I moved my blog, from Blogger to WordPress. You can find updated and current posting at: http://skekoa.wordpress.com/
Saturday, December 27, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
That belongs to me. Surprise, you're going to jail!
YouTube clip take-downs and media copyright infringement lawsuits, are part and parcel of a broader legal war over intellectual property rights, and the recently amended legal provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) have pushed the conflict well beyond common sense and into the upper stratosphere of sheer stupidity. But if you think that any of this has little to do with you, you'd be wrong. If you have ever copied a disc or even tried to copy an encrypted DVD movie that you purchased legitimately, you may be guilty of having committed a criminal act without knowing it.
Just how stupid is stupid, anyway?
A violation that involves more than 10 copies or is valued at $2,500 and above is a now a felony .
Think about how crazy this is for a second and then consider that this is only one example out of a slew of other strident measures codified into federal law, which together are meant to act as both punishment and deterrent by your government, and seen as completely sane and prudent in the vigilant effort to protect copyright owners' rights. And let’s not forget that all of this is being done at your expense; not to mention that should you ever find yourself, out of ignorance of copyright law, at the mercy of a government prosecutor don't think that you can rely on the judge to inform and explain to the jury of their option to return a null verdict if they deem the law to be inherently unjust or unfair.
Please don't tell me that any of you are actually surprised? When politicians, government attorneys and federal judges, the group in general most devoid of common sense, are left to their own devices they will invariably make a stupid situation even "stupider" - and that's precisely what has happened here. The best, and perhpas the only, way to resolve this problem is to share the primary elements of this issue, and what is truly at stake, with the rest of the rational public.
Reality vs. hoping things will work themselves out.
In blunt but exact terms, this is was what the Electronic Freedom Frontier (EFF) had to say late last year.
“... the regular breaking of DRM systems, followed by the steady leak of formerly-protected content into file-sharing channels, is now so common that it barely rates a mention in the tech press. But copyright policy-makers still haven't gotten the message (hey, policy-maker: DRM does not slow piracy!!). ...”
And somehow, none of this seems to heed the questionable logic behind a business model that treats its core customer demographic as suspect criminals and continues to threaten them with ever more severe legal action. The utter insanity of this notion defies all rational comprehension and yet it exists, freely pursuing its own twisted agenda.
Cutting through all the tedious legal bullshit.
In order to understand the inherent folly of this conflict, it helps to have a historical perspective, particularly in how the community of the past regarded which rights ought to belong to whom and what they considered appropriate and fair copyright law. It's important to take a look at what happened as a result of conflicts over copyrights when the conflict arrose in the pioneer days of radio, the first electronic broadcast medium, and how it challenged the legal basis of intellectual property ownership.
When you can see this issue from an earlier vantage point, with the benefit of hindsight, it clarifies and unravels the convoluted legal mess we face today, and because of the fact that we share the same basic problem that they faced back in the early days of broadcast radio, it allows us to see the simple ideas that lie at the heart of our own modern multimedia dilemma, covered over now by a mountain of ridiculous legal crap.
But rather than go through the process of spelling it all out here, I have a much better idea. It's faster and a much better option for the both of us. Larry Lessig, Standford professor and renown expert on copyright law, presented a short talk at TED not too long ago that illustrates this entire legal conundrum brilliantly, and far better than I ever could I can assure you. It is well worth the 20-minutes that it takes to watch the following clip, and besides, it's also quite entertaining - you'll laugh, I guarantee it:
(NOTE: Blogger prevents this clip from being embedded into this post. Clicking on the linked image above will take you to the media source page at TED where the clip will play automatically.)
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- ^ 10 big myths about copright explained: http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html
- ^ Electronic Freedom Frontier: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2007/11/year-end-2007-darknet-assumptions-still-true
- ^ TED - Larry Lessig: How the law is strangling creativity http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/larry_lessig_says_the_law_is_strangling_creativity.html
Sunday, May 04, 2008
As much as I love using Skype, the poplular VoIP service, I ran into a major problem when I up-graded to version 188.8.131.52. Each time I made a call, everything went fine, that is until I tried to speak - and then nothing.
My biggest gripe was that it took a lot of unnecessary time to figure out what was wrong; that the problem wasn't my system but Skype, itself. Instead of trying to find a work around - unwilling to spend the time - I opted to go back to an earlier version, which I did by downloading one from OldVersions.com.
Unfortunately, this sort of problem isn't unique to Skype but a whole host of popular software programs, who launch very "buggy" versions without really thoroughly testing them first. Part of maintaining customer loyalty, is providing consistent quality of service. In my mind, that means that the basics should work, don't you agree?
Skype, I must tell you. If I wanted to have a one-way conversation, I could just talk to my ex.
Politics vs. Sports
Along with literally millions of other people around the world, I'm a wholehearted supporter of boycotting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing this summer because of China's horrible human rights abuses worldwide, such as their brutal occupation of Tibet and their involvement in the genocide horror of Darfur.
The Olympics ought to be more about sport and athletic competition and less about the participating countries' propensity to use it as a vehicle for flaunting a vulgar sense of nationalism. But sadly it's not.
A majority of World Cup sporting events happen every year, or every other year, and give world class athletes and their fans a better, more frequent, and more honest way to compete at their sport. Whereas the Olympics Games which happen once every four years, have become more about staging a gigantic media event and a forum for the media to discuss regional geopolitical events, whether anyone likes it or not; so why not use it for precisely what it is then - a great big political media event?
