March 24, 2008

Jim Fallows on the Great Firewall [8:15 am]

In the March Atlantic: “The Connection Has Been Reset” (pdf)

They’ll likely be surprised, then, to notice that China’s Internet seems surprisingly free and uncontrolled. Can they search for information about “Tibet independence” or “Tiananmen shooting” or other terms they have heard are taboo? Probably—and they’ll be able to click right through to the controversial sites. Even if they enter the Chinese-language term for “democracy in China,” they’ll probably get results. What about Wikipedia, famously off-limits to users in China? They will probably be able to reach it. Naturally the visitors will wonder: What’s all this I’ve heard about the “Great Firewall” and China’s tight limits on the Internet?

In reality, what the Olympic-era visitors will be discovering is not the absence of China’s electronic control but its new refinement—and a special Potemkin-style unfettered access that will be set up just for them, and just for the length of their stay. According to engineers I have spoken with at two tech organizations in China, the government bodies in charge of censoring the Internet have told them to get ready to unblock access from a list of specific Internet Protocol (IP) addresses—certain Internet cafés, access jacks in hotel rooms and conference centers where foreigners are expected to work or stay during the Olympic Games. (I am not giving names or identifying details of any Chinese citizens with whom I have discussed this topic, because they risk financial or criminal punishment for criticizing the system or even disclosing how it works. Also, I have not gone to Chinese government agencies for their side of the story, because the very existence of Internet controls is almost never discussed in public here, apart from vague statements about the importance of keeping online information “wholesome.”)

Depending on how you look at it, the Chinese government’s attempt to rein in the Internet is crude and slapdash or ingenious and well crafted. When American technologists write about the control system, they tend to emphasize its limits. When Chinese citizens discuss it—at least with me—they tend to emphasize its strength. All of them are right, which makes the government’s approach to the Internet a nice proxy for its larger attempt to control people’s daily lives.

Related: China plays victim for its audience - pdf

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March 22, 2008

Just a Pipedream? [7:07 pm]

Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out

“All these cities had this hype hangover late last year when EarthLink announced its intentions to pull out,” said Craig Settles, an independent wireless consultant and author of “Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless” (Hudson Publishing, 2006). “Now that they’re all sobered up, they’re trying to figure out if it’s still possible to capture the dream of providing affordable and high-speed access to all residents.”

EarthLink announced on Feb. 7 that “the operations of the municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company’s strategic direction.” Philadelphia officials say they are not sure when or if the promised network will now be completed.

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Billy Bragg Doesn’t Understand His Own Industry? [7:05 pm]

Hard to believe. I have to believe that what he means is that the compulsory license is acceptable to the composer, even though the implication as written seems to be that the performer is getting paid by the radio station. Or did the “digital” get dropped from the “radio” part? Bad editing on the part of the NYTimes? The Royalty Scam

What’s at stake here is more than just the morality of the market. The huge social networking sites that seek to use music as free content are as much to blame for the malaise currently affecting the industry as the music lover who downloads songs for free. Both the corporations and the kids, it seems, want the use of our music without having to pay for it.

The claim that sites such as MySpace and Bebo are doing us a favor by promoting our work is disingenuous. Radio stations also promote our work, but they pay us a royalty that recognizes our contribution to their business. Why should that not apply to the Internet, too?

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March 21, 2008

The Only Way It’s Going To Get Traction [1:43 pm]

A Push to Limit the Tracking of Web Surfers’ Clicks

AFTER reading about how Internet companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo collect information about people online and use it for targeted advertising, one New York assemblyman said there ought to be a law.

So he drafted a bill, now gathering support in Albany, that would make it a crime — punishable by a fine to be determined — for certain Web companies to use personal information about consumers for advertising without their consent.

And because it would be extraordinarily difficult for the companies that collect such data to adhere to stricter rules for people in New York alone, these companies would probably have to adjust their rules everywhere, effectively turning the New York legislation into national law.

Of course, that last paragraph just means that the federal government will pre-empt whatever they come up with. But it’s a start.

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The Emerging Consensus on the FCC’s Latest Auction [8:29 am]

It didn’t work, at least not from the perspective of getting new competitors in the game — Verizon, AT & T win big in airwave auctionpdf

“It was the only place on the wireless spectrum where you could possibly have a third pipe, and they didn’t get that. That’s a big failure,” said Ben Scott, Washington policy director of Free Press, a nonprofit group opposed to media consolidation.

Industry experts said it was hardly a surprise.

“It amazes me that people think that when you have networks already in the ground, new companies can just come in and have a chance,” said wireless researcher and consultant Andrew Seybold.

