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Archive for April, 2020

Richard Charkin is an unrepentant thief. Charkin, a UK executive with publisher Macmillan, attended last week's Book Expo America in New York and decided to make his feelings about Google Book Search clear by teaching Google a lesson: he stole two of the company's laptops. 老域名购买

His point was that Google Book Search is "stealing" the work of authors and publishers without permission, and Charkin wanted to see if Google's boffins enjoyed having the same thing done to them. He recounts the incident on his personal blog. "A colleague and I simply picked up two computers from the Google stand and waited in close proximity until someone noticed," he says. "This took more than an hour. Our justification for this appalling piece of criminal behaviour? The owner of the computer had not specifically told us not to steal it. If s/he had, we would not have done so. When s/he asked for its return, we did so. It is exactly what Google expects publishers to expect and accept in respect to intellectual property."

The object lesson is unlikely to change Google's opinion of its project, andCharkin's charade elides the differences between what Google is doing for books and what a thief does when he snatches a laptopfrom the backseat of a car. Such was Lawrence Lessig's view, at least, and Lessig pointed out that Google Book Search does not indiscriminately post books under copyright. If the book is under copyright and still in print, Google Book Search will only show selections from it that are authorized by the publisher. The book Middlesex, for example, published by Picador, displays a limited preview of certain chapters authorized by the publisher. (Microsoft has made much of its rival project, with a stronger opt-in system for rightsholders, as being a better choice for publishers.)

Books that remain under copyright but are out of print can be extremely difficult to clear the rights for, and for these works, Google does show "snippets" of the pages containing search terms. These snippets are quite limited (a couple of sentences), and only a fixed amount will be shown per book, per user. Google explains that if books are still under copyright, "we only show basic information about the book, similar to a card catalog, and, in some cases, a few snippets—sentences of your search terms in context. The aim of Google Book Search is to help you discover books and learn where to buy or borrow them, not read them online from start to finish." Google believes that these snippets constitute fair use, and that if they are outlawed, Google's entire ability to index the web is in jeopardy.

Lessig also points out that making a copy of a digital work is essentially different from stealing someone's laptop; when the laptop disappears, the user no longer has access to it and has lost something important and costly. The same is not true when Google scans a book.

Charkin has certainly been hearing this point repeatedly from critics. In a more recent blog entry, he said that he has been characterized"variously as a fool, a child, a luddite, a crook, or a counter-revolutionary. Hey ho. At least it has generated debate, not least as to whether physical property has greater rights to protection than intellectual property."

A complex debate

Charkin certainly doesn't represent all the views of the industry. The bookbusiness is convulsed with debate over the topic of how best to go digital. A Random House VP that I spoke with several weeks ago said that there is no single corporate perspective on the issue of working with Google or similar services, and he encouraged the tech world not to give into the myth of believing that publishers are "old-school and lazy."

Publishers want to embrace the digital future, and they're all doing it in different ways, but there's a real worry that Google and Amazon book search services encourage people to believe that digitalbook content is worth little. If publishers aren't careful, theymight devalue future digital sales, just as P2P has encouraged plenty of consumers to believe that music ought to be free.

Yes, Google will certainly help to drive paper sales in the short term, but people are quickly growing used to getting digital content for free. As these companies plan to offer more digital products down the road, they worry that consumers are being primed to expect an ultra-low price that could decimate their profits and even put them out of business.

The issue is made even more complicated because the debate is not just among publishers. Authors too have opinions, and they can be utterly polarized. Large companies have to deal with thousands of authors, each of whom has a different view on how content should be marketed and made available, and that's not even mentioning the entire issue of backlist authors, whose contracts made no reference at all to Internet or electronic distribution.

It may actually be the courts that have the final word here. Google is currently defending itself against major lawsuits from publishers and the Authors Guild over the uses it makes of copyrighted works. Google has been trying to dispel some of the bad will created among publishers by the Book Search program and to educate people about how the service actually works—thus, their appearance at Book Expo America. The fact that a publishing executive would steal the company's laptops, then wait around for more than an hourjust sothe theft would be noticed, suggests that Google has plenty of work left to do.

