The Multicast User

what is multicast?

A very sleek, hip, and powerful word. Multicast technology, about a decade old, enables a computer to “broadcast” a single stream over a network and have the network copy the stream as required. So for instance, if I was broadcasting a concert from San Francisco and had 50 people listening in from the Netherlands, I’d just send out one stream. The routers would pass along this single stream across the US, under the Atlantic Ocean, through England and France and and only split the stream to make copies for each listener when the data had actually reached the Netherlands. Here is an illustration blatantly ripped from Jon Crowcroft’s excellent online reference Internetworking Multimedia:

[multicast diagram]

The network itself handles the distribution.

The current model is much less efficient: the server is required to push out a unique stream itself — the routers only know how to carry a stream to a single endpoint. This is bad for everybody. Take a look at the trans-Atlantic link in the above example: it is now carrying 50 copies of the exact same stream at the exact same time. This is a waste! With multicast, a computer only needs to push out one stream, and the routers, while more intelligent, never need to move redundant data.

You’d think that it would be obvious that people broadcasting content to lots of people would want to use multicast; and you’d be right. The problem is that multicast applications have not developed much since their inception in the early 1990’s. I had to look pretty hard to find multicast-compatible programs, and the ones that I found were primarily designed to run on Sun Solaris and were poorly implemented for Windows. They ran awkwardly at best and simply didn’t operate correctly the vast majority of the time. I downloaded a plugin for Winamp to allow me to listen to multicast MP3, but it would only play for a few seconds (once as long as a minute) before choking and crashing Winamp.

Multicast capability exists on the vast majority of routers out there today but is simply not turned on. ISPs cite a lack of compelling multicast applications, and application developers refuse to integrate multicast because of a lack of ISP support. Ultimately, multicast capability must be integrated into rich-media clients and servers in order for it to take off.

Unfortunately, there is another barrier: there are only so many multicast addresses right now. Making the analogy to radio broadcast, there is only so much space on the dial: multicast uses an IP address, just like a web server, and there are a limited number of IPs avaialble for multicasting. The obvious solution is to make a different, much larger address space, and this problem has been duly solved by IPv6, the successor to the current Internet machine address mechanism used today, IPv4. You may have seen IPv4 addresses. They look like127.66.32.14 — four numbers between 0 and 255. While this may seem like more than enough possible addresses (4 billion, in fact), there are getting to be a lot of computers on the Internet, and there are many companies that have allocated large, inefficient chunks of addresses to make things easy to manage. (Stanford for a time owned all addresses starting with36.!) IPv6 solves this with an address space that is much, much bigger. IPv6 specifies not four, but sixteen numbers between 0 and 255. This would let us address 3.4 x 1038 unique addresses — more than enough to give several thousand IP addresses to every gram of matter on this planet. IPv6 also allows for Quality of Service (QoS) that lets the network treat urgent data (e.g., a teleconference or remote surgery) differently from less urgent data (e.g., email) and operate more efficiently.

Much to everyone’s dismay, IPv6 has been very slow to roll out. Defined years ago, we’re only now beginning to see the infrastructure for doing IPv6 emerge: the only way to get IPv6 to work under Windows is to download an alpha driver from Microsoft Research — and this only works under Windows NT! IPv6 addresses only started to be allocated months ago. Clearly this technology is off to a slow start.

But all’s not yet lost: encourage your ISP to enable multicasting and adopt IPv6-capable routers. Encourage OS & application vendors to include IPv6 support (Linux has had it for a while!) and to explore multicast alternatives to unicast applications. And maybe, just maybe, we can start using the power of multicast to empower small broadcasters.

ADDENDUM: some readers commented that scaling multicast to deliver reliable performance can be difficult: if you are broadcasting to 100,000 users and 1% fail to receive each packet correctly, you have to deal with 1000 retransmissions for every packet of data you send, introducing inefficiency and overload. This problem has been solved elegantly by several groups. Interested readers may want to investigate SRM (Scalable, Reliable Multicast)RMTP (Reliable Multicast Transport Protocol), and Search Parties. A comprehensive list of Reliable Multicast papers can be found here, although many of the links are broken. The basic concept in many of these papers is to do some forward error-correction (to allow for error recovery on the receiving end without having to request more information from the server) and combining NAKs (namely, requests for more information from hosts who did not correctly receive it) in subband retransmissions to just multicast the correction to that group of users. These mathods have proved to be quite effective at allowing for both scalable and reliable multicast in a manner far more efficient than unicast.

The Psychology of Online Music

A lot of people out there are quite juiced up about online music. MP3.com just IPOed at a market valuation of well over a billion dollars, Liquid Audio shot out of the gate for just short of $100m, Spinner and Nullsoft were acquired by America Online, SDMI is being rolled out, Madison is still getting whispers, Sony’s in bed with Microsoft, and Universal and BMI are suddenly making forays into the audio encryption business. Everybody’s making a music play, and tens of millions of people are “getting jiggy with it” on the Net.

And yet, like so many other industries in the new economy, nobody’s actually figured out how to turn much of a profit off of online music sales. Sure, some folks are making money off of advertising on music-related sites, and CDNOW and Amazon are making their fair share doing mail-order CDs, but nobody out there that I know of has bounded into the black based on sales of digital music files.

This should seem strange to you.

After all, don’t we all realize that it’s much better to have your music as universally available bits than scratchable, temporal, bulky platters of etched pits? And aren’t we already used to buying things online?

There are two sets of problems here, and both of them are more psychological than technical problems. The first is that of tangibility and value differentiation and the second deals with interactions with rich media.

Tangibility & Value

With the existing music sales infrastructure, one acquires a physical product that contains the music. I can hold each album of mine, look over in the corner proudly at my rack of disks, bring certain albums with me to the beach or my friend’s house, and resell my old disks that I don’t feel like listening to again. Additionally, the medium through which I acquire purchases (CDs/tapes/vinyl) is distinct from that in which I am freely introduced to the music (clubs/radio).

Internet audio lacks both attributes: not only can I not feel the unique carrier of my purchased music, but the medium in which I receive purchases, i.e., a downloaded file, is exactly the same as the medium in which I receive free samples of music. If Tower Records gave away loads upon loads of CDs and tapes for free, you might feel that a CD was on the whole a less valuable item: “Since Tower can give away so many, why do they cost so much?” But free audio CDs are a rare thing and a special gift. The value of a CD stays high.

It took me well over a year to understand that this is why the large record labels are not jumping on online promotions. One thing leads to another and the train of thought progresses something like this: “If you can get a free MP3 of one song from an artist, why can’t you pay to listen to the rest?” to “Hey, all of the MP3 files I’ve gotten to date didn’t cost anything. Who are you to try and charge for them?” Free distribution in a medium decreases perceived value, which is the last thing the labels, or artists, really want. Could a consumer really think about paying for web-based email these days, even $5/month? No. Could she have five years ago? Probably. The same thing goes for up-to-the minute news, realtime stock quotes, weather, and (soon) computers: while they certainly have value, competitive pressure has reduced their expected price to $0.00.

I do find the tangibility argument mildly non-sensical. At one point, I was teaching a high-school classroom about new media and I presented a Rio, demonstrating that it had no cartridges (not necessarily a good thing!) and no moving parts. A girl in the back of the classroom raised her hand and went on to tell me that she’d never use such a device, because it was unnatural and didn’t enable her to grasp her music like she could a CD or a tape. I realized later that this was folly: holding music at all is unnatural! Edison first scratched his voice onto a wax cylinder at the turn of the century; before that, there had not been a notion of being able to capture sound in a bottle, to play it back later or to carry it to another place. The notion of being able to contain music was a product of this century’s technological innovation.

But why did the girl claim it as natural? Because every piece of music she’s ever bought she had been able to hold. “Of course I can take this shiny plastic disk and put it in that box and hear music!” Such thoughts would have been ludicrous 200 years ago. It was the regular exposure of the idea that made it natural and intuitive.

Therefore, I think that there is a psychological barrier to the purchase of downloadable music in that is that it is new. But my high-schooler should not make one dismayed, but encouraged, for with time the new distribution mechanisms will be perceived as the only sensible thing, and it may be difficult to imagine why people wanted to grasp onto frail and imperfect physical copies of an artist’s performance.

Rich Media Interactions

But downloads are only one piece of the pie: there is also the question of streaming audio. Why aren’t people interacting with audio streams? What happens when you walk into a room with a television on? Despite my hatred of television’s content, I am captivated by the rapid succession of images. Our brains, designed to pay as much attention as possible to fast-moving things (since these might be spears and/or tigers coming our way), get us stuck on the television like a bad stain on one’s Sunday shirt. The intensity of the medium makes us forget all else, sit down, and watch.

And so we watch, but we do not interact, contenting ourselves to receive instead of participate, which is just as well since we can’t. A show is being put on for us; it would be rude to stand up during a play and shout out to the actors: “No, Ophelia, you must run out hanging your wrists and pull your hair! Hamlet, cross stage right!” While there may be some director-types who would be comfortable with and excited by such interactions, most of us would much rather enjoy the performance as-is. Direct interaction with rich media is uncomfortable.

The cunning reader may counter me here that rich media realtime interactions have already proven themselves to be psychologically comfortable in the forms of video games and hypertext. To that I respond that those media have designed themselves to be interactive and took time to become comfortable to the general public. Moving traditionally non-interactive media like radio, television, and movies to the interactive computer may result (initially) in the interactive features being underused. This should not be surprising; the public just needs time to adapt to the idea that it is not only possible, but it is socially acceptable to interact with these rich media streams; that the artist wants them to click on things during the playback of their music. People are used to wanting to know (“Oooh! I love that song! What CD is that on?”) but are not used to actually being able to ask and receive answers from the source providing the media. Just as CD jukeboxes and MP3 storage gave us non-linear access to our music and induced a shift in how we perceived our music, newly emerging music technology will give us interactive access to music and induce another shift, as great or greater.

The technology will gallop ever forwards, but we may have to hold the reins for a bit to wait for society to catch up psychologically to this breakneck pace of innovation. Patience, so rarely talked about in this industry, must be embraced as users get used to this new mode of entertainment. Digital music sales will probably have their day, but perhaps not until the major labels have had time to adjust and enter the market themselves…

But if this process takes too long, people will have become too used to receiving all of their music for free and record labels will have to think of new business models through which they can still maintain profitability (and pay artists) with only minimal revenue from actual music sales. Korn T-Shirt, anyone?

 

discussion of this article of MP3.COM ]

Alex Blok: The Original Music Man

Two years ago, before the days of the Rio or even Saehan’s MP-Man, a tall, somewhat balding British man came by my dorm room to talk with me about digital audio. He explained to me his plans for a flash-memory based portable music player and showed me drawings and designs for his solid-state device, dating back to 1988. He wanted me to help him find a team of people to build such a device. Who was this man who seemed to come before his time? Arguably, he could have patented portable solid-state audio playback and been a millionaire by now, but he never got around to it, busy instead with desktop publishing, video DJ equipment, and a service that lets you send phone messages to ICQ users. It’s quite likely that this Brit is the Original Online Music Man.

His name is Alex Blok. Born in 1963, Alex grew up around the times when Star Trek and the Beatles were all the rage. At the age of 15, Alex was fascinated by his Casio calculator that could play simple tones; why not play music on it? Throughout his education at Crickdale and Newbury Colleges in the UK, he felt disappointed by the lack of computer music delivery. Vinyl scratched, tapes wore out, and even CDs started to skip with time. He felt that Music bits could be, should be more permanent.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a digital music box of sorts that just played you music as you wanted it, automatically charging you for the music as you retrieved it? Alex views the “pay per view” model as being more fair. He felt appalled that CD prices were not cheaper than tapes, bitterly commenting that “the industry is screwing everyone.” The Madison Project, an effort by IBM, Sony, and Time-Warner to provide a secure music distribution pipeline, worries him, as does SDMI. He’d like to provide a solution that offers consumers complete freedom.

Going beyond just music, in 1988 Alex began to think of a universal data storage platform that he called UDiS (Universal Digital information Storage) Media. Designed to replace the plethora of physical media formats that had swept the market (audio tape, VHS, Beta, vinyl, 8-track, CD, laserdisk, etc.), Alex invented three different sizes of portable data: the DataStick, a cylindrical stick of flash memory (amazingly similar to Sony’s MemoryStick, but a dozen years before it!); the DataCard, designed to be roughly the form factor of a credit card; and a DataBook to provide larger-scale storage — Alex had envisioned holographic optometry as possibly providing the storage mechanism for the DataBook.

In process of conceiving this universal storage format, Alex had naturally been thinking about applications to music, Alex came up with an audio device that would use his DataCard format. It featured digital recording from a microphone or from the radio, and could download music from a computer for playback. (He has posted his original design sketches on the web.) He predicted it would be ten years before anyone manufactured such a device. Saehan Information Systems of Korea released their MP-Man portable digital audio player in 1998, exactly ten years after Alex fleshed out his ideas for the portable player.

I asked Alex what he thought about the whole streaming versus downloading debate. He sees both in the future of music, but eventually streaming taking over for most applications as universal broadband access becomes a reality. In the interim, streaming will suffice for live applications like concerts, and production works (i.e., studio recordings) will likely be downloaded. “People do like to own things; people will still want to put together their own collections of music.”

Alex’s views on cash flow are liberalist (a good thing in my own humble opinion), pushing for complete artist control over how their works are distributed and purchased, possibly with some sort of “shareware music” model winning out for most artists. “Some music will be free, some paid for, and some will be pay-per-play.” He sees Sony and Panasonic making devices that would lock artists into specific revenue models and limiting their freedom in this aspect.

Indeed, Alex seems at once bitter at Sony and in awe of its products. He blames the limiting of CD’s potential on Sony’s mixed interests in both the media and the medium: the content and the technology. “CDs,” he gripes, “were promised to be cheap! They were supposed to show the title of the song, and have more information bundled with them…Sony intentionally built the CD with obsolescence in mind.”

“Overall, though,” Alex concedes, “CDs are great.” His main concern is that those reponsible for the manufacture of a technology will take control of it and reduce its potential. Alex would like to see music brought to the listener in a fun and flexible way, and he doesn’t think that large companies would be able to provide that. “We’re in the middle of a consumer rebellion, a revolution. Are consumers going to win? Yes! And so will musicians. All is going to turn out well. It’s exciting; we’re living in a great time.”

MP3 Summit Two: 1999

So much has changed and so much is the same since last year’s MP3 Summit. The first and most noticeable difference is the sheer quantity of people attending this year’s MP3 Summit. There were probably something on the order of 500 folks at this year’s versus around 100 last year. A lot of the same folks are around, which is fun; it’s great to see those familiar old faces, the people down in the trenches of digital audio. But there were a number of people who were “conspicuously absent” from this year’s convention. Nullsoft, namely. I suppose America Online wants to get a better grip of where, exactly, they should position themselves in this industry before they start pushing themselves in the space.Liquid Audio representatives were present, but only very quietly: they had no booth. Same for the RIAA: save a few interjected peanut-gallery style comments at certain “anti-RIAA moments” on the panel, they were here to observe and not to speak; somewhat of a first for them. Ever a sign of the times, Microsoft had their little Internet audio booth; I thought it was kind of funny, given that they are essentially anti-MP3 (they are pushing their own audio codec) and more or less in competition with most of the attendees in some form or another. Well, chalk nerve up to Bill and friends if nothing else.

And where was Saehan Information Systems, the makers of the original MP-Man? An Naiam, working on a portable MP3 CDROM player? It did seem strange that some of the most notable hardware pioneers in the space didn’t show up. Mind you, we had our fair share of hardware companies: indeed, the vast majority of the advertising companies were showcasing set-top boxes or portable players. Last year, most the exhibitors were software based: this year, hardware and service companies dominated the space.

Some lesser-recognized heroes of the revolution were also in attendance. Notably, Karlheinz Brandenburg, the principle inventor of the MP3 and AAC formats, was found quietly perusing the various booths with a smile on his face, observing the industry spawned from his 20 years of intensive audio compression research. I bumped into some of the Icecast folks who are now being sponsored by Green Witch. They’re hard at work making some of the world’s best streaming technology available freely as Open Source, and I found them an very likeable crew.

