Friday, April 30, 2004

Hubba Hubble
The Hubble telescope has been up there for fourteen years now-- sadly (infuriatingly) its days may be numbered. It's what it contributes to science and our understanding of the universe, its origins, etc. that makes the Hubble so important of course. But it's also made an aesthetic contribution. I was really amazed by the true beauty of the pictures displayed in this article, commemorating the telescope's anniversary. They're incredibly eerie, yet breathtaking. Wired News: Hubble's Anniversary Ring

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Valenti interview
There's a very illuminating interview with Jack Valenti at "The Tech" (an MIT student newspaper) discussing the broadcast flag and the DMCA (specifically the ability or not to play DVDs on Linux). What's illuminating, but not surprising, about what Valenti's responses demonstrate about the profound failure of communication between opposing camps on these issues.

Although I suppose it's not just a communication problem-- it goes to mindsets as well. The concept of non-corporate producers of either content or hardware just doesn't seem to exist in the worldview represented here; "regular people" are only figured as consumers-- and of course consumers who are supposed to act in a particular way. Other roles seem to not even make sense.

TT: I’ll tell you, because I’m an engineer, I’m an engineering student, and this year I built a high-definition television, from scratch. But because of the broadcast flag, if I wanted to do that again after July 2005, that would be illegal.

JV: How many people in the United States build their own sets?

TT: Well, I’m talking about engineers.

JV: Let’s say there are a thousand. But there are 284 million people in this country. You can’t have public policy that is aimed at 100,000 people when the other multi-multi-millions are also involved. You can’t do it that way.

TT: Okay, let’s take a different example. Four years ago, you said that people who use Linux, which is about a million to two million people, who want to play DVDs, should get licensed DVD players and that those would be on the market soon.

JV: And we have those now.

TT: But today, you still cannot on the market actually buy a licensed DVD player for Linux.

JV: I didn’t know that.

TT: So the question is, do you think people who go to Blockbuster, they rent a movie, they bring it home, and they play it on Linux by circumventing the access control, are those people committing a moral transgression?

JV: I do not believe that you have the right to override an encryption. Because if you have the right to do it, everybody can do it. For whatever benign reason you have, somebody else has got one even more benign. But once you let one person deal in a digital copy -- and I don’t have to tell you; you know far better than I that, unlike in analog, the ten thousandth copy is as pure as the original -- it is a big problem. So once you let the barriers down for your perfectly sensible reason, you gotta let it down for everybody.

Link: Real Dialogue: The Tech interviews Jack Valenti (via

Saturday, April 24, 2004

This isn't new-- but I hadn't read it all until now and thought I'd send out a pointer in case you too missed it earlier . . . It's Cory Doctorow's speech from this year's O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. He talks about e-books-- what they can offer readers, writers, publishers and he effectively demonstrates some real blindspots in the limited ways we tend to think about e-books-- as objects and practices-- (and, blindspots about regular old books and publishing too). The talk ranges from his love of books, to his outrage over the Harlan Ellison AOL/Usenet lawsuit, to his experience releasing Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom online, to general copyright issues.

Now, as much as I love books, I love computers, too. Computers
are fundamentally different from modern books in the same way
that printed books are different from monastic Bibles: they are
malleable. . . .

And as a nice sidenote (which itself is illustrative of some of the points of the speech), he released the text of the speech with a creative commons license-- and someone has not only translated it into Spanish, but annotated and enriched it as well.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Shelving sociology
Kieran Healey, at Crooked Timber, has a funny piece about what we can learn about our disciplines based on what's shelved in their sections at Borders or Barnes & Noble.

Sociology: Dominated in the 1990s by research on the O.J. Simpson trial, sociologists have recently turned their attention to Frank McCourt's early adulthood and life in the year 2000.

Crooked Timber: Shelf Life

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

WIPO and Broadcast "Protection"
For those following the broadcast flag issue-- or really anyone concerned about copy protection, public domain, DMCA, access to content, etc., this looks to be something that really needs some serious attention. Ernest Miller has pulled out some of the more disturbing passages of this proposed treaty-- which basically looks like the current Broadcast Flag proposals on steroids and with teeth. (I have only skimmed the treaty document thus far, though). Read Miller's analysis here: The Importance of...: The Broadcast Flag Treaty or read the treaty itself (PDF) here: Consolidated Text for a Treaty on the Protection of Broadcasting Organizations

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Controversy Surrounding Nielsen Ratings

There's been a lot of interesting material out there, lately, on the Nielsen TV ratings plans to implement a new personal people meter measuring system in its ratings.

Mark Frauenfelder really captures the creepiness of the whole venture in terms of extending the reach of surveillance ever further.
I once read a creepy science fiction story about a world where people clipped a pager-sized electronic device to their belts each morning upon arising. This device, called a "Portable People Meter," was able to pick up specially encoded signals coming from televisions and radios. The signals had been "psychoacoustically masked" to render them inaudible to the human ear, and contained the name of the program that the PPM wearer was watching or listening to. The meter kept a perfect record of all the broadcast media the wearer consumed, making a note of the date, time, and duration of consumption.

