December 31, 2008

Via Web-Intercept Splash Page, TV Station Accused of "Hostage Taking"

Greetings. Well, we're at the end of another really fun year, and just like the routine Fall fires we had here in L.A. recently, we're now being treated to yet another round of cable carriage disputes. But some new techniques are being used to editorialize about them this time.

You've already no doubt heard that Time Warner Cable (my happy local cable TV provider, as it happens) is threatening to pull all Viacom channels off air at midnight tonight over a contract dispute. Some observers speculate that if TW follows through on this, they may unwittingly help drive more subscribers to online TV offerings. Of course TW is ready for that eventuality with their upcoming bandwidth caps.

But there are other similar disputes, including one between BendBroadband of Oregon and KFXO-TV. This morning I received a screenshot of what greeted a BendBroadband Internet subscriber today -- a long message embodied in a "splash" screen that intercepted his initial attempt to reach an unrelated Web site.

In general, I view ISP stand-alone "splash" pages, which don't modify other pages, nor prepend (or append) themselves onto other pages, as a lessor evil when it comes to ISP alterations of user Web browsing. In this case though, BendBroadband went way beyond a simple service-related informational message stating that a dispute exists, and instead used their PerfTech intercept system for a long editorial tirade that included accusing KFXO of holding programming "hostage" for commercial gain.

As it turns out, the intercept page is currently accessible outside of BendBroadband's service space, so you can see it for yourself (I've replaced the original user's URL with the NNSquad home page for this example).

One assumes that KFXO wasn't offered equal time for a response in the same manner.

BendBroadband appears to have clearly gone "over the top" in this case, and has provided an object lesson demonstrating how easily such IP interception capabilities can be abused.

And so it goes ...

Best wishes for 2009!


Posted by Lauren at 01:30 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 29, 2008

"Puff, the Magic Dragon" Responds to RNC Obama Parody

Greetings and Happy Holidays! Beloved Puff, the Magic Dragon has been dragged into the political spotlight, courtesy of a highly questionable parody song targeting President-elect Obama's race. The parody was distributed along with other materials by a candidate for the post of Republican National Committee chairman. Mean-spirited and bad taste at the very least. As if poor Puff hasn't had enough problems since that ingrate Jackie Paper deserted him ...

Especially notable is that Puff himself has responded to this chain of events, via Peter Yarrow -- co-author of the original 1963 folk song.

It's an interesting read.

All the best for 2009!


Posted by Lauren at 01:04 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 23, 2008

Massive Embezzlement Case Involving Fry's Electronics

Greetings. I dare say that many of us have a love/hate relationship with Fry's Electronics, and their massive, themed stores. There are several of them here in the L.A. area, and my favorite is the SciFi themed (the UFO crashed into the building!) site in Burbank (apologies for the horrid cell phone camera photo -- from more than four years ago -- at the link). The store a few minutes from me in the West San Fernando Valley is themed to Alice in Wonderland throughout.

Fry's has always seemed to have a highly disciplined, very much top-down management style -- to say the least. If you've been there, you know what I mean. Fry's has been the "go to" place for immediate access electronics parts for many years.

Now comes word that the single individual reported to be ultimately responsible for merchandise stocking at all Fry's has been arrested in a $65M embezzlement case, complete with gambling debts and private jets to Vegas.

And that's no white rabbit.


Posted by Lauren at 09:20 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 22, 2008

The Corporate Crooks Picking Our Pockets (as Rome Burns)

Greetings. I've never flown on a private jet. I assume that they're very nice. I have flown in a small private prop plane once many, many years ago. I felt like I was in an original Volkswagen Bug with wings. I didn't enjoy it.

I also flew several times in Digital Equipment Corp's helicopters eons back, when they had their own gate labeled "digital" at Logan. You'll recall DEC used the choppers to bounce people between their various local facilities. It was fascinating. DEC of course made some bad business decisions and no longer exists (twice removed!)

