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Thursday, April 28, 2005

They Missed One . . .

NBC joins the "please-won't-somebody-save-us-from-ourselves" movement by putting little letters next to show listings to indicate whether the content is (mindlessly) violent, sexually explicit(boring) etc. I'm confused by "fantasy violence." What the hell does that mean? Smurf-on-Smurf violence? Tinkerbell blowing away Bambi with an AK-47? I wonder if these content ratings are used by cynical advertisers? ("Heavy ads on all 'v', go light on 'fantasy violence' because nobody watches 'StarTrek' shows anymore...)

I want "I" for "insipd -- content you wouldn't inflict on the comatose..."

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Finally, some ink on a major annoyance . . .
Today's SFGate has a story highlighting one of my pet peeves. Check it out here.

Our humble household receives, on average, three catalogs a month from Victoria's Secret. What's really interesting is that I don't think my wife's ever bought anything from the catalog. She's an in-store type shopper.

But, hey, anything that helps educate the direct marketers of the world is OK by me. I hope they're deeply embarassed and ashamed. As they should be...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Apple's "Trade Secrets"

Much ink has been spilled in the name of journalistic hand-wringing regarding Apple's legal efforts to find out who leaked information about a forthcoming product called "asteroid."

Nice provocative article in the LA Times. Hiltzik makes some interesting points in defending the online journalists in question and arguing that they and their sources deserve protection under the state's "shield law" and should not be forced to ID their sources for their stories.

While he, the judge, and Apple focused on the question of whether PowerPage's editors and reporters are journalists, I think the real issue is whether news/information about unreleased products is "in the public interest." (I oversimplify, but that's generally at the heart of these kinds of cases.)

Hiltzik argues that any information about any matter of interest to any sector of the "public," no matter how trivial, is in the public interest. He also argues that Apple's product plans and their release dates do not constitute "trade secrets." Neither Hiltzik nor I are lawyers (at least his bio in the LATimes does not indicate that he is an attorney), so I'd say it's rather specious for either one of us to make serious legal arguments.

As a matter of personal opinion, there is no public benefit for information about unreleased products save for those who would seek to gain unfair advantage by its release -- competitors, stock traders, for example. Exceptions: for information about products that might actually effect human health and safety e.g. genetically engineered crops etc.

Bravo for Hiltzik's defense of fellow journalists. (Disclosure: I was a daily reporter for 8 years and was threatened multiple times with being hauled into court to ID sources or turned over notes; and once I actually was hauled into court.)

In this instance, however, I can't buy his argument.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Casual Censorship, Vandalism or Protecting the Children ???

It seems that various "family values" politicians and a few clever technology companies managed to get the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 passed today. (Many stories but this is very good.) The bill essentially kills a lawsuit brought by directors against a company called ClearPlay. They sell software that skips through profane, violent or sexually explicit content being played on a DVD. Nice. Maybe ClearPlay can design some glasses for folks who walk through the Louvre or the Prada -- wouldn't want folks to get upset by any nekkid statues...Note: what's really at play here isn't so much the freedom to innovate with technology (the EFF's position), an important point, but not nearly as important the issue of a creator's "moral right." (A concept of copyright law, which is very narrowly applied in the U.S., that holds that a creator has some say about how his/her work is used by others.)

Innovation or tool of the anti-art, religious fundamentalists? Is there any difference between the "sanitizing" of "Saving Private Ryan," "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" (still one of the sweetest, funniest movies I've seen) and the Taliban blowing up the enormous ancient statues of Buddhas? I mean, dynamite aside... I've heard the folks at ClearPlay give their spiel at various industry conferences. If you don't watch movies with your kids, or you don't trust them, or you don't talk to them, then I suppose ClearPlay will make you rest easier. I suppose, also, if you want somebody else's art to conform to your particular world view, then I suppose a ClearPlay-enabled DVD is for you. I personally find it objectionable that our legislators find it important to get involved in a case that is already with a judge. And why am I not surpsied that Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is involved?