The panels tended to be pretty lively, with some playful (and at times mildly vituperative) commentary on where things were heading. Arguably the most entertaining panel of the conference was the one on “Music as a Virus,” in which rapper Ice-T delivered very witty dialogue interacting with the businessmen to his right and the lawyers to his left, delivering such classic quotes as “If music is a virus, I’m betting on the virus!” Altogether, panelists seemed to have a much more holistic and compromising viewpoint than last year, and I found myself agreeing with commentary from a large number of sources; it seems that people who think reasonably actually agree with each other. Last year’s panelists were a bit more hardheaded about their visions on the future and sparks flew a bit more violently, but the sheer wit and vision of this year’s participants more than made up for the lack of outright confrontation.

Amusingly, ASCAP made a big hubbub about granting a streaming license to MP3.com, despite the fact that ASCAP has been offering companies in the space web licenses for about a year and a half. Why this would be “groundbreaking” astounds me.

The group of the day seemed to be the MP3-2000 crew, who showed up an olio of youths from all around the world. In fact, this was the first time that many of them had ever met. Their president was a quiet 14-year-old Korean, leading the gang (14-24) from all around the world (including a particularly cool highschooler from Australia). Welcome to the new world economy.

Logitech, too, had an invisible presence at the conference, as their cute little PC speakers were powerfully pumping out most of the music played at the conference. Hey, great advertising! Some people just know how to play the market.

A fair number of companies showed up both in booths and in person looking at aggregating content in a style similar to a record label, with varying degrees of service and/or exclusivity provided. Some are looking to do A&R, serving only artists who meet their “quality checks,” and others are looking to pump out any music they can get their hands on. B-Ya-Self Records and Spin Records seemed to be pretty hip to what was going on in the market, signing artists non-exclusively and providing them with a full array of label-type services. This was a great place to be for an artist: I had the particular pleasure of directing the cheerful lead singer of a goth-industrial band to these netlabels. I’d imagine this would be a bit of a candy store for him.

eMusic came with a very interesting hodgepodge of talent, clearly heavily involved on the financial, legal, music, and OpenSource fronts. With a confusing combination of withering sales ($20k last quarter) and exciting acquisitions and upcoming announcements, the future of this eLabel is a tad unclear. They’re one of the few people in the space still pursuing exclusive contractual arrangements, providing a perplexing combination of completely open information, such as with freeamp and other OpenSourced software, open music through their use of free and standardized protocols, and closed intellectual property via their exclusive online arrangements. While an odd bag, the whole bunch were all quite friendly and perkily optomistic about the company’s future. Here’s hoping they make some money and keep all those nice people employed. Their leader, Gene Hoffman, 23, was busy testifying in front of Congress, and couldn’t attend. (A reasonable excuse if I ever heard one!)

In general, one could definitely sense the money moving in. The companies represented included more “big money,” and lawyers and CEOs were there by the dozen, investigating, poking, prodding, wheeling, and dealing. The industry is clearly the future, but, as elucidated in the multiple panels, nobody’s quite sure how to make a buck off the thing. The MP3 community is turning into a business-dominated space, but, as so many other “eBusinesses” in the space, nobody is actually turning much of a profit yet.

On Effective Leadership

Successful leaders will have to undergo the change from perceiving themselves as managers to perceiving themselves as facilitators. It was best put to me by an executive who said that he hopes that this summer he can serve his interns coffee. This change is required due to labor conditions in the IT market which are making it increasingly difficult to attract and keep high talent. As a result, managers will be forced into habits they should have always had: they will need to make their employees happy. While this should have been a mainstay from when the first group of Neanderthals decided to band together for efficiency, it has not been.

The primary changing force will likely be Intranets, which facilitate employee discussions and empower the worker to directly contribute value in the realm once exclusive to management. The oligarchy of business structure will become more of a democracy as the workers (and now also shareholder!) pull together to make a company succeed and adapt. The purpose of staffing will be facilitating quietly and effectively: the external visibility of a leader may decrease while her importance increases. Such a shift to a cooperative medium may bring others who were not previously interested in “command structures” to the business world.

At the risk of being accused of sexism, I feel it is this change that has the greatest potential for the rise of the female manager. While men excel at dominating and leading a task, women can be better than men at facilitating and working cooperatively. As the industry moves to a model that better identifies with talents more intrinsically found in women, I predict a large increase in female involvement in the corporate world.

An effective leader will be one that is subtly affective. (Yes, I spelled that correctly.) The leader of the future must learn to make his employees shine. A leader must have, above all, the ability to serve the people who make her job possible. In this regard, the most effective leaders must be kind, trustworthy, and supportive. They will encourage participation even from the most quiet of their staff and will quietly listen when even the intern has a comment to make.

An effective leader will value his subordinates above all.

An Overview of Digital Audio

sponsored by Audio Explosion

So you may or may not have heard, but there’s been some buzz in the media concerning digital music. There’s all sorts of talk of “pirates” and startups and copyright and something called “watermarking” and a big organization called the RIAA. Here’s what’s going down with the software scene:

RealAudio

It’s possible, likely even, that you’ve heard digital audio samples through the Internet in RealAudio format. RealAudio is the most popular form of audio on the Internet and has been around for a few years. RealAudio fiiles start playing right away regardless of how long the piece goes for. This is its advantage and disadvantage. RealAudio works by playing back the audio a chunk at a time — this is called “streaming.” When you click on a four hour long RealAudio file, it doesn’t grab it in its entirety but instead just downloads the first few seconds. It starts playing this music back as it goes out and grabs the next few seconds of audio. On the plus side, music starts coming out of your speakers right away. On the minus side, the music only sounds as good as your network connection is fast. If you are connected to the Internet very slowly, like over a 14.4k modem, the music will be of very poor quality, because your connection will not be sufficient to download enough information about a given second of music to make it sound good. If you have a faster connection to the Internet at your work or in your dorm room, you can listen to higher-quality music. To try to reach as many people as possible, most music sites that use RealAudio do so in a manner that sounds acceptable to someone listening on a 28.8k modem. While this is enough to convey the gist of a song it is not, as you may have noticed, of pleasant quality.

.WAV / .AU

You may have seen some files laying around that end in .wav or .au. The ones that end in .au probably don’t sound that great, and the ones that end in .wav are usually huge for even just a small snippet of audio. This is because .wav files are not generally compressed at all and .au files are compressed poorly and with low sound quality. CDs actually store audio uncompressed, so it’s pretty straightforward to take audio from a CD and store it on a hard drive as a .wav file. (There are a number of programs out there on the Internet to do this, called “CD Rippers”)

Liquid Audio

A California company called Liquid Audio came up with a new, protected audio format that uses a slightly improved version of the compression algorithm found in RealAudio (it’s called Dolbynet). It allows for secure purchase and distribution of digital music and lets you burn your downloaded song onto exactly one CD-R. It has not, however, hugely taken off over the two years or so that the company has been around, despite many marketing efforts. This is largely because the encoding tools and server are complex, cumbersome, and expensive and few people already have the player.

MP3

MPEG-1/2/2.5 Audio Layer 3 (also known by its file extension, MP3), is a high-quality compression algorithm co-invented by Thompson Consumer Electronics and Fraunhofer IISCommercial Research Institute. It was engineered in 1992 as a way to allow audio to be transmitted in realtime at near-CD quality over ISDN (128kbps) and satellite lines. The algorithm was extremely computationally difficult to run, and it wasn’t until about two years ago that an average user’s desktop had enough CPU power to let them listen to MP3s. Fraunhofer happened to notice in late 1996, and released an MP3 encoder (L3ENC) and Windows player (WinPlay3) as shareware on their site. Some people noticed, tried it out, told their friends, and the MP3 community exploded overnight. Now with an estimated 10 million people worldwide (and growing) listening to MP3 files, MP3 has become the most popular underground format on the Internet. There are many excellent MP3 players out there (I may review some in a later column), but most notably WinAMP and Sonique. Fraunhofer naturally makes one of the highest-quality encoders (sold through Opticom) but Xing is known for its extremely high-speed encoder. Xing’s encoder, now calledAudioCatalyst was recently lumped together with some nifty tools that allow you to just put a CD into your Mac or PC drive, press a button, and come back a few minutes later to a stack of neatly titled MP3s on your hard drive. Not a bad buy for $30. I remember when Fraunhofer was trying to peddle their shareware encoder for a few hundred US$…

AAC

MPEG-2 Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) was developed by Fraunhofer, AT&T, and several others as the next generation of audio encoding beyond MP3. AAC could be thought of as “MP4.” Unfortunately, Fraunhofer and others have decided to not release the complete specification. Why? Fraunhofer had received an enormous amount of flak from the recording industry when the released specifications of MP3 were gobbled up by applications programmers and released on the consumer market: the technology allowed consumers to easily copy and share high-quality digital audio. Fraunhofer was not eager to find itself labelled as a company that made tools for pirates, and decided to not release AAC so as not to make the same mistake twice. For this reason, there are no public high-quality AAC encoders or players. (AT&T’s a2bmusic is in fact the only source of AAC files; they will be covered later.)

VQF

NTT (Nippon Telephone & Telegraph, Japan’s version of AT&T) had been working on new ways to squeeze very high quality voice data efficiently through their networks. They invented TWINVQ (Transform-domain Weighted INterleave Vector Quantization) as a new way to compress data. TwinVQ compression works very differently from MP3 and is not based on the MPEG/ISO standards. TWInVQ files are saved with an extension of .VQF, hence the other, shorter, name for the format. VQF is superior to MP3 audio, capable of producing very crisp sound at 80kbps: better sound with 30% fewer bits. AAC is slightly better than VQF, but not by a large margin. Yamaha, who has licensed VQF technology from NTT, has not [yet] pushed to heavily market VQF in the United States. Kobe Steel, incidentally, will be releasing a portable .VQF player in 1999.

[read my review]

Encryption/Watermarking

“History has taught us to never underestimate the amount of money, time, and effort someone will expend to thwart a security system.”

– Bruce Schneier, Author of Applied Cryptography

Several companies have made quite a fuss about encryption and watermarking. The basic idea is that encryption will scramble a digital audio file in such a way that only people who have validly purchased the music can listen to it, and watermarking will allow officials to trace illegal audio distribution back to the pirate who first copied a piece of music. While on the outside, such standards may seem reasonable, they remove a large number of consumer rights that we take for granted. Books may provide a suitable metaphor for me to demonstrate the Huxlian horror that may soon be upon us: what if there were no libraries? What if at a bookstore, every book was shrinkwrapped and could not be returned? What if letting someone borrow your book was a criminal offense? While these scenarios appear patently ridiculous in regards to books, they would become reality if tight encryption technology were to survive.

Thankfully, they cannot. Fundamentally, audio encryption for playback on a computer is a narrowminded idea. In the 1980’s, software companies tried very, very hard to implement complex protection schemes that would prevent any piracy at all. Unfortunately, the plan backfired: the more difficult a program was to “crack,” the more prestige was given to the individuals that cracked it. It became a challenge, a race, to see who could crack a program first. Engineers that had spent months on protecting a video game or a word processing application would see cracked versions floating around mere weeks, if not days, after the product was released. They gave up. Software companies simply could not afford to be spending all of their money on protecting programs, so most decided to drop the issue altogether. The moral of the story is that it is unlikely that the music industry will be able to suddenly come up with a magic formula that will still afford consumers the rights they currently have, satisfy artists, and protect against piracy. People still buy software, even when it is available freely from the digital underground. Microsoft is not going out of business. Time-Warner, Virgin Records, and Atlantic aren’t going to go out of business even if all of their music was available freely and illegally. Which is good, because it’s equally unlikely that they’ll be able to stop it.

A Box To Fit In: Marriage and Gendered Roles In Society

The human mind thrives on classification. We like to put things in boxes. We love to learn about something that we don’t know by lumping it with things we do; or at the very least, to lump a bunch of things we don’t know about together and declare that we know something about them. This tactic often makes us feel more comfortable and wise and sometimes does genuinely provide information as to how the universe works. For example, it’s quite useful to categorize tornadoes, asteroids, and molecules. However, this system becomes non-optimal when the things we’re putting in boxes are aware that this is happening.

Physicists have a theorem that the more definitively you measure something, the more you end up actually changing it. It’s called The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. When we categorize a person, calling them a Scorpio, an ‘ENFP Meyer-Briggs type,’ or ‘manly,’ we are not just passively saying something about that person; we are actively modifying how they perceive themselves and how they act. This can ultimately be a very destructive tool, because people are told that they must act in a certain way to be themselves. The person’s true personality may conflict with their societally imposed personality, causing a feeling of schizophrenia and internal imbalance.

Ruth Hubbard states in her Politics of Women’s Biology that “most characteristics [of gender] vary continuously in the population…To compare groups…we must use such concepts as the ‘average,’ ‘mean,’ or ‘median’…These numbers obscure the diversity that exists within the groups (say, among women and men).” We see then that no single model can serve as an ideal for a group of people. If men and women have characteristics across the spectrum, it is clear that asking them to conform to definitions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ limits and confines the breadth of human spirit to two narrowly typed genders. We see this narrow typing in fraternity bonding, where incoming pledges are ‘taught to be men’ and are strongly discouraged from exhibiting behaviors outside of the strictly masculine stereotype. Just as destructive are female bonding groups that discourage masculine behavior and reward feminine conformism: one of my friends related her disgust at a Girl Scout camping trip that turned into a (mandatory) makeup how-to session.

This is the underlying problem that gender categorizations lead to: males and females alike are forced into roles that conflict with who they truly are. This problem is exponentially exacerbated in a relationship: there are now two people, each of which is trying to find his/her gender identity, and both of which are trying to understand what box their relationship fits in. While these problems are certainly prevalent in most romantic relationships, marriage in particular has longstanding and well-defined roles for a husband and wife. The act of getting married, hoped to be an innocuous expression of love between two people, causes most people to believe that they should fit into the Barbie & Ken spouse stereotypes to achieve happiness. This process may be conscious or subconscious; when it happens, it can cause increasing tension between the partners.

In marriage, the burden of split personality rests most heavily upon the woman. The man can act according to his will and apart from his family. His work is an expression of his being and varies as he wishes. The woman, however, loses her individuality and her will to the role of housewife. If that role is intrinsic to her, as it may be to a small part of the population, she may yet be happy. The rest, however, must face the choice of suffering a life of split personalities, divided between desires and actuality; changing their personality to fit the housewife mold; or ultimately breaking apart from the relationship. This difference in burden and the assimilation of the woman’s persona into that of the housewife is clearly illustrated in the class movie Saving Private Ryan. Susan Okin also carries this theme throughout her chapter ‘Vulnerability by Marriage’ in Justice, Gender, and the Family: “The traditional expectations of marriage influence the attitudes, expectations, and behavior of married couples.”

Women are especially tightly bound to an ideal in motherhood. The Ideal Mother is a highly typed psychoprofile that is almost sacred. The notion of valid motherhood extending beyond the at-home mom of the 1950’s is generally distasteful to even today’s society. As Shirley Glubka gives account in her Essay on Unconventional Motherhood, stepping outside of this role is difficult even in cases when it would greatly benefit both the child and the parent(s).

In self-contradictory fashion, the ideals of universal motherhood only apply in actuality to well-off white women. Poor women, especially black women, have a different ideal: they are expected to go out into the workforce, for to stay at home would denote laziness. Recent legal movements, such as the Social Reform and Personal Responsibility Act imply that women who devote themselves to raising their children are irresponsible for not finding a job. The boxes into which we are trying to make women fit are in this way not only restrictive, but socio-economically differentiated.

This marks the tip of an iceberg of structures set up for women that, it would seem, were specifically designed to crush her spirit and destroy her chances for creative living. The woman most capable of pursuing a professional career and using hired help (and a husband!) to aid in the upbringing of her child is told to stay at home and subordinate herself, while those most in need of societal aid to help in raising their children are spurned and called reckless and uncaring if they all but abandon their children for work.