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March 20, 2008

Nothing Like Stating It Nakedly [5:46 pm]

A Company Promises the Deepest Data Mining Yet

Amid debate over how much data companies like Google and Yahoo should gather about people who surf the Web, one new company is drawing attention — and controversy — by boasting that it will collect the most complete information of all.

The company, called Phorm, has created a tool that can track every single online action of a given consumer, based on data from that person’s Internet service provider. The trick for Phorm is to gain access to that data, and it is trying to negotiate deals with telephone and cable companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, that provide broadband service to millions.

Phorm’s pitch to these companies is that its software can give them a new stream of revenue from advertising. Using Phorm’s comprehensive views of individuals, the companies can help advertisers show different ads to people based on their interests.

“As you browse, we’re able to categorize all of your Internet actions,” said Virasb Vahidi, the chief operating officer of Phorm. “We actually can see the entire Internet.”

Of course, the question is not seeing it, but how clearly it is seen.

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NJ eVoting Investigation Request [1:54 pm]

NJ clerks call for e-voting investigation

A group representing county clerks in New Jersey has asked the states attorney general to step in and investigate voting discrepancies observed in e-voting machines used in last months presidential primary election.

[...] Clerks from a half-dozen New Jersey counties reported discrepancies in the voting tallies generated by approximately 60 of the state’s Sequoia Voting Systems AVC Advantage e-voting machines during last month’s election. In most cases the discrepancy involved a one- or two-vote difference between the paper tape logged by the machine and the number of votes stored in the computer’s memory cartridges.

Sequoia blamed the discrepancy on pollworker error and said the problem could be fixed with a software update, but state clerks wanted a third-party investigation.

[...] Last Tuesday, Dressler’s group asked Princeton computer science professor Edward Felten, a critic of e-voting systems, to examine the Sequoia machines. That plan was abandoned, however, after Sequoia threatened legal action against Felten and the county that offered to provide the systems, saying that such a review would violate the company’s licensing agreement.

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March 19, 2008

“Competition? We Don’t Need No Steenking Competition!” [5:08 pm]

Or maybe we do — Competition Fuels Broadband Use in Europe

Fierce competition from new providers has pushed the level of broadband subscriptions in eight European countries above the levels in the United States and Japan, according to figures to be released Wednesday.

[...] “We have four countries that are world leaders — Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland,” said Viviane Reding, the European telecommunications commissioner. “We have eight countries which have higher penetration rates than the U.S. and Japan. We are not doing badly at all.”

In addition to the three Nordic countries and the Netherlands, four others — Britain, Belgium, Luxembourg and France — had surpassed the United States by July 2007. By January 2008, Germany had also done so.

[...] In an interview Tuesday, Ms. Reding vowed to press ahead with an effort to give regulators powers to force the so-called incumbent telecommunications companies to run their businesses in a way that would make it easier for new competitors to enter the market. In countries like Germany and France, former state monopolies have fought fiercely against such a move.

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Spectrum Auction Results (updated) [5:06 pm]

Wireless Spectrum Auction Raises $19 Billion

The spectrum licenses are being surrendered to the government by broadcasters as they complete their conversion to digital television by early next year. The licenses are coveted because they will provide the winners with access to some of the best remaining spectrum — enabling them to send signals farther from a cell tower with far less power, through dense walls in cities and over wider territories in rural areas that are now underserved.

[...] While Google was not expected to post a winning bid, it has already achieved an important victory by influencing the auction rules. The commission forced the major telephone companies to open their wireless networks to a broader array of telephone equipment and Internet applications. It remains to be seen whether a variety of technical and regulatory issues can be resolved to make the promise of more open networks a reality.

Something else to quiz the presidential candidates about.

Later: Verizon and AT&T win big at airwave auctionpdf

Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T were big winners in the U.S. government’s auction of wireless licenses that raised a record $19.59 billion, the Federal Communication Commission said on Thursday.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Vodafone Group Plc, won the nationwide “C” block of the auction, giving it control of a major piece of the airwaves being vacated by television broadcasters as they move to digital signals in early 2009.

AT&T won 227 licenses from among the “B” block of regional licenses, but Internet leader Google Inc, while it submitted a serious bid for the C block, in the end won no licenses, the FCC said.

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Think Different [9:05 am]

Apple talking to labels about unlimited music: reportpdf

Apple Inc is in talks with major music companies to offer customers free access to its entire iTunes music library in exchange for paying a premium for its iPods and iPhones, the Financial Times said.

Citing people familiar with the talks, the paper said the negotiations hinged on a dispute over the price Apple would be willing to pay for access to the labels’ libraries.