(What I really want is for somebody to give me ClearPlay-For-Reality. I just want the Bush Administration to be skipped over, as long as the next one isn't Dick Cheney. Or Bill Frist. Or Rick Santorum. Tom DeLay can never be elected president, right? It's just not possible, is it?)

Oh, and piggybacked onto this was a bill that makes it a felony to take a camcorder into a theater and create a "screener" copy of a movie. Fine with me. That's definitely an act of piracy that can't really be defended. However, five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine? Wow.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Jon Carroll was Right . . . about "24"

Despite his predilection for inflicting on readers pointless and cloying columns about his cats, I really enjoy Carroll. Always have. This column which talked about our increasing tolerance of tools of control such as torture and the endless "torture-o-rama" that is "24" was particularly incisive. "24" is a marvel of pacing and editing. And it's almost completely ridiculous. (I suspect it is probably Donald Rumsfeld's stroke show...But I digress.)

I was reminded of Carroll's column after I watched "24" tonight. In this episode, all hell's broken loose, again. The protagonist, Jack Bauer/Kiefer Sutherland, decides to resign in order to question (read "torture") a suspected terrorist. (Of course, stolen nuclear weapons are at stake.) Bauer/Sutherland does this because the terrorist suspect has legal counsel, the bastard. If Bauer/Sutherland were still working for the government, he'd have to adhere to certain annoying constitutional requirements like not hooking electrodes to a suspects private parts while his attorney is in the room. Bauer resigns, runs out of his office, follows the suspect into a darkened parking lot. When the suspect's commie lawyer drives away, Bauer accosts the suspect, throws him in a car and proceeds to snap the suspect's fingers until he gets the information. Amazingly, all of this happens in less than a minute.

As Carroll points out in his column, almost everybody who gets tortured turns out to be a dupe or, surprisingly, innocent. In this episode, I'm pretty sure the victim/terrorist is probably not innocent. And this is where I get worried.

I really do think the producers of "24" are trying to soften us up. You know, make us feel the righteous indignation of an all-pervasive victimhood, of being fearful of terrorist attack. All the time. They want to reinforce the notion that organizations like Amnesty International and the ACLU can't stand in the way of a red-blooded American on a mission to protect all of us from the "evil doers." Even if he or she has to violate virtually everything the U.S. Constitution stands for...

My problem with that is that not every single FBI agent, CIA agent, DIA agent, etc. etc. is Jack Bauer who seems to be able to find almost all the bad guys all of the time.

From now on, it's "sports center" and Giants games on TV. Period.

Harold Reynolds for President!

...And the Music Industry Sees Wireless Carriers as Important Allies ???

An confluence of stories today. First, this article on c:net about the record label's industry's fear of Jobs' growing influence over their business is driving them to rely on the mobile phone carriers as a counterbalance...Second, this interview with Verizon's CEO the SFChronicle wherein said CEO comes off as taking a dim view of what he thinks are unreasonable consumer expectations. Like having their mobile phones work at, of all the unexpected places, their homes.

So we have record labels anxious to use the mobile-wireless channels to create a compelling new distribution channel to blunt Jobs+Apple's power and at least one head of a mobile-wireless carrier that wants to lower customer expectations?

What an interesting pair of dynamics...

Saturday, April 16, 2005

More Evidence that Incumbent Media Leaders Just Don't Get it . . .

Read this and wonder. Why would shareholders actually allow top executives of Viacom, let alone any other publicly traded company receive multimillion bonuses when the company's stock price -- a key metric perhaps the only real metric that matters to investors -- is stagnant or falling? How can executives who fail on this metric take a multi-million dollar payout when the past performance is flat to negative?

(All I'm going to say about this is: Steve Jobs takes a salary of $1/year. Last year, he got something like $75 worth of stock. The year before, instead of a bunch of $$ he asked for a Gulf Stream V. Extravagent? yeah, maybe, but not compared to the viacom folks. Most importantly, just look at Apple's performance since he returned in 1996.)


