Reuters TV RSS Feed

While not exactly broadcatching, I’m consistently impressed with the World News from Reuters Television RSS feed (preview). They provide links to Real Video streams that show sometimes polished, sometimes raw television segments about world news. They show the fighting on the streets and the government hearings that are important news. Plus, it’s a peek into the future of television when no one will be beholden to network time schedules, a joy TiVo owners know all too well.

HOWTO: How and Why You Would Want To Get Ogg Vorbis on iTunes

OGG? OGG? WTF is OGG? I’ll get to that in a moment, and then after I’ve gotten to that I’ll get to two methods for getting Ogg Vorbis files to play in iTunes. One method is insanely easy but will take a while, the second method is much quicker and somewhat harder. Now, I get to the getting to that.
Ogg Vorbis is a free competitor to MP3. “But wait,” you say on cue, “MP3s are, err, free-ish. I don’t have to pay anything to legally encode my legally purchased CDs on a computer that I certainly didn’t win in a bar bet in Tijuana.” That’s right, you don’t have to pay anything, but someone does.
A company called Faunhofer owns several patents that are used with MP3s, and so every time you download an MP3 playing program the maker has to spend money. If you still hate Apple after all they’ve done for you you could download iTunes several billion times and drive them into a much-predicted bankruptcy. (Probably not)
If you or one of your geeky friends wanted to make your own MP3 player you’d have to pay Fraunhofer, even if you gave it away for free. Sure that seems unlikely – considering the free mp3 players available for download – but my girlfriend seems to insist on cooking from scratch when there’s perfectly good meals available in my supermarket’s frozen foods and cereal aisles. My point is that people make all sorts of crazy things from scratch, except she doesn’t have to pay royalties on her excellent pasta salad.
(Aside: MP3 is short for MPEG Audio Layer 3, and MPEG is an acronym for Motion Picture Experts Group. Does that mean that MP3 expands to “Motion Picture 3,” even though it’s an audio format? What’s the matter, did I just blow your mind?)
Am I against giving Fraunhofer their due? Not really, but I’m not champing at the bit to give them money for something the Vorbis people are able to do for free. Should you get rid of all your MP3s and re-encode all your albums as Ogg Vorbis? If you’ve got that much time on your hands, I guess, but I’m not doing it.
What should you do with Ogg Vorbis? If you’re part of the 83% of musicians that provides music online consider putting up Ogg files. When you rip your new music, rip it as Ogg Vorbis. Or you can just listen to LiveJournal Phone Posts and make fun of people for all their drama.
More importantly, why should you use Ogg Vorbis? Well it sounds better. Also, copyright protections are eroding our rights and by using an open format you know that it won’t track users. If you don’t think that file formats are that important, Larry Lessig puts forward an excellent case in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace for how computer code is creating laws that no citizen can protest.
So now that the advocacy for Ogg Vorbis is out of the way, continue reading for how to get it going in iTunes.

Continue reading “HOWTO: How and Why You Would Want To Get Ogg Vorbis on iTunes”

Email Worms, Spam and LOAF

I just received an email from a mail server with the subject Symantec AVF detected a repairable/quarantined virus in a message you sent. I don’t know which of my computers is infected with the latest Windows email worm. Is it my Apple laptop at work, my Apple laptop at home or the Linux box that I run Mutt from? Obviously it’s none of these, the worm in question spoofs the From: address with one it finds on the infected computer’s hard drive.
You think Symantec would know enough about worms and viruses to know which ones spoof the From: line of emails. In fact they do, they simply ignore this and go ahead and send it anyway. Why? To advertise their product in an unsolicited solicited email, also known as spam. Jericho from Attrition addresses this issue in more detail in Anti-Virus Companies: Tenacious Spammers.
There’s still the question of how this person wound up getting an email from my address. I’ve never emailed anyone at that domain (I checked with ZOË) but most likely we’ve both exchanged email with someone else. I’m not about to send her my address book for her to read and look over for common acquaintances, but what about a hashed version?
Loaf is a project from Joshua Schacter and Maciej Ceglowski that uses Bloom filters to create a one-way hash of people you email, meant for public consumption. It isn’t possible to extract email addresses from it, but if you know an email address you can check a LOAF file to see if its in there.
What does this have to do with spam? Well what if the person who got an email from me sent me her LOAF file? I could compare it against mine and find out who we both knew. We could then contact that person and get them to download anti-virus software, like AntiVir, which is free for personal use.
Worms like this one and Buddylinks are exploiting our social software to spread. It only makes sense to use social software analysis to stop them.

The Porn Myth and gender politics

From The Porn Myth by Naomi Wolf:

At a benefit the other night, I saw Andrea Dworkin, the anti-porn activist most famous in the eighties for her conviction that opening the floodgates of pornography would lead men to see real women in sexually debased ways. If we did not limit pornography, she argued—before Internet technology made that prospect a technical impossibility—most men would come to objectify women as they objectified porn stars, and treat them accordingly. In a kind of domino theory, she predicted, rape and other kinds of sexual mayhem would surely follow.