Earlier in the week, we reported on a case of rational drug design: given the structure of a protein, scientists were able to pick a molecule with a structure that stuck to the protein. But this sort of rational approach really only works if you have a structure and know where the key parts of it are. Unfortunately, that is a fairly rare situation. But some new results that were published recently suggest that we needn't have to wait for structural data to come in to design a drug: evolutionary processes work great even when we're in the dark. In this case, the processes were used to evolve a molecule that dramatically extended the life span of an experimental organism. 老域名购买

The basic concept of the approach is to start with an entirely random pool of molecules and then subject them to several rounds of selection based on binding to a target protein. Those that are still around after all the selection—the "fittest"—should include everything that specifically stick to your protein of interest. This sort of technique has been used successfully by a number of labs.

The research team involved combined that logic with a neat technique that dates from 1997, one that allows them to essentially select for a molecule and the instructions for making it at the same time. The technique relies on creating random pools of RNAs that can be made into short proteins. These RNAs are chemically linked to an antibiotic and then given to purified ribosomes, which translate them into proteins.

The antibiotic being used is puromycin, which has a key mechanism of action: it normally sneaks into the ribosome and gets attached to the end of the proteins that are being made, stopping their manufacture. In this case, it gets attached to the protein being made from the RNA it is fastened to, thus linking the RNA to the protein it codes for. When these proteins are sent through the selection process, the ones that survive come linked to the RNA that includes the instructions for making them.

In this case, the authors chose a compelling item to target with this technique: a receptor called Methuselah, which previous experiments had shown was involved in regulating the life span of the fruit fly Drosophila. The researchers put their pool of protein/RNA hybrids through eight rounds of selection for binding to the Methuselah protein and then identified the RNAs that encoded the most efficient binding proteins. They then tested these to find the ones that would compete with the signals that the receptor normally binds, reasoning that these would be the most likely to block signaling.

To test the effectiveness, the researchers converted the sequence of the RNA into DNA, and inserted it into the Drosophila genome. Expression of the evolved protein extended the mean lifespan of flies by 38 percent, and the maximum lifespan by 26 percent. In short, the researchers evolved an anti-aging peptide.

For the curious, Methuselah doesn't seem to have a direct equivalent outside of the fly world, so these new proteins aren't going to be showing up in pharmacies any time soon. But the techniques involved look to be powerful ones, and similar approaches may be generating something useful before too long.

The US Patent and Trademark Office has announced that a one-year pilot program to test how well peer review can work with the patent-granting process will begin next week. Developed by the New York Law School, the Peer to Patent Project is sponsored by tech giants such as CA, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Red Hat as well as the MacArthur Foundation. First conceived in May 2006, it was hoped that the project would go live by the beginning of 2007. 老域名购买

During the pilot, technical experts in "the computer arts" will be able to read selected published patent applications and submit annotated technical references before the application goes to an examiner. Participants will have to register with the New York Law School's Community Patent Review Project (CPRP) prior to submitting peer reviews. Those participating in the program will be allowed to review up to 15 applications, a limit that the PTO says will ensure broader participation.

Under current laws, the PTO cannot accept commentary related to prior art from the public without the applicant's approval. As a result, patents undergoing peer review will be chosen from a pool from applicants who have volunteered to have their applications screened through the project.

Given the degree to which the US patent system is in dire need of fixing, the CPRP should be welcomed with open arms. The USPTO hopes that the pilot will be a big success and that, in conjunction with patent reform legislation recently introduced in Congress, we'll end up a with a "highly participatory" examination process. With experts looking over applications for instances of prior art and, most importantly, providing explanations for examiners who might otherwise not fully grasp the concepts outlined in an application, the end result should be stronger patents with nonobvious claims.

Fourth graders in Bedford County, Virginia were accidentally exposed to "hardcore pornography" in the classroom this week, but parents and the administration are reacting very differently than in another recent classroom porn case. A teacher was showing an educational video about tessellations to her fourth grade class when the video ended, the credits rolled, and then pornography came up on the screen. The teacher of the 20-student class "sprinted" across the room to turn it off, according to Bedford County schools spokesperson Ryan Edwards, but by that time, the students had already seen several seconds of the illicit video. "The children and the teacher were completely shocked," Edwards told the Arizona Republic. 老域名购买

The district, however, is not holding the teacher responsible for the incident. Instead, they are trying to determine how the porn got onto the tape in the first place.