The news channels are all abuzz about how the banks who received the bailout billions are still paying and perking their execs like happy days are here again, and their fleets of corporate jets are still crisscrossing the skies. Meanwhile, many in Congress wanted the auto companies to file chapter 11 -- as if most people would buy a car from a company that had done so -- fat chance. Today we hear that the Japanese auto firms, which Congress kept pointing to as their example of doing things right, are also in trouble. Darn it, there goes that talking point, Congressman Blather.

For those of us who live hand to mouth, for whom a trip to Target or Walmart is a somewhat special treat, and just keeping the utilities running is a continuing nightmare, the attitudes of the "privileged class" with their limos and chauffeurs are as far removed from our daily existence as Alpha Centauri.

Don't get me wrong. If someone has earned their money in a useful way they should be free to spend it in any legal manner that they wish. If they want to buy a 767 and convert it into a flying techno-party platform, more power to them. Their money, their choices.

But it's a different story when corporate funds are involved, especially at companies who are not doing well, not to mention firms who have had to beg the taxpayers to keep them from drowning in the muck of their own bad decisions.

The behavior of the banking industry in the current financial crisis, in league with Treasury and Congress, is perhaps the best recent example of how a certain class of persons feel that they have special positions of entitlement, that they're just better than the hoi polloi with whom they mix as little as possible. Particularly noteworthy are the excuses made that even as their very existence has come to depend on the government bailout, these firms are still flying their jets, claiming that "security requirements" make that necessary for their execs.

Of course in most cases that's a flat out lie. They simply don't want to rub shoulders with the unwashed masses in overloaded security lines, cramped terminals, and commercial jets. At least be honest about it, for goodness sake! And if you can't stand flying with the ordinary folks, at least use your personal money to escalate into the private jet regime. Now we, the taxpayers, are paying for those private flights for the banking elite -- and don't buy for a split second their new excuse that they're using "different money" for the planes.

The spending of corporate monies in such wasteful manners is difficult to condone even in good times. It's impossible to condone in "ordinary" bad times. And in times like today, it's simply criminal.

We need to convert some "perk talk" into "perp walks" ...


Posted by Lauren at 04:54 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 18, 2008

Free Turn-By-Turn Navigation Comes to Google Android G1! But ...

Greetings. Some of the most impenetrable complexities relating to technology, computing and the Internet, are the maze of twisty little passages comprising intellectual property licensing. But open development regimes often win out nonetheless.

A couple of months ago I discussed the controversy over the specific prohibitions against turn-by-turn navigation systems imposed by the Google Android SDK -- specifically relating to the Google Maps API. Similar restrictions exist in the iPhone SDK, by the way. I speculated at the time that these prohibitions were related to underlying licensing restrictions associated with the mapping data sources, and noted that I expected definitive word on this from Google.

Unfortunately, I have (so far) been unable to get what I would characterize as a "substantive" explanation from Google on this score. The official word I've received is merely a restatement of the prohibition that we already know about. I won't speculate here on why Google isn't more forthcoming about this matter, though I do have my ideas. It's likely an uncomfortable situation for Google, given their very significant dedication to open source, not only in Android, but in many other areas as well.

However, since the Android prohibition relates to use of Google Map data for turn-by-turn systems, the door is still open for Android applications that use other, unfettered mapping data.

And in fact, a turn-by-turn navigation program for Android has appeared via this route (no pun intended, of course).

Specifically, we now have AndNav2 -- which is currently available as an Alpha release. To avoid the licensing entanglements described above, AndNav2 -- which looks like it will ultimately be quite a feature-rich program indeed -- uses free mapping data from OpenStreetMap -- a collaborative global mapping project.

I noted that there was a "But ..." in all this, and here it comes. As you might expect at this relatively early stage, the breadth and depth of "open source" mapping data is more limited in some respects vis-a-vis commercial data -- though this is reportedly changing rapidly.

Another issue is that while apparently U.S. mapping data has been prepared, it won't be made available to AndNav2 users until the authors (who are actively collecting donations to help support this currently free program) have sufficient -- actually quite minimal it appears -- funds to provide server capacity for the U.S. Right now only parts of Europe are fully served for street-level navigation through the program.

