Saturday, April 08, 2006

The PC and the second law: a home experiment

I did a little experiment with my home PC today to check out its power consumption. Nothing too precise - just checked the rate of consumption on the electricity meter with the PC switched on and with it off. It seems my electronic box of tricks uses about one unit (1 kWhr) of electricity every 11 hours or so. So my theory about individual digital information files becoming rivalrous, in the context of the second law of thermodynamics doesn't hold a lot of water.

If we start looking at it from a digital eco/infosystem perspective, however, things get a little more interesting. Suppose twenty million homes in the UK run an average of one PC for 6 hours a day. That's roughly 10GWhr or 10 million units of electricity. The second law says there is wasted energy in power generation (40% efficiency was pretty good for a power plant when I was studying mechanical engineering many moons ago), transmission and end user devices such as PCs. Guesstimate 10% of the potential energy in the material sustaining the power plant comes out as useful energy in the digital ecosystem and that means we need 100GWhr worth of coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewables etc. to just keep it ticking over.* The individual digital files themselves don't contribute a lot to global warming but the architecture of the technological infosystem required for those files to exist is massively wasteful of our diminishing energy resources (as the Google, Sun et al energy bills already demonstrate). The second law of thermodynamics says there's no such thing as a free lunch in the energy sphere (excuse the mixed metaphor) and more efficient technologies ultimately won't solve the problem of increasing consumption. They can slow down the rate of deterioration and it's time we started paying much more attention to initiatives like Ndiyo, not only for their obvious inherent value but for their potential to reduce the thirst for energy of our wasteful eco/infosystem.

*Health warning on the numbers - they are about as reliable as those bandied about by the music industry or the government when trying to sell one of their crazy schemes, so absolutely no reliance should be place on them. I'm hoping to do some research to dig out some numbers with a more solid empirical base sometime over the summer, when I've got the first draft of the book completed.

AT&T Whistleblower's statement on NSA surveillance

Wired magazine has printed a statement from an AT&T technician relating to the NSA warrantless surveillance authorised by President Bush.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Dan Brown wins Da Vinci code lawsuit in UK

I understand the UK High Court has ruled in favour of Dan Brown in the copyright infringement case brought against him by two academics over the Da Vinci Code.


This was my favorite April Fools Day story.

Why WIPO Broadcast Treaty is important

The EFF have a concrete example of why they believe the proposed WIPO braodcasting treaty is so important.

"The Smithsonian Institution recently announced a joint venture with Showtime that gives the cable TV network exclusive commercial access to the Smithsonian's archival materials (much of which consists of public domain materials)...

This arrangement is troubling for many reasons. In the words of Ken Burns, one of America's most accomplished documentarians, "It feels like the Smithsonian has essentially optioned America's attic to one company, and to have access to that attic, we would have to be signed off with, and perhaps co-opted by, that entity."

But consider just how much worse this arrangement might become if the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty comes into force. Under current copyright law, Showtime would have no exclusive rights over any public domain materials that they broadcast on their "Smithsonian on Demand" channel. So subsequent creators remain free to record the programs, extract the public domain elements, and re-use them, without fear of copyright lawsuits.

The Broadcasting Treaty could change all that. By creating new exclusive rights for broadcasters, the proposed treaty could block subsequent creators from recording and extracting the public domain material from the broadcast. Instead, they would have to independently obtain access to the original public domain materials. But Showtime has already locked up a deal that gives its people exclusive access to the originals. Catch-22!

It's bad enough when private parties lock up exclusive access rights to public domain materials in archives, museums, and libraries. Combine that with the Broadcasting Treaty, and you have a recipe for a public domain land grab."

DVD piracy factory found in London

From the BBC, Huge DVD piracy factory uncovered.

More targetting of organised crime gangs like this and less criminalising of teenagers will be a far more effective way of dealing with copyright infringement. The officers involved here deserve a pat on the back.

Libby accuses Bush and Cheney of authorising leak

From the BBC,

"US President George W Bush authorised the leak of secret intelligence to a newspaper to help defend the Iraq war, a former White House aide has said.