Boycotting the Summer Olympics in Beijing - by refusing to attend, watch on TV, and actively participate in them, while sharing this opinion with others - is an ideal opportunity to let China know, in no uncertain terms, exactly how millions of people everywhere feel about the way in which China treats her own people and others elsewhere in the world.
Who is against the boycott and why
You will find that most multinational executives and political heads of state - not just in the U.S. but everywhere - generally do not agree with the boycott because they believe it will only serve to upset and irritate China. Upsetting China, of course, is only an issue for them because of China's enormous wealth and power. China happens to be one the few countries on the map that a superpower cannot simply push around or intimidate. No, no.
Nonetheless, their strongest argument against the boycott can be loosely labeled as the "don't rock the boat" concept. "China is going in the right direction and must move at her own pace, they say, so why piss China off by rocking the boat? Besides, there's no need to harass China with uncomfortable human rights issues, they add, and point to the enormous strides China has made since the days of Mao - while they do a very quick end run around Tiananmen Square, naturally."
But regardless how legitimate you feel this point may or may not be, it is important to understand that the argument itself is essentially an equivocation because it fails to directly address the question of how they propose to get China to adopt an acceptable human rights agenda and change what they are doing right now in places like Tibet and Darfur. And if China happens to respond by asking the U.S. what we're doing in Iraq, I say let them. It's a damn good question.
Doing the right thing is really easy
This is where the issue remains. Business and political leaders - whether they sympathize or not - are unlikely to demand that China start treating people better and act like a better global citizen. That leaves it up to the rest of us - the average working Jane and Johan, no matter where you are or what you do.
In reality, though, it's something we can actually do. We're taking about boycotting, here. How hard is that? You don't have to do hardly anything - well, except remember not to do something. But basically that's "do-able" for most of us, right?
Good vs. Evil
Rarely is human conflict ever really black and white, but China's invasion and occupation of Tibet has a clear moral bright line. Even if you're not a Buddhist or even religious, it doesn't matter. Anyone with a conscience has to agree that this act by China is clearly wrong. It's about a group of people who are strict pacifists at heart. Come on, we're talking about Tibetan Buddhist monks here, and the Dalli Lama, for God's sake! They couldn't hurt a fly - literally. Think about it. What other group on the planet do you know that could possible be considered less aggressive or threatening than they are - newborn babies, perhaps?
It's unfortunate, but if we don't stand up for Tibet and Darfur, then who will? And, this boycott is the perfect tool at the perfect time, because it can send a unavoidable message to a giant totalitarian regime with complete impunity and without risking more lives in the process. Now, really, I ask you. How often does that ever happen?
So, I implore you. Please be extra lazy this summer, do something fun instead - like go to the lake with friends, have a picnic, drown the neighbor's cat in the pool (no I'm just kidding!), anything but participate in this years global sports extravaganza centered in Beijing. I thank you, and your conscience thanks you.
Descent from inside China
Beijing Olympic stadium designer, Ai Wei Wei, accuses Chinese political officials of what he sees as a hypocritical representation of his country and wants nothing more to do with the upcoming Olympic games. Watch this Al Jazeera news report posted on YouTube.
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Boycott news around the Net:
- 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Summer_Olympics_torch_relay
- Boycott 2008 Communist Olympics: http://boycott2008games.blogspot.com/2008/04/tibet-chinas-make-believe-world.html
- U.S. should boycott China's Olympics: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/264131_olympics24.html
- US legislators propose China Olympics boycott over rights: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/sports/view_article.php?article_id=81343
- China scorns Olympic boycotting: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23469731-38197,00.html
- Merkel says she will not attend opening of Beijing Olympics: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/mar/29/germany.olympicgames2008
- Calls Mount for Olympic Ceremony Boycott: http://apnews.myway.com/article/20080318/D8VG3QDG0.html
- Boycotting the Olympics because of China’s crackdown on Tibet? http://caffertyfile.blogs.cnn.com/2008/03/17/boycotting-the-olympics-because-of-china%E2%80%99s-crackdown-on-tibet/
- Beijing Boycott? Don't Tell Olympic Athletes: http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/story?id=4501952
- digg: Calls for Olympic boycott after Tibet brutality: http://digg.com/world_news/Calls_for_Olympic_boycott_after_Tibet_brutality
- npr: Calls for Olympics Boycott Follow Tibet Crackdown: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88293000
- China, Tibet, Olympics boycott: Germany's Merkel won't go: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=15&entry_id=25310
- Millions petition for Olympic boycott: http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?id=14897
- Nat Hentoff: Boycott 2008 China Olympics: http://www.sacbee.com/110/story/155863.html
- 2008 Olympics boycott talk — China vs. Tibet http://mindymcadams.com/tojou/2008/2008-olympics-boycott-talk-china-vs-tibet/
- Boycott China’s Olympics Petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/boycott-chinas-olympics.html
- Olympics Boycott Chatter Grows as Tibet Unravels: William Pesek: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&refer=columnist_pesek&sid=aLEQXWQWtbzM
- Olympic Boycott Skirts Human Rights Debate in Europe: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,3224333,00.html
- Haile Gebreselassie to boycott China Olympics over pollution fear: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/athletics/2008/03/11/haile-gebreselassie-to-boycott-china-olympics-over-pollution-fear-89520-20347644/
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Downloading NBC Direct (beta) player to watch TV episodes like “Heroes” and “Friday Night Lights” is bad for your computer.
