe is the most important way to approach the problem of illegal downloading: education.
“The one thing we do know is that we cannot assume the students know more than they know,” said Warren Arbogast, the founder and president of Boulder Management Group, a consulting firm, who is also on the Digital Citizen Project’s management team.
Arbogast and others from the university presented their findings thus far at the annual Educause conference, still under way here in Orlando.
One point Arbogast stresses is that file sharing shouldn’t be thought of as a technological issue — one that can be solved by installing the right monitors or blocking the right addresses. As he pointed out, the end result of that mindset is a kind of “technological whack-a-mole,” an arms race in which students and industry (with higher education caught in the middle) are constantly trying to outdo each other with new, innovative ways to share music and video.
Sure, campuses can block peer-to-peer file sharing completely, but then again, students could just as easily swap music videos freely available on YouTube or stream music from perfectly legal Web sites, and even install a browser plug-in to convert that streaming media into formats downloadable to their iPods. In other words, there’s always going to be the next method of sharing music, movies and TV, a fact that’s been true ever since the advent of cassette mix tapes and VHS.
“I think the bottom line for me is that this ... now is less an IT issue than it is an education issue. We’ve got a problem with theft, and I think the question is do we want to try and do something about it?” said Arbogast in an interview.
To illustrate that point, the study found that in April of last year, 51 percent of students living on campus were detected using the peer-to-peer protocol, legal or not. Forty-two percent of students living on campus transferred material that was copyrighted — in other words, they were illegally downloading or uploading files. On average, there were six copyrighted titles transferred per student per week.
So that means a lot of students share copyrighted music, movies and TV shows — but also that a lot don’t. The remaining question, Arbogast said, was to investigate the “moment of truth” — in the seventh or eighth grade, when downloading habits are first formed — when some students decide to start sharing files and others don’t.
To collect the massive amounts of data for the study, the university used what is called deep packet inspection technology through a system called Audible Magic, which can identify the signatures of files being transferred on a network and compare them to known copyrighted works. During the study, the researchers concluded that DPI technology was effective in limited ways — for example, it cannot detect encrypted peer-to-peer traffic, which students can easily employ with the click of a button.
The technology, they concluded, was a useful diagnostic tool to detect activity and target specific students for educational outreach programs. But if used as part of a more punitive approach, the researchers warned, students could just alter their behavior for a short time or switch to encrypted methods or torrents, which can’t easily be tracked. “If you threaten us, we’ll respond,” Arbogast said, likening the response to a driver passing a police car. “Not the way you think.”
The study began after a period in which the university received hundreds of “takedown” notices issued by the entertainment industry under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, in addition to four subpoenas. At that moment, Arbogast quipped during the session, he realized “we had a research project on our hands.”
Even after data collection ended, the university is learning more about how to respond to students’ downloading habits. It now blocks all peer-to-peer file traffic on campus, except for students who read and agree to an online pledge that they will only use it for legal purposes (such as the popular game World of Warcraft, not the smallest source of P2P traffic on many campuses).
The results are striking: After collecting data showing that over half of 5,600 or so on-campus students share files, only 112 students are now signed up for the ability to use the P2P protocol. Of those, two have been caught using the network for illegal purposes. “This really comes down to an education issue and a responsibility issue,” Arbogast said.
Other campuses have tried similar awareness-based interventions, mainly with success. Whether such efforts will catch on may depend on future research. The computers at Carnegie Mellon are still chugging away.
Hollywood, Courts Shuttering U.S.-Based 'Infringing' Websites
The Motion Picture Association of America's litigation campaign against websites accused of pointing the way to infringing movies has been racking up one U.S. courtroom victory after another.
At least four U.S.-based torrent tracking linking services has been shuttered since March, court records show. But in none of the cases did a federal judge rule on the merits of the copyright infringement allegations.
That means there is no direct U.S. legal precedent saying yea or nay to BitTorrent tracking-movie-linking sites — although many have shuttered after being sued or threatened by litigation from the MPAA. Unanswered is the central legal question of whether such sites violate U.S. copyright law for pointing to where users can download copyrighted works from others.
Hollywood's litigation is analogous to the legal question of whether the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants individuals a right to bear arms. The Supreme Court ruled in the affirmative earlier this year, after decades of legal jousting on the question. The law book is still open in the BitTorrent context. The Supreme Court hasn't even come close to deciding the question, and Grokser and Napster aren't on point.
A pending and contested case in Los Angeles federal court against IsoHunt could bring an answer.
All the while, an untold number of freebie sites also exist overseas, including the world's largest, The Pirate Bay. While The Bay is facing copyright charges in a Swedish court, online piracy is running rampant, so much so the U.S. government just created a copyright czar.
That said, the MPAA has eked out some small victories in its hometown U.S. District Court of Los Angeles. The most recent win came days ago against pullmylink.com, which linked to where copyrighted movies could be found. It's owners agreed to pull the plug and pay a $371,000 fine. Similar websites like showstash.com and cinematube.com also agreed to shutter and pay hefty fines months ago without contesting the copyright allegations.
And one of the world's most renowned torrent-tracking services, TorrentSpy, shuttered in March after it was ordered to millions in fines. But that was a default judgment, in which the judge accused the tracker of concealing evidence.
Man Gets 21 Months in Film Piracy Case
A Maryland man was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison on Tuesday after he admitted to recording two films in a Washington, D.C., theater, "28 Weeks Later" and "Enchanted."
Michael Logan, 31, could be responsible for illegally recording more than 100 films from January 2006 to January 2008 in five states and the District of Columbia, the Motion Picture Assn. of America said in a statement.
"This sentence should serve as a reminder to would-be camcorder thieves that they will in fact be prosecuted and can face serious consequences for engaging in this illegally activity," said John Malcolm, executive VP of the Hollywood studios' lobbying arm.
Logan was sentenced in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The MPAA said it did not know if Logan had a formal job as he appeared to making a good living from his camcording activities.
Tribler Set to Make BitTorrent Sites Obsolete
The Tribler BitTorrent client, a project run by researchers from several European universities and Harvard, is the first to incorporate decentralized search capabilities. With Tribler, users can now find .torrent files that are hosted among other peers, instead of on a centralized site such as The Pirate Bay or Mininova.
We have reported on Tribler and it’s development several times already. Previously, the researchers introduced BitTorrent streaming, and new algorithms that will improve the sharing behavior of BitTorrent users. The latest innovation, however, might have even broader consequences, as it creates the world’s first ‘True P2P’ BitTorrent Client.
Up until now, central servers have always been required in order to use BitTorrent effectively. Although the transfer of files via BitTorrent has always been decentralized, the .torrent files that are required to start sharing are always hosted on central servers, those of The Pirate Bay or Mininova for example.
The Tribler developers have found a way to make their client work, without having to rely on BitTorrent sites. Although others have tried to come up with similar solutions, such as the Cubit plugin for Vuze, Tribler is the first to understand that with decentralized BitTorrent search, there also has to be a way to moderate these decentralized torrents in order to avoid a flood of spam.
BuddyCast, the decentralized search feature of the Tribler client is able to do so. Tribler project leader Johan Pouwelse told TorrentFreak: “It has taken us many years to get the zero-server search infrastructure called ‘BuddyCast’ running fast and efficiently. We believe that today BuddyCast is the most efficient, scalable, and battle-hardened algorithm out there which is also ready for user tagging and ratings in true buzz-compliant 2.0 style.”
In addition to the decentralized torrent distribution and search capabilities, Tribler aims to make the BitTorrent experience more social. For instance, users will have the option to boost the download speed of friends, the client will give recommendations based on your download behavior, and it rewards users who are good sharers while punishing those who leech.
“Tribler peers all work together towards a common purpose: fast search and downloads,” Pouwelse explained. “Peers recognize fellow ‘tribe’ members and are pre-programmed with the notion that embracing mutual self-interest is good. This is a radical deviation from the core BitTorrent tit-for-tat mantra dictating pursuit of self-interest only and no memory of past experiences.”
Although this is only the first public implementation of the decentralized search feature, it seems to work pretty seamlessly. Obviously, the content is more limited than on the large BitTorrent sites, since it comes exclusively from other Tribler users, but this will grow as soon as more people start to use the client.
Decentralized BitTorrent search has the potential to make public BitTorrent sites no longer necessary. For now, we think that such a radical shift is not going to happen anytime soon, however, since the top-three BitTorrent sites are involved in legal action in some way or another, you never know when you might need it.
Redbox Files Federal Lawsuit Against Universal Studios Home Entertainment, LLC
Redbox Automated Retail, LLC, an automated DVD rental service, filed suit in Delaware Federal Court against Universal Studios Home Entertainment, LLC ("USHE") and three of its affiliates on Friday, October 10, 2008. Redbox filed the action because redbox believes that new distribution terms proposed by USHE would prohibit redbox from renting Universal Studios DVDs for 45 days after their public release, would limit how many Universal Studios DVDs each redbox kiosk could carry, and would require redbox to destroy, rather than sell at a discount, previously-viewed DVDs from its kiosks.
Redbox's cornerstone principles include providing customers with a convenient way to rent newly released DVDs for $1 per night. Redbox plans to continue to uphold those principles by carrying all major new releases, including Universal Studios' titles, on their release date.
An electronic version of the complaint is available on the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) website, which can be accessed by clicking on the following link: https://pacer.login.uscourts.gov/cgi...court_id=00idx. A copy of the complaint is also available upon request by emailing Kristin@jsha.com.
Kazaa Foes Join up to Fight Pirates and Porn
Two former adversaries who squared off in a bitter legal battle over Kazaa have joined forces to invent new technology that they say will eliminate the illegal sharing of pirated content and child porn over peer-to-peer networks.
Kevin Bermeister, sued for millions by the music industry between 2004 and 2006 over his association with what was once the world's most popular file sharing service, and Michael Speck, who ran the music industry's case as the head of its anti-piracy arm, Music Industry Piracy Investigations, are now partners in a venture dubbed Brilliant Digital Entertainment.
The pair have developed an application designed to run on existing internet service provider networks that enables the "instantaneous conversion of infringing activity into legitimate content transactions".
When an ISP's customers use a file sharing program such as LimeWire to, for example, search for a pirated music track, they are instead presented with a list of search results containing legitimate versions of the song and are given the opportunity to buy it instantly.
The legal version of the file is delivered by the ISP, which receives a cut of the revenue, and the charge is added to the customer's monthly internet bill.
Speck said the company had already completed technical trials and would launch a live trial with an as-yet-unnamed Australian ISP within a month. There was also keen interest from ISPs, law enforcement agencies and film and music publishers in the US and Europe.
In addition to combating movie, music and game piracy, the technology can be used to block child-porn searches, informing the internet user that they have attempted to access illegal content.
It is understood the company has given briefings to the Australian Federal Police and several state-based police forces.
Speck said that the technology works by cross-referencing the unique numerical values associated with content files against a list of proven illegal files provided by various sources, including contractors hired by publishers to aid in their anti-piracy efforts.
"When the architecture of the internet that has our technology recognises one of those proven illicit files, it blocks it, disconnects the link to it and adds to the search results the opportunity to purchase the legitimate material," he said.
"At that point there is no other information collected - the entire action revolves around the identification of the content and action taken against illicit content; there's an absolute protection of privacy."
Files that aren't present on the list of illegal files are not blocked or impeded in any way.
Speck said that, because there was no internet-wide surveillance and files were only checked against a predetermined list, the impact on ISP network performance was negligible.
"The entire transaction takes in the order of a millisecond," he said.
The technology supports all Gnutella-based file sharing programs such as LimeWire but cannot yet stamp out piracy through BitTorrent, which accounts for an increasing proportion of illegal downloads.
Peter Coroneos, chief executive of the Internet Industry Association, said he would be watching the results of the trial with interest but the technology raised "potential privacy concerns".
David Vaile, executive director of the University of NSW's Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre and the vice-chairman of the Australian Privacy Foundation, said he was concerned that ISPs' activity logs would become a "honey pot" for parties such as the music industry when they wanted to start prosecutions.
Society was "moving towards ubiquitous surveillance where there's no reason to be suspicious of any particular individual but we have to monitor all traffic at all times".
Music Industry Piracy Investigations general manager Sabiene Heindl said: "The willingness of an Australian ISP to participate in the trial ... demonstrates that the music industry has made inroads in convincing ISPs that they have an important role to play in protecting the creativity of artists and songwriters."
Games Firms 'Catching' Non-Gamers
Games firms are accusing innocent people of file-sharing as they crack down on pirates, a Which? Computing investigation has claimed.
The magazine was contacted by Gill and Ken Murdoch, from Scotland, who had been accused of sharing the game Race07 by makers Atari.
The couple told Which they had never played a computer game in their lives.
The case was dropped, but Which estimates that hundreds of others are in a similar situation.
The illegal sharing of music, movies and games has become a huge headache for copyright owners.
Some six million people are thought to illegally share files each year, and increasingly firms are getting tough on the pirates.
They are monitoring peer-to-peer sharing networks, such as Gnutella, BitTorrent, and eDonkey, that allow games, music and video to be shared.
Atari has appointed law firm Davenport Lyons to prosecute illegal file-sharers.
It has been acting on behalf of several games firms and partner David Gore thinks there are likely to be many more.
The lawyers in the Atari case turned to anti-piracy firm Logistep, which finds those people illegally sharing files via their IP address - the unique numbers which identify a particular computer.
With this number, rights owners can apply for a court order which obliges internet service providers to hand over the account holder's details.
In the case of the Murdochs, a letter was sent giving them the chance to pay £500 compensation or face a court case.
Gill Murdoch and her husband, aged 54 and 66 respectively, told Which: "We do not have, and have never had, any computer game or sharing software. We did not even know what 'peer to peer' was until we received the letter."
The case has now been dropped by Atari, although the firm is yet to comment on the reasons why.
According to Michael Coyle, an intellectual property solicitor with law firm Lawdit, more and more people are being wrongly identified as file-sharers.
He is pursuing 70 cases of people who claim to be wrongly accused of piracy and has spoken to "hundreds" of others, he told the BBC.
"Some of them are senior citizens who don't know what a game is, let alone the software that allows them to be shared," he said.
Most commonly problems arise when a pirate steals someone else's network connection by "piggybacking" on their unsecured wireless network, he said.
While prosecutors argue that users are legally required to secure their network, Mr Coyle dismisses this.
"There is no section of the Copyright Act which makes you secure your network although it is commonsense to do so," he said.
Mr and Mrs Murdoch do not have a wireless network so their address cannot have been hijacked in this way.
It has not yet been established how their IP address came to be linked to file-sharing.
Some question whether an IP address on its own can be used as evidence.
"The IP address alone doesn't tell you anything. Piracy is only established beyond doubt if the hard-drive is examined," said Mr Coyle.
Firms that facilitate file sharing, such as Pirate Bay, have been undermining efforts by anti-piracy investigators to track down file sharers.
Pirate Bay makes no secret of the fact that it inserts the random IP addresses of users, some of who may not even know what file sharing is, to the list of people downloading files, leading investigators up a virtual garden path.
Despite the problems, rights owners are successfully suing pirates.
In a landmark case in August, games firm Topware Interactive won more than £16,000 following legal action against Londoner Isabella Barwinska who shared a copy of the game Dream Pinball 3D.
It is widely expected that the music industry will follow the lead of the games firms and begin prosecutions next year.
In the UK, claims are brought as civil actions using the Copyright, Design and Patents Act of 1988.
Group to FCC: Force ISPs to Disclose Management Practices
After securing a victory in the Comcast P2P throttling case, advocacy group Free Press is back on offense against the ISPs. The request this time is for more FCC action; if granted, Internet providers would need to offer up detailed information on "any practice that monitors or interferes with their customers' Internet use." In addition, ISPs would have to offer minimum speed guarantees for their broadband offerings, not just potential maximum speeds.
At the moment, broadband customers are the victim of "information asymmetries"—ISPs know plenty about their own network management practices, but consumers know less and can find out little. Without that information, all 6Mbps broadband offerings might look identical, for instance, whereas disclosure might reveal that one company offers average speeds of only 4Mbps and blocks P2P uploads.
The Free Press request cites the expected cases of Comcast and NebuAd, both of which engaged in behavior that could be quite difficult for end users to spot. After the FCC issued its Comcast smackdown, the company complied with a request for detailed information about its network management practices past and future, and it did so without needing to file confidential information with the agency.
If Comcast can do it when asked, why can't everyone else? "Comcast has demonstrated that providers can disclose clear, basic, yet valuable information on infrastructure and on methods and threshholds for network controls," says the filing. And Free Press sees no reason why the disclosure requirement should vary by technology, which means that wireless operators would need to disclose their own management schemes.
More controversially, the group wants ISPs to report "certain infrastructure information" so that users can decide whether "congestion is the result of massive overloading of the network by the provider to avoid the expense of infrastructure investment." In addition, it likes AT&T's practice of disclosing minimum service levels, below which the company will never throttle its users' connections. Free Press suggests that the practice should be a "minimum floor for industry-wide, ongoing disclosure of network interference and infrastructure information."
(In what might be a first, Free Press appears to praise some of AT&T's and Comcast's behavior. A quick check from the windows of the Orbiting HQ reveals that, in fact, the Earth is still spinning on its merry way around the sun.)
Ben Scott, Free Press policy director, complains that "terms of service agreements contain the vaguest language that corporate lawyers can devise—further stacking the deck against the consumer. Moving forward, we propose that any service provider that wants to manipulate the connection between Internet users and Internet content has an obligation to disclose what it is doing."
Video Is Dominating Internet Traffic, Pushing Prices Up
You are watching a lot more video on the Internet, and you may start to pay your Internet provider more for it. That was one of the conclusions I walked away with after spending Friday at the annual seminar of the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information at the business school of Columbia University. The theme was “The Dawning of the Ultra-Broadband Era,” and it explored the implications of Internet service that is far faster than the current offerings over phone wires, cable and wireless connections.
One theme from the academics, telecom executives and regulators from around the world in attendance was that demand for data over broadband is rising fast. Less clear is whether the supply of bandwidth is rising as fast as demand, and thus whether prices will go up or down for consumers.
Here are some of the more interesting exchanges:
• File sharing has been usurped by legitimate video services.
Peer-to-peer networks, which are often used to trade illegal copies of music and movies, no longer generate the largest share of Internet traffic in the United States. In a busy hour on AT&T’s network, 31 percent of the bandwidth is used by streaming audio and video, said David Belanger, the chief scientist of AT&T Labs. Other sorts of Web pages represent an even greater share. (The slide he displayed didn’t have a caption, but it looked like the Web traffic was about 40 percent of the pie chart, and the P2P segment about 20 percent. I’ve e-mailed AT&T and I’ll update with the exact numbers if they give them to me.)
“Four years ago, peer-to-peer traffic would have been the largest slice of the pie,” Mr. Belanger said. “The Web has overwhelmed P2P,” he said, and audio and video streams are now larger as well.
Web pages and video are increasing at a pace of 76 percent a year, far faster than the overall 30 percent growth in bandwidth use per household served by AT&T.
In Germany, the trend is similar, but not quite as advanced, according to data presented by Matthias Kurth, the president of the Bundesnetzagentur, the German utility regulator. This year, peer-to-peer file trading is the largest component of Internet traffic. But by 2012, if current trends continue, Internet-delivered video will use more than half of the bandwidth to homes.
• The very heaviest users drive up network costs.
This surging use of bandwidth is requiring networks to expand their capacity. In the days of Ma Bell, the cost of the phone network was determined by how many lines were needed to handle the calls on Mother’s Day. And in broadband networks, the biggest costs come from building the various network nodes and connections to handle peak usage.
This is even more true in wireless networks. In New York City, for example, T-Mobile has had to add more than 1,000 cell sites, at a cost of $200,000 each, simply because its existing sites reached capacity, said Joe Mallahan, its vice president of corporate strategy.
And on data networks, a very small number of users account for a disproportionate amount of the bandwidth consumption. Robert Pepper, a senior managing director of Cisco for technology policy, presented figures that cited statistics from Japan, which has much faster broadband service than the United States. The top 1 percent of users consumed 225 gigabytes of data per month, compared to the bottom 50 percent of users who used 1 gigabyte of data or less.
• Unlimited data plans may have a limited life.
Several executives from telecommunications companies argued that that this surge in data use, and the disproportionate nature of who uses it, would require an end to plans that offer unlimited data use.
“We have light users subsidizing heavy users,” said Maggie Wilderotter, the chief executive of Frontier Communications, a regional phone company. “We have to move to a model of consumption-based pricing.”
In an interview after her talk, Ms. Wilderotter said Frontier was going to start displaying to customers a gauge that shows how much bandwidth they are using. Then it will start imposing an additional fee for customers who use more than 5 gigabytes of data a month.
T-Mobile’s wireless operation in the United States is looking to do the same thing, said Mr. Mallahan.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “People who want moderate usage have to pay way too high prices.”
Right now he said, wireless carriers don’t really offer truly unlimited plans because they cancel the accounts of the very heaviest users.
“Every one of the wireless carriers fires high-use data customers,” Mr. Mallahan said. He suggested that wireless data services offer a certain amount of bandwidth, with a “moderate” charge for additional use.
“In voice, our overage charges are exorbitant,” he said. “It’s a legacy thing we’re addicted to.”
• It’s cheaper in Europe.
Broadband products and prices differ wildly around the world. The conference didn’t have anyone speaking from Asia, which is enjoying a flood of bandwidth. But several people from Europe discussed the broadband services available there at price points that are far better than those in the United States.
In Germany, for example, a bundle of voice and high-speed data service can cost 30 euros ($38), said Mr. Kurth, the German regulator. In many countries the relative savings is even more for people who use pay-television services delivered over their Internet connections.
Deutche Telekom, for example, offers a bundle that includes 150 channels of pay TV, video on demand, data service and voice calling. The cost is 60 euros ($76) a month. (Cable and phone companies are offering teaser rates of about $99 a month for this bundle in the United States, but the regular price is often $130 a month or more.)
The Pirate Bay Tops 20 Million Peers
The Pirate Bay has reached yet another milestone. Today, they track more than 20 million unique peers for the first time since the site was launched. It is estimated that the Pirate Bay tracks more than half of all BitTorrent users at any given point in time.
By November 2007, The Pirate Bay was tracking around 6 million peers, up from ‘just’ 3 million the year before. The growth has been amazing, and it doesn’t seem that it is going to slow down anytime soon.
One of the reasons it was possible for the site to handle this record number of peers are the constant improvements on the software and hardware side. New servers are added regularly, budget permitting, and UDP trackers were added to all the torrents on the site, which are less resource consuming than TCP trackers.
Pirate Bay co founder Peter Sunde, who just returned from his trip to Malaysia, told TorrentFreak that they previously had a limit on the amount of peers they could track, but that this has increased with all the recent changes. “I wish we had lots and lots of money so we could just buy like 10 servers and another gigabit,” he mused.
At the current growth rate, The Pirate Bay may be tracking over 25 million peers by the end of the year. Peter himself is aiming for 24 million peers by Christmas eve. The Pirate Bay is not the only BitTorrent site that has been growing, other torrent sites isoHunt and Mininova are breaking visitor records every week.
The only downside to this news is, that The Pirate Bay is one of the few sites that operates a (public) tracker. With 50% of all BitTorrent users relying on a single tracker, things can get quite ugly when it goes down. The Pirate Bay encourages others to start their own tracker, using Opentracker for example. The more heads the Hydra has, the better.
Pirate Bay Talk: How To Dismantle a Billion Dollar Industry
Pirate Bay co-founders Peter Sunde and Fredrik Neij gave a keynote speech at the Hack In The Box Security Conference 2008, entitled “How to dismantle a billion dollar industry - as a hobby.” The two discuss how The Pirate Bay grew to be the largest BitTorrent site on the Internet, and some of the challenges they face today.
At the Hack in the Box conference, held in Malaysia, Peter and Fredrik gave a talk this morning, where they offered some background information on how the site became the world’s largest BitTorrent tracker, in a relatively short period of time.
The two, who just turned 30, have a long history of copyright infringement which started back in the ’80’s, with Peter cracking Amiga games and Fredrik copying Commodore64 software. At the time they had never heard of copyright infringement, they were just doing what everybody else did. To the amusement of the audience, Peter said he didn’t think piracy was ‘wrong’ when he was a kid, but now that he’s an adult, he knows it’s not.
Years later, in 2003, they got involved in founding Piratbyrån (The Bureau of Piracy), a pro-piracy organization that was created in response to anti-Piratbyrån. The goal of Piratbyrån was to start a debate on copyright issues, and how they affect society. Until then, most press in Sweden would simply take everything anti-Piratbyrån said for granted.
In the years to come, Piratbyrån started several pro-piracy projects, and the most influential is without a doubt the founding of The Pirate Bay on November 21, 2003. “We needed to have a filesharing network in Sweden, because there was none,” Peter said. “At this time there was one big torrent site, which was called Suprnova, but they mainly had international content. We and Piratbyrån wanted more Swedish and Scandinavian content. So we started a big library, and that is The Pirate Bay.”
Fredrik, who ran one of the earlier versions of the tracker on his laptop, explained that when The Pirate Bay went live, it was hosted in South America. “The Pirate Bay originally started out in Mexico, on a Mexican server where Anakata, the third guy of The Pirate Bay was working at the time,” he said. Anakata hosted the site on a server owned by the company he was working for, but it was soon overloaded since the site grew so rapidly.
The Pirate Bay was initially available in Swedish language only. However, after a year they found out that, although their site was initially targeted at Scandinavians, over 80% of the users came from other parts of the world. In fact, one of the most popular torrents was a Swedish language course. Because of increasing worldwide popularity, The Pirate Bay team completely redesigned the site, which became available in several languages.
The popularity of the site didn’t go unnoticed in Hollywood. Like many other BitTorrent sites, The Pirate Bay also received several takedown notices. However, the way they responded to these was quite unique and some have become news stories in themselves. Threats from the entertainment industry didn’t stop at sending letters. In true Hollywood style, The Pirate Bay admins soon saw private investigators watching their every move.
“They’ve sent private investigators after us, which is really stupid if you do something online,” Peter said. “What are they going to find, that we are sitting behind our computers?” Fredrik added: “I guess the private investigator that went after me in Gothenburg got to see a lot of good bars, a lot of late nights, but probably not a lot of evidence gathering.” Peter then noted that someone from the IFPI was actually at the conference, “still trying to find out what we’re doing.”
Eventually The Pirate Bay got raided, following pressure from Hollywood and the USA. Fredrik recalls the day vividly: “I got a phone call like 10am in the morning, it was Anakata.” He told Fredrik that there were police officers at their office, and asked him to get down to the colocation facility and get rid of the ‘incriminating evidence’, although none of it, whatever it was, was related to The Pirate Bay.
As Fredrik was leaving, he suddenly realized that the problems might be linked to their tracker, so he initiated a full backup of the site. At the colocation facility there were 65 police, some in civilian clothing. Fredrik asked them: “Who are you? What are you doing here?” To which they responded, “Who are YOU? What are you doing here?” After questions back and forth, Fredrik eventually told them his name, and a police officer said, “Oh, we’ve been looking for you.”
During the subsequent questioning, the Pirate Bay trio gave up very little information. Anakata quickly confessed to his crime - of killing the Swedish prime minister when he was 2 years old, but that was all they got. It is up to the court to decide whether the Pirate Bay founders are operating illegally or not. Until then, The Pirate Bay is still up and running, stronger than ever.
As always, there are a lot of plans for the future, and Peter and Fredrik briefly discussed some. One of the most interesting plans is to encrypt tracker connections, so anti-piracy organizations can’t spy on their users. We will probably hear more about that in the future. The keynote speech by Peter and Fredrik was streamed from a mobile phone last night, and we embedded the recording below. The sound quality is far from optimal, but it’s watchable. The talk starts at 13m 00s
Microsoft Anti-Piracy Move Irks Chinese Official
A top Chinese copyright official chided Microsoft for launching an anti-piracy tool that nags users of counterfeit software with a black computer screen and said the company's prices were too high.
The U.S. software giant launched "Windows Genuine Advantage" in China last week, a program that turns the background of the Windows operating system's desktop black if the software fails a validation test.
The move prompted lawsuit threats and howls of indignation in China, where the vast majority of computer users are believed to be using pirated versions, unwittingly or not.
National Copyright Administration (NCA) Vice-Director Yan Xiaohong said his agency supported "the rights-safeguarding move taken by institutions including Microsoft," Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying in a report late on Monday.
But companies should "pay attention to the methods," Yan said. "Whether the 'black-out' method should be adopted is open to question. Measures for safeguarding rights also need to be appropriate," Yan said.
Microsoft has defended the program as a measure to protect its intellectual property and help customers determine that they have legal software.
Methods to subvert the program were circulated on Chinese blogs and Internet chat-rooms within days of its launch.
Dong Zhengwei, a Beijing lawyer, said Microsoft was abusing its market power and had filed a complaint to China's trade watchdog, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the China Daily said in separate report.
"Microsoft should be fined $1 billion," the paper quoted the lawyer as saying.
Yan said Microsoft's price policies needed to "fit the Chinese situation."
"The company adopted unified prices in the past without considering the income gap between developed and developing countries, so we need to kindly remind them that Chinese customers' affordability should be considered."
Microsoft's China office denied users were being forced to use the anti-piracy program and pointed to recent sales promotions cutting prices of its software in China.
"We appreciate the NCA's understanding and support on efforts made by right holders including Microsoft to protect IPR," it said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Building a market environment that respects intellectual property rights is critical to the development of the entire software industry and of knowledge economy in China."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Macfie)
French Culture Minister Wins Backing For Three-Strikes Plan
French culture minister Christine Albanel has received backing from the independent music community for her government's anti-piracy measures, which would see the authorities regulating internet service providers with a three-strike scheme under which infringers could ultimately see their internet access cut.
The three-strike scheme was discussed at the first European Independence Arena, which gathered politicians and European Commission officials as well as professionals from the music, cinema and books sectors in Paris to debate the position of independent companies. It has produced a ten-point declaration for the independent sector.
The two-day conference sessions - which were co-organized by French ministry of culture and by European record labels body Impala - ended with a written declaration stating the expectations of the independent cultural sector towards Europe. It took place in the context of the French Presidency of the European Union.
The declaration included a statement about the importance of regulation of the digital environment and support for the "Internet and creation" law, which will be discussed from Oct. 29 at the French senate.
"Of course, there is no secret plan to impose the French anti-piracy plan to the rest of Europe," said Albanel, defending the proposals. "I simply wish that our experience will prove an inspiration for other European states whose cultural businesses are as threatened as the French ones."
She added that the law "won't be the law of the majors, it will be the law of all creators and of all the cultural industries."
Among the other points listed in the final declaration were that European independents expect a "specific status to independent cultural small and medium enterprises (SMEs), endorsed at the European level. SMEs should be granted specific support and benefit from positive discrimination measures."
They also call for agreements to ensure independent productions receive "sufficient and sustainable exposure" in the media, shops, cinemas and in the new media; for new competition and concentration law rules or practices; for the creation of financial tools, as well as fiscal and social measures at national and European level; reduced VAT [sales tax] rates on cultural products in both physical and online markets; and for €1.5 billion ($1.89 billion) to be invested each year from the European budget into the cultural industries, with priority given to SMEs and micro-enterprises.
"We have windows of opportunities, politically and psychologically speaking, with the idea of regulation rising," said Albanel during the closing panel, referring to the measures Europe is currently taking to face the world financial crisis. She added that the French government would create a liaison office representing the three cultural sectors in Brussels.
The European Independence Arena was held Oct. 23 to 24.
Bryan Adams Follows Prince in Challenging Fan Sites
Bryan Adams, best known for his 1980s rock anthems "Straight from the Heart," "Summer of '69" and "Run to You," is apparently pressuring fan sites to play by his rules.
The Canadian rocker wants to stop several overseas fan sites from using his name and image without his permission, according to a story on TheRegister.com. Some of the sites have apparently shut down while they negotiate with Adams, according to The Register.
The Canadian rocker has hired Web Sheriff, a company that protects digital music and video from online piracy to oversee the situation. Web Sheriff is perhaps best known for helping Prince launch an extensive and controversial campaign last year against those they claimed were violating Prince's copyright. As part of this effort, Prince served some of his fan sites with cease-and-desist notices, ordering them to remove photos, lyrics, and anything linked to Prince's likeness.
John Giacobbi, who operates Web Sheriff, told TheRegister that some of the Bryan Adams fan sites have linked to pirated music. Nonetheless, unlike the situation with Prince, there won't be any need for litigation for most of the sites, he said.
Chinese Democracy Invades Rock Radio
It looks like it's finally happening: Guns N' Roses really is going to release their long awaited album, Chinese Democracy. Even though it was already announced that the album would be a Best Buy exclusive, and BestBuy.com posted an album cover and tracklist, GNR's record label had not officially acknowledged the release until now. Today, Geffen Records officially announced that Chinese Democracy will be available on November 23 at Best Buy and BestBuy.com on CD, vinyl, and as a digital download. BestBuy.com is accepting pre-orders as of today, and the first single, which is the title track, was released to radio today as well.
Chinese Democracy was produced by Axl Rose and Caram Costanzo and includes 14 tracks. The song "Shackler’s Revenge" debuted September 14 through the Rock Band 2 video game, and "If The World" can be heard in the film Body Of Lies, which opened in theaters on October 11.
"The release of Chinese Democracy marks a historic moment in Rock & Roll," said co-managers Irving Azoff and Andy Gould. "We're launching with a monumental campaign developed by [Senior Entertainment Officer for Best Buy] Gary Arnold and the Best Buy team that matches the groundbreaking sound of the album itself. Guns N’ Roses fans have every reason to celebrate, for this is only the beginning."
"Guns N’ Roses is THE premier American rock band," commented Steve Berman, President of Sales and Marketing at Interscope Geffen A&M Records. "Partnering with Gary and everyone at Best Buy to release one of rock’s most anticipated and legendary albums is truly a moment in music history. We’re thrilled to be able to announce that Chinese Democracy is coming, it’s coming this year, and it’s coming to Best Buy."
Hot Topic Launches DRM-Free Music Service
Hot Topic, a clothing and accessories retailer catering to those interested in alternative music, announced Wednesday that it has launched ShockHound, the company's first online music site offering millions of MP3s, band merchandise, music videos, and editorial content.
According to Hot Topic, Shockhound offers tracks from major record labels, like Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner Music Group, and EMI Music, as well as independent labels. The company also says that artists will be able to upload and sell their own music directly to users without requiring a record label to act as the broker between Shockhound and the artist.
"Our goal was to create an authentic, online experience of music discovery," says Betsy McLaughlin, CEO of Hot Topic. "A place where fellow music lovers can come together and explore, share their likes and dislikes, read the latest music news, and enjoy exclusive content on their favorite artists."