Pre-trial court papers cite Lewis "Scooter" Libby as saying he was told to tell a reporter Iraq was "vigorously trying to procure" uranium."

Libby is facing trial for leaking the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, allegedly as an act of revenge against her husband, a former US ambassador, who publicly criticised the Bush administration over their claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons.

Gonzales won't rule out domestic warrantless taps

Funny that I should be writing about Tony Blair's inner circle yesterday and their absolute faith in their own good intentions, as they sytematically dismantle various checks and balances on executive power.

US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, in response to a question from a congressman about whether the administration would sanction, without a warrant, a wiretap of a phone conversation between two Americans said:

"I cannot rule that out"

Now US constitutional law is not widely discussed or of concern on this side of the pond but the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution categorically does rule that out. The Bush Administration, like that of Mr Blair, seem to believe that constitutional checks and balances do not apply to them because they are good people and they know best. Besides how important can the constitution be if it gets in the way of prosecuting the war on terror?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

UK High Court rule against business method patent

From the Register,

"The High Court in London has ruled that a patent application for an automated method of acquiring the documents necessary to incorporate a company can be refused because the invention is of a type excluded from patentability under the Patents Act."


Mark Rasch worries about lawyerbots.

"Many threats to companies, such as phishing attacks, spam, copyright and trademark infringement, occur with such frequency (particularly on well-known trademarks) that it is simply impractical to personally review each and every message, write a formal letter to every mail host and ISP, and then litigate the potential copyright infringement. So, many companies have automated the process of detecting and responding to potentially infringing materials. If you are the Great Amalgamated Savings and Loan Company, you might employ an automated tool to search for references to you on websites, auction sites, message boards, chat rooms, etc. The tool can then be programmed to identify (or attempt to identify) improper uses of your name, trademark, copyright, trade secret, or other intellectual property rights. All well and good. In fact, if you have valuable intellectual property, you have a duty to protect it, and to be knowledgeable about potential infringement.

These programs can then go one step further. You can automate the process of sending out letters to the web host to take down the offending works. Now there is no indication that that is what happened in Mr Kopp's case. However, his eBay auction generated a slew of takedown notices from various parties. As soon as he reposted the auction, it generated a new takedown notice. Human lawyers are generally not that efficient. So these autonomous agents may in fact be the ones generating these takedown notices.

Chilling effect

One of the problems with these automated takedown notices is the fact that most ISPs will send a perfunctory notice to the last email address of the poster (if they even have that) and then just remove the putatively offending material. In Kopp's case (PDF) (, under eBay's Verified Rights Owner or "VeRO" program, eBay went even further - not only removing the allegedly infringing materials, but also suspending Kopp's account. So Kopp could not sell ANYTHING - not just the Warcraft book. When he opened a new account, the takedown notices would come again, and the new account would be suspended. Most people - even those who don't infringe, or have a colorable claim of non-infringement, simply walk away, tail between their legs. Thus, by wallpapering the net with takedown notices, a copyright holder (or trademark holder, or person claiming any kind of damage, breach, infringement, or improper use) can effectively remove all kinds of content from the web. And there are few if any consequences to guessing wrong. At worst, the alleged infringer can send a letter back and get the content put back up. Nothing stops you then from either contesting the use in court, or just letting cyberlawyer send you another takedown notice! You won't hurt its feelings."

The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education

The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education has a nice simple game illustrating the interdependence of communities. A version of the game is used in a "Participation in Government" course developed for New York City Public High Schools.

Interview with Gary Flake

John Battelle has a frank interview with Gary Flake at Microsoft's vaunted research labs. Well worth a read.

"Being new to MS, the biggest surprise for me was the people. I knew they were smart. I knew they were driven. I knew they were competitive. But I had no idea they would also collectively tend towards kindness, openness, self-criticism, passion, righteousness, and even uncertainty. These are great people -- from the executive team down to the rank and file -- these are simply wonderful people in every way...

