Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blog # 68: Off with the Old

The week between Christmas and New Years is traditionally the week we grade the passing year. My personal marks for recent years has been pretty low, noting the elections of 2006 with the Democratic majorities in Congress as a first harbinger of better things to come. And prophetically, 2008 brought the dream to life with resounding Democratic victories in House and Senate races, and the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. The year 2000 was a disaster, as the Republicans managed to get George W. Bush elected through Supreme Court fiat. Bush’s election subsequently found the feds asleep at the switch, and on Sept. 11, 2001 commercial airliners were hijacked, two of which brought down the World Trade Center in New York, and a third of which crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth airliner which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania was probably on its way to crash into either the White House or Congress. Immediately afterwards President Bush saw an Al Qaeda link where there was none, and subsequently invaded Iraq toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, after which Al Qaeda went about establishing itself in Iraq with a vengeance.
Because the U.S. Army is dangerously undermanned considering its operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan (where Al Qaeda really lives), our favorite president of vice, the Dick of the House of Cheney, evolved a wonderful corporate solution to our military’s problem. It consists of having private corporation like Kellogg Brown and Root assist the military by transporting their supplies, feeding our troops and taking care of their laundry. Of course, its workers working in a military fire zone get paid many times what soldiers doing comparable work would be paid as all the while the American taxpayer foots the 10 billion dollar monthly bill.
And of course this monthly strain on American resources has seen the government turn to countries like China and Saudi Arabia for help in our financial problems.

And so the world awaits the beginning of the presidency of Barack Obama, who has promised to turn this eight years of turmoil into one of deliberation and reason. And from the quality and diversity of his cabinet picks Obama has already set a new course for “change we can believe in.”
– • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – Leave it to technology. According to a story by Brigid Schulte in the Washington Post, baby dolls have evolved to the point where they can raise a stink in more ways than one.
So long, Betsy Wetsy. Baby dolls just got a whole lot more real. Put her on her little pink plastic toilet. Press the purple bracelet on Baby Alive Learns to Potty. "Sniff sniff," she chirps in a singsong voice. "I made a stinky!"

This season's animatronic Baby Alive -- which retails for $59.99 -- comes with special "green beans" and "bananas" that, once fed to the doll, actually, well, come out the other end. "Be careful," reads the doll's promotional literature, "just like real life, sometimes she can hold it until she gets to the 'potty' and sometimes she can't!" (A warning on the back of the box reads: "May stain some surfaces.")
– • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – Matthew Lasar, writing on the website ars technica, that while reading the Parents Television Council's latest report: The "New" Tube: A Content Analysis of YouTube — the Most Popular Online Video Destination, I kept thinking of Supreme Court Justice William Brennan's eloquent dissent tothe Court's ruling on Pacifica vs. FCC. The 1978 ruling upheld the Federal Communications Commission's sanctioning of a radio station for broadcasting George Carlin's "seven dirty words" routine, which Brennan also did not concur with. Wrote Brennan, "There are many who think, act, and talk differently from the Members of this Court, and who do not share their fragile sensibilities," he wrote. "It is only an acute ethnocentric myopia that enables the Court to approve the censorship of communications solely because of the words they contain."

Back then, there was no Internet as we love it or hate it today, but Brennan wouldn't be surprised at the PTC's latest broadside, which targets the naughty pictures, sounds, and talk on Google's online video showcase. The survey finds that the top-ranking videos that appear in the sites' most frequently accessed search phrases yield "an extraordinary amount of graphic and adult-themed content." PTC wants something done about that, and about all those gnarly user comments that get posted below the vids, too.

The Council's conclusions come from an analysis of 280 YouTube offerings. When PTC inspectors searched for the term "porn," for example, over a quarter of the videos returned didn't ask for age verification, they claim. Many included ads or links to pornographic Web sites. "Clicking a link would instantly take the user to a webpage containing extremely graphic photos and videos of homosexual and heterosexual oral and anal sex," PTC complains.

