December 2007

Notes from underground, 2007/2008

As TantraSF says:

Remember the days before the underground split into many different scenes and moved into nightclubs? Remember when you could hear trance, breaks, techno and downtempo in a big warehouse with an old school vibe? Remember back in the good old days? We do too, so this year Tantra is teaming up with Get Freaky, Know:Audio, the Ambient Mafia and Word of Mouth to present:

“NYE 2008, an underground resolution”

Liam and Dutch in the psytrance room!?!?! A happy new year indeed!

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Thinking of you (New Year’s Eve)

Thinking of you

Thoughts emerging from dreams,
In my mind as I wake:
Full of warmth and desire,
Bliss beginning the day.

 

Thoughts weaving together,
Through the whole afternoon:
Sun, chocolate, your smile,
Love … and feeling alive.

 

Thoughts of art and beauty,
In my mind late at night:
Memories,
Fantasies,
Dreams and visions of you.

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THREAT LEVEL’s year in review

The group blog THREAT LEVEL is one of my favorite things about wired, and Kevin Poulsen’s year-end roundup is a great example of why:

It was a year of soul searching at THREAT LEVEL, every day a fresh challenge to our fundamental beliefs and convictions: Alberto Gonzales made us pine for John Ashcroft; Google made us love roving surveillance cams; and Jammie Thomas’ internet spoofing defense was enough to make us secretly root for the RIAA.

As if that’s not enough, Kim Zetter’s combo of World’s Top Surveillance Societies (covering PrivacyInternational’s report) and FBI Building Vast Database of Iris, Face and Fingerprint Scans highlights why the US is classified as an “endemic surveillance” society along with China, Russia, the U.K. and others.   And Sarah Lai Stirland’s Will push polling become a factor in the early states? rounds up a bunch of stories on a popular social-engineering approach to electoral fraud.

Talk about an end-of-year bonanza!

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Microsoft 2008: Where are the opportunities?

Yeah, I don’t work there any more, and I’m practicing saying “they” instead of “we”, but I still think that Microsoft’s situation is extremely interesting from a strategy perspective. So as a companion to Mini’s What’s going well?, MSFTextrememakeover’s Will this dog ever hunt again, Joe Wilcox’s Definitive, unsolicited advice, Slashdot’s Microsoft’s biggest threat, and no doubt a jillion other posts, I figured I’d start up a thread specifically on the topic of opportunities for Microsoft in the upcoming year.

To kick things off, I’ve highlighted a few I think are particularly compelling: put the user truly in control of their information, make Live the best front end to the network-of-networks, and abandon DRM — it’s too late for that to help Vista, but think about the effects on Zune and Windows 7.0 “now DRM-free”. Discussion of those is welcome, as are other ideas. And please try to keep the focus on the opportunities; of course there are plenty of things wrong, but the threads elsewhere are already covering those.

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CNet’s “social networking year in review”

Other than the title, which doesn’t do it for me, Caroline McCarthy’s Social networking gets its geek on is an excellent short roundup of the activity in 2007 in the social networking space, with great links both in the story and the “2007 highlights” sidebar.

One thing that popped out at me: legal and political issues crop up in five of the ten paragraphs (the lawsuit related to Facebook’s origins, Digg and the DMCA takedown notice, the state attorneys general pressuring MySpace on sex offenders, MySpace and MTV’s “presidential dialogs”, and of course the Beacon brouhaha).  OK, the first one is fairly standard startup stuff, but the others clearly illustrate social networks’ increasingly important role in society.  So I though Caroline’s closing paragraph was particularly insightful, and applies much more broadly than the specific sites and issue:

Not surprisingly, privacy and safety issues remained on the horizon. Both Facebook and MySpace grappled with demands from state attorneys general who were concerned that young people could be exposing themselves to online threats through social networks. Their efforts didn’t do much to stall either site, but served as a continual reminder that even though Silicon Valley might tout a company as the future of communication, legal authorities might beg to differ.

Indeed.  With the McCain bill still lurking out there (it didn’t make it out of committee in 2007, but 2008’s an election year) and the Mcarthyesque “Violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism prevention act of 2007” having already passed the House, it’s clear that at least in the US,  the potential democratizing and empowering effects of social networks are leading to predictable backlash from entrenched interests.  The good news is that people are rapidly learning how to use social networks for activism, so any crackdown is likely to meet with a lot more resistance than expected.  I hope.

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What’s up with me

The two months since I left Microsoft have been low-key recharge-and-relax time: catching up on sleep, visiting my mom, reconnecting with friends, doing some writing (blogging, poetry, the fictional The anomaly and the goddesses), and hanging out with Deborah. It’s been great. My friends consistently tell me how relaxed I look and sound (my Facebook status messages apparently give the same impression), and that’s exactly how I feel.

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On Mini: “Microsoft’s 2008 – What’s Going Well?”

Who da’ Punk’s got a new post up on MiniMSFT with a great, and somewhat out-of-character, topic.  Most of the commenters thus far appear to have missed the request “I’d like to know what you honestly think is going well, too”, but it’s early days yet.  The areas Mini lists as going well in his/her/their opinion include competition, a surprisingly good experience with Zune, translucency (as opposed to transparency), the potential for a solid VS2008, signs of edging away from the dead weight of DRM, and getting past the “evil empire” reputation.

A fine topic indeed.  Worth thinking about … so please, jump in!

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The green fairy

With a cover story in by Paul Clarke in Imbibe magazine (not available online, alas) following Jacob Sullum’s The Green Fairy gets a Green Card in reason online last month, it’s absinthe-mania! The legal issues are complex and relate to the levels of thujone, the ingredient that may or may not be psychoactive.

To me drinking absinthe feels roughly like being hit on the side of a head with a sledgehammer (60% alcohol content will do that to you) and a steel wire brush scouring my brain from the inside. I remember saying “wow, I can really see why the whole fin-de-siecle crowd went nuts drinking this”. There is a very distinctive warm and langourous feel along with it which is quite interesting; hard to know how much is the set and setting — morphogenic fields in the cultural sense. People have told me that drinking three or four sometimes leads to hallucinations, but as a notorious lightweight I suspect I’d be passed out from the alcohol long before that, so I’ll have to take their word for it.

Still, even though it’s not my drug of choice, it’s got lots of adherents, and a rich tradition; so it’s great to see this semi-legalization. Kudos to the Ted Breaux for the historical and chemical research, and to Swiss distillery Kubler which supported the legal battle.

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More (negative) attention to Facebook’s privacy practices

With a two-part series on TPM Cafe’s Table for One, an article in the Mercury News on Christmas Day, and the recent settlement of a suit on text messaging, Facebook continues to become a focus for discussion of privacy issues. To some extent this is a consequence of their size and success: they’re a high-profile target. Behind this, though, lurks a pattern of Facebook unilaterally making decisions that compromise user privacy, apologizing, addressing the most egregious aspects while leaving the rest in place — and then repeating.

The TPM Cafe piece is by Ari Melber of The Nation, and starts out

When one of America’s largest electronic surveillance systems was launched in Palo Alto a year ago, it sparked an immediate national uproar. The new system tracked roughly 9 million Americans, broadcasting their photographs and personal information on the Internet; 700,000 web-savvy young people organized online protests in just days. Time declared it “Gen Y’s first official revolution,” while a Nation blogger lauded students for taking privacy activism to “a mass scale.” Yet today, the activism has waned, and the surveillance continues largely unabated.

He goes on to discuss the Beacon fiasco in terms of Facebook’s past behavior, quotes some of my faves (danah boyd and a CMU study that I believe is by Alessandro Acquisti), and in his follow-on post ties Facebook — and web services more generally — to a national surveillance state. People familiar with the privacy space won’t see anything new here; what’s significant is that this is another example of Facebook privacy making the jump out of the tech ghetto to the national political scene: TPMCafe’s the extension of Joshua Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, a DC-based progressive political blog that sees itself as a muckraker in the positive sense of the word and has been very active in helping uncover and publicize recent political scandals.

The lawsuit settlement specifically relates to Facebook continuing to send text messages to cellphone numbers after they had been recycled. Facebook didn’t admit any wrongdoing, but did agree to “make it easier for recipients of text messages to block future messages originating from the social network” and “work more closely with mobile phone carriers to monitor the lists of recycled numbers and reduce the frequency of unwanted text messages.” The fact that people had to resort to a lawsuit to get action on these basic business practices paints a rather unflattering picture of the company’s arrogant attitude towards its users — and to the non-users who got the recycled numbers and then were billed for the messages.

Elise Ackerman’s Facebook alarms privacy advocates again talks about a Facebook signup icon showing up on smartphones without the owners permission. This is privacy in the classic sense of “the right to be left alone”, not being tracked; and of course this is something that phone companies do routinely, viewing phones’ “screen real estate” as a spot for advertising and product placement … so “alarm” seems somewhat overstated. Still, given the pattern above, Jeffrey Chester (of the Center for Digital Democracy) sounds on-target to me when he says “It illustrates a basic problem over at Facebook, which is their need to fatten their bank account is confounding their need to protect the privacy of their members.”

And not to sound like a broken record or anything: this kind of attention augurs well for proposals like the national “do-not-track” mechanism — and increases the probabilities that populist-oriented politicians in any party will seize on privacy as a chance to differentiate themselves this upcoming election year.

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Egypt to copyright pyramids, sphinx

sphinxSometimes truth is just as strange as fiction. I’m working on a sequel to my story Eris and the anomaly which kicks off with the law firm of the Gods of Olympus sending me a takedown notice, claiming copyright on both the image of a golden apple and the term “kallisti”. I was pretty pleased with my inventiveness coming up with such a wacky start to a farce; and then I read today in the Guardian…

Egypt is planning to pass a law that would exact royalty payments from anyone found making copies of the country’s ancient monuments or museum pieces, including the pyramids.

Mercy.

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“The official channel of the British Monarchy”

Queen Elizabeth’s annual Christmas broadcast, along with about 20 other clips, are up on YouTube as the inital offerings of The Royal Channel.  George V started the tradition with a radio broadcast in 1932, and the queen took it to television in her 1957 broadcast, hoping that the new medium would give a more personal and direct connection.   Fifty years later, she’s making the jump to social networks.

The New York Times reports that the 1957 video’s the most popular so far, with 400,000 downloads; the current rating’s 4 1/2 stars.  Prince Charles visiting a school trails with 3,000 downloads (3 1/2 stars).   Sam Wollaston in the Guardian has some good advice for the royals:

You need to make it more fun, for the internet generation. Less stuffy guff from Palace press office, more jokes. Get Philip on there, going off about something that irritates him. And Harry killing something. And the dogs. That’s what the Royal Channel needs. Corgis. Making love.

Indeed.

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This just in: Dalai Lama “not a call girl”

… at least according to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was responding to Chinese criticism for meeting the Dalai Lama in his office as opposed to a hotel.

Just thought you’d want to know.

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