A Comcastic-ally bad idea

If you haven’t heard about it, Comcast has plans to build a wifi network for its subscribers, on the back of its other subscribers’ routers. What’s worse is it’s an opt-out service. If you don’t hear about it and say something, you’re a hotspot for any other Comcast customer who happens to wander by.

I’m not a Comcast customer. I’m in Charter territory, and I’m not a Charter customer either. But I have so many problems with this it’s hard to know where to begin, so I sure hope other ISPs don’t copy this. Read more

Digital distribution, not SOPA and PIPA, is the best long-term solution for the MPAA

Fightforthefuture.org declared victory yesterday, saying that SOPA and PIPA have been dropped. Their e-mail said some other important and interesting things, but most importantly, it made some references to China. Communist China. Totalitarian Communist China.

The distinction is important.
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How I secured my new wireless router

For the first time ever, I actually have a wireless router that can cover my whole house. I’ve been interested in wireless security for a long time, but haven’t actually had to do much with it because I wasn’t running any wireless networks at home.

I spent a few minutes securing my network after I got it up and running. I talked at rather long length about that in the past, but on a really practical level, here’s what I did in a mere 10 minutes that will make a big difference.

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The tyranny of consumerization is real

Computerworld cites the Ipad 2 and increasing demand by end users to use such consumer devices in corporate environments as “The tyranny of consumerization.”

This has happened before. And if history repeats itself, the future will be better than today, but the road there is going to involve some pain.
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Still no (legal) prosecution for the Megan Meier Myspace suicide

St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas announced today that he won’t prosecute the online vigilantes who drove Megan Meier to suicide in October 2006. Here’s the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, which has more details than the AP story.

Not only is the legal system failing Ron and Tina Meier, it’s also failing Lori Drew, her husband Curt, and Drew’s employee and co-participant, Ashley Grills.Here’s why I say that. Since the legal system offers no justice in this case, we’re seeing a mob of (rightfully) enraged people take matters into their own hands. Through these means, there is no due process, there’s no innocent until proven guilty, and there’s no constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment. There’s also collateral damage.

The real estate firm where Curt Drew used to work continues to get harassing phone calls from vigilantes. They dismissed him the week the story broke. The company did all that it could do, weeks ago. Now it’s someone’s job to sort through the legitimate phone calls and the calls telling them what rotten people they are for employing Curt Drew. Given the comments I see on online forums, it’s probably not a pleasant job.

According to another account I read, for all intents and purposes, Lori Drew’s junk-mail company, Drew Ad Vantage, is out of business. But the companies that once advertised with her continue to get phone calls. Some of them pulled their ads pretty quickly. The point is moot now, but the phone calls continue.

Police are having to patrol the neighborhood more often now because of threats and random acts of violence. Right now the neighbors don’t seem to mind–they’re as mad as anyone else, and have been for more than a year–but won’t that eventually grow tiresome?

This Riverfront Times article (the RFT is St. Louis’ equivalent of The Village Voice, if you want context) quotes Ron Meier as saying that now the Drews are tasting a bit of the hell he’s tasted for the past year.

I have a difficult time feeling sorry for these people. But the Internet isn’t exactly known for restraint.

It bothers me that Banas doesn’t think this case meets the requirements for state laws for either harassment, stalking or endangering the welfare of a child. To mock the Megan Had it Coming blog, I showed all this to a friend of mine who is not only in college, he has two college degrees and is really smart, and he says that harassment over the phone or mail is illegal (celebrities prosecute people for it all the time, after all). You just prove point of origin. On the Internet, it’s possible to prove point of origin (it’s how the RIAA prosecutes people who download MP3s off P2P services). So what’s the difference? It’s just coming over a different pair of wires. Well, and it’s digital instead of analog. I guess that makes a difference, since everyone knows digital is better than analog.

It’s too bad The Honorable Jack Banas, Esq. didn’t ask my friend if it’s possible to trace communications over the Internet. Having degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, he would know. Or he could ask me (I have to trace origins from time to time as part of my job), but my friend actually lives in St. Charles County, so he’s a constituent. It would probably be more appropriate to ask him. Plus, my friend is smarter than me (and not just because he has twice as many degrees as I have).

Banas says that some of what we’re seeing in news accounts isn’t true, actually going so far as to deny that Lori Drew participated in this harassment. In that case, she’s guilty of filing a false police report, since she stated as much in the police report, which anyone can read on the Smoking Gun.

I’ll share one final observation from my friend who’s really smart. I’ve seen pictures that purport to be of Lori Drew. Other people claiming to know her have surfaced on blogs and various other online hangouts and stated she is not an attractive woman. Tina Meier is a traditionally attractive woman, and Megan looks good in the most commonly used photo of her. It’s not hard to imagine that Lori Drew and her daughter were jealous of the Meier women, and some of their actions were motivated by it. Perhaps the things they said were things people had said to them, or things they thought about themselves.

