Heck, Let’s Start a Neighborhood Watch!

We *all* need to protect movies, right?!? There’s certainly no better use of my tax dollars that *I* can think of! Piracy – Movies – New York City Council

Alarmed by New York City’s status as a global center of film and video piracy, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has embraced a proposal that would criminalize unauthorized recording in movie theaters.

At first glance, the proposal, which is before the City Council, might seem unnecessary. A federal law signed by President Bush in April 2005 made recording a film with a video camera in a movie theater a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison for the first offense. And in Albany the Legislature is weighing bills, supported by Mr. Bloomberg, that would make recording a film inside a theater a crime statewide.

Technology and Intelligence

Open-Source Spying

Intelligence heads wanted to try to find some new answers to this problem. So the C.I.A. set up a competition, later taken over by the D.N.I., called the Galileo Awards: any employee at any intelligence agency could submit an essay describing a new idea to improve information sharing, and the best ones would win a prize. The first essay selected was by Calvin Andrus, chief technology officer of the Center for Mission Innovation at the C.I.A. In his essay, “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community,” Andrus posed a deceptively simple question: How did the Internet become so useful in helping people find information?

Andrus argued that the real power of the Internet comes from the boom in self-publishing: everyday people surging online to impart their thoughts and views. He was particularly intrigued by Wikipedia, the “reader-authored” encyclopedia, where anyone can edit an entry or create a new one without seeking permission from Wikipedia’s owners. This open-door policy, as Andrus noted, allows Wikipedia to cover new subjects quickly. The day of the London terrorist bombings, Andrus visited Wikipedia and noticed that barely minutes after the attacks, someone had posted a page describing them. Over the next hour, other contributors — some physically in London, with access to on-the-spot details — began adding more information and correcting inaccurate news reports. “You could just sit there and hit refresh, refresh, refresh, and get a sort of ticker-tape experience,” Andrus told me. What most impressed Andrus was Wikipedia’s self-governing nature. No central editor decreed what subjects would be covered. Individuals simply wrote pages on subjects that interested them — and then like-minded readers would add new facts or fix errors. Blogs, Andrus noted, had the same effect: they leveraged the wisdom of the crowd. When a blogger finds an interesting tidbit of news, he posts a link to it, along with a bit of commentary. Then other bloggers find that link and, if they agree it’s an interesting news item, post their own links pointing to it. This produces a cascade effect. Whatever the first blogger pointed toward can quickly amass so many links pointing in its direction that it rockets to worldwide notoriety in a matter of hours.

Spies, Andrus theorized, could take advantage of these rapid, self-organizing effects. If analysts and agents were encouraged to post personal blogs and wikis on Intelink — linking to their favorite analyst reports or the news bulletins they considered important — then mob intelligence would take over.

That’s Not The Way It Works

Let’s hope someone explains it to Rep. Barton: Health Hazard: Computers Spilling Your History

Powerful forces are lobbying hard for government and private programs that could push the nation’s costly and inefficient health care system into the computer age. President Bush strongly favors more use of health information technology. Health insurance and medical device companies are eager supporters, not to mention technology companies like I.B.M. and Google. Furthermore, Intel and Wal-Mart Stores have both said they intend to announce plans this week to embrace electronic health records for their employees

[…] Advocates of such legislation, including Representative Joe L. Barton, the Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that concern about snooping should not freeze progress on adopting technology that could save money and improve care.

“Privacy is an important issue,” said Mr. Barton, who will lose the chairman’s post when the Democrats take over next year, “but more important is that we get a health information system in place.” Congress can address privacy later “if we need to,” he said.

The New Yorker On Placing Third

I enjoyed this when I read it earlier this week: In Praise of Third Place

Sony and Microsoft are desperate to be the biggest players in a market that, in their vision, will encompass not just video games but “interactive entertainment” generally. That’s why the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 are all-in-one machines, which allow users not just to play video games but also to do things like watch high-definition DVDs and stream digital music. Sony and Microsoft’s quest to “control the living room” has locked them in a classic arms race; they have invested billions of dollars in an attempt to surpass each other technologically, building ever-bigger, ever-better, and ever-more-expensive machines.

Nintendo has dropped out of this race. The Wii has few bells and whistles and much less processing power than its “competitors,” and it features less impressive graphics. It’s really well suited for just one thing: playing games. But this turns out to be an asset. The Wii’s simplicity means that Nintendo can make money selling consoles, while Sony is reportedly losing more than two hundred and forty dollars on each PlayStation 3 it sells—even though they are selling for almost six hundred dollars. Similarly, because Nintendo is not trying to rule the entire industry, it’s been able to focus on its core competence, which is making entertaining, innovative games.

