Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Google Stock Tanks Due to "Erroneous Trading"

With the recent stock market turmoil, one has to hope people didn't look at what was happening to Google stock late today and assume it was just another stock tanking. Especially not when the price of the stock dropped to as low as $0.01 during trading just before market close.

Take a look at the image above to see the crazy activity just before the end of the day. Personally, if you didn't have an order in previously, you would have been nuts to try to buy into the stock at that price. It was obviously an error, and since NASDAQ was bound to (and has) adjust the price, who would have been able to predict what price you would get?

NASDAQ announced the following on their site:
Pursuant to Rule 11890(b) NASDAQ, on its own motion, has determined to cancel all trades in security Google Inc Cl - A "GOOG" at or above $425.29 and at or below $400.52 that were executed in NASDAQ between 15:57:00 and 16:02:00 ET. In addition, NASDAQ will be adjusting the NASDAQ Official Closing Cross (NOCP)and all trades executed in the cross to $400.52. This decision cannot be appealed. MarketWatch has coordinated this decision to break trades with other UTP Exchanges. NASDAQ will be canceling trades on the participant’s behalf.
In short, the closing price of Google shares will be adjusted to $400.52. Trades will be adjusted as well.

As of the time of this writing, NASDAQ has offered no explanation as to the source of the erroneous orders. It also didn't indicate if there was a rise in heart attacks or fainting spells worldwide at around 4:00 PM EDT.



RealNetworks Launches Preemptive Strike at Hollywood

I wrote earlier about RealDVD, a new product by RealNetworkswhich purported to make DVD ripping legal by not just maintaining the original DRM on the disc, but adding yet another layer.

While I'm not sure just how popular this software would be --- after all it locks down the DVD further with that additional layer of DRM, and there are plenty of products that rip and remove the DRM --- I was still expecting that with the release of the product there would be the inevitable lawsuit.

And there is, but not the way I was expecting.

Nope, RealNetworks, faced with threats after the initial announcement of RealDVD, decided to make a preemptive strike against Hollywood and file its own lawsuit. Now, RealNetworks is relying on last year's Kaleidescape decision, which stated that there is nothing in the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) licensing agreement that prohibits the development of products that allow users to copy their DVDs.

Since they are adding another layer of DRM, and not stripping out prior DRM, they can argue that RealDVD is, in fact, legal.

On Tuesday RealNetworks sued a host of companies: the DVD Copy Control Association, Inc., Disney Enterprises, Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp., Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., NBC Universal, Inc., Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., and Viacom, Inc., and asked asks the court to rule that RealDVD complies with the DVD Copy Control Association's license agreement.

In their press release, RealNetworks said:
"We are disappointed that the movie industry is following in the footsteps of the music industry and trying to shut down advances in technology rather than embracing changes that provide consumers with more value and flexibility for their purchases.

"For nearly 15 years RealNetworks has created innovative products that are fully legal, great for consumers, and respectful of the legitimate interests of content creators and rights holders. RealDVD follows in that tradition. We expect to successfully defend our right to make RealDVD available to consumers and consumers' rights to use it."
While RealDVD is supposed to be used for archival backup of your personally owned DVDs, we've heard that argument before, and doubt the MPAA is going to believe it.

Can you spell counter-suit?

Update: The MPAA filed a counter-suit.

Greg Goeckner, the MPAA's executive vice president and general counsel said:
"RealNetworks’ RealDVD should be called StealDVD. RealNetworks knows its product violates the law."


PopCap Popping Out a New Bejeweled Game in October

PopCap Games is set to unveil the first new entry in its flagship Bejeweled franchise since Bejeweled 2 in 2004. PopCap plans to formally unveil the game, Bejeweled Twist, at a gala event at Seattle's Experience Music Project Sci-Fi Museum and Hall of Fame on the evening of Monday, October 27th.

According to PopCap, the game has ben in development for more than three years and will "bring a completely new perspective to the 'Match-3' genre of puzzle games that the original Bejeweled pioneered eight years ago." The game will carry a retail price of US$19.95 and will initially only
be available from http://www.popcap.com.

Jason Kapalka, co-founder and chief creative officer at PopCap said:
"As our first and most popular game, we're particularly dedicated to Bejeweled and wanted to make sure that our next offering in the lineup delivered as much innovation, polish, and sheer pleasure as possible. We spent a long time conceiving and prototyping a totally new direction for Bejeweled Twist. The game will be immediately recognizable to Bejeweled fans, and as accessible as earlier titles in the series, but with far more depth and flexibility. Previous versions of Bejeweled appealed to a pretty broad audience, but we're confident Bejeweled Twist will offer a compelling experience for everyone, from the novice gamer to the seriously hardcore player."
PopCap won't give out any other details, however. So there's no way of knowing just what the Twist of Bejeweled Twist will be.

It will probably be a success, though. In August PopCap said that its Bejeweled titles have sold over 25 million units across all formats since 2000, amounting to over $300 million revenue over the history of the game. At the same time, PopCap noted that over 350 million trial editions of Bejeweled and Bejeweled 2 have been downloaded.



Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars to Feature Drug-Selling Minigame

Ah, poor Jack Thompson. He was disbarred to early to jump on this one. And it's his favorite target, too, Rockstar Games and Grand Theft Auto. Word on the street (pun intended) is that the upcoming Nintendo DS installment of the popular GTA franchise, Chinatown Wars, will feature a minigame where players earn money by peddling six different kinds of narcotics (marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, and downers) around town.

Even without Thompson around, critics were fast to rail against the game once information of the minigame appeared.

Darren Gold of U.K. drugs crisis charity Drugsline said:
“Anything using drug-dealing as entertainment is sending out the wrong message. Glamorisation doesn’t help our work trying to educate kids of the dangers of substance misuse.”
Meanwhile, Rockstar VP Dan Houser told Edge (via Pocket Gamer):
"We wanted to have a drug-dealing mini-game in lots of the GTA games. We played with it a little in Vice City Stories, because it worked really well juxtaposed with the main story.

It works well with what GTA is, with driving around the map, and it gives you another thing to think about - another layer or piece of the puzzle to keep you motivated. It does intersect with the main story and things you learn from it work with the story, but it mostly runs on its own."
Never let it be said that Rockstar would release a non-controversial game, eh?



