May 14, 2007

Reminder of a Lecture: The Orwell Project [5:50 pm]

The many sides of privacy; Alan Davidson (then with the CDT, now at Google) gave a couple of seminars a few years ago and, during a talk on privacy, was reminded by some students of Arab extraction in the room that it was to their advantage to have their activities tracked 24-7 to avoid suspicion. Well, they weren’t alone, as this article shows: Tracking Himself: The ‘Orwell Project’pdf

The artist hatched a plan. If Big Brother wanted proof of his coordinates, why not surveil himself? Recording his own moves could, theoretically, seal his alibi. And, when conceived of as art project, the action might satirize federal intelligence gathering.

From the day in 2002 when Elahi implanted a GPS-enabled device in his cellphone, art and life merged. Several times a day, the artist input his location into the phone and his computer recorded the data (he hopes to incorporate a live GPS tracker soon). He then created a Web site that allowed viewers to see where he is at any given time — you can visit at– and he began taking photographs with a digital camera as further proof of his whereabouts.

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International Royalties and Pandora [5:38 pm]

Music Radio on the Internet Faces Thorny Royalty Issues

With 6.5 million registered users, Pandora stands at the vanguard of the sprawling, global Internet radio market. But like other Webcasters, it faces an increase in royalty rates in the United States and is struggling with competing royalty collection agencies all over the world.

On May 3, that chaos prompted Tim Westergren, a former musician who founded Pandora in a San Francisco apartment, to pull the plug on the international market, blocking foreign visitors through computer Internet protocol addresses, which identify the country of the user.

“This is a watershed period that we’re going through,” said Mr. Westergren, who had intended to start a British site this week but postponed the project as the company wrestles with the royalties issue.

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Missed This Stunning Argument [3:20 pm]

Essentially, it’s “since I have a technology that ensures compliance with the DMCA, and since no one’s using it, they are therefore in violation of the DMCA and I am going to ask the courts to compel the use of my technology.” At least, that’s if this article is correct: Apple, others draw legal threat over media players

MRT, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., argues that its X1 SeCure Recording Control technology has been “proven effective” as such a protective measure by plugging the “digital hole” that allows even copy-protected music streams, when played back, to be captured and potentially copied. The company says that because the companies are avoiding use of its purportedly effective product, they are violating the DMCA.

“We’ve given these four companies 10 days to talk to us and work out a solution, or we will go into federal court and file action and seek an injunction to remove the infringing products from the marketplace,” CEO Hank Risan said in a phone interview Friday. According to the MRT, the companies in question are responsible for 98 percent of the market’s media players, which are in turn used by CNN, National Public Radio, Clear Channel, MySpace, Yahoo, YouTube and others.

RealNetworks spokesman Matt Graves said he hadn’t yet seen the letter, but it appeared to be a ploy by a “desperate company” to get its product licensed. “That’s a rather novel approach to business development,” he said in an e-mail interview Friday.

[...] “It looks to me like a play for publicity,” Jessica Litman, a University of Michigan Law School professor who specializes in digital copyright issues, said in an e-mail interview. “I’m no fan of the DMCA, but it doesn’t impose liability simply because some product could be redesigned to implement a technological protection scheme but its makers decline to do so.”

She also said the targeted companies would likely not be liable because a section of the DMCA says that consumer electronics, telecommunications or computing products are not required to be designed so as to “provide for a response to any particular technological measure.”

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Wonder What Was Said About Cable? [10:48 am]

As someone who still relies entirely on the airwaves for my television, I would possibly agree with Forester’s conclusion, but I am a member of a weird market segment already: iTunes-like video services have no future: study - pdf

“In the video space, iTunes is just a temporary flash while consumers wait for better ways to get video. They’re already coming,” said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey, the author of the study, who also called the paid download video market a “dead end.”

Forrester estimated that sales growth is not likely to triple or even double in 2008 and beyond, after early adopters and media addicts have already started using the services.

[...] “Free is going to win,” McQuivey said.

Of course, we’ve heard that argument before, too.

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Looking at the “New TV” [10:38 am]

A Diet, Oddly Bland, of Continuous Images and Chat

The main difference between these sites and YouTube is the nature of the content: it is full-length and professionally edited. Like YouTube, the content is free. Yet, as we all know, nothing is ever really free. Joost required me to register my age, gender and other details, and both Web sites say they will monitor your viewing patterns. Joost says it does this so it can produce “personalized television supported by advertisements that are most likely to interest you.”