Okay, now I know I am sounding like a corporate drone and I am well aware that for every example above, there are plenty of people in the valley that will bitch about my characterization. When you assume evil, then an ecosystem looks less than well-intentioned. When you assume goodness, then an ecosystem looks like benevolence. The truth is more complex and vastly more interesting."

Blair's inner circle and its ferocious grab for power

Jenni Russell is concerned that

"Piece by piece, month by month, Tony Blair's administration is removing the safeguards that protect all of us from the whims of a government and the intrusions of a powerful state. It is engaged in a ferocious power-grab. Yet this story has not seized the imagination of the media or the public. In our failure to respond, the government must be reading a tacit acceptance that it can do what it chooses, because we either don't notice or don't care...

A leading Blairite was recently at dinner with a friend, and found himself being challenged over the government's activities. Eventually, frustrated by the criticism, he leant forward and said: "What you don't seem to understand is that we are good people!"

That injured comment is revealing. Even if it were undeniably true, it could not justify the hijacking of our democracy by a small, determined group. Good people can do bad things. What's more, bad people can follow them. Assurances of virtue are irrelevant. What matters is where power lies and how it is controlled. That stale phrase, an elective dictatorship, is now a real danger.

The perverse fact is that we are being asked to place great trust in a government that makes a point of distrusting everyone outside its inner circle. If we don't share their assumption that they alone know what is best for the rest of us, we had better start protesting now. Last year Blair promised to listen to us. As he dismantles our defences, what he is hearing is something close to silence."

I believe it was St Bernard who said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Bernard, as I vaguely recall the story, was a key figure in the aftermath of the schism of the Roman Catholic church when two rival popes were elected in the 12th century. Maybe the UK government need their own St Bernard to sort out the rivalry of their very own double papacy, in a way which will break through the inner circle's absolute faith in its own infallibilty?

The Future of Science

Kevin Kelly has been speculating on the future of science.

Arsenal 0 Juventus 0

Well the Gunners made it through to the Champions League semi-final last night for the first time ever. Many congratulations to everyone involved.

Anti A2K Rant

Thomas A Giovanetti has been ranting about the Access to Knowledge (A2K) conference at Yale later this month. He seems to think that anyone who thinks access to knowledge is important must also simultaneously believe that intellectual property is evil. Either that or he wants his readers to believe such a caricature.

Intellectual property exists to provide creators with an economic incentive to create.
It also exists to increase the global store of knowledge which we can all have access to. That global store of knowledge is also filled with ideas, inventions, scientific discoveries and facts developed without the benefit of intellectual property. We get access to the IP-facilitated part of that global store of knowledge initially for a price, in order, theoretically, so creators can get paid as long as the temporary and limited monopoly on the items protected by IP last. Once the monopoly runs out we get it, theoretically, for free.

Access to knowledge is a core theme in my book but so is intellectual property. The IP system lacks coherence and balance at the moment and needs reform but that doesn't mean it is not a sound idea. Calling for a system to be knocked back into shape, in order for it to serve the purpose/s it was originally intended that it serve, is most definitely not the same thing as calling for the abolition of the system.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dispatch from Manila

Jonathan Rowe is in Manila:

"I spend much time when I am here, wandering the alleys, chatting with people. There is something about a setting such as this that invites interaction, even with a caucasion visitor such as myself. The last time we were here, my son and I (he was a little over one at the time) would wake up around 5:00 AM, in the heat, and take a walk to the park where the fighting cocks are. We got to know the trainer -- this is serious business -- and his early morning pals. That led to chats about politics, the Muslim rebels in the South, and on it goes.

Today I took my son (who now is three) and two of the cousins to another little park in the barrio, this one for kids. The swings and slides are vintage 1940s, iron and metal and not the better for wear. There is concrete under the swings and the rest is dirt. My son had a great time. He loves to be with his cousins; the equipment was less important than the interaction and the play. We Americans are so rich in stuff; sometimes we forget the life, and the kinds of settings that promote it."