The device also had a motion detector built into it, so it "knew" when it was being worn. Wearing the device was strictly voluntary, but people who enlisted to wear it were rewarded with a cash payment. The more they wore the device throughout the day, the more money they got paid.

At night, when the wearers were finished watching television for the night, and were ready to go to sleep, they'd unclip their meters and place them in special cradles on their bed tables. The cradles were connected to a central computer, which analyzed all the data it collected from the meter wearers. The company that made the PPM then sold this information to large corporations who wanted to monitor media consumption.

Bikini Insanity vs. Meet the Press

The reason I didn't tell you the name of this story is because there really isn't a science fiction story about a Portable People Meter. The Portable People Meter is a real device, manufactured by the Arbitron corporation, and it works exactly like I explained above. People in 15 countries are wearing Portable People Meters at this moment, and media companies are analyzing this information to figure out ways to get you to consume more media and buy more stuff.

Meanwhile, there have been protests regarding the roll out of this new system because it is said to systematically undercount minority viewers, as reported in this New York Times article, and elsehwere:

"Similarly, large declines were seen in the ratings for top Spanish-language networks," Mrs. Clinton's letter continued. "Without a thorough investigation into these statistical aberrations, I think it is fair to say that Nielsen would be remiss in pushing forward with its rollout plan."

In a separate letter to Ms. Whiting, Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, expressed similar concerns, saying Nielsen's plans could imperil the "future of programming aimed specifically at African-American and Latino audiences."

The comments by Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Mfume echo criticism that has been leveled for weeks by other prominent lawmakers, most of them Democrats who represent black and Hispanic communities. Among them are John D. Dingell of Michigan, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Hilda L. Solis of California.

Over at, though, there's an excellent short essay on the dangers of rallying behind fixing the accuracy of these ratings as some way of empowering minority (or any) viewers.

The fact of the matter is that arguing over how Nielsen counts folks is a bright red herring. This is not an argument about how minority voices are counted in the media; this is an argument about how minority voices are counted in regards to providing demographic information for advertisers. The argument that "ratings give minorities a voice in their media" — and thus shape programming to reflect their views — is completely disingenuous.

Programmers and advertisers love to trumpet that Nielsen ratings represent the desires of the audience; if one show has better ratings, then it must be serving the public better, right? Hogwash.

A further interesting wrinkle is that one of the major agitators against the PPMs has been Fox/Newscorp, some of the reasons for which are explicated (or at least surmised about) here.

That's when the whole thing started to finally make sense. Fox and its parent News Corp. have been big opponents of Nielsen's rollout of local people meters and have recently begun playing the race card to delay the New York rollout, which News Corp. Deputy COO Lachlan Murdoch recently claimed Nielsen's local people meters "under-count" viewing to Hispanics and African Americans.

If that were the end of this tale, it would be no different than the scores of other corporate fronts that have been mounted against Nielsen over the years. But this one has taken on decidedly political overtones that appear to have crossed some ironic party lines. And the Riff wouldn't be surprised if Fox News' Ailes has been pulling many of those strings.

So, today, Nielsen announced that it has temporarily delayed the roll out of the PPMs.

It's definitely a case I want to follow and hope to delve further into soon.

Go Sean, part two
Another article about my brother's band, Colic, this time in the Oakland Press. The Oakland Press: Oakland Life: Colic

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I saw the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind last night and liked it quite a bit. It wasn't quite what I was expecting. The movie was less funny and more somber than the other Charlie Kaufman films (which I've also quite enjoyed)-- although all of his movies have a certain loneliness to them. The film was still clever, but was also quite moving and really worked as a love story, I found. We had to giggle, though, upon hearing a fellow moviegoer ask her friend at the end: "They can't really do that, can they?"

Update: Just after posting this I read an article by Steven Johnson on the science of eternal sunshine and he gives them more props for accuracy in the depiction of the operation of memory than I would have expected. It was still a funny comment, though (especially given the goofiness of the contraptions/procedures in the film).

Censorship, academic freedom, speech

The SF Chronicle, this morning, recounts the expulsion of a student from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for writing a story with gratuitous, graphic violence. Furthermore, his (adjunct) professor's contract has not been renewed, possibly in part for assigning an "inappropriate" story by David Foster Wallace (the school did not cite a reason for her dismissal).
Several of Richman's former students and colleagues say that both she and the student have been treated unfairly by the university and that the incident has fueled a climate of fear and repression that seems especially out of place at an art school, particularly one in San Francisco.

When I first read about this, I assumed that this was a high school, but these are adult students at a University. (Not that it being a high school obviates the problems here, but I would find it less surprising at least)
A work of art or a harbinger of violence? / Grisly short story gets student expelled from S.F. academy -- and costs teacher her job (via boing boing)

Friday, April 02, 2004

Crawford on Copyright
Susan Crawford has another good piece up on her blog: the text of her speech today to the copyright office. She succinctly gets at some of the core problems posed by the DMCA, the Broadcast Flag and other related topics.
Copyright policy is being taken away from you. And you may never get it back; and if you're told that you're in charge of it, as you assist with international negotiations, you're not being told the truth. Where is copyright policy for the internet age being made? . . .

Susan Crawford blog :: Copyright Office talk (via EFF's new & improved deep links)