August 25, 2006
Microsoft Not Manufacturing Zune
Who manufactures their own stuff these days anyway? Well, the Zune music player will be made by Toshiba. Ars Technica has a great story along with pictures.
Vista 32 bit Version Won't Play Hi-Def Content Deliberately, Maybe
32 Bit Vista will not play high definition protected content according to statements made by Microsoft representatives at the TechEd 2006 conference in Sydney, Australia. Playback will require 64 bit systems. Microsoft stated that by the time HD and Blu-Ray was popular, so would 64 bit systems running Vista.
This is the type of thing that PC manufacturers love to hear, that the operating system features will drive people to abandon recently purchased machines in favor of leading edge (read and more expensive) machines just to take advantages of new features, such as playback of high definition copy protected video. Don't expect a groundswell of people upgrading to Vista if that's the case. The public has gorged themselves on $500 and under commodity PC equipment and is unlikely to move up the price point just for limited playback rights for competing video formats on these systems. Perhaps that also explains why Dell is starting to use cheaper AMD 64 bit processors in their models, getting ready for the upgrade blitz without charging their customers super premium prices. Microsoft, for it's part is making non-committal statements saying that no version of Windows makes the determination on DVD playback. That's true to an extent, but MS has the power to control its own product. Where does Apple stand on this one?
The prohibition on playback in the 32 bit version of high definition content came at the behest of Hollywood, afraid that someone (are you listening DVD Jon?) would break that system as easily as 15 lines of code did the last version. I'm not suggesting that 64 bit Vista or high definition video is a bad idea. Rather I think this will just slow down adoption once Vista actually comes out. The lure of high def is not going to reverse course on what is essentially a commodity: computers, DVD playback devices, and DVDs themselves, not at least until the cost comes way down from current prices.
August 24, 2006
EchoStar Loses Appeal on Broadcast Retransmission
EchoStar has lost a lawsuit brought against it by broadcast television networks over its retransmission of distant market network signals to rural customers. The suit alleged violations of the Satellite Viewer Act of 1988 and the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999 which allow those transmissions to unserved households for over-the-air broadcasts. EchoStar (dba Dish Network) sent distant market broadcasts to about 800,000 rural subscribers. The problem was that the customers could receive local channels over the air.
EchoStar had been negotiating with local stations while the suit was in progress and had reached some settlements. The suit continued for those stations who hadn't settled. The 11th Circuit ruled in May that EchoStar had to stop the transmissions. Justice Thomas denied a stay on Monday which means that these customers will lose their major network channels, typically from New York and Los Angeles. Oh well, better get back on the barn roof and set up the antenna. Otherwise we might miss the news at the Shady Rest.
Barney Threats Wind Up in Court
Barney the Dinosaur is on the rampage. While he's not destroying Tokyo he is annoyed that some people on the Internet are making fun of him. For while he may love us, not all of us apparently love him. His lawyers are offended that some of us show it through parody available on the web. In fact, they send out cease-and-desist letters to people who get under their skin, like Stuart Frankel who maintains the Source of All Evil web site. He has some Barney material there that is not particularly flattering to Barney.
Well, Mr. Frankel is fighting back with the help of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Akin Gump law firm. He's suing Barney's owners for threatening his free expression rights over the issue. The EFF wants to take this case to court to settle the issue once and for all.
Rather than comment on who has the better argument, you are directed to the video available on Google Video that depicts Barney as a rap star. It's called parody, and it's probably allowed under some forms of free speech. Warning: Language in the music contains offensive words and social concepts as typical of uncensored rap music. This site in no way endorses the message of the music, but intends to illustrate that denigration of Barney is everywhere and, in some cases, extreme. Go bother the producers of the video, not me. You can also search any of the popular video sites for the word "Barney" and you'll find similar, if not worse.
Apple Recalls Laptop Batteries
Apple has announced a battery recall similar to the one Dell made last week. The issue is the same, that a battery could overheat and catch fire. And, again, the technology that has failed the quality standards has come from Sony. This is getting to easy to criticize them. Anyone else out there using Sony batteries? Should Vaio owners be concerned? We'll have to see if and when that press report comes out.
August 23, 2006
Google Tussles With Brazilian Prosecutors over Orkut
Google is in trouble with prosecutors in Brazil over its Orkut social networking site. Orkut is very popular in Brazil, with some 16 million users. Prosecutors say that Google is withholding information about members, and that action is thwarting criminal investigations revolving around drugs and child pornography. They are seeking fines of $61 million to punish the search engine for ignoring court orders.
Google for its part says that it has complied with all the orders from the Brazilian courts. Some of the dispute centers around the form of the data to be provided and where it should originate. Google says that the servers that host the information are in the United States and the requests should be directed to the parent company rather than the Brazilian subsidiary. Google Brasil Internet Ltda. The Brazilian unit does not retain user information.