My humble opinon is that folks like Redstone, Chernin and Moonves actually think they deserve it. Just like they deserve charging their company tens of thousands of dollars because they "stayed in their own houses" in NYC instead of a hotel. (They're based in LA. I thought the whole idea of staying at your "other" house in NYC, or for those of us with more modest incomes, our friends or relatives, when traveling on business was to save the company money. Is it possible that these guys could have run up hotel bills of $40K or more? I mean, even in a year?)

I'd have to say these guys are quickly becoming the new white-boys-on-welfare. (A term coined to describe folks who've spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley, getting VP titles and then maintaining them for years at various companies without really ever having to do anything.) What's really galling, and I'm not even a shareholder, for chrissakes, is that these guys are the "stars" of an industry staring down massive changes to their industry and their reaction? Their strategies? Continuing their unhealthy addiction to mass advertising, reality TV and buying each others companies (consolidation) in order to maintain the lifestyles to which they've become acccustomed. ('Cause, you know, it's hard to find a foursome comprised of mega-rich white dudes who understand each other.)

For God's sake, will somebody pay off these dorks to get rid of them? It doesn't appear that they're going to innovate to actually earn their paychecks/stock options/ lodging expenses/lunches/cars etc. Head off to your undoubtedly comfortable retirements, guys. You need to let the next generation of companies like Starbucks, Yahoo, Apple and others can get down to re-building the "media" to function more efficiently in a digital age.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What I did on my sabbatical . . . Besides ski, I mean.

What’s happening at the intersection of creativity, the commerce of creativity and copyright was the focus of the one-day conference, “Signal/Noise 2k5 Creative Revolution?” put on by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu). The conference focused on the state of copyright law in relation to the reality of the digital media era, especially with the developing of collagist art forms including digital video collaging, audio “mash-ups” and “samples” where bits of content – pictures, video and pre-recorded music – become “source material” for new works. (My work partner Allen and I have written extensively about how the development of digital media tools is contributing to the evolution of consumers from passive recipients of content to active participants. While much of our commentary and research is concerned with shifts in consumer behavior and the development of consumer-facing digital media technologies, how copyright evolves, or doesn’t, is crucial to the media and technology industries. )

Over the course of three panels and remarks made by Berkman moderators is that the tension between copyright holders, the artists who created the copyrighted works and consumers who want to both consume and “use” copyrighted material is growing. While professionals pay for “samples” (some of the time), should consumers or are they protected under the “fair use” doctrine? The key forces at work are:

o Creators/copyright holders seeking greater control in the form of longer copyright terms and deploying technological protection measures to restrict or more tightly proscribe how consumers can use digital media.

o Consumer-creators taking advantage of a constant stream of technological innovation for consumption and manipulation of content – both their own and copyrighted material they’ve acquired. For what purposes?
o Commercial – Mash-ups, remixes (Danger Mouse, DJ Shadow), but less likely for direct purchases of the content but perhaps more for helping drive traffic to a blog or website.
o Non-commercial – personal expression, satire and other political commentary. Essentially, every thing else that isn’t commercial.


Lot of interesting back and fourth on the topic. Lots of interesting points (check http://cyber.law.harvard.edu for “official” recaps…). One topic that was touched up on a couple of times was the area of “moral rights.” This is a narrow area of copyright law that applies primarily to visual (paintings etc.) art wherein the creator exerts some control over how and in what context her work might be used by others. (as opposed to being able to exert control over the sale, public performance, reproduction etc.) DISCLAIMER: yep, I’m not a lawyer.

Musicians and copyright holders don’t have a lot of say over the “context” or in what type of work their music might be used. As a practical matter, there are cases where the sampling artist does contact the original tune’s creator, but it’s not codified. I think it’s bound to be one of the most contentious areas of copyright law during the next several years. If you believe that digital media tools are giving everybody the ability to create their own forms of digital “found art,” then I think you’d agree.

