May 27, 2004

WashPost on Network Neutrality [5:05 pm]

At least it’s getting discussed inside the Beltway: Will Providers Provide Equally?

Large tech companies such as Amazon.com, Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. raised the alarm last year, asking the Federal Communications Commission to consider establishing principles that would help ensure that the Internet grows up as a place that allows basic consumer choice.

Their view is that the Internet is such a vital component of life that it should resemble, in a small but crucial way, the electrical grid. One can imagine the chaos if your power company could take money from Sony Corp. so that its appliances got a higher quality of juice — and thus worked a tad better — than those of Mitsubishi Corp.

The power system wasn’t built that way, but high-speed Internet service providers have that very capability. Technology now exists that enables network operators to recognize the data packets that move across their systems, and to prioritize them. This is, in fact, how some universities are spotting and cracking down on music file-sharing over campus networks.

Would Internet service providers exercise that control? Some intriguing speculation came recently from the Yankee Group, a market research firm that services major corporations.

In a controversial report issued early this month, Yankee analysts looked at one of today’s hottest technologies, voice service over the Internet, also known as VoIP. Specifically, the analysts were pessimistic that the biggest VoIP player today, New Jersey-based Vonage Corp., could survive once the cable and telephone companies that provide most broadband Internet connections jump into the VoIP game, as they are beginning to do.

Slashdot: Will Providers Provide Equally?

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From the Mouths of Babes [8:56 am]

This MI2N press re-release on a BSA study includes a provocative paragraph: New Survey Shows That Teens Are More Likely To Illegally Download Than Tweens [via MI2N]

“I think the curriculum made an impact on my students,” said Bertha Nenque, a fourth grade teacher at Santa Maria Elementary School, Laredo, Texas. “They were surprised to learn that copyright laws apply in cyberspace.” When describing her experience teaching BSA’s cyber ethics curriculum, Ms. Nenque said, “The students look at it as a game, yet they are learning and will remember the material.”

It would be really interesting to probe *why* the students are confused — the CONTU White Paper still confuses me, most notably the recommendation starting on page 213 — particularly in contrast to an earlier CONTU recommendation.

See the educational materials at PlayItCyberSafe

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Bring Back Debtor’s Prisons!?! [8:33 am]

Single mom overwhelmed by recording industry suit [via TechDirt]

Tammy Lafky has a computer at home but said she doesn’t use it. “I don’t know how,” the 41-year-old woman said, somewhat sheepishly.

But her 15-year-old daughter, Cassandra, does. And what Cassandra may have done, like millions of other teenagers and adults around the world, landed Lafky in legal hot water this week that could cost her thousands of dollars.

[...] The lawsuit has stunned Lafky, who earns $12 an hour and faces penalties that top $500,000. She says she can’t even afford an offer by the record companies to settle the case for $4,000.

[...] A record company attorney from Los Angeles contacted Lafky about a week ago, telling Lafky she could owe up to $540,000, but the companies would settle for $4,000.

“I told her I don’t have the money,” Lafky said. “She told me to go talk to a lawyer and I told her I don’t have no money to talk to a lawyer.”

[...] Pierre-Louis said the RIAA isn’t afraid of a consumer backlash. “We’re facing a daunting challenge and we have to face it head-on,” he said.

Tammy Lafky is facing her own challenge. She said she doesn’t know what she’ll do. “I told her,” she said, referring to the record company lawyer, “if I had the money I would give it to you, but I don’t have it.”

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A Familiar Feeling [7:59 am]

Although not quite as bad as that cited in this article, For Some, the Blogging Never Stops

Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don’t keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.

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GYWO Sticks It To The NYTimes [7:55 am]

The latest Get Your War On comic is largely about the NYTimes mea culpa yesterday (Slate’s article, Letters):

What about: “All the news that’s fit to print, if by ‘that’s fit to print’ you mean ‘that’s actually un-fact-checkable horseshit pulled out of some con-man’s ass and solemnly regurgitated free of charge, just so we could keep sitting at the tough guys’ table’?”

And you know what’s most embarrassing for the Times? They forgot to charge Chalabi a marketing fee.

