Another Kind of Technological Alienation

Prozac to My Ears [pdf] Certainly one explanation for why lately I seem to need a coupe of good shots of Green Day’s “Holiday” to get through the day.

Say you’re headed for a meeting with an important client and need to be bold, aggressive, pumped up. A licensed M.D. — that would be “musical doctor” — might prescribe Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” with its driving, syncopated beat and its now-or-never refrain, “You’ve only got one shot, do not miss your chance” to seal the deal. Prepping for a job interview and need something to boost your confidence but also calm your nerves? “Smooth Operator” by Sade can make you feel like James Bond without the messy duty of killing archvillains and waves of henchmen. These selections work for me, at least. The point is that anyone can, to some extent, guide the way he or she feels.

Apple sold 5 million iPods this past Christmas season alone, which poses an obvious question: Why do so many of us need to block out the world and rearrange our moods this way? I think it’s because our lives don’t give us time to do it the old-fashioned way.

We’re always plugged in: The cell phone rings. The PDA chimes an alarm. The BlackBerry buzzes in its awkward holster, or the Sidekick signals an incoming instant message that demands an equally instant response. We tote around our laptops and WiFi while we sip our lattes in Starbucks.

This is no Luddite yawp, mind you — I can’t imagine a world without cell phones, and the BlackBerry that lets me sit in a cab in Washington, exchanging gossip with an old friend on his farm outside London, is indistinguishable from magic.

But we should realize that constant interaction truncates the mental treks that once led us to our moods — the sustained train of thought, the extended reverie, the day-long smolder, the can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head anticipation, the lingering funk. It used to take a while to internalize a slight to the point where we reached a proper state of righteous indignation, or to reflect on our many blessings and soar into unbridled joy. But there’s no time, and the cell phone keeps ringing. We plug in our ear-buds and whisper-click the wheel to shut out the world and get our heads where we need them to be, in a hurry.

Hmmm – What Does This Price Competition Suggest?

Selling DVDs Next to Pirates

Taking its battle against rampant piracy of films and music to the front lines, Warner Home Video said it will sell cut-rate DVDs in China in a bid to compete on the counterfeiters’ home turf.

Basic DVDs, to be available shortly after a film’s theatrical release, will sell in China for as little as 22 yuan ($2.65), the company said. That’s still more than the pirated versions readily available in China for 8 yuan ($1).

Warner’s basic versions will not carry any DVD extras such as directors’ interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, the company said. But versions with more features will be available a bit later for 28 yuan ($3.38).

Ah, The Joys Of Modal Regulation/Legislation

Lafayette hits snag in fiber build

On Wednesday, a state district judge ruled that the Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) must follow a different portion of state law to issue $125 million in bonds to pay for its planned fiber-optic telecommunications business. The ruling opens the door for a special election to decide whether the LUS can borrow the money necessary to fund the project.

The utility system, which built a fiber network to service its utilities business, has been offering wholesale bandwidth services to at least 11 Internet service providers, and providing retail broadband services to city agencies, since 2002. Now the LUS wants to expand this network, and provide residents and businesses with cable, phone and high-speed Internet services over fiber connections into homes and businesses.

BellSouth and Cox Communications, the local telephone and cable companies serving Lafayette, have strongly opposed the utility system’s plan. Last month, the service providers filed a lawsuit against the LUS, alleging that it was using a portion of state bond law that contained no provision for citizens to call for a public election.

Not like deploying wireless, apparently. See The Philadelphia Experiment and Municipal Wireless Proposals Beyond Philadelphia

Also, see Glenn Fleishman’s discussion of what it might have meant if this same argument had been applied to electricity in the past: Imagine Electricity [via Scott Rosenberg]

Groklaw Offers A Message On S/W Patents For The EU

Jumping off from this Financial Times article, Futures exchanges brace for patent suits [pdf], Groklaw goes into the gory details:

In Europe, patent litigation in the futures industry is a much rarer phenomenon because it is harder to patent software inventions. But the TT case is threatening to change that. In London this week, lawyers from Clifford Chance briefed a roomful of traders and other futures industry participants on the state of affairs and what they might need to do to defend themselves.