WARNING: OpenCase Media Agent by ExtendMedia, the media download manager that comes bundled with NBC Direct (beta) player, after installation remains hidden, and runs quietly in the background the entire time your computer is on, and attempts to maintain an open Internet connection without users' knowledge. OpenCASE (mediaagent.exe) drains significant CPU resources and causes major problems in the computers of unsuspecting NBC viewers. Only Windows XP and Vista users are effected.
YOU MAY HAVE A PROBLEM AND DON”T EVEN KNOW IT
If you're like a growing number of people who have discovered how cool it is to be able to catch up on your favorite TV programs on-line, and if some of those shows also happened to be produced and aired by NBC, then it is a statistical certainty that more than a few of you out there have also unwittingly become a victim of an insidious piece of "bloatware", unaware of why your computer has been acting up and that the real reason has to do with the media player software package you downloaded in order to watch a few of your favorite NBC shows.
To be precise, the real culprit is not the NBC Direct player interface, but the other software that came bundled with it, OpenCASE Media Agent (MediaAgent.exe), a program developed by ExtendMedia. OpenCASE Media Agent is the companion program that quietly installs itself along with the NBC Direct (beta) player download, reportedly to keep track of the NBC content you have downloaded and to rotate advertising that pays for that content. In theory, there would be nothing really wrong with this arrangement but, unfortunately, the reality turns out to be far from the theory.
After seeing firsthand how OpenCase Media Agent had brought my 3-yrs old laptop (1.30 GHz and 1 Gb of RAM) to a crawl, I have no trouble believing the claims that the program drains somewhere between 30 -60 MB of your system's available memory. You can be certain, there's nothing innocent or benign about OpenCASE Media Agent, the software program developed by ExtendMedia, Inc. used by NBC.
Here's a synopsis of the problem:
OpenCASE Media Agent downloads with NBC Direct and runs in the background whenever a user's computer is on, and boots when the user's system starts up.
OpenCASE Media Agent hogs a 30+ MB of RAM and interferes with other active processes, causing systems to operate sluggishly, and contributes to time-delay errors.
OpenCASE Media Agent attempts to keep an Internet connection open and tacitly communicates with outside servers without the consent or knowledge of the user.
OpenCASE Media Agent monitors the DRM on your system but there is sufficient reason to believe that OpenCASE does more than monitor and up-date the media downloaded from NBC.com or rotate embedded advertising.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
In spite of differences in opinion on issues such as strict DRM content protection versus unfettered portability and peer-to-peer sharing, the overwhelming consensus by those who have something to say on the subject, all agree and recommend that you DO NOT download the NBC Direct (beta) media software package.
Gael Digital Media, Internet and digital media specialists, in their blog on the topic NBC Direct: Why Old Media Buys Bad Ideas, succinctly describe the glaring technically gaffs in the actual software and expose the fundamental flaws in NBC's general approach, puts it this way:
"... If you just love using IE, trust .Net 2.0 and enjoy fiddling with Flash are using Windows XP and don’t mine that the Open CASE software installed on your system runs all the time[s] consumes your bandwidth and eats up your memory then this might be the service for you.
The OpenCASE Media Agent is spying on you and exchanges lots of information about what, when and what else you’re doing on your system. While my analysis of the data that it is sends back to the motherships ExtendMedia and NBC is not complete, it is clear that it is spying on you. ...”
Read the full article [November 21, 2007] » NBC Direct: Why Old Media Buys Bad Ideas
Don Burnett, a software developer who confesses a bias in favor of NBC's on-line endeavor, won't install the software himself, but recommends that if you do, that you closely monitor the process. On Don.Net's WPF Design Blog, the entry titled Buyer Beware: NBC Direct Beta- Not a Happy User Experience Don has this to say:
“I personally won't install this application until they get with ExtendMedia and this component becomes less invasive...
My personal opinion on this, is that mediaagent.exe in the least needs a serious re-write. Either way NBC should dump this if they want to be successful, otherwise this beta is going to see a lot of people disappointed and uninstalling when they figure out what this is doing to their machines.”
Read the full article [November 26, 2007] » Buyer Beware: NBC Direct Beta- Not a Happy User Experience
PROBLEM, WHAT PROBLEM?
Oddly enough, one of the most convincing pieces of information that suggests that there is definitely something wrong, comes from NBC itself. On their software player download page, tucked off to the side and buried deep inside the other find print, under the heading All Microsoft Windows Vista and XP users (all editions), you will find this:
“The Open Case Media Agent powering the NBC Direct service "spikes" the CPU usage and does not decrease. A partial solution was rolled out with the 11/20/2007 update (build #184.108.40.2061). A more advanced solution is being developed and will be available shortly.”
The operative phrase here is: ...“spikes” the CPU usage and does not decrease...
