Friday, April 30, 2004


To readers whom it may concern,

Expect less blog activity here for the next few weeks. Law school finals are beginning in one week and I need to hit the books. I'll be doing some light blogging in the meantime.

It's been almost a full month since this site has been up. Thanks for reading! I have recieved a few emails from readers and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. By the way, if you want contact: ccohen (at) gmail dot com is the addy.

I am still looking into getting my nice shiny new blog up. It'll probably be about 5 more weeks until I do though. I'm debating what company to go with but am leaning towards typepad. Got any ideas for a domain name? I have a few but I'm up for suggestions.

Hope all is well.

Chris Rush Cohen

Diebold in trouble again

California has taken the step of banning the use of Diebold's electronic volting machines from their elections. It is about time someone took action on this. Not only are the machines totally buggy, as Californians discovered during a recent election, but the company itself was busted when some college students posted a bunch of emails from workers there that said basically that they knew the machines didn't work well and could be easily hacked (Diebold tried to attack the students and university using copyright law to force them to take down the documents). Also, the owner of the company is a die hard Republican donor who has promised to "deliver votes to the president."

"It is a good day for democracy," said Aviel D. Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University and a leading critic of the company's technology. "Those machines are poorly designed and full of bugs and security flaws." Michael Wertheimer, a former official of the National Security Agency who tested Diebold machines at the request of the state of Maryland and found that the election systems could be easily hacked by insiders or outsiders, said that the stringent action was appropriate and that the problems with the machines could be addressed. "They're absolutely fixable said Mr. Wertheimer, but "the time for mea culpas are behind for all of these companies. They have to get out front and say, `We are going to make these systems secure.' "

If you thought Florida 2000 was a mess, wait until November, when a bunch of states will use these machines without paper trails. If there are questions of accuracy after the votes are in, there wil be no way to count them at all, so we'd have to let the Supreme Court decide for us again. Diebold may even be facing criminal charges in California at the moment. Yikes.

Maybe this sounds crazy, but shouldn't a voting machine company at least have the appearance of being apolitical?

Via The New York Times.

Cell Phone Sociology: cell phones and caller ID changing the way people answer the phone

The younger generation will never know what it is like to receive a call and not know who is going to be on the other end. Because of caller ID, we know always know who is calling - and caller ID comes standard with all cell phone plans. Many people (such as myself) do not even have home phones anymore, cellphones are ubiquitous. Engadget notes:

[C]ellphones are making people so accustomed having the person they’re calling be the person who answers that they’re dispensing with all the usual pleasantries of introductions, salutations, or even asking for the person they’re calling for, and instead launching right into conversations, oblivious the fact that it could be someone else they’re speaking with.

Via Engadget.

secret ACLU lawsuit agaisnt the FBI re Patriot Act provisions revealed

The ACLU recently released the fact that they are involved in a secret lawsuit against the FBI challenging their ability to secretly subeona ISP's for records about users. The FBI obtained this ability with the passing of the Patriot Act. They may now obtin record without judicial oversight, and keep anyone from talking about it. Another related power, that I will not address, is the sneak and peek provision of the Patriot Act, which actually allows the FBI to conduct physical searches without notifying the owner of the property until much later. Kinda sounds like a due process problem because there's no judicial oversight.

The FBI can issue national security letters, or NSLs, without a judge's approval in terrorism and espionage cases. They require telephone companies, Internet service providers, banks, credit bureaus and other businesses to produce highly personal records about their customers or subscribers.

People who receive the letters are prohibited by law from disclosing to anyone that they did so. Because of this legal gag order, the ACLU was forced to reach an agreement with the Justice Department before a heavily edited version of the lawsuit could be unsealed.

The ACLU couldn't even disclose the existence of the lawsuit until now. That is disturbing.

Via The Washington Post.

The XBox catching up

The XBox is on the come-up. In the past one of XBox's greatest weakness (and Paystation 2's greatest strength) has been their inability to woo game designers to make exclusives for their box (and thus take advantage of the XBox's greater power). Times they are a-changin'. Also, the XBox is actually overtaking the PS2 in monthly sales now, although it could never hope to sell more in general.

Some games being made soley for the XBox that are on their way - Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict & Doom 3. These are both bound to be huge sellers, which will strengthen its rep as the top box for FPS's.

Sony has prevailed up to now on symbiotic advantages: it sells more consoles because it has many of the most popular games, often exclusively, and developers of those games are attracted by the sheer number of PlayStation users. If Microsoft can woo more developers to Xbox, the balance of power in the next round could change.

Word. XBox has the power, it just needs the software.

Via The New York Times.

More spyware news -- educate yourself!

The FTC recently held a workshop on spyware issues. If you don't know:

In general, spyware - called adware by its proponents - is software that shows up on a computer unannounced, often because the owner has signed up for a free service like a file-sharing network or has agreed to receive messages in return for gaining access to a Web site. The software usually delivers pop-up ads, but sometimes performs other actions without the owner understanding what is going on or how to stop it.
The activities of spyware programs can be relatively benign, obnoxious or even blatantly illegal. Computer users may be driven to distraction by pop-up ads, some pornographic, or find that their PC's become sluggish, laboring under the computing burden of the unwanted programs. Some programs monitor Internet use or even record keystrokes, such as password entries.

Even legitimate companies like Yahoo!, Amazon, and Microsoft are wary of allowing the states to create anti-spyware laws for several reasons. Among them are a concern that there will be different laws in every state, which is hard to work with; and that uninformed legislation will outlaw legitimate uses of programs that may or may not be considered "spyware" - like cookies that record user information and other helpful tracking programs (there are helpful ones). This article points out that what typically happens, as with the CAN-SPAN act, is that several states will make legislation, then the interested parties will lobby Congress to make a new one without teeth to supercede all the state laws.

Truth be told, some of the main reasons that spam and spyware are such problems is a lack of consumer education - people don't realize that when they download freeware and shareware it comes with spyware as part of a "drive-by download." Users even unwittingly agree to have it on their computers often time, they just click the "I Agree" button. Do yourself a favor and get a spybot killer (I recommend Search & Destroy). By being a smart user you can avoid all these troubles. The answer to making the Internat a pleasent place to be may well not be to regulate the applications on the Internet, but to be a smart user who utilizes programs to aid you (spybot killers, pop-up killers).

Also, whenever you write your email address online write it out, but not as a link. For instance, my email address is ccohen at gmail dot com. Get it. That way crawlers that harvest email addresses can see it. Also, as for stopping pop-ups (which are often caused by spyware) get yourself the Google toolbar, it rocks.

An attorney points out -

"[WhenU's] business model, and Gator's business model,'' Mr. Zeidner said, "is to put this [spyware/adware] on computers faster than the public is being educated and removing it from their computers."

Go, read this NYT article.

Debut album released as only as ringtones

A new music group has released its first album as ringtones instead of on CD. The group is called Super Smart and the "album" is called Panda Babies. Weird.

Super Smart say this is because they want to avoid interference from the major labels, but it is no doubt a useful gimmick to attract media attention.

Apparently there is a music label that is trying to create a new version of music star - ones who become famous by releasing albums as ringtones only. A good concept, especially for Europe and Asia. US consumers are into ringtones, but not like Brits or Japanese.

Via The BBC.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Florida Town Will Soon Have Cameras and Computers Running Background Checks on Every Car and Driver!

This just seems wrong, but the fact is that the courts have determined that when you are in your car you are in a public space and therefore have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

One of the nation's wealthiest towns will soon have cameras and computers running background checks on every car and driver that passes through.
Police Chief Clay Walker said cameras will take infrared photos recording a car's tag number, then software will automatically run the numbers through law enforcement databases. A 911 dispatcher is alerted if the car is stolen or is the subject of a "be on the lookout" warning.

If you land on the "be on the lookout" list another camera will take a picture of your face!

Another reason this should be ok is that it isn't discriminatory in who it takes pictures of in the same way an officer may be. The cameras and computers will check everyone, not just people of a certain ethnicity or from a certain county.

