21 July 2009 @ 7:06PM >>
Earlier today, my hosting provider, OpenHosting, notified me that Brain-Terminal.com had come under a denial-of-service attack and was knocked offline for several hours.
The source of the attack isn’t yet clear, but it has subsided and service has been restored for the time being.
I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if the attack resumed later. So, please forgive any site instability in the coming hours and days.
One bright spot out of all of this is that I discovered my hosting provider has stunningly good service. I’ve been with OpenHosting for a number of years, and the service has been remarkably stable. And today, OpenHosting’s support personnel responded very quickly, providing detailed technical assistance along the way.
I’ve used many hosting providers over the years, and I’ve been conditioned to expect a certain level of service (that level of service being “not very good”). My experiences with OpenHosting have been far better than with any other vendor.
Bad service is a pet peeve of mine, and I’m often quick to criticize businesses that treat customers poorly or don’t live up to their promises. It’s nice to know that, every once in a while, I run across a company whose service is worthy of praise.
29 June 2009 @ 8:41AM >>PC Worldreports on a significant development in the evolution of new media:
A tectonic shift has taken place for the digital age: ad rates for popular shows like The Simpsons and CSI are higher online than they are on prime-time TV. If a company wants to run ads alongside an episode of The Simpsons on Hulu or TV.com it will cost the advertiser about $60 per thousand viewers, according to Bloomberg. On prime-time TV that same ad will cost somewhere between $20 and $40 per thousand viewers.
Online viewers have to actively seek out the program they want to watch, so advertisers end up with a guaranteed audience for their commercial every time someone clicks play on Hulu or TV.com. Online programs also have an average of 37 seconds of commercials during an episode, while prime-time TV averages nine minutes of ads.
David Poltrack, chief research officer at New York-based CBS, cited a Neilsen discovery that fewer online ads means viewers are twice as likely to remember a commercial they’ve seen on Hulu than on television, Bloomberg reported.
Despite higher ad rates, online viewing is not about to save television from declining ad rates and viewerships, because online sites like Hulu and TV.com do not yet have wide enough audiences to replace television viewers. Consider that 17.6 million people crowded around TV sets on April 6 to watch this year’s NCAA basketball championship, while online viewing for the entire March Madness tournament leading up to the championship game came to only 7.52 million viewers. The online audience simply isn’t there yet.
Even though the audience is small, higher online ad rates for The Simpsons means the digital ceiling has been broken. In the future, as more people gravitate toward on-demand Internet viewing, it’s entirely possible sites like Hulu and TV.com might, just might, replace traditional television viewing.
It’s interesting to note that sites like Hulu and TV.com are becoming successful simply by dusting off an old format and making it more palatable for online audiences. Instead of loading up shows with commercials, just throw in a few ad spots here and there. Instead of running shows at a specific time, put them online for a limited run and let people enjoy them at their leisure.
Reviving an old format is exactly what Apple did with the iTunes Store, an another online success story. Instead of going for subscriptions or some other newly-thought-out pay format, Apple just did away with the physical store, while still selling people something they could take home — a digital file instead of a CD or LP. There are some who object to buying digital music, since some prefer the tactile feel of having an album with cover art and liner notes. The quality of sound you get from digital files versus a CD has also been pointed out as a drawback. But the success and widespread adoption of the iTunes Store shows that a large segment of people are happy with Apple’s digital retail model.
24 June 2009 @ 8:50AM >>The Wall Street Journalreports:
The Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.
Interviews with technology experts in Iran and outside the country say Iranian efforts at monitoring Internet information go well beyond blocking access to Web sites or severing Internet connections.
Instead, in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.
The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company, in the second half of 2008, Ben Roome, a spokesman for the joint venture, confirmed.
The “monitoring center,” installed within the government’s telecom monopoly, was part of a larger contract with Iran that included mobile-phone networking technology, Mr. Roome said.
“If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them,” said Mr. Roome.
Human-rights groups have criticized the selling of such equipment to Iran and other regimes considered repressive, because it can be used to crack down on dissent, as evidenced in the Iran crisis. Asked about selling such equipment to a government like Iran’s, Mr. Roome of Nokia Siemens Networks said the company “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country. We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.”
Then, in the mid-1980s, we were all told to fear “acid rain,” which was the big looming environmental disaster of the time. Funny, we don’t seem to hear about acid rain anymore.
The scare-mongers then shifted focus to “the greenhouse effect” which eventually became known as “global warming,” a term that has fallen out of favor lately because the warming predictions haven’t been coming true in recent years.
