Steve Jobs is watching you

July 22, 2010

Okay, this is creepy:

In a 13-page reply to questions posed by Representative Ed Markey from Massachusetts and Congressman Joe Barton from Texas, Apple said it collects GPS data daily from iPhones running OS 3.2 or iOS 4. The phones collect the GPS data and encrypt it before sending it back to Apple every 12 hours via Wi-Fi. Attached to the GPS data is a random identification number generated by the phone every 24 hours. The information is not associated with a particular customer, Apple said.

Apple uses the data to analyze traffic patterns and density, it said. Apple collects such data from customers who have approved the use of location-based capabilities on the phone and who actually use an application that requires GPS.

(Via Slashdot.)

It’s all in the click-through license, Apple says, adding that if you don’t want your phone to report your location, all you have to do is disable the GPS on your phone. Sheesh.

It’s not been a good week for Apple.


Apple knew of antenna problems?

July 18, 2010

That’s what Bloomberg is reporting. Apple is denying the report, but their refusal to allow an interview of the engineer in question speaks volumes.

A few days ago I commented that I thought Apple’s refusal to put the iPhone 4 out for beta testing is substantially responsible for the trouble they are having now. The Wall Street Journal backs up my contention:

The electronics giant kept such a shroud of secrecy over the iPhone 4’s development that the device didn’t get the kind of real-world testing that would have exposed such problems in phones by other manufacturers, said people familiar with the matter.

The iPhones Apple sends to its carrier partners for testing are “stealth” phones that disguise a new device’s shape and some of its functions, people familiar with the matter said. Those test phones are specifically designed so the phone can’t be touched, which made it hard to catch the iPhone 4’s antenna problem.

Apple gave its carrier partners far less time to test the iPhone 4 before its launch and gave them significantly fewer devices to test than other handset makers, people familiar with the matter said. AT&T Inc., Apple’s exclusive partner in the U.S., has until recently taken the brunt of criticism for dropped calls on Apple phones.

For what it’s worth, I like my iPhone 4 and I don’t plan to return it. I have had dropped calls, though; whether they would have dropped with my old iPhone 3G, I cannot say.

(Previous post.)


Apple’s antenna woes

July 14, 2010

Consumer Reports says that the iPhone 4’s antenna problem is real, and many are saying that Apple is going to be forced to do a recall. I agree that Apple is doing themselves real damage in the way they responding to this problem, particularly with their ridiculous contention that this is somehow a software problem. I think this Yahoo column puts it best:

Some possibilities:

  • There really is an antenna problem, and the signal strength really is going down. That that strength is also being misreported is neither here nor there.
  • There is no antenna problem, but touching the death spot does something else to the signal which interacts with the signal computation algorithm in such a way as to make the iPhone 4 suddenly report signal strength accurately.
  • Touching that spot on the iPhone 4 causes the machine to take a long hard look at itself and be more honest about what’s really going on.

Apple apparently wants us to believe #2, despite giving no explanation (plausible or otherwise) for how it could be so.

I think Apple has created this problem for themselves with their crazy dedication to secrecy. The problem was discovered immediately when they released the phone. All they had to do was put the phone out in beta and none of this would have happened.


Uranium from ash

July 13, 2010

How awesome is nuclear power? You can extract nuclear fuel from coal ash:

ONE of the factoids trotted out from time to time by proponents of nuclear power is that conventional coal-burning power stations release more radioactivity into the environment than nuclear stations do. The reason is that the ash left over when coal is burned contains radioactive elements, notably uranium and thorium.

Turn that logic on its head and it suggests that such ash is worth investigating as a source of nuclear fuel. And that is exactly what Sparton Resources, a firm based in Toronto, is doing. It has signed a deal with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), the authority that runs the country’s nuclear-power stations, to recover uranium from coal ash at a site in Lincang, in Yunnan province.

Uranium is usually extracted from ore that contains 1,000 or more parts per million (ppm) of the element. The Lincang coal ash holds much less, about 300ppm. That said, it does not need to be mined—which brings costs down. Sparton says it can extract a kilogram of uranium for $77 or less. Uranium’s spot price is now near $90 a kilo. That is not a huge margin, but it is a profit nonetheless.


California computers incapable of cutting wages?

July 4, 2010

The California state controller (a Democrat) says that California’s computer system is incapable of complying with the governor’s order to cut most state workers’ pay to minimum wage. He also says it would take 27 months to develop the technology to do it.

I’m pretty sure that mankind has already developed the technology to alter wages.


An important advance in laziness technology

June 17, 2010

It’s oddly cool, but I can’t figure out what it’s supposed to be for. It doesn’t look suitable for the disabled, and for the able-bodied it doesn’t look any better than walking.


Security risk

June 16, 2010

A major security failure at AT&T, exposing 114 thousand 3G iPad owners, including the White House Chief of Staff. According to Gawker, the failure leaked not only personal information, but also the iPads’ authentication codes, which may have enabled more serious breaches.

In other news, iPads are becoming extremely popular at the White House. Ugh.

(Via Instapundit.)


iPhone 4

June 7, 2010

The new iPhone sounds pretty awesome.


AT&T kills unlimited data plan

June 2, 2010

I expect this will increase the cries for a non-AT&T iPhone:

In time for the widely expected launch of a new iPhone model, carrier AT&T Inc. is pulling in the reins on data usage by its customers with smart phones and iPads.

The sole U.S. carrier of the iPhone is introducing two new data plans, starting June 7, with limits on data consumption. They’ll replace the $30 per month plan with unlimited usage that it has required for all smart phones, including the iPhone. . .

Current AT&T subscribers will be allowed to keep the unlimited plan, even if they renew their contracts. But all new subscribers will have to choose one of the two new plans.

What’s amusing is the part where AT&T implies they’re doing us a favor.

UPDATE: Daniel Indiviglio says they really are doing us a favor: most iPhone users don’t use anywhere near 2GB a month. I suppose that’s true; I was being overly harsh. But I still don’t like the idea: (1) Most iPhone users probably have no idea how much data they transfer. (2) It’s reasonable to pay a premium not to worry about it. (3) If an app goes haywire, you have no good way of knowing it and the overage charges are steep.

UPDATE: I’m going to reverse myself partially and say that this might be a good idea, if Apple gives us a good way to monitor our usage. I want to be able to track my data usage so I know if I’m using too much, and not just when I’m about to reach my cap. Also, I want to be able to set a hard cap that the phone won’t exceed without my say-so, to protect me against rogue apps.

I still think that its funny that AT&T is pretending they’re doing us a favor. We may have reason to accept this change, but it’s obvious that AT&T is doing this because their network is unable to deliver on their implicit promises.


Network neutrality: two proposals

May 23, 2010

In my last post, I argued that the network-neutrality proposal being pushed by the FCC is deliberately vague, and would give the FCC the power to do whatever it feels like. Consequently, to avoid costly litigation, ISPs would find it necessary to treat all packets identically, despite claims that the proposal would not do so.

I framed my post as a response to an open letter to the FCC written by Vint Cerf (often called the “father of the internet”) and others. Yesterday, Cerf (or someone identifying himself as him) wrote me to say:

Your blog offers nothing constructive. Have you a proposition?

Thanks for asking! Yes. I have two proposals. The first one will be no surprise to regular readers of this space, but I suspect that Cerf is not, so I’ll go through that one first.

My first proposal is: let people do what they want. The broadband providers own the wire/fiber; let them use it as they see fit. If they do something stupid, like block access to certain sites, allow the market to punish them accordingly. This proposal is very easy to implement, as it means preserving the status quo.

As I’ve written before, the threat of broadband providers shaking down content providers and blocking their sites if they don’t pay is entirely hypothetical. (The threat of government overreach, on other hand, is not.) No broadband provider is doing this now, and I see the likelihood of anyone doing it in the future as very slim. One reason providers are unlikely to try such a thing is the history of the Comcast incident. Some people suggest that the incident proves that the broadband companies are a danger to the free flow of information. Actually, the incident proves just the opposite. (First of all, Comcast was trying to improve user performance, and was simply doing it in a stupid way, but that’s not the point. The market does not require that participants be angels, which they most certainly are not.) Customers got angry when they found out that Comcast was throttling BitTorrent, and Comcast was forced to back down. The market process worked exactly as it is supposed to.

I don’t personally see the need for more than this, but many people do. Some simply want to extend government control over the internet, but others are in earnest.

For people in the latter category, I have a second suggestion: Use the power of the market to force broadband providers to commit to neutrality. The best way to do this would have been to trademark the term “internet” and not permit a broadband provider to use the term unless they abide by standards from some established body like the IETF. That way, network neutrality could be enacted by that standards body. Its decisions would be unlikely to stifle innovation because (1) it’s an open body, (2) it’s not run by the government, and (3) any future standards for Quality of Service would probably go through that body anyway.

Importantly, any broadband provider would be free to ignore the standard, but then they would be unable to market their product as internet service. In order to make a profit, they would need to convince customers that they were offering something better. If they were blocking sites that refused a shakedown, they would have a hard time making that case. On the other hand, if they were providing a new innovation forbidden by an ossified standards body, they probably could make the case.

It’s much too late to trademark the term “internet” now, but we can still do something similar: Have a standards body offer a network-neutrality seal-of-approval to providers that abide by neutrality. Customers would have to be taught to look for the seal, but I don’t think that would be a problem. If Google and others were to take the money that they are spending to lobby the government and instead spend it to advertise a neutrality seal, I think they would have a very easy time making the sale. (And if they couldn’t, that might just mean that the public doesn’t care about network neutrality.)

The broadband providers would be delighted to cooperate because (1) currently they would all receive the seal, and (2) it would lift the threat of government action.

This model has succeeded in the past. For example, Underwriters Laboratories is a private organization that has been certifying products (mostly electrical) for safety for over a century. No one is required to abide by their standards, but those denied the seal have a hard time selling their products.

So that’s my proposal: let free people do what free people will do, and leave the government out of it.

(Previous post.)


The FCC’s network-neutrality kangaroo court

May 21, 2010

I was surprised to learn of a letter that Vint Cerf and others wrote to the FCC in support of network neutrality last October. Cerf wrote:

One persistent myth is that “network neutrality” somehow requires that all packets be treated identically, that no prioritization or quality of service is permitted under such a framework, and that network neutrality would forbid charging users higher fees for faster speed circuits. To the contrary, we believe such features are permitted within a “network neutral” framework, so long they are not applied in an anti-competitive fashion.

I was surprised by this, because my understanding is that’s exactly what network neutrality is. But rather than argue semantics, let’s go to the FCC’s proposed rules and see what they say. How do you write a rule that dictates that all traffic must be treated equally, while still allowing you to treat some traffic differently than other traffic where appropriate?

You can’t. So here’s what they say instead:

Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service must treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner.

There are two keys phrases here, “reasonable network management” and “nondiscriminatory”. The latter is not defined at all. The former purports to be defined, but the definition is circular and in any case it leaves open the definition of “reasonable”:

Reasonable network management consists of:
(a) reasonable practices employed by a provider of broadband Internet access service to:
(i) reduce or mitigate the effects of congestion on its network or to address quality-of-service concerns;
(ii) address traffic that is unwanted by users or harmful;
(iii) prevent the transfer of unlawful content; or
(iv) prevent the unlawful transfer of content; and
(b) other reasonable network management practices.

So we can see that the FCC’s rule is no rule at all, because it never defines “nondiscriminatory” or “reasonable”. So how is the FCC going to enforce a policy that is ill-defined? The rule doesn’t say, but the FCC’s chairman Julius Genachowski explained at a speech at the Brookings Institution in September 2009 (page 13):

I will propose that the FCC evaluate alleged violations of the non-discrimination principal [sic] as they arise on a case by case basis, recognizing that the internet is an extraordinarily complex and dynamic system. This approach within the framework I am proposing today will allow the Commission to make reasoned, fact based determinations based on the internet before it, not based on the internet of years passed or guesses about how the internet will evolve.

Here’s the rub. Genachowski recognizes that there is no way to make a rule that ensures the good intended consequences of network neutrality while averting the bad unintended consequences. It’s good that he recognizes that, since legislators and regulators typically don’t, but what he proposes is even worse. He proposes, essentially, that there be no well-defined rule at all. Instead, the FCC will decide what’s okay on a case-by-case basis, using nothing but vague principles as a guide.

Returning to Cerf’s letter, he writes:

Many now-successful companies have deployed their services on the Internet without the need to negotiate special arrangements with Internet Service Providers, and it’s crucial that future innovators have the same opportunity. We are advocates for “permissionless innovation” that does not impede entrepreneurial enterprise.

I wholeheartedly agree with the principle of “permissionless innovation”, but that’s exactly not what the FCC’s policy would ensure. It does require that future innovators negotiate their innovations; it just makes the other party to the negotiation the FCC rather than ISPs.

Moreover, while the prospect of an ISP standing in the way of innovation is purely hypothetical, the prospect of a government regulator standing in the way of innovation is nigh inevitable. Those with political connections will have their way and any innovation that threatens them will be stamped out. Today’s innovator is tomorrow’s entrenched interest.

A few brave innovators may try to run the FCC gauntlet, but, for the most part, technology companies will avoid costly battles with government regulators. Rather than innovating, they will simply adopt a policy that they know will pass muster. And that means treating every packet the same.

That’s why Cerf is wrong. His internet expertise is unquestioned, but his faith in government regulators is naive. Empowering a government agency to pass judgement on future internet innovation is a terrible idea.

(Previous post.)

UPDATE: Cerf responds.


Most people use DVRs wrong

May 18, 2010

A study finds that television viewers with DVRs still watch live TV almost all the time (85%). I find this simply astonishing. I don’t even know when the programs I watch come on.


Don’t be evil

May 15, 2010

Google has been collecting data on internet traffic passing over personal wi-fi networks:

Google Inc. said an internal investigation has discovered that the roving vans the company uses to create its online mapping services were mistakenly collecting data about websites people were visiting over wireless networks.

The Internet giant said it would stop collecting Wi-Fi data from its StreetView vans, which workers drive to capture street images and to locate Wi-Fi networks. The company said it would dispose of the data it had accidentally collected.

Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research for Google, wrote in a blog post that the company uncovered the mistake while responding to a German data-protection agency’s request for it to audit the Wi-Fi data, amid mounting concerns that Google’s practices violated users’ privacy.

Google had previously said it was collecting the location of Wi-Fi hot spots from its StreetView vehicles, but not the information being transmitted over those networks by users.

“It’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) Wi-Fi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products,” wrote Mr. Eustace. “We are profoundly sorry for this error and are determined to learn all the lessons we can from our mistake.”

They say it was accidental, and maybe it was (although we have no way to know). But that doesn’t let them off the hook. Even in the most benign reading, this is a company that collects so much data that it can accidentally spy on you.

I also think they need to explain in greater detail how they are going to dispose of the data.


Reclassification is a go

May 7, 2010

If I’m understanding this WSJ story right, the FCC really is going to go ahead and claim that the internet is a telephone system so they can regulate it.

(Previous post.)

UPDATE: More here.


Hacker finds hidden arrest video

April 25, 2010

A security expert arrested illegally by Seattle police proved that the police were lying when they claimed the recording of his arrest had been deleted. (Via Instapundit.)


Don’t be evil?

April 24, 2010

My distrust of Google had recently started to wane a little, but it’s back now. The Register reports:

Google’s roving Street View spycam may blur your face, but it’s got your number. The Street View service is under fire in Germany for scanning private WLAN networks, and recording users’ unique Mac (Media Access Control) addresses, as the car trundles along. . .

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently said internet users shouldn’t worry about privacy unless they have something to hide.

(Via Instapundit.)


Internet “reclassification”

April 12, 2010

I guess I should have expected this. If you’re determined to nationalize the internet, why let defeat in Congress and in court stop you?

The U.S. could regain its authority to pursue both network neutrality and widespread access to broadband by formally reclassifying Internet access as “telecommunications services,” a former adviser to President Obama said in a published report on Sunday.

Susan Crawford, who was a special assistant to the President for science, technology and innovation policy, wrote in the New York Times that, before it can reclassify Internet access, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has to prove “good reason”. . .

Crawford said if Internet access is reclassified as “telecommunications services” rather than as “information services,” it would make it easier to tell providers of high-speed Internet access what to do.

(Previous post.)


Idiots

April 9, 2010

To edit your profile on Verizon’s web site, you need both your password and the answer to your “secret” question. I don’t think they are correctly understanding the principle behind the secret question.

Since secret questions are insecure and I never lose passwords, I often put random junk into the secret question field. That worked out poorly for me in this case.


Good news, bad news

April 8, 2010

Wired has an article about Apple’s upcoming iPhone OS 4.0.  The good news is it will support multitasking. The bad news, multitasking won’t work on the original iPhone or the 3G. Boo.


Court rules against network neutrality

April 6, 2010

The Court of Appeals for DC has ruled unanimously that the FCC does not have the power to impose network neutrality:

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to require broadband providers to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic flowing over their networks.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is a big victory for Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable company. It had challenged the FCC’s authority to impose so-called “net neutrality” obligations on broadband providers.

The ruling also marks a serious setback for the FCC, which is trying to officially set net neutrality regulations.

This is a good thing for technology, as I explain here and here. It’s obviously a good thing for property rights, and it’s also good for the rule of law, as the FCC had no authority to do what it was trying to do:

Because the FCC “has failed to tie its assertion” of regulatory authority to any actual law enacted by Congress, the agency does not have the authority to regulate an Internet provider’s network management practices, wrote Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

(Via Hot Air.) (Previous post.)


Distrust and verify

March 23, 2010

The Economist reports:

Barack Obama was asked when he was in Copenhagen whether a provision by which countries could peek into each others’ assessment processes was strong enough to be sure there was no cheating. He answered reassuringly that “we can actually monitor a lot of what takes place through satellite imagery”. That statement conjured up thoughts of the sort of cold-war satellite system that America used to identify and count Russian missiles. But the president was being a bit previous; at the moment, no such system exists, because America’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), a satellite that would have fulfilled the role, was lost on launch this time last year.

(Emphasis mine.)

It’s good to know that the president is making decisions based on the best scientific advice.


Printing organs

March 10, 2010

This is right out of science fiction. Enjoy your medical innovation while it’s still happening.


Government loses more sensitive data

January 28, 2010

Wired reports:

A data breach at the National Archives and Records Administration is more serious than previously believed. It involved sensitive personal information of 250,000 Clinton administration staff members, job applicants and White House visitors, as well as the Social Security number of at least one daughter of former Vice President Al Gore.

The data, which included more than 100,000 Social Security numbers, was stored on a computer hard drive that the NARA discovered missing last April from a data processing room in Maryland. It’s unknown if the drive was lost or stolen. . .

The NARA was harshly criticized for another potential data breach it may have suffered involving the records of 70 million U.S. military veteran. The records were on a defective hard drive that the agency sent to the drive vendor for repair. The agency failed to delete data on the drive before sending it to the vendor. When the vendor determined the drive couldn’t be repaired, it passed the drive to another company for recycling.

But don’t worry, they’ll be much more careful with our medical records.

(Via Instapundit.)


LED traffic lights kill

January 2, 2010

LED traffic lights save electricity, but they generate less heat. That is a problem in colder climates: the cold bulbs allow snow and ice to accumulate and obscure the light. This is being blamed for a fatal accident in Oswego, Illinois. The solution being adopted is to send out road crews to clean the lights, which eliminates some or all of the cost savings. But at least they’re creating “green jobs”!

THERMODYNAMIC POSTSCRIPT: Above I said “but they generate less heat”, but I could just as well have said “because they generate less heat”. All the energy a bulb uses has to go somewhere. LED’s use less electricity precisely because they don’t generate as much waste heat. (LEDs also don’t waste energy on light invisible to the human eye, but I don’t think that’s much of a factor.)

LEDs and fluorescent bulbs are cold by design. Traffic light failures are a dramatic consequence, but there is a more commonplace one. In a home that uses electric heat, LEDs and fluorescent bulbs will save no energy during the heating months. Any heat that is not generated by lighting will be made up joule-for-joule by electric heaters, coming out precisely even. As a result, estimates of the energy saved by such lighting are substantially overstated (again, in homes with electric heat).

(Via Volokh.)


Search neutrality

December 30, 2009

I’ve written on this blog before (here and here) that I am against network neutrality, because it is a technically flawed and almost universally misunderstood solution to an as-yet nonexistent problem.

Now people are beginning to call for “search neutrality”. Technically there is no relation at all between network and search neutrality, but the two are likely to become politically entangled. The idea to search neutrality is that search providers (i.e., Google) ought not use their power deliberately to direct customers to some services in which they have a financial interest (particularly theirs) over others.

There are two immediate differences we can observe between search neutrality and network neutrality. First, there are no technical problems with search neutrality. Unlike network neutrality, search neutrality would not hurt network performance or stifle innovation. Second, search neutrality is targeted at a problem that actually exists. Google does use its search influence to direct customers to its own services.

Is search neutrality therefore a good idea? That’s not so clear.

Generally I’m against government intervention in the marketplace, but I make an exception in the case of monopolistic (and oligopolistic) behavior. It is appropriate for the government to take action to protect individuals in non-competitive markets. Of course, in most cases, monopolies exists because of the action of the government. In such cases, the government should simply remove the barriers to entry that it has erected itself. There also exists a few instances of natural monopolies, typically utilities. The science of regulating public utilities to ensure efficient resource allocation is fairly well-understood.

Then there’s the rarest of all cases, in which a company establishes a dominant position through superior business practices or technical insight that, for some reason, other companies are unable to duplicate. It’s impossible to make any universal rule in such a case, but I would make two related observations: First, the government always seems to overreact in such circumstances. (Witness the government’s persecution of IBM and the ham-handed AT&T breakup.) Second, such circumstances are invariably far more temporary than people seem to suppose.

On general libertarian principles, I’m against forcing Google to order its search results in any fashion other than how they choose. With a 65% market share, Google isn’t a monopolistic player yet, so there’s no need yet to contemplate an exception on such grounds. Furthermore, it would be very hard to fashion a rule that would prevent search rigging while permitting legitimate innovation.

On the other hand, Google should be pressured to reveal their methodology. Their official blog contains a weak explanation of why their purported dedication to openness does not apply to their search algorithm. Basically they say that their page-ranking algorithm is not robust (my words, not theirs) and publishing it would make it easy for people to manipulate it. That might be so. But there is no reason why they shouldn’t publish the exceptions they make to their page-ranking algorithm. The only reason I see for keeping the exceptions secret is their publication might make Google look bad.

(Via Big Government.)

POSTSCRIPT: When I say that Google isn’t a monopolistic player yet, I’m referring of course to web search. They are a monopolistic player in the business of stealing books. Astonishingly, a federal court has not only given Google approval to steal copyrighted books, it has also made Google the only one that can do so. (Again, most monopolies exist due to government action.) There’s also other good reason to dislike Google, such as its growing record of censorship. So if Google did face some government persecution, my sympathy for them would be limited.

(Previous post.)


Osmotic power

December 26, 2009

A new technology for electricity generation uses osmotic pressure to drive a turbine. It’s not ready for practical use yet, but a Norwegian firm hopes to build a commercial plant by 2015.

It sounds technically cool, but I’m a bit skeptical. The technology works by making fresh water salty. Unfortunately, fresh water is precious in much of the world, while there are other cost-effective ways to generate electricity. It seems like it might be reasonable to build an osmotic plant where a river meets the sea already, but those areas tend to have ecosystems that environmentalists get exercised about. The article mentions the possibility of a plant between the Red Sea and Dead Sea, where you could move salt water into even saltier water, but how many such places exist?


Bad code offsets

November 24, 2009

Awesome:

I have never written a bad line of code.

When I tell people that, they often scoff and offer replies like “so you’re not a programmer then?” and “let me guess, you’re a coding deity or something?” Well let me say, I am a programmer and I am not Codethulu, but in the same manner that Al Gore can fly around the world in a private jet without polluting, I have negated my bad code footprint through the purchase of Bad Code Offsets.

Sounds like a growth industry to me.


A fresh approach to desalination

November 6, 2009

A clever new desalination technique, powered primarily by solar.


ACTA attacks digital freedoms

November 4, 2009

The internet chapter of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement has leaked, and it’s as bad as many have suspected. BoingBoing summarizes:

  • ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn’t infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.
  • ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet — and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living — if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.
  • The whole world must adopt US-style “notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.
  • Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM).

(Via Instapundit.) The EFF has more.

This treaty is being negotiated in secret by the Obama administration, citing national security, if you can believe that:

Last September, the Bush administration defended the unusual secrecy over an anti-counterfeiting treaty being negotiated by the U.S. government, which some liberal groups worry could criminalize some peer-to-peer file sharing that infringes copyrights.

Now President Obama’s White House has tightened the cloak of government secrecy still further, saying in a letter this week that a discussion draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and related materials are “classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958.”

Got that? An international treaty is classified due to national security. If that weren’t already a load of crap, the negotiations aren’t so sensitive that they couldn’t invite comment from 42 outside lawyers.


Judge rules email not protected by Fourth Amendment

October 28, 2009

Apparently the ruling hinges on the fact that email is stored outside the home. But snail mail is protected when it’s sitting in a mailbox, or even en route. Why should email be different?

I’m also confused how to reconcile this decision with Warshak v. US, which says email is protected under the Fourth Amendment. Is this just a circuit split?

UPDATE (11/8): To muddy the waters a little bit more, see the correction here. As a non-lawyer it’s now not clear at all what this ruling means, although it still doesn’t sound good.


Competition is good

October 21, 2009

I like my Kindle, but I’m still happy about Barnes & Noble’s new Nook e-reader. I hope it will push Amazon to make some improvements, particularly something like the Nook’s book-lending feature.

(Via Instapundit.)


FCC embraces network neutrality

September 25, 2009

The FCC is preparing to impose network neutrality on the Internet. Despite what the WSJ says in its headline, this is not a boon for consumers and Silicon Valley. I explain why here and here.

(Previous post.)


Gadget makers could help, but won’t

September 9, 2009

The makers of various wireless gadgets (the Kindle, Sirius XM radio, the iPhone) could track down those gadgets when they are stolen, or at least make them useless, but they won’t do it. Apparently they would rather sell content to the new possessor.

(Via Instapundit.)


Skype doubles its rates

September 6, 2009

It’s probably not a coincidence that Skype is doubling its rates at the very same time as it is being sold.


Should we fear the iTablet?

August 9, 2009

Tom Conlon, writing for Popular Science, is worried about the Apple tablet rumors:

It’s been reported by several news outlets that the supposed iTablet will feature a 10-inch touchscreen, both Wi-Fi and 3G data, and a custom ARM processor. It’s already been priced at $800 and even greenlit by none other than His Majesty Steve Jobs for a September release. Not one iota of this has been officially confirmed, but the prospect of a Mac Tablet seems more within reach than ever before.

This is not a good thing. If an Apple tablet is ever actually released, we should all be very concerned for the future of what most of us take for granted today: our digital freedom.

The Apple tablet will likely sit somewhere in between the iPhone and a Mac laptop. But it won’t just blur the line between them—-it will attempt to erase it. This should scare you because it will be the biggest leap yet towards the notion of a completely closed “desktop” operating system.

(Via Instapundit.)

It seems unlikely that closed operating systems could conquer the open ones. People who have been free are usually loath to give up their freedom. Of course, it’s not unprecedented either.


Amazon sued over Orwell-Kindle affair

August 5, 2009

Eugene Volokh thinks the plaintiff has a case.

(Previous post.)


Politics stalls computer security initiative

August 4, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House’s acting cybersecurity czar [Melissa Hathaway] announced her resignation Monday, in a setback to the Obama administration’s efforts to better protect the computer networks critical to national security and the global economy.

The resignation highlights the difficulty the White House has had following through on its cybersecurity effort. President Barack Obama first outlined his cybersecurity plans in a high-profile speech May 29, announcing his intention to create a top White House cybersecurity post — a position he has yet to fill. . .

In the past year, intelligence officials have grown increasingly concerned about Chinese and Russian cyberspies surveilling U.S. infrastructure and military networks.

People familiar with the matter said Ms. Hathaway has been “spinning her wheels” in the White House, where the president’s economic advisers sought to marginalize her politically. . .

Ms. Hathaway had initially been considered a leading contender to fill the cyber post permanently. She lost favor with the president’s economic team after she said it should consider options for regulating some private-sector entities to ensure they secure their networks, said cybersecurity specialists familiar with the discussions. Being a holdover from the Bush administration didn’t help either, they said.

In February, the White House tapped Ms. Hathaway, a senior intelligence official who had launched President George W. Bush’s cybersecurity initiative, to lead a 60-day cybersecurity policy review. Ms. Hathaway completed her review in April, but the White House spent another 60 days debating the wording of her report and how to structure the White House cyber post. National Economic Adviser Larry Summers argued forcefully that his team should have a say in the work of the new cyber official.

If our enemies bring down our computer infrastructure, at least we can be reassured that cybersecurity wasn’t run by a Bush administration holdover, and that President Obama’s economic team had their say.


Bezos apologizes

July 24, 2009

Jeff Bezos has apologized for Amazon’s handling of the Orwell-Kindle affair. (Via Instapundit.)

I’ll accept his apology as genuine, but it doesn’t entirely settle the matter. The troubling thing about the incident wasn’t so much Amazon’s action, but their capability to do it. Bezos can’t put this back in the box, now that we know about that capability. Bezos needs to explain what Amazon will do to protect the ebooks that we already own.

(Previous post.)


The trouble with DRM

July 18, 2009

It seems Amazon has the power to delete books from customers’ kindles, and they recently exercised that power. To make the incident a little more poignant, the deleted books were George Orwell works, including 1984 and Animal Farm.

The publisher that was selling the books did not have the rights to do so, and Amazon refunded customers’ money, so it’s hard to say that what Amazon did in this incident was wrong. What is troubling is that they have the power to do it.

With an ordinary book, readers are protected by owning a physical copy. A lawsuit or a change in heart by the publisher might take a book out of print, but it cannot recall the books that are already out there. The idea that an existing book might be made to disappear is very troubling.

It’s not a hypothetical worry either, as demonstrated by the recent affair of the Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization, whose publisher, Wiley-Blackwell, abruptly cancelled publication of the work after it had already gone to press, recalled its existing copies, and pulped its entire run. The reason for the action is unclear, and it is credibly alleged that it was because the work was “too Christian.”

One inherent protection that free speech has from censorship is that it’s hard to find and collect all the copies of a banned book. It’s very disappointing that Amazon decided to build that functionality into the kindle. Outside the western democracies (indeed, probably even in Canada), this functionality will certainly be used to enforce censorship. Even more troubling, it will be used silently to revise existing works to correct politically incorrect material. That’s a development worthy of George Orwell.

POSTSCRIPT: If you’re a kindle owner, and you don’t want to trust Amazon to archive your kindle books (as this incident shows you should not), you can do it yourself. Using the USB cable, you can connect your kindle to your computer and copy off its books. Those books are DRMed, so you can only read them on your kindle, but you can restore them if they’re deleted. It possible that it might not work in this sort of case; Amazon might have included a revocation list in the kindle, but I doubt they went so far.

UPDATE: For once, I beat Glenn Reynolds to the punch. His take is much the same as mine, except he’s not focusing on the service this does for tyrants. Also, Hot Air says that it looks as though Amazon’s action is not permitted under its Terms of Use.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Amazon says they won’t do it again:

Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.

(Via Volokh.)


Nokia and Siemens assist Iranian oppression

July 15, 2009

I didn’t notice this story last month:

The Iranian regime has developed, with the assistance of European telecommunications companies, one of the world’s most sophisticated mechanisms for controlling and censoring the Internet, allowing it to examine the content of individual online communications on a massive scale.

Interviews with technology experts in Iran and outside the country say Iranian efforts at monitoring Internet information go well beyond blocking access to Web sites or severing Internet connections.

Instead, in confronting the political turmoil that has consumed the country this past week, the Iranian government appears to be engaging in a practice often called deep packet inspection, which enables authorities to not only block communication but to monitor it to gather information about individuals, as well as alter it for disinformation purposes, according to these experts.

The monitoring capability was provided, at least in part, by a joint venture of Siemens AG, the German conglomerate, and Nokia Corp., the Finnish cellphone company.

The Iranian people sure did, though. Iranians have organized a boycott of Nokia, and an Iranian paper claims that Nokia’s sales have been halved as a result of the boycott.

(Via the Corner.)


Gov’t considers crippling mobile innovation

June 18, 2009

Idiots:

The most important developments in mobile technology have required creative funding streams that have necessitated carrier exclusivity agreements. For example, the iPhone’s “natural” cost would be well north of $600, were Apple not able to create a subsidy for purchasers through an exclusive partnership with AT&T.

Exclusive and exciting technology generates more subscribers to the carrier, which allows it to subsidize the technology on the front end. Further, exclusivity creates incentives for new phones to be developed in partnership with competing carriers. (Case in point: the Palm Pre.)

Enter the dark clouds of FCC regulation. The Commission is set to determine whether these private contracts between providers and manufacturers are “anticompetitive” and “contrary to the public interest,” which would be a reversal of its own decision in 1992. Unfortunately, the Senate seems eager for such a reversal; today the Commerce Committee is holding hearings on the subject.

If the iPhone had cost $600 it never would have existed. With this regulation, the next great idea won’t exist.


I’d prefer the stupid grid, thanks

June 17, 2009

The new “smart” power grid we’re building with stimulus funds has buffer overrun vulnerabilities in its software that an attacker can use to bring down the power grid.

(Via Instapundit.)


Now with 50% more buzzwords

May 30, 2009

Web 3.0”  Geez.


Seabasing

May 14, 2009

The Economist has an interesting article on the technologies with which the military is experimenting to build military bases on the sea.


DVRs are little used

May 10, 2009

I find this news astonishing:

As prices fell and cable and satellite firms began to bundle DVRs with other services, their popularity soared. According to Nielsen, a media-research outfit, 29% of American homes now have one. . .

Yet those households do not use them nearly as much as one might expect. Families with DVRs seem to spend 15-20% of their viewing time watching pre-recorded shows, and skip only about half of all advertisements. This means only about 5% of television is time-shifted and less than 3% of all advertisements are skipped. Mitigating that loss, people with DVRs watch more television.

Tivo is great because it puts me, rather than the broadcasters, in charge of my viewing habits.  To a good approximation, I watch only pre-recorded shows.  And why would you watch commercials if you don’t have to?  My pre-schooler complains that the TV is broken if a commercial ever comes on.  How is it possible that most people are happy to watch programs when they are told to watch, and are happy to be interrupted every few minutes?  I don’t get it.


Botched 911 system kills teen

May 8, 2009

The AP has the tragic and troubling story of Australian teen’s death after becoming lost in the wilderness.  He called for help on his cell phone, but the 911-equivalent operators were focused more on satisfying the demands of the software than on getting him help.

Mandatory fields when entering data into software are always annoying, but this time they cost a boy his life.  Until the day comes (possibly never) that computers can exercise sound judgement, humans must be able to override their demands, particularly in systems on which lives depend.


Global Online Freedom Act reintroduced

May 8, 2009

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) is making another try at the Global Online Freedom Act, which is intended to keep US companies from assisting with oppression in other countries.  The legislation is prompted in part by Yahoo’s cooperation in identifying Chinese dissidents, which resulted in long prison sentences for the dissidents.

Assuming the 2009 version is similar to the 2007 one, the legislation is pretty mild, actually.  It does very little on the censorship front, merely requiring that companies keep track of their censorship and report it to the US government.  It also forbids them from blocking web sites supported by the US government.

It does better in regard to personally identifiable information, prohibiting its release in Internet-restricting countries, except for legitimate law enforcement purposes, which specifically do not include “control, suppression, or punishment of peaceful expression of political or religious opinion.”  It also gives victims a right of action against the company in federal court, without regard to citizenship.  All this is limited, however, by an authority given to the president to waive the provisions for any country.

Smith’s last effort passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2007 and was placed on the calendar, but never reached the House floor (which was controlled by Democrats).

(Related post.)


DOJ to investigate Google Books settlement

May 2, 2009

Reports the New York Times.  Obviously, I think that’s appropriate.

(Via Volokh.) (Previous post.)

POSTSCRIPT: In a conversation yesterday, I mentioned that Google has abandoned its “don’t be evil” slogan. My friend remarked that he thinks now it’s “don’t be evil, on net.”  Is Google still in the black, so to speak?  I think they probably are, but they may need a moral bailout soon.


Skype for iPhone fixed

April 30, 2009

The latest update for Skype for iPhone (1.0.3) finally fixes the contact bug.


Rockefeller-Snowe idiocy act of 2009

April 13, 2009

The proposed Cybersecurity Act of 2009 sounds very bad:

Essentially, the Act would federalize critical infrastructure security. Since many of our critical infrastructure systems (banks, telecommunications, energy) are in the hands of the private sector, the bill would create a major shift of power away from users and companies to the federal government. This is a potentially dangerous approach that favors the dramatic over the sober response.

One proposed provision gives the President unfettered authority to shut down Internet traffic in an emergency and disconnect critical infrastructure systems on national security grounds goes too far. Certainly there are times when a network owner must block harmful traffic, but the bill gives no guidance on when or how the President could responsibly pull the kill switch on privately-owned and operated networks.

Furthermore, the bill contains a particularly dangerous provision that could cripple privacy and security in one fell swoop:

The Secretary of Commerce— shall have access to all relevant data concerning (critical infrastructure) networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access…

In other words, the bill would give the Commerce Department absolute, non-emergency access to “all relevant data” without any privacy safeguards like standards or judicial review. The broad scope of this provision could eviscerate statutory protections for private information, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Privacy Protection Act, or financial privacy regulations. Even worse, it isn’t clear whether this provision would require systems to be designed to enable access, essentially a back door for the Secretary of Commerce that would also establish a primrose path for any bad guy to merrily skip down as well.

In addition to the obvious problems, there’s a technical one as well. There’s no way to shut the Internet down.  That’s the point; the Internet was designed to survive a nuclear war.  To make it possible would require the installation of remote-accessible kill switches on routers throughout the country (and probably the world).  We certainly don’t want to be doing that.

Since everyone from left to right is coming out against this, perhaps it can be nipped in the bud.


Attackers penetrate power grid

April 8, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials.

The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven’t sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.

“The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid,” said a senior intelligence official. “So have the Russians.” . . .

Many of the intrusions were detected not by the companies in charge of the infrastructure but by U.S. intelligence agencies, officials said. Intelligence officials worry about cyber attackers taking control of electrical facilities, a nuclear power plant or financial networks via the Internet.

(Via Instapundit.)

Why the hell are these things even on the Internet?  This strikes me as an entirely unnecessary vulnerability.


Skype for iPhone

April 2, 2009

Finally available.

UPDATE: It’s buggy though, to the point where it doesn’t really work. Bringing up a particular contact (just one, oddly enough, but the only one I wanted to call) consistently crashes the app.  Even rebooting doesn’t help.  I hope they fix it soon.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Skype says they’re working on it:

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

This error is known by our development team and will be resolved in a future release of Skype.

Stay tuned for updates in the Apple App Store and get the latest version of Skype for iPhone once it is available

We apologize for the inconvenience.

UPDATE (4/30): It’s fixed now.


Sweden moves ahead

April 1, 2009

Clearly, Sweden is now the world leader in innovation.  (Via Instapundit.)


Skype for iPhone close to release?

March 27, 2009

For what it’s worth, a rumor says it could release as soon as next week.


Israel tests Iron Dome

March 27, 2009

Fox News reports:

Israel’s Defense Ministry says it has successfully tested a high-tech system designed to intercept incoming rockets.

A ministry statement says the Iron Dome system successfully dealt with incoming rockets of the types fired by Palestinian and Lebanese militants in tests this week, terming the test a “milestone.”

The statement stopped short of saying the system shot rockets down with an interceptor missile. Defense officials said Friday the system will likely be ready by the 2010 target date for deployment.


Appalled by freedom

March 24, 2009

One of the most important freedoms enjoyed by most Americans is afforded not by the Constitution, but by Henry Ford.  Affordable access to automobiles gives us the ability to come and go wherever and whenever we please.  We are not limited to the routes offered by trains, nor are we limited to their schedules.  This freedom is as fundamental to our lives as many of those in the Bill of Rights.

Outside the world’s wealthy nations, most people do not enjoy that freedom because they cannot afford a car.  But soon, many more people will be able to enjoy that freedom.  India’s Tata motors has repeated Henry Ford’s feat and dramatically reduced the cost of an automobile.  Its new car, the Nano, will cost just $2000 new.  This brings the car within the grasp of the developing world’s middle class, and will bring them a freedom of mobility they have never known.

Naturally, many environmentalists are appalled.  Only by living in abject poverty can people keep their carbon emissions at a satisfactory level.

(Via Instapundit.)


Weapons-grade laser achieved

March 19, 2009

Energy weapons are one step closer to the battlefield:

Huge news for real-life ray guns: Electric lasers have hit battlefield strength for the first time — paving the way for energy weapons to go to war.

In recent test-blasts, Pentagon-researchers at Northrop Grumman managed to get its 105 kilowatts of power out of their laser — past the “100kW threshold [that] has been viewed traditionally as a proof of principle for ‘weapons grade’ power levels for high-energy lasers,” Northrop’s vice president of directed energy systems, Dan Wildt, said in a statement.

(Via Instapundit.)


The missile defense testing record

March 18, 2009

The THAAD system was tested successfully again yesterday.  That extends missile defense’s near-perfect testing record since the system was deployed in December 2002.  This seems like a good occasion to update the testing chronology:

The land- and air-based systems have a perfect record since December 2002.  The four failures during that time are all of the Aegis/SM-3 system (against nine successes).

(Previous post.  More background here.)

UPDATE: Another successful Aegis/SM-3 test on July 31, 2009.


Traveling wave reactors

March 9, 2009

A company says it has a workable design for a traveling wave reactor. It hasn’t been studied to the same degree as uranium hydride reactors, much less pebble bed reactors, but if it pans out, it could have some real advantages.  (Via Instapundit.)


US reneges on digital TV

February 7, 2009

Qualcomm made the mistake of assuming the government would keep its word.  Oops.  It turns out their competitor, Clearwire, has a man in the White House.

(Via Instapundit.)  (Previous post.)


Digital TV moves forward, for now

January 31, 2009

The House of Representatives has blocked a bill that would have postponed the switch to digital TV, but it could be back:

The switch to digital television will go on as scheduled after the House yesterday blocked a bill to delay the date, saying postponing the action would only cause confusion for consumers and increase costs for broadcasters. . .

The bill was considered in the House yesterday under suspension of the rules, a procedure generally used for noncontroversial items. As a result, the bill saw only a short debate and no amendments were allowed. The vote was 258-168, with most Republicans voting against it. The bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees telecommunications issues, said he wants to bring the same bill back to the floor next week under regular order, meaning that it would need only a simple majority to pass.

The libertarian position on this issue isn’t clear to me.  Forcing people to buy new television sets doesn’t sound very good, to be sure, but the problem is the government controls the radio spectrum, so we won’t ever modernize the system without government action.  Barring privatization of the radio spectrum (out of the question in today’s political climate, I suppose), the switchover plan — to use some of the proceeds from sale of radio spectrum (formerly allocated to analog TV) to provide DTV converter coupons — seems like an acceptable one, in principle.

However, there have been a host of practical problems.  One is that the coupon program is out of money.  (Isn’t it quaint to worry about a paltry $1.34 billion program running out of money these days!) Another is the problem of digital dead zones, areas that can receive an analog signal but not yet a digital one.  So I think the case for a delay (e.g., by Consumer Reports) is a decent one.

Unfortunately, things are more complicated than that, due to competing business interests.  The companies that would use the newly-reallocated spectrum for 4G networks are in varying degrees of preparation.  Those who are most ready (such as Verizon) want the switch to take place on schedule.  They argue that they paid billions for the new spectrum, and the government should deliver it as promised. (Again, how quaint!)  Others who are behind (such as AT&T and Clearwire) want a delay, so that they too can be ready on day one, or close to it.

And that’s where a huge White House conflict-of-interest comes in:

Enter Gerry Salemme. A telecom industry veteran; former lobbyist; and Clearwire executive vice president for strategy, policy, and external affairs, Salemme has also been a generous Obama supporter. Early in the primary season, Salemme gave the maximum $2,300 to Obama for America, and then in August threw in another $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that accepts large contributions and carves them up between the party and candidate. . .  Once the race to the White House was won, Salemme scrounged another $5,000 for the transition effort.

As of this writing, Salemme is not mentioned anywhere on the Change.gov site—which lists members of the Obama transition’s staff, policy working groups, and agency review teams—nor has there been any public announcement of his involvement with the presidential transition. A spokesman for his company says that Salemme “remains in his position as Executive VP at Clearwire.” But Ars has learned that Salemme has been on leave using accrued vacation and joined the Obama transition team as a key adviser on DTV issues. . .

Salemme is widely praised for his expertise, both in the tech industry and on Capitol Hill. . . But Salemme’s high position with a primary competitor of Verizon—the company most vocally protesting that it would be adversely affected by a delay—creates an unavoidable appearance of conflict of interest.

(Via Instapundit.)

And it’s not just Clearwire, Salemme is also involved with a second company that would also profit from a delay.  His involvement puts a huge stink on the effort to delay the switchover.  Any delay now carries the taint of government corruption.  With all the countervailing factors, I think government integrity is the deciding one, and the switchover should proceed on schedule.


White House exempts Google from cookie rules

January 26, 2009

CNET reports:

The new Web site for Obama’s White House is already drawing attention from privacy activists and tech bloggers. While the initial focus has been on the site’s policies relating to search engine robots, a far more interesting tidbit has so far escaped the public eye: the White House has quietly exempted YouTube from strict rules relating to the use of cookies on federal agency Web sites.

The new White House Web site privacy policy promises that the site will not use long-term tracking cookies, complying with a decade-old rule prohibiting such user tracking by federal agencies. However, the privacy policy then reveals that Obama’s legal team has exempted YouTube from this rule (YouTube videos are embedded at various places around the White House Web site).

While the White House might not be tracking visitors, the Google-owned video sharing site is free to use persistent cookies to track the browsing behavior of millions of visitors to Obama’s home in cyberspace.

No other company has been singled out and rewarded with such a waiver.

Within a day of the fact going public, the White House partially reversed itself:

Within 12 hours of the story going live, Obama’s Web team rolled out a technical fix that severely limits YouTube’s ability to track most visitors to the White House Web site.

By late Thursday evening, each embedded YouTube video had been replaced with an image of a video player, which a user must click on before the real YouTube player will be loaded. The result of this change is that YouTube is now only able to use cookies to track users who click on the “play” button on an embedded YouTube video–the majority of people who scroll through a page without clicking play will not be tracked.

That’s a step in the right direction, but the original policy was better.  If persistent cookies are bad (generally they are), then why should Google get a special dispensation?

(Via Digital Destiny, via Instapundit.)


DVR clogging

January 16, 2009

I’m familiar with this phenomenon. (Via Instapundit.) Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to do a space upgrade on your Tivo.


Oops! This link appears broken.

January 16, 2009

I tried Chrome, and despite my distrust of Google, I think it’s pretty good.  But what’s up with all the DNS errors?! Why can’t it do DNS lookup the same as every other application? If they’re going to do something different, shouldn’t it be better?

UPDATE (1/27): Turning off DNS pre-fetching on the “Under the Hood” options menu seems to fix the problem.


It makes about as much sense as carbon offsets

January 15, 2009

Eco-friendly fonts.


Power Line overcomes DOS attack

December 31, 2008

In its latest war with Hamas terrorists, the IDF has begun to offer videos of their operations, presumably in part to show the world the care they are taking, and in part to show what they are accomplishing. Either way, Hamas and its sympathizers don’t want you to see them.

First, they induced YouTube (owned by Google) to take down the videos. They are finally back up now, under a content warning. In the meantime, Power Line decided to host some of them on their site. About an hour later, Power Line was under a denial of service attack. Fortunately, Power Line’s service provider was up to the challenge, and they were back up shortly.

You can subscribe to the IDF channel here. Here is their latest:

Note the trail of a rocket cooked off by the blast.


Navy unveils Pegasus

December 19, 2008

The Navy’s new unmanned aerial vehicle, the X-47B, was unveiled Tuesday. More here.

(Via Instapundit.)


Network neutrality and Google

December 16, 2008

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal story on Google’s supposed softening on network neutrality has caused a furor. Lawrence Lessig, in particular, seems to have a fair complaint, that the WSJ portrayed his consistent position as some sort of a shift. Google’s protest, on the other hand, is much less convincing. Google has been deliberately muddying the waters on this issue, and is now reaping the consequences.

I explained what network neutrality is about in this post last April. The actual technical question is, what policy should routers (particularly ISPs) use when choosing which packets to drop? An absolutely neutral policy would prevent routers from preferring more important packets, even among packets from the same stream for the same user. Just about no one who actually understands the issue thinks this would be a good thing. Given that some discrimination is desired, the question is, what grounds for discrimination should be allowed? (And let’s please limit ourselves to ones that are technically feasible.)

Instead, companies like Google have been framing the issue differently. They say that the issue is about whether ISPs can discriminate against content providers by delivering their packets slowly or not at all. I know of no case in which this has actually happened. If it did, its customers would be outraged, because they are paying for Internet service they are not getting.

ASIDE: The Comcast-BitTorrent incident is no exception. BitTorrent is not a content provider, it’s a peer-to-peer protocol, and what Comcast was doing (slowing BitTorrent traffic) was to improve its customers’ experience, not shake anyone down. As it happens, its customers still weren’t happy, and it discontinued the practice. A better idea would have been for Comcast to throttle its bandwidth hogs directly. Why they didn’t do that is anyone’s guess.

Google has invited this problem by promoting the idea that ISPs should treat every content provider identically (never mind that this isn’t what network neutrality is about), and now asking for special treatment for Google. Make no mistake, what Google wants to do now (better caching) is reasonable. But it is at odds with their rhetoric of the past. Their current protestations amount to “we never really meant it.” Its all to the good that they didn’t mean it, but they shouldn’t have said it either.

POSTSCRIPT: By the way, ISPs are private business relationships between telcos and their customers. If I and my ISP agree that it would be best to prioritize some of my packets over others, no one has any business stopping us. If my ISP starts doing so against my wishes, I can find another ISP. The only problem arises when (like Comcast with BitTorrent) they do it and don’t tell me.

(Previous post.)


u r defaulted lol

December 16, 2008

In Australia, a default judgement can now be served by notification on Facebook.

(Via the Volokh Conspiracy, from whose comments I borrowed the title.)


Google editing search results?

December 14, 2008

Does Google intend to begin asserting editorial control over search results?  According to the Register, they do.  No direct quotes, though, so take with a grain of salt

(Via Instapundit.)


Google’s censors

December 5, 2008

The New York Times Magazine has a long article about Google’s censors. It’s not just China; Google also censors the Internet on behalf of the governments of Turkey, France, Germany, and Thailand.

The article’s attitude toward censorship is oddly positive, viewing Google’s censorship as a theoretical problem:

“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king,” Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and a former scholar in residence at Google, told me recently. “One reason they’re good at the moment is they live and die on trust, and as soon as you lose trust in Google, it’s over for them.” Google’s claim on our trust is a fragile thing. After all, it’s hard to be a company whose mission is to give people all the information they want and to insist at the same time on deciding what information they get. . .

“Right now, we’re trusting Google because it’s good, but of course, we run the risk that the day will come when Google goes bad,” Wu told me.

But many would argue that the day has already come. Google’s record includes censorship not only in foreign countries for foreign goverments, but in America for political correctness. The article notes an infamous incident in which Google deleted a Michelle Malkin video and then deleted her protest:

Malkin became something of a cause célèbre among YouTube critics in 2006, when she created a two-minute movie called “First, They Came” in the wake of the violent response to the Danish anti-Muhammad cartoons. . .

Nearly seven months after she posted the video, Malkin told me she was “flabbergasted” to receive an e-mail message from YouTube saying the video had been removed for its “inappropriate content.” When Malkin asked why the video was removed, she received no response, and when she posted a video appealing to YouTube to reinstate it, that video, too, was deleted with what she calls the “false claim” that it had been removed at her request. . .

I watched the “First, They Came” video, which struck me as powerful political commentary that contains neither hate speech nor graphic violence, and I asked why it was taken down. According to a YouTube spokesman, the takedown was a routine one that hadn’t been reviewed by higher-ups. The spokesman said he couldn’t comment on particular cases, but he forwarded a link to Malkin’s current YouTube channel, noting that it contains 55 anti-jihadist videos similar to “First, They Came,” none of which have been taken down. . .

The removal of Malkin’s video may have been an innocent mistake. But it serves as a reminder that one person’s principled political protest is another person’s hate speech, and distinguishing between the two in hard cases is a lot to ask of a low-level YouTube reviewer. In addition, the publicity that attended the removal of Malkin’s video only underscores the fact that in the vast majority of cases in which material is taken down, the decision to do so is never explained or contested. The video goes down, and that’s the end of it.

Google’s defense is bizarre. First they claim that they never looked at Malkin’s video, which hardly seems possible given all the negative publicity the incident generated, and which is not a defense in any case. Then they point out all the Malkin videos they haven’t censored, as if that forgives them for the ones they did censor. And they give no explanation at all for why they would delete Malkin’s protest and claim she asked for it.

The New York Times’s attitude is also bizarre. They forgive Google’s enforcement of political correctness on the grounds that it’s really hard to tell what is and isn’t hate speech. Ordinarily, the NYT could tell you that that is an argument against censorship, or at the very least, for erring on the side of free speech. But in this case, the NYT’s main concern is that Google might start to cooperate with the US government. (Assisting Chinese repression is one thing, but the US government? Now that would be bad.)

To be clear, the First Amendment does not come into play here. Google is a private company and on their property they can censor whatever they want. But they shouldn’t then ask us to trust them.

(Via Althouse, via Instapundit.)

BONUS: Some older examples of Google’s viewpoint-based censorship here and here.


The missile defense testing record

November 29, 2008

Last June I collated the missile defense testing record from MDA press releases. In light of my last post, I thought I would update the record with tests since June. There have been four tests during that time:

  • June 25, 2008: THAAD test successful.
  • November 19, 2008: Japanese Aegis/SM-3 test unsuccessful.
  • November 1, 2008: Aegis/SM-3 dual target test mixed (one target intercepted, one not).
  • September 17, 2007: THAAD test aborted (target missile failed).

There have been no intercept tests of the best known missile-defense system, the GBMD (ground-based midcourse defense), during that time. November was a tough month for the Aegis/SM-3 system, making only one of three attempted intercepts. If we set aside the aborted THAAD test, the Aegis/SM-3 is the only system to fail since missile defense was deployed in December 2002.

UPDATE (12/6): Another test of the GBMD system yesterday was a qualified success.  The system intercepted the target, but the test was intended to include countermeasures that failed to deploy, so it wasn’t as difficult as intended.


Popular Mechanics on missile defense

November 29, 2008

Popular Mechanics has an interesting article on the technology of missile defense. It takes a somewhat skeptical tone, which I suppose is fair, but what isn’t fair is their misrepresentation of the testing record:

Which leaves a vital question: Does the system work? That’s a matter of fierce debate, and the success rate of tests is mixed. Since 1999, the MDA’s strategic defense system has passed seven out of 12 hit-to-kill tests. But in the six years since President George W. Bush pushed for deployment to counter North Korean missiles, only two of the ground-based interceptor tests have been successful.

There have been exactly two GBMD intercept tests during that time (2006 and 2007 (pdfs)), so the fact that “only two” were successful isn’t exactly a mixed record. One might criticize them for lack of testing, but that’s an entirely different critique. (Full-fledged intercept tests are very expensive, so they run a lot more tracking tests (pdf) and so forth.)

(Via Instapundit.)

POSTSCRIPT: Popular Mechanics links a Time article that argues the Obama administration will continue the program.  I sure hope so.


Don’t be evil?

November 27, 2008

Your Google searches, which Google is helpfully tracking for you, will be used against you in a court of law.


A minor thought

November 19, 2008

Isn’t it high time that WordPress’s spell-checker recognized “Barack” and “Obama” as words?


Obama urged to keep missile defense

November 13, 2008

General Obering is trying to persuade Obama to follow through with missile defense in Europe:

The Air Force general who runs the Pentagon’s missile defense projects said that American interests would be “severely hurt” if President-elect Obama decided to halt plans developed by the Bush administration to install missile interceptors in Eastern Europe.

Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told a group of reporters Wednesday that he is awaiting word from Obama’s transition team on their interest in receiving briefings.

During the campaign, Obama was not explicit about his intentions with regard to missile defense. . . Obama has said it would be prudent to “explore the possibility of deploying missile defense systems in Europe,” in light of what he called active efforts by Iran to develop ballistic missiles as well as nuclear weapons.

(Via Instapundit.)

I’d be surprised if Obama okays the European deployment. It’s true that at times he was vague about whether he would, but I think that was election-season equivocation. In the general election, the anti-war left had no additional support to give him. (Earlier, before the nomination was locked up, he was strident in opposition to missile defense.)

My guess (or perhaps I should say my most realistic hope) is that Obama will cut the baby in two: keep the North American missile defense system that’s already deployed, but abandon a European shield. Shutting down a working system would be a truly rash step, beyond (hopefully) what President Obama would do. If he did, and it ever were needed, history would not be kind to him.

Whether ongoing research will continue I cannot hazard a guess. Obama has said we will “work with NATO allies to develop anti-missile technologies,” whatever that means.

But the wild card is whether Obama will meet with Obering:

Obama expressed some skepticism about the technical capability of U.S. missile defenses. . . Obering, who is leaving his post next week after more than four years in charge, said in the interview that his office has pulled together information for a presentation to the Obama team, if asked.

“What we have discovered is that a lot of the folks that have not been in this administration seem to be dated, in terms of the program,” he said. “They are kind of calibrated back in the 2000 time frame and we have come a hell of a long way since 2000. Our primary objective is going to be just, frankly, educating them on what we have accomplished, what we have been able to do and why we have confidence in what we are doing.”

If he gets the chance to make the case, he can point to a very successful testing record since the system was deployed in 2002. Perhaps that will sway the President. Conversely, if Obama won’t even listen, that’s a bad sign.


Laser weapons arrive

November 9, 2008

The Economist has an interesting article on the long-awaited arrival of ray guns to reality.  The first prototype directed-energy weapon is deployed in an “undisclosed theatre of war,” and more are on the way.

Does this mean we’ll finally have flying cars soon?


Uranium hydride update

November 9, 2008

The Guardian has a story on Hyperion, the company that’s planning to build small uranium hydride reactors for communities and industrial facilities.  They say they have over 100 firm orders and will begin manufacturing in 2013.  (Via Instapundit.)

My previous post on Hyperion had some more details on the plan.


Tech firms complete “code of conduct”

November 1, 2008

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Criticized for their human rights records, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft plan to adopt voluntary guidelines that will govern their business practices in nations like China that restrict free speech, according to people who participated in drafting the rules.

The code of conduct, a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle before its scheduled release next week, spells out that the technology titans should, for instance, carefully scrutinize demands by authorities for information about users and requests that online material be censored.

By agreeing to the rules, the companies hope to counter unflattering publicity in recent years over their cooperation with China’s efforts to crack down on dissidents and block Web sites considered to be subversive. It also might be a way to fend off U.S. legislation that could hamstring their business in some potentially profitable markets.

But critics complained that some of the rules fail to go far enough. Loopholes make it possible for companies to continue some of their most egregious behavior, they said.

Ooooh!  Careful scrutiny before cooperating with censors and oppressors!

These companies have already made their priorities clear.  This “code of conduct” is nothing more than a PR effort to repair their tarnished reputation and stave off legislation.  Does anyone think it will stop them from doing anything that China (and Australia) requires?  I hope no one is taken in by it.


Australia emulates China

November 1, 2008

The Herald Sun reports that Australia is preparing to implement nationwide internet filtering (that is, censorship):

AUSTRALIA will join China in implementing mandatory censoring of the internet under plans put forward by the Federal Government. . . The government has declared it will not let internet users opt out of the proposed national internet filter.

The plan was first created as a way to combat child pronography and adult content, but could be extended to include controversial websites on euthanasia or anorexia.

Communications minister Stephen Conroy revealed the mandatory censorship to the Senate estimates committee as the Global Network Initiative, bringing together leading companies, human rights organisations, academics and investors, committed the technology firms to “protect the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users”. . .

The net nanny proposal was originally going to allow Australians who wanted uncensored access to the web the option of contacting their internet service provider to be excluded from the service.

(Via Volokh.)

Just a few days ago, I listened to Kaithy Shaidle on PJM political predict that nationwide net filtering wasn’t far away in Canada. Lord help me, I thought she was exaggerating. Continental Europe is one thing, but we’re not there yet in the English-speaking world, right? Wrong.

Anyway, anyone who thinks that it would be used only for child pornography for long has not been paying attention. It won’t be limited to that even on the day it’s activated.

It’s worth mentioning that the current Australian government is leftist. Let’s not hear any more prattle about liberal concern for free speech. (Am I generalizing too much from one incident in a foreign country? I wish.)

UPDATE: A reader writes to tell me that this started during the preceding Conservative government.  That’s not much of a defense in any case, but is it true?  After a couple of minutes of googling, it looks like the answer is “sort of.”  Electronic Frontiers Australia has a web page denouncing the proposal.  Nowhere does it point to an origin for this proposal outside of the Labor party.  In fact, it specifically points to its origin in a press release from Labor, while they were still in opposition.

But, EFA also has a lot to say about other internet censorship laws passed by the preceding Conservative government.  Nothing as sweeping or draconian as this, to be sure, but still bad.   So you can pick your story.  If you’re anti-Labor, you can say that Labor plans to make Australia’s censorship far, far worse.  If you’re pro-Labor, you can say that (unlike the Conservatives) they haven’t actually done anything yet, and maybe they won’t.  Let’s hope the latter story pans out.


British project developing nuclear-powered passenger plane

October 28, 2008

Cool.


Patterico’s domain has been hijacked

October 24, 2008

Announced here (link may not be permanent). I’ve been hearing more and more about this sort of thing. It’s very worrisome. The service in this case is 1&1 Internet. Don’t use them.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Patterico wins.


Army deploys new bandages

October 18, 2008

The new bandages reportedly improve survival rates from life-threatening wounds by 80%.


Cool

October 7, 2008

Popular Mechanics looks at the Airborne Laser and its applications to missile defense.  (Via Instapundit.)


Blog report clears Denver cop

September 25, 2008

Score another one for the blogosphere.


Google to end discrimination in abortion keyword ads

September 23, 2008

The NY Times reports:

After a lawsuit from a Christian anti-abortion group, Google is allowing religious organizations to take out ads using the keyword “abortion,” a rare case of the search giant admitting it was wrong.

In March, Google rejected an ad from the Christian Institute, a British organization, that read, in part, “UK abortion law: Key news and views on abortion law from The Christian Institute.”

The group, which wanted to advertise because the House of Commons was considering a bill involving abortion issues, filed a lawsuit against Google in April, saying the company was discriminating on religious grounds.

Google has limits on what can and cannot be advertised; it will not allow ads for products derived from endangered species, for example, nor will it allow ads promoting violence. In the past, Google would not sell the “abortion” keyword to religious groups, but did sell it to other groups, including secular groups, doctors offering abortions and resource sites like Our Bodies, Ourselves. . .

Google reviewed its policy, and announced last Wednesday it had reached a settlement with the Christian Institute. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but Google immediately began allowing ads linked to abortion from religious groups as long as they were determined to be factual, and not graphic or emotional ads.

(Via Instapundit.)


Palin hacker speaks

September 18, 2008

The jackass who hacked Sarah Palin’s private email account has posted an account of his criminal activity. Wired has the story. Three interesting things:

  • He used a “security question” and googled personal information to do it. I’ve always hated security questions, and this is why. I always try not to use them, but most sites seem to require them now. (Note to hackers: the name of my pet is “teLVhwnlX2sVFDGf0NtK”.)
  • He was hoping to find something incriminating, but didn’t. (How many politicians could make that boast?)
  • The owner of the email account used to make the post has been tentatively identified as a Tennessee college student. (Wired doesn’t say how.) If this identification is accurate, it’s interesting because his father is a Democratic representative in the Tennessee legislature.

Even if Wired is wrong, he will probably be caught pretty soon, according to a story in the Register.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: The student in question is the son of Tennessee State Rep. Mike Kernell.  (Via Instapundit.)


Hackers invade Palin email

September 17, 2008

Is it ethical or even legal to hack into someone’s private email and voicemail and post it on the Internet? Gawker says yes, at least when it’s Sarah Palin’s email in question. (It’s not obvious that the information is legit, but Gawker thinks it is.)

Then there’s the chutzpah: when the compromised account was taken down, Gawker accused them of destroying documents.

(Via LGF.)

UPDATE: Confirmed. Time adds that nothing of a scandalous nature has been uncovered.

UPDATE: The AP protects the criminals.


Air Sharing

September 15, 2008

Air Sharing, a cool new app for the iPhone allows you to turn your iPhone into a network drive whenever you have WiFi.  You can mount the drive on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux, or access it using a browser.  It’s free for the next week.

(Via Gizmodo.)


Say it ain’t so!

September 14, 2008

Anti-competitive practices at Google:

In the summer of 2006, however, Google pulled the rug out from under him. Suddenly and without warning, Google raised Sourcetool’s minimum bid requirement from 5 or 6 cents to $1, and in some cases to as much as $5 or $10. Mr. Savage discovered this was happening only after he saw that Sourcetool’s traffic had dwindled drastically and began looking into the reasons. . .

“Your landing pages will continue to require higher bids in order to display your ads, resulting in a very low return on your investment,” a Google executive named Nathan Anderson wrote on Jan. 2, 2007. “Therefore AdWords may not be the online advertising program for you.”

Two days later, in another e-mail message, Mr. Anderson told Mr. Savage to “please refrain from repeatedly contacting our team.”

As he stewed about his predicament, Mr. Savage came to believe that there was something more nefarious going on than a subpar landing page. Google, he believed, didn’t like his Web directory because it was a search engine itself — though much more narrowly focused than Google’s search engine — and Google found it a competitive threat.

What’s more, Sourcetool competed directly with business.com, which was one of Google’s “content network partners,” meaning it gets additional advertising revenue because Google directs AdWords ads to the site as well as AdSense ads. . .

As Mr. Savage saw it, Google’s near monopoly in search ads (its market share is approaching 70 percent) put it in a position to decide which business models it would tolerate and which ones it wouldn’t. “Google can use AdWords to pick winners in every category,” he told me.

(Via Instapundit.)


Google backtracks from “don’t be evil”

September 8, 2008

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

As Google comes under ever increasing scrutiny for the power it has over our lives, the web giant is tiptoeing back from its long-held corporate motto, Don’t Be Evil. . .

Some have interpreted the ceaseless criticisms of Google’s privacy policies and its co-operation with totalitarian regimes as a sign the Don’t Be Evil goal is unattainable for a profit-driven company. At the very least, the corporate motto has encouraged the public and the press to hold Google to a higher standard.

“It really wasn’t like an elected, ordained motto,” Google’s vice-president and 20th employee, Marissa Mayer, said in an interview during her trip to Sydney last week.

“I think that ‘Don’t Be Evil’ is a very easy thing to point at when you see Google doing something that you personally don’t like; it’s a very easy thing to point out so it does get targeted a lot.”

(Via Wired.)


DirecTV and Tivo reunite

September 7, 2008

DirecTV has been moving away from Tivo in recent years, but some have speculated that the two were on the verge of patching things up.  This press release seems to confirm that.

This is good news, because Tivo really is quite a bit better than the competing DVRs.


iTunes convention downloads

September 6, 2008

I just discovered something interesting. Try downloading Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on iTunes, and it starts downloading instantly. But, try downloading Sarah Palin’s or John McCain, and my computer starts thrashing and the download bar doesn’t budge.

Why would this happen? I don’t know how iTunes works; perhaps the content is downloaded from a GOP server rather than Apple. Then it’s plausible the server might be unable to handle the load. Still, I can’t see why that should make my computer start paging.

UPDATE: Apple wrote back.  They gave me their standard “here’s how to download podcasts you big dummy” reply.  Hrmph.


Google fixes Chrome EULA

September 4, 2008

Important update here.


Google owns everything you do with Chrome

September 3, 2008

Most people don’t yet see how sinister Google is. Maybe this will start to change that. The click-through license for Google’s new browser Chrome includes this:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

. . .

11.4 You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

So anything you do on Chrome, you are giving to Google. If you’re not authorized to give it to Google, you are in violation of the license.

(Via LGF.)

UPDATE: Wikipedia says that you can bypass the license by downloading the source and building it yourself. (Of course, that’s Wikipedia, so I can’t warrant that it’s true.) If so, I hope that someone will set up a site to distribute the non-license version.

UPDATE: Google says that this section was a cut-and-paste mistake, and they are removing it.  I don’t really buy the explanation, but I’m glad they’re changing it.


Laser gunship tested

August 31, 2008

Extremely cool. I agree with Glenn Reynolds that the deniability aspect doesn’t make much sense, but it would be just as awesome used overtly:

According to the developers, the accuracy of this weapon is little short of supernatural. They claim that the pinpoint precision can make it lethal or non-lethal at will. For example, they say it can either destroy a vehicle completely, or just damage the tires to immobilize it. The illustration shows a theoretical 26-second engagement in which the beam deftly destroys “32 tires, 11 Antennae, 3 Missile Launchers, 11 EO devices, 4 Mortars, 5 Machine Guns” — while avoiding harming a truckload of refugees and the soldiers guarding them. It reminds me of how the Lone Ranger could always shoot the gun out an opponent’s hand without injuring them; if that could really be done from an aircraft circling overhead, it would certainly be an impressive feat.

This precision should make the ATL a highly effective anti-personnel weapon, able to target (or “assassinate,” depending on your politics) a specific individual in a group with sniper-like precision.


Transcoding is legal

August 31, 2008

A federal judge has ruled that converting video from one format to another cannot be, in itself, copyright infringement.  (Via Instapundit.)


Army urges speedy production of FCS

August 25, 2008

Jane’s reports:

US Army officials continue to push for speedy production of Future Combat Systems (FCS), saying they are confident the system will save lives after observing its performance in a limited preliminary user test near Fort Bliss, Texas in late July.

Army officials tested the FCS ‘Spin Out 1’ kit during a training exercise from 27 to 31 July, operating the network of weapon systems in a mock village between White Sands Missile range and Fort Bliss. . .

FCS Spin Out 1 consists of a Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS) for precision fires; a ‘B-kit’ computer system to share imagery; unattended sensors; an aerial drone known as the Class I Block 0 Micro Air Vehicle (MAV); and a ground-based robot known as the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle.

Cool.


Deep dialing

August 21, 2008

A new service, called Fonolo, is spidering automated phone service trees so you can bypass them.  Sounds great.  Unfortunately, it’s in closed beta so you can’t try it right now.

(Via Rich Sloan, via Instapundit.)


Cuil search engine aims to compete with Google

July 28, 2008

MSNBC has a profile on Cuil, which debuts today.  They claim to be able to build a database as large or larger than Google’s with a fraction of the computing power.

I’ve often wished for a plausible alternative to Google.  Is Cuil it?  Well, it’s not starting well.  After successfully processing one search for me, their page is now failing to load.  The terrible font they use for displaying their results has to go, too.