Apple Updates the App Store to Halt "Gaming"

Over the weekend, Apple made some changes to the App Store to halt "gaming" of the system by some. In particular, one change made was that in order to review an application, you have to own it (above). Personally, I'd say: it took them this long to figure out this might be a problem? How long has the App Store been open, anyway?

Additionally, previously all applications were categorized based on their "release date." But what the App Store actually did was recognize the last "update date" as the "release date." Thus if you had actually released an app on August 1st, then updated it on August 15th, the App Store would note it as "new" on August 15th, putting it at the top of both iPhone and iTunes listings for a category.

Since developers noted a jump when this happened, some got into the habit of releasing dummy updates to push themselves up to the top of the listings.

Once again, it took them how long to figure this was a problem and fix this? Photobucket



Nero Announces Liquid TV, Real TiVo on Your PC

It's not like you couldn't previously turn your PC into a PVR. Nope, you could use Windows Media Center, SnapStream Beyond TV, or MythTV. But if you wanted the "real" TiVo, which many consider the ultimate DVR experience, that you couldn't do.

On Monday Nero announced Liquid TV | TiVo PC. I'm guessing if you ask Nero the product is called Liquid TV; if you ask TiVo it's TiVo PC (which I prefer).

The product comes with one year of TiVo service and will be available in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in October. MSRP will be $199 for a retail box (which includes a Hauppauge USB ATSC TV tuner and USB IR transceiver with paired remote control) or $99 for a downloadable software-only version. In terms of international roll-out, they indicated they will make announcements in 2009.

TiVo service renewal will be annual, at $99 a year. No mention of a lifetime plan, which kind of makes business sense since you could potentially move this from PC to PC forever, never worrying about hardware replacement.

Don't assume you can use a really old PC for this. The system requirements indicate it's going to require a decently up-to-date PC to run this. TiVo PC will support up to four TV tuners, one of which can be an external set-top box (ahem, system performance allowing, they note).

According to Nero's site, all of TiVo's standard functionality is available, including pause and rewind live TV, commercial skip, Season Pass, WishList, search, and KidZone.

TiVo PC also includes the features of Tivo's TiVo To Go add-on software, meaning transfer of show between computers on your home network, as well as being able to export them to mobile devices such as your iPod or PSP. Naturally, you can burn shows to a DVD as well.


Tom Rogers, CEO and President, TiVo said:
"Nero has done a superb job of bringing the TiVo experience to the PC, and have done so in a way that lives up to the rich TiVo legacy. To be able to extend the features of TiVo to a new platform without compromising the integrity of what has made TiVo such a revolutionary product is a significant achievement, one we know both new and old fans of TiVo will love."
For Mac fans, there's no note of any plans for a Mac version. Still, the ability to get a real TiVo experience, along with a year of service for $199, might be compelling to some do-it-your-selfers. Obviously most will prefer to stick with a box they just connect to their TV and cable box (or whatever).

What do you readers think? If you were in the market for a PC DVR setup, would the TiVo PC now be at the top of your list?



Monday, September 29, 2008

Texting More Popular Than Talking: Report

You might laugh at those Zits comic strips, which have shown a teenager text messaging his mother from across the room (and more), but you shouldn't. A recently released Nielsen Mobile report indicates that using a cell phone to actually talk to someone has become passe, and that text messaging is more popular than calling.

This is good news for wireless carriers, who see text messaging as a cash cow. Of course, since California has become the latest state to ban text messaging while driving, people in California will soon have to resort to actually speaking to people, at least while behind the wheel.

Average Number of Monthly Calls vs. Text Messages Among U.S. Wireless Subscribers


Calls

Texts

Qtr 1, 2006

198

65

Qtr 2, 2006

216

79

Qtr 3, 2006

221

85

Qtr 4, 2006

213

108

Qtr 1, 2007

208

129

Qtr 2, 2007

228

172

Qtr 3, 2007

226

193

Qtr 4, 2007

213

218

Qtr 1, 2008

207

288

Qtr 2, 2008

204

357

Source: Nielsen Mobile


From the above table, you can see from Q1 2006 to Q2 2008, calls themselves have remained fairly constant, while text messages have skyrocketed. Seemingly echoing Zits' strips, the leading texters are in the 13-17 year age range (see below).

Average Number of Monthly Calls vs. Text Messages Among U.S. Wireless Subscribers by Age (Q2 2008)


Calls

Texts

All Subs

204

357

12 & Under

137

428

Ages 13-17

231

1742

Ages 18-24

265

790

Ages 25-34

239

331

Ages 35-44

223

236

Ages 45-54

193

128

Ages 55-64

145

38

Ages 65+

99

14

Source: Nielsen Mobile


1,742 a month? Using a 30 day month, that's nearly 60 a day, and (subtracting 8 hours for sleep, but not excluding school time) about 3.6 an hour.

What's more amazing is that those under 12 average 428 a month.

Small wonder that California opted for a teenage cell phone ban prior to the text messaging ban Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (that still sounds weird) recently signed into law (and which will take effect on January 1st).

It also makes the recent Harris Interactive poll that said that 42% of teens say that they can text while blindfolded a heck of a lot more believable. I would challenge them to do that on a touch-screen only device, like the LG Dare or the iPhone, though! Photobucket



Report: Nintendo to Launch New DS Model; Camera, Music Player Included

According to the Japanese newspaper The Nikkei Business Business Daily, Nintendo is set to unveil a new version of its popular Nintendo DS portable gaming device at a news conference on Thursday.

The new version will include better wireless functionality, a built-in camera, and music playback. Nikkei suggests that the camera might be used by certain gaming titles, with pictures taken with it somehow incorporated into gameplay.

Nikkei also suggests the price for the new DS will be less than 20,000 yen, which is slightly less than $189.

The first version of the Nintendo DS first went on sale in 2004. An updated version, the DS Lite, debuted in 2006. Total worldwide sales of the DS products was at 77.5 million units as of the end of June this year.



Latest Windows Vista Ultimate "Extras" Continue to Underwhelm

With Windows 7 slated for either late 2009 or early 2008, those of us foolish enough to buy into Microsoft's hype over Windows Vista Ultimate Extras are probably running out of time in which we might see a really useful Extra come down the pipe.

