— Microsoft Photosynthed
— Ebay auctions going, going…
— Streaming pile of net neutrality
There's much to like about Microsoft's immersive photo application, Photosynth. You can spend hours sliding around inside the "synths", exploring pictures from many different views and angles. The pictures themselves aren't three-dimensional, but having many of them seamlessly stitched together creates a nice illusion of a 3-D environment.
Synths work especially nicely for exploring city and landscape vistas (NPI) where you discover details that would not otherwise be obvious with normal displays of photos.
What's the commercial application of Photosynth then? Surely Microsoft, being hard-nosed capitalists, would be looking at that first and foremost? No doubt there are ways of making money out of or with Photosynth, but that doesn't seem to have been the goal when Microsoft hired the researchers behind the app. Cool
With all that in mind, I was a little disappointed not to be able to test-drive the first full, free public release of Photosynth because… as the Photosynth blog put it: "Getting ready for the launch we did massive amounts of performance testing, built capacity model after capacity model, and with all of that, you threw so much traffic our way that we need to add more capacity."
In other words, the Photosynth site and app choked on its own popularity. Oh well. It should be back up soon, and then you can check it out too. If you're a Windows and Internet Explorer user, that is.
Ebay auctions going, going…
That big, big fish in the online ecommerce pond, Ebay, is making changes. As always when Ebay makes changes, its customers go berserk and threaten to flog their wares elsewhere — that's nothing new, and Ebay seem to survive despite these rebellions.
This time around, however, the changes point to a one-eighty in Ebay's business direction: much lower fees on Buy It Now trades is seen by sellers as a way to discourage auctions in favour of fixed-price transactions.
Apparently, Ebay is casting envious glances at its non-auction rival, Amazon, that's doing rather nicely with fixed price deals.
Auctions have some unique advantages to sellers and buyers, but they're time-consuming to complete for both. What's more, managing them and clipping the ticket is also cumbersome for the auction site in question.
Moving to fixed-price offerings is likely to attract large sellers who in turn put more money each through Ebay; if the transactions are faster and easier to manage as compared to auctions, that's another win for Ebay and sellers, who in theory stand to benefit from lower fees if the cost-savings are passed on. Maturing of the business model, nudging Ebay out of the flat-growth rut, etc: that's probably how the changes are being justified by the Big E management.
Our own Ebay-clone, Trade Me, is no doubt watching the changes at Ebay closely. Unlike Ebay however, Trade Me does not have an Amazon or a Craigslist to compete with (no, Ferrit doesn't count). Therefore, Trade Me can take it easy as it's still ticking along nicely and bringing in the profits for its Aussie proprietors, and can put off pissing off the small traders that built its business for the time being.
(Yes, Fairfax, the operator of Computerworld NZ, also owns Trade Me.)
The regular Intel Developer Forum geekfest has been on in San Francisco, with the usual assortment of clever stuff being announced. One invention I'm looking forward to is having LSD in my Nehalem processors, as this should halt mis-prediction of code branching and just stream those instructions out of its hard-wired logic. It'll be like the late sixties, like, only in silicon this time.
Mind-altered central processing units aside, I can't wait for wireless power to make it into production. Cables have their own, peculiar type of flexible, snaking charm, but it's just too too much really, and messy. Transmitting power through thin air is where it's at. This isn't new-tech by any means, but Intel may be able to make it reality, unlike Nikola Tesla, who is said to have thought of it over a century ago.
Then again, we all thought Intel would deliver SuperMegaWowFast Broadband through WiMax, but that kind of petered out, so maybe we're stuck with cable chaos for the foreseeable future?
Streaming pile of net neutrality
The internet is all about video, the streaming variety. Actually, no, it isn't, says Andrew Odlyzko from the School of Mathematics, University of Minnesota in his paper on net neutrality (thanks to Bill St Arnaud for finding it).
In fact, Odlyzko makes the argument rather forcefully that we don't need streaming video. Compared to selling connectivity (yes, that includes voice telephony), flogging movies won'tbring in much dough for providers.
Second, streaming movies in real time offers just pain for providers who have to build very complex networks to deal with it, adding traffic-discriminating measures on them to prioritise the transmission of paid-for videos. Customers have no interest in real-time streaming video, perhaps because they have cheaper and easier options for that already, called "television" and "cinema".
