Keyhole. was recently bought by Google. It is a breathtaking piece of software. You can download a 7-day free trial. I wonder how much more resolution they actually have in the pro versions. Just mind boggling amount of information.
The Economist (login required) has a story about fundrace.org, a site that compiles publicly available information about campaign contributions. I just had some fun looking up professors and classmates. I won't tell you who.
The Economist suggests that maybe contributions should be anonymous - like voting - to prevent people using donations for personal gain. I suggest that looking at what other people do with their money makes me feel dirty.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell just launched his own blog. He's doing it to communicate with citizens, and give access to small entrepreneurs that don't have the lobbying power of the entrenched media and tech giants. Read the Wired Story on this.
What a cool thing for a top ranking government official to do. Get out from the dusty, incomprehensible bureaucracy-babble, and have a real conversation. Go Mike!
With all of our Google talk, it seems only fitting that we should have a post about the IPO filing.
This Washington Post article talks about their strategy for getting some "small" investors - using a variation on the Dutch Auction. I'm no expert but this sounds like it could result in some distortions:
Google also said it may decide to increase the number of shares sold during the IPO if the price rises during the auction. This means bidders will not know the total size of the offering when they submit what prices they are willing to pay.
Winstein asked questions about the Broadcast Flag and about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Tech and read the interview – it is on Page 6.
My favorite part of the interview (and the reason for this post) is when Winstein starts challenging Valenti on the DVD encryption that makes it impossible for someone running Linux on their computer to watch a DVD (because there are no products for Linux that are licensed to play DVDs). Winstein shows Valenti how he overrides the encryption. Here is an excerpt (JV is Valenti, TT is The Tech [Winstein]):
TT: Here’s one of those machines; it’s just not licencsed.
[Winstein shows Valenti his six-line “qrpff” DVD descrambler]
TT: If you type that in, it’ll let you watch movies.
JV: You designed this?
That is great.
Talk about an information gap.
UPDATE: The issue is now available online in pdf. Page 6.
I once had, what I took to be, a brilliant idea. Develop a device that jams cell phones by broadcasting a short-range signal in the same frequency range that they use. Perfect for libraries, theathers, and nice restaurants where you'd not want some kid's cell phone ringing with J-Z's latest hit when their mom calls.
As with most good, simple ideas - its already been done.
While it didn't turn out to be a great business opportunity for me, it does make for a fantastic technology and policy case study. This has ESD 10 written all over it.
There are regulations from the 1930s banning people from messing with government-licenced spectrum. Probably made great sense at the time. Technology has advanced though, but the regulations have not become more sophisticated along with it. The regulations make cell-phone jamming technology, even on private property, illegal.
The Federal Communications Commission points specifically to the Federal Communications Act of 1934, which says that "no person shall willfully or maliciously interfere with or cause interference to any radio communications" licensed by the government.
So why don't we rewrite these clearly out-dated regulations to match with today's technological reality? I would assume there's several reasons. Lack of capacity at the FCC and institutional inertia both probably play a role.
Trouble is the politically influential telecom companies love these antiquated regulations. We've got a classic Olsonian collective action problem here. The telecom companies really hate the idea of cell phone jammers. Jammers would reduce the number of minutes we spend racking up our cell phone bills, costing them millions. While on the other hand, the rest of us would welcome jammers in certain public situations. We just don't care enough to make a stink about it. Concentrated costs, diffuse benefits.
"You're not allowed to barricade the street in front of your house because you don't like hearing an ambulance," said Travis Larson, a spokesman for the Cellular Telephone Industry Association, who asserts that blocking systems inhibit customers' rights and can block emergency calls. "Just like roads, the airwaves are public property."
While you can buy jammers online now, the demand for them hasn't taken off because they're illegal. Demand for cell phone blocking services has put market forces to work though. Firms are devising ways to provide the cell jamming service, without running foul of the regulations.
Bluelinx, based in Charlotte, N.C., is developing a system called Q-Zone (the Q standing for quiet) that uses Bluetooth wireless technology - in transmitters and imbedded into cellphones - to put phones equipped with Q-Zone software into silent or vibrate mode when they are taken into a specified zone.
Jeff Griffin, Bluelinx's president, said he was trying to sign up wireless providers and establishments like cafes and theaters. He said he hopes to start using the equipment in the next few years. Unlike jammers, he said, his call-blocking system would be optional for cellphone users, who could turn it on or off.