If you are a robber looking for a jackpot head to Manalapan, check it out:

Manalapan's town council authorized $60,000 in security upgrades last week after three burglaries this winter robbed residents of $400,000 in jewelry. The town averages two or three burglaries per year and residents demanded swift response

Get used to it, this is a trend. There are already thousands of cameras in cities all over the US and the EU watching all the time. For some reason this situation seemed newsworthy because it involves cars just driving through, but the fact is your on camera fairly often if you live in certain areas of NYC or London. As the price of surviellence equipment drops and as facial recognition software becomes more effective these stories will keep on coming.

Via ABC News.

Liquid Body Armor

That's right. Soak kevlar vests in this new solution and you've got some pretty effective and high tech armor.

This type of body armor is light and flexible, which allows soldiers to be more mobile and won't hinder an individual from running or aiming his or her weapon.

"During normal handling, the STF is very deformable and flows like a liquid. However, once a bullet or frag hits the vest, it transitions to a rigid material, which prevents the projectile from penetrating the Soldier's body," said Dr. Eric Wetzel, a mechanical engineer from the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate who heads the project team.

"The sky's the limit," said Wetzel. "We would first like to put this material in a soldier's sleeves and pants, areas that aren't protected by ballistic vests but need to remain flexible. We could also use this material for bomb blankets, to cover suspicious packages or unexploded ordnance. Liquid armor could even be applied to jump boots, so that they would stiffen during impact to support Soldiers' ankles."

Apparently the armor is even stab resistant, something that normal kevlar can't do. Sounds good, lets get it out there in the field. There have been ongoing complaints from soldiers that they are too lightly armored. Families have been buying their children body armor and sending it to them in Iraq because the military is short. Also, the soldiers in Iraq are short on armored Humvees. I read somewhere that the military was disallowing the custom modifications some soldiers were making on the vehicles because they weren't official equipment. Something's gotta be done about all that, the least they can do is equip these guys properly (it keeps morale up too).

Article here.


Here's a BBC article on MoBlogging (Mobile Blogging). Moblogging is typically accomplished using a cell phone with a camera on it. Take the pic and email it to an account that puts it up on your blog. My new and improved blog, to make it's debut in late May or early June will have such capabilities (although I still need a nice new camera phone).

The article is worth a quick read if your unfamiliar with this fairly new phenomenom.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

CAN-SPAM Act finally getting action.

The first lawsuits based on the CAN-SPAM Act were filed today against some spammers who were sending out email advertising diet pills. They were doing some naughty things forbidden by the CAN-SPAM Act, such as; 1) falsifying their header information; 2) hijacking relay computers to send the spam for them; 3) not providing a physical return address; 4) not providing information that personally identified the sender; 5) sent more than 100,000 spam emails during the course of a year (millions in this case); etc. The articles don't say these are the parts the spammers violated, but I'm taking a guess it is these provisions, and probably a few others. These guys could be facing jail time, also, they will have to give up all of the money they have made from the operation, anything they have bought with that money, and all of the equipment and programs they used to send the spam. OUCH! Let the spammer smack-downs begin!

Court papers identified the four as Daniel J. Lin, James J. Lin, Mark M. Sadek and Christopher Chung, all believed living in suburban Detroit. They were accused of disguising their identities in hundreds of thousands of e-mail sales pitches and delivering e-mails by bouncing messages through unprotected relay computers on the Internet.

Much like their email return addresses:

The Lins and Chung could not be located at any of the addresses or telephone numbers listed in the court documents.

How Ironic.

Articles here and here.

forget iTunes...

Now there's serving up music by the Gig! As the Russian site asks: "Is it legally to download music from site" Well...

All the materials in the MediaServices projects are available for distribution through Internet according to license # LS-3М-03-79 of the Russian Multimedia and Internet Society. Under the license terms, MediaServices pays license fees for all the materials subject to the Law of the Russian Federation "On Copyright and Related Rights". All the materials are available solely for personal use and must not be used for further distribution, resale or broadcasting.

Users are held liable for the use and distribution of the MediaServices site information materials according to local legislation.

And you can get the music in any of several formats or levels of quality, check it out:

The provides a service called "Online Encoding". Online Encoding is a unique technique of online audio files encoding, which enables you to get music in the format (MPEG-1 Layer 3 - MP3, Windows Media Audio - WMA, Ogg Vorbis - OGG, MusePack - MPC, MPEG-4 AAC, etc.) and in the quality you prefer. By choosing compression method and bitrate, you regulate the quality of the resulting (encoded) files.

If you are afraid of giving your credit card number to some wierdo Russian company don't worry, you can use PayPal!
Best of all, the price is 1 or 2 cents per mg, depending on the download (which makes it about 96 cents less per song than iTunes). The full price per Gig then is between $10 and $20 dollars! If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is -- this is clearly illegal in the US, and I bet that's where you live isn't it? On the other hand, you better get yours while the gettin' is good, 'cause I don't see this lasting too long. The RIAA probably already hired some ex-KGB assassins to go get these suckers.

Via Gizmodo.

Check out an article here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

heads-up display projected onto your retina

This is way cool.

US firm Microvision has developed a system that projects lasers onto the retina, allowing users to view images on top of their normal field of vision.

It's only a matter of time before we can use this to enhance regular old life and even to enter virtual realities. Bring it on.

"Seeing is believing and seeing these images floating in front of you at about arms length distance is pretty incredible. Reality can be enriched by having more detailed information about what you see."

Honda is already using the technology in car production.

The system has been years in the making and has only just come into commercial usage in the car industry, with Honda using it in its dealerships. The first generation product, called the Nomad Expert Technician System, consists of a wireless computer and a hi-tech monocle, costing around $4,000.

Check this out.

There is still work to be done but potentially the system could become second only to tapping into the optic nerve in terms of getting images to the brain. It could provide three dimensional pictures in perfect colour, able to simulate near or distant objects with complete realism, which could provide gamers with an intense sense of reality.

Maybe we can expect such a system with the XBox 3?

Via The BBC and Engadget.

Rabbit like robots taking over cities in developing nations!

Just for fun... Check out this CGI video of a robot patrolling the streets in a city in a developing state. Looks pretty real to me (and also like a giant rabbit).

blind date vs. Playstation 2

An all expenses paid blind date with a cute girl, or a free Playstation 2?

Well, the Playstation is likely to be much less awkward, last longer, and is almost certain to provide more action. At a recent San Fran Giants game halftime show a man was presented with just such a choice, and came to the obvious conclusion. He took the Playstation. The men in the crowd went wild.

Via Gizmodo.

child up for auction

I'm sure this was just a joke, but these parents have gotten themselves in lots of trouble.

Police: German pair auction child on Internet for one euro

Via CNN.

Do-Not-Call Registry

Stick it to 'em! The government is going to raise the cost of purchasing the "Do-Not-Call List."

The proposal drew immediate criticism from the telemarketing industry. It represents "the ongoing, literal persecution of the teleservices industry," said Tim Searcy, executive director of the American Teleservices Association, which represents more than 600 call centers.

Awwww, we really feel bad for you, especially after we hung up on one of your friends this evening during dinner. There should be tougher legislation concerning telemarketing - like with the CAN-SPAM act (as ineffective as it is) which provides a civil action and remedy per unsolicited phone call (and criminal suits if there has been over 1,000 unsolicited emails in one year). There is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act which forbids unsolicited faxes ("junk faxes"), "autodialer" calling, and prohibits telephone solicitation calls to homes before 8 am or after 9 pm. Unfortunatly niether the law nor the enforcement of it is very tough - the FTC has received 300,000 complaints from people claiming violations of the Do Not Call List and has yet to fine any telemarketing company.

Get on the list here, it does help.

Via The Washington Post.

of poutine and The Da Vinci Code


Poutine is a culinary delight native to Quebec, and people are taking notice. It's good stuff:

Quebec's signature dish, made of fried potatoes covered with melted cheddar cheese curds and gravy, is slowly spreading beyond Canada and winning fans as far away as New York City and Florida. But the really big culinary news is that poutine is becoming haute cuisine.