This reaction comes in stark contrast to another incident in which children were accidentally exposed to pornographic images in the classroom. Connecticut substitute teacher Julie Amero was convicted for not doing enough to prevent her students from seeing pornographic pop-ups on a classroom PC earlier this year and faced up to 40 years in prison. The school admitted that the computer was not up to date with its virus and malware protections, but that didn't stop it from accusing Amero of intentionally showing the students porn. A local "computer expert" even testified that the browser's history indicated that Amero intentionally clicked on links to pornographic web sites. Luckily for Amero, computer forensics performed after her conviction contradicted the testimony of the "expert," and she was granted a new trial this week.

The tape was in possession of the school for four years, according to Edwards, but no one had ever played it that far past the credits before. It was produced by Teachers Video Co., formerly of Scottsdale, AZ, but the company claims that the master copy of the film does not contain the pornographic clips. They and the school suspect that the duplication facility that generated copies of the tape is responsible, probably by reusing old pornographic tapes without having fully erased them. Teachers Video's parent company, School Specialty, has apologized to the school district.

Three economists decided to investigate whether using a for sale by owner (FSBO) web site could actually make homeowners more money compared to selling a house with a traditional real estate agent. The answer, at least in Madison, Wisconsin, is yes. 老域名购买

In the Dark Ages before the light of the Internet beamed across the land, Realtors (the term is trademarked) were the ones who had access to the lists of properties for sale in a given location. This information could be very difficult to collect on one's own without flying to the desired city and driving the side streets, jotting down addresses. But with the growth of the Internet, it's easy to list and share information, and even Realtors are opening up their listings to public access. In such a situation, does it still make sense to pay a six percent commission?

If a low-stress selling experience is what you want, a Realtor is probably the way to go. But if it's all about the bottom line, Igal Hendel, Aviv Nevo, and Francois Ortalo-Magné argue that selling a place yourself can be more lucrative in a city with a well-used FSBO web site. Madison, WI has such a site (FSBOMadison.com) and provided an excellent test case for the authors to compare FSBO results to Realtor results between 1998 and 2004. The study was made available yesterday (PDF) by the authors.

In a nutshell, the paper shows that the FSBO homes sold for an average price of $175,068 in Madison, while Realtor homes sold for $173,205 in the same period. After commissions are removed from that figure, the FSBO folks came out a good deal ahead. Using a Realtor's multiple listing service (MLS) does shorten the time a house is on the market, though, and prevents you from having to watch strangers tramp through your home, pointing out the water stains on your woodwork.

The New York Times had a writeup on the report today, and they note that the National Association of Realtors, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, takes issue with these findings. In an earlier study touted by the group, they claim that selling with a Realtor leads to a 16 percent increase in a home's sales price. That's great news if you're a seller, but not so positive if you're a buyer—and Realtors represent both.

Combine the power of FSBO web sites with pricing information provided by sites like Zillow, and it's getting increasingly easy for homeowners to be savvy salesmen of their own property. The web has already put the hurt on services like travel agencies; will the far more lucrative real estate market feel the pinch next?

WWDC 2007 keynote bingo

It’s that time again. For a refresher course on keynote bingo, see the explanation accompanying the Macworld 2007 bingo card. For WWDC 2007, it’s the same deal: one card, no easy wins. As usual, some unmarked squares from past cards have been carried over. Hope springs eternal.老域名购买

There are a few notable absences this time. Most glaringly, there’s nothing about the iPod or iTunes. I just couldn’t think of anything related to those two products that’s both exciting and remotely likely to be announced at WWDC. HD content or something in the iTunes store, maybe, but that’s pretty boring. And I just can’t imagine the inevitable OS X-based iPods being announced until after the iPhone launches.

ZFS only gets its traditional “mention” square (which has yet to be checked) rather than the expected “ZFS replaces HFS+” or “Leopard boots from ZFS” squares. If either of those things happens, you can check the “ZFS mentioned” square anyway, but I’m hedging my bets on any sweeping ZFS integration. Of course, as with the OS X iPods and Leopard booting ZFS, I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

The official card is in PDF format, as usual:


WWDC 2007 Bingo Card PDF

Finally, a refresher on the rules. If you’re going to the keynote in person, print out the bingo card and play along live. The first person in the audience to win the game is expected to yell “BINGO!” loud enough so that the rest of us can hear it when we watch the keynote webcast video later. If we can’t actually hear you, it’s also acceptable if Steve Jobs hears you on stage and indicates this in some way…perhaps, by having you thrown out or “disappeared.” Hey, no guts, no glory!