Robert X. Cringely says Microsoft are going down

Robert X. Cringely is predicting that Microsoft are finally going down after surviving many years of antitrust suits and long since getting convicted, without noticeable effect, of being a monopolist. Why does he believe this? Because a lawyer for the state of Iowa is going to go public with the story of how Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were alledgedly overheard discussing how to get Paul Allen's shares in the company, if he were to die. Allen at the time was suffering from Hodgkins disease, a form of cancer.

"But during one of those last long nights of working to finish-up DOS 2.0, something happened. I have heard this story from two people, each of whom was a friend of Allen's and in a position to know. Each told me the same story the same way. I am not staking my reputation on the accuracy of the story, but I am saying I have it from two good sources. Paul Allen certainly won&'t confirm or deny it, so I'll just throw it out for you to consider.

During one of those last long nights working to deliver DOS 2.0 in early 1983, I am told that Paul Allen heard Gates and Ballmer discussing his health and talking about how to get his Microsoft shares back if Allen were to die.

Maybe that's just the sort of fiduciary discussion board members have to have, but it didn't go over well with Paul Allen, who never returned to Microsoft, and over the next eight years, made huge efforts to secure his wealth from the fate of Microsoft...

My reason for bringing up this topic at this time is because it will all shortly be back in the news as Microsoft goes to court later this year in what might well be its last-ever anti-trust trial. Remember those 19 states and the District of Columbia that settled over time for software vouchers and promises from Microsoft to no longer do evil? Well only Iowa remains, represented by a lawyer from Des Moines named Roxanne Conlin whom I have met. Roxanne is not in any way impressed with Microsoft vouchers, no matter how many there are. Looking for real money for the people of Iowa, Ms. Conlin is about to dredge-up all this old news and put a new spin on it.

Based purely on character (or lack of it), I confidently predict that Microsoft is going down. It should be interesting."

Netflix sue Blockbuster

Netflix have sued Blockbuster for infringing a business method patent.

"Netflix, founded in 1999, was one of the first companies to offer this service, and has a patent protecting the way it allows customers to select their films, get them sent out, and then return them for more.

Its second patent covers the way customers can keep the films for as long as they want without being charged extra and how they can rejig their list of preferred films."

To paraphrase Tim O'Reilly, it defies belief that you can get a patent on something obvious just because you can do it on the Net.

Arsenal in Turin

The big question of the day is not, of course, how silly are the BPI's figures but can Arsenal follow through on their masterclass in association football last Tuesday and play well enough in Turin tonight to progress through to their first ever Champions League semi-final.

There's no doubt they are capable but I hope they stick to their natural counter-attacking game rather than trying to defend deeply as they did in the cup final last year. I suspect Hleb or Pires will be deployed to follow Nedved, though neither is particularly practiced at the art. Eboue and Flamini will be asked to keep a reign on their natural attacking instincts, even though Juventus just couldn't cope with that threat last week. Trezeguet will not play as badly again as he did at Highbury and could cause us problems if Nedved does find space in the way that Berkamp can in the pocket behind the striker/s. Gilberto sitting in front of the back four could be the key to avoiding damage from that quarter. Juve won't be caught off guard by Fabregas again either, who will almost certainly find himself hounded by a black and white striped shadow for the duration of the evening.

Juventus, thoroughly emabarrassed at the way they were outgunned at Highbury, are desperate for revenge and Thuram is predicting a 3 or 4 nil victory for them. Henry and his young mates have a point to prove, however, and as long as they don't concede an early goal and put pressure on themselves, have the potential to find the back of the Juve net. Henry in particular, having had such a miserable time in his short spell at the Turin club before moving to Arsenal, will be keen to bag his 50th European goal, in his hundredth European match. Even better if he could claim number 51 as well.

BPI damned lies and statistics

On the way to and from a meeting at the OU's main campus in Milton Keynes yesterday, I heard BBC news programmes repeatedly dole out the British Phonographic Industry's latest unsubstantiated statistics about how much they wish people to believe they've lost in music sales due to illegal file sharing on the Net.