And I was pleased to see that it was made a part of this assessment of this week’s video game news: Sony, Nintendo, etc.

Fulfilling a Need

Interesting that this is the only domain where this kind of attention to information management has developed so broadly: Here’s My Number (for Today)

In an age of information oversharing, the mobile-phone number is one of the few pieces of personal information that people still choose to guard. Unwanted incoming calls are intrusive and time-consuming and can suck precious daytime cell-plan minutes. And the decision to give out a cell number can haunt you for years, as people now hold on to the numbers longer than their land-line numbers.

Some people have found a way to avoid compromising the sanctity of their cellphone without committing the modern sin of being unreachable. Instead of giving out her cell number, Ms. McClain has recently been dispersing what has become known as a “social phone number.”

This is a free number that is as disposable as a Hotmail address. A handful of Web sites are creating these mask numbers, which can be obtained in nearly every area code (users can either have a number in their own region, or make it look as if they have an office in New York City when they are actually operating out of rural Maine).

These sites buy numbers in bulk at a discount, then generate profit by displaying ads and getting users of the free service to upgrade to billable plans with features like call forwarding, call blocking and outbound calling.

OT: You’ve Heard of Y2K? Try This On For Size

I find this hard to believe, so I’ve asked a colleague for confirmation: NASA gives green light for night launchpdf

If the launch does not happen on Dec. 7, NASA can keep trying through Dec. 17. After that, the agency will re-evaluate its options and may call it quits until mid-January.

NASA wants Discovery back from its 12-day mission by New Year’s Eve because shuttle computers are not designed to make the change from the 365th day of the old year to the first day of the new year while in flight.

The space agency has figured out a solution for the New Year’s problem, but managers are reluctant to try it since it has not been thoroughly tested.

Pushing For Blackboard Patent Reversal

Open-source group wants educational patent reversed

The Software Freedom Law Center said Thursday that it has asked the U.S. Patent Office to re-examine a patent awarded to education software company Blackboard. It claims that the patent is bogus and could undermine three open-source education software projects it represents–Sakai, Moodle and ATutor. The patent, No. 6,988,138, is titled “Internet-based education support system and methods” and relates to a central feature of Blackboard’s software: The ability to grant different people, such as students and teachers, different access rights to online resources such as grades, files or quizzes.

“It’s a junk patent that should never have been given by the Patent Office,” said Richard Fontana, a patent attorney with the Software Freedom Law Center. And the patent’s claims could have an impact on the three projects, he said: “They do effectively cover just about any e-learning software that is currently in use.”

See earlier Educational Software Patent Fight: Blackboard and Rising Profile of the Blackboard Patent Dispute

Joining Winston Smith at the “Ministry of Information”

Who wants to play? Who Did What in China’s Past? Look It Up, or Maybe Not

Just who was Mao Zedong?

In the English-language version of Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia, he was a victorious military and political leader who founded China’s modern Communist state. But he was also a man whom many saw as “a mass murderer, holding his leadership accountable for the deaths of tens of millions of innocent Chinese.”

Switch to Wikipedia in Chinese, though, and you read about a very different man. There, Mao’s reputation is unsullied by mention of any death toll in the great purges of the 1950s and 1960s, like the Great Leap Forward, a mass collectivization and industrialization campaign begun in 1958 that produced what many historians call the greatest famine in human history.

Wikipedia, an open encyclopedia founded in 2001 that allows ordinary users to create and edit the vast bulk of its entries, has always posed a challenge to China’s hypersensitive censors. Earlier this month, the government opened access to both the English and Chinese sites, though it has since resumed its blackout on the Chinese site. But on questions of this country’s modern history or on hot-button topical issues, the Chinese version diverges so significantly from its English counterpart that it sometimes reads as if it were approved by the censors themselves.

In Case You Missed This (I Know I Did)

New rules compel firms to track e-mailspdf

U.S. companies will need to keep track of all the e-mails, instant messages and other electronic documents generated by their employees thanks to new federal rules that go into effect Friday, legal experts say.

The rules, approved by the Supreme Court in April, require companies and other entities involved in federal litigation to produce “electronically stored information” as part of the discovery process, when evidence is shared by both sides before a trial.