August 2005 Archives

Hollywood, Microsoft align on new Windows | CNET

PCs won't be the only ones with reinforced pirate-proofing. Other new consumer electronics devices will have to play by a similar set of rules in order to play back the studios' most valuable content, Microsoft executives say. Indeed, assuring studios that content will have extremely strong protection is the only way any device will be able to support the studios' planned high-definition content, the software company says.

"The table is already set," said Marcus Matthias, product manager for Microsoft's digital media division. "We can come in and eat at the buffet, or we can stand outside and wash cars."

Bullshit, I say.

People aren't going to movies, buying DVDs, or buying music in the volumes they once did. They're buying entertainment in ways that better suit their lives: interactive, on demand, and on the go. Big Content and their usual partners in distribution clearly are dependent on technology and CE companies to help them with their distribution problem, so companies like Microsoft obviously have a stronger hand to play if only they felt like it.

The problem is, Microsoft itself is a purveyor of closed formats. Sure, their closed formats contain boring documents and render XML, but they have as much interest as any studio would in using de facto standard platforms to curtail customer choice if it gives them an advantage.

Am I being paranoid? I wonder. If the above explanation is wrong (and I think that it's at least plausible) then whatever happened to the Microsoft I knew and loved: the one that struck fear in the hearts of media companies, cable operators, banks, retailers, and everybody else? The Microsoft that would bleed money for half a decade if it gained them market share and crushed a competitor? The Microsoft that virtually choked competitors to death if they stood between Redmond and another customer?

My guess is that Microsoft—the one that focused on winning the customer by any means necessary—is gone, replaced by a Microsoft with a different definition of "customer:" itself. Microsoft now makes decisions to advance Microsoft. If the path of least resistance means rolling over for Big Content in spite of the customer's interests, then so be it.

In a way, this represents an interesting change at Microsoft. It's almost like they're keen to play in a larger ecosystem, rather than brutally crush all those who venture into the software business. It's as if Redmond has finally bought into the idea of a rising tide that lifts all boats. It's a shame that they got the business ecosystem religion after crushing companies like Novell, Borland, Netscape, and (nearly) Apple, only to get all warm and fuzzy with the dinosaurs from Hollywood.

On the other hand, perhaps I'm wrong: there's nothing new about Microsoft's behavior. They're still the "Conan the Barbarian" of the software business, out to crush its enemies, see them driven before it, and hear the lamentations of their shareholders. In their crosshairs are Google, Yahoo!, Red Hat, and Apple (again). Big Content are just the kind of thuggish, retrograde partners they need to cudgel the customer into submission.

News Analysis: For Bush, Smaller Goals in Iraq - New York Times

As Iraq's draft constitution was presented to its National Assembly and honored at a brief ceremony largely boycotted by Sunnis, President Bush joined with others in his administration on Sunday in praising the charter as a milestone in the transition to democracy and the battle against insurgents.

But in the disarray in Baghdad that was becoming evident, with Sunnis and some Shiites vowing to defeat the constitution and others angrily predicting a surge in anti-government violence, statements by the president and others in his administration had the air of making a case that the situation was not as bad as it looked.

Let the goalpost moving begin!

The Bush administration seems to have gotten off to a quick start on their effort to retroactively diminish expectations for progress in Iraq. There is confusion over the status of the new constitution, and the immediate future of the Iraqi political situation: will Sunni parties participate in the constitutional referendum? If the constitution is defeated, will there be enough goodwill to elect a new government and restart the constitutional process? In other words, a marginally cohesive polity just got a lot more unstable.

A failure, you say? Goodness, no. It's good "progress," which is really all we can ask for. What? You thought we expected a constitution that would have broad enough consensus and buy-in to deflate elements of the insurgency? You misunderstood. We were actually aiming for a chaotic "process" that would herald "more desperate, more despicable and more vicious" violence.

It would be even more incorrect to suggest that the unanimous condemnation of the draft constitution by Sunni negotiators was, somehow, indicative of wider Sunni Iraqi sentiment. Those are the minority opinions of a few. Which is why they were a part of negotiating this country's constitution. Get it?

"There are strong beliefs among other Sunnis that this constitution is good for all Iraqis, and that it adequately reflects compromises suitable to all groups," [Bush] said.

See? More progress: all the Sunnis who weren't at the constitution party really, really love this constitution.

Bush Steps In as Charter Talks in Iraq Reach Breaking Point - New York Times

Talks over the Iraqi constitution reached a breaking point on Thursday, with a parliamentary session to present the document being canceled and President Bush personally calling one of the country's most powerful Shiite leaders in an effort to broker a last-minute deal.

But after so many days of fruitless negotiations, some senior political leaders here suggested that time had run out.

After months of saying that the Iraqi constitutional process would help defuse the insurgency, this is another real blow to the Bush administration. In fact, this constitution fiasco, combined with mixed signals from the Pentagon, Congress, and the White House on troop withdrawal timetables, could possibly galvanize guerillas of all stripes, intensify violent sectarian and ethnic conflict, and draw more "martyrdom" seeking jihadists to Iraq to fight Americans.

It will be difficult to credibly claim that "staying the course" is producing results.

This administration has bungled this project badly. Expectations among Americans and Iraqis weren't properly set. Credible partners in the international community, alienated by America leading up to the war, could not be persuaded to assist in bringing the fractious Iraqi political and interest groups together. Security requirements were badly underestimated.

We've got a terrible mess on our hands.

Jesus loves you

Televangelist Calls for Assassination of Chavez - New York Times

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson suggested on-air that American operatives assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to stop his country from becoming ''a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.'' Skip to next paragraph Mort Fryman/Associated Press

Pat Robertson, 75, is the founder of the Christian Coalition of America and a former presidential candidate.

''We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,'' Robertson said Monday on the Christian Broadcast Network's ''The 700 Club.''

I'm so very busy, but this is far too funny to ignore.

I forget in which part of the sermon on the mount Jesus says "blessed are the wet ops, who neutralize earthly princes," but I'm sure that's just because I haven't cracked open the King James in a while. / By industry / Media & internet - News Corp may spend $2bn on web deals

Mr Murdoch said on Wednesday he did not expect to spend more than $1bn in total at the moment, but if opportunities came up could allocate a further $1bn. He said he was in “very advanced negotiations to buy a controlling interest in a wonderful search engine,” but did not elaborate.

News Corp, which on Wednesday reported strong growth in its filmed entertainment, television, cable, satellite broadcast, newspapers and book publishing businesses, expects the internet to be an engine of future growth. To this end, Mr Murdoch said the recently established Fox Interactive Media division would become a stand-alone unit.

Mr Murdoch, who has a reputation for accurately spotting future media growth trends although has in the past made losses on internet ventures, has visions of using the extensive content from his studios and television businesses to build a “distinctive interactive network” that will “redefine the portal”.

Not sure what to make of this. Do people even still use the word "portal?" You'd think Rupert's gums would still be bleeding from his last dance with the IntarWebs, but apparently the success of Google and Yahoo! (and not the failure of Lycos,, AOL, Excite@Home, etc, etc) has triggered some sort of autonomic pen-to-checkbook response in the old man.

Or perhaps China has asked him to "buy the internets" so he can remove all the pro-democracy, free Tibet nasties from it for them.

Music industry seeks Hollywood's 'windows' | CNET

In the next year, labels will increasingly find ways to boost those figures by offering a large range of different products at different times, and through different channels.

"We will see tiered pricing in the online world," Hesse said. "It will be coming out in different windows over time, and will be much more sophisticated than just the 99-cent download that we have seen."

This doesn't make any sense to me. Windowing is another strategy based on artificial scarcity. Digital distribution kills that little market distortion dead in its tracks. Sony BMG is talking like they're intent on thwarting the customer at every turn. - Homeland Security agency deploys ID tags in visitor forms (8/9/05)

Under the Homeland Security Department's US VISIT program, the electronic transmitters, known as RFID tags, have been placed in the standard visitor form known as the I-94 arrival/departure record. Testing began on the devices at five land border ports Thursday and will continue until next summer.

Fantastic. So now people with an I-94 in their passport (like me) are guinea pigs for passports with RFID tags.

As I've mentioned before, I'm notso hotso with the whole idea, but Bruce Schneier has seen some developments—such as radio shielding, encryption, and key-based access—that would limit potential eavesdropping and enhance passport holder privacy. Unfortunately, there's no hint of that here.

Musicians Work to Join ITunes in Japan

In just four days, customers downloaded 1 million songs -- the fastest pace for the service's launch in any of the 20 nations it's become available, including the U.S. Most songs cost 150 yen (US$1.35; euro1) to download, and only 10 percent cost 200 yen (US$1.80; euro1.40).

But Sony Corp.'s music division has not signed up to join Apple's service.

Sony Music Japan's foot-dragging on licensing music to the Japanese iTunes Music Store clearly puts paid to the lie that the Big Content hydra cares one bit for the artists and customers that keep its carcass on life support.

It's not about piracy, it's not about techology, it's not about competing with free. When the opportunity presents itself for a company to offer music where customers are willing to pay for it (even if it's crippled with DRM), then it's clear that it's all about making decisions that screw musicians and customers in the name of corporate synergies.

Terrorists Turn to the Web as Base of Operations

Al Qaeda suicide bombers and ambush units in Iraq routinely depend on the Web for training and tactical support, relying on the Internet's anonymity and flexibility to operate with near impunity in cyberspace. In Qatar, Egypt and Europe, cells affiliated with al Qaeda that have recently carried out or seriously planned bombings have relied heavily on the Internet.

Such cases have led Western intelligence agencies and outside terrorism specialists to conclude that the "global jihad movement," sometimes led by al Qaeda fugitives but increasingly made up of diverse "groups and ad hoc cells," has become a "Web-directed" phenomenon, as a presentation for U.S. government terrorism analysts by longtime State Department expert Dennis Pluchinsky put it. Hampered by the nature of the Internet itself, the government has proven ineffective at blocking or even hindering significantly this vast online presence.

Of course it has—it's like trying to block an idea.

Elsewhere in this series, the authors distinguish the Zarqawi-era net-enabled suicide fanboys from the fax-and-videotape fogeys in bin Laden's circle. Given that the old guard managed to murder and destroy pretty effectively without an (alleged) reliance on modern internet techniques, I think it's safe to say that this series' focus on the internet is misplaced. Plenty of technology exists to spread ideas through channels beyond the reach of governments. - Electronic passports set to thwart forgers

The U.S. passport is joining the digital age. After three years of research and discussion, the State Department has finalized most of the technical and logistical details of new, supposedly tamper-proof passports embedded with a "smart-card" chip.

The fact that the article goes on to cite the assurances of the plan's originator and customer (the Department of State), the RFID chip's manufacturers, and some flack representing travel agents and corporate travel purchasers doesn't persuade me of the invulnerability of these things.

Unless I'm mistaken, many of the September 11, 2001 hijackers entered the US legally, with legitimate passports. The bombers in London weren't even foreign nationals. What security problem is solved by an RFID tag in your passport?

President Makes It Clear: Phrase Is 'War on Terror' - New York Times

Welcome back, War. I missed you there for a second.

Google Maps Hack: gmapPedometer

Google Maps Hack: gmapPedometer

Very cool hack that allows you to plot your route on a Google Maps to get an accurate distance (metric and English units).