The latest set of underwhelming Extras were released last week, so quietly I sure didn't notice. Microsoft announced them in a blog post on the official Windows Vista blog.

The new release includes:
  • Microsoft Tinker: Microsoft Tinker is a casual game that provides players with short puzzle game play sessions set in a warm, calming environment.
  • Ultimate Extras Sounds from Microsoft Tinker: Based on the positive feedback we received from the release of additional Windows Sound Schemes in April, we've integrated the unique audio sounds from Microsoft Tinker into a new sound scheme.
  • Windows DreamScene Content Pack #4 Windows: DreamScene Content Pack #4 which adds three additional nature-setting Windows DreamScenes.
The most intriguing (and that's being kind) is Tinker, which is a game (click above image to enlarge) whose objective is to "complete levels by navigating a robot around the obstacles to reach the end tile."

Whoopee. I must admit, it's actually fun and addictive, but considering that Extras was (according to the sales pitch) one of the big reasons to buy Ultimate (originally $399) as opposed to Home Premium ($239), users haven't gotten much in the deal.

Still, as I said time for criticism is running out. A few comments at Microsoft's announcement post (all of them sic):
  • I am SO dissapointed in Windows Vista Ultimate Extra's, MS said Vista Ultimate Extra's would contain cutting edge, innovative programs, can't you do something better than soundschemes and a stupid game? When you are talking about 6th wave, it looks like there are plenty of extra's available already, but there ain't. And the stuff there is, is certainly NOT cutting edge and innovative. Dreamscene is the only extra I enjoy. I feel so betrayed, spending hundreds of euro's (i'm from the netherlands) as a student of what I thought to be a great OS with a lot of (coming) features. The OS works fine for me, but i'm SO dissapointed in the extra's. c'mon MS, please make some apps ultimate users find usefull.

  • The quality and value of Ultimate Extras is so so bad. I would rather prefer the beefed up Windows 7 accessories offered as Ultimate Extras. Heck, even the downloadable extras when WGA was introduced were better. Give us the Microsoft Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset as an extra. Give us the Media Center TV Pack as an extra. Give us Microsoft consumer software such as Works, Streets & Trips, Math, or Money as an extra. Three DreamScene videos you say, but I say just one DreamScene video in 3 color varieties! As all others are demanding, I would like some extras that enhance the features of the actual Vista operating system.
  • Ultimate Extras are a sore spot for me. I feel violated every time I think about the extra money I spent apparently to no purpose. MS needs to make things right for their best customers by providing something of value. What's been provided so far has no value, or in the case of Dreamscene, negative value for me.
  • "Today we are excited to announce that 3 new Windows Ultimate Extras are now available for installation via Windows Update!" You are really excited about this? Are stupid statements like this and the ridiculous Mojave nonsense an indication of what we have to look forward to from Microsoft in the future. Microsoft Bob was less embarrassing.
Whoa, on that last one, I'm not sure Microsoft Bob was less embarrassing. But still, the clock continues to tick, and while it should be remembered that Ultimate, in addition to Extras, also combined the features from Home Premium and Business into one set, it's still difficult to forget the hype over all the extras, which seem to be, at least in terms of useful ones, pretty nonexistent.




Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Clickjacking" Security Flaw Affects All Major Browsers

It's yet another browser flaw, but unlike others, it's not isolated to one, or two of the browsers out there. According to a security researcher, it's a flaw --- or rather, a class of flaws --- common to every major web browser.

Originally, Jeremiah Grossman and Robert Hansen planned to reveal details on the exploit at the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) in New York City this week. However, after discovering that it also affected an Adobe product, and after working with Adobe, it was decided to hold off on revealing the details until both Adobe and browser vendors had a chance to work on fixes.

Because of that, details are sketchy, but we do know that the term "clickjacking" refers to a process by which a user is made to click on a link without his or her knowledge. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) warned on Friday:
US-CERT is aware of public reports of a new cross-browser exploit technique called "Clickjacking." According to one of the reports, Clickjacking gives an attacker the ability to trick a user into clicking on something only barely or momentarily noticeable. Therefore, if a user clicks on a web page, they may actually be clicking on content from another page.
Grossman describes the exploit as follows:
"Think of any button on any Web site, internal or external, that you can get to appear between the browser walls. Wire transfers on banks, Digg buttons, CPC advertising banners, Netflix queue, etc. The list is virtually endless and these are relatively harmless examples. Next, consider that an attack can invisibly hover these buttons below the users' mouse, so that when they click on something they visually see, they actually are clicking on something the attacker wants them to."
What's the workaround, until the browser vendors make fixes? Well, it appears the only safe way to block this type of behavior is to use the NoScript addon with Firefox or other Mozilla-based browser (e.g., Flock). NoScript allows JavaScript, Java, Flash and other plugins and scripted content to be executed only by web sites that the user permits (whitelists).

The developer of NoScript notes that:
For 100% protection by NoScript, you need to check the “Plugins|Forbid iframe” option.
Obviously, this wouldn't be something I would recommend to most, as it would prove tedious and confusing. However, the researchers indicated that, in addition to Adobe, they discussed this with both Microsoft and Mozilla and the two organizations independently agreed that this is a tough problem --- with no easy solution yet.

Hang onto your hats, and don't visit any questionable sites.



Wal-Mart to Shut Down Music DRM Servers

Apparently not one to read the news, Wal-Mart has decided to repeat the PR mistakes of Microsoft and Yahoo! and shut down the DRM servers, putting those few fools, er, customers who purchased DRM-laden music prior to Wal-Mart's move to MP3s and particularly to MP3s-only in April of this year in an untenable position.

Don't get me wrong: I love the fact that Wal-Mart has moved to all DRM-free MP3s for its music. That's not the point. I've seen a few comments around the blogosphere assailing those who have railed about Wal-Mart doing this.

No, the point isn't so much that Wal-Mart's doing this. Yes, people who would take the obvious step of burning their tracks to CD and ripping them back will lose quality. No, it's not that. It's not even that one might assume that a corporation as large as Wal-Mart would be able to keep DRM servers running forever.