In the advertising industry, sites that ask for user data upfront are a treasure trove for companies that want their brands pitched to just the right people at just the right time. Joost has already signed up more than 30 major advertisers, including Microsoft, Unilever and United Airlines. Within a few minutes of logging on to Joost, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and Kraft all zapped ads at us. Babelgum will not have ads until later in the year and is planning to make its ads skippable during the trial period — an option that consumers will appreciate but advertisers will begrudge.

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Off-Topic: Extremely Cool Robotics Application [9:12 am]

Water loggingpdf

IT’S rare that the origins of newly milled 2-by-4s offer a compelling tale. But the boards, beams and planks that Triton Logging Inc. sells to home builders come from the cold, eerie depths of Canadian reservoirs. There, a remote-controlled chainsaw-wielding submarine called a Sawfish, developed by Triton’s founder and chief executive, Chris Godsall, harvests trees killed by 20th century dam projects. Although the robotic lumberjack may conjure images of Jules Verne’s primitive Nautilus, its mission is to dive 200 feet down in search of new sources of cedar, pine, spruce and Douglas fir.

The pilot sits in a barge on the surface, scanning multiple video screens to navigate the underwater landscape, a dark, surreal scene in which submerged trees look as though they’ve been frozen in time with bark and pine cones intact. Using a joystick, the Sawfish operator ties a canvas float to each tree, the saw cuts through its base and the tree rockets to the surface.

The wood has been preserved by the dark, oxygen-poor water, and once it is kiln-dried, it can be used as architectural-grade, old-growth lumber for purposes including support beams and custom cabinetry. Triton, a small Canadian company based near Victoria, British Columbia, has offered its lumber to builders mainly on a limited, custom-order basis and has had trouble meeting the growing demand for its products in Canada and the U.S.

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NPR On The Net And Music Collaboration [8:11 am]

Musicians Collaborate from Afar on the Web

Imagine if John had never met Paul, or another Paul had never met Art. Well, these days online-jamming Web sites are making it easier for thousands or even millions of would-be Lennons and McCartneys or Simons and Garfunkels to collaborate — without ever meeting each other in person.

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The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Explores The Current Rhetoric [8:07 am]

Downloaders face the music as record industry suespdf

Recording industry representatives say the corporations are only exercising their legal right to protect against theft. But the industry threats have drawn complaints that the companies are using the expense and complexity of the federal court system to bully people.

“Copyright infringement is wrong, but abuse of innocent people is wrong too,” said Lory Lybeck, a Mercer Island attorney who has several clients accused of copyright infringement. “There’s a predominance of (these lawsuits) filed against people who simply can’t participate in the federal legal system.”

[...] As music downloaders — or, in the RIAA’s parlance, “songlifters” — continued to take a toll on industry revenue, record corporations sought help from the courts.

[...] According to RIAA statements, most of the legal actions start with an online investigation.

The recording industry and its cybersleuths have been tight-lipped about what techniques are used in their investigations, Lybeck said.

“It’s still a black science, and they like to keep it that way,” he added.

[...] File-sharing programs also open a door to the entire hard drive on a computer to hackers. That means identity thieves, who also are in cyberspace, can copy personal documents, said Howard Schmidt, a computer security expert.

Schmidt, who helped craft a national cybersecurity initiative after Sept. 11, said downloaders shouldn’t expect any privacy online.

“They’re knowingly opening their systems up,” Schmidt said. “They’re broadcasting it all over the Internet.”

[...] Tanya Andersen hired Lybeck to defend her against claims that she illegally downloaded about 1,400 songs. Much of it was gangster rap with what Andersen, a former Justice Department caseworker, described as having “filthy-sounding names.”

[...] The record companies have continued their suit against her even after they searched her computer and didn’t find the stolen music. She has filed a counterclaim, accusing the companies of invading her privacy and abuse of the legal system.

“In the United States, it’s totally unbelievable that somebody can get away with doing this to somebody,” Andersen said. “We’re supposed to be a good country, where people are free. … To me, it feels like they conduct themselves like a mafia would.”

Related: AP’s Music piracy crackdown nets college kidspdf

“Technically, I’m guilty. I just think it’s ridiculous, the way they’re going about it,” Barg said. “We have to find a way to adjust our legal policy to take into account this new technology, and so far, they’re not doing a very good job.”

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Convergence [7:59 am]

Special-effects house aims to make video games more cinematicpdf

A budget of about $25 million may not be much for director Michael Bay, maker of such mega-budget movies as “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor.”

But it’s enough to get him launched on a new passion: creating a video game that matches the quality of a feature film.

Bay’s first-person shooter game is part of a larger strategy to transform Digital Domain Inc., where he is now co-chairman, from one of Hollywood’s elite special-effects houses into a full-blown production studio, capitalizing on the convergence between games and feature films.

