SciTechBlog
December 16, 2009

Justin.tv defends live streaming video

Posted: 10:19 AM ET

The CEO of the popular live video site Justin.tv has been invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee today on the topic of live sports online.

A user streams ESPNHD live on Justin.tv

A user streams ESPNHD live on Justin.tv

Justin.tv claims it is "the leader in live video and the place to broadcast and share video online." The problem, as Congress sees it, is that too many of those users choose to share copyrighted content.

I'll admit that I am a chief offender. I have tuned to Justin.tv several times in the past to watch college football games that I could not get on Comcast. The video quality is poor and I have to watch the game on my computer screen, but it beats waiting for the ESPN highlights.

Twice during a recent Tennessee game the broadcast copyright owner filed a DMCA takedown notice and the stream I was watching was removed. However, copyright owners cannot police an entire social network. The Tennessee feed I was watching had been removed, but I had dozens of other user-generated streams of the game to watch.

Janko Roettgers of newteevee.com calls live streaming "the latest battleground between sports fans that don’t want to pay subscription fees and broadcasters trying to protect their content online."

Justin.tv's online blog highlights partnerships the site has made with many copyright owners, and CEO Michael Seibel will likely insist that the company is involved in fighting piracy during today's hearing. But Mike Masnick at TechDirt doesn't see the problem.

The ability to "live stream" is something that's almost entirely brand new, and it really does change the way people can interact. But, live streaming will almost always create some sort of "copyright infringement" or "piracy," which suggests the real problem isn't with live streaming, but with copyright laws.

Whatever your opinion, today's hearing will provide an interesting look at the fight between producers who want strict control over their content and social networks that encourage sharing.

Watch the hearing on C-Span.

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Filed under: DRM • file sharing • Internet • online news • piracy


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December 10, 2009

AT&T rethinks unlimited iPhone data plans

Posted: 02:37 PM ET

Unlimited iPhone data plans and popular high-bandwidth video offerings are causing headaches for AT&T. In some saturated markets, such as New York City and San Francisco, the company's wireless network is unable to keep up with demand and transfers slow to a crawl.

AT&T President and CEO of Mobility and Consumer Markets Ralph de la Vega

AT&T President and CEO of Mobility and Consumer Markets Ralph de la Vega

According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T's head of consumer services Ralph de la Vega blames high-bandwidth users for these network shortages, and, in a recent meeting with investors, hinted at the end of unlimited data packages.

“This is going to get fixed,” Mr. de la Vega said. “In both of those markets, I am very confident that you’re going to see significant progress.”

With about 3 percent of smartphone customers driving 40 percent of data traffic, AT&T is considering incentives to keep those subscribers from hampering the experience for everyone else, he said.

De la Vega did not elaborate on what "incentives" AT&T plans to enact, but you can bet the agenda will have more in common with data caps and speed limits than free toasters.

Bandwidth-hungry iPhones may be the cause of AT&T's network problems, but they are hardly to blame. iPhone users are forced into unlimited data packages costing at least $30 a month. I don't think AT&T has any right to complain when a few of those users fully utilize their purchase.

Who do you feel is responsible for the struggling wireless networks? AT&T, high-bandwidth users, or both?

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Filed under: Apple • cell phones • consumer tech • iPhone • Uncategorized


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December 9, 2009

Military purchases 2,200 PS3s

Posted: 11:14 AM ET

It seems generous grandmothers aren't the only ones purchasing PlayStation 3 (PS3) consoles this holiday season. The U.S. Dept. of Defense has announced plans to buy an additional 2,200 PS3s to complement a military supercomputer cluster running on 336 PS3 systems.

The military purchase was likely encouraged by Sony's recent PS3 price cut, which brought the price of a single console down to $299.

A military justification of review document explains the decision:

Though a single 3.2 GHz cell processor can deliver over 200 GFLOPS, whereas the Sony PS3 configuration delivers approximately 150 GFLOPS, the approximately tenfold cost difference per GFLOP makes the Sony PS3 the only viable technology for HPC applications.

According to Ars Technica, Sony sells the PS3 at a loss and hopes to make back the difference by selling games and accessories.

The reason that the PS3 is a more cost-effective way to buy Cell-powered GFLOPS than, say, the Cell blades that IBM actually makes specifically for supercomputing applications, is that the consoles come with a big, fat subsidy from Sony.