So, after some embarrassing blunders with faulty data, global warming has been re-branded as “climate change.” That way, any time there’s a change in temperature, they can claim it as evidence supporting their beliefs. (Of course, since the dawn of Earth’s history, continual change has been the only constant with respect to the climate. So, by definition, anyone predicting the climate will change is always going to be proven correct eventually.)
Now it turns out that sea ice levels have risen to the highest point since 1979, after one of the coolest years in recent memory. Pravda, a preferred news outlet of radical environmentalists during the Soviet era, is even declaring that “[t]he earth is now on the brink of entering another Ice Age, according to a large and compelling body of evidence from within the field of climate science.”
While some people now claim they knew all along that the La Ni~na ocean cycle would cause temporary cooling, during the early years of global warming alarm, I can’t recall anyone saying, “in a few years, the temperature will cool because of a well-known oceanic phenomenon.” I can’t find a single Al Gore chart predicting a temporary lowering of the temperature for the latter part of this decade. Nope, the original predictions were for temperatures to keep going up, up, up.
But if we’re now supposedly on the brink of an ice age, then maybe environmental alarmism is just like women’s fashion, and we’re once again at the beginning of the hype cycle, right where we were back in the ’70s.
17 December 2008 @ 8:57AM >>
If you ever get any odd or cryptic e-mails from me, now you know why:
Doctors have reported the first ever case of someone using the internet while asleep, after a sleeping woman sent emails to people asking them over for drinks and caviar.
It was only when a would-be guest phoned the next day to accept, that she found out what she had done.
The 44-year-old woman, whose case is reported by researchers from the University of Toledo in the latest edition of medical journal Sleep Medicine, had gone to bed at around 10pm, but got up two hours later and walked to the next room.
She then turned on the computer, connected to the internet, and logged on by typing her username and password to her email account. She then composed and sent three emails.
Each was in a random mix of upper and lower cases, not well formatted and written in strange language.
One read: “Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4.pm,. Bring wine and caviar only.”
A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming. On Monday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore’s chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.
This was startling. Across the world there were reports of unseasonal snow and plummeting temperatures last month, from the American Great Plains to China, and from the Alps to New Zealand. China’s official news agency reported that Tibet had suffered its “worst snowstorm ever”. In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration registered 63 local snowfall records and 115 lowest-ever temperatures for the month, and ranked it as only the 70th-warmest October in 114 years.
So what explained the anomaly? GISS’s computerised temperature maps seemed to show readings across a large part of Russia had been up to 10 degrees higher than normal. But when expert readers of the two leading warming-sceptic blogs, Watts Up With That and Climate Audit, began detailed analysis of the GISS data they made an astonishing discovery. The reason for the freak figures was that scores of temperature records from Russia and elsewhere were not based on October readings at all. Figures from the previous month had simply been carried over and repeated two months running.
The error was so glaring that when it was reported on the two blogs - run by the US meteorologist Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre, the Canadian computer analyst who won fame for his expert debunking of the notorious “hockey stick” graph - GISS began hastily revising its figures. This only made the confusion worse because, to compensate for the lowered temperatures in Russia, GISS claimed to have discovered a new “hotspot” in the Arctic - in a month when satellite images were showing Arctic sea-ice recovering so fast from its summer melt that three weeks ago it was 30 per cent more extensive than at the same time last year.
A GISS spokesman lamely explained that the reason for the error in the Russian figures was that they were obtained from another body, and that GISS did not have resources to exercise proper quality control over the data it was supplied with. This is an astonishing admission: the figures published by Dr Hansen’s institute are not only one of the four data sets that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) relies on to promote its case for global warming, but they are the most widely quoted, since they consistently show higher temperatures than the others.
If there is one scientist more responsible than any other for the alarm over global warming it is Dr Hansen, who set the whole scare in train back in 1988 with his testimony to a US Senate committee chaired by Al Gore. Again and again, Dr Hansen has been to the fore in making extreme claims over the dangers of climate change. (He was recently in the news here for supporting the Greenpeace activists acquitted of criminally damaging a coal-fired power station in Kent, on the grounds that the harm done to the planet by a new power station would far outweigh any damage they had done themselves.)
Yet last week’s latest episode is far from the first time Dr Hansen’s methodology has been called in question. In 2007 he was forced by Mr Watts and Mr McIntyre to revise his published figures for US surface temperatures, to show that the hottest decade of the 20th century was not the 1990s, as he had claimed, but the 1930s.
Another of his close allies is Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, who recently startled a university audience in Australia by claiming that global temperatures have recently been rising “very much faster” than ever, in front of a graph showing them rising sharply in the past decade. In fact, as many of his audience were aware, they have not been rising in recent years and since 2007 have dropped.