Media images of beauty also seem specifically created to oppose women. They are designed to create a sense of self-loathing within a woman, a hatred that can be soothed but never satiated by an endless stream of consumer goods. An ever-disturbing trend towards sickly thinness has been all the rage in female models since ‘Twiggy’ first appeared on the scene in the 1970’s. This, if anything, is to me the most inexplicable trend: the majority of my male peers find such extreme thinness to be not only not alluring, but verging on the repulsive. This unhealthy trend is a pure product of capitalist marketing: it serves to fulfill no need other than an induced worry. Hair color, wrinkles, and skin blemishes, indeed the very act of aging itself is made out to be horrific, disgusting, and to be avoided via a vast array of consumer products and surgeries at any and all possible costs. Tied to the ideal of the wife holding the family together, she must make herself sexy and attractive not only for herself, but for her husband. Implicit in many of the beauty ads geared towards wives, especially those featured in class in the video Killing Us Softly, is that a man will leave his wife and her children if she does not continuously excite him and stun him with her possession of a vast array of beauty products and a learned skill at applying them. This, coupled with the strain of undergoing an alter ego of loving housewife, creates a nearly impossible environment to navigate.

Women are placed in this position by society, but also by themselves. It is a self-reinforcing system when generations of women pass on the false ideals of the feminine mystique that they learned to accept. What is called for here is a recognition that forced roles often have negative impacts on people unless, by chance, they happen to be well suited for the role. This holds true for men as equally as for women, but given the sheer number of negative ‘boxes’ that women are forced into solely by their sex, it would seem prudent to focus most earnestly on the breaking stereotypes surrounding women, or at least to harness the women’s rights movement to liberate both sexes from restrictive ideals.

While it has been to a lesser extent, it is important to consider the negative effects that the stereotyped male has upon men and the restrictions that are placed on their development. I remember in third grade watching two girls greet each other with a kiss on the lips. I asked, “Why don’t the boys do that?” “Ew,” they squirmed, “then you’d be a faggot.”

Although I myself am a heterosexual, I am more expressive of ‘my feminine side’ than most, and as a result have felt the effects of homophobia. I’ve often been called ‘gay,’ and have needed to procure a date or wrestle a friend to the floor to ‘prove my manhood.’ Societal taboos on homosexuality have made men uncomfortable hugging each other: a man can hug a woman, and two women can hug each other, but it is taboo for two men to hug. At an Argentine Tango Dance two weeks ago, one dancing friend of mine approached my date and hugged her in greeting. I reached over and hugged him, but he pushed me back and looked confused. ‘No, no,’ he explained in his somewhat broken English. He extended his hand.

What needs to happen is this: people need to cast out gendered social roles. They need to interact as purely themselves. Jane must not ask herself “Who am I as a woman?” but must instead ask herself who she is as a person; to ask who Jane is. “What does it mean for me to be female?” should ultimately be classified under the same realm of questions as “What does it mean for me to have freckles?” After all, both your gender and your freckles can usually be noticed and both involve body hormones (testosterone/ estrogen versus melanin). Future discrimination by gender would ideally be roughly equivalent to modern day freckle discrimination. Some would argue that this would end a notion of a ‘Universal Sisterhood’ of sorts, but association or promotion to a group by merit, and not birthright, has shown itself to be optimal in systems of government and economics. For the same reasons that people found an Aryan Brotherhood to be intolerable, I find it desirable to end any notion of being proud to be a man or a woman and to just get on with our lives as humans, as individuals living outside of the box.

The MP3 Artist

sponsored by plug.com

As an artist, you may be scratching your head, wondering what the heck is going on with all of this babble about music on the Internet. Some people are talking about piracy and security and RealAudio and Windows Media and MP3 and AAC and the possiblity of the RIAA introducing a new standard that maybe people might adopt but possibly not and…AUGH!

You don’t care about technical jargon. You want people to hear you and to sell a few CDs. Maybe you get your giggles off of the notion of getting fan mail from India. And if the Internet can help you do that, you might just jump on the boat.

First thing I should tell you, and maybe the most shocking thing: don’t worry about protecting your music. This is hard to swallow, I realize. But the software industry had to go through this 15 years ago, and they learned the same thing the hard way. They spent millions upon millions of dollars and years of work trying to make sure that nobody could copy their software. Most software was cracked days after its release, to the tears and cries of those whose job it had been solely to make sure that it would be impossible to do such a thing. Eventually, the software companies gave up. The vast majority of software on the market today has effectively zero copyright protection. And the surprise? These companies haven’t gone out of business! Microsoft isn’t turning belly-up any time
soon, despite the fact that all of their products can be (and are!) easily copied around the Net.

Why? Because software companies are making reasonably good products and are making them easily available at generally reasonable prices to the public. Only a small percentage of people are cruel enough to steal all of the software they use. Most people use a little copied software, but that, contrary to the reports of the software companies, isn’t hurting anyone. You get exposed to the software, hooked on it, and then you will be likely to buy a copy when the next version comes out. McAfee Associates, who makes various anti-virus products, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal last year as saying “Pirates are our best distribution channel in this business.”

Your business is not software, obviously, but the lesson should be clear: even with all of your assets in the open, the vast majority of people will still buy your product and support you, providing you make “being legal” convenient.

A very large number of college students (I should know, I am one!) would be willing to buy music from our favorite artists online if it was readily available on a cool website, we could hear previews of what it was going to sound like before we bought it, and we could share it with our friends. Since only a limited number of artists have actually moved forward on this (the exceptions being notable: Public Enemy, Alanis Morisette, Beastie Boys, Frank Black…), pirated music abounds. Again, this is not because college students and the like are inherently thieves, but because there is no legal way to obtain singles of our favorite music over the Web.

Another thing to realize is that your music will spread: people will ineviatably copy it to their friends. How else do you think the Grateful Dead became so popular? The bootlegged copies of their tapes spread around the country and people got hooked on the sound. The key here is what I call “Push Out, Suck In.” If you release a song on the Internet that people like, people will copy it around. Even if you sell a song to someone, it’s unreasonable to expect them not to want to share it with their friends if they like it. This you must embrace as a Good Thing. Remember the original South Park Christmas episode? It was spread around the Net hundreds of thousands of times. Its creators quickly became rich after they got media recognition and their own TV show — all as a result of “pushing out” their content.

But pushing out is not that difficult. The part that you need to pay attention to is sucking your pirate listeners to your website. If you manage this, you can turn people who liked listening to your music into people who buy your music, into fans who you can connect with. There are a few options you have for sucking people back to your website. One good way is to include your band’s URL in all of the music you give out or sell. This way, every copy of that piece of music that gets distributed makes it easy for the listener to connect with your website.

Ultimately, this is a win for the consumer, who can now better connect with her or his favorite artists and buy more music they like; and it is a win for the artists, who can get exposed to larger audiences on a global scale. (When’s the last time you shipped your promo CD to Sri Lanka?) Managed properly, giving away part of your music may give you increased revenues and added exposure.

And you can make money on this. You can work with an Internet music distributor (there are many out there!) to sell your music either in downloadable format or on a CD. These places will give you percentages far greater than in the record industry: whereas an excellent and well-respected artist might earn up to 15% of sales on her CD, it’s possible to earn 50-90% of sales on these sites.

Of course, there’s the tempting (and easy!) route to just do it yourself. All you need to do is slap up a web page with your address and have people send you a check if they want a copy of your CD. You can get a CD-R for ~$150-$200 these days and blank media for under $1/disk. When someone sends you mail requesting a disk, just burn a fresh copy and ship it out to them. Hell, offer T-shirts, too. They’re pretty cheap to make and you can sell them at your concerts, too. Play this game right and you’ll earn *all* of the sales,
minus your expenses. You can even start up your own underground Internet radio station and/or submit music (for no charge) to be played on other such stations. It’s not too hard to do and can be a really fun way to connect with your listeners. More on this later.

One quick caveat: if you do decide to let someone handle your music sales for you, like an independant label or an online music site, it is important to read the fine print. One company tried to get signing artists to write away nearly all of their promotional rights. (Later this clause was removed when artists protested.) Never sign exclusively and be careful what rights you’re giving away regarding your music.

So go for it. This will make you “cool” with your listeners, “hip” to the Internet crowd and offer a great way to be heard and maybe get some more people to buy that song you wrote last week. Sell some T-shirts online. Be heard in Djibouti. Have fun and welcome to the music-filled land of the future!

The Invisible Orchestra

sponsored by Audio Explosion

It was a grand event when Edison first managed to reproduce his
own voice by scratching grooves on a wax cylinder: in the same
way that writing freed words from speech and let thoughts be
transmitted over boundaries of space and time, recorded music
freed sound to reach people thousands of miles away or decades
to the future. However, we should note that the full potential
of writing wasn’t utilized until printing became cheap (kudos
to Gutenberg) and literacy became widespread. It wasn’t until
the common man had access to libraries and bookstores that we
could harness books as a universal medium. This holds true for
any medium: to reach its full potential, everyone must be able
to use it.

Digital audio has now freed music from even physical media.
High-speed connections to the Internet combined with archives
of accessible music and cheap, hi-fidelity home speakers
turn the computer into a musical genie: you desire a song
and the invisible orchestra sitting in your room with you
begins to play. New portable digital audio players take the
concept even further, letting you hear the music that you
want wherever you are. One of the forthcoming players,
Saehan’s MP-H10, has a laptop hard drive built in to store MP3 files. I gasped
when I heard this. Why? Well, a quick scan of
hard drive prices shows that you can get a 5Gb drive for $300:
this translates into over 5000 minutes of digital music, or
music for 9 days solid. And that fits in your hand. Oh yeah,
and it’ll probably be $250 for a 10Gb drive by the time the
player comes out in the Fall. (Above prices given on January
25, 1999.) You could carry with you every great dance tune
ever made, or all of the good songs from the 70’s.

The important point to make here is that a device like the
MP-H10 will allow you to carry all of the music that you care
about, ready for instant and convenient playback wherever you
go. The invisible orchestra will follow you as you hike,
jog, work, play, and maybe even swim. (Technically, it would be
relatively easy to waterproof the player.) Some people find this ethereal
concept of music difficult to grasp: when they buy something
they want a physical product in return. What I usually
point out to these people is that their response has been
conditioned by their society; it was not very long ago when
the thought of being able to hold on to a piece of music
in the form of a tape or a CD was absurd. People did not

use to pay money and get a chunk of something: they would
pay money to sit at an orchestra or an opera. One paid
money for the experience, not the object. Today, music is
returning to its roots as an experience.

This experience is no trite thing, either. Music is essential
to human existance. It shapes our psyche
in profound ways, causing us to smile, get up and dance,
get angry, or cry. It is more than mere sensory input —
it connects to how we view the world. I recently started
wearing my Rio more often, listening to music wherever I go; it was like
having giant colorful splashes of paint thrown over life.

The technology for this to happen is rapidly moving in.
Barring intense legal action, I find it likely that within
ten years, a large percent of the population of the US, Korea,
Japan, and Europe will be listening to music in this way.
“Recharging stations,” or Internet music kiosks available
at publicly-accessible locations, would let people purchase
music on the Internet without needing to
have a computer or an Internet connection: they could just
walk down to Circuit City, buy a “music receptacle” for
a few bucks, and “charge up” with their favorite music.
Music will be freed to be played by anyone, any time,
anywhere.

It is my hope and my dream that these technologies
will someday bring more music into the world, enrich people’s
lives, and color life as we know it with beautiful and
broad arching strokes from sound of the invisible orchestra.

The Stanford Linux Revolt

At Stanford, there’s a Technology Career Fair that pops up at least
once a year. The idea is that students will hustle down there with
their resumes and companies and students will smell each other out
for good matches. We knew that Microsoft would be coming to the
career fair, and we thought it would be great to show a little
resistance. So on Friday, the day before the fair, two of us (Nathan Schmidt
and I) got together to figure out how to stir up some dissent. We designed
a two-sided flyer that we would pass out in front of the Microsoft
booth and printed thirty copies out.

[pictures of the flyer]

Smiling, we met up at 3:00pm to head over to the Microsoft
booth. We ran into two friends who we knew were Mac
addicts who supported the Linux cause. (The enemy of my
enemy is my friend, right?) They loved the handouts and
took a few (about five) to distribute. The Microsoft
booth was inside, but outside there was a big banner
for the company. Nathan brilliantly shredded his name
tag to stick the “OPPOSE MICROSOFT” flyers over the
banner. We went inside and started handing out flyers.
We smiled and were quiet. We approached the Microsoft
booth and slipped a few to folks who looked eager to
fork their resumes over to Microsoft. Then we dished
out one to a Microsoft employee.

“Why are you doing this?” he asks, somewhat tersely.

“Because we think Linux is a better operating system,” I simply reply.

“Hm,” he grunts, dicretely pocketing the paper propaganda.

We walked around some more, distributing all but one of
the fliers; I ran back to the copy center and shelled
out $5 for 50 two-sided copies. I walked around, freely
distributing the pamphlets with a smile. I felt a little
like a Hare Krishna in an airport, giving people
flowers.

Reactions were mixed, but largely on the positive
side. Most people grinned and quite a few laughed and
gave support. Several declined, thinking I was
selling something. One guy shouted out “Ha! You’ll
never win!” Another said that his roomate worked
for Microsoft. “That sucks,” I responded empathetically.
Several complete strangers patted me on the back and
cheered me on; one even showed me the Linux T-shirt
he was secretly wearing under his button-down shirt.

A couple folks stopped me and were genuinely curious:
“What is this Linux thing? What company is it?” I
watched as they listened and understood that this was
something that was completely free, a gift to
them from the hackers of the world. An operating
system more powerful, stable, and flexible than
Microsoft’s. They thanked me and asked me for URLs.
I pointed to the ones on the flyer (www.linux.org
and www.redhat.com).

The folks from Palm Computing (now 3Com) cheered as
I walked by. Kevin MacDonell, the Palm OS Manager,
stepped out from behind the booth to talk with me.
He told me that he thought that Linux was great. I
mentioned that people had been working on porting
Linux to the PalmPilot and he got very interested.
He asked me to do a writeup: I said that I hadn’t
done it personally, but I would forward him some
URLs that might be useful. (Which I did as soon as
I got home.) If you have any suggestions for Palm
and Linux and Open Source, or some experiences you
want to share regarding putting Linux on the Palm,
email them to Kevin and tell him I sent you. But please don’t send him
frivolous mail.

The folks from Intel were happy to see Linux in the
crowd, and the Compaq folks were happy to hear that
the Linux community appreciated their success in
shipping Linux servers. Apple folks grinned and gave
us a big thumbs up, and the reps from Sun laughed
and cheered us on.

There was a definite feeling at the end of the day
that we had made an impact. We had distributed over
120 flyers, and we estimated that well over 200
saw the handout at some point. Many of the vendors
noticed us and likely reported to their managers
that there were Linux people at the show. The
folks from IBM, Compaq, and Intel who were thanked
heartily for their support of the Linux community
likely passed on the appreciation to higher-level
managers. Scores of technical people were
impacted with the possibility of something better,
something non-monopolistic, non-corporate…and
free.

Viva Linux.

Very Solid Audio

sponsored by Audio Explosion

The Japan-based Kobe Steel has apparently entered into a licensing agreement with NTT (Nippon Telephone & Telegraph, basically Japan’s AT&T) for rights to use the TwinVQ
codec in a portable digital audio player called “SolidAudio.” TwinVQ, also known by its file extension .VQF, was developed separately from MP3 technology. This is in
contrast to AAC, which extends MP3 technology. While AAC has a small
technical edge over TwinVQ, both sound distinctively better than
MP3 at equivalent bitrates.

I got a chance to test out the prototype SolidAudio player and interview one of the DSP engineers, Toshiaki Shimoda, about a week ago. I brought both my Rio and my friend Nathan Schmidt (hardware guru) to the interview: both proved very useful in making comparisons between the devices. While Toshi (as he liked to be called) didn’t let us take pictures, we were allowed to measure the device and play around with it. It was roughly the size of a credit card and was half the thickness of the Rio. The device comes with a very cute docking station for recharging the internal lithium ion battery.