However, the military isn't likely to purchase any games for these PlayStations. The justification review states the systems will run a proprietary Linux-based operating system, which probably won't be able to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

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Filed under: consumer tech • Games • Gaming


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November 30, 2009

Mac-cloner Psystar loses Apple lawsuit

Posted: 12:02 PM ET

Apple has won its copyright-infringement claim against the Mac cloning company Psystar.

Psystar sold PCs that ran Apple's OS X software. The computers functioned essentially the same as standard Macs, but were sold for less than Apple-built machines. Psystar argued that since the OS X software was legally purchased, the right of first sale allowed them to resell the operating system on custom-built computers.

However, the courts sided with Apple (pdf), and agreed that "customers were contractually precluded from utilizing Mac OS X on any computer hardware system that was not an Apple computer system." In addition, Psystar circumvented "lock-and-key technological measures to prevent Mac OS X from operating on non-Apple computers," which violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Groklaw provides analysis of the court order and concludes:

That means damages ahead for Psystar on the copyright issues just decided on summary judgment, at a minimum. The court asked for briefs on that subject. In short, Psystar is toast.

The court's message is clear: EULAs mean what they say; if you don't want to abide by its license, leave Apple's stuff alone.

Psystar, which is also fighting a second infringement case in Florida, will likely appeal the decision, but for now it looks like you Snow Leopard fans will be forced to stick with Apple-approved computers. Or build your own Hackintosh.

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Filed under: Apple • computers • online news • piracy


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November 11, 2009

Wi-Fi scale tweets your weight loss (or gain)

Posted: 12:29 PM ET

A new WiFi-enabled scale from Withings encourages users to lose weight by sharing their body weight, lean & fat mass, and calculated body mass index (BMI) on Twitter.

WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.

WiFi scale shares results with Twitter.

Personal metrics have been shown to help people reach their fitness goals. And Wired.com recognizes new devices like the Nike+ can get people moving.

Noone is now running four times a week and just did her first 10-mile race ... And she attributes much of her newfound fitness to the power of data. "I can log in to Nike+ and see what I've done over the past year," she says. "That's really powerful for me."

But will sharing embarrassing weight-fluctuation info help dieters in the same way fitness data has encouraged runners?

A press release from Withings confirms that the scale will not share your information without your consent. "By default, the Twitter feature will not be activated when you purchase your scale ... Only the users that enable this feature will benefit from the online peer motivation."

Engadget is not impressed with the scale's social abilities:

Not only does this bad boy register your weight, body fat, and BMI, but you can now configure it to send your stats to "the Twitter" either daily, weekly, monthly, or each and every time you weigh - and your followers will start dropping faster than even you could imagine.

What do you think? Would you be willing to share your weight-loss struggle with the Twitterverse if it could inspire you to become the next Biggest Loser? Or is this one Fail Whale you would prefer to keep private?

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Filed under: consumer tech • Internet • iPhone • social-networking sites • Twitter


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November 9, 2009

News Corp. sites may disappear from Google

Posted: 01:19 PM ET

In a recent Sky News interview, News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch announced that News Corp websites such as The Wall Street Journal may be removed from search engines.

News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch

News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch

Websites typically rely on search engines to index their content so users can find them. Search engine optimization (SEO), or the process of increasing a site's presence on search engines, is big business. But Murdoch would prefer News Corp sites weren't indexed at all.

In the interview, Murdoch criticized Google and other news aggregates for taking content without permission. When asked about the value of traffic generated from search engines, Murdoch claimed readers who use search engines to find articles have little value to advertisers.

Murdoch continued by attacking the ad-based model that much of the Internet is built upon, "There are no Web sites anywhere in the world that are making serious money ... there's not enough advertising in the world to go around to make all the Web sites profitable."

While not every site can rely on advertising, Google may disagree with the suggestion that ads can't generate serious money.

Murdoch's plan is to charge a subscription fee to readers of News Corp.'s Internet content, similar to a subscription for a newspaper. He admits this business model will decrease traffic, but believes a pay wall is necessary to protect content from news aggregators: "We'd rather have fewer people come to our website and pay."

I can't see the future, but Murdoch's plan for News Corp. sites sounds like a big bag of fail to me. The subscription-based business model is not worth reviving. Internet content, especially news, should remain free for everyone.

Watch the full interview below.

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Filed under: computer security • DRM • Internet • online news


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November 3, 2009

Adobe not happy about iPhone's lack of Flash

Posted: 05:00 PM ET

Adobe is not happy about the iPhone's lack of Flash support and the company is accusing Apple of unfairly restricting the technology.

iPhone users who visit the Flash installation site are greeted with a not-so-subtle message claiming:

Flash Player not available for your device.

