Friday, October 31, 2008

Sprint CEO Says Android Not Good Enough for His Logo. Bitter Much?

by Paul Glazowski

Something tells me Sprint CEO Dan Hesse is a little bitter about his company getting passed by the #4 wireless telecom operator to become debut provider of an Android-based handset that the world has seen so far.

Being a lossy network at #3 might have something to do with it. According to Sinead Carew of Reuters, Hesse was quoted as telling the National Press Club that the Android open source operating system is not “good enough to put the Sprint brand on it.”

Not to be a stickler for accuracy, but I don’t believe Sprint could technically brand Android as its own. The carrier might affix its logo to a device installed with the operating system, and might deliver the device custom crafted to appeal to Sprint users and the various mobile broadband-enabled services offered by the company. But the Sprint brand on Android? No, I don’t think so. That sort of defeats the purpose of the so-called Open Handset Alliance, in one way or another.

Be that as it may, Hesse vowed to release an Android-equipped phone “some time in the future.” Which of course will happen. The company would be quite foolish to not pursue at least a few devices with the software installed. I imagine that future being one with most all carriers providing handsets featuring the major software options of the day. For example, T-Mobile will eventually support the iPhone. It may take a few years, but there eventually comes a time where user demand gets its time in the sun. It’s unfortunate that it is taking this long to do, but such is the way of the corporate world. Consumer desires continually outpace the production schedules of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and other warehouses.

There are only two possible conclusions one can make from Hesse’s statement made before the NPC. The first is as I explained from the start: he’s bitter about not being first up to bat. The other: he’s borderline delusional and has managed to ignore all critical reviews of the now-public OS, which frequently regard the software as a serious second-place finisher to the thoroughly elegant and arguably more refined iPhone platform. Door #1, folks. Door #1.

Original here

Australia's Internet filter: could legal content be banned, too?

By Nate Anderson

Liberal democracies aren't generally pleased with massive state-run mandatory Internet filtering schemes, but Australia's government is plowing ahead with just such a project. Stoking fears that such a scheme could easily blacklist legal content from all Australians, one national politician has now called for precisely that sort of a blacklist. Under the "Family First" party's scheme, hardcore sex and drug content would be added to the list of "illegal" content, even though they are actually legal for adults to view offline.

Family First isn't a major party—it has only one federal member of Parliament—but it does command more regional support. While massive federal government intervention in the Internet might not seem to be an especially conservative principle, Family First argues that the porn problem has reached epidemic levels, that parental responsibility simply isn't workable, and that kids are stumbling over damaging material both purposefully and by accident. Government needs to act.

The party's federal legislator, Steve Fielding, is opposed to both a "fart tax" (PDF) and to an unfettered Internet. The party "will work to achieve Government commitment to establish a Mandatory Filtering Scheme at the ISP Server Level in this country," says the official party plank (PDF). The government agrees, and it has been pursuing a two-tiered scheme. The first tier would be a "clean feed" that filters porn and "illegal content," and it would be optional. The second tier would filter only "illegal content" and would be mandatory for all Australians.

No to cow fart taxes, yes to Internet filtering

But what would be included in "illegal content"? The government isn't saying yet, but Family First has its own ideas. The Sydney Morning Herald asked Fielding what he envisions for the mandatory feed.

"Family First would consider a mandatory ISP-based filtering system that protects children by blocking illegal content like child pornography, but allows adults to opt out of filtering to access material classified R18+ or less," said the party.

The statement indicates that any material rated above R 18+ (including X 18+ and "refused classification") would fall under the mandatory blacklist and could not be accessed through any Australian ISP. Such material is currently legal for Australian adults.

The free speech concerns of a politicized blacklist that includes legal material are profound, and they are stressed by groups like the "No Clean Feed" campaign. But there are technical concerns as well.

The System Administrators' Guild of Australia, SAGE-AU, issued a statement again stressing its opposition to Internet filtering on grounds that it simply wouldn't work. "SAGE-AU remains concerned that the filters tested are unable to provide an effective, reliable filtering solution with the performance required for modern broadband connections," she said. "The filters tested have demonstrated an excessively high exclusion rate of legitimate Internet content."

The government's own testing has shown that the filters still have serious problems with false positives and can degrade network performance from 20-75 percent. If Australian Internet users aren't thrilled about the metered 'Net connections that are common in the country, we can only imagine how much they will enjoy metered connections that run 20-75 percent slower and censor the Internet.

Original here

Giz Explains: Why Windows 7 Will Smash Vista

By matt buchanan

Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been, what we hoped it would be. The Batman Begins to Vista's Batman and Robin. While superficially both are kinda the same (Batman!), there's a completely different thought process at work. Our walkthrough and videos showed you how the new user experience is something to be excited about; now we want to show you what it is under the hood that enables the wholly hypeworthy experience to be all it can be. And why Windows 7 will totally smash Vista's kidneys.

Microsoft is cheerfully explicit about 7 killing Vista. At PDC, the head of Windows performance Gabriel Aul laid it out simply in a presentation entitled "Raising the Bar":

• If an application or device runs on Vista, it should run on Win 7.
• If a system runs Windows Vista, should run Windows 7 even faster.
• Notebooks should get better battery life in Windows 7.
• Windows 7 will be more reliable than Vista SP1 from Day 1.

Yep, not only does it have a more usable UI thanks to snazzy elements like peek through, a whole new taskbar and just common sense simplifications, Microsoft admirably pulls an Apple here—its next release of Windows will run even faster than the previous one, an unprecedented feat for Microsoft.

That's because it's a whole lot smarter about taking care of what's going on in the background while you're gaping at some new UI element that's both pretty and useful. For instance, Vista's window memory manager devotes the same amount of RAM to every window you have open: No matter how many windows are open, it acts like every one of them is visible and full screen size, even if you had them minimized or in the background. This ate up a ton of resources, especially if you're like us and leave a billion windows open. Windows 7's window memory manager doesn't do that—only the visible windows use video resources now. That means you can actually run Windows 7 with 1GB of RAM—unlike Vista, where having anything less than 2GB is totally retardiculous.

Windows 7 is also way more brainy when it comes to crashy apps and errors, in a couple different ways. Probably the most impressive sounding—though we'll have to see how well it works in real life—is application crash resiliency. If an app crashes more than once, Windows 7 learns how it should run the app to avoid that particular train wreck. Also, error reports are actually useful: The Problem Steps Recorder watches what you do to trip an error—if you can repeat it after turning on the recorder, that is—and it generates a useful, detailed error report in a language that actually resembles English! And 7 just plain practices safer sex—device drivers are sandboxed, so nastiness from one cruddy set won't infect another. Having learned its lesson, Microsoft is working with hardware makers to deliver all updated drivers through Windows Update instead of, say, Samsung's byzantine excuse of a website.

None of Windows 7's awesomeness matters, though, if all that rock is too much for your notebook's battery to handle. Vista's power management was definitely better than XP's, and Windows 7's is remarkably better still. Part of it is just that whole smarter background management, which for battery life does things like dial down the processor more often, use less juice to play a standard def DVD, automatically turn off your Ethernet adapter, common sense stuff like that. But it doesn't just do all this fancy energy-saving jujitsu behind your back (though it can). Windows 7 is capable of delivering a battery efficiency report that breaks down in detail what's chomping on your battery—power-slurping hardware, vampire-y processes, the works.