Google has removed inappropriate content when asked. The company has also petitioned the court to appoint master who would determine whether Google has complied or not.
August 22, 2006
Manufacturers To Inform Consumers about Vehicle Black Boxes
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is requiring car manufacturers to tell consumers than black boxes exist in their cars. These devices measure speed, braking, and other operational statistics in cars. Not every manufacturer places them in vehicles. About two thirds of all vehicles have them including all GM cars. The new rules require notification by September 1, 2010. The NHTSA says that notification by owner manual is sufficient and that the data collected by the devices cannot be downloaded without the permission of the vehicle owner. The NHTSA has not addressed whether insurance companies and others will make access to this information available to them via policy terms (contracts of adhesion) or discoverable as evidence in civil in criminal cases. That, the agency says, is up to Congress and the courts, or, they could have added, a secret presidential declaration.
CNET has the story.
Another Sign of the Download Times
There is another type of music piracy going on via the Internet that's just beginning to get noticed: tabulature sites. These are sites where musicians have figured out the chord sequence of a song and upload that information in tab form for other musicians, guitarists in particular. Chord sequences allow other people besides the original artist to perform the song either for their own amusement or the amusement of others. The Music Publishing Association says that this hurts musicians and publishers.
Tab sites are beginning to remove the offending material although as sites go blank others pop up to take their place. The intellectual property issues aren't disputable although the marketing is certainly different. There are no legitimate sheet music download sites comparable to online digital music stores. Physical stores selling sheet music are even harder to find than those selling CDs and DVDs. Sure, places such as Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Guitar Center sell sheet music, but the selection is extremely limited. Other stores dedicated to sheet music generally are few and far between, even in large metropolitan areas. The only place left is web stores such as Amazon.
It gets even more curious here trying to measure demand. The Neil Young Guitar Anthology sells for $15.72. It ranks at 303,842 in book sales. That compares to 4,282 for Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Sidney W. Mintz, at a tidy $9.75. There you go, the history of sugar is more marketable than knowing how to play Sugar Mountain.
The New York Times has the details of this latest intellectual property struggle.
August 21, 2006
FTC Chair Comes Out Against Net Neutrality
FTC Chair Deborah Platt Majoras told a meeting of the Progress and Freedom Foundation that she questions whether government regulation rather than market forces would serve best in regulating the Internet. She said the Commission is creating a task force to address the issue.
From the FTC Press Release:
“The FTC’s Internet Access Task Force is looking carefully at the issues raised by calls for network neutrality laws. . . . I urge caution in proceeding on the issue. I . . . question the starting assumption that government regulation, rather than the market itself under existing laws, will provide the best solution to a problem,” Majoras said. “The FTC’s Internet Access Task Force is looking carefully at the issues raised by calls for network neutrality laws. . . . I urge caution in proceeding on the issue. I . . . question the starting assumption that government regulation, rather than the market itself under existing laws, will provide the best solution to a problem,” Majoras said.
* * * *
“While I am sounding cautionary notes about new legislation, let me make clear that if broadband providers engage in anticompetitive conduct, we will not hesitate to act using our existing authority. But I have to say, thus far, proponents of net neutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where the market is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we should challenge; we are open to hearing from them,” she said.
The full text of Commissioner Majoras' speech is here.
Fallout from AOL Data Release Part 2
The AOL data debacle has claimed three more victims, aside from the right to privacy, actual privacy, and the people who actually conducted the disclosed searches. The researcher who released the data was fired, as was the researcher's supervisor. Then there is, or was,the Chief Technology Officer, Maureen Govern, at AOL. The company's statement on Ms. Govern was that she decided the leave the company "immediately," no doubt a good-will gesture on her part accepting responsibility for the leak.
Additionally, AOL took measures to assess how long data should be retained for use, a touchy issue these days. Companies have been squeamish about retaining data beyond business use, although have no problems with it when in specific cases involving law enforcement. Attorney General Gonzales would like to see Internet providers hold onto to data indefinitely, as if the NSA sucking down Internet traffic courtesy of AT&T is not enough. Business is opposed, if for no other reason, the amount of capital they would have to expend in storage systems on behalf of the government. Bills have been introduced, but with elections looming, nothing is likely to be enacted until at least the next congress. In the meantime, there's just so many dollars to be had in analyzing chunks of data for browsing and shopping habits.
The moral of the story, just assume that anything people do on the web is ultimately not private. And if it purports to be private, don't be the one to put it on the web unless you have a parachute made out of a precious metal.
This Month's Zune News
The short story is that it will likely play videos and will come pre-loaded with music and videos from EMI. Most of the stories are filled with speculation and hype beyond these facts.
Wired has an interesting analysis of what Zune means to the rest of the mp3 player universe, especially those who are Microsoft partners (betrayed by MS). The rest of the news is at ITWire, and All Headline News.