Apple restricts use of technologies required by products like Flash Player. Until Apple eliminates these restrictions, Adobe cannot provide Flash Player for the iPhone or iPod Touch.

Adobe Flash is a multimedia platform commonly used to add interactivity to Web sites. While it has been criticized for being resource intensive, Flash is still the most popular approach to to integrate animations and video into Web pages.

Since the iPhone's debut, the device's Safari browser has been unable to play Flash, and users routinely lament the loss of nearly all online video content.

Wired.com writes:

Apple declined to comment, but some iPhone developers speculate Apple opted against a full Flash experience because of technical problems it could raise on the handset, such as battery drainage or sluggish web browsing.

Last summer's release of the speedier iPhone 3GS did not ease Flash restrictions. Apple may have chosen to block Flash not for performance reasons, but because interactive Flash applications and games could compete with the iTunes App store.

Do you agree with Adobe that Apple is unfairly restricting technology by limiting Flash on the iPhone? Or is the message on Adobe's Web site simply propaganda aimed to shift the blame from Flash's performance to Apple's anticompetitive nature?

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Filed under: Apple • cell phones • consumer tech • Gaming • iPhone • iPod • mobile phones


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October 28, 2009

A world without Net neutrality?

Posted: 06:34 PM ET
*click to view full chart

Net neutrality is a complex issue, but this user-generated chart posted on Reddit does a great example of illustrating a worst-case scenario.

The chart envisions a future without Net neutrality, where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are allowed to adopt pricing models similar to cable television. Consumers pay subscription fees for individual slices of the internet that ISPs package into tiered pricing plans.

This pricing model is a far cry from the freedom most ISPs currently offer. Rather than charging for individual Web sites you probably purchase a "dumb pipe" of information from your ISP, and are free to use this data however you wish. But Net neutrality supporters claim without strong neutrality regulation ISPs could change their behavior and consumers will suffer.

Do you believe Net neutrality regulation is required to prevent this chart from becoming a reality or is free-market competition enough to ensure consumers' best interests?

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Filed under: computers • Internet • online news • technology


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October 23, 2009

Hulu to charge subscription fee

Posted: 12:23 PM ET

Popular online video service Hulu will start charging subscription fees sometime next year, says News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey.

While speaking at a recent Broadcasting & Cable summit Carey announced his plans for Hulu: “I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content. I think what we need to do is deliver that content to consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value. Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business.”

Hulu.com has attracted a large online audience by offering commercial-supported TV shows and movies from NBC, ABC, Fox, and other networks since 2007. However, the addition of a subscription fee may send most of Hulu's users searching for alternatives.

I use Hulu frequently to watch everything from Comedy Central's "Daily Show" to Fox's "Family Guy." I stomach the commercial interruptions in exchange for the high-quality streaming content, but I certainly won't be pulling out my credit card if the service puts up a subscription pay wall. And I doubt many other customers will be happy to start paying money for a service they previously received for free.

The move to a fee-based business model is a decision that will still have to be approved by the Hulu board, and I hope someone has the sense to blackball this idea. But common sense doesn't always prevail in the entertainment industry -  if it did, we might still have "Arrested Development."

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Filed under: HDTV • Hulu • online news • online video


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October 21, 2009

Apple's new multi-touch Magic Mouse

Posted: 11:15 AM ET

Riding the wave of new Apple products announced yesterday is a new gesture-based, multi-touch mouse.

The Magic Mouse continues Apple's war on buttons by removing all those pesky clickers. What's left is an aluminum base topped by a smooth white touch-sensitive polycarbonate panel.

Apple was criticized for the single button hamburger shaped mouse that shipped with the original iMac. Many Mac and PC users favor the greater control that a dual-button mouse with scroll wheel provides. In response, Apple released the Mighty Mouse in 2006 that incorporates four functional buttons and a trackball.

The new button-free Magic Mouse signals a return to minimalism while including all the functionality of multiple buttons. Gizmodo thinks it's a welcome change:

The Magic Mouse is undoubtedly the best mouse Apple's made in years. They've taken their knowledge in trackpad finger gestures and one-piece manufacturing and made this delicate, yet sturdy, bridge-shaped mouse.

The Magic Mouse will be included with new iMacs or can be purchased alone for $69. Currently the Magic Mouse is only compatible with Mac OS X, but broad support, including PCs, is likely to happen soon.

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Filed under: Apple • consumer tech • gadgets • technology


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About this blog

Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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