August 21, 2008

Vinyl and the Mystique of Recorded Sound [8:26 am]

Vinyl records make a return (pdf)

According to the Recording Industry Assn., shipments of vinyl soared 36.6% from 2006 to 2007. That amounts to 1.3 million units nationwide. While the numbers are minuscule compared to CD shipments of 511 million for 2007, the news is much-welcomed by a faltering music industry.

“This is a little bright star,” said Jane Ventom, vice president for Hollywood-based EMI Music Marketing. Next month, Capitol/EMI will launch “From the Capitol Vaults,” with the release of 13 titles on vinyl, including Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and Steve Miller Band’s “Greatest Hits 1974-1978.”

Baby boomers, many of whom had long tucked away their turntables, began to feel nostalgic for their youth and the warm sound of vinyl. Concurrently, a younger generation, raised on CDs and tinny, compressed MP3 files, traded in their earbuds for a less isolated music experience.

Once again, I refer interested readers to The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction

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The Wild West Getting Less Wild? [8:24 am]

Or something else? Virtual Worlds Get Real About Punishment (pdf)

Virtual worlds have often been called the digital equivalent of the Wild West, where animated alter egos can live in a fantasy frontier. But in some of these universes, a sheriff has come to town.

Slipping a four-letter word into an instant message now could land a user in a virtual timeout. Repeated attempts to make friends with an uninterested character could result in a loss of blogging privileges. And if convicted of starting a “flame war,” or an exchange of hostile messages, a user may endure the ultimate punishment — permanent exile.

A virtual world for mobile devices, called Cellufun, has established a courthouse, where rule-breakers are indicted by their peers and tried by a jury of other community members. If found guilty of a charge, such as using profanity, users must carry out varying levels of sentences, from being mute for 20 minutes to being banished.

For the duration of punishment, a user’s avatar — a cartoon version of his or her real-life self — is pictured behind bars.

[...] Virtual worlds such as Second Life and Cellufun began with few rules and little oversight. Avatars can create their own societies and carry out realistic activities, such as buying land, building houses and forming social groups. But as the worlds’ populations grow, some have developed more sophisticated legal codes and justice systems to police members’ behavior. Many virtual worlds hope that creating an orderly environment will entice more users — and prevent the need for real-world legal intervention.

See the classic A Rape In Cyberspace

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WaPo Column on Deep Packet Inspection [8:15 am]

Rob Pegoraro - Internet Providers’ New Tool Raises Deep Privacy Concerns (pdf)

Taking these companies at their word, what’s there to worry about? We trade privacy for convenience all the time. We visit sites that keep far less detailed records of our comings and goings with “cookies” — the small placeholder text files they drop on our hard drives. Millions of people subject themselves to more intensive scrutiny when they use Google’s Gmail service, which scans the text of each message to place more relevant ads.

If deep packet inspection lives up to its promises, it might even yield a cash benefit. Internet providers using this technology could afford to offer customers a deal: Accept this scrutiny, and we’ll knock $10 a month off your bill.

But systems such as deep packet inspection unnerve a lot of Internet users for sound reasons.

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Comcast Tries A New Approach [8:12 am]

Comcast to slow Net service for some users (pdf)

The Federal Communications Commission found on Aug. 1 that Comcast had improperly blocked peer-to-peer programs such as BitTorrent that are used to share videos and other files.

In an order posted on its website yesterday, the FCC gave the Philadelphia-based company 30 days to provide details of its “unreasonable network management practices” and show how they would be changed by year-end.

[...] The new system will move away from a focus on specific applications that hog Web traffic, Bowling said. Comcast will determine “in nearly real time” whether congestion is caused by a heavy user, he said.

“If in fact a person is generating enough packets that they’re the ones creating that situation, we will manage that consumer for the overall good of all of our consumers,” Bowling said.

Also: FCC Orders Comcast to Stop Blocking Some Large Files (pdf)

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Just In Case You Thought There Were Restrictions On Surveillance [7:57 am]

Hey, we really *are* “Suspected Terrorists.” (even more links) I think I need a button: New Guidelines Would Give F.B.I. Broader Powers

A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion, Democratic lawmakers briefed on the details said Wednesday.

The plan, which could be made public next month, has already generated intense interest and speculation. Little is known about its precise language, but civil liberties advocates say they fear it could give the government even broader license to open terrorism investigations.

Will this be enough to get Obama to draw the line? *hah*

Later: A New York Times editorial — A New Rush to Spy

The F.B.I. has a long history of abusing its authority to spy on domestic groups, including civil rights and anti-war activists, and there is a real danger that the new rules would revive those dark days.

Clearly, the Bush administration cannot be trusted to get the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties right. It has repeatedly engaged in improper and illegal domestic spying — notably in the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

The F.B.I. and the White House no doubt want to push the changes through before a new president is elected. There is no reason to rush to adopt rules that have such important civil liberties implications.

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Apple and Education — Again [7:43 am]

Welcome, Freshmen. Have an iPod.

Experts see a movement toward the use of mobile technology in education, though they say it is in its infancy as professors try to concoct useful applications. Providing powerful hand-held devices is sure to fuel debates over the role of technology in higher education.

“We think this is the way the future is going to work,” said Kyle Dickson, co-director of research and the mobile learning initiative at Abilene Christian University in Texas, which has bought more than 600 iPhones and 300 iPods for students entering this fall.

Although plenty of students take their laptops to class, they don’t take them everywhere and would prefer something lighter. Abilene Christian settled on the devices after surveying students and finding that they did not like hauling around laptops, but that most always carried a cellular phone, Dr. Dickson said.

It is not clear how many colleges plan to give out iPhones and iPods this fall; officials at Apple were coy about the subject and said they would not leak any institution’s plans.

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Open Science [7:30 am]

A provocative look at the movement: Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results (pdf)

Openness has always been an integral part of science, with scientists presenting findings in journals or at conferences. But the open-science movement, with many of its leaders in the Boston area, encourages scientists to share techniques and even their work long before they are ready to present results, when they are devising research questions, running experiments, and analyzing data. In such open forums, the wisdom of the crowd could offer the ultimate form of peer review. And scientific information, they say, should be available without the hefty subscription fees charged by most journals.

It is an attempt to bring the kind of revolutionary and disruptive change to the laboratory that the Internet has already wrought on the music and print media industries. The idea is that opening up science could speed discoveries, increase collaboration, and transform the field in unforeseen ways.

On the other side are people who see the benefits of the status quo. For centuries, scientific discoveries have occurred at a steady clip, without the help of wikis or Web tools. Journals publish papers that have been scrutinized by specialists, ensuring that bad research doesnt mislead other scientists or the public.

Scientists who plunge into openness also risk giving a competing lab a leg up. [...]

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