One of the unique features ShockHound will offer is its editorial section. The site will feature reviews, music news, interviews, original programming, and music videos that are controlled by the editorial team on the site.
Although Hot Topic is well-known for its alternative rock products, ShockHound features music from all genres, so the service definitely has its sights set on competing with iTunes and Amazon.com's MP3 DRM-free store. But unlike iTunes tracks, each ShockHound song is DRM-free.
For those interested in buying tracks from Hot Topic's service, each song retails for 99 cents and can be downloaded on the ShockHound page.
Beatles Unknown "A Hard Day's Night" Chord Mystery Solved Using Fourier Transform
It’s the most famous chord in rock 'n' roll, an instantly recognizable twang rolling through the open strings on George Harrison’s 12-string Rickenbacker. It evokes a Pavlovian response from music fans as they sing along to the refrain that follows:
"It’s been a hard day’s night
And I’ve been working like a dog"
The opening chord to "A Hard Day’s Night" is also famous because, for 40 years, no one quite knew exactly what chord Harrison was playing.
There were theories aplenty and musicians, scholars and amateur guitar players all gave it a try, but it took a Dalhousie mathematician to figure out the exact formula.
Four years ago, inspired by reading news coverage about the song’s 40th anniversary, Jason Brown of Dalhousie’s Department of Mathematics decided to try and see if he could apply a mathematical calculation known as Fourier transform to solve the Beatles’ riddle. The process allowed him to decompose the sound into its original frequencies using computer software and parse out which notes were on the record.
It worked, to a point: the frequencies he found didn’t match the known instrumentation on the song. “George played a 12-string Rickenbacker, Lennon had his six string, Paul had his bass…none of them quite fit what I found,” he explains. “Then the solution hit me: it wasn’t just those instruments. There was a piano in there as well, and that accounted for the problematic frequencies.”
“I started playing guitar because I heard a Beatles record—that was it for my piano lessons,” says Brown. “I had tried to play the first chord of the song many takes over the years. It sounds outlandish that someone could create a mystery around a chord from a time where artists used such simple recording techniques. It’s quite remarkable.”
Dr. Brown deduces that another George—George Martin, the Beatles producer—also played on the chord, adding a piano chord that included an F note impossible to play with the other notes on the guitar. The resulting chord was completely different than anything found in the literature about the song to date, which is one reason why Dr. Brown’s findings garnered international attention. He laughs that he may be the only mathematician ever to be published in Guitar Player magazine.
“Music and math are not really that far apart,” he says. “They’ve found that children that listen to music do better at math, because math and music both use the brain in similar ways. The best music is analytical and pattern-filled and mathematics has a lot of aesthetics to it. They complement each other well.”
Beatles Tunes Join Rock Band Game
Ethan Smith, Yukari Iwatani Kane and Sam Schechner
The Beatles have licensed songs to MTV Networks' Rock Band videogame series, according to several people familiar with the matter, a coup for the Viacom Inc. unit in its battle with rival Activision Blizzard Inc. for supremacy in the world of rock-and-roll videogames.
The deal, which is set to be announced on Thursday by Viacom's MTV and the band's own Apple Corps Ltd., makes the Beatles the next and biggest major band to license its songs to a music-oriented videogame, joining Aerosmith, Metallica, AC/DC and others.
Rock Band and Activision's Guitar Hero have engaged in heated competition over exclusive rights to use music by major acts, entering multimillion-dollar licensing agreements with a handful of the biggest names in the business.
The games let players use plastic game controllers, shaped like miniature musical instruments, to simulate playing rock and pop songs. Players are scored on how well they hit notes.
The Beatles represent the biggest prize to date in the category. Not only do they have the best-selling album catalog of any band, they haven't yet licensed their music for sale by download services such as Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store.
A spokesman for Apple Corps didn't return a call for comment. Spokeswomen for EMI Group Ltd., the Beatles' record label, and for MTV declined to comment.
Speculating on when the Beatles will reach a deal to sell downloads of their catalog is a music-industry pastime. The fact that a videogame publisher beat iTunes and its rivals to the punch highlights the growing importance of music-oriented game titles. With recorded-music sales in a long, steep decline, videogames can be more lucrative for big, sought-after bands than traditional sales.
According to DFC Intelligence, which follows the industry, music and dance games generated more than $1.2 billion in domestic revenue in 2007; sales this year already had come close to $1 billion at the end of September.
For MTV, the deal adds luster to the Rock Band series. It made its debut a year ago, a couple of years after the original Guitar Hero came out for Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 2 console. Guitar Hero initially included only a make-believe guitar, while Rock Band added drums and vocals to the game.
DFC estimates that Guitar Hero and its sequels have generated more than $1.5 billion in cumulative revenue so far, three times as much as Rock Band. However, the two games are competing neck-and-neck so far this year, with MTV's launch of Rock Band 2 and Activision's latest, Guitar Hero World Tour, this past Sunday. Guitar Hero has issued seven titles to date, while Rock Band -- distributed by Electronic Arts Inc. -- has put out just two titles.
Beatles songs available on a Rock Band game are likely to be popular, but analysts point out that the challenge will be in reaching out to Beatles fans, many of whom are in their 50s and 60s, and marketing the game in a way that will persuade them to buy a videogame console and try the game.
Key details about the Beatles game release couldn't be learned, such as which songs, and from what era of the band's career, are to be included. A release date and price also couldn't be learned. Rock Band is a product of Harmonix, a division of MTV.
Rock Band has taken on added importance to Viacom as its cable networks reel from the sluggish advertising market. The company doesn't break out Rock Band revenue, but in the first half of the year, the game drove Viacom's media networks to pull in $639 million in world-wide ancillary revenue, a 67% increase over the year-earlier period, according to filings. That growth appears to be continuing: In the third quarter, ancillary revenue increased at a "double-digit rate," even as U.S. ad sales on Viacom's cable networks, such as MTV, fell 3%, the company said.
EMI, Warner Music and Beggars Group Team for Music Download Service
Record labels EMI, Warner Music and indie label Beggars Group have teamed up to launch a new music service that offers fans unlimited downloads for £99.99 that can be played on any mobile phone or portable music player.
The service, called the Datz Music Lounge, aims to offer an attractive alternative to illegal download sites and take on Apple's market leading iTunes online store.
For a one-off fee of £99.99 music fans will be given access to download up to an initial 2.5m tracks from artists including Madonna, Snoop Dogg, Elvis, Blur and REM.
The tracks will be in MP3 format and are digital rights management-free, meaning users will be able to play the songs on any mobile phone, iPod or other MP3 player.
To become a Datz Music Lounge user, customers will first have to buy a USB key and CD from Sainsbury's and other high street retailers from the end of this week. Tracks are downloaded to a PC and can then be transferred to another device.
Subscribers to Datz can access the service for a year and keep all the songs they download forever. No details were available about what happens once the year is up.
However, the service comes with a fair usage policy, meaning that if a person were to download more music than they could "reasonably listen to in a lifetime", their Datz membership would be suspended.
The launch partners, which also include music distribution company Orchard, claimed more record labels would join the venture "over the coming weeks". They did not make clear what proportion of the music available would be new-release tracks.
However, Matthew Crosswaite, senior vice-president of sales and commercial development for EMI UK & Ireland, referred to the Datz service as a "valuable and insightful tool for understanding how consumers explore and react to EMI's deep and rich back catalogue".
Datz is the latest in a slew of new legal music download services gearing up for launch.
MySpace recently announced the launch of its controversial music streaming service.
Nokia is soon to launch its Comes With Music offering, Sony Ericsson has PlayNow Plus, and BSkyB has announced plans to launch a music service in conjunction with Universal Music.
EMI Reports Over $1 Billion In Losses
In a new report on the company's first year under owners Terra Firma, EMI has reported a loss of £757 million, or $1.2 billion. The report was for the year ending March 31 and included an introduction from Lord Birt, a former BBC executive who is now an advisor to Terra Firma head Guy Hands. In the introduction, he notes that despite the losses, "continuing underperformance from EMI Music" and "the absence of rosy assurances about the future," all hope is not lost. The report "does not signal any lack of confidence in EMI, but sets out the problems that were faced in the year." Lord Birt adds that EMI's costs were too high and that its system was unable to tell how profitable its individual acts were.
The loss is more than double the previous fiscal year, where EMI lost £287 million (or $454.4 million). Revenue dropped from £1.8 billion ($2.85 billion) to £1.45 billion ($2.3 billion). However, since these figures only run up to March 31 of this year, they do not include any results from many of this year's hit albums, including Coldplay's smash Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends or Katy Perry's single "I Kissed A Girl." In fact, only three EMI albums surpassed one million in sales during the time frame, plus two of the NOW compilations. One-off restructuring costs of £123 million ($195.8 million) relating to 1,500 staffers being laid off worldwide also factored into the year.
Another report coming later this year will lay out EMI's future strategy and plans.
The entire 101 page report can be read online as a PDF file here.
Sony’s Quarterly Profit Falls by 72 Percent
Sony reported a 72 percent drop in profit in the most recent quarter on Wednesday, hurt by a stronger yen and the global slowdown.
The poor results were expected, after the Tokyo-based electronics and entertainment conglomerate last week cut its annual profit forecast for the fiscal year through March 2009 by 58 percent. Sony made that revision after sales of its Bravia line of flat-panel televisions and digital cameras fell faster than expected in October, suggesting a deepening slump in the second half of the fiscal year.
Sony has joined a procession of Asian exporters reporting lower earnings, including Canon, Samsung and Honda, which all cut yearly forecasts. They have blamed drops in global and particularly American demand, contradicting the once popular notion that Asian economies were decoupling from the United States.
This new evidence of continued vulnerability to an American slowdown, combined with panicked selling because of the current financial crisis, has hammered stock prices across the region. Companies like Sony, once a darling of foreign investors, have seen their shares plunge as these investors have fled. That drove Sony’s shares to a 16-year low on Monday.
On Wednesday, the price rallied slightly to 2,035 yen, though that is still down 67 percent for the year. Earnings were reported after Japan’s stock markets had closed on Wednesday.
Many analysts say share prices of top Japanese companies have fallen so far as to defy reason. Not only Sony but many of Japan’s best-known brand names — including Toyota, Panasonic and Bridgestone — have seen their market value drop below their so-called book value, the total worth of their buildings, equipment and other physical assets.
As of Tuesday, Sony’s market value was $21.4 billion, or about 0.58 percent of its book value, according to Paul Migliorato, head of research at NamiNori, a Honolulu-based equity research firm.
Theoretically, that means an investor could buy Sony or Toyota and turn a profit simply by selling off their assets — suggesting the companies were worse than worthless as business franchises.
“The market is treating Sony and Toyota like pariahs,” Mr. Migliorato said. “Any sense of reality has been hijacked by momentum and fear.”
One source of pessimism has been the strength of the yen, which investors have bought as a safe haven in the financial crisis, and to pay back global borrowing of yen known as the yen-carry trade. A stronger yen hurts exporters like Sony by raising the price of their goods overseas and reducing the yen value of profits earned abroad.
Sony cited the yens gains against the euro as being particularly painful to its bottom line. The euro has fallen sharply since mid-August, now trading around 120 yen per euro, well below Sony’s assumed exchange rate of 140 yen, the company said. The currency is also rising against the American dollar, trading Wednesday near 97 yen per dollar.
Declining sales of its core electronics products also offset revenues from hit movies like “Hancock” and stronger sales of its PlayStation 3 game console, the company said. For the three months through September, net profit fell to 20.8 billion yen, or $213.6 million, as sales dropped 0.5 percent to 2.07 trillion yen, $21.3 billion.
Sony said it sold 2.43 million units of its PlayStation 3 game machine in the quarter, up 86 percent from the same quarter last year. Sony has slashed the price of its new game console as it has pursued rival Nintendo’s popular Wii console.
100,000 Sony Batteries Recalled
The batteries found in Dell, HP, and Toshiba PCs were sold in the same time frame as Sony notebook batteries involved in a massive recall in 2006.
Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Toshiba have once again recalled Sony notebook batteries following reports of them causing fires that have resulted in people suffering minor burns.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the three computer makers announced the worldwide recall Thursday. The action involves 35,000 batteries sold in the United States and an additional 65,000 sold outside the country.
The batteries were sold in the same time frame as Sony notebook batteries involved in a massive recall in 2006. Some of those batteries, which resulted in recalls by Apple, Dell, Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, and Sony, had also overheated and caused fires that resulted in minor injuries.
The latest recall followed at least 19 reports of the batteries overheating, including 17 reports of the batteries sparking fires, according to the CPSC. Ten of the fires resulted in minor property damage, and at least two people suffered minor burns.
The notebooks containing the recalled batteries were sold directly by the computer makers or through computer and electronics stores and Web retailers. The notebooks were sold for between $700 and $3,000. Some of the batteries were also sold separately for between $100 and $160.
In the United States, HP's recall involves a total of 32,000 batteries in three notebooks, the HP Pavilion, models dv1000, dv8000 and zd8000; Compaq Presario, models v2000 and v2400; and the HP Compaq, models nc6110, nc6120, nc6140, nc6220, nc6230, nx4800, nx4820, nx6110, nx6120, and nx9600. The recalled batteries have a bar-code label starting with A0, L0, L1, and GC. HP has set up a Web site for customers to get instructions on replacing the batteries and has also listed a toll-free number, 800-889-2031.
Toshiba has recalled 3,000 batteries in two notebooks, the Satellite, models A70/A75, P30/P5, M30X/M35X, and M50/M55; and the Tecra, models A3, A5, and S2. Toshiba also has a recall Web site and toll-free number, 800-457-7777.
Dell's affected notebooks are the Latitude, model 110L, and Inspiron, models 1100, 1150, 5100, 5150, and 5160. Dell also has set up a customer Web site and toll-free number, 866-342-0011.
The CPSC is advising people to remove recalled batteries from their notebooks immediately and request a free replacement from the computer manufacturer.
Even if Royalties for Web Radio Fall, Revenue Remains Elusive
Claire Cain Miller
After a 19-month battle over Internet radio royalties, a truce between record labels and webcasters is finally in sight that would allow Internet radio start-ups to eke out an existence for at least a little while longer.
The two sides have signaled that they are nearing a compromise that would lower the royalties that online radio stations pay artists and labels for the rights to stream songs to listeners. On Sept. 30, they jointly persuaded Congress to pass a bill that would put into effect any changes to the royalty rate to which the parties agree while lawmakers are out of session.
Still, even if royalties decrease as expected, webcasters must figure out how to bring in enough revenue to cover the costs.
Whether run by scrappy start-ups or big media organizations, Internet radio stations have never found a way to make substantial money from streaming music that listeners expect to hear free. Modest advertising was enough to sustain many of the stations when royalties were a pittance, but online audio advertising is in its infancy and is likely to suffer as companies cut spending in the economic slowdown.
“Most of the operators don’t have enough audience to generate the kind of revenues they need to cover their expenses,” said Dave Van Dyke, chairman of Bridge Ratings, which analyzes the radio industry. “Only a handful can actually monetize these types of things.”
The royalty war began in March 2007, when the federal Copyright Royalty Board changed the fees that Internet radio stations must pay to stream music. Previously, bigger webcasters with significant advertising revenue paid 0.0762 cents a listener for each song, and smaller stations with less than $1.25 million in sales paid 10 percent to 12 percent of their revenue. The new policy requires that all stations pay a per-song fee that increases each year until 2010, when it will reach 0.19 cents. Until 2010, small stations can still pay a percentage of revenue.
Webcasters argue that the per-song fee is unfair, especially when compared with competitors. Satellite radio stations pay 6 percent of their revenue in royalties, with the rate rising to 8 percent in 2012. Broadcast stations pay nothing to artists and labels, under a longstanding agreement based on the notion that radio provides free promotion for their work.
“It is completely unaffordable for Internet webcasters,” said Tim Westergren, the founder of an Internet radio start-up, Pandora, who has become the de facto leader of webcasters fighting the royalty rates. He has said that the new rates would eat up $17 million of Pandora’s $24 million in revenue this year, forcing the company out of business, though he is now optimistic that a new royalty agreement will allow webcasters to pay less.
SoundExchange, the nonprofit organization that represents the artists and labels and collects and distributes the royalties that webcasters pay, said it was up to the stations to bring in enough revenue to pay musicians. Right now, webcasters are “basically giving the music away,” said Richard Ades, a SoundExchange spokesman.
Internet radio stations face a Catch-22 as long as they must pay royalties on each song they stream instead of paying a percentage of revenue, said Dave Goldberg, an entrepreneur at Benchmark Capital and former vice president and general manager of Yahoo Music. To earn significant advertising revenue, they must offer up large audiences to advertisers. However, the bigger their audience, the more fees they must pay.
When Mr. Goldberg was at Yahoo, for example, 5 percent of users generated 40 percent of costs, he said. “Unfortunately, we were incentivized to not have them listen so much, because we couldn’t sell enough ads against those few people.”
Advertising is also hard to come by for small stations without large listener bases. SomaFM, a San Francisco-based Internet radio station with 450,000 listeners, found it could make more money by soliciting listener contributions, like public radio, than it could from advertising.
Even so, a plea on the site says the station will fall $35,000 short of its budget this year. Last year, the station made a $20,000 profit on $250,000 in revenue and put all of it into improvements for the station, said Rusty Hodge, the site’s founder.
The business is costly even for big companies. In June, AOL teamed up with CBS to combine Internet radio offerings, in part because AOL found it challenging to monetize its 250-channel radio service, said Lisa Namerow, vice president of AOL Radio. CBS now sells ads for AOL’s stations.
Mr. Westergren said Pandora could stay afloat on ad revenue if royalty rates were not so high. But on Oct. 16 he laid off 14 percent of his staff, citing “the current economic turmoil.”
In general, luring advertisers has been challenging for Internet radio sites. Display ads, the only type Pandora runs, do not work well with radio, Mr. Van Dyke said. “Most people, frankly, who are listening to Internet radio minimize the browser so they’re not seeing the ads,” he said. Furthermore, many people tune in on mobile devices like the Apple iPhone, making it even less likely they will see an ad.
Stations that insert audio ads into the listening stream risk alienating users. When SomaFM tried running them, it received many complaints and listenership dropped off sharply. “Since there are services out there that are ad-free, there is a reluctance to be the first one of the major ones to put an in-stream ad in,” said Doug Perlson, chief executive of TargetSpot, the largest Internet radio ad network.
TargetSpot offers advertisers the ability to fine-tune pitches based on sex, age, location and favorite music genres — a level of specificity unavailable from broadcast radio. Over the long haul, Mr. Perlson said, he expects such specialization to take off.
Charging users to listen has not proved to be profitable. Pandora and AOL tried it for a short time, but could not get people to sign up.
Online stations do make a bit of money when listeners click through to Amazon.com or Apple’s iTunes to buy a song they have heard, though such referral fees account for less than 5 percent of revenue at most stations.
If Web radio fades away, the biggest victims could be the independent musicians who are not played on most broadcast stations.
Josh Fix, a San Francisco musician who lived in his office for a while to save money, credits Pandora for raising his profile. He recently signed on with an independent label and will embark on a European tour in February to promote his album, “Free at Last.”
“It’s almost impossible to get on the radio,” he said. Online, though, “someone hears the music on Pandora, blogs about it and then others pick up on it.”
Mr. Goldberg of Benchmark Capital said the labels would be hurt if Internet radio disappears and the 54 million listeners go elsewhere. “People are still going to listen to free music,” he said. “They’ll just go places where the labels don’t get paid.”
Proposed Podcasting Royalty Fight not Over
In the annals of Canadian copyright royalty fights, few can match Tariff 22 for pure stamina and longevity.
First introduced in 1995 by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, or SOCAN, 13 years later the proposal is still the source of much disagreement. Indeed, years after the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an attempt to implement a tariff on Internet service providers for the music transmitted over their networks, the Copyright Board of Canada issued a new decision Friday that addressed the prospect of establishing a royalty on hundreds of thousands of websites ranging from social network giants such as Facebook to thousands of Canadian podcasters.
While Friday's decision is not limited to social networks and podcasters – the decision established royalty rates for, among others, Internet-based radio stations that are deemed to be high users of music (5.3 per cent of revenues), electronic games sites (0.8 per cent of revenues), and non-commercial radio station webcasts (1.9 per cent) – it is the "other sites" category that encompasses everyone from MySpace to a solitary website featuring a small amount of music that will rightly attract the most attention.
SOCAN argued a tariff was needed for the broad range of websites that make use of music, but not as their main activity. This includes commercial sites that may have background music, podcasters, online video sites, as well as social networks.
A split board rejected the proposal for 7 per cent of gross revenues or expenses of these sites for several reasons. First – and likely most importantly – a majority of the board was clearly concerned with the impact of such an unexpected tariff. It noted the tariff would conceivably apply to hundreds of thousands of users, many of whom make very little use of music on their sites. Moreover, the tariff would be retroactive to 1996, requiring site owners to pay for 10 years worth of music use.
Second, the board cited the lack of evidence on the use of music on many of these sites, shuddering at the potential effect of a decision in which "thousands of individuals who are active on the social networking or video-sharing sites were deemed individually responsible for minimal payments."
While the podcasting and social networks royalty has been defeated for the moment, there is little doubt it will return. The Board was split, with a dissenting panelist arguing a tariff should at least have been established for larger sites that could generate significant royalties such as MySpace, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo.
Moreover, the majority of the board noted SOCAN has submitted a new Tariff 22 proposal for 2007 that will provide the collective with an opportunity to present evidence on the use of music on these other sites. That proposal could lead to a tariff sometime in the near future.
In fact, the Copyright Board also hinted it is willing to consider a shift from user-based tariffs to use-based ones. In this case, one letter makes a world of difference. User-based tariffs establish royalties by categories of users, such as broadcasters, webcasters or podcasters. The decision to stick with a user-based tariff made it difficult for the board to establish a tariff for podcasters, yet a shift to a use-based tariff that would apply to each use of song would resolve those concerns.
For the moment, the board was uncomfortable with a tariff for thousands of websites, concluding that "the Internet is such a fluid, yet omnipresent phenomenon that it would be foolhardy to attempt to set a tariff when we fear that the consequences might be overwhelming and, we repeat, socially unfair."
Given the never-ending saga of Tariff 22, however, no one should expect this to be the last word on the issue.
Silicon Optical Fiber Made Practical
Scientists at Clemson University for the first time have been able to make a practical optical fiber with a silicon core, according to a new paper published in the current issue of the Optical Society’s open-access journal, Optics Express. Led by Professor John Ballato and including fiber pioneer Roger Stolen, the team of scientists was able to create this new fiber by employing the same commercial methods that are used to develop all-glass fibers, making silicon fibers viable alternatives to glass fibers for selected specialty applications. This advance ultimately should help increase efficiency and decrease power consumption in computers and other systems that integrate photonic and electronic devices.
Optical fibers carry an increasing fraction of phone calls, television programs and Internet traffic. The main advantage of using optical fibers is higher bandwidth, which means faster downloads from the Web, for example. The ability to produce silicon fibers commercially would create the opportunity for more compact devices with decreased power consumption in telecommunications and beyond.
“In essence, we’ve married optoelectronics with optical fibers,” said Ballato. “In the past, we’ve needed one structure to process light and another to carry it. With a silicon fiber, for the first time, we have the ability to greatly enhance the functionality in one fiber.”
Usually an optical fiber is made by starting with a glass core, wrapping it with a cladding made from a slightly different glass, and then heating the structure until it can be pulled out into long wires. This works well enough, but for some wavelengths of light, a core made of pure crystalline silicon, like the one developed by the Clemson team, would better carry signals. Additionally, crystalline silicon exhibits certain nonlinear properties (in which the output is not proportional to the input) that are many orders of magnitude larger than for conventional silica glass. This would, for example, allow for the amplification of a light signal or for the shifting of light from one wavelength to another. The development of a silicon fiber opens the way for signal processing functions that are currently done electronically or in separate optical circuits to be performed directly inside the fiber, which allows for more compact, efficient systems.
Some fibers have been made with a silicon core, but the Clemson version (with collaborators at UCLA, Northrop Grumman and Elmira College) is the first to employ standard mass-production methods, bringing them closer to commercial reality.
Right now the amount of energy lost when the lightwaves move down this silicon fiber is no better than for other fibers at the longer wavelengths, but Ballato says that the work so far has been a proof-of-concept, and he expects energy losses to decline signficantly with continued optimization.
Denser Computer Chips Possible with Plasmonic Lenses that 'Fly'
Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, are reporting a new way of creating computer chips that could revitalize optical lithography, a patterning technique that dominates modern integrated circuits manufacturing.
By combining metal lenses that focus light through the excitation of electrons - or plasmons - on the lens' surface with a "flying head" that resembles the stylus on the arm of an old-fashioned LP turntable and is similar to those used in hard disk drives, the researchers were able to create line patterns only 80 nanometers wide at speeds up to 12 meters per second, with the potential for higher resolution detail in the near future.
"Utilizing this plasmonic nanolithography, we will be able to make current microprocessors more than 10 times smaller, but far more powerful," said Xiang Zhang, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering and head of the research team behind this development. "This technology could also lead to ultra-high density disks that can hold 10 to 100 times more data than disks today."
Zhang worked jointly on the project with David Bogy, UC Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering. The study now appears online in Nature Nanotechnology, and is scheduled for the journal's December print issue.
The process of optical lithography shares some of the same principles as film photography, which creates pictures by exposing film in a camera to light, and then developing the film with chemical solutions. In the semiconductor industry, optical lithography is a process in which light is transferred through a mask with the desired circuit pattern onto a photosensitive material, or photoresist, that reacts chemically when exposed. The material then goes through a series of chemical baths to etch the circuit design onto a wafer.
"With optical lithography, or photolithography, you can instantly project a complex circuit design onto a silicon wafer," said Liang Pan, a UC Berkeley graduate student working with Zhang and Bogy, and one of three co-lead authors of the Nature Nanotechnology paper. "However, the resolution possible with this technique is limited by the fundamental nature of light. To get a smaller feature size, you must use shorter and shorter light wavelengths, which dramatically increases the cost of manufacturing. Also, light has a diffraction limit restricting how small it can be focused. Currently, the minimum feature size with conventional photolithography is about 35 nanometers, but our technique is capable of a much higher resolution at a relatively low cost."
The UC Berkeley researchers chose a different approach to overcome the diffraction limit of light. They took advantage of a well-known property of metals: the presence at the surface of free electrons that oscillate when exposed to light. These oscillations, which absorb and generate light, are known as evanescent waves and are much smaller than the wavelength of light.
The engineers designed a silver plasmonic lens with concentric rings that concentrate the light to a hole in the center where it exits on the other side. In the experiment, the hole was less than 100 nanometers in diameter, but it can theoretically be as small as 5 to 10 nanometers. The researchers packed the lenses into a flying plasmonic head, so-called because it would "fly" above the photoresist surface during the lithography process.
Similar flying heads have been developed at UC Berkeley's Computer Mechanics Laboratory, which is directed by Bogy. "Flying heads support the phenomenal advances in data storage in hard disk drives," said Bogy. "They enable the fast speeds and nanometer accuracy required in this potentially new approach to semiconductor manufacturing."
The researchers said the flying head design could potentially hold as many as 100,000 lenses, enabling parallel writing for even faster production.
The researchers compared this flying plasmonic head to the arm and stylus of an LP turntable, with the photoresist surface spinning like a record. Instead of a needle moving along the grooves of a spinning record, however, the flying plasmonic head contains a nanometer-scale optical stylus that "writes" onto the spinning surface of the photoresist without actually touching it.
Because the light from plasmons decays less than 100 nanometers from the metal surface, the photoresist material must be placed very close to the lens. To accommodate this limitation, the researchers designed an air bearing that uses the aerodynamic lift force created by the spinning to help keep the two surfaces a mere 20 nanometers apart.
Air bearings are used to create magnetic tapes and disk drives, but this is the first application for a plasmonic lens.
With this innovative setup, the engineers demonstrated scanning speeds of 4 to 12 meters per second.
"The speed and distances we're talking about here are equivalent to a Boeing 747 flying 2 millimeters above the ground," added Zhang. "Moreover, this distance is kept constant, even when the surface is not perfectly flat."
The researchers pointed out that a typical photolithography tool used for chip manufacturing costs $20 million, and a set of lithography masks can run $1 million. One of the reasons for the great expense is the use of shorter light wavelengths to create higher resolution circuitry. Shorter wavelengths require nontraditional and costly mirrors and lenses.
The system described by the UC Berkeley engineers uses surface plasmons that have much shorter wavelengths than light, yet are excitable by typical ultraviolet light sources with much longer wavelengths. The researchers estimate that a lithography tool based upon their design could be developed at a small fraction of the cost of current lithography tools.
Other alternatives have been developed that can achieve higher resolution than conventional photolithography and without the need for a lithography mask. However, those techniques - electron beam lithography, scanning probe lithography and focused ion-beam lithography - work at a snail's pace compared to the flying plasmonic lens system, said the UC Berkeley researchers.
Zhang noted that the flying head design is not limited to plasmonic lenses. His lab has been developing metamaterials - composite materials capable of bending electromagnetic waves in extraordinary ways - into lenses that can be used for nano-optic imaging and other applications.
"I expect in three to five years we could see industrial implementation of this technology," said Zhang. "This could be used in microelectronics manufacturing or for optical data storage and provide resolution that is 10 to 20 times higher than current blu-ray technology."
The other co-lead authors of the study are Werayut Srituravanich, a former Ph.D. student in Zhang's lab and currently a lecturer in mechanical engineering at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, and Yuan Wang, a UC Berkeley graduate student in mechanical engineering. The study was also co-authored by Cheng Sun, a former graduate student in Zhang's lab and currently an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University.
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Center for Scalable and Integrated Nano-Manufacturing.
The Possibilities of a 'Portable Eye'
Inventor says device for blind has much broader uses
When Peter Alan Smith pulls out his phone in a crowded Back Bay restaurant, there's no clue that his Nokia is by far the most expensive mobile phone in the entire place. He has about $2,400 in software loaded onto the $600 device.
But then it becomes apparent what's unique about Smith's phone: A flash goes off when he snaps a picture of the menu, and a few seconds later, his phone has translated the page of text into speech, and started reciting the options through his earpiece at a rapid clip.
Smith developed a degenerative eye disease when he was 18, and he is now legally blind. It has been about two decades since he could read a restaurant menu independently. He first heard about the phone on a podcast series called "Blind Cool Tech" and took out a low-interest loan to buy it.
"At work, I can take a picture of two different documents to figure out which is which," says Smith, who works for John Hancock. "At home, if I'm making chili, I can take a picture of a can to make sure it's the kidney beans before I open it."
The software that translates the text in high-resolution digital photos into speech is made by KNFB Reading Technologies Inc. in Wellesley Hills. It was developed by Ray Kurzweil, the local inventor who has been coming up with technological breakthroughs for the blind since the mid-1970s. But as with many of his innovations, Kurzweil plans for the software to be useful - perhaps incredibly useful - to sighted users in a few years from now.
Kurzweil released his first reading machine, developed in partnership with the National Federation for the Blind, in 1976; on the day it was unveiled, TV anchor Walter Cronkite used its speech synthesizer as he signed off the air. The device could scan printed pages, decipher the letters, and speak the words aloud. It was about the size of a washing machine and cost $50,000. Stevie Wonder bought the first production model, Kurzweil recalls.
In the decades that followed, much of the scanning and speech technology Kurzweil developed evolved into the scanners and scanning software now built into many printers and PCs. Burlington-based Nuance Communications Inc. sells several software products originally created by Kurzweil to convert printed documents into text.
In 2002, the president of the National Federation of the Blind asked Kurzweil about portable reading technology; though his reading machine had gotten smaller, it still resided on a desktop. "There's a lot of printed material that you don't want to bring back to your desk - or you can't - like a sign on a wall or a bank ATM display," Kurzweil says.
Kurzweil predicted a pocket-size reading machine was only about six years away. Kurzweil and the federation began collaborating to develop the necessary software. It had to be smart enough to interpret a photo taken at any angle, in any sort of lighting, with random images sometimes in the background.
An interim device, released in 2006, married a Canon digital camera with a personal digital assistant; it sold for $3,500. The cellphone version debuted earlier this year. It works only on a Nokia N82 phone, which features a built-in 5-megapixel camera, with flash. The camera offers spoken feedback to the user as to whether it has captured the entire page. After about 20 or 30 seconds of processing the image and turning it into text, it starts speaking. The standard phone with software sells for $2,145, but also includes a talking GPS system, and the ability to read any Web page to its user, among other features. (It's also good at identifying the denominations on printed money.)
James Gashel, vice president of business development for KNFB Reading Technologies, is also a user of the device. "I don't use it to read books," he says, "but I use it for the daily mail, business cards, and brochures. I was at a Catholic men's retreat over the weekend, and I used it to read the schedule."
Gashel says there are about 1.3 million blind people in the United States; since February, the company has sold "thousands" of the readers, he says. But the population of dyslexics is about three times larger. A new version of the mobile phone reader will soon be available that is targeted to them. "These are people who can see print, but have difficulty tracking from word to word," Gashel says. "So this new version of the software helps people whose problem is that they get lost in a series of words on a page."
Still more intriguing is how the phone might assist other users. A prototype in Kurzweil's lab is able to photograph a document in any of seven different languages and translate it into English, Kurzweil says he has demonstrated it in public appearances, taking a photo of text in French and having the phone read it in English. It sounds a bit like Douglas Adams's fictional Babel fish - a universal translator.
"We call it 'snap and translate,' " he says. How soon will it be available? "Two or three years," says Kurzweil, adding that he is talking to cellphone manufacturers. "We also have a prototype of speech to speech translation, where you can speak in one language and have it come out in another," he says. "Right now, that requires a bit more computation than a cellphone can support," though he notes that phones are getting more powerful each year.
As it turned out, Smith didn't really need to have his phone read the menu to him last month at the Parish Cafe. He had been to the restaurant several years ago and remembered eating a tasty steak sandwich. So that's what he ordered, and we spent the meal talking about his experiences running the Boston Marathon and his tandem cycling hobby. He says he uses the reader several times a day, about equally at home and at work. He told me he's amazed by what the KNBF software can do - "it's a portable eye, essentially" - but that he's hoping the cost will come down, so more blind and visually impaired people can afford it. "The cost is prohibitive," he says.
Gashel says, "I think the cost of the phone will come down as the product expands in terms of who it can reach. The bigger the customer base, the more we can bring the price down." Still, he says, $2,100 isn't that expensive when it comes to technology for the blind. He says he recently purchased a personal digital assistant that can render phone numbers and appointments in Braille, for $4,500, and also paid $5,500 for a flat-screen TV. "And I can't even see it," he quips. "But the people who come to my house seem to like it."
