December 29, 2001

I just bought a new book (well the book's not new, but my copy will be :-) :
The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places,
by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass.

After I bought the book, I nosed around the Cambridge University Press website a bit and realize they have a lot of great titles.

Top Ten Crooked Cop Do's and Don'ts:
#1 -- Be careful not to use copyrighted materials when tampering with your video evidence!

Swedish TV-channels SVT and TV4 are jointly pressing charges against the police for violating copyright restrictions as a result of falsifying evidence by using and manipulating sequences taken from both channels.

This article from the InterActivist Info Exchange has the full story and direct links to all of the video footage in question:

Swedish Cops Fake Video Evidence in Gothenburg Prosecutions & Face Copyright Infringement Claims .

hydrarchist writes: "According to yelah.net, Swedish Police have been accused of copyright infringement by two national television stations. The allegations arose subsequent to a documentary screened last week on the alteration of evidence in a trial against a demonstrator who was shot and seriously injured during the European Union Summit in Gothenburg this summer. The 19 year old youth, Hannes Westerburg, was prosecuted for rioting offenses and convicted last month. The incident was captured by a number of video cameramen on the scene. Both prosecution and defense received the materials on tape. As the video footage documenting the shooting of Hannes Westerberg did not adequately support the police's version of events, they manipulated the evidence, creating a montage which made it appear that a sole rioter was in fact part of a mob. They also replaced the sound track with audio recorded elsewhere to once again give the impression that Westerberg was part of a large and threatening crowd. State justification for the shooting rests upon the claim that it was necessary in order to protect an injured policeman from further attack, a claim squarely refuted by the evidence.

This manipulation was chronicled in a documentary on Swedish television last week, which included interviews with the Belgian videographer who shot the most comprehensive footage of the incident (in English). He confirms that the audio track has been altered. The TV program is available in its entirety on the web, with the interview appearing towards the end of the second segment. http://www.svt.se/granskning/video/2001/1106/gbg2.ram.

December 28, 2001

Here's an excerpt from Cory Doctorow's upcoming novel for Tor Books, Down and Out In the Magic Kingdom . ( Courtesy of Infinite Matrix.)

My cochlea struck twelve noon and a HUD appeared with my weekly backup reminder. Lil was maneuvering Ben Franklin II out of his niche. I waved good-bye at her back and walked away, to an uplink terminal. Once I was close enough for secure broadband communications, I got ready to back up. My cochlea chimed again and I answered it.

"Yes," I subvocalized, impatiently. I hated getting distracted from a backup — one of my enduring fears was that I'd forget the backup altogether and leave myself vulnerable for an entire week until the next reminder. I'd lost the knack of getting into habits in my adolescence, giving in completely to machine-generated reminders over conscious choice.

It's Dan." I heard the sound of the Park in full swing behind him — children's laughter; bright, recorded animatronic spiels; the tromp of thousands of feet. "Can you meet me at the Tiki Room? It's pretty important."

"Can it wait for fifteen?" I asked.

"Sure — see you in fifteen."

I rung off and initiated the backup. A status-bar zipped across a HUD, dumping the parts of my memory that were purely digital; then it finished and started in on organic memory. My eyes rolled back in my head and my life flashed before my eyes.

*****

After I was shot dead at the Tiki Room, I had the opportunity to appreciate the great leaps that restores had made in the intervening ten years since my last death. I woke in my own bed, instantly aware of the events that led up to my death as seen from various third-party POVs: security footage from the Adventureland cameras, synthesized memories extracted from Dan's own backup, and a computer-generated fly-through of the scene. I woke feeling preternaturally calm and cheerful, and knowing that I felt that way because of certain temporary neurotransmitter presets that had been put in place when I was restored.

Dan and Lil sat at my bedside. Lil's tired, smiling face was limned with hairs that had snuck loose of her pony-tail. She took my hand and kissed the smooth knuckles. I dug for words appropriate to the scene, decided to wing it, opened my mouth and said, to my surprise, "I have to pee."

Oops. More of the same security holes for Microsoft products. This time for SQL Server.

(Mac Observer found the news quite tiresome actually...)

See:
Microsoft warns of holes in SQL Server, by Juan Carlos Perez for CNN.