The FT article — Apple in talks to sell iPod and iPhone with unlimited musicpdf

Later: The LATimes’ article — Apple may offer music subscription servicepdf

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March 16, 2008

Sorry! (updated - blog shutdown for duration of machine maintenance) [6:55 am]

I thought moving over to the new server would be painless. Hah! Not when the old server refuses to enter Target Disk mode for the main drive (it will, however, happily do so for all other drives on the old machine). So, all the hardware goes to an Apple Store today for troubleshooting.

So, the blog isn’t going to be visible for a while today — not that I’ve had much time to update it, anyway.

Update: Well, after many hours with Apple Care and the local Genius Bar, the conclusion is that the boot drive has a subtle partition map problem that the new machine won’t accept. In fact, the target disk does appear on the new machine, but it won’t mount. Thus, no migration.

We thought that using the MacBook Air migration tool, which runs over the network, would do it, but it doesn’t. As best as I can tell from the console logs, the Migration Assistant attempts to set up an NFS share to do the migration, which also seems to be failing.

So, brute force is going to be required — making a carbon copy of the old drive to a secondary drive in the old machine, and then running migration assistant. What that means is that, as of now, I have to freeze the blog. It will come back to life once the migration happens, but that’s going to be days away, because these are big drives and I have to rely upon my PowerBook to mediate the carbon copying — so only Firewire 400 and an old G4 processor.

Interesting to note that the Mac world does not have the kind of partition repair tools that the Windows and Linux worlds seem to have. Tragic in my case, but there you go.

Furdlog will be back, but maybe not as soon as one would like.

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March 14, 2008

funtwo Redux [7:47 am]

He’s no rock star, but a video ‘god’pdf

The rise of “Canon Rock” is a defining story of the digital age. Since it was posted in December 2005, the video has been seen roughly as many times as some of the top-selling albums have had copies sold worldwide, including the Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975).”

It shows how user-generated websites such as YouTube have altered the way musicians learn, teach and exchange ideas, perhaps even changing the way we appreciate music.

See earlier Copying and Learning Within Internet (Sub)Cultures which links to the YouTube videos. You may also want to see some of the newer derivatives, which demonstrate the fundamental point of this article.

Also, in light of this last paragraph from the LATimes article:

Yet even Lim acknowledges getting a little sick of Pachelbel’s opus. “Sometimes I hear those opening notes, and I just go, ‘Oh no,’ ” he says.

don’t miss Rob Paravonian’s Pachebel Rant

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A Look at Internet Radio Royalties [7:19 am]

Internet radio firms say royalties limiting choicespdf

Cedergren’s story is the nightmare scenario painted by many Internet radio companies who have claimed that the royalty hike would kill online broadcasting in its cradle. In fact, Internet radio is far from dead. Online broadcasters like Pandora and Live365 still serve millions of listeners. But the higher rates have driven away many small online broadcasters who say they can’t afford to stay in business. And even industry leader Pandora says it’s in trouble. “We’re at the very end of our tether,” founder Tim Westergren said. “There’s a very good chance that we will shut down.”

Critics of the royalty system say the result is decreasing musical diversity on the Internet. They warn of an online music industry dominated by the same giant media companies that presently dominate traditional radio broadcasting. And they point to CBS Broadcasting Inc.’s recent takeover of the Internet radio operations of Time Warner Inc.’s AOL as a harbinger of an Internet radio market rendered bland and predictable.

“They’ll push all of us out of business,” said Johnie Floater, general manager of media for Live365. “Your Internet radio is going to sound like your AM and FM.”

Related: Other music promotion avenues that are already tied up — TV scene stealer is new star of iTunes generation - pdf

This week, the no-longer cult classic achieved loftier status. Its most popular cover version, released by the late Jeff Buckley in 1994, zoomed to number one on the iTunes download chart, thanks to that ultimate signifier of 21st-century ubiquity, a performance by an “American Idol” competitor. At the same time, Leonard Cohen, the song’s enigmatic 73-year-old composer, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, serenaded with a version of the song by popular Irish balladeer Damien Rice.

“This is a watershed moment,” said Michael Barthel, a Syracuse University graduate student who last year presented an academic paper on the song’s staying power. “Every generation discovers ‘Hallelujah,’ and right now, a whole new generation of people is discovering it.”

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March 13, 2008

Microprocessors, Software and Security [12:59 pm]

Does increased computerization necessarily mean a concomitant reduction in security and privacy? A Heart Device Is Found Vulnerable to Hacker Attacks

To the long list of objects vulnerable to attack by computer hackers, add the human heart.

The threat seems largely theoretical. But a team of computer security researchers plans to report Wednesday that it had been able to gain wireless access to a combination heart defibrillator and pacemaker.

They were able to reprogram it to shut down and to deliver jolts of electricity that would potentially be fatal — if the device had been in a person. In this case, the researcher were hacking into a device in a laboratory.