I don't know about being haute cuisine, but it sure is damn good. I have yet to see poutine in NYC, but I am looking forward to finding it. Shockingly, poutine has been thought of as junk food and Quebecois were ashamed of their dish:

"People were ashamed to say, 'I want to go to a restaurant to eat poutine,' " said Mr. Picard recently in an interview at his restaurant. "You'd eat it at 3 in the morning when you are drunk or after a party..." "When you go to a restaurant for a salad, you have a problem," he said with a stern look..."And when you eat poutine, it makes you happy."

Truer words were never spoken. Quebecois chefs are getting creative with poutine in an attempt to make it more popular, one of them is even putting foie gras on it. If you've never been to Montreal, go go go, it's a wonderful city. Have a poutine and a "point" for me while you're there.

The Da Vinci Code

Typically, if I see everyone reading a bestseller book on the subway I assume it must be total trash. Nearly every day last year I saw someone reading "The Da Vinci Code," either on the subway or where ever else. According to this New York Times article, the book is causing people to question their faith in Jesus and now the Catholic church is on the defense. Maybe a book that is so controversial is worth reading.

Both stories via The New York Times.

Monday, April 26, 2004

I got mine!

I got myself a fresh new Gmail account today. These accounts are still of limited availability, apparently they are still testing the system. Anyway, I am just bragging.

Here are some interesting portions of the privacy policy:

By using Gmail, you agree to the collection and use of your personal information as described in this policy. If we make any significant changes to this policy, we will notify you by posting a notice of such changes on the Gmail login page.

You should know:

We collect limited account information and store and maintain your account and email messages on our secure servers.
We will never rent, sell or share information that personally identifies you for marketing purposes without your express permission.
We serve highly relevant ads and other information as part of the service using our unique content-targeting technology. No human reads your email to target ads or related information to you without your consent.
You can update your account information and preferences at any time.
To comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, at this time Gmail is only available to users who are at least 13 years old. If you are under 13, please do not use the Gmail service.

Email contents and usage. The contents of your Gmail account also are stored and maintained on Google servers in order to provide the service. Google's computers process the information in your email for various purposes, including formatting and displaying the information to you, delivering targeted related information (such as advertisements and related links), preventing unsolicited bulk email (spam), backing up your email, and other purposes relating to offering you Gmail. Because we keep back-up copies of data for the purposes of recovery from errors or system failure, residual copies of email may remain on our systems for some time, even after you have deleted messages from your mailbox or after the termination of your account. Google employees do not access the content of any mailboxes unless you specifically request them to do so (for example, if you are having technical difficulties accessing your account) or if required by law, to maintain our system, or to protect Google or the public.

We also may collect information about the use of your account, such as how much storage you are using, how often you log in and other information related to your registration and use of Gmail. Information displayed or clicked on in your Gmail account (including UI elements, ads, links, and other information) is also recorded. We use this information internally to deliver the best possible service to you, such as improving the Gmail user interface, preventing fraud within our advertising system, and better targeting related information.

Google will never sell, rent or share your personal information, including your Gmail address or email content, with any third parties for marketing purposes without your express permission.

How we deliver targeted content to you.

We never share your personally identifying information with any advertiser as part of this service, unless you specifically ask us to do so. When you are logged into your Gmail account, Google will display targeted ads and other relevant information based on the content of the email displayed. In a completely automated process, computers process the text in a message and match it to ads or related information in Google's extensive database. No human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent.

Advertisers receive a record of the total number of impressions and clicks for each ad. They do not receive any personal information about the person who viewed the ad. If you click on an ad, Google will send a referring URL to the advertiser's site identifying that you are visiting from Gmail. Google does not send personally identifying information to advertisers with the referring URL. Once you are on the advertiser's site, however, the advertiser may collect personal information about you. Google does not control or take responsibility for the privacy policies of other sites.

Google may send you information related to your Gmail account or other Google services. Because we believe such information is important, you will not be given the opportunity to opt-out of receiving them.

When we may disclose your personal information.

As a standard email protocol, when you send an email from your Gmail account, Gmail includes your email address and user name in the header of the email. Beyond this, we do not disclose your personally identifying information to third parties unless we believe we are required to do so by law or have a good faith belief that such access, preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request, (b) enforce the Gmail Terms of Use, including investigation of potential violations thereof, (c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues (including, without limitation, the filtering of spam), (d) respond to user support requests, or (e) protect the rights, property or safety of Google, its users and the public.

Nothing shocking here, however, a privacy maven I spoke with last week got me thinking. As a student of law, one is trained to consider the legal ramifications of a party's actions, but in the real world there are many other considerations; such as the reputation and goodwill of the company involved. Here, Google has taken a beating recently, they look more suspicious all of a sudden. Also, it is entirely possible for such information as Gmail will use to serve ads to be collected and aggregated in ways that would be considered an abuse of privacy even though not in violation of any statute. While most will be quite pleased to have a Gmail account (with it's 1 Gig of memory), we all must maintain an awareness of the uses of our personally identifiable information. I trust Google because they have a reputation to uphold and plenty of pressure from outside consumer advocates, but I wouldn't trust most online companies for anything.

If you want to get in touch with me, my new Gmail account address is: ccohen at gmail dot com

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Out of town!

I am pleased to announce that I will be out of town until Sunday. Get me out of crazy New York city please! I'll be enjoying myself in the sunny, beachy, beautiful beach town of Baltimore, Maryland. None or very few posts for the next few days. Ciao!

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Vivian Westwood reflecting on her punk past

Vivian Westwood, punky fasion designer:

I don't believe there is a crusade to be waged by wearing clothes. You just become the token rebel who persuades everyone they are living in a free society. Society tolerates its rebels because it absorbs them into its consumer society. You become part of the marketing. Everything comes with a label."

Tell this to your kids when they start dressing like fools and dying their hair blue to 'express their individuality,' not that they'll listen to you. Vivian Westwood has an exhibition at the V&A museum in London right now.

Via the New York Times.

liberty is to censorship as freedom is to ...

Whoa there pardna! Be glad this guy isn't the head of the FTC, otherwise the only thing on TV would Seseme Street and Lawrence Welk reruns:

"I don't think censorship is a bad word, but it has become a bad word because everybody associates it with some kind of restriction on liberty," said Mr. Boone, who is in Washington making the rounds as the national spokesman for the 60-Plus Association, a conservative senior citizen lobby.

Censorship is not a restriction on liberty? An interesting interpretation of words I though I knew the definitions of. Oh wait a second, here we go:

Mr. Boone said that if he were in charge of standards, there would be stringent controls on material. "It must be majority approved ... voluntary ... and self-imposed," he said, clad in a yellow blazer, black slacks, a canary yellow tie and white leather shoes. "Censorship is healthy for any society, and that goes for arts, entertainment, anything. Self-imposed means that the majority of people say that is what we want, and it can be changed if people's attitudes change, which is how a democratic society works."

Ok, there are so many problems with this paragraph. Lets be glad this guy isn't in charge of standards because if he was, we would all have to volunteer to censor ourselves due to his majority rule. Well, he got one thing a democratic society you have to learn to live with things you don't like - nasty curse words even! One of the beauties of a democratic society is that even those who's views are at the margins can say what they want. A guy like this is one one end of the spectrum, maybe Howard Stern is at the other. I never listened to Stern (maybe a few times), but I think it is a shame that no one can now - only because of what it represents about the mood of the country. How did a tit cause such an uproar? And how did people who espouse these views come to hold such power in our country?

Via The Washington Times.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Auto-camp 2000

Hilarious short story based in the Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG. For geeks only.

Via Diablogue.


A teenage coder (whiz) from Scotland found and helped Microsoft fix a major security problem with Windows and they rewarded him by...saying thanks.

Via The BBC.

UK's greatest gamer...hmmm

The UK just named it's Greatest Gamer at the 2004 Game Awards. The winner is a 16 year old, I wonder how many hours a day he puts in... Also, the article has some news on the Matrix Online MMORPG to be released later this year - you will be able to IM with people in the game, even if you aren't playing. Cool.

Via The BBC.

is Congress finally going to address spyware?