The calculation they do goes something like this.

Assume there are 10 million teenagers illegally sharing music.
Assume the average teenager swaps 40 songs (through choosing a relatively small number they can claim they are underestimating the problem, though in reality no one knows how many copyright infringing files are swapped).
Assume the average album has 15 songs and costs £15.
So the average teenager is swapping £40 worth of songs per year.
Assume they would otherwise have bought £40 worth of music in CDs or legal downloads.
That means we've lost 10 million X £40 worth of sales per year.
That means we've lost £400 million worth of sales per year.
So that means we've lost £1.2 billion sales over the past three years.

You don't have to be a statistician to see there are huge unsubstantiated assumptions here and that these "statistics" have no basis in reality. What's remarkable is the degree to which we, and the good folks at influencial news outlets like the BBC, will accept that doing some simple (and often not even mathematically sound) arithmetic will magically impart meaning to some numbers picked randomly out of thin air. The BPIs numbers therefore are entirely meaningless. Are they right however to be worried about illegal file sharing? Possibly. Various detailed academic studies have suggested that file sharing contributes to an increase in sales, a decrease in sales and some on balance have detected no significant effect. What is clear is that the effect of file sharing on music sales is not a simple linear relationship. We can identify various categories. For example,

1. The cash strapped file sharer (typical teenager, say) who does indeed use the file sharing networks to get music they would otherwise not be able to afford.
2. Those who use p2p to get music they would otherwise have bought - these are the folks the BPI have arguably got a legitimate beef about.
3. Those who use p2p to get music that is not otherwise commercially available or is rare etc.
4. Those who use p2p to get music that is out of copyright or is released eg under a creative commons or other less restrictive licence
5. Those who use p2p to sample music in anticipation buying a legitimate copy if they like the songs.
6. And you could go on describing a whole range of other dynamics and motivations that encourage folks to use p2p

At the weekend on a morning BBC news programme there was a spokesman from the BPI on with a member of the Drifters bemoaning the short 50 year term of copyright for music recordings. It's not fair said the Drifters man - I want to be able to pass on to my grandkids that I wrote that song 50 years ago. Its not fair said the BPI man, we invest 15 to 18% of our earnings in new talent. We must be given a longer copyright term, like they have in the US. There's not another industry in the world outside of copyright that have a minimum 50 year monopoly on sales of their product but for the poor BPI it really isn't enough. It's a pity there couldn't have been someone to put the case against extension of the copyright term, especially since the ministers in the UK government responsible for looking at this are so keen on the prospect. But when it comes to IP you really do have to suspend your disbelief.

I see Ian's been getting irritated at the latest statistical sophistry too.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Passport rule change anticipates ID refusenik sabotage efforts

John Lettice has noticed that the Passport office is anticipating that some people may try to renew their passports early in order to avoid having to buy an ID card.

Confessions of a text book editor

The process through which school textbooks come into being (at least in Texas and California), as described by Tamim Ansary, could be considered yet another reason to support open access models of producing educational material

"SOME YEARS AGO, I signed on as an editor at a major publisher of elementary and high school textbooks, filled with the idealistic belief that I'd be working with equally idealistic authors to create books that would excite teachers and fill young minds with Big Ideas.

Not so.

I got a hint of things to come when I overheard my boss lamenting, "The books are done and we still don't have an author! I must sign someone today!"

Every time a friend with kids in school tells me textbooks are too generic, I think back to that moment. "Who writes these things?" people ask me. I have to tell them, without a hint of irony, "No one." It's symptomatic of the whole muddled mess that is the $4.3 billion textbook business.

Textbooks are a core part of the curriculum, as crucial to the teacher as a blueprint is to a carpenter, so one might assume they are conceived, researched, written, and published as unique contributions to advancing knowledge. In fact, most of these books fall far short of their important role in the educational scheme of things. They are processed into existence using the pulp of what already exists, rising like swamp things from the compost of the past. The mulch is turned and tended by many layers of editors who scrub it of anything possibly objectionable before it is fed into a government-run "adoption" system that provides mediocre material to students of all ages.