See also Salon’s coverage: Not fit to print

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Re: Tonight’s Frontline — Not Only A Pop Music Problem [7:25 am]

The Curse of Beauty for Serious Musicians

One reason being attractive gets bad press is that classical crossover albums so often flaunt image to play the virgin-whore dichotomy to the hilt. Take Bond, a string quartet of four model-beautiful young women who play electric instruments in skin-tight catsuits. Take the Opera Babes, two classically trained singers who scaled the charts with mixes like “One Fine Day” (from Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”). Sex really does sell: Bond’s first album sold two million copies. (A third album, “Classified,” is due in June.) Proponents of this kind of thing say that it is just part of an effort to find a niche for classically trained artists in a world in which they seem to be increasingly irrelevant.

[...] In a sense the resistance to strong, attractive women is comparable to resistance to so-called Eurotrash opera productions or to “La Bohème” on Broadway: resistance against any change to a status quo that already feels very, very fragile.

But the idea that women who are attractive are somehow being exploited is amusing given that some of the most visible “babes” in classical music are entirely responsible for their own images, thank you very much.

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Review of an RCA ClearPlay DVD Player [7:14 am]

With a discussion of just how well the filters work in practice: Add ‘Cut’ and ‘Bleep’ to a DVD’s Options

The funny thing is, you have to wonder if ClearPlay’s opponents have ever even tried it. If they did, they would discover ClearPlay is not objectionable just because it butchers the moviemakers’ vision. The much bigger problem is that it does not fulfill its mission: to make otherwise offensive movies appropriate for the whole family.

[...] ClearPlay works fine on movies that might, in fact, be considered family-friendly if relieved of the occasional gory injury or strong language - say, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “Freaky Friday.” And for any movie, you can press the right-arrow button twice on the ClearPlay welcome screen to see a list of things the filter will make no attempt to skip (Intense Life/Death Situations, Intense Battle Sequences, Murder and so on). Nonetheless, had ClearPlay done a little filtering of titles and not just scenes, its arguments might have been a bit more persuasive, and the current court battle more meaningful.

But as it is, the evidence suggests that ClearPlay’s technology is not intended for families at all. It’s for like-minded adults, specifically those who are offended by bad language and sexual situations but don’t mind brutality, destruction and suffering.

Maybe every ClearPlay-sanitized movie ought to begin with a message: “This film has been modified as follows: It has been formatted to fit the taste, sensibilities and religious beliefs of a couple of guys in Utah. That’ll be $1.50.”

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Frontline Review [7:00 am]

In anticipation of tonight’s Frontline, the Boston Globe has a p/review: How pop music became ‘Idol’-ized

In a one-two programming punch too deliciously ironic to have been planned, PBS is broadcasting the “Frontline” documentary “The Way the Music Died” the night after a new “American Idol” winner is crowned.

[... Michael] Kirk examines a variety of important trends. Some are inherently wrong-headed, such as massive radio chains with strict playlists that squeeze out anything but the most commercially viable tracks. Others have unexpectedly negative fallout, like MTV, a creative force that has become so powerful that now it’s nearly impossible for artists lacking hot bodies and a three-minute single to break out.

[...] Melinda Newman, West Coast bureau chief for the industry trade magazine Billboard, reports for the camera that of 30,000 albums released each year, fewer than a hundred are hits, and that sales have fallen from $40 billion to $28 billion in just three years. These are among the few hard facts and statistics Kirk offers in the program, however, which — in decidedly un-”Frontline” fashion — emphasizes anecdote over analysis. It’s an entertaining and informative window on the industry’s woes, but surprisingly incomplete.

The most glaring omission is the hot-button issue of Internet file-sharing and downloading, which the recording industry touts as the root of its woes. Where are the interviews with — and perspectives from — high-level executives at the major labels? They undoubtedly have different views from Danny Goldberg, a major-label expat now running the independent label Artemis, who paints an articulate but hardly exhaustive picture.

[...] Perhaps most telling are the segments with Sarah Hudson and her label’s A&R executive, Joanna Ifrah, who gushes about finding the anti-Britney, the “cool chick who looks strange, dresses strange, didn’t get all the guys, and had parental problems,” and then goes on to supervise Hudson’s makeover into a mainstream pop tart. Hudson’s single, “Girl on the Verge” was released last month but — as the closing voiceover informs us — it has yet to find its way into the hearts of music lovers.

Frankly, props to Mathew Gilber to saying almost the same thing in his short blurb in Critic’s Corner:

Tonight at 9 on Channel 2, “Frontline” is running “The Way the Music Died,” a look at why the rock recording industry is having financial troubles. “They’ve made business more important than the art,” complains Jackson Browne. Said another way, the executives are a bunch of happy idiots struggling for the legal tender.

Update: Slashdot discussion: The Way the Music Died including a reference to the important Merchants of Cool

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