The requirements for each square are listed below. Good luck!

Bingo card created by John McCoy

.Mac overhauled – The .Mac service is presented as significantly improved. Whether or not it’s actually improved doesn’t matter; it’s just the presentation that counts. You can also mark this box is .Mac is retired, renamed, or otherwise nuked.

Bertrand, baby – Bertrand Serlet is either the first non-Steve, non-iPhone-related presenter, or he has the most time on stage of any Apple employee other than Jobs.

Leopard secrets revealed – As far as we can tell, all of Leopard’s “top secret” features are revealed.

iLife – A new version of iLife is announced.

Leopard is the star – Though many other things are discussed, the majority of the time in the keynote is spent on Leopard. I know this square seems like a gimmie, but remember how much Jobs likes to talk about the iPhone… (and see later squares about iPhone development).

VoIP or iChat on iPhone – VoIP, iChat, or any other form of voice or text-based communication that uses the iPhone’s WiFi connection.

Virtualization in Leopard – Any virtualization features built into Leopard. This includes the ability to run any other foreign OS within Leopard, including other versions of Mac OS or Mac OS X.

“New” Finder in Leopard – A substantially altered Finder appears in Leopard. As always, the quotes around “new” are there to indicate my pessimism that it’ll actually be all that new. But if it is called “new” or presented it as a big change, you can mark this square.

iPhone Widgets – The announcement of any WebKit-based iPhone development environment open to third-party developers (even if the resulting applications are not called “widgets”).

Illuminous – The word “illuminous” is spoken or appears on any slide.

iPhone Leopard demo – The integration of the iPhone with Leopard is demonstrated.

New look in Leopard – Mac OS X Leopard includes significant changes to the look of the standards elements of the UI (windows, buttons, scroll-bars, etc.)

MacBook Thin – A new laptop Mac that’s smaller than any existing MacBook or MacBook Pro.

iPhone SDK – The announcement of a full-fledged iPhone SDK. As with the iPhone Widgets square, it’s only the announcement that matters, not the date that it will actually be available.

New desktop Mac (not Mac Pro) – A new desktop Mac product that is not a Mac Pro. (New iMacs count.)

Vista ridiculed – Windows Vista is ridiculed (though it need not be mentioned directly by name).

ZFS mentioned – ZFS is mentioned by a presenter. Text on a slide does not count. The presenter must say it.

Universal MS Office demo – Any demonstration of a Universal binary build of any part of Microsoft Office. I’ll accept something less than a full-blown demo (e.g., just some screenshots or a marketing spiel) if you need this square to win, but it has to be delivered by a Microsoft representative.

“One more thing…” – When Steve Jobs says there’s “one more thing.” A slide containing the phrase is also acceptable, even if Jobs does not actually say it.

“Boom” – Steve Jobs says the word “boom” while demonstrating something.

Leopard release date – The exact day that Mac OS X Leopard will be released.

Leopard != $129 – Mac OS X Leopard single-user price is not $129. (Note: “client” Mac OS X, not Mac OS X Server.)

Leopard secrets remain – Jobs announces that one or more of Leopard’s “top secret” features will remain secret a while longer.

New displays with cameras – New Apple displays with built-in or otherwise attached cameras.

AppleInsider believes that although a major overhaul of the iMac is definitely on track for this year, it's a "poor bet" for release at WWDC next week. "There's no compelling rationale for [Apple] to pre-announce new iMacs months in advance of availability," said one of AI's sources.The Electronic Frontier Foundation has updated its stance on the iTunes Plus files that may or may not contain tons of personal data. "The odd tables we mentioned last week are not all that interesting.
They're tables of pointers into the compressed audio data, so that
players can find different parts of the track (stco tables). When the file is offset by the inclusion of an extra JPEG in the headers, all the pointers change," writes EFF's Peter Eckersley.老域名购买

