July 3, 2004

Architecture and Policy [7:11 pm]

China Is Filtering Phone Text Messages to Regulate Criticism

China has begun filtering billions of telephone text messages to ensure that people do not use the popular communication tool to undermine one-party rule.

The campaign, announced on Friday by the official New China News Agency, comes after text messages sent between China’s nearly 300 million mobile phone users helped to expose the national cover-up of the SARS epidemic last year. Text messages have also generated popular outrage about corruption and abuse cases that had received little attention in the state-controlled media.

It is a sign that while China has embraced Internet and mobile phone technology, the government has also substantially increased its surveillance of digital communications and adopted new methods of preventing people from getting unauthorized information about sensitive subjects.

[...] “You can filter as much as you like, just like a list of words,” said Wang Yuanyuan, a sales manager at Venus Info Tech, which sells filtering software to Chinese messaging service providers.

She said the new rules would lead to heavy demand for her company’s product.

Makes you think, doesn’t it? (Even if Lenin never really said, "The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.")

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New Business Models [4:46 pm]

A look at the future: D.I.Y. Meets N.R.L. (No Record Label)

IN the last decade, Maria Schneider, who regularly wins prizes for best composer and best big-band arranger in jazz, has made three albums on the Enja record label. Each sold about 20,000 copies — very good numbers for jazz. She didn’t make a dime off any of them. On two of them, she lost money.

So recently, she went off the grid. She became the first musician to sign with a company called ArtistShare. Rather than go through labels, distributors and retailers, ArtistShare sells discs over the Web and turns over all the proceeds (minus a small fee) to the artist.

[...] Record labels are still vital for many musicians. They get the CD in the bins; they advertise it; they put up the money to produce it in the first place.

But for those who already have a following and some capital, the new way has appeal. “The guy who’s doing this is on to something,” said Michael Cuscuna, a veteran producer for the Blue Note jazz label. “For a lot of artists, it makes sense to take control of their future.”

That guy is Brian Camelio, a 38-year-old musician and computer programmer, who started ArtistShare after he heard stories from too many friends — one of them Ms. Schneider — about frustrating experiences with record labels. His roster is growing.

[...] Rock musicians have been recording live concerts and selling them over the Internet, as CD’s or MP3 downloads, for years. But Mr. Camelio’s twist is new in two ways. First, he sees the Internet not as a supplement to labels and record stores but as an alternative. Second, he’s marketing more than music.

On Ms. Schneider’s Web site, fans can order her CD for $16.95. For an additional $35 to $95, they also gain access to printed scores, rehearsal sessions, interviews, post-concert question-and-answer sessions and commentaries, including a two-hour audio stream of Ms. Schneider analyzing several of her arrangements.

On Mr. Hall’s site, for $60, fans can watch him give a guitar lesson.

See also: They Might Be Giants Open Their Own Music Store

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Obviousnessman Strikes Again! [4:42 pm]

Just as the NYTimes’ Circuits section frequently belabors the obvious (its discovery of the miracles of USB a couple of weeks ago, for example), so this article points out that — surprise, surprise — an MP3 or an AAC from the iTunes store is not quite the same thing as a CD: Digital Domain: From a High-Tech System, Low-Fi Music

Love the iPod, but don’t jump too hastily to fill it with thousands of dollars of iTunes. The tracks are not carbon copies of the CD originals, but compressed versions. The smaller files are handy for speedy downloads, space-saving for storage and perfectly serviceable for listening through ear buds when riding on the subway. Not what you will want, however, when your desktop computer becomes the home jukebox and wirelessly sends these simulacra to the entertainment center in the living room.

Consumers find downloading instantly gratifying, but the company uses an extreme form of compression that takes a sample of the sound at intervals. The less information collected, the smaller the resulting file size - and the greater the loss of fidelity to the original. Apple has elected to use a compression standard that, to put the best face on it, creates an awfully small file.

This music lite is a response to the data transfer problems entailed in downloading the music that resides on anyone’s collection of CD’s. With about 10 megabytes needed to store one minute of music, albums eat up space quickly on a hard drive. Credit Apple for Step One: persuading the major music labels to make individual tracks available inexpensively, à la carte. By buying only the hit tracks and ignoring the rest of the album, storage needs drop by 90 percent.

Apple has yet to put into effect the second part of the ideal solution: distributing music that is compressed only temporarily, a process called lossless data compression. Before saving a digital song to the hard drive, software can shrink it in size by 50 percent or so just by using a shorthand notation that takes up a little less space for any repetitive patterns in the 0’s and 1’s. When the song is played, the software has all the information that it needs to restore it perfectly. With this, “you’ll get the full quality of uncompressed CD audio using about half the storage space.” The phrasing is from Apple’s own Web site, but, unfortunately, the company does not offer “true CD audio,” as it calls this, when you download music from the iTunes Music Store. It is available only when you traipse to the mall, buy the CD, and return home to copy it to your home computer with Apple software.

The company offers no explanation why “lossless” storage is desirable for tracks received through one source but not the other.

Really!? What possible reasons could there be for that?

Later: p2pnet’s take — Low-fi iTunes downloads

Slashdot: Are iTMS’s 128kbps Songs Worth Collecting?

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Lawsuits? Marketing? P2P promotion? Who can tell? [4:35 pm]

From Reuters: Album Sales in U.S. Reported Ahead of 2003

Album sales in the United States for the first half of 2004 are 7 percent ahead of last year’s midway point, putting the recording industry on track to end a three-year slump, according to the Nielsen SoundScan retail tracking service.

Sales in the first six months of this year totaled 305.7 million units, compared with 285.9 million from January through June 2003, Nielsen SoundScan reported on Thursday.

Album sales in the United States for the first half of 2004 are 7 percent ahead of last year’s midway point, putting the recording industry on track to end a three-year slump, according to the Nielsen SoundScan retail tracking service.

Sales in the first six months of this year totaled 305.7 million units, compared with 285.9 million from January through June 2003, Nielsen SoundScan reported on Thursday.

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A Taste of the Future [4:24 pm]

The digitization of product marketing — presaging a world of ubiquitous computing: Paranoia Goes Better With Coke

There’s a new security threat at some of the nation’s military bases %u2014 and it looks uncannily like a can of Coke. Specially rigged Coke cans, part of a summer promotion, contain cell phones and global positioning chips. That has officials at some installations worried the cans could be used to eavesdrop, and they are instituting protective measures.

Coca-Cola says such concerns are nothing but fizz.

Update: Slashdot - Military on Alert for Killer Coke Cans

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Who’s Surprised? [4:22 pm]

There have been plenty of online discussions that show this to be the case. It’s surprising that Wired News is surprised: A Lively Open-Source Debate

It was billed as a brawl, but turned out to be a low key chat that revealed one interesting piece of information: Not all computer geeks are open-source advocates.

Normally, you can expect a rousing, positive response when open-source development is mentioned in a room full of programmers. But during the “Big Question” debate on the merits of open-sourcing Java, held at Sun Microsystems JavaOne Conference on Thursday, controlled source clearly appeared to be the development method of choice.

When open-source advocate, publisher and “Big Question” moderator Tim O’Reilly opened the discussion by asking the audience “How many of you out there, in your free time or work time, currently hack on an open source project?” only about half a dozen people clapped in acknowledgement.

Of course, as anyone who’s used Java on any platform, this quote is really disingenuous

But the audience did clap enthusiastically when Java creator James Gosling referred to Linux as “a pain in the butt.”

Gosling wasn’t slamming Linux in general — in fact he said he loves “Linux to bits” — but was specifically referring to the various implementations of Linux that are available which he said were “almost interoperable but just different enough” to cause users angst.

Sounds a lot like “write once, debug everywhere” to me!

Slashdot takes their own Java/Linux poll: How Much Java in the Linux World?

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