October 2005

Rebranding the MP3

There’s been a lot of buzz about Yahooo!’s new Podcast search engine, and what it means for the “new medium” to have a major search engine buy in like this.

Ignore the fact that podcasting isn’t a new medium (it’s called audio guys, it’s been around a while). It’s also not that different from seven years ago when people just linked to MP3s on their webpages, and search engines like Scour.net and Lycos MP3 Search would find them for you. Technologically the only difference is a little bit of XML to help machines know what’s being linked, plus a few tweaks (like RSS subscription) that make the experience more user-friendly.

What I think has changed in the past 7 years is the number of people producing and distributing their own amateur and semi-pro content, and the accompanying infrastructure to support them. In 1998 almost all the MP3s available on the web were copyrighted songs people had ripped from their CD collection, and so the RIAA and other members of the content cartel could squash whatever infrastructure cropped up in the name of stamping out piracy. Today there’re countless MP3s online that are completely legal to download, and that primes the pump for for inventing the infrastructure to make it even easier. Moreover, piracy has largely gone to the P2P networks, so now MP3s on the web are harder to paint with the sweeping “it’s all piracy” brush.

And that all leads to podcasting, which I’m hearing the media describe as “making your own radio programs for broadcast over the net.” This is, of course, the big long-term competition for the content cartel — their big-advertising, mass-produced one-size-fits-all model will have trouble competing with thousands of niche narrowcasts that each have a small personal audience. More importantly, podcasting is online audio that finally isn’t being linked with piracy — it’s good, happy audio on the web, not at all like those nasty pirated MP3s in the previous decade.

And just think, it only took us seven years to get here…

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Report card on Karen Hughes

I don’t get it. With all the credentials Karen Hughes has, including managing Bush’s already stellar communications, ghost-writing his autobiography and of course her Bachelors in Journalism and 7 years as a local TV-news reporter, how could she be having such trouble mastering the subtle diplomacy and cultural differences involved in Middle-Eastern politics?

Maybe if she had more experience with Arabian horses…

(Thanks to Dorothy for the link.)

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Yes, Virginia, downloading copyrighted material without permission is illegal…

There’s a myth I keep hearing that downloading copyrighted music without permission is perfectly legal under US law, and that only uploading is illegal. (I just got an anonymous comment on an old post to that effect, which is why I bring it up now.) I gather the myth spread after the RIAA decided to go after big uploaders but not big downloaders in their jihad, and was bolstered by a NYTimes piece that starts with the line “Downloading music from the Internet is not illegal.”

Unfortunately for would-be downloaders, this is just a myth, as the 9th Circuit’s ruling in A&M Records v. Napster makes clear:

We agree that plaintiffs have shown that Napster users infringe at least two of the copyright holders’ exclusive rights: the rights of reproduction, § 106(1); and distribution, § 106(3). Napster users who upload file names to the search index for others to copy violate plaintiffs’ distribution rights. Napster users who download files containing copyrighted music violate plaintiffs’ reproduction rights.

The US Copyright Office’s FAQ also puts it quite plainly:

Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution.

So what did that old NYTimes article mean when it said downloading is legal? Simply that there is plenty of music available where the copyright holders have already given permission for you to download, share and enjoy. And that, Virginia, is why there is a Santa Claus.

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Why have the Senate confirm Supreme Court nominations?

Here’s what Alexander Hamilton had to say on the purpose of Senate confirmations:

To what purpose then require the co-operation of the Senate? I answer, that the necessity of their concurrence would have a powerful, though, in general, a silent operation. It would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity. In addition to this, it would be an efficacious source of stability in the administration.

It will readily be comprehended, that a man who had himself the sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by his private inclinations and interests, than when he was bound to submit the propriety of his choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body, and that body an entier branch of the legislature. The possibility of rejection would be a strong motive to care in proposing. The danger to his own reputation, and, in the case of an elective magistrate, to his political existence, from betraying a spirit of favoritism, or an unbecoming pursuit of popularity, to the observation of a body whose opinion would have great weight in forming that of the public, could not fail to operate as a barrier to the one and to the other. He would be both ashamed and afraid to bring forward, for the most distinguished or lucrative stations, candidates who had no other merit than that of coming from the same State to which he particularly belonged, or of being in some way or other personally allied to him, or of possessing the necessary insignificance and pliancy to render them the obsequious instruments of his pleasure.