Sure, on the surface it looks good. NBC acknowledges the problem and says that they are doing something about it, but the fact that NBC felt compelled to say anything at all, in itself, is significant. It means that from a legal standpoint, the problem must be serious enough to warrant making a public statement to users. If it were merely a technical inconvenience that people were whining about, why mention it – why risk suggesting to customers that the software may not be the rewarding experience they've been promised? Take it from a jaded marketing guru, large-cap companies do not do anything that would remotely give their customers any notion that there's something not quite right with their products or services, unless legally motivated to do so.
A GHOST IN THE MACHINE?
There is the question of whether OpenCASE Media Agent is doing more than monitoring the material that you downloaded from NBC or something perhaps a bit more sinister – like taking inventory of all the media files on your computer and reporting that information to interested outside parties. It is an important question, particularly if you have files on your computer that you wouldn't be comfortable exposing – a group that includes a lot of people. Many people I know (including myself) have been surprised by what they have found lurking on their hard drives, including things they honestly had no idea were actually there.
First, I wanted to know what the developer had to say about their software program, OpenCASE Media Agent. Here's how ExtendMedia pitches the program to prospective customers, like NBC, on their site:
"The OpenCASE Media Agent provides a client-resident application that helps you maintain this direct and persistent connection to your customers and their devices. ...
... The Media Agent manages media downloads on the customer's device (PC and CE) by ensuring user authentication, delivering and revoking licenses, and providing intelligence on reporting. This intelligence - details on download progress, completed or cancelled videos, download device etc - help you trouble-shoot and improve your overall service offering."
Compare that to what Chris Gardner, chief marketing officer of ExtendMedia, told Chris Albrecht of NewTeeVee.com when asked about the concerns over OpenCASE Media Agent's “spying”/intelligence gathering activities. As quoted in Albrecht's article [November 20, 2007] NBC Direct Sucked…Your PC Resources, Gardner asserts:
“The NBC service is anonymous. You can see on the sign up process no personal info is captured at all. We do keep track of things like successful downloads, whether ads are viewed, connection acknowledgements & other networking communications, etc. But again, that data is not tied to any particular user and we capture no personal information at all. Think of the Media Agent as primarily a “download manager” with some extra capabilities for managing DRM licenses and supporting advertising so folks like NBC can take content they used to charge $2 for and make it free...”
Though NBC declined to respond, you can read the entire explanation given by Chris Gardner, ExtendMedia's chief marketing officer, in Chris Albrecht's full article. Chris Albrecht, however, sums up the overall sentiment, perfectly:
“I can’t imagine NBC or ExtendMedia winning any friends by having an app running in the background that manages advertisements, but this is a download-and-go service.”
So, which is it? Are they spying, or aren't they?
Well, as you might expect, I was unable to find conclusive evidence to be able to form a definitive answer and resolve the conflicting assertions. Of course, the official software representatives say they doing nothing of the kind. But let's be honest, even if they were, do really believe that they would admit it? Right.
On the other hand, software and digital media professionals claim otherwise, that they are in fact spying on you – yet they provide no material evidence that I've seen, such as lines of code (not that I could read it) or something similar; something that could trump the developer's claim. Well, that's it. In the end, we're left with one word against the other.
There is, however, something else, something that isn't direct evidence, mind you, but something this is rather hard to explain. And when you put it together with other aspects of what is happening, it strongly suggests that there very well may be something more going on here, after all – and certainly, far more than what ExtendMedia would have us believe.
Consider the fact that OpenCASE Media Agent, the program that devours an un-Godly amount of your system's RAM, is written for the .NET Framework. The .NET Framework is essentially a Microsoft computer language for application developers, a system independent multi-device operating platform, said to be superior to both C++ and Java. How true that is, or is not, I don't know, but it does seem to beg the question, why is it then that the OpenCASE Media Agent program is incompatible with either Linux or Apple operating environments? It seems logical to assume that if it were truly operating-environment independent, or functionally interoperable at a bare minimum, that it would work on systems other than Windows XP and Vista.
Regardless of this particular discrepancy, one of the big advantages to writing programs for the .NET Framework is supposed to be the way .NET handles memory. It is supposed to “free the developer from the burden of managing memory”. This particular aspect seems to infer that .NET programs have a better method of using the resident system's operating memory, and if this is the case, then what exactly is the OpenCASE Media Agent, as a .NET program, doing with all that RAM it consumes – 30 MB or more? Not only that, but shouldn't it also benefit from being installed on friendly turf, as it were? When you get down to it, it's one Microsoft application functioning within another Microsoft application, namely – Windows? It wouldn't be unreasonable to presume, therefore, that in a friendly environment, the program ought to run more efficiently and consume less of the resident system's resources, right?
Even if you ignore these questionable irregularities for a minute, you have to ask exactly what the program is doing with all that memory? Neither Picassa, nor Google Earth, programs that use a fair amount of RAM to run properly, don't come anywhere near the amount constantly consumed by OpenCASE Media Agent. So, again, I ask. What is it doing with all that memory, and why would it want to maintain an open Internet connection? I sincerely doubt that it's merely doing it to monitor and maintain the media that a user has downloaded from NBC, or simply to rotate the ads that support the cost of the NBC content?
As I said, this isn't categorical proof, but on the other hand, I don't believe OpenCASE Media Agent is doing what ExtendMedia says it's doing. Consider the following:
In order for the claim, that the program is doing nothing more, to be true, it would have to be one the world's most poorly written, incompetent applications ever compiled.