All of this reflects a new mindset about the overall user experience that seems like it just got left on Vista's cutting room floor, for whatever reason. Vista was just going through the motions of a new OS. If Microsoft actually delivers on what they've shown and are promising for Windows 7—and all signs seem to point that way—it'll actually have the heart and soul of one, even if it's wearing the same brand of clothes.

Something you still wanna know? Send any questions about Windex, Billy G or spending G's to, with "Giz Explains" in the subject line.

Original here

Use BitTorrent to Upgrade to Ubuntu ‘Intrepid Ibex’

Written by Ernesto

Ubuntu, the open source GNU/Linux based operating system, is about to release its next big update - Intrepid Ibex. In the past, the update servers would crash very quickly on a big release day, making it hard for people to get the latest update. With BitTorrent, however, this can be easily avoided.

ubuntuMost users of Linux based operating systems such as Ubuntu are familiar with BitTorrent. In fact, Ubuntu even comes with a BitTorrent client, and millions of Ubuntu users got their install disk via the popular filesharing protocol.

When it comes to upgrading their OS, however, most users still rely on Ubuntu’s central servers. Because of this, the servers are overloaded with upgrade requests every time a big update is released, which often causes them to crash. The next Ubuntu update, version 8.10 aka Intrepid Ibex is scheduled to be released this week, and since the OS is more popular than ever, updating might be troublesome.

There is an easy solution to this problem though. One that not only prevents the Ubuntu servers from crashing, but also speeds up the update progress, because it uses BitTorrent. A bunch of TorrentFreak readers were kind enough to write a basic tutorial to guide you through the upgrade process, which we have posted below.

Update to Ubuntu ‘Intrepid Ibex’ using BitTorrent

Step 1: Setting sources.list to a close-local mirror

First off, it’s definitely recommended to reset to a local mirror. This way, you will download any needed files from a closer and supposedly faster source.

Either do an auto-check: System -> Administration -> Software Sources -> Download From: -> Other -> Select Best Server (It’ll run a couple hundred tests (takes less than five minutes) and select the best mirror for you. Make sure to remember which mirror it is, because you will need that later.)

Or select your local mirror yourself according to your country.

Step 2: Disable 3rd Parties repositories

It is also very much recommended to disable 3rd party repositories! If you don’t know exactly what you are doing, go to the 3rd Parties tab and deselect all of the entries there.

Step 3: Install apt-p2p

Next you need to install “apt-p2p”. Version 0.2.5 is needed because of a major bug in older versions. This is beta software, so it might not be stable for everybody. If it can’t download the file via BitTorrent, however, it will revert to http download.

As apt-p2p is not in the hardy repos yet, we have to fetch it from a server directly. Below I have have two scripts for 32-bit and 64-bit. Use the one that matches your OS.

For 32bit versions use this script, and for 64bit versions use this script.

Save the script file as “” on your desktop. Then open a terminal (Applications > System > Terminal) and issue these commands (you’ll be prompted for your user password):

cd ~/Desktop
sudo sh

The scripts will create a apt-p2p folder in the /temp folder, enter that folder and download apt-p2p from the intrepid repositories (they work fine on hardy), including all dependencies. Finally, it will install everything in the required order.

Step 4: Prepare the sources.list

Once installed type the following:

sudo cp /etc/apt/sources.list /etc/apt/sources.list-apt-p2p-backup
gksudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

Now you are looking at the sources.list file for Ubuntu; this specifies which servers to contact for updates and new programs. You should see a bunch of lines that look similar to this:

deb hardy partner
deb-src hardy partner
deb http://*mirror-address*/ubuntu/ hardy main universe restricted multiverse
deb-src http://*mirror-address*/ubuntu/ hardy main universe restricted multiverse

where **mirror-address** is the address of the mirror you chose earlier.

Don’t worry, you may not have all of these, and you may have more. However, you only want to change ones that are similar to these. You want to change these to look like this:

deb http://localhost:9977/ hardy partner
deb-src http://localhost:9977/ hardy partner
deb http://localhost:9977/*mirror-address*/ubuntu/ hardy main universe restricted multiverse
deb-src http://localhost:9977/*mirror-address*/ubuntu/ hardy main universe restricted multiverse

So basically just insert “localhost:9977″ after the “http://”. Now close the program and save the file. Note: If you messed anything up, go back to the terminal and run this command:

sudo cp /etc/apt/sources.list-apt-p2p-backup /etc/apt/sources.list

This WILL overwrite your sources.list file with your backup and we are almost done!

Step 5: Update the packages & upgrade to Intrepid

Back at the terminal, type the following command:

sudo apt-get update

This will update the list of software, as well as fully integrate apt-p2p. If you get any errors, run the following commands (Warning: If not done carefully, these commands could destroy your system):

sudo rm -rf /var/cache/apt-p2p/cache/*
sudo apt-get update

Once everything looks okay, you’ll want to forward the ports for apt-p2p to your system (if you have a router, see, port for apt-p2p is 9977 TCP and UDP). At this point, you’re all set to receive regular updates via BitTorrent. If you want to upgrade to Intrepid ahead of time you may type one of the following commands in the terminal:

sudo update-manager -d

Click on the “upgrade” button on the top right of that window and follow the wizard. When asked, that no valid mirror was found and whether it shall replace hardy with intrepid, then select “Yes”.

or use

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Note: When issuing a “dist-upgrade” in the terminal you will first need to manually alter the entries in the sources.list from “hardy” to “intrepid”.

Now you’re all set, and by using BitTorrent to update Ubuntu you will be updated much faster, and help relieve the strain on the update servers on launch day. As always, tips and suggestions are welcome in the comments.

Original here

Court rules hash analysis is a Fourth Amendment "search"

By Julian Sanchez

A good coder has as many uses for hash functions as George Washington Carver did for peanuts—but law enforcement is fond of these digital fingerprinting techniques as well, because they allow reams of data to be rapidly sifted and identified. Legal scholars, however, have spent a decade puzzling over whether the use of hash value analysis in a criminal investigation counts as a Fourth Amendment "search." A federal court in Pennsylvania last week became the first to rule that it does—but one legal expert says an appeal is very likely.

Chief Judge Yvette Kane of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania penned the opinion in United States v. Crist, granting Robert Crist's request for the suppression of child pornography police found on his computer. Crist had fallen behind on his rent, and his landlord hired a father-and-son pair to move the delinquent tenant's belongings out to the curb, where a friend of one of the movers, Seth Hipple, picked up Crist's computer. When Crist returned home, he began freaking out over his vanished machine—while Hipple was freaking out over what he'd found in a folder on the hard drive: Videos appearing to depict underage sex, which he promptly deleted.

Hipple called the East Pennsboro Township Police Department, and though the computer had been reported stolen, it soon found its way to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, where special agent David Buckwash made an image of the hard drive and began sifting through its contents using a specialized forensics program called EnCase. Rather than directly examining the contents of the hard drive, Buckwash initially ran the imaged files through an MD5 hash algorithm, producing a unique (for practical purposes) digital fingerprint, or hash value, for each one. He then compared these smaller hash values with a database of the hash values of known and suspected child porn, maintained by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He came up with five definite hits and 171 videos containing "suspected" child porn. He then moved to gallery view, inspecting all the photos on the drive, and ultimately finding nearly 1,600 images that appeared to be child pornography.