I will grant the people who insist on playing devil’s advocate that Megan Meier has been sainted and the media accounts don’t provide a complete picture of her. But we do know she was getting treatment for her problems, she was taking her medicine, she was playing sports and she was losing weight. For a time, up until October 16, 2006, she was handling her problems in a constructive and proper manner.

Unfortunately there hasn’t been any good news on this front since that day.

Song lyrics on the web will be the death of the music industry?

How many times did you hear a song on the radio, like it, then eagerly wait for the DJ to come on and announce what the song was, only to hear the next song? (Which inevitably is something worse, of course.)

It happens to me a lot. So I don’t even wait for the disappointment. I grab a scrap of paper, listen for a few words that sound distinctive (or that get repeated a lot), then when I get home or somewhere that I can mooch a little Internet access, I hit the search engines.

I’ll bet I ended up buying half my CD collection that way.I guess I should apply for a patent on this method of investigation though, because obviously I must be the only one who does this, because posting this stuff online is killing the industry.

Now that I think about it, posting song lyrics might be difficult to justify under the fair use doctrine, especially if your web site is just one big database of song lyrics that somebody else wrote. It’s one thing to quote a few lines of a song–which has always been permitted, even if what you’re writing isn’t a music review–but song after song, in its entirety does cross a line.

The question is whether it does more good than harm. I’m not convinced that online postings of song lyrics and guitar tablatures necessarily harms the sheet music industry all that much. In the past, I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with musicians, and most of the musicians I knew sat down with a tape or a CD with a pencil and paper and wore out the fast-forward and reverse buttons playing snippets of songs over and over again, taking notes, until they’d figured out what was being played.

Today it’s faster to search the Internet for that kind of information. But if you couldn’t, you’d probably go do it the old-fashioned way.

And the sheet-music industry doesn’t make any money either way.

Why not just go down to the record store and buy the music? Oh. Well, because you probably can’t. And even when you can, the selection is limited. If you want something other than current hits and staples of a particular popular genre, you probably won’t find it, because sheet music takes up a lot more space than CDs do. So you can order it online, but in the time it takes for the thing to arrive in the mail, you could have transcribed the artist’s entire catalog yourself.

And besides, most musicians don’t have any money. And the musicians I know who do have money didn’t make their money making music.

So I suppose the Music Publisher’s Association is probably justified–from a legal standpoint–in going after web sites that are just a cache of lyrics. But when they do, expect CD sales to take another hit–especially sales of back-catalog discs and acts who haven’t quite hit the big time yet. Of course the RIAA will just blame downloading and CD burners.

There’s a way around this, of course. The songwriter can do whatever he or she wants with the words.

And if the songwriter wants to make more money than the average substitute teacher, I suggest posting those lyrics online, so that when the song manages to get played on some station on the far left side of the dial and 12 people hear it, the four people who like it can do a search and buy it. They might sell less sheet music. But they’ll sell a whole lot more records.

Things to look for in a wireless router

It’s the time of year that a lot of people buy computer equipment, and wireless networking is one of the things people look for. But what things should be on the shopping list?

I was hoping you’d ask that question.Compatibility with what you already have, if possible. Routers are available that speak 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g, or all three. If you already have some wireless equipment, look for something that can speak its language.

Cordless phone interference. 2.4 GHz cordless phones will interfere with 802.11b and 802.11g. 802.11a works at a different frequency, but it might be cheaper to replace your 2.4 GHz phone with a 900 MHz phone.

Speed. 802.11a and 802.11g operate at 54 Mbps, which is considerably nicer than 802.11b’s 11 Mbps, although both are much faster than current U.S. broadband connections, which tend to top out around 3 Mbps. If you move a lot of files around, you’ll appreciate the 54 Mbps speed. If your primary use of wireless is sharing an Internet connection and a printer or two, 802.11b is probably fast enough, and it’s usually cheaper, with the downside of shorter life expectancy.

802.11g is currently the most popular standard, because it gives 54 Mbps speed and offers compatibility with existing 802.11b equipment. Use this information as you will. If you’re of the security by obscurity mindset, 802.11a is a better choice, as a wardriver is more likely to be driving around with an 802.11b or 802.11g card. If you want to make sure your buddies can hook up when they come over, or you can hook up at your buddies’ places, 802.11g is the better choice.

Brand. Match the brands of router and cards, if at all possible. This makes configuration and security much simpler.

WPA. The encryption used by older standards is relatively weak. You want to enable 128-bit WEP (256-bit WEP is better but still not as good as WPA), change the SSID and disable SSID broadcast, and hard-code your MAC addresses so that only your cards can use your router. This protects you from someone driving around your neighborhood with a laptop and using your Internet connection to send out spam or transfer illicit material that can be traced back to you. Do you want the RIAA suing you because someone used your Internet connection to download 400 gigs’ worth of boy-band MP3s off Kazaa? Worse yet, if that happens, word might get out that you like that stuff.

WPA adds another layer of protection on top of these (which are standard issue by now). Rather than the security key being fixed, it’s dynamically generated from trillions of possibilities. Sufficient CPU power to crack WPA and either monitor your transmissions or use your access point might someday exist, but for now it gives the best protection available, so you should get it and use it. This USRobotics whitepaper on security ought to be a must-read.