But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “porn-worthy.” Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

In the article, Naomi Wolf argues that the ability for men to have porn on tap and society’s acceptance of it has left men with better things to do than sleep with women. The porn stars become men’s sexual outlets and the real women in their lives can’t live up to that standard.

This puts women in an new position (sorry) of having to not only pursue their own sexual interests, but also compete with the hyper-sexualized prurient media. The media that decries the obscenity of Janet Jackson’s nipple while at the same time running that pixelated 3 second video clip over and over and over. The newspapers should have just ran the headline What is so fascinating about my forbidden closet of mystery? It certainly isn’t conveying the message that real women offer things that pr0n can’t anymore than Flatlanders are extolling the virtues of three dimensions.

The interesting consequence of this, is that it flips sexual politics on their head:

When I came of age in the seventies, it was still pretty cool to be able to offer a young man the actual presence of a naked, willing young woman. There were more young men who wanted to be with naked women than there were naked women on the market. If there was nothing actively alarming about you, you could get a pretty enthusiastic response by just showing up. Your boyfriend may have seen Playboy, but hey, you could move, you were warm, you were real.

Our younger sisters had to compete with video porn in the eighties and nineties, when intercourse was not hot enough. Now you have to offer—or flirtatiously suggest—the lesbian scene, the ejaculate-in-the-face scene. Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini wax—just like porn stars.

Suddenly women aren’t the sole gatekeepers to the sexual progression of a relationship. A man might present sex as an option slower than he wants to his woman because he’s afraid of appearing oversexed. Now a woman might also have to compromise sexually because she’s afraid that her man might become bored or have unrealistic expectations.

Obviously these are caricatures of men and womens’ roles in a sexual relationship and as such have a great number of counterexamples, but they are the roles that our culture enforces. There’s no terms in our culture for a man being a slut or frigid. Men are expected to be sexually voracious and women are expected to tell their men to cool down. There are exceptions (Married With Children being the first one to mind) but as a culture this is how we view the genders.

There are also implications beyond normal sexual relationships; consider the case of computer generated child porn. Pornography that depicts a consenting adult that has been manipulated to appear to show a minor is as illegal as if it had been made with a minor. The argument here is that anything that feeds the appetites of pedophiles – whether it harms a child or not – is harmful to society because it will increase their desires. If adults’ porn is decreasing their interest in other adults, would virtual child porn decrease pedophiles interest in children? I wouldn’t want that law changed without a lot of science to back it up, but it’s still something that flows from the article’s premise.

I’ve tried to avoid value judgments up until this point, because I wanted to get some commentary in before injecting my own beliefs. I don’t think porn is bad, but excesses of anything will produce negative results. Speaking of excesses, it’s hard to argue that porn exploits women when you look at where Jenna Jameson lives. I think that this is an interesting example of the invisible hand of the free market in action, but I’m not sure that forcing women to compete with porn stars is good for anyone other than horny teenage boys.

Why isn’t Election Day a national holiday?

It seems like it should be fairly straight forward. Celebrating Election Day with a national holiday is fundamental to celebrating democracy. As it stands, the law establishing federal holidays has been amended several times to create new holidays. Why do we celebrate our independence, our presidents and our flag, but not our democracy?
Election Day falls on the first tuesday after the first monday in November, basically the tuesday from November 2nd through the 9th. This is actually a pretty crowded time for holidays, Veteran’s Day is November 11th and Thanksgiving is usually 16 days after election day. What I would like to see happen is moving Veteran’s Day to Election Day, to celebrate the men and women who protect our democracy as well as the central tenet of that democracy.
By giving people the day off we would be making it easier for people who have less free time between work and family life to contribute to democracy. We would also be sending a national message that choosing our government is important enough to take some time off.
I’m certainly not the first person to have this idea, but its time has come. The Atlantic covered this in a story in 1998. Still, we install democracies all over the world, yet we have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the world.
Of course there are still some questions to answer. Do you have the party annually or bi-annually, when congress is elected? The Atlantic article suggests that Election Day be moved to a Saturday, but I don’t like that because it doesn’t have the same celebration for Democracy that creating a holiday does. And by combining it with Veteran’s Day, there’s not a net increase in holidays, which means no additional cost to taxpayers.
If you think that this is something worth doing, please spread the word. Spread it on your weblog, spread it to your friends and family and coworkers. Spread it to your government. I think this is an idea whose time has come.
On a related note, something I personally will be doing is having an Election Day party, where entry will hinge on having an “I voted” sticker. I can think of few better reasons to have a party than to celebrate democracy.
[Update: Eric posted some more information including information on Bill S.726 which aims to do just what this post suggests.
Goodspeed Update is also looking at this, which will hopefully encourage Ann Arborites to contact Senator Stabenow.]