None of this, however, had been done with a warrant. That raised two intriguing legal questions. First, longstanding precedent holds that if a private party, unprompted by police, conducts a search—by opening a package or briefcase, for instance—then the owner has lost their "reasonable expectation of privacy" in the searched object. That means police are in the clear if they proceed to examine whatever the private party has discovered. But it's not always clear how this rule applies in particular cases. If a private person opens a briefcase, police might scrutinize it more closely when they take a look—but the exception clearly doesn't mean that police can scour an entire house, ripping open mattresses and digging through closets, just because someone else has already wandered through the place. So had Crist lost his expectation of privacy in the entire hard drive, or only in the few files and folders Hipple had seen?

Even if the entire hard drive wasn't to be considered fair game, however, a more interesting question remained: Was the analysis of hash values of the files on the hard drive a search at all? The question was first broached in a 1996 Yale Law Journal article titled "Cyberspace, general searches, and digital contraband." The author noted an interesting quirk of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: Courts have held that a "search" occurs when someone's "expectation of privacy" is violated, provided that expectation is one that society is prepared to regard as "reasonable." But they've also held that there is no such "reasonable expectation" as regards the possession of illegal materials, like narcotics or child porn. In 2004, the Supreme Court would rely on this logic in the case of Illinois v. Caballes to hold that a trained drug dog's sniff, which only reveals the presence or absence of illegal drugs, does not count as a search. In the digital realm, this raised the possibility of what we might call, with a nod to novelist Erica Jong, a "zipless search"—a more or less perfect means of detecting only contraband, circumventing the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement.

If hash value analysis isn't a search, then even if the state went too far in directly inspecting the hard drive, the evidence of a hash match against the NCMEC database might still be admissible. But Judge Kane rejected that logic, writing:

By subjecting the entire computer to a hash value analysis—every file, internet history, picture, and "buddy list" became available for Government review. Such examination constitutes a search.

But as George Washinton University law professor Orin Kerr, author of the Justice Department's computer search manual, wrote on the widely-read Volokh Conspiracy blog, this is almost maddeningly brief and vague. "Which stage was the search—the creating the duplicate?" asked Kerr. "The running of the hash? It's not really clear." And as Kerr notes, though the court alludes to the Caballes dog-sniff ruling earlier in its opinion, it does not directly take up the question of the "zipless search," or explain how the hash analysis differs from a dog sniff. The answer could be massively significant, since it would determine, for instance, whether law enforcement agents serving a valid warrant against one user on a huge server are entitled to scan the entire machine, rather than only their target's files, for illicit material.

The second question is whether Buckwash "expanded the scope of the private search" conducted by Hipple when he imaged and scrutinized Crist's entire hard drive. In United States v. Runyan, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals seemed to accept the application of a "closed container" metaphor to digital storage devices. Just as the privacy interest in the contents of a package are lost once someone has opened it, the contents of a digital storage medium are fair game once it has been accessed. But as Kerr has pointed out in his paper, "Searches and Seizures in a Digital World," physical metaphors are tricky in a world of bits. Is the computer really like a "container"? Or given the vast amounts of information a hard drive can contain, does it make more sense to think of the drive as analogous to a warehouse, where the "container" is an individual file or folder? Kerr ultimately opts for an "exposure theory" of digital searches, according to which only the information that has been displayed to a human user should be considered "searched," leaving the privacy interest in all the other data intact. In this case, Judge Kane seemed to agree that Hipple's "search" of a few files did not void Crist's privacy interest in the rest of the drive, and that in any event Buckwash's forensic analysis was qualitatively different and more extensive than Hipple's casual examination.

Kerr, however, told Ars that he expects the government to appeal the ruling, both because the argument for counting hash analysis as a "search" is so brief, and because the court's application of the Runyan precedent is subject to dispute.

That makes United States v. Crist a case to watch. Until now, the constitutional status of hash value analysis has been unclear. But if the Third Circuit Court of Appeals should disagree with Judge Kane's reasoning, it could send a signal that a new era of zipless searching is at hand.

Original here

Recon Scout Robot to Assist Guards in California Prisons

By Erik Sofge

You can run from the robot invasion,
but you can't hide—not even in prison. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) signed a deal this summer with Minneapolis-based ReconRobotics to help field-test the company's throwable robot, the Recon Scout.

The dumbbell-size device is already used by law enforcement agencies across the country and military personnel in Iraq—ReconRobotics won't specify how many it has sold outright, though CEO Alan Bignall told PM that "250 of them are in use around the world." The agreement with the CDCR marks the robot's first deployment behind bars—the bots arrived there at the end of September.

In what amounts to a complicated rental contract, the CDCR received 10 of the tiny, 1.2 pound robots. Correctional officers in various facilities will try them out for an unspecified length of time, and provide feedback to ReconRobotics. The robot's mission won't be to patrol cell blocks or spy on prisoners. (Although it's built to be stealthy, with a pair of electric motors that Bignall says produce less noise than a human whisper.) The Recon Scout is deployed more like a remote-controlled grenade: You pull a pin to turn the robot on—the lack of an on/off switch makes it easier to activate while wearing bulky gloves and respirators, and prevents it from being turned off by the impact of hitting the ground. The most likely use for the drone will be for confrontations, and particularly during standoffs.

It's not necessarily a common scenario, but it does happen: A prisoner barricades himself in a room, disables the cameras, and says he's taken hostages. Or maybe he's holding himself hostage, threatening suicide. Instead of charging in blind, a response team can drive or toss the Recon Scout past the barricade. The robot can be operated from up to 100 ft away with the handheld controller, which has an integrated screen. Even if the drone is spotted, and immediately stomped to death, a quick peek could reveal what kinds of weapons are present, and what condition the hostages are in. ReconRobotics also sells a command monitoring kit, which consists of an additional antenna and software that allows the footage to be viewed and recorded on a laptop. "You could throw it in, and do a quick 360 of the room," says Bignall. " So even if all you get is 30 seconds of footage, you can go back and review it frame-by-frame.

The Recon Scout is inexpensive when it comes to robots—it costs $6000, or $9000 with an IR camera—and is built to survive a 30 ft drop onto concrete. ReconRobotics has also tested other options, like dropping the robot from a low-flying unmanned aerial vehicle, and launching it from the same kind of compressed-air guns used to fire tear-gas canisters. Dramatic as unmanned airdrops and robo-grenade launchers might sound, the Recon Scout serves the same relatively low-key role outside of prisons as it will in them.

Sergeant Jef Behnken, a SWAT commander in Burnsville, MN, has only used the robot once in the year since his department bought it. This past summer, a woman was threatening to kill herself and burn down her entire condo complex. After more than two hours of negotiations, Behnken was ordered to enter the apartment. By tossing the robot into a broken window, he was able to steer it through the apartment, and find out that the woman had barricaded the front door with a couch, and then locked herself in the bathroom. The drone didn't necessarily save the day, but it allowed Behnken's team to know exactly what they were up against before storming the apartment. "That robot got us to a safe zone," says Behnken, "We didn't have to waste any time getting through the front door. If we had come in, and she was trying to start a fire and burn down the condo, we wouldn't have hesitated. We would have used force. Maybe even deadly force. With this camera, we were able to resolve it without any type of bloodshed." The woman was Tased before being taken into custody, so the situation ended relatively peacefully.