Then NBC, one of the “Big 3” media companies in the country, elects to entrust this apparently bad application with the responsibility of coordinating and managing it's expensive original premium content that will be potentially downloaded onto millions of users' computers.
Add that to the fact the program is piggy-backed onto the NBC Direct (beta) player download, and operates in the background on a user's system, without the user's knowledge or express permission.
Together, you really have to question what is actually going on. Why use so much memory and why be so secretive about it? I'm sorry but it's a little too much for me to swallow. I don't buy it.
HOW TO GET RID OF THE PROBLEM
For a change, Linux and Apple users need not feel that they've been left out. Instead, this time they can revel in the knowledge that the problem effects Windows XP and Vista operating environments only. Nevertheless, if you discover that you happen to be one those unlucky ones, and you want to rid yourself of the problem, you'll need to uninstall both the NBC Direct (beta) player and OpenCASE Media Agent.
You should follow the step-by-step removal procedure precisely as outlined on NBC.com. Below is an unedited exact copy of the removal instructions which were “cut and pasted” directly from NBC's FAQ page. You should check with NBC's site directly, however, to be certain that these instructions haven't changed. We found them here » NBC's FAQ page.
Q: How do I uninstall the Player?
A: To uninstall the Player, follow these steps:
Click on the Start button
Open Settings > Control Panel
Launch Add or Remove programs
Select "NBC Direct Beta" and click "Remove"
Select "OpenCASE Media Agent" and click "Remove"
THE PAST, PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE
NBC discontinued providing their available programming on iTunes, where interested viewer's could buy content for $1.99. Though the service was apparently popular, representing 40 percent of customer downloads from the iTune Store, NBC broke with iTunes when they refused to accommodate NBC's request to alter the existing pricing strategy, in favor of a change that would have effectively more than doubled the price of a download from $1.99 to $4.99.
Shortly thereafter, in mid-September 2007, NBC launched NBC Direct on it's own site, where viewer's currently have the option to either watch their show episodes through their web browser window, or if they want a superior quality uninterrupted experience, by downloading and watching their shows directly from their computers - but only after installing the highly questionable media player software, first, of course.
As for browser viewable content, FOX, NBC Universal, MGM, Sony and Warner Bros. have put their considerable weight behind a new Internet repository, Hulu.com, an online video-on-demand (VOD) service that distributes content free to everyone. Officially launched on March 12, viewers are now able to access their favorite NBC content directly from Hulu.com, or indirectly through another web portals, such as AOL video.
The question of whether Hulu.com will allow anyone to share and embed its content, in the way you can with videos on YouTube, has already been rendered moot, thanks to OPENHulu.com, a site that provides the the code to embed anything from Hulu.com.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Delivering DVD quality content to users presents it's own unique challenges. Taking a lesson out of the enemy's handbook, namely "Peer-to-Peer" (P2P) file sharing, NBC has enlisted Pando Networks to "serve" their high-quality, ad-supported content, to viewers' computers, through what they call "peer-assisted" downloads. From a purely technical perspective, this approach to delivering large media files is smart because it effectively reduces the amount of data being sent from their main servers.
When you take into consideration the nature of NBC's relationship with Pando Networks, it makes more sense to see OpenCASE Media Agent as an important part of the broader scheme, to turn users' systems into obediante "peer-assisted" servers – like "botnent zombies" that are meant to distribute downloaded NBC video content, exclusively. This is certainly the most believable explanation why the program eats up all that RAM, and why it tries to maintain an active Internet connection.
Put in simple terms, you are helping to drastically reduce the cost of delivering NBC content to other viewers when you download content to view for yourself, because the OpenCASE Media Agent has simultaneously turned your system into a secondary NBC content server, plain and simple.
If this is true, it's definitely very un-cool.
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Gael Digital Media: NBC Direct Why Old Media Buys Bad Ideas « Gael Digital Media
Don.Net's WPF Design Blog : Buyer Beware: NBC Direct Beta- Not a Happy User Experience
NBC media download URL : NBC Direct (beta) player download page
Chris Albrecht : NewTeeVee.com : NBC Direct Sucked…Your PC Resources
NBC Direct (beta) FAQ : Software removal procedure : NBC's FAQ page
Wikipedia : Microsoft .NET Framework : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.NET_Framework
Lifehacker : Watch Full-Length Television Online with OpenHulu
Thursday, January 24, 2008
An open letter tothe editor of Pacific Business News, explaining why I ended my subscription and how this relates to the fate of print news periodicals everywhere.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Attn: Jim Kelly, Editor Pacific Business News
1833 Kalakaua Avenue, 7th Floor
Honolulu, HI 96815
Re: Reason for ending my subscription
Dear Mr. Kelly,
I am taking the time to provide you with the reason why I am ending my subscription to your paper because I know, as a marketing professional, that this kind of direct candid customer feedback is something, unfortunately, many organizations are not privy to—without great effort and expense. Certainly, I am aware that I represent only one unsatisfied customer, but perhaps my opinion and point of view is indicative of a larger group of readers, in which case, it could prove somewhat more useful to you.
The Pacific Business News, is (or at least, was) one of those publications that, as in many cities across the country, holds a unique position as the leading periodical dedicated to covering all the relevant business activity within their community, a job often done with astonishing clarity, detail, and insight, especially in comparison to the level of reporting done by other local print publications. In Seattle that publication was the Seattle Business Journal, now the Puget Sound Business Journal, which is no longer independently owned, but a subsidiary of a larger national network of business journals that you are also affiliated with, namely American City Business Journals, whose parent company is Advance Publications, a Newhouse family owned and controlled enterprise.