With Smartphones, Cher Wang Made Her Own Fortune
Laura M. Holson
No one is ever going to call Cher Wang “poor little rich girl.”
The daughter of one of the richest men in the world, she never made headlines as a profligate jet setter sponging off her father’s wealth.
Indeed, she rarely makes headlines at all, although she started her own multibillion-dollar company and made her own fortune.
Ms. Wang is one of the most powerful female executives in technology whom you have never heard of. The company she founded, the HTC Corporation, makes one out of every six smartphones sold in the United States, most of which are marketed under brands like Palm and Verizon.
Last week the iPhone’s most likely rival, the T-Mobile G1, designed by HTC and powered by Google’s Android operating system, went on sale. The attention is something HTC has never sought. And the same can be said of Ms. Wang.
“I kind of like it that way,” she said in a rare interview last month as she tucked into a lunch of mahi mahi, spinach and mushrooms at the Faculty Club at the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated in 1981. “I don’t need to be the center of attention.”
In her native Taiwan, though, where she is called Wang Hsiueh-Hong, Ms. Wang and her family are a technology dynasty. Her recently deceased father, Wang Yung-Ching, founded the plastics and petrochemicals conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group. According to Forbes magazine, he was the second richest man in Taiwan. Two of his daughters serve on Formosa’s seven-member executive team.
Another daughter, Charlene Wang, helped found First International Computer in 1980, a maker of motherboards. And Cher Wang is chairwoman of not one, but two companies: HTC and VIA Technologies, a developer of silicon chip technology, where her husband, Wen Chi Chen, has been chief executive since 1992.
Forbes estimates the couple’s wealth at $3.5 billion. HTC’s revenue in 2007 reached 118.6 billion Taiwanese dollars, or about $3.7 billion. But Ms. Wang said she was not defined by wealth — either her own or her parents’.
“My family was very strict,” she said. Leisure time was spent playing tennis or basketball. And becoming a lady who lunches was not an option. “My father thought we should experience different things.”
When she was a young girl, Ms. Wang said, her father would take her on monthly visits to a local hospital he helped finance. And at her father’s behest, Ms. Wang and her siblings studied abroad instead of staying in Taipei.
That is how she ended up in Silicon Valley. Ms. Wang was born in Taipei in 1958, one of seven children raised by her father’s second wife. (Altogether Mr. Wang had nine children by three wives.) While some of the other children went to private schools in London, the United States held more appeal for Ms. Wang.
In 1974 she attended the exclusive College Preparatory School in Oakland, Calif. (Her older sister Charlene was living in the Bay Area.) Ms. Wang lived with a local pediatrician and his family. After graduating from high school, she went to Berkeley, where she was admitted as a music major; she wanted to be a pianist. But after three weeks — and a stern talk with her adviser — she switched to economics, in which she later earned a master’s degree.
“This is the building I ran away from,” she said on a walk around campus, pointing to a second-story room at the music school where she had auditioned, playing a piece by Chopin. “I had the dream, but I am also very realistic.”
After graduating from Berkeley, she took a job in 1982 at First International Computer, where she sold motherboards and later oversaw the personal computer division.
When HTC was founded in 1997, the company made notebook computers. Her husband recalled that a few years after the company started, Ms. Wang and her partners were forced to make a choice: focus on notebooks or shift gears to hand-held devices, a market that showed signs of promise. Ms. Wang urged they shift to cellphones.
“HTC had strong engineers developing notebooks,” said Mr. Chen. “But it was a volatile business with lots of competitors. She saw that clearly and pushed for the other instead.”
It was a smart decision. HTC’s revenue tallied about $1 billion in the most recent quarter, a 29 percent increase from a year earlier. “She is very demanding in one sense,” said Mr. Chen. “If she wants something changed, she’ll speak up about it.”
In HTC’s early days Ms. Wang’s responsibility was to build relationships with customers, including wireless carriers, and vendors whose products HTC needed. She spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley. It was then she became close to executives at T-Mobile, which was critical in securing the right to make the first Android-supported phone.
She also managed HTC’s relationship with Microsoft, a longtime partner whose operating system is installed on most HTC phones. Once a year, Ms. Wang said, she flies to Seattle and meets with Bill Gates and Steven A. Ballmer, the company’s chief executive.
She keeps her life simple. On her 50th birthday last month, she stayed home and ate strawberry ice cream cake with her family. Despite her status as a member of technology’s billionaire club, she eschews being ferried by private jet from her offices in Taipei to Silicon Valley. And instead of taking business associates out for a lavish dinner, she invites them to an early morning basketball game instead.
Stephen Zelencik, a retired head of sales and marketing for Advanced Micro Devices, has known Ms. Wang since she was a young executive working for First International Computer. But in his encounters with her at HTC, he learned how relentless she could be.
He recalled a particular exhausting negotiation, lasting more than a week in Taipei, when Ms. Wang was holding out for a lower price on a large order of microprocessors HTC wanted to buy from A.M.D.
The two had loosely agreed on a price. But Ms. Wang, sensing an opportunity on the last day, told him she wanted a lower price, tapped her watch and pointed out his plane was leaving at 2 p.m. “She wanted me to relent,,” he said.
Mr. Zelencik said he replied, “ ‘We don’t have to catch the plane.’ Then she said, ‘O.K. We’ll negotiate.’ ” Ultimately, the two agreed to keep the deal as is. “It was negotiated in her favor,” he said. “But she would always give it one more try.”
Faith plays an important part in her life. A Christian (like her husband), she said she belongs to no specific denomination but attends church whenever she can. Spirituality informs how she lives. “I feel everyone has their own faults,” she said. “We have to understand why people are like that — is it the environment or the background.” But it informs her work too. “Jesus also tells us you have to work hard, not be sluggish,” she said.
She shuttles mostly among three cities: she and her husband have a home in Mountain View, Calif. (where one of her two sons lives), a house in Taipei and an apartment in Beijing, which is used mostly for business. While Ms. Wang has stepped away from much of the day-to-day running of HTC, she is still active in the company by meeting clients and negotiating deals. And she remains an arbiter of HTC’s style, a role she relishes.
“All these kids were into something,” said Mr. Zelencik. “They just didn’t sit around and spend the money.”
And Ms. Wang would have it no other way. “I always have this imagination, something I want to use,” she said. “I don’t understand the idea of leisure time.”
To Survive, Net Start-Ups Slow Their Metabolism
Brad Stone and Claire Cain Miller
Silicon Valley has always been a land of big, bold dreams. In the first Internet boom its start-ups either grew fast or died trying, sometimes spectacularly. The casualties of the bust, like Pets.com and Webvan, became legendary.
In this downturn, say investors and entrepreneurs, start-ups are adopting a strategy that they hope will let them hang on instead of flame out.
To preserve cash, many tech start-ups are rushing to lay off employees and cut expenses. They are shelving their dreams of Google-size riches and getting small, humble and thrifty, all with the more modest goal of surviving the coming economic winter.
Once upon a time, an unprofitable Internet start-up like Zivity, a social site that revolves around photos of models, might have turned into just another dot-bomb. Though it has paltry revenues and just 20,000 registered users, the company pays only $8,000 a month to rent its offices in San Francisco and has received $8 million from investors. This month it laid off 8 of its 22 employees — saving enough money to stay alive through 2011 and survive even a prolonged recession.
“We think we have a valuable product,” said Cyan Banister, Zivity’s co-founder. “We should be able to weather the storm.”
Even in normal economic times, a majority of start-ups fail. But the same factors that have made it so easy to create Web 2.0-style start-ups — low fixed costs, access to inexpensive overseas programmers and cheap ways to advertise online — also make it relatively easy for even faltering companies to cut back their operations to the bare minimum and hang on through a slump.
Web start-ups “don’t fail in the same way they used to fail,” said Brad Burnham, a partner at the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, adding that the previous generation of Internet companies lived hard and died young. Knowing when to pull the plug on the current crop of more frugal companies is now “different, more subtle, more problematic,” he said. “They don’t run into a wall.”
The Web companies in this new generation are so efficient with capital that venture capitalists “may not have the plug in our hand,” Mr. Burnham said.
The only certainty in Silicon Valley is that survival is quickly becoming more challenging. The growth in online display advertising, which helps fuel the new Internet ecosystem, is declining. Venture capitalists and other investors in start-ups, like hedge funds, are cutting back. The market for initial public offerings remains closed and potential acquirers — Google, Yahoo and the rest — are deep in their own problems. Many entrepreneurs and deal makers agree that a shake-out is indeed coming.
Venture capitalists have begun preaching frugality, urging the start-ups they have invested in to cut costs and get profitable. Their advice shares themes: cut employees, do not count on raising more money and move quickly.
The entrepreneurs appear to be listening. AdBrite, an online advertising network in San Francisco that raised $35 million in venture capital, recently laid off one-third of its staff, or 40 employees, to get to profitability next year. The company’s chief executive, Iggy Fanlo, ran the e-commerce site Shopping.com during the first dot-com bust, and he said he recalled how wave after wave of layoffs sank morale.
“I had gone through this before and we had death by a thousand cuts,” Mr. Fanlo said. “I wanted to credibly look people in the eye this time and say we are profitable.”
Every day seems to bring a new round of layoffs. In the last two weeks, the music site Imeem, the social search site Mahalo, the visual search engine Searchme, the real estate site Zillow, the Internet radio site Pandora and the social network Hi5 all cut as much as a quarter of their employees.
For many entrepreneurs, the lone goal has become survival. At Seesmic, a video blogging service, the day of reckoning — when it runs out of the $6 million it raised in May — will come in three years. To make the money last, Loïc Le Meur, the chief executive, recently laid off seven employees, or one-third of his staff, and cut all projects not directly related to the video service.
“If I can’t make this work in three years it will be a failure,” Mr. Le Meur said. “If I can and I get through this, it will be much stronger.”
Even companies with less than stellar track records and revenues say they can live through a protracted slump.
Lala, a music site based in Palo Alto, Calif., has scrapped two music services and recently began a third site in conjunction with the major labels. The company raised $35 million three years ago and, thanks to financial prudence, has $20 million in the bank. It recently delayed plans to double its staff and it put its excess office space up for sublet.
Lala’s founder, Bill Nguyen, expressed a measure of relief at the chill in the Valley. “This whole economic crisis allows me not to have to grow,” he said. “I view this as a free hall pass.”
That wholesale resetting of expectations might be the biggest change to settle over Silicon Valley. Instead of aiming for blockbuster public offerings or market-shaking acquisitions, most entrepreneurs now just want to endure. But if not enough people use these start-ups’ services and revenue does not grow fast enough to attract potential acquirers, mere survival may not look so good.
At Faraday Media, a Palo Alto start-up that is trying to create a personalized version of the Internet for its users, there is no revenue, no office space (the five employees work from their homes) and little chance of raising any capital from the newly miserly angel investors who would otherwise support a start-up of its size.
Chris Saad, Faraday Media’s founder, said the company saw no reason to give up. “We are committed to the idea that the company and technology we are building is fundamentally going to reshape the Web,” he said. “We are committed to investing our time into this for as long as it takes.”
If these skeletal start-ups do succumb to the downturn, firms like Sherwood Partners, which specializes in bankruptcy consulting and shutting down companies, will be waiting. Sherwood Partners has not yet had the kind of activity it witnessed during the last bust, but Martin D. Pichinson, a partner at the company, is preparing for a burst of new business as many start-ups acknowledge that just because they can survive does not mean they should.
Failing start-ups “are already out there, and we are starting to close some of them, when investors say it needs to be done,” Mr. Pichinson said.
Is Your Username Taken? Usernamecheck Will Tell You.
Most people tend to register the same username when signing up for services, for obvious reasons. Your username is your personal identity and most people don’t need more than one. It’s also easier to remember. But one thing that is becoming increasingly difficult to remember, with so many new Web services sprouting up ever day, is which services you have signed up for exactly.
A recently launched application called Usernamecheck gives you a great overview at which Web 2.0 services your ‘default’ username has already been registered.
In just a couple of minutes, you’ll know just how hung up you have been on trying out every new service on the block, and which one you’ve once signed up for but have long forgotten about. Or, alternately, where your username has already been taken by somebody else.
Update: the service returned correct results when I tested it, but several commenters are pointing out inaccuracies.
Usernamecheck currently pings 68 services for the username you want to look up, and lets you know instantly if it is still available or not. According to the counter at the bottom of the homepage, over 110,000 user names have already been checked with the service.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some holes to fill.
Multitasking Can Make You Lose ... Um ... Focus
AS you are reading this article, are you listening to music or the radio? Yelling at your children? If you are looking at it online, are you e-mailing or instant-messaging at the same time? Checking stocks?
Since the 1990s, we’ve accepted multitasking without question. Virtually all of us spend part or most of our day either rapidly switching from one task to another or juggling two or more things at the same time.
While multitasking may seem to be saving time, psychologists, neuroscientists and others are finding that it can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient.
Although doing many things at the same time — reading an article while listening to music, switching to check e-mail messages and talking on the phone — can be a way of making tasks more fun and energizing, “you have to keep in mind that you sacrifice focus when you do this,” said Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist and author of “CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!” (Ballantine, 2006). “Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”
Of course, it depends what you’re doing. For some people, listening to music while working actually makes them more creative because they are using different cognitive functions.
But despite what many of us think, you cannot simultaneously e-mail and talk on the phone. I think we’re all familiar with what Dr. Hallowell calls “e-mail voice,” when someone you’re talking to on the phone suddenly sounds, well, disengaged.
“You cannot divide your attention like that,” he said. “It’s a big illusion. You can shift back and forth.”
We all know that computers and their spawn, the smartphone and cellphone, have created a very different world from several decades ago, when a desk worker had a typewriter, a phone and an occasional colleague who dropped into the office.
Think even of the days before the cordless phone. Those old enough can remember when talking on the telephone, which was stationary, meant sitting down, putting your feet up and chatting — not doing laundry, cooking dinner, sweeping the floor and answering the door.
That is so far in the past. As we are required, or feel required, to do more and more things in a shorter period of time, researchers are trying to figure out how the brain changes attention from one subject to another.
Earl Miller, the Picower professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explained it this way: human brains have a very large prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that contains the “executive control” process. This helps us switch and prioritize tasks.
In humans, he said, the prefrontal cortex is about one-third of the entire cortex, while in dogs and cats, it is 4 or 5 percent and in monkeys about 15 percent.
“With the growth of the prefrontal cortex, animals become more and more flexible in their behavior,” Professor Miller said.
We can do a couple of things at the same time if they are routine, but once they demand more cognitive process, the brain has “a severe bottleneck,” he said.
Professor Miller conducted studies where electrodes were attached to the head to monitor participants performing different tasks.
He found that “when there’s a bunch of visual stimulants out there in front of you, only one or two things tend to activate your neurons, indicating that we’re really only focusing on one or two items at a time.”
David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, and his colleagues looked at young adults as they performed tasks that involved solving math problems or classifying geometric objects.
Their 2001 study, published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that for all types of tasks, the participants lost time when they had to move back and forth from one undertaking to another, and that it took significantly longer to switch between the more complicated tasks.
Although the time it takes for our brains to switch tasks may be only a few seconds or less, it adds up. If we’re talking about doing two jobs that can require real concentration, like text-messaging and driving, it can be fatal.
The RAC Foundation, a British nonprofit organization that focuses on driving issues, asked 17 drivers, age 17 to 24, to use a driving simulator to see how texting affected driving.
The reaction time was around 35 percent slower when writing a text message — slower than driving drunk or stoned.
All right, there are definitely times we should not try to multitask. But, we may think, it’s nice to say that we should focus on one thing at a time, but the real world doesn’t work that way. We are constantly interrupted.
A 2005 study, “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work,” found that people were interrupted and moved from one project to another about every 11 minutes. And each time, it took about 25 minutes to circle back to that same project.
Interestingly, a study published last April, “The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress,” found that “people actually worked faster in conditions where they were interrupted, but they produced less,” said Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California at Irvine and a co-author of both studies. And she also found that people were as likely to self-interrupt as to be interrupted by someone else.
“As observers, we’ll watch, and then after every 12 minutes or so, for no apparent reasons, someone working on a document will turn and call someone or e-mail,” she said. As I read that, I realized how often I was switching between writing this article and checking my e-mail.
Professor Mark said further research needed to be done to know why people work in these patterns, but our increasingly shorter attention spans probably have something to do with it.
Her study found that after only 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.
“I also argue that it’s bad for innovation,” she said. “Ten and a half minutes on one project is not enough time to think in-depth about anything.”
Dr. Hallowell has termed this effort to multitask “attention deficit trait.” Unlike attention deficit disorder, which he has studied for years and has a neurological basis, attention deficit trait “springs entirely from the environment,” he wrote in a 2005 Harvard Business Review article, “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform.”
“As our minds fill with noise — feckless synaptic events signifying nothing — the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and gradually to anything,” he wrote. Desperately trying to keep up with a multitude of jobs, we “feel a constant low level of panic and guilt.”
But Dr. Hallowell says that despite our belief that we cannot control how much we’re overloaded, we can.
“We need to recreate boundaries,” he said. That means training yourself not to look at your BlackBerry every 20 seconds, or turning off your cellphone. It means trying to change your work culture so such devices are banned at meetings. Sleeping less to do more is a bad strategy, he says. We are efficient only when we sleep enough, eat right and exercise.
So the next time the phone rings and a good friend is on the line, try this trick: Sit on the couch. Focus on the conversation. Don’t jump up, no matter how much you feel the need to clean the kitchen. It seems weird, but stick with it. You, too, can learn the art of single-tasking.
Is Surfing the Internet Altering Your Brain?
The Internet is not just changing the way people live but altering the way our brains work with a neuroscientist arguing this is an evolutionary change which will put the tech-savvy at the top of the new social order.
Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA in California who specializes in brain function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.
But while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have drawbacks as it can create Internet addicts whose only friends are virtual and has sparked a dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.
Small, however, argues that the people who will come out on top in the next generation will be those with a mixture of technological and social skills.
"We're seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills and also face-to-face skills," Small told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"They will know when the best response to an email or Instant Message is to talk rather than sit and continue to email."
In his newly released fourth book "iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind," Small looks at how technology has altered the way young minds develop, function and interpret information.
Small, the director of the Memory & Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and the Center on Aging at UCLA, said the brain was very sensitive to the changes in the environment such as those brought by technology.
He said a study of 24 adults as they used the Web found that experienced Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners.
"The brain is very specialized in its circuitry and if you repeat mental tasks over and over it will strengthen certain neural circuits and ignore others," said Small.
"We are changing the environment. The average young person now spends nine hours a day exposing their brain to technology. Evolution is an advancement from moment to moment and what we are seeing is technology affecting our evolution."
Small said this multi-tasking could cause problems.
He said the tech-savvy generation, whom he calls "digital natives," are always scanning for the next bit of new information which can create stress and even damage neural networks.
"There is also the big problem of neglecting human contact skills and losing the ability to read emotional expressions and body language," he said.
"But you can take steps to address this. It means taking time to cut back on technology, like having a family dinner, to find a balance. It is important to understand how technology is affecting our lives and our brains and take control of it."
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
Class of 76 'Cleverer' than Kids of Today
Clever teenagers of today are not as bright as kids in the class of 1976, according to researchers.
The intellect of even the brainiest 14-year-olds has deteriorated dramatically over the decades despite an increase in the number of pupils achieving top grades in exams.
Their cognitive abilities are level with those of 12-year-olds in 1976, the study found.
Researchers at King's College London compared the mental agility of 800 bright 13 and 14-year-olds with similar tests carried out some three decades ago.
The tests - designed to assess grasp of abstract scientific concepts such as volume, density, quantity and weight - found far fewer youngsters hit top scores than in 1976.
In one test, average achievement remained roughly the same as in 1976.
But only just over one in ten pupils were able to demonstrate a "higher level of thinking" compared to one in four in 1976.
In a test to measure mathematical abilities, only one in 20 of today's teenagers were top scorers, down from one in five in 1976.
Professor Michael Shayer, who led the study, said the brainpower slump may be down to over-testing in schools.
He said: "The moment you introduce targets, people will find the most economical strategies to achieve them.
"In the case of education, I'm sure this has had an effect on driving schools away from developing higher levels of understanding."
In previous research, Professor Shayer concluded that the cognitive abilities of 11-year-olds were up to three years behind where they were in 1975.
Untangling Web Information
The Semantic Web organizer Twine offers bookmarking with built-in AI.
The next big stage in the evolution of the Internet, according to many experts and luminaries, will be the advent of the Semantic Web--that is, technologies that let computers process the meaning of Web pages instead of simply downloading or serving them up blindly. Microsoft's acquisition of the semantic search engine Powerset earlier this year shows faith in this vision. But thus far, little Semantic Web technology has been available to the general public. That's why many eyes will be on Twine, a Web organizer based on semantic technology that launches publicly today.
Developed by Radar Networks, based in San Francisco, Twine is part bookmarking tool, part social network, and part recommendation engine, helping users collect, manage, and share online information related to any area of interest. For the novice, it can be tricky figuring out exactly where to start. But for experienced users, Twine can be a powerful way to research a subject collaboratively or find people with common interests, with the usual features of a bookmarking site augmented by Twine's underlying semantic technology.
After creating an account, a user adds a Twine bookmarklet to her browser's bookmarks, then adds items to her Twine page by clicking the bookmarklet as she surfs the Web. Bookmarks, too, can easily be imported from a browser or from another Web bookmarking service.
Twine uses artificial intelligence--machine learning and natural language processing--to parse the contents of Web pages and extract key concepts, such as people, places, and organizations, from the pages that a user saves. The site then uses these concepts to link information and users. For example, creating a twine--a bundle of bookmarks related to a particular topic--devoted to a specialized technique in computer game design quickly led to the discovery of twines (created by other users) devoted to other areas of game design and to twines devoted to a popular game that uses the technique. It also led to other users interested in the subject. Twine is also meant to automatically generate tags, descriptions, and summaries of bookmarked Web pages. In the preview, or beta, version, this feature didn't always work properly, but Nova Spivack, CEO of Radar Networks, says that the functionality has been improved ahead of the public launch. Twines offer a hub for collecting, sharing, and discussing information. For example, users have created twines devoted to twentieth-century music, science and technology, philosophy, and cool things found around the Web.
On the surface, Twine looks a lot like many other social-networking applications: users make connections, share, and discuss information, and the artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing built into the website is not immediately obvious. "The Semantic Web is a technology that's useful. It's a means to an end, not an end in itself," says Spivack. "What we're doing with this release and going forward is, we're talking about what you can use Twine for, and the fact that it's powered by the Semantic Web is a detail for geeks."
But Jim Hendler, a professor of computer science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a member of Twine's advisory board, says that Semantic Web technologies can set Twine apart from other social-networking sites. This could be true, so long as users learn to take advantage of those technologies by paying attention to recommendations and following the threads that Twine offers them. Users could easily miss this, however, by simply throwing bookmarks into Twine without getting involved in public twines or connecting to other users.
It would be nice to be able to use Twine for a few more specialized purposes. For example, it seems ideal for finding events related to areas of interest--indie rock bands playing in Boston, for example. But the current interface deals awkwardly with dates. A Twine calendar, which categorizes events intelligently, would be a logical extension of the service. Spivack says that such a feature, as well as further developments, are on the way. As these arrive, and as the company adds more ways to classify data, the real value of the Semantic Web could well start to surface.
Wireless Bolsters Verizon Profit Despite Economy
Verizon Communications Inc reported a higher quarterly profit thanks to strong wireless sales, despite worries that a slower U.S. economy would hurt spending by consumers and business customers.
The company, whose shares rose 3 percent in pre-market trading, said on Monday third-quarter profit rose to $1.67 billion, or 59 cents a share, from $1.27 billion, or 44 cents a share in the same quarter a year earlier, the No. 2 U.S. phone company said on Monday.
Earnings per share before items rose to 66 cents from 63 cents, exceeding the average analyst estimate of 65 cents, according to Reuters Estimates.
Revenue rose 4 percent to $24.75 billion.
Verizon Wireless, owned by Verizon and Vodafone Group Plc, added a net 1.5 million subscribers in the quarter, excluding growth from acquisitions. The market expected 1.4 million subscriber additions, according to a survey of six analysts by Reuters.
Verizon, as well as its bigger rival AT&T Inc, has depended on wireless growth due to a slowdown in traditional landline sales.
Residential switched access lines fell 12 percent in the third quarter, with the decline accelerating from the second quarter.
Verizon shares rose 1.3 percent to $25.30 in pre-market trade.
(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Derek Caney)
CenturyTel to Acquire Embarq in $11.6 Billion Deal
Rural telephone company CenturyTel Inc plans to buy Embarq Corp for $5.8 billion in stock in an effort to cut costs and stay competitive amid a decline in the traditional phone business.
Under the stock deal, which comes as consumers increasingly switch to wireless and cable services for the phone usage, Embarq shareholders will receive 1.37 CenturyTel shares for each Embarq share they own, the companies said in a statement on Monday.
That would be a equivalent to $40.42 of CenturyTel stock for each Embarq share, representing a premium of around 36 percent over Embarq's closing stock price on Friday, the companies said. Shares of Embarq have fallen about 46 percent over the past year.
The combined Embarq-CenturyTel would operate in 33 states and have about 8 million telephone access lines, 2 million high-speed Internet customers and about 400,000 video subscribers.
CenturyTel paid about 7.9 times projected 2009 earnings for Embarq, the former traditional wireline telephone business of Sprint Nextel.
Embarq trades for 5.6 times projected 2009 earnings, below the average value of 8.8 times for its peers, according to Reuters data.
The deal includes the assumption of $5.8 billion of Embarq's debt. Upon closing, Embarq shareholders are expected to own about 66 percent of the combined company.
The deal is expected to add to CenturyTel's free cash flow per share in 2010, the first full year following the expected closing. Free cash flow refers to earnings before depreciation and amortization, but includes capital spending.
CenturyTel temporarily suspended its current share repurchase program pending completion of the transaction, but after the deal closes it expects buy back some shares and continue its current dividend policy.
The companies expect the deal to generate cost-savings and revenue benefits of about $400 million annually within the first three years of operation. The synergies would include the reduction of corporate overhead and elimination of duplicate functions, new revenue opportunities and increased operational efficiencies.
The name of the combined company, which will be based in Monroe, Louisiana, will be determined before the deal closes. CenturyTel's Chairman and Chief Executive Glen Post will serve as CEO of the combined company, while Tom Gerke, Embarq's chief executive, will serve as executive vice-chairman of the board, the companies said.
Separately, Embarq posted a third quarter profit of $160 million, or $1.11 a share, from $157 million, or $1.01 a share a year ago.
Excluding items associated with a workforce reduction, earnings per share were $1.40, beating Wall Street consensus estimates of $1.30, according to Reuters Estimates.
CenturyTel's quarterly profit fell to $84.7 million, or 84 cents per share, from $113.2 million, or $1.01 a share, a year before, with revenue declining 8 percent.
CenturyTel's profit excluding special items was 82 cents a shares, compared with estimates of 83 cents a shares, according to Reuters Estimates.
(Reporting by Franklin Paul and Ritsuko Ando in New York and Jessica Hall in Philadelphia; by Derek Caney)
Web-Based Photo Editor Bows
Pixlr is a free online image editor, jump in and start edit, adjust, filter. It's just what you imagine!
Jump in n' get started!
It made me have the same feeling I had when I first saw Gmail:
"this can't be running in my browser"... - kitsched
Nothing to download, free (as in free beer), legal, operating damn well.
Totally approved. - Yves Roumazeilles
Color E-Paper Debuts
A waterproof MP3 player built for bright beach days is the first device with a color "e-paper" display, meaning it has no backlighting and thus can be read in direct sunlight. The display, from Qualcomm, consists of two layers of a reflective material. Some wavelengths of light bounce off the first layer; some pass through and bounce off the second. Interference between the two beams creates the color, and electrostatic forces control the distance between the layers.
Microsoft's Gates Steps Up FCC "White Space" Lobbying
Bill Gates and other Microsoft Corp officials stepped up lobbying top communications regulators on Monday ahead of an important vote on opening up unused spectrum set for next week.
The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a November 4 vote on a plan to allow unlicensed use of parts of the airwaves called "white spaces." These pockets of the spectrum will become available when U.S. broadcasters are required to move completely to digital television next year.
Microsoft founder Gates planned to speak to Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell later on Monday, according to Microsoft chief strategist Craig Mundie, also in Washington for a lobbying trip.
"People seem to be generally favorable," of the FCC proposal, Mundie said of his discussions with regulators. Mundie, who spoke to reporters at a briefing, met on Monday morning with Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.
The FCC, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, will vote on the white spaces proposal drawn up by Republican chairman Kevin Martin.
The issue pits traditional broadcasters such as Walt Disney's ABC, CBS Corp and General Electric's NBC against high tech companies like Microsoft and Google Inc., which want the airwaves for a new generation of wireless devices.
An FCC engineering report analyzing results of two rounds of testing of prototype devices cleared the technology to move forward. Broadcasters want the proposal to go out for public comment, and last week accused its supporters of trying to take broadcast television off the air.
On Friday, Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House of Representatives House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a list of questions to Martin. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, demanded that Martin respond by October 31 on whether an FCC engineering report was peer reviewed, and how the agency will deal with interference from broadcast signals if it occurs.
Mundie said Dingell's letter and the latest request by broadcasters is in "no way indicative of a problem going forward."
(Editing by Frank McGurty)
Why Your Clock Radio is all Abuzz About Your iPhone
Does this sound familiar to you?
Perhaps you've been listening to some music?
[Music with iPhone noise]
Or maybe you've been participating in a conference call.
[Conference call with iPhone noise]
If you own an iPhone, it's more likely than not that you've run into this obnoxious sound, at one point or another. Put your iPhone next to a clock radio or too close to a phone, and you may find yourself serenaded by the iPhone staccato symphony. You don't even have to have the radio turned on, just having it close to the speaker is good enough.
I've been on more than one conference call where someone has had to be asked to have their iPhone moved away from the speakerphone, because the iPhone was stuttering over everyone's speech.
To be fair, the iPhone isn't the first phone that's been reported to have interference issues. Polycom, the speakerphone manufacturer, has been working for years to make their products cell-phone-proof, according to Jeff Rodman, the CTO and co-founder.
Rodman: We've seen it, well heard it really, quite a bit with GSM and TDMA phones. The source of this is the phone's transmitter, and what it's doing is sending its digital data broken up into very brief packets. Even when it's live, it's only transmitting about 10% of the time. But it's about 200 times a second. So what we're hearing is not so much the data itself, but the envelope, the shape of the packets as they turn on and off. And because we hear the higher frequencies much more clearly and they can interfere more easily than that basic frequency, while we wouldn't hear a 200 cycle tone, that's pretty low, when you interrupt something at that rate, it's kind of like putting a card into a bicycle wheel, you turn it from a gentle waving into a buzz, and it's the edges of that buzz we're so sensitive to.
Jonathan L. Kramer, a former Motorola RF engineer who later went on to become an attorney, and is now the principal attorney at Kramer Telecomm Law Firm, PC, is no stranger to this type of interference either.
Turner: Hopefully during this call, you'll get to hear my iPhone, which is five feet from everything else, and will be doing the Morse Code thing through the entire interview.
Turner: Now, it's actually more of a dat-dat-dat
Turner: Yah, you've heard it.
Kramer: Of course.
Polycom's Rodman is no stranger either. He describes the experience of walking down a local K-Mart past a display of clock radios.
Rodman: I have a Nokia cell phone that's several years old, and if it's sending or receiving data, I can just hear that buzzing sound following me from one radio set to the next as I walk along.
Rodman believes that the iPhone may be getting singled out because it has such visibility in the marketplace right now.
Rodman: They have higher visibility just because it's the iPhone, they have more personality than just about any other wireless device right now. So if you have ten things that are interfering, and one of them's the iPhone, people are going to say "Wow, the iPhone's interfering!"
In addition, Jonathan Kramer says that the iPhone could not be sold if it didn't meet basic FCC regulations for the quality of its signal.
Kramer: All of the mobile phones, be they iPhones or Sanyos or any of the other vendors, Nokia, are required to meet the spectral purity tests of the FCC. And there are some basic regulations that the FCC says phones can't be, as we say in the transmission business, they can't be too dirty. And iPhones meet those standards, they've been certified by the FCC. But whether you're on the clean end of dirty or the dirty end of dirty, as long as you've met the FCC spec, that's what counts.
But Rodman also thinks that beyond just plain visibility, the iPhone also causes problems because there's so much high bandwidth data transfer occuring so regularly with an iPhone.
Rodman: It checks with some frequency with the wireless network to see what's coming in.
At the end of the day, however, Rodman believes that the problem may lie, not in your iPhone dear Brutus, but in your clock radio.
Rodman: There is confusion about what is responsible for this. Is it that there's one really bad model of cell phone out there that's causing the problems? Or is it that things are receiving it that shouldn't? I'm strongly of the believe that things are receiving it that shouldn't. Devices should be designed in a way that they're more resilient to stray transmitters that come along.
Engineer turned attorney Kramer explains that we can thank a specific FCC regulation for our buzzing, whinny clock radios.
Kramer: Consumer electronics, like your clock radio, your headset, the recording device you're on, all those receivers are manufactured under what's called Part 15 of the FCC rules. And Part 15 basically says, look, as a national policy, we want to encourage low-cost, relatively high-quality consumer electronics. And as a trade-off, under Part 15, it means that you as a buyer of a Part 15 device, in other words, your clock radio, in fact if you flip it over I guarantee you if the tag hasn't fallen off, there's something there that says "this device manufactured under Part 15", essentially it says that you have to accept any interference that comes into it. That's your trade-off, you get cheap consumer electronics, but you have to live with the interference that might come it.
Polycom's Rodman explains that in terms of RF interference, we may be living in a unique time in the history of consumer electronics.
Rodman: We're really in an interesting time, radio speaking, in that there hasn't been a time before, certainly in the last five years, maybe the last ten, when there was such an inordinate number of relatively high-powered personal transmitters just wandering loose in the world.
In addition, because signal strength will increase four times for a device placed twice as close to another, these phones have an optimal chance of causing interference with devices that they're placed close to.
Rodman: A cell-phone's peak power will be on the order of two or three watts, that's the most it can put out, and this is compared to a radio or TV station that puts out tens of thousands of watts, or even half a million watts, but the fact that you have so many people carrying these things, and they're putting them down, not half-miles from your hi-fi, where the radio station is, but they're putting it down a foot from the hi-fi. And it turns out if you look at the math behind how radio works, you find that the signal that the hi-fi is seeing is as strong from the cell-phone sitting a foot away as it is from a 50 kilowatt transmitter sitting a couple of blocks away.