Its also got those lovable MIT Media Lab folks working on the project.
A similar system is being developed by Stefan Marti and Chris Schmandt, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. Their project, called Autonomous Interactive Intermediaries, uses technology like speech recognition to screen calls to determine when a phone should ring, and even subtle, silent visual cues to replace cellphone rings or vibrations - say, an animatronic rabbit or parrot turning toward you in a room to signal that you have a call.
In Lawrence Lessig's Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, he claims that you can use four types of forces to regulate issues in a society: Cultural, Legal, Archictural, and Market. We've got people trying to use three of four here to control the annoying cellphone problem.
A different approach - by design or happenstance, but altogether legal - is to block cellphone signals through construction techniques. (An F.C.C. spokeswoman said the commission had no regulations dealing with building materials.) Like most cellphone-blocking methods, many of these ideas were developed long ago for military and espionage purposes, said Bill Sewell, senior vice president of DMJM Technology, who has spent years designing radio-secure areas for the United States government.
Mr. Sewell said the methods used by his firm are simple: metal mesh screens tuned to the frequencies of radio waves are mounted inside the wall. They are also inexpensive, at about $15 a square foot, he said.
"I was at church some time ago and a lady's cellphone went off and the entire church froze," Mr. Griffin said. "Meanwhile, she couldn't find her phone and was so embarrassed. It's that kind of circumstance we're trying to fix." ...
... there is a last resort: personal responsibility. "There are always going to be rude people," Mr. Larson said. "We just hope they will learn to turn their cellphones off at the right time."
...legal restrictions (like a law prohibiting cellphone use during performances, enacted by the New York City Council last year).
Consumers globally spent somewhere between $1 and $3.3 Billion (yes, with a Capital B) in 2003. That’s between 3 and 10% of the $32.2 billion global music market.
Two research groups, Juniper Research and the ARC Group have recently published studies on this market. Juniper's study says that the ringtone market peaked in 2003 at $1billion and will be about half that in 2008. While ARC claims that last year's market was $3.3billion and set to double by 2008. Whatever, we’re talking, big, big bucks.
The majority of this market is in Asia (Japan and South Korea) and Europe, while the US has been slow to catch on.
I bring this up because its a real splash of cold water from the usual bitching and whining about digital file sharing as the death of the content industry. This always struck me as a hollow, rear-guard position. Technology changes things, deal.
Although the idea of a downloaded, cutesy ringtone is mildly repulsive to me, I love how its cropped up to add 10% of the global music industry's revenue. Shows how young firms who are out pushing new ideas and not bellyaching have room to take advantage of new technologies and turn a fat buck.
I am a little surprised at the comments in the class about internet surveillance. Perhaps, I misunderstood what I heard. Did any of you guys mean to think that one is basically anonymous on the web? My understanding is that it is not very difficult to monitor the internet activity of servers, IPs or even individuals. Before I spend too much time looking in to this, I would very much appreciate knowing what everybody thought about the issue.
There’s a new wireless networking protocol based on IEEE, 802.15.4, nicknamed Zigbee. Its intended to be deployed in home, office, industrial situations where low frequency, low power networking is needed for coordinating and controlling devices.
Zigbee enabled systems could help homes and businesses make more efficient use of energy and natural resources. Sensors on devices (e.g. light switches, furnaces, white goods, computers, electricity meters) would report back to a home computer. The computer can then run any number of functions to better control the devices. This would also help researchers doing energy end-use studies, which has been difficult to do in the past.
Software platforms can be developed to analyze how resources are being used, and suggest, or out right control how they can be used better. Once you have an open-standards platform for developers to work with, it could drive a software powered energy efficiency bonanza (insert skeptical grimace here, of course).
ZigBee, which operates at 2.4-GHz, is two-way so it'll be able to log your house's electric, water, gas usage, and send it to your computer for analysis. (That way, you'll have documented evidence next time you yell at your kids for leaving the lights on.) Because ZigBee has a range of only about 30 feet, and sends data in infrequent bursts, batteries could last for a couple of years without having to replace them. Light switch and thermostat manufacturers have joined the ZigBee alliance, along with the usual suspects, such as Philips, Motorola, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard.
This also has heaps of consumer related applications, but not that interesting to the energy and environment side of things.