No, the point is that this is just another example of the horrors (I admit succumbing to hyperbole here) of DRM. No DRM, no problems such as this.

Yet another reason I love Amazon MP3 --- all DRM-free since the beginning. And another reason I steer people clear from iTunes ... sure, if you have an iPod, it's the easiest way to buy songs, but it's full of DRM, unless you buy DRM-less music, which is still sold from iTunes in AAC format, rather than the more universal MP3 format.

Here's the email, as supplied to me by an unlucky Wal-Mart customer:
From: Walmart Music Team
Date: Fri, Sep 26, 2008 at 7:42 PM
Subject: Important Information About Your Walmart.com Digital Music Purchases
To: xxxxxx@yahoo.com

Important Information About Your Digital Music Purchases

We hope you are enjoying the increased music quality/bitrate and the improved usability of Walmart's MP3 music downloads. We began offering MP3s in August 2007 and have offered only DRM (digital rights management) -free MP3s since February 2008. As the final stage of our transition to a full DRM-free MP3 download store, Walmart will be shutting down our digital rights management system that supports protected songs and albums purchased from our site.

If you have purchased protected WMA music files from our site prior to Feb 2008, we strongly recommend that you back up your songs by burning them to a recordable audio CD. By backing up your songs, you will be able to access them from any personal computer. This change does not impact songs or albums purchased after Feb 2008, as those are DRM-free.

Beginning October 9, we will no longer be able to assist with digital rights management issues for protected WMA files purchased from Walmart.com. If you do not back up your files before this date, you will no longer be able to transfer your songs to other computers or access your songs after changing or reinstalling your operating system or in the event of a system crash. Your music and video collections will still play on the originally authorized computer.

Thank you for using Walmart.com for music downloads. We are working hard to make our store better than ever and easier to use.

Walmart Music Team


Internet Radio Gets a Lifeline as Webcasting Bill Passes the House

Since Congress mandated increased royalties last year for Internet radio "stations" webcasters like Pandora have been struggling to stay in business. On Friday, things reached a climax as the House of Representatives was nearing a vote on bill H.R. 7084, the Webcaster Settlement Act, which would allow Internet radio stations to negotiate with the music industry for a royalty rate lower than Congress' mandated rates.

While it appeared things were moving forward, at the last minute the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) began pressuring Congress to kill the bill. As such, Pandora sent out an emergency plea to its listeners:
Listeners we need your help... NOW!

After a yearlong negotiation, Pandora, artists and record companies are finally optimistic about reaching an agreement on royalties that would save Pandora and Internet radio. But just as we've gotten close, large traditional broadcast radio companies have launched a covert lobbying campaign to sabotage our progress.

Yesterday, Congressman Jay Inslee, and several co-sponsors, introduced legislation to give us the extra time we need but the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which represents radio broadcasters such as Clear Channel, has begun intensively pressuring lawmakers to kill the bill. We have just a day or two to keep this from collapsing.

This is a blatant attempt by large radio companies to suffocate the webcasting industry that is just beginning to offer an alternative to their monopoly of the airwaves.

Please call your Congressperson right now and ask them to support H.R. 7084, the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008 - and to not capitulate to pressure from the NAB. Congress is currently working extended hours, so even calls this evening and over the weekend should get answered.
Yep, Congress is working extended hours, though on the Wall Street bailout. However, despite that, it seems the House had enough time to take action, and heard enough from supporters of Internet radio.

A Saturday night meeting with Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) addressed some of the concerns of the NAB, and they agreed to drop their efforts to kill the bill, as well as not present any opposition to the bill when it hits the Senate.

With the NAB dropping its opposition, H.R. 7084 passed the House, and is now headed for the Senate. Pandora noted that the Senate vote may take place as early as Monday. Keep your fingers crossed.



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blockbuster's PS3 Fire Sale: 40 GB PS3 Price Drop This Weekend

A leaked Blockbuster memo has emerged which details a price drop starting this Sunday for the now discontinued 40 GB PS3 model. The price drop appears to be only at Blockbuster, not a Sony-initiated price cut.

Kotaku managed to get a copy of the memo, and according to their report, they have confirmed the drop through calls to several Blockbuster stores.

The 40 GB model will sell for $360 while the 40GB bundle (including an HDMI cable, Spider-Man and Transformers the game) will be cut to $400.

On the other hand, you should be note that for $40 more you can get an 80 GB PS3, which would seem to be a better value.



Nokia's iPhone Rival "Tube" to Debut Next Week

Talk to a wireless carrier or a cell phone manufacturer, and they're all about touch-screen devices nowadays. The obvious reason is the success of the iPhone. However, if they used some common sense, they would realize it's not just the touch-screen of the iPhone; it's the experience of the OS.

Touch-screen versions of Windows Mobile devices: still Windows Mobile underneath, and just as clumsy as always. Usable, but no iPhone. Hopefully, Nokia's touch-screen iPhone competitor, the 5800 XpressMusic, codenamed the "Tube," which it first showed off in April, will not fall into that trap. If it's as great a phone as the E71 is, but in its own way, it'll be a wild success.

According to reports, Nokia is set to formally introduce the phone at the "Comes with Music" launch event on Oct. 2nd. It makes sense, as the device has always been suspected to be as a mid-range music phone.

Although Nokia is the world leader in mobile phone sales, with over 40% of total market share, it has been one of the slowest to add a touch-screen phone to its catalog. Although many have been calling this phone Nokia's first touch-screen device, it's not --- the 7710 was also a touch-screen.

Of course, the Tube is the first post iPhone-era Nokia touch-screen phone.

Leaked specifications on the device from earlier in the year:

Nokia 5800 Tube specifications

  • 3.2-inch touchscreen display with 16 Million colors
  • 3.2 megapixel camera with autofocus
  • Quad-band (850/900/1800/1900Mhz) GSM/EDGE radio
    • 3G UMTS/HSDPA
  • Bluetooth 2.0
  • WiFi
  • GPS
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • TV-out port
  • 140MB on-board storage
  • 111 x 52 x 14.5 mm
  • 104g
  • End of 2008 launch
The leaked image above is via mobil.cz. As far as the name goes, come on Nokia, keep the Tube name. While it's going to be an XpressMusic phone, let's call it the XpressMusic Tube. It's waaaay cooler than 5800.



iPhone Battery Lawsuit Dismissed

It appears that not telling people about your battery replacement plan prior to them buying the product is not quite the same as really, really poor battery life. Unlike the iPod battery lawsuit, which eventually led to an out-of-court settlement, this one has been thrown out of court.

