Friday, September 28, 2007

If You Are Drowning In Remote Controls, Harmony is Lifesaver

(Wall Street Journal)
September 27, 2007; Page B1

Our love affair with entertainment gadgets has caused an unfortunate epidemic of remote controls. In my own house, there's a wicker basket on a coffee table with a jumble of remotes for a television set, a high-definition television tuner, a home-theater receiver and a couple of videogame consoles. And when that basket became flooded, I added yet another device to contain the clutter.

There are "universal" remotes that are designed to let you operate multiple electronics devices from a single control. But most universal remotes, if you can figure out how to work them at all, don't help much with the tedious sequence of button pushes often required to do simple tasks, like watch a movie. In my case, just turning on the TV can require up to six punches on two different remotes, depending on what activity I happened to be doing on my home-theater system the last time I shut it off.

Logitech International, the Swiss computer-accessory maker, has come up with an answer to the problems of remote-control clutter and excessive button-pushing with its family of Harmony universal remote controls that are relatively affordable and easy to use.

I tested two of the latest models of Logitech remotes, the Harmony 890 and 1000, and found that they greatly simplified using my home-theater system, despite a few flaws.

It's a challenge just getting many universal remotes working, considering all of the electronics gear that occupy many TV rooms. The setup usually involves punching arcane codes into a universal remote corresponding to your electronics devices after looking the numbers up in a manual -- a tedious process with lots of opportunity for failure.

Users configure Harmony remotes through what I found to be a far more user-friendly process: by tethering them to a Mac or Windows PC with a USB cable. A software program that comes with the remotes asks users what types of devices they'd like to set up, such as a home-theater receiver, a television set and a digital video recorder. Users will need the model number for their devices.

Once you've entered the model numbers into the Harmony program, the software automatically downloads all of the commands required to configure the remote so it works with your TV-room gadgets from an online Logitech database containing more than 200,000 devices -- far more than you'd find listed in the manual for a conventionally programmed universal remote control.

The Harmony software easily located all of my devices in its database.

An important feature of the Harmony remotes is something called activities, which lets users reduce to one the multiple button pushes typically required to do basic functions with their entertainment systems, such as watching a DVD. Logitech didn't invent this concept, but it has made the setup process easy enough so users don't have to hire a professional installer to do it for them, as is the case with many other high-end universal remote controls.

Based on the types of devices I told it I had, the Harmony software on the PC recommended a handful of activities for my remote controls, including "Watch TV," "Watch a DVD," and "Listen to CDs."

To watch a DVD on my entertainment system, I normally need to turn on my TV and set it to the correct video input source, turn on my home theater receiver (which I use to play audio when watching movies) and turn on my Xbox 360 game console (through which I play DVDs) -- a process that requires up to seven button pushes on multiple remote controls.

The Harmony remotes eventually allowed me to push one button to turn on all of these devices, but there were hiccups. When I hit the "Watch DVD" activity button, the Harmony remotes initially turned on all of my devices except the Xbox 360. After a few minutes exploring the Harmony software on the PC, I was able to change a setting to correct the problem and update the remote.

In all, it took me about 30 minutes to configure the first Logitech remote I used, the Harmony 1000, and half that time for the Harmony 890, after I had become familiar with the process.
The two models of remotes offered similar functions but in radically different industrial designs. The Harmony 1000 is a tablet-shape control about the size of a small picture frame, with a large touch-sensitive color screen that displays large buttons for accessing activities and other functions on your devices. The Harmony 890 is a more conventional wand-shape remote with a smaller screen.

I preferred the design of the Harmony 890, finding it easier and more natural to use with one hand, not to mention a better value. I have found the Harmony 1000 selling for as low as $272 and the Harmony 890 for $222 on The 890 comes with a kit that lets you extend the range of the remote by using radio frequency, instead of infrared, signals.

Both Harmony remotes, though, made it much easier for me to use my entertainment system and cleaned up some of the clutter in my living room.

Battery Woes for Toyota

Toyota Denies Battery Woes Delay Prius

By YURI KAGEYAMA 09.28.07, 9:26 AM ET

TOYOTA, Japan -

Introduction of the next version of Toyota's hit Prius gas-electric hybrid won't hinge on the development of a more efficient battery called lithium-ion, a senior Toyota executive said Friday.

The executive brushed off a recent Wall Street Journal report that said Toyota Motor Corp. (nyse: TM - news - people ) was delaying the launch of the next-generation Prius by as much as two years because of problems in developing the lithium-ion battery. Hybrids on sale now use nickel-metal-hydride batteries.

The Toyota official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, said various innovations for the next Prius are being considered - not just the lithium-ion battery.

He said some type of lithium-ion battery is preferable for hybrid vehicles because they are lighter and pack more power than nickel-metal-hydride batteries. He acknowledged that the lithium-ion battery had not been perfected.

But he denied that the problems Sony Corp. (nyse: SNE - news - people ) had with its laptop lithium-ion batteries raised safety concerns at Toyota, as the Journal had reported, stressing that potential battery problems were long known to Toyota engineers. Sony recalled millions of laptop batteries after reports of fires.

Hybrid competition is intensifying as gas prices and environmental concerns escalate.

Last month, General Motors Corp. (nyse: GM - news - people ) said it had signed an agreement with A123 Systems Inc., a battery maker that already produces millions of lithium-ion batteries for use in cordless power tools.

At that time, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the technology could be applied to autos, giving GM a chance to beat Toyota in the race to bring plug-in hybrid and electric cars to market.

Toyota's hybrid vehicles, which deliver better mileage by switching between a gas engine and electric motor, have been a huge hit. The automaker has sold more than a million hybrid vehicles around the world in the past decade - more than any other automaker.

Toyota, has not given a sales date for the world's most popular hybrid, which first went on sale in 1997.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Huge News- Windows XP

Those of you that have Vista understand why...

Microsoft to Extend Windows XP Sales

Associated PressSeptember 28, 2007 9:17 a.m.

REDMOND, Wash. -- Microsoft Corp. said it will keep selling its Windows XP operating system beyond January, in response to demand from customers.

The company decided to extend the deadline until the end of June 2008 to give customers -- particularly small businesses -- more time to switch to the new Windows Vista.

"Maybe we were a little ambitious to think that we would need to make Windows XP available for only a year after the release of Windows Vista," said Mike Nash, a corporate vice president for Windows product management at Microsoft.

While software retailers and major computer makers like Dell Inc. will stop offering XP next June, system builders, or smaller companies that make and sell PCs, will still sell the older operating system until the end of January 2009.

Mr. Nash said Microsoft's policy in the past has been to discontinue an old operating system four years after its launch. But because Vista reached consumers more than five years after XP, the revised the rules.

In April, Dell, which had all but stopped selling XP to consumers, said it would bring back more XP machines after customers asked for it. At the time, Microsoft responded that only "a small minority of customers" were still interested in the old operating system.

Microsoft is also extending the availability of a version of XP aimed at customers in emerging markets, Windows XP Starter Edition, until June 30, 2010.

Copyright © 2007 Associated Press

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chicago Video Surveillance Gets Smarter

Here's a controversy waiting to happen....

Sep 27 11:24 AM US/Eastern


Associated Press Writer

CHICAGO (AP) - A car circles a high-rise three times. Someone leaves a backpack in a park. Such things go unnoticed in big cities every day. But that could change in Chicago with a new video surveillance system that would recognize such anomalies and alert authorities to take a closer look.

On Thursday, the city and IBM Corp. are announcing the initial phase of what officials say could be the most advanced video security network in any U.S. city. The City of Broad Shoulders is getting eyes in the back of its head.

"Chicago is really light years ahead of any metropolitan area in the U.S. now," said Sam Docknevich, who heads video-surveillance consulting for IBM.

Chicago already has thousands of security cameras in use by businesses and police—including some equipped with devices that recognize the sound of a gunshot, turn the cameras toward the source and place a 911 call. But the new system would let cameras analyze images in real time 24 hours a day.

"You're talking about creating (something) that knows no fatigue, no boredom and is absolutely focused," said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

For example, the system could be programmed to alert the city's emergency center whenever a camera spots a vehicle matching the description of one being sought by authorities.

The system could be programmed to recognize license plates. It could alert emergency officials if the same car or truck circles the Sears Tower three times or if nobody picks up a backpack in Grant Park for, say, 30 seconds.

IBM says this approach might be more effective than relying on a bleary-eyed employee to monitor video screens. "Studies have shown people fall asleep," Docknevich said.

It is unclear when the system will be fully operational. Existing cameras could be equipped with the new software, but additional cameras probably will be added as well, Smith said.

"The complexity of the software is going to define how quickly we are able to do this," he said.
Chicago's announcement comes as it is vying to bring the 2016 games to town. A purportedly security-enhancing surveillance system is something city officials could trumpet to International Olympic Committee.

"The eventual goal is to have elaborate video surveillance well in advance of the 2016 Olympics," said Bo Larsson, CEO of Firetide Inc., the company providing the wireless connectivity for the project.

Neither Smith nor IBM would reveal the cost of the network, but Smith said much of it would be paid by the Department of Homeland Security. The cost of previous surveillance efforts has run into the millions of dollars. Just adding devices that allow surveillance cameras to turn toward the sound of gunfire was as much as $10,000 per unit.

Some critics question whether such systems are effective and whether they could lead to an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Jonathan Schachter, a public policy lecturer at Northwestern University, said there are no studies that show cameras reduce crime. And the idea that placing cameras near "strategic assets" would prevent a terrorist attack is "absurd," he said.

Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said he was concerned that more cameras and more sophisticated technology would lead to abuses of authority.
"It is incumbent on the city to ensure that there are practices and procedures in place to sort of watch the watchers," he said. (AP)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Report: Blu-ray Must Drop Prices or Disappear

New York, NY (September 26, 2007)

In a new report, Forrester Research predicts that the format war between Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD will continue for at least 18 more months. In 2005, the researcher predicted that Blu-ray would win; now, Forrester is advising the Blu-ray camp to "employ more aggressive promotional tactics to counter HD DVD's recent momentum."

According to the report, Blu-ray's content advantages are somewhat diminished since the recent decision by Paramount to commit exclusively to HD DVD. Further, HD DVD hardware prices have dropped directly into consumers' preferred price range, according to Forrester's Technographics survey data.

The Washington Post, quoting Reuters, reports that Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder still backs Blu-ray to win despite Paramount's defection and the hardware price differential. Gownder reportedly states in the research, "Weakened by these developments, Blu-ray needs to offer a viable hardware model at the $250 price point by Christmas 2007. The Blu-ray camp must also stave off further studio defections, and employ more aggressive promotional tactics to counter HD DVD's recent momentum."

The Forrester research suggests that typical owners of high-definition televisions are not willing to pay more than $200 on average for a new HD DVD or Blu-ray player. Currently, a BD player sells for around $500 while HD DVD players can be purchased for under $300. Prices are expected to drop for the coming holiday season."Failure to alter strategy would open up Blu-ray to a possible upset defeat at the hands of HD DVD," Gownder said.

Forrester Research (from ProSound News)

Making Sense of the Harman Debacle

Did Stub Equity Sink Harman's Deal?

By Tom Taulli September 26, 2007 Motley Fool

Certain financial trends seem to resurrect themselves every so often -- but stub equity doesn't seem to be one of them. I guess sometimes, things get buried for a reason.
Stub equity, developed in the 1980s by private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, was all set for its big comeback in KKR and Goldman Sachs' Capital Partners' (NYSE: GS) proposed $8 billion buyout of Harman International Industries (NYSE: HAR) this past April.

With stub equity, private investors offer shareholders the option to roll their publicly traded equity into the transaction, maintaining a stake in the company in question even after it goes private. In this case, KKR and Harman hailed the deal's use of stub equity as an opportunity for investors to get the "future upside" they usually miss once a company goes private. As of late last week, however, KKR and GS Capital Partners backed out of the Harman deal, landing stub equity right back in the graveyard.

On its face, the Harman stub equity deal sounded like a good idea. But as I outlined in a previous Fool piece, shareholders risked not getting the same rights as the private equity firms. In addition, the private firm's low liquidity might have made it very difficult for investors to sell their shares.

Stub equity can also be an administrative nightmare for dealmakers. Because it involves an exchange of shares, the private equity firms must file a complicated, time-consuming S-4 form. And since smaller shareholders can participate in such transactions, they're more likely to draw increased SEC scrutiny.

Credit concerns abound right now; banks such as Bear Sterns (NYSE: BSC) have dried up liquidity, and firms with pending buyouts are experiencing buyer's remorse. But in Harman's case, it's a good bet that stub equity was a key reason for KKR and GS Capital Partners' walkout. (Admittedly, it doesn't help that KKR has several other megabuyouts pending, and is trying to assemble leverage for each of them.) I give the two companies credit for trying to revive the idea, but in the end, I think stub equity may just remain a nice theory.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Really Bad Statistics Joke

Drumroll and rimshots please...

A statistics professor plans to travel to a conference by plane. When he passes the security check, they discover a bomb in his carry-on-baggage. Of course, he is hauled off immediately for interrogation.

"I don't understand it!" the interrogating officer exclaims. "You're an accomplished professional, a caring family man, a pillar of your parish - and now you want to destroy that all by blowing up an airplane!"

"Sorry", the professor interrupts him. "I had never intended to blow up the plane."

"So, for what reason else did you try to bring a bomb on board?!"

"Let me explain. Statistics shows that the probability of a bomb being on an airplane is 1/1000. That's quite high if you think about it - so high that I wouldn't have any peace of mind on a flight."

"And what does this have to do with you bringing a bomb on board of a plane?"

"You see, since the probability of one bomb being on my plane is 1/1000, the chance that there are two bombs is 1/1000000. If I already bring one, the chance of another bomb being around is actually 1/1000000, and I am much safer..."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Tough Day for Harman

Harman International is trying to stay afloat in rough waters. Shares of the audio equipment maker have lost about 5% so far today, trading at around $80.97 a share. Harman said this morning it expects first-quarter profit to miss analysts’ expectations by a long shot due to heavy research and development costs. The company forecasts earnings of 50 cents per share--and that’s before factoring in costs associated with its $8 billion deal to sell itself to private equity firms KKR and Goldman Sachs, which fell through at the closing bell Friday.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

KKR, Goldman Cancel $8 Billion Harman Deal

Stereo Firm's Prospects re Said to Be Worse; Legal Battle May Erupt

September 22, 2007 (WSJ)

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. walked away from their $8 billion leveraged buyout of stereo maker Harman International Industries Inc. late Friday, setting up a potentially nasty legal squabble between two sides that months ago had heralded a new long-term partnership.

Coming from two of the most respected buyout firms on Wall Street, the move represents a severe setback for the overall deal market as it tries to close upward of $350 billion of leveraged buyouts amid tightening credit conditions. KKR and Goldman said they found financial conditions inside Harman to be unacceptable, triggering a material adverse change that would allow them to walk from the transaction. In deal parlance, this is often known as "calling a MAC."

Harman shares plummeted by $27.25 each, or 24%, after The Wall Street Journal reported the deal was in jeopardy. They closed at $85 apiece, or 29% less than the original buyout price of $120 a share. The shares dropped an additional 2.8% in after-hours trading Friday to $82.65 each.

The Harman deal was originally billed as a groundbreaking transaction because it allowed sellers to keep a piece of the company's shares in addition to receiving a large cash payout. This step was designed to minimize shareholder griping about low prices paid by private-equity firms for public companies.

But the addition of the "stub equity" component, as it is called, may have slowed the regulatory-approval process and therefore created more time for the deal to spoil.

In particular, the buyers said the future prospects of Harman, which builds audio components for home stereos and automobiles, were worsening, according to one person familiar with the matter. The buyers also said that Harman may have tripped certain covenants in the parties' merger agreement related to capital spending, this person added. The buyers contend the overspending invalidated the merger agreement, this person said.

The deal also required a large portion of equity investment -- some $3.5 billion of the total $8 billion -- that might have also discouraged the buyers from proceeding.

Harman said that it disagrees with the buyers' interpretation that the merger agreement has been breached.

While the announcement appears tied directly to Harman's financial performance, it raises some broader questions for the pipeline of deals outstanding: whether the pullback shows that buyout firms are becoming comfortable with the risks associated with scuttling a deal and whether KKR and Goldman's actions give cover to other firms contemplating similar moves.

The deal also brings to the fore the issue of the Material Adverse Effect clause, which is used in merger agreements to guide how and why buyers can walk away from a transaction.
In the Harman agreement, the language is written in a way that would appear to give KKR and Goldman little room for backing away. It states, in part, that the buyers can't walk for issues "generally affecting the consumer or professional audio, automotive audio, information, entertainment or infotainment industries, or the economy or financial, credit or securities markets in the United States or any other country."

Company filings note, however, that Harman's operations would be materially affected if it lost sales to some of its core customers, including DaimlerChrysler AG, BMW AG, Volkswagen AG or Toyota Motor Corp.

"It's a dangerous game," said Gerald Nowak, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Chicago. "The standard for proving a MAC has occurred is very high." A previous case, involving agriculture firms IBP and Tyson showed "you have to prove there's been an endemic and sustained decline in the business. Short-term blips don't do it."

Private-equity firms walk a tightrope in situations like this; if they fail in their effort to call a MAC, they would have to do the deal. But the bank that is financing them could use the fact that KKR called a MAC to get out of that commitment.

"The conventional wisdom is the standard for a MAC is extremely high. KKR are very savvy deal guys and aren't likely to do anything foolish," said Mr. Nowak.

Write to Dana Cimilluca at and Dennis K. Berman at

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

80 Years Ago Today

...inaugurated the Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System.

Sixteen stations were on board for the 3:00 P.M. opening show:

WEAN Providence
WNAC Boston
WFBL Syracuse
WMAK Buffalo-Lockport
WCAU Philadelphia
WJAS Pittsburgh
WADC Akron
WAIU Columbia
WKRC Cincinnati
WGHP Detroit
WMAQ Chicago
KMOX St. Louis
WCAO Baltimore
KOIL Council Bluffs
WOWO Fort Wayne

The Opening Day program featured a performance of "The King's Henchman" by a cast from the Metropolitan Opera. Other programs featured classical selections by members of the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Weren't those the days? But record and phonograph sales were on the decline, so the young broadcasting company run by Arthur Judson struggled. From everything2: "However, with most major advertisers firmly committed to NBC, Judson and Columbia were losing money and sold the network to three men, Jerome Louchheim, Ike Levy, and Leon Levy. The three turned around and sold the network to William Paley, who happened to be Leon Levy's fiancee's brother. The Paley family had made its money as owners of the La Palina cigar company, and William Paley became interested in radio as a result of buying advertising time on various local radio stations."

CBS Buys into Digital Signage

Well, well, well.... Thomson buys PRN, CBS buys SignStorey. Let the consolidation begin...

CBS Corporation (NYSE: CBS and CBS.A) announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire SignStorey, Inc., a leader in the distribution of video programming and advertising content to retail stores.

The purchase price is $71.5 million in cash. SignStorey will be renamed “CBS Outernet” upon closing of the deal and is expected in the fourth quarter of 2007, pending regulatory review.

With digital video displays in more than 1,400 grocery stores in major markets across the United States, SignStorey offers advertisers the opportunity to reach consumers with targeted content that can be customized by region and by daypart. The company’s satellite-delivery system enables immediate, customized programming and messaging to each individual system.

SignStorey has long-term exclusive contracts with SuperValu (Acme, Albertsons, Jewel and Shaw’s), Pathmark, ShopRite and Price Chopper, among others, and is currently installed in six of the top 10 markets in the U.S., with traffic of more than 72 million consumers every month. The company’s revenues more than doubled year-over-year in 2006, and it has additional contracts and pilot programs in grocery accounts representing thousands of stores across the United States. As CBS Outernet, it will continue to expand its distribution network to other retail locations and shopping environments.

“CBS Outernet will offer our advertisers a tremendous, broad new platform to reach consumers out of their homes,” said Leslie Moonves, President and Chief Executive Officer, CBS Corporation. “This acquisition is highly complementary with many of CBS’s content and advertising sales relationships. As we’ve seen with CBS’s outdoor business, the burgeoning use of digital advertising allows great flexibility in tailoring messaging to consumers, and can be efficiently controlled from a centralized location. At the same time, retail outlets will now have access to CBS’s wide array of national and local entertainment, news and sports content from across the Company.”

“We are extremely pleased to join the CBS family and to continue to develop a more exciting shopping environment in local communities across the United States,” said Virginia Cargill, President and CEO of SignStorey. “Our state-of-the-art digital screens give consumers access to information where and when they want it; and the addition of CBS content, resources and contacts will make for an even richer experience for retailers, shoppers and advertisers alike.”

SignStorey benefits from strong relationships with retailers who partner with the company to provide enhanced in-store shopper experiences and to increase store sales and from advertisers seeking to reach consumers at their point of purchase. Among the Company’s top consumer packaged goods advertisers are: Johnson & Johnson, Colgate, General Mills, and Dannon.

CBS has a pre-existing relationship with SignStorey since 2006 as part of the CBS Television Network’s promotion strategy.

“Out-of-home digital media has become a crucial means by which we and advertisers can gain invaluable impressions in this crowded media landscape,” said George Schweitzer, President of the CBS Marketing Group. “We began working with Virginia and her terrific management team to promote CBS’s fall lineup last summer as part of what we called our ‘Outernet’ strategy, which uses exclusive partnerships to expose CBS programming to consumers outside their homes. We’ve achieved so much together already and now look forward to all that is to come as the new CBS Outernet becomes part of the CBS family.”

CBS has significant experience in programming for out-of-home audiences. In addition to SignStorey, current partners in this regard include American Airlines/CBS Eye on American, Royal Caribbean/CBS Eye on Royal Caribbean; AutoNet TV/Rev It Up; Salon Network Channel; Starwood Hotels/SPG TV; Indoor Direct; Mall of America; On Spot Digital/Simon Malls and Ripple TV/CBS Outdoor, among others.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Judge Sentences Noise Violators to Listen to Manilow

Ft. Lupton Judge Punishes Violators With Manilow
Unusual Sentence Results In Few Repeat Offenders

FORT LUPTON, Colo. Violaters of the city of Fort Lupton's noise ordinance were in for a big surprise this past Friday. The city's judge sentenced citizens who have been busted for being too loud to 1 hour of listening to unpopular or unusual music.
In a courtroom with mostly young adult offenders, Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" played loudly on a boombox.During the full hour of punishment, they were not allowed to chew gum, eat, drink, read or even sleep.Most violators found the first few minutes funny. As time wore on with Karen Carpenter, Barry Manilow and Barney songs, they weren't laughing anymore."At about 20 minutes into it, I was trying not to fall a sleep," said violator Luis Cano.
Judge Paul Sacco carries out the punishment about four times per year. He said he believes the sentence fits the crime."When you have a person playing rap at extreme volumes all over the city, and they have to sit down and listen for an hour to Barry Manilow, its horrible punishment," he said.
Sacco said his love for music and helping youth inspired the unusual sentence."It's a punishment but it doesn't hurt as bad as jail or (paying) a lot of money," he said. The judge also said there have been only a few repeat offenders of the noise ordinance law. This type of punishment for the city has been around since the 1990s.

Antipiracy Group Suffer Email Leak

You won't believe this one... read on...


September 17, 2007

For several years, MediaDefender has made a name for itself waging war against intellectual-property pirates on behalf of the movie and music industries. Now, hackers have gone after MediaDefender itself, posting what they say are employee emails on the Internet purporting to expose embarrassing secrets about the entertainment industry's efforts to battle piracy.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based MediaDefender, a unit of ArtistDirect Inc., hires itself out to clients such as movie studios and record labels to help impede file-sharing piracy of their content.
Among the services it offers are "decoying" and "spoofing" -- flooding the Internet with fake files that mimic real content to make it difficult for pirates to find the real thing. It also offers "leak alerts" that tell the studios and labels which of their products are circulating among Internet pirates.
But over the weekend, information about MediaDefender's efforts was splashed across the Internet via a leak of purported employee emails. Among the alleged revelations: the company was developing a Web site, MiiVii, that would allow people to upload and download copyright movies, TV shows and music. But when people installed it, the software could also secretly track people's activity and report back to MediaDefender.
Randy Saaf, chief executive at MediaDefender, said the company had been testing the MiiVii Web site, but denied that it aimed to entrap users or was "a devious product like promoted in the blogosphere." He declined to elaborate, saying it was part of the company's "trade secrets."
A MediaDefender employee said the company is investigating how the emails were leaked.
A group called "Media Defender-Defenders" took responsibility for posting the emails onto the Internet, stating: "By releasing these emails we hope to secure the privacy and personal integrity of all peer-to-peer users." The leaked emails consumed technology bloggers over the weekend, who took portions of the emails from the less-accessible parts of the Internet and posted them to sites such as
According to at least one email, MediaDefender also appeared to be considering software to co-opt MiiVii users' computers and turn them into antipiracy machines that would send out bogus files across the Internet to hinder other users' attempts to download copyright content. Such files appear to be valid copies of the pirated song or movie, but in fact would come up empty or tie up downloaders' computers for hours. Mr. Saaf denied the company has such plans.
Included in the emails were some personal data including employee home phone numbers and social security numbers, along with private emails with clients. In one case, a Universal Music executive asked if there was any data showing the music industry's lawsuits were reducing file-sharing activity from addresses ending in .edu -- namely, colleges and universities. An email showed that Mr. Saaf forwarded the message to five employees with the note: "Take a moment to laugh to yourselves." A spokesman for Universal had no comment.
Some clients expressed frustration in emails that despite hiring MediaDefender, their property was widely available on the Web. One Sony BMG executive complained that he was able to download Beyonce's "Beautiful Liar" on the Soulseek site, despite MediaDefender's work to protect the song. "Can you please investigate the problem and ACTUALLY solve it (going on for months now)?" the executive writes. Sony BMG had no comment.
In addition to the emails, it appears hackers also may have been able to monitor some of MediaDefender's phone calls. One phone call circulating as an audio file on the Internet purports to be a discussion between the office of the New York State attorney general and MediaDefender, which appeared to be working with it on a child-pornography crackdown.
During the call, the issue of security comes up, and a MediaDefender employee assures the attorney general's staff that communications are secure. Just before that, the call cuts in and out and the employee asks if they are on a mobile phone; a staffer explains they are actually calling using an Internet phone line.
Mr. Saaf declined to comment on the authenticity of the phone call. The attorney general's office declined to comment.
The very fact that MediaDefender suffered a leak could be a setback. "You've got a company whose mission is to prevent access to copyrighted content on the Internet," says Eric Garland, chief executive officer of BigChampagne LLC, a company that tracks pirated online content.
"And now that company's most sensitive information is freely available on the Internet. If you can't prevent access to [that] are you going to prevent access to Harry Potter?"
Some bloggers speculated the Motion Picture Association of America was behind MiiVii, but Mr. Saaf denied it. The association declined to comment.
Write to Sarah McBride at

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Amazing Civil War Relic

Having absolutely nothing to do with the industry, but I thought you'd enjoy it....

The March 2007 issue of America's Civil War featured this remnant of the May 1864 battle at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, known for its murderous volley of fire.

This relic was created one one Union and one Confederate bullet hit each other head on in mid air.

Click on the picture to enlarge the detail.

Friday, September 14, 2007

End of an Era for Altec Lansing Professional

Once the leader of the industry, Altec Lansing Professional is no more.

September 12, 2007

I regret to inform you that Altec Lansing Technologies has decided to exit the Professional Audio business. Although the Professional Division has been an important market segment, Altec Lansing and the parent owner, Plantronics, have decided to focus on the company's much more rapidly growing consumer businesses. Please note of the following:

• The limited manufacturer's warranty will be honored. Altec are making every effort to retain sufficient stock to cover the five year limited warranty on Altec Lansing Professional products.

• Should you have any near-term projects with Altec Lansing products, the remaining inventory is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Once Altec have identified inventory that is in excess of their warranty requirements, a list will be generated for distribution with closeout pricing.

• Beyond that, Altec will work with you to cross-reference their product to another comparable source.

To contact Altec direct, dial 1-866-570-5702.

Ask for Stan Shields or John Sexton

iPod Development

Click to enlarge
Courtesy WSJ

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Are Technology Limits in MP3s and iPods Ruining Pop Music?

Uh, duh...

September 12, 2007
If you feel like you are listening to music more but enjoying it less, some people in the recording industry think they know why. They blame the iPod you can't live without, along with all the compressed music you've loaded on it.
The industry's behind-the-mic talent -- producers, engineers, mixers and the like -- say they increasingly assume the music they make will be heard as an MP3 compressed music file on an iPod music player. With that as their "reference platform," they are engineering the music so it sounds best when heard that way.
Audio lovers often complain about what happens to sound quality when you "rip" a CD into a compressed MP3 file. Stereophile magazine's Michael Fremer tells Portals columnist Lee Gomes that anyone can hear the difference. Can you? Compare two different versions of the same tracks. (This is a large audio file; for best results, right click it and save it to your computer, and then play it.)
The MP3 version of Ella Fitzgerald's "Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!" loses some of its three dimensionality, compared with the full-resolution file.
The MP3 file of "Come to Find," by Doug MacLeod, is a "shallow, flat, harsh version" of the uncompressed file, according to Mr. Fremer.
In Elvis Costello's "No Action," the digitized analog copy includes clatter, drums and cymbals that "sound hard and annoying" in the MP3 file.
But because both compressed music and the iPod's relatively low-quality earbuds have many limitations, music producers fret that they are engineering music to a technical lowest common denominator. The result, many say, is music that is loud but harsh and flat, and thus not enjoyable for long periods of time.
"Right now, when you are done recording a track, the first thing the band does is to load it onto an iPod and give it a listen," said Alan Douches, a producer who has worked with Detroit-born singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens and others. "Years ago, we might have checked the sound of a track on a Walkman, but no one believed that was the best it could sound. Today, young artists think MP3s are a high-quality medium, and the iPod is state-of-the-art sound."
It isn't. Producers and engineers describe a number of changes they might make from recording for other media. For example, says veteran Los Angeles studio owner Skip Saylor, high frequencies that might seem splendid on a CD might not sound as good as an MP3 file and so they will get taken out of the mix. "The result might make you happy on an MP3, but it wouldn't make you happy on a CD," he says. "Am I glad I am doing this? No. But it's the real world, and so you make adjustments."
The shift to compressed music heard via an iPod is occurring simultaneously with another music trend that bothers audiophiles: Music today is released at higher volume levels than ever before, on the assumption that louder music sells better. The process of boosting volume, though, tends to eliminate a track's distinct highs and lows.
As a result, contemporary pop music has a characteristic sound, says veteran LA engineer Jack Joseph Puig, whose credits include the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. "Ten years ago, music was warmer; it was rich and thick, with more tones and more 'real power.' But newer records are more brittle and bright. They have what I call 'implied power.' It's all done with delays and reverbs and compression, to fool your brain."
Even the most dedicated audiophiles in the industry who might be inclined to fuss with a recording to make it perfect, are beginning to wonder if it's worth the time. "I care about quality, even though the kid on the street might like what he hears on MySpace, which is even worse than an MP3," said Stuart Brawley, an engineer in Los Angeles who has recorded Cher and Michael Jackson. "We try to make the best quality sound we can, but we increasingly have to be realistic about how much time we can spend doing it."
Howard Benson, who has done work for Santana and Chris Daughtry, says members of a studio recording crew will sometimes complain after a session, "I just spent all this time getting the greatest guitar and drums solo, and it ends up as an MP3."
Even those who complain about MP3s say they own and enjoy iPods, and recognize how it has made music so widely available. They just wish, they say, the device wasn't setting the technical standard for how music gets made.
Of course, not all music producers agree that MP3s and iPods are affecting music in quite so bad a way. Larry Klein, noted for his work with Joni Mitchell, said, "if something sounds really good on an average pair of speakers, it will sound great on earbuds. I can't imagine mixing a record so that it sounds better on earbuds."
And Clif Magness, who has recorded with Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken, says music recorded by young artists in living rooms via MP3s, while technically crude, can sometimes have an urgency and immediacy that might be missing from slick studio projects.
When CDs were first introduced, music recorded on them was called cold and flat. But their sound improved as engineers learned the medium, a process many hope will happen again with MP3s and portable music players.
Michael Bradford, who produced Kid Rock, notes that as storage and bandwidth capabilities grow, music won't need to be as compressed. Even now, some audio buffs, such as Stereophile magazine columnist Michael Fremer, insist on a best-of-both-worlds approach to digital music. He uses $500 earbuds with his iPod to listen to digital but uncompressed music he captured from vinyl LPs.
Still, engineers experience some nostalgia about earlier technologies. Says Mr. Saylor, "What we've lost with this new era of massive compression and low fidelity is the records that sounds so good that you get lost in them -- like 'Dark Side of the Moon.' Records like that just aren't being made today."

Spanish Language Broadcasts, White Space, and the FCC

Thank goodness someone's paying attention... this is all about WiMAX implementation, even thought it's not referenced...

Univision, Telemundo, Entravision and TuVision sent a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin Sept. 6 expressing their concern about allowing unlicensed personal and portable TV-band devices to transmit on DTV channels.
The Spanish-language broadcasters urged the commission not to allow the devices to operate on the TV band “until it can be conclusively demonstrated that they will not interfere with broadcast operations.”
Reports released in late July from the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology detailing the results of initial tests of prototype TV band devices showed a general inability to reliably detect the presence of TV signals — an essential requirement for such devices to find an unoccupied TV channel on which to operate.
Hispanic households are bigger users of over-the-air television reception than the general population, the letter said. As a result, harmful interference from unlicensed TV band devices will have “a disproportionately harmful impact on Hispanic viewers,” the letter said.
The broadcasters backed up this assertion with statistics from the Houston market, which they said were representative of what happens in many markets around the country. According to the letter, 459,852 homes, or 23.2 percent of the total, receive over-the-air TV. Of those, 290,000, or 58.9 percent, are Hispanic homes.
The letter also pointed out that allowing personal and portable devices to share the TV band would undermine the government’s DTV converter box coupon program.

Better than YouTube Video!

Check the video quality and response out of this website:

It shows what video and audio quality are possible in the streaming world.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lightning Strike on an Airplane

All Nippon Airways takes a hit in the front and exit out the back...

Comprehending a Phone Message

According to the Acoustical Society of America, the ability to comprehend a phone message in one ear while a friend is talking into the other ear is an important communication skill that's heavily influenced by one's genes. This finding may help reearchers better understand a broad and complex group of disorders, called auditory processing disorders, in which individuals with otherwise normal hearing have trouble making sense to the sounds around them.

Music Found in Ceiling Carvings?

Researcher claim to have found music encoded in intricate ceiling carvings in the 15th centruy Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, Scotland. This is the chapel where author Dan Brown set the climax to his best-selling book The Da Vinci Code.

Shomas Mitchell, a former military code breaker, and his son Stuart, a music teacher, claim to have deciphered the musical notations hewn into stone cubes on the ribs supporting the ceiling.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Thursday, September 6, 2007

New and Improved

Preview article for Systems Contractor News
by John Mayberry

I was sitting at my desk last night staring at all the stuff just lying about. It’s getting mighty hard to figure out what’s important and what’s not some days in our system integration world. Perhaps even more perplexing, how do you make something of limited value useful? Occasionally it’s not always so obvious.

It was blazing hot (110° in the evening!) here this last week, just like it is every year at this time. The local mall was jammed with folks trying to avoid paying the $10 an hour it costs to run their home air conditioner. Yet the outdoor digital signage system effectively identified which parking lots were full upon our arrival, which saved me a good half hour of frustration. Very useful application of digital signage; it’s always good to have a little content to accompany the ads.

An unanticipated example of usefulness cropped up a dozen years ago on a signage system we designed for the Chicago Transit Authority. Installed in the Merchandise Mart station, the system accepted remote triggers that displayed the wait until the next train arrived. The proprietor of the coffee shop next to the station was ecstatic; telling us it doubled his business as passengers would wait until the last possible moment to avoid the freezing February temperatures outside. Mind you when we initially architected the system there was no thought of doing this; it was the CTA staff that asked for the feature.

Conversely, we designed all sorts of cools things (or so we thought) into a similar system installed in the Los Angeles Metrolink signage system. The train conductor could use his telephone DTMF tones and trigger all sorts of messages to the signs on the platform, like, “Walk to the end of the platform- only the rear car has empty seats” when he was on approach to the station. Trouble was there was a union jurisdictional issue between train and platform that did not allow the conductors to communicate to riders until they were actually inside the train. Who knew?

I just made the transition from one computer operating system to another, and have yet to figure out why the new one is better. Certainly some things are different like a wireless keyboard and mouse. Yet it won’t allow me to type as fast as I could on an old DOS based system back in the 1980’s. Takes twice as long to play FreeCell now too. Kept the old system right next to the new one just in case.

My new cell phone includes lots more features, but doesn’t sound nearly as good as the one I had five years ago and seems to drop calls more frequently. I really wish coverage extended to my office desk, but I think that’s asking a bit much. Nice camera though- I’ve already taken three pictures. Colleagues and competitors have a different model phone of which I’m envious now; I think I made a mistake buying this one.

I do like the new UPS on my office computers. You can actually read the line voltage with it, and the annunciator is not nearly as annoying as when the old UPS fired off. It features a gentle beep instead of an annoying klaxon every time the voltage sags, which represents a substantial improvement in the quality of my life.

I still haven’t really got a handle on our VOIP telephone system. Sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn’t work at all, and sometimes I can’t hear people on the other end of the line but they can hear me.

We’ve tried all of the obvious tricks, like fiddling with bandwidth and rebooting routers and such. Nothing like the frustration of getting disconnected in the middle of an hour long call with tech support to reboot the office computer system and losing your voice connection. I can’t really say after two years this is an overwhelmingly reliable technology. We still have analog lines for backup, and I don’t think we’ll be getting rid of them anytime soon. VOIP is cheaper, but not always better. There’s a tinge of Third World cheapness about the whole concept.

Our paperless office continues to be deluged with paper. Go figure.

The convenience of listening to music on my computer is great. It doesn’t sound as good as our LP based system and inevitably bogs the computer down when most needed, but still it’s much easier to access songs than with the ancient stuff.

I continue to stare at our office fax machine in wonder, trying to remember exactly why it was so important to buy one. What does it do again?

Pavarotti Dies at 71

One of the best reasons for building great audio systems has left us...


ROME (AP) - Luciano Pavarotti, opera's biggest superstar of the late 20th century, died Thursday. He was 71. He was the son of a singing baker and became the king of the high C's.
Pavarotti, who had been diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer and underwent treatment last month, died at his home in his native Modena at 5 a.m., his manager told The Associated Press in an e-mailed statement.
His wife, Nicoletta, four daughters and sister were among family and friends at his side, manager Terri Robson said.
"The Maestro fought a long, tough battle against the pancreatic cancer," Robson said. "In fitting with the approach that characterised his life and work, he remained positive until finally succumbing to the last stages of his illness

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Motorola Off the Hook for $3.7 Billion

The Elements of Satellite-Phone Failure
A bankruptcy court ruling Friday closed the books on the long-running legal battle between Iridium LLC and its creditors. The decision lets Motorola, the former parent of Iridium, off the hook for $3.7 billion it received to build the doomed telecom company's satellite network. Nine months after the satellite system was activated in November 1998, Iridium filed for bankruptcy protection. Investors turned out to be "terribly wrong" about Iridium's business plan, Bankruptcy Judge James M. Peck said. The venture called for consumers to purchase bulky $3,000 phones that only worked when in "line-of-sight" contact with a satellite.
A funny footnote of the Iridium meltdown was noticed by The Wall Street Journal Online in 1999: The company had planned to launch 77 satellites for its network, and thus borrow its name from iridium, the 77th element on the periodic table. But only 66 satellites ever made it into orbit -- which means that, more accurately, the company should have been named after dysprosium, the 66th element. Iridium comes from the Greek word meaning "rainbow;" dysprosium, on the other hand, means "hard to get at" in Greek.

Short But Sweet

Faster wireless in works to transfer large files from gadget to gadget

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- With a wave of his hand over a homemade receiver, Georgia Tech professor Joy Laskar shows how easily -- and quickly -- large data files could someday be transferred from a portable media player to a TV.
The emerging wireless technology could enable users to transfer large files -- like iTunes libraries -- between gadgets effortlessly.
Poof! "You just moved a movie onto your device," Laskar says.
While Wi-Fi and Bluetooth have emerged as efficient ways to zap small amounts of data between gadgets, neither is well suited for quickly transferring high-definition video, large audio libraries and other massive files.
Laskar and other scientists at the Georgia Electronic Design Center have turned to extremely high radio frequencies to transfer huge data files over short distances.
The high frequencies -- which use the unlicensed 60 gigahertz band -- have been a mostly untapped resource. Researchers say it could one day become the conventional wireless way to zap data over short distances.
Laskar hopes it could soon become a rival to other wireless technologies. Getting government permission to use the spectrum would not be a problem, since that radio band, much like the one used for Wi-Fi, in unlicensed. Because the range will likely be less than 33 feet, interference is less likely and transmissions could be more secure.
A similar short-range technology, known as ultra-wideband, is just now reaching the market after several years of wrangling between different companies and engineering bodies. It exploits another unlicensed band, reaching up to 10.3 GHz. Last month, Toshiba Corp. introduced laptops with built-in UWB chips that can communicate wirelessly with a docking station. Other possible uses include transmission of high-definition video.
But the maximum current speed of UWB is about 480 megabits per second, equivalent to a high-speed computer cable but possibly not be enough for all applications. Use of the 60 GHz band promises much higher speeds.
"There will be a constant pressure for speed and it will never cease," said M. Kursat Kimyacioglu, director of strategy and wireless business development at the semiconductor subsidiary of Philips Electronics NV. "We need much faster wireless data networking technologies to make much faster downloads and back-ups and higher resolution HD video streaming possible."
He said Philips is looking at using the technology to eliminate cable bundles, but much more research will be needed. The signals don't penetrate walls very well and are too easily disturbed by passing people and pets, Kimyacioglu said.
The research is far from over, Laskar said, but he hopes those challenges can be overcome in the next year or so. If so, the hardware for transferring files could be available by 2009, and new TV sets could be built with the chips the next year.
The center has already achieved wireless data-transfer rates of 15 gigabits per second from a span of 1 meter. That would mean a download time of less than five seconds for a DVD-quality copy of "The Matrix" or other Hollywood movies.
Specialized radios have been sending and receiving high-frequency signals for years, but they're big and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The Georgia center's challenge has been to convert these devices into tiny chips that can be slipped directly into phones and computers. To be competitive with other technologies, Laskar's set his sights on a $5 chip, and so far his researchers have hammered together a few prototypes to show off the technology.
"We don't want to replace these guys," says Laskar, pointing at an HD receiver and TV set. "We want to complement them."
A cheap chip would launch a new round of competition for the technology, said Anh-Vu Pham, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Davis.
"The technology is there, it just requires a little more work," he said. "If the radio can be deployed, you'll have a lot of applications -- from HDTV to flash drives -- without using any type of cable. Once you solve that problem, you open up so many applications."
The technology could get a big boost if the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a top international association of electrical engineers, decides to create a standard for the spectrum. -
The group is weighing the decision now and could decide by next year.
"You're talking about moving gigabits in seconds, your whole iPod library, your whole video library," said Laskar. "This has the potential of becoming the de facto way of moving this information on and off the devices.
"With this type of technology, you can compete -- and pretty much crush -- the wired competition."

Funny Story

Click this link about a broken plastic stylus...

The Ultimate Question

According to the Acoustical Society of America, male humpback whales are faced with an interesting dilemma. Should they sing and attract females or should they stay quiet to eat more? Males that sing swim more slowly than those that don't, possibly ending up with less time in the feeding grounds to fatten up for the next winter.
University of Sydney acousticians also found that singers averaged 2.5 km/hr migration rates, while non-singers averaged 4.0 km/hr.

A Single Atom?

Researchers at IBM discovered how to store information on a single atom, The Wall Street Journal reports. But that doesn’t mean your business can count on microscopic disk-drives capable of storing nearly infinite amounts of data any time soon. The IBM method only works when the atom is cooled to 459 degrees below zero, which is a little impractical for the office. Nonetheless, it is an important breakthrough for nanotechnology and it could have commercial implications in about a decade or so.

Mixed Messages from Sony Again

Sony May Start Movie Download Service
Associated Press 09.04.07, 7:34 AM ET
Sony may soon compete directly with Apple and its popular iPods and iTunes, producing its own movie download service and products, company officials said Tuesday.
"Music and video downloading has been available through networks, and we are looking into the area as a possible business," said Sony (nyse: SNE - news - people ) spokesman Shigenori Yoshida.
The Japanese pioneer of personal music players fell behind Apple Inc. (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people )'s and its market-leading iPod. It also got a late start on flat-panel TVs, forcing Sony Corp. to cut jobs, shut plants and shed underperforming divisions under the guidance of Chief Executive Howard Stringer, who took over in 2005.
Last week, Sony revealed a new Walkman video player that comes with Microsoft Corp. (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people )'s Windows Media Player 11 that is capable of managing digital libraries in the U.S. and Europe. The LCD-mounted players, which will also be compatible with MPEG-4 encoded video and AVC, are already available in Japan.
Sony said in late August it would phase out operations at its struggling Connect digital music store in favor of a new breed of digital media players open to more formats.
Sony also said it was shifting its emphasis to other network services, specifically one for users of its PlayStation game consoles.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Cheaper Than Going Home

Local telcos to deploy Cisco's Telepresence for OFWs

By Lawrence Casiraya
Last updated 07:45pm (Mla time) 09/01/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Local telecom companies are planning to deploy Cisco Systems' high-end videoconferencing system for services geared toward overseas Filipino workers.
Launched October last year, Telepresence supports high-definition video. Cisco sells two packages, priced approximately $80,000 and $300,000, including plasma screens and proprietary audio equipment.
"We expect to deploy six to seven Telepresence units before the year ends," said Luichi Robles, Cisco's country manager for the Philippines.
At least one telco is looking to use Telepresence in providing video-based services for OFWs in Hong Kong, Italy and Singapore, Robles added in an interview.
"In some countries, OFWs prefer to stay and work rather than go home on a regular basis, which is why telcos see a good market for a video service," he said.
Telepresence marks Cisco's entry into the videoconferencing market. HP has announced a similar high-end system called Halo. These solutions take advantage of sophisticated technology to create real-time communication using video.
Cisco has saved more than $50 million in travel costs alone after deploying Telepresence internally, according to Andre Smit, Cisco senior director for technical operations in Asia Pacific.
"Pricing becomes not much of an issue because awareness of the value Telepresence brings is rising," he said. Telstra, a telecom company in Australia, is already using Telepresence, he added.

Cisco will deploy Telepresence in next year's Summer Olympics in Beijing, China to accommodate real