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Trendline Datapoint [7:50 am]

Less Risk Seen in Purchasing Clothes Online

For the first time since online retailing was born a decade ago, the sales of clothing have overtaken those of computer hardware and software, suggesting that consumers have reached a new level of comfort buying merchandise on the Web.

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Two+ Looks At The Upcoming TV/Advertiser Meetings [7:49 am]

  • The New York Times’ Trying to Keep the Viewers When the Ads Come On

    For years, the presentations during what is known as upfront week — so named because the agencies decide to buy billions of dollars of commercial time before the fall season starts — have remained essentially the same. Season after season, the spiels were mostly confined to rote reiterations of the value of buying spots on broadcast television.

    But the growing popularity of the alternatives to watching TV on TV sets is forcing the networks to change decades of habits.

    For instance, ABC is scheduled to describe at its upfront presentation tomorrow an extensive promotional initiative called “ABC start here” in which TV is just one medium among many. The campaign is intended to help guide consumers through the maze of devices on which they can watch ABC entertainment and news shows.

    “It doesn’t matter — TV, online, iTunes, whatever,” said Michael Benson, executive vice president for marketing at the ABC Entertainment unit of ABC, part of the Walt Disney Company.

    “They have control,” Mr. Benson said of viewers, “and we’re not going to fight that. We want to make it easy for them to get what they want, where they want, when they want.”

    At the same time, ABC and the four other big broadcast networks are working on methods to hold the attention of TV viewers throughout the commercial breaks that interrupt the shows they want to see.

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Getting upfront and personal for network advertising dollarspdf

    Right now, though, the big TV networks are on a collision course with the advertisers that subsidize their shows, including the big hits like ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” Fox’s “American Idol” and NBC’s “Heroes.” The battle has the potential to get very ugly indeed over the next few weeks. And it’s all about ratings — or, more specifically, how to measure and assign monetary values to the rapidly dwindling broadcast TV audience in our era of TiVo and the Internet.

    Why should you, the average viewer, care?

    Because what happens will decide how and what you watch, what devices you watch it on and how much you pay for that privilege. And although no one has all the answers, these questions are going to be decided starting now, not at some fuzzy point in the unseen future.

    [...] And guess what? It’s only going to get more complicated. Instead of counting their revenue in billions during every spring’s upfront, network execs will be forced to squeeze dollars here and there from every iteration of new technology that engineers can devise.

    Good news for average viewers: You’ll have more choice. Bad news: You’ll have more bills.

    Sound familiar?

    As McQuivey said, “Once the PC and TV get connected, then watch out.”

    But we don’t have to wait till then for things to get interesting. Ad buyers and network suits may have their most crucial talks ever later this month. Some of them might even be more entertaining than what’s on TV.

In a related article, the LATimes suggests that ABC’s approach is distinct from the other networks when it comes to the internet — ABC blazes own trail onlinepdf

In the television networks’ stampede to stake their claim on the Internet, Walt Disney Co. has taken the road less traveled.

Its media rivals have struck a flurry of deals with online players, and one another, to try to get their TV shows on as many websites and in front of as many people as possible. Disney, by contrast, is relying on the strength of such popular ABC shows as “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy” to draw viewers to the network’s online destination.

[...] [ABC-Disney's executive vice president of digital media Albert] Cheng said Disney didn’t want to go into business with companies that failed to protect copyrighted video or just wanted to trade on Disney’s name.

“We want to have partnerships with people who respect intellectual copyrights and those who compensate us appropriately,” Cheng said. “It’s always about money.”

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“Farm the Farmers Day” [7:17 am]

Today’s “Morning Edition” introduced me to this terrible phrase in “China’s ‘Gold Farmers’ Play a Grim Game,” a response in “World of Warcraft” by those who feel that “gold farmers” (those who play the game for credits that are then sold to other players) should be subject to the ultimate game sanction — being killed out. (A documentary on the practice of farming is cited in the NPR bit - the UCSD news bit on Ge Jing’s PhD work)

While I know it’s a game, the overtones and implications are distressing on a number of levels — it’s not *just* a game anymore. Yet one more conflict at the frontier of the online and the real world, arising out of a mismatch between perspectives and with long range implications for behavior in both domains.

See, for example, these earlier posts — The WoW Market; Virtual Theft in China; Anomaly, or an Accurate Reflection of Reality?; It’s *All* Online These Days.

As this Slashdot post shows, this has been going on for a while; the comments are well worth revisting — The Story of the Gold Farmer.

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May 2007
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