So what's the solution to this buzzing problem? Although it's possible, with equipment you can buy at your local Radio Shack, to shield an individual device, it's probably impractical to do it for everything in your house, or everything in your world. But Rodman believes the long-term solution will come from manufacturers becoming more sensitive to RF rejection issues in their devices.
Rodman: I think there's a slow trend toward making devices more resilient to this, so that if there's a cell-phone near by, they won't turn it into a buzz, but I think that takes a while to happen. I would think someone like Consumer Reports, would grab ahold of this, and recognize "we need to start testing devices for this, start rating devices for this." Once the need was there, manufacturers would very quickly find solutions for it, because the solutions have been there, like I said earlier, for fifty years.
Reports of problems with iPhones are anecdotal, but not hard to find. Robin Preston of Coral Gables, Florida, wrote to say: Not only do I have issues with speakers (namely when I'm talking on the land-line phone in my office and the iPhone is doing a push for info or someone is calling) but my bluetooth mouse goes absolutely bonkers if my phone is between the mouse and the receiver that is connected to the computer. It is quite funny to watch actually because the mouse icon jumps around all over the screen
The problem has led some users to go to extreme measures. Dave Greenbaum wrote to say: It absolutely positively drives me insane. I work frequently at my computer and talk on the phone but now use my landline more because of the buzz problems. More importantly, I work as an onsite computer repair technician. Once a day a customer will think there is something wrong with their computer because of the buzz. My solution, which really helps, is to use a metal anti-static bag by my desk to put the phone in. Calls and text still come in, but it removes the idle buzz. I still can't talk on the phone and work on the computer at the same time though.
The FCC would not comment on the record for this piece, and Apple Computer did not return numerous phone calls requesting an interview for comment. If you absolutely have to have an iPhone, or another noisy GSM cell phone, I'll leave you with this piece of advice from Jonathan Kramer.
Kramer: Buy extremely expensive, extremely well-made devices, that may be made under Part 15, but actually do reject outside world signals.
AT&T Finally Offering Free Wifi for iPhone Users (Includes Starbucks Locations)
AT&T has announced that they are now offering free Wi-Fi access to iPhone subscribers across the U.S.
[quote]AT&T knows Wi-Fi is hot, and FREE Wi-Fi is even hotter. Which is why FREE AT&T Wi-Fi access is now available for Apple iPhone at thousands of hotspots nationwide, including Starbucks*. Users can relax and access music, email and web browsing services with their favorite blend in hand from the comfort of their nearest location. For information visit www.att.com/attwifi .[/url]
AT&T provided a number of early hints that the service would be coming. AT&T has also sent out an SMS message to iPhone users announcing the plan.
Customers can locate Wi-Fi spots through AT&T's online tool or can locate a Starbucks using this tool. In order to access AT&T Wi-Fi from your iPhone, you must follow these steps:
- Activate Wi-Fi from the settings icon on your iPhone
- Select "attwifi" from the list of available networks
- Enter your 10-digit mobile number and check the box to agree to the Acceptable Use Policy. Tap 'continue'
- You will receive a text message from AT&T with a secure link to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot. You will not be charged for the text message.
- The SMS link will only be valid for 24 hours at the location it was requested. Another request must be submitted when using another hotspot location.
- Open the text message and tap on the link for 24-hour access to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot
Amos E. Joel Jr., Cellphone Pioneer, Dies at 90
Amos E. Joel Jr., an inventor whose switching device opened the way for the cellular phone business, died Oct. 25 at his home in Maplewood, N.J. He was 90.
The death was confirmed by his daughter Stephanie Joel.
Mr. Joel received more than 70 patents, but he was perhaps best known for No. 3,663,762, a 1972 patent that allows a cellphone user to make an uninterrupted call while moving from one cell region to another. “Without his invention, there wouldn’t be all these people walking around with cellphones,” said Frank Vigilante, who was one of Mr. Joel’s supervisor at Bell Labs. “He really allowed that business to form and to be a business.”
A native of Philadelphia who grew up partly in New York City, Mr. Joel liked to tinker with electronics from an early age. As a boy, he wired a communication system for his friends, using old phone equipment that was left behind in vacant apartments and building a crude switchboard with knife switches, only to be caught by a repairman, his daughter said.
In an interview with The Star-Ledger in New Jersey this year, Mr. Joel traced his career back to childhood fascinations: the switches on his electric train and his family’s first dial telephone. “I wanted to know: How does this thing work?" he said.
He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he collected and posted patents in his dorm room. While in college, he met his wife, the former Rhoda Fenton, on a blind date and invited her up to his room to look at his patents.
“She thought patents was a code name for something else,” Stephanie Joel said. “What she didn’t realize is that our father always had a lifelong fascination with patents.”
Miss Fenton came away from the date thinking that Mr. Joel was crazy, but he eventually won her over. They were married for 58 years.
Mr. Joel spent his professional career at Bell Labs, working 43 years there until he retired in 1983.
During World War II, Mr. Joel designed circuits for early digital computers, and he played a key role in the creation of encryption machines for military and domestic use, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Mr. Joel was inducted into the hall of fame this year.
After the war, he developed and taught a course on switching systems and circuit design and eventually designed the first automatic telephone billing equipment, according to IEEE, a professional organization of engineers. His patent for an automatic accounting system for customers’ charges on long-distance direct dialing filled more than 500 pages and weighed in at 11 pounds..
Mr. Joel’s awards include the Franklin Institute’s Stuart Ballantine Medal in 1981 and the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology in 1989.
Mr. Joel’s wife died in 2000, as did a son, Jeffrey, in 2003. Besides his daughter Stephanie, of New York City, his survivors include another daughter, Andrea Joel of Burbank, Calif.
E. Roger Muir, 89, Dies; Backed Howdy Doody
E. Roger Muir, who helped create and was executive producer of “The Howdy Doody Show,” the puppet-and-people program that first hooked millions of kids on television in its early days, died Thursday near his home in Wolfeboro, N.H. Mr. Muir, who went on to produce other successful shows, including “Concentration,” was 89.
The cause was a stroke, his son, Warren, said.
At a time when big, bulky wood-encased television sets were first coming out of their crates in homes across the country, “The Howdy Doody Show” was perhaps the primary attraction that brought baby-boom children in from their after-school play in time to settle down before dinner and maybe even homework.
Mr. Muir produced the show throughout its 13-year run on NBC, from 1947 to 1960, and was co-producer with Nick Nicholson of its syndicated version, “The New Howdy Doody Show,” in 1976 and 1977.
Mr. Muir “was a sculptor of the show,” said Ron Simon, the radio and television curator at the Paley Center for Media, in New York.
“Say, kids, what time is it?” Buffalo Bob Smith would call out to the children in the Peanut Gallery. “It’s Howdy Doody time,” they would roar back.
Buffalo Bob, a human, and Howdy, a freckle-faced puppet, would prance with the likes of Clarabell the Clown, a horn-honking human, and other puppets, like the always-grumpy Phineas T. Bluster.
In 1961 Mr. Muir and Mr. Nicholson started their own production company. Together, according to The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, they produced, among other programs, “The Newlywed Game,” which was later taken over by Chuck Barris; “Pay Cards!,” a game show based on poker; and “Concentration.”
Ernest Roger Muir was born in Alberta, Canada, on Dec. 16, 1918, the son of Ernest and Helen Rogers Muir. The family moved to Minneapolis in 1930, and Mr. Muir graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1941.
Besides his son, Mr. Muir is survived by his second wife, Barbara Horn-Muir; five grandchildren; and one great-grandson. His first wife, Phyllis Stirn, died in 1976.
While in college, Mr. Muir studied photography. In 1941 he was drafted into the United States Army and assigned to a film production unit. Another soldier in that unit was Warner Wade, who had already worked for NBC. After the war, with a referral from Mr. Wade, Mr. Muir was hired by NBC and was soon producing or directing programs, including “Who Said That?,” a quiz show featuring journalists and celebrities who tried to name the source of quotations plucked from recent news. Among other programs that he worked on were “The NBC Opera,” “Your Hit Parade” and “The Wide, Wide World.”
Mr. Muir had the idea of having Howdy Doody run for president of the boys and girls in the election year of 1948 and received thousands of requests for campaign buttons. Mr. Simon, the curator at the Paley Center, said the show taught children about politics, “and the very American idea that anyone can grow up to be president, even a marionette.”
Estelle Reiner, 94, Comedy Matriarch, Is Dead
Estelle Reiner, who as the wife of Carl Reiner and the mother of Rob Reiner was the matriarch of one of the leading families in American comedy, and who delivered one of the most memorably funny lines in movie history herself, died on Saturday at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 94.
She died of natural causes, said Rob Reiner, who was responsible for his mother’s moment of widest fame.
That occurred in the 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally,” when Mr. Reiner, as director, cast his mother as a customer in a New York delicatessen. In the scene, she watched as a woman at a nearby table, played by Meg Ryan, faked a very public (and very persuasive) orgasm. After Ms. Ryan subsided, a waitress approached Mrs. Reiner for her order.
“I’ll have what she’s having,” Mrs. Reiner said.
The American Film Institute made that line No. 33 on its list of the Top 100 quotations from movies, just ahead of Lauren Bacall’s seductive invitation to Humphrey Bogart in “To Have and Have Not”: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
His mother’s place on the list, Mr. Reiner said, gives him a thrill.
“I look at it and I see ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!’ I see ‘I coulda been a contender!’ ” Mr. Reiner said. “I see Clark Gable and Marlon Brando. And there’s Estelle Reiner!”
Estelle Lebost was born on June 5, 1914, in the Bronx, where she graduated from James Monroe High School. She was a painter and visual artist early in life (she met her husband while designing sets for shows at hotels in the Catskills), and after turning 60 she became a cabaret singer, recording several CDs and performing regularly as late as 2005. She studied acting with Lee Strasberg and Viola Spolin and had small roles in several other film comedies, including “Fatso” (1980), with Dom DeLuise, and “The Man With Two Brains” (1983), with Steve Martin.
But her deepest influence on American comedy has to do with family, her own and one she inspired. In addition to Rob and Carl Reiner, whom she married in 1943, she is survived by another son, Lucas; a daughter, Annie; and five grandchildren, all of Los Angeles.
Carl Reiner created the 1960s comedy series “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” based on his experience writing for Sid Caesar, a volatile and demanding star. Carl Reiner played the Caesar character, named Alan Brady; Mr. Van Dyke was Mr. Reiner’s alter ego, Brady’s head writer, Rob Petrie, who was married to Laura, a pre-Mary Richards Mary Tyler Moore. The Petries lived in New Rochelle, N.Y., the home of the Reiners, on Bonnie Meadow Road, the same street as the Reiners.
“Basically he wrote his own life,” Rob Reiner said of his father.
So that would mean Mary Tyler Moore was ... ?
“My mother was Mary Tyler Moore, yes,” Mr. Reiner said.
David Geffen Makes a Sudden Exit
As of last week, David Geffen’s phone line at DreamWorks SKG headquarters here was still live. But some people were already struggling to accept that he would no longer be part of the movie company he had helped build.
Steven Spielberg actually stammered a bit in trying to explain his erstwhile business partner’s departure.
No, Mr. Spielberg said, he really did not know why Mr. Geffen was parting ways with DreamWorks after 14 years.
But yes, he hoped he and Mr. Geffen would remain close. “I know David will be in my personal life,” said Mr. Spielberg, who stood near the door of his office in a Southwestern bungalow complex on the Universal Studios lot.
“I cannot imagine not having David in my professional life,” he added. “If that’s true, I’m going to have to figure out what to do about it.” After months of turmoil, Mr. Geffen, Mr. Spielberg and the chief executive of DreamWorks, Stacey Snider, three weeks ago joined about 100 associates in severing ties with Paramount Pictures, which had bought DreamWorks for $1.6 billion in 2006.
In a deal maker’s master stroke, Mr. Geffen created a new company to be run by Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Snider, with backing from Reliance Big Entertainment of India. Its movies will be distributed by Universal, with which Mr. Spielberg has long-standing ties.
But Mr. Geffen said he would not be part of the equation. In fact, after engineering some of the most breathtaking deals and transitions over nearly 40 years, he has indicated that he is backing away from Hollywood altogether.
Along the way, Mr. Geffen, now 65, amassed a fortune that Forbes magazine estimated this year at $6.5 billion. It is enough to permit luxurious retirement, and to focus on interests like fine art and the Rising Sun, a $200 million yacht he shares with Oracle’s chief executive, Lawrence J. Ellison.
Mr. Geffen’s only major remaining Hollywood presence is his position at the separate DreamWorks Animation. For the moment, he remains on the board of the company, over which he and Jeffrey Katzenberg, its chief executive, hold voting control. But people familiar with his plans said he would resign soon.
“This closes a chapter,” Mr. Katzenberg said, of Mr. Geffen’s decision not to join the new Spielberg company, during an interview this month at DreamWorks Animation’s campus in Glendale, Calif. Mr. Katzenberg declined to discuss any plan Mr. Geffen might have to leave the animation company board.
How the decision to withdraw from Hollywood came about, and what it means to an industry that has long regarded Mr. Geffen as its most powerful figure, is far from clear. Mr. Geffen declined requests to be interviewed for this article.
The new DreamWorks is smaller than the old one. It will confine itself to making a half dozen or fewer movies a year, without straying into television or other kinds of entertainment. Ms. Snider, as its chief executive, will shoulder more responsibility for financial health now that Mr. Geffen is out of the picture.
Mr. Geffen’s departure originally was planned more than a year ago, after he negotiated new terms with Paramount. He had a right to make an early exit from the studio if he chose — and Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Snider were entitled to leave behind him. What Mr. Geffen did after negotiating the deal, Mr. Spielberg said, caught him by surprise: He told Mr. Spielberg that he did, in fact, intend to leave. And he expected Mr. Spielberg and Ms. Snider to do the same.
“Where do we go?” Mr. Spielberg now recalls asking.
“Don’t worry, I will handle all of that,” Mr. Geffen said.
In any case, Mr. Geffen appears to have orphaned a small corps of associates who had come to view him as the central support for their own hopes and dreams.
In describing Mr. Geffen’s role at DreamWorks, Mr. Spielberg likened it to a family relationship. “Jeffrey and I were like the kids,” he said, while Mr. Geffen built the house and saw that the bills were paid.
Mr. Geffen’s legacy has included the sale of his record company to MCA; MCA’s eventual sale to the Japanese electronics giant Matsushita; a behind-the-scenes war on the once-powerful agent Michael S. Ovitz; and the highly public separation of the DreamWorks principals from Paramount after friction with that company’s chairman, Brad Grey. As a talent manager and record executive, Mr. Geffen helped build the careers of artists like Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell. Though he personally produced only a handful of movies, including “Interview With the Vampire” in 1994, he was closely involved with many others, including “Risky Business” and “Dreamgirls.”
By his own recollection, Mr. Spielberg was initially reluctant to join in creating the original DreamWorks studio, which was conceived by Mr. Katzenberg shortly after he was fired as chairman of the Walt Disney Company’s studio operation in 1994. But Mr. Katzenberg begged for a meeting, and asked to bring a friend. The friend was Mr. Geffen, who not only did all the talking, but insisted to Mr. Spielberg: “I am representing your best interests.”
That assurance was to become the theme of Mr. Geffen’s dealings with Mr. Spielberg, who describes Mr. Geffen’s efforts for him over the years as a kind of “altruism.”
At the time, Mr. Spielberg agreed to enlist with DreamWorks on the condition that Mr. Geffen become its third partner. He thus rounded out a tagline, “SKG,” that continues to identify the rebooted company, though now neither Mr. Geffen nor Mr. Katzenberg is involved.
It was Mr. Geffen who recruited Korean investors led by Miky Lee, as well as the Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, to help back DreamWorks. When Mr. Allen forced the company’s sale more than 10 years later by exercising his option to begin cashing out, it was again Mr. Geffen who did the heavy lifting — though over the years, he has diverted his own take from DreamWorks to a charitable foundation.
For much of 2005, Mr. Geffen devised a deal under which the company was to have been sold to NBC Universal and its majority owner General Electric. When G.E. balked at the proposed price, Mr. Geffen turned to Paramount and its parent, Viacom, which bought it for essentially the terms NBC Universal and its owner had rejected.
Mr. Geffen actually intended to leave DreamWorks shortly after the Paramount deal was consummated. But he was instead quickly caught in a political maelstrom that, if not exactly of his making, was nonetheless made almost inevitable by the mismatched personalities and expectations that came with the sale.
From the beginning, Mr. Spielberg — Mr. Geffen’s special charge — was ill at ease. “I do not like change,” Mr. Spielberg said last week, though he declined to discuss the specifics of his relationship with Paramount.
Slights and political missteps soon mounted on both sides.
Paramount executives were put on edge by public speculation that Ms. Snider, a former Universal chairman, had been hired as a replacement-in-waiting for Mr. Grey of Paramount.
Mr. Geffen and his cohorts were jolted, in turn, by the Viacom chairman Sumner M. Redstone’s abrupt firing of his chief executive, Thomas E. Freston, a vital DreamWorks ally.
The DreamWorks camp was particularly bothered by a series of incidents during the 2006 movie awards season, when Mr. Grey appeared to take credit for successes that came with the acquired company, and most particularly its Oscar contender, “Dreamgirls.”
Mr. Grey, a former talent manager, felt he had done everything possible to honor the DreamWorks team, who he came to believe were simply afflicted by seller’s remorse, according to associates who spoke on anonymity to avoid further conflicts. In an elaborate renegotiation, Paramount in 2007 granted DreamWorks significant concessions, including the formation of a separate DreamWorks-Paramount distribution label that was intended to credit Mr. Spielberg’s company publicly for every ticket sale, on winners and losers alike.
“You are going to land in a position of ownership,” Mr. Geffen promised him.
According to Mr. Katzenberg, Emanuel Nuñez, of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency, first brought up the possibility that the investors of Reliance Big might be a good fit.
Mr. Katzenberg nudged Mr. Nuñez toward Mr. Geffen, who appeared to see the new backers as playing a role similar to that of the Korean investors who had quietly profited from DreamWorks through the years. The deal closed in early October. Under Mr. Geffen’s guidance, the distribution arrangement with Universal soon followed.
The Universal deal created comfort for Mr. Spielberg, who had regarded its sprawling, industrial-style lot as a home since he began working there in 1967. Only recently, he lobbied to have a street at the studio named for Sidney J. Sheinberg. Mr. Sheinberg was the president of MCA when it owned Universal, and, with the company’s chairman Lew R. Wasserman, oversaw Mr. Spielberg’s work there, from “Jaws” to “Jurassic Park.”
Just one other studio relationship has figured seriously in Mr. Spielberg’s life — that with Steven J. Ross, the Warner communications chief executive, who, before his death in 1992, had been an industry godfather to Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Geffen. From Mr. Ross, said Mr. Spielberg, he and Mr. Geffen had learned now-fading rules that once governed Hollywood. The most basic, he said, was to “keep your friends close, and your enemies far away.” Mr. Geffen, of course, is still a friend. But not quite so close, professionally speaking, as he was only a few weeks ago.
James Bond to Release in India First
Reel Suave - Cinema Extraordinaire
James Bond is making an unprecedented side trip before his next adventure reaches the US. Sony Pictures India said Tuesday that Quantum of Solace will open in India on Nov 7 th marking the first time a major Hollywood title has opened here before the US premier. The film will debut in UK theatres on October 31 and be released in North America on November 14 th.
“James Bond has a huge equity in this country, and Bond films have always been a hit here,” said Mumbai based Kercy Daruwalla, managing director of Sony Pictures Releasing India.
Solace will be released on about 700 prints dubbed into regional languages Hindi, tamil and Telugu, “which could make this the biggest Hollywood release of the year here,” Daruwalla said.
The film is directed by Marc Forster, “Solace” picks up where things left off in the previous Bond Film, 2006’s “Casino Royale.” Daniel Craig will reprise role as the dapper Bond for this one.
Netflix and TiVo to Partner on Movies
Two of the scrappiest bantamweights in Silicon Valley, Netflix and TiVo, are expected to announce a long-awaited partnership on Thursday.
Netflix will place its Watch Instantly streaming-movie service on TiVo’s HD-compatible set-top boxes, furthering the technology industry’s goal of sending television shows and movies over the Internet — instead of over traditional cable and satellite networks — to ordinary TVs.
Netflix, based in Los Gatos, Calif., is more widely known for its DVD subscription service that mails discs in familiar red envelopes. But it has lately been expanding its digital offerings, and now has 12,000 movies and television shows that subscribers can view instantly over the Web on their PCs without charge.
Netflix and TiVo said they would begin testing the service on Thursday and expected to make it available to all owners of TiVo set-top boxes in December. There will be no extra charge for TiVo subscribers who also have one of Netflix’s unlimited subscription plans, which start at $8.99 a month.
For TiVo, based in Alviso, Calif., the partnership helps complement a growing stable of Internet content. Owners of TiVo boxes can already rent or buy films and TV shows over the Internet from Amazon.com, Walt Disney Studios and Jaman.com, a provider of independent and art films, and play them on TV.
TiVo has another component of its business as well — selling its software to cable and satellite providers, many of whom offer their own generic, lower-priced DVRs to their customers. This year, TiVo won a $104 million judgment in a patent-infringement lawsuit against Dish Networks, which should help it get better bargaining terms as it tries to get other cable and satellite operators to use its technology.
People who get TiVo’s service on a partner’s set-top box, like DirecTV’s or Comcast’s, will not have access to the Netflix video service. TiVo hopes that Internet deals like its Netflix partnership can help it sell more of its own devices, which make up only a fraction of the DVR market.
“For us this is very much aimed at new customers,” said Tom Rogers, chief executive of TiVo. “There are nine million Netflix subscribers out there who are movie lovers and who want something that really adds juice to their overall television experience.”
The deal further extends Netflix’s Watch Instantly service — the inevitable successor to its DVD-by-mail franchise. In the last year, it has signed deals to digitally deliver its catalog to high-definition Blu-ray DVD players from LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics, and to subscribers of Microsoft’s Xbox Live Internet gaming service. Netflix has also invested in Roku, a start-up that manufactures a $99 set-top box that brings Netflix’s streaming service to TVs.
Recently, Netflix has been hobbled by the economic downturn. It reported last week that it added far fewer subscribers during its third quarter than it had promised, and its stock has dropped by about 40 percent in the last month.
There is a certain irony in the partnership between TiVo and Netflix. In 2004, well before the current industry scrum over bringing digital video into people’s homes, Netflix and TiVo worked together to develop a prototype Internet film-delivery service. The effort was plagued by licensing and technology hurdles and never came to fruition.
“That was a great testament to the over-optimism of technologists like me,” said Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, recalling the earlier partnership. “The market just wasn’t ready and our ambitions got a little ahead of us. We couldn’t get enough rights to make it commercially interesting.”
Now, he said, Netflix has a growing portfolio of programs available for digital streaming and last month added a catalog of 2,500 films from the Starz cable network. “I think every idea has its time and our time is now,” Mr. Hastings said.
U.S. Ruling May Curb Business Method Patents
A U.S. appeals court has rejected patenting a way to smooth energy costs in a closely watched decision that could narrow the scope of "business method" patents.
The case turned on whether an inventor can patent an abstract process, something that involves nothing more than thoughts, and was closely watched by software makers, Internet companies, investment houses and other businesses.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled on Thursday that the patent application at issue was not tied to a machine and did not result in a transformation, both standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court for patentability.
"I think there's some narrowing of what you need to get a business method patent," said Michael Bregenzer, an attorney with Reed Smith LLP.
The case is widely expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court, something the appeals court acknowledged in its opinion.
Business methods were widely considered unpatentable until a 1998 ruling by the same appeals court. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued 1,330 such patents last year, up from 120 in 1997, according to figures on its website.
One of the best known examples of a business method patent is Amazon's one-click process to buy goods on the Internet.
Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw had challenged the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's rejection of their request to patent their method for managing the risk of sudden movements in energy costs.
Bilski and Warsaw founded the company WeatherWise to sell services based on the method used by some utilities. The U.S. patent office rejected their patent application in 2000 and the patent board upheld the rejection in 2006.
Erika Arner, a patent attorney with law firm Finnegan LLP, said that many business method patents would now be vulnerable to legal assault.
"Some folks will look at the Bilski decision as a new weapon to attack business method patents," Arner said.
The high-profile case was heard by a 12-judge panel of the appeals court that specializes in patent matters.
"We hold that the applicants' process as claimed does not transform any article to a different state or thing," the majority opinion said.
"Purported transformations or manipulations simply of public or private legal obligations or relationships, business risks, or other such abstractions cannot meet the test because they are not physical objects or substances," added the opinion written by Chief Judge Paul Michel. Three judges dissented.
Future developments in technology may present challenges to the machine-or-transformation test, the majority opinion said, just as the widespread use of computers and the advent of the Internet had begun to challenge it in the past decade.
"Thus, we recognize that the Supreme Court may ultimately decide to alter or perhaps even set aside this test to accommodate emerging technologies."
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Andre Grenon and Tim Dobbyn)
State Street Overruled... PERIOD
As you no doubt know already, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued its much anticipated decision in In re Bilski earlier today. In the case the Court went much farther than it needed to do in order to adequately address the appeal at hand. The invention in question was a mental process, but undeterred the Federal Circuit saw its opening and issued a far reaching decision that does more than call into question patent protection for software and other high-tech inventions.
Earlier today I posted an article titled Federal Circuit Decides Software No Longer Patentable, and many disagreed both with my conclusion that software is no longer patentable, and my analysis that State Street has been overruled. Everyone is free to have their own opinion, but there is simply no room for argument on this. The Federal Circuit has overruled State Street and software patents are no longer available as they have come to be available over the last 10 to 15 years. If you do not agree with these points then you obviously have not read the decision and I suggest that you read the decision before you tell me that I am wrong. I have thick skin, but reality is quite important to me.
First, you can point to whatever you want in the opinion where the Court said "we are not overruling State Street," but that doesn't change the reality that the Court has done just that. You know the old question about a dog's leg, right? If I were to tell you to assume that the dog's tail is a leg, how many legs would the dog have? The answer is 4, because regardless of whether you call the tail a leg or not the truth is that the tail is a tail and it is never going to be a leg regardless of your desire to call it one. So, the Federal Circuit can say all they want that State Street has not been overruled, but the reality is that it has been overruled. The Federal Circuit just didn't do us the honor of being honest and straight forward with us.
The entire point of Judge Rich's decision in the State Street case was to recognize that a process can be patent worthy even if there is no physical transformation. He was 100% correct and this Court has undercut the decision in its entirety. When the Court says that clearly strikes at the heart of State Street:
• The useful, concrete and tangible result inquiry "is insufficient to determine whether a claim is patent-eligible under § 101."
• "[W]e also conclude that the "useful, concrete and tangible result" inquiry is inadequate and reaffirm that the machine-or-transformation test outlined by the Supreme Court is the proper test to apply. "
• Footnote 19: "[T]hose portions of our opinions in State Street and AT&T relying solely on a "useful, concrete and tangible result" analysis should no longer be relied on."
If the "useful, concrete and tangible result" inquiry is insufficient and inadequate to determine the existence of patentable subject matter under 101 then State Street has quite clearly been overruled, evicerated, disregarded or whatever you would like to call it. For crying out loud the majority even said in footnote 19 that the "useful, concrete and tangible result" inquiry can no longer be relied upon! What else do they have to say in order to get folks to understand that State Street has been overruled? The entire point of the States Street decision was the implementation of the "useful, concrete and tangible result" inquiry in order to determine whether an invention is patentable subject matter. Take that part out of State Street and all you have is the name of a bank on the heading of a defunct decision issued by the Federal Circuit in 1998.
Certainly, the Court didn't say that they overruled State Street, but would you expect them to do that? They want to be able to get up at conferences and explain that the critics of the court are simply wrong and don't know what they are saying and point to language in the decision that says they didn't overrule the case and make fun of all of us who really are wise to exactly what they did. What the Federal Circuit did was what they, and other appeals courts so frequently do. They said --- we are not overruling this thoughtful and important decision, which remains good law by the way, but we are saying that the essence of the decision is completely and totally wrong and is not something that can be followed moving forward. Ridiculous!
This decision is not only intellectually dishonest, but it is also straight-up stupid. At a time when our economy is on the brink of a collapse that none of us have ever witnessed during our lifetime an activist court ought not to be legislating from the bench, far overstepping any legitimate boundaries of appellate practice and rendering a decision that will cost US companies billions of dollars. That's right... billions of dollars. In one fell swoop much of the Microsoft patent portfolio has gone up in smoke. You see, as John White so eloquently told me today - "Microsoft doesn't make machines." How insightful. They don't do they. So good luck protecting your software now Microsoft! This was a great day for open source and a terrible day for our economy.
EDITORIAL NOTE: In the comments on my last post some were wanting to know what software patents would be rendered useless under 101. In the coming days, hopefully tomorrow, I will write an extended article explaining how software claims are written and why many, if not most, software patents issued over the last 10 to 15 years have become obsolete with one single decision.
Codeweavers Says Cheap Gas = Free Software Tomorrow
Three months ago, CodeWeavers CEO Jeremy White offered a challenge to another CEO -- the nation's chief executive, George W. Bush. If the president achieved one of White's six "Lame Duck" goals during the twilight of his 2nd term, White would make Windows-API enabler & WINE GUI CrossOver free to customers for one day. Some considered White's proposal a great motivational tool for GWB; others found it smug, partisan and kind of a goofy way to promote the company's products, but in any event none of his six challenges seemed to be on the path to achievement, so that's where the story should have ended. CrossOver is a fine way to run Windows apps on your Mac, but as a force for political change, not so much.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to January 20th: due to global economic conditions and through no fault of the president, the price of crude oil dropped precipitously and the cost of gasoline moved in parallel... bringing the average price per gallon in Minneapolis down to the target $2.79 level called for in White's goal #1. Can anyone say "Taco?"
The Star-Tribune is reporting that White is planning to follow through on his pledge: tomorrow, Tuesday 10/28, all CodeWeavers products (CrossOver Mac, Linux & Games) will be freely downloadable. One license per customer, and we assume that the free licenses will be for the standard versions of the apps. Update: Word from CodeWeavers execs is that the free license will be for a download-only flavor of the Pro version (!), including the Games optimized build and the option to share a Windows 'bottle' among multiple users on the same machine. You will have to choose either the Mac or Linux product for your free copy (and I'm looking forward to the stats on that split once the dust settles). Pro licenses are eligible for support/update renewals after one year for $35.
You might argue with White's politics or his promotional instincts, but you can't argue with free software. CrossOver Mac normally retails for $40 and requires an Intel machine running either Tiger or Leopard.
Update 2: A number of commenters have pointed out that the original challenge rules said the giveaway day would be on the first of the month following the goal, meaning Nov. 1 instead of Oct. 28. CodeWeavers' press release confirms that the giveaway day will be tomorrow, 10/28 and not 11/1. The giveaway runs from midnight to midnight CST.
Technology Helps Restore Raphael Masterpiece
After 10 years of painstaking study and restoration that tested both cutting edge technology and human patience, one of the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance is returning to the public.
Raphael's "Madonna of the Goldfinch" is a survivor.
The 107 cm by 77 cm (42 inches by 30 inches) oil-on-wood, showing the Madonna with two children caressing a goldfinch, has outlived everything from the collapse of a house in 1547 that shattered it to the ravages of time and the mistakes of past interventions.
The result of the restoration is stunning. Centuries of brown film and grime are gone. The Madonna's cheeks are pink. Her robes are deep red and blue and one can almost hear the cascade of a stream in the background Tuscan countryside.
"This patient gave us the most shivers and the most sleepless nights," said Marco Ciatti, head of the department of paintings at Florence's Opificio Delle Pietre Dure, one of Italy's most prestigious state-run art restoration labs.
"We spent two whole years studying it before deciding whether to go ahead because with the damage it suffered in the past -- which was clearly visible in the x-rays -- a restoration attempt could go wrong," he said.
X-rays, CAT scans, reflective infra-red photography, lasers, men and women in white coats, microscopes, latex gloves -- it sounds like the stuff of hospitals and in many ways it is.
But the Opificio is no ER. It has everything but the pressures of time. It is a place of slow healing.
"In the past we decided not to restore something because the risks of damaging or altering the original were too great," said Ciatti, 53. "We see ourselves as a doctor who treats the patient as a whole rather than concentrating on a specific illness."
Raphael, who lived from 1483 to 1520, painted the panel in about 1506 as a gift for the marriage of Lorenzo Nasi, a rich wool merchant.
Known in Italian as the "Madonna del Cardellino," it shows the Virgin with two children symbolizing the young Christ and John the Baptist. The goldfinch is a symbol of Christ's future passion because the bird feeds among thorns.
When the Nasi house collapsed in 1547, the work shattered into 17 pieces. Ridolfo di Ghirlandaio, a Raphael contemporary, used nails to join the pieces and paint to hide fractures.
It later became part of the collection of Florence's powerful Medici family, who commissioned several interventions aimed primarily at covering traces of the fissures.
For the past 10 years, Patrizia Riitano, 52, has been living, breathing, dreaming and touching Raphael. It has been her right eye that has been scrutinizing him and her right hand that has been cleaning and retouching him.
"I am just a technician," the chief restorer of the project said with humility. "But, yes, I think I probably know this painting almost better than Raphael. He looked at it, sure, but all these years I have been looking at it with a microscope."
She lifted the painting out of a wooden box with the confidence of someone who has done it many times -- like a mechanic changing a tire -- but then gently positioned it at the center of an easel with the love of a mother adjusting her child's scarf on a winter day.
"To think of it, I have spent more time with him than with my daughter," said Riitano, a 30-year veteran of restoration.
Earlier restorers covered cracks and painted outwards, painting over Raphael's brushstrokes. She instead removed the coverings and painted inwards to reveal more Raphael.
She mostly stopped when she reached the original transparent varnish that Raphael put over the painting after he finished, so Riitano knew that everything below that was his. Some traces of time and travail were kept to maintain overall equilibrium.
"Maybe An SMS"
"I wonder if he is satisfied. I hope so. Perhaps he'll send me a message from the beyond, maybe an SMS," she said.
Next month, the painting goes on display in Florence's Palazzo Medici in an exhibition on the restoration. Then it will return to its long-time home in room 26 of the Uffizi Gallery.
"We will celebrate it like the return of our prodigal daughter," said Antonio Natali, the head of the Uffizi.
While Riitano was the main restorer, the massive undertaking was a multi-disciplinary team effort involving about 50 people, including wood specialists and photography technicians.
Wood experts decided that large nails holding together parts of the painting should stay because removing them would do more harm than good and small, deteriorating nails should go.
"It was a very long process. We had to decide if to remove, what to remove, when to remove," said Riitano.
Ciatti, the head of the paintings department, said that, as rewarding at the project was, the real joy was sharing innovative techniques and scientific discoveries.
"We are also a research and teaching center. Every restoration, whether the artist was a giant or not, is part of a greater effort to help future restorers. We publish everything we do," he said.
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
RSA Labels London as Worlds Wi-Fi Access Point Capital
The latest annual Wireless Security Survey from RSA has revealed that London is still the worlds wireless network (Wi-Fi) capital with a total of 12,276 access points detected, exceeding the number found in New York City by more than 3,000.
However the French capital of Paris broke all the records with a 543% year-over-year increase in the number of wireless access points, which compares with London's 72% (down from 160% last year) and New York City's 45% (down from 49%).
The survey also examined how many of the wireless access points detected were secured with some form of encryption (hotspots excluded). In New York City, 97% of corporate access points had encryption in place (76% last year). In Paris, 94% of corporate access points were encrypted - although in London, 20% of all business access points continue to be completely unprotected.
However, with WEP - Wired Equivalent Privacy, the original wireless encryption standard - now discredited, the 2008 survey paid close attention to the types of encryption in-play, and the relative adoption of more advanced forms of wireless encryption, including Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or WPA2.
Overall, the adoption of non-WEP advanced encryption is encouraging. Paris once again led the way, with 72% of access points (excluding public hotspots) found to be using advanced security; however the numbers in New York City and London were more modest at 49% and 48% respectively, with a majority of wireless access points relying either on WEP or using no encryption at all:
Most impressively, home network users appear to be more security-savvy than their corporate counterparts. In Paris, 98% of in-home networks are encrypted, with New Yorkers just behind at 97%, followed by 90% of Londoners who have deployed encryption at home (48% are using advanced encryption).
You Can Run... But Can You Hide?
Is Britain on its way to becoming a surveillance society. Or has it already arrived?
We are the CCTV capital of the world and more data is being held on us than ever before, with our phones, our computers, our bankcards and even our cars busily giving away information about where we go and what we do.
The government gathers more data on us than anyone else and has big plans to collect even more.
The Home Office has drawn up plans for the creation of a single central database containing details, though not the content, of every e-mail, text and mobile phone call made in the UK and of every web page browsed.
The government says no decision on the database proposal, which is expected to be included in the upcoming draft Communications Bill, has yet been made.
But in a speech on 15 October, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said a consultation on the controversial plan would be held in the New Year.
Supporters of the central database say it is necessary as part of the government's ongoing battle against serious crime and terrorism.
But critics have condemned the database as an Orwellian nightmare, an invasion of privacy incompatible with a free country.
In You can run... Panorama takes a look at just how much privacy we actually have in Britain.
To put this to the test reporter Simon Boazman sets about finding out how much data is held on him, whether it is secure and whether he can reduce his data trail.
He discovers how his mobile phone, his laptop and his car give up his secrets, how his hospital records are passed outside the NHS and even his child is about to become a number on a government database.
Perhaps stockpiles of personal information would not worry people so much if it could be guaranteed that the data would remain safe and would only be seen by those who need to see it.
But public confidence in the government's ability to look after data has been dented in recent months with high profile failures, including the loss of a CD carrying all the personal details of every child benefit claimant.
And as Panorama reports, even without discs getting lost in the post or files being left on trains, getting confidential information out of a government database is frighteningly easy.
To see just how easy, Boazman turns to a blagger - someone who used to earn money tricking information out of clerks and call centre staff who have access to databases.
Armed with some basic details about our reporter - his name, date of birth, address and company name - the blagger is able to find out a surprising amount, including Boazman's tax and salary records for the last six years.
As the programme reports, the selling of this kind of confidential information is now a thriving global business, with blaggers acting as privacy busters for hire through online auction sites.
And this black market for our data may be set to expand - from January the government will start rolling out a huge database called Contact Point containing a file on each of England's eleven million children.
Every file in this compulsory national database will hold a child's name, address, date of birth, unique ID number, parents' address, school, doctor and any other services that are working with the child.
Potentially over 300,000 people who work with children will have access to Contact Point and, as Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University, tells the programme, "you only need one of the hundreds of thousands of users to be careless or corrupt or downright criminal and bad things can start to go wrong".
Single NHS database
In fact, according to the blagger on the trail of Boazman's details, the consolidation of databases nationwide is making the job of finding out confidential information even easier though departments are stepping up training to combat that .
The biggest state system of them all is the National Health Services' National programme For IT, currently being rolled out across England.
It is one of the most ambitious computer projects ever undertaken - replacing hundreds of different computer systems spread across hospitals and GP practices with new, compatible versions that will allow NHS staff anywhere in England to access a patient's medical records.
The programme reports on a controversial practice which sees hundreds of millions of hospital records, which can identify patients, passing outside the NHS.
The benefits to research and disease prevention could be huge, but at what cost to privacy?
And as our reporter finds, stopping your own records from joining this flow is simply not possible without opting out of the NHS system as a whole.
The National programme For IT also raises concerns about the accuracy of the information being held in our files.
Boazman speaks to Helen Wilkinson, who with the development of the scheme and after a 20-year career in administration in the health service, became worried about where her medical data was held and whether it was correct.
As a result she requested her medical files and was horrified to discover that she had been incorrectly listed as having had treatment for alcoholism.
All the elements of data capture and surveillance featured in the programme have clear benefits for citizens, but is anybody asking what the cumulative effect on our privacy is?
You can run... but can you hide? On Monday 27 October at 8.30pm on BBC One.
GPs Warned "We'll Report You to MI5" Over IT Security
Exclusive: GPs have been told they could be reported to MI5 as a ‘risk to national security’ if they fail to sign up to controversial new information governance standards.
The draconian warning is just one of several tactics being used by PCTs to try to persuade practices to complete an Information Governance Statement of Compliance by the looming deadline.
An IT manager at NHS Eastern and Coastal Kent told local GPs if they failed to sign up the PCT would report them to the Healthcare Commission ‘who in turn would investigate and report this to MI5 as it is classified as a risk to national security’.
She added: ‘Ultimately the Healthcare Commission, following the investigation, could make recommendations on the suitability for continued practice.’
GPs in other areas have been told that information governance standards could be made a contractual requirement.
Connecting for Health, which set the deadline for signing the compliance statement at the end of this month as part of the Government’s drive to halt a wave of recent data losses, disowned the warning as ‘completely wrong’.
Both Connecting for Health and the Healthcare Commission said the threats were ‘completely incorrect’, with Connecting for Health saying there would be no direct sanctions for GPs who failed to sign up.
A spokesperson said: ‘We would not withdraw vital services from organisations who refuse to sign it without evidence that they were failing to meet appropriate standards, but we would be reluctant to extend any further services until we had received this assurance of compliance.’
GPs condemned PCTs for resorting to hollow threats.
Dr Charlie Stuart-Buttle, a GP in Tonbridge, Kent, and chair of the EMIS National User Group, said: ‘In this area, PCTs have targets to hit and GPs don’t. If a PCT doesn’t hit its target it gets its knuckles rapped – so maybe the pressure is telling in East Kent.’
Completing the statement of compliance could be time-consuming for practices, added Dr Stuart-Buttle, who works in neighbouring West Kent PCT. ‘If you do it properly and really look into it it’s a lot of work.’
Dr Mark Essop, a GP in Farnborough in Kent, said GPs in his area had been told by Bromley PCT [chk] it would be made a contractual requirement to complete a compliance statement. ‘Given the issues of lost data at the moment, it does enable GPs to demonstrate they’ve done what they can to protect the data,’ he said. ‘In that respect it’s beneficial – but it’s a lot of work.’
The statement requires practices to audit their information governance procedures and self-certify that they comply with national standards.
Terrorist 'Tweets'? US Army Warns of Twitter Dangers
A draft US Army intelligence report has identified the popular micro-blogging service Twitter, Global Positioning System maps and voice-changing software as potential terrorist tools.
The report by the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion, posted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), examines a number of mobile and web technologies and their potential uses by militants.
The posting of the report on the FAS site was reported Friday by Wired magazine contributing editor Noah Shachtman on his national security blog "Danger Room" at wired.com.
The report is not based on clandestine reporting but drawn from open source intelligence known as OSINT.
A chapter on "Potential for Terrorist Use of Twitter" notes that Twitter members sent out messages, known as "Tweets," reporting the July Los Angeles earthquake faster than news outlets and activists at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis used it to provide information on police movements.
"Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences," the report said.
Hacktivists refers to politically motivated computer hackers.
"Twitter is already used by some members to post and/or support extremist ideologies and perspectives," the report said.
"Extremist and terrorist use of Twitter could evolve over time to reflect tactics that are already evolving in use by hacktivists and activists for surveillance," it said. "This could theoretically be combined with targeting."
The report outlined scenarios in which militants could make use of Twitter, combined with such programs as Google Maps or cell phone pictures or video, to carry out an ambush or detonate explosives.
"Terrorists could theoretically use Twitter social networking in the US as an operation tool," it said. "However, it is unclear whether that same theoretical tool would be available to terrorists in other countries and to what extent."
Besides Twitter, the report examined the potential use by militants of Global Positioning Systems and other technologies.
"GPS cell phone service could be used by our adversaries for travel plans, surveillance and targeting," it said, noting that just such uses have been discussed in pro-Al-Qaeda forums along with the use of voice-changing software.
"Terrorists may or may not be using voice-changing software but it should be of open source interest that online terrorist and/or terrorist enthusiasts are discussing it," the report said.
Guantanamo Man Tortured into Confessing: U.S. Judge
A young Guantanamo prisoner's confession to Afghan police was obtained through torture and cannot be used as evidence in his trial on charges of wounding U.S. soldiers with a grenade, a judge in the U.S. war crimes court ruled on Tuesday.
High-ranking Afghan government officials threatened to kill Mohammed Jawad and his family unless he admitted throwing the grenade that wounded the soldiers and their Afghan interpreter at a bazaar in Kabul in December 2002, the judge found.
Jawad was 16 or 17 at the time and appeared to have been drugged, said the judge, Army Col. Stephen Henley. The Afghan officials who interrogated Jawad at the Kabul police station were armed and the death threat was credible, he ruled.
Jawad was turned over to U.S. forces after confessing and, two months later, was sent to the detention center at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The judge ruled that extracting a confession under threat of death met the definition of torture under the Guantanamo trial rules -- an "act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain and suffering."
Trial rules allow the use of evidence obtained via coercion but not torture and leave it up to the individual judges to determine which is which.
"While the torture threshold is admittedly high, it is met in this case," Henley said in his ruling.
The ruling casts further doubt on the wobbly case against Jawad, who is scheduled for trial at Guantanamo on January 5.
The military prosecutor in the case quit last month, alleging the U.S. government was suppressing evidence that cast doubt on Jawad's guilt. And a U.S. general who supervised the prosecutors was reassigned after fellow officers accused him of pushing for charges in the Jawad case prematurely because he felt it would excite the interest of U.S. citizens.
Jawad's military lawyer, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, said the suppressed evidence indicated Jawad was drugged by Afghans who recruited him for a purported mine-clearing operation and that he was one of three people who confessed to throwing the same grenade.
At a hearing in August, he presented testimony that Jawad was beaten and chained to the wall while in U.S. custody in Afghanistan then subjected to extreme isolation and sleep deprivation at Guantanamo even after the sleep deprivation program was ordered halted.
About 255 suspected members of al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated groups are now detained at Guantanamo. A total of more than 750 foreigners have been held without trial at the base in the seven years since President George W. Bush began a war against terrorism.
The two candidates for the U.S. presidential election on November 4 -- Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain -- have said they will close the Guantanamo prison, which is widely seen as a stain on the reputation of the United States.
(Edited by Jim Loney and John O'Callaghan)
Government Computers Used to Find Information on Joe the Plumber
Investigators trying to determine whether access was illegal
State and local officials are investigating if state and law-enforcement computer systems were illegally accessed when they were tapped for personal information about "Joe the Plumber."
Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher became part of the national political lexicon Oct. 15 when Republican presidential candidate John McCain mentioned him frequently during his final debate with Democrat Barack Obama.
The 34-year-old from the Toledo suburb of Holland is held out by McCain as an example of an American who would be harmed by Obama's tax proposals.
Public records requested by The Dispatch disclose that information on Wurzelbacher's driver's license or his sport-utility vehicle was pulled from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles database three times shortly after the debate.
Information on Wurzelbacher was accessed by accounts assigned to the office of Ohio Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency and the Toledo Police Department.
It has not been determined who checked on Wurzelbacher, or why. Direct access to driver's license and vehicle registration information from BMV computers is restricted to legitimate law enforcement and government business.
Paul Lindsay, Ohio spokesman for the McCain campaign, attempted to portray the inquiries as politically motivated. "It's outrageous to see how quickly Barack Obama's allies would abuse government power in an attempt to smear a private citizen who dared to ask a legitimate question," he said.
Isaac Baker, Obama's Ohio spokesman, denounced Lindsay's statement as charges of desperation from a campaign running out of time. "Invasions of privacy should not be tolerated. If these records were accessed inappropriately, it had nothing to do with our campaign and should be investigated fully," he said.
The attorney general's office is investigating if the access of Wuzelbacher's BMV information through the office's Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway computer system was unauthorized, said spokeswoman Jennifer Brindisi.
"We're trying to pinpoint where it came from," she said. The investigation could become "criminal in nature," she said. Brindisi would not identify the account that pulled the information on Oct. 16.
Records show it was a "test account" assigned to the information technology section of the attorney general's office, said Department of Public Safety spokesman Thomas Hunter.
Brindisi later said investigators have confirmed that Wurzelbacher's information was not accessed within the attorney general's office. She declined to provide details. The office's test accounts are shared with and used by other law enforcement-related agencies, she said.
On Oct. 17, BMV information on Wurzelbacher was obtained through an account used by the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency in Cleveland, records show.
Mary Denihan, spokeswoman for the county agency, said the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services contacted the agency today and requested an investigation of the access to Wurzelbacher's information. Cuyahoga County court records do not show any child-support cases involving Wurzelbacher.
The State Highway Patrol, which administers the Law Enforcement Automated Data System in Ohio, asked Toledo police to explain why it pulled BMV information on Wurzelbacher within 48 hours of the debate, Hunter said.
The LEADS system also can be used to check for warrants and criminal histories, but such checks would not be reflected on the records obtained by The Dispatch.
Sgt. Tim Campbell, a Toledo police spokesman, said he could not provide any information because the department only had learned of the State Highway Patrol inquiry today.
District Court Holds that Running Hash Values on Computer Is A Search:
The case is United States v. Crist, 2008 WL 4682806 (M.D.Pa. October 22 2008) (Kane, C.J.). It's a child pornography case involving a warrantless search that raises a very interesting and important question of first impression: Is running a hash a Fourth Amendment search? (For background on what a "hash" is and why it matters, see here).
First, the facts. Crist is behind on his rent payments, and his landlord starts to evict him by hiring Sell to remove Crist's belongings and throw them away. Sell comes a cross Crist's computer, and he hands over the computer to his friend Hipple who he knows is looking for a computer. Hipple starts to look through the files, and he comes across child pornography: Hipple freaks out and calls the police. The police then conduct a warrantless forensic examination of the computer:
Also, it seems that the Government failed to make the strongest argument that running the hash isn't a search: If the hash is for a known image of child pornography, then running a hash is a direct analog to a drug-sniffing dog in Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405 (2005). Although Caballes is cited in the opinion for other reasons, it seems that the government didn't make the Caballes argument.
It's possible that the argument wasn't raised because the agent made a hash of every file instead of running a search just for matches of known images. But I'm not sure that really makes a difference, and whether it does hinges on some interesting questions. Is the creation of the hash a search? Or is running a query that matches the hashes to known hashes and produces a positive hit a search? It might also break down based on how much the government saw of the machine while the hashes were being made: Perhaps the search occurred when the file structure was revealed to the officers (if it was in fact revealed). But if so, I'm not sure that the images themselves should be suppressed as compared to evidence more directly related to the revealing of the file structure.
Either way, this is a fascinating computer crime law issue that gets debated from time to time without any case law; I believe this is the first case on the topic. Ah, more grist for the mill of the forthcoming second edition of my computer crime casebook. Thanks to FourthAmendment.com for the mention of the opinion, and Matt Caplan for the .pdf.
EGYPT: Crackdown Against Bloggers and Internet Activists
The Egyptian security apparatus is conducting an aggressive campaign against bloggers and Internet activists in many cities around Cairo, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reports.
Christian blogger Hani Nazeer Aziz, who is based in Gena and owns the blog "Kariz Al Hub" ( http://haninazeeraziz.blogspot.com ), has been targeted. They are also persecuting several Islamic bloggers, including Mohamed Khairi, who is based in Fayoum, ( http://garshkal.blogspot.com ), Husam Yahia, whose blog is called "The Voice of Liberty" ( http://sotelhoria.blogspot.com ), Mohamed Adil, whose blog is "dead" ( http://43rab.info/meit ), and Bilal Alaa, whose blog is called "The Country is Ours" ( http://khabta.blogspot.com ). Both Mohamed Adil and Bilal Alaa are from Al Gharbia City and Husam Yahia is from Al-Daghlia.
The security apparatus arrested two of Hani Nazeer Aziz's brothers on the first of October and used them as hostages to force his surrender. On 3 October, he was informed that security officers were also going to arrest his sisters to put more pressure on him to give himself up. He turned himself in on the same day. Since then, he has not been seen, and ANHRI learned only on 22 October that he had been detained under emergency law, which is the usual way in which the ministry of the interior deals with innocent people whom they want to detain without bringing charges against them,
Mohamed Khairi, the man who set up the Garshkal blog and a student in the faculty of engineering at Cairo University, was arrested in a surprise dawn raid on his home on 22 October, when his computer and paperwork were seized.
The other three bloggers mentioned above, Mohamed Adil, Bilal Alaa and Husam Yahia, all had their homes raided by the security forces. All three managed to avoid arrest, either by escaping or by being forewarned of the arrival of the "dawn visitors" (policemen from the state security department).
Gamal Eid, ANHRI's executive director, issued the following statement:
"It is no coincidence that the launch of a state security campaign against Egyptian bloggers happened at the same time as one of their colleagues was honoured by receiving an international award for human rights activism. The Egyptian government will never forgive bloggers for their key and consistent role in exposing numerous legal and human rights violations. As well as a reaction to their role in advocating for democracy in Egypt, the crackdown is also a response to the message of the Human Rights First award, which supports and encourages the efforts of Egyptian bloggers."
Renowned Egyptian blogger Nora Younis has received the annual human rights award from a prominent US-based organization, Human Rights First, ( https://secure.ga1.org/05/support_heroes_hp ) for her extraordinary efforts defending human rights issues and advocating for the democracy movement in Egypt.
The arrest of Hani Nazeer comes in the wake of his criticism of a recently published novel, "Azazil", which was perceived by Egyptian Christians to be an attack on Christianity, to the point where some Christians published a counter attack on Islam called "Azazil in Mecca".
Instead of finding solutions to reduce the sectarian tensions between Muslims and Christians that exist in some areas of Egyptian cities, the authorities have found it easier to apply the security solution and to utilize emergency law to arrest the Christian blogger, an action which ANHRI believes has aggravated rather than soothed sectarian tensions.
The other bloggers, who were Islamic, were arrested and their houses were raided as a punishment for their contribution to the people's relief caravan that headed towards Gaza on 6 October to break the blockade imposed by occupying Israeli forces. This was a purely humanitarian gesture to show solidarity with the Palestinian state, which lies under the burden of occupation, a situation to which the Egyptian government at best turns a blind eye, and at worst is complicit.
ANHRI asserts that these bloggers have not committed any crime or broken any law. Any slight respect for the values of law and democracy should lead to legal and appropriate solutions for these problematic scenarios. Emergency law will never manage to deter Egyptian activists from forming and broadcasting their opinions.
Turkey Bans Blogger
Since today, whoever tries to access Blogger or any *.blogspot.com domain from Turkey will get the following message on my screen.
This is the same message we get if we try to visit YouTube, which is also banned in Turkey. In the past blogging platform Wordpress.com has been banned as well (read more), to much dismay of many Turkish bloggers.
It is suspected that the reason for this has something to do with Adnan Oktar, by some considered the leading Muslim advocate for creationism, who has in the past managed to get Wordpress, Google Groups, as well as Richard Dawkins’ website banned. It has been suggested however, that Oktar was active in Istanbul courts and this verdict was passed in Diyarbakır in South East Turkey.
Turkey’s EU ambitions seem paradoxical to the infringement on the freedom of press and speech of its citizens, residents and visitors by banning sites like this. This is not China. This has to stopped. Good thing the EU’s making a blacklist of censoring countries and are creating software for people in censoring countries to use to overcome the censorship (Global Online Freedom Act).
Thus far it’s not certain why Blogger is currently banned, but I’m keeping a close eye on news services and will update when I find out. This story is thus developing, so come back for updates!
The court order of the ban on Blogger is also in very stark contrast to yesterday’s court approval of gay and group sex. Turkey’s a country of opposites.
Some useful links to unblock YouTube/Blogger (blogspot)/other blocked pages in Turkey:
British Man Prosecuted for Publishing “Obscene” Story Online
In a test case which could have severe ramifications for free speech on the internet, a 35 year old man is being prosecuted under British obscenity laws for a story he allegedly wrote and published on the internet.
Darryn Walker did not enter a plea and was sent for trial in March next year after the prosecution decided to charge him under the “Obscene Publications Act 1959″. This is the first prosecution for written material under this law since 1991.
Walker allegedly wrote and published a story called Girls (Scream) Aloud - about pop group “Girls Aloud” - on the internet. The story describes in detail the kidnap, rape, mutilation and murder of the band members and ends with the sale of various body parts on eBay. The story was then published on the Usenet groups, in the “alt.sex” discussion groups, where it was seen by the Internet Watch Foundation, who alerted police.
The Obscene Publications Act has had a bit of a hit-and-miss legal history. It was used to try to get rid of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” (we can see how THAT turned out) and after that, every attempt to get rid of objectionable books using the OPA was subsequently shot down by appeals courts. I heard at one point that the British Government was going to either get rid of the OPA or radically re-write it. But obviously nothing has come of that yet.
But now we have this totally ridiculous prosecution for publishing a story on the internet. Yes, the subject matter of the story is absolutely awful but nevertheless, everyone has a right to publish what they want online without being harassed or prosecuted. If Walker is convicted, this will set a chilling precedent. If acquitted, the right to free speech on the internet will be affirmed by the courts.
Speeches Wiped Off ALP Website
THE Labor Party has removed all speeches from the lead-up to the last election from its website amid claims of plagiarism in politics.
The move emerged as Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop defended a third case of using words without attribution.
Labor's national secretary Karl Bitar rejected any suggestion that all speeches by frontbenchers during the "Kevin 07" campaign had been removed to prevent scrutiny. While he could not say exactly when they had been removed, it was "in the last week".
"We are just trying to keep the website as up to date as possible," Mr Bitar said.
The Australian learned yesterday that the office of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd knew of Ms Bishop's plagiarism in a new book several weeks ago.
But Mr Bitar denied any connection between that and Labor's decision to remove speeches of last year's campaign, saying there was a link on the site to the national library "so nothing has been hidden".
Ms Bishop yesterday defended her use without attribution of a passage from a book published in 1988. The passage had also been used in the Bringing Them Home report by the Human Rights Commission. While that report acknowledged the source -- a book by Anna Haebich -- Ms Bishop gave no attribution.
Ms Bishop yesterday sought an opinion from the Clerks' Office of the House of Representatives. She emailed that advice to The Australian. "Sometimes members may refer to a report or other official document which is relevant and which forms part of the background to the consideration of a matter," it said. "It is also likely that members also use arguments, statistics etc from such reports without making this clear, and we do not of course see footnotes or endnotes in Hansard."
Ms Bishop telephoned New Zealand businessman Roger Kerr on Sunday to apologise that his words had appeared in a new book under her name without attribution. The book, Liberals and Power: The Road Ahead, is edited by academic Peter van Onselen.
Ms Bishop's chief of staff Murray Hansen said he had written the essay and had forgotten to send footnotes in time.
Last month, Ms Bishop was involved in another plagiarism controversy over material from The Wall Street Journal.
Ms Bishop said in her "sorry" speech in parliament on February 13 this year: "Virtually any children of Aboriginal descent could be forcibly removed from their families and placed in government institutions to be trained in the 'ways of white civilisation'."
Professor Haebich is quoted in Bringing Them Home as writing in 1988: "Virtually any child of Aboriginal descent could be taken forcibly from his or her family and placed in a government institution to be trained in the ways of 'white civilisation' and 'society'."
Australian Filters May Block Porn and Gambling Sites
Family First Senator Steve Fielding wants hardcore pornography and fetish material blocked under the Government's plans to filter the internet, sparking renewed fears the censorship could be expanded well beyond "illegal material".
The Opposition said it would take "a lot of convincing" for it to support the controversial mandatory ISP filtering policy, so the Government would need the support of Senator Fielding as well as the Greens and Senator Nick Xenophon to pass the legislation.
Industry sources said Senator Fielding's sentiments validated ISPs' concerns that the categories of blocked content could be broadened significantly at the whim of the Government, which is under pressure to appease vocal minorities.
A spokesman for Senator Xenophon said, should the filtering plan go ahead, he would look to use it to block Australians from accessing overseas online casino sites, which are illegal to run in Australia.
In a Senate Estimates hearing last week, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, confirmed that his proposal would force ISPs to implement a two-tiered filtering system.
The proposed censorship is more advanced than that in any liberal democracy and would put Australia on a par with oppressive regimes such as Iran, the internet industry says.
Despite his earlier promises that Australians would be able to opt out of any internet filters, Senator Conroy said the first tier would be compulsory for all Australians and would block all "illegal material", as determined in part by a blacklist administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The second tier, which is optional, would filter out content deemed inappropriate for children, such as pornography.
But asked to specify the categories of content that Senator Fielding would like blocked by the mandatory first tier, a Family First spokeswoman indicated the party would want X-rated and refused classification (RC) content banned for everyone, including adults.
"Family First would consider a mandatory ISP-based filtering system that protects children by blocking illegal content like child pornography, but allows adults to opt out of filtering to access material classified R18+ or less," Senator Fielding's spokeswoman said.
According to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, X18+ content includes hardcore pornography, while content that is refused classification includes that which depicts drug use or sexual fetishes. Both are a step above R18+ content, which typically includes adult themes.
The online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia expressed fears that the internet filters could be used as a bargaining chip every time the Government needed to pass a piece of important legislation.
"Any group with an axe to grind and political clout will be lobbying the Government to blacklist websites which they object to," EFA spokesman Dale Clapperton said.
"Having all Australians' internet access subject to a secret and unaccountable government blacklist is completely unacceptable in a liberal democracy such as Australia."
Clapperton said most adult pornography on the internet was already "prohibited content" under the Act, and pro-euthanasia, pro-anorexia and pro-piracy websites could easily be caught by the system.
Today, such prohibited content, if hosted overseas, is added to ACMA's blacklist but Australians are still able to access it if they wish. This would not be the case if mandatory ISP filtering was introduced.
"Senator Conroy talks about blocking access to 'illegal material', but the ACMA blacklist of 'prohibited content' is not limited to material which is illegal - it includes X-rated material, and R-rated material unless it is protected by a government-approved restricted access system," he said.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam expressed similar concerns when grilling Senator Conroy in Senate Estimates last week.
He said all sorts of politically sensitive material could be added to the blacklist and otherwise legitimate sites - for example, YouTube - could be rendered inaccessible based on content published by users.
"The blacklist ... can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes - euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet," Senator Ludlam said.
John Lindsay, carrier relations manager at Internode, said: "I don't see that what Fielding has just described to you is necessarily any different to what the public should expect from the Government's as yet unstated filtering regime, because we haven't got a clear explanation as to what the Government's actual mandatory blacklist looks like."
The Opposition's communication spokesman, Nick Minchin, said it would take "a lot of convincing" for the Coalition to support the Government's filtering plan.
"That's the problem with having this sort of highly centralised government-mandated nationwide filtering system," Senator Minchin said in a telephone interview.
"The argy-bargy that would result over what is in and what is out strikes me as being almost impossible to manage and it would be a cat chasing its tail."
The Government's own laboratory trials have found that presently available filters are not capable of distinguishing adequately between legal and illegal content and can degrade internet speeds by up to 86 per cent.
Despite this, and significant opposition from ISPs, the Government will soon seek expressions of interest from telcos seeking to be part of a live trial of the filters.
ISP-Level Content Filtering Won't Work
Brett Winterford and Julian Hill
The leaders of three of Australia's largest internet service providers — Telstra Media's Justin Milne, iiNet's Michael Malone and Internode's Simon Hackett have, in video interviews with ZDNet.com.au over the past few months detailed technical, legal and ethical reasons why ISP-level filtering won't work.
Hackett, managing director of Adelaide-based ISP Internode, feels it is "somewhat loony" to make censorship the role of the ISP. "The reality is that we are just a gatekeeper," he said. "But we don't own the content, we only own the doorway."
A technical challenge
Hackett says that from a technical standpoint, introducing filtering is expensive, performance-degrading and annoying; "a complete bugger". Filtering technology, he says, is the "antithesis to the notion that we all want to go faster" on the internet. "This stuff will actually make things go slower," he says. "The tendency is to go towards a simple solution that actually overshoots, that has too many false negatives."
"Anything you are going to put in the end-to-end data path that actually does blocking can be invasive. It's invasive meaning it is expensive [to implement], and invasive in the sense that installing it in our network is complicated and may in fact cause outages."
"If the stuff goes a bit wrong it will start blocking other content. The trouble is, the internet's not just web browsers. Other applications that are using the internet may get mistaken for things that are pulling that content and might get blocked or messed with in strange ways."
Hackett expects the government to mandate a blacklist of IP addresses that by law an ISP is not permitted to serve to a customer. "Two problems with that — one is collateral damage, what if that IP address is a virtual host with 2000 web sites on it and only one of them doesn't follow the government's morality?" he says. "The other [problem] is, what if it's done by mistake? [What] if the IP address is just straight out wrong?"
"Another obvious [problem] is that the internet is full of anonymous proxies. None of this stuff actually works."
A legal challenge
Justin Milne, group managing director for Telstra BigPond, says any decision that forces ISPs into a 'gatekeeping' role would have significant legal implications.
"The idea that ISPs could somehow or other filter the tnternet is one, technically impossible and two, a bad idea anyway," he says. "If you want to filter the bad guys out of the 'net, quite apart from the fact that technically you can't do it, you would need to pass a lot of legislation, a huge packet of legislation, to make that properly carried out, to make it stand up."
"Various successive governments have seized upon ISPs as being a convenient choke point or gatekeeper point on the 'net. They would love for ISPs to become judge, jury, policeman, posse, hangman, the whole deal. And I think it's a very inappropriate thing to do."
Milne says it should be the police, mandated by the law, that handle such issues, not ISPs. "ISPs all need to comply with the law, just as hotels or delicatessens or anybody who conducts commerce needs to comply with the law. [But] you don't want them inventing the law and you don't want them having to interpret the law. You want the guys who make the law to do that. Police need to be police."
Milne says Australia "probably doesn't have enough cyber-police" and is "probably not as good as we need to be at catching bad guys that use the 'net." Similarly, he feels Australia is 'underdone' in terms of laws that apply to the internet world.
But that said, he doesn't think it should be the role of the ISP to regulate internet use. "The idea of having some sort of fairly loose regulations and saying to ISPs, look, you have the capacity to do X, Y or Z and we'd like you to do that is crazy," he says. "If we start doing things like cutting people off on the basis of doing file-sharing, for example, we could finish up breaking laws. We could certainly lend ourselves liable to being sued for wrongfully cutting people off."
Milne says those parties in society that want ISP's to act as gatekeepers need first to have their plans mandated by courts. "The music industry would love to say, lets get the ISPs to catch all the people who are file sharing, write them a letter, and if they don't stop file sharing, cut them off," he says. "Well, we could do that, if there were a law [against file sharing]. But the music industry needs to get the law in place, and go through the whole process, and through the forensic examination society will undertake as to whether it's a good or bad idea."
"You need frameworks for these things. BigPond of course complies with all laws and if law enforcement agencies come to us with a warrant or a document which says I've been to court, and the court has decided that we've got reasonable grounds to believe this guy is a terrorist, for example, or a pedlar of child pornography or whatever it might be, and we want you to help us catch him, then we say, certainly sir, not a problem at all. We comply with the law, and we are protected by the law. Due process has happened."
Michael Malone, CEO of iiNet says even aside from the technical and legal problems associated with ISP-level filtering, "there is also the whole ethical position of how appropriate is it for the Australian Government to start acting like the Chinese Government."
"The question is how far the Government wants to go with [ISP-level filtering]," Malone says. The creation of a small blacklist or RC (refused classification) content, he suggests, might actually work, as filtering through a small list of IP addresses or URL's is viable.
"[But] taking that though to a comprehensive list that tries to make the internet 'safe'? I think there's two big problems with it. The definition of safe for a six-year-old is very different from that for a fifteen-year-old. The other [problem] is it's a very subjective assessment."
"If the Federal Government says we are going to stop certain sorts of objectionable content, what on earth is the definition of bad here?" asks Hackett. "Is it the Federal Government's definition of bad? Is this going to be a white Anglo-Saxon protestant filtering system? Is it going to be a Muslim filtering system? Is it going to be one that doesn't like Scientology? The problem is we live in a world with multiple sets of morality, all of them equally valid."
"For some parents, they may consider information about homosexuality to be a real problem," says Malone. "But for some other parents they might consider that to be entirely appropriate. Nudity in art may be appropriate for one set of parents, not for another. Those things are household decisions."
A household decision
Both Hackett and Malone argue that such decisions do indeed belong in the home and not at the level of the utility. Hackett says there is no strong evidence that Australian families want filtering systems. "They want a sense that the internet is not as scarier place for their kids to be," he said. "But that's a question of solving it in other ways. Solving it with education, solving it with the pragmatic thing that we certainly do at home, we stick the kids' computer in the living room."
"Our position has always been, parents should have the ability to filter at their end," says Malone. "Client-end filtering works reasonably well, still doesn't provide you with an entirely safe environment, but at least it means the parent has some control over what the child is viewing. Try to do that at the ISP [level], and you're asking us to make decisions for the entire country."
A white-list at the client-end is the simplest, cheapest and most effective solution, Hackett says. Families give their children a white-listed version of the Internet, and add new sites and applications by exception upon their child's request.
"Apple already does a good job of this in Leopard — its got a nice system whereby if you go to a web site that's not there [on the white list], the parents will log-in, authenticate and add that site on demand. And just incrementally keep adding until they stop asking. That stuff works — and again you notice that's a client-side decision, that's not a network side decision."
The thin edge of the wedge?