Instead, Odlyzko proposes simpler networks that deliver videos faster than real-time, without streaming. So, you'd download a two-hour film in minutes rather than wait for it to stream, broadcast-fashion. For that, we want faster, low-latency pipes and we're willing to pay providers for that privilege as long they promise not to tinker with our traffic.
That's a common sense argument, so forget about anyone paying attention to it. Cisco for instance doesn't want to listen, and nor does Microsoft with its IPTV.
Robert X Cringely
The RIAA's comic crusade
The recording industry and its allies are using a new tactic to shape the minds of would-be file swappers: comic books. No, we're not kidding.
The Recording Industry Association of America probably sees itself as a band of caped crusaders fighting for truth, justice and the American way. (And in this case, "American Way" translates into propping up a dying cartel seeking to squeeze as many pennies out of consumers as possible before they sink into the ooze.)
Now those masked men and women have found a new way to spread the mantra about the evils of file swapping — via comic books. Even weirder is the ally they're roped into this scheme: the National Centre for State Courts, an organisation founded in the early 1970s by then chief justice Warren Burger "to improve the administration of justice through leadership and service to state courts".
The NCSC has begun publishing a series of graphic novels titled Justice Case Files to "provide a detailed, easy-to-digest explanation of how the criminal- and civil-justice systems work". Their first colorfully illustrated 24-page file? The Case of Internet Piracy. (Download an 11MB PDF version here).
Per the NCSC:
The story traces the experience of Megan, a college freshman charged with illegally downloading music, and Ellen, Megan's grandmother, who is fighting their city's attempt to seize their home through eminent domain.
Don't look now, but Archie and Jughead have been caught using BitTorrent again. What ever will Betty and Veronica think?
The "graphic novel" was created by Layne Morgan Media, a tiny ad agency in Springfield, Missouri, that specialises in comic books of a conservative persuasion. Other Layne Morgan titles include "Think Before You Drink," a tome warning against the evils of teen drinking, and "To Wait is to Win," where "readers can learn about the importance of abstinence." As P2Pnet's Jon Newton points out, however, the comic book appears to have been drawn with the invisible hands of the RIAA guiding the pen.
According to the comic book prosecutor:
"Megan Robbins was caught illegally downloading and sharing music files from several internet websites without paying for it over a period of three months. She is charged with theft at the state level. ... Even first time offenders such as Ms Robbins face stiff penalties — up to 2 years in jail and $25,000 in fines."
Megan pleads guilty and vows to never download anything ever again. She gets a deferred sentence of three months, three years of probation, and 200 hours of community service. She also agrees to become a anti-downloading spokesperson for the RIAA. (By the way, Grandma ultimately gets to keep her house. She's got a much more expensive attorney than Megan.)
The alleged point of the Case File is to point out the differences between civil cases (the eminent domain dispute) and criminal cases (the evil file swapper). So far I've found one example of a state prosecuting someone for illegal downloads (in Arizona), while the RIAA has sued an estimated 40,000 people in civil actions under the DMCA. What's wrong with that picture?
The real point, of course, is to scare people who are likely to read comic books — ie, tweens and young teens — into thinking the police are going to bust down their doors if they start downloading music from "several internet websites". It's propaganda aimed at people who get their life guidance from comic books, which probably includes a significant percentage of office holders in Washington, DC.
...the NCSC comic book is yet another blatant example of how the corporate entertainment cartels are able to abuse official American agencies and use taxpayer money to raise purely commercial issues to the level of serious crime at the expense of far more important matters which as a direct result are left by the wayside.
You might even say it's comical.
I emailed Layne Morgan and NCSC asking who wrote these pamphlets and if they had any help from the RIAA. I finally reached Lorri Montgomery, director of communications for the NCSC, who was able to explain some things. She says the reason they chose file swapping and eminent domain for their first comic was the desire to appeal to both young and old audiences — not some nefarious scheme by the RIAA.
She says Megan's case was not based on any real world cases or particular state laws, but general state laws about theft (and not copyright, which is the basis for the RIAA suits). The book was reviewed by several legal scholars (also not affiliated with the recording industry). The books are used in jury rooms to instruct jurors on the differences between civil and criminal cases and to teach young people that the courts are "fair and impartial," Montgomery says. It's not used in cases that involve eminent domain or file swapping.
Just the same, I'm sure the music moguls have to be pleased by the notion of the federales showing up at people's doors and arresting them. Let's hope this scenario stays mainly in the realm of fiction.