How well AndNav2 will work in practice on a large scale remains to be seen. But if you're interested in Android G1 turn-by-turn navigation (I certainly am) I urge you to take a look at the AndNav2 site and give them a hand if you can.

I certainly support the rights of intellectual property holders to protect their works. But I also support the rights of the public to collaborate and create open alternatives. AndNav2 appears to be a great example of the latter approach working creatively within the Internet arena.


Posted by Lauren at 03:09 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 15, 2008

Two Wacky Anti-Google Media Blasts: Neutrality and Search Horrors!

Greetings. With the elections over, and the year winding down as we continue (to quote Tom Lehrer) "sliding down the razor blade of life ..." -- it appears that some media outlets have decided that now's the time to try come up with some dirt on Google -- whether accurate or not isn't the issue, of course.

The big blowup was in today's Wall Street Journal, which published a story essentially claiming that Google and Lawrence Lessig had abandoned their network neutrality principles. In reality, it turns out that what I'll charitably call a "confused" WSJ was inappropriately commingling net neutrality with Google's desire to deploy "edge servers" for high volume content (e.g. YouTube) and so attempted -- falsely -- to portray Google as acting in a duplicitous manner.

Google quickly blogged a statement clarifying the situation, which was followed up by an AP story today as well. Lessig published his own retort.

Now, how could the "fair and balanced" Journal have made such a mistake? Oh wait, I'm sorry, that's the slogan for Fox News -- they're so easy to confuse since Murdoch bought the Journal!

Across the pond, The Register published a piece blasting Google for statements made by Google Search VP Marissa Mayer, suggesting that at some point in the future Google might use input from the user community to help modify obvious problems with particular search results listings.

It's been long known that despite diligent work by Google to try limit their impacts, the use of "Google bombing" and "Googlewashing" techniques by sites -- in attempts to unfairly skew search results -- are still continuing. This can cause obviously inappropriate results to be driven to the top, and meaningful organic results being suppressed. Even with the best tuning, autonomous algorithms can only go so far in blocking abusive techniques.

I for one find to be inappropriate any knee-jerk reactions against the concept of the tuning of search results based on the careful analysis of user input. I'm not saying that there aren't a bunch of potentially complex issues involved, including when such actions should be taken (my vote would be as infrequently as practicable) and to what extent such changes would be human-supervised to avoid "gaming actions" similar in concept to Google bombing/washing.

But overall, the concept of such tuning (and keep in mind that it's only a theoretical at this stage) has considerable potential merit -- if appropriately used -- to improve the user search experience.

Enough for now. Back to sliding down the razor blade, gang. The fun never stops.


Posted by Lauren at 01:11 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 10, 2008

Wikipedia Censorship Cancelled by British ("Oops!")

Greetings. A few days ago I expressed disdain regarding the censorship, by six British ISPs, of a Wikipedia page showing a three-decades-old image that a British "watchdog" group -- IWF (Internet Watch Foundation) -- had declared to be unacceptable.

The blocking of the Wikipedia page, about the 70s-era heavy metal album Virgin Killer reportedly had the side-effect of blocking anonymous Wikipedia editing by users of those ISPs, and had the perverse result of drawing global attention to the image of a young girl -- an image which is very widely available on servers throughout the world.

Today comes word that the IWF has backed down, admitting, in effect, that trying to block the Wikipedia page was an inappropriately dumb move that resulted in more people seeing the image in question than ever before!

I'm glad to hear that IWF has seen the error of their ways in this particular case. But this whole sorry saga demonstrates the continuing insanity of trying to censor the Internet, and especially of putting the power to declare materials as supposedly "verboten" in the hands of groups that ISPs then mindlessly obey. Not that the material really becomes unavailable to people who want to find it, but the hassle and collateral damage can be very real.

And seriously gang, essentially just saying "Oops -- never mind!" afterward isn't an acceptable procedure for Internet management -- and I use the term "management" very loosely indeed.

Just don't hold your breath hoping that the proponents of ISP-based and government-mandated Internet censorship learn the futility of their dreams from this example. It seems that there's just no successful arguing with magical thinking -- not even in the 21st century. But we gotta keep trying.