The Council also does not like the words that are sometimes spoken in these videos; we could provide a list of the milder terms its inspectors found, but suspect that they were further horrified by items even we avoid using. While the survey praises YouTube for prohibiting outright pornographic videos and "algorithmically demoting" sexually suggestive fare, the decency group criticizes the company for taking no steps to reign in user comments, which its authors find at least as disturbing as the videos themselves. From July 1, 2008 through August 5, 2008, the PTC's "analysts," as they call themselves, collected not only videos, but user remarks.

PTC's researchers did searches using what they defined as "child friendly" terms. These included "Miley Cyrus," "Jonas Brothers," "High School Musical," and "Hannah Montana," which they say resulted in "highly offensive" content in the text commentary areas below the videos produced by the search." The Hannah Montana search supposedly picked up a variety of obscenities that indicated YouTube users have a low opinion of the character herself, and suspect her of engaging in various sexual activities. Just out of curiosity, I did my own search on the same name. Here are the first four comments below the first video that I got.
• Hannah Montana rules I love shows and music everyday I listen to her music I love the music the most I almost forgot don't let anyone bring you down like monkeygirl324 is trying to do she's jealou.
• This is the real Miley!
• i love you miley im your number 1 fan
• hey how are u?
Not exactly the most scintillating online dialogue I've run into, but pretty far from the PTC's excerpts. In any event, the group wants YouTube to take action on the terrible comments they supposedly found, "by formulating and adopting a thorough, accurate and transparent content rating system which would allow a parent to block a child from viewing age-inappropriate material."

Because YouTube is an Internet service, the Council can't launch the same kind of complaint-driven pressure campaign that it constantly runs against broadcast TV using the FCC's indecency rules. But it can still conduct a moral pressure campaign on advertisers. "Sponsors must maintain a diligent awareness of the material whose distribution they are underwriting with their advertising dollars," the document's conclusion warns.
Apparently, it did not occur to PTC's analysts that the Hannah Montana commentaries they cite may have been written by the very children that the morals group says it wants to protect.
– • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – Nate Anderson, also writing in ars technica, does Q and A with Cary Sherman, head honkster at the RIAA, discussing their plans to discontinue suing American college students who download music. His report follows: "On Friday, major news broke: the RIAA would (largely) abandon its widespread lawsuit campaign against individuals in favor of a "graduated response" partnership with ISPs. The outlines are clear enough—the RIAA will identify infringers, pass that information on to ISPs, who will notify (and eventually sanction) users without turning personal information over to the music industry.

"But details, in some cases hugely important details, remained unclear. Chief among these was the lack of any talk about an oversight or appeals process for users who want to contest the RIAA's claims in some way. We checked in with EFF attorney Fred von Lohmann, one of the leading non-industry voices on these issues; he suggested five potential "gotchas" that need to be scrutinized as the plan goes forward:
• What's the mechanism for "appealing" a false allegation? How will subscribers be notified (i.e., what if your "third notice" ends up caught in your spam folder, or your teenager intercepts the letters)? Will parents be held responsible for what their children are doing? Will neighbors be held responsible if they run open WiFi?
• Does this mean ISPs now have an obligation to engage in enough data retention to reconstruct the activities of subscribers? If so, this will create a cache of data that will imperil our privacy in other ways, as the government and private litigants start demanding access to it.
• What happens after the "third strike?" Will there be an "Internet blacklist" of persons that ISPs cannot service? What about those who have only one residential broadband provider in their area? The increasing provision of government services online (taxes, FEMA insurance, etc.) makes the threat of being taken offline a very serious matter.
• What does "throttling" mean in this context? Will it mean banning particular protocols (like BitTorrent or gnutella), banning particular ports, or pervasive deep packet inspection? Will subscribers get a discount if their "7Mb" Internet service becomes "256k" Internet service?
• Will this require ISPs to affirmatively monitor for infringement ("filtering"), or will they only respond to RIAA complaints?

To get more details about the program, Ars turned to Cary Sherman, president of the RIAA; you can read the complete transcript of our talk following the link below. Sherman's answer to the first question is, in essence, "it's all being worked out," but he's fully aware that an appeals process of some kind must be in place before the program goes live.

When it comes to question four, Sherman noted after our interview wrapped up that the RIAA had no idea who had suggested "throttling" as a possible sanction against users. While it did appear in the initial Wall Street Journal article, the RIAA is not advocating bandwidth throttling as a possible sanction at this time, and Sherman isn't sure of anyone who is.
As for question five, potential infringers will be identified using the same basic process that the RIAA has used to identify file-swappers for its court cases and settlement letters; ISPs appear not to be involved in the identification process, only in the resulting notification and sanction process.

For the other questions, definite answers are harder to come by. Much of the agreement is still being hashed out, including practical implementation details that may be pesky, but are crucial.
Despite the RIAA's unwillingness to identify the ISPs that are currently involved in the program, Ars has confirmed that Verizon is not participating at the moment. Requests for comment to AT&T and Comcast were not returned. For more information and the text of the Cary Sherman interview, turn your browser to:
– • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – And from the Little Eddy scrapbook comes our offering for the week: Saturday, July 26. 2008: Blog #46: A Bush whacking.

How wonderful our politicians are. Particularly Republicans. Take our Bush whacked president. Because the U.N. Mandate that keeps U.S. troops in Iraq runs out at the end of this year, for months he has been quietly trying to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government which would allow American troops to stay in Iraq. Evidently in Bush’s mind his legacy rests in our troops continuing their occupation, the need for which his weird reasoning seems to use to try and justify his original decision to invade. But Iraqi citizens are understandably wary of any long term agreement on their occupation, and are growing increasingly impatient for us to leave. (The fact that private “security” firms like Blackwater seem to exercise free reign to kill and maim with impunity on public Bagdad streets just might be one factor contributing to the Iraqi impatience.) At any rate the Maliki government wants a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops before it will sign the damn thing. You read that right, the T word. A timetable.

Poor John McCain, he goaded Barack Obama into going to Iraq to find out what the situation is really like there, only to have Iraqi president Maliki all but endorse Obama’s withdrawal timetable. How presidential looking is that? And our poor, much maligned Bush, who has heroically resisted every Democratic Congressional attempt to tack on what he has consistently labeled an “artificial timetable” to its bills funding the war, how awful of that mean old Maliki to make an end run around the Bush backside insisting that the T word is not the least bit artificial and, thank you very much, he wants one before he’ll sign any papers allowing our military to stay. Damn, with Bush’s past history you can’t expect him to suddenly embrace, or even allow so much as a mention of the word timetable. So what to do?

A rose by any other name smells. As James Carville might put it, Call It Something Else, Stupid! For instance, how about “time horizon.” That should pretty well sanitize it. It even sounds scientific, doesn’t it, like it is somehow related to a black hole’s “event horizon?” It’s damned appropriate too, for the Iraq invasion is certainly the black hole of the Bush 43 legacy. We hate being the one to have to ring in the bad news, but as we write this the American economy is disappearing lock, stock and barrel straight down the Iraqi “time horizon’s event horizon.” And since not even light itself can escape a black hole, the U.S. economy doesn’t stand a chance in hell.
– • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – Twas the Sunday before Christmas, and heading up the Technology page of the New York Times were two stories which featured Apple’s iPhone prominently. The first story called Ping, the Year of the Simpler Gadget, opens up lauding the Nintendo Wii, which after two years is still highly sought after and was pictured on the cover of Best Buy’s holiday shopping bulletin. It went on to praise the Flip camcorder, which is several times cheaper than offerings from Sony or JVC, and which is much simpler to use. But further down in the story is the part that prompted this inclusion:

Apple, innovator of business models as much as it is an innovator of electronic geegaws, may have found a solution to the problem of simple products becoming more complex. The Apple iPhone is one of the easiest-to-use devices ever created. At $300, plus a two-year contract that quickly pushes the real price to $1,800, it is hardly in the thrift class with the Wii and the Flip. But it is one of the most popular consumer electronics devices of 2008. Apple is expected to sell more than 14 million of them this year, and it is already the best-selling handset in the United States, according to the market researchers at the NPD Group.

