Legislating "immoral" activity on the Internet has been a popular pastime for as almost as long we’ve been online. The latest salvo in the ‘Net legislation war comes in the form of a bill that would make life difficult for online gamblers in the US. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act fo 2006, which was introduced last year, passed today by a 317-93 margin. It attempts to address online gambling by prohibiting wire transfers, "payment system instruments," and credit cards from being used as payment methods for online gambling sites.
Online gambling has been a growth industry for the past several years. Sports books have been popular for some time. More recently, the popularity of Texas Hold ‘Em has led to the rise of a number of poker sites, some of which are pay to play. Worldwide, Internet gambling sites are estimated to take in upwards of US$12 billion annually. Half of that US$12 billion comes from gamblers in the US, and the impact of raising the bar higher for online wagering has many gambling firms outside the US concerned.
Unfortunately for opponents of online gambling, the prospects for similar legislation in the Senate are murky. There have been no comprehensive antigambling bills introduced to the Senate yet, although the possibility exists that an amendment barring online gambling could be tacked on to legislation currently under consideration. With the Senate becoming more preoccupied with fall elections, thay may not happen this year.
Unlike other legislative attempts to regulate the Internet, this one could actually have a significant effect. Instead of trying to outlaw gambling sites (many of which are based outside the US), the bill makes processing or facilitating payments to them illegal. As a result, would-be gamblers would be unable to use their credit cards, debit cards, or make direct transfers from their US bank accounts to pay gambling sites. There are always ways around prohibitions like that, but the legislation will likely have the desired effect on casual gamblers.
Movie studios are showing themselves increasingly willing to put their films up for sale and rental on the Internet—and not just through sites that they own or control. The most recent example comes from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has just inked a deal with online video distributor GUBA. GUBA becomes the first “video sharing community” to get access to the Sony catalog of films, but don’t think that “sharing” means “free.”
GUBA plans to charge 20 bucks to download new features and a ten spot for films from the back catalog. Though the service initially has only 100 Sony films, this will be expanded to 500 within the next year. The films are protected by Microsoft DRM (sorry, Mac users), and they’re only viewable on a Windows computer (or an HTPC hooked up to a television). As is usual with this type of setup, no DVD burns will be allowed.
In some ways, GUBA is an odd choice for a Sony partner. Much of the site is a YouTube-style assortment of zany videos, which means that you can have a link to a man who can touch his eye with his tongue on the same page as the link to Underworld: Evolution. Such pairings can make the site feel a bit schizophrenic, but GUBA has done a good job of making it simple to look for either free or premium content.
GUBA has made quite a name for themselves the last few months. In addition to scoring the recent Sony deal, the site also announced a partnership with Time Warner in June. Warner, like Sony, has shown a willingness to experiment when it comes to Internet distribution, though they’ve been doing it longer than Sony has.
Warner already has a deal in place with one-time pariah BitTorrent. The plan to offer DRMed movies to users through BitTorrent’s efficient distribution system is a telling admission of the legal uses of peer-to-peer technology, though studio insistence upon strict DRM controls and a lack of DVD-burning options make the service no more attractibe than GUBA.
Warner has also been active in Europe, partnering with another peer-to-peer company there to offer movie downloads. Such moves are excellent news for consumers, but not for the reason you might expect. What’s exciting about the recent announcements is that they show the movie studios have learned their lesson from the music business and are determined to provide good legal alternatives to piracy right from the start.
Unfortunately, the actual services that have been rolled out are underwhelming unless you own an HTPC. Even then, they aren’t a great deal when you consider that picking up the DVD costs about the same price and offers more flexibility and portability. When movie studios finally discover the magic combination of price and DRM that makes their product compelling to consumers, online distribution could become a lucrative alternative to traditional retail. That day has not yet arrived.
Yahoo is one of the few survivors of the Great Dotcom Bubble Era, when any kid in his basement with a neat idea could be a billionaire overnight and dream of buying out the stodgy “old media” that once laughed at him. While those days are long gone, we’re well into the hype of Web 2.0, where adding flashy new features to your old web site is the path to advertising-sponsored riches.
Yahoo has been hard at work jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, revamping their home page, adding a new Mail, and even a new Yahoo Photos section. Now they’ve entered a new area of webbiness by announcing Yahoo Trips, a site designed to help organize and document your travel plans.
“The launch of Trip Planner further demonstrates Yahoo!’s overall commitment to innovation in the field of social search and social media,” said Jasper Malcolmson, director of Yahoo! Travel. One does wonder what kind of field “social search and social media” actually is, but never mind, let’s look at the site itself.
After signing in with your Yahoo ID, you can proceed to the main site. The site seems very focused on the idea of sharing your trip journals with others—the most prominent options to begin with involve looking at other people’s trips. To create your own trip, you enter the start and end dates using a pop-up calendar, then give your trip a name and a description. From there, you can add destinations and attractions such as hotels and restaurants.
Yahoo Trips. Let’s go see my mom!
The site isn’t really a one-stop shopping destination for planning your entire holiday. You can’t book your airline reservations from the site, for example. However, for stops in the United States and Canada, Yahoo does provide a zoomable map view. To test it out, I tried entering an obscure location (Quispamsis, New Brunswick) and was surprised to see that centered in on the location right away. I couldn’t get it to give me driving directions there from Vancouver, however.
The site is an interesting experiment in collaborative trip planning, but will anyone really want to look at other people’s vacation photos? From the look of things, it seems a lot of people have signed up already. At least in the Web 2.0 world, you aren’t stuck waiting for someone to advance the slide projector.
The introduction of Microsoft Private Folder 1.0 has caused a bit of a stir in the tech world. What does it do, exactly? Basically, the app creates an icon on the desktop called “My Private Folder” into which files can be dragged and dropped. The first time the program is run, the user is asked to provide a password, which is then used to encrypt the files.
“Private Folder 1.0 is a useful tool […] to protect your private data when friends, colleagues, kids or other people share your PC or account,” Microsoft said in an announcement. After verifying that you have a valid copy of Windows according to Windows Genuine Advantage, you can download it and try it out yourself.
Immediately after the tool was released, complaints rang out over the Internet, particularly on the MSBlog that hosted the announcement. Many people expressed concerns that the application would make their IT lives difficult. Some of the issues raised were the idea of employees hiding or sharing secrets in the encrypted folder, and users forgetting their password and being unable to retrieve crucial files.
Personally, I think these criticisms are highly overblown. Utilities to encrypt files have been available on PCs for years—even something as simple as WinZip allows anyone to encrypt and store files away from prying eyes. The only possible difference here is that the Microsoft utility might be perceived as more of a threat, simply because it comes from Microsoft and might therefore be more popular.
Ultimately, however, the responsibility lies with both IT and employees to ensure that a set of fair and workable computing rules are established, understood, and respected. Allow me to illustrate with a personal example. When I worked at EA, there was an incident involving a tester releasing images of new NBA jerseys on the Internet while they were still under NDA. The employee was quickly terminated, and management immediately started up the ominous-sounding “QA Isolation Project” to ensure that no files could ever again escape the confines of the testing lab. As we soon discovered, however, the new firewall policies did nothing to prevent people from transferring files over MSN Messenger. While eventually this hole was filled, the company then suffered a much larger leak, not from a tester at all but from a disgruntled developer who walked out of the door with an entire batch of burned prerelease games in his briefcase.
The moral of the story is that if you are terrified that your employees are going to hide or reveal secrets from management, you have more than just technical problems. While Microsoft’s “Private Folder” application may seem to cause headaches for IT management, it is nothing more than a useful utility that should be monitored only as much as any other application a user is allowed to install on their computer. One thing to keep note of, however: Microsoft is not providing any technical support with this program, so if you run into any problems, you are on your own.
Last week we talked about
America Online AOL’s new plan to make money: free access for broadband users combined with an online ad push. The idea is to find future profits in advertising (like Google) instead of in the shrinking market for AOL subscriptions, which has always been the company’s bread and butter. Today, the Wall Street Journal offers more details about what the move could cost AOL (subscription required).
The paper expects that AOL will give up almost US$1 billion in profit over the next three years if it does do away with subscription fees for broadband users. Even to a company as large as AOL, this is some serious cash. The plan is to offset this loss by cutting the same amount from the company’s marketing budget (which won’t be as focused on signing up new subscribers) and by boosting ad sales.
In order to keep profits steady, AOL’s advertising division needs to grow by 30 percent a year. That sounds like a lot (and it is), but AOL has actually been doing an excellent job of selling advertising for the last few years, and ad sales have been growing at 35 percent a year. If they can’t keep up the growth, however, the company could be in trouble, since it will no longer have massive subscription revenue to fall back on in the lean years. Should that happen, Time Warner won’t be happy, as AOL supplies 20 percent of the company’s total profits.
The company’s risky plan is an acknowledgment that the old business model won’t work for much longer. AOL has been bleeding customers for years. Although they still have more than 18 million customers in the US alone, the company’s own estimates show that this number will fall to six million by 2010. As they contemplate a shift toward more advertising, their recent deal with Google looks better all the time.
The plan has met with controversy at AOL headquarters, in part because it would involve some substantial job cuts. If it’s pushed through, AOL would essentially transform itself into a portal company that could offer MapQuest directions, old shows on In2Tv, AOL branded e-mail, etc., etc. Such a move would make the company more of a direct rival to Yahoo, MSN, and even Google. With each of these companies competing for ad dollars, the online ad wars could heat up even further.
Shaw Wu, American Technology Research analyst, speculates that the next iPod nano will be introduced no earlier than late autumn due to changes in compoments.
We continue to believe that the new iPod nano (aka mini
vPod) refreshes are facing transition issues due to an architecture
move to an SoC vs. its present 3-chip solution.
Whether this is the cause of the delay, or whether or not a September/October release is a delay at all, is debatable. However, Wu also reveals another possible cause of delay.
An interesting data point we have picked up on the new
Nanos is a new magnesium-based casing," the analyst wrote. "We believe
this new casing will improve scratch-resistance, durability, and help
lower Apple's support and warranty costs."
AppleInsider picks up on this and runs with it.
According to sources, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company
is so far believed to have committed to the transition away from the
nano's polycarbonate-coated shell and towards aluminum enclosures. The
new enclosures are expected to debut in color variations similar to
those used with the iPod mini, these sources added.
Those "sources" also claim the new iPod nanos will be similar in form to the current generation. Storage capacity will reach 8GB, double the current maximum of 4GB. Pricing is unknown.
This seems like a no-brainer for Apple. Not only would this solve problems associated with the poly-carbonate and lawsuits by using a proven casing, who didn't like the iPod Mini? Let's just hope Apple doesn't get greedy and bump the price for Christmas.
By and large, steam engines have had their day. Slowly and steadily they've been replaced by diesel power and other more efficient mechanisms. There may be some mythical island where steam engines can live out their days being really useful, but unless you're a die-hard train enthusiast, it's pretty rare to see one running full tilt today. So it's really impressive to see a couple British chaps not only getting an old steam engine running, but (with an iMac added in) hooked up to the Internet.
Image source: Guardian Unlimited.
It's called the Steam Powered Internet Machine and is the brainchild of artist Jeremy Deller and his collaborator Alan Kane.
"We were thinking about something that connects the industrial revolution and the digital revolution," said Deller. Kane added: "They are worlds apart but there's also a proximity. The steam age and the digital age are not so far apart."
The steam engine sits in a field providing power to the iMac. Amusingly, this is probably the first time that a Mac has been aesthetically upstaged by its power brick. The engine boiler, which one lived life as part of a fire engine, features brass taps, teak cladding, and a whistle. The creators sum up the whole experience rather simply. "This is a very uneconomic way of having a portable computer."
Being an art piece, technical details are scant. Is an Airport connected to it for Internet access or is there a really long LAN cable attached? How long does the computer run for? Why are they keeping the whole thing in the middle of a field? What do they do when it rains? The Steam Powered Internet Machine will do a bit of touring, hitting Kent and Margate within the next month. If you're lucky enough to be in the area, feel free to check out the exhibit and find out the answers to these burning questions.
It's unclear what will ultimately become of the Steam Powered Internet Machine, but I have heard Sir Topham Hatt made an inquiry. Apparently he's considering upgrading the controls on his rail line and has found just the engine for the job!
I look at this page and I see the end of intelligent posts in gaming forums. While no one really knows where the information on this site is coming from (it seems to be updating in real-time), the page is simply a tool to show who the webmaster thinks is the winner in terms of sales. This is probably a throwaway site that someone made to get all the game sites talking (ahem) and generate some traffic. However, I'm thinking that if it's still around in November we're going to see a lot of linkage from whatever camp is winning for sales that week, based on these nebulous "estimates."
Right now it's just a matter of seeing how much of a head start the 360 has, but with the PS3 furor starting up you just know that people are going to be hanging on every sales report they can get their hands on. Of course a lot of people have renewed faith in the Wii to kick everyone's butt in terms of sales, so Nintendo fans—tired of hearing GameCube jokes—will be also harping on the sales figures. Everyone, it would seem, has a stake in this and this newest version of the console wars has been interesting because it doesn't seem like there's a single player who you can rule out.
Are sales numbers really that important to people? Everyone wants to know how well their console is doing on the charts, and the DS vs. PSP fight has people posting every time the top seller changes position in either Japan or America. For many gamers, especially the vocal ones on the forums, it's not enough to have fun. You have to be playing number one to feel good about it. I'm glad to report that there are sites like these to give the fanboys their ammo. By glad I mean, of course, terrified of what we'll have to put up with down the road.
The overwhelming success of Red Octane's Guitar Hero was bound to lead to competitors. The only surprising facet is that it's taken Konami this long to mount a response. Konami's Guitar Freaks games have been around long before Guitar Hero was even a sparkle in someone's eye, however Konami hasn't really seemed motivated to try and bring the Bemani game to the United States. Hell, we've only just recently gotten a US version of Beatmania so we can see what all the fuss is about. Now that Konami has trademarked the name Guitar Revolution, we're assuming they mean to bring out a console version for the US.
Even though Guitar Freaks came first, in the US Guitar Hero has a huge head start in terms of mindshare. Guitar Hero also sports five buttons on their controller, up from Guitar Freaks' three. Do people want to take a step down in complexity? Guitar Hero also has a great selection of licensed music, one of the main reasons people enjoy the game so much. Guitar Freaks, like most Bemani games, relies on a lot of J-Pop to round out their catalog. If they want to compete, they're going to need to add more recognizable songs.
I played the arcade version of Guitar Freaks for the first time at E3 and had a great time—if you put a guitar controller in my hand I'm going to rock out—but it seems as if they have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to try to take down Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero makes it feel like you're playing in a grungy club or huge arena while Guitar Freaks looks like DDR with a guitar. I'm looking forward to seeing whether or not Konami will try to make Freaks a little different than their other brightly colored Bemani games in response to Guitar Hero's more realistic feel.
This is what happens when Microsoft is careless with their dates. A press release that was scheduled to be released tomorrow has already been sent out, and now the information is all sorts of out in the wild. To sum it up: the wait for more Xbox Live Arcade titles is over. Starting tomorrow Microsoft will release a new game on to Live Arcade every Wednesday. Even better? Tomorrow they'll kick this weekly event off with an updated version of Frogger. I've complained about them being stingy with their releases, and this has pretty efficiently shut me up in that regard. Here's what we can expect in the near future. These are the dates given in the press release:
July 12 – Frogger
July 19 – Cloning Clyde
July 26 – Galaga
August 2 – Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting
August 9 – Pac-Man
If this doesn't make your hump day a little bit brighter, I don't know what will. This is a pretty impressive list of games, and the weekly releases seem to be a good balance between spreading the games out and making sure we'llsomething newto play on a regular basis. Each of these games will have afree demo, so the fun is there even if you're stingy with your money. To get you excited enough to stay up until midnight to see if you can grab it early, here are some of the new features you'll get with your Frogger download:
Xbox Live Arcade's 'Frogger' has been enhanced and reinvigorated for the Xbox 360 and features new, enhanced artwork that matches and compliments the original style. In addition the game's audio, including sound effects and music ditties, has been modernized to sound crisp and clear on today's high performance sound systems. New features include:
Enhanced artwork and backdrops; players can now choose to play the original arcade classic graphics or the new enhanced graphics
Fresh soundtrack and upgraded sounds effects
New Xbox Live Arcade split screen multiplayer modes
Addictive new Co-op vs Speed, and Head-to-Head Modes
Let me wipe the drool off my lip before continuing. There's no price on these games yet, but you can be sure I'll post again tomorrow with a review of the new Frogger. Microsoft looks like they're getting serious with providing new content, and it's about time.