It seems that legislaters are finally getting worried about spyware and adware, or at least the FTC is, which is a step. The CDT is on the case:

"There's a number of concerns about spyware, which is that it takes away consumers' control over their computers," said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington. "We consider privacy to be a control issue as well," and many spyware programs act as surveillance tools for advertisers without the users' consent, he said. In February, the group filed a complaint with the FTC arguing for stricter enforcement against two companies involved in using software for allegedly deceptive and unfair ads.

Many users do not realize it, but almost anytime you download shareware - free online software such as P2P programs, screen savers, or icons - you also get some spyware or adware. You probably even agree to it by clicking a box after a long end-user agreement you didn't read. This is called a "drive-by download." These small spyware programs that are placed onto your computer allows the company or person who created the spyware to have access to your computers controls and settings and also allows them to track your web usage. In theory, they could also steal information like your credit card numbers, it is only a matter of time before someone does this and causes serious problems for lots of people.

It seems that this method of drive-by downloading (as well as some spyware which is placed on your computer without any warning) is an unfair and deceptive business practice. I believe that is the thrust of the CDT's argument to the FTC. Hopefully the FTC will listen up.

(Get a spyware killer - I recommend Search and Destroy, which has worked well for me.)

Via The Washington Post.

how long did you wait for this page to load?

This is a sentiment I will never understand:

[T]ens of millions of Americans [are] seemingly immune to the lure of more speed and [are] satisfied with dial-up services. A majority of Americans who surf the Internet still do so by dialing in on regular telephone lines, despite the rapidly narrowing price gap between high-speed and dial-up connections. the extra ten bucks and stop wasting your time waiting for pop-ups to load!

Via The New York Times.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

it's expensive, crappy music no matter what media it comes on

I think the most significant factors accounting for the recent drop in CD sales are; 1) heavily marketed pop music is in a sorry state; and 2) CD's are just too damn expensive (people aren't rolling in loot like in the 1990's after all). Because of this drop in sales, which certainly aren't all attributable to music downloading, if at all according to recent studies, the music industry is probably going to get powerful new copyright weapons to fight piracy with. Therefore the music industry actually has only mariginal interest in working to help make online music sale systems like iTunes sucessful. The industry needs to be able to continue claiming that CD sales are hurting and not being replaced by online music sales. So what do they do...make purchasing the music online even more expensive than buying the CD's!

For instance, Janet Jackson's "Damita Jo" goes for $16.99 on iTunes, while the CD will run you $9.99 at Best Buy. Indie-rockers Modest Mouse's "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" carries a $13.99 price tag at iTunes, while Barnes & Noble's Web site lists it at $9.73...Apple says that any higher prices are influenced by what the record labels charge the company for each release. The labels, meanwhile, insist that they don't control stores' price tags. The wholesale prices they set leave room for retailers to choose their own profit margin -- which can be less than zero, in the case of CDs sold as loss leaders.

Most consumers out there, including myself, wouldn't even accept Janet Jackson or Modest Mouse tunes if they were free. Perhaps the quality of the music is a huge part of the problem?

Via the Washington Post.

video game lounge in NYC and soon your town

A few weeks ago I walked into a video game cafe in the East Village just for a quick look-see. It is called "Game Time Nation," and basically you can rent a machine and chill out and play whatever game you want. You get charged by the hour, but I recall that the fee was pretty reasonable, around $5 an hour. The place is basically like an updated version of the old-school arcade. There are a bunch of chairs and couches gathered around loads of monitors. The New York Times has an article about the spot now - go check out the pics. An owner of a California gaming lounge is quoted:

Our place gets you out of your living room...It turns video gaming from a solo activity into a social occasion. You're in a roomful of 30 or 40 people hooting and hollering. I predict it will become a spectator sport.

Have no doubts, gaming is no longer the domain of the lonely teenaged geek. In South Korea, where about 60% of the populace has broadband Internet access (the highest level in the world), online gaming is already a national past time and a sport (especially MMORG's). This is more than just a trend, expect a national chain of video game lounges to arise soon, and to come to your city. This will be a huge business at some point.

Via The New York Times.

Update: Slashdot has more.

Friday, April 16, 2004

national flag trademark issue - "It's our tricolor!" "No, ours!"

The flags of Romainia and Chad are the same - a tricolor of blue, yellow, and red. Apparently Chad is unhappy because they had it first. WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization and a branch of the UN, is looking into it. Here's a BBC article about it. What a strange world we live in.

Via The Trademark Blog.

problems with the iPod minis plus anti-iPod rant

There has been some talk lately about the iPod Mini's having problems with distortion and static. Apparently because they are so small the headphone plug is pressd up against another device and any pressure on the iPod Mini causes it to sound funny. Apple of course denies the problem is serious.

My own experience with setting up and using a 15 gig iPod with an IBM clone was overwhelmingly negative. It took literally months for me to get it to work correctly and had to take it back to the Mac store at one point (and I'm pretty tech savvy I'd like to think). I still dislike it, it can't even hold a charge long enough to shift a few gigs of songs from my computer to its' hard drive. The battery's performance has dropped steadily over time as well - even though it was bad to begin with. In sum, the iPod was a terrible purchase, luckily it is my girlfriends and was given to her as a gift. I should add that every iPod owner I have ever asked (which is only about 3) told me they has problems getting theirs to work at first as well. I haven't tried any other hard drive MP3 players out, but I hear the Dell DJ has fantastic battery life and it is much cheaper than the iPod (probably because you aren't paying for all the marketing and hype).

There are people out there who swear by Apple products, but I wouldn't pay the premium they charge for their equipment, be it an iPod or a computer.

Via Engadget.

Update: In this article in Wired, the author touts the revolutionary effects of shuffling all your music on the iPod. Two facts: one is that shuffle has been around forever (including on jukebox CD changers), and two that using the shuffle on the iPod brings its battery time down to a max of 2 hours of life as compared to about 4 if you turn off all of its features (backlight, equalizer, shuffle, etc.).

legislating Gmail

A few days ago it was news that a California state senator (Senator Figueroa) is drafting legislation that will block Gmail (if passed) because of her concerns over the privacy issue. That privacy concern is that the keyword scan of mail for targeted ad placement is an invasion of privacy, apparently of great magnitude to Senator Figueroa.

What I think - the Senator and her constituents can vote with their feet, if they don't like Gmail, they don't have to use it. This isn't just a knee-jerk reaction, Gmail doesn't invade privacy because it uses a computer to scan mail for keyword so as to place targeted ads, it doesn't keep records or use personally identifiable information. I've written more about this below, if you're interested.

Via Wired.

chicken cam

You have got to check out the chicken cam. Don't be shy, tell the chicken what you want it to do for you. Here's a list of commands it will obey if you run out of ideas.

Via Wired.

when will the TV execs figure it out?

When I read these articles about how the Nielsen Media Research system must be inaccurate because it has recently registered a huge drop in TV viewership generally, I always snicker. The TV media companies are claiming the Nielson ratings are suddenly no good. Okay, I'm no media company exec, but why won't these guys wake up - the reason for the huge drop is that everyone is on the internet or playing video games instead of being spoon fed lame sitcoms and talk shows! I haven't done the research, but I really believe it is that simple. With the advent of cheap broadband the internet experience has become truly pleasurable for the masses, and people enjoy being able to utilize interactive media. The internet is a media technology in which you "pull" down what you want to see as opposed to a "push" broadcast media - like TV or radio, where you have no option what you see or hear (beyond your ability to change the channel). The main difference: there's always something on with the Internet. In addition, video games, once considered the domain of geeks, are now insanely popular and getting more so - especially with the ability for online play. TV just can't compete.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Apple v. Apple

Did you know that the Beatles record company is named Apple Corps? The Beatles were around before Apple the computer maker, which was founded in 1976. Are you beginning to think “hmmm, sounds like there may be trademark issues here?”

In 1981 the Beatles’ Apple Corps sued Apple for trademark infringement, they settled out of court for a substantial sum. Apple (computers) also agreed to stay out of music related business as part of the settlement. Because Apple is now cranking out iPods and particularly because of iTunes, the most popular of the online music stores, Apple Corps has had it. They recently brought a suit claiming Apple has violated their old 1981 agreement with Apple Corps to stay out of music related business.