As much as it is part of the distinct trend toward the simple, the iPhone is also part of a trend to make a device versatile. It is a pretty thing, with a sleek touch screen that does away with a keyboard. But it is also a hand-held game machine and a musical instrument that plays cowbells or imitates an ocarina. It’s clearly an entertainment device, one that can identify the song playing in a movie or find friends on a map.

While it is not clear that mainstream electronics manufacturers have caught on, some scrappy start-ups have noticed its utility. One of them, Sonos, has turned the iPhone into a pretty nifty remote control for managing music on Sonos’s whole-house entertainment system. (The application can be downloaded free from the Apple AppStore.) The iPhone taps into a home’s wireless network to control the wireless entertainment system in multiple rooms.

John MacFarlane, the Sonos chief executive, says creation of the software that makes the iPhone a Sonos controller lifted the company’s sales by 20 percent in November. “In this economy,” he noted.

The company gave up some revenue — a regular Sonos controller is about $300 — but the new device exposed the entertainment system to a new audience and thus expanded the market.
Sonos isn’t interested in anything other than music, but a versatile little device that you never let out of your reach could also manage burglar alarms and heating and cooling systems. “I think that is the universal remote control of the future,” Mr. MacFarland said. “And that’s the direction we are headed.”

Right along with stingier consumers.
- - - - - -
And the next story down is called: Need a Ride? Check your iPhone. And it goes on to announce that when you need a ride instead of throwing your thumb out of joint you soon will be tapping on your iPhone with your fingers.

Avego, based in Kinsale, Ireland (, is demonstrating an iPhone application intended to let drivers and prospective passengers connect and share rides.

When the program is available, drivers who want to offer rides will first download the app, then record their preferred route, said Sean O’Sullivan, managing director of Avego and executive chairman of Mapflow, Avego’s parent company, based in Dublin.

“You put the iPhone on the dashboard, and it records the entire trip and sends the route to our network,” he said. The system stores the route, adding it to its menu of paths and pick-up points and offering them automatically to interested riders.

Drivers must have an iPhone in order to use the service, but if passengers don’t, they will be able to look for a ride on the Avego Web site or call or send a text message, Mr. O’Sullivan said. Drivers and riders can identify one another by photographs displayed on their iPhones, as well as by PINs that verify identities and authorize the transaction.

Avego will charge 30 cents a mile, he said, with 85 percent going to the driver to recover some of the commuting costs and 15 percent to the company. All payments will be handled by automated online accounting.
– • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • – – • –
To Blog or Not To Blog? That is a question we are asking ourselves as we wind down 2008 and prepare to roar into 2009. What are the bare, unadulterated facts? This blog mostly arrogates other people’s writings which I find of interest and wish to share with any and all who might find their way to visit my blog. It is not by any stretch of the imagination successful on any plane. For instance, one thing about successful blogging is that it forms a community. Comments of readers adds a new found dimension to a piece of writing. Little Eddy’s blog has yet to publish its first comment. That is because it has yet to receive its first comment. Grade: F

How about readership? Although the page counter at the bottom of the page records the number of page hits the blog attracts, there is nothing to indicate whether the persons hitting the page stayed to read the blog. However the page counter does indicate that about 100 people per week visit the page, which is tiny in comparison to usual website hits. And so from a readership perspective, it does seem a pointless exercise to carry the blog on. Grade: D –

One of the major reasons for beginning the blog was to write a kind of signpost for my grandkids. However, after a little over a year of writing it I discovered that in truth none of my family, neither my sons, nor grandsons read it. And so that motive is left out in the cold. Grade F

Although for most of its life my blog occupied at least three or four days devoted to its preparation, for the past several weeks I have experimented with devoting only one day of the week, all day Friday, plus an hour or two Saturday morning to working on the blog. This frees up my time to spend on other projects the other days of the week. As we move into the new year I plan to continue the blog devoting one day a week for preparation, at least until I decide whether to continue the blog, or drop it altogether. I wish that someone would leave a comment, any comment one way or another, as to whether or not we should continue writing the blog. In the meantime, I guess we’ll keep on keeping on. See you next week?

The Real Little Eddy

No comments: