Supreme Court Intervenes in deCSS/DVD Dispute

AP is reporting a significant development in the case involving webmaster Matthew Pavlovich, who republished DVD-cracking deCSS code on his website:
The Supreme Court has temporarily intervened in a fight over DVD copying, and the justices could eventually use the case to decide how easy it will be for people to post software on the Internet that helps others copy movies. More broadly, the case against a webmaster whose site offered a program to break DVD security codes could resolve how people can be sued for what they put online.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor granted a stay last week to a group that licenses DVD encryption software to the motion picture industry, giving the court time to collect more arguments. She requested filings by later this week. The group has spent three years trying to stop illegal copying. The case puts the court in the middle of a cyberspace legal boundary fight: Where can lawsuits involving the World Wide Web be filed?

UPDATE: Lisa Rein sez: "I've made the Pavlovich Legal Decision available in non-PDF (web-friendly HTML) formats, here."

Link to AP story, Background on EFF.org, Discuss (Thanks, Scott!)

RIP, payphones

The payphone is the twenty-first century horse-trough. It's a quaint artifact, more often employed by dope dealers than upstanding cits, who are expected to commit their action-at-a-distance through mobile handsets. The payphone has been dwindling away on this continent, from Bell South's announced shutdown of 143,000 payphones to Bell Canada's recent annoucement that it will be turning its armored public phones into public WiFi hotspots. Even COCOTs -- private, high-cost payphones that merchants install in remote places for a captive audience -- are being supplanted by cellphones. WashPo runs down the continuing demise of the coin-op telephone:
"At first it was fun, because you'd put in a new phone and you'd generate revenue right away of $600 a month," said Castro, a manager and 11-year veteran at Robin Technologies Inc. in Rockville. Castro empties the coin bin of the dead pay phone, which now averages only $2.50 a day.

There is an indignity to the way pay phones go. They are covered with detritus -- an empty 750-milliliter bottle of cheap red wine, a wet pack of Marlboro Lights and discarded phone cards. The shiny base of the pay phone shells degrade to a mottled magenta. "Unfortunately, what happens is people urinate on them and they corrode," Castro said.

Link Discuss (via Lawmeme)

RIAA Hacked Again

Andy sez: "The RIAA is being hijacked, as we speak. I just wrote about this on my site, with all relevant links." Link Discuss

E-commerce Jumping Beans King busted by Singapore authorities

The 22-year-old business school graduate and e-commerce entrepreneur known as the "Jumping Beans King" has been ordered by Singaporean agriculture officials to recall thousands of the beans he sold online. Story snip:
William Tan was told to recall the beans he had been selling as novelty pets because the moth larvae inside that make them jump pose an ecological threat, said Cheng Lee Ching, a spokeswoman for Singapore's Agri-food Veterinary Authority, or AVA. The penalty for importing jumping beans into the tightly controlled city-state is a fine of 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$5,760) or three years imprisonment.

"I'm very disappointed because the market potential for this was huge, but everything came to a sudden death," said Tan, who said he was not aware of the ban. "I marketed it as a pet, a nice little thing you can carry around and play with," he said.

Link Discuss

Terminator 3: more robots ready to kick your ass

Speaking of deadly machines: the new trailer for Terminator III is chock full of aggro-robot glamor. Movie hits theaters in July, 2003. Link (QuickTime) Discuss

Wiley Wiggins' Solarcon-6

Wiley sez, "Alt-X publishing has just put up my first free e-book of short story-blobs, Solarcon-6."
Green metal fingernails of the mommy-robot awake larvae at 9:00 am with digital alarm-clock eyes and grubs begin feeding, still in the dark since they do not yet have eyes and the mommy robot sees by infrared. Heat signatures of the larvae show their gender and age as they slurp regurgitated protein with soft translucent mandibles. The retarded boy got his back cursed in a game of tug-o-war and now his skin is rotting at such a young age, he looks so becoming in his safety helmet... The secrets of Mexican cooking so close at hand. A man with iron-straight pant-legs like PVC pipes cuts names from roll-call sheets. He is an island of dignity in a hive of rotting, mutated children and grubs.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Wiley!)

Martial Arts robot created in China, now ready to kick your ass

Anybody got photos? China's state-run news agency is reporting that a group of Beijing scientists have created a 5.18-foot, 167-pound robot that can perform T'ai Chi, the traditional Chinese martial art of "shadow boxing."
The robot named BHR-1 passed appraisal on Saturday as a major project for the Beijing University of Science and Engineering under China's High and New Technology Research and Development Program...BHR-1 had 32 joints from head to foot which made it move properly, said Professor Li Kejie, chief scientist in charge of the project at the university. It can walk with 33cm steps at a speed of 1kph, he said. The robot is able to walk and play tai chi and can also sense changing ground levels and balance itself, Li said.

Li added that this type of robot would be able to take over some dangerous jobs from humans.

Such as, what, bodyguard? Personal yakuza? Robot-assassin?

Link, and another Link from Xinhua News Agency in China. Discuss

Future of Music Policy Summit returns to D.C. this week

The annual forward-thinking music summit known to regulars as "FOMC" will return to the nation's capital in just five days. What other industry gathering brings together artists as diverse as Joan Jett, Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, fmr. Minor Threat), Vernon Reed, Doug E. Fresh, Bob Mould (fmr. Husker Du), Patti Smith and Lester Chambers (Chambers Bros.)? In addition to their participation in the three-day dialogue--covering everything from compulsory licenses to P2P filesharing to copy-protected CDs--many artists will also perform free concerts at the Kennedy Center on Saturday and Sunday evenings. FOMC co-founder Brian Zisk writes:
"No longer will corporate media and big money frame the terms of the discussion as we draw together the strongest voices in the Internet and independent music community to reframe these questions with a clear-eyed focus on the interests of the artists."

The non-profit Future of Music Coalition is putting on the third annual Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington D.C. January 5-7. It's a forum where those whose lives have impact on musicians come together to discuss the future, present and past, in front of hundreds of those who this debate most impacts, musicians themselves. It helps set the legislative agenda regarding issues which will affect musicians for the upcoming year.

Senators, Congressmen, FCC Commissioners, Copyright Office officials, Technology Folks, Consumer Advocates, Publishers, Label Folks, Academics, Reporters, Music Lovers, and many others will be coming together, as well as hundreds of musicians... Hope to see you there!

Link Discuss

Ex-Navy-man hunts son's killers with private army

Amazing story of an ex-MarineNavy-man (thanks, Stefan!) whose son was beaten to death by Nazi skinheads while waiting for a cab outside of a bar they'd been ejected from. The father has assembled a private army of ex-Marines, PIs and bouncers from his nightclubs and is hunting down the men who killed his son, confronting them and turning them over to the cops.
Ten days ago, he caught his first. After two months of working the phones, huddling with private investigators, directing his squad of ex-Marines and security guards from the Arizona nightclubs he owns, Cole Sr. tracked down Chris Whitley, a 24-year-old white supremacist.

Through go-betweens, Cole Sr. sent Whitley an ominous message: Surrender or face a father's wrath.

So, days before Christmas, in a bizarre confrontation, Whitley met with Cole Sr. at a Phoenix coffee shop.

"It was one of the hardest and strangest things I've done in my life," Cole Sr. says. The grief-stricken father sat directly across from his son's suspected killer, whose face and head are covered with tattoos.

Link Discuss

Chat as a side-channel for face-to-face meetings

Clay Shirky's written up some findings from a brainstorming session he hosted in NYC last month that I attended. The meeting was a face-to-face affair, but virtually every attendee had a laptop with an WiFi card, and Clay set up a web-based chat for us to play with while we talked. A giant display at the front of the room showing the running chatter, and it created a really dense dialog that was very fun and productive.
Group conversations are exercises in managing interruptions. When someone is speaking, the listeners are often balancing the pressure to be polite with a desire to interrupt, whether to add material, correct or contradict the speaker, or introduce an entirely new theme. These interruptions are often tangential, and can lead to still more interruptions or follow-up comments by still other listeners. Furthermore, conversations that proceed by interruption are governed by the people best at interrupting. People who are shy, polite, or like to take a moment to compose their thoughts before speaking are at a disadvantage.

Even with these downsides, however, the tangents can be quite valuable, so if an absolute "no interrupt" rule were enforced, at least some material of general interest would be lost, and the frustration level among the participants consigned solely to passive listening would rise considerably.

The chat room undid these effects, because participants could add to the conversation without interrupting, and the group could pursue tangential material in the chat room while listening in the real room. It was remarkable how much easier it was for the speaker to finish a complex thought without being cut off. And because chat participants had no way of interrupting one another in the chat room, even people not given to speaking out loud could participate. Indeed, one of our most active participants contributed a considerable amount of high-quality observation and annotation while saying almost nothing out loud for two days.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Clay!)