A new Irish film claims that climate change guru Al Gore is an alarmist and that those who think they are saving the planet are only hurting the poor
IF THE ADVANCE publicity is anything to go by, Not Evil Just Wrong will do for Al Gore what Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 did for George W Bush.
“This is the film Al Gore and Hollywood don’t want you to see,” declares the website for the latest work by film-makers Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer. The site even features a big picture of Gore, with his lips in the photograph seemingly digitally enhanced to make them look like Heath Ledger’s Joker from the latest Batman film.
The website goes on to say that their latest film - which takes on what are described as global warming alarmists - is “the most controversial documentary of the year”. Indeed, it could very well be the most controversial. And Al Gore and Hollywood may well not want you to see it. And in that respect, Gore and co are actually succeeding for the moment. Because there is no completed film. Not yet anyway.
McElhinney and McAleer have raised almost $1 million (EUR799,000) but need a total of $4.5m (EUR3.6m) to allow for a full cinema release. They say they were acutely disappointed at being turned down for funding by the Irish Film Board, especially its conclusion that it was “repetitive and creatively thin”.
Instead, they have gone onto the internet hoping to solicit donations in the style of Barack Obama. The finished product will be around 90 minutes long. Both film-makers rebut the Film Board’s criticism by pointing out that a near-complete version of the film has been chosen in the audience category at the Amsterdam Film Festival later this month.
For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants?
That’s a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant’s dignity.
“Unfortunately, we have to take it seriously,” Beat Keller, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich. “It’s one more constraint on doing genetic research.”
Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn’t “disturb the vital functions or lifestyle” of the plants. He eventually got the green light.
The rule, based on a constitutional amendment, came into being after the Swiss Parliament asked a panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians to establish the meaning of flora’s dignity.
“We couldn’t start laughing and tell the government we’re not going to do anything about it,” says Markus Schefer, a member of the ethics panel and a professor of law at the University of Basel. “The constitution requires it.”
Several years ago, when Christof Sautter, a botanist at Switzerland’s Federal Institute of Technology, failed to get permission to do a local field trial on transgenic wheat, he moved the experiment to the U.S. He’s too embarrassed to mention the new dignity rule to his American colleagues. “They’ll think Swiss people are crazy,” he says.
[S]cientists involved in NASA’s Ulysses project reported that the intensity of the sun’s solar wind was at its lowest point since the beginning of the space age - one more indication that the sun, the biggest source of energy affecting the Earth, is getting quiet.
The weaker solar wind appears to be due to changes in the sun’s magnetic field, but the cause is unknown. Sunspots, which normally fluctuate in 11-year cycles, are at a virtual standstill. In August, the sun created no visible spots. The last time that happened: June 1913.
The results of the Ulysses spacecraft’s mission, according to Jet Propulsion Laboratory project scientist Ed Smith, show that “we are in a period of minimal activity that has stretched on longer than anyone anticipated.”
The consequences for Earth are enormous. The lack of increased activity could signal the start of what is known as a Maunder Minimum, an event that occurs every couple of centuries and can last as long as a century. It leads to extended periods of severe cooling such as what happened during the Little Ice Age.
It may already be happening. The four major agencies tracking Earth’s temperature, including NASA’s Goddard Institute, report that the Earth cooled 0.7 degree Celsius in 2007, the fastest decline in the age of instrumentation, putting us back to where the Earth was in 1930.
1 May 2008 >>
Get ready to start surrendering more of your rights to government. You knew the Nannycrats wouldn’t stop at smoking, fast food and foie gras. Now they’ve got their crosshairs zeroed in on that modern-day horror, the thing most of us dread and fear... you guessed it...
[Baltimore City Councilman James Kraft] equated using plastic bags with Nazi extermination tactics at a City Council meeting earlier this week.
“We don’t want to be criticized by future generations for not doing enough now as were those who dealt with the Germans then,” Kraft said.
So what follows? Should those who use plastic bags be charged with murder? Genocide?
No one can claim plastic bags help the environment. But he hurts his cause by outsizing their danger by orders of magnitude - especially when similar plans have failed throughout the rest of [Maryland].
Bills in both Anne Arundel County and the state legislature failed to make it into law in the past year. And studies show plastic bags are cheaper and require less energy to make than paper bags.
Scientists and environmentalists have attacked a global campaign to ban plastic bags which they say is based on flawed science and exaggerated claims.
The widely stated accusation that the bags kill 100,000 animals and a million seabirds every year are false, experts have told The Times. They pose only a minimal threat to most marine species, including seals, whales, dolphins and seabirds.