That is all very well and interesting, but I am not telling you anything you don't already know. This, however, might be.
I am not ending my subscription because I can no longer possibly brook the information and articles in your weekly publication, but rather, because I have noticed a consistent and continuing drop in the amount of “real” in-depth, insightful, reports and articles relative to “fluff” pieces. By no means, do I find that the Pacific Business News has so little of substantive value that I refuse to read your periodical all together. What interests me in your publication, I can quickly find and read on-line. The drop in quality, in my humble opinion, simply doesn't warrant purchasing an annual subscription. As much as I do enjoy consulting a hard copy of the Book of Lists, I can easily buy it separately if I desire.
Almost every one in your business knows the problems that newspapers, large and small, and to a varying degree local weekly magazines as well, are facing in the wake of the rise in power and influence of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Efforts to somehow stem or reverse this trend become even more daunting, if not futile, when you bother to read the demographic writing on the wall—that the bulk of people who still regularly read papers belong to the older generations, whose numbers are diminishing with predictable regularity. Though not as well known as newspapers, wrist watches share a similar ignoble plight. The growth of personal cell phones with their multiple useful functions, such as the constant display of the current time, rendered watches a “non-essential” fashion accessory, particularly among the group who adopted the cell phones in large numbers, your kids.
It would be smart to realize, however, that the Internet and the Web, in themselves, are not the enemy of local news publications, in the sense that they don't somehow generate better local news content out of thin air, or somehow seem to be able to reveal insight into what's really happening at the local level. This is pure hogwash! The Internet and the Web are merely a more convenient and faster conduit for that content. Newspapers and other print operations have yet to fully understand the basis of this new communication vehicle, and haven't quite figured out how to adapt to it—in a way that sustains their accounting bottom line. Many newspaper's took big financial hits as a direct result in the growth in popularity of web sites like Craigslist.com and eBay.com, because of the impact these web sites have had on one of their traditional sources of revenue, their “want ads” sections.
At the risk of employing one of those horrid “seminar” words, the secret to success for the business of modern print publications, who are by now simultaneously both in print and on-line, lays with being able to make changes that are relevant. That particular observation, of course, begs the ultimate questions. Does the “print” version, or as technophiles refer to it, the “dead tree” version, have any real future? The answer to that question is “no”, essentially because the costs associated with producing a printed copy will at some point, sooner or later, become cost prohibitive.
In the end, however, the true value of your publication, will be expressed by the desire of a reader to print for themselves information or an article that originated from Pacific Business News—who somehow, after reading it, thought it was good enough to actually make a print for him/or herself, even perhaps to show others. This reader's reaction bespeaks the bigger picture of your future financial success, if you accept, comprehend and adapt to the changes that are happening right now.
When you understand that there is one thing that the Web and Internet has not changed, nor can it, that there remains a select audience (though no longer merely locally) that has a distinct interest in what you have to report, and that there is a price they are willing to pay for that information. How that translates into those dollars that currently come from print subscriptions is yet unclear; whether it should come from a direct on-line subscription instead (which seems to be more and more unlikely), or some place else?
Because the communication revolution is still underway and new developments are happening at an alarming pace makes it difficult to form reliable predictions, but the astounding growth in RSS feeds does provide insight in one aspect of this change that pertains directly to news publications—that readers prefer to have information, particularly from sources they trust, sent to them, rather than having to consciously make the effort to go out and routinely pick that information up. In turn, that aspect would seem to suggest where new methods of generating revenue will be found.
As just one speculative example, revenue could be produced indirectly through a “privilege-access” fee process, whereby a fee would be paid for the right to access your content by a specialized secondary content delivery service, who will bundle, even repackage, and then deliver your news content to users according to their preselected preferences. That sort of process could also sustain the same sort of ad-generated revenue that accompanies your content in print form currently. Moreover, the change toward a wider dispersed audience will actually broaden your list of interested advertisers, whose ads would accompany your content as it is disseminated digitally.
That aspect of change, the revenue side, pales in comparison to the one most news organizations have yet to fully grasp and utilize, specifically, the way in which news and information is gathered. The use of independent reporting, either through blogging or images and eye-witness reports sent from private cell users who happen to be at the location of an event, has the power to change the very rules of the game.
It is only a matter of time before a local news station will realize the benefits of out-sourcing part of their news coverage capability by offering a unique opportunity to the public, which will say something to the effect, “We will pay $50 to the first person who sends us a photo of a breaking news event from their phone, provided... blah blah blah.” If you comprehend the relative costs associated with sending a camera and crew to a location, it makes that kind of alternative, the ability to cover an event as quickly as possible something very hard to argue with.
That is one small example that serves to illustrate the potential that this new type of news gathering ability has, if properly harnessed. In a larger sense, this partial shift in the news gathering process would almost certainly make the editorial capacity and, concomitantly, the reputation for quality and accuracy of an organization much more critically important, than it is today.