The first and more serious vulnerability results from the failure of the SQL Server text-generating functions to limit the size of the text to the buffer space allotted by the system. This can lead to a flaw known as buffer overflow, which could allow an attacker to execute code within the system. The extent of the damage that the attacker could cause would depend on how the database administrator has configured the product's security parameters. In the worst-case scenario, the attacker could gain "significant control over the database, and perhaps over the server itself" and be able to "add, delete, or change data in the database, ... reconfigure the operating system, install new software on it, or simply reformat the hard drive," according to the security bulletin.

The second vulnerability is related to C runtime functions for formatting text strings. The database calls these strings when it runs on Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 or Windows XP operating systems. The flaw can make the database vulnerable to a denial of service attack, Microsoft said. The C runtime is the set of executables and files that provide support for programs written in the C programming language, and all Windows platforms ship with a runtime for C, Microsoft said. A "format string" vulnerability occurs when "a function that accepts formatted text for printing doesn't properly validate it before using it," Microsoft said.

The crop circles remind a friend of mine of this cool poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. (Thanks, Aaron)

Excerpted from "I Am Waiting", by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth's dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

Another company is peddling similar technology to the Applied Digital Solutions ID Chip mentioned below.

Here's an editorial by David Coursey for CNET Asia:
An implanted ID chip? Makes my skin crawl...

The concept of a national identity card--something you'd carry to use for matching with your fingerprint or retinal scan--gains a new dimension with implant technology. Or perhaps the chips could be implanted at birth as a sort of digital birth certificate.

Thinking about such prospects reminds me of three essential aspects of any new invention: The first is that technology is amoral, even when there is a temptation to consider it immoral, instead. Second, it's pretty hard to keep technology under wraps: If something is technologically possible, somebody is going to do it. And, finally, if something is created, it will probably be both used and abused.

I hope that VeriChip and its ilk--which have great potential to help people--will find their way into the hands of people who are well-intentioned and smart in equal parts. But I am not naive, either. This is what the ongoing privacy debate is about--and the VeriChip gives us another good reason to pay close attention to it.

Implanted ID chips are used by some farmers to keep tabs on their livestock. Now a company that manufactures them, Applied Digital Solutions, is trying to get people used to the idea of implanted chips in humans.

These chips can hold a few sentences of information and show great potential for being teamed up with a National ID card system.

See the articles:
A Chip ID That's Only Skin-Deep, by David Streitfeld for the LA Times.

and

Next: An ID Chip Planted in Your Body? , by Robert O'Harrow Jr for the Washington Post.

December 27, 2001

This is just a brief note regarding the Lord of the Rings film that just came out.

Great flick, but wouldn't recommend it for young children (say under 10).

The film is only rated PG-13, but I think it was more violent and scary than many slasher films I've seen. I understand that parents have to be the judge about what their own kids can handle, but I don't think that the parents that brought their six year olds to see this movie for Christmas understood that blood and gore were on the agenda.

The six year olds sitting near us were asking to go home after the first hour and many had their jackets over their face until they finally fell asleep in their parents arms.

Just food for thought. (I was expecting a bit tamer flick based on the marketing for the film, I guess.)

I'd like to reiterate that this was a beautiful and exciting grown-up movie :-) After three hours, I was ready for more. Guess I'll have to wait a year...

This article by John Borland for CNET News covers some of the upcoming features of the next round of Morpheus software:
New features planned for file swappers.

December 26, 2001

Ouch. Bad year for the music industry. (Or just record company propoganda :-).

Check out:
Labels Singing the Blues Over Expensive Failures
by Jeff Leeds for the L.A. Times.

"I've never seen this kind of damage," said Michael Nathanson, a media analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "You had these tent-pole releases that didn't carry their weight this year. And it's going to get worse."

The major music companies report financial results differently, but most of the labels are struggling.

EMI posted a loss of $77.6million for the first half of its fiscal year--the worst first-half results in at least five years. Bertelsmann's BMG Entertainment reportedly had a loss of more than $70 million this year.

Warner Music, once the industry leader, has been posting lower pretax earnings for three consecutive quarters, and Sony Music reported operating losses of $91 million for the last two quarters. Universal Music is the only one of the Big Five record conglomerates to post gains this year.

Record executives say the fickle marketplace is making established performers seem a liability. Much like Hollywood's movie studios, the major record companies find themselves forced to pay stratospheric sums--even at the risk of losing money on the deals--for the industry's top stars.

