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OpenMarket: Tech and Telecom

  • Can money offset venality?

    October 26, 2006
    Prizes sponsored by private individuals and organizations seem to be the new way to provide incentives for technological and other advances. Now a wealthy Sudanese entrepreneur, Mo Ibrahim, is offering a post-facto prize to African leaders who have governed well and in the interests of their people. Ibrahim says that the money may provide incentives for some African leaders to leave office, since they will have financial security instead of clinging to their positions of power and perhaps leading their countries into corruption. An index will be used to evaluate heads of state's performances. And the criteria sound similar to those of...
  • COPA: "So Much Easier than Parenting"

    October 24, 2006
    The Child Online Protection Act (COPA), signed by President Clinton eight years ago, has yet to be enforced. Kids have grown up waiting to be "protected" by it. The law requires that Website operators, through such means as requiring credit card numbers and other techniques for proof of age, must ensure that material "harmful to children," is not accessed by them. Sizeable penalties apply. Free speech advocates (Salon, the ACLU) have continued their arguments--in a trial in federal court starting today--that the law is too vague and could prevent the accessing of legitimate material by adults. The Supreme Court has twice upheld injunctions barring enforcement. It's become tiresome to reiterate...
  • The Newest Cell Phone Accessory: Lead Underpants

    October 24, 2006
    A new study out of the UK suggests that mobile phone radiation may be responsible for increased infertility in men. This observed decline in sperm count and motility, of course, has also been linked to obesity, smoking, stress, pollution and endocrine disrupting chemicals, but that needn't stand in the way of roping in yet another culprit. This latest round of worry over the health effects of mobile devices reminds one of Steve Milloy's recent round-up of the top ten junk science stories from the past ten years, including #2, the terrifying phantom risk of cell phone brain cancer.
  • Politics Nerds Rejoice

    October 23, 2006
    Students at my alma mater, Claremont McKenna College, have created a very wonky alternative to the season's popular fantasy football leagues: fantasy Congress. As The New York Times reports today, hundreds of people have already joined the fun: Just as in fantasy football or baseball, each player picks a team — in this case, 4 senators and 12 House members of varying seniority levels — and competes with other players in a league typically managed by a friend or a co-worker. Members determine whether to play for money or the thrill of victory. But that is where the similarities end. On the Fantasy Congress Web site, www....
  • Maybe That's Why the Lacrosse Scandal Disappeared from the News

    October 20, 2006
    Scientists at Duke University and Imperial College London have reportedly developed a cloaking device for solid objects. All of the relevant Romulan and Harry Potter jokes have, naturally, already been made. The military applications are obvious, but I'd like to hear anyone's ideas for civilian, consumer applications. Making your car invisible to vandals? Hiding that pile of unwashed dishes in your sink from party guests? Personally disappearing when activist canvassers come to the door?
  • News of YouTube's Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

    October 19, 2006
    An argument from Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle on why big business can never be cool, even when it acquires something that is: The circle of life on the Internet is very cruel: When giant corporations take interest in online cultural phenomena, they instantly become exponentially less cool. From Napster to MySpace to "Snakes on a Plane" -- all stopped being a good thing once the Man showed up in the room. In the wake of Google's acquisition of YouTube, parents groups are already calling for a safety czar to regulate the user-built video library, much like the one that MySpace appointed when News Corp. purchased that site. And is there anything that kills a party faster than a safety czar? In a sense, Google's purchase of YouTube will almost certainly kill YouTube. Of...
  • They're Coming to Audit Your Avatar

    October 19, 2006
    Fox News this morning raises the alarming prospect of the IRS taxing financial transactions taking places in online virtual communities like Second Life and World of Warcraft. So far people like Rep. Jim Saxton of the Joint Economic Committee are giving the proposal the thumbs down, but I guarantee we haven't heard the last of it.
  • Decoy Files on P2P Sites Become Ad Vehicles

    October 18, 2006
    From The Wall Street Journal, via \. The unusual alliance demonstrates a new tack being taken by the music industry to deal with the challenge posed by widespread music piracy. For years, the industry has been suing individual downloaders and file-sharing services, hoping to discourage the practice. In a tactic little known outside the music industry, record labels have also started to hire outside companies to plant "decoy," or fake, files on the sites. (One such company, ArtistDirect Inc.'s MediaDefender, says it has deployed decoys for as many as 30 of the top 100 Billboard songs at any given time.) The decoy files frustrate users because they fail to download even though, thanks to the...
  • Europe Takes a Stab at the Multimedia Revolution

    October 17, 2006
    Sometimes, a regulatory idea comes along that is so stupid and offensive, one assumes it couldn't actually be real. "Who could possibly think this is a good idea?" one asks. This morning it's deja vu all over again with news that the EU wants to force anyone posting video online to be licensed as if they were a television broadcast network. That means that CNN International and your favorite video blogger are now looking at the same regulatory compliance burden. Taking video clips with your cell phone and putting them on YouTube or MySpace, by this defintion, makes you an "online broadcaster." Fortunately, for the moment, only Slovakia has stepped forward to officially embrace this proposal. On that note, Slovakian video bloggers beware. Let's just make sure no one tells the FCC about this. They may not go this far...
  • Why All of Human History Has Been Leading Toward Google

    October 13, 2006
    Former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein has an interesting take on Google's place in history, and how the Google Library project could be the next step in the evolution of human knowledge. He waxes a bit much when he suggests that Google's compromise with the Chinese government “calls to mind the expulsion, naked and trembling, of our ancestral parents from prelapsarian Eden,” but overall it's a good piece. One of the most interesting details is the existence of the world's first “ATM for books” — and the fact that it's only a few blocks away form where Open Market is generally written:...

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