Whether the Recon Scout will be able to defuse—or at least downgrade—worst-case scenarios in California's prisons remains to be seen. But if it can help even occasionally, as in Behnken's case, the deal could indicate another frontier for the robotics industry. "We have high hopes for its value in the prison-corrections world," says Bignall. "It's going to open up a market we hadn't really expected to be a part of."

Original here

Yahoo, AOL in due diligence on combination: source

By Anupreeta Das

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc and Time Warner Inc's AOL unit are looking at each other's books to figure out how much money they could make together and where costs can be saved, a person familiar with the talks said on Wednesday, indicating a merger may finally be on the way.

While noting a deal was not imminent, the source said the two companies have engaged in "meaningful" due diligence about a possible combination for the past couple of weeks.

Talks are focused on how to integrate AOL's content and advertising business into Yahoo, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly because the discussions are confidential.

Yahoo and Time Warner began talks several months ago, when the Internet company was looking for an alternative growth strategy to fend off a $47.5 billion takeover bid from Microsoft Corp.

Yahoo had repeatedly rejected Microsoft, which finally withdrew its $33-per-share proposal in June after Yahoo cut a search advertising partnership with Google Inc.

But the Google deal, also part of Yahoo's alternative strategy, is mired in the regulatory process because critics have said it is anti-competitive. Meanwhile, Yahoo shares have plunged to around $12.

Time Warner shares are down about 45 percent from year-earlier levels, while Yahoo shares have fallen about 63 percent, as fears of an economic recession curbed corporate spending on advertising while Google continued to dominate in the Web search market.

Under the deal Yahoo and Time Warner have discussed, Yahoo would fold AOL's content and advertising business into its own operations, and Time Warner would get a stake in the combined company.

Executives and advisers from both sides met last week as part of the due diligence process, the source said. Both sides are being cautious because any potential deal carries "a lot of risk," the source said, without providing further details.

Integration concerns would likely revolve around how to fold AOL's advertising network into Yahoo's operations, choosing whether to keep separate portals and email services, and squeezing out cost savings by reducing duplication, one former AOL executive said on condition of anonymity.

Yahoo and Time Warner declined comment. News of the due diligence was first reported by the AllThingsDigital blog.

Shares of Yahoo were up 4 cents at $12.40 in late trading, while Time Warner shares were down 15 cents or 1.5 percent at


(Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Brian Moss)

Original here

Pirate Bay Talk: How To Dismantle a Billion Dollar Industry

Written by Ernesto

Pirate Bay co-founders Peter Sunde and Fredrik Neij gave a keynote speech at the Hack In The Box Security Conference 2008, entitled “How to dismantle a billion dollar industry - as a hobby.” The two discuss how The Pirate Bay grew to be the largest BitTorrent site on the Internet, and some of the challenges they face today.

pirate bay logoAt the Hack in the Box conference, held in Malaysia, Peter and Fredrik gave a talk this morning, where they offered some background information on how the site became the world’s largest BitTorrent tracker, in a relatively short period of time.

The two, who just turned 30, have a long history of copyright infringement which started back in the ’80’s, with Peter cracking Amiga games and Fredrik copying Commodore64 software. At the time they had never heard of copyright infringement, they were just doing what everybody else did. To the amusement of the audience, Peter said he didn’t think piracy was ‘wrong’ when he was a kid, but now that he’s an adult, he knows it’s not.

Years later, in 2003, they got involved in founding Piratbyrån (The Bureau of Piracy), a pro-piracy organization that was created in response to anti-Piratbyrån. The goal of Piratbyrån was to start a debate on copyright issues, and how they affect society. Until then, most press in Sweden would simply take everything anti-Piratbyrån said for granted.

In the years to come, Piratbyrån started several pro-piracy projects, and the most influential is without a doubt the founding of The Pirate Bay on November 21, 2003. “We needed to have a filesharing network in Sweden, because there was none,” Peter said. “At this time there was one big torrent site, which was called Suprnova, but they mainly had international content. We and Piratbyrån wanted more Swedish and Scandinavian content. So we started a big library, and that is The Pirate Bay.”

Fredrik, who ran one of the earlier versions of the tracker on his laptop, explained that when The Pirate Bay went live, it was hosted in South America. “The Pirate Bay originally started out in Mexico, on a Mexican server where Anakata, the third guy of The Pirate Bay was working at the time,” he said. Anakata hosted the site on a server owned by the company he was working for, but it was soon overloaded since the site grew so rapidly.

The Pirate Bay was initially available in Swedish language only. However, after a year they found out that, although their site was initially targeted at Scandinavians, over 80% of the users came from other parts of the world. In fact, one of the most popular torrents was a Swedish language course. Because of increasing worldwide popularity, The Pirate Bay team completely redesigned the site, which became available in several languages.

The popularity of the site didn’t go unnoticed in Hollywood. Like many other BitTorrent sites, The Pirate Bay also received several takedown notices. However, the way they responded to these was quite unique and some have become news stories in themselves. Threats from the entertainment industry didn’t stop at sending letters. In true Hollywood style, The Pirate Bay admins soon saw private investigators watching their every move.

“They’ve sent private investigators after us, which is really stupid if you do something online,” Peter said. “What are they going to find, that we are sitting behind our computers?” Fredrik added: “I guess the private investigator that went after me in Gothenburg got to see a lot of good bars, a lot of late nights, but probably not a lot of evidence gathering.” Peter then noted that someone from the IFPI was actually at the conference, “still trying to find out what we’re doing.”

Eventually The Pirate Bay got raided, following pressure from Hollywood and the USA. Fredrik recalls the day vividly: “I got a phone call like 10am in the morning, it was Anakata.” He told Fredrik that there were police officers at their office, and asked him to get down to the colocation facility and get rid of the ‘incriminating evidence’, although none of it, whatever it was, was related to The Pirate Bay.

As Fredrik was leaving, he suddenly realized that the problems might be linked to their tracker, so he initiated a full backup of the site. At the colocation facility there were 65 police, some in civilian clothing. Fredrik asked them: “Who are you? What are you doing here?” To which they responded, “Who are YOU? What are you doing here?” After questions back and forth, Fredrik eventually told them his name, and a police officer said, “Oh, we’ve been looking for you.”

During the subsequent questioning, the Pirate Bay trio gave up very little information. Anakata quickly confessed to his crime - of killing the Swedish prime minister when he was 2 years old, but that was all they got. It is up to the court to decide whether the Pirate Bay founders are operating illegally or not. Until then, The Pirate Bay is still up and running, stronger than ever.