It uses SmartMedia flash cards to store the .VQF files, obviating the need for a direct PC link. Toshi demonstrated loading the flash card into a special, hollow floppy disk
to make a computer believe that the flash is actually a
floppy! (The “flash floppy” is called Flash Path and
costs about US$70 in Japan) We were able to place files
onto the flash card simply by copying the .VQF files of
our choice to the floppy drive. The player takes the names
of the .VQF files and displays them as the song plays in
a 1″ x 2″ LCD panel on the front of the player.

The player had very small buttons for changing the volume,
skipping tracks, playing, stopping, fast-forwarding, and
rewinding. There were also two buttons that didn’t do
anything. Yet. Toshi suggested that they could serve a
variety of purposes in the production release, although
Kobe had not yet fully decided what functionality to incorporate. The output is through a supertiny headphone jack, a form factor becoming popular in Japan. Toshi had a converter on hand for US headphones, thankfully.

The sound quality from the player was excellent. We loaded
up two pieces of classical music onto the SolidAudio player
and the Rio and played them through my friend’s $100 DJ
headphones. The SolidAudio player turned out crisp and
vibrant music, filling my ears with sound. There was very
little noise, but I felt it was lacking the rich bass
that a good Walkman should have. The Rio, in comparison,
sounded quite muddy, garbling several of the more
intricate and intense parts of the piano solo I had
loaded onto it. To the Rio’s credit, I felt that it’s
bass was a bit more smooth and well-rounded, and that
the overall sound was a tad warmer.

On the technical side, the SolidAudio player uses a
recent DSP from TI. (Kobe Steel distributes TI’s DSPs
in Japan, so it was a good match!) It’s apparently reprogrammable on
the fly: you could turn this device into an MP3 player
simply by uploading the MP3 codec to the device. This
holds equally for other codecs, such as AAC. This technology
might also enable new encryption formats, like
AudioSoft‘s ASFS, (soon to be integrated into Winamp)
to be incorporated to allow playback of protected music. As such,
this player could end up a serious competitor to
codec-specific devices. Why pick one format when you could
have them all?

Optomistically, the player will go on sale in Japan, likely
in the fall or winter of 1999. Toshi didn’t know when the
player would make it to the United States. It should be noted
that it’s not clear that anyone else besides Yamaha and Kobe
have licensed VQF technology from NTT for incorporation into
a hardware device. If Yamaha decides not to pursue creating
their own portable digital audio player, this would give Kobe
a virtual monopoly on the portable VQF market.
The player is expected to cost just under $200 when it comes out in Japan, and be even cheaper by the time it hits US shores.

It should be noted that the largest card available for the
device today is 16Mb. This would amount to just under half
an hour of high-quality VQF playback. Nice, but expensive!
Toshi hopes that by the time the device is released there
will be affordable 64Mb cards. When asked about the

possibility of using IBM’s new superthin hard drives,
Toshi seemed initially wary of such a possibility. He cited
several power consumption, robustness, and vibrational problems
with using mechanical devices in such a small form factor, but
did not discount the idea completely.

All in all, Kobe will be a mover to watch next year. Their
shiny, tiny player just may be the next step for Internet
audio distribution.

Existing Players

Saehan Information System of Korea released the
MP-Man about six months ago as the first solid-state MP3 player. Cute and technically
impressive, it turned the heads of several industry observers, but has
not been able to make much of a consumer impact yet, mainly due to
the fact that it is difficult for a manufacturer without brand-name
recognition in the US to get “shelf placement” quickly. The device
is sold at a few websites, but is generally not yet available
in traditional retail outlets.

Diamond Multimedia, a US computer peripheral manufacturer, came out
with their portable Rio player a few weeks ago. The player will soon
be available in stores, thanks to Diamond’s preexisting relationships
with the retail sector. This marks the beginning of a new generation
of consumer portable digital audio products. Diamond, as the first
major US hardware firm to support MP3, took flak from the RIAA on the grounds of supporting piracy. Diamond fired back that the RIAA “had damaged Diamond’s credibility” and was guilty of “unlawful business practices.” While Diamond was not prevented from manufacturing their Rio device, prospective device manufacturers are taking care to approach the RIAA gingerly before coming to market, lest they be sued, too.

Thoughts On Efficiency

[a story for you]

As Tzu-Gung was traveling through the regions north of
the river Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable
garden. He had dug an irrigation ditch. The man would
descend into a well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms
and pour it out into a ditch. While his efforts were
tremendous the results appeared to be very meager.

Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate
a hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do
much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?”

Then the gardener stood up, looked at him and said, “And
what would that be?”

Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at
the back and light in front. In this way you can bring up
water so quickly that it gushes out. This is called a
draw-well.”

Then anger rose up in the old man’s face, and he said,
“I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines
does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like
a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries
the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He
who has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of
his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something
which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do
not know of such things; I am ashamed to use them.”

========================================================

[my thoughts]

Efficiency has been the modern mantra. It is more important than love,
more important than family, and more important than friends. We
adhere to it for the its excitement, for the rapidity which which
it brings us capital, and for the capable of providing more
material goods for the common man. To oppose inefficiency, to run
counter to the flow of technology is tantamount to sin.

For the last century (arguably two centuries), this efficiency has been in the form of big business. We have relentlessly struggled with the morality of “working for The Man,” especially in the sixties and seventies. It is easy to hate large corporations as it is easy to hate the rich and those in power. But there is a new class of proclaimers of efficiency rising in our midst. And it is not in the form of big business, but of individuals themselves: the free source community.

Why do they/we do this? Why should we take it upon ourselves to more
efficiently destroy the foundations of humanity than even those before
us? The answer seems to be that we have finally believed the myth of
the corporation: that efficiency *is* good, and is a valid thing to
strive for. The Open Source community was a natural extension of society
finally embracing the propaganda of efficiency. We joyfully welcome Big
Brother with shouts of adulation now; we crack the whip upon our own
backs. There is no need for a tyrant, no need to have some outside
oppressing force when we can do the job so much more effectively. We
will efficiently maximize our destruction through efficiency, carried
out cleanly, happily, and without waste. A fitting end. One that we wish
to participate in?

Any technology not aimed at making Man better, at encouraging him to
enjoy life and make friends will do nothing but crush the life out of
us; even those that are so geared are not guaranteed to succeed, and
may backfire horribly: there was a tribe in Africa where one would
light a fire after having sex, always. This helped keep adultery in
check, because you’d have to go to your neighbor’s house for a light
to light the fire after the deed, and, well, everyone would know then.
Separately, Europeans came with information on health, agriculture,
etc. They happened to bring matches. Think about it.

If a good percentage of those without technology are sociable, happy,
and down-to-earth, what end does technology bring us to? Why do we
pursue something that makes us stressed, nervous, and unhappy? Why do
we strive to make more intense the very things that cause us angst?
We know from the lesson of time that we will not have less things to
do — we will have a little bit more and four times the responsibility,
twice the people connected to us to be upset when only three times the
things we did before we get done. We will be a little more alienated
from our fellow humans, a little less comfortable with our humanity, a
little less content, a little less impressed by reality, a lot more
stressed, and our “Quality of Life” will go up at the expense of the
real quality of our lives.

Technology is neat. It is fun. It is shiny. Just like the guidance
systems on ICBMs. It is compelling, intense, and exciting. It can be
pretty, “pur-ple,” pay well, and come with Mountain Dew. We jump up
and down, code, design, engineer, and implement, all with friends,
relatives, co-workers and elders encouraging us, cheering us on as
we change the world and make Big Names for ourselves. But what are
we doing? Is this *good*?

If it is not, stop. No amount of Mountain Dew, cash, or encouragement
should be able to compensate us for destroying humanity. We must find
positive ways to use technology, if there are any. (I hope there are.)
My justification for Start^2 is that it will get people off the

computer, to see each other, network people, let people enjoy life. I
see this as sufficient justification. It is an “anti-technology” as it
were, encouraging people to use technology less. Not a sticky portal,
but the very opposite: a *boot* portal to give you a solid kick in the
ass: HEREQUIKTHISISWHATISGOINGONNOWGOAWAY! I don’t want you to linger.
Go outside, here’s the weather, here’s what’s going on. Have fun.

This is a fundamental difference between what I want to do and the new
Net-communities run by Excite, Dejanews, etc…I want everyone to use
my site, stop using other sites very much, and stop randomly surfing
the Net and start talking to their neighbors. I failed to point that
out last night, mainly because I am just now realizing our goal…

-dave

Teleacoustics: The Regulation of Transmitted Speech

For the last century, the Western world has been in possession of two technologies created for the primary purpose of transmitting speech over a distance: the telephone and the radio. While both deal with the transmission of audio, they differ significantly in how their content is regulated and who is allowed to transmit information over the medium, partly due to each media’s respective nature and how the government organizes access to
them, if at all. I shall focus on the content of these transmissions as opposed to the formation of their respective networks. However, it is important to realize that in radio networks, as for cable, there is a tight pairing between content and the network over which it is distributed, whereas telephone networks are paired to services, but not, for the most part, transmitted content.

The first and most important reason as to why the US Government, or specifically, the Federal Communications Commission, regulates radio transmission is the apparent scarcity of bandwidth for such transmissions. Ithiel Pool argues that this scarcity is self-imposed; radio receivers needed to be affordable for radio to become popular,
so the frequency spectrum was divided in a simplistic and inefficient
way that was inexpensive to receive properly. Pool argues that while
this technique may have allowed radio to take off very quickly in the
US, its inaction in moving forward to more advanced technology for
radio broadcasts has created unecessary limitations on the number of
stations that can broadcast radio. This scarcity is not some product
of nature or fundamental limitation of radio1. The Digital Radio proposal by the Canadian government has put forth a new standard to allow for higher-quality audio reception, and the addition of a data channel to the audio. While technically superior, new standards
such as these have failed in the US, due to the opposition of entrenched
US broadcasting stations with brandnames, licenses, and investments to
protect2. Those who have made it into the radio market have little interest in opening up spectrum to make it easier to start a new station.

Spectrum limitations began to surface in the 1900’s, when an increase in the number of amateur and experimental radio transmitters began to interfere with naval communication. The Radio Act of 1912 was passed to grant the Secretary of Commerce power to assign stations certain pieces of the spectrum to prevent interference. However, the law had no real force other than suggestion, as was evinced by the Supreme Court’s 1926 decision in US v. Zenith Radio Corporation that indicated that the Secretary had no power to enforce its spectrum allocations3. Regulation was required if the existing spectrum allocation to radio bands was not to be changed. The Radio Act of 1927 created the Federal Radio Commission to provide this regulation through spectrum licensing4. The later Communications Act of 1934 continued these provisions and put radio along with telephony under the control of a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Unfortunately, having fewer available frequency bands than applicants
for spaces requires discretion as to which stations may obtain licenses, implicitly allowing the FCC to hold as threat suspension or nonrenewal of a station’s license. The US code states that the FCC must allocate licenses to stations who serve “the public interest,” but it is left up to the FCC to determine what constitutes programming that is in the public interest5. Laws against broadcasting obscenity were set up to not only punish individuals 6 but also to suspend the license of the transmitter7. Applied to print media, this would be roughly equivalent to terminating a newspaper’s publishing right if an offensive column was
printed once upon it. When a radio station owned by the Pacifica Foundation transmitted a humorous commentary on “words you couldn’t say on the public airwaves,” it was severely reprimanded by the FCC, When taken to the Supreme Court, the Court backed the FCC, and stated:

Of all forms of communication, broadcasting has the most limited First Amendment protection. Among the reasons for specially treating indecent broadcasting is the uniquely pervasive presence that medium of expression occupies in the lives of [US citizens]. Broadcasts extend into the privacy of the home and it is impossible completely to avoid those that are patently offensive. Broadcasting, moreover, is uniquely accessible to children. 8

The FCC was in such a manner capable of inducing a form of censorship. More insidiously, the FCC’s power to revoke, or simply not renew, licenses not found to be “in the public interest,” disincentivized stations that otherwise might have felt more free to disseminate programming that openly criticized the government9.

Telephones also go “into the privacy of the home,” and have established laws against involuntarily received obscene transmissions10. As a person-to-person medium, a telephone is more of a tool for conversation than for public discourse. As such, it was not a form of mass media and could not be so regulated; telephone service could not be suspended as a result of voluntary discussions occurring over the phone network.
Indeed, telephone conversations were protected against any monitoring at all by requiring a court order to wiretap(*10*). In this aspect it differed from radio, which, being a public-access medium, is open to monitoring at any time.

Everybody who has a telephone has a “right to transmit”: there is no
distinction between the right to receive a phone call and the right to
place one other than a small fee placed on the outgoing calls. Both
rights are granted to anyone with sufficient resources to purchase a
telephone and secure a connection to the telephone network. While
inexpensive, there are some left yet “unphoned.” Many have called for
action on this, declaring that a telephone is “a necessity…
essential for citizenship.” 11 Connecting everyone to everyone
else with a telephone is the first step in the creation of a
global network for the exchange of ideas — it is the realization of
Pierre Teilhard’s noosphere, where everybody connects with everyone else to form a
thinking whole of the entire planet12.

Such a degree of grassroots support is not seen for universal radio
reception. One reason for this lack of support may be that radios
are already quite accessible. There is no recurring charge to a radio,
due to advertiser support. A phone, to contrast, has monthly access
fees plus additional fees for any calls outside of the caller’s local area.
There is no “installation fee” for a radio, but telephones require a
preexisting phone network to get connected to the network. As such,
practically everyone is capable of receiving radio transmissions.

It also must be considered that radio is an interesting and
informative tool, but as a one-way medium cannot effectively act as
anything more than a limited service for the individual, who has no personal interaction with the medium other than selecting a channel. It is an impersonal medium, even if it can draw the listener into a deep bond with the speaker and others listening to the broadcast13. As Marshall McLuhan points out, the telephone is a “participant form, that demands a partner…It simply will not act as a background instrument like radio.”14 Without interactivity or feedback, the radio cannot truly be considered part of a global information network in which ideas and entertainment flow in all directions.

In terms of access to radio transmission, there are
large technical, political, and financial barriers to entry for a
typical citizen. Because of the limited number of licenses
which such a system provides, licensed carriers are, in some sense,
*common* carriers mandated “to operate in the public interest.” They are
so mandated “to present those views and voices which are representative of his
community and which would otherwise, by necessity, be barred from the
airwaves.” 15 A radio station thus operates somewhat
uncomfortably on the line between a government-sponsored monopoly
under the laws of common carriage, e.g., the telephone system, and a
player in an openly competitive information market, e.g., newspapers.
The American citizen has a right to airtime to respond to aired
personal attacks 16, but not a right to airtime to respond to
advertisements. 17 The inclusion of content beyond self-defenses
is up to the editorial discretion of radio station, permitting radio
stations to impose self-censorship.

Due to continued economically justified self-limitations
on the number of available distribution channels, radio continues
to require regulation and mild censorship to best serve the public
interest. Telephony, courtesy of its near-universality and the legal
protections afforded against eavesdropping, continues to be free of
censorship for two consenting adults in conversation. While many laws
have been passed and technologies advanced which shifted the structure
of the telephone network, the laws regarding its usage by consumers
remain largely unchanged, as do laws concerning radio transmission and
reception.

There is, however, a new medium that can form an odd marriage of the
concepts of radio and telephone: digital transmission. By
encapsulating audio into chunks or packets of bits, audio can be represented
abstractly to flow over generic data networks that also carry word
processing documents, web pages, and charts. Here, I will briefly
discuss digital telephony, digital radio broadcasting, and new media
opportunities.

With a digital channel, I could turn my voice into bits to send to a
friend in Turkey. My friend in Turkey could reply, also with
his voice. This realtime exchange of voice data is effectively a phone
call that uses the Internet as a free long distance carrier. Needless to
say, the long-distance companies are not thrilled about this. Neither
are local phone companies, who must completely subsidize local phone calls
to Internet Service Providers from other sources of revenue, usually long
distance calls18.

The network will also permit transmision of a signal to many people at
once. Music sent out onto the network as it is played simulates
a radio broadcast. As early as 1994, rock bands were transmitting audio over the
Internet using “multicast” technology and getting feedback from
audience members as they played19. This clearly shows the power
for small broadcasters to reach out and touch many people in a much
more interactive way than allowed by traditional radio. While there
are a few economic barriers to entry, resources are equally available
to everyone for broadcasting information over the Internet. Prices for
Internet publishing software and access tends to be quite reasonable;
many Internet locations will allow people to publish their own extensive
sites for free on their service, provided that the page displays an
advertisement for one of their clients.

With low barriers to entry and no practical limit to the number of broadcasters, the old model of radio regulation cannot apply. Attempts to censor of web
sites or audio broadcasts over the Internet are misguided, given that
transmissions must be actively sought out: viewing an offensive website
usually takes definitive action on the part of the viewer.
Web pages rarely actively force themselves itself upon you in the
same manner as a radio transmission does when one turns on the radio.
There need be no government restriction of access to the new medium in
the old forms.

Yet the network also allows communication in ways that in the past
were not possible, or at least were prohibitively expensive. Internet
startup MPlayer has created software to allow groups of people to talk
audibly together at once over the Internet. Slightly reminiscent of the old
trunk “party lines,” the technology brings together new communities to
live together in an audio cyberspace. Some parts of the community, called “fight rooms,” center on speech that is patently abusive and derisive.20 This speech is not protected by the First Amendment. Should such speech be protected, restricted, or simply left out of the law? Answers to tricky new questions like these may be many years forthcoming.

In sum, the telephone has provided nearly everybody powerful and uncensored
one-on-one dialogue; radio gave Western civilization one-to-many
communication but in a limited and censored medium and in a format
less than wholly permissive of a free exchange of ideas by all
parties; new digital technologies will provide an ultimate enactment
of free speech by allowing ubiquitous access to information in a many-to-many
broadcast communication environment that need not be censored, given
the effectively infinite number of communications channels.

A new way of sharing thoughts in speech form is arisen, related
to the old media only insomuch as it encompasses them and goes beyond
them. The digital medium represents an amalgamation, a convergence of all of the media
technologies before it along with numerous genuinely new methods of
communication. The whole world over, we are entering into a conversation amongst
ourselves that, once started, will never stop, but will continue evermore with the fervent chatter of the hopes, dreams, ideas, and whims of Earth’s inhabitants.


references

1 – Pool, Ithiel de Sola. “Technologies of Freedom.” (Belknap:
Cambridge, MA), 1983. pp142-148.


2 – Web site. “Digital Radio.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. [http://www.radio.cbc.ca/radio/digital-radio/]


3 – Pool, pp113-114.

4 – ibid., p118.

5 – 47 USC 307(a).


6 – 18 USC 1464.

 


7 – 47 USC 303(m)(1)(D).


8 – FCC v. Pacifica, 438 US 726. 1978.


9 – 47 USC 223.


10 – 47 USC 1004 and 47 USC 229(b)(1).


11 – Graham, Stephen, James Cornford, and Simon Markin. “The
socio-economic benefits of a universal telephone network.”
Telecommunications Policy, V.20, N.1, Jan/Feb 1996, p5.


12 – Kreisberg, Jennifer Cobb. “A Globe, Clothing Itself with a
Brain.” Wired Magazine. Issue 3.06. June 1995. [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.06/teilhard_pr.html]


13 – McLuhan, Marshall. “Understanding Media.” (MIT Press: Cambridge,
MA) 3rd ed. 1995. pp301-302.

14 – ibid., p268.


15 – Pool, pp130-131, p121.


16 – Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 US 367. 1969.


17 – Pool, pp131-132.


18 – Komblum, Janet. “Agency: Telcos to pay for ISP calls.” Web
site. C|Net news.com. [http://www.news.com/News/Item/0,4,27907,00.html]


19 – Drake, William J. “The National Information Infrastructure
Debate.” The New Information Information Infrastructure. Ed. William
J. Drake. (Twentieth Century Fund: New York) 1995. p325.


20 – Moriarty, Brian. “Whispering Pines.” Video, private showing.
MPath, 1998.

Sharing & The Internet

The Internet is about sharing. Designed to prevent even nuclear bombs from inhibiting its never ending ebb of data, it is the most unstoppable, pervasive, and subversive medium for sharing information that the world has ever seen. From this central point we may examine three corollaries: one, that everyone should be allowed access to the Internet with a reasonable connection; two, that people should be allowed to say and hear what they want; three, that people should be allowed to either protect or openly share their intellectual property. This “Internet glasnost” brings up a host of regulatory questions, some of which have no obviously correct answer. This is further compounded by the restrictive and oftentimes wildly varying policies currently in place for traditional media, e.g., print, telephony, radio, and television, which are now all converging onto the computer simply as “data.” I do not envy the government: as we shall see here, they have their work cut out for them.

Everyone should be permitted to connect to the Internet. As a powerful equalizing force, it has social and economic potential that far exceeds that of even the telephone. In Stephen Graham’s commentary in Telecommunications Policy, he notes that telephones can keep people in touch, provide information services, contact anonymous helplines, and generally keep people wired to society1. On every one of these points, the Internet not only provides an equivalent, but goes far beyond. Email beats out the phone in letting one keep in touch cheaply, quickly, and over great distance. The Internet has millions of web pages of information. Whole newsgroups are devoted to anonymous support of sexual abuse victims and the like. And society is inexorably weaving itself into the Internet; the number of people on the Net is growing exponentially. Everywhere there are online communities forming themselves with an abounding number of Internet messageboards, mailing lists, and interactive webpages. I was first struck with the degree to which society was becoming intertwined with online reality two years ago when I wiped my face on a napkin and saw that the napkin company had printed their web address on a corner of the otherwise-white square.

We are becoming a web society. The latest news and in-depth commentary is all online far before it hits newsstands or even TV. Stories, no longer confined to a three-minute window of time on CNN or half a page of Newsweek, can now report in depth for interested readers. Numerous web services are popping up to make the online citizen’s life ever more convenient, letting her or him book plane flights, read car reviews, speculate on stocks, and order merchandise online. Last year, retail chain Egghead Electronics even went so far as to close down all of their retail stores to focus exclusively on selling electronics over the Internet. It is becoming ever more compelling for people to conduct their transactions online as business becomes, in the words of IBM, “e-business.” In Manuel Castells’ conclusion to The Rise of the Network Society, he points to the increasingly global nature of capital and its flows over the data networks 2 . If the network is to be global and all-encompassing, everyone must be on it.

Beyond sheer economic neccessity, sharing is also about global unity and personal empowerment. It allowa everyone to participate in a global democracy of sorts. The more people that are on the Internet, the more diverse and rich it will become, teeming with people, their thoughts, and their dreams. Henry Geller opines that this sharing is “of critical importance to the quality of life in the emerging information society 3.” This interconnectedness is reminiscent of Pierre Teilhard’s envisioned noosphere; a globe united in thought and acting as a single organism 4.

While the arguments for providing universal Internet service closely mirror that of providing universal telephone service, its implementation is considerably different. In the US at least, much of the wiring that could provide high-speed Internet service is in place already in the form of telephone lines and cable TV lines. However, there is no one entity that could be singled out as being responsible for providing Internet service over these lines. Forcing telephone companies to take that role would likely meet with a great deal of resistance and merely establish a regulatory monopoly. But with cable and satellite companies providing Internet access, there exists no clear “common carrier” for data. This turns out to be more of a blessing than a curse, however. The lack of a “data monopoly” has created a plethora of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), from the gargantuan America Online (AOL) to tiny 100-user bulletin board systems (BBSs) in Idaho. This vigorous competition translates into high-speed, low-price, and high-reliability connections for users. Telecom regulators saw open competition as the most efficient and rapid way to make sure that consumers could get cheap and reliable Internet connections. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA96) ordained the creation of a group to ensure universal telcom service 5, ordered a congressional proceeding to try and remove barriers to entry in the telecom market 6, and included provisions to ensure that telecom infrastructres could interconnect 7. Score one for the government doing something right.

Once people are online, they should be allowed to share, for that is the Internet excels at. Should their speech be regulated like other media? After all, since radio and television have obscenity standards, as do undesired phone calls — shouldn’t the Internet be regulated likewise? This view is flawed. Television and radio are a form of receiving, and the telephone is a form of exchange, but only the Internet allows true sharing. Intrinsic to the way information is shared on the Internet is the notion of “client-pull.” That is to say, the viewer has full choice over exactly what she or he wants to view. Unlike a turn of the radio station dial, an incoming telephone call, or changing channels on the television, an Internet user usually knows roughly what content lies behind a hyperlink on the web 8. People rarely are forced to see pages that they did not wish to see. This is an important distinction from these other, more passive media, because it means that sharing on the Internet is truly speech from a person to willing listeners. A right to free speech in this domain would seem as clearly neccessary as the right to speak in public. (If not more, for one can surely have unwilling listeners to a man standing on a soapbox!)

The US Government did not fare so well on free speech as it did on universal service. In TCA96, Congress included a section on “Obscenity and Decency” known as The Communications Decency Act (CDA) that made it illegal to transmit a broad range of material concerning “sexual or excretory activities or organs” “in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age.” 9 The language was sufficiently vague as to potentially restrict the Bible, which contains scenes of violent rape, the works of Freud, which describes sexual and excretory activities in arguably offensive terms, and many other classic works. Internet citizens widely opposed this restriction on free speech, many turning their web pages black in protest. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought a suit against Attorney-General Janet Reno to prevent enforcement of the bill 10. The ACLU won, and the CDA was declared unconstitutional. So while Congress made a bad decision regarding free speech on the Internet, the Department of Justice thankfully saw the light. The DOJ’s decision is fascinating to read as it details the basic functioning of the entire Internet in plain terms and lays out the very basis for free speech on the Internet, concluding:

…the Internet may fairly be regarded as a never-ending worldwide conversation. The Government may not, through the CDA, interrupt that conversation. As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion. 11

The government, with a little bit of coersion, supports free sharing over the Internet.

People like to share things. If one tells something exciting to a person, it is a natural reaction for that person to want to share it with other people. The “exciting thing” is called a meme, and the study of this style of spreading information is called memetics 12. The Internet amplifies an individual’s ability to spread a meme. As an example, I recently saw a very cute portable audio player that will be coming out next year. I could have just told a few friends, but instead I did a review and put it on the Internet. In the last five hours, over 1500 people have read the review and will likely share it with their friends. Because of the amplification that the Internet provides for sharing information, a piece of information must either be completely shareable or completely unshareable. It’s very difficult to have limited sharing in a world full of people who are empowered to share and love doing it.

This presents a big challenge for regulators who are equipped with laws from a time when sharing was more difficult. Libraries for instance, are legal because no copy of a book is made in the process of people checking out books and returning them. But that very same library would be illegal on the Internet; the technology used to make reading the document on your computer possible makes a local copy in your computer’s memory and on the computer’s display. The very notion of sharing something with other people in cyberspace implies copying, rendering traditional notions of copyright obsolete 13. Sharing is clearly better than not sharing, since everyone benefits. Ideally, everyone would share everything. This “information wants to be free” mentality is a product of the facility for sharing inherent in the network. It is a form of digital socialism already popularly embraced on the Internet through the OpenSource movement and the free availability of the vast majority of Internet content.

However, established companies are not comfortable with this mentality of open sharing. It frightens them and they are quick to label it “piracy.” For the book publishers, record labels, and proprietary software developers, the Internet is a nightmare. They profit off of demand for information exceeding supply. The government’s stance on the matter has been a reasonable one: let those who want to share, share, and let those who want to protect their data, protect it. While the issue was not addressed in TCA96, Congress’ proposed ratification of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) extremely strict rules on copyright 14 was turned into law less than two months ago with the signing of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) 15. The bill strives to simultaneously permit all reasonable forms of fair use while at the same time keeping people from sharing ideas that the idea’s creator did not want shared. It is interesting to also note that there are legal motions protecting sharing as well. The GNU General Public License, under which a large percentage of OpenSource software is given away, is humously self-labelled as “copyleft” and makes it illegal to take open software, modify it, and not give away the source code; the idea being that if everyone uses GNU software, it will be illegal to not share 16.

The Internet succeeds as enabling people to share. In doing so, it is creating a compelling social and economic framework where everyone is empowered to partcipate. As the most open form of free speech yet in existance, it must not only be protected from censorship, but we must also make sure that everyone can participate in it; otherwise, we risk not creating an online democracy, but an online technocracy. The US government, particularly the Department of Justice, has been atypically swift in understanding the importance of the Internet and in recognizing its mistakes. Regulators have so far managed well the issues of online access, sharing, and integrity, thanks largely to the efforts of such independant groups as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU. Given continued vigilance on all sides to ensure fairness and justice, one cannot help but be optomistic about a future of sharing.


Footnotes
1 Graham, Stephen, James Cornford, and Simon Marvin. “The socio-economic benefits of a universal telephone network. A demand-side view of universal service.”Telecommunications Policy. Vol. 20, No. 1, Jan/Feb 1996, pp5,6.

2 Castells, Manuel. “The Rise of the Network Society.” The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. p472.

3 Geller, Henry. “Reforming the U.S. Telecommunications Policymaking Process.” The New Information Infrastructure: Strategies for U.S. Policy. William Drake, Ed. (New York: Twentieth Century Fund Press), 1995. p116.

4 Kreisberg, Jennifer Cobb. “A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain.” Wired Magazine. Issue 3.06. June 1995. [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.06/teilhard_pr.html]

5 47 USC 254(a)    (also 104th Congress, S.652, sec. 254(a))

6 47 USC 257(a)

7 47 USC 251(a)

8 As testified by the Government witness Howard Schmidt, Director of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation during the ACLU v. Reno trial. This was noted in section 88 of the ACLU v. Reno Supreme Court decision. (CIVIL ACTION No. 96-963)

9 47 USC 223     (also 1996 Congress S.652, Title V, Subtitle A)

10 ACLU v. Reno – complaint. On ACLU’s website at http://www.aclu.org/court/cdacom.html

11 Found (among other places) on ACLU’s website at http://www.aclu.org/court/cdadec.html

12 Henson, Keith. “Memetics.” Whole Earth Review No. 57. pp50-55.
see also http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/MEMIN.html for a good introdution to memes and memetics.

13 Pool, Ithiel de Sola. “Technologies of Freedom.” (Belknap: Cambridge, MA), 1983. p214.

14 105th Congress HR 2281

15 Presedential Remarks at the Signing of HR 2281. Available through the Digital Future Coalition’s website at http://www.dfc.org/html/presidn.html.

16 The GNU General Public License. Available on GNU’s web page at http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html

Diamond Rio Review

Wednesday afternoon, I came home to a wonderful sight: a slender,
foot-long cardboard rectangle sitting in front of my door, addressed
from Diamond Multimedia. I walked to my friend’s room and smiled.
“I know what this is,” I exclaimed, showing the box to him. Unimpressed
by the box and unsure of its contents, he handed me a pair of scissors.
I shortly thereafter held triumphantly the result of two weeks of
waiting, two hundred dollars, and two minutes of wrestling with an
origami-styled cardboard box, carefully designed by Chinese engineers
to be impossible to open. It was small, light, and black. My Rio had
arrived.

The Diamond Rio is a portable MP3 audio device. It can play MP3s
apart from your computer system; like a Walkman for MP3s. To put music into the
Rio, you plug it into the printer port on your PC and use the
provided software to download the files into the device. File transfers are
one-way, so you can’t use it as a way to share MP3 files with your friends.
This is kind of a moot point, since the Rio comes with only 32Mb of
storage. While they claim on the box that this is sufficient to store an
hour’s worth of music, this is not true unless you want to listen to very
poor quality and/or mono music — at standard quality, the Rio provides
a scant half-hour of music. This is enough for a quick jog, but you
wouldn’t really take half a CD with you to the beach. An $100 upgrade in
the works will let you store a total of an hour’s worth of music. This
additional half-hour comes in the form of a removable flash memory card.
Theoretically, you could buy a bunch of these and put different 30-minute
mixes on them, but at $200/hour of music, I’m guessing that this would
not be viable option for most people. It’s instead assumed that the user
will always have a computer (laptop or desktop) relatively nearby to
update the music when you want to listen to something new.
Unfortunately, this obviates much of the point of having one, namely
to not have to be attached to your computer to listen to MP3 files.