Safe hex for 2003

Ten reasons why 2003 should be the year that we all switch to secure computing alternatives:
* The use of Web bugs is up 500%. Switch to a free browser such as Mozilla that can be configured to expire all cookies when you close your browser and refuse all cookies coming from domains other than the one you're visiting.

* Windows XP is full of security holes that make life easier for those who would snoop on you. Time to get off the Microsoft bandwagon and switch to Linux, FreeBSD, or Mac OS-X. God knows what horrors the NSA will stick into the next version of Windows.

* Unrelated lawsuits. Get sued or get arrested for one thing, have your computer impounded, who knows what other questionable things might be found? Remember: It's not whether you're innocent or guilty, it's whether the district attorney can make a jury believe that you're guilty.

Link Discuss (Thanks, Zed!)

Cellular companies sucked hard in 2002

Cellular Telephone companies in Washinton generated more consumer complaints than any other industry in the state.
"What really roped me in was the fact that I could cancel anytime" during a three-month "free trial" period, Aberg recalled. "I came to find that just was not the case at all."

In her complaint to the attorney general, Aberg noted that after becoming disillusioned with the service, she tried on numerous occasions to cancel before the trial period was over.

But she "could not get through because I was repeatedly put on hold for OVER 45 minutes. I then submitted e-mails to Qwest to request the phones be deactivated well within the allotted time period," Aberg said in her complaint.

Link Discuss

Peanuts Tarot Deck

Brilliant, hilarious, masterful re-envisioning of the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck -- populated with Peanuts characters. Features Peppermint Pattie as the Empress, Lucy as High Priestess, Linus as the Hierophant, and Charlie Brown in a variety of roles throughout both the Major and Minor Arcana. The artist Valerian pleads online, "Don't sue me," and offers this explanation of the offbeat project:
An absurd, heretical, really cool view of an ancient ritual of divination... This is a joke. Six-year-old suburban kids enacting adult emotions and situations, breaking them down and magnifying them into hilarious crumbs of childhood experience... ­ tragedy, pain, and measured triumph. With children as protagonists and innocent humor as the disarming tool, the emotions are simplified and magnified (as are the physical features of each cartoon drawing) and the exchanges between the children become both an ironic parody of adult emotions, and an impossibly close and meditative study of them.
Link Discuss (Thanks, Matt!) (via Journalista)

Study: Internet now a mainstream info utility for Americans

A new study scheduled for release Monday reveals that more Americans than ever before now use the 'Net to obtain info on government services, shopping, and healthcare. The Pew Internet and American Life Project report goes even further, stating that "abundant evidence [exists] that the Internet is now the primary means by which many people get key information." Or, to compress all 17 pages to one short blurb: "Most expect to find key information online, most find the information they seek, many now turn to the Internet first."

Excerpt:

With over 60 percent of Americans now having Internet access and 40 percent of Americans having been online for more than three years, the Internet has become a mainstream information tool. Its popularity and dependability have raised all Americans' expectations about the information and services available online. When they are thinking about health care information, services from government agencies, news, and commerce, about two-thirds of all Americans say that they expect to be able to find such information on the Web. Internet users are more likely than non-users to have high expectations of what will be available online, and yet even 40 percent of people who are not Internet users say they expect the Web to have information and services in these essential online arenas.

For information or services from a government agency, 65 percent of all Americans expect the Web to have that information. (...) in the realm of electronic commerce, 63 percent of all Americans expect that a business will have a Web site that gives them information about a product they are considering buying. (...) For news, 69 percent of Americans expect to be able to find reliable, up-to-date news online. (...) For health care information, 67percent of Americans expect that they can find reliable information about health or medical conditions online. (...)

When it comes to personal information, the story is different. Only 31percent of Americans expect to be able to find reliable information about someone online; 35 percent of Internet users say this and 25 percent of non-users say this. However, 58 percent of Internet users say they expect to be able to reach someone via email.

Link to study summary, Link to study homepage, Download complete report (PDF), Discuss

Portland airport debacle still being investigated by bloggers

The bloggers at Silflay Hraka are following up on the "Coffee, Tea, or Should We Feel Your Pregnant Wife's Breasts Before Throwing You in a Cell at the Airport and Then Lying About Why We Put You There?" that swept through Blogistan last week. They've gotten some pretty generic responses from the Portland airport cops, an offer from a law prof to take on the guy's case, and lots more. Link, Link Discuss (Thanks Mitch!)