Anyhow, most surprising thing I heard came from John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, retired cattle rancher, cognitive dissident and former lyricist for the Grateful Dead. I’ve always found Barlow an extremely thoughtful observer of music, the business of music and copyright – almost all of which can be found all over the Web. While he’s known for arguing the futility of restrictive copyright and DRM (he claims there’s a real thin line between “digital rights management” and “political rights management” – he confessed to currently being concerned about what can happen to a revenue stream he and the rest of the Grateful Dead enjoy.

The situation is not a little ironic. As everybody knows, the Grateful Dead were one of if not the first band to allow their audiences to tape the live shows. This was a practice the band accepted and encouraged almost from the beginning of their professional careers. (Not only was it a clever bit of audience-building, it reflected a belief that once the music left the speakers at a show, the music belonged to the audience, not the band. (However, the group did NOT allow audience tapes to be sold. In many instances, the GD community enforced this rule.)

Back to the present: In the past decade the Grateful Dead enjoyed a very nice profitable income from the sale of Grateful Dead performances, the very same performances that thousands of fans recorded themselves and then exchanged with even more fans. Why? The band (more or less professionally) recorded virtually every show with the advantage of recording directly off the sound-, mixing board, resulting in much higher quality versions of the shows. Knowing that the music counted, and that true music lovers will always go for higher quality, the Grateful Dead have released 30-something of the “dick’s picks” series which have done quite well, thank you very much. In effect, the Grateful Dead figured out a way to compete with “free.” A question to which most of the major labels are still trying to find an answer.

Well now, what’s happened is that deadheads or others are ripping copies of these high-quality recordings and, you guessed it, started posting them on Archive.org, and making sure that they told every other deadhead on messageboards etc. I give Barlow credit for being honest and admitting that this latest development bothers him because he, and the other band members, their families, estates etc. could actually lose money.

“The band’s manager asked what I thought we should do,” Barlow said, “I told him I’d have to get back to him.”

I think the answer’s going to be complicated and will be a while in coming.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Message to Sen. Bill Frist:

Please shift your focus, and if you have any real political clout, the Senate's resources on stopping this "regrettable loss of life" instead of this "regrettable loss of life" that is of no concern to any elected official, save the judges who are handling the cases.

Message to Rep. Tom Delay
Keep it up!!! Your amazingly melodramatic threats and completely transparent politicking of a family's tragedy is some of the most macabre entertainment I've seen. I think Dante wrote that there was a special ring in hell for people like you.

Traveling . . .

Thoreau said most folks lead lives of "quiet desperation." That might have been the case in 19th century America, but in 2005, we lead lives of loud banality.

Getting ready to fly home from a conference last night, a bunch of us standing on the jetway heard this guy before we ever saw him..."What, oh, Barbara? No, we haven't met but how are you girlfriend? Well, a bunch of his are going to see U2 this weekend..." This engrossing one-sided dialogue continued for a bit, when suddenly it was clear the call with Barbara ended and the guy was on another call. (The guy hadn't reached the end of the boarding line, so we still hadn't seen him. But the amazing acoustics of an older jetway, we certainly heard him.)

"Hey, dude, I just got off a call with that hottie Barbara...No fucking kidding..." This goes on and on, when suddenly he pops around the corner of the jetway. He's maybe 6 ft., in his mid-20s and resplendent in a VanStussey baseball hat and a blue t-shirt with a bold Harley logo framed by a blue-flame pattern.)

In short, a loud, lame walking billboard.

Spring Training Notes

Spent the past two days in sunny and warm Scottsdale, AZ, with my work partner Allen, his wife Kathy and their daughter, Carly. (Being a vivacious young teen-ager, Carly was only glimpsed in flashes between school, bat mitzvah training and, well, more school. We did share some pizza and had a great conversation.)