As always, there are a lot of plans for the future, and Peter and Fredrik briefly discussed some. One of the most interesting plans is to encrypt tracker connections, so anti-piracy organizations can’t spy on their users. We will probably hear more about that in the future. The keynote speech by Peter and Fredrik was streamed from a mobile phone last night, and we embedded the recording below. The sound quality is far from optimal, but it’s watchable. The talk starts at 13m 00s

“How to dismantle a billion dollar industry - as a hobby.”
Original here

RIAA defendant enlists Harvard Law prof, students

By Nate Anderson

Joel Tenenbaum, accused in August 2007 of swapping seven songs on KaZaA, is mounting an unusual defense. First representing himself, Tenenbaum has now attracted the help of a Harvard Law professor and a class of cyberlaw students, and he is intent on taking the case to a trial. In a counterclaim against the recording industry, Tenenbaum's legal team argues that the entire RIAA "onslaught" is unconstitutional and that federal judges should impose serious limits on the group's legal campaign.

Professor Charles Nesson of Harvard Law (a founder of the prestigious Berkman Center for Internet & Society) has agreed to help Tenenbaum, and he has enlisted the help of students in his Fall 2008 course, "CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion." The group wants to do more than help Tenenbaum out of a tough spot; they want to challenge the underpinnings of the entire lawsuit campaign against the "born-digital generation."

And if sensationalist language could win court cases, this one would be over. Nesson and his students defended their claims this week in a court filing in which they argued that the RIAA's lawsuits had "the ulterior purposes of creating an urban legend so frightening to children using computers, and so frightening to parents and teachers of students using computers, that they will somehow reverse the tide of the digital future."

Charles Nesson

And that's just the warmup. The complaint goes on to ask: "Is the law just the grind of the statutory machine to be carried out by a judge and jury as cogs in the machine, or do judge and jury claim the right and duty and power of constitution and conscience to do justice"?

The basic argument, stripped of this sort of fervid verbiage, is essentially threefold. First, the damage awards in these cases are simply excessive and violate the Constitution's 14th Amendment. Second, these are essentially criminal cases and Congress has unconstitutionally delegated prosecutorial power to a "private police force" (the music business). And, finally, because the cases are essentially criminal, they should not be tried under the standards of civil law.

Nesson also objects more generally to the fact that the entire campaign appears targeted more at detterence of other than at actually punishing Tenenbaum for his alleged seven song downloads (hence the "urban legend" quote above).

Even as this counterclaim against the RIAA is pursued, the case against Tenenbaum goes forward. In late September, he was deposed by recording industry lawyers, and he showed up to the meeting in a Red Sox T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses. His wardrobe prompted a tense exchange between Nesson and a music industry lawyer that was written up by one of the students who attended the deposition.

The music industry lawyer "noted that Joel was the one being unduly harsh when he filed two separate motions for sanctions. As evidence of Joel’s supposed disrespect, he pointed out: 'Here is a kid who shows up in our office wearing a Red Sox T-shirt and sun glasses!' The decision was made to save that conversation for another day and continue the deposition."(Nesson also tweeted throughout the deposition.)

Indeed, one gets the sense that "respect" is a commodity in short supply on both sides in the case. The case is currently scheduled for trial in December, where Tenenbaum will have the chance to seek "justice from judge and jury" as he faces the "onslaught the plaintiffs have imposed and are continuing to impose."

Original here

Google's Copyright Case: Settlement Is A Wake Up Call

Posted By:Jim Goldman

Google Headquarters
Paul Sakuma / AP

For Google to believe that it should have free, unrestricted and uncompensated access to copyrighted material has always shown me the heights of hubris at this company.

It's good for you, Google would say, gently patting the heads of The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and millions of writers who watched their hard work digitally co-opted in the name of progress.

Google[GOOG 359.69 1.69 (+0.47%) ] made a compelling argument: the more people with access to a book, the more revenue authors and publishers stood to gain. While that might be true, it wasn't Google's decision to make. And the company's opt-out policy—instead of asking permission, we're just gonna do it unless you tell us not to—was icing on the cake.

When Google started digitizing entire libraries at a time, ludicrous reached an entirely new level.

It would seem that Google has finally come to its senses, and both sides in this two-year dispute, which cuts to the core of Google's business and how it displays search results, will be the winners.

That's because writers are indeed seeing the writing on the wall: their world is going digital in the same way music and movies did before them. Look no further than last week's Oprah Winfrey show where Oprah herself, the driving force behind turbo-charging the publishing industry with her Book Club, proclaimed's electronic book reader "Kindle" as her most favorite thing. Ever! Jeff Bezos sat in the audience, beaming, having just announced in the company's third quarter earnings that 185,000 titles are now available for the device.

The Google settlement comes at a key time for the company, and represents a huge win for rights holders, authors, and other intellectual property owners. You have to wonder whether the company's long-running feud with Viacom [VIA 21.93 1.60 (+7.87%) ]over YouTube is on the settlement list next. Its recent agreement with CBS might be a hint of more cooperation to come between Google and the rest of the entertainment world. Guys, there's lots of money to be made here, but it takes cooperation. That it has taken Google this long to realize that is kind of stunning.

Paul Aikin, executive director of the Author's Guild, called this the "biggest book deal ever" on this morning's conference call. He said that his group had a fundamental disagreement with Google, and "probably always would."

For its part, Google's Chief Legal Officer David Drummond said on the conference call that Google was built on making the world's information more accessible. He didn't say it, but I would offer: A noble goal that carries a price tag.

Google will pay a staggering $125 million to settle this case. Staggering for publishers, chump change for Google. But it's a start. It's a clear victory for writers and publishers, and should serve as a wake-up call to Google that even though a company is built on new technology, it still sometimes has to play by the old rules.

Questions? Comments?

© 2008 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Original here

The possibilities of a 'portable eye'

By Scott Kirsner

The KNFB Reader lets users photograph printed material, then reads it back. The KNFB Reader lets users photograph printed material, then reads it back. (George Rizer/ Globe Staff)

When Peter Alan Smith pulls out his phone in a crowded Back Bay restaurant, there's no clue that his Nokia is by far the most expensive mobile phone in the entire place. He has about $2,400 in software loaded onto the $600 device.

But then it becomes apparent what's unique about Smith's phone: A flash goes off when he snaps a picture of the menu, and a few seconds later, his phone has translated the page of text into speech, and started reciting the options through his earpiece at a rapid clip.

Smith developed a degenerative eye disease when he was 18, and he is now legally blind. It has been about two decades since he could read a restaurant menu independently. He first heard about the phone on a podcast series called "Blind Cool Tech" and took out a low-interest loan to buy it.

"At work, I can take a picture of two different documents to figure out which is which," says Smith, who works for John Hancock. "At home, if I'm making chili, I can take a picture of a can to make sure it's the kidney beans before I open it."

The software that translates the text in high-resolution digital photos into speech is made by KNFB Reading Technologies Inc. in Wellesley Hills. It was developed by Ray Kurzweil, the local inventor who has been coming up with technological breakthroughs for the blind since the mid-1970s. But as with many of his innovations, Kurzweil plans for the software to be useful - perhaps incredibly useful - to sighted users in a few years from now.

Kurzweil released his first reading machine, developed in partnership with the National Federation for the Blind, in 1976; on the day it was unveiled, TV anchor Walter Cronkite used its speech synthesizer as he signed off the air. The device could scan printed pages, decipher the letters, and speak the words aloud. It was about the size of a washing machine and cost $50,000. Stevie Wonder bought the first production model, Kurzweil recalls.

In the decades that followed, much of the scanning and speech technology Kurzweil developed evolved into the scanners and scanning software now built into many printers and PCs. Burlington-based Nuance Communications Inc. sells several software products originally created by Kurzweil to convert printed documents into text.

In 2002, the president of the National Federation of the Blind asked Kurzweil about portable reading technology; though his reading machine had gotten smaller, it still resided on a desktop. "There's a lot of printed material that you don't want to bring back to your desk - or you can't - like a sign on a wall or a bank ATM display," Kurzweil says.

Kurzweil predicted a pocket-size reading machine was only about six years away. Kurzweil and the federation began collaborating to develop the necessary software. It had to be smart enough to interpret a photo taken at any angle, in any sort of lighting, with random images sometimes in the background.

An interim device, released in 2006, married a Canon digital camera with a personal digital assistant; it sold for $3,500. The cellphone version debuted earlier this year. It works only on a Nokia N82 phone, which features a built-in 5-megapixel camera, with flash. The camera offers spoken feedback to the user as to whether it has captured the entire page. After about 20 or 30 seconds of processing the image and turning it into text, it starts speaking. The standard phone with software sells for $2,145, but also includes a talking GPS system, and the ability to read any Web page to its user, among other features. (It's also good at identifying the denominations on printed money.)

James Gashel, vice president of business development for KNFB Reading Technologies, is also a user of the device. "I don't use it to read books," he says, "but I use it for the daily mail, business cards, and brochures. I was at a Catholic men's retreat over the weekend, and I used it to read the schedule."

Gashel says there are about 1.3 million blind people in the United States; since February, the company has sold "thousands" of the readers, he says. But the population of dyslexics is about three times larger. A new version of the mobile phone reader will soon be available that is targeted to them. "These are people who can see print, but have difficulty tracking from word to word," Gashel says. "So this new version of the software helps people whose problem is that they get lost in a series of words on a page."

Still more intriguing is how the phone might assist other users. A prototype in Kurzweil's lab is able to photograph a document in any of seven different languages and translate it into English, Kurzweil says he has demonstrated it in public appearances, taking a photo of text in French and having the phone read it in English. It sounds a bit like Douglas Adams's fictional Babel fish - a universal translator.

"We call it 'snap and translate,' " he says. How soon will it be available? "Two or three years," says Kurzweil, adding that he is talking to cellphone manufacturers. "We also have a prototype of speech to speech translation, where you can speak in one language and have it come out in another," he says. "Right now, that requires a bit more computation than a cellphone can support," though he notes that phones are getting more powerful each year.

As it turned out, Smith didn't really need to have his phone read the menu to him last month at the Parish Cafe. He had been to the restaurant several years ago and remembered eating a tasty steak sandwich. So that's what he ordered, and we spent the meal talking about his experiences running the Boston Marathon and his tandem cycling hobby. He says he uses the reader several times a day, about equally at home and at work. He told me he's amazed by what the KNBF software can do - "it's a portable eye, essentially" - but that he's hoping the cost will come down, so more blind and visually impaired people can afford it. "The cost is prohibitive," he says.

Gashel says, "I think the cost of the phone will come down as the product expands in terms of who it can reach. The bigger the customer base, the more we can bring the price down." Still, he says, $2,100 isn't that expensive when it comes to technology for the blind. He says he recently purchased a personal digital assistant that can render phone numbers and appointments in Braille, for $4,500, and also paid $5,500 for a flat-screen TV. "And I can't even see it," he quips. "But the people who come to my house seem to like it."

Scott Kirsner can be reached at

Original here

The Beatles Go Digital—Finally!

Posted By:Jim Goldman

The Beatles
The Beatles

Today will mark an auspicious day for the music business, and maybe the first big hint that the Beatles may finally be on the way to Apple's iTunes.

That's a big leap of faith but hear me out: The Beatles' label Apple Corps will join MTV for a splashy, London-based news announcement to unveil plans to bring the Beatles' catalogue to the wildly popular Rock Band video game. These two groups have been trying to hammer out details for months, and it appears they've finally come together (yes, pun intended.)

The reason this is so much bigger than merely MTV scoring the world's most valuable music catalogue is that it signals a monumental shift by Apple Corps to begin to embrace digital distribution. And that could mean a new opening for more discussions with Apple Inc.[AAPL 111.04 6.49 (+6.21%) ] and its iTunes music service, since the Beatles are still so conspicuously absent from the world's most popular music store.

Video games Rock Band and Guitar Hero have both become musical juggernauts of their own, becoming the new distribution method of choice, not just for classic bands looking for a second life for their classic songs but for new bands trying to get their new songs directly to fans. And it has worked liked a charm. Just ask Motley Crue and other bands who have seen album sales spike exponentially by going the video games route, seeing sales far stronger than anything they've tried on iTunes or

Viacom's [VIA 21.93 1.60 (+7.87%) ]MTV has seen a boon from all this: Rock Band has sold well over 10 million songs so far, and with only 100 available, that's an average 100,000 downloads each. Activision's[ATVI 12.71 0.71 (+5.92%) ] Guitar Hero has sold 15 million songs. These are numbers just too huge for even the Beatles to ignore.

Still, the Beatles' label has been terribly reluctant to do anything digital, even though its individual members have all embraced iTunes as solo artists. The animosity between Apple Inc. and Apple Corps has been covered endlessly, mostly because it's gone on for decades. The two sides did settle their legal differences, though personal issues probably still linger. Which has likely been the road block to a more sweeping partnership between them.

And in the process, Apple Corps has said "no" to just about anything digital.

But Apple Corps sees the momentum, the evolution, the revolution of digital music and may finally be willing to step out of the shadows. Rock Band poses an enormous digital distribution platform.

AC/DC, also reluctant to do anything digital, just signed a deal with Rock Band with its new 18 song "TrackPack." AC/DC is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, boasting its first Number 1 album in years, even though it's being distributed exclusively by Wal-Mart[WMT 54.75 -0.27 (-0.49%) ]. Sales should continue to roll as Rock Band keeps interest in AC/DC high.

Could AC/DC be coming to iTunes next? Could the Beatles? Some might say that instead of good news for iTunes, the Rock Band developments are actually a threat to Apple Inc.; that iTunes was once the best way for the music industry to reach fans, but that now there are many other, possibly equal or better distribution routes to take. That Rock Band won't increase interest in digital distribution; that it will steal business from Apple's iTunes instead.

I disagree. The more the merrier. The Beatles going Rock Band shows a new flexibility by Apple Corps to exploit new technology. That has to be good for a potential deal with iTunes as well.

Update: And for those of you who just can't wait for the Beatles to get to iTunes officially, Bloomingdales has taken the initiative with a Beatles deal all its own. Check this out.

Questions? Comments?

© 2008 CNBC, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Original here

Axiotron Modservice takes your sad, disused Macbook, converts it into swanky new tablet

by Laura June

If you happen to have a spare MacBook lying around, and you're at all intrigued by Axiotron's ModBook tablets, you'll probably be stoked to hear that the company is now taking orders on their website to convert personal MacBooks into the devices. Prices start at around $1,300 -- far less than buying a new one, which go for a base price of $2,290. Modification kits are being sent out to a network of authorized modders, the nearest of which will contact you once you place your order to set up an appointment for the so-called "transformation." You're totally out of luck, however, if you were looking to have your brand new, aluminum MacBook "transformed" because they're apparently "too cool" to submit to the keyboard denuding-degradation Axiotron requires. As if.