ifoAppleStore says that tipsters have said that Apple Stores are being wired with cell repeaters to ensure crystal clear reception for in-store iPhone demos.For you Twitter addicts, Twitterrific 2.1 is officially out in non-beta form. It now has Growl support, improved AppleScripting abilities, and support for multiple logins, among others.Coda also got an update this week to version 1.0.3. The updates include support for dragging and dropping tabs, VBScript/ASP syntax highlighting (don't hate, I used to do primarily ASP at my last job!), and ColdFusion syntax highlighting (okay, you can hate on that one).Some companies are expecting the iPhone to drive demand for capacitive touchscreens, according to DigiTimes. US-based Synaptics told DigiTimes that while 7 percent of handsets will have capacitive touchscreens in 2007, that number will jump to 24 percent by 2009 because of the iPhone.I've been harassed (just kidding… sort of) into telling the world about the Delicious Generation Party that's happening next week during WWDC. The party, put together by the likes of Phil Ryu, John Cassanta, and Adam Sarner is mainly for developers to showcase their applications to each other and the press. However, just regular old folks can RSVP as well and try to get in, although Phil warns "don't be offended if we run out of space!"

Don't forget to check back on Infinite Loop and the front page of Ars next week for updates on WWDC. We'll be covering the keynote live and doing developer interviews for the rest of the week. Hope you all have a fantastic, beautiful weekend!

Safari does Windows

The browser wars may be heating up, as Apple announces they are bringing the 3.0 version of their browser, Safari, to Windows. The software is being released today for 10.4, the 10.5 beta, and Windows Vista and XP. This also marks the first time that a new version of Safari has been released for a Mac OS X different from the one it was developed for. 老域名购买

Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the move by noting that Safari's market share, by some measures, has grown to 5 percent. Given that this is a larger percentage of the worldwide computer market than Apple computers occupy, that 5 percent was likely to represent a ceiling, one which might limit the prospect of web developers ensuring Safari compatibility. By bringing Safari to Windows, Apple hopes to expand the browser's audience and ensure that it plays nicely with more of the Web moving forward.

Apple clearly also hopes that Safari-compatible web apps attract a larger following because these will be the only ways for third-party developers to get onto the iPhone. Jobs announced that any third-party applications that wish to get onto an iPhone will have to go through Safari to get there. Even if the Windows versions of Safari don't gain any significant traction, they should at least offer developers a chance to test their wares without having to invest in a Mac.

Safari on Windows XP

Jobs demoed some of Safari's new features, which included movable tabs: they can now be torn off to create independent windows or rearranged within their current window. He also showed a series of HTML and Javascript benchmarks that showed the browser handily beating both Firefox and Internet Explorer.

It's hard to tell how the Windows versions will be structured. The foundation of Safari is the WebKit project, which is in turn a wrapper for the KHTML browser engine. KHTML makes heavy use of a cross-platform toolkit called QT. Much of Apple's work with Safari has involved removing QT dependencies and making it play nice with ObjectiveC.

To get Safari to run on Windows, Apple could either have relied on QT or taken advantage of the Windows ObjectiveC runtime they inherited from NeXT. Rumor has it that part of the iTunes display engine relies on WebKit, so it's possible that they simply leveraged whatever had been done there. It's also possible that they've received some help on this from interested Windows developers, as WebKit appears to have attracted a larger developer community than most of Apple's other open-source efforts.

All of these questions will ultimately be answered by whatever code appears on the WebKit site.

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The old evil lord is dead. A bunch of evil little things that look like gremlins are rubbing acid in your eyes to wake you up. This isn't the best-case scenario to rise to power as the lord of the land, but no one ever said evil was easy. This is how the demo for Overlord begins, and it's your job to hit up the countryside to get a relic that was taken from your castle.

It's odd to see such a beautifully realized outdoor setting and then have the game plop a Sauron-looking dude and his minions smack in the middle of it. "They just walk around until someone kills them," your guide remarks as you slaughter sheep for their life energy. Don't be fooled by the happy background music, because it's your job to prove you're a bad dude. It doesn't take much time to realize how much fun there is to be had in this game.