Of course, if the president has no shame then all bets are off…

(Thanks to Jay for the quote.)

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Robot Cafe in Osaka, Japan

This sounds fun: The ROBO CAFE [jp→en] has just opened up in Osaka, Japan, where customers can watch Nuvo dance, view a Segway of course have their crumbs cleaned by a Roomba. Sounds like a perfect place to unwind after a day at the wearable-computing conference I’ll be attending there in a couple of weeks :).

My Japanese is non-existant and Google’s isn’t much better, but here are links to a map and more details here [jp→en] and here [jp→en].

(Thanks to Rebecca for the link!)

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Potential DOS attack on cell networks

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have determined that it’s possible to launch an effective denial of service attack on cellphone networks, either in a localized area or nationwide, by flooding known cellphones in the area with SMS messages (see summary, paper and NYTimes article). The attack relies on using web and Internet-based SMS portals to overwhelm the wireless data-band, which is also used for connecting voice calls. Since only messages that are actually delivered over-the-air contribute to the network congestion, attackers would first need to generating a “hit-list” of known-valid cellphones (for example, by scraping websites for cellphone numbers in a given prefix and then slowly testing those for SMS capability before starting the attack).

One snippit from the paper I found interesting was how different cellphone providers deal with a backup of SMS messages awaiting delivery to a single user (e.g. when the cellphone is turned off): AT&T buffered all 400 test SMS messages, Verizon only kept the last 100 messages sent (FIFO eviction), and Sprint only kept the first 30 (LIFO eviction).

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Happy Birthday EFF


The Electronic Frontier Foundation just celebrated their 15th birthday this past weekend. I swear it seems like just yesterday when our biggest worries were 14-year-old hackers getting arrested and whether it was legal to export crypto. Since then we’ve seen the DMCA, RFID, UCITA, CALEA, CAPPS, FTAA and LBJ on the IRT.

Today we need groups like EFF more than ever — if you want to help build a cyberspace where freedom to speak, associate and create are protected and expected, please consider becoming a member.

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Good Night, and Good Luck

WNYC’s On The Media has a great interview with Joe and Shirley Wershba, two of the journalists at CBS working with Edward R. Murrow when he took on Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1954. They’re talking about the new film about the confrontation, Good Night, and Good Luck [trailer, review].

One quote from Murrow that I love, in response to the fears a lot of people at CBS had about the consequences of taking on McCarthy: “Terror is right here in this room. No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.”

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Sun SPOT: Java-based wireless sensor boards


Sun Labs have developed a cute little Java-programmable board called the Sun SPOT (Small Programmable Object Technology), along the lines of the Berkeley Motes project and other small Ubiquitous Computing sensor boards:

Based on a 32 bit ARM-7 CPU and an 11 channel 2.4GHz radio, Sun SPOT radically simplifies the process of developing wireless sensor and transducer applications. The platform enables developers to build wireless transducer applications in Java™ using a sensor board for I/O, an 802.15.4 radio for wireless communication, and use familiar Integrated Development Environments (IDEs), such as Net-Beans™ to write code.

The system uses the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless standard that’s designed for short-range (< 10 meters, same as Bluetooth) with low data rates but also low latency and ultra-low power consumption — pretty much what you need for individual sensors.

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Berkeley Juggling & Unicycle Festival (this weekend)

This Friday through Sunday is the First Annual Berkeley Juggling and Unicycle Festival:

Now, rest assured, the title may say “Juggling and Unicycle”, but this is an inclusive event — contact juggling, poi, staff twirling, bullwhips, plate spinning, devil sticks, cigar boxes, diabolo, yo-yos, and that funky thing that one guy does with the rubber chicken — all are welcome here.

Perfect! I’ve always wanted to learn rubber chicken…

(Thanks to Glitter Girl for the link…)

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