Audible Magic's Maginot Line Against P2P

At the O'Reilly Network, I write: Audible Magic's Maginot Line Against P2P

Robots Attack White House, Film at 11

Some have suggested that something fishy is going on with the White House webserver, and the "robots.txt" file it uses to discourage automated web crawlers from visiting portions of the site. The Democratic National Committee sees devious historical revisionism, naturally.

Further wild speculation is available at Dan Gillmor's eJournal, especially in the comments.

But I'm pretty sure that this just a clumsy mistake, or misguided reaction to some haywire crawler, rather than any intentional manipulation.

In fact, I work for the Internet Archive on web crawling technology, and just 5 days ago I was relayed word, via email, that the White House webmaster wanted us to extensively crawl their site. In fact, they even wanted us to ignore most of their robots.txt "Disallows" directives -- because aside from the first 4 directives, "all the prohibitions were on links to plain text versions of the formatted pages."

Now, it's awkward for crawler operators to manually override the directives we typically respect, on a site-by-site basis. Rather than expressing such wishes in private communications, we would prefer that whitehouse.gov begin its robots.txt file with a narrow expression of their legitimate exclusions...

User-agent: ia_archiver
Disallow: /cgi-bin
Disallow: /search
Disallow: /query.html
Disallow: /help
...and then continue their robots.txt file with additional alternative directives for other crawlers, or all crawlers ("*"). Then we clearly know that except for the 4 listed URL-prefixes, our site crawling is encouraged.

But awkwardness does not imply scheming, and there was no hint of sinister intent in their expressed wishes. Instead, we were told "we could scoop everything up, no problem" -- a genuine desire to have whitehouse.gov material archived, on a topic-neutral basis. We suggested that the White House webserver make the clarifying robots.txt changes described above, but I haven't yet seen a confirmation that our suggestion reached the right people.

So rather than squinting to see something sinister here, I'd suggest giving the whitehouse.gov team the benefit of the doubt. From what I've seen, they want their site crawled, archived, and searchable -- and their robots.txt should eventually stabilize to confirm that fact.

The Unevenly Distributed Future

VentureBlog: Ubiquity Breeds Utility

Naval Ravikant visits the Dartmouth campus for the Unleashed Conference, and thanks to the ubiquitous wireless computing there, sees the clear outlines of our near future. Of his observations, my favorites:

  • Instant Messenger for voice will emerge [and will eventually be packaged in a hearing-aid sized device]
  • Voice is just an app ["The phone companies will suffer mightily."]
  • Un-terminated [many -- perhaps most -- wireless access points can do without a landline uplink]
  • Bandwidth matters! [people find uses to fill all the local wireless bandwidth -- including file sharing -- despite slower landline uplinks to the outside internet]

The (MSN) Map Is Not The Territory

Time for a head-to-head competition between the online mapping services. San Francisco's "Central Skyway", an offramp from US101/I-80 to Fell Street, was demolished months ago.

Have the online maps caught up?

MSN Maps (formerly MapBlast) still shows the long-gone skyway (image capture as of right now):

MapQuest does no better:

Yahoo Maps is the winner, with an accurate map:

What's a little odd is that all of these maps claim the same company, Navigation Technologies/NavTech, as their map source. Apparently only Yahoo is aggressively updating their licensed data. Go Yahoo!

Me Too

New Scientist: I want to live forever, an interview with University of California San Francisco professor of biochemistry and biophysics Cynthia Kenyon.

I need to cut back on my carbs and drink more red wine.

Coming sooner than you think: the 850GB hard drive

Maxtor is already shipping a 300GB hard drive based on 5 internal 80GB platters. Meanwhile, Maxtor also reports that recent improvements in "perpendicular" recording technology can more than double platter capacity to 175GB. The new techniques are said to be fabricable in current equipment.

That suggests single standard-sized desktop drives, using 5 internal platters, with capacities around 850GB in the not-too-distant future.

Sony Ericsson T610

I just got a Sony Ericsson T610 GSM mobile cell phone with color camera. It's almost as small as my old Nokia 8810(?) chrome "matrix-phone" -- and it does a bazillion more things, including take decent pictures. Here's the first photo I took, from inside the T-Mobile store, while waiting for the contract paperwork:

My copyright, my soul

Conceptual artist Jonathon Keats intends to auction off futures contracts on his brain pattern, which he copyrighted last year. The referenced Wired article considers the offer mainly as a commentary on copyright law.

I, however, wonder if Keats has read Greg Egan's Permutation City or similar science fiction. Keats' neural patterns, if ever completely measured and recorded, might be enough to "resuscitate" him as a conscious simulation at some point in the future. There, he'd be at the mercy of those with the rights to his "pattern." Would he be a mental slave laborer? A plaything?

So, a short story concept: Keats' present-day lark of a performance piece condemns him to potentially infinite confinement in a dark future, after not-so-nice people buy up his reproduction rights. Meanwhile, his peers who "retained their self copyrights" enjoy immortality in a near-paradise, enabled by the same technologies that imprison Keats. Imagery evocative of traditional fables about "selling one's soul to the devil" would be used throughout.

So much WiFi

There are now so many open WiFi nodes in San Francisco that on most streets, you can just close your eyes, hold your finger up in the air, and check your email on your eyelids.

Well, not exactly. But someday!

Silver lining of Hepatitis A: asthma prevention?

I strongly suspect there are many as-yet-undiscovered -- or simply misunderstood -- viruses which confer significant survival benefits: saluviruses. (See my previous discussion here, here, and here.)

Now, the BBC reports research indicating that once someone has recovered from a bout with the disease-causing Hepatitis A virus, they may be spared future asthma.

In this case, it's unlikely that the virus has inserted a lingering genetic capability. Rather, the immune system is left, in the infection's aftermath, better calibrated to ignore transient environmental irritants. For example, previous research has suggested that each of the following suppress asthma...

Meanwhile, antibiotic use in infants may promote asthma -- perhaps by forestalling the immune system's own self-calibration against minor infections.

"California" in Schwarzeneggerian

There has been some confusion about the proper way to say California as Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger says it. The key is to start with "Hollywood." Replace the "-wood" with "-fornia" and you get "Hollyfornia" -- a state of mind. Then just add a "K" sound at the front, and... voila! You get...
Now you too can sound just like Arnold!

(Arnold says "Khollyfornia" or "Khollyfornians" six times in this TV ad archived at his campaign website.

Via Drudge: NYSE website hacked?

Via Drudge: The Dow Jones Industrial Average did not tumble 1206.50 points today to 8448.10. But that's what the NYSE website shows right now. Drudgereport says it's a hack. (Also, screenshot.)

GOP Senator Norm Coleman Seeks Lower Downloading Penalties

Guardian Unlimited: Senator Seeks Lower Downloading Penalties

Way to go, Norm.

It's legally and economically absurd to hit casual individual copyright violators with the jaw-dropping statutory damages that were originally written into the law to deter large, for-profit organized crime piracy operations.

Here's a common-sense idea: for non-commercial copyright violations by individuals, penalities ought to be limited to actual damages, or some lowish multiple (2-5x) of same.