Your control your character in the normal fashion: bashing in skulls with your oversize ax and generally making sure people have a bad day. The fun comes from spawning minions and having them do your bidding. The right analogue stick allows you to move your horde (up to ten in the demo) around the level to kill and pillage. They even bring you back money and items they find as gifts. Raise your fist in the air and they come back to you. Destroying the lives of the villagers is only fun when you don't have to do it directly. Spawn more minions to move heavy objects or to use as attack dogs. Too much fun, even if the framerate does chug at times.

Of course it's hard to keep the peace if you're PURE evil, so the game makes you help people every now and again to make them grateful and easy to control. The sense of humor is great so far; it's like a very pretty Dungeon Keeper with more action elements, and I love the setting and characters. This demo moved the game from "I barely know what this is," to "I have to check to see what day this comes out."

Give it a try. Go on, be a little evil.

Frank's thoughts

Overlord is a strange game. It's the kind of relatively unknown, one-off title that could really go on to shine as one of the system's most oddly memorable games. Romping through pristine pastures as an evil lord with an evil grin, slaughtering helpless sheep or pumpkins ("They're in league with the pumpkins!") with happy pipes a-playin' in the background is a riot: it's unique and off the wall. Consider this title an unexpected surprise, and an example of how a well-timed demo can do wonders for a game's publicity.

The post-nuclear apocalypse drama Jericho was canceled by CBS earlier this year, but the network relented and renewed the show for seven more episodes after disappointed fans sent 25 tons of peanuts to CBS in protest. It's a great story of grassroots fan support. 老域名购买

Now that they've got seven more episodes to get it fired up again, some of the show's talent is speaking up about what they think hurt their ratings. Speaking with OnMilwaukee, actor Brad Beyer answered suggestions that the plot of the show was too slow by saying that the real problem with Jericho is that viewers weren't watching it as it was broadcast.

"The biggest problem with our show is that so many people were watching it on the Internet or Tivo (which doesn't count toward Nielsen ratings), so I think the fans are now aware to watch it when it's on," he said.

This isn't just Beyer's personal view, however. Nina Tassler, the president of CBS Entertainment, told the New York Times that if fans want the show to live, they need to watch the broadcast because that's how the money gets made. Stressing that live viewing is "of primary importance," Tassler said that "We want them to watch on Wednesday at 8 o'clock… and we need them to recruit new viewers who are going to watch the broadcast."

According to internal research at CBS, 8 percent of Jericho's viewers were recording the show and watching it later, amounting to some 700,000 households. The implication is that such a small slice of DVR usage can hurt a struggling show.

The question: is CBS full of it? According to Nielsen, DVR users added 32 percentage points of commercial viewership when factored into the results, so the notion that DVR users don't watch ads isn't entirely true. By our rough estimates, it's about half the normal rate for live viewers. There's a degree to which CBS is still making decisions based off of traditional valuations of viewers. Yet, the networks all say that advertisers believe that the only viewers worth paying for are those that watch ads live. After all, Crazy Eddie's sales are "going on now," not "going on 3-5 days from now."

Of course, as far as ratings are concerned, Jericho often ran head-to-head with American Idol, as the OnMilwaukee interview casually mentions. Something tells me that (*blu-buh-blu-*)Blake (*wiki-wiki*) and Jordin Sparks had more to do with Jericho's ratings than did TiVo. Is it really any surprise that Jericho had ratings problems running up against the most popular show on TV? I'd wager that this fact alone accounts for the higher percentages of DVR and Internet viewership CBS witnessed as compared to other programming.

Nevertheless, this "woe is the DVR" din is only going to get worse, and I've talked to more than a few people in the TV biz who are convinced that DVRs are eroding advertisers' willingness to pay top dollar for commercial spots. I've been told that the problem is particularly vicious for shows that have a high "geek quotient," like Stargate SG-1. DVR recording of that show is also quite high, but one must again ask: should Sci-Fi expect anything different considering that they run the new episodes on Friday nights?

Meanwhile, advertising dollars are leaving the TV realm and heading for the Internet in ever-increasing amounts. The DVR can't be blamed for that, and surely it's a sign of a more significant shift in the way people are spending their entertainment time: namely, online. And just why is that? I think there's one very simple explanation: the Internet is always "on demand." You use it when you want, how you want, and it's (almost) always there. CBS is swimming upstream by pleading with users to tune in on a specific day and a specific time. The day is most certainly coming when such scheduling obsessions are a thing of the past.