Posted by Lauren at 04:09 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

CNN: Marine Corps Still Hasn't Called Survivor of Jet Crash

Greetings. By now you've no doubt heard the horrifying story of the family in San Diego that was all but wiped out Monday by a Marine Corps F/A-18D fighter jet training flight that lost power and crashed into their house in a residential area, killing a mother, her two infants (one only 15-months old), and their grandmother.

Dong Yun Yoon -- husband and sole survivor of the family since he was at work when the crash occurred -- has publicly held the pilot blameless, and called the pilot a "treasure' in defense of the U.S. (Yoon is a U.S. citizen originally from Korea).

Yet Yoon's disbelief and pain at the events are obvious, and calls of support have been coming in to the church where he worships -- from around the world. As he spoke, Marine Corps jets continued to loudly streak overhead in a flight pattern that has concerned residents for many years.

CNN reported today that apparently one phone call still hasn't come through to Yoon -- a call from the Marine Corps themselves.

If this is actually true, it's nothing less than absolutely shameful behavior on the part of the Corps. Accidents can happen and responsibility will be ascertained, but to not have even contacted Yoon directly by this time seems incomprehensible. I hope that the CNN report is in error.


Posted by Lauren at 02:44 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 07, 2008

Brits' Failed Heavy Metal Censorship Attempt Disrupts Wikipedia Edits

Greetings. Today we're handed yet another in a veritable cornucopia of examples showing why attempts to censor the Internet may disrupt and hassle, but can't really effectively block anything, and frequently have exactly the opposite of the intended effect.

In this case, we learn how a British watchdog group flagged a Wikipedia article about a heavy metal album -- Scorpionsí "Virgin Killer" -- which features a naked prepubescent girl on the cover (partially obscured by a "broken glass" effect).

Six British ISPs, who seem to slavishly follow the edicts of the group in question, blocked all access to the associated Wikipedia page by running Wikipedia through filtering proxies, which had the side effect of breaking some forms of Wikipedia editing, apparently due to the proxies showing all users as coming from single IP addresses.

And of course, this action has now generated far more interest in that album cover than would ever have likely otherwise been the case, and naturally that image can be located trivially and virtually instantly as a multitude of copies at any number of image search sites. It took me less than 15 seconds to find it at a non-Wikipedia source just now. Anyone in Britain can easily do the same thing.

Whether or not the image in question is viewed as offensive, the utter stupidity and futility of attempting to block such materials on the Internet has been demonstrated again and again -- and the collateral damage that can be caused by such attempts is made ever more clear.

These are technological realities that cannot be effectively changed by political posturing or "magic" filters, regardless of how upsetting we may individually find any particular Internet content to be. The sooner that we accept this fact, and understand that the traditional mechanisms of top-down content control are no longer relevant in today's world of global communications, the sooner we can move on to dealing with society's real problems in manners that are truly effective, rather than just useless "feel good" flotsam and jetsam.


Blog Update (12/10/08): Wikipedia Censorship Cancelled by British ("Oops!")

Posted by Lauren at 03:04 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

December 02, 2008

T-Mobile Likely to Establish 10 GB Data Cap

Update: This cap appears to already be official, though perhaps not yet enforced. The 10 GB limit is present as text deep in T-Mobile's Terms and Conditions page, listed in the "Protective Measures" section. Note that the limit is specified as being "subject to change" -- T-Mobile suggests that you check periodically for updates. The T&C document is dated June 28, 2008, but we know that the controversy over T-Mobile's earlier 1 GB limit came after that date, so presumably we're looking at some sort of dating confusion or conflict between this T&C doc and the original T-Mobile 3G document that specified a 1 GB cap.

Greetings. Back in T-Mobile Caves on 1 GB 3G Data Limit for HTC G1 Google Android Phone, I discussed how T-Mobile had retracted their published hard-limited (per billing cycle) 1 GB 3G data cap. After reaching this cap, users' data would reportedly have been severely throttled.

Rumors have been circulating for some time that a new cap of 10 GB was likely.

A source inside T-Mobile is now apparently confirming this speculation.


Posted by Lauren at 09:27 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein