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January 24, 2008

Ventner and Synthetic Organisms [3:03 pm]

Scientists Take New Step Toward Man-Made Life

Some activist groups say Dr. Venter is going too far, too fast, this time, and that the entire field of synthetic biology needs outside regulation to prevent the introduction of dangerous organisms, created either by evil intent or by innocent error.

“The fact that he’s pushing ahead with this without any societal oversight is very worrying,” said Jim Thomas, a program manager at the ETC Group, an activist group based in Canada. He also said it was worrisome that Dr. Venter was applying for very broad patents that could give him a near monopoly over the field of synthetic organisms.

Dr. Venter said the synthetic biology field has been discussing ethics and safety steps since it started and that his work had been reviewed by ethicists.

Patent lawyers, too, by the way….

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A Transparent Ploy By The WaPo [8:58 am]

Any connection between The Washington Post putting this article on its front page and Dick Cheney bullying Congress into capitulating over telecom amnesty? (pdf): Terrorism Probe Points to Reach Of Web Networkspdf

Analysts said it also provides a glimpse of the growing threat posed by radical networks that have sprung up as a result of the Internet. One of the men, Syed Haris Ahmed, told authorities that they got to know extremists through Web forums and chat rooms, and they uploaded their D.C. surveillance video to “Jihadi people” online.

For a terrorist organization, “it doesn’t matter anymore where your location is, and how many visa requirements” a country has, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which researches Muslim extremists and their online activity. “Being on the virtual network, [terrorists] have people virtually all over the world.”

[...] The heart of the government’s case became clear last week: 12 hours of FBI interviews with Ahmed. During the questioning, agents informed Ahmed that they had e-mails, videos and other materials linking him to suspicious activity, according to transcripts released in court. The Pakistani-American college student acknowledged that he and his friend had been in contact with foreign extremists and had discussed attacking targets in the D.C. area and elsewhere, transcripts of the interviews revealed.

See also Jay Rockefeller’s unintentionally revealing comments

Later: The LATimes summarizes the state of play through Friday — Senate spy bill still shields telecomspdf

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Updated: Games With Statistics [8:48 am]

And an example of French leadership? Digital Music Sales Up Worldwidepdf

Record companies’ revenue from digital music sales rose 40 percent to $2.9 billion over the past year, but the growth is still failing to cover losses from collapse of international CD sales, the music industry’s global trade body said Thursday.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI, said the increase in legitimate music sales did not come close to offsetting the billions of dollars being lost to music piracy, with illegal downloads outnumbering the number of tracks sold by a factor of 20-to-1.

But the trade group said it welcomed efforts by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who has proposed a clampdown on those who violate copyright laws.

Sarkozy called in November for Internet service providers in France to automatically disconnect customers involved in piracy.

Later: The NYTimes version raises an interesting angle — Digital Music Sales Grow, but at Slower Rate

In the meantime, the recording industry is broadening its search for revenue. The trade group plans to step up a campaign to hold Internet providers responsible for stopping piracy over their networks, Mr. Kennedy said. It is lobbying the United States government to recognize a form of copyright that has provided musicians with a steady royalty stream in Europe and elsewhere.

The IFPI Digital Music Report for 2008 [local copy] makes the Sarkozy plan a centerpiece of its argument that ISPs should “take responsibility” (shades of AT&T, which is cited for its position!) for illegal content on their networks. However, there doesn’t seem to be any discussion of this US lobbying cited in the NYTimes article.

But we do get to see this sort of thing, repeated throughout:

After years of prevarication in this discussion, the French government’s decision to “seize the day” is deeply refreshing. It shows an urgency of approach that is badly needed in every market where music is today being massively devalued by piracy.

In Europe, we look to the European Union to capitalise on the momentum created by the Sarkozy Agreement. The moment for EU legislation to be drawn up has already arrived. There must be obligations on the ISPs to warn, suspend and eventually disconnect infringing users and to apply filtering measures. This should be achieved by agreements, backed by legislation where necessary. At the same time, we as an industry will not be shy to use legal action to force ISPs to act when dialogue fails but I would like to think that they now understand that meaningful voluntary action is a more attractive option than coercion – we have always advocated that!

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“Children and Foreigners” [8:44 am]

A story that brings back Larry Lessig’s characterization of a “threatening” collection of Internet innovators: Va. Student’s Snow-Day Plea Triggers an Online Storm — pdf

[A] phone call to a Fairfax County public school administrator’s home last week about a snow day — or lack of one — has taken on a life of its own. Through the ubiquity of Facebook and YouTube, the call has become a rallying cry for students’ First Amendment rights, and it shows that the generation gap has become a technological chasm.

It started with Thursday’s snowfall, estimated at about three inches near Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. On his lunch break, Lake Braddock senior Devraj “Dave” S. Kori, 17, used a listed home phone number to call Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. Kori left his name and phone number and got a message later in the day from Tistadt’s wife.

“How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody’s house and complain about it,” Candy Tistadt’s minute-long message began. At one point, she uttered the phrase “snotty-nosed little brats,” and near the end, she said, “Get over it, kid, and go to school!”

Not so long ago, that might have been the end of it — a few choice words by an agitated administrator (or spouse). But with the frenetic pace of students’ online networking, it’s harder for grown-ups to have the last word. Kori’s call and Tistadt’s response sparked online debate among area students about whether the student’s actions constituted harassment and whether the response was warranted.

Kori took Tistadt’s message, left on his cellphone, and posted an audio link on a Facebook page he had created after he got home from school called “Let them know what you think about schools not being cancelled.” The Web page listed Dean Tistadt’s work and home numbers.

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Ongoing (Online) Real Estate Speculation [8:12 am]

From Jon Postel to this: Porn sells; Satinpanties toopdf

The real estate investors packing the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles this week dont have to worry about interest rates, exploding mortgages and foreclosures. The addresses they buy and sell are on the Internet, where a good name might attract millions of people and pull in big bucks from advertising.

As with real-world property speculation, the Internet domain name business is built on limited supply and high hopes. It has booms and busts, rising corporate powers and rookies who wished theyd bought in the 1990s. Two of the biggest practitioners, Oversee.net and Demand Media Inc., are based in the Los Angeles area and have collectively received more than $450 million in venture capital investment to fuel domain name buying sprees.

The bidding paddles flew Tuesday and Wednesday in the hotel ballroom at DomainFest, a yearly gathering of participants in this highly specialized and lucrative business.

Individual speculators and deep-pocketed companies snapped up domains such as Porn.net for $400,000, Bookmarks.com for $300,000, Alimony.com for $75,000, Butcher.com for $50,000 and Satinpanties for $10,000.

Readers of the Comics Curmudgeon will recognize this article’s author, which is certainly related: Five ho-hum domain names and their curious stories (pdf)

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