One problem for the computer maker is that they don't actually make money from iTunes, so paying Apple Corps off may not be a great option, on the other hand, iTunes is promising and Apple would certainly not give it up as an Apple trademarked business.

Like much IP law, this suit will probably come down to an interpretation of that old contract and of the applicable contract law. This “may turn out to be more a question of contract law and contract interpretation than a commonsense question of what a music product would be." The article points out that Apple could just rename iTunes for Britain only. We shall see.

The most interesting goings on in the case so far is that both American and British courts have ruled that their own law should apply and so will both hear the case. This means that the companies will have to battle it out twice and may get different verdicts in each country – this probably benefits Apple Corps because they get two chances to win. This doesn't happen often so we’ll be keeping an eye on the case.

Via this article in The Boston Globe.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

more on Google OS

More about the potential for a Google OS, or an OS “lock-in” as they put it in this Search Engine Watch dot com article. If you’ve been keeping up, you know that you will be offered 1 gig of online storage space for your email on Google’s new Gmail system. But:

Imagine next year that Google provides anyone with 5 gigabytes, 10 gigabytes or more of storage space for personal files. Got a ton of Word documents, spreadsheets and other material? Push it across to us, Google would say. We'll store it, index it and make it easy to retrieve what you want. This type of material Google already indexes from across the web and has done for ages.

The author goes on to point out that a “Google Desktop” will only take off if we trust them with our data. My guess is most average people don't care about this targeted ad/privacy issue, but we’ll see.

Hollywood getting in on the video game action (even more than before)

According to this NY Times story, now that video games are pulling in such huge money, Hollywood is getting interested. For years games have been made that are based on movies, often they are clearly a rushed-to-the-market afterthought. More recently, as with the Lord of the Rings and Matrix games, the video game is a major part of the money-making machine behind the film.

Besides this trend, some directors are planning to start making games that aren’t just movie tie-ins. For instance, John Woo (action movie premier), is working on a new game for Sega about a heist, in fact, Woo is considering making a movie out of the game. Ridley Scott, the man behind Alien and Blade Runner is also talking to game execs about making a game.

This is surely a shift in the way video games are viewed by media bigs. Look for companies like Warner Brothers to get in on the action soon – with their deep pockets.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Gator/Claria serving up pop-up's and an IPO

Ever heard of a company called Gator? Well they are a notorious “adware” company, if you call them “spyware” Gator may sue you for libel, like they did to PC Pitstop not long ago: “If we find anyone publicly calling us spyware, we correct it and take action if necessary, said Scott Eagle, Gator's senior vice president of marketing.”

The difference between adware and spyware is pretty grey – Gator claims that their software is not spyware because when you download their program it comes as part of a bundle that you get with Kazaa or other shareware – and in that process you click “ok” to some contract of adhesion that you don't actually read. So in essence you’ve agreed to have Gator on you computer tracking your surfing and serving you ads. This “drive-by download” method is the only way to get it on users computers. Spyware, on the other hand, finds it way onto your computer in more nefarious ways and without your permission.

There are clear privacy issues with such software. Whether these companies utilize deceptive and unfair business practices is yet to be determined. In the meantime, it seems that companies like Gator have used libel law to chill public speech critical of what they do.

Gator has recently changed its name to Claria and has filed for an IPO to raise $150 million to “continue developing its behavioral marketing platform.” Great.

Via Wired.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Concept cars

Your author and his girlfriend will be heading to the New York International Auto Show later today. Check out some of the crazy concept vehicles on the website - lots of gadgety goodness. Maybe one day I'll actually be able to afford a car, though it will not be while I am in NYC, where it costs as much to park each month as you would pay rent for an apartment in most cities.

Update: We had a good time at the auto show, but spent half the time fighting to get a good look at the vehicles. Volvo stole the show with their YCC, or “your concept car,” as featured in this Wired article. They also had a full sized Volvo made from Lego’s, a lowered station wagon that looked pretty tough, and one coupe with a pop-art paint job that was very cool. You can see pics of all the cars on the website for the show. There are also some pics with this story on CNN.

Peeps Fun Bus pics

The Peeps Fun Bus is in Central Park and Gothamist is on the case! Here there be pics - check out the Peeps VW.

Thought - I really need to get a site that I can post pictures on...

Another thought - I don't know why this blog is so Peeps obsessed, it's very strange.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Real Peeps!

Speaking of Peeps (see posts below), check out these real colored chicks. This Alaskan farm actually injects the (non-toxic) dye into the eggs so that the chicks hatch all different colors. Very cute.

Via the BBC.

taxes due soon for most of us...

According to this article on CNN, "[m]ore than 60% of U.S. corporations didn't pay any federal taxes for 1996 through 2000, years when the economy boomed and corporate profits soared, Tuesday's Wall Street Journal reported, citing the investigative arm of Congress." Don't forget - taxes are due in a few days for all us little people.

Pagan Peeps

Another article about Peeps, now in Slate. Apparently Peeps have been a pagan delicacy for some time:

"Candy historians speculate that the Peeps' link to Easter has more to do with the pagan origins of the holiday than its Christian roots. Eggs, and consequently chicks, are a long-standing symbol of fertility and rebirth, an appropriate image for a holiday that celebrates the coming of spring. Originally part of a pagan fertility ritual symbolizing new life, the egg became incorporated into Easter as pagan rites were absorbed into Christianity with the Christianization of Central Europe."

Via Gothamist.

get your software from the ATM

There really is no reason to take up shelf space with boxes of software. CompUSA is trying out a method of selling software - from a device that looks like an ATM. The machine is online and contains downloads of the latest versions of a vast array of software. You pick out what you need and the machine burns a CD-ROM and prints out the instruction booklet for you. This allows people to access a greater variety of software, for instance software in other languages that CompUSA would never use shelf space for. Pretty cool idea.

Via CNN.

fun article about the history of RPG's

Here is an article by Julian Dibbell in Topic magazine (which is pretty good, check it out). Its about the first computer role playing game and the people who were central to its creation. This may sound really geeky, but it is actually a moving article about a slave who mapped a cave system and then a programmer who, years later in the mid-70's, used those writings to develop a game called Adventure which captured the imaginations of some geeks of old and laid the foundation for the RPG's and MMORPG's of today.

Julian Dibbell is the author of some very interesting stories/papers concerning online gaming. Among those publications is the famous "A Rape in Cyberspace," published in 1993 (although I think some of the more recent stuff is more fun).

I heard him speak at the recent 'State of Play: Law, Games, and Virtual Worlds' conference at New York Law School, he was very engaging. I should also note that he won the game of "massively multiplayer rock-paper-scissors" that everyone at the conference participated in, so he's quite a lucky fellow as well.

I need a vacation too

Wow! is all I can say to this article in the WaPo. I think we should all get to go to retreats 40% of the time - really, who can blame him? To be fair, I am sure he does some work while at the ranch, Kennebunkport, and Camp David - like entertain important people, clear brush, get briefings, etc. Bush is chillin' out at the ranch in Texas right now, with the leaders of several "conservation" groups such as Ducks Unlimited, as well as the CEO of the NRA.

Things that make you go hmmmm: Ducks Unlimited claims to be the "world leader of wetlands conservation," next to these words on their website is a poll asking - "How many buddies do you typically duck hunt with?"

Via Balkanization.

Update: It so happens that Bush arrived at the Crawford, TX ranch the day after he was handed the briefing entitle “Bin Laden Determined to Strike inside US.” He received the PDB on August 6, 2001 and was in Crawford to begin a month long vacation on August 7, 2001. Just a guess, but maybe his mind wasn’t really on terrorism at that moment?

I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but insiders have leaked the briefing at question and the papers are saying that it really did contain fairly specific warnings – and guess what – the WH has delayed its declassification and release.