Welcome to the Machine

The first product I helped create was a basal language arts program. The word basal refers to a comprehensive package that includes students' textbooks for a sequence of grades, plus associated teachers' manuals and endless workbooks, tests, answer keys, transparencies, and other "ancillaries." My company had dominated this market for years, but the brass felt that our flagship program was dated. They wanted something new, built from scratch.

Sounds like a mandate for innovation, right? It wasn't. We got all the language arts textbooks in use and went through them carefully, jotting down every topic, subtopic, skill, and subskill we could find at each grade level. We compiled these into a master list, eliminated the redundancies, and came up with the core content of our new textbook. Or, as I like to call it, the "chum." But wait. If every publisher was going through this same process (and they were), how was ours to stand out? Time to stir in a philosophy.

By philosophy, I mean a pedagogical idea. These conceptual enthusiasms surge through the education universe in waves. Textbook editors try to see the next one coming and shape their program to embody it.

The new ideas are born at universities and wash down to publishers through research papers and conferences. Textbook editors swarm to events like the five-day International Reading Association conference to pick up the buzz. They all run around wondering, What's the coming thing? Is it critical thinking? Metacognition? Constructivism? Project-based learning?

At those same conferences, senior editors look for up-andcoming academics and influential educational consultants to sign as "authors" of the textbooks that the worker bees are already putting together back at the shop."

Richard Feyman wrote many years ago about getting involved in the Califormia state education board Curriculum Commission committee, which was responsible for adopting school textbooks. He was appalled at what he discovered about the process. Unlike the other members of the committee Feynman decided to read all the proposed books himself. They took up 17 feet of shelf space.

"I was overwhelmed.

"It's all right, Mr. Feynman; we'll get someone to help you read them."

I couldn't figure out how you do that: you either read them or you don't read them. I had a special bookshelf put in my study downstairs (the books took up seventeen feet), and began reading all the books that were going to be discussed in the next meeting. We were going to start out with the elementary schoolbooks.

It was a pretty big job, and I worked all the time at it down in the basement. My wife says that during this period it was like living over a volcano. It would be quiet for a while, but then all of a sudden, "BLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWW!!!!" -- there would be a big explosion from the "volcano" below.

The reason was that the books were so lousy. They were false. They were hurried. They would try to be rigorous, but they would use examples (like automobiles in the street for "sets") which were almost OK, but in which there were always some subtleties. The definitions weren't accurate. Everything was a little bit ambiguous -- they weren't smart enough to understand what was meant by "rigor." They were faking it. They were teaching something they didn't understand, and which was, in fact, useless, at that time, for the child...

Then I came to my first meeting. The other members had given some kind of ratings to some of the books, and they asked me what my ratings were. My rating was often different from theirs, and they would ask, "Why did you rate that book low?" I would say the trouble with that book was this and this on page so-and-so -- I had my notes.

They discovered that I was kind of a goldmine: I would tell them, in detail, what was good and bad in all the books; I had a reason for every rating.

I would ask them why they had rated this book so high, and they would say, "Let us hear what you thought about such and such a book." I would never find out why they rated anything the way they did. Instead, they kept asking me what I thought.

We came to a certain book, part of a set of three supplementary books published by the same company, and they asked me what I thought about it.

I said, "The book depository didn't send me that book, but the other two were nice."

Someone tried repeating the question: "What do you think about that book?"

"I said they didn't send me that one, so I don't have any judgment on it."

The man from the book depository was there, and he said, "Excuse me; I can explain that. I didn't send it to you because that book hadn't been completed yet. There's a rule that you have to have every entry in by a certain time, and the publisher was a few days late with it. So it was sent to us with just the covers, and it's blank in between. The company sent a note excusing themselves and hoping they could have their set of three books considered, even though the third one would be late."