Campaigners say that plastic bags pollute coastlines and waterways, killing or injuring birds and livestock on land and, in the oceans, destroying vast numbers of seabirds, seals, turtles and whales. However, The Times has established that there is no scientific evidence to show that the bags pose any direct threat to marine mammals.
They “don’t figure” in the majority of cases where animals die from marine debris, said David Laist, the author of a seminal 1997 study on the subject. Most deaths were caused when creatures became caught up in waste produce. “Plastic bags don’t figure in entanglement,” he said. “The main culprits are fishing gear, ropes, lines and strapping bands. Most mammals are too big to get caught up in a plastic bag.”
The central claim of campaigners is that the bags kill more than 100,000 marine mammals and one million seabirds every year. However, this figure is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags.
Fifteen years later in 2002, when the Australian Government commissioned a report into the effects of plastic bags, its authors misquoted the Newfoundland study, mistakenly attributing the deaths to “plastic bags”.
The figure was latched on to by conservationists as proof that the bags were killers. For four years the “typo” remained uncorrected. It was only in 2006 that the authors altered the report, replacing “plastic bags” with “plastic debris”.
Nevertheless, knowledge of this error will not quell the Nannies’ desires to meddle more.
Bored people seeking the tingle of power are drawn to becoming Nannies because they get to feel morally superior while also controlling the behavior of others. It’s a win-win.
So I predict, the campaign against plastic bags will continue.
3 April 2008 @ 8:05AM >>
Spam blogs, sometimes called “splogs,” are phony blogs set up to earn money by displaying ads. Splogs steal content from other sites so that they appear to the untrained eye as genuine blogs. When people conduct web searches, that stolen content drives traffic to the site, raising the revenue from advertising.
It’s a sleazy practice, and at times, I’ve seen posts from this site appear on splogs. Recently, I found a splog that copies text from this site, but it also does something new: it changes certain words in the post to modify the content slightly.
10 February 2008 >>Update: The review program has now ended. The offer below is no longer valid. If you’re interested in seeing the film, you can now download a copy from the Indoctrinate U online store.
Within a matter of days, we will be ready to launch the Indoctrinate U online store, where we will be offering the film for download as MPEG-4 files and ISO DVD files. MPEG-4 files are playable on Windows, Mac and Linux, and ISO files can also be used to create your own DVD copies of the film playable on virtually all home DVD equipment. All you need is a computer with a DVD burner, software capable of burning ISO files, and a blank DVD.
But before we open the store to the public, we will be offering free downloads of review copies to a limited number of bloggers who plan on publishing reviews of the film. If you’re interested in reviewing Indoctrinate U, please send your name (or online pseudonym), the name of your site, the site’s URL, and the e-mail address where you’d prefer to be contacted to this e-mail address:
reviews (at) indoctrinate-u (dot) com
When our online store launches, this offer will expire, so if you’re interested, e-mail us soon!
Oh yeah, non-blogger media folks are welcome, too.
2 January 2008 @ 8:57AM >>
Two of my favorite creative minds in music—Thom Yorke and David Byrne—recently sat down to discuss the future of the music business. Last October, Yorke’s band Radiohead released its latest album, In Rainbows. But rather than releasing it through a traditional music label, Radiohead let fans download the music directly from its website. And rather than charging a fixed amount for the album, users were given the option of naming their own price—down to and including zero.
The sinking fortunes of the music industry establishment may have been instigated by technological change, but they are worsened by the industry’s unwillingness to let consumers buy music that isn’t locked to specific formats or media. It’s like peering into the future of the movie industry.
In both cases, you have industries whose fortunes have been protected for decades by the commingling of content and medium. Record albums weren’t just vinyl, they were vinyl with embedded music: the music couldn’t exist without the physical medium. As tapes replaced records and CDs replaced tapes, higher fidelity and increased convenience of each new format gave consumers a reason to re-purchase content that they already paid for in lesser formats. But when songs are stored as data and can be moved around like any other computer file, consumers will only ever need to buy one copy. As long as open formats are used, people will be able to play their music on any device devised in the future. There goes the upgrade gravy train.
Like the music industry, the film industry is rightfully concerned with piracy, because once music and movies aren’t tied to a physical medium, they can be copied endlessly. But consumers don’t care if this inconveniences the industry; people have shown that they want the convenience of digital content, and they are willing to pay for it. So the more that record companies lock down digital content in order to fight piracy, the less incentive legitimate customers have to buy the product in the first place. What good is the “music as a file” model if it is artificially burdened with the same limitations as physical media?