The Rio’s basic interface is simple and intuitive, with a comfortably placed
thumb-wheel to allow you to control playback. There is a button to
allow you to change the equalization to levels appropriate for Jazz,
Classical, and Rock (or no equalization at all). However, there are
many aspects to the Rio which make it clear that this is a first-generation device, made by technical people for technical people. The “Menu” button on the top of the player only works when the music is stopped, is not documented in the user manual, and is unintuitive: when pressed, the screen displays an upside-down “F1 32” — when
you press the fast-forward or reverse button it cycles through a list
of equally odd and cryptic displays (“RE no” “R1 no” and “V1.2249”)
that, while understandable to an engineer, should certainly not be in
a consumer product. There’s also a little feature which lets you loop
a chunk of audio. While mildly amusing, it’s not particularly useful,
especially considering the fact that there’s a quarter-second delay
at the end of every loop. Most of the buttons are not documented.

Diamond obviously took a lot of time to make the accompanying software
very pretty. Unfortunately, this had two side-effects: the interface
is awful under 256-color mode: everything appears black and you need to
squint just to make out any of the buttons. To their credit, on a
bright monitor in 24-bit color, it’s gorgeous, but I’d rather have
a program that’s easy to use than one that’s visually stunning.
It is also likely that the time they spent on their 95/98 client
kept them from writing an NT port, which is a real pain for those
of us that prefer a half-stable operating system. Additionally, Mac
and Linux ports would be appreciated at some point in time; while we
can certainly excuse the lack of ports in a first-generation release,
it would all the same be nice if they released the specification so that
willing programmers could “roll their own” programs to interface to the
Rio.

After I had setup my computer and plugged in the cable, I downloaded
a sample song from the installation CD to the Rio. I was highly
unimpressed with the resulting sound quality, and thought seriously
about returning the device. It soon became clear that it was
merely the cheap headphones provided with the Rio, and not some
problem intrinsic to the Rio itself. My advice to you? Throw out the packaged headphones. Get a pair of real headphones ($25+) and your ears will thank you. On my friend’s pair of $100 DJ headphones, the sound was much more pleasant.

All in all, the Rio is an excellent piece of engineering; they have
shown that a large computer peripheral manufacturer can produce a portable MP3
player. This is clearly bleeding edge technology, however, and the
Rio is not yet suitable for widescale consumer deployment. It is
instead geared towards that breed of hacker who wants to listen
to music away from the computer but
is willing to return to their computer every thirty minutes to “refuel.”
Unless you need this right away, I’d wait for a second generation of
portable MP3 playback devices, like
Saehan Information Systems’ upcoming MP-Man with a 2.5Gb laptop hard
drive inside, for which, unfortunately,
no release date or price has yet been set.

MP3 Summit Report

NOTICE

This writeup of the conference is highly opinionated. I represent myself
only and am in no way affiliated with MP3.COM,
even if I think they’re cool. =) I also missed a few demos and one of the
panels in process of talking to some folks — my apologies to those of
you that I left out. Also, because I’m a moron who forgets everything and
didn’t take notes, I probably left out big chunks of speeches, missed big
points, and generally misquoted and misunderstood everyone at the Conference.
My apologies.

OVERVIEW

Last fall, when I was hoping to get together an MP3 audio conference,
I envisioned a day when record industry lawyers, members of the media,
MP3 hobbyists, audio entrepreneurs, and others could get together, network,
and try to figure out what the heck was happening with audio distribution
on the Net. While my conference did not go through due to funding problems,
MP3.com managed to pull off everything that I had dreamed would go into
an MP3 conference — even down to the after-hours party. There were demos
galore and heated exchanges about legal issues in internet audio (impressively
involving the RIAA, a congressman, and a representative from the powerful
and newly-formed Digital Media Association); people networked, laughed,
had a beer, and nervously chatted with their competitors. And the whole
thing was cybercast in realtime. Don’t worry if you missed it, though: the entire conference will be out on CD in a few weeks!

PRODUCT DEMOS

[players]

WINAMP – WinAMP put up a strong, if brief presentation, showing a new feature he had coded up the previous night: a plugin so you can click through to buy the CD from which the MP3 you’re listening to was taken. Like that Billy Joel MP3? Buy the CD with just a click! Very cool.

SONIQUE – Wow. I’ve never heard a crowd gasp so audibly as when they saw Sonique, a yet-to-be-released MP3 player. If you’ve ever seen a movie that features computer software that is unrealistically beautiful, smooth, and eye-catching and thought
“I wonder if there will ever be software like this?” you can lay your question
to rest. Inspired by that very question, Sonique features menu selections
that slide in and out of view dynamically, and a self-configuring and expandable
graphical interface. While processor-intensive, it is surely the most visually
gorgeous program I’ve ever seen, and I can only hope to get my hands on
a beta sometime soon. By the developers’ own admissions, Sonique’s not
for everyone: some people like a straightforward player that is less of
a CPU hog and can run in 256-color environments. But if you’re looking
for eye candy, this is it. A beta might be out in a month.

FREEAMP – The good folks at GoodNoise Productions announced they were releasing a GPL’ed player to the MP3 community, as already announced on MP3.COM — the player is crudely functional, if not very flashy, and based on the maplay engine.

AMP – The AMP engine, which originally spawned the proliferation of players we see today, has fallen off the scene, as noted by the fact that the announced release of AMP 1.0 got a lukewarm response at best from the audience — there was no substantial demo of
the new player, and they made strong effort to toot their horn about having
the fastest decoding engine; but with WinAMP’s new Nitrane engine and the
rising speed of processors out there, the contest for the fastest decoder
becomes ridiculous: on my PII-233, MP3 decoding takes up ~3% of my CPU
at most (that’s unofficial, folks).

[mp3 databases & services]

A number of services were shown at the conference that allow people
access to MP3s in interesting and diverse ways:

GOODNOISE – The first big internet-only record label, the folks at GoodNoise are hard at work, signing labels left and right, and announcing a deal with Xing to encode their music using Xing’s new MP3 Encoder. This announcement was made in the middle of Xing’s
speech as a man rushed up to the podium to hand Hassan Miah (Xing’s president)
a slip of paper for the news “hot off the press”. I’ve got more than a
hunch that the conference facilitated this deal, among many others.

MUSICMUSICMUSIC – (are we running out of domain names, or what?) Somewhat of an interactive MP3 radio station, it streams MP3 audio from their server, mixing in audio
advertisements. The streams are free, provided you’re willing to give them
all of your demographic information and your email address. The audio is
streamed at a barely tolerable 16kbps, and requires you to download their
own customized version of Fraunhofer’s Winplay3.

OBSEQUIUM – Xing showed off their proof-of-concept web community MP3 playlist engine. Powered by a linux box, it allows people to cooperatively assemble a list of songs to be played from several genres. The songs in the demo were grabbed off of CDs full
of MP3s — the system would buffer the next three songs to be played from
their CD changer to insure continuous play. Songs are then broadcast over
the net using multicast. A very slick system.

MUSICMATCH – Musicmatch is a product to allow you to rip, encode, and archive CDs locally for your personal use. As far as I was able to tell, the files were all stored locally in
a non- exportable format, making this the only product that I have heard
about for producing MP3s exclusively for personal (non-shared) usage. While
making digital copies even of your own CDs for your own personal use is
technically not allowed under the law, we have the RIAA’s word on tape
that they don’t care about people making personal digital copies and will
not prosecute you for simply making an MP3 of a CD you own for convenience’s
sake. The interface was straightforward and relatively intuitive, allowing
you to pop in a CD, rapidly rip and encode it (the two are done simultaneously),
put in information about it (including lyrics, album covers, genre, and
more) and save it into your database.

NORDICDMS – Nordic is still selling cheap music, but now they’re giving away some free music, too. They’ve been in this space for a while, arguably longer than almost anyone, but
they had little new to announce at the conference.

[hardware]

Several portable players and tethered controllers were shown at the
conference. Emerging MP3 hardware is going to afford MP3 audio the same
conveniences of traditional media: portablility and ease-of-use. The MP3
players were *tiny*.

A tethered controller was shown with the same form factor as a car panel,
with shielded wires running back to the PC: presumably one could have a
PC stored in the trunk, run the wiring back to it, mount the controller
in your car, and have an MP3 car good to go! The controller and software
will cost about $200 when it is released later on this year and should
be compatible with most MP3 players.

MPMAN – Probably the most coveted piece of MP3 audio hardware out there, the MPMan is tiny and technically impressive. Saehan, the makers of MPMan, is located in Korea and is an Asian manufacturing giant. While the speech was less than informative,
the demonstration was well worth the wait: uploads were very speedy and
the audio quality was great (for all we could tell through the environment
we were listening to: it was CD-quality). The sample audio was hilarious:
a Korean woman spoke about how irritated you must have been at having to
sit in front of the computer to listen to music before you purchased their
portable product. While the player could certainly do with a price reduction
(it’s $500 for the model that plays CD-quality audio for an hour), this
product is an industry leader, and infinitely cool. (MP3 on the beach!)

MPLAYER3 – Pontis, a German company, is also getting into the MP3 hardware market with a slickly-shaped player called “MPlayer3” (the “3” is just to be cute: this is going to be the first player they’ve made). While the player is not out yet, it will be
based on removable, standardized flash storage using MMC cards. MMC cards
of up to 128Mb are expected within the next two years, but as-is the system
will ship with a coughably paltry 8Mb, allowing you to play a whole 8 minutes
of audio on your $300 player. I’d sit and wait on this one.

REMOTE DJ – More of a solution integration than any new piece of technology, Remote DJ uses a webcam, remote presence software, and an MP3 player to allow a DJ to setup a playlist remotely, monitor the crowd for feedback, and control the player in realtime.
Looks like it’s going to be two pentiums and a webcam instead of two turntables
and a microphone. The idea of having a party DJed by someone who wasn’t
really there is a little weird to me, but that’s just my take. The technology
was pretty cool. It’s too bad a live demo wasn’t available: we only got
to see screenshots of the setup in action.

SPEECHES & PANELS

Things started about half an hour behind schedule, but with so many
exciting people around to talk and network with, it didn’t really seem
to upset anyone. After Michael’s very warm introduction to kick off the
conference, Hassan Miah, the strongspoken CEO of Xing,
got up to speak. The speech was almost revolutionary in tone, with a stirring
voice and such great quotes as “the momentum is here,” (repeated frequently)
I felt a little like a Scotsman in “Braveheart.” Seriously though, it was
great to see Miah’s passionate commitment to the technology, not paralleled
by many other companies of such weight. Xing announced their partnership
with Goodnoise to further their commitment to the industry, and “reminded”
everyone that they just released their new MP3
Encoder
for $20 — I bought the encoder on the Net myself and it’s
fast! Xing claims speeds up to 8 times faster than Fraunhofer’s. Kudos
to Xing for getting clued into the MP3 industry: may they reap the benefits.
Xing also was a sponsor of the conference and paid a small part of the
beer at the after-party; they’re well on their way to winning over the
hearts of the MP3 community, IMHO.

After some product demos Robert Kohn, the definitive pro-online music lawyer, got up to speak. He outlined with great lucidity (and speed, as we were well behind schedule at this
point) the intricate set of laws that govern audio distribution in digital
and non-digital, subscription and non-subscription, interactive and non-interactive
formats. While he did an incredible job walking us through all of the laws,
it was exhausting and rather frightening. The record companies themselves
have not yet decided the specifics and applicability of many of the laws
and it seemed as if the laws were so tangled that skilled lawyers could
easily twist them to read one way or another, applying to whatever situations
are convenient. Ech. Haven’t these folks heard of the Plain English Act?

This transitioned nicely into what was to be the most intense and exciting
time of the day: the legal panel. We had a moderately pro-online music
lawyer (Ken Hertz), a brave RIAA representative
(Steve Marks), a member of the newly-formed Digital Media Association (Seth
Greenstein), a congressman (Brian Bilbray), Bob Kohn again, and Scott Jamar
of a2bmusic. Kudos to Mr. Marks for playing out Daniel waltzing into the lion’s den, even if I have issues with the RIAA. The Digital Media Association (DiMA) was formed about a month ago as a group of the biggest hitters in Internet audio: a2bmusic, broadcast.com,
CDNow, Enso (part of muzak), Liquid Audio, and RealNetworks. DMA’s main
agenda right now is fighting WIPO, as it would make life rather difficult for its constituents.

The RIAA was attacked for all sides, and for good reason. Some of the interesting (and volatile) tidbits turned up were:

* Artists need to aggressively contact the RIAA for the RIAA to even
consider their input on Internet audio distribution.

* The RIAA’s actions to allow e-commerce on the web may be irrelvant
as far as artists are concerned, since few contracts give them royalties
on Net sales. (All the money would end up in the record company’s pockets.)

* The RIAA wishes to charge an extra fee to online, non-interactive,
non-subscription services (basically, web radio stations), despite the
fact that the RIAA is by law explicitly not allowed to collect such fees
for conventional radio stations (which already use digital technologies
all the way to the antenna).

Additionally, the RIAA hemmed and hawed on some very key matters, such
as whether or not a small buffer kept in RAM on a computer or on servers
for streaming purposes constitutes a copy of the intellectual property.
If it did, this would make life essentially impossible for Internet Service
Providers, as they’d have to keep track of what files they temporarily
buffered and pay the record label the appropriate royalty! Technologically,
this is just about impossible, and it’s also ridiculous. It was disturbing
that the RIAA’s answer was less than an absolute “no!” on this matter.

Nobody threw chairs or cutting invectives across the room, but there
was a high degree of tense energy in the conflict between the RIAA and
DiMA. This is not altogether surprising, considering that both had already
butted heads in congressional committees dealing with WIPO. The situation
got much comic relief from Congressman Bilbray, who with much hilarity
repeatedly stressed how incompetent and stupid congressmen like himself
were. While he actually showed himself to be a rather capable man, his
point was made: congress doesn’t have what it takes to make intelligent
laws for what should happen on the ‘Net. Things are moving too fast for
the US’s legal system, and it would be much wiser for Congress to just
stay out of it altogether than risk ruling wrongly and creating an artificial
monopoly. Amen, brother.

[side commentary: It seems to me that the RIAA’s goal in most of this
is to make it seem so absurdly hard to keep track of all of the required
music licenses that everyone is obliged to license all of their music through
the RIAA…who will then take a healthy percentage off of all of the transactions
and make themselves filthy rich. While it makes sense that they should
desire to be in this position, I find it digusting that they are also the
ones with the most political power. People should realize that these days,
they don’t represent artists, or even record labels: they represent themselves
as a for-profit organization. In that light, the RIAA’s actions, litigations,
and support of pro-copyright bills make a lot more sense. Beware the wolf
in sheep’s clothing. ]

After all was said and done, it was wrapped up nicely by it being pointed
out that more was learned from the debate and clash of viewpoints than
preprogrammed speeches. I’ll agree to that — and it was a good spot more
entertaining, as well! The whole thing ran way over time, but nobody really
cared: this was what the conference was all about. Interestingly enough,
Scott Jamar from a2bmusic hardly put in a word during the whole thing,
preferring to sit quietly on the edge of the panel and observe the heated
debate.

After lunch, we scampered back into the comfortably large room to see
some more product demos and hear Jim
Griffen
speak. I, among others, was surprised to hear that he had left
Geffen, but apparently he had been considering the move for some time.
Jim did the totally unexpected. He did not talk directly about legal issues
at all, but gave a visionary (some would say disillusioned) speech about
the future of music distribution. Jim claims that absolutely everything
will be streamed and that downloading merely represents an insecurity about
the availability and reliability of the network. When confronted with questions,
Jim stuck to his guns, claiming that streaming was the real way to go in
terms of being able to protect music, track who’s listening to it, etc.
While I can see that as being true for folks who are always in front of
a 10mbps drop, and it is true that ‘Net connectivity is increasing, there
are two main situations in which streaming cannot replace static content
for some time to come:

* Portable applications: Clearly, until we have absolutely universal
multi-megabaud wireless access cheaply available, you’ll want to have your
music with you in physical form when you go to the beach (or whenever you’re
in your car).