This brings me full circle, to the point of why I decided to write this letter. I regret that I feel compelled to discontinue my yearly subscription because, from my point of view, the quality has fallen to a level making it not worth the money. Frankly, it is an event that would have occurred somewhere on down the road, regardless. The drop in quality is something that, if I were you your shoes, I would be would be very conscious of, not because of what in means in terms on my single subscription, but because it is something that speaks directly to the future of your success and longevity in general—something which, I assure you, I will remain very much interested in.
Yours most sincerely,
Research & References
- Pacific Business News on-line
- Research Brief: Blogs Influence Availability of News, But Not Quality
- Research Brief: Younger Online News Consumers are Not Newspaper Readers
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Sunday, October 21, 2007
Hooo... heeey... it's all about the money... | Can telecom millions buy AT&T and the NSA a "Get Out of Jail Free" card from Congress?
Don't be fooled, boys and girls, by the smoke that's being blown up your ass – the smoke that says that the big “telecoms” need some “special” legal protection for doing what they did (or didn't do) in the name of national security. First of all, the law already gives them this kind of protection – as long as they acted in “good faith” and followed previously established FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) procedures and rules.
Here's the bottom line, as far as AT&T is concerned, it's not a matter of law, but of money. AT&T knows that without this new “above the law” law now being run through Congress, their ass was pretty much cooked.
You see, even though they cannot publicly confirm or deny it, AT&T's own documents, documents already in the hands of the court, supports the charges that they are guilty of granting NSA sweeping and unfettered access to all their customer communications, without first getting the proper FISA warrants.
For AT&T the real question is how much is this faux-pas going to cost? Should they drop millions now, all over Washington DC (keep a sharp eye out for an increase in contributions to key players, like Senate majority leader, Harry Reid) in order to insure that they receive this special “Get Out of Jail Free” card – or should they risk paying billions as a result of potentially massive law suits filed by their customers for deliberately and knowingly violating their privacy under the terms of their service agreements?
It's a whole different story for the NSA and the current administration, however, because they face the very real danger that if AT&T looses the case brought by EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) - and it's looks like they will - it will result in incontestable proof that they broke the law.
It's worth remembering that in the interest of improving our ability to fight terrorists, Congress amended FISA four different times after 9/11 - at the behest of both the President and the intelligence gathering community. Contrary to spurious claims of constitutionally granted Executive powers which preclude any culpability, Congress decided to preserve FISA over-sight and retained those particular provisions which require warrants.
Ask yourself this. What do you think the chances are – especially watching this whole weird legal limbo dance going on – that Bush and his intelligence boys are guilty as sin? Whoa... spooky! Isn't this like some weird retro-60's déjà vu trip, with “tricky-Dicky” Nixon and the Watergate thing, not to mention that whole fucked-up Vietnam War mess?! Hey... wasn't it the abuse of power of that flagitious period that led to the creation of this whole FISA thing?
Intelligence? That's a laugh. Can these boys find anything? Isn't the NSA involved in another suit that basically came about because they “accidental” let some of their secret files fall into the wrong hands? Yep. Intelligence... Can we talk about “competence” and whether or not we ought to have some way of measuring this rumor of “intelligence”, huh?
Anyway... before you are tempted to get all “wooey” with big ole fake tears of sympathy for these Dumb-asses... I dunno, because you feel that they were just trying to keep poor America safe. Stop and think for a minute. There is a “right” way of doing what they wanted to do (and always has been), and nobody ever said, “Sorry NSA, but we won't let you spy on the bad guys”. Anybody who tries to tell you otherwise, is a flat-out LIAR.
The quagmire that AT&T finds itself in now, is precisely the one that concerned Qwest. Out of the big “telecoms”, Qwest was the only one who listened to their lawyers and decided to reply to the NSA's request with the stipulation; “... not without the proper warrants and FISA procedures.”
But, wait. Here's the “cherry-on-top” of this gigantic and very sad “banana split” of democracy:
Just days earlier, AT&T decided to re-word some of their “evil empire” language in their original customer's terms of service (TOS) agreement, which essentially stated that AT&T could terminate your account, if they found out that you were expressing opinions, or sharing information that "... tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries."
“How dare you... ! How dare you even shoot an immodest glance in OUR direction!” AT&T issues you a direct reprimand, “Ve vill have yu SHOT ... und yur children vill be sent to zee Russian Front!!!” LOL!! Oh my Gawwwd.... Who are these freaks?
Ahhhhh... yeah... poor Ma-Bell. Hey, didn't AT&T just recently bring a massive suit against Vonage, their big Internet telephone competitor ... and also plop down a serious chuck of change – like $2.8 billion to buy Spectrum, so they would be in a good position to capitalize on the up-and-coming super fast new generation 3G-IPhones? Yessureee Bob...!!
Somehow I don't think that innocent well-meaning "wouldn't hurt a fly"AT&T needs special congressional legal protection. Spare me! On the other hand... I bet you can guess who would really really love them to have it? Gee. Who... who... who could that be?
I know, I know. Why complain? What are the chances that bundles of cash will do you any good in Washington? I don't want to sound like your average stupid asshole, but I have to know. Is it true? Can money buy influence in a little ole town once called Foggy Bottom?
Fuck, dude. It's just like Russia, these days. Cash talks and bullshit walks. Anyway... as they say... if you don't own it, then basically you're somebody's bitch!
Now that's the new American way, okay!