Malone is concerned both of the last two Federal Government's posturing on 'making the internet safe' might be the first step in a path towards censorship.
"I do worry that this is the thin edge of the wedge," he said. "That the Government will come in with a small list of sites for the ISP to block, and that just includes the real stuff that everyone agrees on like child porn and bestiality. So we say, OK we are willing to comply with that. But it becomes an area then that can be used for so much more. So you might see the next step is an attempt to block out XXX sites or hate speech sites, and you think, OK maybe we can live with that [too]."
"But then after that it could be to block out competing political positions or to block out sites about religion or sexual orientation that the Government says is no longer suitable for children in Australia."
Explore the Web from China--Without Leaving Home
It slows down your browsing. It makes some Web sites inaccessible for no discernible reason. It doesn't even offer you any xiao long bao or pu'er tea for your troubles. But if you want to know what life behind the Great Firewall of China is like, then the Firefox plug-in China Channel is the cheapest and fastest way to experience using the Internet in China without actually being there.
After installation, getting to experience Web surfing the way the Chinese do isn't hard at all. Users have three ways to activate China Channel: via the China Channel toolbar, a navigation bar button that you must drag and drop onto the bar to get access to, and a status bar button. The buttons function by opening a menu, from which you choose to switch from None to the China Channel. Much like the IE Tab extension, the page will then render as if your IP address is inside China.
The toolbar is interesting for a slightly different workflow that results in a Web page that informs you of your IP address and its country of origin. Choose the China Channel from the drop down, and then hit the big red Go button. With China Channel activated, the page will declare that the plug-in has been activated. Switch back to None and refresh the page, and it changes to reflect your proxy server-free surfing experience.
The experience drives home the point of just how severe Internet censorship is in China, going beyond government hot-topic issues like Tibet and Tiannamen Square to that hotbed of revolutionaries known as Wikipedia. Even my own innocuous blog was blocked when I was there, although two years later it seems to be free. Or at least it was when I tested out China Channel: while sensitive material seems to be permanently blocked, the 30,000 employees of the Great Firewall appear to apply their censorship in a more arbitrary manner for less topical Web sites.
This is a great experiential plug-in that's worth grabbing just to see how citizens in countries with Internet censorship have to struggle with hamstrung browsing.
Big Tech Companies Back Global Plan to Shield Online Speech
Miguel Helft and John Markoff
Google, Microsoft and Yahoo and a group of human rights and public interest organizations plan to introduce Wednesday a global code of conduct that they say will better protect online free speech and privacy against government intrusion.
The principles are the starting point for a new effort, called the Global Network Initiative, which commits the companies to “avoid or minimize the impact of government restrictions on freedom of expression,” according to a final draft of documents obtained by The New York Times.
Stating that privacy is “a human right and guarantor of human dignity,” the initiative commits the companies to try to resist overly broad demands for restrictions on freedom of speech and overly broad demands that could compromise the privacy of their users.
The initiative was begun after human rights groups and Congress criticized the Internet companies for cooperating with Chinese government censorship and demands for information on dissidents. In addition to laying out the code of conduct, the initiative will provide a non-governmental forum for the companies and human rights groups to jointly resist demands for censorship. It will also establish a system of independent auditors to rate the companies’ conduct.
“This is an important first step in providing standards for free expression and privacy that obligate companies to do more to challenge government restrictions,” said Michael Posner, president of Human Rights First, who agreed to discuss the initiative after The Times obtained the documents. “It sets up an accountability mechanism that will allow each of the companies to be evaluated over time.”
In addition to the three American companies, two European telecommunications companies, France Télécom and Vodafone, are also considering participating. And members of the initiative are hoping to recruit additional companies.
So far, AT&T, Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel, which were embarrassed in 2005 after it was discovered they were cooperating with the National Security Agency in a warrantless surveillance scheme by the Bush administration, have not signed on.
The principles have the backing of prominent human rights organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China. Business for Social Responsibility and the Center for Democracy and Technology helped lead the two-year talks, and organizations like Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Calvert Group, a socially responsible money manager, also participated.
But the effort is already being criticized by some human rights activists.
“After two years of effort, they have ended up with so little,” said Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA. “It is really very little more than a broad statement of support for a general principle without any concrete backup mechanism to ensure that the guidelines will be followed.”
Currently Google, Microsoft’s MSN division and Yahoo’s Chinese affiliate are all cooperating with the Chinese government’s demands that search results be filtered. This month, Canadian researchers revealed that the Chinese version of the Skype Internet chat and telephony client had been modified to permit the logging of chat sessions and storage of the information on server computers belonging to Skype’s Chinese partner, Tom, a wireless and Internet company.
Yahoo has been harshly criticized for its decision in 2004 to help Chinese authorities identify Shi Tao, a Chinese business reporter, who had sent a brief of a government document calling for press censorship to his private Yahoo e-mail account. Mr. Shi is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Asked whether the principles would have made a difference in the Shi case, Mr. Sklar said, “My guess is it wouldn’t have had any effect at all.”
Amnesty Criticises Global Network Initiative for Online Freedom of Speech
The human rights campaign group has explained why it isn't part of the new industry-backed plan to protect freedom of expression online
Human rights campaign group Amnesty International has criticised a new human rights organisation backed by technology giants Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
The attack comes after the formal launch of the Global Network Initiative, a scheme to bring the technology industry together with human rights campaigners to help protect free speech in repressive countries. Google, Microsoft and Yahoo – which have all been heavily criticised for their conduct in countries such as China in recent years – were among the first signatories.
The group has been backed by several high-profile human rights organisations, but yesterday Amnesty said that it could not offer its support.
In a statement, Amnesty said it had been involved in earlier discussions over the group but had dropped out after receiving final drafts of its principles in August.
"Following careful consideration of these documents, Amnesty International has come to the conclusion that – while they represent a degree of progress in responding to human rights concerns – they are not yet strong enough to allow Amnesty International to endorse them," the statement said.
It went on to attack what it said were "weaknesses" and said that "several critical issues could not be resolved" despite more than two years of talks.
Rebecca MacKinnon, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong and prominent freedom of speech campaigner in China who has backed the GNI, said that the people involved "would not be putting their reputations behind this thing if they did not think it was meaningful".
"That said," she said, "the initiative must prove its value in the next couple of years."
The support from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo is a sign of a concerted effort to change the companies' image after several years of intense criticism over their human rights records.
All three have been accused of cooperation with Beijing's censorious regime – most notably Yahoo's role in the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao in 2004.
The companies joining the initiative have agreed to follow a loose set of principles, including a commitment to consider fighting unwarranted government demands in the court. However, it is unclear precisely what the guidelines will mean in the long term.
It is hoped that the high-profile backing will bring more technology companies into the group, and discussions are already said to be under way with British communications company Vodafone and France Telecom.
Amnesty's criticisms will come as a major blow to the initiative's plans, but it is not the only group to voice its concern.
"What's disappointing is that the amount of effort didn't produce something more substantial," said Morton Sklar, the executive director of the World Organisation for Human Rights USA.
p2pnet Wins Landmark ‘Linking’ Defamation Case
I’m proud to say that, thanks wholly to the expertise of Vancouver lawyer Dan Burnett, p2pnet is now part of precedent-setting legal decision of primary importance to online freedom of speech in Canada.
Following a landmark decision by British Columbia Supreme Court judge Stephen Kelleher, p2pnet is the victor in a case in which Vancouver businessmen Wayne Crookes, once an important federal Green Party of Canada official, tried to claim I defamed him by linking to articles he didn’t like.
That amounted to publication, he maintained.
Shortly after the case was heard in Vancouver this August, “I headed this post Wayne Crookes v p2pnet,” I said, going on, “But maybe I should have called it Wayne Crookes v Ted Nelson because it includes a number of words and phrases highlighted and underlined in blue.”
They’re links, the “genius” of the Net, I said, continuing »»»
“According to Mr. Newton, he is not interested in the Green Party issues,” writes Kelleher in his decision to dismiss the lawsuit, going on:
“Rather, his interest is in free speech and the internet. He posted a reference to the existence of the lawsuit and its implications for free speech on the internet. There was no comment about Mr. Crookes’ character or integrity.”
The issue was whether or not anyone followed the hyperlinks posted on p2pnet, he said, continuing »»»
“For example, if Mr. Newton had written ‘the truth about Wayne Crookes is found here’ and ‘here’ is hyperlinked to the specific defamatory words, this might lead to a different conclusion.”
Will Crookes appeal?
Please click here for the full decision (I’ll run it in p2pnet tomorrow).
In the meanwhile, definitely stay tuned.
10 Years Later, Misunderstood DMCA is the Law That Saved the Web
If you're wondering whom to thank for the Web 2.0 explosion in interactive websites, consider sending a bouquet to Congress. Today's internet is largely an outgrowth of the much-reviled Digital Millennium Copyright Act that lawmakers passed in 1998, and President Clinton signed into law exactly a decade ago Tuesday.
Blogs, search engines, e-commerce sites, video and social-networking portals are thriving today thanks in large part to the notice-and-takedown regime ushered in by the much-maligned copyright overhaul. A decade ago, when the DMCA was enacted, these innovations were unheard of, embryonic or not yet conceived. Now, Google has grown into one of the world's largest companies, and its video-sharing site YouTube has left an enduring mark on public discourse. The Mountain View, California, company is one of many that openly acknowledges the DMCA's role in its success, a view shared by public interest groups.
"This was the opening shot of the digital age," recalls Art Brodsky, a writer at the time and now the communications director for Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based digital rights and lobbying group.
The DMCA (.pdf) was conceived a decade ago as the United States' implementation of an international copyright treaty called WIPO. Hollywood wanted the bill to protect its intellectual property from being infringed on a massive scale, and secured a still-troubling anti-circumvention rule that generally prevents consumers from bypassing copy protection schemes. But history has shown that the far-more beneficial element in the law is a provision that provides ISPs, hosting companies and interactive services near blanket immunity for the intellectual property violations of their users — a provision responsible for opening vast speech and business opportunities — realized and unrealized.
Today, the importance of the law is rare point of agreement between civil liberties groups and the entertainment industry, which says the anti-circumvention language was the sine qua non for technologies like the DVD, which was in a test-marketing stage when the DMCA was signed. The DVD is now among the world's most widely accepted advances, fostering a new line of electronics manufacturing, and online and brick-and-mortar DVD rental outlets.
"Based on first-hand experience, the studios would not have embraced the DVD technology, at least not as quickly as they did," says Fritz Attaway, a policy adviser for the Motion Picture Association of America, and its lead lobbyist during DMCA congressional negotiations. "There was tremendous concern in releasing movies in this greatly improved format that could not be protected against duplication."
Still, the DMCA's separate notice-and-takedown provision has proven even more crucial to the growth of the internet. The provision grants immunity to so-called "intermediaries" — ISPs, for example — for any copyright infringement by their users. To earn that so-called "safe harbor," the intermediary such as video-sharing site YouTube must promptly remove material if the copyright holder sends a takedown notice. But the company can restore the content if the user certifies that it's noninfringing, and the copyright claimant fails to sue.
Paired with the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which provides similar immunity against noncopyright claims like defamation, the DMCA made it possible for everyone from Digg to WordPress to provide forums for users without constant fear of being sued out of existence.
"These two protections for intermediaries have been absolutely crucial for giving us the internet today," says Fred von Lohmann, an internet attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "You could not run a blog without these. You couldn't run MySpace, AOL without these two things."
YouTube spokesman Ricardo Reyes agrees. "We definitely depend on the safe-harbor provisions," he says.
But the privilege also comes with a price. The law demands intermediaries such as YouTube to take down content immediately in response to a notice, without evaluating the claim for reasonableness or accuracy, or considering the fair use rights of users. If YouTube doesn't abide by the notice, it loses its immunity and subjects itself to copyright liability.
That has opened the door to many abuses of free expression. But while speech might be limited or eliminated under faulty takedown notices, the speech itself exists in a forum that might not otherwise exist without the DMCA.
The abuses, however, run rampant.
Consider Uri Geller — famous for "bending spoons with his mind" — who last year had sent notices to YouTube demanding the removal of a video purportedly debunking his tricks. He didn't have the copyright but the video was briefly removed until a lawsuit got it reposted.
Last year, Viacom spammed YouTube with 100,000 takedown notices based on a general search for its shows on the site. Viacom is also seeking $1 billion in damages in a civil lawsuit against YouTube — a major DMCA test case threatening to undermine the safe-harbor privilege.
And more recently, Universal Music issued a takedown notice to YouTube over a Pennsylvania woman's 29-second video of her toddler dancing to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." The site removed the video, and the mother — Stephanie Lenz — sued the music company for abusing the DMCA, arguing that she was making fair use of the song, which is barely audible in the background of the video.
There is no bright-line rule defining fair use. The factors include how much of the original work was used, whether the new use is commercial in nature, whether the market for the original work was harmed, and whether the new work is a parody.
In a rebuke to Universal, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled that the music label should have taken fair use into account before issuing a takedown notice, and allowed her DMCA-abuse case against Universal to proceed. Universal had claimed it did not need to consider fair use before issuing take down notices.
The shoot-first policy the DMCA pushes on websites has even annoyed Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who voted for the DMCA. McCain has been reusing snippets of broadcast news footage in his online campaign videos, and a variety of news outlets have been getting the videos yanked from YouTube with takedown notices.
This month, McCain's campaign asked YouTube to reconsider its automatic takedown policy, prompting a rebuke from the site's lawyers. Citing the DMCA, YouTube said it would lose its immunity if it hesitated. "Without this safe harbor, sites like YouTube could not exist," YouTube attorney Zahavah Levin wrote McCain.
"We hope that as a content uploader, you have gained a sense of some of the challenges we face every day in operating YouTube," general counsel Zahavah Levine added.
The controversy surrounding the safe harbor provision is minimal compared to the DMCA's so-called "anti-circumvention" language.
The law dictates that "no person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title" — language that, for example, appears to block a DVD owner from copying a disc they've lawfully purchased. Because such copying can fall under the rubric of fair use, the law nullifies some consumers' rights, says ACLU lawyer Aden Fine. "One of the big problems with the DMCA is it does not take into account fair use rights," Fine says. "It seems to sort of ignore the concept of fair use."
Developing and selling DVD-ripping tools has been found illegal under the law, an interpretation now being challenged in court.
But it's not just movies and music that are wrapped up in the DMCA. Dmitry Sklyarov, a former employee of the Russian software company ElcomSoft, was arrested and jailed for three weeks in 2001 after finishing a speech at the DefCon hacker's convention in Las Vegas. Pictured here, Sklyarov was charged with DMCA copyright violations for trafficking a program he wrote that decrypted Adobe e-book files. The charges were later dropped in exchange for his cooperation in the government's case against ElcomSoft.
The anti-circumvention language has even been used in cases that have nothing to do with copyright. In 2002, Harvard professor Ben Edelman lost a lawsuit over his bid to decrypt the list of some 5,000 websites that the popular porn filter N2H2 was blocking. "Today, we don't know whether that porn filter works or is blocking nonporn sites," Edelman says. "The DMCA blocks me from doing research to see if the porn filter works."
And Princeton computer scientist Ed Felten, who was a witness for the U.S. government in its anti-trust prosecution of Microsoft, claims he was threatened with a DMCA lawsuit in 2001 if he presented a paper at a scholarly workshop explaining defects in the Secure Digital Music Initiative's digital watermarks on music files.
Technology companies have even tried using the law to suppress competition. In 2003, Chamberlain Group, the maker of an automatic garage door opener, sued Skylink Technologies for manufacturing a universal remote that worked on Chamberlain's doors. The company argued that the remote circumvented the electronic handshake that controlled access to the garage door opener. Similarly, Lexmark sued under the DMCA to stop a rival from selling after-market replacement printer-ink cartridges for Lexmark printers. Both claims were eventually shot down in court.
The DMCA includes a safety valve intended to combat such abuses, but it's proven ineffective.
Under the law, every three years the Librarian of Congress revisits the anti-circumvention measures and carves out specific exceptions. In 10 years, though, that process has paved the way for only a handful of exceptions, and they are sometimes meaningless.
An exception adopted during the last review in 2006 granted mobile-phone owners the right to circumvent the technological locks on their phones. Doing that could allow a user to switch phone carriers without buying a new phone. Yet the ruling did not require the telephone carriers to unlock their customers' phones, and marketing of the software or hardware to unlock the phones still remains illegal.
Despite the problems and abuses, it's impossible to gauge what the internet landscape would look like today had it not been for the DMCA, which Clinton said in a signing statement was a law "carefully balancing the interests of both copyright owners and users."
The MPAA's Attaway, who calls himself the lobbying group's "old man" for his 33 years of service, recalls that the DMCA was a compromise from the start.
"The ISPs wanted safe harbor provisions in return for their support for the anti-circumvention provisions, which was one of the major and most important compromises in this legislation," he says. "It's not perfect. But it's better than nothing."
MTV Smacks YouTube, Posts Almost Every Music Video Ever
Do you sometimes find yourself wishing that there was a place you could go to just watch music videos? Back in the 80s, MTV served that purpose. These days, MTV and its sibling MTV2 are hardly channels anyone would watch in order to get a music video fix. MTV is looking to redeem itself in the music video department, however, by launching a new site Tuesday called MTV Music that opens up the company's massive video archive and puts it on the web for free.
MTV Music expands upon the music video offerings already posted to MTV.com by offering an entire back catalogue of videos that go all the way to when music videos were born. The library includes more than 16,000 videos, sprinkled with "exclusive" MTV concert footage and MTV "Unplugged" performances that used to be all the rage. And that's just the beginning. According to a blog post on MTV's Splash Page, more videos are being added by the day, so even if your favorite Paula Abdul selections haven't been posted yet, they probably will make it up eventually.
In addition to the consumer-facing side of MTV Music, the company has also launched an API that allows developers to build applications that make use of MTV Networks Content. The examples provided include creating a video gallery, a MySpace or Facebook app to send music video dedications to friends, the "music application of your dreams" made up of your favorite videos, or a blog plug-in to pull in various videos.
MTV Music may not seem like a big deal to some, but it's pretty major when you consider what's going on behind the scenes. YouTube originally stated in 2006 that its goal was to host "every single music video ever created"—an ambitious goal that the company hoped to accomplish within 6 to 18 months. That obviously hasn't happened, quite yet, and now MTV Music is way ahead of YouTube in the music video department. Ice burn.
Why hasn't YouTube caught up, even with a two-plus year head start? MTV is owned by Viacom, the company that filed a $1 billion lawsuit against YouTube for "brazen" copyright infringement in 2007 (the suit is still pending). Among other things, Viacom wanted to have full control over any of its content that gets posted—something that YouTube could not provide.
MTV Music is also differentiating itself from YouTube by being light on the ads. All 16,000+ videos lack any form of advertising except for banner ads at the top of the page, while Google is currently testing video ads on some of its videos in order to monetize the massive (and otherwise un-monetizable) amount of content on the site.
Like YouTube, MTV Music allows users to not only watch videos on the site, but to also leave comment, give ratings, and embed the videos on their blogs or personal websites. Here's a favorite of Ars Editor in Chief Ken Fisher... enjoy!
Google Settles Suit Over Book-Scanning
Google said Tuesday that it had agreed to pay $125 million to settle two copyright lawsuits brought by book authors and publishers over the company’s plan to digitize and show snippets of in-copyright books and to share digital copies with libraries without the explicit permission.
Under the settlement, which is subject to court approval, the money will be used to set up a book registry, resolve existing claims by authors and publishers and cover legal fees. Copyright holders will also be able to register their works and receive payment for book sales and use by individuals and for subscriptions by libraries. Revenue from those programs will be split between Google, the publishers and the authors.
If approved, the settlement could expand online access to millions of in-copyright books available at libraries participating in Google’s Book Search program
The settlement left unresolved the question of whether Google’s unauthorized scanning of copyrighted books was permissible under copyright law.
“We had a major disagreement with Google about copyright law, we still do and probably always will,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. Mr. Aiken said the parties were able to set aside those differences to reach a settlement that benefits everyone.
The settlement agreement resolves a class-action suit filed on Sept. 20, 2005, by the Authors Guild and certain authors, and a suit filed on Oct. 19, 2005, by five major publisher-members of the Association of American Publishers: the McGraw-Hill Companies, Pearson Education, Penguin Group, John Wiley & Sons and Simon & Schuster. It is subject to approval by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Christian Science Paper Ends Daily Print Edition
After a century of continuous publication, The Christian Science Monitor will abandon its weekday print edition and appear online only, its publisher announced Tuesday. The cost-cutting measure makes The Monitor the first national newspaper to largely give up on print.
The paper is currently published Monday through Friday, and will move to online only in April, although it will also introduce a weekend magazine. John Yemma, The Monitor’s editor, said that moving to a Web focus will mean it can keep its eight foreign bureaus open.
“We have the luxury — the opportunity — of making a leap that most newspapers will have to make in the next five years,” Mr. Yemma said.
The Monitor is an anomaly in journalism, a nonprofit financed by a church and delivered through the mail. But with seven Pulitzer Prizes and a reputation for thoughtful writing and strong international coverage, it long maintained an outsize influence in the publishing world, which declined as its circulation has slipped to 52,000, from a high of more than 220,000 in 1970.
In an industry that has been conducting layoffs, closing bureaus and shrinking the size of the product, The Monitor’s experiment will be closely tracked.
“Everybody’s talking about new models,” Mr. Yemma said. “This is a new model.”
Lou Ureneck, the chairman of the journalism department at Boston University, said that it was difficult to interpret what the move meant for other newspapers, because The Monitor was nonprofit and most newspapers were not. But across the industry, news organizations “are going to simply have to be smaller organizations,” Mr. Ureneck said.
Before The Monitor, a handful of small papers had shifted away from print. This year, The Capital Times in Madison, Wis., went online only, and The Daily Telegram in Superior, Wis., announced it would publish online except for two days a week.
Dropping the print edition seems to tempt newspaper executives. At a recent conference held by the City University of New York’s journalism school, a group of publishing executives discussed what a cost-efficient newsroom should look like. They eventually settled on casting aside paper and starting fresh on the Web.
Still, said Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst at Outsell Inc., most newspapers cannot give up paper. Print editions still bring in 92 percent of the overall revenue, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
“If that much revenue is tied up in the print product, if tomorrow these companies dropped those editions, they would have 90 percent less revenue,” Mr. Doctor said. While getting rid of costs like printing plants and delivery trucks would help a little, he said, it would not make up for the lost revenue.
Mr. Yemma said that print did bring in money at The Monitor, but most of that was from subscriptions, not advertising. Subscriptions account for about $9 million of The Monitor’s revenue, while print advertising makes up less than $1 million. Web revenue is about $1.3 million, he said. He is projecting that circulation revenue will drop, but he expects the magazine format will appeal to print advertisers. He is planning cuts, too. Mr. Yemma said he was planning some layoffs on both the 100-person editorial side and the 30-person business side. “I’m not sure the same number of people will be needed,” he said, but “there’s certainly nothing like a draconian cut coming.”
Under the new system, reporters will be expected to file stories to the Web and update them a few times a day, and write longer pieces for the weekend magazine.
Mr. Yemma said he hoped to establish CSMonitor.com as an essential place for international news. The site now gets about three million page views a month, according to comScore, and Mr. Yemma said he wanted to increase that to 20 million to 30 million a month in the next five years. Even if he can fill the site only with remnant, cheap ads, he said, if visits grow as he is projecting, “that’s a sustainable model.”
The magazine, which will have an international focus, is meant to satisfy readers who are attached to print, Mr. Yemma said, but he said he did not expect it to be hugely profitable.
“We certainly know newsmagazines are cratering,” Mr. Yemma said. “We’re under no illusions about it being a growth vehicle.”
The Monitor was conceived as an alternative to the yellow journalism of the early 20th century. It is financed by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston through contributions and an endowment. The church wanted its publishing division to contribute to the church, and it plans to reduce its subsidy to about $4 million, from about $12 million, within five years. Mr. Yemma said he was worried about how subscribers would react.
Longtime readers “love coffee and a newspaper. So do I,” Mr. Yemma said. “There’s nothing like it. But everyone, sooner or later, is going to have to make the transition, and that’s recognized.”
Condé Nast Cuts Focus on 2 Magazines
Condé Nast Publications will reduce the number of issues that it publishes of two magazines, Portfolio and Men’s Vogue, and will cut budgets across the company by 5 percent, company executives said Thursday as the belt-tightening in the industry reaches even the publisher of high-end products like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.
The business magazine Portfolio will be published 10 times a year, instead of 12, and Men’s Vogue will come out twice a year instead of 10 times, said the executives, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the changes, which have not been announced.
In addition, some of Portfolio’s online operations, including advertising sales, will be folded into those of Wired magazine.
Advertising revenue has sharply declined in the magazine industry this year. The luxury product advertising that Condé Nast relies on has held up better than most types, but even that has slipped and is expected to fall further.
Portfolio, started last year amid much fanfare, is Condé Nast’s first business magazine and its most expensive new project in years. Executives said the company was willing to lose more than $100 million on it. It had an average circulation of 415,000 in the first half of the year, a healthy figure for a new magazine, but it has been roiled by internal disputes and high turnover.
Much of the operation of Men’s Vogue, started in 2006, will be folded into Vogue, one of the company’s flagship magazines. Men’s Vogue has circulation of almost 370,000.
Condé Nast executives said spending had been under budget, with several positions unfilled, which would limit the impact of the 5 percent budget cut.
But the changes at Men’s Vogue and Portfolio will result in significant layoffs. Staff cuts at other magazines will mostly be achieved by attrition, though there will be some layoffs.
Time Inc. Plans About 600 Layoffs
Time Inc., the world’s largest magazine company, is set to announce a revamping that will result in job cuts of 6 percent — more than 600 positions — and a reorganization that could radically alter the culture at the venerable publishing house.
The company plans to reveal the overhaul in a memorandum Tuesday evening from Ann S. Moore, Time Inc.’s chairman and chief executive, and the layoffs will begin in about two weeks.
No magazines are scheduled to close, but some are likely to be severely cut back. Ms. Moore was already planning an overhaul because of the upheavals in print media, but she was forced to speed up those efforts amid the financial crisis and looming recession.
Time Inc.’s 24 magazines in the United States and their Web sites will be organized into three divisions: news, which will include Fortune, Money, Time and Sports Illustrated; lifestyle titles, which include Real Simple, Cottage Living, Coastal Living and Southern Living, among others; and style and entertainment, which includes People, InStyle and Entertainment Weekly, which has suffered a severe downturn and is likely to be whittled down under the new structure.
Heads of the news and entertainment units will continue to report to John Huey, the editor in chief of Time Inc. The lifestyle unit, which may be run by Bill Shapiro, who has been development editor, will report to the business side of the company. Martha Nelson, who is editor of the People Group, will head the entertainment division.
Ms. Moore declined to be interviewed, but in an article published in The Times of London a little more than two weeks ago she said, “I don’t know if there will be layoffs.”
The company, a division of Time Warner, the media conglomerate that includes CNN, Turner Broadcasting, HBO, AOL and the Warner Brothers movie studio, is facing the twin perils of a shifting media landscape from a severe economic downturn and a loss of readers and advertisers to the Web.
Time Warner is scheduled to report quarterly earnings on Nov. 5, and will announce how much savings it expects to wring from Time Inc. It may take a charge to its earnings to account for the revamping.
Within Time Warner, where Jeffrey L. Bewkes is nearing his one-year anniversary as chief executive, Time Inc., while profitable, has been a lag on growth. In a conference call with Wall Street analysts in August, Mr. Bewkes said both AOL and Time Inc. “are tracking behind our expectations this year.”
Executives said the reorganization was intended partly to allow Time Inc. to focus on its big brands — publications like Sports Illustrated, People, Time and Fortune — on platforms other than print. Examples executives cited were Sports Illustrated-branded kiosks that are popping up in airports and a music festival that was put on by Essence.
Power within Time Inc., which through many mergers over the decades became the modern Time Warner, has long been diffuse, with individual publishers and editors essentially running their own shows. That distinct culture is coming to an end.
Dawn Bridges, senior vice president for corporate communications at Time Inc., said that, in the future, “we’ll have a more centralized management structure that will group together titles that share similar audiences, advertisers and the talents and skills of their staffs.”
The changes will lead to more sharing of writers between magazines within each new division, examples which have already been seen, including a cover story in Time in late September that was written by Andy Serwer, Fortune’s managing editor, and Allan Sloan, a columnist at Fortune.
Even after previous cuts, the company still has 10,200 employees globally, with about 7,000 in the United States. (In addition to its well-known American publications, Time Inc. owns nearly 100 magazines abroad.)
None of this has been enough to fight off the changes roiling the media industry. When Time Warner last reported earnings — on Aug. 6, for the second quarter that ended June 30 — it reported a 6 percent, or $77 million, decline in revenue at Time Inc. to $1.2 billion. Operating income was $218 million, down 15 percent.
In a separate announcement Tuesday, Time Inc. sent a memorandum to employees saying that Edward R. McCarrick, a 35-year veteran, would retire at the end of the year as worldwide publisher for Time magazine.
David Carr contributed reporting.
Gannett to Cut 10% of Workers as Its Profit Slips
The Gannett Company, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, will lay off about 10 percent of its work force by early December, company executives said on Tuesday, a few days after Gannett disclosed another sharp drop in revenue and earnings.
The layoffs will not apply to the company’s flagship paper, USA Today, but to the company’s 84 other daily newspapers in the United States, and more than 800 small, nondaily local papers. The announcement does not include Gannett’s hundreds of small papers in Britain.
Gannett declined to say how many people would lose their jobs. The 10 percent figure translates to roughly 3,000 people, but Tara O’Connell, the corporate vice president in charge of communications, said the calculation was not as simple as laying off one-tenth of those people.
“It’s really a target amount of money each paper has to cut,” which the company will not discuss, and there are multiple ways of arriving at it, she said. Each paper has until mid-November to arrive at a plan, and until then, “we don’t know how it’s going to play out,” she said.
Even so, it appears to be the single largest example of the industry’s recent wave of downsizing.
In a memo to sent to employees on Tuesday, Robert J. Dickey, president of the company’s United States community publishing division, wrote that “while this is more bad news, it is a sign of Gannett’s determination to remain healthy and viable as a company during these turbulent economic times.”
On Friday, Gannett reported a 32.5 percent decline in third-quarter income from the previous year, to $158 million. More troubling was the 17.7 percent drop in newspaper advertising revenue, the company’s primary source of revenue.
Through the first three quarters of the year, advertising revenue is down 13.8 percent, and most of the industry has seen similar declines, or worse.
In announcing those results, Gannett executives said the company would re-evaluate its quarterly dividend.
Gannett, known for running a lean operation, is in markedly better financial shape than most newspaper companies and has not resorted to cuts as deep, proportionally, as those at some of its peers. But it has steadily pared its work force through layoffs and voluntary buyouts — more than 3,500 in 2007 and an undisclosed number this year.
Most of those reductions took place in small increments, until the layoffs of 1,000 newspaper employees last summer, so they drew little attention in a business where layoffs and buyouts have become commonplace.
Gannett publishes some major papers, like USA Today, The Arizona Republic and The Detroit Free Press, but most of its publications are small.
Mourning Old Media’s Decline
The news that Google settled two longstanding suits with book authors and publishers over its plans to digitize the world’s great libraries suggests that some level of détente could be reached between old media and new.
If true, it can’t come soon enough for the news business.
It’s been an especially rotten few days for people who type on deadline. On Tuesday, The Christian Science Monitor announced that, after a century, it would cease publishing a weekday paper. Time Inc., the Olympian home of Time magazine, Fortune, People and Sports Illustrated, announced that it was cutting 600 jobs and reorganizing its staff. And Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the country, compounded the grimness by announcing it was laying off 10 percent of its work force — up to 3,000 people.
Clearly, the sky is falling. The question now is how many people will be left to cover it.
It goes on. The day before, the Tribune Company had declared that it would reduce the newsroom of The Los Angeles Times by 75 more people, leaving it approximately half the size it was just seven years ago.
The Star-Ledger of Newark, the 15th-largest paper in the country, which was threatened with closing, will apparently survive, but only after it was announced that the editorial staff would be reduced by 40 percent.
And two weeks ago, TV Guide, one of the famous brand names in magazines, was sold for one dollar, less than the price of a single copy.
The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.
Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.
Historically, people took an interest in the daily paper about the time they bought a home. Now they are checking their BlackBerrys for alerts about mortgage rates.
“The auto industry and the print industry have essentially the same problem,” said Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody.” “The older customers like the older products and the new customers like the new ones.”
For readers, the drastic diminishment of print raises an obvious question: if more people are reading newspapers and magazines, why should we care whether they are printed on paper?
The answer is that paper is not just how news is delivered; it is how it is paid for.
More than 90 percent of the newspaper industry’s revenue still derives from the print product, a legacy technology that attracts fewer consumers and advertisers every single day. A single newspaper ad might cost many thousands of dollars while an online ad might only bring in $20 for each 1,000 customers who see it.
The difference between print dollars and digital dimes — or sometimes pennies — is being taken out of the newsrooms that supply both. And while it is indeed tough all over in this economy, consider the consequences.
New Jersey, a petri dish of corruption, will have to make do with 40 percent fewer reporters at The Star-Ledger, one of the few remaining cops on the beat. The Los Angeles Times, which toils under Hollywood’s nose, has one movie reviewer left on staff. And dozens of communities served by Gannett will have fewer reporters and editors overseeing the deeds and misdeeds of local government and businesses.
The authors and book publishers looking for royalties from the Google deal may be the lucky ones in the old media sweepstakes. Print publishers are madly cutting, in part because the fourth quarter, postfinancial crisis, is going to be a miserable one. Advertising from the car industry, retail business and financial services — for years, the three sturdy legs of a stool that print once rested comfortably on — are in steep decline.
So who can still afford to pay for the phone calls that reporters have to make? USA Today was made exempt from the current rounds of cuts at Gannett but even national papers, including The New York Times, have resorted to modest staff cuts over the last year. The blogosphere has had its share of news breaks, but absent a functioning mainstream media to annotate, it could be pretty darn quiet out there.
At the recent American Magazine Conference, one of the speakers worried that if the great brands of journalism — the trusted news sources readers have relied on — were to vanish, then the Web itself would quickly become a “cesspool” of useless information. That kind of hand-wringing is a staple of industry gatherings.
But in this case, it wasn’t an old journalism hack lamenting his industry. It was Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google.
Teen Reportedly Source of Jobs Heart-Attack Rumor
A fake Internet report that Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack was posted by a teenager, and investigators haven't found evidence he tried to profit from driving down the stock, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is examining the 18-year-old's motives after the article on CNN's iReport.com sent Apple shares down as much as 5.4 percent Oct. 3, according to the people, who declined to be identified because the probe isn't public. While the investigation is continuing, the agency hasn't unearthed any trading records that show he benefited from the drop, one of them said.
The so-called citizen-journalist article stoked investor concern that Jobs's health was in danger. The 53-year-old, who co-founded Apple in 1976, underwent surgery for a form of pancreatic cancer four years ago. The SEC is searching for traders who try to depress stocks by spreading false rumors amid a credit-crisis that has fueled the widest swings on a percentage basis in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index since 1932. The regulator opened a probe into the Apple report within hours.
John Heine, an SEC spokesman in Washington, and Apple spokesman Steve Dowling declined to comment.
CNN spokeswoman Jennifer Martin said the cable news channel wasn't aware of the age or identity of the person behind the iReport post. CNN doesn't plan to review its procedures for placing content on iReport, Martin said, declining to comment further.
Source 'Quite Reliable'
The bogus report cut Apple's market value by at least $4.8 billion in the first hour of Nasdaq Stock Market trading before a spokesman for the Cupertino, California-based maker of iPods and Macintosh computers said the report wasn't true. The shares recovered a bit, closing down 3 percent.
The article, posted under the name "Johntw," claimed Jobs was rushed to an emergency room after suffering a "major heart attack."
"I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath," the author wrote. "My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable."
Henry Blodget, the former Merrill Lynch & Co. Internet analyst who is now a blogger, drew attention to the iReport story by posting an item on his Silicon Alley Insider Web site.
CNN said earlier this month it was cooperating with the SEC's probe. The network describes iReport as a place for "unedited, unfiltered news" and said it "makes no guarantee about the content or coverage." The site was started in August 2006 as part of CNN.com and became a stand-alone Web site in February.
An SEC manipulation case would probably hinge on the writer's intentions, said Michael Missal, a former enforcement lawyer at the agency now in private practice at K&L Gates LLP in Washington.
"If the posting wasn't directly related to the purchase or sale of a security it's questionable the SEC would have jurisdiction," he said. "That's not to say some other agency of the U.S. government couldn't take action if it felt a law was violated."
Atlanta-based CNN, owned by Time Warner Inc., said after Apple's denial that it disabled the user's account and removed the "fraudulent content."
Last week, Jobs made his first public appearance since the bogus report. He disclosed his blood pressure and declined to take questions on his health.
Speculation about his physical condition has weighed on Apple stock this year, contributing to a 50 percent decline since December. At a company event in June, he appeared thinner, sparking speculation he was ill.
In July he told members of the company's board he is cancer-free and dealing with nutritional problems after his cancer surgery, which can lead to weight loss, the New York Times reported, citing people close to the chief executive.
Alarm Raised on Teenage Hackers
Increasing numbers of teenagers are starting to dabble in hi-tech crime, say experts.
Computer security professionals say many net forums are populated by teenagers swapping credit card numbers, phishing kits and hacking tips.
The poor technical skills of many young hackers means they are very likely to get caught and arrested, they say.
Youth workers added that any teenager getting a criminal record would be putting their future at risk.
"I see kids of 11 and 12 sharing credit card details and asking for hacks," said Chris Boyd, director of malware research at FaceTime Security.
Many teenagers got into low level crime by looking for exploits and cracks for their favourite computer games.
Communities and forums spring up where people start to swap malicious programs, knowledge and sometimes stolen data.
Some also look for exploits and virus code that can be run against the social networking sites popular with many young people. Some then try to peddle or use the details or accounts they net in this way.
Mr Boyd said he spent a lot of time tracking down the creators of many of the nuisance programs written to exploit users of social networking sites and the culprit was often a teenager.
From such virus and nuisance programs, he said, many progress to outright criminal practices such as using phishing kits to create and run their own scams.
"Some are quite crude, some are clever and some are stupid," he said.
The teenagers' attempts to make money from their life of cyber crime usually came unstuck because of their poor technical skills.
"They do not even know enough to get a simple phishing or attack tool right," said Kevin Hogan, a senior manager Symantec Security Response.
"We have seen phishing sites that have broken images because the link, rather than reference the original webpage, is referencing a file on the C: drive that is not there," he said.
Symantec researchers have collected many examples of teenagers who have managed to cripple their own PCs by infecting them with viruses they have written.
Many teenage hackers publicise their exploits on YouTube
"They are obsessed with making videos of what they are doing," he said.
Many post videos of what they have done to sites such as YouTube and sign on with the same alias used to hack a site, run a phishing attack or write a web exploit.
Many share photos or other details of their life on other sites making it easy for computer security experts to track them down and get them shut down.
Mr Boyd's action to shut down one wannabe hacker, using the name YoGangsta50, was so comprehensive that it wrung a pledge from the teenager in question to never to get involved in petty hi-tech crime again.
Mathew Bevan, a reformed hacker who was arrested as a teenager and then acquitted for his online exploits, said it was no surprise that young people were indulging in online crime.
"It's about the thrill and power to prove they are somebody," he said. That also explains why they stuck with an alias or online identity even though it was compromised, he added.
"The aim of what they are doing is to get the fame within their peer group," he said. "They spend months or years developing who they are and their status. They do not want to give that up freely."
Graham Robb, a board member of the Youth Justice Board, said teenagers needed to appreciate the risks they took by falling into hi-tech crime.
"If they get a criminal record it stays with them," he said. "A Criminal Record Bureau check will throw that up and it could prevent access to jobs."
Anyone arrested and charged for the most serious crimes would carry their criminal record with them throughout their life.
Also, he added, young people needed to appreciate the impact of actions carried out via the net and a computer.
"Are they going to be able to live with the fact that they caused harm to other people?" he said. "They do not think there is someone losing their money or their savings from what they are doing.
"For a kid, getting a criminal record is the worst possible move."
Hackers' mind-set: They've done nothing wrong
Psychiatrists: Hackers Are "Rattlesnakes Without the Rattles"
Albert Gonzalez appeared to be a reformed hacker. But the onetime government informant was a central character in what Justice Department officials claim was an international cybercrime syndicate that ripped off tens of millions of credit and debit card numbers from large U.S. retailers.
Irving Jose Escobar seemed nothing more than a tough Miami kid with a long rap sheet. Yet last year, he pleaded guilty to his role in a multimillion-dollar scam in Florida tied to Gonzalez's exploit.
What they shared, based on indictments in their separate cases, are key roles in the massive cyberheist at TJX, parent of retailers T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, and the credit card scams that resulted. First disclosed by TJX in January 2007, it is believed to be the largest such theft.
It is unclear whether Gonzalez and Escobar know each other. But each was involved in different scams tied to TJX, according to their respective indictments. The divergent sagas of the hacker Gonzalez and streetwise Escobar represent bookends of the vast digital crime. According to psychiatrists, hackers and computer-security experts, they represent the vanguard of cybercrooks: young, misguided males who rationalize that they've done nothing wrong.
Like Escobar and Gonzalez, many are adamant they are innocent. "These are rattlesnakes without the rattles," says Greg Saathoff, a psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia who is one of the world's foremost profilers of criminals. "The movie portrayal is they are evil geniuses who are absolutely controlling and calculated, but they can be impulsive and grandiose."
A 27-year-old Cuban American, Gonzalez had been arrested in 2003 on credit card fraud charges in New Jersey and agreed to cooperate with authorities to avoid jail time. According to the Secret Service, Gonzalez helped agents infiltrate Shadowcrew, an online ring of credit card thieves.
But that didn't stop him from later heading a ring that stole more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers from TJX and eight other major U.S. retailers, according to a federal indictment. He faces life in prison if convicted on charges of computer fraud, wire fraud, access-device fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy, a Justice spokeswoman says. Gonzalez pleaded not guilty at a Sept. 11 arraignment in a Boston federal court.
Through his digital crime spree, according to the indictment, Gonzalez amassed more than $1.65 million including about $22,500 in cash a condo in Miami, a BMW 330i and a stash of high-tech equipment, including laptops and a cellphone.
Some of the stolen TJX data were magnetically encoded on bogus credit cards and eventually made their way to Escobar, convicted last year on charges of credit card fraud. Escobar led a group of six street-level "mules" in Florida that included his wife and mother, according to a criminal complaint by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They took the plastic to Wal-Mart stores in Florida to buy gift cards that could be used like cash. They then used the gift cards to purchase more than $1 million worth of PCs, big-screen TVs, jewelry and other expensive items, state officials said.
Escobar, 20, has steadfastly professed his innocence. In a letter to USA TODAY in July, he said he was eager to offer a rare, first-person account into his experience. He is serving five years in a Florida prison. "There are to (sic) many errors going in my case, things that the secret service agents didn't bring out to the light," Escobar wrote. "The only person that knows all the truth is me, and I'm willing to let it out to the light so society could realize how corrupt it (sic) this world we're living in."
But shortly before a scheduled prison interview at the Brevard Correctional Institution in Cocoa, Fla., Escobar abruptly declined.
Profile of cybercriminals
Many cybercrooks are young men in the U.S. and Eastern Europe who think they're doing the system a favor by exposing flaws and have no qualms about opportunities to exploit rich Westerners, according to police, researchers and hackers.
Their motivation is "money, money, money," says Dan Kaminsky, director of penetration testing for security firm IOActive, who in July discovered a huge vulnerability in the Internet's design that lets cybercrooks silently redirect traffic to websites under their control.
Most hackers do not see themselves as criminals, says David Perry,who as global director of education at computer-security giant Trend Microhas interviewed cybercrooks for more than a decade. "They simply believe they are showing vulnerabilities in the system."
The TJX cell's loose confederation of individuals each contributed a unique felonious skill from different parts of the world is a blueprint for organized crime in the digital age, says Mark Rasch, a former Justice Department cybercrime prosecutor.
Federal prosecutors portray the 6-foot, 190-pound Gonzalez as the chief organizer in the TJX case, a charge his attorney, Rene Palomino, disputes.
Gonzalez is a self-taught computer consultant who first met several of the other defendants online, says Palomino, who says the charges against his client have stunned Gonzalez's parents in Miami.
"This is a hardworking, churchgoing family," he says. "There is a lot of so-called evidence from people trying to wash off their bad acts. When the truth surfaces, it will surprise a lot of people, including the government."
The Justice Department alleges that in 2003, Gonzalez began hacking the computer networks of TJX, BJ's Wholesale Club, OfficeMax, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21, DSW and Dave & Buster's.
Millions of stolen credit and debit card numbers were allegedly stored on computer servers in the United States, Latvia and Ukraine. The stolen data were sold, via the Internet, to other criminals in the U.S. and Eastern Europe, the indictment says.
Escobar's criminal endeavor was a family affair.
His wife, Zenia Llorente, 25, got probation for fraud for her part in the scam. His mother, Nair Zuleima Alvarez, 42, was given a jail sentence for fraud and later deported to her native Venezuela last year, says John Wethington, assistant prosecutor for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.
The 5-foot-10, 211-pound Escobar, who was sentenced to five years in prison and faces deportation to Venezuela upon his scheduled release in 2012,has maintained he is a victim of a corrupt system.
Florida court records show Escobar had several scrapes with the law in Miami-Dade County before he was busted for his role in TJX. From 2003 to 2007, Escobar was charged at least eight times, the charges ranging from "home-invasion robbery" to illegal use of a credit card. Those charges were dropped or abandoned. He was arrested and charged with cocaine possession and placed in a drug-diversion program in 2007.
"To this day, he thinks he is the only victim," says Amy Osteryoung, the former Florida assistant prosecutor in charge of Escobar's case.
"The thousands and thousands of people who had their personal information stolen were just collateral damage to him."
Hacker is 'Too Sick' to Survive US Extradition
The Home Secretary has backed the extradition of a UFO-obsessed computer hacker, despite hearing expert argument that it would be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Lawyers for 42-year-old Gary McKinnon from north London, who was arrested for hacking into US military computer systems to look for evidence of aliens, said his recent diagnosis with Asperger's syndrome would have profound implications for his mental health if he were put in a high-security US prison.
One of the world's leading experts on autism, Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University, was commissioned, along with other experts, to assess McKinnon. The evidence was presented to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, last month as McKinnon's legal team sought a judicial review of a House of Lords ruling approving McKinnon's extradition. But Smith has now rejected the assessment.
'We're upset and disappointed with the Home Secretary's decision, as she has clearly not given proper consideration to Gary being diagnosed with Asperger's,' said his mother, Janis.
According to a fresh legal challenge by McKinnon's team: 'There remains a real risk of the claimant being detained pre-trial and thereafter being imprisoned at a high-security institution, despite suffering from Asperger's syndrome, which would violate the prohibition on inhuman treatment protected by Article 3 of the Convention.'
School Breach Left Personnel Files Exposed
A Shenendehowa student who alerted his principal that he could steal private employee information now is facing felony charges.
The 15-year-old sophomore allegedly breached the district's system while in computer simulation class and gained access to 250 names of past and present Shen transportation employees. He used his student password to view their Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and more, Shenendehowa officials said.
Then he allegedly sent an e-mail at 1 p.m. Tuesday to High School Principal Donald Flynt, saying he had the database.
Flynt contacted police, who arrested the young man Thursday and charged him with computer trespass, unlawful possession of personal identification information and identity theft, all felonies. He will appear before Saratoga County Family Court at a later date, State Police said Friday.
The incident occurred as the district upgraded its computer system with the help of outside vendors and others, Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said.
Officials said anyone with a district password — thousands of people including students, faculty and other employees — could have gotten access to the faulty file. But, Robinson said, getting to it would have required exploration and some computer savvy.
"His genius was used in the wrong way," Robinson said.
The transportation employee file was the only one compromised, according to the district. It remained open for "a week or two" and was fixed this week, school spokeswoman Kelly DeFeciani said.
Robinson refused to place blame for the blunder.
"It's more what keystroke was missed, not who missed the keystroke," Robinson said. "One slipped through the cracks."
It left the school trying to calm hundreds of jittery employees who allegedly had their identities and private information exposed. The district held a meeting Wednesday with all of its bus drivers and transportation workers to detail what happened and to provide information on how to protect their identity and credit information, she said. It also is sending similar information in letters to anyone put at risk.
The Civil Service Employee Union, which represents transportation employees in the district, said it was concerned.
"I think it's fair to say that protection of employees' personal information will be a topic at an upcoming labor-management meeting," said Therese Assalian, spokeswoman for the union's local chapter.
The student charged has a history of computer mischief but likely was not interested in stealing personal information, DeFeciani said, citing what investigators told her.
"It was more like 'Look at what I can do,'" she said.
Investigators originally believed two students were involved in the alleged intrusion, but police determined the student arrested used two passwords, State Trooper Maureen Tuffey said.
The student has been suspended for five days and could face further punishment pending a superintendent hearing. His juvenile status likely would prevent him from serving time in jail if convicted, Tuffey said.
Hackers Publish Attack Code for Last Week's Windows Bug
Microsoft warns users in new advisory, but says attacks still 'limited'
Just a day after downplaying the vulnerability that caused it to issue an out-of-cycle patch last week, Microsoft Corp. late yesterday warned customers that exploit code had gone public and is being used in additional attacks.
"We've identified the public availability of exploit code that now shows code execution for the vulnerability addressed by MS08-067," said Mike Reavey, operations manager of Microsoft's Security Response Center, in a post to the MSRC blog Monday evening. "This exploit code has been shown to result in remote code execution on Windows Server 2003, Windows XP, and Windows 2000."
Microsoft also posted a security advisory to its Web site that outlined the new threat.
On Tuesday, a company spokesman declined to specify where Microsoft had found the attack code, saying only that the new warning came after Microsoft became "aware of detailed, reliable, public exploit code." He also confirmed that the warning stemmed from code published to the Web, not the appearance of an exploit module in a proprietary penetration testing application.
Just the day before, another Microsoft employee had downplayed the threat posed by the bug in the Windows Server service that Microsoft patched last week -- outside its regularly once-a-month schedule. "We are aware that people are working to develop reliable public exploit code for the vulnerability," acknowledged Christopher Budd, a spokesman for the MSRC, in an entry he wrote Sunday. "We are aware of discussion about code posted on a public site, but our analysis has shown that code always results in a denial of service.
"So far, we've not seen evidence of public, reliable exploit code showing code execution," Budd concluded then.
Previously, Microsoft said that it discovered the vulnerability after a small number of attacks had resulted in infections by an information-stealing Trojan, which it dubbed "Win32/MS08067.gen!A" and third-party anti-virus vendors tagged with their own names. Symantec Corp., for example, called it "Trojan.Gimmiv."
It was unclear whether the just-published exploit code that Microsoft referenced Monday was in fact the same exploit used in those earlier attacks.
Yesterday, Reavey repeated earlier Microsoft assertions that attacks remained scattered. "Attacks are still limited and targeted, even with the release of this new exploit code," he said. "The malware situation remains the same, as we've not seen any self-replicating worms, but instead malware that would be classified as Trojans, specifically the malware we discussed when we released the security update on Thursday."
Users who have deployed the patch presented by MS08-067 last week are safe from attack by the published exploit, Reavey added.
The security bulletin that spells out the vulnerability is available on Microsoft's site, and the patch can be downloaded manually or retrieved using the company's Windows Update service.
Antiviral ‘Scareware’ Just One More Intruder
How much money can criminals make scaring naïve computer users? Try $5 million a year.
That is how much a marketing associate of one Russian operation appears to be earning from its sales of fake antivirus software through an elaborate scheme that relies on e-mail spam and indirectly controlling thousands of unprotected PCs, according to internal company files posted online by a Russian hacker.
The company is Bakasoftware, a clandestine effort based somewhere in Russia that markets what it claims is an antivirus program strictly to English-speaking computer users.
The program, whose name has recently been updated from Antivirus XP 2008 to Antivirus XP 2009, lodges itself on a victim’s computer and then begins generating a series of pop-up messages warning that the user’s computer is infected. If the user responds to the warnings, he is urged to buy a $49.95 program for disinfecting the machine.
Although tens of millions of Windows PC users have seen these irritating programs that purport to warn against malware infections, there are few details about the operators who develop and distribute the software, known as scareware.
Financial details of the operation came to light recently after information posted by a computer hacker identifying himself as NeoN was discovered on a Russian electronic bulletin board by an American computer security researcher.
The researcher, Joe Stewart, who is director of malware research at SecureWorks of Atlanta, has tried to understand the nature of the fake antivirus software and the way it is sold through a second tier of “bot-herders,” people who redistribute the program through illegal “botnets” or networks of Internet-connected PCs.
The scheme was partially revealed, Mr. Stewart said, after NeoN broke into one of the computers used by Bakasoftware for accounting. Mr. Stewart believes the hacker posted the results of just one week’s operations.
Mr. Stewart also discovered that when the Bakasoftware program starts, it checks the language of the computer user based on information contained in the Windows operating system. If it finds the personal computer of a Russian language speaker, the program terminates.
Bakasoftware, which may be based in Moscow according to Internet domain name records, did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.
This type of online scheme had recently become the target of a concerted law enforcement effort by the Washington State attorney general’s office with the assistance of Microsoft’s computer security investigators. Last month the attorney general, Rob McKenna, said that his office was using recently passed state legislation aimed at companies that use scareware tactics to file seven lawsuits seeking to halt the practice.
The attorney general’s office has received complaints about the Antivirus XP program, a spokeswoman said, but she declined to provide information on its investigations.
“The big problem with scareware is that you have voluntarily provided personal information to a Web site that you would not ordinarily want to have your name, address, credit card and date of birth,” Richard Boscovich, a Microsoft lawyer who leads a group of security investigators at the company, said.
Mr. Stewart said he found that Bakasoftware’s program has some limited antivirus capabilities, but that it was “a far cry from what a real antivirus program does.”
NeoN posted a detailed exposé of Bakasoftware’s sales scheme, which relies on a network of affiliates, on Sept. 22. Mr. Stewart describes the affiliate program as a sophisticated, automated and highly profitable system intended to efficiently infect millions of computers. Once an affiliate is invited to participate it is given access to a control panel allowing it to distribute different types of mechanisms for infecting Internet-connected computers.
“Affiliates can earn anywhere from 58 to 90 percent commission on sales of the software, depending on the volume of sales,” Mr. Stewart writes. The extraordinarily high commission explains why the rogue anti-malware products are so popular among hackers and spammers.
NeoN published a list of the ten top earners during a one-week period, with revenue ranging from $58,000 to $158,000.
Mr. Stewart estimated that one affiliate alone was able to install 154,825 versions of the software in just 10 days and that 2,772 copies of the program were later purchased from those infected users. Based on that conversion rate, Mr. Stewart estimated that an affiliate could expect to earn over $5 million annually by maintaining a botnet large enough to force between 10,000 and 20,000 installations on a daily basis.
It appears that the operation involves credit card fraud and money laundering, Mr. Stewart said. One of the affiliates sold software to 75 percent of the computers contacted. A sales rate of 1 percent or 2 percent is more typical of the affiliates, he said, a sign that stolen credit cards were being used.
Despite recent success in convicting some scareware distributors, computer security industry executives are skeptical about ending online fraud.
“Once the consumer is made aware of the threat and they’re educated, most consumers will take the right course of conduct,” said Mr. Boscovich. “The problem is the scams are always changing. The minute they’re educated about scareware something new will come up.”
Stealing Data With Obfuscated Code
A recent report by web security firm Finjan shows how easily data can be accessed on PCs by malware which circumvents existing defenses. With the use of obfuscated code, antivirus software and static Web filters could not identify the scrambled attack code as a threat. The report walks through a real-life scenario of the infection process step-by-step, and tracks what happens to the stolen data. This demonstrates how stealing sensitive data has become unbearably easy — especially, given the abundance of easy-to-use DIY crimeware toolkits. Finjan's report is available here (PDF, registration required). Shortly after this report, Security firm RSA has released their findings of a huge amount of stolen "virtual wallets" in one of the largest discoveries of stolen data from computers compromised by the Sinowal trojan. While the trojan can be traced back to 2006, it managed to become more productive over time with frequent variants. Given the scale, ease of use, and hiding techniques making infections extremely difficult to find, no wonder today's crimeware achieves such "impressive' results."
Use Your Phone as a Fob
When I recently built the current incarnation of my blogging software, I decided against passwords. Passwords are quite ugly things. One of the things that irritates me most is people doing "password protection" on files. Access control lists is much more secure because you can revoke someone's access to a resource without having to spread a new password to other users. So, no passwords.
I've solved this by using OpenID. I can login with any of my fifteen or so OpenIDs to post to my blog. But what about having a two-factor authentication instead? Why not use that gadget I carry around with me called a phone? People carry around these silly-looking RSA SecurID things. But I carry around a phone with me. Why not just generate a hash key on that?
To solve this, I wrote a J2ME midlet called CellFob that generates a new token using SHA-1 every one hundred seconds based on a pre-loaded seed key. I had put this together a while back, but for some reason my old Motorola V3 RAZR just borked on the damn thing, despite it working with the emulators. Then I changed my phone to a Sony-Ericsson W810i, so decided to reload the JAR file. It works great. There's something really cool and magic when one loads one's first J2ME app on to your phone. It makes the whole platform feel so much more open, just like a terminal window does compared to a DOS prompt on modern computers or a BASIC interpreter on old computers like the BBC Micro. Ah, nostalgia.
Anyway, I have implemented it on my blog's management utility. Just took the hashing procedure from my Java client and rewrote it in PHP. Amazingly, it works! This is being used for me as a backup when OpenID fails. Which it does occasionally. Some portable devices don't seem to support some of the major OpenID servers very well.
The whole thing isn't terribly high security, alas. The problems that exist are mainly focused on ensuring that the client and the server are running with times relatively close to one another. When I was first testing it on my laptop, my phone was a few minutes behind my laptop and it wouldn't work. More seriously, there are probable timezone issues. In order to get it to work reliably, one would have to make sure that the client and server are both hashing the same timezones. If one were to try and turn this into a product, setting it to use what it believes to be GMT would solve that problem. Similarly, what with rainbow tables and so on, one should remain cautious about the security of SHA-1. Hashing algorithms are a trade-off between all sorts of difficult factors. I read my Bruce Schneier fanatically, but I'm still not sure that widespread promotion of using SHA-1 tokens is the best way forward. Plus it needs to be easy for the user to revoke 'fob' identification - in case their phone is compromised.
Bug me in real life and I'll show you. I may even record a video of it if you guys want it. And if there's no glaring security problems, I'll release the (alpha-grade) J2ME code. Open source developers should be ripping things like SecurID to shreds and replacing them with a simple two-factor authentication scheme that could be applied by individuals rather than large corporations.
Keys Can be Copied From Afar, Jacobs School Computer Scientists Show
UC San Diego computer scientists have built a software program that can perform key duplication without having the key. Instead, the computer scientists only need a photograph of the key.
“We built our key duplication software system to show people that their keys are not inherently secret,” said Stefan Savage, the computer science professor from UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering who led the student-run project. “Perhaps this was once a reasonable assumption, but advances in digital imaging and optics have made it easy to duplicate someone’s keys from a distance without them even noticing.”
Professor Savage presents this work on October 30 at ACM’s Conference on Communications and Computer Security (CCS) 2008, one of the premier academic computer security conferences.
The bumps and valleys on your house or office keys represent a numeric code that completely describes how to open your particular lock. If a key doesn’t encode this precise “bitting code,” then it won’t open your door.
In one demonstration of the new software system, the computer scientists took pictures of common residential house keys with a cell phone camera, fed the image into their software which then produced the information needed to create identical copies. In another example, they used a five inch telephoto lens to capture images from the roof of a campus building and duplicate keys sitting on a café table about 200 feet away.
“This idea should come as little surprise to locksmiths or lock vendors,” said Savage. “There are experts who have been able to copy keys by hand from high-resolution photographs for some time. However, we argue that the threat has turned a corner—cheap image sensors have made digital cameras pervasive and basic computer vision techniques can automatically extract a key’s information without requiring any expertise.”
Professor Savage notes, however, that the idea that one’s keys are sensitive visual information is not widely appreciated in the general public.
“If you go onto a photo-sharing site such as Flickr, you will find many photos of people’s keys that can be used to easily make duplicates. While people generally blur out the numbers on their credit cards and driver's licenses before putting those photos on-line, they don’t realize that they should take the same precautions with their keys,” said Savage.
As for what to do about the key duplication threat, Savage says that companies are actively developing and marketing new locking systems that encode electromagnetic secrets as well as a physical code. “Many car keys, for example, have RFID immobilizer chips that prevent duplicated keys from turning the car on,” he says. In the meantime, he suggests that you treat your keys like you treat your credit card and “keep it in your pocket unless you need to use it.”
How it works
The keys used in the most common residential locks in the United States have a series of 5 or 6 cuts, spaced out at regular intervals. The computer scientists created a program in MatLab that can process photos of keys from nearly any angle and measure the depth of each cut. String together the depth of each cut and you have a key’s bitting code, which together with basic information on the brand and type of key you have, is what you need to make a duplicate key.
The chief challenge for the software system, called “Sneakey,” is to adjust for a wide range of different angles and distances between the camera and the key being captured. To do so, the researchers relied on a classic computer vision technique for normalizing an object’s orientation and size in three dimensions by matching control points from a reference image to equivalent points in the target image.
“The program is simple. You have to click on the photo to tell it where the top of the key is, and a few other control points. From here, it normalizes the key’s size and position. Since each pixel then corresponds to a set distance, it can accurately guess the height of each of the key cuts,” explained Benjamin Laxton, the first author on the paper who recently earned his Master’s degree in computer science from UC San Diego.
The researchers have not released their code to the public, but they acknowledge that it would not be terribly difficult for someone with basic knowledge of MatLab and computer vision techniques to build a similar system.
“Technology trends in computer vision are at a point where we need to consider new risks for physical security systems,” said Kai Wang, a UC San Diego computer science graduate student and author on the new paper. Wang is a computer vision researcher working on the creating systems capable of reading text on product packaging. This is part of a larger project on creating a computerized personal shopping assistant for the visually impaired from the lab of computer science professor Serge Belongie.
As a computer security expert, Savage said he particularly enjoyed working on a project with computer vision students.
“UC San Diego is very supportive of interdisciplinary work. There are many opportunities for students and faculty to get their hands dirty in fields they may not know much about a lot at first,” said Savage.
Coverage of Election Now Lacks Suspense
News shows should probably come with a spoiler alert: the following program contains images and language that seem to jump to a foregone conclusion.
Cable news and network anchors are not saying point-blank that the election is over. Instead they are saying, “We’re not saying it’s over ...” with a “but” that speaks volumes. One week away from the election news anchors and commentators have the taut, self-conscious demeanor they don on election nights when the exit polls are in, but when they are duty-bound not to declare a winner.
Sometimes, however, they can’t quite stifle the blue-stained maps in their minds.
On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Chuck Todd, NBC’s political director, said there was something “Shakespearean” about the way Mr. McCain appears to be losing Hispanic voters in the West — despite having challenged his party on the issue of immigration reform. “You know, the S in John S. McCain is going to stand for Shakespeare, I think, when this campaign is over,” Mr. Todd said.
It’s not over, but terms like “highly favored,” “touchdown favorite,” “comfortable lead” and even “a near-insurmountable lead” are bouncing all over television these days. They fill many viewers, regardless of their party affiliation, with opposite but parallel forms of dread: inevitability, or the illusion of it, breeds complacency on one side, and defeatism on the other.
Gratifying as it may be, it’s not really fair to blame the news media: there is a flood of predictive data available, and reporters cannot realistically dam it up. (If anything, they are to be commended for not trying to boost ratings by artificially prolonging suspense.)
For viewers who feel unnerved by so much suppressed certainty, it’s an opportune time to check out the Fox News Channel. The election coverage there is not so much fair and balanced as it is a useful counterbalance.
On Monday talk turned to Ohio, where Senator Barack Obama has a five-point lead in some polls. “Yet at the same time, the polls in the last midterm election in 2006 — they were sort of all over the place,” the Fox anchor Jon Scott told a reporter from The Columbus Dispatch, with a glint of hope in his voice. “We could be looking at poll numbers here that aren’t exactly what everybody seems to think they are.”
While CNN and MSNBC wallow in maps, charts and delegate counts, Fox is focused on the latest flare-ups that could still put a dent in Mr. Obama’s lead. On Monday Fox bore down on a radio interview Mr. Obama gave in 2001 in which he lamented that the civil rights movement had focused on the courts and did not do enough to further “redistributive change,” or as Mr. Scott put it, “the redistributive wealth thing.”
Byron York, a writer at National Review, told the Fox anchor Megyn Kelly that in the interview Mr. Obama had used “old lefty terms like economic justice” to justify progressive taxation. Mr. York noted that any government relies on some form of wealth redistribution, and that Mr. Obama’s remarks merely suggested that he wanted to take it further.
Ms. Kelly noted that the interview mostly “reaffirmed” what Mr. Obama told Joe the Plumber.
Viewers may not agree with Joe the Plumber, or even understand exactly who he is, but the lavish attention paid to him — and Mr. Obama’s use of the words “spread the wealth” to explain his tax plan — is a reliable indicator of where Fox senses vulnerability.
Fox is not exactly optimistic about Senator McCain’s chances, however. Karl Rove, the Republican strategist and former adviser to President Bush who is now a Fox contributor, deplored the infighting within the McCain campaign about strategy and Sarah Palin as a bad omen.
“This is, again, as you say, not the kind of thing you like to have happening in your campaign,” Mr. Rove told Chris Wallace of Fox on Sunday. “And it’s generally a sign that people are throwing in the towel and thinking that they’re going to lose.”
Even on Fox, there are some signs of discord about the McCain campaign’s tactics, most notably during a lively exchange on Saturday between two Fox stars, Geraldo Rivera and Sean Hannity, over Mr. Obama’s ties to the former ’60s radical William Ayers, whom Mr. Hannity describes as a “domestic terrorist.”
Mr. Rivera told Mr. Hannity that he was doing the McCain campaign a “disservice” by harping on Mr. Ayers at the expense of economic issues, calling the focus “an unsavory fixation.” Mr. Hannity disagreed, so Mr. Rivera took it further.
“I used to be friends with Yasir Arafat,” Mr. Rivera said. “Does that make me a terrorist?”
They parted amicably and, most important, they didn’t call the election.
Arriving Soon: Atheist Bus Campaign Gets Off to a Flying Start
The UK's first atheist advertising campaign has beaten its funding target in less than 24 hours, raising nearly nine times the amount needed to have its posters on bendy buses. Organisers of the campaign, which was launched yesterday, were seeking £5,500 to run adverts in London saying There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" on 30 buses for four weeks. By last night, individuals and organisations had pledged more than £47,900.
Writer Ariane Sherine suggested the idea in a Guardian Comment is Free blog last June, saying an atheist bus campaign would provide a reassuring counter-message to religious slogans threatening non-Christians with hell and damnation.
She said: "Ours is a fun and light-hearted message but it does have a serious point to it: that atheists want a secular country, we want a secular school and a secular government. The strength of feeling has been shown with so many people willing to pay for this campaign."
Sherine said she was surprised by the level of support but was pleased with the extra money, which would finance a more ambitious campaign.
"We could go national, we could have tube posters, different slogans, more buses, advertising inside buses. The sky's the limit - except, of course, there's nothing up there."
Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, will donate a further £5,500. His contribution is not included in the sum featured on the Just Giving website, nor is the Gift Aid supplement, which will add at least £6,000 to the total. The British Humanist Association has agreed to administer all donations.
Churches have responded favourably. The British Methodist church welcomed Dawkins's "continued interest" in God, encouraging people to think about the issue. The Church of England said it would defend the right of any group representing a religious or philosophical position to promote that view through appropriate channels.
A spokesman added: "Christian belief is not about worrying or not enjoying life. Quite the opposite: our faith liberates us to put this life into a proper perspective.
"Seven in 10 people in this country describe themselves as Christian and know the joy that faith can bring."
The atheist buses will run from January in Westminster.
Finnish E-Voting Fiasco: Votes Lost
Kirjoittaja: Antti Vaha-Sipila, Lokakuu
A fully electronic voting system was piloted in the Finnish municipal elections on the 26th of October, 2008.
Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI) had criticised the pilot program for years, recently releasing a report on its deficiencies.
Today, the Ministry of Justice revealed that due to a usability issue, voting was prematurely aborted for 232 voters. The pilot system was in use in three municipalities; this amounts to about 2 per cent of the electoral roll. Seats in the municipal assemblies are often determined by margins of only a couple of votes.
It seems that the system required the voter to insert a smart card to identify the voter, type in their selected candidate number, then press "ok", check the candidate details on the screen, and then press "ok" again. Some voters did not press "ok" for the second time, but instead removed their smart card from the voting terminal prematurely, causing their ballots not to be cast.
This usability issue was exacerbated by Ministry of Justice instructions, which specifically said that in order to cancel the voting process, the user should click on "cancel" and after that, remove the smart card. Thus, some voters did not realise that their vote had not been registered.
[Added 29th Oct:] There has now been at least one report of touchscreen issues. A voter had repeatedly tried to click on "ok", but either due to system lag or touchscreen sensitivity problems, it took "minutes" to get the button press registered. If hit by this type of problem, the voters may well have thought that the ballot casting process had completed.
EFFI argues that the election should be re-run in the affected municipalities, and has issued a press release (in Finnish) arguing for the legal basis of a re-election. According to Finnish election law, this would require a decision from the Administrative Court.
A Flash demo of the e-voting user interface is available on the Ministry of Justice elections portal.
'Digital Dark Age' May Doom Some Data
Jerome P. McDonough says an unintended consequence of our rapidly digitizing world is the potential of a “digital dark age.”
What stands a better chance of surviving 50 years from now, a framed photograph or a 10-megabyte digital photo file on your computer’s hard drive?
The framed photograph will inevitably fade and yellow over time, but the digital photo file may be unreadable to future computers – an unintended consequence of our rapidly digitizing world that may ultimately lead to a “digital dark age,” says Jerome P. McDonough, assistant professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
According to McDonough, the issue of a looming digital dark age originates from the mass of data spawned by our ever-growing information economy – at last count, 369 exabytes worth of data, including electronic records, tax files, e-mail, music and photos, for starters. (An exabyte is 1 quintillion bytes; a quintillion is the number 1 followed by 18 zeroes.)
The concern for archivists and information scientists like McDonough is that, with ever-shifting platforms and file formats, much of the data we produce today could eventually fall into a black hole of inaccessibility.
“If we can’t keep today’s information alive for future generations,” McDonough said, “we will lose a lot of our culture.”
Contrary to popular belief, electronic data has proven to be much more ephemeral than books, journals or pieces of plastic art. After all, when was the last time you opened a WordPerfect file or tried to read an 8-inch floppy disk?
“Even over the course of 10 years, you can have a rapid enough evolution in the ways people store digital information and the programs they use to access it that file formats can fall out of date,” McDonough said.
Magnetic tape, which stores most of the world's computer backups, can degrade within a decade. According to the National Archives Web site by the mid-1970s, only two machines could read the data from the 1960 U.S. Census: One was in Japan, the other in the Smithsonian Institution. Some of the data collected from NASA’s 1976 Viking landing on Mars is unreadable and lost forever.
From a cultural perspective, McDonough said there’s a “huge amount” of content that’s only being developed or is available in a digital-only format.
“E-mail is a classic example of that,” he said. “It runs both the modern business world and government. If that information is lost, you’ve lost the archive of what has actually happened in the modern world. We’ve seen a couple of examples of this so far.”
McDonough cited the missing White House e-mail archive from the run-up to the Iraq War, a violation of the Presidential Records Act.
“With the current state of the technology, data is vulnerable to both accidental and deliberate erasure,” he said. “What we would like to see is an environment where we can make sure that data does not die due to accidents, malicious intent or even benign neglect.”
McDonough also cited Barack Obama’s political advertising inside the latest editions of the popular videogames “Burnout Paradise” and “NBA Live” as an example of something that ought to be preserved for future generations but could possibly be lost because of the proprietary nature of videogames and videogame platforms.
“It’s not a matter of just preserving the game itself. There are whole parts of popular and political culture that we won’t be able to preserve if we can’t preserve what’s going on inside the gaming world.”
McDonough believes there would also be an economic effect to the loss of data from a digital dark age.
“We would essentially be burning money because we would lose the huge economic investment libraries and archives have made digitizing materials to make them accessible,” he said. “Governments are likewise investing huge sums to make documents available to the public in electronic form.”
To avoid a digital dark age, McDonough says that we need to figure out the best way to keep valuable data alive and accessible by using a multi-prong approach of migrating data to new formats, devising methods of getting old software to work on existing platforms, using open-source file formats and software, and creating data that’s “media-independent.”
“Reliance on open standards is certainly a huge part, but it’s not the only part,” he said. “If we want information to survive, we really need to avoid formats that depend on a particular media type. Commercial DVDs that employ protection schemes make it impossible for libraries to legally transfer the content to new media. When the old media dies, the information dies with it.”
Enthusiasm for switching from proprietary software such as Microsoft’s Office suite to open-source software such as OpenOffice has only recently begun to gather momentum outside of information technology circles.
“Software companies have seen the benefits of locking people into a platform and have been very resistant to change,” McDonough said. “Now we are actually starting to see some market mandates in the open direction.”
McDonough cites Brazil, the Netherlands and Norway as examples of countries that have mandated the use of non-proprietary file formats for government business.
“There has been quite a movement, particularly among governments, to say: ‘We’re not going to buy software that uses proprietary file formats exclusively. You’re going to have to provide an open format so we can escape from the platform,’ ” he said. “With that market demand, you really did see some more pressure on vendors to move to something open.”
Harvard-Google Online Book Deal at Risk
Laura G. Mirviss
Harvard University Library will not take part in Google’s book scanning project for in-copyright works after finding the terms of its landmark $125 million settlement regarding copyrighted materials unsatisfactory, University officials said yesterday.
Harvard had been one of five academic libraries—along with Stanford, Oxford, Michigan, and the New York Public Library—to partner with Google when the book scanning initiative was announced in October 2004. University officials said that Harvard would continue its policy of only allowing Google to scan books whose copyrights have expired.
Google’s initiative has drawn fire because the Internet search company plans to digitize books that are still in copyright. The Association of American Publishers, the trade group that brought the lawsuit and that represents more than 300 publishing houses, has alleged that Google’s initiative amounted to copyright infringement on a massive scale.
In the settlement announced on Tuesday, which must still be approved by a New York district court, Google agreed to pay $125 million to authors and publishers, paving the way for a massive expansion of books available for purchase online. Universities and libraries will also be able to buy subscriptions to gain access to the scanned books.
University spokesman John D. Longbrake said that HUL’s participation in the scanning of copyright materials was contingent on the outcome of the settlement between Google and the publishers.
Harvard might still take part in the project, Longbrake said, if the settlement between Google and publishers contains more “reasonable terms” for the University.
In a letter released to library staff, University Library Director Robert C. Darnton ’60 said that uncertainties in the settlement made it impossible for HUL to participate.
“As we understand it, the settlement contains too many potential limitations on access to and use of the books by members of the higher education community and by patrons of public libraries,” Darnton wrote.
“The settlement provides no assurance that the prices charged for access will be reasonable,” Darnton added, “especially since the subscription services will have no real competitors [and] the scope of access to the digitized books is in various ways both limited and uncertain.”
He also said that the quality of the books may be a cause for concern, as “in many cases will be missing photographs, illustrations and other pictorial works, which will reduce their utility for research and education.”
Harvard was not named in the lawsuit by the publishers because it has only allowed Google to digitize its uncopyrighted works. Among the works that Google scanned from Harvard’s collections are volumes by Henry James, Edith Wharton, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Margaret Fuller.
Though Harvard has only been a limited partner in the project, University officials have said in the past that they believed Google’s project to be legal in its entirety.
“We have said that we believe that Google’s treatment of in-copyright works is consistent with copyright law,” Longbrake said in 2005 after the lawsuit against Google was filed.
OpenOffice.org Update Sets Downloads Record
OpenOffice.org 3.0 was downloaded 3 million times in its first week, with about 80% of the downloads by Windows users, an official with the group said in a blog post last week.
The successful introduction of the open source office suite came despite the group's download servers being temporarily overwhelmed by demand for the new software last week.
Only 221,000 downloads by Linux users were recorded, leading John McCreesh, head of marketing for OpenOffice.org, to suggest a massive undercount. McCreesh said 90% of Linux users traditionally receive OpenOffice.org updates straight from their Linux distribution's vendor, which would explain the relatively low Linux count.
Many non-English versions of OpenOffice.org are also distributed by alternate Web sites, and OpenOffice.org is still widely distributed via free CD-ROMs in magazines, said McCreesh.
With the undercount included, OpenOffice.org 3.0 may already be installed on up to 5 million computers worldwide, McCreesh said in a blog post.
OpenOffice.org's goal of winning 40% of the office software market by 2010 "doesn't seem as ambitious today as it did four years ago," said McCreesh.
Michael Croan, a senior marketing manager at Microsoft, said, "Business customers can easily see that Microsoft Office provides the productivity improvements they seek."
"Microsoft Office is well integrated, well supported and up-to-date with modern workforce requirements like collaboration, which is not always the case with open source alternatives. As a result, most customers will continue to seek the productivity improvements they can get from Office," Croan said.
Microsoft claims more than 550 million users of Microsoft Office.
OpenOffice.org's total usage, while unknown, remains small overall, despite its free price. That is due to document compatibility fears and Microsoft's aggressive, tactical discounting.
OpenOffice.org 3.0 eases some adoption concerns. It is able to open all Office-formatted files, including the latest Office Open XML (OOXML) documents (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx, etc.), but it cannot save OOXML files natively.
OpenOffice.org is also likely counting on the current corporate cost-cutting environment to help its third try at unseating Microsoft Office.
OpenOffice.org 3.0 also marks the first native Mac OS X version. Mac users accounted for 320,000 downloads of the new software in the first week.
Ubuntu 7.04 to 8.10 Benchmarks: Is Ubuntu Getting Slower?
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With the release of Ubuntu 8.10 coming out later this week we decided to use this opportunity to explore how the performance of this desktop Linux operating system has evolved over the past few releases. We performed clean installations of Ubuntu 7.04, Ubuntu 7.10, Ubuntu 8.04, and Ubuntu 8.10 on a Lenovo ThinkPad T60 notebook and used the Phoronix Test Suite to run 35 tests on each release that covered nine different areas of the system. After spending well more than 100 hours running these tests, the results are now available and our findings may very well surprise you.
For our testing we had used the final Intel 32-bit releases of the four most recent Ubuntu releases except for Ubuntu 8.10 "Intrepid Ibex" where we used the Intrepid release candidate. We had installed each of these releases with the same set of options and identical configurations during testing. A clean installation of Ubuntu was done each time over the entire hard disk drive. Once each distribution was installed we simply setup the proprietary ATI graphics driver and then proceeded to install our selected tests using the Phoronix Test Suite. Following that (and after a reboot of course), we then carried out our testing. We had used Phoronix Test Suite 1.4.0 Beta 1 "Orkdal" and all of their settings and test parameters were left at their defaults.
For those not familiar with the Phoronix Test Suite, it's our GPLv3 licensed benchmarking software that's supported on Linux, OpenSolaris, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X. The Phoronix Test Suite provides a framework for carrying out both qualitative and quantitative tests with support for running in a fully autonomous fashion. Right now in Phoronix Test Suite Orkdal are 79 test profiles and over 30 test suites. The Phoronix Test Suite also has a global repository for viewing and comparing test results, detects installed hardware and software, provides integrated graphing support, and has many other features. The Week in Review is edited and published by Jack Spratts. With the testing, the Phoronix Test Suite takes care of the entire process from downloading and installing the tests, acquiring any needed test dependencies (on supported distributions), running the tests with specified settings (and most tests are run between three and five times), and parsing of the results. Modules can be written around the Phoronix Test Suite to extend this functionality even further.
To recap the major packages in each Ubuntu release, Ubuntu 7.04 had shipped with the Linux 2.6.20 kernel, X Server 7.2.0, GCC 4.1.2, and its Java environment was Build 1.6.0-b105. With Ubuntu 7.10 it uses the Linux 2.6.22 kernel, X Server 1.3.0, GCC 4.1.3, and libgcj 4.2.1. Ubuntu 8.04 LTS switched to the Linux 2.6.24 kernel, X Server 126.96.36.199 (1.4.1 pre-release), GCC 4.2.4, and OpenJDK 1.6.0_0-b11. Lastly, Ubuntu 8.10 uses the Linux 2.6.27 kernel, X Server 1.5.2, GCC 4.3.2, and IcedTea 6 1.3.1 (build 1.6.0_0-b12).
The Lenovo ThinkPad T60 is made up of an Intel Core Duo T2400 processor, Intel Mobile 945 + ICH7-M Chipset, 1GB of DDR2 system memory, an 80GB HTS541080G9SA00 hard drive, and an ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 128MB graphics processor. With the Mobility Radeon X1400 we had used the ATI Catalyst 8.10 driver from AMD's web-site except for when using Ubuntu 8.10 where we had used the Catalyst 8.10 (fglrx 8.54) driver that ships with Ubuntu as it has Linux 2.6.27 and X.Org 7.4 support. Compiz and EIST were disabled during testing.
With all of that said, once each distribution was setup in the same way we proceeded to run the Phoronix Test Suite. The tests we used had included the BYTE Unix Benchmark, SciMark 2.0, SQLite, Tandem XML, eSpeak Speech Engine, timed Apache compilation, timed PHP compilation, timed ImageMagick compilation, Bonnie++, Flexible IO Tester, GnuPG, OpenSSL, LAME MP3 encoding, Ogg encoding, FLAC encoding, WavPack encoding, FFmpeg encoding, OpenArena, World of Padman, Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo, GtkPerf, Bork File Encrypter, Java SciMark 2.0, and RAMspeed. On the following pages are our benchmark results from these tests on Ubuntu 7.04, 7.10, 8.04, and 8.10.
Microsoft Plans ‘Cloud’ Operating System
Looking for growth in new markets where it is increasingly being bypassed, Microsoft said Monday that late next year it would begin offering a new “cloud” operating system that would manage the relationship between software inside the computer and on the Web, where data and services are becoming increasingly centralized.
The company needs a new kind of operating system for a new computing world populated not by a single style of desktop computer, but by dozens of different kinds of Internet-connected appliances ranging from smartphones to mini-laptops called netbooks.
More of those devices use programs that reside on a remote server rather than on the device itself. The servers, in the so-called cloud, deliver what are called Web services, which can be anything from customer relationship software or a Facebook game.
Microsoft is a late entrant into a market that is crowded by a range of players offering every flavor of cloud computing, including Sun Microsystems and I.B.M. as well as Amazon and Google.
Although Microsoft has continued to have strong sales of its operating system software to corporate customers, growth of its Windows Vista operating system appears stalled. Moreover, the company has significantly delayed its next generation of software for mobile smartphones at a time when competitors like Apple and Research in Motion are using their own software to sell more cellphones to corporate customers.
The new Microsoft “cloud OS” — called Azure — gives Microsoft an opening.
But many of the giant software company’s competitors believe it is unlikely that Microsoft will be able to maintain its advantage either in market share or profitability in the future.
“Today’s announcement of Azure is the same Microsoft, keeping developers locked into their proprietary solutions, and failing to grasp the true power of cloud computing,“ said Mark Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com, a San Francisco company that helped pioneer the commercial Web services market. “Microsoft continues to struggle with what to do about cloud computing because the cloud’s new technology and business models cuts into the heart of their software monopoly.”
Nevertheless, Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash., declared a third era of operating systems in the hope that it will be able to repeat the success it had with its DOS and Windows operating systems of the 1980s and 1990s.
Azure was designed during the last three years by Ray Ozzie, a software designer whose company, Groove Networks, was acquired by Microsoft in 2005. Mr. Ozzie began taking the reins from Bill Gates as the company’s principal software architect in 2006.
Before an audience of 6,500 software developers, Mr. Ozzie tried to make the case that programmers who miss a shift to a new Microsoft operating platform are taking a huge risk.
Speaking as a software developer who had frequently sat in the audience at similar Microsoft events as a customer, Mr. Ozzie said: “Every time there is a major platform shift in our industry, it has turned into new opportunities for my apps and my business.”
His comment was a clear reference to an earlier juncture in the history of the computer industry, when companies like Lotus Development, where Mr. Ozzie worked, were late to adopt the first generation of the Windows operating system. That shift gave the Windows Office suite a significant advantage and helped Microsoft dominate word processing, spreadsheet and other office software.
While Microsoft’s software business for corporations continues its robust growth, there are increasing questions about whether the company will be able to strengthen its desktop computing business in an era that is increasingly defined by free or advertising-supported Internet services.
Microsoft would use Azure to harmonize traditional proprietary software with a new set of tools based on Internet standards that are widely used to generate the most popular Web services. “This is the first time they are showing all the pieces coming together,” said Peter O’Kelly, a computer industry consultant based in Andover, Mass.
Although Microsoft will not release a commercial version of Azure for a year or more, Mr. O’Kelly said that components of the system like Live Services were already being used by millions of PC users.
Microsoft gave only one significant demonstration of the kind of applications made possible with its new system. Sentient Software showed a mobile social-networking application called Bluehoo. The company said that Azure would make it easier to expand the service by using computing resources provided by Microsoft.
On Tuesday, Microsoft is expected to give its first lengthy demonstration of its Windows 7 desktop operating system, which is intended to rejuvenate the company’s sputtering consumer business. Microsoft has also hinted that it would show off Web versions of several of its Office applications for the first time.
Microsoft to Test Windows 7, a Successor to Vista
Microsoft plans to give out test copies to developers on Tuesday of the latest version of its next Windows operating system, while unceremoniously dropping the brand name Vista for the new product.
The new version will instead be branded Windows 7, because it is the seventh of a long line of operating systems for PCs developed by the company since the 1980s. The company did not say when it would sell Windows 7 to the public.
The company will also announce that it is planning to introduce a Web-based version of its Office Suite of programs, aiming to head off a new wave of competitors like Google Docs and Zoho, which have deployed word processors, spreadsheets and presentation programs that run on a Web browser. The company was vague, however, about how it would price the programs and acknowledged that it would face skeptical analysts who have said they believe the strategy will cannibalize the company’s profitable Office franchise.
After almost two years, Windows Vista still faces a lackluster reception from consumers and a relentless marketing barrage from Apple.
The problem was highlighted last week when Microsoft reported its financial results for the most recent quarter. Its Windows unit reported just a 2 percent rise in revenue against a 4 percent decline in operating income. The computer industry viewed the setback as a shift of historic proportions. The company acknowledged last week that the mix of Windows sales in both mature and emerging markets had tipped more toward low-cost PCs, which come with lower-margin versions of Windows and often not Vista. Sales of Office software rose 23 percent, bringing in more revenue than the operating system.
On Tuesday morning, the company planned an extended demonstration of Windows 7 before a group of more than 6,000 programmers attending the company’s Professional Developers’ Conference being held here through Thursday.
The demonstrations will focus on changes around the user’s ability to personalize the operating system and how the user controls the system.
“We’ve done a lot of work around how you manage the windows, how you launch programs and how you manage the windows of the programs that you’ve launched,” said Steven Sinofsky, the Microsoft technologist who has led the development of the new version of Windows. “It’s all about personalization and putting you in control of the PC, and that’s a big initiative that we’ve had.”
The demonstration will also focus on how on-screen notifications are handled, an issue that was an irritant for early Vista users who complained about the nannylike behavior of the software.
Mr. Sinofsky, who previously led the development of the company’s Office application, plans on showing Windows 7 running on a low-priced Lenovo notebook computer equipped with just one gigabyte of memory and an relatively low-power Intel Atom microprocessor. This suggests that the new version of the program will require far fewer resources than its predecessor, although Mr. Sinofsky declined to make specific performance promises.
Lou Dorfsman, Design Chief at CBS, Dies at 90
Lou Dorfsman, who for more than 40 years designed every aspect of the Columbia Broadcasting Company’s advertising and corporate identity, including the set of Walter Cronkite’s newsroom and the typographically elegant sign system for CBS’s New York headquarters, known as Black Rock, died on Wednesday in Roslyn, N.Y. He was 90.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said his daughter, Elissa Dorfsman.
Mr. Dorfsman’s work became a model for corporate communications, in the marketing discipline now called branding. In 1946, when he joined CBS as art director for its successful radio networks, the company was already a leader in both advertising and the relatively new field of corporate identity. Frank Stanton, then CBS’s president, understood the business value of sophisticated design and had earlier hired William Golden as the overall art director; in 1951 Golden designed the emblematic CBS eye, among the most identifiable logos in the world.
Mr. Dorfsman not only extended Golden’s aesthetic by combining conceptual clarity and provocative visual presentation, but developed his own signature style of graphic design.
Unlike so many product advertisements created by Madison Avenue, which in the 1940s and ’50s were visually mundane and text-heavy, Mr. Dorfsman’s designs featured clear typography, simple slogans and smart illustration. He also commissioned work from Feliks Topolski, a portraitist, and the printmaker and painter Ben Shahn, though Shahn was then under scrutiny by the House Un-American Activities Committee for his affiliation with leftist groups and causes.
After Golden’s sudden death in 1959 at 48, Mr. Dorfsman was named creative director of CBS television, and in 1964 he became the director of design for the entire Columbia Broadcasting System. A few years later his title became senior vice president and creative director for marketing communications and design. He maintained tight creative control, which ensured design continuity from the CBS logo to its proprietary typeface, called CBS Didot. The cleverness and subtle beauty of his advertisements were credited with winning over many viewers to both news and entertainment programs on the network.
“He was the kingpin of the New York School of Design, a pluperfect, fearless, uncompromising perfectionist, and a father of corporate image in the world,” said George Lois, one of the leaders of advertising’s “creative revolution,” who also worked at CBS in the early ’50s and who regarded Mr. Dorfsman as a mentor.
Louis Dorfsman was born in 1918 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; a few years later, his father, Samuel Dorfsman, a sign painter, and his mother, Molly, both immigrants from Poland, moved the family to the Bronx. After graduating from Roosevelt High School in 1935, the younger Mr. Dorfsman wanted to study bacteriology at New York University but could not afford the $300 tuition. Instead he was accepted at Cooper Union, where tuition was free and art and design courses were plentiful. He graduated in 1939 and remained connected to the school, serving on its board of directors for many years.
Before joining CBS, Mr. Dorfsman had held a number of design jobs, including making displays for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In World War II, he served in the United States Army, which put his commercial art talents to use.
At CBS, Mr. Dorfsman injected a rare social urgency into some of his best advertisements for the network’s public affairs programming. The full-page newspaper ad for “Of Black America,” the first network series on black history, showed a black man in black and white, with half his face painted with the stars and stripes of the United States flag, and with his eyes focused intently on the viewer; the image became a virtual emblem for race relations.
To promote “The Warren Report: A CBS News Inquiry in Four Parts,” the headline of the newspaper ad read: “This is the bullet that hit both President Kennedy and Governor Connally. Or did it?” The photograph used in the full-page ad was an extreme close-up of a hand holding a bullet.
Mr. Dorfsman also came up with the slogan “Re-elected the Most Trusted Man in America” to promote Walter Cronkite’s coverage of the 1972 presidential election.
Though he enjoyed the public affairs work, Mr. Dorfsman relished producing advertisements for entertainment programming, employing both wordplay and pictureplay to capture attention.
To promote a special devoted to the comedian Jackie Gleason, an ad titled “Jackie of all Trades” showed the star in 11 of his most famous roles. And for “The Red Skelton Show,” Mr. Dorfsman coined the phrase “Red Is Beautiful” and put it over a photograph of the smiling performer. Mr. Dorfsman said that his proudest accomplishment was a campaign he initiated to “Save ‘The Waltons,’ ” which was threatened by low ratings despite rave reviews. After the ad ran once in The New York Times, ratings went up enough to save the show.
Advertisements were not Mr. Dorfsman’s only métier. He created corporate annual reports and promotional commemorative volumes to bolster CBS’s standing as “the Tiffany Network.” To celebrate the first landing on the moon, Stanton proposed a limited-edition book, which Mr. Dorfsman designed with a special cover embossed to look and feel like the lunar surface. This and other promotional pieces set a standard for broadcast advertising.
Mr. Dorfsman saw the value of integrating graphic design with interior design and on-air displays as well. He designed sets for Mr. Cronkite’s evening show and “The CBS Morning News.” He oversaw every detail of the graphics for the CBS headquarters building, which was designed by the architect Eero Saarinen, selecting the type and making certain that the spacing between letters was flawless for the numerals on wall clocks, the elevator buttons, even the elevator inspection stickers.
For the building’s cafeteria, he designed a mammoth wall, 35 feet wide by 8 ½ feet tall, of hand-milled wood type that wed antique letterforms to modern aesthetics. It was titled “Gastrotypographicalassemblage” and spelled out all the fare the restaurant offered. It was removed after 25 years and is now being restored.
Mr. Dorfsman remained with CBS until after Laurence Tisch assumed control of the company in the mid-1980s and instituted cost-cutting programs. During one such campaign, Mr. Dorfsman designed an annual report that lacked any visuals or typographic flourishes. After Mr. Dorfsman left in 1991, William S. Paley, the former chairman of CBS, asked him to become creative director for the Museum of Broadcasting, now the Paley Center for Media.
Mr. Dorfsman received honorary doctorates in fine arts from what was then The New School for Social Research and Long Island University. In 1978 he was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame and that same year received the American Institute of Graphic Arts Medal for Lifetime Achievement, among other major design honors.
In addition to his daughter Elissa, who lives in New Jersey, he is survived by his wife, Ann Hysa Dorfsman of Great Neck, N.Y.; his sons Mitchell Dorfman of North Ridge, Calif., and Neil Dorfsman of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.; and one grandchild.
In 1988 a book, “Dorfsman & CBS,” documenting his work was published. A review in The Times said, “Leafing through this abundantly illustrated book, one is struck by the fact that television nurtured one of print’s most innovative graphic designers.”
"Deep Throat" Adult Film Director Dies in Florida
The director of the 1972 hard-core adult movie classic "Deep Throat" has died in Florida.
A report in News-Press newspaper in Fort Myers, Florida, quoted the son of director Gerard Damiano as saying he died Saturday. He was 80 and had suffered a stroke in September.
The New York-born director made a long line of adult films, but "Deep Throat" became a mass-market box-office success and was credited with launching the modern hard-core pornography industry.
The movie was highly controversial and its star, Linda Lovelace, highlighted exploitation in the porn industry by saying that she was forced into making "Deep Throat" by her controlling and physically abusive husband, Chuck Traynor.
Damiano said in an interview with the News-Press in 2005 that he was diplomatic in a difficult industry.
"I was just a nice guy, which is why I think I did pretty well," he said.
"I mean, I'd meet an actress and have to say, 'Sit down, take your clothes off - I'm going to ask you to do some nasty things.' You have to be pretty nice."
(Editing by Jim Loney)
Can I Get an Arrgh?
THE pretend pirates came at dusk. October storms had buffeted the Georgia Lowcountry, and on the second Friday of the month, a rainbow ascended the Savannah skies.
For all their claims of high-seas escapades, these pirates arrived mostly by land.
In trucks and on motorcycles they came: old and young, black and white, entire families with their children done up in period garb, all following Highway 80 until the willows gave way to palm fronds before the beachfront appeared.
“Arrgh,” one of them cried.
“Arrgh,” sounded the reply, turning infectious like a crowd doing the wave on a boring ballpark afternoon, a guttural chorus of gentle self-mockery rising above the crash of the Atlantic.
Long a sideshow at Renaissance fairs, craft festivals and historical conventions, pirate enthusiasts have become the darlings of seaside towns competing for tourism dollars.
Like Civil War re-enactors, many of these latter-day pirates pursue historical authenticity — down to their home-sewn underwear, pistol ribands and molded tricorn hats. Some have even hired blacksmiths to reproduce halberd axes from photographs. They can discuss their exploits without breaking character.
No Quarter Given, a journal of all things pirate, has counted nearly 130 re-enactment groups nationwide, compared with 9 in 1993, according to its publisher, Christine Lampe.
But there is trouble in the world of the pretend pirates. Just as deadly divisions developed amid pirate cliques deep in filthy, swaying wooden hulls centuries ago, so too are sides taking shape today, though perhaps less violently.
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies by Disney starring Johnny Depp not only fostered affection for long-dead seaborne robbers — a favor that does not seem to extend to latter-day counterparts such as the Somali hijackers who recently captured a weapons freighter — but they also gave birth to a new wave of pirate re-enactors. (The movies have collectively grossed more than $1 billion at the box office since 2003.)
Longtime pirate enthusiasts, the 17th-century historical re-enactors who take their hobby seriously, find themselves sharing festival grounds with legions of would-be Captain Jack Sparrows dressed, more or less, in accordance with the big-screen version.
Are they pretend pretend pirates? Traditionalists tend to view this new family-friendly theme thing with a sort of dismissive acceptance.
At the Ojai Pirate Faire in California last month, a crew of pirate history zealots disarmed an unwitting Jack Sparrow, put him in a stockade and demanded a ransom of two harlots (a blonde and a redhead), Ms. Lampe said.
“I know there’s some people who are tired of seeing so many Jack Sparrows out there,” said Ms. Lampe, a retired schoolteacher who prefers to be called Jamaica Rose. (She says Lampe is her “civilian name.”)
Hollywood provided the spark, but some new converts spoke of a deeper restlessness. As Halloween approaches with distant wars unending, the country growing isolated and credit hard to come by, some described feeling as if they were born at the wrong time.
“It’s the idea of being something you’re not, something you can’t be,” said D’Andrea Seabrook, 19, an art student who attended a pirate festival on Tybee Island. “It’s this idea of being able to go out and do whatever you want and be whatever you want and throw all these morals away and not care about the law, when in reality you can’t.”
The costume industry has found no trouble tolerating the newcomers. A survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation predicted that more than 1.7 million American adults would dress as pirates for Halloween this year, beating out zombies, cowboys, devils and French maids combined. Among children, being a pirate ranked fifth. Not bad, considering that more than 1.5 million little Hannah Montanas plan to troll for sugar across this weary land.
To meet the demand, some costumers have torn up their business plans. In Tustin, Calif., the Silhouettes Clothing Company abandoned its trade in 19th-century undergarments, according to promotional materials, to focus on developing “a well-deserved international reputation for clothing the top Jack Sparrow impersonators.”
Among the sewing-machine-owning, library-card-carrying pirate history buffs, a few timbers have been shivered. But wariness of the new mainstream appeal has been tempered with some critical self-appraisal.
“Why do some of them feel like they can wear blank spandex pants and a puffy shirt and be allowed to call themselves pirates?” said John Macek, a member of the Pirate Brethren, a re-enactment group formed in the 1990s in Columbia, Md.
In an e-mail message meditating on the state of his hobby, Mr. Macek added: “Why do others bother to study pirates in minute detail to get it ‘right,’ because after all, these guys were just a bunch of criminals, murderers, etc? Why the animosity between these two groups? What would your grandfather have said about your hobby? Many of these re-enactors claim to be ‘educating the public,’ but just what gives them the notion they are knowledgeable enough?”
For tourism promoters on this wind-swept barrier island, where pirates once found haven among the Savannah River waterways, education has ranked in priority somewhere behind filling barstools. Four years ago, after finding little success with promotions, including a Labor Day Luau, Tybee Island officials announced the pirate festival on a whim.
“It’s done this time of year because business is slow,” said Paul DeVivo, a member of the tourism council, estimating that the festival had injected $2.6 million a year into the local economy. “We just lucked into it and we’re running with it.”
As the festival date approached this year, the Jolly Roger flags began to outnumber Georgia Bulldog banners along the sprawling verandas of the old wooden colonials. The Marshall Tucker Band was booked. A sports bar announced a late-night wench contest, an oyster restaurant advertised $2 grog shots and surf shops sold T-shirts with slogans such as “Surrender the Booty” and “Prepare to Be Boarded.”
Despite the stormy weather, thousands of pirate re-enactors, pirate admirers and pirate-curious onlookers arrived from Macon and Augusta, Ga., the Carolinas and beyond.
“It’s for the kids,” said Chad Carty, 33, who brought his children from Indianapolis. The oldest of the three, Ethan, 7, wore a vest, knee-length britches and an eye patch adorned with a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sticker.
“I like their swords and the guns, and I like tattoos, and they swordfight,” Ethan said. “I like the pirate ship.”
Along the festival grounds, set up in a parking lot, more elaborate costuming was on display.
Don McGowan, 52, a truck driver from Cynthiana, Ky., wore a braided goatee, printed bandanna, ruffled shirt, red sash, baldric, cutlass, parachute pants and sandals, sacrificing some authenticity for comfort as his outfit progressed from head to toe. Relaxing at a table, he offered a dramatic salute to a similarly attired passer-by.
“I’m more into the history part of it,” Mr. McGowan said, recounting childhood trips to Ocracoke Island, N.C., Blackbeard’s hideaway. “The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ brought it all out. There were 10 or 12 people running through here with the lanterns straight out of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ ”
Indeed, for every finely considered sartorial homage, there seemed to be a child running around swinging a glow-in-the-dark sword. A group of Shriners fired cannon blasts from atop a 1963 Ford school bus refashioned as a glowing Spanish galleon. A band covered Gram Parsons. Vendors hawked jewelry, airbrushed tattoos, beads, packaged eye patches, skull rings and golden teeth (“fits like a cap, matey”). At the Acme Costume stand, a jar of eyeliner pencil was marked “Johnny Depp Eyes, $2.”
Resplendent in long black hair, a talisman of buffalo teeth, a silver ring in the shape of a serpent and a .41-caliber sidearm, Dwight Yanguas, 52, indulged numerous requests for photographs. His teeth were even rotted.
Mr. Yanguas, a vendor of handmade wooden long swords, daggers and cutlasses, stumbled into his trade in the 1990s, seeking to trade his shopping-mall maintenance job for show business.
“I would dress up as a medieval knight,” he said.
But soon, he added, “all the kids would come up to me and the first thing they would say is: ‘Are you a pirate? You look like a pirate.’ I said, ‘No, I’m supposed to be a knight.’ So I decided if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. From there, I went total pirate theme.”
By popular acclaim, the festival prize of $100 in gold coins and gift certificates was awarded to Lindsey Lee Miller, 23, from Marietta, Ga. She credited her sultry red costume to the work of fairies plying woven wolverine fur, Brazilian peacock feathers and ivory.
One of Ms. Miller’s costumed companions, Robert Bean, 45 and known as Pirate Bob, pronounced her triumph a rebuke to the Hollywood imitators.
“I find them dull and boring,” Mr. Bean said. “Everybody can be Captain Jack. Why not strive to be something different, like Lindsey Lee here?”
As the festival neared its finale, spectators gathered along the main beach road to watch the pirates on parade. They unfolded portable chairs, crouched on curbs, leaned from balconies and let their children play. With a patrol car to lead the way, the pirates rode wooden floats towed behind sport utility vehicles. Some threw beads. A marching band pounded out a heavy rhythm. A pet-rescue group, a science fiction club and a group of bicyclists with eye patches, buccaneer caps and beer cozies passed by, all arrghing away.
Behind them a big green garbage truck flying a Jolly Roger balloon followed, its passengers dressed in lace, waving to the crowd, honking the loudest horn of all from the cabin of the good ship Waste Pro, its slogan painted to proclaim: “God Bless America.”
Until next week,
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