Swept up in a free-agency frenzy, record labels during the last decade spent hundreds of millions of dollars to sign such acts as Carey, R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, Janet Jackson, Prince and ZZ Top.

Record labels sign blockbuster pacts with hopes that mega-stars will at least pay for themselves and provide momentum for the company to sign new talent. In a business in which some 90% of the 6,000 CDs released domestically each year are unprofitable, according to major-label executives, stars are seen as safe bets--particularly when corporate parents are pressuring music labels to hit quarterly earnings targets."

Here's a cool piece from The Nation detailing how the "big ten" media companies actually own all of it, either directly or indirectly.

See:
The Big Ten , by Mark Crispin Miller. (Thanks, Cory)

December 25, 2001

Cory Doctorow has written some wonderful words to end the year with for the O'Reilly Network.

See:
2002: The Carpetbaggers Go Home .

In case it's escaped your notice, the economy is also circling the drain. Once-proud giants like Yahoo are shutting down weird little community-driven divisions like webrings.com. The traditional business press is full of gloating editorials from columnists who insist that they were never fooled for a second, they knew from Day One that the Internet was just hype and horseshit, a waffle-iron married to a fax machine, and here we are, the bubble burst, fortunes lost, hardy-har-har. (Even a stopped (analog) clock is right twice a day.)

Having spent billions trying to make 95-percent-reliable services function at 97 percent reliability, the Captains of Industry are off for greener pastures (cough biotech cough), leaving behind a horde of underemployed html jocks, perl obsessives, pixel-pushers, and pythoneers. What are these reborn slackers doing with their time in a down economy?

Exactly what they've done all along, only more so. The spare-time economy has yielded a bountiful harvest of weblogs, Photoshop tennis matches, homebrew Web services and dangerously Seattlean levels of garage-band activity.

Webloggers aren't professional journalists; they don't adhere to the code of ethics that CNN et al are nominally bound by, and they often can't spell or string together a coherent sentence, let alone pen an inverted-pyramid story. Nevertheless, bloggers are collectively brilliant at ferreting out every little detail of a story, wearing its edges smooth with discussion, and spitting it out again. Further, bloggers are spread out across the Internet, mirroring, quoting, and linking back to one another, collectively forming a Distributed Provision of Service that is resistant to CNN-killing catastrophes like 9/11. Blogs are about 95 percent of the way to being full-fledged news-sources, and the difference between the bloggers of the world and CNN is a couple of percentiles and several billion dollars.

Even as cable modem companies are knocking hundreds of thousands of subscribers offline, untethered forced-leisure gangs are committing random acts of senseless wirelessness, armed with cheap-like-borscht 802.11b cards and antennae made from washers, hot glue, and Pringles cans.

December 24, 2001

Hey cool, Slashdot picked up the Dmitry Sklyarov story. (Thanks, Timothy)

*ZiggyP0P* writes: "We remember hearing how Dmitry was let off and released (so he can finally go home) but how he had to cooperate with the government in the prosecution of his employer as a plea bargain. Turns out that this was all a lie by the Justice Dept. Skylarov has released his own statements which explain what exactly happened. He has entered into no legal plea bargain and he is still employed by Elcomsoft (even though the justice dept called him his former employer)."

I published an O'Reilly Network Weblog on Friday that clarifies the circumstances behind the Department of Justice's dropping the charges against Dmitry Sklyarov.

Check out: Dmitry Sets the Record Straight.

December 23, 2001

MusicNet and Pressplay are up and running now, and the consensus is that they both more than a little disappointing.

See: Analysis: Music Label Services' Debut Lackluster , by Bernhard Warner for Reuters in London.

Reviewers have criticized Pressplay and MusicNet for offering fewer songs and fewer features than the illegal services. Furthermore, the services won't be available to consumers outside the U.S. for months.

Music fans have been blunt on Internet message boards too. For MusicNet, the most common complaint on the message boards is that would-be customers cannot view the music library until after they've paid the $9.95 monthly subscription.

And, MusicNet does not permit the download of tracks to a portable MP3 player or to be burned on a CD, a feature that rival Pressplay includes.

"Pay 10 to 20 bucks for music that you CANNOT listen to in your portable MP3 player or burn to CD and have the music vaporize once you terminate your subscription," reads one UseNet message about MusicNet. "Is the music consumer that stupid?!"

MusicNet could not be immediately reached for comment.