The pattern is now long familiar: the administration withholds the info, pressure builds for them to release it, pundits and papers begin to get very critical, the New Jersey widows start appearing on talk shows saying the WH is stonewalling, finally the WH releases a redacted version of the briefing and attempts to spin it through double-speak (‘those aren’t really warnings even though they look exactly like warnings’). Look for the blame game to begin next week when Ashcroft (who oversees the FBI) goes before the 9/11 commission – there will be fallout from this, but on whom will it land?

Via Daily Kos and Atrios.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

XBox hardrive rumor

An exciting XBox rumor via Engadget – the rumor is that Microsoft is going to sell a separate hardrive/MP3 player/iPod killer as an accessory to the XBox. This makes some sense, if they are going to include only flash memory in the XBox itself it probably won't be enough for a serious gamer. The separate hard drive will eat away at Apple’s business. The Engadget rumor states that they will sell the hard drive at a loss, I wonder if Apple could bring an antitrust suit against MS for this?

This is totally unsubstantiated hearsay.

Susan Crawford on the Gmail debate

Professor Crawford teaches a great class at the Cardozo School of Law entitled 'Cyberlaw.' We are getting into the privacy section of the class next week so the Gmail debate is timely. She seems to have a similar perspective to my own on the situation although she is less concerned about the saving of deleted email. Check out this post on her blog.

Some highlights:

If we're really worried about privacy, what concerns us is someone developing a full-blown dossier of our every move and publishing it to people whose possession of this information would be hurtful to us in some way. But, other than this particular worry, whether someone's watching is of no particular interest or consequence. There is so much information in the world that it is unlikely that we'll be important enough to cause the sifting that would produce such a dossier.

Same thing for online life. All of us send a great deal of email and wander around for hours at a time. Sure, someone could be watching. But should we worry? Should we be concerned that an ad may be targeted at our computer based on our online activities? Who is hurt by the personalization of advertising? or even content? Might it be a "negative" instinct to be concerned about this -- and particularly to be so concerned about it that we stop wandering around online or sending email?

But EPIC and others are asserting that Google's "data retention and correlation policies are problematic in their lack of clarity and broad scope." So don't use Google. It's not being forced on you. Go use a paid-for mail service that makes clearer promises to you.

My problem with the position of EPIC and others is that they analogize the machine 'reading' of email to that of a person reading it and, as Prof. Crawford put it, making a dossier. This would be a concern if the information was being sifted by an AI and then stored, but we aren't quite there yet.

As I have said below, I am still awaiting an explanation of why Google is going to keep copies of deleted email. But even if they do not offer one, I will still go for that 1gb account. I've written a few posts about this already, see below for more.

Easier game coding key to sucess of XBox 2? Also, FBI on XBox Live...

I have been told that coding games for the XBox is very difficult and expensive. Add to that the difficulty of dealing with the massive bureaucracy of Microsoft and you may have the answer to why there aren't as many games out for XBox as there are for Playstation 2 (even discounting Playstation 1 games). There are also less games made exclusively for the XBox, such as Halo, as there are for the Playstation 2. This CNN article notes that it costs an average of $10 million to make a game for any of the consoles (and it will only go up with 64 bit gaming), which greatly limits entry into the business of game development - a small company can't afford to put out a flop.

As an XBox owner, my main complaint is the limited selection of games. Microsoft is addressing some of the difficulties with coding games for the XBox in the upcoming XBox 2 with the a new software development platform called XNA. XNA is a suite of tools that "will let developers skip writing boilerplate code that often bogs down the time it takes to create a game."

The best thing about XNA is that it will be used both for writing games for XBox 2 and for creating PC games, which means that XBox Live users and PC users will be able to play together in virtual worlds - MMOG's are going to get even more massive.

Article here.

It also appears that Microsoft is scrapping hard drives in favor of flash memory for the XBox 2. Gizmodo is not yet convinced. Just guessing, but flash memory would make the XBox run much faster in some situations, but may be a much smaller amount of memory as flash is expensive.

In other XBox 2 news - the government wants to listen in on you as you frag your mates! People who are concerned about the Gmail privacy issue should be much more concerned about this. Maybe terrorists will use the XBox 2 to communicate, who knows. There is a proposal before the FCC that all internet communications programs be built with a backdoor that will allow the FBI to listen in on conversations. The concern is that soon VOIP (voice over internet) will be taking over the use of normal phones and the FBI will no longer have an effective means of eavesdropping on suspects. The proposal is broad in what services it will include and the XBox Live service will fall within it. The FBI would still be required to obtain a warrant in order to listen in (I imagine). More on this later.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Google continues to get whacked over Gmail privacy concerns

The Gmail controversy rages on.

In this article Chris Hoofnagle, the associate director for the Electronic Privacy Information Center says, "[w]e don't see this as any different than letting a company listen in on your phone conversations and letting the Postal Service open your mail." Ok, I know that it is Hoofnagle's job to be a privacy hawk, but this is another analogy that just isn't helpful (see prior post on another unhelpful Gmail analogy). A computer inserting ads onto the side of an email based on its content is nothing like a human being doing so. The computer has no judgmental reaction to the content, cannot use the content for any purpose other than inserting ads in the email, and can't remember it. Which leads us to the real problem...maybe it does remember it:

"Some parts of Gmail even could be illegal, said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, a watchdog group in London. Google's current Gmail policy advises potential users that residual copies of e-mail may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account. Vast data collection like that appears to be a blatant violation of communication protections in United Kingdom and possibly elsewhere in Europe, Davies said." Google keeping records of all email, even after the user deletes it, is a problem. As I said before, they will need to explain what this is all about. In the meantime...

"Privacy International already has filed a complaint against Gmail with United Kingdom regulators." That was quick! "If millions of people have their communication history kept on Google computers, Davies said, then that storehouse becomes a very valuable source of information for a range of unintended consequences." I am no conspiracy theorist, but this does concern me as well. As Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology puts it, Gmail has a "definite creepiness factor." He has also pointed out (as I noted below) that there is a "lower threshold for allowing law enforcement to obtain e-mails that have been stored for more than 180 days." Google's policy may expose more of a person's email to any subpoena seeking to obtain their old email.

I think there has been an overreaction to the Gmail privacy issue, however, I am still waiting for Google to explain themselves regarding the archiving of erased email.

I wonder if my doctor plays video games...

I think I'll ask him.

Check out this article which states that doctors who play video games are less likely to err while performing surgery. "The study 'landmarks the arrival of Generation X into medicine,' said the study's co-author, Dr. Paul J. Lynch, a Beth Israel anesthesiologist who has studied the effects of video games for years." Rosser, the other author of the study, which was conducted right here in NYC at Beth Israel, "has developed a course called Top Gun, in which surgical trainees warm up their coordination, agility and accuracy with a video game before entering the operating room."

Rosser "found that doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27 percent faster than their counterparts who did not play video games."

How cool is that - now kids can tell their parents they are studying to be doctors when they are playing games. I wonder if gaming can help out with lawyering skills...

console vs. PC for MMOG's

CNN is running an article called "The Tale of two gaming worlds: Online consoles soar while PCs stumble." They basically note that the growth of MMORPG's (for which you need a PC to play) appears to be flat while the growth of people playing MMOG's on the XBox and Playstation is soaring. The console games are pretty much all first person shooters (FPS) as opposed to role playing games in persistent worlds (meaning they exist and evolve even when you arent there playing). These findings are not surprising, FPS's have greater appeal to the average game player because they do not require a great investment of time and because the console systems are cheap compared to a PC.
"The console business is all about multiplayer," says an analyst who was interviewed for the article. This is not surprising, gaming is actually a social experience for many people, despite the stereotypes of the video game player. Anyway, it's a good article that summarizes what major online games are out there.
Here's the same story in the WaPo.

of shards and $5 million in virtual goods

For those who are familiar with MMORPG's (massively multiplayer online role playing games), you know that those online realities are divided into various subpopulations, or "shards." Each shard is represented by a separate server and name. Some games, such as EverQuest and now Ultima Online allow cross-server transfer of avatars for a price. It appears, however, that in the next generation of MMORPG's dividing the population by shard may be unnecessary because of advances in server technology. Sun has announced a new server specifically intended for online gaming. Perhaps MMORPG's are going to be even more 'massive' in the future. Julian Dibbell points out in this post at Terra Nova, however, that perhaps shards are necessary due to the rise of the cost of content creation per player and not due to technical limitations. We shall see.
Via Terra Nova.