* Limited-bandwidth scenarios: Many high-speed intranets sit behind
firewalls or very slow pipes: bandwidth- and security- wise, it’s much
smarter to grab a copy from off the ‘Net and redistribute it behind the
firewall.

As was pointed out later “between now and when that happens, there’s
a few billion to be made from downloads.”

While people didn’t neccesarily agree with all of Jim’s views
on the future, Jim argued his points eloquently and professionally. Apppearing
quite liberal to labels and too conservative to the MP3 community, he is
in the interesting position of being respected, if not well understood,
by both sides. Jim’s unexpected speech left us chewing our proverbial cuds
as Gene Hoffman from Goodnoise got up and told us what he’s been up to.

Goodnoise is an Internet-focused
record label. While they do contract out CD production to allow their artists
to compete in the physical media market, Goodnoise’s hope is to really
make a smash hit happen by signing and breaking a great artist on the Internet.
Goodnoise sees this as the “critical event” for large record labels to
really get in on online distribution. Obviously, Goodnoise wants to be
the point men that everyone works with to have this happen. In taking this
unique approach of become a genuine record label (just for kicks, they’re
thinking about joining the RIAA) focused on the Internet, they set themselves
aside and offer a genuine potential for their dreams to come true. As mentioned
above, they also announced a partnership with Xing, and their free GPL’ed
encoder: FreeAMP. (Knowing what developers love, they also threw up a Quake
II server.)

I actually went outside to talk with some folks outside at this point,
meeting up with folks from Fraunhofer, SonicnetNullsoft (who does WinAMP), and Night 55 (of the incredibly cool Sonique player). Unfortunately, I missed the
excellent panel on what the Net will do for artists. If someone could please
write up a little something on what happened and post it here, it’d be
highly appreciated. My apologies for missing that — at the time I didn’t
think I’d be doing a conference writeup. =)

I came back from the lobby where MP3.COM had graciously furnished cookies
and sodas and listened in on the hardware demos, reviewed above. After
this came a semi-interesting talk on “What MP3 Must Do To Win.” I guess
the four or so hours I had gotten the night before started to kick in,
because I didn’t find that panel very compelling: basically it was agreed
that ID3V2, which Martin Nilsson is working on, was really cool. ID3V2
allows all sorts of extra information to be embedded into an MP3 audio
file, such as synchronized lyrics, ratings for a song, the picture cover
for the album, the artist’s homepage, etc. This allows music to be distributed,
but still linked back to, and packaged with the artist’s information. This
helps connect an artist with a listener very tightly: I can now instantly
go visit a band’s homepage or purchase their CD after listening to their
MP3.

Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg of Fraunhofer IIS (NOT 115, as was written on their nametags, much to their chagrin) then got up to wrap up the conference. Dr. Brandenburg is considered by many to be not only the founder of MP3
technology, but the founder of the whole field of audio coding. As a PhD
student with a dream, he labored at and turned out, in short order, world-
quality codecs for audio transport. Dr. Brandenburg pitched AAC
as the way to go, naturally, since it is quite technically superior. He
advocated protection for audio distribution on the Internet (Fraunhofer,
conveniently enough, will license you their MultiMedia
Protection
protocol for a pretty penny), which was understandable,
given the amount of flak he received from record labels for creating an
easy-to-share format. “You’ve dropped the atom bomb on us,” he quoted a

music executive as saying to him. Uneasy with the legal battles his own
format has incurred, he said sharply, “we are not the friends of the pirates.”
He finished up his speech with a demonstration of AAC coding at an incredible
64kbps in which, over the less-than-sterophilic conference speakers, it
was nearly impossible to distinguish AAC-compressed samples of audio, speech,
and popular music from their original samples.

Throughout the whole conference, there was an interesting tension between
AAC and MP3. AAC so far has been a much more “protected” technology: while
free reference source for AAC decoders and encoders has already been released,
the source for encoding was purposefully tweaked with so as to make it
of too poor quality to be feasible to use. Fraunhofer apparently got a
lot of flak for making MP3 encoding technology too easy with their shareware
L3ENC: they are not eager to catch the blame again for unleashing AAC upon
the world. As such, it’s likely that MP3 will continue to be the technology
of choice for some time to come despite its technical inferiority. Until
AAC encoders become widely and cheaply available, AAC will not replace
MP3. Right now, the only folks encoding full-quality AAC files are at AT&T
— a2bmusic. And don’t even try to ask for their encoder: it’s not for
sale. (Yet.)

After Dr. Brandenburg stepped down, Michael quickly wrapped things
up, and we headed over to the local UCSD pub, where we munched on free
pizza (courtesy MP3.COM), drank free beer (courtesy MP3.com), and networked.
There were some good local bands there which they had paid to play, but
unfortunately for them, people were having a really good time networking
in the other room. That, combined with the fact that people weren’t allowed
to bring their beer into the room where they were playing, meant that practically
nobody actually listened to them. Ducking in at random intervals, I never
saw more audience members than band members. Well, they got paid at least,
and the rest of us had fun. After heavy networking, light drinking, and
absolutely no sleep, folks started slinking back to their respective domiciles
as the evening wore on, and by the time I left with Michael at about 10:30pm,
tearing myself away from a heated (but good-natured) discussion with the
head technology guy at ASCAP, there were less than a dozen folks remaining.

As Michael, Martin (ID3V2 guy), and I walked back to the car, I was
happy. Everything that I had dreamed about happening in an MP3 Conference
had happened. People had networked, talked, learned, discovered, and shared
their passions over pizza and beer. It was great seeing some familiar faces,
meeting some new folks, and generally getting in touch with the whole crazy
and wild MP3 community. I’m looking forward to seeing you all again at
the next conference.

The Knee Jerk

This month, the very fundamentals of the First Amendment are held in question.

On February 1, 1996, a revision to the Telecommunications Reform Act (S.652) was passed by Congress. A week later, President Clinton signed it into law. Part of the revision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 included new rules for decency on the Internet. This section was entitled “The Communications Decency Act,” or the CDA for short. The CDA’s proponents wanted to address a key issue about the Internet: the ability of children to access indecent and pornographic material. Senator Exon of Nebraska, the chief proponent of the CDA, submitted as evidence lewd, disgusting, and revealing photographs of women. With his cries that every child in the world with a computer could be subjected to such material, the bill naturally passed swiftly through Congress. And why shouldn’t it have?

Indeed, the text of the CDA, which makes it illegal to give minors material that “is obscene or indecent” (CDA, subsection A.I.B), seems sensible and rational. To accept it is almost instinctive, a “knee-jerk” reaction. After all, if a minor cannot in real life walk into a store and (legally) buy a Playboy, why should they be able to view the same in cyberspace? Nearly all the members of the House endorsed the CDA, seeing it as a way to make the reckless Internet family-safe; the CDA seems to make sense.

But within five minutes of the bill’s passage, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint against the US Attorney-General Janet Reno, asking that the bill not be enforced until having undergone complete judicial review. The complaint was granted, and the case was handed over to a panel of three federal judges in Philadelphia. After much scrutinizing and reviewing mounds of technical documents, all three judges independantly concluded that Congress had no right to regulate the Internet. The CDA was declared unconstitutional. The panel did recognize that this was an important act, dealing directly with the First Amendment, so they are putting the final decision to the Supreme Court. They are so confident that the Supreme Court, with the proper information, will accept their verdict that they are encouraging the Court to go through a less-than-extensive review process just to get the CDA permanently revoked. Why did the ACLU protest this seemingly innocuous bill? And further still, why would a panel of judges declare the CDA unconstitutional?

I intend to make it clear how and why the CDA is unconstitutional. First I will clear up some common technical misunderstandings in content regulation. I will then show how the CDA could not possibly be enforced, how it suppresses constitutionally protected free speech and hence violates the First Amendment, how it is unconstitutionally vague, and why it is not neccesary.

Many people compare the Internet to TV, and point out that network television is, to a degree, censored. This is true, and the government does censor network television. But the analogy to the Internet does not hold. With television, a small quantity of large companies transmit information purely over a medium that the goverment owns, a specific set of radio frequencies. Companies pay the government yearly to “lease” a section of the set of frequencies for broadcasting. If something indecent appears, locating the offending station is a trivial matter. They are warned by the government, and if they do not desist, the government removes their license, and/or takes them to court. But the Internet is almost completely different. The US government owns essentially no part of the actual medum in which digital messages get passed from one place to another. And instead of there being a small quantity of content providers, there are hundreds of thousands: anybody in the world can publish any information they want. I, a mere college student, own and administer my own web site containing pictures and text that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. I could publish pornography, or hate literature, or anything I want. This is because I do not have to submit my work to a larger authority for approval — I am my own voice. And the US government would have to prevent every “little guy” in the US like myself from transmitting “material inappropriate for minors.”

One other important way in which the Internet radically differs from television is that it is “active content,” meaning that you, the user, have to actively seek out information. You select exactly the information you want. Televisions, on the other hand, are examples of “passive content.” You are exposed to the information that the television producers wish you to see. There’s no pause, rewind, or skip button on a TV. Content available to you is merely the sum of what producers of each station wish to give you at any given instant. If and when children are viewing pornography on the the Internet, it is of their own volition — in fact, it is likely that they searched long and hard to find some. So children are not “subjected” to objectionable material on the Internet; rather, they play an active role in obtaining it. The problem is not with the computer, or even with the content. The problem lays with the parents and the children. Many, many computer-illiterate people are unclear as to this important distinction between active and passive content.

Billions upon billions of ones and zeros march through the Internet every day. Think about that. The machines that send these ones and zeroes back and forth have little to no information about the content of the information they are passing: pictures, texts, sounds, and movies all look exactly the same to them. And they cannot have time to care: they are already working as hard as possible just to keep the data flowing. There is no way that they could spare any processing time for anything else. Even if hypothetically they could determine whether they were passing a picture or text or a movie, it would then have to be evaluated by a human to determine if the content was obscene or not. If something was found to be obscene, it would have to be verified that it was passed to a minor. Then the transmitter of this information would have to be looked up and located, which again would take more processing. Single machines on the Internet can deliver millions of files per day, so you can see just how infeasible such a scheme would be. Yet the CDA dictates monitoring Internet traffic in such a way. This is very different than television, where a select few corporations are in control of broadcast content. The supporters of the CDA tend not to be aware of the technological impossibility of its enforcement, let alone the ridiculous number of “content-raters” that would need to be hired to monitor the Internet for obscenity.

To further this technical difficulty, there is the problem/gift of cryptography. Cryptography is the art of using mathematical manipulations to make digital information private to only those you want to share it with. Cryptography currently available to the US public is so good that you can make information so secret that it would take a few hundred thousand years of processing on thousands of machines for people to be able to “break your code,” and access your information without your permission. In short, cryptography allows you to keep secrets, even from the government. Computers passing encrypted information could not possibly hope to decipher it. Cryptography insures the impossibility of Internet-wide “brute-force” enforcement of the CDA. It is clear from a number of standpoints that technically, the CDA cannot be strictly enforced.

But even if the US government could wave a magic wand and censor all content within the US, this would not solve the problem. There remains the fact that the panel determined that “a large percentage, perhaps 40% or more,” of the content provided on the Internet “originates outside of the United States” (ACLU v. Reno [1996] Counterstatement: Section B.2) , and hence outside the jurisdiction of the CDA. Were the CDA to be enforced, there is no doubt that many organizations containing material potentially in violation of the CDA would move their content to international servers. The users would hardly notice, and the whole purpose of the CDA, to protect American children, would be defeated. Kids can just look elsewhere for their pornography. The CDA cannot be internationally enforced.

I have talked about, and shown, the technical issues of how the Internet could not be effectively subjected to the CDA. Now I will discuss the moral and constitutional issues of why itshould not be subjected to the CDA.

The CDA, for constitutional reasons alone, should not be upheld by the Supreme Court. It suppresses free speech among adults in flagrant violation of the First Amendment; it would technically censor a vast quantity of artistic and classic works, the Bible included; and it might prohibit the distribution of vital, possibly life-saving information to youths.

Free speech is in our consitution, in the very First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech or of the press….” This means that speech, text, and pictures which have been determined to be legal for adults to view must not be censored for an adult in any way by the government. The CDA requires content providers to insure that minors may not view material that is inappropriate for them. The CDA suggests that providers of offensive content use credit cards to do age verification; after all, you do need to be at least 18 years of age to obtain a credit card. (This being true, it should be noted that the mere production of a credit card number does not insure that the said user is not a minor. Kids know how to borrow credit cards from parents and older siblings.) While many commercial pornography sites have already adopted the card-pay practice in a mixed attempt to verify the age of their users and be paid for their services, this solution is impracticable for non-commercial information providers. I, for instance, being of the age of 18, have a constitutional right to transmit adult material, for instance an article containing one of the “seven dirty words” to other adults. If the CDA were to be ratified by the Supreme Court, then I could not do this on my web site. In truth, as a poor college student, I have no technology that I could employ to deny users under 18 access to portions of my Internet site. My only option? Simply not to provide that information which might be deemed offensive to minors. My legal, rightful Constitutional speech has been censored and the First Amendment has just been violated.

You can see how in this way, non-commercial providers of potentially offensive material become censored down to the lowest common denominator: material acceptable for children. All adult material on the Internet would be under the domain of commercial services, due to the prohibitive cost of verifying users’ ages — all publicly accessible material would have to be self-censored and watered down. The government itself notes alongside the CDA that “users of all…forms of [Internet] communication always have the option to tone down their communication so that it does not contain material” criminalized by the CDA (CDA Jurisdictional Statement 24). What did the panel think of this? In their own words: “There could be no clearer admission that the CDA…imposes a ban on the dissemination of constitutionally protected speech” (ACLU v. Reno Argument, Section B.2.C). The CDA is unconstitutional.

What comes to mind when I ask what kind of materials fall under the CDA’s definition of “indecent”? For most people, degrading images of naked women, senseless and smutty literature — in short, works of little to no artistic or useful value. Let’s examine the facts: the CDA prohibits making available information containing direct references to “sexual or excretory activities or organs,” in terms “patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards” (CDA Section 1.D.1). Okay, this seems reasonable enough. Take rape, for example. That’s an activity that is generally considered patently offensive when detailed in a work. Yet, the Bible itself contains specific, detailed accounts of rape! Am I not allowed to put the Bible on my web site if I cannot provide age verification? Even if I could provide age verification, should this material really be kept from minors? What about a 16-year-old high school student who wants to study Freudian psychosexual analysis? Clearly, Freud’s works contain specific references to sexual activities and organs. These works, which are technically illegal to publish on the Internet under the CDA, contain genuine artistic, historical, and/or scientific value. The CDA very noticeably lacks a clause allowing for these sorts of materials.

In some cases, the CDA might ban pages that are crucial for minors to be able to access. The “Safer Sex” Web page, with detailed and graphic instructions on how to put on and remove a condom and general information about sex, may have already prevented many unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and diseases. Many people do have sex before they are 18. This material, which deals with “adult” matters, needs to be made accessible to youths who need it. The CDA would prevent this.

It should be noted that in all of these cases, minors can obtain the works in print! For example, any minor can walk into a public library and see nudes, read lewd novels, and even (gasp!) Freud. It seems natural that this same minor should have access on the Internet to publicly availble print information. There should not be different rules for the Internet than for other media. If a minor can (legally) obtain a work in print, he or she should be able to legally access that material online. The CDA disagrees.

The CDA violates our constitution by censoring legal adult-to-adult communication where age verification is not possible, in prohibiting open distribution of works deemed to be of artistic or scientific merit that contain adult or sezual matter, and in preventing minors from accessing material online that they can obtain legally in the physical world. The CDA should not be passed.