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
A current television commercial message produced by abovetheinfluence.com, part of the national youth anti-drug media campaign, a program of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), depicts a young woman who is taken by surprise, frozen in a moment of apoplexy, at witnessing her dog speaking to her, saying that he wishes she would stop smoking pot.
It leads me to say this:
I wanna know this chick's dealer! That's gotta be some seriously wicked shit if it can make your dog talk to you. Funny...
But, there's a flaw. You see, the only person who might actually believe that this kind of hallucination could happen from smoking some bad-ass grass, would be someone who has never smoked pot—ever!
The basic message of this media spot is exactly the same one conveyed in the 1930's cult classic, 'Reefer Madness'. Essentially, they are saying the same thing, albeit watered down somewhat and punctuated with a clever ironic twist this time around. At the core, however, the approach is identical; it's prevention through the induction of fear. It says that smoking pot will cause you to loose control over your mind—stealing your ability to control what you might do while under the drug's powerful influence. It starts out with words of concern from your pet but moves quickly into inexplicable urges to kill babies and stab mothers. OMG!!
The problem with messages that are fraught with this kind of hyperbole are that they run the risk of losing their credibility when the gullible viewer discovers the truth. It's the reaction people have to someone who is“crying wolf”. You risk being ignored if someone thinks—or even suspects—that you are trying to pull the wool over their eyes, tricking them into believing that something is true.
To a cynical modern audience—and if you believe kids today are not cynical you need to wake-up and smell the fucking coffee—nullifying the intent of the “talking dog” commercial and convincing you that this magnified warning on the dangers of smoking pot is “totally bogus”, would merely require the credible opinion of someone you know who would know better (i. e., someone who has smoked pot). What's more, the distrust developed as result of being misled, could become counterproductive, and back fire—lead to a willingness to believe that smoking weed may be perfectly harmless.
Think about it for a minute. What's your reaction to someone who has been lying to you, and you found out that they knew that they were lying to you and yet that somehow didn't seem to matter? Are you actually going to trust anything they have to say, after that? If you say “yes” to that question, then you are lying to yourself.
In an attempt to get people's attention in a media-saturated world, advertisers and programming directors routinely resort to theatrical stunts of shock and awe; they play to a person's natural instinct to “rubber-neck”, if you will—to stop and gawk at the accident. The presumption, of course, is that if you get your audience's attention, then at the very least, your message has a “chance” of sinking in.
This is why television news has turned away from doing in-depth journalism, reporting the causal factors leading to the bit of news they happen to be covering, to something radically different, a form of communication that has been aptly described as 'Infotainment'. This is information divorced from context, presented as urgent demanding your attention, becoming even more important if it is deemed to be “breaking”, happening right that moment.
A product of this shift in priority is that it's no longer as important to know “why” something is happening. Instead, it's far more important to know merely that something “is” happening.
It's not important to understand “why” illegal drug use continues to be a growing problem in the US, year after year, when more and more resources are used to battle this ever-expanding crisis, all to little avail. It's not important to look for the reasons that may help to explain “why” our efforts do not seem to be effective in eliminating or even reducing this problem in some notable measure—especially in light of the fact that we spend billions annually on both prevention and incarceration. It's not important to know “why” we seem to be utterly ineffectual in resolving this problem to any significant degree. What does seem to be important, strangely, is that we must be made aware that there still “is” a major problem in this country; that we are still waging a huge and escalating war on illegal drug use, a formidable problem that shows no signs of coming to end, anytime in the near future.
We live in a period of time that seems to accept the notion that being disingenuous is okay as long as we have convinced ourselves that what we are doing is for the best. Those familiar with philosophy will recognize this as a part of the existential argument where the “ends justify the means”. Put in simple terms, it doesn't matter so much what you had to do to get there, as long as you are confident that you are heading in the right direction.
This explains why it no longer matters if we resorted to outright deception, lying to the innocent and ignorant among us, justified by our attempt to “save” humanity from the evils of drug use. And more, it doesn't seem to matter if we actually “do” end up saving humanity, either—if what we are doing actually “can” save humanity from drug use. No, no. The only thing that matters is that we appear to be “doing” something to save humanity—regardless of how stupid or vapid it may be. Isn't that right?
Endnote: The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is an organization directed by the G. W. Bush White House. As with so many other of this presidency's endeavors, a stolid blind adherence to an idealogical precept is the only requirement to move on it, however illogical or lacking in substantive direction, though it may be. The ONDCP is no different, yet another deluded socio-political agenda floating in a sea of propaganda.
UPDATE NOTE - 14 Oct 2007
Well, well, well. When push comes... well, from reality.
It appears that the ONDCP doesn't care to have it's efforts examined or scrutinized by the public-at-large. Their anti-drug media spots, after they were uploaded to YouTube, weren't as well-received as their producers (aka Ideologue Spin-meisters) would have had us believe.
Unfavorable responses made by viewers has led the ONDCP to remove the "comment" option from their posted videos--deciding in favor of a more silent "one-way" form of discourse. How surprising?
[Here's my comment, since I cannot post one on YouTube, "Yo ONDCP. You clueless Losers. You guys sux!"]
White House National Drug Control involvement
In September 2006, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) began running anti-drug messages through YouTube.^ In response, many YouTube users began uploading rebuttals and low rating the public service announcements. Consequently, since mid-September, the ONDCP has removed the ability to evaluate any of their messages.