Vanessa Marsland, a Clifford Chance partner in the intellectual property practice, said: “In the US, patent damages can be substantial.”

She added: “Independent software vendors may have to reconsider the way they do business, and in particular the way they roll out new software to customers.”

TT has proposed to the four main futures exchanges — two in Chicago, plus Euronext.Liffe and Eurex — that it should be paid a fee for not starting patent infringement cases against them.

Copyright, First Amendment and Culture Protest

The Controversy Over Politically-Motivated “Million Dollar Baby” Spoilers

Copyright law is the main way our society protects the market for the sale and purchase of creative works such as novels, music, and movies. It aims to ensure that that market can flourish so that creators, and the companies that distribute their work, can reap the profit from their labor. It thus provides an incentive for creators to produce more.

But copyright law makes an exception for “fair use” – even though fair use can destroy the market for a creative work, and thus, in a sense, defeat the purpose of the work’s copyright. An example of a “fair use” would be incorporating limited quotations from a book in a book review. Such quotation is a permissible “fair use” even if the review savages the book and makes sales plummet.

In addition, a devastating parody may well serve its purpose of making the original work look ridiculous – and thus killing the market for that work – yet still be “fair use.” Justice Souter made this point memorably in his opinion in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., in which he mounted a strong defense of the right to parody.

[…] In short, while spoilers and reviews may both be fair uses, all fair uses are not created alike: Some are pro-First Amendment, helping us choose what to see and read, and some are anti-First Amendment, forcing us to limit our choices by deceptively spoiling certain options against our will.

So commentators who say they are pro-First Amendment, especially, ought to think twice before offering a spoiler without a prior spoiler warning. They wouldn’t forcibly pull viewers out of ticket lines for “Million Dollar Baby,” but in using spoilers aggressively, they also employ a form of coercion.

Ruining others’ viewing or reading experiences ought not to be a weapon in the arsenal of someone who is truly pro-First Amendment.

Some TV I Missed

War Is H-E-Double-Toothpicks

After watching the 90 grueling minutes of A Company of Soldiers, it’s hard to believe that anyone would be more concerned with what the members of Dog Company in South Baghdad are saying than with what’s actually happening to them. After watching the show, I spoke to David Fanning, Frontline‘s executive producer, about PBS’s decision to reverse their usual policy of airing potentially offensive material on the nationwide “hard feed,” while making a sanitized version available on demand to those local markets that preferred it. Last night, the default version of A Company of Soldiers—the one available on 300 out of the 350 PBS stations nationwide—was the expurgated one. But though Fanning sent out a memo last week protesting PBS’s decision and stating that “this is the moment for public television to stand firm and broadcast ‘A Company of Soldiers’ intact,” he says he understands the network’s plight as well.

[…] Bill Reed, the manager of KCPT, a PBS station in Kansas City that chose to run the program unedited in its original time slot and risk the fine, has compared the current broadcasting climate to the Red Scare of the 1950s: “You have to go back to the McCarthy era to get a feel for how far this has gone.” When I asked Fanning if that was overstating the case, he grew thoughtful, saying, “A comparison is valid in that a minority of people have brought their values to bear on public standards.” But Fanning was most worried about the intangible muzzling effect that the current climate of fear will have on producers of future shows, who are more likely to censor themselves in terms of program content. He cited a well-known 1985 episode of Frontline, Memory of the the Camps, which included never-before-seen footage from the liberation of German concentration camps in 1945. If that documentary were to air today, could images of nude prisoners fall under the FCC prohibition against “obscene, profane and indecent broadcasts”?

I asked Fanning if there was anything else viewers should know about the FCC’s increasingly long shadow on the broadcast television landscape. He stressed the anachronistic quality of the commission itself: “We’re trapped in an old structure here, of the regulation of broadcasting vs. the unregulatedness of cable.”

Warning! Dangerous Metaphor!

The media industries keep trying to turn the Internet into TV — this kind of presentation helps to set the frame for the discussion. The content of the article is grist for those who want to turn the Internet into TV; an idea to be fought however it raises its head: The Internet: It’s the New TV

Television has long been a favorite way to pass time. But an annual survey by Jupiter Research showed that last year American adults spent as many hours a week in front of another screen – their computer’s.