Finally, the CDA is not required to obtain its stated goals. Ever in the spirit of democracy and capitalism, the desire of parents to prevent content that they deem “obscene” from reaching their children has spawned a whole new business of “filtering.” Filters are programs that you run on the machine viewing the content that limit children to viewing “acceptable” content. There is usually a bypass, so that the adults can access adult information if they provide the correct password. There are two kinds of filtering: client-rated and server-rated.

In client-rated filtering, the client simply obtains a list of acceptable and unacceptable web sites from a central server. When the user attempts to view a page that is on the “unacceptable” list, the user is notified and blocked from viewing it. Optionally, parents can prevent children from accessing any sites not on the “acceptable” list — the unrated sites. The downside of client filtering is that one server is in charge of essentially rating the entire Internet. This is expensive, so they usually charge some kind of fee to provide you with updated versions of the lists on a regular basis. Also, it is impossible to select between different “levels” of content. For instance, I may want to allow my 15-year-old son to view pages that contain mildly offensive language, but the server simply divides everything into “naughty” and “nice.”

Server-based filtering, where web pages rate themselves, is a much more practical, efficient, and sensible way to filter content. PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) is a good example of effective self-rating. Web pages rate themselves in the categories of sex, violence, and language. Parents can choose what level of Internet content their children can view in each category. Web browsers that are “PICS-enabled” simply check the ratings for a given page: if the rating exceeds that allowed, the web page is not displayed. Optionally, non-rated sites can be blocked. (This is usually not neccesary because most sites containing objectionable material have no inherent interest in the information being given to a minor — they are almost always the first adopters of rating technologies) In this way, the power of censorship is relegated to its proper place: the parents. I believe that parents should have a right to select the types of information their children are presented with. This is a role that I do not think that the government, or even a single third-party rating bureau, should have.

PICS is not a dream or a fuzzy standard that hopefully people will implement in the future. PICS is here, and rapidly gaining popularity. Web pages with PICS ratings are growing exponentially. I myself am looking into obtaining information on how to rate my own content for outside viewers. New web browsers are now PICS-enabled, and easily allow parents to filter content. I believe that before long, web servers containing objectionable material will automatically check to make sure that the browser is PICS-enabled before displaying information. This is easy to do, and would prevent such simple attacks on the system as a child installing an old, non-PICS-enabled browser to view adult materials.

PICS was not started by or sponsored by the government. It was a movement purely originating from the desire for parents to have the ability to filter content presented to their children. The net is allowing parents to self-censor. The purpose of the CDA was ultimately to make it difficult for children to gain access to material deemed inappropriate for them, and this is precisely what PICS-rated pages and PICS-enabled browsers allow parents to do, without the government making the decisions on what may or may not be printed. The Internet is taking care of itself: the CDA is unneccesary.

I hope I have clearly shown you the technical difficulty and unconstitutionality inherent in the CDA, along with the reasons of why it is not neccesary to implement it to achieve its stated goals and why its implementation would not achieve its stated goals. I believe that information leads to truth, and I have the belief that the panel of three federal judges decided as they did, and for the better, because they were exposed to the greatest amount of information. They were presented with hundreds of technical documents and presentations of the workings of the Internet, and as a result of their hard work and good learning, have made a clear and educated decision. I have the hope that in the Supreme Court, the truth will be found; that the underlying implications of the CDA be revealed to the justices, and the “knee-jerk” reaction found incorrect. Let freedom ring, even in cyberspace.

 


Works Used and Further Reading

“Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition Response to the Department of Justice Jurisdictional Statement.” October 31, 1996. Online. Internet. World Wide Web:www.cdt.org/ciec/SC_appeal/Juris_resp.html

“Communications Decency Act Page.” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.epic.org/CDA/

“ACLU v. Reno: Overview.” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.aclu.org/issues/cyber/trial/trial.htm

“The Electronic Frontier Foundation Censorship Page.” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.eff.org/pub/Censorship/Internet_censorship_bills/

“The Electronic Frontier Foundation ACLU v. Reno Page.” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.eff.org/pub/Legal/Cases/EFF_ACLU_v_DoJ/

“ACLU v. Reno — The Case to Overturn the CDA.” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.spectacle.org/cda/cdamn.html

“Platform for Internet Content Selection [PICS].” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.w3.org/PICS/

“PoliticsNow Issues: The Communications Decency Act.” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.politicsnow.com/issues/internet/cda.htm

“Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition.” Online. Internet. World Wide Web: www.cdt.org/ciec/

 


Quotes of Note

from the CIEC Response to the US DOJ Jurisdictional Statement on the CDA

Counterargument, Section B:

Appellants’ statement of the case entirely omits any reference to or discussion of the extensive and unusually detailed factual findings of the three-judge district court that formed the foundation for the decision on appeal. See J.S. App. 11a-61a. The Jurisdictional Statement fails to acknowledge the district court’s critical factual findings that (1) it is impossible or infeasible for most Internet speakers to comply with the CDA’s affirmative defenses; (2) because of the global nature of the Internet, the CDA will not effectively shield minors from indecent or patently offensive speech since a very substantial percentage of such speech is posted abroad, and will not be deterred by the CDA; and (3) parents can use currently available software and access provider options to control what Internet sites their children may access. These findings undergird the district court’s legal conclusions that the Act effectively bans constitutionally protected speech among adults, would not substantially further the government’s stated interest in shielding minors from indecent online speech, and is not the least restrictive means available to serve the government’s interest.

Counterargument, Section B.1:

(inability to check for age causes censorship)

Chief Judge Sloviter summarized the court’s factual conclusions as follows: we have found that no technology exists which allows those posting [protected but indecent material] on the category of newsgroups, mail exploders or chat rooms to screen for age. Speakers using those forms of communication cannot control who receives the communication, and in most instances are not aware of the identity of the recipients. If it is not feasible for speakers who communicate via these forms of communication to conduct age screening, they would have to reduce the level of communication to that which is appropriate for children in order to be protected under the statute. This would effect a complete ban even for adults of some expression, albeit “indecent,” to which they are constitutionally entitled . . . .

Counterargument, Section B.2:

(Overseas content)

Judge Dalzell concluded, “the CDA will almost certainly fail to accomplish the Government’s interest in shielding children from pornography on the Internet.”

Argument, Section B.1

Government may not constitutionally “quarantin[e] the general reading public against books not too rugged for grown men and women in order to shield juvenile innocence . . . . Surely this is to burn the house to roast the pig.” Butler v. Michigan, 352 U.S. 380, 383 (1957).

Argument, Section B.1

See also Denver Area Educ. Telecomm. Consortium v. FCC, 116 S.Ct. 2374, 2393 (1996) noting that “[n]o provision, we concede, short of an absolute ban, can offer certain protection against assault by a determined child,” and affirming that the Court has “not, however, generally allowed this fact alone to justify reduc[ing] the adult population . . . to . . . only what is fit for children.”

Argument, Section B.2.C

Even more offensive to the First Amendment, the government suggests that “users of all three forms of communication always have the option to tone down their communication so that it does not contain material” criminalized by the Act. J.S. 24. In other words, they can self-censor their speech in order to avoid federal prosecution. There could be no clearer admission that the CDA’s “display” provision imposes a ban on the dissemination of constitutionally protected speech.

Seat 11-C

The girl sitting across from me on the flight back to school somehow reminded me of a million things from back home. Her tight, determined lips instantly brought back memories of Noelle and the party. She had khakis on. This is important to me, but I’m not quite sure why. The thick, brown eyebrows brought back brief memories of the Meehan clan and Berea. Eyes may say a lot about a person’s soul, but eyebrows seem to me to express sexuality. There is something undeniably appealing about a pair of dark, drawn eyebrows. She had neatly cropped blondish-brown hair curling back to just touch the nape of her neck. She quickly and deliberately ate her complimentary peanuts, one by one slipping them in her mouth, briefly sucking then chewing and swallowing while poring over her text. From a brief glance, I was able to determine that she was studying epistomology, probably for a course. Perhaps she was in med school? I’ve forgotten what epistomology is, Stanford genius I am. She gives a swig at a container of mountain spring water and purses her eyes. Down goes the bottle, up goes the pen and she busily highlights line after line of text in shades of green – she is highlighting faster than I could possibly read. Her soft green shirt almost casually envelopes her, shielding her from the occasional turbulence. Her legs are crossed and she softly but resolutely pages through the binder. She is clearly quite intelligent. She wears a ring, solitary and golden, on the fourth finger of her right hand. I note a wider, more intricate band, also of gold, on the middle finger of her left hand. I wonder if she’s married. She looks to be 21 or possibly 22, but there is something simple and beautiful in her face that smacks of 16. That smacks of home. That smacks of things well-known and well loved. I have never met her, and yet I know her. I wish her well. She leaves.

I Carry

Who am I? I, to the outside world, am comprised of the sum of my actions. What is precious to me? The things that I carry inside of me define who I am to myself. Who I think I am will direct my actions and hence what the outside world thinks of me. As a result of this, not only will exploring what I carry inside of me help me to define for myself who I am, but will also allow the outside world to better understand me and my actions. Because of this, it is appropriate to explore the things I carry and elements tangible and not that comprise the whole of my character and being.

I carry loneliness and a feeling of isolation from the world. I carry tiredness from late nights one after the other. I carry detachment from the things I loved back home. I carry my books, and I carry oppression. I carry pencils and pens and diskettes and notebooks and a backpack. I carry software programs. I carry my computer. I carry the knowledge of programming. I carry the happy burden of love. I try to carry joy to others but often drop it. I carry programmed knowledge. I carry programming knowledge. I carry thirty-four history lectures, sixteen physics lectures and thirty-two Linear Algebra lectures. I carry my seven page paper on Love through the ages that I wrote yesterday. I carry Raid, with which I kill the thousands of ants that march in my room. (“For behold, I am become Death, the very destroyer of worlds,” come the words as I lay waste to a colony) I carry funny quotes. I carry pictures and memories of those I love. I carry many, many pieces of paper — an infinite amount of paper. I carry CDs and powder mixes and late night snacks. I carry vitamins to keep me from getting sick from the snacks and the lack of sleep and exercise. I carry pencil sharpeners and computer mice. I carry desk lamps and watches that can organize my life better than I. I carry sad stories and good news from my friends and from the world. I carry my faith in God. I carry my enormous sneakers and my trademark striped shirts. I do not carry a bike. I don’t carry a license to drive in any state. I don’t carry alcohol. I carry a curiosity for life. I carry my responsibilities as a treasurer, a friend, a webmaster, a son, and as a college student. I carry poetry by myself and by those who help carry me. I carry argument and debate, facts and figures. (contrived or otherwise) I unfortunately carry insatiable lust, as any college student does. I carry the pressure and desire to succeed. I carry my hopes, my plans, my dreams. I do not carry fear. (Well, at least not frequently) I carry my future somewhat shakily. I carry my telephone, my filter to another world through which periodically a piece of a person drips through in bits. (email can’t do that quite as well) I carry one bonsai tree, unplanted and infrequently watered. I carry assignments like hell. I carry nine hour Sunday Linear Algebra problem sets. I carry shoelaces that endorse MIT and rail against Harvard, and with them green nail polish and black lipstick. (I carry my weirdness) I carry a camera, but do not use it. I do not frequently carry notes, because, for better or worse, I don’t take notes in class…or on life. I carry 10 miniature porcelain Chinese masks and a book I bought entitled “The Zen of Graphics Programming.” I carry a green and red umbrella for rainy days. I carry the excitement and enthusiasm that is typical of most all college freshman. I carried a multitude of forms to declare my major in Computer Science. I carry a love of technology. I carry my white male heterosexuality. I carry my solar-powered calculator because hey, who knows when you’re going to need it? I carry myself.

This is me. I am open, I am young. I am naive, I am strong. I can carry these things. The burden is great, but bearable. When new items come along that suit me well, I will without a word pick them up and add them to my list. I look forward in eager anticipation to the future, when I shall carry new and unknown items, items that will help further define my character.

This implies that my character is not yet fully developed, or at least not yet fully defined by the things I carry. All that I can do is approximate, to continually revise the things I carry to come closer and closer to representing myself. This is true self-discovery: looking for things to carry that will aid me in refining my perception of myself. This applies to all people. This is an essential part of the human process, and a part I openly embrace. My philosophy is that I plan on looking at as many things in the world as possible, so as to have the best idea of who I am. This is the principal reason why I came to Stanford.

My Salutatorian Speech

WE’RE DONE! WE’RE ALL DONE WITH HIGH SCHOOL! (Let’s give THANKS!) [cheer, and wait for it to quiet down quite a bit] But now what? Where to now? In the words of Microsoft, “Where do we want to go today?”

We certainly have quite a number of options in this class. Our class can boast that we are going to an unprecedented variety of colleges next year. From schools far away on the West Coast to schools on the East Coast to schools close by, our class is going a lot of different places. (Even Harvard. [shudder])

Academically, we are headed a lot of different places as well. Our class can boast that it has experts in music, english, history, computers, languages, art, and drama. We have stars in every sport and terrific student leaders. Even chaplains who can freestyle! And all of us are headed to college, something quite uncommon even in small schools. So on the outside at least, we are all headed towards excellence.

But there is more to life than just outsides. Where are our insides headed? Are we really headed where we want? Or is it just where our parents want us to go? Is it because we don’t think that we’d be good at other things?

It is of vital importance that each one of us step back periodically and look at him or her self . “Is this really where I want to be now? Am I headed in a direction that I want to
be going?” If it is, then I congratulate you and applaud your work. I hope that those around you will support you in obtaining your goals and realizing your vision. Unfortunately, our goals tend to change as we ourselves change — we mature as we experience the world, and realize new things about ourselves as we fit into the world. This is natural…and good. We need to look inward to find out who we are. Based on this, our goals will change. We need to recognize these changes then, and modify our actions accordingly.

When we are examining who we are, we need to keep ourselves from closing doors that might lead to self-fulfillment. Let’s explore all of our options. We should actively seek out subjects in which we are ignorant, and pursue them — to explore the world of knowledge. Let’s take those courses we never imagined taking: Chinese Philosophy, Modern Dance, European Politics, or Linear Algebra. I am not saying that we should continually seek out
courses in fields that we definitely dislike, but instead I am suggesting that we go and seek out whole new platforms of knowledge that are new to us. We should never be afraid to
discover something about ourselves. A broad knowledge of the world will do us well in terms of understanding ourselves and others.

In today’s dynamic job market, we may have to make job changes; not only between companies, but between subjects. I have heard stories of English teachers becoming electronic technicians. At the same time, I think that we should seek out a few key specialties — specific things that we really enjoy doing. We need to study and practice these specialties to their limit, to the bounds of what is known. Doing this, we find ourselves in a position to expand this boundary — to go beyond where any human has gone before. Forget Star Trek. There are many more frontiers than space.

At the risk of sounding like an Army recruiting officer, we should be all that we can be…in all fields. In history, sports, science, medicine, music, education, languages, art, and other things we should strive to set goals from our dreams, and then struggle with all that we’ve got to make that dream come true. Just wishing on a little star will not bring us personal
fulfillment. It takes gusto to live your dreams to their fullest.

And beyond all of this, we need friends to get where we are going. On this travelling analogy, friends are our gasoline. We need them to make it from point A to point B. We need male friends, female friends, significant others, parents, and God to get where we want to go. We may be strong by ourselves, but we are forty times stronger with the strength of heaven and earth behind us. Without friends, life is bleak and bland. Living takes on a whole new quality when you have a buddy to share a load with. While I’m sure that many of us have had good friends at LCA, let’s remember the importance of friends as we go to college next year. Let’s find friends. And not just any friends, but good, strong friends. High octane, Ultra94 friends. The kind of friends that can love us, support us, guide us, and give us the strength to do what is beyond us. It is friends like these that
make the world tick, that make life enjoyable, that give life depth, and that bring a sunshine to a cloudy day. And while we are busy finding friends, let’s not forget to try and be the best friends we can be to others.

And that’s my speech. If you were sleeping, the moral of the story is that you should try random courses, expand yourself in fields that you enjoy, and find friends to help you realize your dreams. Enjoy college, and have a nice life.