I went down to attend my first spring training. Since I haven’t really been closely following the Gi’nts off-season machinations, but as a fan, this would be a good chance to see the team. Allen and I took in a Gi’nts-D-backs game on Tuesday, followed by a Cubs-Rockies game on Wednesday. (Giants won 9-5; Cubs beat the Rockies 5-4.) (Work-related note: another reason for the trip was to try out a new MPEG-4 video camera and the iMovie editing tool to see how we could put together our own post-game show. You can see the results here.)

The team looks decent in all areas and might even be fun to watch even if it does have to go Barry-less for a chunk of the season. Who looked good? Happy Pedro. I still don’t know why this guy isn’t starting. I mean, really. He was in left for the game I saw against the D-backs and it looks like he’ll stick there until Barry gets back. Rather, if Barry gets back. Anyhow, Sabean has to get his priorities together and sign this guy and give him a full-time starting gig.

I’m not dwelling on Barry much. If the ‘roids or his girlfriends don’t get him, the IRS will. Cheating at professional sports is one thing; messing with the IRS is really serious. While his petulance is tiresome, at least he’s not coming off like some inarticulate coward like Mark McGwyre. I mean, Jesus Christ, Jose Canseco is coming off like the captain of the Harvard Debate Team when compared to (Not-so) Big Mac.

Hmm. I’ve apparently gone off the rails…

Good news: Jerome Williams looks sharp. So does Jim Brower. Omar Vizquiel looks to be a total all-star – for a guy who is like, what, 50 years old? Alfonzo looks to have shed some pounds and played solidly at third on Tuesday, save for a total muff of a hard but playable shot from one of the d-backs. Davi Cruz was filling in for Durham and was almost serviceable.

Best part of the trip: Being fortunate enough to hang around Allen, Kathy and Carly for 24 hours in their beautiful house full of great art!!! Thanks, guys!

Spring Training Notes

Spent the past two days in sunny and warm Scottsdale, AZ, with my work partner Allen, his wife Kathy and their daughter, Carly. (Being a vivacious young teen-ager, Carly was only glimpsed in flashes between school, bat mitzvah training and, well, more school. We did share some pizza and had a great conversation.)

I went down to attend my first spring training. Since I haven’t really been closely following the Gi’nts off-season machinations, but as a fan, this would be a good chance to see the team. Allen and I took in a Gi’nts-D-backs game on Tuesday, followed by a Cubs-Rockies game on Wednesday. (Giants won 9-5; Cubs beat the Rockies 5-4.) (Work-related note: another reason for the trip was to try out a new MPEG-4 video camera and the iMovie editing tool to see how we could put together our own post-game show. You can see the results here.)

The team looks decent in all areas and might even be fun to watch even if it does have to go Barry-less for a chunk of the season. Who looked good? Happy Pedro. I still don’t know why this guy isn’t starting. I mean, really. He was in left for the game I saw against the D-backs and it looks like he’ll stick there until Barry gets back. Rather, if Barry gets back. Anyhow, Sabean has to get his priorities together and sign this guy and give him a full-time starting gig.

I’m not dwelling on Barry much. If the ‘roids or his girlfriends don’t get him, the IRS will. Cheating at professional sports is one thing; messing with the IRS is really serious. While his petulance is tiresome, at least he’s not coming off like some inarticulate coward like Mark McGwyre. I mean, Jesus Christ, Jose Canseco is coming off like the captain of the Harvard Debate Team when compared to (Not-so) Big Mac.

Hmm. I’ve apparently gone off the rails…
Good news: Jerome Williams looks sharp. So does Jim Brower. Omar Vizquiel looks to be a total all-star – for a guy who is like, what, 50 years old? Alfonzo looks to have shed some pounds and played solidly at third on Tuesday, save for a total muff of a hard but playable shot from one of the d-backs. Davi Cruz was filling in for Durham and was almost serviceable. Almost.

Best part of the trip: Being fortunate enough to hang around Allen, Kathy and Carly for 24 hours in their beautiful house full of great art!!! Thanks, guys!

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