Original here

Thursday, October 30, 2008

P2Pnet Wins Landmark ‘Hyperlinking” Case

p2pnetWayne Crookes, a former Green Party organizer, had sued p2pnet claiming that the news site defamed him by merely linking to articles he didn’t agree with. With the freedom of online speech at stake, the case was heard by the British Columbia Supreme Court.

In the decision, Judge Stephen Kelleher disagreed with Crookes, as he ruled that linking to other websites does not amount to publication. Since ‘publication’ is needed to prove defamation, Crookes simply has no case. Judge Kelleher writes in the decision: “Although a hyperlink provides immediate access to material published on another website, this does not amount to republication of the content on the originating site. This is especially so as a reader may or may not follow the hyperlinks provided.”

This is a landmark decision for freedom of speech on the Internet. It goes even further though, since it is not limited to blogs and news outlets. The judge made it very clear that a hyperlink does not equal publication. This means that the current ruling might be relevant to copyright cases involving BitTorrent sites as well, since they merely link to files and do not host any copyrighted content themselves.

P2Pnet owner Jon Newton told TorrentFreak that he is delighted with the decision. “This is a significant victory for all Canadians, and for freedom of speech online. Because if Crookes had triumphed, the ‘net in Canada would to all intents and purposes have been killed stone dead,” he said, while showing appreciation for the quality of his legal representation. “My Lawyer, Dan Burnett, did a great job. He’s extremely smart and genuinely committed and I was extremely lucky to have him acting for me.”

Crookes has clearly lost this battle, but he is not done yet, as he is still involved in lawsuits with Google, Yahoo! and several weblogs including Michal Geist’s. For now things are looking good for our freedom of speech online, let’s hope it stays that way.

The Facebook layoffs

Mark Zuckerberg's college-spawned startup is supposed to hire its 1,000th employee sometime this year. I don't think that's going to happen. If Zuckerberg isn't talking about layoffs behind closed doors, one of his executives must be brave enough to bring it up. I don't think the company is going to issue pink slips. But I do think its headlong growth in employees will come crashing to a halt before the end of the year.

Here's some back of the envelope math on Facebook's burn rate. Figure the company's operating expenses are divided roughly half in labor, half in operations like running its servers. Count $100,000 in salary and benefits per employee, and double that in overhead; double that again to account for the company's non-labor costs. You end up with an annual cost structure of $400 million. Facebook's revenues for this year are projected to be $300 million to $350 million; if the company isn't already operating in the red, it's headed there fast.

Microsoft's $240 million investment? Most of that is already gone towards buying servers — and it's not like Facebook can't stop buying servers as usage of its site continues to boom.

Publicly, Zuckerberg has talked about the company making growth its priority. But a $400 million a year ship can sink fast, especially if the advertising market faces a hard contraction and media buyers cut back on their more experimental ad buys. And none of Facebook's new ad formats have proven to be a breakout hit, as Google's AdWords was earlier this decade.

That's why I think Facebook's braintrust is talking about whether they can afford to keep hiring — and whether they need to cull their existing ranks.

Here's where Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, the law-and-order type Zuckerberg hired from Google, comes in. She's already made hiring considerably more bureaucratic, instituting new requirements straight out of the Googleplex, like a 3.5 GPA from a top school.

Getting strict on recruiting is just the start. Facebookers should expect to see more rules, rules, rules. And even the slightest violation will prove cause for firing — especially for employees who are within weeks of vesting their first batch of stock options, which only come after a year on the job.

Sandberg's very savvy about keeping up appearances. Google thrived in part because, in the darkest days of the dotcom crash, from 2001 through 2003, it was the only company hiring. Until it bought DoubleClick, Google had never done a layoff. That's part of Google's image, and I'm sure Sandberg wants it to be part of Facebook's image, too.

So we won't hear about a Facebook hiring freeze. We certainly won't hear about layoffs. Whatever happens will be quiet: Candidates won't get called back about jobs they applied for. Managers will find their hiring requests tied up in bureaucracy. And employees will quietly box up their things and go.

The sad thing is that those Facebookers will think they screwed up. They won't even have the saving grace of a layoff — the corporate kiss-off that says, "Hey, kid, chin up — it's not you, it's me." A layoff would be the honest thing. But it's the one cost-cutting move Facebook can't afford.

Tech Watch: Apple and Google Work on iPhone, Gay Marriage

In the midst of Google’s Android mobile phone rollout, the company seems to be in lockstep with its new competitor, iPhone-maker Apple. The companies have been collaborating to get more Google features on the iPhone than ever before, and they’ve also made headlines for both lobbying against ballot Proposition 8, which could amend California’s constitution to preclude gay marriage.

Apple seeded its new iPhone firmware to developers this week, Version 2.2 beta 2, both impressing and aggravating users everywhere. Apple clearly worked closely with Google to expand the Maps application, which now includes full-screen Street View in addition to the existing map and satellite views. The driving directions function now also includes options for pedestrian and public transit directions, subsuming detailed maps of several cities’ entire subway systems in the process.

Less encouraging are the features that are still missing from the device, even after long months of user feedback: copy/paste functionality hasn’t been added, and neither has landscape email viewing, or the ability to receive multimedia messages with photos or video. Another missing piece of the firmware: the ability for third party apps to receive “push” notifications, or run in the background.

Google has also released a new Google Earth application for the iPhone, available through iTunes, that brings the beloved mind-blowing software down to palm-sized (albeit somewhat WiFi-reliant) scale. The iPhone software is similar to its full-grown version, but adds multi-touch zooming and accelerometer functionality; turning the phone allows the on-screen view to pan and tilt. Google has also added Wikipedia and Panoramio entries overlaid on the maps, so that points of interest are presented nearby when the phone’s GPS locates itself on the map.

But Google and Apple aren’t just working on hardware and software -- the two tech giants are also pushing a social agenda in California by donating $140,000 and $100,000 respectively to opponents of ballot Proposition 8. The amendment would legally define marriage as between a man and a woman, and would invalidate even existing same-sex marriages in California.

Apple currently allows equal rights and benefits to employees’ same-sex partners, and has made public statements of opposition to the amendment, which is being brought to a vote due to petitioning by evangelical activists and the Mormon Church. Google has made a similar public statement as Apple’s.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said earlier this year, "While we respect the strongly held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 – we should not eliminate anyone's fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.”

Voting on Prop 8 will occur on November 4th, alongside the presidential ballot, ensuring that Prop 8 will see record voter turnout.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Psystar introduces Blu-ray bag of hurt to its Mac clones

There may be an ongoing lawsuit between the two companies, but that's not stopping Mac clone maker Psystar from moving forward with new product plans without Apple's approval. The company proudly announced today that it is now shipping "Mac OS X-compatible PCs" with Blu-ray drives as well as NVIDIA 9800GT graphics cards. Why does anyone care? Psystar makes a point to say that it is introducing both of these technologies into Mac-compatible computers long before Apple has done so in its own machines.