The movie business hasn’t been hurt by the shift away from physical media yet. But that’s only because technology hasn’t advanced far enough. It takes a lot more data to store a high-definition movie than an album’s worth of high-fidelity music. When a typical consumer’s Internet connection becomes fast enough to download high-definition full-length movies in a matter of minutes, the home market for movies will be subject to same technological dynamics affecting the music business today. And that future is only years away.
But that isn’t the film industry’s biggest problem right now. After all, people won’t pirate content that they don’t want to watch in the first place.
My experience in trying to get distribution for Indoctrinate U only confirms this. People in the film business just don’t take seriously the possibility that there’s a market for documentaries outside Hollywood’s typical Michael Moore/Al Gore worldview. I don’t know to what extent that’s out of political bias or the result of a simple Catch-22: they don’t see a market for anything different, but that’s because they’ve never tried distributing anything different.
That leaves us in the position of having to self-distribute Indoctrinate U. And because the Internet will allow us to put the film in people’s hands in the fastest, most cost-effective way possible, we’ll be able to conduct a little experiment of our own. Indoctrinate U will not be available on DVD right away. Instead, we’re going to focus our efforts on seeing whether the Internet can be used to route around the gatekeepers in Hollywood—without the shackles of physical media. (Although unlike Radiohead, I’m afraid, we’re not in a position to give our goods away for free.)
Who knows? Maybe the market can be proven without Hollywood’s help. I think it can. And once the market is proven, we’ll finally know who in the film business wants to serve customer desires instead of the dogma of Hollywood groupthink.
I keep reading about how hybrid cars and compact fluorescent lightbulbs can reduce the production of greenhouse gases, but I have yet to see an article about the savings that could be achieved if we were to stop delivery of newspapers and magazines and do all of our news reading on line.
8 January 2007 @ 1:05PM >>
A while back, I wrote about the Microsoft tax, the fee included in the price of nearly every personal computer that covers the cost of Microsoft Windows. The thing is, not everyone uses Windows. Some people (like me) use Macs, and therefore avoid the Microsoft tax altogether. But others use alternative operating systems like Linux.
Most people who use Linux manually install it on machines that came with Microsoft Windows pre-installed at the factory. If they remove Windows altogether, then they’ve ended up paying for a product that they’re not using. One intrepid Linux user tried to get a refund from Dell after removing Windows from his computer. Believe it or not, he was successful, and he outlines the steps that others can follow to avoid paying the Microsoft tax.
8 December 2006 @ 8:59AM >>
E-mail as we know it today is facing certain death. Not at the hands of a newer technology that provides more features, but because the software protocols that drive Internet e-mail today are causing us to be buried in mountains of unwanted e-mail spam.
Iran’s Islamic government has opened a new front in its drive to stifle domestic political dissent and combat the influence of western culture - by banning high-speed internet links.
In a blow to the country’s estimated 5 million internet users, service providers have been told to restrict online speeds to 128 kilobytes a second and been forbidden from offering fast broadband packages. The move by Iran’s telecommunications regulator will make it more difficult to download foreign music, films and television programmes, which the authorities blame for undermining Islamic culture among the younger generation. It will also impede efforts by political opposition groups to organise by uploading information on to the net.
You’ve got to wonder about a government that believes the only way to survive is to cut off its citizens from the outside world.
Users of online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft transact millions of dollars worth of virtual goods and services every day, and these virtual economies are beginning to draw the attention of real-world authorities.
“Right now we’re at the preliminary stages of looking at the issue and what kind of public policy questions virtual economies raise — taxes, barter exchanges, property and wealth,” said Dan Miller, senior economist for the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.
“You could argue that to a certain degree the law has fallen (behind) because you can have a virtual asset and virtual capital gains, but there’s no mechanism by which you’re taxed on this stuff,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The increasing size and public profile of virtual economies, the largest of which have millions of users and gross domestic products that rival those of small countries, have made them increasingly difficult for lawmakers and regulators to ignore.
...in much the same way that a weekend invitation to the Kennedy compound is hard for alcoholic philanderers to ignore.
16 October 2006 @ 12:13PM >>
When readers of this site hear that an old media company is embracing virtual reality, it might conjure up memories of Dan Rather and some not-quite-real documents. But in this case, one of the oldest media companies in the world is breaking new ground by dedicating a full-time reporter to covering the economic happenings within a virtual universe called Second Life:
In preparing to open a Reuters bureau on a bustling island, Adam Pasick has been introducing himself to residents and interviewing entrepreneurs. After finishing such interviews, Mr. Pasick often levitates for a moment, then flies over buildings.
Mr. Pasick, a Reuters technology reporter who was formerly earthbound with the news agency, is heading up Reuters’ first virtual news bureau inside the online role-playing game Second Life. While many independent journalists and bloggers have published inside such virtual worlds, Reuters is the first established news agency to dispatch a full-time reporter to do so.