Another recent post on Terra Nova, this one by Edward Castronova, states that sales of virtual items on eBay has risen by 9% this most recent quarter to reach $5.85 million. Keep in mind that this is payout for items with no physical properties over a period of only 3 months! Unbelievable. Edward Castronova is an Associate Professor of Economics at Cal State Fullerton and conducts research on virtual worlds and their economies, very cool stuff.
Via Terra Nova.

I should note that I heard both Edward Castronova and Julian Dibbell speak at the recent State of Play conference, both of them were very interesting and engaging, more about them later.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Google's GooOS?

Many of my posts seem to concern Google, so why not stick with the theme.

It is increasingly apparent that Google is making a move on some of Microsoft's territory - with Gmail most recently, which will compete directly with Hotmail. But it does seem that what Google is moving towards is something much more profound - they are becoming an online OS with "the world's top search engine, a social networking service [Blogspot], a shopping price comparison engine [Froogle], a new email service [Gmail], and a local search/yellow pages engine." calls it GooOS in this great post.

All computerized devices will soon be online, and they aren't all going to need a big Windows style OS. Instead, they could use an interface with Google, GooOS, to run the device, search, and create and store all their files. Here's how Kottke puts it:
"Google isn't worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft's search efforts...although the media's focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world's fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don't need big, bloated OSes...they'll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that's modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it's all there."

Skrenta, at calls the Gmail privacy issue a "red herring." I think it's important for Google to resolve those issues, but few people will actually care that a robot is reading their mail in exchange for 1 mg of storage space. Skrenta is right about one thing though - the potential of Google is not reached by giving out huge email accounts, it's the "seemingly incremental features [like Gmail] that are actually massively expensive for others to match, and the platform that Google is building which makes it cheaper and easier for them to develop and run web-scale applications than anyone else." Google has designed and built one of the biggest and cheapest to run computer/server systems in the world. They even store a map of the entire web in RAM - which is why your search takes only milliseconds to return to you. As Google adds applications to their system and scales it's servers it is actually putting together the software components and the hardware platform for an online OS. Apparently they've hired some OS experts as well.

Essentially, Google is putting itself in the position to challenge Microsoft, not only for online email service, but as an online operating system.

Via Gothamist.

Monday, April 05, 2004


Peeps, the little colored marshmallow chicks and bunnies, are one of the strangest modern pop culture icons. Why do people love them? Why do artists use tham as a medium? Why do people cover their cars in Peeps? Why is there a "Lord of the Peeps" pictoral that made me laugh so hard I cried...just thinking about how much effort it must have taken to create... Here is a recent WaPo article on Peeps and another in the Houston Chronicle. There are 135 Google results for "peeps art."

Anyway, the yellow (not pink) Peeps Fun Bus is going to be NY later this week - on April 7th through the 11th, the 11th being a "NY Easter Event." Surely not an event to miss, hopefully one of the NYC photobloggers will be out there shooting it so we can all enjoy it vicariously. Call this number to find out exactly where the Peeps bus will be while in NYC if you're going to check it out - 1-866-270-9638.

Update: my Peep champion has bested Carson's in Peep jousting!

new Gmail issue, may violate european privacy law

More on the Google Gmail privacy issue on CNNmoney. The article suggests that Google's new email service, Gmail, will violate european privacy laws, which are more strict than those in the US. The main concern appears to be that "residual copies of email may remain on our systems, even after you have deleted them from your mailbox or after the termination of your account, Google's Gmail says in its privacy and terms of use sections." That does seem strange, but my impression is that a copy of an email is saved on every router or server that it passes through on its way to the recipient anyway. If Google is actually saving the mail on their own system after users have deleted them that is cause for concern. I think they will owe an explantation, why would they save your old email for themselves?

I'll note that this summer at my internship I will, if all goes according to plan, be working on comparitive internet privacy law - comparing US and european law. I'll know the answer to this problem for sure by the end of this summer!

Saturday, April 03, 2004

more on the PDEA

Here is more on the major new IP bill that has passed the House Judiciary intellectual property subcommittee, the "Piracy Deterrence and Education Act" (PDEA). If you are sharing more than $1,000 worth of coyrighted media this bill provides for 3 years of jail time and $250,000 fines as the new criminal penalty.

Take note: "Other sections of the PDEA would require Ashcroft to boost the number of antipiracy cops on the Justice Department's payroll, and order the U.S. Sentencing Commission to revisit prison term guidelines to make sure they reflect 'the loss attributable to people broadly distributing copyrighted works over the Internet without authorization.'"

Looks like the fed is really going to crack down hard. File sharers - be afraid, very afraid.

The annotated SCO stock price chart

If you don't know about the SCO suit already, well, I'm not going into deatail about it. Basically, SCO is a company that has sued IBM claiming that IBM stole pieces of the UNIX OS for use in Linux, SCO claims to own the copyright in UNIX (although even that claim is under attack). So far the very complex suit is going nowhere - it is in the discovery stage and SCO has been unable to demonstrate any specific code infringement so the case may go down in flames. SCO, if sucessfull, will be putting the open-source movement on ice. They are basically attempting to obtain a ruling that would allow them to profit from the work of all the people who made Linux, for free, by "licensing" the software to all the companies that are using it. Here is a cool annotated SCO stock price chart via N.Q.B. (Not Quite a Blog), chart here.

Hell's Angels asserting their trademark in "Deathheads" logo (but not with lawyers)

Even the Hell's Angels are getting serious about IP. The Hell's Angels in Finland weren't amused when they saw some kid at a bar wearing a "Hellus Angel's" shirt featuring the winged, helmet-wearing skull. In fact, the bikers forced the student to hand the shirt over right there at the bar! They then complained to the student's school officials, who agreed it was a stolen logo and was used on the shirts due to "thoughtlessness on the part of the kids." The school has collected the students' shirts and handed them over to the local Hell's Angels chapter (what a windfall, free clothes). Sounds like the school was just scared to me (not that it would be unusual to be scared of a biker gang). Article here.
Via N.Q.B (Not Quite a Blog).

(Update: it looks like this is hitting more mainstream media now, Yahoo is running this story in thier IP News.)

Friday, April 02, 2004

polluting power plant scandal

This article in the NYT Magazine is long, but worth the read. It’s called “Changing All the Rules.” It’s an account of how the nation’s environmental regulations for power plant emissions have been completely eviscerated by the current administration.

By the sounds of it, the American people’s health is being put at risk in order to save the energy industry a few percent of their yearly profits (and for Republican campaign contributions). No one is under the impression that Bush is environmentally friendly, but I don’t think the extent of these unpopular changes is generally known. Far-reaching changes that even Republicans in Congress had balked at considering (aka the "Clear Skies" program) have been implemented by the Bush administration.

The gist of the article is that many power plants all over the nation had been flouting regulatory laws since the 1970’s, spewing many more hundreds of millions of tons of pollutants into the air than they were allowed to. The perpetually under funded EPA is charged with enforcing those laws, and had finally caught the industry in the act a few years back, giving them the leverage to achieve the goals that our environmental legislation was meant to achieve – to force the plants to upgrade to new equipment that could remove 95% percent (!) of the pollutants from their exhaust. The Bush administration stepped in and made sure it didn’t happen by changing the laws by a version of executive decree. In fact Elliot Spitzer (the popular NY Attorney General, and possibly future governor or senator of NY) and a sizable group of state AG’s are challenging the changes, claiming that they are so far-reaching that only the Congress should be able to pass them. (In case you’re rusty on government: usually Congress makes the laws, and the Executive enforces them, but of course in reality there is a lot of overlap, especially with regulatory bodies like the EPA which are often under the control of administration appointees).