You may remember earlier this month, when Steve Jobs said on stage that Blu-ray was a "bag of hurt" thanks to millions of licensing hoops. Apple wasn't ready to burden its users with a technology that may or may not be sticking around. Psystar president Rudy Pedraza completely disagrees, however. "Blu-ray has already won the format war. Not only is there fully functional and mature support for Blu-ray in other operating systems but you can now rent Blu-ray discs from almost any rental chain," Pedraza said in a statement. "Blu-ray has become pervasive technology that is being widely adopted by consumers everywhere."

Psystar points out that Apple has "chosen to delay support for Blu-ray," but customers looking for an OS X system with Blu-ray compatibility can now buy Psystar machines. Technically speaking, though, there are a handful of third-party Blu-ray drives made for the Mac that users can install into their Mac Pros, so it's not like a Psystar PC is the only way to get Blu-ray on a "Mac." You can really only use Toast 9 to burn to Blu-ray under the Mac, but what else can you do? It's not like Psystar is going to introduce magical OS support for Blu-ray under Leopard. Therefore, we say "BFD" to this announcement.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Apple users rage over missing FireWire

Apple customers unhappy that the company dropped FireWire from its newest notebooks are venting their frustrations on the company's support forum in several hundred messages.
Within minutes of Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrapping up a launch event in California, users started several threads on the company's support forum blasting the omission of a FireWire port on the new MacBook laptop.

"Apple really screwed up with no FireWire port," said Russ Tolman, who inaugurated a thread that collected more than 200 messages and had been viewed over 5,000 times.

"No MacBook with [FireWire] - no new MacBook for me," added Simon Meyer in another message.

The two new MacBook configurations, which are priced at US$1,299 and US$1,599, include a pair of USB 2.0 ports, as did earlier models, but lack the FireWire 400 port their predecessors boasted.

FireWire is Apple's name for the IEEE 1394 interface and data transfer specification. Ironically, Apple has been one of the biggest boosters of the spec and was one of the primary drivers of the technology when it began development in the late 1980s.

Apple first added FireWire to its computers in early 1999, when Jobs - who had returned three years earlier to the company he co-founded - unveiled the technology at a MacWorld Conference and Expo. "Think of FireWire as USB, but rather than running at 12 megabits-per-second it's running at 400 megabits-per-second," said Jobs then. "And it's already an industry standard."

Many of the users who posted messages this week said that they were photographers, videographers or musicians who relied on FireWire to connect hardware ranging from cameras to drum kits. Others were disappointed that the new MacBooks could not be connected to their current FireWire external hard drives.

Several mentioned that FireWire's disappearance meant that the new MacBooks could not be connected to other Macs using Target Disk Mode (TDM), a procedure that's often used as a last resort to retrieve files from a dead system. TDM is also used by Apple's Migration Assistant, a utility that copies files and settings from one Mac to another.

Although the upper-end MacBook Pro - which Apple also revamped and relaunched Tuesday - includes a FireWire 800 port, users bemoaned the FireWire loss on the more affordable MacBook models.

"Dropping FireWire from the MacBook only serves to force people into buying the MacBook Pro," said a user identified as "miniconvert" yesterday.

"I don't need a backlit keyboard, 15" screen or any of the other small things the Pro model provides. I'm perfectly happy sacrificing a little bit in speed to save a lot of cash. I need FireWire so I can take videos of my kid off my SD camcorder and then upload to YouTube, put on a DVD or what ever I'd like to do."

Apple unveiled its new lineup of laptop Macs earlier this month. They are carved from blocks of aluminum for strength and lower costs, and equipped with powerful graphics chipsets.

The new MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air designs are intended to build on Apple's fast-growing sales in the notebook market. Executives say Apple has now over 17% of the US retail notebook market and has supplanted Dell as the market leader in the all-important education market, at 39%.

All the new notebooks use a manufacturing technique developed for the original MacBook Air: instead of starting with an aluminum frame and bolting in parts, Apple starts with a 2.5-pound block of aluminum, which is carved out and shaped to receive parts. The result is a very light but extremely strong and rigid body, a design that also uses far fewer parts than previous Apple notebooks.

The new MacBook now has an LED backlight display, a sleek multi-touch glass trackpad,and new graphics based on the Nvidia GeForce 9400M chip, which combines the chipset and graphics processing unit in a single die. Apple says the result is five times faster than conventional integrated graphics designs, delivering 54 gigaflops of performance.

There are two models of MacBook, one with a 13.3-inch display, 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, the Nvidia chip, and a 160GB hard drive, priced at about US$1,300. For US$300 more, you get the backlit display, a 2.4GHz Intel CPU, and 250GBs of disk.

The two new MacBook Pro models include two Nvidia graphics chipsets: the embedded 9400M, with about five hours of battery life, and the GeForce 9600M, with about 4 hours, as a separate part, for a total of 125 gigaflops of performance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stoners, Vegans and a Junky Elephant Conquer BitTorrent

wikipedia englishA reviewer at The Times called it a “misanthropic and foul-mouthed movie” containing “the first graphic depiction of sexual intercourse between two CGI cartoon characters”. Hmmm, maybe not the first, but nevertheless the reviewer concludes “Like everything else in the film, a British-Norwegian co-production, it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.”

And that was one of the kind reviews. It’s fair to say that “Free Jimmy” hasn’t been well received by the British press reviewers, even though it features voice-overs from the likes of Woody Harrelson and Simon Pegg. So, does this mean that the movie has to fade away into obscurity? Not at all.

‘Free Jimmy’ was released previously in Norwegian language and features four stoners, five vegans, three mobsters and four hunters competing to free a malnourished and circus-enslaved Russian junkie elephant. Which element the British press objected to most is debatable but what is clear, though, is that even if Fleet Street’s finest think the movie is dire, not everyone does. Time Out called it “undeniably touching, poignant” and Internet pirates seems to like the prospect of animated sex, drugs and violence too. Quite a bit in fact.

The producer of the movie, Lars Hellebust, told Dagbladet that the UK distributor, in contrast to his own feelings, was pretty upset that the movie was being heartily pirated on the Internet: “The distributor in England called and was despairing over the fact that thousands of people had downloaded it, but I just said ‘Great!’”

It seems that Lars appreciates that, even though the critics have been a bit sniffy, there are other avenues to be explored when trying to get exposure. Lars says that the more people discuss the movie, the greater its potential audience and in this case, file-sharing really can be a useful promotional tool. So just how much exposure is this movie getting on BitTorrent?

Although ‘Free Jimmy’ only came out officially in the UK on October 17th 2008, it has been available on the trackers in DVDRIP form for roughly 500 days (16 months) already, clocking up very nearly 500,000 downloads. Clearly the presence of stoners, four letter words or even vegans in a movie isn’t enough to put pirates off. Hell no. The most popular pirate version of the movie came from the one and only aXXo, and those releases are always hot, no matter what the critics say.

However, Lars is still optimistic that people will dig deep. “If they really like it they won’t be satisfied just owning a computer file, they will also buy the DVD,” he said with his fingers crossed, hoping that any of the early downloaders can remember the movie from more than 16 months ago.

An official DVD will be released in time for Christmas. Just don’t send one to the kids.

Spare a thought for ‘Anne‘, the last remaining circus elephant kept captive in the UK, and forced to work in grim conditions for the last 50 years.