It turned out that the blank book had a rating by some of the other members! They couldn't believe it was blank, because [the book] had a rating. In fact, the rating for the missing book was a little bit higher than for the two others. The fact that there was nothing in the book had nothing to do with the rating...

They were very embarrassed to discover they were giving ratings to that book, and it gave me a little bit more confidence. It turned out the other members of the committee had done a lot of work in giving out the books and collecting reports, and had gone to sessions in which the book publishers would explain the books before they read them; I was the only guy on that commission who read all the books and didn't get any information from the book publishers except what was in the books themselves, the things that would ultimately go to the schools.

This question of trying to figure out whether a book is good or bad by looking at it carefully or by taking the reports of a lot of people who looked at it carelessly is like this famous old problem: Nobody was permitted to see the Emperor of China, and the question was, What is the length of the Emperor of China's nose? To find out, you go all over the country asking people what they think the length of the Emperor of China's nose is, and you average it. And that would be very "accurate" because you averaged so many people. But it's no way to find anything out; when you have a very wide range of people who contribute without looking carefully at it, you don't improve your knowledge of the situation by averaging."

That was in 1964. Ansary doesn't inspire much confidence about the situation being any better now. The degree to which the core function of a process, like choosing or producing decent textbooks, can get corrupted by the overwhelming force of things that have to be done in order to sustain particular systems, is a pretty universal failure mode. One for my systems thinking colleagues at the OU, I reckon.

The Radio Industry's Quiet Theft of Spectrum

David Bollier is back on the subject of the Radio Industry's Quiet Theft of Spectrum, whcih, if I remember correctly he also covered in passing in Chapter 10 of his book Silent Theft.

"Watch closely and you will see the legerdemain by which the rhetoric of “free markets” and “deregulation” are used to justify another private appropriation of our common assets. This shell game has become so routine that mainstream journalists hardly bestir themselves to take notice, probably because they too have accepted the “Washington consensus” about “free markets,” and see nothing amiss. It doesn't help that most mainstream news organizations are themselves parts of media conglomerates and have little interest in shining a spotlight on their corporate parents.

I speak of the looming government giveaway of spectrum rights to radio broadcasters. This little-noticed FCC policy decision could take untold billions of dollars of equity value from the public’s portfolio – the airwaves – and give them directly to the radio industry. Why mess with all that investment and competition stuff when political lobbying to skew public policy can be so much more efficacious? Kudos to J.H. Snider, Research Director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation for his work in tracking and explaining this issue. He recently released an impressive report on the FCC’s imminent decision to give radio stations a free “multicasting dividend.”

Currently radio broadcasters have “unicast rights” in their spectrum – the right to send out a single signal of programming. But radio stations aspire to make a transition from analog to digital transmissions in order to take advantage of new technologies that enable them to cram dozens of signals onto the same amount of spectrum – a practice known as “multicasting.” This capability has made radio spectrum licenses worth a whole lot more, and stations want to claim this windfall for themselves."

At least you got a real person on the end of the phone...

From Marty Schwimmer at the Trademark blog:

"True Story Re My Phone Service

Me: This is the fourth day my firm hasn't had dial tone.

Customer Service: Yes sir, because of the urgency we've elevated it to Business Class Support.

Me: What does that mean?

Customer Service: The Business Class Support tech will handle your trouble ticket. Unfortunately, he's out today, however he'll get to it first thing tomorrow morning.

Me: Wait, because you've elevated it, you can't get to it today?

Customer Service: No sir.

Me: Can you lower its urgency, so you can get to it sooner?

Customer Service: Sir?

Me: Never mind."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Belgium deports foreign pensioners

Belgium has apparently got a system which requires foreigners to be deported once they reach the of 65, unless they can demonstrate they are independently wealthy. The European Court of Justice has now decided (in Case C-408/03) that this is contrary to EU law. Belgium can still kick the pensioner out if they think s/he will become a financial burden on the state but they have to take account of a partner's income as well as that of the person they'd like to get rid of, when considering any decision.