November 29, 2001

Interesting commentary by Kevin Werbach for ZDNet news regarding 802.11 networks and lack of scarcity of the airwaves:

Here's a cure for bandwidth blues

(Note: emphasis below cheerfully added!)

Bandwidth isn't as scarce as you think. The cure for the broadband blues is right in front of our faces, but we don't see it because we've trained ourselves to look elsewhere. The answer is something called open spectrum.
The concept is that wireless frequencies could be shared among many users rather than assigned in exclusive licenses to individual companies. Smart devices subject to rules ensuring that no one player could hog the airwaves would replace networks defined by governments and service providers. Spectrum would be used more efficiently. Bandwidth would be cheaper and more ubiquitous.
It's a deeply subversive idea, just as the Internet was for networking and open source is for software development. But it's an idea whose time has come.
"We could have the greatest wave of innovation since the Internet...if we could unlock the spectrum to explore the new possibilities," said David Reed, formerly chief scientist at Lotus and a researcher involved in the original development of the Internet.
All it would take to open the floodgates for innovation are a few government decisions to make more wireless spectrum available for "unlicensed" services. Unfortunately, the companies that have paid for exclusive spectrum licenses oppose alternatives that would make the airwaves shared and virtually free. They argue that unlicensed services would cause ruinous interference--a "tragedy of the commons." The real tragedy is that today's spectrum owners are preventing a commons that could benefit all.
No government has yet taken the open spectrum idea seriously. There's new hope today, though, thanks to the runaway success of 802.11b (WiFi) technology. It uses a small, congested sliver of spectrum set aside for unlicensed use. WiFi was designed for the mundane purpose of replacing Ethernet cables for connecting office PCs. Despite these limitations, WiFi is taking off as an alternative mechanism for Internet access. There will be 10 million WiFi devices installed by the end of this year, and 4,000 public wireless access points in locations such as airports and cafes.

I must admit, I already wake up every morning wondering what the latest ridiculous plan out of Ashcroft's mouth is going to be, but this morning's announcement about a "responsible cooperator program" really takes the cake: let's give immigration incentives for providing information about terrorists!

This way we can not only encourage foreign hopefuls to make up stories about real or imaginary people in order to increase the chance that their immigration status may be "fast tracked", we can also assist potentially threatening foreigners to get into the country quicker! (Since, in theory, anyone who might be privy to such information could themselves impose a threat to national security.)

Law-abiding foreigners: do not be fooled by this insidious invitation! If you should actually have the misfortune to happen across any important information that may somehow lead to the capture of terrorists or the prevention of a terrorist act from occurring, tell one of your white upper-middle class non-Jewish-American friends about it, so they can phone in an anonymous tip from a pay phone!
(No one is safe! :-)

See the CNN article: U.S. to offer immigration incentives for terrorism information.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Thursday a new plan to possibly offer immigration assistance to encourage international citizens living in the United States or abroad to come forward with information about suspected terrorists.
"If you have information which is reliable information and useful to us in preventing terrorism and apprehending those who are involved in terrorist activities, bring it to the FBI or if you are overseas, to an embassy, and you could as a result of that information be provided a visa which will allow you to be in the United States, allow you if necessary to work in the United States and provide a basis for your someday becoming a citizen," Ashcroft said.
Calling the new plan the "responsible cooperators program," Ashcroft said, "We want the kind of responsible people who would help us in the war against terrorism."
Ashcroft sent a directive Thursday to the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, all United States attorneys and the Justice Department's Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, outlining the new incentive initiative.

Bummer: Ban on DVD-cracking code upheld (written by Evan Hansen for CNET

The decision for now upholds a controversial law known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and prevents Web site 2600 and its publisher, Eric Corley, from posting links to computer code known as DeCSS--a program that allows DVD movies to be decoded and played on personal computers.
Joining a growing consensus among courts across the country, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York found that computer code is speech and therefore entitled to some First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution. But the court concluded that the material in this case is "content-neutral," and therefore entitled to considerably less protection than "expressive" content such as poetry or a novel.
"Neither the DMCA nor the posting prohibition is concerned with whatever capacity DeCSS might have for conveying information to a human being, and that what arguably creates a speech component of the decryption code," the unanimous three-judge appellate panel wrote in a 72-page opinion that leaned heavily on the reasoning of a lower court.
The decision is a major win for copyright holders in general, but especially for the movie industry, which has been fighting to ban DeCSS from the Internet for about two years. Civil rights advocates have been closely watching the case, arguing that the DMCA is overbroad and that banning links to content online could wreak havoc with free expression on the Internet.
Corley, the last holdout in a case that originally targeted dozens of defendants, has won high-profile supporters concerned about the case's speech implications, including the lower court's limits on linking. In a flurry of legal filings earlier this year, groups ranging from the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to a coalition of hotshot programmers submitted amicus briefs siding with Corley and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is spearheading his defense.
While acknowledging the difficulties in placing limits on linking, the appeals court essentially agreed with the lower court's reasoning "that the DMCA, as applied to the defendants' linking, served substantial governmental interests and was unrelated to the suppression of free speech."

November 27, 2001

Photo By Alex Maness

The thought police are at it again. See: The Poster Police -- A Durham student activist gets a visit from the Secret Service, by Jon Elliston for the Independent Online.
(Thanks John)

Then: Knock, knock ... unexpected guests at Brown's Duke Manor apartment. Opening the door, she found a casually dressed man, and a man and woman in what appeared to be business attire. Her first thought, she says, was, "Are these people going to sell me something?"
But then the man in the suit introduced himself and the woman as agents from the Raleigh office of the U.S. Secret Service. The other man was an investigator from the Durham Police Department.
"Ma'am, we've gotten a report that you have anti-American material," the male agent said, according to Brown. Could they come in to have a look around?
"Do you have a warrant?" Brown asked. They did not.
"Then you're not coming in my apartment," she said. And indeed, they stayed outside her doorway. But they stayed a while--40 minutes, Brown estimates--and gave her a taste of how dissenters can come under scrutiny in wartime.
And all because of a poster on her wall.

Stanford Law Professor Larry Lessig had some interesting things to say about the negative effects of copyright law at this week's Darklight Digital Film Festival.

See the Wired News article by Karlin Lillington: Why Copyright Laws Hurt Culture .

Copyright laws in the United States are placing the control of material into an increasingly "fixed and concentrated" group of corporate hands, he said. Five record companies now control 85 percent of music distribution, for example.
Because copyright law now also precludes "derivative use" of copyright material, people cannot develop new material based on copyrighted work without permission. Lessig said this radically changes how human culture will evolve, since "the property owner has control over how that subsequent culture is built."
This restriction also stymies technological innovation, as developers cannot follow the long-established practice of taking existing code and enhancing it to produce something new, he said.
"...Digital production and the Internet could change all this, so that creative action and the distribution of these arts could be achieved in a much more diversified way than before," Lessig said. This would allow for a "production of culture that doesn't depend on a narrow set of images of what culture should be."
A more open business model in which artists have greater control over their productions would create "diverse, competitive industries" rather than centralized, monopolistic companies, he said.
New technologies such as peer-to-peer-based communication and file-exchange programs could force a new look at copyright laws and profoundly change the methods of distribution, Barlow and Lessig both said.

The MIT Micro Gas Turbine Engine Project has developed a micro turbine rotor engine.

See the Wired News article, The Little Engine That Could Be, by Louise Knapp.
(Thanks John)

There's also a white paper written by the same group at MIT that explains how it works: Micro Electric Machines for Micro Turbomachinery.

Here's an excerpt from the Wired News article:

The development of a fuel-powered miniature engine, touted as a more efficient and longer lasting alternative for the battery, may push the Energizer Bunny to the unemployment lines.
No bigger than a regular shirt button, the micro gas turbine engine uses the same process for producing electricity as its big brother electricity stations -- burning fuel and running it through a power plant.
"Fuel and air in, and electricity out," said Luc Frechette, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University and one of the team members building the engine.

November 26, 2001

Hey girls! Now you can be beautiful and die for your country!

Product Description

"Secret Agent Barbie lets kids join Barbie and her friends in an exciting new adventure as she travels the world as a secret agent... Secret agents have access to special powers like running, jumping, tumbling, and blending into the background. There are special gadgets like pink-vision glasses and a remote-control puppy, and a selection of cool secret agent outfits."