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.....technobabble .....for the week of February 19, 2001

.....technobabble.....I mentioned last week that an important decision was due to be handed down in the Napster case on Monday, February 12, 2001. As it turns out, this decision was not as clear-cut as some had expected--though it was certainly "clear-cut enough" for many. The panel of three judges from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the initial decision by U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel against Napster was "overbroad". At the same time, however, they clearly indicated that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which had sued Napster over copyright issues, had "demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of the contributory copyright claim." What all of this basically means is that Napster is still in trouble, but they just have not been shut down as yet. They are essentially being asked to police their system to eliminate copyright violations, which they are likely to claim is impossible (and they are probably right, though that does not excuse the wholesale copyright infringement going on at present, to which they have been turning a blind eye.) The trial judge will be asked to craft a new order that is more narrowly-focused, but that still addresses the core issue here: illegal copying of music. Of course, Napster will appeal, and this drama will continue to run for some time to come. You can read about the ruling and the related fallout here.....

.....wow, just after I wrote the paragraph above and made that comment about how hard it will be for Napster to eliminate copyright violations on their site, what do I find? This story, which talks about how Napster is going to actually remove copyrighted material from their service. Or rather, are going to try to do this. The article talks about the problems associated with properly identifying musical material. Using the names of the songs is really impractical, since there is no uniform standard for naming music files. A number of technological solutions are being proposed, but most have their own issues, and I suspect that creative thieves will find ways around virtually anything Napster comes up with. But at least they are going to finally try to take some responsibility for their users' actions on their service, even if it took a court to force them to do it. There is also much talk that Napster may go to a pay subscription service; this will likely cut down their member base dramatically, considering how many people use it just to get music for "free".....

.....of course, individuals "sharing" music are not the only ones committing piracy. In fact, it is more prevalent than you might have imagined in the places where you wouldn't really expect it: businesses. This report talks about how one company's computer technician ended up quitting his job after being told to spread illegally-copied software around, and then turned his former employer in. Business software piracy is a strange phenomenon, as it is both very common and also something that most businesses would consider disastrous to their reputations if discovered.....

.....here's an amusing story, something that you knew had to happen at some point. Sort of a "yuppie meeting of technological minds". Yes, General Motors has announced that it will be introducing technology to allow people to use its OnStar system, which was originally designed to be a system for emergency communications, to trade stocks. And apparently, they are going to further expand the service to provide other features as well, in the future. So now, those urban day traders who spend so much of their time in front of a computer screen swapping stocks can continue even when they climb into their leather-clad, $50,000 "off-road vehicles" to go pick up some Szechuan from the local take-out place. Ah, progress. ;^).....

.....last Monday morning, I was doing some routine research using Deja.com, which is a Usenet archive and message reading service that used to be called DejaNews. This has always been a favorite resource of mine, as it lets you instantly see what thousands of people are saying about virtually any topic. At any rate, around 8:30 am I did a search and got the results back in the format I expected. Half an hour later, I did another and boom! I get back a page telling me that Deja.com has been acquired by the search engine Google! Well, this was certainly a surprise. I've always liked Google and I hope they will be able to do good things with the Deja.com archive; Deja themselves had not been making many friends of late, as they reorganized their servers and took off-line most of their archive. For their part, Google also made some people unhappy by transitioning the Deja service incompletely, disabling those who used to use Deja to post news, for example. Also, results are now reported using Google's format instead of the one Deja used to use, which some consider an improvement, while others definitely do not. Here's hoping that the older Deja archives will soon be online again.....

.....this is a fascinating story, though a rather controversial one as well. I read last week that IBM is now the subject of a lawsuit claiming that their technology was used to help facilitate the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. I am not making any editorial comments on the merits of this claim, as I have not researched the subject sufficiently to form an opinion, and the subject matter is too important to treat lightly. I'm just mentioning it as a very interesting technology-related development; you can read the story and decide for yourself what you think.....

.....much as I would love to be able to stop discussing the deteriorating state of the economy, every week new "events" occur that really bear mention. On Friday, Nortel Networks (formerly Nothern Telecom) announced that it expected a loss in the first quarter and that it was now planning 10,000 job cuts. The markets rewarded NT by smacking their stock for a 1/3 valuation loss in a single day, and much of the tech sector dropped in tandem with the networking and telecommunications giant. The announcement was an abrupt change from what Nortel had been saying it expected in 2001 even quite recently, and it took a number of analysts and even NT's suppliers by surprise. The layoffs are now showing up in many places in the high-tech sector, and engineers who had been flying high just a few months ago are starting to worry about their job security. This article discusses the impact of the industry slump on engineers in the market, and is an informative read.....

.....that's all this edition. Did this column leave you thrilled, or just a bit chilled? Give me your feedback, please!


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