“The fact that it’s in a virtual world doesn’t change things as much as you’d think,” said Mr. Pasick, 30, a Michigan native based in London. “It’s not any different than when Reuters opens up a bureau in a part of the world that has a fast-growing economy that we weren’t in before. The laws of supply and demand hold true, it has a currency exchange, people open businesses and get paid for goods and services.”
Created by Linden Lab in San Francisco, Second Life is the closest thing to a parallel universe existing on the Internet. Akin to the original city-building game SimCity, Second Life is a virtual, three-dimensional world where users create and dress up characters, buy property and interact with other players.
More than 900,000 users have signed up to build homes, form neighborhoods and live out alternative versions of their lives in the 3D, computer-generated world. Players spend around US$350,000 a day on average, or a rate of $13 million a year. Usage is growing in rapid double-digit terms each month.
Players buy and sell goods and services using a virtual currency, known as Linden Dollars. An online marketplace allows users to convert the currency into real U.S. dollars, enabling users to earn real money from their activities.
Adam Pasick, a Reuters’ media correspondent based in London, will serve as the news organization’s first virtual bureau chief, using a personal avatar, or animated character, called “Adam Reuters,” in keeping with the game’s naming system.
“As strange as it might seem, it’s not that different from being a reporter in the real world,” Pasick said. “Once you get used to it — it becomes very much like the job I have been doing for years.”
Over the last month, I’ve been helping Reuters launch their presence in Second Life; I was brought in as an outside consultant and was responsible for much of the programming work. It’s been a fun gig, and has helped me fill the downtime while we work out distribution kinks with the upcoming film Indoctrinate U.
But what I found most intriguing is that an old-school company like Reuters would even consider embracing virtual reality, much less with this level of commitment. Ten years ago, such a move would likely have been met with derision by other establishment media companies. But covering online communities like Second Life makes sense: there’s real economic activity, and there are important issues to cover—such as how real-world laws will be applied to environments like Second Life.
It’s a sign of a changing world...both real and virtual.
16 September 2006 >>
Glenn Reynolds has some advice for vendors of electronic media:
Get this straight content providers: Our computers belong to us. If we’re in the mood, we might let you sell us some stuff to run on them. But they don’t belong to you, and we’re not likely to surrender control over our own bought-and-paid-for hardware, which we often rely on to do our jobs and run our lives, simply in exchange for letting you sell us something. (Honestly, most of what you’re selling isn’t all that good anyway, and you’re lucky that people buy it at all. So don’t get greedy. And while click-through license agreements may make it legal, they won’t make you any more popular.)
4 August 2006 >>
Microsoft’s next operating system—Windows Vista—is still not ready for prime-time. At least that’s the view of three prominent Microsoft watchers who have been testing pre-release versions of the system.
Paul Thurrott was once viewed at Microsoft’s main online cheerleader, although he might be losing that title:
I’ve been working with Microsoft OS betas for over 12 years now, and while it’s very clear that Vista hasn’t exactly followed a trajectory that’s at all similar to any of the other betas, it’s also true that each OS beta has its own vibe. We might call Windows Vista a “train wreck” for simplicity’s sake.
I’ve been defending Microsoft’s ship schedule for Windows Vista for quite some time. Up to this point, I’ve been confident that Vista would be at the quality level it needs to be by RC1 to make the launch fantastic. Having tested several builds between Beta 2 and today, I hate to say that I no longer feel that way.
This sucker is just not ready. Too many things are too slow and/or donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been on the betas of every Windows OS since Windows 3.1 and Vista is starting to feel good, but it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t feel good enough to release to the factory in October. It feels like it needs a good six more months than that, which would mean a mid-year release next year.
In other news, expect some major announcements from Apple next week.
25 June 2006 @ 1:04PM >>
“Bill” writes to ask about spam:
Why does spam (and email subjects of spam) have such nonsensical words inserted? I got an e-mail that included: “Colette was at deforestation when that happened baboon. trout at nocturne or even handicapped as in ding”
It has to do with the fact that many anti-spam systems rely on keywords for determining whether an e-mail should be considered spam. These programs assign spam probabilities to each word, so that some words are weighted as more likely to signal spam than others. If the overall e-mail contains a high proportion of spam words, or if it passes a certain threshold of spam words, it is more likely to get trapped in anti-spam filters.
So often, spammers will use programs that insert snippets of random sentences from other sources or other random combinations of benign words. The intent is to end up with an e-mail that is less likely to be flagged as spam.
19 June 2006 @ 4:08PM >>
A number of readers have been sending links to coverage of proposed “net neutrality” regulations being considered by Congress. If you haven’t been following the debate, net neutrality is one of two things—depending on which argument you find more convincing:
A way to prevent Internet bandwidth providers—typically cable companies, telephone companies, or ISPs like Earthlink—from providing improved or degraded service between you and websites like Google. Some bandwidth providers are essentially trying to extort companies like Google into paying to prevent the site’s traffic from being routed through slower Internet lanes. But Google is already paying for all the data it sends to you, and you are already paying for all the data you receive. So why should Google have to pay again for what two parties are already paying for, just to prevent its site from being demoted to the slow lane?
A regulation that prevents Internet bandwidth providers from managing capacity effectively and according to market demands. Some traffic needs to go through the networks faster—video, for instance—and throwing all the traffic together can create bottlenecks. So, if you want to be able to watch high-quality video without dropouts, you’re going to need special “lanes” set aside for the traffic that needs to be delivered within a certain time. People already pay premiums for faster delivery with FedEx, so why can’t bandwidth providers offer similar services?
You can tell you’re in propaganda-land when neither argument really addresses the other.
It is true that special applications like high-quality video-on-demand require prioritized delivery of data. This requires a certain amount of bandwidth to be set aside for delivery of that data. This really only becomes an issue when a certain part of the network gets saturated. In order to guarantee delivery of high-priority data, there will be times when delivery of lower-priority data must be delayed. Only so much data can be pushed through Internet pipes at any given time. Other limited resources tend to go to the highest bidder. Why should data networks be immune to the basic laws of capitalism?
On the other hand, it is also true that the Googles of the world are essentially being told by bandwidth providers, “Pay up, or it might take a while for people to get to your website through our pipes.” Fearful of jacking up prices on end-users, bandwidth providers are going to the deep pockets and playing the Yahoos of the world off the Googles. So instead of high-priority service being a voluntary choice made by consumers, bandwidth providers sound like they’re trying to start a data protection racket.
In The Weekly Standard, Andy Kessler declares that there’s “no one to root for in the net neutrality debate”:
Telcos and cable companies have no choice but to lobby for legislation that bars neutrality. Because without the ability to extract money from the webbies for the use of their not-so-fast Alexander Graham Bell-era wires (forget that you and I already overpay for this), AT&T or Verizon might not have any business model going forward. With no real competition, they’d rather keep U.S. telecommunications in the Flintstone era and overcharge for calls to Grandma than upgrade their networks. Since 1998, telecommunications companies have outspent computer and Internet firms on politicians $231 million to $71 million, just to keep the status quo.
Hate to break the news, but your “fast” DSL Internet access is no longer considered high speed. In parts of the world, cell phones are faster. Have you wondered why Internet video doesn’t fill your computer monitor and look like a DVD, but instead is pixelated dreck in a tiny one or two inch square? Well, Comcast is dragging its heels, too. With better video over the Internet, who would want E!, let alone the Style Network? [...]
But the answer is not regulations imposing net neutrality. You can already smell the mandates and the loopholes once Congress gets involved. Think special, high-speed priority for campaign commercials or educational videos about global warming. Or roadblocks—like requiring emergency 911 service—to try to kill off free Internet telephone services such as Skype. [...]
A truly competitive, non-neutral network could work, but only if we know its real economic value. If telcos or cable charge too much, someone should be in a position to steal the customer. Maybe then we’d see useful services and a better Internet. Sounds like capitalism.
What new things? It’s not just more bandwidth and better Internet video—how about no more phone numbers, just a name and the service finds you? How about subscribing to a channel and being able to watch it when and where you want, on your TV, iPod, or laptop? How about a baby monitor you can view through your cell phone? Something worth paying for. And that’s just the easy stuff.
The problem isn’t lack of regulation of the Internet, it’s too much regulation in the telephone and cable industries.
All regulations are written according to a set of business assumptions that existed at a specific time. But business and technology are dynamic, ever-changing environments. Government regulations lock in one set of assumptions, so once the environment changes and those assumptions no longer apply, the regulations stifle innovation and keep the old ways in place.
Businesses that fear change—such as companies that have billions of dollars invested in old technology like copper wires and coax cables—then use those regulations to block competition, which leads to the stagnation. Why aren’t we seeing more Internet delivery innovation? My connection at home is the same speed it was five years ago. But everything else from my laptop to my iPod are twice as fast and hold ten times as much. Why is that? Maybe part of the reason is that the government doesn’t micromanage the computer industry the way it does the telecom industry.
The current system may be broken, or at least imperfect. But I don’t know if the solution is to write into law more lofty ideas that will be soon be based on outdated variables. Let’s get rid of the obsolete laws first. Open up the cable and phone companies to real competition. Then, we all might have so much bandwidth for such a cheap price that we won’t need to worry about net neutrality. If the high-priority lanes are 100x faster, are we really going to complain if everything else is only 50x faster?
This problem is easily solved by abundance. We just need to create an economic environment that encourages it.
2 June 2006 >>Computerworld columnist Scot Finnie has been running the latest pre-release version of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Vista operating system. He’s compiled a list of 20 gripes with Vista, and draws this conclusion:
Where does Windows Vista fit among many of the PC-based operating systems of today and the last couple of decades? With Beta 2 running on multiple test units, I feel comfortable predicting that Windows Vista will not outpace Mac OS X Tiger for overall quality and usability. It’s hard to beat Apple’s top-notch GUI design grafted onto an implementation of Unix variant BSD. Mac OS X has excellent reliability, security and usability. That isn’t to say that the user interface wouldn’t gain if Apple adopted some other best ideas of the day, but Apple has the best operating system this year, last year and next year. It’ll be interesting to see what the company delivers in its 10.5 Leopard version of Mac OS X.
Meanwhile, I’m placing Windows Vista as a distant second-best to OS X. I see Linux and Windows 2000 as being roughly tied another notch or two below Vista, with XP being only a half step better than Win 2000.
So, why is the year-old Mac OS X Tiger so much better than Windows Vista, which Microsoft won’t even ship before January 2007? It isn’t that Apple has put more effort into its operating system; Microsoft has mounted a gargantuan effort on Windows Vista. It’s that the two companies have very different goals. I’ve come to believe that Microsoft has lost touch with its user base.
That last point is absolutely true. For more than a decade, Microsoft seemed to design products more to fortify its monopoly position than to address the needs of actual customers. This led to some short-term benefits for the company (Netscape Navigator once owned the web browser market, and now Microsoft’s Internet Explorer does) but it has also led to long-term pain both for the company and customers (flaws in Internet Explorer made the product a major vehicle for delivering computer viruses, so much so that the Department of Homeland Security advises people to avoid the program).
[A] Microsoft manager named Janet Lawless sent a series of increasingly threatening letters to Dale Frantz, CIO at Auto Warehousing Co., about how Frantz’s company appeared to be using unlicensed software and how Microsoft wanted the issue resolved.
Frantz figured this was about his Microsoft software licenses, so he kept offering evidence that he was in compliance. Tennant concluded that Lawless was trying to intimidate Frantz to land a software deal.
They were both wrong. It’s sleazier than they imagined.
See, Janet Lawless doesn’t work for a part of Microsoft that enforces licenses. Frantz thought she did. You’d think so too if you got a letter saying “a preliminary review ... indicates that your company may not be licensed properly,” then a follow-up saying “since this is a compliance issue, I am obligated to notify an officer of Auto Warehousing of the situation and the significant risk your organization may be subject to by not resolving this situation in a timely manner.”
Lawless kept insisting that Microsoft should send a consultant to Auto Warehousing to inventory its software.
But Lawless doesn’t enforce licenses. The clue is her title: She’s an engagement manager. That’s right — Lawless’s job is to drum up business for Microsoft’s consulting operation. In this case, that’s Microsoft’s software asset management consulting business.
This wasn’t about confirming license compliance or about a software deal. It was about securing Microsoft a paid consulting gig.
In other words, Microsoft is using the implied threat of legal action against its own customers in order to coerce those customers into buying consulting services from Microsoft. Classy!
What would cause Microsoft to start failing? Has it developed such a corrosive corporate culture that it’s simply incapable of developing products that customers want? It’s hard to create great software when your design decisions are geared more towards stifling competitors than satisfying customer needs. Companies that lose sight of the customer do so at their own peril.
26 May 2006 >>
Are these truly The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time? Judge for yourself. I’m going to keep my mouth shut, because I have friends who’ve worked on some of those projects, and I wouldn’t mind remaining friends.
Meanwhile, here’s a decision bound to appear on a future update to that list: Hollywood studios have reportly decided that the next generation of DVDs, new formats created to bring high-definition (HD) video to HDTVs, will eventually be rigged to not output HD-quality video to some HDTVs. Why? Because Hollywood wants your TV to have built-in copy protection circuitry.
So, even if you bought a brand-new, state-of-the-art flat screen HDTV today, future HD DVD players may not support the HD quality the name implies. You might think you’re buying HD; whether or not you get it is another story.
If you have an HDTV with what’s called an HDMI connector, you should be OK. But if your set relies on any other type of jack, it looks like you’ll eventually be out of luck. The only question is when.