Jose Trujillo's lawsuit claimed that Apple and AT&T did not notify him or other customers about potential battery limitations either before the phone’s launch or before it was purchased, using that as the basis for his suit.

According to Bloomberg, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly in Chicago granted Apple's request that he dismiss the lawsuit as without merit. In his ruling, he said:

"Apple disclosed on the outside of the iPhone package that the 'battery has limited recharge cycles and may eventually need to be replaced by Apple service provider.' Under the circumstances, no reasonable jury could find that deception occurred."

While there are at least two other iPhone battery lawsuits pending --- this decision is only about Trujillo's lawsuit --- based on this ruling, it's likely they will be dismissed as well.



Friday, September 26, 2008

Amazon VOD Flaw Allows Free Video Recording

Videos from Amazon.com's recently launched Video on Demand service, as well as apparently video from many other sites, can be captured and watched --- free --- using video stream capture software.

Reuters used software, Replay Media Catcher, from Applian Technologies to capture video streams from Amazon's Video on Demand. It was allowed by the fact that the video stream isn't really encrypted (despite what they say) coupled with a balancing act between security and convenience.

Applian CEO Bill Dettering said:
"Adobe's (stream) is not really encrypted. One of the downfalls with how they have architected the software is that people can capture the streams. I fully expect them to do something more robust in the near future."
But the kicker for Amazon VOD is the following: you can watch the first two minutes as a preview from their site. However, even though the site paused the video on the Web browser after the first two minutes, the video continues to stream, so that users can start watching the rest of the video right away, assuming they pay.

However, even if a user doesn't pay, the video catching software snags the entire stream.

What's just as interesting is that you can use Replay Media Catcher to also grab videos from Hulu, NBC.com, and CBS.com. While those videos are streamed for free, they include ads, but the software splits the video from the ads, so if you wanted to, you could play back the show or movie alone.

While Amazon.com could probably change their site to avoid downloading the entire stream, the problem of being able to record video streams still exists.

A suggested solution? Ugh, DRM. Widevine Technologies, based in Seattle, has a DRM system that can encrypt online videos using Flash. CEO Brian Baker said:
"The fundamental problem here is that Adobe's lack of technology is not allowing the business models to be preserved."
Update: According to Appian Technologies, Amazon has modified their site to prevent Replay Media Catcher from working. Adobe said Amazon.com adopted Adobe's encryption on all videos found on its Video On Demand site.

However, Appian Technologies says you can continue to use WM Recorder, another of their products. While that needs the video to be played via your PC for it to record something, it still seems that, although you can no longer get the entire video for free, you could download --- and burn --- a streamed video.



Webkit's Browser Engine First to Fully Pass Acid3

On Thursday Webkit, the open source browser engine that is notably used in both Safari and Chrome, announced that it is the first browser engine to fully pass the Web Standards Project (WaSP) Acid3 test.

In late March Webkit announced it had achieved "most" of the Acid3 test, with the only missing issue the fact that part of the Acid3 test is that the animation during the test must be "smooth." That same month, another engine, Presto, achieved the 100/100 rendering above, but it still has not achieved "smooth" animation.

As you can see in the results dialog which you receive by clicking on the “A” in Acid3, there is confirmation that Webkit indeed passed the smooth animation condition on a 2.4GHz MacBook Pro, completing the test.


The result is as of build r34278. According to the post, recent speedups in JavaScript performance, DOM parsing, and rendering allowed them to pass the smoothness criteria.

This means that Safari 4, which is expected to release with Mac OS 10.6, may be the benchmark when it launches.

Acid3 is designed to test Web 2.0 specifications, as defined by WaSP:
The Acid3 Test is designed to test specifications for Web 2.0, and exposes potential flaws in implementations of the public ECMAScript 262 and W3C Document Object Model 2 standards. Collectively known as DOM Scripting, it is these technologies that enable advanced page interactivity and power many advanced web applications such as web-based email and online office applications.

As a series of 100 mini-tests, Acid3 has already been found to expose flaws in all tested browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, and Safari. WaSP hopes that Acid3 will prove useful to browser makers during the development of future versions of their products.


Apple Selling Unlocked iPhone 3Gs in Hong Kong

They're not cheap, but they are unlocked. Apple is selling unlocked iPhone 3Gs in Hong Kong, direct from its web site.

The site says "Buy directly from Apple. And choose your carrier."

Yep, you can buy on their site, and have it shipped to you for free (something you can't do in the U.S. unless you have a Premier account with AT&T, through your company).

Despite the free shipping, they aren't bargains: the 8G-byte and 16G-byte iPhone 3G models run for HK$5,400 ($695) and HK$6,200 (US$800), respectively. The site also advertises the amazing simplicity of buying the phone:

iPhone 3G purchased at the Apple Online Store can be activated with any wireless carrier. Simply insert the SIM from your current phone into iPhone 3G and connect to iTunes 8 to complete activation.

A few posters at some forums have indicated that despite the price, these might be worth buying. They suggested jailbreakers might be able to use information from these unlocked phones to figure out how to more easily unlock iPhone 3Gs elsewhere.



Anti-Gaming Crusader Jack Thompson is Disbarred

Florida lawyer Jack Thompson, the bane of the video game industry (or at least one of them), will no longer be crusading against the gaming industry as a legal eagle. At least, he won't 30 days from now. The Florida Supreme Court has ordered his permanent disbarment (.PDF), though it has given him 30 days to "close out his practice."
The Court approves the corrected referee's report and John Bruce Thompson is permanently disbarred, effective thirty days from the date of this order so that respondent can close out his practice and protect the interests of existing clients.
Of course, Thompson can still get a retrial, but only if a member of the Florida BAR in good standing submits it. I'm not sure if anyone is willing to touch this case. In addition to disbarment, the judgment ruled that Thompson must reimburse the Florida BAR fees amounting to $43,675.35.

For those who don't remember Thompson's defining moment, it was his criticism (to put it mildly) against Rockstar Games and its hit game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, after the Hot Coffee scandal. But he had plenty of criticism over what he say as too much violence and sexual content in video games in general.

In a prepared statement sent to the media, Thompson responded to the disbarment:
This disbarment is in retaliation, among other things, for Thompson’s Tyndale House book Out of Harm’s Way, published in 2005, which blew the whistle on the Florida Supreme Court’s earlier efforts in the 1990’s to literally pathologize his faith-based and successful activism against the American entertainment industry. The Florida Bar’s insurance carrier was forced to pay Thompson money damages for that earlier assault upon his First Amendment rights, which is the only known payment of damages by any state bar to any lawyer for improper disciplinary efforts. It appears that the State of Florida will be paying Thompson more damages this time around for its illegal, now repeated, use of “discipline” to punish a Christian lawyer for his activism in the public square.

...

Thompson always wanted to own a Bar. Now, armed with multiple US Supreme Court rulings that no state bar can do what it has done to Thompson, he is set to own that Bar.
Read Thompson's whole press release here (.PDF).



iPhone NDA Causes Book to Be Axed

There has been much venom aimed at Apple recently, over things like rejections because of duplication of Apple functionality (monopoly-like behavior, anyone?), as well as extending the NDA to rejection letters. The NDA is also, according to developers, making it difficult to share information and tips about programming for the iPhone.

More bad news: publishing company Pragmatic Programmers has said it's says it's canceling its iPhone book (as shown above) because of Apple's NDA.
We’ve had the iPhone book ready to go beta for some months, but were prevented from publishing it because of the iPhone SDK’s Non-Disclosure Agreement (which affects all publishers regarding this material, regardless of whether the reader is a member of the ADC or not).

Normally, pre-release NDA’s such as this one are lifted when the product finally ships. We expected that this NDA would be lifted when the iPhone 2.0 software shipped, but it wasn’t. The September announcement came and went, and still the NDA remains in place.

It now appears that Apple does not intend to lift the NDA any time soon. Regrettably, this means we are pulling our iPhone book out of production. But all is not lost: we are actively looking at alternative ways of getting this content to you. It probably won’t happen anytime soon, but know that we are doing what we can.
I don't know what Pragmatic Programmers was thinking! It's Apple! Did they really think the secrecy would go away?

Apparently they were not the only ones: this book, The iPhone Developer's Cookbook: Building Applications with the iPhone SDK , says the following in the publisher's blurb at Amazon.com:
Note: This title will be released as soon as Apple lifts the NDA on the iPhone SDK.
What's interesting, however, is that the same book at BN.com says it will be available on Dec. 5th. What's up with that? Does BN.com know something Amazon.com doesn't?

In any case, good luck.



Jammie Thomas' RIAA Verdict Set Aside: Mistrial Ruled

You'll probably recall Jammie Thomas, the only target of the RIAA to take her case to trial. In October of last year the trial ended in an RIAA victory, with a $222,000 penalty assessed against her --- $9,250 for each of the 24 music tracks she allegedly made publicly available on the Kazaa P2P network.

The presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis of Duluth, Minnesota, had second thoughts about his instructions (.PDF) to jurors, however. Jury Instruction No. 15 to jurors saying they could find unauthorized distribution -- copyright infringement -- if Thomas was guilty of:
The act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer-to-peer network, without license from the copyright owners, violates the copyright owners’ exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown.
But later, in May of this year, Davis asked for a briefing on whether Thomas should receive a new trial. He heard oral arguments on August 4th. In his new ruling (.PDF), Davis set aside the previous verdict, granting a new trial. The ruling said:
Jury Instruction No. 15 was erroneous and that error substantially prejudiced Thomas’s rights. Based on the Court’s error in instructing the jury, it grants Thomas a new trial. Because the Court grants a new trial on the basis of jury instruction error, it does not reach Thomas’s claim regarding excessive damages set forth in her motion for a new trial. Plaintiffs’ request to amend the judgment is denied because the judgment is vacated.
Davis went further, asking Congress to Copyright Act to bring it up-to-date with currently technology and P2P network cases such as this. David also took some time to show his disapproval of the amount of the damage award, which many thought was overboard:
Her alleged acts were illegal, but common. Her status as a consumer who was not seeking to harm her competitors or make a profit does not excuse her behavior. But it does make the award of hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages unprecedented and oppressive.
Since this was the only case to ever go to trial, one could say that the RIAA's five-year copyright infringement litigation campaign has never been successful --- at trial. Most of the cases have settled out of court for a few thousand dollars each.

We'll now wait and see if the RIAA appeals this ruling or opts for a new trial.



Thursday, September 25, 2008

California Bans Text Messaging While Driving

On Wednesday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger began signing into law over 800 bills that have sat on his desk while the California budget was negotiated. He had vowed to not sign anything until a budget was signed, and kept to his word. One of the first he signed: a bill banning text messaging while driving.

It should be noted that SB28 by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, is not a reaction to the recent Metrolink commuter rail disaster, in which text messaging is suspected to have played a role. The bill was introduced as early as March of 2007. The law, which will go into effect on Jan. 1st, 2009, will make California one of a handful of states that bans texting while driving. Others include Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington.

While this isn't the first text messaging ban, California has the largest population in the U.S., the most cars, and on and on.

And while it should also be obvious that text messaging (or emailing, don't expect Blackberrys, iPhones or other smartphones to be exempted from this) is more distracting than talking on the phone, studies have shown as many as 30% of cell phone users text while driving.

Schwarzenegger said in a written statement:
"Banning electronic text messaging while driving will keep drivers' hands on the Simitian said. wheel and their eyes on the road."
Simitian said:
"I know some folks say, 'Do we really need a law, isn't it common sense?' Unfortunately, common sense isn't all that common."
I like that statement; it's clear from many more incidents than just texting while driving that common sense does not rule human behavior.

Before anyone asks, the law covers reading as well as writing text messages, so don't get any ideas.

As I said, the text-messaging ban will go into effect on Jan. 1st. A violation would result in a $20 fine for a first offense and $50 for each subsequent offense. Of course, this is a relatively low fine, just as with California's earlier hands-free law that went into effect in July. A higher fine might have been a good idea; I still see drivers casually using cell phones without a headset, and not those in the exempt groups, either.



PDC Attendees to Get Pre-Beta Copies of Windows 7

We knew technical details of Windows 7 were going to be revealed at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) on October 27 and the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) the following week. But Wednesday in a blog post, Microsoft gave people the news they were hoping for: attendees of PDC will receive pre-beta copies of Windows 7.
At this year’s PDC, keynote attendees will be among the first to receive the pre-beta build of Windows 7. Additionally, attendees will have the opportunity to attend 21 different sessions that drill down into the details of developing for Windows 7.
As noted earlier in the week, Windows 7 is going to shed some of the dross it's been carrying --- News.com confirmed earlier this week that Windows 7 is no longer going to have the built-in e-mail, photo-editing and movie-making applications that were part of Windows Vista. Microsoft plans to make those available as free, downloadable Windows Live applications.

Early 2010 has been mentioned as the release date for Windows 7, but Microsoft has also said it is trying to release the OS as early as late 2009.



T-Mobile Removes G1 Data Cap, Sort Of

After much criticism when people managed to read the fine print on their 3G detail page, T-Mobile has backtracked on their throttling policy after a user reaches 1 GB of data usage. Originally, the sentence read:
If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less.
It was in bold, as shown above, but it was in the fine print at the bottom of the page. Well, T-Mobile quickly realized what a poor PR move it was, and quickly sent the following message to the New York Times:
Our goal, when the T-Mobile G1 becomes available in October, is to provide affordable, high-speed data service allowing customers to experience the full data capabilities of the device and our 3G network. At the same time, we have a responsibility to provide the best network experience for all of our customers so we reserve the right to temporarily reduce data throughput for a small fraction of our customers who have excessive or disproportionate usage that interferes with our network performance or our ability to provide quality service to all of our customers.

We removed the 1GB soft limit from our policy statement, and we are confident that T-Mobile G1 customers will enjoy the high speed of data access over our 3G network. The specific terms for our new data plans are still being reviewed and once they are final we will be certain to share this broadly with current customers and potential new customers.
They removed it all right, but read the statement now (emphasis mine this time):
To provide the best network experience for all of our customers we may temporarily reduce data throughput for a small fraction of customers who use a disproportionate amount of bandwidth. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users. Some devices require specific data plans; if you do not have the right plan for your device, you may not be able to use data services. Additional charges may apply. Domestic use only.
Interestingly, the original sentence was in bold and in the place of the current first sentence (which is no longer bolded; go figure). Obviously they don't want to draw attention to it this time.

So while they removed the explicit cap that previously existed at 1 GB, what they've now done is created a policy very similar to Comcast's new policy of throttling high usage users.

As I said previously: T-Mobile, meet Comcast. While certainly better than before, it still leaves them a loophole to throttle.



Spore's DRM Earns EA a Lawsuit

Spore is a critically-acclaimed game, but (at least by users) its DRM has been universally panned. Many of those who know anything about the SecuROM copy protection used in the game don't want it near their computers, unless they absolutely have to. And while Electronic Arts (EA) has "loosened things up" slightly, the DRM has spawned thousands of negative reviews at Amazon.com and protest creatures. And now, it has birthed a class action lawsuit (.PDF).

The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 22nd by Melissa Thomas, represented by Alan Himmelfarb and Scott Kamber with KamberEdelson LLC. The lawsuit makes a number of statements, including:
What purchasers are not told is that, included in the purchase, installation, and operation of Spore is a second, undisclosed program. The name of the second program is SecuROM, which is a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) for computer games. Although consumers are told that the game uses access control and copy protection technology, consumers are not told that this technology is actually an entirely separate, stand-alone program which will download, install, and operate on their computers, along with the Spore download. Consumers are given no control, rights, or options over SecuROM. The program is uninstallable. Once installed, it become (sic) a permanent part of the consumer's software portfolio. Even if the consumer uninstalls Spore, and entirely deletes it from their computer, SecuROM remains a fixture in their computer unless and until the consumer completely wipes their hard drive through reformatting or replacement of the drive.
and later:
Nowhere in any of EA's discussions, responses or explanations of its DRM did EA disclose that the Spore disk contained a separately install, stand alone, uninstallable DRM program which would install itself to the command and control center of the computer and oversee function and operation on the computer, preventing certain user actions, preventing certain user programs from operating or disrupting hardware operations.
Definitely, Spore used to be extremely hard to get rid of. Now, the company provides an uninstaller that can be downloaded from their website. So that part of the lawsuit is invalid, although it should be noted that well-behaved programs should uninstall everything when they are removed. Granted, if SecuROM was needed for another game on the system, it should remain, but if not, the need to run a separate (and not included!) uninstaller is a pain, to say the least.

As far as not being told about SecuROM, that's true. Some sort of DRM is mentioned in the EULA, but not the exact type. And honestly, consumers have been asking for the type of DRM to be displayed on the box for a long time (which is why I always do a web search for the type of DRM a game has before buying it).

As far as "preventing programs from operating or disrupting hardware operations," I do remember some past DRM that upchucked if virtual drives were used on a system, but I thought that was Starforce, though admittedly, I could be wrong. I didn't think it was SecuROM, but hey: I refuse to use either Starforce or SecuROM because they do so much to a system, I'd rather not play the game than deal with the risk.

At any rate, a lot of this lawsuit seems questionable, at best. While I would definitely agree that the DRM is a pain and that, in reality, it doesn't stop anyone who really, really wants to pirate the game (take a look at BitTorrent sites for torrents for this game), I'm not sure this lawsuit will fly.

It does, however, do one good thing: casts attention on PC game DRM. As I said, those who really want to pirate the game will do so. The only ones being hurt by this and other forms of DRM are honest consumers.



Wednesday, September 24, 2008

MySpace Music Ready for Launch

In April, MySpace and three of the four major record labels announced "MySpace Music." At the time I said it was only a matter of time before the fourth, EMI joined in, and it has --- at the last minute, in fact. And Thursday at 12:00 AM EDT the site is set to go live.

Once it goes live, MySpace users can will be able to create and stream whole playlists of music from all four major labels as well as independents. The whole thing is ad-supported and free.

Want to buy a song? Amazon MP3 will be tightly integrated into the site, so you can buy DRM-free MP3s easily. And if you want a ringtone, there's Jamster for you.

And, while this is definitely going to be a big deal (heck, I'll even dust off my MySpace account), this is just the first phase of the rollout, according to their press release. Excerpts:
Today's announcement marks the first phase in an iterative global product rollout which will ultimately include a vast catalogue of premium and promotional content, a wide selection of new user-to-user sharing tools, and additional e-commerce opportunities for artists including merchandise and ticketing. Starting today in the U.S. and launching internationally in the coming months, the new MySpace Music functionality will also be available in Spanish and fully localized for the MySpace en EspaƱol community. Select products including the newly designed music player will be available globally to MySpace's more than 120 million global users (comScore July 2008).

The first phase of the new MySpace Music unveils:
  • The new, 'MyMusic,' personal music management toolset
  • Free and unlimited ad-supported, full-length audio streaming
  • Free and unlimited playlist functionality
  • Free discography and content catalogues for SONY BMG, UMG and WMG artists
  • DRM-free MP3 music e-commerce downloads powered by Amazon MP3
  • Ringtone e-commerce powered by Jamster
Yep, the EMI agreement was so late it didn't make the press release, as it's not mentioned above. Caveats: some music won't be available for streaming (e.g., The Beatles).

Users can also add a playlist to their profile, but profile playlists will be limited to 10 songs. On the separate MySpace Music page, you can add up to 100 songs per playlist.

For artists, another nice feature: on MySpace Music, the music listed on an artist's profile page will have "Add" and "Buy" buttons. Hit Add and it goes to your playlist. Hit buy, well you can figure that out. Amazon users can use their existing accounts, if any.

You can read the full press release here (.PDF).



Apple's NDA Extended to App Store Rejection Letters

Recently some high profile rejections at the App Store have caused a storm of controversy across the blogosphere. The controversy centers around apps being rejected because they duplicate pre-existing Apple app functionality --- as well as a lack of transparency over App Store policies.

Well, this move sure as heck isn't going to help with that transparency problem.

In what's obviously a response to the criticism over the recent rejections, Apple has decided to extend their already rather draconian NDA for the iPhone SDK to rejection letters. New letters not have the following message:
THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS MESSAGE IS UNDER NON-DISCLOSURE
While I'm not aware if this is simply a reminder, meaning the NDA had previously covered this, or a new development, it's certainly not going to go over well with developers and critics of Apple. Does anyone besides me think Apple, with its relatively new status in the marketplace, is becoming slightly drunk with power?

And while some say that if you're developing something for a smartphone, it has to be on the iPhone, there's that other recently introduced platform that calls out to developers with its openness. Of course, there's that throttling issue, which might be a major blocker for those with high-bandwidth apps, but that's another story.



T-Mobile's G1 "Unlimited" Data Plan Throttled After 1 GB of Data Usage

Today was the introduction of the T-Mobile G1, the first Google Android cell phone. The launch event didn't include details on the service plans, but closer examination of the plans after they were posted to T-Mobile's site reveals some worrisome details.

First of all, T-Mobile's 3G network is the smallest among U.S. carriers. T-Mobile insists that they'll have HSDPA up and running in twenty one markets by mid-October when the phone hits stores --- and twenty seven markets by year's end. Many of T-Mobile's customers will be relegated to EDGE anyway.

But then, here's the kicker: the fine print at the bottom of T-Mobile's 3G detail page (emphasis T-Mobile's):
If your total data usage in any billing cycle is more than 1GB, your data throughput for the remainder of that cycle may be reduced to 50 kbps or less. Your data session, plan, or service may be suspended, terminated, or restricted for significant roaming or if you use your service in a way that interferes with our network or ability to provide quality service to other users. Some devices require specific data plans; if you do not have the right plan for your device, you may not be able to use data services. Some downloads, such as movies, music, and games, not included. Domestic use only.
One thing's for sure: you're not going to be using the G1 for tethering purposes.

Some will say, big deal, 1 GB is a lot of data. Well, in reality, nowadays, it's not. And the way they advertise their service plans is somewhat misleading:
You can choose from a data plan that offers 400 messages and unlimited data access for $25 a month—or add unlimited messaging for just $10 more a month.
While we all know that cell phone data plans aren't really unlimited, this is the first time I've heard of throttling like this, and after only 1 GB of usage. Comcast, meet T-Mobile.

I expect users to buy the phone anyway, but I also expect to see some fallout.



Large Hadron Collider to Hibernate Until Spring

The helium leak which caused the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to shut down last Friday will mean that the LHC will be in hibernation until Spring 2009. While the repairs will take approximately two months, as I indicated earlier, the lab shuts down in the winter to save costs. Officials with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) decided not to restart the world's largest particle accelerator until next year.

While researchers have to wait until the affected section of tunnel warms up enough, CERN announced that the most likely cause of the incident was a faulty electrical connection between two of the accelerator’s magnets. In a press release CERN Director General Robert Aymar said:
"Coming immediately after the very successful start of LHC operation on 10 September, this is undoubtedly a psychological blow. Nevertheless, the success of the LHC’s first operation with beam is testimony to years of painstaking preparation and the skill of the teams involved in building and running CERN’s accelerator complex. I have no doubt that we will overcome this setback with the same degree of rigour and application."
Peter Limon, who was responsible for commissioning the world’s first large-scale superconducting accelerator, the Tevatron at Fermilab in the USA, added:
"The LHC is a very complex instrument, huge in scale and pushing technological limits in many areas. Events occur from time to time that temporarily stop operations, for shorter or longer periods, especially during the early phases."
While scientists hope to finally discover the elusive Higgs boson, a so-far undiscovered particle thought to give matter its mass (AKA the "God particle"), others are concerned that the LHC may actually bring the world to an end. Such concerns have led to death threats as well as hacking of the site's computers.

This break will give such as Citizens Against the Large Hadron Collider time to continue their protests, and ensure that the world will survive until at least 2009. Photobucket