I’m not a big time environmentalist, but the amounts of pollutants these companies spew out really sounds detrimental to both Americans and the planet. What really gets me is how the power plants are unwilling to spend even a small bit of their profits to clean up – even though it sounds like a lot of money to make them more environmentally friendly, these plants are pulling in a billion a year. I smell a massive cigarette company style lawsuit at some point in the future: eventually public opinion and political forces will align against these guys and they'll be made to regret what are essentially crimes against us all.

a gaming, laptops, and demographics rant

Here’s an article in the NYT about gaming laptops, via Gizmodo. Mine used to be a gaming laptop in 2002, now it’s a gigantic PDA without a touch screen.

Note the degrading first paragraph of the story (as if the writer isn't one of the majority of Americans who play video games). If it had been you would you be described as “just like the other pale young gamers,” and is a “black T-shirt and blue jeans” really the “all-but-required uniform" for game playing? I also take issue with the writer’s contention that laptops were not, until recently, able to play the most up to date games. I will testify to the fact that even two years ago Dell sold a laptop with a serious graphic card in it – I know ‘cause I’m working on it right now. This puppy still crunches numbers harder than any cheap laptops out today – but it cost a pretty penny at the time I aquired it (thanks dad).

Laptops are perfectly fine for gaming, have no doubt (unless you're competing or something). They may not be the best of the best, or as upgradeable as huge towers, but they work well. The real problem is – don't even fool yourself into thinking you're getting a truly portable machine. My beast weighs in at around 10 pounds, and I’m sure all the new gaming laptops are the same. Forget about lugging it to class to take notes on.

One surprising stat from the article - only 9% of computers sold last year were laptops, I'd have guessed much higher.

Check out these demographic stats from the ESA:
"Player Demographics: Sixty-two percent of computer game players are male, while 34 percent are under 18 years old, 26 percent are 18 to 35, and 40 percent are over 36. Seventy-two percent of console game players are male, while 45 percent are under 18, 36 percent are 18 to 35, and 19 percent are over 36." From this article, , (thank the ESA, the gaming industry lobby/legal team, for protecting your rights to play, btw). Some other surveys here, and here. Also, from CNN: "last year, the video game industry took in more money than movies, $10.3 billion to $9.5 billion." Here's a story from "Beliefnet" concerning how videogame playing twists children's souls, those damn satanic games are ruining our moral values. According to them 79% of children play games on a regular basis...sounds high but ok. On the other hand, according to Gamespy, "an overwhelming number of parents - 96 percent - say they are paying attention to the content of the computer and video games their children play, and two-thirds of parents say that games are a positive addition to their children's lives." Cool. They also state that 39% of Americans own a gaming console.

can I get one of those new jobs?

The Bush administration is very much excited about the creation of 308,000 new jobs during the last month, that's no surprise considering they are losing ground to critics on both foreign relations and domestic economic issues. Even with this recent job gain over 2 million jobs have been lost since Bush took office. Let's hope job growth becomes a trend that endures for a-year-and-a-half, because that's when I'll be graduating from law school!

How strange would this election become if Bush could claim he's done good things for the economy - and convince anyone. I am very skeptical that the economy will become one of his election strong points.

Gmail privacy concerns

So everyone is freaking out about the "invasion of privacy" that will occur on Gmail, Google's new email service. There are major news stories everywhere as well as lots of conversation across the blogosphere. A "story" has even been posted on the Drudge Report (I'm not quite confortable calling one of Drudge's reports a story, still the topic will get loads of attention for being there). Here's a WaPo article; WIRED article; WaPo article #2.

While I appreciate the concern over online privacy in gerneral (it is a problem), an interviewee in the first WaPo article listed above uses an unhelpful analogy - "Chris Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center ... likened the Gmail ads to a computerized voice interrupting a phone conversation about a vacation with a pitch for a travel agency.'" This doesn't contribute to my understanding of the situation at all. Why? Because there's such a big difference in the sensory methods by which email and voice mail is accessed. When you are reading an email you can just ignore all the ads on the side of the page, just like you do now when you go to any webpage. You may not have noticed, but Google actually serves ads in a box on the right side of many major web sites - for the record they aren't the annoying blinking type.

Google states that "it would use automated technology to scan the content of incoming e-mail for keywords and place related text ads inside the mail. For example, if someone sent an e-mail to a Gmail user suggesting they go out for Mexican food, the recipient might see a couple of text ads in the right column of the e-mail suggesting specific Mexican restaurants in their area." The ads will not be within the text, obviously. It is difficult to understand how this could be considered "editorializing" the email.

The most reasonable voice being quoted is that of Ari Schwartz of the DC based Center for Democracy & Technology. He notes in the WIRED article that there is a "lower threshold for allowing law enforcement to obtain e-mails that have been stored for more than 180 days." So law enforcement has to work harder to get fresh email, but as Schwartz points out - this situation is the same for every ISP. So if you use Yahoo or Hotmail and have mail saved from back in the day, the gov't can get at it more easily than more recent email. This is a privacy issue that may impact more if people begin saving all their email on Gmail due to the ton of space alloted to each user.

Why would users get worked up about machines looking for keywords in email? It must just be a general techno paranoia - if the gov't wants to get your email, they'll get it, and they don't need Google's help.

To conclude, I will getting me some o' that Gmail when it comes out, much like Mary Linneborg, who is interviewed in this article. Unlike Mary though, I will not "be curious to see what they would try to sell me."

Thursday, April 01, 2004

if you share files P2P, watchout...

File sharers: You thought you had to worry about possibly being the subject of a music inductry lawsuit and having to shell out a few grand right? Well guess what, soon it will be prison time as well.

The House judiciary subcommittee has unanimously approved a bill that would punish file swappers with up to three years in jail for first time infringement offenses, and up to six for repeat offenses. This new bill is sponsored by Reps. Howard Berman (D-California) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and targets "heavy users of peer-to-peer networks and those who pirate copies of feature films." The bill is known as "HR 4077, The Piracy Deterrence and Education Act of 2004." RIAA spokespeople call it a "common-sense bill," but then Jack Valenti has also famously said "[i]f you buy a DVD you have a copy. If you want a backup copy you buy another one." Who needs fair use when you have the DMCA, right Jack?

So it appears that "common-sense" to the RIAA is different than for most media consumers (aka average americans). The bill still needs to pass the House and Senate, but it likely has a good chance.
Wired notes in this article that critics suggest that what this bill amount to is the fed spending tax money to protect copyright owners (aka media companies). The bill will provide the DOJ and FBI with lots more cash to go after evil file sharers.

Note also that John Ashcroft and his pals at the Dept. of Justice are in a real tizzy over infringment on P2P networks and have assigned a new task force to figure out how to deal with it. From what I understand, you don't want to get on Ashcroft's bad side.

Well, if you are going to have laws you should enforce them, but jail time for music downloaders seems a bit overzealous. If the music industry thought their goodwill was going down the drain before...

squirrels, trademark law, parody, and Starbucks

New Yorkers who ride the subway have recently been subjected to rows of Starbucks ads that attempt to explain the language of ordering coffee at a Starbucks. This wonderfully squirrely parody sums up many people's feelings about the pricey caffiene dealer. Check it out - there is some naughty language so wait until you get home from work.
Martin Schwimmer of The Trademark Blog points out that this is a great parody because it makes its point well and there is absolutly no possibility of consumer confusion as to source or of sponsorship - you know Starbucks did not give it the thumbs-up.

as geeky as you wanna be...

Super nerds: check out the katana-shaped controller that is soon to be released with a PS2 game called 'Oni-musha 3.' When you swing the sword, so does your character. As Gizmodo says - the new controller is 'also useful for scaring off any potential girlfriends.'
Via Gizmodo

email @ google dot com

Google is going to start offering email services in a similar fashion to those offered by Hotmail and Yahoo. No word on when these accounts will be available, but you can bet there will be a rush to get them - Google will provide a full 1GB of space for email storage, Hotmail provides a measley 2mb and Yahoo 4mb. Google will also provide a search function that will allow users to search their email archive, not bad. Microsoft and Yahoo have both been threatening to challenge Google with new search engine technology, it looks like Google is making a "preemptive strike" against them though. The new service is called Gmail, more here.

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