The survey of 2,231 people found that consumers spent an average of 10 hours a week on the Internet in 2004, the same amount as the year before. TV watching declined to 10 hours a week, however, from 11 in 2003.

Limits To Liability in Privacy

Breach Points Up Flaws in Privacy Laws

But whatever the specific legal fallout of the ChoicePoint breach, the bigger effect may be its exposure of the patchwork of sometimes conflicting state and federal rules that govern consumer privacy and commercial data vendors. In recent days, state and federal regulators and lawmakers have started calling for an updating of those rules, which never envisioned the current power of data gatherers to amass and distribute vast digital dossiers on ordinary citizens.

[…] Critics say the current laws, in focusing too closely on industry-specific uses of information, like credit reports or medical data, rather than on protecting the privacy of the individuals in the databases, have failed to keep pace with the emergence of such data miners.

[…] Like the name ChoicePoint itself, the sheer size and scope of what data brokers are able to offer clients may be unknown to many of the ordinary consumers whose information they buy and sell. It is only in the last decade or so that boutique services like credit reporting agencies, which once catered solely to specific clients like banks or potential employers, have given way to giant, one-stop shops like ChoicePoint where all sorts of ostensibly qualified parties are able to purchase consumer information.

See also Wired News’ ID Theft Victims Could Lose Twice and Infoworld’s ChoicePoint’s error sparks talk of ID theft law

Later: This Reuters article – Lawmakers Promise Action on Identity Theft [pdf] (CNet version); Wired News: California Woman Sues ChoicePoint

Even later: picking a new target, Westlaw – Senator Says Data Service Has Lax Rules for Security; Databases Called Invitations to ID Theft [pdf]

Even later: ‘Perfect storm’ for new privacy laws?

Tin Foil Hat, Anyone?

The fact that this complaint can be made and not immediately discredited carries its own message about technology and alienation: Lawsuit Says HP Printer Cartridges Die Before Use

A Georgia woman has sued Hewlett-Packard Co., claiming the ink cartridges for their printers are secretly programed to expire on a certain date, in some cases rendering them useless before they are even installed in a printer.

The suit filed in Santa Clara Superior Court in northern California last Thursday seeks to represent anyone in the United States who purchased an HP inkjet printer since Feb. 2001. […]

[…] HP ink cartridges use a chip technology to sense when they are low on ink and advise the user to make a change. But the suit claims those chips also shut down the cartridges at a predetermined date regardless of whether they are empty.

“The smart chip is dually engineered to prematurely register ink depletion and to render a cartridge unusable through the use of a built-in expiration date that is not revealed to the consumer,” the suit said.

The Perils Of Running A Telecommunications Network

Ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous:

  • Experts: New sub can tap fiber-optic cables [pdf]

    The USS Jimmy Carter, set to join the nation’s submarine fleet Saturday, will have some special capabilities, intelligence experts say: It will be able to tap undersea cables and eavesdrop on the communications passing through them.

    […] The Jimmy Carter, like other submarines, will also have the ability to eavesdrop on communications — what the military calls signal intelligence — passed through the airwaves, experts say. But its ability to tap undersea fiber-optic cables may be unique in the fleet.

    […] “The capacity of fiber optics is so much greater than other communications media or technologies, and it’s also immune to the stick-up-an-antenna type of eavesdropping,” said Jeffrey Richelson, an expert on intelligence technologies.

    To listen to fiber-optic transmissions, intelligence operatives must physically place a tap somewhere along the route. If the stations that receive and transmit the communications along the lines are on foreign soil or otherwise inaccessible, tapping the line is the only way to eavesdrop on it.

  • Hungry field mice knock out phone network [pdf]

    Hungry field mice caused a 20-hour telephone blackout in central Sweden on Tuesday by gnawing through cables, telecom operator TeliaSonera said.

    Fixed-line phone connections for more than 1,500 homes in Jamtland and Medelpad in central Sweden, were severed late on Monday by hungry rodents chewing their way through a fibre-optic cable near the town of Ange.

    Mobile phones were also cut off.