Built-in firewall with port forwarding. This is a standard feature on all brand-name units and ought to be on the off brands as well, but it doesn’t hurt to double check. Hardware firewalls are far superior to software firewalls–they don’t annoy you with popups and they can’t be disabled by a malicious process. Port forwarding is necessary for a lot of games, and also if you want to run your own mail or web server.

Hackability. By this I don’t mean the ability of an outsider to get in, I mean your ability to add capability to it. The Linksys WRT54G is based on Linux, so it has a big following with an underground community adding capabilities to it all the time. If you want to take advantage of this, look for a WRT54G or another device with a similar following.

Maybe someone in the music industry is starting to get it

I remember just a couple of weeks ago, I was driving home from work and a song caught my attention on the radio. I was pretty sure I’d never heard it before, and given the nature of my two favorite radio stations, there was every possibility I’d never hear it again either. And the DJ never told me who it was.
And I had a thought. If more stations would play something other than the same 50 or 60 songs over and over, and the DJ would actually tell you what each song was, and you could run home and buy it for 75 cents,
I reasoned, then the music industry would be in a whole lot better shape. They might not sell what they wanted, but they’d be able to sell something. Which, if you listen to them, doesn’t exactly describe their present situation.

Now in the age of the Internet, if I’d been able to remember or jot down a couple of lines of the song, I’d be able to search Google for it and probably come up with an artist and title. The RIAA hates it when people post song lyrics on the Web or on Usenet, and while technically it is a copyright violation, I know I’ve bought tons and tons and tons of records that way. I hear a song or remember a song from the past, search for it, find out what it was, and then I buy it. Case in point: One of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio was “Steppin’ Out” by Joe Jackson. I think the last time I heard it on the radio was sometime in 1983. I remembered the tune and one line: “We’ll leave the TV and the radio behind.” One day I couldn’t stand it anymore, searched, was shocked to hear it was Joe Jackson, went to CDNow, listened to the sample, and bought his Greatest Hits album on the spot.

Now I would later find out that I can pretty safely buy a Joe Jackson record for one song and there’ll be at least one other song on it that I like a lot and one or two others that I like. I found out through experience that’s not usually the case. My CD rack is full of discs I bought for one or two songs and weren’t worth the price of admission.

There’s an Offspring song called “Gone Away” that I really like. But I don’t like Offspring. Similarly, I can’t stand Sugar Ray because all of their songs are about either getting sloshed or getting laid, and I don’t care for that lifestyle or music that celebrates it. There’s so much more to life than that. But somewhere along the way, that band recorded one song that I like and would like to own.

I don’t care much for Matchbox Twenty because all of their songs pretty much sound alike and the lyrics are almost all about shallow and empty relationships that started in bars or ended in bars and how lonely and empty they leave Rob Thomas feeling. If I want mope rock, I’ll listen to The Cure because at least they’ve found more than one thing to be depressed about and found ways to make it sound different over the years. But I’ve heard one or two Matchbox 20 songs that I like and wouldn’t mind owning.

Listen.com offers downloadable tracks for under a buck but it’s a subscription service. Apple’s iTunes has the right idea, with a fair price and no subscription, but of course it’s Mac-only at least for the moment. And now there’s Buymusic.com, which is completely Windows Media Player-centric. I tried visiting the site with Mozilla and it told me to download Internet Explorer. When I visited with Internet Exploiter, it gave me a popup saying I needed a newer version of Windows Media Player. I closed the window and it let me browse.

I’ve looked at both Listen.com and Buymusic.com, and they both have holes in their catalogs. I know some bands don’t want to be listed because they want to sell albums, not singles. To which I say record great albums and I’ll buy them. When I put in U2’s The Joshua Tree, more often than not I skip past the first four or five tracks that contained all of the album’s hits. There wasn’t a single hit on the second half of the album, but the songs are better. “One Tree Hill” and “Red Hill Mining Town” are two of the best songs they’ve ever recorded, and most people have probably never heard them.

I’ll almost always listen to Disintegration by The Cure and Straight Up by Badfinger and Whatever by Aimee Mann all the way through. But the last great album I bought was All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2, and that was two years ago. I can’t tell you the last great one I bought before that.

But hey, at least now I’ve got a way to buy some singles with a clear conscience. I kind of like the idea of being able to buy all the big-label music that’s caught my attention the past five or six years for about 20 bucks. And I do want to buy it legitimately. I’ve spent some time writing songs and I know a lot of work goes into it. And even more work goes into recording songs. I’ve spent some time in a recording studio too, and all I know is that I don’t know half the time and effort that goes into recording a song. Most of the people you hear on the radio work longer and weirder hours than I do and yet make only slightly more money than I do. So I really don’t want to steal from them.

Now I need to go find some good indie stuff. I’m pretty sure that’s where I’m going to have to look if I want great albums or something that sounds a little different.

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