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November 26, 2007

If You Really Care, Snailmail [12:03 pm]

Another datapoint on what some are calling the pending demise of email: Constituents’ E-Mail on XM Deal Not Well Receivedpdf

A check by The Washington Post of 60 people whose names were attached to identical, anti-merger e-mails instigated by the National Association of Broadcasters, a major opponent of the merger, produced mostly unanswered phone calls and recordings saying the phones were disconnected. Of the 10 people reached, nine said they never sent anything to the FCC, and only one said she remembered filling out something about Sirius but did not recall taking a position on a merger.

The responses raise questions debated a lot in Congress and at federal agencies lately: Are the hundreds of millions of narrow-interest e-mails that deluge official Washington each year a useful measure of public sentiment? Are they even being sent by real people?

The torrent, made possible by Web lobbying techniques, is subverting the process it was meant to influence, some experts said.

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Every Move You Make …. [12:00 pm]

Cellphone Tracking Powers on Requestpdf

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Such requests run counter to the Justice Department’s internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. [...]

The issue is taking on greater relevance as wireless carriers are racing to offer sleek services that allow cellphone users to know with the touch of a button where their friends or families are. The companies are hoping to recoup investments they have made to meet a federal mandate to provide enhanced 911 (E911) location tracking.

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The French Propose A Solution [9:27 am]

French Pact Aims to Fight Unauthorized Downloading

The three-way pact among Internet service providers, the government and owners of film and music rights was drafted by a commission led by the chief executive of FNAC, a big music and film retailer in France. The industry has called for action against illicit downloads, which are cutting into its sales.

Under the agreement, service providers will issue warning messages to customers downloading files illegally. If users ignore those messages, their accounts could be suspended or closed altogether.

“We run the risk of witnessing a genuine destruction of culture,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a speech endorsing the deal.

[...] An independent authority, supervised by a judge, will be set up and put in charge of deciding when to issue electronic warning messages to Internet users.

The deal also creates obligations for film and music companies to make their works available online more quickly and to remove technical barriers like those that make music tracks unreadable on certain platforms.

The international recording industry hailed the move.

[...] Consumer groups and politicians in France, however, have said the deal, which was signed by several companies on Friday, is too restrictive.

The question is, of course, what are the institutions that will be in place to cope with appeals of the determinations of these “authorities,” who will, of course, stay completely above the fray.

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The $64 Question [8:55 am]

What other clever ideas around these characters have been lost because of Disney’s claim on them, and because of its need for “brand management” through the use of cultural icons? The Line Between Homage and Parody

Yes, Disney made this movie. Creating a hit was the primary goal, but this $50 million film also serves the company’s continuing effort to find clever ways to make its animated icons more accessible. Since Disney doesn’t exactly lay out its playbook, “Enchanted” offers a rare window into the company’s thinking about how one of the world’s most powerful brands is best managed.

When Robert A. Iger took over as chief executive two years ago, one question was how his Disney would approach a portfolio of franchises spanning from the 1920s (Mickey Mouse) to today (Buzz Lightyear). Would he keep the classics in one corner and the new guys in another? Mix everybody up and give Tinker Bell a new hairdo? Or find a way to bridge the gap?

[...] Modifying the classics, much less poking fun at them, has long topped the sacrilegious list at Disney — something that has served the company well. Tight control of its characters has allowed Disney to build a $35.5 billion theme park, consumer products and cable television business on their backs. Cinderella, to put it mildly, is one hard-working woman.

[...] “You have to hand it to Disney for making fun of some of their iconic moments,” said Ms. Sarandon in a television interview.

BUT this is still Disney. The studio nixed scenes that it felt crossed the line into crass. For instance, a run-in between Giselle and a hooker was cut, Mr. Josephson said, and a scene where three poisoned apples magically appear in a toilet was rewritten; they now appear in a soup pot.

And Disney executives, it should be noted, do not necessarily agree with Ms. Sarandon’s word choice. “It’s not a parody and it’s not making fun of anything,” Mr. Cook said. “It’s a giant love letter to Disney classics.”

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Catching Up …. [8:45 am]

hoover dam and lake mead from the visitor's center

Hi, everyone:

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my in-laws in Las Vegas, a city that I haven’t been to in over 30 years. While I expected that there would be some changes, I was amazed by just how much.

We also took a trip to see Hoover Dam and, again, it’s amazing how much has been changed there — not so much the dam itself (although post-9/11 security does make for its own differences), but the Bureau of Reclamation has put a great deal into making it a quite entertaining tourist attraction, even for those not particularly interested in monumental engineering feats.

Anyway, I’ll be catching up on the news over the next couple of days (and it *is* nearing the end of the term!), so I hope you’ll bear with me.

The picture here gives you a sense of how much the southwest drought has affected the level of Lake Mead

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Kevin Martin’s Uphill Battle [8:21 am]

F.C.C. Chief Seeks Votes to Tighten Cable Rules

The five-member commission is set to vote on Tuesday on a report, proposed by Kevin J. Martin, the agency’s chairman, that would give the commission expanded powers over the cable industry after making a formal finding that it had grown too big.

After news reports this month that Mr. Martin supported the finding — along with the commission’s two Democrats — the cable industry heavily lobbied the commission and allies in Congress to kill the proposal. Those efforts may be paying off.

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BSA In The News [8:20 am]

And a hidden cost of using proprietary software is revealed: Software makers’ tactics against piracy questionedpdf

The BSA is well within its rights to wring expensive punishments aimed at stopping the willful, blatant software copying that undoubtedly happens in many businesses. And its leaders say they concentrate on small businesses because that’s where illegitimate use of software is rampant.

But technology managers and software consultants say the picture has more shades of gray. Companies of all sizes say they inadvertently run afoul of licensing rules because of problems the software industry itself has created. Unable or unwilling to create technological blocks against copying, the industry has saddled its customers with complex licensing agreements. In that view, the BSA amasses most of its bounties from small businesses because they have fewer technological, organizational, and legal resources to avoid a run-in.

In Gaertner’s case, some employees had been unable to open files with the firm’s drafting software, so they worked around it by installing programs they found on their own, breaking company rules, he said. And receipts for legitimate software had been lost.

“It was basically just a lack of knowledge and sloppy record-keeping on my part,” said Gaertner, who ended up with a settlement that cost him $40,000.

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