The researchers said they had also been able to glean personal patient data by eavesdropping on signals from the tiny wireless radio that Medtronic, the device’s maker, had embedded in the implant as a way to let doctors monitor and adjust it without surgery.

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Infrastructure and US Innovation [12:41 pm]

Video Road Hogs Stir Fear of Internet Traffic Jam

While experts debate the immediacy of the challenge, they agree that it points to a larger issue. In the Internet era, they say, high-speed networks are increasingly the economic and scientific petri dishes of innovation, spawning new businesses, markets and jobs. If American investment lags behind, they warn, the nation risks losing competitiveness to countries that are making the move to higher-speed Internet access a priority.

“The long-term issue is where innovation happens,” Professor Odlyzko said. “Where will the next Google, YouTube, eBay or Amazon come from?”

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And There’s Still Talk About Amnesty? [12:39 pm]

F.B.I. Made ‘Blanket’ Demands for Phone Records

The bureau appears to have used the blanket records demands at least 11 times in 2006 alone as a quick way to clean up mistakes made over several years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to a letter provided to Congress by a lawyer for an F.B.I. agent who witnessed the missteps.

The F.B.I. has come under fire for its use of so-called national security letters to inappropriately gather records on Americans in terrorism investigations, but details have not previously been disclosed about its use of “blanket” warrants, a one-step operation used to justify the collection of hundreds of phone and e-mail records at a time.

See also Report on F.B.I. Use of Personal Data on the DoJ Inspector General report: A Review of the FBI’s Use of National Security Letters: Assessment of Corrective Actions and Examination of NSL Usage in 2006 (local copy)

Note: HR 3773 (in particular H.Res. 1041) is up for a House vote this afternoon, where tough sledding is anticipated in the face of the President’s continued (pdf) misrepresentation (pdf) of what the bill actually says.

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Belated Recognition [6:53 am]

War against Web tops music biz “screw-ups” list - pdf

But Dick Rowes billion-dollar boo-boo has been beaten to the top spot on Blender magazines list of the “20 biggest record company screw-ups of all time” by the failure of record companies to capitalize on the Internet.

The major labels took top dishonors for driving file-sharing service Napster out of business in 2001, instead of figuring out a way to make money from its tens of millions of users. The downloaders merely scattered to hundreds of other sites, and the industry has been in a tailspin ever since.

“The labels campaign to stop their music from being acquired for free across the Internet has been like trying to cork a hurricane — upward of a billion files are swapped every month on peer-to-peer networks,” Blender said in the report, which appears in its newly published April issue.

The Blender article: 20 Biggest Record Company Screw-Ups of All Timepdf

THE BIGGEST RECORD-COMPANY SCREWUP OF ALL TIME

#1 Major labels squash Napster

Shawn Fanning’s file-sharing service attracted tens of millions of users, but instead of trying to find a way to capitalize on it, the Recording Industry Association of America rejected Napster’s billion-dollar settlement offer and sued it out of existence in 2001. Napster’s users didn’t just disappear. They scattered to hundreds of alternative systems—and new technology has stayed three steps ahead of the music business ever since. The labels’ campaign to stop their music from being acquired for free across the Internet has been like trying to cork a hurricane—upward of a billion files are swapped every month on peer-to-peer networks. Since Napster closed, “there’s been no decline in the rate of online piracy,” says Eric Garland of media analysts BigChampagne, who logged users of son-of-Napster peer-to-peer networks more than doubling between 2002 and 2007. And that figure doubles again if you count BitTorrent.

Unintended consequence Your grandmother deciding to trade up from that dial-up connection

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March 12, 2008

OT: I’m Back [8:01 am]

Hi, everyone. The recent dearth of postings is not an indication of anything more than the fact that I took a two week vacation, and was swamped the week before trying to get ready to leave and am swamped now upon my return. I *will* get back into the swing, but I also have a new Mac that’s been sitting in my office since before I left that I need to get up and running, so the ramp up is going to be slow.

Here are a couple of images from my trip, in this case from Lake/River Tonle Sap (in Cambodia) and environs, for those who are interested.

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March 10, 2008

Surprise! [7:49 am]

Although this isn’t really news, data is always fun to see — and it’s interesting to see the topic continues to garner press: To Aim Ads, Web Is Keeping Closer Eye on You

A new analysis of online consumer data shows that large Web companies are learning more about people than ever from what they search for and do on the Internet, gathering clues about the tastes and preferences of a typical user several hundred times a month.

These companies use that information to predict what content and advertisements people most likely want to see. They can charge steep prices for carefully tailored ads because of their high response rates.

The analysis, conducted for The New York Times by the research firm comScore, provides what advertising executives say is the first broad estimate of the amount of consumer data that is transmitted to Internet companies.

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